We are a nation that deserves to enjoy the virtues of democracy. Like its predecessors the current government has this weakness of adopting no clear policy on the concept. People on power do not clearly stipulate a policy on democracy and move away from arbitrary exercise of power and the endless quest for it.
I will analyze the four approaches on democracy that exist in the world in this article. It is my take that the existing government has to adopt the most appropriate philosophy for Ethiopian politics among the following thoughts and make it known to the public. I advise Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) to adopt a clear policy on the subject.
The nexus between democracy and development in Ethiopia has been one of the most contested issues in recent years. As a result there is an intellectual debate over the linkage between development and democracy even though politicians are involved in this debate manner that is self-serving in light of their respective political interests.
There are at least four opinions regarding the issue.
The first one is that which denies the existence of any link between the two concepts. Few years ago, the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said in the world economic forum meeting that he believed that there is no any cause and effect relationship between democracy and development. For me, it was a pronouncement of a political motive rather than an intellectual assertion. But, there are political scientists who strongly argue in line with this view. They point to China’s and other Asian economies that developed without democracy. These countries have managed to lift hundreds of millions of their people out of poverty. But, no one ever considers that these nations might have enjoyed a better development with democracy. Westerners argue that this thought will not work when these economies grow to economies where service is the predominant sector. They claim that the two concepts are independent of each other, and can easily be achieved without necessarily depending or leading to the other.
The second view is that democracy should precede development as the former is an indispensable condition for the latter. They say that the nations will sustain heavy damage due to absence of democratic governance. They are responsive to the growing demand for freedom in the society. They claim that political problems are highly connected to the authoritarian nature of the past and present governments. According to them, development cannot precede democracy as the nation is not rich in resources that would help in fast forwarding the development of the nation. The existence of weak institutions is highly connected to the undemocratic nature of governance. They support their argument citing a global study which showed that in the researched hundred twenty one democratic nations across the world development has surely flourished. As they say the recurring political instability can only be solved by turning the nation to democracy. They also base their argument by citing prominent western philosophers. They give emphasis on the process without being concerned for the result of democratic processes. They say development cannot be achieved without democracy. As they say, poverty of a nation is caused by absence of democratic governance; and freedom fosters creativity there by accomplishing prosperity. They strongly believe that democracy increases future GDP by encouraging investment, increasing schooling, and promoting economic reforms, improving public good provision, and reducing social unrest. Accordingly, they assert that Democracy is associated with higher human capital accumulation, lower inflation, lower political instability, and higher economic freedom. Democracy is closely tied with economic sources of growth, like education levels and lifespan through improvement of educative institutions as well as health services.
The third thought is the one that believes development should precede democracy. They admit that the two concepts have a cause and effect relationship and argue that development assists democracy. In their view, undeveloped but democratic nation is impossible. They hold that the nation is not ready for democracy unless the society and institutions are transformed with the help of education and development. They tend to focus on development and give too much emphasis on the results of democratic processes. They allege that if a democratic process is to take place narrow nationalists would come to power. According to them, democracy would end in empowering politicians with irrational political interests. They are pragmatic and argue for the need to a transitional period through which a single and strong party has to remain on power. They deeply believe that democracy will rather detract the development of the nation as it is their belief that competition and rotation of different political groups on power is detrimental as it is not possible to plan for the long run. They also assert that the job of uniting the divided nation should precede democracy. They say the political system is backward and undemocratic. Thus, we need to build a democratic political system in advance. They rather incline to solve the serious inequality in the society before indulging in democracy. Economists, such as Meltzer and Richard, have added that as industrial activity in a democracy increases, so too do the people’s demands for subsidies and support from the government. In this way, they argue, democracies are inefficient. Such a system could result in a wealth disparity or racial discrimination. They also say that the existence of a largely middle class society is imperative to be democratic. Otherwise, they say, democracy results in a political instability due to the fact that the diversity in the society yields to conflicting political interests. According to them imposing democracy at this given moment is a risk as the result would be a cause for chaos and controversy. They add that absence of strong democratic institutions, national consensus, commonly shared Ethiopian identity and an informed society make the nation where democracy is hard to practice. They believe that working on development will solve the hurdles of democracy.
The fourth view holds that the two concepts are mutually supportive. They are inseparable. Democracy assists development and the vice versa is true. According to this view nations have to strive on both democracy and development. Democracy flourishes and consolidates as prosperity is achieved. But, democracy has to be practiced even though the nation does not have an established democracy. Democracy improves the quality of decision making. Democracy provides a method to deal with differences and conflicts. Democracy allows people to correct their own mistakes. In a democracy, people rule themselves as leaders are elected by them. Those in support of the linkage argue that the two – democracy and development – are intertwined and depend on or lead to the other. Ultimately, this article postulates that Ethiopia should be innovative in its efforts to promote democracy and development, as there is no single prescribed way of achieving democracy or development. In their view, democracy building is both an intrinsic goal, and serves instrumentally to advance development. Almost all developed nations are democratic. Development is a way to consolidating democracy. While democracy’s contribution to development, or development’s contribution to democracy, is complex, context specific and at times contentious, the government in Ethiopia should continue to explore, support and promote the essential and mutually beneficial aspects of both processes as they say.
Which one of the above views should be practiced in Ethiopia? Which view is suitable to the political reality of the nation?
Amazingly, the former regime did not hold on to any of these views as their aim was to remain on power by hook or crook. On the other hand, PM Abiy has planned to remain on power for the next thirty years. It is not clear whether his plan is associated with democratic governance or not. He has to promptly adopt a policy and convince the public before it is too late. Gone are the days when the people used to shoulder an authoritarian government.
Ed.’s Note: Tagel Getahun is legal expert and regular contributor to The Reporter. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. The writer can be reached at [email protected].
Contributed by Tagel Getahun