A Road Map to Resolving Contemporary Ethiopia’s Political Crises:
A Comment on Lt. General Tsedaikan GebreTensae’s Article
By Desta Asayehgn, Sarlo Distinguished Professor of Sustainable Economic Development
Tigrai Online, Ethiopian News, August 25, 2016
Recently, Ethiopia has been facing many kinds of surprising political activities. Though over the years, the regime in power turned deaf ears to genuine constructive criticisms from a number of Ethiopian scholars, the regime may now be turning its attention to them because uprisings have emerged not only in numerous parts of the country, but also in an interesting article was being posted on a number of websites. It was written by Lt. General Tsadakan Gebre Tensae, the former Chief of Staff of the Ethiopian Armed Forces (hereafter referred to as the author), who has dramatized the political crisis in Ethiopia. However, it should be made clear to the readers that the Amharic version in the Reporter(Hamli, 24, 2008) is slightly different from the English version posted in the Horn Affairs in English (August 4, 2016).Thus, it should be known that I have used both the Amharic and English versions, along with General Tsadkan’s response to Prof. Messay Kebede’s in order to review and assess the author’s position.
As stated in the English version, the author persuasively argues that,
Ethiopia’s current political conditions are unstable. Government’s own pronouncements indicate this: (the) presence of pervasive mal-administration, rent seeking, extensive mis-management of public resources, and the failure of mega projects. On top of this, different people from different corners of the country –(in Amhara, Oromia, SNNP, and Tigray regions) are raising their demands (because of) economic inequality, questions of identity, injustice, (and )bad governance, and (they) are pleading with the government to solve their problems peacefully (August 4, 2016).
Given the frantic uprisings in Ethiopia, a number of dignitaries in power are confident that given the highly disciplined National Security system, these types of dramatized demands by insignificant agitators could be easily contained peacefully, or the demonstrators could be silenced by bullets. On the other hand, those with opposing political connections feel that the uprisings in the country have created a crisis-ridden political atmosphere contributing to destabilizing the already tenuous social-political equilibrium, and tarnishing the country’s Federal governmental structure.
At an individual level, some have portrayed the year 2015-2016 as a monumental year, because the author is one of the well-known former military leaders who, in 1991, toppled the military junta, Derg, from power. In addition, the author was the former Chief of Staff of the Ethiopian Armed Forces who played a decisive role in reducing Eritrea’s military force to ashes in 1998-2000. They have forcefully argued that the author has gone beyond the call of duty to seriously challenge the regime in power for not implementing the 1994 codified Federal Constitution.
Until he retired in 2001, the author was in top leadership. Therefore, it seems awkward and buzzer for the author to jump on the bandwagon against his own older friends and boldly suggest that systemic transformation strategies be designed to rekindle the country for the 21st century. Before depicting the three scenarios posted by the author, a few points on how scenarios need to be designed are briefly given below.
Briefly stated, scenarios are expected to demonstrate what policy makers in present-day Ethiopia need to address now, and map out an action plan to address the future if the current regime’s complacency and business-as-usual thinking is to be avoided. Therefore, the most important scenarios developed by the author include: 1) a scenario that could result in massive unrest throughout today’s Federal Ethiopia, possibly contributing to the collapse of the state (Horn Affairs, p. 7); 2) a scenario in which the incumbent in power may need to undergo holistic or partial changes to extricate itself from the crisis (Horn Affairs, P.7); and 3) a scenario for forecastingFederal Ethiopia’s vision for the future.
Scenario 1: Mapping possible unrest in Contemporary Federal Ethiopia
Using the principles of free speech enshrined in the 1994 Ethiopian Federal Constitution, the author was bold enough to openly assert that beyond unemployment and an increase in the cost of living, Ethiopians are facing unbearable subjugation and oppression.The regime in power strongly asserts that it achieved 100 percent in the 2015 electoral vote. Similar to other opposition political parties that existed in Ethiopia, the author highly doubts that if fair elections were conducted in 2015, the Ethiopian People’s Democratic Front (EPRDF) could have ever achieved a 100 percent vote to win all Ethiopian Peoples’ parliamentary sites.
In addition, unlike the government, the author falls short by not considering the role played by external forces in the 2005 election. Instead, the author emphatically attributes some of the disturbances to mishaps in the election process, contributing to the vagueness of the election results. Actually, the author strongly argues that if these had been corrected immediately and handled prudently, the so-called 100 percent election results might not have caused more trouble in the country.
