A state set up to suppress and control
Ethiopia is a Surveillance State that suffocates freedom and rights. For anyone to understand gross violations of human rights and the rule of law, it is vital to comprehend and analyze the nature of the state under the TPLF/EPRDF. The state manifests the merger of ethnic-elite party, government and state. It is not dissimilar to the old East Germany and today’s North Korea. Yet, Western Governments and the UN call Korea a tyranny. It is. So is Ethiopia. Ethiopia’s special status is a function of its strategic relations with Western countries, especially the US and the UK. The Ethiopian state version is called Revolutionary Democracy and follows an economic model called the developmental state. It is neither revolutionary nor democratic. It facilitates economic and financial capture. If it were democratic and revolutionary it will reform itself relentlessly. It is not a free market system; but pretends to be one. The federal government controls key institutions of policy and decision-making; and not the regions. Why would this matter?
Defense, Federal Police, Intelligence and Security are vital in maintaining peace, order and stability. Sadly, this is the default line embraced by the state, the donor and diplomatic community and the UN system. It is perceived as major plus. Ethiopia is considered a stable state in a sea of chaos and failed states—Somalia, Eritrea, South and North Sudan.
In my view donors and the diplomatic community strengthen the dictatorship and as proxies suppress freedom. Donors pump more than $4 billion dollars a year without conditions; the Diaspora an equal amount and the federal government borrows billions of Birr from the banking system and issues bonds to the public and the global community. Ethiopian society is debt-ridden. Someone has to pay this debt. Don’t Ethiopians have the right to question this debt? Should future generations be obliged to pay massive debt incurred by the TPLF on which they had no say? Are they not entitled to be share the benefits of growth and investments carried out through aid and borrowing? Don’t they have rights?
Ethiopia’s Defense and Security Budget
Ethiopia’s defense and security budget and staffing reflect the ruling party’s own and foreign interests. They support one another. This is a reality opposition groups must grasp. It is the reason why I contend that stability, regional peace and security serve as a default line and enjoy support from Western Governments, especially the US. There is no doubt that the current state is competent. It is well financed and well run. It provides ample incentives to generals and other high officers. Their incentive is to maintain the system at any cost.
As of October 2014, Intelligence agencies and think tanks, including the CIA report that Ethiopia spends 12.6 percent of GDP on defense and related security operations. It spends only 1.2 percent of GDP on education and significantly less on safe drinking water, sanitation and health, malnutrition and the like. The defense budget is slightly less than Saudi Arabia that spends 13 percent and owns chunks of Ethiopian lands. The CIA fact book notes Ethiopia spends a third (33 percent) of domestic government revenue on the military, intelligence and security. The Guardian reports thousands of “bureaucrats are paid to spy on nationals.” The amount spent does not include foreign military and intelligence assistance by the US, UK and other nations. We are obliged to ask who is protected and who is the target here? Is the state at war with its own population? Formally, Ethiopia is not at war with any country. Is it at war with its own citizens? You make the judgment based on the facts. You may ask “Why this huge outlay on defense, intelligence, security and surveillance? If the country is at peace.” The simple answer is that the TPLF leadership fears the population, especially youth. In light of this fear, state control and hegemony is a matter of survival for the TPLF/EPRDF. It is a strategic choice.
The donor and diplomatic community does not see it that way. It is more pragmatic. Stability serves their strategic interests. Stability at the cost of human rights and freedoms gives the false impression that Ethiopians are enjoying safety, security of life, access to opportunities and the like in a region of chaos and hopelessness. The truth is that sustainable peace, stability and growth do not happen without rights, justice and the rule of law. Massive outlay to suppress dissent and control society is tyranny and thus temporary. A well-financed and equipped defense and security system serves the group that sponsors it while alienating the vast majority of the population. This is what happened in Egypt and Libya. The TPLF should know this. The Dergue possessed one of the largest and well equipped armies in Africa but failed at the end.
What is the relevance of this massive outlay in the instruments of control on human rights?
The bottom line is that the default line of stability at any cost provides the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF)—the ethnic-coalition that controls the state—justification to act as a police state for foreign powers and to get away with impunity by punishing citizens. Sadly, the donor and diplomatic community, the UN System and the AU often fail to grasp the magnitude of the problem by not measuring the Surveillance state’s punishments and potential adverse consequences against universal legal norms and best practices.
Rarely do donors, governments and the UN system go after state actors and human rights violators beyond studies and press releases until the situation is completely out of hand. My contention here is that Ethiopians cannot wait until a Rwanda like situation occurs; nor can the world community.
Stability without respecting human rights is illusory. It is a temporary phenomenon. Like the Soviet Union and North Korea, it may take decades of hard work and struggle by those who seek justice. In the meantime the UN system, donors and the diplomatic community have, at least, a moral obligation to acknowledge that Ethiopians are not asking special privileges. They are asking the world community to treat them the same as other countries that observe the rule of law, accept the dignity and rights of each person and respect international norms to which Ethiopia is a party.
Part II will use the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Ethiopian Constitution as a basis to mobilize efforts among Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopians.