The Meles doctrine

By Yilma Bekele, 26 October 2010 — What exactly is a doctrine is a good question. It is a formal way leaders lay down their beliefs, principles, and/or vision so that their citizens will have some clue of where they are taking the country. Apparently, Sarah Palin was not aware of the concept, when she sat down with a reporter before the 2008 elections. When asked regarding her understanding of the ‘Bush Doctrine’, the barracuda from Wasilla, drew blank. Her simple innocent answer was ‘in what respect, Charlie?’

I do not want you to say ‘in what respect, Charlie? when you are asked what’s the Meles Doctrine. There is of course a big difference between ‘Ideology’ and ‘Doctrine’. One can say ‘ideology’ and ‘doctrine’ are cousins that can easily be confused by the layman. Marxism is an ideology. Leninism, Stalinism, Maoism are upgrades. Then you have the poor man cheap Apps. that do not rise to the level of ideology, but are thrown in to give petty tyrants a certain air of intellectualism. Juiche in North Korea, Ujama in Tanzania, Green Revolution in Libya etc. are good examples. If you remember, Meles Zenaiw came up with ‘revolutionary democracy’ to explain his style, but unfortunately, it did not get traction. It was not definable because it was just empty rhetoric thrown in to explain single ethnic supremacy.

Let us look at some famous ‘Doctrines’ to get a better understanding of the term. I will start with the ‘Monroe Doctrine’. The Monroe Doctrine is a United States policy that was introduced on December 2, 1823, which stated that “further efforts by European countries to colonize land or interfere with states in the Americas would be viewed, by the United States of America, as acts of aggression requiring US intervention.” The US President was warning the European powers to stay out of this hemisphere.

The Truman Doctrine was a policy set forth by U.S. President Harry Truman on March 12, 1947 stating that the U.S. would support Greece and Turkey with economic and military aid to prevent them from falling into the Soviet sphere. It was a warning to Stalin to stay put.

Last but not least, we have the ‘Bush Doctrine’. Compared to the other doctrines, the Bush Doctrine was as confused as the person himself. It was left open for others to define it and/or to attribute different meanings to the concept. It went something like ‘the US should depose regimes that represented potential or perceived threat to the security of the US even if that threat was not immediate.’ It was an open-ended policy to justify the use of military power. Those without a few nukes were worried.

The ‘Meles Doctrine’ was officially unveiled during his speech at the ‘World Leaders Forum’ last month. It was supposed to be a moment of great significance that will usher a new path of ‘salvation’ for the developing countries. It was a crowning moment organized by his friends and fans for our ‘Dear leader for life’ to shine in the international scene. Professor Stiglitz referred to it as ‘academic dialogue.’ A lot of work went into it. The speech was written, rewritten, proofread, and deemed Columbia worthy by all top TPLF cadres, at least all those that can read. Thanks to the ‘vocal Diaspora’ it fell on deaf ears. How could one formulate such an earth shaking theory with such incessant jabbering by misguided Diaspora and unworthy audience that filled the auditorium. Pox on all of them.

I will attempt to right that went wrong. I took my time and listened to the speech thanks to YouTube.

Professor Joseph Stiglitz’s introduction was both revealing and sad. The Professor is a Nobel laureate and a highly respected economist. Why the good professor is ignoring the findings of highly respected international organizations regarding his guest’s alleged ‘criminal’ acts is not clear. I didn’t know being a Nobel laureate entitles one to forgive and befriend dictators that believe in ethnic purity. I was a little surprised when he said ‘I hope he will, I am sure he will say a few words about Ethiopia’s economic progress.’ What else, dear professor, when the title of the discussion was ‘The current global environment and its impact on Africa.’ Am I mistaken in thinking that the prime minister will talk in general and support his argument with first hand experience as it affected good old Ethiopia?

He did not even mention Ethiopia. Not even once. Not even as an example of ‘neo-liberalism’s failure, the subject he is trying to prove passé. I felt insulted. We don’t even fare a footnote in such a forum. Anyway, without further ado, here is Meles in his own words explaining the Meles Doctrine.

