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Oromo Protests sustained due to lack of democratic virtues; protests natural reactions to authoritarianism of Ethiopian regime January 24, 2016

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Odaa Oromoo#OromoProtests. International Community Alarmed as Ethiopia Crisis Worsens


#OromoProtests against the Ethiopian regime fascist tyranny. Join the peaceful movement for justice, democracy, development and freedom of Oromo and other oppressed people in EthiopiaOromoProtests against genocidal TPLF Ethiopia2. 19 June 2015

Oromo Protests sustained due to lack of democratic virtues; protests natural reactions to authoritarianism


By Abdurezack Hussein,  Finfinne Tribune,   24 January 2016


Outrage has engulfed Ethiopia for a couple of months now. Peaceful protests – against a plan, popularly called the Integrated Master Plan, to expand the capital city borders into the surrounding Oromia National Regional State – are being suppressed by lethal force. Beyond affecting the livelihoods and the cultural makeup of the Oromo residents in the affected region, protesters argue, the Plan to snatch an area from one Federal State by another could amount to a blatant annexation. Thanks to the phony federal structure, the Oromia National Regional State, that was supposed to guard its borders and defend the protesters, is regrettably failing on both accounts. According to the Human Rights Watch, at least 140 innocent lives have since been gunned down. Activists on the ground, however, raise the death toll even higher.

The escalation of the crises and protesters’ defiance have unusually forced the government, which had vowed to implement the Plan at any cost, to retract the Plan. For the protesters, though, the government’s latest action is too little to rejoice and too late to embrace. Protesters’ discontent seems to have gone beyond the Master Plan into the working of the Federal State of Oromia itself. The sustained political disenfranchisement and the lack of real representation in the decision-making hierarchy have produced a magma of uneasiness with the system that has waited so long to explode. As the protesters are vowing to continue the protests, and more political actors and the international community are slowly joining and acknowledging their cause, the coming days and weeks will increasingly put the autocratic Ethiopian government in a difficult position.

Had it not been for the lack of democracy in Ethiopia, such opposition to the government’s policies could have been easily defeated either in the court or at the ballot box. The tragic failure of the system to hold the government accountable for its polices in either way has ultimately compelled the public that the responsibility – to safeguard its own rights and claim these hijacked democratic virtues at any cost – rests on the people’s protests.

Doing Development in an Autocratic Way

The incursion into a vast swath of land around the congested capital city will produce more development and modernization, the Ethiopian government contends. It, accordingly, accuses protesters of being traitors and obstacles in the so-called “miraculous double-digit growth.” Under the New Master Plan, the predominantly agrarian adjacent lands are expected to be replaced by alternatives usages that are presumably more valuable in terms of their economic values. It envisages creating new infrastructures, new real estates, new industries and new dwellers. It does not matter whether the Plan causes serious law abridgments, or is hugely unpopular, as far as it is adding to the GDP [Growth and Transformation Plan] and keeps alive the double-digit narrative. Public opinions and laws are, at best, second to development, and at worst, they are completely neglected. This is what is called doing development in an autocratic way.

At the heart of an autocratic way of building an economy, there exists a blatant disregard of accountability. In a working democracy, governments and policymakers are accountable to the law and the public. Any development plan, however economically sound it might be, is prone to cancellation, if it negates any law of the country and its Constitution. Autocrats, on the other hand, keep themselves above the law and dare abridge any verse of the Constitution. Besides, such a regime lacks an independent judiciary to keep the working of the government in check. Dictators, therefore, are in a perfect position to plan and execute any development plan without fearing any intervention by the judiciary.

The Integrated Master Plan is an epitome of an autocratic way of doing development. Despite the fact that it plans to stretch the borders of the capital city into the neighboring Oromia National Regional State’s land, which is potentially tantamount to annexation in a federal arrangement, neither the judiciary nor the House of Federation has toddled to intervene in the matter. It is the land of autocrats where accountability before the law is at its lowest.

Another route to bring accountability within the policymakers’ circles and to governments is via elections. Elections provide mechanisms to reward, or to punish, politicians and their policies. Parties with popular policies are elected into office; economic policies and projects are no exceptions. While in office, incumbent governments plan and execute development plans that are feasible in economic terms, sound in terms of country’s laws and popular in the eyes of their electorates. Free, fair and transparent elections constrain politicians from pursuing risky and unpopular policies. The recurrent massive turnovers among governments that follow austerity measures can be a good example in this respect.

