Gedu Andargachew Press Conference


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Gedu Andargachew Press Conference The civic-political space has been a subject of controversy, especially since the 2005 election, the election that revealed not only the outer limits of the public sphere but also the foundational cracks in the State form in Ethiopia. In the wake of the 2005 election, the regime started to stiffen the rules of procedure in the parliament thereby limiting the discursive space even within the EPRDF-dominated parliament. That was followed by a raft of legislations on the civic/public space available for dissent, or its discursive and institutional articulation. These legislations constrained freedoms that are instrumental for, and constitutive of, democracy at a time. The Freedom of Mass Media and Access to Information Proclamation (Proclamation N0. 590/2008), the Anti-terrorism Proclamation (Proclamation No. 652/2009), and the Charities and Societies Proclamation (Proclamation No. 621.2009) were the three major legislative acts deployed by the Ethiopian government to (re)occupy the already limited space for political dissent and consequent pluralism. These laws, for all their preambular commitment to expand and implement constitutional right to freedom of expression, press and association rationalized and perfected the pre-existing streak noticed in the regime’s intolerance of expressed dissent. Self-censorship has become a way of being, a way of life, among journalists and other writers as a result. The prohibitive punishment/fines in the media and press laws and the expansion of the anti-terrorism law to press products (art 6 of Proc. 652/2009) [vi] have effectively muted an overt criticism. The extensive use of surveillance [vii], the blocking of several websites (perceived to be in opposition to the regime in power), jamming of other press/media outlets has contributed to the increasing undermining of the expression of robust dissent. Election is time-bound. Its temporality is its essence. The intensity or lack thereof is the function of its being limited in time. As a result, its process, outcome, and significance are dependent on the ‘political ecology’ of the time. It is dependent on what is ‘in the air’, what is troubling the polity, and what is exercising the large majority of the electorate. This is because election needs a particular kind of ‘democratic ambience’, as it were, a (more or less) festive atmosphere imbued with hope and anticipation (the subtext of which is fear and anxiety). Election has its own ‘mood’, sort of a national ‘political labor’. Understanding the mood – capturing the pulse of the polity in the electoral moment – helps us situate the election (the process, the result, and the context) in proper perspective. This underscores the supreme importance of a ‘right’ ‘political ecology’ that can engender hope (of winning) and of security (in the event of losing). Hope and anxiety attend to all elections, the hope of winning and the angst of losing. However, in as much as possible, it is important that a proper balance is stricken between hope and fear, anticipation and despair. After all, the hope of renewal – the promise of exercising creative agency among the electorate – is an important ingredient of a healthy electoral democracy.What attends Election 2015 in Ethiopia? Two areas of the public life of Ethiopia must be considered in order to map the electoral mood, namely the civic-political space for active citizens who can engage in politics on the one hand and the ‘nature’ of the state and its relation with the society on the other. As a result, I argue, there is little the election can do to tackle outstanding political issues that are contained in the unfinished business of state-building. In particular, there is little it can do to expand citizenship to the subject peoples of the wider South. EPRDF’s anti-democratic posture to disallow a political space where deeply political issues can be discussed (by reducing everything down to the technicalities of law and economic governance) is a proclamation of closure of politics by relegating the discussion to the realm of techniques. Election is thus reduced to a mode of enhancing what the French philosopher Michel Foucault calls ‘governmentality’, a technical-ideological apparatus of controlling and regulating the population by eliciting acquiescence in their own control and regulation. EPRDF’s adversaries, especially the north-central ethio-political class, also play their own role in this proclamation and enactment of closure of politics by aestheticizing a heavily contested political issue. As I shall argue in subsequent sections, they engage in exoticizing and aestheticizing an essentially political issue of the past and the future. They engage in a double movement that also politically demonizes – and excludes – the essentially political questions (such as the question of diversity [sameness and difference], historical political violence/injustice, misrecognition, inclusion-in-citizenship, and co-equal (re)founding of the polity. They thus aestheticize the inaugural violence by iconizing the leaders of the past through a raft of artistic products (images and lyrics, pictures and songs, etc) thereby rehabilitating them from the tyranny and oppression they represented, the tyranny and oppression they were once criticized for. At the same time, they demonize what could probably be the most important political question of modern Ethiopia—the question of diversity—by presenting it rather negatively as “politicized ethnicity.” By so doing, i.e., by removing the important issues from the realm of the political to that of the aesthetic, they do their own bit of closing the political space for discussing the irreducibly political questions politically. The combined effect of these closures (by both groups)—born chiefly out of insecurity of EPRDF as a Government, only symptomatic of the greater insecurity of the ever more fragile Ethiopian State it runs, manages, and embodies—causes our judgement of the process and consequence of the election to be pessimistic. The insecurity of the ‘eternal kingdom’ assumed to have been established by Menelik, Haileselassie, and Mengistu; the insecurity born out of the incomplete nation-building project, prompts EPRDF’s opponents of the Amhara constituency to aspire for similar closure of the political space through aestheticization and exoticization of the infinitely political questions. The thrust of my argument is that there is much more work to do about the state than partaking in the motion of election. There is more to Ethiopia than mastering the language of election. I suggest that to EPRDF election is a mode of securing a technical legitimacy. To its adversaries, it is a mode of resistance to hegemonic oppression. Some of its adversaries resist its hegemonic position if only to replace it with their own. Others resist it and the State form it embodies and represents. For this latter group, the election is, more than anything else, a gesture of negating the status quo, it is a talking back to power, an utterance of societal pain long suppressed and contained. It is a way of sustaining a lamentation. It is yet another moment of reminding Ethiopia that all is not well. For the protagonists in this election saga, especially for the ruling EPRDF, the election is merely war by other means. As such, for EPRDF, it is a mode of entrenching its power by eliminating its opponents through the technology of election. Consequently, the election has little to do with the desired transformation of the state-society relations in Ethiopia.


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