Why is "Ethiopia a failed state?
By Prof Alemayehu Gebremariam / July 15, 2008The Failed States Index for 2008 is out; and the Land of Famine, Gross Human Rights Violations, Stolen Elections and Poverty is re-certified as a “Failed State”, again! We have Zenawi and his corrupt regime to thank for this dubious honor. But there is a simple formula that can predict the evolution of a failed state in Ethiopia: FL+FR(k)/time =FS. Simply stated, Zenawi (FL) and his TPLF-EPDRF syndicate (FR(k)) operating a kleptocracy (government of thieves) over a period of 17 years (/time) have produced a failed state in Ethiopia (FS).
What is a “failed state”? Over the past couple of decades, various euphemistic neologisms have been invented as descriptors for certain anarchic and dysfunctional “states” in countries such as Somalia, Ethiopia, the Sudan, Eritrea, Zimbabwe and others.1 While there is no single universally accepted definition of a “failed state”, scholars and researchers in political science, sociology, economics, and even international law use the phrase to describe a regime/government that is incapable of meeting the most elementary functions of governance. A failed state is most readily identified by the existence of rampant corruption and criminality in the state apparatus, massive human rights violations, rigged elections, predatory elites with protracted monopoly on power, an absence of the rule of law, severe ethnic divisions and sectarianism, deep economic crises and a significant refugee problem caused by political persecution, among other factors. Ethiopia under the Zenawi regime has ranked at the top end of the Failed States Index for four years straight, with a total score of 91.1 (2005), 91.9 (2006), 95.3 (18th in 2007), 96.1 (16th in 2008).
In Defense of a Failed State
Last year (Failed States Index 2007) the U.S. Fund for Peace ranked Ethiopia 18th among the 60 of the “world’s weakest states” that are “most at risk for failure”.2 The Index measures state failure along a set of quantitative parameters.3 Katherine Wheeler of Foreign Policy Magazine asked Samuel Assefa, Zenawi’s ambassador to the U.S., “Is Ethiopia a failed state?” Visibly flustered, Assefa responded4:
“What exactly does it mean to be a failed state? Whatever it means, it [Ethiopia] is not a failed state. But I am not so sure we know what it means to be a failed state according to this model. I believe the indices themselves are radically insufficient to give us a sense of what is going on in Ethiopia. It is a huge political experiment now, incredibly complex society, a very old, old country whose claim to be one of the creators of civilization should be taken seriously.”
Assefa categorically denied Ethiopia was a failed state, but he was certain America was just such a state. He said during the “Civil War [America] was the biggest example of a failed state”. America would be considered a “failed state if it were measured by the [failed states index] criteria.” America, he insisted, was a “failed state” until the 1960s because it had racial barriers to voting. But America should take note. In “Ethiopia, my own country, voting rights are not abridged by restrictions of the kind that were prevalent in this country [America] until very recently.” America, Assefa claimed, has “a tendency to forget its own past.” He alleged the Index was made up by “the West, the United States” so that they can measure up other countries by their standards. It is “disturbing, this whole idea of exporting one’s own model of democracy to others, using it as a benchmark.” Assefa schooled his interviewer by pointing out that “Palestine, Hamas and Fatah” are “very good example(s) of a failed state”.
Is the “failed state” concept a valid analytical approach in understanding states that are afflicted by chronic, deep-rooted and heightened levels of political and social instability and protracted economic decline? Or is it merely an ideological bludgeon used by the U.S. and the West to beat up developing countries like Ethiopia, as Assefa claims? Assefa blasted the Index’s methodology and research design as “radically insufficient”. He offered the following incoherent argument:
The whole checklist approach, neutral basis for ranking, quantitative analysis, indexing is numbers can be compared objectively. If you want to do a comparison quantitative analysis and quantitative indexing that basically is not so much qualitative but numerical is preferred because numbers can be readily compared in objective terms but this and other attractions of this approach are purchased at some price, price to basically, um, um an approach that is both descriptively rich and adequate and also offers helpful perspective for public policy…
Assefa further complained the Index’s methodology was overly simplistic and failed to consider the unique socio-cultural, economic and political circumstances of “aspiring democracies” such as Ethiopia. Using zany metaphor, he explained:
[The] important limitation of this [Index] approach and it seems to me furthermore that fine, ok, we want to simplify things… How we simplify matters. A former professor of mine… a great critic of this approach once wrote that if I should require my leg amputated I should prefer a very skilled surgeon to a butcher, rather brutal language.”
