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Vision Ethiopia & ESAT call for papers Press Release March 10, 2017

Vision Ethiopia, an independent network of Ethiopian scholars and professionals, in collaboration with the Ethiopian Satellite Television and Radio (ESAT), is pleased to announce that the Fourth Conference will be held on September 16 and 17  2017, in the Washington D.C. metro area. Abstract, and preferably the entire paper should be sent to visionethiopia2016@gmail.com on or before, August 20 2017. The theme of the conference is National Unity and Building Democratic Institutions in Ethiopia.

            The theme of the Fourth Conference builds upon the theme and deliberations of the Third Conference that was held from October 23 to 24, 2016. At the Third Conference, where there were over 25 moderators and panelists, speakers  and participants resolved the urgent need to build institutions that map the transition from conflict to a post-conflict constitution making order. The videos are available at ESAT’s and other websites. The communique of the conference highlighted the issues and identified the actionable areas. Since October 2016 new conferences and town hall meetings were held in various parts of the world, and most conferences had deliberated on the reality in Ethiopia and underscored the need for transition. Analysts agree that the root causes of the conflict remain unresolved. Indications also suggest that fragmented low intensity conflicts and tensions are escalating in various parts of the country.         

The Fourth Conference aims at addressing two critical issues that are the cornerstones of successful transitions. They are rebuilding national unity and creating and maintaining effective institutions, be they formal or informal. The continuity of the Ethiopian state with its territorial integrity, the unity of its diverse population, and their democratic aspirations are critically dependent on the quality and strength of institutions.  The protection and cultivation of an enduring and evolving national unity and sovereignty of Ethiopia, through effective institutions, are the central tenets of a meaningful national discourse on transition in the context of Ethiopia. Moreover, the management of national crisis, the process of transition from conflict to post-conflict order, and cultivation of  an enduring and stable political, economic, security and social system in Ethiopia requires addressing the challenges of building effective and reliable local and national institutions. Formal and national institutions should have a number of attributes which should include, consistent with theory: shared national values, sets of functioning rules for decentralization, ethical standards, procedures and norms designed to constrain those in authority, reliable system of entry to and exit from political power, and ensure the freedom and rights of the governed.

Unity is intricately connected with political institutions and national defense and security organs that protect and defend the rights and sovereignty of an internationally recognized territory. However, national unity will not be ensured unless political organizations find a formula so that the central power reflects shared values and identities. National and regional institutions, including security, justice, economic and education systems need to respect the rights of majorities and minorities, those who cherish dual or multiple identities and those who do not see conflict or competition between regional/local identity and national identity. It is imperative to note that without national institutions, participatory democracy, the rule of law, freedom and rights of citizens, gender equality, and credible electoral systems we cannot resolve the conflict that the country has unfortunately entered into.  At the same time, evidence also indicates that creating a mono-ethnic or faith republic does not ensure citizens to live in peace, democracy, and prosperity.

The Conference has the following interconnected sub-themes that we would like panelists to address in depth, using their research-based analysis geared towards the building and strengthening of institutions in post-conflict Ethiopia:

  1. Rebuilding the national unity of the country through effective formal & informal institutions;
  2. Building civic and rights institutions at national, regional, provisional, district and village

levels;

  1. Establishing a genuinely inclusive, accountable and transparent federal system of

government that upholds the principles of unity in diversity, fairness and justice;

  1. Establishing fair and just market-based and decentralized economic institutions;
  2. Establishing country-wide shared customs to prevent potential escalation of conflict, as

well as upholding values, customs, and traditional practices that can be fused to be enshrined in national identity/symbols and legal instruments;

