Monday, August 29

Revolutionary Democracy Recycled

21st Century Maoism - CDs on sale now in Addis Ababa, Pyongyang and Havana
(Images are from a Fark photoshop contest.)

Revolutionary Democracy is the guiding ideology of the Ethiopian ruling party, the government and the overwhelming economic power they represent. Each is indistinguishable from the others. The original entry (1) Revolutionary Democracy discussed the Marxist - Leninist - Maoist roots of the ideology and found it to be essentially a grab bag of silly but deadly mantras justifying the dictatorship of a few.

With kind permission we are serializing over a number of posts, Chapter 7 of Dr. Theodore Vestal's remarkable book Ethiopia: A Post-Cold War African State. The chapter in question deals with the the ruling party's 'Revolutionary Democratic Goals' based on internal documents of the party that were published as "TPLF/EPRDF's Strategies for Establishing its Hegemony & Perpetuating its Rule," in Ethiopian Register Magazine.

The second entry (2) Revolutionary Democracy Redux was the first part of Chapter 7 that looked at the overall strategy of the ruling EPRDF, its own view of Revolutionary Democracy and the overall political goals that the program was to achieve. This entry, continues Chapter 7 as (3) Revolutionary Democracy Recycled, and examines the economic aspects of the party program.

Next up, (4) Revolutionary Democracy Returns, will go on with Chapter 7 and note the political strategies of the party for ensuring permanent hegemony and the rules various actors in society will play or be forced to play in forcing eternal rule.

Finally, (5) Revolutionary Democracy Reloaded will include the conclusion of this revealing and stunningly frank blueprint of a revolutionary vanguard party to reach its aim of permanent dictatorship while convincing the whole world otherwise.

All this at whatever cost to the 70 million hostages of the tiny revolutionary feudal aristocracy in power. It remains important to understand revolutionary democracy, because it is as fundamentally destructive as any policy that came out of Mengistu's Dergue.

The big difference is the need to accomadate the imperialist camp (donor nations) which won the Cold War with the pretense of freedom and free markets. Another fundamental difference is that this government is far more intelligent (not necessarily a good thing) than the Dergue while sharing its destructive totalitarian worldview.

Indeed, one of the interesting features of the internal document is the obstacles put forth by 'imperialists' (the donor community) to the program and how to manipulate them inot financing what is essentially an economic plan for eternal poverty, begging and lack of freedom.



Using the hackneyed vocabulary of Marxist-Leninism, the strategy document advocates building an economy that promotes self-sufficiency and speedy growth while maintaining a balance between the economic sectors and geographic regions. The characterization of the beneficiaries of the EPRDF goals reveals much about the attitude of the Front towards various sectors of society. The document also immodestly proclaims that "our revolutionary democratic goals are the only guarantee for the survival of the country." In the language of the true believer, the implementation of EPRDF goals is described as "the only means of bringing about fast growth and transforming our backward country...the only option for improving the livelihood of our people and effecting social justice." According to the document there are no other options to improve living standards and survival of Ethiopia as a nation.

A relatively independent economy based on a large local market is central to the EPRDF's scheme. Such an economy is preferable to one based on foreign markets and dependent on imperialism with its varying needs for raw materials. In the EPRDF economy, the government's revenue and fiscal policy will be used to promote social justice by taxing the wealthy and allocating a higher budget to the sectors representative of the "oppressed masses."

The main beneficiary of the Front's economic policy is the peasantry, the largest sector of society with 85 percent of the country's productive manpower. The goal of government policy should be to develop human resources of peasants and improve their living standards. This can be accomplished by creating a climate which enables peasants to produce more and thus benefit from development of agriculture and growth of the local market.

The EPRDF is less trusting of the urban sectors. The Proletariat, although relatively small in number, is the Front's most reliable supporter among urban groups. The achievement of revolutionary democratic goals should improve workers' job opportunities and living standards.

Among urban groups, the Urban Petty Bourgeoisie, involved in small-scale production and petty trade in goods and services, will benefit the most from the EPRDF's economic goals. Progress in rural-based development will expand the sphere of the bourgeoisie's activities. The intelligentsia is included in the EPRDF's categorization of the Urban Petty Bourgeoisie and is seen as a vacillating group that could align itself with enemy forces. The intelligentsia favors a multi-party system that protects the privileges of the ruling classes. Furthermore, they advocate the rights of the individual at the expense of the rights of the people and are antagonistic to the Front's political goals.

The National Bourgeoisie also stand to benefit from the goals of revolutionary democracy, but the group's vacillating nature prevents it from becoming a firm supporter of the

Front. According to the strategy document, the national bourgeoisie seek economic autonomy from imperialism but want to promote its interests at the expense of those of the people. The lower stratum of this section probably can be won over by the Front. The upper stratum should be neutralized so that it will not obstruct the realization of EPRDF goals.

Imperialists and the comprador class are the declared enemies of revolutionary democracy. These groups seek to impose a dependent economy on the country, and their political interests are incompatible with the Front's political goals.


In enunciating the Front's economic strategies for implementing its goals and describing the main economic forces that play a role in this process, the EPRDF wandered farthest from its Marxism-Leninism roots. In the post-Cold war world, the Ethiopian economy would no longer be largely or entirely in public ownership. Creative communists in the name of "revolutionary democracy" have established variations of "private ownership" under EPRDF control to further party goals. Regardless of the ownership of the dominant sectors of the economy--whether industry, finance, or transport--all their activities were organized under a national economic plan and for the primary benefit of the party.

To achieve the objectives of agricultural and industrial development, the country must produce the necessary manpower. To accomplish this, the strategy document proposes changing the present education system which emphasizes academic studies to one with a "production-oriented" curriculum.

Heading the list of economic activities are those benefiting the peasantry and centered on the land. To guarantee that peasants have access to land, the EPRDF follows the principle that land should never be sold or exchanged. Such a scheme guards against peasants selling land during hard times and thus getting mired in landless poverty.

Land redistribution will be undertaken "over a long period of time" and when the local people believe it essential. Peasants will be provided with fertilizer, improved tools and seeds, and training to increase their production. An infrastructure of feeder roads, primary schools, health and other services will be developed.

The motive forces of the Front's economic strategyi nclude the government, investors, and revolutionary democratic forces. The role of government has changed considerably since the First EPRDF Congress. At that time, government was the principal actor regulating the economy by unning state enterprises in finance, energy, mines, and industry, while private investors played little role.

According to the strategy document, in current global economic thinking, governments are not expected to be involved in production activities, and when they are involved, they should be guided by the profit motive. Yet without being widely involved, the Ethiopian government could play a decisive role in the economy by controlling, among other things, the distribution of foreign currency, the import of fuel, the export of coffee, and the regulation of transport. The State also could remain in control of key industrial and agricultural enterprises that affect export earnings or the livelihood of large numbers of people. In the EPRDF plan, these include rail, air and sea transport, electricity, telephone, and water supply services, the textile industry, engineering works, the chemical industry, metal foundries, and mining. If such enterprises cannot be kept under State monopoly, then joint ventures might be created with the State having a higher share. The State also can use fiscal policies, including taxes, budget allocations, and regulation of interest rates, to influence economic activities. But the Government's involvement in economic activities is opposed in Ethiopia by representatives of imperialism, the comprador class, and the vacillating national bourgeoisie.

The Role of Investors

In the Front's plan, revolutionary democratic associations, organizations, and individuals will join the national bourgeoisie as major forces in investments. In certain economic sectors where the State cannot directly be involved, these revolutionary forces can play "a special and irreplaceable role." To redirect the economy in the direction of revolutionary democracy, action by such forces, envisioned "as a self-sufficient force," is necessary.

The Role of Revolutionary Democratic Forces

The objectives of investments by this force are 1) to supplement or carry out the role of the state; 2) to regulate and influence the activities of private capitalists; and 3) to serve as a source of income for revolutionary democracy.

