First, Why is Africa Poor?
George Ayittey, the renowned Ghanaian economist and president of the Free Africa Foundation swears that “Africa is poor because she is not free”. Like Ayittey, Robert Guest, business editor for The Economist, in his book The Shackled Continent (2004), declares that “Africans are poor because they are poorly governed.” He argues that “Africa is the only continent to have grown poorer over the last three decades” while other developing countries and regions have grown richer. Much of Africa, it seems, was better off at the end of colonialism than it is today.
For Ayittey and Guest, the tens of billions of dollars in Western aid to Africa have done very little to improve the lives of Africans; at best, aid has served to “bankroll tyrants” and facilitate experimentation by “idealists with hopeless economic policies.” Statism (the state as the principal change agent) and dictatorship have denied the African masses basic political and economic freedoms while the few privileged kleptocrats (or thieves that have pirated the ship of state, emptied out the national treasury and plundered the economy) live the sweet life of luxury (la dolce vita), not entirely unlike the “good old” colonial times. As Ayittey explains, much of Africa today suffers under the control of “vampire states” with “governments that have been hijacked by a phalanx of bandits and crooks who would use the instruments of the state machinery to enrich themselves and their cronies and their tribesmen and exclude everybody else.” (“Hyena States” would be a fitting metaphor considering the African landscape and the rapacious and predatory nature of the crooks.) Simply stated, much of Africa languishes under the rule of thugtators (thugtatorship is the highest stage of African dictatorship) who cling to power for the single purpose of using the apparatuses of the state to loot and ransack their nations. Such is the unvarnished truth about Africa’s entrapment in perpetual post-independence poverty and destitution.
Could it be said equally that Ethiopia is at the tail end of the poorest countries on the planet because she is not free and gasps in the jaws of a “vampiric” dictatorship? In other words….
Is Ethiopia Poor, Hungry, Ill and Illiterate Because She is Not Free and Poorly Governed?
A couple of weeks ago, the Legatum Institute (LI), an independent non-partisan public policy group based in London, released its 2011 Legatum Prosperity Index (LPI) which ranked Ethiopia a pretty dismal 108th/110 countries. LPI’s findings are sobering as they are heartbreaking. Ethiopia has an “unemployment rate [that] is almost 21%, which is the sixth highest rate, globally.” The “capital per worker in Ethiopia is the fourth lowest worldwide.” The country has “virtually no investment in R&D.” The ability of Ethiopians “to start and run a business is highly limited… [with a] communication infrastructure [that] is weak with only five mobile phones for every 100 citizens”; and the availability of internet bandwidth and secure servers is negligible. Inequality is systemic and widespread and the country is among the bottom ten countries on the Index. The Ethiopian “education system is poor at all levels and its population is deeply dissatisfied.” There is “only one teacher for every 58 pupils at primary level, there is a massive shortage of educators, and Ethiopian workers are typically poorly educated.” Less than a “quarter of the population believe Ethiopian children have the opportunity to learn and grow every day, which is the lowest such rate in the Index.”
On “health outcomes, Ethiopia performs very poorly. Its infant mortality rate, 67 deaths per 1,000 live births, and its health-adjusted life expectancy of 50 years, placing Ethiopia among the bottom 20 nations.” The population has high mortality rates from “Tuberculosis infections and respiratory diseases. Access to hospital beds and sanitation facilities is very limited, placing the country 109th and 110th (very last) on these measures of health infrastructure.” The core problem of poor governance is reflected in the fact that “there appears to be little respect for the rule of law, and the country is notable for its poor regulatory environment for business, placing 101st in the Index on this variable.”
But it is not only the LPI that has ranked Ethiopia at the rump of the most impoverished and poorly governed nations in the world. Last year, the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHDI) Multidimensional Poverty Index 2010 (formerly annual U.N.D.P. Human Poverty Index) ranked Ethiopia as the second poorest (ahead of famine-ravaged Mali) country on the planet. According to OPHDI, the percentage of the Ethiopian population in “severe poverty” (living on less than USD$1 a day) in 2005 was 72.3%. Six million Ethiopians needed emergency food aid in 2010 and many more millions needed food aid in 2011 in what the U.N. described as the “worst drought in over half a century to hit parts of East Africa”. The World Bank this past June concluded that “Ethiopia’s dependence on foreign capital to finance budget deficits and a five-year investment plan is unsustainable.” The Bank criticized dictator Meles Zenawi’s “dependen[ce] on foreign capital or other means of financing investment in an unhealthy, unsustainable way.” Ethiopia is the world’s second-biggest recipient of foreign aid, after Afghanistan, according to the Organization for Cooperation and Economic Development rankings of developing nations because its “leaders” have perfected the art of international mendicancy (panhandling).
