West confuses stability and dictatorship

Former Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi

Commenting on what might happen in Ethiopia after the death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, Mike Jennings, Senior Lecturer in Development Studies at SOAS and Chair of the Centre of African Studies makes the following analysis. This information can be fully accessed by reading an article posted on his blog. Among a number of questions he raises, there is one pertinent to political stability. He explains:

“Tensions are growing between the country’s Muslim population (around one-third of the total) and state authorities following a crackdown on Muslim protestors over the summer. Could this provoke wider ethnic and religious tensions across the country? How will the new prime minister deal with such tensions? Will there be an opening up of the political space to the opposition following the transition? Probably not. For there is not likely to be much real pressure by external powers to address the democratic deficit with stability being seen as the main priority. 

Though the author seems to agree on the dictatorial character of Zenawi’s regime, he as well displays similar understanding of stability as the majority of Western officials and policymakers when they refer to prevailing situations in some African countries. These regimes have nothing else stable than oppression, corruption, intimidation, harassment, assassination of journalists, disappearance and imprisonment of dissident voices, or organised displacements and starvation of their populations, and in rare occasions, economic growth and corresponding improvement of citizens’ standards of living.

The other characteristic of such stability is sometimes exemplified by gains which are usually political, cultural, economic or geostrategic that the West develops with these undemocratic regimes, without sometimes any necessary benefit to the majority of people in these badly ruled countries. As a consequence, one can ask whose stability Jennings’ statement refers to, or in other terms, who benefits from that status quo referred to as stable. Despite notable achievements that could be credited to the departed Ethiopian prime minister, not strongly pointing to the fact that his regime was one of the most oppressive on the continent, with some sources claiming he might have also committed genocide against some of his people, would be outrageously dishonest.

The Western reference to stability in countries under dictatorships can only be artificial. Many unfortunate conditions that local populations who suffer from political leaders they did not elect into office, but who got there by the support of external interests, are the results of that claimed stability. Therefore, one could rightly concludes that when the West talks about stability in a dictatorial regime, it is speaking from an external perspective of non concerned and oppressed citizens, and most often from an interested view of how much it is benefiting from the status quo. Otherwise, those who are suffering from the oppressive rulers don’t perceive neither enjoy any stability in their misery. And it is quite insulting and revolting for the victims that that concept of like praising constancy or strength of a repressive regime is widespread in the West.




2 responses to “West confuses stability and dictatorship

  1. Glad you clarified where you stand on this issue. As I explained in the article, understanding of that concept of stability depends on where one looks at it from. I don’t for example think Chinese who were involved in their thousands in different big scale Libyan projects under Kaddafi considered his country as unstable, but rather the contrary. And we were told that NATO and other forces aimed to topple him to stabilize Libya. What has now been the outcome of external intervention? It looks even cynical at some extent.


  2. Good piece. I’d just point put though that I don’t share the understanding of ‘stability’ as understood by donors in the global North (I think defining this as ‘western’ ignores other, non-western powers who share similar concerns). Rather my point is to critique it. That may not have come across fully. And perhaps even donors are learning in recent years that dictatorships are not stable.


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