Thursday, 20 October 2016

The “Oromia Question” A Reflection of Ethiopia’s Misgovernance

A photo showing members of the Oromo ethnic community protesting
Image: Courtesy

In recent months, one of the world’s fastest growing economies, Ethiopia, has witnessed an intensified series of protests mainly planned and staged by the members of the Oromo community. The Oromo ethnic group is the largest in Ethiopia with its population making up 34.4% of the country’s 100 million plus people. Other ethnic communities as a percentage of Ethiopia’s total population include: the Amhara at 27%, Somali 6.2%, the Tigray 6.1% and the others making up 26.3%.

The Oromo are found in the Oromia State which covers 284,538 square kilometers. The state of Oromia is rich in natural resources and fertile agricultural land and it contributes about 60% of Ethiopia’s economic resources. The country’s capital city, Addis Ababa, is located in the Oromia State.

Causes of Anti-Government Protests
There are two main factors that have led to the wave of the anti-government protests in Ethiopia. The explicit factor was the formulation and attempted implementation of the Addis Ababa Master Plan. The implicit factor is the continued marginalization and mistreatment of the community by the elitist club that runs the government.

The Addis Ababa Integrated Master Plan is a development blueprint whose main objective was to expand the city of Addis Ababa. The intended expansion of the city would have consequently led to the displacement of the members of the Oromo ethnic community from the land that they possess. With majority of the Oromo people being farmers, this would have eventually cut off the main source of livelihood for the community.

Though the implementation of the plan was later on halted, the initial attempt by the government to forcefully implement it is a pointer of the lack of consultation by the government and subsequently public participation by the affected community.

For the last 25 years since the fall of the Derg, the country has been under the rule of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) which is a coalition of four parties namely: the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO), the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement (SEPDM) and the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

The TPLF has been politically dominant among the four and as a matter of fact, the Tigrayan ethnic community that is 6.1% of the total population controls the country’s economy. This has subjected the Oromo and partly the Amhara, to seclusion by the successive governments in the state.

This disenfranchisement has been simmering for over twenty years but has occasionally flared up. However, as from November 2015, the frustrations have eventually turned out into consistent protests against the government of the day.

Historical Nexus of the Misgovernance
For centuries, Ethiopia has never had democratic institutions of governance. Before the inception of the Mengistu-led government in 1974, Ethiopia was under the monarchical rule of Haile Selassie and his dynasty. The Derg government under the leadership of Mengistu Haile Mariam was in power from 1974 up to 1991 when the EPRDF took over the reins by ousting the military regime.

Right from Haile Selassie’s era, through Mengistu’s junta system of government to the current regime led by EPRDF, only few segments of Ethiopia’s populace have significantly benefited from the state. In short, the country has not experienced inclusive growth even at the moment when it continues to register one of the highest GDP rates in the world.

A key concern to this has been the deliberate efforts by the successive governments and regimes not to embrace the principle of political/institutional inclusivity. It has been common for many years in Ethiopia to witness the disregard for the rule of law which forms the basis of the fundamental human rights. The governments that have been in existence in Ethiopia have been known to be non-tolerant to dissent.

Students from the Oromo community leading one of the anti-government protests.
Image: Courtesy

A notable feature is that the honchos are still nursing communist hangovers and collectivist hallucinations. This implies that the state is the main actor economically, socially and politically hence limiting the economic and political freedom of the citizens.

Historically, it is well documented that EPRDF’s foundation is anchored on Marxism and communism whose prevalent characteristic has always been the establishment of an authoritarian government. The post-Derg era has resorted to revisionism of this system and structure of governance.

Mechanisms of Marginalization & Oppression
In discussing this part of the text, I’ll make reference to specific excerpts of the ‘Road to Serfdom’, a book written by Friedrich A. Hayek (1899-1992), one of the world’s remarkable economists.

