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Corruption in democratic-developmental state

In Ethiopia, economic development and democracy should be like faces of the same coin. As a one-handed person can never clap, the success on either economic development or democracy can never be comprehensively plausible unless the feat is seen on both unequivocally, writes Berhanu Tsegay.

Developmental states are usually characterized by a leadership which is strongly committed to developmental goals, and which places national development ahead of personal enrichment and short-term political gains.

A democratic-developmental state model would surly help Ethiopia escape from the age old absolute poverty and dictatorship traps. In fact, among the many manifestations of the ideology is: the state should be autonomous from rent-seeking private sectors and should be embedded with the value-creating groups. In other words, the government should have the willpower to penalize the rent-seekers in a way that can adequately satisfy the people. When the state autonomy is defeated by rent-seekers, and when its pro-poor policies are twisted and capitalized for their personal gains, the very existence of a democratic-developmental state would be at hazardous position. Thereby, government goals to bring about a sustained, equitable and fast economic development will fall on an unproductive effort. Therefore, the pro-poor policies but pro-rent-seeker implementation should be harmonized in such a way that suits the public demands.

The embracement of democracy has no compare. Of course, no country even the United States of America is a paragon of democracy and free of corruptive activities. But, the bone of contention is level of their spectrums on which various countries face off.

Even though, the Ethiopian government advocates the principle of exercising both economic development and democracy in parallel by branding each of them as issues of survival for the country. However, in real terms, the democratization process is ominously lagging behind while the economic development is mushrooming although its fairness or equitability is debatable as long as it is closely being accompanied by daunting corruption rifeness.

In Africa case, according to the 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index, Cape Verde and São Tomé are the most improved in corruption mitigation African countries. Oppositely, despite being a model for stability in the region, Ghana has significantly declined in its corruption control status. The rampant corruption in Ghana led citizens to voice their frustrations through the conducted election recently, resulting in an incumbent president losing for the first time in Ghana’s history.

Over two-thirds of the 175 countries in the 2016 index fall below the midpoint of the scale of 0 (very clean) to 100 (highly corrupt). The global average score is a miserably 43, indicating endemic corruption in a country's public sector. In view of that, Ethiopia is the 108 least corrupt nation out of 175 countries. Corruption rank in Ethiopia averaged about 109 from 2000 to 2016, reaching an all-time high of 138 in 2007 and a record low of 59 in 2002.   

So, taking a lesson from Ghana, Ethiopian incumbents that have come to office on an “anti-corruption ticket” need to live up to their pledges to deliver corruption-free services to their citizens. They must implement their commitments to the principles of good governance, which includes strengthening the institutions that hold the government accountable.

Even where anti-corruption laws are on the books, in practice they're often skirted or ignored. People frequently face situations of bribery and extortion. Grand corruption thrives in such settings in this country show how collusion between businesses and politicians siphons off billions of birrs from national economies and public moneys, benefitting the few at the expense of the many. This kind of systemic grand corruption violates human rights, prevents sustainable development and fuels social exclusion.

If a country is awash with corruption and bad governance, it will unreservedly be out of the democratic and developmental trajectories. The upward spiral of corruption prevalence as well as lack of correcting the good governance deficiency in Ethiopia are currently the headline issues of the country. The rampant ill-gotten gains of some government officials are considerably weakening the moral fiber of the society who is striving to move out of the scorching poverty.

Despite it is questionable on its sincerity and level, the government seems dogged and have already begun the campaign of nabbing its corrupt officials. Hopefully, this would give the fraudulent bureaucrats at least a pause measure from continuing their rent seeking behaviors. Those egocentric rent-seekers, who have been snacking ups and downs to steal public wealth so as to enrich themselves at the cost of the mass, should be officially identified and punished, otherwise, the implementation of a democratic-developmental state ideology in Ethiopia will apparently be only a wish of the society rather than a reality.

Therefore, forgiving and then hosting a corrupt incumbent is not an honorable act in a country where presently suffering from a serious draught and food insecurity. The state should not be an oasis for such persons for they are nothing but bloodsuckers who would breed many more ones of their type that could take the issue of fighting corruption to an irremediable stage.

No country is immune from the challenges of corruption even the already developed ones. However, its impacts considerably vary. In Ethiopia, uncontrolled corruption proliferation can easily wreak havoc on the country’s political and socio-economic sectors. For instance, last week, we heard that more than 4 billion birr has been embezzled by few officeholders and other individuals just within five government organizations. Think of the remained hundreds and thousands of institutions how much more public money could be squandered and stolen. A country where its annual budget is planned to be around 320 billion birr, it wouldn’t be naïve to say that a lion’s share of it, is to be fraud if the recent strong-willed action of arresting the corrupt officials, doesn’t have continuity.

In line with this, the role of independent media in curbing corruption is immense. International focus on tackling corruption is growing but most strategies deployed to curb it appear to be failing. The role that the media including investigative journalists, business community, and civil society can play in exposing and reinforcing corruption reporting systems.


Countries branded with low levels of corruption activities tend to have higher degrees of press freedom, access to information about public expenditure, stronger standards of integrity for public officials, and independent judicial systems. However, such characteristics are not accustomed in Ethiopia which aggravated corruption activities.


Mainly, a free and independent media remains one of the most effective assets available but that it is increasingly endangered in this country. It looks look pressures are increasing on limiting freedom of the few existing non-state autonomous media in Ethiopia despite they are relatively so effective at holding power to account and exposing corruption.

In Ethiopia, economic development and democracy should be like faces of the same coin. As a one-handed person can never clap, the success on either economic development or democracy can never be comprehensively plausible unless the feat is seen on both unequivocally. Besides, when a nation is conquered by widespread corruption, it will result in high capital accumulation by few individuals without adding value to the economy, this brings out bad income inequality which in turn would lead to public contentions and negatively affect the infant democracy.        

Making political power to be centrifugal among its federal and regional state governments is a necessary but not sufficient condition to fulfill demands of the new generation of the Information Era, but, simultaneously, practically proved political empowerment of the youth has to be done with in the limply ongoing democratization process.

Even though, some incumbents try to defend the slowness of democratization process by labeling it as a ‘fledgling’ stage, and the staggering corruption as “resulted in due to fast economic growth” however, many can see that a one-step better forward at one corner while a two-step worse backward at another corner. Those deeds can be summed up and indicate a negative-sum result. Hence, it is because of this game theory the societies are requesting for a wider potent democratization spaces as well as for a merciless punishment on the corrupt officials.

Hence, the government should emphasize the centrality of ensuring participation and empowerment of the youth in the political arena if it’s Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) is here to be effective.

Ed.’s Note: The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected].