Sunday, April 14, 2024
InterviewHarnessing hope for change

Harnessing hope for change

Yared H/Meskel, managing director of YHM Consulting, brings a wealth of expertise in investment advisory services and provides a nurturing platform for young developers to secure funding for their startups.

While primarily based in England, Yared focuses on Ethiopian economic issues, conducts research, and writes about the intersection of the Ethiopian economy and political matters.

Despite recent political and economic policy changes, Yared voiced his concerns regarding the prioritization of the general public’s interests. Nevertheless, his unwavering commitment lies in advocating for fair and equitable economic policies throughout Ethiopia.

In an interview with The Reporter’s Abraham Tekle, Yared delved into pressing topics, including accountability, transitional justice, and the economic and political reforms undertaken by the incumbent. EXCERPTS:

The Reporter: For almost three decades, Ethiopia was led by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition, a time that brought both economic advancement and political difficulties. What underlying conditions or policy decisions led to Ethiopia’s economic transformation but also the rise of political obstacles under the EPRDF’s long period in power?

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Yared H/Meskel: From my perspective, no system has yet fully nurtured the potential of every citizen. It seems we have remained entrenched in a monarchical system for a long period, with decision-making and enforcement consistently concentrated in a single individual. Consequently, an inherent power dynamic detached from public needs and aspirations became culturally normalized in Ethiopian politics.

Despite its controversial policies under the EPRDF administration, it has witnessed notable economic improvements through some beneficial measures. Particularly from 1991-1995, the party embarked on liberalizing the financial system and privatizing state assets and scaling back socialist doctrines.

However, these policies lacked public consent. As with any system, limitations exist. Ethiopia has reached a point where challenges now overshadow economic gains, calling the system’s sustainability into question.

In this context, the lack of political plurality and the repression of opposition parties can be seen as obstacles that contributed to the downfall of the EPRDF. From my perspective, the adoption of a religiously-tinged ethno-nationalistic governance model, influenced by Stalin’s ideology from the Soviet Union, became a catalyst for their collapse.

It is worth noting that Stalin himself vehemently opposed the concept of ethno-nationalism in his own administration, considering it a destructive policy.

The inability of this ideology to acknowledge and engage in meaningful dialogue, question, and critique the fundamental concerns of the Ethiopian people played a significant role in their downfall, ultimately leading the nation into the hands of ethnic warlords.

Regardless of the philosophical framework a government adheres to, it should always evolve, address the needs of the general population, and be responsive to the changing times.

What were the main factors that led to Ethiopia’s political and policy shifts, which became evident with the inauguration of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) in 2018?

In the early years of the EPRDF’s rule, its political ideology enjoyed widespread acceptance. However, the political system has since lost its integrity, leaving the people longing for change.

This dissatisfaction stems from the ruling government’s policies and philosophies, which bear resemblance to both the monarchical era and the Derg dictatorship. These policies have shown resistance to considering diverse perspectives, while political repression and economic control have become concentrated within the government and its affiliated groups.

The situation began to unravel following the announcement of the 2010 election results, in which the EPRDF secured nearly all seats in the parliament. This led to the emergence of decentralized forces from various parts of the country, triggering massive demonstrations that ultimately resulted in the downfall of the party.

Seizing this opportunity, an internal political transition took place, instilling newfound hope among the populace. As a result, Ethiopia underwent significant political reforms. While these reforms brought about positive changes and expanded political freedoms, they also inadvertently brought long-suppressed ethnic tensions to the surface.

However, with Abiy assuming power, there were expectations for the cessation of both political repression and excessive economic control. These hopes were grounded in two specific aspirations. Firstly, there was a strong desire to put an end to divisive ethnic policies that had plagued the nation. Secondly, there was hopeful anticipation for a reduction in the government’s influence over the economy. At the very least, these were reforms that the incoming administration intended to prioritize and implement.

While notable developments have taken place in terms of political reforms and the opening up of political spaces, it can be argued that significant economic reforms have yet to be implemented, particularly when compared to the extensive legislative measures undertaken by the EPRDF during its tenure.

Could the current government’s embrace of liberalizing the telecom and banking industries be seen as a deliberate stride towards economic reform, signaling a shift towards a more open and competitive market?

During the Derg regime, Ethiopians were prohibited from establishing banks or owning private organizations, and government-owned entities were entirely controlled by the government. However, under EPRDF’s reign, significant reforms were introduced, leading to the abolition of these restrictions.

