As history tells us from 1962 to 1993, Eritrea was ruled as a province of Ethiopia, and the two nations amicably separated after a vote in 1993. But, during 1998, War between Ethiopia and Eritrea erupted over the town of Badme, which both sides used to claim as their own until Ethiopia and Eritrea Boundary Commission (EEBC) gave its final and binding decision on April 13, 2002 . According to EEBC, Badme was rewarded to Eritrea. Ethiopia had not fully accepted the decision, but it used to say accepted in principle and insisted on dialogue before implementation.
The new Era of Ethiopia and Eritrea: tearing the wall of hostilities
However, on June 5, 2018, Ethiopia publicly announced that it has accepted the Algiers Peace Agreement without any preconditions and expressed its readiness to implement it. This is called new era of tearing the wall of hostilities between the two brotherly peoples who have been trapped in deadly sin situations because of the no peace no war policy applied two decades ago by the leaders of the states for proxy wars reasons.
This was irresponsible decisions since it has weakened and dwarfed the livelihood of the two innocent peoples, stubbornness of the two leaderships contributed domestic and external peace crisis irritating the international community and most bitterly the border living citizens of both countries.
Such surprise announcement was made by the ruling coalition, EPRDF executive committee.
Recognizing the deal is a huge step forward in bringing about a peaceful conclusion to the political fight that has rattled on for decades. Rightly, days after Ethiopia’s announcement, Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki noted the “positive signals” and announced he would send a delegation to “gauge current developments directly and in depth” and plan future steps.
Eritrean and Ethiopian government officials held talks about a stalled peace deal for the first time since a conflict between the two countries ended almost two decades ago.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is seeking to normalize relations with neighboring Eritrea as part of a broader program of reforms he’s initiated since taking office two months ago. He has also announced plans to open up the Africa’s fastest-growing economy to foreign investors and also lifted a state of emergency imposed after the snap resignation of his predecessor, Hailemariam Desalegn, in February.
“The new developments in Ethiopia promise well for the resolution of the frozen boundary conflict and durable peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia,” Andebrhan Welde Giorgis, a former member of Eritrea’s ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice and now an independent analyst, said by phone from Brussels. “At the same time, the winds of change blowing in Ethiopia could also cross over and usher in a new democratic dispensation in Eritrea.” Officials including Yemane Ghebreab, an adviser to Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, and Foreign Minister Osman Saleh, arrived in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on Tuesday afternoon, Shamble Tillahun, a spokesman for the Ethiopian government communications office, said by phone from the city.
Images published by the Fana Broadcasting Corp. showed the officials holding talks with Abiy.
On last Tuesday evening, Reuters quoted Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh as saying “We have opened the door of peace,” after the first talks. Speaking for Ethiopia, Mr Abiy said: “Let this dispute conclude with this generation. Let the era of love and reconciliation commence.”
The Eritrean delegation, led by Mr Saleh, was welcomed by Mr Abiy in the capital Addis Ababa, where a red carpet was rolled out and the visitors were offered garlands of flowers. “We have tried war and found it useless,” Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed told a dinner reception at the National Palace for Eritrea’s foreign minister and others, after a day that began with draping the visitors on arrival at the Addis Ababa airport with strings of flowers.
The two countries have not had diplomatic relations since a border war broke out in 1998. “We want our brothers and sisters to come here and visit us as soon as possible,” Abiy added, saying the two countries will celebrate the upcoming Sept. 11 new year together and that Ethiopian Airlines “soon” will start flights to Eritrea’s port city of Massawa. “This is the time for reconciliation and love,” the prime minister said. Now, both leaders are expected to make the peace happen soon.
The continuing crisis in both countries and concerned citizens alarmed by regional developments adjacent to the Red Sea, the destruction of Yemen and the prospects of escalating crisis and the fears of state failure, now is an important time to crystallize the best analysis on the crisis between Ethiopia and Eritrea and strategize on the most appropriate approaches towards peace, normalization and regional peace and stability. The situation demands thorough analysis of both thematic and country specific issues focused on a regional conception and coherent effort.
To what extent can an interaction and a discussion and agreement among the elite and opinion makers of and non-governmental stakeholders of both countries help to establish a consensus on core values and shared interests which in turn serve as a foundation for a new era of cooperation?
Conclusions and recommendations
The irritating behaviors of the two leaders have been potential obstacles for the region’s economic and social integration, security and peace orders in the last 20 years. The Horn of Africa has two failed states, South Sudan and Somalia where heartbreaking human and economic crisis has been frustrated the whole Africa. The rest member states are also weak to socioeconomic progress due to the potential instability and all rounded crisis being practiced in the mainly failed states. Expectedly, if Ethiopia and Eritrea become another failed states, the whole region would have been totally devastating, where terrorism, human trafficking and drugs could play shocking roles in parts of the world.
Measured from these points of views, the peace deal between Ethiopia and Eritrea is something promising which can significantly stabilize the security and peace order, the mutual socioeconomic development of the whole region. The whole world, mainly the continent will benefit a lot from this peace deal too.
As the leading scholar of the region, Professor Medhane Taddesse usually advises ways of making peaceful coexistence, I hope his deep analysis and best solutions for this region will be taken into considerations while the two leaders negotiate on the issue. Durable peace solutions should be the ultimate result of the two leaders meetings. Hence, the UN, AU, IGAD should be recommended highly to make the peace deal happen quickly so that we peace thirsty of the Horn of Africa should be able to breathe peaceful air.
Rightly, PM Abiy will be placed in the record of book as a leader of peace if he really can implement the peace deal in a way that can benefit the two peoples objectively. However, if the PM is doing it for political consumption and other conspiracies, he should know it will be self defeat and historically black list in the minds of his own peoples.
Hence, the ongoing peace deal should be based on the will and interests of the two peoples who are suffering by the stalemates not solely by the two leaders only. People based reconciliation has the natural power of being maintained than political leaders reconciliation which can be short-lived peace situation.
(Tekleab Shibru – PhD, Associate Prof. of Geomatics, Chicago State University)
Since the Ethio-Eritrean war ended in June 2000, there has been a buzzword “normalization” that has been floated. However, Ethio-Eritrean normalization as “the process of returning a relation back to its normal state”, one would ask to which “normal state” it is returning to? Is it to the state between 1991 – 1998 (i.e., Eritrean independence to Ethio-Eritrean war); 1962 – 1991 (i.e., Ethio-Eritrean Unification); 1952 – 1962 (i.e., Eritrean federation); 1941 – 1951 (i.e., Eritrean under British occupation); 1882 – 1941 (i.e., Italian Eritrean); or pre 1881 (Ethiopian Medi Bahri or Bahr Negash). This note, hence, is written cautiously discuss about the buzzword, on its merit, in detail.
There is no need for misconception. I do have a sane mind and like many others, I earnestly beseech and implore brotherhood between the people of Ethiopia and Eritrea. I want this brotherly people, not just to make peace, but also to unite. There is unfair and artificial boundary between Ethiopia and Eritrea, which no one should recognize as valid and binding. To put the matter in a very simple term, Eritrean nation is created by a colonial power. However, unlike other countries created through colonization, Eritrea was created after an occupation of a sovereign land that was Ethiopian. All treaties signed between Ethiopia and Italy, were meant to legalize this illegal and forceful occupation. Additionally, though Italian colonized, Ethiopian nationalism was never erased from the hearts of Eritreans. A protest of a Patriot Zerai Deres, against looted lion of Judah monument (i.e., a symbol of Ethiopian Emperors and Ethiopia) in Rome is a clear testimony of this nationalism. And so is the nationalism of Abraha Deboch and Moges Asgidom who fled, from Eritrea to Ethiopia in search of freedom including a freedom to advance their education that was limited to 4th grade in then Italian colonized Eritrea. Later, angry at the scale of brutality of Italian occupation on their Ethiopian counterparts, these nationalists turned what was the celebration of the 2nd year anniversary of Italian occupation into a hallmark of Ethiopia’s heroic defiance against occupation.
In light of these and other countless Ethiopian nationalists of Eritrea’s origin, the quest of independence through 30 years of costly war and lives of 60,000 Eritrean youths isn’t as prudent as Eritrea’s ultranationalists want us to believe. These inward looking Eritrean ultranationalists, whose agenda emanate from an extreme devotion to Eritrea interests without any due regard to that of Ethiopia’s, is a problematic. Otherwise, for heaven sake, “independence” from who? From Ethiopia? Really? Instead of incurring this cost for secession, it would have been virtuous had it been for democracy, freedom and equality. Who in the right mind would take pride in separating families, splitting marriages, and dividing people? Anyways Ethiopia must be cautiously optimistic on Ethio-Eritrean “Normalization”: while working with these ultranationalists, for the following reasons.
Sentiment of hatred against Ethiopia
As an Oromo speaking national of Ethiopia, I have seen this among our own ultranationalists’. A nationalism that is misplaced more on a hate of Amhara (Habasha) or Ethiopia’s flag than on a resolve to bring democracy, peace, and prosperity to the people of Oromia and Ethiopian at large. Likewise, Eritrean ultra-nationalism is also built on a sentimental hatred and disdain toward Ethiopia and its people. For Eritrean ultranationalists, patriotism is expressed not by working hard to improve the lives of Eritreans, instead by how much and loud Ethiopia is hated or denigrated. Individuals’ “Eritrean citizens” is measured by how less Ethiopian friends he/she has or how distant he/she keep Ethiopians at bay.
A good example, is Eritrea’s president, himself, who lived most of his young-adult life in Ethiopia, (i.e., Dessie and Addis Ababa), and yet refuses to speak Amharic not to undercut the hatred he had preached to Eritreans. Another example is lack of resistance to Eritrea’s stalled socio-political progress since 1998. There is no free press, civic organization, political parties, no constitution, no urban development policy, etc….in Eritrea. The only university that Ethiopia established for Eritrea, in 1964, two years into its unification, is disbanded. Normally, one would expect the ultranationalists would resist and unseat this unfortunate turn, in search of socio-political progress, freedom and democracy. However, none. Instead bear the repression so long as Ethiopia antagonized. The truth is that these ultranationalists resent more with Ethiopia’s strengths, regional influences, peace and well-being than the government that is suppressing them.
On a personal note, I was once a soccer player (2000-2001), for a team known as “Pharcyde’s Warriors”, with an Eritrean friend in Wageningen Netherlands. It was only two of us Africans, the rest were from Europe or Latin America or white Africans. We used to represent our university and travel through the country to play with teams from other 22 universities in the Netherlands. Mr. Sirak Mehari has never been to Ethiopia. One day, out of a blue, he said this, “We have the best chemistry on the pitch and similar sense of humor off of the pitch. However, there is so much hate in Eritrea as if they can bring the Red Sea between Ethiopia and Eritrea”. I was literally stunned at his statement. The reason was, since Eritreans have always been my playmates as kids, classmates, neighbors, confidantes, family/siblings friends, co-churchgoers, co-workers, my teachers, my students and pastors. Never once I viewed an Eritrean any different from another Ethiopian. Unfortunately, we are on a different wavelengths and there is an Eritrean generation that have been brainwashed into unpleasant sentiment against Ethiopia. Any effort of normalization between the two countries must pay attention to this particular sentiment.
