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Carrots and Sticks for Ethiopia’s Election 2020

Carrots and Sticks for Ethiopia’s Election 2020

Assefa A. Lemu 03-21-20 carrot and stick approach has been used for years in politics and management. It is the method of inducing a desired behavior through carrot (reward) and punishment (stick). It is based on the idea of cart driver who extends a carrot hanged on a string from the far end of the stick in front of a donkey but out of the reach of donkey’s mouth. Attracted by the sight, the donkey moves forward to eat a carrot pulling the cart, but the carrot also moves forward. The poor donkey does this until it collapses from exhaustion.

EPRDF used this approach very well and Prosperity Party (PP) is trying to repeat it. Distribution of lands, work permits, access to credits, government jobs, government contracts, etc. were used as carrots to attract supporters. Even though there are still few greedy individuals who purely run after their own personal benefits, the majority have self- respect and respect for the rights of the majority. Even though most Ethiopians are poor, they arenot willing to give away their dignity, rights and the right of their community in exchange to personal reward and to be treated like animal.  As Mr. Alfie Kohn put it in his article titled “Science Confirms It: People Are Not Pets” published on The New York Times on October 27, 2018 “… people are not like pets; they do not sit, stay or roll over on command. Rather, each of us have minds of our own and will not follow an order just because it is given”.

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According to Article 136 of Proclamation number 1162/2019, The Ethiopian Electoral, Political Parties Registration and Election’s Code of Conduct Proclamation, “Any political party shall not: 1) Coerce, offer bribe or offer other inducements to voters so they can vote for or against a particular party or candidate, or to abstain from voting; 2) Coerce, offer bribe or offer other inducements to influence whether a person becomes a candidate or withdraws from an election;  3) Any government official or civil servant uses his official time, responsibilities and resources to promote candidates or discourage other candidates from promoting themselves through legal means”. Even though the proclamation prohibits corrupt practices listed above, as reported by Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), Oromo Liberation Front (OLF),Arana Tigray for Democracy and Sovereignty Party (Arena),and Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice (Ezema), the facts on the ground are different.

The intimidation and harassment which is started at lower levels and rampant reached its peak on February 29, 2020 when the government armed forces invaded the residence of nine OLF top officials including Michael Boran, Abdi Reggasa, Dr. ShigutGeleta, YadiAbdushakur, and KennasaAyyana. Out of the nine OLF members arrested on February 29, 2020 with the exception of Abdi Reggasa all eight were release without charge after one day. This shows that the ruling party can arrests anyone as it wishes and releases anyone as it wishes.

The fact on the ground shows that Prosperity Party inherited not only power, money, and property of EPRDF but also its bad habits of harassing the opposition members and misusing government/public resources. The press statement given by Ezema on February 26, 2020 and the press statement given by OLF on March 19, 2020 accuse PP for forcing business firms and persons to give funds for PP, denying the opposition parties the right to hold public meetings, to open offices, and incarceration and harassment of members ofopposition parties. PP that controlled the Government power is flexing not only its coercive power by using government security, administrative and justice structures but also its financial power. On the fund raising event organized by high government officials and on which the top business firms and individuals in Ethiopia asked to participate-- some of them through letter written to them from government tax authorities, municipalities and other officials/offices and carry government stamp--- and held on March 14, 2020, PP raised 1.5 billion (US$46,182,266.00). Speaking on this event, the President of PP and Prime Minister of Ethiopia Dr. Abiy saidthat these moneys will (1) enable PP that used to use Government (public) resources to correct that approach (2) enable those who donated to give four or five times larger for the next election (because they will get rewards in return to grow their businesses).

In the same speech, Prime Minister Dr. Abiy admitted that in Africa, from Kebele (grassroots administration) to Prime Ministers, Government positions are all held by ignorant persons like himself, to use his own words “yenebitiemahayim”, and most of African political scientists didn’t administer a single Kebele or a single district but got their PhD by writing the stories of these ignorant prime ministers. He also said most of those who hold PhD in economics got their degrees by writing the stories of rich persons like Sami Sunshine (Samuel Tafesse), TadesseTilahun, and AbinetGebremeskel. They do not own cars and houses. Political science knowledge which didn’t enable to govern one Kebele or one district, economics knowledge which didn’t enable to own a car or a house is useless.

However, the truth is that, in Ethiopia, not only the appointments for key government offices, but also assignments in ordinary positions at District level are made based on the loyalty of an individual to the ruling party and merit is not valued.  In addition, someone to succeed in business must have connection with government/party officials.Some of the wealthy persons praised by Dr. Abiyare those whom others accuse for amassing wealth by being cronies of the corrupt government officials and rent-seekers. They know that PP is simply repackaged and rebranded EPRDF and they are also redoing what they did under EPRDF. The intellectuals whom he undermined are those who are denied opportunities because of many reasons including their political position, ethnic and religious background.  The returnees who hold foreign passports whom the Prime Minister favors and appointed to higher government positions are by no means better than those whom he called “poor PhD holders” in terms of knowledge and integrity. The appointment of those sycophants for the key government offices doesn’t mean that those who are not appointed are less knowledgeable.

From experience, Ethiopian business persons know the rewards they can get by giving money to the ruling political party and the punishment they suffer from by refusing not to give. The choice they have is either to give the requested contribution and stay in their business or refuse and be out of their business. Whether it is called extortion or voluntary contribution, PP got 1.5 million in this first round fund raising event and the organizers said they have a plan to organize more fund raising events, at least for additional three rounds.

PP has both the carrot (money) and stick (coercive power) to influence the behavior of voters. To mitigate the effect of these carrots and sticks, the opposition parties should be creative and work hard. They need to educate the voters about their rights and responsibilities. Opposition parties must be able to mobilize volunteers who can document and report intimidations, harassments, and illegal activities in pre, post, and on election-day. The report must list the date, time, and place and when possible supported with pictures, videos and names of witnesses. The volunteers or members of the opposition party must write it all down and have witnesses and evidences. They can also challenge a candidate or a voter who is ineligible. To challenge a candidate or a voter, knowing the criteria for qualifying to be a candidate or a vote is necessary.

One of the characteristics of national election is that the government, donors, and political parties are pumping huge amount of moneys into the economy. This opens a way for the new distribution of wealth and individuals must be creative to lawfully benefit from these resources through doing business such is provision of services and commodities. Individuals who might be voters, should plan to make businesses during this election season through t-shirt production and printing, caps production and printing, signboard making, advertising, hotel and meeting hall renting, vehicle renting, event organization, or other service provisions. The opposition parties must not discourage citizens from doing business either with the ruling PP that has tons of moneys or with other opposition parties. Particularly, Oromo political parties who have bad record on this issue must refrain from discouraging individuals from doing business with other parties. Rather, they should educated individuals on how to seize the opportunity.We must teach our people how to “make lemonade out of lemons". 

Doing business with opposition party is different from voting for that party. Doing business is what someone does officially in public and voting is done in secret through secret ballot in the closed booth.Therefore, political position and business position shouldn’t be confused. “Kangaraa,garaahaata’ubulteyaMika’el” jedhejedhaninamtichmucaanjaladue’eMika’elittiowwalame—this is equivalent to the Amharic saying of “muya be lib naw”. As Sun Tzu said “All warfare is based on deception” and political war which is manifested through election is not a different.Mao Zedong also said politics is a war but ''Politics is war without bloodshed while war is politics with bloodshed''. Therefore, political parties must make their target population ready for both political and economic wars and equip them with the knowledge on how to survive both carrots and sticks from the ruling party.

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