Tefera Derbew’s (Minster of Agriculture) and Gedu Andargache’s argument to include resistant farmers at describing the location of the development problem here is quite acceptable. Their inclusion of the famers in the normative side of their discussion however is potentially wrong and fatally dangerous.
The fight against rent seeking is, under Ethiopia’s unique situation, nothing but a total war against poverty. The state declares this war in a situation where poverty and rent seeking are in tandem a basic social consciousness. The overall war therefore is fought under the political leadership, which means that this will continue to be the grand strategy until a fully functioning free market emerges to overtake the job.
Government officials and households enjoy its advantages rather as a lasting provision by the agencies of the federal government than a tactical leeway from temporary environmental setbacks.
All in the guise of the law again, rural rent seeking entrenches itself within the development effort itself. Many rural households with the support of some patrimonial local government officials abuse stated criteria of compensation pays by regional and federal governments. It a common occurrence to see these households making an endless claim for more and more pre-construction compensation payments.
There have also been reports of post-construction conspiracies against expensive infrastructures, the worst extreme of rent seeking behavior in which local government officials, too, involve themselves.
I heard or read somewhere at the private press probably that many rural households have been complaining over forced participation in voluntary environmental rehabilitation works in eastern Amhara areas of Wollo. A certain critique even presented this complaint as the true cause of illegal immigration because the 100-birr penalty for absence embitters many people.
I myself do not support forced participation in both principle and practice even though a majority of community members legislates social norms for its effect.
However, I strongly believe that while environmental rehabilitation is mainly a rural activity for demographic and geographic reasons with a uniform positive spillover effect for all Ethiopians and humanity, household decline for participation in it is a perfect show of rural rent seeking where one intends to live off at the labor of others.
With greater improvement from time to time especially in the previous decade, rent seeking in Ethiopia remains to be a social consciousness paradoxically reinforced by the realities of rapid socio-economic advancement.
The advent of condominium housing, one of the developmental and innovative schemes in urban areas, reportedly is causing as much social havoc as satisfactions.
The rent seeking society in major urban areas cooperates with rent seeking individuals and officials when they make a phony but a legal break up of their marriages in order to gain two condominium houses in their respective names, a benefit to which they contributed almost nothing.
A large mass of urban people tend to provide shields for rent collecting businesses starting from rent seeking taxis to big investments against the law when they breach rules for winning unwarranted advantages.
In broader view, any tip about a possible discovery of oil and shortcut growth forces many Ethiopian eyes to raise their brows.
The positive element in the darkness of rent seeking as a social consciousness from Ethiopia’s experience is however that no matter wide and deep coverage rent seeking enjoys, it is undoubtedly a short-lived, retreating, and finally deadly mortal regime in face of each counter pressure from innovative developmental pushes.