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Ethiopia: Inclusive, Principled National Dialog for Lasting Peace

If one is asked about what can bring both pro-change forces and anti-change actors in a given nation together, so long as they are working for the good of the same nation and get them to agree, they can say it is a national dialogue–a viable negotiation format.

Yes, national dialogue is of paramount importance in redefining the future of the state, and the process has had a higher likelihood of success if it incorporates inclusion, transparency, and public participation, a far-reaching agenda, appropriate and clear rules of procedure, and an implementation plan, although there is no one-size-fits-all idyllic.

Needless to say, and as the experiences of other countries would have it, national dialogue is an increasingly popular tool for conflict resolution and radical transformation. It can broaden debate regarding Ethiopia’s trajectory beyond the usual elite decision-makers.

Yes, widely publicized national dialogue experiences in Tunisia and Yemen,for instance, have been tools for breaking political stalemates and transforming complex conflicts into pacific setups. These processes, initiated through political pacts, civil society activism, internationally-brokered peace agreements, or other mechanisms, target addressing a wide array of issues. As the concept of an inclusive and holistic national conversation has gained popularity, the concept of national dialogue has been used to describe an increasingly heterogeneous set of processes. What is happening these days in Ethiopia is a case in point in this regard.

A national dialogue should incorporate vital principles in order to meaningfully contribute to political transformation and peace. In the first place, inclusion needs to be cited. An effective national dialogue convenes a broad set of stakeholders for a deliberative process.

In simple terms, all key interest groups should be invited to participate, including women, youth, and other traditionally excluded groups. Before the process begins, an inclusive, transparent, and consultative preparatory phase sets the foundation for a genuine national dialogue.

Undoubtedly, a more representative conversation may have contributed to opening the political space for future participation by women, civil society, and youth. Next, transparency and public participation are also of paramount importance in bringing about lasting peace.

This means that a national dialogue should also have mechanisms to include the broader population. This broad participation can be achieved by linking local dialogue processes to the national dialogue, as well as through public consultations, regular outreach, and coverage in the media.

A credible convener is also badly required. To secure the participation of a wide variety of stakeholder groups and to avoid perceptions of bias, a credible convener is of the utmost importance.

A national dialogue seeks to reach agreement on key issues facing a country. This could be done with a clear mandate and appropriately tailored structure, rules, and procedures, and the national dialogue commission is working hard to ensure peace and stability in the country.

Unequivocally, national dialogue takes place within a broader transition; it often has formal or informal relationships to transitional justice, constitution-making, and lasting peace.

National dialogue deserves all citizens’ attention as a tool with the potential to facilitate peaceful political transformation, not a magic bullet. Even in the most successful instances, national dialogue is one of the viable steps along the long and arduous path of building a peaceful society across the nation.

The country has to have determined and courageous runners, as without a strong, respected national facilitator and a sufficient coalition of the concerned, a national dialogue is unlikely to produce any meaningful change.

Even senior government officials should bear the primary responsibility for envisioning, organizing, facilitating, and financing the national dialogue.

On the diplomatic side too, countries that would love Ethiopia’s stability can help negotiate the initial agreement that establishes a national dialogue and make public statements encouraging an inclusive and participatory process.

As recurrently heralded, national dialogue is an instrument to resolve political crises and pave the way for political transitions and sustainable peace. In short, a national dialogue has reduced violence by transferring grievances voiced from the street into formalized processes and lawful appeals. It provides an inclusive, broad, and participatory official negotiation format, which can resolve political crunches and lead the country into political transitions.

Absolutely, a national dialogue is typically expected to involve principal national elites, including the government, armed or unarmed opposition parties, and occasionally the military. Other groups that participate, including those representing wider constituencies such as civil society, women, youth, business, and religious or traditional actors, can be incorporated accordingly.

A principled national dialogue could restore a measure of stability, allowing for longer-term efforts to address ethnic polarization and intercommon intolerance to commence. The national dialogue must encompass a broad range of stakeholders in the preparation, process, and implementation phases. Ending the war and building peace need to be on the priority agenda of the government and the political elites, indisputable!

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