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Opinion: Demystifying the bold-move by the Oromia Regional State leadership vis a vis Ethiopia’s quest for a better tomorrow


Daniel Behailu (PhD), for Addis Standard

Addis Abeba, January 31/2018 – Ethiopia is in a chaotic state of facts for the last five years and in the last three years the chaos has grown into a different phase. There have been persistent resistance mainly in Oromia and Amhara and southern nations nationalities and people’s regional states against state led rights abuse, corruption and mal-administration. In some areas, protesters were openly chanting slogans such as ‘yemengist leboch’ (government thieves).  There was no mistaking that the prime target of these protests is the ruling party, EPRDF [1].  throughout this, the party’s way of dealing with the crisis was mainly via leadership reshuffling, which it thinks would either confuse or diffuse the push for real change, accountability, rule of law and good governance.

All in all, the movement has created a leadership turmoil and shakeups that EPRDF has never witnessed hitherto. Yet again, the protests have also created a leadership circle that seemed to have understood the magnitude of the crisis and try to face it head on.  In Oromia, young and vibrate leaders have come to the fore front. Initially, President Lemma Megerssa (Pictured), and his team have been received with mixed feelings, but as days and months go by the doubt and mistrust seem to be losing momentum and popular confidence is building with Ethiopians openly expressing the ability and stature of Lemma Megerssa and his team. He has demonstrated up until now that he has what it takes to understand the magnitude of the crisis and tried to come up with negotiated settlements. He has taken public stand on the need to  deal with corrupt and inefficient leaders, contraband dealers and respect for rule of law by the mighty power wielders of Ethiopian politics.

However, the federal government seem to have been threatened;  at the same time ‘inside network’[2] groups taking the cover of the federal government and security forces keep wrecking havoc in the regions where the leaders are winning popular support.

Now the issue is, where is this move taking the nation to? Is there a need to worry on the part of the federal government? Should it take this opportunity and weed out the ‘inside network’ circle and work in collaboration with the regions to discharge the responsibility of the federal power? And, to what extent the regions also push the federal government and claim their sovereignty as per the constitutional boundaries? Could this be a hope or a despair? Will there be a politics of compromise or the historic course of politics of mutual destruction and hatred? In what is to follow, we will walk through these issues and debate the matter. The writing is simply intended to initiate a debate and bring out the issues for discussion and deliberation.

Federalism and Party Centralism in Ethiopia

Genuine federalism is a system where two tier of government coexist and cooperate by rule of law; what is commonly known us as constitutional rule.  Democracy is a sine qua non (indispensable and essential action) for federalism. The simple formula is: No democracy, no federalism. If federalism is a cooperation than a confrontation for the two tier of government, the rules of engagement has to be quite transparent, accountable and implemented among equals. The federal and the regional governments are equal, one must not be subordinate to the other. If the relations and the quality of the relations are strained, federalism creates more problem than it solves.

Coming to Ethiopia’s federalism, there are doubts whether the implementation of federalism is among equals and the rules of engagement is democratic. The central question is how far the EPRDF and the institution of the government it runs are amenable to the constitutional rules laid down, knowingly or unknowingly, during the early times of the ruling party. From all indications, there are little appetite for rule of law and institutionalizing rule of law. Instead, the power wilders are running the nation the way they wanted and to their utmost benefit; creating popular discontent, despair and riots.

The following factors created the current situation in the country and these factor deserve serious attention towards reform and implementation of federalism via democratic rule. The government is either to reform or perish; the choice is simple and clear.

EPRDF and ‘Democratic’ Centralism

EPRDF has been the sole player of the political game in Ethiopia for the last twenty five years or so. The party is a coalition of four ethno-centrist parties.[3] The central philosophy of the party is what is called ‘democratic centralism’. If we cut out the ‘democratic’ part of the phrase, we can get ‘centralism’ which is born out of the historic background of TPLF’s[4] leftist nature. Confused by the world political change in late 1980s and early 1990s and the collapse of communism, TPLF reconfigured itself and adopted what it called ‘a multiparty system and towards democratic rule’. Again, pushed by the global scenario adopted a very workable constitution, FDRE constitution, which is least implemented.

