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Author: Aklog Birara

Reject TPLF Inc.’s ‘flood of fear’ philosophy

By Aklog Birara, Ph.D.

“He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.”
“We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I am not sure which of the above enduring quotes from one of the foremost leaders of change for an inclusive, just and democratic society best describes Ethiopian political and social culture today. I suggest that it is both. Each of us must be ready and willing to “forgive” but not necessarily forget the past if we wish to establish a better alternative to TPLF Inc. We forgive in day to day life with family and friends. However, we seem incapable of practicing forgiveness with regard to public discourse and our common future. Equally, we seem to be trapped in a culture of permanent fear that incapacitates our capacity to change and help toward the transformation of Ethiopian society. What we have in common is detest and rejection of TPLF Inc. governance. I am afraid that hate of a regime is not a sufficient condition to frame the future.

I believe that we should now approach events in Ethiopia with a sense of urgency, reject fear, embrace forgiveness and mobilize a coalition of stakeholders who want constructive change, agree on a shared vision and come up with a road map that will lead to a just, fair, inclusive and democratic society. If we don’t, seize the current intolerable crisis as a window of opportunity, we have no one to blame but ourselves. No one else will do this for us. Whatever we do must be anchored in Ethiopia with the Ethiopian people. Each day, we witness the unfolding of human tragedy and the undoing of Ethiopian society: loss of identity and citizenship; dispossession from lands and cultural icons; and humiliation wherever we might be. A friend reminded me of this when he said that “he cannot sleep at all “after watching the beating and humiliation of Ms. Alem Dechasa in Beirut, Lebanon. She later died under circumstances that anyone with conscience would find suspicious. Ms. Dechasa’s humiliation and death is our humiliation and death as Ethiopians. We can no longer, in good conscience accept governance that leads us to dishonor and humiliation no matter our educational status, our individual wealth, our village, ethnic or religious group or our ideology. We are in this together. The only way out is if we reject selfishness and fear and stand together as Ethiopians no one in our country suffers any more.

The purpose of this article is to suggest that we have fallen into a formidable trap: the trap of fear that leads to submission to a cruel, divisive and corrupt system; rather than the courage to fight back in unison. We admire Tunisians, Egyptians and now Syrians who sacrifice their lives in search of justice; but are not willing and ready to do the same. We spend considerable time, creativity and resources attacking TPLF Inc. but have done little to examine what behaviors and attitudes reinforce fear and inability to forgive and move on to achieve a common goal. We know more about the system that keeps us captive; but know little why we allow it to do this to us. I suggest that it is only when we conquer fear that we will become confident not only in ourselves but will also will have confidence in the capacity of the Ethiopian people to achieve justice. This is where wise leadership and organization make a huge difference. I believe time is of the essence.

In light of the above thesis, I contend that we (individually and as groups) must conquer our own fear first if we are going to collaborate with one another; and if we are going to make material difference to the Ethiopian people and contribute toward the formation of a just and all inclusive system. Given the desperate and destitute conditions in which the vast majority of Ethiopians live, I have no doubt that they will standup in defense of their freedom the same way as Tunisians, Egyptians, Yemenis and Syrians have done and are doing. What I learn from the Arab Spring on which I have written a bit at the request of Al-Jazeera, is that there is more of us on the side of justice compared to the few who rule by force. This is the power of sheer numbers if we harness it systematically and strategically. I am concerned that we cannot take advantage of our numerical superiority if we are scared and or selfish. As a first step, we may need to appreciate the notion that, both revenge and fear are entrapments that TPLF Inc. uses as instruments of control and to sow seeds of suspicion and mistrust among us. It will continue this political culture that reinforces permanent submission if we let it. This suggestion is not as simple as it seems. Those who reject ethnic divide and repression must be bold enough and ready enough to come up with a unity of purpose that stimulates the hearts and minds of all stakeholders or at least the majority. I heard a spiritual leader who informed the Voice of America that, he and his colleagues are ready to “sacrifice their lives in defense of Waldiba,” and the more than a dozen churches and monasteries that TPLF Inc. intends to destroy and make room for a sugar plantation. If these spiritual leaders have the courage to do this, why can’t we?

I was reminded of the duality of revenge and our entrapment in fear that have stalled Ethiopia’s democratization process as I listened to Professor Donald Levine’s latest interview on ESAT. He reminds listeners that the culture of forgiveness and defiance against fear is endemic to us as people but has been eroded substantially through two successive regimes: the Socialist Military Dictatorship that murdered an untold number of Ethiopians and caused mutual annihilation among Leftist elites and contributed to its own defeat. The scars and mindset have not left us. More important, fear has become a norm under TPLF Inc. that jails, murders or causes to murder and dispossesses thousands each month. One manifestation of this fear that I have often observed is that most opposition political parties, civil society organizations and individuals watch without protest as groups of people in specific localities: Gambella, Ogaden, Waldiba, Oromia and others are raped, killed, starved, forced to flee or dispossessed as if they are not part of the whole. This gives the impression that if ‘If it does not happen to me or to my group or tribe,’ then I do not have to protest. Ms. Dechasa was humiliated and her humiliation is our own. Yet, we show detachment as if this does not really affect us. As Levine put it, “Take them out of their land,” is not perceived as a national threat because land grab and its devastating effects are located in specific places such as Afar, Beni-shangul Gumuz, Gambella, Oromia, SNNP, and Waldiba and so on. We ignore the fact that these lands and people are an integral part of Ethiopia and Ethiopians. We ignore this fundamental principle at our own peril. Fear contributes to this tragedy.

I buy Levine’s argument that the ability to forgive and the capacity to resist fear are part of our tradition regardless of ethnic affiliation. Ethiopia would not have survived as an independent country for thousands of years if its mosaic of people did not reject fear and fight external aggression together. Adwa would not have been possible without Ethiopia’s mosaic fighting together. They had something to fight for, their lands and identity. It is this sentiment that the priest in Waldiba expressed with courage. I also share Levine’s point that this unique tradition of defiance of fear that defines us as people is eroded deliberately by self-appointed ethnic elites, the most prominent being TPLF Inc. that championed the Stalinist principle of the right of nations to self-determination, including secession (Article 39 of the TPLF Constitution). The assumption then and now is that Ethiopia is “A prison of nations, nationalities and peoples.” This dictum that emanates from leftist tradition that embraced Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist ideology without critical examination of the unintended consequences was put into practice by TPLF Inc. for practical use, namely, to dominate the country, strengthen submission, and leave the society and country in permanent suspense. As it turns out, the EPRDF is a creation of TPLF Inc. and there has not been much progress in creating a level playing field in policy and decision-making that shows that the “prison of nations, nationalities and peoples” is now a paragon of justice and equity. TPLF Inc. uses power to punish and not to liberate; to force submission and not to advance democracy among Ethiopia’s 80 nationality groupings; and to spread fear and undermine courage. Just take one recent example.

It seems to me that, TPLF Inc. propagates the idea that it stands for the liberation of oppressed people under previous administrations without granting them the right to debate, participate and engage in the policy and decision-making process. It perceives itself as the only legitimate group that understands development and bars others from the political, social, cultural and economic space for one reason only, dominance and extraction of incomes and wealth for a small cohort of people. This is why it dismisses outright political and economic competition. As a result, unethical and corrupt behaviors are tolerated for its group. The sale and leasing of millions of hectares of virgin lands and water basins and the destruction of Ethiopia’s icons such as Waldiba are defended without public debate because the end, namely, accumulation of wealth and continuity of power justifies the means. If the means entails jailing, killing, and dispossessing hundreds of thousands, it is fine. If it means destruction of Ethiopia’s cultural icons, it is fine too. After all, the Bolsheviks Revolution sacrificed 10 percent of the population to achieve a perfect society. It turned out that a perfect society was not created. TPLF Inc. is out to prove that, those it perceives had done wrong in the past and those it sees as threats for the future must be dealt with by any means necessary, including ethnically cleansing them. The end justifies the means. Dispossession is part of this strategy. The human toll incurred is a feature that the end is better and that the means justifies it. So, most Ethiopians are likely to pay a huge price for this Soviet and North Korean type of political and social architecture unless they rise up and defend themselves in unison.

Indigenous people in the Omo Valley are among the most oppressed and materially backward in the country. In theory at least, they should be among those to be liberated from national oppression but are not. Their situation and the situation in other land grab regions such as Gambella, suggest that the gang of leaders who manage TPLF Inc. does not care about the welfare of ‘oppressed people” anywhere in the country. Yet, it takes away their primary sources of wellbeing and security in the name of advancing their interests. My take is that TPLF Inc. has no empathy. It only cares for and caters to a small group of elites within and outside its tribe. The human toll of this philosophy- that had purportedly stood on the side of ‘oppressed nations, nationalities and peoples–and used this strategy to unseat the Military Socialist Dictatorship (another repressive system) is immense. A few months ago, Survival International, a reputable Non-Governmental Organization that defends social, economic and cultural rights of affected populations around the globe, reported that the people in the Omo Valley faced the prospect of starvation and dispossession owing to the Ethiopian government’s decision to relocate them forcibly and make room for a sugar plantation; the same way as in Waldiba. Dispossession is countrywide.

On March 16, 2012, Praveen Narayan, an Indian Journalist, posted a note on Ethiomedia entitled “Ethiopian tribes face mass eviction” from their ancestral lands and way of life. He says, “A leaked map from Ethiopian Authorities unleashes fears of mass eviction of 200,000 Omo tribes from the Lower Omo Valley to convert available land into sugar plantations.” This same situation has occurred and still occurs throughout the country. Oakland Institute and Human Rights Watch documented the devastating effects of relocation on citizens and the environment in Gambella. By 2015, 1.5 million Ethiopians will be relocated to make room for foreign and domestic ethnic elite investors. On March 13, 2012, AFP reported that “At least 3.6 million hectares (8.8 million acres)-an area larger than the Netherlands-has been leased to foreign investors and state (party owned and endowed and favored firms and individuals) since 2008, with state security using force to drive people from their land.” Imagine the chilling effect or fear this sends to these Ethiopians. Ethiopia’s security system has now formally become an instrument of global capital against the population regardless of ethnic and or religious affiliation. This should send a chill through our spines and offer us the backbone to reject fear.

Part of the explanation of what seems like generational fear is as a result of such uncaring, inhuman, cruel and repressive governance that is willing and ready to sacrifice millions in advancing small group interest. What makes this even more ominous is the fact that there is now a direct marriage between global capitalism and capitalists and TPLF Inc. and its beneficiaries. This liberal development approach that opens-up Ethiopia’s “womb” to foreign investors and domestic capitalists (75 percent Tigreans, according to Oakland Institute) constitutes the greatest natural resource transfer in Ethiopian history. This is happening to our country as we watch with dismay but not an urgent sense of unified thought and action. What TPLF Inc. does is not surprising to me and many other foreign and Ethiopian observers. It is the other side of the equation that defies logic.

Equally damaging to communities that are being disposed, the entire society that suffers from a disastrous economic policy and the long-term security of the country, is our own individual and group behaviors and the dysfunctional way we interact with one another. This is the reason why Levine places much of the burden on us rather than on the repressive government led by TPLF Inc. We may or may not agree with Levine. That is not the point here. The point is that, at minimum, it behooves us to ask why we are generally dysfunctional when it comes to Ethiopian politics and future. I agree that there is no point in going back and ‘beating a dead horse’ with regard to the national question and why ethnic federalism that divides us and keeps the society at bay was institutionalized in Ethiopia; and why it contributed to the land-locked status of the country.

Part of the answer resides in what Levine says. “Everyone has grievance against one another as much as against the regime.” I am afraid that he is right. He is milder in his diagnosis than I was in my book (Amharic), “Yedemocracy meseretoch ba Ethiopia: yealama andinet wosagn naw,” following the 2005 elections. I will not repeat my research based observations here. Instead, I will strengthen Levine’s comments by extracting themes from research findings by Salaam Yitbarek. In “A Problem of social and cultural norms,” he says the following:

• “Ethiopian collectives tend to be ineffective, inefficient, and short-lived.” We tend to focus more on activity rather than results. We also tend to create groups and either let them perish or allow them to bifurcate. Why? This is because we do not focus on the goal but on personalities. Group meetings end up as bickering sessions or as debating societies instead of sources of creativity, innovation and positive change.

• Our communication style is typically adversarial, reinforcing the view that we are there to score points or to prove how wrong someone is. In Yitbarek’s experience, “communication is opaque (not transparent and direct); and “feuding and infighting is rampant.” The greater goal or agreed mandate is thus either sacrificed or compromised in the process.

• It is rare for Ethiopians to exercise openness. It is as if we are trapped in the “Wax and Gold” era that Levine attributes, partially wrongly, to the Amhara group. “Rarely does one observe open and frank communication amongst Ethiopians,” and their collectives regardless of national origin or religion or gender. The young generation does better than my generation. My generation is known for avoiding commitment to and communication on the basis of fundamental principles and values that can be tested in the real world.

• It is still not uncommon among Ethiopians to hold grudges and wait for a time to score points. This is the reason for Levine’s comment that revenge is an attribute that deters the formation of a democratic culture that entertains differences as normal. TPLF Inc. has perfected it to rule. We have yet to counter it with a new culture of forgiveness in order to serve the common good better.

• We tend to thrive on what I call ‘destructive’ rivalry that leaves little room for dialogue and compromise, a TPLF Inc. trait. We have observed over and over again that the minority ethnic-elite forces opponents to submit to its power by forcing the innocent to accept guilt. “The zero-sum view of the world leads many to view compromise as a weakness.” This is among the reasons why opposition political parties, civic groups and well-meaning individuals fail to accept the art of compromise as vital in resolving conflicts.

