Arkebe Okubay’s interview, the person, his misrepresentations & TPLFites insatiable lust for power, as laid out bare on Addis Fortune

6 Jan

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin – The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

Tamrat G. Giorgis-interview with Arkebe Okubay, one of the countless numbers of ministerial advisors in Ethiopia’s prime ministerial portfolio, is timely and relevant. I raise my hat to Addis Fortune for its extraordinary efforts especially the persuasiveness of the issues and penetrating questions in that regard. As a person with brief stints with journalism, I would be the first to recognize that this is no simple task especially in a country where true journalism has become a danger zone.

We all are constantly reminded that this dangerous hole has snatched from Ethiopia many of its bright minds, forcing some into exile, a few to their deaths and still many others to Kilinto as well as many left to rot in TPLF’s unmarked prisons.

Author, researcher and TPLF official Arkebe Oubay (Foto Addis Fortune)

Author, researcher and TPLF official Arkebe Oubay with his Made in Africa (Foto Addis Fortune)

At the outset, I must also congratulate Arkebe Okubay for his courage to open his interview with the admission of him being a ‘perfectionist’. In psychology, this is seen as a good move to healthy life. In that context, a respected American professional Dr. Pavel G. Somov – a licensed psychologist in service in New York in his book Helping the Perfectionist Client: Self-Acceptance & Letting Go of Obsessive Control – considers it a disease. Dr Somov says the closest family member of perfectionism is neurosis. In that regard, suffice to state that there are four categories of perfectionism: (a) Neurotic Perfectionism; (b) Narcissistic Perfectionism; (c) Principled (Puritanical) Perfectionism; and (d) Hyper-Attentive (Compensatory) Perfectionism.

Also the study by the elderly statesman of psychology Abraham Maslow quips the search for perfection is sign of neurosis. He then discusses a perfectionist’s needs along five hierarchical levels, which are demonstrated in an individual’s everyday behavior. These needs have their origin in: (a) Individual’s physiological needs, (9) Safety/Security needs, (c) Belonging/Social Affiliation needs, (d) Self-Esteem needs, and (e) Self-Actualization needs.

Even the untrained mind and eye could easily see the unelected ex-Addis Abeba mayor Arkebe Okubay, the former TPLF fighter, now one of its controversial and overactive ministers is restless and in constant search for something. However, by the will of the TPLF, he still continues to enjoy backdoor responsibilities for land allocation to foreign investors and Ethiopians of TPLF extraction. Mundanely speaking, it may be an influential post, although last September his senior party colleagues dealt him a hard blow in blocking the door on him never to get closer to any higher level post in the party’s structures – the central committee or the politburo – during the summer of 2015, held in Mekele. Nonetheless, no matter what for an ambitious a person he remains as hungry as a crocodile in an African water, his super activeness, driven by restlessness and terrible hunger for attention and his consequent constant appearances on the media hardly breaking for him any newer ground.

It seems that Katrin Manson of the Financial Times had Arkebe Okubay in mind, when she observed in The Ethiopia Paradox of July 24,2015: “Doublespeak features deep into its [Ethiopia’s] soul”. While the TPLF was beating itself about the collapse of the first five-year plan in respect of its manufacturing exports, Arkebe kept on smiling, she notes, as if recalling he and his colleagues sharing pride “in matters of state, security and economics”, although “bad students of IMF orthodoxy…”

Therefore, for him the resting place now is a position from where he repeats the mantra of the untested second five-year plan, constantly reiterating that Ethiopia aims “to develop manufacturing in a massive way…to create two million jobs from a 10-year, $10bn investment in government industrial parks.”

My mental image of the interviewee

As I start reviewing Arkebe Okubay’s views from the interview, for transparency’s sake, I would like to be on record that the ex-mayor’s name and image conjure up in my mind the beginning of TPLF’s land robbery in and around our troubled capital city, Addis Abeba. At the time, as mayor and the authority under dictator Meles Zenawi, the actual land seizure and land distribution to TPLF civilian and military officials was his undertaking, the land distribution spearheaded by the then his chef de cabinet Dr. Abraham Tekeste, now state minister at the nation’s Ministry of Finance and Economic Development.