In areas where financial and administrative restraints or external economic factors prevent the state from directly regulating the economy, "revolutionary democratic forces should take over the role of the State and invest as one individual in those economic sectors which have no direct State influence."

Revolutionary democratic forces can regulate and influence the activities of private capitalists by acting as a powerful private investor. In this role, they can demonstrate modern business practices to small businessmen while putting pressure on larger businesses so as to strengthen the State's leadership role.

The EPRDF needs large amounts of money to carry out its programs, and investors under the banner of revolutionary democracy can be a source of income. In the countryside where the Front is strongest, such forces should monopolize rural credit services and their resources. Where ever possible, they should become involved in rural trade, transport, imports and exports, rural banking services, production of agricultural raw material, the manufacture of fertilizer and other modern agricultural inputs, and invest in mining. In urban areas, investment forces should establish wholesale trade, transport, banks, insurance companies, small-scale industries, and service cooperatives.

To achieve these objectives, revolutionary democratic forces should select economic spheres outside the direct purview of the government that play a crucial role in development and strive to control them or to hold an upper hand in their processes. EPRDF investors should strengthen ties with petty producers and seek ways to guide their development. In the work place, the forces should create an environment to facilitate participation of individuals with a strong revolutionary democratic outlook. The overarching goal is for the forces to become "absolutely profitable."

Role of Local Investors

Local investors also can play an important role in the economy. They should be encouraged more than foreign investors to develop their assets, but they "should be directed by and disciplined to follow the direction of Revolutionary Democracy." Priority should be given to what the strategy document calls the "lower stratum" of this section, those involved in small-scale production and services. The lower stratum gets its resources locally and easily can be guided by revolutionary democratic forces. To enhance their role in the development process, lower stratum investors should be supported with credit facilities and favorable governmental policies and services.

Role of Foreign Investors

The strategy document declares that prevailing global economic conditions require the EPRDF "to give more access to foreign capital." The document makes clear, however, that certain spheres of the economy are off limits to foreign capital. Basic services, such as telephone, electricity, and train transportation; financial services, including banking and insurance; and small-scale industry are specifically mentioned as not being open to foreign involvement. The document warns that "if the major international financial institutions or banks are allowed access to the economic sector, they will twist the state's arms and those of Revolutionary Democracy."

Foreign investors would be allowed access to investment spheres where they could bring in more hard currency than the amount they take out, and they would be encouraged to invest in joint ventures with the State. If foreign investors adhere to government policies, they will provide the Front with access to expanded international markets and enable the EPRDF to build local capacity with which eventually to replace foreign capital.

The government's fiscal policies would be used to direct the involvement of investors in the economy. State incentives would encourage the growth of targeted economic spheres and forces. Conversely, the state's fiscal instruments would be used to "destroy those that are not in line with the goals of Revolutionary Democracy." For example, the power to tax could be used as the power to destroy. As the strategy document indicates, the government "will reduce or write off for some years the taxes due from those forces or economic spheres" which the Front supports and "pile up the tax burden" of those the EPRDF does not support.



Monday, August 22

The Caravan Passes and the Dog Barks

the caravan passes ...

A favorite saying of ours goes something like this "when the caravan passes, the dog barks." It is such a vivid image of either comforting or distressing being isn't it? Life just goes on and time passes regardless of the dog's eternal complaints.

A Discovery Channel documentary years ago featured an interview with a veterinary psychologist. He was asked about why dogs kept barking when they must know it did no good. Giving the example of a mailman or sanitation truck he noted that as far as the dog was concerned the barking worked.

You see, the dog figured that even the most regular visits were in fact planned invasions designed to take his home and his next meal. Canine logic held that without repeated and pointed reminders, namely loud and incessant barking, that the usurpers would all move right in unless they were warned away ... each and every time.

Dogs are programmed to bark anyway. Because of their nature, barking is one of the main reasons why their remote wolfish ancestors were tolerated, then welcomed by and finally adopted by man so long ago. Man then expanded considerable evolutionary pressure on dogs to keep them barking, especially in defense of man's own pieces of turf.

Another favorite quote is from this ancient post, Billions of lives improved! that also gets at the issue in terms of rationality and common sense
If you take a walk through the countryside, from Indonesia to Peru, and you walk by field after field--in each field a different dog is going to bark at you. Even dogs know what private property is all about. The only one who does not know it is the government."
The point being that governments often break with nature and human experience ... even on the subject of caravans and dogs. One has to see government like a caravan in many ways. It just is and in some cases always will be and remains confident of its immutability and direction, regardless of what happens around it.

Imagine then, that if presented with a barking dog, the caravan turned around and used every means at its disposal directly then indirectly using the laws of the dog's very own oasis to get him to shut up. Then, dear reader, we are dealing with either a very special kind of dog or a particularly different kind of caravan.

We shall see how dogs can have a wisdom some will never know.

getting around to the point about here ...

Now, finally onto the the lawsuit filed by Ethiopian government officials against an American / German based radio station and internet site. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement says that the offending
statements included, among others, false and defamatory allegations, the assertion that some plaintiffs had transferred money from the national treasury of Ethiopia into personal bank accounts in foreign countries, the ministry said.

Such defamatory statements were made with malice, without any factual basis and are wholly false, the Ministry said. The intent was to injure the reputations of plaintiffs and hinder their abilities to carry out their duties in their respective public and private capacities.
We have never heard of the radio station in question but assume that it is not pro-government. We have never seen the internet site because after this news we looked for it and it was off the air ... somehow. It follows then that we have no knowledge of the particular charges being made against the government or against the defendants.

Even absent any benefit of doubt anyone may be inclined to give the government or its critics it is clear that this sets a precedent in terms of policy towards information flow abroad. That is because human rights related to free exchange of information already do not seem to be cherished by the government at home - so the potential export of such a mindset using the legal systems of free societies against themselves, is rather disturbing.

prior bad acts

Why don't we take a look at the atmosphere in which this is all taking place. That in Germany or the USA is quite clear - there is freedom of the press guaranteed by law and custom. Ethiopians do not have that basic need and right of every society and individual so if the government is trying to export something it is important to see what is being exported.

The International Press Insitute has placed Ethiopia on its Watch List and has numerous references to restrictions of information flow.

Reporters Without Borders issued this troubling 2004 Report and also lists these references to press restrictions.

The Committe to Protect Journalists has this 2004 Report on Attacks on the Press in Ethiopia and also notes in a post 'election' update that "Authorities target journalists reporting on post-elections unrest."

Other post-'election' accounts abound of stifling information and penalizing the press for reporting routine news in a democratic society like the defection of pilots or the press releases of the political opposition. Criticism is routinely rejected, often ferociously
Western diplomatic sources have told Human Rights Watch that precisely because the Ethiopian government reacts so angrily to criticism, the only option is to engage the government on human rights issues quietly and behind the scenes. United States policy is also influenced by Ethiopia’s perceived status as the most stable country in the Horn of Africa and by its cooperation in Washington’s “global war on terror.”

This “quiet” approach does not appear to be bringing about any change in the Ethiopian government’s refusal to engage in constructive dialogue about human rights issues. Recent events seem to indicate that the Ethiopian government may be becoming bolder in its willingness to ignore international criticism of its human rights record.
All of this takes place in an atmosphere where "Arbitrary Arrests Continue, Detainees Face Torture and Ill-Treatment" as the government crackdown spread beyond the capital city according to Human Rights Watch. HRW has a general overview and elsewhere noted before the 'election' that political dissent had been quashed advising observers that systematic repression should be noted, partiuclarly in the region of the largest ethnic group, the Oromo.

Amnesty International has this 2003 report on Ethiopia and recently feared that student protesters (at least 40 or so lives were also taken according to official accounts of violence against peaceful protestors) were at risk of torture. The US State Department Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2004 is also not encouraging about the possibilities for press or any othe kind of rights in Ethiopia.

