Monday, August 21


Meles, Meles, Meles can't you see
Sometimes your words just hypnotize me
And I just love your flashy ways
Guess that's why they're broke, and you're so paid

lyrics mangled with apologies to The Notorious B.I.G.


We remember saying that we wouldn't be back until September but just couldn’t help noting the latest policy paper from Prime Minister Meles. Right away reading African Development: Dead Ends and New Beginnings (PDF file) becomes a surreal experience when just past the title the reader is warned that
[t]he author is the Prime Minister of Ethiopia. The views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Government.
Yeah right - and The Little Red Book had nothing to do with the Cultural Revolution either. We’re talking about a dictatorship here - he may have a very like minded politburo to keep content (when they behave) but the very idea that reality in Ethiopia is not defined by the wishes of Meles is absurd.

Ethiopian Review appropriately focuses on the introduction
The political and economic renaissance of Africa is an issue that continues to preoccupy Africans' and non-Africans alike. Various methods of achieving such a renaissance have been proposed. Most of these proposals are variations of the dominant neo-liberal paradigm of development.

My argument is that the neo-liberal paradigm is a dead end, is incapable of bringing about the African renaissance, and that a fundamental shift in paradigm is required to bring about the African renaissance.
First off, Meles is trying to speak for all of Africa here to give his arguments weight - quite inappropriately. With a very few exceptions Ethiopia is by far the worst off of her continent mates.

Specifically in terms of Ethiopia, if one assumes that freedom and freedom from want are the objectives being spoken of - as they are for most civilized governments - then there has indeed been a massive failure. However, if one assumes that eternal rule for Meles and the corporate expansion of Meles Inc. is the issue - then Ethiopian governance has been a resounding success.

Let's get the whole thesis of the paper straight before we dive in any deeper ... Ethiopia is the poorest country on earth, getting poorer every year (aside from planted headlines spread with the cooperation of 'reporters' who have never heard of fact checking) and is kept afloat by donors because the 'dominant neo-liberal paradigm of development is a dead end'.

Not because Ethiopia is ruled by a dictatorship founded on tribal bantustans while dominated by ethnic, regional and religious government machinations. Not because the ruling party openly owns a business empire that dominates the economy at every level while being 'regulated' by a government it entirely controls that also maintains a monopoly of much of the rest of the economy.

Not because inherent structural corruption by design has made Ethiopia one of the most corrupt environments for governance and economics on the whole planet. Not because there are no private property rights and hostility to investment has made foreign investment amongst the very lowest on earth. Not because increasing amounts of money from Ethiopian pockets and from foreign aid end up in foreign bank accounts.

Not because abundant native dynamism in every sphere of society is seen as a threat to the rule of a permanent feudal revolutionary aristocracy that requires submission for any to earn their daily bread. Not because the planned poverty resulting from all of the above has stripped 70 million Ethiopians of the right to be their own government's constituents in favor of foreign aid donors who are more malleable.

You see dear reader, Ethiopia is apparently suffering because the 'dominant neo-liberal paradigm of development is a dead end'. This rejection fits in neatly with the ruling party claim that Ethiopia "is not ready for liberal democracy" - at least not any that goes beyond the bounds of theater. It also sounds suspiciously like previous revolutionary democratic rejections of capitalism except for 'crony markets'.

After all, once you get past the fancy terminology like 'neo-liberalism' what is really being discussed is good old fashioned capitalism - which has produced more wealth for more people and that has been the foundation for more free societies than any economic / political system in history.

What Ethiopians have always needed more of is capitalism. They already have the other ingredients for national success - their abundant will, talents and most importantly shares of the very same human mind that was given opportunity to thrive elsewhere that it was denied in Ethiopia.

Let us repeat ... the PM was a supporter of two generations of Marxist-Leninist-Maoist policies - there was no difference in economic and social outlook between the MLLT (Marxist Leninist League of Tigray) and Mengistu until 1990. Before then their argument was over which group of Communists was the most genuine.

Meles touched up Ethiopian economics a bit lately with 'crony market' reforms to fool the imperialist camp of aid donors (it was probably a more efficient way to siphon money from the economy as well). Now he has decided that he has enough wisdom to say that the one economic political system that has actually brought billions of humans to greater peace, freedom and prosperity is no good compared to some great new paradigm of his own invention.

Of course, it is safe to assume that the solution will involve his ongoing rule of the country as well.

This newest essay is not directed at any Ethiopian audience nor to anyone remotely familiar with Ethiopia - even cadres of Meles Inc. are far too addled by storms of lies and beaten by the rocks of reality to take it at all seriously. The audience is foreign aid donors, bureacrats and academics who may have been dismayed by the violent results of a Potemkin democracy over last year and who may yet stand ready to be impressed by one of their still favorite dictators and his oh so cutely irrepressible intellectualism.

This newest intellectual schtick may have abandoned revolutionary catchphrases such as 'revolutionary democracy' and 'la lutta continua' in preference for more acceptable development / progressive catchphrases (and some new ones - aid is now policy rent!?) - but it is just as absurd and just as self justifying (with no welcome and diverting mentions of Tina Turner this time around).