That is not all. Every international index over the past several years has ranked Ethiopia at the very bottom of the scale including Transparency International’s Corruption Index (among most corrupt countries), the Failed States Index (among the most failed), the Index of Economic Freedom (among the most economically repressive), the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development Investment Climate Assessment (among the most unfriendly to business), the Ibrahim Index of African Governance (among the most poorly governed African countries), the Bertelsmann Political and Economic Transformation Index (among countries most in need of reform) and the Environmental Performance Index (among countries with poorest environmental and public health indicators).
Of course, none of that comes as a surprise to those who are familiar with the fakeonomics of Meles Zenawi. Zenawi says all of the Indexes, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are wrong. He boldly claims the Ethiopian “economy recorded an average economic growth rate of 11 percent over the past seven years.” But that incredibly rosy growth rate figure, often repeated and republished mindlessly and unquestioningly by the international media, is based exclusively on statistics manufactured by Zenawi’s statistics department. This past June, the IMF debunked Zenawi’s imaginary economic growth estimate of 11.4 percent for 2009 “saying 7.5 percent is more realistic.” The IMF “forecast is even lower growth of about 6 percent for the coming year” because of a “more restrictive business climate”.
Economic principles, facts and realities are irrelevant to Zenawi. According to “Zenawinomics” (a/k/a “Growth and Transformation Plan”), there are bottomless pots of gold awaiting Ethiopians at the end of the rainbow in 2015: The Ethiopian economy will grow by 14.9 percent (oddly enough not 15 percent). There will be “food security at household and national level.” There will be “more than 2000 km of railway networks would be constructed” and power generation will be in the range of “ 8,000 to 10,000 MW from water and wind resources during the next five years.” The “whole community has mobilized to buy bonds. This huge savings and mobilization is used for infrastructure development… We are getting loans from China, India, Turkey and South Korea, so all these foreign savings are also mobilized… So I think we can perform on the ambitious plans that are in place.”
Zenawinomics is the economics of a magical wonderland, very much like Alice’s Wonderland: “If I had a world of my own,” said Alice “everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary-wise; what it is it wouldn’t be, and what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”
Maybe you don’t see. That is the whole point. In what Zenawi describes as “one of fastest growing non-oil economies in Africa,” inflation is soaring, and by mid-2011, Zenawi’s Central Statistical Agency reported that the annual inflation rate had increased by 38 percent and food prices had surged by 45.3 percent. There are more than 12 million people who are chronically or periodically food insecure. Yet, Zenawi is handing out “large chunks” of the most fertile land in the country for free, to be sure for pennies, to foreign agribusiness multinational corporations to farm commercially and export the harvest. This past July, the U.S. Census Bureau had a frightening population forecast: By 2050, Ethiopia’s current population of 90 million population will more than triple to 278 million, placing that country in the top 10 most populous countries in the world. It just does not make any sense.
In May 2010, the Economist Magazine rhetorically asked: “Ethiopia’s prime minister, and his ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) expect a landslide victory in the general election due on May 23rd, and are likely to get one (they actually “won” it by 99.6 percent!). The bigger question is whether another five years of EPRDF rule will help ordinary Ethiopians, who are among the poorest and hungriest people in the world.”
Ethiopia Can Prosper Only If She Has Good Governance
The United Nations Development Programme and other international lending institutions define ‘governance’ as the “exercise of power or authority – political, economic, administrative or otherwise – to manage a country’s resources and affairs.” Good governance has to do with the “competent management of a country’s resources and affairs in a manner that is open, transparent, accountable, equitable and responsive to people’s needs.” There is substantial empirical research showing that political freedom, strong social and political institutions and proper regulatory mechanisms significantly contribute to economic growth. Stated simply, good governance and “good” (sustainable) growth are based on mutually reinforcing principles.
Where there is good governance, there is substantial political and legal accountability and much greater respect for civil, political and property rights. Leaders are held politically accountable to the people through fair, free and regular elections; and an independent electoral commission ensures there is no voter fraud, voting irregularities, vote buying, voter intimidation and voter harassment. Institutional mechanisms are in place to ensure the rule of law is followed and those exercising political power and engaged in official decision-making perform their duties with transparency and legal accountability. Where there is good governance, citizens have freedom of association and the right to freely exchange and debate ideas while independent press, and even state-owned media, operate freely along with robust civil society institutions to inform and mobilize the population.
Good governance is an essential precondition for sustainable development. Stable and democratic governing institutions protect political and economic liberty and create an environment of civic participation, which in turn “determines whether a country has the capacity to use resources effectively to promote economic growth and reduce poverty.” On the other hand, bad or poor governance stifles and impedes development and undermines competition in the marketplace. Where human rights and the rule of law are disrespected, corruption flourishes and development inevitably suffers aspolitical leaders and public officials siphon off resources from critical school, hospital, road and other public works and community projects to line their pockets. But where there is good governance, not only is economic development and growth accelerated, even chronic and structural problems of food insecurity (famine) that have plagued Ethiopia for decades can be controlled and overcome. As Amartya Sen has argued no substantial famine has ever occurred in any independent country with a democratic form of government and a relatively free press.
