Ethiopia’ s Political Trajectory: From Meles to Abiy Ahmed | By Teodros Kiros (Ph.D)

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Ethiopia’ s Political Trajectory: From Meles to Abiy Ahmed. 

By Teodros Kiros (Ph.D)               08/22/2018

Meles and his idea of the Developmental State had put Ethiopia on the modernity project, the central ideas of which can be summarized as follows.

The development of the Ethiopian nation must be assumed as the defining task of the State.  The State must guide all the necessary components of a functional state, the economy with its central institutions including the banks, education, infrastructure and parts of civil society.  All the subordinate parts of the state must follow directives articulated by the state and then processed by the appropriate functionaries of the state, most particularly the bureaucrats. 

Since Ethiopia is fundamentally a peasant society, attention must be given to the peasantry, the main labor force.  The duty of the state is to create opportunities for the peasantry, who had hitherto been excluded from the development project must now be encouraged to venture as entrepreneurs and learn the skills of capitalist entrepreneurs and improve their conditions.  The state in turn must create a development bank which will lend money to peasants to create values and exchange them at a capitalist market, as socialist entrepreneurs.  

 The idea of modernity which began in Europe in the seventeenth century was anchored on the capitalist form of distributing resources with an ego centered moral frame, which caters to the whims, interests and passions of the rich and powerful.

In contrast, the inadequately organized socialist economy seeks to develop an alternative form of modernity, which is slowly but steadily penetrating global consciousness.

Capitalist modernity keeps on growing, leaving a vast moral wasteland, a wasteland that socialist modernity seeks to combat but with deep grounding in the people’s public reason and heart.  Socialist ideas, however, have yet to develop grounding institutions.

The strategic Meles attempted to modernize Ethiopia through a market economy, jettisoning the socialist alternative, which characterized, the earlier project of revolutionary Ethiopian modernity, which Meles, following the visions of Chinese thinkers dubbed, the Developmental State. 

From the very beginning, Meles’ Developmental state seeks to give Ethiopian modernity an original economic form which decouples the idea of development, the motor of modernity, from any moral limitations and worse, it seeks to develop bureaucrats whose task is to implement a singular leader’s vision of building an economic infrastructure that will develop the agricultural center in the villages and also build roads, highways, universities and business centers guided by the imperatives of the global market economy, seeking to develop modernity, using China as a model.  The decoupling of morality and economy, characteristic of capitalist modernity, is in direct contrast to the blending of morality and economy, which typifies the socialist vision of modernity.

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Meles Zenawi, betraying his commitment to “revolutionary democracy,’ makes the strategic decision of securing food for the poor of Ethiopia by any means necessary. This decision is realized at the expense of aborting the democratic necessity of allowing citizens to participate in choosing ways of life and ethics of existence.  The unflinching vision of developing Ethiopia came with shocking results, such as the death of hundreds of university students after the 2005 elections, and the imprisonments of dissidents.

a recent video in Aiga Forum, presents the young Meles Zenawi, movingly grounded in the rural cultures of the Ethiopian countryside.  There in the vast fields of the principled Ethiopian peasants, impressive democratic dialogues take place.  The leader is seen teaching and learning, lecturing and being lectured at, instructing and being instructed, relentlessly attacking bureaucratic ineptness, praising the natural intelligence of Ethiopian peasants.  These moments were the sites of direct democracy, my lifelong dream for Ethiopia, to which I devoted my two most recent books, Philosophical Essays, and Ethiopian Discourse. (Red Sea Press, 2012)   Again, I am profoundly dismayed that he did not read these two books, in which I fully share his earlier vision of developing Ethiopia by directly empowering Ethiopian farmers, the back bone of the unfinished project of Ethiopian modernity.

Perhaps he did read them in their original forms when I first published them in the Ethiopian reporter, as a weekly columnist for five years and that I was not fortunate enough to engage him in a critical dialogue in the spirit of Ethiopian modernity, a unique blend of culture and enlightenment, tradition and elements of capitalist modernity.

The fundamentals of the developmental state that Meles has left are impressive sources of waking the sleeping Ethiopian giant of one hundred million people waiting to be engaged economically and be disburdened from poverty.   The repressive political structure however is at loggerheads with the idea of modernity, the pillars of which are enlightenment, democratic freedom and tolerance.

