Response to ICG report – ‘Sound and fury signifying nothing’

With the illness and death of Prime Minister Meles, many in the Diaspora and abroad, Ethiopian and non-Ethiopian alike, have allowed themselves to indulge in wild speculations about the possible future of Ethiopia. The comments come from various corners; some commentators are gullible if well intentioned, but many are focused on scaremongering and deliberate efforts to encourage or promote problems. There has been an almost deafening cacophony from the opposition in the Diaspora with an hysterical, child-like obsession with morbid excitement, potential violence and collapse. It can only have alienated its readers, and it isn’t even worth a second glance. It is after all meaningless to become involved in a shouting match on the question of whether a post-Meles Ethiopia can survive. None of it is surprising and much of it has been heard before, if in a slightly moderated form.

Even the more reputable commentators have tended to produce a number of curious recurrent themes for which they can produce no evidence and indeed for which there is none. One, running through most comments, has been the issue of the ‘vacuum that has been created’ by the passing of Prime Minister Meles. There have been bizarre and invented stories of a succession struggle with some commentators additionally wondering if this would spell the end of Ethiopia as we know it. For some, the question hasn’t been whether there will be a vacuum or a succession crisis, but rather when it would happen and how destructive it would be. Much of this has been attached to a strange pattern of ‘creativity’ bordering on pure fabrication with regard to who has been doing what. It conjured up a constellation of intra-party fighting, movements of police or military, political meetings, all of which had only one thing in common – none of it happened.

One intriguing aspect of all these fairy tales, and that is exactly what they are, is that commentators who indulged themselves, automatically seemed to ignore the central fact that Ethiopia has a fully functional and operative administrative and governmental system. One must assume that such commentators are taking their information exclusively from ‘rejectionists’ in the Diaspora. This must be the explanation why they keep fabricating apocryphal stories of power struggles which usually don’t even bother to factor in the country’s federal arrangements. They apparently assume that 80 million Ethiopians are waiting anxiously for external intervention to save them from crises which, it might be added, are certainly not apparent to those inside the country. The very approach is an insult to the successful institutionalization of a modern democratization process in the country, a success for which Prime Minister Meles was largely responsible.

It isn’t just the ‘rejectionist’ elements in the Diaspora. Closer to home there are newspapers in neighboring countries that have joined this chorus of voices imagining Armageddon. Most of this is a result of sloppy journalism and a chronic lack of professionalism. It is to be regretted but it is not so wild nor as ideologically driven as the nonsense being peddled so assiduously by Human Rights Watch or the International Crisis Group. Their new mantra is the idea that Ethiopia minus Meles will be weak, and a weak government, their argument goes, must resort to more repression to prevent the ‘regime’s collapse’.

The ICG goes even further in its determination to scaremonger when it claimed that this ‘weaker regime’ in Ethiopia will go as far as initiating renewed hostilities against Eritrea in order "to deflect attention away from its internal crisis" Even by ICG’s own very questionable standards, this recent report is a text book example of muddled thinking, though there is still some method involved. ICG’s ‘researchers’ must at least have been talking to each other, or to specific sources abroad, to try to confirm their own theses about an Ethiopia on the verge of bursting apart at the seams. Certainly, there is no trace of any such situation on the ground. The reality could not even remotely warrant such a reading of the political and security situation in Ethiopia.

The ICG story of intra-party squabbles has been plucked out of thin air, despite their deeply unconvincing claim that they have an insiders’ take on the issue. In fact, the ICG is simply unable and unwilling to see the reality on the ground for what it actually is, and that is that Ethiopians are showing an extraordinary outpouring of love and respect for their deceased leader. They are extending quite extraordinary support to the government. The party, which remains as disciplined as ever, has seen no single instance of difference over the future of the country. The leadership has made it very clear it will simply pick up where Meles left off and continue to implement his aims, his policies and his vision. The institutions of government and administration remain fully functional and intact. There are no signs of problem or difference.

This doesn’t bother the ICG which has its own imaginary version of Ethiopia which it continues to try to sell. Like Human Rights Watch, the ICG is not ‘interested in Ethiopia’s stability or democracy`. Indeed, there is every reason to believe that they are actually working hard to foment crises in the country. This certainly appears to be the intention judging by the rather curious recommendations which suggest that as the government has become weaker it may be more amenable to arm twisting. This apparently could provide a golden opportunity for realizing a potential, if fanciful, king-making exercise of their own. Kenneth Roth of HRW put it bluntly in an OPED in the Los Angeles Times: donors must heed his organization’s persistent call for using aid for political purposes and effect regime change in Ethiopia.

The bitter pill for both organizations to swallow, however, is the fact that Ethiopia today has a solid foundation, politically, administratively and economically. Indeed, the noise of the accusations of these groups is well and truly drowned out by the determined voice of millions of Ethiopians supporting the government as they tread along the path of their visionary leader and his disciplined party. With the economy growing stronger by the day, the level of leverage that the likes of HRW or ICG can hope to use against Ethiopia becomes ever smaller. In actual fact, Ethiopians are far more united politically today than HRW or similar organizations would like. Their attempts, their campaign to generate crisis in this country stands no chance of success. What has transpired in the last two decades under the leadership of Prime Minister Meles and his party is the creation of a solid foundation, politically and economically. It is far too firm and deep-seated to unravel in the face of what is little more than the pressure of noise from neo-liberals who are bent on thriving in chaos.


Originally published on A Week in the Horn – Aug. 31, 2012 issue, titled “The latest ICG report – ‘Sound and fury signifying nothing’”.

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