Ethiopia: Youth-focussed ‘governance’ structure to be introduced in Addis Abeba – sign of the country’s deepening repression 12 FEB
By Keffyalew Gebremedhin
When the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi related his take on the state of Ethiopia to Richard Dowden, one of the editors of African Arguments, a thing he made the point of bragging about on this May 25, 2012 encounter was his party’s reach in every nook and cranny throughout the country.
In that interview, in response to the question on “governance and the Ethiopian federal system that allows Ethiopia’s people to secede”, Meles put his accent on control stating, “Unlike all previous governments our writ runs in every village. That has never happened in the history of Ethiopia…” To that, he added that this was because in the past the state was distant from ordinary people.
The irony is that where Meles saw progress with the state’s closeness to the people, they saw danger, which as a matter of fact has forced instances of appreciation to that distant past Meles was horrified about.
TPLF regime believes more control is needed, instead of opening up the country for human freedom
Wonders never end and, notwithstanding Meles’s boasting about exercising full control of every nook and cranny, for the successors of Ethiopia’s authoritarian leader even maxima of that closeness that has ensured TPLF’s closeness to the people has been found inadequate and wanting. To change the situation, quoting anonymous high level official, on February 10, 2013The Reporter revealed that the TPLF regime has finalized preparations to further establish a semblance of ‘governance’ structure at the level of city blocks, which may later expand deep into the country.
On the surface of it, which the TPLF may label as renegade perspective, this may have as much to do with another sham 2015 election as the present crises itself, which of late have been taunting the regime.
Unfortunately, some mistakenly prefer to link this hunger for change to the death of Meles Zenawi. What they do not seem to realize is that popular disobediences in different parts of the country had already begun to make their presence felt, even while Meles was alive and well – at least from a distance.
Confident on his control mechanisms, therefore, Meles devised ways to suppress it with various means. Among others, diversion of attention being one of them. He got through his minons to get Amharas expelled from southern Ethiopia – as if they were foreigners in their own country, Gura Ferda being the shocking example; he pretended to be undertaking some peace initiatives with ONLF and Eritrea. He then moved to his real target, what he referred to as Moslem extremists and their incessant protests. Surely, Meles had the foresight to consider them the real threat sto his stay in power, when they should not have been.
Close observation shows that the reasons for Meles’s ramblings in parliament in early 2012, two occasions especially jumping from hodgepodge of cluttered issues – ranging from inflation to foreign exchange to teachers’ pay and reform of the remunerations system – to none of which he was able to provide any decisive leadership beyond keeping the lid on boiling pot. Not Meles, not many people saw it as sign of the closing chapters of the Meles era. Today, without him, his party brain dead it is only angling on employing brute force and political shenanigans, instead of responding to the responding to the people’s growing frustrations.
This has not escaped the attention of the United States. In April 2012, the US government gave Meles Zenawi warning that it was time for him to go. The man who was treated as good friend in the corridors of power was told publicly that he was no different from other those strongmen in Africa who seem to see power as their permanent tenure.
Since symbolism is a language of politics, for the United States the reaction by the USAID was considered sufficient reaction to this unhappy reality. They know that the people of Ethiopia deserved something better. Unfortunately, especially the Obama Administration got preoccupied with not giving the “unreliable” domestic opposition ladder they could use without proving their worthwhile! At least, this pronouncement in the Senate – at least on the surface – would bar total condemnation or blame against the US of failing the Ethiopian people.
Consequently, in a testimony before the US Senate on April 18, 2012 USAID Assistant Administrator for Africa Earl Gast fired the first salvo to that end, stating:
“Ethiopia is one of the starkest examples of the risks that emerge when a country lacks sufficient democratic checks and balances. By significantly constraining political speech, human rights, and the ability of civil society and the media to hold government officials accountable, the Ethiopian Government is creating an environment that is ripe for instability and that sends mixed messages about its place in the international community.”
To confound doubters, yes, the Ethiopian regime works at clockwork precision as far as election schedules are concerned. Nonetheless, if anything it says is to be trusted, which no one should given two decade-long record – its rationale regarding the new youth-focussed structure is another evidence of how it has set itself as far as its future is concerned.
For an underdeveloped country, the regime’s politics has been far advanced, although on clear calculation of nation interests, moral and ethical grounds, it has been suffering the consequences. The TPLF has introduced in Ethiopia in the past two decades new politics that defies not only commonsense. But also it is has won notoriety for its lack of scruples, for its impetuousness and undermining in a calculated manner long established societal dont’s and other taboos, for which as one of history’s oldest nations Ethiopia has a good number of them. It is breaking these that has worked to Meles’s detriment, as well as past leaders, in the process leaving the country’s interests unattended.
