Is the new PM of Ethiopia shifting the paradigm on governance (By Teshome Debalke )

September 13, 2018

The quest of African leaders to rule indefinitely through taxation without representation continue to drive them from Western patronizing policy to the comfort of the noninterference policy of China. Is PM Abiy reform ready to break the cycle to transform Ethiopia from a Banana Republic to a viable Democratic State is the million-dollar question.

In the spirit of the Ethiopian New Year, the profound statements Prime Minster Abiy Ahmed delivered in the Millennium Hall of Addis Ababa broadcasted around the world to the gathering Ethiopians in front of freshly arrived exiled Ethiopians with all kinds of political persuasions was historic by itself to celebrate the New Year with hope and enthusiasm.

More exhilarating, the substance of what the PM’s talked in transforming Ethiopia in a democratic nation where the rule of law is supreme.

For those of us that ‘wasted’ most of our adult lives contemplating; the hefty price we Ethiopians paid for contemporary political elites’ adventure of ‘taxation without representation’ rule that was settled 100s of years ago for the fortunate few societies that live in free and democratic nations and where the unfortunate many like us seek refuge is music for our ears.

At any rate, PM said what need to be said in theory to achieve the desired freedom, justice and democracy and, hopefully prosperity for the people of Ethiopia. But, the challenge for him and one-and-all of us to come up what needs to be done, by who, when and how to make it reality came in the shadow of 50 African Head-Of-States including the new PM Abiy gathered in the Chinese Capital Beijing to hear The Communist Republic of China Premier Xi promise of 60-billion additional dollars in new investment/loan/aid for Africa as reported by Al Jazeera on its September 2018 piece titled — ‘Is Africa getting into a debt trap with China?”.

External and internal debt curse of many African nations at all-time high to service their debt obligation, with Western aid/loan proceeds dwindling faster than ever as isolationist policy take hold, African regimes’ dependence on Chinese ‘investment-loan-aid’ to keep their regimes afloat was expected and the only alternative to mitigate the mismanagement of their extractive economies, thanks to China’s ‘noninterference’ in the internal affairs of nations policy to make her the Walmart size pawn shop for regimes cash strapped to sustain their ‘taxation without representation’ rules willing to barter their nations’ resources until it affected her economically.

In all fairness, Wester governments and institutions’ look-the-other-way policy on of regimes’ violation with standard lip service of ‘we-are-deeply-concerned’ condemnation is not far behind to slow down regimes hellbent to remain in power indefinitely. The 75-year-old Museveni of Uganda excuses  after 31-years in power is a prime example of Western nations’ complicity to look the other way on human right violation as well as giving lip service to his blatant economic corruption.

But, never since the Berlin Conference of 1884 where European Colonialists agreed to parcel Africa as their territory; bilateral agreement with 50 independently sovereign U.N and AU member nations of the continent of Africa with a total population of more than a billion people lapped together as one nation until China organized the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in 2015 with the latest in Sept of 2018 to pledge $60 billion of more loans/investment/aid. Unfortunately, African leaders once again accepted with enthusiasm to continue pledging their nations’ resources as collateral.

Likewise, the U.S. under the Obama Administration quickly followed with its own US-African Leadership Summit in the summer of 2015 pledging $54 billion ‘investment/aid’ with Power Africa Initiative.

With an estimated 36 to 69 billion dollars capital flight out of Africa every year according to Global Financial Integrity, no wonder the debt burden of African nations is bottomless pits that will never end for the foreseeable future to come.

Regardless, in the Al Jazeera’s piece; noting summed up the gist of the FOCAC meeting in Beijing this year than what the Nairobi based investment adviser Aly-khan Satchu who was present at conference statement; ‘it seems they [African leaders] are very well couched. I wish they take notes. I didn’t see any leader taking note and, what the Economists Intelligence Unit analyst Dan Wong said; China loans doesn’t come with lots of political strings. It doesn’t mean China does not have condition. In fact, over 50% of the loans to Africa and Latin America are backed by energy and food’.

The dilemma African people will face for the foreseeable future under ‘taxation without representation’ rulers that designated their countries as real-estate for sale to foreign titleholders to sustain their regime is astonishingly look like colonialism 2.0 for the 21st century as many drew parallel.

