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Taking a Bite Out of the Corruption Elephant in the Ethiopian Judicial Sector

We wanted to dismantle their network of corruption [in city government]. We tried to move corrupt officials out of their positions  and reshuffle them. The court would not allow us. They ordered us to return them to their positions. All 460 of them. Adanech Abibie, Mayor of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Author’s Note: While this commentary stands on its own merits, the author strongly recommends reading Part I  and Part II to appreciate the enormous complexity and fierce urgency of judicial/justice sector reform in Ethiopia today.

Special note: This commentary has four parts: 1) A nostalgic retrospective when the slightest use of public resources by public officials was considered a mortal sin for which swift action was taken. 2) An update on judicial reform hearing in Parliament. 3) An update on the activities of the recently established anticorruption committee. 4) An anecdotal survey of individuals from diverse professions and perspectives on how to implement anticorruption reform in the judicial sector.

Nostalgic about the good old days. Walking down memory lane… The way it was!

Corruption has been around since the dawn of civilization.

Ethiopia is no exception to the rule of corruption.

But there was a time in Ethiopia when the slightest use of public resources for personal convenience was treated with extreme attention and instant correction.

The copy of the memorandum below shows how personal ethics and public integrity particularly in the Ethiopian military was upheld at the very highest standards.

The memorandum reproduced below is about a Lieutenant Demessie Bulto whose pay was docked for making a personal telephone call on an official line which cost 0.30 cents.

Lieutenant Demessie Bulto went on to become Maj. General Demissie Bulto, one of the greatest Ethiopian combat generals/heroes of all time.

General Demissie successfully led Ethiopian troops to victory in numerous campaigns and was admired as a brilliant tactician, consummate professional and unrepentant Ethiopia patriot. (His military campaigns briefly presented in video here.)


Memorandum #521/illegible

Ethiopian Imperial Government
Honor (Crown) Guard Command

To: Honor Guards Paymaster

One of our members in the First Command, identification number 4707, Lieutenant Demissie Bulto, used a telephone line established for the Honor (Crown) Guards on 4/12/1952 [12/22/1959 Gregorian calendar] to make a personal call to Jimma incurring a cost of $o.30/thirty cents. It is ordered that said amount be recovered by deducting from his November 1953 [1959] monthly salary.
Haile Desta, Major
Cc: Honor Guards General Command

Today, sixty three years after that memo was written, we are talking about those in public office in Ethiopia stealing hundreds of thousands and millions of birr without even blinking an eye.

General Demissie and all the other great generals and troops of the past did not fight and die so we can live in an Ethiopia drowning in corruption and graft.

Ethiopia’s generals and their troops today are not fighting and dying to see corruption choking the lives of Ethiopian citizens.

All Ethiopians must fight corruption, day and night. Rain, shine, lightening, flood, fire or earthquake.

================== ==================== ===================

The other shoe has dropped

On November 17, 2022, PM Abiy announced the establishment of a 7-person national anti-corruption committee which includes the Attorney General and the head of the Ethiopian National Intelligence and Security Service.

This  Committee has three sub-committees, composed of  legal, finance and information expertise, and aims to coordinate the national anti-corruption campaign.

On December 2, 2022, the other shoe dropped.

In a press briefing, Attorney General Gideon informed the public (video above) that the recently established anti-corruption committee

is using the full legal powers of the government to coordinate a broad anticorruption campaign to reverse the trend in uncontrolled corruption.

will have major focus on corruption in land distribution and acquisition, assignment of public housing and cleanup of the graft-ridden customs agency.

will give special priority to the justice and security sectors and agencies involved in land administration which are operating as organized criminal enterprises.

will first focus on corruption in Addis Ababa and surrounding areas.

has identified networks of corruption brokers, police, judges, prosecutors and others who benefit from illegal transactions and corrupt practices.

has started arresting corruption suspects and will continue to do so with public support, participation and involvement in fingering suspects.

has identified individuals engaged in abuse of power in the security and justice sectors who have been engaged in extortion and racketeering activities by forcing individuals and businesses to make bribe payments.

has taken into custody various corruption suspects including the federal government’s director of financial security, top officials in the information network agency and in the national security office.

has taken into custody prosecutors, civil servants, corrections/prison administrators, police officials and judges suspected of corruption involvement and is preparing prosecution.

is seeking injunctions against officials who did not comply with the asset disclosure law and failed to register their assets. This investigation will be widened and exemplary legal action taken including asset confiscation and imprisonment.

has received 250 public reports with evidence and tips of corruption,  and organized investigative teams are sifting through evidence for prosecution.

will replicate the anticorruption campaign at the kilil level.

will announce the names of major corruption suspects in custody soon.

urges greater public cooperation in reporting suspected cases of corruption.

