Makonnen Tesfaye, 10 August 2016
The current political landscape in Ethiopia needs to be understood, firstly, as manifestations of underlying fundamental contradictions between the democratic federal polity on the one hand and big nation chauvinism and narrow nationalism; between the people and rent seeking crony capitalism; and between the country’s sovereignty and its external foes on the other. Whilst there is a clear alignment of forces, the principal driver of conflicts at the present historical conjecture is the collusion of internal antagonists, namely disintegrative and undemocratic nationalists; and rent-seekers and crony capitalists, who are at the heart of bad governance, corruption and injustice. Secondly, there is an undercurrent of political conflict amongst the people and with the state of a non-antagonistic nature. Correctly understanding and handling of these is critical to successfully address pertinent issue of current politics.
Ethiopia is rightly portrayed, internally and externally, as peaceful and stable, which is basically the case, given the fundamental strength of the state, society and economy. However, harmony and stability are not absolute, not even in the most developed countries. The true measure is the ability and resilience of the state and society to cope and deal with minor and major societal upheavals through democratic discourse, in accordance with rule of the law and within the confine of the constitution. The antagonists of the democratic federal state have tried to create a counter narrative and have desperately tried to instigate upheavals, as currently manifested, to prove their point. Similarly, the antagonists of the EFDR used the hardship of hunger experienced by millions of Ethiopians due to the worst effects of El-nino faced by the country as proof for the non-existence of economic development. But, and ironically, what the El-nino induced drought proved, amongst others, is the strength of the economic development of the country and the ability and commitment of the regime to prevent famine and death due to hunger occurring. If an analogy is sought, what it showed is that under the feudo-bourgeois and militarist Derg regimes, drought inevitably meant famine and the death of millions, and societal upheavals led to civil wars, dictatorship and the destruction and death of millions of citizens. In contrast, present day Ethiopia has travelled and progressed on a broad front of peace, economic development and democratisation process since the demise of the repressive feudal and militarist regimes of the past. Moreover, the country knows the huge sacrifices made to bring about its peace and development, and is not in the mood to regress and fall into the abyss.
Yet, the achievements of the last two decades must never be taken for granted and are not necessarily irreversible. An alignment of antagonists including Ginbot 7, OLF and ONLF are desperately seeking to undermine those gains. Foreign foes, in particular the failing Eritrean state and its regional geo-political sponsors, are desperately seeking to fun discord in the country for the purpose of advancing their political agenda. In addition, there is major dissatisfaction (fundamentally different in nature and aims) amongst the people, in particular within large sections of the youth and the intelligentsia due to lack of good governance and economic justice as well as lack of rapid progress in democratisation. The current political upheavals, though scattered, are largely the manifestations of those contradictions. The ruling party seems to have largely diagnosed the problems correctly and wants to make fundamental changes to address these critical issues. Although on the correct path, the extent, scale and intensity of its handling of those issues and the long-term outcomes and sustainability of those efforts are yet to be determined. Ultimately they will depend on:- the extent the ruling party resolutely combat undemocratic and disintegrative nationalist tendencies within its ranks and in the society at large; solutions to bad governance, corruption and economic injustice through rapid democratisation; improvement in the functioning of the separation of power of the different layers of state apparatus; development of a bureaucracy that is autonomous yet loyal to elected government, impartial, with integrity, transparency and accountability; and the promotion of autonomous, independent civic organisations as a vehicle for mass and participatory democracy.
Over the last 25 years Ethiopia has experienced peace, stability, development and a work-in-progress pluralist democracy unparalleled in its history. It is a no-brainer that these achievements are the result of monumental sacrifice by national democratic fronts as well as the struggle of progressive, democratic forces in Ethiopia at large. They are underpinned by the federal democratic settlement and constitution, rapid economic development and pro-poor socio-economic policies based on a democratic developmental state model. These are objective realities (evidence-based) as attested by the Ethiopian people and as demonstrated in successive elections in the first place, but also corroborated by fact-checkers of almost all global and regional institutions of all ilk. As the saying goes opinions are private, but facts are public. These achievements, however, do not mean they are a done deal, far from it. How could it be unless it is the end of history? Contradictions and conflicts are objective realities in societies and countries where classes and economic interests, injustices and poverty, ethic, religious, gender differences etc. exist.