Because there is little or no political accountability, Ethiopia suffers from poor governance and remains at the bottom of the indexes of the most impoverished nations in the world. Programs intended for “poverty reduction” have been misused for political mobilization and rewards for voting for the ruling party. The country has been unable to promote broad-based economic growth because business attached to the ruling party have a near-total monopoly and chokehold on the economy making fair competition for non-ruling party affiliated entities in the market an exercise in futility. Because there is little respect for property and contract rights, those non-aligned with the ruling party feel insecure and disinclined to invest. The ruling regime has made little investment in human resources through effective policies and institutions that improve access to quality education and health services as the LPI data shows. As a result, the rate of flight of professionals, intellectuals, journalists and political dissidents, is among the 10 highest in the world. The International Organization for Migration has said it all: “There are more Ethiopian doctors practicing in the US city of Chicago than in Ethiopia.”
Ethiopia is universally regarded as one of the least free countries in the world and ranks at the very bottom of the 10 most repressive countries in the world for citizens’ freedoms in expression, belief, association, and personal autonomy. The respected Committee to Protect Journalists says, “Ethiopia is the second-leading jailer of journalists in Africa.” There is little regard for the rule of law as the LPI data confirms. In other words, those who occupy official positions have little respect for the country’s Constitution or laws, or show any concern for the fair administration of justice. The judiciary is merely the legal sledgehammer of the dictator and ruling party. The judges are party hacks enrobed in judicial garb with the principal mission of giving legal imprimatur to manifest official criminality. In sum, the rule of law in Ethiopia has been transmuted into the rule of one man, one party.
Few should be surprised by LPI’s conclusions that the “levels of confidence in the military and judiciary are both very low” and “Ethiopia is the country where expression of political views is perceived by the population to be most restricted.” None of the facts above matter to the dictators in Ethiopia because they are ready, willing and able to do whatever it takes to cling to power.
LPI’s dismal ranking of Ethiopia merely augments what has been solidly established over the years in the other Indexes. The question is why Ethiopia remains at the tail end of the most impoverished countries year after year. Zenawi’s “Federal Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission” (FEAC) conflates corruption and poverty in seeking to pinpoint the answer to this question. FEAC says the major sources of corruption in Ethiopia are “poor governance, lack of accountability and transparency, low level of democratic culture and tradition, lack of citizen participation, lack of clear regulations and authorization, low level of institutional control, extreme poverty and inequity, harmful cultural practices and centralization of authority.” Not quite! Poor governance, lack of accountability and transparency (a/k/a corruption), lack of citizen participation and the absence of the rule of law are the root causes of extreme and widespread poverty, underdevelopment, aid-dependency, conflict, instability, starvation and injustice in Ethiopia. Have free and fair elections, allow the independent press to flourish, institutionalize the rule of law and maintain an independent judiciary, professionalize and depoliticize the civil service, the military and police forces and Ethiopians will be well on their way to permanently defeating poverty and making starvation a footnote in the history of the Ethiopian nation.
Ethiopia is poor, hungry, ill and illiterate because she is poorly governed and not free!
 The Legatum Index is based on 89 different variables covering the economy, entrepreneurship and opportunity, governance, education, health, safety and security, personal freedom, social capital and so on. The Institute uses data collected by the Gallup World Poll, World Trade Organization, World Development Indicators, GDP, World Intellectual Property Organization, UN Human Development Report, World Bank, OECD and World Values Survey.
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By Alemayehu G. Mariam
Groundhog Year in Prison Nation
In December 2008, I wrote a weekly column entitled “Groundhog Year in Prison Nation” summarizing some of my weekly columns for that year. I used the “groundhog year” analogy following the title of the motion picture “Groundhog Day” in which a hapless television weatherman is trapped in a time warp and finds himself repeating the same day over and over. I wrote:
2008 in Ethiopia was Groundhog Year! It was a repetition of 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004… Everyday millions of Ethiopians woke up only to find themselves trapped in a time loop where their lives replayed like a broken record. Each “new” day is the same as the one before it: Repression, intimidation, corruption, incarceration, deception, brutalization and human rights violation. Everything that happened to them the previous day, the previous week, the previous month, the previous 18 years happens to them today. They are resigned to the fact that they are doomed to spend the rest of their lives asphyxiated in a Prison Nation. They have no idea how to get out of this awful cycle of misery, agony, despair and tribulation. So, they pray and pray and pray and pray… for deliverance from Evil!
It is December 2010, the end of the first decade of the 21st Century. Are Ethiopians better off today than they were in 2009, 2005…2000?
Does bread (teff) cost more today than it did a year ago…, five years ago? Cooking oil, household fuel, beef, poultry, gasoline, housing, water, electricity, public transport…?