Director General of the National Intelligence and Security Service and member of the anticorruption committee, Temesgen Tiruneh, said corruption is one of three existential national security threats:

Corruption or malpractice, in addition to being the cause for the high cost of living and unemployment in the country, has been confirmed by research that it is a third level threat to national security.


The elephant in the dining room

In part II of this commentary series, I used the idiom “the elephant in the judicial living room” to allude to the fact that the structural reforms in the judicial sector do not squarely focus on and address the core problem of corruption. Corruption mitigation and remediation is expected to be a byproduct of gradual structural reform.

To say Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is talking about the elephant in the judicial living room is an understatement. He told Parliament:

The major problem with theft (corruption) is that judges are thieves (corrupt). Reform is most needed in the court system. The courts have become a den of thieves.

Today, everyone is talking about the judicial elephant in the living room.

The question now is what to do about the elephant.

Metaphorically, “How do you eat an elephant that is in the dining room?”

It is a truism that “corruption is a global problem.”

Transparency International, the “global coalition against corruption” proclaims:

Corruption erodes trust, weakens democracy, hampers economic development and further exacerbates inequality, poverty, social division and the environmental crisis.

Corruption is a hydra headed monster with chameleon manifestations.

Corruption manifests itself when public servants demand or take money (bribes) or other things of value to perform the very duties they are hired to perform.

When politicians and bureaucrats engage in fraud, abuse, misuse and waste of  public resources, they engage in corruption.

When those in power engage in cronyism ( appointment to positions of authority without regard to merit) and nepotism (giving jobs, contracts and other opportunities to family, friends and relatives), they are also engaged in corruption.

Corruption as cancer

grows in the body politic, sometimes imperceptibly, it has the ability rapidly and insidiously to infiltrate and destroy the organs of the state. Once embedded, it is very difficult to cut out. Metastasis across society is common. It prevents countries from developing and reaching their full potential, and destroys the ethical and moral foundation of a state.

Corruption is a cancer that occurs in all parts of Ethiopian society- bureaucracies, the courts, businesses, the media, academia and in civil society.

Corruption touches everyone: politicians, government officials, public servants, businesspeople and members of the public.

PM Abiy recently told Parliament corruption is not just a cancer but also a self-replicating virus:

Bribe givers create bribe takers. Bribe takers in turn create a messed-up process. It is a vicious circle. We cannot escape it.

As a virus, corruption is highly adaptable to different contexts and changing circumstances. Like a virus, corruption evolves in response to changes in the laws, regulations, new practices and even technology.

Corruption happens not only in darkness and in the shadows but also on  Instagram as PM Abiy publicly declared.

So, how do you deal with endemic, systemic, structural corruption?

More specifically, how do you deal with the corruption elephant in the judicial sector?

The single most important lesson from successful anti-corruption efforts is that there are no quick fixes.

There is no magic wand that can be waived at corruption and make it go away.

Many anticorruption campaigns have failed because of “over-large ‘design-reality gaps’’’ (“mismatch between design and reality on the ground”).

In other words, energetic anti-corruption campaigners have failed because they bit more than they can chew.

The late South African Bishop Desmond Tutu in a documentary organized around two profound questions (“What’s wrong with the world?” and “What can we do about it?”, observed: “There is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.”

In other words, Tutu metaphorically is saying one cannot change the world in one fell swoop but in small and decisive incremental steps. So, it must also be with corruption.

Corruption: Why have things fallen apart in the Ethiopian justice/ judicial sectors?

Having listened to PM Abiy Ahmed speak of corruption in Ethiopia, especially in the judicial sector, one has to ask, “Why have things fallen apart in the Ethiopian justice/judicial sectors?”

The great African author Chinua Achebe in his book (“Things Fall Apart”) asked why things fell apart in colonial Nigeria (writ large, I would argue in Africa).

Achebe fingered colonialism as the culprit:

The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart. (Italics added,)

In “Man of the People”, Achebe turned his quill to African leaders in post-colonial Nigeria (Africa) to explain why things continued to fall apart after the end of colonialism.

Achebe pointed his index finger at the culture of corruption and the rise of predatory elites for things falling apart in Nigeria (Africa.)

The African elite that replaced the white colonial masters were merely white faces wearing black masks who enriched themselves by preying on the wretched masses. The people were forced to accept corruption as a normal part of social and political life, thereby nurturing a culture of corruption.

