The Problem of ‘Rent Seeking Behavior’ In Ethiopia

By Habtamu Alebachew

The Ethiopian government has identified “anti rent seeking behavior” recently and tabled it as a national agenda for political, economic, development, ethical and policy discourse.

One could safely justify the agenda for its timeliness and relevance to structural changes on the ground.

However, one could equally make out conceptual and practical limitations in defining, using, promoting, and socializing the political economy and sociology of rent seeking behavior and rent collection for the fight against them.

The problem sill persists in that many Ethiopians uncritically associate rent seeking with only office holders and professionals by delinking the larger masses and other organized and unorganized individuals in identifying who rent seeker is and who is not.

There are also confusions, for example, among the exact meanings of corruption, rent seeking behavior, rent collection, and other key concepts. This tends to blur consequently the very origins, actors, and remedies behind the terms.

It is evident that many people understand, rent seeking behavior, for example, as an exclusively, political rhetoric by
the ruling party or the government as if it were not relevant to the ordinary people and academics.

As the result, many people including educated elites do not seem to study who they were and are in relation to rent seeking behavior that curtails their contributions in the fight against it.

The other problem is that many public officials and government leaders use the term “rent seeking behavior” frequently but grossly without detailing its inner meanings, patterns and manifestations. This leads to the confusion and narrow understanding of the term that many public officials and state servants regard themselves as completely free from rent seeking behavior simply because they were free from unquestioned practices of public corruption.

Equally, many individual citizens in the private sector also evaluate themselves as out of rent seeking motives and behaviors simply because they adequately respect the law, pay taxes, and have nothing hidden.

Worse than all these, there are tendencies on the part of a few scholars to understand and apply the term as copied from the West without contextualizing it into Ethiopia’s realities.

There are few enquiries so far into what rent seeking/collection implies to an industrialized, urbanized, individualistic, capitalistic and predominantly literate and informed society of the West visa-vis the agrarian, rural, the less literate and poorly informed society of Ethiopia predominantly living in the countryside.

It is clear that we Ethiopians may share some important aspects that constitute rent seeking/collection in general with the developed West while we have our own peculiar structures that require contextualization of the term.

For these limitations, there is a problem of effectively explaining rent seeking/collection against such backgrounds like social values, rules, institutions, relations, and concepts, which positively support or negatively fight the phenomenon.

This, in its turn, limits the influences of progressive ideas and values in a manner that negatively affects the future generation.

There are also constraints on exposing rent seeking behavior as a distinct regime in Ethiopia visa-vis the desired emergence and consolidation of the anti-rent seeking social front under present circumstances structurally as different from other societies under different circumstances.