What is in the mill?
As far as the new structure is concerned, taking the words of The Reporter, the idea is to engage everyone above 18 “in development.” In Amharic, the phrase the paper uses is “መንደራቸውን ለማልማት ይሠራሉ [ያውላሉ] – to imply that they would develop their area/neighborhood.
In all honesty, I would be the first to declare my sense of loss when it comes to the whats development these individuals, who have not even found their feet on the ground, could realize. Perhaps, as far as the regime is concerned, it must have been consulting books on Cuban strategy, how it kept “Yankee imperialism” ineffective from a distance of 90 miles. Bear in mind that Cuba claims, about their determination an conviction, that they stopped “imperialist lackeys and agents” through the vigilance of their neighborhood network of associations.
Frankly speaking, no one in his right mind would oppose development efforts. Nor is there any country more in need of development at this very moment than Ethiopia,, a country which is at the bottom of the poorest countries of the world.
Nevertheless, indeed there are many evidences that speak to the TPLF regime’s intention being not development. They aim at total control of civil society. In today’s world, especially after World War II – save North Koera – the latest design against civil society that is being perfected in Ethiopia smacks one with the bad odor of those that sought supremacy over everyone other human being.
There are governments and corporations that cooperated with such force in Ethiopia. They recruited/emplaced people the TPLF wanted /recommended. They listened to them because of their own interests both immediate and long-term in nature. These include facilitation of terrorism’s destruction (as if the huge majority of Ethiopians do not care) and the profit motive, aiming to utilize Ethiopia as source of future wealth for major corporations. The problem with this is the fact that such an approach ignores the fact that Ethiopians do have their own interests, thirst for their freedom and human and civil rights.
That is why today these powers, along with the regime watch their efforts taking the strength of sandcastles, when Ethiopia’s own long-term stability has fallen into question. That is why the regime in Addis Abeba has become extremely nervous, more than its partners can understand.
Regime is spooked by growing Ethiopian hostilities to the regime
As a government with so many darts aiming at it, it appears that the driving force behind the TPLF regime is its need to respond to the threats posed by the various Ethiopian opposition groups. The regime is aware that of late some of its mortal enemies claim to have formed a quasi front to penetrate deep inside the country and get rid of it. They say they have started using all means possible, mostly armed struggle government targets.
For instance, not long ago Ginbot 7, or a wing of the umbrella organization, made it clear that it has moved onto the armed struggle phase. It said it has started operating deep inside the country. Then there is the EPRP, OLF, ONLF, TPDM, SLF, BGPLF, GLB, etc. – in short disparate armed groups are coalescing into joint operation forces to unseat the government.
There is also the Moslem protest that has been gaining momentum, possibly more political and at the same time very disciplined and amazingly peaceful. In spite of numerous attempts by government to stamp out their activities, by force, legal measures and other illegal means, they are gaining strength and acceptance both at home and abroad. Christians in the country are open in their support for them. This is because they are members of the same civil society, against which the TPLF regime has drawn its sword right from the beginning.
At a time when Islam is seen with extreme suspicion in Western countries, governments in developed countries are torn between their support for the regime on one hand and their disappointment with its inexorably bad political governance strategies that designed to curb freedom and assail human dignity. This is because over the years they have been aware that Ethiopian regime has been violating the human and civil rights of the people – both Christian and Moslems.
The forces now arrayed against the TPLF regime, varied as they may be, one should not assume that they may not cannot manage to overthrow the regime, although the current working assumption is that they would not succeed.
For what it is worth, one should recall that the TPLF fighters were not and are not superhuman. But that poorly armed force dismantled the Ethiopia army, with its known commitment to the nation, instead of a tribe. The TPLF managed to succeed because the people had spitted out the Mengistu Hailemariam regime.
What the TPLF could not put into its calculus is the fact that people are complaining today for the same reasons that brought about the downfall of the Dergue – human rights violations, insecurity, lack of opportunities and mass poverty. At least, in the days of the Dergue there had never been in the cards state engineered inequality, which is official policy now.
Restructuring Addis Abeba 116 woreda’s into blocks
At this moment, the TPLF regime has parted company with its bankrollers on appreciation of the country’s present reality. Donors now think and believe that the armed opposition would not succeed in seizing power. With the benefit of hindsight froms its own experience, the TPLF has rightly judged the situation to enable him read the writing on the wall, since in Ethiopia today dissatisfaction has reached its climax.
Only fear is withholding the people from action. There are also open and growing hostilities in different parts of the country, which signal inevitability of rebellion. Even in this situation, with the reality of the huge security network, there is a lot of sympathy for some of the opposition.