Achebe’s character perplexed in the extreme asks:

What a fool ! Whose son is he? Was he not here when the white men were eating? What did he do about it ? Where was he when Chief Nanga fought and drove the white men away? Why is he envious now that the warrior is eating the rewards of his courage ? If he was Chief Nanga, would he not do much worse?”

“Eating, eating and more eating!” Is that what corruption is all about?

A few eat and millions starve?

So, why do things fall apart in Ethiopia?

It is hard to blame colonialism for corruption as Ethiopia had never been a colony?

Could corruption be something embedded in the Ethiopia political and civic culture in much the same way as Achebe’s post-independence Nigeria?

More specifically, why have things fallen apart so badly that Prime Minister Abiy was compelled to name, shame and give a public dressing down to the justice/judicial sector before Parliament?

PM Abiy said the culture of corruption in the judicial sector has become vampiric.

In much the same way as the vampires of popular folklore who take human form and survive by sucking the blood of living people at night, corrupt judges, police nd prosecutors suck the blood of the people seeking justice before the not only in the darkness of secrecy but also on Instagram social media.

The practice of corruption has spread so far and deep that self-styled cultural heroes play with the scales of justice bragging on social media about who they jailed and released  based on the amount of bribes they received.

Hearing before the Judiciary Committee of the House of People’s Representatives

It is highly encouraging that the Federal Parliament oversees and monitors the constitutional performance of the Federal Judiciary.

On November 2, 2022, the Judiciary Committee of the House of People’s Representatives held a hearing to review progress, issues and challenges in implementation of judicial reform.

The video recording of the hearing is quite informative and educational for those interested in the operation of the judiciary.

In the first part of the video, the hearing covered a broad range of issues including improvements in case management, reduction of delay and efficiency improvements in service delivery at the First Instance High Court, Federal Court and Sharia Court levels.

In the second part of the video (below), the hearing covered issues related to reform outcomes, modernization of operations and services, problems in controlling judicial wrongdoing , ineffectiveness of the judicial council, improvements in opportunities for women on the bench, and transformation of the ethical landscape of the judicial system.

While the hearing videos are long, almost 6 hours, it is mandatory for anyone interested in learning about the judicial sector and helping in its improvements to patiently watch and learn from it.

Unfortunately, since the posting of the video less than one thousand people have bothered to open it.

How do you eat the elephant sitting in the judicial dining room?

Following my interview (below) on Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation (EBC) on judicial sector reform in Ethiopia in August 2022, I got quite a bit of feedback from people relating to me their experiences in the Ethiopian justice system. Among these were individuals with intimate knowledge of the justice system and diasporans who have had contact with the justice/judicial process, mostly involving civil and regulatory matters.

Anecdotal survey of corruption perception and obstacles to reform implementation in the judicial sector

Based on the feedback I got, I decided to reach out to those in my network to get a sense of their opinions, views and ideas about justice/judicial reform in Ethiopia.

As a result, I had the privilege of talking to a random smattering of current and former Ethiopian officials at various levels, politicians, bureaucrats, judges, prosecutors and members of the private bar in Ethiopia. I also had opportunities  to talk to diaspora Ethiopians across professions (doctors, lawyers, faith leaders, businesspersons, young diaspora men and women in the tech sector, etc.)—to tap their perceptions and ideas on the judicial/justice sector reforms and implementation.

My anecdotal conversations about justice/judicial sector reform was guided by one question: “What does a successful implementation of justice/judicial reform in Ethiopia looks like to you?”

I avoided the usual question, “What are your concerns about justice/judicial reform in Ethiopia?” (Unfortunately, many gravitated towards analysis of the problem of corruption than offering solutions.)

Guiding a conversation by talking about concerns usually ends up in ideas that accentuate the negative and why things are likely to fail.

Concerns often reflect negative experiences. There is not a single person, save those involved in corruption, in Ethiopia who does not have deep concerns about corruption.

Everyone from the Prime Minster to the man/woman in the street have concerns. Many are much more than concerned.

They are angry, frustrated, bitter, exasperated, outraged and fuming.

Many more are heartbroken, in despair, unable to see the light at the end of the corruption tunnel and resigned to the fact that corruption is, has been and will always be.

I am exerting considerable time and effort in learning about corruption in Ethiopia, particularly in the justice/judicial sectors because I believe I can make a significant contribution by sharing my varied legal experience in the legal field including teaching, research and litigation.

Specifically, I am interested in helping create and sustain homegrown corruption reform under the heading “Ethiopian solutions to Ethiopian corruption problems.”

I want to be part of the Ethiopian solution to the Ethiopian corruption problems and invite all diaspora Ethiopians to join in the campaign by sharing their technical expertise, practical experience, and if nothing else, by showing vocal support for the anticorruption campaign currently underway.