The purpose of this piece is not primarily to detail socio-economic and political progress and achievements to date of the ruling party, which are well documented, but an attempt to identify categories of fundamental contradictions of antagonistic and non-antagonistic nature (and their underlying socio-economic basis) that currently present in Ethiopia, which are largely manifested by the current political landscape of the country. Specifically, the aim is to suggest on the correct understanding and handling of fundamental contradictions, in particular non-antagonistic contradictions amongst the people. An objective reading of the socio-economic and politics of the country that drive conflicts suggests the existence and interplay of fundamental contradictions, which are: (i) between the forces that seek to uphold, develop and sustain the federal democratic polity on the one hand and anti-democratic, big nation chauvinism and narrow nationalism that seek to forcefully dismantle it on the other; (ii) between the people and forces that seek to build a pro-poor democratic developmental state on the one hand and rent seekers, state bureaucrats and crony capitalists on the other; and (iii) between the country and its peaceful regional partners on the one hand and an holy alliance of a hostile, failing neighbouring state, the Al-Shabaab terrorist threat, regional geo-political foes and global neoliberal forces on the other. These fundamental and antagonistic contradictions align and collude (and sometimes collide), but it is important to identify the principal aspects of the contradictions, the key driver and alignment of forces at any particular period.
In addition to the above, a fourth contradiction of a non-antagonist nature is manifested amongst the people in the current political landscape including: largely alienated intelligentsia; disaffected youth; rural-urban, ethnic, cultural and religious, gender etc. differences and conflicts. Though non-antagonistic in nature due to not being based on fundamental economic or political conflicts, it is vitally important to correctly handle contradictions among the people. In the following pages, the nature, motive, driving force and alignment of these contradictions are briefly discussed followed by ideas on a broad strategy for handling them.
2. The Federal Democratic Polity and its Antagonists – Big Nation Chauvinism and Narrow Nationalism
Without any doubt, the single biggest achievement of the struggle of the peoples and nationalities of Ethiopia over the last half century is the establishment of a federal democratic Ethiopia, which in addition to preserving the unity of the country as we know it, but also set up a constitutional framework for resolving the kernel questions self-determination of oppressed nationalities, unity and democracy. Self-determination is in essence a democratic question, but in Ethiopian context it is also a land and economic question, in particular in the Southern, South-eastern and Western parts of the country, where under the former ruling class Neftegna system of land tenure the vast majority of the peoples and nationalities were tenants and serfs on their own land. Past lack of ability to address fundamental equality and diversity issues by the ruling Neftegna and Derg militarist classes has cost Ethiopia dear, including the death and destruction of millions of people, the secession of Eritrea and the prospect of the further disintegration of the country. The federal constitution guaranteeing the equalities of nationalities and the fundamental rights of individuals; the state superstructure based on separation of powers; the nascent democratic institutions; and a market-based capitalist economic system (notwithstanding of a developmental state type) provide the basis and constitutional framework for addressing Ethiopia’s pressing economic and political challenges – combating poverty, unity in diversity, good governance and democratisation. By any matrix or measure, the federal democratic constitution and developmental state institutions, and the ruling party’s progressive socio-economic development policies and strategies have largely delivered and account for the strong national cohesion, peace, stability and economic development experienced in the last two decades. However, progress is relative and there remain major challenges and shortcomings, in particular in implementation, democratic institution-building, good governance and developing the praxis and culture of democratic political discourse. These later challenges will be explored in the next section whilst the focus here is on the fundamental and antagonistic contradiction between those who want to uphold and develop the federal democratic constitution and political institutions and big nation chauvinists and narrow nationalists who seek to destroy it by any means possible - forcefully or/and peacefully, legally or/and illegally, undemocratically or/and democratically, with or/and without collusion with external foes of the country.
