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No Place for Objective Criticism


































In his new hit single, Tewodros Kassahun, a.k.a. Teddy Afro, has artistically described a growing loss of public morality in Ethiopian society.

The time could not be more fitting to remind the public of the virtues of integrity. Ethiopians today are, perhaps, unlucky people to live in the most politically inhospitable region of the world. Ethnic factionalism, religious fundamentalism, colonial mentalities, excessive megalomania, identity crises, authoritarianism, feeble regional cooperation, and weak cultural integration are some of the typical characteristics in the Horn of Africa.

Placed at the heart of this tortuously unstable region is the poor country of Ethiopia, with its unique cultural identity and ethnic mix.

Its long years of history, 80 plus ethnicity, beautiful landscapes, glamorous religious tolerance, and hospitable weather conditions should make the country conspicuously attractive and unique. Despite the generous presence of these elements, the country has been hallmarked by war, famine, poverty, and underdevelopment. Lack of good governance and participatory democracy has remained as a century-old problem, resulting in the further multifaceted problems of political instability, economic underdevelopment, social crises, and environmental destruction.

Ethiopia’s closed social system has little space for democratic deliberation and objective criticism. Political leadership has become more about sectarian representation than inclusiveness, partisan loyalty than merit, and conformism than independent decision-making.

The contagious disease of sidelining objective criticism has also tarnished this civilisation, shattered the mightiest, and lost many opportunities for decades. The result of all of these has been the continued deprivation of the people of this land, in every aspect of life.

The very fact that Ethiopia’s socio-cultural makeup leads to anxiousness in the face of objective criticism has spoiled every dimension of life here, on both individual and societal levels. The broken political system, passive monotheistic religious empires, deteriorating educational system, and prevalent self-centred lifestyles are vivid evidence of this.

In spite of the previous transitions from feudalism to pseudo-socialism and onward to illiberal democracy, the political system has remained impermeable to objective criticism, no matter where it comes from.

The imperviousness of the feudal system to constructive criticism made it ignorant of transformational adjustments, resulting in the popular revolution that ultimately threw that regime off the throne. Similarly, the succeeding socialist military junta took its deeply entrenched hate of dissenting voices and any sort of criticism, no matter how viable was, to its grave.

Ethiopians are still living in the vicious grasp of the avoidance of criticism, even after the nearly two decades of struggle to establish democracy. The players of this dysfunctional democracy, from the Revolutionary Democrats to all sorts of other opposition parties, are intolerant of criticism. Rather than giving attention to dissenting voices, political parties prefer to blame, nametag, and, if possible, uproot critics.

Critical support for political players from educated members of society has been lost, due to the distaste that politicians have for them, the gap being filled with opportunistic, self-centred losers and laughable daydreamers. As the ultimate result of the very nature of the political players, the political environment has become marred by fear, patrimony, opportunism, rent seeking and self-centeredness.

The problems would be fewer if the religious atmosphere, dominated by the two monotheistic religious empires, shined as moral examples for other social institutions.

Yet, just as in the political environment of the country, there is a deeply ingrained ignorance toward objective criticism in these passive, despotic, and elitist empires. They are the sole proprietors of absolute truth, each of them believes, and they have no space for criticism.

As a result, their preaching is dominated by exclusion and selfishness. Even in the rare cases where they preach love, they merely give it lip service while practicing exclusion.

They have discouraged innovativeness, limiting inquiry, self-criticism, and reasonable deliberation. As a result, they have abandoned their congregations. Their flocks are as lost as the other sheep they so often preach about, lacking moral role models and fallback systems for times of crisis.

Yet, as the people of this nation act faithfully, the religious spectrum will be transcended, positively affecting the political, economic, and social constructs of the country.

What should also be a training platform and an exceptionally objective social institution is the educational system of the country.

Yet, it has also been a victim of the same problems, flavoured with destructive megalomania. The educated youth have learned unreasoned prejudice, opportunism, and abhorrence from their teachers. What should have been a place of academic deliberation, critical reflection, theoretical discussion, and paradigm shifts has become a place of ethnic super-consciousness, narrow-mindedness, self-centredness, and shortcut gains.

Hence, Ethiopian society cannot rely on the recommendations of the educated, as they are flavoured with chauvinism and lopsided assumptions.

Where could an objective generation come from, if not from educational institutions?

Individual life has become self-centred and contrived, to say the least, reflecting the lack of public space for objective criticism in this poor country. Reasoned morality has been sidelined, while opportunistic immorality has presided.

Money has become the sole end of life, even if it comes in the most unethical ways. Manoeuvring has become the latest strategy, while the rent seeking mentality is popular. Objectivism has been sent to the shadows, while savagery is gaining a foothold in a new form of modernised selfishness.

How can Ethiopians hope to get better as a society, while simultaneously abusing reason, objectivity, and morality?

“Morality is founded on reason, while its purpose is to teach us how we enjoy life,” Ayn Rand, the famous libertarian philosopher, once said.

Is this not also the end goal of this injudicious lifestyle?


By Getachew T. Alemu



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