• We rarely use the best techniques to diagnose and resolve conflicts in organizations. “I have found little difference in the propensity and nature of conflicts that occur within collectives in Ethiopia and the Diaspora,” says the author. The Diaspora mirrors the same political and social culture that prevails in Ethiopia. This is exploited by TPLF Inc. to spread divisions, fear and backbiting amongst activists and opponents.

• The impact of these and related behaviors is that cooperation and collaboration, team work and unity of purpose or mandate are undermined.

• Although we do not accept them readily, we often personalize issues and seem incapable of distinguishing between the person and the substance he or she advances. This leads to “parochialism: friend, political party, civic or religious group, professional association, ethnic group,” or even village within a region. Who benefits from this typology? It is self-appointed leaders and TPLF Inc. The cost of these and similar tendencies is huge. For example, mistrust and fear deepen. We treat one another as adversaries and fierce competitors even in situations where we have no country where such competition would lead to power.

• We accuse TPLF Inc. of lack of empathy and compassion for people, including the poorest of the poor. The author says rightly that we ourselves make quick and unwarranted “judgment before reflection.” Quick and non-reflective judgments show a revenge mental model and tend to undermine mutual trust and empathy.

• Following the 1974 Revolution, character assassination was rampant. It still is. I know; I was one of the targets. One spreads unfounded rumors into the system such as “She/he is a member of the CIA or KGB or Mossad” was common among leftists of the day. Today, we hear similar character assassination, for example, those who were members of TPLF Inc. but have now rejected it are often accused of ulterior motives. Even within the most sacred of institutions, such as the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, character assassination has become a standard practice. Those who propagate this tradition fail to recognize the reputational risks involved; and the message this sends to the rest. Those who tend to do this forget that no person involved in Ethiopian politics is beyond reproach or blame. Therefore, we need to look at the impact and then change our behaviors. Unfounded character assassination deters cooperation and collaboration and harms the common cause.

These deficiencies in our individual and group behavior may seem academic. They are not at all. I will provide some additional examples to illustrate the point. We spend millions of hours of our time talking but have yet produce results that make a difference to the Ethiopian people. We have no measurements of effectiveness. We dwell more on differences rather than commonalties. Have you ever attended a meeting at which Ethiopians express their commonalities as naturally as their differences? Do we listen to one another with respect and civility? Have you wondered if Levine’s and Yitbarek’s statements resonate with political and civic actors? We need to be bold enough and honest enough to answer these questions. Otherwise, there will not be innovation and change in politics.

Assuming we share, at least, broadly, the above, we should not wonder that opposition groups and individuals cannot agree with one another yet. By definition, they work against one another. They see one another as rivals and fierce competitors. They hold one another with suspicion. They harbor grudges. This is why there is little mutual tolerance, respect or trust. We seem to be governed more by our differences than by our commonalties. In some cases, we are reduced to think as someone from a village and not the “Greater Ethiopia” that Levine’s book discusses with evidence. Where we all seem to agree is on hatred of the regime, and on its overthrow. This is not a sufficient condition for change that will lead to peace, national reconciliation, justice, fair play and political pluralism.

What can we do?

It is not sufficient to blame the regime for all our ills. I have done that as much as anyone. Equally, we need to recognize that we are still unable to break out an incapacitating culture of narrow rivalry, suspicion, egos and competition that lead to revenge and fear. We need to conquer our individual and group inabilities to forgive so that we can advance the common good of all of the Ethiopian people. We can start with small steps and not dwell too much on past mistakes by regimes, political groups and individuals. I believe that we can learn to avoid the mistakes of the past and chart a more promising future if we tap into the diverse talent pool that comes from Ethiopia’s rich mosaic. Ethiopia is a huge country with diverse talent. No single individual or group has the answer. Evidence shows that, together, we can come up with solutions. To do this, we, as individuals and groups, should conquer the revenge and fear culture that has incapacitated all of us and that sustains repressive governance.

We cannot afford to blame this on TPLF Inc. alone for our individual and group fear. What about us? Who is going to liberate Ethiopia and Ethiopians if we continue this culture? We can and need to advance openness and transparency; truthfulness and disclosure; and stop to vilify others on whom we have misperceptions. Vilification without cause and character assassination without facts, undermine cooperation and give signal that it is ok for TPLF Inc. to perpetuate the disastrous principle that Ethiopia is still “a prison house of nations, nationalities and peoples” under the guise of ethnic-federalism. Levine –a previous proponent– now admits that this form of federalism of “we the nations, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia” does not advance peace, security, peace, and democracy. Given his vast knowledge of Ethiopia’s evolution and culture and the variety of federal systems that work, including the US, he should have disputed ethnic-federalism from its inception. Nevertheless, I admire his courage to question its validity today. This is more than the rest of us in the academic world are doing.

Do most of us in the opposition camp and in academia dare to reject the concept of “irreconcilability” of Ethiopians and the ethnic federal government formula that divides the country into 21st century ‘Bantustans’ and leads to ethnic-based killings and removals? Do we dare to ask who has taken advantage of this ideology that leftists and ethnic-based liberation fronts parlayed in the 1960s and 1970s and beyond?

One look at the demographic data of who is getting super rich; being driven out of their lands, properties and country; and is forced to flee the country in droves will provide answers. This is why Levine implied that the TPLF Inc. developmental state accepts the notion that TPLF Inc. finds it acceptable to uproot a few millions and make room for foreign and ethnic elite owned commercial farms. “Taking them out of their land is ok,” because it is being done for the greater good. The greater good serves global capital and the TPLF Inc. ethnic elite and its allies. After all, it is someone’s land that is taken away. It is someone else who is killed or is starved or is in jail or is forced to flee or is dispossessed. I suggest that such occurrences would not take place if we reject the culture of revenge and fear and cooperate for a transition.

Levine reminds us that Ethiopian society continues to pay a huge price from a political tradition that propagates “irreconcilability” of Ethiopians because of their ethnic make-up rather than strengthening the multiple threads (intermarriages, religious affiliation, domestic trade, settlement, unity against foreign aggression and so on) that bind our country together. I have tried to show that this so called “irreconcilability” makes many of us unforgiving and revenge oriented. I can understand why TPLF Inc. rules through revenge and hatred rather than mutual respect, acceptance and tolerance. It provides it the philosophical basis to reinforce submission to its authority. However, I wonder why those who are opposed to it persist in reinforcing the same political culture of revenge–constant fracturing and division of political groups and even churches. Shouldn’t they do exactly the opposite of the oppressive ethnic elite system that denies the vast majority both freedom and economic and social opportunity? This is why I suggest that there are consequences for bad behaviors and retarding culture.

I do believe that political and social elites, opposition political parties and civil society organizations as well as individuals can advance the causes of a just and inclusive system by demonstrating readiness and willingness to “forgive” one another and by focusing on the things we have in common rather than on the things that divide us.

In this regard, I am comforted by the ‘light at the end of the tunnel.” Ethiopians at home and in the Diaspora are meeting and conversing on how best we can reach-out to and cooperate with one another. They have begun to surface and debate hard questions that were left out in the past. There is more open dialogue on the kind of alternative future that will accommodate the hopes and aspirations of all Ethiopians rather than self-appointed political elites. A new generation of Ethiopians at home and in the Diaspora is engaged, and in some areas, shows leadership and organizational skills beyond ethnicity, religion, demography and gender. Ethiopian women in the Diaspora have begun to reengage.

Therefore, the rest of us can and should help strengthen the current momentum by overcoming dysfunctional behaviors and ways of dealing with one another; by helping conquer our individual and group inabilities to forgive one another; and by rejecting the incapacitating fear culture that envelopes Ethiopian society—the biggest hurdle of all. This is why we need to remind ourselves constantly that “We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear.” I propose that no one else in the world would save Ethiopia and Ethiopians from the abysmal condition they find themselves in except Ethiopians within and outside the country together.

Our capacity to change depends on our individual and collective will and determination to make a difference and leave an enduring legacy. This will occur if we set aside ideological, ethnic and religious differences and focus on what matters the most: a compelling vision that will lead to a fair, just, inclusive system and serve all; and a robust process that anchors the struggle in the hands of the Ethiopian people.

TPLF Inc. Survives on repression and not public trust

Aklog Birara, PhD

Those of us who enjoy freedom from constant purges, harassment, intimidation and fear need to remind ourselves each day that the Ethiopian people continue to suffer from poor and repressive governance-induced hyperinflation, hunger and malnourishment that is legendary, growing unemployment that drives thousands out of the country each month, glaring wealth and income inequality, pervasive corruption and illicit outflow of resources, dispossession and dislocation of hundreds of thousands from their homes and ancestral lands and massive transfer of the pillars of the Ethiopian economy to foreigners and a selected few ethnic elites. The dispossession of the Ethiopian people from sources of livelihood: urban and rural lands, waters, minerals and other critical assets, is the core issue of the day.

The thesis in this commentary is that TPLF Inc. has lost the trust and confidence of the Ethiopian people. There is very little evidence to show that it is ready or willing to reform itself. Nor is there any indication that the donor and diplomatic community appreciate the dangers the country faces in terms of its long-term stability and security and the welfare of its people. What could be more dangerous than the wholesale transfer of the pillars of the economy to foreigners and ethnic allies? What could be more telling than the continued purging and removal of patriotic and democratic leaning Ethiopians from their work? Accordingly, the task of supporting the Ethiopian people in their time of need is urgent; and rests with all who accept the dangers ahead and are ready, committed and willing to sacrifice time, resources and creativity. We cannot afford to wait until things fall apart completely and irreversibly. We need to move from talk to action. Action must be rooted in Ethiopia with the Ethiopian people who bear the brunt of repressive governance and economic mismanagement.

It is up to us

The outside world is unlikely to respond to us until we lead the effort. In commentary nine of this series, I showed how aid has done little to boost the capabilities of the Ethiopian people including smallholders. Close to 13 million Ethiopians depend on some form of international emergency food aid. A World Bank study last year showed that more than 5 million Ethiopians depend entirely on remittances. Thus, at minimum, 20 percent of 90 million Ethiopians depend entirely on some form of assistance from outside. Nationally, 21 percent are chronically unemployed. It means that growth has benefitted the few; but has not produced employment for most. At minimum 41 percent of the population is not part of the development process. With per capita income of $350 and with 46 percent wishing to immigrate, it is not hard to suggest that the mythical growth propagated by TPLF Inc. is not meaningful to most Ethiopians. It will not be until and unless Ethiopians enjoy a semblance of freedom to hold their government officials accountable.

I and many others who care deeply about the future of the country have provided analytical tools showing the dangers of the current system for all Ethiopians regardless of ethnic or religious or demographic affiliation. The mess affects each and every one of us, and future generations. A classified piece written from former Ambassador to Ethiopia, Donald Yamamoto, to his government, entitled “US knew but ignored abuses by Ethiopia’s Zenawi,” released by Wiki-leaks reinforces the depth of dispossession and disempowerment that defies the imagination on which I have written as have others. Although the leak refers to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where “hacks” of TPLF Inc. dominate policies and programs everywhere, the problem of purging and replacing those purged by ethnic and party loyalists has been standard practice for 21 years. It is part of systemic dispossession and dismantlement of anything and everything that is Ethiopian or national.

In February 2009, Ambassador Yamamoto confirmed and questioned the recruitment and staffing of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs—one of the most corruption-ridden institutions of the country—by “230 new trainees,” as part of TPLF Inc. capacity” building process. “Of the 230 new hires, all are party officials, and receive Ministry financed housing and salaries at levels double the prevailing rates of current Ministry of Foreign Affairs officers.” This practice is the norm and has been the norm for several years, especially in most sensitive institutions such as Defense, Intelligence and Police. How else would a general afford a mansion or luxury building that costs 45 to 90 million Birr in Bole?

The undermining of Ethiopia’s national cadre of competent and meritorious civil servants that Robert Calderisi identified in his book, “The Trouble with Africa,” 3 years ago is now complete. It is done systematically and deliberately to rob the country of public service oriented individuals and replace them with party hacks. TPLF Inc. does this through the Business Practices-Reengineering (BPR) process. It may as well be called a cleansing process, a system designed to purge those whose tribal and party loyalty is questionable. Its discriminatory nature is obvious not only to former Ambassador Yamamoto but also other foreigners who work in Ethiopia and with Ethiopians. BPR grades officers on the basis of ethnic and party loyalty, with “members of the ruling party and are fully loyal receiving an “A” automatically regardless of qualification, merit and competency. In contrast, “Those perceived to oppose the ruling party or its platform are given a “D” and terminated from their jobs.”

Dispossession and alienation from private assets such as homes, lands and other personal properties, and assessments (gimigema) that lead to purges from jobs amount to the same thing. Simply put, they erode Ethiopian citizenship. They lead to poverty and immigration. Donors and the diplomatic community observe these travesties; and occasionally critique TPLF Inc. But, they do not dare to challenge TPLF Inc. to change its ways. As explained in the previous commentary, donors and the diplomatic cannot change the policies or programs of the regime. Only Ethiopians can change the system; and they can if they pull their resources together.

What conclusion did Ambassador Yamamoto reach?

The former Ambassador concludes that, “While the US government may have had influence over the Ethiopian government to induce positive reform up until, and soon after, the 2005 elections, it has lost all such influence since then.” If this is the case, why continue to offer the repressive regime with close to $1 billion per year. The bottom line is this. Long-term, the US shoots itself in the foot by ignoring an unfolding human tragedy that may lead to civil conflict and instability if it does not take bold steps now and pressure TPLF Inc. to entertain a peaceful transition. We are thus left with the only viable option that will compel the US and others to stand firmly on the side of the Ethiopian people.

