Posted August 28, 2012 in News

Ethiopia: A Country in Search of Peace and Leadership

by Sadiq A. Abdirahman

Sadiq A. Abdirahman is an independent political analyst

Ethiopia is irked by a lack of exemplary leadership that can unite the country and establish peace, tolerance, and harmony among its diverse population. Over the past two decades, the country was ruled by a totalitarian party whose leadership had perpetuated gross human rights violations and social injustices against its own citizens. The ruling party, Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, led by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who recently passed away from an unspecified illness, has steadily dominated state power for personal use. He exercised control over his party, state media, military, police, security, and the Ethiopian parliament. Moreover, the Prime Minister has worked tirelessly to spread his center of power to include its neighboring countries, particularly Somalia. Without a doubt, the Prime Minister has succeeded in his quest of wanting to be seen as the one person in the Horn of Africa region that can closely collaborate with the United States and its allies in their fight against extremists.  The Prime Minister knew how to capitalize on every opportunity that presented itself and used it to raise his stature in the region and the rest of Africa. He acted as the only reliable partner who can protect the geo-political interests of the West. Empowered by what seemed like a patron-client establishment entered with the West, he was able to secure no strings attached financial aid worth over 2 billion dollars a year.

The United States and its allies have provided him with the funding he needed to run his government and also showered him with contemptible praises for his leadership; while they knew he was committing crimes against humanity. The magnitude of the crimes he was committing in the country was not hidden from their sight, but they chose to look the other way and completely ignore the situation. Both the State Department and its counterpart, the European Union, had cited some of these horrible violations in their own reports. It showed that he was ruthlessly using the state apparatuses to suppress innocent civilians, curb freedom of the press, imprison opposition members, rig elections, and take over personal properties belonging to dissidents who disagreed with his policies. The Prime Minster was sitting at the top of the chain of command and control over the state apparatus, which included the military, police force, and secret service agents. He openly used some of the aid money provided by the United States and its allies in order to maintain his oppressive system, most of which was run by members of his ruling party, who practiced favoritism and gave preferential treatment to their own ethnic group.

The Burdens of Leadership

When the Prime Minister and his government came to power in 1991, after overthrowing Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam, he came with an agenda full of great promises for the people. The center of his agenda was to respect the wishes of all Ethiopians, including those who were systematically suppressed under previous governments that ruled Ethiopia. The government put forward the most liberal constitution ever drafted in Ethiopia’s history. The constitution recognized and addressed the historical marginalization of ethnic groups that make up the majority of the Ethiopian population. The constitution accepted the rights of all ethnic groups to govern their own territories without any interference from the central government. It welcomed the right for these regions to administer their state in their own languages. Article 39 of the constitution had even granted the right to succession if any region wanted to go their separate way. However, by definition this promise was only a prelude to consolidating power.

The government divided the country into nine separate regions. It dismantled the Ethiopian national army and replaced it with its own army where the core base is those who are from their Tigray region. The government had created satellite parties that come under their direct command. These parties are hosted under the umbrella of the ruling party, the EPDRF. In the last election that took place in 2010, the EPDRF claimed it won by 99.6 percent. There is only one opposition member in the parliament that hosts over five hundred seats. Ethiopia is ranked at the bottom of all democratic institutions. Reports Without Borders ranked Ethiopia in 2009, the 140th worst country for freedom of the press. Under the failed states, Ethiopia earned 16th place. These indicators are not a good sign that Ethiopia was headed in the right direction to development. According to Human Development index Ethiopia ranks at the bottom 8 countries in the world. The HDI for Ethiopia is 0.363 which puts Ethiopia at the rank of 174th out of 187 countries with data. Since 2005, Ethiopia is listed in the top 10 countries for the worst human development index worldwide.

There is no hope for the future that these indicators will improve anytime soon. For Ethiopia to find peace, security, and development, it needs a visionary leader who has the honesty to appeal to all Ethiopians. It is common knowledge that Ethiopia’s history has a significant bearing on its future. The issue of who belongs to where is something that has never been addressed. If not addressed now, the ethnic strife that exists in Ethiopia could have a potential devastation for the future. In the past, Ethiopia’s unity has been safeguarded by the military with force; and at this rate, cannot be maintained by force only to keep the country together. The future developmental success will depend on how Ethiopia addresses its contested history. Ethiopia needs to open up a genuine reconciliation process that is based on dialogue. It should seek retribution for any historical misgivings that exist today within its diverse ethnic groups that make up Ethiopia.

Prospects for the future

Two leaders that the next Ethiopian leader can emulate based upon their leadership skills, are Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Seretse Khama of Botswana. What is fascinating about these two men is the legacy they left behind for their countries. Julius Nyerere practiced humble vision adopted for Tanzania. He was the architect who created the foundation for Tanzania’s culture based on tolerance and coexistence. The blueprint he drafted is the instrument that keeps the country together and allows it to remain peaceful. In 1961, after becoming the first president of Tanzania, he inherited a country composed of more than 120 ethnic groups who spoke different languages and practiced different religions. Tanzania is today one of the most politically stable countries in Africa. It has experienced uninterrupted political stability and peace since gaining independence in 1961.

The other country that is fascinating is Botswana. When it comes to Ethiopia, it is recommended that they look at what Seretse Khama did with Botswana after independence, and then try to adapt that to their country’s situation. Seretse Khama used his people’s use of village style leadership as a way to debate problems and voice solutions. In other words, Seretse Khama implemented a modern African style democracy for Botswana. Seretse Khana’s vision based on dialogue has been credited as to why Botswana has been a successful country in terms of political stability and economic growth. Since independence, Botswana has had the highest average growth rate in the world, averaging about 9% per year. This is very impressive when compared to Ethiopia who remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Without a doubt, Ethiopia could also succeed the same way, if it finds an exemplary leader who aspires to genuine dialogue with the people and is willing to share his power. Only time will tell, if Haile Mariam Desalegn will rise up to the occasion and become the leader who will unite the people of Ethiopia and bring peace to the country.

Sadiq A. Abdirahman is an independent political analyst specializing in the Horn of Africa and a graduate student at University of St. Thomas. He can be reached at