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Stand for Silenced Ethiopians: May 2006

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Socialism with Ethiopian Characteristics

It is interesting to note that the leaders of the Tigray Peoples’ Liberation Front (TPLF) has announced that they are currently engaged in the second phase of their struggle having successfully emerged victorious, according to them, in their first struggle of waging a war against a SOCIALIST military government, which happened to be a satellite state of the former Soviet Union.
To the TPLF leaders, the second phase of the struggle is the establishment in Ethiopia of a “FREE MARKET ECONOMY”. Is this really a genuine wish of proponent of a market economy or that of a unique ‘Socialist’ economy characterized, not by public ownership as one expects in a typical socialist economy, but by party ownership? Socialism? Well, if you think that the socialist ideology is dead, then you better visit China, or North Korea or Cuba like the current Ethiopian leaders, where the ideology is well and alive and where the communist party has been in power well over five decades challenging the free world economically as well as politically.
As you know well, free market economy presupposes the existence of free and democratic institutions to flourish. It also needs sober matured economic policies that function based on tested principles of market economy. How is thus the ruling TPLF/EPRDF party is faring when measured against these core principles and preconditions? Do not be surprised with the results as the pretension and claims of the ruling party-TPLF/EPRDF to be proponent of a free market economy and democratic governance could easily be dispelled. The philosophy that guides the party could be rather labeled as SOCIALISM WITH ETHIOPIAN CHARACTRISTICS - a revised version of the philosophy of the previous government.
The previous military regime did not need the pretension to use a camouflage. It declared itself as a SOCIALIST and that was it. It was born in the early seventies at a time of division of the world that was then divided by ideology into EAST and WEST. The military regime being the leader of a satellite state wished to be identified with the East and then ceased to exist as this division “gone” in the early nineties with the fall of the Soviet Union.
The current TPLF/EPRDF-led government, which had initially enjoyed the support of the Western democratic government, has to use a cover that should bear a name associated with democracy in order to survive and go along with the post-cold war international politics. Thus prefer the name “ REVOLUTIONAY DEMOCRACY”, an ideology that
has relevance rather in a name with democracy by borrowing the word “democratic” but quite different in essence trying to create its own pseudo- philosophy which denies basic individual rights by mixing ethnic politics with a socialist economic principles.
The Tigray Peoples’ Liberation Front, typically ethnic-based and socialist-oriented (it had earlier formed a Marxist and Leninist League Tigray) party, later became stronger with the financial support of Western NGOs as well as the booty from the Ethiopian government, is a surrogate mother of most ethnic-based parties with prefix of “Democratic Organizations”. The party, by amalgamating the ethnic based parties it has created, has given itself another name with a prefix- “Revolutionary Democracy” to cover its true intent and nature and to rule the country in its own tribal terms. Yet its name also reveals its true identity. As the party’s official name, Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front implies its true nature is revealed in its deeds- REVOLTING AGAINST DEMOCRACY.
So why profess to the contrary while the realities exemplified in the following few points could prove otherwise. Do not be full by names as tyrants are good at using a long name that helps disguise their nature. Let us take instances whereby core principles of what make a democratic government that follows a free market economic policy and observes the sanctity of human right which include the right to own property is compromised.
In Ethiopia, no one except the government, which literally means the party, can own land- be it in urban or rural areas. The city dwellers and the peasants, accounting 85% of the Ethiopian population, can only lease a piece of land from the government. This is a violation of basic right and of free market economic policy. For the ruling party, land is a vital instrument and can serve as a stick in manipulating the politics by depriving the peasants the right to use the land, the only means of livelihood, in the countryside if he or she is found to be suspected of harboring an idea other than that driven by ethnic politics of the ruling party.
As the leaders of EPRDF have time and again made it clear, this is a core PRINIPCLE of the party that cannot be compromised at any point in time. Well, for them there are still experiences out there in the Far East that can be emulated. That is a Chinese experience, which the EPRDF leaders have been trying to import into Ethiopia. In fact, the Chinese experience has been serving as a model not only in economic aspect but also unfortunately ideologically. This is experience of a one-party politics with a controlled economic freedom where new bred of Chinese capitalists have to be supporters or members of the one and the only ruling party- Chinese Communist Party. Why the Chinese system is so appealing to them?
Some are of the opinion that the world is no more divided into two political camps and there are no alternatives for governments in Africa and elsewhere other than practicing multiparty democratic governance based on the rule of law. But for some leaders in Africa including the EPRDF leaders, thanks to China, the world is still divided and thus could play a game of cat and mouth with the Western world. Whenever an issue of good governance, multiparty politics and human right come to the forefront in the relationships with the Western governments and sometimes become preconditions for development assistance or trade relationships, the leaders have got the option to switch to China, which in its policy statement clearly states that business is business.
That is what the governments in Harare and some others are doing. The same is true with the EPRDF government whose senior officials have been flying to Beijing to persuade the Chinese government to give a helping hand to fill the coffer that has been emptied due to the embargo on direct budget subsidy imposed by European Union as a result of human right abuse witnessed in the country. Well, it is a public knowledge that senior party officials of EPRDF and that of the Chinese Communist Party have been exchanging visits with the aim of sharing experiences on how to strengthen one party politics.
To the Chinese government, whoever is in power, whether they are tribal or racist or whatever- be it in Ethiopia or in any other African countries, is not their business as long as that country is willing to support diplomatically in an international forum where a Taiwan issue could be addressed and /or economically that the country is ready to provide natural resources to satisfy the growing demand of the Chinese domestic economy. Since the issue of Chinese support to the despotic governments in Africa is not the main focus of this article, let us focus on the main issue at hand.
Another interesting character of the ruling party is the use of tribal politics and economic dominance as a guiding principle. In Ethiopia, being a nationalist has become a big crime that needs to be dealt with mercilessly since the assumption of power by this group in 1991. Therefore, if poor peasants and civil servants are not abiding by the rule of ethnic politics - that of first identifying themselves only with their ethnic group instead of being an Ethiopian first (thousands of innocent civil servant Ethiopians had lost their job or sent out of the cities for not being able to properly identify their ethnic group) or if the peasants are not ready to buy fertilizer from the party-owned trading houses such as Guna or Ambasel or Dinsho, then they are liable to be victimized: their job taken or their land taken away by the owner– the ruling party and given to those who echo the ideology of the ruling party.
In Ethiopia, apartments and villas confiscated by the previous socialist military government in cities and towns have not yet been returned (with the exception of Tigray region) to the rightful owners. Some 30 years ago, the socialist military government confiscated the property with the declared objective of eliminating all forms of private property including private ownership of building and ram-shackled houses.
What are then the reasons for the EPRDF, which profess to be the proponent of free market economy, to stick to such principles?
One likely reason is its socialist ideological principle; which could be labeled as Socialism with Ethiopian Characteristics just as the Chinese are fond of saying their ideology as Socialism with the Chinese Characteristics. Another reason could be economic - enjoying the benefits from the property without incurring cost or investing on it. The properties were taken away from the owners and have since been serving the ruling parties of the previous as well as the current one and their leaders in many ways including as source of foreign currency.
Do not forget that one needs to be a member of the ruling party or should have a connection to be given an apartment in the capital nowadays where there is a chronic shortage of housing units. By the way, the foreign currency generated from the property is channeled to the prime minister’s office (or party office?). The Ministry of Revenue, which is legally vested with the power to control the government income, seems to have no saying in revenues generated from these properties. How can the party lose such a source of finance by giving back the properties to the rightful owners who have been labeled as exploiters?
The members of the ruling party occupy the best villas. It is no secret that the occupants have been expecting a decree from the ruling party to get the title deeds of those properties at a discounted price. WHAT A CONRTADICTION IN THE COUNTRY where the builders and financers of those properties being identified as exploiters have been denied their basic right to own property for the last many years. As a result, most of the owners are languishing in a life of misery while the party officials and their associates who occupy their property are enjoying in the swimming pools of those villas even though most of them have already built their own and have rented them out in dollars to diplomats and other foreigners who can afford them. What kind of principle is this? For sure, it is not that of free market economy. So can we define it as Socialism with Ethiopian characteristics?
The third reason is the absence of independent judiciary organ, which is the basis of free market economy and of democratic governance. Followers of Ethiopian politics have recently witnessed how the mix up the judiciary organ with the executive body could seriously affect the realization of a free democratic society in the country.

