By Daniel Teferra (PhD)*

There have been discussions lately over the various media outlets whether the U. S. President should or should not visit Ethiopia.  Those who opposed the visit said that such a high level visit would further legitimize the regime in Addis Ababa.  And others who supported the visit enumerated their concerns about freedom and democracy in Ethiopia that they would like President Obama to press with regime officials in Addis Ababa.

The President’s visit, however, has nothing to do with freedom and democracy in Ethiopia. Nor does it have anything to do with legitimizing the regime further. The regime in Addis Ababa took state power in 1991 with the support of the United States of America. It would be naïve to expect that the President will push for freedom and democracy in Ethiopia 24 years after the facts. It would have been consistent with democratic principles if there had been a peaceful transition of power in 1991 through the appointment of a transitional government, representing all groups and interests of the society. That did not happen. The responsibility now to democratize Ethiopia rests on the people of Ethiopia themselves. The people of Ethiopia have to come together and demand freedom and democracy for their country in one voice if that is their mutually agreeable goal. This requires a leadership group made up of intellectuals and political reformers which can initiate a peaceful movement for freedom and democracy in Ethiopia.  There are two major obstacles to such a project at the moment.

First, a political philosophy for this kind of movement has not yet evolved through intelligent and informed discussions. This is a crucial first step. The aim of the discussions should not be about a regime change, i.e. ousting bad guys and putting in good guys. That would not change the age-old repressive system.  Thus, the aim of the discussions should be about identifying and articulating the very real issues, facing the country and adopting a political philosophy that would be most suited for tackling these issues effectively. Second, there has to be an environment conducive for such discussions. Unfortunately, the conditions inside Ethiopia presently are not safe for free and open discussions.

BUT, Ethiopians who live outside the country have many advantages to engage in free and open discussions about the future of their native country and take actions accordingly. For instance, they have the right to assemble anywhere and the right to free speech. They have the advantage of access to intellectual and material resources that are not available inside Ethiopia.  They are reasonably well off and not faced with the stresses of those who are still struggling to get ahead in Ethiopia.  For none of these Ethiopians are their careers, reputations; even lives, at stake. There is no excuse, therefore, for these Ethiopians, favored by the gods, not to compromise and work together for freedom and democracy in Ethiopia.  It betrays an ivory tower impulse to count on the United States of America to democratize Ethiopia. Nobody will do for Ethiopians what Ethiopians should do for themselves.

*Emeritus Professor of Economics at Ferris State University; UW-Whitewater,