Political reform involves complex bargaining


Ethiopia is undergoing a substantive reform and political changes moving in a democratic direction. For the reform to bring viable democracy in the country, it needs the “institutions” of democracy. But before all that it is important that we understand reform as a complex bargaining process. There are at least two groups in any political reforms: those who want change (the reformer) and those who want to maintain the status quo (the guardians of the status quo).


Over the last three months, we read various comments and advise that urge the reformers to build democratic institutions and speed up the democratic transitions in the country. However, we barely see comments and advise on how the reformers can succeed in their bargaining with the guardians of the status quo. The later is a prerequisite for speeding up both institutional building and democratic transitions in the country.


First of all, it should be underscored that political reform is peaceful, incremental and accommodative. This nature of political reform only adds to the burden of the political reformers in Ethiopia who has to struggle with the past nostalgic group, the egoistic corrupt guardians of the status quo and the extremes who want to see literary everything changed in the country. In this sense, pro-reform Ethiopians should go a little bit beyond applauding the new reform leadership and develop into critical but reliable social support base. 


Challenges & progresses


Overcoming the bargaining challenge in political reform is the first step for reformers who aspire to build institutions of democracy and transform political structures. In the current context of Ethiopia, this is not a simple challenge because the government structure is still controlled by the networks of the guardians of the status quo. However, the reform leadership has already done an amazing job in increasing the ranges of their acceptable behaviors in the bargaining process and in building their fallback position and bargaining confidence. They at least did three amazing jobs.

Abiy Ahmed waves to supporters at the rally Abiy Ahmed greeting people on a grand support rally at Meskel Square in Addis Ababa June 16, 2018/Source Social Media

First, the reform leadership acknowledged the demands of their people and the fact that any political organization have to fully address the demands and the questions of the people they represents. They engaged in perspective taking from one corner of the country to the other. By doing that they already expanded their ranges of acceptable behavior both in their own eyes and in the eyes of their opponents.


Second, based on the first step they have strengthened their social support base. Building and strengthening social support is the best tool to get allies on your side but also eroding the social base of your opponents in a bargaining process. This was achieved because they promised to genuinely represent the causes of the people, they were humble advice seekers and they have been reiterating the peoples demand from time to time.


Third, the reform leadership is showing an amazing talent, confidence and determination in what they do. In this modern world standing out with expertise increases your range of acceptable behavior and help you win bargaining challenges. More than any thing expertise gives you credibility in your own eyes and in the eyes of your opponents. Especially, in situations where you lack what people consider a real source of power, you need an excellent expertise and evidence to speak up without being rejected. In this regards, the reform leadership is surrounding itself with expertise and using that to build democracy. This is definitely helping them to challenge others on the bargaining table and push themselves in the right direction.


Way Forward


Democracy was inspired by the idea of liberty, equality, and fraternity from the French Revolution. Later, other countries have adopted the same idea to challenge bad governance in their own contexts. In many European countries, democratic values grew in response to the oppressive rule of absolutist monarchs. In colonized countries, the idea came with colonial rule but conferred subject hood on the indigenous people as opposed to citizenship.


In general, democracy is a response to bad memories and treatments. Ethiopia and Ethiopians need democracy as a response to the social and political evils they experienced throughout their history. Building institutions of democracy is mandatory in this journey. Ethiopia needs a vibrant parliament (legislatures), independent judiciary system, strong and free political parties, transparent executives, free public medias, independent electoral board, civil society organizations and critical academic institutions among others. These are all vehicles for social change and Ethiopia needs to build all of them. 


To achieve this in a shortest possible time, Ethiopians need multi-tasking. We need to support the reform leadership, increase their social support base and their bargaining power and confidence. At the same time, we need to reform and transform existing institutions as well as build new democratic institutions. That makes a viable path towards democracy.


Read 26117 times Last modified on Tuesday, 07 August 2018 06:27

1 Response Found

  • Comment Link
    Ander Abebe Monday, 06 August 2018 07:32

    Dr abiy my Prm Of ethiopia

Leave a comment

Make sure you enter all the required information, indicated by an asterisk (*). HTML code is not allowed.

Quick Links


Something more About Us

EAPRI aims to fill the gap between research, policy and practice not only by providing objective policy research that influence policy agenda and choices but also by strengthening capacity in policy evidence utilization and political commitment for its implementation. 

At EAPRI, we believe in the power of critical information in building a brighter future. Our focus is on the opportunities and challenges of attaining the development visions and goals of the nations of East Africa region. Currently having our East African Office located in Addis Ababa, we are collaborating with governmental and non-governmental organizations to provide evidences that influence policy in the region. In Ethiopia, we are currently working on, among others, urban social reconstruction, youth development and employment, dialogue and reconciliation, and rural development and food safety.