This post Politburo Knows Best II - Human Rights links to and deals in detail with accounts from some noted and less well known Ethiopian and International authorities on all manner of human rights who bring us to question the commitment of the Ethiopian government to free press and democratic rights in general.

Can foreign journalists in Ethiopia fill the gap? Despite their usual sincerity and dedication the answer is no. They do play an important role as watchdogs for gross violations of rights and can let the international community know about them. However, uncooperative foreign election observers and active journalists were expelled during the 'election' and all others live in professional fear of it if they misbehave.

Those that remain have to get along with the government and its minions to function in any meaningful way at all so there are rather sharp limits to what they can accomplish that goes against the interests of the government, beyond intensive monitoring by security services and outside of approved circles.

For example, the Fistula Hospital is a magnificent institution staffed by selfless workers and dedicated professionals. However, how many politicians and celebrities can visit it and how many news stories can usefully be filed about it before other subjects are noted?

global imports and exports

Thus, the attitudes and values held by the Ethiopian government are evidently not in keeping with the societies in which the defendants are being sued. When a country, where by all acounts press and all other human freedoms are not given the respect expected by mankind at large, decides to export any part of its attitudes and values, those defining characteristics need to be explored in greater detail than we could ever do here.

It is clear that not only do Ethiopians, like all humans, want freedom and that the Ethiopian Diaspora nor the citizens of democracies like the USA and Germany should welcome the importation of such dubious Ethiopian government values into their countries of residence or citizenship.

What is next if the logic of such government lawsuits is accepted?

Supporters of the government should also note that someone else with the same bad values could also reach out and try to touch them abroad one day if the caravan changes course. That would never happen given the democratic nature of the current opposition - that is why the government is so upset - the opposition is not playing by the rules of its rigged game.

However, given the precedent of more than three decades of dictatorship under a unified Marxist-Leninist ideology, Mengistu's heirs could conceivably succeed in their mission of creating a climate so putrid and vile that nothing better can ever be expected than the current state of affairs.

While we may feel that it is a great honor to oppose this government, supporters of it should honestly wonder if they would like to be on the enemies list of a government that behaves just like their own beloved one. There are already some 70 million suffering counter-revolutionaries listed there.

This is an issue for the concern for all including every manner of friend of Ethiopia and government cadre.

Beyond the facts of this case in question there is of course a general chilling effect on Ethiopians or those of Ethiopian ancestry who are critics of the government and its officials. The previous resentful general air of acceptance and getting along with the government for the sake of a peaceful life and being left alone as long as one was subservient generally collapsed in past months.

In the wake of extensive protests and the hearing of previously silent voices worldwide after the recent 'election' and its violence, the government realized it had a potentially unmanageable problem on its hands.

Beyond an assumed ownership of diaspora opinion will the threat of legal action ever affect foreigners? Not a chance. The ferenjis would not stand for being sued by a foreign government that denies its own citizens or any one else the right to sue on behalf of the truth or to even expect to live with the truth peacefully. The Ethiopian government would never dare to do such a thing.

Ethiopians abroad must take on this very healthy ferenji attitude and wonder how a foreign government could dare to do such a thing and interfere with rights they sadly had to leave home to gain. The issue that the defendants are connected to the opposition rings hollow, ... so what?

Donor governments will understand, given enough press or citizen attention to this issue that Ethiopians are also residents and citizens who have every right that born Americans or Germans do. While that certainly includes the right to be sued for every manner of absurdity the governments in question should note who is doing the suing.

It is clear that the donor's club is having an impossible time of getting Ethiopia's government to behave decently towards Ethiopians. In the end they know Ethiopians would have no rights without the threat of aid being taken away but they should not be satisfied on that point of low expectations alone.

If they can't be expected to assure that all Ethiopians have human rights they should be made through their own mechanisms native to free societies everywhere to assure that those with Ethiopian genes within their own borders can not be served with such low expectations. Otherwise there may be only one Ethiopian voice, the government's.

Access to foreign aid seems to be one of the principal reasons that the lawsuit was file to begin with, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement.
The defendants fabricated statement damaging to the personal reputations of the plaintiffs, but also seriously risk and undermine Ethiopia’s important international relations, including with its economic development partners.

just the facts ma'am

How about the facts of the lawsuit?

We have no knowledge about any transfers to private bank accounts from government coffers.

However, we are rightly suspicious about any subject presented by the Ethiopian government. It is also not clear what the purpose of all of this is if not to harass and intimidate. Proving the charges in an American court is something the government does not really want to happen. It wants to shut up the four in question, penalize them with lawyer fees and thus warn others away from politics than to really deal with the issues at hand.

Consider this, even in the case of the absence of a cent even being ever transferred from public funds to private accoutns, if this lawsuit made it into a courtroom would the Ethiopian government be willing and prepared to deal with even the pre-trial discovery process of this legal system? For those who haven' seen many movies this means where both sides of the case have to give eachother every bit of relevant evidence at the very start of proceedings.

Later in court if information is not forthcoming can any one imagine that the Ethiopian government responding to court orders and subpeonas? They would have to produce the life long and total financial statements of every government official in question on every continent and all of their other financial and business dealings ... including those that their official status required them to deal with.

That is the minimum of what a halfway decent lawyer would ask for and what a halfway competent judge would require to proceed. Most lawyers are far more than decent and most judges are far more than competent ... certainly those who would get close to this case would be given the kind of notice that could be had.

The Ethiopian government treats Ethiopians badly because of its basic revolutionary democratic nature and because donor governments don't really expect different and because government engineered national catastrophe or collapse is feared. None of those excuses for foreign policy would be at hand in an American courtroom.

The bean counters in donor nations are worried about making dictators happy today rather than preventing dictatorships from becoming breeding grounds for terror tomorrow. So they don't insist on the hightly successful habits of democratic societies as a condition of aid. This short term view would not have much sway in court as when it came to excusing or ignoring the bloody 'election' of 2005 and letting the EPRDF off of the hook.

Anyway, we suspect this really may have a bit more to do with old fashioned intimidation than truth and justice.


The lawsuit apparently revolves around the issue of corruption - charges of it and denials. The dictionary defines it thusly. The adjective part we are interested in is "Venal; dishonest" and the verb part is "To destroy or subvert the honesty or integrity of."

OK ... what might cause someone with no malice, quite wrongly in the Ethiopian government's estimation, to think such a state of affairs exists in the total absence of any transfer of government funds to any private accounts?

Basically, the Ethiopian government is not 'transparent'. This is according to Transparency International and the US State Department that says that "membership in the EPRDF conferred advantages upon its members, and the party owned many businesses and awarded jobs to loyal supporters."

The US Embassy notes that "Privatization, like other government tenders, is subject to corruption." (Original link is gone, here is Google cached link.) The Index of Economic Freedom 2004 says that "Ethiopia’s cumbersome bureaucracy deters investment. Much of the economy remains under state control, and the evidence suggests that businesses also must contend with political favoritism."

This ancient post Cargo Cult Economics 3 - Structural Corruption looks at some of the reasons why there is an air of 'non-transparency' (diplo-code word for corruption ... you already knew this didn't you?) and also wonders if the issue is structural or built in to the system.

Why? Well, consider these points:

--Ethiopia is non-democratic as the recent 'election' has shown and therefore the government is not popularly accountable.

--The government is not in any way distinguishable from the apparatus of the higly disciplined vanguard ruling party which controls a rubber stamp parliament, pet election board, a slavish judiciary and exceptionally vicious security services and secret police.

--The government directly owns large chunks of the economy and numerous state enterprises which it refuses to privatize and to allow competition for.

--The ruling party directly and through various shells owns large chunks of the economy and numerous enterprises at every level and it does not want any competition for them at all.

