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Post-Meles Ethiopia

The Challenges Ahead and the Collective Responsibility of Ethiopians

Ghelawdewos Araia

September 7, 2012

This essay intends to critically examine the challenges that Ethiopians encounter at this juncture of their history and what they ought to do in the ongoing development and transformation of their nation. In many of my writings, I have reiterated time and again and underscored the significance of collective, communal, and harmonious endeavor in nation building. We must all understand that it is our obligation to pitch in the dynamic development process (that I will fully address in my forthcoming major scholarly work) and not simply observe as bystanders and watch as if miraculously manna is going to drop from heaven.

However, in order for Ethiopians who love their country extend their hands and participate in the development march of their country, the Ethiopian government, particularly the ruling party, should open its doors, embrace ideas and inputs from Ethiopians at home and abroad, and also accommodate the constructive and legally operating opposition groups. This is another dimension of this essay and I am doing it for the welfare of the Ethiopian people and for the sake of Ethiopia. Nothing more and nothing less, and I have no other objective other than wishing to witness budding Ethiopia reaches a certain threshold to be reckoned with as an industrialized �lion king� of Africa.

We Ethiopians have many challenges ahead of us, and instead of ruminating with disappointment at our shortcomings and failures, we should be able to constantly reassess our past experiences and delineate the foundations of new history, new direction, and new vistas for Ethiopia. In simple and plain language, this is what I mean: Instead of trying to bring back the silent ghosts of the past, we must practically engage ourselves in development projects, ranging from education to rural and agricultural development, from industry to infrastructure etc. This will reflect our collective mission and practically uplift the millions of destitute and poor Ethiopians.

In short, we Ethiopians, particularly professionals and intellectuals, must understand that we have a unique historical responsibility and to this calling, we must become an exemplar force in which we literally become part of the energy that creates the future. And in order to effectively realize our mission, we must, first and foremost, agree on a unified synthesis of development agenda for Ethiopia, and if we are sincere in our motives, I believe the Ethiopian motto of transforming the country will serve as constellation of ultimate causes. In brief, we will leave a legacy to the coming generations of Ethiopians so that they can continue from where we left off. We Ethiopians must be able to tackle with multidimensional puzzles and find appropriate solutions, and that is our challenge.

We all must understand that one transformation involves a change of intermediate vectors, and whatever the Meles-led EPRDF Government initiated (irrespective of the weaknesses it has exhibited) is a challenge to all Ethiopians (irrespective of their ideology, creed, and political affiliations), and those of us who are ready to extend our hands to the motherland should be able to implement the principle of national reconciliation, a topic that I have addressed several times. In this regard, both the opposition and the government have shown weaknesses. If both sides were open-minded at inviting each other for dialogue, the Ethiopian political landscape would be in much better shape, and most importantly the seeds of democracy would be sown as a foundation for a democratic culture in Ethiopia. In the latter scenario, thus, government institutions and the respective incumbents holding office would become transparent and accountable and, in turn, we would witness free flow of ideas being entertained in the spirit of freedom of speech and free press, and ultimately the Ethiopian citizenry would be empowered. This can be done only if the Government takes a bold initiative in democratizing Ethiopia. The EPRDF and the developmental state under the leadership of Meles Zenawi have scored a number of achievements in development projects, including foundational development such as the expansion of schools and other major development programs such as rural and agricultural development, the construction of dams and roads.

Democracy, however, remains EPRDF�s Achilles Heel! The EPRDF must seriously consider the promotion of democracy in Ethiopia, and this could give some facelift on the ruling party and perhaps a better look. In fact, as they say, �a rose by any other name still smells sweet� and if the EPRDF initiates democratic reform, its aroma will be enhanced as to attract friend and foe alike.

I believe it is time for us to entertain the idea of democracy in all venues and discussion forums and also exercise it as part of our fundamental rights in our daily routines at workplace, at home, at public-square, in the market place, in schools, and even in places of worship. It is with this in mind that I wrote �Designing Continuum to Enrich Ethiopian Educational Discourse and Debate Culture,� back in 2004. It is a piece that I think is still relevant and here is the link: www.africanidea.org/designing.html

However, unless we seriously initiate national reconciliation, all our efforts in planning, designing, and/or proposing strategies for a democratic Ethiopia will evaporate in thin air. But now, I am hopeful because for the first time I heard a top government official reaching out all Ethiopians, including the opposition. That was a speech made by Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn, a speech of gratitude to all Ethiopians but clearly imbued with reconciliation. I was gratified to hear the Deputy Prime Minister specifically mentioning and thanking virtually all sectors of the Ethiopian society. To be sure, the Ethiopian people deserve gratitude for being so magnanimous and gracious following the departure of Meles and for exhibiting the highest moral standard in respecting the dead, and most importantly for demonstrating their determination to continue the development agenda.