In 1982 the continent of Africa was engulfed by the menace of food crisis and then I proposed remedies in a series of conferences sponsored by the African Studies association.  These conference papers were collected in book form, Moral Philosophy and Development: The Human condition in Africa. (Ohio University Press, 1992)

In that book, I proposed that food security for the continent be developed by African States, which make conscious decisions and adopt two principles of Justice:

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The first principle is the recognition of food, Health, Shelter and clothing as inalienable human rights. African resources must be used in such a way that they can, with proper scientific aids, be channeled to eventually (a) eliminate urgent human conditions of poverty and hunger, and (b) address other attendant consequences of mental and physical health, hopelessness and under motivation.

The second principle is a demand for the absolutely necessary duty humans may have in the recognition of the importance of freedom for those who think and feel that they are unfree.  When the basic human needs are met, only then may the Africans be able to think about nonmaterial human needs, such as art and religion.  (Moral Philosophy and Development:  The Human Condition in Africa, p, 176)

I can only hope that Meles Zenawi, a voracious reader, has read this work of my youth, and perhaps adopted it to his recent call for Ethiopian food security.

Instead of assuming that he was familiar with the work, I publicly suggest that the present Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, consult this work as he continues implementing Meles Zenawi’s vision of securing food for the Ethiopian poor, a lifetime work.

I would like to elaborate and revise my present views of using the two principles of Justice by the Developmental state. With the first formulation, I treat the two principles of justice separately and give priority of importance to the first principle and sacrifice freedom by relegating it to the second position, whereas now, I propose that the Ethiopian Developmental state must enshrine the two principles of justice as constitutional amendments simultaneously.

The repressive political structure that does not allow the flourishing of the thinking individual must be checkmated by the second principle of justice that guarantees freedom for every citizen. That food security and freedom must be procured for the poor of Ethiopia.   The first principle and the second principle must be realized at the same time. Both are necessary and sufficient conditions for the vision of a just and efficient modern Ethiopian state.

The existential imperative of food security ought to be mediated by the democratic right of freedom for every Ethiopian. Meles Zenawi was very much mistaken when he thought that freedom and food security couldn’t be realized simultaneously.  I think they can.

Development, one of the engines of Ethiopian modernity, requires a democratic structure. The right of speech, principled assembly, spiritual conscience, which includes religious sensibilities, fuels the democratic structure and most potently expresses freedom.

The first principle of justice justifies the idea of development and gives it a material anchor.  This material anchor however, must be buttressed by the full satisfaction of the second principle of justice that secures the basic freedoms of speech, assembly and worship.  Indeed Ethiopian modernity ought give pride of place to the fundamental freedoms, as political rights, the inherent features of democracy.

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In an enlightening article, Dr. Ghelawdewos Araia, has rightly argued, which I would like to quote in its entirety.

While addressing the Ethiopian parliament, Dr. Abiye told us that he is in favor of capitalism, which by the way is acceptable to me, and as I have indicated above, this economic system was most successful and has demonstrated universal applicability. However, I have not heard of the details of the Prime Minister’s policy in regards to the capitalist system. Similar to Dr. Abiye and his Government, Ginbot 7 and Arena Tigray are also in favor of the neo-liberal market economy, but I am not sure whether they have incorporated in their respective policies and/or political programs the distinction between the Liberal Market Economy (LME) and the Coordinated Market Economy (CME), both of which are capitalist systems. It is beyond the scope of this paper to discuss in detail the policies of the two systems, but it is important to note which countries belong to which. The US, Canada, the UK, and Australia belong to the LME group, and Germany, Japan, Scandinavian nations, Netherlands, Austria, and Switzerland belong to the CME bloc. While the former group still promotes unfettered capitalism, the latter bloc of nations humanized capitalism.

If Ethiopia adopts the LME policy of economic development, slowly but surely it could reverse the gains of the DS and the many major projects such as the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) could be stalled or delayed indefinitely; if, on the other hand, Ethiopia pursues the CME strategy, it will have a chance to make reforms in the economy without completely obliterating the DS and without hindering the current pace of development.  (African Idea, August 22, 1918)

I appreciate his penetrating question. “If a DS renders sound transformation and prosperity as it did for the Asian Tigers (South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong), China, and Japan etc why then resort to a neo-liberal development agenda, when in fact the latter failed in most Third World countries” ( African Idea, August 22, 2018).

