Which way Ethiopia : Constitutional Monarchy or Participatory Democracy? An Outline. By Teodros Kiros

August 25th, 2011 Print Print Email Email

Classical Ethiopia was ruled by a series of Monarchs, hereditary and

constituonal. Great were the virtues of the monarchs who ruled the ancient

petty kingdoms of which classical Ethiopia was comprised. Hence, the Ras
Tafarian Icon, Bob Marley, devoted some great songs to Emperor Haile Selassie, a Constitutional Monarch, on whom he bestowed a divinity and a transcendental status, fit only for Kings, who mesmerize us by their spiritual presences.

Emperor Haile Selassie I crowned himself as “King of Kings, Lion of Judah,” and the Ethiopian masses believed in him for over forty years. To some Ethiopians, this was the golden age of Ethiopian history; to the Marxist- Leninist dictator, who overthrew him, the Emperor was a devil incarnate, who kept the masses in abject poverty.

Classical West African civilizations share with Ethiopian civilization a belief
in divinities who carved out African states founded and ruled by Monarchs.
Whereas classical Ethiopia was the domain of Monarchs; modern Ethiopia becomes a self –conscious, ground of a totalitarian version of the single Marxist Party, which in time was overthrown and replaced by a Marxist political party, which professed to be governed by the organizing principle of revolutionary democracy. This is the governing party of EPRDF.

Both classical Ethiopia and modern Ethiopian have yet to drink from the sea of genuine democracy, governed by the principle of participation. I call this
ideal democracy, “Participatory Democracy.”

Ethiopian history is essentially a history of petty Kingdoms and reigning
monarchs, and each monarch in his own way sought to unite the petty kingdoms under a single rule. Emperor Tewodros and Emperor Yohannes were both motivated by the vision of a united Ethiopia under a single monarch. These emperors were at once, Executives, Legislators and Judges. They combined all three functions into one. In addition, they assumed an active leadership of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

Modern Ethiopia , since the radical overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie, assumed a Marxist-Leninist Ideology and professed to be governed by revolutionary democracy.

I would like to argue that the professed revolutionary democracy was not only foreign to Ethiopia , as Professor Messay Kebede has recently shown, but is also not revolutionary enough, I contend. That what contemporary Ethiopia needs is a genuinely participatory institution, in which the Ethiopian people can play a leading role, without a monarch, unless the people demand the need for a symbolic monarch, who is wise, learned and judicious. In principle, the installment of a symbolic monarch is harmless. The ultimate power, however, should reside on the shoulders of enlightened people who could govern themselves on rotational bases. I should now defend this thesis.

The key to the unfolding of participatory democracy is the willingness of the
people to actively participate in political spaces at the work place, schools
and universities, neighborhoods, and civic associations consistently and
intelligently. Such participants must be fully informed about the details of
the economy, the political structure, the Rule of Law, and much else; matters which are beyond their competence must be delegated to the relevant experts, who would perform their tasks for reasonable fees.

The participants must also be passionate about their participatory lives, since much will depend on them and much will be expected from them, as they will be extremely busy, at work and outside work. The people themselves assume political participation, which is typically the vocation of professional politicians, in representative democracies, not as professionals but as political beings, a feature of their personalities, which hitherto was
relegated to experts.

In participatory democracy, experts play a minimal role, whereas average
citizens are both encouraged and expected to actively fashion the everyday
feature of living democracy. Fundamental political virtues, such as
responsibility, obligation, duty, accountability and transparency are directly
learned by doing. A repeated practice of the virtues produces a people with
participatory political features, which become living dimensions of their
political personalities.

Participation is transformative. It transforms by practice. The result is slow,
as the beginning is sluggish, and the reward is not immediate. That is why
people shy away from participation and leave this important matter to
representatives to stand for them, to speak for them.

The participatory model does not depend on parliamentarians to do the job of participation, as is now done in the sham spaces of the ruling regime in
Ethiopia . That model is remote, as it does not directly touch the people’s
pulses, in the intimate way of participatory democracy.

On first blush, participatory democracy looks alien, abstract and unrealizable, and suitable only for small communities of a few hundred people. That is not the case. If we bring the participatory model to where the people work, live and socialize, via institutors, millions of people can participate either directly or through the media of the Internet, the radio, serious television programs, in which issues could be discussed and voted on.

The model of participatory democracy that I am outlining here can be filled by Ethiopia ’s scholars and informed citizens, and I invite you all to discuss the burning issue of “Which Way Ethiopia: Constitutional Monarchy or Participatory Democracy?”

