Communal aspirations are often difficult to bet on. So uncertain would
most of the hypotheses be that reasoned
deliberations are less likely. The more
plausible a proposition seems, according to
the rule, the more credible it becomes.
National aspirations are even more complicated for they represent the
consensus of varying interest groups
residing under a given jurisdiction. A
slight error of judgment can lead to wrong
conclusions and thus significantly affect
some of the interest groups. However, an
interdependent world has made conjuncture
Habitually, conventional theories are inapplicable in Ethiopia as
systemic readjustment is unusually frequent.
State predictability is rare. Regulatory
surprises are so common that markets exist
in a dynamic disequilibrium. It is only
rarely that subsequent governments share
agendas that draw incessant public support.
One such agenda had been solidifying the economic and political
influence of the country in the Eastern
Africa region. Since the very establishment
of the Ethiopian state, the aspiration has
been definitive, predictable and widely
agreeable. It has transcended ideologies and
governance structures; it has survived
The electric interconnection with Djibouti launched last week, which
had been considered for over 40 years, has
brought the debate of the regional
aspirations of the nation back into the
policy discourse. Foreseen to generate over
700 million dollars in the next 20 years,
the interconnection project is considered
indicative of the national aspiration;
assuming a dominant role in regional
economics and politics. As influence is
often dominated more by economic currency
than politics, the development paves the way
for further regional integration and
It is no less important in terms of revenue for the economy, as it
promotes diversification. It would uplift
the 29.7 billion dollar economy of Ethiopia,
according to the international monetary fund
(IMF), and place it on equal footing with
that of Sudan and Kenya, which have an
economic size of 65.4 billion dollars and 32
billion dollars, respectively. For Djibouti,
which has an economy of 1.1 billion dollars,
the endeavor opens an opportunity for an
economic takeoff with cheap energy prices
that some estimate to be incised by 72pc.
It appears that the aspiration is just the beginning. Electric
interconnections with Kenya and Sudan are in
the pipeline. Preparations are underway to
link with Somaliland by road. The five-year
economic plan foresees revitalizing rail
transport, diversifying seaways, and pushing
ahead for economic integration in the
Intergovernmental Authority for Development
(IGAD) region. Certainly, these all indicate
the height of the national ambition.
So much is going on regionally on the economic front, not to mention in
Ethiopia. Economic growth is no longer
sacred. Countries are opening their markets
up, whilst intraregional trade has grown by
nine per cent annually, since 2005. Yet, the
latent competition for regional hegemony is
Skepticism underlies the competition. Poor resource base furthers it,
while politics is kept at the margin. Yet,
regional stability is at a high, save
For critics, the Ethiopian rush for regional hegemony needs to be
backed up by enhanced economic dividends.
The current trend is unsustainable as it is
not backed by comparable economic dominance.
It is not even viable, some argue, as it is
Alleviating the infrastructure deficit would obviously set the economy
up for further expansion and
diversification. In doing so, it is also
critical to assume a dominant position in
the regional economics and politics, claims
the government. It is only through economic
development that sustained regional hegemony
can be achieved. Playing mere politics is
obsolete; especially in a region where
developmental demand is piling up daily.
Politics in the region has been about rivalry since the 1950s. Economic
cooperation has remained a pipedream.
Militarizing insurgents was the conventional
political tactic of the zero-sum game.
Developmental issues were left to
international organizations. As closed as
economies were, governments paid little
attention to opening up. It is only lately
that the mood has started to change.
To its credit, the current Ethiopian government has labored hard to
normalize inter-country relations in the
region. Guided by its developmental foreign
policy, which emphasizes economic diplomacy,
it has played a critical role in brokering
peace. It has even gone as far as
institutionalizing development cooperation.
The effort is bearing fruit. Countries in the region are clenching
their fists for development and cooperation.
Joint projects of infrastructure
development, trade liberalization, human
resource development and technology sharing
are flourishing. However, the road ahead is
Political uncertainty lingers as the prime systemic hitch. Mounting
democratic deficit erodes developmental
ownership. Backdoor political deals remain
to affect sustained developmental
cooperation. Yet, the dimensions of the
challenge varies across countries.
With consolidating economic growth, the challenge for Ethiopians
originates from a governmental
accountability deficit. Dwindling political
pluralism has weakened the cross-border
leverage of economic achievements. It is
compounded with declining government
The policy discourse in the country is dominated by state declarations.
Although different policy documents of the
government state that reasoned debate is of
high importance in a diversified country
such as Ethiopia, little of that is seen on
the ground lately. The space for reasoned
discourse is narrowing with time. Policy
monopoly has become the new trend.
An expanding culture of fear is also challenging the Ethiopian
aspiration. The intensity of both actual and
perceived fear is mounting. No wonder that
reasoned discourse is progressively being
pushed away by a culture of fear.
Deliberating on policy agendas is becoming
extinct with the reek of fear spoiling the
environment. Certainly, this supplements the
rising policy monopoly of the EPRDF.
Similarly, public scrutiny of policy decisions is infrequent, if not
non-existent. Participation of the public in
policy deliberations is being increasingly
marginalized. The public is living in the
shadows of poor information about national
plans. Hence, regulatory surprises are
becoming common place.
Consolidating regional hegemony is as political as it is economic. It
should be underpinned with strong public
support, as it demands societal ownership.
Developing the infrastructure base of the
country alone cannot bring about the
intended regional influence in an era of
interdependence. Soft power, an influence
that originates from strong public support,
is as equally important as hard economic
power. The rush to assume a dominant
economic position in Eastern Africa needs to
be supplemented with equivalent political
progress at home.
The government should stay committed to promoting political pluralism.
Dominant party hegemony should not raze
reasoned political discourse. Diversifying
the political base should be provided with
due governmental attention. Institutional
structures of pluralism such as the
Inter-Party Dialogue Forum need to be
utilized to advance the agenda of pluralism.
Not that they should be used for political
maneuvering, but for frank policy
Fear needs to be wiped out of the public discourse. Revitalizing the
social contract should be the prime way to
solidify public support on both the economic
and political fronts. Accountability should
be mainstreamed within the state structure
all the way down to the local level. So
should transparency be promoted in all
The spark of hope that illuminates the initiative for regional economic
integration should be fueled by vibrant
public discourse. It is only then that it
can be sustained. Filling the democratic
deficit at home is as important as
optimizing the comparative advantage of the
country at the regional level.
Balancing interests is what actually makes national aspirations not
just ambitious but achievable.