Corruption in Ethiopia: Causes and remedies

Daniel Behailu GeberamanuelAuthor: Daniel Behailu Geberamanuel
PhD student at Law Faculty of Giessen University, Germany

It is often heard (from all concerned) that corruption levels in Africa and particularly in Ethiopia are of concern. Corruption is not only a violation of law and order, but a massive cause for the exacerbation of poverty already entrenched in the society. It frustrates any genuine effort exerted towards societal and economic development both by the government and the people. The ill sides of corruption are not to be undermined nor should efforts to fight it be played up as a political game just to prolong the life of a specific regime posing as the “good guy”. The fight against corruption must not be a tactical step for public attention and a ploy to win the sympathy of people. The fight against corruption by all Ethiopian stakeholders should investigate the root causes of corruption to address the problem sustainably for the following reasons: Ethiopia is cultivating tens and thousands of graduates from universities and technical colleges every year and the lack of jobs is becoming a serious concern.

According to a report by Global Financial Integrity, Ethiopia lost close to $12 billion since 2000 to illicit financial outflows. This is simply disaster in the making. The government must be serious in its fight against corruption because the government’s credibility and whatever level of legitimacy it might have been commanding is put to question. Therefore, in the government cadres’ language, “fighting corruption ought to be a survival issue”.

Every time I hear of anti-corruption efforts in my country, my pain is immense and is summed up by a phrase in the Amharic language “sedo masaded”, roughly translated as “trying to arrest after cutting lose”; the question is why “cut lose”? Why not fix the fence? Why not shut the door to thieves and the corrupt? The question for all of us is how to secure the house. The solution lies in “institutionalising the rule of law”; subsequently, if anyone subverts the system, all due processes of the law must ensue and no one should be considered or consider themselves above the law.

The causes of corruption in Ethiopia are systematic and are in the nature of the government. The manner in which government institutions are set up in Ethiopia, they are set to ensure that the governing party, Ethiopian people’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), to stay in power for ever. The set up was not about fostering democracy, the rule of law and the respect for human rights. The sole consideration was and is the effective control of power and hence the motto: “Those who could potentially weaken the effective control of power must be weakened first.” The target institutions are the judiciary, the press, and ironically the legislative organ itself via systematically disallowing genuine multiparty governance. These same fabrications of the phony institutions are serving now as incubators of corruption. It is to ponder for everyone how these institutions are weaken or ill-established to begin with? The Constitution, our “social contract” gives the overarching principles through Articles 50 till 84 of the Ethiopian Constitution.

The judiciary: it was in the report of major international organisations concerned with human rights that the judiciary in Ethiopia is weak and weakened beyond any measure by the interference of the government itself. Staged cases against members of the opposition parties under the guise of terrorism laws and the mistreating and suppression of the press by the government are two areas that dubbed our courts the name “kangaroo courts”. Justice in Ethiopia is an illusion.

The legislature: the legislative power, House of Peoples Representative, is dominated by members of the ruling party, EPRDF, and parliamentary Bills are not checked against the balances provided for in the Constitution.

The press: the press has been seriously curtailed and attacked for various reasons, leaving corruption to go unexposed.

Therefore, while these institutions are rendered lifeless and individuals become institutions, it is trite that corruption will thrive. Article 37 of the Administration of Employees of the Ethiopian Revenues and Customs Authority Council of Ministers Regulation, Regulation No. 155/2008, 2008 states that:

notwithstanding any provision to the contrary, the Director General may, without adhering to the formal disciplinary procedures dismiss an employee from duty whenever he has suspected him of involving in corruption and lost confidence in him;
An employee who has been dismissed from duty in accordance with sub-Article 1 of this Article may not have the right to reinstatement by the decision of any judicial body.

This provision (like many others) is both unconstitutional and illogical.

