Openness and good governance, Ethiopian case

By Equar D. Negash

June 04 2008

Ethiopia is one of the few countries in the globe with a well established central government for 1000s of years. However, we have not used this opportunity to change the old system of government into modern and democratic one. Even the current government, with all the promise it made to enhance democratization, is still struggling to fulfill its pledge. Generally, democracy is a new concept to Ethiopia as we have been under autocratic regimes for centuries. Democracy, what ever they call it whether it liberal or revolutionary, is a very broad concept and compromises essential rights of people. However, it is also highly misused concept as dictator regimes, like Mr. Mugabe of Zimbabwe, label themselves democratic to claim a popular support. Generally, democracy is a system of government which vests a power in people. It is a political process which gives the people a power to elect a government with a fair and free election. Furthermore, it is a system of rule by law not by officials and protects a human right of all citizens.

As we all know, most western countries have been tried to influence the process of democratization in Africa through their aid money. This approach was criticized by many African intellectuals as it has been tried to impose the western style democracy with out considering the culture and other development in the country. This move was by large fruitless and a failure in most countries. Hence, it must be a bottom-up process that allows for popular participation and must be routed in the cultural fabrics of society in a manner sufficiently dynamic to galvanize the process into a positive social force. Therefore, the process of democratization in Ethiopia should be the home grown style. That means it may take decades to see a well established democratic Ethiopia. I think there is no disagreement in this case as it takes years to establish democratic institutions. Is the current Ethiopian government working to attain this goal? I don’t think so. It was almost a year since I heard Ethiopian government has been blocking most opposition web sites and jam unfriendly radio stations.

Cyber-censorship is common in countries like China, Russia and other countries with serious human right problems. This is a troubling story for two reasons; first it stops the people from viewing a web site of their choices and eventually deprives a people’s right for information. It also sends a wrong signal to the people about the government’s commitment for democratization. I know some of the web sites are trash and even tried to provoke violence in the country. However, it is not the right and responsibility of the Meles’ government to choose what is bad and good for the people. Every body is rational and knows the right thing. Second, the government uses tax payer’s money to block the web and jam the radio broad cast. This money should have been invested in areas of basic need instead of throwing it to block people right for information. Thousands of children threatened by sever drought in Ethiopia recently. Hence, the money may help a little bit in this regard.

This government is really secretive and wants to do crucial issues behide the curtain. Recently, the controversial issue of the Ethio-Sudan border got coverage from most the opposition web sites and other Medias like VOA Amharic section. Even though, it was highly politicized and exaggerated for political purpose, we latter learned from the government response there has been a process to handle this issue. In his recent speech to the parliament, Meles admitted there was some sort of a deal with the Sudanese. He went on justifying his action and said some area which was illegally occupied by Ethiopia in 1996 was given back to Sudan. Surprisingly, this land was given to investors by Ethiopian government and it was under cultivation. I was shocked when I heard him talking about this issue. First of all, it is not only about a peace of land but issue of sovereignty. The government was also dealing with a foreign entity. Hence, the parliament should have been informed and discussed on the issue before Meles ordered his lieutenants to give land for Sudan. Some people, even members of parliament from the area told the public the land given to the Sudanese has been under Ethiopia’s control thoughtout history. Actually, it is very hard to me to take the face value of the government’s argument in this issue. We all remembered what was happened hours after The Hague based Ethio-Eritrea border commission decided on border lines. Mr. Suyme Mesfin told Ethiopian people that it was decided in favor of Ethiopia. Latter, they told us, without official acknowledgement, it was a mistake. We had seen such inconsistency in trying to demarcate the Ethio-Eritrea border after the war. How do we trust the government again in this issue?

Did not the people have the right to know about this issue before hand? I think so. Openness is quality of a government which contributes to overall stability of the country. There is a wide spread believes that more open governments tend to have a lower level of corruption and more stable system. I do not really understand why the government chose to accomplish issues secretly. In today’s world openness is the only way to lead a country to prosperity and stability. I want to hear other arguments in this issue, especially from the hard core supporters of the regime.