A view from the silent diaspora – Systemic and Systematic Corruption in Ethiopia under Meles Zenawi – BY Wardoffa Banti
What we hear nowadays are tales of the astounding and uncontrollably yawning economic gap amongst Ethiopians. That is between the too little “haves” and all the rest “have-nots”. As all nations pass through a change of economic and social transformation, there would naturally emerge classes of people who would be identified with levels of economic and wealth prowess. All societies have gone and would go through this economic building and transformation although the government and the political force that wields power (known as the “regulator of the economic field”.) (more…)
What we hear nowadays are tales of the astounding and uncontrollably yawning economic gap amongst Ethiopians. That is between the too little “haves” and all the rest “have-nots”. As all nations pass through a change of economic and social transformation, there would naturally emerge classes of people who would be identified with levels of economic and wealth prowess. All societies have gone and would go through this economic building and transformation although the government and the political force that wields power (known as the “regulator of the economic field”.)
“FREE MARKET ECONOMICS” IN THE EYES OF REVOLUTIONARY DEMOCRATS
The basic underpinnings of free market economics lies in the “Invisible Hand” of market forces as bringing balance and the government’s role as the regulator of the economic and financial sectors. In an ideal free market system (which seems a dreamland for the TPLF and its cohorts), the State (or the government) is given by its citizens (or in the case of Ethiopia, by its “subjects”) the mandate or authority to “regulate” the economic regime by leveling the playing field in order that all independent players would play by set standards and rules of the game of economic activities. The basic purpose of any government requires the task to collect tax revenues to furnish taxpayers with the goods, services, and infrastructures that facilitates and guards their activities, wellbeing, interests and security. Free market’s (Liaise faire) underlying dynamics is that of the market’s “wisdom” to self-regulate itself. This idea is embodied in the concept of the market as having an “invisible hand” that would guide its course with its inbuilt mechanisms and dynamism of basic principles such as demand-and-supply. Although the free market models appeared in myriad forms, the experiences of governments have proved that regulation is a necessity to avert monopolies and unfair practices by strong economic players. That is an unbridled and unregulated free market would be self-defeating given the innate human drives of insatiable greed to monopolize and the necessity to control some business entities and variables that are needed for the stable sailing of the economy (for example, the needs to manage and regulate interest rates, interstate and foreign trades, corporations and partnerships that veiled the individual merchant.)This function of the government presupposes that the people would be guaranteed with a leveled playing economic field where all players (individuals or business entities) would enjoy a fair, non-discriminatory and healthy competition without any interference by the government or other forces. This government regulatory function stands out as the cornerstone of modern market economies with the view to do away with unfair competition, favoritism and cronyism by the few over the rest.
Throughout this reshaping and crystallization of this modern free market principle, what has invariably evolved is the fundamental duty of the State to refrain itself from being involved as a businessperson itself. In basic terms, this economic and political obligation and mandate given to the State gears towards establishing a fair system that is fundamentally constituted to serve the people rather than to be served by the system by abusing its mandate. (We equate this economic relationship between the State, as a regulator of the leveled and fair economic field on the one hand and the empowerment of citizens as rule-abiding players, on the other, as a football game where the referee regulates and implements the rules of the game being a neutral and fair judge.) It is under this original backdrop of the function of a State that we forward the following analysis demonstrating that the economic policy and direction in present-day Ethiopia under the TPLF is submerged in the sea of distorted irregularity and aberration of free market economics that is manifestly resulting in inequitable, discriminatory, and unhealthy system infested with exploitation, domination and abuse.
SYSTEMIC CORRUPTION AND TPLF’S DECAY
The free market economy presupposes the economic and financial sectors to be free from the involvement of the State in the economic activity of citizens and businesspersons. The role of the State is to collect tax and provide the people with security, infrastructures and regulatory functions to enable citizens to play by the rules. The reality in Ethiopia under PM Meles Zenawi, however, is another story. Meles’s government knows no distinction between its regulatory functions as a government and its unhealthy submergence into the economy with its overly large and visible hand that works as a business entity in contradiction to free market economics. The case of Ethiopia is unique because the ruling party that controls the State (supposedly the regulator or referee of the playing field) is, in fact, also a business entity or a player itself. This is because, the TPLF/EPRDF is SIMULTANEOUSLY a “political party” at the helm of State power (with all the powers of the state to use and abuse) AND a merchant or business conglomerate (having its own giant businesses, companies and “endowments”). Under the TPLF, the football referee that takes the ball into its own hands and scores goals for its illegal advantages while at the same time sanctioning other players to sit outside the field using its authority as the government. This is the fabric of a sick system where the economic interests of the citizens are compromised by absolute power of the TPLF which is used for its narrow interests of accumulation of capital through corrupt mechanisms. That is why the TPLF government is said to suffer from systemic ailment as the economic system is shakily built on a wrong, unjust, corrupt and volatile base.
