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Is Ethiopia a Failed State or Not ?

In his highly acclaimed book Failed-States-Assault–The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy, 2006, Noam Chomsky defines failed states as “a nation-state whose governments have lost their ability to provide basic services, ensure security, and keep order within their territories. He argues that failed states are not necessarily failed due to inherent characteristics, but rather due to external factors such as imperialistic interventions, exploitative economic policies, and corrupt governance.”

This definition plus human insecurity, civil war, genocide, official and non-official corruption, nepotism, administrative malfeasance, diversion of resources, abductions for ransom, weaponization of famine and starvation, suffocation of civil society and independent media characterize the Ethiopian failed state of Abiy Ahmed. If you do not believe Abiy Ahmed is the principal actor in this failure, think again!! He is.

Ethiopia’s failed status is fueled by interventions from foreign interests and powers that worsen ethnic and political tensions. But the leading factor is internal ethnic-elite capture. I acknowledge the notion that the Ethiopian state and government have, throughout history, did not stand for the core interests of the population.

Regardless of who is power, Ethiopians, the majority of whom are poor, never enjoyed a government of the people, by the people and for the people. This is why foreign aid did not change structural poverty in Ethiopia. This is why elections are a sham!! This is why Ethiopian society is afflicted by income and social inequality. This is why millions of Ethiopian youths are unable to attend school. This is why teachers, medical personnel and other civil servants are protesting. They have not been paid their salaries for months. Mind you!! Abiy spends millions of Birrs entertaining himself playing soccer!!

An analyst of Chomsky’s book identifies these five key lessons:

  1. The book Failed States sheds light on the concept of failed states and explores how they contribute to global instability. It highlights that failed states are not just a concern for the countries themselves but also for the international community.
  2. The book emphasizes that failed states are not solely the result of external factors or natural disasters, but often the consequence of internal systemic problems, including corruption, weak governance, and lack of accountability. It highlights that addressing these root causes is essential for stabilizing failed states.
  3. Failed States analyzes the impact of failed states on global security, arguing that they can serve as breeding grounds for terrorism, organized crime, and illicit activities. It argues that failed states can pose significant risks to regional and global stability.
  4. The book underscores the importance of international interventions and help in addressing failed states. However, it also criticizes certain approaches, such as military interventions, as often worsening the problem rather than solving it. It suggests that a more comprehensive and sustainable approach is needed, focusing on long-term development, ability building, and good governance.
  5. Failed States also explores the role of economic factors in the failure of states, highlighting how economic inequality, resource exploitation, and predatory practices can contribute to state failure. It argues for equitable and sustainable economic policies as a crucial aspect of preventing state failure and promoting stability.”

I reference Chomsky’s book because it mirrors Ethiopia’s current situation so accurately. Ethiopia’s top leadership, including the Prime Minister, defense officers, and key institutions, are at the heart of the country’s ongoing tragedy. Chomsky’s analysis offers profound insights into the dynamics of power, control, and the manipulation of public perception, all of which are evident in Ethiopia today.

The government’s actions, characterized by systemic abuses and a lack of accountability, reflect the very issues Chomsky addresses, making his work an essential lens through which to understand and critique the current state of affairs in Ethiopia. By drawing on Chomsky’s lessons, we can better comprehend the underlying causes of Ethiopia’s crisis and the ways in which power is wielded to sustain the status quo amid growing opposition and human rights violations.

For instance, the country’s parliament functions as a forum of cheerleaders, displaying unwavering loyalty to the Prime Minister and the Oromo-elite dominated Prosperity Party. Furthermore, the top leadership of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) is predominantly composed of individuals from a single ethnic group, the Oromo

PM Abiy Ahmed attending the inauguration of army cadets accompanied by Army chief of staff, Field Marshal Berhanu Jula

Its primary role is to defend, protect and safeguard the current system. One adverse consequence of this phenomenon is that Ethiopia’s borders are vulnerable and porous. I was struck by a recent statement by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed who dismissed the following possible developments and threats to his power

  • “There will not be a transitional government under my watch. “
  • “There will not ever be a coup d’etat because Ethiopia is governed by military men” like me.
Prime Minister Abiy discussed various topics, emphasizing the government’s dedication to implementing the dialogue’s outcomes. Nonetheless, he dismissed the idea of a transitional government as a future path for the country

I wonder why Abiy Ahmed raises these two possibilities unless he fears what might happen to his diabolical regime!! As they say, “Where there is smoke; there is fire.” Dismissing these possibilities is not a smart policy. Dealing with the root causes of why these possibilities exist is smart and wise. But Abiy will never resolve systemic problems. It is not up to Abiy Ahmed to start either possibility. Rather, it is the Ethiopian people together and those who stand firm for justice, genuine equality, the rule of law and democracy who will figure out Ethiopia’s future state.

Abiy does not have an iron-clad guarantee that members of the ENDF that he restructured along ethnic lines will not topple him. After all, military governments have been toppled by members of the military. Mali, Chad and several others come to mind. Amhara Fano is spearheading a popular revolution for systemic change. Others are doing the same. The sooner they join forces the better for Ethiopia. Among other things, this will shorten Ethiopia’s agony.

Finally, a state that fails to “provide basic services, ensure security, and maintain order within its own territories” can blame no one but its own rulers. Under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s ethno-nationalist regime, Ethiopia is teetering on the brink of collapse. Yet, hope remains. The Ethiopian people, enduring immense suffering, will eventually rise against this tyranny.

Encouragingly, the international community, including the United States and the European Union, acknowledges the urgent need for systemic change in Ethiopia. Insiders confirm their support for a transitional government of national unity. This recognition marks a critical step towards restoring peace and stability in Ethiopia, paving the way for a brighter future.



EAR Editorial Note This is the author’s viewpoint and Views in the article do not necessarily reflect the views of EAR


Aklog Birara

Aklog Birara served as Economic Advisor, General Manager of the Commercial Bank in Ethiopia, as Senior Economic Advisor with the United States Agency for International Development in Chadi and Cameroon; and in various capacities including Senior Advisor with the World Bank group where he worked for 30 years. A prolific writer and commentator, he has published the following books: 1. Seeds for Democratization in Ethiopia: why unity of purpose matters. Author house, 2007. 2. የዲሞክራሲ መሰረቶች በኢትዮጵያ፤ የአላማ አንድነት ወሳኝነት፤ ኦተርሃውስ. 2008. 3. ድርጅታዊ ምዝበራ፤ የኢትዮጵያ እድገታዊ መንግሥትና የሥልጣን ባለ ኃብቶች ኢኮኖሚ---Maple Creek Media, 2013. 4. ኢትዮጵያ ሕዝብን ያማከለ ልማት ያስፈልጋታል፤ ከላር ማተሚያ ቤት፤ አዲስ አበባ፤ 2019 5. Waves: endemic poverty that globalization can’t tackle but Ethiopian can. Signature Books, 2010 6. Ethiopia: the great land giveaway (the deal of the century), Signature Books, 2011 7. Promising Ethiopia and the art of external dominance, Copy Right 2023 (available on Amazon and worldwide) 8. Biography in progress

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