Attitude toward European colonization
No country or nation depicts the tragic and cruel human history of colonization in the brightest possible light. Africans, Latin Americans, Asians, and even American resent the colonial past and wish that tragic history never existed. One could hear Africans engaging in intellectual debates, such as, if British colonization was any better than France’s, or France’s was better than Belgium’s, but there is unanimous abhorrence against colonialism. Nonetheless, because colonization is the foundation of Eritrea’s nationhood, Italian colonization has a positive mark in the minds of Eritrean ultranationalists. Tragically, Eritreans ultranationalists have brainwashed their citizens into proudly talking about them being colonized as a highlight of their history. Their cling on colonial name “Eritrea” is another good indication of that, unlike other African countries, which damped their colonial name for indigenous. For example, Ghana (Golden coast), Zambia (North Rhodesia), Zimbabewe (South Rodesha), Malawi (Naysaland), and Burkina Faso (Upper Volta), all damped their colonial names. They preferred the colonial name over its indigenous names i.e.,Midri Bahri (land of the sea) or Bahr Negash (Rulers of the Sea).
Colonialism as a process by which a powerful control the legal, social and political lives of subordinate is cruel treatment of humanity. Commonly abhorred treatments of colonization are traumatic racial discriminations, deprived human dignities and massive oppressions that produce a sense of low self-esteem and inferiority. It is also a deprived indigenous rights to land and hence expulsions to marginal areas, urban squatters, and relegations to living in the reserve habitats. Moreover, it is cultural alienations, natural resource exploitations, and sever social inequalities. Even after independence achieved through tears, sweats and bloods, legacies of colonization (i.e., violence, imperialism, and dependence) are threatening the peace and economic development after independence.
Therefore, it is inevitable that the ultranationalists’ appetite of colonial legacy will have negative impacts on future Ethio-Eritrean relation. The reasons are: first, Ethiopians draw their pride from not been colonized, while Eritrea take pride of been colonized. Secondly, Ethiopians would never entertain Eritrean nationalists’ debate that somehow Ethiopia’s poverty is a result of not been colonized. A debate, which other colonized nations would find despicable and immoral. Besides, Ethiopia’s economic development of the past 27 years, has proven otherwise and so are the pace of development in China, South Korea and many African countries, without colonial footprints. Moreover, according to some studies, in sub-Saharan Africa, the percentage of population living on less than $1.25 a day was far less in now than during the time of colonization.
There is a clear difference in Ethiopia status around the world, with and without Eritrea. Prior to Ethio-Eritrean unification, as a lone African’s independent nation, Ethiopia suctioned the league of nation to pressure Italy withdraw its occupation of Ethiopia. With its diplomacy, Ethiopia captured the imaginations of progressives and African students for protests against Africa’s colonization and Ethiopia’s occupation in major European cities. In just five years of exile, Ethiopia’s robust diplomacy rocked the moral compass of the world’s powerful, for their eventual resolution to liberate Ethiopia. After liberating itself, Ethiopia fought for the liberation of their African brothers including Eritrea, which were then transferred from one colonial occupation to another. On the other hand, Ethiopia, was also part of the UN peacekeeping mission around the world. Ethiopian force was dispatched to the republic of Congo, to help restore peace and tranquility that was regressed into civil war following independence. In what clearly shows Ethiopia’s sphere of influence beyond Africa, Ethiopia was also participant of the UN mission to Korean Peninsula and avert the invasion of the South Korea by the North Koreans.
An outstanding legacy of the Ethio-Eritrean unification (1962 – 1991) is a civil war that lasted almost 30 years. This war devastated Ethiopia’s economy, i.e., the destruction of country’s infrastructures, such as roads, bridges, schools, health posts and big government projects. Additionally, because of hundreds and thousands of workforces engaged in the war, there was massive loss of labor. Millions of internally displaced persons, instabilities from refugees flocking into neighboring countries and gross human right abuses (especially on women and children). All culminated in extreme poverty, hunger, and the eventual famine of 1984 that made Ethiopia’s image synonyms with children’s skeleton on television screens, around the world.
Again, after Eritrea separated from Ethiopia, slowly but surely Ethiopia is re-establishing itself as a positive force in the world stage. Politically, Ethiopia is teaching the world as to how peaceful struggle by the youths on the streets can snatch a nation from absolute grip of totalitarian government into what the world now see as dawn of democracy. Ethiopia is also presenting itself as a catalyst of regional economic and political integration. Economically, in the last 15 years, Ethiopia has grown into an economic hub of east Africa. International agencies attest growth of the country’s economy as among the fastest in the world. On the global peacekeeping front, currently Ethiopia encompasses 8% of the UN peacekeeping force around the world. It has participated in the global UN peacekeeping missions of Ivory Coast, Rwanda, Burundi, Liberia, Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia. Therefore, Ethiopian’s must know that Ethio-Eritrean normalization to the state between 1962 and 1991 (i.e., Ethio-Eritrean Unification) can be an absolute drag to what the country is currently experiencing as dramatic socio-political and economic advancements.
Soon after independence, Eritrean ultranationalists were envisaging Eritrea soon becoming “Singapore of East Africa”. It is good to have a great vision about own country. However, the following data doesn’t gives a trajectory toward the envisaged “East African Singapore”. For instance, Singapore is 100% urbanized country. Eritrea, which was the most urbanized province of Ethiopia (nearly 18% urbanized), in 1984, after 34 years, the urban population stands at 20.9%, i.e., an only 16% growth. In addition, in 1984, Asmara population was 281,110, and currently its population is 804,000, which is a 186% growth. Obviously Eritrea has a long ways to go to emulate Singapore in Urbanization. In fact, in 1984, only 9% of the population of Shoa province were urbanized, including Addis Ababa, and now the urbanization has increased to 20.4%, which is at least 127% growth, more than 8 times the growth in Eritrea. Dire Dawa, the current second most populous Ethiopian city, had a population of 99,980 people in 1984 and in 2018, the population has grown to 1.3million, i.e., a 1200% growth. Dire Dawa has grown 5 times the growth of Asmara and is now 61% more urbanized. Assab and Massawa are equivalent to the Woreda towns of Ethiopia, with their population that is in the order of 30,000s.
Singapore is also known for its freest economy and best maritime port in the world. One would question if Eritrean government was not successful in emulating Singapore’s the freest economy of the world Or replicating “the best maritime port in the world. Obviously, the later can only happen on the back of Ethiopia, which is failed. The economic policy that mainly aims to survive as predator on Ethiopia’s patronized and blackmailed access to sea can’t be beneficial. Eritrean ultranationalists, made sure Ethiopia’s access to the sea is sealed by force, just as Italian did, 100 years prior. It is farfetched to expect peace to prevail between Eritrean ultranationalists and Ethiopians, when it never prevailed between Italy and Ethiopia in the past. With a population more than 107 million, Ethiopia’s access to sea is unjustly deprived and has exposed the country to predatory port service pricing, that Ethiopians must not accept. If anything, the Eritrea’s ultranationalists’ resolve over the “barren land” Badime must give us a lesson or impetus as to what it takes to secure our sovereign right to access the Red sea by hook or by crook.
I vividly remember, sitting on my couch in Wageningen, Netherlands, when Pres. Isaias appeared on CNN to beg for international community to interfere with the advances of Ethiopian defense forces deep into Eritrean territory. I also remember my conversation with a high ranking European Professor, who had vested interest in Ethio-Eritrean conflict. He said, “Ethiopia troops are in no return mode until they capture Asmara and depose president Isaias”, then a credible source. One has to also remember that the buffer zone for demilitarization was drawn 25km into Eritrean territory not Ethiopian, a clear indication as to who was the victor. Unfortunately, since the occupant of the Ethiopia’s palace, PM Zenawi, was more Eritrean ultranationalist than ordinary Eritrean themselves, Ethiopian did not gain anything from the decisive victory. Not as much as Italian or Eritrean ultranationalists gained with their victories over Ethiopia.
Ethio-Eritrean normalization as a process meant to bring back an old normal state, is not clear in its refereed baseline. However, normalization with Eritrean ultranationalists will travel on a bumpy road amid shared unfortunate experiences in the past. Firstly, Ethiopia has had a glamorous status around the world, when she was without Eritrea than when she was with. An outstanding legacy of the Ethio-Eritrean unification (1962 – 1991) is a civil war that lasted almost 30 years, devastated Ethiopia’s economy and brought about a famine that tarnished Ethiopia’s image as viable country. On the other hands, legacies of Ethiopia minus Eritrea are global leadership on decolonization and climate change; roles in UN peacekeeping missions around the world and fastest economic growth and democratization led by non-violent youths protest on the streets.
Besides, Eritrean ultranationalists’ sentimental hatred against Ethiopia as shown by their refusal to uphold our shared cultures and resentments on the Ethiopia’s socio-economic and political strength and regional influences would make normalization difficult. Moreover, given Ethiopia’s profounding pride of its un-colonized history, the ultranationalists’ appetite for colonial history will only produce tensions. Furthermore, the ultranationalists’ economic policy that mainly aims to thrive at the expense of the suffering of Ethiopia’s 107 million people will risk the sustainable peace between the two countries. Our Eritrean brothers must know that Ethiopia is unjustly deprived access to sea by colonial power and soon justice will prevail. If Eritrea’s ultranationalists determined to starve 18 years over the “barren land” Badime, surely Ethiopians are more commitment to secure right to access Red sea.
It is therefore, in these lights that I am amused as to why the hype of, Pres. Isaias’s acceptance of our PM’s decision to hand Ethiopia’s land, is shooting through the roof; and perplexed by our PM’s “thank you message” to Eritrea’s president. Again, it is also from a surprise by our PM’s decision, in defiance of the protocol, to welcome the Eritrean foreign minister, going to the Bole international airport himself,…unprecedented. Why is this? Where this Ethiopia’s desperation for normalization is coming from?
In this incidence, the author prefers the term plurality to diversity because the latter may conjure up poles apart difference which does not define the Ethiopian reality. Harmony and tolerance more explains the Ethiopian social fabrics and values. The concerns, interests, needs, demands and problems of all Ethiopians are same or similar though in different languages. They have similar cultural values, tradition, psychology and history while plenty in linguistics. In addressing the concerns, interests, needs, demands and problems of all Ethiopians, the Grand National strategy should be identical and stable while tactics may be flexible towards the success of the defined grand strategy.
