I had the pleasure to attend a fascinating and enlightening discussion on what Medemer means and why Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has introduced this concept into Ethiopia today. The conversation was led by Ambassador Fitsum Arega, Ethiopian ambassador to the U. S. and included; Lencho Bati and Mamo Mihretu, both in the prime minister’s office in Addis Ababa, and Etana Dinka, Oberlin College.
Prime Minister Abiy has authored a book, Medemer, (Amharic) and simultaneously launched the new nationwide Prosperity Party, which is an application of his Medemer philosophy.
The panelists explained to the overflow audience at the United States Institute for Peace (USIP) in Washington, that the Medemer philosophy should guide both Ethiopia’s domestic and foreign policy. Medemer embodies the concept of national unity and the need for all to work for the common good; for Ethiopia’s prosperity, and its elimination of poverty. Amb. Arega said that Ethiopia cannot change the past, but Ethiopia needs new ideas that go beyond its highly charged ethnic politics. He spoke of the need for forgiveness in Ethiopian society, with no finger pointing, in order for Ethiopia to move forward. The idea of a shared-common humanity, embodied in Medemer, is the underpinning for establishing sound relationships with other nations.
Ethiopia is entering a challenging period, economically, politically, and socially. The nation is attempting to create an appropriate economic policy that will enable millions of educated youth to be absorbed into its workforce. The nation is also coming to terms with the limitations of almost thirty years of a federation of ethnic states. With national elections scheduled for August, Prime Minister Abiy’s non-ethnic based Prosperity Party is provoking a healthy discourse about Ethiopia’s identity.
All of these issues are relevant to the concept of Medemer, that was richly elaborated in the two-hour dialogue at USIP.
Ethiopia’s Prosperity Party: A Revolutionary Necessity
By Lawrence Freeman
January 8, 2020
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has embarked on a bold effort to transform the political terrain of Ethiopia while simultaneously launching new economic reforms. The creation of the new Ethiopian Prosperity Party (PP) replaces the Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Front-(EPRDF), founded in 1988. Dissolving the reigning EPRDF and fashioning a new national party, or what some refer to as a Pan-Ethiopian party, is a courageous and daring move, essential for Ethiopia’s future. This emerging nation of over 105 million people, already a leader in economic development, is now embarking on a challenging path to create de novo a national party.
The EPRDF, which had governed Ethiopia since May 1991, was composed of four Regional States, plus the cities of Addis Ababa (the capital), and Dire Dawa. The four regional parties are: the Tigray People’s Liberation Front-(TPLF); the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization-(OPDO) (renamed early this year as Oromo Democratic Party-(ODP); the Amhara National Democratic Movement-(ANDM), (renamed early this year as Amhara Democratic Party-(ADP); and the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement-(SEPDM), (a coalition of the 56 ethnic groups).
The EPRDF was fashioned to address Ethiopia’s earlier history of dictatorial and monarchical rule. The designers of the governing party believed that acknowledging ethnic identity, which was not recognized for centuries, would solve the tensions of that time. Recent conflicts in Ethiopia have shown this arrangement to be ineffective.
Of the four parties that comprised the EPRDF, only the TPLF has refused to join the new PP. Already the governing parties representing 5 regions, which were not members of the EPRDF, but were recognized as allies of the EPRDF have joined the PP in preparation for May 2020 elections. They are: 1) Afar National Democratic Party (ANDP); 2) Benishangul-Gumuz Democratic Party (BDP); 3) Somali Democratic Party (SDP); 4) Gambela People’s Democratic Movement (GPDM); and 5) Harari National League (HNL). The PP will be inclusive, intending to represent all communities, inviting Tigrayans, who live in and outside the region to join. The PP program will have Amharic as its working language as per the constitution. However, Afan Oromo, Tigrigna, Somali and Afar will also be the working languages of the new PP.