--Control of government and party (the same thing) owned businesses is more often than not directly in the hands of government and party officials themselves who serve both as government officials and the chairman of businesses or other shell enterprises.

--There is absolutely no record or expectation of audits of the whole incestuous mess by any institution at all. Even if it existed it would certainly have at its top someone from the higher reaches of the party / government who was also a board member or chairman of a party / government / crony enterprise.

--Crony status of the government and party or involuntary but absolute political subservience is needed to successfully participate in the remaining parts of the economy with any hope of success.

--There is no private ownership of land and as Trotsky said "“opposition where the state is everyone’s landlord means death by slow starvation." Along with eternal destitution for all but a few, the absence of ownership means that the best guarantor of the rights of man is lost.

--The government owns all of the land and thus those who own the government ultimately own all of the power and wealth.

--Indeed, to an exceptional degree by international or historical standards, political and economic power and wealth are inseperable in a most direct manner and held by an exceedingly small number of people.

That is why we refer to those who run the party / government as the ultimate revolutionary feudal aristocracy. Such a state is not a breeding ground for accountable and honest government.

Despite the fact that most people in government and most citizens and even most ruling party members are decent and honorable people ... it is not only impossible for a nation to prosper in the current circumstances it is impossible for society and particularly government to be defined as anything but totally and utterly corrupt.

Ethiopian government is corrupt by the express design and wishes of those who structured it. The whole apparatus is built that way and it is lovingly maintained despite every failure of national growth and health, by those who benefit from its essentially corrupt nature.

So corrupt is the entire rotten system by design that it is worthwhile keeping in mind the saying that "a fish rots from the head" whose wisdom many assume in a non-transparent system.

Therefore, those who make charges of corruption against the Ethiopian government should be understood very clearly. Even given the most vehement individual or group denials of the Ethiopian government officials behind the lawsuit ... the structure of society that exists make such negative assumptions of corruption expected and natural to anyone with common sense.

four points

So what is the point of all of the above?

First, we have no direct knowledge of the corrupt practices of any particular individuals with reference to transfers of government funds into private accounts or other corrupt practices. However, we can state with absolute certainty that the whole structure of current government is tainted by existential corruption of a remarkably debilitating and degenerate type.

To counter unfair charges that government funds are being diverted to private ends or that there is little distinction between public and private funds anyway is rather easy. The government should simply open up the books of all government and party agencies and businesses as well as those owned or managed by people affiliated with the government and party.

An international and independent outside team of auditors would be ideal to restore confidence and to counter all defamations forever. The government's 'development partners' will then be assured of transparency. A team from the EU would prove friendly but credible or possibly an international accounting firm - either one as long as their is a firm mandate to do whatever they see fit.

Second, on general principle, no one should welcome the notion of any foreign government, particularly a non-democratic one that routinely denies every manner of human rights to its own, using the legal systems of free countries and all the resources of a government to limit criticism of itself in any way.

As far as we know, no foreign dictatorship has ever tried this trick before from the potential litany of complainants of defamation including the likes of the Khmer Rouge, Mugabe, Mengistu, Khadafi, Castro or the Burmese Junta. The world in general nor the community of democratic nations will want to see this remote control denial of rights become a habit.

Third, if the issue is 'relations with development partners' then the government should note that the development partners that matter are the Ethiopian people and not the donor club. The basics of developing a free and prosperous society are no secret.

Substituting socialist policies doomed to failure, aid and dreams of massive aid for the natural talents of the Ethiopian people seems to us a poor bargain that can only be made in the interests of an insecure despotism.

Lastly, to bring back the whole caravan theme in tried and true essayist manner, we will again note how odd it is for a caravan to change course and take note of what to it might just otherwise be a barking dog in an oasis somewhere.

the noble dog, really man's best friend

Critics, whom the government generally treats like dogs, may be rather as important as they imagine when they bark - at least according to the Ethiopian government.

Tuesday, August 16

Gaijin Teacher and other links

Outpost Nine is a series of wonderful short essays by an American teaching English in a Japanese junior high school. He paints a wholly unfamiliar and lovely picture of that country from the 'ghetto' school to the dreaded kancho.

Leszek Kolakowski & the Anatomy of Totalitarianism is an essay by Roger Kimball about the self doubt of the just who breathe life into obvious wrong.

Science fiction writer Larry Niven in Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex ponders Kryptonian - Earth relations.

NK News: The Database of North Korean Propaganda is disturbingly familiar.

Panjabi MC's music video Beware of the Boys (Mundian to Bach Ke) is something entirely different.

This music video by Teddy Makonnen is even better.

Studies in Popular Culture has a scholarly essay on Pulp Fiction for the 90s--the 1190s.

Ralph Peters on the Seven Signs of Non-Competitive States - is treading on altogether too familiar territory.

The Speech Accent Archive is interesting.

Friday, August 12

Addis Stories

Several readers have written to remind us that there have been other, actually operable, master plans for the development of Addis Ababa besides AABAMA that only a handful of folks have ever heard of. In this post there are links to a few quite good sites that cover the history of and varied plans for our first love amongst all cities. The usual insightful commentary and bits from the sites are mixed in below.


The Addis Ababa City Admnistration Offcial Website has a comprehensive historical view of the city's foundation and early growth. Menelik II established the capital of his then Kingdom of Shoa in the mountains to the north at Entoto in the latter 19th century. However, it was a 15th century monarch, Atse Dawit, who built the first capital there, that was later abandoned - a recurring national pattern.

When Menelik became Emperor of the whole country proto-Addis became the national capital. A previous attempt to establish an Imperial (as opposed to a regional 'Royal') capital at Gondar in a very real way helped to usher in the divisive 'Era of the Princes'. That founding put authority in one place where distant, habitually rebellious, rulers thus respected it less during an era after the Oromo migrations and conquest when centrifugal forces were strongest.

Gondar was one of the principal places, along with Shoa, were Oromo became first integrated into the Abyssinian political and social milieu. It is most accurate to state that it was interaction between Oromos and Abyssinians that created modern Ethiopia as we understand her. Other national capitals over the centuries have been in Mekele and Lalibella in addition to numerous regional capitals.

Addis started out as a military camp ranging in size up to 50,000, mainly soldiers and their families. Actually the establishment of Addis was a rare sign of confidence on the part of an Ethiopian monarch who fully intended to be Emperor one day. Usually, the capital went wherever the King was on his constant marches to put down rebellion or to team up with temporarily reformed rebels against foreign invaders ... and other rebels.

A constant state of war and rumours of war was a depressingly normal state of affairs. Addis was located at a strategic site and was the setting for Ethiopia's principal modernization efforts through to the next century.

Read the whole page, it is interesting.


Macalester College studies world urbanization and has an outstanding Addis Ababa web site. This is a truncated map of Addis Ababa (circa 1980s?) with a larger, magnifiable version to be found here.

The site discusses the geography of the city and has a detailed history of Ethiopian urbanization. As we discussed above, large cities are a new phenomenon in Ethiopia because constant warfare force a semi-nomadic lifestlyle, there was too much turnover in rulers to establish urban environments, foreign and domestic conflict based on religion and region made it all the more difficult.

Indeed, the earliest settlements, or ketemas (cities today) were military garrisons where people found security and which evolved into market centers. The point is made here that beyond the exigencies of war, it was also the exhaustion of local resources such as wood that necessitated frequent moves of authority. Those cities were hardly environmentally sound as we often imagine the past to have been. Indeed, they were like beasts who scoured and soiled the earth as they moved about.

The history of one of those urban markets that later evolved into one of the largest market places in Africa where today where just about anything under the sun is for sale can be found on the Merkato page. The Italians designated a European area that became the relatively upscale shopping district of Piazza after the 1930s.

