A critical assessment of institutions, roles and leverage in public policymaking : Ethiopia, 1974-2004

Abebe Wolde, Mulugeta (2005-03)

Thesis (PhD (School of Public Management and Planning ))—University of Stellenbosch, 2005.


This dissertation critically assesses and analyzes the institutional and political settings of public policymaking in Ethiopia in a space of three decades, from circa 1974. Based on data and/or information generated through a range of sources and instruments, it attempts to uncover the prominent actors in public policymaking in Ethiopia far beyond the official assertions that have formally been claimed in the statutory provisions. It appraises the institutions, their roles and leverage in the policymaking process, and the extent to which the profound institutional and political changes that have transpired over the past thirty years impacted on public policymaking, and with what effect. It examines the emergence and ascendance of a couple of closely linked institutions, namely the ruling party and the top echelon of the executive leadership, and the disproportionate influence they have on government, non-government institutions and overall public policymaking. The supremacy of the executive and its claims on policymaking had been pervasive during Haileselassie’s years, with absolute executive powers vested in the monarchy and the person of the emperor. The combined forces of party and executive leadership and their overwhelming dominance in public policymaking are relatively new conventions, phenomena and constructs which featured prominently in the aftermath of 1974. Ideology (Marxism- Leninism and revolutionary democracy) has since been a critical element guiding and as well as justifying policy elites’ claims on the choice of public policies and the institutional and structural mechanisms of implementing them. Wedged between staggering financial, managerial and organizational capacity, on the one hand, and an inhospitable politicoadministrative and legal milieu on the other, the civil society, a network of civil society institutions and the public over three decades appeared to have remained at the peripheral end in the continuum of public policymaking. The most formidable challenges that the Ethiopian public policymaking process has over the past thirty years experienced can therefore be thematically crystallized into three issues. Firstly, the emergence and consolidation of party and executive leadership (policy elites) has been the dominant phenomena over the last thirty years, with the ruling party institutions invariably overlapping with the formally constituted policymaking government structures. Secondly, not only ideology played a critical role in the choice of public policies and institutional instruments for implementing them, but also provided policy elites with the latitude to justify their claims on policy actions, although ideological values served to preclude the non-state players from making legitimate claims on policymaking. Lastly, the expansion of the powers of the party and the executive seemed to have taken place without a corresponding development of extra-bureaucratic institutions (i.e. elections and functioning legislatures) and civil societal associations, and which in turn boils down to the exclusion of the bulk of the Ethiopian public from playing its legitimate role in the policymaking process. The public policymaking process in Ethiopia has, therefore, witnessed imbalances at two levels: first, between the executive and the legislature, and second, between policy elites (the party-fused-with-executive structures/institutions), on the one hand, and ordinary citizens and civil society organizations (CSOs) representing various interests, on the other. At both levels the party and the executive exact enormous power leverage. On the other hand, the ordinary citizens are highly disorganized, and tied up with attending to daily survival needs. Hence, they have little time to become fully and actively involved in holding government institutions accountable and responsive, articulating policy demands to policymaking institutions aside. The legislatures appear to have become a façade of legitimacy for party and executive decisions and are detached from the society. ` Finally, the dissertation puts forward proposals for more opportunities to give Ethiopian citizens of all walks of life a chance to influence policies and implementation outcomes. It suggests a range of options for greater and genuine public participation in the policymaking process, which would result in as much representative policy-making as enhancing the quality of services provided by policies and actual control of decisions by citizens. It also indicates Ethiopian academics’ charge in the new endeavor to launch independent think-tank and policy study institutions to foster professionalizing policymaking in Ethiopia.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/1452
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