In this regards, there is this underlying “conflict of interest” in TPLF’s confused and mixed-up role being a political party AND a business company. Ideally, the State power is vested with the duty to collect tax from citizens and corporations. The State is expected to present itself by promising to collect as little tax from its citizens as possible but to provide the best service to the people. In this dynamics, it is an evident business and economic reality that people best prefer a government that would provide them with the maximum possible qualitative and quantitative service by paying the lowest tax, so that they would use what is left of the taxation for their various needs. The State is, however, vested with discretionary authority to keep watch of the payment of taxes by citizens even if individuals and businesses inherently prefer, given government waste, to pay taxes as little as possible.
However, in the case of TPLF – that wears two hats as the taxpayer AND the tax collector as a business entity – who is to supervise, control and regulate whether as a business, TPLF had paid taxes? Could a person be a football player and a referee at the same time? Who is auditing the books of TPLF/EPRDF’s companies? Did TPLF/EPRDF obtain the capital for its business from sources outside of Ethiopia or Ethiopians?
The TPLF has abrogated this fundamental duty of safeguarding the economic interests of the people and the country by being a “taxpayer” and a “tax collector” at one and the same time. This is the best manifestation of the conflict of interests that the TPLF is wallowing in and decaying with. The TPLF/EPRDF should have chosen either one of these roles because it is illegal as political parties cannot engage in business; it is unethical because the responsibility of the mandate to govern requires the respect of one’s duty either as a political or an economic entity; and, it is dangerous as a country where there is systemic corruption would not have sustainable stability or rhythmic peace as exploitation and subjugation would bunker the TPLF to be left with no other choice than monopolizing political and all the powers of the State in order to protect the fruits of its unfair advantage and blind plunders of underserved economic gains. The protruded dictatorship of Meles Zenawi is the natural consequence of warding off others from political power as they would be checks and bottlenecks to continuity of this unjust system. The “fight” of the symptoms of corruption by the TPLF government is proving barren and cosmetic because a system that is built on corruption could not be propped up as it is torn between accumulation of capital as a business generating “unfair advantage” to be guarded by division and guns pulling in one direction and a semblance of order by acting as a government in the other. That is why we see the “supporters of the TPLF” having no moral ground or the reasons to back their positions as an underserved advantage knows no rationality but blind denial and/or feigned (insincere) support to the TPLF.
REVOLUTIONARY DEMOCRACY OR “REVERSAL OF FORTUNE”
It is a natural motive of a human being to promote and protect the interest of its individual self, then its sex, then its race and finally of mankind. I do not remember an instance where I had been a fan of the football team of a different Kebele than mine. Hence in a country where the system of governance is tailored along fragmented ethnic entities, it is not surprising for an individual or members of a group to promote and protect their interests. When the TPLF began with the motive of upholding the interests of its constituency whether it be by secession of Tigray or through other formula of togetherness with others, this ingrained motive would linger unless that individual/group is lying or unrealistically in denial. (We all know what TPLF would have been had Isayas’s miscalculation stopped the TPLF to a screeching halt and confused soul searching, i.e. from a north-ward utopia with Eritrea, that eventually seems to have led to South-ward thinking.)
The TPLF, professing to be the vanguard of its constituency, does not conceal (deny) the fact that it is promoting the interests of its group. In spite of this natural and inherent motive, however, the TPLF, being the real power behind the Ethiopian state, desires to lead us to believe that it is saintly working for Ethiopia and all Ethiopians with equality and justice. This would be a travesty of nature and reality. Especially, with TPLF gaining state power after an arduous guerrilla war that unfortunately caused unimaginable misery and suffering on its constituency, it would be natural to reduce its motive to compensate and avenge the unfortunate consequences of the civil war.
The TPLF’s interpretation of history, the realities that evolved through dynamism of the years of the civil war and the nature and individual perceptions and takings by its leaders whose capacities are limited for the mere fact of being individual human beings, would factor in the formation and implementation of policy and direction frantically and narrowly devised by such leadership.
Ethiopia’s TPLF government had been in euphoric state of affairs after it militarily seized power, which turned out to be demagoguery in pitting the ethnic groups against each other in the meantime consolidating its monopoly on power. With the passing of each day and when resorting to brute and excessive force to silence the people became the more so successful, economic and social policies became intertwined with the goal of perpetuating the actual control of power. This over-reliance on divisive tactics and guns in turn translated into a lack of accountability and opaque transparency, as the TPLF immersed into a cultish height of invincibility and omnipotent arrogance that have us hear the words of its officials who declared that the “TPLF could not only win a battle, but knows how to make/fabricate wars or controversies”. As Meles put it rightly, the May 2005 election was not a “contest” to be conceded but a “calculated risk” (thanks to guns and repression!) for political and international PR consumptions. When Meles said (Is it the British who call people who confuse too much information with “knowledge” as suffering from oral diarrhea?) that the people falsely believed that they were free citizens to exercise their basic rights and freedoms, while in fact they forget that they are in a big prison where “they are tied with a long rope like a chicken”, the arrogance was impeccable. It is under this political background that the “makers of battles” single-handedly devise and implement economic policies that would put the advantageous few to a state of exploitation at the cost of the disadvantaged majority.