“Butchers and Surgeons”: Is Ethiopia a Failed State, or Is it a State That Has a Failed Leader and A Failed Regime?
It is accurate to say that Ethiopia’s political institutions have been corrupted to a point where they have become ineffective in performing basic governmental functions. But an important distinction can be made between Ethiopia and Somalia, for example. Somalia is the archetypal failed state because it no longer has in existence institutions or governance structures that perform basic functions or public services such as security, education, health, transportation. For the last 16 years, Somalia has been in a perpetual state of clan warfare; and for the last 2 years Zenawi has joined the clan fray by conducting his own private war in support of one clan against the others. But Ethiopia has a failed state not because it has disintegrated or non-functioning political institutions; rather, Ethiopia has a failed state because its public and governmental institutions and processes are manipulated and distorted for the singular purpose of maximizing the survivability and longevity of the Zenawi regime.
On every measure of state failure, this can be demonstrated. For instance, security apparatuses (army, police, etc.) are used as private military forces to suppress the citizenry and opposition elements, and prevent the growth of democratic institutions. The parliament is used to rubberstamp Zenawi’s decision. It has no independence whatsoever, and serves as the chorus section for Zenawi’s solo performances. Judicial institutions are populated by political hacks in robes who decide matters through corrupt practices; or in high profile cases, pursuant to political instructions. There is rampant disregard for the rule of law as the “constitution” of the country is ignored both in terms of the protection of the rights and liberties of the citizens as well as breaches of the powers and duties of the coordinate branches of government. Elections are rigged and stolen in broad daylight, as evidenced in the May, 2005 elections, making it impossible to establish democratic governance. Corruption is rampant in every aspect of public life as lucrative government contracts and transactions are given to businessmen with ties to the regime. No business transaction of any worth can take place in the country without regime leaders and their cronies getting a cut under the table, or indirectly linking up with regime-connected businessmen. And on and on. It is evident that Ethiopia has been forced to become a failed state through the manipulation, machinations and incompetence of the current regime. Let’s examine the evidence of state failure further on some critical measures.
Failure on the Economy
Contrary to Assefa’s categorical denial that Ethiopia is not a “failed state”, his boss admitted in a Time Magazine interview that Ethiopia actually is just such a state “in terms of poverty”. Zenawi stated5:
After Nigeria, we are the second biggest black African nation. We are the headquarters of the African Union. We are the only African country that has never been colonized. This is perhaps the last surviving African civilization. We have our own script. We have our own calendar. We represent the greatness of Africa's past. We also represent the worst of Africa's present, in terms of poverty. It is the best and the worst of African reality.
This frank admission by the leader of the ruling regime reflects not so much a failure of state institutions, but rather a dismal failure of individual and collective leadership. It is an admission that the country is at the bottom of the African economic barrel because its lacks capable and visionary political leadership with a long-term economic recovery and growth plans for the country.
It should be recalled that when the leaders of the current regime seized power mid-1991, they criticized the military junta’s (Derg) socialists policies for the disastrous economic situation in the country. They condemned the junta for its inability to alleviate famine and poverty in the country. They pledged to introduce a market economy and empower the private sector to be a driving force in the country’s economic development. Obstructions to private enterprise were supposed to be eliminated and a privatization program put in place to accelerate the growth of a market economy. There were to be legal, institutional and regulatory reforms to facilitate the conversion from the Derg’s command economy to a market one. The privatization program produced the sale of a few flour mills, tanneries and bottling plants. Major enterprises in the country (banking, telecommunications, air/rail transportation, etc.) are still state-owned, and the so-called privatization process has become a conduit for the transfer of state wealth to friends, supporters and cronies of the regime. For instance, the gold mines, tobacco and brewery plants were delivered (privatized) to good friends at fire sale prices.
The fact of the matter is that Zenawi and his regime did not have a clue about what they were doing, and the privatization program has proven to be a flop. A comprehensive study in 2006 by Dr. Jesiah Selvam, Director, Indian Academy School of Management and associates on the effect of privatization on investment in Ethiopia concluded that Zenawi regime’s regime “lack[ed] in-depth insight” on the complex issues involved.6:
Our study reveals that the effect of privatisation on investment is robustly negative, owing to the lack of in-depth insight not only into privatisation programme itself, but also into overall reform and structural adjustment programmes. Moreover, the economic and political instability coupled with a weak potential domestic investment are also equally contributing factors. We also affirm that the nation’s inherent problems of bureaucracy, commercial framework, and property issues must be overcome to make privatization programme more fruitful on the aspect of investment attraction.