This is practically manifested in what the prime minister, who cling to power for more than 15 years and currently blessed himself with five more years, expressed the mix up as a “Coincidence of Offices” in his attempt to defend against the bold statement issued on 25th August 2005 by the European Union Election Observers’ Mission regarding the May fateful election.
The coincidence of offices refers to a very loyal man, Mr. Kemal Bederi who holds a very important office of being president of the Federal Supreme Court and at the same time chairman of the Board of the Election Commission. It is he who pronounced EPRDF, the disgruntled party as the WINNER; and, at the same time it is he who invites the oppositions to file their complaints, if they do have any grievances, to the court, which he is leading.
In a democracy, there should be clear division of power among the legislative, judiciary and executive bodies to control the abuse of power and protect undeniable right of individual citizens and also be able to rectify whenever the democratic right of the people to be governed by their own choice is stolen. In a country where there is a system of check and balance, it is a real independent court that has the power to interpret the constitution, but in Ethiopia such a power is given to the parliament - House of Federation. The Commission of Constitutional Inquiry formed in the parliament and led by Dr. Solomon Iqubay, a senior member of TPLF, passed down the verdict on the constitutionality of the abuse of the power by the ruling party. This is another typical example of Coincidence of Office where members of TPLF/EPRDF, the competing party that is accused of fraud and irregularities in May election, became the judges on a case in which the opposition parties are expected to file their complaints and win a fair judgment. WHAT A MOCKERY of democracy!
Well as the story of our ethno-centered leaders could not be concluded at one go, shall we leave the rest to make up the second part?