The claim that “people know what they want or what is good for them” needs to be handled with extreme care. If one claims that people in general do not know what is good for them that would mean that people are ignorant. That is wrong because it is false. In general, people do know lots of things—they do not need experts about every decision they make. What needs to be noted in this context is not a general claim that people know what is good for them. The kind of knowledge that is attributed to people is the key in understanding the claim that people know what is good for them. As the context suggests, the content of knowledge in question is about socio-economic, legal, political, etc., issues that are essential for a society to flourish. When understood in such terms, it is correct to say that people, in general, do not possess expertise when it comes to knowledge of the complexity of socio-economic, political, and legal issues that a society needs for its flourishing to the extent the elites possess the relevant knowledge in question. Accordingly, it is a matter fact that the elite, those with expertise in various issues that affect a society, play significant roles, but the roles could be negative or positive or a mixture of both. I conclude this piece with a call to the elites in pro-referendum camp as well as the proponents of a united democratic Ethiopia with non-secessionist Oromos on their side going forward to make their case to inform the public regarding the pros and cons of referendum if referendum is going to be real.
The Role of the Elite
The pro-referendum Oromo elites have every right to advance and argue for their view, but that does not mean their view is a reflection of the views of the majority of the Oromo people now on the ground at the moment. Their role, among other things, is to offer compelling reasons why a referendum for secession of Oromia is a good thing for the Oromo people. If the majority of the Oromo people do not want secession as a good thing, at the moment, on what grounds would the referendum proponents argue that secession is a good thing for the Oromo people? Since elites play a role as opinion shapers, it is possible for referendum advocating Oromos to shape the views of the Oromo people on the ground. But the question that such elites must answer is this: Why should the Oromo people choose referendum for secession of Oromia when other options can bring about the desire or the will of the Oromo people? To make a case for the will of the people to be respected, say, in making a case for referendum, should be distinguished from instilling in people a view and an option that might not be good, all things considered. If, as a considered judgement, a referendum for the secession of Oromia will not bring about what is good for the people, it is the responsibility of the elite to seek another option which can bring the good for the Oromo people. It is the role of the elite to make known all available options for the Oromo people to make an informed decision. Ultimately, it is incumbent on advocates of referendum to make a compelling case why secession of Oromia based on a referendum is a better option for the Oromo people.
On the other hand, the elites on pro-unity camp, those who think and believe that the secession of Oromia goes against the interests and the will of the people of Ethiopia, including the Oromo people who want to remain as an important part of Ethiopia as a sovereign nation, must make a compelling case for their view. To make a case for a united Ethiopia as a sovereign nation with the Oromo people as part of the unity need not be seen as a position against referendum per se. The issue is what is good, or the best scenario for the people of Ethiopia, including the Oromos who want to remain part of Ethiopia as a sovereign nation. Obviously, millions of Ethiopians, the majority of Ethiopians want Ethiopia to remain a sovereign nation without the regime in power, with a democratically elected government. This is also the will or the desire of millions of people. That means, the elites on the pro-referendum side for the secession of Oromia face the elites on the pro-Ethiopian unity side, and vice versa, to hear the most compelling cases for their respective views that will inform the decision of the public on both sides. Both groups must make a case for what is good for the people in question. When the Oromo people who hear the best reasons why referendum for secession of Oromia are also given a chance to hear the best reasons why it is better for the Oromo people to remain as part of Ethiopia with a democratically elected government that justly addresses the grievances of the Oromo people, there is nothing wrong for the people to choose what is the best for them. In presenting their arguments to serve their people the elites are expected to present truth with integrity without seeking their own personal agenda. The elites who end up seeking their own interest in the name of the interest of the people on whose names they speak will only end up doing what the regime in power does—deceiving the people, betraying the people in whose name they speak and advocate issues without actually doing what they do to serve their people. It is my hope that elites on both cams will serve their community with integrity, courage, and conviction. Finally, it is my hope that this article will trigger a national conversation with that exhibits civility.
Tedla Woldeyohannes teaches philosophy at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville and can be reached at email@example.com