Too Cheap to Kill in Ethiopia?

February 14, 2013

by Teklu Abate
Abyss blog


In his latest paper entitled Ethiopia: Where do we go (or not go) from here?”, Professor Alemayehu cogently discussed possible trajectories Ethiopia would and should take in the years to come. He questioned how and to what extent the opposition is doing their jobs compared to what people in the governing party are doing. The implicit message of the paper is that the opposition and all concerned Ethiopians must choose and drive on the highway that leads to genuine democracy. I concur with his passionate call and would like to contribute to the discussion from a different perspective.

Mainly because of the obsession and compulsion with the everyday political situation back home, issues related to the future of Ethiopia are least discussed. Analysis after analysis following the occurrence of a problem might not have practical, if not political, relevance. Making analyses or predictions related to socio-economic and political issues is vital to take proactive measures.

In this paper, I would like to highlight issues related to Ethiopia’s peace condition in the future based on literature and my own views. First, I succinctly present a study on future peace condition in Ethiopia and internationally. Second, some of the conditions that could aggravate conflict, or conditions that do not sustain peace, are elaborated. Third, other conditions that are thought to have a moderating role are identified. And lastly, implications that the government, the opposition, the media, and the entire peace-loving people should be aware of are highlighted.

Will Ethiopia be more or less peaceful?

Will Ethiopia be more or less peacefulImplicitly or explicitly, reports from international organizations seem to hold the conclusion that Ethiopia has a high risk of being in conflicts in the future. For this paper, a study conducted by the University of Oslo in cooperation with the Oslo Peace Research Institute is considered for its recency and its theoretical and methodological rigor in the collection and analysis of data at the global level. To have a complete understanding and judgment of the findings, it is useful to first say some about the study itself.

The Oslo study

This study is conducted by Professor Håvard Hegre of the Department of Political Science at the University of Oslo in cooperation with the Peace Institute. The paper is being published in a scientific journal but the summary of the study appears in Apollo, University of Oslo’s research magazine. The goal of the study is to simulate extent of peace and conflict internationally until 2050. The model used for simulation is developed based on the last 40 years’ history of conflicts in all countries and their neighbors, oil resources, ethnicity, infant mortality, education, and youth population. The focus of the study is internal armed conflict between governments and organized groups such as political parties and/or ethnic groups. According to the study, “A conflict is defined as a conflict between governments and political organizations that use violence and in which at least 25 people die”. Before drawing conclusions and for statistical reasons, the programme/software is run 18,000 times.

The sensational conflict simulations indicated that the world will be a more peaceful place to live in the future. Except for sub-Saharan Africa, all continents are expected to have a decline in the risk of conflict. Surprisingly, the decrease in conflict is found to be greatest in the Middle East. The study does not explain why conflict is decreasing in those and other countries but it is indicated that education and economic development are the key factors. The researchers indicated that in most parts of the world, it is too expensive to kill in the decades to come.

Unfortunately, there are several spots in the world where it is and will be too cheap to kill. Ethiopia has the greatest risk of conflict in the next four decades. According to the study, “In 5 years the risk of conflict will be greatest in India, Ethiopia, the Philippines, Uganda and Burma. In 40 years the risk will be greatest in India, Nigeria, Sudan, Ethiopia and Tanzania. Those countries in which the risk of conflict will sink most in the next 40 years are Algeria, Colombia, Turkey and Thailand” (Apollon, 2012). These countries are simulated to have high risks of conflicts for nearly four decades.

At the global level, the findings of the study seem to promise a safer future. For Sub-Saharan Africa, the study provided a disturbing signal. Still, one could raise the question: to what extent the findings are valid to the region and to Ethiopia particularly? I argue that there are several conflict aggravating and moderating conditions as far as Ethiopia is concerned. In general, I could say we happen to have much more powerful aggravating conditions than moderating ones. That means, if appropriate measures are not taken in good time and to the right degree, we could witness conflict after conflict in the years to come. It could continue to be too cheap to kill in Ethiopia.