“The last three decades which could be described as the decades of the emergence and triumph of neo liberalism in key centers of global power and hence throughout much of the world have been very bad decades for Africa. They have for all intensive purposes been lost decades. At the beginning period Africa faced a huge burdens and associated micro economic imbalances and low rates of economic growth due to weak management of the economy and unfortunate external circumstances, therefore it was forced to seek support from the international financial institutions which had by then become key enforcers of the emerging neo liberal paradigm. Africa was asked to undergo fundamental neo liberal economic reforms and in return for the support it sought from the international financial institutions. These reforms were sold as the ultimate salvation for its problems and were supposed to lead to sustained economic growth and transformation. The reforms could not and did not lead to salvation. On the contrary the limited industrialization of the continent that has taken place since independence was reversed with no economic revival in sight…..Africans were made to see that neo liberalism was the only game in town ….. this insanity of implementing the same failed neo liberal policies and expecting different resulted in another lost decade during the 90’s. While Africa was mired in perpetual economic crisis and associated political malaise punctuated by horrific and senseless violence neo liberal globalization was making tremendous progress…(here he makes a linear analysis of the international economic situation regarding the emergence of China, India and others) …it was towards the end of the roaring 90’s that the pretense of neo liberal reforms finally leading to sustained growth then transformation in Africa was finally and more or less explicitly abandoned. Africa was now more or less explicitly being managed as a lost case, as a continental ghetto on the margins of a fast globalizing world….. Poverty in Africa was seen to be endemic. The new name of the game thus because not the transformation of Africa’s poverty thru neo liberal reform, thru neo liberal or other reform but the management of its chronic poverty. The objective became to alleviate poverty in Africa and limit the damage of its poverty to itself and to the rest of the world. A new generation of externally driven poverty alleviation strategies thus mushroomed over night thru out the continent…..the emergence of new players in the global economy in general and the emergence of China in particular was beginning to significantly impact on Africa’s economic prospect….as the emerging powers were either opposed to the neo liberalism or reluctant to evangelize on its behalf a new and different game came to town ….Africans have for the first time in three decades real alternatives to the orthodoxy, they now have a choice that they have not had for a long time. The fact the Africans now have a choice is in of itself fundamentally liberating above and beyond that Africans now have a real chance to chart a new course of development, one that incorporates best practice elsewhere and is capable to generating fast growth and transformation.”

That is his story and he is sticking to it. It is very important that you watch the youtube video or re-read the excerpt above. I just want to make sure you know that I am not making it up.

What exactly is the neo liberalism that Meles is ranting about? Here is a definition of the term from

Neoliberalism is a market-driven1 approach to economic and social policy based on neoclassical theories of economics that stresses the efficiency of private enterprise, liberalized trade and relatively open markets, and therefore seeks to maximize the role of the private business sector in determining the political and economic priorities of the state.

Thus, what he is theorizing is that the West led by the US and Britain, forced poor Africans to follow this prescription that caused the current distressful situation. Unfortunate for the West, their bankrupt theory has come home to haunt them as seen by the ongoing economic melt down. On the other hand, it had a positive effect on countries like India and China, which brings us to his fantastic conclusion that Africans can now abandon neo liberal voodoo economics and follow the Chinese path that comes without evangelizing about certain bad and nasty African habits such as dictatorship, human right abuse, Kleptocracy, and general evil deeds.

The problem is Ato Meles is not some University professor going on a limb and coming up with fantastic scenarios to prove. No, Ato Meles is a leader of a country. He is, though a Prime Minster by title, the de facto King of Ethiopia. His wish is the law. His theory is the practice of his party. His belief is the national policy. All this is due to the simple fact that he controls the military and public security, both perfect tools of coercion.

Now it would have been better if he has volunteered some factual data to support his argument. After all this is not some Starbucks discussion where anything goes. If we are going to have an ‘academic dialogue’ as promised by the Professor, let us at least make it real and not some ‘Alice in wonderland’ tale.

When he claims that the International financial institutions ‘forced fundamental economic reforms’ on Africans, he should tell us what exactly they forced Ato Meles to do to get financial relief? Let us take the policy of deprivatization as practiced in Ethiopia. I don’t think the IMF prescription was to create a private business (EFFORT) in the name of an ethnic group or sell the illegally expropriated property back to the original owners at inflated price. We are not even going to talk about land. Ethiopia is the only country in Africa where all land belongs to the government and is leased by its people. Americans say ‘there is a sucker born every minute’, they must have been thinking of us.

