The menace of state capture in the current Ethiopian politics? 

(Ezana Ze Axum)

I am not a politician, but I believe I am a political animal as everyone does. I think all of us – as the member of the social community – whether knowingly or unknowingly, voluntary or unwittingly, we have a stake and involve in everyday political life because it is about power.

The fear evoked here is that if power falls in the hand of organized evils, we all go off down to the hell. The desire is to have conscious control of power as public goods to use for the public virtue.

These days, we are living along with the hotbed of power politics. Everyone can read from his/her own mind and heart many concerns about the direction of their state where it is heading on.

I think, therefore, this is the right time to transform the unhacked concern running in every one mind into awareness and freedom from our thought prison through inquiring and creating inclusive discourses among the public in large and the volunteer leaders in particular so that the people can be able to steer their state wagon towards their common interest, not the power elite one.

Concerning the fate of our state, many things calling us to think, discuss, and take mindful actions that may help to correct wrong thoughts and keep the state-ship in the right direction.

In this short article, I would like to trigger some questions related to the issue of the danger of state capture in Ethiopian political game for discussion thereby we can develop some perspectives that may help us to analyze facts and understand the political move underway.

Here are some potential questions that can be aired in the hope that may shed lights on through our dialogue. What do we mean the construct state capture is? Who are the core actors (i.e. the agenda setters, patron, game players, brokers, facilitators, connectors, etc.) involving in it? What lessons can we draw from other experiences? How should we direct our efforts against this evil danger?

I would not attempt to go through all the questions prompted above in detail but only try to provoke the audience for discussion.

Various scholars tried to define what state capture is. But so far they have not reached at a common definition.

One of the governance specialist in the Europe and Central Asia Vice Presidency of the World Bank, Joel Hellman defined the term state capture as the efforts of a small number of firms (or such groups as the military, ethnic groups and kleptocratic politicians) to shape the rules of the game to their advantage through illicit, non-transparent provision of private gains to public officials. He noted that examples of such behavior include the private purchase of legislative votes, executive decrees, court decisions and illicit political party funding.

Other scholars related the concept to the corrupted way of using state power against the public interest. The State Capacity Research Group in South Africa defined state capture as a systemic and well-organized political project, which focuses on accessing and redirecting rents away from their intended targets into private hands.

In sum, state capturing happens when there is a divorce between the public interest and the elite’s agenda at state control. In another term, the state is captured when the elected elite exploited power to advance their own patronage network at the expense of the public interest.

In this case, we can learn from what happened in the South African ruling party: ANC.

In the fall of 2017, the South African inter-university research partnership revealed a report titled as “Betrayal of the Promise: How the Nation is Being Stolen?” The research was conducted as a project aimed to contribute to the public debate about ‘state capture’ by the Zuma-centered power elite in South Africa.

Its outcome suggested that South Africa has experienced a silent coup that has removed the ANC from its place as the primary force for transformation in the society. Readers can retrieve from the internet and read the full report about the nature and character of the phenomena happened in South Africa with rigor analysis.

Having this in mind, the question here as depicted at the title of this article is there is an urgent call to understand the depth and breadth of the menace of state capturing move in the current Ethiopian politics. It requires rigor research and case studies addressing this question. However, the facts that surfaced so far are sending a wakeup call for everybody the danger is present and imminent that needs to take counter actions.

From my point of view, Ethiopia had faced two attempts of state capture from within – the ruling party EPRDF. As everyone knows the first attempt was by a faction within TPLF, 17 years ago – in 2001. The second attempt is happening now and follows the model of “color revolutions”.

Both attempts shared some commonalities in strategy and purpose but different in forms, tactics, and scale. In both cases, the state capturing effort targeted at replacing the democratic constitutional federalism (i.e., the state) by extractive political and economic system using parasitic political and economic networks and silent coup strategy.

Differences can be observed between the two. Whatever the depth and breadth of the phenomena, the attempt of state capture in Ethiopia, as the case in South Africa, the power elite strives to manage what it can be called as the parasitic relationship between the constitutional state and the shadow state.

The current attempt of state capture, however, seems larger in its scale. It has gained much ground to control state resources, state decision making nodes, and patronage networks (i.e. authorities in the bureaucracy, media, artists, religious entities, neoliberal elements, politicians in the ruling party, NGO, activist, businesses etc.) mobilized towards unleashing its hidden interest.

It is uses the constitutional state structures to mask its true color and decieve the innocent. It mobilizes its shadow forces to realize the silent coup. Substantiating the phenomena should come at the center of our attention to draw important lessons out of the move.

Therefore, I would like to share the reader the emerging patterns in Ethiopia for further discussion. What vested interest are there behind the activities of:

1) Undermining the rule of law and instilling fears in place among the population?

2) Tweaking state policy in the name of attracting foreign direct investment?

3) Creating power vacuum throughout the state machinery?

4) Repurposing institutions to facilitate the consolidation of rent-seeking networks?

5) Subverting public agendas and appreciating the private one?

6) Attempting power seizing through unconstitutional means?

7) Installing western consultancies in the government bureaucracy as a backdoor to for policy change?

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Guest Author