This option is to set aside minor and non-strategic differences and take collective and practical action on the diplomatic front while supporting those who struggle for justice, the rule of law and representative governance within the country. Both are essential. The more we do this, the more likely it is that we will win friends. It is fear of the alternative that compelled Ambassador Yamamoto to warn, “We must remain mindful to explain our common stability objectives (the premium donors and the diplomatic community use as rationale in support of dictators) clearly to the Government of Ethiopia and EPRDF and to avoid overreaching for too drastic of reforms lest the ruling party opt to choose survival over engagement.” It is the same reasoning the US and others deploy in Syria where close to 10,000 innocent people have been massacred by their own government.

It does not take much to conclude that the country is under more stress than ever before in its history. Dispossession is now universal. The Ethiopian people have less say and power compared to foreigners who own a large chunk of the pillars of the economy and ethnic elite that plunders the society each day. Equally unprecedented is gaping inequality, corruption and illicit outflow. All these and more are linked together and are indicators of repressive and corrupt-ridden governance that will let at our own peril.

Anchor the struggle in Ethiopia and embolden Ethiopians

It is the above reality that leads me to suggest again and again that the vast majority of the Ethiopian people reject TPLF Inc. It is also this that prompts me to argue that any struggle for a better future for the Ethiopian people must be anchored in and led by civil society and political groups within Ethiopia. Those of us who sit on the sidelines must be persuaded that we are losing a country and all that this implies. The purging of Ethiopians from their jobs is symbolically the purging of competent and meritorious persons from any segment of the society. In the area of land giveaway and transfers of wealth, no amount of wealth would recompense such a loss for generations to come. TPLF Inc. is now in the business of mortgaging the entire country in the name of development. Even the last forested and treed places in the country such as churches and monasteries are no longer sacrosanct.

It happens to Waldiba

What responsible government would allow or encourage the deforestation and desecration of lands around churches and monasteries such as Waldiba in the name of development and transfers lands and forests to investors? What is happening in Waldiba, Gambella, Ogaden, Afar and others erode trust and confidence in the regime. It does not seem to care. A recent example on corruption shows that confidence and trust in TPLF Inc. and its associates is practically zero.

I should like to remind the reader that graft, bribery, mispricing, embezzlement and illicit outflow are possible in the absence of oversight. Independent oversight is virtually impossible when there are no nationally-oriented opposition parties, independent civil society organizations, academics and journalists. For this reason, TPLF Inc. does anything it wishes and gets away with ‘murder.” Here is the truth. “In Ethiopia today, it is argued, all civil society organizations, opposition political parties, individuals and groups in private enterprise, and other groups are described as rent-seeking, while in contrast, EPDRDF (run by TPLF Inc.), the ruling party, is claimed to be the only one which has developmental credentials.”

This attribution of “rent-seeking” to all opponents is granted to deceive, and establish grounds for harassment, intimidation and fear; and to ensure that there is no competition. Here is part of the menu of evidence that says it all. In its seminal report last year, Global Financial Integrity (GFI) lamented that “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 upstream against the current of illicit leakage.” The reader will recall that, in 2009 alone, Ethiopia lost “US$3.26 billion in illicit outflow, exceeding both the value of its total exports and the total development aid it received that year.” You will agree with me that it is not leaders or members of “civil society organizations, opposition political parties” academics, journalists or other persons who did this. Critics are in jail or have been forced out of the country. Opposition political parties do not have the freedom to operate in the country let alone own businesses and steal from the society.

Top leaders and supporters of TPLF Inc. do not like people with integrity. Anyone who speaks the truth against the system is an enemy of the party and state and goes to jail if not worse. Truth and patriotism, justice and freedom and other indicators of good governance are inimical to TPLF Inc. This is why competent people are purged from universities and ministries all the time. As a result, TPLF Inc. puts the argument upside down and accuses opponents of “rent-seeking.” The greatest “rent-seekers” are those who run the merged state—ethnicity, party and government. It is they who have perfected political capture and made it an instrument in the accumulation of incomes and wealth nationally. It is a business; and businesses will do anything and everything to thwart competition. At least, there is some form of regulation and ethic that guides and governs private businesses. In the case of TPLF Inc. there is nothing that contests it. Any contest or any telling of the truth will land you in jail unless you flee for your life. This cannot go on.

Fabricated growth data

In “A Climate of Corruption: Ethiopian edition,” Janice Winter of Investigative Journalism captured mistrust and lack of confidence in the Meles Government when she said this. “Conveniently for Meles, no independent institutions in Ethiopia exists, to check the veracity” of anything, including “of government high growth rates” or corruption or gross human rights violations including killings and rapes. She continues to suggest that, “Indeed, the average growth for Meles’ entire 20 year rule is less than 5 percent (below the African average of 6 percent.” Ordinary Ethiopians know this better than Diaspora tourists who see glitz and accept it as structural change in the economy. Each and every day, Ethiopians live with “hyperinflation, widespread unemployment, a stagnant private sector and corruption.”

Here is one critical point that I would like the reader to take. One of the casualties in Ethiopia today is the truth. Top officials of TPLF Inc. fabricate untruth like General Motors fabricates cars. The TPLF Inc. high growth phenomenon is part of the untruth factory; as is the fabrication that anyone who dissents is a terrorist. In 2005, the regime stole the election after it lost decisively and explained to the world that it had won. By any definition, fraudulent electoral outcomes are an outcome of corruption and lies.

Security, police and defense forces are deployed in parts of the country where there is potential dissent and threat with little or no differentiation. The Anuak killed or massacred in Gambella, Somali girls and women raped, indigenous people forced from their ancestral homes in the Lower Omo Valley, Tigreans kept numb and silent in Mekele and elsewhere, Amhara speaking residents in the Southern part of the country forced to leave their homes and property and Christian churches razed to the ground, Oromo students harassed, jailed and killed for seeking fair treatment and justice—these and more violations are justified by TPLF Inc. in the name of peace, security and the constitution. For almost 21 years, it has gone uncontested in pitying one group against another; in assaulting one group in isolation from the other and so on. The rest of us watch a dishonest and dishonorable group do this day after day. My question is simple. Don’t you find these as elements of justifiable cause for principled unity and action in unison? I do. They actions by TPLF Inc. erode public confidence and trust in their government and its officials at any level and in any region.

On Yekatit 1, 2004 Ethiopian calendar, Shiferaw Shigute, President of Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples (SNNP), was accused of corruption and embezzlement. This is not surprising as such occurrences from urban and rural land sales and leases, permits and trade are routine. What is stunning is what he said. He admitted that he and Azeb, Meles Zenawi’s spouse and one of the wealthiest persons in Ethiopia today, colluded and stole millions of dollars in illegal trade of coffee, Ethiopia’s main export. Mispricing of coffee and illegal trafficking and trade in coffee and other commodities are among the major sources of illicit outflow. Meles Zenawi was forced to reverse the decision against Shiferaw. Family comes first; and not justice or the rule of law. The law and constitution are manipulated to serve an unjust and corrupt system.

In a similar vein, Mr. Omet Obang, Regional President, Gambella, was accused of ‘murders and massacres’ of his own people. He said, “If I go to jail for crimes against humanity, Meles Zenawi should to. It is he who gave me weapons and orders.” Obang did not go to jail and Meles remains in power. This is how the system works; and how corrupt it is.

Reports of endemic corruption and recurring illicit outflow of funds and other resources by UNDP, Transparency International and most prominently, GFI prompted global outrage and concern among donors and diplomats in Addis Ababa. The Ethiopian government was forced to hire an outside firm to conduct investigations of corruption. The country’s so-called Anti-Corruption Commission that has absolutely no teeth hired a Tanzanian firm, Kilimanjaro International, to investigate corruption, a cancer that has infected the entire system. The firm was financed by the World Bank and cost almost half a million dollars. The firm interviewed and surveyed 6,500 persons and institutions. To the dismay of TPLF Inc. officials but not to Ethiopian society, the investigation concluded five of 27 government institutions are the most corrupt across the entire country.

I should like the reader to remember that all state institutions cannot be alike. They play different roles. Some possess authority and power that allow them access to resources; and others not. Some have direct effect on the day to day lives of people and others do not. The five most corrupt institutions of government identified are the following:

1. Courts. In a country bound by laws and not political allegiance, courts adjudicate matters fairly, justly, impartially and with the highest level of integrity. The institutions that adjudicate the law and regulatory system are, themselves, soiled in corrupt practices. Officials have been reduced to rationalizing and defending a tainted system that cannot be saved without radical reform. Impartiality and justice are only dreams in Ethiopia today.

2. Police. In countries where institutions are de-politicized and de-ethnicized, public service and security are fundamental and observed by police. This is not the case in Ethiopia today. The police serve as instruments of harassment, intimidation and fear. They do what they are told regardless of innocence.

3. Customs. Licenses, import and export permits duties, trade transactions, fees and so on depend on ethnic and party affiliation. Thus, customs officials and their allies at the top have unlimited opportunities to game the system. It is who you know and who you ally with that matters most. No wonder that customs is one the most corrupt institutions in Ethiopia today.

4. Local and Regional Administration. Urban and rural lands, commodity marketing, the provision of services such as seeds and fertilizers are among the major sources of corruption and abuse of public trust. The SNNP and Gambella offer examples of massive collusion. Nothing worthwhile occurs without some insider deals in local and regional administration in Ethiopia today.

5. Municipalities. Does anyone know any urban place in the country where permits to acquire a piece of land, build something of value and licenses to operate something, to initiate a business and so does not require some form of bribe. This is why Freedom House and the Wall Street Journal concluded last year that the cost of doing business in Ethiopia is among the highest in the world today.

Are there institutions that are relatively free of corruption? Yes; they include Ethiopian Airlines, the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia, the National Bank of Ethiopia and the Postal service. I should caution that it is not easy to steal from an airline. Is it? It is not easy to steal from a commercial bank at least directly unless you rob it. By the way, the government robs banks by forcing them to lend to it. The National Bank has become a piggy bank that prints money and contributes to hyperinflation and the erosion of the Birr everywhere in the country. These relatively corruption-free institutions are not the real service interface between the government and its citizens. The five are. So, it really does not make sense to compare apples and oranges.

Given the mix of the survey, the Tanzanian outfit concludes wrongly that corruption is 78th in the hierarchy of national crisis. In my assessment, corruption that leads directly to illicit outflow is at the top of national crisis. Further, it is not sufficient to confine investigation on corruption to money and related concerns. Equally important is political corruption that has led and continues to lead to the rigging of elections. TPLF Inc. ‘won 99.6 percent’ of the votes in 2010 by barring others from competition; and purges. The ‘silent violence’ against dissidents, opposition political parties, civic organizations, teachers, students and others is a form of corruption.

The forced relocation of 1.5 million Ethiopians from their ancestral lands by 2015 is an abusive of authority and therefore a form of corruption. TPLF Inc. does not allow opponents to offer viable options; affected citizens have no say in the matter. Continued exodus of hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians from their country in search of alternatives abroad emanates from a corrupt and repressive system that does not allow them to prosper within their own homeland. More directly, corruption and illicit outflow of massive amounts of resources out of the country deprives communities, the society and the country the investment capital they need to expand productive capacity and capabilities: build quality schools, health facilities, safe drinking water, and access roads to rural communities, factories that produce fertilizers, basic consumer goods and so on. It is when the structure of the economy changes dramatically that hyperinflation can be contained Corruption and illicit outflow is therefore a tax on this and the coming generation. It is principally the system that produces and tolerates it.

Given the above, how and why would people trust the TPLF Inc. government, its officials and institutions that are corrupt and tolerate corruption; that lie to them that they are better off today than before it took power 21 years ago while compelling them to accept lies as truths; and that repress them while telling the world that these are done in the name of peace, national security, anti-terrorism and development? I am convinced that lies are an integral part of the ethos of TPLF Inc. and will not change until the entire system changes.

Governments with moral and ethical leadership change when they lose the confidence and trust of their citizens. TPLF Inc. and its civil servants seem to be both arrogant and oblivious or are in complete denial that they are unloved and unwanted. Berhanu Kifetew, the head of the Anti-corruption Commission confirmed this when he dismissed the modest findings and conclusions by the firm he helped hire. He said the study lacked “analytical and statistical depth.” This is a pattern. TPLF Inc. reached the same conclusion on killings and massacres following the 2005 elections; the same conclusions following the massacres in Gambella and the Ogaden.

The reader should never doubt that Ethiopia and the Ethiopian people are hurting big time from corruption and recurring illicit outflow of resources. The reader should not doubt that the beneficiaries of the system cannot possibly change the corrupt and repressive system that keeps them employed. The reader should not doubt for a second that corruption and illicit outflow undermine public trust and confidence in the government, its institutions and officials.

It is up to those—within and outside the country–who love the country and respect the hopes and aspirations of all of the Ethiopian people, to work in unison and to leave a legacy of peaceful transformation anchored in Ethiopia and owned by the Ethiopian people that future generations would recite and the world would admire.


TPLF Inc. and the ‘aid’ hurdle

Aklog Birara, PhD

“Men’s hearts ought not to set against one another, but set with one another and all against evil today.”

Thomas Carlyle

Ethiopia is, potentially, one of the richest countries in the world. This is the reason why it is at the center of what I call “farmland colonization by invitation.” The country’s vital natural resources: arable and irrigable lands, water basins, mines, industries and other pillars of the economy are being assumed by foreign firms in collusion with domestic persons and entities. All this is defended by TPLF Inc. as vital for the country’s rapid development and for the wellbeing of Ethiopians.

That Ethiopia and Ethiopians should not be poor is thus incontestable. Why? It has the requisite natural resources: ample arable farm and irrigable lands, one of the largest livestock in Africa, rivers, predictable rainfall, varied climate, minerals, strategic location and a huge and diverse population. Why Ethiopia remains among the least developed, poorest, hungriest and unhealthiest countries in Africa continues to baffle development experts of every variety, including new comers such as China and India. At US$3 billion plus last year, it is the largest aid recipient in Africa and among the largest in the world. Yet, 46 percent of Ethiopians want to immigrate and thousands do each month for unknown destinations. Human capital is the country’s largest export today. Per capita income is still US$350. The country continues to hemorrhage of its human capital, the worst in its history. Aid contributes to this condition.