Are there more poor people today in Ethiopia than there were a year ago… five years ago? More unemployment among youth, less educational opportunities, less health care?
Is there more corruption, more secrecy, less transparency and less accountability in December 2010 than in December 2009…?
Are elections more free and fair in 2010 than they were in 2008, 2005?
Is there more press freedom today than five years ago? More human rights violations?
Is Ethiopia more dependent on international charity for its daily bread today than a year ago…?
Is there more environmental pollution, habitat destruction, forced human displacement and land grabs in Ethiopia today than there was in 2005?
Are businesses paying more taxes and bribes in Ethiopia today than in years past?
Is Ethiopia today at the very bottom of the global Index of Economic Freedom (limited access to financing, inefficient government bureaucracy, inadequate supply of infrastructure)?
Let the reader answer these self-evident questions. Suffice it to say, “It is what it is!”
Montage of Scenes From 2010 Time Loop
So here we are in Ethiopian Groundhog Year 2010. As a year-end overview, I decided to select and highlight a few of my columns from the multiple dozens of weekly and other commentaries I wrote in 2010 and published on the various Ethiopian pro-democracy websites, and the Huffington Post where all of my commentaries for the year are readily available.
January 2010 – Looking Through the Glass, Brightly
“Ethiopia is the country of the future,” Birtukan Midekssa would often say epigrammatically. Ethiopia’s number 1 political prisoner is always preoccupied with her country’s future and destiny. Her deep concern for Ethiopia is exceeded only by her boundless optimism for its future… To be the country of the future necessarily means not being the country of the past. Birtukan’s Ethiopia of the future is necessarily the categorical antitheses of an imperial autocracy, a military bureaucracy and a dictatorship of kleptocracy. Her vision of the future Ethiopia is a unified country built on a steel platform of multiparty democracy. Birtukan would have been pleased to explain her vision and dreams of the future country of Ethiopia; unfortunately, she cannot speak for herself as she has been condemned to “rot” in jail.
February 2010- Putting Lipstick on a Pig
Ethiopia’s dictators think we are all damned fools. They want us to believe that a pig with lipstick is actually a swan floating on a placid lake, or a butterfly fluttering in the rose garden or even a lamb frolicking in the meadows. Put some lipstick on hyperinflation and you have one of the “fastest developing economies in the world”. Put lipstick on power outages, and the grids come alive with megawattage. Slap a little lipstick on famine, and voila! Ethiopians are suffering from a slight case of “severe malnutrition”. Adorn your atrocious human rights record by appointing a “human rights” chief, and lo and behold, grievous government wrongs are transformed magically into robust human rights protections. Slam your opposition in jail, smother the independent press and criminalize civil society while applying dainty lipstick to a mannequin of democracy. The point is, “You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper and call it ‘democracy’ but after 20 years it stinks to high heaven!”
March 2010- Waiting for Godot to Leave
The politics of “succession” to Zenawi’s “throne” has become a veritable theatre of the absurd. The personalities waiting in the wings to take over the “throne” (or to protect and safeguard it) bring to mind the witless characters in Samuel Beckett’s tragicomedy play Waiting for Godot, arguably the most important English play of the 20th Century. In that play, two vagabond characters anxiously wait on a country road by a tree for the arrival of a mysterious person named Godot, who can save them and answer all their questions. They wait for days on end but Godot never shows up… and the two characters keep returning to the same place day after day to wait for him; but they cannot remember exactly what happened the day before. Godot never came. Waiting for Zenawi to leave power is like waiting for Godot to arrive. It ain’t happening. He is not only the savior and the man with all the answers, he is also the Great Patron who makes everything work.
April, 2010- C’est la Vie? C’est la Vie en Prison!
When Meles Zenawi, the arch dictator in Ethiopia, was asked about Birtukan’s health in his prison on March 23, 2010, he was comically philosophical about it. He said Birtukan health is in “perfect condition”, except that she may be putting on some weight. “The health situation of Birtukan, the last I heard, is in perfect condition. She may have gained a few kilos, but other than that, and that may be for lack of exercise, I understand she is in perfect health… I am not surprised that they [U.S. State Department] have characterized Birtukan as a political prisoner, because I understand they have also characterized Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and Oromia Liberation Front (OLF) terrorists… as political prisoners… But that is life; I think the French say, ‘C’est la Vie.’
May, 2010- Speaking Truth to Power
For the past year, I have been predicting that the 2010 Ethiopian “election” will prove to be a sham, a travesty of democracy and a mockery and caricature of democratic elections. Without my literary and rhetorical flourish, that is now the exact conclusion of the international election observers. The “Preliminary Statement” of the European Union Election Observation Mission- Ethiopia 2010 stated: “The electoral process fell short of certain international commitments, notably regarding the transparency of the process and the lack of a level playing field for all contesting parties.” … Johnnie Carson, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in the State Department told the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee that “we note with some degree of remorse that the elections were not up to international standards… The [Ethiopian] government has taken clear and decisive steps that would ensure that it would garner an electoral victory.” Even Herman Cohen, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State who served as “mediator” in the so-called May 1991 London Peace Talks which resulted in the establishment of the Zenawi regime decried the outcome: “… I don’t think it was a fair election.”