One of the fallacies often heard (including sometimes from the ruling party) is that the federal constitution, the stable, diverse and democratic institutions currently in place have once and for all answered century old issues of big nation chauvinism and secessionist narrow nationalism undercurrents in Ethiopian politics. Undoubtedly they have provided the constitutional and political foundation and framework for nations, nationalities and people of Ethiopia to build a diverse, united, peaceful, democratic and progressive country. The unprecedented achievements on broad political, economic, social and foreign policy fronts in the last 25 years, in particular in the last fifteen yeas provide strong evidence. However, viewed in historical perspective and from current Ethiopian politics, the federal settlement is not necessarily a once for all, an irreversible done deal. Century old, economically, culturally, ideologically and politically embedded big nation chauvinism is and will remain a major challenge for the federal and democratic constitution and the unity of the country. Equally and in reverse, secessionist narrow nationalism poses a disintegrative force working against the unity of the people and country. During the last fifteen years there have been distinct manifestations of big nation chauvinism and secessionist narrow nationalism in Ethiopian politics.
The first and major challenge against the federal democratic state happened following the aftermath of the Ethio-Eritrean war of 1998-2000, the inter and intra factional political struggles within the EPRDF, in particular the TPLF in 2001-02 and the General Election of 2005. Riding on and exploiting genuine concern of sections of the population, the forces of big nation chauvinism, masquerading under the banner of Kinijit, assembled a large coalition of forces. They include former feudal Neftagna ruling classes, former Derg bureaucrats and functionaries, apologists and fellow travellers of the Derg and a section of the academia from both oppressor and oppressed nationalities, at home and abroad, such as Professor Mesfin Hailemariam and Dr Muse Tegegne who propagated erroneous history and political economy that are fundamentally undemocratic positions contrary to the basic principles of self-determination, often under the guise of “Ethnic Nationalism”, “Pan-Ethiopianism”, “Ethiopian Colonialism” and so on. Moreover, remnants of former EPRP leadership (such as former and current liquidationist and opportunist factions of the “EPRP” led by Kiflu Tadesse and Eyasu Alemayehu) and former and current MEISON leaders (led by Dr Negede Gobeze) played an ultra-rightest ideological vanguard role, shaming the honour and sacrifices the tens of thousands of Ethiopian revolutionaries who fought and died for democracy, socialism and self-determination. All these are the forces that perpetuated the feudal regime of the Empire, the horror of the militarist Derg and the White-Red Terror that claimed the lives of millions of Ethiopians. As the saying goes extremes converge (or birds of the same feather flock together) – which is the collusion of feudal Neftegnas chauvinists, narrow and secessionist nationalists, Dergists, pseudo liberals, rightists and leftists opportunists former “Marxists”. Never was seen in the annals of Ethiopian national politics such a collusion of forces propagating such an unashamedly reactionary, racist, ethnic cleansing and genocidal political platform and insurrection against a young federal democratic polity of former oppressed nations, nationalities and people of Ethiopia. Lacking a widespread social base, strategic political alliance and tactical direction, the Kinijit’s big nation chauvinism agenda inspired insurrection failed big, and following reform and bridge-building with the people by the ruling regime ensued a decade of a relative lull in the forces big nation chauvinism.
The second big nation chauvinism political over-and-undercurrent came under the banner of the Semayawi Party but including various opposition parties masquerading under the “All Ethiopian” political label - a classic tactics of big nation chauvinism. What is new about this movement is that, first it sought a class base amongst a section of disaffected youth, mainly in the Capital. What is sinister about the Semayawi Party is that it wanted to exploit religious difference to advance its politics to the extent of creating an alliance with extreme Jihadist terrorists. However, the people and the ruling party have successfully exposed the Semayawi Party, and as the result the Party seems to have gone largely underground, working to find other political cleavages to exploit, perhaps already active in instigating discord to advance its big nation chauvinist political agenda. The most recent incident following a demonstration in Bahrdar, instigated by the Semayawi Party and fellow big nation chauvinists, is a case in point.
The third and current big nation chauvinist machination is with regard to the conflict in North Gondar. Notwithstanding the underlying lack of good governance concern of the population (discussed in section 3) and the alleged question of the “self-determination of the people of Welkait in Tigray”, which is constitutionally and democratically determined, big nation chauvinism has opportunistically exploited a political cleavage to further advance its political agenda. What is new about this phase of big nation chauvinist politics is that it has come clear and has not used the label of Ethiopian nationalism, but is hiding behind a legitimate Amhara nationalism, which is democratic nationalism in essence.
