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EPRDF: The Unbound Prometheus

EPRDF: The Unbound Prometheus


 Amen Teferi




In EPRDF’s long journey, there were ill-wishers coming at every turn, with their insipid prediction about its demise. One of these hollow prophesies came out shortly after the death of the former PM, Melese Zenawi. Here I am referring to a write-up authored by the French journalist Renè Lefort, who presaged the ruin of the ruling party and metaphorically stated it as “the boat being sailed by Captain Hailemariam Desalegn is bound to crush.”

French journalist Renè Lefort, in his article titled as “Ethiopia: a leadership in disarray,” published on 4 July 2014, has likened the current government of Ethiopia with a ship that has lost its captain and being sailed by a captain who knows not how to navigate the vessel under his command.

In his feverish fancy, he saw the prow of ship glistening under the faint rays of the sinking sun. He imagined the creaking sound of the oars that routinely dips and splashes the water as it moves forward lousily across the water. But everything seems to conspire against his prophesy, as EPRDF keeps on going vigorously and get rejuvenated by the landslide victory it has gotten in the recent parliamentary elections. This is reinforced and graced by Obama’s visit.     

The toxic Diaspora, human rights group and other activists have received the news of Obma’s visit to Ethiopia with the fierceness of a concerned wildcat. With the announcement of the news they acquired a far deeper malignancy that developed into volcanic hatred. For its intensity it even surpasses the hatred the Devil may bore against saints.

The visit gets them so exasperated that their feeling has suddenly soared to a pitch of intensity that defied expression. They had the preview of this crisis when the US secretary of state Sherman said, a month or so ago, “…Ethiopia is a democracy” and openly denounced the violent (terrorist) actions of Ginbot 7. This group believes that violence is consonant with democracy and took brutality as the most redeeming means to attain its goals. It has comfortably taken terror and violence as a legitimate course of actions.

Toxic Diaspora

We really need to discuss what is going on in the minds of the toxic Diaspora?

God my witness, if we could conduct simple study, the survey data of this study would cater a conclusion that overwhelmingly demonstrate that majority of the participants of the study may turn out be individuals suffering from some sort of mental illness.

The survey data would help us to conclude that individuals that are victim of APD (antisocial personality disorder) are far more likely to have difficulty to function as a cooperative member of any group.  This could help us to justify the ubiquity (omnipresent or inescapable) of violence in whatever political engagements they opt to be part. The numerous ultimate and proximal factors that have influenced this group to take such position must be identified soon. 

Their behavior is shaped and pushed by the “reasoning circuits” that had evolved from the political movement of the 1970s that engendered the bloody culture. They should prove stiff-necked in an effort to stabilize their psyche and to suppress the terror, which is driven by the harsh livelihood condition of the toxic Diaspora, without a slightest hope of repatriation. After all, they are all old enough to be fragile in the face of proximally anticipated death. They need to have a sort of scapegoat that would serve them as a tool to manage the avalanche of terror that engulf them on all direction.

It is foolish then to hope that they will come to the camp of EPRDF, if by some stroke of magic EPRDF had endorsed all the ideological and political agendas they claim to support. They cannot be appeased by any conciliatory attitude and expect no about-face for their hatred would not vanish by any reform measures taken by the party concerned.

The continued refusal of the vocal Diaspora to accept the changing image of Ethiopia as truth constituted the double challenge they are facing. Neither the kinder or gentler treatment of EPRDF nor the validity of the political solution EPRDF has put in place would win them over. Therefore, questions about the psychology of these groups would be essential.

At the individual level, then, vocal Diaspora’s need for defense against self-induced terror would greatly be intensified as the progress made by the EPRDF becomes clear and irreversible. As the triumphant songs of the revolutionary democrat began to be heard over and above the monotonous outcry of this group, we see the polemic against the EPRDF is increasingly intensified as a product of activated distal mechanisms of self-defense.  As part of their effort to shore up their self-esteem, they decided to engage themselves in the task of demeaning the Ethiopian government and advocating hatred against it, to simply reduce the haunting death thoughts, thus defuse the deep-seated terror and vindicate the worth of their life. As we know, even the news about the construction of the GERD did not go without the un-sanitized harsh critique from the spiteful Diaspora cynics.  