June, 2010- Speaking Truth to the Powerless
Now that the hoopla around Meles Zenawi’s “election” is over, it is time for the Ethiopian opposition to take stock and re-think the way it has been doing business. We begin with the obvious question: “What happened to the Ethiopian opposition in the make-believe election of 2010?” Zenawi will argue vigorously that he defeated them by a margin of 99.6 percent (545 of 547 parliamentary seats). If that were the real “defeat” for the opposition, I would not worry much. Losing a sham election is like losing one’s appendix. But there is a different kind of defeat that I find more worrisome. It is a defeat in the eyes and hearts of the people. I am afraid the opposition collectively has suffered considerable loss of credibility in the eyes of the people by making a public spectacle of its endless bickering, carping, dithering, internal squabbles, disorganization, inability to unite, pettiness, jockeying for power, and by failing to articulate a coherent set of guiding principles or ideas for the country’s future.
July, 2010- Hummingbirds and Forest Fires
World history shows that individuals and small groups — the hummingbirds — do make a difference in bringing about change in their societies. The few dozen leaders of the American Revolution and the founders of the government of the United States were driven to independence by a “long train of abuses and usurpations” leading to “absolute despotism” as so eloquently and timelessly expressed in the Declaration of Independence… The Bolsheviks (vultures in hummingbird feathers) won the Russian Revolution arguably defending the rights of the working class and peasants against the harsh oppression of Czarist dictatorship. They managed to establish a totalitarian system which thankfully swept itself into the dustbin of history two decades ago… Gandhi and a small group of followers in India led nationwide campaigns to alleviate poverty, make India economically self-reliant, broaden the rights of urban laborers, peasants and women, end the odious custom of untouchability and bring about tolerance and understanding among religious and ethnic groups. Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo led ANC’s Defiance Campaign and crafted the Freedom Charter which provided the ideological basis for the long struggle against apartheid and served as the foundation for the current South African Constitution. In the United States, Martin Luther King and some 60 church leaders formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, becoming the driving force of the American civil rights movement.
August, 2010 – Steel Vises, Clenched Fists and Closing Walls
U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton gave a speech in Poland… and singled out Ethiopia along with Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo and others to warn the world that “we must be wary of the steel vise in which governments around the world are slowly crushing civil society and the human spirit.”… She pointed out: “Last year, Ethiopia imposed a series of strict new rules on NGOs. Very few groups have been able to re-register under this new framework, particularly organizations working on sensitive issues like human rights.”… Secretary Clinton said the acid test for the success or failure of U.S. foreign policy is whether “more people in more places are better able to exercise their universal rights and live up to their potential because of our actions?” By this measure, U.S. policy in Ethiopia has been a total, unmitigated and dismal failure. The evidence is overwhelming and irrefutable…
September, 2010- Indoctri-Nation
Ethiopia’s Ministry of Education issued a “directive” effectively outlawing distance learning (or education programs that are not delivered in the traditional university classroom or campus) throughout the country… Wholesale elimination of private distance learning programs by “directive”, or more accurately bureaucratic fiat, is a flagrant violation of Higher Education Proclamation No. 650/2009. Under this Proclamation, the Ministry of Education and its sub-agencies have the authority to regulate and “revoke accreditation” of a private institution which fails to meet statutory criteria on a case-by-case basis following a fact-finding and appeals process…. I believe the regime has a long term strategy to use the universities as breeding grounds for its ideologues and hatcheries for the thousands of loyal and dependent bureaucrats they need to sustain their domination and rule. The monopoly created for the state in the disciplines of law and teaching (which I will predict will gradually include other disciplines in the future) is a clear indication of the trend to gradually create a cadre of “educated” elites to serve the next generation of dictators to come.
October, 2010- Birtukan Unbound!
Birtukan was held for months in a dark room with no human contact except a few minutes a week with her mother and daughter. Fear, anxiety and despair were her only companions. Heartache knocked constantly on the door to her dark room needling her: “Did you do the right thing leaving three year-old Hal’le to the care of your aging mother?” Self-doubt kept her awake in that dark room where time stood still asking her the same question over and over: “Is it worth all this suffering? Give up!” But a voice in her conscience would echo thunderously, “Like hell you’re going to give up, Birtukan. Fight on. Keep on fighting. ‘Never give in — never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.'” In the end Birtukan signed Zenawi’s scrap of paper making exception to convictions of honor and good sense. We expected nothing less from such a great young woman…. Prisoners can be brainwashed to say anything by those who control them. Prisoners who have endured torture, extreme degradation and abuse have been known to do shocking things to please their captors and ease their own pain and suffering. Abused prisoners have been known to deceive themselves into believing the cruelty of their captors as acts of kindness. It is called the “Stockholm Syndrome.” When the victim is under the total and complete control of her captor for her basic needs of survival and her very existence, she will say and do anything to please her captor.
