Foreign Intervention, the Politics of Burning Public Property, and State of Emergency Declaration in Ethiopia
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Foreign Intervention, the Politics of Burning Public Property, and State of Emergency Declaration in Ethiopia

BY Ghelawdewos Araia, PhD
Tigrai Online, Ethiopian News, Nov. 5, 2016

Foreign intervention in Ethiopian affairs was critically examined in many of my previous essays, and by and large most of those essays were written in anticipation to the current political crisis in Ethiopia; and this article is going to systematically analyze the Ethiopian situation in the context of the three themes incorporated in the title and the corpus of this article.

I have always maintained that circumstance and objective conditions, as opposed to subjective wishes, govern us for the most part, and for this apparent reason, I would be compelled to revisit some old ideas, remarks, and recommendations, that I believe are still reflective of the complex and complicated political scenario in Ethiopia.


At the outset, I like to remind the reader that this article will address serious issues pertaining to contemporary politics in Ethiopia, but I will also be critical of the main actors directly involved in Ethiopian affairs. As always, I will present a balanced view and analysis of the three themes of this article while at the same time candidly exposing the weaknesses and/or negative energies of the actors involved in Ethiopian politics. Let’s begin with one profound question that could enable us better fathom the Ethiopian situation: What gave rise to the turmoil and disturbances beginning November 2015 to the declaration of state of emergency on October 2, 2016?

In order to meaningfully and successfully answer the question, we must first begin with the nature and characteristics of the ruling party, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF)

EPRDF’s Unintelligible Style of Governance and the Current Crisis

The EPRDF captured state power after crushing the last forces of the Derg (military government) in 1991. This kind of power transition is not new to Ethiopians. If we stretch back to the reign of Emperor Tewodros (1855-1868) and analyze the modes of power transfers, we will conclude that all regimes, without exception, assumed state power by employing force against their foes or opponents competing for power. In brief, Ethiopians never witnessed any democratic transition of power, nor have they had any democratic political culture.

The EPRDF, though a catalyst in transformative change, is a byproduct of the larger Ethiopian society in which democracy is virtually absent. The ruling party, therefore, could hardly operate democratically. However, it does not logically follow that the seeds of democracy cannot be sown in the barren land of democracy-deprived Ethiopia. As the ubiquitous maxim goes, ‘if there is a will there is a way’ and if the EPRDF have had the will to sow the seeds of democracy and build incipient democratic institutions in Ethiopia, at the minimum, it could have realized political tolerance, fair and free elections, and freedom of speech and press as enshrined in the Ethiopian constitution.

While the EPRDF brought about significant material culture transformation for Ethiopia, it was unable to make gains in the realization of a democratic culture. Some of the EPRDF leaders that I know in person envision a democratic Ethiopia and underscore the significance of democratic practices, but the collective EPRDF leadership is stuck in patron-client relations as manifested in the various gradations of government apparatuses, from local to state, and to federal levels. The rationale behind the patron-client relations is that loyal cadres and elites rather than opposing and challenging groups are accommodated and favored by the ruling party. This kind of policy consequently affects the seemingly forward moving Ethiopian transformation negatively. Hence, loyal cadres (some of them incompetent) rather than intellectuals with a great potential have dominated Ethiopian government offices, including the key positions in important ministries.

It is understandable that the EPRDF could enter into a major dilemma of prioritizing privileges to its own rank-and-file comrades who paid a heavy toll in the struggle against the Derg, while at the same time seeking allegiance or support from the Ethiopian people. However, governing a nation altogether is a different matter. A government that promotes patron-client relations and alienates professionals and intellectuals that are not affiliated to the ruling party ultimately risks massive opposition and a rebellious populace.

In a political system in which patron-client relations thrives, secret dealings and networking are apt to develop; government officials (e.g. regional head of states, ministers, bureaucrats etc) gain their respective positions not via meritocracy but via ascription. In other words, the bureaucrats are appointed not by their educational background and experience, but by their connection and loyalty to the ruling party. It all boils down to ‘it is not what you know but who you know’ that matters in Ethiopian politics. Furthermore, all appointments are done secretly and the appointed officials are reticent in their dealings with their subordinates and the public at large.