Prime Minister Abiy’s founding of the PP on December 1, just six months before Ethiopia’s national elections, is fraught with personal risks for the new Prime Minister. However, this endeavor is bursting with the potential to transform politics and social relations in Ethiopian society. Ethiopia has a splendid history thousands of years old, rich with a multiplicity of cultural backgrounds. The PP is intended to harmonize the diversity of the nation with a national non-ethnic based party.
Nationalism: Not Ethnic Nationalism
A sovereign nation-state is not a mosaic of diverse groups competing with each other for control of the government or pursuing administration posts to obtain economic and financial rewards. A sovereign nation should have a national identity and a mission orientation for its people; all its people, regardless of ethnic heritage. Contributing to the distinctive identity of Ethiopia was its military defeat of the Italian Empire in the battle of Adwa on March 1, 1896. Consequently, this victory, uniquely allowed Ethiopia to remain free from colonialism. Although this triumph occurred over one century ago, it is part of the psychological composition of the identity of all Ethiopians; whether they are conscious of its effects or not. Ethiopia’s decades’ long determination to develop from a disadvantaged nation to an aspiring lower middle-income nation with nascent light manufacturing industry is another feature of Ethiopia’s national identity.
Professed ethnonationalism errs in that it attempts to substitute the demands, often for legitimate needs, of one particular group above the interests of all the citizens. A nation-state cannot survive in a Hobbesian war of all against each other to obtain the most goodies for “my people.” Dare we forget the horrors of the ethnically driven tragic Biafran war in Nigeria from 1967-1970, and how geographic-ethnic distinctions have determined every unhealthy aspect of political and social life in Nigeria today?
Recriminations from the past are no excuse for actions today. Decisions concerning the best strategy for securing the future of Ethiopia must be based on how that policy will benefit the well-being of all citizens.
Medemer and Synergy
In his acceptance speech for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Prime Minister Abiy spoke of the philosophy of the Medemer.
He said: “Medemer, an Amharic word, signifies synergy, convergence, and teamwork for a common destiny. Medemer is a homegrown idea that is reflected in our political, social, and economic life. I’d like to think of ‘Medemer’ as a social compact for Ethiopians to build a just, egalitarian, democratic, and humane society by pulling together our resources for our collective survival and prosperity…At its core, Medemer is a covenant of peace that seeks unity in our common humanity.” One could appropriately, add for the “common good” of humankind.
Our “common humanity” exists in all of us. We are all born in the image of the Creator. All human beings are universally related by our endowed powers of creative mentation, more commonly known as reason. What distinguishes all human beings from the animal species is our mental power to discover new scientific and cultural principles embedded in our universe. All of us homo sapiens, regardless of where we were born, or any physical characteristics, are substantially more alike than we are different. Therefore, our needs, desires, and aspirations in life are similar. All human beings not only share a common interest to enhance our lives, but we also share a desire for a better future for our posterity. There is no class of superior people, who have more rights than others due to privileges of birth, religion, or skin color. Each of us are placed here on earth to contribute to the common good of our common humanity using our individual talents.
If we accept synergy to mean cooperation and collaboration to achieve an enhanced effect, then let us act synergistically to ensure a prosperous Ethiopia that provides for all its citizens.
The Constitution and Sidama
Inherent problems of the 1995 Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia are evident in the November 2019 referendum conferring autonomy to Sidama. Ethiopia’s constitution stipulates that with this lawful vote, the people of Sidama, the fifth largest ethnic group, will become the tenth ethnic regional state. Eight of the existing nine regional states are governed by the dominant ethnic group of that geographical region. However, the Sidama people reside in Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region–(SNNPR), where many other small ethnic groups (around 56) also exist.
The Preamble of Ethiopia’s Constitution properly emphasizes the conception of a united nation with a common purpose and goal for all its people. It deliberates on “advancing our economic and social development,” “common interest….and the emergence of a common outlook,” and “to live as one economic community.” Article 14 resonates with the US Constitution, stating: “Every person has the inviolable right to life the security of person and liberty.” The same principle is echoed in Article 43 of the Constitution: The Right to Development. “The basic aim of development activities shall be to enhance the capacity of citizens for development and to meet their basic needs.”