But that’s not all. The regional distribution of private sector development activities shows clear pattern of concentrated economic activity in a few areas favored by the regime. Capital flight from the country continues at unprecedented state. According to a report by New Economics Foundation, capital flight has “risen noticeably over the past five years, with inflows from Cameroon up 516 per cent, from Ethiopia rising 103 per cent and Nigeria up by 47 per cent.”7 Simply stated, the few super-rich in Ethiopia are squirreling away hundreds of millions of dollars in British, European and American banks, manifestly reducing the available investment inside the country and magnifying the country’s dependence on foreign economic aid and loans and increasing its debt. The gap between the rich and poor in Ethiopia is so wide, it shocks the conscience. The vast majority of citizens (over 80%) live in absolute grinding poverty (less than $2 a day) while an infinitesimally tiny minority lives in absolute opulence.
At the core of the economic problems in Ethiopia is the issue of communist-style government ownership of land. Land may be leased from the government, but not owned in fee simple (full ownership) and sold in the open market. This has created numerous structural problems including security of tenure for peasant farmers and restricted access to land by private investors. In some regions, an auction system was said to be in place to make land available to entrepreneurs on a lease basis, but little success has been achieved using the auction system.
The regime’s strategy of agricultural development led industrialization (ADLI) -- commercializing small farmers through product diversification, development of high value export markets, support for large scale commercial agriculture, integration of the agricultural sector into the domestic and export market, agro-ecological planning, etc. -- was supposed to ensure food security for the country and increased agricultural productivity. But ADLI has proven to be another big flop. Even the World Bank, the IMF and UNDP suggest as much in their cryptically cautious reports. Today, Ethiopia is facing another one of those Biblical famines as Zenawi dances to the tune of ADLI.
It appears certain that Ethiopia will continue to beg the international community for its daily bread year after year; and the future under Zenawi’s regime foretells of a shameful national existence of more mendicancy and panhandling. According to the 2006 Congressional Budget Justification provided by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) , Ethiopia’s long term economic situation hangs in the balance between gloom and doom8:
Ethiopia remains one of the poorest countries in the world - it ranks 170 out of 177 countries on the 2004 Human Development Index. Ethiopia has an annual per capita income of around $100 (less than one-fourth of the sub-Saharan average). Ethiopia has the poorest human development indicators in the world with more than three-quarters of the population living on less than $1 per day. Despite the 2004 recovery year from the serious drought of 2002-2003, by the end of the calendar year another food emergency began, the Government of Ethiopia (GOE) has requested emergency assistance for 7.2 million people in 2005. Although above the population growth rate, the average 4.5% increase in gross domestic product over the last five years remains below the rate required to achieve the Millennium Development Goal to halve the number of Ethiopians living in poverty by the year 2015….”
Is it any wonder that after 17 years at the helm, the best Zenawi can offer in describing his own economic record is that Ethiopia “represents the worst of Africa’s present, in terms of poverty”?
Failure on Human Rights
Similarly, the institutions responsible for the protection and promotion of human rights have been mangled beyond recognition. The regime maintains itself in power through brute force and massive repression. Arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings, torture and other abusive political persecution practices go on unchecked even today. The regime has consistently interfered in the functioning of judicial institutions and undermined their legitimacy, efficacy and credibility by installing political hacks as judges. It has converted the judiciary into a rubber stamp for injustice. But the massive human rights violations are not limited to Ethiopia. They are now festering with ferocity in Somalia. The 2008 Human Rights Watch World Report states in part,
The Ethiopian government’s human rights record remains poor, both within the country and in neighboring Somalia,… In the five zones affected by the conflict, the Ethiopian military retaliated by razing entire villages, carrying out public executions, raping and harassing women and girls, arbitrarily arresting, torturing and sometimes killing suspects in military custody; and forcing thousands to flee their homes. They also imposed a commercial blockade on the affected region and confiscated livestock—the main asset in this largely pastoralist region—exacerbating food shortages…. In March and April 2007, the Ethiopian military indiscriminately bombarded large residential areas of Mogadishu with mortar shells, artillery, and “Katyusha” rockets, killing hundreds of people and causing up to 400,000 people to flee the city. Ethiopian forces made no apparent effort to distinguish between civilian and insurgent targets, and they shelled and occupied several key hospitals located in the frontline areas…9
Just a month ago, Human Rights Watch (HRW) presented satellite images “as clear evidence of war crimes” by Zenawi’s troops in the Eastern Ethiopian town of Labigah; and there is compelling evidence of war crimes in Wardheer, Dhagabur and Qorrahey Zones.10 HRW also alleged that the United States and other Western governments are ignoring this evidence because of Zenawi’s servile cooperation on the terrorism issue.
