Giving Negotiation a Fair Chance

By Assegid Habtewold

During the discussion I had with Prof. Teshome Abebe and VOA Amaharic Service’s journalist Alulla Kebede on September 2 2016, and in my latest article entitled The struggle toward freedom reached its tipping point?!, I talked about giving negotiation a fair chance. Some people didn’t like the idea. It wasn’t surprising because negotiation isn’t common in our culture. We always play zero sum game, whomever wins takes all. This approach leads one side to win while the other to lose. This lack of seeking a win-win scenario whenever we find ourselves in sticky positions,like we are in right now,destroyed our families, organizations, and community. As a society, we have missed so many golden opportunities in the past that would have led our country into a more stable, just, prosperous, democratic, and peaceful state. The past is past. Now, our country is at a crossroads, and her future is at stake. At this juncture, being emotional and seeking victory no matter what the outcome would be is insane, to say the least. The crisis we are in warrants negotiation. This article attempts to build a strong case for giving negotiation a fair chance.

At the moment, both sides are hoping to win, and therefore, they aren’t in the mood to give and take. No one is seeking a win-win scenario. Those who oppose TPLF continue to say, TPLF must go what so ever the price is and the consequences are. The consequence could be the disintegration of the country. It could be a protracted civil war. They don’t care. Likewise, leaders of TPLF don’t seem to worry about their own and the future of the country. So far, they made their mind and have pursued a suicidal approach. They think that they can survive as they have been so far and ready to do whatever it takes to wither away of the serious oppositions they have never faced before. It doesn’t take a rocket science. At this stage and in the near future, there is no clear winner. And, no one is yet predisposed to win by a landslide.TPLF has its military, security apparatus, and the federal police intact. Not only that, it sill controls the media, and enjoys some local, regional, and international supports. To think that TPLF just goes away easily, without a fight and causing some serious damage, if we keep protesting and revolting is an illusion.Likewise, the popular struggle has reached a tipping point. People said enough is enough of TPLF’s apartheid rule. TPLF may suppress the popular movement for a while but it cannot succeed ruling the people of Ethiopia as it used to any longer. Any attempt to undermine this truth and continuing to do business as usual is a suicidal act.

Regrettably, at this moment and regardless of the realities on the ground, both the ruling party and its devotees, and alternative forces and their supporters don’t want to see the other side to be part of the process in finding a lasting win-win solution. What is interesting is that both sides see themselves coming out victorious. In their mind, there is only one future where by they are going to be declared winners. You have already heard lots of funny stories and dramas through the ruling party’s media outlets. They are misgauging the situation, knowingly or ignorantly, and think that they can talk their way out of the current trouble, which is their own creation. Rather than admitting defeat, saying sorry for their mistakes, and coming to the negotiation table for a win-win concession including giving the governing power to the people peacefully, they are attempting to scam the people of Ethiopia one more time. This illusion is also prevalent within the opposition camp. They don’t want TPLF to be part of the process of transforming our country into democracy. They want it gone at all costs and right now.The two sides should have anticipated that the one future they are focused on might not come to pass for whatever reason. Within a reasonable period of time, we will be able to see the outcome. The challenge I pose for both parties is that what happens if the future you anticipated doesn’t come true? Obviously, you lose any leverage you have right NOW. You won’t be able to negotiate and get a win-win deal. This is the right time to negotiate. As you may already know, we cannot predict the future. And once the future arrives, one party loses its leverages. In my next article, I’ll discuss the four possible alternative futures that could happen by using a foresight tool that has been used by some world-class organizations. I’ll also show what to expect from each future. Most importantly, I’ll talk about what the alternative democratic forces should be doing NOW to shape the FUTURE we all dream to see by being proactive, strategic, and well organized.

The two archenemies-Egypt and Israel- were in a deadlock. Both sides had strong positions. Jimmy Carter, as the then President of the superpower country and a seasoned statesman with outstanding eloquence, he had strong influence over the leaders of the two countries. But, he didn’t try to use his influence to come up with a solution without involving each party in the process. He wouldn’t have succeeded as a peace broker, and able to break the stalemate. He brought the two leaders to the negotiation table and created a trust filled environment. Once that was done, the next challenge was that both parties had emotional attachments to their strong positions. Israel wanted to keep part of the Sinai Peninsula while Egypt’s position was to get back all of the Sinai desert she lost following the Six Day War of 1967. In their book ‘Getting to Yes’, Roger Fisher and William Ury detailed this story and explained how the two countries developed a win-win solution by focusing on their interests rather than their positions. They wrote, “Israel’s interest lay in security; they did not want Egyptian tanks poised on their border ready to roll across at any time. Egypt’s interest lay in sovereignty; the Sinai had been part of Egypt since the time of the Pharaohs.” To make the story short, the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty was signed in 1979 at Camp David because President Sadat of Egypt and Prime Minister Begin of Israel “agreed to a plan that would return the Sinai to complete Egyptian sovereignty and, by demilitarizing large areas, would still assure Israeli security. The Egyptian flag would fly everywhere, but Egyptian tanks would be nowhere near Israel.” The 3 main lessons we should take from this negotiation between Egypt and Israel are: a) All parties should be part of the process of any negotiation that seeks a win-win solution, b) The focus of those parties involved in negotiation should be interests, not positions,to find a lasting solution that meets the interests of both parties, and c) Negotiation that aims at developing a win-win solution requires a trusted person or group and a trust filled environment to succeed.