The grand strategy solution for plural interests is pluralist approach. Single approach cannot serve all for no one cape fits all. Social pluralism can positively contribute to build effective and sustainable democratic governance with pervasive strength in a civilized society. Nation building in its original version instead describes the sense of trampling over the social, political and cultural plurality that may have been previously existent within the national territory in favor of the devastatingly leveling homogeneous force of national unity which could not be a way out for everything. Chauvinist nationalism does not work in today’s Ethiopia. Nation building concept should be defined properly in the prevailing national context. Its traditional definition cannot apply uniformly across the board. One definition does not fit all because definitions and their interpretation vary indifferent contexts. National unity cannot be built based on false consciousness of populist sentiments exploiting emotional resonance.
Pluralism is a broad concept thus specified here to a system in which two or more states, groups, sources of authority, etc., coexist. Pluralism is the theory that a multitude of organizations, not the people as a whole, govern the country. These organizations, which include among others political parties, trade unions and professional associations, environmentalists, civil rights activists, business and financial lobbies, and formal and informal coalitions of like-minded citizens, influence the making and administration of laws and policy. Pluralist system is defined as a society where multiple peoples, groups or entities share political power. An example of pluralism is a society where people with different cultural backgrounds keep their own tradition, where professional societies, labor unions and employers share in meeting their respective needs. Since the participants in this process constitute only a tiny fraction of the populace, the public acts mainly as bystanders.
Pluralism is the view that in formal democracies, power should be dispersed among a variety of economic and ideological pressure groups and should not be held by a single elite or group of elites. Pluralism assumes that plurality is beneficial to society and that autonomy should be enjoyed by disparate functional or cultural groups within a society, including religious groups, trade unions, professional organizations, and ethnic minorities. It is the recognition and affirmation of plurality within a given political space, which permits the peaceful coexistence of different interests, convictions and lifestyles. While not all political pluralists advocate for a pluralist democracy, it is most common as democracy is often viewed as the most fair and effective way to moderate between the discrete values. Pluralism tries to encourage members of society to accommodate their differences by avoiding extremism and engaging in good faith dialogue.
Pluralists also seek the construction or reform of social institutions in order to reflect and balance competing claim concerns and interests. Pluralism is connected with the hope that the process of discourse will result in a consensus for common good. This common good is not an abstract value or set in stone, but an attempt at balancing competing social interests, and will thus constantly shift given present social conditions. The global governance system is based on free market economy and multiparty political system on the conjecture that competition among massive alternatives is a natural necessity for creativity and innovation in all aspects and a vehicle to sustainable development. The global governance system professes plural power structure. Power is loaded with implications that must be fully grasped if one is to understand it correctly.
In the first place, power is not an identifiable property that humans possess in fixed amounts. People are powerful because they control various resources. Resources are assets that can be used to benefit for the people and force others to do what is required. Politicians become powerful because they command resources that people want or fear or respect. The list of possible power sources is virtually endless: legal authority, wealth, prestige, skill, knowledge, charisma, legitimacy, free time, experience, celebrity, and public support.
In a pragmatic interpretation of power, the reason why there is such fierce competition to get into government and stay in power is that once you are in the palace, you have a license to virtually print money and it is conventional wisdom that money makes the world go round. Motivation and commitment to serve people and country does not require such a fierce competition more than announcing election intent and proposal to the electorate. The tenacity for national unity is not a naïve pursuit for a mere great empire. It is on account of the whole is more robust than the sum of its parts metaphor. The quest for unity is a pursuit for more and better common bread based on mutual respect, liberty, magnanimity and decent citizen practices answerable to law and order. National unity is most welcomed and thought of with regards to core democratic values which are fundamental beliefs and constitutional principles of the peoples, nations and nationalities of Ethiopia. Building a single polity and economic community means nothing but building Ethiopia as a unit.
For a country of social plurality and ethnically spread society, pluralism in the political arena and decentralized federal administrative structure is imperative and a natural necessity. Ethnic plurality per se cannot be a fault line and source of any problem. In fact, it can be a source of proud identity and robust national power in all aspects when united, as the saying goes ‘united we stand; divided we failed’. Federalism is good for many countries and not for others. Similarly, unitary system is good for many countries and still not for some others. Ethiopia has come across both unitary system and federalism with the latter being relevant and important or useful. Ethiopians are cognizant of the demons of federalism and unitary system.
Today above 25 countries accounting more than 40% of the world population follow federal form of government system. Federalism is successful in Ethiopia. Every nation, nationality and people in Ethiopia promotes its own identity, culture and language respecting each other with larynx of plurality. At the same time the spirit of the people about national unity as a single country Ethiopia is very strong. Ethiopians are living in unity through plurality because the federal arrangement is a voluntary union of equal peoples, attesting unity does not necessarily mean uniformity. In fact, the challenges in the way are government failure, regulatory capture and the impact of rent-seeking behavior as well as organized crimes within the democratization process loom inimical stumbling block obstacles and distraught to the genuine part of the state effort which are inevitable particularly in early stages. With all these, we are experiencing the federal system is going through its natural course and phases of development process. The plural socio-economic structure of Ethiopia deserves it equivalent plurality in the political arena.
Some people understand decentralization or federalism as borders created to fracture races and smash nationalism, creating multiple regional states to be hotbeds of ethnic rivalry ultimately preventing ethnic groups from uniting against corrupt and a dictator ruling of their own and other common problems. Because it is usually observed unitary-federalism or pseudo federalism with patrimonialism and the attendant wasteful duplication of bureaucracies is in place all over a country. This is what we have confronted to tackle patiently.
Democracy is a process not an event. Building a well functioning, established legitimate democratic system is a protracted usually non-linear process that experiences considerable fluctuations and setbacks. Building democracy is not easy as damaging it. The bloating democratic institutions may be hollow, weak and ineffective in the outset conveying that to oust a dictator is easier than to establish a functioning democracy- a process that is likely to be rocky and far from linear. Active and sustained citizen participation and engagement in public policy making and implementation process is one of the core elements of democracy. If we are to keep democracy on its feet and walking, not imposition or suppression, but dialogue, negotiation, understanding, tolerance, magnanimity and consensus building public discourse that should be the way of life.
Basic civil liberties guarantee the democratic process is inclusive, free of repression and enables citizens to participate in an informed and autonomous manner. Political and civil liberty embraces freedom of speech and assembly/association, free of suppression and the right to vote and to be eligible for public office. Freedom of speech and the press embodies the right to hold any view and to express it. In fact, economic freedom and political freedom as well as property rights and civil liberties are the many in one basket or two sides of the same coin.
The protection of freedom of information and human rights is identified as a means of bringing about improved governance. Plural media landscape plays essential role in building sturdy democratic system. Pluralistic media landscape in the electronic, digital (online, broadcast) and print media empire is decisively important for the promotion of freedom of expression and free flow of information and exercise the right of the public to be properly informed on matters of public interest. The media play a critical role in the maintenance of democracy by providing a bridge between all of the different elements in society. Social pluralism can positively contribute to effective and sustainable democratic governance in a civilized society.
Pluralistic media landscape in the press, electronic, digital and print media empire that ensures access to alternative sources of information that are not monopolized by either the government or any other single group is decisively important for the promotion of freedom of expression and free flow of information. The public seek independent commentary on information sources and controversial cases. There are provisions that guarantee the right of the public to be properly informed on matters of public interest and enable citizens to participate in an informed autonomous manner crowding out to partially motivated mouthpiece media service. The role of the journalism community is paramount importance in the media empire. For their nobility role journalists are designated as credible truth tellers and bestowed with great honor, however, those who abuse the profession are no more in the domain of honor.
Freedom from arbitrary arrest and seizure as defined by the concept of the rule of the law recognizes that a person is accounted innocent until proved guilty. It includes freedom of choice where to live, where to work or invest. There is an organic link between political freedom and freedom from hunger, ignorance, disease and much more as Amartya Sen defined freedom (freedom from the three evils of want, ignorance and squalor). This concept is emerging as human right and food sovereignty movement these days. Eventually, freedom is nothing else but the chance to be better, and used for better of the common good or for better of the greater public good. Promoting democracy is basically a political process and it cannot afford to ignore the central issue of state power. Yet discretionary power of the state should be restrained.
Citizens should be able to identify between genuine efforts and hoax commitment as well as empty promises for maneuvers. The rules governing social and economic interactions should be predictable and stable. The people and all actors must comply with the governing rules. Any personality and identity status should not be above the governing rules of the democratic game. Compliance requires strong institutions of democracy and the rules of democratic game ensure responsibility and accountability. Transparency in role assignment and accountability is fundamental to alleviate problems of elite capture and local capture. The absence of transparency guarantee, transparent and predictable institutional frameworks allows discretionary interpretations that could give rise to rent mismanagement, rent seeking and corrupt practices which undermine accountability, credibility and legitimacy of the governance system. More worse, public confidence in the integrity of the policy and regulatory frameworks is diminished and the operation of the market is distorted.
The rule of law covers the principles that laws should not require people to do the impossible, the requirement that similar cases be treated similarly, the principle that there is not an offence unless there is not a law dealing with the matter, the demand that laws be known and expressly promulgated and precepts involving the notion of natural justice. For example that judges be fair and impartial, and that people may not be judges in their own case. The other important thing in relation to the primacy of rule of law is that justice of victor does guarantee rule of law because the victors may distort justice either to revenge or pardon. In all cases, honesty is the best policy on earth, because the truth is always fair. Everybody should champion the truth. Cheats never prosper; In fact, old tricks do not work these days. There are hidden tricks that you cannot distinguish in this wicked world. If one believes in reason and the supremacy of law and applies it consistently, all the rest follows. A freer and more democratic world helps create a virtuous circle of improved security, stronger economic growth, and durable alliances—all of which better serve the long-term national interests.
If there were open-mindedness and fairness in Ethiopia, Daniel Berhane wouldn’t be pigeonholed as pro this or against that political party or Ethnic group. Daniel is an equal opportunity offender who tells it like it is with a potential to upset ruling and opposition party members equally.
In fact, he reminds me of American talk show host Bill Maher – current host of Real Time and formerly Politically Incorrect shows. (Notwithstanding the fact that one is an internet blogger with an average income, while the other is a TV personality with an “annual salary of $10 million and net worth of $100 million”).
I had the privilege of submitting articles to Daniel’s blog, Horn Affairs, that were critical of the EPRDF Govt. during Meles’ as well as HMD’s leadership, and Daniel posted them all. When he was unable to do so, he would go out of his way to email me that the delay had to do with his travel or work overload; that he would post the article at next opportunity, and he always kept his word.
When journalists and bloggers were arrested, I recall how Daniel openly and strongly opposed the action; criticized the govt., and publicly called for their release.
I also recall how – in a time when Jawar Mohammed was demonized as a political demagogue even by members of his own ethnic group – Daniel called upon the govt. to negotiate with the Oromo activist. It would take lots of time to scroll on Daniel’s endless posts to prove, but I recall one in which, with reference to Jawar, he wrote, “እኔማ ሰሚ አጣሁ እንጂ ከልጁ [ጃዋር] ጋር ተደራደሩ ብዬ ነበር” (I advised negotiation with Jawar, but no one listens to me).
