Saturday, May 21

Politburo Knows Best IX - Dictatorship

We are nearing the conclusion of a series of posts that was begun to take a look at the potential, or lack thereof, for any meaningful form of democracy and necessarily related prosperity to exist.

In the Politburo Knows Best Series we have visited the essential role of friends of Ethiopia abroad and of interested foreigners in the existence of any democratic process. The many and varied deficits in human rights with regard to political and press activity were noted as well as the most elemental ideological dead ends basic to governance.

Elementary structural faults such as absent property rights and relations between rulers and ruled indistinguishable from medieval feudalism also guarantee and enshrine dictatorship. Essentially corrupt mechanisms of urban and rural tyranny inherited from the Dergue and carefully preserved assure control of the population.

In the Cargo Cult Economics Series we looked at the grim choice made between eternal aid dependence and the potential threat that national vibrancy poses for the status quo. Planning for the future is based on aid and dreams of massive aid to the exclusion of policies friendly to tried and true development policies. All of this in the service of structurally determined corruption and cronyism unrivalled in national history.

Add to this dismal litany the damages wrought by constitutional tribal divide and rule politics based on ethnic competition and living bantustans. For this, one the poorest countries on earth present trends projected forward reveal a dismal future. Necessary institutions and policies vital for development have been abandoned in the service of regime security. Indeed, questions of national existence and of mass tribal warfare are acute.

So there you have it... as far as the potential for democracy, elections and rational governance to have any meaning in Ethiopian goes... there are no encouraging signs at all. In Ethiopia there is no right to own property, there are no human and political rights that extend beyond the fitful attentions of Western embassies and press. There is a highly disciplined central party that controls every aspect of the society and economy at every level along with tribal satellite parties that are its minions.

Indeed the party, the state, civil society and dominant party owned business interests can not be distinguished and separated even with the finest of instruments. If we all assume, as ethiopundit does, that Ethiopians deserve to be free of a tradition of suffering as much as Zimbabweans or Poles or Brazilians by virtue of their shared humanity - then something has to change.

As any of our readers immediately sense, ethiopundit is a corner of the internet with strong opinions ... but it is also a place of informed opinions ... that we like to repeat. Quite frankly our most fundamental worldviews and the facts that they are based on have an enviable track record in the human experience. There is nothing fancy being discussed here - just good old fashioned liberal democracy and capitalism - that is all.

Just look at a map of the world in the nakedness of the present or with a sense of historical memory of even marginal depth. The reader will see that countries that serve their people's interests well - tend to agree with ethiopundit on the major issues of national life. It is all based on centuries of unsentimental observation by many millions before us of what free and prosperous societies do right and what oppressive and poor societies do wrong.

Here are some vivid descriptions of that wrong.

Zemene Awre - The Era of the Beast. was the apt title for the Dergue’s reign given by an Eritrean poet whose name we have forgotten. It is a blessing to all that era ended and the role played by the current government should be remembered fondly in history but for now they have clearly overstayed their welcome. In charge only three years less than the Mengistu's entire reign his heirs can no longer expect glory in memories of relative improvement.

Zemene Ashattir - The Era of the Trickster , to coin a phrase, is an appropriate name for this era. While evil does come in the obvious form of the bloody beast, it is the more pleasing form of the trickster that seduces , corrupts and destroys with greater efficiency. Secrecy, vicious reactions to criticism, eternal intrigue, manipulation, suspicion and an utter lack of transparency are vital elements of government today.

Consider the word evil to be extreme in this regard? What else can you call what two generations of dictatorship have done to Ethiopia just as she was emerging into a future that held so much promise? The reader should wonder whose life was ruined today by absurd Marxist-Leninist policies and tribalism. A young girl who might be a good mother or one day cure cancer. Who was hungry today? A young boy who could be a good father but whose frail body never had the basic nutrients necessary for development.

Who will die or never be born because of tribal cleansing or a simply treatable disease or wretched poverty rooted in corruption? It could be a carpenter, a daughter, a farmer, a herder, an artist, a son ... millions of human beings. There is nothing Ethiopians can't achieve in creating a successful society for themselves if they are given a chance that they are now denied. Only their own unelected and undemocratic government has crippled their age old struggle to join the freedom and progress of the rest of humanity .

It is essentially dishonest to use the words 'democracy' or 'elections' in any Ethiopian context. Truth and respect for Ethiopians, and indeed humanity, demands derision directed towards those who corrupt those words and an appropriate sense of tragedy over the fate of 70 million long suffering people. It is a sign of gross contempt to expect Ethiopians to be satisfied with anything less than the real thing or to pretend that they want less than all other peoples on earth.

There is a definite moral element to using the concept of democracy too loosely. For any observers, native or foreign, to pretend otherwise means that they must believe one of the following:

-Democracy is just a cruel joke anyway.
-Ethiopians, alone amidst their fellow homo sapiens, don't deserve and certainly can't appreciate democracy. .

The most generous label that can be ascribed to such observers is insincerity. We will leave it to the reader's imagination to come up with other terms.

Even in the absence of a perfectly Liberal Democracy some minimal social contract should exist as in today's China and yesterday's Taiwan where the development of the economy and varying degrees of non-political civil society were encouraged. There are some rational arguments in favor of authoritarian government to achieve rapid development. We take issue with those because they can too easily serve as convenient excuse for despotism and not for a benign form of authoritarianism.

In fact, we believe it takes far more good will, vision and political skill to maintain a benign authoritarianism than a sincere democracy because there are more checks and balances involved in the latter. In the end the Revolutionary Coronation of 2005 is the story of an increasingly resentful, brutal, insecure and paranoid Communist Politburo forced to smile and perform an elaborate ritual election dance for cash and survival of a despotism whose only benign qualities are dependent of foreign interest.