Below are synoptic observations from conversations with a variety of sources indicated above.

To be sure, all of my observations reported below are anecdotal and reflect the personal views of the  few people I talked to. I have summarized their views in a manner I believe will be intelligible to an English-speaking audience. 

I make no claims of undertaking any type of systematic research and analysis on the Ethiopian justice/judicial sector whatsoever.

I have stylized the observations in my own descriptive headlines for the convenience of the reader.

Some caveats about the anecdotal observations.

The people I talked to range from those who have personal knowledge of the justice/judicial sectors, read/reviewed the five-year strategic judicial sector reform plan to those whose knowledge is limited to what they have heard in the media or speeches and public statement of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

The range of reactions covers the gamut between those who are cynical about reform to those who see hope at the end of the corruption tunnel.

“What does a successful implementation of justice/judicial reform look like to you in Ethiopia?”

[Responses expressing distrust, cynicism implementation will fail]

Don’t know but…

I don’t know what they are doing to implement justice/judicial reform but whatever they are doing they must start by cleaning house. Corruption is everywhere in government. Just start cleaning randomly until you can see some clean spots. Only then you can start a systematic “de-corruptification” program.

Don’t really care because justice is for sale.

I have heard a little bit about the judicial reform in the media. But I don’t care because justice is up for sale. That’s why I did not bother to read the strategic plan. I don’t know where to find the plan even if I wanted to read it. It is a waste of time. It sounds good on paper but who’s going to implement it? Justice is merchandized and monetized for sale by crooked brokers (delalas). You have got to pay if you want to play in the justice system.

“I’ll believe that when I see it”/ “I’ll be the judge of that!

I will give the government the benefit of the doubt in trying to reform the system to reduce corruption, but I will believe it when I see it. It is a good start but I am not sure how far it will go. It has been tried before and had no impact on corruption.

Window dressing and public show.

Anti-corruption campaigns have been launched before especially when the public complains and those in government see a danger from public complaints. But it lasts only until the public uproar dies down. They will parade a few big fish in public to pretend they are doing something about corruption. They will arrest and say the suspects are being prosecuted. The fact is after a short while, the big fish are quietly released and the prosecution discontinued. That sends a bad message to the public. The rich and well-connected can engage in corruption with impunity and are never held accountable. The ones that remain in jail are the poor and those who are accused of corruption for political purposes.

One of the great disservice of the past has been sensationalizing corruption cases.  Whenever there is grumbling about corruption, the TPLF would whip up public frenzy. But not much happens. That has desensitized the public. It has made the public cynical.

No quick fixes.

The are no quick fixes for corruption. We have a 30-year legacy of corruption left over from the TPLF days. There are few things that can be done to shake the foundation of corruption such as arresting and prosecuting some big fish and small ones, but that will not have lasting effect. We should temper our expectations of what can be achieved in the short term and not be overly hopeful or we will be disappointed once more.

[Cautiously, philosophically optimistic because implementation of reform/changes takes a very long time]

 A 1000-mile journey begins with the first step.

Better late than never. We have to start somewhere and the government is doing a good job with the anticorruption committee. But there is a long way to go and the road will be long and hard. The real question is who will join the government in the journey. Unless the people join, it will not work. Really, the people have to lead the anticorruption campaign by reporting corruption suspects and giving evidence. When corrupt officials fear the people, then you can effectively deal with corruption. Right now, the people are treated like dirt. Officials generally have no respect for the common people.

Corruption from need and greed.

We must understand corruption is not all the same. The rich ones engage in corruption because of greed. They do not know how much is enough. They are never satisfied so they keep stealing from the people. Then there are those who take bribes knowing it is wrong but because they are forced by a higher moral purpose. Yes, moral purpose. Their loved ones may be sick and they do not have the money to get them expensive medical care. So, they take bribes without caring if they are caught or not. They say, “I would rather save my loved one” than see them suffer and die. So, distinguishing between those committing corruption for need and greed must be done carefully. The important thing to keep in mind is for some in public office corruption is a means of survival. It is their only way to personally survive. They are willing to accept the consequences.

Legacy of corruption.

We have to be realistic. Corruption has been growing and spreading like weeds for three decades. It has deep roots. Its tentacles reach every part of society and government. We must not underestimate the power of corruption. It is the devil’s work. The devil tried to corrupt Christ by offering him wealth and power. It is no different for mere mortals. There are thousands who benefit from the legacy of corruption. They will resist in every way and because they profit from corruption. They survive by maintaining the legacy, so don’t underestimate what they can do to fight back to preserve their legacy.