In this regards, as it professes, the idea of “revolutionary democracy” of the TPLF/EPRDF is to devolve political, economic, social and cultural powers from the hands of past beneficiaries (by definition the Amhara and by default Gurages and the rest of non-TPLF constituencies) back to the rest of the people. This idea, understood in terms of the economic dimension by the TPLF’s agenda, would be fostered by making an accelerated, radical and propelled change or devolution of power (revolution) by using State power to divest past beneficiaries of their power in a just and fair (democratic) manner.
Given the economic realities on the ground, what we see is the TPLF’s historic and unparalleled accumulation of economic power in its own hands as has never been witnessed in Ethiopian history. Considering the realities of the corrupt economic policies and practices of the TPLF/EPRDF, we cannot understand “revolutionary democracy” as none other than state sponsored “reversal of fortune” using power.
In today’s Ethiopia, we hear and witness many stories of corrupt and unfair distribution of wealth, which is reserved to those who have political power; those who are connected and enter into a subtle and mutual game of corrupt practice with those in power in splitting public funds; those who do not hesitate to plunder public wealth as those in political power do not have the moral high ground to resist or curb the corruption; and those who loot public wealth while the government looks the other way as those corrupt officials and their partners are necessary political entities that need to indulge in corruption in order to blackmail them into political servitude; giving some “cut” to political lackeys who would serve as a go-between the TPLF and other “nations and nationalities” – for instance, Dinsho (OPDO), Wondi (SEDM) -in order to lock the lackeys with corrupt addiction thereby making them slaves of the whims of the TPLF. The policies of the TPLF are devised on narrowly constituted ground (but with a grandiose self-esteem that shrills the sound of “who is there better than us”) that leaves out the majority of the people in the cold with their genuine political representation muted, silenced or sidelined. The highest echelon of those with actual power within the TPLF government is held by a narrow group that is insulated to input from other sections of the society who have stakes in the affairs of their country.
Under Meles’s government, principle is compromised for loyalty and grab-your-share mentality. The scheme of economic policy is dictated and steered by Meles Zenawi or other TPLF interest cheerleaders like Neway Gebreab, Bereket Semon, Abay Tsehaye. (TPLF tone of governance, is that of the “my way or the highway” or “put up or shut up” – after all, they believe, who are the people to question the conquerors?) It is understandable that the TPLF would come to this state of organizational mind setting considering its bunkered guerrilla warfare calculus and mentality of the ONLY solution to a given problem is to “neutralize or eliminate” the other differing side or the “enemy that tends to cross the field with the red line engraved for citizens by the TPLF with its arbitrary mines”. This condescending perception by the TPLF of the state machinery as being the “property” of those who conquered their “enemies” or a “perpetual entitlement” for the victors is no different than aristocratic monarchies or Marxist-Leninist dictatorship of the proletariat. As such this sentiment of entitlement that the TPLF portrays (as opposed to realizing that the struggle was for the people not for its fighters) is diametrically in conflict with the concept of representative democracy that upholds the interests and the will of the people.
The TPLF has proven for itself that sharing power and accommodating differing views would block the smooth flow of undeserved advantage it is accumulating. (Remember the post-May 2005 express legislation in parliament to deny discussion of finance issues by the House of Representatives? It is a typical example of reserving money issues not to be questioned and scrutinized by opponents so that the public would not know the covered up budgetary and finance corruption and favoritism of the TPLF.) Growingly, the irresistible sweetness of power and wealth is blinding the TPLF to a level of arrogance that is typical of dictatorships that died and are dying. There is the need to seek political change and influence by exposing the corrupt practices of the TPLF government to inform the people and the world. It is also necessary to continue equipping the political, social, and pressure groups that have a stake in our country to hold rational and reasoned policy and political positions that would challenge the political leaders into realizing the ideals of fairness, justice and equality that would lay the foundations for a sustainable nation. It would be a matter of time before the (outwardly strong but decaying) TPLF to acknowledge that there is more to equitable and democratic governance than political expediency of consolidating political tyranny insulated from the interests, will and participation of its subjects. The growing brainstorming and crystallization of the foundations and mechanisms of the TPLF’s driving rolled TPLF to crack because of internal rust, its paralysis to change and absence of rational and reasoned agenda and backing. The accumulated injustices committed by the TPLF would not draw any sane minded person to support a government that is infested with systemic and systematic corruption, which have historically been the recipes for a stagnating and dying regime.
April 22, 2008
Wardoffa Banti, Germany