To justify his argument, though it trickled to the Federal Government, the author argues that the disturbance created last year in the Oromo region was precipitated by the Oromo Regional Administration. Based on his limited observation, the author now argues that if the existing disruptions are not wisely contained, eventually the Federal Government, which has nothing to do with the conflict, is likely to be involved in the future.
Scenario 2: Multiparty Elections in Democratic Ethiopia
The author states that from 1995 to 2015, parliamentary elections in Ethiopia have been tightly controlled by the incumbent party, the EPRDF. In every election, the opposition political parties in Ethiopia have complained of harassment and intimidation. As ascertained by the African Development Bank (2009), opposition parties in Ethiopia complained of the absence of a level playing field and a narrowing of the democratic space in Ethiopia’s electoral process. Thus, the author argues that if elections are not made more inclusive in the future to include other political parties, and if other political parties are not equally subsidized as is the incumbent political party, the EPRDF, the future modus operandi in Ethiopia, if kept as it is now, would probably instigate more unrest throughout the country.
Based on this description, the author’s possible solution to this predicament is that Ethiopia needs to follow the rules of law and also conduct fair elections, supervised by well-trained, neutral, and disciplined international election observers in order for democratic practices to spread in Ethiopia. In short, the author asserts that the existing mono-party (EPRDF) system has to give way to multiparty systems and elections need to be held fairly without restrictions that might impede the implementation of a constitutional democracy. Instead of being led by the EPRDF that has been reluctant to reconcile democracy and government, a multiparty electoral system needs to be adhered to in order to offer political choices to guarantee the democratic rights of all Ethiopians (Desta, Jan. 27, 2016).
Scenario 3: Embarking on a Peaceful, Systematic, and Conscientiously led Change Process.
A)The Role of the People of Tigray in the Maintenance of Democracy in Ethiopia
The author rightly asserts that “the Tigray people always consider itself as the foundation of the Ethiopian state and as the leading actor in both the failures and achievements of the state (that) have (been) seen during its long history” (Horn Affairs, p. 8). Though very questionable, the author also states that the Tigrian freedom fighters were conscientiously practicing democracy in the battle field while fighting the Derg, and have been busy during the early 1990s to establish democratic rights throughout Ethiopia. When asserting this position, the author claims that he had the opportunity to know well the people of Tigrai while being a fighter and leader. He then goes on to maintain that since 1991, the people of Tigrai, in collaboration with other peoples and nationalities of Ethiopia, have made enumerable sacrifices and have played very important roles in order to establish democracy in Ethiopia.
Based on this premise, the author says that he could not understand why“signs of resentment toward the Tigray people in the central parts of the country” (Horn Affairs, p. 8) are emerging. Given this, the author states since theTigrian people have fought for seventeen years to establish democracy throughout Ethiopia, he assures his readers to make no mistake that the people of Tigray have no desire to stifle the democracy that has emerged in Ethiopia. However, if the existing tendency to hate the Tigrians continues in some parts of Ethiopia, as a concerned citizen, the author alleges that democracy would nevertheless flare up in Ethiopia provided that genuine and concerned Ethiopians have the desire to engage in constructive dialogues until they resolve their misunderstandings.
B)Restraining Defense Forces from being involvedin Civilian Projects:
Though included only in the Amahric Reporter News Paper, the author strongly contends that instead of improving Ethiopia’s military capabilities, he was sad to see that the Ethiopian military forces are competing against private organizations to be involved and operate in civilian or private projects. Though his argument is vague as stated in the Reporter’s News Paper, I assume that the author believes that Ethiopian military forces and civilians need not operate in the same space. From a classical economics point of view, the author’s argument rests on Adam Smith’s argument that since the military is part of government, it should keep hands off of the market place. However, when the author was a policy maker, was he not an advocate of the command system? That is why Ethiopia’s economy has been operating under the developmental state paradigm. Stated differently, the Ethiopian economy is pursuing state-led industrialization. As a result, the government and the private sectors are supposed to be working together in the Ethiopian economic system. Therefore, given this situation, the author seems to be in another world when he argues that the Ethiopian military system should not intervene in Ethiopia’s industrialization process or developmental state.
