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Book Review: “Medemer”,A Book by Dr. Abiy Ahmed (Part II)


Book Review: “Medemer”,A Book by Dr. Abiy Ahmed (Part II)

Assefa A. Lemu 11-20-19

Part II: The Fracture of Ethiopian Politics and Its Maintenance Option

In his Medemer book launching speech of September 2019, His Excellency Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed said, “ If one party and Medemer are considered not useful, let the brave person put his whisky aside and come up with the alternative idea and write a book titled Multiplication” ( What Dr. Abiy didn’t realize is that rejecting the idea of Medemer doesn’t require writing a book under the title of one of the remaining three mathematical operations—Multiplication, Division, or Subtraction. Rejection can be expressed by action or inaction.

When I hear the above quoted statement of Dr. Abiy, two questions came to my mind: 1) what is the relationship between drinking whisky and writing a book? 2) Why he focused only on male and asked them to write “Multiplication” book? Anyways, until we write a recommended book under the title of“Multiplication”, we will continue reviewing Medemer (Addition). This is the continuation of the review of part I of the book which is available here: Happy reading!

Chapter Five: Oppression and the Survival of Ethiopian State (Pages 77-90)

At the opening of Chapter Five, the Author said, “ In one hundred and twenty years of modern history of our country,  we repeatedly noticed situations where the fall of one government has posed a danger of dissolution of the country” (page 77).  Here, the Author confirmed EPRDF’s discourse that says Ethiopia was established by Emperor Menelik II and has only 120 year of history as a state under one sovereign government and with the defined boundary. This is a big departure from fairytale of never changing 3,000 year of “history of Ethiopia”. The Author admitted the truth that Ethiopian State was foundedby Menelik II who was Emperor of the Ethiopian Empire from1889 to his death in 1913. Therefore, counting the age of present day of Ethiopia starting from 1889 makes sense.

The Author also argues that the leaders of Ethiopia, especially the kings, were busy with addressing external and internal political issues and didn’t get time to design policies which could prosper and civilize the country. The kings spent their whole time and age on stabilizing the country. Even though he didn’t specify the name of these kings, one may assume the Author is referring to Emperors Menelik II and Hailesellasie because these were the two kings who ruled Ethiopia after it was formed as a state.  

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The Author says, the main reasons for the absence of the required development and civilization in Ethiopia is because of lack of legitimacy of Ethiopia as a state. He says those who governed Ethiopia spent great deal of their time in bringing legitimacy to Ethiopia as a state rather than meeting the need of the peoples. Since the peoples in Ethiopia didn’t give legitimacy to the government and the state of Ethiopia, Ethiopian kings and authorities spent their times averting internal and external dangers posed against the very existence of Ethiopia as a country. Because of this, they didn’t get time to meet the needs of the peoples and failure to meet these needs created discontents which in turn led to revolts and overthrowing of theseauthorities/leaders.

According to the Author, oppression has been the main instrument to maintain the very existence of state and government in Ethiopia and Ethiopian elites contributed tothese oppressions. He argues that most of Ethiopian elites want to directly implement what they read instead of analyzing and matching it with the reality in the country.He accuses the Ethiopian elites as lazy and careless.

The Author says oppression could be divided in to two: 1) Manmade oppression which comes from the evil thinking and intention of humans and implemented based on the wish and plan of the humans; 2)Structural oppression which comes from the structure of the system and targets certain individuals or groups. Manmade oppression comes from individuals and oppresses everyone, but structural oppression comes from the system and targets selected groups. He proposes that the solution for ending manmade oppression is to make power come from the ballot box rather than from the barrel of the gun and to end structural oppression, reform should be made.

Chapter Six: The Plan to Create Ethiopian Democracy (Pages 91-108)

In Ethiopia, there has been the problem of legitimacy of government power.In the past, Ethiopian Orthodox Church was the one who used to give legitimacy for the rulers/authorities. The bases for getting legitimacy were linage and force. Derg changed such legitimacy which comes from church and linage.  However, Derg failed because it was not able to implement democracy which is the basis for the new legitimacy of power. EPRDF also failed because its assumption which says legitimacy will come from achieving economic development didn’t work and the demand for democracy increased. 

