Book Review: “Erkab Ena Menber” (እርካብ ና መንበር)
Assefa A. Lemu 3-13-19
Prologue: The book titled “Erkab Ena Menber”(እርካብ ና መንበር ) was written in Amharic language by DRAZ and published in 2017. The book has four parts and seven chapters. The author used penname called DRAZ (ዲራአዝ) and there is a widely held postulation that this name is acronym representing the names of the author and the names of his family members: Deborah (daughter), Rakeb (daughter),Abiy (the author), and Zinash (wife). In the Commemoration section of the book, the author said the book serves as attribute to Tizita and Zinaye, who are the sources of his life and love. These two women are assumed to be his mother and wife respectively. Therefore, all the circumstantial evidences show that the writer of the book is the current Chairman of EPRDF and Prime Minister of Ethiopia Dr. Abiy Ahmed and believed by many that way. Even though I am not aware that this assumption has been denied or rebutted by Dr. Abiy, in this review, I respect the choice of the author and call him either by the name on the book (DRAZ) or refer to him simply as “the author”, or “the writer”, or “he”.
The Title of the Book- The title of the book (ErkabEnaMenber) (Stirrup and Throne) is the good choice to reflect the content of the book. According to the online Abyssinica Dictionary,Erkab (እርካብ) is defined as supporter of a rider's feet, stirrup(ወደ ኮርቻ ላይ ለመውጣት በእግር አውራ ጣት ረግጦ የሚወጣበት ርካብ (ረከበ ወጣ))and member (መንበር) is defined as royal seat, monarch's chair, throne, political seat, chair of monarch or bishop, power, rank, and privileges of a monarch (መቀመጫ የታቦት ዙፋን ጠረጴዛ ወይም ወንበር (ነበረ ተቀመጠ መንበር)). In a nutshell, the book is about where to step and how to ascend to power and be there.
Preface: In the preface (pages xi-xiii), the author mentioned that Ethiopia has thousands of years of history and civilization. However, he didn’t tell us how many thousand years and from which year the counting of that thousands starts. He argues that Ethiopia’s situation got from bad to worse because of misguided political and economic policies and accuses the past governments of Ethiopia which he said brought catastrophe to the country. He blames the current generation for failing to be like their fathers and forefathers. He tried to set the stage by portraying Ethiopia of the past as civilized and glorious than the current one.
Introduction:In the introduction part of the book (pages xv-xix), the author provided the definitions of the two words (Erkab and Menber) he used for the title of the book. These definitions are similar with the definitions given above. He stressed the importance of stepping upon stirrup to get the desiredpower. He discussed about the importance of power and argued that political, economic, and social powers are the key engines and instruments to have an authority. Power comes before leadership and leadership uses power to achieve objectives. Regarding exercising power, he said, there are two extreme leadership types and gave an examples of these two opposite extremes—Hitler and Idi Amin on one extreme and Gandhi and Mandela on the other.
In this section, the author also explained about the objective of the book which is to discuss about power and authority, to list the threats and calls of our era, to get away from entrapment politics and exercise politics which is free of partisanship and dogmatic political ideology. He arguesthat Ethiopia’s situation is going from bad to worse (kedituwedematu) and the country is sinking in the sea of darkness. He sees today’s Ethiopia as a country whose light became dim, whose body temperature became cold, and a destitute country bent like a bow with problems. To change this situation, he advises the current generation to get prepared to be servant leaders.
PART ONE: Part one of the book starts with a quote “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them” by Albert Einstein. This calls for a change in the way we think and the way we do things. To achieve positive results, the change should be progressive not regressive; for a better not for worse. The attempt to take Ethiopia backward in the name of “Ethiopian renaissance” or “ making Ethiopia great again” widen the gap between peoples in Ethiopia rather than narrowing it and we can’t solve the problems of Ethiopia which the author listed with the level of thinking that created them and that wishes to take the country backward. Therefore, the quotation he used and the argument he made do not support each other.
1. Chapter One (Facing the Threat and Call of the Epoch): In this chapter (pages 2-15), the author repeated his argument about Ethiopia having thousands of years of history. We are not sure if he is equating the current Ethiopia with Axumite Kingdom or Abyssinia or really talking about the current Ethiopia because he didn’t tell us when the country called Ethiopia was established with a defined territory, people called Ethiopian citizens, and central government. These are important factors to define a country as a country. He argues that our knowledge is the source of our problems rather than being solution to our problems. According to the author, religious and ethnic based conflicts in today’s Ethiopia are led by educated and degree holder Ethiopians.