If the author doesn’t have any personal grudges against the existing military structure, I see no reason why he is advocating that the Ethiopian military be restricted from being involved in any type of private reconstruction projects. Actually, if we could learn from history, that had the Derg been clever enough to train the then existing military force to carry out civilian related projects, a number of the disbanded military officers would have not ended up as beggars in the street during the emergency of the EPRDF’s regime. Instead, the disbanded military forces of the Derg would have ended up working or being employed to carryout small-scale projects.
Assuming that the Ethiopian military labor force are undertaking civilian projects and are acting honestly and ethically, not being involved on Boards of Directors, the author would agree with me that it would be better for Ethiopia to hire the competent Ethiopian armed forces rather than depend on Chinese and Indian expatriates. Actually, considering economies of scale, the local armed forces have many advantages for Ethiopia. Not only are they highly qualified but their salaries are already paid. Instead of storing the logistics support systems they have for war time, they could effectively utilize them now in a number of developmental projects.
As a side point, if the author advocates for lean and efficient types of operations, it would make sense for him to convince his friends in government that it is costly and unproductive for the government bureaucracy to continue relying on an unofficial ‘kitchen cabinet’ of trusted comrades who serve as quasi-governmental officials, who give advice and also set policies without consulting some of the portfolio officials within the government bureaucracy.
As stated before, the author was the Chief of Staff of the Ethiopian Armed Forces and is well known as a meticulous designer and leader. Therefore, it doesn’t make sense to disagree with him that the contemporary Ethiopian state is in a political quagmire. Though the English and Amharic versions of the author’s article are not documented, the articles are very illuminating. As said before, the content of the Amharic and English versions of the article seem to be different. The English version depicts the author as neutral while analyzing the geo-politics of Ethiopia.
Be that as it may, I would say that the articles appear to be written for different readers.Though the article was written in his name, it is sad to note that as indicated in Horn Affairs English version the author didn’t verify the content of the article.Thus, I feel that the Horn Affairs English version was written in the name of the author to appeal to the emotional level of Ethiopian’s who have the desire not to reform but dismantle the present bureaucratic structure at any cost.
To reiterate, the English version of the article attempts to reflect a 20-20 version of the author’s experience. Though not included in the Amharic version, the English version states the modus operandi of the EPRDF was fundamentally democratic in nature when it started but as time progressed it became undemocratic. For instance, the author states that the undemocratic elements of the EPRDF started when it took actions against the Oromo Liberation Movement (OLF), which was, according to the author, “…an authentic reflection of the Oromo People’s interests and aspiration” (Horn Affairs, P. 4). Similarly, according to the author, the 2000/01 split that emerged within the TPLF after the Ethio-Eritrean war almost left an episode unfading scar on the democratization process of Ethiopia (Horn Affairs, p.5). Finally, as discussed by the author, in 2005, the KINIJIT (CUD) Party was unwilling to “accept the results that were accepted by the EPRDF.”In addition, after the CUD Party started spreading its anti-Tigrean propaganda campaign, then, EPRDF had no choice but solidify the use of undemocratic forces to stay in power with the support and manipulation of the country’s security apparatus, (Horn Affairs, P. 7).
Rightly so, the author strongly believes that Ethiopia now is on a slippery slope, or to use the author’s words, at a political crossroad. However, unlike the opposition groups that demanded a new transitional government to be formed for the reconciliation process to start in Ethiopia, the author suggeststhat the currently existing Constitution needs to be used as a starting point for fruitful discussions. In addition, to reconciling the differences among parties in Ethiopia, the author proposed that, “A body consisting of representatives of political parties must be created (assembled) to manage the political process until the next general election (occurs)” (Horn Affairs, p. 10). Given the author’s talent, I feel that the author’s proposal was not written to extend the life cycle of the EPRDF/TPLF. But, I feel that in the article he was being gullible or writing arrogantly to show that he was not aware of or willing to digest the underlying demands of the various disturbances that have galvanized the entire country. Instead, the author was concentrating on superficial symptoms.
For example, the uprising in the Walkit and Tsegadi region cannot be attributed to language differences, (i.e., whether the region opts to use Tigrigna or Amharic language as their lingua franca) but should be emphasized that the uprising in the region might have evolved because the region had the burning desire to be autonomous. Instead of a local leader chosen by the people, political cadres are chosen by the Killil to administer the region. For instance, Mekelle, the headquarters of Tigrai killil, or region, is very far from Walkit and Tsegadi. Also, there should be an investigation to see if the Walkit and Tsegadi regions want to be part of the Amhara region. The local people might prefer the Amhara region which is more endowed with natural resources and is better administered than the Tigrai killil. Otherwise, if the residents of Walkit and Tsegadi, who claim that originally they are Amharas rather than being Tigrigans, it is worth asking why they fought together with the Tigrians and why it has taken them more than two decades to articulate the feelings they have now.
