Ethiopia’s foray into market oriented economy has resulted, amongst other things, in an unprecedented level of crime, particularly of a certain type. The criminals under consideration are not just run-of-the-mill petty thieves; pickpockets, muggers, etc one guards against while walking the streets or haggling prices in the village market. Our modern criminals are members of Ethiopia’s elite and hail, not only from the business community, (including the banking cabals) but also the ruling party, (from the lower rung to the highest) state/government officials, (legislative, executive and judiciary) professionals (doctors, lawyers, accountants, engineers) etc. These characters brave the crime world because of excessive greed and not dire need! To differentiate these well fed outlaws from those offenders whose lives are continuously and brutally exposed to the elements, we call them ‘white collar criminals’, as is the norm worldwide.
To be fair, most of these crimes are inspired and incentivized by the very philosophy of the modern market space/place. To be rich is not only glamorous, but is also divine, according to the holy book of the market. Moreover, goes the argument, being rich also conveys a slight capacity to outdo and outmaneuver situations, a trait appreciated by primordial instincts of the female sex; this according to the bible of evolutionary biology. Be that as it may, Homo sapiens are social animals through and through. Therefore, to insist ‘caveman’ like behavioral traits should assume primacy in collective social existence is at best unrealistic, after all, whatever ‘success’ human beings accrued, mostly came from their cooperation. Progress is nothing if not social; an individual cannot singlehandedly devise means to go to the moon, cure small pox, or even create sophisticated arsenals to kill other humans, etc. Remember the humble testimony of a giant intellect? ‘If I have managed to see a bit farther, it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants.’ Isaac Newton.
Human societies were assured tolerable coexistence because of clear social compacts- codified laws and shared values-ethical standards, etc. Currently these basics are being challenged in our country. Degenerative social and individual human behavior, as observed in the developed market economies, has started to take hold of our collective imagination, without the accompanying safeguards to protect the gullible from the excesses of the greed impulse!
A business person in Ethiopia is considered successful, not because of her/his invention, creative activity, etc, but rather for the wealth conspicuously flaunted. Whether the wealth is legally earned or embezzled is not an issue in our newly established value system! A doctor is praised for owning three villas, not for his surgical skill. Whether the acquired wealth is mostly due to conning unsuspecting poor patients by methodical surgical extortion is beside the point; after all, the good doctor is just doing ‘business’ in a market economy! A senior judge is publicly praised, not for her inspirational rulings, but for her stashed millions under the mattress. A banker is revered for his canny ability that landed him a huge hotel by stealth (all activities fronted by cronies). If in case the business gets in trouble, there will be protection from the state via the ‘too big to fail’ doctrine!
An accountant is celebrated for his creative accountancy that can easily bestow AAA rating on a failing business. Adhering to internationally established accounting standards is only for suckers! A civil contractor is celebrated for his capacity to continuously milk government coffer, on account of all sorts of claims and cost overruns. His ability to execute projects in time and under cost is irrelevant. We leave such mundane tasks to the Chinese! Etc, etc, etc. On the other hand; where are the necessary measures to protect the public from such blatant predatorial and parasitic accumulative binge? For example, where is the medical malpractice insurance to protect the unsuspecting patients from negligence and abuse etc, etc?
Nurturing and celebrating grand corruption that was initiated, (maybe inadvertently) by our unstructured market disposition, has caused continuous degeneration of moral and ethical standards across the board. It allowed mafia like networks to operate openly, yet criminally, behind the façade of party/government bureaucracy. As a result, Ethiopia has managed to create its own class of ‘oligarchs’ whose activities are not only influencing the way business is done but is also creating despicable cultural standards in the country. If you are not a goon, a vassal or an eager apologist of these vulgar oligarchs, then you are a loser!
An economy that is highly geared to rent seeking cannot and will not allow for a smooth and equitable economic and social transformation. In light of what has been witnessed in North Africa and elsewhere, the government’s palliative measures might not do the trick. We believe the gross abuse of peoples’ trust by party members and elected/appointed public servants necessitates massive purges and swift prosecution before the situation gets out of hand. See ‘Putin’s Oligarch Killer’ on page 50. Within a short period of time, our ‘white collar’ criminals have managed to destroy Ethiopia’s traditional integrity system, which until recently was the envy of many an African country.
Here is a hopeful pronouncement by a top party official in regards to the state of corruption in our country. “The petty thieves are exhibited on Sunday’s ‘Police Program’, but the big thieves are celebrated in the ‘Success Stories’ program.” Good Day!