Ethiopians Can Indeed Unite if they are Willing

Ethiopians Can Indeed Unite if they are Willing, Part Six (c) of Six

Aklog Birara, PhD

In my capacity as the World Bank Group’s first and only Senior Advisor on Racial Equality (SARE), I had the privilege of representing this multilateral agency in numerous forums around the globe. The issue at hand was racial, gender, religious and other forms of equality, with special emphasis on the mistreatment of people of Sub-Saharan African origin (blacks) around the globe. Whether state sponsored or societal, the economic, social, cultural, psychological and political costs of discrimination and exclusion of any form anywhere in the world are incalculable. Of these, emotionally charged and elite sponsored discrimination and exclusion that arise from ethnic and religious dominance of one group over another proves to be the most explosive.

One of the most memorable of these events was a worldwide conference on racial equality in Cape Town, South Africa, at which I had the chance to learn about the toxicity of ethnic and racial discrimination. Equally, I had the chance to meet the distinguished Nelson humanist and one of the world’s greatest leaders, Mandela, and to learn from him the value of democratic and inclusive leadership. The conference and his words and messages underscored the toxicity of ethnic or racial based governance whether black or white. His is a philosophy to which I subscribe fully; and I believe you should to.

One vital lesson I should like to draw to the reader’s attention is an enduring legacy Nelson Mandela left for all humanity and for a country such as ours that is beset by a minority ethnic elite governing party, the TPLF. This is narrow and self-serving elite that led, created, promoted and nurtured ethnic hatred and division using boogeymen. This, I suggest, is the root and genesis of political, economic and social capture and dominance by a minority ethnic-based elite that has now normalized and institutionalized the abnormal as normal. The normal is representative governance that allows unrestricted participation by each and every citizen. For this to happen, the government and state have to be impartial.

Revolutionary Democracy is nothing less than the dictatorship of narrow ethnic elite over the vast majority of the population. This form of ideology is never impartial. The abnormality of the system includes preoccupation with self-interest, individualism, clannishness, egoism, self-centeredness, nepotism, greed and power, continuous agitation and turmoil that pities one group against another. It is ‘permanent war’ of the kind inherited from leftist ideology and imposed on the entire society.

By definition, the system must subvert and undermine the common good in order to advance and maintain the interests of the elite; and in order to survive and thrive. It has no choice but to create frictions; and or to fabricate scapegoats or culprits to justify repressive actions. National tendencies are antithetical to this philosophy. These values and tendencies undermine meaningful and healthy transformation that emanates from combining forces on fundamentals or on those issues that are common for everyone. Those who reject the system should therefore do the exact opposite: cooperate on basic issues and leave the rest for resolution once the Ethiopian people are in a position to assert their sovereignty.

8. Let us establish a shared understanding of the nature of the political problem: the genesis of ethnic governance and its costs

I suggest in the strongest terms possible that those of us who wish the new generation of Ethiopians a better life, and for the survival of a unified and democratic country have a moral obligation and duty to come together and arrive at a shared understanding of the nature, and origin of the problem that emanates from ethnic minority elite political and economic capture. Let us, for once, resort to the Einstein formula of spending “55 minutes diagnosing the problem” and arrive at a shared or common understanding of what it is that we wish to resolve and fix. It is only then that any group can frame the alternative (the five minute solution) that will serve the Ethiopian people as a whole and lift them out of the quagmire they face today.

Opposition to the TPLF/EPRDF alone is not the same as understanding the nature of the problem and why it persists. As critical, unless and until we have a shared understanding of the problem, arriving at a meaningful and credible alternative the day after is a mirage.

There is no contest that minority elite ethnic governance of the TPLF/EPRDF is the most formidable barrier to long-term peace, coexistence, stability, the welfare and sovereignty of the vast majority of the Ethiopian people. Global indices show that growth has not changed the lives of the vast majority of the population; while it has generated insane levels of incomes and wealth for a limited few. By definition, any political and social group that identifies itself as ethnic is exclusive, corrupt and discriminatory. It is the anti-thesis of the South African and Ghanaian models of democratic governance; and fair play in the national economy.

Measurements, statistics and stories in Ethiopia are mind boggling. Regardless of region, key administrative and other positions are literally manned or staffed predominantly by TPLF, mostly, Tigrean cadres and supporters: from the Prime Minister at the top to chauffeurs and janitors and cleaners in ministries and other offices at the bottom. The façade of democratization at the local and regional levels is shallow. Policies and decisions are made centrally; and implemented locally on behalf of the center. How does the ruling party get away with this type of harmful and oppressive governance for so long? My estimation is that the rest of us are divided and do not have a shared understanding of the nature of the governing party itself. Our division is its strength.

