René Lefort https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/7919/all cached version 22/08/2018 21:58:02 en Pacified politics or risk of disintegration? A race against time in Ethiopia https://www.opendemocracy.net/ren-lefort/pacified-politics-or-risk-disintegration-race-against-time-in-ethiopia <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The dramatic changes of the last months have moved Ethiopia away from “<em>the gates of hell</em> ”, but all options are still on the table, from the worst to the best.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Abiyahmed.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Abiyahmed.jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="100" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>April 2, 2018 - House of People's Representatives - Swearing in of the new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Wikicommons/Danielaregay. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>In February 1974, Addis Ababa’s taxis went on strike in protest against the rise in the price of fuel. Not a single observer imagined that this would begin a movement which within a few months would lead to the fall of a centuries-old empire. The imperial regime was not overthrown: it collapsed. </p> <p>The Derg, the “socialist” military junta which succeeded it, quickly found itself in conflict with an Eritrean secessionist movement and an “ethnic” Tigrayan force in the far north of the country. The Ethiopian army was the second biggest in Africa, massively supported by the USSR. If the rebels had been told in 1987-88 that their forces would enter Addis Ababa in 1991, they would have laughed. They were undoubtedly determined, disciplined and ingenious, but they were finally able to rout the Derg army also because it fell to pieces. <span class="mag-quote-center">They were undoubtedly determined, disciplined and ingenious, but they were finally able to rout the Derg army also because it fell to pieces.</span></p> <p>In both cases, the collapse of the regime – Haile Selassie then the Derg – was astonishing because their strength was greatly overrated. In both cases, the new leaders were initially well-received, though nobody knew where they precisely wanted to go. In certain respects, the current transition is similar: a sudden switch in the leadership team, radical and rapid changes, immense popular hope and, once again, an unpredictable future. </p> <h2><strong>Zenawi’s pyramid</strong></h2> <p>The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) controlled the military high command, the security services, and the extensive public and para-public business sector, although Tigrayans represent only 6% of Ethiopia’s population of 100 million. The other three ethnic parties in the ruling coalition, itself a pure TPLF creation – the Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organization (OPDO), the Oromos representing more than a third of the population; the ANDM (Amhara National Democratic Movement), more than a quarter of the population; and the SEPDM (Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement) – remained subordinate to the TPLF.</p> <p>The Front drew its strength from a clear strategy, iron discipline and the rallying of the Tigrayans behind it. However, it never recovered from the sudden death in 2012 of its all-powerful leader Meles Zenawi. The pyramid of power collapsed because it had been built by him and for him. </p> <p>The TPLF was neither able to choose a successor who would be a new strongman – Meles had created a vacuum around himself – nor, alternatively, to return to the collective mode of leadership that had been so successful in its early days. The tour of Tigray by the Front’s “old guard” in the spring of 2014 was a shock. A creeping change had occurred: Tigrayans were turning away from the Front, repelled by the authoritarian and oligarchic excesses of its officials, disappointed by the absence of new leaders, dissatisfied by economic progress that lagged behind that of other regions, infuriated by the “no peace no war” standoff with Eritrea. </p> <p>Suddenly, TPLF’s dominance over the governing coalition was crumbling. Yet it chose this moment to stir up a hornet’s nest with the Addis Ababa and Oromia Special Zone Integrated Development Master Plan, a move that would have extended the capital’s political authority to large swathes of Oromya around it. Part of the OPDO apparatus rebelled. For young Oromo, especially students, the so-called Querroo, the Plan was a red rag to a bull. Starting in 2014, they launched a wave of protests against a federalism distorted by “Tigrayan domination”. The government abandoned the Plan, the protesters grew bolder. In the summer of 2016, part of the Amhara region entered the fray. Initially wary of this spontaneous and unorganised popular movement, the OPDO and ANDM came to realise how they could exploit it to loosen the dominance of the Front. They let it run, even surreptitiously encouraged it. </p> <p>The authorities’ only response was force. Some 1000 dead, tens of thousands of arrests, two successive states of emergency. All to no avail, and with reason. Despite a succession of meetings by its leadership structures, all chaotic, interminable and heated, the TPLF proved incapable of developing a political response to this regime crisis. The consensus among observers was that Ethiopia was risking the worst: interethnic civil war culminating in the disintegration of the country or a military coup. </p> <p>The TPLF caved. It was unable to prevent an OPDO-ANDM alliance from placing an Oromo at the head of the EPRDF for the first time, albeit in a tight squeeze, in March 2018. Forty-one-year-old Premier Ministre Abiy Ahmed launched an avalanche of “liberal” reforms, both political and economic, with an intensity and rapidity unimaginable a few weeks earlier. He seems unstoppable. Quick summary: political liberalisation, i.e. the abolition of “revolutionary democracy”, a cobbled-together doctrine that had been used since 1991 to justify an authoritarian and centralised system; economic liberalisation, including a wave of privatizations; a recasting in the Ethiopian national melting pot of ethnic groups with a hardened and often even conflictual sense of identity; normalisation of relations with Eritrea, frozen in a limbo for 18 years. Nobody expected the winds of change to blow so hard.</p> <h2><strong>Winds of change</strong></h2> <p>Most observers believe that the current situation is dominated by the confrontation between the old governing and oligarchic elite, essentially Tigrayan, and the “reformists” headed by Abiy Ahmed. “<em>The Prime Minister commands but the TPLF controls</em>.”<a href="#_ftn1">[1]</a> Some go so far as to claim that the country is in fact under a “two-headed” regime. “<em>The TPLF holds a power system unmatched by that of the Prime Minister</em>.”<a href="#_ftn2">[2]</a> In their view, this underground “deep state” or “parallel state” has retained its dominance, in particular over the army and security forces. <span class="mag-quote-center">However, everything suggests that the TPLF is out on its feet.</span></p> <p>However, everything suggests that the TPLF is out on its feet. It is still seeking how to reposition itself in the topsy-turvy political game. It is deeply divided. If for no other reason than pragmatism, or to try to save what can be saved, a good section of its members, probably the majority, has accepted the shift in power. Tigrayan opinion has generally welcomed Abiy’s arrival, his “liberalisation” process, and his commitment to normalising relations with Eritrea. Above all, if the TPLF were still a bloc, as unified, organised, and all-pervasive as is claimed, genuinely supported by the mass of Tigrayans, and determined to destroy Abiy, the latter would never have been able to rip up the dogmas that the Front held so dear. He would never have been able to axe so many of its highly placed members in so short a time. He would never have been able to obtain the Front’s agreement – however grudging – on his principal measures and appointments.</p> <p>Does this mean that Abiy is now seeing the light at the end of the tunnel? Obviously not. Within the TPLF, but also in other parties, in the army and the security services, but also in other institutions, among Tigrayans, but also in the other nations, countless individuals have seen their positions and privileges wiped out or threatened by the changes. They undoubtedly include some who are ready to do their worst to bring down Abiy. Further bloody and desperate acts, such as the grenade attack of June 23 at the Meskel Square mass rally, are always possible. They have multiple ways to fan the flames of the conflicts raging across the country. However, to accuse these “Forces of Darkness”<a href="#_ftn3">[3]</a> of being the main instigators of those conflicts, steered by the hidden hand of TPLF “hardliners”, is to credit them with an objective, an organisation and resources of which there is so far no empirical evidence.</p> <h2><strong>“Soft” purge</strong></h2> <p>The EPRDF has often been reproached with having never attempted to bring about national reconciliation after its victory in what was also a civil war. However, although it pretends otherwise with its constant refrain of “<em>unity</em>” and “<em>forgiveness</em>”, the new governing team has come down heavily on the Tigrayan elite and even beyond, and is giving preferential treatment to the Oromo elite. The former developed the economy further than at any time in the history of the country. However defective the implementation, it established a federalism that every significant political force today considers irreversible. Yet it is given little credit for these achievements. Even its role in the defeat of the Derg is underplayed. Not only are the big bosses going down, but simple civil servants are undergoing a sort of “soft” purge, on grounds that can only be ethnic: they are being sidelined, while retaining their position and salary. </p> <p>When Abiy himself refers to “<em>political traders</em>” behind the “<em>conflicts</em>” proliferating across the country, to “<em>chaos instigators</em>” engaged in “<em>destructive activities</em>”,<a href="#_ftn4">[4]</a> or when he attributes responsibility for the June 23 attack to “<em>forces who do not want to see Ethiopia united</em>”,<a href="#_ftn5">[5]</a> it is interpreted in public opinion as an implicit accusation levelled against this Tigrayan elite. When Abiy or his closest collaborators welcome, with pomp and circumstance, smiles and embraces, opposition leaders formerly considered as “terrorists”, whose common denominator had been heaping abuse on the TPLF for two decades, they score points in Amhara and Oromo circles, but inflict a snub on the TPLF and ultimately on Tigrayans. For the latter, it is a way “<em>to sling mud at them</em>”.<a href="#_ftn6">[6]</a> By antagonising them, it risks pushing them to the limit. And for the most extreme elements, that limit is secession, a possibility increasingly discussed among Tigrayans, although still within a restricted circle. <span class="mag-quote-center">And for the most extreme elements, that limit is secession, a possibility increasingly discussed among Tigrayans, although still within a restricted circle.</span></p> <p>Moreover, this “two-headed” conception of the regime acts as a diversion: it conceals the most essential issues.</p> <h2><strong>Abiy Ahmed</strong></h2> <p>Who is Abiy really and where does he want to go? He is a pure product of – and for more than two decades was a significant player in – the governing structure. However, his behaviour, his words and his actions point to a radical departure. Simply put, stone by stone he is dismantling the authoritarian edifice erected since 1991, an edifice largely consistent with the traditional exercise of power in Ethiopia. </p> <p>This has brought him immense popularity and even the glimmerings of a popular cult of personality. He is not shy to speak, to say the least, but there is something of the sermon in his speeches. Abiy constantly preaches moral values: for example, the word “<em>love</em>” recurred twenty-two times in his 18 minute speech at the massive public meeting on June 23. We can take him to be sincere when he describes the global system he wants to introduce: democracy and a more liberal economy. </p> <p>But what do these two concepts mean to him? What is not known is the mechanisms through which they would operate. He remains vague, sometimes unclear and contradictory, and largely silent about his practical plans for political and economic reconstruction. In particular, he has set neither a course nor a timetable. Regardless of their subsequent implementation, the Derg had its slogan: Ethiopia Tikdem, Ethiopia first; the TPLF claimed to be committed to a clear goal: to break with dictatorship by establishing democracy. If Abiy has a slogan, it would be <em>medemer</em>, derived from a word that means “to add”, which could therefore be translated as “<em>let us unite!”</em>.<em> </em>Fine, but to do what? </p> <p>Lack of vision, tactical savvy or impotence? Abiy’s authority rests on his position as prime minister – whatever the current limitations on the power that this position confers – but above all on his popularity. The previously repressed or marginalised political forces applaud his dismantlement of the authoritarian system. But would this support continue if he gave more concrete details of his intentions for reconstruction? The radical divisions across the whole political spectrum would emerge clearly, in particular on two essential points. </p> <p>First, what type of federalism? In two decades it has never been under greater stress. There was a clash between federal army and the military forces of the Somali Region – the Liyu Police – in early August in Jijiga. Abiy had apparently decided to remove the regional President, Abdi Iley, a man notorious for his authoritarianism and corruption, who was facing growing popular opposition. Abiy’s predecessor, and even Meles Zenawi at the end of his life, had the same intention, but were prevented by opposition from some chiefs of the military and security service, which had single-handedly created Abdi and his Liyu Police.</p> <p>The reactions to this intervention are symptomatic of two opposing conceptions of federalism. The Ministry of Defence justified it on the grounds that “<em>the region’s peace and security has come under threat”</em>.<a href="#_ftn7">[7]</a> Somali and Tigrayan leaders, on the other hand, as well as commentators close to them, condemned an “<em>invasion</em>” that they qualified as “<em>irresponsible</em>”, “<em>illegal</em>”, and “<em>unconstitutional</em>”, “<em>an attack on the essence of the federation</em>”.<a href="#_ftn8">[8]</a> </p> <p>Moreover, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), which had suffered terribly at the hands of the Liyu Police under Abdi’s orders and was created to oppose them, called on the army to “<em>halt immediately any military activities</em>”, as “<em>the Somali people in Ogaden</em> [will]<em> never allow external forces to decide their fate</em>”.<a href="#_ftn9">[9]</a> In other words, Addis-Abeba is perceived as a greater enemy than Abdi and his Liyu Police. </p> <p>On one side, “consociationalism”. The internal sovereignty of every federal state is near-absolute. Every significant nation, regardless of population size, is also represented at the centre, which wields only the power that they are willing to grant. Decisions there are taken by consensus, so each nation can exercise a <em>de facto</em> right of veto.<a href="#_ftn10">[10]</a> It is this conception that influential Tigrayan circles have defended in recent years. Having lost the upper hand at the centre, they want to look inwards to Tigray.&nbsp; Under no circumstances should the federal authority be able to stick its nose into their internal affairs. That’s the red line which, if crossed, would be a <em>casus belli</em>. They are doing everything to ensure that the representatives of the “peripheral” nations (Afar, Somali, South, Gambella, etc&nbsp;.) adhere to it. In addition, however, all the leading parties – TPLF, ANDM, SEPDM and even OPDO – face strong ethno-nationalistic pressures which weaken their current leadership. </p> <p>On the other side, “Ethiopianism”, a regional sovereignty limited to varying degrees, supplanted by the central authority at least in the regalian spheres, starting with law and order. In this version, central representation is proportional to population size. This conception was not the traditional position of the Oromo elite while they considered themselves underrepresented at the federal centre. However, it is now the one that Abiy seems to favour. But it attracts strong opposition, including in Oromo circles which condemn Abiy’s adherence to an “<em>imperial ‘Ethiopianist’ narrative</em>”.<a href="#_ftn11">[11]</a> On the other hand, it undoubtedly reflects aspirations that have traditionally been dominant among the Amhara.</p> <p>The second point concerns the liberalisation of the economy and its opening up to international participation. The political class, whether in government or in opposition, is very divided on this issue. The “low-level” oligarchy is probably afraid of being marginalised by foreign investors. There is a risk that the economy could fall within their orbit, whereas many Ethiopians remain viscerally attached to an unyielding defence of national sovereignty. The privatisation of land, long advocated by some of the opposition, has always been ferociously opposed, in particular by the OPDO. </p> <p>Finally, the popular protests that brought Abiy to power were also motivated by a deep sense of economic injustice, fed by growing oligarchical excesses and by the proliferation of land dispossessions since the early 2000s, whose beneficiaries included foreign investors. The protesters attacked their companies and farms, but also local farmers who had acquired sudden wealth. Could this liberalisation exacerbate the excesses that contributed to the protests? In Oromya, for example, the authorities have taken the opposite tack, increasing public involvement in certain private companies. </p> <h2><strong>Elite power</strong></h2> <p>But one key feature that still endures is an elitist conception of power. Whatever their public stance, deep down almost all the political forces believe only in an exclusive democracy. Only those with “knowledge” because of their level of education have the skills and legitimacy required to take informed decisions and impose them on the mass of Ethiopians, perceived as too “backward” to decide for themselves and in their own interests. Reciprocally, however, this is a conviction that is also largely internalised by Ethiopians themselves: society can only work if it is governed by an unshakeable hierarchy, formerly presided over by an emperor by divine right, and now rightfully dominated by “intellectuals”.<a href="#_ftn12">[12]</a> </p> <p>Similar situations in other countries have generally led to a remarkable awakening of civil society. The mechanisms through which democracy operates have emerged or been revived, in particular an explosion of debate in different arenas, both informal – forums, clubs, think tanks, etc. – and formal – institutions, political parties, etc. </p> <p>While there is a newfound freedom of speech, no wave of this kind has occurred in Ethiopia. It would be fruitless to look for informed and well argued discussions on the problems of the country and possible solutions, whether between political actors and intellectuals, or elsewhere in civil society. The only forum of debate in recent years, with decision-making powers, has been the summit of the EPRDF. Paralysed by its divisions, this body seems sidelined and muted. The outcome of the first session of its Politburo since Abiy’s appointment may bring some clarity. The next congress will be postponed once more and nobody knows under what circumstances it might be held. <span class="mag-quote-center">The next congress will be postponed once more and nobody knows under what circumstances it might be held.</span></p> <p>One might also have expected an awakening of the country’s institutions, starting with Parliament, “<em>the highest authority of the Federal Government</em>”. Yet it remains supine, an assembly seemingly under orders. For example, while Abiy has decided to introduce radical economic change, Parliament unanimously adopted the first budget developed to that end. It showed the same unanimity in granting amnesty to members of organisations whom it had before unanimously characterised as “<em>terrorists</em>”.</p> <p>Never since the death of Meles Zenawi has the verticality of power seemed so great. Abiy Ahmed or his chief of staff announce all the big decisions. These are delivered abruptly, sometimes absent legal procedures. No one knows who developed them, which structures were involved, whether the main stakeholders were consulted. Apart from Lemma Megersa, President of Oromya, and to a lesser extent Workeneh Gebeyehu, Minister of Foreign Affairs, also an Oromo, no political figure, not even party leaders or ministers, seems to be present on the political stage. Everything appears to emanate from Abiy. </p> <p>It brings to mind the immemorial figure of the “<em>Big Man or </em>teleq säw<em>… the authority figure </em>par excellence<em>… accorded universal respect</em>”.<a href="#_ftn13">[13]</a> And public opinion in general sees nothing wrong in this, quite the contrary: its “Abiymania” is symptomatic of a sort of waiver of citizen rights, a handing of the reins of the country to a “Messiah” – one of his nicknames – who will take it to the Promised Land. A strange paradox at a time when the incessantly reiterated message is about the march towards democracy and the assertion of inclusiveness …</p> <h2><strong>Feet of clay?</strong></h2> <p>But could it be that the Big Man has feet of clay? Can Abiy count on solid channels of authority needed to govern effectively? It was thought that the end of the big political demonstrations and their cortege of repression would mark a return to law and order. Wrongly. There had to be the capacity to impose them. In fact, not for decades have there been so many people – almost 3 million – internally displaced, essentially for ethnic and religious reasons. </p> <p>Long stifled, then simultaneously exacerbated and held in check by an ostensible but uneven federalism, ethnic identities have become inflamed, both in the “big” and “little” ethnic groups. The latter see the new reformism as an opportunity to make their voices heard at last. Interreligious conflicts are proliferating, mainly between Orthodox and Muslims. “<em>There are growing fundamentalist tendencies to not tolerate the other. Sometimes politics – competition for power and positions &nbsp;– &nbsp;is used to instigate violence. Religious identities are manipulated</em>.”<a href="#_ftn14">[14]</a> This is happening even in Wollo, which was considered a bastion of tolerance in this respect.<a href="#_ftn15">[15]</a></p> <p>Likewise, “<em>killings, vandalism, riots and lawlessness are being reported literally from all corners of Ethiopia</em>”, generally motivated by the revival of age-old personal or community interests.<a href="#_ftn16">[16]</a> Jawar Mohammed, the very popular spokesman of the Queerroo, himself one of Abiy’s strongest supporters, has delivered a warning: unless the security situation is seriously addressed, “<em>it will quickly escalate into full scale crisis</em>”.<a href="#_ftn17">[17]</a> Many observers speak of the risk of “chaos”. </p> <p>Many too have noted how Abiy has remained remarkably discreet in his speeches and even more sparing in his actions on this issue. The most likely reason is that he lacks the resources to contain a turmoil that he cannot ignore. The centrifugal forces are so powerful that the lines of authority have fractured, both in the federal system and within the ethnic administrations. At local and even sub-regional level, officials and police seem to operate with growing autonomy, following their own priorities and interests, to the point of remaining passive, if not becoming themselves participants or even initiators in the disorder. </p> <p>To attribute this turmoil primarily to the “deep state”, everywhere and always, is to mask the upsurge in these local dynamics, their roots, their implications and their dramatic dangers. <span class="mag-quote-center">To attribute this turmoil primarily to the “deep state”, everywhere and always, is to mask the upsurge in these local dynamics.</span></p> <p>The intervention of federal troops in the Somali Region will be a test in this respect. Although justified by the necessity of restoring law and order, its real target seems to be Abdi Iley and his accomplices. Its success and the restoration of calm remain more than unsure. </p> <p>As observed in similar situations, though local for the moment, these conflicts could spread and intensify through the influence of ethnic or religious solidarity, which the most extreme elements will undoubtedly seek to exploit, to the point of degenerating into interregional confrontations and large-scale pogroms. What we are seeing is therefore a race against the clock between the escalation – at present continuous – of all these ethnic, religious or land-related conflicts, or simple settling of individual or communal scores, and Abiy’s efforts to assert his power.</p> <p>The EPRDF managed these lines of authority. But it looks more and more like a hollow shell. The TPLF and half of the Southerners voted against Abiy’s election. We have seen where the TPLF is at present. The SEPDM is so profoundly divided that nobody knows if it will be able to hold its next congress. The ANDM has lost momentum through a failure of legitimacy and the emergence of competing parties. While Abiy remains indisputably popular in Oromya, rival Oromo parties and personalities have the wind in their sails. </p> <p>How much control does the OPDO really have over its cadres? How much authority do the latter have at local level, in particular over the young Queerroo? Jawar Mohammed just declared: “<em>We have two governments in Ethiopia: Abiy’s government and Qeerroo government</em>”.<a href="#_ftn18">[18]</a> &nbsp;In West Wollega, open conflict seems to have broken out with a faction of the OLF, which despite an agreement with the authority to return to peaceful struggle, seems to be refusing to hand over its weapons. All these widespread abuses, though always condemned at the top, prove that Abiy’s authority is limited to say the least, even in Oromya: one of his biggest challenge will be to begin asserting it in this region. </p> <p>The ANDM remains strangely silent. Its main aim in supporting Abiy was to oust the TPLF. This done, what do they have in common? The rise of the OPDO, which could lead to an “oromisation” of federal power in place of the previous “tigrenisation”, will sooner or later put their hitherto tactical alliance to a tough test. And what would happen if it snapped? </p> <h2>Medemer! </h2> <p>In circumstances like these, attempts are generally made to restructure the political space by reinforcing its institutional mechanisms. Elections are employed as the ultimate arbiter. Political parties reform by reorganising, regrouping, establishing a platform. Voters can then make an informed choice between different political projects. The winning party or coalition acquires a clear mandate and the legitimacy to implement its programme. </p> <p>In a profoundly unstructured political landscape, be it in the opposition or in the EPRDF, the card that Abiy seems to want – or is forced? – to play is that of individuals and positions among the elite, and hence also implicitly of the resources to which they afford access. He says little about the 2020 elections, and certainly does not present them as a Rubicon point. It is not clear whether his intention is to rebuild an EPRDF in his own image or, if not, to build a new, multi-ethnic force. He purges, appoints or wins over individuals, pursuing the “<em>Grand Elite Bargain</em>”.<a href="#_ftn19">[19]</a> His aim seems to be to form a coalition of personalities, which would bring enough supporters with it for voters to delegate the government of the country to them, rather than a coalition of structured parties based on a common programme that voters would be invited to endorse. “<em>Medemer</em>”, “<em>Let us unite!</em>”, Abiy repeats, but first behind me personally and the heavyweights I have brought on board. </p> <p>More than ever, it is impossible to predict the course of events. The dramatic changes of the last months have moved Ethiopia away from “<em>the gates of the hell</em>”<a href="#_ftn20">[20]</a>, but all options are still on the table, from the worst to the best. Will Abiy acquire sufficient authority to counter the forces of disintegration or will they ultimately overwhelm him? One can only hope that it will be the first scenario that is realised. </p><p> If so, will he want simply to reshuffle the existing elitist and oligarchical system in order to offer previously disadvantaged ethnic elites – starting with his own – more access to power and wealth, or to build a genuinely democratic order and a liberal economy? The pathway to democracy can be complex, long and tortuous. The emergence of a new Big Man, but in this case in a “softer” and more inclusive mould, would nevertheless be a remarkable step forward.</p> <hr size="1" /> <p><a href="#_ftnref1">[1]</a> <a href="http://wazemaradio.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/TPLFs-Counter-Revolution-and-Potential-Antidotes.pdf">http://wazemaradio.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/TPLFs-Counter-Revolution-and-Potential-Antidotes.pdf</a>, 16/08/18.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref2">[2]</a> <a href="http://ethioforum.org/the-quandary-of-ethiopias-bicepalic-government-by-prof-messay-kebede/">http://ethioforum.org/the-quandary-of-ethiopias-bicepalic-government-by-prof-messay-kebede/</a>, 07/05/2018.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref3">[3]</a> <a href="https://www.facebook.com/ethiopianews/posts/al-mariamthe-forces-of-darkness-have-weaponized-polarized-desensitized-tribalize/2150531748321265/">https://www.facebook.com/ethiopianews/posts/al-mariamthe-forces-of-darkness-have-weaponized-polarized-desensitized-tribalize/2150531748321265/</a>, 13/08/18.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref4">[4]</a> <a href="http://www.fanabc.com/english/index.php/news/item/12453-premier-blames-political-traders-for-instigating-conflict-in-ethiopia">http://www.fanabc.com/english/index.php/news/item/12453-premier-blames-political-traders-for-instigating-conflict-in-ethiopia</a>, 31/07/18.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref5">[5]</a> https://www.reuters.com/article/us-ethiopia-politics/several-people-killed-in-blast-at-rally-supporting-new-ethiopian-leader-idUSKBN1JJ050, 23/06/18.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref6">[6]</a> aigaforum.com/article2018/ethiopia-at-cross-roads.htm, 06/08/2018.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref7">[7]</a> <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-ethiopia-politics/unrest-spreads-in-eastern-ethiopia-after-deployment-of-troops-idUSKBN1KP0FI">https://www.reuters.com/article/us-ethiopia-politics/unrest-spreads-in-eastern-ethiopia-after-deployment-of-troops-idUSKBN1KP0FI</a>, 04/08/18.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref8">[8]</a> Voir en particulier <a href="https://twitter.com/daniel_berhane">https://twitter.com/daniel_berhane</a> et <a href="https://twitter.com/addisstandard">https://twitter.com/addisstandard</a> des 4 et 5 août 2018.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref9">[9]</a> <a href="http://www.ogadennet.com/?p=101269">http://www.ogadennet.com/?p=101269</a>, 04/08/2018.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref10">[10]</a> <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/ren-lefort/ethiopian-spring-killing-is-not-answer-to-our-grievances">https://www.opendemocracy.net/ren-lefort/ethiopian-spring-killing-is-not-answer-to-our-grievances</a>, 9/09/2016.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref11">[11]</a> <a href="http://ayyaantuu.org/osas-statement-on-the-unfolding-political-transition-in-ethiopia/">http://ayyaantuu.org/osas-statement-on-the-unfolding-political-transition-in-ethiopia/</a>, 25/07/18.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref12">[12]</a> <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/ren-lefort/ethiopian-spring-killing-is-not-answer-to-our-grievances">https://www.opendemocracy.net/ren-lefort/ethiopian-spring-killing-is-not-answer-to-our-grievances</a>, 9/09/2016.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref13">[13]</a> Christopher Clapham, <em>Haile Selassie’s Government 1930-1974</em>, Tsehai, 1969, p. 5.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref14">[14]</a> https://www.lutheranworld.org/news/new-peace-initiative-ethiopia, 16/08/18.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref15">[15]</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/addisstandard/status/1027566605411278848">https://twitter.com/addisstandard/status/1027566605411278848</a>, 09/08/18.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref16">[16]</a>&nbsp; https://twitter.com/addisstandard, 24/07/18.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref17">[17]</a> <a href="https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=jawar%20mohammed">https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=jawar%20mohammed</a>, 14/07/18.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref18">[18]</a> <a href="https://ethiomedia.com/2018/08/19/jawar-from-oromo-radical-to-ethiopias-leader/">https://ethiomedia.com/2018/08/19/jawar-from-oromo-radical-to-ethiopias-leader/</a>, 19/08/18.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref19">[19]</a> <a href="https://hornaffairs.com/2018/06/12/grand-elite-bargain-the-fierce-urgency-of-now/">https://hornaffairs.com/2018/06/12/grand-elite-bargain-the-fierce-urgency-of-now/</a>, 12/06/18.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref20">[20]</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/addisstandard/status/1024301691158634496">https://twitter.com/addisstandard/status/1024301691158634496</a>, 31/07/18.</p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Ethiopia </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Ethiopia Civil society Conflict Democracy and government International politics René Lefort Tue, 21 Aug 2018 15:34:07 +0000 René Lefort 119378 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Twofold crisis in Ethiopia: the elites and the street https://www.opendemocracy.net/ren-lefort/twofold-crisis-in-ethiopia-elites-and-street <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Ultimately, the only route to its successful end is regulation through institutional mechanisms, which means elections, whether early or within the normal electoral cycle.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Abiy_Ahmed_and_Lemma_Megersa.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/Abiy_Ahmed_and_Lemma_Megersa.jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Abiy Ahmed and Lemma Megersa, in November 2017. Wikicommons/Odaw. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>According to the <a href="https://addisstandard.com/commentary-no-power-can-suppress-people-power-hubris-power-challenge-barefoot-democrats-ethiopia/">dominant assessment</a>, the crisis in Ethiopia reflects the absolute antagonism between two well-defined blocks. A fight between “<em>Ethiopia’s political and business elites</em> (that) <em>have decided to make their last stand to protect their wealth and power by using a military</em>” apparatus, and “<em>a revolution from below based on the political activism of millions of people who are determined to deploy nonviolent methods to overthrow a tyrannical totalitarian regime.</em>”</p> <p>In <a href="https://addisstandard.com/commentary-no-power-can-suppress-people-power-hubris-power-challenge-barefoot-democrats-ethiopia/">this view</a>, the first block is clinging to the status quo. “<em>Take their power away, they will become nobody overnight.”</em> Its centre of gravity is “the” Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), perceived as a homogeneous and unified force. While Tigrayans account for only 6% of the population, the Front maintains its pre-eminence in the leadership of the military and security forces answerable to federal authority. It is a very big player in the “modern” – i.e. non-agricultural – economy, through its control over public and para-public companies. It has long been the dominant component of the four ethnic parties in the ruling coalition, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). </p> <p>This ascendancy was clear with respect to the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement (SEPDM), but in decline for the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM) and even more so for the Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organisation (OPDO). It also attracts apparatchiks from all over, including ANDM and OPDO. Without saying it overtly, they too have an interest in the maintenance of the status quo, even when this runs counter to some of their party’s positions. <span class="mag-quote-center">Nevertheless, this block has made – or at least offered – gestures of opening up that were unthinkable a few months ago, and promises more.</span></p> <p>Nevertheless, this block has made – or <a href="http://capitalethiopia.com/2018/02/12/opdo-invites-opposition-parties-dialogue/">at least offered</a> – gestures of opening up that were unthinkable a few months ago, and promises more. It has released more than 6000 political prisoners, including key leaders of the legal opposition. OPDO&nbsp; has “<em>invited opposition party members based in Ethiopia and overseas to work together with the goal of realizing a democratic system,</em>” i.e. even the most radical fringe of the diaspora. ANDM has made a similar gesture. Never before have the official news channels of Oromia and of the Amhara region, as well as the private media, enjoyed such a degree of freedom of expression. </p> <p>For its detractors, however, the proclamation of a second state of emergency, on February 16, is evidence that this block still favours force as the tool of getting its way. In response to mass protest, they say, it has simply yielded some tactical ground, which it will subsequently recover, while ultimately keeping hold of the essential.</p> <h2><strong>How the opposing camp is seen</strong></h2> <p>The opposing camp is seen as the proponent of radical change. Its strike force is the street and the sequence of demonstrations that have been under way for almost four years, even more in Oromia than in the Amhara region, headed by the “Qeerroo”, a term that means “<em>unmarried young male”</em> in the Oromo language. Parts of OPDO and of ANDM have joined forces with this current, under pressure from the unprecedented movement of mass protest. One of the rising stars, the President of Oromia, Lemma Megersa, has gone so far as <a href="http://www.theafricareport.com/East-Horn-Africa/ethiopias-leadership-race-the-oromo-leader-at-the-front.html">to declare that</a> <em>“if we failed to deliver using existing legal and institutional mechanisms, I and all of us here will join you in the protests.</em>” Another player, of course, is the legal opposition, but its leaders are ageing and worn out by decades of futile struggle. It is also weakened by its fragmentation, disorganization, woolliness, and disunity over objectives.</p> <p>This camp is unanimous in its pursuit of one primary, specific and concrete goal: to put an end to “Tigrayan hegemony”, summed up in its battle cry of: “<em>down Woyane!”</em>, in reference to the Tigrayan elite. However, it is much less explicit and clear about what to put in their place. In fact, like the ruling power itself, this opposition is enamoured of catchall slogans: “<em>reforms</em>”, “<em>opening up”</em>, “<em>democratisation</em>”, “<em>transparency”</em>, “<em>accountability”</em>, to which everyone can attach their own content.&nbsp; <span class="mag-quote-center">Like the ruling power itself, this opposition is enamoured of catchall slogans: “<em>reforms</em>”, “<em>opening up”</em>, “<em>democratisation</em>”, “<em>transparency”</em>, “<em>accountability”</em>, to which everyone can attach their own content.&nbsp; </span></p> <p>This assessment is too simplistic to reflect the complexity and indeterminacy of the situation. In fact, there are two crises, not just one. Obviously interconnected, their origins, the players involved, and the objectives sought, are different: one crisis intrinsic to the ruling power, illustrated by the storm whirling around the apex of the leading coalition; and one crisis arising from external opposition to the broader system of power by some of those excluded from it, spearheaded by the Qeerroo.</p> <h2><strong>Elitist conceptions of power</strong></h2> <p>Underpinning everything is the elitist conception and practice of power. It is encoded in the genes of Ethiopian policy and Ethiopian culture alike, at least in the country’s Abyssinian cradle. </p> <p>Under the influence of the radical student movement, the revolution of 1974 that led to the fall of the Emperor simply modified its expression, but not its essence. Social organization, in which imperial absolutism and its successive hierarchized variants, right down to the individual level, ultimately derived from divine will, gave way to an organization dominated by a new elite whose legitimacy was rooted in knowledge. </p> <p>Theocracy, the landed aristocracy and the clergy were succeeded by a sort of “aristocracy of the knowledgeable”, which could be described as an “intellocracy”. Hence “<em>the normative union of knowledge with power”</em>, whose role it is “<em>to rescue the society from barbarism and ignorance”</em>: “<em>power must become tutorship.</em>”<a href="#_ftn1">[1]</a></p> <p>In this fundamentally undemocratic conception, “the people” is reified. Because of its “backwardness”, it is destined to be an object rather than a subject of history. “<em>Due to poor education and illiteracy the Ethiopian public is too underdeveloped to make a well reasoned, informed decision, and so Revolutionary Democracy<a href="#_ftn2"><strong>[2]</strong></a> is the political bridge by which the ‘enlightened leaders’”</em> <em>can lead the people to democracy</em>,” <a href="wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/08ADDISABABA1154_a.html">explained</a> the recently resigned Prime Minister, Hailemariam Dessalegn. <span class="mag-quote-center">A fundamental postulate is that the absolute nature of power at its apex is immanent and intangible. </span></p><p>But well beyond the circles of government, the vast majority of Ethiopian elites, be they political, economic, social, or cultural, subscribe to the same vision. Even a new opposition figurehead, the recently amnestied Oromo Bekele Gerba, whose democratic refinement and convictions are recognized by all, <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/under-a-new-state-of-emergency-ethiopia-is-on-the-brink-of-crisis-again/2018/03/03/5a887156-1d8f-11e8-98f5-ceecfa8741b6_story.html?utm_term=.ee87c609b9a4,%2003*03*18">seems to subscribe to this conception</a> when he promises that the future lies in the hands of the Qeerroo but, he specifies, “<em>the good Qeerroo, the educated one.</em>” </p> <p>Membership of this intellocracy confers a social legitimacy so great that anyone aspiring to the highest positions must get their hands on a PhD, however dubious its source, and celebrate the accomplishment with much pomp and circumstance. How many countries are there where the name of a political figure is generally preceded or followed in the press with the abbreviation (Dr.) or (PhD), where applicable? Or where, just after the appointment of the new Oromo Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, the press and national media <a href="https://www.thereporterethiopia.com/article/rise-abiy-abiyot-ahmed">began by highlighting</a> his myriad qualifications, and the extent to which “<em>he is devoted and committed to education”</em>?&nbsp;Conversely, to point out a political figure’s lack of qualifications, to describe them as a “<em>drop out”</em> from education, is the ultimate denigration.</p> <p>At the other end of the social scale, this segregation is widely internalized. For the vast majority of the population, 80% small farmers, society can only work if it is governed by an unshakeable hierarchy. So a fundamental postulate is that the absolute nature of power at its apex is immanent and intangible. This is the only way that it can play its fundamental role: to maintain the peace of the realm and law and order, the primary condition of peasant survival. </p> <h2><strong>Oligarchy ‘deep renewal’</strong></h2> <p>The current ruling system continues to operate within this elitist mould, headed by what elsewhere would be called a “caste” or “the establishment”. It was totalitarian in the etymological sense, in that it extended well beyond the political sphere alone. In particular, there was no boundary between institutional position, family position, and business position: the ruling class also became an oligarchic class.</p> <p>Meles Zenawi pushed this to the extreme, becoming an unchallenged embodiment of personal power. With his sudden death, the elitist structure he had established has collapsed. If it has been done chaotically, that structure nevertheless had no choice but to seek to rebuild itself. Otherwise the group of leaders/oligarchs knew that it would entirely lose its position and, in consequence, its assets. </p> <p>In recent months, this attempt at reconstruction has entered a phase of acute crisis. The leadership tried to respond to its failure of legitimacy by launching a “<em>deep renewal”</em>. A succession of meetings was held by the four ethnic components of the governing coalition with the official aim of examining the progress and results of this process. The meetings were longer lasting – more than a year – and more bitter than ever before, so were expected to yield a roadmap out of the crisis. <span class="mag-quote-center">They churned out the same leitmotif: each of these meetings brought greater “<em>consensus”</em>, but its content hasn’t been disclosed.</span></p> <p>However, nothing in the official releases suggested a meaningful inflection in the main components of the political line. They churned out the same leitmotif: each of these meetings brought greater “<em>consensus”</em>, but its content hasn’t been disclosed. In particular, there is nothing to suggest that “<em>revolutionary democracy</em>”, “<em>democratic centralism”</em> and the “<em>developmental state”</em>, the three pillars of the elitist – hence authoritarian – exercise of power, have even been questioned. And recently, the old line that the cause of the crisis is foreign conspiracy has been wheeled out, both “Arab”, hatched by Egypt with Eritrea as its proxy, and Western, led by “neoliberal” forces seeking to force Ethiopia to de-nationalize its economy.</p> <h2><strong>Power struggle</strong></h2> <p>Ultimately, therefore, all the available information points to the fact that the main cause of the breakdown in the governing coalition is a power struggle.&nbsp; The leaderships have been heavily criticized, have performed their acts of contrition and undergone purges and promotions, culminating in a big first: the election of a new EPRDF Chairman and Prime Minister, the young and ambitious Abiy Ahmed. The major feature of this event, stressed by all observers and greeted in some places with popular jubilation, is that he is Oromo. </p> <p>What is mainly at stake in the crisis at the top is a new redistribution of powers and resources within the coalition and along ethnic lines: the ethnic elites that see themselves as disadvantaged in relation to the Tigrayan elite have fought to establish a more equitable sharing of the political and economic cake. <span class="mag-quote-center">Does the election of Abiy Ahmed mark the beginning of the end of this leadership crisis, the start of a return to working order?</span></p> <p>Does the election of Abiy Ahmed mark the beginning of the end of this leadership crisis, the start of a return to working order? The battle has been interminable, long in the balance, riddled with byzantine manoeuvres. <a href="http://addisstandard.com/analysis-dr-abiy-ahmed-becomes-a-prime-minister-the-legacy-eprdf-fought-against-to-the-bitter-end-what-went-behind-closed-doors-and-how-could-that-shape-his-premiership/">It would seem</a> that the TPLF fought to the bitter end to stop Abiy winning. One reliable observer of the political scene, close to TPLF, sums up the process in three stark words: “<em>it was chaos</em>.<em>”</em> </p> <p>All the pundits were predicting that TPLF would once again be the “kingmaker” in this election, which opposed four parties of equal size. The TPLF put forward no candidate, so would hold the casting vote for one of the three candidates, each of whom was assumed to have the support of his respective party. In a clear sign of its political decline, the TPLF failed. This election confirms a fundamental turning point in the regime. The pattern in the EPRDF leadership has changed dramatically, with an alliance between OPDO and ANDM gaining the upper hand over the TPLF, though no one can predict the strength of this alliance or how long it is likely to last.</p> <p>In addition, the TPLF is facing increased defiance in Tigray itself, on the part of the population in general, intellectuals, and even its own officials. They accuse their leadership of being unable to push through the kind of development in Tigray that has been enjoyed by other regions like Oromia or Amhara, and at the same time of being riddled with corruption.</p> <p>The other parties come out of it no better. The SEPDM vote was split between its own chairman and OPDO’s. Some ANDM votes probably went to the SEPDM candidate. The inner divisions inside these parties have become deeper. More and more ordinary members, but also mid-level officials, turned a blind eye to or even supported the popular protests, even within the administration and the regional security forces. </p> <h2><strong>Second state of emergency</strong></h2> <p>The circumstances of the proclamation of the second state of emergency are symptomatic of these dissensions. Even though the conditions under which it has been decided remain obscure and disputed, it would seem to have been approved by the EPRDF Executive Committee, then by the Council of Ministers, where ANDM and OPDO are strongly represented. </p> <p>If Defense Minister Siraj Fegessa is <a href="https://af.reuters.com/article/topNews/idAFKCN1G10E2-OZATP?feedType=RSS&amp;feedName=topNews">to be believed</a>, “<em>t</em><em>he (ruling EPRDF coalition’s) committee were unanimous in their decision.</em>” ANDM then remained silent. Kassahun Gofi, head of publicity for OPDO, declared that “<em>as a party, we support the State of Emergency</em>.<em>”</em><a href="#_ftn3">[3]</a> Attempting to keep everyone happy, Abiy Ahmed abstained in Parliament. Dozens of OPDO and ANDM parliamentarians simply refrained from voting, while 88 – essentially from OPDO – voted against.</p> <p>The leaderships of these two parties have an ambivalent and divided attitude to the popular protest movement. Nobody controls it, certainly not they. Its target is the positions and advantages unfairly acquired by the establishment, and OPDO has certainly not been a back marker in this race for illicit privileges. To take just two recent examples, the “home strike” at the end of February led to “<em>hundreds of arrests”</em> in Gondar, where the mayor declared that the state of emergency demanded “<em>zero tolerance”</em>.<a href="#_ftn4">[4]</a> Following the demonstrations in Nekemte, in Oromia, Addisu Arega, head of the Oromia communication bureau, “<em>urged the youth to refrain from violence and listen to elders to keep the peace in the city</em>.<em>”</em><a href="#_ftn5">[5]</a> Moreover, there is always the risk that demonstrations might degenerate into ethnic clashes.</p> <p>In addition to the divisions between the four components of the governing coalition, there are varying degrees of dissension within each of them. And finally, nothing is known about the remote periphery’s involvement in these crises, the lowlands of Afar, Somali, Beni Shangul, Gambella, although they account for around 10% of the population.</p> <h2><strong>Abiy Ahmed</strong></h2> <p>As well as the explosions of joy in Oromia in particular, congratulations and promises of support have come from all quarters, <a href="http://www.aigaforum.com/article2018/bracing-for-change-under-new-leadership.htm">including websites</a> close to the TPLF. “<em>The Ethiopian people are largely happy with the results as the major changes they expect from their leaders could finally come true through Dr. Abiy Ahmed</em>.”</p> <p>Regardless of the sincerity of Abiy’s reformist statements, however, he primarily owes his mandate to the leadership of the EPRDF, and is therefore in a sense its representative. Some <a href="https://www.facebook.com/ebc1news/videos/1877619685603232/?t=1&amp;cn=ZmxleGlibGVfcmVjc18y&amp;refsrc=email&amp;iid=dd65d86cf8bf48d5abeb0964d76a1815&amp;uid=931929051446509569&amp;nid=244%20272699400">therefore say</a> that he is obliged to keep faith with the Front’s political line. “<em>Abiy Ahmed wants to continue on the successful development this government has embarked upon”</em> and only “<em>to address the shortfalls we have faced all along</em>.<em>”</em> “<em>The new Prime Minister will execute the agenda of the Party… He is an embodiment of the principles”</em> of the Party, <a href="https://addisfortune.net/addisfortunefeature/hope-against-all-odds/">recalled</a> Getachew Reda, a member of the TPLF politburo. </p> <p>But there is nothing to say that this agenda has been settled on, let alone that it would be “reformist” in the sense understood by the opposition and the protesters.</p> <p>The EPRDF’s endless communiqué about the last parliamentary session remains verbose and vague, with <a href="http://www.aigaforum.com/amharic-article-2018/eprdf-statement-033018.pdf">no specific information</a> on the key points around which opposition has crystallized, such as the state of emergency, the abolition of the most repressive laws, the release of all political prisoners, the return of the military to their barracks. Yet OPDO supported the communiqué. </p> <p>Similarly, while Abiy’s coronation speech was well-received, while it was more personal and emotional than usual, while the opposition figure Merera Gudina <a href="https://www.news24.com/Africa/News/ethiopia-dissidents-hopeful-but-wary-over-new-pm-20180403">judged it</a> “<em>much more civilized”</em> than those of his predecessors, while it placed greater emphasis on the “<em>unity</em>” of Ethiopia, it remained fundamentally rhetorical and in continuity with the existing political line. To sum up, “<em>we have laid the foundations for a durable and all-inclusive constitutional order”</em> or built “<em>a new democratic order”</em>, and the goal is now to “<em>speed up the work we have begun</em>” in order to make this order “<em>mature”</em>, by “<em>filling the gaps”</em> and “<em>tackling the deficiencie</em>s” and “<em>shortcomings</em>”.</p> <p>On the points that have attracted the most interest, Abiy Ahmed <a href="https://www.opride.com/2018/04/03/english-partial-transcript-of-ethiopian-prime-minister-abiy-ahmeds-inaugural-address/">simply reaffirms</a> more vigorously positions that have already been presented. Towards the diaspora, in general very hostile to the regime: “<em>we will welcome with open arms… those who want to bring your knowledge and experiences”</em>. Towards the opposition: “<em>to allow opposition parties to operate freely and create a conducive and fair and level playing field”</em>. Finally, “<em>the government needs to respect the law. It is also its obligation to ensure that the law is respected</em>.<em>”</em> An allusion – the only one – to the burning question of the state of emergency? </p> <p>All these ambiguities obviously affect how much room for manoeuver Abiy has. Rather than enjoying a clear mandate that would give him a strong political footing, he is likely to have to play things by ear, handicapped by the recurrent conflicts between the different factions that could continue to divide the leadership, including determined opponents who have no intention of burying the hatchet. </p> <p>Rather than possessing a roadmap corresponding to the intentions that he affirms – or are expected from him – there are significant forces which would rather see continuity take precedence over profound changes, let alone those the legal opposition is clamouring for, and in particular the Qeerroo. </p> <h2><strong>The Qeerroo</strong></h2> <p>So who are the Qeerroo? In the absence of field research, the answers are hypothetical and contradictory. According to some, they are a new social group, of a kind never seen before, the product of downward social mobility associated with urbanisation. <span class="mag-quote-center">The emerging middle class… seems to be holding back … It is probably afraid that major disorder may deprive it of the small gains it has achieved.</span></p> <p>Essentially, inhabitants of cities and towns (the urban population has quadrupled in 30 years), who have broken from the peasant economy and the traditional values of the previous generation, largely undereducated (though secondary school enrolment has also quadrupled over the same period, the quality of education has not kept pace) and therefore underemployed and frustrated, and, by contrast with the parochialism of the previous generation, open to ideas and images of the world thanks to their mobile phones and increasingly the web. </p> <p>They are the ones igniting the street, whereas the emerging middle class – usually at the forefront in democratisation movements – seems to be holding back, especially in Addis Ababa, where it is the most concentrated. It is probably afraid that major disorder may deprive it of the small gains it has achieved and result in confrontations as bloody as under the Derg dictatorship. According to others, the Qeerroo’s social base is much broader. They represent the whole of the younger generation, urban and rural, educated and uneducated, working and unemployed. In this view, their cohesion and motivation are also explained by the persistence of the traditional Oromo system of governance, the Gadaa, which assigns a fundamental role to consensus and free and open debate in decision-making, in other words the opposite of the country’s dominant mode of governance.</p> <p>Whichever is the case, the authoritarianism and condescension of the regime, and their own professional exclusion, have left the Qeerroo angry and with a sense of being harassed, despised and ignored. <span class="mag-quote-center">In any case, their target is the very core of the age-old system of power: its elitism, its tutorship, its hierarchical structure. </span></p> <p>In the view of some well-informed observers, without being explicitly stated, the real novelty of their movement is that “<em>their goal is not simply political. […] They want to create a new social, economic and moral universe</em>.”<a href="#_ftn6">[6]</a> For others, they are pragmatic in their demands, which can be summed up in a simple slogan: full respect for the constitution.<a href="#_ftn7">[7]</a> In any case, their target is the very core of the age-old system of power: its elitism, its tutorship, its hierarchical structure. </p> <p>Yet a large proportion of the legal opposition’s leaders and mid-level officials believe that these latter characteristics are essential to the effectiveness of the ruling system Ethiopia needs. Their aim is more to force the gates of a previously closed elite, than to promote the real equality between citizens laid down in the constitution. For the Qeerroo, therefore, this part of the legal opposition belongs to the rival camp.</p> <p>For them, entire sections of OPDO fall within this category, especially as they are seen as equally authoritarian and equally mired in corruption. </p> <h2><strong>Qeerroo demands</strong></h2> <p>The Qeerroo thus responded cautiously to Abiy Ahmed’s election. They are prepared to give him a chance for the moment, basically because he has the backing of Lemma Megerssa, the only leader they fully trust. </p> <p>The goal of the popular protests that led to the 1974 revolution, similar in scale to those of today, was to demolish the “feudal regime” and to replace it with a very vague “socialism”. However, they were motivated by two flagship measures: “<em>land to the tillers!”</em> and the settlement of the “<em>question of nationalities”</em>. </p> <p>The Qeerroo are first of all demanding authentic self-rule for their region, i.e. a more equitable federalism. Because of this, they influence the power struggles within the governing elite and therefore interact with the crisis it is experiencing. Beyond this, however, they are not known to have a developed political program, in particular with regard to the “democratic” form that they would like to see this self-rule take. </p> <p>Moreover, while it is credible that their movement has been able to develop some kind of network structure of local nodes, as an underground force its organization and cohesion are necessarily limited. </p> <p>Finally, no one today is able to measure the level of support it receives from older generations, which in any case undoubtedly varies from one region to another, and according to age, social status, etc. Is it an avant-garde very much ahead of the curve of the broad movement of popular demands, or it is a faithful expression of that movement? <span class="mag-quote-center">Is it an avant-garde very much ahead of the curve of the broad movement of popular demands, or it is a faithful expression of that movement? </span></p> <p>Even overwrought, embryonic, sketchy, unstructured, this mass movement provides the legal opposition with a providential opportunity to break out of its marginal role. It is making every effort to channel and structure it. If it succeeded, the political landscape would be totally changed. </p> <p>However, for the whole establishment, both majority and opposition, the Qeerroo also represent an unpredictable threat, because no one knows where and how far it could lead. </p> <h2><strong>No one knows</strong></h2> <p>We do not know whether, in their most recent meetings, the leadership structures of the EPRDF were able to set a political course out of the crisis. Apart from its numerical weakness and its disorganization, the legal opposition is divided on the two key issues: greater or less federalism; economic liberalization, including land privatization, or the maintenance, even reinforcement, of statist development. No one knows the precise goals or the level of organization of the Qeerroo and therefore whether they would be able to form a representative entity with clear objectives.</p> <p>The most radical opposition forces argue that, although Abiy’s election is a step in the right direction, the way out of the crisis demands rapid fundamental change. An “<em>all-inclusive dialogue with all stakeholders”</em> would trigger, structure and usher in a “<em>democratic transition”</em>. In particular, it would end the state of emergency, abolish the main repressive laws and send the military back to their barracks.<a href="#_ftn8">[8]</a> </p> <p>These demands seem unrealistic given the current balance of power relations. Firstly, nothing in the EPRDF’s official positions, including those of OPDO and ANDM, suggested that it would sign up to these demands. Secondly, the general context is too fluid and chaotic, the respective strengths and objectives of the different political forces too uncertain, to construct a reform process on solid and consensual foundations. </p> <p>In particular, like it or not, there is no force currently able to replace the EPRDF at the heart of the political process. The restoration of order within the EPRDF is therefore a prerequisite for any significant movement. There is no quick, black-and-white way out of the crisis, but only different shades of grey and step-by-step tweaks and adjustments. </p> <h2><strong>Shades of grey</strong></h2> <p>Although the legal opposition has adopted radical postures, in the short term it probably expects no more of Abiy Ahmed than a series of gestures that indicate that he is moving in the direction it would like. </p> <p>The closure of the notorious Maekelawi prison, the restoration of the Internet, the re-release of notorious activists after their recent release and then re-arrest, are symptomatic of this approach. </p> <p>It will maintain the popular hope that his election has aroused. However, the disregard of the institutions as defined in the constitution is at the heart of the crisis. Ultimately, the only route to its successful end is regulation through institutional mechanisms, which means that the only real possibility is elections, whether early or within the normal electoral cycle.<a href="#_ftn9">[9]</a> <span class="mag-quote-center">However, the disregard of the institutions as defined in the constitution is at the heart of the crisis.</span></p> <p>Their first effect would be to structure the political space by forcing all the players to clearly define their goals for change in three key domains: federalism, economic development strategy, establishment of the rule of law. It would then be down to the electorate to decide on the respective strength of the different actors. </p> <p>The outcome would be unchallengeable, because measured and legitimized by the ballot box. It would be reflected in pluralism within a new parliament, which would cease to be a rubberstamp for decisions reached by a quasi-single party executive, and would finally take on the primary role assigned to it in the constitution. Together, Oromia and the Amhara Region would have a majority of MPs. The changes for which the voters cast their ballots could be democratically decided here. </p> <p>This scenario can only bear fruit if the elections take place on a political playing field that is at least more level, even if full “free and fair” elections are as yet too much to hope for. This will require an overhaul of the National Election Board to guarantee its independence and its authority to ensure equal opportunities for all the competitors, as well as the introduction of a good dose of proportional representation. </p> <h2><strong>Letting time do its work</strong></h2> <p>It is because an “<em>all inclusive dialogue”</em> would be limited to this handful of measures that it could be successful. After all, the electoral campaign of 2005 was actually “free and fair” until a few weeks before the vote. Yet the regime was already significantly authoritarian and had not undertaken the slightest legislative reform or an overhaul of the security services. The rules were not changed, but applied strictly or, if necessary, tacitly suspended. </p> <p>The repressive laws subsequently adopted (anti-terrorism, press, civil society)&nbsp;would lose their arbitrary character if they ceased to be employed against all forms of opposition by a legal system under government control. Ditto for the state of emergency: the new government could order the security forces to turn a blind eye to its most outrageous provisions, and to use force proportionately only if the “constitutional order” were genuinely under threat. </p> <p>However, this scenario can only succeed provided that the main actors of the twofold crisis, beginning with EPRDF and the Qeerroo, agree that it should be decided through the ballot box. Institutional rules would take precedence over the rule of force, whether originating in the street or in the “deep state”. </p> <p>The question remains whether the upholders of the status quo would ultimately be willing to allow this card to be played and whether the Qeerroo would agree to let time do its work.</p> <p>The famous blogger and founder of the Oromia Media Network, Jawar Mohammed, believed to be very influential among the Qeerroo, wrote on March 28: “<em>we congratulate Dr. Abiy for his appointment...&nbsp;&nbsp;The opportunity offers him a unique scenario to charter peaceful transition to democracy in Ethi</em>opia.” Less than a fortnight later, <a href="https://twitter.com/daniel_berhane">he urged</a>: “<em>Qeerroo, time to fire up and get rid of this rotten mass killer regime!</em>” Will they listen to him?</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-35185317.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-35185317.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ethiopian expats protest against their government which had declared on February 16, 2018 a six-month state of emergency,in front of the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany on February 22, 2018.NurPhoto/ Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p><strong>Notes and further references</strong></p> <hr size="1" /> <p><a href="#_ftnref1">[1]</a> Messay Kebede: <em>Marxism-Leninism and Ethnicity as the Two Stages of Ethiopian Elitism</em>, October 2001;