The drawback to the Constitution begins in Article 8:Sovereignty of the People, where sovereign powers are divided up between “Nations, Nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia.” This is an obvious compromise to ethnicity. In truth; there is only one Ethiopian people and only one Ethiopian nation. The divisions in Ethiopian society are made explicit in Article39: “Every Nation, Nationality and People in Ethiopia has an unconditional right to self-determination, including the right of secession……the right to a full measure of self-government…” This separation of Ethiopians into multiple groups, outlined in the Constitution, is the seed for the tensions gripping Ethiopia today.
In the aftermath of the Sidama referendum, Ethiopia potentially faces a conundrum. Will other ethnic minorities now choose to follow the same path as Sidama in calling for autonomy as delineated in the Constitution? It appears so. In addition to Sidama Zone*, which is now claiming to be the 10th state, there are other Zones in the Southern Region that want to follow the same route to statehood. To quote William Shakespeare, “there’s the rub.” Clearly the Ethiopian Constitution, despite the best intentions, has proven to be unsuccessful in governing this multi-ethnic nation.
The Challenging Course Ahead
The emergence of a national party such as the PP can commence the process of uniting the nation by moving away from a society where ethnic interests are placed above the welfare of the nation. Ultimately the problematic features of the Ethiopian Constitution will have to be revisited. Not to address this thorny issue will allow instigators to use ethnicity to disrupt what is most necessary for Ethiopia to move forward; a healthy process of dialogue and debate on the future of Ethiopia.
This discourse should include a discussion by the Ethiopian people on changing the structure of ethnic-based parties. For example, Ghana’s Constitution stipulates that “Every political party shall have a national character, and membership shall not be based on ethnic, religious, regional or other sectional divisions.” That no political party shall be formed “(a) on ethnic, gender, religion regional, professional or other sectional divisions; or (b) which uses words, slogans or symbols which could arouse ethnic, gender, religious, regional professional or other sectional divisions.”
The lack of vibrant Ethiopian nationalism creates a fertile environment for those who want to manipulate misplaced ethnic passions. The danger presents itself during times of social or economic stress, when the population’s frustrations can be channeled along ethnic fault lines, manipulating Ethiopians to act against their true self-interest: progress for the nation of Ethiopia. Opportunistic ringleaders will attempt to misdirect the population against each other via competing ethnicities, instead of uniting society behind a national policy. A policy of economic growth that includes a strategy to generate employment opportunities for the millions of youth preparing to enter the workforce is in the vital interests of all citizens.
Of course, it will take time for people to shed their desire to control policy making through ethnic-based parties. It is an existential moment for Ethiopia, and a national grounded PP is a needed first step. It should be understood, that a sovereign nation, whose national mission is to promote the general welfare of its people does not require the elimination of historical cultures. On the contrary, the uniqueness and beauty of each ethnic culture can be synergistically woven into an elevated national character that transcends ethnicity.
*Zone is the middle tire next to the regional state in the governing structure that is also formed under ethnic lines the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region (SNNPR).
Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in the economic development policy of Africa for 30 years. He is the creator of the blog: lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com
Ethiopia Launches New Initiatives To Expand Its Economy
In the last decade, Ethiopia, the second most populated nation in Africa with over 100 million people, has become a leader in economic growth. This is the result of the leadership’s commitment to the continuation of the previous government’s developmental state model, which directed public credit to finance vital infrastructure projects. Now, under new leadership, innovative initiatives are being launched to sustain and expand Ethiopia’s progress.
On September 9, 2019, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed unveiled his nation’s “Homegrown Economic Reform Agenda” (Homegrown Reform) at the United Nations Conference Center in Addis Ababa. Its primary goal is to expand the nation’s economic capabilities, and create employment opportunities for millions of unemployed youth. Addressing the audience, Prime Minister Abiy said: “The Reform Agenda is our pro-job, pro-growth, and pro-inclusivity pathway to prosperity.” To achieve these objectives, this new initiative proposes to entice private investment in the following sectors; agriculture, manufacturing, mining, tourism, and Information and Communication Technology- (ICT). Key goals of the agenda’s macroeconomic reforms are, curbing inflation that is averaging over 15% in the last four years, increasing foreign currency, improving access to finance, and debt sustainability.
