YIAGA AFRICA and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) have beckoned on young people in Ethiopia to maintain the momentum of building a sustainable democracy. The event, themed ‘A Conversation on Youth and the Future of Democracy in Ethiopia’ with key note speaker, Ambassador Derek Mitchell, President of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), gave the Ethiopian youths a platform to engage with over 100 participants on democracy. Participants were drawn from youth organizations, student bodies, civil society, government, academics and development partners.
The key speaker of the conversation, Derek Mitchell, who spoke on the democratic situation of Ethiopians and the readiness of young people to participate, said, “democratic and political transitions are neither smooth nor easy as it comes with challenges. In a democracy or any kind of political change, it will take the people of the country to decide for itself what it desires”. This according to him further underscores the importance of young people to take part in the process especially in Ethiopia and other parts of Africa saying, democracy is a work in progress and that it is not something one can reach at an instance.
Discussion with NDI President Derek Mitchell in EthiopiaWhile also responding to questions raised by participants on the readiness of youths in a nascent democracy like that of Ethiopia, Mitchell said, “I believe everyone can be a leader and age might not represent wisdom. It might not be today or tomorrow, but I believe the young will make it.” Mitchell also used the opportunity to decry the recent Internet shutdown during the coup in Ethiopia and addressed how it hindered the peoples’ freedom of expression and limited communication.
Ambassador Mitchell further advised young people in the east-African country to build its democracy through voting, active civic education, youth civic participation and youth organizing, he summarized by saying “with courage, commitment and dedication, youth voices can be heard and their positive actions felt”.
YIAGA AFRICA’s Board member, Dr. Aisha L. Abdullahi, who also spoke at the event, expressed delight that democracy has come to stay in Ethiopia and thus, everyone has a role to play in ensuring sustainable democracy in the state. According to her, democracy is already here in Ethiopia and we are simply here to encourage, to promote and deepen democracy in the country. We believe that the youths who form about 70 percent of the population of Ethiopia can join hands with us to give the new Ethiopia”.
Abel Abate a youth leader in Ethiopia also recalled that in the past, the nations and nationalities and the limitations from the central government made the nation undemocratic, thus citizens lived in fear and repression. According to him, the current Prime Minister Abiy Ahmad brings a fresh approach to governance and a good number of positive reforms can now be seen and felt in Ethiopia. He further expressed delight that thousands of political prisoners have been freed in this current government. With the democratic space beginning to open up, Abate further called for more youths and women inclusion and representation in Ethiopia.
NDI Regional Director of Southern and East Africa, Dickson Omondi who delivered a remark said there is no linear path to get to democracy, as a nation must struggle back and forth to achieve sustainable democracy. According to him, “democracy is a shared value. Common values are not foreign to Ethiopians. Our brothers from South Africa have famously captured this in the spirit of Ubuntu because what they were calling us to do is to think about it for each other as brothers, care about each other, respect the dignity [of human persons], respect human rights and basically live as one community”.
Ethiopia is experiencing a wave of democratic reforms led by Africa’s youngest Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed. These democratic reforms have redefined the country’s development trajectory and set it on a path to progress leading to a surge of optimism on the part of citizens. Maximizing the opportunity this new wave of democracy presents for sustainable development will require the engagement of young people as drivers or catalyst of national development and social transformation. Whilst significant progress has been recorded, Ethiopia still grapples with ethnic and identity-based conflicts coupled with other challenges that may potentially undermine its democratization process.
It is against this background that YIAGA AFRICA in partnership with the National Democratic Institute hosted a conversation on Youth and the Future of Democracy in Ethiopia. The program created a platform for young people to reflect on Ethiopia’s democracy and its current development model with a view to exploring pathways for supporting the democratization project in Ethiopia.