<em>From Marxism-Leninism to Ethnicity: the Sideslips of Ethiopian Elitism</em>, Western Michigan University, 2001; <em>Radicalism and Cultural Dislocation in Ethiopia</em>, 1960-1974, University of Rochester Press, 2008.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref2">[2]</a> “Revolutionary Democracy” is the regime’s official doctrine.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref3">[3]</a> AFP, <em>Ethiopia ruling party to pick new PM next week</em>, 24/02/2018 </p> <p><a href="#_ftnref4">[4]</a> Ethiopian Observer, <em>Hundreds arrested in Gondar for taking part in “illegal strike”</em>, 24/02/2018</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref5">[5]</a> Africa News, <em>Ethiopians warned against intimidating MPs to vote against state of emergency</em>, 27/02/18</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref6">[6]</a> Personal communication from a diaspora activist Oromo intellectual.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref7">[7]</a> Personal communication from a diaspora activist Oromo intellectual with close contacts with local Qeerroo leaders.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref8">[8]</a> See for example <a href="http://www.zehabesha.com/jawar-mohammed-on-the-appointment-of-abiy-ahmed-phd-as-head-of-eprdf-and-hence-pm-of-ethiopia/">here </a>or <a href="https://ethsat.com/2018/03/ethiopia-opposition-parties-welcome-new-pm-with-grain-of-salt-demand-he-paves-the-way-for-transition/">the communiqués </a>of Ginbot7, Oromo Democratic Front or Medrek. </p> <p><a href="#_ftnref9">[9]</a> Merera Gudina, President of the main opposition party, Medrek, advocates <a href="https://www.thereporterethiopia.com/article/role-opposition-current-crisis">this solution here</a>.</p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Ethiopia </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Ethiopia Civil society Conflict Democracy and government Equality International politics René Lefort Thu, 12 Apr 2018 11:45:10 +0000 René Lefort 117228 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Crisis in Ethiopia: elections, and fast! https://www.opendemocracy.net/ren-lefort/crisis-in-ethiopia-elections-and-fast <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>What is urgent is to bring down the tension by focusing the hopes and energies of the activists on a political way out, in the form of a tested, unchallengeable mechanism.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-31322658.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-31322658.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Recently resigned Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn speaking in China, May 15, 2017. Lan Hongguang/Xinhua News Agency/Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The crisis in Ethiopia has suddenly gained momentum and reached a tipping point. Things could go either way. The country could dig itself even deeper, with consequences that don’t bear thinking about. Or there could be a broad realisation that Ethiopia is “<em><a href="http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/africasource/ethiopia-at-the-precipice">at the precipice</a></em>”, bringing a surge of realism and pragmatism that would finally start a process of political rebuilding on solid, inclusive and lasting foundations. </p> <p>This will require compromise, an attitude that is, to say the least, somewhat unfamiliar in traditional Ethiopian culture. All the actors will have to find a balance between what they would like to get and what they can get, between the short-term and the long-term. But time is short, numbered in weeks, maybe days.</p> <h2><strong>Capsizing</strong></h2> <p>The system of government introduced in 1991, and monopolised by Meles Zenawi from the early 2000s, is irremediably dead. It had been in its death-throes since Meles’s sudden demise in 2012. The snap resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn on February 15 marked the serving of the official death certificate. </p> <p>He had privately indicated his intention to resign, but not until after the planned spring congress of the governing coalition of the four major ethnic parties: the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), the Oromo Peoples' Democratic Organisation (OPDO), the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Southern Ethiopian People's Democratic Movement (SEPDM). </p> <p>The <a href="http://www.fanabc.com/english/index.php/news/item/7090-ethiopia-declares-state-of-emergency">reason he gave for his resignation</a>, as “<em>vital in the bid to carry out reforms that would lead to sustainable peace and democracy</em>”, is particularly open to question in that he was a well-known reformist. Did he quit because he was pushed or because he had become aware of his powerlessness? In the midst of the worst storm that the country has experienced for decades, he was the official captain of a crew that had become so disparate, divided and disloyal that his vessel was pitching and yawing wildly. </p> <p>Hailemariam probably did not want to be held responsible in the event that it should capsize. He may also have hoped that his departure would back the ruling coalition into a corner and leave it with no other alternative than to set a course out of the storm and form a new crew capable of following it. </p> <h2><strong>Hegemony?</strong></h2> <p>In parallel with this decline in central power, the respective strength of the coalition’s regional parties, starting with the OPDO, has continued to rise to the detriment of the TPLF, which had dominated the coalition for more than two decades despite the fact that Tigrayans account for only 6% of the nation’s population. And alongside this centrifugal movement, opposition forces – both legal and illegal, national and anchored in the diaspora – were growing in power, after long years of repression had kept them in the wilderness.</p> <p>As the body politic fragments and levels out, the protests show no sign of abating, mainly in Oromya, even though not a week goes by without its death toll of victims of the security forces. Oromo complaints of marginalisation have gradually shifted towards claims of what they believe they deserve as the country’s most populous and richest region: to be at the top.</p> <p>The home strike on February 12 and 13 paralysed Oromya as far as the gates of Addis Ababa, demonstrating that a blockade of the capital would not be inconceivable. Unprecedented crowds in multiple cities celebrated the return of the most prominent political prisoners: around 6,000 have been freed since a gradual amnesty announced at the beginning of January. Buoyed up by its successes, the street – at least in Oromya – could misinterpret the disarray of the EPRDF to the point that it could believe itself to have achieved an hegemonic&nbsp; position that none can deny it.</p> <p>However, this popular movement, mostly spontaneous and therefore loosely organised, has its shadow side, at least on the margins. While the primary responsibility for the forced displacement of almost a million people – mostly Oromo, a minority Somali – essentially since September 2017, described as “interethnic clashes”, is attributable to the Somali authorities, at grassroots level it has stirred up ethnic tensions that were previously latent, or at most sporadic and sparse. </p> <h2><strong>Ethnic clashes and nationalist hysteria</strong></h2> <p>The frequent claim that multi-ethnic communities have lived in peace for centuries is both true and false. “Ethnic clashes” have always taken place around basic issues: land, pasturage, water. They have flared up with all the major upheavals and subsequent power vacuums of recent decades, such as the agrarian reforms of 1975 and the introduction of the federal system in 1992-1993. </p> <p>The national parties, mainly OPDO and ANDM, have backed the quest for “national identities” and claims of “national rights” in order to assert themselves vis-à-vis the TPLF and ride the wave of protests. Some of their leaders have even given their imprimatur, at least through inaction, to outbursts of nationalistic hysteria that itself also masks well-known interests, ultimately leading to “ethnic cleansing” accompanied by dispossession and pillaging. </p> <p>Recently, thousands of Tigrayans, identified with their governing elite, whose powers and resources are disproportionate, were driven out of the Amhara region. Members of the Kemant, a subgroup of the Agwa ethnicity, were massacred there. Students have had to flee their universities to escape a sometimes murderous wave of “ethnic purification”. </p> <p>“Ethnic clashes” are proliferating. In some cases the regional or local security forces do nothing to stop them. A symptom of this odious climate: on websites accessible in Ethiopia , especially in the comments sections, overtly racist interethnic attacks, which would be an offense anywhere else, are flourishing as never before. </p> <h2><strong>Fundamental divide</strong></h2> <p>Finally, in parallel with this threefold process – disintegration in the system of power, continuing protests with sometimes violent outbursts, and rising ethnic hysteria – a fundamental divide is forming, even if it does not reach the light of day. The ultra-dominant official rhetoric is reformist, founded on a key expression: “<em>deep renewal</em>”. However, websites (like Aigaforum.com or Tigraionline.com) that say out loud what is only whispered in certain circles of the TPLF, insist that the only effect of the government’s acts of appeasement is to make the protesters even more demanding and exacerbate the disorders. </p> <p>In this view, the only way to put an end to both is to employ every possible means in a trial of strength. In addition, questions remain about some interventions by federal forces – army, police, the elite Agazi unit – carried out without the prior agreement of the regional authorities, a legal requirement, and frequently accompanied by the use of disproportionate violence. These forces are disciplined and battle hardened, so individual excesses or blunders are highly unlikely. These cases of autonomous and brutal conduct, running counter to official policy, are undoubtedly commanded, or at least tolerated, by the heads of these units, although they cannot be unaware that they are an essential contributor to escalations in radicalisation and violence.</p> <h2><strong>How to draw back from the precipice</strong></h2> <p>Drawing back from the “<em>precipice</em>” requires an urgent Copernican revolution. It can be built on four cornerstones. </p> <p>- Apart from a few very marginal elements, no one fundamentally questions the Constitution. It can therefore provide the frame of reference for any change. </p> <p>- None of the members of the ruling coalition envisages putting an end to it, however formal and forced its perpetuation may be. They all know that the coalition’s official collapse could devour them all. At least in the short term, it is hard to find any sign of any alternative coalition that could form, let alone govern. If the EPRDF broke up, the probability that Ethiopia would become a “failed state” is very high. However weakened it is, there would still be one hand on the helm.&nbsp; </p> <p>- At no point, so far, has the spearhead of protest in Oromya, the Queerroo (youth), called for armed struggle. This is a major change: in the history of Ethiopia, power has always come through the barrel of a gun. However, there is a growing radical fringe which believes that taking up arms will be sufficient to put an end to the regime.</p> <p>- Finally, even the opposition, which was calling for the immediate formation of a transitional government of national unity, has more or less abandoned this demand. It was unrealistic. The EPRDF has just rejected it. If it had agreed, its divisions and the scattered nature of the opposition would have bogged down the formation of such a government in interminable bargaining and one-upmanship and, once in place, would have condemned it to impotence.</p> <p>However, the longer the power vacuum continues, the closer the “precipice” approaches. Regardless of its divisions, the EPRDF must at all costs make the internal compromises needed to appoint a credible prime minister and government, and then actually support them so that they can take back the helm. Of course, the appointment of Lemma Megersa, although he cannot legally occupy this position, would satisfy Oromo protesters. However, it would require such major concessions in the light of what we know about the balances of power, that another Oromo or Amhara figure, or even a southerner, would seem more feasible, a remake of the compromise reached for Meles Zenawi’s successor. </p> <h2><strong>State of emergency</strong></h2> <p>The proclamation of the state of emergency on February 16 caused an outcry, prompting the US Embassy to <a href="https://et.usembassy.gov/u-s-embassy-statement-ethiopian-governments-declared-state-emergency/">issue a statement</a> of a severity unprecedented in contemporary US-Ethiopia relations, almost an ukase (“<em>We strongly disagree with the Ethiopian government’s decision to impose a state of emergency… (This) undermines recent positive steps…&nbsp; We strongly urge the government to rethink this approach</em>”).</p> <p>According to the Minister of Defence, it was decided unanimously by the Council of Ministers, and therefore by its OPDO and ANDM members, who reportedly came on board after first having vigorously rejected it. If this is true, what compromises were required? At present we don’t know the terms, any more than we know what is debated behind the scenes on all the different issues, making the state of emergency just one aspect of a global negotiation. There is still much to play for. </p> <p>Does it signify that political openings have been rejected and the priority placed on repression, in other words a major victory for the “hardliners”? This will also depend on its scope, those enforcing it and their behaviour. The only indication comes from the official agency press release, which states that the purpose is “<em>to protect freedom of movement and the rights of citizens to live wherever they choose as well as build assets</em>”, in other words first and foremost to put an end to the “<em>ethnic based attacks</em>” mentioned <a href="http://www.ena.gov.et/en/index.php/politics/item/4308-ethiopia-declares-state-of-emergency">a few lines below</a>. </p> <p>It is noteworthy that it makes no mention of restrictions on political activities. If, and only if, future information on the state of emergency confirms this analysis, and if, and only if, the federal forces show a minimum of restraint in their behaviour, the government will have taken the decision incumbent on any government facing the risks of an explosion of violent excesses, including ethnic unrest on this scale. </p> <p>That may perhaps be why OPDO and ANDM, which had condemned the ethnic attacks, was ultimately able to accept the state of emergency. Under these circumstances, it can also be assumed that Parliament might approve it.</p> <p>However, intervention by the security forces alone will not suffice to prevent this threat if nothing changes elsewhere. They were overwhelmed during the previous state of emergency. Ethiopia has around 15,000 rural communities (<em>kebele</em>), each with a few dozen militiamen. In other words, probably 400,000 armed men who owe their loyalty to the leader of the <em>kebele</em>. There is no proof that these leaders would be willing or able to hold back ethnic attacks perpetrated by a majority of inhabitants.&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> <p>At this level of crisis – breakdown in the system of government, dispersal and weakness of the legal opposition, protest that is increasingly heated, disparate in its organisation and simultaneously extreme and nebulous in its goals, proliferation of ethnic clashes – it is unrealistic to think that time and resources are sufficient for a big negotiation, a sort of “national conference”, even one that brought together the main stakeholders in and outside the country, to be able to start everything afresh and rebuild a global alternative system step-by-step. </p> <p>What is urgent is to bring down the tension by focusing the hopes and energies of the activists on a political way out, in the form of a tested, unchallengeable mechanism that will be as speedy, practical and unifying as possible. The mechanism that would meet these criteria is early general elections, held well ahead of the current schedule of spring 2020. </p> <h2><strong>Early general elections</strong></h2> <p>First, they would clarify the political landscape. Each force would be required to present voters with its flagship measures for rebuilding the system of political, economic, military or security power. The goal would not simply be a change of regime. It would include the distribution of powers and resources within the federation, hence the famous “nationalities question” that lies at the heart of the current crisis and for almost two centuries has undermined the capacity of Ethiopians to live together. </p> <p>Following the elections, this landscape could be structured and hierarchized on clear and transparent foundations, and the inevitable alliances would be formed first around their respective weights and projects. Since these foundational elections would be legislative, Parliament would finally acquire the primary role assigned to it in the Constitution. The verdict of the electorate, founded on universal suffrage, would make the outcome unchallengeable. </p> <p>Finally, elections would channel protest that is both vigorous and inchoate into a concrete, tangible and decisive goal. The Queerro who favour a shift to armed struggle remain a very small minority, but they have the wind in their sails. All the voices that count in Oromya and in the diaspora continue to call for calm, for patience, arguing that change is now inevitable but needs to be given time. If they are listened to and if, moreover, the undertaking to hold these general elections could reduce the tension, defuse the reasons for protesting and therefore the risks of outbreaks, there would be a greater chance that the most extreme elements would become isolated and ethnic clashes less probable. </p> <h2><strong>Free and fair</strong></h2> <p>However, this scenario can only work on one condition: that these elections are “free and fair”. For this to happen, a supreme authority needs to be established, emanating from all the main stakeholders, whether government, opposition or civil society, in Ethiopia or abroad. </p> <p>The former head of the military, General Tsadkan, even <a href="https://www.thereporterethiopia.com/article/former-army-chief-calls-establishment-independent-commission">proposed that</a>, in order to guarantee its independence from the current government, no member of the EPRDF should be able to be part of it, though it would be difficult for the coalition to agree to submit to the authority of a body that would resemble a weapon directed against it. </p> <p>This authority would be vested with the powers needed to guarantee the ability of all the competitors to organise and express themselves freely, including the power to put on ice laws that contravene it and that it would be formally impossible to repeal rapidly. </p> <p>Finally, it would set a realistic date for elections.&nbsp; The oppositions must have a certain amount of time to build their electoral machines, but the date should be as soon as possible. In the meantime, the government would continue to deal with day-to-day matters.</p> <p>It may be objected that the formation of this supreme authority and its mandate would encounter the same kinds of difficulties as a transitional government. However, there is one big difference in scale and scope: whereas the purpose of the latter would be nothing less than to govern, the former would be restricted to a single goal: to organise and manage elections. Still unrealistic? Possibly, but probably the least unrealistic scenario to enable the country to step back from the “precipice”.</p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Ethiopia </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Ethiopia Civil society Conflict International politics René Lefort Tue, 20 Feb 2018 13:19:55 +0000 René Lefort 116228 at https://www.opendemocracy.net “Ethnic clashes” in Ethiopia: setting the record straight https://www.opendemocracy.net/ren-lefort/ethnic-clashes-in-ethiopia-setting-record-straight <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>First there are the undisputed events. Then there are the media reactions, and these – apart from a few rare exceptions, among them some of Ethiopia’s private media – have been perplexing.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-28886535.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-28886535.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="319" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn at a ress conference in Addis Ababa, October 2016. Michael Kappeler/Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>In their intensity, scale and duration, the big demonstrations of 2015 and 2016 in the country’s most populous states (or regions), Oromya and Amhara, showed the level of rejection of the ruling power. After a respite attributable to the declaration of the state of emergency, they have recently flared up again in Oromya. Furthermore, the so-called “ethnic clashes” in Oromya and in the Somali Regional State suggest that the same ruling power is now coming apart.</p> <p>Let us briefly recapitulate from the beginning:</p> <p>- The population of the border zone between the two federal states of Oromya and Somali has long been mixed, with recurrent conflicts over resources, in particular between pastoralists for access to grazing land and water. Sometimes violent, these disputes were generally settled by traditional mechanisms of mediation.</p> <p>- In 2004, a referendum was held in 420 municipalities (<em>kebele</em>) of this border zone, to decide which region they should belong to. 80% voted to be part of Oromya. However, this preference was never enacted on the ground. </p><p>- In 2007, the ONLF (Ogaden National Liberation Front), a secessionist movement that is the embodiment of Somali irredentism in Ethiopia, attacked an oilfield and killed 74 people, seven of them Chinese.</p> <p>- The government then decided, as it were, to subcontract the struggle against the ONLF by setting up, training and equipping the only regional armed force in the whole federal state of Ethiopia, the Liyu Police. According to sources, this force now consists of between 25,000 and 45,000 men, as compared with the federal army’s slightly over 200,000.</p> <p>- Gradually, the Liyu Police extended its field of action to the fight against Al Shabaab in Somalia, supporting the regular Ethiopian army that had been operating there since late 2006. </p> <p>- International organisations have regularly denounced the multiple and serious human rights violations committed by the Liyu Police in its counterinsurgency actions.</p> <p>- A few years earlier, Abdi Mohamoud Omar, better known as Abdi Illey, a former electrician turned minor security service officer in the region, had begun a lightning rise through the political ranks: Member of Parliament, head of the regional security services and, in 2010, President of the Region, all with the decisive support of local top brass.</p> <p>- Shortly before his death in 2012, the country’s all-powerful premier Meles Zenawi seems to have realised his mistake. He considered dismissing Abdi Illey and bringing the force that had become his praetorian guard, the Liyu Police, back into line. It is not known whether in the end he was unwilling or unable to achieve this.</p> <p>- In October 2015, Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn was planning the same move, but was forced to backpedal within just a few days. In explanation, he cited the force’s fundamental role in the fight against the ONLF. In reality, however, the pressure from Abdi Illey’s military backers in particular was too great, and he also made it clear that if he was dismissed, the Liyu Police would continue to obey him and him alone.</p> <p>- In October 2016, the government justified its declaration of the state of emergency by the need to end protest in Oromya and Amhara state. The task of implementing the measure was assigned to a “Command Post” that was <em>de facto</em> under the control of the heads of the army and the security services. In reality, the country’s entire administration was “militarised”. In particular, authority over all the armed structures of each of the country’s nine states (regional police, security, militias, etc.), shifted from their governments to the Command Post and therefore – at least on paper – to the Liyu Police as well. </p> <p>- Two months later, i.e. while the state of emergency was in full swing, the Liyu Police carried out its first significant raid in Oromya, and such raids proliferated in the months that followed. Hundreds were killed. According to the Oromo government spokesman, Adissu Arega, “<em>overall, some 416,807 Oromo have been displaced this year alone in a series of attacks by the Somali region’s Special Police Force”</em> (Associated Press, 17/09/2017) – it is not clear whether the year in question refers to the western or Ethiopian calendar (the period between 10 September 2016 and 2017). The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies stated (30/09/2017) that the <em>&nbsp;</em>“<em>ethnic clashes have led to the displacement of more than 45,000 households (225,000 people)</em>”, though without specifying the period concerned. In any case, it is the largest forced population displacement since the one that followed the end of the war with Eritrea (1998-2000).</p> <p>- For a long time, the Oromo government spokesman remained vague about the perpetrators of these raids, describing them simply as “<em>armed men</em>”, which can mean anyone in an area where carrying a weapon is common. He claimed that their objective is twofold: plunder and at least symbolic annexation, since they raise the Somali flag in place of the Oromo flag (Addis Standard, 14/09/2017).</p> <p>- The tension escalated after the arrest by the Liyu Police and subsequent murder of two Oromo officials (denied by the Somali government spokesman) followed, perhaps in direct response, by a massacre of 18 to 32 people (depending on the sources), the large majority of them Somali, in Awaday in Oromya. Ethnic cleansing was unleashed, essentially in Oromya since, according to the federal government spokesman, 70,000 Oromos and 392 Somalis have been “<em>displaced</em>”, once again with no clear identification of the period involved (The Reporter, 7/10/2017)</p> <p>- Interviews with “displaced” Oromos confirm that their departure was mostly forced by Somali officials: Liyu Police, Somali militias, local authorities. Some even report that their Somali neighbours tried their best to protect them. On the other hand, there is no reliable information on what role, if any, their Oromo counterparts may have played in the expulsion of Somalis from Oromya.</p> <p>- On either side, the Somali and Oromo spokesmen are engaged in a war of words, but the leaders of the two states remain silent. On the Somali side, there are claims of “<em>mass killings and torching of villages</em>” by members of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF, a long-standing armed secessionist movement, described as “terrorist” by Addis-Abeba) “<em>in coordination with officials of the Oromo regional state</em>”, the latter having “<em>direct links</em>” with the former (Voice of America, 12/09/17). But no proof has been forthcoming. On the Oromo side, the finger was eventually pointed directly at the Liyu Police and the Somali militia, but the Somali authorities are never implicated (Associated Press, 14/09/2017). </p> <h2><strong>“Border disputes”</strong></h2> <p>In response to these indisputably documented events, the media reactions – apart from a few rare exceptions, among them some of Ethiopia’s private media – have been perplexing. First, a long absence of information. Then a one sentence summary: “<em>the events triggering the recent violence between Oromo and Somali remain unclear</em>” (Africa News, 7/10/2017). Overall, these events are presented as a resurgence of ordinary “<em>clashes</em>”, as “<em>tribal border conflict</em>”, “<em>fighting between two ethnic groups</em>”, “<em>interethnic violence</em>”, motivated by a long tradition of “<em>territorial competition which often leads to disputes and conflicts over resources, including wells and grazing land</em>” (BBC, 18/09/2017), in short just another revival of the old conflicts typical of border zones. </p> <p>As if, one fine morning, for no particular reason, a few overexcited Oromos had decided to turn on their Somali neighbours, and vice versa, to act out an ancient and unresolved “ethnic conflict”.&nbsp; This account of things has one essential outcome: these events are attributed to ancestral tribal urges, responsibility for them to unstable locals, and the regional or federal authorities are ultimately exonerated from all responsibility other than their failure to contain the violence. And though the role of the Liyu Police in the raids and expulsions is sometimes mentioned, nobody points out the obvious: they can only act on the orders of the Somali authorities, and therefore of Abdi Illey in person. </p> <p>However, the Ethiopian authorities have adopted precisely the same position. First, months of deafening silence. Then, at the end of April, news of the signature of an agreement between Oromya President Lemma Megersa and Abdi Illey, “<em>to bring an end to the hostilities stemmed from the recent border disputes</em>” (Ethiopian Herald, 21/04/2017), hostilities to which no high-ranking official had previously referred. Lemma’s declaration on this occasion – “<em>it is unacceptable to fuel unrest in the pretext of border dispute</em>” – can be interpreted as a veiled criticism of the Somali authorities. Abdi Illey denied all direct responsibility, likewise turning it back on “<em>those who instigate violence in these two states</em>”. We know what became of this agreement.</p> <p>It was not until 16 September, by which time the “displaced” could be counted in tens – and even hundreds – of thousands, and the dead in hundreds, that a leading political figure took a position on the events. Given the gravity of the situation, it was expected that the Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, would prove energetic and lay down the law. In fact, his words were vague, timorous and sounded like a confession of impotence. At “<em>a meeting with community elders, tribal and religious leaders</em>” of the two states concerned, in other words without their respective leaders, he began by refraining from a precise assessment of the crisis, despite the fact that he should undoubtedly be familiar with all its ins and outs. He couldn’t do differently: this deliberate omission was his only way to avoid recognising that the situation had moved beyond his control.</p> <p>According to agency reports (Africa News and Fana, 17-18/09/2017), he stuck to the story that a “<em>boundary dispute arose between the regional states</em>”, resulting in “<em>clashes</em>” between “<em>feuding parties</em>”. At no point would any member of the government say anything more explicit. In his speech to Parliament on 9 October, President of the Republic Mulatu Teshome again spoke of “<em>rabble-rousers who have triggered violence in both regions</em>” (Walta, 9/10/17). Even Lemma Megersa would reduce the “<em>conflict</em>” to the “<em>criminal activities of some individuals</em>” (Walta, 18/09/2017). </p> <h2><strong>“Organized groups”</strong></h2> <p>Sole slim exception: government spokesman Negeri Lencho’s acknowledgement that those “displaced” from the Somali region had not been driven out by the Somali people, but by “<em>some organized groups</em>” (The Reporter, 7/10/2017). For his part, the Oromo government spokesman implicated only the Liyu Police, never the Somali authorities, let alone Abdi Illey.</p> <p>True, Hailemariam announced that the government would send federal police to patrol the main roads, “<em>the deployment of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission to investigate rights violation in the conflict</em>” and humanitarian aid for “<em>displaced persons</em>”. He added that he would do everything to “<em>disarm weapons in the area of the conflict</em>” and that “<em>security forces of both regional states will withdraw from the conflict areas</em>”, thereby equating the Somali region’s seasoned military force with Oromya’s simple regional police force. However, the essence of the message sounded like a cry for help addressed to “civil society”: “<em>the Premier called on all stakeholders to assist the government’s efforts to resolve the boundary dispute</em>” (Fana, 18/09/2017). In short, the federal authority, at least in public, exonerated the main instigator and actor of this unprecedented crisis – the Somali authorities – and assigned responsibility equally to unspecified Oromo and Somali actors. </p> <p>Except when the Somali spokesman went a step too far, just three days after Hailemariam, this time in the presence of the Presidents of both regions, had declared that “<em>the ongoing efforts to fully stop the border conflict need to be further consolidated”</em> (Walta, 5/10/2017). Speaking on behalf of the “<em>regional state”</em> and the “<em>traditional leaders</em>”, the spokesman wrote, under the headline “<em>Oromo People’s War on Ethiopian Somalis”</em>, that&nbsp; “<em>Oromo is going forcibly for land expansion and creating relationship to neighboring sea ports such as Somaliland and Somalia for importing heavy weapons for federal government destruction which Somali region become the only existing barrier confronted</em>”. He continued: “<em>Ethiopian Somalis opposed Oromo illegal upraising and re-establishing cruel Derg regime and also violating federal system and the supremacy of constitution. This illegal upraising was aimed to collapse current federal government</em>”.<a href="#_ftn1">[1]</a> The government responded that “<em>the statement violates the federal government’s direction</em>” and threatens the&nbsp; “<em>sustainable peace and security of the nation</em>” (Addis Standard, 8/10/2017). Ultimately, according to a recent story in <em>The Reporter</em> (07/10/2017), “<em>Somali-Oromya conflict persists”</em>.</p> <h2><strong>Ethno-nationalism</strong></h2> <p>To understand why, two factors need to be highlighted. The first, to put it succinctly, is that ethno-nationalism is intensifying to the point of detonation, triggering centrifugal forces in the federal system of power. Like it or not, the regional authorities are increasingly asserting their autonomy vis-à-vis the federal centre – Addis Ababa – where the Tigrayan elite has long played a disproportionate role and kept them too long under its control. </p> <p>As a result, this federal centre is disintegrating. <a href="#_ftn2">[2]</a> Not only is emancipation supported by numerous Oromos and Amharas, as well as others, but many want to go much further. It is no accident that the slogan that dominated their protests in 2015-16, and again this year, is “<em>Down Woyane!</em>”, a Tigrinya word that has come to refer to Tigrayan power.</p> <p>This ethno-nationalism is particularly strong in Oromya. The region was subjugated by force, then quasi colonised, in the last era of Ethiopian feudalism. The&nbsp;ethnic Oromo party, the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO), was for a long time swallowed up by the TPLF (Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front), to the point that it was not until 2015 that it was able to elect its own leaders without external pressure. Finally, the top-down, authoritarian mode of development has gone down particularly badly here. As Ethiopia’s richest region, Oromya has been heavily affected by the brutal eviction of small farmers, with derisory compensation, to make way for investors (“land grabbing”). </p> <p>Within this general context, the Somali state has followed the same trajectory, but with its own characteristics and objectives. No other state has seen anything like the rise of Abdi Illey and the Liyu Police: none of them is led by such an all-powerful figure, supported by this kind of regional armed force. It was a development that faced opposition from the federal authority, but in vain since the latter was overmatched, as events have shown: the support of part of the military top brass, especially within the command responsible for Somalian operations and at the head of the military security service – at daggers drawn with its civilian counterpart – and probably also the support of part of the TPLF.</p> <p>Three factors are at work. First, Abdi Illey and the Liyu Police have become irreplaceable in the overcoming of any armed dissidence&nbsp; – the ONLF is now only a shadow of its former self – and in the war against Al Shabab in Somalia itself. It is equally indispensable in the iron grip it maintains over the Somali state: not a hint of protest is tolerated there. Irreplaceable, but also a threat: Abdi Illey makes no secret of the fact that the Liyu Police answers to him and him alone, and that its destiny is indissociably bound up with his own. </p> <p>Next, the business links between the leading clans and this military group are as profitable as they are interwoven, entailing above all the smuggling of khat, technology products such as mobile phones or household electric appliances, arms, and even basic food products. And finally, they are now coupled with a shared political goal.</p> <p>The Somali authority justifies itself by claiming to be “<em>the only existing barrier</em>” against those who, <em>“violating federal system and the supremacy of constitution</em>”,<em> </em>seek<em> “to collapse current federal government</em>”. The first target here is obviously the Oromo authority: overtaken by “<em>narrow nationalism”</em> and ultimately in sympathy with the OLF, it is claimed to seek nothing less than “<em>federal government destruction”</em>.</p> <h2><strong>Flawed federal system</strong></h2> <p>By posing as the keeper of the flame, Abdi Illey gains the support of anyone opposed to reform of the federal system. The flaws of the federal system have been at the heart of the protests that have been raging for three years, in particular among the Oromos and Amharas. To redress them is deemed inevitable and urgent by the reformist section of the leadership, even within the TPLF. Opposition to reform, Abdi Illey’s support, comes first from the military group mentioned above, essentially Tigrayan, unlike moderately or unequivocally reformist senior officers, including army chief Samora Yunus and head of the civilian security services Getachew Assefa, both pillars of Tigrayan power.&nbsp; However, this support probably also encompasses a fringe of the Tigrayan ruling elite, which is ready to fight – by force if necessary – for the status quo, i.e. the reestablishment of a highly centralised authority <em>de facto</em> under Tigrayan dominance. </p> <p>Numerous websites that say out loud what is being said in private in certain TPLF circles call for this approach. They claim that the protests are being surreptitiously stage-managed by foreign countries – headed by Egypt and Eritrea – who want “<em>Ethiopia to break up into fiefdoms</em>”. They argue, for example, that “<em>the state of emergency should have been kept for a few more years</em>”. “<em>Unless the government in Ethiopia makes a major policy change towards domestic security, things will get worst and the integrity of Ethiopia will be in danger</em>.”<a href="#_ftn3">[3]</a> The proliferation of gestures of friendship made by the Somali authorities to the Tigrayan population is obviously no coincidence.</p> <p>This state of affairs explains why Abdi Illey retains a sufficiently free hand to advance his own pawns, including his pursuit of the ancestral goal of Somali expansionism. In so doing, he serves the aspirations of his supporters, who do not shy away from worst-case political scenarios. Weakening the new Oromo leadership, markedly more nationalist and therefore autonomous than its predecessors, by showing that it is unable to protect its population. Proving that the federal authority is incapable of containing protest and, beyond this, maintaining law and order. With the implication that law and order must be reinstated at any price, and the subtext that if the government does not do it, others will have to do it in their place.</p> <p>However, the attempt to discredit the Oromo leadership seems to be coming back to bite its promoters. According to reports, chants of “<em>Lemma Megersa is our president!”&nbsp;</em>were heard at the most recent demonstrations in Oromya, though this has not been confirmed. In any case, the slogan “<em>Down Woyane!”&nbsp;</em>continues to dominate. </p> <p>In the eyes of the demonstrators or Oromo’s “displaced persons”, there is no doubt that behind the Somali authorities and the Liyu Police, it is the TPLF that is pulling the strings (Le Monde, 13/10/17). In this view, the manoeuvre is yet another version of the so-called “triangulation” operations the Front uses to set the Oromo against the Somali, in order to defuse the tension between itself and the Oromo. Oromo opposition websites have always advanced this thesis: Abdi Illey and the Liyu Police are TPLF creations, toeing the TPLF line to the letter; the leadership of the Liyu Police includes numerous Tigrayan officers.</p> <p>The reality is more complex. First “the” TPLF no longer exists as a homogeneous organisation: Tigrayan domination within the EPRDF has eroded, the military and security command has become more independent of political authority, and is moreover deeply divided. Abdi Illey has a hold over the federal authority and the military and security apparatus because his armed support is irreplaceable and answerable only to him. Reciprocally, those forces, including the group closest to him, have a hold over him, because the Liyu Police could not operate without the support, at least material, they provide. Neither is subordinate to the other. They are bound together by a convergence of political, military and material interests, and reciprocal support.</p> <p>The most powerful wave of protests since its instatement (the demonstrations of 2015-16 in Oromya and the Amhara Region) threw the ruling power into disarray for months. However, it eventually found the necessary inner resources to respond, albeit after months of internal prevarications and rifts, and albeit by largely handing over control to the military and security forces. </p> <p>But the state of emergency would seem to have brought no more than a respite: after a marked reduction in the intensity and scale of protest, it has just resumed on a large scale, as evidenced by the wave of demonstrations in Oromya since 10 October. More significant still: <em>“Local officials and police officers either joined the protests or were submerged by it</em>.”<a href="#_ftn4">[4]</a> And while a consultation process was undertaken with the opposition, its scope is unknown and its outcomes so far unseen.</p> <p>In response to an “ethnic conflict” which, in reality, is nothing less than armed aggression by one federation state within another, triggering ethnic cleansing on an unprecedented scale, the federal authority initially remained silent. When it finally took a stance, it was so far from reality that it was little more than an admission of its powerlessness to play one of its fundamental roles: to impose a minimum of respect for the constitution on one of the federal states, at least by preventing its aggression. </p> <p>Why? The federal government executes the decisions of the Executive Committee of the EPRDF, where the four major ethnic parties – Oromo, Amhara, South, Tigrayan – have equal representation. It is hard to believe that a majority of the Executive Committee wouldn’t be aware of the danger and wouldn’t like to bring Abdi Illey back into line. The most plausible explanation is that even if it has the will, it no longer has the means, because it has had to give way to at least a part of the military and security apparatus that opposes such a move. </p> <h2><strong>Power shifts</strong></h2> <p>It was known that the power balance between the politicians and the military/security apparatus had shifted in favour of the latter, in particular with the declaration of the state of emergency. There were questions about whether ethnic nationalism had also penetrated the ranks of the military/security forces and hence undermined their cohesion. There is now reason to wonder not only about their degree of autonomy and ethnic cohesion but also the scale of their divisions, and even their internal conflicts over how to respond to the many-sided crisis that Ethiopia faces. In these circumstances, can the regime still count on the use of force as the ultimate guarantor of its survival? </p> <p>Behind an appearance of normality, based on the continuing day-to-day operation of the state apparatus, there lurks a question: are the political and executive federal institutions simply in a deep slumber, or already plunged in an irreversible coma? </p> <p>The more the four major ethnic parties that form the dominant coalition play their own cards, the emptier the shared pot becomes, and the greater the fragmentation of the federal authority responsible for supranational interests. </p> <p>The OPDO is looking at the possibility of the resignation of some of its senior officials after its strongman, Abadula Gemeda, stood down from his post of Speaker of the House of Representatives, on the grounds that “<em>my peoples and party were disrespected</em>” (AFP, 14/10/2017). If he doesn’t go back on his protest gesture, with almost no precedent in the recent Ethiopian history, this bluntly means: the leading coalition being incapable of fulfilling the legitimate aspirations of the Oromo, to the point that Oromya’s elementary right to be protected is flouted, why continue to support this impotent structure by remaining one of its key figures? But taking into account the very role of the Speaker, this gesture is more symbolic than consequential. From what is known, Abadula remains a member of OPDO’s Central Committee, so de facto its bigwig. </p> <p>But if the OPDO were to formally distance itself by the resignation of some top officials from key posts, as internally discussed, what would remain of the coalition’s legitimacy if a nation that accounts for more than a third of the country’s total population were no longer represented?</p> <p>In these circumstances, the Amhara party, the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), could be a key player. Amid the multiple faultlines that divide both the EPRDF and each of its components, three clusters can be identified: OPDO, ANDM, and an alliance of the “peripheries”, i.e. TPLF and the South, which are attempting to win over other peripheral nations. Historically, there has been a longstanding rivalry between Amhara and Tigrayans, but – as fellow Abyssinians sharing the same culture and Coptic religion – they would bury the hatchet when they perceived an Oromo threat. Will this alliance continue, or will ANDM join forces with OPDO? And if so, at what price?</p> <h2><strong>Four scenarios</strong></h2> <p>At least four scenarios merit consideration. The EPRDF is in the midst of preparations for its next Congress, set for March 2018. The first possibility is that it reaches an agreement on a way out of the crisis that is sufficiently substantive, credible, innovative and unifying to defuse at least the most radical opposition and to rally the various ethnic governing elites. Its primary focus will need to be a response to the eternal “national question”, or rather the “nationalities question”. </p> <p>To this end, the only road to success is for the ANDM and OPDO to join forces, acquire allies among Tigrayans and Southerners in the upper levels of the EPRDF, perhaps also take advantage of their majority in the Parliament, and begin to establish a remodelled federal system consistent with the spirit and the letter of the constitution. </p> <p>To do so, they could capitalize on two strengths. First, the unprecedented size and scale of the popular protest. Second, even the most activist of the younger generation have at least until now largely proved their non-violence and that they are not lured with a call to arms like the revolutionaries of the 70’s and 80’s, while they could have plenty of reasons and opportunities to do so.</p> <p>If this were to fail, even leading lights of the EPRDF have been predicting for years where the country might be headed: towards a Yugoslavian scenario. That’s the second scenario.</p> <p>However, a third scenario is possible, arising from a relative balance of forces: none of the elements in place – the civil opposition or the regime as a whole, the federal centre or the centrifugal ethnic forces, the “reformists” or the “hardliners” – would be strong or determined enough to get the upper hand. The power system would continue to stumble along, the country would more or less hold together, and thus the key problems would remain if not deepen. </p> <p>Unless – fourth scenario – the military decided that it could and should take responsibility for countering the remodelling of the federal system, the risk of a Yugoslavian outcome, or the decay of the regime. Which raises another question: the military as a whole, or one of its factions?</p> <hr size="1" /> <p><a href="#_ftnref1">[1]</a> https://www.facebook.com/idi.s.osman/posts/1587956397936631</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref2">[2]</a> See for example R. Lefort, <em>Ethiopia’s crisis. Things fall apart: will the centre hold?</em> 19 November 2016, https://www.opendemocracy.net/ren-lefort/ethiopia-s-crisis</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref3">[3]</a> http://www.tigraionline.com/articles/oromo-demo-ethiopia-1017.html</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref4">[4]</a> https://www.facebook.com/danielberhane.ethiopia/posts/10155967606239880</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ren-lefort/ethiopia-s-crisis">Ethiopia’s crisis</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ren-lefort/ethiopian-spring-killing-is-not-answer-to-our-grievances">The ‘Ethiopian Spring’: “Killing is not an answer to our grievances”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ren-lefort/unrest-in-ethiopia-ultimate-warning-shot">Unrest in Ethiopia: the ultimate warning shot?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Ethiopia </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Ethiopia René Lefort Sun, 22 Oct 2017 21:07:02 +0000 René Lefort 114197 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Ethiopia’s crisis https://www.opendemocracy.net/ren-lefort/ethiopia-s-crisis <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Things fall apart: will the centre hold?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-28884980.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-28884980.jpg" alt="lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Oct.2,2016.Members of the Oromya Regional Special Police with protesters in Bishoftu, in the Oromia region of Ethiopia. STR/Press Association. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Almost exactly a year ago, Ethiopia entered its worst crisis since the arrival of the regime in 1991. Last month, a state of emergency was proclaimed. These two events have generated a flood of commentary and analysis. A few key points, sometimes underplayed if not ignored, are worth closer attention. </p><h2><em> </em></h2><h2><em><strong>“Mengist yelem!” - “Authority has disappeared!”