Camels March, Dogs Bark
Desta B. Sbhatu
As Ethiopia’s fifth national and local elections are nearing with all preparations going smooth, the neoliberals as well as other adversaries are out in full force attacking the Country and the ruling party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). It is disservice to readers of this article to talk much about the history of Ethiopia and Ethiopians and their free-fall for several years to end up at the verge of disintegration towards the conclusion of the 20th Century. Fortunately, it is almost a quarter of a century since Ethiopians have managed to avert an imminent danger of disintegration and started pursuing their journey via dependable sociopolitical course that ensures and sustains their unity and overall transformation.
One of the instruments that ensure and sustain the unity and overall transformation of Ethiopians is democratic election – that put required tools that promote informed decisions of the electorate. The arrangement of platforms to assist all contending political parties to publicize their policies to the electorate is one of the tools that promote informed decisions of the electorate. The commitment of the Ethiopian ruling party in helping create conducive grounds for political discourses in which the contending opposition political parties reach out the electorate – through allotting media space and engaging them in televised political debates – is quite commendable. Unfortunately, almost all the opposition parties have failed to exploit that opportunity to the fullest – because of incompetence and for the purpose of deceiving the electorate.
Generally speaking, the opposition political parties are engaged in belittling the achievements of the ruling party, in denying what has so far been achieved in the country, or in some extreme cases in categorically declaring what the country has come along in last quarter of a century to be a recipe for imminent disaster. Much of the content of the debates of the opposition parties focus on dramatizing the ruling party’s limitations and problems while providing no workable solutions to those problems and limitations. The policy options of the opposition parties are similar to policy options that didn’t work in many other countries; and yet they are less articulate, and in extreme cases, utterly nonsense and contradictory.
On the one hand, they would go for privatizing all state banks; on the other hand, they promise to provide citizens with interest-free loans. On the one hand, they pledge to privatize the land; on the other hand, they promise to provide citizens with free land. One the one hand, they pledge to privatize housing services; on the other hand, they promise to provide low-income citizens with affordable housing services. On the one hand, they promise to ensure the human and democratic rights of citizens; on the other hand, they pledge to abandon instruments ensuring the human and democratic rights of citizens. On the one hand, they promise to work for developing liberal political economic system; on the other hand, they complain when farmers get into towns to work as laborers.
Another critical problem with the opposition political parties is their lack of commitment to be engaged in the election process in legally and morally acceptable ways. Though, all the opposition political parties have expressed their commitment to work hard for the conclusion of credible, fair, free, and peaceful election and promised to respect the election code of the country, some opposition parties are putting the national election board in awkward position and astonishing the electorate by engaging in various conspiracies to discredit the preparations towards the election. When one looks into to the track-records of some opposition parties, their members and high priests as well as the interests of their Diaspora financers and their neoliberal enablers, they will never stop trying to discredit the process and the outcome of the upcoming election. What has happened during the national mourning event due to the slaughtering of innocent Ethiopians in Libya is clear testimonial that some of the contending opposition parties are working to bring Arab Spring or Orange Revolution home.
Fortunately, the commitment of the Ethiopian electorate to play its role in promoting the process of democratization of the country is outstanding. Data on voters’ registration shows us that over 95% of eligible voters have registered in almost all constituencies. If we look into the socioeconomic and political participations of the Ethiopian polity, such as in supporting the government’s mega projects, in participating in unpaid environmental rehabilitation works, in supporting government policies and plans (e.g. education, health, saving, small and medium enterprising, irrigation), and in understanding and tolerating some limitations of the government (e.g. power and communication interruptions, water shortage), the high voters’ registration cannot be a surprise.
Ethiopian development partners – i.e. many international development agencies and nations – have maintained their commitment not to interfere on the election process. The usual carrot-and-stick policies of major international development agencies are becoming bygones. The recent development in regard to Ethio-Egyptian relations and the shift in the stand of the US to denounce and reject all terrorist entities conspiring to overthrow the EPRDF-led legitimate government by force have sent shivers through the spines of anti-Ethiopian and anti-EPRDF forces.
