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It’s the governance, stupid!

By Yohannes Berhe
May 6, 2015

“It’s the economy, stupid”. It is phrase coined by James Carville, the campaign strategist of Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential campaign against sitting President George H. W. Bush. It has become part of the political parlance often used to emphasize the centrality of the economy. Since then the phrase has been used with a different word in place of economy; ergo, the title of my commentary.

The headline says it all: “Yemen migrant boat carrying Ethiopians sinks killing 70 – BBC News; Ethiopians badly burned in South Africa anti-foreigner violence-AFP; ISIL claims massacre of Ethiopian Christians in Libya – Al Jazeera “.

It is a never-ending cycle of misery. A heartbreakingly painful reminder for anyone with the slightest shred of humanity left.

What compels someone to want to descend into a chaotic land and risk terrible condition for a glimpse into uncharted future?

To be sure the migrant, or refuge are not exclusively from Ethiopia or sub-Saharan Africa for that matter. The seemingly sudden explosion of violence across the Middle East, carelessly, but conveniently attributed to the rising tide of radical Islam has created a humanitarian crises whose ramification we can’t even begin to fathom. Pressed by imminent danger due incessant factional fighting and by the impact of ill conceived response of Western Nations, cowardly resorting to air power and disproportionately affecting helpless civilians, many from Syria, Iraq and other trouble spots in the Middle East, have been forced to take to the sea, inevitably swelling the number victims.

But, what one to make of the ever-increasing flood people leaving Ethiopia? Sure, the regime has a deplorable human right record and many who are active in the political arena or involved in any act the regime deems to be subversive have been forced to flee the country to avoid an impending arrest and torture. But, here, we are talking about a mass exodus of ordinary people who seem to have lost any hope to make even a meagre living that they are willing to try anything short of outright suicide. Despite the countries’ tragic history, we have never seen anything of this magnitude before.

We have been told ad nauseam how fast the Ethiopian economy is growing and how the country is fast becoming a middle-income nation. I am not an economist by training, but I don’t think it takes one to see the delusional fantasies of this assertion. For a country that is chronically dependent on foreign aid to feed itself, and supplement its national budget, this kind of outlandish statement cannot be seen as nothing more than a cynical ploy to mislead and divert attention from growing discontent within the country.

One has to consider various and distinct reason to come up with an overall pictures that correspondence to the specific condition within a country. Yet, despite the great diversity of existing economic and social settings, there are a few general lessons, at least at the macro-level, for successful sustainable development that can be drawn.

There is an overwhelming consensus that good governance is not only an essential and a necessary condition for a sustainable development, but it helps to empower citizens, hence facilitate a stable socio-political environment. On the opposite side of the argument, poor governance generates a social environment detrimental to development. In such environment foreign aid, whatever the amount or intention, has little effect. In fact, it can be even be harmful and prolong the undesirable state of affair.

Dambisa Moyo, a well known economics and one of the most articulate critique of aid to Africa, makes a startling assertion that over the past 60 years at least $1 trillion in aid was sent to Africa and yet real per-capita income today is lower than it was in the 1970s. The central point of her argument is that aid is easy money. If governments had to rely upon private financial markets they would become accountable to lenders, and if they had to rely upon taxation they would become accountable to voters.

What sustains the current regime in Ethiopia is exactly this condition, a dependency from foreign aid. What is more, the nation’s economy is dominated by insatiable rent-seeking enterprises that are stifling the economy and thwarting the future of the country. Currently just two entities, the Endowment Fund for The Rehabilitation of Tigrai (EFFORT) and Mohamed International Development Research Organization Companies (MIDROC) control virtually all sector of the economy. They have a monopoly on the private sector of the nation’s economy, the extent of which never seen anywhere in the African continent. That said, the rampant corruption and incompetence has made these companies a burden to the National Treasure. If it weren’t for the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) constantly injecting funds at the urging of donor’s nations, the country would have been unable to hold sufficient amount of foreign reserve, let alone sustain continuous growth. Any improvement in the people’s quality of life has to begin and be maintained “at home”. Of course, a favorable economic environment and fair conditions of competition and trade will make a country’s efforts to that end easier, but “outside” players can only support and facilitate sustainable development – they cannot replace a country’s own endeavors.

As long as the foreign aid is flowing the regime has no incentive to enter into social contract. In fact based on past behaviour of donor nations, the EPRDF regime continues to assume that the aid would keep flowing more or less regardless of what it did. Of course there is also the utterly misguide and counterproductive policy of supporting brutal regime in the name of fighting terrorism which to some extent correlate to the overall aid agenda.

The UN Commission on Human Rights, in its resolution 2000/64, identified five key attributes of good governance:

Responsiveness (to the needs of the people)

Not so long ago, countries such as Syria, Libya, or even Iraq were considered middle income or soon to be middle-income nations. But, where are they now? My point, it is not to say that we have to defer all development activates until we setup the governance structure. Instead, the lesson one should take from these “failed” states is investing in physical infrastructure without the corresponding governance that is truly transparent, effective and accountable is tantamount to gambling a country’s future. Good governance and a sustainable development are mutually reinforcing. Where good governance has been lacking progress – be it economic, social or political – has not taken place. On the contrary, in most cases stagnation at an already low level or even reversals has been the result as we have seen even in resource rich countries.

Moreover, similar to many other developing countries, Ethiopia is experiencing an explosive mix of high population growth, leading to “youth bulge”, urbanization, and jobless growth and inevitably to what sociologist call “the restless generation”. It is daunting challenge even for a well-managed nation, let alone for an inept and incompetent regime currently ransacking Ethiopia.

In light of this, it is deeply worrisome to contemplate the future of Ethiopia. The ill-advised development endeavours of TPLF regime are “destroying the lives, culture, traditions, and livelihoods” of many indigenous and pastoralist populations. It is unsustainable strategy; a fertile breeding ground for conflict. The longer the EPRDF regime stays in power the more likely the problem will push the country to the brink of disaster. With more than ninety million people, comprising a multitude of religious and ethnic group with competing interest, it is impossible to underestimate the catastrophic impact of a civil strife in Ethiopia. The whole region will be turned into an inferno leading to a mammoth humanitarian crisis that the world has never seen before.

As to the immediate concern, as long as the political space continues to narrow, the number of migrants or refugees– a superfluous distinction as far as I am concerned- will only increase.

If one has nothing to hope, he or she will also have nothing left to fear.

These young men and women, who choose to leave their home, might be ill informed, or even naïve in their expectation of what lies ahead in their journey, but they are nonetheless a daring soul. They embody the increasingly rare qualities of strength, courage and determination to pursue their dreams. It is pointless to question their motives; the issue is not whether they are pursuing freedom from want or freedom from fear, for one doesn’t exist without the other. What matter most is the pursuit of happiness and freedom. And, despite the peril and sacrifice some people have the audacity, the fire in the belly, so to speak, to just do that.

The writer, Yohannes Berhe, lives in Ottawa, Canada. He can be reached

Source : Ethiomedia



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