</strong></em></h2> <p>People waited in vain for the government to react other than by brute force alone to the opposition it was facing and the resulting chaos. The unrest in Oromya, Ethiopia’s most populous state with 35% of the country’s total population, began on November 12, 2015; the uprising in part of the Amhara Region, the second largest by population (27%), on July 12, 2016. </p> <p>For 11 long months the government was content to quell protest and to release information in dribs and drabs, the epitome of one-sided doublespeak. A handful of cryptic press releases repeated the same platitudes <em>ad nauseam</em>. When in June 2016 the ruling power finally realized the severity of the crisis, launching a series of internal deliberations, these took place in total secrecy. This pseudo-communication destroyed its credibility and in turn lent credence to the sole alternative source of information, the diaspora, which itself is often hyperbolic to the point of implausibility. On both sides, the space available for information that exhibits even a degree of measure, not to say simple rationality, is shrinking alarmingly.<a href="#_ftn1">[1]</a> <span class="mag-quote-center">On both sides, the space available for information that exhibits even a degree of measure, not to say simple rationality, is shrinking alarmingly.</span></p> <p>People have stopped taking notice of anything the ruling power says, seeing it as incapable of handling the situation. In short, trust has gone. “<em>It</em> <em>is not even able to listen… It has lost its collective ability to reach the collective mindset of the governed”</em>.<a href="#_ftn2">[2]</a> The general view is that Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn &nbsp;“<em>always promises but never delivers</em>”.&nbsp; </p> <p>Both in central government and in the regional authorities, or between one and the other, authority has dramatically deflated. A multitude of anecdotes confirm that it is being ignored – officials simply turn their backs – or even mocked, right up to the highest levels. The man in the street could only conclude: “<em>Mengist yelem&nbsp;!”</em> – “<em>Authority has disappeared!”</em>. This perception, initially confined to the cities, is increasingly reaching into the rural areas as they open up more and more. </p> <p>An even more serious indictment is spreading. The government’s primary role is to maintain law and order, and it has proved incapable of doing so; worse still, the violence of repression is further fueling discontent. In the end, rather than fulfilling its first duty, the ruling power has become the principal cause of revolt. <span class="mag-quote-center">In the end, rather than fulfilling its first duty, the ruling power has become the principal cause of revolt.</span></p> <h2><strong><em>“Meles left with the password”</em></strong></h2> <p>Why this impotence and loss of credibility?</p> <p>Under Meles Zenawi, the all-powerful Prime Minister who died suddenly in August 2012, the system of power was like a pyramid. Meles sat enthroned at the summit, and below him, every tier – executive or legislative, political or economic, national or regional, even local – was simply a transmission belt from the top. Party and State were inextricably intertwined. This profoundly centralized and vertical system, intensifying over the years, hung on him alone. </p> <p>For most observers, the smooth succession from Meles Zenawi to Hailemariam Desalegn proved the robustness of the regime and the reliability of its institutions. However, Hailemariam lacks what it takes to “fill the boots” of his predecessor. Most of his authority comes not from his own resources but has been handed down to him through a constellation of powers – baronies one might call them – characterized not just by their diversity, but also by the rivalry, or even conflict, between them. In short, Ethiopia is left with a system of power tailored for a strongman and filled accordingly, but which now lacks a strongman. <em>“Meles left with the password”</em>, the joke goes. <em>&nbsp;</em></p> <p>The succession couldn’t be a change of personnel only. The whole power system too needed reshaping, and this is in full swing. Hence the misfires in response to the crisis. </p> <p>People used to say that Ethiopia was like a plane on autopilot, controlled by the Meles software (“<em>Meles legacy”</em>). To pursue the metaphor in current circumstances, the more turbulence the plane encounters, the more ineffective the software has proved to be. It is noteworthy that constant references to that legacy have practically disappeared from official rhetoric. So the software has been disconnected, but no pilot – whether individual or collective – has been able to take over the controls. </p> <h2><strong>Three big sources of the crisis </strong></h2> <p>The weakening of central authority – Addis Ababa – has thus released centrifugal – regional – forces that had been steadily stifled in Meles Zenawi’s iron grip. The first source of the current crisis is the trial of strength between central authority and the peripheral powers that it originally created – a sort of bid for emancipation from the father – as well as between the peripheral powers. </p> <p>At stake is the sharing of powers and resources, notably between the regions and Addis Ababa, where Tigrayans are perceived to be overrepresented, wrongly in their view, quite obviously according to all the other ethnicities. </p> <p>In other words, what is at stake is the place that should be assigned to the “<em>people’s fundamental freedoms and rights”</em> enshrined in the constitution, collective rights. How can the country make the transition from a bogus and ethnically weighted federalism to real decentralization, which would bring about a more authentic and ethnically fairer federalism, or even confederalism? The immemorial “national question” remains as acute as ever: what will the name Ethiopia come to refer to? In other words, why should and how can an Ethiopian state exist, and on what basis? <span class="mag-quote-center">What will the name Ethiopia come to refer to?</span></p> <p>This question has deep historical roots. From the mid-nineteenth century onwards, the economic centre of gravity shifted from the North – Abyssinia – towards the Centre. But power always remained Abyssinian. At stake in the current crisis is a historic break that would also shift power to the Centre, i.e. to Oromya. Despite their internal divisions, this claim unites the vast majority of Oromo, justified by their numbers and their major contribution to the economy. It is generally agreed that a genuine application of the constitution would be sufficient for this claim to be satisfied.</p> <p>For the Amhara, whose elite dominated Abyssinian power for more than a century, the challenge is to revamp their identity. They have to say farewell to their historical ascendancy and accept that their place in the Ethiopian state should reflect their numerical and economic importance, no more, no less. In other words, the only way out of the undoubted ostracism they suffer is not to re-establish the former status quo. The assertion of “Amhara-ness” – legitimate as it is – cannot become a cover for the aspiration for a return to an “Ethiopianness” based around Amhara, with the other ethnicities in a lesser role. This metamorphosis is under way, but not yet complete. Nonetheless, many Oromo and even more Tigrayans deny that anything has changed, convinced that this elite has not abandoned its “<em>chauvinism”</em> and “<em>revanchism”,</em> and that the federal system that they defend tooth and nail could therefore never satisfy its deeply cherished ambition. <span class="mag-quote-center">The only way out of the undoubted ostracism [the Amhara] suffer is not to re-establish the former status quo.</span></p> <p>These ethno-nationalisms have become inflamed and even paranoid. Today, “<em>all the politics is revolving around ethnicity</em>”, a former senior TPLF official told me, and in a previous remark: “<em>what I see now dominantly… is the proliferation of racial or ethnic hatred</em>”.<a href="#_ftn3">[3]</a> It is focused on the Tigrayans, not only because of the major role of the Tigrayan Peoples’s Liberation Front (TPLF), but because both Oromo and Amhara equate Tigrayan silence in the face of repression with approval. “<em>The preliminary rhetoric of ethnic cleansing is already here</em>”, opines one social scientist, a man familiar with the grass roots of the country. </p> <p>The second source of the crisis relates to what might be called “<em>democratic aspiration</em>”. In this respect, Ethiopia’s leaders are right to talk about the price of success.&nbsp; Economic growth has brought the emergence of a new middle class, not just urban but also in the countryside, which has seen the rapid enrichment of an upper tier of farmers. In parallel, education has dramatically expanded. This upper tier has opened up to the outside world, in particular through social media. However, the aspiration for “individual rights” runs up against a system of power which, everywhere in Ethiopia, from the summit of the state to the lowliest levels of authority, from the capital to the smallest village, shares the same defects: authoritarianism, stifling control, infantilization. </p> <p>Finally, the third source of the crisis relates to collateral damage from super-rapid growth. Such damage is inevitable, but has been exacerbated by the type and methods of development pursued. First, forced imposition through ultra-centralized and secretive decision-making, and brutal execution. “Land grabbing”, and more generally almost instant evictions with absurd levels of compensation, are commonplace. Second, the overwhelming role of the ruling power through the “developmental state” has produced an ever more powerful and arrogant oligarchy embedded in the Party-State. The stakes in the crisis are not only political: they directly concern the mobilization, distribution and therefore the accumulation of resources in the hands of the ruling power, and hence the division of the cake between central and peripheral authorities and/or oligarchies, but also between these oligarchies and the population in general. </p> <p>The present crisis is particularly acute because these three factors reinforce each other. The demonstrators chant “<em>we want justice”</em> and “<em>we want freedom</em>”, but also “<em>Oromya is not for sale”</em> and “<em>we want self rule”</em> or, in Gondar, the historic capital of the Amhara, “<em>respect for Amhara-ness”</em>.<a href="#_ftn4">[4]</a> <span class="mag-quote-center">“<em>The preliminary rhetoric of ethnic cleansing is already here.</em>”</span></p> <h2><strong>“Alarmists” and “complacents”</strong></h2> <p>In this poisonous climate, the vigour and scale of the protest accentuated the “<em>crisis of leadership”</em>.<a href="#_ftn5">[5]</a> It was the first factor responsible for the government’s paralysis, as confirmed by one participant in the last meeting of the Central Committee of the TPLF, in early October. He ascribes it first of all to pure and simple “<em>power struggles</em>”<em>,</em> leading to a tussle that is all the more confused in that these conflicts run through every regional party, the relations between those parties, and between those parties and the centre, while on the same time the centre originates from the peripheries: &nbsp;the supreme decision-making body is the Executive Committee of the EPRDF (Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front), composed equally of representatives of the TPLF, ANDM (Amhara National Democratic Movement), OPDO (Oromo People’s Democratic Organisation) and SPDM (Southern People’s Democratic Movement). </p> <p>These conflicts are first of all personal in nature, based on local affinities, religious solidarities, family connections, not to mention business interests. However, the crisis triggered a new and crucial division, between “alarmists” and “complacents”, the former advocating a rapid shift from the status quo, the latter seeing neither its necessity nor its urgency. </p> <p>The “old guard” is the backbone of the “alarmists”. It consists of the survivors of the founding group of the TPLF, including the heads of the army and the security services, Samora Yunus and Getachew Assefa, plus some old comrades in arms such as Berket Simon, guiding light of the ANDM. They became involved in politics in the early 1970s, within the student protest movement against Haile Selassie. Their long journey together gives them an experience, a maturity, and a cohesion greater than that of any current within the EPRDF. Concentrated in the centre, in Addis Ababa, most of them were sidelined from official positions as Meles imposed generational change. Returning in force behind the scenes after his death, they are the strongest backers of Hailemariam Dessalegn</p> <p>They ascribe the crisis to the breaking of the bonds between “the people” and the party. In their view, those most responsible are the regional parties, starting with their new leaders. The urgent priority is to restore those bonds and to reinforce central power, to compensate for the failures of the regional authorities. <span class="mag-quote-center">Everywhere in Ethiopia… shares the same defects: authoritarianism, stifling control, infantilization. </span></p> <p>Hailemariam expressed the anxiety of this group when he said that the issues facing the regime are a matter of “<em>life or death</em>”,<a href="#_ftn6">[6]</a> and that Ethiopia is “<em>sliding towards ethnic conflict similar to that in neighbouring countries</em>”.<a href="#_ftn7">[7]</a> Abay Tsehaye, said to be the most political head of the TPLF, raised the specter of a genocide even worse than Rwanda’s.<a href="#_ftn8">[8]</a> Bereket Simon warned the leadership of his party that the country was sliding towards the abyss. In vain.</p> <p>In contrast, Debretsion Gebremichael, member of the Politburo of the TPLF and until recently Deputy Prime Minister, one of the foremost of the second generation of leaders, retorted that there had simply been a few, geographically limited “<em>disturbances”</em>, that they did not reflect the overall situation in the country, that “<em>there is no mobilization against Tigrayans anywhere”</em>. And even, dogmatically: “<em>It is not possible to have people to people </em>[i.e. ethnic]<em> conflict in Ethiopia</em>”.<a href="#_ftn9">[9]</a> </p> <p>The “complacents” are usually described as “<em>technocrats</em>” and “<em>careerists</em>”. They are considered to be “<em>apparatchiks</em>”, lacking any political fibre, owing their position and the privileges and advantages – often undeserved – that they enjoy, entirely to it. </p> <p>They will only be able to conceal and perpetuate those benefits as long as the Party remains a bunker. Any opening up, any movement towards a little good governance, transparency, and accountability, would be the end of them. They are also haunted by the implacable rule of “winner takes all” that has accompanied every previous regime change. However, their attitude is ambivalent. On the one hand, they are tooth and nail defenders of the EPRDF’s monopoly of power, and therefore equally implicated in the repression. <span class="mag-quote-center">The ‘complacents’ will only be able to conceal and perpetuate those benefits as long as the Party remains a bunker.</span></p> <p>On the other hand, they ascribe responsibility for the crisis to excessive central power, claiming that it hinders regional authority. In order to reverse this imbalance, and thereby strengthen their own positions, they are taking advantage of the outbreaks of ethno-nationalisms, notably by attempting to exploit the corresponding popular demands to their own advantage, up to and including the serious slide into anti-Tigrayan sentiment.</p><h2> </h2><h2><strong>“<em>The fate of Ethiopia would be determined by its periphery</em>”</strong></h2> <p>In Oromya, at least part of the OPDO, right up to leadership level, encouraged the opposition to the Addis Ababa Master Plan, the scheme to extend the capital’s administrative scope into adjacent areas of Oromya, which triggered near universal unrest across the whole State. </p> <p>The same actors then did everything they could to prevent Oromya being placed under military command from Addis Ababa and then, having failed, to put a stop to it. At least locally, the authorities – necessarily members of OPDO – and the militias – under their sole control – went so far as to lend the protesters a hand.</p> <p>This ethno-nationalist outbreak contributed to the appointment of Lemma Megersa and Workneh Gebeyehu to the leadership of the OPDO, after the forced resignation of numbers one and two Muktar Kedir and Aster Mamo, who were seen as puppets of Addis Ababa. The new duo are long-time members of the security services, but are said to be protégés of Abadula Gemadah, the OPDO’s only strongman, hence formerly sidelined by Meles Zenawi. The main thing is that the OPDO was able to assert its autonomy by electing leaders without external pressure or diktat. </p> <p>In the Amhara region, it is equally unquestionable that the big initial demonstrations, though officially banned, were held with the support or tacit approval of part of the ANDM. At least at local level, the authorities and the security forces allowed “ethnic cleansing” against Tigrayans to take place, prompting 8000 to flee to Tigray.<a href="#_ftn10">[10]</a> Gedu Andergatchew, ANDM strongman, who is accused of having at least turned a blind eye, is still in place.</p> <p>Even in Tigray, the regional authorities – “TPLF Mekele” – are playing the nationalist card. Abay Woldu, President of the region and Chairman of the TPLF, went so far as to declare that the integrity of Tigray was non negotiable, in a clear allusion to Tigray’s retention of the Wolkait area, whose restoration is demanded by some Amhara, and despite Addis Ababa’s call for the Amhara and Tigrayan governments to negotiate this long standing issue. </p> <p>This firmness played a big part in the shift in at least part of Tigrayan opinion, expressed with rare vehemence by some circles. They vilified the “TPLF Mekele”, despised for its lack of education and impotence. They placed all their hopes in the Tigrayan old guard, “TPLF Addis”. According to them, only this old guard could bring about the democratization essential to the survival of the regime and, in the long term, the Tigrayan minority’s control over its own affairs. The same old guard, they now complain, has doubly betrayed the Tigrayan people: by evolving into an oligarchy that neglects the latter’s economic aspirations; and by turning its back on their national interests. </p> <p>On the first point, they rightly emphasize that Tigray still lags behind in terms of development. But at the same time Tigrayan businessmen are said to earn exorbitant profits from undeserved privileges. In fact, the paradox is only apparent: there is so little potential in Tigray that they invest elsewhere. </p> <p>Regarding the “national betrayal”, these critics highlight the old guard’s loyalty to its Marxist past, claiming that they remain “<em>internationalist</em>”, “<em>cosmopolitan</em>”, and “<em>universalist</em>” out of political ambition and material interest. Addis Ababa offers positions and advantages that Tigray, poor and small as it is, would be hard put to provide. The more the balance between centre and periphery shifts towards the centre, the more attractive these positions and advantages become. In short, the view is that the old guard has yielded to a centuries-old tradition of Ethiopian history: letting itself be “<em>assimilated</em>” by the centre and prioritizing the latter’s interests over those of the periphery. As the historian Haggai Erlich has written, “<em>a central position</em>” in Addis Ababa has always been preferable to remaining a “<em>chief in a remote province</em>”.<a href="#_ftn11">[11]</a> <span class="mag-quote-center">The more the balance between centre and periphery shifts towards the centre, the more attractive these positions and advantages become.</span></p> <p>In consequence, these Tigrayans feel they have no other choice than to take charge of their own destiny and count only on themselves, i.e. something like building a “fortress Tigray”. It is up to the new generation to take over from the old, which has given up, even if this means embracing the “<em>narrow nationalism”</em> of which its critics accuse it. This goes as far as to see a re-emergence of the hope of reunifying Tigrayans on both sides of the Ethiopia/Eritrea border into a single nation state. </p> <p>In this view, the other regions’ demands for self-rule should therefore be heard. Central government should be content with “<em>regulating”</em>,&nbsp; “<em>balancing”</em>, “<em>moderating”</em>, “<em>arbitrating”</em>, “<em>coordinating”</em>, etc. That it should be headed by an Oromo prime minister would be in the natural order of things, since Ormoya has the largest population, and would help to calm feelings in the region. In short, one Tigrayan intellectual has joked, a new Age of the Princes would be established, but one in which the Princes did not fight amongst themselves,<a href="#_ftn12">[12]</a> more seriously going on to express the wish that, for the first time in history, “<em>the fate of Ethiopia would be determined by its periphery</em>”.</p> <h2><strong>State of emergency</strong></h2> <p>The indignation aroused by the carnage in Bishoftu during the traditional Oromo annual festival (October 2),<a href="#_ftn13">[13]</a> the widespread destruction that followed the call for “<em>five days of rage” </em>in response, made the ruling power’s paralysis even more untenable. At the same time, the series of internal consultations within the EPRDF was coming to an end. The package of measures announced on October 9 reflects the shakiness of the snatched compromise. However acute their lack of mutual trust, the political currents and/or the ethnic components of the EPRDF had to arrive at an agreement: they knew that they had “<em>to work together or else to sink together</em>”. </p> <p>The state of emergency was proclaimed in order “<em>to </em><em>deal with anti-peace elements that… are jeopardising the peace and security of the country</em>”.<a href="#_ftn14">[14]</a> Commentators see it as evidence that the regime was “<em>overwhelmed</em>”. But it adds little, whether to the existing legislative arsenal,<a href="#_ftn15">[15]</a> or to the operational capacities of the security forces since, in practice, they have never seen themselves as severely restricted by the law.</p> <p>The first objective is to instil fear and uncertainty, especially as several provisions are so vague that they can be interpreted in almost any way. They are now in everyone’s mind. For example, for the first time, long-standing informants have cancelled interviews because of the potential risk. <span class="mag-quote-center">The first objective is to instil fear and uncertainty.</span></p> <p>The second objective is to give the military the legal sanction that army chief Samora Yunus was demanding as a condition of continuing to maintain internal order.</p> <p>However, this proclamation also demonstrates that the centre has won a round in its trial of strength with the peripheries. The state of emergency places all the forces of order under the authority of a federal Command Post, with Hailemariam Dessalegn at its head and the Minister of Defense as its secretary. They thus control the mono-ethnic Special Regional Police in each state, who with 80,000 members far outnumber the Federal Police (around 40,000), and even more so the Army Special Force (the famous Agazi red berets, around 4000). The 500,000 or so militiamen also come under their authority. That is why the proclamation encountered ferocious opposition within the OPDO and ANDM.</p> <p>Essentially, however, the state of emergency is a show of strength. Not only to try to reassure increasingly nervous foreign investors,<a href="#_ftn16">[16]</a> but above all to convince the population of the regime’s determination to recover total control of the entire country by any means – the obsession of any Ethiopian ruling power worthy of the name – and, at the same time, to make its promise of reforms credible. Otherwise, it would have been perceived as a capitulation. Sebhat Nega, patriarch of the TPLF, explained that the purpose of the state of emergency was “<em>to create a situation to make us able to reform”</em>.<a href="#_ftn17">[17]</a></p> <p>Ultimately, the aim of the compromise reached within the party was to drive a wedge between the “<em>violent, extremist and armed struggle</em>” – to be repressed through the state of emergency – and the “<em>democratic peaceful engagement</em>” expressed by so many demonstrators – holding out a hand via reform.<a href="#_ftn18">[18]</a> </p> <h2><strong>“<em>Leadership has miserably failed”</em></strong></h2> <p>Interviews with senior officials cast light on the analysis that the leadership as a whole finally agreed upon. Emollient though it may be, they are all now sticking by it and keeping their previous disagreements to themselves.<a href="#_ftn19">[19]</a></p> <p>The analysis goes as follows: the spirit and letter of the constitution are perfect, as are therefore the federal structure, the format of the institutions, the political line. The latter is not “<em>based on ideology but on the natural laws of development</em>”, as it previously was on Marxist “science”. “<em>Show me a developing country anywhere in the world which has a political strategy and guidelines as well articulated as Ethiopia!</em>” This perfection has accomplished “<em>miracles”</em>. The current crisis is simply “<em>the price of our successes</em>”. It was preceded and will be followed by others, because it is nothing more than a stage, unremarkable and inevitable, on the path that will undoubtedly culminate in the nation catching up with developed countries in the next few decades. </p> <p>However, this stage, like any other, requires “<em>adjustments</em>”, especially as the society – richer, more educated, more mature – has become a “<em>demanding society</em>”. The young in particular, the spearhead of protest, are making demands that are socio-economic rather than political. The regime is facing “<em>challenges</em>” for having failed to make these adjustments in time. </p> <p>The main problem is deficiencies in implementation. &nbsp;In sum, things have gone off the rails because of human failings. Yielding to corruption, bad governance, lack of accountability, etc., “<em>l</em><em>eadership at various levels of the government structure has miserably failed to fully and timely[sic] address the demands made and the questions raised by the people</em>”.<a href="#_ftn20">[20]</a> The response to the crisis must therefore take two forms. First a massive purge at all levels of the Party, regional governments, the administration. Then, “<em>to delineate</em>” – the new watchword – the Party from the government, from the Assemblies, from justice, etc. in order to develop a system of checks and balances, since the self-correcting mechanisms within the Party have proved inadequate.<span class="mag-quote-center"> The essential thing is “<em>to discuss</em>… <em>with all stakeholders”</em> in all possible and imaginable “<em>debating platforms”</em>, “<em>assemblies”</em>, “<em>fora”</em>, but with no specific goal or timetable, and under the sole authority of the EPRDF. </span></p> <p>For youth employment, a “Mobile Youth Fund” funded to the tune of 500 million dollars – some 4% of the annual budget – will be created, though the details are vague and it will take several years before its effects are felt. Above all, it is part of a largely endogenous strategy of industrialization, focused on Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) on the edge of the rural areas, whereas heated debate continues within the leadership with those who advocate prioritizing foreign investment in “Industrial Parks”.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-28885754_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-28885754_0.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Angela Merkel and Ethiopia's Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn at the national palace in Addis Ababa, Oct. 11, 2016. The German Chancellor visited Ethiopia to discuss the country's newly declared state of emergency. Mulugeta Ayene/Press Association. All rights reserved. </span></span></span>In strictly political terms, “<em>our democratization process is still nascent. It is moving in the right direction, but it has not yet come up with inclusive engagement</em>”, stated the PM.<a href="#_ftn21">[21]</a> Electoral law will be reformed to introduce an element of proportional representation into majority rule. However, the next elections are in 2020, and the dozens of opposition MPs present before the 2005 elections could do almost nothing to temper the authoritarianism of the regime. The essential thing is “<em>to discuss</em>… <em>with all stakeholders”</em> in all possible and imaginable “<em>debating platforms”</em>, “<em>assemblies”</em>, “<em>fora”</em>, but with no specific goal or timetable, and under the sole authority of the EPRDF. A promise reiterated year after year, without impact. One of the essential causes of the crisis, its federal dimension, is covered in a single short sentence in the 15 pages of President Mulatu’s speech: “<em>more should be done for the effective implementation of the federal system</em>”. In any case, “<em>Ethiopia is an idol… and exemplary for the world for peaceful </em>[interethnic]<em> coexistence”</em>, declares the State Minister for Federal Affairs.<a href="#_ftn22">[22]</a></p><h2><strong>Anticipating the worst</strong></h2> <p>What emerges from all the interviews with nonofficial contacts is that the expectation of a symbolic gesture, one that would be significant and have immediate impact, proving that the regime had grasped the essence of the crisis and wishes sincerely to address it, has not been met. </p> <p>According to them, the regime is relying first on repression, and on reforms only as a “<em>footnote</em>”. Merera Gudina, a long-standing leader of the opposition, sums up the general sentiment: “<em>too little, too late”</em>.<a href="#_ftn23">[23]</a> Nothing has been done to reach out to either the main opposition forces, even the legal opposition, nor the civil society or the media, quite the contrary. This could be envisaged only after the end of the state of emergency, Hailemariam is said to have told one figure from the international community. </p> <p>These interlocutors share the dark pessimism of an editorial in the <em>Washington Post</em>: “<em>t</em><em>he state of emergency will bottle up the pressures even more, increasing the likelihood they will explode anew… It won’t work</em>”.<a href="#_ftn24">[24]</a> According to this view, the chances of a genuine opening up on the part of the regime are so small that there is a high probability that the worst will happen: a threat to the very survival of the country, the only question being when this dislocation would occur. <span class="mag-quote-center"><em>Washington Post</em>: “<em>t</em><em>he state of emergency … It won’t work</em>”</span></p> <p>While the official media bang on about the “<em>strong commitment”</em> of the leadership “<em>to make its promise of deep reform a reality”</em>,<a href="#_ftn25">[25]</a> interviews with top officials provide hints of the form and scope of reform, which remain consistent with the official analysis of the crisis.&nbsp; </p><h2><strong>Focus on “service delivery”</strong></h2> <p>There is no urgency: change will be “<em>an ongoing endless process”</em>. The first specific deadline is in seven months, in June 2017, to report back on the purge and examine a document currently in preparation, on what the EPRDF should become in the next ten years. </p> <p>In this view, the crisis is not systemic. So neither the constitution, nor the institutions, nor the political line will be touched. How could the latter be challenged since it obeys universal “<em>laws</em>”? For that reason, regardless of all the promised “<em>discussions</em>”, no convincing reasons are given for the much touted opening up to entail any restructuring of the political arena. </p> <p>The EPRDF alone, as sectarian as ever, has understood and applies these “<em>laws</em>”, whereas the opposition parties oppose or reject them. The EPRDF alone has the near monopoly of skills needed to implement them, skills that the other parties lack. In short, the opposition is still not “<em>constructive</em>”. If the regime needs to become more inclusive, it is essentially in material terms, by sharing the cake more fairly through improvements in “<em>service delivery”</em>.</p> <p>To do this, it is necessary and sufficient to put an end to individual erring through the self-reform of the EPRDF, i.e. reform by and for the Party itself. To achieve the famous “<em>delineation”</em>, MPs, judges, ministers, civil servants, etc. would split themselves in two, remaining obedient to the Party but putting their mission first. Why would they do this, given that they never have before? “<em>Because they have become aware of the crisis”</em>, is the explanation. So responding to the crisis requires no systemic reshaping through the establishment of independent counterforces. A U-turn in individual behaviour will be enough. <span class="mag-quote-center">Why would they do this, given that they never have before?</span></p> <p>The EPRDF sticks to the same age-old paradigm. Since Ethiopia is still at a precapitalist stage, the intelligentsia is the only social group capable of setting the path to follow and leading the way. The EPRDF contains its best elements. Ethnic identities continue to be society’s main structuring factor. The EPRDF alone represents them. As one senior official confirmed, it is not until the country enters a capitalist stage that pluralism will imposed itself: with the emergence of social classes, each will construct its own political party to express its interests. What the EPRDF is still seeking is not simultaneous development AND democracy, but development THEN democracy. </p> <p>In this respect, the arrival of technocrats – brandishing the indispensable PhD and with no major party position – was widely interpreted as evidence of a new openness in the cabinet reshuffle. Yet it perpetuates the monopoly rule of the “intellocracy”. </p><h2> </h2><h2><strong>The paradox of the strongman </strong></h2> <p>The consensus reached on October 9 is fragile and hence precarious. Nothing proves that the “reformers” have won the long-term game, though they have scored a point. Deep down, they do not share the same views. They lack a standout personality to act as a leader. </p> <p>They have a clear view of where they want to go, which is to apply the constitution to the letter, but over a very long timescale and with no precise and concerted idea of the steps needed to get there. As for their rank-and-file adherents, they make no secret of still embracing the same paradox: we need reforms, but we need a new strongman to manage and impose them, for fear that they will otherwise lead to chaos. <span class="mag-quote-center">We need reforms, but we need a new strongman to manage and impose them.</span></p> <p>On the opposition side, all the Oromo we spoke to emphasized the generational gap between the educated youth, broadly aged 16 to 25, spearhead of the protests notably in Oromya, and their elders. The latter are ambivalent. They feel a sincere empathy for the grievances and aspirations of the younger generation, but have reservations, even hostility, regarding the violent methods sometimes employed. In some cases they even physically opposed attempts at destruction during the “<em>five days of rage”</em>.<a href="#_ftn26">[26]</a> They remain traumatized by the Civil War under the previous regime, the Derg. Then they acquired military know-how that the young activists don’t have. </p> <p>The latter also lack coordination and leadership. For all these reasons, a historian of armed popular uprisings in Ethiopia in the twentieth century has concluded that it is unlikely that the protests could become a significant guerrilla campaign, or that a sustained armed peasant upsurge - a “jacquerie” could occur. </p> <p>As for the pockets of insurrection that have appeared in the Amhara region, they mainly affect areas where the authorities’ control has always been weak, even essentially formal. </p> <p>Ethiopian history teaches that a regime only falls if its forces of repression, or at least part of them, turn against it. Today, apart from a few unconfirmed incidents, cohesion seems to be holding, say experts close to them. It might only break down if the EPRDF became divided to the point of being torn apart by centrifugal forces. However, the military command has always let it be known that it would intervene before this happened, as ultimate saviour of the regime. Under these circumstances, steady deterioration – a kind of rotting, seems a possible scenario.</p> <p>Under these circumstances, steady deterioration – a kind of rotting, seems a possible scenario. Without any substantive resolution, the regime could re-establish law and order, as the first effects of the state of emergency seem to suggest. The reforms would not tackle the core problems. The ruling power would remain contested and delegitimized but, in the absence of an alternative, Ethiopians would toe the line. Investors would remain cautious, not to say skittish, affecting economic growth. But neither of the two opposing camps would gain the upper hand, any more than they would reach a constructive compromise. Ultimately, what might possibly occur is a classic scenario in Ethiopian history: the demise of one strongman, followed by a period of great disorder until a new strongman takes up the reins. </p> <hr size="1" /> <p><a href="#_ftnref1">[1]</a> See for example <em>Foreign Affairs</em>, November 7, 2016, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/ethiopia/2016-11-07/twitter-hurting-ethiopia</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref2">[2]</a> Unless otherwise specified, all quotations are taken from interviews conducted in October 2016 in Addis Ababa and Mekele, with people who, for obvious reasons, wished to remain anonymous.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref3">[3]</a> Interview, Addis Ababa, October 2016 and <em>Addis Standard</em>, September 28, 2016, http://addisstandard.com/ethiopias-gradual-journey-verge-crisis/</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref4">[4]</a> <em>Tigray On Line</em>, July 31 2016, http://hornaffairs.com/en/2016/07/31/ethiopia-massive-protest-gondar/</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref5">[5]</a> See René Lefort, <em>Open Democracy</em>, July 4, 2014, https://www.opendemocracy.net/ren%c3%a9-lefort/ethiopia-leadership-in-disarray</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref6">[6]</a> <em>Walta</em>, August 30, 2015, www.waltainfo.com/index.php?option=com_content&amp;view=article&amp;id=20802:eprdf-determines-to-cease-talking-but-deliver-good-governanace&amp;catid=71:editors-pick&amp;Itemid=396</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref7">[7]</a> <em>BBC</em>, August 3, 2016, <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/live/world-africa-36883387">http://www.bbc.com/news/live/world-africa-36883387</a></p> <p><a href="#_ftnref8">[8]</a> <em>Ethiomedia</em>, September 10, 2016, http://www.ethiomedia.com/1016notes/7451.html</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref9">[9]</a> <em>AlMariam</em>, September 25, 2016, http://almariam.com/2016/09/25/disinformation-in-t-tplf-land-of-living-lies-pinocchio-preaches-truth-against-perception-in-ethiopia/</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref10">[10]</a> <em>Tigray Online</em>, October 10, 2016, http://www.tigraionline.com/articles/tigraians-victims-inamara.html</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref11">[11]</a> Haggai Erlich, Ras Alula, Ras Seyum, Tigre and Ethiopia integrity, p. 364, <em>Proceedings of the Eight International Conference on Ethiopia Studies</em>, Vol. 1, Institute of Ethiopian Studies, Addis Ababa, Froebenius Institute, Goethe Universität, Frankfurt am Main, 1988.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref12">[12]</a> During the Age of the Princes (1769-1855), the Emperor's power was purely nominal, and local warlords, in constant conflict, ruled the provinces.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref13">[13]</a> Human Rigths Watch has published the most exhaustive narrative of this event but with some omissions, which put its balance into question. https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/10/08/qa-recent-events-and-deaths-irreecha-festival-ethiopia</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref14">[14]</a> <em>Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation</em>, October 9, 2016, cited by http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/10/ethiopia-declares-state-emergency-protests-161009110506730.html</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref15">[15]</a> <em>Addis Standard</em>, November 2, 2016, http://addisstandard.com/why-ethiopias-freewheeling-regime-does-need-a-state-of-emergency/</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref16">[16]</a> See for example <em>Washington Post</em>, November 2, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/investors-shy-away-from-ethiopia-in-the-wake-of-violent-protests/2016/11/01/2d998788-9cae-11e6-b552-b1f85e484086_story.html</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref17">[17]</a> Interview, Addis Ababa, October 2016.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref18">[18]</a> <em>Ethiopian News Agency</em>, October 11, 2016, http://www.ena.gov.et/en/index.php/politics/item/2082-pm-reaffirms-government-s-commitment-to-democratization</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref19">[19]</a> Unless otherwise stated, the quotations that follow are taken from these interviews.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref20">[20]</a> Speech by President of the Republic Mulatu Teshome before both Houses, October 10, 2016.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref21">[21]</a> <em>Ethiopian News Agency</em>, October 11, 2016, http://www.ena.gov.et/en/index.php/politics/item/2082-pm-reaffirms-government-s-commitment-to-democratization.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref22">[22]</a> <em>Walta</em>, November 7, 2016, http://www.waltainfo.com/index.php/news/detail/25576</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref23">[23]</a> AFP, October 11, 2016, http://en.rfi.fr/wire/20161011-ethiopia-pm-seeks-reform-electoral-system-after-protests</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref24">[24]</a> <em>Washington Post</em>, October 11, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/ethiopia-meets-protests-with-bullets/2016/10/11/0f54aa02-8f14-11e6-9c52-0b10449e33c4_story.html</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref25">[25]</a> <em>Walta</em>, November 5, 2016, http://www.waltainfo.com/index.php/news/editors_pick/detail?cid=25549</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref26">[26]</a> See for example <em>Washington Post</em>, November 2, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/investors-shy-away-from-ethiopia-in-the-wake-of-violent-protests/2016/11/01/2d998788-9cae-11e6-b552-b1f85e484086_story.html</p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Ethiopia </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Economics </div> <div class="field-item even"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Ethiopia Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Economics Equality International politics René Lefort Sat, 19 Nov 2016 11:17:16 +0000 René Lefort 106944 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The ‘Ethiopian Spring’: “Killing is not an answer to our grievances” https://www.opendemocracy.net/ren-lefort/ethiopian-spring-killing-is-not-answer-to-our-grievances <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>There is every sign that Ethiopia is plunging into a crisis whose scale, intensity, and multiple and interdependent drivers are unprecedented since the founding of the regime in 1991.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-25381955-2.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/PA-25381955-2.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ethiopian PM, Hailemariam Desalegn attends African Summit in Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa January 2016. (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene). All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The Ethiopian leadership remains in denial. The long meetings of its ruling bodies have culminated in a report on 15 years of national “<em>rebirth”</em>, in which it awards itself good marks, while <a href="http://hornaffairs.com/am/2016/08/22/eprdf-executive-committee-statement/">acknowledging the existence</a> of a few problems here and there. </p> <p>Nonetheless, the odd warning signal may be heard – though very seldom – in counterpoint to the general complacency. Hailemariam Desalegn, prime minister and chairman of what is essentially the single party, has gone <a href="www.waltainfo.com/index.php">so far as to warn</a> that the issues facing the regime are a matter of “<em>life or death</em>”,<a href="#_ftn1">[1]</a> <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/live/world-africa-36883387">and that</a> Ethiopia is “<em>sliding towards ethnic conflict similar to that in neighbouring countries</em>”.<a href="#_ftn2">[2]</a> </p> <p>Well, these neighbouring countries include Somalia, epitome of the ‘failed state’, and Sudan, which has split in two and where civil war is raging in the new Southern State. In this, unusually, he is in agreement with Merera Gudina, head of one of the main opposition parties still permitted to operate, who <a href="http://news.trust.org/item/20160811110409-f8mcc/">speaks of the probability</a> of “<em>civil war […] if the government continues to repress</em>”.<a href="#_ftn3">[3]</a> There is every sign that Ethiopia is plunging into a crisis whose scale, intensity, and multiple and interdependent drivers are unprecedented since the founding of the regime in 1991, although the impossibility of field research precludes any in-depth and conclusive assessment. </p> <p>The first, very discreet signs of this crisis appeared in the spring of 2014 in a part of the country where they were probably least expected: in Tigray, where the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), pillar of the quadri-ethnic party ruling coalition – the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) – seemed both unopposed and unopposable. </p> <p>Yet the Tigreans loudly and clearly accused “their” Front of neglecting them by only looking after its own interests or, as Hailemariam Desalegn <a href="http://allafrica.com/stories/201609020586.html">expressed it</a>, of using “<em>public authority for personal gain at all levels</em>”.<a href="#_ftn4">[4]</a></p> <p>The crisis erupted into the open a few weeks later in Oromya, with additional grievances. In the most populous of the nine states and two municipalities that make up federal Ethiopia, a state that is also the country’s economic powerhouse, students took to the streets to protest against the Addis Ababa Master Plan. Their suspicion was that this would inevitably lead to a transfer of sovereignty from the Oromo region to central government and be accompanied by “land grabbing”, the expulsion and dispossession of the local peasant farmers. Protests resumed in November 2015 and continue today at a larger scale that now includes the general population and almost the whole of Oromo State.</p> <h2><strong>Turning up the heat</strong></h2> <p>The heat was turned up a further notch in mid-July with the advent of protests in the historic heart of Amhara State. Together, Amhara and Oromo account for almost two-thirds of the country’s total population. The diversity of the ways of life that characterizes Oromo – farmers and pastoralists, of its religions – Orthodox Christian, Muslim, Protestant, animist, together with its very loose traditional structures, prompts Merera Gudina <a href="http://www.opride.com/2016/08/03/merera-gudina-oromo-protests-and-the-future-of-oromo-struggle/">to emphasise</a> “<em>the chronic division between Oromo political forces”</em>.<a href="#_ftn5">[5]</a> By contrast, the homogeneity of the Amhara population – in its vast majority small farmers and Christian Orthodox – fosters unity, while its mobilisation is favoured by its sense of hierarchy and discipline. Finally, the parallel protests by Oromo and Amhara, with largely shared reasons and objectives, breaks with their historical antagonism: the dispossession and subsequent exploitation of the Oromo by an Amhara – and Tigrean – elite from the late nineteenth century onwards, embedded their relations in a system that the Oromo have described as colonial. &nbsp;</p> <p>The toughest demonstrations that the regime had faced followed the contested elections of 2005. They were essentially confined to Addis Ababa, with the young unemployed playing a major role. In all, they lasted only a few days, in two surges. They came in response to a call from established political forces for a very clear outcome – respect for the verdict of the ballot box. The regime reacted in unison with violent repression – killing almost 200 and arresting tens of thousands – immediately followed by a large-scale strategy of political reconquest through the expansion of the quasi-single party and a rallying of the elites. The protests very quickly died down, and the opposition forces collapsed. </p> <p>This time, the protests affect the country’s two main states. Despite the repression – hundreds killed, thousands arrested – it has been going on for nine months, with varying degrees of intensity. The attempts at dissuasion through fear have not been enough<a href="#_ftn6">[6]</a> – at least for the moment – to demobilize the protesters, as evidenced by new forms of protest such as the recent “dead city” operations in <a href="https://twitter.com/daniel_berhane?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">the Amhara region</a><a href="#_ftn7">[7]</a> and the just launched boycott campaign in Oromya.</p> <p>This time, a whole generation of young people is in the forefront of the protests – the 15-29 age group represents more than a quarter of the population – starting with, but not confined to, all those who have benefited from mass education, who have carried their elders with them. This time, their anger derives from widespread discontent, focusing on three areas.</p> <p>First, they are fed up not just with the regime’s authoritarianism, but more so with the way it is exercised: supervision and control that are stifling, intrusive and infantilising, imposed everywhere, all the time, on everyone, by a Party that has swallowed up the State. The second focus is the implementation of a federalism that is in theory equitable, but in reality profoundly unbalanced. Tigray, representing 6% of the population, was the epicentre of the rebellion, which threw out Mengistu Haile Mariam’s military-socialist junta in 1991, the Derg. It was headed by the Tigrean student elite that founded the TPLF. This historical role justified its initial primacy. </p> <p>Twenty-five years on, however, this elite remains vastly overrepresented at the apex of political power, the army, the security services. In addition, through public and para-public companies, it controls two thirds of the modern economy, excluding traditional agriculture. <span class="mag-quote-right">In the specific Ethiopian case… a tentacular and increasingly voracious and arrogant oligarchy… has ultimately filtered down to village level.</span></p> <p>The third focus of discontent is the backlashes of the “developmental state”. This system centralises revenues at the summit of power, which supremely decides on its optimal use for development across the country. This strategy has been decisive in the exceptional economic growth of the last decade – probably around 6% to 7% per year – and in the expansion of education and health services alike. However, the centralisation it entails is evidently incompatible with authentic federalism. Moreover, in the specific Ethiopian case, the fact that the functions of political leadership, economic decision-making and the management of public and para-public enterprises are concentrated in the hands of the same people at the summit of the party-state, free of any control and political counterweight, has led to the creation of a tentacular and increasingly voracious and arrogant oligarchy, which has ultimately filtered down to village level. </p> <p>These flaws have had a cumulative and mutually reinforcing impact. In Oromya in particular, the implementation of development projects dictated from above and often controlled by nonindigenous oligarchs, has frequently been marked by authoritarianism, spoliation and ethnic favouritism. In the case of “land grabbing”, there are multiple instances of land being brutally appropriated and embezzlement of the compensation owed to evicted farmers. The triggering factor for the protests in Amhara region was the authorities’ refusal to tackle the dispute arising from the incorporation into Tigray of the Wolkait region – a thin strip of land in the north that was part of the imperial province of Amhara – imposed after 1991 without public consultation of any kind, together with the transfer of western areas to Sudan, a process conducted in total secrecy. </p> <h2><strong>“Thief!” </strong></h2> <p>The demonstrators’ slogans and targets speak for themselves. They have attacked prisons to free the inmates. They have ransacked public properties, not just offices, vehicles, etc., but also health centres, unemployment offices and cooperatives, places they see as existing more to control the population than to perform their purported functions. <span class="mag-quote-left">They have ransacked public properties…&nbsp; they see as existing more to control the population than to perform their purported functions. </span></p> <p>They have gone after local party bosses and their possessions – the lowest layer of the oligarchy – targeting government representatives as much as the despoilers. They have burned businesses owned by national and foreign investors (farms, factories, hotels, etc.) because they symbolise an external stranglehold over Oromya and the Amhara region. “<em>Oromya is not for sale</em>” was one favourite slogan. In short, the demonstrators are targeting both the persons and property of those they see as having obtained position and/or wealth at their expense, through the patronage of the ruling power. “<em>Thief</em>!” is one of the most oft repeated slogans.</p> <p>In Oromya, the conviction of having remained second-class citizens in a system dominated by a “northist” minority, and in the Amhara region of having become second-class and of <a href="http://ecadforum.com/2016/09/02/ethiopia-a-glimpse-into-the-amhara-awakening/">feeling permanently</a> “<em>humiliated and marginalized</em>”<a href="#_ftn8">[8]</a> because a part of the Amhara elite was dominant in the imperial era, is less and less tolerated. The assertion of ethnic identity and the demand for the full rights associated with it are at the heart of the demonstrations. “<em>We want genuine self rule”</em>, cry the Oromo, “<em>We are Amhara”</em>, declare the crowds in the historical capital Gondar, or in Bahir Dar, the new capital. However, these claims are also taking a very worrying turn. In Oromo, demonstrators have gone after Amhara and Tigreans, as well as their properties. Tigreans have been targeted in the Amhara region. However, distortions of every kind in the propaganda war make the reality difficult to grasp. In particular, were the rioters targeting arrivistes more than Tigreans, or vice versa? Anyway, Tigreans are even beginning to leave certain areas, notably in a “<em>mass exodus</em>” <a href="https://twitter.com/Daniel_berhane/status/764451975458992128">from Gondar</a>.<a href="#_ftn9">[9]</a> Some go so far as to speak of “<em>ethnic cleansing</em>”.</p> <p>There are pressing calls for these practices to cease, both on social media and from the legal opposition. But as Beyene Petros, one of its leaders, <a href="http://www.ethiomedia.com/1016notes/6057.html">explains:</a> “<em>we’re just watching… people are coming out spontaneously… political parties are bypassed”</em>.<a href="#_ftn10">[10]</a> By contrast with 2005, this popular protest is largely independent of the legal opposition, and even the illegal opposition groups, such as the Oromo Liberation Front, the oldest and most radical of the Oromo “nationalist movements”, and Ginbot 7, heir to one of the big opposition parties of 2005 and considered a pan-Ethiopian movement. <span class="mag-quote-right">There is no secret central command orchestrating events.</span></p> <p>There is no secret central command orchestrating events, although there is no doubt that informal clandestine networks, with links to the diaspora, are contributing to basic coordination and the exchange of information. “<em>These protests are at the level of an intifada</em>”, claims Merera Gudina,<a href="#_ftn11">[11]</a> or rather at the level of what could be called an “<em>Ethiopian Spring</em>” reminiscent of the “<em>Arab Springs</em>”.</p> <h2><strong>‘Arab plot’</strong></h2> <p>In addressing this situation, the ruling power clings stubbornly to a binary, reductive and simplistic analysis. True, it quickly shelved the Master Plan, an entirely unprecedented turnaround. It also reaffirmed the self-critique that emerged from the congresses of summer 2015: beyond the immense benefits that it has brought – peace and development – its action has been marred by failures and deficiencies, notably with regard to corruption, bad governance, unaccountability and youth unemployment. The narrative is that these are the only failings that the “<em>public</em>” condemns, which makes them “<em>legitimate</em>”. It has undertaken to correct them and “<em>to discuss with the people”</em> in order to tackle them more effectively. </p> <p>So the legitimacy of these “<em>public</em>” claims is accepted. But those who demand more are supposedly driven by a “<em>destructive agenda</em>” manipulated by “<em>destructive</em>”, “<em>anti-peace</em>”, “<em>anti-development elements</em>”, “<em>bandits</em>”, or even “<em>evil forces</em>” and “<em>terrorist groups</em>”, “<em>extremist Diaspora members who have negotiated their country’s chaos for money</em>”, which are puppets of “<em>foreign actors</em>” or “<em>invaders</em>”, starting with Eritrea. It is they who are “<em>hijacking</em>” peaceful demonstrations and turning them into illegal and violent protests. Websites close to the TPLF, among the few accessible in Ethiopia, are more explicit: according to them, the wave of protest is simply the outcome of an Arab plot, led by Egypt, in which Asmara, the OLF and Ginbot 7 are mere “<em>foot soldiers</em>”. Their real purpose? “<em>To destabilise</em>” Ethiopia, repeats the government, “<em>the total disintegration of Ethiopia as a country</em>”, according to these websites.<a href="#_ftn12">[12]</a> </p> <p>To attribute the crisis to external, foreign conspiracy is unjustifiable. Eritrea, still in an on/off state of war with Ethiopia, and Egypt, deeply alarmed by the construction of a colossal dam on the Nile, would undoubtedly welcome a weakening of Ethiopia. It may even be that they are trying to fan the flames. But they do not have the means to light the fire and keep it burning. And the ruling power’s claim that they have been able to do so is itself an admission of weakness: for them to succeed, the regime must already have been resting on weak foundations.</p> <p>This externalisation also exempts the government from having to consider the grievances at the heart of the protests, going far beyond a few personal failings and deficiencies in implementation. Externalisation is also used to justify repression as the only possible response: there can be no compromise with the enemies of the motherland. It would therefore be pointless to move beyond the use of force and engage in the political sphere, as it did in 2005. Above all, however, the government rejects this option because a political response to the protesters’ demands would require it to question its whole political structure and policy.