Unfortunately, the new reformist PM Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia that took the imagination of Ethiopians and the world by surprise with bold political ‘reform’ to deal with the mess he inherited since he took the Premiership of the ruling party in April of 2018 joined the 49 other African leaders at the Forum.

Sadly, no independent national Media accompanied him to report why he was in Beijing and what he may be negotiating on behalf of the people of Ethiopia contrary to his promised transparency. The only Medias that accompanied him were EBC, the government owned Broadcasting Corp that operate ETV and Ethiopian Radio and Fana Broadcasting Corp, the ruling collation member party – the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF) owned and operated ‘private’ Radio and Television station. Essentially, no independent Media nor institution other than the official line of the governments of China and Ethiopia was reported to the people of Ethiopia in violation of the PM’s reform effort.

The Foreign Minster Spokesperson of China Hua Chunying in a Press Conference of August 31, 2018 responding to unnamed China State Media reporter avoided China’s debt to Ethiopia and why China scaled back investment to the country altogether and jumped on to China’s contribution in training Ethiopians. She said; “the mainstream Media in Ethiopia have commended the contribution China’s training program made to the country.”   When asked about Western Media talk of the ‘so-called China debt trap’ in response to Foreign Secretary of the Philippine statement — “only one percent of its debt is to China”, Hue responded; “the loan China provides to relevant countries only account for small portion of their debt. I wonder how Western Media could come up with the so-called ‘China debt trap’?” 

Whatever ‘mainstream Media in Ethiopia’ and ‘relevant countries’ like the Philippine as oppose irrelevant she meant, Financial Times in June of 2018 report titled; ‘China scales back investment in Ethiopia’ sourcing IMF data reviles; Ethiopian public debt ratio at 59% of GDP considered as high risk distress up from 46.8% from four years ago.

The same FT report also quoted unnamed Chinese Foreign Minister’s spokesperson saying; “Ethiopia is an important partner of China.” But, added; “Chinese financial institutions operate by market principle” — implying Ethiopian financial institutions don’t.

Nevertheless,  estimate of external debt of Ethiopia ranges from as low as $23.6 billion (2016) according to the government run Ethiopian open data Portal sponsored by AfDB, $29.09 billion according to CIA World Factbook (2017) and, as high as $40.21billion according to Country Economy Portal.

Moreover, according to China-Africa Research Initiative (CARI) at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C, a total of $13.7-billion-dollars (2017) obligation to China consisting of about half of the official foreign debt of Ethiopia.

Oddly, all the goose chase for accurate data and the conflicting statistics of Ethiopia are extrapolated from the only data source of the nation – the Government of Ethiopia itself. Therefore, for 27 years, the Ethiopians and the world relied on the data of the ruling party of Ethiopia and whatever one decides to make out of it for different political, social and economic as well as geopolitical reasons.

The irony such important external debt and private, bilateral and multilateral agreements that can literally jeopardize the very sovereignty of the nation and the rights of the people of Ethiopia and where and by who the funds may be misappropriated are not disclosed to the public by the government itself to raise more questions than answers on what the reformist PM promised commitment on transparency may be.

The quest of African leaders to rule indefinitely through taxation without representation continue to drive them from Western patronizing policy to the comfort of the noninterference policy of China. Is PM Abiy reform ready to break the cycle to transform Ethiopia from a Banana Republic to a viable Democratic State is the million-dollar question.

Obviously, PM Abiy Ahmed has no mandate to withhold public data or to get nation in more debt obligation. Nor he can arbitrarily set the responsible parties that embezzled or mismanaged the funds scot free. If anything, he should take the mess he inherited from his member party TPLF Mafia operatives and stamp out the parasitic companies responsible for most if not all the external as well as the internal debt burden of the nation and make all the data, including the debt held by private, multilateral and bilateral entities and where the funds were misappropriated public.

The Ethiopian government open data Portal with little information  to begin with is not updated since 2016 like every government agencies that should be operated by independent body to insure public data is not contaminated by politics and corruption to insure; the public right to know the truth. Yet, with the old guard still entrenched; no sign is in the horizon that will happen soon.