Unfortunately, notwithstanding its understanding of the situation the TPLF could not rise to the occasion to find appropriate political solutions to the pressing problems before Ethiopian society. People want more freedom, the media to be free and the security forces to be governed by the rule of law. People want practical inequality of individuals and ethnic groups and their corrupt operations to be removed.
Instead of responding to popular problems, the regime has decided to ensure tighter control, through repressive means, especially in Addis Abeba. That is why it is now prepared to introduce new ‘governance’ structures that would give it total access to information on the day to day lives and activities of every citizen, especially the youth. For this purpose, the age limit has been put at 18 years of age.
Accordingly, Addis Abeba’s 116 districts would have another layer, structured into zone (ቀጣና), which by its origin is a military concept. Then comes the next lower level ሠፈር (neighborhood), followed by the lowest administrative level called ጎጥ (block).
In terms of the governance of zone, sefer and ‘gott’, councils would be established with all youth becoming members. This means, the expectation is that automatically those individuals would be recruited as members of the ruling party, strange political operation as that sounds.
TPLF’s apprach would increase youth frustration
The ludicrousness of the politics of forcibly recruiting someone as a member of a political party aside, on its own merit this is a terrible idea for the following reasons:
◙ Firstly, it is intended to deepen TPLF’s horrendously cruel repression and control in the country.
◙ Secondly, this structure may serve political purpose for a short time, but as a state structure it is cumbersome and inefficient for development. After all, it would be manned by people who own no assets, have no incomes or possess any skills. Where would the investments come for this group to undertake development activities in of their respective neighborhoods? Above all, Ethiopia always has many good ideas about development, but louder has been its terrible skills of killing best institutions. The reason for this is a resident sense of resistance to accountability, of which so far as a government none is seen in the long history of the country excelling the TPLF’s hostility to accountability.
◙ Thirdly, who is to pay for these instruments of repression – the ruling party or the taxpayers? This by itself is another cause for its demise, as the regime’s focus would only be its sterile propaganda.
Why does Ethiopia appear to be on slippery path?
It is clear to any interested observer that the same societal forces that favored the TPLF’s march from Dedebit to Addis Abeba (1989-1991) are intensely at work today. In fact, they have been more exacerbated than the Dergue’s days by ‘ethnicities’, nepotism, naked corruption, and the continuing economic problems, which have made more people poorer.
The TPLF is trying to fight the latter allegation, presenting data it keeps on concocting in cooperation with elites that are willing to give it respectability in return for power and rewards. This gives opportunity to its enemies, who are sharpening their swords.
No good governance can be rejected by any public in any country. People only reject those that do not serve them well or are harsh to them. If the TPLF has provided what the people need, it should not suffer from siege mentality, because of which it has become heavy-handed toward the people.
If one takes a tiny slice of the problems, Addis has become a modern city. This is because the TPLF has strategy of showing it off to its foreign allies among evidences of its achievements. This brings more aid and international political support, which it has received in abundance.
The fact of the matter is that this beautification and modernization of Addis Abeba has come at the expense of people who have lost their lands and most of now rendered homeless. At the same time, those who stole the lands, with the officials by their side, have become prosperous. Nobody touches them, because any adventure in that area would bring down the regime, especially the many generals, who have built multi-storyed buildings are collecting tens and thousands of dollars a month.
But such lawlessness and the regime’s insensitiveness have enraged people across the country. These are working against the TPLF regime and its potted plants. Such factors, the bad governance, and the arrogance of power, state violence are pitting the people against the government.
Because of the regime’s sanctimony and its intransigence, it has failed to seek genuine solutions to the nation’s problems, involving the people. In this condition, the opposition groups are likely to get more sympathy and understanding from the majority of Ethiopians than the regime.
What history has repeatedly shown even after the turn of the 21st century is the limits of power. If that were not the case, America would not have felt the burden of its debts, because of the costs of its wars. These in turn are hurting its economy and the standards of life of its people.
In addition to long-term imprisonments of opponents without due process or means of livelihoods and denying the country alternatives is an approach most employed by the TPLF. It is not, however, showing how it could become source of TPLF’s strength on a permanent basis.
In the case of Ethiopia, whether forcing the hands of history is good for those in power and the country’s continued survival is a serious matter that requires honest reflection. Unfortunately, instead of working on solving the problems people are angered with, the regime is working on improving its control of society and intensifying its repression.
Further frustrating the youth, which has been affected by joblessness, is unwise. This suffocation within the new structure may prove to be the mother of all frustrations, thereby giving birth to the forced hands of history on Ethiopian society.
*This article had appeared asNew youth-focussed ‘governance’ structure to be introduced in Addis Abeba, which is replaced by this version. It has been further enriched.