</p> <h2><strong>‘Intellocracy’</strong></h2> <p>The TPLF is a child of the student movement of the end of Haile Selassie’s reign, radically Marxist and above all Leninist. From its creation, it adopted the movement’s analysis of Ethiopian society. The peasantry – still 80% of the population today – backward and illiterate, the working class tiny and in any case ‘trade-unionist’, the ‘national’ bourgeoisie equally small and anyway indecisive, assigned an irreplaceable role to “<em>revolutionary intellectuals</em>”, as Lenin defined them. They are the only ones able to develop the path that would bring Ethiopia progress and well-being, and therefore the only ones with the legitimacy to impose it on Ethiopians, willingly or by force if necessary.<a href="#_ftn13">[13]</a></p> <p>This conviction remains. Just a few years ago, <a href="https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/08ADDISABABA1154_a.html">Hailemariam Desalegn explained</a>: “<em>due to poor education and illiteracy, the Ethiopian public is too underdeveloped to make a well reasoned, informed decision”</em>; so the “<em>enlightened leaders”</em> have “<em>to lead&nbsp;the people</em>”.<a href="#_ftn14">[14]</a> At the other extreme, every local official is convinced that his position places him within the circle of “<em>enlightened leaders”</em> and that he has the right and duty to assume all the authority associated with that role.</p> <p>This messianic vision creates an unbridgeable divide between a handful of ‘knowers’, an ‘intellocracy’, which alone has the legitimacy and the capacity to exercise power, and all the others, the ‘ignorant’, in other words the people, reified and bound to obey in its own interests, whatever it may think. It justifies a totalising ascendancy in every sphere, exercised through an age-old hierarchy on which the Leninist formula “democratic centralism” confers a modern and revolutionary dimension. Or, in this particular case, “<em>revolutionary elitism</em>” or “<em>elitist centralism</em>”.<a href="#_ftn15">[15]</a> Of course, the outcome has been exactly the same: centralising excess and denial of democracy, culminating with the installation of a “strong man” at the apex of a pyramid of power. Meles Zenawi, the prime minister until his death in 2012, would become the acknowledged fulfiller of this role, drawing on immense rhetorical skills backed by an exceptional intelligence. </p> <p>In this binary vision, the political spectrum is inevitably polarised at two extremes. The ruling power is the sole promoter of peace and development. Those who oppose or merely question it are assigned to the “<em>anti-peace</em>”, “<em>anti-development</em>”, “<em>anti-federalist</em>” camp, as “<em>chauvinists</em>” or “<em>narrow nationalists</em>”, threatening the Ethiopian state and the integrity of the country. Although masked in the early days of the TPLF by the collective operation of the leadership, this conception of ruling, monopolistic and exclusive to the point of extreme sectarianism, is in essence undemocratic. It legitimises the use of force whenever those in power deem it appropriate.</p> <h2><strong>A new middle class</strong></h2> <p>However, a growing section of the population is no longer prepared to be stifled, undervalued and marginalised. A new middle class has emerged, essentially in the public sector, in services and – largely unrecognised – in the countryside, where a rump of recently enriched farmers has emerged. 700,000 young people are in university, 500,000 have obtained degrees in the last five years.<a href="#_ftn16">[16]</a> In a country of close to 100 million inhabitants, the number of mobile phone customers has reached 46 million, <a href="www.waltainfo.com/index.php">internet users</a> 13.6 million,<a href="#_ftn17">[17]</a> compared respectively with fewer than a million and 30,000 ten years ago. Satellite dishes have sprouted on the roofs wherever electricity is present, breaking the public television monopoly. It is estimated that 4 million Ethiopians live abroad, but still maintain close relations with their native country. Millions of Ethiopians are suddenly connected to the world. More globally, the demands society now places on the regime are commensurate with the upheavals brought about by the development it has driven. In this sense, the regime’s very successes have come back to bite it. </p> <p>Ethnic faultlines are also imprinted in the regime’s DNA. From the mid-1980s onwards, the TPLF carried its combat against the Derg from the regional to the national level. At least within the country’s two major “nations”, Oromo and Amhara, it thus had to find ethnic political movements to join it. But rather than forming partnerships, which would have entailed power-sharing, it imposed its grip on them. That is the original sin of federalism ‘Ethiopian style’.</p> <p>Rather than reaching agreement with the spearhead of anti-Derg struggle in Oromya, the OLF, it created the Oromo People’s Democratic Organisation (OPDO), drawn from among its Oromo or simply Oromifa-speaking prisoners. This structure would be confined to the rank of ‘junior partner’, even more than the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), the Amhara component of the EPRDF, although its initial nucleus had been an autonomous group. The new Oromo and Amhara elites that joined this structure did so more out of opportunism than by conviction, and in general at least without recognising their leaderships as legitimate representatives. </p> <p>Federalism, which was supposed to achieve a harmonious balance in inter-ethnic relations, has in fact as practised led ultimately to their deterioration. It faced an insurmountable contradiction. On the one hand, it promoted new ethnic elites to political, administrative and economic functions; on the other, it continued to keep them subordinate, while sharpening ethnic identities. Large parts of these elites, and moreover large swathes of their nations, are no longer prepared to tolerate this. </p> <h2><strong>Deepening faultlines</strong></h2> <p>Ultimately, the exclusiveness and top-down approach are having a negative impact on the economy. In the first phase, the party’s control over the State and the modern sector encouraged the mobilisation and effective use of resources. At this time, the ‘developmental state’ proved its worth by delivering remarkable economic growth. It has to continue if the regime wishes to tout it as a pillar of its legitimacy. </p> <p>However, this model is on the wane. The developmental state has gone off the rails, diverted by the oligarchical dynamic. The onus is on private investors, in particular foreign investors, to take over from public investment to drive structural transformation towards a globalised market economy. However, the governing power’s obsession with maintaining control is stifling those investors. </p> <p>Finally, the party political discipline imposed on the technocracy smothers its professional capacities and its confidence. This is one of the primary sources of frustration. It also hampers the effective use of the resources essential for growth in an increasingly complex economy. Yet even at its current rate, that growth is unable to absorb the two to two and a half million young people entering the labour market each year, including new graduates, contributing to the anger that is now exploding in the streets. </p> <p>In light of these contradictions, the fault lines are deepening. The discontent of the Tigreans has triggered the emergence of a ‘reforming’, pragmatic and politicised current inside the TPLF, which wants to rally them by making the Front work for them again. It advocates breaking with the “rule of force”, an immemorial feature of Ethiopian history. </p> <p>It underlines that the only way to achieve long-term stability, beginning with peaceful changes of government, is through the step-by-step introduction of the “rule of law” by full and integral application of the constitution, notably the separation of powers, the exercise of fundamental liberties and <a href="http://hornaffairs.com/en/2016/08/04/ethiopian-political-crisis-recommendations/">an authentic federalism</a>.<a href="#_ftn18">[18]</a> It would have to be “<em>consociationalist”</em>. The chief nations would be equally represented, with decisions taken by consensus, so each would possess an effective right of veto. The second “traditionalist” or “conservative” current rejects significant change and argues for continuity. Essentially, it takes the view that Ethiopia is not yet mature enough for democratic move, and still needs to kept under iron control. A <a href="http://aigaforum.com/article2016/The-case-for-stable-Ethiopia.pdf">website close to the TPLF</a> argues: <em>“t</em><em>he people are not ready yet in every aspect and meaning of the word (democracy). Any attempt to accelerate that process other than its natural course… can only lead to darker places”.<a href="#_ftn19"><strong>[19]</strong></a></em></p> <p>Reflecting the intensity of this division, these websites are full of heated debate between those who show real understanding of the protests and those who utterly condemn them, between those arguing for immediate political openness and those calling first and foremost for the crushing of the unrest. However, they agree on one point: an unprecedentedly virulent condemnation of the leadership of the Front, which is deemed inept and incapable of handling the situation.</p> <p>This political division has also reached the ranks of the ANDM and OPDO, but here the focus is on federalism. &nbsp;The “ethno-nationalists” reject the asymmetries of the current federal system and are keen to assert their party’s autonomy from the TPLF. Their adversaries are considered too weak to fend for themselves and vitally in need of the TPLF’s support. So, the OPDO base has literally disintegrated. At its summit, there is overt opposition between Abadula Gemeda, who expresses understanding for the claims of protesters and is the only leader who enjoys real popularity, and Muktar Kedir, who is perceived as an insubstantial apparatchik imposed by the TPLF. The same applies to the problematic destiny of Gedu Andergatchew, President of the Amhara region, number two in the ANDM and the Movement’s real heavyweight in terms of popularity, and the official number one, Demeke Mekonnen, a much criticised figure who is nevertheless supported by the TPLF.</p> <p>This ethnicisation of the political landscape is also apparent in the deterioration of relations between TPLF, ANDM and OPDO. Discussions with their rank and file members and a reading of their websites give an insight into their mutual mistrust. </p> <p>In the TPLF, there is <a href="http://www.tigraionline.com/articles/tigrai-people-ethiopia.html">an iron belief</a> that the “<em>rotten chauvinists” </em>and<em> “revanchist”</em> Amhara, controlled remotely by Ginbot 7, have “<em>hijacked” </em>the ANDM, are intent of restoring their former hegemony by “<em>overtaking the position of TPLF in the Ethiopian politics</em>” and are even once again forcing Tigreans “<em>to defend our existence from extinction”</em>.<a href="#_ftn20">[20]</a> </p> <p>In the ANDM, <a href="http://www.ethiopianreview.com/index/53605">there is a conviction</a> that the TPLF wants to continue to make Amhara pay for the former dominance of some of their elite, to marginalize them and to dispossess them of ancestral lands.<a href="#_ftn21">[21]</a> For the ordinary OPDO party official, nothing has changed since the nineteenth century conquests: exploitation, oppression, marginalisation, or even quite baldly “<em>genocide”</em>. Hackneyed as it clearly is, the word is widely used, symptomatic of a paranoia that casts doubt on what remains of the unity at least at the base of the EPRDF.</p> <p>These fractures were born since the initial formation of the ruling power. Meles Zenawi widened them, but succeeded in masking them by maintaining an iron grip over the tensions that they engendered. The present wave of protests has exacerbated them. &nbsp;They are splitting, not to say cracking, the party, from its summit to its 7 million member base, which is torn between loyalty and discipline, the material advantages of membership, and the ever-growing swell of popular aspirations within it.</p> <p>In Oromya, part of the OPDO pushed behind the scenes for overt opposition to the Master Plan. The regional police were unable to cope or adopt a prudent ‘wait and see’ strategy. Today, they are virtually out of the game, and the federal police and army have had to intervene. The OPDO has <a href="http://allafrica.com/stories/201601260571.html">essentially been relieved</a> of the government of Oromya, which is under military administration via a “Command Post” based in Addis Ababa and headed by Hailemariam Dessalegn.<a href="#_ftn22">[22]</a> In the Amhara region, at least the big initial demonstrations were held with the support or tacit approval of part of the ANDM, although officially forbidden. Out of their depth, the Amhara State authorities had to request army intervention. The region <a href="http://allafrica.com/stories/201609010675.html">has been placed</a> under military command.<a href="#_ftn23">[23]</a></p> <p>The growing number of leaks of documents and recordings of discussions at the highest level of government and the State-Party are testament to the fact that frontline leaders now have one foot in the government camp and one in the protesters’ camp. Villages and entire local areas are taking advantage of the dilution or even disappearance of public authority to set up embryonic forms of self-government. In places, the State-Party’s local structures have placed their organisations at the service of the protesters. Armed men, who can only be village militiamen in principle strictly under local government control, have fired in the air alongside demonstrators. They are necessarily involved in fatal ambushes on soldiers and attacks on military depots. Desertions and overt acts of insubordination are taking place.</p> <h2><strong>Losing authority</strong></h2> <p>By contrast with 2005, when neither the federal nor regional governments lost control, today – at least at certain times and in certain places – they have lost authority over their own agents and even their monopoly on the use of force. Hailemariam Desalegn <a href="http://www.waltainfo.com/news/detail/23845">had to concede</a>: “<em>chaos”</em> has broken out “<em>in</em> <em>parts of Oromia and Amhara states”</em>..<a href="#_ftn24">[24]</a> There has been a shift from demonstrations to riots, and then from riots to pockets of insurrection. Militiamen and farmers hold hundreds of thousands of weapons. The transition from unrest towards a scattered armed peasant revolt (a “<em>jacquerie</em>”), is a possibility.</p> <p>The crisis is not only about a change of government, or even regime change. It is systemic, because it is rooted in the form in which contemporary power has been exercised since its bases were laid down in the middle of the nineteenth century. This has been theocratic, authoritarian, centralised, hierarchical, ethnically biased, monopolising the country’s resources. </p> <p>“Intellocracy” has replaced theocratic feudalism, but other main traits have been more or less transposed in an updated form. The ruling power faces more or less the same demands as those it addressed to Haile Selassie’s regime forty years ago: rule of law; fair use of assets, beginning with land (“<em>land to the tiller</em>”, went the slogan; denunciation of “land grabbing’” now); the “national question”, in other words a balanced relationship between Ethiopia’s 80 “nations, nationalities and peoples”; and, at the crossroads of the land issue and the “national question”, the border conflicts between the states. <span class="mag-quote-left">“<em>They want to rule in the old way, and people are refusing to be ruled in the old way</em>”</span></p> <p>“<em>They want to rule in the old way, and people are refusing to be ruled in the old way</em>”, is Merera Gudina’s <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/a-year-after-obamas-visit-ethiopia-is-in-turmoil/2016/08/09/d7390290-5e39-11e6-8e45-477372e89d78_story.html">concise summing up</a>.<a href="#_ftn25">[25]</a> What the protesters – and indeed the “reformists” – are demanding is huge: the shift from an imposed, exclusive and closed system, to an accepted, inclusive and open system. This would require a total reconstruction, an outcome that the successors of Haile Selassie, then of Mengistu, failed to bring about. </p> <p>For the moment at least, this goal is well beyond the EPRDF’s capacities. Firstly, it is paralysed by its divisions. These range from personal conflicts to business rivalries, from old ethnic tensions to new political disagreements. Secondly, the Front would risk disintegration if the “reformists” tried to force through their views. Whatever side they are on, its leaders know that a split would be fatal to everyone. They are obliged to maintain unity, with the result that they seem for now condemned to immobility. </p> <h2><strong>Opening up</strong></h2> <p>The majority of the Front perceives opening up as a leap in the dark and a fatal threat to its positions and its interests. </p> <p>Opening up to the opponents of the Front would have to go hand-in-hand with an internal opening up. It would inevitably threaten numerous unfairly acquired positions. </p> <p>Until now, the rule of winner-takes-all has reigned. In the general perception, or at least ‘Abyssinian’ perception, authority is either absolute or moribund: if it accepts concessions, it implicitly acknowledges that its end is imminent. To open up would therefore trigger a sharing of power, which could culminate in total loss of power. </p> <p>Opening up would also mean a historic shift. For centuries, power has been “northern”, Abyssinian. A fair representation of the different ethnic components is inconceivable without the Oromo, the largest ethnicity, playing a central role, a role moreover that they are demanding.</p> <p>That would be an even more hazardous leap for the TPLF,&nbsp;abandoning its domination and betting that a genuinely democratic federalism would emerge. In other words, that nations or a coalition of nations much more populous than the Tigreans would not impose majority rule, threatening the preservation of what for the Front is non- negotiable: Tigreans remaining in charge of Tigray. <span class="mag-quote-right">Finally, power and enrichment go together.</span></p> <p>Finally, power and enrichment go together. From the summit of the state-party to its most modest ranks, official positions and oligarchical rents are mutually reinforcing. This material dimension is an overwhelming reason to preserve the status quo. In particular, the vast majority of the Front’s members think that it is right that their commitment and obedience should be rewarded with direct or indirect favours.</p> <p>To open up, but to whom, in what domain, and to what point? Everyone agrees that the protest movement has neither a recognised leadership nor a clear programme, which is its major weakness. Would it consider itself authentically represented by the legal opposition, enfeebled through repression and its own divisions, or by the more radical illegal opposition, whose real representativeness is impossible to assess? Would these very diverse forces agree on a sort of shared programme of demands? </p> <p>Up to now they have always stumbled over two crucial points: whether to maintain public ownership of land – far and away the primary asset – or to privatise it; and whether to accentuate or to temper federalism. For the moment, the voices making themselves heard cover a very wide spectrum of demands, from the launch of a national dialogue through to the total and immediate overthrow of the EPRDF. And history tells us that in such circumstances the extremists quickly prevail over the moderates. <span class="mag-quote-left">But the word compromise has no direct translation in Amharic…</span></p> <p>Yet short of plunging the country into chaos, there exists no credible alternative to the existing authority, except in the long term. Supposing the EPRDF were to decide “to rule in a new way”, it would only do so on condition that it remained in control of a very gradual and therefore very long process of change. Which of its adversaries would accept this? On one side or the other, all-or-nothing politics have so far been the rule. But an inclusive and open system cannot be created unless all the stakeholders, without exception, are ready for compromise, in other words ready to make reciprocal concessions in order to reach an agreement. But the word compromise has no direct translation in Amharic… </p> <h2><strong>Worst case scenario</strong></h2> <p>So every scenario remains possible, including the worst-case. The regime may decide to continue on the same trajectory, relying on repression and the acceleration of its recovery plan for the state-party. It could be that the machinery of repression will stifle the protest movement. This machinery is extensive and experienced. It is even possible that the army could decide to take matters into its own hands, if it thought that the political leadership was failing. Its effective head, Samora Yunus, has <a href="http://allafrica.com/stories/201609061003.html">always said</a> that “the army is always vigilant to safeguard the constitutional order<em>”</em>.<a href="#_ftn26">[26]</a> </p> <p>But will it be able to, especially if protest intensifies, and in particular if it takes root in the rural areas? From a leaked record of a meeting of army chiefs, it seems that some are uncertain about the physical capacity of the troops to hold firm on multiple fronts, and above all about the risks of insubordination, or even mutiny, resulting from <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gbteXwK8n2A">the ethnic divisions in their ranks</a>.<a href="#_ftn27">[27]</a> <span class="mag-quote-right">“<em>Killing is not an answer to our grievances</em>”</span></p> <p>Even supposing that simple repression works, the probability is high that it would only offer the regime a period of respite before, sooner or later, a new – even more devastating – surge of unrest. To prevent this, it has <a href="https://www.facebook.com/danielberhane.ethiopia/posts/10154565961234880">just decided to put on the table</a> the question of Wolkait and the relations between Addis Ababa and the Oromo lands around it, and above all to “<em>sack and reshuffle party and government officials including Ministers</em>” in the coming month, all through wide-ranging discussions “<em>with the people</em>”.<a href="#_ftn28">[28]</a> </p> <p>But even the legal opposition <a href="http://ethioforum.org/is-usa-creating-a-caretaker-government-for-ethiopia-a-conversation-with-atlantic-council/">judges these reforms</a> to be “<em>cosmetic</em>”.<a href="#_ftn29">[29]</a> Up to now, these discussions have always consisted in a massive process of self-justification, with no genuine consultation of the people, which is unable – or does not dare – to make itself heard. Moreover, this promise is an old chestnut. The struggle against the dark triad of corruption, bad governance and unaccountability, on the agenda since the early 2000s, has had no impact. The campaign to “<em>purify</em>” the state-party of its black sheep, launched with much fanfare in the autumn of 2015, has been a damp squib. It touched only minor officials, while none of the senior figures – some are notorious for their corrupt practices – was affected, leading the population to conclude that the campaign was nothing but a smokescreen. </p> <p>This triad of failings extends from top to bottom of the EPRDF. It is hard to see how the Party could put an end to them in response to what it sees as the main demand emanating from the people, without putting itself at high risk.</p> <p>“<em>Killing is not an answer to our grievances</em>”, cry the demonstrators. For the moment, however, no other genuine answers are to be heard or seen, unless basic common sense, not to mention democratic aspirations, were to prevail in the ruling power. </p><hr size="1" /> <p><a href="#_ftnref1">[1]</a> <em>Walta</em>, August 30, 2015</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref2">[2]</a> <em>BBC</em>, August 3, 2016</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref3">[3]</a> <em>Thomson Reuters Foundation</em>, August 11, 2016<strong></strong></p> <p><a href="#_ftnref4">[4]</a> <em>Ethiopian Herald</em>, September 2, 2016</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref5">[5]</a> <em>OPride</em>, August 3, 2016</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref6">[6]</a> <a href="http://mereja.com/news/1274315">AFP, August 15, 2016</a>, <em><a href="http://www.lemonde.fr/afrique/article/2016/08/15/a-bahar-dar-en-ethiopie-la-peur-de-manifester_4983099_3212.html">Le Monde, 15 août 2016</a></em>, <em><a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/17/world/africa/lethal-government-force-ethiopian-region.html?_r=0">New York Times, June 16, 2016</a></em>, </p> <p><a href="#_ftnref7">[7]</a> Daniel Berhane, August 17, 2016</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref8">[8]</a> <em>ECADF</em>, September 2016</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref9">[9]</a> Daniel Berhane, August 13, 2016</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref10">[10]</a> <em>AFP</em>, August 17, 2016, http://www.ethiomedia.com/1016notes/6057.html</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref11">[11]</a> <em>Washington Post</em>, August 9, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/a-year-after-obamas-visit-ethiopia-is-in-turmoil/2016/08/09/d7390290-5e39-11e6-8e45-477372e89d78_story.html</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref12">[12]</a> See, for example, <em><a href="http://www.waltainfo.com/news/editors_pick/detail?cid=24140">Walta, August 31 2016</a></em>, <em><a href="http://allafrica.com/stories/201608200380.html">The Ethiopian Herald, August 20, 2016</a></em>; <em><a href="http://www.tigraionline.com/articles/eritrea-declares-victory.html">Tigray On Line, August 13</a></em>, 2016; <em><a href="https://www.waltainfo.com/news/editors_pick/detail?cid=23804">Walta, August 11, 2016</a></em>.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref13">[13]</a> See for example Messay Kebede, <em>From Marxism-Leninism to Ethnicity: the Sideslips of Ethiopian Elitism</em>, University of Dayton, 2001.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref14">[14]</a> Cable from the US Embassy in Ethiopia, April 28, 2008</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref15">[15]</a> Gebru Tareke, <em>The Ethiopian Revolution. War in The Horn of Africa</em>, New Haven/London, Yale University Press, 2011, p.&nbsp;89.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref16">[16]</a> Ministry of Education, <em>Education National Abstract 2013-2014</em>, Addis Abeba, June&nbsp;2015.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref17">[17]</a> <em>Walta</em>, July 13, 2016</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref18">[18]</a> The most notorious expression of this position has just been provided by General Tsadkan, a military hero of the TPLF and then of the Ethiopia-Eritrea war, since excluded from the Front but still profoundly respected within it.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref19">[19]</a> <em>Aiga Forum</em>, August 25, 2016</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref20">[20]</a> <em>See also </em><a href="http://aigaforum.com/article2016/andm-hijacked-commentary-080716.htm">Aiga Forum, August 7, 2016</a> </p> <p><a href="#_ftnref21">[21]</a> Messay Kebede, a well know intellectual, underlines “<em>the TPLF’s systematic policy of humiliating and marginalizing</em>” the Amhara, which led to “<em>the psychological frustration of humiliation at being both degraded and demeaned</em>”; <em>Ethiopian Review</em>, September 2, 2016</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref22">[22]</a> <em>Addis Standard</em>, June 25, 2016</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref23">[23]</a> <em>Addis Standard</em>, September 1, 2016</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref24">[24]</a> <em>Walta</em>, August 13, 2016</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref25">[25]</a> <em>Washington Post</em>, August 9, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/a-year-after-obamas-visit-ethiopia-is-in-turmoil/2016/08/09/d7390290-5e39-11e6-8e45-477372e89d78_story.html</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref26">[26]</a> <em>The Ethiopian Herald</em>, September 3, 2016</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref27">[27]</a> <em>ESAT</em> Daily News Amsterdam, August 12, 2016</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref28">[28]</a> Daniel Berhane, September 1, 2016</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref29">[29]</a> <em>Ethiomedia Forum</em>, August 31, 2016</p><div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> René Lefort Fri, 09 Sep 2016 09:31:50 +0000 René Lefort 105226 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Unrest in Ethiopia: the ultimate warning shot? https://www.opendemocracy.net/ren-lefort/unrest-in-ethiopia-ultimate-warning-shot <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The culture of power is one of centralisation. But real federalism couldn’t be beyond reach. Oromya shows that it is becoming an absolute requirement.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>The Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF), the strongest component of the ruling coalition, from the middle of 2014 has faced the highest level of Tigrean popular discontent since its inception 40 years ago. That came first. Now the unrest in the most populated region of Ethiopia has sent to the regime as a whole the most shattering warning shot since its arrival in power in 1991.</p> <p>Despite Tigray’s marginality in terms of geography, population – 6% of Ethiopians – and its economy, the TPLF had the strength to impose its hegemony after its victory over the Derg military-socialist junta in 1991. This dominance has recently declined, but it remains the driving force of the coalition between the four ethnic forces constituting the near-single party – the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) – with the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), the Oromo People’s Democratic Organisation (OPDO) and the <a title="Southern Ethiopian People&#039;s Democratic Movement" href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_Ethiopian_People%27s_Democratic_Movement">Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement</a> (SEPDM). </p> <p>It is also the only party that the population sees as its authentic and legitimate representative. However, since the spring of 2014, it has been shaken by a rising tide of popular discontent. “Give us back our TPLF!”<em>&nbsp;</em>cry the Tigrayans, a Front that is righteous, disinterested, devoted as it was during the armed struggle, ready to listen and to serve, but now accused of having succumbed to an unholy trinity: corruption, bad governance, unaccountability.</p> <p>“<em>We have acted as if it was pointless to listen to people because we are building roads and opening schools</em>”, admits one former TPLF leader off the record. It is the “old guard”, sidelined during the second half of the reign of the omnipotent Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who died in 2012, which sounded the alarm and then led the charge. Meles had promoted a new generation of leaders – the “Melesites”. Some young party members, mostly ambitious intellectuals, enraged by the degeneration of the Front, rushed into the breach opened up by the old timers. If it doesn’t regain its old strength, they are convinced, it will not be able to maintain its influence, and the Tigrayans would be exposed to a quasi existential risk of ceasing even to be masters in their own house, thereby losing the main asset of a 40 year struggle. Their goal: to revitalise the Front through “democratisation” and thereby regain popular support. Their target: the existing leadership, which they see as populated with incompetent “yes-men”.</p> <p>However, the most disturbing warning signal came from Oromya, the region that accounts for 37% of the total population and is the economic heart of the country. Since mid-November, its northern half at least has been in a ferment of dissent. Demonstrations were followed by riots so intense and extensive as to be described as a “<em>slide into a security crisis</em>”: the authorities lost control of entire areas abandoned or deserted by the security forces.<a href="#_ftn1">[1]</a> Half the high schools and universities had to close their doors.<a href="#_ftn2">[2]</a> In their wake, as always happens in a power vacuum, came looters and vandals. While official government figures continue to strain credulity, other sources report more than a hundred dead.<a href="#_ftn3">[3]</a> Two months on, things have only partially returned to normal. </p> <p>The trigger was an ordinary land expropriation in favour of private investors in a small town a hundred or so kilometres west of Addis Ababa. However, the focal point of the grievances was the so-called Master Plan for the expansion of Addis Ababa. The city has its own administrative government, but is located far inside Oromya. This territory was conquered by the Northeners at the end of the nineteenth century, and has grown by eating into the surrounding areas, still a trauma for many Oromo. The Plan covered an area 20 times larger than the existing capital, and would impact millions of Oromo. It possessed all the deficiencies of large development operations in Ethiopia: opacity and confusion, with documents of uncertain status released in dribs and drabs, thus a lack of clarity even about the respective roles of Addis Ababa municipality and the Oromya authorities in the area concerned; a centralising, top-down approach, with no consultation of the people. Oromo opinion once again rose up against what it perceives as a further drive to truncate its territory, exacerbated by a swathe of ruthless land grabbing, like that already experienced by tens of thousands of Oromo farmers around the capital or elsewhere, to the benefit of investors, whether foreign or Ethiopian, Oromo or otherwise.</p> <p>The authorities began by reacting reflexively in their usual way: if it moves, hit it. To show their peaceful intentions, the demonstrators raised crossed arms or sat with bowed heads. The security forces’ disproportionate violence fuelled the protests. “<em>Killing is not an answer to our grievances</em>”, was the cry. For the first time on this scale, protest extended outside the “intellectual” milieu – students and teachers – to encompass not just high school and even primary school pupils, but even the lower classes, including simple farmers, who constitute three quarters of the population.</p> <h2><strong>The straw that broke the camel’s back</strong></h2> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/image001_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/image001_0.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>"Only part of the press dared to go further. For example, the Addis Standard." Front page. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The Master Plan was simply the straw that broke the camel’s back, the culmination of a much wider and more long-standing conflict.&nbsp;This is evidenced by the protesters’ targets: people and property with links - however tenuous - to the authorities, regional and federal. &nbsp;The officials, despite their being almost all Oromo; their symbols, their facilities (offices, cars, prisons, even medical centres and unemployment support agencies); companies owned by foreigners, non Oromo, and even by Oromo, if they have been imposed despite the peoples wishes. </p> <p>Even local “model farmers” were targeted, a group who receive special government support to “modernise” their farms, on condition that they then show their fellow peasants the path to follow. Too often, they are selected by nepotism, with the result that an informal alliance has formed between local government and a new class of “kulaks”, accused of exploiting this patronage for underhand purposes, via renting or share cropping on land held by poorer farmers who have fallen into a spiral of debt. Worse still: in some places neighbours were killed, their houses burned, simply for being non Oromo.<a href="#_ftn4">[4]</a></p> <p>The target of unrest in Oromya was not just the unholy trinity, as in Tigray, though it is even more devastating there, but also harassment by the security apparatus, with its thousands of political prisoners, often held for years without trial. “<em>There is no democracy, there is no justice</em>”, complained some demonstrators. The centralisation of power, in contradiction with authentic federalism, is exacerbated by the general perception of Tigrean hegemony and the marginalisation and dispossession of Oromya. </p> <p>“<em>We want genuine self-rule</em>”, ran one of the slogans. The attendant centralisation of development, and its relative liberalisation, initiated at the start of the 2000s, favours an “entrepreneurial” economic elite, covering a range of beneficiaries stretching from the big foreign investor to the rich peasant or Ethiopian businessman, whether Oromo or not. The ascendancy of this elite is consubstantial with the high positions it almost automatically occupies in the ruling party. Its behaviour is seen as predatory, primarily in respect of land. </p> <p>“<em>Oromya is not for sale</em>”, demonstrators chanted. Their political opposition thus coincides with, and is reinforced by, an economic and cultural conflict around the resource that is the most precious, and quasi sacred, to the vast majority, land — which still acts as the cement of the social contract. Between this majority and this heterogeneous elite, but also within a peasantry that had previously remained largely homogeneous since the agrarian reform of 1975, class antagonisms have deepened. Moreover, plans in an increasingly sensitive sphere — the economy — could harden them. </p> <p>First, there is the hidden aspect of the economy. Mystery surrounds the real situation of whole sectors controlled, directly or indirectly, by the state, i.e. two thirds of the economy outside traditional agriculture, their profitability, and above all their indebtedness, the key to their recent growth. One suspects that the alarmist rhetoric around the urgent need for a change of direction owes much to this black hole.</p> <p>Moreover, the current version of the leading public impulse for economic growth — the “developmental state” — is coming to the end of the line. Its objective was to accomplish a shift from agriculture to industry. However, shares of the economy held by the industrial and manufacturing sectors remain at a similar level as at the end of Haile Selassie’s reign: respectively 11% and 5% of GDP then, 13% and 5% today.<a href="#_ftn5">[5]</a></p> <h2><strong>Growth on a downward path</strong></h2> <p>“<em>The 10-years perspective is a transition where manufacturing will lead the economy”</em>, asserts Arkebe Oqubay, mastermind of this transformation.<a href="#_ftn6">[6]</a> Without it, there is no chance of absorbing the 2 to 2.5 million young people arriving on the labour market every year, of becoming competitive by increasing productivity, thereby reducing a growing trade deficit and turning round an increasingly negative balance of payments — the possibility of a foreign exchange crunch is increasingly raised <a href="#_ftn7">[7]</a> — and ultimately no chance of maintaining a high growth rate, the core of the regime’s legitimacy.&nbsp; For him, the worst scenario would be the combination of an economic slowdown with bad governance and assertions of nationalist feeling.</p> <p>This growth rate is on a downward path, officially declining from 12% per annum in 2005 to 8% today.<a href="#_ftn8">[8]</a> The World Bank suggests that this fall is likely to continue.<a href="#_ftn9">[9]</a> Public investment, the driver of growth, has reached its ceiling at a third of GDP. Further growth therefore demands a massive inflow of private capital, mainly from abroad, bringing jobs and higher productivity, and carrying local capital in its wake, initially in subcontracting activities. However, “<em>many of the foreign investors in Ethiopia fail because the environment is difficult”</em>, Arkebe judges<a href="#_ftn10">[10]</a>. “<em>Ethiopia lags behind Sub-Saharan African peers in most reform dimensions</em>”.<a href="#_ftn11">[11]</a> Hence the intention to introduce greater ‘liberalisation’ in order to give business an attractive, stable and predictable framework, and even to open up new sectors such as banking to foreigners. <span></span></p> <p>These reforms will also need to tackle another blind spot. Moving from archaic agriculture to a competitive manufacturing sector requires an army of skilled professionals with free rein to apply their knowledge. Ethiopia’s 34 universities hold almost 700,000 students and have issued more than 500,000 degrees in the last five years alone.<a href="#_ftn12">[12]</a> However, this increase in quantity has been accomplished to the detriment of quality. Above all, the centuries-old codes of power, whatever the domain, remain largely in place: implacable hierarchy, top-down administration, blind obedience. They are even reinforced by the near obligation of party membership in the public sector: party loyalty takes precedence over public service. The professional capacities of this new class of “intellectuals” are therefore held in check. </p><p>This lost potential hinders economic growth. Moreover, the gap between this “Internet generation” and the excessively authoritarian, fossilised and infantilising practice of power, at every level, is generating growing frustration. <span class="print-no mag-quote-left">The gap between this “Internet generation” and the excessively authoritarian, fossilised and infantilising practice of power, at every level, is generating growing frustration. </span>While some of the new generation are satisfied with the advantages – legal and illegal – associated with their positions, others want to make their voices heard.</p> <p>Haile Selassie created an intellectual elite to run a state machinery subordinate to his rule alone. Held in subjection, it rebelled, especially when — as today — graduate unemployment exploded. By contrast with the past, however, even the most anti-establishment of the present generation are not looking for a change of regime, but primarily for a role commensurate with their qualifications, and then, for some, a genuine application of the constitution, primarily with regard to federalism, particularly in Oromya.</p> <h2><strong>Drought and war</strong></h2> <p>Finally, there are two other challenges. After an exceptional drought, almost 20 million Ethiopians are in need of emergency or long-term food aid.<a href="#_ftn13">[13]</a> The authorities have responded vigorously, especially as they are haunted by the correlation between the overthrow of Haile Selassie and then the Derg and the famines that preceded them. But they themselves acknowledge failures in the distribution of aid and that the worst is yet to come.</p> <p>An end to the state of phony peace with Eritrea is a growing demand in Tigray. Previously, they wanted it so that investors would finally come and rescue the region from its economic stagnation. Now it is demanded on the grounds that the military facilities that Asmara is providing to the Saudi-led coalition show that Eritrea is a bridgehead for an “Arab-Muslim encirclement”. For example, one pro-TPLF website writes: “<em>Ethiopia is surrounded by </em>(Arab) <em>strategic enemies… working to disintegrate and dismantle Ethiopia… Most of the Arab countries think Ethiopia is the gate of Africa, if they can convert the Ethiopian Christians to the Muslim faith, they can control Africa and its resources.</em>”<a href="#_ftn14">[14]</a> “<em>As the end justifies the means, Ethiopia has to use everything at its disposal to take a swift military action against Eritrea; get rid of its hostile government; annex Assab</em>”. What is not known is how far the leadership of the Front is listening to this demand.</p> <p>Faced with these challenges, sticking to the “Meles line”, as the ruling power has up to now, i.e. maintaining the status quo, has become untenable. However, the structure of power that he left behind is vacillating in its readiness to tackle this. Two power systems are in conflict with each other, though both managed by almost the same people. </p> <p>Two institutions have never played their statutory role: the legal system and the legislative assemblies. With the rise of Meles Zenawi in the early 2000s, the others became empty shells: the TPLF itself, the three other components of the EPRDF, the cabinet, the regional governments. They were reduced to mere communication channels for orders delivered from the top. Pyramidal and interpersonal, this structure of authority had little regard for institutions. Simultaneously, a constellation of mini-fiefs formed, each at the node of a network built on relationships of different kinds — family, friendship, and fundamentally regional and/or sub-regional, as well as business — all beneficiaries of the “developmental state”. After victory over the Derg, the revolutionary elite used its positions in the party-state to monopolise the management of public and para-public companies, and then to launch itself into the private sector on the back of public contracts. Thus was born an oligarchical constellation formed inside the highest party-state circles, with one foot in these circles, the other in business. These practices spread like lightning down to the lowest levels, hence the sharpness of the tensions generated by corruption, bad governance and unaccountability. But with one fundamental difference compared to essentially predatory regimes: it continued to deliver. Even though the official growth rate is undoubtedly overstated, and its social distribution problematic, progress is unquestionable. With peace and security – until recently – it has been the basis of the regime’s legitimacy.</p> <h2><strong>A crumbling pyramid</strong></h2> <p>When Meles Zenawi died suddenly in August 2012, this pyramid crumbled. It left a system of power that was diffuse — disseminated between multiple centres, whether individual or institutional, and riven with ferocious personal rivalries — and lacking direction. A common front was maintained to settle the succession in terms of individuals, notably with the appointment of Haile Mariam Dessalegn as Prime Minister. </p> <p>Nevertheless, although their workings remain riddled by these personal networks, &nbsp;“<em>now, institutions start to matter</em>”, stresses one well-informed observer: thus, the Executive Committee of the EPRDF, cabinet, starting with the Prime Minister is increasingly assertive, and regional governments follow on through a centrifugal effect. The security forces and army, however, remain a bastion apart, and interrelations between all these power centres are still vague and unstable. The reconstruction of a solid and consensual system is still on the agenda. At the same time, the situation it faces on all fronts is becoming increasingly problematic. Too many officials remain too rigid, arrogant and disconnected to see the urgency of the situation; too unstable and fragmented. The leadership can hardly agree on the changes needed, let alone implement them. <span class="print-no mag-quote-right">Establishing the rule of law is above all about confronting oligarchical power.</span></p> <p>Questioned about the existence of a “<em>wider consensus within the ruling party</em>” on greater economic openness, Arkebe Oqubay replied evasively: “<em>I cannot say 100%</em>.”<a href="#_ftn15">[15]</a> The opposition is of three kinds: the Ethiopian economic elite is highly disparate, divided between the most powerful groups who hope to be able to piggyback on the influx of foreign investors, and small businesses which consider themselves too weak to withstand international competition. An old “socialistic” ideological current persists. And finally, the nationalistic strain remains strong: no Ethiopian leadership has ever allowed a foreign presence, of whatever kind, to acquire sufficient influence as to potentially escape its control. Yet a massive influx of foreign investors inevitably requires compromises that will one way or another dent that sovereignty.</p> <p>Moreover, this greater economic openness is likely to exacerbate the antagonisms described above, by fuelling bad governance and corruption, which exploded with the ‘liberal’ turn of the early 2000s. And the reforms currently under way or on the drawing board are purely technical. Indispensable as it is, an alteration in the ‘culture of power’ is not a priority in the economy. </p> <h2><strong><em>Gimgema</em></strong></h2> <p>According to the official media, the combat against the unholy trinity is in full sway. The last TPLF Congress and its Central Committee saw a swathe of criticism and self-criticism, reviving one of the Font’s strongest traditions – the “gimgema” – which had become stripped of its original function in recent years. However, this merely resulted in a compromise between ‘reformists’ and ‘conservatives’, between ‘urgentists’ and ‘wait and seers’. In accordance with the traditional practice of ‘democratic centralism’, the Central Committee overruled the Congress. Two “reformers” joined the Executive Committee, the remaining “Melesites” stayed, including the chairman, Abay Woldu, who was the focus of the critiques. They will be closely monitored by newcomers to the Central Committee. The reforms were approved, but they had already been formulated in virtually the same terms at the previous congress.</p> <p>Nonetheless, <em>gimgema </em>spread throughout Tigray. The leaders are touring the state, holding public meetings. Local officials are required to account for their behaviour to the inhabitants. In these people’s courts, judgement is rapid, the defence insignificant. Hundreds of low and medium ranking officials have been sacked, thousands warned. But we have no way of knowing whether the authorities took into account the voices of the participants before immediately appointing their replacements, or whether — as usual — they simply named them and left it to the people to formally endorse them. </p> <p>In contrast, it doesn’t appear that the same purge is taking place elsewhere, or at least not with the same intensity, except in Addis Ababa.<a href="#_ftn16">[16]</a> Not that the unholy trinity is any less rampant, quite the contrary. But the reformist drive emanating from part of the TPLF and a few influential individual allies in the other parties, is having little impact outside, when it is not met with concealed opposition. ANDM and particularly OPDO, already so fragile when the TPLF launched its reforms and its purges, do not seem capable of handling the shock of such a challenge. The ANDM Congress was a quiet affair, OPDO’s was virtually a non-event. The same leadership teams were reappointed with no significant changes.</p> <p>Above all, the exercise is limited in its very conception. The idea is that the party-state should correct itself, without any intervention by an external and independent body. The only involvement eagerly sought is that of the “public”, a fetish word, meaning de facto a fluctuating collection of individuals, by definition unorganised and unstructured. Nothing can or should undermine the monolithism of the ruling power.&nbsp; </p><p>The reactions to the events in Oromya reveal shock and confusion. First, in the intensity of the repression, with thousands of arrests, including senior cadres from the Oromo legal opposition parties, journalists, intellectuals. Then in its desire to silence discordant media voices, including the two TV networks run by opponents in the diaspora, to the point that the security forces even wrecked satellite dishes. </p> <p>And in the cacophony emanating from the leadership. At one extreme, denial of the obvious. “<em>There is a fair power sharing system between the federal government and the regional states which has enabled the regions to decide by themselves on issues that are specific to them</em>”, the government spokesman maintained. “<em>We know the protests are based on false claims.</em>” The protesters are demonised, driven by “<em>the conspiracies of destructive forces… of evil forces</em>”, of “<em>anti-peace elements</em>”, including opposition parties which are, for good measure, “<em>the proxies of the Eritrean regime</em>”, and “<em>are now organizing armed gangs</em>”.<a href="#_ftn17">[17]</a> </p> <p>At the other extreme, Abadulla Gemada, speaker of the House, a long-standing leader of OPDO but a man with the Prime Minister’s ear and one of the few leaders whose position in the traditional Oromo hierarchy attracts a certain popularity, declared in essence that the Oromos were smart enough not to let themselves be manipulated and to demonstrate for good reasons.<a href="#_ftn18">[18]</a> Between the two extremes, a convoluted acknowledgement, even from the Prime Minister, that “<em>the recent question raised by the people of Oromia is a legitimate one</em>”, that the Master Plan should have been drawn up in consultation “<em>with the people of Oromia</em>”, but also that “<em>merciless legitimate action against any force bent on destabilising the area</em>” is required.<a href="#_ftn19">[19]</a> </p> <p>Finally, The Plan has been abandoned”.<a href="#_ftn20">[20]</a> For Abay Tsehaye, one of top ideas men and a political adviser to the Prime Minister, the sole culprits are corrupt OPDO officials and shady businessmen who “<em>created all the mess… to capitalize on chaos</em>” so as “<em>to preempt the good governance drive… using the Master Plan as a smokescreen</em>”<a href="#_ftn21">[21]</a>. So the whole problem comes down to black sheep who are manipulating Oromo to escape the punishment they deserve. Only part of the press dared to go further. For example, the Addis Standard, with a front page showing two raised crossed arms in red on a black background, carried the headline “<em>Why is Ethiopia killing its people again?”&nbsp;</em>subtitled<em> “Oromo protests; not just about the ‘Master Plan’… Marking the next Ethiopian Political Chapter”.</em><a href="#_ftn22">[22]</a></p> <h2><strong>Federalism and hyper-centralised reality</strong></h2> <p>The regime is now paying the price for the accumulated mistakes of its ethnic policy. Both ANDM and OPDO were created by the TPLF. They have never broken free of its oversight, at least to the extent of being considered legitimate representatives by the Amhara and the Oromo, with the capacity to voice their aspirations and grievances at federal level. This original fault line undermines the whole federal construct. Federalism is at the heart of the constitution and institutions, but the reality is hyper-centralised, the primacy of the Tigryan elite, even if increasingly under stress, undeniable in the political, economic and even more so the military and security spheres. </p> <p>The “national question” boomerangs back on those who claim to have settled it once and for all: constantly emphasising national identities and proclaiming that they now all have the right to assert themselves, equally and entirely; in reality, keeping them ranked and constrained. Meles Zenawi’s iron fist had contained this contradiction. It could not but break loose after his death. In the absence of strong and inclusive political structures to handle it, it inevitably overflowed into the street.</p> <p>One of the most illuminating evidences of these accumulated mistakes is the vacuity of the OPDO. It won 100% on the seats during the May elections, but it proved incapable of maintaining law and order, incapable of channelling discontent: it disintegrated. Most of its top leadership further discredited themselves by adopting the government line. As for the rest of its officials, very many joined the protests, others quite simply faded away. Oromya lives under a <em>de facto</em> state of security/military siege directed from Addis Ababa.</p> <h2><strong>A Copernican revolution?</strong></h2> <p>Would simple reforms resolve all these profoundly interdependent pitfalls, or do they demand a complete overhaul of the regime? Surprisingly as it may seem, part of the TPLF and some high level officials beyond believe this is the case. They have in recent months undergone a Copernican revolution, breaking with everything they have thought and done since their beginnings, 40 years ago now, as with all Ethiopian leaders since the dawn of time: ruling by force. </p> <p>They underline that throughout the country’s history, all regime changes have come through armed conflict. <em>“We want to leave future generations an Ethiopia that is not only prosperous, but also sustainably stable and peaceful</em>”, they say. The only solution would be to let the institutions work as the constitution stipulates. In other words, deliberative assemblies that actually control the executive, from federal level down through the 17,000 municipalities; an independent legal system; a recognition of the positive role that the opposition parties and media could play. Sincere conversion or a pragmatic acceptance of reality? For their Tigrayan proponents, given the arch-minority status of the Tigreans, the clinching argument is that only genuine federalism could give them the vital long-term guarantee of remaining at least masters in their own homeland. </p> <p>In the immediate, the management of the unrest in Oromya contradicts these intentions. However, the shock has been too sudden and too violent for the regime not to be out of its depth and to revert to its traditional repressive habits. But its history also shows that it only changes after a very long period of internal maturation. There is nothing to say that a period of deep reflection has not begun, albeit as ever behind double locked doors. <span class="print-no mag-quote-right">There is nothing to say that a period of deep reflection has not begun, albeit as ever behind double locked doors. </span></p> <p>The obstacles are huge: the whole culture of power would be turned upside down, along two axes. </p> <p>This culture is one of centralisation. But real federalism couldn’t be beyond reach. Oromya shows that it is becoming an absolute requirement. The foreign investment influx requires long term stability. Decentralisation is not conditional on the establishment of the ‘rule of law’ in every other sphere. In particular, oligarchical power could adapt to, and even prosper alongside genuine decentralisation. However, it would entail at least a full reconstruction of OPDO, and probably ANDM as well. Otherwise, it is to be feared that the inter-nation relationship would become even more critical, with young Oromo activists in particular deciding that the only choice is armed struggle because nothing could be achieved by political means. </p> <p>It is also an authoritarian culture. Since the student movement of the 1970s, this authority has been vested in a small self-proclaimed vanguard elite, whose legitimacy is founded on the claim to supreme knowledge. It might adopt the argument of the early Soviet leadership: “<em>We alone know what should be done to make you prosperous and happy, and so we have the right and the duty to do it if necessary by force and against your will</em>.” In essence, therefore, this power is vertical and monolithic: any dissent could only come from misguided individuals or from ‘anti-peace’ and ‘anti-development’ elements. Criticism can be accepted only if levelled at failures in the execution of a policy, but not at the policy itself. That is precisely the limitation of the current campaign against the unholy trinity. </p> <h2><strong>Rule of law?</strong></h2> <p>This raises the question of what meaning these ‘reformers’ give to the ‘rule of law’: does it include the possibility that the country’s vital forces, whether driven by political, economic or social motives, including these new ‘intellectuals’, could organise themselves and make dissenting voices heard, not only about the form, but also about the substance of policy? This would require the end of monolithism, the acceptance of counter-forces, and therefore an end to the obsession with maintaining control over all organisations, whatever their nature. <span class="print-no mag-quote-left">Criticism can be accepted only if levelled at failures in the execution of a policy, but not at the policy itself.</span></p> <p>It would also require an end to the wait for the supreme saviour, the ‘strong man’. Even within the TPLF, and even more so in the population of former Abyssinia, many are convinced that only such a figure could stabilise and preserve the structure of power, thus bring a lasting stability, as supposedly demonstrated throughout Ethiopian history.</p> <p>Establishing the rule of law is above all about confronting oligarchical power. During a famous televised discussion about tackling the unholy trinity, attended by a gathering of the leadership and opened by a devastating report into the spread of its depredations right to the top of the party-state, Haile Mariam Dessalegn exclaimed: <em>“Here,</em> <em>we talk, but once outside, we defend our different networks to ensure that they are not affected. That is the primary sickness!”<a href="#_ftn23"><strong>[23]</strong></a></em> A confession of the limitations of self-correction. </p> <p>The abandonment of the Master Plan is an unprecedented decision, but one that even the legal opposition considers a first step on a very long journey. It is calling for a significant gesture of appeasement, such as the freeing of the recent detainees, as proof that the government is sincerely ready to enter into dialogue with all the stakeholders concerned who possess recognised status, and with respected figures, for a complete rethink.<a href="#_ftn24">[24]</a> If it accepts, the opposition would have to concede that the process could only be gradual, extremely lengthy, that if the EPRDF agrees not to dictate its outcome, it will nevertheless insist on retaining control throughout the whole process, and that one line in the sand cannot for the moment be crossed: challenging federalism and the upper hand Tigreans hold over the security services and the army, which it sees for the time being as its ultimate shield.&nbsp;</p> <p>“<em>Where does all this lead us? To the beginning of the end? Let us hope not</em>”, concludes a recent editorial in Addis Fortune.<a href="#_ftn25">[25]</a> In the absence of a credible alternative authority, only the existing regime can decide whether it ultimately wishes to change, or is prepared to risk the worst. </p> <hr size="1" /> <p><a href="#_ftnref1">[1]</a> Horn Affairs, Ethiopia: <em>Weeks-long Protests slid into a Security Crisis</em>, December 16, 2015.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref2">[2]</a> Walta, <a href="http://www.waltainfo.com/index.php?option=com_content&amp;view=article&amp;id=22055:oromiya-stabilizes-from-recent-violence-&amp;catid=71:editors-pick&amp;Itemid=396"><em>Oromiya stabilizes from recent violence </em></a>, December 21, 2015.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref3">[3]</a> AFP, <em>Ethiopian forces 'kill 140' in land row over Addis Ababa expansion</em>, January 8, 2016. </p> <p><a href="#_ftnref4">[4]</a> Bloomberg, <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-12-14/ethiopia-oromo-protests-trigger-fatal-ethnic-clashes-group-says"><em><span>Ethiopia Sees Fatal Ethnic Clash in Oromia, Group Says</span></em></a><em>, </em>December 14, 2015<em>.</em></p> <p><a href="#_ftnref5">[5]</a> World Bank, <em>Ethiopia