We have a wealth of evidence that confirms that the entire system is corrupt and broken. Yet, opponents are unable to collaborate and cooperate with one another. The system survives by pitying one ethnic or religious group against another. The burning of a church does not occur without the tacit approval of the Federal state and its extensions. The regime uses this and other techniques of divide and conquer to prolong its longevity and to extract more wealth and assets for itself and its supporters. This is the reason for my thesis of permanent suspense as an instrument of dominance.

9. Let us champion the formation of a society free of corruption; and shame the governing party

There will not be sustainable and equitable development in the country unless corrupt practices are eliminated. The prospect of doing this successfully resides in the sovereignty of the Ethiopian people and in the accountability of government officials at all levels. If the situation persists as is, I suggest that incomes will not rise; rising costs will not be contained; domestic production will not correspond to demand; employment will not be created to accommodate the country’s youth bulge; illicit outflow will not stop and so on. The opposite will be true: income inequality and the concentration of wealth and uneven development will be more pronounced than today. Why?

I am reminded of what the British Historian, Lord Acton said. “Power tends to corrupt. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Leaders who have no character–such as honesty, integrity, fairness, empathy for human life and so on–tend to be repressive and more corrupt. “The spiritual nature of man,” said Disraeli “is stronger than Codes of Constitutions.” This “spiritual nature” is totally and irrevocably absent in the entire leadership. They recruit likeminded people to their side. They provide substantial financial and material incentives to leaders of key institutions such as security, police and defense to ensure their survival. Acquiring a privileged status is a critical way of maintaining the system regardless of the cost to the rest of the society. It is here that I should like to broaden the now widely used term of corruption, which we tend to equate only with money. Corruption is more than the diversion and misuse of resources.

The TPLF/EPRDF form of corruption embraces all of the following and more:

• It undermines democratic leaning institutions and culture though nepotism, bribery and kickbacks.
• It encourages brain drain as it sees the benefits of human capital export as an instrument to contain completion, and as a key source of foreign exchange. This reinforces brain drain and minimizes domestic intellectual and talent capacity that is fundamental for sustainable development.
• It corrupts elections and reverses outcomes as was done in 2005; and propagates the notion that it is possible for an ethnic-based party to win 99.66 percent of the votes as was the case in 2010.
• It diverts financial and other resources through institutionalized corruption and milks dry an entire economy and harm the poorest of the poor most. There is no independent oversight for accountability. The system is judge and jury and reinforces itself.
• It facilitates illicit of outflow of more than US$11 billion over the past decade alone; and more than US$3 billion from one of the poorest and least developed countries on the planet. It does not even investigate because investigation will lead nowhere; high officials are among the greatest beneficiaries.
• Its absolute power and the associated occurrences such as corruption and illicit outflow aggravate and deepen poverty, uneven development and inequality. Most Ethiopians are poorer today than they were 20 years ago.
• It intensifies mutual mistrust, crime and instability.
• It reinforces ethnic as well as religious unrest and antagonism. Permanent suspense suits the governing party.
• It undermines national culture such as mutual tolerance and peaceful coexistence, honesty, integrity, humility, the sanctity of human life and so on.
• It implicitly or explicitly allows or promotes dangerous foreign cultural, social and economic penetration and influences such as widespread use of drugs, prostitution, human trafficking and the use of foreign languages at the cost of national languages in educating youth. It condones the export of children and girls to gain foreign exchange and so on.
• It undermines indigenous and nationally oriented development.
• It propagates scapegoats relentlessly, for example, resorting to the notion of irreconcilability among specific ethnic groups and allowing their dispossession and disenfranchisements anywhere and everywhere.
• It undermines national sovereignty and independence by availing well tested Ethiopian soldiers to fight wars across borders.

All of these are indicators of absolute power that corrupts. Corruption is by definition ‘cancerous’ and spreads to the entire fabric of society and deters its healthy and nationally anchored transformation for the better. In this system, leaders who have no character manifest insatiable appetite for incomes, assets and power. This is why I would conclude here that the quest for more incomes and wealth correlates directly to the proclivity to repress and dominate.

This is why political pluralism or democratic governance that emanates from the voices and sovereignty of the people of Ethiopia is the best defense against all forms of corruption. It is the only form of governance that will establish a solid foundation for sustainable and equitable development–even for those who defend the system for temporary gain, often, for crumbs. They should know that a corrupt system is temporal, and will never survive in the long-term. It is in their interest to accept the inevitability and emergence of a just, fair and inclusive system.

The current system that bestows privileged status to a narrowly based ethic elite contains all of the ingredients of a potentially catastrophic social phenomenon that has little comparison anywhere in the world. Part of the reinforcement comes from the diplomatic and donor community that maintains a blind eye to the deteriorating situation in the country. Why?