A government that is too secretive could hardly become transparent, and officials that are not transparent could hardly become accountable. In this kind of system, thus, democratic policies and practices are trampled over; and as a result, the public are systematically alienated from the public discourse that the Government or opposition parties ought to have promoted.

Ultimately, the overall lack of democratic governance compels the people to oppose the government and the latter would resort to employing coercion to quell and/or silence the opposition movement. That is bad governance, and after observing the Ethiopian reality on the ground for over two decades I have come to conclude that the EPRDF leadership is not aware of the Machiavellian ‘cunning fox’, a metaphor for a governing elite that is clever enough to use calculating and crafty strategies as opposed to the employment of coercion in handling contradictions between the people and the government.

The other important ingredient of a democratic culture the EPRDF was unable (or unwilling) to implement and foster platforms in which some degree of tolerance to rivals is extended while embracing divergent perspectives becomes the norm rather than the exception was the fact that the ruling party hosted transient aspects of dialogue as we have witnessed in the pre-election debates; and it is this kind of political behavior that led to the alienation of the legally operating parties like Medrek, EDP, Semyawi Party, Andinet etc And because the EPRDF did not realize the significance of divergent perspectives that enriches a society in transition and brings about meaningful and enduring transformation, some people rose against its rule as witnessed in the Oromia and Amhara regions. Later, with respect to the latter protestations and disturbances, a detailed analysis will be presented under a different subtitle. On top of lack of good governance (which was addressed by the respective regional states) EPRDF’s overall operations is intriguing and unintelligible. Instead of consulting and seeking advice from Ethiopian professionals and intellectuals, the EPRDF leadership seems to have reveled secret dealings with some Diaspora Ethiopian “intellectuals”, some of whom have false credentials. This kind of unnecessary clandestine performance may have established the Ethiopian Diaspora Association, but it also have alienated a significant number of Ethiopian Diaspora intellectuals who could have made a major input and a marked difference in the transformation of Ethiopia. Similar to the above mentioned Association, I was told by a confidant that there was a meeting of Ethiopian “intellectuals” at the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington DC on February 2016. These secret meetings are beyond me and I don’t understand why the Ethiopian Government wants to enter into this kind of unnecessary machinations when it is capable enough of holding an open forum for all Ethiopians who are willing to contribute for the development of Ethiopia.

As has been discussed above, one of the factors that gave rise to the present crisis is the nature and characteristics of the ruling party, but two other factors that have also contributed to the crisis are foreign intervention and domestic Ethiopian protests and disturbances.

Foreign Intervention in Ethiopian Affairs                     

Throughout its modern history, Ethiopia has witnessed plethora of foreign interventions that threatened its sovereignty and territorial integrity, but the country has successfully thwarted those interventions and threats. Ethiopians have the capacity to retool their resilience, and this unique Ethiopian ethos was for the most part misunderstood by foreign interlopers.

One of these interlopers is Egypt. In an effort to control the Nile and have predominance in the regional geopolitical theater, the Egyptians have intervened many times in Ethiopian affairs. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, i.e. in 1875 and 1876, Egyptian forces fought Ethiopians on their turf but the Ethiopians repulsed them with a resounding victory. Also between the late 1950s and early to late 1960s, Egypt was seriously engaged in supporting Eritrean Liberation Fronts in an effort to destabilize Ethiopia and reassure itself that Ethiopia would not make any attempt to control the flow of the Nile. Every regime that assumed power in Egypt, i.e. from Gamal Abdel Nasser to Anwar Sadat; from Hosni Mubarak to Mohammed Morsi and now to Abdel Fatah el-Sisi adopted the same uncompromising foreign policy with respect to the Nile and employed intrigue and coercion rather than diplomacy and cooperation. The only regime that initiated rapprochement with Ethiopia was that of el-Sisi, although soon it betrayed the agreements reached upon on the Nile between Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt.

Most Ethiopian observers, including the Government of Ethiopia, believe that Egypt is behind the crisis in Ethiopia because it provided financial support to the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and Ginbot 7, both operating from Asmara, Eritrea. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi denied the charge, but given some strong and solid evidences (including video clips of telephone conversation between OLF and Egyptian officials) it is highly probable that Egypt is actively engaged in the provision of material support to the armed opposition Ethiopian groupings.

