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EPRDF Deep Renewal: A New Dawn, A New Day

Background

Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) was solely focused on pulling the nation out of poverty and backwardness since the Derg was toppled off power. This piece isn't up to spell out the gains achieved over the years through broad public participation and functional economic development policies. This article, rather, dwells on the massive changes happening following the decisions by EPRDF Congress for deep renewal.

The last couple of years saw unprecedented number of killings, physical harms and property damages as a result of the political crisis that engulfed the nation. The political crisis is caused due to uninclusive development, shoddy administration and increasingly growing undemocratic practices within the party. The crisis consequently damages the public psychology, the image of the country and the very survival of EPRDF itself. Eventually EPRDF was forced to go through profound renewal that helped to establish the causes, identify the possible solutions and design starategies that potentially resolve the ensuing political crisis. Accordingly, it has tried hard to force measures intending to curb the crisis.  

Some of the major setbacks identified are anti-democratic systems & practices, human rights violations & breach of rule of law as well as poor governance & rent seeking. Measures that were designed to resolve the above setbacks forced EPRDF to make leadership reshuffle across the four member parties, expand the political landscape and start to maintain rule of law without coercing human rights.

Despite these measures there appeared no significant change that can duly satisfy the demands of the public. As a result, the public went back to the streets bringing forward the same demands raised before. Under intense pressure, our party gathered yet again for a 17 day executive council meeting by December 2017 followed by the March 2018 EPRDF Congress that ironed out critical decisions for radical changes. One such critical decision was the will and commitment of the former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn to leave his post to earnestly become part of the solution. Another is the democratic manner and process which helped elect the new chairman of the party Dr Abiy Ahmed after fierce and intense deliberation. It was following these unprecedented events that Dr Abiy Ahmed took oath at the Federal House of Representatives to become Prime minister.

This article further analyses the changes happening in the country following the election of the new prime minister and the reshuffle of the top leadership across the country. The new leadership has introduced new style of leadership, system overhaul, restructuring and other related changes that have resulted in massive political, diplomatic and economic gains.

1.Leveling the Political Landscape

Many believe that EPRDF has not achieved the same height in building democratic governance as much as its gains in the economy. The party rightly concluded in its unfathomable renewal meetings that it made gross acts that stifle the political market place. This undemocratic nature doesn't only affect opposition parties and democratic institutions but also the very internal make up of the party.

EPRDF Executive Council passed wise political decision to free political priosnors in pardon and exoneration without any condition. The pardon and exoneration came following the endorsement of proclamation of pardon by the House of Peoples Representatives. The release included all political prisoners serving their sentences and those whose cases were heard by the courts across the country as the pardon came to force. The Prime Minister crossed boarders seeking release of Ethiopian prisoners in the neighboring countries and in the Middle East. The whole process served as emblem of show of respect for citizens by the newly invigorated EPRDF leadership.

Prisons are normally supposed to take good care so long as the prisoners stay with them in addition to helping them behave well and equip them with skills that would be relevant for life after serving their prison terms. What has happened, however, particularly in some federal government prisons is a complete opposite to that standard. And revelations now show that gross human rights violations have been committed. That was what alarmed the new leadership to initiate reform in several federal prisons and other law enforcement security insitutions. As part of the change, the harsh treatments across prisons were continuously televised with investigative reports and top leaders in prison administrations were removed from office as they were responsible for the inhuman treatments. The notorious prison, which was known as Ma'ekelawi, that used to serve as a pinnacle of these gross human rights violations is now closed. Our chairman went too far to the extent of recognizing the terror which was used to be applied on dissenting voices by the government in a bid to deepen the sense of forgiveness by taking responsibility for what went wrong.

The Prime minister, who is chairperson of EPRDF, Dr Abiy Ahmed in his inaugural speech to the parliament made it clear that any political force which are based in foreign countries are welcome to come back home and vie for political power including those that taka arms to force their way to political power. Following the prime minister's tour in states across the USA engaging the Diaspora there, Ethiopians and Ethiopian origins particularly those with stakes in the politics, have flocked back home to freely and responsibly market their politics here. Rebel forces who used to be in neighboring countries for armed struggle have come back home to grab their place in the peaceful political discourse. Individuals and human rights activists that used to campaign against the regime returned home promising to stand by the hope for inclusive and peaceful politics.  