Indeed, if DS has worked miraculously, why should it be abandoned, instead of perfecting it more, and making it repression free. I suggest as Dr. Ghelawdewos does, that we think very hard about choosing an appropriate economic form that serves the people’s interests as opposed to Washington consensus.



  1. Wow!!! All I can say is wow!!! I expect ‘Collected Works of …..’ at the bookstore near you. Not near me because I would not touch that with a 14-ft pole. Did I say 14-ft? No, no, I meant 40 quadrillion ft pole!!!

    One of my fairy tales goes like: Once upon a time there was this classless society where everything derived from some worm. But abracadabra classes came. And a state somehow popped out of the ocean. Bingo!!! Class struggle!! It was won. Now that state has to be developed and everyone standing in its way is a terrorist and Radio Rwanda!!! A one, A-two, A-three Shoot!!! Shoot between the eyes!!! I don’t care how you do it. You must get rid of those ‘trouble maker anti-developmental state sob’s!!! You hear me? Get rid of them!!!! The subservient came back with good news saying ‘I got 200 of them and now they are all destroyed. Winning!!! Give me some biscuits!!! Woof!! Woof! Ruff! Ruff!!

  2. Dear Dr. Tedros,
    What I hear you say is this;
    You are not very much enthused with Dr. Abiy as the new leader.
    You still prefer Meles (even posthumously).
    You would like Dr. Abiy to study your works (you have not said how many volumes of which titles); you are not sure Meles has read it but you have suspicion he might have as he is known to be a voracious reader and your book essential! And then you quote another Tigrayan (Ghelawdewos) as an authority for confirmation. And then you remind us of young Meles grounded in rural culture teaching and learning from peasants (video courtesy of a Tigrayan website Aiga Forum; unfortunately you failed to provide the link and/or the countryside you referred to). Your other Tigrayan collaborator, Tecola, has said what Ethiopia needs is a “third woyane rebellion” and that Tigray Front leaders ought to retake power. In other words, Tigrayans, though a minority, are the ONLY group to lead the country and by all means necessary! Something is wrong with the three instigators. Perhaps someone should advise them incitement over the Internet is not the way to go! I should not be the one to inform them Ethiopians have totally rejected Tigray leaders and are demanding each face justice for the killings, loot, and mismanagement. All that we are witnessing is the result of Meles’s policy. Meles had a chance. He missed it. He is dead. Trying to revive him is futile.

  3. I have two assumptions here. The name ‘teodros’ you used here is the same as the author of this article and Aba was meant to me. If my assumptions are wrong then disregard this brief rebuttal.

    I think Obbo Alem summed it up very well above. I think it is better if you respond to him. But I will take out a paragraph from your article and I highly suggest you or your esteemed friend give a good 2nd look at it.

    ‘I appreciate his penetrating question. “If a DS renders sound transformation and prosperity as it did for the Asian Tigers (South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong), China, and Japan etc why then resort to a neo-liberal development agenda, when in fact the latter failed in most Third World countries” ( African Idea, August 22, 2018).’

    It is a total misrepresentation of what had actually happened in those countries economically speaking. Politically, I am not ready to argue that the late PM might have taken a very good lesson from them and used it to the letter. I am talking about Chiang Kai Shek, Park, Mao, Deng, and to certain extent Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore. I am not sure how Hong Kong and Japan were bundled up in the claim. In any case, you should look at it very carefully. It smells and sounds too lefty and the old country has seen and went through enough of that. It ain’t 1950’s 60’s,70’s and up to late 80’s. Know what I mean?

  4. Thanks for your views, from which I learned.

    Here are the books,

    Moral Philosophy and Development: The Human Condition in Africa ( Ohio University Press);
    Philosophical Essays ( Red Sea Press)
    Ethiopian Discourse ( Red Sea Press)
    Zara Yacob: On The Rationality of the Human Heart ( Red Sea Press). This book in now getting tremendous attention.

    These are four of the ten books, which I have thus far published, and two more will be released in the next two years.

    Please google Teodros Kiros, and all my books and reviews will pop out. For reviews of my work, google Reviews on Teodros Kiros, and you will get the information you need.

    I thank you for asking.

  5. Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean thing?? Dr. Kiross!!! Your Melese is dead and in Hell crying every moment for a drop of water to lick his dry tongue!!
    Poor fellow, when do you guys wake up and see the light?? Listen I just skimmed your article in five minutes! I would be utterly disappointed had I spent any more time to get the jest of it !!! For that alone I spare you from much of my criticism!!