Birth pangs from kleptocracy to democracy.

We have to understand that corruption is a manifestation of a deep underlying problem. Ethiopia is transitioning from a TPLF kleptocracy to a multiparty democracy. The transition is not going to be easy. It is like changing from no accountability to full accountability. That is very difficult to achieve. Many of those committing corruption today are holdovers of the TPLF kleptocracy. They have always engaged in corruption with impunity, why change now? They do not have a price to pay and it is very profitable for them. That does not mean nothing can be done against them. It requires identifying the main kleptocrats and neutralizing them. I think that is what they are trying to do now.

Political culture tolerates/nurtures culture of corruption.

The real problem with corruption in Ethiopia is that it is practiced everywhere and is entrenched. People will complain about corruption but when it involves their own cases, few will hesitate paying bribes to get whatever they want done. It is like a double standard. They would rather point a finger at everybody else and never themselves. The political culture and environment must change before corruption can be effectively tackled.

The Prime Minster even said it. Corruption is seen as an act of heroism. Friends and families of officials mock their own family members who do not engage in corrupt practices as fools. A woman of faith once berated her husband for not taking bribes and called him a coward for not doing what everyone in public office does.

There is a need for public awareness and education programs that corruption is not just a crime but also immoral and a sin. Children must be taught that get rich quick schemes do not work. But it is difficult to convince the young people who see others become millionaires overnight. They think they can become one too. That is the major lesson of corruption for the youth today, “You can get rich quick.” That is a bad example. Young people need to have a moral compass as early in childhood as possible. They must be taught ethical principles. For example, in the US, the vast majority of drivers will stop at a red light at night, even when there are no policemen. Why? Because they are taught to live by certain rules, they are taught to have respect for the law. That does not mean there is no corruption or lawlessness in America. That is for another day.

For corruption reform to succeed the organizational culture must change.

It is not only the political culture that must change to deal with corruption but also the organizational culture of government agencies. That means promoting and taking specific actions to establish a culture of innovation, ethical behavior , public integrity and so on. Those remnants from the TPLF regime have no interest in organizational culture change because if successful it means they will be out of a job. So, they will resist and thwart organizational change. Ethical standards must be established, implemented and monitored for compliance. But the old corrupt guards will not allow this. They will fight it.

The culture of corruption needs culture shock to succeed.

There are two ways to tackle corruption. One is long term development of democratic civic culture. That is developing a civic culture that promotes the rule of law, public accountability, transparency and openness in government. That takes time and it must be done in schools, in the media and other forums.

But there is another one that must be done in the short term. It is shock and awe. It is like a military strategy. The military uses its overwhelming legal power and authority to attack and break the networks of corruption in a coordinated swift action. That seems to be what the government is doing with the anticorruption committee. It is necessary otherwise the corrupt officials will think the corruption campaign is another joke that will blow over and they will continue with business as usual.

Take dramatic action and make lessons for those who are corrupt.

The solution is to end impunity for those caught/suspected of corruption. The Prime minster said it is a revolving door. They come in one side and go out the other after being accused of corruption. A thousand police, prosecutors and judges can learn from one or a  few example. “Inen yaye yiqeta.” (“Let those who see me learn the price of corruption.) Those involved in corruption must be named and shamed and socially ostracized. Taking quick action creates opportunities to set up small and scalable learning moments. From small-scale learning moments, big plans can be implemented and gain insight on how to deal on a national scale.

Comprehensive study of corruption needed.

Before tackling corruption, the government has to undertake a comprehensive study. It is no secret there are corrupt judges, police, prosecutors and other public officials. Corruption has contaminated all from the highest levels to the lowest officials.  A comprehensive study is needed because corruption manifests itself in different ways at different levels. There is not one size fits all solution for corruption.

[Those familiar with the justice/judicial sector in one form or another]

Follow best practices.

Judges and other judicial officials should be required to 1) sign codes of conduct and follow strict conflict of interest policies,  2) complete asset/income declarations annually with verification mechanisms, 3) establish an independent body to investigate and report on allegations of judicial misconduct and 4) create robust whistleblowing policies and there should be effective complaints mechanisms in place to ensure safe reporting of corruption and other misconduct. Unexplained wealth should be confiscated.

The watchman is a thief and it is a Mafia-style operation.

The one thing most people miss is the fact that the very people who are supposed to be the guardians of integrity are the thieves. It is like appointing the fox to be in charge of the henhouse. He will eat them all one by one. The Prime Minster said the police, the judges and prosecutors are all thieves.  But that’s not all. It takes two to tango. There are the bribe givers and bribe takers as the PM said. How can you fight corruption when the people committing corruption are in charge of investigating and prosecuting corruption? That makes no sense.