A TPLF veteran friend once told me that Daniel Berhane and his Horn Affairs blog were working against the party’s interests. Yet, ironically, there’s no shortage of people who – deliberately or naively – label Daniel as overt / covert member or stooge of TPLF. (It’s his right to be a member of a legally registered political party of course, but the point here is that he’s branded to be what he is not.)
So, it’s unwarranted and utterly sad that – in a time when the fight for individual right and freedom of speech has been declared won – some social media opinion leaders and their unthinking and unquestioning followers are trying to create a Salman Rushdie kind of scenario in Ethiopian politics. In fact, I don’t have to go as far as Iran to draw a precedent. Truth is, Ethiopians have senselessly killed each other in an urban warfare over political differences and opinions expressed during ያ ትውልድ (the 70s generation).
Sure enough, the trend of threats is extremely dangerous not just for the Horn Affairs blogger, but also for anyone who dares to express an opposing view; may talk ill about the new sheriff in town and/or somehow offend the new political kids on the block.
Having said that, the purpose of this unsolicited character witness statement is not to defend Daniel in the court of public opinion as a perfect blogger with no fault. Fact is, over the years, I’ve read my share of posts and comments from Daniel I haven’t been happy with. In that case, though, the onus is on me to challenge him in a public forum or correct him via private message. On the contrary, threatening Daniel or any other blogger or social media discussion participant is not just bad for freedom of speech, but also a recipe for disaster if the threat is carried out.
Ethiopia has embarked on unprecedented ‘reform’ in the last two months with Abiy Ahmed assuming leadership of the governing coalition of parties, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and hence the premiership. This comes after one of the members of the coalition, the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO), strengthened its political position in the coalition through successfully riding the waves of political protests and empowering itself through tacitly owning the protest movement.
Since assuming power, Prime minister Abiy Ahmed has taken various measures such as the release of political prisoners, shown intent to normalization and peace with arch foe Eritrea, and invited for dialogue the Oromo Democratic Front (ODF) led by the previous leader of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), classified as a terrorist organization by Ethiopia since June 2011.
The rhetoric of the prime minister has brought fresh breeze through his open public speeches that don’t shy away from addressing traditionally guarded social, political and economic issues. He has showed openness and transparency that seems to bring new order in political communication and inspiring many Ethiopians. While this could be argued as strategies to further fortify his political position through populism, this nonetheless is considered as inspiring for many Ethiopians.
Hopes and expectations of many Ethiopians have been raised with regards to various political and economic reforms. The EPRDF’s executive committee has announced on 5 June 2018 that it decided to partially or fully privatize government owned enterprises such as Ethio-telecom, Ethiopian Airlines, Ethiopian Shipping Lines, railways, industrial parks, hotels, and the like.
The basic argument for taking such measures is mainly to address concerns that foreign exchange shortages will harm the rapid growth of Ethiopia’s economy, large parts of which are off-limits to outside investment. While such measures are not unexpected, the timing of these measures has taken many by surprise.
Given the recent admission of the Prime Minister about rampant corruption and embezzlement of government finances to foreign destinations, a cleaning up and structuring of the house seemed crucial before embarking on major sales activities. The platform, systems and institutions that are required to fully utilize the benefits of privatization are not currently in place in Ethiopian context.
With two more years in its current mandate, the ‘reformed’ government seems to have confused its priorities and demands from the public at large. With local elections postponed by one year and parliamentarian elections due in 2020, electoral reforms that ensure free, fair and transparent elections should have been one of the key priorities with regards to political reforms.
To achieve sustainable and inclusive economic development (as also argued in the announcement for privatization measures), strengthening institutions should have been a priority. For instance, the regulatory frameworks and institutions for telecommunication services seem to be lacking in Ethiopian context.
As one can easily learn from the experience of other African countries, services provided by the mobile telecommunication industry are often very weak due to lack of regulatory mechanisms that ensures quality service delivery to consumers. Mobile telephone companies whose networks don’t reach the poor living in rural areas or reaches with very low quality, companies that charge higher prices when calling to other service providers, are common phenomena.
While recognizing the need to reform and privatize Ethio-Telecom for increased efficiency and quality of service delivery, privatization alone may not achieve this without the necessary regulatory frameworks and mechanisms in place. A similar argument could be made to the list of other companies that are now up for sale.
EPRDF seems to have ‘put the cart ahead of the horse’ with the complete reversal/dilution of its developmental state model with major privatization measures. As such, the hopes and expectation of many Ethiopians are yet again bound for further disappointments. The odds are high in whether Ethiopia ensures inclusive development for its entire people when priorities are not set right from the outset.
The peoples of Somaliland voted in the presidential election held on 13 Nov 2017. When the election results were officially announced by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) on 21 November 2017, Muse Bihi Abdi, leader of the Kulmiye party, was declared winner of the presidential vote with 305,909 votes out of 704,198 votes cast – translating into 55.1 percent of the vote. Dr. Abdirahman Mohamed Cirro leader of the Waddani Party secured 226,092 or 40.7 per cent of the votes, while Eng. Faysal Ali Hussein of UCID party has got 4.7% of votes.
During the election process and counting votes by the NEC, Dr. Abdirahman Cirro disputed the declaration of Muse Bihi as president citing ‘massive irregularities’ and evidence of ‘poll anomalies.’ Even before Election Day opposition has called the entire electoral process into question in the face of ‘technical’ difficulties, where the system that had been established for the conduct of the elections failed. These technical failures in the Biometric voter registration to identify duplicate voter and proper functionality have led to massive irregularity on election process.
There was fraud of the voter registration system, intimidation and attacks on voters at polling stations with expulsion of Waddani party election observers from polling station. This was a concern for free and fair election process and Waddani party promised to challenge the election results of the presidential vote.
Other sources claimed that there had been external involvement of election such role of Dubai port world (DPW) company on financing Kulmiye party to win the election so as to secure the Berbera port agreement which the opposition Waddani party stood against. Also the position of Djibouti was clear as it opened border and massed unregistered voters for voting with fake Voter ID cards.
The Waddani promised to challenge what was called election rigging and to be presented to the Supreme Court of Somaliland by a team of lawyers. Unfortunately, As Waddani party argued before the court, the government removed a neutral chief of Supreme Court of Somaliland and replaced it with a young academic man with no experience of being a judge.
His selection was very tactical for Kulmiye party and to prevent any claim of electoral fraud as already Kulmiye party secured army chief of staff, chairman of house of elder together with most influential ministerial position that are either same clan with Muse Bihi or clan alliance of Habarjeclo (Jeegan clans Alliance). All these tactics denies argument of the opposition parties to call the equipment deployed by the NEC for the election-ranging from the poll books, computer servers, and electronic transmission that all failed.
Fronts Struggling for Democratic Participation
Kulmiye party was governing Somaliland over 8 years of corruption, poor governance and lack of transparency in government institutions. During the regime of Silanyo, the country disintegrated with segment of clans. The rivalry clan clash was obvious while drought effect the region for last 5 years consequently, the people were fed up with Kulmiye party and was losing supporters to opposition parties. Kulmiye witnessed the political waves of change for coming election that people prefer to have democratic participation struggle and to remove this weak and corrupt party.
The weakness of the Kulmiye party during Silanyo government brought disintegration of Somaliland’s unity and democracy. The Silanyo government planned five major tactics to undermine any the struggle for democratic participation in Somaliland.
The five tactics had been:
(1) the protracted terms of power and violated constitutional term limits
(2) the information warfare and attempts to control the flow of information about the political process through government media such as creating rivalry websites, TV channels and journal based clan system,
(3) poor installation of the electoral computer servers and multi-duplicated of voter books of NEC
(4) the removal of the chief of the supreme court in order to avoid any legal challenge
(5) the divide and rule policy for political process as ‘tribal’
Political tension mounted in Somaliland post-election, after the Waddani party accused and showed international community the massively rigging of the electoral process. Also supporter of Waddani party questioned the transparency of the election and accused the government of stealing votes and committing fraud.
After election, on November 13 2017, the Somaliland clan based system disintegrated with potential civil war and emergence of Islamic insurgence as there are marginalized clans for last 8 years of the Silanyo government. The clan clashes are frequently happening in rural areas and causes are numerous; absence of basic needs such as water, food, and political motivated clan competition. This clan rivalry is what keeps the balance of clans from future domination of the government of Somaliland.
Political miscalculation of Muse Bihi Abdi was to revenge any clans who supported the opposition party and deny future political opportunities in his government. He blindly nominated most ministerial position for his clan of Habar Awal and clan ally of Jeegan (Habarjeclo clan) by repeating mistakes of Silanyo to divide the clans which had negative consequence to Somaliland unity and coexistence as breakaway republic.
Today, government of Muse Bihi has no legitimate support and most regions of Somaliland consider the capital Hargeisa to be marginalized and excluded in Somaliland politics. It is arguable that nominations of unpopular ministers and his desire to get any political officer who is not involved clan politics that resulted as a political illusion for this president. Nearly 6 months after he is declared as president-elect, he has not come up with fair distribution of political positions and limited his government to the capital – just like a ‘Mayor of Hargeisa’.
* Abdi Shakur Mohamed is a PhD candidate in International Politics.
From ancient philosopher kings, such as the Biblical King Solomon, up to contemporary influential scholars, writers, speakers and activists, a lot has been said about the importance of time and timing. In fact the concept has become ingrained in popular imaginations to the extent that the proverb “a stitch in time saves nine” is now almost a cliché.
Emphasizing the significance of time and timing, the renowned civil rights’ icon, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.once said the following: “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there “is” such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”
It has been a little over two months since a more-than-three years of public protest and outrage, largely spearheaded by the “Qeerroos” (youth) eventually gave birth to Dr. Abiy’s premiership. Dr. Abiy’s meteoric rise to the pinnacle of political power is unique in the EPRDF’s recent memory for a number of reasons. In the parlance of the revolutionary democrats, Dr. Abiy was not remotely considered to be among the Front’s standard bearers.
In the lead up to the EPRDF’s central committee meeting convened to name a successor of former PM Hailemariam, as a critical member of what has now famously been dubbed as “Team Lemma,” his political rhetoric was seen by EPRDF’s core as an outlier and a dangerous departure from their mainstream ideological dogma, resulting in his being labeled as a populist power monger.
In fact, he was seen by EPRDF’s core as the proverbial “prodigal son” unfit for the nation’s highest executive office. On the other hand, Dr. Abiy’s and/or “Team Lemma’s” new political narratives unexpectedly caught fire and resonated with the populace, generating an overwhelming support from a cross-section of society as well as from the most unlikely places, such as individuals, groups and parties – inside and outside the country – that are sharply opposed to the EPRDF. By act of providence or by sheer political genius, or both, he was eventually able to beat the odds and become Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister.
His victory has thrown the EPRDF into the world of the unknown while it has engendered a renewed sense of hope and optimism among the disenfranchised masses as well as cautious optimism among the opposition.