At any rate, long before Egypt and Ethiopia initiated a certain level of civil discourse and an agreement to peacefully resolve the Nile question, I wrote an article entitled Egypt has no Choice but to Cooperate with Ethiopia. In that article, I pleaded to the Egyptian leaders to open dialogue with Ethiopia and also extended advice to the Ethiopian leaders to reassure fellow Egyptians of their sustainable water needs. An excerpt from the article suffices to explain the central message of the Article: “…In order to continue enjoy the ‘gift of the Nile’, the Egyptian government must pursue a new policy of cooperation in the context of the Riparian States interests and the Ethiopian initiative to construct the dam on the Nile. If, on the contrary, Egypt pursues a psychological warfare, however, it would be the ultimate loser. …for all intents and purposes, the atmosphere surrounding the new dam on the Nile favors Ethiopia and Egypt has no choice but to cooperate with the land of the source of the Blue Nile. Ethiopia, on the other hand, must reciprocate Egyptian [anticipated] cooperation by first and foremost guaranteeing the water needs of the Egyptian people.”

To my gratification, Egypt followed the footsteps of Sudan and decided to sign the Agreement in an effort to peacefully resolve the politics of the Nile. Then I wrote another article entitled The Historic Ethiopian-Egyptian Renewed Diplomacy and Cooperation, and this is what I stated in part in that article: “I am grateful to witness the renewed Ethiopian-Egyptian diplomacy and cooperation after much turbulence, mistrust, and bellicose political climate that have gripped the two African nations for decades. To be sure, it was Egypt that had promoted animus belligerendi (near war attitude) against Ethiopia since the days of Haile Selassie. Now, thanks to the wise leadership of President Field Marshall Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and the pragmatic vision of the Egyptian people, Egypt has completely reversed its old policy and enhanced a friendly foreign policy toward Ethiopia. Ethiopia, on the other hand, had advanced a more conciliatory and compromise d’arbitrage (resolving disputes peacefully) policy toward Egypt, but finally, so it looks, the Ethiopian patience paid off.”

Now, in retrospect, when I witness Egyptian devious and deceitful motives, I realized my remark of positive attribute to el-Sisi was a gross miscalculation indeed. However, I am still hopeful that one fine day the Egyptian leadership will come to terms with its own self-negating and contradictory Nile agenda and revamp its present inimical foreign policy toward Ethiopia. If the Egyptian leaders come to their senses, it is they who will be the ultimate benefactors, but if they continue to promote anti-Ethiopian policy, they will be the biggest losers in history.

Incidentally, Egypt is not the only one that is intervening in Ethiopian affairs; some die-hard Arab nations, in one form or another, have been conducting operations that would undermine Ethiopian national interest. These nations may not be directly involved in Ethiopian affairs but they have been super busy supporting anti-Ethiopian groupings of Ethiopian origin by either facilitating venues for the mercenaries or financing their operations. Who are these Ethiopians at the service of foreign enemies of Ethiopia? The betrayal of the Ethiopian nation by its own sons and daughters is not new; when Mussolini invaded Ethiopia in 1935/36, some Ethiopian aristocrats sided with the invaders while other patriots, of course, fought the Graziani-led forces till the last-ditch effort to avert Ethiopian colonization by Italy.

Ethiopian Diaspora Opposition Political Groupings

The Ethiopian Diaspora opposition is highly diverse and amorphous. It is difficult to make an empirical sociological and political science analysis of these groups; in the broader context they could be classified as foolhardy clamoring swindlers and relatively well-meaning and politically matured groups. In the first group, that is the swindlers, one can safely assume that they are a bunch of ex-Derg members, ESAT, OLF, and hundreds of cyber politicians and social media heroes. The second group, by contrast, includes advocacy groups, academic forums, scattered former EPRP members, including EPRP-D, and professional and intellectual circles that are not affiliated to any political organization.

