By Tibebe Samuel Ferenji June 17, 2019
“A failure is not always a mistake, it may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances. The real mistake is to stop trying.” American Psychologist Burrhus Frederic Skinner (B. F. Skinner)
In the last two parts of my articles on this topic, I have touched on some of the specific issues that Major Dawit addressed in his article titled “Ethiopia: A Country on the Brinks”. There is no way to sugar coat the mistakes made by Dr. Abiy’s administration in the effort of reforming Ethiopia’s political discourse. However, these mistakes are not an indication of “State Failure” in any shape or form. I agree with Major Dawit, the Abiy led government should have mapped out the rule of engagement how the media and political parties invited back to the country should operate. The fanfare that took place when exiled political parties entered the country was a serious mistake that led to some of the conflicts that we witnessed. As it has been said repeatedly, this administration and administrations that will follow it will make mistakes time and again. Social, political, and economic policies are not exact sciences experimented in closed laboratories. It is true we learn from others and form hypothesis and opinions from our experience and the experience of others. However, unpredictable outside forces influence the implementation of any policy; thus, mistakes are inevitable.
The fact that the Prime Minister and his administration made mistakes does not make Ethiopia a failed State. There has been a concerted effort to undermine the reform and the leadership of Dr. Abiy. Some scholars and “pseudo-scholars” have made enormous efforts to paint a dark picture of the future of our nation and knowingly spread false propaganda in an attempt to hinder our journey towards democracy. The digital army is deployed in mass and given directives to be relentless in its effort to undermine Abiy’s leadership. Well-funded media outlets are coming to light armed with fake news to foment hate and create conflict among our people. Statements made by individuals like Major Dawit are weaponized and used for propaganda by those who have ill intention to return the country to its yesteryear rulers. Thus, we must engage those who are professing Ethiopia’s doomsday and confront them with facts.
Although Major Dawit used a metric used to measure what failed states are, he did not tell us where the concept of “Failed States” originated and what its primary objective is. For anyone to assert that Ethiopia is a failed state must understand the source of such designation. Charles T. Call, in his article titled “the fallacy of ‘the failed States’” clearly indicates “the [Failed State] terms have come to be used in such widely divergent and problematic ways that they have lost any utility.” (Emphasis added).
Edward Newman, a senior lecturer in the Department of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Birmingham, has put it in a perspective where and how the concept of Failed States has originated. According to Newman, the concept of Failed States is taken seriously, particularly by the United States, as a result of the 9-11 terrorists attack. He claims such a concept is used to inflate threats and establish a “New World Order” that reflects Western countries bias.
There are scholars who believe that by defining and labeling states as failed states, Western countries can intervene in the affairs of other countries “stabilize” weak nations to prevent them from being a fertile ground for terrorists. On the other hand, there are those who reject the concept of “Failed States” as a politicized, ethnocentric, hegemonic concept with the interventionists’ implications. Some scholars believe that it is hard to measure States with one standard metric to label them as Failed States. Elliot Ross, a Doctoral Student at Columbia University, is one of the ardent critics of this concept. He states in clear and certain terms “The concept of the failed state is meaningless. It was invented as a rationale to impose US interests on less powerful nations” emphasis added. According to Ross, the organization that produces the Failed State Index is an organization known as The Fund for Peace, and its director is JJ Messener. According to Ross, this is the man who puts the index’s list together. Messener is a former lobbyist for the private military industry. This may not tell us all we need to know, but what we need to know is that there is an interventionist motive and warmongering scholars behind the “Failed State” concept. It is not clear why Major Dawit failed to tell us why he used the “Failed State” concept that is developed by those who are associated with the Military Industry of the Western nations.
The Failed State Index labels North Korea and Eritrea as Failed States; however, none of the metrics, with the exception of two, that measures the Failed States applies neither to North Korea nor Eritrea. If you look at the criteria used by Major Dawit to measure the Failed States, the only two criteria that applies to North Korea and Eritrea are poor economics and lack of freedom. However, the index has listed North Korea and Eritrea on top of its Failed State list.
