By Fekadu Bekele – From the outset I would like to express my frustration that Professor Messay`s article does not have any new substance or cannot be accepted as entailing a thoughtful idea.
Those who side with the position of the Professor may think and believe that Professor Messay wrote a grand theory which might be seen as a panacea to save Ethiopia from all the evils the Meles regime has inflicted.
After reading the article twice, I cannot detect the theoretical and methodological foundation of the article of Professor Messay. Howerver, Professor Messay believes that his approaches in characterizing the Meles regime, and Meles himself, and the theory of developmental state are new theoretical reflections which can be carefully studied. In all the three points I cannot scrutinize the exact methodological and scientific approaches to substantiate his theory. Except that he commands the English language which makes impossible for many to detect his theoretical weakness, I am not convinced that the article can teach us new things.
If somebody writes such an article he must either explicitly or implicitly clarify that he follows some paradigmatic approaches to prove that the article he writes reflects things which are taking place on the ground.
First of all to pursue authoritarian politics is not a matter of choice, but it is a desire of certain groups to impose their interests and thereby to shape the entire political landscape according to these interests. Such kind of authoritarian politics emanates from the nature of the person who seizes political power. In order to understand the character of such an authoritarian ruler one should study the society and the circumstances he grew up in, and the education system which shaped his mind to behave like this. Family backgrounds also play decisive roles in shaping the mind of such an authoritarian ruler. As Meles and his compatriots are the products of a particular area, even though they boast that they follow this or that ideology, what ultimately decides their thinking and handling is the socioeconomic condition and the family background in which they grew up. Philosophers, psychologists, and men of drama like Schiller have already proved that the exercise of political power for good or bad can be conditioned on the particular circumstance in which the political actors are grown up. To say that Meles had no other option than to be an authoritarian means that he can alter his mind at any time and become a democrat. That is why Professor Messay thinks that there is no other option than building a grand coalition before the country falls into pieces or the situation ends in bloodshed.
If we accept the argument of Professor Messay as he tried to analyze in his essay, what Meles and his friends did against Ethiopia was not calculated from the outset, and they were compelled to follow an ethnic and a neo-liberal policy because they did not have any other choices. As we all know Meles and his group could not seize political power without the help of Blair and the American government. The West in general and America in particular did everything to eliminate the Mengistu regime to wipe Ethiopian nationalism out once and for all. Therefore ethnic politics and neo-liberal economic policy as Meles had introduced and practiced in Ethiopia could not be materialized without the help of America and England. In all his previous analysis when Professor Messay accuses the Meles regime, he either deliberately or unconsciously omits the role of the Americans and the British in shaping the Ethiopian politics over the last 20 years. Only in a weakened country in which a regime which pursues ethnic or any other politics which fits the interests of the West and practices a neo-liberal economic policy, it is easy for the West to meddle in the internal affairs of such a weakened country.
Coming to neo-liberalism, it seems that Professor Messay did not understand the economic policy of the Meles regime prior to the 2005 election. As if the regime until then did not follow a neo-liberal economic policy, Professor Messay tells us that the Meles regime understood well the danger of neo-liberalism and has done everything to convince his comrades to follow his developmental policy which is strictly regulated and manipulated by the state. To my understanding, prior to the election of 2005, Meles and his regime had agreed with the IMF and the World Bank to strictly apply the structural adjustment program (SAP). Devaluation of the Ethiopian birr in relation to the US Dollar, privatization, liberalization of the internal and foreign market, reducing state budget for social purposes, so as to canalize the money for productive “purposes”, are all instruments of neo-liberal economic policies. In all Sub-Saharan African countries where such a policy was applied, though the negative effects vary from country to country, in general such a policy has enriched the few and impoverished the masses. There are well documented studies which show the negative effects of SAPs. In short the main agenda of SAPs was to de-industrialize Africa, and to make her dependent on one or two raw material or agricultural products. The chaotic situation in many Sub-Saharan African countries, including Ethiopia prove that how SAP was designed to impoverish the entire continent and canalize wealth to the capitalist West via different mechanisms. If any country accepts the shock doctrine of the IMF, it will end up in permanent debt, and payments of this debt permanently by transferring her hardly won wealth every year become a natural law which must continue indefinitely. It is a calculated intrigue of the West to systematically unlock such kinds of governments to pursue a macroeconomic economic policy which does not work in such backward countries like that of Ethiopia.