Therefore, let me start with the ruling party. Leaders of TPLF should stop acting as the only actors in seeking a lasting solution. TPLF should allow a third party to conduct a transparent, free, and independent negotiation that aims at developing a win-win plan. The people of Ethiopia should understand that, whether we like it or not, TPLF ruled us for more than a quarter of a century, and for now it’s in power having control over the military, security apparatus, and media even if we haven’t given it the mandate. We could remove it by force at the end of the day but this is going to be a long, bitter, and protracted journey that results in loss of thousands of lives and the destruction of our country’s infrastructure. Most importantly, if we exclude TPLF from the process in bringing democracy, we open up a loophole for another dictator (s) to take advantage. We’ve the same experiences in the past. If this scenario happens again, we may be dealing with a tyrannical regime like TPLF (or even worst) in the coming decades to gain our freedom, democracy, equality, and justice.As the saying goes, ‘better the devil you know than the angel you don’t’. On the other hand, if we involve TPLF and if it is possible to find a win-win solution through a negotiation, we set an example for this and generations to come that we Ethiopians can solve our own problems without killing one another and destroying our own infrastructure. Let this history of violence to resolve our differences be over in this generation. Let’s change our culture of win-lose once and for all.

Of course, I’m not sure whether TPLF humbles itself and come to the negotiation table. We don’t have control over TPLF’s decision. Let’s do our part. If TPLF doesn’t accept negotiation to seek a win-win scenario and continues to use force to remain in power, then, we have done our part and no regret about what is coming ahead and the prices TPLF is going to pay for its arrogance. While pushing TPLF to negotiate and doing other things we have been doing back home and here in the diaspora, let’s articulate our interests and reach consensus. We should find a way to come together and form a coalition and identify our top interests. Once we agree in our interests and form one front, let’s negotiate with TPLF to get our interests without further bloodshed, loss of lives, damage of infrastructures, and lost opportunities. By the way, passing through this process doesn’t slow us down or hurt even if the negotiation fails. This coalition continues to lead the struggle in defeating TPLF, and making sure there will be a smooth transition from dictatorship to democracy.

Yes, negotiation to come up with a win-win solution is going to be hard because we’ve never done it before. We aren’t sure whether it works. What is more? Many people may oppose this idea from both sides. They may consider it as defeat and weakness. There are also others who are waiting to take advantage of a chaotic situation. Some from TPLF may be laying low for now to try coup d’état when things go out of control so that they may make minor reforms and remain in power to continue protect their interests. Likewise, there may be some in the opposition camp who are desperate to come to power, dominate, revenge, and pursue their interests by tapping into the power vacuum that may be created when things go out of control.

Yes, it isn’t easy to reach a win-win solution while there is no trust between the involving parties. That is why we need a trustworthy negotiator like Jimmy Carter whom the two parties trust to lead the negotiation.Sadly, we have had bad experiences in our past history. Such groups either took side or failed to keep their promises. This time, let’s be careful and choose diverse individuals, who are trustworthy, independent, fair, and capable to lead the negotiation. By the way, coming up with this group doesn’t hurt even if TPLF isn’t ready to come to the negotiation table. This group may be used to rally oppositions to create coalition, and liaison between the people of Ethiopia and the international community.Most importantly, if things go out of control, the group could be used to bring key players for negotiation to secure a smooth transition in the post TPLF Ethiopia. We have to be proactive. We shouldn’t allow chaos to ensue and dictate our future. Let’s take ownership as we head toward transitioning our country from dictatorship to democracy. If you support this initiative in principle, please play your part, improve it, and contribute your share for the realization of a win-win solution for the current crisis we are in. Note that we’ve a narrow window of opportunity for this option to work…

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Dr. Assegid Habtewold is a leadership expert at Success Pathways, LLC. He can be reached at [email protected]