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The Ascendance of a New Regime and Contradictory Policies and Measures in Ethiopian Politics

Ghelawdewos Araia, PhD July 4, 2018


As always, the Ethiopian phenomenon is complicated, complex, and shrouded in mystery to say the least. Given the admixture of a lingering feudal mode of thinking (the mode of production is done away with) with unpolished and haphazard modernity (considering the exposure of Ethiopians to Western values and technology), obscurantism in the Ethiopian political culture is not surprising. Hybrid politics, however, is dangerous because it tears apart Ethiopians between the archaic framework of thinking and the relatively science-based general orientation. Ethiopians, thus, are suspended between two irreconcilable poles, and adding fuel to the fire, the present generation of Ethiopians are even in a much worse condition for the following reasons: 1) they have no knowledge of the rich and proud history of Ethiopia; 2) they lack political consciousness; 3) they are unable to make linkage with the legacy of the patriotic pan-Ethiopian movements (e.g. the Ethiopian Student Movement); and 4) they have lost the common Ethiopian identity and embraced rather a much narrower ethnic identity.

It should be clear, however, that the present generation of Ethiopians is not to be blamed because it is a victim of the three-decade ethnic enclave Kilil mentality bombardment, that systematically undermined the all-encompassing and uplifting Ethiopian nationalism and identity. With the above backdrop and introduction, I now like to critically examine the nature and characteristics of the new regime and the many contradictions and puzzling political parameters that have surfaced over the last four months.

There is no doubt that the new prime minister, Abiye Ahmed, has distinctly and single-handedly mobilized the Ethiopian people by his intellectual prowess and his communication skills, but his deeds have been performed by too much too soon actions. Accomplishing political agendas in such a short time is highly appreciated, although translating policies into action via slow and steady ‘track and field’ is sometimes preferable in order to avoid (or prevent in advance) mistakes that could have negative impact on the overall politics of the country. The latter strategy almost always results in success, and for this reason alone the Prime Minster should slow down and make a reflection of what has been accomplished so far and what would be accomplished in the future. 

Beyond pace in political actions and implementations of policies, it is also absolutely important to prioritize political and economic matters rather than staging massive populist gatherings for the sake of seeking support from the people. I personally think that the gathering of a million people at Maskal Square was unnecessary vis-à-vis the urgency to overcome the sky-rocketing cost of living in Ethiopia and the abject living conditions of the Ethiopian poor. On top of this, the other reason I did not support huge gatherings of people is in light of security and safety. In point of fact, in my article entitled Gratification and Gratitude for the Reemergence of Pan-Ethiopian Agenda and Discerning the Invisible Hand in Ethiopian Politics: http://www.africanidea.org/Gratification_gratitude.html , I have admonished the Prime Minister as indicated in Number 2 of the ten recommendations and as shown below, 

Your leadership style so far is impressive; you are open and transparent and you have exhibited the kernel of Ethiopia’s humility and humbleness reflected in your interaction with the people at street level and grassroots level. Nevertheless, although human beings in general and Ethiopians in particular are good by nature, you must watch out for monsters masquerading in the midst of good Ethiopians; wherever you go, security should be imperative (or applied as a necessary evil); it should not be too tight, for it isolates you from the people and it should not be too lax for it will tempt the monsters use the propitious moment for their evil deeds.1 

The above advice, as part of the article mentioned above, was written and posted on May 26, 2018, but because it was not considered and followed by the political leadership, the monsters attempted to assassinate the Prime Minster by throwing grenades; two Ethiopians died and hundreds were wounded. The Prime Minster and his entourage should have seriously considered security measures instead of risking their lives for stunt and ostentatious popularity contests. Now, I believe, the Prime Minister has learned his lesson, and the fact that he survived the bomb threat is good for him and his family and good for Ethiopia as well.

