Civil Service

Ethiopia Table of Contents

Upon assuming power in 1974, the Derg decided to undertake extensive reforms of the central administration. Rather than engage in immediate, wholesale reorganization, the Derg concentrated on replacing career bureaucrats in the key ministries of interior, community development, and justice. If the Derg had purged the upper echelons of the entire civil service after 1974, there would have been insufficient numbers of educated, skilled, and experienced managers to conduct the normal affairs of government.

In general, the Derg allowed most bureaucrats who had served the emperor to remain at their posts and appointed army officers to monitor their activities in every ministry. At the same time, the Derg attempted to recruit into the civil service former high school and college students who were then serving in the zemecha. This group tended to be committed to revolutionary change, but it often lacked the bureaucratic skills to achieve this goal. Moreover, although the campaigners generally favored the revolution, many opposed military rule, and once in positions of authority they undermined rather than promoted the regime's goals.

Eventually, the Derg required all civil servants and political appointees to undergo reeducation to acquire the proper socialist orientation. Many civil servants, as well as military personnel, traveled to the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and Cuba for ideological training. After the establishment in 1976 of the Yekatit '66 Ideological School and after the creation of COPWE in 1979, hundreds more could be taught Marxist-Leninist doctrine inside Ethiopia. Some became party cadres and served in various parts of the country to encourage and monitor the political education and economic productivity of both government agencies and the citizenry at large.

In the early days of the revolution, the central bureaucracy was characterized by constant bickering among the various ministries and a general lack of interministerial coordination. This situation forced the Derg to create the Ministry of National Resource Development in 1975 to promote agricultural development as a possible solution to interministerial coordination problems and to address the problem of low productivity within society at large. By 1976 this strategy had failed, and the functions of the Ministry of National Resource Development were distributed among several ministries and parastatal bodies. The creation of the Central Planning Supreme Council in 1978 represented a more concerted attempt to coordinate bureaucratic participation in development. This strategy worked for a brief time, but by the late 1980s bureaucratic inefficiency had returned.

Starting in 1978, the Mengistu regime systematically attempted to enhance its ability to control the general population, and to a certain extent it used the civil service for this purpose. The state bureaucracy expanded enormously in the first decade of the revolution, and control by the military deepened and expanded in the process. This bureaucratic expansion increased the coercive capacity of the state and laid the groundwork for the establishment of the all-embracing vanguard party. After the creation of the WPE in 1984, the regime established a wide array of government institutions that radiated from the center out to the regional and local levels. Leadership positions in these new institutions were used as patronage by the regime to reward loyal supporters or to co-opt potential adversaries in the military. Although patronage had been employed by Haile Selassie, it was different under the Mengistu regime in that it was not rooted in the traditional social order but rather in the spoils accruing to a transitional state that controlled access to wealth and power.

The inauguration of the WPE resulted in a blurring of the lines between party and state. As noted previously, party operatives tended to interject themselves freely into the areas of administration and government policy. For example, party cadres had important political and intelligencegathering roles in the workplace. The Working People's Control Committees (WPCCs), created in 1981, had come to serve as a somewhat threatening "watchdog" over productive activities. WPCCs were supposed to be involved in the implementation, supervision, and follow-up of government policies, regulations, and directives. WPCCs also could audit the accounts of any government institution, mass organization, or private individual. By 1984 the regime was crediting WPCCs with having uncovered numerous incidents of fraud, corruption, waste, and counterrevolution. For all its authoritarianism, the Haile Selassie regime was never able to achieve such tight surveillance. The Derg's capacity in this area was an indication of the effectiveness of the training provided by security advisers from the Soviet Union and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany).

Although it was difficult to calculate its actual size, the central bureaucracy evidently grew tremendously after the revolution. The dimensions of this growth can be deduced from an analysis of consumption expenditures, which include wages and salaries. Figures available in late 1989 indicated that between 1974 and 1980 such expenditure grew from about 5 billion birr to almost 8 billion birr, an increase of 60 percent. Central administration and defense accounted for about 80 percent of the 1980 figures. The growth of the public bureaucracy, even when the party bureaucracy was excluded, represented a tremendous drain on the resources available for development. Moreover, it appeared that if the regional reforms announced in 1987 were to be implemented fully, the civil service would have to expand even further.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress