Ethiopia’ s Political Trajectory: From Meles to Abiy Ahmed.




Ethiopia’ s Political Trajectory: From Meles to Abiy Ahmed.

by Teodros Kiros (Ph.D) 08/22/2018

Meles and his idea of the Developmental State had put Ethiopia on the modernity project, the central ideas of which can be summarized as follows.

The development of the Ethiopian nation must be assumed as the defining task of the State. The State must guide all the necessary components of a functional state, the economy with its central institutions including the banks, education, infrastructure and parts of civil society. All the subordinate parts of the state must follow directives articulated by the state and then processed by the appropriate functionaries of the state, most particularly the bureaucrats.

Since Ethiopia is fundamentally a peasant society, attention must be given to the peasantry, the main labor force. The duty of the state is to create opportunities for the peasantry, who had hitherto been excluded from the development project must now be encouraged to venture as entrepreneurs and learn the skills of capitalist entrepreneurs and improve their conditions. The state in turn must create a development bank which will lend money to peasants to create values and exchange them at a capitalist market, as socialist entrepreneurs.

The idea of modernity which began in Europe in the seventeenth century was anchored on the capitalist form of distributing resources with an ego centered moral frame, which caters to the whims, interests and passions of the rich and powerful.

In contrast, the inadequately organized socialist economy seeks to develop an alternative form of modernity, which is slowly but steadily penetrating global consciousness.

Capitalist modernity keeps on growing, leaving a vast moral wasteland, a wasteland that socialist modernity seeks to combat but with deep grounding in the people’s public reason and heart. Socialist ideas, however, have yet to develop grounding institutions.

The strategic Meles attempted to modernize Ethiopia through a market economy, jettisoning the socialist alternative, which characterized, the earlier project of revolutionary Ethiopian modernity, which Meles, following the visions of Chinese thinkers dubbed, the Developmental State.

From the very beginning, Meles’ Developmental state seeks to give Ethiopian modernity an original economic form which decouples the idea of development, the motor of modernity, from any moral limitations and worse, it seeks to develop bureaucrats whose task is to implement a singular leader’s vision of building an economic infrastructure that will develop the agricultural center in the villages and also build roads, highways, universities and business centers guided by the imperatives of the global market economy, seeking to develop modernity, using China as a model. The decoupling of morality and economy, characteristic of capitalist modernity, is in direct contrast to the blending of morality and economy, which typifies the socialist vision of modernity.

Meles Zenawi, betraying his commitment to “revolutionary democracy,’ makes the strategic decision of securing food for the poor of Ethiopia by any means necessary. This decision is realized at the expense of aborting the democratic necessity of allowing citizens to participate in choosing ways of life and ethics of existence. The unflinching vision of developing Ethiopia came with shocking results, such as the death of hundreds of university students after the 2005 elections, and the imprisonments of dissidents.

a recent video in Aiga Forum, presents the young Meles Zenawi, movingly grounded in the rural cultures of the Ethiopian countryside. There in the vast fields of the principled Ethiopian peasants, impressive democratic dialogues take place. The leader is seen teaching and learning, lecturing and being lectured at, instructing and being instructed, relentlessly attacking bureaucratic ineptness, praising the natural intelligence of Ethiopian peasants. These moments were the sites of direct democracy, my lifelong dream for Ethiopia, to which I devoted my two most recent books, Philosophical Essays, and Ethiopian Discourse. (Red Sea Press, 2012) Again, I am profoundly dismayed that he did not read these two books, in which I fully share his earlier vision of developing Ethiopia by directly empowering Ethiopian farmers, the back bone of the unfinished project of Ethiopian modernity.

Perhaps he did read them in their original forms when I first published them in the Ethiopian reporter, as a weekly columnist for five years and that I was not fortunate enough to engage him in a critical dialogue in the spirit of Ethiopian modernity, a unique blend of culture and enlightenment, tradition and elements of capitalist modernity.

The fundamentals of the developmental state that Meles has left are impressive sources of waking the sleeping Ethiopian giant of one hundred million people waiting to be engaged economically and be disburdened from poverty. The repressive political structure however is at loggerheads with the idea of modernity, the pillars of which are enlightenment, democratic freedom and tolerance.