One of the areas where we see winds of change is the media and its reporting. Earlier, according to EPRDF Executive Council, the public media were pseudo democratic institution serving as the mouthpiece of the ruling party; thus dissatisfying the public and opposition parties. The other media institutions are even worse when it comes to serving the public good. Now the public appears to enjoy their freedom of expression both in public and private media houses though it is early days to shower appreciations. The decision to let Ethiopian media in the diaspora to operate in the country removing the barriers that used to obstruct them is another milestone in maintaining freedom of expression in a way it levels the political playing field. The media houses that used to disseminate radical views from abroad are now home responsibly managing their day to day operations.

Laws and proclamations that have been a source of popular dissenting voices are now under deliberations by involving all stakeholders in the process. The anti terrorism law and the civil society proclamation are two of them. The whole idea of running these changes is to establish the rule of law by eradicating the practice of governing through coercive laws.

The political dialogue with political parties that has been going on for two years now has been playing a role in expanding the political landscape. So far 12 issues have been up for consultations and four of them came to consensus amongst parties involved in the process. The debate and consultation forum, EPRDF strongly believes, should expand to involve all political parties to fit it in the current political reform.

2.Economic Reforms

Our economy grew in double digit for a little less than two decades thought the last 3 years have become tough period owning to the unrest engulfing the nation and mega projects running behind project deadlines. The export has not been generating as much hard currency as the economy demands; On top of that the foreign currency black market dominates the exchange of hard currency depleting dollar reserves in the National Bank coffers. This, in turn, affects finance to mega projects and the import of basic goods into the country. Besides, the dearth of foreign currency causes price hikes on basic commodities and construction materials. Besides, our foreign direct investment inflow has declined while industries come to a halt due to the unrests across regions causing increasing unemployment.

However, the last five months saw economic reforms and consultations with the main economic actors to ease the growth bottlenecks and sustainably resolve the challenges affecting the economic growth. In its May 2018 meeting, the EPRDF Executive Council passed a major decision, shifting its long-standing stance on state owned corporations, to privatize in part or full and let Ethiopian private businesses become shareholders of mega projects.

There are three fundamental assumptions that the EPRDF Executive Council considers for the change of its stance on privatization. The first is the need to further expand and strengthen the fast-economic growth the country has experienced nearly for the last two decades. The economic growth is set to be driven in a way it exponentially increase the country's export performance. The other is the need to maintain the economic growth as inclusive as possible. This decision offers opportunities to Ethiopian business people at home and the Ethiopian Diaspora to reap economic benefits through taking stakes in the economy. The third is the need to improve the competitiveness of local industries to help compete at the global market.   

The  developmental state paradignm which our government subscribes to allows the government to selectively intervene in the economy to fill apparent gaps in the market. That means the government invests in industries where the private sector don't dare to engage in or in areas where the profit margins don't attract the private sector but are very vital for the overall economic development. There will also be industries which will still remain under protection from the global market to help flourish local businesses. 

But, these policy options will never remain the same all along the way. The policies get reviewed at every stage of the economic development to make sure that they are fit for the purpose: and that's in the nature of developmental state model. Ultimately the role and shares of the government in the economy diminishes as the private sector gets matured. Sectors which are closed for global companies will open up in due time. This is what has happened in East Asian strong economies which we take as benchmark for our economic development.

Privatization has been done with a ministry established for this purpose and many government owned businesses were transferred to private owners. Yet the government has started many new state-owned corporations over the last 27 years. The last three months have seen efforts that intend to reverse this trend in a bid to prop up the role of the private business.

To curb the shortage of hard currency, which has been a bottleneck for the economic growth and major factor for commodity price inflation, short and long term solutions are set in motion. Now the foreign currency reserve is about 5 billion USD, given that the reserve was severely depleted few months before, it is a big achievement. This has been possible because of the new diplomatic engagement with the UAE that resulted in investment finance and direct monitory support. Besides the crackdown on the foreign currency black market and changes in dollar exchange help ease the shortage for now. In addition to privatizing and using the windfall money to run mega projects, the National Bank of Ethiopia has been doing reforms to sustainably curb the shortage of hard currency that often affect countries at a level of development like ours.  

Consultations were held with business people here to identify the problems that affect doing business in the country and one such notable consultation was held in the presence of Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed where the business people openly raise their concerns. The consultation also established the social responsibilities of private businesses as well as the areas they need to improve both as individuals and business organizations. That consultation showed the way forward and the reform to come.