The second group is more sensible in its opposition to the present regime in Ethiopia, but individuals affiliated to this group are also stuck in the “Woyane” characterization of the EPRDF and the Ethiopian Government, and as a result, they have missed one important methodological rigor in political science and political economy: class analysis and stratification of the governing elite in Ethiopia. Unfortunately, these days the yardstick that replaced class analysis is ethnic depiction of Ethiopian political groupings and Ethiopian affairs in general. Consequently, members of the second group exhibit excesses and lose a balanced overview of the Ethiopian reality, but they have high regard for the Ethiopian identity and nationhood. In a similar vein, the legally registered opposition parties in Ethiopia, despite their shortcomings in political acumen, are genuine in their concerns for Ethiopia.

By contrast, the first group of the so-called Diaspora opposition is engaged in toxic activity and outright lies; and the epitome of these groups is the Ethiopian Satellite TV or ESAT, and I have no clue whatsoever why the latter opposition media outlet depends on innuendo rather than on verified facts. I personally have no problem with ESAT; if it wants to oppose the Ethiopian Government, it is entitled to do so, but it ought to shoulder responsibility by providing truth about events to its audience. On top of the fabricated reports and video clips with respect to the Oromo and Gondar outbursts that it presented on some of its programs, I am aware that the Ethiopian Satellite TV (ESAT) has allowed interviews to attack my own person and I am using this opportunity to expose its devious propaganda. Examples of its lies and fiction-like news are many but suffice to mention just two incidents: 1) this was aired in 2013 (can’t recall the exact date) and two people were interviewed by ESAT anchor; one of the interviewee said, “Dr. Ghelawdewos came to Columbus, Ohio and said that Wolkait is part of Tigray.” That is a white lie and I never uttered those words. I have been to Columbus many times, mostly to pay visit to family members, but I have also participated in one mini-conference of Ethiopian intellectuals and professionals in which many themes and topics pertaining to contemporary Ethiopia were discussed. However, not a single panel, including myself, mentioned Wolkait. 2) The second attack came from a certain self-appointed neighborhood politician by the name Yared Tibebu (Getachew Jebesa). This person knows me very well and he knows too well that I have been promoting pan-Ethiopian agendas all my adult life, but he chose to testify against his conscience and portrayed me as a Woyane intellectual. This kind of unfounded allegation does not bother me at all, because thousands of Ethiopians are aware of my writings, commitments, and for what I stand for, but I like to remind my readers that pathological liars are skillful at deception and they should be carefully evaluated. This kind of deception, promoted by the Ethiopian opposition of the first category may have contributed, at least partially, to the recent uprisings in the Oromia and Gondar areas; and it is now important to have a look at the dynamics of the protestations.

Oromia-Amhara Sporadic Protestations & the Politics of Burning Public Property

Throughout recorded history, it is testified that people rise against the status quo by expressing their grievances and by subsequently demanding regime and social changes. The peoples uprising could either be spontaneous without leadership or a classic social revolution led by organized elites. The recent protestations in Ethiopia do not exhibit any of the above characterization of the uprisings. By all measure, the recent protestations and violent disturbances lack organized leadership and a meaningful political agenda, not to mention a pan-Ethiopian vision that was once promoted by the 1970s Ethiopian generation. The latter were the harbingers of social change for the welfare of the Ethiopian people and the transformation of Ethiopia for the better. That generation yearned for a united and prosperous Ethiopia that the current generation seems to undermine and dismantle.

Since the beginning of the protestations in the Oromia and Amhara regions, the Institute of Development and Education for Africa (IDEA) has been diligently following the activities on the ground, and it now looks that the protestations were not entirely home grown operations; they were in fact inspired by Diaspora Ethiopian groups. According to Dawud Ibssa, current chairman of the OLF, the Oromo protestation in Ethiopia were engineered by the OLF. He claims that his organization has infiltrated government offices in Ethiopia, and he boasts that the Oromo uprisings are at their apex and their victory is just around the corner. Based on this bizarre and fantastic rhetoric, Dawud reprimands the Oromo police currently serving the Ethiopian government and tells them to join the Oromo rebellion or face punishment. He even admonished the cadres of the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO), a part of the ruling party EPRDF, that this is their last chance. Finally he addresses the various nationalities of Ethiopia, whom he calls ‘our neighbors’, and tells them “to refrain from killing our people [the Oromo]”. Dawud insinuated in his incessant talk that Oromia will be liberated, but he may have not realized the Oromia that he claims was hypothetical for the Oromo before 1991 and was made real only by the EPRDF.3         

At any rate, although Dawud Ibssa is bizarre by all measure, his rhetoric should never be underplayed and OLF’s operations never underestimated, because they are connected with the foreign interlopers that I have discussed above, and quite frankly they could always foment inflammatory provocations via their seditious members on the ground in Ethiopia.

