Learning from the Oromo Protests By Maimire Mennasemay (Ph.D.)

February 4th, 2016 Print Print Email Email

The elephant in the room

Since the recent Oromo protests in Ethiopia, a number of commentators have written on the need for unity, compromise, and reconciliation if a democratic Ethiopia is to emerge from the present turmoil. Indeed, for more than twenty years, many have criticized the misdeeds of the TPLF and the dangers of the ethnic political system it has imposed on Ethiopians. But there is an elephant in the room in all these discussions and criticisms. It is the issue of ethnic self-determination. We seem to shun it as if the TPLF interpretation of ethnic self-determination is the only possible one.

On the resolution of this issue hinges the possibility or impossibility of Ethiopian unity and democracy. Unless we articulate an interpretation of ethnic self-determination that meets the democratic aspirations of Ethiopians who consider the question of ethnicity too important to be swept under the political rug, exhortations to unity and criticisms of the regime will not bring us closer to unity or to democracy. True, criticisms and exhortations are necessary. However, they do not add up to an offer of an alternative.

The right step in the wrong direction

In the context of Ethiopian history, the TPLF took the right step in putting the issue of ethnic self-determination on the political agenda. The problem is that it took the right step but channeled it in the wrong direction by reducing ethnic self-determination to ethnic essentialism. TPLF policies are guided by the belief that “ethnicity is destiny”. Hence, the bolting of every ethnicity into a specified territory—the kilil—and the obligation to identify one’s ethnicity on identity cards. As the absence of trans-ethnic solidarity in the face of the TPLF’s onslaught on certain ethnic groups shows, ethnic essentialism desensitizes Ethiopians to each other by making them mere samples of their respective ethnies, locked in their ethnicity, and unable to co-operate with each other.

The distressing consequence of the failure to develop an alternative understanding of the principle of ethnic self-determination is thus the fragmentation of the popular struggle against the TPLF, as we have seen in the recent Oromo protests. Many have asked: why have other ethnicities failed to join hands with the Oromo protestors? Such an act of solidarity would have given the protest a national momentum that could have advanced the prospects of democracy. Some have explained this absence of solidarity by the lack of unity. But this begs the question.

The real question is: what prevented the others, especially the Amharas and the Tigreans, from joining the protests? The answer is: the total absence of a unifying goal. Deprived of a unifying alternative interpretation of ethnic self-determination, each group sees the protest of the other through the ethnic ideology of the TPLF. Each says: it is their protest, not ours.

There is no ready-made answer to the question of ethnic self-determination. Developing an alternative interpretation of ethnic self-determination is a difficult but necessary task. We need it to build an Ethiopia wherein being proud of one’s ethnicity will be an expression of one’s proudness of being Ethiopian.

The basic question

I would like to draw the attention of those who believe in unity and democracy to a basic question: Is it possible to develop an interpretation of ethnic self-determination and Ethiopian unity in a way that makes each the democratic moment of the other? This basic question may be unpacked into two substantive questions.

• How do we persuade Ethiopians who believe in the principle of ethnic self-determination that there are ways of implementing this principle and ensuring at the same time the eradication of political, economic and cultural exclusions without resorting to ethnic essentialism?

• What kind of political institutions and territorial organization do we need to implement the principle of ethnic self-determination in a way that makes all of us voluntarily accept our identity as Ethiopians while at the same time being proud and confident enough of our ethnicity such that we do not succumb to the desire to essentialize and territorialize it as a way of self-protection?

Only when we have concrete proposals to meet the concerns expressed in these questions could we have a goal to which all Ethiopians could rally. Only then will we stop saying: it is their protest, not ours.

Against the two fetishes

To answer the above questions requires an articulation of ethnic self-determination and Ethiopian unity in ways that do not fetishize either ethnicity or Ethiopia. Currently, political fetishism is in the saddle and rides Ethiopian politics. For some of us, the fetish is “our” ethnie; for others, the fetish is “our” Ethiopia. We know from philosophy and psychoanalysis that the fetish is the enemy of change.

If we authentically want to see democratic change that will make ethnic self-determination and Ethiopian unity expressions of freedom and not closed and fixed identities, we need to go beyond these two fetishes. These two fetishes freeze our history and prevent us to see the forward-looking emancipatory alternatives that gestate in it.

Only by abandoning these two fetishes could we develop an interpretation that embraces ethnic self-determination as a democratic moment of Ethiopian unity and Ethiopian unity as a democratic expression of ethnic self-determination. Without a democratization of both ethnic self-determination and Ethiopian unity, neither unity, a precondition for democracy, nor democracy have a future in Ethiopia. Ethiopia will be trapped in a permanent state of intermittent local, isolated and disconnected protests and conflicts, as we have seen over the last twenty years. Such a condition serves the interests of the TPLF but not the democratic interests of Ethiopians, whatever their ethnicity may be.

The Lesson

For those who want unity and democracy, the lesson of the Oromo protests is clear.
As long as we do not develop an alternative that recognizes the principle of ethnic self-determination and that implements it in ways that make ethnic identity a legitimate expression of Ethiopian identity without essentializing and territorializing ethnicity, unity and democracy will remain pipedreams.

As a consequence, we will continue nursing our favorite fetishes—“our” ethnie or “our” Ethiopia. And the TPLF interpretation of ethnic self-determination will continue its hold on those Ethiopians who reject, rightly so, the old idea of unity, however it may be dressed up in the rhetoric of democracy and solidarity.

Moreover, if we do not develop an alternative understanding of ethnic self-determination and Ethiopian unity which makes each the democratic expression of the other by the time the EPRDF implodes, which seems to be likely, we will not have democracy. Rather, we will have another dictatorship, ethnic or otherwise. .

  1. tekka
    | #1

    there is no middle ground, you have to choose to be one or the other. i do not know of an american person who says I am german or dutch before he is american. All americans are known as americans not germans, dutch, fillipino, mexican etc although america is made up of all these groups. being an american comes before being a german or other ethnic group.

    it is the same in france, uk, ausralia or whatever country you care to mention.

    in a recent speech, Dr Birhanu Negga commented that ..” in their eyes you are all niggars..”Very true.

    no body knows what this hang up about the ethnicity of a person is in Ethiopia.

    why can’t we be Ethiopians as well as tigre, oromo, kembata, hadiya, gambella, afar etc etc

  2. Dawi
    | #2

    Dr. Maimire said:

    [[..Only by abandoning these two fetishes could we develop an interpretation that embraces ethnic self-determination as a democratic moment of Ethiopian unity and Ethiopian unity as a democratic expression of ethnic self-determination...]]

    What fetish? How? This kind of thinking do not have any scientific bases.

    It is just like saying there is nothing new under the sun. We can just rearrange our thinking in anyway we wish however, just as in nature a temperature of water gradually decreases or increases; it becomes ice or steam. There is always a change from quantity to quality. In society too, there comes a point where society changes for good. Tribalism will be a thing of the past.