I have always been proud of being Ethiopian, but now I am even more proud because of the integrity and love to the motherland my fellow Ethiopians have shown me. I must admit that some of us in the Diaspora are lagging behind the Ethiopian people in many respects. Moreover, a segment of the Ethiopian Diaspora, that is the charlatans and flag-waving demagogues, the cyber politicians, and the Bar/Restaurant heroes do not only lag behind Ethiopians at home but they are also at a complete loss and they have become, inadvertently perhaps, anti-Ethiopian.

I also like to frankly and candidly address the power transition that will take place in post-Meles Ethiopia. This task is particularly the political assignment of the EPRDF Central Committee members. Nevertheless, I like to flesh out some important points pertinent to transference of power by way of suggesting what the future Ethiopian leaders should do in the event a power vacuum occurs and a leader dies in office without completing his/her term.

Back in 2005, I contributed an article entitled �Political Leadership and Legitimate Power in Ethiopia� and was posted on the now defunct Deki-Alula website. Following Stephen R. Covey�s book Principle-Centered Leadership, the central thesis of the article essentially discusses the three forms of power, namely, coercive power, utility power, and legitimate power.

Coercive power obviously employs physical force and intimidation; utility power, by contrast, is based on influence and charisma but also uses rewards and fringe benefits to earn the support of the people. Legitimate power, on the other hand, as I have discussed it then, �is based on trust and respect for the people. Unlike the two powers discussed above, legitimate power does not depend on fear and material reward, and rather anchors itself on the faith of the people, and the people reciprocate by supporting the powers that be without fear or intimidation. In this positive and symbiotic relationship the leaders enjoy mass base, which is the source of their legitimacy. Leaders with legitimate power, therefore, have confidence in themselves and in the people by whom they were entrusted to wield power. As Covey succinctly puts it, leaders with legitimate power �are trusted, respected, honored�and they are followed because others want to follow them, want to believe in them and their cause, want to do what the leader wants. This is not blind faith, mindless obedience, or robotic servitude; this is knowledgeable, wholehearted, uninhabited commitment. This is legitimate power.��1                                 

The politics of power, of course, is very complex and there is no doubt that power is the unit currency of politics and logically, it follows, one cannot dissociate power from politics. However, I like to challenge the Ethiopian leaders that politics should not necessarily be always power-based, in which the Machiavellian �effective� leader plays a dominant role in the decision making process. Politics in its broader sense also entails good governance is complemented by what Max Weber calls substantive rationality (e.g. compassion, mutual assistance, welfare, ethical values etc.)

In the selection process, thus, the EPRDF leaders should not confine themselves to utility power and/or power-based politics, but they should also seriously consider the use of substantive rationality. The latter rationale engages not only the examples I gave above but also includes important political measures such as �inclusive politics�, �shared political agenda� (our collective mission), �dialogue�, �reconciliation�, and �tolerance� etc.

If the above rationales are considered in Ethiopian politics, we can easily attain a more democratic Ethiopia and we can enjoy a voice in the political process. Selection of leaders, then, will not only be decided by parties (by the ruling party in the Ethiopian case), but also by constituencies and educational institutions. But it is not as easy as it sounds. Even in highly democratic countries like the United States, the selection process is complicated, paradoxical, and confusing to the average American. It is the Electoral College and not the popular vote that matters in selecting the president and putting him/her in the White House. The people may cast their vote for their favorite candidate, but if the latter manages to garner the majority popular vote but gets less Electoral College tickets, s/he will not become president.

Unlike in the United States and other presidential systems, in parliamentary democracies, the executive committee of the winning/ruling party selects the prime minister. In Ethiopia, we don�t a have a full-fledged democracy as in the UK or India but the selection process is similar and the EPRDF senior leaders or central committee members will select the next prime minister. In the long run, we might rethink even the relatively functioning stable democracies in the world and consider rather �citizens juries� as in the United States and Germany and �citizens� initiatives� or referenda as in Switzerland and the United States.

If all goes well, we will witness a smooth transition in Ethiopia. However, with respect to the selection of the PM, I like to offer my two-penny worth input. I am of the opinion that the EPRDF should select relatively solid, visionary, and committed leader with credentials of governance experience, and if possible with relevant educational background: the would be PM should be a man/women of integrity and un abler leader who can shrewdly maintain the delicate balance of politics and who also understands the complexity of local, national, regional, and global politics. Above all, the would be Prime minister must be a swift decisive leader who can execute urgent matters without compromising the national interest of Ethiopia. 

Whoever is confirmed for Prime Minister of Ethiopia, his/her first job should be to promote national reconciliation and reach out the opposition parties, particularly the legally operating parties like Medrek (Forum): she/he should be instrumental in healing old wounds and in uniting Ethiopians for a single purpose of their collective responsibility.


1. Ghelawdewos Araia, �Political Leadership and Legitimate Power in Ethiopia,� www.dekilaula.com/article/g_araia_may_23_2005.html

All Rights Reserved. Copy Right � IDEA, Inc. 2012. The writer can be contacted for constructive and educational feedback via dr.garaia@africanidea.org