In his short tenure as Prime Minister, he has crisscrossed the country and made numerous mesmerizing speeches, held town hall meetings with a cross-section of society, set thousands of prisoners free, traveled to neighboring countries and negotiated with his counterparts the release of thousands of Ethiopian nationals languishing in their prison cells, held meetings with Ethiopian community members residing in these countries, etc. And as a result, some fellow citizens were even tempted to give him a nickname “The Modern Day Moses of Ethiopia.”
For a relatively obscure revolutionary democrat who has operated under the radar for more than two decades in the EPRDF, by any measure, this is not a small feat. As he basks in the limelight of unprecedented public support for averting (at least temporarily) the impending civil war and our collective march to the abyss, both the regime’s supporters and detractors seem to be equally struggling with respect to what to make of him, as he eludes being an easily identifiable political cookie-cutter.
For many observers, his public persona and his perfunctory pronouncements so far appear to represent the polarities of unity and division (at least within the EPRDF), change and continuity, novelty and familiarity, liberal and revolutionary, pan-Ethiopianist and ethno-nationalist, and the list goes on.
However, whether such fluidity and plasticity is a sign of his repudiation of and departure from Manichaeism, which has for long bedeviled our body politic, and his desire to embrace a new orientation befitting the exigencies of the time – in other words, if it is a ‘come-to-Jesus-moment,’ or something else, is yet to be seen.
While commending the hitherto encouraging achievements of the new administration, there are certain outstanding issues that should be addressed with the sense of urgency in order to avoid the relapse of political chaos (which could potentially be far worse than what we have seen so far) and set the nation’s political trajectory in the right direction.
The positive accomplishments of the new administration we have seen so far are largely episodic that have largely depended on the Prime Minister’s personal gravitas and political brinkmanship, and not institutionally engineered outcomes as such.
However, as our recent political crisis is fundamentally systemic and structural in nature, it cannot effectively be deal without coming up with a new thinking that would serve as a basis for designing and putting in place appropriate institutional mechanisms that could effectively address our enduring socio-political challenges.
Time is of essence and unless the new administration soon turns its focus on structural issues, I am afraid that the reality is going to catch up soon and the honeymoon could be short-lived.
In this piece, I will attempt to outline what is needed to be done and in what order, and point out potential ramifications of not doing so.
Consensus on the Terms of Our Coexistence
From my perspective, the first order of priority the new administration should urgently embark on is the creation of an inclusive platform where a grand elite bargain could be struck among the various elites on the terms of our coexistence as a society.
There is no doubt that ethno-linguistically and culturally diverse society as ours faces serious challenges of peaceful coexistence. When the unflattering historical relations among the constituent groups, poverty and backwardness, and inequality among individuals and groups are added to the mix, the challenge can be overwhelming and daunting.
In such complex environment, the primary duty of politics ought to be the devising of a viable mechanism that can mediate divergent interests in ways that can minimize conflict and promote peaceful coexistence. In modern society, the terms of our coexistence are often codified in a constitution and regulated by the attendant institutions, and ours cannot be an exception.
However, in our case, the challenge is that the constitution is the outcome of an armed struggle rather than the result of a broad-based democratic bargaining. As a result, it has become a point of contention rather than a point of consensus for the last two plus decades.
For ethno-nationalists or self-proclaimed revolutionaries, the constitutional codification of ethnicity as the primary variable for access to power and resources is seen as a panacea, whereas for those in the unity camp or liberals who believe that citizenship ought to be the unit of analysis for regulating access to power and resources, it is the major source of all our ills.
From the perspective of those in the unity camp, although the recognition of the cultures and languages of the various constituent ethnolinguistic groups is a legitimate measure, it should not be used as a basis for structuring the federal system and for regulating access to power and resources, since such a step could result in the institutionalization of discrimination and exclusion. They cite numerous examples where ethnic groups residing in regions other than the regions designated for their own ethnic groups have been evicted and expelled at whim in violation of the citizens’ rights to live in places of their choosing, to own property, and to make a living.
The revolutionaries dismiss such an argument on the grounds that although the constitution stipulates the constituent ethnic group/s that ‘own’ a particular regional state, it also recognizes the rights of other ethnic groups to live, own property, and make a living in such regional states if they so wish, and they attribute the act of such evictions/expulsions to the behaviors of certain parochial members of the constituent group/s and deny that it has anything to do with the federal structure per se.
What is missing in both sides of the argument is a nuanced articulation of the contradictions between ethno-nationalist and liberal conceptions of ownership with particular reference to land, to which I will now turn.
Nationalist conception of land
A political theorist Jacob Levy (2000) contends that contemporary normative theorists of nationalism and ethnicity typically conceptualize nationhood and ethnicity as primarily cultural. That is, they have to do with ways of life, with languages spoken and tales told and values embodied and worth recognized (Levy, 2000, p. 197).
According to Levy (2000), from the perspective of such normative theories, nationhood and ethnicity are not understood as political matters; nor are they thought to concern material goods in any important way.
In contrast to such normative conceptualizations of nationalism and ethnicity, Levy (2000) advances the following argument:
…nationalism and indigenous ethnic politics cannot be well understood without reference to at least one material good: land. Nationalist and indigenous movements conflict… with liberal societies about the control and possession of land but also about its social meaning, the kind of good that it is. Culturalist accounts of ethnicity may be more easily reconcilable with liberalism…; but a liberal political theory which is concerned to mitigate or minimize ethnic conflicts must develop a framework for thinking about disputes over land (Levy, 2000, p. 197).
According to him (2000), many ethnic conflicts, nationalist movements, and claims made by indigenous minorities are centrally about land. This is not to deny that they are also about language, religion, a sense of identity, or a way of life; but they are often about how those things relate to possession of, or power over, particular pieces of land (Levy, 2000, p. 203). Levy (2000) adds that nationalism celebrates a people’s history and culture, but it also celebrates their land. Moreover, it celebrates the link between the two (Levy, 2000, p. 203).
What is more, Levy (2000) further contends that:
Nationalism thinks about…homeland in certain recurrent ways. It elides [ignores] the distinction between sovereignty and ownership; all of the land belongs to this people, from whom it cannot be taken away. Nationalism typically conceptualizes land as place, not property. This piece of land is part of the patrimony of this nation. Perhaps it is of particular historical or religious importance. Perhaps the beauty of this spot is a cause for national pride, or perhaps this kind of terrain is taken to embody something about the nation….Even when the particular piece of land has no such distinctiveness, however, it remains national soil. A people is in some way particularly well-suited to this piece of land. It is where one’s ancestors are buried, an important and recurring image (Levy, 2000, p. 204).
The political movements of ethnic groups and/or indigenous peoples are about land more than any other issue – about the right to prevent or at least benefit from development on their traditional lands, about the restoration of lands from which they have been dispossessed, and about securing against future losses (Levy, 2000, p. 205).
Liberal conception of land
According to Levy (2000):
Liberalism has a very different image of what land is. Land is, in general, fungible [or exchangeable] with other goods. It is alienable- it can be bought, sold, used as collateral for credit, leased, rented, and so on. It is divisible, both in space and in the rights that accrue to it; a plot of land might be divided in half, or its subsurface mineral rights might be owned separately from the surface, and so on. It circulates, as money and other goods circulate; sometimes it is held by one person, sometimes by another. Sometimes it is put to one use, sometimes to another. A piece of land can generally be exchanged for another piece, if not necessarily one of the same size, or exchanged for cash. Moreover, there is no necessary tie between particular persons and particular places….Land, in short, is property, not place (Levy, 2000, p. 206-7).
And such decoupling of people and land makes mobility an unproblematic exercise in liberal societies.
Michael Walzer (1990) has characterized liberal society as importantly marked by four mobilities. These are geographic, social, political, and marital (Walzer, 1990). Of these, two- geographic and social- are closely related to the flexibility of land. The ability to sell the piece of land on which one currently lives and go elsewhere and buy a new one has always been tightly related to geographic mobility in liberal societies. Since by social mobility Walzer means not only changes in income but also changes in the way income is earned from one generation to the next, the fungibility of land with other goods has made a tremendous difference here as well (Levy, 2000, p. 208).
Thus, a free, democratic, commercial society is thought of as more than simply a state that respected rights of various kinds. It is a society of a particular kind, one characterized by mobility, the rise and fall of elites based on achievement, and a certain fluidity (Levy, 2000, p. 209). Thus, the liberal and nationalist/indigenous conceptions of land have conflicted in a number of ways over the years, and as a result, liberals and nationalists often tend to talk past each other on the issue of land (Levy, 2000, p. 210).
It seems that both the Ethiopian constitution and the Ethiopian elites have not yet addressed adequately the tension between these liberal and nationalist conceptions of land. At a theoretical and rhetorical level, for example, both seem to share the view about the free mobility of citizens across regional state lines and decide where they should live, exercise their right to own property, make a living, and etc.
But on the substantive and practical level, this view has often been challenged in a big way, as the continued evictions and expulsions of citizens indicate. These evictions and expulsions of citizens from regional states are carried out on the grounds that they (the victims) do not belong to the titular groups that ostensibly ‘own’ these regional states. How does one explain such a conundrum?
As is well-known, the liberal conception of mobility is predicated on a predominantly urban-based industrial society. Such a society is composed of laborers, professionals, business people, industrialists, etc., whose livelihood does not depend on land.
In an environment of competition, they freely move from one place to another in search of a better opportunity. They go wherever life takes them and in their new destination, they can own property, they can rent it, they can buy and sell it, they can pass it onto a third-party, and so on, as long as they have the economic means, Thus, in an urban-based industrial society, citizens and land are significantly decoupled.
On the other hand, in a rural-based agrarian society like ours where more than eighty percept of the population lives in the countryside, the overwhelming majority of citizens’ livelihood depends on land. What defines them is not mobility; it is holding onto their land. For them, mobility is a luxury as they lack requisite skills, training, knowledge, etc., that are marketable.
As a result, many of them often live and die without traveling beyond thirty to forty kilometers radius from their abode. With the ever-increasing population, soil fertility challenge and the conditions of climate change, there is an increasing tendency of jealously guarding the rural land against perceived “encroaches” who happen to be ethnic “Others.”
There is a tendency on the part of many Ethiopian elites and ordinary citizens to attribute such a phenomenon to a single variable, i.e., ethnolinguistic based federal structure. It is true that the existing federal structure might have exacerbated the situation; but reducing it to one-dimensional explanation does not do justice to such a complex phenomenon. In order to substantiate my argument, I would like to demonstrate how mobility-associated problem is different in urban and rural contexts.
Most of the evictions and expulsions carried out in different regional states (unless in an exceptional situation) are, for example, based in rural areas. However, with all its constraints (such as holding a political office), citizens’ mobility in urban areas, i.e., cities across regional states is relatively healthy. In other words, the eviction and expulsion of citizens based on ethnic identity is almost non-existent in cities across the regional states.
Citizens can still own property, engage in business activities, earn wages for their labor, take professional jobs and make a living. Relatively speaking, there is a decoupling of people and land in the urban context. Here, we can see the applicability, albeit with a qualification, of the liberal concept of land and free mobility.