Some folks assume that a concept or idea that is difficult to understand has some intrinsic value.

Exactly the opposite is true. Ever country that has become rich, is well on the way of becoming so, or that is escaping poverty has done so by doing exactly the opposite of what Meles Inc. is doing. This may all be an example of what Bono was talking about when he said of the PM that “[h]e is a regarded macro-economist, believe it or not” - we choose to believe NOT based on all evidence.

Actually, we firmly believe that Meles is intelligent and canny enough to know exactly what needs to be done to make Ethiopian both free and free from want. However, he chooses to do none of it so that he can rule indefinitely, amass wealth, indulge his atavistic ideological and tribal obsessions as well as carry out the attendant compulsion to control every Ethiopian mind everywhere while being celebrated by ferenjis.

Just below is the conclusion of the paper. It will give you a rather clear picture of the dearth of logic that awaits the unaware reader - unless said reader is providing her own laugh track while considering THE NEW PARADIGM
Rebuilding the state as part of the implementation of the democratic developmentalist paradigm must also include launching the state on a trajectory of vibrant and dynamic democracy. Transforming the rent-seeking political economy will eliminate the zero-sum politics associated with it and hence create the basis for sustainable democratization.

Dismantling networks of patronage particularly, in the urban areas, promotion of independent farmers organizations based on production rather than patronage is a key to establish a stable agrarian democracy in Africa.

Rebuilding the legislature, judiciary and executive along democratic lines, inculcating democratic values through civic education and civic engagement via associations of horizontal linkage are also essential elements of transforming and rebuilding the African state.
Huh? What? So that's what Ethiopians should have been doing all along! Hallelujah! Why hasn't anyone thought of this before? Alas, this is not the first time such ideological silliness and meaningless verbiage has been the basis of Ethiopian government. Consider this other strikingly similiar and equally absurd moment of tragi-comedy from 2001 on the subject of REVOLUTIONARY DEMOCRACY
Upholding the principles of revolutionary democracy could be significant in ensuring the independence of the judiciary, strengthening unity and tackling threats posed to the well being of the nation, cadres and members of the Harari national league said.

At the conclusion of a five day discussion held under the title, "the question of democracy in Ethiopia" the participants said on Monday that revolutionary democracy was the only development strategy that could fit for the objective reality in the country.

In the absence of accumulated capital, advanced technology and skilled manpower it would be difficult to adopt the principles of liberal democracy, they said.

The principles of revolutionary democracy could effectively address the basic needs of the Ethiopian people by stumping out the bane of corruption, nepotism and abuse of power, the members said.

They said revolutionary democracy could also encourage the direct participation of the people in the nation building process.

Upholding the principles of equality based on diversity and establishing harmonious relationships among the peoples of Ethiopia were the corner stones to speed up economic development, the members indicated.

They also vowed to fight narrow nationalism, chauvinism and corruption, which they described as the major threat to the whole of the country.
All that is missing from both of the above magical descriptions of the 'new paradigm' and of 'revolutionary democracy' respectively is the ability to remove stubborn grass stains from clothes, to end global warming and to master the space-time continuum.

Of course, like the formula for Coca Cola, the secret formula for the new paradigm and for revolutionary democratic miracles can not be revealed - simple mortals like us can only get to hear about the paradise on earth that is being promised. We just have to trust Meles, that is all - his ways like his logic are mysterious but all will be well in the end if we let him do everything that he wants.

Both those twinned statements certainly read like a parody of bureaucratic language or of a revolutionary movement or like an equally amusing and absurd post-modern analysis of any subject.

Any reader of both ideological catechisms from Meles Inc. rule is being subjected to an attempt to hypnotize her or to just dull the mind with a flurry of words that mean nothing. The effect is to be positively Orwellian. Such absurdity when taken seriously makes all words and the very concept of truth lose meaning.

For example, here are a few more quite specific, non-sensical and self serving gems to justify the bloody status quo.
Democracy in Africa has to be an agrarian one if it is to be stable and capable of evolving into a mature urban based one.
The choice, then is between governments that can achieve some popular legitimacy, whether or not these are multi-party democracies in a Western liberal sense of the term, and the collapse of ordered states into anarchy”.
Very few developmental states have been democratic. In Africa, the external circumstances are such that a developmentalist state will also have to be a democratic one.

African countries are being forced to democratize not only because of the appeal of democracy as a form of governance but also because it has become a condition for getting adequate policy rent.
You see? Democracy only matters as a condition for policy rent. Policy rent was formerly known as foreign aid a.k.a. protection money or ransom for Ethiopians because donors have to beg and threaten the government to treat its own people with even minimal decency.

What is agrarian democracy anyway? Is it something like the current rural system of government in Ethiopia today where brutal Committees for the Defense of the Revolution also known as Kebeles & Rural Associations maintain controls down to the household level on every aspect or peasant life?