In 1982 the continent of Africa was engulfed by the menace of food crisis and then I proposed remedies in a series of conferences sponsored by the African Studies association. These conference papers were collected in book form, Moral Philosophy and Development: The Human condition in Africa. (Ohio University Press, 1992)

In that book, I proposed that food security for the continent be developed by African States, which make conscious decisions and adopt two principles of Justice:

The first principle is the recognition of food, Health, Shelter and clothing as inalienable human rights. African resources must be used in such a way that they can, with proper scientific aids, be channeled to eventually (a) eliminate urgent human conditions of poverty and hunger, and (b) address other attendant consequences of mental and physical health, hopelessness and under motivation.

The second principle is a demand for the absolutely necessary duty humans may have in the recognition of the importance of freedom for those who think and feel that they are unfree. When the basic human needs are met, only then may the Africans be able to think about nonmaterial human needs, such as art and religion. (Moral Philosophy and Development: The Human Condition in Africa, p, 176)

I can only hope that Meles Zenawi, a voracious reader, has read this work of my youth, and perhaps adopted it to his recent call for Ethiopian food security.

Instead of assuming that he was familiar with the work, I publicly suggest that the present Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, consult this work as he continues implementing Meles Zenawi’s vision of securing food for the Ethiopian poor, a lifetime work.

I would like to elaborate and revise my present views of using the two principles of Justice by the Developmental state. With the first formulation, I treat the two principles of justice separately and give priority of importance to the first principle and sacrifice freedom by relegating it to the second position, whereas now, I propose that the Ethiopian Developmental state must enshrine the two principles of justice as constitutional amendments simultaneously.

The repressive political structure that does not allow the flourishing of the thinking individual must be checkmated by the second principle of justice that guarantees freedom for every citizen. That food security and freedom must be procured for the poor of Ethiopia. The first principle and the second principle must be realized at the same time. Both are necessary and sufficient conditions for the vision of a just and efficient modern Ethiopian state.

The existential imperative of food security ought to be mediated by the democratic right of freedom for every Ethiopian. Meles Zenawi was very much mistaken when he thought that freedom and food security couldn’t be realized simultaneously. I think they can.

Development, one of the engines of Ethiopian modernity, requires a democratic structure. The right of speech, principled assembly, spiritual conscience, which includes religious sensibilities, fuels the democratic structure and most potently expresses freedom.

The first principle of justice justifies the idea of development and gives it a material anchor. This material anchor however, must be buttressed by the full satisfaction of the second principle of justice that secures the basic freedoms of speech, assembly and worship. Indeed Ethiopian modernity ought give pride of place to the fundamental freedoms, as political rights, the inherent features of democracy.

In an enlightening article, Dr. Ghelawdewos Araia, has rightly argued, which I would like to quote in its entirety.

While addressing the Ethiopian parliament, Dr. Abiye told us that he is in favor of capitalism, which by the way is acceptable to me, and as I have indicated above, this economic system was most successful and has demonstrated universal applicability. However, I have not heard of the details of the Prime Minister’s policy in regards to the capitalist system. Similar to Dr. Abiye and his Government, Ginbot 7 and Arena Tigray are also in favor of the neo-liberal market economy, but I am not sure whether they have incorporated in their respective policies and/or political programs the distinction between the Liberal Market Economy (LME) and the Coordinated Market Economy (CME), both of which are capitalist systems. It is beyond the scope of this paper to discuss in detail the policies of the two systems, but it is important to note which countries belong to which. The US, Canada, the UK, and Australia belong to the LME group, and Germany, Japan, Scandinavian nations, Netherlands, Austria, and Switzerland belong to the CME bloc. While the former group still promotes unfettered capitalism, the latter bloc of nations humanized capitalism.

If Ethiopia adopts the LME policy of economic development, slowly but surely it could reverse the gains of the DS and the many major projects such as the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) could be stalled or delayed indefinitely; if, on the other hand, Ethiopia pursues the CME strategy, it will have a chance to make reforms in the economy without completely obliterating the DS and without hindering the current pace of development. (African Idea, August 22, 1918)

I appreciate his penetrating question. “If a DS renders sound transformation and prosperity as it did for the Asian Tigers (South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong), China, and Japan etc why then resort to a neo-liberal development agenda, when in fact the latter failed in most Third World countries” ( African Idea, August 22, 2018).

Indeed, if DS has worked miraculously, why should it be abandoned, instead of perfecting it more, and making it repression free. I suggest as Dr. Ghelawdewos does, that we think very hard about choosing an appropriate economic form that serves the people’s interests as opposed to Washington consensus.


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