From the original encampment in Entoto in 1881 expansion move south in 1891 because there was more room there for growth. One intriguing question that the authors answer is why Addis survived while so many other cities were transitory. One reason was the victory against the invading Italians at Adwa in 1896.

That created a period of stability free from foreign interference and attracted international attention that needed a place to go to. Foreigners invested heavily in Addis creating economic necessities to add to the political ones. Even more importantly, in our opinion, Addis was centrally located and fit Menelik's southern strategy of conquest with which to emerge first amongst the rivals for national power.

The authors list the railway from Djibouti among their reasons but we see it the other way. The railway did not make Addis important, the railway went there because Addis was already important. To deal with the deforestation issue that plagued previous cities of any size, Menelik imported the eucalyptus tree from Australia that created a veritable green belt around the city ... that the late 20th Century saw denuded by population pressures demanding energy and plain old poor or absent urban planning.

The details of the Italian occupation and transformation of Addis are fascinating. It was to be the capital of the Italian East African Empire , a new Roman Empire, that deservedly met its ignoble end during the Second World War that began with the invasion of Ethiopia. A notable feature of the Italian period was strict segregation by race along with the welcome development of infrastructure such as roads.

In the immediate aftermath of the liberation, Haile Sellassie invited Italians, particularly those with technical skills to stay on. Many did stay on since at the time Italy was still under Mussolini and later directly under the Germans. One part of the 'invitation' for the Italians to stay that we have never heard addressed is what the other option was.

Certainly no one wanted to send tens of thousands of military age men back to fascist Italy where they would certainly end up fighting the Allies again and no one wanted to bother with prisoner camps for the then indefinite future. They were generally welcomed as guests by the generally forgiving and practical nature of Ethiopians, where as invaders they had been made to feel rather unwelcome.

In the post war era several periods of urbanization are identified. The first from the 1960s into the 1970s was disrupted by the 1974 Communist takeover, particularly the nationalization of all land (still in evidence today - with the same disastrous results only partially papered over by foreign aid) torpedoed the economy and socialist policies also brought chaos to city administration.

The second, from the 70s into the 80s saw less migration to the city because of government restrictions on movement. As the civil wars of that era came to their conclusion a period of mass migration into Addis began from 1988 that swelled the population and strained the infrastructure far beyond any possiblity of normality for years to come.

Actually, following the end of the Imperial era in 1974, the infrastructure of Addis and the country as a whole was totally ignored. Usually in favor of 'socialist' get rich quick schemes and billions of dollars worth of Soviet arms with which to force that particular brand of despotism on every Ethiopian soul.

There have always been ethnic tensions and ethnic cooperation in Ethiopia and in Addis but tensions came to a position of primacy following the tribally determined government policies from 1991 on. Addis is still a work in progress and money, originating largely from aid and Ethiopians abroad, has transformed some prosperous sectors of the city in the past years and the recent mayor got a lot of favorable press.

However, despite the good press, most of Addis remains desperately poor and poorly serviced with little chance of escape given current government, essentially socialist policies under a fig leaf of yearning for a market economy. In the recent 'election' season the city administration was overwhelmingly voted out of office and it is likely to be replaced by opposition politicians with very limited powers subject to constant sabotage by the vengeful and all powerful central government and the indistinguishable vanguard ruling party at its core.

Addis was swept by the opposition, largely because foreign observers where there - no seats were won by the government anywhere where such observers where present. In that uniquely democratic setting in an otherwhise staged election, the judgement of the people of every ethnic group must be particularly noted.

The Macalester site is particularly good and is worth a visit. We are sure we have not found most of its hidden gems.


ORAAMP - Official Office for the Revision of the Addis Ababa Master Plan shows that AABAMA is in a distant second place in Addis related acronyms - but far more to the point provides a fascinating history of the various plans that have evolved over time to develop Addis.
Addis Ababa, established in 1886 by Emperor Menelik and his wife Taitu, has experienced several planning changes that have influenced its physical and social growth. The city’s early development centred around three nodal points: the Menelik palace (political & administrative center), the Arada St. George church (social & religious center), and the Arada area (business & market center).

Until the arrival of the Italians in 1936, the city was developing spontaneously in all directions, with particular emphases toward the north, northwest, and south of the nodal points. It was the short-lived Italian occupation (1936-41) that established most features of the current structure of the city.
Le Courboisier, was a major French architect who was one of the originators of the international or modernist school of architecture and urban planning also known as Bahaus. The whole idea revolved around using modern materials such as stressed concrete to create often stark 'machines for living', a style that survives today in the dubious example of the UN HQ building in New York.

His vision ended up on a proposal for a 'radiant city' of monumental structures and grand boulevards that the Italians rejected for Addis Ababa. The Italians did go ahead to create most of the familiar divisions of the city with "a master plan that emphasized the “prestige of the colonizer”. Their proposal divided the city into two parts: “the European city” with two parallel axes and the ‘native city’ (Addis Ketema) with a gridiron street network located west side of the “European city”. Some of the effects of this plan are still evident today."

Every step of the evolution of the master plan thereafter reflected Ethiopia's foreign alliances and entaglements. A British plan after World War II by Sir Patrick Abercrombie (the planner of Greater London) upon invitation by Emperor Haile Selassie.
Abercrombie’s plan was completed in 1956, with neighborhood units as the basic city-organizing concept. The street network of the city was characterized by radial and ring roads intended to channel vehicular traffic outward from central areas.

His proposal included the introduction of satellite settlements in all directions around the core city. In 1959, another British consultany office by the name of Bolton, Hennessy & Partners was commissioned to refine Abercrombie’s master plan. Part of the proposed street network and the satellite towns were implemented in accordance with their proposal.
Next up was a French plan by
A consulting team of the French Missions for Urban Studies and Habitat led by L. De Marien prepared a new plan for the city that emphasized formalistic expression in 1965.

The general form of the plan was developed with Arada as the head (core) of the overall figure. The plan was prepared during the city’s construction boom period, and thus a considerable part of it was implemented.
Following Ethiopia's deadly and involuntary embrace of Communism following the military coup d'etat of 1974
C.K. Polony, a Hungarian planner, who designed “Revolution Square” [Meskel Square today and before 1974]. This was one of the most important spatial transformations implemented during the socialist regime.

The second work by Polony was the Megalopolis of Addis Ababa which proposed to connect Addis Ababa with Nazareth (a town 100 km east of Addis Ababa). The aim of the plan was to make the city self-sufficient with agricultural products. The towns found between Addis Ababa and Nazareth were regarded as development poles.
This last bit sounds really familiar doesn't it? The emphasis of AABAMA had nothing to do with agriculture but seemed concerned with wholly urban issues of growth and resource management. If we can forgive Polony for the soul shrinking totalitarian monstrosity that is Meskel Square today, we can agree that there is something rather naturally organic about a planned urban / suburban development corridor through central Shoa.

ORAAMP was developed to deal with the inadequacies of the Polony plan for extant Addis and also the Ethio-Italian revisions of the 1980s. This page is well worth looking at for a sense of the maps and grids laid out in the plans - although this otherwise excellent site suffers from a lack of adequately sized historical images and a dearth of modern maps.


The Cycle of Waste in Addis Ababa is a fascinating paper whose subject matter is far more interesting than it might appear at first. It points out that
Unlike the other African cities of colonised countries, Addis Ababa is characterised by its spontaneous growth as an indigenous city with very little impact of external forces. The city began to develop as a political, economic and cultural centre in subsequent years.

Services such as piped water, electric light and other facilities attracted migrant population from other parts of the country. In addition to this rate of rural-urban migration drained rural labour force from agricultural production created problems of unemployment, congestion and strains on existing inadequate social services in Addis Ababa..
What this means is that Addis kind of just happened unlike many other planned cities. It also points out one almost unique factor of life in Addis that singles it out amongst international cities
A characteristic feature of Addis Ababa is that rich and poor live together without segregation. Slums are found in well-to-do areas, while wealthy residences and high buildings are standing in the midst of slum areas.
The paper has much information on the city’s population and infrastructure. For example the estimate in 1997 was 2.3 million and today estimates are upward of 4 million in some circles ... however the sewage system was designed for only 200,000. It goes on to discuss the geograpy, population breakdown by age, ethnicity and religion before moving on to the subject of waste management.