Hence, it can be attested that the EPRDF-led government is registering outstanding successes in all fronts – winning the support of the Ethiopian polity while exposing the ineptness of the opposition political parties and the inadequacies of their ideological alternatives; sustaining and enhancing the peace, security and unity of the citizens through equitable development and genuine democracy; and garnering the support and friendship of international development agencies and diversity of nations of disparate ideological inclinations – including those nations that were traditionally unyielding in regard to Ethiopian affairs. These realities and observations show us that EPRDF’s democratic developmental state is proving itself to be the best ideological framework for quick and effective socioeconomic and political development and transformation of Ethiopia.
In the midst of these hard-to-deny verities, there exist neoliberal apologists of half-baked opposition political parties and anti-democratic and anti-peace elements as well as media outlets that cannot stand positive developments and good news about Ethiopia. A naïve compatriot from Kenya depicted Ethiopia badly in a commentary entitled Kenya Can’t, Won’t Be Ethiopia that was published on the Kenya-based STANDARD Digital on its 10 April 2015 online edition – using the narratives of neoliberal mouthpieces and good-for-nothing Ethiopian political elements as sole sources. I have written my reflection on that commentary in an article entitled: Inept Journalism Gone Loose. A Response to the Commentary Entitled “Kenya Can’t, Won’t be Ethiopia” – which appeared on aigaforum.com on 13 April 2015.
A week after the STANDARD’s commentary, BBC’s Africa Business Report came up with an article entitled Africa Blog: Is Ethiopia’s Building Boom Masking Poverty? It was written by Lerato Mbale and was published online on 16 April 2015. The article put the following four assertions. The first one was the writer’s allegation that “the only Addis Ababan who was willing to talk politics about her country was an inquisitive elderly woman who was on flight to South Africa”. The second assertion was related to the woman’s reflection about the upcoming election – where she believed that the victory of the ruling party to be “a foregone conclusion” though “she did not believe that the electorate has good views about the ruling party”. The third point was related to the alleged masked poverty and says that “there are still homeless people and beggars in the streets of Addis Ababa; and many of the building in the city are empty because the Ethiopian middle-class, like doctors and lawyers, cannot afford to rent them”. The final point was somewhat disingenuous – that the woman believes the government’s intensions of promoting the construction projects to be for show-off and she hopes that the leaders’ economic dreams lead to tangible changes among citizens.
So, what is the bottom line? The implicit and/or explicit message of Mr Mbale is:
Addis Ababans do not express their views about their government on camera because they afraid of it. The reason why the residents are afraid to express their views is because their views are negative – i.e. they do not have positive views – and because they will not be tolerated if they express negative views. Hence, as all the residents have similar negative views, the reflection given by the inquisitive elderly woman is quite enough to horribly depict the EPRDF-led government of Ethiopia.
[Citizens of any country would not be shy to applaud their government’s good deeds unless there is none. Likewise, they would not fail to criticize its limitations unless it does not tolerate any criticism. Had Mr Mbale has the chance to attend any town hall meetings of citizens and public administrative entities; he could have learned how much and how far Ethiopians criticize their government and their leaders.] So, this is balanced journalism; and the BBC has no shame to publish it on its website!
Oh, Lerato Mbale! I would have been quite happy if he listens. EPRDF-led government and the Ethiopian peoples have never denied the existence of poverty in the country. In fact, that is the reason why the government and the peoples of Ethiopia consider poverty as their number one enemy and working hand in hand to defeat it. So, there is no need to search for old photos – and old memories – to prove the existence poverty in Addis Ababa and elsewhere. Mr Mbale has traveled great lengths to unmask the unmasked and to give up his integrity by extrapolating the reflection of a single woman for no good reason – but to blackmail Ethiopia and its populist government. This is not Inept Journalism Gone Loose. It is Ridiculous Journalism Gone Wild.