    When capitalism under the “development state” becomes the dominant force in the country, where state and other enterprises hire millions of Ethiopians out in the mines, dams, farms and in the factories, folks start embracing the qualitative change of life and they will have new outlook in the way they think and live. People will then see themselves more as part of the nation (Ethiopians) and less of as an ethnic group.

    That is when a national party will have an upper hand and easier time recruiting members in a society. Ethnic parties will end up losing support ending up less significant and more irreverent to the people.

    Therefore, there is no alternative but to develop the country first. I don’t know why we can’t agree on that simple concept regardless who the capitalists roaders of today are. The public shall end up demanding fairness & equality anyway and the owners of the means of production shall end up reflecting the country sooner or later.

  3. ho
    | #3

    We have learned

    Look before u leap !

  4. ho
    | #4

    Be mogne kind ye zendo gudguad yilekal

  5. ali
    | #5

    tekka said
    “there is no middle ground, you have to choose to be one or the other”

    If this question is asked to the ethiopian people they will answer and maybe their answer will not please you.

    Tekka for many nations they see ethiopia as a colonial country and they see themselved as under occupation or under colonial rule.reference to the Liberation fronts.

    They feel themselves as afar somali oromo first because they suffer as second citizen under the previous regime in the country.Menlik,haile selasse,failed to transform abyssinia to an ethiopian nation where all citizens and religion are equal.Under his regime one should be amhara orthodox and amharic speaker.
    And that create an identity crise.

    So in general the southern nations support ethnic federal ,or language federal.

    Wheter you like it or not ethiopia is a multinational state and it is there for longtime because it is the wish of the majority.

    Dismantling the ethnic federal will be the end of ethiopia.

  6. dodo
    | #6

    Menna Semay should know that there is NO ethnic boundary in Ethiopia, only a place where a pridominent majority lives. So the TPLF ethnic boundary is a farce and has to be dismantled. We need to return to the previous AWRAJA designation whose number was 102. All 102 of them can have self rule in a unitary state of Ethiopia

  7. Wollegaa
    | #7


    Can EPRDF correct and fix King Menilk’s and King haileselassie’s Neftegna tribalist evil agenda and discrimination mess ? ? ?

    Of course, those who do not know history may misconstrued and misunderstand Oromos mistrust and the historical socio psychological factor plays significant role. And to be fair Oromos have justifiable fear and historical discontent to be mistrusting the federal government, even though the present gov of Ethiopia is the best government they ever had. For the last 100 plus years the Showa Amhara dominated governments (Nefetegna era) starting from Minilike era to Haileselassie era that Oromos were systematically Oppressed and enslaved by Showa Amhara feudals, their land was expropriated by Menilike and Haeselassie and Oromos was given to the Showa Amharas (Nefetegnas). To make worse, King Menilike even officially banned Oromos language from every Oromos court and Oromos municipalities and forced Oromos to speak Amharic language, lands were snatched from Oromos and then forwarded and given to Showa Amhara tribe, Oromos land with Oromo name was cancelled and then this same land were given new Amharic names before given to Showa Amharas. Under King Menilike and Haileselassie Oromos were treated as second class citizens if not as slaves. This the kind of historical discrimination and injustice that made Today’s Oromos suspicion of authority in general.

  8. Kebede
    | #8


    What is the point you are trying to make. You criticize others, but I have not seen a single proposition from the article. You seem be concerned about your own imaginary fetishes. You accuse ethnic group that oppose the regime as suffering from fetishism. So when the Oromo rebel, they are fetishistic, when the Amharas resist ethnic cleansing and their land given to Tigray and the Sudan, they are fetishistic, when the Annuak complain about being evicted, they are fetishistic; when people are concerned about unity, they suffer of unity fetish; when people struggle for democracy, they suffer from democracy fetish. So, you would have to conclude when people in South Africa rebelled against apartheid, is that also democracy fetish? Do you really believe what you are saying? How sad?

    And what the hell does “ethnic essentialism” mean? What are ethnies? These are meaningless words that confuse than enlighten people. You seem upset that people are criticizing the TPLF, “…many have criticized the misdeeds of the TPLF…” Shouldn’t they have? Then you praise the TPLF, “…the TPLF took the right step in putting the issue of ethnic self-determination on the political agenda…” Really? Do your really believe that? The TPLF solving ethnic problems?

    And then you write, “Only by abandoning these two fetishes could we develop an interpretation that embraces ethnic self-determination as a democratic moment of Ethiopian unity and Ethiopian unity as a democratic expression of ethnic self-determination”. This gibberish.

  9. Dawi
    | #9

    Wollega said:

    [[..Can EPRDF correct and fix King Menilk’s and King haileselassie’s Neftegna tribalist evil agenda and discrimination mess ? ? ?..]]

    Can EPRDF what? When were you born?

    It is interesting to see things in time perspective. Even if we take your statement as true, the majority of the people that are protesting now in Oromia were not subjected to Neftegna because they were born after the 1970’s.

    What can happen in over 50 years? If you look at Europe 2 world wars destroyed it. Germany started 2 big wars in history; It killed over 20 million Russians and the Russians at the end formed an authoritarian E. Germany that lasted 40 years. That is all over.

    Now, no body blames Germany in Russia; You don’t hear Russia blaming the Germans either. We can list other crimes committed but,that didn’t stop the Europeans from having the same currency or uniting on the aspiration to have a united Europe.

    If you compare the 20 million or so Russians killed by the Germans plus other crimes in Europe and compare that to the Oromo/Amara Neftegna (BTW, HIM is part Oromo so is Menelik) expansion/atrocities of the past? It is not even close.

    You know what? The perspective you look at things makes all the difference. It is up to you to stop being a victim of something you don’t even know or didn’t experience yourself.

    Remember that the sun never actually sets; it just appears to. Our sunset is another’s sunrise. :-)

    The thing is you are one of the privileged once from that country scribbling crap here? Right? We all are for that matter….

  10. sheffe
    | #10

    anybody can tell that you are a lapdog of tplf fascists, blubbering your usual fabricated story and BIG LIE. it is the ethno fascist tplf that is snatching land , massacring oromo in cold blood,140 gunned down only last month, 1000s more being jailed and tortured every day. if you think this is the best government for oromo, that shows what a demented mind you have.

    you can not hide your brutality by blaming the amhara and sooner or later your Lie and brutality will FIND YOU

  11. Lettaa
    | #11


    Voiding and Cancelling Amharas minority language is key for Democratization.

    Dear brother Wollega, You have raised Good question, If Oromos happened to be Ethiopias undiputed Majority, then how come Oromos still forced to speak Amhara minority language (Amharic) instead of Ethiopias majority/Oromos language (Oromofiaa) ? Where is the majority right ? Where is the Democracy ?

  12. wollleggaa
    | #12

    yea brother Leeetttaaa, let’s do it. that will be real democracy. everybody speaking oromoffia will make the country democratic and makes sense. How can the country be democratic if the people are not speaking oromiffia. we love democracy and the only way we can achieve it is if we speak oromoffia and get everybody else to speak it.