Corruption in the justice/judicial sector has its own chain and network. The police work with the prosecutors who in turn work with the judges. There are real situations where prosecutors negotiate with defendants to dismiss a case or charge them with a lesser offense if they pay a bribe. Did you know there is a referral networks where the police will recommend certain defense lawyers with whom they have arrangements for kickbacks? There are cases where judges and defense lawyers privately confer and judges advise them what kinds of arguments to make to get a favorable ruling. There are cases where prosecutors will present a weak case after making a backroom deal with defendants, or not raise certain relevant legal issues. If they are bribed, prosecutors will not take an appeal.  A defendant could get a lesser sentence if he pays a bribe as the judge can sentence him under a different section of the code that imposes a lesser sentence.

Fighting corruption requires a national effort because it is a national security threat. That is the way the government is now handling it and it will succeed. They mean business.

Implementation requires ethical training and campaign.

The capacity to implement reform in the judicial/justice sectors from within does not presently exist. They can put band aid on the problem but the forces of corruption are too many and too powerful to fight against. The judicial/justice sectors need massive amounts of ethnical training and monitoring. The fact is those in the justice/judicial sectors do not really know how much damage they are doing to society because they only look at what they do and tell themselves the little corruption they do will have little impact. Or they do not care because they care only about their personal well-being and not society’s. The fact that corruption erodes and corrodes basic principles of equality before the law and denies ordinary people their day in court means nothing to them. That is why they abuse their powers and perpetrate injustice. The guilty goes unpunished because he can pay bribe and the innocent remain in jail because he cannot. The corrupt judges, police and prosecutors see nothing wrong in that because by doing it so many times, it has become normal and regular for them. It does not prick their conscience. In fact, their consciences are numbed and for most dead. They need regular ethical training.

[Stronger laws needed]

Effective whistleblower laws.

I am not sure if there is a whistleblower law in Ethiopia. But there is a need for one in the justice/judicial sector. In the US, the federal government and every state has strong whistleblower laws which rewards for people reporting waste, fraud, and abuse. That means corruption of all kinds. Citizens are rewarded for voluntarily reporting corruption and also protected from retaliatory action for doing that. Most of the time in Ethiopia, if a person reports corruption, he is victimized by the system. It is true, victimized. By reporting corruption, he becomes the focus of investigation, how did he find out about the corruption and did he participated in it. He will be taken through the ringer. That discourages people from cooperating. It must be anonymous and the reporting system in the recently established anticorruption program is a very good start. It seems they have received hundreds of tips in just a few weeks.

It is also important to create a corruption victims support group where they can come together and share their experiences and also share it with the rest of society.

Establish an independent public oversight system for the judicial sector.

The judiciary supposedly has a council that investigates wrongdoing and corruption and its ranks. But can it be trusted? The council operates on a part-time basis and is composed of the same judges. It’s like the same judges investigating themselves. That is silly. The council is inefficient and it takes more than a year to process a complaint against the judge. Even when a judge is found responsible for misconduct, nothing happens. It is swept under the rug.
That means it is necessary to have an independent public oversight and monitoring system for the judicial sector. An independent body can conduct a credible and transparent investigation and efficiently bring to justice those who are guilty of engaging in corrupt practices.

Economics of corruption.

Economists know that corruption is first and foremost a business. It is illegal racketeering business. Just like the business the Mafia has. It is not a moral or ethical problem. Corrupt people by definition are not moral agents who value individual interests against societal costs. Individuals may see corruption as immoral but as a practice it is not about ethics or morality but business where public office is used for private gain. When corruption occurs in a network, it raises no moral issues, only issues of financial interest. Those involved in a network of corruption do not even calculate the costs, punishments, benefits and rewards of what they do. They do it as part of the herd. It is what economists call “rent seeking” where they try to accumulate gain for themselves without adding productivity to the society. It stretches the imagination to think about moral values and ethics in a world of corruption that does not recognize those values but is based on costs and benefits.

Sting operations.

One very effective way of catching those engaged in corruption is to conduct sting operations. It is common in the US. There are many cases where the FBI sets up a make believe operation to catch individuals attempting to commit a crime. The undercover law enforcement pretends to give bribes and go along to gather evidence of the suspect’s wrongdoing. Many corrupt US Senators have been caught in such corruption investigations. That is what the Ethiopian government should do using sting operations.  By the way, investigative journalists have also caught many corrupt officials in sting operations in the US.

