Slippery Slope of Weak Institutions

Mauritius has the best government, at least in Africa, according to the 2017 Ibrahim Index of African Governance. But that is only the most recent indicator, with the island nation of a little over a million people meriting its fair share of admirers. Another is the Economist Intelligence Unit which declared the country the only African state with a “full-democracy”.

The country does have its baggage, where Paravind Jugnauth, prime minister since January, succeeded his father, the knighted Anerood. The pundits dubbed the move a “dynastic transfer of power”. Opposition parties were no less jovial, and rightly, but unlike their Ethiopian, Sudanese or Eritrean counterparts, at least there was some solace to be found in that the Head of State, Ameenah Gurib, was an independent, subscribing to neither of the parties.

The Mo Ibrahim Foundation, named for its billionaire founder who made his fortune in Africa, who initiated the index, is not wholly negative towards Ethiopia. It attests that there are improvements, slowing, but improving regardless, when it comes to governance in the past half decade.

Slowing though would not be an accurate description of the political climate in Ethiopia. It is actually in reverse. How this relates to good governance may be tricky, but the regional states’ speak for themselves when it comes to the perception the government has been afforded by its constituents the past couple of years.

It is not consoling if one has a clue of the type of mess Eritrea, South Sudan and Somalia find themselves in but Ethiopia still does fare better than the regional average.

A reason for this may be that the state has been able to deliver on its economic promises. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is still flying high, even as the unrests continue, although economists agree that the effect here would only be visible in the years to come. Gross domestic product (GDP) has improved even if we were to go by the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) assertion that it has not reached double-digits, contradicting the Ethiopian government.

Evidently, economic growth has not translated into political stability. Empirically speaking, governance may have improved for the Index’s creators, but Prime Minister Hailemariam’s Administration evidently has miles to go before obscuring 26 years of dilly-dallying on the types of political reforms that are necessary to ensure sustainable peace and security.

But in discussing governance, I fear that too much hope is vested in parties and politicians. Those entities have always been springboards, not the final answer, to what should be the ultimate goal that is strong institutions. Of all the factors that could be debated, there is something even die-hard EPRDFites are hard-pressed to deny, that institutions should be streamlined, and that checks and balances ascertained.

That was what the founding fathers of America did for the United States (US). They were, politicians and some of them were even hypocrites. Take Thomas Jefferson, the man who penned the famous “all men are created equal” line despite owning slaves. These individuals were never the moral foundations of the country, just as it is incorrectly assumed that the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi should satisfy that role in Ethiopia’s context.

They were only individuals that determined that transparency and multipartyism would ensure that ultimate power lies with institutions run by officials whose terms are limited. And for all that bravado and long years of service, no Ethiopian leader was either willing or able to leave such a legacy.

Good governance is but a fragile abstract object to sustain, even countries with many years of democratic leadership and robust laws to ensure the freedom of the media grapple to uphold the concept. But a sure fire way, or what comes close to that, of protecting it has been through a public that is often vigilant of politicians.

The continuous public outrage the Donald Trump presidency is facing at the moment betrays such a fact. Citizens that take note of policies and reforms are not easy to come by, but they too are offsprings of the very systems and institutions that have come to define their country.

There is a reason why Kenya’s election this year was more interesting and unexpected than Robert Mugabe’s departure from power. The latter was expected – the man has ruled for almost four decades. He had it coming. The former was shocking since it meant the Kenyan courts, which invalidated an election victory by the incumbent president Uhuru Kenyatta, can check the executive part of the government, where most African nations’ power is concentrated in.

The EPRDFites understandably want their share of historical acknowledgement. It is like they are always lamenting, they did liberate the nation of the military junta, Dergue, which was objectively worse. Now, there is the opportunity to reward the country what it has always craved, generation after generation, even if many had no idea what they were searching for: good governance, that abstract manifestation of strong and independent institutions.

Is it too late to hope?

By Christian Tesfaye
Christian Tesfaye ( is Fortune's Op-Ed Editor whose interests run amok in both directions of print and audiovisual storytelling.

Published on Dec 02,2017 [ Vol 18 ,No 918]



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