Recent Economic Development and Current Prospects</em>, Vol. 2, December 1, 1975, and National Planning Commission, <em>The Second Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP II) (2015/16-2019/20) </em>(Draft), September 2015, Addis Ababa. </p> <p><a href="#_ftnref6">[6]</a> Addis Fortune, <em>Interview: the singularly focused man</em>, October 29, 2015.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref7">[7]</a> Addis Fortune, <em>Ethiopia: These Are Indeed Trying Days for Any Business Involved in Manufacturing</em>, January 4, 2016.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref8">[8]</a> The Economist, <em>What if they were really set free?</em>, January 2, 2016.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref9">[9]</a> World Bank, <em>Ethiopia’s great run. The growth acceleration and how to pace it</em>, November 24, 2015.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref10">[10]</a> Addis Fortune, idem.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref11">[11]</a> Idem.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref12">[12]</a> Ministry of Education, <em>Education National Abstract 2013-14</em>, June 2015.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref13">[13]</a> Open Democracy, <em>“Famine” in Ethiopia: key facts</em>, https://www.opendemocracy.net/ren-lefort/famine-in-ethiopia-key-facts</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref14">[14]</a> Tigray Online, <em>Ethiopian extremists using Oromo school children to grab power</em>, December 9, 2015, and <em>Lessons for Ethiopia from Russia–Ukraine relations to deter the looming threat from Eritrea</em>, December 29, 2015.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref15">[15]</a> Addis Fortune, <em>The singulary focused man</em>, October 26, 2015.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref16">[16]</a> “<em>260 heads and 1,600 workers have been sacked from their post</em>” in the administration of the capital (Walta, <a href="http://www.waltainfo.com/index.php?option=com_content&amp;view=article&amp;id=22069:city-government-takes-concrete-steps-to-abate-administrative-bottlenecks&amp;catid=71:editors-pick&amp;Itemid=396"><em>City Government takes concrete steps to abate administrative bottlenecks</em></a>, December 22, 2015.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref17">[17]</a> Walta, <a href="http://www.waltainfo.com/index.php?option=com_content&amp;amp;amp;view=article&amp;amp;amp;id=22379:the-constitutional-system-has-stood-on-a-firm-foundation-to-uphold-the-will-of-the-people-gcao&amp;amp;amp;catid=52:national-news&amp;amp;amp;Itemid=291"><em>The Constitutional system has stood on a firm foundation to uphold the will of the people- GCAO</em></a>, January 17, 2016; Bloomberg, <em>Ethiopian Opposition Say 10 Oromo Students Killed at Protests</em>, December 10, 2015; Walta, <a href="http://www.waltainfo.com/index.php?option=com_content&amp;view=article&amp;id=21944:-recent-disturbances-works-of-destructive-forces-chief-muktar-kedir&amp;catid=71:editors-pick&amp;Itemid=396"><em>Recent Disturbances Works of Destructive Forces: Chief Muktar Kedir</em></a>, December 11, 2015; Walta, <a href="http://www.waltainfo.com/index.php?option=com_content&amp;view=article&amp;id=22109:government-has-never-imposed-a-single-plan-without-public-will-premier&amp;catid=71:editors-pick&amp;Itemid=396"><em>Government has never imposed a single plan without public will- Premier</em></a>, December 25, 2015; New York Times, <em>Ethiopians on Edge as Infrastructure Plan Stirs Protests</em>, December 16, 2015; International Business Time, <em>Addis Ababa ‘Master Plan’ protests: Hailemariam Dessalegn warns ‘merciless action’ will be used</em>, December 17, 2015.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref18">[18]</a> December 20, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fkv78y_qIIU</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref19">[19]</a>&nbsp; Walta, <a href="http://www.waltainfo.com/index.php?option=com_content&amp;view=article&amp;id=22109:government-has-never-imposed-a-single-plan-without-public-will-premier&amp;catid=71:editors-pick&amp;Itemid=396"><em>Government has never imposed a single plan without public will- Premier</em></a>, December 25, 2015.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref20">[20]</a> Government of Ethiopia, <em>Ethiopia: OPDO Passes a Resolution to Abandon Master Plan</em>, January 13, 2016. </p> <p><a href="#_ftnref21">[21]</a> Horn Affairs, Exclusive| <em>Abay Tsehaye: Oromos know who robbed, maltreated them</em>, January 23, 2016.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref22">[22]</a> Addis Standard, N° 57, January 2016.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref23">[23]</a> Unofficial translation, http://www.ethiomedia.com/aa2nov15/4363.html</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref24">[24]</a> See, for example, the press release by MEDREK, to which the main Oromo opposition party belongs, on January 11, 2016.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref25">[25]</a> <em>Ethiopia: Unavoidable truth</em>, December 28, 2015.</p><div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> René Lefort Tue, 02 Feb 2016 08:48:54 +0000 René Lefort 99498 at https://www.opendemocracy.net ”Famine” in Ethiopia: key facts https://www.opendemocracy.net/ren-lefort/famine-in-ethiopia-key-facts <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The usual scapegoat returns, with fears that the land tenure system is the main culprit for low production and thus food shortages in a crisis, when it is not.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/8207580.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/8207580.jpg" alt="President Obama makes his first presidential visit to African Union,in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, July 2015." title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>President Obama makes his first presidential visit to African Union,in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, July 2015. Demoted/ Gazstegnaw Zega. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The first question a person asks you when in Addis Ababa these days is: do you have any information about the famine? Do you think the authorities are hiding the reality from us? Once more, millions of Ethiopians are facing an acute food shortage. Once more, foreign donors are called upon for a dramatic and urgent increase of relief aid. Does it mean that the same age old malediction is repeating itself, again and again, with the same deathly tribute? </p> <p>According to the last Humanitarian Requirements Document (HRD) for 2016, issued December 11 jointly by the government and the donors<a href="#_ftn1">[1]</a>, 10.2 million people will be in need of food emergency assistance at the beginning of next year, and more than 2.1 million of special nutritional programmes, including 400,000 severely malnourished children. The requested budget amounts to 1.4 billion US dollars.</p> <p>This statement puts an end to the divergences between the Ethiopian authorities and the donor community regarding the figures of people in need. Getachew Reda, the new government spokesman, contested the evaluations made by the former: “<em>It i</em><em>s we who know the exact number of people on the ground who need emergency food aid. It is very unfortunate that we never agree with our partners on the figures. They believe they have to call a huge number to mobilize more aid</em>” <a href="#_ftn2">[2]</a>. The statement also demonstrates the extreme seriousness of the food crisis and its swift escalation. The number of people in need climbed from 2.9 million (March 6) to 4.5 million (August 18) and suddenly to 8.2 million (September 21). </p> <p>But these figures and their sudden rise must be clarified. For years, around 8 million people have been benefiting from a long-term safety-net programme. It provides them with cash or food for work during the first six months of the year. It will restart in January 2016. The people in need of urgent assistance, therefore, will really have climbed from 2.9 + 8 = 10.9 million in March 2015 to 8 + 10.2 + 2.1 = 20.3 million in January 2016, almost doubling.&nbsp; </p> <h2><strong>Career advancement</strong></h2> <p>In Ethiopia, around 90% of the cereal production is harvested in autumn, after the summer long rains season. The remaining 10% is harvested at the termination of spring after the end of the short rains season. But this last output is decisive in a little bit more than 10% of the districts where it represents more than half of the whole year production. They are the most hit by the drought.</p> <p>The lack of spring rains in the eastern and southern lowland pastoralist areas and in parts of the highlands could obviously be seen immediately after the end of spring. But despite being very densely and deeply rooted, the local state apparatus was unable to properly report the imminence of the food shortages. As usual, local officials were afraid of being criticized for having failed to reach their assigned development targets, which is the main criteria for their career advancement. <span class="print-no mag-quote-right">As usual, local officials were afraid of being criticized for having failed to reach their assigned development targets, which is the main criteria for their career advancement. </span></p> <p>As usual too, the magnitude of the crisis started to be grasped only after assessment teams of mixed Ethiopian and foreign experts came back from the field in July. The new figures about the people in need were released mid-August. Could this delay have been curtailed, as some critics underline it? Probably a little bit. But in any case the delay was shorter than in previous similar crises. </p> <p>A common argument to explain the shortening of the delay is that a strong media alert forced the authorities to react quicker. But the first reports of the national and international press, and the August figures’ release were almost simultaneous. </p> <p>In any case, the immediate reaction of the authorities remained confused and contradictory, and above all too optimistic and short sighted. Clearly, part of the leadership minimized the impact of the drought. Critics argued that it didn’t want to tarnish the image of a country even more so when on the eve of the congress of the ruling party. The regime is claiming very proudly a paraded annual “double digit growth” of the economy for more than a decade, and that Ethiopia has become self-sufficient, with regard to its food supplies on a national level or, at least - self sufficiency is within easy reach. One leading Ethiopian weekly newspaper took this attitude forgranted on the part of “rank and file” authorities. It wrote that there is among them “<em>a deep fear that giving focus to the drought will spoil the hard earned "Ethiopia is growing" narrative… Politics seems to have taken the upper hand in this response</em>”<a href="#_ftn3">[3]</a>. </p> <h2><strong>Vacillating positions</strong></h2> <p>The divergences between the Ethiopian Authorities and the donor community first concerned the magnitude of the crisis. Indeed, on the one hand, Redwan Hussein, Minister of Government Communication Office, started by saying that “<em>insufficient rain has shown</em>” no more than “<em>some inconvenience</em>”<a href="#_ftn4">[4]</a>. Later on, Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen somehow confirmed that stance by stating that “<em>no one [had] died… due to the lack of food in the affected areas</em>”<a href="#_ftn5">[5]</a>. However, the USAID-funded warning system FEWS-NET disclosed the following day that some areas were in an “Emergency” phase, as defined by the following criteria: out of 10.000<a href="#_ftn6">[6]</a> people, 1 to 2 adults and 2 to 4 children are dying each day due to nutritional deficit. </p> <p>But the main vacillating positions concerned foreign aid. The credo was: the country has its own capacity to deal with the crisis; the government has enough food stock<a href="#_ftn7">[7]</a>. Redwan Hussein was categorical: “<em>We are able to feed ourselves</em>”.<a href="#_ftn8">[8]</a> The Prime Minister and Chairman of the ruling party, Haile Mariam Dessalegn, repeated such statements word by word<a href="#_ftn9">[9]</a>. </p> <p>But one month later, Redwan Hussein acknowledged that the recent rise in the number of victims calls for an urgent foreign assistance. “<em>Although the government can tackle the problem by diverting the budget allocated for development, it needs international assistance so that the on-going pace of development would not be hampered</em>”<a href="#_ftn10">[10]</a>. And even more: the government is now complaining that the donors “<em>have already promised so much, but they have delivered practically nothing. The government is working alone</em>”<a href="#_ftn11">[11]</a>. <span class="print-no mag-quote-left">Even more: the government is now complaining that the donors “have already promised so much, but they have delivered practically nothing. The government is working alone”.</span></p> <p>This provoked strong reactions. “<em>Enough is enough… It is embarrassing and humiliating indeed to observe our smartly dressed leaders scuttling from one donor meeting into another with their begging bowls… It surely should not be beyond Ethiopia’s capacity to handle minor droughts without the necessity for the degrading foreign aid… By running to the UN for help, the EPRDF – </em>the ruling party<em> - has gravely injured the positive image of the country</em>”<a href="#_ftn12">[12]</a>. </p> <p>The designated culprit is the drought, attributed to the climatic El Nino phenomena. Meteorological experts have confirmed it is the worst in the last two or three decades. However, this kind of crisis is recurrent. The sequence of bad rain seasons leading to bad harvests leading to a food crisis is unstoppable in a country where 98% of the agriculture remains rain fed. </p> <p>It is highly probable that sooner or later TV screens will show us crying children with emaciated faces and&nbsp; balloon stomachs. The viewers will be convinced that once more famine and Ethiopia form a diabolical duo<a href="#_ftn13">[13]</a>.&nbsp; But there is always and at any time at least one place in Ethiopia where a camera could catch such a worrying scene. Does it mean that Ethiopia’s old evils have once again risen to the surface?</p> <p>First, the apocalyptical famines of 1972-73 and 1984-85 left hundreds thousands of deaths, probably around 200,000 and 400,000 respectively. Now, whether real famine pockets have developed here and there remains to be seen – usually the stage of famine is considered reached when a significant number of adults start to die from hunger. In any case the possible death toll would have nothing to do with these previous figures.</p> <p>Second, the official growth of the cereals production, and therefore the agricultural development action of the government are rightly the subject of enquiry. Last year, the official figure for the cereals’ harvest has been 27 million of tons for a population close to 100 million, that is to say 270 kg/person/year. Even with a high range estimate of post-harvest losses and reserve of future seeds, this left a per person consumption availability of basic food well above the required 180 kilo per year. Given these figures, Ethiopia should be overflowing with locally available surpluses.</p> <p>The food market prices have remained relatively stable, and within the range of the global inflation. For example, the wholesale price of sorghum and maize in Addis Ababa are stable compared to one year ago, wheat has increased by 7% and decreased by 3% since its summer peak, teff, the most locally prized cereal, has increased by 13%<a href="#_ftn14">[14]</a>. But one should be aware that during former similar crises, the crops inflation started at the beginning of the following year.</p> <p>But in any case, to attribute food shortages to a shortfall in the whole agricultural production cycle is misleading. </p> <p>At least half of the Ethiopian farmers are net buyers of their own household food consumption thanks to extra-farm incomes. In bad years, their production drops, and they would need more money to respond to their needs. But bad years also mean less agricultural daily labour, well less paid, while this represents usually the main source of cash for the poorest. Thus, they face a food shortage not because the market is lacking, but because they cannot afford to buy it. <span class="print-no mag-quote-right">Thus, they face a food shortage not because the market is lacking, but because they cannot afford to buy it. </span>Amartya Sen has perfectly demonstrated this mechanism for the 1943 Bengal famine in India. </p> <p>Third, the early warning systems have operated relatively properly, even if they need to be improved, after having been launched more than a decade ago.</p> <p>Fourth, the so-called biblical famines of 1972-73 and 1984-85 were deliberately hidden so as to preserve the image of the imperial regime or of the Derg military junta. Even more recently, in 2008-2009, both the authorities and the donor community publicly denied the acuteness of the food crisis for three to four months, thus leading to a corresponding delay in the aid delivery.<a href="#_ftn15">[15]</a> Again, the reaction of the authorities is under strong criticism here and there. “<em>The mood within the power circle is one of relaxation…One can hardly find the sense of urgency expected…The response system remains fragmented. There is no functioning integration between risk assessment units, response institutions, local administrations and federal level units… The whole response system seems to host great inefficiency</em>”<a href="#_ftn16">[16]</a>.</p><h2><strong>Interviewed under conditions of anonymity</strong></h2> <p>International experts who deal with food crisis year on year don’t share this point of view, even when they go off the record and far from being apologists of the regime. Their general opinion is that the government has efficiently performed vis-à-vis the crisis, both in terms of volume and organisation. Aid officials and NGO’s leaders, interviewed under conditions of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue for the authorities, reached the same conclusion<a href="#_ftn17">[17]</a>. </p> <p>For them, the authorities have reacted faster and more vigorously than during any of the previous crisis. Above all, their level of assistance is beyond comparison with those of the past. For the first time, they have drawn on the national and regional budgets to put on the table first a tiny 33 million US dollars, second around 200 millions of the 600 million needed at that time, and just now an additional 97 million<a href="#_ftn18">[18]</a>. </p> <p>This represents around 3% of the whole budget, and 9% of the investment budget. Haile Mariam Dessalegn travelled to the affected areas in the Somali region at the end of October, and almost all regional high officials also did this. The concerned state departments are fully mobilized, including and even more in the regions. When the head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Ethiopia said that “<em>the leadership and commitment of the government in driving its response to the impact of the El-Nino phenomenon on food security in affected areas has been exceptional</em>"<a href="#_ftn19">[19]</a>, this statement is not only diplomatically motivated. When <em>Addis Standard</em> writes: “<em>The trend of not admitting on time to a looming drought hasn't improved over the last four decades since 1974</em>”<a href="#_ftn20">[20]</a> - the weekly is wrong.&nbsp;</p> <p>It is obvious that the ruling power does not want the age-old dramatic images of starvation and the dead aired again all over the world. Reports have proven that, at least locally, a lot is done to hide the drama and even to silence the victims<a href="#_ftn21">[21]</a>. But trying to minimize the publicity about the food shortages, which the authorities do with a patent clumsiness, must not be mixed up with trying to withhold information of a crisis.</p> <p>Fifth, the worst is highly probably to come. There is no doubt that the summer rains season in many parts of the highlands were insufficient and erratic, including in some of the most productive areas, and that the main harvest has been affected as a result. The crisis can only deepen until at best the small spring harvest and, more possibly the main production next autumn.</p> <h2><strong>Controlling the crisis</strong></h2> <p>Now the key question is: facing unprecedented growing needs, could the authorities – and the donors – continue to upgrade their response capacities, and thus maintain the crisis under control? <span class="print-no mag-quote-left">Now the key question is: facing unprecedented growing needs, could the authorities – and the donors – continue to upgrade their response capacities, and thus maintain the crisis under control?</span></p> <p>Some argue that the latter seem now to have reached their limits. The State Minister for Agriculture and Secretary of the National Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Committee Mitiku Kassa stated: “<em>You can build resilience, but when conditions are bad enough, so severe – and we’re seeing the perfect storm – these resilience systems are overawed</em>”.&nbsp;He added: “<em>The international community is not in a position to respond to our crisis</em>”<a href="#_ftn22">[22]</a>. </p> <p>200,000 tons of food are on their way to Ethiopia. 600,000 tons have just been ordered. A bid for one million tons will soon be called for. The aim is not only to feed the starving people, but also to prevent a sky-rocketing in food prizes. </p> <p>Where could the money come from to buy on the international market? First, Ethiopia’s lack of foreign currencies is chronic. It seems the World Bank and the African Development Bank are willing to give a hand. But other donors are more reluctant, and some of them even condition their further financial effort on the same move by the Ethiopian government.</p> <p>The minimum delay between a bid and the effective distribution of the food at a village level is five months. The only solution to feel the gap in between is to dip into the available local reserves. But again: who will pay? At this stage, some donor organizations will be short of food to distribute in January in some areas.</p> <p>Finally, the logistic bottlenecks. Most of the importation of Ethiopia transits through Djibouti port. It manages usually around 500,000 tons per month. Can it deal with an additional 2 million tons, and with what kinds of delay?</p> <p>Sixth, Ethiopia is expected to become a middle level income country in 2025. Could the continuous foreseen growth of the Ethiopian economy, including the agricultural sector, progressively absorb these perennial food crises? The answer looks rather grim.</p> <p>First, the cereal production has officially tripled during the last fifteen years. Even if this figures is highly questionable, the per capita production has substantially increased for sure. But the percentage of people suffering from the droughts has remained stable: around 20% in 2001-2002, around 15% in 2007-2008, around 20% now. “The poorest 15 percent of the population experienced a decline in well-being in 2005-11 mainly as a result of high food prices&nbsp;».<a href="#_ftn23">[23]</a> &nbsp;“<em>Graduation from the Safety Net Program has been short of expectation</em>”<a href="#_ftn24">[24]</a>. </p> <p>The number of people who succeeded in increasing their assets enough to live without perennial aid has not exceeded a small percentage. So the hard core of the poorest farmers, the food insecure people, chronically vulnerable to any climate shock, has not been significantly alleviated. </p> <h2><strong>Prospects</strong><strong></strong></h2> <p>The present agricultural development policy does not seem to be appropriate to reverse this trend. At the grass roots level, when asked why this hard core of poverty remains, and even extends, the local authorities and development agents respond: “<em>because these farmers do not follow our development advic</em><em>e</em>”. When asked why they cannot escape from poverty, these poor farmers reply: “<em>because the development programme does not fit our needs and means</em>”. Actually, it looks like they are left to their fate. </p> <p>They even start to complain that a kind of implicit alliance has been formed between the local authorities and the most enterprising farmers – the so called “model farmers” – to endorse this neglect. The former focus their efforts on the latter because they can boast of having better results to their superiors. The latter are the only ones who can rent a land from a poor farmer who is obliged to do so because he is engulfed in a debt spiral when any shock occurs.</p> <p>The government seems to have validated this status quo. The draft of the Growth and Transformation Plan for 2015/16-2019/20 devotes few words to this destitute hard core. It mentions “<em>strengthening the Productive Safety Net Program</em>” and “<em>providing effective credit facilities and other supplementary and complementary programs… to accelerate the graduation of Programme beneficiaries</em>”<a href="#_ftn25">[25]</a>. </p> <p>But it looks like it doubts itself whether any of these actions would succeed: the food reserve for Food Security, Disaster Prevention and Preparedness, would have to be raised from 400,000 tons now to 3 million tons, which could be reduced to a little bit to more than one million tons in the finalised Plan<a href="#_ftn26">[26]</a>. </p> <p>Finally, the same scapegoat is selected as always. “<em>The right to ownership of rural and urban land… is exclusively vested in the State and in the peoples of Ethiopia</em>”, states the Constitution. Thus, the land tenure system, because it forbids sales, leases and mortgages, because it allows eviction for public interests, would be the main culprit for low production and thus for the food shortages in case of crisis. The only solution would be privatisation. But the land tenure security is now largely assured through the new 30 years land certificates. De facto, a mechanism of leasing has been put in place which allows land to be rented for cash or through a share cropping agreement. Privatisation would worsen the situation of the poorest farmers. </p> <p>In the case of drought, they inevitably fall in debt. If a land market existed, their only choice would be to sell their last asset, their land, with very few possibilities of being employed either locally or in the urban areas, because the available workforce outnumbers the needs. They would simply join the growing rural lumpen proletariat - who is precisely the main food aid seeker.</p> <hr size="1" /> <p><a href="#_ftnref1">[1]</a> UN, <em>Ethiopia: Government and humanitarian partners launch the Humanitarian Requirements Document (HDR) for 2016</em>, December 11, 2015, Addis Ababa.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref2">[2]</a> Reporter, <em>The Gv’t pledges strict measures on ill-disciplined officials</em>, November 21, 2015.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref3">[3]</a> Addis Fortune, <em>Ethiopia: Playing Politics With Drought, Dangerous</em>, November 9, 2015.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref4">[4]</a> Walta, <em>Government ready to overcome El Nino weather challenges</em>, August 13, 2015, and Associated Press, <em>Cattle dying as seasonal rains fail in parts of Ethiopia</em>, August 11, 2015.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref5">[5]</a> APA, <em>Ethiopia: Govt denies death from hunger</em>, November 13, 2015.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref6">[6]</a> Horn Affairs, <em>Afar, Somali areas reached "Emergency" – fourth worst stage of food insecurity</em>, November 14, 2015.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref7">[7]</a> For example, Horn Affairs, <em>Ethiopia: Delayed rains causing "crisis" in Afar, Somali regions</em>, August 15, 2015.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref8">[8]</a> The Reporter, <em>Ethiopia: Gov’t dismiss the need for food aid</em>, August 15, 2015. </p> <p><a href="#_ftnref9">[9]</a> Addis Fortune, <em>Ethiopia: Drought - Not Just Nature but Governance</em>, October 28, 2015.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref10">[10]</a> Ethiopian News Agency, Int’l Community not Meeting Anticipated Assistance to victims of El Nino in Ethiopia: GoCAO, September 22, 2015.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref11">[11]</a>&nbsp; Reporter, <em>The Gv’t pledges strict measures on ill-disciplined officials</em>, November 21, 2015.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref12">[12]</a> Tigray On Line, <em>EPRDF’s persistent failure to handle minor droughts independently</em>, October 14, 2015.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref13">[13]</a> BBC aired on November 7 a very strange programme about the drought and the food crisis. It started with a mother crying over the death of one of his children. It was obvious from the context that the child died from starvation. But a text accompanying the programme stated he was sick. Then the whole family was filmed, and its children appeared normally healthy. The commentary stated that in one adjacent area “<em>two babies were dying every day</em>”, but not one image showed even skeletal cattle, let alone emaciated children.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref14">[14]</a> http://www.fao.org/giews/pricetool/</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref15">[15]</a> René Lefort, “<em>Ethiopia’s famine&nbsp;: deny and delay&nbsp;</em>», Open Democracy, March 24, 2009, https://www.opendemocracy.net/article/email/ethiopias-famine-deny-and-delay</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref16">[16]</a> Addis Fortune, <em>Playing Politics with drought, dangerous</em>, November 9, 2015.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref17">[17]</a> IRIN, <em>Ready or not - drought tests Ethiopia?</em>, 27 November 2015.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref18">[18]</a> Walta, <em><a href="http://www.waltainfo.com/index.php?option=com_content&amp;view=article&amp;id=21938:partners-pledge-to-scale-up-contribution-to-address-drought-effects&amp;catid=71:editors-pick&amp;Itemid=396">Partners pledge to scale up contribution to address drought effects</a></em>, December 11, 2015.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref19">[19]</a> OCHA statement, October 10, 2015, Addis Ababa.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref20">[20]</a> Addis Standard, <em>Ethiopia should depoliticise hunger</em>, October 13, 2015. <span></span></p> <p><a href="#_ftnref21">[21]</a> As a VOA radio programme in Amharic seems to confirm.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref22">[22]</a> IRIN idem.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref23">[23]</a> World Bank, <em>Ethiopia’s Great Run&nbsp;: the Growth Acceleration and How to Pace </em><em>It</em>, November 24, 2015.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref24">[24]</a> National Planning Commission, <em>The Second Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP II) (2015/16-2019/20) (Draft)</em>, September 2015.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref25">[25]</a> Idem.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref26">[26]</a> Idem.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/yordanos-abebe/ethiopia%E2%80%99s-alleged-terrorists-vocal-bloggers-and-independent-journalists"> Ethiopia’s alleged terrorists: vocal bloggers and independent journalists </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ren%C3%A9-lefort/ethiopia-leadership-in-disarray">Ethiopia : a leadership in disarray</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ren%C3%A9-lefort/ethiopia-after-its-electoral-drama-second-%E2%80%9Crenewal%E2%80%9D-imminent">Ethiopia after its electoral drama: second “renewal” imminent ?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Ethiopia </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Economics </div> <div class="field-item even"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Ethiopia Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Economics Equality International politics René Lefort Fri, 18 Dec 2015 16:03:21 +0000 René Lefort 98692 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Ethiopia after its electoral drama: second “renewal” imminent ? https://www.opendemocracy.net/ren%C3%A9-lefort/ethiopia-after-its-electoral-drama-second-%E2%80%9Crenewal%E2%80%9D-imminent <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The history of this country is one of eternal recurrence. The ‘national question” re-emerges where it has always been, with varying degrees of visibility: at the heart of Ethiopian political life.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/6927933(1).jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/6927933(1).jpg" alt="Ethiopia's TPLF ruling party celebrates 40th anniversary." title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ethiopia's TPLF ruling party celebrates 40th anniversary, February, 2015. Demotix/ Gwendolyn Meyer. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The so called “<em>dominante party</em>” steamroller has flattened everything in its way. The opposition held one seat in the outgoing parliament. It will not hold a single one in the parliament elected on May 24, 2015. And of the 1,987 seats in the regional parliaments, <a href="http://hornaffairs.com/en/2015/06/22/ethiopia-ruling-party-allies-win-all-seats-and-91-of-the-votes-cast/">only three</a> will have escaped the ruling party. In the light of these figures, the multi-party state that the regime claims to have established remains a distant mirage.</p> <p>The first factor in this sweeping triumph is the first-past-the-post electoral system. Under a proportional system, with 9% of the votes, the opposition could have counted on some fifty MPs.</p> <p>Vigorous economic growth also played a hefty role. Even if the official figures are exaggerated, annual growth has probably been running at around 6% to 7% for the last decade. The infrastructure boom is astonishing, as is the proliferation of schools and health centres, the widening of access to drinking water and, more generally, a net reduction in the percentage of people in poverty, although the number of those below the national poverty line remains stable, currently at around <a href="hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/nhdr2015-ethiopia-en.pdf">one quarter</a> of the population.</p> <p>Now with more than 7 million members, one in five Ethiopians aged between 20 and 65 is a member of the EPRDF. The so-called “<em>one to five”</em> system was created to build a “<em>development army”</em>. The idea is that each “<em>model farmer</em>” – obviously a party member – should bring five peasant neighbours in his wake.&nbsp; However, this “<em>army</em>” has also become a multi-tentacled tool to enlist and to control the whole population. </p> <p>Finally, the opposition is virtually non-existent. The National Electoral Board, making sovereign decisions based on murky criteria, <em>inter alia, </em>about the eligibility of candidates, contributed to this, and even more so an increasingly constricted political sphere. However, the opposition is also a victim of its own divisions and the inconsistency of its programmes. This weakness arises, amongst other things, from the extreme difficulty of building a political force with the goal of acceding to power not through the gun but through the ballot box, when there is no evidence that the ruling power would accept the result, and in a country where power has historically always been acquired by force.</p> <p>In consequence, these elections were – as expected – no more than a ritual performance and, as such, failed to play one of their essential roles: to bring to the fore during the campaign – explicitly and clearly – problems that have been becoming ever more acute, in particular since the death of the omnipotent Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in 2012. </p> <p>In the absence of a real opposition and a vigorous civil society, they can only be tackled within the <em>de facto</em> single party, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). The question is, does it want to and is it able to tackle them? Time presses. Each of the party’s four components – Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), Amhara National Democratic Mouvement (ANDM), Oromo People’s Democratic Organisation (OPDO), Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement (SPDM) – will be holding their congresses in August, the EPRDF as a whole in September.</p> <p>Sebhat Nega, patriarch of the TPLF since its foundation, no longer holds any official position within the Front. In reality, he continues to play a decisive role, along with a handful of former senior figures from the “old guard”. In spring of last year, after a trial of strength with the Front’s current leadership, which has changed since 2010, following a rejuvenation campaign decided by and begun under Meles Zenawi, this group was the first to sound the alarm after visiting Tigray to hear what the people had to say. With a frankness that he is one of the few to allow himself to express, he delivers his assessment: “<em>the people is not satisfied, it has a lot of grievances</em>.”<a href="#_ftn1">[1]</a> Sebhat begins by identifying three: “<em>corruption, bad governance and lack of accountability.”</em> These may be the headline criticisms, but the censure goes much further.</p> <h2><strong>The developmental state</strong></h2> <p>Petty corruption has become systemic. It is standard practice amongst local authorities and officials – almost all party members – and arouses powerful resentments. Inflation also weighs heavily, quantitatively affecting farmers more than the urban populations, since more than half of the former are net purchasers of food, unable to produce enough for their needs. “<em>Inflation is worse than prison</em>”, is a common refrain. True, it has fallen, but prices have nonetheless doubled over the last four years. In any case, it is probably not the countryside that is likely to be the arena for inflation-fuelled “food riots”, given the ascendancy of the new class of “rich” peasants, many of whom are now supporting the regime. </p> <p>In the cities, on the other hand, the possibility of such riots is one of the regime’s obsessive fears, especially with the explosion in youth unemployment, even amongst recent graduates. Recently, it has taken on a particularly tragic form: the clandestine migration of tens of thousands of boat people via the Mediterranean, but also – with much less media coverage – via the Red Sea to the Arabian Peninsula. </p> <p>This exodus raises a crucial question: nobody in the leading circles disputes that the “<em>developmental state</em>” should remain in charge of key sectors and rigorous economic planning. However, funding is becoming more and more problematic. Loan repayments, in particular to private banks, will soon start to become a burden. The deficit in the trade and services balance accounts for almost a fifth of GDP, external debt – though still moderate – has risen to almost half of GDP. The estimates for future growth are <a href="http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/weo/2015/01/.">expected to diminish</a>.<a href="#_ftn2">[2]</a> </p> <p>The early outlines of the next five-year Growth and Transformation Plan suggest a more “liberal” economic strategy. The idea is that the private sector, largely from abroad, will set up “sweatshops”, bringing local investors in its wake and thereby absorbing mass unemployment. However, this assumes that foreign capital will flood in,<a href="#_ftn3">[3]</a> and even more that local capital will follow: this is the only way to generate a dense network of small and medium-sized enterprises, the main potential source of jobs. </p> <p>However, domestic capital continues to neglect industry in favour of services, where risks are lower and profits higher. The real challenge, therefore, is to find a good balance between continuing necessary public intervention and increasing the entrepreneurial autonomy essential to a market economy. This is a vital issue for the ruling party: the main credit to the regime is coming from the high levels of growth. “<em>As long as the state will deliver, its legitimacy will be kept</em>”, is the refrain that emanates from the business community and experts in international institutions.</p> <h2><strong>Ethiopia stuck </strong></h2> <p>In a 180° turnaround from its previous laudatory positions, <em>The Economist</em> concluded a highly critical article as follows:<a href="#_ftn4">[4]</a> “<em>Endless red tape and restrictions on finance deter investors… Only further reforms can sustain the goals of economic growth and political stability… (</em>But<em>) Ethiopia is stuck</em>.” </p> <p>Reform versus deadlock: that is the heart of the economic problem. First in the dock is the EPRDF. It has turned the entire state and its components into a satellite. Front and state have merged. Civil servants who are not party members are few and far between. As a result, the agenda of the Front and its hierarchy takes precedence over that of the state, party obedience hinders the free exercise of professional competence. The complaints about this issue are constant. Yet the smarter public management required by a more advanced economy demands that administrative managers should have freedom in their analyses and proposals. In the private sector, the obligation to meet the growing demands of the party, which include “voluntary contributions” and <em>baksheesh</em>, are less and less tolerated. While the multinationals have access to the topmost political echelons, small entrepreneurs are in the hands of small-time local operators. Finally, there is the weight of history: centuries of authoritarianism, an implacable sense of hierarchy, a ruling power that has always been the fulcrum of the economy, government membership or high connections that have always offered the opportunity for lucrative rewards. In short, the legacy of a “<em>mediaeval culture</em>”, as the historian Haggai Erlich calls it.</p> <p>Reform is on the TPLF agenda, but with no direct priority in the economic sphere. “<em>There is a gap between the demand of the people and the supply brought by the Party, the government, and all of their services</em>”, asserts Sebhat Nega. Indeed, “<em>the Front is staggering… Its political soul is not lost, but it is at least too weak”</em>. “<em>Massification” –</em> the transition in party membership from 400,000 to 7 million in ten years – has taken place<span> </span>in the absence of “<em>a very disciplinary political education</em>”, as was the rule during the armed struggle: it has thrown open the doors to “<em>power mongers and rent seekers</em>”, the expression used for those who take venal advantage of their position. </p> <p>The TPLF has become a “<em>machinery which has lost its capacity of producing people who are qualified, competent and committed to the cause of the people</em>”. And this machinery is also – at least partially – pursuing its own course: “<em>it is</em> <em>not deeply organized so it doesn’t fully control its people, it isn’t strictly followed.”</em> Consequence: “<em>the Front must be revived and purified</em>.” It needs to be repoliticised in order to recapture the militant purity of the glorious era of armed struggle. Sebhat Nega calls for a second campaign of “<em>renewal</em>” (“<em>Tehadso</em>”), lasting “<em>three or four years”</em>. According to him, the first “<em>renewal</em>” focused on the political line after the 2001 TPLF’s internal crisis, with the elimination of key figures from its leadership, followed by the purge of thousands of mid-level cadres. The second would concern only people and organization. To make an ecclesiastical parallel: the dogma is irreproachable, the rules impeccable, but there are too many lost sheep…</p> <p>The first goal is for the Front once again “<em>to</em> <em>internalize the problems, their causes and the issues</em>”. So everyone must be “<em>free to speak his mind without any fear”</em> at all levels, not only internal but also external: “<em>zero defence between the party and the people.”</em> This freedom must also apply in the famous sessions of <em>gimgema</em> (criticism and self-criticism), one of the Front’s political and functional keystones. They have drifted, and need to recapture their original purity, which includes opening them up without fear or taboo to the people, before whom local officials will need to account for their actions. </p> <p>But nobody, even the Front’s most “reformist” members, is calling for this process of democratisation to challenge the party’s “democratic centralism”. Open debate about everything, fine, but the decision-making process must remain the prerogative of the leadership, which can then draw on all the discussion in reaching its conclusions.</p> <h2><strong>Meles Zenawi’s legacy</strong></h2> <p>Should this democratisation be extended – even timidly – to civil society? For Sebhat, the Front needs first to be successfully updated in order to deprive the present “<em>destructive opposition” </em>– as it is commonly called - of its critiques when they are justified, and thereby make room for the emergence of a “<em>loyal opposition</em>”. However, others go further. If they are not given some elbow room, opponents will only be tempted by armed extremism, religious or ethnic, or seek to encourage popular uprisings, thereby compromising the country’s long-term stability. An external stimulus is needed to prevent the EPRDF stagnating again. <a href="#_ftn5">[5]</a> &nbsp;</p> <p>The second objective is to purge the Front of its “<em>rent seekers”</em> and “<em>power mongers</em>”, at all levels. “<em>The party machinery has to be rebuilt”</em>, explains Sebhat Nega, “<em>but through a political process, not an administrative one.”</em> To achieve this, he simply points to the upcoming congresses, where the “<em>agendas&nbsp;should circulate at the grassroots level”</em>. Then the central committee and finally the executive council will need to “<em>assign people with clear duties</em>” and impose “<em>responsibility and accountability, at all levels, from the bottom to the top</em>”. But young and devoted members of the Front are more explicit: the purge must include members of the current leadership. Their view is that these leaders have completely failed, that their eradication is a necessary condition if the Front is to recover its popularity. </p> <p>Few, however, are bold enough to break a near taboo: questioning the dark side of Meles Zenawi’s legacy. It is after the 2001 crisis that the Front gradually mutated into a “<em>machinery”</em>. Meles held it in an iron grip. Meles and Meles alone devised and relentlessly imposed what became the country’s intellectual orthodoxy, preventing the emergence of any independent thinking. He transformed the Front into a multi-tentacled channel for the communication of orders from above – penetrating the remotest hamlet – and into an organ of control of the population. Some of his most ardent admirers go so far as to concede that he appointed too many “yes-men” to key positions. In return for blind discipline and total commitment, its members progressively came to see the party as an escalator to greater powers and material benefits, by legal but increasingly by illegal means. After its designer, builder and principal – if not sole – beneficiary died, without a leader of his stature emerging, this decapitated, depoliticised and devitalised pyramid lacks the indispensable internal strength to play its role as the near-single party. </p> <p>In consequence, hidden failings of this system have come to light. The most striking is the dislocation of the leadership. Since the TPLF, the pillar of the EPRDF and by far the most robust and legitimate of the EPRDF’s components, is “<em>staggering”</em>, a chain reaction has begun. In the other components, where again the real “bosses” are not always – indeed rarely – those who hold the highest positions. In the government, despite its facade of unity. In the army and security services, which run their show pretty much as they like. At national level, where centrifugal forces are increasingly evident. And above all between the four components of the EPRDF, whose cohesion is cracking.</p> <p>When questioned about this, Sebhat Nega responds soothingly. He can’t ignore the fact that if the TPLF “<em>staggers</em>”, the whole EPRDF edifice inevitably totters. But he refrains from giving an opinion on the state of the ANDM and OPDO. However, he denies a thrust from the “<em>chauvinists”</em> in the ANDM – a code word for “vengeful” Amharas accused of having never truly accepted the loss of their supremacy – and the “<em>narrow nationalists</em>” in the OPDO – another coded term stigmatising Oromos who want much more autonomy for Oromya. He emphasises the work done by these two parties to counter these tendencies, in particular through their general mobilisation for several weeks last autumn. </p> <h2><strong>The ‘Tigrean perspective’</strong></h2> <p>Sometimes saying out loud what is whispered within the TPLF behind locked and bolted doors, <em>Tigray On Line</em>, run by members of the Tigrean diaspora, who are strong supporters of the Front, is one of the few foreign-based websites on Ethiopian politics that is accessible in Ethiopia itself. One of its<a href="//www.tigraionline.com/articles/tigraian-silence-not.html"> most recent postings </a>opens with an entirely typical reading of what Tigrean intellectuals call “<em>the Tigrean perspective</em>” on history. Briefly put, this perspective is that, from the reign of Menelik (1889-1913) onwards, Tigray was deliberately divided, weakened, marginalised, in a word disempowered and impoverished, to perpetuate what they call <em>“the domination and oppression of the Amhara/Shoan ruling class”</em>.</p> <p>However, the article goes on to acknowledge the current primacy of the Tigreans, a primacy fiercely denied by the authorities. The regime “<em>is being accused of having</em> <em>an army with mostly Tigrean generals, a bureaucracy dominated by Tigreans, topmost political positions occupied by Tigreans, and the economy “suffocated” by Tigrean investment”</em>. But since the vanquishers of the Derg military junta were essentially a Tigrean force, “<em>historical processes may by themselves create the situation which may be hard to avoid. This imbalance requires time and patience and a slow and steady political process to correct.”</em> But is this imbalance diminishing, increasing or remaining static? </p> <p>Opinions, whether they reflect reality or not, greatly differ in this regard. Nonetheless, according to this view, Tigreans everywhere, in every sector, are and remain victims of nothing less than a “<em>war of hate”</em>. They are “<em>harassed”</em> and “<em>they have in fact become the most marginalised</em>… <em>as they have always been”</em>.&nbsp;Worse still: this hatred comes <em>“even many times from the non-Tigrean members and sympathizers of the EPRDF”</em>.&nbsp;In summary, writes another commentator from the same website, “<em>the fight all in the Ethiopian politics… is between those who fabricate lies to bring the old system and stay on top of the majority of Ethiopians”</em> – in other words: the “<em>chauvinists”</em> or more broadly the Amhara – <em>“and those who want to build a just and equitable society”</em>. In clear terms, <a href="http://www.tigraionline.com/articles/tplf-ethiodawn-1990.html">this quote asserts</a> that Ethiopian politics continue to be dominated by the age-old conflict between Amhara and Tigreans. </p> <p>For its part, the ANDM, or at least its mid-level cadres, often express a symmetrical resentment. They are no longer ready to tolerate bearing their Amhara identity like a cross, in other words being pilloried because they are descendants of the ethnic group whose leaders dominated Ethiopia for a century. They frequently employ the same language as used by the Tigrean militants during their armed struggle, claiming to have become “<em>second class citizens”</em>. Many are bitter towards their leadership, in which the overrepresentation of natives of North Wollo, on the periphery of the Amhara region, is a further source of diminished legitimacy. They accuse it of selling out the rights and interests of their nation.</p> <p>In OPDO, the charges are equally harsh. They essentially revolve around the central authority’s annexation – real or imagined – of whole chunks of Oromya. This is a reference to the Addis Ababa Masterplan, perceived as having been launched as a <em>fait accompli</em>, under which the capital will extend into Oromya territory. The central authorities will also play a major role in the future “<em>industrial parks”</em>, numerous in this region. In the background hovers the trauma of the conquest of much of Oromya by Menelik’s armies. Here again, the leadership of the OPDO is accused of lacking determination.</p> <p>The regime constantly proclaims that its most striking success, perhaps even greater than the economic successes, is to have established harmonious relations between the different “<em>nations, nationalities and peoples</em>” of Ethiopia, through the introduction of federalism. These relations are being severely tested. A cohesion enforced by Meles’ ascendancy is giving way to divisions brought about by the advancement of regional powers and interests, one of the primary drivers of which is a polarisation based on identity – ethno-nationalism – which can reach irrational dimensions. What is really at stake is the EPRDF’s capacity to construct a federalism that is genuinely accepted by its four components, to broker agreement on a division of powers and resources which would be perceived as equitable. The history of this country is decidedly one of eternal recurrence. The “national question” re-emerges where it has always been, with varying degrees of visibility: at the heart of Ethiopian political life. </p> <h2><strong>The national question recurs</strong></h2> <p>This is the backdrop to the project for a second “<em>renewal</em>”. It cannot be ruled out that the purpose of the reform sought by part of the TPLF is also to strengthen its hand as much as possible in preparation for this federal shakeup. A TPLF with a “<em>strong organization”</em> and “<em>high political maturity”</em> – Tigrean activists acknowledge – is the ultimate guarantee of the survival of the federal system, i.e. of the survival of the Tigrean minority’s equal rights in relation to the other, more populous nations. </p> <p>Amharas and Oromos respectively represent 27% and 35% of the population, together around 62%, as compared with 6% for Tigreans. But the federal system, at least as perceived by the TPLF, is based on the rule: one nation, one vote, whatever the size of population. Moreover, the ANDM and OPDO approach this restructuring with a serious handicap. Never, since their creation under the aegis of the TPLF in the late 1980s, have they been able to claim to be genuinely representative of their nations, whether because they lacked the capacity to do so or were prevented. Their current share of real power – political, economic, military and security-related – is limited. Finally, the OPDO is riddled with profiteer networks whose power and secrecy undermine its formal political order.</p> <p>And then, will they want – and be able – to engage in this second “<em>renewal</em>”? The names that come up most often as potential leaders of such a movement are those of the TPLF’s “old guard”; Arkebe Oqubay, also a member of the Front, adviser to the Prime Minister, very active in opening up Ethiopia to foreign capital; Redwan Hussein, number three in the Southern Movement, Minister at the Government Communication Affairs Office; and of course Haile Mariam Dessalegn, who is purported to be a committed reformist. As a southerner, his constituency is the weakest of the four. However, the tensions between the three others make him – prime minister by default though he may be – paradoxically strong. He could play a major role as go-between.</p> <p>Is it an accident that none of the leaders of ANDM and OPDO is mentioned? Do they believe themselves sufficiently strong to launch their parties into a root and branch reform process while maintaining control, in other words to lift the lid off the pot without getting burnt by the steam?&nbsp; Otherwise, what <em>modus vivendi</em> might develop within the EPRDF between a TPLF in genuine mutation, and an ANDM and OPDO clinging to the status quo?