Home Grown Initiative
The Homegrown Reform Agenda is not meant to be a replacement for Ethiopia’s Growth Transformation Plans II (GTP II), which covers the period from 2014-2019.
Ethiopia, aims over the next three years, to attract $6 billion in new soft loans and $4 billion in debt reduction from multilateral and bilateral institutions to alleviate the country’s financial constraints. According Fitsum Arega, Ethiopia’s ambassador to the United States, “many industries are operating below capacity for lack of foreign currency to pay for imports.”
For Ethiopia to advance to the next stage of development certain imbalances and bottlenecks in the economy have to be corrected, which the Homegrown Agenda intends to accomplish through macro and fiscal reforms. The number one constraint to growth cited by manufacturing firms, is the shortage of foreign exchange. Access to financing, inefficiency in government, and insufficient infrastructure are also leading constraints to doing business in Ethiopia. In an effort to address these limitations, the Homegrown Reform intends to shift from relying exclusively on public sector investment, which has led to a rise in Ethiopia’s debt, to promoting private sector financing.
Another area of concern for the government is relying on inefficient state-owned firms. A case in point is the military-run industrial conglomerate METEC, which is being investigated for corruption and suspicion of misappropriating public funds.
To complement the new reforms, it is recommended that the government make additional efforts to; discipline public expenditures, attract remittances through legal channels, and end contraband.
Ethiopia On The Road of Progress
The following indicators of economic growth are reported in A Homegrown Reform Agenda: Pathway to Prosperity power-point. From 2004 to 2015, Ethiopia succeeded in reducing the percentage of people living in poverty-$1.90 per day or less- from 39% to 24%. From 2004 to 2018 per capita income grew from $200 per day to over $800. During that same time frame, child mortality (under age 5) decreased from 123 to 55 per 1000 live births, and life expectancy increased from 56 years to 66. And from 2005 to 2016 the percentage of the population with access to electricity rose from 14% to 43%–a 300% increase.
Ethiopia aspires to reach the status of a “lower middle income” nation by 2025. This is an ambitious goal that will require; raising yearly per capita income from its levels of $856 to $2,219, reducing poverty from 27.3 % of the population to 13.8%, and increasing access to electricity to 86% of its citizens. For Ethiopia to achieve its objective in the next five years, it needs to mechanize its agriculture sector to be more productive and less labor intensive, and increase manufactured exports five-fold.
Ethiopia’s Job Offensive
Simultaneously, Ethiopia’s leadership is tackling the critical issue of unemployment, especially for the growing number of college educated youth, who are seeking jobs and upward mobility. Ethiopia’s Jobs Creation Commission-(JCC) announced on October 30, a bold plan to create 14 million jobs by 2025, and a total of 20 million new jobs by 2030. This will provide employment opportunities for millions of new entrants into their labor force. The government intends to create 3 million jobs in the budget year that began this July.
In partnership with the JCC, Mastercard Foundation presented its Young Africa Works Initiative–committing $300 million to assist in this job creation program. Their focus will be generating new employment opportunities in the ICT and Small Medium Enterprises-(SME) sectors. According to the JCC website: “The Young Africa Works in Ethiopia is an initiative that will enable 10 million young people to access dignified and fulfilling work by 2030…It was designed in partnership with the government, the private sector, academic institutions, and young people and; is currently aligned with the Ethiopian government’s plan to create new jobs to spur economic growth.”
Economics and the Nation State
Ethiopia’s economy has been growing at a faster rate than other sub-Saharan nations. However, its prolific university system is graduating more young people than Ethiopia’s economy can employ. Simply put: despite the progress that Ethiopia has accomplished in reducing poverty and building physical infrastructure; the economy is not growing at a level fast enough to accommodate its large and expanding population.