What the Prime Minster should do in order to promote Ethiopian national interests is act like primus inter pares (first among equals) with his cabinet ministers when it comes to framing and implementing policies. As I see it now, the newly appointed ministers are either inactive or eclipsed by the compelling (perhaps domineering as well) personality of Dr. Abiye. If the Prime Minister indeed is in favor of collective leadership, he should give a chance to his Ministers and other authorities at a higher level to actively participate in the decision making process; Dr. Abiye should not act as a dominant (gargantuan) actor or a soliloquy leader. It is contradiction in terms if collective leadership is not applied and the Prime Minister (PM) continues to lecture all by himself. This does not mean that Dr. Abiye should quit his educating endeavor, which, I think, are good for general knowledge and constructive engagements. But, what it means is, while the PM, for instance lectures on information technology (IT), the Minister of Agriculture should educate Ethiopian farmers, and the Minster of Defense should approach the military, particularly the high ranking officials of the armed forces. I found it ironic and contraire that Dr. Abiye lectures the top Ethiopian generals on military science. 

PM Abiye’s rallying slogan of Yikreta, Fikir, Selam, and Andinet (Frogiveness, Love, Peace, and Unity), is a wonderful motto and a strong vehicle in mobilizing the Ethiopian people while at the same time forging Ethiopian unity. As of recent the PM has added one more color to his palette: Medemer: literally, ‘to add up’ up but figuratively to mean ‘to unite’ or ‘to pull together’. Ironically, however, under the watch of the PM, new ethnic conflicts have flared up in the Sidamo-Wolita zone; a skirmish in Assosa where 12 people lost their lives; and an attack of innocent Tigrayans in Bati Wollo by a cursing gang whose actions was justified by the police in their midst. The fact that Kilil and Federal police were unable to quell such disturbances (conflicts that challenge the unity of the Ethiopian people) is contradictory and a refutation to Abiy’es lecture series on Ethiopian unity and also a rejection to the relatively strong security measures of the previous regimes.

Moreover, while Dr. Abiye’s initiative in opening dialogue with the Sidama and Gurage people is admired, his silence on the attack of Tigrayans in Wollo is puzzling and unsettling. To be fair to Dr. Abiye, however, it is most appropriate to recognize his repeated explanation to the public in regards to the so-called exceptional advantage garnered by the people of Tigray as perceived by some Ethiopians. He stated time and again that the people of Tigray did not gain anything above other ethnic groups of Ethiopia.


Other glaring contradiction in the overall “proclamation” of forgiveness is the new regime’s highly selective invitation that include the former enemies of Ethiopia and ex-Derg members, while at the same time systematically avoiding multitude of Ethiopians (especially in the Diaspora) who also equally deserve forgiveness and the right to rejoin the larger Ethiopian society. The latter groupings are the many Ethiopians who were either black-listed by the EPRDF or altogether denied the dual citizenship, otherwise known as Tewlede Ethiopia (people of Ethiopian origin). On this matter, as indicated in Gratitude and Gratification…article, the Institute of Development and Education for Africa (IDEA) has a tangible and credible first hand information and its finding can be shared with the Government of Ethiopia if the latter deems it necessary and important and also thinks it can help it redeem injustice.

Incidentally, the new regime has forgiven all that were hitherto defined as terrorists, and it has even invited and embraced former Derg members who were engaged in the Red Terror and committed violent crimes against the Ethiopian people, but it did not exhibit any sign of forgiveness and invitation to other Ethiopian groups who are intellectuals, scholars, and professionals. It did not also take a bold measure to invite organizations like the EPRP; if the new regime welcomes Arbegnoch-Gibot 7, it should also invite the EPRP; otherwise the Government’s position on forgiveness would remain contradictory and elusive. 

The other major contradiction that I see in the new regime’s policies is the decision to make a departure from the developmental state and embrace instead capitalism via the liberal economy strategy. I will discuss this important issue separately and in detail in a forthcoming article. However, here, a passing remark is necessary in an attempt to dissuade or reprimand Dr. Abiye’s Government from making an egregious mistake in reversing the gains of economic growth accomplished under the developmental state. If the Government pursues the liberal economic policy and privatizes major Ethiopian industries like Telecom, Ethiopian Electric Light and Power Authority (EELPA), Ethiopian Railway, Ethiopian Airlines, and Ethiopian Shipping Lines, it will undermine the revenue and national budget in the short haul and will slow down (or even disrupt) the transformative potential of the developmental state in the long term. By employing the liberal economy agenda, the Government will contradict domestic and national initiatives and will succumb unto serving foreign corporations. 

