By Obadiah Mailafia- vanguardngr – TODAY concludes the article we began last week on the recent failed Ethiopian military putsch. Earlier we explained how the tradition of authoritarianism, despite the return to parliamentary democracy, has remained deeply rooted in the political culture and collective mindset of Ethiopia’s rulers.
I also argued that the political reforms that began in 1994 brought with them a form of “ethnic federalism” that has reinforced the centrifugal forces that threaten the very existence of its nationhood
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, a young statesman aged 42, dazzled the world with his whirlwind political reforms since coming to power in April 2018. He not only ended the 20-year border conflict with Eritrea, he also relaxed the repressive measures against opposition groups while releasing political prisoners from detention. He has also opened up the economy to foreign investors. The recent turn of events shows perhaps the limits of what reform can achieve in Ethiopia’s path-dependent political economy. Empirical evidence in political science shows that the most dangerous time for a reforming statesman is not when society is at point zero but when, ironically, things are looking up. Implementing reforms when things are getting better is like opening the lid on a pressure cooker.
I have always been fascinated by Ethiopian history and civilisation; impressed by medieval thinkers such as Zera Yacob and Walda Heywat. I am awed by illustrious monarchs such as Menelik II, Tewodros and Haile Selassie, all of them claiming descent from King Solomon and Makeda, the Queen of Sheba. I am often entranced by the liturgy of the Orthodox Towahedo Church conducted in the ancient and rather mysterious Ge’ez language; by the spirituality of its mystics and saints. I adore the stone-hewn monasteries of Lalibela and the ancient obelisks of Axum and Gondar. I love the exuberant wildernesses of Wollo and Harar and the island monasteries of Lake Tana, where the monks are praying earnestly for Menelik to return. Ethiopians are quick to remind everyone that they have never ever been colonised. The Holy Qur’an enjoins the faithful to “leave Ethiopia alone”. The world can learn a lot from the harmony that has existed between Christians and Muslims throughout Ethiopia’s illustrious country. We in Nigeria have a long way to go by comparison. Ethiopia has made impressive strides in economic development, with a growth rate of 8.5% last year – the highest on the continent. It is not only self-sufficient in electricity generation, it exports some of its 17,000 MW capacity to neighbouring countries. The Chinese recently completed the 759 km ultra-modern Addis-Djibouti railway that gives the country access to the sea. The US$4 billion project has been a rather heavy burden on state coffers. Each time I revisit Addis Ababa, I am always struck by the spectacle of glistening new skyscrapers, factories and hotels. This is not, of course, to downplay the grim realities of poverty and underdevelopment. Ethiopia remains one of the poorest countries in the world.
Ethiopia hosts the secretariat of the African Union. Addis Ababa, to all intents and purposes, will remain the political capital of our glorious continent for the foreseeable future. Ethiopia under Emperor Haile Selassie was a champion of African liberation. His famous speech at the League of Nations in 1931 when Italy’s Mussolini invaded his country will remain a milestone in African international diplomacy: “Apart from the Kingdom of the Lord there is not on this earth any nation that is superior to any other. Should it happen that a strong Government finds it may with impunity destroy a weak people, then the hour strikes for that weak people to appeal to the League of Nations to give its judgement in all freedom. God and history will remember your judgment.” The Emperor hosted several liberation movements while providing funding as well as logistical support. The young Nelson Mandela fled there while he was on the run from his country’s Apartheid tormentors. Mandela was briefly enrolled in Ethiopia’s national military academy where he was taught the art and science of warfare and of military leadership. Ethiopians are characteristically a very dignified people. Their orthodox faith imbues in them a deep sense of discipline and ethical behaviour. There are several examples of Nigerian tycoons that have hired their accountants and financial managers from Ethiopia. Of recent, Ethiopia has taken the leader in brokering the peace process in the Sudan as well as in South Sudan. The Somalis, on the other hand, remain very dubious of Ethiopia’s role because Ethiopia itself has always been wary of the potential irredentism that is inherent among the substantial number of Somali Ethiopians. We in Nigeria may be richer than them by far, but Ethiopians remain our elder brothers in culture, civilisation and in the art of command and leadership. The latent political tensions that have bedevilled Ethiopia of late derive from new forms of ethnic and regional identity politics and what one observer describes as “conflicting perceptions of nationalism and belonging — with multiple utopias, desires, belongings and identifications”. Its prospects in the coming years will depend on how its leaders confront these challenges. Prime Minister Abiy and his colleagues will need all the wisdom and courage they can muster in the arduous task of rebuilding Ethiopia and reinventing their country as a prosperous democracy in the years ahead. To echo the nineteenth century French political thinker, Alexis de Tocqueville, nothing could be more arduous than freedom’s apprenticeship. While despotism promises easy solutions and quick fixes: “Liberty, on the contrary, is generally established with difficulty in the midst of storms”. Related