The Economist likens Ethiopia’s false choice of development over democracy as evidence of its choice to become Africa’s house of cards

26 Apr

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

“But with political freedom now a thing of the past, the government’s legitimacy rests on it delivering the prosperity it has long promised to all its citizens.”

Development now and democracy later is a non-starter for the throngs of these angry Ethiopian youth that with every passing day has less or nothing to lose! (Credit: AFP/Getty Images via The Economist)

To engage in frank discussion, I should start by stating I am not certain about which period – under this regime or in Ethiopian history – The Economist has compared data – for its claim, above – ‘political freedom’ has now become “a thing of the past.”

If the notion is to give the impression that the repression in the country would end with the lifting of the martial law enveloping country, I disagree with The Economist. The TPLF is repressive and, so long as it is in power, it would remain repressive, forcing the nation to swallow its own medicine!

On October 9, 2016, I wrote the following about the six-month martial law, as it was declared:

Declaring war against the people on October 9, 2016 (Addis Fortune)

“The extent of slavery under the TPLF is such that since April 2014 the TPLF has made it its practice to go to school premises and university campuses and shoots students and teachers. Consequently, the difference is really not that significant. Probably, the only danger that tops everything [now] is the freedom TPLF operatives would enjoy to go around and rob houses and families by day and night under the guise of the emergency measures – as happened during the Moslem protests – robbing jewelries, household stuff and monies, raping women, etc.”

Now in the case of the earlier quote, perhaps the author(s) of The Economist article may not be aware that Ethiopia’s misfortune has been its people at no time being privileged to enjoy participatory democracy. Nor ever have Ethiopians engaged in activities their hearts have so much desired, or had ever enjoyed the taste of freedom of thought and speech with no fear of snatchers, or other consequences.

Putting it in brief, Ethiopia hardly had an honest political and policy environment under a national government of the day that has fully supported or gave in to the will of the people, for one and only one reason: to improve the lives of the people, not those in power. At present – under the TPLF banditry – this denial has worsened, unlike any time the modern Ethiopian state has witnessed!

Better describing this anomalous situation is the Ethiopian economist Prof. Befekadu Degefe, who in August 2013 made a presentation to the disciples of Semayawi Party. He told the Blue Party members: ‘Ethiopians have never seen or had experiences of governance under national leaders, only rulers.’

For a reason I sympathize with, The Economist has shown sense of comfort titling its April 24, 2017 article on Ethiopia – Africa’s house of cards: Ethiopia enters its seventh month of emergency rule. It is a slick presentation of a story, the kicker: Africa’s house of cards dominating from on top to announce the self-explanatorily verdict in a telltale.

While what The Economist is claiming in the article is largely true, it’s not visible that the TPLF has been as smart to have taken Alexis de Tocqueville’s caution about the danger of a bad government crushing trying to reform itself.

To my understanding, the TPLF has created created a different understanding of de Tocqueville’s, or has improved upon a bite of it flailing by undertaking reforms that either lead to nowhere, or more wrong prescription worsening the situation.

This is evidenced by the fact that the ruling party in Ethiopia continuing to do most of the bad things. These include its corruption and killings, it has been accused of during the eve of the protests in 2015 and at the beginning of the popular protests in 2016.

All that it has accomplished is improving the blare of its boring propaganda. Ever since, it has constantly been beating the gongs about its resolve to reform and on the other, with no steps in sight, and yet bewilderingly talking about successes of the reforms it has implemented.

The prime minister, for instance, today took up the sensitive topic of respect for the fundamental human rights of Ethiopia and the state of the nation’s democracy. It is disastrous, because of which I had to retweet:

It is in noting the seemingly reform resolve, on March 18, 2017 Addis Fortune wrote a brilliant piece about the extent of the ruling party going headlong into self-flagellation, as follows:

“There could perhaps be no political party in the world that has mastered the art of self-flagellation as the EPRDF does, gossip observes. It is a Maoist culture successfully used during its era of insurgency, fighting a rather brutal military government. Now that the EPRDFites are government, in charge of the “good old Ethiopian state,” they appear to travel only half the road, stopping short of actions. Nonetheless, they remain no less ferocious in their rhetoric. The best illustration is the manner in which they vilify themselves during successive central committee meetings, says gossip.”

In order to better understand Ethiopian politics, there is need to dwell for a while on a study of Ethiopian culture. Only that could give a handle to the real differences and nuances between leaders and rulers.

Based on the experiences of other nations, leaders set the parameters for action by the people, implying both togetherness and a sense of delivery and accountability. Leaders are seen setting their actions as example for the people and the nation to follow.

On the contrary, familiar as it is for us, Ethiopians, rulers believe they are designated to rule, while enjoying special privileges at the expense of the people. This has been the prevalent form of governance throughout this ancient land, Ethiopia, from time immemorial to the present.