Conflict aggravating conditions

It is painful to simulate conflict for any country, let alone ones own. But reality must be faced and dealt with in good time. I could argue that the Oslo study summarized above is a bit relaxed in its consideration of factors but finally gets it right in the conclusions. The conclusion that Ethiopia will have the greatest risk of conflict seems warranted for a number of reasons.

One, what is missing from the Oslo study is the consideration of the existing political conditions within countries. The study does not consider the governance style of the studied countries. One reason may be that the researchers assume that current government commitment to democratic principles does not have predictive power because governments are supposed to function for one or maximum of two terms. This does not apply to Africa and Ethiopia, where governments are as ‘eternal’ as kings and queens. Our governments assume that their contract is permanent. If the Oslo study were to consider this reality, Ethiopia would perhaps be one of the three or so countries that has the highest risk of conflict. That is why I argued above that the Oslo study is relaxed methodologically.

The point is that the governing party is not in a position to serve the public as promised. The government breaks the constitution in day light. The justice system could not get the confidence of the public. The military, the police, and the security apparatus do not have friendly relationships with the majority. Merit-based employment and investment is becoming a dream. The media are systematically made paralyzed. Professional associations are incapacitated or, are replaced by quasi ones that are sympathetic with the government. Websites and broadcasts are blocked. These and other factors associated with government mismanagement are recipes for future conflict.

Two, partly because of the extremely ugly and hostile political climate back home, several groups are creating unions and fronts and are already in the battlefields. Armed groups operate in the North, South, East, and West part of the country. New forces are joining the momentum. In fact, this is the strongest empirical evidence that warrants the conclusion that future conflict is indeed a reality in Ethiopia.

Three, education and economic development are two key factors that influence sustaining conflict and/or peace. If quality education is offered to at least a sizeable portion of the youth, and if economic development is equitable and sustainable, peace would reign and conflict would be avoided. On the other hand, if education is limited or if it is provided in poor quality, and if only a certain portion of the population is enjoying the fruits of economic growth, conflict would be the order of the day.

In Ethiopia, yes, education is massively expanded both at basic and higher levels but its quality is extremely worrisome. International education organizations and experts as well as the government are aware of this fact. That means, poor quality education is technically equal to absence of education when it comes to its contribution to development and peace. Moreover, the Ethiopian economy is reportedly growing in double-digits. But that level of growth could not be grounded. Either statistics are engineered or only extremely limited number of people are reaping all the benefits. Millions are still in food aid. The cost of living is sky rocketing. In general, Ethiopia seems to have less powerful education and economic bases to ensure peace for the years to come.

Four, we, as any country else, tend to have a conflict-driven past. Conflicts characterize, for instance, the period of Zemene Mesafint, the Haile Selasse period, the Dergue times, and the EPRDF tenurship. Although there are a number of countries who used to have devastating conflicts but who are now peaceful and prosperous, there are several other countries that tend to sustain their bad habits- conflict. That means, there is some chance of considering wars and conflicts as alternative means of solving problems. This makes even more sense if one considers the nature of the governing party, EPRDF.

Five, there are strong indications that the military is not in good shape as well. We have heard the clashes within the military that left dozens dead and wounded. That again attests to the presence of a really big structural problem with the system. Whatever group comes the invincible in the end, the defeated would consider retreating to Asimba or Dedebit again. The military is a microcosm of the power balance at the top leadership.

Six, the EPRDF top leadership seems in disarray as well. Following the death of the late Meles Zenawi, the entire system started to shake up. Still, ‘tremors’ are being felt from a distant. In times of crisis, Meles has had that tactical capability of maneuvering and taking conditions to his and then his party advantage. That agility and decisiveness in decision making is nowhere to be found in today’s top leadership. We happen to hear inconsistencies in government communications and it is pretty unclear who really makes decisions at the top. The internal fight seems to continue until one group wins the will of the top military officials, as AK47’s proved to be the panacea. The power skirmishes indicate the probability of conflict in the near future. Whoever will win, conflict is likely to take place for at least sometime. It is however useful to consider into the analysis the conditions that might have a moderating role.