Another article that have gone great lengths to resurrect the dying voices neoliberal hypocrites is entitled Ethiopia: Fears Grow for Indigenous People in the Path of Massive Ethiopian Dam, published on allafrica.com on 17 April 2015. The article is written by Mr Chalachew Tadesse. It advocates for the protection ancestral indigenous communities and their lands that shall be affected by the Gilgel Gibe III Hydropower Dam.
First of all, it is helpful to clarify an important source of confusion. The nations, nationalities, and peoples of Ethiopia – through their Constitution – have made it clear that the land shall remain their common property. The meaning and implication of this constitutional arrangement is that no individual or group can claim the ownership of land for any reason. Hence, the government has the mandate to move citizens from their settlements – ancestral, indigenous, or otherwise – when those settlements are needed for development by paying compensations for the properties above the ground and by providing the citizens with better settlements. Many citizens have moved/are moving leaving their settlements when needed for development – e.g. airports, colleges and universities, dry ports, hydropower dams, industry parks, military bases and training camps, national parks, power lines, private and state farms, rail ways, road networks, urban expansions, and science and technology parks. Hence, advocating for the protection of lands – for genuine concerns or cynical reasons – has no constitutional ground. How many citizens did leave their ancestral settlements for the Addis – Adama Express Way? How many more would leave their ancestral settlements when the Express Way is extended to Hawassa?
The writer of the article has compiled the reactions and reflections of several ‘experts’, some representing the self-acclaimed rights groups, about the impacts of the Gilgel Gibe Dam Project on indigenous communities, the environment, and wildlife. The concerns of the ‘experts’ would have made some sense had they recommended for the sustainable development and transformation of those communities. Unfortunately, they are advocating for the communities to be left alone in perpetual misery – to serve as guinea pigs of western anthropological inquiry. In some generous cases, the ‘experts’ complain for the lack of engagement of the indigenous communities in issues that affect their lives and communities.
But, what is Mr Chalachew doing by compiling cruel prescriptions of neoliberal agents for his fellow human beings – based on false assertions, twisted arguments, exaggerated risks, and unwarranted perceptions? Is he playing stupid for cynical reasons? Or is he really stupid? I believe Mr Chalachew is playing stupid for cynical reasons – to use the opportunity to blackmail the EPRDF-led Ethiopian government.
Now, I am proceeding to provide my reflections on the anti-Ethiopia, anti-EPRDF campaigns by two agents of neoliberalism – Freedom House and Foreign Policy. Freedom House – astounded by the US’s stand on adversaries of Ethiopia as declared by the US Undersecretary for Political Affairs Windy Sherman – has written a statement, entitled U.S. Wrong to Endorse Ethiopia’s Elections (Published on its website on 17 April 2015). Its executive vice president responded by saying:
Ethiopia remains one of the most undemocratic countries in Africa. By calling these elections credible, Sharman has tactically endorsed the Ethiopian government’s complete disregard for the democratic rights of its citizens. This will only bolster the government’s confidence to continue its crackdown on dissenting voices.
Freedom House has also written an extended gibberish on the 17 of April, 2015 to Secretary John Kerry in protest to the Undersecretary’s statement that called a spade a spade.
Freedom House – a self-serving entity that sounds to feel happy to push a stick into deep wounds of others – stood in defense of Ethiopia’s anti-peace and anti-democracy elements residing at home as well as in the USA and other western hemisphere countries. The organization continues its usual rant and makes its futile attempt to corroborate its false assertions by citing bogus ratings about Ethiopia. The organization – putting a good name on its ugly face – cannot free itself from its own hypocrisy let alone to stand for freedom of others. If Freedom House can claim that it has the audacity to do that, it has to challenge the militarized police in its own turf.
As has been so for quite a while, the reaction of the government and the peoples of Ethiopia to the relentless gibberish coming from Freedom House and other neoliberal mouthpieces remained to be the same – Camels March, Dogs Bark – and keep going forward. Ethiopians cannot afford to buy a democracy that allows few political dissents to break the rule of game of democratic political and civic engagement – and act wantonly to jeopardize the rights and interests of the nations, nationalities and peoples of their country. Anybody with a head above her/his neck cannot expect the Ethiopian government and the peoples to ignore any entities engaged in criminal activities – aspiring to bring Arab Spring and/or Color Revolution home.