Be that as it may, the Walkit and Tsegadi region needs to have an autonomous status and be allowed to be administered by their own genuinely elected officials. I am sure this is not too late to minimize the existing unrest and challenges in the region. Actually, as suggested somewhere else, to mitigate the currently existing unrest in Ethiopia, the existing regions (Killilis) in Ethiopia need to be subdivided into more manageable units. For example, as it is implemented in Nigeria or Switzerland, the existing nine regions in Ethiopia need to be further divided, based on population, into viable sub regions or woredas, (Desta, 2016).
Otherwise, as suggested by the author, even if the various parties had the guts and were willing to have a dialogue, it should have crossed the author’s mind that the genuinely elected members of parties would start their discussion by scrapping, article 39 of the existing Federal Constitution. In addition, the newly elected members of the different parties are more likely to negate the existing Ethiopia’s demarcation process based on ethnicity. Personally, I feel that if “…Article 39 of the Ethiopian Constitution, as in China, is being deleted from the Ethiopian Constitution, it will give respite to the Ethiopian people from the intolerable headaches they endured for the last twenty five years” (Desta, 2016). If Article 39 and the ethnic demarcation processes are scraped, as suggested by the author, then and only then, can parts of the Federal Constitution serve as a good starting point for the discussions of representatives of the parties.
In addition, as discussed in detail, see Desta, 2016, “The era of globalization demands new ways of engaging citizens in the search for solutions rather than being the prisoners of political cadres that have been socialized to blow vague slogans,” that have originated either from the Soviet Union or China, or Albania. Furthermore, like Nigeria, Switzerland, etc, “…Ethiopia’s ethnic federalism needs to be constantly altered into manageable democratic and autonomous federal units so the country will be able to cope with the challenges that are likely to arise in the 21st century.
As stated above, it was instructive to see that the author’s article was framed on worthwhile scenarios. But, the sad part is that the author hardly attempted to adequately review existing studies. For instance, over the years, a number of websites have been very busy posting articles on contemporary Ethiopia. Other than stating that Ethiopia’s Federal Constitution needs to be a spring board for further discussion, and the unkind words the author used to describe his former compatriots, the English and Amharic version of his article should have been carefully verified by himself, if he has the desire to act as a mediator and help the different Ethiopian groups to come to terms. Honestly speaking, if they read the Amharic version published by the Reporter, some of the readers who gave favorable commitments to author might have changed their opinion.
Lastly, like other readers, I would like to know, why, now, the author wrote this type of apologetic and inflammatory article. Is the author attempting to accommodate and get the attentionof some of disgruntled agitators? By the way, did the author have an idea how his compatriots and other freedom fighters would feel when they read his statement that: “The Derg lost, not because they were cowards and the Tigrans distinctively brave, but because their leaders betrayed the cause for which they were fighting…” In addition, the statement is contradictory to what the author was saying when he was in power either by himself or through his proxies. In short, has the author not been telling the Ethiopian people that the most oppressive, the Derg regime was routed from power because the liberation fighters had an effective strategy and a highly disciplined army?
Africa Development Fund (March 2009). Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia: Country Governance Profile, Governance, Economic & Financial Reforms Department (OSGE), Country Regional Department East (OREB).
Araia, G.(2013). Ethiopia: Democracy, Devolution of Power, & the Developmental state. New York: Institute of Developmental & Education for Africa.
Desta, A. (2016).“Beyond the Usual: Re-thinking Ethiopia’s Ethnic Federalism for the 21st Century”. Institute of Developmental & Education for Africa, Inc. June 7, 2016.
Desta, A. (January 27, 2016). “Democratic Self-rule Federalism: The Legitmacy of Self-Determination in Ethiopia.
Lt. General TsadkanGebreTensae( Hamele 24, 2008). “Ethiopia’s Political Conditions and Possible Solutions”.Reporter, Amharic
General TsadkanGebreTensae (July 31, 2016). “General TsadkanGebretensae’s Response to Prof. MessayKebede.Horn Affairs English.
Gen. TsadkanGebreTensae(August 4, 2016).“A Road Map to Resolving Ethiopia’s Political Crisis”.Horn Affairs English.