English-Articles

Ethiopia is on the brink, we should all be concerned

In Summary – The EPRDF and the TPLF must use the Constitution as it was intended and enable genuine decentralisation By MUTHONI WANYEKI – The East African

Following the dramatic events in Ethiopia a couple of weeks ago, international media and public attention seems to have tapered off.

The lack of international attention and particularly within African policy circles is hard to explain. Ethiopia is without a doubt, a regional hegemon.

Beyond being home to the African Union, it is a security anchor for the Horn of Africa and for external interests, a broker on conflicts on the continent and one of the largest refugee-hosting countries in the region.

It is also the poster child for economic growth and attempts at economic inclusion through the largest social assistance schemes in the region despite its archaic and controlled financial system.

But above all else, Ethiopia needs to be on the international radar because of its continued failure to respect the decision on its border with Eritrea and its alarming stand-off with Egypt in respect to the River Nile.

The world and no less its neighbours cannot afford to ignore its internal situation. If Ethiopia doesn’t get its act together, we are all going to pay the price.

In short, our silence doesn’t help us or Ethiopians, or the powers that be in Addis Ababa. Something needs to be done to stabilise the country in a manner that advances, rather than constrains the freedoms in the country.

The “how” was the topic of a Chatham House panel discussion in London this past week, addressed by three Ethiopian academics currently in the United Kingdom: PhD candidate in politics at Cambridge, Goitom Gebreduel; law lecturer at Keele, Dr Awol Allo; and economics teaching fellow at the School of Oriental and African Studies, Dr Nemera Mamo.

It was agreed that: The intense focus on who the next prime minister will be is irrelevant since the ruling coalition Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary and Democratic Front (EPRDF is dominated by the Tigray Peoples’ Liberation Front (TPLF).

What is relevant, however, is how the TPLF manages the now obvious split within the coalition.

What then are the options for the EPRDF? One view was that for the citizens to overcome the sense of ethnic and regional exclusion, the politics need to coalesce around class as an organising principle.

Another view was that the ethno-regional federalism of the Constitution is not the problem, rather it is the non-respect for the promise of that Constitution. Real regional autonomy, with a ceding of funding to the regions, public and security service positions to the regions, would be a way out. In effect, to separate the party from the state.

A case was made for this separation by citing what was referred to as Ethiopia’s current “triple deficit” — fiscal, trade and political deficit.

That in the wake of the protests, businesses were attacked, leading to an economic slowdown, jeopardising Ethiopia’s capacity to manage its debt repayment obligations. Separation of party from state therefore will deal with political and also economic instability.

The conclusion was that the EPRDF and the TPLF must use the Constitution as it was intended and enable genuine decentralisation.

That the powers that be should understand that freedom will also liberate the EPRDF, and those outside the country vouching for stability over democracy must understand that what pertains now is neither stability nor democracy.

That Ethiopia’s prospects are dire if stability and democracy are not prioritised.

L. Muthoni Wanyeki is the Africa director of the Open Society Foundations. Muthoni.Wanyeki@opensocietyfoundations.org

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