Thursday, June 20, 2024
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Is Ethiopia a failed state?

Diverse scholars from various fields, including political science, governance, and leadership, lack a common consensus on the definition of a state and the terms “fragile,” “failed,” and “collapsed” states. Therefore, it is imperative to establish a clear understanding of what constitutes a state and its functions before passing judgment on its performance and determining its fragility, failure, or collapse.

Political theory consistently defines the state as the embodiment of a social contract. Essentially, this theory suggests that the existence of states is founded on a mutually beneficial agreement between rulers and the ruled, based on rights and obligations that both parties agree to uphold. While the ruled consent to be governed, pay taxes, and abide by the law, the rulers, in turn, provide various political goods, including security, education, healthcare systems, border control, a political structure, physical infrastructure, a judicial system, and commercial and banking systems.

State failure can be best described as the incapacity of a state to fulfill its obligations to its citizens and the international community. Generally, failed states are characterized by a dysfunctional state structure, which hampers the government’s ability to carry out its functions. State failure not only affects the effectiveness of the government but also undermines the fundamental pillars of the state, such as its population, territory, and capacity to fulfill both internal and international obligations.

Instances of state failure are not uncommon, and contemporary examples can be found worldwide. For instance, Somalia has been without a functioning government for over a decade, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been torn apart by internal rivalries and regional conflicts over its mineral resources, and Sudan has experienced a complete halt in economic activities for the past three months.

Over the past fifty years, Ethiopia has witnessed a tumultuous transformation in its social, economic, and political dynamics. The power of the government has shifted towards a more complex economic and social structure, particularly favoring the Oromo political elites. New national actors have emerged, and national security threats have undergone significant changes. These transformations have adversely affected all regional states, with Tigray, Amhara, and Afar experiencing the worst consequences.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government carries numerous obligations to serve all Ethiopians equally and meet the expectations of the international community. This is not only a legal requirement but also a necessity for his government. However, as the leader of a failed state, PM Abiy’s government has been marked by its inability to fulfill its social contract with the Ethiopian people and the international community. The social contract forms the foundation of its legitimacy to govern, and the government’s failure to fulfill this contract undermines its authority and power. In a failed state, it is not just the government’s functions that are at stake, but also the breakdown of social infrastructure and the collapse of society’s very foundations.

In Ethiopia, the rights of domestic populations have been systematically eroded, with inadequate provision of security, healthcare, and other basic necessities in many parts of the country. This alarming situation foreshadows a looming humanitarian crisis. Furthermore, the inefficiency of state structures in providing essential rights to Ethiopian citizens, particularly those outside the capital city, compounds the problem.

Consequently, Ethiopians fear that escalating violence could plunge the nation into an all-out internal war, resulting in the loss of lives, a massive deterioration in living standards, the decay of essential infrastructure, and a complete abdication of government authorities’ responsibilities to improve the lives of the Ethiopian people.

As a consequence of its failure to deliver political goods, the government exhibits a range of unique characteristics, including social disharmony among communities, the inability to control borders and territories, ethnic and intercommunal hostility, predatory behavior by ruling elites, a surge in criminal violence, flawed institutions, rising corruption, the absence of democratic debate, and the deterioration of infrastructure.

To assess the current status of the Ethiopian government within these three categories of governance, several multifaceted problems in the country must be considered. These include internal conflicts, forced displacement, mass arrests, security challenges, and the ongoing humanitarian crisis faced by Ethiopia and its people. These factors serve as major criteria in asserting that Ethiopia is a failed state.

Loss of physical control over its territory is a notable issue. For the past nine months, the government has engaged in battles with the Amhara Fano.

Loss of legitimacy is another critical aspect. Legitimacy is earned when an actor, institution, or system gains recognition from social players within their sphere of political action. Legitimacy is crucial as it leads to voluntary obedience and the establishment of stable rules with relatively low levels of coercion and conflict.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government has lost legitimacy for various reasons, including inconsistencies between promises and actions, lack of truth and convincing evidence to support most of his speeches, and failure to fulfill commitments in the interest of the Ethiopian public. Consequently, public trust in him has declined. Despite thePrime Minister’s denial, Ethiopia has experienced a devastating economic decline under his premiership, with political power shrinking to the capital, and public services and security provisions in most parts of the country being relinquished to groups like Fano and Shene. These concrete signs and evidence substantiate the claim that Ethiopia is a failed state, even on the brink of collapse.

