Ethiopia: The Death of the Developmental State
What we are witnessing in North Africa and the Mid-East is the unraveling of the “Developmental State” model of regime building, which was conveniently espoused by the Meles Zenawi to prolong his minority rule. Of late, the Prime Minister even wrote his higher education thesis in defense of the old Machiavellian system of tyranny and domination of a group over the people by proposing that he be allowed to rule Ethiopia for 40 years.
Although his thesis is a waste of an opportunity to write what would have been beneficial to the people with new and constructive ideas, our prime minister used it for his narrow motive of allowing the TPLF to rule 40 years without interruption. His motive is unmistakably to convince us that TPLF/EPRDF should be allowed to rule without any hindrance with a lame argument that countries such as Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Syria, Iran and China are registering economic growth because their parties stayed in power for decades. As there are some who put Meles at the ceiling of their measure of a genius and an intellectual person, I would leave him with that honor due to him.
Some say the developmental state debacle has its perceived good sides, although this has been the nature of all other ideologies like Communism, Nazism, and Fascism, which were all sugarcoated often with one dimensional good sides that definitely stand to guarantee the domination of a few over the majority.
The developmental states we saw in Egypt and the others, which were the models for Meles Zenawi, have proved that the one party dominated governance is not sustainable. Meles, in his dreamlike cherry picking of reality, has been lecturing us (recently at Columbia University) that the liberal model of governance was dead and buried and unworkable in countries like Ethiopia. Meles was effectively saying that democracy, real elections and rule of law do not matter as long as the dominant party brings development. Meles was saying that the political atmosphere shall be carved in such a way as to allow the dominant party run over and smash all other opposition groups to bring uninterrupted economic growth. Meles was trying to convince us that elections are drama although the developmental state’s dominant party has to win, by hook or crook. Everybody knew that this was an attempt to sugarcoat the repressive and brutal dictatorship that Meles is reigning on.
But the events unfolding in North Africa and the Mid-East have buried alive what the good intellectual prime minister has been advocating. Look at Egypt. The Egyptian ruling party NDP has ruled the country since 1978. The country has enjoyed a relatively good economic growth with no other party allowed to have any meaningful role. However, when the people of Egypt claimed their freedom and dignity, the first thing they did was burn down the offices of the NDP. This has been true with Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Libya and Syria. These countries were some of the examples our good intellectual prime minister has been throwing around to justify his party’s domination with the developmental state theory. Meles is still working to make TPLF/EPRDF the equivalent of Egypt’s NDP as he is against people’s choice, multi-party democracy and rule of law – ideas which liberalism stand for.
However, as we are see now when these developmental states being buried right and left, it is a matter of time for EPRDF and its corrupt structure. The fate of the ruling party of deposed President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, Rally for Constitutional Democracy (RCD) party was dissolution. Now the State Commissioner’s Authority of Egypt is calling for the dissolution of Egypt’s former ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) and the return of its assets to the State.
These recent events of North Africa and the Mid-East show us not only the death of the developmental state ideology, but also the underpinnings that hold such dictatorships have become unreliable for the dictators. The resources of the police, the security machinery and the military have shown that their eternal fate lies not with dictators but with the people and their country. We have seen how the rift between the upper and lower military officers of Egypt’s military finally led the military leaders to tilt to the lower level officers who supported the protestor.
Also look at the Yemeni military, which is typical of the Ethiopian armed forces where 99% of its generals come from the Tigrian ethnic group. In Yemen, the military generals that hold top posts come from the same tribes as President Saleh. Gen. Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president’s son, is the commander of the Republican Guard and Yemeni special operations forces. The general in charge of Central Security Forces and Counterterrorism Unit is Saleh’s nephew; the general in charge of the Presidential Guard is Saleh’s nephew; the general in charge of the National Security Bureau is Saleh’s nephew; the general in charge of the air force is Saleh’s half-brother; the chief of staff of the general command is Saleh’s half-brother; the general in charge of the southern military zone in Aden is a Hashid tribesman from Saleh’s village, Sanhan; and, the general in charge of the Eastern Military Zone in Hadramawt, is a Hashid tribesman from Sanhan. Recently, the biggest threat to Saleh within the military apparatus came from Brig. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, Saleh’s half brother, commander of the first armored brigade and commander of the northwestern military zone, when his forces defected and began protecting the protestors.
What this shows us is that even the military and security apparatus lined on ethnic and blood relationships would crumble and evaporate once these forces realize that defending an old dictatorship is worthless compared to the objectives for which they stand for and the self interest that no one had been a loser by aligning with the people. At such hour comes, even a half-brother would choose the people over a dictatorship.
Thus aside from the death and burial of Meles Zenawi’s “developmental state” theory, the threads of military and police force that hold a dictatorship together have seen the “prova” of what would come in Ethiopia in the future. No one, not even the good intellectual and genius Meles Zenawi, can change or take away the liberal rights of freedom of speech, free and fair elections, rule of law and the self-determination rights of people to choose how to govern themselves. The fate of NDP of Egypt and RCD of Tunisia are the previews of the fate of the TPLF/EPRDF. The choice that the military and the security apparatus took in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen is what awaits the conscience and hearts of the Ethiopians military and security forces.
The death of the developmental state in Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, and Libya is a testament that the will of the people cannot be oppressed for eternity. Time is not on the side of dictators. It is a question of when, not if.
By Biruk Bisrat