Ethiopia: Yearning for a Resilient Ethiopian State


Several theories of the origin and function of the state and almost all realistic theories agree on the very elemental duty of a state, that is the maintenance of peace and security within the domestic territory and protection of its people from all sorts of external aggressions.

The scholarship of social science broadly categorizes the basic needs of human beings into three; security, economic and relationship needs. Security needs are dealt with political means through the state's political institutions; economic needs are met through the combined effort of the public and the private sector; and the study of sociology and theology detail the particulars of social/anthropic and spiritual relationships mankind has.

States, particularly of least developing countries, consume a significant portion of the country's GDP, sometimes more than 50%. The higher the state's intervention in the economy and social institutions, the larger the share of the GDP reserved for the state and its machinery. The market and the society expect the state to carry out its elemental duty in return for the GDP share it keeps in the name of taxation. The state exists to deliver political goods and institutions such as security, education, health, employment, environmental protection, infrastructures etcetera.

Of all these political goods the state is expected to deliver, maintenance of peace and security holds the first rank of order. Regulation of institutions and adjudication of conflicts; rule of law, securing property rights, enforcing contracts; encouraging political participation, and delivering social service, infrastructures and regulation of the economy are of course of a paramount importance, but can't be paralleled with the maintenance of peace and security. Any state/government that compromises the issue of security is destined for failure.

Max Weber's understanding of the state is decisive in elaborating the very correlation between state and its basic function and machinery of peacekeeping. According to Weber, 'a state is a human community that claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory' even when 'the right to use physical force is ascribed to other institutions or to individuals only to the extent to which the state permits it'. If any other institution or an individual manages to run a physical force without an official permission of the legitimate state, then it is referred to as 'the state within a state'.

The Ethiopian state has critical gaps in this respect. Following the homicide of the high profile musician Hachalu Hundessa weeks ago, we have witnessed a 'dictatorship of the mass' throughout the streets of the capital Addis Ababa and the Oromia region. Hundreds of innocent lives were lost in a cold-blooded killing; public and private properties worth of hundreds of millions have been destroyed within hours. Shashemene town (in western Arsi) was the epicentre of the destructive protest. Residents of the town were in danger as the security forces of the town have appeared to be reluctant to protect the civilians from the violence. The state seemed to lack the monopoly of the means of violence.

Citizens depend on a state (be it regional or federal) to secure their properties and free them from fear and uncertainty. Unable to establish an atmosphere of security nationwide, and often struggling to project power and official authority, the faltering state's failure becomes obvious. When state machinery can no longer fulfill their functions in a way that builds and strengthens public confidence particularly in ensuring the physical safety of its populace, the repercussions are so grim to deal with. The World Bank (2003) explains how severe the domestic effects of state failure and collapse are. "When the state cannot or will not fulfill its core functions, citizens suffer.

State collapse is especially devastating, as the total disintegration of public authority usually leads to violent contestation over who will control the state and obtain the benefits that international recognition brings. Citizens flee in massive refugee flows. The effects of civil war persist for years after the war ends; these include increased mortality rates, inflated military spending, capital flight, loss of social capital, and low economic growth".

The socio-economic cost, for instance, the Shashemene youth would incur is plain. The police and other security forces that were implicitly fueling the violent riot and the destruction of properties, businesses, and factories would also suffer the dire consequences of the youth unemployment sooner or later. In addition to the upheaval within the domestic territory, there lies the threat of external intervention and massive flow of refugees and a contagious instability of the region.

If, on the other hand, the international community reaches on a point that the Ethiopian state is not capable of performing its basic duties of maintaining security, they won't hesitate to relocate the various international organizations in the Capital Addis and reinstitute them somewhere else. This would cost Ethiopia its historical significance in the African and world politics and also economic benefits that it reaps from international and regional conferences.

When such criminal violence arises anytime and anywhere and lawlessness becomes more apparent, a populace would realize that the state has abandoned it to its own devices and to the forces of nature. This would ultimately lead to the hypothetical turbulent situation that the 17thC political philosopher Thomas Hobbes termed as "State of Nature". Hobbes argued that individuals living without a state and a rule of law find themselves in a situation of 'war of all against all' in which life is 'solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short'. Hobbes recommends a rule of absolute monarchy as a means of precluding such a horrific situation. Well, it might not be possible to form such a state in the 21stC. However, the need for a strong government and the rule of law is what the populace is crying for in the contemporary Ethiopia.

The kind of strong state Ethiopians yearn for is the one that unquestionably controls our territories and delivers a full range and a high quality of political goods for all of us. The populace and the investors need the central government to offer high levels of security from any political and criminal violence, ensure political freedom and civil liberties, and create environments conducive to the growth of economic opportunity. The Ethiopia we need is where the rule of law prevails and courts are independent.

In conclusion, experts agree that there is a hierarchy of political goods. However, none is as critical as the supply of security, especially human security. As societies become more complex and as the groups that constitute them become larger and less homogeneous, the state must assume additional responsibilities if it wishes to promote fully the welfare of the individuals that comprise it.

Individuals alone, almost exclusively in special or particular circumstances, an attempt to secure themselves. Or groups of individuals can band together to organize and purchase goods or services that maximize their sense of security. Traditionally, and usually, however, individuals and groups cannot easily or effectively substitute private security for the full spectrum of public security. The state's prime function is then to provide that political good of security.

Political scientists agree on the notion that state failure is largely man-made, not accidental. Institutional fragilities and structural flaws contribute to failure, but those deficiencies usually hark back to decisions or actions of the agents (decision-makers).

The [Ethiopian] central government has now started to bring those who have hands in the violence to justice and take appropriate measures to calm the turmoil down. The measure the government took on the racially polarized media is without any doubt a commendable act. However, the government needs to work hard to regain trust from the populace especially in violent-torn localities. The state has to measure its strength by its ability and willingness to provide the fundamental political goods associated with statehood: physical security, legitimate political institutions, economic management, and social welfare.

Stay Home! Stay Safe!

Editor's Note: The views entertained in this article do not necessarily reflect the stance of The Ethiopian Herald

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