  13. Ittu Aba Farda
    | #13

    Obbo Dawi:

    I am not sure if I ever had a one-on-one conversation with you on this or other website before. But I would like to tell you how I am pleased with the way you conduct yourself in your opinions I have read so far. I have no qualms if you are the supporter of the regime back in the old country paid or uncompensated. That is your right.

    I am from the school of thoughts that takes peaceful demonstration at its defined and face value. If you go out in the streets in protest and start hurling rocks at everything in your sights then you shed yourself off being peaceful. A hurled stone will be likely to cause damage at what it hits and the recent demonstrations have shown that. I have done my own investigations and have been told that some factories were burned to the ground. As a peaceful person, that is a no-no with me. But I also understand why the youth has become so angry and went to streets with rage. There are quite a few thins to be upset about over there. There have been a lot of king making for the last few decades over there that in regional states you will be hard pressed to not come across a war lord in disguise having the last and only say in the affairs of his/her newly found fiefdom. Those so called ‘Neftegnas’ are gone and replaced by locally brewed up Oromo ‘Motees’. I am talking about the region of Oromia. I am not the only one saying this but the regime you seem to have stricken a cord is talking about it and talking about a lot these days.

    Now let me talk to you about the young people that have lost their lives during the recent demonstrations. I strongly believe that an independent investigation is needed to find out how it happened. It has been reported that more than100 people were shot to death by the security forces. To me human blood is the most sacred entity the Almighty Creator created. Powerful water canons, tear gas and also rubber bullets could have done the task of dispersing the agitated crowd. I also don’t buy into this none sense that ‘Agazi’ did this ‘Neftgnas’ did that. Now, how come the men on higher echelon let this happen and will try to throw this tragic demise of young people under the rug? you may ask. Well that must happen due to the nature of things I am sure you already know.

    The other important point you mentioned was ‘development’ of capitalism. If you are saying that it is just taking roots in that country then you will be questioned about that. If you are saying that ‘feudalism’ has just started to be replaced by capitalism, you will be taken to task about that also. Now, if you are also saying that it is high time over there where ‘development’ supersedes all human and democratic rights I don’t think you believe in its survival. You may use Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore as references. I am sure you don’t believe their experience should be repeated word for word, extrajudicial killings for extrajudicial killings, banishments of scores of individuals from the media of differing opinion for the same. Those did all that, lucky for them, in the era of the heightened cold war. The nature of my profession had taken me to Taiwan and Seoul during the early 1980’s I had the chance to see it all. I don’t think you justify the disappearance of more than 30,000 mostly well educated Taiwanese in the thin air. Do you? We can say the same thing about South Korea and Singapore. I always use them as my reference but sans their brutal policies toward peaceful opposition. When you hear me complaining about violence against civilians back in the old country, I am not talking about some demonic ‘national liberation fronts’ who shoplifted the same issue so they can found a fiefdom of their own. Or some ‘patriot’ wannabes who are seen scavenging at the dump sites in Asmara. Those have already chosen violence as their romance of the day and declared war on peace and people of the entire country. I am complaining about the raging corruption, sending peaceful opposition figures to long term imprisonment and reports of tortures during incarcerations. You see I did not make all this up. It is right there in various annual human rights reports of the State Department of Good Ole USA, EU, UN and other civic human rights organizations.

    Finally, please rest assured that I stand for rampant industrialization of that country. I am for it. I am sure you have seen many of my comments on this and other websites advocating for the turning upside down of that place industrially. Having a policy of cottage industry in place will go a long way in helping wean out farming way of life in the countryside. If you have the chance to travel in the countryside of Taiwan you will be able to notice that. I still have friends over there who are both modern day farmers and cottage industry entrepreneurs. I know one who still has a small plot of rice paddy next to his small factory where he had set up three injection molding machines. Those who operate his machines are also part time farmers. When the products are ready for the final assembly he calls up the women in the area to do the assembling and packaging of his products. I also know Taiwanese women who own cottage industries tucked way back in the countryside. They don’t just own the factories but also they own up the quality of their products. That is why you see a huge parity in the quality of same products made in Taiwan against those made in China. Such fruitful development was implemented after Taiwan became a democratic nation.

    That is my two cents worth of my opinion. May be a dime this time around!!!

  14. Dawi
    | #14

    Dear Ittu Aba Ferda,

    From my understanding of “development” schemes in comparative countries, when a country has internal tensions like ours an “authoritarian” government can resolve the conflict in a clear cut way than in “democracies”.

    Under “democracy” the opposition (disgruntled group) comes to power and once they do, take retaliation on the other groups intensifying the conflict between cliques. However under an “authoritarian” rule, the ruling party has total power with no more quotas to fight for anymore.

    The above observation falls in line with Meles’s vision more or less; his theory actually advocated “democratic developmental state” knowing full well the non-democratic way worked well elsewhere he was convinced of DDS. One don’t have to follow the “authoritarian” way as other developmental states did as you pointed out but, as we see folks seem to take the “DDS” way as weakness sometimes particularly, when they see “blood” like in Oromia protest, therefore, it is very challenging for the ruling party.

    The “authoritarian” theory has merit as in the example of countries like Venezuela where political instability ended by the authoritarian rule of Juan Vicente 1908 – 1935.

    Bottom line, the “Developmental State” has the flexibility to give proper incentives to FDI; it establishes pro investment legal systems quickly while democracy takes its sweet time arguing among each other forever. I don’t think we have that luxury. We can’t be dealing with “famine” after “famine”; need to end poverty once and for all.

    Going back to my point, once a legal framework is established, FDI opens jobs; Labor unites people and transforms people’s thinking from tribal to national and the country can tackle poverty quickly. That is what I see is going on & a possibility of even getting more done in Ethiopia today.

    China, under that command scheme did a miracle on the economic front implementing sustained institutional reforms towards promoting FDI. This improvement moved over 500 million Chinese citizens from poverty to the mid class in the last 12 or so years, the country has had an average GDP growth rate of 10% per year; the highest sustained Economic Growth Rate in the world.

    I do read your posts and respect your balanced views on issues. My views are not written in stone; that is why I participate in discussions at least in this forum. I also try to read other forums as well when I get a chance.


    I like your Taiwan views and would look into it. It was initially a dictatorship as well. I totally agree on your “industrialization” views. That is a known road out of ethnic fragmentation.