Corruption Tip Rewards program.

The corruption tip program started by the anticorruption committee is using is very good. Financial incentives always work. People will respond if they feel they can do justice while serving their own interests. That should be publicized and encouraged.

Special role of the media.

Anticorruption success in many ways depends on what the media does and does not do. What is happening in the Ethiopian media in regard to corruption is sad. There are cases where investigative journalists are intimidated and threatened by officials they are investigating. There are even cases where corrupt officials pay a lot of money to journalists and the media to suppress corruption stories about them. There have been documentaries that were suppressed from public release because they were bought off.  The government should look into how the state media collaborates in corruption. There is corruption in the media itself. State media should be given specialized training to do corruption investigations. They can be the tip of the spear against corruption.

Modernize judicial/justice sector services and digitalize records.

A great deal of corruption at the lower levels can be effectively addressed if official records are digitized. Because they are not, petty officials have monetized accessing official court and other records.  Digitization offers easy access to public records, increases transparency and eliminates the trafficking in official records.

Better pay, training, workspace.

To be fair, we must realize that judges especially engage in corruption because their pay is low and get fewer perks. Corruption is their way of supplementing their income. The cost of living is high and they have a lot of personal and family expenses. The same goes for police and prosecutors. They do not earn much and can’t support their families on government salary. Look at it this way. How would you feel if you were a judge and at the end of the workday you were waiting for public transportation when you see the lawyer who just appeared before you minutes earlier is driving past in a fancy car? It is just human nature. That is why it is important to provide a reasonable income for those in the judicial sector. Otherwise, it will be a revolving door. As a matter of fact, there are many who want to become judges, police and so on so they can use their office to supplement their incomes. That is true.

Politicization of party/ethnic politics.

The major problem with corruption in Ethiopia is party and ethnic politics. Whenever an official is accused of corruption, he will claim it is because of his ethnic group or political party. The fact is there is a party and ethnic network that facilitates corruption. Corruption should be criminalized not politicized. This is particularly true of the big fish who are caught in corruption. They will try to hide behind their ethnic group and claim they are being singled out. The government must make an example of these types of corrupt criminals. That requires determination by the government. No one must believe they are above the law manipulating their ethnicity or party affiliation.

There is another big problem. That is use of ethnic quotas than merit. The whole idea of appointing judges and officials based on ethnicity and not merit contributes to corruption. The way things are, it will take time to use merit but it is important to monitor those who are in office not because of their merit but ethnic networks.

Identify and eliminate resistance points in the justice/judicial sectors.

Fighting corruption requires fighting the resistance points at each level. Reform is being sabotaged even before it begins. In the justice/judicial sector there are many who benefit from corruption. They will put up a fierce defense individually and collectively to defeat any reforms. These forces should not be underestimated. They will fight tooth and nail to preserve their privileges. They will try to sabotage reform. They will spread disinformation and lies to discredit reforms. They will resort to every trick in their toolbox to frustrate and thwart reforms. That is why it is important to neutralize them right from the beginning. If left alone, they will poison the well.

Identify stakeholders and engage them in implementation.

The are many stakeholders in corruption reform. There must be buy-in by the stakeholders. Most of the stakeholders are silent because they are afraid of retaliation. That is why it is important to make a list of stakeholders within the organization and outside and create a united front. Stakeholders must include not only professionals and elites but also lawmakers, community leaders, civil society leaders, community elders and ordinary people who are given the opportunity to share their views and experiences about corruption in public forums.

Vox populi, vox dei (Voice of the people is voice of God.)

The people must be heard. That means community engagement and brainstorming. People in the community should be invited to engage in discussions about corruption and allowed to share their views on how it can be improved. The people know more about corruption than officials because they are daily victims. The corrupt officials count on the fact that the people will be marginalized in any corruption discussion or solution. That means it will all be an elite affair and that will not go very far.

Build public confidence and gain support for anticorruption campaign.

Without public support, no anticorruption campaign is going to succeed. it is a good start now with the mechanisms provided to the public to report and provide tips on corruption. Just like the National Dialogue Commission is inviting ordinary people to participate in national dialogue directly or through their representatives, the same should be done for the anticorruption campaign. there is some lack of public confidence in the anticorruption effort today. but that can be addressed by engaging the public at the local level, not just asking them to report cases of corruption to the anticorruption committee.

Federally funded projects need to be audited.

One of the major sources of corruption is federally funded projects at the kilil level. Meles once said the kilil governments have the right to burn money. That is just wrong. But turning a blind eye to what is happening in the kilils with respect to federal projects is a crying shame. I hope corruption investigations at the kilil level will start with auditing of federal projects.