Frustration over the slower than desired rate of development is being expressed by various elements of society. Economic well-being is a substantial motivation that underlies the anger by ethnic movements at those in power. Ethnic groups believe it is necessary to have “their leaders” in charge, in order to ensure a bigger slice of the “economic pie.” People, who judge that they are being economically neglected or marginalized can become desperate, and thus susceptible to being manipulated and aroused to take action against their own government.
To avoid such instigated conflicts, the only real and lasting solution is to create a “bigger economic pie” that equally satisfies the needs of all people regardless of geographical region or ethnicity. It is the unique responsibility, nay obligation, of the nation state to provide for the “general welfare” of its people and their posterity, as beautifully articulated in the preamble to the US Constitution. The nation state transcends (not negates) regionalism, ethnicity, and religion. Its primary concern is the continued existence of a single sovereign Ethiopian nation with one integrated and unified people.
The government is responsible for ensuring that every Ethiopian has the necessities of food and shelter, and the opportunity for a meaningful life for oneself and one’s progeny. Deliberating on the best pathway to achieve these goals is the responsibility of every citizen. It is in the self interest of all Ethiopians to collaborate in securing a prosperous future for their nation.
Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa with thirty years of experience in Africa promoting infrastructure development policies.
Mahmood Mamdani raises proactive questions on the role ethnicity in Africa and Ethiopia in particular. (See excerpts and article below).
Africa has been plagued to this day by two legacies from colonialism (British): 1) the intentional failure to build infrastructure; 2) the deliberate fostering of ethnicity. Historical literature is replete with evidence of the British creation of ethnic and/or native administrative units as a central feature of their divide and rule colonial policy. Lord Frederick Lugard, who authored the infamous “indirect rule” stratagem, implemented his scheme in Nigeria when he became the Govern General Nigeria in 1914, and ruled the North and South differently. Similarly, the British cultivated the North versus South conflict in Sudan with their separate Southern policy exemplified by their 1922 Passport and Ordinance Act. There are more examples available.
Accentuating ethnic, tribal, religious, and geographical distinctions is used as a means to thwart the creation of sovereign Nation States, particularly in Africa. A functioning Nation State is not founded on a collection of minorities, or even a majority. Instead, it is created on principles that define its responsibilities to provide for the general welfare of its citizens and their posterity, which must include nurturing the creative potential of each child. Nation States transcend differences within their populations by uniting all their people in a common mission, not only to develop their nation, but to contribute to the future of mankind as well.
Ethiopia uniquely evaded colonization with its 1896 military victory against the Italian army in Adwa, led by Menelik II. Yet as Mamdani points out, Ethiopian Federalism accommodates ethnicity, which is divisive today, and is being used to undermine the central-federal government. By following the core economic thesis of Meles Zenawi’s “Developmental State” Ethiopia has embarked on a bold campaign to transform their country through government directed investment in infrastructure, while protecting their economy from being invaded by foreign financial predators. As a result of Ethiopia’s relative success among African nations in performing this necessary Nation State function, it has become the “enemy” to those forces-internal and external-that oppose development of African nations. Not surprisingly in the last six months there have been renewed efforts to liberalize-deregulate Ethiopia’s financial system in an attempt to weaken its commitment to the “Developmental State” model.
Therefore, the suggestion of a new kind of non-ethnic federalism is a conception that could lead to strengthening the institution of the Nation State in Africa.
“Ethiopians used to think of themselves as Africans of a special kind, who were not colonized, but the country today resembles a quintessential African system, marked by ethnic mobilization for ethnic gains.
In most of Africa, ethnicity was politicized when the British turned the ethnic group into a unit of local administration, which they termed “indirect rule.” Every bit of the colony came to be defined as an ethnic homeland, where an ethnic authority enforced an ethnically defined customary law that conferred privileges on those deemed indigenous at the expense of non-indigenous minorities.
An interesting book worth reading by Mahmood Mamdani is: “Saviors and survivors.” It about Sudan and Darfur, but also discusses the creation of ethnic groups.