BY SIMON WELDEMICHAEL
The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which has ruled Ethiopia since 1991, is a thinly veiled multi-ethnic coalition façade of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
The minority government, subsidized by western powers, has employed two complementary tactics to extend its existence: suppressing internal protests and externalization of internal conflicts.
The protests, rooted in the early 1990s, transformed into large-scale protests that have swept throughout Ethiopia. The fire of public protest beginning in November threatens scorch the remaining vestiges of the EPRDF.
Having failed to fully quell the uprising through crackdowns, harsh security measures, and the extended state of emergency, the government is now left with no other alternative. The torch of protest, lit first in Oromo, was taken up by the Amharas and other nationalities in the country.
From the very beginning, the government driven by the minority group (TPLF) lacked the capacity to run and govern Ethiopia. The TPLF had neither the capacity nor the intention to liberate the whole of Ethiopia from Colonel Mengistu and to take the responsibility of Ethiopia as a whole.
The Constitution the TPLF adopted at its second organizational congress stated that
“Since our people [the people of Tigray] have been victims of national domination, they are also struggling to free themselves from this domination and thereby safeguard their national rights, dignity and the right to self-determination.”
Initially they didn’t have a sense of identity that was Ethiopian. It was the EPLF who contributed a lot in shaping and reshaping the political stature of the TPLF. History recalls that it was the EPLF’s strong mechanized forces that helped lead the TPLF to Addis Abeba and Menelik palace in 1991.
When Weyane consolidated power, they rushed to establish their own version of national domination. As a sign of their narrow version of nationalism, the TPLF included the right to secession in the Ethiopian constitution to form ethnic-based federalism. Article 39(1) states that
“Every Nation, Nationality and People in Ethiopia has an unconditional right to self-determination, including the right to secession.”
The government, barely able to stand alone, waddled along for so long by the support of donors and western powers. It continuously heralds economic progress, while many failures and crises envelope the country. Despite its horrible record, Ethiopia continues to enjoy strong support from donors. The government receives a pass for its brutal crackdowns against protesters and the state of emergency announcements.
Although some rebukes from many of Ethiopia’s traditional allies have been heard, the critical situation inside the country has not attracted the proper attention it deserves. When the brutality of the government reached its heights, Ethiopia was elected to the UN Security Council, UN Human Rights Council and one of the government’s highest standing members was selected to lead the WHO.
In many respects, Ethiopia is the cradle of contradictions. On one side of the Ethiopian coin, it appears to be one of the top performing African economies, while on the other side is the country that remains one of the world’s largest recipients of aid, receiving on average $3.5 billion of official development assistance every year between 2008 and 2014.
Despite all the shiny jewelry, the signal shown in the dashboard of the country tells us that the expiry date of the EPRDF, led by the TPLF, is past. The writing is on the wall. There is little chance that the current regime will pursue a correct path and exhibit the political bravery to meet the demands of the people. The government’s repression, instead of restoring public order, has only added fuel to the fire. Public discontent will smolder and expand to every corner of the country.
The social, economic and political indicators show that the ruling party lacks the capacity and will to calm the public anger of Ethiopians. Refugees and internally displaced persons, existence of tension or violence between groups, uneven economic development, corruption, over-dependence on foreign aid, and factionalized elites, combine to undermine public confidence.
Additionally, the country’s foreign interventions, often pursued at the behest of its patrons and to externalize its internal crises, further contribute to the state’s failure.
Claire Vallings and Magüi Moreno-Torres (2005) discuss how states are considered fragile when their government cannot or will not deliver the core functions to its people, including the poor. The most important functions of the state include territorial control, capacity to manage public resources, delivery of basic services, and the ability to protect and support the people. These are beyond the reach of the Ethiopian government. Loss of territorial control, low administrative capacity, political instability, conflict and pervasive corruption, among others, illustrate that the government has little legitimacy or credibility. The resistance and protests of the oppressed people of Ethiopia have paralyzed the soul and spirit of Weyane. Once the government’s capacity to perform in an expected manner recedes, what remains is devoted to the fortunes of a few or to a favored minority. The Tigray nobility has excluded and disenfranchised the majority, instead working for themselves and further deteriorating their legitimacy.
For the last ten years, the annual Fragile States Index compiled by the Fund for Peace ranked Ethiopia among the top fragile states. State failure is usually attributed to internal not external and man made, not accidental. The desperate government of Ethiopia is engaged in worthless attempts to externalize the root causes of the fragility. Hoping that the people of Ethiopia can not think and analyze things on their own, the government has engaged in incessant dissemination of distorted information and accusations against neighboring countries including Eritrea and Egypt.
