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Democracy, Free Market and Capitalism: A Prologue to Intelligent Discourse

Democracy, Free Market and Capitalism: A Prologue to Intelligent Discourse


Bekele Berhanu, November 1, 2018


The intention of this piece of writing is not to provide a thorough discourse on these important topics. Rather, it is to provoke serious discussions about the topics raised among serious and purposeful scholars and politicians on the relevance of these concepts within the Ethiopian and African contexts.


Ethiopia is now lacking leadership and direction.  As many have said before me it is at a crossroad, in a difficult state of affairs.  The Ethiopian government, aside its good intentions, is finding it difficult to establish rule and order in the country. Local chieftains and their cohorts are being emboldened to participate in extrajudicial activities.


Worse yet, Ethiopian intellectuals so far are lagging behind in terms of providing guidance to the youthful politicians of the new Ethiopia. Many have chosen to be quiet. Some have succumbed into ultra-nationalist/ tribalist politics of the day.


Save very few scholars that I have the opportunity of watching on Ethiopian Television (Dr (Professor) Araya of HSIU, Dr  ) and commentators such as Dr Yohannes Abera, Dr Fekadu and few others whose name I may have forgotten for now, many of our scholars have opt out of the political and concept-based discourse.  In my opinion this has a very serious consequence for the future of the country.


Thus, although late, it is important that we start a dispassionate, non-partisan discourse to contribute towards voluntarily united, peaceful and ultimately democratic Ethiopia. I will therefore raise few questions that I would like Ethiopian scholars to consider.


On Democracy:


The western world has provided the world with modern concepts of governance that have contributed to a more stable, fair and prosperous societies.  Its technological and scientific advances have made our world much easier to live in.  Its concept of democracy, rule of law and human right is something that we aspire for.


But we are also a country / a continent with different culture, history and mode of governance. As was displayed in different forms, shimagles, Geda system and elders and others known by different names have been working to establish law, order, and good governance in their own ways. Is it not the time to revisit our own history and try to modernize our system to fit our values?


I have lived most of my life in the western world.  I have seen how democracy is practiced.  Laws are interpreted differently depending whether you are a mainstream citizen or an outsider.  The western world rejects other worlds based on their choice of governance and values.  The western world officially and openly declares that countries that do not share their values are enemies.  In that sense democracy is not a universal concept for them for they do not allow others to be their own masters.


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How about our intellectuals? Do they critically examine ‘foreign’ concepts and consider its applicability in their own country?  How many of them try to discuss with their counterparts whether the country is ready for a western style democracy?  Have they tried to define democracy broadly? Does democracy mean, broadly speaking, respect for rule of law, good governance and respect for human right or shall we accept all the appendices of western democracy to establish a government of the people?

What is the role of non-profit organizations that have been created to mirror their western counterparts? What role are the human right organizations playing in terms of strengthening a united and independent Ethiopia?


Free Market and Capitalism:


Are free market and capitalism one and the same? Can one function without the other? Let us assume that they are not necessarily different for one usually goes along the other.  But what kind of capitalism do we want?  One that is operated and owned by foreigners or one that creates local entrepreneurs whom we are sure will keep the created wealth in their own countries?

I remember reading an excellent article by Kbur Ghenna, an articulate Ethiopian businessman and intellectual on current economic policies.  Although I do not fully share his suggestion that the Ethiopian economy be totally open to foreign competitors, I nonetheless admire his intelligent discourse.  We need more of him.


According to reliable sources, Ethiopia’s economy has been growing in unprecedented speed? If so, are changing the economic policies a priority now?

Despite the excellent growth data, why are Ethiopians still poor?  Is there a significant wealth distribution problem?  If so what remedies do we have for that?  Is the vast population growth incompatible with economic growth?  If so what measures can be taken to address this problem?  Are there unrealistic expectations by the youth in terms of unemployment problems? Do people know that they are responsible for their own well-being?


These and other pertinent questions must be discussed and agreed upon before one tryto tackle the problems the country is facing.




The Ethiopian intellectuals and politicians need to figure out the real issues and problems of our time.  As is clear to anyone now the priority is on finding a way how to keep the country united.  Local chieftains have made real estate acquisition as their priority.  They have abandoned the concept of a united Ethiopia for their short-time benefits, if any.


We can’t afford to lose a country that has survived foreign aggressions for millennia. Not to mention the fact that foreign aggressors, although not physically, are working their way up to disintegrate the country from within.


A big picture is what we need.  And amplifying the big picture to keep our heritage rests mostly on Ethiopia’s learned segment of the population. Let’s play our part.

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