With­out re­form Ethiopia risks a deep­en­ing cri­sis

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

Faced with its most se­ri­ous chal­lenge yet, the Ethiopian regime, a cru­cial Western ally in the fight against ter­ror­ism, risks a deep­en­ing cri­sis if promised re­forms do not come, re­searchers and an­a­lysts warn. A na­tion­wide state of emer­gency since Oc­to­ber 9 com­bined with the mass ar­rest of more than 2,500 peo­ple has sup­pressed months of wide­spread and some­times deadly anti-govern­ment protests. Mo­bile in­ter­net and the so­cial net­works used to mo­bi­lize protesters have also been blocked as the govern­ment seeks a de­ci­sive end to the un­rest. “Vi­o­lence has-been con­trolled,” govern­ment spokesman Ge­tachew Reda said last week. “What we have is a more or less sta­ble sit­u­a­tion.”

The chal­lenge to the govern­ment has been strong­est in the Oromo and Amhara re­gion­swhich to­gether ac­count for over 60 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion-and these ar­eas are now in a siege­like state. “The govern­ment wants to show its strength. The state of emer­gency has a psy­cho­log­i­cal im­pact by in­creas­ing the feel­ing of fear and in­se­cu­rity among the pop­u­la­tion,” said Rene Le­fort, an in­de­pen­dent Horn of Africa re­searcher.

Too lit­tle change, too slow

But force alone will not solve the un­der­ly­ing prob­lems and Le­fort said he is “skep­ti­cal about the abil­ity and will­ing­ness of the regime to open up” rais­ing fears that in the ab­sence of con­ces­sions to the protesters, the sit­u­a­tion will worsen.

Prime Min­is­ter Haile­mariam De­salegn has of­fered to re­form the win­ner-takes-all elec­toral sys­tem which has al­lowed his rul­ing Ethiopian Peo­ple’s Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Demo­cratic Front (EPRDF) coali­tion to win ev­ery seat in par­lia­ment in the 2015 poll. But even if re­forms come, they will not take ef­fect un­til the next elec­tion due in 2020, while a pro­posed govern­ment reshuf­fle has yet to be car­ried out.

Jean-Ni­co­las Bach, an Ethiopia spe­cial­ist and di­rec­tor of Sudan’s Cen­tre for So­cial, Le­gal and Eco­nomic Stud­ies and Doc­u­men­ta­tion (CEDEJKhar­toum) said the EPRDF is com­mit­ted to its own con­ti­nu­ity and may not be ca­pa­ble of ad­e­quate change, cit­ing its “hege­monic am­bi­tions and au­thor­i­tar­ian mode of govern­ment”. “The goals of the EPRDF have al­ways been clear: main­tain power to take the coun­try on the path of devel­op­ment. As for democ­racy, it will come when it comes,” Bach said.

The regime, led by for­mer rebel com­man­der and strong­man Me­les Ze­nawi from 1991 un­til his death in 2012, is cred­ited with real eco­nomic progress that saw a decade of around 10 per­cent an­nual growth while in­fant mor­tal­ity and mal­nu­tri­tion was halved over the same pe­riod, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures from the World Bank.

But devel­op­ment has been ac­com­pa­nied by a squeez­ing of po­lit­i­cal space, dis­re­gard for hu­man rights and a grow­ing out­cry at al­leged govern­ment cor­rup­tion.

“We need to change the rules that give im­punity to lo­cal of­fi­cials and bet­ter checks on of­fi­cials,” said Daniel Ber­hane, founder and editor of Horn Af­fairs, an on­line mag­a­zine. He sug­gested that ev­ery “ke­bele”, or neigh­bor­hood, hold meet­ings “to gather pub­lic griev­ances” at the grass­roots level which can be re­layed to cen­tral govern­ment “with­out any edit­ing”. Ber­hane said the EPRDF’s to­tal vic­tory in the May 2015 elec­tion left some feel­ing “dis­en­fran­chised”, es­pe­cially in parts of the north­ern Amhara re­gion and cen­tral-western Oromo re­gion where the op­po­si­tion had hoped to win seats and some power. “Not sur­pris­ingly, these two ar­eas are the epi­cen­tres of the protests,” he said.

For­eign in­vestors de­terred

The bru­tal re­pres­sion of the protest move­ment-hu­man rights or­ga­ni­za­tions say sev­eral hun­dred have been killed by se­cu­rity forcescom­bined with lack of any po­lit­i­cal change trig­gered an ex­plo­sion of vi­o­lence in re­cent weeks, se­ri­ously un­der­min­ing Ethiopia’s rep­u­ta­tion as a sta­ble coun­try.

The im­age of for­eign farms and busi­ness go­ing up in flames af­ter be­ing set alight by protesters has put off in­vestors. “The protests have sig­nif­i­cantly un­der­mined the rul­ing coali­tion and genuine sta­bil­ity will take years to re­cover,” said Emma Gor­don, an an­a­lyst at Maple­croft Verisk, a risk man­age­ment firm. “Un­til then, fur­ther di­vest­ments, par­tic­u­larly by Western agribusi­ness firms, are likely to be an­nounced.” The most likely sce­nario, said Gor­don, is a con­tin­u­ing weak but per­sis­tent chal­lenge to govern­ment author­ity be­cause, the “pro­posed re­forms are un­likely to fully sat­isfy” op­po­nents.

Protesters want “more sweep­ing con­ces­sions” to re­duce the dom­i­nance of the mi­nor­ity Tigrayan lead­ers in the EPRDF and for se­cu­rity forces to be reined in, but none of this is on the ta­ble mean­ing, Gor­don said, an­other erup­tion of protests is likely, “in re­la­tion to mil­i­tary de­ploy­ments or ev­i­dence of con­tin­ued re­stric­tions on the po­lit­i­cal op­po­si­tion.” — AFP

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.