Monday, October 11

War Makes Folks Poor

war makes folks poor ... and kills so many too.

Mr. Kim Sang Yoo, the Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to Ethiopia was interviewed by The Reporter in March of 2003. The interviewer questioned him about the prospects for increased economic ties between the two countries and the Ambassador gave some frank responses. Let us join them part of the way through...

You mentioned the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The Border Commission's decision is not implemented yet. Have you talked to the government officials? What has been Korea's role in resolving the issue peacefully? How much do you work on this issue?
The first important thing is peace. I think without peace you can’t achieve any economic development. It is clear you should settle the matter peacefully through dialogue. Even if it takes time you need to make efforts to settle the issue peacefully.
The Ambassador returns to the necessity for peace several times in reference to ethnic conflicts and other events and discusses Ethiopia's potential
It is clear that Ethiopia has enormous potentials for economic development. If Ethiopians concentrate on economic development and make their best efforts to transform its great potentials into reality for several decades without interruption, Ethiopia will surely succeed.

It took almost 40 years for Korea to raise its per capita GDP in US Dollars by 100 times. If Ethiopia continuously achieves 10% of annual economic growth rate, how much will its GDP be after 40 years? If so, Ethiopia will surely become one of the advanced countries in the world.
What is missing now?
The Ambassador hammers in the point
You have lost four decades. When Koreans were working hard what did you do? There was civil war ... you must make the efforts to develop your country. You have to conserve your energy for economic development and you've to work hard for peace and stability.
It must be pointed out that while South Korea's 'neighborhood' is quite dangerous, especially given the aggressive hell on earth just across the DMZ, Ethiopia might have done better in terms of war and peace with an American nuclear umbrella overhead. Ultimately, most of the credit goes to the South Korean people for what they accomplished and to successive governments for providing for the rule of law and for creating a climate friendly to good old fashioned capitalist development. Given the opportunity Ethiopians could do so as well.

The link between peace and development seems to be an obvious one but it always needs emphasis. Tragically, modern Ethiopian history is largely defined by war and rumors of war. Here is a partial list of just the bloodiest internal ones and their aftermath that have consumed the past four decades and caused a steady erosion of per capita GNP.

Eritrean War of Independence 1961-1993 After a long colonization by Italy that Ethiopia was spared, Eritrea was federated then absorbed by Ethiopia. Many Eritreans resented the strictures of the reunion early on. However, it was the coming of the Marxist military dictatorship, the Dergue, and its bloody depridations from 1974 on, that pushed the conflict from one of occasional banditry to a full scale war for independence.

Ethiopian Civil War 1974-1991 The current Ethiopian government, an ostensibly ethnically based group adherent to Marxism, was allied with the regionally based Eritrean rebels and together they overthrew the Dergue.

Now for a list of the external wars being fought in the same time period.

The Greater Somalia Movement and Ethiopian-Somalian Border Clashes 1960-2004 The Somali flag chosen upon independence in 1960 held a five pointed star. Each point represented a 'Somali' region but only two of them were in Somalia. Thus from birth Somali governments were dedicated above all to the conquest of all of Djibouti (now independent and under French protection, then a colony of France), North-Eastern Kenya and almost a third of Ethiopia covering large swathes of territory in the Ogaden region and the South. Under the guise of liberation movements Somali irregulars and the Somali army began a campaign of continous destabilization of Ethiopia (which was apparently given the honor of first place on the list of star points to color in on the Somali flag). Somalia's current chaos is largely due to its flawed national mission decided upon by its leaders at birth. The border conflict continues today as occasional Somali Islamist groups with designs on Ethiopia are often pursued across the border.

The Ogaden War 1977-1978 Somalia figured its moment had come in 1977 when an Ethiopia weakened by the disruptions of Dergue misrule and the Eritrean war was attacked. This led to a game of international musical chairs. Although well on the way to becoming a strategic enemy of the U.S., the Dergue turned solidly towards the Soviet camp by expelling American military advisors and signing deals for billions in arms with Moscow. The Soviets who had bankrolled and encouraged the Somali aggressions since the early 1960s did not mind when Somalia expelled them fron their bases. Attempts by the Somalis to reach out to the Carter Administration were not successful. Along with massive shipments of Soviet arms came up to 15,000 Cuban clients of Moscow who along with a mobilized Ethiopia solidly defeated the Somali invaders.

Ethiopian-Eritrean War 1998-2000 This fierce border war ended in an Ethiopian victory on the battlefield and afterwards both parties agreed to arbitration on the common border. Through arbitration Eritrea gained a victory at the conference table that the Ethiopian government has (not surprisingly) refused to accept. The conflict can also be partially understood as a contest between the erstwhile partners, the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments, over control of Ethiopia.

