Ethiopia’s System Design facilitates Unipolar Despotism

If the Ethiopian Public had learnt something in their history of struggle for justice, any system designed to help the winner to take it all needs to be reviewed in the way it welfares the public in all national endeavours.

The problem of the current Ethiopian society mainly originates not from any kind of text written in the form of History, Constitution, Academic Publication, these all can be rewritten or counter argued in the matter of short time, rather the problem originates from a text written in hearts and minds of each Segment of Society (be it religious or ethnic segment).

The latter takes time and requires tact to be mend in the way all society would have compatible outlook of a single fact/event in their country. For Example a cooperation of the two largest ethnic groups is conceivable and also beneficiary for one ethnic group (3rd person) of Ethiopia who is outsider to the cooperation, contrary to that another ethnic group (4th person) sees the cooperation unimaginable (as a marriage of two unrelated spices). In the meantime the 4th group may see it as a threat to its ‘survival’ or ‘interest’ it has within the Ethiopian Nation. The bitter truth is that there are Ethiopian societies whose outlook are only curtailed in their separate segment, it is likely not to include other societies of the nation, if it does it is in the form of ‘The Enemy’ or ‘The Challengers’. The fashion of having your own ‘Text of the Heart’ is not being contained in that specific segment, its expanding to other segments of society who were more inclusive. Every Segment of Society is likely to have its own interpretation and understanding of events, things, other ethnic groups, and history. This understanding/outlook cannot be technically verified and also it is only known by the group members and not shared by an outside group. It requires being that particular group to know and understand it.

That Text of the Heart serves as our outlook of interpretation for any kind of document crafted to serve as a base of national system design. As different groups have gottten different outlooks they interpret and implement any text created for national system building based on their aspiration or outlook, not as promised in the document. That Text of the Heart is what gives people unity of purpose in their particular segment of society. Ethiopians collectively lack that common outlook, when we have that one outlook we will have unity of purpose as a single country.

During the design of Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE) as Ethiopian People Revolutionary Front (EPRDF) is a sole engineer and implementer (at least until now) of the system the system is EPRDF looks like its creator, nothing else. The creator likes to centralize in the name of decentralizing. In 1991 EPRDF controlled the Military, The Peace Conference, The Constitutional Assembly, and The Discussion on the Constitution. In all choices made by then EPRDF choose alternatives which enabled real power centralization (for nominal reference I know it claims to be Federal while it controls the regional administrations using the Party system, national resource allocations, security and other informal settings).

Controlling not a Nation, but a Soul of a Nation
Parliamentary Democracy helped EPRDF Elites to control not only the frontiers of Ethiopia but the soul of the nation. In the current system, the constitution has its own limitations but it is still good because any of the suffering by the Ethiopian people would have not been imaginable if strict implementation of the constitution had followed its proclamation. That being said, I argued that the current national system of Ethiopia enables the winner to take all. For example the very nature of the Parliamentary Democracy which enables a winner political group to form a government and its leader to be the head of Executive, Commander of the Army. In this form of democracy it is guaranteed that the executive (Council of Ministers) and the legislative (House of Peoples Representative) to have same perspective and likely to be dominated by a single person (the Prime Minister). If we had followed a Presidential system the above domination cannot happen. The ascendancy of a unipolar interest in the Legislative facilitated to the proclamation of unjust laws like the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, Information & Media Freedom law, the SCO law, and the repeated installations of Martial Rule.

A trapped Justice System
We have seen above how the very design of a system facilitated the possibility of the two most important organs of a democratic state to be captured by a singular interest. Now we have a justice system which is ‘guaranteed’ to operate ‘independently’ at least according to the text, but not practically. The constitution requires the Justice System to be independent of the two above mentioned organs of state, but it doesn’t guarantee that independence when it subscribes its operation and appointment of officials. The first practical deficiency starts with the kind of legal regime the Ethiopian Courts are allowed to operate. Traditionally anyone who studied law will tell you that there are two kinds of Legal Regimes; the Common Law and the Civil Law Legal Regimes. I can’t go to the details but in Civil Law Legal Regime the Judge strictly follows proclamations enacted by the legislator to decide on any matter brought to the court room, than his expertise and the judgements of other similar case by other courts/judges. In this case if that unipolar interest group enacted unjust laws, the judge has no chance to differ for the sake of justice but to implement injustice (like the Antiterrorism Proclamation enabled the executive to torment and torture anyone they like for 4 plus months without any precondition, with the help of justice system). Another trap is the appointment of judges; unlike other countries where the president (Who may not head the Executive), councils of judges, or sometimes district level vote is given for an appointment of a judge, in Ethiopia that unipolar force who controlled the legislative, executive, and the security appoints the judges of his liking. As the saying goes, someone who appoints also can disappoint, the judges are unlikely to go against the interest of the unipolar force if there is room left for their discretion. Now I conclude the Justice System is also captured by singular interest.

Accumulation to the Grip
I will only mention additional dynamics which contributes to a dictatorship of a singular interest over a nation of a hundred million. I know most of us who are living in the system easily understand how a thing contributes to the above system. Therefore when I list other system level policies or actions it will be easy to understand. The first one is the Economic Policy the nation follows; it approves intervention based on ‘Public Interest’. How the interest is guaranteed for ‘Publicness’? Again depends on the captured organs. One day in the morning, they may tell you that the parliament has decided to form a public corporation which builds robots, in the meantime the robots are to be built by public budget and used for public surveillance. In the above hypothetical case, there are many questions to be asked for public interest, but you cannot do that because the parliament knows what is best for the public.

The recently promoted ‘One Dominant Party Democratic System’ is another element to consider; for sure it again serves solitary interest than a multi-party democracy. It totally disregards plurality by claiming ’Policy Continuation’ as its best feature. The informal organizations of citizens in 1 to 5, starting from the Parliament itself to the rural farmers, not only contributes the nation to be run by single interest, but that single interest forced citizens to change their language and use the wording and phrasing of that singular interest. You can read New York Times Article on how the so called One to Five organizations controlled every citizen’s action (‘We Are Everywhere’: How Ethiopia Became a Land of Prying Eyes). If an MP is threatened for voting against the dominant group, when he believes a proclamation tabled significantly damages the interest of his constituency, it is even very dangerous to an individual citizen to go against the interest of the dominant group.

Above all these, now we know that each segment of society in Ethiopia has got his own ‘Text of a Heart’, and the interpretation of a single document or event varies significantly among societies. Unless we form a kind of common outlook we cannot have a unity of purpose as a Single Republic. At this point in time we have to acknowledge that we are more conscious of our divisions than our unity. This happened not only because of the system, also because of a course of development in any society (it may regress or progress, it depends on our action). Now we have more literate youth with quick access to information than we once had, and one sided story telling by the elite for political mobilization can no longer serve its purpose as it used to. Therefore at least allowing system level plurality is inevitable; we cannot fool ourselves by evaluating our plurality only by cultural diversification (Dance, Clothing, Food, and Language) at national level. Are these same people who are allowed to dance every year publicly and able to speak their language telling their mind? Do national institutions serve all interest groups? Are different segments of Ethiopian society able to define and develop ideas? Or they simply accept the definition of the unipolar power? Are they able to defend their interest through genuine representatives? I don’t think so. In current Ethiopia, different segments of society are only allowed to first accept and then interpret the ideology of the dominant elite to their respective people, and maintain order. Nothing more! Until very recently, this is yet more to be supported by a Real Plural System.

By Mulugeta B. Teferi  ethiothinkthank


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