Even using such flowed metrics, the metrics that Major Dawit used, does not conclusively show Ethiopia is a “failed State”. I have addressed two of the metrics used by Major Dawit’s article in the last two parts of the piece I posted. On this final piece, I am going to address the remaining six metrics briefly. According to Major Dawit, Lack of control over the territory within national borders, Massive displacements, Failure to provide public services food, health, shelter etc.…, High level of corruption, High numbers of refugees seeking to leave, No or poorly functioning economy, are some of the metrics that indicates Ethiopia is a failed State.
One cannot forget what the state of the nation was when reform-minded individuals took power in Ethiopia. There were many warring factions in Ethiopia and outside of Ethiopia. It was because of the public uprising and the increasing number of armed conflicts that put the TPLF in a defensive position which ultimately led to its downfall. Because the TPLF regime monopolized information and engaged in deceitful propaganda, it was difficult to quantify the number of rebel forces that are well known and unknown that engaged the regime. There were armed conflicts in almost every part of Ethiopia. When Dr. Abiy took power, he invited all political parties to return to their country. Without firing a shot, Dr. Abiy’s regime was able to disarm many of these organizations including the ONLF and TPDM. The only exception in this front is the OLF. In other words, there are less armed groups in Ethiopia today than before Dr. Abiy took power. To claim that Ethiopia is currently unable to control her territory within her border is devoid of facts.
This reminds me of a story that the former Deputy Attorney General of the United States, Rod Rosenstein, recently told one gathering. He said, “There is a story about firefighters who found a man on a burning bed. When they asked how the fire started, he replied, ‘I don’t know. It was on fire when I lay down on it.’ It may be necessary to remind people like Major Dawit about what kind of state that Dr. Abiy found Ethiopia when he became a Prime Minister. Ethiopia was already “on fire”; with his leadership, the country just began extinguishing the fire that has been burning beneath and above the surface. Considering where we have been, there are fewer conflicts in Ethiopia today than before; and Ethiopia is controlling more of her territory within her border today than before. Therefore, the assertion that Ethiopia lacks control over her territory within national borders is wrong.
No one disputes that there has been a mass displacement in the country because of ethnic conflicts in various regions. This is not new to Ethiopia either. We have seen the displacement and uprooting of Ethiopians from their homes since 1991 because of the dangerous ethnic politics fermented by the TPLF. Abiy’s regime is using a different approach to solve this decade’s long conflicts. He is trying to reintroduce our conflict resolution culture through our elders. This culture has been a bedrock that has kept our society together. Dr. Abiy is weaving this valuable culture into our political fabric. He wants a lasting peace in our nation. Simply returning the displaced Ethiopians to their previous homes would have been a temporary solution. He wanted to change that and established a system where conflicting parties engage in dialogue and address the root causes of the problem. It is with such strategic planning more than one million Ethiopians returned to their homes. It is because we lost our cultural values, that we have lost respect for one another. Our forefathers respected one another and understood the chain of command. Our generation grew up where a corporal orders a General because he was given a title of “Commissar” or “Cadre”. Individuals like Major Dawit not only lived in the system that turned the chain of command upside down but also took part in designing it. Abiy is trying to change this dangerous “revolutionary mentality”; and he is using our cultural values so we can have respect to one another, love one another, and care about one another. This will not be accomplished in a year or two. It will take time, but it will be lasting, and it will be a glue that will hold our nation and people together.
Major Dawit’s article contained many false assertions; the most obvious one is his claim that Abiy’s government failed to provide public services, food, health, shelter, etc. I am assuming the Major is talking about the displaced citizens. The IOM, in its July 13, 2018 report indicated “The Government of Ethiopia, which has led the response since the crisis began, is racing to provide vital humanitarian services across numerous displacement sites in West Guji Zone (Oromia) and Gedeo Zone (SNNPR), the latter hosting the majority of those displaced.” This is what relifeweb reported in July 2018: “In support of and in close coordination with the Government of Ethiopia, IOM is providing humanitarian assistance to displaced populations in collective centers and within local communities through an integrated approach focusing on core aid distribution, emergency shelter, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) assistance, primary emergency health care, and site management support. In addition, IOM’s DTM is supporting the overall response by much-needed identification of population movements and needs.” (Emphasis added). In August 2018,Doctors Without Borders stated: “Despite a government-led effort to provide health care, food, and essential relief items, many displaced people do not have adequate shelter, water, sanitation, and hygiene services.” None of the credible reports indicated that the government failed to provide any of the social services. Thus, Major Dawit’s claim does not hold water.