Instead, attempt to acquire more debt and refinance the existing debt or selling more public assets to service the outstanding debt and inviting more ‘foreign’ and ‘domestic’ investors before the necessary institutional reform take place appears to be at work.

For instance, in a recent press session of the PM with local ‘Medias’, ESAT correspondent in Addis Ababa raised questions on the PM’s recently commissioned Advisory Council to oversee the planned public enterprises sale, the lack of knowledge and transparency of the Council’s members listed and, asked who may or may not be allowed to buy the public assets.  In response, the PM confess; members of the Advisory Council were not chosen for their expertise but to be observers and, reviled; the existence of another ‘technical groups’ with members with relevant expertise but came short of disclosing their names and backgrounds.

Likewise, the recent announcement PM Abiy picked Mamo Mihertu, a ‘trade and logistic expert on Ethiopia program’ at IFC, the private sector arm of the World Bank in the Nairobi office as his ‘Senior Adviser on policy reform and Chief Trade Negotiator. Though no one knows what may be the criteria to vet a person to be an adviser to the PM, according to Mamo’s own LinkedIn profile, he claims to work for “Booz Allen Hamilton/Ethiopian Ministry of Trade” from 2005-08 as ‘Principle Attorney and Lead Trade Negotiator’ followed by The African Group LLC, ‘a research and advisory firm’ in Washington DC as ‘Principal’ from Feb 2008-Mar 2009 before he joined IFC in 2010 to present. 

It isn’t clear what the relationship the world-renowned U.S. consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton based in Washington DC and the Ethiopian Ministry of Trade may be for Mihertu to work as a Principle Attorney and Lead Trade Negotiator for either one or both at the same time from three years and who paid his salary.  No public record of Booz Allen Hamilton working in Sub-Sahara Africa let alone Ethiopia was found.

At the meantime, the little known The Africa Group claims it is a U.S. based “boutique advisory and venture capital firm with 25% stake in Telemed Medical Services, an Ethiopian engineering consultancy specializing in health system design according to a 2014 news on its  official website — not research and advisory firm as Mihertu described it on his profile.  It is not also clear how he worked in a venture capital firm The African Group founded at undisclosed year for a little over a year where its only investment is in Ethiopia before he joined IFC in the Nairobi office.

Record shows, IFC opened its Addis Ababa office in 2008/ therefore, it is not clear why IFC expert on Ethiopia program work in Nairobi instead of Addis Ababa. But, on its Sept 2014 Press Release IFC reviled it “invested 228 million in Ethiopia making the country the highest recipient of IFC financing in Eastern Africa — Derba Cement Factory with an investment of $55 million as its flagship project” and announced its “first hotel investment with a loan of 9.5 million to Ethiopian company Tsemex Global Enterprise, a leading importer and distributor of water related equipment in Ethiopia, with business in trade, transport and construction activities” led by the Managing Director Rezene Ayalew.

Who is Mamo Mihertu that claim to graduat from Addis Ababa University with Bachelor of Laws-LLB in undisclosed year to become  Lecturer and Department Head of a little known and conservational Saint Mary University in Addis Ababa for a year to go on to ‘University of Pretoria/Amsterdam’ with unknown degree of ‘DI’ at undisclosed year and ‘attended and expected graduation 2008-2009’ from Harvard Kennedy School for a Master of Public Administration/Leadership  per his LinkedIn profile to end up in IFC-World Bank Nairobi office to be picked as a ‘Senior Adviser on policy reform and Chief Trade Negotiator’ of PM Abiy Ahmed?

The official World Bank Blog put out only his partial academic credential as “MPA in Economic Development and Leadership from Harvard University, and an LLM in International Trade and Investment Law from the University of Pretoria/Amsterdam School of Law” and skips his Bachelor of Laws-LLB from Addis Ababa University credential found on his LinkedIn profile.  Though there is a Law School at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, there is ‘Amsterdam’ School of Law was found.

Moreover, in the eight years since Mamo Mihertu joined IFC, the one-and-only article he wrote in his official capacity was on WB Blog in August of 2015  titled What’s in a name? How new reforms are easing entry into Ethiopia’s formal sector.