  15. obsaa
    | #15

    Unity can not be imposed on people. It can be achieved only if the constituents are willing to accept. The main problem with the old rhetoric of Ethiopian unity was that it was imposed by Amhara ruling class (aka neftegna Amhara)and hence it is a kind of unity that makes Amharas beneficiary at the expense of others. For example, while the oromo people is larger in number Afan oromo was not a recognized government language. On the other hand TPLF’s ethnic policy implementation is fake. TPLF has no determination to implement people’s right to self determination. TPLF sings both unity and self determination but has no interest to implement either. TPLF raises unity above self determination when they want support from Amharas and raise self determination above unity when they want support from other nationalities.
    As to my knowledge the best mechanism to solve Ethiopia’s century long political problems is:
    - to admit the wrong doings of previous leaders, especially the humanity crisis Minilik II inflicted on non-Amharas.
    - to accept unity in diversit

  16. Freedom
    | #16

    Your article is titled, “the Elephant in the room.” Which is according to you Ethnic self determination.
    I believe Ethnic self determination is the creation/deception tactic of TPLF so its future belongs in the DUST BIN OF HISTORY since the total destruction of TPLF and its slaves is right AROUND THE CORNER.
    The last time I checked everyone knows what ethnic group they are. They are not trying to figure out who they are. The question in the mind of people from all ethnic group is how to feed their family, how to be free in order to pursue their dream, how to freely practice their religion, how to secure good job, quality education, to have a voice in things that affect them, own a land/business, not be a victim of corrupt individuals/criminal, elect their government representatives, etc etc.

    You said,
    “On the resolution of this issue, Ethnic self determination, hinges the possibility or impossibility of Ethiopian unity and democracy.”

    I say,

    Regarding why people in other regions did not march in support of the MURDERED/TORTURED HEROIC OROMO YOUTH, there are many reasons. Few among many are:

    1. TPLF and company made sure people from other regions of Ethiopia are not aware of what happened. After all the MEDIA/NEWSPAPER is controlled by the criminal government. Moreover, the GOV MEDIA was used to spin the story by painting the OROMO youth as the villain/spoiled brats.
    2. Internet access in Ethiopia is one of the lowest in the world. Since most Ethiopians do not have access to internet, they did not have an opportunity to get an UNBIASED STORY OF THE PATRIOTIC/HEROIC OROMO WARRIORS.

  17. Ittu Aba Farda
    | #17

    That is my two cents worth of my opinion. May be a dime this time around!!!

    There is one point which you and I also as a matter of fact everyone who wants to see poverty that has been bedeviling those glorious people we all left behind gone and gone agree. That is, the only way out of that should be by way of an all out industrialization. Apparently there are various ways of accomplishing that. First of all, a disciplined population should be there in place with all the education required so that industries can start running (going) on landing.

    China of the late 1970′s and 80′s can be sighted as an example. Back in late 1970′s and around 1981, the owner of the manufacturing company where I worked as an engineer and assistant plant manager talked to me about the possibility of starting a factory in China. Just a few months earlier we had received a trade delegation from Hong Kong where we were presented with such opportunities in the newly established special economic zone in the Guandong region of southern China just a stone throw away from Hong Kong. Back then the main foreign investors in the economic zone were those from Hong Kong. A little later Taiwanese followed with their tens of billions of dollars. China then had a huge numbers of engineers just sitting around and playing hooky all day. Here at our factory we were being besieged by workers union and it was at fever pitch. And the competition was also fierce. There is one division where the products we made there were very labor intensive. And that was at the end of product line and our bread and butter. That was why the owner summoned me and the VP operation to look into moving that factory to Shenzhen area. I was there in early 1982 setting up the machines and training Chinese engineers. You can imagine how I felt about that. I was bleeding at heart with anger that I was not able to do that with my own countrymen in Ethiopia. Then the beastly Mengistu was at the helm preoccupied with killing every opponent in sight and hurling rude insults at the USA and its allies. That Mengistu, that demonic Mengistu!!!! Don’t start me with me about him now!!! It is very sad and unfortunate to hear some in the Diaspora calling him a ‘nationalist’ or ‘patriotic’. My foot!!!!

    Even though there was a language barrier between me and those Chinese workers, their understanding of blue prints and process manufacturing was very impressive. In less than 3 months we had the factory up and running. The next trip I had to stay there for more than 6 months. And that factory is still running but wholly owned by a Chinese firm. But that China is very different from what you find in Ethiopia. China does not have 2 or 3 major ethnic groups that eye each other suspiciously like ours. In fact China is more than 85 or even 90% the Great Han. And it had a beaten down and culturally subdued population who doesn’t dare ask any question when given orders. That mindset was the first problem I was facing with their engineers at the beginning. It was very difficult to have them get back to me with a different idea if any. They would rather copy it or die with it. That is why they have become outstanding copiers. Over time those engineers have picked up Hong Kong’s and US management styles and acumen. Most of them are now very successful businessmen. After more than 30 years we are still friends. Back then we could have been the only people driving on the empty boulevards of Shenzhen but now you wouldn’t even think about doing just that at anytime during daylight. My point is there should be a different way of tackling the enduring poverty that has crushed the people of Ethiopia. Rampant industrialization? Yes sir!!! Despotism as the method to get there? Everyone in the whole world is saying with well grounded doubt ‘I don’t know’!!! You see the way I see it is this. That country is sitting on a 100 million or so powder keg waiting for someone to make the wrong move. My daily prayer has been to not anyone let make that wrong move. You see those who are waiting on the wing for an opportunity to go in there and slice out a territory to call it their own fiefdom are salivating to see someone back there to slip up and slip up miserably and disastrously. Disappearances of dissidents and prisoners have been reported. Imprisonment of dissidents to a very long jail term is not an isolated incidence. Torture as a method of interrogation was cited in many reports of human rights groups, the EU and USA. When will this stop? I am not sure if you, my countryman, are saying all such vile acts must happen. I think serious and subtle conversation/dialogue should take place among all the stake holders. I am not talking about those who are now scavenging at the dump sites in Asmara. I am not talking about those who are still barking at the ‘Neftegna’ tree that does not exist anymore. These narrow minded individuals are still sugar drunk from the missionary cakes they have been munching down for decades. Some of them are lost just wandering around the campuses of US colleges, the forsaken deserts of Eritrea and frigid concrete jungle of Minnesota. If I add up all the number of soldiers they killed during the last almost 30 years, there would not be any human being left in that country. And if I print all the military communiqués they posted there will be enough wall paper to cover every room in my house. To me the national question is amicably addressed and there is no question about it. Full Stop!!!

    Dialogue and a civilized one is the only way. And I think that is what you and I are doing right now. Please pardon this septuagenarian countryman for any typos here.

  18. Dawi
    | #18

    Ittu Aba Farda said:

    [[.. First of all, a disciplined population should be there in place with all the education required so that industries can start running (going) on landing. China of the late 1970′s and 80′s can be sighted as an example. Back in late 1970′s and around 1981, the owner of the manufacturing company where I worked as an engineer and assistant plant manager..]]

    Yes – China embraced capitalism around 1978 and after joining WTO it went on to sky rocket. As you know, it is not “capitalism” as we know it here in the US that did it but, what (aha loves to hate!), “State capitalism”.

    China directs industrial policy with huge amount of capital & labor in economic sectors it wants to nurture. Off course it is not the soviets discredited type of state planning anymore but, they switched that scheme to a capitalist kind and still maintained state ownership of the Enterprises.