As it is quite expected among the Ethiopian political pundits, agents of neoliberal orthodoxy won’t fail to grab our attention through their prophecy of doom and gloom about Ethiopia. One of the articles that came up with doom and gloom about Ethiopia’s development undertakings belongs to Foreign Policy – a self-acclaimed policy think tank – entitled Ethiopia’s Economic Miracle Is Running Out of Steam. It was written by Robert Looney and was published on its website on the 16 April 2015. After introducing about the successes of the EPRDF-led government of Ethiopia since coming to power, the article puts its key message as given below:
But these successes have come at price. The government’s obsession with meeting high growth targets at any cost has resulted in widespread popular anger and discontent, much of it along regional and ethnic lines. The Ethiopian government claims its practice of cheaply leasing out large tracts of land to major agribusinesses after resettling or displacing the local population are necessary to sustain economic growth. Instead, these “land grabs” have led only to disappointing output levels, human right violations, and abuses of power. As a result, despite the economic boom, if the EPRDF claims victory in the upcoming May 25 national and regional elections, it will be due to its political tactics: harassment of opposition, harsh crackdown on protests, and jailing of critical journalists in record numbers.
The article further alleges:
While EPRDF continues to insist that its works has just begun and notes that the Asian developmental states needed decades to deliver on their socioeconomic and macroeconomic goals, it now faces major funding roadblocks. Revenue shortfalls have already forced the government to finance some of its more ambitious projects through international loans from China, India, and the World Bank. Another financing option has been through direct central bank financing and forcing private banks to purchase Treasury bills at a discounted interest rate. Resorting to domestic funding has only exacerbated inflationary pressures, with inflation reaching 40 percent at one point in August in 2011.
Readers can note how the article has come up with cynically coined expression – widespread popular anger and discontent, much of it along regional and ethnic lines – to cause discordant among the nations, nationalities, and peoples of Ethiopia. How would an entity preaching democracy use such cynical expression with full intent to cause conflict among Ethiopians! Can I ask: “Is it Ethiopia that run out of steam?” or “Are the neoliberals who are running out of tricks?”
The article has cited the usual politically-motivated sources as well as inappropriate reflections of global personalities and entities to corroborate its clams. When Ethiopians came up with such kinds of story, they would respond with an adage that loosely translates as “who would corroborate the story of a rat if not a shrew”. The major recommendations of the article are quite usual – namely: leaving the economy to the private sector, slowing down the development projects, and opening political space.
One of the defining characteristics of neoliberals is their rabid persistence in promoting narratives that narrowly serve their selfish interest (regardless of what reality dictates). Anyway, it is helpful to look into the implications of the above three recommendations. The involvement of the government in the economy emanates from EPRDF’s ideological framework of democratic developmentalism – realizing national transformation quickly and effectively to sustain and enhance the unity in diversity of the nations, nationalities, and peoples of the country. Put in other words, any development policy and strategy (thus development endeavor) that does not bring about national transformation quickly and effectively cannot guarantee the unity of the nations, nationalities, and peoples of Ethiopia. Thus, leaving the economic activity exclusively to the toddling local private sector, marred with multitude of problems including rent-seeking, can put the unity in diversity of Ethiopians in jeopardy. The involvement of transnational corporations and companies – usually focusing on the financial sector, telecom, and energy and power distribution and rarely invest in the peripheries – this soon is simply unthinkable for reasons EPRDF has been telling all along.
Recommendations to slow down the development projects for the sake of maintaining the development endeavors at ‘manageable scope’ is a sugar-coated poison as it does not serve the goal of democratic developmentalism – quick and effective national growth and transformation to sustain and enhance the unity of Ethiopians. The Ethiopian polity has reached consensus about the fact that the singular factor that challenges Ethiopia’s survival as one country and Ethiopians as single socioeconomic polity is poverty. Hence, the war on poverty is being pursued in revolutionary fashion – where changes are not only extensive but also benefiting all citizens equitably. In this regard, it is quite apparent that slowing down the development endeavors – i.e. pursuing the development works in evolutionary fashion as opposed to revolutionary one – risks the very unity of Ethiopians.