Restructure the anticorruption commission.

The anticorruption commission is a shadow of its former self. Today, it is a toothless and powerless organization. All is does is corruption education and awareness. It does not even have proper office facilities. The TPLF regime dismantled it all because the commission was coming after their people.

The anticorruption Commission should be reorganized and allowed to control its own investigation while the justice ministry takes care of prosecution of corruption cases. There is a kind of judicial bench for corruption. Judges are appointed in rotation and may serve for a year or two on the bench. But that is not going to do anything. The anticorruption Commission needs specially trained investigators who can look into financial related crimes including tax fraud. It is necessary to have specially trained auditors. It is now fragmented with investigation in the in the federal police and prosecution in the Ministry of Justice. It is well known that many in the federal police actually tip off corruption suspects in a pending investigation. That’s why it needs to come under one authority to become effective.

[A variation on the above]

Previously the Federal Ethics and Anti Corruption Commission used to have the power to investigate and prosecute corruption crimes. It used to have its own well-trained investigators and prosecutors. In mid-2017, the TPLF dismantled the Commission and most of the professionals were demoted, and some were forced to leave the institution.

Thereafter, a new proclamation snatched the power to investigate and prosecute corruption crimes from the commission and gave it to the Federal police. This is a major problem since prosecutors have to depend on the investigation of the Police. It widely known that the police often kill investigations before the case reaches to the Ministry of Justice prosecutors.

Currently, the anticorruption Commission exists in name only, it doesn’t have the power to investigate and prosecute corruption crimes. It prepares TV advertisements about how corruption is bad. If the government is committed to anticorruption, it should empower the Commission to investigate and direct prosecution in its own way and it should be staffed by well-trained professionals.

Lessons from other countries.

Ethiopia should learn from other countries. The Malawi vice president was recently arrested for corruption. In Angola, the daughter of the late president is being investigated for corruption. No official, however high, should be immune from investigation and prosecutions. The government must go after big boys.

Danger of state capture.

Unless action is taken promptly, state capture is then next and final step in corruption in Ethiopia. The corrupt networks will completely take over the state and manipulate it to make laws to their advantage. That is what is happening today in Nigeria and Kenya. That danger faces Ethiopia today.

The inmates have taken over the asylum

The old saying that the “inmates (crazies) have taken over the asylum” is true.

Mayor Adanech Abibie of Addis Ababa recently recounted her experience in which corrupt judges are using their judicial power to release corruption suspects to ply their trade in flagrant violation of the law.

… The court decided and returned them to their positions. They told us to return them back. Even if we cannot do much else, we though we could remove them from their network [of corruption]. We wanted to dismantle their network. We wanted to dismantle their network of corruption [in city government]. We tried to move corrupt officials out of their positions  and reshuffle them. The court would not allow us. They ordered us to return them to their positions. All 460 of them. Even those that were demanding bribes in the amount of Birr 15, 20 and 30,000 birr for official seal. We identified the suspects and brought them to be held accountable before the court of law. We tried to get their immunity from prosecution removed through parliament. But because it is done through a network, it could not be done. They have even been able to get corruption suspects out of the country so they cannot be prosecuted. We have only one country. This is not the way to build the one country we have. To the best of my knowledge of the law, bail is not allowed for those accused of corruption. But they are let out on bail…

Bishop Desmond Tutu meets St. Francis of Assisi in Ethiopia

Bishop Tutu said you eat an elephant a bite at a time.

St. Francis of Assisi was equally practical. He said, “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

My view is slightly different and has remained the same for more than a decade and half.

In 2006, when I got involved in Ethiopian human rights advocacy, I pledged not to change Ethiopia but the hearts and minds of the young people who will change Ethiopia. 

I have played a small and insignificant part in ushering democracy and the rule of law in Ethiopia.

I have fought with pen and computer keyboard when Ethiopia faced tyranny and oppression.

I have fought with pen and computer keyboard when Ethiopia faced domestic terrorism and foreign state sponsored terrorism.

I have fought with pen and computer keyboard when Ethiopia faced crippling sanctions.

Now, I must stand up to fight the greatest of all threats Ethiopia has ever faced. The deadly cancer of corruption.

Nelson Mandela said, “After climbing a great hill, one finds that there are many more hills to climb.”

I am ready to climb the many great hills of corruption in Ethiopia with the young people of Ethiopia.

So I say to Ethiopia’s Cheetahs, “Let’s go after that mean old corruption monster, grab him by the tail and throw him into the abyss.”

I invite all diaspora Ethiopians to join me the “Crusade Against Corruption in Ethiopia.”