By Habtamu Alebachew
In Africa, the Ethiopian state only forges ahead in defiance of the recommendations of the Washington Consensus of 1994 by insisting on the constitutional public ownership of land, the policy of selectively closing the doors to international capital, and other non-neoliberal measures.
Secondly, this brought the Ethiopian state, as different from most other African states, to the center stage of managing wealth distribution and causing rapid development in parallel with a real and an unfolding force of rent seekers within and without. This is again the reward for the Ethiopian state for its exceptionality and particularity.
This imposed a duty on the Ethiopian state to become both the authority of anti-rent seeking principles as well as the victim of rent seeking itself.
In its first role as an authority, the state has had to postulate and anchor deeply the iron principle: ‘just balance between individual contribution for development and an equal amount of reward’.
As victim, the Ethiopian state has had to continuously deal with the encroaching attacks of rent seekers from within and without who usually advance ahead of the anti-rent seeking war strategies.
In Africa, data show that there is no any other country except probably Eritrea, where more than 90% of rural households have guaranteed possession of agricultural lands. Still, as different from others, natural resources including water bodies, forest grounds, community grazing lands, wild animals, etc, all belong to the state in Ethiopia.
While an international investor buys farmland from private rural households through private individual brokers in other African states, this is possible in Ethiopia only through the offices of the state and only if the land transfer has no any adverse consequence on the populations, near or far.
This adds up on the state the duty of fighting rent seeking within its ranks as it successfully blocked external rent collection leeways through tight policy, which is almost non-existent in other African countries.
Thirdly, for all the reasons above, the Ethiopian state bureaucracy particularly, the civil service under the Executive Branch, and the Judiciary Wing have borne multiple powers and responsibilities, which many counter institutions in Africa severely lack. The Civil Service manages and undertakes the task of wealth redistribution in all the areas of national resource mentioned above and leverages a rapid development as its reward.
In Ethiopia, the state and its large machinery must go to the step doors of the remotest rural peasant and pastoralist, pay for a vast list of projects, insure the provision of development inputs, manage social safety-net programs, and approve transfer of accomplished projects from the hands of private contractors to local governments. In other African countries, not the state machinery, but the farmers and pastoralists must go in search of most provisions at the hands of both the state and private companies.
One could remember that while the average public budget allocated for agricultural development by Tanzanian state every year was not more than 1%, in Ethiopia, it was more than 16% in 2011, which makes the government the largest payer by world standards.
In short, the claws of rent seeking in Ethiopia have wider coverage equal to the wide breadth of benefits and the elevated development roles of the state than in other constrained governments of Africa.
Back to our practical cases above, one could now clearly see that these arguments clarify why the Ethiopian government has had a central place. This justifies Bereket Simon’s emphasis on the political leadership, the primary social force, again both as an authority of the anti-rent collection fight and as victim of the rent-seeking regime in Ethiopia.
The Ethiopian government stands in direct and sharp contrast with local government officials and development agents on the issue of resistant farmers rejecting change.
In the second case, the business elites of Kara Kore town closed ranks more against the development intervention of the government rather than the innocent victims of rent collection, the Kara Kore population.
In the third and forth cases, the Ethiopian state is still at the center because the stories are all about its employees, civil servants in action.
The Metema import-import malaise is here a graphic case how the civil service exploits organizational limitations for rent seeking goals.
Any rent seeker, as a rule, does not like any rearrangement that dwindles or checks up its exclusive and separate decision making powers like teamwork. The rent-seeking block of the civil servant systematically exercises it professional advantages to undermine any progressive reform to the disadvantage of rent seeking behavior.