REVISIT ETHIOPIA’S DEMOCRATIC DEVELOPMENT STATE MODEL (Part 2)

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Kebour Ghenna

Last week I posted an article (CAREFUL WITH WHAT YOU FANCY) to caution people not to easily embrace economic liberalization before looking at the available evidence. A dear reader felt the article was confusing. Well, to be fair, he may be right.
In the few words that follow, I’ll give it another try.
But first, let me share a not so crazy thought. It’s about the state of politics in Ethiopia. I see a “series of confrontations” in store within EPRDF coalition…and chief among them with the PM. Call it a hunch…who knows!
It’s hard to imagine that things have settled quickly within EPRDF after such a bitter infighting and the last minute defection of Demeke Mekonen from ANDM. I sense there remain lots of angers in certain corners of TPLF over the election of Dr. Abiy. In any case, I cannot imagine anyone attempting a coup, at this moment, particularly as long as the Doctor persists on his single agenda – that of making Ethiopia strong, prosperous and unified country.
Now let me take on the overwhelming task of clarifying my message:
When it comes to liberalizing the economy in poor countries there is far more downside risk than potential upside. In short I was defending the developmental state model in the era of globalization.
By the way criticism of the developmental state comes from two corners. One is the neoliberal position that criticizes the effectiveness of the developmental state model itself. It argues that developmental state was not an important factor in East Asian development and the adoption of industrial policy would in fact be detrimental to developing countries. The second critical position concedes that a degree of achievement was indeed attained by the developmental state in the past, but contends that the developmental state model is no longer a viable option today, that this policy is no longer feasible.
Frankly, EPRDF’s developmental state model has delivered in many areas – the economy, access to education, infrastructure, poverty reduction; obviously this did not simply happen. The state played a critical role in this rapid expansion, what many question is the level of embezzlement, theft, rent seeking and cronyism that lied at the center of the system. That’s the one reason, and perhaps the main reason, why the model failed to live up to expectations.
That’s why in the wake of the recent leadership change, we hope to move towards a revised, more inclusionary, more transparent and accountable, much less directly interventionist developmental state system.
Indeed, this is an opportune time to reflect on the type of developmental state that’s more suitable to Ethiopia. First, we should all accept that the era of authoritarian developmentalism is no more an option. The hegemonic ruling party that can control many things but not everything is out of favor.  Today citizens have let it be known they have less appetite to tolerate the costs, for instance in terms of human rights abuses, restricted political participation, corruption, theft and incompetence. The people of Ethiopia want to discuss now ways to root out corruption, the pace of liberalization to adopt, the role of political parties and the possible contribution they could make, not only to democracy-building, but to promoting developmental state and relevant aspects of good governance.
I still feel that EPRDF, despite its current organizational weakness, ideological stagnation and shrinking social support, has still force aplenty at its disposal to launch this reform TOGETHER (emphasis) with opposition parties, civil society, professional associations and other stakeholders.
Not a pretty option for many, particularly in the Diaspora, I admit.
But what we have here is a rare glimmer of hope. We can at least agree on a renewed developmental state model which would be inclusive, participatory and nationalist, a developmental state which maintains stability and accountability for economic development and pursues economic reforms, including integration into the global economy at its own preferred pace.
Developmental states do not appear overnight; and Ethiopia may still take years to grow into the right democratic development state.