Aid continues to grow as repression intensifies

Destitution, malnourishment, hunger, dispossession and displacement at a massive scale, hyperinflation estimated at 50 percent last year, 60-70 percent unemployment among youth in urban areas and at least 21 percent nationally, endemic corruption and massive illicit outflow estimated at US$3.26 billion in 2009 alone, have done absolutely nothing to deter the donor community from making the Meles regime a darling of its development assistance. This is done for a good reason: Ethiopia’s strategic location and the reliable interlocutor role that TPLF Inc. plays not only in Ethiopia but also in the Horn and the rest of Africa assures a semblance of peace and stability. Yet, people suffer each day because of a system that does not free them from destitution and flight.

There is thus symmetry of interests between foreign governments and firms on the one hand, and the interests of the governing party on the other. Given this symmetry, I find it legitimate to examine the thesis of whether or not the medium and long-term security and other strategic interests of the country and the current vital economic and social needs and demands of the vast majority of the Ethiopian people are being served or compromised either by the donor community or by the Ethiopian government or by both.

The aid business

Ana Gomes, Chief of party of the European Union’s Election Observer Team to Ethiopia in 2005, and one of the few staunchest Western supporters of free and fair elections in Ethiopia offered insight into the contradictions between the altruism of aid on the one hand and a blind eye to repression by the Ethiopian government on the other. “There is this industry or aid not only in the European Commission but in the different member countries, namely those who are the biggest aid donors to Ethiopia, like Britain (the second largest bilateral donor after the US), like Germany, who want the business to continue as usual because they have their own interests at stake.” This, in my own research and estimation, is the lead reason why aid continues to flow to the Ethiopian governing party despite worsening conditions in all areas: gross human rights violations, hyperinflation, high unemployment, income inequality, hunger, malnutrition, theft, embezzlement, growing corruption and massive illicit outflow of foreign exchange. This leads me to enumerate on the purpose of aid, a subject on which I feel competent to speak and write.

I ask your indulgence for a minute and forget or park the usual cultural traits of ‘what is new?’ Why is this priority? Forget the standard cynicism that is rampant among us. Overlook the dysfunctional behavior that this is not the current issue or crisis in Ethiopia. After all, I am not talking about illusive notions of freedom and liberties in a country where people are crying for basics such as food to eat and a decent place to live. Park the perennial thought of aligning my name with my ideas. Think of me as someone from planet Mars. Try to focus on the concepts here and see what I am trying to convey with regard to the convenient marriage of repressive governance and aid. Ignore for one minute your suspicion and mistrust of what anyone on earth says about aid and the miracle growth in Ethiopia. Instead, open your mind and learn its impact on the poor and on the few rich. Try to place yourself in a tukul or hut in Gambella, SNNP, Afar, and Beni-Shangul Gumuz, the Omo Valley or anywhere in the country where the poor live and work like their ancestors have done for thousands of years. Kindly reflect on their conditions. It is they who matter the most; and who should drive our thoughts and actions. For them, life is a constant struggle to survive. Aid has done little to nothing in removing the structural and policy hurdles that keep them in this status. Most Ethiopians are poorer today than they were a quarter of a century ago.

The altruistic side of development aid is to help people help themselves. It is to unleash local and national capabilities so that people and the country will not have to rely on aid in perpetuity. It certainly is not to contribute to repression, discrimination, inequality, corruption, a closed and monopolistic market or uneven development. In countries such as China, Indonesia, Korea, Vietnam and Brazil, aid played and still plays catalytic roles in lifting millions from destitution and poverty. It does this by empowering beneficiaries; not by keeping them captives. These countries are led by nationally committed leaders and institutions even if some manifest authoritarian rule and corruption. They try to level the playing field as much as possible. It is true that, in almost all cased, aid stimulates some growth. However, growth supported by the aid stimulus does not necessarily transform a poor country into a sustainable and equitable one. Why is this? It is principally because it is good and empowering governance that unleashes productivity. Poor and repressive governance conditions do not put country and beneficiaries in the driver’s seat. TPLF Inc. and the donor community do not make any effort to put the Ethiopian poor and the country in the driver’s seat.

From its offing, TPLF Inc. was determined to take control of the commanding heights of the Ethiopian economy in the name and on behalf of the Ethiopian people. It crafted a new democratic constitution and made a mockery of the rule of law. It tantalized ‘marginalized and oppressed nations, nationalities and peoples’ to side with it; TPLF Inc. being the policy and decision-maker as discussed in commentary eight. In the aid business, relations are rarely horizontal, namely, with local communities and with the population (beneficiaries) at large. Official development aid is discussed with and channeled through the central government regardless of repression and dispossession.

William Easterly, one of the most formidable critics of the aid business said: “Aid agencies do not even criticize specific tyrannical acts, although they might advocate ‘good governance’ and they wind up supporting bad governance with aid funds,” (the Whiteman’s Burden).

This statement is corroborated by numerous others. On August 5, 2011, BBC news-insight, in collaboration with Investigative Journalism, confirmed that “Ethiopian federal and regional governments control the distribution of (all) aid in Ethiopia.” In other words, localities and ordinary people have no say in how aid monies are used; by whom and for whom. The same report quotes Professor Beyene Petros, a member of the opposition, who says, “There is a great deal of political differentiation (discrimination)…The motive is buying support (for the governing party), that is how they recruit supporters, holding the population hostage.” This is the critical point to note. It is Ethiopian communities and the larger population that should be the ultimate beneficiaries from aid. They cannot demand government officials to account if they are held “hostage” by their own government. This is why they cannot question aid’s effectiveness. They cannot ask donors why aid–principally supposed to lift millions out of destitution and poverty—is used as an instrument of control or “hostage.”

Here is the explanation for this phenomenon that is unlike other countries. A government that is not accountable to the population has a better chance of deploying foreign aid as it wishes than a participatory or pluralist one. In a one party ethnic- elite state, the opportunity to divert billions is, thus, a given. There is no accountability to the public. There are no independent institutions to monitor graft, bribery or hush money; or to assess appropriate procurement of goods and services and so on. Institutions such as courts, police and customs, local and regional administrations, municipal authorities—all faces of the governing party—are infected with corrupt officials. They are part of the problem. For this reason, we cannot afford to be callous and unconcerned about the role of aid in Ethiopian society. We need to appreciate and respond to the immediate concerns of ordinary people before we can entertain the lofty ideals of freedom and liberty as important as these are long-term. What we need to look at and act on immediately are the sad impacts of “differentiated” or discriminatory allocation of resources by TPLF Inc. and its subordinates on ordinary citizens, especially the poor, the marginalized and dispossessed who have no voice or representation. It is Diaspora activists and opposition groups of all varieties who should advocate accountability in the use and abuse of aid. If they know the problem, they must act towards its resolution now. They cannot afford to wait once destruction, for example, forcible resettlement has taken place or once the environment has been destroyed irreversibly.

The diversion of funds or their misuse affects ordinary people in real ways each day. I suggest that this happens regardless of ethnicity or religion. The poor and hardworking women and women are the ones who need basic services such as safe drinking water, basic health services against communicable and preventable diseases, adequate food supplies at competitive prices, fertilizers, seeds, credits, farmlands, rural roads, education for their children and so on. These are the things aid is supposed to fund but is not and cannot. Why? Donors are hypocritical and incapable of asking the hard questions. It is because monies are channeled directly to the governing party. Aid is used for political rather than for social and economic development purposes. “Differentiated” or discriminatory treatment of Ethiopians on the basis of ethnic or party or other affiliation deters sustainability and undermines the fundamental principle of equitable development. The reader may ask, ‘so what?’ There is a cost in development. In the long run, “differentiation” or discrimination is destabilizing for the country. More and more people will be poorer and poorer. This is happening now in specific locations such as the Omo Valley, Gambella, and Ogaden, Oromia and SNNP and others.

Almost all development experts agree that there cannot be peace and stability in Ethiopia without fairness and equity. If you share this thesis, you would agree with me that development aid that does not unleash the productive potential of a broad spectrum of Ethiopians and places them on an equitable trajectory will not lead to sustainability. Instead, it will aggravate social and geopolitical imbalances and societal tensions.

Aid and imbalance

Uneven development and income inequality are, largely, a result of how the society is governed and how resources are used, misused and appropriated. In Ethiopia, the key agent of growth and development is the government. Increasingly, evidence shows that it determines who becomes rich or poor; who lives or dies; and who lives in the country and who immigrates. What the single party state decides affects the lives of ordinary people, communities, regions, and the country. What philosophical argument do the brains behind the single ethnic party state use to justify concentration of wealth and assets in a few hands? It is rapid development that will lead to Middle Income status in the next few years. This is done by barring opponents and civil society. “In Ethiopia today, it is argued, all civil society organizations, opposition political parties, individuals in private enterprise, and other groups are described (by TPLF Inc.) as rent-seeking, while in contrast, EPRDF (TPLF Inc. at the helm), the ruling party, is claimed to be the only one which has development credentials” (Dessalegn Rahmato, in Large-Scale Land Transfers in Ethiopia, AA, 2011).

Ethiopia is not financial capital rich; and relies heavily on aid and remittances to achieve development objectives of the state. Outside those who belong to the governing party and those who are avid allies– whether in the public or private sector– the rest of social, economic and political actors are suspect of “rent-seeking.” This is to say that they are after their narrow self-interest exploiting others; making profits and corrupting the system. According to TPLF Inc. these actors captured in the above quote have no legitimacy. They have no role in advancing themselves or in advancing their country’s development. If one extends this verdict of TPLF Inc., those outside the governing party are inimical to it; and are a deterrent to the advancement of communities, regions and to the country as whole. TPLF Inc. wishes this mantra for a sound self-serving reason. This notion provides the top leadership of TPLF Inc. the developmental rationale that all authority in the country is and should be vested in it. A political, social, leadership and organizational vacuum serves TPLF Inc. best. This is why opponents cannot afford to delay cooperation, collaboration and solidarity.

Why the rest are restricted or banned

In the absence of independent civil society organizations (banned), opposition parties (either banned or heavily restricted), free and independent press (banned), nationally oriented private sector (restricted and crowded out by party and endowed enterprises and favored individuals), and patriotic individuals (encouraged to leave the country in droves), the political, social, economic and diplomatic space is void of competition. It is real political, social and economic competition that TPLF Inc. hates most. Opponents ought to grasp the reality that the strategy for continued restrictions in the political, social and economic space is to achieve and maintain two key objectives: to ensure that political power is not shared broadly; and to make certain that the governing party and its allies have complete control over the commanding heights of the national economy, aid and other sources of funding. This is the reason why the rest of us cannot afford the luxury of fighting one another.

Despite the above condition that vests authority, power and wealth in a hegemonic single ethnic-party state, we continue to fight one another at huge costs for the poor who are getting poorer, ordinary Ethiopians who suffer from hyperinflation and the country we love that is caught in a vicious cycle of dependency on foreign aid. The struggle “ought not to be against one another.” Rather, it should be against an ugly and “evil” system that spreads its tentacles everywhere; and causes the dispossession and disempowerment of the majority by pitying people at home and us against one another. It is sad but true; donors and the diplomatic community understand this. However, they are unable and unwilling to change their programs anytime soon. It is those who want a better future for the Ethiopian people who must create solidarity among one another and with those who struggle for justice at home.

Whatever the volume, aid can serve the Ethiopian people as a catalyst in raising productive capabilities of the Ethiopian people only if and when it is completely depoliticized. I do not believe that TPLF Inc. will depoliticize aid or land tenure or other forms of the economy or political system on its own. It is not in its interest to change structure and policy. What then? It is when Ethiopian political and social elites set aside minor differences for the sake of the greater good, cooperate with one another, speak with one voice, and demand accountability from the governing party that donors and the diplomatic community would begin to listen and to change. If the donor and diplomatic community would heed to anyone, it would have heeded to the devastating report by Human Rights Watch (HRW): Development without Freedom.

In its seminal report, HRW reported that “development aid flows through, and directly supports a virtual one-party state with a deplorable human rights record. Government practices include jailing and silencing critics and media, enacting laws to undermine human rights activity, and hobbling (stomping out) the political opposition.” Where and how does aid feature in all of these? HRW gives aid prominence to the undermining of potential beneficiaries, especially the rural poor who constitute the majority. There is no sustainable or equitable development without the majority. “The government has used donor supported programs (the Safety net initiated by the World Bank when I served there), salaries and training opportunities as political weapons to control the population (making it “hostage”), punish dissent, and undermine opponents—both real and perceived.” Forget sophisticated urban elites and focus on the rural poor who punished if they do not support TPLF Inc. How does it do it?

TPLF Inc. and its agents and allies in rural areas deny “access to seeds, fertilizers, farmlands, credit and food aid.” It restricts these and other inputs and privileges to those who support the governing party. This politicization of the aid industry or business sends “a potent message that basic survival (in Ethiopia today) depends on political loyalty to the state (the only legitimate development agent) and the ruling party (the sole authority that rules through an iron-fist).” It sends shivers and fears through the entire system and justifies corruption that the top leadership of TPLF Inc. says is anathema to sustainable and equitable development. Deeds speak louder than words. TPLF Inc. cannot escape the verifiable truth that it is not opponents who are “rent seeking” and corrupt. They are not in power and cannot be held accountable. Instead, it is those who wield political power, control the national economy and enrich themselves, their families, relatives, friends, ethnic elites and party and endowments who are accountable for the abysmal situation Ethiopia and Ethiopians face today.