    That is what Meles’s “Democratic Developmental State” is more or less emulating. His thesis “African Development: Dead Ends and New Beginnings” is a good primer. It talks about how “disciplined” Africans need to be for that matter to defeat poverty.

    “State Capitalism” has flows but, it works. Yes it is built on the backs of cheap labor in this case and is ceasing to be cheap for China; they are working on other schemes to keep growing. Fortunately, that was what Meles was counting on to ride; by luring and relocating those companies looking for cheaper labor outside China. As I see it, the idea has been relatively successful so far (shoe factories) and with the government’s new huge plans of building Industrial zones all over the nation it may accelerate the pace.

    My take is opposition or anybody else for that matter can embrace DDS and still keep their political differences. Our differences should be on how “democratic” Developmental State can be? However, if we continue to squabble hard and continue to beat each other up, it’s likely the “authoritarian” types will take the upper hand and keep going in the present government of Ethiopia and “democratization” shall take longer. Off course at the end any development that takes place is gong to help the multi-national “democratic movement” to unite and strengthen.

  19. Anonymous
    | #19

    When Ethiopian Nationalism of Ethiopia as one nation state of multi-ethnic groups (80) with the goals for unity, territorial integrity, sovereign of Ethiopia and Ethiopians with strategies to achieve those goals gathers steam as the only alternative to ethnic federalism, secessionism, totalitarianism and/or developmental state capitalism, the question of self-rule and/or self-determination will looked at as things of the past, because individual rights super cedes ethnic and secessionist rights as the bases for liberal and/or social democracy to
    to the exclusion of totalitarianism (Art. 40)and developmental state capitalism in east Asian style along with crony capitalism in the style of ex-apartheid regime by the Dutch Boers.

  20. Dawi
    | #20


    What “strategies” is gathering steam for (80) plus groups? The “strategies” of the wishful thinkers? :)

    I bet you have no idea what you’re talking about because you didn’t show any alternative path to “state capitalism” or “DDS”(the fastest way to reach “liberal democracy”) ?

    My friend, regurgitating the boggy men “Dutch Boers”, “apartheid”, “totalitarianism” & other evil systems is not enough to take us where we want to go.

    Do you want us to roll some dice and follow some god to bring us to “individual rights that super ceded ethnic …”? Seriously, we can’t wish ethnic conflict away.

  21. Dawi
    | #21


    As opposed to you Meles didn’t role the dice when he wrote the following regarding a DDS path on “African Development: Dead Ends and New Beginnings”.

    [[..Developmental policy is unlikely to transform a poor country into a developed one within the time frame of the typical election cycle…..It is argued therefore that the developmental state will have to be undemocratic in order to stay in power long enough to carry out successful development…….That is perhaps one of the reasons why democratic developmental states have been an even rarer species than developmental states in general. But those states that have played a developmental role and have done so in a democratic fashion, such as the social-democratic coalitions in some Scandinavian countries and the center-right coalition in Post Second World War Japan, the so called dominant partly democracies can point to one way out…]]

  22. Ittu Aba Farda
    | #22


    I will have no problem with you if you credit every change in that country to the former PM Meles. Again that is your right. But for me, it does leave me with something new. I see a cult of personality is in the making. Again, that is your individual right. I can not take from you and nobody will be able to deny you that right. But that is what I am witnessing here. That said, it does not alter the state of our engagement in a civilized conversation whatsoever.

    Capitalism in its classic meaning was created by free enterprise where individuals instigated and benefited from it and by extension change the makeup of their societies. That went on for decades and then came the ideology of socialism and its offshoot Marxism followed by Marxism/Leninism. In this newly concocted ideology, all economic planning was done by the state and private entrepreneurship was banned or radically stifled. Every industrial development and expansion was planned and wholly owned by the state. All foreign(at least in the open) investment was restricted or prohibited. And in the late 1970’s came chairman Deng. He allowed foreign investment to flow in and ordered the zoning of parts of Southern China for this purpose. He also allowed some farmers to keep the surplus of their products as their own. He did not call it capitalism. But what made his program different from that of the former Soviet satellite nations is that he introduced a system of incentives for factory managers. That made party officials mega rich overnight. In reality, those party officials were the owners of the factories. Even though the CCP China kept denying that was capitalism but in reality it was not only capitalism but the one on steroid. That is why in the present day China you will find businesses owned by former party officials or the strongly connected in China. That factory I told you I played a part in setting up there in the early 1980’s was owned 50/50. That is half our company and half the district branch of the party. The agreement was such ownership will be effective for 5 years and they were not allowed to sell any products from that factory to anyone else. We were expected to keep the factory fully utilized during those initial 5 years. That meant we have to make sure we gave them enough orders to keep their employees working fulltime during those contractual years. During those 5 years we help them bring the products they made up to snuff and now they had world class output. After sometime, that factory has been owned by individuals who were former party officials. Please note that there were very crucial agreements the Deng’s government inked with the West. Without the West’s input China would still be lambasting ‘forward with’ whatever its party officials concocted. All that ‘The Great Leap Forward’ did not work but resulted in the deaths of more than 50 million Chinese from famine alone. This number does not include those Moa murdered in secret in back alleys. When Deng came to power those cadres made a 360 degrees turn around and embraced capitalism. To me there is one and only one capitalism. That is private entrepreneurship. That was what happened then and is happening now in China. You can’t even start to imagine whether that was ever possible without the input and market of the West. Then one can ask the question: Is that sustainable with the monopoly of governance in the hands of the one and only political party? They have been forewarned. Now you see things have started unraveling over there. Millions of migrant workers have left the ‘Special’ economic zone to their places of birth where their families reside for the Chinese New Year not to ever come back. Many US backed factories are going somewhere to places like Vietnam and gladly so to where they originated, Good Ole USA. Someone help me say ‘How do you like me now?’!!!

    That is why when I hear you saying ‘State Capitalism’, the hair on my nape stood up. From what I read in your comment, you sound to be a man of letters when it comes to economics and finance. While you are at it, I suggest you delve into the case of Chile during the Pinochet regime sans his brutality including my great idol Milton Freedman and the Chicago Boys. If you are from the school of Marxism, I highly suggest to you that you have a 2nd thought about it. But in any case, if that is what you spouse, please rest assured that your rights are inviolably protected in my book. That is, as long as you don’t turn violent towards others who differ.

    Keep plugging on my countryman.

