Retroactive to Proactive Strategic Management Style: Redressing Widespread
Social Unrest in Contemporary Ethiopia
Asayehgn, Sarlo Distinguished
Professor of Sustainable Economic Development
it is uncertain who has been appropriating it, Ethiopia’s economy has
been showing monumentally high economic growth for the last fifteen years.
Given this economic environment, Ethiopia’s investment climate has been
on the right trajectory and as a result it has been appealing to many
domestic and foreign investors.
Ethiopia’s governance has been run without accountability. It is
shot-through with corruption. Conspicuous rent-seeking behavior has become
a way of life in the country because people in power have been extracting
wealth for non-productive activities (Desta, 2014, p. 243). As vigorously
argued by Hagos, Ethiopia is one of the fastest growing economies in the
world. “Yet, corruption in both the public and private sectors remains a
very serious problem throughout the country” (2016).
Ethiopia’s political landscape has been triggering flashpoints that
indicate signs of deteriorating political stability. For instance, massive
demonstrations and violent social interactions have been flaring up
throughout the country. More specifically, feeling deprived of
entitlements as guaranteed in the 1994 Constitution, Ethiopians residing
in the Amhara, Oromo, and the Tigrai regions of Ethiopia have been
demanding and agitating for power to rule themselves so that they are able
to enjoy self-identity and benefits they are entitled to.
As a result of upheavals that have occurred in some parts
of the country, the regime in power, the Ethiopian People’s
Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), has been preoccupied with
immediate or retroactive challenges. To
hold on to power, the EPRDF regime has been using draconian measures to
crack down on the unrest and muzzle its critics.
realizing that these popular demands after all need greater
accountability, the regime in power has promised the Ethiopian citizens
that it is in the process of designing sweeping political reforms that
will soon be presented to the Federal
Parliamentary Assembly of Ethiopia or the House of Peoples’
Representatives. Given the
upheaval, the cardinal question that needs to be asked at this juncture
is: Is the regime in power undertaking reactive or proactive measures to redress
the widespread upheaval and social unrest in Ethiopia?
remaining sections of this paper are organized as follows. Section 2
outlinesthe tactical moves initiated by the Government to resolve the
social unrest in the Walkaet and Tsegadi areas (Woredas).
Section 3 presents some of the reactive management tactics used to
solve massive youth unemployment in Ethiopia.
Section 4, outlines some possible tactical plans that could be used
to wipeout corruption and rent- seeking behaviors from the Ethiopian
bureaucracy. Some proactive or basic structural changes needed for
Ethiopia’s future are presented in Section 5. Section 6, considers some
of the fundamental impacts the newly designed strategy might have on the
political transformation and democracy-building in Ethiopia.
Usual, Initiated Tactical Moves to Resolve the Social Unrest in Ethiopia
question was raised by an Ethiopian group of journalists on August 28,
2016, to Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalgne asking him to clarify to them
whether the people of Walkaet and Tsegadi are ethnically Amharas or
Tigrignas; the Prime Minister gave a clear cut answer by referring to the
1994 Ethiopian Constitution that the people of Walkaet and Tsegadi have
been and are classified as part and parcel of the Tigrai Region. Therefore,
given the terrible social upheavals, and sporadic acts of violent protest
that have left a number of people dead, Prime Minister Haile Mariam made
it clear that his government will be forced to take the necessary stepsto
maintain peace and stability if the people of Walkaet and Tsegadi woredas, as they are doing now, fail to abide by the laws and rules
clearly stated in the Ethiopian Federal Constitution.
concerning the dispute that has occurred between the people of Walkaet -Tsegadi
and the Tigrai Regional Administrative Region, the Prime Minister stated
that it is the duty of the Tigrai Administrative Region, through a
referendum, to prove or
disprove whether or not the residents of Walkaet and Tsegadi woredas
were ethnically Amharas, before the formation of ethnic federalism and
the subsequent implementation of the Tigraigna language for government and
school system operations.
