Mastewal Taddese Terefe is a lawyer and researcher based in New York City. Her wide-ranging research interests include democratization, good governance, and legal reform. From 2018–2019, she served as a legal fellow at the Federal Attorney General’s Office in Addis Ababa, supporting the Ethiopian government’s justice reform efforts. Mastewal has also provided legal and policy analyses for a variety of organizations worldwide, including the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) and the World Bank Group. Mastewal holds a J.D. from New York University School of Law, a Master of Public Policy (MPP) from the University of Oxford, and a B.A. in Political Science and Social Research & Public Policy from NYU Abu Dhabi.
Ahmed Soliman from Chatham Institute introduced Mastewal Terefe Taddese a lawyer and a researcher. Mastewal is going to speak about how to craft, a credible and inclusive implementation process for the Ethiopian national dialogue.
Thank you very much for joining us and for your time today. The floor is yours.
Thank you! Ahmed and organisers for inviting me to take part in this very important conversation.
I’m glad that I’m going last because many of the issues that I had prepared or wanted to emphasise, have already been addressed, so I’m not going to repeat many of those.
I just want to start off before going to my topic of making sure that implementation processes are credible, inclusive.
I want to start by clarifying my own views on two preliminary questions. The first question is Doctor Samira’s point, which was “does Ethiopia need national dialogue?” At this moment my answer to that question is a definite ‘yes’.
And the second one is, “does the national dialogue envisaged currently in its current form, hold meaningful promise for Ethiopia?’’. My answer to that question is a definite ‘no’.
I just wanted to put these premises first before I proceed with my presentation, which will focus on different question, which is maybe something that’s Dr Goitom tried to address “what types of changes to the current form should we advocate for?” Should be implemented before the national dialogue can proceed so that it can indeed bring about genuine progress in Ethiopia.
I want to highlight two different contexts that haven’t been addressed. I think context is critical because national dialogue, the literature on national dialogue, shows us that its success really depends on a variety of political, economy in historic context, so we have to address these contexts for many of the speakers already dropped a few important contexts to that. I want to highlight in addition to all that’s been said is that in Ethiopia the state structure and political history shows that incumbents. Autocratic government have various published practise of weaponizing institutions, laws, democratic norms in order to implement their own political agenda. So, this is a very established record in 2018, when the EPRDF technically accepted a transition for democratisation. It acknowledged that in a way, and it emitted that it was weaponising various democratic institutions and laws and processes like this type of process, even though it’s not necessarily in its current form, to use it for its political end. So that is a very critical context that should inform our understanding of whether we should be. Optimistic about this process. How much of trust can be put in? So that’s one context and ….
The second one is something that the Commissioners Ambassador and Dr Yonas brought up is the question or the emphasis on indigenous knowledge is an indigenous system. The reference to elders and religion and some of these values in the indigenous values that Ethiopia has. It can and should appropriately we obviously be proud of and implement. However, these processes we need to be wary of that rhetoric as well, because again, we have a track record of governments abusing these institutions, either rhetorically or through basically manipulating these very respectable institutions of elders to drive their own political agenda. So, I think these contexts are very critical when we look at what the national data process looks like and how it’s being basically implemented.
So having said that, I want to say that, you know, the literature, national dialogue shows us that can take various forms and a timeline that nature could vary. But generally, I think Dr Samir also pointed this out. There are distinct phases, those their preparation, the consultation at grassroots level or with limited delete, and then the conferencing, which is more at the original national conference level and then implementation of outcomes. So there are distinct phases.
Ethiopia’s case where are we on the timeline, Dr Yonas gave us insights, he says that there in the preparatory process, but in here when I talk about preparation, I’m looking at the process that even came before the establishment of the national dialogue.
So it appears, based on the structure that I outlined, we’re on the second stage of Process consultation, the Commission already told us that it’s been conducting various consultations with different actors. So did we skip the first phase? The preparation process of actually setting up the Commission?
Obviously, we didn’t. The preparation was done, but it was done in not in an inclusive manner. It was done primarily by the current government using the institutions that it dominates. The Parliament and the executive, and as we know, this government is not, is not inclusive, it’s dominated by one political party, an in addition to process, it followed some of the questions from the audience have brought brought up those issues, the drafting of the legal instrument that set up the Commission, the process of identifying what powers the mandates the Commission will have. Who’s going to be who is going to be accountable for? These are all critical issues as well as the individuals which constitute the Commission. All of these preparatory processes were done and not in a process that’s not inclusive, and they did not give opposition parties, civil society groups and other stakeholders real meaningful opportunity to shape this preparation process.
This is critical and as a result, several opposition groups have outright rejected this initiative, boycotted it from the onset that some political theatre that we used to in Ethiopia and for the same reason there’s not much public buy in and engagement into Seattle and thought process.
So the very first form of the process implementation. Process was neither inclusive nor incredible, so while this is so, we are looking at the Commission is marching forward with its activities and predetermined schedule and we seem to find ourselves in the second phase of consultation in terms of its importance, in my opinion, and the literature also supports this. The second phase, the consultation phase, is another critical juncture. It is where the core issues and agendas for the dialogue will actually be identified, and the participants will also be identified.