  • ·    Advancement within a totalitarian group or party depends largely on a willingness to do immoral things. The principle that the end justifies the means, which in individualist ethics is regarded as the denial of all morals, in collectivist ethics becomes necessarily the supreme rule.
  • ·         …From the collectivist standpoint intolerance and brutal oppression of dissent, deception and spying, the complete disregard of the life and happiness of the individual are essential and unavoidable.
  • ·         ‘Collective freedom’ is not the freedom of the members of the society, but the unlimited freedom of the planner to do with society that which he pleases. This is the confusion of freedom with power carried to the extreme.

The leaders of the Ethiopian regime being revisionists of the communist system have not distanced themselves from adhering to the principles of this form of governance. Since the state is the main economic actor in the country, its actions remain unquestionable hence the limited political freedom.
Any form of opposition towards the government’s allocation and distribution of resources has been utterly suppressed through brutal means. And on this, the attempts by the Oromo to question the regime’s methodology in resource allocation have resulted in their imprisonment, death, injuries and loss of property.

The EPRDF government has engaged in deception and spying against the opposing voices. The governments have over the years spread propaganda with the main goal of portraying the Oromo and the Amhara as enemies. This is a divide and rule mechanism through which the Oromo have been consistently branded as narrow-minded and secessionists while the Amhara have been tagged as chauvinists with intentions of restoring the old feudal order.

An image showing a bus that was burnt during one of the protests.
Image: Courtesy

It is apparently clear that the EPRDF regime under the late Meles Zenawi and the current Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, has perfected the principle of the end justifying the means. The authoritarian EPRDF regime has pursued economic development at all costs without regarding the concerns of the Ethiopian citizens especially the Oromo. The exploitation of resources and land grabbing in the Oromia State by the EPRDF-led government and a small club of elites, notably the Tigrayan elites justifies the operationalization of this principle.

This is the problem of the state advancing the art and act of ‘collective freedom.’

The Road Ahead: Safeguarding & Sustaining the Economy’s Momentum
Ethiopia is expected to be Eastern Africa’s largest economy by GDP estimates by the end of this year. Forecasts by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) show that Ethiopia is expected to record a GDP of $69.21 billion compared to Kenya’s expected $69.17 billion. However, Kenya’s living standards and overall GDP per capita still remain twice as high that of Ethiopia.

To ensure that the strides the state has made on the economic front are safeguarded, the respect for human rights ought to be prioritized. Currently, Parliament is made up of 100% of the members of the EPRDF hence no effective system of checks and balances. The media which is supposed to be instrumental in revealing the government’s wrong-doing, has always been subjected to strict government control with well known cases of incarceration of journalists.

If at all the government is carrying out genuine development projects, then it must allow for scrutiny. But historically, an economy that is largely driven by the state hardly gives room for criticism and this has often led to the disregard of human rights. This is the growth and development model that China has a penchant for.

Going forward, the Ethiopian government seeks to have a vibrant private sector in the economy but to actualize this, the rule of law must be adhered to. From economics, it is a well-known fact that an economy largely controlled by the government may lead to government failure thus the importance of the private sector. The Ethiopian state should thus be committed to observing the rule of law and fundamental human rights.

The Prime Minister has acknowledged that indeed the country has to make improvements to the governance institutions and instruments of government to allow democracy to flourish. This is a positive sign which if embraced will steer Ethiopia into one of the largest economies in Africa. But at the moment, commitment to the implementation of this promise is unknown bearing in mind the recent declaration of the state of emergency in Oromia State for six months.

Several foreign states like Germany and USA have expressed their concern in relation to the anti-government protests but I don’t expect USA to be really tough on Ethiopia as they are strong allies in the anti-terrorism ‘war.’ China, the largest investor in Ethiopia cannot criticize and condemn the government’s action against the protestors because of her history in relation to violation of human rights and the rule of law.

Ethiopia’s growth and development trajectory can be termed as not inclusive due to the plight of the Oromo, the Amhara and other ethnic groups which have been excluded/marginalized by the successive governments. Perhaps, only a few individuals and groups have benefited from the growth which casts doubts on the country’s economic future. The anti-government protests offer a critical juncture that the state can use to change its system of governance.

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