Later pages addresses the vital issue of collectors including scrap dealers familiarly known by the
term qorale is short for "Korkoro yaleh, or, in English, "Have you gotten any scrap metal?" which is what the young boys shout when going round for collection. In fact, they collect all sorts of old re-usable articles, not only scrap metal. The trend probably started with collecting scrap metals, which was the first material available until plastic and other materials were introduced.

The qorales are an important body of the urban society in conserving the environment from pollution. Even if their main objective is making money and living by it, they are indirectly involved in conserving the environment. They also provide the society with affordable used articles at a lower price and thereby show the public that some of the used articles should not be discarded instead recycled and reused.
Social organizations important to waste management are discussed along with Informal Recycling in Merkato, and house hold waste management.

The whole paper is worth taking a look at.

So there is about as detailed a series of Addis stories as we are ever going to post to give even the partial attention deserved to the home of unknown millions who struggle to survive, who sometimes prosper, who suffer and live and together create the future against the great odds of despotism. Cities are to us, living things of great fragility and beauty - the very natural setting for modern man, his works and his failures.

That is why Addis shows us the best and worst of Ethiopia all at once. It is an interesting tale and obviously one that is ongoing. Addis has long ago outgrown its infrastructure which despite the best efforts of thousands of dedicated city workers and the foreign aid that keeps it all going it will never live up to its potential as things stand.

That is ... until revolutionary democracy and the tribalism at its core are exorcised.

Wednesday, August 10



The name of our html testing blog, AABAMA, comes from the provisional title for a megapolis of some 8 million souls planned for some undetermined post-totalitarian future in the transportation corridor of central Shoa. The Addis Ababa - Bishoftu - Adama - Metropolitan - Area (we suppose that Finfine - Debre Ziet - Nazret - Metropolitan Area was also a possiblity among other combinations) was the subject of a thesis by an erstwhile urban planning / resource management scholar but eternal friend of ours.

The idea was to get far ahead of the curve of rapid and unplanned urbanization that was then sweeping the developing world of the latter 20th century and the anticipated acceleration of that phenomenon with time. Planning was very definitely to be somehow 'organic' in nature so that the visionary disappointments of Brasilia, Abuja and frankly, Washington D.C. could be avoided along with the existing chaos of Rio, Lagos and what Addis Ababa threatened to become in the future.

A broad park and tree lined central highway was to connect the three anchor points with room for expansion, rail lines and light rail lines on either side. Taking advantage of the natural terrain it would be just below the level of city streets that met above it and it would serve as an alternative to the rivers around which so many other cities take shape. Connections to the sea would be by new wide guage rail to Assab and Djibouti and by pipelines to refineries there.

The presence of abundant water resources given appropriate dam building and modern aqueducts was also planned for. Arrayed along that river were to be areas zoned for industry, commerce and residential living that might take decades to develop - but would do so in an orderly manner as determined by population pressures, resources and most fundamentally the profit motive. Up to a quarter of the land area within the corridor but excluding surrounding farm land was to be left 'green' for parks.

You see, beyond the basic plan and the provision of services, people were to be left alone to their devices and there was always room to be left in the plan for future pressures and development. The result was to be the evolving economic core of a rapidly developing country with other cities as regional centers of similar development.

The intracacies of it all including the 'symbiotic' development of the sewage and water treatment system as well as the varying national architectural styles to be used are way beyond the scope of this or any other post. Anyway, revolutionary democratic means of staying in power at all costs with their attendant social policies and economic policies will not allow for natural Ethiopian development over decades or even a century.

There is little growth today beyond foreign aid and remittances from abroad and the economy is in the midst of a long contraction in absolute terms. Therefore, relative prosperity and rational urban development independent of any level of ferenji aid is unlikely given a hostile setting to normal economic development. Chaotic urban growth will remain the norm - but alternatives must still be considered.


The point we are slowly getting around to has to do with a somewhat absurd throw away question that was asked during his thesis defense, "how can you justify such an investment of resources right on top of the Great Rift Valley?" That produced a laugh and this, "well why don't we evacuate San Francisco and Tokyo right now?"

There are reasons that people build cities and towns and roads in particular and similiar places and they rarely have anything to do with whether or not California will physically secede from the Union or if a new sea will one day bisect Ethiopia and connect the lakes of Central Africa to the Red Sea. Thinking that far ahead is certainly silly but the possibility of even earthquakes may influence building codes and infrastructure planning ... just don't try and tell people where to live and economies where to grow.

If AABAMA made sense at all it was because it was being built where society had already decided to build and where it had thrived. Emperor Menelik who founded Addis Ababa did not just do so because of the rather pleasant view from Entoto or the volcanic baths just down the hill. People always build at places that already have strategic importance based on natural paths that develop into caravan trade routes and later railways and highways.

Take the natural world for instance. However erratic may be the process that ants use to find spilled soda, the path that their scent lays down will eventually become the easiest way between two points simply based on the repeated trial and error of small changes, usually born of error. That is how evolution works.

Animals now, or even dinosaurs in their time, just don't walk through thick jungle or forest to get to the watering hole or feeding grounds. Every natural setting like that has game trails which are essentially roads used by prey and predator alike. It is just more efficient that way for all concerned. Early man probably used some of the same trails for the same reasons and after the discovery of agriculture set up the first communities on the same principles that an elephant or triceratops had for defining home.

There is a fine military history of North America called Fields of Battle by John Keegan. Initially enjoyed for its depiction of strategy and battle, we realized at about the same time years later that what he was really writing about was the geography of warfare. The reason that capturing New York during the Revolution was important was not just because of the symbolism of taking a big city but had to do with the reason the Dutch built it there to begin with long before.

location, location

Similiarly, the reason Bastogne was important during the Battle of the Bulge was that all the local roads passed through it - that is why the rangers and paratroopers held it so desperately and why the Germans wanted it so badly. Without the road network of Belgium or New York's magnificent harbor, who would really care? For that matter, the length of Broadway was once an Indian trail and then an increasingly important country road until the city expanded up the whole length of the island. It seems likely that Broadway was once a long set of game trails roamed by ice age mastadons or the like - and the subways below it follow the same path today.

In military terms there are natural and repeatedly used routes of invasion into places such as the Ethiopian highlands and Ethiopia as a whole. Neither the Battle of Adwa nor the Battle of Gundet were sites of pivotal battles by chance. One must assume that today the Ethiopian General Staff has projects in place to continually survey such routes and sites on the ground and with its own aerial photos and purchased satellite images, GPS readings and the like.

Issues like where the water is, even where the roads and mountain passes are as well as where it is most advantageous to defend or attack in the short or long term can't be decided quickly. That was the central dilemma faced by Eritrea (and the central lesson of the 1980s forgotten by her rulers) when she made the solely political - economic decision to invade Badme in 1998.

It was just a strip of land, perhaps infused with great meaning, but a strip of land nevertheless that was ultimately indefensible without a deeper penetration into Ethiopia that was otherwise unadvisable and even more unsustainable. Especially against a determined foe who had not forgetten its own hard earned lessons of terrain and strategy.

Strangely enough the aftermath was won at the arbitrating table by the defeated Eritreans and lost by the victorious Ethiopians who submitted to arbitration for no discernible reason at all. The Ethiopian government's own appointed representatives voted for Eritrea despite a long history of Ethiopian posession and administration of the land in question - so the case must not have been presented with the same competence and vigor as the war.