In this chapter, the author listed major threats or problems that our world has including conflicts, terrorism, extremism, poverty, migration, child mortality, and computer virus and argues that these threats lead the people into despair which in turn led to the election of individuals like President Donald Trump. According to the writer, our world is in the darkness before the dawn and in labor to give birth to an inevitable change.
2. Chapter Two (Heroism, Adventurous Cruelty, and Adventurous Sincerity): In this chapter (pages 17-26), the author discussed about the meanings of heroism and adventurism. He says, in most societies, heroism is associated with killing. He refers to Alexander the Great to explain heroism, to Adolf Hitler to explain adventurous cruelty and to Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandel to explain adventurous sincerity. He said Ethiopia had many adventurous cruel and adventurous sincere leaders and individuals, and listed some of them in chapter four of the book.
PART TWO: Power comes before a leader; power to be practical, it shall wait for a Leader
3. Chapter Three (Power and Authority): In this chapter three (pages 28-45), the author discusses about the lust for power and authority. He discusses the love Emperors Tewodros II, Yohannes IV, Menelik II, and Hailesellassie I had for power and how they put their own interests for power and authority above the interest of the country. He mentioned Emperor Yohannes IV whom he said cooperated with the British forces that killed Emperor Tewodros II as an example.
By referring to Holy Bible and Nichol Machiavelli’s book, The Prince, he mentioned that human beings are naturally not thankful for what have been done for them and emphasizes on the importance of using “stick” than love to be revered. He also discusses about the importance of having double personalities- the visible and concealed personalities. He says, the leader should use visible personality to win the support of the people in good times and should use the concealed personality when there are revolts or treasons. He says, if the choice of immersing one’s hands either into water or fire is given to an individual, no reasonable person can choose to immerse his or her hands into a fire; no one would like to wake up the sleeping devil against him or her.
In this chapter he also discusses the need to be shrewd, to keep one’s plan for power in secrete, and navigate carefully to take power and get authority because power and authority cannot be attained easily. This reminded me Sun Tszu’s advice in his Art of War which says “Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.” This strategy worked for some of the leaders. For example, as Dr. Abiy himself told us on public television, he had been planning for a long time to become a head of government of Ethiopia (Prime Minister) and he kept that plan in secret (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MTMA4jvFp78&t=5s). However, he advised others not to hide their plan to take power. This is also another strategy to know who is who and to know who is planning to do what.
The author listed some of the strategies and tactics that help to defeat enemies/opponents, to take power and authority, and stay in power and authority.
a. To win over your opponents by generating new ideas and to make them come to your side;
b. If your opponent is not submitting to your ideas, design alternative strategy;
c. Bark on your opponents like a dog and give them a way to escape/ to go away;
d. Set a hidden trap for your opponent and make sure it is defeated for once and for all to the extent it will not come back again and bother you;
e. People are selfish. Therefore, use bait (enticement benefits) to take them where you want and then throw them away;
f. Get your objectives implemented through diplomatic ways;
g. Put pressure on your opponent to accept your terms and conditions;
h. Build your capacity and get ready to face problems coming from your opponents;
i. Get your objectives implemented using legal system;
j. Use coercive force as needed.
He also discussed about the use of power and authority in general and mentioned that in some countries, especially in developing countries, the provisions written in the constitution are simply to give cover for the actions of the government.—in realty, law enforcement institutions and religious institutions are horses thatgovernments ride.
4. Chapter Four (Power and Authority in Ethiopia):The writer started this chapter (pages 47-73) by repeating again the stereotype of three thousand years history of Ethiopia, the number that never changes over years. He discussessource and usage of power and authority in Ethiopia. He explained that the group which came to power through the support of military and religion claimed that its linage is connect to King Solomon of Israel and anointed by God. It made the God fearing people to obey without resistance.He argues that the followers of kingship system intentionally divided the people and led them to war along ethnic and religious lines and divided them along class lines.
The author also discussed the attemptsto change adventurous cruel actions to adventurous sincere actions by praising adventurous cruel actions in music, literatures, books, over the radios and televisions, by presenting cruel actions as genuine and sincere actions, and by feeding poisons coated with honey to this generation.