Commentary ten will examine the nexus among three variables: aid, TPLF Inc. governance and corruption. 2/28/2012

TPLF Inc. institutionalization of ethnicity, party and state

TPLF Inc. institutionalization of ethnicity, party and state and the undoing of shared power and resources – Commentary 7

By Aklog Birara, PhD

The pursuit of justice and political pluralism in Ethiopia has been severely compromised deliberately and systematically by the architects of an ethnic polity that is doing irreparable damages to all Ethiopians. Some see merit in the current system and suggest that ‘oppressed nationalities’ are better off today than they were under previous regimes. Let us ignore the bigger picture of no ‘shared power or shared resources’ in the management of this new polity. Instead, let us relate governance to ordinary Ethiopians regardless of their ethnic, religious or demographic affiliation. I will illustrate this by providing socioeconomic examples.

Ninety percent of Ethiopians earn less than the worldwide threshold of US$1.25 per day. More than 60 percent earn less than US$1 a day. Imagine surviving on such income yourself. Last year, the cost of food rose by 50 percent. An Afar, Somali, Anuak, Oromo or other mother outside the privileged ethnic elites who benefit from the system has a higher chance of dying from lack of basic maternal care, along with her baby in one of the “unhealthiest countries in the world.” If the baby survives, her or his chance of growing stunted or of becoming an orphan is among the highest in the world. There are 7 million orphans in Ethiopia today. Children and girls are among the largest exports in the country. If a child reaches the age of maturity (18), her or his chances of attending school are lower than in next door Kenya. If, by some miracle, she/he attends high school or even college, the chance of finding a job that pays a livable wage are increasingly nil.

On the other hand, the chance of immigrating and facing the prospect of death on the way or humiliation abroad are among the highest in the world. The Gallop Poll found that 46 percent of Ethiopians, mostly the educated, want to leave the country. This is the lead reason why I have consistently suggested that growth that does not offer equitable access to opportunities does not reduce overall poverty. TPLF incorporated (TPLF Inc.) would care less whether the affected individual is Afar, Somali, Amhara, Oromo, Anuak or Tigrean. Why should it? The less people who demand public services and or freedom, the better it is for the regime. The less domestic competition there is the better for few who make money. TPLF INC is especially inimical to national oriented individuals and institutions. Reflect for a single minute why the country is void of nationalists, patriots and civic minded folks and institutions.

What is surprising to fair minded observers—whether Ethiopian or foreign—is that the condition of running a multiethnic nation as a business is not fully grasped or appreciated even by those who say they oppose it. This wishy-washy tendency is among the lead contributors to the disarray. Some have the audacity to accept ‘crumbs’ as democratic outcomes and neglect the vast majority who live in abject poverty and destitution. They ignore the notion that democratic outcomes mean shared power and shared resources. It certainly is not accepting second class status in one’s own region and country.

One can’t help but appreciate those who were part of the regime; reject it; and join the opposition camp. They know more about the intrigues of TPLF Inc. than we do. It is time that we let go of their past, invite and encourage them to join the democratization process. Evidence from and testimonies offered by these former supporters and participants in the establishment of ethnic federalism– the geopolitical manifestation of ethnic polity– show that the Ethiopian Prime Minister and his close allies are leading the entire society into the abyss. In this abyss, no current or future generation is likely to be spared. Sad but true, for Tigreans, the collateral damage that emanates from this system of exclusion is huge. Those who left it know this very well and can help in dismantling it. They know that, unless change takes place soon, Tigreans will incur long-term damages without necessarily receiving a substantial share of the proceeds from minority ethnic elite political and economic capture. Some in the Diaspora who visit the glitz in the country return with the false impression that things are better for the vast majority of the population. They equate glitz with wellbeing for 90 percent of the population. They fail to recognize that, at US$350, per capita income is among the lowest in Africa. Having left the country in search of opportunities abroad, they detach themselves from the bigger and troublesome realities in which most live.

TPLF Inc. offers critical officials, including generals, urban lands and accesses to loans to own and build mansions and buildings in prime locations that cost between 45 and 90 million birr. Diaspora visitors fail to ask how it is possible for a general on an Ethiopian salary to build multimillion birr physical assets in one of the poorest countries in the world.

An ordinary Tigrean does not live in a decent home let alone in a palatial or mansion like edifice in Mekele or Bole in Addis Ababa. So, we cannot afford to be categorical in chastising the Tigrean population for the misdeeds of TPLF Inc. We need to make clearer distinctions between those who rule and exploit or plunder the country and the rest. By the same token, we cannot afford to assume that every Oromo supports the OLF and that most Oromo support secession. The vast majority of the Oromo population suffers from the same systemic barriers as the rest. This condition creates resentment against the system. This does not, however, mean that most Oromo or Tigrean support secession. Oromo and Tigrean and others have sacrificed as much as anyone in defending and preserving Ethiopia. It is equally wrong to assume that every Somali supports the Somali National Liberation Front. These categorical notions and beliefs are what TPLF Inc. wishes us to buy in the market place of propaganda. If we wish freedom for all Ethiopians, we cannot afford to be trapped in this cycle of categorical condemnation of others and misdeeds of the past. What matters most is the future.

Who wants national unity and the sovereignty of the Ethiopian people?

This question leads me to one general observation that some present in a recurrent fashion as if the people on whose behalf they talk—without the benefit of being elected–do not know what they want. Active and sustained support of Ethiopia’s national independence, territorial integrity and unity and sovereignty that embraces the diversity of the population is national hopes and aspirations. These do not belong to the so-called ‘unity crowd.’ Such narrow and self-serving attribution serves TPLF Inc. and narrow ethnic elite outlooks. Indirect or direct reference to the so-called ‘unity crowd’ is another way of confining identification narrowly to a group rather than to the entire society. It is a reinforcement of the current ethnic federal system that discourages communication and interaction among the country’s diverse population. Who benefits from such an arrangement? It is elites and not the people they contend to represent. Trade, employment, investment and knowledge sharing are restrained heavily by this narrow definition of the ‘unity crowd’ theme. TPLF Inc. reinforces such an insular and isolated life at the cost of millions of Ethiopians. Those who echo the same are essentially saying the same thing: live in isolation from one another. Restricted economic and social activity on the basis of ethnic identity deters the natural flow of knowledge, best practices, experience and markets. It deters innovation and change and counters the global trend toward social, economic and market integration.

One unintended consequence that those who demean the ‘unity crowd’ advocate is that isolated ethnic communities are more vulnerable to manipulation by domestic elites and globalization than nationally oriented societies. As such, the argument is not so much one group advancing ‘unity’ for its own sake and another protecting ethnic turf. Instead, it is advancing the noble causes of shared power and shared resources that can only occur when Ethiopians have the freedom to choose their representatives in a free and fair electoral process; and when their government becomes accountable to them and not to narrow ethnic elites. Those who adhere to the notion of national unity as if this concept is embedded narrowly in one or two ethnic groups (the ‘unity crowd’) fail to realize that unity in a multiethnic and multi-religion country such Ethiopia is a national and not an ethnic concept at all. This is especially the case in this century. How else does one justify the European Union or the illusive African Union? National unity is a matter of economic and political survival.

TPLF Inc. has gotten away with murder so far by institutionalizing the irreconcilability of ethnic groups and by categorizing all Amharic speakers as ‘oppressors.’ It inherited these traditions of categorical accusation and demeaning from the EPLF and foreign powers inimical to Ethiopia and the Ethiopian people as a whole. The division within the Worldwide Ethiopian Student Movement in the 1960s and 1970s; and later on, the ensuing onslaught against nationally oriented and highly competent Ethiopians, was part of the strategy to undo Ethiopia forever. In large part, this strategy succeeded. It is not so much because of the brilliance of EPLF intellectuals that it did. It is because of the gullibility of many Ethiopian intellectuals who wanted change and listened to anyone without assessing motives and calculating possible outcomes.

The country lost its access to the sea and is now losing the pillars of its economy. In large measure; and whether recognized or not; this gullible generation helped to create a submissive and subservient political culture. The emergence the EPLF and the TPLF Inc. is part of this gullible generation. Foreigners inimical to Ethiopia and the Ethiopian people have a knack at recruiting, funding and arming Ethiopians against one another. Who pays the price ultimately? It is the country and its people. Why else would we leave our country and immigrate to all corners of the world; and then go back to our country as tourists?

The ethnic-based ruling elite continue to use its ethnic base as a shield. This shield is, however, subject to the same s scrutiny of loyalty as the rest. The Tigray regional state (Kilil) serves as the laboratory of repression and oppression of not only the region itself but the rest of the country. The ethnic elite reconfigure lands and politicize use and ownership thereby creating unnecessary animosity among Ethiopians. The good news is that, an increasing number of Tigreans, Oromo and others reject this system. Someone said, “You can fool the people some of the time; but you cannot fool the people all of the time.” The denial of freedom in the rest of the country is the same as denial of freedom in Tigray, Afar, Gambella, Amhara, Somali and Oromia and so on. Folks, I suggest that we are in this mess together. The only way out is to close ranks and cooperate and not cope out. It is time that Amhara, Oromo, Tigre, Anuak, Somali and the rest appreciate the notion that they are going to the abyss together. No one will be free from repression and oppression unless all Ethiopians are free. TPLF Inc. is fickle for a street smart reason: survival. Like a chameleon, it changes the composition of the leadership at the top and below on the basis of perceived threats and renewed or new loyalty required. This is the reason for the recent assessment (gimigema) and change of guards to protect the Prime Minister.

Increasingly, what seems to matter most for the top leadership is sheer survival against growing public resentment that the regime may not contain in the event of countrywide uprisings? This resentment is not bound by ethnic or religious affiliation. Those who wish to see an inclusive, just and pluralist Ethiopia must distinguish the trees from the forest and reach out to one another. I suggest that the personification of political leadership in a single figure or person is the weakest link of the present system that opponents can exploit now. If fear permeates this oppressive system, opponents have every reason to consider that their own fear is not warranted. They must appreciate the notion that, at minimum, fear is as pervasive within this system as it is outside. This is why generals and spies are rewarded like CEOs. What for? To protect the merged ethnic, party and state for which they their loyalty has been thoroughly vetted and assured.

The good news is that fear outside the system is imposed; it is neither natural nor part of the Ethiopian tradition. There is power in numbers that civil resistance has yet to exploit. The outside world consists of the vast majority who reject the system. The sheer power of numbers makes fear conquerable and manageable. For this to happen, we all need to create and sustain a unity of purpose; and work on the ability to mediate and reconcile minor differences among political and civic dissidents. Opponents need to accept the possibility that narrow and personalized ethnic leadership is the Achilles Heel that is embedded in authoritarian and personalized leadership. It is this weak link that will unravel the regime. This weak link treats the entire country and its people as tradable commodities. For example, TPLF Inc. is Africa’s champion of land grab for which all ethnic groups are paying a huge price. Ethiopians are losing power, voice and a sense of citizenship in their own regions and country.

To those who find merit in Ethiopia’s ethnic polity, I have tried to show that the benefits are confined to elites. Where then is the benefit gained if the real economy is being assumed by foreign firms from India, Pakistan, the Gulf states, China and others and a selected few ethnic elites? This national onslaught must be countered fast through mobilization and consolidation of the opposition camp within the country and abroad now. The opposition camp must be courageous enough to turn the page around such that fear belongs to its rightful place: TPLF Inc.

Fear belongs to those who oppress and plunder

The fear culture that the ethnic governing elite spent hundreds of millions of dollars to implant and institutionalize is a consequence of fear itself: fear of history; of the Ethiopian public; and fear to innovate and change for the better. Let us take one example. The system of ethnicization of the security, police and defense establishment through economic and financial incentives—urban lands and borrowed financing of huge buildings in Bole, Addis Ababa, appointments to Boards and as heads of corporations– is part of the art staying in power. Fear has produced generals who live in multimillion birr homes and in the most exclusive neighborhoods in every large city in the country. A government that is not afraid of its own shadows does not bribe its generals. It has no one to fear.

The party owns the defense establishment

You buy the defense and security leadership to your side by bribing it; and by providing it economic and financial incentives because of fear. Here is a weakness that the opposition can and should exploit. Suppose TPLF Inc. declares war against Eritrea or is provoked to do so. The opposition cannot wait to educate ordinary soldiers who hail from every nationality groups. Ordinary soldiers and other low level personnel are not part of the financial and economic benefit deal and empire. Why not educate these thousands of police, soldiers and others who are not major beneficiaries that they are protecting a corrupt and deadly system that uses and abuses them? Why not inform them that the biggest beneficiaries of the current system are ethnic generals who are owners of huge assets, including buildings paid for at public expense.

This can only be done if the opposition is smart enough to set aside differences and focus on all of the Ethiopian people and on the country instead of itself. Cooperation is no longer a choice; it is a necessity.

The merged state needs material resources to sustain it

Political capture does not occur in a vacuum. State owned or run entities such as telecommunications serve the ruling-party and prevent the entire society from harnessing the information revolution. Genuine domestic private sector competition is not allowed. In the absence of structural changes, increased productivity and competition, it is inevitable that prices will continue to rise. When this happens, it all Ethiopians who suffer; hyperinflation does not discriminate. Ethiopia is being left behind other African countries in the use of mobile phones, the Internet and other modern communications tools. Last year, I visited Kenya to learn these contrasts in the use of telecommunications, mobile phones and Internet services that boost capabilities and express freedom of choice.

In Kenya, stiff competition is everywhere. There are more than 20 Internet firms that give citizens a level of access denied to Ethiopians. Young Kenyans told me that they use mobile phones and the Internet to critique and converse on such matters as the constitutional referendum. Contrast this with Ethiopia and see what TPLF Inc. is doing to the entire society. It suffocates freedom and undermines economic and social vitality and creativity. Any criticism of the Ethiopian constitution will land a person in jail. Kenya boasts the most advanced mobile money and other financial transfer system in the world. Wide spread use of the Internet and mobile phones have begun to change the social fabric of Kenyan society, blurring distinctions between urban and rural, youth and old, women and men, rich and poor. This technology is breaking ethnic barriers.

