From left-wing liberation army into a government : the challenges of transtion and the case of TPLF/EPRDF




Berhe, Mulugeta Gebrehiwot

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The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) is a reform rebellion that came to power in 1991 and continues to rule with varying level of success in accordance to its promises. This dissertation attempts to provide a full account of the evolution of the EPRDF government and challenges to its promised state building project, and seeks to explore the extent to which its early guiding philosophy and leadership evolved and shaped its transition to and performance as a government. Understanding current gaps and limitations of the EPRDF in government and the key drivers for those is not possible without a comprehensive understanding of the genesis of the organization, its model of leadership and its institutional values. Unfortunately, very few and incomplete accounts of the liberation war are now available in writing as a result of the difficulties of the war environment. Accounts of the critical moments and decisions that shaped the internal institutional values and norms of the organization are mostly available in the memories of individual leaders who by now are at their retirement age and some are already passing away without writing their memoirs. In researching and writing this dissertation, I brought a special perspective to bear as an author: I was a veteran of the armed struggle, a member of its leadership team during the revolutionary war, and played a role during the transitional government and its critical initial years in government. My role in the struggle is the strength and the limitation of this study. The findings of the study show that it some of the critical success factors in the civil war have much to do with the EPRDF early organization and leadership philosophy that guided the movement through the different phases of its organizational growth, leading to maturity and eventual development into the governing political party. Understanding its wartime values and strategies helps understand not only the drivers for its successes in government but also its limitations. The research examines the critical factors for the success of the rebellion in comparison to various contending rebellions that failed. It also chronicles the evolution of the EPRDF into a party that leads a government, its achievements and limitations. It also illustrates how the behavior of the organization and its model of leadership evolved in government. The evolution of the leadership is chronicled along the different phases of in war and in government. Analyzing the economic and political model of the organization is not the focus of the research and will only be covered as much as it helped understand the leadership model, which the researcher considered to be at the center of its successes and limitations. The research places the EPRDF rebellion and government in a comparative theoretical context of African rebellions, civil wars, and transitions to democracy. It argues that the EPRDF represents an important and under-recognized case that demands a revision to the dominant paradigms on African liberation movements and their transition into government. The EPRDF case shows the limitation of the taxonomy of reform rebellions as it overlooks critical variations that shaped its internal behavior. The impact of its particular organizing philosophy of restructuring the Ethiopian state and its leadership culture of theorizing in particular played an important role in shaping its internal behavior. The study also highlights the limitation of the literature in understanding the ‘stateness’ of violent non-state actors and its impacts in their transition to a ruling party. The ERPDF’s high level of ‘stateness’ has contributed significantly to its transition from leading a war into leading a government.



Liberation Movement, Transition, Leadership, Organizational environment, Organizational weapon, TPLF/EPRDF