After the Meles regime has been applying for almost fifteen years such a bitter economic policy, to say that he has well understood the danger of neo-liberalism is a pure mockery against the Ethiopian people. The misunderstanding of the work of the IMF and the World Bank is not only the fault of Professor Messay. Many Ethiopian economists whom I know have the same attitudes; and many of them cannot understand the ideological foundation of neo-liberalism. Because all hate the Meles regime, they believe that what our country had to experience over the last 20 years is solely the work of one dictator. It is perceived that all foreign forces and their international organizations which shape economic polices for Third World Countries are by their nature innocent. The widespread belief is that African dictators block the application of the policy as is prescribed by the IMF and the school books and thus all countries are condemned to poverty.
Coming to the developmental state, many development experts, by eliminating social history and economic anthropology from their heads convinced many Third World students that the policy of developmental state is a new phenomenon which can be reduced to few countries. If one studies the economic history of Europe, at least from the fourteenth century onwards, state systems had played crucial roles in shaping and manipulating their economies and social systems. Especially from the sixteenth century onwards, European Monarchs had pursued an active economic policy to develop a home market in their respective boundaries. Their approaches were holistic, and supported by all available instruments to build a coherent and strong nation in their respective countries. If we come to Japan, there were well established relationships on one hand between the German and the Japanese governments, and on the other hand between the United States of America and Japan during the Meiji dynasty. Japan had sent some young men to Germany to study the economic performance of Germany, and sent others to America to study modern administration systems. The Meiji dynasty which had a well disciplined military organization, and which was determined to modernize the economy had forced the industrialization of Japan. The unique socio-cultural condition of Japan and their disciplined psychological make-up helped Japan to materialize her inward looking strategy.
Without a disciplined bureaucracy, and without a unique culture which prevails in the society, it was not possible for Japan and others to pursue their policies. As Professor Messay believes these countries did not follow a strict free market economic policy and the rule of law, but the unique relationship that had prevailed between the banking system, the state and the industrial sector helped the industrialization of Japan and South Korea. During the 70s and 80s South Korea was governed by military dictators which did not allow any political participation, and the organization of trade union was strictly forbidden. As some critical analysts affirm, foreign debt and military dictatorship are behind the industrialization of South Korea.
To apply in countries like Ethiopia such a strictly state oriented economic development policy like that of Japan and South Korea is an impossible task, because the cultural situation of the society and the psychological make-up of the intelligentsia are factors which block any meaningful economic agenda. The fragmented and intriguing characters we have, and the loss of our self-reliance, and weak theoretical background we posses, are some of the factors which block our wishes to develop Ethiopia. I do not know any Ethiopian economist who has extensively studied the role of Mercantilism, and the Works of Friedrich List, Heinrich Pesch, and others, which are crucial indeed for the application of a developmental state economic policy.
Neither do I know who has a good understanding of philosophy and tries to combine philosophy, sociology and cultural transformation with a kind of renaissance economic policy to foster industrialization policy in our country. As so long as we are stick to the market economic policy of the IMF and the World Bank it is practically impossible to get Ethiopia out of the present situation.
Having this in mind, if we come to the advice of Professor Messay to create a power-sharing arrangement with the regime, I do not believe that the Meles regime with such a bloody past, and which has been selling our country to the so-called foreign investors, and systematically destabilizes our country so that patriotic feelings could not develop among the youth, will accept an arrangement which could save Ethiopia.
Meles and his clique are determined to see a much weakened Ethiopia, and could stay on power when they follow such an intriguing policy. Foreigners who know the regime very well say that Meles and his clique hate Ethiopia, and the divide and rule system which they have been systematically applying nation-wide over the last 20 years weakened the entire nation. Today we have in Ethiopia not a political elite as Professor Messay thinks and believes; instead we have a Mafia system across the country which has corrupted all the local administrators. How is it possible to build a grand coalition with such a regime which dreams day and night to see a very fragmented and weakened Ethiopia? Meles like his masters, the West hates the concept of a Nation-State, because only through a strong Nation-State the people of a given country could freely exercise their true freedom, and build a strong economy which is based on science and technology. It seems that Professor Messay does not know what is going on in Ethiopia, and the real economic and social conditions which the Ethiopian people are subjected to. Therefore, not only from a theoretical, and paradigmatic point of view, but also from the conditions which are existing on the ground, and from the nature of the regime, the proposal of Professor Messay is not acceptable. At the same time when the Meles regime is in a very desperate position, and no more in a position to cope with the social and economic crises of the country it is unwise to call for a grand coalition.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org