Still Zeroing on Good Governance

With wide-ranging experience in the public service as well as in academia in the field of Law, Getachew Reda Kahsay, newly appointed central committee member of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), seems well qualified to play his new leadership role. With the TPLF being a member party of the ruling coalition government, Getachew is now even better poised to influence national development decision making. FORTUNE STAFF WRITER, MIKIYAS TESFAYE secured this exclusive interview with Getachew, in the aftermath of covering the 10th Congress of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front. His views on substantial agenda of the Congress as well as on the internal and external developmental thrusts of the Front in the next five years are shared below.

With wide-ranging experience in the public service as well as in academia in the field of Law, Getachew Reda Kahsay, newly appointed central committee member of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), seems well qualified to play his new leadership role. With the TPLF being a member party of the ruling coalition government, Getachew is now even better poised to influence national development decision making. FORTUNE STAFF WRITER, MIKIYAS TESFAYE secured this exclusive interview with Getachew, in the aftermath of covering the 10th Congress of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front. His views on substantial agenda of the Congress as well as on the internal and external developmental thrusts of the Front in the next five years are shared below.   

Fortune:   First of all Fortune would like to extend its congratulations on your recent election to the central committee of TPLF [Tigray People’s Liberation Front]. I understand that it is a major accomplishment for someone who has joined the Front for a relatively short period of time.

Some who have known you in your previous posts as an academician at Mekelle University describe you as fairly liberal, how do you describe your journey from that part of your life’s experience to your current position where you have to follow strict party discipline?

Getachew: Well first of all my being elected to the central committee of TPLF has little, if anything, to do with my accomplishment. It has rather to do with what the members of the party who elected me, expect of me in terms of what I could deliver, my contribution. So it does not in any way reflect what I have achieved so far. It, rather, is a simple expression of expectation that I would contribute something to the cause for which TPLF has always stood. Having said that, whether I am going to be equal to the task or whether I am going to meet the expectation of the people who voted for me will remain to be seen. But as far as I am concerned I will do everything in my capacity to make sure that I indeed do live up to that expectation.

With regard to my background as an academician, I do not know what you meant by fairly liberal. If you mean liberal in the political sense of the term, as in say someone who believes in democracy, people’s rights, someone who believes in the cause of the people first and foremost – yes, I have always been liberal. And even in academics my political positions for whatever they’re worth were more or less consistent with the ideology espoused by the ruling party. So to the extent that there is evolution of sorts, it has little to do with my ideological leanings or orientations in terms of my readiness to embrace the kind of strict party discipline that comes with the responsibility. As far as ideological leanings are concerned, my beliefs have more or less been consistent with the ruling party. But now that I am in the leadership of the ruling party, I have the extra responsibility to articulate the various aspects of the ideology espoused by the ruling party and of course contribute my share to making sure this ideology, developmentalist ideology is  part and parcel of the embedded thinking of our people. And at the end of the day, we are talking about an ideology that has proved its calibre in terms of changing the lives of people, ensuring broad based development and pro-poor growth. There is little that I will add but by becoming part of the leadership what I am going to do is, make sure that these policies and strategies are really implemented in a manner that ensures the fullest benefit of the people.

Q: During the 10th EPRDF’s [Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front] convention, Front members as well as non-party and non-voting participants outlined wide-ranging shortcomings of/among senior leadership of the Front as well as the overall members. Some of the problems have been around for a long while now, such as good governance particularly in terms of service delivery and justice.

How committed is EPRDF to seriously address these recurring issues this time around rather than merely giving lip service …… even for the past 25 years?

You see as you mentioned the fact that EPRDF was willing to discuss the shortcomings of the party in the presence of not only members but also non-members, the cross section of the society, simply means that it is genuinely interested in addressing whatever shortcomings it has, it faces.