Narrow nationalism, in particular the secessionist type, is equally dangerous and has not remained idle in seeking to destabilise and fragment the country either. A good example is the role of secessionist narrow nationalists who have sought to undermine the unity of the Oromo people with fellow Ethiopians. Again, whilst there is a legitimate case and it is the democratic right of the people of Oromia to protest against bad governance, rent seekers and crony capitalists among their midst, the role of narrow nationalists to fun and hijack legitimate concern of nationalities for secessionist agenda must never be underestimated. Moreover, secessionist narrow nationalism, as propagated by the likes of Jawar Mohammed and ONLF, has desperately sought to create an alliance with Jihadist extremists and regional geo-political foes of Ethiopia. Narrow nationalism is ever present in all regions of the country notwithstanding its varying scale and manifestations. Moreover, it only takes dissatisfaction with bad governance and economic injustice for narrow nationalists to fun and hijack it for their narrow nationalist, secessionist and crony capitalist agenda.
Given big nation chauvinism and narrow nationalism are potentially dangerous forces that seek to divide and fragment the country, the question is what is to be done, and in particular apart the guarantee of the federal democratic constitution, how the ruling government and citizens who want a diverse and united Ethiopia ought to combat them. The steadfast implementation of the federal democratic constitution, sustained democratisation and good governance and rapid economic progress and economic justice are the foundation for preserving the unity of the people and country. However, whilst these are the necessary basis and framework, they are not sufficient. The author believes that sustained political, ideological and cultural struggle against historically embedded big nation chauvinism and narrow nationalism is vitally important. First and for most, big nation chauvinism and narrow nationalism tendencies, lines, policies and practices within the ruling EPRDF need to be identified and combated vigoursly. It is patently obvious that there are plenty of those within the constituent parties of the EPRDF. Moreover, they use nationalism to hide and divert attention from their rent seeking activities and collusion with the growing crony capitalist class and escape the growing wrath of the population against bad governance and corruption. Secondly, the ideology of big nation chauvinism and narrow nationalism is prevalent and potent amongst significant sections of the intelligentsia, petty bourgeoisie, growing bureaucratic and crony capitalist class. For example, the author witnessed the extent and level of disintegrative nationalism (of narrow nationalism and chauvinism ilk) peddled by the so called intelligentsia and media at home and abroad that go largely unchallenged. It is the case that the ruling party is relatively much at ease and successful in its communication with and ability to propagate democratic nationalism amongst the broad masses of the people, which is vital. However, it is not sufficient. The EPRDF appears, sometimes, to lack the zeal, ability and means to adequately articulate the ideological struggle against big nation chauvinism and narrow nationalism that are currently prevalent amongst a significant section of the intelligentsia and “opinion-formers” both at home and abroad amongst the tiny (but vocal) toxic diaspora. In its struggle against disintegrative forces, it also appears to have been sometimes tactically outmanoeuvred by those forces, although one understands that the government rightly does not want to overreact and wants to act strategically, above all democratically and within the rule of law. The collegiate leadership of the ruling party and respect for rights of regions to sort out their internal crisis democratically appear to handicap federal interventions in issues that are essentially regional. This is correct and in the spirit of a federal democratic polity where regions have full autonomy over regional issues. Yet, at a political and ideological level and where the ruling party leadership is the same at both regional and federal level, one expects harmony of political line, policy and practice regionally and federally. This sometimes does not seem to happen. There appears mutual appeasement (do not touch me, I will not touch you syndrome and lack of criticism and self-criticism that is essential for inner party political unity based on correct political line) amongst the top leadership of the Coalition. The leader of EPRDF and Prime Minister, Haile-Mariam Desalegn, has performed brilliantly in carrying out the vision of a peaceful, diverse, unified, and democratic and economically developed Ethiopia. He has the respect, credibility, integrity, zeal and leadership qualities to lead the party, government and country. Coming from a small nationality and without historical and political baggage, helps. However, he is the “first amongst equals” (as the British say of their prime ministers) and key political positions within the state and government are allocated by party quota and to maintain “unity”, often irrespective of the politico-ideological line and ability of party functionaries, which probably constraint the ability of the Prime Minister to play full leadership roles. Perhaps the single biggest challenges faced by the Prime Minister is ensuring a unified, consistent and correct political and ideological line in the governing coalition that is in line with ideal of the EPRD to create and develop a democratic, federal and progressive Ethiopia.