The initial days of land grab is linked to the 2005 election, the TPLF action being a response to the rejection by Addis Abeba residents of the regime, as richly substantiated by former state minister Ermias Legesse in his book የመለስ “ትሩፋቶች” ባለቤት አልባ ከተማ , further elaborated by Yohannes Tadesse Aka from a different angle in his የተስፋው ነፀብራቅ (2014)

The TPLF land tenure plan was also a point of controversy between Paul Henze, dictator Meles Zenawi’s CIA handler, who rebuked him wondering how he could unite and rule over Ethiopia, if he were to exclude Amharas and Oromos from ownership of lands in and around Addis Abeba. This information was released by the late Paul Henze from a transcribed five hours of conversation in Washington D.C. the two had in April 1990, a year before the TPLF marched on Addis Abeba, assisted by the United States Department of State.

At the time a shamed Meles Zenawi retreated, at least as his input into the conversation a claim that he did not mean all Amharas, but Shoan Amharas. In truth, actually no Ethiopians, save TPLFites, have been spared of TPLF’s land loot, as the case of Gambella, Afar, Benishangul-Gumuz, SNNPR, Oromia, etc., confirms!

That is why I happen to be a believer, as are many Ethiopians, in resolution of this issue with immediacy and the appropriate compensation being not a matter of choice or convenience. Ethiopia’s stability and viability cannot be imagined with these conditions met.

So far, as we see today, the open violence the regime has begun to unleash since April/May 2014, which Arkebe Okubay has fully supported, has been explained by the continuing massacre of countless protesters, especially of Oromo high school and university students who happen to be defending their parents and relatives’ lands in Oromia region and around Addis Abeba, even at this very moment as one reads this.

Death and injuries in Argé farmers' kebele by Lake Abiyata (Credit: Negere Ethiopia)

Death and injuries in Argé farmers’ kebele by Lake Abiyata (Credit: Negere Ethiopia)


Dispossessing people off their lands with TPLF laws as Arkebe Okubay’s weapon

Interestingly, while Arkebe Okubay has long left his Addis Abeba mayoralty, he has remained tied to the land looting practices of the TPLF-run Ethiopian state. This is because being in charge of the land is key to the TPLF interests of dominating the country through control of agriculture, the backbone of the economy, and building on it further to ensure political, military and economic control over Ethiopians.

Therefore, with manufacturing and the nation’s industrialization have required Arkebe’s handling, which he has turned into his pet project, following his return from a fully paid PhD sabbatical in England. Ever since, Arkebe has been given free hand to ensure realization in Ethiopia of the Chinese model of manufacturing and industrialization development, partitioning the country into major economic zones.

As I discussed in my article of December 22, የዛሬውንና ነገ የሚከተለውን ኢትዮጵያውያን ለሕወሃት አባሎች ባርነትና ግርድና ከወዲሁ ለማቆም፥ ዜጎች በጋራ ለክብራቸውና ነፃነታችው ትግላቸውን ማፋፋም ይገባቸዋል! (Amharic), the economic zone or industrial park approach is now another typical land grabbing by the TPLF; it is consistent with the instinctive impulse of the Front, holding the lands under its control, leasing those lands to whoever it chooses, but certainly to ethnic and foreign investors. In consequence to that, the majority of the prime landers in Gambella are Tigreans, as the size of their Addis Abeba holdings have also significantly increased, most of them officials and Tigrean TPLF loyalists in the diaspora.

For that, Ethiopians are pushed off their lands, their houses dismantled while they are thrown to the streets; even hundreds of farmers are forced to leave their farmlands to give way to Tigrean investors to grow cash crops,
as happened for tobacco plantation investment in Gamo Gofa’s Algé Kebele in March 2015. They went to the regional administration, which sided the investors for fear of their ruling party connections.

When economics became socialist (Courtesy: Caixin)

When economics became socialist (Courtesy: Caixin)

For Ethiopia, the model was sold by China, its implementation advanced by Chinese economist Prof Justin Yifu Lin, a former vice-president of the World Bank, who has been working hard to be recognized as father of the New Structural Economics – state-led growth.

