When conflict is engulfing sections of a country, keeping the lines of communication and dialogue open is crucial in the process of moving towards reconciliation.
In Ethiopia, preparation for a national dialogue is underway after a conflict in the Tigray region escalated last year, and we are hopeful that all sides are making progress towards a lasting peace.
At NIMD, we believe that bringing people together from across the ideological spectrum in a non-confrontational and collaborative environment is the best way to build a culture of tolerance and respect in the political space.
So in response to the situation in Ethiopia, we organized special sessions for alumni of the Ethiopian Democracy Academy (EDAC).
We were delighted that 53 former students from political parties across the country responded to our call, demonstrating a willingness among Ethiopia’s young people to work across political lines for the common good of the country.
Over two weeks in December and January, the young politicians shared their stories – and shared their grief – and left with a renewed conviction in the benefits of dialogue for the future of everyone in Ethiopia.
Understanding the need for dialogue
“When I listened to the participants’ experience of conflict, I felt sad and shared their pain – it made me understand that we need a cooperative and humanistic approach to solve the country’s problems,” said Bekele Minbale, a member of the Central Committee of the National Movement of Amhara.
“National dialogue gives room for discussion and then we can agree on issues democratically and can build peace, equality, liberty, and justice for our country,”
Alumni came from many of Ethiopia’s regions and political groupings, including from the ruling Prosperity Party, the Tigray Democratic Party, the All Ethiopians Democratic Organization, the Social Democratic Party, the National Movement of Amhara, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), and the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC).
The two week-long sessions were held at the African Leadership Excellence Academy in the Oromia Region. All participants had attended EDAC courses in the last few years, and now hold a variety of posts in their parties, including in leadership roles.
A wealth of experience to share
Having such a wide range of participants meant a wealth of experience to share, which fostered a much deeper understanding of the complexities of conflict.
Questions, debate and discussion about recent events in the Tigray region dominated the sessions, which focused on themes of conflict prevention and resolution; democratic values; mitigating violence; and building national consensus.
As well as formal study sessions, the attendees also took part in group sports and social activities, providing a rare opportunity for people from opposing political parties to relax together in a convivial atmosphere.
Helping attendees understand the different perspectives in conflict was veteran politician Lencho Leta, former chairperson of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF).
His honesty about his time with the group helped participants gain insight into how conflicts are not always about right and wrong, but competing visions of what is right.
Finding common ground
Participants then applied that knowledge and understanding to the conflict in Ethiopia today. Some attendees had lost family members, leading to a frank and moving discussion about their shared grief and suffering, feelings that transcend political and ethnic divides.
“I have heard about many tragedies from different sources, but hearing the actual people from the area talk about it gave me the feeling that I was there in the middle of the war, and I was in tears for quite a while,” said Tizita Tekle, who is on the Executive Committee of the Wolaita National Movement.
Preconceptions about the causes of the conflict were challenged by the debate, and participants finished the course with a much deeper understanding of the complexities of the issues facing Ethiopia – and a determination to be part of the solution.
“When I return home, the first thing I will do is share the experience from this training with my party colleagues and anyone who can have a positive influence on the success of the national dialogue,” said Tizita.
“I will contact other EDAC alumni in my area and discuss how we can help build a foundation in our area for this dialogue.”
Sowing the seeds for lasting reconciliation
With a wealth of new skills, knowledge and experience, the participants have now returned to their regions and parties.
The sessions equipped the alumni with new practical skills to help the development of their political careers, including on devising their own training programmes, problem solving and conflict resolution, and fostering dialogue.
Most importantly, they returned with a new empathy and understanding of their shared experiences with people from all different backgrounds, sowing the seeds for lasting reconciliation and a better future for everyone in Ethiopia.