Minister Hailemariam’s interpretation of the existing constitution seems
to be unambiguous. Nevertheless, even if the Prime Minister’s
interpretation of the constitution is partly right, given the sensitivity
of the issue (like the Silite case), in order to reduce the existing tensions that are
sparking not only in the Walkeat and Tsegadi areas but also in other parts
of Ethiopia; it would have been wiser for the Prime Minister to restrain
his answers instead of exacerbating the case by saying that it needs to be
arbitrated by the Tigrai Administrative Region.
the unconditional answer by Prime Minister Hailemariam, the people of
Walkaet and Tsegadi areas seem to have lost confidence in the Prime
Minister’s judgment and have been reacting with defiance against the
Tigrai administrative Region. Looking at the case objectively and
considering the time it would take to resolve it, it would have been more
prudent and humane, had the Prime Minister at the outset referred the case
to be handled by the House of Federation (upper chamber), instead
Massive Youth Unemployment in Ethiopia: From Reactive to Proactive
the very intense political situation in Ethiopia, Prime Minister
Hailemariam was aggrieved having to address some of the heart breaking
problems he has been observing throughout Ethiopia. According to the Prime
Minister’s description, a large portion of the participants in the
demonstrations occurring are mainly youth showing their resentment and
frustration for being unemployed. Being concerned about the youth
unemployment in the country, the Prime Minister resolutely assured the
interviewing journalists that the EPRDF regime would be presenting to the
House of People’s Representatives for approval, a radical plan that
could end the youth unemployment.
if we assume that the regime in power has the ability and the capacity to
implement the tactical measures when approved by the parliament to solve
the rampant youth unemployment in the country, it seems very likely that
it cannot be solved without making appropriate adjustments in the real
income, training, and factors of production (Desta, 2014).
we have to bear in mind that the targets from the Growth and
Transformation Plan I (GTP I from 1010-11 to 2014/15) were not met because
of unforeseen natural calamities such as the El
Nino disaster of last year. Given
the plan that the EPRDF would be presenting to the parliament to solve the
youth unemployment, it seems short-sighted, without contingencies for
unexpected problems or the possibility of exploiting opportunities.
Therefore, it would be more difficult to reach the target initiated by the
Second Growth Transformation Plan II (GTP II, from 2015/16 to2019/20), let
alone to create full productive employment for the Ethiopian youth.
existing Developmental State Model in Ethiopia does not seem to be
operating adequately. It has become dysfunctional by accelerating youth
unemployment. Therefore, as given in detail in my book: “From
Economic Dependency and Stagnation to Democratic Developmental
has to relinquish it reactive model and focus on a proactive strategy to
look at the Employer of Last Resort (ELR) economic model. This ELR model
has been widely approved by United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)
and has been used by a number of nations to achieve full employment. As
described by Wary (2007) and Becker (1993), respecting the fundamental
right to work, the ELR framework focuses on guaranteeing full employment
by the government to those who are ready and are willing to work at a
minimum wage in suitable activities. The ELR stimulates productivity,
lowers unemployment, arrests inflation, and it plays a vital role in
stabilizing the economy by reducing economic fluctuations.
stated in my book (2014):
…if the ELR
type of people-centered cooperative organizations, managed by
democratically elected local leaders, were to be implemented in a
decentralized way, the empowerment of local communities would present the
greatest potential for the development of domestic resources, and end
cyclical unemployment . In addition, employing the most vibrant
working-age Ethiopians based on the powerhouse development of a full
employment program led by the ELR will likely empower the employed to be
involved in their own environmentally sensitive projects …
since agriculture accounts for about 45 percent of gross domestic product
and 85 percent of total employment (See Desta, 2016. P. 247); a
better way of tackling and achieving full-employment in Ethiopia is by
making the land-holding in rural Ethiopia cooperatively owned at the
grassroots level. Currently, by and large, the government has been leasing
fertile land to foreign agri-business investors to produce wheat, rice and
corn for exports. As stated by
Belineh (2009), agricultural products produced by foreign investors in
rural Ethiopia are based on mono-cropping, which is capital intensive, and
contributes to mass unemployment instead of fulfilling the promise of
building infrastructure that could generate jobs for native residents.
to achieve cooperative enterprises on communal land in rural Ethiopia, it
has to be operated under the “Employer of Last Resort” model. However,
the ELR need not be run by government organizations.Instead,
to achieve full employment, as stated in the ELR model, “the Ethiopian
government must relinquish its direct control over much of the rural
people. The rural community organizations need to be implemented in a
decentralized way and funded by the national government,” (Kofi and
the endemic Rent-seeking behavior: A Tactical Plan
the interview he gave to the group of Journalists on August 28, 2016, Prime
Minister Hailemariam was very candid,
stressing that the existing rampant rent-seeking behavior and the massive
corruption that predominates in the country, have the tendency to
devastate Ethiopia’s rekindling economy. Furthermore, Prime Minister
Hailemariam insinuated that rent-seeking in Ethiopia has been generating
dissatisfaction that may instill in the minds of Ethiopians an illusion
that one doesn’t need to work hard and be innovative in order to
accumulate wealth in Ethiopia.
stated by the Prime Minister, if we should be assured that the EPRDF
Regime had a radical plan to tackle the trends in the rampant unemployment
particularly affecting the youth and that it was also adamant about wiping
out the glaring corruption that has taken root within the country’s
governmental bureaucracy, why does the Prime Minister, under the
Constitution, call for an emergency meeting of the House of People’s
Representatives to deliberate the urgent case?
us assume that the Prime Minister’s projected plan would be accepted
without serious objections from the EPRDF-controlled Parliament.