Primarily two reasons: an incoherent, fragmented and divided opposition that has thus proven incapable of framing and offering a better alternative. Second is the Western and especially US preoccupation with stability in the Horn as an overriding national policy. Dictatorship is preferred over political pluralism and justice. It is the now that predominates national policy. The lack of a viable alternative reinforces the second. This in itself should compel opposition groups whether civil or political to set aside minor differences and speak with one voice on specific national policy issues.

If opponents worked collaboratively and spoke with one voice, they would show to the world that the governing party’s transfers millions of hectares of farmlands and water basins to foreign investors and domestic allies has not and will not boost domestic capabilities and reduce poverty and unemployment. If they cooperated with one another and spoke with one voice, the governing party will not get away with stolen elections or with constant arrests of scores of people and justify it on constitutional and stability grounds. If they cooperated with one another and spoke with one voice, corrupt officials and others will not be brazen in stealing known billions of American dollars and taking these out of the country through illicit means. There will not be a place to hide. It is therefore not rocket science to conclude that meaningful cooperation that will lead to political pluralism or democratic governance is the best defense against this repressive and corrupt system.

Corrupt minority ethnic elite survive by coopting others to its side, for example, by giving material and financial incentives. Those coopted are among the most vigorous defenders of the system. Their composition is ethnic or religious neutral. In the same vein, it prolongs its rule by stirring fear, hatred and division among the population, including the Diaspora. It finds scapegoats in the latter group to blame while it arrests and persecutes those at home without due process of law. Sad, but true, we fall for this type of corrupt and abusive governance at our own peril. Some do not even understand this well.

10. Let us agree and act that illicit outflow weakens aid effectiveness and is a cost to Ethiopia and Ethiopians

“The people of Ethiopia are being bled dry. No matter how hard they try to fight their way out of absolute destitution and poverty, they will be swimming against the current (tide) of illicit capital leakage” to which aid and Diaspora remittances contribute. The facts are shameful for a country with one of the lowest per capita incomes (US$365) in the world; and one of the “hungriest” to boot. Just think of what illicit outflow of US$11.7 billion between 2000 and 2009 means. Think of what illicit outflow of US$3.26 billion in 2009 means. It means plundering precious resources from Ethiopian children. It is a generational punitive punishment.

The parallel I could draw of corruption and illicit outflow is ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’ for an ethnic elite that has no soul. Here are its manifestations:

• Institutionalized greed that condones the behaviors and actions of its members.
• Watches out for the interests of members of the group at the highest level in a veil of secrecy and confidentiality akin to “Alcoholics Anonymous.”
• Systematic assessment who is allowed in and out.
• Periodic assessment of membership effectiveness through what is called “gimgema” as a tool.
• Deployment of the legal and regulatory system selectively.
• Restrictive regulatory framework to govern private property and to ensure entry or non-entry.
• Invitation to club based on loyalty.
• Pronouncement of fair and market based competition as neoliberalism to shore up crony capitalism.
• Promulgation of laws and regulations to manipulate and sustain insatiable need for wealth making resources and assets.
• Propagation of the notion that failure to defend the corrupt system will result in the destruction of the country; and use this as a pretext to contain dissent.

‘Alcoholics Anonymous’ of ethnic elites is an exclusive club in which members maintain strict anonymity as to who owns what and where. Members are expected to defend one another’s power and wealth interests in the name of growth. They vow not to disclose incomes and assets. This is among the reasons why the current government is among the least transparent in the world. Members refrain from public disclosure of illicit outflow to avert international scrutiny. Ironically but not surprisingly, officials disavow corruption in public and empower the head of their group to assault it and illicit outflow as if the top leadership is not part of the club. The message is this: we are not part of the problem; it is others.

It is worthy to note that members of this anonymous club speak with one voice. They say more or less that corruption and illicit outflow harm development; and that the culprits for billions stolen are outside the government loop.

‘Alcoholics Anonymous’ for the governing elite and its allies is a form of addiction that comes from “absolute power.” Members are not satisfied with the billions they have made; the same way that alcoholics are rarely satisfied until they are cured. They do not see the harm they cause for the rest of the society. They try to maintain calm and stability at any cost by using the full force of the state.

In light of the above, opponents can no longer afford to waste time, energy and resources second guessing, suspecting and undermining one another. They have numerous themes and causes on which to rally and to agree on a framework now. Corruption and illicit outflow are among the most compelling themes on which most opponents and the global community can and will rally.

There are other critical themes and issues that lend themselves to the urgent and doable recommendation for cooperation and collaboration without delay: human rights, social and economic justice, the rule of law, equitable access to opportunities, civil engagement in the political process, unemployment, the traumatic situation of Ethiopian women, especially girls, civil unrest and land grab. All these should mobilize those who resent current minority ethnic-based repressive and corrupt governance. The bleeding of the country’s resources should, in itself, revolt each of us, and unify our behaviors and actions.

To be continued