Ethiopian economy appeared a very lucrative area for TPLF to mend legitimacy crisis so much so that legitimizing propaganda name is coined – ‘Mengistachin‘– literally “our government.” Backed by extensive propaganda, TPLF leadership projected itself as a champion of “development” and embarked on numerous projects many of which are in the areas of infrastructure building and in programs related to social program. In fact, much of it came after TPLF was rejected in election which turned out to be “loser take all” affair.
Intention was to create popular perception that TPLF (EPRDF) government is not a natural enemy to Ethiopia and belongs to Ethiopians. And the motto is “our enemy is poverty.” Despite state media monopoly,existence of numerous government affiliated media outlets and attack on the free press, the outcome of the propaganda campaign is meager.
In fact, TPLF is exceptionally advantageous as far as fiscal resource is concerned if the intention was really to embark on development programs. Earnings from remittance from Ethiopians in the diaspora is estimated to be between $2 to $3 billion dollars annually. Besides, TPLF government is one of the most favored,obviously not on grounds of ideological commitment to the values that the west boasts about, in the west and happened to be one of the leading recipients of aid in the world. A combination of donations(from state and non-state actors) and loans made an estimated $3-$4billion dollars available for the government for more than ten years. No Ethiopian government before TPLF enjoyed such a huge,by the standard of the country and in fact by the standard of any other “developing” country, financial resources.
What is the return of “development” program like? Well, numbers in the global financial institutions look good and attest that Ethiopia demonstrated economic growth. Problem is not only that these data do not show the disparity and inequity within the country but also they do not show that a big chuck of the financial resources is stashed to the coffers of TPLF affiliated institutions and even persons. How else could one explain unprecedented wealth (the business empire of the TPLF party itself, without counting millionaires families related to TPLF, is estimated to be worth at least $5 billion) while millions are pushed to the point of struggle just to secure a meal a day and many do not make it. Yes, as part of its strategy, TPLF is believed to have facilitated emergence of few millionaires from Oromo and Amharic speaking parts of Ethiopia in order to create the impression that “everyone” is benefiting from the “development” project – this is in fact much worse narrative than “anyone can make it in the US.” Political play out in a huge. Yes, TPLF is in a position to dictate who gets what. That is the reality. There are those who are sent to prison for trumped up charges. And there is a narrative of shoe polisher becoming a millionaire in “new Ethiopia”
From policy trajectory, economic policies does not seem to have long term objective and the interest of Ethiopia at heart. Land policy is a very good example. Apart from displacing thousands and thousands of subsistence farmers from their small land holdings so as to make way for foreign investors in agriculture in the south and south west Ethiopia,a considerable part of the country with mineral resources is sold out to investors and it does not seem to be the case that Ethiopians do have a reasonable share, the way other countries practice in Africa at least, in such an investment. The agricultural investment by foreigners is obviously not expected to contribute for food security in the country as these investors are looking at supplying their produce to the world market at a competitive price. Based on reports from state media itself, this year alone over 2.3 million hectares of land is sold to “investors”
Despite infrastructure, which many seem to point to in reference to “Ethiopia is growing and changed” narrative,economic policy and the rhetoric of “development” is utter failure as far as the lives of millions of Ethiopians is concerned.What more story could tell you the level of desperation in Ethiopia than when a potentially productive section of the population hopelessness about their country and opt for risking their lives in an attempt to avoid economic desperation in the country.
Is more repression an option
How did the regime managed to sustain power for well over two decades with the kind of legitimacy crisis it is facing? Recurrent resort to violence and widespread repressions at home coupled with political developments in the Horn of Africa, which,among other things, brought about expediency on the part of major actors in the west to unreservedly provide financial and other forms of support,enabled TPLF (EPRDF) to sustain its power.
Time is changed and the level of repression seem to have reached a point of total fragility. TPLF sees threat in everything and has entirely lost its senses to the extent that it has no idea as to what is not a threat and what is a threat. The level of repression is fundamentally dehumanizing Ethiopians. Attack on freedom of expression and creating an environment of fear in itself is dehumanizing. Yet, TPLF does worse than that. Recently, professor Mesfin Woldemariam revealed the condition of girls in prison in his blog. There seem to have been a practice of humiliating female inmates by forcing them to nudity and do all sorts of exercise as part of “investigation.” Apparently, many were silent about this excruciatingly inhuman treatment until members of zone9bloggers exposed the matter. My guess is, it is not that TPLF is not aware that such practices will ultimately be exposed. Perhaps they did it in a way to leak to the public in a deliberate move to make activism appear dangerous in an unbearable way.