The road to Arkebe’s current role and official land grab is literally facilitated through the replacement of the 1975 Public Ownership of Rural Lands Proclamation No. 31 1974, by proclamation No 721/2004, titled: A Proclamation To Provide For Lease Holding Of Urban Lands , transferring land ownership from state and public to the state; it has augmented the state’s power to seize any lands from the public in the name of development and lease it to investors, in a way the mother of all official robberies and over a long-term the mother of all protests in Ethiopia, eventual conflicts. Arkebe and his colleagues use the power of the law, which is unlawful law, aiming toward TPLF members enrichment.

Therefore, I must begin by stating in the national interests, I am as opposed to what is lurking behind the Addis Abeba Master Plan and the Arkebe team-operated land identification and seizure for purposes of industrial parks. I strongly believe that, since there is no accountability in the country, and the public has no say nor a court exists to adjudicate any cases where the TPLF interests are involved, I fear that in the end these lands go to enriching the TPLF as a group and its individual members to make them sole political power in the country, which they already are. This merely is due to the fact that the above-mentioned law has made the TPLF the sole landlord in Ethiopia, to exercise the right of ownership without any let or hindrance by the powers vested in it by the revised law, discussed above.

I realize from the interview that Addis Fortune has successfully punctured so many holes in the tower of pretention Arkebe has built in the name of the TPLF and in regard to his undertaking in his leadership of Ethiopia’s industrialization. Evidently, therefore, in tatters is the former mayor’s logic he has been advancing in name under the guise of Ethiopia’s industrialization, which in reality has been his self-aggrandizement project.

At the same time, I grant him that it would not be fair to ascribe all the faults to the ex-mayor of Addis Abeba, during which time he fully devoted himself to ensure the interests of the Front he fought for in his youthful years.

I say this because, putting together the whole picture the sense is inescapable since History is also to blame, for the burdens it has encumbered Ethiopia with. I strongly believe that the most lethal enemy has been the rivalry and competition between Ethiopia’s growth and development on one side and official greed and national resources and opportunities’ plunder on the other under the various governments. In the days of the monarchy, the aristocracy and feudal lords owned the land and properties and businesses. Feudalism was strong that capitalism could not get a whole to help talent and competition to prevail.

Under the Dergue, the country wasted all its resources for wars and conflicts, the Arabs, especially Saudi Arabia financing Eritrea’s separation. In the mid-1970s, the TPLF allied itself to the EPLF in Eritrea to fight the Ethiopian state in order to secede. So in this situation of destitution and repeat dangers the drought had imposed on the country, there could be no economic policy, save the military regime seized in ensuring the country’s territorial integrity on one hand and distributing the little to be had and ‘redistributing poverty’ on the other, while struggling with all sorts of forcers that could not see beyond the day and their anger.

As a person, having some ideas of the three regimes that alternated in Ethiopia, as a professional and currently in retirement, I can testify with the utmost sincerity that the TPLF’s has been the worst that has injured and badly battered our beautiful nation, constantly hurting its long-term interests. Without any qualms, I state that Ethiopia’s of prospects of betterment and promises of improved life to our people under this regime have surely become and will remain ‘manna in the sky’.

Ethiopian youth put solar panel for energy to a collapsing home as the owners watch; hope the way down would not deprive the owners their abode  (foto: Addis Fortune)

Ethiopian youth put solar panel for energy to a collapsing home as the owners watch; hope the way down would not deprive the owners their abode (foto: Addis Fortune)

Reading the thoughts closely of the prime minister’s adviser

Addis Fortune has pinned Arkebe Okubay every step of the way, starting from the first question regarding the link between his claim of successes in agricultural development and continuing drought, famine and hunger in Ethiopia, wherein the lives of 16 to 20 million Ethiopians happen to be in danger at the moment.

In his response, the shrewd Arkebe reverts to the comforts of official positions to recall ‘his prime minister’s’ bogus argument from last August about America and Australia facing the same drought. What that half-backed argument fails to see is that people are not starving in those developed countries. If that were the case, there are many African countries, including neighboring Eritrea, which have faced drought, but – but unlike the situation in Ethiopia– their states have not felt the need to hide the reality, lock villages with militia to block people from trekking to the cities to go begging. Throughout these shameful exercises, the officials kept on wallowing in contradictions in everything they uttered, proving the fact that all along Ethiopia’s progress has been constructed on false claims and senseless numbers!