The author criticizes the killing of the officials of Hailesellassie’s government by the leaders of the 1961 coup.He argues that the action of the leaders of the coup pushed Hailesellassie who had previous experience in killing his opponents like Lij Iyasu Michael and Belay Zeleke to kill the leaders of the coup including General Mengistu Neway.He argues that Ethiopian political history is full of adventurous cruel actions and this is deeply rooted in the culture of the Ethiopian peoples who praise the killers and territorials like lion. He used the commendationthat some individuals give to Emperor Tewodros and the cruel actions he perpetrated against his opponents/enemies including burning them alive, cutting their hands, legs, tongues, ears, throwing them off the cliff, killing them by chopping with knife, and denying the families of the victims the right to mourn for their loved ones. He said Derg got the experience of killing opponents and depriving the families of the victims the right to mourn from Emperor Tewodros.
The writer presented Emperor Tewodros as a representative of adventurous cruel leaders and argued that the claim which says Emperor Tewodros worked to unit Ethiopia doesn’t hold water because the person who was left without supporters because of his cruel behavior could not be a unifier. He also rejected the excuses of the spirit of the time when Tewodros committed these cruel actions which are unacceptable by any standard at any era,presentation of the death of his wife as a cause of change in his behavior,and the good job he did in building canon. He argues these are simply futile attempts to change adventurous cruelness to adventurous sincerity.
The writer also presented Emperors Hailesellassie and Menelik II as well as Colonel Mengistu as other examples of adventurous cruel leaders of Ethiopia and argued that adventurous cruelness and adventurous sincerity are two sides of a coin and explained that the Ethiopian leaders whom he said adventurous cruel leaders were also adventurous sincere leaders. He also strongly advocated for the unity of Ethiopia and its peoples.
PART THREE: Those who will be leaders start their leadership role today
5. Chapter Five (To use Power and Authority You Must be True Leader): In this chapter five (pages 78-119), the author identified three most important characteristic of a leader in a top government power-- 1) to generate useful ideas, 2) taking the interest of the country and citizens as a center of its actions, and 3) informed decision making. The author provided long list of what he believes the characteristics of good leader:
a) To love the people he leads;
b) To be governed by principles;
c) To avoid procrastination;
d) To generate new ideas and to be a person whom others like to follow;
e) To win the trust of others including supervisors;
f) To have a vision and to believe in one’s vision;
g) To choose a right place where to be a leader;
h) Networking and recruiting supporters;
i) Knowing who is who and what to get from who;
j) To be capable, to be ready to learn and to excel;
k) To be likable;
l) To know one’s strengths and weaknesses;
m) To get out of your comfort zone;
n) To mobilize supporters and be in the driver’s seat ;
o) To make your speeches convincing and refrain from criticizing others unnecessarily;
p) Be visible, use media to sell your ideas and to advertise your achievements;
q) To show love, compassion, and concern to others to attract them;
r) To know the timing and the limit;
s) Consider alternatives; life has many choices;
t) To know yourself, your talent, and to listen to your gut feeling or intuition;
v) To know the right alignment;
w) To build self-confidence- know what to do and what not to do;
x) To be inclusive;
y) To have integrity;
z) Ability to plan and to follow up the implementation of the plan.
On pages 110- 119, the writer tells us Nasrudin’s story of “Lamp and the Key”, discusses pieces of disconnected issues such as neo-colonialism,transnational, companies, film industries, liberal journalism, developmental journalism, and other issues not related with the topic of the chapter. These 10 pages affected the flow and quality of the book.
6. Chapter Six (A Prophet is Not Honored in His Own Country; Great Leader is Not Always Loved by His People ): The author used the expression of Jesus as written under Matthew 13:57 and Mark 6:4 as a title for this chapter (pages 121-135). According to the teaching of the Holy Bible, when Jesus started preaching in Nazareth, he was not accepted by the residents of Nazareth among whom he lived and who knew him as the son of carpenter, not as Messiah. As writtenunder Matthew 13: 54-57 “Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home”.This is simply to give the context to the title and let’s move on to our review.