  6. Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean thing?? Dr. Kiross!!! Your Melese is dead and in Hell crying every moment for a drop of water to lick his dry tongue!!
    Poor fellow, when do you guys wake up and see the light?? Listen I just skimmed your article in five minutes! I would be utterly disappointed had I spent any more time to get the jest of it !!! For that alone I spare you from much of my criticism!!

  7. Please google Teodros Kiros in and you will be proud to see your brother’s life time work of 1en books and two on the way.

  8. I have sent two replies, which are not posted yet. Appreciating your request of my books. I suggested that you google my name in, and you will notice that all my ten books are exihibited there, along with reviews. The books which I suspect Meles read are Moral Philosophy and Development, (Ohio University PRess), and Philsophical Essays and Ethiopian Discourse (Red Sea Press) three of them, and I am suggesting that Abiy does the same.

  9. You see. This is racism, and you are supposed to liberate Ethiopia from it, because the existing regime is racist. I feel truly sorry for you.

    Luckily, the editor of this fine site has higher standards than yours. I do not wish to hear from you any further……


    “Meles Zenawi, betraying his commitment to “revolutionary democracy,’ makes the strategic decision of securing food for the poor of Ethiopia by any means necessary. This decision is realized at the expense of aborting the democratic necessity of allowing citizens to participate in choosing ways of life and ethics of existence. The unflinching vision of developing Ethiopia came with shocking results, such as the death of hundreds of university students after the 2005 elections, and the imprisonments of dissident”

    Really ? Brutality and dictatorship to feed the same people ?
    I HOPE OUR PHDs should think at least more than this …..

  11. Dr. Teodros;
    “…attention must be given to the peasantry, the main labor force.” The struggle land to teller was from early 60’s but even Meles lead EPRDF destroyed the live hood of Tigran peasants by imposing loan on fertilizer, TPLF membership dues, etc. so why are you babysitting Meles, wrong is wrong.
    The strategy of Meles that you are trying to modernizing is wrong because the county asset was under his PM office and directly distributed to his followers and EEFORT lead companies; it short it was the most corrupt economic wealth distribution.
    You may argue an example on the Gibe and dams. As he knew that the most critized leader for not standing for an Ethiopia this was a cover up and he imposed the fund on the poor Ethiopian people and he kept them as a hostage because their wealth asset was on the Gibe. Political dirty on the poor peasants.

    However, Dr. Abiy Ahmed govt have invited for open dialogue including you this are the begging of peaceful dialogue an open journey for relative democracy and economic development with balance wealth distributions free of corruption. Be part of it.
    Please advise Meles’s friends to come out of Mekele and challenge the government in Addis with any policies instead of fabricating another war in Tigray.

  12. Dear Alem;

    I am checking in to make sure that you have received the book list for future discussions. Thanks for our civilzed discourse, minus condemning me for citing Gelawdewos, not because he is a Tigrean, but an intelligent Ethiopian tigrean scholar, with whom I agree on many essential points, most particularly on the idea of a develompental state.

  13. Dr. Teodros,
    It is not clear who you are addressing in your 2 September comment.
    I do congratulate you for writing those books. My concern is your
    suggestion that Meles Zenawi had read them and now Dr. Abiy needs to read them if he intends to run the country and guide its development (like Meles did). What I said was, Don’t be so sure and don’t take yourself too seriously. My other concern comes from having read several articles by you, Dr. Ghelawdewos, Professors Tecola and Asayehgn Desta. All of you are ethnic Tigrayan. You think this is a coincidence or am I making it up? All of you glorify Tigray Front, especially the leadership of Meles Zenawi. You all seem to project the perception that Ethiopians in the rest of the country somehow need to get approval from you. I have addressed these concerns especially in Abugida, including challenging the way you have manipulated data. You never could respond to it except talk about something unrelated. (Such as you would not provide evidence for Master-Teacher Meles talking to country folk. As a PhD you should know better than obfuscating data when asked to corroborate your statement!) I will not waste my time rehashing those.