Considering the fact that rent-seeking is deeply ingrained, practically in
all government offices, the Prime Minister’s new plan would not start
with a clean slate. Instead, it is possible to assume that the strategies
developed to uproot rent-seeking are likely to face formidable obstacles
in the government offices.
it would be difficult to objectively assess the government’s future plan
because the Prime Minister’s overarching assumptions for the plan
don’t seem feasible since it has not been systematically designed. Since
it is focusing on symptoms rather than on real substance, the Prime
Minister’s tactical plan doesn’t appear to be based on proper advance
planning. As such, it is less likely to help the country solve the
existing root causes of youth unemployment. The
following section suggests that policy makers in Ethiopia may need
to shift from being reactive to being robustly proactive focusing on
Designs for Ethiopia’s Future
the EPRDF’s gradual and piecemeal ethno-political reform that has been
in operation in Ethiopia for the last twenty-five years, now is the time
for civic organizations (a myriad of people who have the desire to provide
services to their community), multi-parties, the Diaspora, and other
opposition groups, all to be involved in discourse and dialogues in order
to pursue Ethiopia’s democratic plan for the future.
number of Ethiopian elites who live in Ethiopia or in the Diaspora are
against the ethnic-based type of demarcation that has been operating since
1994 in Ethiopia to delineate the country into separate regions.These
groups further claim that the regime in power is a deeply rooted
administration run by tightly controlled zealots (cadres, who actively
advance and safeguard their interest and the interests of the ruling
party) who are not amenable to bringing fundamental changes but follow
blindly the instructions given by their superiors.
very critical about the regime in power, these groups of social thinkers
argue that it is possible to bring peaceful fundamental changes and secure
legitimacy in Ethiopia without endangering the fragile political
stability. Based on this premise, these groups of thinkers advocate that a
bottom–up type of decentralized (autonomous) democratic federalism could
serve as a compromise formulate to govern Ethiopia. That is, they strongly
argue that establishing autonomous and self-governing regions in Ethiopia
advances its economic growth and thereby moves it forward to become a
middle income country in the future.
Ethiopian Constitution: Subject for discussion
order to have a deeper understanding of the causes of the uprising in the
Oromio Region, Kemente (in Amhara Region), Welkate and Tsegadi (in Tigrai
region), we need to explore the
establishment of the 1994 Ethiopian Constitution that created the current
political background of Ethiopia.
stated, the 1994 Constitution was ratified in December 1994 and
implemented in 1995. On August 21, 1995, the Federal Democratic Republic
of Ethiopia created a federal structure of government. By and large,
ethnicity was used as an important factor to demarcate the Federal
Government of Ethiopia into different regional states or kililis.
Based on this, the country was divided into nine ethnic regional states. Though
a number of cities, such as, Gonder, Bahre Dar, Desie, Makele, Jimma,
Awasa etc. could have been included as city-states, the then existing
transitional government incorporated two city-states (Addis Ababa &
Dire Dawa) to be part and parcel of the Ethiopian federal polity. As
previously mentioned, Article 39 of the Ethiopian Constitution stipulated
that each regional state was assured the unconditional right to
self-determination, including the rights to secession.
a result, the current unrest in contemporary Ethiopia seems to be inherent
in the 1994 Constitution. By design or default, using Article 39 of the
constitution, Ethiopia seems to have established the political gridlock
for itself. Since the ethnic and regional federalism was created in
Ethiopia, communication among the various constituents has gradually
become inadequate because the various Nations, Nationality, and Peoples of
Ethiopia were confined within watertight compartments or silos (Desta,
2014, p. 94).
planned by the Transitional Government that came to power in 1991, in
theory, converting Ethiopia from a centralized system or unitary military
dictatorship into a federal structure was a move in the right direction
because federalism was established to allow the inhabitants of the federal
states to enjoy self and shared rule. Stated differently, as a result of
the formation of ethnic federalism, each region formed in Ethiopia was
supposed to have the opportunity to develop, promote, and preserve its
language and its culture. The
majority of Ethiopians highly valued federalism because it cherished all
forms of human rights. As time passed however, a number of inhabitants of
the Federal Ethiopian states felt that they were denied economic and
political rights by their various governments in power. As a result, they
are demanding that Ethiopia needs to be restructured to accommodate the
example, it is surprising to witness that even in regions that have been
inhabited by various multiethnic and cross-cultural groups, like the city
of Gondar, some groups who are against the regime in power, seem to be
venting their anger against Tigraians, who have no relation, except their
ethnicity, to those who are in power.