Incidentally, IFC record shows, the highest responsible person in legal matters of the organization is an Ethiopian national by the name Ethiopis Tafara, Vice President and General Counsel for Legal, Compliance Risk and Sustainability.

Nevertheless, 27 years of TPLF led regime with celebrated double-digits growth and transformation of the economy that was financed by 100s of billions of dollars of private, bilateral and multitribal debt and forging aid shows a dismal official record by the World Trade Organization (WTO) country profile of Ethiopia trade (export-import) and, the devil is in the details of the statistics.

For instance, in 2017 (the latest available data) Ethiopia’s Merchandise exports (f.o.b) was $3. 17 billion dollars consisting mostly half a dozen cash commodities (Coffee and Dried leguminous vegetables dominating 60 and 20 % of agricultural products export respectively) and Merchandise imports, (c.i.f.) five times of export at $16.29 billion.

Ethiopia applied for membership of WTO in 2003 and the application is still pending for over 15 years. Yet, the same experts that left the nation debt and aid financed economy and trade deficit in shamble with massive corruption and incompetency to fulfill the basic transparency requirement of WTO membership to expand export trade appeared to be in the way of PM Abiy’s reform effort from taking its course of cleaning up corruption.   Three US nationals of Ethiopian origin in the diaspora are identified working on behalf of the Ethiopian Minster of Trade at WTO since the application was submitted in 2003.

Notwithstanding the donor community and foreign and expat ‘investors’ associated with the ruling party TPLF owned and operated enterprises that dominate the economy have more clout on the political, social and economic institutions of the nation as it was designed, ignoring the public right to know and the opportunity to equally participate in the affairs of the country smacks the very core principle of reform needed that matters most to the people of Ethiopia.

The 64K question is; who supposed to make the PM’s reform agenda transparent in the public interest remained in the hands of the Free Press, independent institutions as well as competing political parties that yet to show the capacity or the will to raise the main issue that matter for the reform thus, the people of Ethiopia.

The nation is irrefutably in political, social and economic crises brought by nonother than the ruling party and its operatives reckless undertaking of two decades where the governing party led by TPLF makes the policy and the law and enforce it at will while owning and operating for-profit and not-for-profit enterprises and administers public enterprises at the same time with impunity. If that is not the very definition of crony oligarchy rule rapped with ethnic Apartheid Revolutionary Democracy and Marxist Developmental State Economy — mortgaging the nation’s resources that demand complete institutional reform; we don’t know what would.

Therefore, if reform forwarded by PM Abiy doesn’t include the core political, social, economic, Media, security, legal and human development institutional transparency, what good is reform???

Again, if the responsibility of seeing through institutional transparency doesn’t fall on the Free Press, civic organizations and competing political parties, what is transparency.

Relying on the ruling party or the good will of the ‘reformist’ Prime Minster Abiy Ahmed alone is either willful ignorance of the struggle and history or simply complicity of self-serving in the highest order.

The new reformist PM of Ethiopia would miss historic opportunity if he squanders the good will of the people of Ethiopia and, on the flipside, the Free Press, civic organizations and competing political parties would miss historical opportunity if they squander the good will of PM Abiy to transform the nation from the banana republic he inherited into viable democratic and prosperous state she can be.

But, nothing comes even close as the first reform step than independent accounting and disclosure of public data held hostage by the ruling party thus, transparency of institutions involved in the public affairs.

Avoiding or ignoring ‘the public right to know the truth’ either by patching up old institutions with new faces or by withholding information of public interest for political, social or economic reasons is nothing more than half-hearted reform that won’t free nor benefit the people of Ethiopia no leader can afford to get away with.

The legendry American engineer, statistician, educator and author W. Edward Deming credited for the Japanese post-war economic miracle wrote; “without data, you’re another person with an opinion”

The question is, where is the data, who stole it and how are we Ethiopians getting it back from whoever stole it? Everything else is just an opinion.

Happy New Year

The article is dedicated to the people of Ethiopia. May the New Year show the new Prime Minster Abiy Ahmed and the political elites the same foresight that brought Ethiopians together in unity to do the same with the other half — the people’s rights to know the truth to complete the reform effort and transform the lives and liberties of the people of Ethiopia.  

Source: abbaymedia

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