    In regard to racism (if your comment is for me) just remember this; it was Meles Zenawi/Tigray Front who injected it into national discourse and for one reason. Meles/Tigray Front as a minority represented less than 4.5% of the country’s population in 1989. For Meles to remain in power dividing up and pitting one ethnic group against the other became a matter of survival. Guess what? 27 years later ethnic politics is totally rejected off hand by Ethiopians. This is the meaning of the present movement. And may I also remind you of why you and your comrades insist on getting back Tigray Front in the driver’s seat? If you are serious about the nation’s welfare then talk on a/ corruption as tool for governing devised by Tigray Front b/ why Meles, a good leader that he is, failed to have a successor and why he preferred loyalty over competency c/ what should be done about the 100,000 deaths during the border war between Ethiopia and Eritrea d/ what should be done to bring justice to those who violated human rights e/ to those who looted state treasury f/ to those who made a fortune out of maids to Arab countries and children for adoption and finally, why you think ONLY developmental state is the silver bullet we need to remedy the ills of the country and ONLY with Tigray Front at the helm. Any sane person would have involved the majority to have a say and not allow the few with ethnic ties dictate. Let me stop here for now.

    You have the right to remain silent.

  14. Dear Zehabesha,
    I believe your aim is to serve the public interact concerning the affairs of our country. Either you are busy censoring what gets published or you don’t have enough time to keep page current. Either way, you may be going the way of Abugida. Abugida was once a hub for discussion on Ethiopian affairs. Guess what? The managers started to censor, then to delay responses and later to respond to each topic BEFORE publishing the original comment. Someone discovered that and from thereon the site went downhill until it shut down! I am warning you that you be transparent and fair, otherwise you will meet the same fate. Remember tech is everywhere these days and there is no need to wait on Zehabesha to get heard.

  15. Kudos! to the fellow Ethiopian for all your book publishing success.
    Can i get a free copy of Zara Yacob’s book? I’m a big fan of Zara Yacob myth, stories…history (?)…. $125 is a bit too much, though. I just wonder, is the Amazon price reflects Ethiopian birr or USD? lol Well, i will buy when the price gets lower then:-)
    I never had a desire to listen Woyane’s B.S politics, but after Melese’s death i found a speech about poverty that is available on YouTube and watched his speech. Oh man! the guy knows what he was talking about. I recommend all of you to listen to his speech. Very impressive.

    Melese could have a good intention and a better economic plan for food security, improving the life of the farmers, however, under his regime we’ve seen millions of farmers abandoning their life long farmland and migrating to the nearest town to look for other opportunities. As the matter of fact, because of his aggressive urbanization plan, he had no retention plan keeping the farmers in their own land. It is really concerning me, though. Is the govt subsidized the farmers? I know in the past the govt used to give free fertilizer or offering them a discount price. It is undeniable fact that he did excellent job improving the country infrastructure so, the farmers can transport their goods, products easily, but that alone didn’t do much without sustainable economic policy.

    Unfortunately, we’ve not witnessed Melese’s economic devt plans knowledge being adopted into practical matters anywhere in the country. What he left us was a total MISERY, CORRUPTION, poverty, ethnic/tribal war… a total freak’n MESS.

    I’m not a huge fan of the current P/M (full disclosure. lol). I’m not aware his short or long term economy policy. It seems that his economic policy is depending on his diaspora “demeroch” entourage folks on fundraising effort:-) Just kidding. Hope, he has some plans.
    I will look for reading your books. Good luck to your upcoming books!

  16. ummm…don’t know why but i think i left a comment few days ago and don’t see it.
    Kudos! to your book publishing success. Best of luck to your upcoming books too. I’ve seen your name when i browse books at Amazon and i was very interested in particularly your book on Zara Yacob, unfortunately, the price is a bit too much. Last time i checked it was $125 and i was wondering if the price reflects in Ethiopian birr or USD:-)lol. (i’m not saying that the book doesn’t worth the price, though). I will get to it when the price gets lower:-)

    Zara Yacob is a very fascinating Ethiopian philosopher (i want to believe that he’s an Ethiopian:-) I’ve read a very small book that was published in Amharic by Getachew Hiale (Ph.D) and another few online articles in English by different authors. Very interesting individual. Defiantly, i will check out on your other books, too.
    Regarding your article here, i’m not an economist nor a philosopher, i’m good with #s:-), but i agree on some of your points and also i wholeheartedly disagree on Melese-Woyane’s economy. I will get back to you some other time.

    p.s different opinion/idea should be celebrated for a few who disagree with Tewodros.

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