In this chapter, the writer explained how Moses who had been adopted by Egyptian Prices and grown up in privilege turned against Egyptian Pharaohs and led the Jewish people from Egyptian slavery to “the promised land”and how rebels from the inside become liberators from suppression. This is a valid argument and Team Lemma that came out of EPRDF and dramatically changed EPRDF is the best example in this regard. He also explains the need to be ready to assist and lead the change that comes out of dissatisfaction of people and to accept the challenges which may come from the two extremes—from the oppressor like Pharaoh who objected the liberation idea of Moses andfrom the oppressed that are liberated but oppose the change and want to go back to the previous conditions like Jewish who blamed Moses and asked him that they want to go back to Egyptian slavery. He presented Moses as an example of good leader.
The other person whom the author presented as an example of god leader in this chapter is President Park Chung-hee of South Korea. The author glorified President Park who was a military General that came to power in 1961 through coup and known for his authoritarian way of ruling and assassinated in 1979. He argued the New Community Movement (SaemaulUndong) launched on April 22, 1970 by President Park to modernize rural economy united every South Korean regardless of race, religion, language, and ethnicity. I think the author wrote this to create an example for Ethiopia because South Korea has homogenous people with only one race, one language, and one ethnic group.Here, I observed factual deficiency.
It is undeniable that under President Park (1963-1979) the South Korean Government promoted the import of raw materials and technology, saving and investment over consumption, kept wages low, and directed resources to export-oriented industries and these contributed to the fast economic growth.However, the credit of that economic growth shouldn’t be given only to his leadership because there were many factors which played into that. For example, following the end of Korean War of 1950-1953, South Korea emerged as one of the key allies in the Cold War to fight communism and there were huge foreign aid (both financial and technical) flow into South Korea until early 1980s which contributed to its fast economic growth. The Confucianteachings of love for a country and hard work and social system also had its role. However, like the rest of the advocates of the idea of “Developmental State” including the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi,the author exaggerated the contribution of President Park who is the controversial person in Korean history to the fast economic growth of South Korea in 1960s and 1970s.
In this chapter, the author over simplified the relationship of Government and the people by saying that “government and people are like a family who live in the same house”.
PART FOUR: “If You Don't Know Where You Are Going, Any Road Will Take You There” George Harrison
7. Chapter Seven (The Oars by which the Boat of our Political Economic Ideology is Steered and the Uncertain Destination): In this chapter seven (pages 139-162), the author discussed four political ideologies (socialism, social democracy, neoliberalism, and revolutionary democracy) and the concept and result of developmental state. Out of the four political ideologies, he chosen neoliberalism and revolutionary democracy as relevant ideologies for Ethiopian situation and discussed in more details. He criticized neoliberalism and concluded that it is not a preferred choice for developing countries. However, the arguments he presented to discredit liberal ideology are not strong.
In his detailed discussion, the author used revolutionary democracy which is a political ideology and the concept of developmental state interchangeably. He didn’t tell us the similarities and differences of revolutionary democracy and developmental state policy and how they are related.He also didn’t tell us whether the countries he listed as the implementers of developmental economic policy(South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore) used revolutionary democracy as their political ideology or not.
Farewell: In the farewell section of the book (pages 164-173), the author discusses life and death and mentions about the importance of doing something valuable before we die. In this section, he also discussed road and bridge, science and technology, the need for knowledge and honesty. I expected to see the concluding remarks about stirrup and throne (how to ascend to power) in this last section of the book, but I couldn’t find them.
Commentaries on the back of the book: On the back of the book, the opinions of two individual were given. The reviewer by the name of Dr. Miheret Debebe said DRAZ simplified the hard leadership secrete and shared with us. The reviewer by the name of Dr. Abdulrezak Muhiyedin said DRAZ is the first Ethiopian to provide us illustrative sources of modern threats and their solutions in a good language.
Epilogue: The book was written in simple and beautiful language and this shows writer’s ability of command of the Amharic language. The author used parables and stories to illustrate some of his ideas; quotations, songs, and figures to support some of his arguments, and parallelism writing style to attract the readers. These make the book interesting for readers. In this 173 page book, I noticed only one minor typo on page148.This shows that the manuscript of the book was well proof read and the seriousness of the author on what he is doing.
The book is about politics, leadership, history, and motivation. Except chapter seven, all chapters of the book are connected and the flow of ideas is good. I recommend the book to readers.