Out side prison, TPLF has always away to try to humiliate Ethiopians and break their spirit. Just consider what happened last month in Addis Ababa. When nine former TPLF guerrilla musical band members lost their lives in a car accident somewhere between Raya and Mekelle, it was like the nation was about to come to a standstill and mourn those TPLF people. Regional states had to live mourning. Similarly, When Zenawi passed away, TPLF orchestrated nationwide mourning in a very political way and people were in fact encouraged to take to the street. When Ethiopia is shocked with news of beheading of Ethiopian Christians in Libya, and when Ethiopians took to Mesqel square to mourn them, TPLF saw a political threat in the public mourning and had to disperse the crowed in a very dehumanizing way. Many were brutally attacked and no one knows the exact numbers of arrests or if there was even death. Video released by Euronews (it is shared on borkena) suggest something serious has happened. Ethiopians do not have a right to be angry about government when things go so bad fundamentally because of same government. Dehumanizing is understatement. More problematic is that there is a clear move on the part of TPLF to make Ethiopians develop intimidated spirit and those on the side of TPLF are inculcated to “intimidating.” The reality is that even with their guns and military power, they are despised as mercenaries with a history of betrayal to Ethiopia – the very fact they found it difficult to garner legitimacy from Ethioians.
Besides after 25 years in power during which millions of Ethiopians have humiliating experience and hopelessness , TPLF could not get it that the idea of seeking change for Ethiopians is not a matter of choice. It is a matter of survival. And that is why repression is not an option.
The events that unfolded in South Africa, Libya and Yemen, among others – alarmed Ethiopians that escaping the brutes of TPLF and desperation at home by way of living the country at home is no longer tenable. Unlike the past, there is no ideological value on refugees and most countries in Europe are struggling under anti-immigrant sentiment. And the kind of refugees Europeans need is changed. Mass migration, only to meet death in many instances, is not a solution and many get that reality. As well, Ethiopians, as dignified people for whose freedom millions paid in life for generations, get that they deserve dignity and life in their own country, and that Ethiopia belongs to them.
what is next?
As things stand now, it is evident that peaceful struggle at home is crippled by outright and “legal” repressions to the point that the regime is ever more blatant in telling, through repressive actions, that, a meaningful peaceful political activism could not be tolerated irrespective of the political cost it entails.
Externally, backers of the regime are in dilemma. Erstwhile ideological patrons and financial backers of TPLF in the west seem to be very clear that the ideological, at least on a rhetorical basis, cost of supporting (and keeping ) the regime in power has become a liability although it is very imaginable that it is a kind of government they like for reasons that they like some other authoritarian client regimes ; that it could be easily mobilized (with carrots) for what they want to do in East Africa and obviously it is not a nationalist – and has helped entrench their cultural interest for which the west will not hesitate to pay anything. One could simply see how the pattern in the entertainment industry is changed – and it is an industry with tremendous influence (potentially) over the most productive section of the population – the youth.
Possibly, at this point the west seem to be only tolerant of the regime in power in order not to push it in search of alliance with other powers which makes sense given China’s strong economic presence in the country and rivalry for alliance formation at the world stage.
What looks like blurry omens that the West particularly the US does seem to be engaged in engineering a political force that will not be ideological liability with a conviction for ideals of “freedom and democracy” is still illusive to understand. The west does seem to have some possible reservation about the potentially nationalistic nature of an entity that could be alternative to TPLF. Yet, it hard to understand how they fail to understand that such a force is much better to than TPLF not only from the point of view of ideological liability but also from the point of view of its capacity to engage the youth in urban center which is what seem to be in the interest of the west.
In any case, with the level of repression in Ethiopia change is inevitable. And the major agents of change are the Ethiopian youth who should no longer have to trek a dangerous route in search of “better life” only to end up in tragic death. It seems to me clear that, since TPLF has made peaceful change impossible, the youth would opt for dying in their own country for a cause that can fundamentally change the source of desperation in Ethiopia.
In is in that light that I dare to say latest legitimacy crisis does seem to be the harbinger of the real end of TPLF. The first order of things in this what appears to be the end of TPLF is to come up with a strategy not to make it possible for TPLF to drag the country to chaos along potential conflict which TPLF was exploiting for years now.
The writer could be reached on twitter @dimetros
e-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org