Ethiopia draws two remarkable but contrasting images before global eye. On one side an oldest independent state, cradle of human civilization, location of human origin. On the other side still struggling to shove off disgraceful part of human history – poverty (underdevelopment, bad governance, negative peace) which is one of the most challenging human errors of all times.
A fall of socialist military regime in 1991 in Ethiopia ushered EPRDF (Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front), a TPLF (Tigray Peoples Liberation Front) led coalition ruling party in the country. Then TPLF engineered Ethiopia’s Constitution of 1995 charted the country into 7 ethnically defined regional states (Tigray Kilil, Amhara Kilil, Afar Kilil, Oromia Kilil, Somali Kilil, Benishangul-Gumuz Kilil and Harari Kilil), 2 geographically defined regional states (Gambella Kilil and Southern Nation, Nationalities and Peoples’ Kilil) and 2 Provisional City Administrations (Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa).
First-time, the late Meles Zenawi regime has officially introduced multiparty democracy, ethnic federalism and market economy as a move to curb historic political, social and economic injustice in Ethiopia. In reality; however, two decades down the road there is still glaring facts that the frame work introduced has done much harm than good to larger population of Ethiopia than few in power. The institutionalization of ethnic politics and ill conceived ethnic federalism in Ethiopia mainly served to weaken critical dissents against the state and remained an important assurance to TPLF’s indefinite grip on the state power.
With no acknowledgment on hitherto poverty reduction efforts (especially health and infrastructural development), Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) 2014 update report, a multidimensional poverty index informed by Amartya Sen’s capability approach ranked Ethiopia second poorest country in the world. However, relentless state sponsored media and information manipulation towards public make-believe of total economic boom, social wellbeing and good political environment in Ethiopia since 1991 contrary to the country’s overbilling unemployment, income disparity, and political impasse. Though huge but less transparent infrastructural developments are being witnessed Ethiopia’s sitting regime behavior, attitude and structure of governance is continually enabling and provoking dormant conflicts between and among different sociolinguistic communities in the country, impairing collective sprit and cooperation, supplying mistrust among the population and diminishing critical citizens. International crisis group an organization which is working to prevent conflict worldwide profiled well that in various accounts the country remains structurally dangerous.
‘Addis Ababa under siege’
Located at 9°1′48″N 38°44′24″E coordinate, with year-round moderate temperature and explosive population, Addis_Ababa is a capital city and core economic geography of Ethiopia. It is the country’s home to financial hub, business transaction, industries, technocrats and main gateway to external world. Shagar, unofficial name for Addis Ababa as a diplomatic city of Africa hosts AU (African Union) headquarter and other various global, continental and regional missions’ headquarters and liaison offices. It has increasingly attracted international summits, conferences and workshops. Therefore, Addis Ababa is the most sensitive geopolitics of Ethiopia.
Placed on 54,000 ha of land, Addis Ababa is encircled by predominantly ethnic Oromo inhibited areas; Lagatafo, Sululta, Sabata, Holota and Dukam. These are minority farmers surrounding Ethiopia’s capital city. Agriculture and animal husbandry is their major economic activity. Land is at a center of their livelihoods. However, they do not have full control over their land. In Ethiopia, Land is unabatedly a property of the state. Alarmingly, they are losing their land to state-directed immoral labor-intensive agribusiness, land lease/investment and state land grab. The farmers are heavily excluded from all businesses concerning their land in the name of development. The government of Ethiopia brushes off on such grave concerns’ of the local farmers explaining it as consequential and bearable development challenge. In reality, however, the farmers are victims of ill-planned urban development.
Urbanization and urban development is a growing challenge of human phenomenon and Addis Ababa is no exception. Therefore, it is rational for government of Ethiopia to develop proper plan to address stakeholders’ political, economic, social, and environmental interest and thus ensure and set sustainable urban development on course.
