Wednesday, February 21, 2024

According priority to institution-building

The vast majority of federal, regional, and municipal government institutions in Ethiopia have always been and continue to be found wanting when it comes to carrying out the tasks they were entrusted with. While there is a raft of factors to which this sad state is attributable, one important factor is the fact that the individuals at their helm, who were appointed for purely political considerations, by and large lack the requisite capacity and moral character needed to make them fit for the office they hold. Blatant political interference, rampant corruption, provincialism, and nepotism are also to blame for the absence of strong institutions in the country, rendering them the personal fiefdoms of incompetent and agenda-driven persons. If the problem is not tackled, the ensuing consequences are bound to be dire for everyone. 

A cursory examination of the unhealthy political landscape in Ethiopia reveals the deeply flawed nature of its institutions. The most prominent of the flaws besetting Ethiopian politics for some time now is the blurring of the line between state and party. Such lack of clear delineation between the government and the ruling parties has allowed a cabal of powerful individuals to subvert the rule of law, enabling them to use the law as an instrument to attack rather than protect the weak and the defenseless. The parties’ apparent interest in erasing the distinction between the state and party is driven by to the desire to control every aspect of life and do whatever they want with impunity. The days when “untouchable” cadres abuse state institutions without consequence must come to an end if the latter are to contribute meaningfully to the nation building process.

The administration of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) and the regional governments ruled by the party he leads made limited efforts to reverse this trend soon after he came to power in April 2018, installing in positions of responsibility some individuals on the basis of their educational qualification, experience and integrity at the beginning of his tenure. However, the intended result did not materialize and in some instances the problem actually worsened compared from before he assumed office. Prime Minister Abiy recently acknowledged the prevalence of the above contributing factors within the structures of the government and the ruling party. As a result, the aspirations of Ethiopians to see institutions that are able to deliver basic services and usher in the fundamental changes they had always demanded were prematurely dashed.

Institution-building is a critically essential task for a nation like Ethiopia for several reasons. Institutions are central to the functioning of a democratic society and provide a framework for stable governance and promote political stability. In particular, laying the foundation for such strong, independent and effective institutions of democracy as parliament, the human rights commission, the office of the ombudsman, the auditor general and the election board is paramount when it comes to strengthening the nation’s democratic processes as well as establish and maintain the rule of law. This not only enables citizens to exercise their basic liberties, but also ensures that decisions and policies are made in a consistent, accountable, and transparent manner, fostering confidence among citizens, investors, and international partners.

Institutions are also important in terms of creating an enabling environment for economic development. They pave the way for the establishment and enforcement of property rights, facilitate trade and investment, and ensure fair competition within the market. By providing stability and certainty, institutions attract domestic and foreign investment, encourage entrepreneurship, and foster economic growth, job creation and poverty reduction. They further play a crucial role in promoting social cohesion and inclusivity by ensuring equal access to resources, opportunities, and justice for all citizens, thereby reducing social inequalities and ethnic or regional tensions. Moreover, they help put in place mechanisms for dialogue and participation, undertake the ground work for peaceful conflict resolution, and foster a sense of national unity and identity.

No system can have hopes of thriving if it is reliant on certain individuals or groups. It has to be anchored in institutions if it is to be self-sustaining and durable. This requires a continuous endeavor to create institutions that abide by the rule of law. Obviously, these institutions need to be staffed with a leadership and employees who not only love their people and fellow countrymen, but also are committed to carrying out the duties assigned to them with a sense of responsibility. Then transparency and accountability will become hallmarks of the conduct of government affairs; Ethiopians will come to duly appreciate both their rights and obligations; corruption and maladministration will be shunned; it will be enough to be an Ethiopian to serve one’s country; ethnic, religious, ideological and other differences will no longer be sources of friction or deadly conflicts; and each and every Ethiopian will be prepared to give their time, money and energy to the nation’s cause. This is why it’s absolutely imperative to accord priority to building strong institutions in Ethiopia.

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