</p> <p>Then there is the position of the army and the security services. To find out where they stand would mean piercing the enigma at the heart of an already enigmatic universe. The most plausible hypothesis is that they would favour this reform agenda. Amongst the few certainties in this sphere: army chief Samora Yunus refused to intervene in Meles Zenawi’s succession process, and Getachew Assefa, head of the security services, has proved that he is ready to take a stand against corruption. </p> <p>As is often the case, these institutions have a ringside seat from which to spot the cracks. There is no doubt that if the regime were to falter, they would step forward. However, it appears that they would only wish to act as a last resort. They would seem to feel that they have enough to do, with – amongst other factors – the threat of Islamism, the interventions in Somalia and South Sudan, the cold war with Eritrea, to welcome the establishment of a power sufficiently coherent and robust to tackle political issues initially by political means.</p> <p>Amidst all these “<em>machineries</em>”, will the “<em>reformers</em>” be able to muster the critical mass needed to succeed, against the combined forces of those with entrenched advantages to defend, whether political, economic or administrative – though the three generally go together? The hard-core of “reformers” consists of an alliance between TPLF founders and an ardent “new guard”. The latter look to the “old guard” to lead this reform successfully. It is the only group it trusts. It is resolved to support it with all its strength. But will it find sufficient backing amongst the mass of mid-level cadres?? This hard-core is calling for a return to disinterested activism, for the renunciation of personal advantage, in return for the moral satisfaction of “<em>serving the people</em>”. Will this be persuasive? </p> <h2><strong>The new middle class</strong></h2> <p>The attitude of a group that has become a key player in Ethiopia’s political game could be decisive: the new middle class. It is everywhere on the rise. In the countryside, it is represented by the peasant elite, the “<em>model farmers</em>”, the local officials, the big shopkeepers. In town, this class is first of all represented in the administration, but it is also present in public and semipublic companies, and in the service segment, in particular the private sector. Yet its attitude to the EPRDF is ambivalent, even schizophrenic. </p> <p>On the one hand, it knows that it is indebted to the party. First for peace and security, at a time when the memory of the two bloody decades (1970-1990) remains traumatic. Then, for a strong economic environment. It knows that its membership of the Front – to which the vast majority of the new middle class belongs, voluntarily or by necessity – brings it benefits in recruitment, in promotion, in support, even in hard cash. It wants to maintain those advantages, and with them the general order that underpins them. However, there is another side to the coin. Public service salaries remain meagre, and are further curtailed by taxes and “voluntary contributions”. This new group is the first to perceive that discontent with the regime is steadily rising, as is the thirst for change that goes with it, and that – unless it is stemmed – it could lead to the worst. However, at least at this stage, the most common middle-class demand is not primarily for the exercise of democratic rights, starting with freedom of opinion and expression. Rather, its slogan could be: let us do our work, let us go about our business! It fluctuates between satisfaction and frustration, the desire for and fear of change. </p> <p>All these unknowns, at least as much as the rise in popular discontent, contribute to the vague but palpable disquiet in the ranks of the EPRDF. There is a general sense of having embarked upon a period of high tension whose outcome remains uncertain. The alternative presented by the “reformers” is between movement and inaction, in other words a weak consensus in the upcoming congresses and the symbolic roll of a few heads, and with it an inevitable escalation of the difficulties until a breaking point is reached. “<em>The survival of the TPLF is at stake”</em>,<em> </em>some Tigreans go so far as to say. If this is true of the Front, it is even more so for the ANDM and OPDO. Sebhat Nega is not prepared to go so far: “<em>The party is weakened, but still alive”</em>, he asserts. And when asked for his prognosis, he sinks into his armchair in a long drawn-out silence, takes a slow drag of his nth cigarette of the day and, with eyes half-closed and a discreet smile on his lips, answers: “<em>I am optimistic”</em>.</p> <hr size="1" /> <p><a href="#_ftnref1">[1]</a> Interview, 8 June 2015, Addis Ababa.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref2">[2]</a> 8,6% in 2015, 8.5% in 2016, compared with 10,3% last year <em></em></p> <p><a href="#_ftnref3">[3]</a> Foreign Direct Investment reached a billion US dollars in 2014, and should rise to 1.5 billion in 2015, making Ethiopia the eighth biggest recipient in Africa in 2014 (<em>Capital</em>, 07/06/15). However, it receives less than 1% of Africa’s FDI, while accounting for 8% of its population.</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref4">[4]</a> <em>The Economist</em>, 11 February 2014. See also the reaction in the blog http://hornaffairs.com/en/2015/06/09/why-the-economist-wants-to-meddle-in-ethiopian-domestic-politics/</p> <p><a href="#_ftnref5">[5]</a> “<em>In the long run, the waning influence of the opposition will lead not only to apathy but their frustrated supporters may resort to other [illegal] means of struggle… In the absence of a competent rival, the reigning party may become complacent and insensitive</em>” (<em>The Ethiopian Herald</em>, the «&nbsp;official&nbsp;» English speaking daily newspaper, 26/06/2015).</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ren%C3%A9-lefort/ethiopia-leadership-in-disarray">Ethiopia : a leadership in disarray</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/opensecurity/ren%C3%A9-lefort/ethiopia-meles-rules-from-beyond-grave-but-for-how-long">Ethiopia: Meles rules from beyond the grave, but for how long?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Ethiopia </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Economics </div> <div class="field-item even"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Ethiopia Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Economics Equality International politics René Lefort Tue, 07 Jul 2015 07:03:36 +0000 René Lefort 94158 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Ethiopia : a leadership in disarray https://www.opendemocracy.net/ren%C3%A9-lefort/ethiopia-leadership-in-disarray <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>It may be that, in Ethiopia, history is so powerful that the past permeates the present, and it repeats itself. In this case, what we see today is simply another interregnum between two powerful men.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/537772/248956.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/537772/248956.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="339" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Demotix/Nuno Lobito. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“<em>Can you tell me who is in charge in the government?”</em>, asks Tamrat Gebregiorgis, publisher of the reference weekly&nbsp;<em>Addis</em>&nbsp;<em>Fortune</em>, at the latest of the regular press conferences held by Prime Minister Hailmariam Dessalegn. He replies by first underlining the efforts being made to remedy a few small defects like corruption, then rounds off with a joke: the answer is probably in your “<em>gossip columns</em>”.&nbsp;</p><p>The effrontery of the question was staggering. It would have been inconceivable during the reign of previous Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who died in August 2012. It would also have been groundless: he held sole sway at the summit of the Party/State pyramid. On the tier below, the key figures of the TPLF (Tigrean People’s Liberation Front) were in command, including the immense public and semi-public sector of the “modern” economy. The other three components of the&nbsp;<em>de facto</em>&nbsp;single party, the EPRDF (Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front), were largely satellites of the Front. Finally, with its six million members, the tentacles of the EPRDF extended right down to the basic five-person household unit.</p><p>While the colossal body of the pyramid is more or less intact and still performs its main functions, its single apex has exploded into multiple centres of power, of unequal weight, none of which has achieved critical mass. While it would be an overstatement to speak of paralysis, the party’s pinnacle is at least “<em>in a disarray</em>”<a name="_ednref1"></a><a href="#_edn1">[1]</a>. Or rather the country is in the grip of a threefold transition.&nbsp;&nbsp;The first, unexpected unforeseen transition, is Meles’ succession. Meles decided and launched the second: the “veterans” passing the reins to the next generation. The third will be inescapable: the state economy is no longer adequate for driving growth; the private sector needs the scope to take up the slack.&nbsp;</p><h2>Leadership</h2><p>The first transition is manifest in Ethiopia’s “collective leadership”. Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn’s legitimacy is largely indirect – due to his selection as number two by Meles – since his personal legitimacy is deeply flawed. He hails from Woleyta, one of the southern marches of the old Abyssinian empire, peopled by those formerly called “<em>barria</em>”, a term which means both Black and slave, and his political base is here, and therefore narrow. He is not a Copt, like all his predecessors, but belongs to a small offshoot of Pentecostalism considered heretical even by other Pentecostals.<a name="_ednref2"></a><a href="#_edn2">[2]</a> Aware of these handicaps, Hailemariam, “<em>a frontman without teeth"</em><a name="_ednref3"></a><a href="#_edn3">[3]</a>, restricts himself to seeking consensus.</p><p>By contrast with Meles’&nbsp;<em>ukases</em>, there has been a return to collective decision-making, one of the main markers of the TPLF in its heroic era. The debates can be heated, their echoes sometimes overflowing even into the public sphere. They begin in the top echelons of the EPRDF’s four parties, and are then taken up in one of the multiple committees that Hailemariam has formed around him. In the absence of consensus, decisions are postponed indefinitely<em>.</em>&nbsp;If consensus is reached, it is supposed to apply to everyone, in accordance with the immutable principle of “democratic centralism” and the society’s legendary sense of hierarchy. However, depending on the degree of adherence, decisions may either be implemented right down to the smallest administrative echelon, be partially implemented, or sink without trace beneath the weight of specific antagonisms.</p><p>This decision-making process, inevitably lengthy, often messy or incomplete, must also remain within strict boundaries: the so-called “<em>Meles legacy</em>”. As the single common referent, it is the cement that holds this collective leadership together. However, while it has enabled it to remain – relatively – functional, it has also frozen it: no one quits the roadmap designed by Meles, despite the generated need for movement brought about by fast-changing conditions.</p><p>In addition, in traditional Abyssinian culture, a decision must be long-considered. Having always acted in accordance with their position on a particular rung of the ladder of power, most of the leaders find themselves floundering in a horizontal decision-making process. They have to learn efficiently how to make a collective leadership work. Last but not least, no one wants to put their head above the parapet. None of the leaders feels strong enough to veer off the roadmap for fear of all the others joining forces to put him out of the game. Finally, while the power struggle has not yet been overtly launched, everyone is jostling for position, either as a player contender or as a member of the winner’s camp. The state is like a ship that has lost its captain, with no one in the crew able or willing yet to take his place, which continues to advance but with an increasingly stuttering engine, and along an unchanging course. This cannot last.</p><p>This multipolarity at the top leads to contradictory behaviours. On the one hand, key actors can obtain a&nbsp;degree of autonomy,&nbsp; if not more. An embryonic pluralism is emerging. This is particularly true of local executives in the federal system’s eleven entities, who have achieved genuine elbow room; of certain MPs in the&nbsp;<em>quasi de facto</em>&nbsp;single party (the Parliament has one opposition member amongst its 547 members) who go so far as to lambast key members of the government<a name="_ednref4"></a><a href="#_edn4">[4]</a>; of certain ministers, journalists, and even of the opposition who, for the first time in nine years, has sometimes obtained the right to demonstrate. Finally, never before has the rate of infrastructure development been so high, even at a local level, as if the authorities were trying to outbid Meles: to prove that they can achieve even more than under his rule.</p><p>At the same time, however, the regime continues to tighten its grip, as if to belie any hesitancy at the top. Leaders and activists in the opposition movements are regularly imprisoned. Three journalists and six bloggers were arrested a few days before John Kerry’s recent visit, then accused of links with “<em>terrorist</em>” organisations<a name="_ednref5"></a><a href="#_edn5">[5]</a>. The six were very marginal in the blogosphere and had been inactive for months. Above all, the crushing of the demonstrations by Oromo students, often joined by a section of the population, has demonstrated that brute force remains a common tool of government. It was the harshest crackdown since the contested elections of 2005.<a name="_ednref6"></a><a href="#_edn6">[6]</a> The protesters were initially demanding the withdrawal of the “Master Plan” for Addis Ababa – one of the Federation’s eleven entities – which would expand the city twentyfold, encroaching on Oromya territory.<a name="_ednref7"></a><a href="#_edn7">[7]</a></p><p>Their claims subsequently grew to encompass the permanent grievances of the majority of Oromos. Demonstrations turned into riots. The police opened fire and instituted a manhunt, killing dozens and wounding hundreds.<a name="_ednref8"></a><a href="#_edn8">[8]</a> In both cases, the possibility that the security services were acting autonomously is very credible. Finally, controls over the basic administrative unit, the municipality (<em>kebele</em>), have been further ratcheted up. At least in the Tigray and Amhara regions, a member of the executive cabinet of the next level up – the district (<em>woreda</em>) – is now permanently assigned to the&nbsp;<em>kebele</em>&nbsp;to monitor and report on the activities of local authorities. He is now the “boss” of the&nbsp;<em>kebele</em>.&nbsp;</p><p>These contradictions also suggest, according to one observer, that the government continues to oscillate between arrogance and panic.<a name="_ednref9"></a><a href="#_edn9">[9]</a> The pursuit of large and impressive infrastructure projects, including the&nbsp;<em>Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam</em>, set to be Africa’s biggest dam; the mounting investment – 5 billion dollars, around 12% of GDP – in the sugar industry; the development of Chinese, Indian and Turkish investment, especially in clothing; the existence of strong – though declining – growth; Ethiopia’s depiction by the international media as the future “<em>African Lion</em>”<a name="_ednref10"></a><a href="#_edn10">[10]</a>; the central role that the international community ascribes to Addis Ababa in regional conflicts -&nbsp;&nbsp;these are all sources of pride to the leadership.&nbsp;</p><p>However, as the urban population complains,&nbsp;<em>“you can’t eat roads or rails, and you can’t sleep on them”</em>. By general agreement, discontent in the cities have never been so high. Inflation has slashed by at least one third the purchasing power of the most numerous salaried workers, i.e. state employees and employees of public and semipublic companies, who represent two thirds of the modern economy (excluding traditional agriculture)<a name="_ednref11"></a><a href="#_edn11">[11]</a>. Systematic day-to-day corruption has become a brutal reality.</p><p>The country is also experiencing rising ethnic tensions and a growing focus on ethnic identity. More than two thirds of the population – those below the age of 25 – have grown up in a federal system which identifies them as Oromo, Amhara… first.&nbsp; This federalism is perverted by the imbalance of power of all kinds in favour of leaders from Tigray (6% of the population). It is a groundswell with no apparent end. For example, tens of thousands of Amharas, who have settled for decades in the southern and western lowlands, in particular Beni Shangul, have been violently expelled since 2012 <a name="_ednref12"></a><a href="#_edn12">[12]</a>. The opposition speaks of&nbsp;<em>“ethnic cleansing”.&nbsp;</em>&nbsp;At least in Ambo, demonstrators have destroyed property belonging to Tigreans. Although open Muslim fever has subsided, the underlying question – the autonomy from government of organisations representing Islam – remains unchanged. When the political space is&nbsp;impermeable, the inevitable internal conflicts can only overflow into the ethnic and/or religious sphere.</p><p>Between two and two and a half million young people are coming onto the labour market each year. The massive expansion of higher education – 30 universities – accompanied by a dramatic drop in quality, has embittered many graduates deprived of professional openings. In the countryside, demographic growth is forcing young people either to leave in search of casual work in the city or, in most cases, to try to emigrate legally or illegally, primarily towards the Middle East. Young people, whether urban or rural, are the only social group that the authorities, at all levels, are unable to bring under control. They fear them. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/537772/626369.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/537772/626369.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="220" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Boy in Addis Ababa, Joshua Hergesheimer/Demotix. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><h2><strong>Veteran handover?</strong></h2><p>The second transition – the handover of the controls by the “veterans” to the next generation - is more formal than real. At the very least, “<em>the out-going are not really out, the in-coming are not really in</em>”.<a name="_ednref13"></a><a href="#_edn13">[13]</a> &nbsp;It has happened in government, at the head of the four parties and the eleven regions.&nbsp;&nbsp;However, drawing on its experience and its reputation among the militants, the old guard continues to hold the reins. Nine advisors in the Prime Minister’s office also have the rank of minister and therefore take&nbsp;<em>de facto</em>&nbsp;precedence over their equivalents in government. All belong to the “old guard”: Bereket Simon, Abay Tsehaye, Kassu Ilala and Kuma Demeksa for policy, Newaye Christos Gebreab (economy), Fassil Nahom (legal adviser), Tsegaye Berhe (security), Andras Eshete (diaspora), Arkebe Okubay (investment). Six are Tigrean speaking native of Tigray or Eritrea, Bereket Simon grew up in the Amhara region but is of Tigrean origine, Kassu Ilala is a Gurage Southerner, Kuma Demeksa is Oromo. Bereket Simon, Abay Tsehay, Tewodros Hagos, member of the politburo of the TPLF, and Hailemariam, would appear to form the leading foursome.</p><p>It is the very old guard of the TPLF that has caused the latest upheavals within the TPLF. Only scraps are known. Sebhat Nega, patriarch of the Front, gives a very watered-down version.<a name="_ednref14"></a><a href="#_edn14">[14]</a> &nbsp;He made an eleven-day tour of Tigray, organised “<em>by the Region and the Front</em>” and accompanied, it would seem, by Seyoum Mesfin and Abbay Tsehaye, two of the seven founders of the TPLF, plus Tsegaye Berhe, a former chief of Tigray. They held “<em>eight meetings with the population in the cities”&nbsp;</em>and “<em>several formal and informal meetings</em>”, including with cadres of the Front, the police, etc. The meetings apparently highlighted positive points: “<em>expansion of the areas of irrigation, natural resources conservation, peace</em>”, but also “<em>some weaknesses”</em>, such as in “<em>governance”</em>&nbsp;and “<em>certain symptoms of corruption”</em>. The Front’s cadres purportedly reached “<em>more or less”</em>&nbsp;the same assessments.</p><p>In fact, the rift became overt at one of the last high-level meetings, probably the Central Committee. A position paper drafted by the four vigourously attacked the leadership of the Front, notably highlighting the growing discontent of the population and the rise in youth unemployment. It demanded that these problems should be examined. This condemnation was rejected, at least by the Front’s regional wing led by its Chairman and the regional President, Abay Woldu, who refused to follow up on a further investigation. In the end, the “veterans” only got their way by threatening to make their paper public.</p><p>Tigreans are famed for their outspokenness, and the delegation’s tour was sometimes marked by vigorous attacks. The main grievance: you have forgotten us, you are no longer interested in us, all you think about is getting rich. The four, who were also there, as an observer put it, “<em>to measure their political capital</em>”,<a name="_ednref15"></a><a href="#_edn15">[15]</a> sought to dissociate themselves from the current leadership. In vain: you are one, came the retort. Watch this space.</p><p>The TPLF has lost its supremacy within the EPRDF, the other three parties have gained autonomy, but it remains the keystone. Nonetheless, other tensions are appearing. In addition to the rift described above, there are institutionally antagonistic aims between its leaders in Tigray and in Addis: Debretsion Gebremichael and Tedros Adhanom, Minister of Foreign Affairs, a “cross-over figure” popular with the urban middle classes. The former wish to be lords in their own domain; for the latter, the route to power is further centralisation.</p><p>The ANDM (Amhara National Democratic Movement) seems the most united and disciplined group in the coalition. Demeke Mekonnen, a Muslim from Wollo, is its chairman and one of the three deputy prime ministers, but here too the veterans Bereket Simon and Addissu Leguesse have their hands on the levers. The OPDO (Oromo People’s Democratic Organisation), though supposed to represent the largest ethnic group, is riddled with corruption and divisions, including the immemorial split between the Protestants of Wollega and the Muslims of Arsi. The SPDM (Southern People’s Democratic Movement), Hailemariam’s party, continues on its merry way but without much impact.</p><p>This waning of political power is also reflected in the growing autonomy of the army and security services.<a name="_ednref16"></a><a href="#_edn16">[16]</a> &nbsp;They have become a state within the state, answerable only to themselves and linked with just a few lead figures in the TPLF.<a name="_ednref17"></a><a href="#_edn17">[17]</a> &nbsp;The army in particular has built a military-industrial empire. It is the primary subcontractor for the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam by the Italian firm Salini Costruttori. Finally, the army outweighs all other authorities in all matters in which it is involved, for example in Ogaden and Somalia.<a name="_ednref18"></a><a href="#_edn18">[18]</a> &nbsp;For the first time, politics has by and large lost control of the gun. The army seems willing to remain in the shadows, but could become the “kingmaker” if the leadership became bogged down in crisis. “<em>A stone rolls down a hill under its own momentum</em>&nbsp;<em>as long as the road remains smooth”</em>, observes a well placed source.<a name="_ednref19"></a><a href="#_edn19">[19]</a> &nbsp;But what could stop it?</p><p>Not the elections of May 2015 which, barring the unexpected, are set to be a formality, even if they panic the authorities. The society is so firmly locked down that it offers not the slightest crack through which the opposition could slip into the electoral game, especially as it is so small, so divided, so inconsistent and lacking a figure capable of leading it into battle. The EPRDF has decided to reappoint Hailemariam prime minister after the elections, which suits his putative successors entirely. They gain time to refurbish their arms by giving way to a figure whom nobody, rightly or wrongly, sees as a serious contender.</p><p>«&nbsp;<em>They are all the ingredients for a spontaneous upsurge: living conditions have become unbearable in the towns&nbsp;»</em>, says a wise observer.<a name="_ednref20"></a><a href="#_edn20">[20]</a> This would be a much bigger deal. Falling purchasing power, especially in the cities, and rising unemployment, are generating acute discontent. It could be exacerbated by the “ethnicisation” of attitudes. The opposition parties lack the ability to capitalise on and therefore channel such a trend. The new middle class does not seem ready to adopt the same driving role as in the “Arab springs”. It remains haunted by past violence and prefers to retain its modest gains rather than risk losing everything. The authorities would stop at nothing to nip this potential explosion in the bud. However, its repercussions could create strong tensions within the ruling power, and even trigger a crisis.</p><p>In the short or medium term, it is relations with Eritrea that could open up the widest breach, first within the TPLF, and then the EPRDF. Issayas Afeworki is in very poor health. Possible scenarios following his death range from the emergence of a new “failed state” in the Horn of Africa, with half a million kalashnikovs in the hands of six million inhabitants, to an army takeover.&nbsp;</p><p>Whatever happens, there would be new questions about relations with the country's northern neighbour-enemy. They remain a source of deep division within the TPLF. An “accommodationist” wing, dominated by leaders of Eritrean origin, would like to return to the coexistence that prevailed before the 1998-2000 war, with cooperation and each remaining master in its own country. A “hawkish” wing would like Ethiopia to go as far as establishing a foothold in Assab. In 2001, Meles imposed his views on a TPLF at the time more divided than ever,<a name="_ednref21"></a><a href="#_edn21">[21]</a> &nbsp;but ultimately this schism has not been resolved. Eritrea, has been the source of every great crack in Ethiopian power for more than half a century… &nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><h2>The economy</h2><p>The main obstacle to the third transition – a tangible economic shift, is that the leadership remains virtually unanimous in seeing no need for it. The chosen pathway – a&nbsp;“developmental state”, i.e. overwhelmingly public investment, combined more recently with the cooptation of big foreign firms by the local oligarchies – is seen as in need of only a little tweaking. It is still persuaded this strategy will maintain a strong growth, the essential foundation of its legitimacy. </p><p>However, international experts predict that this model will run out of steam, and that future growth rates will come into line with the average for sub-Saharan Africa.<a name="_ednref22"></a><a href="#_edn22">[22]</a> “<em>The public investment rate of Ethiopia is the third highest in the world, while the private investment rate is the sixth lowest.”</em><a name="_ednref23"></a><a href="#_edn23">[23]</a> The private sector is being “<em>crowded out”</em>, in particular by a “<em>credit crunch</em>” <a name="_ednref24"></a><a href="#_edn24">[24]</a>. The&nbsp;<a href="http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NE.RSB.GNFS.ZS">trade deficit stands</a>&nbsp;at a fifth of GDP. Most important of all, the working age population is rising by 3.5% a year, one of the highest rates in Africa. Only a structural transformation of the economy, driven by industry rather than agriculture, could absorb this influx of labour. The manufacturing sector in particular should play a key role, but it is currently capped at 4% of GDP. <a name="_ednref25"></a><a href="#_edn25">[25]</a></p><p>Yet these warnings continue to fall on deaf ears. The preliminary draft for the next five-year plan for 2016-21 is practically identical to the current plan. Obsessed by the need to exercise control over the private sector, infatuated with what might be called the “cult of the tractor” which requires development to be big and at the cutting edge of technology, the authorities continue to stifle small local private entrepreneurs, the only forces capable of creating a dense, labour-intensive network.&nbsp;</p><p>The history of the TPLF demonstrates that divergences and even divisions do not necessarily lead to crisis. It is legendary for its readiness to debate interminably until a consensus is finally carved out. Similarly, the mysterious alchemy whereby it reconciles its extreme ideological rigidity with a degree of pragmatism has often saved it from disaster, albeit at the last moment with one foot already over the precipice.</p><p>However, it faces two possible scenarios, which could in fact be combined. In one, the multipolarity of power becomes formalised – the federal system takes real shape. Each region acquires very extensive autonomy, with possibly a strongman at its head. The first gains in this regard would in any case be difficult to put into reverse. The role of Addis Ababa would be reduced to bringing their regional representatives together within balanced structures to decide exclusively on supra-regional, i.e. national, issues. </p><p>Some compare this scenario with the regime of the “<em>The era of the Princes”</em>, at the turn of the 18th-19th&nbsp;century. However, this system is only sustainable if it is balanced, in other words all “<em>nations, nationalities and peoples”</em>, and particularly their elites, feel properly represented. But, neither OPDO, nor ANDM, the essentially single parties in the two largest nations, can lay claim to such representativeness, having in particular never been accepted by these elites. The TPLF remains convinced, rightly, that the latter retain considerable influence with the population.&nbsp;</p><p>Conversely, it may be that, in Ethiopia, 'history' is so powerful that the past permeates the present, and it repeats itself. In this case, what we see today is simply another interregnum between two powerful men. The previous ones were lengthy: a decade between Menelik and Ras Makonnen, the future Haile Selassie; some two decades between Meles Zenawi’s arrival in the top circle of the TPLF and his emergence as sole number one.&nbsp;</p><p>Interregnums ripen very slowly. Time must be left to do its work. Observers expect nothing before – at best – the next congress of the parties, probably next autumn, which could bring the very first clues to the outcome of this interregnum. To paraphrase a famous verse by Victor Hugo,<a name="_ednref26"></a><a href="#_edn26">[26]</a> clever is he who discerns who could emerge as the Napoleon of tomorrow in the Bonaparte of today.&nbsp;</p> <hr size="1" /> <p><a name="_edn1"></a><a href="#_ednref1">[1]</a> Interview, 21/05/2014, Addis Ababa.</p> <p><a name="_edn2"></a><a href="#_ednref2">[2]</a> Jorg Haustein, <em>PentecoStudies</em>, 12.2 (2013), Equinox, p. 183.</p> <p><a name="_edn3"></a><a href="#_ednref3">[3]</a> Interview, 24/04/14.</p> <p><a name="_edn4"></a><a href="#_ednref4">[4]</a> This happened twice to Debretsion Gebremichael, head of telecoms and Chairman of the Board of the Electric Power Corporation, two sectors that have rarely worked so badly. But he is also, amongst other things, Vice President of the TPLF, one of the three deputy prime ministers, responsible for the economics “cluster”, and one of the senior officials of the security services. See <em>The Reporter</em>, 18/05/2013 and 08/02/2014.</p> <p><a name="_edn5"></a><a href="#_ednref5">[5]</a> <em>Bloomberg</em>, 08/05/2014.</p> <p><a name="_edn6"></a><a href="#_ednref6">[6]</a> The death count was around 200.</p> <p><a name="_edn7"></a><a href="#_ednref7">[7]</a> <em>Think Africa Press</em>, 29/04/2014.</p> <p><a name="_edn8"></a><a href="#_ednref8">[8]</a> <em>BBC</em>, 05/02/14, <em>Human Rights Watch</em>, 06/05/2014 and the account of two Peace Corps volunteers in Ambo,</p> <p><a name="_edn9"></a><a href="#_ednref9">[9]</a> Interview, 13/05/14, Addis Ababa.</p> <p><a name="_edn10"></a><a href="#_ednref10">[10]</a> <em>Ethiopia : An African Lion?</em>, BBC, 31/10/2012.</p> <p><a name="_edn11"></a><a href="#_ednref11">[11]</a> Interview with the chief economist of a large international organisation, 22/05/14, Addis Ababa.</p> <p><a name="_edn12"></a><a href="#_ednref12">[12]</a> Even the <a href="http://ethiopiaobservatory.com/2013/12/12/hrc-confirms-abuses-against-expelled-amharas-in-benishangul-gumuz/">Human Rights Council of Ethiopia,</a> a government-created body, confirmed these facts.</p> <p><a name="_edn13"></a><a href="#_ednref13">[13]</a> <em>Daniel Berhane Blog</em>, 20/02/13.</p> <p><a name="_edn14"></a><a href="#_ednref14">[14]</a> Interview, 23/05/2014, Addis Ababa.</p> <p><a name="_edn15"></a><a href="#_ednref15">[15]</a> Interview, 14/05/2014.</p> <p><a name="_edn16"></a><a href="#_ednref16">[16]</a> “<em>The post Meles era has revealed a gulf between the non TPLF politicians, like Hailemariam, and the TPLF-led security apparatus</em>”. <em>Talking Peace in the Ogaden</em>, Tobias Hagmann, Rift Valley Institute/Nairobi Forum, 2014.</p> <p><a name="_edn17"></a><a href="#_ednref17">[17]</a> There is still no way of explaining Hailemariam’s dual denial to Samora Yunus, head of the army, about the withdrawal of the army from Somalia then its noninclusion in the African force (AMISOM).</p> <p><a name="_edn18"></a><a href="#_ednref18">[18]</a> “<em>Senior military officials have… a strong influence on any future agreement</em> (with the Ogaden National Liberation Front) <em>and regional political reconfiguration</em>”, Tobias Hagmann.</p> <p><a name="_edn19"></a><a href="#_ednref19">[19]</a> Interview, 21/05/2014.</p> <p><a name="_edn20"></a><a href="#_ednref20">[20]</a> Interview, 23/05/14.</p> <p><a name="_edn21"></a><a href="#_ednref21">[21]</a> The 2001 TPLF crisis, its most serious ever, led to the expulsion of its “leftist” wing, sole power for Meles and an economic U-turn supposed to bring Ethiopia into the global market.</p> <p><a name="_edn22"></a><a href="#_ednref22">[22]</a> <em>Bloomberg</em>, 18/10/13.</p> <p><a name="_edn23"></a><a href="#_ednref23">[23]</a> Guang Zhe Chen, World Bank Country Director for Ethiopia<em>, Press Release</em>, 18/06/13.</p> <p><a name="_edn24"></a><a href="#_ednref24">[24]</a> See for example <em>IMF Country Report No.</em><em> 13/308</em>, October 2013.</p> <p><a name="_edn25"></a><a href="#_ednref25">[25]</a> <em>The</em> <em>Reporter</em>, 08/03/14.</p> <p><a name="_edn26"></a><a href="#_ednref26">[26]</a> Victor Hugo, <em>Les feuilles d’automne.</em></p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Ethiopia </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Economics </div> <div class="field-item even"> Equality </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> Ethiopia Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Economics Equality International politics René Lefort Fri, 04 Jul 2014 14:28:31 +0000 René Lefort 84229 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Ethiopia: Meles rules from beyond the grave, but for how long? https://www.opendemocracy.net/opensecurity/ren%C3%A9-lefort/ethiopia-meles-rules-from-beyond-grave-but-for-how-long <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The trade-off offered by authoritarianism to its client-constituents is security and high growth rates. After Meles challenges may force change, or build the case domestically for a new strong man.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>Meles Zenawi, the former Prime Minister of Ethiopia, has been dead for around three months. But the “Melesmania” personality cult, though discreet in his lifetime, shows no sign of fading. From giant portraits in the streets to stickers on the windscreens of almost any vehicle, a smiling Meles is still everywhere. </p> <p>The sudden death of Meles shook the whole of Ethiopia. The shock quickly gave way to fear of an unknown and threatening future.</p> <p>The regime did everything to exploit this fear for its own benefit. It has issued continuous calls for the nation to unite around the memory of the dead leader and, above all, around the project he designed and imposed with an iron hand. The new Prime Minister, Hailemariam Selassie, <a href="http://www.insideethiopia.net/,23-39-50/01-01-0001.htm">endlessly repeats</a> that he will pursue “Meles’s legacy without any change”. He has replaced not a single cabinet minister. It could be said that the regime is running on autopilot, with the Meles software driving the leadership computer. Plunged into disarray, the governing team is hanging on to this software like a lifebelt. Why?</p> <p><strong>The making of Melesmania</strong></p> <p>Until the crisis of 2001, the handful of leaders of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the dominant force in the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) in power since 1991,<a name="art1"></a><a href="#_ftn1">[1]</a> worked in a remarkably collective way.&nbsp; Within this group Meles was – and not always – the primus inter pares, surrounded by strong, clever and articulate figures united by a radical Marxism. The crisis culminated in the expulsion of most of these figures, in a massive purge and finally in a threefold power shift. </p> <p>The first shift saw Meles emerge as the unchallenged supremo, moving quickly to clip the wings of the few leaders who seemed to be acquiring a solid political base. He promoted only those whose loyalty he considered unshakeable, whose positions depended entirely on his goodwill, people like Hailemariam Dessalegn. Radiating outwards from a first circle of “advisers”, almost all Tigrayan, all the lines of real power penetrated down to the base of the State apparatus, whether federal or regional,<a name="art2"></a><a href="#_ftn2">[2]</a> &nbsp;to the Party and to whole sectors of the economy. </p> <p>Although the government reflected the country’s ethnic diversity, most ministers had authority only in name. Parliament, as it had since 1991, remained a rubberstamp chamber. No institution was able to escape this dominance and achieve autonomy. Moreover, this personal power was also intellectual. The one politically correct doctrine (“revolutionary democracy” and the “developmental state”) was devised and imposed on the country by Meles and Meles alone. This monopoly prevented the emergence of any other body of ideas and, inevitably, of any alternative line of thinking.</p> <p>The army and security services were represented within this central authority, which held sway over them. Later, although Meles Zenawi maintained a grip on the security forces, the army gradually became “bunkerized”, a sort of state within the State. Meles himself had to acknowledge the autonomy of the military command, by agreeing a kind of pact: I will grant you substantial autonomy, and in particular turn a blind eye to your wheeling and dealing; you support me, especially since if I fall, you fall with me. Hence, no doubt, the remarked upon reticence of the army during the recent period of succession, as if it felt so powerful that its fortress would remain impregnable, away from the turbulent currents within the new governing team. Hence, also, the procedure followed in announcing, on September 12, the appointment of 37 new generals – including at least 23 from Tigray – a reminder that no one, not even Hailamariam Dessalegn, can interfere in the affairs of the military.</p> <p>The third change concerned the TPLF and, concomitantly, the EPRDF. It was contradictory. On the one hand, the tentacles of the single party penetrate to every level of the administration: it has consumed the State from the inside. Its agenda takes absolute precedence. The TPLF holds the key positions in the nationalised companies and the web of “private” firms that in reality it controls, the so-called “parastatal companies”. Overall, this structure accounts for two thirds of the modern economy, excluding traditional agriculture. With its 5 million members – 300,000 in 2001 – the Party controls and directs the population as never before, right down to the smallest echelon of five or six households. On the other hand, the Party has been marginalised as a political institution and therefore left lifeless, if not brainless. The TPLF, not to mention the three other satellite parties, were reduced to mere instruments for the exercise of Meles’ personal power, an essential institution but nevertheless no more than an instrument.</p> <p>This extreme concentration of multifarious powers in the hands of Meles Zenawi is one of the darkest aspects of his legacy: his death leaves a profound and multifaceted vacuum. Conversely, however, it also opens up an exceptional opportunity for change. First, politics and power, like nature, abhor a vacuum. Second, the Meles “model” is running out of steam. It will inevitably have to be refashioned. </p> <p><strong>Challenging the regime to change</strong></p> <p>Contestation from the Muslim opposition poses the most immediate challenge, perhaps the most serious for the regime since 1991. In order to counter what it sees as the rise of radical Islam, it is <a href="http://www.ethiopianreview.com/content/42432">seeking to impose</a> a “moderate” but completely marginal Islamic doctrine and to back its affiliates within the Islamic Affairs Supreme Council. Thirty-five percent of the population is officially Muslim<a name="art3"></a><a href="#_ftn3">[3]</a> – the real figure is probably higher – along with around half of the Oromos, who also have strong aspirations to autonomy. Muslims, the vast majority of whom reject extremism of any kind, are calling – peacefully – for nothing more than the right to decide their religious affairs for themselves. The government is responding by <a href="http://www.ethioherald.com/2012/11/02/ethiopia-muslims-rally-on-fridays-as-tension-rises-ktvl/">repression</a>. The stakes are huge: protest continues; so far, the government has never been ready to lose control of a large “civil society” organisation.</p> <p>For a whole section of opinion, in particular within the diaspora, the major challenge that the regime will need to tackle and which will inevitably demand change is <a href="http://www.currentanalyst.com/index.php/security-assessment/179-meles-zenawi-and-the-ethiopian-state">“the widespread democratic aspiration of Ethiopians”</a>. But the scope and nature of this aspiration is open to question. The traditional and historical culture, which permeates the overwhelming majority of Ethiopian society, is still hierarchical and authoritarian. It is in perfect harmony with the “communist engineering” that moulded the TPLF from its inception and still shapes the ruling power. </p> <p>With very few exceptions, the demand for a “strong leader”, who guarantees “peace and security”, is a national constant. Weak leadership opens the door to power struggles, which inevitably leads to “disorder” and the suffering that arises from it. Even the emerging middle class, usually seen as the spearhead of opposition to authoritarian regimes, largely shares this view. Whatever its criticisms of the regime, it desires stability above all. It largely believes that the country is too divided to undergo profound change without the risk of tragic turmoil.</p> <p>Nevertheless, the aspiration for change is undeniable, though within certain limits. These relate first to inflation, which in September hit a peak of 40% overall, and 50% for food.<a name="art4"></a><a href="#_ftn4">[4]</a> More profoundly, in this urban middle class and in the emerging group of “kulaks” in the countryside, this aspiration centres around what might be called personal professional empowerment, in other words: “let us go about our business as we want”, without the constant intervention and intrusion of the authorities, without having to swear fealty to the Party, without arbitrariness exacerbated by erratic and opaque regulations. </p> <p>However, this change is not simply a matter of aspiration. Although the “developmental state”, in its current form, has brought remarkable progress, it has reached its limits. The first question concerns the reality of its achievements, notably the famous “double digit growth” since 2004, which the authorities constantly extol.<a name="art5"></a><a href="#_ftn5">[5]</a> In fact, this figure is the product of a vicious circle. The government sets absurdly ambitious targets. The work of every public servant is assessed against those targets. Their careers depend on it. And of course, they claim to have achieved them. Then the targets are raised again. Once again, they claim to have met them. The lie becomes institutionalised. The gap between basic national realities and the image that the authorities perceive and communicate, from summit to base, has become so great that it could be said that Ethiopia has turn out to be not so much a Potemkin village, as a Potemkin country. Sooner or later, the authorities will have to deal with the shockwave that results when the truth inevitably comes out.<a name="art6"></a><a href="#_ftn6">[6]</a></p> <p>Another shock will arise from the unsustainability of the funding of the developmental state. The government will no longer be able to invest enough to maintain growth at the same high levels as in recent years, unless it continues to print money, further fuelling inflation, or alternatively runs a continuing trade deficit, exacerbating its foreign currency crisis. But apart from stability, high growth is all the regime can offer in return for its authoritarianism. This is particularly true for the middle classes, which the regime wants as its constituency. </p> <p>This is all the more significant because in the last generation the land has reached saturation point. Smallholder agriculture (employing four fifths of the workforce) is absolutely unable to absorb the 2 to 2.5 million young people who enter the labour market every year. Only massive private investment, mainly from abroad, can take up the slack.<a name="art7"></a><a href="#_ftn7">[7]</a> However, this investment is slow to come because the Ethiopian-style developmental state distorts and inhibits normal market mechanisms too much for investors to be able to enjoy the entrepreneurial freedom they find elsewhere.<a name="art8"></a><a href="#_ftn8">[8]</a> </p> <p>Finally, the future of the Ethiopian-style developmental state is interlocked with the “national question”, whether in regard to the unresolved legacy of the conquest and submission of the borders of the Abyssinian empire at the turn of the 20th century, or to the unequal distribution of powers and assets in favour of the Tigrayans. The Ogaden National Liberation Front continues its armed struggle. The Oromo Liberation Front, although militarily a spent force, retains a large following. </p> <p>After long containment, centrifugal forces are intensifying. The Oromo and Amhara elites in particular want a fairer balance. Two recent examples give a flavour of the tensions. The Oromo party does not want the chairman that the leadership wants to impose on it, but cannot impose the chairman that it wants. This deadlock was unthinkable when it was under Meles’ orders. Regions are beginning to demand a more tangible application of the federal system, in other words the beginnings of genuine autonomy, starting with… Tigray. However, in its current form, the ultra-centralism of the interwoven developmental state and revolutionary democracy is incompatible with authentic federalism.</p> <p>To reshape either would threaten the very essence of power in Ethiopia, and its immemorial imperative: to control. This entails maintaining a constant and intrusive hold over the whole of society, with a single, ultimate and supreme goal: to retain power.</p> <p><strong>End of the "Meles line"? Four scenarios</strong></p> <p>However, the writing is on the wall. The “Meles line” will not always have an answer for everything. Forthcoming events will demand change, even the partial rejection of that line. An accumulation of tensions and conflicts, kept in check by Meles’ iron grip, will inevitably emerge. The floodgates are beginning to open. Never before, for example, has a major newspaper, whose survival depends on continuous self-censorship, dared to go so far in its criticism of the EPRDF. Beginning with a statement of fact – that the Front does not have “a popular base and support” – The Reporter then <a href="http://thereporterethiopia.com/Editorial/cleaning-up-house-critical-for-eprdf.html">calls on the party</a> “to clean up its house” because “it is riddled with corruption from top to bottom!”. A change of direction and a reshuffling of the cards seem inevitable. In my view, there are four possible ways these changes could go. </p> <p>In one scenario, the current leaders, who largely equate to the dominant oligarchy, cling to their positions and privileges. Economic, social and political tensions rise. They respond with more repression, for which all the necessary instruments are in place. However, this does seem a likely scenario. According to confidences shared with people close to them, most are convinced that Meles’ death signals the end of an era and that the status quo is untenable.</p> <p>A second possibility that cannot be completely ruled out, despite the leaden weight that bears down on society and the intense fear it arouses, is a popular, spontaneous and unforeseeable explosion, triggered by a minor incident, spreading like wildfire, fuelled by social and, in particular, ethnic tensions. The regime would spare no effort to suppress it, but <a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/ren%C3%A9-lefort/beka-enough-will-ethiopia-be-next">could ultimately be overwhelmed</a> by events.</p> <p>In the developmental state, government revenues are certainly centralised at the top, but then largely redistributed to implement a long-term development plan, although this redistribution is becoming increasingly limited as corruption rises. Meles was the final guarantor of this redistributive process. Who, what political force, what counterbalancing element could protect Ethiopia from the predatory evolution observed in so many developing countries, in particular those where a “revolutionary elite” holds all the levers of power (in black Africa, for example, Angola or Mozambique)? In this third scenario, these revenues would continue to be centralised but would remain mostly with the central oligarchy, the residue being redistributed through a structure of cronyism. Growth could continue at a sufficient level for the oligarchic regime to survive, but “development” would fall by the wayside.</p> <p>In the fourth scenario, this party/state control would be relaxed, obviously not to the point of genuine democratisation, but through some liberalisation in the economic sphere. More or less the Chinese “model”. Circumstances and events favour this scenario. Meles’ death has led to a fragmentation of power centres, which are weakly structured and cancel each other out, because none at this stage is in a position to take a lead. For example, no agreement could be reached on filling the only vacant cabinet post, that of Minister of Foreign Affairs. And for weeks no one was able to force Azeb Mesfin, wife of the late prime minister, to leave the National Palace, where she no longer had any reason to remain.</p> <p><strong>Contest at the top</strong></p> <p>The TPLF’s current leadership no longer has the intellectual capacity or sufficiently strong personalities to become what historically it was, at least in the short term: the epicentre of power, exercising full political hegemony. It has also been weakened by its many divisions. Divisions between “hardliners”, holding fast to their historic dominance, and “moderates”, for whom a relaxation is unavoidable; between Tigreans in Tigray and those outside; between generations, the “old timers” and the “fortysomethings”. The former include many who, sidelined by Meles in the name of generational change, want to get back into the game. However, they are old, and even in many cases physically enfeebled. The second group, recently promoted by Meles, and much less political than technocratic, individualistic, opportunistic and even – according to their detractors – cynical, have no intention of giving ground. </p> <p>Two major factions can also be identified: one that the major losers of 2001 want to build (including Siye Abraha and Gebru Asrat,<a name="art9"></a><a href="#_ftn9">[9]</a> who are still very popular with rank-and-file members of the Front), the other centred around its patriarch, Shebat Nega, a master schemer and long-time mentor of Meles before the latter marginalised him. </p> <p>And finally, there is the enigma Azeb Mesfin. Fiery and unpredictable, she was the main troublemaker in the succession process, the leading figure in the minority that opposed the appointment of Hailemariam Dessalegn. She holds a strong hand, including an intimate understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of all the players, close links with the security services, leadership of the TPLF’s economic conglomerate and supporters amongst cadres of the Front, those who would have the most to lose if the cards were reshuffled.</p> <p>A few other names stand out from the pack. The intelligent and highly respected Arkebe Enquay won more votes than Meles at the 2008 TPLF conference, but lost out in 2010. Debretsion Gebremichael is seen as the Front’s rising star. This young engineering graduate, a senior figure in the security services, has a reputation as a hardliner. His sudden promotion to number two in the Front is all the more significant in that the titular number one, Abay Wolde, is widely perceived as something of a cipher. And then finally, there are a pair of Amhara party bosses, Addissu Leguesse, its former chairman, and the ever-present Berket Simon, who was also very close to Meles.</p> <p>However, understanding the game being played out at the top is exceptionally difficult, and not only because of the wall of secrecy around it. A political analysis provides only a small part of the picture. Much more important now are each player’s economic positions – since most of the leaders also have their own businesses – the very close family ties within the Tigrayan elite, geographical origins, personal friendships and enmities. The web these form is virtually impossible to untangle.</p> <p>Nonetheless, three dominant poles seem to be emerging: the brainless but still tentacular TPLF, and the security services with their osmotic relations with certain leaders of the Front; the army, closely intertwined with the TPLF, though more ethnically than institutionally; and finally, the new Prime Minister. </p> <p>Hailemarian Dessalegn has taken great care to <a href="http://article.wn.com/view/2012/09/21/Ethiopias_Hailemariam_Desalegn_sworn_in_as_prime_minister/">stress his desire</a> “to work on the basis of collective leadership”. In fact, within the small fringe of public opinion that has a view on the matter, he is seen almost unanimously as a transitional prime minister, a sort of regent accountable to what might be described as a “regency committee” comprising, according to sources, four to six members, all from the old guard and all but one from Tigray. The view is that Hailemariam’s interim mandate will end once the TPLF has finally designated the real successor. For the Front’s supremacy is still perceived as irrevocable and the history of Ethiopia as immutable: “collective leaderships” are temporary and unfailingly end with the ascent of a new “strong leader”.</p> <p><strong>A renewal of the authoritarian compact?</strong></p> <p>At 47, Dessalegn has stated that he wants to remain in post at least until the 2015 selections, and even that he may seek re-election. He is said to be intelligent, open, unshakeable in his principles, possessed of great natural authority. He appears as a Meles clone in terms of policy. But no one knows if he would be able to go his own way, develop his own doctrine, be his own man. He belongs to none of the three big ethnic groups. He is a Protestant. No Ethiopian leader has ever had to overcome these two handicaps. Could Medvedev step into Putin’s shoes?</p> <p>His trump card is his twofold legitimacy. The first legitimacy he owes to Meles. Even his putative rivals, particularly within the TPLF, cannot at this stage contest this without undermining other aspects of the “great leader’s” legacy. It is doubtful that they would do so as long as Meles’ long shadow lies across the political stage. In addition, it is this legacy that continues to bind and guide the current leadership. And finally, it is this that they need to use to legitimise the maintenance of their current positions.</p> <p>The second source of legitimacy is more deep-rooted and lasting. “The ruling king is my king”, as the saying goes. The whole country is impregnated with an ancestral sense of hierarchy, of submission to established authority. The aspiration for an incontestable and uncontested leader is strong. Hailemariam Dessalegn is now simultaneously executive leader and chair of what is essentially the single party, and therefore, at least in name, also heads the TPLF, the army and the security services. In this capacity, he has his hands on virtually all the institutional levers of power. These levers are not only intrinsic; their strength is also significantly increased by this ancestral sense of hierarchy. Finally, he stands at the summit of the infrastructure of absolute power passed on intact by Meles. </p> <p>The forces facing him, for the moment at least, are disunited, scattered and disparate. There is no tangible, structured counterforce, underpinned by a strong base and possessing a strategy commensurate with the challenges. The army is in its bunker, but there is no reason why he should not find the same modus vivendi with it as Meles, especially as there is no sign of a Bonaparte waiting in the wings.</p><p> Finally, Hailemariam Dessalegn has the time to patiently forge his own position, if he has the capacity. There does not seem to be any single figure strong enough to open hostilities in the near future, or adventurous enough to take the country into the unknown. </p> <hr size="1" /> <p><a name="_ftn1"></a><a href="#art1">[1]</a> Its four components each represents a major ethnic group: Tigrayan (6% of the population), Oromo (37%), Amhara (23%) and the mosaic of Southern peoples (20%). The Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front was the spearhead and major winner of the victory over the Derg military junta in 1991.</p> <p><a name="_ftn2"></a><a href="#art2">[2]</a> Ethiopia is a federal republic.</p> <p><a name="_ftn3"></a><a href="#art3">[3]</a> Compared with 41% Orthodox Christians and 20% Protestants.</p> <p><a name="_ftn4"></a><a href="#art4">[4]</a> In a two-year period, civil servants lost around half their purchasing power. Peasants, half of whom are net buyers of food, often claim that “<em>inflation is worse than prison</em>”.</p> <p><a name="_ftn5"></a><a href="#art5">[5]</a> Although, officially, the annual growth rate has been more than 10% since 2004, in reality it has been considerably less, probably some 6% to 7%. It continues to fall. “<em>Even before the onset of the 2008 crisis, Ethiopia’s economy was already slowing down”</em> (World Bank Report N°71884-ET, August 29, 2012).</p> <p><a name="_ftn6"></a><a href="#art6">[6]</a> International organisations like the IMF, and large donor countries, have finally begun to doubt the official statistics, including those for growth rate and agricultural production. According to assessments by certain large international development institutions, official grain production is overstated by some 30%.</p> <p><a name="_ftn7"></a><a href="#art7">[7]</a> Foreign direct investment is amongst the lowest in Sub-Saharan Africa per head of population.