Many young Kenyans are highly critical of their government and its leaders. They want a future that will unleash the productive capabilities and potential of the entire society. Young people are not waiting for the government to solve socioeconomic and political problems. They are actively engaged in defining problems, searching for answers and setting-up enterprises. A free press allows them to express their views without fear. While one cannot conclude from a short visit that Kenya is on the way to Middle Income status by 2030–a national goal–optimism among youth and information technology suggest that this may be reachable. In terms of the information revolution and a vibrant press, Kenya is more like emerging countries in South Asia than its northern neighbors.

TPLF Inc. does exactly the opposite of Kenya, Ghana and others in Africa. Ethnic and region-based corporations and non-governmental agencies owe their legitimacy and assets to Federal Government budgetary transfers, contractual deals and easier accesses to the banking system, including the National Bank. This is why Ethiopian domestic banks are on the verge of collapse and are debt ridden to the tune of 60 billion birr and growing. So-called endowments firms play developmental roles. They exert monopolistic practices and crowd out opportunities for other Ethiopians. The banking system serves as piggy bank for the party. What makes Ethiopian ethnocratic governance unique and without parallel is the fact that an ethnic-based minority party (TPLF Inc.) has assumed legitimacy and total dominance in both the political state and the economy within a short period of 21 years.

The party, state and ethnic-based political, legal, judicial, economic and financial processes appear to be totally linked in a web that serves the ruling-party’s goals and interests. This is why I call it TPLF Inc. The definition of ethnocratic governance offered in previous commentaries has been augmented and validated by this merger that is total and absolute. The clash between national social and political groups on the one hand and the ethnic-based ruling-party on the other reflects tensions arising from this unacceptable concentration of political power and economic and financial wealth in a single ethnic-based elite. Given this, it is virtually impossible to expect shared power and shared resources any time soon.

Morally indefensible

This concentration is indefensible morally and in terms of socioeconomic development. It is detrimental to the notion of reducing and eventually eliminating broad-based poverty and in creating a vibrant and competitive national economy augmented by a strong domestic private sector. Growth that is not based on popular and equitable participation by the vast majority is likely to aggravate the already dangerous income and social inequality apparent everywhere in the country. By definition, ethnocratic governance cannot and will not be representative of the economic, financial, social, cultural and political interests of all constituents. It is narrowly, ideologically and ethnically based rather than societal-based. It cannot be democratic and equitable. The concept is exclusionary and founded on the premise of irreconcilability. Revolutionary Democracy (RD) is both class and ethnicity-based. Those who find some merit in this arrangement miss the bigger picture, namely, the meaning of shared power and equitable access to economic and social opportunities that lead to shared resources and shared prosperity long-term. Anything less understates the hopes and aspirations of Ethiopians as people regardless of ethnic, religious and demographic affiliation.

Commentary eight will examine how the TPLF Inc. formula undermines public trust and disempowers the vast majority of Ethiopians.

The hazards of merging party, state and ethnicity

By Aklog Birara, PhD

“The promises of ethnic-federalism were short-lived, and soon betrayed TPLF/EPRDF’s “divide and rule” strategy aiming at securing Tigreans’ political supremacy resulting notably in a pro-Tigrean public good allocation due to an excessive financial dependence of the federal regions on the central government”.

See, Y. Ghazi. Autonomy and Ethnicity: negotiating competing claims in a multi-ethnic state and M.A. Valfort, Ethical Altruism in a multi-ethnic developing country.

The hottest conversation in Ethiopia today is land: who owns it; and who does not? Who prospers from it and who becomes destitute? Who will have power and who will remain dependent? Who will have power and who will remain powerless and voiceless? In the realm of political economy, no public policy issue is more telling about {www:governance} than the land question for which hundreds and perhaps, millions of Ethiopians had sacrificed their lives. It was the most important driver of the 1974 popular revolution.

The right to own a piece of land in one’s own homeland — within the boundaries of the law–that can be developed, sold, exchanged, {www:collateralized} and passed on to children and so on is a fundamental human right. It gives meaning to citizenship and freedom. Its alienation undermines many rights, including the fundamental right to own private property that occupies physical space. Whatever its size or shape and whatever investment has been made on this physical space to improve it, alienating the roof and walls (the investment) from the physical space is an abrogation of public trust.

Contrast the land proclamation of the Socialist regime, 47/67 and the TPLF/EPRDF 721/2004 and examine the distinctions. The former erased tenancy. The later reinstates it big time. The former legalizes private ownership of a piece of urban land up 500 cm of physical space and ensures that the owner can develop, collateralize, sell, exchange and pass on the property to heirs. At minimum, Ethiopians felt that they had a stake in their natural resources: they had a home that they could call their own. In contrast, the TPLF/EPRDF transfers and legitimizes absolute ownership of urban lands by the ethnic-minority party. Under the former, a young Ethiopian would aspire to save, borrow and build a home of her or his own. Under the new law, this hope is dashed forever unless it is reversed or put for a referendum so that the Ethiopian people can make an informed decision.

The TPLF/EPRDF argues that it is translating the law so that there is standardization. Here is my question. Who is the standardization for and why? What is the social and economic motive behind a draconian law that does not make the Ethiopian people central to the development process? This leads me to the meaning of lease. By any definition, lease means rent. If there is rent; there must be a land lord that rents it. It means that the government is now {www:de facto} the new land lord that the Ethiopian people rejected in 1974. Below are the direct implications of the new proclamation however it is sugar coated:

a) The Ethiopian public is left out of the debate and the discussion.
b) The TPLF/EPRDF assumes all legal and economic responsibilities for the disposition of all lands in the country: values, market rates and decisions as to who can do what on land anywhere in the country.
c) The government decides how many houses, buildings; condos and so on can be built in the country. Only those in power, with connections can and will own real property. The regulatory environment will not be friendly or conducive for young people to own real property unless they belong to the selected club of new land lords. The cost of leased land will skyrocket to the point of making it virtually impossible to attain one’s dream. This will also be true for most of the hard working Diaspora that has no political connection to the TPLF. A home cannot be built in the air?
d) In light of the above, there is a direct connection between the alienation of ordinary Ethiopians from urban land ownership and violation of fundamental human and economic rights.
e) The new lease policy and massive land giveaways to foreign firms such as Karuturi and Saudi Star and Tigrean elites are directly interrelated. They emanate from the same ethnic political and social system.
The new urban land lease policy and rural land giveaways are intended to prolong the life of the regime and to make a selected few richer and power powerful. The consequences are potentially devastating. I will cite a few:

a) Ordinary Ethiopians are increasingly forced to be more dependent, more vulnerable and more subservient to the governing party than ever before.
b) Fundamental freedoms, a sense of justice and equity and a sense of belonging and citizenship are severely undermined.
c) The Ethiopian family, a key foundation of the society is degraded.
d) Private ownership of a home, an aspiration of all Ethiopians, especially those with education, will be less tenable.
e) Alienating Ethiopians from their homes erodes patriotism and a sense of belonging to the country; and is thus a security risk.
f) Ethiopian sense of citizenship is potentially eroded.

Unless the new proclamation is reversed and a serious study on urban and rural land initiated and offered to the Ethiopian people for discussion and consideration, large numbers of Ethiopians will be disenfranchised.

The further politicization of urban and rural lands for the benefit of the governing party and its domestic and foreign supporters is most likely to lead to public outrage that the governing party can only try to contain by force. It is hard for me to imagine that any party or any government anywhere in the world can claim that it can contain the anger and {www:disenfranchisement} of millions of citizens through the use of force. The TPLF generals and other high officials who build multimillion dollar homes in Bole or in Mekele or anywhere cannot hide from public scrutiny. The ordinary soldiers they command will never be in the same privileged position as the generals whose primary responsibility is to defend the country from external enemies and not to be part of a corrupt and repressive system that denies the Ethiopian people fundamental rights and freedoms. How long can such a system last?

Abrogation of fairness, justice and equitable access to the benefits of natural resources including urban and rural lands leads me to persistent and recurring violations of fundamental human rights by the TPLF/EPRDF. One needs to look at all violations in tandem. In its January 4, 2010 report on human rights, civil liberties and democratic freedoms in Ethiopia, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) identified a menu of policy issues and made 99 recommendations on human rights, civil liberties, the rights of children and women, gender equality, economic injustice, reduction in child and maternal mortality rates, hunger and malnutrition, the rights of marginalized communities, including minorities, the role of human rights organizations, poverty reduction, economic and social inclusion, political pluralism and competition, fair and equitable representation in decision- making, de-ethnicization of the political process and greater national integration to the Ethiopian government. A number of representatives emphasized the need for national integration, with a representative from an African country posing a query to the Ethiopian delegation to explain the “notion of nations, nationalities and peoples” contained in the Ethiopian constitution. Proclamation 721/2004 presents the law in the name of “nations, nationalities and peoples,” the façade of democracy. While the Ethiopian government acknowledged addressing many of the recommendations, there were 32 on which it disagreed. Top officials of the ruling-party are that much obstinate and rigid. The same attitude will prevail with regard to the new urban land lease.

One is struck and dismayed by the fact that officials rejected the most critical recommendations: elimination and de-politicization of ethnicity and a move toward socioeconomic and political inclusion, {www:multiracialism}, greater national integration and increased emphasis on national-oriented political parties and organizations that will give greater weight to the voices and rights of the Ethiopian people. The reluctance on the part of the Ethiopian government to de-politicize the political process and move from the fracturing, divisions, polarization and inequities associated with ethnic-governance and ethnic-federalism make the other agreements meaningless. The government cherry-picks only non-controversial and non-contested recommendations in order to appease the international community; and rejects substantial policy recommendations. It rarely chooses options that will make substantial difference to the Ethiopian people and the country in the short, medium and long-term. This cherry-picking in political culture has the ultimate effect of prolonging hard-core political, structural and policy issues that will keep the society in a constant state of friction and suspense. The new land lease does the same thing.

The setting-up of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) led by the ruling-party did not change the fundamentals facing the country. It is an appeasement strategy that downplays the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation which puts the burden of proof on the accused; and the civil society proclamation passed in January, 2009, characterized as one of the most “draconian” in the world. The implementation plan of the new urban land proclamation will end up the same. There will not be substantial changes that will, for example, grandfather those whose ownership rights were recognized under 47/67 (Dergue).

People talk about the constitutional provisions that protect land and other natural resource ownership by the government on behalf of the Ethiopian people. This is a paper exercise only. In reality, the single party state that has practically merged ethnicity, party and state functions as the sole owner of natural resources. It has assumed the meaning of “people.” Writing a law is not the same as implementing it. The governing party is the judge and jury: what is says goes. Look at provisions on human rights and the opposite actions in real life. Conceptually, one-third of the Ethiopian constitution is dedicated to civil liberties, human and democratic rights, social and economic justice and gender equality. These are all symbolic to appease public opinion. They have not been put into practice. The governing party introduced a constitution with promising features and has ignored to implement the core of its human and civil rights provisions. The EHRC has ended up serving the ruling-party than civil society. This is among the reasons why merger of party, state and ethnicity becomes most dangerous and the lead reason why political pluralism is critical. Dissent and political competition will challenge both a narrower power base and the possibilities of extracting or “raping the national economy and transferring the proceeds” to party-owned and endowed enterprises that the ruling-party believes belong to those that contribute to the so-called developmental state that the Prime Minister created. Political and economic competition and political pluralism pose a risk to this narrow power base to the economic monopoly which it supports and perpetuates. Depending on contestants, competitive elections are more likely to offer voters newer and better options. Economic competition would boost domestic competition and offer youth alternatives they desperately needs. It is in the absence of political competition and a strong civil society that the new urban land lease and rural land giveaways are taking place.

With better political and policy alternatives, citizens may have improved access to public goods and services such as education, health, shelter, sanitation, safe drinking water, tools, credits, markets, Internet, infrastructure and information. Without access to these and other public goods, the struggle to escape the poverty trap will be much harder to overcome and will take longer. For youth, access to education, training and employment and a home, is fundamental in order to improve their lives. For business women and men, access to urban lands, credits, information, licenses and permits to set up new enterprises, security to land to set-up a business or to expand an existing one, raw materials, and network of domestic and international markets are critical as is access to information. Effective merger of party, state and ethnicity (hereafter referred to as merger) has substantial adverse impacts in both the political and economic arenas. Merger allows a single minority ethnic party to issue a new urban land policy that, potentially, disenfranchises most Ethiopians from urban lands; as it has done all of the rural poor from security to farmlands.

Merger restrains free accesses to the social, economic and political processes in the country. Regardless of the endeavor, merger shuts or at least restricts citizens from opportunities and fulfilling their potential. Merger restricts mobility. Lack of opportunity for anyone or group would mean life trapped in endemic poverty, lower productivity, incomes and employment opportunities. For skilled and semi-skilled Ethiopians, it means leaving the country.

When merger deters political pluralism and a level playing field for all, it limits chances to improve political and social conditions that enhance freedom and capability. It arrests freedom and fair economic competition. Narrow interests tend to be single party-oriented and monopolistic. If and, when merger allows and reinforces single party rule and nepotism, favoritism, cronyism, and corruption at the cost of government impartiality, it becomes a burden for the entire society. It is an oppressor rather than a facilitator or enhancer of socioeconomic and political inclusion and fair play. Merger means minority ethnic single party rule and rewards for some and penalization for others. People lose confidence, give up hope and resign to a condition that things will not change no matter how hard they try. One must have grasped the inevitability that ethno-nationalism, minority ethnic-based political governance and ethnic-federalism perform best for the few as long as the society is devoid of institution-based separation of powers or checks and balances. At the political and economic levels the merger has had the adverse effect of government favoritism and lack of impartiality that erode the social fabric. The phenomenon puts in question the federal state’s credibility to play an impartial role in inducing social change equality. I suggest that it cannot.

