The picture that emerges from the previous section is one of TPLF/EPRDF control over the structures, resources and instruments of the Ethiopian state that have been acquired and maintained over the past 25 years. The party continues to enjoy an undisputed hold over national political power and has used its position in part to advance state-led development efforts.
This situation also presents challenges for Ethiopia´s state security organizations. Box 2 below provides a brief overview of the Ethiopia’s main state security organizations as understood in this report. The section itself focuses on analysing key implications of this situation for the organization of security.
Ethiopia’s main state security organizations
For the purpose of this paper, ‘state security organizations’ include the military, police (federal and state), and the intelligence services.
The Ethiopian National Defence Force is about 140,000 personnel strong (army and air force) and maintained at the estimated cost of 0.8% of GDP (2015). It has a reputation for quality and effectiveness despite its limited means. It is also among the top four contributing countries to UN peacekeeping missions (Somalia, Abyei and South Sudan) (2015). Finally, it has been accused of past human rights violations during operations in Somalia and Ogaden. Its legal basis is article 51 of the Constitution.
The Ethiopian Federal Police force was created in 1995 to maintain law and order at the federal level (including riot control) and to investigate organized crime. It estimates its own size at around 30,000 personnel. The federal police force comes under the Federal Police Commission that reports to the Ministry of Federal Affairs (until recently the Ministry of Justice). Its legal basis is article 51 of the Constitution.
Ethiopia’s State Police Forces (regional police) maintain law and order in Ethiopia’s consituent states. While their numbers, structure and even uniforms may vary, they each report to a Regional Police Commission that works loosely together with the Federal Police Commission. The federal police can intervene in regions by invitation of the state police. However, Oromia Regional State and in particular the city of Addis Ababa have seen uncoordinated police interventions. Petty corruption is especially a problem at the level of state police (traffic bribes and bribes to avoid arrest). The state police forces’ legal basis is article 52 subsection 2 of the Constitution.
The Ethiopian National Intelligence and Security Service was established in 1995 and currently enjoys ministerial status, reporting directly to the Prime Minister. It is tasked with gathering information necessary to protect national security. Its surveillance capacities have been used both to prevent terrorist attacks, such as those by Al-Shabaab, and to suppress domestic dissent.
Sources: SIPRI, United Nations Peacekeeping online, Real Clear Defense, Plummer, J. (ed.), Diagnosing Corruption in Ethiopia: Perceptions, Realities, and the Way Forward for Key Sectors, Washington DC, The World Bank, 2012, Hagmann (2014), op.cit., All Africa online, the Guardian, NISS
At the heart of the analysis of the organization of security in Ethiopia lies the fact that both peaceful and more forceful challenges to the rule of the TPLF/EPRDF have been either disabled or suppressed. According to a substantial number of interviewees (including some policy-makers and security officials), one consequence is that it has become difficult to distinguish the government from the party, and the security services are easily perceived as partisan executive agencies. This is mostly because the national interest continues to be defined and decided on the basis of a particular ideology and set of individual/group interests that brooks no competition and allows little public debate. In addition to the party’s more strategic control over the security forces, the research also identified several practical examples of how such control manifests itself in operational terms.
One aspect in this regard, as pointed out by a significant number of interviewees, is that a number of top-level command positions across the security forces are held by individuals who are both members of the security forces and influential in the party. This creates overlap between political and security responsibilities as well as informal lines of accountability. Several interviewees (including some on the side of the government) indicated that in a number of cases party affiliation and personalized relations prevail over professional loyalties and institutionalized relations. At the highest levels, overlap between some senior security chiefs and membership of the TPLF’s central or executive committees indicates, for example, party political control as well as the potential existence of hybrid lines of command. Such overlap reinforces existing perceptions of the utilization of security forces for partisan political purposes, or even of the securitization of political decisions.
