Keep Public Offices Away from Religion

On April 26, 2022, a number of people were killed in Gondar following an incident that involved the fighting of two groups divided along religious lines. As reports have it, the incident happened during the funeral of Sheikh Kemal Legas. Apparently, a person who wanted to get a burial stone from a nearby Christian place of worship got into a fight with another who refused to the taking of the stone. The matter escalated to spread from the Islamic cemetery to the city.
The incident that ended in the imprisonment of dozens of individuals in connection with the start and escalation of the incident, did not just end in Gondar. In Silte Zone, a group of youth who claimed to have been infuriated by the incident in Gondar went out burning Orthodox churches. This is not the first time the country was challenged by extremist religious movements as part of a series of security challenges after the coming to the helm of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD).

The moment the Prime Minister stepped into the office was the time of a burning of an Orthodox church in the State of Somali. That incident was followed by a number of incidents that saw the destruction and burning of mosques in the states of Amhara and Tigray, while repetitive incidents of church burnings ensued in the State of Oromia.

As frustrating as this might be for Ethiopians who pride themselves to own a country with the utmost tolerance among religious groups, it should come as no surprise—not in a nation where the leader is so deep in religion to the point of referring to religious scriptures as basis for some of his decisions.

One pertinent incident happened after the release of opposition figures in January 2022. Having failed to properly explain to the public why the prisoners must be released, the Prime Minister appeared at a diaspora gathering to say God told him to do so. This is just one incident. The Prime Minister is known for being a leader with one foot in religion and another in politics. As the man sitting in the country’s most powerful office, what he says will matter to the average citizen to the point of not tolerating the existence of others.

Leaders have a critical role in establishing secular governments, which protect freedom of religion and belief for all. By ensuring that religious beliefs and practices do not interfere with the functioning of the government or society, leaders can help create an environment where people from all backgrounds can thrive.

Secular governments are necessary to focus on social, political, and economic values. Secular governments find a way to value justice as part of an attempt to create a fair environment for plural societies. Undermining the idea of justice while upholding religious values will not bring plural communities together. A secular government can ensure that all citizens—regardless of religion—are treated equally under the law.

Pluralism is another key benefit of secular governments. When different religious groups live together in harmony, it fosters understanding and cooperation among peoples from different cultures and faiths. This is essential for the creation of a peaceful society in which everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed.

Both the PM and his officials at different levels who keep inserting themselves into religious activities and thoughts are the only ones to blame for these clashes. Keep public offices away from religion, both in utterance and in action! EBR

10th Year • May 2022 • No. 107

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