BY A STAFF WRITER
In our context, national dialogue and reconciliation should be viewed from the perspective of laying down strong foundation based on Ethiopian home grown wisdoms and cultural values and pass the turbulent situations we are in.
In Ethiopia, there are abundant spiritual and intangible traditional resources and potentials that can be employed to conduct dialogue and reconciliation; however, they have been hardly used to address political disagreements and conflicts the country has endured thus far.
The Proclamation for the establishment of National Dialogue and Reconciliation Commission is the first legal instrument to be enacted in this country. At least, three concepts are involved in defining the essence of the entire process. The approved national dialogue indicates that the dialogue is conducted at the federal level extending to various levels of government nomenclature.
Some argue that dialogue is to be conducted only with registered political parties and rule out the issue of reconciliation, reaching a wrong conclusion that reconciliation is not needed because there is no marked conflict or civil war among the people of Ethiopia. This is not true as at least over the last three decades, terrorist TPLF has deliberately created a spirit of animosity among the people of Ethiopia under the guise of democracy and self determination.
At the global level, a number of principles were enumerated to conduct dialogue and reconciliation in an institutionalized manner. The first principle is the principle of inclusiveness. This implies ensuring broader social base and participation at all levels of all concerned actors and elements of the political system.
Prior to the startup of the process an inclusive, transparent and consultative preparatory phase serve as the foundation for a genuine national dialogue. The initial decisions on the shape, structure of the national dialogue as well as those who should be on board to participate are critical as they lay down the foundation for trust and willingness on the part of the government and political parties.
According to the Proclamation, the establishment of the National Dialogue and Reconciliation Commission is headed by the Commission and its various sub-committees that are nationally selected and inclusive. The National Dialogue Commission (NDC) represents a national departure from the political elite and allows far more holistic conversations, contributing to the opening or establishment of conducive environment and leveling of the playing field.
The second principle is the principle of transparency. If there are no sufficient opportunities for the public to remain informed and provide feedback into the dialogue, there is a risk of the process losing legitimacy. There must be a deliberate willingness and structure of linking the national dialogue process to a local conversation and public consultations, regular outreach and media coverage.
The third principles have to do with a credible convener which is the Commissioner General in the Ethiopian case. In order to have a good dialogue there is need for credible convener. This in many ways can be a generally respected and single person, a group or an organization with no political aspirations or objective that will cause a conflict of interest.
The fourth principle has to do with clear national agenda. It is critical that key national issues are agreed before the dialogue as part of the agenda. This enables the dialogue to be focused and researched beforehand by everyone involved, enabling a broad based consultation. Issues for discussion need to be agreed months or even a year before the dialogue commences.
The other major principle has to do with agreed mechanism for implementation of outcomes.
National dialogues should feature agreed plans to ensure that the resulting recommendations are implemented accordingly. Because national dialogues take place within a broader transition, they often have formal and informal relationships to transitional justice as a process. Without a clear implementation plan, a national dialogue risks consuming extensive time and resources without producing any tangible results.
One important aspect of conducting a dialogue and reconciliation process is the care that needs to be taken in documenting the entire process from the national level up to the lowest level of government nomenclature. This creates a learning process for future deliberations and would be instrumental in serving as a source material for further research works.
The process of national dialogue and reconciliation is not expected to lead to a total unanimity on everything under discussion but to create a solid national consensus on major issues of national importance and to draw action plans towards their implementation. In the timeline, conducting discussion, multiple and interdisciplinary workshops as well as seminars would help to streamline the national dialogue, creating a common understanding on legal and technical terminologies that may be used in the entire process.
A dialogue at the national level is not a discussion about government or party officials. It is about deliberating on major issues of importance, spelling out the most outstanding challenges the country is facing and apply home grown solutions for resolving the challenges.
The proclamation provides for the establishment of various sub-committees that would help in the smooth running of the entire process. It is to be noted that dialogue and reconciliation cannot come up with the desired results overnight. This entails patience, full commitment and dedication to the strategic objectives of the Commission.
In the national dialogue and reconciliation proceedings, parties should demonstrate patience, embarking on local wisdom to reach consensus on the fundamental issues of the country.