Friday, September 28, 2007

Unintended Consequences

By Fikru Helebo

Modern Ethiopian history is full of government policy decisions which had an unintended consequences. Prime among such unintended consequences is the separation of Eritrea in 1991 as a direct result of a decision taken by the Haile Selassie regime in 1962 to dissolve Eritrea's federation with Ethiopia. The current regime has also made a decision, namely the invasion of Somalia a few months ago, that has the potential to produce unintended consequence(s) that could rival Eritrea's separation.

Emperor Haile Selassie's regime did not believe its decision to revoke Eritrea's autonomous status in 1962 would ignite one of the longest civil wars of the 20th century and
result in Eritrea's eventual separation. Similarly, Meles Zenawi's regime did not believe that its decision to send troops into Somalia would trigger another round of civil war in the Somali inhabited parts of the country, which could then lead to the separation of the Ogaden region from Ethiopia a few years or decades down the line. Only time will tell if this will come to pass.

Decisions made by parties or groups of individuals in the Ethiopian political scene, which are not often as far-reaching as decisions made by a government, like the ones I mentioned above, may also have unintended consequence(s). Take, for example, the decision by MEISON in the mid-70s to work with the Derg regime, which left the EPRP, the main opposition group of the time, out in the cold. The unintended consequence of this decision by
MEISON was the Red Terror the Derg unleashed on the EPRP and, later on, on MEISON itself.

Are there decisions being made in the Ethiopian political scene these days that have the potential to produce unintended consequences of immense proportions like the examples I cited above? I hope not! Decisions that will have to be made by members of Kinijit regarding the apparent division within their party have the potential to produce unintended consequences. So does the muted response by the Ethiopian opposition to the plight of Ogadenis!
I hope the politicians of today have learned something from the mistakes of the past.


Anonymous said...

Hi Fikru,

You are absolutely right about the things that happened in 1970s. Most of Ethiopian students were members or supporters of EPRP while only a few were in support of MEISON. EPRP wasn't quick enough to take a stand when Siad Bare's brutal military came 700 kms deep inside Ethiopian territory. EPRP was pretending not to be sure if it was the WSLF or Somalia itself which came very close to take away Dire Dawa. EPRP is still very good in knowing inside informations let alone in the 1970s when many believed EPRP was strong enough to topple Derg any minute. So it is unlikely that EPRP didn't know about the invasion by Siad Bare. But I think that brutal invasion and the lame radio propaganda of Siad Bare in Amharic from Mogadishu made most Ethiopians hate Siad Bare and the delay in taking a stand was what destroyed EPRP from within than Derg's red terror. EPRP's iron discipline was frustrating Derg; no matter how many students Derg tortured and killed EPRP was getting more popular and dangerous. And then there was Siad Bare's invasion

Eritrea's separation can not be blamed on the 1962 decision of Haile Selassie alone and it wasn't really an unpopular decision in Eritrea's public.

Ambassador Zewde's book which came out in 2000 explains a lot of the incidents and causes which triggered Eritrea's separation. One of the so called 'fathers of Eritrean separation', Idris, who was funded by the British to make a speech at the UN and he had to narrate how much Iraqi Eritrea was and he got all the facts wrong and made a fool of himself a year later at UN again contradicting himself.

If anything, Eritrea's separation can be blamed on Italians. I don't mean Haile Selassei's regime hadn't done any thing wrong but compared to Derg's cruelty on Eritreans, Haile Selassie's wrong deeds fade. And if Italians didn't come and gave a name 'Eritrea' to the region as soon as Yohannes IV was killed by Mahdists in Metema, there woudn't be a country called Eritrea today.

Ephrem Madebo said...

