National Dialogue in Ethiopia

National Dialogue Commissioner, Mesfin Araya
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Ethiopia, an ancient civilizational state in the Horn of Africa, has a rich history, and with that, markedly various challenges, and triumphs. Despite negative media due to recent conflict and insecurity, Ethiopia boasts noteworthy achievements. To mitigate the effects of climate change, this country of 120 million is undertaking remarkable grassroots mobilization campaign, in planting hundreds of millions of trees each year, for the next ten years. Efforts are underway to become food security by developing agricultural and food production systems. The country continues to grow its school feeding program as well. To share its own story with the world, Ethiopia has been a strong advocate and initiator of an African Continental media platform that will be based in Addis Ababa. Among its overlooked stories is the country’s significant stride towards an all-inclusive national dialogue.

Current Context: Post-Conflict Era

Ethiopia currently finds itself in tense post-conflict period, having recently emerged from a two-year deadly conflict in the north. The conflict concluded with the signing of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA) on November 12, 2023, in Pretoria, South Africa. This protracted conflict has left a profound impact on the nation, resulting in human suffering and infrastructural damages. The country faced negative media in the West, largely due to a coordinated disinformation narrative campaign. Ethiopia is currently inching forward in the Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) process of armed irregular combatants, alongside reconstruction efforts. Additionally, the nation is gearing up for a national dialogue that aims to include all citizens, across all regions.

Pretexts cited by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in what its leaders dubbed a “pre-emptive strike” against the North Command of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) in November 2020 were ultimately rooted in differences on constitutional interpretations of the country’s electoral law, the nature of federalism, and the future direction of government. While resort to violence was not justified, it is evident that such yawningly large political differences pose a threat to the national security. Ethiopia must take this and other issues into account and devise some kind of national accord on burning issues, or risk reoccurrence of political deadlock down the road.

Passionate disputes regarding the constitution and system of government have been central themes of contention for decades. Recognizing the seriousness and intractability of the situation, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government pledged to establish an Independent National Dialogue Commission on October 4, 2021, following his party’s victory in the 6th National election, which coincided with the ongoing conflict with the TPLF. But such undertakings will invariably take time to process and at time be met with impediments. In the case of Ethiopia’s, it’s important to understand the painstaking process to understand the meaning behind the National Dialogue.

Prelude to the National Dialogue Commission As part of the government’s commitment, the newly elected administration of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed promptly approved the draft proclamation for the establishment of the National Dialogue Commission through its Council of Ministers. The decision reflected the government’s promise to foster national consensus and create a common ground on critical national issues through inclusive public consultation.

The Commission came of Proclamation Number 1265/2021, passed by the House of Peoples Representatives, and entered into force on January 13, 2021. The establishment sparked diverse views regarding its timing, as it coincided with armed conflict between the Federal Government, allied forces, and the TPLF. Some argued diversion from the war, while others saw it as an opportunity to end the conflict with the TPLF and Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), both of which were designated as terrorist entities by parliament. The international community initially gave lip service praise to it, before eventually moving in support of its stated goals.

Objectives and Procedures: The proclamation outlined the commission’s guiding principles, which include inclusivity, transparency, credibility, tolerance, mutual respect, rationality, implementation and context sensitivity, impartial facilitation, depth and relevance of agendas, democracy, rule of law, national interest, and the incorporation of national traditional knowledge and values.

The commission’s objectives include facilitating the national dialogue and supporting the implementation of its recommendations. It also emphasizes the rigorous and impartial process of nominating the 11 Commissioners through open public participation. This process took up the bulk of the time, and to the chagrin of many, it dragged the process. However, being methodical in the selection process is a key component of credibility and independence.

Activities and Progress: Since its formation in 2021, with little fanfare, the National Dialogue Commission has engaged in various activities. These include consultations with regional governments, religious leaders, civil society, political parties, marginalized groups, and the diaspora communities, with the aim of gathering input and ensuring a sense inclusivity all. The commission has also reviewed legal documents, customary values, cultural norms, and experiences of other countries that underwent successful national dialogue and reconciliation processes.

The commission has conducted two phases of consultations with various segments of society across Ethiopia. These consultations involved clarifying the commission’s goals, understanding the concerns and issues of the people, and identifying preferences for the national dialogue methodology.

Currently, the commission is gathering representatives selected at the grassroots level from all regions to identify agendas for the national dialogue. The commission will soon travel to conflict affected Amhara, Afar and Tigray regions to facilitate the process of identifying representatives from these areas.

Deliberations on the National Dialogue Commission has inescapably been a slow and grinding course. Commitment to transparency and inclusivity in the selection of commissioners and participants reflects its dedication to fostering a constructive and effective engagement. The preparation phases, involving rigorous public consultations, attest to the commission’s dedication to engaging all segments of society. Government officials have allowed the commission a large degree of freedom to lend it more credibility. Officials have largely avoided being seen to meddle in it to disabuse public trepidations of government usurpation of the process.

Genuine dialogue offers an opportunity for Ethiopia to find common ground and work towards a shared national destiny. It is hoped that all parties, including armed combatants, will participate in the dialogue and contribute to Ethiopia’s promising future.

Creation of the National Dialogue Commission

As mentioned, the decision to create the National Dialogue Commission was made via the Council of Ministers and was released in a statement by the Office of the Prime Minister. Proclamation 1265/2021 was passed at the House of Peoples Representatives and came into force on January 13, 2021. The timing of this move sparked public debate, as it occurred amidst ongoing military conflict and polarization.

