Is the Center Holding?

By Samuel Estefanous

Ever since Yeats had penned ‘The Second Coming’ years ago, a number of scholars, essayists, journalists and politicians have quoted a verse or two from the poem to make some strong points alluding to a looming communal anarchy. Chinua Achebe has made the poem famous in Africa in his book ‘Things Fall Apart’ in the wake of the independence of African Nations from European colonizers.
“The falcon cannot hear the falconer”
“Things fall apart the Center cannot hold”
“Mere anarchy is loosed up on the world”
Reads the poem in part.
In our own country, finding ourselves in whirl of an incomprehensible circle of bestial violence, avarice and unabashed state capture, we are tempted to inquire ‘is the Center holding?’ Are we drifting apart or trying to converge on the Center?
This isn’t just about the government. As a society, under normal circumstances, we are pulled to the Center. When the Center holds we feel secure; we have the leisure to dress down the government and those in power-both elected and assumed, even if we might end up behind bars for the liberty.
Ironic as it may sound, in a way it is our sense of security and belongingness that gives us the right or the sense of entitlement to hold “the power that be” to account. On some level it is indeed a blessing to have a government to run down if not to hold to account.
Unfortunately unlike established Western democracies, in the developing world when the government loses grip on the Center, it precipitates a chain reaction that results in the crumbling of the center of gravity that holds together or brings together different segments of the society.
After the government of Prime Minister Charles Michel collapsed in December 2018, Belgium lasted without a government for a record 592 days. But all along the Center was holding without any noticeable hitch or hiccup. It is true, prior to Belgium Iraq had lasted for 290 days without an elected government. But the latter hardly lasted in a meaningful sense of the word as it was wallowing in a virtual state of chaos and anarchy.
Here, we need to mark the difference between the West and the developing world. In the West when the pundits speak of the absence of government, they meant a democratically elected government of the people for the people by the people. They wouldn’t bestow the honor and distinction of ‘government’ to a care taker one or to a usurped power that actually leads a given nation. Otherwise while Belgium was said to have been going without a government for a record 592 days, the former Prime Minister was running the affair of the government on regular day to day basis.
Little seems to change that affects the public- when the Center is securely holding -with or without the existence of a government. It actually appears that increasingly government is becoming less relevant. Thus, societies in the Western democracies have the luxury to demand ‘less government and less taxation.’ Incidentally it makes one wonder, what the West would ‘peddle around’ if government is becoming thus less important in their part of the World as the appetite for democracy equally diminishes in the absence of the need for any kind of strong central government.
No wonder while vote rigging by the incumbent governments is singled out as a threat to democracy in Africa, voter apathy is enfeebling Western democracy.
On the contrary, in our part of the world the absence of a government is synonymous with the collapse of the Nation. Unlike Western Democracies, we don’t so much demand a strong government as we crave for it. Considering the overwhelming power a government is wielding over the public, democracy is more important to the developing world than to the West where authorities have become enfeebled. When we elect a government in to power, like it or hate it, we are handing over the sword of Damocles to be held over our heads knowing the cold fact that we cannot last a day without it. Here there is a total reversal of roles. The sword hangs over the head of the public not that of the King.
Team Obama was too dim witted to understand the correlation between a government and a Nation in the African and Middle Eastern context. When they had Qaddafi humiliated and murdered, they had near zero clue they were humiliating and killing an otherwise proud Nation. Obama and Co had assumed, with Qaddafi and his presumed thugs gone, institutions of government and the culture of governance would remain unaffected. This fatal misreading of history has cost Africa and the Arab world a Nation. That is why it is said one tends to compound Africa’s woes tenfold when he tries to fix a native African problem with a Soros Foundation tool kit. That was the impetus to launch the New Partnership for African Development back in 2001.
In part that is the reason an African head of government cannot afford to absent himself from public view for an extended period of time. That is why on the very day Emperor Menelik had succumbed to his illness, the elders of the Capital forced the heir apparent to play polo at Jan meda.
It looks like lately Prime Minister Abiy has chosen to cut down on his usual slot of public appearances. This apparent retreat from the limelight has provided cheap ammunition for the army of social media spin doctors and conspiracy theorists. That is hardly surprising. An unexplained absence of a prominent figure let alone the leader of a country gives rise to all sorts of wild speculations.
Nevertheless, be that as it may, when some apparently reputable politicians take this one single insignificant retreat for a conclusive evidence alleging the incapacitation of the Premier and suggest for a transitional leader to take over; it makes one wonder- is the enter holding? Even if the Premier isn’t in a position to run the affair of the government to his full capacity, the Constitution has firmly established the manner and power devolving sequences.
It is so unfortunate that, though we have a constitutional history spanning close to a century we have little to show for constitutionalism. If one looks up the meaning of Constitutionalism, he is certain to come across expressions like-pattern of thought and behavior, a way of life etc than the existence of some kind of Supreme Charter. In this context the Center is held by a compound of ideas and the will to belong to a common polity, not so much by authorities or the barrel of the gun.
By the by, Emperor Hailesilassie is reputed to have chided a famous reporter in strong terms when the latter wanted to know who would succeed him. He was right to chide the reporter. It wasn’t for the Emperor to speculate on Constitutional succession to the Imperial throne.
Giving allowances for the exigencies of the mutability of life, the Premier needs and uses all sorts of legitimate breaks from official duties. He might need a routine medical checkup or he might be enjoying a well deserved and long due vacation.
However the way his minimized appearance on media gave rise to wild speculation about the fall of the government, one is liable to assume the center isn’t holding in the eyes of the general public. The Center which is set to revolve around the person of the Premier and not the office of the Premier is increasingly looking like a chip of wood aimlessly drifting on the surface of a pond.
I have this feeling like the Premier did this on purpose to evoke and gauge all sorts of reactions beginning from the callous insensitive and rude smears to the prayer of the dear good old folks. Bottom line? The callous insensitive fringe elements needed him as well as the old women lining the walls of countless Churches in the country.
What makes this government even more fragile is it is founded on the singular and unique charisma and drive of the Premier and his handbook of governance titled Medmer. True, no one has the gut to deny the great effort continuously being exerted to transition the change from an individual to a Party and to government structures. But the nexus of the change- the ersho- remains uniquely personal. That is why this government needs to go the extra miles to cement the Center and avoid divisive statements and party line declaration.
As of old it is said a house divided cannot stand. I believe this is the Biblical verse Abraham Lincoln tried to employ more than any other to quell the rising storm of war.He did everything in his power to avoid the imminent and looming war. But he could neither avoid the war nor being called a fanatic by the South and an unprincipled weakling by the radical Abolitionists in the North. But he was able to help the Center to hold by rallying Americans behind the noble cause of the abolitionist north, a Center that has endured to date.
The Civil War did divide America right in the middle of it. A division that is lingering and noticeable to this day. Still in the South there are Confederate apologists waving the bar and star banner while the rest of the country loves to unfurl the star spangled banner every opportunity it has got.
A war President or Prime Minister is certain to be divisive, particularly when the war is being waged between and among different interest groups of a given polity. However that is hardly cause enough to contend the Center is crumbling. But it is certainly is an alarm call to mobilize the public and resources to save it by curbing the role and influence of the Party.

God Bless.

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