What I have attempted here is to spark a debate and a dialogue as we map out our rendezvous with victory in 2010, or so I dream


Teodros Kiros
Professor of Philosophy and English (Liberal Arts)
Berklee College of Music

  1. koster
    | #1

    The problem is how to get rid of tyrant MELES. I donot think he will give up power alive. He will follow the footsteps of his “heroic” colleagues – Mubarek and co. I pray to God to see the end of tyrany in ETHIOPIA:

  2. S.S. Beyene.
    | #2

    What i would like to point out to the Professor is the misleading title of the otherwise a very sensible article.I am perplexed in your offer `either`ConMon. or `Participatory democracy`where they are the same in the modern context as witnessed from the Scandinavian countries,Belgium,Netherlands,Britain,Spain and ofcourse Japan.I would also like to point out that the above mentioned countries are by far more stable-than most representative democratic counterparts.Each country has to taylor its constitutional mandate by its historical heritage and advance it to fit current norms of governance-which is,call it participatory,parliamentary,representative Democracy.How any country progresses in either social or political index without accounting or negating its historical heritage is quite baffling,infact simply dumb. If ardent Maoists can transform themselves as aspiring champions of parliamentary Democracy(work in progress,i might add) in our country-then surely a modern constitutional monarchy is not only harmless as you put it,but it can play a crucial role in rebuilding the tarnished,unstable, and at best the lucklustre image this country has crowned itself by assorted revolutionary aristocracies in the last 40yrs.

  3. Dromedary
    | #3

    The most well-known model of participatory democracy is Venezuela, in Latin America. However, for reasons that defy logic, in 2002, the so-called “champions of democracy” western countries attempted to overthrow the oil rich country’s democratically elected President through a coup in an effort to replace the democratic government with a puppet dictatorship that serves their economic interest, mainly oil.

    I’m of the opinion that democracy is more than just elections. It should be characterized by the building of democratic institutions vital for sustaining a genuine democracy, social justice and equitable distribution of resources. Africans don’t need to import the western version of a democracy which has been the cause for all that ills Africa today. Western countries have a seasoned and polished socio-economic structure that sustains their version of democracy to avoid the kind of election season violence and blood-shed we see in Africa today.

    In fact, genuine democracy existed in Africa long before the Greeks plagiarized the idea, the western world removed everything quintessentially African about it, and then are trying to export it back to Africa by military force, media propaganda and western-educated derelicts of the African persuasion.

    Frankly, I prefer a benevolent dictator who holds his country’s best interest at heart and delivers social justice for the population over an elected leader whose only interest is to win a second, third, fourth..etc terms as we see in most so-called “democratic” countries in Africa today.

    At least with the benevolent dictator you’ll have social justice that provides every child with equal opportunity to free education, health care and other basic social services necessary to build an educated, conscientious and active majority middle-class population who will take charge of their country and chart out their own destiny without outside interference.

    The prominent Mexican-American civil rights leader, Cesar Chavez said, “Once social justice begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.”

    Thus, it becomes necessary to focus on Social justice, such as delivering clean drinking water, electricity, schools, health care, food security, etc.. and everything else will fall into place. You don’t buy furniture before you build a home. The absence of direct ballot casting during the period of building democratic institutions and social justice should not be construed as the absence of democracy. Because genuine democracy is found in Social Justice and equality. A hungry man going to a ballot box is not democracy. It is a crime against humanity.

  4. Roba
    | #4

    Thanks Professor Tewodros for putting things in perspective. The monarchy thing though is irrelevant to the current Ethiopia, thanks to the socalled “ethiopian revolution” of the 1974. Participatory democracy is very much relevant. But that is not to say that His Imperial majesty Haileselassie the first did not do any thing good for Ethiopia as some might want us to believe. This king is one who SERVED, SUFFERED and later SACRFICIED. It sickens me how sick we ethiopians are , the way we treated an 80 year old Ethiopian with little sense of humanity. May god deliver Ethiopia from the cruelty of its own people.

  5. Sheger
    | #5

    I think I rote a comment last night, what happened to it?

    But any how dear my dear Kirose, I tell you what, Just the wright way!!!!!!!! No wrong way no more.
    We can choose the best serving low possible and the bast leaders possible and respect that and live and die by it.
    There is no other way. We have seen to much for that, meaning for endashawu yihune lemalet. Endihe yalewu neger
    Lay tenikeke mallet yasifeligal. Trust me other wise we will be like a lef that falles from a tree no matter the season.

    We should say no thanks in fact we have been dying to much for so long. What ever the problem with the world. We can them ” the addic or addicts” and be most careful. Not just for us for them too. Think about it they didn’t ween any ways
    What that tells you? We can be the number one merderrors too. They might be all of them we are one think about it.
    After all God might and neseserly be on our side if all whants to fight with us. Can you imagin? May god for give them.
    How ever though kind of days are over I hope, truly hope for all of us sake.

    So again the wright way honey. Let them in let them out, what ever it is. Enough is enough.