Moderating factors

There are some conditions that seem to ensure relative peace in the near future. Or at least, they could limit the scale of conflicts. The problem is that these conditions, compared to the aforementioned conflict-aggravating conditions, seem to have a much less power to influence the overall equation- peace. They are yet worth mentioning.

The God factor

Ethiopia is a deeply religious country. Christians and Muslims daily live their respective religions. There is a general tendency to leave complex issues such as peace and conflict to God. Several as a result do not take part in politics and consider themselves neutral. That is partly why we do not see a single demonstration despite 1) we have had over 30 inflation rate, 2) we see with our naked eyes the level of corruption and nepotism, 3) miscarriage of justice, 4) our college graduates are employed as stone cutters, 5) the police and the security offices are terrorizing the public, and more. The average believer seems to wait for God to intervene. This seems to demonstrate a false sense of peace and security at the moment.

The fear factor

Again for many Ethiopians, conflicts are too expensive to be waged. We have that fresh memory of the massacre of hundreds of thousands of youngsters in the name of Red Terror. We vividly saw the cost of war that was fought between the Dergue and the now EPRDF. We have a fresh memory of the recent Ethio-Eritrean senseless war that claimed over 70, 000 innocent lives. We have that memory of the massacre of nearly 200 people in relation to post-election demonstrations. Generally, we have a nasty pool of experience in wars and conflicts. All these might discourage some or many or most of us from designing and orchestrating conflicts of any sort in the future. Simply, we are afraid of deaths, wounds, jails, and persecutions.

The diplomatic factor

International organizations such as the UN and the EU and powerful countries such as the US could play a somehow mediating role in case of accumulation of signs of eminent conflict. Although these organizations and countries do not usually stop conflicts from happening, they try hard to avoid them. Countries and/or groups that demonstratively believe in and enact democracy might discourage undemocratic governances from clinging to power through sustaining conflicts. Also, some indication is present that economic aids and loans might be linked to democratic governance.

Concluding remarks

Based on the Oslo study, conditions that aggravate conflict and that sustain relative peace are highlighted in this paper. The analysis seems to indicate that conflict would be on the horizon in the near future in Ethiopia if appropriate measures are not taken. The most important single factor that could ensure sustained peace is democratic governance: governance which ensures the rule of law, transparency and accountability. In order to avoid possible conflicts, the government in Ethiopia must practice the constitution. The media must be allowed to flourish again. The opposition must be allowed to convene, publish, open offices, and call demonstrations. The public must be allowed to freely assemble, associate, and get employed based on merit. Discrimination and harassment of any sort at work and elsewhere must be stopped. All the ethnic groups must be brought back to the unifying force: being Ethiopian.

The opposition and the media (at home and abroad) must also make peaceful co-existence their top agenda. They could develop and sustain educative programmes tailored to accommodate differences. Political parties need to organize themselves around nationalism and not around ethnic lines. The media should initiate and maintain dialogues on unity and peace issues. They should stop publishing papers that preach, implicitly or explicitly, hate, ethnocentrism, and division. Criticisms must differentiate people from ideas and people from their ethnic identity.

Contributions from social scientists are seminal for understanding and solving people’s grievances. Media should take initiatives to bring together sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists, political scientists, lawyers and others for a nuanced discussion of pertinent social issues. The discussions should aim at creating a common platform or shared basis of understanding and action for a better future.

In sum, peace is maintained if and only if all the stakeholders take supreme responsibility for their decisions and actions. If the public, social scientists, the elderly, the media, the opposition, and the government do their part of the job, there is no reason why Ethiopia will be prone to decades of conflicts. The government is but the most indispensable entity that could reconfigure the overall set up because it is the government’s mismanagement that is pushing people to the bushes. If they open the nearly closed political space and if they enact the constitution and ensure accountability, conflict would be just history. I strongly wish that, henceforth, it should be too expensive to kill in Ethiopia!