Modifying the 'One Size Fits All' Good Governance Agenda for Ethiopia (Desta Asayehgn) – Awramba Times

Parliament2-520x245As advocated by neo-liberal entities, the agenda of good governance is grounded on democratic principles that create on-going interaction processes that are supposed to solidify, governmental structures, functions and practices of the state and its people. As the a key driver to economic growth to alleviate poverty in developing countries, the interaction process of good governance embeds core guidelines that include, the rule of law, citizen participation, transparency, accountability, and elimination of corruption.

Given that the democratization process and the components of good governance are central to the achievement of development goals for the twenty-first century (Punyaratabandhu, 2004), it is either naïveté or arrogance not to defend the concept of good governance. On the other hand, it is wishful thinking to accept good governance as a guide for all developing countries because it is based on abstract concepts beyond the capability of some developing countries for them to create a better public life. Moreover, because good governance requires a decision-making process, its agenda of cannot be imposed from the outside. Rather, it has to be accepted and practiced according to the needs of its stakeholders from the inside. Otherwise, they remain dependent on the existing capitalist order that requires hegemony based on apatron-client relationship.

A review of the literature indicates that protagonists strongly claim that the agenda of good governance has worthy goals not only in itself but also as a means through which it would enable economic growth and development in less developed countries. As discussed by Sachs (2015) the three pillars of sustainable development are economic development, social inclusion, and environmental sustainability. They require good governance with rules of behavior to play a central role in order to achieve sustainable development goals. Similarly, studying 17 emerging countries in Africa, Radelet (2010) demonstrates that a shift toward democracy in African countries has been accompanied by a measureable improvement in the quality of governance.

Based on theoretical arguments, opponents of good governance critically argue that the underlying theoretical basis of good governance is based on Western social order. Good governance establishes a bondage system between administrators and citizens. Based on the bondage system that exists between donors and recipients of aid, pessimists strongly argue that government officials of developing countries cannot use their own institutions to formulate pro-poor policies because they are not accountable to their citizens. In addition, opponents assert that corrupt officials in some developing countries have the tendency to badly hinder development efforts by stealing aid contributions or misdirecting the aid money into unproductive activities (Gisselquist, 2012). Grindle (2010) also argues that the “…the elites who dominate such governments are not always interested in improving governance, as this could easily limit their power and access to rents and resources.”

Interestingly enough, even the USAID (2013) that asserts good governance is the cardinal underlying basis for development, claims that development goals of a number of developing countries are undermined by the corrosive impact of corruption. Pursing further this kind of argument, the USAID (2013) claims that corrupt elites in some developing countries not only capture state benefits and indulge in unaccountable governance, but also divert the scarce national resources from development projects to their private gain because of the lack of a transparent governance system that does not require accountability to local citizens.

From a methodological standpoint, the opponents of good governance argue that the concept of good governance is not applicable to sustainable development because its indicators are formulated in such away to make that the recipients willingly or unwillingly subscribe to the donors’ normative or value judgments. Going one step further they claim that neoliberal models introduce political conditions based on Western liberal values of democracy tailored to deepen the dependency of the aid recipient countries (Nanda,2006; Kofi and Desta; 2008; and NEPAD,2007).

Based on the assumption that aid donors generally create long lasting dependence of the borrowing countries, the opponents of good governance argue that when developing countries borrow or receive assistance from aid-giving agencies, they are given no choice but to follow the lead of the neo-liberal Washington Consensus Model (Adetula, 2011). In addition, opponents argue that without understanding what good governance is because of the lack of clarity and what it means to different organizations and participants, and how good governance is measured, developing countries are destined to pursue the ideals of liberal democracy depicted for them by the strategies of good governance. Actually, when developing countries attempt to navigate through good governance, they could outpace their limited resources and eventually sink into dependency (Gisselquist, 2012; Grindle, 2008; Schmitz, 2007).



The purpose of this case study is to show that since the agenda of good governance is designed as ‘one size fits all,’ it is not contextualor compatible with Ethiopia’s cultural realities. The second part of the paper presents a brief historical review of current Ethiopian history. The third section of paper presents the theoretical underpinnings of the model of good governance as set by donors and the adherents of neo-liberal democratic ideology. Grounded on African communal consensus–building approaches, section four of the paper develops the applicability of grass roots democracy or democratic autonomous self-rule federalism as an alternative to the agenda of good governance for Ethiopia’s ethno-federal system. The last part of the paper suggests some desirable and feasible policies for untangling ethno-federal Ethiopia from some of the malaise of mal-administration and the developmental problems that it is currently facing.

Contemporary Ethiopia

After the collapse of the Military Government in 1991, Ethiopia has undergone three challenging transformations: ethnic federalism with the right of self-determination, including the right to secession; a developmental democratic state system of governance; and a democratic devolution, each to become the governance system at the grassroots level (woreda) of its administration structure.
To ensure national consolidation, the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) vigorously redefined Ethiopia’s political landscape into ethnic federalism and restructured the state into the contemporary Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.The EPRDF subdivided the Ethiopian polity into nine asymmetrical, ethnic-based regional states and two federal city-states that included the city of Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa. To further assure self-rule and ascertain confidence in the nation and in the people of Ethiopia, each regional state was assured the unconditional right to self-determination, including the right to secession.

Following the examples of Taiwan and South Korea’s strategy of mapping industrial policy, Ethiopia established the ground work necessary for a developmental state with a government planning policy, or designating the intervention of the government in designing the country’s economic system. However, realizing that multilateral, bilateral, and donor countries would not lend aid unless the aid recipient countries agreed to abide by the blueprints of good governance, the Ethiopian government slowly revised its socialistic orientation and undertook a tactical view by openly propagating the idea that it was possible to achieve developmental state, and the country could transition into democracy, accepting the agenda of “good governance” in order to receive assistance from bilateral and multilateral agencies.
In 2001, the EPRDF further embarked on the devolution of powers and responsibilities of the woreda, or lower level of administration. As highlighted by Assefa (2015), the 1991 manifestation of decentralization was aimed at creating and empowering national and regional states of governments, whereas as the second phase of decentralization extended the devolution of powers to the woreda.

A cursory look at the state affairs now clearly indicates that Ethiopian politicians and bureaucrats seem to be ‘playing with the rules rather than playing by the rules.’As a result, more recently, a number of regional governments in Ethiopia have been stepping up the assessment of their management strategies. To curtail some of the mal-administrative practices riddled with dramatically flourishing corruption for instance, the Tigraye Regional States summoned a regional conference towards the end of 2015 to assess the serious administrative challenges and systematically evaluate the implementation of the agendas for good governance. Citing various upheavals that occurred in the Oromia Region and in particular the eviction of the Oromio farmers from their farm lands, Prime Minister Haile Mariam Desalgne has straight-forwardly stated that Ethiopia was suffering from the problems of governance, and that by evicting the helpless Oromio tenants from their land has alienated the social base of the EPRDF Party (The Guardian, March 9, 2016). To expedite the processes of good governance that it had previously accepted, Ethiopia has declared the Year 2015/16 as the “Year of Good Governance.” Read More

The writer, Desta Asayehgn is a Distinguished Professor of Sustainable Economic Development, Barowsky School of Business, Dominican University of California

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