Failure on Health
Ethiopia faces major crises in its health service system. Ethiopians continue to suffer from preventable diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, and diarrhoeal diseases. It is estimated that more than half of Ethiopia's population cannot access health care. According to the latest data from the UNDP, Ethiopia ranks 169/177 on the Human Development Index11. Public expenditure on health is $21 per capita. There are 3 physicians per 100,000 population, and 78% of the population lives under $2 per day. According to one study, more than 3,000 Ethiopian doctors have left the country, leaving only 900 doctors to meet the medical needs of 80 million people. Botswana, South Africa and the Middle East are among the immediate beneficiaries of Ethiopia’s “doctor drain”. It is sobering to know that there are more Ethiopian doctors working in the United States than in Ethiopia!
In March 2007, Zenawi, responding to a question on the Ethiopian “doctor drain” shocked health officials and physicians attending a conference by declaring, “We don’t need doctors in Ethiopia....Let the doctors leave for wherever they want. They should get no special treatment.” He said no special efforts will be made to retain them. Obviously, flight of Ethiopian doctors means importation of expensive foreign ones; or the vast majority of Ethiopians will continue to die from common preventable diseases.
Failure on Youth: The Greatest Failure of All
The greatest failure of the Zenawi regime, and its greatest crime, is its absolute indifference to the plight of Ethiopia’s youth. According to UNDP data, the regime spends a meager 5% of its budget on education. A UNICEF pilot survey in 2006 indicated that more than 7.8 million Ethiopian children, including 4 million girls, were missing out on education. The survey showed that the largest single reason for non-attendance (69 per cent) was that parents were too poor to pay for their children’s education. Inability of parents to afford basic school supplies such as books, pens and paper was the second biggest reason (29 per cent). Other obstacles to enrollment identified in the survey ranged from children staying home to do housework (18 per cent), carry water (8 per cent) to having too far to walk (13 per cent) or no one to take them to school (7 per cent). Other data show that in the 2004-2005 academic year, 433,000 took the 10th grade state exam to continue to the second phase of secondary high school. Approximately 30% (129,900) passed the exam. Another 10% (43,300) were placed in various training programs. An incredible 60% (259,800) of the test takers were just left out in the cold.
So, what becomes of the millions “who are missing out on education” and the high school “rejects”? Many join the ranks of homeless, hopeless and futureless throwaway children who swarm the streets begging and trying to survive. They are left at the mercy of fate and a “government” that is indifferent to their plight. Powerless, hopeless and futureless, these children drift in a wasteland of poverty and world of darkness that offers them nothing but more suffering and pain. Their childhood of agony blends into a nightmarish adulthood of privation and destitution. They are soon resigned to the realization that they will never have an opportunity to help themselves, their families or their country. And the cycle goes on and on.
On the other hand, enrollment at government-operated universities stands at approximately 99,560. There are said to be 13 new universities under construction. But the existing and the new universities that have come on line have few books, laboratory equipment and other learning tools. There are few university professors with terminal degrees (Ph.D., M.D., etc). Incredibly, most of the teachers at the universities are undergraduates who had received their diplomas just weeks before they started teaching. The leadership of the universities is highly politicized, and academic departments are led largely by corrupt and incompetent political hacks. There is little academic freedom at the universities as most recently testified to by an American law professor at Mekele law school. In light of these facts, it is not difficult to imagine that the poor quality of higher education at an Ethiopian university.
