EthioPoint: Ethiopians Analysis | Research Articles

Misinterpretation of the recent clashes along the border of Ethiopia’s Oromiya and Somali Regions

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Tsegaye Tegenu (PhD)
Following the recent clashes along the border of Oromo and Somali National Regions, in which more than 55 people were killed and over 70,000 ethnic Oromos have been displaced, there is rush to a conclusion about Ethiopia’s ethnic based federalism as a failed experiment. Some say that institutionalizing ethnic divisions by means of a constitution was a gamble from the outset. The resent clash and the past sporadic ethnic disputes in other regions in Ethiopia heralds to violent disintegration of the country. One writer wrote that “the real reason for the failure ethnic federalism in those countries was not economic or lack of democracy. It was simply because of the politicization and manipulation of ethnic relations by the ruling regimes, the regional ethnic elites and/or external forces.”
This is a wrong interpretation of the growing phenomena of sporadic ethnic disputes and conflicts in the country. The causes of ethnic conflict in Ethiopia is scarcity of goods and services and lack of democratic institutions necessary for the creation of a diversified and productive economic base. It is necessary to separate the institutional arrangements of ethnic federation from the political ideology used to create it. Federation as a system of power sharing among autonomous units (or tiers of government) can be organized on the basis of different political values such as liberalism, conservatism, socialism and ethnicity. Any type of political ideology can be used for power concentration or decentralization. What matters for the function of the institutional arrangements of federation and decentralization is the presence or absence of democratic governance, the purpose of which is wealth creation and ensuring economic welfare of the people. (for details see “The Model and Making of Ethnic Federalism in Ethiopia: Identifying the Problems to Find the Solution”).
In Ethiopia the idea of ethnic based self-rule came as a result of mistrust of central government. My view is that given the historical nature of the Ethiopian state, the cultural diversity of the people, the social practice and mobilization of kinship, variation in natural resource, size and spatial distribution of the population, ethnic federal arrangement is currently the best alternative solution to jump start economic development in the country. The problem is the absence of good governance (namely, accountability, the rule of law, participation, transparency, representation, and responsiveness). In the presence of competing parties and democratic election and governance, ethnic ideology (advocating differences based on culture and myth) cannot strive and actualize its own form.
The question is what happens to ethnic ideology in the absence of democratic governance? Empirical evidences from Ethiopia show that under such circumstances ethnic political ideology, for that matter any ideology, serves the interest of the power elite and the supporting state institutions. My study on aggregate outputs of the national economy shows a twofold increase in the share of GDP by the economic system controlled by the state. The state economy increased from 20 percent in 1991/92 to 39 percent in 2015. In the same period the share of the economy controlled by the households decreased from 70 percent to 44 percent. (I will come back to the discussion on measuring and accounting the structure of the national economy in another draft).
Since the dawn fall of the Derg regime, the federal government used over 100 economic policy instruments and programs to increase its control over trade, financial market, fiscal relations, production enterprises, public services, etc. This is done in the name of poverty reduction, liberalization, developmental state and growth and transformation plans, among others. Currently the state economy has expanded to such an extent that its’ institutions have literally become inefficient. This is conclusively demonstrated in the 17 strategic studies conducted by the government’s own policy study center (Ethiopian Policy Study and Research Center) in areas of industrial development, urban development, agricultural modernization and good governance. Following these studies the Government has arrested over 150 officials on suspicion of corruption.
At regional and local level, the absence of democratic governance has created autocratic rule by petty officials and powerful minority groups. In land-labor based economy, where the state is the main economic decision making model ethnic clashes and conflicts over scarce resources is imminent. The low level contribution of the private sector to the aggregate national economy (which is about 10%), the monopolization of power by regional and local governments and the consequent alarming conflict between ethnic groups are wake-up calls to EPRDF. To attain the objectives of ethnic federation, implementing consociationalism and democratic governance is not a matter of choice but a necessity.
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