(Teklu Afework 09-06-15)
September is a time of New Year in Ethiopia's unique calendar that comprises of 13 months. Meskerem 1, as it is referred to in the calendar, also marks a change of season from the rainy season to the bright season of autumn. As one travel journal eloquently described it:
Ethiopia's New Year is the beginning of a working year. Students arrive at schools for a new school year, the farmers ready for a harvest season, the parliament returns after two months' vacation, the fiscal year becomes full gear, etc. As it is the case elsewhere in the world, Ethiopia's New Year is also a time of new resolutions, hope and renewed collective sprit.
This coming Meskerem 1 will nevertheless mark a bigger and important shift than a mere change of year or calendar year. It is more important than several new-years combined. Hopes are high, the resolutions are grander, and the future is brighter than ever.
Ahead of the new-year, the ruling party of Ethiopia conducted one of its vital Organizational Congresses. It was between August 28 and 31 that the Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) held its 10th organizational congress in Mekele 783km north of Addis Ababa, under the theme "To Live up to Peoples' Trust Utmost Growth and Transformation.
It was a grand occasion attended by over a thousand voting and other non-voting members of the party. It was also a moment of solidarity attended by representative of twelve foreign political parties. These allies of Ethiopia's developmental path came from as far as China (the Communist Party of China (CPC) and South Africa (the African National Congress (ANC) to the close by Sudan (the National Congress Party (NCP). Ruling parties in the region, Uganda-NRM, Namibia-SWAPO, South Sudan-SPLM, Rwanda- RPF, Sudan- NCP, Angola- MPLA, Mozambique- FRELIMO, Djibouti-RPP, and Tanzania-CCM, were present to reiterate their commitment to consolidating political and economic ties and boosting bonds between their peoples and the peoples of Ethiopia.
The importance of the occasion was described by EPRDF Chairman Hailemariam as:
Indeed, EPRDF's Organizational Congresses have always been historic and pivotal.
The first General Congress of the EPRDF took place in Kolla Tembien in January 1991, at the time when the gallant fighters of TPLF and ANDM as well as the later founders of OPDO and SEPDM were in control of half of the country.
In that Congress, the Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front was born with equal representation of the two parties in the Front's leadership. The Congress also deliberated on and approved the Revolutionary Democracy political program that saved the Ethiopia from the existential threat it was facing and put her in the right track of democracy and development following the downfall of the Dergue regime.
Indeed, the Congress focused on spotting weaknesses and undertook preparations for the tasks to come. Therefore, it evaluated its military and organizational performance and set directions on how to intensify the armed struggle to speed up the downfall of the Dergue regime. That was not all.
The resolutions of the first General Congress and the leaders it elected succeeded in making the Transitional period characterized by peace, multiparty democracy and development. Ethiopia escaped not only the immediate threats posed by the downfall of Dergue & the empty treasury and tens thousands of small arms scattered all over the country; but also managed the more fundamental threats that arise from centuries old national oppression and denial of the farmers' fruits of labor.
Not only Ethiopia safely passed the looming threats of disintegration and communal conflict, it managed to set-up a multinational federalism that addresses the roots of the problem. National and nationalities started governing themselves and for the first time they voluntarily renewed their commitment to live as one country by ratifying the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia through their elected representatives in 1995.
The Second Congress was held on December 1995 in Hawassa city, which the capital of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region. At that time, the EPRDF was a four-member party Front, with OPDO and SEPDM included. It was a time when each member party started governing its respective region through the first free and fair national and regional elections in the country's history.
As usual, the Congress focused on spotting weaknesses and setting future directions in its Second General Congress that took place. It conducted a critical and thorough evaluation of its performance interms of its organizational, governance, developmental activities and other national issues and foreign relations. The General Congress delivered the first Plan of the EPRDF for Peace, Development and Democracy. It also set clear directions on how the constitutional system could be made effective.
The Third Congress was held 1998. Its deliberations and directions were fruitful as clearly seen in the rise of Ethiopia from the brink of collapse to the regional prominence and influence in the region. The stability of the government and the unity of nation nationalities and peoples during the Eritrean aggression and the subsequent full-scale war (1998-2000) was undeniable evidence that the first three Congresses put the country in the right direction and an effective governance structure.
Across the country were mobilized in millions to protect the sovereignty of their federal union under the leadership of the EPRDF. Previously marginalized people, like Somalis, Gambellas, Afar, etc. made it clear that for the first time they feel owners of the country and they are willing to pay price to preserve and protect it. Even if the EPRDF leadership was not fully healthy, it kept differences aside and led the people to victory and enabling the defense forces inflicts a humiliating defeat on the Eritrean dictatorship.
