Prosperity Party’s Plan of Economic Zones in Oromia a State within a State: Disintegrating and Weakening Oromia
By Barii Ayyaanoo (PhD), February 23, 2020
1. A friend inbox me Prosperity Party’s (PP’s) Cafee Oromia draft a proclamation titled “Wixinee Labsii Zoonii Diinagdee Addaa Gadaa”, which has a theme to create economic zones. I read it thoroughly. It is important to note that the proposed economic zones stretch from Adama to Minjar Shonkoraa and Gurage zone. Thus, it is not limited to the Oromia Regional State. It is another puzzling document that adds to our mistrust of PP leaders’ plans for the Oromia State and the Oromo people.
2. Different countries create economic zones for various reasons. However, the underlying objectives are similar. The special economic zones have sets of business, trade, financial and economic laws that differs from the wider systems of a country. Economic zones also have sets of tax laws and regulations, which are very lax and different from the rest of a country. For instance, China started establishing special economic zones in late 1970s to create two economic systems in the country. The larger China operates under the Central Planned Economy whereas economic zones operated under the liberal market economy like the West. The goal of the two economic system was to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) from the advanced economies to the economic zones, which have the modus operandi of the Western liberal market economic system. Simply put, the market economy was allowed in the economic zones whereas planned economy operates in the rest of the larger China. The plan worked for China in attracting foreign capital in the form of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), which helped China to largely avoid foreign borrowing-dependent economy.
3. When it comes to PP’s plan for the economic zones, it raises more questions than answers. First, the title of the “Zoonii Diinagdee Addaa Gadaa” is literally annoying. I am stating this not based on my opinion but after reading the contents of the draft proclamation. The planned economic zones have nothing to do with the Gadaa culture. The economic zones will be very independent of Oromia Regional State in business, trade, governance, etc. laws and regulations. Simply put, the economic zones will be administered by a board, which will be mandated to administer the economic zones as the board members see fit. The outlying areas (like farmers) that will be included in the economic zones will be subjected to the laws and regulations set up by the board. (I am well versed in the economic zones and their applications in different countries). The planned economic zones of PP will one of the most relaxed economic zones in the world that accord unlimited powers to the board that govern the economic zones. Simply put, the economic zones will be a state within a state, with very little control of the Oromia Region on their modus operandi.
4. The economic zones will be independent and the most economically powerful area in the Oromia Region, which can eventually surpass the already economically powerful Addis Ababa. What is the core purpose of creating an independent economic power within the Oromia Regional State? Why does the border of the economic zones cross all the way to Minjar Shenkora and Gurgage zones? What is the impact of the very large independent and powerful economic zones on the integrity and viability of Oromia as a state? What is the effect of the economic zones on rural Oromia around and within the economic zones? The draft proclamation states the economic zones will have positive impacts on the Oromo people and our cultural ethos. Yet, the economic zones will be governed by independent board members, with the prime duty to attract foreign and local investors. The Oromia Region cannot intervene and enforce pro-Oromo laws and regulations.
5. Whenever we discuss economic matters, our premise should be the fact that our people are predominantly agrarian with rural based economy. An economic model that transforms the livelihood of our people must begin from transforming the mainstay-the dominant-agricultural sector. PP’s economic plans of mega city and economic zones owned by foreigners and the few local rich people won’t improve the living standards of our people. They are just another master plan schemes that will evict Oromo farmers in millions from their ancestral lands. We will end up under the scenario where the top 2% or 1% of the rich, who are connected nepotism and corruption are rampant, owning and dominating the economy. At its core, PP’s economic plan is merely serving the rich. The majority will end up being daily laborers with meager salary that cannot even feed their families. The farmers within the economic zones will be evicted and become landless. (PP’s document itself hints this and glossy over it by stating compensation). There is nothing economically worse for the Oromo or other farmers than losing their ancestral lands. Simply put, we should measure economic progress and development in terms of their contributions to improving the living standards of our people. The proposed economic zones will not improve the living standards of our farmers, who dominate the economy. The few rich, who have access to capital, so-called investors, will get rich; the poor majority will get poorer. There are alternative economic policies that can be drawn that can seriously consider the economic hardships of our people in order to improve their living standards.
6. Politically speaking, the economic zones will create a powerful economic state within Oromia. It will weaken the rest of Oromia in political and economic terms. The economics zones will be more powerful than the other parts of larger Oromia. It also destroys the integrity and viability of Oromia as a state. We can safely conclude that PP’s unitary government plan has the agenda to bank on unitary economic plan. In other words, unitary government will give us unitary economic policy tools that favors the few rich urbanites, with the help of foreign finance. It’s not geared towards addressing the economic plights of the rural majority. The multinational federal system, if it is correctly implemented, will give us decentralized economic system that will consider the real economies on the ground. Banking on mega cities and mega economic zones will not help the majority. They are just extensions of the garrison-town-economic-model of Ethiopia, which has survived for generations by exploiting and extracting resources from the rural sector with very little reciprocated benefits.
7. Theoretically speaking, Ethiopia is heading towards elections in few months. Why do the PP leaders in Oromia come up with large scale mega projects that take years to complete? Where do they get the mandate for the long-term plan on the eve elections? They cannot be taken as economic policy proposals for election campaigns either since the opposition groups can easily dig into them and capitalize on them for their advantages. PP leaders are not drawing economic policies that attract the majority. Giving it a title “Diinagdee Addaa Gadaa” for the proposed economic zones is less than fool hardy. It is insulting our intelligence. We can read their proposal and evaluate its impact on our people in terms of economy, politics, culture, etc. The EPRDF/PP regime never contemplate impact studies of their mega projects. They are addicted to copycat syndrome. Yet, they have the audacity to lecture us that they are building ‘homegrown’ economy.