That is why poverty has become endemic in Ethiopia; repression our national reality. Of this, according to Sendeq, Prof. Befekadu Degefe noted:

    “ሀገሪቷ የገበሬና የገጠሬ ሀገር ናት። ስለዚህ ግብርና ትልቁ ስራ ነው። የሀገሪቱ ኢኮኖሚ እድገት ምንጭ ግብርና ነው። ግብርናው ወደ ኢንዱስትሪ አድጎ ብዙ ሰራተኛ መቀጠር አለበት። ሰራተኛው ከግብርናው ወደ ኢንዱስትሪ መምጣት አለበት…ኢትዮጵያ ባት የሌለው ገበሬ ነው ያላት። ባት የሌለውም ማለት እግሩ አጥንት ነው። የዚህ ሀገር የግብርና ስራ ጉልበት በጣም የሚፈልግ ቢሆንም ገበሬው አቅሙን ያጣ ነው። ይሄ ሀገር እራሱን መመገብ ስላልቻለ በፈረንጅ ቸርነት ያለ ሀገር ነው…ከተሞችም የድህነት መሸሸጊያና መጠለያ ሆነዋል…ሀገሪቷ ያጣችው ብሔራዊ ስሜት ሳይሆን ብሔራዊ መሪ ነወ። የኢትዮጵያ ሕዝብ በታሪኩ ገዥ እንጂ መሪ አግኝቶ አያውቅም። ልማት በሕዝብ ብቻ ሳይሆን ብሔራዊ ስሜት ባለው መሪ ሊረጋገጥ ይችላል” UNOFFICIAL TRANSLATION:

    “Ethiopia is rural, and a nation of farmers. This makes agriculture a major undertaking. The source of the nation’s economic growth is also agriculture. That is why it’s inescapable to transform the economy from reliance on agriculture to industries and absorb as many workers, with the goal of national development. Labor must be drawn into industries… The peasant farmer in Ethiopia is so poor that he does not even have leg muscles. His calcaneus (heel bone) is naked, which means the peasant farmer is all bones. While the farm work demands raw human energy, the peasant farmer lacks it and cannot deliver. Owing to that, this nation has increasingly become incapable of feeding itself. It has thus become reliant on foreign handouts… Urban areas have also become dens for the unemployed… Even in this situation, what the country has lacked is not sense of nationalism/patriotism, but national leaders. Throughout history, Ethiopians had governors, never national leaders. As a matter of fact, development cannot be attained through the endeavors of the people alone. It also requires national leaders imbued with Ethiopian patriotism.”


That essentially is why speaking in modern parlance the TPLF is seen doing the walking in a traditional Ethiopian fashion, no differently from what the rulers used to do!

As The Economist has put it in subtle ways, today the factors leading to Ethiopia’s present day tragedy in which several hundreds have been killed (669 by the regime’s admission) is real. The magazine goes three years back, even before the Ethiopian protest that shook the regime’s very core, and recalls a reality from Ambo, how the security forces deepened the anger and distrust of citizens over there. It writes: “Three years ago 17 local boys were shot dead by security guards as they protested on the doorstep…”

Unfortunately, what the paper has recognized, the regime could not and cannot. That is why it’s now again in the process of applying wrongheaded prioritization between development and democracy. Thus, already rejected as the regime has been by the people, on account of the its unclean hands and dishonest mind, there is a prevailing belief inside and outside the country that the situation in Ethiopia could deteriorate badly before it gets better and the nation is capable of digging itself out of the political and economic crisis TPLF policies have pushed her.

Today’s authority think in terms of ethnicity. They assume getting human beings out of poverty is as easy as planning or allocating budgets, as happened with the embarrassing youth unemployment project. The tragedy is that the regime could not see that each underhanded undertaking, premised on politics, and thus undelivered promises resulting in further deductions from ‘official’ credibility, because of which today they are left with no credit.

In present day Ethiopia, the TPLF has successfully ethnically divided and humiliated citizens, where the rule of law is not the norm and accountability non-existent, there cannot be any good governance.

Against this backdrop and the too often noticed inadequacy of the regime’s ideas and plans behind projects, The Economist puts its finger right on the the problem. That is, the deliberate suppression of duality of democracy and development, one thing politicians’ dislike about accountability – a commodity with the shortest supply in our country.

The paper, thus, notes with sarcasm the TPLF regime search for economic solutions to the profoundly economic is indication of the deeply-political nature of the the country’s problems. That is said to show the regime’s clear preference to prioritizing development over democracy, while the latter is the demand of the public.

As an example the magazine refers to Hawassa Industrial Park as means to tackling the problem of youth unemployment in the country. In that regard, it being the largest in Africa it only promises to create 60,000 jobs (for that matter, an unvetted figure by Arkebe Oqubay), The Economist also agrees it being “a drop in an ocean of unemployment.”

I agree with the paper on this. See my article: A plundered Ethiopia being forced to cater to TPLF’s whetted appetite: Kombolcha & Mekelle Industrial Parks on rush to roll without let!

Development now, democracy later

The Economist attests that the TPLF regime’s response to the current political and economic crisis has, therefore, been primarily an economic one. This means, The Economist has captured gist of the regime’s half-hearted measures, although it gets it wrong when it gets into the ethnic make-up of officials in line ministries.

However, I like the quote from de Tocqueville, where his ideas are translated by the writer to suit the Ethiopian situation.

“Alexis de Tocqueville, a 19th-century French historian, argued that the most dangerous time for a bad government is when it begins to reform itself. The EPRDF is not the ancien regime of pre-revolutionary France. But it has taken de Tocqueville’s lesson to heart. It views Ethiopia as a house of cards that might easily topple. So the old model persists: development now, democracy later.”

A good conclusion for such an interesting article would have been another quote from Alexis de Tocqueville, to warn all Ethiopians that the road ahead is going to be tough. The naked reality of inequality, ethnic politics, state violence and the spread of corruption top to bottom the unaccountable non-system’s actions have fostered. The consequences of these problems are to be suffered by everyone, not the TPLF spared.

Here is what the 19th century historian has to say in that regard:

“When the past no longer illuminates the future, the spirit walks in darkness.”

Isn’t that present darkness that has frightened the TPLF leaders, their descendants both at home and abroad, with no one able to escape the collective punishment?

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