The TPLF/EPRDF initiated political architecture of Revolutionary Democracy (RD) and ethnic-federalism has outlived their initial utility value. Initially designed to offer a political alternative to oppressed nations, nationalities and people (s) as defined by its architects, it has nether improved social or economic conditions. The ideology itself does not offer much insight into the creative genius of its founding fathers as the tenets were borrowed from Marxist ideology: the right of nations to self-determination, including secession incorporated into article 39 of the Federal Constitution. Equally, the values and principles that govern Revolutionary Democracy are residues of leftist ideology with limited relevance to the demands of the 21st century and building a modern multiethnic and unified national state. In order to accelerate growth and development, a multiethnic country requires greater social and economic integration, while allowing local autonomy. The current government has failed to act as legislator and regulator because it is a business owner (monopoly) which has lost moral claim to serve the common good.

The principal reason for the TPLF/EPRDF divide and rule strategy is its commitment to dominate national economic, financial and land resources by disadvantaging competitors. What appears to be theatrics fueling and feeding into the fears of Ethiopia’s diverse population, including members of the ethnic-minority led party and government, will be best understood if one delves deep into the financial, economic and social gains made by the ruling-party’s core: owners of its party affiliated enterprises and endowments and its ethnic-base. Grants of massive lands and accessed to loans and credits to generals so that they become owners and defenders of the party empire and longevity. Evidence shows that the single party state no longer serves the democratic rights and aspirations of the oppressed in the Afar, Gambella, Ogaden, Oromia and other regions. I am doubtful that it serves the poor of the Tigray region except psychologically. It does, however, offer more opportunities to Tigreans in all segments than to any other ethnic group in the country. It is certain that the ruling-party serves and protects narrow interests of an emerging, wealthy, exclusivist and largely ethnic-based capitalist class that is benefiting from the largesse of an authoritarian federal state. Marxist principles have now been substituted through pursuit of financial, economic and other material wealth. Asset accumulation is the new vogue. The top leadership that claimed moral justification to its power is now morally bankrupt: it is the most corrupt and exclusionary elite in the country’s history.

Dominating urban land is part of the strategy to dominate

In more than two decades, the pendulum has swung and singularly focused from consolidating political power to exercising hegemony over the banking, financial, infrastructural and natural resources of the entire country. Thus far, financial and economic gains by discouraging, pressuring, taxing delegitimizing potential competitors replicates the concept and practice of what is commonly called by experts as a zero-sum game. This is exercised by minority business, intelligence, military and bureaucratic ethnic- elite: the biggest beneficiaries. Some call this political elite capture. In Ethiopia, this political capture has now firmly established economic and financial capture at unprecedented levels.

The ‘you have no place here’ economy

Simply put, in order for a political elite to financial and economic gains from the public good, another or others must lose and must be excluded. Given finite financial, economic, land and other resources, command and control over such scarce goods are indispensable for sourcing wealth and creating assets–manufacturing, trade, land, infrastructural and social service sector enterprises as well as homes, buildings and lands. Merger of party, state and ethnicity strengthens the ability and capacity to possess the means to effect command and control over the commanding heights of the economy.

Changing the law and dictating proclamations that give legal legitimacy to single party command and control is part of the strategy. The fewer competitors there are the better for the party and its business allies and beneficiaries. The institutions of the state become instrumental in providing political legitimacy in merging entirely the party, state and ethnicity and blurring any distinctions between the merged state and endowments; and the commanding heights of the national economy. Any potential or money making asset including girls and babies are tradable commodity. This is the reason why urban land is so lucrative. Greater urbanization and specialization in the economy, makes land a source of both political power and greater wealth. In light of this, the governing elite push competitors out through a variety of instruments, including new laws and regulations.

Merger suffocates and stifles the emergence of a domestic (national) private sector

In order to understand the reason why there is a preponderance of party-owned and endowed enterprises that prove to be deterrents of equitable and rapid development, one needs to examine the nexus between the constitution, national resource acquisition and expropriation, allocation and asset accumulation for the privileged minority ethnic elite. The ruling-party manipulates the constitution, laws, regulations to influence policies and practices in accordance with its vision and goals. Suffocation of the Ethiopian private sector is a consequence of this well designed strategy bolstered by Prime Minister Meles’ thesis of the role of “the developmental state.” Political party-owned and endowed enterprises (PPOEs) receive their legitimacy from this nexus; as do endowments, generals and so on. The theory distinguishes these enterprises whose initial capital is hardly recorded and known from others. The ruling-party supports PPOEs as pro-development and others as corrupt and rent-seekers. PPOEs are never audited. The public k knows that initial capital was acquired by ‘looting the banking system’, through central government money transfers, diversion of foreign aid through contractual arrangements, savings or joint ventures. How is it for a general to own a multimillion birr building in Bole unless he is paid huge sums to defend the corrupt system to which he now belongs? Politics in Ethiopia today is big business. You acquire power by force and keep it by force. This is how you are able to change laws regularly and at will and impose on the Ethiopian people.

Given political power, the ruling-party feels justified in arguing that part owned and endowed entities should operate freely nationally while aborting or barring non-privileged firms from competition. Political authority allows the ruling-party to direct the economy as it wishes. This is where crowding-out the private sector and unfair competitive advantage for the privileged come-in. RD defines non-privileged entities as anti-revolutionary and untrustworthy. Given its exclusionary and monopolistic features, the developmental state is another term for party and endowment control. Why do I say this? It primary role now is to strengthen its narrow capacity; to act as agent of wealth for generals, party leaders and bureaucrats who implement policies as well as foreign and domestic allies.

Who does the developmental state develop?

The developmental state led by minority ethnic elite for an emerging and exclusionary largely minority ethnic business class has absolutely nothing to do with the welfare of civil society. The principle has nothing to do with development of communities, increasing productivity and making the country competitive and self-reliant. Why? The Ethiopian people do not feature prominent in the development agenda. It is as if they do not exist or matter. While the developmental state is statist in concept, it supports and defends the formation of a small modern domestic private sector effectively controlled and owned by party dominated and endowed conglomerates. It is the essence of what is commonly known as crony capitalism. This is a form of capitalism that advances growth without fair and transparent competition.

The dire situation of the banking system that is now burdened by at least 60 billion birr of debt without making a dent on the housing, unemployment, hunger, hyperinflation and other social crises while generating insane profits for a few attests to Ethiopia’s tragic economy. Amidst this incapacitating scene, a few reap the benefits of aid, deficit financing and land grab. For this reason, the system is neither sustainable nor equitable. It does not change the structure of the economy in meaningful ways. It disenfranchises the vast majority of the population and punishes future generations. I suggest that there is a great deal that those of us who believe in human dignity and hope can and should do. I have identified several in the series “why Ethiopians must unite and Ethiopians can indeed unite if they are willing.” There is no excuse anymore not do so to counter the assault on human dignity and freedom that we see with our naked eyes.

I leave you with a sobering thought from one of America’s leading thinkers and urge you to act now before it is too late.

What can and should we do?

Simply put, “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.” Thomas Paine.

It is not hard to conclude from what is happening to Ethiopia and to Ethiopians that the opposition camp is not serving the purpose for which it exists. Regardless of its social, ethnic or ideological base, the opposition camp can no longer afford to dwell on the misdeeds of the governing party. We know more about the repressive party and its top leadership than the opposition camp that is still weak and divided. The former shows us what it does best and for whom. It proves time and time again that it forces us to follow its agenda and react. The urgent call is for those who wish the best for all of the Ethiopian people to set aside minor differences and operationalize the unity of purpose on which there is a general agreement: the pursuit of a just, inclusive, pluralist society in which the sovereignty of the Ethiopian people is central and the unity in diversity of the country is secure. It they do not do it now, history will judge them harshly and mercilessly. This is the reality.

At minimum, the Diaspora can come out of its shell and provide sustainable financial, diplomatic, technical, policy support to those within Ethiopia who struggle daily and “undergo fatigue” with the expectation of “reaping the blessings of freedom.” This goal does not come cheap; and will not be granted by anyone. It is the Ethiopian people who must fight for it. The rest of us who live in freedom can at least say no to division and anger with one another and head in the same direction.

Kilil system is an instrument of Ethiopian disenfrachisement – Part 4

Aklog Birara, PhD

“…the present regime’s ethnic based federal setup, which is designed along a liberal democracy trajectory, appears to be failing to produce the desired result” of “equitable share of power and resources.” In effect, it is a policy of “decentralization on paper and centralization in practice.”

Professor Merera Gudina

“There is increasing recognition that institutional and political economy factors are central to economic development. Many problems of development result from barriers to the adoption of new technologies, lack of property rights over land, labor and business, and policies distorting prices and incentives.”

Raj Nallari, Development Outreach, April 2011

In the previous commentary–ethnic governance and the mockery of free and fair elections in Ethiopia–I made direct correlation between minority ethnic governance and disenfranchisement for the rest of the population. The TPLF will never allow free and fair elections that will offer the Ethiopian people options and choices in policy and decision making for a fundamental reason: self-preservation and self or group economic interest. Changes in economic policies such as new urban land proclamations are always introduced to strengthen the reach of the governing party and to “enrich politically powerful elites who oppose rivals.” Denial of property rights in the form of urban and rural land is part of the process. These fundamental values that favor top members of the governing party and its allies force the government to use scarce resources at its disposal to build and shore-up a security and defense system that has no parallel in Ethiopia’s history. The spy ring at the lowest levels of societal life in urban and rural areas and almost all institutions including schools and in the Diaspora attests to the party’s determination to stay in power at any cost. The Diaspora demobilization strategy of the TPLF core is part of an integrated network of disenfranchisement and dispossession. Why would a governing party do this unless it is shackled by a fear factor?

In light of the above, potential options and choices that emanate from open multiparty competition may or could inevitably lead to the prospect of “equitable share in power and resources.” If and when this occurs, there is the prospect of reversals in policy and decision making that will undermine the political and economic hegemony of the Tigrean minority ethnic elite. In turn, this may lead to accountability, for example, of the billions of dollars stolen. Political governance is intricately and organically linked to the protection of a vast network of business interests and control of natural resources for the top leadership, the party’s endowments and the regime’s domestic and foreign allies. The facts speak for themselves.

The top leadership of the governing party knows what it is doing. It is the opposition camp that is unable to move forward with innovative ideas and pioneering organization and leadership and challenge it head on. The first step in the process is to recognize that the inherited mindset among political and social elites that justice, a semblance of democracy and equitable access to economic and social opportunities could be achieved through the lens of ethnic divide and not through national politics has failed the vast majority regardless of ethnic affiliation. I contend that the root ideology of this toxic inheritance emanated from external powers such as Arab governments inimical to Ethiopia and their surrogates such as the EPLF, the TPLF and OLF. Intellectual supporters of the EPLF and later the TPLF were masters at crafting theoretical arguments why Ethiopia should be kept weak, divided and devoid of national leaders at any level. The kilil system is an outcome of the process of divide and rule.

The EPLF core leadership was singularly determined to wipe out Ethiopian nationalists by pitying one group against another, often using the rational of ethnic or nationality oppression. Some fell into its trap and did its dirty work. The military junta led by Mengistu Haile Mariam preoccupied itself with naked power; made the arrogant assumption that military response can solve social and justifiable causes. In the process, it made the country more vulnerable, weaker and void of nationalist social capital. Hundreds of innocent lives were lost in the process. This enormous loss and flight of intellectual capital gave the EPLF, TPLF and others an edge to weaken the country even further.

The Military Dictatorship approved and or sanctioned the wholesale “murder” of an entire generation of the most experienced; and most seasoned Ethiopian leaders of the 20th century. It contributed to the de-institutionalization of Ethiopia in the name of a failed revolution. Further, this same junta played an instrumental role by sponsoring; supporting; and or condoning the mutual destruction of the country’s best and brightest through the “Red and White Terror” schemes that should have been and could have been avoided through wise political leadership at the top. Mengistu Haile Mariam, whose book generated curiosity recently, failed to display personal courage. He refused to accept responsibility for the atrocities he sponsored as head of government. His failure reinforces the arrogant position taken by Meles Zenawi, the Ethiopian Prime Minister, who continues to violate the fundamental rights of Ethiopians regardless of ethnic affiliation.

In all cases perpetrated by the Military Junta, the beneficiaries were not the Ethiopian people; but the EPLF, TPLF and Ethiopia’s foreign adversaries. This tradition of anti-Ethiopian nationalism and nationally oriented human capital formation is now a core strategy deployed by the TPLF core. The TPLF core has retained the worst features of the regime it replaced. The governing party issues visas to nationalists, patriots and democratic activists to leave the country or sends them to jail. Unlike the regime it replaced, the TPLF government does not condone open killings in the streets. It is a silent killer. It does it in more “civilized ways.” Continuous exodus of the country’s human capital illustrates the fact that there are only two major options for those who dissent: stay and fight and go to jail and or leave the country peacefully.

During the height of the Eritrean conflict, many of us played into the machinations of the EPLF and later the TPLF and fought their proxy wars. We are now paying a huge price. Some of this unfortunate tradition persists. Whatever form of democracy we may wish for the country, we are unlikely to achieve it without rejecting this inheritance or implant from the past. Here is my concern. Many of us within the opposition camp continue to play to the same tune as the country’s rulers while expecting a different outcome. The TPLF core plays us against one another to do its dirty work the same way that the EPLF pitied us against one another. The demobilization of the Diaspora in churches, mosques, eating places, sports, schools and so on is in large part an indicator of our weakness and not a reflection of the strength and wisdom of the governing party and its advocates. It is unfortunate that those of us who live in freedom are silent, afraid or reluctant to challenge this continuous ethnic divide, demobilization and disillusionment? We seem to be gripped with fear the same way as those who live under the watch of a repressive system that spy on them daily. At least, they have reason. Why do we allow this to occur?