As a result, Ethiopians were given the opportunity to participate in the private banking sector, and government-owned entities were privatized. These were substantial reforms implemented by the previous government.

However, it is reasonable to assume that the current government may have a different approach when it comes to liberalizing or privatizing the telecom service and opening up the financial sector.

The country was compelled to adopt the World Bank’s structural adjustment policy, which includes liberalization as one of its pillars. It is important to note that privatization was already on the agenda of the previous government, and the incumbent acknowledges the necessity of implementing the adjustment policy as a means to initiate the process of opening up these sectors.

Despite significant political and economic reforms undertaken during the transition period, ethnic tensions and conflicts have endured across various regions. What are the factors that continue to fuel the persistence of these recurring issues?

Decades of authoritarian rule and the historical legacy of ethnic divisions and grievances, along with issues such as land disputes, marginalization, and perceived inequalities, have significantly contributed to the prevailing tensions in Ethiopia.

In addition, the reforms on the economic front have been limited or nonexistent in certain areas, particularly land rights.

In Ethiopia, farmers without secure land rights find themselves vulnerable and disadvantaged, perpetuating a cycle of inequality. This persistent issue has played a prominent role in perpetuating the recurring challenges faced by the country.

Based on my observations in England, various investment groups and investors initially showed interest in Ethiopia following the political transition, assuming that the country was open for business. However, they encountered significant barriers in the bureaucratic process, ultimately leading them to withdraw their investment plans. This bureaucratic hurdle has become a deterrent, impeding the potential inflow of investments into the country.

While the previous government had an operational system in place that, despite its bureaucratic policies, favored investment, the current government is perceived as lacking authority and influence, resulting in widespread disillusionment in various regions of the country.

This perception of a weakened and marginalized government has given rise to resentments and grievances in different parts of Ethiopia.

Is there a discernible link between the lack of political and economic reforms during the transitional period and the enduring presence of ethnic tensions and conflicts?

Undoubtedly, there are clear connections between various factors at play.

Despite being deeply rooted in the old political system, the prominent figures of the political reform movement managed to gather substantial public support. This was primarily due to the people’s longing for freedom, the desire to express themselves openly, and the hope for an end to divisive ethnic tensions.

However, it is unfortunate to note that the political reform efforts eventually faltered, failing to achieve their intended objectives, and the status quo remained largely unchanged.

The contentious issue of land and resource disputes has become a major catalyst for unrest and instability in Ethiopia. Delving into the root causes, what are the primary reasons behind the conflicts between different regional states regarding land ownership? Can these conflicts be attributed to the design of the Constitution or are they primarily administrative issues?

The issue of land policy in Ethiopia is a complex interplay of constitutional and administrative factors. It is important to acknowledge that implementing a permanent land to the tiller policy could have helped alleviate some of the persistent problems faced by the Ethiopian people.

However, it is crucial to recognize that conflicts related to land ownership are not solely attributed to the Constitution.

The conflicts between regional states in Ethiopia regarding land ownership arise from a combination of historical, political, and socio-economic factors. For instance, during the tenure of the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, the land policy was utilized to favor specific political groups, resulting in the marginalization and displacement of certain communities from their ancestral lands. This has engendered a deep sense of injustice and a strong desire among affected groups to reclaim their lost lands.

Under the current government, similar administrative challenges continue to persist.

Processes related to land administration, such as land registration, allocation, and use, have at times been inefficient and prone to corruption. Disputes often arise when there is ambiguity or conflicting land laws, leading to competing claims over the same territories.

In what ways can land policies be leveraged to promote peace and stability in Ethiopia?

To foster lasting peace and stability in Ethiopia, it is crucial to address the issue of land disputes in a comprehensive manner. One potential approach is to consider implementing a land policy that emphasizes the privatization of land and grants individuals ownership rights.

By empowering people with control over their land, they can become economically self-sufficient and less likely to resort to rebellion. Failing to address land disputes properly may lead to rebellion being seen as an attractive solution for many.

In this context, effective land policies play a pivotal role in promoting peace and stability within Ethiopia. By addressing historical grievances, ensuring fair and equitable access to land resources, and establishing transparent and accountable land administration systems, the country can work towards a sustainable solution.

These measures are critical for addressing the root causes of conflicts and establishing a foundation for long-term peace and stability.

Has resorting to armed struggle emerged as a perceived solution for addressing deep-seated grievances in Ethiopia?