  23. Ittu Aba Farda
    | #23


    By the way Professor Friedman and the Chicago Boys were heavily criticized because of their involvement with the Pinochet regime. But the fact is that now of them advised him to kill his opponents. None. Instead they used the opportunity given to them to lay down an economic system that has proven to be resilient and with the capacity to endlessly regenerate itself. Chile’s and Uruguay’s economies are the best examples. Off course there are parities in personal income in those countries but both have the more stable ones than their surrounding countries. What has been lacking in Africa for the last 60 or so years, in my opinion, is not the lack of a doable rules of the road but it was the want of fair and practical mechanism to enforce them. What was not present in Africa was the lack of fear of serious retribution from the governments by those who thought about getting involved in fraudulent activities. Lumumba, Nkrumah, Benbela, Nasser, Samora, Daddah, Santos, Mugabe and many others had ample opportunities to lay the grounds for governance where corruption is not something to be taken lightly. In stead of becoming heavy handed on corrupt officials they were ruthless to those who aired complaints about them. In stead of demonizing this vile cancer, they were all busy demonizing the West or any other imaginary foe, sometimes their own neighbors. If something done right was in Tunisia. I mean economically. Then overtime, corruption has not only become an isolated case but rather an epidemic that ravages every one of them. It seems there in no end in sight. That is what gives western investors jitters and kept them away for so long.

  24. Ittu Aba Farda
    | #24

    Please read that: ‘none of them’

  25. Dawi
    | #25

    Ittu Aba Farda said:

    [[.. will have no problem with you if you credit every change in that country to the former PM Meles..]]

    I can’t do that however,he was the head EPRDF’s collective leadership and chief economic theoretician. The unfinished or draft manuscript, ‘African Development: Dead Ends and New Beginnings’, is known to be the blueprint for a ‘democratic developmental state’. I consider the manuscript as a theoretical paper and is probably what EPRDF calls the “vision”(I don’t know) but, what we know is the former PM had said that the views expressed in that paper are personal and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Government. I respect that.

    [[..That is why in the present day China you will find businesses owned by former party officials or the strongly connected in China..]]

    You said it right. Let us add a supporting document on that written by Carsten Holz, an economics professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology that said “of the 3,220 Chinese citizens with a personal wealth of 100 million yuan ($13 million) or more, 2,932 are children of high-level cadres. Of the key positions in the five industrial sectors—finance, foreign trade, land development, large-scale engineering, and securities—85 percent to 90 percent are held by children of high-level cadres.”

    Many analysts consider China as one of the main examples of “State Capitalism” in the 21st century. “The Party-state, or “partocracy,” accurately captures China’s political reality”.

    You can call it CPC and family owned if you like. :-)

    Respecting “individual right” as you pointed out facilitates “engagement in a civilized conversation”; I agree.

  26. Dawi
    | #26

    Reviewing the manuscript may help us from re-inventing the wheel for developmental economics in my view. He was a product of ESM who took the TPLF route; we may not agree with that route but that is the past.

    You mentioned Marxism-Leninism; yes, he used it as a tool for assembling evidence and argument, applying it in the armed struggle and deal with development issues.

    Prof. Alex says his policies completely contradicted the neo-liberal Washington Consensus? And goes on to say:

    [[..World leaders have lauded Meles' economic achievements without acknowledging their theoretical basis. Human rights organizations have decried his political record as though he were a routine despot with no agenda other than hanging on to power. Reviewing his writings on the developmental state, this essay shows the unity of his theory and practice..]]

  27. Ittu Aba Farda
    | #27

    There is something I want to mention about countries like the old country of ours. This has been the concern of most of potential investors from the West. It has a highly radicalized and politicized population. They know about ‘class struggle’ more than knowing how to put two bricks at a time on the way of building a home. Capitalism, they have been told, is the culprit that has been menacing them and the cause of all their grief. They are constantly incited and mad for no reason at capitalism while being constantly ravaged by lice and jigger fleas and many mysterious diseases these pests cause. They were chanting ‘Yankees Go Home’ while their next door neighbors were dying in their millions from sheer starvation. Then there is the specter of Khat. Combine that with the misguided faith based requirements by the two major religions, then you will have a huge work cut out for you. Capitalism requires that manufacturing plants keep humming regardless of the day of the week or the hour of the day. This is not regimenting but a discipline as the ingredient. ‘I can’t work today because it is a day dedicated by my religion to honor a saint from the 9th century, or ‘Excuse me, I have to stop the machine so I can go and pray’ or better yet ‘It is my Khat ritual time therefore I am on my break for two hours’. I heard that these days others types of more deadly illicit drugs have found their ways into that society. Sad and very sad indeed!!!

    Yes I have read that opinion of the late PM Meles a few years ago. It had left me with mixed feelings. I am from a school where ideas from various angles should be allowed to flourish in a civilized manner. I am informed that he was a well read fellow. But he had erred on occasions and I am sure if he wakes up now he will have 2nd thoughts about them. My faith including our own glorious Ethiopian culture prohibits me from demonizing a dead person but I still can complain about the ramifications of the ideas he left behind as governance guidelines. But the most important question right now is, in my opinion, whence and henceforth Ethiopia?!! It is a one hundred million walking, talking of humanity question, a powder keg waiting for someone to make the wrong move.

    I want you to join me in encouraging others to chip in their two cents worth of opinion about it. But they should conduct themselves in the tradition of our centuries-old and glorious culture. You name any ethnic group back there. Civilized conversation is our culture until a group with leftist leaning came on the scene beginning the 1960’s and injected this habit of using foul language in public to criticize others during political discourse. I remember a few public debates when I was going to college in the 1960’s where speakers after speakers began their utterances with name calling. ‘He/she is a leftist in form but imperialist lackey in content’. ‘She/he is a revisionist’. It was the manner of the Eyal-al-souqs you easily find in the bazaars of Cairo, Sana’a or Gaddafi’s tents. As time goes on we heard claims that ‘Mengistu’ was a ‘fascist’ without the economic requirements for him to be as such. Then came the chaos with such outcries and insults as ‘You are a banda’ and ‘No, you are the banda not me’. They took that all the way home and killed each other as if there is no tomorrow until none of them stayed standing. Gone and gone for ever. The last straw for me was when I heard them saying they would overthrow an existing dictatorship and just to replace it with another one – a Proletariat Dictatorship that will rule for a thousand years or more. Notwithstanding their raising the name of the Almighty Creator in vain!!!!

    Ok my countryman, I think I talked to you too much and too long. Let others pitch in.

    In the meantime, I would like once again to profusely thank the editors of this esteemed website for letting the conversation between two of us adults rip on their platform. They are doing good for the benefits of the people of the old country we all left behind and still hold close to our hearts. Kudos!!!

  28. Dawi
    | #28

    Ittu Aba Farda said:

    [[..old country of ours. ...for ...potential investors from the West. It has a highly radicalized and politicized population. They know about ‘class struggle’ more than knowing how to put two bricks at a time on the way of building a home. ... mad for no reason at capitalism while being constantly ravaged by lice and jigger fleas ..chanting ‘Yankees Go Home’ while their next door neighbors were dying in their millions from sheer starvation...]]

    You pointed out the things that are very familiar to all of us however, the contrast with other “successful democracies” like Kenya, S. Africa, Nigeria, Ghana etc. has not given us a better alternative in fact for me it has painfully changed how I think about democracy.