In 2011 Addis Ababa and Oromia Special Zone (under Oromia regional state a government body responsible to undertake public and development affairs of areas surrounding Addis Ababa) established a joint project office to work on common urban and development issues both in Addis Ababa and Oromia Special Zone. The Project Office is led by a board of directors where some contentious personalities from ethnic Oromos Mr. Kuma Demeksa (by then mayor of Addis Ababa), Mr. Abdulaziz Mohamed (deputy president of Oromia Regional State) and Mr. Umer Hussein (head of the Oromia Special Zones) are members. Over years it has been undertaking centralized stakeholders and expert consultation and then urged the need to formulate an integrated development plan.
Stakeholders from government of Ethiopia and international organization meeting held from June 26 – 29, 2013 at Adama town indicated Ethiopia’s interest to centralize geographic structure plan, and integrate economic and social activities of Addis Ababa and its surrounding (Oromia Special Zone) subtly bypassing its own constitution of 1995. After it is recommended by eight officials of Ethiopia’s regional states and experts from African Union and UN, the draft integrated plan to be effected should finally be approved by the project board and Addis Ababa City cabinet.
Within this context the government of Ethiopia determined to push its mooted plan it claimed to uplift the socioeconomic conditions of residents’ of Addis Ababa and Oromia Special Zone as part befitting to the country’s overall development plan. The plan was given a grandiose name ‘Addis Ababa and the Surrounding Oromia Special Zone Integrated Development Plan’. Like most plans which sound very good on paper, even the Master Plan (for short) sets out to among other things ‘to ensure placement and exercise of proper industrial waste output management system, to acquire designated industrial zone, and to decongest and cross-match public service to the ever rising city population’ are so vibrant.
Eventually, on 13th April 2014 relevant officials from Oromia Special Zone and Addis Ababa City Administration met for an open discussion on the proposed Master Plan at Adama town, Ethiopia. The Master Plan discussion brought two clear lines of arguments to loggerheads; on one side those who advance their argument based on Ethiopia’s Constitution of 1995. For this group constitutionality and development ethics is at the center of their concern. They ask whether The Master Plan observes development ethics. That is whether moral guidelines were given chance to influence decisions in exercising power in the planning process of the Master Plan. Whether the power (the government in this case) suffocates ethical discussions regarding the Master Plan, ethical means of achieving the Master Plan, and balancing ethical dilemmas arising from the Master Plan? However, with little attention to these concerns there is pressure from federal government to see the plan effected as planned.
The Master Plan if implemented would incorporate Sululta, Bishoftu, Sabata Dukem, Holeta and Ambo bringing 1.1 million ha of land under Addis Ababa City Administration endangering livelihoods of tens and thousands of ethnic Oromo farmers and thus they argued the plan as ‘illegitimate’ and ‘unconstitutional’. Further the group explained an expansion of Addis Ababa (where Amhara culture is dominant) feared to ‘De-Oromization – erode being Oromo’ inhibited areas and the population potentially compromising existing social setup. Hence, proponents of this view charge the Master Plan as instrumental to diminishing ‘Oromo Identity’. This group; therefore, demand the Master Plan to uphold the constitutional framework and such conventional principles; free, prior and informed consent, genuine consultation and adequate compensation to /with surrounding ethnic Oromos whose agricultural land is to be consumed by the Master Plan.
Therefore, the group charge the Master Plan as undermining Ethiopia’s Constitution of 1995 article 49 (5) which clearly demarcate Oromia from Addis Ababa but unclearly pronounce ‘special interest’ of Oromia Regional State, the largest ethnic state in Ethiopia, from Addis Ababa City Administration which was not yet defined through other supplementary legal provisions, though the constitution instructs so, in breach of article 46 (2) which pronounces states’ restriction to settlement pattern, language, identity and consent, and article 43 (2) (3) (4) which stipulate the people of Ethiopia to be at the center of its own development process until otherwise.
Unlike the other argument this one is voted-in by senior and high ranking officials from Oromia regional state and federal government, and corporate class. Proponents of this argument do not want to capitalize on the constitutional provisions as it is ambiguous and sensitive. Instead they draw their argument mainly on urgency of integration for effective development governance and planning while carefully sharing ethical dimensions raised opponent arguers (who are too loyal to Ethiopia’s 1995 Constitution). They push the Master Plan to be effected partly as leverage to bypass the country’s earlier structural failures on geography of Addis Ababa City Administration and as partakers wheel a rising lucrative land-related investment/business in Ethiopia.
