In any country in the middle of a democratisation process, strengthening institutions and the courts by making them autonomous is necessary for accountability to prevail.
Ethiopia has never had autonomous institutions, even with the first regime that promised to make them independent by introducing constitutional checks and balances and a multiparty system of government. Much more than a leader with good faith, we need strong institutions for the practical prevalence of democracy and the rule of law.
Lack of an institutionalised power has left the country with several decades of turmoil and economic dependence. It has diminished political rights and civil liberties. A level playing field and strong opposition parties remain a distant dream. History shows us that behind most political instabilities and authoritarianism is unfettered popular support that gave rise to those very same ills.
Modern Ethiopian politics has been a victim to this, and the EPRDF, despite its promises, and even a mostly liberal constitution, has not been able to go full circle in institutionalising democracy in the country.
It seems like there is progress though. We are at a crossroads where we can be able to craft a deeper dynamics of political evolution in a country famous for its dire leadership pitfalls.
Evidently, not everything noble in governance is necessarily democratic or lawful. There is a tendency by the public to forgive one leader’s faults which they would not in another – this can stem from a feeling that that leader is acting in good faith and has the interests of the public at heart.
Thus, the dangers should not be overlooked, especially in the absence of institutions. There have been too many promises by leaders that went unaccounted for, and it would be a tragedy if we fall for it again.
It is remarkable that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) acknowledge that misguided policies on the political front and weak institutional capacity influences the underlying factors leading to poor living standards, growing inequality and the abuse of power. It should be interpreted as a call for policy and legal reforms and structural changes to close the book on the lack of accountability permanently.
There are ethically and politically intricate processes to be addressed regarding by whom and how reforms should be executed. Rapid political impact appraisals could help in influencing policy development, but creating public institutions that can alleviate the economic and political problems is not an easy task.
Long-standing, deep-rooted political and social challenges have shaped public institutions and the country’s economy for the worst.
Ethiopia needs strong property rights, independent regulatory institutions, civil societies and better contract enforcement.
Among other things, strong institutions on the economic front have a significant influence on investments in human resource, technology, industrial production as well as equal resource distribution.
Studies show that the implementation of democracy positively affects economic growth once it is executed and measured by institutions. These researches support that there is a strong correlation between income and democracy.
As the political scientist Adam Przeworski explains in his book Minimalist Conception of Democracy: A Defence, democracy can prevail in a country with a per capita income under 1,000 dollars for about eight years. Between over 1,000 dollars and 2,000 dollars, democracy can exist for 18 years while in countries whose citizens make an average of above 6,000 dollars, democracy lasts forever.
For Ethiopia, whose income per capita stands at less than 1,000 dollars, the road to democracy will likely be wrought with difficulties. It may not be as ominous as Przeworski predicts since today’s Hungary debunks his argument. But it can help us understand how vital institutions that can secure a fair distribution of resources and development are to achieve democracy in Ethiopia.
All the promises by Abiy are of little value without the institutionalisation of power. Building a country and transitioning to democracy rests on the emergence of efficient institutions and a legal system committed to shifting power away from individuals or parties.
Such progress will not come without the coordinated efforts of the government, opposition parties, civil societies, the media and the public. It requires scalable political skill and action to keep Ethiopia on a path of economic growth and democratic development.
This will also keep the new leadership rule-bound and accountable to the law. Ethiopia due to its ethnic polarisation and pervasive corruption still has a long way to work in achieving a stable democratic order. Yet, it will be unfair to hold that considerable progress has not come with the government condemning its own wrongdoing and poor leadership actions. Political will is essential to improve government activities and evaluation systems to encourage accountability.
As Victor Hugo said, nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.
The damage to Ethiopia’s politics is profound to expect anything soon. But it is crucial we already see changes. This must be compounded by transforming into true federalism where regional states can be allowed to exercise more power in policymaking and execution.
Since institutionalisation of power relies heavily upon policy reform, thoughtfulness from political actors and decision-makers is crucial. The biggest challenge may have to do with upholding democracy, equity, sustainable development and ethical use of resources. This must be integrated into a coherent institutional process. It takes having staunch diligent officials who are determined to serve the public. The challenge has to be met if we want the dream of effective democratic leadership to come true.
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