The authoritarian development model is running up against limits


(Financial Times) — As Ethiopian runner Feyisa Lilesa crossed the finishing line in his silver medal Olympic marathon run at Rio, he crossed his arms in protest against his government back home. It was a gesture of defiance that could, for transgressing Olympic rules, have cost him his medal and will cause him to live in exile. But it drew global attention to the brutal manner in which the government in Addis Ababa is handling the greatest challenge to the state since the end of the civil war in 1991.

Over the past nine months, hundreds have been killed and thousands incarcerated in a crackdown on protesters from the Oromo, the country’s largest ethnic group. Feyisa, like many of Ethiopia’s revered long-distance runners, is Oromo. The unrest among his people, which has spread to other groups, is symptomatic of a wider collision as the government seeks to transform a predominantly agrarian society through industrialisation, commercial farming and urbanisation.

Ethiopia has spurred some of the fastest economic growth in Africa while eschewing liberal market orthodoxy and giving the state a central role in development. It is an experiment keenly watched by other African governments more constrained by democratic process.

The protests suggest that this authoritarian development model is running up against its limits. They were originally sparked by federal government plans to extend administration of the overcrowded capital Addis Ababa into the surrounding region of Oromia. Those plans have since been shelved.

But what started as parochial opposition to corrupt land deals has conflated with broader grievances about political repression and the perceived dominance in federal institutions of the Tigray ethnic group. Tigrayans, who spearheaded the overthrow of the government in 1991, make up about 6 per cent of the population.

In theory Ethiopia has the wherewithal to deal with such tension. In practice there is a fundamental contradiction in the way it is governed: between the federal nature of the state as enshrined in the constitution and the reality of centralised, authoritarian power. The de facto one-party state may retain sufficient strength to maintain hegemony for now. But in reverting to such crude tactics to suppress dissent, the government has raised the risk that what started as peaceful protest will evolve into armed revolt.

It is a scenario familiar to many African states. What sets Ethiopia apart is the effectiveness with which the government has approached development. Allies in the US and Europe have come to rely on the country’s comparative stability in a strategically important region threatened by Islamist extremists. International donors have turned a blind eye to the excesses of the regime — as they do in Rwanda, which shares a similar profile — and helped bankroll the state in part because they have received value for their money.

This is short-sighted. To sustain investment in infrastructure, and accelerate export-led industrial and agricultural growth, the country will require greater amounts of foreign capital. That capital will shy away from a further breakdown in law and order.

The government could start by respecting the spirit of the constitution and ushering in more decentralised rule. It needs to loosen in parallel its grip on political and economic freedom if there is to be a chance of providing opportunities for the 100,000 students graduating every year. It will be a delicate process given how tightly controlled the country has been and how charged the climate is as a result. But it is a necessary one. Ethiopian exceptionalism has run its course.

2 thoughts on “Ethiopia has to loosen its grip on the economy

  1. The Tigrian will never do this approach because they are minority & they are scared of the Oromo people the single largest ethnic in the country. The above suggestion can work only in democratic and majority rule country. TPLF just need s to GO and let Oromo takes over the leadership and show the world how to build democracy,rule of law , peace & stability not only in Ethiopian but also in Africa.

  2. A Call for Boycott Measures
    #Oromoprotests #AmharaProtests #Ethiopia
    Desperate times call for desperate measures. Building on its gains so far, the Oromo protests movement is entering a new phase.The unrelenting killing and brutal repression of the regime continues unabated. This is calling for a change of tactics.
    Accordingly, the Oromo protests is now calling for a week long, nation-wide boycott of markets and trade activities in this holiday season (of Ethiopian new year and Eid el-Arafaa).

    The week chosen for this campaign is a week of intense economic activities in Ethiopia. By boycotting the market and all trade exchanges for a week, this boycott campaign aims at crippling the economy of the regime. This will also demonstrate that it is Oromia and the Oromo that shoulder the heavy brunt of the country’s economy. It will also help distinguish between businesses that stand with the people’s demand for social justice and those that stand in support of the terrorist regime.

    Accordingly, starting from Pagume 1 2008 to Meskerem 2, 2009 EC, there will be a nation-wide campaign targeting the economic power of the system by disrupting, through boycott, of all business and trade activities in Oromia including Finfinnee. The objective of this campaign is to weaken the regime’s capacity to oppress the people by crippling its economy.

    As we all know, this is a holiday season. It’s a season of new year celebration and of Eid -AL Arafaa.

    No one needs a reminder that the year that is coming to an end, 2008 EC, the year of trial and tribulation for the Oromo people. It has been a year of intense and bitter struggle. It has also been a year of huge sacrifices made in defense of our rights and in resisting a terrorist regime and it’s killing machine.
    For Oromos and other oppressed peoples in Ethiopia, the year was no ordinary year. This holiday season therefore is not a holiday season like any other. It is not one in which we spend time just enjoying ourselves, having fun, and being merry. It is a season of remembering our fallen heroes, our martyrs, and all those who are in pain from injuries, those who are in the regime’s military detention centers and prisons, those whose whereabouts is unknown, those who grieve because they lost loved ones into the struggle. It is a week of quietly consulting with each other about the future of our struggle and ways of strategizing for the inevitable victory.

    Consequently, during this holiday season, we shall take the following measures:

    1. Our farmers shall refrain from the usual act of providing the following products/items and/or commodities that are in demand for the holiday season:
    A. Grains (xaafii, barley, wheat, etc);
    B. Honey, coffee, butter, and other dairy products;
    C. Cattle (sheep, goats, bulls, heifers, etc)
    D. Poultry products (chicken, eggs)
    E. Others.
    Households are advised to purchase food items that form part of basic necessities (such as salt, flours, etc) in time, preferably in the week before Pagume 1.

    2. Our business people and our traders shall refrain from delivering the above-mentioned items to the markets of big cities such as Finfinnee and to the consumers thereof.

    3. Any business person and/or trader who violates this call for boycott shall be taken to be standing with the TPLF regime. As such, their activities shall be interrupted. Their travels to and from the cities shall be disrupted.

    4. During this week, all Oromos, urban and rural alike, shall not be spending any money or time by going to restaurants, cafes, bars, places of buying and chewing chat (mana barcaa).

    Everyone shall be staying at home–with family, friends, relatives and neighbors–remembering our martyrs and deliberating on tactics and strategies for the effectiveness of our struggle in the days to come.

    They may also choose to spend time in their chosen places of worship (churches, mosques, temples, etc) to pray and meditate, to consult and reckon with fellow travelers of their faith.

    As indicated above, these are tough times. Tough times demand tough measures commensurate to our challenges. This campaign week, because it is holiday week, is a time of heavy economic activity in the country.

    The campaign’s modest goal is to hit hard on the economic activity of the week by a simple act of boycotting the wanton consumption and provision of products needed thereof.

    This is done in order to weaken the regime’s economic power deployed to repress our people. It is also done to identify businesses and traders that side with the people’s just causes and those that stand in support of the regime’s imperative of killing and brutal repression.

    We call upon all other justice-loving people to join our people in this campaign. We will also call upon them to understand, to pay attention, to bear witness, and to respond to this appeal to conscience.

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