Considering the prognosis of the recent event, I would say, the euphoric days of flat talk seem to be a bygone era for toxic Diaspora politicians. Now happy days are being replaced by gloom and anxiety. Now the price of disfiguring the Ethiopian government is rising even beyond the figure that an infatuated lover would even agree to ransom his sweetheart.

When Barak Obama announced his coming to Ethiopia, mutely they stood glowering, clenching and unclenching their sinewy hands. Malicious Diaspora in America must now reflect on what is going on be courageous enough to pay gladly the price to get out of the tight corner. They may feel that the price they are asked to pay is outrageous. But they should pay it, or they would count down their destiny.

They were all eagerness to know what plan was stirring in the mind of Obama’s administration. The administration was unwilling to brook further suspense in this affair; hence the administration officials baldly justified the trip citing the United States’ long-standing cooperation with Ethi­o­pia “on issues of regional security and the country’s accelerating economic growth.”

Undoubtedly, Obama’s visit has provoked shock and induced sort of “political paralysis” among toxic Diaspora who were suffering from the ever-increasing pessimism that has engulfed them for years now. They have been floundering in quagmires of hopelessness; following the veer of events at the end of the 2005 election that had dashed their entire dream. That specter of victory had soon doused into pits of despair.

On the news of Obama’s trip to Ethiopia, they have turned white to the lips. It stirred pallor of bitter – a disheartening pallor of fear. Thus, they are in a half-hearted sort of way asking for the cancelation of the visit but know that it is a futile business.

In the past, they have been asking for sanctions. Nevertheless, concerned western governments spat into their face. They were eager, without any patience, to see EPRDF being squeezed in the clutches of the western governments, particularly the US. They have been knocking every door to ask the US administration to levy sanction on the Ethiopian government, but the response was not, “well, you shall have all that you have asked for” -not at all.

When President Obama, on the occasion of the U.S.-Africa Summit, received Ethiopian Prime Minister Haile Mariam at the White House, they were utterly dumbfounded. Engulfed with that horrible emotion and trembling still from that shock, they went out for another fierce campaign.

Obama official visit to Ethiopia would unmistakably send clear message to all concerned. It ushers, inter alia, the consolidating, economic, political and diplomatic relations of the two countries and growing importance of Ethiopia on global stage. It also heralds the important position Ethiopia is beginning to assume on the African continent.

It would also send strong signal that would frustrate and saddened the toxic Diaspora and haters of Ethiopia. Chunk of those demented, toxic and vocal Diaspora who are spearheaded by the rouge regime in Asmara would certainly be traumatized by Obama’s decision.

Apart from those who wish to create mayhem in Ethiopia, international human right groups are also distressed. They have questioned his trip to Kenya, as they are asking why Obama is visiting Ethiopia. To make things more worse Obama’s visit come so soon after the May 2015 national election. The Ethiopian people has declared its will and bestowed the government power on EPRDF that they think would faithful accomplish its oaths and promises. Human right groups mean to put it to the test but impossible.

Director of the Atlantic Council J. Peter Pham says that “US President Barack Obama’s visit to Ethiopia is long overdue.” He further commented, “Since the overthrow of the Soviet-backed communist Derg regime in 1991, political stability, improved governance, and heavy investment in infrastructure have led to growth that has lifted Ethiopia out of abject misery in just one generation. Anyone who has visited the country more than once notes the transformation taking place constantly. The country’s potential to expand will grow even more.”

Noting that there are individuals who criticize the visit for this or that difference with the government of Ethiopia, Pham bluntly stated that “the President’s visit is not so much a ‘Good Housekeeping seal of approval’ as an opportunity to engage a key partner—including on topics on which we might differ -and above all, to advance US strategic interests.”
This I think would be the final strong nail driven into the coffin of the toxic Diaspora and crooked human rights and advocacy groups stubbornly engaged in vilifying Ethiopian government

Obama and Africa

Since he becomes the president of the United States, Barack Obama has visited five African countries:  Ghana and Egypt in 2009, and Senegal, Tanzania, and South Africa in 2013. The president used his visit to Ghana to articulate his broad and ambitious policy of engagement towards sub-Saharan Africa and his visit to Egypt communicate his policy towards the Arab world.