Out of the three demands which challenged the Ethiopian feudal system, namely, equality, liberty, and fraternity, the 1974 Ethiopian Revolution which tried to address the question of land holding (economic question) and the 1991 Revolution which tried to address the questions of nations and nationalities focused only on “equality”. The demands for liberty and fraternity didn’t get the necessary attentions. Even though there are still demands for equality, the main reasons for the continuous instability in Ethiopia are absence of the values of liberty and fraternity. I agree with the assessment of the Author in this regard.

In this chapter, the Author discussed the concepts of direct and representative democracy as well as the concepts of majority vote and consensus. He also briefly touched upon the arguments which are promoted by the so called “civic nationalist group” which says “if individual rights are respected, group rights will be respected  automatically” and by the so called “social nationalist group” which says “if group rights are respected, individual rights will be respected automatically”  and criticized both for failing to give balanced attention for manmade and system-made oppressions. He said both civic nationalists and social nationalists are trying to treat one disease with the medicine made for another disease.

According to the Author, the solution for eradicating oppressions and achieving equality, liberty, and fraternity is implementing “Medemer Democracy” which balances civic nationalism and social nationalism as well as uses consensus democracy by loosening the tension among the elites of different ethnic groups. In his opinion, Medemer Democracy which he said is based on the Ethiopian values and cultures can solve Ethiopian problems. He said the end goal of Medemer Democracy is to build Ethiopia in which democracy will be based on developed civic culture and competition of ideasand where there will be no more contradiction between democracy and the very existence of the country.

The effort to change Revolutionary Democracy to Medemer Democracy and transforming Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) to Ethiopian People Medemer Democratic Front (EPMDF)  formally known as Prosperity Party (PP) is underway.  You can read the political program of Prosperity Party which is based on Medemer Democracy here If the Authorreally believes that Ethiopia shouldn’t be a laboratory where different ideas will be tested, I wonder why he wanted to test Medemer Democracy on Ethiopia.

Chapter Seven: The Challenge to Affirm the Legitimacy of the State (Pages 109-125)

According to the Author, legitimacy of state means where the people or the elites consider that the state is their representative that can implement their needs. When there is legitimacy of the state, the citizens will accept that state is the only legitimate entity that can use physical force. He says, the legitimacy of state comes from the consensus of elites because the state that doesn’t have the acceptance of elites will not get acceptance from the people.  In addition, he says the political elites have different stories and interpretations about what happened during the formation of Ethiopia and because of that there will be instabilities and conflicts. Thus, the works which are underway to solve the chaos related to the formation of the state cannot bring lasting solution but may bring quick answers to the problems.

The Author argues that the reason why nationalism has become noticeable in Ethiopia is because of the existence of national oppression. When there is oppression based on identity, people rally around identity politics.

The Author reiterated the fact about the formation of Ethiopian state at the end of 19th century through expansion from north to south. This expansion is seen by some as colonialism, by some as national oppression, and by others as state building (page 115).Ethiopia’s state building has been followed assimilation policy and remains suspended or half done.  Because of that, it has been a point of debate among the elites of the country. Ethiopian state building partly gave birth to civic nationalism because it was half built and on the other hand created social nationalists because it was an aborted endeavor. This made Ethiopian politics to be pulled between civic nationalists and social nationalists. (If you are interested to know more about nationalism in Ethiopia read the article I posted on this subject and available here:

The Authorargues that the way Ethiopian state built and the identity politics associated with the way it was built created negative attitude against the legitimacy of the Ethiopian state. Because of that, the value of common identity has been eroded from time to time and there is no common stance even on the main national issues. The tension between civic nationalists and social nationalists reached at the point where it posed the danger of ripping  the country into pieces and leading the peoples in the country to another endless war.

According to the Author, to end oppression and build democratic Ethiopia as well as to make sure that the Ethiopian state has legitimacy,national reconciliation and consensus are necessary, and to make this practical, the existence of independent institutions are necessary.