  1. Reducing corruption and establishing accountable and transparent government that serves the general public; designing mechanisms to consolidate peace and implement effective rule of law;
  2. Establishing institutional mechanisms to avoid the capture at state, regional, and national levels;
  3. Establishing a dynamic, pluralistic and empowering free & responsible media that helps keep citizens informed; establishing  a system that enables citizens to express themselves freely (short of hate speech); providing legal and constitutional protection to citizens to access information; eliminate censorship in all its forms;
  4. Establishing a vibrant civil society that protects national wealth (national infrastructure roads, bridges, railway lines, dams, natural resources, heritages, places of worship, etc.), rights, including the rights of women, children, youth, minorities, the disabled, war veterans and victims of conflicts;
  5. Establishing mechanisms that prohibit religious fundamentalism & restrain those who try to fuse ethnicity and faith for separatist agenda;
  1. Reforming and/or reconstituting a national defense and security establishment, composed of all nationalities in its ranks and files; reforming and/or reconstituting the federal and local police force; making the national defense forces apolitical, professional and free from corruption and prejudice;
  2. Establishing a system of party politics based on political pluralism; a representative and effective electoral system that encourages regional parties to transform themselves into national parties, and avoids factionalism;
  3. Establishing an independent, accountable and transparent national and regional governance and justice system that fuses the trias politika doctrine with local institutions (cultures, beliefs and cognitive systems), and defines roles for traditional authority;
  4. Designing ways to establish a system that ensures equality, regardless of gender, age, or ethnic origin;
  5. Institutional frameworks that guarantee an unfettered free and fair electoral processes and results;
  6. An institutional approach to the design of foreign policy that serves the interests of the nation, and the continent;
  7. Identifying ways and means of integrating combatants to the national army;
  8. An institutional approach to combating drought, hunger, famine, outmigration and the effects of climate change;
  9. Institutionalizing the role of the diaspora for successful transition.
  10. Institutionalizing transition justice, restorative justice, reconciliation and accountability.

There is an intense debate among Ethiopians in their understanding of these issues. Every group starts from its ideological predilections and attempts to create a “social-political reality” about the past and the present, a narrative that apparently supports its position. Integrity and the discovery of knowledge are threatened by organized mobs, the coercive powers of the State, demagoguery, denial and cronyism. The social media is crowed with both carefully thought ideas and war of words. The historicity and socialization of the debate, and the interpretation and contextualization for past and present situation in the country, and more importantly on how to move forward and build the new foundation for the establishment of a democratic, peaceful, and prosperous Ethiopia appears to have reached a stalemate. It has turned out to be ‘the dialogue of the deaf”.

Furthermore, to achieve their goals political parties and various movements have used different strategies that range from peaceful resistance to armed struggle to enforce change and institute reforms. New realities indicate that conflict is escalating in the already  conflict-ridden region of the Horn of Africa, and the geopolitics of the Red Sea region is rapidly changing (the conflict in Yemen giving a foothold for Arabian and superpower armies in the Horn of Africa), and hence introducing new threats to landlocked Ethiopia. The international community has witnessed the justified worries of the public and the uprisings; and where the country is heading to, an even worse political crisis and an escalation of civil war unless the current trend and approach are changed.

The ruling party must take full responsibility for the crisis, with no ifs and buts. The Prime Minister’s total failure to set a shared vision for the country and the internal power struggle after the sudden death of the autocrat that led a minority insurgency, have paralyzed the institutions of the State and exacerbated the crisis. The purge in the satellite parties did not resolve the rot at the top. Civil and political rights have been taken away, and the country has been officially been put under military rule. Even after the declaration of the nation-wide State of Emergency, the ruling party continues to misread the demand for change, and assumes that the uprising shall be crushed. Its cronies attempt, although unsuccessfully, to legitimize the imposition of the State of emergency and minority/military rule.  Both peaceful and armed groups, however, agree that the regime cannot be reformed and needs to be replaced, and with the closure of the peaceful avenues for change, parties are increasingly opting for armed insurrection to break up the opaque system built by the TPLF/EPRDF over the quarter of a century. Despite the political posturing and the resort to the repressive ways, recognizing the inevitability of change and embracing the inevitable would be by far better than conflict and violence-ridden transition as it leads to a “win-win” situation for the conflicting parties.

The purpose of the upcoming Fourth Conference is, therefore, to bring together researchers, professionals, political and rights activists and experts from different background and disciplines to deliberate, without fear or favor, on these interrelated issues, and explore ways and approaches to move forward. The focus is on building national unity through the creation and strengthening of institutions. The Conference will facilitate different ideas and approaches to be considered on the basis of their merit and analytical foundations to address the pressing issues in the country. It is also hoped that the Conference will provide space for concerned Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia to share their well thought out perspectives and recommendations for the broader population of Ethiopia, both at home and abroad. It is with this understanding that panelists and participants are encouraged to address the key issues and present their thoughts to the Ethiopian public so that the direction and content of the road map towards post-conflict political order in Ethiopia is clear and understandable by the masses. Papers may be written in either Amharic or English, follow acceptable reasoning, avoid jargon, foul and inflammatory language, and anecdotal evidence. For the presentation author(s) are encouraged to communicate using language(s) that most of the target audience in Ethiopia understands.

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