Who Is in Control – Meles or the Security Apparatus? – Zeinab Amde
In today’s Ethiopia, the grip of real power is blurred as a real political system has given way to the rise of a dictatorship that sustains its existence on sheer power, brute force and arbitrary actions.
Under a democratic system, power emanates from the will of the people and no one is attributed with any power that is exercised without the legal framework or outside of the institutions that lubricate the rule of law. Now Ethiopia’s government has increasingly fallen under the rule of strongmen of the security intelligence apparatus (a.k.a. hizb dehnibet) than the rule of law. This is not more vividly seen than in the security intelligence’s awry and disarrayed scramble for power that is traditionally known to have been exercised by the courts, the police, the army or other executive and judicial bodies. Now the forces that make up the security intelligence can make or break anything in Ethiopia in a form and magnitude that has become even untamable to the creators of this apparatus. One source describes the intelligence’s building muscle and growing influence as the lions in a zoo that had gone astray and uncontrollable to the political leadership that created it.
The civilian and military intelligence force in Ethiopia, by coincidence and/or design, had been blessed with the training and technical support of Israel, the UK, the US, China and many more countries. With the luring extortion of fighting terrorists and the deafening cry of regional stability, these countries had beefed up the intelligence system to be one of the most trained and equipped in the region.
Under normal circumstances, a well trained and well mannered intelligence system that functions within constitutional and legal parameters is a positive force for the healthy functioning of a country. However, in the case of Ethiopia, the deterioration of the political system into a one party dictatorship has come with a price for the political leadership which has to rely on the security machinery as it supplies the dictatorship with a bloodline of information as well as serving as the instrument of silencing and elimination of political opposition and dissent.
In this regard, the political leadership and the intelligence apparatus had fallen into a marriage of convenience. The political leadership needs the intelligence system to keep track of its domestic political opponents – which means the trespassing of the constitutional and legal rules whilst eliminating, weakening, and damaging the political opposition through arbitrary killings, detainment, disappearance, exiling or harassing opponents. In exchange for the crimes it commits in favor of sustaining the political leadership remain in power without rivalry, the security apparatus, gets a free ride in abusing and misusing its sheer force and the resources it has at its disposal, to enrich itself and its clients through corruption, intimidation, harassment, and illegal acts of killings, disappearance or confiscation of property. Here we see the fruition of a classical relation of cyclic and mutual coexistence between the political leadership and the intelligence as both need each other to cover each other’s crimes and misdeeds.
As a direct result of this mutual relationship based on corrupt and illicit interests, the state of affairs has reached a point where the political leadership is unable to control the intelligence apparatus. The desire of Meles and Co. to cling to power by any means necessary through the realization of absolute power has absolutely corrupted the intelligence apparatus reaching a point where the intelligence apparatus is making the calls in terms of having the real and absolute power that Meles and Co. have found to be uncontrollable. That is as the intelligence apparatus is the one that has the power to kill, intimidate or eliminate by using the weapons, the prisons, the resources and information in its disposal, the political machinery in a way has fallen under the mercy of the apparatus that has the real power. Some sources say that the power and influence of the intelligence is growing to such a it is that, directly or indirectly influencing political decisions and that the political machinery is losing its ground in attempting to put its hands around the apparatus.
There were reports that the Meles and Co. are giving a blind eye to the corruption and arbitrary powers exercised by the intelligence apparatus. There were many reports of agents in the intelligence units acting as political or government officials by taking bribes in securing the interests of their friends, relatives, or those that could pay money or other benefits for the service of these agents. One can argue that corruption is everywhere in the world and what is new in this. Yes, corruption is everywhere and it has been the practice in Ethiopia for ages. This is not just mere corruption. This is about a intelligence apparatus that kills people, confiscates property, and do anything illegal with impunity because the political leadership (maybe not for lack of willingness) is incapacitated or afraid of the repercussions of having to collide with this bulging apparatus that could endanger Meles and Co. the other caveat that holds the hands of Meles and Co. handcuffed from doing anything is the magnitude of information that the intelligence apparatus has concerning the corruption and misappropriation of public wealth by Meles and Co. The fact that the intelligence apparatus knows all the crimes committed by the Meles and Co. in abusing public wealth, how can Meles and Co. have the legal and moral high ground to stop or question the corruption and abusive acts being committed by agents of the intelligence apparatus?
In today’s Ethiopia, it better to know or hire an intelligence agent to secure your interest than going through the lame and devastated judicial system. Any one that needs a quick fix to what he/she seeks would not seek the remedy of the institutions of government, which had been weakened by Meles and Co. for its own political reasons. Hence, real power rests in the hands of strongmen and not strong government intuitions of efficient courts, police force, or regulatory agencies that make up the rule of law.
The emergence of these strongmen inside the intelligence apparatus has also become a headache for Meles and Co. The intelligence agents have began coalescing around secret moles that they need to protect each other’s backs. The intelligence units also have their existential needs as much as the political establishment, and hence, they also form groups based on their ethnic, proximity or encounter lines that ensures their own wellbeing. Their services inside the country as well as in Somalia and other fields of work have accelerated the points of contacts and exchange of networks. Hence their natural desire to remain in their comfort zone of wielding such power for their self-interest and the interests of ruling class has come with the consequential desire of keeping that influence intact. Here is the breeding ground for conflict with the ruling class. Thus, Meles and Co. cannot afford to crackdown on the intelligence apparatus, not just for fear of losing trained manpower, but also for fear of the subsequent escalation of confrontation between the two forces that could grow to terminal and disastrous enmity.
At a point, the intelligence apparatus was daunted by a hovering attack intended from the political establishment which led the agents to ignore reports of an impending mutiny inside the military until tipped by foreign intelligence agents. There were also reports of fabricating information by the intelligence that would help massage the ego of the political establishment. This shows the lack of accountability and transparency in terms of the intelligence apparatus, which has helped the agents to function in their own terms.
This relation between Meles and Co. and the security intelligence apparatus has grown beyond control. This is nowhere dangerous to anyone than for the political establishment which has no legitimacy or freewill support of the population. When the political wind is uncertain, it is clear that the intelligence apparatus would be subjected to the influence of foreign forces that could easily buy out the civilian and military intelligence as the kingmakers.
The cyclic nature of dictatorship lies at the behest of the desire for absolute power. Those who cling to power with such sheer power, would definitely find their own alike to help them remain in power. A political establishment that is corrupt and relies on sheer power rather than that emanates from the people would always give way for the emergence of a myriad of moles that exercise absolute power outside of the legitimate institutions of governance. Hence, as in this impending collision course that would cost the political leadership, we are at the threshold of witnessing a power struggle that would have costly consequences for all involved.