At one point in 1977-1978 Ethiopia was fighting two of the bloodiest wars in the world. To this ignoble list must be added the war that the Dergue was fighting against its own people to remain in power. A Civil War raged in the cities between the White Terror and the Red Terror (aptly named after the same period in Russian history) that consumed much of a generation of educated youth in an ongoing orgy of mass killings and perpetual violence. Rural uprisings against the dictatorship, famine as an instrument of state policy and genocidal resettlement programs add to the toll.

The human cost of all of this conflict was staggering. The excellent site Death Tolls for the Major Wars and Atrocities of the Twentieth Century (scroll down to Ethiopia section 11)attempts to quantify the losses that along with war related famine and political murders number into the millions.

The link between war and development is also obvious to interested parties such as Alemayehu Geda from the Department of Economics at Addis Ababa University. In his excellent article Does Conflict Explain Ethiopia’s Backwardness? Yes! and Significantly, the author
draws on the growing literature on conflict and post-conflict societies to examine conflict and economic backwardness in Ethiopia.
and the article
examines the causes and costs of major conflict and the modality of their resolution. It argues that conflict in Ethiopia is primarily the result of pursuing violent power-sharing mechanism, has detrimental impact on economic performance and made the state unproductive and militaristic. This, it is argued, is one of the root causes of the countries backwardness.
After an academic and theoretical review of conflict and its economic consequences the author delves deeper into the Ethiopian experience. He discusses a view by Gebre-Hiwot Baykedagne expressed in his 1917 book "The State and Public Administration" that
the major internal constraint to development in the Gebre-Hiwot model is war and/or banditry. He, in fact, ranks banditry over and above natural or environmental constraints. For him, the source of banditry is the capacity of certain individuals to unleash violence so as to ensure a regular flow of income without directly engaging themselves in the production process...

[Gebre-Hiwot] underlined that the ruling class of each ethnic group wages war using peasants. The sole objective of this war is accumulation of wealth by plunder.
Ato Alemayehu carefully notes that while the country is divided into many ethnic groups and religions that most historical conflicts were not of an ethnic or religious nature and indeed that
The existence of a large number of ethno-linguistic groups notwithstanding, Ethiopians are considered as a culturally homogeneous people due to the continuous interaction through intermarriages, trade, migration, war and other social activities for thousands of years thus creating unity in diversity, which has helped resist the pressure from internal disintegration and external aggression.
Three types of conflict are noted.
One is competition for positions of power.
Second is popular revolt.
Third is conflict between ordinary people for resources.
Most of the conflict that has rendered the country unstable was motivated by competition for power (Type I). This corresponds to the conflict that is referred to as crucial in Gebre-Hiwot (1924). No ruler in Ethiopia has vacated office of his on free will and few naturally died while holding office in recent years.

Each aspirant revolts against the government in power, mobilizing people by appealing to the oppression meted out to them by those in power. The new usurpers, treat the people no better, and often worse, than those they unseated. This is the major cause of conflict in the country. This cycle of revolt and conflict, seen in the context of the long history of the country, apparently looks ethnic though was essentially regional and class-based.

Evidence is provided in (a) the ‘king of kings’ system where the strongest regional-based king became the king of all regional kings and occupied central power. The king of kings normally comes from one regional group and maintains power by drawing its officials from different regions (usually tying regional lords through marriage to his off-springs), and (b) the subjugation of all peasants from all ethnic groups by the ruling elite.

This argument in no way denies the historic domination of the northern highlander’s language and culture over the others but takes it as secondary.
The author sees popular revolt and war between peoples as being far more rare and in the case of the latter driven by competition over occasional competition for resources and not by ethnicity.

The author then defines and describes the conflicts of the three modern historical periods and analyzes them in terms of their causes and results. The first was during the reign of Haile Selassie before the 'revolution' of 1974. The second was during the bloody rule of the Marxist military junta, the Dergue, and the period of civil war that lasted until 1991. The third and current period is from 1991 during which a war broke out with Eritrea from 1998-2000.

In each period using economic data the author shows how conflict had a devastating impact on economic growth. Despite the introduction of a seemingly new factor in the form of leftist ideology the conflicts retained their nature of elites in an endless contest for power played out with the lives of their disenfranchised countrymen.

On the subject of hopes for conflict resolution the author notes that
Conflicts that are motivated by political interests [competition for positions of power] of one kind or the other are the difficult to resolve amicably. Seldom do leader die peacefully while in office, the usual practice being decided in war. Attempts at peaceful resolution of issues are difficult under the circumstances.