Anonymous, I respectfully disagree on your take of the Eritrean issue. There is no doubt that the Eritreans were colonized by the Italians for about 80 years. However, when the League of Nations/UN (not sure) mandated protectorate of the British ended, Eritrea came in to federation with Ethiopia. Federated Eritreans did not have any problem with Ethiopia, and I do believe, the federation did not create any problem to Ethiopia either. Both the Eritran and the Ethiopian flags were waving in front of the Local Eritrean government office. The Eritrean resistance that ultimately separated Eritrean from Ethiopia started when the Emperor played foul and dissolved the federation. A trued federation is what the different Ethiopian nationalities demand today, Eritreans got it in the 1950s and it was taken away from them in the early years of the 1960s. If this is not the real cause of the Eritrean problem, then what? We have to blame the Emperor for his myopic view of the consequences. PM Akililu Habtewold warned the Emperor, but the Emperor wouldn’t listen to him. Derge inherited and aggravated the Eritrean problem, but it did not create it.

Gooch said...

On the separation of Eritrea, I think it's safe to say that most historians attribute it to several factors, one of which certainly was the end of the federation.

The thing about the end of the federation is that it was accompanied and followed by a series of policies and events, notably stricter imposition of Amharic and the appointment of non-Eritreans to high position in Eritrean local government, that aggravated the situation.

Spencer's Ethiopia at Bay has a nice, objective account of events.

I like the point that these consequences are 'unintended' - that's very important. Ending Eritrea's federation was just another manifestation of the Emperor's centralization policy, which he thought was best for modernization - wresting power away from the parochial, petty, local chiefs. And of course there was his belief that everything, especially power, was better off in his hands. Little did he know of the consequences.

As humans, we seem to always overestimate our ability to predict the future. This is especially true of the power-drunk or power-tipsy among us, like the Emperor and Meles, whose 'success' in life disposes them to dangerous arrogance.

enset said...

Hi Anonymous of 9/28/2007 3:32 AM,

The point of my post was not to blame the Haile Selassie regime alone for Eritrea's separation or to blame MEISON's decision to work with the Derg alone for the Red Terror. There are, of course, many actions by other parties that contributed to Eritrea's separation and the Red Terror. It also goes without saying that there would be no Eritrea without colonization by Italy.

What I was attempting to do in this posting was to highlight a decision which I thought was one without which the likelihood of the events mentioned taking place would have been very unlikely. In both of the examples I cited, it is my view that both actions by the Haile Selassie regime and MEISON were such actions ant both entities did not believe the actions that they took would eventually lead to the separation of Eritrea and to a mass murder on the scale of the Red Terror respectively, thus the unintended consequences.


Anonymous said...

Fikru,i like to comment on the derg and red terror part of your point. In my humble opinion, no type of force could have stopped the red terror. To me, the red terror started the day the derg used a brutal force on soldiers that protested the estabilishment of a military regim by representatives of the various military units who were sent to present the units'grivences.That took place at MEHANDIS in lideta Addis Ababa two weeks after the derg took power.The derg was bruttal from the get go.Long before they strike the leftists,they were killing people, with the help of all leftists, who had opinions that was different from them.The Ethiopian revolution,KALE MINIM DEM,with all the strikes, demonstrations, demands etc took place while Haile selassie was in power,From Jan to sep 1974.WE all know what happened after that day. So if you have to blame any group blame the dergs who created a climate of fear and repression.
On Eritrea,the radical exposure of the Eritrean youth, be it islamic,be it maoist and the repressive ways of the derg has a lot more to do with the outcome than Haile selassie.We can now try to second guess what took place then but in reality once these young men were infected with this maddnes there was no cure for them.And for the rest of the Eritreans,they were naming their children "Ethiopia" and Aklilu also enjoying the new found opportunity that comes with being part of a bigger economy.And for the union They demanded it,got it and they celebrated.Propaganda aside that is a documented history.later, they changed thier mind and paid a heavy price for independence without liberty.What Haile selassie did in Erirea was, he brought all Eritreans including those who opposed the federation and later the union in to government .Similar to what he did after the Italian occupation in the rest of Ethiopia, by bringing together ARBEGNA,SIDETEGNA AND BANDA for nation bulding .What Mandela did in South Africa in the mid 90's Haile selassie did 50 years earlier and later in Eritrea.