The Fourth General Congress, themed “Renewal General Congress”, was conducted in August 2001, after the gallant Ethiopian armed forces restored our sovereignty was not absorbed on celebrations rather on preparing for the subsequent struggle on existential threats of the system. It was a time to refine the basic principles of Revolutionary Democracy and further elaborate and revise the sectoral policy frameworks based on the achievements, challenges, and shortcomings observed in the previous decade.
However, as it is always the case with transformative changes, all did not easily accept it. Some members of the leadership stood against the need for change either because it affects their personal interest or because they were trapped by rent-seeking and adventurism tendencies since the times of the war.
The Fourth General Congress, however, turned the challenge, into strength. Under the leadership of Meles Zenawi, the Congress evaluated the party's performance since the down-fall of the Dergue and identified that democracy and development are matters of survival for the nation. The General Congress approved directions to enhance the performance in agriculture, capacity building and other key sectors as well as the second Five Year Plan for Peace, Development, and Democracy.
The General Congress also issued several resolutions to fight corruption, chauvinism, narrow nationalism, undemocratic and rent-seeking tendencies from among the party leadership and members. EPRDF emerged stronger and unified ready to tack head-on the legion administrative and developmental problems facing the country. The first of the continuous double digit GDP growth registered in 2003/4 was a demonstration of the success of the fourth General Congress.
The Fifth General Congress held in 2004, in Bahirdar, themed “Emerta General Congress” (or “leap forward General Congress”) built on that achievement. The directions set by the two General Congresses and the democratic developmental state built as a result were the primary engines of the sustained double-digit GDP growth that the nation registers since 2003/4.
The Sixth General Congress held in 2006 in Mekelle, themed “we shall repeat the economic strides in good governance”, had its own challenges to address.
It was a time when extremist opposition elements - with the encouragement of color revolution promoters and capitalizing on the limitations of the system - turned the 3rd national and regional elections into a crisis. By stirring administrative grievances and emotions, they managed to shadow the developmental performances and win a significant number of legislative seats previously held by EPRDF.
The sixth General Congress however went as per the long tradition of EPRDF. It pointed out that the election showed that the nation's gains in terms of democracy, development, and peace have not yet reached an irreversible stage. Moreover, the General Congress noted that the public is disappointed by administrative problems.
Therefore, the General Congress set directions to bring fundamental change in good governance, to intensify national consensus building works, to work on leadership capacity building and enhance focus for urban development as well as youth and women empowerment. It also endorsed several other directions that made up the 5-years Plan for Sustained Development to Eradicate Poverty (PASDEP).
The Sixth General Congress did not only boost EPRDF's stature as a cohesive and forward-looking party; but also ensured the nation continues its developmental stride. The directions set by the sixth General Congress, as well as the subsequent Seventh General Congress in 2008, in Hawassa city, enabled all EPRDF leaders, members and supporters work in unison to sustain and scale-up the socio-economic strides, despite the distractions from several forces – ranging from mere pessimists to neo-liberal forces, from power-hungry opposition forces to terrorists based in Somalia.
The Eighth General Congress was held in Adama, in 2010, themed “The Ethiopian Renaissance will reach irreversible stage through the implementation of the Growth and Transformation Plan”. It identified the weak points and deliberated on how to tackle them, so that the socio-economic strides can be scaled up into a transformative level.
Based on its evaluation of previous performance and considering the new level of trust and responsibility that the Ethiopian people put on EPRDF by making it a dominant party, the General Congress endorsed the pillars and basic tenets of the ambitious 5-years Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) which was later approved by the parliament after further elaboration by public discussions.
The Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) was not merely a 5-years plan, it set the direction which Ethiopia shall undertake to reach the middle-income countries level by 2025. Most of the medium and mega projects of the GTP are to be scale-up and expanded in the next 5-years plans.
The Ninth General Congress held in Bahir-dar in mid-2013 was held after the passing of the great leader Meles Zenawi. The General Congress, under the theme “with the thoughts of Meles: stronger organization and developmental forces for the renaissance”, was entirely focused on evaluating the implementation of the GTP so far and on how to tackle setbacks and enhance performance. It was another moment where EPRDF emerged stronger and unified, and ready to accelerate progress in the developmental path.
Last week, the Tenth Congress was held in Mekele, in 2010, themed "To Live up to Peoples' Trust Utmost Growth and Transformation.
The congress was held at a time when the double-digit growth contined for more than a decade and the impacts on human development indicators impressed the world. Just four months ago, in the fourth national and regional elections, the Ethiopian people rewarded EPRDF by a landscape victory. It was certain that EPRDF's dominant party status has become sustained with the blessings of the peoples of Ethiopia.
Nevertheless, the Congress didn't waste time congratulating itself. Instead, it focused on how to improve good governance for the betterment of the lives of Ethiopians and make the socio-economic gains lasting to ensure that Ethiopia joins the middle-income countries category by 2025.