Though it invisibly pushes on the plan, the federal government of Ethiopia did not publically hold an immediate and clear position regarding the argument on the Master Plan. It continued its focuses on winning the public and characterizing the ‘constitutionalist’ arguments (the protest) against The Master Plan as anti-development.
For secessionist ethnic Oromos Addis Ababa is a foreign boat on their ocean –‘under siege’ which was encouraged by Ethiopia’s 1995 constitution.
The Ethnic Oromo Protest and its Achievement
The discussion on the master plan held at Adama town was partially reported on Oromia regional state owned TV. Footage of part of a participant’s argument questioning the moral and intent of the master plan was circulated on social media defining a kick-start of an ethnic Oromo students’ protest against the plan. Ethnic Oromo’s already damaged confidence on TPLF governance (and its partner OPDO), its lack of development project transparency and given an exiled Oromo-centric [Oromo secessionists] campaign prompted ethnic Oromo students abrupt protest against the master plan.
In the beginning, the student protest set out siding ‘the constitutionalist perspectives’ was quite peaceful until it was unfortunately ambushed and misused for radical ethnic showcases; sparked deadly protest and gave the federal government reasons to attach internal critical personalities to ‘outlawed’ militant group in exile further hurdling efforts of change within OPDO (Oromo People Democratic Organization), an implementing partner of TPLF. The protest implicated TPLF for its institutionalization of ethnic politics and absence development ethics in Ethiopia. However, over time it took unnecessary course as unclear leadership and institutional failure, ambiguous and armchair strategy and target, devastating hate and ethnic resentment, and failure of giving issues national dimension were witnessed in the process. The ambiguity of the protest instead failed ethnic Oromo students’ sacrifice win neither the sympathy of decisive fellow Ethiopians nor critical and institutional support of foreign entity.
Non-violent demand against the Master Plan, though it is bitter and uneasy to exercise, was thus not exhausted. The eventual ethnic Oromo students’ abrupt reaction which is dependent, lack open leadership and inconsistent against the master plan failed to contextualize a dynamic understanding of Addis Ababa, development and confused with a tenets of ‘constitutional’ demand. Ultimately, the circumstance which was infiltrated and sabotaged by the secessionists’ irrelevant political gimmick at the expense of young uninformed Oromo students earned the protest unnecessary and regrettable loss of life, property, ethnic strife and quite good number of Oromo students’ removal from various University educations.
However, the ethnic Oromo student protest imperatively implied important lessons to be noted. It had clearly indicated the need for ethnic Oromos to tailoring their issues and concerns and reimaging their demand in Ethiopia context. It showed huge gap of institutional and knowledge-based demand against misdeed of the regime in Ethiopia. It is a repeated experiment where Oromo-centric activists’ strategically failed to show better attitude, behavior, action, orientation, and statesmen(women)ship, and generally better framework of governance alternate to ethno-centric regime in Ethiopia. The protest cautioned authorities in Ethiopia on planning process of the master plan (further on issues of development ethics), sensitivity of resource governance and delicacy of ethnic federalism.
Ethnic Oromo farmers in a superb of Addis Ababa are not the only minority groups of Ethiopia’s centralized Land Policy, irrelevant ethnic federalism and immoral planning process in various development projects and land related investments across the country; Omo valley communities threat in southern part of the country, unheard voices on land investments in Gambella, continued unlawful eviction of ethnic Amhars from southern, central and western part of the country, and land and water grab’s negative impact on pastoral communities to mention some.
There is no conclusive definition of development. However, there is conventional understanding that development is a holistic process and thus as a practice need multifaceted approach. Therefore, people’s critical participation is a hallmark of development planning process. Robert D. Lambin in his book; Rethinking Legitimacy and Illegitimacy which insightfully observed “Decision makers often need to understand how much support or opposition an organization, operation, or policy might face. Legitimacy… is something that induces voluntary support, lowers operating costs, and improves stability and sustainability”. On significance of association between democracy and peoples’ freedom, Amartya Sen winner of Nobel Peace Prize in economics in his book; The Idea of Justice argued poverty as ‘capability of deprivation’, and democratic practice as necessary ground and integral of development process.
