8 January 2013

Ethiopia: Political Metamorphosis


My readings about the Developmental State are becoming more confused with each day that passes.

I could not rightly trace the metamorphosis of such a state, for its reach has no limit. Its predefined hegemony furthers the confusion, by weeding out political alternatives and fertilising the growth of the state.

As if to make it more confusing, the ruling-EPRDF added a democratic element on top of the 'Asian experience'. By breeding democracy with hegemony, it brings about an increasingly unpredictable political regime to the rather statist culture of our fair nation.

True, the innovation may have taken Ethiopian culture as its base. Ethiopians love a big state. They see this as the ultimate problem solving power.

It is in light of this dominant demand that the ruling elite may have borrowed the statist model as their governance blue print. But, the blue print is yet to be clear on one major point; political competition.

How can a political party that thinks power ought to be assumed, through the very process of election, preach about policy continuity?

There is little within my readings that can justify the merger of democracy with hegemony. At least, two prerequisites, which seem improbable, are needed for this to occur.

On the one hand, a significant majority of the electorate ought to have 'developmental' preferences that could provide the ruling party with enough votes to take office continuously, through elections. On the other hand, the competence of the political opposition, in 'developmental debates', ought to remain minimal for a long period of time. Yet, both seem unlikely.

By adopting this confusing theory, the ruling elite seem to opt for two probable situations. One is their ultimate dominance on power, with or without elections. And the other is the progressive consolidation of the political opposition towards a single strong developmental opposition party.

Hence, the future of political competition inEthiopiais largely bleak. There is little to come in the form of purely democratic competition, at least until such a time that the ruling elite ensure that the concept of 'development' is absorbed well by their opponents.

Why, then, is there all this posturing?

It is hardly posturing. I rather take elections as inherent attempts by the ruling elite to consolidate their opponents and streamline the concept of development. As it is not a genuine effort to build democracy from the grassroots, but rather a dictated path to it, its precedence is largely unpredictable. And, if past elections are anything to go by, the process is a costly one.

There is little for the political opposition in this equation. Its options are either to play its own developmental game and outsmart the ruling party, or morph into the predefined opposition outlined in the holy books of revolutionary democracy.

As it appears, however, the opposition has little understanding of the whole game. Its tactics are all borrowed from liberal democracy. But the fact on the ground is that the incumbent has mutated into an organism far detached from the one dictated by such a process. If anything, it has gone 'far illiberal'.

What seems to be missing from the plan of the ruling elite is the indoctrination of the electorate. Although the demand for developmental results is rising, it is rising along with the demand for liberal values. Therein comes the constant disproval of liberal values by the ruling elite. They are often tagged as neo-liberal.

Yet, the whole equation is to channel electoral preferences in the developmental canal. Everything outside of this is considered as being pandemic.

An important deficit in the whole equation, however, is its inability to embrace human rights as an inherent value for the state to guard. The model being preached by the ruling elite seems to be alien to the concept. If ever at all, it seeks only to adopt it, on its own terms.

It is on this frontier that the local political opposition is doing well. It seems to understand the weight of the issue and how it could deploy it to challenge the incumbent. So far the concept remains marginal in the international political scene; however, it cannot pave the road to power on its own.

This political metamorphosis will eventually end, either when the test of the ruling elite is proven right or when the deficit grows too big to prove it wrong. It is indeed a lot to make a clear prediction on.

Getachew T. Alemu Is the Op-Ed Editor for Fortune.

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