The objectives of the Congress were to evaluate the party's and the country's performance in meeting its goals during the first Growth and Transformation Plan. It comprised consideration of progress on structural transformation, job creation for the youth and women, gender equality and women empowerment, pertinent political matters such as good governance, dealing with corruption, improved transparency, socio-economic problems, the party’s succession plan, the goals and directions of the GTP II as well as crafting the road map for the next five years to ensure Ethiopia's Renaissance and join the country to the list of middle income countries by the year 2025.
The congress held general as well as group discussions discussed on the achievements made in GTPI and challenges, in which participants raised numerous issues and put forward many sharp criticisms and comments. The Congress subsequently recognized the results made in education and health sectors and in agriculture which had helped enable the country to register double digit economic growth. It also appreciated the achievements of so many of the Millennium Development Goals. Equally, the Congress also underlined the importance of ensuring quality in education, of scaling up experience in all sectors and accelerating structural transformation, of taking agriculture as the basis of the economy and future transformation. It underlined that attention should be given to export-led economic activities. Much discussion also centered on the need for a paradigm change on governance issues, on transparency and above all on accountability, as well as on the need to maintain the peace and stability of the country.
Detailed discussions also centered on the goals and directions for the Growth and Transformation Plan II which will provide the roadmap and directions for development over the next five years. The GTP II objectives will be decisive in speeding up the transformation and renaissance of the country. They have been designed to ensure citizens will participate and benefit equally in the development process as well as contributing to building a developmental political economy and a common politico-economic community. Overall, strenuous efforts will be made in the next five years, to reduce the rate of poverty to 16%, and work to eradicate it ahead of the international community’s plans to eradicate it by 2030. The rate of unemployment in rural and urban areas will be reduced by half. Efforts will be made to eradicating obstacles to the participation of women in the educational sector, and expand quality of education. Similar concentration will be made for expanding the coverage of qualitative basic health service to reach 100% and lower mother’s and child mortality rates even further.
Agriculture, with both smallholder farmers and pastoralists, will continue as the main source of development. The aim is to double productivity and quality of strategic food crops, with special attention to high yield industrial inputs and export products centering on development corridors. Irrigation will be a priority. Main strategic food crops need to grow at an annual average rate of 16%..
On this basis, the GDP growth could reach 12.2% based on an upper case scenario. Agriculture will continue to be the main source of growth in the GTP II. All-round support will be given to educated youth and local and foreign investors to participate in modern agricultural development focusing on production of high yield products and strengthen exports. This will involve removal of obstacles over provision of land for floriculture and horticulture in development zones, and challenges in relation to rent-seeking attitudes and practices. Communities in these areas will be assisted to participate in technology transfer and production activities, with people assisted to go into modern animal husbandry and fishing resource development as well crop production. This will be speeded up by designating areas for ranches and quarantine centers to serve as sources of input and technology. Market coordination will be encouraged
The GTP II’s goals include an economy growing at an average of 11%, which will be sufficient to ensure the structural transformation of the economy. Efforts will be made to stabilize the macro-economy, to ensure a healthy and sustainable economy, keep inflation in single digits, and stabilize foreign exchange rates to facilitate the competitiveness of foreign trade. By the end of the GTP II foreign trade is expected to account for 41.3% of GDP. The sectoral distribution of economic growth, based on a lower case scenario of an annual average of 8% growth, is expected to be Agriculture - 8%, Industry - 24% and Services - 10%.
The most important component of this Congress had been good governance. As Dep. Chairman of EPRDF, Demeke Mekonene, noted, though directions were set previously to pave ways for good governance they were not that successful in crystallizing sought-for results. "Cognizant of this fact a system will be put in place to strengthen accountability. Follow up and support will be made a point to ward off opportunistic mind bent among administrative bodies at every echelon,” he promised.
According to Redwan Husien, Minister of the Government Communication Affairs Office and EPRDF Executive Committee member, the Congress deliberated and agreed on the need to fight rent seeking tendencies so as to maximize the benefit of the public, good governance and development.
As Chairman of EPRDF, Hailemariam Desalgne, said at the end:
The decisions and directions set by the Congress are pivotal in the lives of each and every Ethiopian. The developmental path embarked on a decade ago will now board on a new phase with the GTP II. The efforts to attain good governance and weed-out rent-seeking will now be taken to a new height with new directions, renewed commitment and sense of urgency. The existential struggle for a transition from a political economy dominated by rent seeking to one that is characterized by developmentalism will be waged full-scale in urban areas with quality-oriented supports to dry up its sources.
EPRDF's Congress indeed made this New Year a special one by heralding the shift to a brighter season not only in terms of weather but also in terms of politico-economy phenomenon.