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The Lonely Anocrat


The Lonely Anocrat


By  Aesop

Dec 06, 2019

There’s a movie titled “Catch me if you can”. It is based on a true story about a career con artist who finally ends up becoming an FBI agent (in real life). The chances of a conartist becoming part of law enforcement are very rare. But it happens-only after the criminal goes to jail, confesses his crime, and agrees to cooperate. Nobody wants to befriend a career con-artist-unless one happens to be a better catcher. So much for the ice breaker.

Once again, Ethiopia is at a critical juncture. When the Derg regime faced the abyss in 1991, Ethiopia was on the verge of fragmentation. Today, when the current regime is facing a dead-end, Ethiopia is, once again, on the verge of fragmentation. As history repeats itself, Ethiopian political forces are, once again, facing fragmentation or a reboot. I think a reboot is the better option. Ethiopia must U-turn to federalism- by any means necessary.

The current regime has run its course. It emerged in a state of transition. The Ethiopian government attempted to exit the hegemonic, yet inclusive political order two years ago.Ethiopians hoped this would head towards polyarchy (in Dahl’s sense) and got too excited. But the dominant politburo got too flattered and dragged its feet in the unruly waters of anocracy. Anocracy is a political order that confronts all regimes forced to reform. It is a Greek term meaning “non-domination” (not by will but by necessity).Hobbes’ leviathan is paralyzed in anocracies.

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Regimes trying to change their political order suffer (go through) anocracy. That is what happened to African regimes when they hastily embraced reform after the Cold War. The Third Wave of democratization plunged African regimes into endless civil wars. Its neoliberal prescriptions dragged them into the poverty spiral. Anocracy is a state where indigenous political elites and institutions are rendered inept. Anocrats allow participation to an extent it doesn’t challenge their preeminence (a fact Oromo activists overlooked). They permit open executive selection process to an extent it doesn’t jeopardize their preconceived decisions (a fact Tigrean activists overlooked). But these intrigues make anocracies vulnerable to conflict. Their rivals gain strength because anocracies permit opposition. Their followers dwindle because they are exposed to alternative views.

Anocracies can’t be autocracies because they can’t suppress dissent. They are weak. They can’t be democracies because they won’t allow people to select their leaders. They are corrupt. As a result, anocracies end up losing security and legitimacy but earn resentment. Their people neither love nor fear them. They hate them (per Machiavelli's dictum). That is why political scientists identify them as the most fragile regimes. Countless empirical and qualitative studies show anocracies are more vulnerable to the onset of civil wars than democracies and autocracies.And, there’s a logic behind it.

Anocracy is a collection of con artists. They are like penguins trying to walk like roosters. They end up walking funny-neither a cockerel, nor a penguin. Their distinctive quality? Inept political elites and institutions! Their political elites are unqualified; their institutions are incapable. The political elites of anocracy are not interested in paying the price needed to assert political control. They expect others to do the heavy lifting. They serve as conveyor belts for powerful external actors and pay them for their services. They offer the political, economic, and social assets of their country in return for external security (remember the Dutch-lady wearing federal police uniform in the stadium?). They weaken their own local institutions for this purpose. Anocracy institutions are paralyzed lest they stand against foreigners protecting the executive branch.

Fanon calledanocrats “national bourgeoisie” preoccupied in building resorts, hotels, and casinos to entertain their foreign guardians. Kinshasa was such a city. By the way, Anocracy is a universal occurrence (not an African badge). The Holy Roman Empire, pre-Westphalian principalities, early 20th Century China, Weimar Germany, Soviet satellites, 1990s Russia, Venezuela, Thailand, and others were/are anocracies. Wondering where Ethiopia is? Here’s a 2018 polity score. Ethiopia is looking neither like Kenya nor like Eritrea. It’s looking like Somalia. 

Ethiopia sunk into anocracy many times. When the Haile Selassie regime returned from England, Ethiopians rebelled. The regime descended into anocracy. So, it contracted external forces to quell the rebellion by submitting to protectorate arrangement (under the UK) and, later, offering military base (to the US). We all know for how long that sustained it. The military regime that followed also faced a legitimacy crisis and external invasion. It tried to survive by soliciting $11 billion military aid from the Soviet empire and its lackeys by selling the nation’s soul. Soviet aircraft, artillery, and guns murdered countless people. We all know the end. But news outlets seem to reveal that today’sanocrats think French guns might work better.

Today, the current regime is already facing resistance from every corner. Assimilationists don’t think they really stand for unity. This group was ok with palace renovation. But it is seriously angry with the anocracy elites, i.e., their “kegna schemes (orchestrating displacement and distributing ID cards)”, “anti-neftegna speeches” and “failure to stop facebook-calls for chaos”. Federalists are also fed up with the anocracy regime. They don’t believe it stands for diversity. They are resisting the anocracy elites trampling on minority rights. Tigrai is openly leading this camp.The “majority” ethnic groups are also anxious. Oromos are worried the anocracy elites might be secretly plotting for Amhara domination. Amharas are concerned lest the Oromos take revenge for alleged historical injustice. Cities stand against regions; regions stand against special zones. Some zones wish to be regions. Some regions wish to expand, others prefer the status quo, etc. etc.

But all Ethiopians share one thing in common: mistrust overanocrats! Regardless of their political bent, all Ethiopians are suspicious of the back-channel agreements, plots, and assassinations. All harbor reservations over the dam, the privatizations, the Eritrean talks,and the fallen engineer, generals, and the governors. They are angry about the displacements, massacres, and the toasted places of worship. All Ethiopians are dumbfounded watching the anocrats standby as the country is ripped apart. They have withdrawn their support.   

We have a lonely anocracy in Ethiopia that lost all but foreign support. But foreignsupport was predicated on Ethiopiansupport. Ethiopian support was the main justification for the Nobel Prize.Otherwise, the Eritrean dictator would have shared the spotlight as Sadat did. Now that Ethiopians are suspicious, foreigners will likely withdraw their support.The fact their “winner” lacks the confidence to face the press conference is a serious cause for concern. A regime unable to establish order inward can’t possibly contribute to stability outward.Above all, their own constituency (including the Ethiopian diaspora) won’t allow them to invest on anocrats. Anocrats can only be a liability. If foreigners could abandon Mobutuwhile he deposited Congo’s immense wealth in foreign banks, they can easily drop the poor anocrats in Ethiopia like a hot potato. Nobody wishes toally with a career con artist-who can’t deliver concrete results- hence, the title: lonely anocrat!

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