Development & Democracy – Two sides of the same coin

(Berhanu Tsegay – from MOFEC)

If a country is awash with corruption, rent-seeking, lack of good governance and rule of law, it will unreservedly be out of the democracy and development domains. In this case, the upward spiral of corruption prevalence as well as lack of correcting the good governance deficiency in Ethiopia are currently the headline issues of the country. The rampant ill-gotten gains of some government officials are considerably weakening the moral fiber of the society who is striving to move out of the scorching poverty.

Currently, EPRDF seems dogged and have already begun the campaign of filtering and correcting its highly positioned unfit incumbents which in turn would help to give the corruptive officials at least a pause measure from continuing their rent seeking behaviors. Those egocentric government officials, who have been snacking ups and downs to steal public wealth so as to enrich themselves at the cost of the mass, should be identified and punished, otherwise, the implementation of a democratic-developmental state model ideology in Ethiopia will apparently be only a wish of the society rather than being a reality.

Therefore, forgiving and then hosting a corruptive government official is not a righteous act in a country where currently suffering from a serious draught and food insecurity. The state should not be a haven for such persons for they are nothing but parasites who would breed many more ones of their type that could take the issue of fighting corruption to an irreversible level.

A democratic-developmental state model would surly help the country escape from the age old absolute poverty and dictatorship traps. In fact, among the many manifestations of the democratic-developmental state ideology is: – the state should be autonomous from rent-seeking private sectors and should be embedded with the value-creating groups. In other words, the government should have the willpower to punish the rent-seekers as well as the audacity to reward the wealth-creating developmental ones. When the state autonomy is defeated by rent-seekers, foreign policies and donors, the existence of a democratic-developmental state would be at hazardous position. Thereby, government goals to bring about a sustained, equitable and fast economic development will fall on a fruitless soil.

In tandem with this, ineffective application of ethnic-based federalism would create an oasis of ethnocentrism among chauvinist and reactionary groups. A nation endowed with a multicultural societies has no better option than adopting a federal system that relays on the variety type of the societies as a means of securing peace and tranquility sustainably, which in turn would help the governing body to merely focus on socio-economic development endeavors.

Despite its success in some Asian countries, the approach of prioritizing development later seconded by democracy, would not ripe similar outcomes in countries like Ethiopia where centrifugal political power among its ethnically classified societies is a mandatory scenario so as to keep that diversity under a cemented and sustained single nation. Political power decentralization is a necessary but not sufficient condition for a diversified country to exist as a nation. But, simultaneously, the process of blossoming democracy has to be also applied hand-in-glove with political empowerment of the mass.

Hence, it is for this reason that EPRDF advocates the principle of exercising both economic development and democracy in parallel by branding each of them as issues of survival for the country. YES! Economic Development and democracy are complementary which can only save the nation from social chaos and disintegration.

On the contemporary situation where now-a-day’s globalization is crowned as the functioning system of the world by means of information technologies, no government could dare to lead its nation using a closed-door policy. Democracy at least in written articles of constitutions is looming in almost all countries of the globe. Even up to recently, in countries where democracy was not an issue, their peoples have begun to request for it via various methods of reflections (i.e. peaceful demonstrations or/and violent protests).

The embracement of democracy has no compare. Of course, no country even the United States of America is a paragon of democracy. But, the bone of contention is the level of its spectrum on which various societies face off.

Holding the issue of ‘sustainability’ constant, the trajectory made for economic development could be successful in the absent of democracy as empirical evidences testify in South East Asia countries. Nevertheless, later most of those countries realized that their peoples could be content with their respective governments’ mushroomed socio-economic attainments, but their sustainability were jeopardized when globalization through the information technology has begun to prevail as well as awaken and compel the societies to look for embracing democracy. Therefore, those handicapped achievements had to be shored up by political investments in democratization path before the euphoria obtained from the socio-economic triumph turned to public violent demonstrations for demanding the exercise of democracy.

In the Ethiopian case, economic development and democracy are faces of the same coin. As a one-handed person can never clap, the success on either economic development or democracy can never be fruitful unless the achievement is seen on both unequivocally. Although it is too early to conclude that EPRDF is utterly successful on bringing development, but it is undeniable that it has gotten some considerable feats despite it has still a long way to go. Simultaneously, the front party is the first government to introduce and practically to try to establish democracy in the stranger country for it. But, its level of deployment doesn’t go shoulder to shoulder with the globalization-impacted societies’ expectations from the government.

Even though, some incumbent individuals try to defend the slowness of democratization process by labeling it as a ‘fledgling’ or an ‘infant’ stage, however, many can see that a one-step better forward at one corner while a two-step worse backward at another corner. Those deeds can be summed up and indicate a negative-sum result. Hence, it is because of this game theory the societies are requesting peacefully as well as violently for a wider and potent democratization spaces. 

Recommendation on the sort of democracy we should adhere to:-  

The Ethiopian government must embrace democracy on its own without depending on pressure from external powers. The doctrine that says “seek first the Kingdom of Democracy and the rest will follow”, is not only flawed but is also not backed by history. The late PM Meles Zenawi during his participation in the 2012 World Economic Forum in Addis Ababa, articulated that there was no a necessarily direct relationship between democracy and economic development. Naturally, democracy is an indispensable thing for African countries’ unity of their diverse people, but cannot always be a pre-requisite for their economic development. 

For example, On the one hand, Singapore, China, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Dubai do not exactly fit into the Western definition of democratic states, but they are quite economically prosperous. On the other hand, Malawi, Zambia, and South Africa fairly satisfy the Western democratic prescriptions, but the majority of their citizens are crippled by poverty, inequality and unemployment. Therefore, there are no simple cut and paste solutions. A nation can be prosperous without following the Western democracy model, while embracing such a model does not guarantee economic success.

Democracy must be embraced as a public good in itself, not as a precondition for something else. A democratic tradition, respect for human rights, and a good governance disposition would allow the Ethiopian people to express themselves and determine their destiny as fully empowered citizens. Hence, the government should emphasize the centrality of ensuring participation of the people in political, economic as well as social transformation and democratizing institutions. Those are the only remained and beyond-compare attributes by which the current various types of dissatisfactions of the people, seen in different regional states of the country, could satisfactorily be responded by EPRDF. 


Berhanu Tsegay is a resident of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and a Masters Degree holder in Development Studies. He can be reached at +251943-304555 or [email protected]

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