</p> <p><a name="_ftn8"></a><a href="#art8">[8]</a> “<em>Despite some positive developments in industry and service sectors, Ethiopia has been a difficult place to do business”</em>, World Bank Report N°71884-ET, August 29, 2012.</p> <p><a name="_ftn9"></a><a href="#art9">[9]</a> Siye Abraha was one of the founders of the Front and its leading military figure. Gebru Asrat, a historic leader of the TPLF, was the president of the Tigray region at the time of his expulsion.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/awol-allo-abadir-m-ibrahim/redefining-protest-in-ethiopia-what-happens-to-terror-narrative-when-musl">Redefining protest in Ethiopia: what happens to the &#039;terror&#039; narrative when Muslims call for a secular state? </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/michael-street/ethiopia-ahead-of-curve-green-legacy-of-meles-zenawi">Ethiopia ahead of the curve: the green legacy of Meles Zenawi</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ren%C3%A9-lefort/ethiopia-after-meles">Ethiopia after Meles</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Ethiopia </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> </div> </div> openSecurity openSecurity Ethiopia Democracy and government René Lefort Security in Sub-Saharan Africa Peacebuilding Structural Insecurity Mon, 26 Nov 2012 16:10:06 +0000 René Lefort 69556 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Ethiopia after Meles https://www.opendemocracy.net/ren%C3%A9-lefort/ethiopia-after-meles <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Does the Ethiopian state rest on the shoulders of a single man? His illness and recent disappearance from the public eye give some urgency to the question says <span>René Lefort.</span></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/4584906066_11e112a28c.jpg" alt="Meles Zenawi at the World Economic Forum 2010" width="460" height="306" /></p><p class="image-caption">World Economic Forum/Flickr Creative Commons. Some rights reserved</p><p>When Meles Zenawi, the omnipotent Prime Minister of Ethiopia, last appeared in public on 19 June, he looked pale, thin and gaunt.</p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>It took the government a month to break the silence. Meles Zenawi is &ldquo;<em>recovering health-wise,</em>&rdquo; and, above all, <em>&ldquo;he's not staying out of duties as Prime Minister</em>&rdquo;.</span>[1]<span> On 1 August, a senior spokesman issued another statement about the elusive PM: &ldquo;<em>there is no change and there will be no change in the near future.&rdquo;</em></span>[2]<span> But what next? And what illness was he suffering from? Silence. Where is he? It depends whom you ask. With no sign of Meles either in person or indirectly, these statements are becoming less convincing as the days go by.&nbsp; </span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>The often outrageous, even delirious counter-information, especially on internet sites run by government opponents living abroad, is no more convincing either. According to some of them, Meles is already dead, and a raging battle has started for his succession.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>Yet, these hypotheses are not entirely out of the realm of possibility, especially given the history of Ethiopia, where secrecy is a cardinal virtue. Menelik, the founder of modern imperial Ethiopia, continued to "reign" for three years after he was incapacitated by a stroke. His successor finally took power once the Shakespearian internal power struggles were over inside the Palace. Ha&iuml;le Selassie was deposed in 1974 by a military junta, led by Mengistu Haile Mariam,&nbsp;<span>who had him suffocated to death a year later.</span>&nbsp;In 1991 Mengistu fled to Zimbabwe, having been defeated by the Tigray People&rsquo;s Liberation Front (TPLF), led by&nbsp; Meles Zenawi, in a civil war that ended in Addis Ababa.</span><span> </span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>If history is anything to go by, it will be hard to find a peaceful and orderly route to succession. The Ethiopian people know this, moulded as they are by their own history. On the surface, it's "business as usual", the government governs and people go about their daily affairs as usual. But under the surface there is an extremely heavy atmosphere, with an overwhelming feeling that this is just the calm before the storm. The widespread conviction shared by most diplomats and experts is that, whether Meles is dead or alive, he is no longer in charge and never will be again, so the candidacy for his succession is open.&nbsp;<span>Under this hypothesis, which is still no more than a hypothesis, i</span>t is all the more difficult to speculate on what will happen when the leadership operates under a cloak of complete secrecy, almost unequalled anywhere else in the world. Whatever is happening, one thing is obvious, the succession will have to navigate a untold number of threats, unknowns and divisions.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>The first of these is institutional: nothing in the Constitution says what to do if the Prime Minister dies or is incapacitated.</span>[3]<span> The second is economic: inflation has reached a new high, even if it has started to come down again,</span>[4]<span> and growth has slowed down having been exceptional up until now (officially 11% a year for the past eight years). The third is political: the internal crisis of the TPLF in 2001 ended with the expulsion of part of the "old guard". The opposition pulled off a triumphal surge in the 2005 elections,&nbsp;<span>which forced the regime to a counter-attack, and from which the opponents never really recovered. After 2005</span>&nbsp;"<em>Ethiopia has definitely fallen back into the camp of authoritarian regime</em>&rsquo; as it is&nbsp; &lsquo;<em>de facto</em> ruled by a &lsquo;<em>monolithic party-state&rsquo;</em>&rdquo;.</span>[5]<span> The Front is now facing a third major challenge that could prove to be particularly severe. The Muslim community </span><span>&ndash; </span><span>officially 34% of the population, but in reality more </span><span>&ndash;</span><span> has been moderate and tolerant for centuries, but now it is being caught up in government manoeuvres to forcefully enlist followers for the obscure branch of Islam &ndash; al-Ahbash &ndash; whose enemy number one is Wahabism, which the regime thinks is growing too strong in Ethiopia.&nbsp; Specialists on the subject play this down and think that the regime's actions are likely to have the opposite effect on the Muslim community. In the meantime, the protests and arrests continue.</span>[6]</p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span><span>In addition to this tense context, this possible succession can basically be looked at from three main points of view, which are of course not mutually exclusive, but even reinforce one another, namely: institutional, ethnic and "class".</span></span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>Up until the internal crisis of 2001, the leaders of the TPLF stood out in African politics. Even if power was effectively confined to a very small inner circle, it still operated in an exceptionally collective manner. To the outside world, Meles was perceived as a strong leader,&nbsp;<em><span>but he was more the </span><span><em>Primus inter pares</em></span><em>.</em></em> The TPLF delegated a great deal to him, but remained ultimately able to hold him to account, and, if necessary, they would put him in place. But after 2001 the edifice of power under went a dramatic change with Meles as its sole architect and master. He centralised power by utilising the three main pillars of the state.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span><span>First, there was the security apparatus, in other words, the police and, if things really got out of hand, the army, one of the largest and most efficient in all of sub-Saharan Africa</span>. Then he reinforced the power of his inner circle, which, for the first time, was no longer comprised of key figures in the party leadership of the TPLF. He shook up the Front&rsquo;s leadership (the nine-member Executive Committee) removing the remaining influential characters, under the guise of injecting young blood. At the same time, he promoted people the opposition have dubbed &ldquo;yes-men&rdquo; </span><span>&ndash;</span><span> characterless officials whose support he could rely on </span><span>&ndash;</span><span> including his own wife, Azeb Mesfin. The upshot was that none of the founders of the TPLF were left, Meles himself having only joined a few months after the start of the armed struggle. On top of this, his closest collaborators, and therefore those to whom he delegated most power, were his advisers, who didn&rsquo;t belong to this leadership. The pre-eminence of the party, with its collegial leadership structure, became no more than a distant memory.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><em><span>Mutatis mutandis</span></em><span>, the predominance of Meles is equally apparent within the ruling coalition, the Ethiopian People&rsquo;s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). This has four components, with equal representation in its leadership for the Tigreans (6% of the population), the Oromos (35%),&nbsp; Amharas (26%), and finally various ethnic groups from the South (20%). The latter three were creations of the former when it became imperative that the TPLF's struggle against Mengistu needed to extend beyond the Tigray alone. Ultimately, they remained under his control. &ldquo;<em>The EPRDF, at least outside Tigray, has never been able, or indeed has never been allowed, to develop into an effective political organisation whose regional leadership could exercise any autonomous authority, or represent the communities that they governed&rdquo;.</em></span>[7]<span> The change that Meles introduced was not so much this subjugation, which still persisted, but how it was managed. While it was once controlled by the leadership of the Front, it instead became completely under the control of Meles. He changed the leaders whenever he wanted and clipped the wings of anyone who looked as though they were gaining political support. </span><span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>The third pillar is the economy. The government effectively controls two thirds of the &ldquo;modern&rdquo; economy &ndash; excluding the small holders in agriculture -, via the remaining nationalised enterprises and the so-called "para-statal" enterprises, because they are effectively the economic arm of the Front. This means it controls the banks, insurance companies, telecommunications, transport, industry, etc. It is the classical process whereby the former revolutionary elite "<em>turns into the ruling class</em> <em>through the primitive accumulation of capital that is possible because of the very fact of holding power.&rdquo;</em></span>[8]<em><span> </span></em><span>Political, business and even family roles are all confused, even though they now respect a strict hierarchical order. And here again, the last word goes to Meles himself, or Azeb Mesfin, whom he put in charge of the largest "para-statal" conglomerate. Outside of this inner circle of oligarch-leaders another, "private" oligarchy was formed, although it can only operate within the orbit of a political "patron".</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>The second viewpoint arises from Ethiopia's diversity, being a patchwork of&nbsp; &ldquo;<em>nations, nationalities and peoples</em>&rdquo;, as laid down in the Constitution. To take this situation into account, a Federal State of ethnic groups was set up, with power shared equitably between them, at least in theory. The reality is something else. The &ldquo;national question&rdquo; still persists </span><span>&ndash;</span><span> </span><span>in other words, the inability of successive regimes to manage the diversity of Ethiopia in an equitable manner</span><span>. Having not been resolved for centuries, this</span><span> remains the major source of potential conflicts. </span><span>It is the leaders from the Tigrean minority - 6% of the population - who hold the reins of political power. Both the police force and military command are entirely in their hands. Holding political power means that they can be over-represented in the state and para-statal economy, as well as in the so-called "private" economy, thanks to the favours they benefit from. </span><span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>To pass this ethnic bias, along with its growing authoritarianism, the regime successfully played its only trump card </span><span>&ndash;</span><span> soaring economic growth. One of the premiums is that the beneficiaries end up offering the regime their political support, or at least moving from a position of opposition to one of neutrality, thus providing it with the social basis it needs to sustain its durability. The stratification of social "classes"&nbsp; &ndash; the third angle from which to view this possible succession &ndash; has gained pace. A middle class &ndash; those households that can provide for their own basic needs - has effectively emerged, not just in the urban areas, but also in the rural areas where a process of&nbsp; &ldquo;kulakisation" is patently operating. </span><span>&nbsp;</span></p><p class="MsoNormal"><span>What could happen if the cornerstone of this whole edifice were to disappear&nbsp;? Would everything come tumbling down, like a house of cards, as the opposition websites predict and hope for? Or, on the contrary, as one diplomat in Addis-Ababa points out, has the &ldquo;<em>the structure</em>&rdquo; demonstrated that it does not rest on the shoulders of one single man, since it is continuing to function without any obvious hiccups or crises?</span>[9]<span>&nbsp; </span><span>But is this just a matter of its momentum? And in reality or just appearance? For the long term or just temporarily?</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>If Meles is out of the game, it is obviously in the best interest of the TPLF to take the initiative by putting forward a solution for his replacement as quickly as possible so as to keep its hold on power. Also, because Meles cleared away any possible contenders from his entourage, there is no obvious, strong candidate who could step in at short notice. <em>&ldquo;He will be leaving very big boots that cannot be filled by anyone else</em>,&rdquo; according to one of the </span><span>founders of the Front, now a member of the opposition.</span>[10]<span> The solution could therefore consist of entrusting formal power to the Deputy Prime Minister, Hailemariam Dessalegn, who is from the South or somebody else with the same profile, while the effective power, at least for the time being, would be in the hands of a collective leadership at the top the Front, the army and the security services playing a key role in its composition and in decision-making. And since the Constitution stipulates that the Prime Minister has to be a member of parliament from the majority party or coalition, the Front could propose that one of the members of this collective be ultimately elected to the newly vacant post, which would give a window dressing of legality to the succession.</span><span>&nbsp;</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>But the TPLF itself is anything but homogeneous. The first fissure comes from the individuals concerned. Even if the major figures excluded from power in 2001 no longer seem likely to be able to make a reappearance, regardless of their historical calibre, other leaders who were once in the forefront, only to be sidelined recently, might wish to make their come-back, notably by advocating the restoration of the pre-eminence of the Front. They would naturally meet with resistance from those who have recently been promoted. But how strong would the latter be, given that they owe their position to the whims of Meles? Those most often cited as being in control now include: Behrane Gebre-Kristos, the diplomat, and Neway Gebreab, the economist, advisers to&nbsp; Meles; Samora Yunus, commander in chief of the armed forces; Getachew Assefa, head of the security apparatus</span><span><span>; Abay Woldu, chief of the Tigray region. Only the latter is a member of the Executive Committee, and only two of the four others sit on the 45-members Central Committee.</span></span><span></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>The second fissure is geographical. At the TPLF congress before the last, the majority of voters outside of Tigray supported Meles, while those from Tigray itself backed Arkebe Equbay, the former mayor of Addis Ababa, who ended up winning the most votes. He withdrew spontaneously. Since then he has been relegated to the Central Committee and holds no other responsibilities at all. In addition, the over-representation of leaders hailing from Meles' home town of Adwa, causes considerable gnashing of teeth.</span><span></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>Last, but not least, the TPLF itself is criss-crossed by political divisions, which is totally logical, given that simply belonging to the same ethnic group does not mean automatically sharing the same political views. These divisions are themselves centred around three points. What position should be adopted vis-&agrave;-vis Eritrea, with which Ethiopia has been neither at war nor peace since 2002? When Meles decided to put a stop to the victorious offensive of the Ethiopian army in Eritrea (2000) and signed the Alger agreements which brought the war to an end, a number of Tigrean leaders felt these decisions showed an inexcusable weakness. And which economic model should be followed, or, in other words, how far to go in creating a free market and what should be the place of the public and para-public sectors? But the main point is the Tigrean stranglehold.&nbsp; &ldquo;Hard liners&rdquo; still feel that 17 years of bloody and exhausting armed struggle against the Mengistu regime gives them an undisputed right to govern, and that this legitimacy is irrevocable, because it is more deserving than any that could be claimed by an alternative force emerging through the ballot box.</span>[11]<span> At the other extreme, a &ldquo;realist&rdquo; wing feels that maintaining this stranglehold can only end in disaster, and that a more equitable form of power sharing, that would still allow most of the acquired positions and interests, would be worth a lot more than trying to hold out indefinitely and risk losing everything.</span><span></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>Supposing that the TPLF reaches an agreement on a mode of succession &ndash; both a mechanism and a person - it will be obliged to get it endorsed by the three other factions within the EPRDF. Two should logically be most vocal in their attempt to seize this opportunity to try to shift the balance of power in their favour. First, there are the Oromos, subjugated during the imperial conquests, then practically colonised until Ha&iuml;le Selasse was overthrown, and now permeated by an increasingly marked sense of identity, that the regime has dubbed&nbsp; &ldquo;<em>narrow nationalism</em>&rdquo; and that poses the greatest threat to it. Then there are the Amharas. This was the dominant ethnic group during the entire imperial era. It is within this group that the most vigorous opposition to ethnic federalism is to be found, alongside the hope of re-establishing a form of&nbsp; &ldquo;<em>Ethiopianism</em>&rdquo; that transcends ethnic diversity. The regime made it pay a high price for its former domination and has disqualified its aspirations as &ldquo;<em>chauvinist</em>&rdquo; and &ldquo;<em>vindictive</em>&rdquo;.</span><span></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>But what cards do these two factions hold in the succession stakes? The intrinsic weight of the two parties representing these two ethnic groups has been reduced considerably by the hold the TPLF has over them, at least up until now, depriving them of any significant claim to be truly representative. </span><span></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>So the edifice of power is completely turned in on itself in all sectors. But this brings with it the risk that, if there is indeed a battle for succession, the long stifled, but well-founded demands and aspirations will bubble over if they are not taken into account. The regime was so aware of this risk that its worst fear </span><span>&ndash;</span><span> that the "Arab Spring&rdquo; would spread </span><span>&ndash;</span><span> led them to crack down even further on any dissenting voices.</span><span></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>But the first concern of tens of millions of Ethiopians when they get up in the morning is whether or not they will have enough to eat that day. They are frightened of the disturbances and insecurity, not to say the chaos that could follow. Their very survival would be at stake. Also, after centuries of subjugation, they still see it as inconceivable that they could have any say in politics, especially at the top: &ldquo;<em>The King who rules is my King</em>&rdquo;, as the saying goes. </span><span></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>This alienation is attenuated and even disappears altogether as one enters the new middle class. But this class is not homogeneous and is divided by contradictory attitudes </span><span>&ndash;</span><span> between </span><span>frustration and satisfaction, desire and fear of change. </span><span>It knows that its rise is precarious, and to a great extent is dependent on economic growth that any kind of "disorder" could wipe out. Some feel proud of the country&rsquo;s economic progress or Meles&rsquo; standing on the international scene, but others&nbsp; &ndash; and sometimes they are the same people &ndash; are hoping for radical changes. The arrogance, authoritarianism and omnipresence of the regime are increasingly being rejected, as this kind of behaviour could in particular put a stop to their socioeconomic ascension. Particularly hard to swallow is the regime&rsquo;s obsession with control, which leads to the self-appointed and permanent right to intrude on daily life, as well as the allegiance they have to constantly show, and the almost forced membership of the party &ndash; that now has some five million members &ndash; if they want to protect themselves or improve their prospects. In the eyes of their critics, these constraints are a heritage of an age-old archaic Ethiopia that they are sorry about, whereas its democratisation would be a major proof of its entry into the modern world.</span><span></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>This spirit of non-compliance that is running through part of this middle class is fuelling the same kind of hitherto stifled discontent that, as we have seen in so many other countries, can be a major lever to bring down authoritarian regimes. But it is being undermined by two major handicaps.&nbsp; The &ldquo;civil society&rdquo; has absolutely no autonomy. Its only organisations are those that remain within the party orbit, as it does not tolerate that independent organisations assert themselves. And while there are widespread hopes for a change, the barrier of fear soon begins to loom. The spectre of the repression that followed the 2005 elections&nbsp; &ndash; almost 200 dead, 30,000 arrested and deported - still haunts peoples' minds. Everyone knows that the regime would not hesitate in the least to do it again, hence the question being asked by several dissenters, &ldquo;<em>who will dare to be the first to go and get himself killed?"</em></span><span></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>Does this mean to say that any possible succession process could only go on behind closed doors within the circles of power? This is likely, unless they move into an acute and open state of crisis, in other words acted out in public. In this case, the precedent of the 2005 elections should be borne in mind, when the regime lifted the lid off the cauldron. No one could have predicted the scale of the burst of popular reaction that this slackness would allow, leading to the opposition breakthrough.</span><span></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>One final remark: this analysis does not mention the parliamentary opposition or the international community. The former has been wiped out, as evident by the single seat it holds in a house with 537 members.&nbsp;</span><span><span>It does not seem to have the wherewithal to influence the power play for succession.&nbsp;</span>The latter will be kept out of the way, as the Ethiopian leaders are too haughtily nationalistic to accept the least interference in their affairs. Even so, what is at stake is no mean affair.</span><span>[12]</span><span> It not only concerns the second most highly populated country in Africa &ndash; with 86 million inhabitants &ndash;&nbsp;but also a Horn of Africa that is in the midst of turmoil. Somalia is the archetype of the &ldquo;failed state&rdquo; and a battleground against one branch of Al Quaida and the Sudan and the brand new South Sudan have a very long way to go before they manage to live side by side. At the very heart of the Horn, Ethiopia is by far the dominant power, and a very reliable western ally in the fight against radical Islam. At least up to now, compared to its neighbours, it is a haven of stability.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span>The TPLF has never envisaged any form of power-sharing compromise.[13]&nbsp; Not during the 1991 conference which gathered opposition forces to organize the post Mengistu regime, nor after the 2005 elections, when the opposition had nevertheless suggested it, nor at any other moment up to now. The possibility of Meles&rsquo; succession offers a new opportunity. Will the Front seize it? Many Ethiopians would like to see it, many also fear the risks it would involve, and few expect it to happen.</span></p><div> <hr size="1" /><div id="ftn1"> <p class="MsoFootnoteText">[1] VOA and AFP, 19 July 2012.</p> </div> <div id="ftn2"> <p class="MsoFootnoteText">[2] BBC, 1 August 2012.</p> </div> <div id="ftn3"> <p class="MsoFootnoteText">[3] See http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/2012/07/29/ethiopia_in_constitutional_crises</p> </div> <div id="ftn4"> <p class="MsoFootnoteText">[4] It reached 39% in November 2011, 50% for food (Reuters, 11 December 2011).</p> </div> <div id="ftn5"> <p class="MsoNormal">[5] Respectively, Aalen, L. &amp; K. Tronvoll 2009.&nbsp; &lsquo;The end of democracy?&nbsp; Curtailing political and civil rights in Ethiopia&rsquo;, and Clapham, C. 2009.&nbsp; &lsquo;Post-war Ethiopia: the trajectories of crisis&rsquo;, <em>Review of African Political Economy </em>36, 120.</p> </div> <div id="ftn6"> <p class="MsoNormal">[6] See, especially,&nbsp;William Davison, CSM, &lsquo;Will Ethiopia crackdown stir Islamist backlash?&rsquo;, 28 July 2012.&nbsp;</p> </div> <div id="ftn7"> <p class="MsoNormal">[7] <em>Comments on the Ethiopian Crisis</em>, Christopher Clapham, 2005, <a href="http://www.african.cam.ac.uk/people/registry/subjectlist/clapham.html"><span>http://www.african.cam.ac.uk/people/registry/subjectlist/clapham.html</span></a> </p> </div> <div id="ftn8"> <p class="MsoFootnoteText">[8] Jean-Fran&ccedil;ois Bayart, 2008, <em>Le concept de situation thermidorienne: r&eacute;gimes n&eacute;o-r&eacute;volutionnaires et lib&eacute;ralisation &eacute;conomique</em>, Question de recherche.</p> </div> <div id="ftn9"> <p class="MsoFootnoteText">[9] AFP, 20 July 2012. But appearances can be deceptive&hellip; During the 2001 crisis, the central committee of the TPLF sat night and day for a month without anyone outside knowing about it</p> </div> <div id="ftn10"> <p class="MsoFootnoteText">[10] <em>The Economist</em>, 4 August 2012.</p> </div> <div id="ftn11"> <p class="MsoFootnoteText">[11] Following the opposition breakthrough in 2005, some Tigrean high-level officials told the author that &ldquo;<em>if the opposition wants power, let them start to make as many sacrifices as those we have had to endure</em>&raquo;.</p> </div> <div id="ftn12"> <p class="MsoFootnoteText">[12] Bizarrely, the disappearance of Meles has so far hardly been mentioned in the international media.</p> </div> <div id="ftn13"> <p class="MsoFootnoteText">[13] It is highly significant that the concept of compromise does not exist in Tigrinya, or in Amharic, the country&rsquo;s official language.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> <p>&nbsp;</p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Ethiopia </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> </div> </div> Ethiopia Democracy and government africa René Lefort Wed, 08 Aug 2012 07:21:41 +0000 René Lefort 67462 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The great Ethiopian land-grab: feudalism, leninism, neo-liberalism ... plus ça change https://www.opendemocracy.net/ren%C3%A9-lefort/great-ethiopian-land-grab-feudalism-leninism-neo-liberalism-plus-%C3%A7-change <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Land in Ethiopia is being leased to agro-industry investors on very long terms and below market rates. The beneficiaries have good political connections. But land has been the play-thing of centralising authoritarians throughout Ethiopia's recent history </div> </div> </div> <p class="image-left"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/ethiopia_0.jpg" alt="Szczekociny festival poster" width="310" /><span class="image-caption">Joe Mwangi/Demotix. All Rights Reserved</span></p> <p>&nbsp;</p><p>Ethiopia is the world champion of &ldquo;land grabbing&rdquo; &ndash; the practice of renting out vast expanses of farmland to local and, in particular, foreign investors. In 2011, 3.5 million hectares were allocated, while the projected figure for 2015 is 7 million hectares, an area twice the size of Belgium.<a name="_ednref1"></a><a href="#_edn1">[i]</a> By way of comparison, 12 million hectares are farmed by the same number of smallholders, who make up four-fifths of the Ethiopian workforce. It is not hard, then, to imagine the anticipated leap forward in agricultural output, especially given that the productivity of these new mechanised farms should be much greater than that of traditional peasant farmers. As a first approximation, medium sized yields and export of just half of their production should, in the medium term, bring in about US$ 10 billion in foreign currencies, at a time when the deficit in the balance of payments is the Achilles heel of the Ethiopian economy and its GDP currently stands at US$ 30 billion.</p> <p>&ldquo;They gave the land to us and we took it&hellip; This is green gold!&rdquo; exclaimed one of the largest investors.<a name="_ednref2"></a><a href="#_edn2">[ii]</a> The rents are &ldquo;ridiculously low by any standard&rdquo; (theoretically starting at US$ 8 dollars per hectare per year), the leases are for up to 99 years, finance facilities and tax breaks are increasingly generous as the share of exported produce goes up. Some are calling it &ldquo;the deal of the century&rdquo;.<a name="_ednref3"></a><a href="#_edn3">[iii]</a> The authorities, who are solely responsible for this operation, because land is public property, <a name="_ednref4"></a><a href="#_edn4">[iv]</a> challenge the term &ldquo;land grabbing&rdquo; and retort that these are &ldquo;win-win arrangements.&rdquo; They say that only &ldquo;abandoned&rdquo; or &ldquo;unutilized&rdquo; land is open to the investors &ldquo;on the basis of clearly set out lease arrangements&hellip; to make sure everybody will benefit from this exercise.&rdquo;<a name="_ednref5"></a><a href="#_edn5">[v]</a> </p> <p>But the indictment of journalists and researchers, who have only recently been able to peek beneath the lid of this operation shrouded in secrecy, seems irrefutable.</p> <p>&ldquo;The government of one of the most vulnerable countries in the world is handing over vast land and water resources to foreign investors to help the food security efforts of their home countries, or to gain profits for their companies, without making adequate safeguards and without taking into account the food security needs of its own people.&rdquo; The mechanism that they set up can be summarised as follows: Ethiopia rents out land to investors so that they can export their produce, and then import the same produce, grown somewhere else, to feed its own people. In the end, &ldquo;the damage done&hellip; outweighs the benefits gained.<em>&rdquo;</em></p> <p>The Ethiopian regime is anything but impulsive. It has obviously weighed up the pros and cons of land grabbing, especially since, for the large part, these were known in advance.<a name="_ednref6"></a><a href="#_edn6">[vi]</a> So why did they throw themselves headlong into it?</p> <p>The rush of investors for farmland is a global phenomenon, on a scale never seen before.<a name="_ednref7"></a><a href="#_edn7">[vii]</a> But why has Ethiopia responded to this demand with such a staggering offer? There are two main factors &ndash; the influence of Ethiopia&rsquo;s long heritage and the radical change of direction taken by the new &ldquo;post-revolutionary&rdquo; ruling class over the past decade.<a name="_ednref8"></a><a href="#_edn8">[viii]</a> </p><p>&ldquo;Land was the sign, the source, the stake, the object of wealth and power; conversely, wealth and power gave access to the land.<a name="_ednref9"></a><a href="#_edn9">[ix]</a>" Haile Selassie, officially the sole and unique landowner, gave land to those whose support he wanted or to reward services rendered. They derived most of their income from a &ldquo;feudal&rdquo; exploitation of this land, on condition that they also handed over a substantial portion to the Crown. The King of Kings used this deduction as his economic weapon to attain the supreme goal of centralising power, at the expense of local &ldquo;feudal&rdquo; lords. </p><p><em> </em></p><p>This mode of feudal extrication was even more brutal in areas on the edge of the Abyssinian plateau that had been conquered and subjugated at the end of the 19<sup>th</sup> century. The State handed out two thirds of these lands to its supporters, with outrageous favouritism shown to the Amharas of Shoa, which was the epicentre of imperial power. This particular form of what researchers have dubbed &ldquo;internal colonialism&rdquo;, which included settlers from the plateau, was justified either on racial grounds&nbsp; &ndash; the light-skinned &ldquo;Northerners&rdquo; from the plateau, versus the &ldquo;black&rdquo; people, the <em>chankilla</em> (slaves) of the South &ndash;or on social grounds &ndash; the &ldquo;Northern&rdquo; farmers versus the agro-pastoralists or pastoralists of the South&ndash; and on the basis of a myth, whereby these vast lands were an almost deserted Eldorado, a natural outlet for the insatiable hunger for land arising from the extreme density of the Abyssinian plateau. All of this also fuelled a spontaneous emigration of &ldquo;Northerners&rdquo;.</p><p><em> </em></p><p>For the imperial regime, agriculture was the engine for development. But as the regime came to an end, it oscillated between two strategies. For the first, which remained marginal, &ldquo;small farmers are efficient and are capable of being the engine of growth and economic development&rdquo; on condition that they receive help to increase their remarkably low productivity. Whence the timid appearance from the 1960s onwards of &ldquo;package programmes.<a name="_ednref10"></a><a href="#_edn10">[x]</a> In the second strategy, which dominated and received the support of international organisations, these &ldquo;subsistence farmers&rdquo; are incapable of &ldquo;productivity growth&rdquo;. Salvation could only come from the development of &ldquo;large and mechanized farm enterprises.&rdquo; Hence the emergence of &ldquo;agrarian capitalism&rdquo; or &ldquo;mechanised feudalism<span style="font-size: 15.9722px;">&rdquo;</span><span style="font-size: 15.9722px;"><a name="_ednref11"></a><a href="#_edn11">[xi]</a> through land concessions given to private Ethiopian, and sometimes foreign, investors. This was ultimately the case for about 2% of cultivated land.</span></p><p><em><em> </em></em></p><p>When the <em>Derg</em> took power in 1974, with its Marxist-Leninist ideology backed by the student movement, its priority was to eradicate this &ldquo;feudal&rdquo; class of &ldquo;landlords&rdquo; by one of the most radical agricultural reforms ever undertaken: &ldquo;land to the tiller.&rdquo;<a name="_ednref12"></a><a href="#_edn12">[xii]</a> It became public property. But the State maintained a sort of crown right over its administration, beginning with granting use rights to peasants over a parcel of land roughly proportional to the size of their family.</p><p><em><em> </em></em></p><p>In a break with the imperial regime, its economic strategy was aimed first at the mass of smallholders. It made widespread use of the&nbsp;<span style="font-size: 15.9722px;">&ldquo;</span><span style="font-size: 15.9722px;">packages</span><span style="font-size: 15.9722px;">&rdquo;</span><span style="font-size: 15.9722px;">. But it very quickly adopted the &ldquo;socialist&rdquo; dogma of agricultural development with the emphasis on large mechanised farms. Once nationalised, the large private farms became rather like <em>sovkhozes</em>, and failed in much the same way. Migration from the plateau to the lowlands increased dramatically through forced &ldquo;resettlement&rdquo; drives. When the current regime came to power in 1991, it did not touch the 1974 agrarian reform. The thread running through history remained unbroken &ndash; land rights continued &ldquo;to define relations of power between the state&hellip; and smallholders and their communities.&rdquo;<a name="_ednref13"></a><a href="#_edn13">[xiii]</a> But unlike its predecessors, the current regime put<span style="text-decoration: line-through;"> </span>subsistence farmers at the centre not only of agricultural development but development in general, with a level of public support unequalled in Africa and probably in the world. The aim was to lift the peasant masses out of their abyssal poverty, to achieve nationwide food security, and to stimulate the foundations of an industry encouraged by the demand for basic commodities by the fringe of the newly &ldquo;rich&rdquo; peasants. Ten years on, the failure of this strategy has become patent, not for want of public funding, but mainly because the authorities applied it using the same top-down approach as its predecessors. The authoritarian recruitment of small farmers deprived the strategy of a key element &ndash; their empowerment. In fact, the authorities refused to let this happen. As the evidently &ldquo;enlightened&rdquo; avant-garde, they alone could decide what the peasants had to do and to impose this on them. And this empowerment could above all have undermined their hegemony. Agricultural productivity languished (and is still at a standstill). Food security stayed (and remains) a mirage. Emergency food aid and, since 2005, a vast programme of cash for work and food for work programmes (the Productive Safety Net Programme) continue to be needed for one out of six Ethiopians, on average. Industry stagnated too.</span></p><p>This economic failure was coupled with a major political setback. The regime was convinced that its efforts to help the peasant masses would guarantee their unswerving support. It was confident that there would be no risk in opening the political arena more than ever for the 2005 elections, in order to gain national and international legitimacy. But the rise of the opposition shook the regime. The millions of small farmers mostly followed the rural elite and spearhead of the opposition movement.<a name="_ednref14"></a><a href="#_edn14">[xiv]</a></p><p><em><em> </em></em></p><p>In the early 2000s the convergence of these two factors and the elimination of the ruling party&rsquo;s &ldquo;left wing&rdquo; after its worst internal crisis led to a Copernican revolution, dubbed &ldquo;Renewal<em>&rdquo;</em>. It had two inextricably intertwined strands. Since 1991, development had primarily been &ldquo;indigenous&rdquo;&nbsp;<span style="font-size: 15.9722px;">&ndash;</span>&nbsp;or introverted. It needed to mobilise the relatively homogeneous mass of small farmers as a whole, with the aid of massive but undifferentiated state support. Development was to become primarily &ldquo;exogenous&rdquo; &ndash; or extravert. Following a &ldquo;structural change&rdquo;, Ethiopia now had to follow a new dogma &ndash; to become part of &ldquo;the mainstream of the global market economy&rdquo;. What is at stake? Nothing less than &ldquo;to ensure national survival as a country.&rdquo;<a name="_ednref15"></a><a href="#_edn15">[xv]</a> But becoming part of this mainstream now requires expansion of the tiniest and most capitalist sectors, led by the &ldquo;new entrepreneurs&rdquo;. To this end they are being promised the (much-demanded) freedom to do business and an almost complete monopoly on public support &ndash; in other words, the fast track to becoming rich. In political terms the ruling power expects, in return, that they will guarantee their support, using their position as opinion leaders for the peasant masses and even the urban population &ndash; i.e. that these new entrepreneurs become the regime&rsquo;s new constituency.</p><p><em><em> </em></em></p><p>This explains the appearance of the &ldquo;model farmers&rdquo; within traditional agriculture. They are chosen on the basis of their ability to grow &ldquo;marketable farm products&rdquo;. They attract the bulk of State agricultural support and are automatically &ndash; and if necessary, forcefully&nbsp;<span style="font-size: 15.9722px;">&ndash;</span>&nbsp;enrolled as members of the ruling party. Rural society is becoming socially and economically polarised. At the top is the emergence of a slender class of &ldquo;kulaks&rdquo;, while the mass of small farmers is left to fend for itself. &ldquo;Those who take advantage will prosper, and the rest will lose mercilessly&rdquo;.<a name="_ednref16"></a><a href="#_edn16">[xvi]</a></p><p><em><em> </em></em></p><p>But &ldquo;the key actor in this agricultural development will be relatively large-scale private investors.&rdquo;<em> </em>The regime is returning to the old philosophy, whereby &ldquo;the growth of large and mechanized farm enterprises&rdquo;<em> </em>is the engine for growth in the agricultural sector<em>. </em>Once again, the &ldquo;tractor ideology&rdquo;, with its endless fields, farmed by an armada of machines, is definitely the only prospect for the future<em>.</em></p><p><em><em> </em></em></p><p>Ethiopia was unable to reach its goal of rapidly increasing its share of global commerce by relying solely on its traditional exports (coffee, oil seeds, etc.) from small producers. It hopes to use its very low labour costs to become an exporter of basic manufactured goods, but this will take time and success is by no means certain. The ruling power had no choice but to seize the golden opportunity presented by this global &ldquo;land rush&rdquo;. A combination of factors &ndash; the dogma of Ethiopia entering &ldquo;into the mainstream of the global market economy,&rdquo; the decision that &ldquo;the agriculture sector will continue to be the engine of growth&rdquo; and that it could only be fuelled by &ldquo;relatively large-scale private investors,&rdquo; the observation that Ethiopia is unable to raise the investments needed on its own &ndash; led unavoidably to its only immediately available asset of any value, its land, being put on the market, and to offer it to the only economic forces able to exploit it quickly: foreign investors. From the Ethiopian government&rsquo;s perspective on the economy, land grabbing is far from being a foolish whim or a bit-part player. It has the starring role.</p><p><em><em> </em></em></p><p>But there also has to be a healthy supply of investors. Given the competition in Africa, the Ethiopian authorities need to align themselves with the prevailing conditions and accept that they cannot control the process, at least in the short term.<a name="_ednref17"></a><a href="#_edn17">[xvii]</a> Nothing must get in the way of this unbridled &ldquo;Go West&rdquo; spirit.</p><p><em><em> </em></em></p><p>This economic logic fits completely with the prevailing political logic. The radical Marxist &ldquo;revolutionary elite&rdquo; made a complete U-turn when it came to power in 1991, promising democratisation and a free market economy. In fact, using the same mechanisms of &ldquo;communist engineering<em>&rdquo;</em> based on &ldquo;democratic centralism&rdquo; that had been so useful for seizing power, this elite continued to consolidate their control to the point of achieving a monopoly. Today, due to&nbsp;<span style="font-size: 15.9722px;">&ldquo;</span><span style="font-size: 15.9722px;">the effective&nbsp;</span><span style="font-size: 15.9722px;">&lsquo;</span><span style="font-size: 15.9722px;">fusion</span><span style="font-size: 15.9722px;">&rsquo;</span><span style="font-size: 15.9722px;"><span style="font-size: 11.0918px;">&nbsp;of party and state</span><span style="font-size: 11.0918px;">&rdquo;</span><span style="font-size: 11.0918px;">,<a name="_ednref18"></a><a href="#_edn18">[xviii]</a> Ethiopia is <em>de facto</em> ruled by a &lsquo;<em>monolithic party-state,</em>&rsquo;<a name="_ednref19"></a><a href="#_edn19">[xiv]</a> dominated by a handful of leaders where Tigreans &ndash; 6% of the population &ndash; are over-represented.</span></span></p><p><em><em> </em></em></p><p>This achievement of political monopoly cannot be divorced from what the researcher Jean Fran&ccedil;ois Bayart calls a &ldquo;<em>Thermidorian situation&rdquo;</em>,<a name="_ednref20"></a><a href="#_edn20">[xx]</a> characterised by the &ldquo;revolution of interests&rdquo;. The new &ldquo;revolutionary elite&hellip; is turning into a dominant class via the primitive accumulation of capital that comes with holding power, according to the classical procedure of straddling institutional, family and business interests.&rdquo; It uses this political hegemony &ldquo;to accumulate wealth or the means of production under the cover of&nbsp;<span style="font-family: Arial; font-size: 13.8889px; color: #232323;">&lsquo;</span><span style="font-size: 15.9722px;">free trade</span><span style="font-family: Arial; font-size: 13.8889px; color: #232323;">&rsquo;</span><span style="font-size: 15.9722px;"><span style="font-size: 11.0918px;">&nbsp;and&nbsp;</span></span><span style="font-family: Arial; font-size: 13.8889px; color: #232323;">&lsquo;</span><span style="font-size: 15.9722px;"><span style="font-size: 11.0918px;"><span style="font-size: 7.70264px;">joining the global market.</span></span><span style="font-family: Arial; color: #232323; font-size: 9.64507px;">&rsquo;</span><span style="font-size: 11.0918px;"><span style="font-size: 5.34906px;"><a name="_ednref21"></a></span><span style="font-size: 5.34906px;"><a href="#_edn21">[xxi]</a></span></span></span></p><p>The first phase of this metamorphosis started as soon as the new government took office. The promised liberalisation of the economy led to a wave of privatisation but it was modest in reality. It left out the main public asset, land, as well as the banks, insurance companies, telecommunications and electricity utilities. The rest was just an illusion. &ldquo;Privatisation became monopolisation.&rdquo;<a name="_ednref22"></a><a href="#_edn22">[xxii]</a>Through endowments supposedly created to stimulate rehabilitation, mainly of the Tigray State, the leadership plundered the &ldquo;privatised&rdquo; enterprises. Operating with a total lack of transparency, and enjoying a great many privileges, &ldquo;State-owned enterprises and ruling party-owned entities dominate the major sectors of the economy<em>.</em>&rdquo;<a name="_ednref23"></a><a href="#_edn23">[xxiii]</a> Their profits<em> </em>&ldquo;are not being rolled over&hellip; but diverted elsewhere.<em><span style="font-style: normal;">&rdquo;</span><a name="_ednref24"></a><a href="#_edn24">[xxiv]</a> </em>Most of what was left over has been pocketed by a few oligarchs under the protection of top leaders of the party State. Lower down the scale, it is essential for any private entrepreneur to be able to count on the support of a powerful official to run his business<em>. </em>For a long time, the land &ndash; especially rural but also urban &ndash; and as a result agriculture, was left out of this grabbing process, remaining effectively public property. But a&nbsp;<span style="font-size: 15.9722px;">process</span><span style="font-size: 15.9722px;">&nbsp;&ndash; and unfortunately a very poorly documented one &ndash; of &ldquo;rampant privatisation&rdquo; started at the end of the 1990s, mainly in urban areas. The first to benefit were senior officers during the war with Eritrea (1998-2000), who were rewarded with land that they then built on, mainly as a means of speculation. This privilege gradually extended to high-ups in the nomenklatura, then to those lower down. </span></p><p><span style="font-size: 15.9722px;">There is a return to a major feature of the pre-revolutionary period. Those in power started to reward their most devoted servants with land. And, inversely, owning land became the main gateway to wealth. For anyone visiting Addis Ababa, the construction boom will be the first thing that strikes them. <em>Mutatis mutandis</em>, the same process has percolated into the rural areas. Its most glaring manifestation is the recent eruption of floriculture, mainly run by foreign companies. But the amount of land involved is still small, about 1,600 hectares. In contrast, land grabbing started as early as 1996 with a total lack of transparency, but almost exclusively for the benefit of Ethiopian nationals, at least up until the mid-2000s. The first regions to be targeted were the irrigated lands of the Awash, Afar, bordering the Tigray region, and Kaffa, the main coffee-producing region. Even today, 95% of the investors are Ethiopians. Their farms are generally much smaller, a few hundred hectares at most. For want of skills and resources, fewer than 20% of these farms would have started to be developed. Essentially, then, these Ethiopians have made an investment, with what they themselves called &ldquo;<em>easy</em>&rdquo; access to loans and facilities for acquiring the land, if they had not been given it &ldquo;<em>for free</em>.&rdquo; This &ldquo;<em>preferential treatment&rdquo;</em> applied especially to Tigreans.<a name="_ednref25"></a><a href="#_edn25">[xxv]</a>&nbsp;Once again, the central authorities used the allocation, and even gifts, of rural land to reward or consolidate what they considered to be their most loyal supporters, again with an ethnic bias. Once again, the age-old push toward the lowlands resumed, still presented as a deserted Eldorado.</span></p><p>&ldquo;Land leases are tantamount to near ownership&rdquo;, declared one of the largest foreign investors.<a name="_ednref26"></a><a href="#_edn26">[xxvi]</a> With land-grabbing, this process of land privatisation took on a new dimension. &ldquo;What is being grabbed or transferred are rights belonging to individuals and communities&rdquo;. Who is doing the grabbing? &ldquo;The dominant classes, especially landed groups, capitalists, corporate entities, state bureaucrats and village chiefs&hellip; at the expense of citizens and grassroots communities.&rdquo;<a name="_ednref27"></a><a href="#_edn27">[xxvii]</a> And at the top of the list, in Ethiopia, the nucleus of the party State. It seized the monopoly on land-grabbing for any land over 5,000 hectares. Previously, any real estate transaction, no matter what the size of the land, was handled by each of the nine States in the federation. It is this nucleus that laid its hands on the land rights by disappropriating the local communities, and then according itself the right&nbsp; &ndash; and the power that goes with it &ndash; to reallocate them to investors, all at its total discretion. Moreover, so long as the land was farmed by locals, there was hardly any surplus and this tended to remain within small local commercial and financial circuits. With land grabbing, output worth billions of dollars entered commercial and above all financial circuits controlled by the central power.</p><p><em><em> </em></em></p><p>So, after industry and services, a new wave of centralisation of economic resources has been added to the already extreme centralisation of political power. They offer each other mutual support. Once again, land is playing a major role in rejuvenating the superimposition of wealth and power, public and private elites. A &ldquo;revolutionary&rdquo; interlude is coming to an end. And this has at least two major consequences.</p><p><em><em> </em></em></p><p>Land-grabbing is leading to the &ldquo;<span style="font-family: Arial; font-size: 13.8889px; color: #232323;">&lsquo;</span><span style="font-size: 15.9722px;">South-Africanisation</span><span style="font-family: Arial; font-size: 13.8889px; color: #232323;">&rsquo;</span><span style="font-size: 15.9722px;"><span style="font-size: 11.0918px;">&nbsp;(of the agricultural structures)&hellip; meaning structures dominated by large, settler-type estates existing side by side with a host of impoverished small farms struggling to survive in the shadow of these estates.&rdquo;</span><span style="font-size: 11.0918px;"><a name="_ednref28"></a></span><span style="font-size: 11.0918px;"><a href="#_edn28">[xxviii]</a></span><span style="font-size: 11.0918px;"> It &ldquo;marginalises&rdquo; the rural population. It reinforces the &ldquo;disempowerment&rdquo; of traditional peasants, when the opposite is needed for them to become an &ldquo;active agent&nbsp;in all matters affecting their lives.&rdquo; In this way it is shattering the relative egalitarianism of the rural world that has been in place since 1974, by polarising society, and nurturing class division, another aspect of which is the ongoing &ldquo;kulakisation&rdquo; of the small farmers.</span></span></p><p>The present regime has instituted a federal system. It considers that the hypercentralisation, even Jacobinism of its predecessors had exacerbated the centrifugal forces, mainly ethnically driven, to the point of threatening the unity of Ethiopia. The perpetuation of this unity requires a genuine balance of power between all of the &ldquo;nations, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia&rdquo;. But land-grabbing is part of a process of re-concentration, which renders the federal system even more artificial.</p> <p>The issues involved in land-grabbing go beyond the economy. On top of the tensions borne of the government&rsquo;s rejection of all forms of democratisation, on top of the mounting ethnic tensions, it helps to sharpen the divide between the classes.&nbsp; It is going to turn the entire political landscape upside down, deepening the divisions within Ethiopian society.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p> <hr size="1" /><p>&nbsp;</p><p> <a name="_edn1"></a> <a href="#_ednref1">[i]</a> Dessalegn Rahmato, 2011, <em>L</em><em>and to Investors: Large-Scale Land Transfers in Ethiopia,</em> Forum for Social Studies, Addis Ababa. The other reference study is The Oakland Institute 2011, <em>Understanding Land Investment Deals in Africa &ndash; Country Report Ethiopia.</em> Unless otherwise stated, all the following quotations are taken from these documents.</p> <p><a name="_edn2"></a><a href="#_ednref2">[ii]</a> In <em>Zenawi says: No land grab in Ethiopia, not today, not tomorrow</em>, Keffyalew Gebremedhin, 9 August 2011. </p> <p><a name="_edn3"></a><a href="#_ednref3">[iii]</a><em>Ethiopia at centre of global farmland rush</em>, <em>The Guardian,</em> 21 March 2011.</p> <p><a name="_edn4"></a><a href="#_ednref4">[iv]</a> The Constitution stipulates that &ldquo;<em>Land </em>(rural as urban)<em> is a common property of the Nations, Nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia and shall not be subject to sale or to other means of exchange</em>&hellip; <em>Ethiopian peasants have right to obtain&hellip; the protection against eviction from their possession&rdquo;</em>.</p> <p><a name="_edn5"></a><a href="#_ednref5">[v]</a> Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, ITMN Television, 26 June 2011.</p> <p><a name="_edn6"></a><a href="#_ednref6">[vi]</a> In an interview for the <em>Financial Times</em> (7 August 2008), Meles Zenawi himself predicted that &ldquo;large-scale farming&rdquo; could bring &ldquo;some employment&rdquo;, but &ldquo;not much&rdquo;. It would not solve the problem of food insecurity because &ldquo;it is not about production, it&rsquo;s about income distribution&hellip; (which) is not going to be improved by concentrating on large farms.&rdquo;</p> <p><a name="_edn7"></a><a href="#_ednref7">[vii]</a> These figures give a range from 50 to&nbsp; 80 million hectares rented globally to to foreign investors in the past few years, mainly in Africa.</p> <p><a name="_edn8"></a><a href="#_ednref8">[viii]</a> The last emperor, Haile Selassie, was overthrown by a socialist military junta, the <em>Derg</em>, in 1974. This in turn was overthrown in 1991 by a coalition of armed movements, led by a radically Marxist regional autonomist movement, the Trigray People&rsquo;s Liberation Front. It remains the cornerstone of the ethnic coalition currently in power.</p> <p><a name="_edn9"></a><a href="#_ednref9">[ix]</a> <em>Ethiopia &ndash; An Heretical Revolution</em>, Ren&eacute; Lefort, 1983, Zed Press</p> <p><a name="_edn10"></a><a href="#_ednref10">[x]</a> Fertilizer and selected seeds plus loans plus training.</p> <p><a name="_edn11"></a><a href="#_ednref11">[xi]</a> Lefort, 1983.</p> <p><a name="_edn12"></a><a href="#_ednref12">[xii]</a> Land reform of 4 March1974.</p> <p><a name="_edn13"></a><a href="#_ednref13">[xiii]</a> <em>The peasant and the State &ndash; Studies in Agrarian Changes in Ethiopia 1950s-2000s</em>, Dessalegn Rahmato, 2009, Addis Ababa University Press.</p> <p><a name="_edn14"></a><a href="#_ednref14">[xiv]</a> <em>Powers &ndash; </em>mengist<em>&nbsp;</em><em>&ndash;</em><span style="font-size: 15.9722px;"><em>&nbsp;and peasants in rural Ethiopia: the May 2005 elections</em>, Lefort Ren&eacute;, Journal of Modern African Studies, 45/2, 2007.</span></p> <p><a name="_edn15"></a><a href="#_ednref15">[xv]</a> Meles Zenawi, <em>African Development: Dead Ends And New Beginnings</em>, 9 August 2006. This quotation, as well as those that follow, are taken from this document and <em>The EPRDF's Rural Development Vision&nbsp;: An Overview</em>, Special Issue N&deg;3 of <em>Renewal</em> (<em>Tehadso</em>), April 2002; <em>Development, democracy and revolutionary democracy</em>, August 2006 (internal document of the EPRDF).</p> <p><a name="_edn16"></a><a href="#_ednref16">[xvi]</a> <em>Development, democracy and revolutionary democracy</em>, internal document of the ruling party, August 2006.</p> <p><a name="_edn17"></a><a href="#_ednref17">[xvii]</a> Or to take over later, when the balance of power is more favourable, because investors have to wait at least until the sizeable investments needed to kick-start their farms have started to pay off: &ldquo;Prime Minister Meles and the Government of Ethiopia have historically proven to be crafty negotiators&hellip; Therefore, it is reasonable to assume the GoE &hellip; has a reasonable overall plan&rdquo; to renegotiate&nbsp; the contracts later&nbsp; (<em>Ethiopia seeks dramatic changes in agricultural land use</em>, 10 December 2009, Wikileaks).</p> <p><a name="_edn18"></a><a href="#_ednref18">[xviii]</a> Aalen L. &amp; Tronvoll K. 2009. <em>The End of Democracy? Curtailing political and civil rights in Ethiopia</em>, <em>Review of African Political Economy, </em>36/4.</p> <p><a name="_edn19"></a><a href="#_ednref19">[xix]</a> Clapham C. 2009. Post-War Ethiopia: The Trajectories of Crisis, Review of African Political Economy, 36, 120. </p> <p><a name="_edn20"></a><a href="#_ednref20">[xx]</a> In reference to the Thermidorian reaction (1794) which ended the Terror era of the French revolution</p> <p><a name="_edn21"></a><a href="#_ednref21">[xxi]</a> Jean Fran&ccedil;ois Bayart, <em>Le concept de situation thermidorienne : r&eacute;gimes n&eacute;o-r&eacute;volutionnaires et lib&eacute;ralisation &eacute;conomique</em>, <em>Questions de Recherche/Research in Question</em> N&deg;24 &ndash; March2008, Centre d&rsquo;&eacute;tudes et de recherches internationales, Ecole des sciences politiques, Paris.