I wish the Oromo protestations could have been peaceful and inclusive rather than destructive and divisive. Their behavior is clearly demonstrated in their attack of fellow Ethiopians (non-Oromo nationalities) and burning public property of foreign investors and of Ethiopians, including properties owned by Oromo entrepreneurs and business men and women.

The young Oromo protestors that disrupted the Irrecha festival are worthless progeny of the respected, graceful, and wise Abba Geda. I doubt it very much that the these protestors have completely detached themselves from their culture and religious rituals and have forgotten the significance of Irrecha, a Thanksgiving giving major holiday of the Oromo conducted annually following the heavy rains of winter. What is not clear is why they chose to disrupt their most revered festival.

The young Oromo protestors may have thought that it was a golden opportunity to promote their cause (whatever their cause is) by roiling the Irrecha and by assuming center-stage for the consumption of media outlets. What they did not realize, however, is their actions disrespected the Abba Geda and denigrated their own culture. I think they could care less about their culture that actually gives them their identity and they decided to disrupt the Irrecha despite the appeal and supplication of the Abba Geda. The Irrecha festival went well for the first 24 minutes; in due course of the festival, that is, after 35 minutes, the disruptive forces made their way in with crossed fists and at about 40 minutes after the festival began some of the Abba Geda tried to address the agitated crowd; in less than two minutes, the protestors took over the stage and the microphone from the Abba Geda and began to chant by saying “down down Woyane” and soon they clashed with the police.

Beyond the Irrecha incident at Bishoftu, the young Oromo protestors went berserk and frenziedly violent and began burning public property in many parts of the Oromo regional state. Their actions became more lethal, ominous, and indiscriminate. Forty six cars and buses were burned down at Sebeta and vicinity and similar attacks were undertaken in Eastern Shewa and in Meqi and Digda districts. A sugarcane farm owned by Feissa Kelecha was completely burned and raised to the ground. Factories were also set ablaze in the Oromia region, not far from Addis Ababa. Some of these protestors even went to the extent of attempting to attack Amhara and Gurage residents at Gedeo, in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Regional state, but their actions were foiled by the Federal Police.

What the destructive Oromo forces have not realized is that their actions were counterproductive, because as the 14th Dalai Lama once said, “destroying your neighbor is destroying yourself.” I hope the young Oromo and the likes of Dawud Ibssa understand the essence of the Dalai Lama adage. The majority of the Oromo people, like other Ethiopians, are wise people and they have condemned the actions of the destructive elements. Some of them have told us in no uncertain terms that ‘the Oromo people don’t burn public property’, and local government leaders like Arersa Merdesa, mayor of Sendafa, were embarrassed and angry at the young disillusioned Oromo who were engaged in destruction. One brave Oromo woman said, “We the people of Asella are one and united; the youth, the old, and the army are united and we will not be divided.” Asella is a city in the Arsi Zone of the Oromia region and its inhabitants, like the majority of the Oromo and other Ethiopians symbolize a united microcosm Ethiopia.

The Declaration of State of Emergency and the Role of the Ethiopian People

In times of crisis, it is understandable that governments take necessary action in order to mitigate violent disturbances and guarantee peace, security, and stability to their respective societies. That is the number one obligation of governments. In the context of international law, states are justified to declare and implement state of emergencies and these kinds of actions goes back to ancient civilizations. Following civil unrest, armed insurrections, or threat of an invasion, many nations have declared state of emergencies at one point or another. The ancient Romans, for instance, were compelled to declare state of emergency when Hannibal invaded Italy in 218 BCE. Ever since, the Romans enacted a law known as Justitium put forth by Senatus Consultum Ultimum (or Senate decree). By the same token, modern nations adopted laws equivalent to deterrence or a quick response to a crisis. France, for instance, has its state of emergency known as e’tat d’urgence and other nations could give it a different name but the purpose is the same. Some countries use state of emergency for a relatively short period of time (e.g. President Good Luck Jonathan’s declaration of state of emergency on May 2013 following the Boko Haram attacks in North Eastern Nigeria) ; others employ it indefinitely, and yet others can put emergencies in place intermittently but for relatively long period of time. A good example of the latter is Egypt, a country that enforced state of emergency following the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981 and continued to be effectively implemented until 2012.    