Interviews also indicated a broadly shared perception that the top ranks of the security forces remain dominated by party members of Tigrayan origin. For example, although the authors were unable to obtain hard data from the Ethiopian National Defence Forces on their staffing, feedback suggested that Tigrayans currently make up approximately 15% of their overall strength. However, interviewees widely acknowledged TPLF dominance of the top ranks. The question is how this situation should be interpreted. If one recalls the replacement of the military junta’s army with the TPLF’s armed forces in 1991 and the two massive demobilization exercises that took place between 1991 and 2001, today’s Ethiopian National Defence Forces feature a significant level of ethnic diversity in their lower and middle ranks. Given Ethiopia’s limited resources and the uneven development of its regions, this can be seen as an achievement. However, with some interviewees clearly taking the view that the 15 years following the Ethiopian–Eritrean war should have been long enough to ensure rough proportionality of representation at all levels, Tigrayan dominance at the top does appear to be reflective of the interests of the party.
Many of the interviews also suggested that this situation of party political control over the security forces contributes to a loss of popular confidence in both the intent and the ability of these forces to provide security on an impartial and entitlement-oriented basis. While some writers have argued that co-opting local leaders and groups, ensuring a degree of executive influence on the judiciary and using the party apparatus at different administrative levels to influence loyalty and behaviour are the more commonly used tools for ensuring political compliance, a significant number of interviewees saw Ethiopia’s security institutions as ‘guardians’ of TPLF/EPRDF political dominance. Reinforcing this perception are regular instances of security forces arresting leaders of the opposition, restricting opposition political activity and silencing unfavourable reporting. The 2005 elections remain a landmark in this regard and continue to influence international and opposition interpretative frames.
In addition, a number of interviewees highlighted two further consequences of security forces maintaining party political control, both of which relate to the risk of their servicemen and women using their party affiliation for other ends. The first is that Ethiopian security forces at times prioritize their operational performance in response to threats to public order (including interests of the party) over respect for individual and collective rights. Documented human rights violations indicate that while some of these incidents were followed up by a public inquiry, others were not. A number of interviews also suggested that members of the state security organizations are rarely prosecuted for committing such violations when these can be interpreted as acting against political unrest or threat. This situation of ´selective impunity´ is compounded by the state of Ethiopia’s state judiciary which, although less plagued by favouritism and petty corruption than that of many other African countries, has a number of problems that it needs to address in order to ensure fair recourse to justice, such as a lack of pre-trial access to a lawyer, non-recognition of the principle of the presumption of innocence, and executive influence (in politically charged cases in particular).
The second issue is corruption. Interviewees across the spectrum opined that corruption does occur throughout the Ethiopian security forces, particularly in the military and the police, but that it is largely of an individual nature. They did not see it as institutionalized or systemic and considered its extent to be relatively modest. Only a small subset of interviewees perceived corruption to be increasing. This view is supported by a large mixed-methods study published by the World Bank in 2012, which suggests that the levels of corruption not only in the security forces but in a broad range of sectors in Ethiopia are relatively low when compared with similar contexts, albeit with significant variation across sectors.
Finally, the interviews identified two imminent challenges to the TPLF/EPRDF’s ability to continue organizing security on the basis of the principle of party control. First, many of the original ‘revolutionary’ leaders of the TPLF are reaching retirement age and will need to be succeeded. The challenge here consists of ensuring that a new generation of leaders balances continuity with change. Many interviewees suggested that the death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has resulted in a number of older TPLF leaders stepping up to play a key role in safeguarding his vision and policy legacy that may inhibit necessary changes in both policies and staffing. Second, the post-1991 emphasis on Ethiopia’s ethnic diversity is at odds with any over-representation of particular groups in any part of the federal administration (perceived or real) – but especially in the country’s security forces. A sustained discourse of valuing ethnic diversity, when this is still not reflected in appointments, policies and initiatives requires effective communication on progress being made, to avoid pushing dissatisfied groups towards unrest.
The organization and provision of security in Ethiopia are caught in a paradox that is well expressed by the contrast between a politically dominant, Marxist-oriented party and a federal constitution that not only recognizes socio-ethnic diversity, but also gives Ethiopia’s regional states appreciable powers to govern and provide security. The former points to centralized direction-setting and party-political control whereas the latter points to local autonomy and the federal government serving in a function of last resort. The interviews suggested that, on balance, this results in a patchwork of security provision in terms of its quantity and quality that radiates out from Ethiopia’s core, serves to preserve the present political order, limits de facto regional security autonomy and is lacking in mechanisms for enabling citizens’ security concerns to be reflected in state security policy and operations. In short, it appears that the balance tilts towards central dominance, but given Ethiopia’s incredible diversity it is not clear that this is a sustainable position. A few points that emerged from the interviews stood out in particular and are briefly analysed below.