The pronouncements he made during his trips to Ghana and Egypt had generated high expectations. It was believed that his trip to Ghana and Egypt will herald a new dawn in the relationship between United States and these regions. Nevertheless, there are critics who render Obama’s visit to these two African countries, largely, more symbolic than substantive, for the declarations he made during those visits were not backed new policy initiatives, they claim.

As such, criticisms from various policy analysts during his first term in office were directed at the president’s detachment from Africa. Under Obama’s presidency, many felt, America’s engagement with Africa was lagging behind many other countries, especially China, India, Brazil, and even other smaller economies such as Turkey.

Nevertheless, in 2013, the president made a more extensive and substantive trips to Africa, traveling to Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania. During this visit, apart from proposing to organize  “U.S. – Africa Leaders Summit,” that was held the following year, August 2014, the president had also announced tangible initiatives that aimed at to deepen the commercial relations, support for regional trade logistics, and enhance security.

During his second trip to Africa, President Obama had also indicated that he would visit Africa at least one more time during his presidency. Given that planning of the U.S. presidential international trips require months, if not years, it is a good bet to expect that the planning for the scheduled upcoming trip had been underway soon after the conclusion of his trip to Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania in 2013.

In this regard, some presses rightly anticipated the impending third visit would occur late in 2015.  Five months ago these press had suggested that the Obama’s third trip must cover at least three counties, namely Ethiopia, Kenya, and Nigeria.

These presses have also urged the White House planning team to be strategic in its choice of countries. They have also noted that the policy focus of his trip should be relevant to the entire continent in order to maximize the impact of his visit. Furthermore, they had argued,  while the countries so far visited by Obama quite deserve the honor, there seem to be some misguided approach in disregarding some countries that, in their valuation, worth America’s attention.

According to these critics the choice of countries for the US presidential visits were based on what were seen as “safe bets”—those meeting some peace and governance thresholds. Hence, they argue, the US president seems to be avoiding countries that are facing major challenges such as terrorism and poor governance records.

Therefore, to have a more lasting impact, they recommend,  “the president should get out of his comfort zone, and opt to visit non-‘safe bet’ countries that could be key strategic security partners and connect with others that are showing openness to reforms and are rising as economic leaders.” In fact, these critics, as it were, were having Ethiopia, Kenya, and Nigeria in mind.

By all account, Ethiopia absolutely deserve Obama’s visit.  Ethiopia is the second most populace country in Africa that has made important progress, including the adoption of a new federalist constitution and far-reaching economic reforms that has enabled the country, over the last decade, to achieve one of the highest growth rates in the world.

The country’s past has been characterized by dictatorships, serious conflict and devastating famines. For so long, Ethiopia’s economy has remained as dead as a doornail. It is only in recent times that the economy begun to make significant reforms that have attracted significant foreign direct investments and consequently allow the emergence of new industrial clusters.


However, Ethiopia does not ever claim that all is perfect and the leadership in Addis Ababa has always demonstrated the willingness to reform. As a work in progress, this reform process is on a positive trajectory that would definitely put Ethiopia be good example for other African countries.

Moreover, a visit by the U.S. president to the AU headquarter would be a significant endorsement of the role of the continental organization and it would, indeed, be the best forum in which to hold the next U.S. - African Leaders Summit—building up on the success of the first summit held in Washington in 2014.

Given the central role that the AU is charged with in advancing the African integration project, President Obama and the African leaders could use the summit to discuss strategies to advance the pace of regional integration especially as pertains to involvement of the U.S. private sector, such as in the building of regional infrastructure. 

Actually, under Obama, US foreign assistance to Africa did not increase. The budget for aid to Africa, but has been kept more or less at the same level Bush left him with. Some American argued, while in recent years every other region of the world lost about 20 percent US assistance, Africa’s aid budget simply moved marginally up and down. Thus, they contend, “If Bush gets credit for upping the game, Obama helped protect it.” 

Ethiopia and US

If president Obama wishes to reinforce America’s relationship with Africa, he should plan to have a trip to Ethiopia and create a chance to visit the headquarters of the African Union in Addis Ababa, which is going to be the first presidential visit either to the AU or to its predecessor, the OAU.

