Ethiopia: Rebuking the justifications of authoritarian rule

By IndepthAfrica
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Jan 17th, 2013
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By: Mubarak Keder

Authoritarian rule, in contrast to its counterpart democracy, takes
various forms. The most common ones are being: personal, military,
one-party and electoral authoritarianism. Among these, electoral
authoritarianism stands out as rather complicated and tricky in that, it
possesses the essential democratic institutions and manipulates them to
claim a democratic government and legitimize its rule while practically
remaining an authoritarian.

The current political system in Ethiopia possesses all the
characteristic form of electoral authoritarianism. Since it holds power
in 1991, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF)
regime tarnished all the attributes, basic principles and institutions
of a democratic system while insisting on being democratic, they
practice “democracy as a deception”. One of the major democratic facades
of the regime is the regular multi party election. However, the idea of
election is the ability of the people to be informed about the available
choices which are competing on a fairground and to choose among them. As
Todd Landman and Niel Robinson (The SAGE handbook of comparative
politics) noted, “Citizens who vote on the basis of induced preferences
are no less constrained than those choosing from a manipulated set of
alternatives. Unless parties and candidates enjoy free and fair access
to the public space, the will of the people as expressed at the ballot
box mirror their structurally induced ignorance.” The EPRDF regime
structured the political system with the opposition parties as many
enough to claim multiparty system and too fragmented and weak not to
pose a threat to the regime.

In the context of the current authoritarian rule in Ethiopia – besides
the opportunity he missed in transforming the country into a stable
democratic state with the power and influence he have had in his 21
years in power – the late prime minister Meles Zenawi will be credited
for establishing a strong authoritarian regime and leaving it on a
too-strong position to be challenged by oppositions. Authoritarian
regimes that are established around a single dictatorial figure are, in
relative term, short-lived as the dictator who ruled the country dies or
gets ousted; the regime will crumble or at least weakens. On the other
hand, those authoritarian regimes that have a well-established
organization with adoptive structure like the Ethiopian EPRDF stay in
power for longer period.

Different editions of Democracy index (The economist intelligence unit )
categorized Ethiopia under authoritarian regime with a 0.00 score in
electoral process and pluralism on a scale of 0 to 10. Under EPRDF the
people of Ethiopia have been reduced from their rightful position of
being in control of power to subjects who do not have any say in their
country’s affairs. Taking these facts into account the most basic
question to ask would be : How the government justify its oppressive
rule to its people. Moreover, how international organizations and
countries are willing to overlook EPRDF’s system of governance and
bought its theatrical performance to appear as a democratic regime.

One of the most common arguments in defense of authoritarian rule is
that, economic development leads to democratic rule. Others go further
to argue “bread first, ballot later” which according to Patrick O’Neil
(Essentials of comparative politics) infers “… in order to build a
strong market economy, political rights must be restricted. According to
this view, by restricting political rights the government can focus on
constructing the necessary environment for a market economy and attract
investment by limiting the kind of turmoil that might come about in a
new or weak democracy.” Further, the government claims the role of
guardianship, arguing taking those unjustified actions are necessary to
protect the security, stability and unity of the country. To this
effect, the government portrays oppositions and dissents as enemy of the
country and quite often labels them as “terrorists”.

Despite the regime’s argument to justify their authoritarian rule, the
facts show, taking foreign aid out of the equation, poor democracies
tend to have a better human development index (HDI) than poor
dictatorships. This is not because they spend higher percentage of their
GDP on health care and education, rather due to the fact that allocated
resources will be used efficiently, which is strongly correlated to
freedom of expression and transparency, consequently accountability and
lesser corruption. Democratic countries are less vulnerable to a large
scale famine. Most of all, under authoritarian rule the country is in a
continuing state of political instability and abuse of civil liberties.

Ze-Habesha Website is not responsible for accuracy of information or
endorses the contents provided by external sources. All blog posts and
comments are the opinion of the authors.

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