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The Revolutionary Democrats are holding public meetings with different sectors of society as part of their drive to understand the people’s needs and get a feel for the public’s heartbeat. This exercise should be commended, since it provides a platform for elected officials to hear directly from the electorate about the current affairs of the nation, the public’s grievances and aspirations, and the best way forward.
Such platforms also provide the people with an opportunity to directly direct their questions towards government officials.
Done the right way, in a genuine spirit of understanding each other’s positions and interests, such meetings can go a long way towards fostering peace and stability. It can also bring about a greater level of consensus and mutual understanding among different people and the government.
As part of this move to hear directly from the people, the EPRDFites are having meetings with scholars at various universities across the country as the new academic year is setting in motion. The meetings with the university community, involving lecturers, support staff and students, has been taking place each year since a few years back.
In previous years, the meetings focused on the country’s education policy, from elementary to higher levels, while also dealing with the overall government policy on its development agendas. These meetings also served as ideal platforms to discuss emerging regional and national issues affecting the smooth learning process at universities.
The government’s initiative to hold talks with university staff and students in the past has resulted in candid discussions and hot debates on several issues – not just restricted to education policy, but on issues of security, religious extremism and the threat of radicalisation of staff and students at higher education institutions.
Despite the promise this year’s meetings had in serving as an ideal platform to bring together a government, which is under increased pressure from prolonged protests, and a recognised section of the society, which could better voice people’s concerns, the meetings largely fell short of their expectations.
The government should have exploited the platform to explain the actions it took to bring about law and order following some violent demonstrations in recent months. This would have helped to tone down some of the high pitched emotions expressed by a number of participants at the meeting. The scholars, on their part, should have made the best of the platform to challenge the government on what they claim are its failings, rather than consciously being passive during the meeting.
This year’s government-university staff meetings largely failed to bring about common understanding, let alone consensus on pressing national issues. From framing the agenda that was tabled at the meetings, the organisers overlooked the gravity of failing to openly discuss the elephant in the room – the recent protests in the country. This proved to be a non-starter for some participants, who decided to walk out or walk away during the breaks.
The government and scholars missed a valuable opportunity, which came at a unique juncture in the ruling party’s drive to save itself from the loss of legitimacy, to aid what can be described as a desperate search for solutions that will enable it to address people’s grievances.
Rather than serving as platforms to chart the way forward, the meetings turned out to be yet another venue to further the divide the government and a large portion of the university community. The government’s lack of initiative to come up with a relevant and timely agenda has sent a critical signal to participants of the meetings and the public at large about the state of its readiness to effect and embrace change and reform.
The minimal interest expressed by the scholars in actively participating in the meetings will do very little to resolve the problems that have grappled the country in recent months. Active deliberations, supported by evidence and analytical rigour, should have been what characterised the recent meetings. The scholars failed to comprehend the significance of the platform in bringing peaceful solutions for the political crisis that have unfolded in the country.
Both sides have wasted this opportunity to voice concerns, have candid discussions on the country’s current state and hear each other out. Instead, they opted to talk only for the sake of talking and not really get to the crux of the issues or forward any tangible solutions.
As a consequence, the public’s hope that the Revolutionary Democrats will heed the people’s call to reform is being eroded. Worse still, the public’s belief in resolving conflicts through genuine conversation and dialogue is becoming thin, thanks to repeated pedestrian meetings, with participants talking at each other rather than with each other, and with no practical solutions as their outcomes.
The only way to resolve disputes in a democratic society where multiple interests persist should be through dialogue. But such exercise should be conducted in a manner worthy of bringing deeper understanding of all opinions and views raised, with the ultimate aim of finding a genuine solution.
Subsequent meetings between the government and the public should be carried out in the spirit of actual dialogue, with overriding issues put forward to the table and all parties expressing their views without any restraint. The ruling party cannot deliver on its duties and responsibilities without honest feedback from the public, and the public cannot have its problems addressed unless it actively voices those issues at platforms designed to communicate through straight forward dialogue.
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