Ethiopia's rulers then refused to give it back and even the community of donor nations, who paid for the whole war via monetary aid and loans being forgiven today, for both sides, now pretend nothing ever happened in Badme. Meanwhile Eritrea's rulers use the whole subject as a reason to be on a permanent war footing with the attendant absence of rights that entails for Eritreans. cue Twilight Zone music now.

it's about the economy

So back to the subject at hand ... cities and development require a difficult combination of planning and laissez faire that can be managed as long as natural factors such as geography, economic realities and human motives are respected. Building on fault lines may be unavoidable given the nature and present needs of humanity but the other factors can be controlled to an even lesser extent.

Addis Ababa is important to the whole country not simply because of political decisions made more than a century ago but because of the geography of central Shoa and get this ... because it is in the middle of the country and because most of it is already there to begin with. Bahir Dar is one of the few examples in the world of how a city's politically designated importance and actual geographic assignment can actually work out.

Our friend got an 'A' or the equivalent honors prize for his thesis (and lives a whole continent away from the San Andreas Fault) that this post can not consider fairly in any way. We expect that very very far from academia the best part of AABAMA was that someone was thinking of it all to begin with, hoped it could even become an issue given time and most importantly that beyond the broadest strokes it left most of the urban canvas to the citizenry and free enterprise to fill in over time.


If you are still reading at this point you might want to consider this great article Earthquake Risks in Addis Ababa and Other Major Ethiopian Cities that discusses in detail what it means to live so near a fault line. N.B. we do not know the author in any way shape or form beyond having googled this wonderful article and appreciating its value. There are a whole lot of Ethiopian Ph.D.s out here.
According to a report published in 1999, a 6.5 magnitude earthquake, which seismologist say could happen in areas of close proximity to Addis Ababa, the country's major city, could cause as many as 4000-5000 deaths, 8000-10,000 injuries and a displacement of as many as 500,000 people and a total damage in excess of 12 Billion Birr.

Addis Ababa itself is only 75-100 kilometers away from the western edge of the Main Ethiopian Rift Valley, which is a hotbed of tremors and active volcanoes. Some of Ethiopia's major cities like Addis Ababa, Nazareth, Dire Dawa and Awassa are very near main fault lines such as the Wonji fault, the Nazareth fault, the Addis-Ambo-Ghedo fault, and the Fil Woha fault lines along which numerous earthquakes of varying magnitude have occurred over the years. Other cities like Arba Minch, Dessie, and Mekele are also located in some of the most seismically active areas in the country.

The presence of the Fil Woha hot springs in the middle of Addis Ababa itself, for example, is nature's reminder that the city lies on fault lines that have been slowly building strains. It is the release of these strains accumulated over the years that cause the phenomenon of earthquake.
It goes on to describe the recent history of earthquakes and the likelihood of new and deadlier ones. In addition the author discusses how major buildings, bridges, dams and water supply networks are at risk. Amidst Ethiopia's travails of war and famine this has not been much of an issue
Even though, the country adopted its first earthquake design code of standards in 1983, traditionally, building officials in the country have never made seismic-resistant code implementation neither a priority nor a necessity. Economic conditions, it can be argued, will make implementation an expensive proposition.

However, this is a shortsighted argument as repairing potential damages from earthquakes could easily be much more expensive, if at all possible with the country's meagre sources. The good news, on the other hand, is that as more studies predict the magnitude of potential earthquakes and their possible devastating effects on the country's major urban centers, there seems to be a growing concern and awareness about the danger of earthquake hazards.

The formal adoption of a detailed building code of standards for earthquake-resistant design in 1995 is by itself an encouraging development. Its adoption, however, six years from its date of formal publishing is yet to be realized.
As we have said, building elsewhere is really not an option, there really is no place else to go - the whole country is close to the fault lines of the Great Rift Valley. Without some planning and standards it is hard to imagine how devastating an earthquake of magnitude could be to a country already reeling from decades of communist rule under the Dergue or essentially communist / aid dependent rule today. Right now, AABAMA is rather too much to plan for, but after an earthquake, Addis Ababa as we know her may not be an issue either.

Wednesday, August 3

Revolutionary Democracy Redux

21st Century Maoism - CDs on sale now in Addis Ababa, Pyongyang and Havana
(Images are from a Fark photoshop contest.)

We have discussed the guiding ideology of the Ethiopian ruling party / governmment in the course of our analysis of the prospects for democracy in our Politburo Knows Best Series. We were not encouraged by the barren, or more accurately scorched earth, setting for political or economic freedom beyond the pretense needed to keep aid money rolling in ... at whatever cost to the 70 million hostages of those in power.

Events during and after the recent aborted 'election' such as the bloody and punitive response of the politburo to its massive loss have proven our estimation of the government's nature to be correct. There is little unique about that tragic nature and the damage it causes. Hundreds of millions have suffered from the same set of characteristics in the past century and mercifully few suffer from them today.

Countries that hold to the principals of the Ethiopian government have usually been proudly communist. Adaptations had to be made to the presentation of the politburo's raison d'etre because communism ended up in the dustbin of history. The third entry of the Politburo Knows Best series, Revolutionary Democracy, failed in an attempt to define the governing ideology because like all totalitarian mantras, it has no meaning beyond what serves to keep the revolutionary feudal aristocracy in power on a day to day basis of manipulation and sleight of hand.

It remains important to understand revolutionary democracy, however absurd it is, because it is as fundamentally destructive as any policy that came out of Mengistu's Dergue. Indeed, were it not for the need in the 1990s and afterward to toy with Western aid donors with a blatantly insincere affection for freedom and free markets there is little to distinguish Mengistu and his heirs from eachother. Even the tribal apartheid of contemporary Ethiopia has its roots in Lenin and the opportunistic need to use every weapon available to crush opponents.

After all they are both communists ... and to paraphrase a slogan of a different era 'communists are bad for children and other living things'. The most furtive political or historical memory when used to scan our globe will reveal that governments like Ethiopia's over the past three decades are hosts to engineered poverty and dictatorship - all in the service of the power of a tiny revolutionary feudal aristocracy.

With permission we will serialize over four posts this month, Chapter 7 of Dr. Theodore Vestal's remarkable book Ethiopia: A Post-Cold War African State. The chapter in question deals with the the ruling party's 'Revolutionary Democratic Goals' based on internal documents of the party that were published as "TPLF/EPRDF's Strategies for Establishing its Hegemony & Perpetuating its Rule," in Ethiopian Register Magazine.

The reader may want to take a look at the original entry on revolutionary democracy before proceeding.


The Strategy of the EPRDF

In June 1993 (Sene 1985 Ethiopian Calendar), at the time the EPRDF was transforming itself from a revolutionary front into the governing body of the nation, the Front published a sixty-eight page Amharic document, "Our Revolutionary Democratic Goals and the Next Steps." The document, written to define in detail the party's goals, was distributed to party cadre but was kept secret from the public. In 1996, the Ethiopian Register, an American journal, obtained a copy and published an abridged English translation.

This translation provided non-EPRDF cadre, for the first time, with a clear statement of the political and economic goals of the Front and the strategies and tactics to be used in attaining them. With the document as guide, the actions of the EPRDF/TGE can be seen as part of the party's plan for gaining and maintaining political control of Ethiopia. A review of some of the details of the strategy document explains many of the EPRDF's actions and will help inform the formulation of a political theory of the Front. The content of the document is presented here with the same headings and subheadings used in the original version.


The EPRDF strategists, heirs of the Marxist-Leninist League of Tigray, retreated from their communist roots and wartime strategies of the early 1990s. Major changes around the world and in Ethiopia forced the EPRDF to adjust its approach and to proclaim "Revolutionary Democracy" in place of Marxist socialism as the party's ideology. The contents of revolutionary democracy are expounded in the political and
economic goals of the strategy document. At the heart of the concept of revolutionary democracy is the old communist idea that leaders of the Marxist-Leninist party at the center of public life should direct all aspects of society on the basis of a supposedly superior knowledge of the nature of social development conferred on them by the party ideology.