Chapter Eight: The Formation of Free, Independent, and Capable Institutions (Pages 126-133)

The Author argues that even though Ethiopia was able to establish strong central government like countries in Europe and Asia, it couldn’t build a political system where supremacy of law and accountability are implemented.  Because of that,it has been suffering from lack of stability and backwardness. According to the Author, one of the reasons why the attempt to build Developmental State in Ethiopia  for the last 27 years was not successful is the limitation to build capable institutions which are the sources of strength for the developmental state. The institutions on which the state has based have problems of mixing the responsibilities of party and government, lack of capacity and independence, and not renewed with social and economic changes.

The Author identified two main problems of Ethiopian institutions: 1) weaknesses which came from patrimonialism/neo-patrimonialism and cronyism, and 2) conservativeness (lack of interest/willingness to change and modernize).  To form free, independent, and capable institutions in Ethiopia, the Author argues, changing the attitude about public service delivery, organization, procedures, and processes as well as reforming the civil service are necessary.

Chapter Nine:Changing the Political Leadership from Boss to Leader (Pages 134-143)

According to the Author, one of the reasons why Ethiopia didn’t  get out of poverty using her natural resources is the failure of leadership. According to Ethiopian traditional thinking, leaders mean a boss who has inviolable authority.  Unless the Author is referring to the Habesha culture which is hierarchal and based on Getoch (master) versus Gebar (serf) relationship, his generalization is not true. For example, under Oromo Gada system, leaders are not considered as bosses and the system doesn’t allow them to act like bosses.

The author explained the difference between a boss and a leader:boss is one who imposes his dreams on others by force and creates followers by force, but leader is one who creates supporters by convincing and positively influencing. He says to build developed democratic society, we need to get out of the boss mentality. According to the Author,lack of ability to create common dream, lack of excellence to control emotions, challenges to reconcile leadership skills, and group composition are the challenges of leadership in Ethiopia. He says ethnic representation is one of the problems of group composition which weakens merit-based leadership. He also says most Ethiopians are dumb citizens (fizzegoch) who run after their personal interest rather than focusing on the interest of their country (page 142). His proposed solution for such kinds of problems is to have leaders who have visions, who can share these visionswith their followers, and who canmotivate/provoke their followers (yemineshitu). He argues, rather than eliminating the leadership capacity of the country, it would be better to build upon what the country has, to accumulate the dispersed ability of the citizens. I hope the readers understand that in this article I am reviewing what he wrote in the book under review not what he is doing as a head of Government of Ethiopia.

Chapter Ten: Building Political Culture, the Lasting and Reliable Solution (Pages 144-154)

According to the Author, institutional building by itself is a flesh without soul. The institutions will get soul only when the culture that can support them has beencreated. Human beings have the ability to twist nature let alone other things. Therefore, unless democratic culture is developed, there is nothing that can stop human beings from twisting the independent institutions and make them means of oppression. He argues that the reason why some countries who built independent institutions and more or less held free and fair elections face vicious circles of conflict is because of lack of developed political culture.

The Author argues that building democratic culture at country level is a complex task that requires higher level of struggle and long time. Democracy requires civic culture and civic culture is strongly linked to all rounded economic and social developments. He says people whose economic and social developments are at the low level, can’t get out of the competition of regional interests and they are strangers to the competition based on ideas. According to this conclusion, the competition between South and North Italy, the questions of Catalonia, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Quebec are because of their backwardness.

He says less developed peoples are busy with narrow agenda and focus on material things and not suitable for the democratic system based on the competition of ideas. According to the Author, civic culture is not being careless about politics and following up of international politics and decisions. In the civic culture, refusal, being stranger, and carelessness have no places. It requires following up of politics and participating in politics. Civic culture is a culture where the citizens get out of regional agenda and competition for ethnic interest and concerned with country wide political direction and decision.

 It is interesting that under Medemer philosophy, discussing grass root problems is considered as backwardness and being concerned about international politics shows the degree of civilization. Internationalism which was condemned in part one of Medemer is appreciated in this part two of the book. Part three of the book may tell us even more interesting things.

To be continued….Part III: The Fracture of Ethiopian Economic System and Its Maintenance Option


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