In the rural context, however, the phenomenon appears to be quite different. Here, the liberal view of land and free mobility does not seem to hold ground; instead it is the nationalist view that appears to be having a field day in the rural context.
The takeaway from the preceding discussion is that in order to fully translate the liberal view of land and the attendant free mobility of citizens, we need to bring about industrial transformation and urbanization, and thereby create an urban-industrial society. However, this does not happen overnight regardless of how much we desire it. This means that as we strive to industrialize as speedy as humanly possible, we should recognize that we will still continue to be a largely rural-based agrarian society for sometime to come.
In the meantime, we need to find a way to contain the deleterious effects of the nationalist’s view of land and mobility. The first step to this end is to recognize and appreciate the problem and be willing and prepared to make some concessions or to find a way to somehow accommodate their concerns.
In order to do so, there should be informed and dispassionate appraisal of the challenge that is devoid of bravado and jingoism. With a long-term view and broader national interest in sight, elites drawn from a cross-section of society should enter a grand elite bargain in a give-and-take process creating a win-win situation that would eventually promote a peaceful coexistence as a society.
The grand elite bargain I have talked about so far is only related to the material side of the argument. However, the material side of the argument, though critical, is still incomplete without due regard to the political side of the argument. I have argued somewhere in this piece that citizens’ evictions and expulsions on the grounds of ethnic identity (unless in exceptional situations) is almost non-existent in the urban context across the regional states as opposed to the rural context.
This being the case, however, still the political rights of ethnic “Others” living in cities under the regional states ostensibly “owned” by a designated titular group is highly constrained. In practical terms, although they pay taxes as any other constituent members, often times they are not entitled to hold political office; they can vote but they cannot themselves stand as a candidate for a political position.
Furthermore, citizens with mixed ethnic backgrounds are often left in a-no-man’s land unless they choose one part of themselves. Even when such a choice happens, they suffer discrimination on the grounds that they are not ‘pure’ or ‘authentic’ sons or daughters of ‘the soil.’ Such a situation creates the sense of first class and second class citizens. This kind of bifurcation of citizens into those with full political rights and those with incomplete and partial political rights is indefensible in a democracy.
Thus, this political dimension of citizenship should also to be part and parcel of the envisaged grand elite bargain among the elites. These bargains presuppose the revisiting of the existing constitution in view of making pertinent amendments that might even go as far as making the reorganization of some of the current regional states.
Given the fact that the Prime Minister is from the EPRDF and presides over a divided ruling coalition, facilitating a process for grand elite bargain that would lead to the amendment of the constitution can be a challenging endeavor at best and suicidal at worst. However, since the sociopolitical climate the country is in is not an ordinary one, it requires an extraordinary measure.
With a sufficient dose of concerted and sustained positive pressure from elites and with a commitment to supporting the new administration, the new leadership could be persuaded to come on board. If a genuine democratic transition is to occur, it should be noted that securing such grand elite bargain ought to be a crucial first step.
The current discourse
Currently, there is much talk about widening democratic space, reforming the electoral commission and the judicial system, revising or doing away with various draconian laws (such as antiterrorism law, mass media law, charities & societies law, etc.) that constrain the proper functioning of the political opposition, the media and civil society organizations, etc. There is talk about granting the opposition an unfettered access to their constituents so that they can interact with them and introduce their political programs.
If such reforms are put in place, the argument goes, the next election would be democratic and the outcome of the election would be legitimate. And such legitimacy would be crucial in restoring peace and strengthening democratization.
However, as important as these proposed reforms are, they cannot get us to the ‘promised land’ unless they are preceded by constitutional amendments that take into account the objects of the grand elite bargain I have discussed earlier.
Without fixing such critical structural problems through constitutional amendment and thereby create elite consensus, the election could be democratic but its outcome would be illiberal. What is meant here is that the election process could be democratic but the voting would end up being along ethnic cleavages as the political parties are predominantly ethnic-based.
According to Horowitz (1985),
“…societies that are deeply riven along a preponderant ethnic cleavage…tend to throw up party systems that exacerbate ethnic conflict. By appealing to electorates in ethnic terms, by making ethnic demands on government, and by bolstering the influence of ethnically chauvinist elements within each group, parties that begin by merely mirroring ethnic divisions help to deepen and extend them” (Horowitz, 1985, p. 291).
In such a context, democratic election merely serves as a legitimizing instrument for the institutionalization of societal divisions rather than the mediation of such divisions (I will address in detail the issue of ethnic-based party system and democratic stability in my next piece).
What would happen if Ethiopia enters the next election without striking a grand elite bargain on critical structural issues? In such a scenario, I would argue that the following situations could potentially transpire: state capture or economic nationalism, irredentism, ‘ethnic minorities’ revolt, and the ‘Kuomintangphenomenon.’ In the following section, I will briefly discuss each one of them.
State capture or economic nationalism
As we know, the recent public protest that has rocked the nation and eventually gave birth to the change in premiership was largely spearheaded by the ‘Qeerroos’ precipitated by a real or perceived sense of economic and political marginalization of ethnic Oromos. Team Lemma not only echoed the ‘Qeerroos’’ plight but also rearticulated it as a trans-ethnic plight in the language of ‘Ethiopiawinet.’
The rhetoric of ‘Ethiopiawinet’ resonated well across the ethnic divide, generating an overwhelming public support for Team Lemma. Ironically, an issue that was ostensibly particularistic at the start has later become a universal and unifying issue, saving the OPDO/Team Lemma in the process.
Now with Dr. Abiy as Prime Minister and Lemma as chief administrator of the Oromia regional government, and with their progressive rhetoric that appeals to a cross-section of the society, the Oromos and the rest of ordinary Ethiopians are hoping for the best. The question is ‘how would things be both during and in the aftermath of the upcoming election?’
Since political parties in Ethiopia are predominantly ethnic-based, their electorate is particularistic, and the parties ought to appeal to the interests of their respective constituencies. And the interests of the various ethnic constituencies are not necessarily compatible. It is at this juncture that the discourse of ‘Ethiopiawinet’ would come to be juxtaposed with Oromo nationalism.
As the Oromo parties’ social base is the Oromo constituency, Team Lemma will have difficulty of selling both ‘Ethiopiawinet’ and Oromo nationalism to its Oromo constituency in the midst of Oromo nationalist parties. In order to avoid being rendered irrelevant, Team Lemma would have to tow along the Oromo nationalist line regardless of its desire to amplify ‘Ethiopiawinet’ discourse.
As Horowitz (1985) argues, an ethnic party is identified with the cause of the ethnic group it represents. And what justifies its existence is uniting, fighting for, welding together and working for the protection of the ethnic group on behalf of which it purportedly speaks (Horowitz, 1985, p. 296). Thus, it is my contention that Oromo nationalism will have a field day on the election day.
The Oromo elites see the current moment at the moment of arrival after several decades of political wilderness. They intend to seize the opportunity and cannot afford to squander it. There are already signs that they are coalescing to create a unified front to advance and protect the interests of their ethnic constituency.
As numbers are crucial in electoral democracy, the Oromo elite will have a plurality if not a majority in the Federal parliament and could end up occupying key federal institutions. This will give them an important decision-making power.
Since there is a widely shared sense of historical marginalization among the Oromos, there is no doubt that there will be expectations from the constituency for making up for such historical disadvantages. One way of attempting to fulfill such an expectation is by using state institutions for the express purpose of advancing particularistic interests. In other words, it would be through state capture.
Another way of responding to such an expectation is through the promotion of economic nationalism where the regional government would advance a policy of controlling resources and businesses within its borders by ethnic kinsmen. There is no doubt that both mechanisms will have serious ramifications. But as Horowitz (1985) contends, “…an ethnic party embraces ethnic demands as a matter of course, even when these have far-reaching consequences for other groups” (Horowitz, 1985, p. 296).
Under this heading, I will be using the term ‘irredentism’ loosely. In the sense used here, irredentism refers to the retrieval of ethnic kinsmen and territory. In post-Derg Ethiopia, if there is a group that has felt a collective sense of loss, identity crisis, and victimhood, it is the Amharas.
With the dawn of a new political dispensation in 1991, and the resultant adoption of ethnolinguistic based federal system, the Amharas began to enter the realm of nightmare. For a group that had never seen itself in Ethnic terms and that had never seen itself as having a confined territory, coming to terms with the new reality was not an easy task. Even the government seems to have recognized the complexity of putting the Amharas in one box with an ethnic label when one sees the party (the Amhara National Democratic Movement – ANDM) it came up with for the Amharas, for ANDM is often accused of being constituted by what one would call ‘miscellaneous entities.’ Thanks to the EPRDF, now the Amharas not only have cultivated a collective identity but also have sent in motion Amhara nationalism.
Come the next election, I suspect that the Amhara nationalists will be having a field day. In such a scenario, the Amhara nationalists primary goal would likely be to push for the retrieval or reclaiming of territories they believe have been unfairly incorporated into neighboring states.
What is more, as millions of the Amhara nationals reside in other regional states, the nationalists would take upon themselves the responsibility of protecting their kinsmen by projecting power beyond the territory of their designated regional state. In such a scenario, I fear that we are going to see serious head-on collisions in a not distant future.
Ethnic minorities’ revolt
In this piece, the phase ‘ethnic minorities’ is used to refer to the five regional states which are commonly known as ‘Tadagi Kililoch’ (developing regions/states) administered by ‘allied parties.’
Since 1991, these regional states have systematically been excluded from being a part of the EPRDF structure but have been expected to render unequivocal support to ‘Uncle Sam.’ In other words, they are not of EPRDF but they must be for EPRDF. They are not as such part of the policy making process at the federal level but they have the duty of carrying out the policies enacted by the EPRDF.
Under the guise of helping them stand on their feet, the federally assigned political ‘babysitters’ practically ran the regions behind the scene. The whole situation is reminiscent of what was infamously called the ‘native administration’ instituted by the British in Africa during the colonial era. As these are resource rich regions, they have been used for the purpose of resource extraction as well as for political servitude. After more than two decades of ‘self-administration,’ there is little to celebrate in these regions in terms of developmental gains.
As a result, there is already a simmering anger and resentment among residents of these regional states. If there will be a perceived sense of a continued ethnic domination and a sense of business as usual as far as their inequities are concerned, there is likely going to be revolt, non-cooperation, warlordism, decentralized despotism, a complete breakdown of law and order, and even a threat of invoking (at least rhetorically) article 39 (which provides for ethnic self-determination up to secession), and thereby making the regions ungovernable.
The ‘Kuomintang’ phenomenon
Kuomintang (aka KMT), often translated as the Nationalist Party of China, was founded by Sun-Yat sen and Song Jiaoren in 1912, shortly after Xinhai Revolution 1911, with the express purpose of overthrowing the Qing dynasty and establishing the Republic of China. It remained the ruling party in mainland China until 1949. The guiding ideology of the party was known as the Three Principles of the People: nationalism, democracy and the people’s livelihood, as advocated by Sun Yat-sen (Tan, 2008, p. 8).