Since time immemorial, the now down-trodden or mishandled Tigrians
have been living for years in some of the multi-cultural hubs, like the
Gondar area. In mentioning Gondar, it is sad to pinpoint the ethnic unrest
that exploded and left a number of Tigarianes by origin to be treated
inhumanly. What is more
disturbing is that a number of Tigrians who lived in Gondar were forced to
evacuate their lifelong premises, leaving their belongings and made to
flee to Sudan. In Ethiopia that is supposed to be governed by the rules of
law and order, why is this awful crisis occurring, and how can it be
the Ethiopian policy makers are reconditioned to exercise a proactive type
of management, it will not be too late for the existing federal structure
to be restored. Rather than being involved in destructive activities, the
regime in power and those who have a stake in Ethiopia and other civic
societies need to be engaged in fruitful discussions in order to: a)
democratically redress and revise the existing constitution, b) redefine
the ethnically-based regional states, c) be involved in power-sharing to
promote social equity, and d) reform the political system in the country.
the existing constitutional crisis is first resolved, no political reform
is possible in Ethiopia. Using the framework of the existing constitution
as a benchmark for negotiation and discussion, a new constitution needs to
be drafted by all stakeholders (i.e., representatives of all social,
political, ethnic and religious groups etc.) to form a federal republic or
design a federation of Ethiopian woredas.
That is, based on population or other coherent historical and geographical
bases that ensure proportionate representation, the current existing
ethnically designed regional states need to be subdivided into manageable
units or woredas. For example,
ten or fifteen woredas that have
common language or culture could agree among themselves to form a common
regional state. But, it should be clear that each woreda
has to have complete sovereignty over aspects of its political life and
cannot be intruded upon by any central or federal authority.
year, the ten or fifteen regional woredas
have to circulate their administrations. This type of system could
allow them to share their experiences democratically, stimulate their
economy, encourage their environmental capital and have some type of
social equity experiences. A
governor of the woreda at the yearly meeting would be selected to be the head of the
ten to fifteen woredas only for
that year. Unlike the
unmanageable, heterogonous regional settings that we currently have in
Ethiopia, forming regional cooperative woredas
could increase the residents’ capacity to empathize with one another
each woreda could have a number
of municipalities run by community elected mayors and council members.
Each municipality having a strong social base, has to have control over
social services (i.e., education and health services), raise its own
revenues, make investment decisions, etc.
As discussed by Desta (2016), the formation of autonomous
self-rule woredas with local
self-governance encourages local units to have a say in selecting their
own administrator to bring about political stability and who can hold them
to account for their decisions.
Summary and Conclusions
the last fifteen years, Ethiopia’s economy has been thriving. Yet,
recently, in its political domain, Ethiopia has been facing slow-moving
instability. Its rulers are
succumbing to youth unrest. Thus as it stands now, Ethiopia represents a
paradox. When a crisis is developing, what sort of governance will be
resilient for running Ethiopia’s existence? Does
the existing centralized federalism or the proposed decentralized
autonomous federal system of administrative structure give Ethiopia the
best prospect for survival?
suggested above, the proposed democratic self-rule of woredas
will serve as the organizational structure for the New Federal
Ethiopia and become the means of achieving effective bargaining for civic
society in Ethiopia. It was with the formation of democratically
decentralized geographic systems such as the proposed “ woredas”
for Ethiopia, that have helped states in
India, South Africa, Switzerland, Canada, etc. to attain political
it is hoped that the government in power and other conscientious
Ethiopians are on board to see that Ethiopia is sub-divided into
manageable geographic regions so that Ethiopia achieves the triple-bottom
line (economic, social and environmental dimensions) of sustainability. In
short, to make Ethiopia’s journey towards autonomous federalism become
realty, change in visions, shift in policies and strategies, and flexible
governance based on robust democracy with the capacity to adapt,
improvise, change direction is needed.
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