In regard to the appeal to open the political space, it would remind us an Ethiopian wise saying that loosely translates as “a fool always sings same song”. Democratic developmentalism prescribes for the participation of all citizens in political decision-making (e.g. citizens’ participation in elections) as well as in local and national development undertakings. The outstanding voters’ registration and the engagements and participations of all citizens in development works are manifestations of genuine democracy. Amid the Ethiopian polity working hand in hand with the EPRDF-led government, there are half-cooked politicians of insignificant number with no meaningful social base that have various hues and strips – namely: bloggers, owners private media, religious fanatics, self-serving activists, stuck intellectuals, terrorists, and wolf-in-sheep-skin opposition political parties – with no popular agenda what-so-ever. Many of these groups have visceral hate towards the ruling party and extreme contempt towards the nations, nationalities, and peoples of Ethiopia. Their zero-sum political agenda goes as far as giving the unity of Ethiopians if that would happen under the watch of EPRDF.
The reason they cry foul for lack of ample political space despite the presence of the most populist and advanced constitutional arrangement is simple – they cannot realize their agenda by respecting the Constitution and the constitutional order. Hence, the reason for crying foul for lack of ample political space is nonsense – because they don’t like the playing field; they don’t accept the rule of the game; and they deeply hate the players. Unless otherwise neoliberal apologists would like to act like fools who always sing same song, half-baked political elements with visceral hate towards their contender and extreme contempt towards the nations, nationalities, and peoples of Ethiopia – that would go as far as destroying the very Ethiopia – would not and cannot have ample political space. The advice I have to the apologists of Ethiopia’s opposition elements is to listen Michel Jackson’s song Man in the Mirror – so that they may change their way.
Having said all that, it would be quite helpful to address the issue of lack of cash to steadfastly pursuing the extensive development works. It would be dishonest to deny that there can be limitation of funds, through the claim that the limitation is critical is simply bogus and is based on hearsay. The important issue to look into in this regard is “how would Ethiopia satisfy its financial needs to pursue and sustain its fast-track development endeavors?”
Ethiopia’s fast-track development works are wisely pursued in such a way each development project leads to a virtuous cycle of growth and development. There are various fast-track mega development projects underway which shall be completed in the coming two to three years leading to virtuous cycles. First, the fast-track mega development projects shall help in the growth and expansion of the private sector – recently showing a promising progress. The private sector, in turn, increases employment opportunities for citizens and expands the tax-base of the country. Second, the development works in power and telecom are encouraging a steady growth in the inflow of foreign direct investment. Foreign direct investment, like the private sector, opens ample employment opportunities for citizens and expands the tax-base of the country. Three, the fast-track development projects and their positive effects shall lead to the overall development of the country – whereby the sociopolitical consciousness of the citizens shall grow while rent-seeking behaviors shall wane. Likewise, the virtuous cycle shall lead to the government’s enhanced performing capacity – including the tax-collection efficiency. All these help the country increase the amount of its revenue in an outstanding way. A recommendation for slowing down the virtuous fast-track development endeavors is, thus, unintelligent.
Tax collection is the sector where the Ethiopian government is struggling with slow success – its tax collection efficiency standing at about 12%. Increasing tax-collection efficiency by any magnitude – e.g. by 1.5 (18%), 2.0 (24%), 2.5 (30%), 3.0 (36%), or 3.5 (42%) – also leads to a virtuous cycle. A success in tax-collection efficiency can help Ethiopia: amass enough revenue to realize quick and efficient transformation of the Ethiopian economy; keep the inflation below a tolerable level; and abate rent-seeking behaviors and controlling corruption. These, in turn, lead to socioeconomic and political stability of the country. The writer of the “Out of Steam” article can see that doubling the tax-collection efficiency can push Ethiopia to the next level. Hence, the most useful advice to the EPRDF-led government has to be related to boosting its tax-collection efforts.