NEVIS Review Series No 2
Section I, (B)
Ref # 2.1.(B)
October 15, 2012
Ref # 2.1.(B)
October 15, 2012
ETHIOPIA: HAILEMARIAM'S RISE TO POWER: BY ACCIDENT OR DESIGN?
By Berihu Assefa
In this article, I attempt to answer two related questions regarding Ethiopia’s first orderly and peaceful leadership transition following the sudden and untimely death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. Firstly, I attempt to explore how the orderly and peaceful leadership succession came to happen; and its significance in the Ethiopian political economy. Secondly, I examine how Hailemariam’s installment as Prime Minister is related to Ethiopia’s grand development plan. I approach these questions from the perspective of Ethiopia’s vision, development and governance model.
The late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi envisioned not only Ethiopia’s development and governance model but also the kind of leadership required to execute the charted policies astutely and deliver superior results. It does not take Sherlock Holmes to unravel that one of Meles’ 'last wills' had been to clearly instruct key EPRDF officials to maintain and execute the development model he charted for Ethiopia, which includes installing Hailemariam, a technocrat, in his place. There are good indicators that Hailemariam Desalegn was named the new Prime Minister of Ethiopia with a clear instruction from Meles. One such indicator is that Hailemariam was announced as Meles' successor soon after the state media broadcasted news of the passing of Meles Zenawi in August though Hailemariam’s official sworn in took place in September after an extraordinary parliamentary session was summoned. The selection process that took place in the EPRDF congress later in September was simply to formalize Hailemariam's ascendancy. The rise of Hailemariam to power indicates a shift of power from career politicians to career technocrats. For this and other reasons I will discuss in subsequent paragraphs, I consider the transfer of power from career politicians to career technocrats as one of the main legacies of the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.
Hailemariam rose to the highest power in the country in an orderly and peaceful manner. What does this signify; and is it designedly related to Ethiopia’s overall development plan? I have read a couple of write-ups on this issue both by international and domestic political pundits. While some consider Hailemariam's rise as a historic political event that shows a shift of power from the long-time power occupier highlanders to the low-landers or a shift in power from traditional orthodoxy to unorthodoxy power occupiers; others adamantly oppose this view saying the rise of Hailemariam is simply part of a gesture by TPLF to deceptively send a message that other ethnic groups can assume power. On the other hand, others attempted to give it a religious and minority rights context. Well, most of these interpretations are understandable and do not necessarily lack a grain of truth but I do not think the religious, ethnic and geography dimensions of Hailemariam's ascendancy to power are profound changes. Particularly, this single incident cannot be a yardstick to make sweeping statements regarding minority rights, political inclusiveness, religious equality or democratic culture.
In my view, the most profound and visible change is a leadership transition from career politicians to career technocrats. Meles was a career politician. So are his vanguard comrades. Meles became a politician at the age of 19. Throughout the 1990s, Ethiopia lacked policy clarity and autonomy. Consequently, Ethiopia did virtually nothing economically in the 1990s. The 1990s was almost a lost decade for Ethiopia (and so was the 1980s by the way). The late Meles Zenawi in his keynote speech for the Africa Task Force which was chaired by Joseph Stiglitz in Brooks World Poverty Institute (UK) said: "While I cannot say that we had an alternative to the neoliberal reforms that the IMF and World Bank wanted us to introduce, we have never been comfortable with it from the very beginning." As Meles’ intellectual rigor grew by the day, he started to question the "one size fits all development model" laid out by the Western institutions based on the principles of the Washington consensus. At that time, the East Asian development experience as an alternative path to development was a hot talking point but it was not as dominant as the neoliberal model. In fact, for quite a long time, the East Asian development model was rather treated as an exception within the framework of the dominant view, neoliberalism. However, over time, the East Asian countries following the footsteps of Japan (the leading goose) converted themselves from ashes to riches. This extraordinary performance started to speak for itself and attracted the attention of scholars and leaders worldwide; and, hence, the East Asian development model emerged as an alternative path to development.
By the beginning of the 2000s, Ethiopia officially rejected the Washington Consensus and embraced a reconfigured version of the East Asian development model. Meles who authored this paradigm shift preferred to call Ethiopia’s reconfigured version of the East Asian model as democratic developmentalism (DD). Confidently, in domestic and international podiums, Meles started to publicly express his disapproval of the neoliberal model and argued that a reconfigured version of the East Asian development model was relevant for Africa. The basic principle of the East Asian development model, a model that made the East Asians prosperous in just less than 50 years, is that the state and the market complement one another and provide an excellent joint outcome.
