Many argue that politics is the art of possibilities. But it has become
the art of the impossible in the Ethiopian context. Dogma has become
the operating word for spouting ideological extremes from one side
to the other, with no end. Logic has lost its meaning and facts have
become secondary to everything else.
How can a generation of critical thinkers be raised, if the discourse
is mired with one-size-fits all political and economic theory that
lacks concerted rationale and fails to reflect the daily struggles
of average people?
Democracy is the most essential element in bringing about a system of
governance that is accountable to the public. Nothing short of it
will do. Ethiopia has seen the consequence of unelected regimes
staying in power for too long. They were not even ready to loosen up
their grip in the face of sustained public outrage.
Certainly, no one expects fully representational democracy in a
continent of dictatorship. But with a new generation which is
capable of accessing a variety of information media and understands
the value of a truly democratic state, pulling back on establishing
relevant institutions is not an option.
Societies that allow individuality to blossom demonstrate that the
creative mind of individuals can transform the world. If the song
remains the same, it would absolutely be shutting down dissenting
voices. A system that discourages the battle of ideas is a system
that eventually fails in the long-term.
Past experiences have shown that regimes that insist on conformity and
suppress individuality are those that turn out to be autocratic in
nature. Contemporary comparison of democratic and undemocratic
states would vividly show that democratic states get things done
Currently, political and economic policy based on the ideology of
democratic developmental state is the mantra in some developing
nations, including Ethiopia. Democracy and the developmental state
are absolute contradictions, at least in terms of origin. Even if
those contradictions are left aside, the preconditions for that
system to take hold do not exist in these nations.
In a country where the lack of well trained and disciplined technocrats
is prevalent, implementing the policy of a developmental state could
be considered a panacea. In the absence of well trained, apolitical
and informed public servants, good bureaucracy and professionalism
will surely be subverted by political interference. The lack of
autonomous civic institutions that could not be influenced by the
political class should not be taken easily.
The Ethiopian business sector also lacks sophistication in its approach
of managing resources. The rampant rent seeking activity would also
involve challenging efforts synonymous with pulling hair from an
egg. For it does not bring lasting productive value, it drives
Despite the benefits of economic incentives provided to encourage
productive investment, penalising rent seeking activities that do
not add much productive value through the existing tax regime have
had a more immediate negative effect.
No one can deny the fact that the country has recorded substantial
economic growth in the last decade. But most of that growth did not
originate from the industry or export sectors that could become a
spring board to a much more stable economy.
If all these preconditions in administrative and economic sectors of
the copy cat democratic developmental state are not met, what
remains will be the autocratic portion of it. That would lead to a
dominant, one party rule, Ad Infinitum. Indisputably, such a
situation would be a disaster in the making.
Ethiopia has been governed by kings and queens, a military junta
with a pseudo-socialist ideology, and currently it is governed by
the Revolutionary Democrats. What remains a pipedream is a truly
representative democracy, in which elected officials are accountable
to the public and can be thrown out for promises broken or
It might be juvenile to ask if a country is fit for democracy, at this
age of globalisation and opening up.
“A country does not have to be deemed fit for democracy; rather, it has
to become fit through democracy,” Amartya Sen, Nobel Prize winning
economist, once pointed out.
Urban elites are not sections of the populace that need a teachable
moment about the value of true representative democracy. Instead, it
is the rural farmers, who need to hear a diverse and competitive
point of view about their world, so they can make better and
Establishing democracy is a messy affair. But it is irresponsible to
have a Faustian bargain that avoids building a truly representative
democracy and negotiate it down to something less. So would it be
imperative to pass it to the future generation with no discernible
resolution. An obtuse blindness to the history of the country would
surely relegate facts as secondary to self interest of every kind.
There is always going to be resistance to change. Yet, change is
inevitable and accepting it on our own terms will make life easier
for all the interest groups.
Amid the changing world and growing conflicts of interests, it might
help to pronounce the words of a song, “The old getting older and
the young getting stronger,” sang by the late American singer, Jim
Change is something for the unquestionable autocrats of the world to
ponder, albeit always.