3. The Struggle between the People and Rent seekers, Bureaucrats, and Crony Capitalists
The second fundamental contradiction that permeates the politics of the country is the struggle between the broad masses on the one hand and rent seekers, crony capitalists and bureaucrats on the other. Many often forget that what is being developed in Ethiopia is a capitalist economic system with its attendant social and political manifestations. Whilst it is the case that capitalism and democracy is what is feasible and correct in our epoch, one also needs to understand its implications in terms of class relations, economic justice, social ramifications and its influence on politics, government and the state. You cannot have one without the other. As the saying goes we may all now be for capitalism and bourgeois democracy, but it is legitimate to ask what kind of capitalism and democracy, for whom, of whom and by whom. Yesteryear “Marxists“, and today puritan neoliberal coverts (in fact, if you scratch them deep what you see is, at best, unreconstructed feudo-bourgeois) tell us there is only one universal version of democracy or capitalism, which is a neoliberal political economy. It is the former US President, Jimmy Carter, who characterised the most developed capitalist and bourgeois country that the world has ever seen as a plutocracy (defined as a wealthy social class that controls or greatly influences the government of a society), where money in politics permeates economic and political relations. Whilst many parties and people who fought for economic justice and mass democracy abandoned the struggle (to Byzantine ethnic politics, neoliberalism and post-socialist imperialism) following the historic collapse of the “socialist” block of the former Soviet Union, it is the genius of the EPRDF, in particular its former leader, Meles Zenawi, to propagate an economic and political vision that is line with what is feasible in our epoch, which is the development of a market-based, democratic developmental capitalist state, which ensures not only rapid economic progress but combats poverty and economic injustice through strategic intervention in the economy and mass and participatory democracy (the so called “revolutionary democracy”).
The pursuit of a democratic developmental state has largely delivered on the ground as evidenced by historically unprecedented rapid economic growth, the halving of poverty and significant achievements in health and education. The federal democratic constitution has also provided the political foundation for the peace and democracy currently prevalent in the country as well as improved the image and position of the country regionally and globally. Yet, and when viewed historically, many fundamental economic and political challenges remain. Ethiopia is still a poor country, there is a degree of economic injustice, and democracy and good governance require fundamental transformation. For a democratic developmental state to be sustainable in Ethiopia a number of critical conditions are necessary. First and foremost, staunch advocacy of the federal democratic constitution, democratisation, good governance and the rule of law. Secondly, ensuring the state is not “captured” by crony and bureaucratic capitalist classes that are continuously being engendered by the capitalist development in the country through mass, grass root, civic and participatory democracy. Thirdly, there is a requirement for an efficient, capable, corruption-free and committed civil service, which, at best, subscribes to the ideal of a democratic development state. Fourthly, perhaps most importantly, there is a critical need for strategically, politically and ideologically unified and corruption-free leadership. Fifthly, is the imperative of real economic development and transformation that addresses the vital economic and social needs of the population sustainably. The questions are, therefore, do these conditions currently exist and to what degree. On the positive side and largely, the federal and democratic constitution; the ongoing institution and capacity building; the rapid economic development and pro-poor socio-economic policies; the overall development and strategically oriented political leadership; and above all the buy-in for the fundamentals of the “State of the Union” of the country by the population, point to the feasibility and viability of achieving a democratic developmental state. However, on the negative side, there are serious dangers, including undemocratic, disintegrative nationalism that seek to dismantle the democratic federal system; rent seeking bureaucratic and crony capitalists collusion with the section of the political class to capture the state; lack of good governance and corruption that alienate the broad masses, in particular the disaffected youth; and the prevalence of economic injustice, high cost of living and high level of unemployment and under employment.
Hitherto, the ruling party has navigated those problems to varying degree of success. Whether, it will continue to do the same in the long-run is an empirical question. Its current pronouncements and positions suggest it can. What is clear is that, in the long-run, the vision of a democratic developmental state and the sustainability of a unified , diverse and federal polity is not inevitable without a democratic and progressive political agenda that tackles bad governance and corruption, rent seeking and the cardinal manifestation of crony capitalism.
The Separation of Power and Dominant Party Controversy
Some have argued that there is a systemic failure in the structure of the state, in particular the separation of power between the executive, legislature and judiciary due to the ruling party dominance of these layers of the state, which sometimes is described as the fusion of party and state. I think this is inferred from a poor understanding of the structure and functions of the state in pluralist democracies such as, for example, the British parliamentary democracy (the so called Westminster Model) or a presidential system, for example, the USA presidential model. It is perfectly feasible to have a dominant party presence in all three layers and have a well-functioning state. For example, in the UK the Conservative Party run the government and control the legislature, both the lower and upper houses. The upper house (appointed by the government) serves as the judiciary arm of the state. Similarly, in the USA it is feasible (there were occasions) to have a democratic president, a congress dominated by Democratic Party and a judiciary largely nominated by democratic presidents and approved by a Congress dominated by democrats. We know both systems largely work notwithstanding occasional gridlocks when different parties dominate different layers of the state.
The real issue in the case of Ethiopia is not the lack of separation of power per se, but how the dominant (majority) party run the different layers of the state. Does the legislature have relative autonomy to hold the government to account, including the calling of the resignation of ministers or even a prime minister through a vote of no confidence? Does the legislature elect autonomous agencies, such as the Electoral Commission, Auditor General, and Public Prosecutor etc.? Are members of the legislature responsible to their electorates even when they have party loyalty? Do they elect judges principally based on their ability and impartiality in interpreting the constitution and laws of the country? Do they recall judges or even remove them when they are deemed in effective or corrupt? The real issue is not, therefore, a systemic failure, or lack of a constitutional structure that provides a clear separation of power, but how power separation functions in practice when party loyalty and responsibility to the electors and the constitution collide. The evidence to date is that there is a degree of progress (though not adequate) in the way the legislature is functioning. Increasingly (and occasionally boldly) the legislature is holding the government to account. A good example is the most recent report of the Auditor General and criticisms of the annual reports from government ministries. However, there are major problems in the way the separation of power functions. The legislature is largely subservient to the executive and does not sufficiently hold the government to account. Often party loyalty overrides responsibility to the electorates or the constitution and laws of the land. That is where the real issue is, which is how the dominant party exercise its influence in the different apparatus of the state.
The Bureaucracy and Governance
The nature and functioning of the bureaucracy, as the executive arm of the Government, is critical in understanding governance issues. The bureaucracy is appointed (at least the higher echelons) by and is responsible to the government. There are five critical success factors for a successful bureaucracy and good governance: (i) its relative autonomy to implement government policy in accordance with the constitution and national laws (ii) its loyalty to implementing government policies and manifesto (that is, not sabotaging elected government policies on ideological or political ground); (iii) its impartiality in implementing government policies; (iv) its ability, efficiency and effectiveness; and (v) its integrity, transparency and accountability.
Ethiopia has registered a degree of progress in institution-building, capacity-building and civil service reforms, which party account for its it rapid and broad economic development, in particular in infrastructure. However, a lot more needs to be done and there are critical challenges regarding good governance. First and most, the civil service and the bureaucracy in general need to exercise relative autonomy and adhere to basic rule of law when implementing government policies. A large swathe of the bureaucracy is not loyal to the Government on ideological or political ground, and does not “faithfully” implement lawful, democratically elected government policies and manifesto commitments. Some even deliberately “sabotage” Government policies to underscore political differences. Similarly, significant sections of the bureaucracy do not implement government policies impartially. Nepotism, cronyism and favouritism on grounds of party affiliation, ethnicity, region, and self-serving social and economic networks and so on are rampant. Issues regarding the ability, efficiency and effectiveness in implementing government policy are major challenges. Finally, perhaps more important, there is a reality and perception that a large body of the bureaucracy is seriously handicapped by lack of integrity (including corruption), transparency and accountability. These are critical make or break questions of good governance that the government need to address strategically, sustainably and in SMART manner (i.e. specifically, measurably, achievably, realistically and in timely manner).
