The constitution of Ethiopia unequivocally stipulates that any public official or an elected representative is accountable for any failure in official duties. The reality on the ground cannot be further from this though. In a blatant disregard for the principle that the conduct of affairs of government must be transparent and entails accountability gross human rights violations and grand corruption have been rife in the country for decades now. Although the true extent of the problem may have been exposed in recent revelations and arrests, much has been said about it for quite some time. The Federal Auditor General has for years submitted annual reports to Parliament laying bare the shocking level of embezzlement and wastage running into the billions in federal government agencies. The reports, which are forwarded to the Prime Minister as well, have never been acted on. The Auditor General’s repeated urging for the appropriate measures to be taken always fell on deaf ears. When asked once by lawmakers to explain the reason why the financial mismanagement besetting the federal government had ballooned into alarming proportions the head of this august institution underscored that it is primarily attributable to the absence of political will in enforcing accountability. As to Ethiopia’s poor human rights record it has been an area it has been perennially criticized by the international community let alone citizens.
For the purpose of enabling the federal government to govern the nation in accordance with the constitution and the law the powers and duties of each federal organ and the individuals at its helm are explicitly defined in its establishment legislation. Unfortunately, horrendous acts have been committed with impunity due to the fact that in Ethiopia the law is by and large not worth the paper it’s written on. The country and its people have suffered greatly on account of deliberate malfeasance as well as incompetence on the part of public officials to discharge the responsibilities entrusted to them in the letter and spirit of the law. Several institutions were practically the fiefdoms of autocrats and sycophants that perpetrated miscarriage of justice and subjected the masses to untold misery. Compatriots who pointed out that misuse of power was rampant and was bound to wreak havoc were jailed or intimidated into silence. Those who cautioned against the dangers of blurring the line between state and party were ridiculed and accused of acting at the behest of enemies. Accountability, transparency and the rule of law were routinely trampled precipitating political instability. Generally speaking the country was heading down a treacherous path.
Regional state administrations are equally if not more culpable than the federal government. The human rights abuses taking place in different regions area so egregious that many have fled to Addis Ababa in the belief that they can find relative safety there. The litany of transgressions routinely committed by local to regional administration officials include abducting, harassing, torturing and killing political opponents or individuals who demanded their rights; stoking deadly intercommunal conflicts; dispossessing hard-working citizens of the properties they lawfully acquired; engaging in illegal transfer of public land, logging and plundering of mineral resources; and diverting public funds to enrich oneself and one’s cronies. The critical juncture Ethiopia presently finds itself in has fueled demands for the rights violations and pillaging that took place in regional states to be brought to light. Otherwise, the government will lose all credibility for the public knows well what goes on.
There is no disputing in time the gory details about the brazen corruption and other illicit practices in both federal and regional government agencies are bound to be divulged sooner or later. The parties responsible for some of the mind-boggling scandals in the nation’s history were emboldened and sanctioned by people in the corridors of power. Ethiopia has turned into a land where millions go hungry while a select few become rich overnight beyond their wildest dream due in large part to the utter disrespect for the rule of law. The consequences of the disdain for the principle of checks and balances as it pertains to the three branches of government have been dire for Ethiopians across the board. The Legislature and the Judiciary have been robbed of the powers they enjoy under the constitution allowing the Executive to wield considerable influence over them and compel them do its bidding. Even as the specifics of the scandals no one thought would ever be publicized are being laid bare in one exposé after another even more bizarre ones will reportedly be revealed in the days and weeks ahead.
The failure to set clear lines which entail liability as well as the enjoyment of unchecked power by the Executive has been the bane of Ethiopia’s existence. All federal and regional government organs and the officials heading them are vested by law with executive powers and corresponding obligations. For those who believe that these organs have properly discharged the duties entrusted to them we leave it to their conscience. However, the performance of the vast majority of them to date paints a picture to the contrary given they were under the thumb of political heavyweights and cadres who took advantage of the opportunity this presented them with to perpetrate unforgivable injustices. If the adage “The wise man learns from the mistakes of others, the fool has to learn from his own” is not to come true in Ethiopia, the inequities visited on its people must never be repeated. The people of Ethiopia need to come as one to build a nation where peace, democracy and equality prevail; it’s entirely unacceptable to hide behind one’s ethnicity to deflect criticism or evade justice. Anyone who takes the reins of power should always bear this in mind. Playing the “us” versus “them” or the ethnic card is a recipe for disaster. It should never be lost on anyone that undermining the rule of law is not in anybody’s interest and actually constitutes a punishable crime. That is why it is vitally important to set clearly the boundary of accountability.