Perhaps the most popular Ethiopian leader to date, the Prime Minister’s performance over the last two months has been stellar.
In just 66 days, the Prime Minister has turned a new page in Ethiopian history, restoring hope and optimism in the direction the country is taking.
The concrete and symbolic steps being taken on both national and regional levels show that the Ethiopian leadership is making impressive strides towards the party’s promise to widen the democratic public space and foster national reconciliation.
A deadly war
Yet, 16 years on, the countries are still at a ‘no peace, no war’ situation, with thousands of soldiers still manning the border regions.
Although both countries presented territorial disputes as an official justification for the war, the real reason behind the war is far more complex and has uniquely regional historical and cultural roots.
Ethiopia invoked technical and bureaucratic justifications to derail the implementation of the boundary commission’s decision and ultimately frustrated the process, setting the scene for the intractable stalemate.
The Eritrean government used Ethiopia’s refusal to relinquish sovereign Eritrean territory and the subsequent militarization of the border to justify its own repressive rules at home.
Over the last 16 years, the Eritrean government demanded Ethiopia’s full compliance with the Boundary Commission’s decision as a condition for normalizing relations.
Now that Ethiopia has satisfied Eritrea’s demands, putting the ball firmly within Eritrea’s court, the Eritrean regime cannot use these excuses to prolong the conflict and maintain the persistent repressions at home.
Given the transformational changes taking shape in Ethiopia and the concrete steps the new leadership have taken in the domestic arena, there is no reason to doubt the sincerity of the government.
After all, this announcement is a continuation of the promise Prime Minister Ahmed made during his inaugural speech two months ago.
Ethiopia’s announcement to comply fully with the Boundary Commission’s decision will mark a new chapter in the relations between the two countries and will be consequential for regional peace and stability.
Fastest growing economy
Under the plan, foreign and domestic investors can buy minority stakes in sectors that were previously deemed off limits to private enterprise.
This announcement represents a major policy shift by the government as the new leadership seeks a new direction for the economy while maintaining the interventionist aspects of the developmental state policy.
Since the 2005 disputed National Election, the ruling party and its leadership embraced the ‘Democratic developmental state’ economic model and used this phrase to describe the ruling party’s ideology and to criticize the neo-liberal economic model.
However, the developmental state model as practiced by the previous government is not merely an economic policy.
While the policy shift does not constitute a wholesale abnegation of the developmental state model, it certainly represents a significant departure from the previous approach.
According to the press statement, the government will continue to participate in economic activities to ensure increased spending on infrastructure investments and other socially rewarding projects.
However, as the government seeks to widen the political space and empower citizens, the authoritarian economic model practiced by the previous governments needs to undergo a renewal.
Many of Ethiopia’s public enterprises have been neither efficient nor profitable and their privatization is long overdue. Several sectors under public ownership such as telecommunication and electricity can benefit from private sector investment and dynamism.
While Ethiopia’s economy certainly needed a new direction, the government must be cautious and must move with extreme care in rolling out these policies, particularly in opening up certain sectors to foreign investment.
The government must undertake a thorough impact assessment sector by sector, and industry by industry, if necessary, to minimize the devastating effects of opening up capital strapped markets to foreign competition.
Finally, Ethiopia’s new leadership is making remarkable progress on several fronts, but faces serious risks from within which could jeopardize the progress made over the last two months.
It is important that regional powers and Western governments support the transition in this country whose stability is critical for the entire Horn of Africa region.
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