Ethiopian Major Problems and Possible Remedies – Ture Hirbe, PhD

July 30th, 2010 Print Print Email Email

While living in democratic countries we envy the citizens of these countries to see them exercise their right to elect their officials at all levels of the government. For example, the USA possesses more than 500,000 elected offices. Other things being equal, the greater the number of offices subject to competitive election, the more democratic a political system becomes. We Ethiopians are dreaming for the day that we will be able to choose our leaders and officials without fear, harassment and intimidation. Definitely Elections are the defining institution of modern democracy. However, I believe that Elections alone may not solve all problems and protracted social conflicts in Ethiopia. Ethiopia is facing multifaceted and complicated problems which need complex approach to solve them. I would suggest three problems, which might need immediate attention.

1. The Problem of Ethiopian State Structure: The modern Ethiopian state has always been highly centralized state, where a single ethnic group dominates over all others. This has created and is still creating tensions and conflicts among different Ethiopian ethnic groups. The current government is fueling the tension and using it as an instrument to divide and rule. Azar correctly concludes that ‘highly centralized political structures are sources of conflict because they reduce the opportunity for a sense of community among groups, increase alienation and tend to deny to groups the means to accomplish their needs’. As a solution he suggests that ‘for conflicts to be enduringly resolved, appropriate decentralized structures are needed, designed to serve the psychological, economic, and relational needs of groups and individuals within nation-states’ (Azar, 1986).

Ethiopian political elites have different opinions on how to approach this issue. Having different opinion should not be a problem in itself, but understanding the position of others and tolerating one another has become an obstacle to open and constructive dialogue. In order to overcome this hurdle, open public discussion and debate over this issue must start right now. Open discussions and debate will help to build confidence among different ethnic groups and peoples. It will bridge the gap and clear the way to make important compromises. Thus, opposition leaders are expected to work hard to find common ground to tackle this issue openly, genuinely, and in a very honest way. The step-by-step approach should include: organizing brainstorming meetings, seminars, workshops; and at last organizing all-inclusive Peace and Reconciliation Conference.

Hitherto exercised exclusionist approach should stop. Imposing pre-conditions before any discussion starts will not be helpful; rather it will further damage the relations. Ethnic and national political organizations should meet freely and discuss their ideas and their approach to solving the pressing problems. I don’t think that any kind of conflict resolution goal would be achieved if one excludes major ethnic political groups like OLF and ONLF that are representing significant number of population. By the way, ethnic politics has been always part of our history and it will remain so for the long time to come. Our diversity should not be taken as liability or as a bad thing. It is rather a beauty and an asset. We have to build on it, not fear it.

2. The Problem of poverty: Poverty is so deep in our country; about 15 million people in Ethiopia have no food security; six million always live on foreign food aid; families in millions cannot feed their children three times a day, and some are even eating in shifts. We are all ashamed of this dire situation and particularly, those in power must be ashamed of themselves. They have to be ashamed of themselves because they are enriching themselves at the expense of millions of hungry and starving people.

A USAID/Ethiopia Strategic Paper (2004) identifies a lack of Good Governance as a main reason for food insecurity in Ethiopia. The paper states that ‘the dramatic nature of Ethiopia’s cycle of famine is linked to the Country’s long history as feudal State and Socialist dictatorship. Current TPLF/EPRDF government in Ethiopia is a minority ethnic group imposing its wrong policies and programs upon the majority of the Ethiopian people. The country still lacks a broad political competition and has very weak governance. Unfortunately enough, the Ethiopian people accept the authoritarian rule, and are largely passive in their relationship to government officials at all levels. The custom of holding elected officials accountable for social service delivery, economic opportunity, and basic human rights are weak or even non-existent’. The paper correctly concludes that ‘many problems that contribute to Ethiopia’s continuing vulnerability to famine stems from weak governance’. We actually don’t expect good governance from TPLF/EPRDF Government, because it fundamentally lacks not only legitimacy to govern, but most importantly, it also lacks a capacity to govern. The USAID/Ethiopia paper reveals this fact when it writes: ‘Ethiopia currently is a federal State, with nine regions broadly configured along ethnic lines. However, these regions have no internal autonomy to exercise self-administration. There is a strict control of the central government, which creates tension between center and periphery. Regional, Zonal, and Woreda administrators are being appointed by a ruling party without having a capacity to govern’. The very nature of TPLF/EPRDF government makes it difficult to reform itself, and thus, it has to be replaced if we seriously need to alleviate, or at least, reduce poverty in Ethiopia.