It is the modern equivalent of a rain dance that works. A great point of pride in the 'election' season was how much aid, loan forgiveness, and new loans had been obtained since 1991. Economic and agricultural growth did not receive such boastful attention. It is hard to imagine anything that was achieved that did not result from foreign interest, planning, and cash. This despite the many talents and potential of Ethiopians that could magnify the potential of aid and ultimately render it not necessary.

One of the saddest aspects of all we have detailed above is that the current rulers of Ethiopia have absolutely no defects of intelligence or ability and indeed have a surfeit of those characteristics. Those men could easily herald a transforming era like that begun by Deng as easily as they could remain the desparate captains of a sinking ship in emulation of Brezhnev.

Why don't they do the right thing? Fear that what they have done to others will be visited on them if they ever ease up is a big one. Stubborn pride in the ideological and tribal worldview that they internalized to the exclusion of all else so many decades ago is also a factor. Most significant is their basic zero-sum view of human existence.

Through the late 1980s and early 1990s we were conditional supporters of the rebels and welcomed them as the new government because of a frank hatred of the Dergue and for the promise change represented after such a period of darkness. We soon realized that they had been serious all along about being Communists and that being on the losing side of the Cold War had not changed them below the surface.

We have come to the conclusion that there is nothing different about the fundamental worldviews shared by both governments nor of the fundamental social and economic policies they would have put in place. For those at the top of both revolutionary food chains the blood, sweat and tears of the lives they played with were used to settle an argument for power and to decide who would build Communism - 'ethno radical student revolutionary democrats' or a 'scientific socialist military junta'.

It is not ‘red-baiting’ to state the obvious - all of the countries with even a partial set of the defining characteristics of Ethiopia’s government have been Communist ones - and they have been neither free nor prosperous. Therefore it is quite reasonable to conclude that Ethiopia has a Communist government. Its roots are admittedly such and even its rhetorical conversion to liberal democracy and free enterprise was the rather cheap price of engaging the victors of the Cold War.

There is no doubt that the Soviets would have gladly switched allegiance to any new band of Marxist-Leninists in Addis Ababa but the Soviet Empire died before the Dergue did. The collapse of the careful constructed game of democratic and free market pretense for Western cash would doom this government. Today’s ruthless varieties of oppression are kept as much as possible behind closed doors or far away from prying eyes because of the need for money to finance the dictatorship.

70 million Ethiopians are hostages of their own government. Anyone interested in their fate has to deal with their jailers and treat the jailers in the same respectful manner as a government actually representing its people’s best interests. Often many observers and almost always the press, lose track of the brutal calculus of modern dictatorship that defines this equation of human suffering.

Going along and getting along with dictatorship is a necessary part of life for many but millions of admirable men and women manage to wage both open and silent battles for dignity and freedom in the opposition, within the ruling structure and every other part of society. This is always done at great risk to security, life and limb. Ethiopians abroad and interested foreigners everywhere have responsibilities to help them in even the smallest ways by virtue of the rights their adopted or native societies have given them.

There are frankly opportunist cadres at home, and most demeaningly abroad, who become willing agents of despotism and who gladly sell themselves for promises of property and position. Their glib and insincere national, ideological, and tribal calls do not shield them from the consequences of their actions as played out in the lives of helpless millions.

The absence of rational policies is quite purposeful so that the regime and the politburo at its center can have another year or even one more minute in control. There is no brutality, no crime, no lie and no infamy that won’t be put to the service of that will to power. It freely uses tribalism and ideology but is clearly loyal to no one and nothing but dictatorship.

While we rather obviously doubt the sincerity of the Ethiopian government’s commitment to democracy we must express the admiration we hold for the opposition. They and their supporters have done the best they could in a dreadful situation with all the mechanisms of a despotic state arrayed against them. There is no better expression of hope upon which to build the future.

Sadly, the ‘rules of the game’, enforced at gunpoint, provide no possible outcome besides victory for the despotic force that literally owns the ruling party, the government, businesses at every level, every square meter of land, the judiciary, the army / police / and security services while running a corrupt system of patronage and brutality. It strives to take full posession of 70 million human lives and souls.

Imagine what could happen if the talents required to keep that unholy mess going were actually applied to worthy aims for a change.

It is hard to really blame the West in the end for the 'democracy' games they pretend to respect in Ethiopia because they clearly care more about the people than the people’s own government does. Without their budgetary, development and food aid the policies of successive governments would have killed or ruined the lives of many more millions of Ethiopians. Without their usually inadequate attentions not a single Ethiopian would have any human rights at all.

What problem would the regime care more about fixing in the following sets of examples:

(A) Tony Blair stops returning phone calls from the Gibee
(B) Oromos wanted greater political freedom.

(A) Western reporters become more aggressive
(B) Tigrayans demand rights to private property that were always traditionally strongest there.

(A) International aid organizations and banks demand greater accountability
(B) Amharas chafe at being the designated 'bad guys' of ethnic politics.

The correct answer was (A) for every question. The real constituency that matters for the politburo is the groups and personalities within their exclusive internal political milieu of the party and all ferenjis - far more than Ethiopians of every stripe. Ethiopians are just expected to know their proper place and be happy they are allowed to survive.

Ethiopians and her friends must fix problems and find fault within the country - no one else can ultimately help. After all Ethiopians, mainly those seduced by silly ideologies, caused the problems to begin with. The way things look now, one can only hope that politburo really does know best because it seems that only luck and not logic can improve anything. Government choices made in the interests of regime security will always keep the country chained, poor and destitute.

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