Is agrarian democracy something like the even more repressive Gott and Garee System that started 30 years ago by the TPLF in Tigray and has now spread to Oromo regions and beyond? Under Gott and Garee units of just a few households all have spies who report to Kebele authorities.

According to Human Rights Watch "[o]fficials placed in charge of the gott and garee have been implicated in numerous violations of human rights. These include imposing fines and even imprisonment without due process, forced or compulsory labor, and restrictions on the rights to freedom of association, movement and expression."

HRW also notes that the already horrible situation in rural Ethiopia has actually gotten worse in the report Ethiopia: Hidden Crackdown in Rural Areas. The reports says
In the wake of the May 15 [2006] parliamentary elections, in which opposition parties won an unprecedented number of seats amidst massive controversy over the election results, federal police in the Oromia and Amhara regions have threatened, beaten and detained opposition supporters, students and people with no political affiliation, often in nighttime raids.

Alongside local government officials and members of local government-backed militias, the federal police have taken the lead in intimidating and coercing opposition supporters.
That sure does not smell like agrarian democracy to us. Or ... does agrarian democracy have something to do with the fact that Ethiopian grain yields are falling despite massive fertilizer use - only distributed by party / government company stores. Peasants are always in debt and indeed are subject to debt bondage.

Indebtedness is then used as a potent weapon to supress rural dissent in combination with total life insecurity based on the lack of private ownership of land. Negussay Ayele in Norway, Ethiopia and the Yara foundation (PDF file) gets into some of the details of that oppressive and corrupt system.

Having said all of the above, we must wonder at the following, almost Freudian slip into straight analysis.
Establishing such a solid democratic developmentalist base in the rural areas is going to require dismantling patronage networks, promoting the establishment of a dense network of independent farmers organizations and associations based on production and making sure that external assistance supplements the developmental effort of such associations rather than overwhelming them in an environment of patronage.
Kind of makes sense right - but the problem is that patronage networks are what Ethiopian governance is all about! Ethiopian farmers, meaning most Ethiopians are at best sharecroppers and more accurately serfs of the one party state that owns all their land - and far from prying donor eyes can do anything that it wants to them at all. Meles Inc. then goes on to beg for more aid calling upon pity for its principal victims. More silliness follows ...
Democracy in Africa has to be an agrarian one if it is to be stable and capable of evolving into a mature urban based one. Hence the political and economic aspects of the project crucially depend on solid grass-roots base in the rural areas.
If you accept the logic that democracy should start rurally and you notice that there is absolutely none in rural areas then it follows that Ethiopia will never have any form of democracy - or prosperity for that matter.

Understand the Melesian logic here: if 'bad' urban democracy which is only forced on the government because of 'policy rent' is disappointing to government aims, then the emphasis on 'good' and even more non-existent rural democracy provides cover from 'policy renters' who may see bodies fall in Addis Ababa but won't even know how many fall in rural Sidamo or Gondar or Tigray.

Last but not least ... here is another droplet of new paradigm styled wisdom ...
A fundamental transformation and building up of the state is thus bound to be a central tenet of the paradigm.

The state will have to be strengthened primarily by transforming it from the locus of personal wealth accumulation to an effective instrument of restructuring the playing field and enforcing the new rules of productive investment.

That will require a change in outlook and attitude among state personnel, the creation of a new developmental ethics within the state, and the acquisition of the necessary skills to deliver the required service
No, the only way to meet those requirements is a new government - the one elected last year is still available although imprisoned. The current government is by every definition nothing but a "locus of personal wealth accumulation" defended by vicious secret police and murderous gunmen.

Remember, the open espousement of revolutionary democracy nonsense may be over but it is all still very much alive - this whole paper by Meles (or whoever) is just another part of a two decade old effort to fool 'the imperialist camp' (Meles Inc. still mourns for the way the Cold War ended) into funding the purposes of revolutionary democracy.

If all the decades of writing on revolutionary democracy was really just a collection of “Quotes from Chairman Meles” then this new effort at establishing a renaissance of willingness to send money and give unquestioning support to Meles Inc. in the often too willingly gullible donor / bureaucrat / academic mind is really just a better written and edited “Quotes from C.E.O. Meles”. For that matter, perhaps “Little Green Book” (dollar bills green that is) is a more appropriate title.

How much do you want to bet that 'the fundamental shift in paradigm' called for will end up with billions of dollars, euros and yen flowing into Meles Inc.?

This book / monograph may not go double-platinum like Biggie's albums but will definitely continue the tradition of double-lead from AK-47s to make Ethiopians pay a price in blood, sweat and tears. Ethiopian governance meets none of the preconditions for economic growth nor does it meet any preconditions for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as it may be understood anywhere.

This 'new paradigm' is unmistakably an opportunistic evolution of the already opportunistic 'revolutionary democracy' styled for different times, audiences and circumstances. But ... don't take our word for it.

Read our post Revolutionary Democracy for a look at the old version and then read African Development: Dead Ends and New Beginnings (PDF file) for the new and improved version.

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