“Whereas: there are difference of opinions and disagreements among various.

political and opinion leaders and segments of society in Ethiopia on the most.

fundamental national issues and it is a necessity to resolve the differences and

disagreements through broad based inclusive public dialogue that engenders.

national consensus…”

However, the Commission’s objectives extend beyond facilitating the discourse itself. The commission is also tasked with supporting the implementation of recommendations made. To ensure transparency and impartiality of this process, the nomination process for the 11 Commissioners was conducted through virtual platforms and physical submissions to the Secretariat of the Speaker of the House of Peoples’ Representatives (HPR). As said, process involved consultations with religious leaders, political parties, and grassroot community leaders to create a common empathetic of the transparency of the selection process.

            “The Secretariat of the Speaker of the House of Peoples’ Representatives (HPR)

shall receive from the public, political parties, and civil society nominations of

individuals who could serve as Commissioners;”

From a pool of over 600 nominees, 42 individuals were shortlisted, and finally, 11 Commissioners were approved by the House of Peoples Representatives. These Commissioners are now fully dedicated to facilitating the much-anticipated national dialogue.

Highly vetted and trustworthy commissioners mark a crucial step in Ethiopia’s efforts to find common ground and resolve differences through dialogue. As the process moves forward, it is expected to play a significant role in shaping the country’s path towards national reconciliation and unity. Most importantly, this is the first time in history a thoroughly organized body has been instituted to deal with the nations thorniests issues in a peaceful way.

What has the Commission conducted so far?

The Commission’s mission began by meticulously reviewing research documents, legal proceedings, customary norms, and historical papers relevant in aiding national dialogue. This process has been a year in the making. It managed to incorporate key findings of the Ethiopian Identity and Boundary Commission and the National Reconciliation Commission, which was folded. Furthermore, the Commissioners have studied successful national dialogue and reconciliation processes from other countries, such as South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, and more, to draw insights and best practices.

Preparation phase has been divided into two key consultation phases with different segments of Ethiopian society. In the initial introductory phase, Commissioners embarked on a tour across all regions of the country. During these visitations, they clarified the Commission’s objectives and attentively listened to the concerns of focus groups, political and social agenda raised by the public. In the subsequent phase, the focus shifted to identifying the preferences of the people regarding the methodology of dialogue.

As of the current stage, the Commission is engaged in gathering representatives selected from grassroot-level participants across all regions and two city administrations of the country. A decision has been made to temporarily delay engagements in conflict hotspots, to give time for settlement of issues. Conflict zone will be brought in as soon as calm is regained. Local representatives play a crucial role in identifying the agenda and formulating local issues.

With a view of creating awareness and addressing concerns, the Commission will hold virtual meetings with various diaspora associations and organization. These meetings aim to foster better understanding and engagement with Ethiopians abroad, which have become important links to social, political, and economic progress, in building consensus. Following the signing of the Pretoria CoHA, which brought an end to the conflict in Northern Ethiopia, members of the Commission traveled to the Tigray region to engage in discussions with officials from the Interim Administration of Tigray. In the coming weeks, the Commission will travel to the Amhara region. Hyperbole

What’s next to start the National Dialogue Process?

Once the identification process is concluded, the Commission will initiate the official national dialogue process, bringing together diverse set of voices from all regions of the country. As stipulated in the Proclamation Number 1265/2021, the Commission’s mandate includes setting procedural guidelines, aiding in the selection of representatives from different segments of society, preparing a comprehensive document, outlining the conference agendas for the national dialogue, and overseeing the entire process from start to finish.

Additionally, the Commission is tasked with preparing conclusion documents based on varies discussions, as well as devising strategies for the implementation of the recommendations derived from these dialogues. Once prepared, these outcome documents will be submitted to the House of Peoples Representatives, the executive organ, and other relevant stakeholders in positions of government. Furthermore, the Commission is mandated by law to ensuring transparency by disclosing these conclusive recommendations to the public.

The Commission has been legally empowered to provide support to the government in devising a concrete plan of implementing any recommendations that arise from the national dialogue discussions. Furthermore, the Commission will play a pivotal role in monitoring the implementation of these recommendations to ensure their effective execution. Furthermore, the law empowering the commission has been set in motion to supersede any change in government, meaning if elections result in change of government, the commission’s work will not be impeded, unless by another parliamentary decree.


Ethiopia’s journey towards a National Dialogue has garnered public support and is seen as a crucial step in resolving the nation’s outstanding differences. The Government’s commitment to this inclusive process has been commended by citizens across the country.

The Ethiopian National Dialogue Commission’s formation and nomination of Commissioners has demonstrated transparency and inclusivity, reflecting the Government’s dedication to an open and participatory approach from the beginning. This has been time consuming, and personalities of the Commission themselves have instilled confidence in the process.

The preparation phases have been characterized by a rigorous series of public consultations, engaging diverse segments of society. This thorough inclusivity has further strengthened the belief in the potential of a successful national dialogue.

There is shared hope for an all-inclusive, transparent, and credible process. While the national dialogue may not provide an immediate “magic bullet” solution to all challenges, its significance lies in fostering a common understanding among the public and political elites that a peaceful conversation is a credible way of resolving differences in a mutually advantageous way, while strengthening national unity, democracy, and individual and group rights.

Ultimately peaceful dialogue paves the way for reconciliation towards a united and resilient future. It offers a home-grown democratic solution to lingering problems. As the nation moves forward, the call for peaceful compromises becomes even more vital. Those currently involved in armed conflict are urged to lay down their arms and embrace the dialogue platform, which has shown promising potential. Ethiopia should not miss this opportunity.

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