And the 10th organisational congress, if anything, underscores that business as usual is no more an option. EPRDF has won the mandate of the people through elections, but EPRDF is fully mindful of the fact that people elected EPRDF not so much for its success as for the promise it holds. And the people are also mindful of the fact that EPRDF has the capacity to address its own problems and shortcomings and transcend the failures in good governance and continue to register not only proper economic growth but also ensure good governance throughout the country. So it is as much a blank cheque written by the people with a belief that EPRDF will not abuse that blank cheque. So this carte blanche we understand has its own limits. The question of good governance, question of ensuring the fullest representation of the public in all walks of life; these are things to which there is no alternative. So EPRDF realises that if we are going to sustain the changes that we have been achieving so far, the only way we can achieve that is through broad-based democratic processes and good governance that addresses the issue of delivery of services for the people. Now yes, it has clearly identified the areas where intervention is required, and it has been underscored again and again that simply paying lip service to the question of good governance is not going to do the magic. So it is going to be an action-packed two and half years, as far as EPRDF is concerned, to the next organisational congress. Because in the nature of things, while EPRDF has been making significant progress both in economic and political fields by the way, even in the democratisation process significant progress has been made, and simply because we have made significant progress in the democratisation process does not mean all the problems of good governance will go away. So we have to make sure that people’s interest are taken care of, we have to make sure that people’s questions are properly answered and we have to make sure that people’s answers are properly addressed. And this is a more or less make or break moment for EPRDF because it knows that the only way you can ensure the continuity of The Ethiopian State and the stability and peace of this country, is first by fighting poverty and second by ensuring, putting in place a political system that fully accommodates the diversity of the society, whether religious, racial, ethnic and whatever. Now is this commitment lip service as you insinuated? It is not, because now we understand it is a matter of survival for us. If we fail to address the concerns of the people who have chosen to elect EPRDF into office for yet another five years, if we fail to address the concerns of people who have put their trust in this organisation, and then we would have squandered whatever opportunity that presented itself in the form of electoral mandate of the people. So we totally understand. It is going to be action packed. It is not like a tweak here and a tweak there but a process that will see major implementation progress through.

Q: So what precise messages do you have today for the public in this regard? Should they expect improved performance in good governance given that the EPRDF has failed to address this critical issue for the past 25 years?

The critical message is what the EPRDF chairman said. He underlined that it is not about repeating ad nauseam our weaknesses in this area or in that one … it is not about acknowledging or recognising the fact that there is good governance problem. We have to go way beyond that.  As one of the speakers put it, it’s time for some heads to roll. It is time for people who are responsible for creating difficulties, to be held accountable for their weaknesses and their failures. So it is not just about acknowledging the seriousness or gravity of the problem. It is also about ensuring that those who are responsible for these problems are properly accountable. But such a movement/action that leads to people to be held responsible cannot be fully achieved unless the public at large is fully onboard. So the most important message the chairperson of the party underscored, was that this is something that the people should be entirely involved in. Without the involvement of the people, without the participation of the public at large, we cannot hold people responsible.  It is not just about taking legal and administrative measures against members. It is one option, but it is not the most effective. It is only through the broad based participation of the public in all aspects of this drive by the ruling party, that we can achieve more or less comprehensive improvement in good governance in this country. If we are going to hold people responsible for their actions, the parties that have made it their business to stand in the way of people getting services and if we have the public at large on board, there is no reason why a significant improvement cannot be made in good governance.

Q: So can you elaborate more on state-public collaboration to combat or improve the situation?

Look,the organisational congress deliberated on how to ensure that there is much broader participation of all stakeholders in the political process of the country; civil society, say, women’s organisations, youth associations, and also political parties who are willing to be bound by the rules of the game. So there will be structures which are meant to enhance the kinds of public participation that will help in combatting the pervasive failure of good governance that we are facing today. The ruling party is serious in bringing all stakeholders on board and will ensure that there are structures, institutional set-ups that will allow for a much broader involvement of the public in political activities.

Q: The convention report indicates that though there is a huge number, 7.4 million members, most new recruits have joined the party for personal gains. How does the Front perceive this meteoric rise of new members? Is it an opportunity or a challenge?  