One of the points that Major Dawit made is corruption. There is no dispute that there is corruption in Ethiopia; but, this did not start now. Like many of the problems that the country is facing, Abiy’s administration is working to tackle this problem. There are more high government and party officials in prison, today, because of corruption than at any time. Tackling corruption, however, should not be left only to the government. Every-one of us are responsible for growing corruption. Officials take bribe because there are people willing to bribe them. If we consider our national interest in every transaction instead of our personal interest, we can clean up corruption and corrupt officials.
Although Major Dawit stated there are a high number of refugees seeking to leave, he did not tell us that there is a high number of refugees returning to Ethiopia since Abiy came to power. Dawit did not elaborate his claim with any credible evidence; hence, his claim that there is a high number of refugees seeking to leave Ethiopia has no merit.
I don’t think I need to say much about the economy. We had an economy “built” without its legs to stand on. The country did not even have hard currency when Abiy took over. The government officials and their cronies built “shiny” buildings in the city to continue their 11% economic growth narratives. Today, we know the truth of how our money was spent and what our state of the economy looks like. Here is what FocusEconomics, a leading provider of economic analysis and forecasts, stated on May 21, 2019 “Ethiopia’s economic activity likely cooled in July-December 2018, as suggested by lower-than-budgeted public capital spending and falling exports. This follows a slowdown in FY 2017 when shrinking agricultural and mining production weighed on growth; that said, the pace of expansion was still impressive, thanks to sturdy activity in the manufacturing and services sectors. Meanwhile, on the international front, the government signed a USD 1.8 billion investment agreement with China in late April. The deal is aimed at improving the provision of electrical power and distribution lines, which, in the process, should create jobs. On the fiscal front, in early May, the finance minister announced the government will introduce excise taxes to collect revenue, which will be earmarked towards the education, health and agriculture sectors.”
Considering the fact our economy was based on corruption and factious government projects in the past, because if the corrective measures taken by Abiy’s leadership, our country is headed in the right direction. However, in order to be successful, we need to put our collective efforts. Only by cultivating our shared values and by being considerate to one another we can build a democratic institution that will last for generations and an economy that will be the envy of the world. The fate of our country is not in the hands of one man or one organization, it is in our hand. We can sit back and predict doomsday or get our hands dirty, get involved, and help to fix what is broken. I don’t fault Major Dawit for his article; but, I am puzzled by his proposed solution; it is not practical given the current state of affairs in our nation. This particular article made him look like a General Practitioner who is trying to perform brain surgery. I hope and pray individuals like Major Dawit will take the necessary steps to be part of the solution instead of exacerbating the problem we have by publishing articles with unsupported allegations and false assertions.
Like many critics of Dr. Abiy, Major Dawit stated Abiy does not have a road map. I will repeat the response I gave to General Tsadkan Gebretensae in the past. The roadmap may not be visible to those who are willfully blind. However, willingly or unwillingly, the people of Ethiopia has given Dr. Abiy one specific mandate- To Hand Power To The People; and he is working hard to accomplish this objective. So far, he has established an independent election board, changed the court’s makeup, he is determined to make our judiciary independent, the media’s freedom is respected now more than any period in our history, political organizations are free of government interference, and he is working hard to make sure our country holds, it’s first ever, free and fair election in May 2020. If this Road Map is Not Clear to anyone, then these individuals need a “political Optometrist” that can cure their partisan views that blinded them. Our country is at a pivotal point; this is not a time to engage in petty grievances and self-centered political agenda. This is time for serious people and sober minds to get to work and solve our nation’s and our people’s serious problem with a collective effort. Thank you for your patience and for taking the time to read. God Bless Ethiopia and our people!