Another potent question that has put Arkebe in a bind is why his book ‘Made in Africa‘ is selective, especially in its avoidance of the macroeconomic context in Ethiopia in which growth and development takes place. His dumbfounding response – “Yes, it is a choice” is very revealing. He added: “on issues like inflation, exchange rates, and revenues generation – it is clearly outlined in Chapter Three. My take on these is that the government has been following prudent management of these macroeconomic issues.”

Assuming that the data from the Ethiopian Statistical Agency (CSA) is accurate and if we take the double-digit inflation right from the high of 14.2 percent in December 2007 and reaching 40.6 percent in August 2011, with food inflation at 49.9 percent, is Arkebe Okubay telling the world that it is “prudent management”? While easing down somewhat from May 2012 with headline inflation at 25.2 percent and food inflation at 29.2 percent, I doubt if the prime minister’s advisor has given thought to the meaning of double-digit inflation continuing until February 2013 at 10.9 percent and southwards into single digits until May 2015. He must know better, quoting these figures is not endorsement; he surely knows that since his government has been doctoring the figures, especially since 2014 with the situation worsening.

Another argument Arkebe misuses to justify his distancing from the country’s macrocosmic environment is by lamenting about foreign exchange problems and imbalances in government accounts, as if they are the prime causes of the structural imbalances in Ethiopia he talks about – which is not the case! He was further pressed on the macro environment, using his praises for the costs of building infrastructures with borrowed resources, like all other TPLF members, the former mayor is caught telling lies.

He claims, “Ethiopia is in fact a country that could be considered in the top list of those less dependent on external debt.” In the next sentence, however, he makes sure he did not make the case for the dangers of external debt, because of which he argues, “Having the debt on its own is not a problem. Look, for instance, how the private sector operates. They get 70pc or 75pc loans from the bank, use part of their equity to make more money and pay the banks. This is how capitalism works all over the world. It is the same with countries.”

Does not Dr. Arkebe Okubay understand the differences between companies borrowing from local markets with local currency and the state borrowing from foreign capital market, if it could, or from multilateral and bilateral sources in foreign currency?

The follow-up question is a fixer: “How do you reconcile the level of confidence you have about the nation’s increasing external debt, with your acknowledgement that one of the disappointing things about the macroeconomic evolution is the fact that the current account and trade balances have remained negative and widening?”

The question is a torpedo. Alas! Arkebe has to make sure the torpedo did not dismantle with it his pet project: Ethiopia’s industrialization! Without thoughtfulness, he instantly says, “This is why I am emphasizing the development of manufacturing”!

Moreover, terrible as it sounds Arkebe, in distortionary manner likes to quote X and Y, only to strengthen his point of view. Therefore, Addis Fortune caught him there and asked him:

    “Apart from luck, you dwell quite at length bashing orthodoxy in industrialisation and tried to show the fault lines. But you have not explored as much on the alternatives. Do you think you have been honest to yourself and to the cause that you are promoting in ignoring the merit of the other side?”

The TPLF man, true to his root, jumped to lecturing the interviewer, “…if you are referring to the term known as developmental patrimonialism, that is not developmentalism at all.” He rushed to quickly explain state classification, attributing to Max Weber’s, as he put it, the ‘three types of states.’

In fact, as many experts before Ato Arkebe addressed the issue, the intention of Weber is not to define a state, as such. He was interpreted by many experts as addressing the types of authority, what the translator of his work from German to English Hans Gerth, had expressed as forms of authority. Indeed the the title of Max Weber’s work in this area is known as the “tripartite classification of authority” (charismatic authority, traditional authority and legal authority), (see Max Weber on Charisma and Institution Building by S.N. Eisenstadt (1968)).

On patrimonialism, however, Max Weber was clear in defining it as a form of traditional domination – it could be by a noble family member, a king, or a church, etc. However, according to Arthur Mitzman’s The Iron Cage: An Historical Interpretation of Max Weber (1969), with the emergence of capitalism, the patrimonial state grew smarter and started establishing a bureaucracy to help it run the ‘modern state’, which even went to the extent of buying the bureaucracy to keep the power in its hands.