</p> <p><a name="_edn22"></a><a href="#_ednref22">[xxii]</a> Idem.</p> <p><a name="_edn23"></a><a href="#_ednref23">[xxiii]</a> Idem.</p> <p><a name="_edn24"></a><a href="#_ednref24">[xxiv]</a> <em>Party-statals&nbsp;: How the ruling parties &ldquo;endowments&rdquo; operate</em>, 19 March 2009, Wikileaks.</p> <p><a name="_edn25"></a><a href="#_ednref25">[xxv]</a> Oakland Institute.</p> <p><a name="_edn26"></a><a href="#_ednref26">[xxvi]</a> Idem</p> <p><a name="_edn27"></a><a href="#_ednref27">[xxvii]</a> Dessalegn Rahmato.</p> <p><a name="_edn28"></a><a href="#_ednref28">[xxviii]</a> Ruth Hall, <em>The Many Faces of the Investor Rush in Southern Africa: Towards a Typology of Commercial Land Deals</em>, 2010, unpublished paper, cited by Dessalegn Rahmato.</p> <p style="font-style: italic;">&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Ethiopia </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> Economics </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Equality </div> </div> </div> openEconomy Ethiopia Democracy and government Economics Equality René Lefort Sat, 31 Dec 2011 14:30:40 +0000 René Lefort 63472 at https://www.opendemocracy.net "Beka!" ("enough"). Will Ethiopia be next? https://www.opendemocracy.net/ren%C3%A9-lefort/beka-enough-will-ethiopia-be-next <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Meles Zenawi has been protecting himself from any Arab-spring copy-cat movements in Ethiopia. On balance, it is unlikely that the opposition is strong enough to mount the kind of challenge seen in Egypt and Tunisia. Conditions are not seen to be as brutally unjust in Ethiopia, and no one doubts that the army would be loyal to the Tigray-dominated regime. But there may be surprises yet </div> </div> </div> <p>“Beka!” “Enough!” In the wake of the Arab uprisings, this is the watchword of mysterious opponents to the ruling regime circulating on internet sites hosted outside Ethiopia and in a few tracts being handed out inside the country. They are calling on the people to take to the streets on 28 May. Exactly twenty years earlier, a coalition of armed ethnic movements, led by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, overthrew Major Mengistu Haile Mariam’s Marxist military junta. The TPLF is hanging onto power more tenaciously than ever.</p><p><br />"We are not worried that there will be a north Africa-type revolution in Ethiopia, it's simply not possible”, said the irremovable Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, on 12 March, with his customary assurance. “The circumstances for it do not exist".</p><p><br />But wait a minute… If Meles thought was not “not possible” that this kind of revolution could spread to his country, why did his actions contradict his words? Why did he suddenly implement a raft of heavy-handed measures, adding censorship to intimidation and repression – in his usual style – as well as State economic intervention and call for patriotism?</p><p><br />Censorship: Ethiopian television – state-run and the only official station – hardly mentioned the Arab uprisings. Meanwhile, the screws have been tightened on the “independent” media, obliging them to censor themselves even further. International radio stations broadcasting in local languages, like Voice of America and Deutsche Welle, were jammed. But it was a wasted effort – this “Spring” triggered an effervescence, leading to the most open and heated debates since the electoral campaign of 2005.</p><p><br />Intimidation and repression: “The government is not blind and deaf”, Meles declared in Parliament on 5 April. Anyone who takes part in what he called “the plot being hatched to incite protests and terror” would “pay a price.” “Intimidation and demonization” retorted one of the leaders of the main opposition party, to whom this warning was specifically addressed, and all the more so, given that the government had already taken measures. Over two hundred militants were arrested in March, more than a hundred of them accused of “terrorism” linked to the Oromo Liberation Front, an illegal movement waging an armed struggle on behalf of the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia. There have been sporadic shows of strength by the security forces as a reminder, if one were needed, of how the regime will react to demonstrations.</p><p><br />But most spectacular has been a return to a form of state interventionism completely at odds with the government’s entire economic strategy. Since the autumn, inflation has started to soar once again, with an official annual rate of 29.5% in April. The government was worried that it would spoil its economic record, currently the very basis of its legitimacy. And, worse still, it was already leading to popular discontent and could even spark off “hunger riots”. The opposition’s forecast could well become a reality: “There are too many economic problems: inflation, unemployment… When they are too much, it may explode”.</p><p><br />Meles Zenawi reacted by pointing the finger at “market disorder”, without any further details, rather than implicating the global rise in prices, the 16% devaluation of the national currency, the Birr, in September 2010, or even the perpetual dogma of a 10% continued annual growth in grain production. To correct this “disorder”, he suddenly announced on 6 January, a price cap on nineteen basic products, including oil, sugar, meat and bread. The economic operators squawked in protest, saying that the imposed prices deprived them of any profit margin. So, several of these products have disappeared from the shelves or have entered the black market at exorbitant prices. In reaction, the government has put them on sale at the official price, but in insufficient quantity, leading to endless queues. The result is that the level of public dissatisfaction mounted a notch. It was easy for the opposition to criticize the incoherence of government policy. On the one hand it pointed out that the massive arrival of private foreign investors is the sine qua non of its economic strategy. And on the other hand, these price caps would be “a step toward a Communist-style command economy”.</p><p><br />And there was patriotism, on the theme of: ‘let’s overcome our political differences and unite for the defence and development of the mother country’. For the defence: against the arch-enemy, Eritrea. For the first time, Ethiopia publicly declared that its goal was to overthrow the regime of Issayas Afeworki by increasing its support for the Eritrean armed opposition. And, in terms of developing the motherland, there is the construction of a gigantic dam on the Nile. Pompously baptised the Millennium Dam or Renaissance Dam, it would be the largest in Africa and the tenth largest in the world. This project suddenly appeared from nowhere, as it is not mentioned in the recently adopted five-year plan. Yet even the most optimistic cost is equivalent to the entire annual budget. As international donors are reluctant to get involved, this cost has to be borne mainly by the country itself. A massive issue of government bonds has been launched. It is restrictive for the banks. All state employees have been “invited” to donate one month’s salary, hence the joke going around: “Not only does the Nile carry off Ethiopian soil, but the salaries of its civil servants as well”. Naturally, it is a euphemism to say they do not appreciate this…</p><p><br />Did Meles Zenawi over-react, as usual, by proving, for the nth time that, in his heart of hearts, he is less confident about the durability of his regime? Does he feel his regime is much more fragile than he proclaims in public or even than most observers assess? In other words, should he be taking these measures at all, even more so when they have largely been counter-productive?</p><p><br />Meles Zenawi knows that his regime shares a fundamental characteristic with those in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen that has been fuelling the growing protest – decades-old authoritarianism in a de facto one party state. It even embodies some extreme features that have long disappeared elsewhere. For example, in rural areas– 83% of the population –, everyone aged between 15 and 65 has to devote on average a day a week to so-called “development work”, without having the slightest say either in their purpose or the way they are carried out. <br />Meles knows that youth spearheaded the Arab uprisings. And two-thirds of Ethiopians are under 30 years old. He also knows that the movement formed independently of the official opposition, and that even its elimination, to which he is tirelessly devoted, is no guarantee that his regime will continue to survive. Strictly speaking, this legal opposition has been crushed after the 2005 elections, when it had risen up totally unexpectedly. The protests stirred up by these elections were very severely repressed, leaving 200 dead and probably as many as 30,000 protestors or suspected opponents rounded up and imprisoned.</p><p>Opposition party leaders have disappeared into imprisonment, exile or shut up through psychological pressure. To such an extent that, of the 3.6 million local government councillors “elected” in 2008, only a handful, literally, were members of the opposition. Just a single opposition seat out of the 547 members of Parliament in 2010. One of its leaders went so far as to say that the future of the opposition is now only in the hands of God. For the majority of Ethiopians, legal openings in politics are just as limited as they were in the Arab countries. They are convinced that they are being deprived of their right to turn their aspirations into classical political action.</p><p><br />But Meles Zenawi, whose impressive intellectual ability is recognised by all who meet him, including the greatest world leaders, also knows full well that his regime, Ethiopian culture and history have certain specificities that are slowing, if not blocking, the spread of this wave of protest.</p><p><br />It is generally admitted that aspirations towards democracy increase in proportion to the rate of access to basic education, Internet and mobile telephones. And these rates of access are much lower in Ethiopia than in the Arab countries concerned. Half of Ethiopian children go on to finish primary school, compared to practically 100% of Egyptian children. On top of a very tight control on the contents of electronic means of communication, the rates of comms access are much lower in Ethiopia too. Access to a mobile phone is proportionately thirteen times lower than in Egypt, and access to the Internet forty times lower., Thus it is not surprising that the appeal to demonstrate on 28 May seems to have reached very, very few Ethiopians.</p><p><br />Also, the gulf between the oligarchies, clans or even the autocracy, that ruled Tunisia and Egypt with growing autism, and an increasingly lucid population, had already become obscene ages ago. In Ethiopia, this rift is certainly not as deep, nor could it be, since it only started to form recently, which makes it less often perceived.</p><p><br />At least up until its internal split in 2001, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) was probably the only ruling party in the world whose leadership continued to function collectively on a daily basis, just as it had done since it was created in 1975. Since then the personal hold of Meles Zenawi has continued to increase, but it is not all that visible, mainly because of the heavy shroud of secrecy that always surrounds the exercise of power. In particular, the kind of personality cult that accompanied Ben Ali, Gaddafi and Mubarak is unknown in Ethiopia.<br />The undeniable economic growth, even if it has been outrageously exaggerated by official statistics (which claim “double digit annual growth”), dates from only ten years back. It is inextricably linked to a clear drift towards oligarchy and blatantly growing inequalities. But, and this is where Tunisia or Egypt are fundamentally different: the average Ethiopian is not running into a wall whenever he tries to move on. The beginning of a middle class has emerged in the wake of the political and economical elite, because the economic realm is still relatively open. While, for the majority, the legal route into politics is closed, a fringe of Ethiopians, among the most educated and the most enterprising, continues to get glimpses of a way out, an opportunity that it can still grasp, by jumping onto the economic elevator. In urban areas, this means joining the circle of businessmen or, if that is not possible, the ever swelling ranks of civil servants. In rural areas, for those who can connect to commercial networks, it means joining the new peasant élite.</p><p><br />This category of young people would ordinarily be the spearhead of the protest movement. But the possibility of personal gain is by and large putting them off. And there are other hindrances, too.</p><p><br />One is cultural. At the very beginning of the uprisings in Arab countries, a few ‘ordinary’ individuals took the initiative of standing up to the ruling powers, simply confident they were empowered to exercise their individual rights. Since time immemorial Ethiopian society has been impregnated with an acute sense of hierarchy. This type of spontaneous and solitary ‘grassroots’ behaviour is much less probable there and might even seem to be perceived as misplaced. Everyone has a precise social rank that assigns him or her a precise role. Historically an opposition force has only emerged when one of the figures at the top of the social pyramid sets things going and then takes over as its leader. Social position granting them the legitimacy to do so.</p><p><br />Another factor holding the people back is simply fear. Everyone still remembers the post-2005 repression. No one expects the regime to keep its guns lowered &nbsp;– literally – in the face of the demonstrators. If the Arab uprisings soon broke through this wall of fear, it is probably because they sensed that their own strength would lead the army to distance itself from the ruling power and thus deprive it of its only trump card – repression. But how would the command of the Ethiopian army – monopolized by Tigreans – react in the same circumstances? The answer is almost unanimous – it would defend the regime to the last bullet, because its position as well as the advantages it brings lie entirely on the regime remaining in power.</p><p><br />“Better the devil you know that the angel you don’t know”, as the Abyssinian proverb goes. It is the local version of the almost universal call and response song – stability and order are worth more than the unknown. And all the more so when this angel could turn out to be a devil who is a lot worse than the one already in power.</p><p><br />The Arab protestors were convinced that their aspirations to democracy were sufficiently strong not only overthrow the regimes but also to overcome their own inevitable differences and divergences until democracy was in place. The vast majority of their Ethiopian counterparts say they could not share this conviction either, even though they might deny it, to defend their own interests, or because they sincerely believe that any kind of break would bring immense dangers with it.</p><p><br />In 1991, the new regime chose a paradigm to achieve a harmonious “living together” welcomed by all the “nations, nationalities and peoples” of this country &nbsp;–an “ethnic federalism”. This institutional change logically led to an affirmation of the ethnic identities of Ethiopians. But, instead of easing ethnic tensions, the changes exacerbated them. Although this federalism formally institutes a fair power sharing, authority is, in practice, pyramidal. The Tigreans – about 6% of the population – are outrageously over-represented in all the key political, military, security, administrative and financial positions. To strengthen its base, the regime never stopped letting all Tigreans know that it is the best guarantee of their progress and, soon, their security. There is now a widespread perception that any Tigrean identifies himself completely with the regime.</p><p><br />So, the potential protesters are worried that demonstrations could lead to the worst scenario. It would lose them control of their own movement, which would spark off a civil war, with among others anti-Tigrean pogroms, a breakdown in the army because the troops would rebel against their commanders out of a refusal to repress demonstrators from “their” own ethnic groups, even the break-up of Ethiopia provoked by an insatiable thirst for revenge by the Oromos. Naturally, the ruling power continues to rattle this scarecrow, as it had during the 2005 electoral campaign, when it warned of a Rwandan scale genocide if the opposition were to gain power.</p><p><br />The great majority of these potential protesters say they have made the same choice, either out of conviction or of vested interest – to keep quiet. Some of the more optimistic even say it has some distinct advantages. They hope that, with the passage of time, the enlargement of the middle class might lessen ethnic divisions. But most of them &nbsp;are much more pessimistic. Time would have the opposite effect &nbsp;– of deepening the divisions even further, until the inevitable day the worn-out regime finally fails, making this fall even more brutal and chaotic.</p><p><br />Will this inaction ensure the regime stays in power indefinitely? Both optimists and pessimists put forward an alternative and very different hypothesis. This time it would be the “common people” of Addis-Ababa who enter the arena. What starts as a banal altercation would turn into a popular riot, totally spontaneous and unpredictable. It would spread like a trail of gunpowder, and, by degenerating into ethnic clashes, would sweep everything up in its wake. Under this hypothesis, the life expectancy of the regime would be a matter of days rather than decades.</p><p><br />But prudence – and modesty – are the word. No one had predicted either the eruption or the course of the “Arab Spring”. Ethiopia may still surprise.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ren%C3%A9-lefort/ethiopias-election-all-losers">Ethiopia&#039;s election: all losers</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/email/ethiopias-famine-deny-and-delay">Ethiopia&#039;s famine: deny and delay</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Ethiopia </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> Economics </div> </div> </div> Ethiopia Democracy and government Economics africa Spring of the “others” René Lefort Wed, 25 May 2011 23:19:35 +0000 René Lefort 59709 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Ethiopia's election: all losers https://www.opendemocracy.net/ren%C3%A9-lefort/ethiopias-election-all-losers <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> The crushing electoral defeat of the Ethiopian opposition does not actually help the ruling party and encourages its slide into authoritarianism </div> </div> </div> <p>‘I really feel totally betrayed by the system,’ confessed Beyene Petros, one of the most respected leaders of the Ethiopian opposition, a few days after its crushing defeat in the general elections on 23 May 2010. ‘I thought that, if we competed in the elections, there would be a door ajar that could be made use of by competing parties. This assumption of mine was totally misplaced.’</p><p>But how could he have been so mistaken? Like most of the opposition, how could he have expected that the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), the ruling party since 1991, would faithfully play the electoral game and run the risk of repeating the surprise scenario of the 2005 elections, where the opposition made such spectacular progress? How could he even imply, a few days later, that the voters voted for the opposition in the election and that cheating only defeated it? And what a defeat! 99.6% of the vote, just one opposition representative out of 547 elected members of the federal Parliament and just one out of the 1900 regional assembly representatives. In a nutshell: how and why did the Ethiopian opposition make such a mistake about its electoral chances, as if it had not fully realized that the EPRDF had systematically and implacably started immediately after its 2005 electoral blow to make sure it would win in 2010, at any price?<br /><br />‘Whatever policy differences there might be among the opposition, I think we agree on the minimum issues of democracy and rule of law.’ This appeal from opposition leader, Seye Abraha, calls on the opposition to unite in order to recover from its defeat. Most commentators credit it with its disarray, which they see as aggravated by internal conflict and the lack of coherence in its policies but these explanations do not stand up to scrutiny.</p><p><br />In 2005, apart from its common hostility to those in power since 1991 and a shared desire for democratic change, the opposition was divided into two main camps: the Coalition for Unity and Democracy and the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces. They also differed on some essential points, left-overs of a persistent divide, inherited from the conquests of the Abyssinian Empire in the second half of the 19th century. Schematically, the electoral base of the Coalition was urban, led by Addis-Ababa, and northern, with the Amhara (26% of the population), the epicentre of the old imperial power. The UEDF found its support in the former conquered territories, among the Oromos (37% of the population) and the peoples of the South.&nbsp;The CUD and the UEDF both criticised the EPRDF’s policies on the two main problems confronting Ethiopia for decades – the ‘national question’ or how the 80 ‘nations, nationalities and peoples’&nbsp;of Ethiopia could agree on a modus vivendi and poverty issues – but they disagreed on the solutions. The ruling Party has set up a federal system, with equal rights for all ‘ethnic groups’ as the basis for the “revolutionary democracy” it advocates, with individual rights taking a back seat. But this federalism is a smokescreen behind which Tigreans (6% of the population) held the reins of power, even in all the ‘non traditional’ sectors of the economy. The Coalition advocated a form of recentralisation borne by an ‘Ethiopianism’ that was supposed transcend ethnic differences while the UEDF advocated a genuine ethnic federalism to be implemented. The economic strategy of the EPRDF focused on the land which is the economic base of Ethiopia and public property, in which peasants – 83% of the population – have only temporary usage rights and more precisely, on the masses of subsistence farmers. The CUD quite simply wanted to privatise the land, to ‘liberate’ the peasantry from Party-State’s grip; the UEDF, however, was radically opposed, fearing that it would open the door to northern investors to corner the market of southern land once again. <br /><br />In 2010, the main opposition force, the Medrek (Forum), had a support base extending over almost all the country, with the notable exception of the Amhara region. On paper at least, its eight components had reached a common position on the ‘national question’ and on the issue of land. Thus, the gulf that separated 2005 when the opposition had drawn with the governing party in the elections with the extent that the governing party was forced to cheat to ensure a comfortable official victory, the 2010 defeat cannot be explained by an intrinsic weakening of the opposition.<br /><br />The second reason most often put forward to explain the ‘landslide victory’ of the EPRDF is the undeniable intensification of its authoritarianism. This led to ‘the lack of a level playing field for all contesting parties,’ according to the European Union Observation Mission. But several opposition leaders and commentators have only taken this into account within certain limits, i.e. when and where they themselves or their own milieu were directly affected by it. In social terms this means urban dwellers and more precisely the thin slice of them that makes up ‘civil society’. In temporal terms, it means during the two years in the run-up to the elections and during the electoral campaign, when the government stepped up its control even further. Once again, the opposition succumbed to that almost systematic tropism of the Ethiopian elite – navel-gazing, which led it to distance itself from the ‘real country,’ for which it has a kind of ‘blind spot’, starting with the rural areas, where 83% of the population and therefore 83% of voters live.<br /><br />So, it was on the three recent ‘villainous’ laws on information, NGOs and the fight against terrorism that they concentrated their denunciation of the regime’s shift towards increased authoritarianism. The media have almost no direct influence in the rural areas as there are no circulating newspapers. Very few people have a radio that works and those who do shamelessly confess that ‘political debates are not for us, we don’t understand what they are talking about.’ The only local NGOs are traditional community organisations run on age-old lines. So the anti-terrorist law has no effect here. Since time immemorial an official can punish any of those under his authority, even throwing him in jail, unless he has some form of special protection.</p><p><br />Similarly, while opposition campaigners were undeniably harassed during the elections, this had little real effect in rural areas, for the simple reason that, even if they had tried to campaign there, no-one would have listened to them, to the point of trying to avoid them altogether.<br /><br />For at least two thirds of the peasant population, an election simply has no meaning. They have a vision of the world where absolutely everything is determined by divine will, including who is in power. They feel they have no right to choose. As they often say: ‘God only decides who rules,’ so an election is futile. Above all, it presents one major danger: voting for the loser. The winner will find out even though the ballot is secret, the election winner has mysterious ways of knowing how each person voted. It could then take revenge on the ‘culprits’ which means putting no less than their survival at risk. This is because all public services, from education to fertiliser, from health care to loans, depend on the good will of local officials of the Party-State, up to and including access to the peasant farmer’s only means of production – land. The only electoral challenge, then, is to try to figure out who is going to win and to slide the ‘right’ ballot into the box. To find this out, one can only turn to the ‘opinion leaders’ of the peasant community, in other words, its elite and then all vote the same way. That way, even if they get it wrong, there is safety in numbers – ‘it’s easier to punish one individual than a whole community.’</p><p><br />The elite have generally developed a more secular vision and therefore have started to claim for citizen’s rights. Thus it feels entitled in choosing the country’s leaders. In 2005, where these elite’s members opposed the ruling regime for many and several reasons – in most rural areas at least – they were easily able to persuade people to vote against it, especially given that they could put forward tangible arguments for forecasting its defeat.</p><p><br />But just a few months after the elections, they were already disenchanted. The most visible opposition members were arrested while other opposition representatives were either totally powerless or even simply physically absent. ‘We voted for the opposition in 2005 and we got nothing from it,’ said these opinion leaders. ‘On the contrary, we suffered the wrath of the authorities.’ For them, ‘the 2005 elections taught us, above all, that however we vote, in the end the ruling power always wins.’ On the evidence that they had nothing to gain from joining the opposition except from being targets of harassment, these elite confided that ‘we remain strong opponents, but only in the remotest corner of our backyard.’ And the measures that the ruling party were to take in the following years, particularly 2006 to 2008, such as forced enrolment of this elite into the Party (see below), would only confirm this position. They repeatedly said it years before the electoral campaigns started – ‘we will not be campaigning for the opposition and will not even vote for them.’ Even supposing that the opposition had more ways and the elbow room to make itself heard, the ‘lesson’ of the 2005 elections as well as an omnipresent fear, would, in any event, have deprived it of the rural activists it needed to capture a decent share of the vote in the countryside.<br /><br />Given the weight of the peasant vote, defeat was inevitable from as early as Autumn 2005. But the debacle only started to emerge in the last two years before the elections especially during the electoral campaign, when the urban voters, traditionally the bastion of the opposition, progressively adopted the same reasoning as those living in the countryside – that is, that they would have nothing to gain by voting for the opposition but a great deal to lose. The repression of criticism, muffling of civil society and finally, the incredible pressure that the EPRDF put on voters, all had an effect. But the opposition seems also to have underestimated a decisive factor that led to the loss of its urban support: the political shift in the ruling Party, intensified after 2005 and the concomitant multiplication by seven in its membership (from 700,000 in 2005 to 5 million today or around one in seven of the adult population).<br /><br />Very schematically and in line with its original Marxist-Leninist leanings, it saw itself as the small elite – the self-proclaimed avant-garde – with the right and duty to direct the ‘development’ of the ‘broad masses’, which meant the mass of peasant farmers to lead them out of their incredible misery. In the same ‘socialist’ vein, it reined in private businesses. But some years ago, this ‘pro-poor policy’ gradually disappeared in the face of a form of development where the ‘developmentalist state’ continues to play a central role but essentially to benefit the ‘constructive investors’ to order to promote their entry into a ‘market economy’. It is these people that the Party has enrolled en masse, be it urban small entrepreneurs, intellectuals or especially, those very same, more dynamic farmers, all those who had provided the vast battalions for the opposition by rejecting the authoritarianism of the ruling party and its obstruction to their economic and social advancement. This membership is either purely utilitarian – ‘I am joining the Party because it will reward me in return’ or more often obligatory, where the Party forces the leading social and economic players to join. In a few words, the hard core of the EPRDF which once focused on the “toiling masses,” is now formulating its new political basis on an emerging middle class by promoting its advancement and by enrolling its members at the Party’s periphery. As a result, these former opponents have either actually been rallied round or at least politically neutralised. The opposition, therefore, lost most of its fighting forces and its ‘opinion leaders’, who brought with them the bulk of the electorate.<br /><br />While it was, then, inevitable that the opposition would be heavily defeated, no-one expected it to be wiped out. This provoked just as much surprise as its massive push in 2005. When the Prime-Minister, Meles Zenawi declared that he expected to get ‘50% to 75% of the vote” and that “we neither projected nor expected to get 99%,’ they confirmed their vision of the electoral challenge facing them. This translated as a clear win over the opposition as well as making up for their humiliation in 2005, but via a sufficiently ‘clean’ election, at least on the surface, to avoid violent reaction by the people, as in 2005, to get the opposition to ratify the results and finally and above all to provide donors with the argument they had been lacking up until then, to justify their full backing of the regime: it would finally have gained a democratic legitimacy through the ballot box.<br /><br />If, for the time being there is nothing to indicate that troubles like those of 2005 might break out – people have not forgotten the 200 demonstrators who lost their lives and the 30,000 members of the opposition who were arrested – the electoral plan of Meles Zenawi is in 2010 a failure just as it was in 2005. The reason is, once again, the disconnect between the party leaders and its apparatus, despite its rigid, ‘Leninist’ form of hierarchical management. In 2005, the local ‘cadres’ had tried in vain to alert the top leadership of the growing opposition in order to contain its push and to this end to throw the EPRDF in the electoral battle. But these appeals never reached the ears of the leadership, not least because of its blind confidence in victory. They only realised the danger a month before Election Day and the Party-State’s counter-offensive, from top to bottom, and from one day to the next, came too late not to have to resort to vote-rigging in order to win. In 2010, the party’s apparatus went much beyond the original intentions of its leadership. They set out on a frenetic local campaign of one-upmanship, probably motivated by their humiliating defeat in 2005 and with the particular aim of showing their superiors that they were even more zealous than their colleagues next door. They therefore over-reacted by over-pressuring the voters, which European Union observers did not fail to note and even with flagrant vote rigging, which could be noticed in the EU final report. Hence the 99.6% return which is so improbable that it makes the regime look ridiculous, even, it seems, discrediting the Party in the eyes of some of its own core members and once and for all negates any ambition it may have had of being seen as ‘democratising.’ As a result, the EPRDF did not have a ‘landslide victory’ so much as a serious defeat. <br /><br />Despite the pressure and event threats from the government, the main opposition force continues to contest the election results. It also wonders whether their single representative should join Parliament or not, so as to refuse to legitimise the de facto reign of a single party. The USA, stalwart ally of Ethiopia, went further than ever by declaring that the elections did not meet ‘international standards’. The foreign press is of one voice in its judgement that the regime is authoritarian, if not totalitarian and even goes as far as comparing it to that of Mengistu Haile Mariam, leader of the communist-military junta overthrown by Meles&nbsp;– in both cases, ‘the state and the ruling party are one and the same’ (Wall Street Journal). The setback is so obvious that the demonstration held in Addis-Ababa by the EPRDF to celebrate its ‘victory’ aimed in fact to demonstrate that Ethiopians ‘have rejected election meddling by western powers under the guise of human rights.’<br /><br />But all the signs are that this cooling in relations with the donors will not have a long-term impact. While they are openly critical of the elections, they have never put into question the pursuit of their aid. Following the 2005 elections they had suspended part of it, only to reinstate it and even increase it a few months later, with just a change to its distribution network. Ethiopia is the perfect illustration that those receiving aid are not necessarily obliged to those giving it but rather the reverse. They would find it hard to justify to their public opinion a suppression of aid on political grounds, while Meles, on the contrary, can reject any imposed conditions in the name of the ‘sovereignty’ of the country. Finally, and above all, he knows that the West see him as the sole guarantee of stability in Ethiopia, which is at the core of a Horn of Africa in the throes of innumerable conflicts, as well as being their inescapable ally in the ‘fight against terrorism,’ which is their strategic priority for the entire region.<br /><br />Nevertheless, this forced electoral takeover will weigh heavily on the country’s internal development. The extra-parliamentary opposition sees in the 2010 election one more proof that any form of democratic contest would be meaningless, the only remaining option being the armed struggle. But the chances of such an uprising being successful are still as slight as ever, either because of the persistent weakness of its leadership (Oromo Liberation Front), or because a core leadership still has not found the leverage to mobilise a peasant army (Ethiopian Peoples Patriotic Front), the juncture between the former and the latter being the sine qua non of an armed struggle in Ethiopia. The legal opposition, which saw not a single one of its leaders re-elected, is out for the count with very few chances of getting back on its feet not least because the ruling party will not allow them an inch of room to rebuild.<br /><br />The hypothesis of a brutal breakdown cannot be totally excluded, with an unexpected event such as some insignificant incident that flares up into urban riots, stirred up by ethnic tensions and/or a sudden rage against the regime that the police and the army would be unable to contain. But, any internal changes could most probably only come through developments within the ruling party itself, given the impotence of the opposition and aid donors’ support of the regime. The political shift by the EPRDF and the multiplication of its membership has already started a process of change. Added to this is a generation change in the leadership, which is inevitable given the advanced age of the present incumbents. The profile of the newcomers is quite different to that of their elders in two fundamental ways: they did not rise out of the Ethiopian student movement of the 1970s, which was the strongest and most radically Marxist in all of black Africa; they came to the party out of self-interest, or were forced to do so. <br /><br />So, what will be the position adopted by the new leadership? Will they stick together, or will the old guard keep control from the sidelines? How, within the Party, will the old hardcore deal with this mixed mass of newcomers and if they do manage to have a say within this heavily hierarchic Party, what will be their political stance? The future depends very much on the answers to these questions.<br /><br />Given that the deepest sense of hierarchy runs through Ethiopian society as a whole, and given that the emerging middle class largely overlaps with the traditional elites, who have always been the opinion leaders, the neo-patrimonial system under construction could become sustainable, in other words, could offer the Party a wide enough and attractive base to be legitimised through (at least superficially) ‘clean’ elections. But on one condition: that everyone can benefit from this system on equal terms, i.e. that an end is put to the privileges accorded to the Tigreans. But will the present beneficiaries accept it?<br /><br />Maintaining Tigrean domination, which has prevented any real democratic opening, was and still is the main factor of instability in Ethiopia. And it will continue if ethnic inequalities are perpetuated under this new, neo-patrimonial Party. The ‘national question’ remains the key of Ethiopia’s future.<br /><br /></p><div class="field field-city"> <div class="field-label">City:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Ethiopia </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> </div> </div> Ethiopia Democracy and government africa René Lefort Tue, 20 Jul 2010 06:51:19 +0000 René Lefort 55219 at https://www.opendemocracy.net René Lefort https://www.opendemocracy.net/author-profile/ren%C3%A9-lefort <div class="field field-au-term"> <div class="field-label">Author:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> René Lefort </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-au-firstname"> <div class="field-label">First name(s):&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> René </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-au-surname"> <div class="field-label">Surname:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Lefort </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-au-city"> <div class="field-label">City:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Paris </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-au-country"> <div class="field-label">Country:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> France </div> </div> </div> <p>René Lefort has been writing about sub-saharan Africa since the 1970s and has reported on the region for Le Monde, Le Monde diplomatique, Libération, Le Nouvel Observateur. <br /> <br /> He is the author of <a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/offer-listing/0862321549/ref=ed_oe_p_olp/184-1959595-6183037">"Ethiopia. An heretical revolution?"</a> (1982, Zed books). </p><div class="field field-au-shortbio"> <div class="field-label">One-Line Biography:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> René Lefort has been writing about sub-saharan Africa since the 1970s and has reported on the region for Le Monde, Le Monde diplomatique, Libération, Le Nouvel Observateur. &lt;br /&gt; &lt;br /&gt; He is the author of &lt;a href=&quot;http://www.amazon.com/gp/offer-listing/0862321549/ref=ed_oe_p_olp/184-1959595-6183037&quot;&gt;&amp;quot;Ethiopia. An heretical revolution?&amp;quot;&lt;/a&gt; (1982, Zed books). &lt;br /&gt; &lt;br /&gt; His email is &lt;a href=&quot;mailto:renelefort@wanadoo.fr&quot;&gt;renelefort@wanadoo.fr&lt;/a&gt; </div> </div> </div> René Lefort Tue, 20 Jul 2010 06:50:05 +0000 René Lefort 55218 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Ethiopia's famine: deny and delay https://www.opendemocracy.net/article/email/ethiopias-famine-deny-and-delay <p> In 2008 famine struck Ethiopia. Now, at the start of 2009 it is looming again. According to the “Humanitarian Requirements” released on 30 January 2009 by the government in Addis Ababa and their “Humanitarian Partners”, 13 million Ethiopians - one-sixth of the population - are in need of aid. For over 10 million of them the need is urgent. But food allocations have already been “tentatively cancelled” or reduced. Relief is inadequate, as it has continued to be since the food crisis began in early 2008. The effects of its initial denial and then its consistent underestimation, which turned local production shortages into humanitarian catastrophes, are still being felt. </p> <div class="pullquote_new"> René Lefort has been writing about sub-saharan Africa since the 1970s and has reported on the region for Le Monde, Le Monde diplomatique, Libération, Le Nouvel Observateur. <br /> <br /> He is the author of <a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/offer-listing/0862321549/ref=ed_oe_p_olp/184-1959595-6183037">&quot;Ethiopia. An heretical revolution?&quot;</a> (1982, Zed books). <br /> <br /> His email is <a href="mailto:renelefort@wanadoo.fr">renelefort@wanadoo.fr</a> </div> <p> <br /> But, exactly a year ago, there was an atmosphere of euphoria. Almost all international experts and the Ethiopian authorities were announcing that the autumn harvest (95% of the annual harvest) was 7% to 10% above the previous year’s. In 2008, it would therefore be possible, simultaneously, “to cover all the cereal requirements at the aggregate level,” increase Ethiopians’ average food ration by 20%, double food reserves, including the Emergency Food Security Reserve, and even export 800,000 tonnes. Simon Mechale, head of the Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Agency (DPPA), confirmed that the regime’s main promise was still on track. “Ethiopia will soon fully ensure its food security,” he said. <br /> <br /> To meet their promise, on top of the agricultural ‘boom’, the government and international donor organizations were convinced they also had a key weapon: the Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP) - “the biggest social protection instrument in Africa”, which would break the “cycle of dependence on food aid”. Food aid offered temporary, one-off relief: providing its beneficiaries with the minimum to survive a shock, such as a poor harvest, but not enough to protect them from the next shock. Instead, the Safety Net targets the medium term development of eight million Ethiopians, the most chronically food insecure. By guaranteeing them a given amount of money or food for five years, in exchange for public works, they were supposed to build up enough productive assets in order to be able to overcome the shocks themselves.<br /> <br /> But this arrangement was to collapse like a house of cards. On 9 April 2008, the Ethiopian government finally launched an appeal for emergency food assistance for 3.2 million Ethiopians. In less than three months, the number of those in need rose to over 12 million, swelled by the poor ‘lesser’ harvest, following the failure of the ‘little’ Spring rains of 2008. Officially.<br /> <br /> The government endlessly repeated that it was facing a “minor problem” that would “be soon brought under control.” In reality it was completely overwhelmed, and its donors too. The Emergency Food Security Reserve, which was supposed to contain 400,000 tonnes, was almost empty. Three quarters of the beneficiaries of the Safety Net required emergency relief because they could not survive with their regular welfare assistance. There was a rush to raise funds and import food, but it would take at least three months to arrive. Reserves in the warehouses fell to a quarter of what was needed. In July 2008, the food ration was reduced by a third, then by half, for October and November. Despite a quadrupling in the value of humanitarian aid in 2008 compared to 2007, the emergency importation of 1.3 million tonnes of food in the first ten months of 2008, and the multiplication by seven of the number of Therapeutic Feeding Centers between the start of the crisis and September 2008, to service the world’s largest ever medical operation to save children suffering from severe acute malnutrition, the relief came too late and was too little to offset the largest human catastrophe since the famine of 1984/5, with its hundreds of thousands of deaths.<br /> <br /> This failure was a result, first of all, of weaknesses in the early warning systems. For example, given Ethiopia’s rain-fed agriculture, failed rains forecast a poor harvest. But disruptions to the “main” summer rains of 2007 in the Highlands were not detected, notably along the Rift Valley, south-west of Addis Ababa, which would become the epicentre of the crisis. The same was true for the total absence of “lesser” rains at the end of 2007, specific to this area, with even more dramatic consequences. But, worse than neglecting these warning signs, which were visible since the end of the Summer of 2007, was the subsequent denial of increasingly serious signs of hunger.  <br /> <br /> “Famines do not occur in functioning democracies”, argues the Indian Nobel laureate in economics, Amartya Sen. The Ethiopian regime is diabolically good at cultivating appearances, while draining away any substance they may have had. The single party, which controls the State, is in the hands of the Tigrean minority, who make up 6% of the population. This ‘ethnicism’ undermines the regime’s legitimacy and obstructs any opening towards democracy, which might end this monopoly, as shown by the repression of the opposition after its breakthrough in the 2005 elections. This is one of the factors that rendered it incapable of playing its role as an opposing force, by sounding the alarm on a crisis that it saw coming, but was never able to quantify exactly. Since the international, and especially the national press, and even the ‘free press’, operate under strict surveillance, it cannot risk covering ‘sensitive’ subjects. The first reports of the drought in the Highlands only appeared in April 2008. No investigation has ever been published on the government’s reaction to the situation.<br /> <br /> The regime’s authoritarianism also stems from a dual inheritance. The heritage of the ancestral Abyssinian identity, which is founded on a sense of respect for hierarchical authority. And also ‘democratic centralism’, which has remained the Party-State’s mode of organisation, a continuation of the Marxist-Maoist ideology that was the current leadership&#39;s religion until it took power in 1991.<br /> <br /> Any hope of popular political support for the regime is therefore dead in the water. And the regime knows it. Its survival strategy can be summed up as attempting to compensate for its rejection by dazzling economic success, the famous “double digit growth” that it parades at every opportunity. This growth is supposed to validate the “Renaissance” of Ethiopia, which the regime celebrated with great pomp and ceremony as it entered the first year of the third millennium of its calendar, from September 2007 to September 2008. Destined to “become a middle income country in about 20 years”, Ethiopia would “never stretch our hands to beg for what we need, ever again.” To recognise the drought would therefore mean asking for aid, and to admit, with donors, that the Safety Net was failing, would be to admit that the economy was not performing quite as well as the regime was telling everyone. This was out of the question. Addissu Legesse, Deputy Prime Minister and in charge of rural development, said as much himself. When the international media and humanitarian organisations began to sound the alarm at the deepening crisis, he reproached them less for trying “to get huge assistance” than for being “intent on belittling the economic growth of the country.”<br /> <br /> By culture as much as because of the system, in order to avoid being sanctioned for incompetence, every civil servant must therefore demonstrate that he is translating this dogma of growth into deeds, at his level, even if this means dressing up, or even denying reality.<br /> <br /> This subservience of the civil service has effectively barred it from being among the first to sound the alarm at local level, even though it has outposts in every tiny hamlet in each of the 17,000 communes. When they realised that their harvest was bad, delegations of farmers called on the authorities for aid, as is customary. With one voice, local officials replied, “we don’t want to know. Sort it out yourselves!”<br /> <br /> This same local government provides figures on food production, which are then “processed” and compiled by those higher up the hierarchy, forming the basis for most estimates of the size of the harvest and therefore of the humanitarian needs. The better-known estimates are put together at the end of every year by several Ethiopian departments and, among others, the FAO, WFP, European Union, and USAID. But, as underlined by a FAO/WFP report, “the agricultural officers are rewarded for (reported) increases in production.” This initial bias is then further exacerbated by two others - the political imperatives of those at the top of the Ethiopian political ladder and those of the donor organisations. Dressed up in a technical format that is supposed to make them look ‘scientific’, these assessments are more a translation of these forms of distortion, bitterly negotiated between the various imperatives, than they are a reflection of reality.<br /> <br /> Proof of this was the announcement, in December 2007, of this “bumper harvest”, just as the country stood on the brink of famine. This led to an estimate of ‘only’ 2.4 million Ethiopians who would need emergency food relief, and became the figure that donor agencies agreed on, even though they knew it was an underestimate. But, for the first time, their final negotiations with the DPPA foundered: it refused to accept this figure. According to the negotiators, it put forward a single argument, a pure imposition of authority: “there cannot be so many people in need,” implying that it was not politically acceptable. As a result, the “Humanitarian Appeal”, traditionally launched a few weeks later by the government and donor organisations to set the humanitarian machine in motion, stayed on the desk. It continued to be blocked for the next four months. The main alarm signal had been stifled.<br /> <br /> The DPPA stuck to its position. At the end of February 2008, slyly and alone, it published a document stating that 1.7 million people were in need of emergency aid, a figure barely above that of early 2007, and so politically acceptable. Above all, the DDPA was implying that Ethiopia could deal with the situation on its own, without international help.<br /> <br /> Finally, in mid-March 2008, the Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, consecrated this denial, when he reported to Parliament on the economic situation. He only mentioned the drought in passing, saying that “rumours” about it were “false” and that it was “not a serious threat”. It only affected the Lowland pastures in the South, without causing any humans or cattle to die, even though local officials had just declared the opposite. There was nothing on the Highlands and, in particular, the Rift Valley. But officials knew full well that the rate of  ‘severe acute malnutrition’ of children, a stage where the risk of mortality is very high without immediate medical intervention, was five times higher than the rate that triggers an emergency food relief operation, according to international standards. “When figures like this are reached,” say nutrition experts, “the harm has already been done, and children have long been dying of hunger.”<br /> <br /> What exactly did Meles know then? Because of the regime’s lack of transparency, observers disagree. For some, he knew all about the crisis. Others are more circumspect: Meles was late in learning about the real scale of the famine because officials had been more or less hiding the facts. But, these observers emphasise, Meles was ultimately to blame, because he had been solely in charge for the past 17 years. However, his reading of one of the main effects of the drought - the highest rate of inflation in Africa after Zimbabwe - can only be deliberately false.<br /> <br /> This, he said, only affected “low income urban dwellers”. Those living in rural areas, “85% of the population... [are] not affected by the price rise”. Yet everyone knows that half of the farmers have to buy food, because their own production does not cover all their needs, and a fifth of these have to purchase more than half of their food. From March 2007 to March 2008, the price of basic foodstuffs increased by about 50%, only to double in the following four months. In particular, at least four million beneficiaries of the Safety Net are paid in cash, but their daily payment was, in the end, only enough to provide a third of their family’s daily needs. Meles, with his administration behind him, left tens of millions of Ethiopians to fend for themselves, no longer able to afford the most common foods.<br /> <br /> “Three or four months have been lost,” humanitarians and diplomats now say, in good faith and always off the record. But why was nothing said about it? “The situation was becoming serious,” some of them were to say later, “even if we didn’t size it up exactly. But there reigned a conspiracy of silence, whether tacit or deliberate”. Sometimes, even connivance. Visiting Addis Ababa a few days before the release of the first Humanitarian Requirements of 9 April 2008, Josette Sheeran, Executive Director of the WFP, whose local office knows the attitude of the Ethiopian authorities only too well, declared that “the government move in addressing the current food shortage… serves as a model.” It was necessary to wait for needs to be assessed, to decide “if it is appropriate or inappropriate to issue an (humanitarian) appeal,” even though these needs had been known for four months and had not stopped growing.<br /> <br /> The Ethiopian government wielded an iron hand over humanitarian organisations and donor agencies, ensuring that they only acted within the official or tacit limits imposed upon them, following the whims of the current political agenda, even if this meant restricting, even distorting their activities, to the point of breaking with their own ethical principles; if not they could risk expulsion. Hence, among other things, an extreme form of self-censorship in order to remain always publicly in step with the official Ethiopian line, no matter how far from reality it may be, and, even more so, to refrain from any form of advocacy. Hence, also, the absolute refusal to go on the record. The International Red Cross was thrown out of one part of the Somali region in July 2007, accused, without evidence, of having waged a “smear campaign against the regional government” by feeding, off the record, English-language media with information on the government’s demands.<br /> <br /> With one exception, all the aid organisations, governmental or not, decided to stay on, whatever the price to be paid. Following an institutional logic, they felt they had to be present in one of the principal fields of humanitarian action on the planet. Out of responsibility for the people they were helping, and only too aware that the Ethiopian government would know how to make them appear responsible for “abandoning them”, if they were to leave. And for some major UK and American NGOs and most of the United Nations agencies, to align themselves with the diplomats. “If they are going hand in hand with the regime,” said members of these agencies, “it is above all to fit in with a political agenda.” The major powers, led by the USA, refrained from any substantial criticism and, above all, any tangible sanctions against a regime that they credit with ensuring the country’s stability - an exception in a highly tormented Horn of Africa. Mainly, in a mainly Islamic region, traversed by currents of extremism, Ethiopia, where nearly half of the population are Christians, is their “strategic ally” in the “war on terror”. Finally, in early 2008, these leading countries felt themselves all the more indebted to this regime, given that they were not providing the support it had counted on for its intervention in Somalia, even when that turned into a disaster. So, the expected relationship between donors and recipients is inverted, and the former become obliged to the latter. <br /> <br /> Only Douglas Alexander, the British Minister for International Development, dared publicly to condemn the attitude of the Ethiopian regime vis-à-vis the food crisis, by calling it one of “deny and delay”. But it drew absolutely no response outside or inside the country. For example, five months later, Gordon Brown has invited Meles Zenawi to participate in the G20 London meeting next month, albeit in his capacity as Chairman of NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa’s Development). Inside the country, if an Ethiopian elite knew about this condemnation, it lacked any precise supporting information. If investigations into the mortality rate were carried out, they were never published. We have no idea of the number of victims claimed by this famine. Tens of thousands?<br /> <br /> Rightly or wrongly, Emperor Haile Selassie personifies the disdain of his regime for the famine of 1973/4, which claimed 200,000 deaths. He was overthrown a few months later. By deliberately ignoring the famine of 1984/5, in case it took away the sheen of the tenth anniversary of the socialist Derg junta’s accession to power and the concomitant creation of the Worker’s Party of Ethiopia, Mengistu Haile Mariam signed the beginning of its end. But there is no sign that the famine of 2008 will trigger a similar movement.<br /> <br /> Whatever the arguments, the number of victims is out of all proportion to the previous two famines. Those responsible are harder to identify because its origins are more systemic and more diffuse. The silence of international organisations and diplomats, if not their connivance, are also contributing factors. But, by exposing the flaws of economic development, and by plunging millions of Ethiopians into famine, this crisis is further discrediting the regime in the eyes of the people. And above all, the international community, which finally recognises that, day by day, the facts refute the regime’s claim that Ethiopia is an “emerging democracy”, is also beginning to doubt what it considered the country’s major achievement: the economic success the regime is endlessly boasting of. </p> africa & democracy democracy & power africa René Lefort Creative Commons normal René Lefort email Tue, 24 Mar 2009 11:43:01 +0000 René Lefort 47591 at https://www.opendemocracy.net