November, 2010- Remember the Slaughter of 2005
November is a cruel month. Bleak, woeful, and grim is the month of November in the melancholy verse of Thomas Hood:
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member–
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,
And no justice for the hundreds massacred in Ethiopia in November (2005).
No redress for the countless men, women and children shot and wounded and left for dead.
No apologies for the tens of thousands illegally imprisoned.
No restitution for survivors or the families of the dead.
No trace of those who disappeared.
No atonement for the crimes of November.
No absolution for the slaughter of November.
November is to remember.
December, 2010- “So What!”
So what are the lessons of Groundhog Year 2010? The first decade of the 21st Century?
Lesson I. Crush your opponents with full force. Alternatively, vegetate them forever.
Lesson II. If you get into America’s face and stick it to her, she will always back down. Always!
Lesson III. “Democratization is a matter of survival.” If democracy stays alive in Ethiopia, Zenawi cannot survive. If Zenawi survives, democracy cannot stay alive.
Lesson IV: If you want democracy, you must struggle and sacrifice for it.
Lesson V. If your rights are being violated, defend them!
Lesson VI. Elections are like children’s marble game where everybody can play as long as the guy who owns the marbles wins all the time.
Lesson VII. If you want to win, you need to organize, mobilize and energize your base. You need to teach, preach and reach the people.
Lesson VIII. You want funding, don’t beg for it; dig deeper into your own wallets.
Lesson: IX. There is one law, one regime, one ruler, one circus master and only one man who runs the show in Ethiopia.
Lesson X: The greatest lesson of 2010 and the first decade of the 21st Century:
DESPAIR NOT! “THERE HAVE BEEN TYRANTS AND MURDERERS AND FOR A TIME THEY SEEM INVINCIBLE BUT IN THE END, THEY ALWAYS FAIL — THINK OF IT ALWAYS.” Mahatma Gandhi.
RELEASE ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS IN ETHIOPIA
Distance Learning in Ethiopia Un-Banned?
Last week, it was quietly announced that the official wholesale ban on distance learning educational programs in Ethiopia has been lifted. In August 2010, the ban was imposed out of the blue “because of quality concerns”. According to one report, following six-weeks of “negotiations” between education officials and distance learning service providers a settlement was reached in which providers reportedly agreed to create a curriculum that places more emphasis on science and technology and establish a trade association to oversee quality assurance. Education officials are expected to undertake stricter supervision and monitoring of distance learning institutions. The training of teachers and health care workers, and apparently legal education, will be reserved exclusively for public higher education institutions under the political control of the regime.
Doing the Right Thing
When I wrote my commentary “Ethiopia: Indoctri-Nation” this past September, I argued that the wholesale ban of private distance learning programs by “directive”, or more accurately by bureaucratic fiat, was a flagrant violation of the governing law known as the “Higher Education Proclamation No. 650/2009” [‘Proclamation’] and the constitutional property rights of the providers. I demonstrated that the responsible regulatory agency known as the “Higher Education Relevance and Quality Agency” (HERQA) could only “revoke accreditation” of private distance learning institutions which fails to meet “minimum standards” on a case-by-case basis following a fact-finding and appeals process. It does not have the legal authority to impose a wholesale ban.
The reasons reported publicly for the “negotiated agreement” lifting the ban are not convincing in light of the provisions of the Proclamation. HERQA has broad regulatory authority to “ensure the minimum curricula quality standards”. It does not need to “negotiate” its own legal authority to demand accountability and observance of standards from substandard providers; it could simply commence de-accreditation procedures against them. Instead of imposing a wholesale ban, the prudent and sensible thing for HERQA would have been to notify distance learning stakeholders of deficiencies, consulted with them on remedies and instituted stricter accountability and quality control measures with increased oversight and monitoring. Those who fail to cure deficiencies within a reasonable time could be set for a “de-accreditation” hearing. Inexplicably, HERQA officials and the political bosses in charge of education acted rashly and arbitrarily in August; now they have been forced to turn back the clock because the total ban has proven to be impractical and irrational to implement and has made the ruling regime in Ethiopia the laughing stock of higher education throughout the world.
