Geeska Afrika Online

Ethiopia:Institutional Strength Over Institutional Strength

Addis Ababa (HAN) September 15. 2020. Public Diplomacy and Regional Stability Initiatives News. Monitoring Regional Issues. For the past two years, our country has been embroiled in conflicts that have claimed the lives of thousands and displaced many more.Key institutions such as parliament and the judiciary, which were designed to check the excesses of state power, are as weak as they have ever been. Instead of building understanding and consensus, our political conversations have also become more and more corrosive.

We need to recognize that our problems are complicated and that they require cool-headed assessment, not social media shouting matches. In that spirit, we should draw lessons from the historical experiences of other countries when it comes to the daunting process of building inclusive institutions.

History books are littered with examples of leaders coming to power in the name of radical change and eventually reproducing the same extractive institutions that they sought to reform.

In fact, these cases are so abundant that the sociologist Robert Michels calls this empirical regularity the Iron Law of Oligarchy. Michels argues that the internal logic of any oligarchic structure, as a matter of fact any hierarchical organization, is such that it tends to be reproduced even when a different group of elites are in charge.

Thanks to recent advances in the political economy of development, especially due to the pioneering contributions of MIT economist Daron Acemoglu and University of Chicago political scientist James Robinson, we now know a great deal about why political and economic institutions matter, why they tend to persist, and how they change. In their magnum opus, Why Nations Fail, these scholars outline three important reasons why extractive institutions, like those in Ethiopia,  tend to persist.


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