The Role of Civic Organisations for Democratisation and Good governance
For a pluralist democracy to thrive, in particular of the progressive and participatory type, it is not enough to have a well-functioning separation of power of the different organs of state. It is vitally important to have autonomous and independent civic organisations at all levels of society not only to hold the government to account, but as organs of grass root and mass democratic participation. These include community and voluntary sector organisations, independent mass media (apart from the politically affiliated and mouth-piece of the ruling and opposition parties), youth and women organisations, faith groups, pressure groups, independent labour unions, autonomous peasant associations and a range of business and commercial interests. A major feature of the current political landscape that require addressing is the relative scarcity of independent and autonomous civic, grass root and mass organisations, that is apart from those that are politically affiliated to the ruling party or for that matter opposition parties. Notwithstanding the danger of neo-liberal global forces subversion of domestic civic organisations for their neo-colonial political agenda (which must be legally combated), the promotion of autonomous, independent civic, grass root and mass organisation is a critical element for a successful democratic, federal and developmental state and society.
4. The Struggle between National Sovereignty and Regional and Global Foes
Two of the fundamental antagonistic contradictions discussed above are essentially conflicts internal to the country. The third major contradiction that Ethiopia needs to address is conflicts that originate externally, namely the machination of the failing Eritrean state, its geo-political sponsors, the Al-Shabaab Jihadist terrorists and global neo-liberal forces that are hell-bent on undermining the democratic developmental state progress in Ethiopia. What is more, there is a clear collusion between domestic big nation chauvinists and narrow nationalists, the Eritrean government, geo-political foes of Ethiopia and segments of global neo-liberal forces. The alignment of these forces is clear enough and is not elaborated in this article, but what requires underscoring is that, at this juncture of history, the external contradiction, though fundamental, is not the principal contradiction that is driving the contemporary political undercurrent in Ethiopian. By all objective and subjective measures the Eritrean regime is a failing state economically, politically and diplomatically. Its demise is a question of when rather if. Like a wounded animal, its despotic and deluded leader is seeking “salvation” by dragging Ethiopia into a protracted war with Eritrea (although he fears the outcome of such a war with Ethiopia would be the end of his regime), by instilling enmity, sowing distrust and breaking the historic, cultural, ethnic and strategic ties between the Ethiopian and Eritrean people, and by instigating civil disturbances in Ethiopia. The broad strategy of the Ethiopian Government vis-a-vis the Eritrean regime is correct and is yielding its desired results. Moreover, in fighting the Eritrean regime, differentiating the people from the regime and keeping and respecting the long-term interests and unity of the two peoples are paramount. Far sightedness in the potential for unity of the two people and countries must override the negative experience of recent historical anomaly and separation. However, it is not inconsistent for the Ethiopian Government tactical posture to be much more proactive, and its measures to counter threats from the Eritrean government need to be disproportionate (without resorting to full scale and protracted war or regime change, unless of course, in response to a full scale war by the Eritrean regime). The response of the Government must have the calculated effect of hastening the demise of the Eritrean regime (which ultimately is the responsibility of the Eritrean people) and the despot and ruling cliques must not be given the luxury of time and space to meddle in the internal affairs of Ethiopia and must be hassled and cornered by all legitimate means possible.
5. On Correct Understanding and Handling Contradictions Amongst the People
In a large country like Ethiopia, with a population exceeding 100 million; 70% of youth population (under the age of 30); over 80 nations, nationalities and peoples; many faiths; wealth and income inequalities; rural-urban and country-town differences and differential access to educational opportunities; the emergence of non-antagonistic conflicts are objective conditions that require correct understanding and handling. In essence, they are differences that are not anchored on fundamental economic or political conflicts. However, these differences may be exploited by fundamental antagonists to advance their political agenda. In particular, sections of the disaffected youth (for example due to unemployment, bad governance etc.) and the alienated intelligentsia may be used (knowingly or otherwise) by antagonists of the ruling regime. In such situations the approaches, policies and measures for dealing with contradictions between the peoples need to be fundamentally different from those dealing with antagonistic forces that seek to fundamentally dismantle the federal democratic constitution by forceful, illegal and undemocratic means. In the last analysis, correctly understanding and handling of conflicts and non-antagonistic contradiction amongst the people is critical, and the ruling party and all democratic forces need to broaden the front that builds and safeguards the democratic gains of the last fifty years of peoples struggle.