As I have demonstrated in my commentary referenced above, the blanket ban on distance learning was wrong because it imposed collective punishment on all members of a group without an opportunity to be heard and a fair determination of the facts. The ban also unfairly smeared all distance program providers in the country as sub-standard, and maligned the leaders of these institutions as scammers in light of comments by officials which insinuated that the “purpose [of the providers] was to collect money” and not provide legitimate educational services. It is impossible to imagine that all distance learning providers in the country are so deficient in quality that they needed to be shut down at once. If that were true, it would be a sad commentary on those officials responsible for education in the country for allowing such institutions to function as they have for so many years. Imposing the ban in August was wrong; righting that wrong by lifting the ban now (assuming that it is actually lifted and is not merely a public relations gimmick) is a testament to education itself: “All humans make mistakes, but only the wise ones learn from them.”
Educational bureaucrats and their political bosses in Ethiopia could learn a few lessons from the blanket ban fiasco. First, it is important for them to incorporate the principle of the rule of law in their official actions. Simply stated, they could act only to the extent that they have constitutional and statutory authority. They cannot act arbitrarily or abuse their power because they occupy a political position. The ban was manifestly the result of lack of knowledge or willful ignorance of the applicable law by officials in charge of educational policy-making and implementation. Had these officials familiarized themselves with their governing Proclamation, it would have been self-evident to them that they have to follow the prescribed de-accreditations procedures and could not impose a total ban. They need to institutionalize and practice the principle of the rule of law as part of their bureaucratic culture which will help them perform their duties with high degree of accountability, transparency and efficiency.
The second lesson to be learned is that to avoid the type of mindless and irrational policymaking, the political bosses in charge of education should establish a standardized notice-and-comment process before proposed regulations are implemented. By publicly announcing a proposed rule change in advance, impacted institutions, groups, communities and members of the general public would be given an opportunity to provide input and share their views on their special circumstances. They could also provide policymakers data and analysis to help in the formulation of policies that are balanced, efficacious and likely to be implemented successfully. Such a process avoids hasty consideration of issues, premature and uninformed judgments, embarrassing decisions and obviates the need for the futile pursuit of impractical policies as evidenced in this ban.
To be sure, if the education officials had followed a notice-and-comment process, not only would distance learning service providers, teachers, students and their parents and others have had the opportunity to contribute positively to the policy process, the officials themselves could have spared themselves public embarrassment, avoided wasting time negotiating something the needed no negotiation and quite possibly avoid legal challenges to the ban. A notice-and-comment process also promotes accountability, transparency and public engagement in the policy process consistent with the prescription in Article 12 of the Ethiopian Constitution (Functions and Accountability of Government) which provides: “The activities of government shall be undertaken in a manner which is open and transparent to the public.” What better way to practically implement Article 12 than instituting an open notice-and-comment process?
A third lesson to be learned is that in higher education it is vital to maintain ongoing consultations with the stakeholders. Higher education is not the military high command where random and arbitrary orders are given to be followed unquestioningly. Having served in a leadership position in higher education strategic planning and implementation and overseen the development of a specialized distance learning program, I know it is counter-productive to even consider imposing bureaucratic control on curriculum, faculty, staff, students and administrators. Systematic and ongoing consultations with stakeholders are essential for a successful distance learning program design, planning, implementation, evaluation, maintenance and improvement. Quality concerns in distance learning are not limited to “ensuring minimum standards” as it seems to be the concern of educational officials in Ethiopia; there is the whole other area of student achievement and learning outcomes which can be tackled only by identifying student needs, problems and barriers students encounter in obtaining educational services. Without a comprehensive approach, the efforts to ensure minimum standards in the long run will amount to nothing more than window dressing.
The need for ongoing consultations with stakeholders needs emphasis. When HERQA suddenly announced the ban, distance learning providers, teachers and students at these institutions were shocked to find out that such a catastrophic policy had been made without even the courtesy of notice, let alone consultations with them as stakeholders. Molla Tsegaye, president of Admas University College, expressed shock and dismay when he learned about the ban: “We did not expect this. As stakeholders in the sector, we should have been consulted before all this.” Consultation is a process in which the concerned parties confer to share views, exchange ideas and give advice. Negotiation is a process in which the parties have issues which they seek to settle in a formal agreement. Both the providers and the educational bureaucrats and their political bosses are presumably on the same side. They are both manifestly interested and committed to educational quality and student learning. Consultations, not negotiations, are more appropriate and efficacious to increase program quality and student achievement. If Ethiopia’s distance education providers are collectively failing in providing quality instruction, they should be presented with the data of sub-par performance and engaged as stakeholders to develop guidelines for best practices.
The fourth lesson to be learned is the need to de-politicize education. Education bureaucrats and their political bosses should respect principles of academic freedom in higher education and let students, faculty members, scholars and researchers have the freedom to teach, learn or communicate ideas without being targeted for repression, job loss and other retribution. Higher educational institutions, and schools in general, should not be places of indoctrination for the ruling party’s true believers. The legal, teaching and health professions should not be the exclusive domain of public institutions that are funded and completely controlled by the regime and its top leaders. Academic merit and freedom, and excellence in instructional quality should be the governing principles for higher education in Ethiopia, not party membership, party loyalty or party influence.