Is this not the manner the TPLF initially approached the question of exercising its powers? It recruited its supporters, organizing others, cajoling some in terms of ethnic liberation and buying others and threatening to death still others to help it fulfil its self-serving “mission”. In sum, as in those romantic period feudalists, the Front in Ethiopian at the end of the 20th century ‘bought’ state operators to enable it run Ethiopia that it got as a lottery draw and after it was prepared to secede from Ethiopia.

Most of those in the bureaucracy are people put forth for their loyalty, not for their skills and capability they could bring to Ethiopia. Therefore, that is the main reason why there cannot be real progress and improvements in the lives of our people. The bureaucracy lacks skills to implement national programs and plans, as we see in the case of the plans they elaborate every five years or the projects they design and are unable to bring them to completion to enable the state provide the basic services expected of it, for instance, water, electricity and good quality education!

Incidentally, Ato Arkebe has also mistaken reading of the areas of Weber’s sociological coverage. He limits him to Asia. Indeed the father of sociology has covered most traditional societies, with particular emphasis on feudal Europe and Asia – therein Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism as his focus.

As we move further from the question on the macroeconomic environment, Arkebe is asked to share his views why on the basis of self-serving “selectivity” on the evidences he avoided Ethiopia’s critical issues of “institutional limitations” the obvious being – “the democratic deficit that the ruling party openly admits, and the poor state of human rights, which is one of the major criticisms directed at the ruling party.”

In stating unashamedly, the TPLF man remarks as if these issues do not have anything to do with policy-making stating: “I am talking about how a poor country is emerging as a middle-income country; and the focus is on policymaking. We have to be very clear that the charges on human rights and democracy are highly exaggerated. We know that there are indices produced annually by many international organisations, but biased. We believe we have built a robust multi-party system.”

Ethiopian workers in Huajian shoe factory in Eastern Industrial zone, modeled after Shenzhen. The trajedy is that workers are beaten for punishment and meagerly paid, according to France's TV2 documentary (foto: Michiel Hulshof and Daan Roggeveen)

Ethiopian workers in Huajian shoe factory in Eastern Industrial zone, modeled after Shenzhen. The trajedy is that workers are beaten for punishment and meagerly paid, according to France’s TV2 documentary (foto: Michiel Hulshof and Daan Roggeveen)

Then he goes on to reiterate, badly though, examples from the late dictator Meles Zenawi in his African Development: Dead Ends and New Beginnings (2006): “…Japan, Singapore, or of Sweden, countries considered to be democratic, they have chosen a dominant party political system not because there is one but the ruling parties had been re-elected many times. Gradually, parties that have stayed long in power have been contested by other parties such as in Taiwan in the 90s; South Korea in the 80s, and Japan, gradually. Having won in four elections does not prove that the system is undemocratic. For instance, it was very clear that the ruling party received strong public support in the most recent election.”

Where is TPLF’s support in all this, in a country that Ethiopians hate for its state violence, corruption and apartheid type ethnic policies? Is he expecting support from the Ethiopian people for the TPLF leaders, in a nation where everyone is bidding the best moment to get rid of them, as the present Oromo protests that literally is recreating the 1973/74 pre-revolution sentiment with a creeping popular uprising? For Arkebe, his favorite example is Singapore, revealing how much he has a hang on power remaining in TPLF hands. In that regard he iterates:

    “For 50 years, there has been one ruling party and the Prime Minister has been in power for more than three decades. It became independent in 1960 and the first party in power, the Peoples’ Action Party (PAP), is still the party in power today – for almost more than half a century. What does this really show? We know about South Korea; it was General Pak’s government that had orchestrated the whole dynamics of culture. Let us look at Taiwan; it was the most terrible, backward party that came to power. It gradually changed itself; and became a more progressive and developmental party. However, it has been in power for many decades.

    I do not agree with the assertive conclusion you have mentioned because we have to look at the historical facts.”

By way of conclusion, let me state that one only chew the above quotation to see what Arkebe Okubay and the TPLF are about.

Arkebe threw down at readers of Addis Fortune, what he has gulped down from Meles Zenawi’s above mentioned work, which he has not even sufficiently processed as yet. Anything is relevant to him so long as it serves his argument, helps him ensure that the TPLF rules Ethiopia for a Hitlerite century. I assure him, with industrial parks or economic zones, it is not going to happen!

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