Ethiopia: Some Wrong Misconceptions On Government, Governance in Ethiopia

By Solomon Dibaba

Ethiopia's democratic government is acting on behalf of the needs, interests, values and attitudes of the electorate.

In terms of legal - technical definition, a government is a socio-legal and constitutional institution that executes its planned activities and additional activities entrusted to it by either the judiciary or the legislature or both. Governments may be of different forms but their duties are universal and are also contextualized with the objective realities in each country.

In Ethiopia the concept of government popular among the public over a century is quite mixed if and at times vexing. In traditional Ethiopia particularly in the rural settings, the concept of government is blended with religious understandings of a father or a patron and speaking against the government is tantamount to speaking against God.

This is particularly true of the former emperors of Ethiopia who claimed that they are elects of God and tampering with their authority is no less than coming at loggerheads with God. As an old Amharic adage goes, "mengist aykeses semay ayetares", literally meaning "as you cannot farm the sky, you cannot accuse the king."

Some believed and may still believe that the government is an authority next to God. In short the public was subject to oppression and repression under the guise of false fabrications perpetrated by the royal families that claimed that they descendants from the Lion of Judah and the Solomonic line. Others had a manipulated understanding that a government worthy of the name is forgiver and merciful just like God.

Followed by age old oppression from the ruling classes, the public later on developed a wrong concept that everything related to the government is bad, state property should be neglected as it does not belong to the popular masses. In a sense this was a realistic view as the so called government property was also partially owned by members of the royal family and the ruling aristocracy. Some had a manipulated understanding that a government worthy of the name is forgiver and merciful just like God.

In Ethiopia, the above mentioned misconception of government was even repeated during the Derg period. Despite the collapse of the feudal order, a large majority of the public conceived the Derg government came about either as a wrath of God or from the sins committed by the feudal regime.

Religious leaders taught that spiritual books order them to obey any government whatever its nature is. Questioning the authority of the government was understood to be questioning the divine authority of God. The Derg was responsible for assassinating and detaining various religious leaders but at the same time it tried to use a number of religious leaders at rallies on Revolution Square as window dressings for a deliberate political demagogy to show off on the existence of religious freedom.

On the other hand, governance, let alone good governance, was left to the prerogatives of the government in which the public should not participate as governance is the task allotted only and strictly for governments.

Governance is systemic and a process that involves running government affairs in line with the proclamations, laws, rules and regulations handed down to the government by the legislature and the judiciary. Governance is a function of the type and form of government fixed by the law.

Governance is the way the rules, norms and actions are produced, sustained, regulated and held accountable. The degree of formality depends on the internal rules of a given government. Governance may take many forms, driven by many different motivations and with many different results. For instance, in Ethiopia governance is based on democracy where citizens vote on who should govern. The degree of the political culture of any country to a certain degree determines the quality of governance which is referred to us good governance. Governance in Ethiopia is conducted by executive institutions that are established by law with specific functions and responsibilities.

In Ethiopia the government is using the bureaucracy as a tool to carry out its duties and responsibilities in a manner fixed by the law. However, government bureaucracies are in so many cases entangled with red tape and delaying tactics of rent seekers. They fail to address the needs of the electorate and thus create a rift or some kind of alienation between the government and the public. The egoistic interests of Individuals are compromised with public interest. The accumulation of grievances leads to spontaneous eruptions of public rage which is in so many cases used as a platform for liquidators and perpetrators of public unrest.

If any level of rift is created between the government and the citizens, the ground is ready for those who shed alligator's tears and beat upon gongs with louder and crafty voice.

The quality of governance generates the conditions that make governability possible. Governability also implies the condition of statehood, territorial proximity in which governance is conducted, economic and socio-cultural ties among the components of areas under governance. Governability is also a function of manning the governance with professionals and elected bodies who are capable to manage public affairs and provide pertinent services to the public so that public satisfaction on governance is attained.

In Ethiopia governments are usually taken as patrons of public life or as an entity that is detached from the public and endowed with some privileges not allotted for others. There is a need to create a paradigm shift in shaping public social consciousness in building the capacity of the society to consider the accountability and revocability factor in the functions of government.

Ethiopia's democratic government is acting on behalf of the needs, interests, values and attitudes of the electorate. It is an expression of the sovereignty of the state and therefore the nations, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia. The public needs to take care of public property, infrastructure and all amenities like roads, railway lines and the locomotives, electric poles, telephone networks and appliances, cables and all other structures that are laid out by the government for the benefit of the public. Government, governance and governability are unthinkable without the comprehensive participation of the public in all spheres of public life and duties. The reciprocity between the legal obligations of the Ethiopian government in leading, guiding and spearheading the socio-economic development of the country and the conscious participation of the peoples of Ethiopia in the affairs of government and governance needs to be exhibited in the democratic nature of the countries political system.

The peoples of Ethiopia need to own their government, follow up on its performance, provide constructive suggestions and guard it against corruption with all its forms including nepotism, parochialism and rent seeking. The public need to fight off egoistic narrow nationalism. Chauvinism and the vestiges of feudal mentality that would not tally with the development objectives of the country. If this issues are addressed not only will the misconceptions on government, governance and governability are addressed but the country will become the hallmark of democracy in Africa.

Source: All Africa