Whether state of emergencies and their attendant sanctions are subject to controversies or not is a matter of academic debate, but governments at least will view it as a necessary evil to quell disturbances, mitigate civil unrest, or deter foreign attacks. Even in the latter context, in which state of emergencies are justified, however, it would be prudent to anticipate social unrest and take necessary measures by dialogue, peaceful resolution of conflicts, and national reconciliation, long before uprisings begin; and as I have alluded in the first part of this article, had the Ethiopian government listened to what some Ethiopians (including myself) proposed in regards to national reconciliation and peaceful resolutions to the many gradations of contradictions (EPRDF vs. opposition parties, EPRDF within itself, EPRDF and the people etc) there won’t have been political crisis of the magnitude that we have witnessed from November of 2015 to October of 2016. Moreover, the government would have not been compelled to declare state of emergency.

Now, that the state of emergency has been declared and implemented, I can perhaps lament by saying ‘it is water under the bridge’. However, in order to overcome the current crisis the EPRDF Government must first and foremost acknowledge its faults and weaknesses. The state of emergency might briefly reassure Ethiopians of peace, security, and stability but it may not guarantee a relatively permanent peace and stability as I have proposed in my latest article.4    

To be sure, some open political debates have taken place and peoples’ initiatives for open dialogue have also been conducted. The latter is best exemplified by the Amhara people delegation to Tigray. The delegation included wonderful people like Sema Tiruneh, Zerai Tsadiq Hailu, Bekuru Tiguhan, Gebre Ayenaw, Chekol Atnafu, and Alebachew Taye of Gondar City Council. In due course of their dialogue with the representatives of Tigray Regional State and the Tigrayans who flee from Gondar and who went via Sudan to Mekelle, the Amhara delegation members spoke one by one, and they all came up with constructive ideas akin to the Ethiopian tradition of sympathy and solidarity. But, of all the delegate members that impressed me most is Gebre Ayenaw, who uttered a very profound precept: ‘One Flag, One Cemetery’. Ato Gebre’s message is quite obvious even to the uninitiated; the Ethiopian people are united under one flag and their final destiny is the same!

In a similar vein to the Amhara delegation to Tigray, Ethiopian religious leaders, in view of their solemn duty, have expressed concerns on the civil unrest and violence. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church, under the leadership of the Holiness Patriarch Abuna Mathias, called for a seven-day nation-wide mass prayer; the other religious leaders that belong to the Ethiopian Inter-Religious Council have also endorsed the mass prayer for peace and stability. Other prominent preachers like Kesis Memhir Zebene Lemma, Megabe Haddis Eshetu, and Pastor Tolossa Gudina strongly appealed to the Ethiopian people in general and to the youth in particular and stressed the prevention and avoidance of violence. Pastor Tolossa told his congregation, and by extension the Ethiopian people, “God knows our country as Ethiopia, and not as Amhara, Oromo, or Tigray,” and members of his church gave him a standing ovation; all those Ethiopians who stood on their feet were trying to extend their endorsement to the Pastor’s injunction, but they were also exhibiting their love for their country, Ethiopia.

In an effort to explain the meaning of peaceful coexistence, Megabe Haddis Eshetu made reference to the Prophet Isaiah’s prophecy of antagonistic opposites living side by side: opposites like a lion and a cow; a tiger and a goat; and a wolf and a sheep. He, in effect, was saying we can live in harmony in spite of our antagonistic differences. Similarly, in one of his teachings, Memhir Zebene mentioned Moses’ exemplary role on the sense of sacrifice: “God, you rather destroy me and redeem the people.” Kesis Zebene told his audience that blood should not be spilled in Ethiopia, and Ethiopia should be redeemed as in Moses’ commitment of self-sacrifice.

