Response to “Economic Governance in Ethiopia: An Observation” by Asayehegn Desta
By Mebrahtu Woldu (Wedi-Sebea)
Tigrai Online, August 25, 2015
Mebrahtu Woldu responds to Dr. Asayehegn Desta - Economic Governance in Ethiopia
The article (or more appropriately opinion piece) starts with a presentation of the fast, even accelerated, economic growth registered by Ethiopia in the past decade in terms of aggregate indicators of economic growth as well as the broader achievement of the MDGs. Then, the writer poses his ‘cardinal’ question – can this development be attributable to ‘market enhancing strategies’? These strategies, which are quoted from a work by Kauffmann et. al. published in 2005. While the writer has the author’s license to choose the theoretical framework for his work, I would have suggested a brief paragraph comparing market enhancing strategies with ‘growth enhances governance’. I would also humbly submit that the latter would have been more appropriate given the fact that we are talking about the policies utilized by the government of Ethiopia to enhance growth during the past decade. [I would strongly suggest one considers reading Mushtaq H. Khan, Governance, Economic Growth and Development since the 1960s, August 2007] The paragraph on the neo-liberal basis of these ‘strategies’ and the difficulties developing countries face in utilizing them goes some way to do this though falling far too short of an honest discourse on the issue.
Keeping this important oversight in mind, let’s try to examine the substantive sections of the article. In assessing the first strategy, i.e. government effectiveness, the writer starts with a positive assessment of federalism as practiced in Ethiopia. He then presents a somewhat confused critique of the role of the ruling EPRDF coalition in controlling the government and presents the feeling of ‘the various opposition groups’ on the veracity of the electoral process. The first of these statements appears to have its roots in failure on the part of the writer to understand the democratic process, especially as it relates to a parliamentary democracy like ours. Basically, ‘the ruling party’ is the party or coalition having acquired popular mandate through election to govern the country. Thus, the ruling party designs the strategies, plans etc … that are implemented by the civil service. As to the second statement in the paragraph regarding the feelings of the ‘various opposition parties’, it is too general and difficult to attribute – thus making it difficult to judge. The statement about ‘rental income’ in the next paragraph is merely confusing.
The brief paragraph dealing with the second ‘strategy’, i.e. political stability, does not say much. Obviously, Ethiopia has never been so stable in the past few hundred years of its history. It has been fighting foreign invaders as well as being a stage for intermittent civil wars. It is now considered an anchor of stability not only for its own people but also for the people of the region. In fact, the security of the country depends to a large part on the security of the region. While the writer appears to have some appreciation of this fact, he is also fearful of ‘some form of violence’ being instigated by ‘some splintered opposition groups’ [though I think the writer’s intention is to refer to ‘splinter’ rather than ‘splintered’ groups]. I would have given more attention to the actual source of the perceived insecurity, namely the Eritrean Government whose agents these ‘opposition groups’ are as well as some reference to outright terrorist groups harbored and supported by the same.
Voice and accountability, the next strategy addressed by the writer, is where the article goes way off track. The writer speaks of local residents being hardly empowered and not being able to elect their representatives as well as the party affiliations of the local administrators. At the outset, the writer seems to have missed the idea of ‘meaningful participation’ by an empowered citizenry. This is a very broad concept encompassing levels and quality of participation beyond the electoral cycle. Here the writer does not even mention the various mass based organizations that are expressions of empowerment for citizens. Assuming that the reference to empowerment is about information, skills and organization, this has happened in an unprecedented manner. In fact, some ‘opposition personalities’ lament the fact that citizens – urban and rural – are so broadly organized and engaged in the public arena. Coming to the second point, the writer – again – failed to appreciate the fact that the winning party or coalition appoints the executive at all levels. The writer’s conclusions on the accountability of the EPRDF and the ‘mono-party rule’ he refers to are merely statements of opinion not grounded in evidence.
The writer, in his own confusing way, is even more ardently critical of the regulatory quality prevalent in Ethiopia. He speaks of the lack of interface between the EPRDF and the private sector as well as criticizing measures to attract foreign investment. I humbly submit that the writer did not bother to check what regulatory quality consists of in the first place. Moreover, there is no reference to the measures taken to strengthen the private sector – or even the regulatory framework prevailing in the country. These are merely statements of opinion – one may even say bias – that are not justified by any concrete basis. Most writers of the neo-liberal inclination – who lament that the Government of Ethiopia is not open to FDI – would probably be more amazed by these statements than the Government of Ethiopia or the EPRDF.
The section on the rule of law starts by badgering the justice system with accusations of inexperience, lack of trust, etc … Judges are considered ‘inexperienced’ and their commitments are questioned blatantly. This section not only omits the efforts at enhancing the capacities of the judiciary or access to justice in general but goes on to judge the system without recourse to any clear criteria. All in all, it is also obvious that the writer has little knowledge of the nature and workings of the Ethiopian judiciary. Just to indicate one among many glaring gaps, there is no reference to the impacts of the federal system on the judiciary and its implications for access to justice. The writer could easily have referred to a number of studies conducted on the topic in recent years. These studies, while pointing to the existing gaps and challenges, also highlight the achievements in building an independent, effective and accountable judiciary.
The final strategy addressed by the writer is control of corruption. After rightly explaining the adverse impacts of corruption, the writer criticizes the Government of Ethiopia for being too late in addressing the issue. He also offers his prayers that the FEACC’s efforts to investigate and prosecute corruption would continue. Though I am not sure how that relates to corruption, he also mentions the privatization of public enterprises. Corruption is indeed a serious problem hampering efforts to ensure and enhance development, democracy and good governance. It is, however, not clear how the establishment of the FEACC in 2001 – beyond the past ten years the writer refers to in his introduction – could be considered too late. I would have also mentioned the fact that Ethiopia has scored much better than its peers in almost all areas of fighting corruption as defined in internationally accepted standards. It is even better placed in terms of utilization of development assistance.
In general, the piece merely states the unsubstantiated opinions of one contributor. Although contributions to any worthy website should be appreciated as a matter of principle, I have found this one to be not well thought out. It would be more useful as a tool for initiating dialogue if writers seek to consciously think out the content, structure and presentation of their articles or opinion pieces. Using an obviously inapplicable standard, unsubstantiated claims and a lot of hyperbole does not make for a good article or opinion piece.