Ethiopian major problems and possible remedies
By Ture Hirbe, PhD | July 31, 2010



While living in democratic countries we envy the citizens of these countries to see them exercise their right to elect their officials at all levels of the government. For example, the USA possesses more than 500,000 elected offices. Other things being equal, the greater the number of offices subject to competitive election, the more democratic a political system becomes. We Ethiopians are dreaming for the day that we will be able to choose our leaders and officials without fear, harassment and intimidation. Definitely Elections are the defining institution of modern democracy. However, I believe that Elections alone may not solve all problems and protracted social conflicts in Ethiopia. Ethiopia is facing multifaceted and complicated problems which need complex approach to solve them. I would suggest three problems, which might need immediate attention.

  1. The Problem of Ethiopian State Structure: The modern Ethiopian state has always been highly centralized state, where a single ethnic group dominates over all others. This has created and is still creating tensions and conflicts among different Ethiopian ethnic groups. The current government is fueling the tension and using it as an instrument to divide and rule. Azar correctly concludes that ‘highly centralized political structures are sources of conflict because they reduce the opportunity for a sense of community among groups, increase alienation and tend to deny to groups the means to accomplish their needs’. As a solution he suggests that ‘for conflicts to be enduringly resolved, appropriate decentralized structures are needed, designed to serve the psychological, economic, and relational needs of groups and individuals within nation-states’ (Azar, 1986).

    Ethiopian political elites have different opinions on how to approach this issue. Having different opinion should not be a problem in itself, but understanding the position of others and tolerating one another has become an obstacle to open and constructive dialogue. In order to overcome this hurdle, open public discussion and debate over this issue must start right now. Open discussions and debate will help to build confidence among different ethnic groups and peoples. It will bridge the gap and clear the way to make important compromises. Thus, opposition leaders are expected to work hard to find common ground to tackle this issue openly, genuinely, and in a very honest way. The step-by-step approach should include: organizing brainstorming meetings, seminars, workshops; and at last organizing all-inclusive Peace and Reconciliation Conference.

    Hitherto exercised exclusionist approach should stop. Imposing pre-conditions before any discussion starts will not be helpful; rather it will further damage the relations. Ethnic and national political organizations should meet freely and discuss their ideas and their approach to solving the pressing problems. I don’t think that any kind of conflict resolution goal would be achieved if one excludes major ethnic political groups like OLF and ONLF that are representing significant number of population. By the way, ethnic politics has been always part of our history and it will remain so for the long time to come. Our diversity should not be taken as liability or as a bad thing. It is rather a beauty and an asset. We have to build on it, not fear it.

  2. The Problem of poverty: Poverty is so deep in our country; about 15 million people in Ethiopia have no food security; six million always live on foreign food aid; families in millions cannot feed their children three times a day, and some are even eating in shifts. We are all ashamed of this dire situation and particularly, those in power must be ashamed of themselves. They have to be ashamed of themselves because they are enriching themselves at the expense of millions of hungry and starving people.

    A USAID/Ethiopia Strategic Paper (2004) identifies a lack of Good Governance as a main reason for food insecurity in Ethiopia. The paper states that ‘the dramatic nature of Ethiopia’s cycle of famine is linked to the Country’s long history as feudal State and Socialist dictatorship. Current TPLF/EPRDF government in Ethiopia is a minority ethnic group imposing its wrong policies and programs upon the majority of the Ethiopian people. The country still lacks a broad political competition and has very weak governance. Unfortunately enough, the Ethiopian people accept the authoritarian rule, and are largely passive in their relationship to government officials at all levels. The custom of holding elected officials accountable for social service delivery, economic opportunity, and basic human rights are weak or even non-existent’. The paper correctly concludes that ‘many problems that contribute to Ethiopia’s continuing vulnerability to famine stems from weak governance’. We actually don’t expect good governance from TPLF/EPRDF Government, because it fundamentally lacks not only legitimacy to govern, but most importantly, it also lacks a capacity to govern. The USAID/Ethiopia paper reveals this fact when it writes: ‘Ethiopia currently is a federal State, with nine regions broadly configured along ethnic lines. However, these regions have no internal autonomy to exercise self-administration. There is a strict control of the central government, which creates tension between center and periphery. Regional, Zonal, and Woreda administrators are being appointed by a ruling party without having a capacity to govern’. The very nature of TPLF/EPRDF government makes it difficult to reform itself, and thus, it has to be replaced if we seriously need to alleviate, or at least, reduce poverty in Ethiopia.

    3. The Problem of Political Culture: Political culture refers to the overall pattern of beliefs, attitudes and values in a society towards the political system. As Ethiopia has always lived and still living under dictatorship, the citizens of this country see themselves as subjects of the government not as participants in the political process. Many fear to express themselves outwardly against the wrong doings of the authorities. What Levada observed about the people living under dictatorship fits well to our society. He writes: ‘Fear created citizens who outwardly conformed but in reality adopted strategies designed to ensure their survival: two persons in one body. People participated but only as subjects. Survival required certain cunning in the pursuit of self-interest…’ (Levada, 2001). We Ethiopians do not deny that we all are two persons in one. It is not our fault. It is the result of the environment of fear that imposed on us by our rulers. But we have to recognize this fact and work hard to change it. This culture of fear and suspicion of each other should stop somewhere if we really want to enter into a serious problem solving dialogue.

Besides, an uncompromising political culture of 1970s is still intact in our society. Those political elites in power and the leaders of oppositions are all the product of the 1970s political movement, and they have a problem of listening and understanding the position of their opponents. For them the games are always to win or to lose. No win-win situation in their thinking. The opponents should be in anyways defeated. This kind of political culture is still intact in our society and we should have to openly debate on it and overcome this hurdle, if we really want to address our problems genuinely and solve them definitely.

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The writer can be reached at turehirbe@gmail.com


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