What next for Addis after Meles Zenawi?
By Melakou Tegegn
Posted Sunday, August 26 2012
Meles Zenawi, the prime minister of Ethiopia who ruled the country for over twenty years with an iron fist is now dead. Ethiopia is yet again confronted with the erstwhile question: quo vadis Ethiopia? (Which way Ethiopia?)
A number of political coincidences and opportunities have occurred in that country to forge national unity since the overthrow of the military regime in 1991 but none have been seized upon to bring about the political sanity required. All previous opportunities have been squandered one by one mainly by the ruling party headed by Meles Zenawi. The opposition has also had its share in this when it squandered the political opportunity created as a result of the 2005 elections. Like many politicians in the continent, Ethiopian politicians are also amazingly dogged. They easily opt for rejections, come what may.
Despite the claims for an 11 per cent annual economic growth and the eulogies by Mr David Cameron, Ethiopia is still one of the 10 most impoverished countries in the world. Its people still live in abject poverty of biblical times. On top of this, they have never been crowned with any sort of dignity but ruled by a series of regimes whose rule has been characterised by gross political and human rights violations.
Despite the claim for a history of 3,000 years, Ethiopians have never had any sort of freedom and practiced any of their civil and human rights even those proclaimed in the three Constitutions that they knew. The country has been at war of one sort or another for the last 400 years. One can easily imagine the prevalence of the culture of violence which is most often reflected in the functioning of governance.
The country has never seen and experienced a comprehensive peace. Reigning over such a situation, literally all governments, both of the traditional and the self-styled ‘modern’ governments, have practised extreme forms of violence to enforce their rule. Freedom, democracy and human rights did not exist in the vocabularies of these governments and the people have been ruled by iron fists (political repression, mass imprisonment, torture and official state terror against outspoken individuals and institutions) while the West (the champion of human rights and democracy) looked the other way.
The consequence of such authoritarian rule has been grave: it turned the country into a perpetual beggar even amidst the government’s claim of a bumper harvest. Poverty and under-development have been the hallmarks of Ethiopia if not famine and starvation. The political rule has been and still is the main culprit behind Ethiopia’s poverty. To undo poverty and under-development, the key is freedom and democracy.
To generate social change in Ethiopia, i.e. in face of such colossal poverty and extremely repressive rule, there is no way out except creating an enabling environment for everyone, i.e. political parties, civil society organisations and social movements. Opting for the single will of one political party to prevail has always constituted a recipe for disaster and it will continue to be one. Ethiopia is a huge country with a large population (85 million) and is multi-ethnic and multi-religious. Heterogeneity in all its forms is Ethiopia’s description.
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Amidst such heterogeneity, claiming the prevalence of one over the rest is simply unnatural. No wonder why Ethiopia has all sorts of conflicts the more various political forces attempt to enforce their single will. They have all failed one by one. That is why the salvation of Ethiopia lies in democratisation and prevalence of freedom as a guarantee for the respect for heterogeneity.
A social change can only succeed if only it is based on democracy. The country has gone through feudal autocracy, military dictatorship and ethnicisation of politics that have all denied freedom. They have all failed.
Now more than ever, Ethiopia needs national reconciliation. Despite official assurances for calm and composure, it is in a deep political crisis marked by the pitting of society as a whole against the government, danger of religious fundamentalism looming over as legitimate religious demands are met with killings and repression, colossal poverty still prevails, the apathy of the public is worrying, prevalence of armed rebellions and possibilities of more break outs of rebellion, and worst of all, an ethnic cleansing targeting the Tigrean people is a major threat once hell is let loose. In face of such crisis, national reconciliation between the ruling party and opposition parties on the one hand; and between the ruling party and the nascent civil society (professional associations, private media, NGOs, etc…) on the other is absolutely essential.
If Ethiopia has still to restore the respect it deserves internationally, play a more constructive role in regional peace processes and crown its own people with the dignity they deserve, its politicians have the greatest historical responsibility ever. Both the ruling party and opposition parties have to realise this and be prepared to retreat from their ossified positions and views and be ready for a national reconciliation. Repression and armed resistance have to give way to a peaceful political transformation.
The main goal of the national reconciliation must be to restore the pre-2005 status quo ante as a minimum to create rapprochement between the warring factions. For this to be attained, the principal initiative should come from the ruling party. It has to declare its readiness for a national reconciliation.
It has to take a few confidence building measures such as rescinding all post-2005 laws and proclamations that limited freedom in general (anti-terrorism law, press law, NGO law, etc…), release political prisoners and journalists, declare amnesty for refugees and invite them to return to the country, and express its desire to sit in a national conference to discuss the country’s political future. The opposition on its part, has to resort to cessation of all sorts of hostilities and propaganda war and express its readiness for a national conference of all parties.
If Ethiopia’s politicians fail to seize the time and opportunity for a national reconciliation once again, let there be no doubt that the ruling party will never reconcile with the people hence invite more rebellions; and opposition politicians will never lead society towards democratisation. In that case, the current opportunity will once again slip out of their hands in which case they will eventually lead the country astray and we won’t cease asking “Quo vadis Ethiopia?”.
The future of Ethiopia’s economy
While Ethiopia remains one of the world’s poorest countries (ranked 174 out of 187 on the UN’s Human Development Index) real growth in GDP has averaged 11 per cent over the past 6 years, well above the sub-Saharan Africa average.
With low integration into world financial markets shielding it from the 2008 crisis, Ethiopia has been one of Africa’s most rapidly expanding economies, despite a lack of minerals or hydro-carbons which have boosted many of Africa’s other fastest growing economies.
Although the economy is insular compared to its east African peers and the state remains its key actor, Ethiopia was selectively opened to foreign investment, building ties to the west while also attracting FDI from major emerging markets such as India, Turkey and China – Meles cited the latter as his development model.
This investment has been directed towards a huge modernisation programme for Ethiopia’s infrastructure and public amenities. Alongside an expansion of the road network, built by the Chinese, 2,395km of railway are planned. This investment has added 0.6 per cent to annual GDP growth, according to the World Bank.
Energy has been a particular focus. The government’s five-year Growth and Transformation plan unveiled in 2010 targets an increase of electricity production from 2,000MW to 10,000MW. A series of huge dams – the $4.8bn Grand Renaissance dam on the Blue Nile is the largest hydro-electric project in Africa – will make Ethiopia a regional electricity exporter if completed.