So if this step two is also not done inclusive and credible manner, that will basically preclude any success on the following two forms, the conferencing and the implementation of outcomes, and it would totally down the whole initiative.
In my view, we are at this very important juncture, a critical choice has to be made both by the Commission, the government and also the public and other international actors who want to see this process actually bring about meaningful change. The choices either A, we to shut our ears to the obvious defects that the stakeholders are voicing or Just March forward with blind optimism that this would work, and this option would basically mean that the Commission will set the agenda for the dialogue without the participation of various important stakeholders.
The commission will do that agenda setting in a process that is not credible or option B, which would be to hear the grievances of various stakeholders, these have been, you know, out there. These political groups have issued statements, the political parties count the Joint Council of political parties has been publicly trying to get the public support on its grievances, it is essentially. So these are out there for the Commission, the government.
So option B would be to hear these grievances and allow the necessary time and space for these shortcomings to be addressed before moving to step three.
Now, I urge the Commissioners in attendance today and also the other Commissioners and the government to choose this latter option, an either refuse to move forward with the process and the predetermined schedule until these major issues of inclusivity and credibility are addressed.
Or prioritise at least these issues as its first agenda for the commission, and this may be where I depart a little bit from Goitom, in the sense that I don’t think we necessarily have to postpone the dialogue before we move forward before we address these issues, but maybe the Commission has this great opportunity of establishing its credibility. And its ability to deliver on this promise that when people are putting on it, by prioritising this preliminary issues as its first agenda.
And that means, you know, a lot of these examples, a lot of these grievances can be addressed through legislative, perhaps or other procedural mechanisms. I’m not going to go to all of them, but I’m going to throw around two examples of things that already other stakeholders are pointed out under each banner, inclusivity and credibility.
On the inclusivity side, basic conditions for the national dialogue, and this is something that Doctor Samir and maybe Goitom also highlighted have to be have to be guaranteed. There has to be ceasefire so that basic security and peace is established in all parts of the country, so that not only grabbed at the grassroots level, dialogue would be possible, but the stakeholders who purport to represent these people in different parts of the country, can actually dialogue take part in these discussions-consultation so that is key, the end of of the blockade of food in the Tigray region has to be prioritised.
This is something that Goitom brought up but the fact that this was not even brought up by the Commissioners I think is it a bit puzzling to me that there is a part of society Ethiopia right now that is locked out of basic services, basic food and humanitarian relief not only for Tigray, for other parts of the country, people cannot engage in this type of participatory process without basic access, preliminary conditions food, access to basic services start guaranteed, and then we can go on and on and on. Other things that could wait. But I think that these are really critical basic condition.
Now that the Commission does not have power to implement this, but the Commission has the ability and if the people believe in the traditions, credibility, the people support to prioritise the. Issues and take it to the stakeholder that say these preconditions have to be met.
Second one again on inclusivity, the Commission should secure the legal and practical mechanisms whereby all these armed and non armed groups that are not currently included or cannot take part because of legal pediments are included. How that would be, you know, this is something that the lawyers can debate. But this is another priority, I think, for the Commission to establish mechanisms whereby groups that are labelled terrorists or destructive forces, and therefore cannot be part of legal processes, can come forward and take part in the agenda setting part of the consultation.
Finally, on the credibility, again, many things can be done. But one thing that the political parties first recommended opposition parties and was never accepted as a recommendation was that the Commission has to be accountable to an impartial body. The recommendation was that the Commission has to be accountable to the President’s office because the President as head of state that it is impartial and technically nonpartisan. That was rejected essentially and that’s a major grievancesm, that that the political parties council held, but if possible one thing that could boost that commissions credibility is essentially to make sure that it’s not going to be accountable to the executive government. That would essentially, you know net pick and decide which outcomes wants to implement. After all.
So that’s one thing, or at least the Commission should be empowered to oversee and monitor the implementation and not just issue recommendations, because the proclamation currently allows the Commission to just issue reports. Basically, say we want the prosperity party led government to do XYZ, but nothing beyond that.
One final thing, something that Commissioners maybe could reflect on is. You know the government is one of the parties that were concerned, as you know, as being a force interference. But it’s not just the government that could interfere in the work of the Commission. So I want to highlight that the Commission maybe could have a written pledge that wants all at least political stakeholders to sign that would commit them to honour be bound by an be committed to the implementation of the outcomes, whatever those outcomes are prior to the beginning of said agenda setting, because already we’re hearing, at least for the government public messaging, that this Commission is not about power sharing or this dialogue is not about coalition governments already signalling what agendas are acceptable and what not. you would hear the same from the other side. There are already signalling. What agendas that may be important and what not.
But if the Commission from the very early on as a condition to obviously this participation required the political stakeholders to commit in a written pledge to the public that they would honour and be bound by the outcomes of the negotiation, I mean the dialogue and no matter what they are, you know, it’s not a binding mechanism legally, but it’s something that the public can hold. The difference stakeholders accountable. So I’m just going to wrap up by these points, but there might be more issues that come up in the Q & A.