Following the state of emergency delegation, two important panel discussions on the current crisis took place; one in Addis Ababa and the other in Bahir Dar. The first panel was focused on the establishment of democracy and federalism in Ethiopia, and by and large, this panel discussion was an open debate on the current situation in Ethiopia and it was by far constructive and educational. In terms of the topic of the conference and the themes discussed, it reminds me of ‘Covadis Ethiopia’, a conference of Ethiopians held in New York three decades ago; covadis in Latin literally means ‘where are you going?’ and the New York conference tried to assess Ethiopia’s future direction (where is Ethiopia heading?), and the Addis Ababa recent conference was trying to grapple with Ethiopia’s sojourn in democracy and federalism.

Dr. Kassahun Berhanu, the first speaker in the Addis Ababa conference, hammered the differences between the EPRDF Government and the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE) and clarified the problem of mixing up the government and the state. He also critically examined what he calls ‘state capture’, a political science term that explains the authoritative allocation of power without legal mandate; or the abuse of power by private interests in the decision-making process. Rent seeking, that is now widespread in Ethiopia and that has become the epitome of corruption, could be defined as one type of state capture.

The second speaker was Engineer Tsedeqe Yehune and he underscored the lack of dialogue and tolerance and the disproportionate wealth and power relations. The third speaker, Lidetu Ayelew of the Ethiopian Democratic Party (EDP), was by far balanced in his critique of the ruling party and the opposition parties, and most importantly he candidly addressed the wisdom that Ethiopians must employ in resolving the current crisis in Ethiopia. He said, “We must use this opportunity associated with the crisis for the betterment of our country.”

The fourth speaker, Bereket Simon, representing the ruling party and the Government, seemed to have acquiesced to Lidetu’s criticism of the Government while at the same time defending his party. Bereket’s presentation was modest, and more or less reflected the Government’s readiness to work with the Ethiopian people in order to mitigate the crisis and overcome major political and social problems. However, Bereket could have been in a much better position had he simply enumerated the strengths and weaknesses of his party. For instance, it is abundantly clear that there is no democracy in Ethiopia, but it is also conspicuous and unmistakable reality that the EPRDF wrought major developmental transformation in Ethiopia.

Now that the EPRDF Government has moved from declaration of state of emergency to open debates and to restructuring the state apparatus, one can safely assume that the Government will initiate major reform and Ethiopia will recover from the recent upheavals. However, whether the reforms will keep future peoples’ uprisings and social revolutions at bay remains to be seen. Moreover, the Government’s action at reform is best exemplified by the reshuffle in the Ministries and the new appointments that PM Hailemariam Desalegn presented to the Ethiopian Parliament for approval on November 1, 2016.

Beyond maintaining peace and stability as well as taking initiative in political reform, the Ethiopian Government should also take immediate action to include the legally registered parties in the parliament, a legislative body that is so far the exclusive domain of the EPRDF. If indeed the parliament is going to be democratic, as Presdient Mulatu Teshome alluded to in his address to the members of the parliament, opposition parties must obtain some seats in the parliament.

One other important issue that was never discussed by the panels in the conferences nor raised by the opposition parties is the skyrocketing market prices in Ethiopia and the high cost of living that the Ethiopian people are unable to bear anymore. If one of the major agendas of the developmental state is to cut poverty by half in the short haul and eliminate it in the long run, then the immediate task of the Government should be to regulate market prices and monitor the cost of living and give poor and middle class Ethiopians some relief. If the Ethiopian Government does not take immediate action to alleviate the conditions of Ethiopians due to high cost of living, we might revisit Yekatit 1966 EC or the Ethiopian revolution of 1974 and we might witness nation-wide social unrest.


  1. Ghelawdewos Araia, “Egypt has no choice but to cooperate with Ethiopia”, July 12, 2013,
  2. Ghelawdewos Araia, “The Historic Ethiopian Egyptian Renewed Diplomacy and Cooperation” January 12, 2015
  3. Dawud Ibssa interview by Seifenebelbal Radio, October 9, 2016
  4. Gheawdewos Araia, ተኝቻለሁ እንጂ አልሞትኩም The policy recommendations are enumerated at the end of the article

All Rights Reserved Copyright © Institute of Development and Education for Africa (IDEA), 2016; Dr. Ghelawdewos Araia can be contacted for educational and constructive feedback via 

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