3. The Problem of Political Culture: Political culture refers to the overall pattern of beliefs, attitudes and values in a society towards the political system. As Ethiopia has always lived and still living under dictatorship, the citizens of this country see themselves as subjects of the government not as participants in the political process. Many fear to express themselves outwardly against the wrong doings of the authorities. What Levada observed about the people living under dictatorship fits well to our society. He writes: ‘Fear created citizens who outwardly conformed but in reality adopted strategies designed to ensure their survival: two persons in one body. People participated but only as subjects. Survival required certain cunning in the pursuit of self-interest…’ (Levada, 2001). We Ethiopians do not deny that we all are two persons in one. It is not our fault. It is the result of the environment of fear that imposed on us by our rulers. But we have to recognize this fact and work hard to change it. This culture of fear and suspicion of each other should stop somewhere if we really want to enter into a serious problem solving dialogue.

Besides, an uncompromising political culture of 1970s is still intact in our society. Those political elites in power and the leaders of oppositions are all the product of the 1970s political movement, and they have a problem of listening and understanding the position of their opponents. For them the games are always to win or to lose. No win-win situation in their thinking. The opponents should be in anyways defeated. This kind of political culture is still intact in our society and we should have to openly debate on it and overcome this hurdle, if we really want to address our problems genuinely and solve them definitely.

Ture Hirbe, PhD

The writer can be reached at turehirbe@gmail.com

  1. Jima
    | #1

    Hi Dr Ture Hirbe

    Thank you for your well articulated paper. We should understand that any compromise will further improve the right of nations and nationalities. The struggle of Oromo and Ogaden liberation fronts is to make regions autonomous. I don’t think this idea is against the interest of nations and nationalities of Ethiopia. This is only against the interest of those (Gurage and Amhara) who were benefiting more at the expense of other ethnic groups. It is not a surprise if they struggle for the status quo. they try to confuse other ethnic groups as if our struggle is against interest of nations and nationalities. Down for those who are working against the interest of Oromo and Ogaden people.

  2. Goitom
    | #2

    Good job Dr. Ture. It is a good start. I wish you would go more to the deatail plan of your suggestions to bring those parties and individuals to a table. We have to sit and talk to bring a change to this old-”Ethiopian” political system.

    For example, I think ESAT can bring all political parties for discussion. If all meet face to face and make thier ideas clear, that would help people to understand theit stand to wards the future politics of the nations and the nationalities.

    Those (specially, few elits from Amahra) have to understand the problem of other nations (like Oromo, Sidama, Gambella, Ogaden, …) in the country. They have to litsen to their problem. If you notice, those habeshas and ‘habeshanized’ ppl in DC protest only to the interest of one region and Shewas questions/unjustice/. Why not for the Oromos? why not for the Ogadens? for the Gambellas? for the Sidamas? ……

    Amahars, …try to listen to the problem of other nations. Acknowledge what has been done in the past; its impact on the tradition, moral, culture, development of other nations.

    Oromos…you shall also stand with the rest of the nations for the common interest. You guys have to know that only few ppl know abt the past wrong acts on the ppl of Oromos. So, you better reach out to the rest of the ppl than creatin an island.

    To the Tigriyans. You better support your people than a party. Your people will be in trouble in the future if you do not condemn the wrong doings of TPLF/EPRDf right now. You have to be with the poeple so that they would have a free media, free institutions, freedom of movement. Your regions have not gotten all these. Think for the future generations of Tigryans and the rest of the ppl….otherwise, there will be no Ethiopia in 30 or 50 yrs from now.

    Long live for people who fights for the people (not for his race or party).

    Goitom meet @ Gidenatigray@gmail.com

  3. ethiopiawiwu
    | #3

    As I read your article I understand that according to your perception the current tplf designed ethnically based regions are correct,and if the existing political unrest in Ethiopia has to be resolved it should include the olf and onlf;you need to know that the national liberation movements do represent the entire Ethiopian nation unlike those who are claiming to be representing thier ethnic and have done nothing to justify that,and four decades have lapsed,to start with they claim that they are colonised by Ethiopia,forgething that their grandchildrens of settlers now they demand to have a huge part of Ethiopia which used to be a belonging of other ethnics in the prior the 16 century.Acording to me the olf and onlf do not represent any body than thier owen narrwo day dreams and if they are excluded from from finding lasting solution for all the people of Ethiopia it wont be a problem afterall their is no difference between them and tplf ideologocally speaking except that tplf is in control of political power.Furthur more their was no time that Ethiopia colonised any nation in the world ,therefore the grandchildren of the 16 century settlers since they have been highly misbehaving unlike their forefathers they need to be to told that unless they ready to live like Ethiopians accepting themselves as Ethiopians they can actually take a hike because they represent no body in Ethiopia and the national democratic and freedom movements should not be worried about them,because those who are anti-Ethiopia shall never by all means allies to bring the down fall of tplf and help establish unity,democracy and a rule of law in Ethiopia.My respect goes to all those pro-democracy pan ETHIOPIANS of all ethinic bakgrounds including oromos and ogadens.Ethiopia and all Ethiopians shall be defended by her true patriots.Long live Ethiopia!