Regarding the self-determination of nationalities and the pan-Ethiopian unity or a unified strong Ethiopia, the PM contradicted himself when he had a meeting with the Sidama and Gurage people. He told them they could have their own regional states if they wish to do so, although he also said “but unity is better” in a very obscure way. The PM should know that the present ethnic hatred and strife is the result of the language/ethnic based Kilil formation; adding more regional mini-states would further exacerbate ethnic animosity and accelerate political fragmentation, and the call for Ethiopian unity (or Ethiopiawinet) would thus become meaningless. 

With respect to EPRDF’s current performance, I see a subtle and yet simple phenomenon of Abiye vs. EPRDF, that is the PM against his own party, a contradiction within a contradiction. I argue that the EPRDF is no longer a cohesive group of four parties. It looks that the four parties that make up the EPRDF have gone separate ways; the TPLF is no longer the dominant party and for all practical purposes, the bulk of its leadership have retreated to Tigray; the Debub party is silent and its most outspoken chair, Shiferaw Shigute, has resigned from his chairmanship; the OPDO is now confronted by the OLF despite the collaboration of ex-OLF members like Lencho and Negewo with the OPDO; the OPDO and other Oromo elements also may not like Abiye’s positive attitude toward Emperor Menelik; furthermore, some radical Oromo have begun labeling Abiye as ‘Ras Gobena’ II (Dagmawi Gobena). So, the crisis within the EPRDF may have created a fertile ground for the ascendance of a new regime led by Dr. Abiye, although the EPRDF very much served as a launching pad for the PM to assume the highest position in the government structure. 

When Dr. Abiye addressed the Afar people, he was emphatic on the collective EPRDF decision making process, but it does not look that way when the PM hurriedly encouraged (or forced) top EPRDF leadership to resign or retire (e.g. Kassu Illala, Sebhat Nega, Abba Dula Gemeda, General Samora Yunis etc.) the EPRDF had already weakened itself by internal squabbles and rivalries and it seems that Abiye is giving it its final blow, and if the present politics is marshaled unabated, the EPRDF could be history in two years, unless it miraculously reassembles itself and proves as yet a viable party in the 2020 (2012 EC) election (if it is held!). What Dr. Abiye told about the EPRDF to the Afar people and his own actions is contradictory. He is in fact making decisions alone and the EPRDF, as a ruling party does not seem to control the rein of power nor apply “checks and balances” against the Executive, not to mention the Parliament that has constitutional power to check on the Executive but was turned into a rubber stamp legislature long before Abiye came to power, although this so-called House of Peoples Representatives (Ya Hizb Mikir Biet) questions government officials from time to time. Just questions! 

One more and yet significant contradiction I like to discuss in this essay is the constitutional order vis-à-vis the central government and the regional states. The Bahir Dar Stadium gathering of people was apparently a solidarity gathering staged for Dr. Abiye, but what I have watched and observed is not the case. The Bahir Dar gathering, presided over by Degu Andargachew (the President of the Amhara Regional State) and Demeke Mekonnen, the Vice PM of Ethiopia, in fact, was an orchestration of Amhara solidarity, which by the way is acceptable to me insofar it does not foment ethnic animosity. Unfortunately, however, the inflammatory speeches of Degu and Demeke were an all out demagoguery deliberately directed toward the flag carrying charlatans; some of the latter groups were waving the old Ethiopian flag without the Star that represents the nine regional states. I personally would not mind the old flag because it is still an Ethiopian flag and it represented the Ethiopian nation for quite a long time; others were carrying Eritrean flag, and still others carrying the picture of Mengistu Hailemariam. Those who were carrying Mengistu’s picture could have connection with ex-Derg members or they could be disgruntled innocent Ethiopians who may not know that Melaku Teferra, one of Mengistu’s henchman murdered hundreds, if not thousands of Ethiopian youth in the Gondar area. People who don’t know about their history could go against their own interest; ignorance is dangerous!