One of the main features of the East Asian model is technocracy. During Asia’s miraculous periods, the East Asian Tigers were ruled and managed by technocrats who were mostly engineers by profession. When Meles emulated the East Asian model, he knew from his East Asian reading that technocracy in leadership and bureaucracy was indispensable. It was in this spirit that he himself started to appear more like a technocrat than a career politician; and started to bring in more technocrats into government leadership and bureaucracy at all levels starting from lower level administrative units, i.e., Kebeles and Weredas, to highest government posts. However, this was by no means adequate and above all the task of filling government leadership and bureaucracy with technocrats is not a piece of cake when you have entrenched career politicians who would never want to see a technocrat around them.
The rise of the current Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Hailemariam Desalegn, is part of this grand plan. Following the East Asian experience, Meles wanted Ethiopian technocrats to take over major leadership positions, including his place. The rationale behind this is pretty obvious: if the state is to assume active role in the economy, it must deliver not just mediocre results, but results that match the superior East Asian performance. And the state can deliver impressive results when it is led by technocrats than when it is led by career politicians. We do not have to go to East Asia to verify this. We have seen how technocrats deliver here at home from Dr. Tewodros Adhanom’s extraordinary performance in the health sector.
However, it must also be noted that there is a dark side to the East Asian technocracy experience. It was authoritarian developmentalism (AD). The prime and undistracted goal for the East Asian authoritarian technocratic leaders was economic development. Then economic development, which can be expressed as the rise of middle class society, leads to democratization. The direction of causation in the East Asian AD model ran from economic reforms to political democratization.
While learning from policy successes of others is quite essential and wise, one cannot copy a foreign (and past) model as it is. Foreign economic or social models need to be adapted to fit local realities and modern times. Cognizant of this, Meles developed the democratic developmentalism (DD), a highly reconfigured version of the East Asian AD model. In today’s YouTube and Facebook world, let alone totalitarianism, mediocre democratic outcomes are totally frowned. Then the question is: is Meles’ DD model really democratic? Well, this is debatable. But at least one thing is clear: while Meles’ legacy of impressive economic results: robust economic growth in the past decade, social development (education and health) and extreme poverty reduction by about a third are uncontested (or at least less contested); his records on democratic reforms tend to be mixed. However, despite his mixed record on the first D of Meles' DD model, he still deserves tribute for carving the new DD model for Ethiopia which the current new generation of leadership must extend and do better on both Ds.
For the 1960s and 1970s East Asian technocrat leaders, the prime goal was only economic development. The AD model was normal back then because domestic and international conditions were less pressing and restrictive; but it is less so now. Thus, the new Ethiopian Prime Minister must voraciously embark not only on economic development but also on democratic reforms. It must be noted that the model Meles charted for Ethiopia is DD, not AD. And the DD must live up to its name. We have been the poster child of Africa for long. Ethiopia is trying hard to dispel this bad image. Ethiopian We can no more afford to have other bad images. However, in the last few years, Ethiopia drafted some draconian laws that could undermine its democratic reforms and tarnish its image in the areas of freedom of speech and press. I do not think Ethiopia can afford to be the repression face of Africa. Our laws and culture must tolerate dissents. Dissent should never be equated with anti-peace. More importantly, draconian laws interfere not only with human and democratic rights, but also with business and investment opportunities. There is no doubt that democracy is a process; but a process means that we have to witness incremental changes every time. However small the changes may be, Ethiopia must move forward, not backward.
As an anecdote whether it is possible to deliver both development and democratic outcomes at the same time, I would give this example. The founding fathers of the U.S. were technocrats. They were able to deliver satisfactory democratic and development outcomes over an extended period. Of course, today’s developing countries including Ethiopia should not take 200 years to develop and democratize because they can easily learn from policy successes of others and chart a much shorter paths to development and democracy concurrently.
In a nutshell, I would say Ethiopia’s first orderly and peaceful leadership transition is a major political progress. To a rounding error, this orderly and peaceful leadership transition could be viewed as a harbinger of political maturity and groundwork towards a ballot system. I believe Ethiopians must welcome it in this context. In this article, I have tried to show that Hailemariam’s rise to the Premiership position has been Meles’ plan and instruction; and this has something to do with Ethiopia’s development model. Ethiopia’s DD model aims to register high and speedy economic growth and steady incremental democratic reforms. To robustly achieve this, Meles wanted a technocrat successor to commendably implement his East Asian inspired policies. But then installing Hailemariam as Prime Minister would mean taking power from the hands of career politicians to technocrats. Given that most of EPRDF officials are career politicians, it might not have been easy for Meles to convince his comrades about the idea of shifting power from career politicians to career technocrats. Potential concerted resistance from career politicians might have been neutralized by Meles’ persuasion power and influence, and Hailemariam’s commanding personality. It must be clear that Hailemariam Desalegn has been involved in detailing Ethiopia’s vision and economic policies and, hence, has arguably a better understanding of Ethiopia’s policies and strategies though he does not have a thick resume when it comes to foreign policy issues. Finally, I wish PM Hailemariam to have productive leadership years.
(Ed's not BerihuAssefa is a PhD candidate in Development Economics in GRIPS, Tokyo