I say it is both an opportunity and a challenge. It is an opportunity because with more and more members having a very good understanding of the policies and various strategies put in place by the government, they would stand a better chance of being implemented properly. It is an opportunity for further fine-tuning the policy choice that we try to make every step of the way.

Ahhhh……. But it is also a challenge because without equipping them [party members], with the requisite ideological policy understanding and skills required to discharge party responsibilities; this would only be a game in numbers. So the focus now identified by the organisational congress is intra-party capacity building efforts as one of the most important components of the move to improve good governance. The intra-party capacity building process is meant to create an opportunity for party members to be equipped with the required knowledge and skills that will help them contribute their share to the implementation of the programmes and policies designed by the party. And with the party training centres at all levels, starting to be active there is a high likelihood that this process of strengthening intra-party capacity will yield results, sooner than later.

Q: With this historically high number of new members joining the Front, some raise concerns that the core essence and values of the party are being diluted as the new members bring what some consider bad traditions, such as opportunistic, self serving tendencies. What is your view?

The party identified the opportunistic tendencies as a challenge and not peculiar to new entrants. It is also reflected at the higher echelons of the party. So what the leadership has decided by strengthening intra-party democracy, by making sure that people are held responsible and accountable for what they do or failed to do then you make sure that democratisation process within the party itself is an integral part of the democratic process throughout the country. Without ensuring a much better democratic environment within the party, it is absolutely impossible for the party to stick out for a broad based democratic culture in the country. This is the most important issue.  Opportunistic behaviour is often reinforced by lack of democratic governance within the party itself. If there are people who think that speaking out against some malpractices will land them in trouble, they are likely to keep quiet. What the party has clearly and unequivocally agreed upon is to make sure that the quintessentially EPRDF intra-party democracy has to be streamlined again, has to be brought back again into what it was. With that there will be great improvement. That would be an opportunity for the leadership to weed out some gangrenous elements within the leadership and the party. If there are those who are in the business of lining their pockets in the name of  serving people, this will give an opportunity to make sure that it’s just not the number but also the quality of members that will lead to delivering services.

Q: Speaking of internal democratic practices people argue that EPRDF in recent years only conducts what they refer to as healthy criticism, tenama gimgema, and the “you scratch my back and I will scratch yours” principle. And they identify these as a huge problem the Front faces in ensuring democracy. So how efficient are the Front’s exercises of criticism and self criticism in righting the wrongs?      

Well the criticisms and self criticisms in the party, I am afraid are not as flimsy as you made them out to be. I don’t know that sort of ‘scratch my back I will scratch yours’ tendency. Of course there could be some, but as far as the senior leadership is concerned the criticisms have been harsh, at times bordering on ad hominem but still there is a strong conviction on the part of the leadership that without critically addressing our weaknesses we cannot sustain the kind of positive vibe we have managed to create in this country. It is not just about maintaining the health of the party itself. The party cares more than anything else about serving the interests of the public. So the most important issue is if EPRDF fails to address its own problems; it would rather work with the people. So the people will be the owners of the entire development process in this country.

So in that case, EPRDF will be redundant. Even EPRDF, as a party, is working hard to make itself redundant. The only way it can make itself redundant is, first and foremost, by making sure that its leadership remains focused on the very objective of ensuring Ethiopia’s Renaissance. The Renaissance cannot be achieved unless the party can maintain its own health.

The only way it can maintain its health is by ensuring that the intra-party democracy remains as robust and as vibrant as it should be. EPRDF can go away any time, if it fails to correct itself. As long as developmental drive becomes the fundamental ideal that permits the thinking of the public, to that extent, EPRDF will have become redundant. To that extent, EPRDF’s objectives will have been met.

The most important issue is that the criticism and self criticisms within the party can sometimes be lukewarm but at any rate the healthy sort of exchange of ideas and criticism is now being reinstated as it were. Without that, the party’s health cannot be ensured. And without ensuring the health of the party, the kinds of change that have been achieved under the leadership of EPRDF cannot be maintained. That is the most important issue.