3.Diplomacy

The epic diplomatic achievement that comes first is the historic reconciliation with Eritrea, a country with close ties to Ethiopia both in blood and tradition. The lead the Chairman of EPRDF played following the decision by EPRDF to mend fences with Eritrea is historic in every sense of the word and will remain exemplary in global diplomatic engagements. Both countries' embassies are now open for business. Now the black curtain is halved and fresh relations are building bridges for prosperous future between the sisterly people of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Telephone and air transport resumes. The sea lines and the ports are open for business together with the borders and road traffic. The fortresses for battle were came to a peaceful close in the presence of the two leaders as they celebrated the New Ethiopian Year just a couple of weeks back for the first time after over 20 years. This diplomatic success is a win-win relation for both people; arrogance and hatred have now got defeated leaving the space for mutual economic benefits.

Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed paid visits to all neighboring countries while he also organized a face to face meeting between the South Sudan president and his rival leader. He underscored the significance his country attaches to peace and security in neighboring countries and the larger continent. In his first visit to Djibouti, the premier proposed to buy a share of Djibouti's port in exchange for shares in Ethiopian Airlines and Ethiopian Electric Utility Corporation, which was accepted by Djiboutian leaders. This is seen as another diplomatic success as it helps Ethiopia get stable port service for which it pays its hard won foreign currency. In his diplomatic tours across Kenya, the Sudan & Somalia he managed to hold fruitful discussions and signed accords that improve the reputiation, economic benefits and relations of Ethiopia with its neighboring countries. His visit to Egypt helped convince fair use of the Nile Water resources.  

The biggest diplomatic achievement was the one Ethiopia did with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that help solicit three billion USD in investment and direct financial support. Besides, the tour to the Middle East helped see areas Ethiopia can cooperate with countries in the gulf region. Now our position with countries in the Middle East is much improved than it used to be.

The recent internal unity and determination for democratic reform has opened to us new areas of opportunities to work with developed countries and global institutions as they see our encouraging initiative that commits to advance peace, democracy and development in the country.

4.National Unity (Synergy)

Chairman of the party, Dr Abiy Ahmed, in his first few days he came to power, visited towns of regional states to make consultations with the public to ease tensions & restore confidence in his party. The public forums helped him hear firsthand the frustrations of the public, give responses to issues that need immediate solution & show the way forward. Above all, the Prime Minister stressed the power of love, forgiveness & unity to heal the wounds that the nation has experienced. His call for reconciliation in the spirit of national unity (i.e. in his own word "m-e-d-e-m-e-r" literally it means coming together) has been overwhelmingly popular and well received across the country. This has been an important foundation to further cement the national unity of the people other than its role in improving the peace and security of the nation.

These public forums haven't been limited within the national boundary. The Chairman of the party led a delegation to the USA to engage the largest Ethiopian Diaspora in the world in national reconciliation. The diaspora public fora resulted in unprecedented sense of unity which was really unthinkable for a community with polarized political views. Finally walls of division were shattered, and new bridges are made to walk a better future. 

The consultations that took place across states in the USA helped to come to consensus with the Diaspora to make them instrumental in the national development process. The Diaspora vow to do whatever in their power to do their share in the democratic and economic development of their country. The Diaspora Trust Fund, which was proposed by the Premier to fill the gap in the social development sector, was fully accepted, and now taking practical steps forward to start operations. These forums would potentially be used as catalyst to achieve the national consensus that has been illusive for years despite continued efforts.  

There were efforts to bring together the two synods of Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the one in America & one here in the country, though unsuccessful. The Prime Minister, as part of his campaign for unity and forgiveness, intervened to finally make peace between the two synods. Now Ethiopian Orthodox Church has run its spiritual duty under one synod bringing to end over two decades of infighting in the church. The same thing was done to end the hostility between the Ethiopian Islamic Majlis & the Muslim Committee in forgiveness and spiritual unity. These mile stones of achievements in the two historic religions of the country are a part of the larger goal to reign peace and reconciliation in Ethiopia. 