To start with, a number of interviews indicated that the policies, methods of operation, budgets and interventions of Ethiopia’s state security forces are managed from the centre in a top-down fashion and less-than-public manner. Some security policies have been perceived to be rolled out across the country, when further reflection, consultation or adjustment to local realities would have been useful. This approach creates a substantial risk of ‘policy misfit’ – in short, a situation in which the stated intent of a policy is significantly at odds with its popular perception and/or experience.
A good example is provided by something mentioned by various interviewees: the ‘one-in-five’ policy. This term dates back to the military junta’s rule during which it referred to an intrusive policy of surveillance based on intelligence gathered from informers in one out of every five households. This generated a legacy of distrust that persists today. More recently, the term referred to the TPLF/EPRDF’s 2005 post-election aim of having one in every five households being party-affiliated. Currently, it refers to an effort to promote better management and more dialogue at all levels of the public sector by engaging households directly in development issues. While a number of interviewees saw this as positive, some opined that the initiative has outgrown the government’s capacity to guide and control it, resulting in local administrators (ab)using the ‘one-in-five’ network and the information this (can) generate(s) to increase or maintain their power. In contrast, other interviewees largely continued to consider ‘one-in-five’ as an effort to establish ‘deeper control’ over their daily lives, and to perceive many of the ‘one-in-five’ households as party-affiliated. Such suspicion is understandable, given Ethiopia’s history of centralized rule supported by powerful law enforcement agencies, selective law enforcement and poor treatment of suspects. It suggests that either the way the policy is implemented ought to be adjusted, or more time and effort needs to be spent on bridging the perception gaps.
A second part of the problem is that Ethiopia’s states have primary responsibility for the provision of regional security within their boundaries, but are not necessarily capable of providing it and/or face sporadic/regular (depending on the region) intervention from the centre. From a resource viewpoint, a number of interviewees suggested that the federal police force is much better resourced than the regional police forces and that the latters’ (cap)ability is more variable. It tends to be lower especially in Ethiopia’s periphery (e.g. Somali state, Afar and Beni Shangul) compared with the country’s highland core. This situation results in a recurrent need in the states for intervention by federal forces for capacity reasons alone. While an argument can be made that the ability to provide such support is helpful and constitutes a strength, differences in levels of competence, professionalism and experience between federal and regional forces will remain if primacy of the latter is not respected and resource allocation not improved. Addressing human rights violations in regional states also requires greater attention to the professional development of the forces that operate there.
At the same time, however, many interviewees also pointed to the gap that exists between the legal and policy frameworks that regulate the organization and delivery of security across the country, and reality. Regional police have primacy and federal police or military forces intervene only at the invitation of the regional government. However, federal forces, as well as the armed forces, were said to intervene in situations that are legally beyond their remit or jurisdiction. A number of interviewees furthermore opined that these interventions tended to happen when regional forces were unable to deal with certain issues owing to a lack of operational clarity in their mandates, insufficient resources or when (conflicting) political interests of sufficient import were at stake. An important aspect of such central ‘interference’ in regional security provision is the fact that the federal police are responsible for fighting terrorism, the 2009 anti-terrorism law has a broad remit and it has been used to silence unfavourable reporting and political opposition. This development has been analysed by several organizations including Reporters without Borders, Human Rights Watch and a number of UN bodies. A recent example of the rhetoric this can involve is the government’s labelling of the protesters in Oromia who demonstrated against its intended expansion of the city limits of Addis Ababa as “linked to terror groups”. It creates a situation in which the federal police and armed forces have a broad licence to intervene across the country – in keeping with the letter of the law but perhaps not so much the spirit.