Q: The Congress report suggests that there are a significant number of clandestine, multi-layered groupings and in-fighting among the various basic organisational cells, in leadership committees of the Front at all levels. Given the seriousness of this internal problem, is EPRDF capable of addressing the rising social, democratic, developmental and good governance needs of the people?

Well, you are assuming too much.

Q: But I am quoting the report

But you are assuming too much. The report was meant to address the problem. What I’m saying is, you are telling me what the report points out has reflections of some of the problems. It does not mean that these problems are what characterise the organisation. No; far from that. The organisation by and large is doing what it is supposed to do. And it is doing it in a manner that is consistent with its ideals. But there are tendencies within the party. The reason that this report was discussed by the participants and a significant consensus was made to address this problem, is because we understand these problems will go a long way in curtailing the kind of progress we have been making.

So, as long as there is a commitment to address those difficulties, there is no reason why the party should not carry through the promises that it has made.

Of course, this is not a matter of choice. There is no going back as far as making progress in good governance is concerned.

Q: A large number of people in the public and some in the outgoing leadership, as part of the leadership succession process of the Front, feel that capable and experienced hands are being pushed out in the name of leadership succession. Does the EPRDF risk alienating some highly seasoned and capable leaders who still command a significant amount of public support?

EPRDF is not in the business of alienating its senior leaders. It’s just being true to the very ideals these leaders themselves had long subscribed. So it is these leaders who have set in motion a process of succession, which will definitely mean they will have to go.

But when somebody is being succeeded by another does not simply mean that he has out-lived his relevance. There are other areas where they can continue to contribute. So to say that experienced leaders are being pushed out, is to really miss the point of the very idea of the notion of succession.

Successions are done not simply because one leader has lost his bearing or has become invalid or whatever. It is done because there is a need for infusing new blood into the organisation, that’s the only way you can sustain the organisation. Simply because there is new blood does not mean that these new people would not have to make use of the council of senior leaders. It is a process where by the new leadership will have to learn on the job while at the same time taking and using every opportunity possible to learn from the experience of senior leaders. Otherwise, the very wording of your question that some are being pushed out seems to suggest that this was being done against the interest or will of the senior leaders themselves. It’s far from that, because it was these senior leaders themselves that set this process in motion. And it should continue the way it should.

Q: The 10th Congress was supposed to be the final phase for the succession process. Has the succession process been completed?

The succession process, I would say is not completed. It is an ongoing process. What was mentioned with regard to a phased succession plan was in relation to the armed struggle leadership. Most, if not all people, in the current EPRDF leadership have never been members of the armed struggle leadership. That is the most important thing. So the process, however, will not stop here. It will not stop today or tomorrow. It will continue because it is going to be a phased process.  There still are people who took part in the armed struggle, but who were never part of the leadership during the armed struggle, who still continue to have roles.

So the question is this phased process was not meant to be a hard and fast sort of rule where you make roll calls of people and they will be stampeding to leave the scene. No, that is not the kind of arrangement. But basically the succession plan is fully on.

Q: Staying with the issue of leadership succession, some ask if this succession process is a mere generational transition or if it entails actual policy changes fitting to the needs and aspirations of the youth.

I don’t see any reason why the policies that were devised under the leadership of the senior leaders would not reflect the interests of the youth. I don’t know why there is a chronological element to the interest of people. The youth’s interest will be served better if the interest of the wider public is addressed properly. So any policy that addresses the interests of the wider public will ipso facto address the interests of the youth as well. There is no Great Wall of China between the interest of the youth and the interest of the public. What is important is to the extent that there is a need for any change it’s only based on objective conditions. If, say 20 years down the road, circumstances change and there is need for policy change, there is no reason why that change should not happen. Because orthodoxy is not about sticking to stuff that does not work. If you continue to do something despite the results dictating otherwise, that would make you technically mad – because, as they say, the technical definition of madness is when you do something a thousand times again expecting different results.

The point is our policies are meant to serve the interests of the larger public, including women and the youth. The full implementation of these policies is what will ensure the interest of the wider part of society.

