The preceding analysis has shed some light on a number of historic and contemporary factors that influence the evolution of Ethiopia’s political settlement, which in turn carries implications for how state security institutions are organized and operate. What transpires is that the country’s political settlement has been stable since 1991, in contrast to much of the region surrounding it. In part this has been the case because of the continued dominance of the TPLF/EPRDF in the form of single-party rule and in part because of its effective monopolization of the use of force. The former has enabled both a prioritized and a resource-empowered development strategy that has achieved a number of successes, faces appreciable challenges and has resulted in the closure of most space for meaningful political competition for ideas, power and votes. This ‘closure’ has helped keep Ethiopia largely safe from the many threats that emanate from its volatile neighbours and it has enabled the TPLF/EPRDF to maintain party political control over the Ethiopian state.
Although it is both too early and inappropriate for this research to offer any thoughts on how these issues add up, the report can point to future security problems that this approach of political-economic governance is likely to face. These problems result less from the existing quasi-monopoly on political power and security in itself, but rather from two of its implications that introduce long-term unpredictability. First, there are no guarantees that the present concentration of power and authority will continue to be largely harnessed for the purpose of national economic development. Second, there seem to be few mechanisms that the Ethiopian population can be confident will at least roughly align the party’s priorities and ideas with those of key social groups and the population in general. As every development strategy is inevitably contested, since such processes are not cost-free in terms of their impact and nor can they be all-inclusive, this situation could create perceptions and grievances that struggle to find peaceful expression in a meaningful way. In turn, this might ultimately push individuals, groups or segments of society into unrest and violence.
In the short term, it seems essential to provide greater transparency around security thinking, policies and operations that should not, however, undermine the political dominance of the TPLF/EPRDF. To be meaningful, transparency will have to transcend merely technical – or worse, ideological – justifications for actions already decided, and include space for consultations that allows for adjustment and change, however modest. The purpose would be to balance, on the one side, greater accommodation of popular concerns by state security forces and improved relations between security forces and citizens with, on the other side, greater public understanding of the trade-offs involved in providing security with limited means in an insecure region and within present political parameters. Specific actions could include making good data on security policies and initiatives publicly available, providing more transparency on succession planning in the security forces, and engaging in more meaningful public consultation on security-related matters. Extension of the People’s Forum into the area of security could be a possible starting point.
In the medium-to-long term, strengthening the ability of Ethiopia’s regions to assure security within their borders on the basis of sound policies, functional doctrines and adequate capabilities could be a way to increase connectivity between state police forces and the Ethiopian population, as well as to increase the responsiveness and improve the reputation of these organizations. The Ethiopian Constitution offers a clear compass in respect of the principles and spirit of regional security provision that could help chart an acceptable path between maintaining the present level of centralization and control on the one hand, and giving more meaning to the idea of subsidiarity on the other. If done in consultative fashion, it might also be a low-profile method of establishing a practice and habit of local and community dialogue in a sensitive issue area. As the army, federal police and intelligence are centralized, support for regional police forces and the change that might result from it, should not unduly threaten party control over the means of coercion nor risk creating vulnerabilities vis-à-vis Ethiopia’s neighbours.