Bread or democracy

By Equar D. Negash

Sept. 02 2008

Sometime in the second week of August, there was a meeting called by senior and top officials of TPLF to discuss on the current situations of Ethiopia. Unfortunately, I did not participate in this meeting, but friends of mine got a chance to be part of this meeting and briefed me the issues discussed. The meeting was held in Washington DC., Howard University. Some of my friends were surprised to hear some funny words from this official and walked out of the hall. However, for some of us these did not come as a surprise we knew the nature of these leaders and their stand on democracy. In replying for a question raised from the house, Mr. Official blindly replied democracy is a concept for the wealthy not for the poor. Moreover, without any hesitation this guy kept explain the importance of bread for poor people before democracy. Democracy, according to this guy is not a priority for Ethiopian people. Is this idea a principle of the ruling party? Yes, off course. This guy is a senior TPLF official, a diplomat and off course intellectual. Hence, his words are definitely the word of the party.

In the previous century, the causal link between democracy and bread (economic development) was a very controversial issue. There were some sporadic arguments that states autocracies are better able to marshal the resources necessary to promote economic development than are democracies. There was, in fact, no any empirical evidence that authoritarian governance (suppression of political and human right) were really help economic development. In deed the general observations of the world economy have not supporting this argument. For instance, it may be helpful to see South and North Koreas economy. The people are very homogeneous and both countries found in a similar geopolitical environment. The economy in the South is strong and advanced which help the entire people and beyond. However, the economy on the other side of the border is weak which do not support its own people. Hence, democracy plays a major role in enhancing economy and off course to get bread. Furthermore, Western Europe and their counter part Eastern blocks are also a good example to see the role of democracy in economy. Nevertheless, there are some exceptions in this regard which can be cited by the other side of the equation as a justification for their cause. The case of China’s economic development is mostly mentioned in economic literatures. China’s economy is one of the fastest growing economies whereas the political system is very suppressive. I do not believe the human right suppression in China contributes for their economy positively. I can, definitely, say if the political system will not change, it may have a long term effect in sustainability of the over all economy of China.

More importantly, human need is not limited for food only but far beyond that and people needs political justices. Specifically, a person must have a chance to shape its own destinies. People have a right to participate in the political process freely and responsibly. They have a right to free access to information, freedom of speech and press, as well as freedom of dissent. They have a right to be educated and to determine the education of their children. Individuals and groups must be secure from arrest, torture and imprisonment for political or ideological reasons. Mr. Official was absolutely wrong in this regard when he said bread for a poor and democracy for the rich. Bread with out democracy is unthinkable as both of them go hand in hand.

Meanwhile, MR. Official justified Ethiopia’s patience toward Eritrea’s provocation and considered this action as noble one to avoid war. In his word, they did not want to fight with an insane man, Essayas. However, Ethiopia’s involvement in Somalia was seen as a proper action to protect the country’s National security, according to this guy. If the thesis of insanity is correct and Essayas is insane, I do not think the Somalia’s man, Mr. Aweys and his militants are normal individuals. Furthermore, Somalia’s war is basically Essays’ one, engineered by Shaibia’s cadres to attack Ethiopia from a different front. The thesis of insanity and the nature of the war in Somalia do not fit in to justify the Ethiopia’s patience to Shaibia’s threat to Ethiopian security and sovereignty. I really appreciated his straight forward answer for the questions but inconsistent in nature. I thought a couple of reasons for his brave handling of the questions. First, he might not know his audience and thought speaking for a group of people he used to preach. Second, he did not act as a politician as usually but as ordinary man speaking his mind.

Mr. Official was acting like economic analysts in some case during the meeting. He said the current inflation level in Ethiopia would not be expected to come down to its previous level. He added the government’s effort is to stabilize the price not to bring them down. This guy got this one correct. Usually there is a natural tendency for price to go up easily but it sticky to go down. Ethiopian price hike has been a product of internal and external effects. Hence, the government may not have a leverage to control the external parameters. Hence, it is natural to expect an increase or at least stability at current level for Ethiopian inflation. Nevertheless, the government has to take policy actions to minimize the effect on consumers more than distributing grains for short term benefit.

In a nutshell, democracy and bread are important ingredient of human beings. We do not need somebody to preach us to exchange our basic, natural and inherent need for food (bread). Please, give your comments in this issue.