Policy changes do not come simply because there is a generational change. Policy changes come only when one policy that has proved its calibre at some point ceases to be relevant because of a change in the objective conditions and circumstances.

Q: We ask that question because, in relation to the performance of the first Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP I), most of the benchmarks have not been achieved.

Have not been achieved?

Q:    Have not been achieved. There is widespread underperformance. Will there be any change in implementation policy at least?

No, no. To say that they have been underperformed is to overstate the case. The most important aspect of the first Growth and Transformation Plan is that it has set in motion an economic and political dynamic which created the “can-do” spirit within our public. Most if not all projects are already in the pipe line.

Yes, some timelines have not been achieved. But what is the point of achieving some time tables for the sake of achieving time tables? If you have a project which is 90pc complete, no body is going to turn the clock back against that project. So as far as performance is concerned, most of the projects are in line. I don’t see any problem with many of the benchmarks.

Q:     In terms of some key elements, such as export, manufacturing,…

There are areas where we have underperformed. But it simply means that we have underperformed in some areas where we have to reevaluate where we have failed and work on building on the success.

Q: Do you believe that the government promotes equitable access to information by all media houses in the country, be it state-owned or private media? We ask this question using the example of a recent event when US President Obama visited Ethiopia only journalists from state-owned media were allowed to raise questions.  This is one among the many such instances where the private media is increasingly being marginalised.

Look, the government wants to do all in its power to make sure that all people have access to media and information. But we have problems in terms of implementing this access to information. There are institutional challenges.

But if your example of this access to information is based on who got the opportunity to ask questions to President Obama, I would say, even among the foreign media that was present, I think it was only three people who had access. So if your understanding of access to information is based on who gets to ask what questions during a press conference, that would be a very simplistic way of looking at the problem. But while we believe access to information is very important, we still have a long way to go in addressing the problem with the shortfalls that we often face. But at least in principle we believe that access to information is an important pillar of building democracy.

Q: On social media, you are an avid user of Facebook, what is the stance of EPRDF in this regard, given that the 12th TPLF Convention generated public interest through information of the convention being shared on Facebook?  How does EPRDF perceive social media?

EPRDF does not have any serious position on social media. Social media has to be used. EPRDF believes using any medium to communicate is very important. So is social media. EPRDF does not put a much higher premium on social media than it does on other media. But the most important issue is EPRDF wants to communicate with the youth much more frequently than it used to. So, to that extent, EPRDF as a party is much more inclined, of course, it has its official Facebook account as well.

Q: Is it coping with the changing social dynamics of the country?

There are limitations in terms of being glued to social media all day. For EPRDF as a party, it could be a weakness, I know. But as a party, focuses much more on the performance aspect of political activities than the promotion and communication aspects. So I would not be surprised if there are few people who are glued to the internet sending out social media messages. But otherwise, EPRDF as a party wants to promote the youth in social media.

Every EPRDF member is entitled to use social media. And of course, one of my responsibilities, for example, is to do as much communication as possible. Whenever I have private conversation with people, I try to do as much communication as possible. When I deal with foreign officials, I try to do as much communication as possible. So whatever medium you think is going to be important to do a little bit of communication that is more than welcome. Whether the success of the social media drive is going to be gagged in terms of how many recruits you have won on the internet, well, I have no idea if that is going to be a very valid assessment.

Q: How much of the comments and recommendations that have been raised during the 10th EPRDF convention will be reflected in the incoming administration?

All of them will be reflected. The administration is meant to address the serious and grave good governance issues. The incoming administration is expected to address serious gaps in implementation capacity of projects. It is expected to address failures in terms of delivery of services, in terms of good governance.

To that extent, the government will have to reflect on the comments. It is not like let’s take few of the comments seriously and let’s put the rest on the back burner. No it is not business as usual. The new administration expected to be formed in the coming month will have to take up the slack from the previous one and address serious implementation failures and good governance issues that have bedeviled us for the last many years.

Published on Sep 08,2015 [ Vol 16 ,No 801]



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