The TPLF/EPRDF members control the parliament and legislation are always rushed as suggested by the executive body. The parliament has the only role of being a rubber stamp and cannot even resist when draconian laws drafted by the executive are tabled as bills, which often times are  an upfront affront to the FDRE constitution itself. Deliberation is the least virtue of the law making organ in Ethiopia. There is no draft bill proposed by the government and is denied approval to date.

The judiciary has been effectively paralyzed and judicial independence is often violated where the cases brought in front of the court have political connotation or the interest of the power wielders.[5] Thus, the EPRDF party decision which is often taken by the few dominating the executive organ takes the cover of legislation and court decision to take effect. The nation is paralyzed this way and effective engagement with the government has become unthinkable.

Good Governance and Civil Societies

It is contended that civil society organizations (CSOs) are crucial for good governance. It can contribute towards enabling accountable government and thereby boosting employment opportunities in any given country. Nevertheless, in Ethiopia the relationship between CSOs and Government is rather dubious and that of mistrust. The CSO law has been accused of over regulating and of hindrance. The law, some contend, is framed with ill motive of controlling and subjugating. Nevertheless, the law is also argued for and that it put some sense to wild wishes and whims of CSOs (ulterior motives and criminal intents).

Nevertheless, the relationship on the ground between the government and CSO via the new CSO proclamation is not to the level expected. It is rife with mistrust and bad-faith. The law governing CSOs are less systematized and over regulative. The classification of CSOs based on the income source and the funding requirement thereof is least agreeable to the actors and stakeholders of the CSOs. As such, many CSOs have been closed since the implementation of the new law.[6] Again, many CSOs with strong intervention capacity are shunned off by the law from engaging on activities that foster democracy and human rights, thereby contributing to good governance and accountability.

As a result CSO laws have become more restrictive and prohibitive in engaging the public to forge a better, open society, including good governance, ensuring accountability, contribution to job creation and quality of jobs. The government mistrusts CSOs and that their relation is that of mutual mistrust than reinforcing good governance.  A recent research stated that, ‘there should be a change of attitude recognizing that the role of the civil societies is important for the development the country as whole.”[7]

The law governing the CSOs is rather divisive than creating consensus thereby making its enforcement problematic. A law that is not well taken by stakeholders is hard to implement. Many CSOs are closed owing to some violation of requirement of the law or forced their own closure for fear of the persecution. Others needed to change roles and reduce employees to service.

Resource Distribution and Power Misuse

In Ethiopia, economic power follows political power. The rich and the super rich are either government officials or their cliques who control key offices areas of the business. Party affiliated businesses or party owned ’endowments’ are the multi- billion dollar business groups calling the shots at the economy while law abiding and dedicated businesses are driven out of the economy and deliberately uprooted from the market system.

The following are some of the situation sin Ethiopia:

Land and Investment

In Ethiopia, the governing body and the overarching policy governing land and natural resources is defined and delineated in the constitution of the country itself. In August 1995, the Constitution went into operation incorporating Article 40, which ruled over the matter, and apparently ending the deadlock. Article 40 (3) of the FDRE Constitution reads:

‘The right to ownership of rural land and urban land, as well as all natural resources, is exclusively vested in the state and the people of Ethiopia. Land is a common property of the Nation, Nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia and shall not be subject to sale or to other means of transfer.’

The FDRE Constitution divides the role between the federal government and the states in terms of land governance issues.[8] Accordingly, the federal government enacts framework laws while the regional governments administer land as per the framework laws enacted at federal level. Of course, the regional governments can enact their own laws within the leverage given to them by the federal framework land law.