  6. Anonymous
    | #6

    This article has already been presented before and the idea of “Political Plurarism and/or Powersharing”, “Constitutional Monarchy”, and “Participatory Democracy”, by Messay kebede, Tecola Hagos, and Teodros Kiros, which you now presenting again, after the failure of Medrek/fdd/fdre of which UDJP is a part, forming a coalition of mirror image to TPLF/eprdf regime in tems of ethnic agenda, which after tirelessly pleading for pressure to be placed by USA for the regime to allow for political space, which did not happen, because political space was qualitative: you either have or you do not have it.

    Constitutional Monarchy was a dead agenda, when the revoltionaries rejected after the consent of Emperor Haileselassie I to Constitutional Monarchy with parliamentary democracy upon the existing constitutional frame work. How is this counter revolution/reveresal of constitutional monarchy overthrown by the student movemenents of those lead by TPLF and those lead by EPRP and Derg going to revive, other than to give a breathing space for TPLF/eprdf regime should they agree to decendents Yohanes I, with the Sindos in place and ethnic federalism and secessionism in place and with no power to adjcate with respect to human right violations of TPLF/eprdf regime and no ratification of the constitution on ethnic and seccesionist politica and/or policies and totaliarinism. It serves as a nostalgia which at least maintained the Ethiopian Unity and territorial integrity, similar to the Derg regime but had less crime with respect to human right violations as the Derg regime and TPLF/eprdf regime.

    Your proposal of participatory democracy, now being resubmitted has no gound on the already eastablished and implemented ethnic and secessionist politics and/or policies with underlying totaliarinism, with individuals indicrinated to look at their ethnicity first and Ethiopiawinet second and pigeon holed into nine ethnic enclaves with ill defined boundries and liberation movements fighting the current regime in the same way they fought the Emperor Haile sellassie’s and the Derg regime as it exists in North America and Western Europe. Are these theises grounded and/or contributes into restoring Ethiopian Nationalism, Ethiopian National Interests, Sovereignity of Ethiopia and Ethiopians and the identity as individuals to be Ethiopian first and ones own ethnicity second? Does it contribute to resolving to humanitarian, economic crises and political crises reflcted in droughts famine, inflation, unemployment and lack of freedom and liberty of the individual as a citizen of Ethiopia? Or is it contributing to a non-violent uprising to freedom from autocratic, ethnocratic rule/ethnic dictatorship and totaliarianism with ethnic federalism andsecessionism?

  7. love
    | #7

    I agree it is sad the Ethiopians disrespecting Haile Selassie. I sometimes wonder if Ethiopians really know their history in Ethiopia. Of ocurse the Liberation Fronts fabricate stories to make themselve legitimate while non Ethiopians see Haile Selassie as god. Perhaps, the suffering we go through is due to our Karma the disregard and insult we showed to Haile Selassie. People just pick out what they think he did wrong and blow it up to push their agenda. This man was responsible for the creation of AU, while he was being scolded (by the way he is an Oromo) at the League of Nations, he stood up in pride and saved Ethiopia from colonization. If it wasn’t his speech and Russia then British finally said they would help, Ethiopoia will be colonized. I think deep in their hearts, the Liberation FRonts want to follow Eritrea and be colonized I think that was their wish and is their wish of resistance. Be careful what you wish for, this time it will be neoliberalism type as Libya’s fate is waiting the same thing. Let us not forget the educatin, transportation, etc he expanded. This was the era of feudlaism where there is no education, no technology etc. and yet I give him credit.

  8. Lij.Theodros Tamrat
    | #8

    @Anonymous
    Listen to ss B
    eyene and you’ll all be half way there.

  9. Ivanhoe Bell
    | #9

    Emperor Haile Selassie I, must be reverent to us all. Selected speeches must be carefully studied before making accusations.We in Ethiopia have one of the oldest version of the Bible, no matter how Old it may be in whatever language it might be written the Word remains ONE and the same.IT transcends all boundries of Empire and all conception of race it is ETERNAL I can go on. Another ETHIOPIA jealous of her freedom, and having time immemorial resisted aggression and oppression, is ever prepared to defend herself against possible aggressive acts. I still can go on. Please I beg of you my BROTHERS and SISTERS hold steadfast and have FAITH.When the Constitution was written and then modernized changes, it was for future generations to follow I am a Jamaican but is an ETHIOPIAN by BLOOD, have Books upon Books,being Spiritually visioning things you might not Believed.So Mystically I am FAITHFULLY to my BELIEF.

  10. Doko
    | #10

    The professor should have asked if Ethiopia needs a “Constitutional Democracy” or a “Constitutional Monarchy”. Both systems allow Participatory Democracy. Why confuse people?

  11. | #11

    That was kind of inspiring! Totally unpredicted. Now I understand what I’m heading to do tomorrow :)

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