However, the late Prime Minister of Ethiopia an ideologue of EPRDF (the ruling coalition party) and main author of Ethiopia’s ambitious GTP (Growth and Transformation Plan) do not subscribe to these arguments. Reprehensibly, he assumed that there is utterly no direct link between democracy and economic growth at 2012 G8 submits held in USA. Good Growth and Governance in Africa (p.170), a book where Meles Zenawi contributed a chapter further defined development as ‘a political process first and economic and social process second’. Meles conceptualized development as pair-wise disjoint event in contrast to conventional understanding of development as a holistic process.
Further he exclusively theorized state intervention as decisive and necessary mechanism in adopting ‘developmental state’ approach where coercive state action and authoritative democracy are integral elements in a development process. His argument pretentiously assigned minor role to a mutual contract between people and government. People who presumably mandate government should be at center of development process. However, Zenawi deliberately stash away peoples’ power only to establish legitimizing corridor to his version of ‘Revolutionary Democracy’ and force his will on people of Ethiopia. Zenawi’s regime wrongly assumed custodian of people’s development, a stance against his own making – Ethiopia’s Constitution of 1995 article 43 (2) (3) and (4), relegating the poverty-stricken people as ignorant and less important in his own development process. Development which does not respect the will of the people is an aggressive development at best.
What Government of Ethiopia and ethnic Oromo activist should do?
Government of Ethiopia given a political will have all means and power to circumvent the looming dangerous (political, economic, social or whatsoever) on minority groups in Ethiopia. Its intent in developing the master plan can be good but the manner and approach employed in the planning process definitely gave wrong welcome from low-ranking OPDO officials, larger middle income Oromo public and young Oromo university students. In a short-term therefore, government should reengage open and critical stakeholders’ dialogue to address the ethical dimensions of the master plan; make genuine consultation and draw an informed consent, and give adequate compensation for evicted farmers. The government must also apologize and hold responsibility for its brutality where dozens of mainly young Oromo university students were shot dead. The government must learn to bear domestic social capital costs of being transparent than spending millions of tax payers money in lobbying foreign firms and experts in undermining dissent voices to legitimize its half-baked development undertakings.
In a nation-building, resource governance and state’s structure of governance are mutually formative phenomenon. Ethnic Oromos’ sharp and abrupt protest against the master plan is a clear signal to absence of good governance, misconception of development, non-observance of development ethics, enforcement of irrelevant ethnic federalism and public leadership deficiency in Ethiopia. Therefore, in a long term Ethiopian technocrats need to work to revitalize and harmonize a mismatch between national resource governance and awkward ethnic federalism. The dangerous of ethnic federalism and sensitivity of resource governance must be given proper attention not later but today before it goes bad.
Though there were genuine causes the protest has been largely non-institutional, inconsistent, narrow in context and dependent. There is no unique justice to ethnic Oromo for that matter. Except few individuals who are state power owners, the population at large is victims of absence of Good Governance in Ethiopia. Fellow Ethiopians are better change partner than foreign embassies and institutions. Therefore, ethnic Oromo activists especially in the Diaspora who are basically behind an ethnocentric agitation should revise polarizing issues and animosity on particular social group; instead should tackle underlying causes beyond focusing on characterizing the regime and on behavior and attitude of governance in Ethiopia, and advisably bring issues forth in such a national context. To this end, the ethnic Oromo activists and protesters must openly denounce and distance themselves from hate, resentment and vengeance. Equally, the protest must objectively detach itself from any kind of affiliation or compromise to radical and anti-Ethiopia groups’, views/slogans/attitudes/actions/behaviors damaging peaceful co-existence/tolerance or solidarity of Ethiopians, and generally inhuman acts.
The author can be reach at firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook: Biraanu Gammachu