5.EPRDF Executive Council assessment of the Reform

The people of Ethiopia have whole heartedly accepted the changes that happened as a result of the deep renewal the party has undergone. The testament to the broad based support of the public to the changes spearheaded by the Chairperson of the party is the thank-you march of the people of Addis Ababa (24 June 2018) and the subsequent marches of show of support all across the country. The reforms taken by EPRDF have recovered the confidence of the public on our party and the government apparatus. The public is now reaffirming their support to EPRDF. The recent two Executive Council meetings assessed the reform performance and saw it has been going on as per the directions set out for implementation.  

The Executive Council, in its mid June 2018 meeting, concluded that the deep renewal has become successful due to creative implementation of the top leadership. The current leadership has started to get things done setting new truck records by achieving unthinkable milestones of performance within short span of time. The reforms that started to take roots in political, diplomatic, economic and social sectors have captured massive public support stirring more of the same in years to come. 

6.Challenges, Difficulties for the Reform

Chairman of EPRDF Dr Abiy Ahmed, in his first press conference with the media in August, said there are attempts hell-bent to reverse the situation despite the ongoing historic reforms in the country. Though the reform has attracted overwhelming support from the public, there are some who see it as a threat. This, on the one hand, is coming from those who used to make illegal benefits from the old way of running party & government business and, on the other, from that natural tendency where people feel uncomfortable with changes.

Over the last years individuals have been stealing public money and wealth with corrupt practices while they unapologetically tried to portray themselves as patriotic to the constitutional rule of law. These individuals are forces of evil that used the government apparatus to benefit themselves and their patronage network. The attempt they are doing now is intent to shield the wealth they amassed through corrupt practice and, if possible, to reverse the change that start to take off with full support of the public. They even went too far to arm terror groups to destabilize various regional states and attempted to assassinate the Prime Minister in order to make their wicked dream come true. As if the malicious acts they did to the nation wasn't already too much, they have been busy evading hard currency and engaging in illegal arms smuggling.

These opposing forces are trying to exploit every opportunity to do everything in their power to take us to the old ways. They are unashamedly campaigning on the social media to taint the reform underway. One exploit they try and use is portraying the leadership of the Chairman as contrary to EPRDF leadership positions. They also try to portray as if there are divisions among EPRDF member fronts. Often, they deliberately present speeches of the Prime Minister out of context to help sell their wicked agenda.

Another major obstacle to the reform is the tendency of the youth that doesn't at all differentiate freedom from anarchy that in effect cause havoc in various parts of the country causing internal displacements, killings and damages to public and private properties. This can present itself in the form of criminal mob justice for anything a group of youth assume is wrong and against their interest. Such acts normally are against human rights and affect the security of citizens eventually staining the national goal for love, forgiveness and unity.

The number of internally displaced people currently stands at 2.5 and it's becoming a major setback for the way forward. These people were displaced at the early stages of the reform & after it got started. The displacement brings major concerns for security and rule of law. Despite changes due efforts by regional and federal government, it takes concerted and sustainable solution. The way out is to enforce rule of law all across the country to maintain citizens right to life and property wherever they live.

It's natural that change be met with challenges of any kind but the ongoing difficulties facing the country across regions such as killings, physical attacks, property destructions and internal displacements shouldn't be taken lightly as rights of citizens to live wherever across the country should be firmly upheld. Synergy and forgiveness are two sides of the same coin. We forgive each other as citizens not because we don't harm each other but just because we have that grand goal of nation building for the good of all of us. Whatever difficulties there may be, the way out of the woods for this country is to keep doing the institutional and systems reforms to take the change to its rightful destination.

Concluding Remarks

It is up to all of us, citizens and leaders at different levels, to put up the best of efforts to take the reform forward to irreversibly place the state in the already firm foundation. The reform should take root at every corner in the country, opposition for the reform should be marginalized through robust public discourse, frustrating poor governance concerns should be promptly resolved and the youth should be taken to opportunities that help them create wealth through small & medium enterprises.

Our prime objective, as leaders of the party and the government as well, should gear towards institutionalizing the reform, ensuring the rule of law and holding power to account. Any acts of terrorism should be preempted with organized participation of the public. Establishing and running proactive communication strategy is another necessity to avoid misunderstanding and counter anti-reform campaigns.

The way to respect human rights is to ensure rule of law. As we strive to maintain citizens right to life, property and expression, we need to hold anyone to account whenever they try and breach human rights of others. This has to be translated into action with firm conviction to not give any chance for anarchy. All these aspirations are shared by the public and that is why we call up on all to get politically active to make sure their rights are fully respected.