Bereket Gebru 11-21-16
The big measures that have been expected since the ruling party EPRDF embarked on its program of deep renaissance are already rolling thick and fast. The public discussion sessions the government scheduled were part of efforts to ensure more public participation and accord with the government in addition to identifying issues of public dissatisfaction. Following the state of emergency that has proved effective in restoring peace and stability, a number of regional and federal activities have been carried out towards fixing problems of good governance. The last of these measures has been the huge reshuffling of the ministerial cabinet.
Three or four months before this major change at the top of the executive branch of government, the party first identified the major reasons behind the popular demands that later turned to violent unrests in some parts of the country. Accordingly, the deep renaissance set out to staff political office through merit and not mere party membership; raise ethical standard; implement transparency, accountability and participatory measures.
The recent appointment of new personnel to Ministerial positions based on merit is, therefore, part of the scheme of deep renaissance. Of the current thirty ministers, only nine held equivalent posts in previous cabinets. The other twenty-one are first time holders of such positions mainly drawn from higher education institutions. Considering the high level of educational qualification and experience the appointees have in their respective professions, the strict adherence to merit is all too apparent.
The major reason behind such a move by the government is the ruling party’s assessment that the rapid economic growth and development of the past fifteen years has helped create a demanding society. As had been explained by the veteran EPRDF leader Bereket Simon, the total agricultural harvest in the country stood at 73 million quintals annually in the mid 1990s. However, the autumn harvest alone this year has reached 280 million quintals. During the fifteen years of EPRDF’s renaissance, explained the veteran leader, the harvest by subsistence farmers increased fourfold. He also stated that the national food supply has grown to reach three quintals per person annually.
The educational and health conditions that exert tremendous influence on the awareness of society also increased exponentially in the past fifteen years. Fifteen years ago, not more than 4% of the population accessed education. That number has now jumped to more than 30% as nearly one-third of the entire population of the country is educated. Despite the lingering issue of quality in the education sector, the efforts to expand access have matched that of developed countries as the country has achieved a nearly 100% enrolment rate. With 30 million people in schools in Ethiopia today, the country is educating the equivalent of students in 24 countries in Africa that have a population size of less than 4 million people. The health conditions in the country have also improved immensely in the past fifteen years as the life expectance in the country reached 64 years in 2014 from 61 years in 2011 and a shocking 45 years in 1991.
With EPRDF’s policy of appointment focusing on political feasibility and loyalty to a large extent, the popular requests for better leadership started to soar with increased awareness. Apart from the domestic suitable conditions for human development, the proliferation of technological products that augment access to updated information in the international system helped the Ethiopian people raise their expectations. The situation has increased so immensely that some people even claim that the public is far ahead of those in positions of leadership – from local governments to the federal government.
This gap in leadership expectations coupled with the problems of rent seeking and lack of good governance among government officials thinned down popular patience and caused their frustration to overflow into the streets of some cities. It is in recognition of these demands that the ruling party EPRDF changed its long standing policy and resorted to an all out merit approach to political appointment.
Mainly constituting Ph.D. holders, the current set of ministers have earned their reputation as among the leading scholars in their respective fields of study. With numerous researches and institutional know-how under their belts, the new appointees are expected to take the developmental milestones already achieved in the country in the past fifteen years even further and help realize the country’s jump into middle income status.
In their endeavors, the appointed ministers are expected to pile on the successes registered so far and root out the major problems that posed themselves as obstacles to further development. Obviously equipped with the educational caliber to single out the challenges and identify their remedies, these crop of new leaders are widely reported by domestic and international media as being more technocratic than bureaucratic.
Their former close working relations with reputable educational institutions in and outside of the country is also expected to give the new leadership a new edge in incorporating scientific approaches to problem solving. Research based approaches to further advance national benefits in different sectors led by these scholars paint a hopeful future for the country. Considering Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn himself used to be a university dean, EPRDF’s decision to resort to the country’s scholars during its hard times is very understandable.
The appointed scholars could potentially act as bridges that link the government with the country’s scholars, ending their estranged relations throughout Ethiopia’s modern history. The upsides to that scenario are infinite as a more scientific and scholarly approach to administration and problem solving would give the country’s effort towards development a much needed boost.
It could also be very crucial in the fight against rent seeking and lack of good governance, the fundamental problems challenging the current development endeavor, as well educated leaders are presumed to build a merit based system around them. Unlike leaders with lower levels of education, well educated leaders are not likely to fear rewarding well-performing individuals under them for fear of losing their own positions. That situation would be replicated throughout the institution in the long run, dismantling existing networks of rent seeking along the way. Therefore, the move is a multi-layered blessing to the future of Ethiopia as it could end up shacking up the customary approach to making decisions in the ruling party and the governmental offices in the country.
This wave of deep renewal seems to be going downstream these days as regional governments are evaluating their middle level leaders with major changes expected to be on the horizon. If these moves prove to be as fruitful and hopeful as their federal version, the country could be on the verge of a broad based change in leadership for the better. Nationalizing the positive changes at the federal level and putting in place a set of leaders who can read each other well could be the key to reinvigorating Ethiopia’s quest for development.
The way things are going, the ruling party and the country could both end up experiencing a new history in which the educational elite – as opposed to the military elite – could sit at the helm of political power. Although the set of things such a move entails are yet to be seen, it proves the fact that the existing reality is changing the EPRDF as much as the EPRDF is changing the country.