    For the most part what is called democracy is the technique as opposed to its validity. So, the governments of Africa are praised when they continuously go through the motion of democracy even though these are just rituals they go through but fulfill little democratic purpose. There was little to show of ANC coming to power; most people are poorer than under apartheid. Average life expectancy has reduced by double digits from what it was in 1990. It does not take much to see that there is a problem with democracy in South Africa. S. Africa is not a rare bird here but other poor multi ethnic/racial nations go through the same baloney. If you take India that scores similar to USA in standard “freedom” indicators with regular elections, in public services, health, clean water scores similar to failed states like Bangladesh. Why is it that democracy failed to deliver services notwithstanding democratic structures? Basically the elite in India bargain for positions of power for their group and get privilege in both the central and state government using appeals to ethnic identity however, things that benefit the poor like sanitation, roads and schools are not given the priority. Similarly, these kind of things are the same in African multi ethnic states; elites earmark democracy and exploit it for their own benefit. So, politicians even when elected have interest different than the public that elects them; they just hide behind ethnicity to hide the fact of the matter. Democracy at work in S. Africa and India is the same in Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana etc.

    That is why democratic developmental state paradigm conceived in contradiction to neo-liberal Washington Consensus has become an alternative for Africans to look at today.

  29. Ittu Aba Farda
    | #29


    The environment in the countries like India, Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana has a teaching moment for countries mulling democracy. All these countries have rampant corruption laced with democratic principles. That is, corruption is heavily camouflaged in democratic attires. Nigeria is the best example followed by India. A concerned Nigerian once told me when I asked him ‘where does all this income from oil goes?’ this way. He said that there are two pipelines pumping out oil where one goes directly the nation’s coffers and the 2nd one which is ten times bigger goes straight to the pockets of the connected. Now he said it seems that the whole country is in some ways or another involved in shadowy ventures. In regards to India, I have a firsthand experience in India. Many years ago I was looking for an overseas source for products made from sturdy wood material. I found one company from India at an industrial exhibition in the then West Germany. They sent samples and I was very impressed with the quality of the products they made. I sent them our sample and we were very happy with the prototype them send back to us. We sent a good size order and all was well up to the point of shipment. The shipment was held up for days for reasons we could not understand. So I called the local Indian consulate and complained about it. Our shipment was released after being held up at the forwarder’s warehouse for more than a week. I discovered later on that the official that ordered the shipment to be held at the warehouse was expecting him palm greased by the factory owner. And that was it for me and took our business to Thailand. India is a democracy indeed but because of existing religious and ethnic tensions corruptions has been allowed to march along the pace the country has been making. I think the attitude over there is to snug it under the rug or look the other way in the effort of loosening such tensions. That is the problem Ethiopia is facing. The very few people at the helm over there have to look the other in order to stay in power. That is expected and natural for them. CTA-Cover Thy Ass, so to say. That is why we have this. Such unchecked corruption by the few and connected has bred anger and that anger turns into rage. I tell you from my own sources, corruption is everywhere. Somebody has to bit the bullet and do something and something drastic about it. When you and I read such stories that some civic organizations connected to highly placed officials were never audited even though they have been engaged in highly lucrative ventures, which tell us that things are not right over there. Someone has been given a free ride in accumulating massive fortune while millions toil and have a tough time feeding their families. Please note that I am note complaining about those individuals who profited from running legitimate businesses. As a former owner of a successful small business owner myself, my loyalty and belief in free enterprise is unshakeable. Widespread crackdown on corruption is a must over there to save the country from descending into another mayhem like the ones in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s.

  30. Dawi
    | #30

    [[..The environment in the countries like India, Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana has a teaching moment for countries mulling democracy..rampant corruption laced with democratic principles.]]

    I enjoyed reading your personal experience. Practice makes perfect. We are in general in the same book. I have a feeling, looking at the theoretical underpinning of systems, the neoliberal and the developmental state shall directs our country to a way out. Comparatively speaking that is!

    Africa needs a paradigm shift away from predatory state of neoliberal to a progressive democratic developmental state (DDS). Prof. Akbar Noman of the Colombia University in his interview once said that “as far as I know, PM Meles Zenawi was the first head of government to criticize many of the neoliberal prescriptions very early. The Washington consensus-type policies are accountable for the lost quarter century of Africa. It is now widely accepted that there were lots of mistakes made in the kind of conditionality imposed in Africa in the 1980s in particular.”

    I read Meles liked to give the example of corrupt customs officials in Taiwan, who extracted bribes worth 12 percent of the value of imports of consumer goods, while not demanding bribes on imported capital goods, illustrating how value creation had been internalized in this way – so that even the thieves followed the norm.

    African countries might have the trappings of human rights and democracy, but, he said, ‘there is no sustainable democracy in a society characterized by pervasive rent seeking. We need value creation to be dominant for there to be a foundation of democracy, for politics to be more than a zero sum game, a competition to control state rents.’ Worse, he added, ‘I am convinced that we will cease to exist as a nation unless we grow fast and share our growth.’THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF MELES ZENAWI

    How does then the DDS clean-up the mess of patronage and rentseeking at its initial stage other than in undemocratic means?

    He points out the social-democratic coalitions in some Scandinavian countries and the center-right coalition in Post Second World War Japan where Studies show stable long-term coalitions which stay in power for a long period but do so by democratic means can provide the needed continuity and stability of policy.

    He had clearly stated that the EPRDF’s mission was to build a capitalist state. He further stated that rent seeking and patronage within the ruling party posed the key dangers to this objective, and they needed to be thoroughly stamped out. He had a decade of a chance to implement his theory of DDS and had brought into being many disciples to follow through. HD is one of them calling “to stamp out” rent seeking today. I wish him good luck!

    On another note, Meles won by 2 votes in the Central Committee of the TPLF when his rivals walked out. I read the once who walked out had narrow, arrogant & semi feudal personality as opposed to his followers of “low class” & street kids kind? :) Cheers!

  31. Ittu Aba Farda
    | #31

    Please read that: where does all this income from oil go?

  32. Ittu Aba Farda
    | #32


    You wrote ‘HD is one of them calling “to stamp out” rent seeking today’. I want to underline ‘rent seeking’. You will hit a lot of nerve with this one. It is one bad behavior very hard to hide from the public. I know what you meant by that because several complaints I aired on this and other websites have roots in just that. Corruption, corruption, unchecked corruption by the well connected. Everything was on a silver platter for them when they marched into Addis/Finfine since all the resources were state owned. There was a lot of observation by others of what was happening during the privatizations of some of those state owned properties. Some of my relatives are traditionally small merchants and traders. They are hard core survivors. They had told me on several occasions when they were rendered under-funded when they tried to throw their bids on quite a few of those properties. On many occasions they heard the results and treated with blood shot eyes when asking legit questions about the process that took place already. Then they witnessed individuals disappearing not because of foul play but they are now the new member of the gilded age. That is because they had found ways to be well connected. Some people think that is normal where auction participants can be outbid. But those merchant relatives as resilient they are, have moved on. But they are not sure for how long they would be able to hold on. Properties are being snatched right and left at sky rocketed prices that their days at what they have been doing could be numbered. They can be ‘elbowed’ into oblivion just like those former small farmers at the out skirts of the capital by ruthless speculators and dubious brokers who are well connected. So, for an average reader, please elaborate your use of the phrase ‘rent seeking’ as it applies to the realities on the ground back in the old country we still hold close to our hearts. It will help our comments to easily sink is with our concerned audience.