It is not a solution, but rather has become a problem. So, it is crucial to recognize that resorting to armed struggle transforms it from a potential remedy into a problematic issue.

Engaging in armed conflict frequently results in escalated violence, heightened instability, and tragic loss of life, and impedes the attainment of lasting peace and stability in the long run.

Given the recent political climate and developments in Ethiopia, it appears that armed struggle has emerged as a method of political contestation. What insights can we glean from this situation, and what potential pathways exist to achieve a lasting solution?

By involving society as stakeholders in the system, the likelihood of rebellion decreases significantly. So, I strongly recommend granting people a meaningful stake in their state.

When citizens feel adequately represented in government and have a sense of ownership in the state, their inclination towards resorting to violence diminishes. Failure to address this crucial aspect can lead to situations where rebellion may appear as the only viable solution. In this regard, it is crucial to recognize that poverty and inequality serve as significant catalysts for conflict.

Governments must prioritize investments aimed at generating employment opportunities and enhancing the living standards of all citizens. Empowering individuals through economic solutions should be the primary approach to effectively address these challenges.

Thus, by focusing on economic empowerment, governments can foster sustainable solutions to alleviate poverty and reduce inequality, thereby mitigating the root causes of conflict.

Can the occurrence of human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings and abductions, in Ethiopia be reasonably linked to the fragility of the state or the presence of an ineffective administration?

The issue at hand extends beyond a mere lack of administration. In essence, democracy entails the decentralization of power, but it should never result in the decentralization of violence, which is precisely what we are witnessing in Ethiopia.

Those who wear uniforms or hold positions of authority are granted the ability to exercise abusive power over others. Regrettably, I have personally experienced such mistreatment and have been unjustly detained without substantial evidence to support the accusations against me.

In Ethiopia, individuals with wealth can exploit their connections to attain state power and subsequently violate the rights of anyone they choose. During EPRDF’s reign, violence was more centralized, but now it is difficult to discern the perpetrators or understand the underlying reasons for the harassment.

It is the duty of the government to uphold and safeguard the rights of its citizens, regardless of their circumstances.

Nevertheless, it is crucial to understand how these factors contribute to human rights violations in order to develop effective strategies for prevention and intervention, as well as to implement the appropriate systems to address these challenges.

Ethiopia, a concerning trend where individuals often evade accountability and justice without facing questioning. This raises the pressing question: What are the underlying reasons that facilitate such a lack of accountability?

As citizens, we are entitled to all our rights. However, Ethiopia’s history of authoritarian rule and weak institutions has resulted in a lack of accountability for wrongdoings. It appears that those who cause harm hold the power, affecting every sector of the country.

In light of this, it is challenging to expect accountability when the general public is deprived of their rights. To address this, the government must prioritize strengthening its institutions, including the judiciary, to ensure they operate independently and impartially.

The government’s perspective is that Transitional Justice has made significant strides in attaining peace and stability, particularly through the resolution of the two-year conflict. What is your opinion on this matter? Furthermore, what are the primary goals, challenges, and anticipated outcomes that this mechanism may bring to Ethiopia?

The path to achieving peace and stability through Transitional Justice lies in recognizing the entitlement of power and prioritizing the empowerment of the general public. The first crucial step towards this goal is fostering consensus within society and diligently investigating the root causes of the problems at hand.

While transitional justice is a vital process for forging a more peaceful and equitable future for the country, it is essential to acknowledge that it requires a long-term commitment. It is not a quick fix for the challenges facing Ethiopia.

Addressing the underlying issues that contribute to the country’s problems necessitates rigorous work and the implementation of various mechanisms.

In the midst of ongoing resentments and disputes within the country, can the implementation of Transitional Justice initiatives truly serve as a catalyst for achieving the envisioned outcomes of stability in Ethiopia’s future?

As a nation, we have reached a level of maturity where we recognize the potential of the Transitional Justice initiative to fulfill its responsibilities and achieve positive outcomes in our country. It is my understanding that each individual has the power to make conscious and responsible choices.

So, we have been presented with an opportunity to collectively make the right choices for the betterment of our nation.

It is crucial to simultaneously address the underlying causes of resentments and disputes in conjunction with the implementation of Transitional Justice efforts. By combining responsible decision-making, addressing root causes, and prioritizing the aforementioned issues, we have a real chance of successfully implementing Transitional Justice and realizing positive outcomes for our country.

[speaker]
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Video from Enat Bank Youtube Channel.

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