For example the most recent civil war was resolved in Military Junta losing to the rebel forces after international mediation to resolve the issue peacefully failed. The reasons behind the peaceful resolution of conflict are that the motivating force lies in the ambition of the parties to power.

When we examine this issue across the three regimes in Ethiopia (the Imperial, Dergue and the EPRDF[current government]) one observes certain pattern – a pattern that the modality employed to resolve one conflict saw the seed for another round of conflict.
In conclusion the author notes that
Conflicts and their violent resolution seem to be an enduring characteristic of the Ethiopian polity. Recently, periods of peace have been short lived; new regimes have failed to learn the lessons of their predecessors. In Ethiopia power is absolute, despite the reforms of each incoming administrations.

The problem is that the laws are not applied and it is the whim of leaders that rules the country. This is the substance from which recurring instabilities are made. The only way that the country can end the vicious circle of conflict and instability is when the leaders become accountable to their people.
One point must be made clearly. 'The people' don't make wars, even ethnic ones. Governments and strongmen make wars, often manipulating ethnicity and regional issues, to their own ends.

The principle danger, of course, lies in the degree of variance of interests between 'the people' and the few people who actually have power. In some extreme cases leaders actually want war. For example, in 1982 the Argentine junta led by Leopold Galtieri invaded the Falkland Islands and began a losing war with the United Kingdom with the poorly thought out aim of distracting attention at home from the myriad failures of his dictatorship.

Most prefer to get what they want without war or shy away from the prospect of defeat. A unifying element in this calculus is their own personal fate. Saddam, for example, cared little for the suffering he caused Iraqis as long as he was personally secure. A look at recent Ethiopian history does not reveal such a drive to external wars that were not imposed on them* but they do seek to manipulate internal fissures to maintain their grip on power.

(*Although in a party rally once while pumped up with Communism and the pleasure of blaming every problem on Washington, Mengistu did threaten to invade the U.S. ... when he had a powerful enough military. Sadat is reported to have hoped that "Mengistu won't trample Egypt on the way to America". About the same time, after the Camp David accords, Sadat also stated that “(t)he only matter that could take Egypt to war again is water” - a threat clearly directed at Ethiopia which is the source of most of the Nile's water. The Nile and the potential for Egyptian-Ethiopian war will be the subject of a future post.)

Mengistu would certainly have prefered a peaceful reign but quickly latched on to the potential fissures of tribe and religion in combat with the Tigrayan and Eritrean forces that ultimately fed the insurgencies and the likelihood of his overthrow. Patriotism was also used as when convenient especially in the war with Somalia despite the fact that his adopted Marxist-Leninist ideology in its purest form viewed such emotional calls as corrupt bourgeoisie remnants. Early in his struggle for power Dergue members who identified as 'narrow nationalists' were executed for a lack of zeal in pursuing Soviet aims in national and international policy.

The current government, though far less bloodyminded and far more clever, is even more chameleon-like in its espoused aims as the situation dictates. It began as an ideological movement exploiting tribalism and a desire for independence. By the time power was won they were New Jack 'African Rennaisance' market capitalists and democrats who identified the Ethiopia they ruled as a Leninist 'prison of nations' (ethnic and regional groups) that they would somehow unite by dividing. When the war with Eritrea began they championed patriotism and called on the 'glory' of Ethiopian history that they had always been hostile to. After the first victories that emotional call to arms was quickly forgotten.

The essential nature of conflict based upon competition for power between selfish elites that is described above by Ato Alemayehu always dominates and manipulates ethnic and regional resource seeking conflicts. Policies that lead to peace and development are often threatening to governments that are not based on the popular will. Thus the next war is always just around the corner and poverty becomes a tradition.

The most likely seeds of the next war aren't on the Eritrean border. Even years from now angry grumbling from Eritrea on the worldstage and quiet Ethiopian patience from a position of strength will lead to occasional palls of smoke but no fire.

The current Ethiopian government's policy and indeed constitution based upon ethnic division to support its power represents a grave danger. The disenfranchisement of the population as landless serfs will also ensure ongoing poverty and the potential for rebellion that can be harnessed by new contestants for power. Which will in turn lead the government to gather in even more power ... which will make the country only temporarily more secure ... and on and on.

The prospects for a long term peace to achieve even a fraction of what was done in South Korea is in danger because of the most basic policies of current governance. But as ethiopundit has pointed out before - the drive to power trumps all other considerations.

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