In this unavoidably fragmented mix that results from the friction between the centralization of power and regional autonomy, a key flaw is the failure to consult with the Ethiopian people on what they see as their security priorities. A number of interviewees indicated that there is little space and ability for critical thinking at local levels of government. The absence of space for political dialogue beyond the confines of party doctrine and government policy, combined with the party’s penetration of the lowest levels of the administration, means there are few mechanisms to ensure that Ethiopia’s diverse inhabitants can express their perceptions of and concerns about security issues and that their voices will be heard. This creates the risk that important regional and local security concerns are not adequately addressed. The current absence of feedback loops to translate people’s security concerns into security policy and operations is also at odds with the Constitutions’ clear affirmation of support for Ethiopia’s regional diversity.
Many interviewees pointed to the sustained trajectory of professionalization that the Ethiopian military has gone through, focusing on human resources, education and operational capability. Its competence and its international standing make it a positive exception to the lack of ‘technocratic integrity’ that has been observed in respect of other aspects of the Ethiopian administration, i.e. the prevalent lack of alignment betweeen bureaucratic capability and bureaucratic autonomy that is required for effective policy implementation. Moreover, in the development of the fighting capacity of its military forces, Ethiopia has paid significant attention to the problem of resources. In short, given the country’s other developmental challenges, funds are scarce and while the military is essential, it is not typically a productive asset. The 2002 national security policy articulated two responses to this challenge. First, it stipulated a focus on human resources rather than material resources in the development of the armed forces. Second, it sought to relate defence capability requirements to the national economy.
These policy responses depart from the trend in the wider region to ‘build up’ military spending/equipment regardless of high levels of poverty. They also suggest a sizeable economic and developmental role for the military. The level of political control discussed earlier, in combination with the noted fusion of political and economic interests, also makes it strategically sensible to give the military a stake in the Ethiopian economy. The resulting business advantages and monopoly rents that accrue to it help create long-term stability. At the same time, though, such rents, tolerance of a certain lack of accountability and a measure of economic inefficiency also carry costs. The balance between these two aspects unfortunately cannot be gauged with the present level of publicly available data.
The main vehicle through which military involvement in the economy takes shape is the Ethiopian Metals & Engineering Corporation (METEC), a parastatal business conglomerate run by the military. It is reported to have a stake in about a dozen industries and several dozen companies. The company was developed in a previous incarnation during the military junta’s rule for the purpose of manufacturing munitions to ensure that the regime could sustain a supply-based military advantage. Some respondents suggested that the organization has grown extensively since its establishment in 2010 (data to verify this could not be obtained) because it is both an organized and a loyal ‘force’ with a history of business operations and because it enjoys preferential political access and business advantages. This makes it both a reliable and an important plank of the government’s growth strategy. Interviewees also underscored how METEC has mentored and developed a number of small to medium-sized enterprises to support the development of a more competitive domestic manufacturing sector. Some interviewees stated that even some foreign direct investors supporting the manufacturing sector were required to partner with METEC to ensure continuity with existing growth plans and to retain its economic position.
While this model works no differently from that of several other socialist post-communist states, the combination of EPRDF/TPLF control over the military, military influence over economic resources, and low public accountability regarding the management of such resources raises questions about the extent to which METEC serves as a vehicle for the enrichment of the party or leading party members. The difficulty of providing any answers to these questions, given the absence of data and access, points to the need for better analysis and more transparency if national development is to be advanced credibly. In addition, many interviewees drew attention to the risky combination of METEC’s growing activity, capital and project portfolios and an apparent trend of (retired) security leaders moving into business while maintaining good political connections that can secure preferential treatment. Even when general intentions remain firmly developmental, this creates a risk of perceived abuse of position, poor allocation of funds and/or poor implementation of agreed programmes/projects. A final risk lies in the phenomenon of ‘crowding out’ that can happen when private sector investment by parastatals such as METEC, backed by government expenditure, reduces credit available for private entrepreneurship. While this risk is not limited to METEC, and private sector development so far represents only a limited feature of Ethiopia’s economic growth model, future diversification plans for METEC should be considered in this light as well.
In short, an increasingly competent and trusted military is and will be used to stimulate economic growth. This serves the interests of Ethiopia’s leadership on a number of fronts, including delivering its long-term economic vision of Ethiopia, maintaining the loyalty of the leadership of a key security organization and generating rents that can be used for a variety of purposes. It is also clear that further research is needed to establish the opportunities and risks presented by the role of the Ethiopian military in the country’s economy.