Bahir Dar became the epitome of anti-Ethiopian unity and for all intents and purposes a declaration of regional self-governance breaking away from the Ethiopian body politic. Quite surprisingly, Degu and Demeke never mentioned their party, the EPRDF; never talked about constitutional order, and they insinuated rather that they will no longer respect the current constitution, the supreme law of the country. Some of the demonstrators were carrying a placard that reads, “The present constitution does not represent us”. I am not sure whether Bahir Dar was meant to signal the rejection of the present ruling party (their own party) or a departure toward dismembering Ethiopia under the pretext of establishing an Amhara nation. I don’t think the majority of the Amhara people will ever endorse the breakdown of Ethiopia because a significant of the Amhara people are patriotic Ethiopians who love their country, unless there is some twist of historical irony that may come as a revelation to all of us. Unfortunately, however, the emotion-ridden charlatans, misguided by the speeches of Degu and Demeke, could create havoc and damage to the unity of the Ethiopian people.

The last contradiction I like to address is the Kilil vs. Ethiopian geopolitical formations. I have repeatedly discussed the Ethiopian federal structure and the formation of the nine regional states in my previous articles and my book, Ethiopia: Democracy, Devolution of Power, and the Developmental State. In this book, quite obviously, the nine regional states were thoroughly examined under ‘Devolution of Power’. As far as I am concerned, the Ethiopian central government and the respective regional states have contradictory roles and objectives, although the preponderant pan-Ethiopian agenda obliges them to work in tandem for national interest, and in the latter sense, the two entities could be called harmony of opposites. However, in order to promote a sane and a viable political system and transform Ethiopia economically, it requires patriotic leadership with vision and commitment; a leadership that operates beyond regional borders and gives priority to pan-Ethiopian and pan-African agenda. But, as already addressed above, the narrow ethno-national tendencies and practices with their attendant ethnic animosities is perilous to the Ethiopian nation and they could even lead to the political fragmentation of historic Ethiopia. I have seen this problem 23 years ago when I published my debut book entitled Ethiopia: The Political Economy of Transition:

The TGE [Transitional Government of Ethiopia] policy of Kilil and self-determination is commendable, but the consequence of fragmentation as a result of a new wave of ethnic political consciousness, and the inability of some minority nationalities to become economically and politically viable, would ultimately preoccupy Ethiopians to otherwise unforeseen problem.2 

I have deliberately referenced the above quote many times in the recent past because Ethiopians don’t seem to realize that we are indeed confronted by “a new wave of ethnic political consciousness”, and quite frankly but sadly what I forecasted 23 years ago have now become a reality and a nightmare for Ethiopia, and the EPRDF, at long last, have begun harvesting what it had sown two and half decades ago. The EPRDF have had good harvests in regards to foundational economy and rapid economic growth, but it has now bad harvest of ethnic animosity and narrow nationalism that are detrimental to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ethiopia. 

What is to be done now? Encountering political problems is not unique to Ethiopia; it happens everywhere in the world, but the historic duty of Ethiopians is to find the real problem (including the contradictions mentioned in this essay), properly diagnose it by employing some methodological rigor, and ultimately figure out a lasting panacea for the nasty virus that combines two ailments of ethnic identity and ethnic hatred; the prescription for the virus, in turn, would also overcome cleavage-prone propensities within political parties and initiate new vistas of tolerant political culture and a much broader outlook of unifying the Ethiopian people . In order to achieve such a grand objective, however, Ethiopians must forge unity irrespective of their ethnic identities and religious affiliations. And once Ethiopians are united, there is no doubt that they can perform miracles by regenerating Ethiopia’s past glory and propel it toward a successful nation among emerging African lions. That will be the done!

Notes:

1. Ghelawdewos Araia, Gratification and Gratitude for the Reemergence of Pan-Ethiopian Agenda and Discerning the Invisible Hand in Ethiopian Politics: A Special Message to PM Abiye Ahmed, http://www.africanidea.org/Gratification_Gratitude.html, May 26, 2018
2. Ghelawdewos Araia, Ethiopia: The Political Economy of Transition, University Press of America, 1995, p. 166

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