The fifth and most important lesson for the political bosses that orchestrated this fiasco is to publicly come out and say, “We made a mistake. We messed up. We acted rashly and without forethought when we imposed a wholesale ban! We will consult stakeholders in the future and solicit input from the public to ensure a transparent process; and we will act only to the extent that we have authority under the law.” There is nothing more important for the public than to have officials taking ownership of their mistakes. No reasonable person would disagree with efforts aimed at weeding out diploma mills and fly-by-night operations. No one would protest efforts aimed at protecting the public from educational fraud. The solution to these problem is not to throw out the baby with the bath water by imposing a total ban on distance learning, but to remove the rotten apples from the barrel. With the un-banning of distance learning, stakeholders, bureaucrats and their political bosses could begin a new chapter and go beyond setting “minimum standards” to setting a “gold standard” of best practices in distance learning not only for Ethiopia but also the African continent.
Reflections of an Education “Neo-Liberal”
In the interest of full disclosure, I must confess my own predilections and preferences in higher education having spent much of my professional life in the university environment. I proudly advocate a laissez faire approach to higher education. That makes me an educational “neoliberal” (a word often used pejoratively by some benighted dogmatists, which I simply define as one who believes in a totally free marketplace of ideas undefiled by bureaucratic and regulatory vulgarity) who upholds the individual’s right to choose his/her own educational program and professional career. Well, get a load of this: “Hell, Yeah! I am an Educational Neo-Liberal and Damn Proud it!” As a “neo-liberal”, I believe in freedom of inquiry and thought. I am always willing to entertain new ideas with inquisitiveness and fascination, not fear and anxiety.
There are those destined to the dustbin of history who have argued that “the neo-liberal paradigm is a dead end, is incapable of bringing about the African renaissance, and that a fundamental shift in paradigm is required to bring about the African renaissance.” I say the only paradigm shift self-serving, pretentious, narcissistic and megalomaniacal dictators could bring is to march the “Dark Continent” backwards to the Dark Ages. It was the Renaissance European universities that led the scientific revolution and became the incubators of new ideas in science, literature, philosophy, art, politics, science and religion. Closing institutions of higher learning and banning fields of scientific and philosophical inquiry were the hallmarks of the Dark Ages, not the Renaissance.
My belief is that government regulation of education rarely results in quality improvement or student achievement. The maze of bureaucratic rules and regulations imposed by governments often stifle creativity, learning and the expansion of knowledge. Africa’s “renaissance” or rebirth is in the hands of its young people yearning to breathe free and struggling to exert their creative impulses to lift the continent out of poverty and dictatorship. There can be no renaissance when an official orthodoxy is forced upon citizens and the state mindlessly meddles in the marketplace of ideas and knowledge with a heavy hand. Suffice it to say that I believe in a free marketplace of ideas (universities) where students, teachers, researchers and scholars do not have to seek knowledge under the long shadow of official censors or look over their shoulders for the thought police lurking behind every bush on campus. As to the cultural role played by private higher educational institutions, could anyone doubt the enormous contributions of private universities such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, Columbia, Cornell, Johns Hopkins and dozens more in America’s “renaissance”?
In the marketplace of ideas and knowledge, I say keep government out. Let individuals decide what they want and need. If students feel a private distance education program meets their needs, it should be their choice and not the decision of faceless, nameless and capricious bureaucrats. It is all about freedom of choice. In a free society, every citizen can choose his/her educational destiny. If one chooses to become an educator, a lawyer, a doctor, an engineer, a chemist or train to join any other profession, it is their right to pursue it particularly when they are paying for it out of their own pockets. Only totalitarian states mandate what each citizen will learn and become.
The whole idea of state monopoly in teacher education, health and the law is deeply offensive to anyone who believes in freedom of learning and education. In my September commentary referenced above, I noted: “State-certified teachers who are ruling party members could be used to play a decisive role in legitimizing the regime and in indoctrinating the youth in the regime’s ideology.” Human Rights Watch two weeks ago supported my observation with evidence that the ruling regime in Ethiopia had misused state educational facilities for political purposes and engaged in systematic political indoctrination of students and repression of teachers. 
As a lawyer and educator, I am particularly concerned about state monopoly over legal education. By monopolizing the law discipline, the ruling regime manifestly intends to regulate the admission of law students and the training of lawyers and judges who will administer “justice” in the country. Such a monopoly will produce not lawyers and legal professionals who are committed to the Constitution, the rule of law, principles of universal justice and ethical standards, but robotic legal cadres committed to the ruling regime and its policies. In other words, justice will be administered by party hacks, hirelings, flunkies and lackeys with ultimate loyalty to the dictator-in-chief. I am a proud “neoliberal” in education because I believe “education is a better safeguard of liberty than a standing army”; better yet, the best defense against an army of ignoramuses.
FREE ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS IN ETHIOPIA.