What makes us vulnerable abroad is that we are divided along ethnic, religious and ideological lines. It is as if we spy on one another and do not even know it. We surely know that, at the moment, ethnic-federalism bestows on the Ethiopian people the notion that they are a collection of ‘independent states’ and that they enjoy a modicum of freedom and autonomy that will lead them to eventual prosperity. Is this true? There as some folks who believe this; and we need to convince them why they should not. Here is the problem. By any definition, the kilil concept is separatist, retarding, adversarial and corruption-ridden and conflict prone. This is the essence of ethnic-federalism. If the kilil system is a collection of fragmented and separate states any one of which has the right to secede, it is more akin to Apartheid Bantustans than to the 50 states of the United States or to Tanzania or Indonesia or to Mauritius or to Ghana or to Malaysia or to India. The Bantustan system in South Africa accepted skewed distribution of wealth and incomes as a norm. In turn, this resulted in uneven development that is still persistent. The TPLF survives by making kilil an instrument of division rather than national cohesion and democratization for a smart reason. The kilil system weakens collective resistance while allowing the core ethnic elite and its allies to control natural resources and to make insane wealth on the back of the Ethiopian poor. It does this through fear and division.

Resistance to this retarding ideology can and should come from those of us who live in freedom. Lessons from the past suggest that it is only when we reach-out to one another; promote and build trust with one another; and cooperate with one another that we can resist our own demobilization; and serve as catalysts of change in the country we left behind. We live in countries that allow freedom of thought and encourage private ownership of property. Yet, we fail to challenge a system that violates both principles. The kilil system the TPLF core pursues is not only anti-national human capital; it is also anti-private property for the vast majority of Ethiopians.

The kilil system makes private property virtually unattainable

Most people establish the legal right to private property by acquiring or inheriting or leasing or buying urban land within established parameters and by building homes that he or she can afford to build on this land. Everyone has aspirations to own a home. This fundamental right of ownership is being undone by the governing elite that are determined to allow private property only for its elite members and foreigners and disallow same for the majority. Private property that is increasingly common in socialist market economies such as China is an anathema to the minority ethnic governing elite in Ethiopia for a good reason. People with private property and private assets are more likely to challenge it than people who are destitute. Here is the contradiction for everyone to see. None of today’s high income and high asset members and supporters of the governing elite can make rightful claim that they worked hard and produced goods to earn their riches. They are where they are because they control politics and economics. They became wealthy through redistributive power that bestows rent without productivity. It is within this context that one should consider the recent proclamation on urban land. It disenfranchises Ethiopians from owning private property in their own country. At the same time, it makes the governing party stronger than ever before. It denies ordinary Ethiopians the right to own, transfer and collateralize any personal property that is built on the land for good; while strengthening the prospect of more wealth and incomes for the few.

The minority ethnic elite that rules the country argues that all land and natural resources belong to the Ethiopian people. The party defines itself as representing, and in fact, being the Ethiopian people. The party is now the people. I suggested in previous works that the TPLF has effectively merged ethnicity, party and state into one. Its action now suggests that it has assumed the status of people. Merger of ethnicity, party and state suggests that Tigrean ethno-nationalism requires super-ordinate loyalty to a tribe (Tigrean) rather than to Ethiopia or to all nationality and ethnic groups in the country. The government and state operate on behalf of a minority ethnic elite. It is this merged state that the ruling party says represents the entire country and its 90 million people.

There is no contest that ethnicity, party, state and people are practically merged into one. What does it mean in practical terms? It means that the governing elite defines the term people as it wishes; decides on who belongs and who does not as it wishes; legislates who owns private property and who does not as it wishes; facilitates who leaves the country and who stays as it wishes; and regulates who becomes rich and who remains poor as it wishes; and condones who steals and get away with it as it wishes. There is no challenge to its verdict even when the lives millions are at stake. It is this draconian.

The governing elite alienate land from private investments on the land. Here is the implication for this and the coming generation. A young woman or man, who goes to school and works hard, saves and plans to build a home, cannot aspire to do so under the new system. When the new proclamation takes effect, only the rich and super rich can and will build homes, villas and mansions. If you wish to look at it from an ethnic lens, an ordinary Tigrean who is poor or even works as a soldier or small bureaucrat can only gaze at a mansion in Mekele and wonder who owns it and how. The same is true in Gondar or Bahir Dar or Awassa or Jima or Harrar and so on. The rich will have the right to transfer and collateralize. The poor would have the right to gaze at the glitz and ask how? The Ethiopian people have no say or stake in their national resources including urban and rural lands. This is what experts call alienation and disenfranchisement. In summary, the minority ethnic government and state it leads has become the new landlord. Everyone is reduced to serfdom.

The parallel to the urban land crisis is yemeret neteka ena kirimit in rural areas where the new landlords are Indians, Saudis, Chinese, Egyptians and others from outside; and the few chosen Tigreans from the inside. The government says that it is standardizing land leases. In my estimation, standardization is a cover. The real motive is to make sure that Ethiopians do not own substantial property. Why? Ownership of private property and economic independence enhances freedom. Freedom advances accountability. The well to do and the less dependent would be in a position to challenge the current system. It is far easier to order and rule the poor than the prosperous. Just think of the reality the poor face on the ground that compounds the problem even further. The glitz of villas, condos and mansions that dot the country should never mask the dire situation the vast majority endures each day. The glitz in construction that employed thousands is now completely stalled. This has led to more unemployment and homelessness in cities and towns. Take a look at the statistics and ask whether or not the current system would solve a looming national social crisis. The fact that some ethnic elite members at regional levels are better off under the current regime misses the point entirely. Has the wellbeing of the majority in kilils where allies thrive changed substantially? The data says no.

Fifty two percent of the population earns less than a dollar a day; just below the poverty threshold of US$1.25. Statistics do not lie. UN estimates put stunting of children at 55 percent. The economic cost to the country from stunting alone is estimated at US$ 2 billion per annum. Malnutrition at 57 percent is one of the highest in Africa. Three percent of Ethiopians are retarded; more than one million are blind; and about one million lives are lost due to vitamin deficiencies. In 2011, close to 7 million Ethiopian children were identified as orphans. Maternal mortality, one of the leading causes for the high orphan rate, is among the highest in the world. Human trafficking and especially of girls has risen at an alarming rate as has adoption. Both are multimillion dollar businesses. The country’s largest export is human capital.

Ninety percent of these and other major diseases and social ills that take away millions of lives are systemic and preventable. These diseases and other social and economic indicators of multidimensional poverty illustrate the dire situation that the vast majority of Ethiopians face whether they live in Addis Ababa, Dire Dawa, Afar, Gambella, Beni-Shangul Gumuz and SNNP, Oromia or any other kilil. It is this reality too that should push all opponents to set aside minor differences and take the regime to task. If opponents cooperate, the regime would have no leg to stand on.

It is against these dreary statistics that Ethiopia’s miraculous growth should be gauged. The same social and economic indicators by the UN system present a troubling picture of the rural economy where 85 percent of the Ethiopian people live and work. Seventy-six percent of the country highland croplands are degraded. Experts estimate that each year, 200,000 ha of farmland are degraded. This too is preventable through extension services, better technology, education and training, land tenure security and so on. I have argued in Waves that Ethiopian farmers including women are among the hardest working people on this planet. With better inputs, adult literacy, improved infrastructure and markets, tenure security, access to more lands, conservation efforts and so on, agriculture offers Ethiopia its singular potential comparative advantage source.

The debatable double digit growth claimed by the Ethiopian government seems to have ignored the rural segment of the population completely. Rural farmers and others have not fared any better under this growth than urban dwellers, government employees, small traders and shopkeepers and other small enterprise owners. In fact, they seem to be in the same boat: just coping each day and barely surviving. I recall a farmer in Harrar who said that he is worse off now than he was before. Why? His family has been reduced to eating one or two meals a day; from three meals a day before the current economic boom. Some experts argue that income for ordinary civil servants, retirees, the middle class, shopkeepers and rural people have in fact declined substantially. At the same time, a few at the top have made a killing from the economic boom. A rental economy allows this anomaly.

If you believe as I do that the rural sector is the backbone of the national economy and possesses substantial potential for further productivity, it behooves us to shed our ethnic garbs and reject the kilil system. Why? It deters social cohesion, mobility, domestic market integration, and sustainable, equitable and integrated development. The country is unable to feed itself and make poverty history not because of lack of natural resources or people; but because of poor economic and natural resource management. The kilil system contributes to this abnormality.

There are a number of reasons for this condition. Land tenure insecurity is among the lead causes for low productivity. Intensification and diversification have not taken hold. Farmers suffer from low inputs. The farming population is clustered or “concentrated” (a term used by a colleague), on 12 million ha of lands. Each farming family consists of an average of 6 persons and farms less than half ha of land. It is predictable that small plots of land cannot support larger numbers of people without substantial technological and cultural innovation. With a few exceptions, smallholders do not receive the kind of input that triggered agricultural revolutions in South and East Asia. Inputs such as better seeds, credits, fertilizers and lands are dictated by loyalty to party rather than merit and national productivity need.

In a country with millions who are either land poor or landless, the governing party’s giveaway of millions of ha of the most fertile farmlands and water basins to Indian, Chinese, Egyptian and Saudi and other foreign firms and governments and domestic allies is, to say the least, unjust and unfair. Given the types of investment agreements made without public discussion and local community consent, it is entirely unclear what benefit the country and local communities gain. For this reason, land giveaway is tantamount to compromising the country’s source of comparative advantage. It undermines citizenship and ownership and degrades the wellbeing and security of rural families. Evidence in the country (in the late 1960s and early 1970s) and other successful economies where smallholder revolutions have taken place shows that Ethiopia’s varied climate and varied crops offer enormous possibilities to scale up and transform agricultural production to unprecedented levels. This can only happen through smart and deliberate government policies and public participation.

Empowered and equipped with new technologies and inputs and given tenure security, smallholders and the Ethiopian private sector can eliminate hunger altogether. This will not occur as long as land tenure is politicized to serve the governing party. De-politicization would-I am convinced-lead to an Ethiopian smallholder revolution. This is the key to agricultural productivity and to the elimination of abject poverty. Experts estimate that if the current system persists, 50 percent of Ethiopia’s growing population will go hungry by 2020–less than 8 years. Tenure security is therefore a matter of survival. Opponents cannot afford to let this happen. They must champion empowerment.

It is absurd to imagine—unless we let it—that the current repressive and corrupt system would last under these conditions. Everywhere one looks; there are pockets of popular dissent and protest: Oromia, the Ogaden, Gojjam, Gambella, Silte in the Shoa sub-region and others, colleges students and domestic workers in the Middle East. What do they share in common? All of them cry out for justice. They do it in isolation from one another because the kilil system is designed to punish or contain them in isolation from one another. In light of this continuous phenomenon I suggest that any dissident who is not ready and willing to respond to these nation-wide cries cannot blame the governing party and sit back. He or she has a moral duty to respond through concrete action by cooperating with one another. Action requires that we accept the simple notion that, no matter the level of oppression, punishment and disenfranchisement–done in deliberate isolation–the Ethiopian people will not accept their status as tenants and as passive recipients of brutality, punishment and injustice for long. The question then is where we stand on these seemingly isolated protests and dissent?

Socioeconomic data is useful for a sound reason. It is ethnicity and religious or demographic blind. Every Ethiopian wants to own something that she or he can claim as her or his own. A small hut or tukul is as private as a mansion. This takes me back to the recent urban land proclamation that reinforces my plea for greater cooperation among opponents regardless of ethnic affiliation and past history. The regime allows and dismisses localized incidents and people’s calls for justice intentionally and deliberately as simple or as triggered by “terrorist groups and external enemies.” The kilil system and culture are conducive for this to happen. Kilil elites defend the system with a passion that defies reason. Do not blame them. They are part of the system that sustains them. Information and knowledge is not shared. It is natural that people do not react to remote incidents because these do not affect them directly and immediately. The phenomenon suggests that threads of commonality that bind people together as citizens (Ethiopians) rather than as religious and ethnic enclaves are undermined. Restrictions on press freedom make matters worse.

Here is my socioeconomic argument. A home cannot be built in thin air. Ordinary Ethiopians understand fully that their alienation from owning land, transferring land to their children, collateralizing land to borrow, and selling their property to upgrade or downgrade is unjust and unfair. People understand fully that land giveaways to foreign investors and preferred elites will not serve them or the country. Rather, it disenfranchises them; and forces them to move from their ancestral homes. These governing party policies and programs are therefore an abrogation of fundamental economic and social rights of ordinary Ethiopians that will affect all in the long-term. Can you imagine that anything of value can be built without land? A home or any other physical asset that is anchored on this earth does not float in thin air.

The governing elite tell us that in Ethiopia, it does. It forces people to accept this as a norm without public debate. What the party says is literally gospel. It does this in the political arena as much as it does in the economic and social arena. In a country where corruption is endemic, those with wealth are able to transfer out billions illicitly: US$11.7 billion between 2000 and 2008 and US$3.26 billion in 2009 alone. No big thief has been charged and sent to jail. The kilil system is well suited for corruption to take place at a massive scale. It seems to be the only way to gain wealth. Even those who love their country move their money out because they are unsure of the future.

Endemic corruption emanates directly from a system of minority ethnic elite and will not stop unless the kilil system–that gives a semblance of democracy for the elite–changes. Therefore, the key is not what the minority ethnic elite think or do. It is what those who oppose it think and act against this absurdity in government policy and programs that make the vast majority of Ethiopians subservient tenants and poor; and that allows the elite to steal billions from one of the two poorest countries in Africa.