Explicit in the document is the division of society into traditional communist classes: the peasantry, the bourgeoisie, the proletariat, and the comprador class. The enemy of revolutionary democracy is "imperialism," a euphemism for nations that practice free market capitalism--a paradoxical view since development aid from "imperialist" countries to a large extent keeps the EPRDF in power. Strawmen called "chauvinists," "narrow nationalists," or "secessionists" are alluded to in the document to denigrate opposition and to contrast their wanton ways with those of the Front.

The document began optimistically by noting that in general, conditions in 1993 were conducive for the EPRDF to realize its goals. Nevertheless, the party would be able to fulfill only such limited objectives as conditions allowed during the Transition Period. Once the Transition Phase was "successfully completed," however, the party could begin fully to implement its program. Thus, revolutionary democracy could be realized only after a new constitution was ratified and the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia came into being.


The organization's first political goal was listed as "Materializing the peoples' political and human rights completely." According to the document, Revolutionary Democracy is based on a polarized society composed of the people and the ruling classes. By "the people," the document alludes to "the great majority of the population," also called "the great oppressed majority," while "the ruling classes," or "oppressors" refers to those who were in power during the regimes of the Emperor Haile Selassie or the Derg--or more correctly to any who oppose the EPRDF. The party program quite bluntly does not equally stand for the rights of both the people and the ruling classes.

The democratic rights of the masses are listed and include a roster of such human rights and due process protections as freedom of expression, the right to organize at any level and in any form, the right to strike in accordance with the law, and the right to express one's opposition even to the revolutionary democratic government which serves the people's interest. In light of rights actually denied to the general public by the TGE, it is instructive to see the rights of the people enumerated in the strategy document, including guarantees against imprisonment without due process and protections from beatings, confiscating of people's property, searching people's property, searching people's houses, or restricting their freedom of movement or belief. All of these civil liberty protections were denied various opponents of the government by the TGE. But even this anomaly was explained in the document.

Whether the rights of "the ruling classes" will be protected depends upon the relevance that this will have to protecting the rights of the masses. If the rights of mass clash with those of ruling class, then the rights of the oppressors will have to be suppressed and the rights of the oppressed will have be respected.

This party line of support for the rights and interests of the oppressed masses vis-a-vis those of the oppressors will have to be soft-pedaled, however, for two reasons. One is that such blatant partisanship would "be unacceptable in the eyes of Western Democracy and would invite the fierce opposition of imperialism." The strategy document notes that "the two imperialist camps" (the Cold War protagonists) "have crumbled and given way to the hegemony of the imperial power led by the U.S." This reduction in world powers has narrowed the chances for the EPRDF to realize its goals by shifting allegiance from one camp to the other. U.S. hegemony has increased the chances of the Front offending the American government, which could mobilize imperialist forces against the EPRDF--that is, they could cut off development aid vital to Ethiopia's economy.

The second reason is that it is possible to ensure human and democratic rights of the masses without suppressing all the rights of the oppressors. There also are two reasons for this. The first is that historically the enemies of Revolutionary Democracy in Ethiopia--"feudal, anti-people bureaucratic forces"--are poor. Although imperialism has global hegemony, it can only fulfill its interests in Ethiopia through what the EPRDF perceives as "the enemy within." But Ethiopian supporters of capitalism lack the political, economic, and military power to be of service to imperialists, and their organized representatives are "paralyzed by internal contradictions and cannot offer a viable alternative to the people."

The other factor is the superior power of the EPRDF in comparison to that of its enemies or of "vacillating" forces such as the national bourgeoisie. The Front enjoys greater support from the people, especially the peasantry, and thus the EPRDF can protect the rights of the masses without openly suppressing the rights of the oppressors.

The strategy document describes several techniques for protecting rights of the masses. First, the country's new constitution "should be formulated in such a way that it guarantees the rights of the masses." Laws made in pursuance of the constitution would be used to protect the rights of the people and outlaw "obstructionist activities of the enemies." Institutions to protect the constitution and EPRDF- made laws would be established. When the ruling classes attempt "to obstruct the exercise of the rights of the masses," any relevant legal article can be cited to punish them. Should the oppressors rebel against the constitution, the EPRDF would "mobilize the people and crush them."

The Front's stand on human rights is clearly stated:
When we say that all citizens' democratic rights will be respected in the future socio-political system, it doesn't mean that Revolutionary Democracy will stand equally for the rights of the masses and the ruling classes. Our support is always for the rights of the masses only.
In spite of what guarantees of rights are written into the constitution or in future legislation, the strategy document implies that equal protection of the law for all citizens will not be a feature of an EPRDF government.

Political parties likewise will be treated differently depending on their sponsorship. The First Congress of the EPRDF had passed a resolution stating that the political system to be established would be multi-party. Under the interpretation given "multi-party" by the strategy document, "the masses will have many parties" and the ruling classes "will have the opportunity to organize." These parties can compete for political power, but if the ruling classes try to "obstruct the masses from exercising their rights, Revolutionary Democracy will use the constitution and other laws to punish them and bring under control their illegal activities." The meaning of "obstructing the masses" or "illegal activities" is not explained, but the interpretation of these phrases by the EPRDF does not bode well for any who might compete against the Front for political power.

Under the TGE, the Defense Force was composed of the armies of the EPRDF's member organizations. As long as the military belonged to one political force, it could legitimately work in behalf of that political organization. Under a multi-party system, however, the Defense Force would become the army of the state, and it could not continue as the army of the EPRDF. Unless the army severed its direct organizational link with the EPRDF and its division into TPLF, EPDM, and OPDO units, it would "invite the opposition of imperialism." To avoid this, the liberation front armies would have to be restructured and integrated into a unified defense force.

According to the strategy document, cutting the army's direct ties to the EPRDF does not mean abandoning its revolutionary democratic character. The Defense Force could be free and neutral in appearance but in reality be organized "to carry out the required revolutionary democratic tasks through indirect ties" to the EPRDF.

The second political goal enumerated in the strategy document was the setting up of a government which ensures the all-round participation of the masses. A power structure will be established to "enable people to decide on local issues at Kebele, Woreda, zone, regional and central level" and to recall elected representatives who fail to serve constituents' interests. The masses also will be organized on the basis of gender, trades, and professions to bring pressure on parties and actions of the central government and other power structures. The brevity of this section of the strategy document compared to that concerned with political and human rights probably indicates the pro forma nature of "participation of the masses" in a communist-inspired government.

The third political goal of the document was the ensuring of peoples' right to self-determination and building Ethiopia's unity based on equality and free choice. This goal reiterates the often repeated EPRDF mantra of the right of nations, nationalities, and peoples to secede--but with a caveat: Revolutionary Democracy believes that people benefit from staying together rather than seceding; but unity must be based on voluntary association and equal partnership. Such voluntary unity would provide people with the option to opt out when they so wish.

Opponents of the secessionist doctrine are deprecated as "chauvinists" or "narrow nationalists." Chauvinists, champions of "Greater Ethiopia," aspire to national unity with power concentrated at the center. On the other hand, narrow nationalists, such as the OLF, support the right to secession but do not stand for a strong union of peoples. They prefer "either a powerless central government and an all powerful regional government or the disintegration of the country so that they can rule over their region in the name of their nationality."

The strategy document notes that imperialism and the ruling classes oppose the peoples' right to self-determinism because they misperceive the relationship between the individual's rights and the peoples' rights. According to the EPRDF, ensuring the peoples' rights, i.e., the rights of ethnic groups, is the basis for ensuring the individual's rights. From such a perspective, the rights of the individual cannot be separated from the peoples'. Enemies of the front have a misconception of these rights and "try to drive a wedge" between them.