Land tenure enables big government power in Ethiopia. The land sector is the most corrupt and via lease policy which lets the government reap huge amount of money. The allocation of land and access to land, especially urban land and land for investment are the most problematic. Government officials and land brokers (sometimes one and the same) are reaping the benefit to the detriment of urban dwellers and peasant land holders.

All in all, the land governance system discourages land market and encourages easy expropriation, which breads resentment and conflict at all levels of socio-economic setup. The land governance system in general and large scale land acquisitions in particular is designed to enable easy investment yet full and informed participation of the community remains shut off. Furthermore, attached to investments and concerning the taking of land, human rights concerns stand tall and Environmental Impact Assessment ethos are largely lost either to corruption or utter lack of capacity to ensure the same. Thus, responsible land governance needs to be the guiding rule which underlines the principle of sustainable development. Besides, institutions of rule of law needs to be strengthened and be freed from manipulations of all sort so that they can control corruption and ensure respect for human rights & minimize disaster on the environment.

Market Domination and Monopoly

The market system is the unhealthiest part of Ethiopian daily life. Basic daily consumable items are dominated by dealers who are after colossal amount of profit (with connection to the state) and without any public considerations. Monopolies are forged in every item of every day consumption, mainly in cooking oil and sugar.  As far as imported items are concerned, corruption in the custom sector affects market and its effects of market distortion are huge in the country. Largely, investment incentives are used as a cover to repeatedly import many merchandise that are damped in the normal market. Thus, responsible dealers (normal tax payers) are ever pushed out of the market and the ‘criminals’ are dominating the makers ever rushing towards amassing millions of dollars and toward joining the ever bulging milliners group.

Ethnic Loyalists and Regions

Ethnic consideration are key for the abuse of the federal system and federalism in Ethiopia. Ethnicity and ethnic ‘loyalist’ are deliberately chosen to run regional government and key offices in a federal government. These ‘loyalists’ are least worried about rule of law as long as they are pleasing their ‘invisible’ bosses who are also identified from their ethnic line and power cycles. Loyalists or their bosses run key offices such as investment offices, trade & trade licensing, procurement offices, construction sector, universities, custom offices, check points and licensing offices, ministries of different sorts,  municipalities and etc. and, these loyalist have second person along with them communicating lines of interests from the power wilders, and they have to appease or perish.

Thus, government contracts are granted to interest groups often party- affiliated companies by loyalists and violating a constitutional rule that public fund should be used in a manner that allows public participation often via open auction and so on.  This mechanism also helps them to conduct money laundering where such ‘semi-legal’ business would be fattened by fund sources from dark corners. Besides, money laundering internally and illicit financial flow from the nation are two factors that further weaken institutions of rule of law and exacerbate market distortions. Millions of dollars amassed via illegal means are pumped to the legal market (internally and externally) and normal business is ever pushed out of the game

Oromia Regional State in the Making of Real Federalism in Ethiopia

Groups within the OPDO[9] are fast becoming noticeable in Ethiopia, often referred to as “TeamLemma.”  The regional president is noted for not only his eloquence but for the issues that he raises in tandem with the people’s concern and agenda. In a government circle, rather known for empty promises and lies, the emergence of a leader like Lemma is quite an exception rather than the norm; and he won popular trust in a very short period of time even among people of other regional states and ethnic groups.[10].   So far, the leaders have undertaken some reforms in the media, prison system, investment, the fight against contraband and corruption and to some extend also on land issues.

What counted for this acceptance for OPDO group once totally dismissed for its secondary role and decoy of TPLF are to do with the following factors:

First, president Lemma has acknowledged that the nation is in a crisis as opposed to the honey coated  rhetoric of  the “fastest growing parroted by federal officials. He admitted that the nation is in deep trouble and there is a need for open and candid deliberation. He seems to hate what Ethiopian elites are real good at ‘ye sera poletika’ –conspiracy politics and politics of mutual destruction. He openly advocated a more civilized version of politics of negotiation, public service and compromise.