    Dear my countryman:

    I have this lingering dream. It is a dream that not in the distant future, you and I will go back and forth talking about theories and models of managing modern factories. You and I trading words where one of us arguing the goodness of process control(manufacturing) theories by Edward Deming, Joe Orlicky’s MRP, Oliver Wight’s MRPII, Kan Ban and all other latest models instead spending our time on governance. I hope and pray that is not too far out for me. I hope to see that day before I take my last breath. That is because as a septuagenarian I do not have too many years on my hopper.

  33. Dawi
    | #33

    Ittu Aba Farda,

    As you pointed out in the examples you provided, we have problems of rent-seeking; which is transferring wealth through the patronage of government. These are clear violations of the rule of law because they arbitrarily privilege some at the expense of others. This in turn gives people an incentive to spend resources either to associate themselves with the winners or distance themselves from the losers.

    Such rent-seeking tends to prevail to the extent that such people are allowed to violate the rule of law. A politico-economic system of a developmental state that strictly observes the rule of law would perforce ban rent-seeking as much as possible. That is what is HD calling “to stamp out” but, is not as easy as we are trying to grasp the theory behind it.

    In my understanding, the difference between profit-seeking and rent-seeking is comparable between legitimate trade and armed robbery. They both require time, energy, and ability, but one creates wealth while the other destroys it; one encourages peaceful cooperation, the other subverts it.

  34. Dawi
    | #34

    Ittu Aba Farda,

    More on Theoretical underpinnings of the developmental state

    In a free society the state does not administer the affairs of men. It administers justice among men who conduct their own affairs. In other words, the state has a “night watchman” role in the economy. That is Neoliberalism.

    You mentioned Friedman who had trained a group of Chilean ultra-free market economists known as “Chicago Boys”. Even Joseph Stiglitz, who Meles affectionately calls Joe, a strong critic of the Chicago School, described Chile in his 2002 book Globalization and its Discontents as an exception to the failure of unregulated free markets and free trade policies in developing nations. So one can understand your praise of the “Chicago Boys”; the then Military dictatorship Pinochet’s policy was considered as “an economic miracle” by Milton Friedman in 1982. We are talking about the experiment in unregulated capitalism that the Pinochet dictatorship embraced in the years following the 1973 coup that toppled the elected government of Socialist President Salvador Allende.

    When you look into the “miracle” deeply, you will find the state as the actual agent playing the major role in the situation. That is in spite of a brutal military dictatorship that sought the total restructuring of the economy and the elimination of the state’s guiding role in it, the state sector was a crucial ingredient in Chile’s efforts to build an export-led economy in the Pinochet years and beyond.

    Many military officers in the upper ranks of the dictatorship were “developmentalists”—believing that the economic growth of Chile was partly a by-product of an agile and creative state. (When the nationalized copper giant CODELCO fell into the military’s control, it remained a state-owned corporation. The military reluctantly permitted the privatization of the electric grid and the telephone system, but not copper, the state-owned oil corporation, or several other key state entities.) Another answer is that nations cannot quickly change their economic structure.

    In other words, it was not the invisible hand of the market that caused the new boom in resource-based exports. Most of the credit belongs to the state: most of the strategies—such as new product development, risk capital, technical training/advising, marketing, quality control—and many of the personnel involved in the new Chilean “miracle” were products of the old, and much derided, state interventionism.

    Rent creation: promotes resource allocation and is growth-enhancing.

    Meles argues such a distinction between growth-enhancing rent creation and socially wasteful and state-created rent-seeking arises from the fact that the neo-liberal paradigm views rent-seeking as exogenous to the firm. However, there is no reason why state-created rent should be treated as external to the firm. The missing point in the neo-liberal paradigm is that the possibility of the state-created rents to be endogenous to the firm and related to its performance.

    In an environment where imperfect competition and market failure prevail, endogenous rent-seeking activity and relating it to growth enhancing performance of firms would result in an accelerated growth. State controlled enterprises are expected to enhance growth; if they aren’t making any money now or are losing money it is for the same reason the market failed that particular area therefore,one has to be patient with them.

  35. Dawi
    | #35

    Ittu Aba Farda,

    On another note:

    Recently MR. TEWOLDE GEBREMARIAM Chief Executive Officer or Ethiopian Airlines credited the “developmental state” of allowing it to re-invest the “rent” created by the Company. EAL just bought some 49% of Rwanda’s Air. That is an example of DS policy of encouraging “growth enhancing performance of firms”.

  36. Ittu Aba Farda
    | #36


    I don’t HD will go any far on cracking down on whole lot of grafting and rent seekers in all. If he dares that it will turn out to be very reckless for him. I don’t know how young you are. Back in the 1970′s quite a few Eritreans who I used to know as those considering themselves as Ethiopians started flocking into the ranks of the rebels. That happened right after the nationalization of private businesses and properties. I happened to meet them when I was in the middle east in the 1960′s very early 1970′s. They used to come to the then British Territory of Aden on business trips as Ethiopians. Then I started hearing about them in the mid 1970′s they had switched their support to this or that rebel group. HD better have 99% of the big enchiladas at the top to go after such abhorrent behavior. In my observation it is impossible. It has to be done piecemeal and strategically. It is a highly divided country now with a highly politicized/radicalized population. May The Almighty Save That Country and Its People!!!!

  37. Dawi
    | #37

    Ittu Aba Farda,

    I agree one can’t be reckless even the former PM had a hard time doing it; what we are reading is corruption fights within TPLF rank is going on now and that usually scales up to the rest of EPRDF; as you pointed out HD’s position will be stronger by coordinating with the consensus leadership. He can’t go alone. Just like China’s president, HD has already symbolically vowed to crack down on both ["tigers" and "flies" – powerful leaders and lowly bureaucrats ]; looking for solid evidence to take them to court and pleaded for the public to help.?

    Even in China where anti-corruption campain has good momentum, they are saying it would be very difficult (and would likely take decades) for the campaign to really influence the lives of “low-class people”. Is ours going to be any different with a smaller economy? maybe; particularly if the old guards are into it, it can make substantial headway.

  38. Ittu Aba Farda
    | #38


    Please do not use the phrase ‘low class people’. It would mean uncultured people. In stead you may use ‘low income people’ or in elaborative manner ‘people at the lowest strata of the economic scale (personal income). That way you will not end up inadvertently offending readers. Let’s keep it polished young man. I wish HD good luck in his endeavor to root out corruption. It is a do-or-die quagmire over there. And do it now is the order of the day. Otherwise, the country is itching up to go asunder with rage. My daily prayer is and will continue to be not to see it heading that way.

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