Ethiopia plays pivotal role in the war against terrorist groups as al-Shabab and we know that it is key counterterrorism ally of the US in the region. Other than being an important ally in the war against terrorism, in my view, Ethiopia deserves visit by President Obama for a number of reasons.

According to J. Peter Pham director of the Atlantic Council, “Ethiopia’s role in fighting al-Shabaab is important, but that is not the reason for Obama’s visit. … Al-Shabaab is one facet of the partnership, but even if al-Shabaab were to disappear, our relationship with Ethiopia would still be of key importance.”

America has had a diplomatic relations with Ethiopia for more than a century now. Economically, President Obama’s visit to Ethiopia would be meaningful for Ethiopia has one of the five fastest-growing economies in the world, with a double-digit growth rate for a number of years. Ethiopia is a country of over ninety million people and serves as an anchor for the stability of the volatile region. This would prompt the country to be considered as tremendous potential for US companies.

As I said earlier, Ethiopia does not ever claim that all is perfect. Nevertheless, it has repeatedly disputed unjustifiable characterization advanced by some international rights groups that are shrewdly engaged in chipping Ethiopia’s image. The rights groups are incessant in their allegation that Ethiopia is “rampant with governance problems.”


In fact, EPRDF has been victim of such bitter and hollow criticisms as it has shown hard reluctance to deregulate its economy. Consequently, it played hardball in resisting the un-abating pressures coming from western economic and political giants, who demand outright deregulation in key sectors of its economy -especially telecommunications, land markets, banking, and finance.

Ethiopia has been tone-deaf to their demands. Unwillingness to take the prescribed medicine does not awaken infirmity as they had hoped, but robust and healthy economic progress. Ethiopia played with a straight bat to defend its interest and consequently annoyed its cynical neo-liberal detractors, as well as those who have good-faith objections. They were intimidating us: “Attempt it” they said, “and as God’s our witness we will leave you to your fate at the hands of your “enemy” -poverty.” But their criticism and bully does not stir pallor in EPRDF, but heart - searing resolve. Hence, EPRDF’s imperturbability and mettle remained intact until its critics realize the aptness of its policies.

Though our heart should burst with the pain of muzzle and the muscles that tried to twist our hand, it has never retreated and surrendered. EPRDF is a revolutionary party that has the endurance to bear adversities and march forward overcoming every predicaments and perils.

As Mokyr, in his book “The Enlightened Economy,” has said; "A successful economy . . . needs not only rules that determine how the economic game is played, it also needs rules to change the rules if necessary in a way that is as costless as possible. In other words, it needs meta-institutions that change the institutions and whose changes will be accepted even by those who stand to lose from these changes. Institutions did not change just because it was efficient for them to do so. They will change because key peoples’ ideas and beliefs that supported them changed. The process was far from simple.”

From the word go, Ethiopia’s position was such that altogether concurs with the idea of Mokyr. Ethiopia believes that the free market system that it was trying to adopt must have institutions that would help the smooth functioning of the system. The system, of necessity, ought to be one that is capable of maintaining its own vitality and competent enough to ensure its success without depending on outside forces.

However, Ethiopia’s imperturbable defiance, so to speak, to take the prescription of some western agencies has exasperated its development partners, who simply focus on what went right and fits with the free market system as applied in the West. This prescription would miss important points.

Neo-liberal narrative of capitalism tended to be confident of capitalism’s market force to keep the system going. Hence, if you do not fully accept the “sacred prescriptions” of the neo-liberals, it would be diagnosed as an utter stupidity. The lesson they want us to learn is just “replicate!” and catch up by copying. There are a couple of problems with this kind of conception of the free market system.  

First, it failed to understand that what passes for the behavior of free market is so broad that it would not be sacrilege to give raise to different variant.  Unfortunately, the problem has always been that the nature of catching up makes copying itself impossible.

The other problem involves the scale of analysis, which tends to give much emphasis to the market forces that is imprecisely defined. Some neo-liberals accused that Ethiopia is throttling the sacred cow of capitalism and are sad seeing the color of the “free market system” livid, for Ethiopia refused to deregulate the telecom industry, the land market and the bank sector.