The overwhelming objective and subjective conditions in Ethiopia today is largely one of peace, stability, development and a work-in-progress democracy, which are anchored on federal, democratic constitution and institutions, a rapid economic development and advances in health and education. The fundamentals of the state, society and economy provide a strong base as well as the ability and resilience to cope and deal with major and minor social strife through democratic dialogue, and by robustly addressing occasional economic hardship induced by natural and man-made events. The antagonists of the democratic federal state have tried to create a counter narrative and have desperately tried to instigate upheavals to prove their point. There is strong evidence, however, that the country is not in the mood to regress and fall into the abyss having paid dear in blood of its sons and daughters to bring about lasting peace and development.
The achievements of the last two decades, however, must never be taken for granted and are not necessarily irreversible. An alignment of big nation chauvinism, narrow nationalism, crony capitalism and foreign foes are desperately seeking to reverse those gains. It goes without saying they will continue to plot and exploit differences to advance their political agenda. In addition and more importantly, there is major dissatisfaction (fundamentally different in nature and aims) amongst the people, in particular large sections of the youth and the intelligentsia due to lack of good governance and economic injustice as well as lack of rapid progress in democratisation. The ebbs and flows of economic and political discontent including the current political upheaval, though scattered, are largely the manifestations of those contradictions. The ruling party seems to have diagnosed the problems correctly and its public position is that it wants to make fundamental changes, in particular on democratisation and combating rent seeking crony capitalism. Although there are signs that it is on the correct path, the extent, scale and intensity of its handling of those issues and the long-term outcomes and sustainability of those efforts are yet to be affirmed. In summary, the urgent and pertinent tasks are:
I. First and foremost, the ruling party needs to be bold, steadfast and unify its political and ideological line in combating big nation chauvinism and narrow nationalist political and ideological tendencies within its midst and the country at large. Only then would it be possible to safeguard and develop the federal democratic polity by isolating and confining big nation chauvinism and narrow nationalism to the dust bin of history and effectively deal with foreign foes of the country. In this regard the, the struggle against fundamental antagonists must be differentiated from the tasks of addressing the legitimate concern of the people and needs to be conducted in accordance with norms of the constitution and laws of the country.
II. Secondly, it must have a clear and bold strategy for tackling rent seeking, bureaucratic and crony capitalism in the political economy of the country. It must develop a blue print for tackling corruption and bad governance in partnership with the broad masses, specifically and detailing the “why”, “who”, “whom”, “how”, “when” of the struggle against rent seeking and bad governance.
III. Thirdly, it must accelerate the process of democratisation by significantly improving the smooth functioning of the state structure, including a legislature that boldly hold government to account overriding party loyalty over responsibility to the electorate; an autonomous and impartial judiciary; corruption-free, law-abiding, impartial, credible, transparent and accountable bureaucracy.
IV. Fourthly, it is critically important for the government to support the development of autonomous civic, grass root and mass organisations and mass media that are vital for the democratisation process whilst legitimately combating the danger of neoliberal subversion of the third sector, and
V. Fifthly, the conflicts that originate externally need to be delineated as well as understood in their interplay and alignment with internal antagonists who are the principal forces that seek to destabilise and fragment the peace, cohesion and development of the country. Although the strategic posture of the Government vis-à-vis the rogue Eritrean regime is basically correct and is delivering its expected outcomes, what is more necessary is an active, robust and disproportionate tactical response to hasten the inevitable demise of the regime, which is short of a full scale protracted war and regime change, as well as policies and measures that are consistent with advancing the long-term historic interests and unity of the peoples of Ethiopia and Eritrea.
The people of Ethiopia have vivid memory of the fundamentally contrasting state of the country, politically and economically, under different regimes during the last fifty years. Although development brings new and complex challenges and old regime protagonists continue to plot and exploit to reverse progress, it is not safe to bet against the people and country, provided continuing and far-reaching progress is taken as a necessity rather than an option. The pertinent tasks of our time for patriotic, democratic and progressive forces are to resolutely fight for a peaceful, democratic, unified but diverse, equitable and progressive Ethiopia.