Abiy’srise to power in 2017 has further exacerbated Ethiopia’s descent into deep nationalism, dividing the nation along ethnic and regional fault lines. Over the past ten months, Ethiopia has been embroiled in a de facto civil war asAbiy’s forces continue to clash with Fano in Amhara and Shene in Oromia.

Less than a year after the war in Tigray ended, another conflict has erupted in the Amhara regional state due to Abiy’s desire to disarm the Amhara forces. The region has witnessed political massacres, mass arrests, internal displacement, and arbitrary killings. Tensions between Prime Minister Abiy’s government and the Amhara elites, who played a pivotal role in bringing him to power, have simmered for years but intensified after the government issued orders to disarm the Amhara Special Forces and militias. It’s crucial for Ethiopians to understand that what happens in the Amhara regional state affects all other Ethiopian states and even extends beyond the nation’s borders.

Consequences and dangers of a failed state

Plagued by a multitude of challenges, Ethiopia is exhibiting alarming signs of a failed state. The government’s inability to effectively collect taxes, enforce laws, maintain security, exert territorial control, and adequately staff political and civil offices has become a distressing reality in the country.

The concepts of state fragility, failure, and collapse shed light on the capacity of a state to exercise a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence and fulfill its fundamental functions. State fragility arises when a government fails to establish control over the use of force, protect its citizens, provide essential public services, and maintain legitimacy. State failure on the other hand occurs when these issues intensify, posing a direct threat to the state’s existence.

Ultimately, state collapse ensues when a government disintegrates completely, leaving a void in authority.

In a thought-provoking 2022 study titled “Post-2018 Ethiopia: State Fragility, Failure, or Collapse?” by EndalkachewBayeh, it was concluded that Ethiopia had indeed met the conditions of fragility and was descending into a state of failure.

The protracted conflicts in the Amhara and Oromia regions further exacerbate Ethiopia’s plight, with reports from respected international media outlets such as The Guardian and France24 indicating that armed groups have gained control over 90 percent of these territories in recent months. As a result, most government officials in these regions have been forced to seek refuge in towns and cities, while the federal government’s authority, including its security apparatus, remains limited to these urban areas.

Presently, Ethiopia’s government struggles to exert control over its territory, ensure the security of its citizens, and safeguard its national borders. Widespread disillusionment among its populace has eroded trust in the legitimacy of the government, leading the Ethiopian state to be viewed as illegitimate in the eyes of the international community.

The failure of the Ethiopian state poses a grave danger to the well-being of its population and global stability at large. It has the potential to become a haven for terrorist organizations, a hub for illicit trade in drugs and arms, and a breeding ground for dangerous diseases.

Moreover, Ethiopia’s state failure could ignite instability along its borders and trigger a chain of conflicts that could spill over into neighboring countries. Undoubtedly, the repercussions of its failure extend beyond its borders. The inherent risks associated with its collapse demand immediate international action to address the deficiencies within the country before they culminate in total collapse and its far-reaching consequences. Consequently, the recent diplomatic efforts undertaken by the United States in Ethiopia and neighboring nations aim to preempt such a catastrophic scenario.

As an embattled state, Ethiopia confronts an array of potential problems that include civil war, ethnic violence, genocide, and even the disintegration of the nation itself. The dynamics within Ethiopia portend an imminent threat that, if left unaddressed, could have far-reaching and perilous consequences.

While Ethiopian scholars bear historical responsibilities to save their beloved country, it is disheartening to observe a scarcity of articles, conferences, or dialogues addressing these deadly wars unfolding within the country. Instead, foreign scholars, international media, and human rights organizations have become the primary sources of information on Ethiopia’s problems.

In general, all Ethiopians must recognize that once the nation collapses and spirals out of control, reversing the situation becomes exceedingly difficult. I implore all Ethiopians to urgently seek immediate solutions before it is too late.

(AbushGetaneh is a political analyst and commentator based in Ethiopia.)

Contributed by Abush Getaneh

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