Ethiopian diaspora in areb countrysdissc on ‘revolutionary democracy a derivative of part Leninism, Marxism, Maoism, Stalinist authoritarianism and liberalism, stand on redefining itself and the country it leads. Clearly, it is lost in between intangible translations taken from almost everything that comes to mind about ideologies. How it is understood by those who claim to understand it is a simple locally customized doctrine that stands in firm opposition to “liberalism’’, the western political and economic governance the party sees as scandalous.
In essence, the notion of ‘revolutionary democracy’ appears to arise from sheer loathing of the capitalist-liberal ideology and a romantic attachment to Lenin’s revolutionary theory that condemns the ‘‘parliamentary bourgeois democracy’’ in favor of a vanguard party that respects ‘‘democratic centralism’’ as some form of democracy.
Ethiopia’s late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi may very well have internalized the nuances of ‘revolutionary democracy’ in terms of its absolute necessity for the developmental model to work. He vigorously pushed for an operational structure of the ideology and spent time convincing his wary western backers of his flexibility to changing realities. But again explanations from him or his aides were neither systematically related to nor deductible from a clearly stated background about the motivations and the relevance of the doctrine for Ethiopia’s current and future strategic interests.
In all fairness to the party, those who daringly simplify the differences between ‘revolutionary democracy’ and the out-of-favor liberal democracy in Ethiopia might be mindlessly weakening the debate than fostering any substantive discourse. Trying to see, instead, how ‘revolutionary democracy’ found a way to function with liberal institutions while unleashing its overtly authoritarian rules might help explain why it outlived its critics’ expectations.
Not forgetting ‘revolutionary democracy’ as a pervasive and effective yet out-dated alternative to the ‘‘ill-fit and unsustainable liberal democracy’’, it is undeniable that EPRDF’s economic results owe their little success to the liberal economic reforms pushed into results by a powerful state. And a big part of why there has been a clear lack of serious ideological debate against ‘revolutionary democracy’ may reasonably be due to a consistently well-performing economy applauded by many of the influential western institutions.
The dichotomy between the two modes of governance in Ethiopia is increasingly blurry for a good reason. The economic performances are pointedly incremental and successful in giving access to millions of rural poor to lift themselves out of poverty. On the other hand, the suffocating nature of ‘revolutionary democracy’ is irking a wary electorate and exposing the doctrine’s deficiencies to address good governance, constitutional and federalism reforms.
A strange factor in the narrative is that the liberal reforms in the form of institutions and free market on one hand, and the heavy handed, clique-based, unaccountable and opaque ‘revolutionary democracy’ on the other have ironically enabled each other to survive within the party so far. But as demands for political inclusiveness grow louder, clarity and willingness to change will have to be delivered by the party, not because it is used to respecting responsiveness but it has to survive the tides of time and stay relevant for its own sake.