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ETHIOPIA: Democracy, Devolution of Power, & The Developmental State

Institute of Development and Education for Africa (IDEA) 2013
Authored by Ghelawdewos Araia, PhD

Reviewed by Tariku Debretsion
Review first published on Amazon September 21, 2013

This book is an essential reading for all who are interested to study and act on the transformation of the Ethiopian state. For far too long, the policies and actions of the elites in power have been directed by existential instinct to cling to power indefinitely, while the oppositions were primarily concerned as to how to ascend to power in the shortest possible time. These have been the linchpins of the vicious cycle of violence that has dragged the nation into the abbeys of misery. The essential question is power for whom and what? Flowery manifestos have been written, ideologies hailed, revolution heralded, savage wars fought and victories declared, yet a modicum of change has occurred in the hapless lives of the people, the bureaucratic institutions and economic edifices.

The central theme of the book – Ethiopia: Democracy, Devolution of Power, & The Developmental State by Professor Ghelawdewos Araia – is to analyze the nature of power, its legitimacy, its objectives, the locus and adjudication of conflict in the context of Ethiopian reality. He framed this discussion on three conceptual pillars: democracy, devolution of power, and the developmental state. Are these three concepts contradictory or complementary? Are these three concepts relevant to explain the turmoil in Ethiopia? What is the vector of change? What can Ethiopians learn from the historical development of other states in history? This is a very comprehensive and exhaustive book. Reading the book feels like sitting through a long riveting lecture.

Ethiopia’s past and present political, social and economic reality is substantially examined. Concepts of democracy from the Greek to the French and American and their relevance to the political changes in all the continents are woven into the Ethiopian discourse. Political thinkers from Karl Marx to Max Weber, theories from Keynesian paradigm to neo-liberalism are extensively cited. Ghelawdewos is no armchair philosopher. As a young man he was active in the famous Ethiopian Student Movement and also in the struggle against the Derg. The reason that Prof. Ghelawdewos chose this pedantic approach, I believe, arises from his acute awareness that the political struggle in Ethiopia (the neighboring states as well) is long in action and shallow in knowledge. Reading this book is a respite from the rancours Ethiopian political discourse that is long in epithet and short in substance. 

Note: Readers interested in getting hold of the book may consult www.africanidea.org