Avoiding Syria and Libya: Lessons for Ethiopia

The Long-term cost of minority dominated dictatorship and the prospect for transition to democracy

Jawar Mohammed | September 4, 2012 (The Gulele Post)

(NB: This essay was drafted before Meles Zenawi fell ill and was put on hold until things clear up. Attempt has been made to update it with the new developments)

Following the popular  uprisings throughout North Africa and the Middle East, both democracy activists as well as those working to preserve the status quo are closely watching this incredible moment. While Tunisia and Egypt experienced a quick and orderly downfall of dictatorships, the uprisings in Libya and Syria turned bloody. Yemen falls somewhere in between. One of the factors that differentiate the orderly fall of a strongman from the bloody and protracted civil war is the level of sectarian concentration of power.

Three themes will be addressed in this essay. Why do certain authoritarian regimes exercise blatant discrimination when distributing rent – i.e. political power and wealth? How could such regimes concentrate power and wealth in the hands of small sectarian groups and remain in power for so long? Finally, what kind of transition is likely to take place in such situations?

Let us start with a brief look at how each of the three regimes evolved.In Syria and Libya, the status quo is characterized by extensive concentration of economic privilege and political power in the hands of a single ethnic/religious group, with the vast majority excluded. Under such conditions, transitions could only be achieved after the old regime is completely obliterated, including its support base and institutions. A cursory look at how these two countries got into their respective situations shows a remarkable similarity to the developments in Ethiopia in the last two decades.

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