As Tan (2008) notes, from the perspective of Sun Yat-Sen, the requirement of the first principle, nationalism, was the unification of all of China under a Nationalist leader and the termination of imperialism in China. The requirement of the second principle–democracy–was one party control by the Kuomintang with some minor party participation tolerated. The requirement of the third principle–the people’s livelihood–was redistribution of land and the reform of tax, rent and loan. The Three Principles were finally adopted as the official philosophy of the Kuomintang in 1924 (Tan, 2008, p. 8).
As a part of fulfilling the first of its three principles, the Kuomintang launched the Northern Expedition, during which it attacked and suppressed the left and Communists in violation of its expressed policy of collaboration with the Chinese Communist Party. Following the Northern Expedition, it decided to reassess the implementation of the party’s Three Principles, most significantly, the implementation of the requirements of the third principle, and made a conscious choice to make the landowner/gentry its power base as opposed to the peasantry; and this was seen by the Communists and the peasantry as a betrayal of the guiding ideology of the party, eroding its legitimacy.
Under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek, the Kuomintang also made a conscious decision to preserve the traditional Chinese social and economic order and to limit the political revolution. According to Yates (1983), as an imperative of his traditional Chinese philosophy and Confucian values, Chiang placed great value on loyalty. As a result, the hierarchy of the Kuomintang became populated by men of great loyalty rather than men of dedication and competence. The ruling circle was generally military men and the inner circle was members of the Whampoa clique. The Kuomintang by its actions routinely demonstrated that it had a poor grasp of reality (Yates, 1983, p. 38).
After the start of World War II, the wartime conditions magnified the Kuomintang’s weaknesses. During this period, Chaos and negligence were descriptive terms used even by sympathetic observers. Chiang was often under pressure by liberals, intellectuals and allies to reform his government. Although a number of reforms and shake-ups were announced, they only resulted in the shuffling of the inner circle into different jobs.
As the situation in China deteriorated and the Kuomintang became more reactionary, with their Tai Li Blue Shirts stifling dissent and brutalizing intellectuals, they often seemed no better than Nazis. When competent personnel were assigned to important positions, they usually found they did not have authority compatible with responsibility (Yates, 1983, p. 39).
Due to protracted corruption and gross mismanagement at high levels, the Chinese economy receded into a state of hyper-inflation. This devastated the Chinese middle class and resulted in increased corruption on a wider scale. But the Nationalist effort was dealt a decisive blow by the Communists in late 1948 and early 1949 at the battle front. Chiang resigned the presidency after this battle but retained his positions as KMT chairman and commander in chief of the Nationalist armed force.
His successor, Li Tsung-jen (1890-1969), tried to negotiate peace with the Communists. With complete victory in his grasp, Mao refused to negotiate. Chiang now realized that Taiwan was his last hope. In the meantime, he decided to move China’s gold reserve, to transfer the Nationalist troops, and to divert American aid to Taiwan (Yates, 1983, p. 24). After overseeing these transfers, Chiang and his son, Chiang Ching-kuo, flew to Taipei in December 1949, never to set foot on the Chinese mainland again (Myers & Lin, 2007, pp. 2-3).
After its relocation to Taiwan, the KMT reinvented itself by not only building a new party that has endured for five decades, but also by building a new polity on Taiwan that created economic prosperity and China’s first democracy (Myers & Lin, 2007, p. 1).
When one looks at the KMT’s political history, one cannot afford to not see striking similarities with the TPLF’s political history, specially its post-Derg political history. With all the changes going on both within the EPRDF and the nation as a whole, if the TPLF finds its fortunes diminishing and its control at the federal level waning, there is a likelihood that it may decide to take the Kuomintang’s road by retreating to its base in Tigray with the view to consolidating itself in order to defend its constituency and its interests. However, as to how far it can politically reinvent itself like the Kuomintang and become a success story is difficult to tell at this stage given the odds (geopolitical as well as domestic) stacked against it.
At present, Ethiopia can be likened to an expectant mother who is looking forward to delivering a baby. The woman’s delivery of a healthy baby depends, to a large extend, on the necessary care and attention given to her at this crucial juncture.
Likewise, whether the current ‘political pregnancy’ is going to bear the desired fruit depends on the nature of the measures we take now. It is in this spirit that I was motivated to share my thoughts in this piece. I am neither a prophet nor a fortune-teller but a humble academic and political observer attempting to make sense of my observations. And it is my sincere hope that the arguments I have tried to advance (with all its imperfections) in this piece may catch some fire and motivate intellectuals and elites of goodwill to rise up to the challenges our nation faces today and help steer our political ‘ship’ in the right direction before it is too late.
Finally, I would like to conclude this piece by repeating a part of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s statements I began the piece with: “….This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action,” and let’s recognize the fierce urgency of now and respond accordingly.
May the good Lord help us!
Horowitz, Donald L. (1985). Ethnic Groups in Conflict. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Levy, Jacob T. (2000). The Multiculturalism of Fear. Oxford: The University of Oxford Press.
Myers, Ramon H. & Hsiao-ting Lin (2007). Breaking with the Past: The Kuomintang Central Reform Committee on Taiwan, 1950-52. Stanford, California: Hoover Institution Press
Walzer, Michael. (1990). The Communitarian Critique of Liberalism, Political Theory 18, 6-23.
Yates, Walter H. (1983). Chiang Kai-Shek, the United States, and the Fall of the Kuomintang Regime. Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania: U.S. Army War College.
* The writer, Abdissa Zerai (PhD), is a visiting faculty member at the University of New Mexico, USA; and former head of the School of Journalism & Communication at Addis Ababa University. He can be reached at[email protected]
Dr Abiye Ahmed is Ethiopia’s new head of the federal government. He has already approved a motion to lift the national state of emergency and released an Ethiopian-born British resident and passport holder. But might these positive developments be precursors to tensions that could be emerging across this ethnically diverse federal state?
Since its April leadership transition, Ethiopia already feels like a slightly different country. Internet access has been reasonably strong, social media is functioning, the cafés and restaurants in Addis Ababa are buzzing with relative optimism – and all owing to the arrival of the new leader of the longstanding governing party, Dr Abiye Ahmed. For despite his membership of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and service to the federal government, he has been perceived as a ‘different’ sort of leader. For a start, he is from the Oromo region, whose regionally-based party has traditionally been the underdog in the governing coalition. He has, as his name suggests, Muslim roots in a country which, though admirably plural, sits in the Horn of Africa, where religious tolerance is hardly the norm.
Abiye’s first 60 days have been marked by energy and engagement. He has asked parliament to lift the national state of emergency; he reshuffled his cabinet and increased the number of women holding senior posts; and he has pardoned and freed thousands of those detained for suspected so-called ‘anti-peace crimes’, including diaspora opposition leaders such as British citizen Andargachew Tsige and US resident Berhanu Nega. He has hosted dinners with opposition and business leaders, in contrast to the closed coterie of political insiders close to the former administration.
Abiye has also pursued significant engagement at the regional state levels. In addition to delivering compelling speeches in the major regional capitals of Jijiga, Hawassa, Gambella and Gondar, he prioritised a visit to the Tigrayan regional capital of Mekelle. There, he demonstrated his commitment by delivering his speech in Tigrinya – not his mother tongue – and underscored in his speech the critical role that Tigray played both in the country’s historical struggle for peace and in moving forward as a federation. He has visited neighbouring Sudan, Djibouti and Kenya, and hosted a visit by South Sudanese President Salva Kiir. Beyond Abiye’s inaugural speech to parliament, his forceful 15 April address delivered to a gathering of thousands of youths at the Millennium Hall in Addis Ababa gave the country’s largest, and most potentially restless and disgruntled, constituency real hope for change.
As the much more difficult work of applying these well-meaning sentiments begins, so does the challenge of communicating the indicators that will evidence whether Abiye can deliver on his promises. The promises include, among others, job creation for the young, security and justice sector reform, a more open and plural political system, a properly qualified and professional civil service, and a credible democratic electoral process. Underpinning these and other commitments are Abiye’s call for a unified Ethiopia.
But while applauding the gains, one must also appraise the challenges, as well as the new security issues that have arisen as a result of Ethiopia’s new political settlement. Whereas the biggest threat for Ethiopia remains an economic one – with a 16% unemployment rate in a country with a population of just over 100 million and with 22% of the unemployed between the ages of 15 and 29 – the rise of political and ethnic-based divisions across society may also cause further turbulence.
As a result, Ethiopia’s new leader faces some very clear challenges. The first is that political reform will need to be measured and well-managed. The emergence of splits across the coalition members suggests that the EPRDF could evolve into a different sort of party in the near future. With such internal party pressures, Abiye’s government can ill-afford to allow a polarised and antagonistic relationship with the opposition to continue. Once meaningful dialogue has been initiated, this gap may begin to close, and opposition groups may gain traction.
Secondly, there is the question of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Following admissions of leadership failures in 2017, and the bruising charges of TPLF dominance circulating through social media since protests erupted in 2015, the Party needs to regroup and rebuild – and transform from considering itself as a ‘vanguard’ into considering itself as a player within an electoral democratic space. Whereas the issue requires acceptance on the TPLF’s side, it also requires a show of willingness on the part of Abiye to embrace and honour the TPLF’s contribution to date. Such engagement would also send an assuring signal to Tigrayan business groups, the future contribution of which is critical to the country’s much-needed foreign exchange and foreign direct investment.
The last challenge concerns the potential for ethnic divisions to be exacerbated in the country. Abiye’s efforts to re-emphasise pan-Ethiopia sentiments could be robustly supported by a national dialogue, used to inform the national interests that define and unify Ethiopians. However, with the combination of ethno-nationalist sentiments being at their peak and historic mistrust between various ethnic elites and political groups, the state’s limited ability to provide incentives to cushion painful compromises and the difficulty of finding facilitators who are trusted and perceived as politically neutral all present significant challenges. But if Ethiopia’s national interests and vision could become agreed and codified, these foundations could usefully serve as the pinnacle of new federal, regional and sectoral strategies.
The energy and engagement that Abiye has demonstrated in his first 60 days in office gives us hope that Ethiopia is moving to a better place. However, the new security threats that have emerged with this political transition should not be underestimated. With ongoing regional conflicts, such as those in South Sudan and Somalia, including hydro-tensions with Egypt over contested Nile water resources, the de facto regional hegemon faces testing diplomatic challenges. The political honeymoon is now over and the government in Addis Ababa has a mountain to climb.
* The author, Ann Fitz-Gerald, is a Professor of Security Sector Management at Cranfield University. She has worked with many African governments on issues relating to national security and security sector governance, as well as supporting peace talks and national security dialogue.
The thirty-six strong executive members of Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Party (EPRDF), the only party that has been in power in Ethiopia for the last 27 years, in its recent quarterly meetings, has announced the partial sell-off of some of the state owned enterprises (SOE).