In no-man lands of electoral autocrats, however, elections are, at best, mere periodic anniversaries, or at worst, eves of mass imprisonments of vocal dissidents. The very role of accountability-before-the-public that elections guarantee is impossible in dictatorships. However unpopular the policies they plan and execute might be, they can go away without facing any punishment by the public during elections. When elections cease to serve their natural purpose of voting politicians and their policies, plans – as unpopular as the Integrated Master Plan, can irresponsibly be planed and implemented without any accountability at the ballot box.

Protests as Working Constraints

Political institutions, such as legislature, political parties and elections ,are eminent constraints on governments. The judiciary, with its mighty power, keeps government’s actions in check. These are the virtues of democracy that nations under the auspices of autocracy are devoid of. Ethiopia has never been short of such regimes for very long. The current government has led the country for a quarter of a century with an iron fist. Any opposition to its rule and policies have been met with decisive force and merciless crackdowns.

The absence of democratic virtues like independent judiciary and elections as a mechanism to voice citizens’ approval or rejection of the government and its polices in Ethiopia has expectedly created enormous frustrations. Sustained public protests for the past few years by Ethiopian Muslims and the current Oromo protests are results of such hopelessness in the system and the institutions it has built.

The huge protests all across the Oromia National Regional State against the Master Plan for the past few months has claimed hundreds lives. Injuries and incarcerations are in thousands. Reports of torture and extra-judiciary killings are everyday news. Had the judiciary been to its honor and sound elections were in place, projects as unlawful and unpopular as the Master Plan would have been defeated in the court or at the ballot box. When both institutions fail, sadly, the people have to either chose between eviction and disenfranchisement, or bravely confront the implementation of the Plan with protests. Oromos have preferred the later and have audaciously faced one of the most brutal autocratic states in the world.

The sustained protests have lately compelled the government, which has got away with many actions without any public approval for past twenty five years, to rescind the Master Plan. It has, for now, dissipated the ambitions of the leeching pro-government business elites. What would have been easily defeated in a democratic polity has sucked the blood of many in the autocratic Ethiopia. The fallen and the injured have paid with their blood to reclaim deserved democratic virtues. They have won back what an independent judiciary or a fair election would otherwise have secured at ease. Protests have served as constraints on the government – which has abusively compromised the foremost constraints to its power: the judiciary and periodic elections.

Unfortunate enough, when protesters reclaim their rights after months of defiant protests and force their autocratic rulers to back down on their nightmare, another feature of an autocratic regime could dangerously spoil their jubilation: the question of credibility. In the absence of any institutional mechanism to assure accountability of the government, there is no way one can guarantee the government would not renege on its promises. As Mancur Olson (1991, p. 153) argued “If he (the autocrat) runs the society, there is no one who can force him to keep his commitments.” Repeated experiences in the past, and the very nature of the regime type, further strengthens the prospect of a possible change of mind sometime in the near future. More importantly, the amount of rents the political and business elites would have collected from such massive land grabs will inevitably test their commitment to the rhetorical promise they have lately made.

Both at the Crossroads

It appears that both the protesters and the government are at the crossroads. For the protesters, they have managed to force the government to scrap the Master Plan that has been the immediate cause of the protests. It is now the right time to decide whether to believe the government, which has been the sole architect of the Master Plan, and the subsequent brutality against protesters, on its word, or escalate their struggle to address the lingering deep-rooted sense of Oromo disenfranchisement and confront the beleaguered Ethiopian government to the end. Putting it differently, the struggle to reclaim democratic virtues has to make a shift to reclaiming democracy itself. While it is difficult to sleep safe believing the word of an autocrat, it also requires massive amounts of energy, coordination, solidarity and determination to make the second choice.

For the Ethiopian government, the current protests seem to indicate that the sun is slowly setting in their autocratic empire. History and the nature of the political regime the government is politicking are not on their side in terms of citizens’ confidence on their word. Incumbent politicians have to either go by their promise and give a strong signal to their credibility, or face the consequences of the ensuing protests and the public outrage. The coming days, weeks and months will tell which ways both the protesters and the government will take. Either way, the current protests, and actors involved from both sides, have already made it to the history of a country that has never witnessed a government of the people, for the people and by the people.