In addition, to the continuing protests across the country, Ethiopia’s recurrent hunger crises are another signal that signal the failure of the EPRDF’s governance. The repeated famines are not the result of drought; rather, they reflect the government’s ineptitude and its mismanagement.
Although natural factors certainly are influential, they do not represent the causes of hunger in the country. Numerous studies have revealed that famine is often closely associated with politics and governance.
Historically, famine and Ethiopian politics have horrific relations. During the 1973-1974 Wollo famine, attempts to hide the reality of the situation caused the death of thousands while the imperial government spent millions to celebrate eightieth birthday of Haile Selassie.
Attempts were also made to hide the famine in the mid-1980s during the regime of Colonel Mengistu. His regime spent millions to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the revolution even while millions were starving throughout the country.
As well, since 1991, Ethiopia has experienced repeated hunger crises under the EPRDF. Setting aside the long list of crises occurring throughout its reign, the latest and ongoing catastrophic crisis is clear reflection of the failure of the governing regime.
Research conducted by the Oakland Institute in 2016 states how
“The 2016 crisis is a harsh reminder that despite the trumpeted economical miracle, Ethiopia has not moved beyond its tragic history of chronic hunger and famine. Every year since 2005, 8 to 18 million Ethiopians have relied on food assistance for their survival.”
Notably, other countries in the region (e.g. Eritrea), despite facing many of the same environmental and natural condition as Ethiopia, have been able to continue to feed their people. For many, Ethiopia under the EPRDF is a land of contradictions; it claims double digit economic growth and boasts of shiny high rises, yet it continues to beg for food to feed its starving millions.
Importantly, in addition to the challenges of food insecurity, overpopulation, political instability, ethnic conflict, breach of international agreements and principles, and corruption have stripped the artificial glamour from the licentious body of the EPRDF. Ethiopia, as many have described, has continued to be a prison of nationalities. Home of over 80 different ethnic groups, Ethiopia has been characterized by ethnic conflict heated by suspicions and hatreds instilled largely by successive governments. The TPLF junta recycled the methods of its predecessors seeking to divide, weaken and rule the society. The disharmony between communities and the oppression of majority by minority group have put Ethiopia in a cycle of political violence that may last for years.
Escalating political and communial conflict, famine, and persecution by the government has contributed to huge number of internally displaced person (IDPs) – the largest ever seen in the history of the country. According to the International Displacement Monitoring Center, Ethiopia, with about 213,000 new displacements in the first half of 2017, now has more than 588,000 IDPs (largely just from conflict).
Ironically, the high-cost, low-profit investment policy has turned the country that struggles to feed its own people into a field sold to produce food to feed other countries. As evidenced by compelling findings from research conducted by the Oakland Institute, by 2011 alone the government of Ethiopia had demarcated 3.6 million hectares of land for foreign agricultural investments.
Many foreign companies have signed land lease agreements at very cheap prices, ranging from €5 to €20 per year, whereas the average annual rent per hectare in other African countries is usually from €200 to €300. This shortsighted policy of the government has made Ethiopia one of the cheapest countries in Africa for foreign inventors to get hold of farm land. Notably, the unrest since November 2015 has involved grievances regarding land issues.
Finally, while corruption exists in many states, in failed states it is often on an unusually systematic and destructive scale. The little Tigray nobility has almost sucked the marrow of Ethiopia and left nothing for the mass of the country. Beyond being drenched in both large-scale, organized corruption and its petty cousin, there has also been no rule of law to ensure peace and order in the country.
According to the latest Rule of Law Index, compiled by the World Justice Project (WJP), Ethiopia’s overall rule of law performance places it at 16th out of 18 countries in the Sub-Saharan Africa region, 10th out of 12 among low-income countries, and 107th out of 113 countries and jurisdictions worldwide.
Overall, the writing is on the wall. The EPRDF has passed its expiry date to govern Ethiopia. The future of Ethiopia is now left in the hands of Ethiopians of all groups. The peace loving peoples of region are eager for them to restore public order and save the country from disintegration.
In elementary mathematics one is taught that two negatives provide a positive result. However, this arithmetic doesn’t work in politics. The EPRDF has to understand the basic fact that its negative policies and practices cannot produce positive outcomes.