Ironically, when Zenawi summarily fired over 40 university professors in the mid-1990s because he perceived them to be political opponents, the country lost irreplaceable and extraordinary scholars and teachers. Today, many of these professors teach at American universities or are employed in government or other technical fields. Large numbers of Ethiopian scientists, academics, researchers, engineers, administrators, etc., service American higher education and research institutions. Former U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia, David Shinn, attributed the “brain drain” from Ethiopia to various political reasons, including “[p]oor human rights practices, political and/or arbitrary arrests coupled with a backlogged court system, intolerance of political dissent, lack of academic freedom, civil conflict and the ravages of war, illegal regime change and favoritism based on ethnic affiliation…”12 No doubt, the vast majority of the highly trained Ethiopians would return to their homeland at the drop of hat if their country became a genuine multi-party democracy and the rule of law reigned supreme.
Without an educated youth, Ethiopia has no future and will remain at risk of permanent failure. There can be no development, democracy, scientific or technological progress without an educated youth leading the way. May be that is the grand plan of the regime. A nation of ignoramuses is far easier to rule than one with a vibrant and creative youth force in the body politics. It is our collective duty to help Ethiopian youth in every way we can.
Zenawi’s Ace in the Hole: Ethnic Federalism
The regime's ideological lifeline is its theory of ethnic federalism, a completely bogus theory unknown in the annals of political science or any of the social sciences. It is actually a theory which cleverly disguises an old doctrine refined and perfected by the British in their colonies. It is the old divide-and-rule/divide-and-control theory (divide et impera) in the garb of intellectual respectability. In South Africa, they used to call it “Bantustan” or ethnic homeland. In Ethiopia, they call it “kilil”. The idea is very simple: Pursue a policy that will not allow the people to make common cause by accentuating historical grievances, magnifying real and perceived differences and polarizing one ethnic group, region, religion, language, etc., against another.
In “ethnic federalism” ethnicity becomes the defining feature of governance, access to political and economic power, political survivability and self-identity. Fear and loathing is the currency of ethnic politics. The Oromos are told the Amharas will come and take over their land. The Tigreans are told Kinijt will do this or that to them. And so on and on. It is all about the psychological use of fear and loathing to foster and reinforce a mental state of distrust, suspicion, doubt and hatred among Ethiopians, and to convince them that their ethnicity is more important than their humanity, their Ethiopianity, their love and respect for each other and the unity of the Ethiopian nation. In short, at the core of “ethnic federalism” is ethnic narcissism, the idea that no one else matters except oneself, one’s region and members of one’s ethnic group. Let the rest go to hell! Such is the ideological foundation that sustains Zenawi and his cronies in power. As long as enough Ethiopians are convinced of the ethnic bugaboo, Zenawi will remain in power. We must reject “ethnic federalism” and subscribe to one Ethiopian identity. We must believe deep in our souls that we are Ethiopians first before we are Oromos, Amharas, Tigreans, Gurages, Anuaks….
How to Disenroll Ethiopia From the Failed States Index
Can Ethiopia be disenrolled from the rogue’s gallery of failed states? Yes it can! Yes, it can provided it meets some basic benchmarks. We know benchmarks are anathema to Zenawi’s regime as evidenced in Assefa’s bitter complaint about them in his interview. But benchmarks mean accountability, a set of criteria by which we can measure performance over time. Ethiopia will be removed from the Failed States Index if it met the following benchmarks, among others:
On a personal note, a “failed state” to me is a Hobbesean jungle where the law is the word of an overlord Leviathan (the Supreme Tyrant). In the jungle (failed state) that Ethiopia has become, the law is “might makes right”. Those with the guns enslave those without guns. In Ethiopia, the state no longer serves its natural purpose (the protection of life, liberty and property); it is at war with its citizenry.
Assefa has the right metaphor when he said that one who needs his “leg amputated should prefer a very skilled surgeon to a butcher.” Ethiopia’s legs and hands have been amputated for 17 years by a syndicate of butchers. It is time for skilled surgeons to heal her mutilated body. It has been said that “failure is not a single, cataclysmic event. You don’t fail overnight. Instead, failure is a few errors in judgment, repeated every day.” State failure is not a single cataclysmic event. Zenawi has made a few errors in judgment in the life of the Ethiopian nation every day for the last 17 years. He has single handedly created a failed state in Ethiopia. Today, and everyday henceforth, Zenawi has a choice to do the right thing. As to the rest of us, we should heed the words of Barack Obama: “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” Let’s get busy!
One Ethiopia Today. One Ethiopia Tomorrow. One Ethiopia Forever.