Second, he admitted that the riots and movement witnessed in Oromia and Amhara are genuine concerns, as against the federal rhetoric that it is the making of ‘foreign element and opposition parties’ who wanted the destruction of this nation.

Third, he tried to draw the line towards respect for the constitutional boundary and refused to bow down to the undue pressure of the federal power wielders, visible or invisible. He warned officials who are used to do everything their way that there is what is called rule of law, constitutional principles and boundaries to power they exercise.  He boldly told the federal government that it is not welcome to exercise security power in Oromia without the invitation and consent of  the regional government.

Four, he took real measures in Oromia regional state that won him trust. Although not to the desired level, he has dealt with serious corruption and land garbing matters. Land given for investors are now being revised; the concerns of people who are evicted are acknowledged; fenced land (without any investment on it for years) are redistributed back to holders; misappropriated houses are given back to the poor and the needy, among others. Most of all, he showed that he feels the pain and the misery of the people and repeatedly spoke to do work hard in order to solve it – creating the human touch ordinary Ethiopians are deprived of from their political leadership.

Challenges and ways out

The biggest challenge for EPRDF government is that its inability to let institutions of rule of law and democracy to operate as per the law and rules of the Constitution. The party is unable to tame absolute power that traces its source from ‘heroes’ of the civil war. They are the real bosses and commanding real power in the nation. Hence, the structure of the government cannot operate as per the law owing to these undue influences usually from TPLF officials on the military and intelligence apparatus.

Second, ethic loyalists do also share part of the blame in segregating others and forging ‘apartheid’ (the problem of othering) regime in the regions and immersed in wild corruptions. Thus, the regime should do itself a favor by  moving away from propagating ethic divisions and forge united citizenship.

Third, a genuine multiparty system, not the pseudo- multi-party system that’s been in play for 27 years,  must be established. Along with this, the media need to be freed from the control the state and unnecessary indirect censorship that include financially crippling independent media.

Fourth, the education system need to be revisited and must be reformed toward national identity than ethnic color and rifts. Education and justice sectors are the two sectors which are hugely drained by the cadre system functioning in the nation.

Fifth, the land policy need to be revisited and directed toward a market oriented system and by acknowledging and respecting communal ownership. The attitude of res-nullius of pastoral and semi-pastoral land must be replaced by res-commune.

And finally, the people of Ethiopia should be freed from living in fear and want, i.e. freedom from fear and want are the two twin rights Ethiopians are yearning for in all walks of life. AS

Ed’s Note: The writer, Daniel Behailu (Dr.iur.), can be reached at

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are that of the writer’s and do not necessarily
reflect the editorial of Addis Standard.


[1] EPRDF- Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front which is in power from 1991 to date.

[2] Groups within the EPRDF or networks that function with state officials and using government instrumentalities to exploit and amass public resources for private gains.

[3] TPLF, OPDO, ANDM and SPDM- a loose collation forged by TPLF core.

[4] TPLF is a dominate party which begets the other three (ANDM, OPDO and SPDM) to give semblance of multiparty system at the outset of government power assumption in 1991.

[5] Often, though the government denies the existence of political prisoners in the nation, at times of public pressure these prisoners are released via amnesty or pardon for political gains. Hence, the judicial organ is ridiculed as an institutions which indicted the same in terms of criminal charges.

[6] In June 2016 only, over 200 NGOs have been closed in one shot. The Agency cited failure to comply with the requirement of the law and lack funding as reason for closure. The law has strong funding requirement and classifies CSOs based on the funding source as Ethiopian and foreign. Besides, it criminalizes human rights related activities if ventured on by foreign NGOs.

[7] Tesfaye Digie, ‘Partnership between Government and CSs in the promotion of Quality Public Service Delivery in Ethiopia,’ Journal of Civil Societies in Ethiopia, 2013, p. 50.

[8] Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (1995),  Article 51 and 52

[9] They are often referred to in social media as, ‘TeamLemma’

[10] The warm reception that his team got in Amhara regional state is quite an evidence of his popularity

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