Current efforts to fight corruption are spear-headed by the Federal Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission of Ethiopia but it might not deliver the much desired outcome

On the other hand, current efforts to fight corruption are spear-headed by the Federal Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission of Ethiopia. This organisation is over politicised and dependent on the wishes and whim of the political giants; arguably it might not deliver the much desired outcome. It has been reported that more than 55 government officials, business persons and other individuals have been arrested in connection with alleged corruption offences committed by the officials of the Ethiopian Revenue and Customs Authority. Though bold, this move is still misdirected and unsustainable.

The most durable solution must come from multiple measures towards reforming the government system based on time tested and workable principles. The government must expedite efforts to reform the justice sector and the whole political system towards erecting workable and corruption proof system. The following measures need to be taken seriously and prior to the hunt for corrupt individual who circumvent the system:

  • restore judicial supremacy, which checks and balances the unbridled power of the executive. The government must also work towards establishing a Constitutional Court instead of giving the power to interpret the Constitution to a political organ (House of Federation) as it is now. In this way, it is essential that the most important constitutional issues, and constitutional based arguments and controversies can have judicial solutions, which could also be acceptable by all involved;
  • the parliament must also be seen to have law making power beyond the structural appearance for political consumption purpose. Laws passed by parliament need to be gauged against the constitution and societal interests as against political ends.  The antidote here is the existence of a multiparty system and “parliamentary deliberative processes” in parliamentary session;
  • a free press is key in the balance of power and exposing the misuse of power and corruption. So, the existence of a free and responsible press is an essential factor for the government itself if it serious about stamping out corruption; and
  • the real separation of political party and government power is also another crucial factor. As it is now, the ruling party, EPRDF, is also dominating the technocracy in the civil service. Party allegiance secures government job rather than competence and qualification.

About the Author:
Geberamanuel  holds a Bachelor of Laws from Addis Ababa University (Ethiopia) and a Master’s Degree in Comparative Law from Delhi University (India). He was worked as a lecturer in law at Hawassa University, Ethiopia.

7 Comments on “Corruption in Ethiopia: Causes and remedies”

  1. Ogez Oji Ajoku Esq says:

    As a kid in the 70s and 80s,Ethiopia as a country(nation)always depicted extreme poverty, hunger,ugly looking people,drought,starvation,gaunt looking fellows,etc. Ethiopia and its people were then poverty personified. I wonder where the missing link lies?

  2. […] Corruption in Ethiopia: Causes and remedies by Daniel Behailu Geberamanuel […]

  3. Yidneckachew, says:

    Nice thought Dani, nonetheless I have the following two concerns:

    First, I felt corruption is more coiled with ethnic federalism, where each ethnic group is given its cake (state authority). So competing for the cake is common, when the cake is seized every one took its ethnic dirsha- share his/her belonging to the specific group. On the part of the individuals, they justify their act or miss deeds as his/her time to capture its group share; and the ruling party legitimize and cover-up these as distributing power to different nations and nationalities (sharing the cake). The state has been fierce when these guys come in series terms on the political agenda by putting corruption as per-text…. So, here, the term ethnic federalism has solid ground by paying the tax payers and poor interest to ethnic opportunity elites, who were rewarded the power to corrupt in the exchange of their political loyalty. I bet you to give us your insight on this.

    Second, your foremost measure forwarded has erroneous implication by the term “restore judicial supremacy”. The term ‘restore’ signify ‘bringing back’, so what are we bring back that we never had. Ethiopia has never experienced judicial supremacy ever since the inception of modern government structure. The imperial majesty had failed to triumph its last attempt of Westminster model after Italian occupation; Derge had neither the likelihood nor the enthusiasm; and EPRDF has given the promise and principles, save for its deliberate control demise and self-relinquishing steps of the judiciary. So, which experience of judicial supremacy you have intended to bring back? Otherwise, calling for reformist agenda- opting for judicial supremacy can be the gauge.


  5. sam yeglij says:

    Any criticizim without tangebile facts and findings has zero value! I agree with some of your argument that you forwarded as remedial solution, but some of your critisim really deviates from the realities at the ground level>

  6. Ayoub Abdule says:

    “….EPRDF, to stay in power for ever….” very explanatory and power full indicator for the regime..

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