The neo-liberals were telling us that our fate is simply to follow their steps. They command, “Replicate!” Catch up by copying. Simply borrow the script. But the problem has always been that the nature of catching up makes copying impossible. Thus, Ethiopia does not invest herself to get the mimicry right. Rather, it chose to “reinvent” the wheel in way that fits its situation and rewarded its entrepreneurial effort. The current Ethiopia economy has been only two decades in the making. Now, what is important is getting the virtuous cycle going and this requires creating strong institutions.

As the Russian-born economic historian, Alexander Gerschenkron noted, “In several very important respects the development of a backward country may, by the very virtue of its backwardness, tend to differ fundamentally from that of an advanced country.” As a new crop of global historians has been showing, application of the system cannot be so easily isolated from the objective condition of the country.

However, the developmental state narrative has long been shadowed by the neo-liberal - its rival. The neo-liberals believe that Ethiopia’s leap forward is unavoidably dependent on strict implementation neo-liberal prescriptions.

The experience of Japan who got the “mimicry” right, help us to confirm the norm that capitalism is best built from the inside out. Thus, champions of democratic development state called for “liberate” or policy independence, whereas the neo-liberalists recommend being “slave” to the whims of free market.

Human Rights

As usual, the so-called human right activists have expressed anger at US president’s trip to Ethiopia – a country they have been criticizing for “human right abuses.” Hence, Barack Obama’s decision to visit Ethiopia has shocked and annoyed them as it does toxic Diasporas.   The human rights activists, who say “the visit sends the wrong message to a repressive government widely accused of clamping down on dissent.”

A white House statement said Obama will visit to the east African country for meetings with government officials as part of his last African trip as president. As well as meeting the leadership of the African Union, the visit will form part of US efforts to strengthen economic growth, democratic institutions and improve security in the region. But as activists and social media users have been making clear, Ethiopia’s track record on human rights and democracy is deeply troubling.

 In its 2014 report, Human Rights Watch noted that Ethiopia increasingly clamps down on the freedoms of its citizens “using repressive laws to constrain civil society and independent media, and target individuals with politically motivated prosecutions.”

Some critics have juxtaposed last month’s elections, which they render as having “suspicious results,” with the White House’s decision to honor Ethiopia with an official visit. In May 2015, Ethiopians have voted in parliamentary elections, which, according to them “were widely denounced as unfair.” “Though the African Union declared that the vote was peaceful,” they argue, “it fell short of using the words free and fair.”

We know that while the US state department has explicitly expressed its concerns over the “restrictions on civil society, media, opposition parties, and independent voices,” Ethiopia remained to be strategic ally of the US and it is a significant recipient of foreign aid money and security support.

Those who have difficulty in accepting the reality chose to construed that the most important mission of Obama’s trip to Addis Ababa is the AU or US interest in the sub-Saharan countries in general rather than the country that host AU headquarter –Ethiopia. Yet others contend this interpretation by arguing that Ethiopia has every alluring economic or political virtue to be rewarded with Obama’s visit. We may consider both renderings as simplistic, but the story line is the same: sitting American president is scheduled to visit Ethiopia.

There are those who believe that “Mr. Obama’s visit to Ethiopia sends the wrong message on democracy,” criticize his decision referring to the speech he delivered at Ghana’s parliament, in July 2009, during his first trip to the sub-Saharan Africa as president. They construed his visit to Ethiopia as a trip that brings collateral damage to democracy. They accuse him for failing democracy and dishonoring the promise he made in Ghana where he said: “Africa does not need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.”

These critics rendered Obama’s commitment to democracy questionable. They quote him as saying: “First, we must support strong and sustainable democratic governments,” and they argue that his visit to Ethiopia would severely damage the promotion of democracy in Ethiopia.

However, last week, the White House had announced Mr. Obama’s decision to make time for Ethiopia while he travels to Kenya next month. Hence, he will stop in Ethiopia, -a country of 94 millions- and this proposed visit has stunned those rights groups who have been accusing EPRDF as “an entrenched human right abuser.”

They found it unfathomably difficult to accept Obama’s visit to Ethi­o­pia “while he is cold-shouldering the nation that has just witnessed a historic, peaceful, democratic change of power, i.e. Nigeria.” The US administration officials tried to justify the trip by citing the United States’ long-standing diplomatic relations and multifaceted co-operation with Ethi­o­pia on issues of regional security and country’s accelerating economic growth.”

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