  4. ethiopiawiwu
    | #4

    ethiopiawiwu :As I read your article I understand that according to your perception the current tplf designed ethnically based regions are correct,and if the existing political unrest in Ethiopia has to be resolved it should include the olf and onlf;you need to know that the national liberation movements do represent the entire Ethiopian nation unlike those who are claiming to be representing thier ethnic and have done nothing to justify that,and four decades have lapsed,to start with they claim that they are colonised by Ethiopia,forgething that their grandchildrens of settlers now they demand to have a huge part of Ethiopia which used to be a belonging of other ethnics prior the 16 century.Acording to me the olf and onlf do not represent any body than thier owen narrwo day dreams and if they are excluded from from finding lasting solution for all the people of Ethiopia it wont be a problem afterall their is no difference between them and tplf ideologocally speaking except that tplf is in control of political power.Furthur more their was no time that Ethiopia colonised any nation in the world ,therefore the grandchildren of the 16 century settlers since they have been highly misbehaving unlike their forefathers they need to be to told that unless they ready to live like Ethiopians accepting themselves as Ethiopians they can actually take a hike because they represent no body in Ethiopia and the national democratic and freedom movements should not be worried about them,because those who are anti-Ethiopia shall never be by all means allies to bring the down fall of tplf and help establish unity,democracy and a rule of law in Ethiopia.My respect goes to all those pro-democracy pan ETHIOPIANS of all ethinic bakgrounds including oromos and ogadens.Ethiopia and all Ethiopians shall be defended by her true patriots.Long live Ethiopia!

  5. Goitom
    | #5

    @ Ethiopiawi…..You are the one who is narrow that tries cover/burry the questions of nations and nationalities by the name of unity. The Oromos and Ogodens are saying we have not treated as a himan being; our culture and tradition is masked and destroyed by the ‘Habeshas’ by force; tortured and humiliated by ‘Habeshas’…..
    Try to listen and understand thier questions. these ppl together make up uo hald of the ‘current Ethiopia’…so we have to litsen to their question. You may say that those who say this are very few….but I would say why not hundred. We have to listen and respect thier question. But, do not forget that millions of ppl are behind them.
    Try to aknowledge and appreciate thier question. No on cares abt one Ethiopia unless he/she is treated equally (with his/her tradition, culture, language…that mekes him/her who he/she is). Imagine, what would happen to you if the Oromos ask you to use Oromifa or Somali language as a working language in ‘Ethio.’? Do you accept that? That is what happened on them.

    So, let us be open minded and work together, respect each other, and stop imposing our idea, culture and tradition by force on each other.
    Long live for people who fights for the people (not for his race or party).

    Goitom meet @ Gidenatigray@gmail.com

  6. Goitom
    | #6

    @ Ethiopiawi…..You are the one who is narrow that tries to cover/burry the questions of nations and nationalities by the name of unity. The Oromos and Ogodens are saying ‘we have not treated as a himan being in this country; our culture and tradition is masked and destroyed by the ‘Habeshas’ by force; tortured and humiliated by ‘Habeshas’…..I am not saying all Habeshas are responsible for the past but I would say that they have to acknowledge the problems that happened in the past and try to not to repeat that agian.

    I strongly advice you to listen to and understand their questions. These ppl together make up to half of the ‘current Ethiopia’…so we have to litsen to their questions. You may say that those who raise such kind of questions are very few….but I would say why not hundred. We have to listen and respect thier question. But, do not forget that millions of ppl are behind them.
    Try to aknowledge and appreciate thier question first before convincing them to work together. No on cares abt one Ethiopia unless he/she is treated equally (with his/her tradition, culture, language…that mekes him/her who he/she is). Imagine, what would happen to you if the Oromos/Ethio-Somalis ask you to use Oromifa/Siwhali language as a working language in ‘Ethio.’? Do you accept that? That is what happened on them. ‘Beandinet sim atinegid’

    So, let us be open minded and work together, respect each other, and stop imposing our idea, culture and tradition by force on each other.

    Long live for people who fights for the people (not for his race or party).

    Goitom meet @ Gidenatigray@gmail.com

  7. Andy
    | #7

    What goes around-comes around, they say. Ethiopia is a messed up country. The mentaility of the norther half of the people is no different from the filthy neighboring nations across the read sea. Sooner or later, the other ethnics would start to copy-cut, the works of Tgrays. When every other ethnics do this, particularly the major ones such as the Oromo, they already started in low key, it is going to be the end of Ethiopia as we know it. It is going to be a great pay pack for the current facist regime and its henchmen.

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