When he says ‘Africa faced a huge burdens and associated micro economic imbalances and low rates of economic growth due to weak management of the economy and unfortunate external circumstances’, does it sound like shifting responsibility? Let us see Africa was mismanaged by the like of:

  • Mengistu Hailemariam of Ethiopia 1974-1991. King of ‘Red Terror’ specialized in using ‘neighborhood committees (kebeles)’ to terrorize and murder over a million citizens. (Body count 1.5 Million lives) He destroyed a generation of future leaders that the country has not yet recovered from.
  • Idi Amin of Uganda 1971-1979. Specialized in removal of organs (bodies were found with genitals, eyes, livers, noses missing) and prisoners were forced to bludgeon each other to death with sledgehammers. (Body count about 300,000 lives)
  • Jean Bedel Bokassa of Central African Republic 1966-1979. Specialized in cannibalism and known for murder of Scholl age children for refusing to wear uniform manufactured in his factory. (Money count $125 Million)
  • Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire 1965-1997. Specialized in what is known as ‘Kleptocracy’ where the distinction between state assets and his own was blurred. (Money count $4 Billion)
  • Charles Taylor of Liberia 1997-2003. Rain of death on Liberia and its neighbors. Specialized in ‘child solders’ and his personal fortune was greater than Liberia’s GNP. (Body count over 300,000 lives)
    Which of these gentlemen is expected to invest time and energy on good governance and nation building? Micro economic imbalance doesn’t sound credible to me. It is more like ‘lack of accountability and megalomania and a dash of grandiosity’ on the part of these mad men in charge.

As for the theory that commodities are bringing more wealth to Africa, it is a tried and tired notion. Africa’s problem is not the lack of money, but it is purely lack of democracy, the rule of law, and accountability. Look at Nigeria where the leaders have stolen over $400 billion from the oil income3. Yes, that is billion. Guess what they did with it? Deposit it in Swiss, London, or New York banks.

He concludes by saying, ‘Africans have for the first time in three decades real alternatives to the orthodoxy, they now have a choice that they have not had for a long time.’ I fail to see what is new here. Didn’t we have a bi-polar world with just two super powers? So what is the big deal about replacing the Russians with the Chinese? Is the expectation that the Chinese for some pure altruism will be better masters than the ferenjis? Shifting between the West and the East did not bring us any gains last time around. They played volleyball with us. Should we give it another try? Didn’t Ato Meles make a choice when he followed the Albanian model? Of course, he grew up and replaced it with the Western model that he is outgrowing today. What is this madness about adapting a new model at this late in the game?

On the other hand, we are told and retold that the Ethiopian economy is growing double digits and is the talk of the continent. Why would anybody quarrel with such an impressive record? Shouldn’t Ethiopia be presented as poster country for the ‘triumph’ of neo liberalism? It is not good to bite the hand that feeds, is it? Or was the growth statistics a hoax? What is curious is that the Chinese we are trying to emulate are moving towards the Western model at the speed of light. Chairman Mao’s body was not even cold when Deng Xiaoping remarked “black cat, white cat, I don’t care what color it is as long as it catches mice”? Today’s China is boasting plenty of billionaires and the Communist Party is working overtime to balance economic growth and political freedom. A very elusive goal if you ask me. What part of that system are we ogling? Don’t tell me we are looking at the Chairman!

The Meles Doctrine should be declared dead on arrival. It needs work. It is not ready for prime time. The PM should go back to the drawing board and give his argument some meat. Declaration might work when one is dealing with underlings but scholarly work requires a little bit more diligence. In my humble opinion the ‘Doctrine’ suffers from tunnel vision. It looks at the world in one dimension. It is afraid to look out side of the box. I agree with his often repeated statement about ‘the insanity of implementing the same failed policy and expecting different result.’ Isn’t presenting the choice between the Western and Chinese model following a failed road.

The ‘creative potential’ of the Ethiopian people is not taken into consideration. Surely a people scattered all over that left their country bare feet to settle in strange lands and manage to send over a billion US dollars in remittances is a formidable force. They are the same people that work hard and invest in Ethiopia that Ato Meles is taking credit for. If it was not for the Diaspora remittance (a cool billion a year) TPLF’s Ethiopia will be one destitute place. We daily think of those that stayed behind and are suffering the brunt of the fire of poverty, ethnic degradation, famine and general apathy. They should be commended for being so calm and peaceful under trying circumstances. Our people are our precious asset. Our only choice is having faith in ourselves and meeting the challenge head on. There is no free lunch in this life. Both the East and the West require a pound of flesh for their handout. The idea of playing one against the other is a zero sum game. It is so yesterday, it is pathetic.


1Rodrigue Tremblay (2004). The New American Empire
2George McGhee, The U.S.-Turkish-NATO Middle East Connection
3BBC Africa

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Posted by on October 26, 2010. Filed under NEWS,VIEWS. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.