These SOEs are Ethiopia’s most prized assets and crown jewels; such as the Ethiopian Air Lines, Ethiopian Telecom, Ethiopian Maritime transport, Rail way service, industrial parks, etc,. It is fair to say that such an egregious move by the party, which is infamously known to be hubristic and secretive, resulted in the public’s bewilderment and anger, due to little or lack thereof any clear explanation for the reason behind the partial privatisation.
Recently, a wind of change has been blowing in Ethiopia, when the reformist members of the party elected the new chairman of the party, Dr Abiy Ahmed, who is one of the leading member of the reformist group to be Prime Minister. Since the Prime Minister’s ascension to power, the sweeping reform has been on a high gear and every Ethiopian has been on a rollercoaster political ride, unable to keep up the pace with which the sea of change has been taking place.
The decision to partially privatise these SOEs, an economic rollercoaster by its own right, has generated mixed reactions amongst Ethiopians. This ambivalence by Ethiopians of different strides, backgrounds and political affiliations, ranged from elation of neoliberalism to modest scepticism and perceived betrayal of self-identity for selling the Crown Jewels.
While neoliberalism is yet to be born and crawl; the public’s suspicion of the sale SOEs is well founded given the track record of EPRDF in the past. If history is any evidence to the future, regrettably some public companies were sold off in the past to the ruling party’s cronies for much less than their market values. The thought of history repeating itself would scare many Ethiopians and rightly so. Saying that, if utmost care is taken not to replicate the ills of the past, this writer believes that the sale of SOEs this time round is not only timely but also necessary for the following reasons.
It has been an open secret that the Ethiopian government has faced a deep forex shortages due to its myriad of problems. To begin with, EPRDF’s strategy of achieving economic growth by heavily financing mega projects mainly through government expenditures finally came home to roost.
These projects, large and small, the investment return of which would take few years to plough back, were largely funded by borrowed foreign capital. By the same token, a quick glance of the trade balance, clearly indicates the ever widening gap of imports over exports, that has added more stress on the forex earnings.
Moreover, the expulsion of Ethiopian expats from The kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Middle East; together with the Ethiopian diasporas sustained blockade on remittance payments; and not to mention, the persistent protests of the last couple of years and the declaration of the state of emergency has certainly slowed down tourism and reduced export production.
Last but not least, the doomed currency devaluation added more pressure to the forex reserves and encouraged capital flights. The culmination of these facts has become the raison d’etre of bankrupting the forex reserves in few weeks rather than months.
It is a fair assessment that, these multifarious events have been annus horribilis for Ethiopia’s forex reserves. As a result, the foreign lenders, which were heavily financing the government’s debt, if the recent report in The Financial Times is believed to be true, has started to shy away from extending their once generous hands, sighting the government’s financial solvency.
Be that as it may, the foreign capital borrowed must be paid; and when your bailers run for the door, your last resort is selling what you have, to pay what you owe.
Accordingly, one of the main reasons why the partial privatisation of these SOEs, where the government will own the majority stake, is to raise the necessary foreign capital to top up the forex reserves and at the same time settle its debt obligations to the rest of the world.
The alternative, otherwise, is face the possibility of defaulting on its creditors and a possible bankruptcy that will put future loans at risk and almost make them impossible to get. Therefore the government has indeed faced a Hobson’s choice; i.e., it has to sell worthy SOEs and pay its dues, as defaulting on its obligations is not a feasible alternative anymore.
It should be noted however that, while a partial privatisation might raise the necessary funds for the short term, and help the government alleviate its current forex problem; it cannot be a magic bullet and by no means a long term solution. Due to its myriad of problems, the government needs a cocktail of economic as well as political antidotes for sustainable long term forex solution.
Moreover, the developmental state model, whereby the state takes full control of running the economy, which EPRDF has subscribed to until now was another cause of its forex insolvency.
One of the problems of such an economic model is that the government is heavily invested in projects while crowding out private investments. In so doing, it is giving little or no space to small and medium sized enterprises (SME) which are thought to be the engines of growth for an economy while creating the much needed employment opportunities.
Especially at the time when the state run economy could not expand anymore in creating more employment and where an economic misfortunes of both unemployment and inflation (stagflation) are prevalent, help from the private sector is not only necessary to relieve the government’s stress from its forex problem and unemployment but it is also a must, and not a luxury that it can afford to ignore.
Therefore, the first step to getting to liberalising the economy and bring the private sector onboard is a partial privatisation and opening up the economic space for the private sector; and at the same time reducing the crowding out of the state run economy.
Likewise, it has been reported that the reformist groups intention is to open up the political space; if that is the case, for the political platform to succeed and democracy to have a strong foothold in the society; liberalising the economy is a necessary condition.
When that happens, the recent political reform that has brought a renewed hope and aspirations in Ethiopia could be able to materialise backed up by an equal magnitude and scale of economic reform; i.e., liberal politicking requires liberal economic principles as they do not only go hand in hand and reinforce each other but also it is the only way forward to the next level for the Ethiopian economy to succeed.
Furthermore, the reformist group, led by Dr Abiy, has shown its commitment to root out corruption, especially in SOEs, that has been endemic in Ethiopia. To that effect, the infusion of private capital as minority stake holders would result in higher participation of the private capital, create an environment of more transparency in the board room and control of the management.
The private sector’s involvement in the oversight of the management of the SOEs, helps amongst many other things, in facilitating the efficient utilisation of the partially privatised SOE’s resources; thereby allowing it to curtail wastage as well as pilferages. It encourages more transparency in information disclosures about the SOEs financial positions that has been a secrecy until now.
By the same token, giving the much needed extra hand to the reformist group’s fight against corruption and better use of the public good. It is also a no-brainer that for an economy to grow at a sustainable rate, creating a saving economy is the only way forward. The first step to getting a saving economy would then be a partial privatisation with the aim of establishing fully fledged privatisation with strong SMEs in the future.
Finally, EPRDF is faced with myriad of political as well as economic problems it wilfully chose to ignore in the past. It looks like it has an awakening recently if the reformist group’s plan goes ahead to bring about solutions to these problems.
For some it might sound like a choice rather than a necessity; but unfortunately, is not anymore a luxury the ruling party can afford to ignore. It is a matter of survival for the existence of EPRDF as a party and Ethiopia as a country. Saying that, there is no magic bullet that fixes the ills of the myriads of political as well as the economic problems Ethiopia has faced; but if there is a will, there is a way.
Therefore, a cocktail of political as well as economic solutions would not only alleviate the problems at hand but with the right dosages, both the politicking and the economy not only gets better but will be on course to be sustainable too.
In order to do that, the political reform should go hand in hand and in full gear with the economic reform; as the country manages to create both a political as well as an economic stakeholder society, where everyone is responsible, comfortable and at ease with each other and with the government. So that, as much as the political space is opening up the private sector is encouraged in the economy to flourish too.
This will help the country in its fight against the endemic corruption, help the government in raise the elusive foreign capital and finally liberalise the economy to establish a fully fledged democratic stake holder society where the stock market becomes a reality.
Somaliland is a nation on the Horn of Africa that has been running its affairs independently and nears to be recognized soon by the world countries is now dealing with a painful inflation. Living amongst them, I came to realize that the people are fed up with inflation which badly affects their living standards.
Most ordinary people, some traders and money changers informed me that food inflation is very high in Somaliland and has become a very serious issue. The businessmen usually favor for selling their items in dollars rather than Somaliland shillings, therefore, the exchange rate resulted in increased food prices that made the cost of buying Somaliland Shillings high.
Inflation has been and will be a risk to peace and social stability especially during the Ramadan fasting since the dollar rate has reached unprecedented rate. The living conditions have been invariably affected by the increase of dollar rates since the market is based on a dollar as a currency.
In this context, inflation is simply the rise in prices of commodities and devaluation of Somaliland currency against the dollars that directly influenced the living conditions and made many households face difficulty to get their basic necessary commodities.
According to my observation, inflation has been going up for the last 6 months particularly the price of services and exchange rates after the government executive orders to deal with the inflation phenomenon failed for poor implementation.
In January this year, when the government of Somaliland had issued a new executive orders against inflation and unfair prices but nothing has been achieved as the local producers and service providers are pricing their goods and services in dollars seeing as Somaliland Shilling fluctuates irregularly which made the business people not to rely on their currency. For example, every service is priced in dollars, like schools fees, foodstuff, health services, rents, etc.
Why do the executive orders from the government always fail? Is a question every person wants a response for. This means that there have not been any researches done against the real causes of inflation in Somaliland. The committee established to fight against inflation in Somaliland has not been closely working with local universities for researching on the real causes of inflation.
At present, the poor people are living in a dire situation to survive the high cost of living in Hargeisa and other big towns have gone up progressively. The prices of all goods increased to some extent in line with increasing rate of exchange. Many parents are facing a poor economy as the exchange rate of $ 100 still above One Million Somaliland shillings that made many parents not to be able to buy something for their children particularly those employees get their salaries by Somaliland shilling while everything is priced in dollars.
I have confirmed that the market price of various items including livestock, Food, Clothes, housing and household equipment, Furniture, Construction Materials, Transportation, Health care and many others increased very high for the last 6 months due to the dollar rates. Whenever the value of Dollar appreciates, the value of the Somaliland Shilling depreciates which hits, especially hard on laborers, daily wagers and government employees including civil servants, police, and other national troops, because their salaries are paid in Somaliland Shillings. If not addressed immediately, this problem will bring a negative effect on the peace and tranquility in Somaliland.
Thanks to the current government led by Muse Bihi Abdi seems to be committed to deal with this problem after realizing that this problem can’t be ignored by anyone. The government is now giving awareness to the local people to be ready for increasing their locally produced foods and has allocated special budget for the ministry of agriculture for the first time in the history of Somaliland.
Inflation directly hurt the living standards of Somaliland people particularly, the poor ones. I came to know that high dollars rates and hard living conditions are what really affecting the people of Somaliland during this Ramadan.
Therefore, rising inflation is one the unsolved tribulations in Somaliland, and the government must come up with political willingness and plans to deal with inflation. According to my observation, the government must give consideration to the recommendations below:
1/ The government must encourage local production since imported goods are causing inflation or contributing to the current worsening conditions. The business people and local restaurants should use the locally produced goods instead of the imported ones just to encourage those who produce the local food with lower prices.
2/ In other words, the government should come up with a policy to empower the central bank in order to manage the exchange.
3/ The government should also set rules and regulations which control exchange rate, and also encourage financial institutions be accessible in collaboration with small businesses and engaging in increasing the value Somaliland Shilling. The financial institutions, entrepreneurs, government, families and all people who live in Somaliland should collaborate with each other in order to reduce inflation which jeopardized Somaliland economy.
4/ All bills have to be paid in Somaliland shillings to make the people value their currency instead of dollars. In addition to that, Khat poses a serious currency problem and huge dollars are sent to Ethiopia every week, the government should act and Khat traders should agree with a plan to use Ethiopian Birr instead of dollars when sending the money to Ethiopia.