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The Natures of Oromo Democratic Party's Political Reform in Ethiopia

The Natures of Oromo Democratic Party’s (ODP’s) Political Reform
 in Ethiopia: The Transformative Approach

By: Dr. Teshome Adugna[1] (February 8, 2019)

Oromia Planning and Economic Development Commission (OPEDC)

1.     Introduction

The social empowerment of a given nations based on the political system[2]implemented in the country. The political system mainly affected by the nature or characteristics of political reform. Political reform means improving the laws and constitutions in accordance with expectations of the public.  It aim at opening the democratic space of civic participation and involve comprehensive reforms of the state institutions and the constitutional, legal and policy frameworks which shaped the relationship between citizens and the state (Mohamed Salih, Andreas Eshete and Samuel Assefa, 2018). The expansion of democracy in Europe, Latin America, and East Asia over the last 30 years has spurred extensive debate on the internal and external factors that helps political reform.

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Many countries experiences revealed that political reform has been more effective for political stability and economic development than political revolution[3]. For instance China has undertaken incremental political reform since 1970s that achieved political stability and economic transformation. Sub Saharan African (SSA) countries also implemented different forms of political reform to attain economic growth and good governance. Dozens of African countries experienced political liberalization in the late 1980s and 1990s. According to Adebayo Olukoshi ( 2003) the major reason for the political reform in SSA countries were a prolonged economic crisis, the end of the old East-West Cold War, the significant weakening of the African state, the widespread resort to violence and arms and the Emergence of a Diaspora of recent migrants from Africa.


Ethiopia has little history in political reform during the last century. The country was administered by Monarchy without democracy and political party between 1930 and 1974. The military government removed the Monarchy and introduced the autocratic socialism government between 1974 and 1991. The failure of the Military government in 1991 helped to start new political reform in the country. The ruling EPRDF has exerted efforts to introduce multiparty[4] federal government between 1991 and 2018. During the last three decades the country has experienced noncompetitive dominance party political system which affects the political participation and democratic consolidation.  

Recently the country has passed through political and social unrest since 2014. Different political parties have tried to come up with political solutions to resolve the political instability. One of these political parts who came up with forward looking political reform was ODP (Oromo Democratic Party). Since the start the crisis, ODP take valuable and effective measure to respond for political turmoil in the region and country.  Many scholars or writers could not understand the nature of the new ODP’s political reform. Few scholars talk about the management political transition in Ethiopia without understanding the nature of the political reform. Other writers considered ODP’s reform is only the change in the party name than political approach. According to Dr. Worku Burayu(2018) the greatest trick the ODP now jerked is to convince us that OPDO has changed to ODP. But we are live witness that ODP is beautiful in name but ugly in action.

This writer only accepted the change in the party name than the change in party (ODP) action. The major purpose of this article was to solve this knowledge gap and initiate debate on the political reform of ODP. The purpose of this article is to explain the nature ODP’s political reform to transform the nation and nationality in the country. This brief article has five sections including the introduction. The second section explains the concepts and importance of political reform. The third section briefly identifies and explains the major approaches of political reform. The fourth section presents the nature of ODP’s political reform in Ethiopia. The last section is summary.

  1. Concepts and importance of  political reform

In common sense reform refers to removing social, economic and political barrier to improve the wellbeing of the people. Political reform is a kind of compulsory institutional evolution under the leadership of government (He Zengke, 2007). It is a process of political institutional innovations. The political reform facilitates the reconstruction in the political system by redefining the relations between the government, political parties, and civil society, in order to fully open the field of participation. It is the gradual process of change within the established legal institution that is aimed at preserving but improving the existing government. Most political reform groups are non-violent, but can turn violent especially when reformers are attacked by their opponents or the government. Reform movements take several years to make an impact and also once change is made it is usually permanent.

The effective political reform would have to go beyond the narrow scope of bureaucratic rationalization and extend into many sensitive areas. In Deng’s judgment, political reform was the implementation of measures that would improve the efficiency of the government and motivates the people so that economic reform could move forward. The political reform main purpose is not to change power rather to solve social problems in a given country. If the reform carry out rashly the radical political reform such as multi-party system and general election, then reformer themselves will become the victims of the radical reform before they could gain any benefits since the reformer will loss the control on the reform and the opposition party will replace them to be in power. The political history of Argentina[5] is the best example of the failed or collapsed political reform between 1912 and 1983.

Political reform should focus on the ideal model and goals of political reform, its path, motivation mechanism, historical evolution and its future. Therefore advancing continually incremental political reform and opening up gradually citizen’s political participation has become the rational strategic choice (He Zengke, 2007). A reform is important to solve the structural problem in the particular sector or region. The reform agenda covers both strengthening democracy and enhancing human rights protection, the growth of opposition parties and the opening up of electoral processes were major changes on the African political landscape in the 1990s. This reform implemented in Africa during the last three decade accelerated economic growth and development to realise social transformation.  According to Michael R. Reich (1995), the following are the major importance of political reforms:

Ø It represents a selection of values that express a particular view of society.

Ø Reform has distinct distributional consequences in the allocation of benefits and costs.

Ø Reform promotes competition among groups that seek to influence consequences.

Ø Reform can have significant consequences for a regime’s political stability.

  1. Approaches of political reforms

There are different approaches or path on the implementations of political reforms in developed and developing countries during the last decades. According to IMF (2007), there are four alternative paths of political change or reform. The first is Great Britain (1832-1928) which was the gradual move to consolidated democracy. The Britain political reform consolidates the democratic practice and political stability in the country. The second approach is the political reform which was not able to consolidate democracy. The political history of Argentina revealed that the frequent collapse of the political reform between 1912 and 1983 that affected the democratic development in the country. There were a large swing between democracy and oligarchy.  The third approach is the political reform that shifts from democracy to single party system. In Singapore the single ruling party PAP (People’s Action Party) dominate the outcome of the political election during 1948 and 1963 with boomed economy and lower inequality. The last path is the South Africa approach between 1900 and 1994 from repressive apartheid to democracy. .


In general the approach of political reform categorized into two parts: revolutionary and incremental political reform. The revolutionary political reform indicates the dynamic political change that involves the regime change and institutional replacement. The latter incremental political reform is depends on gradualism[6] or evolution method that relay on local context. Incremental reform is a process to advance reform through making experiments, to move forward step by step, implement the plan from parts first then to the unity.  Chinese democratic political development has move forward along the way of incremental political reform and had made significant achievements (He Zengke, 2007). The China[7]  political reform characterized with the liberalization of politics with our democracy. Political liberalization in China[8] started in response to the legitimacy crisis that the CCP suffered in the walk of Deng Xiaoping’s economic reform in the late 1970s, which relaxed Mao’s totalitarian control over the China society (Suisheng Zhao, 2003).

  1. The nature of ODP’s political reforms in Ethiopia

The quality and effectiveness of the given political reform should be evaluated based on its nature or characteristics. The purpose of ODP’s political reform was to make the federal and regional government more accountable and responsive to citizen concerns and aspiration. In this regards the party has taken different measure to improve the political system. During the last ten months measure were taken in broadening the political space and public participation in decision- making. Ethiopia’s political and economic reforms have brought about unprecedented democratic opening hailed across the country and beyond (Mohamed Salih,Andreas Eshete and Samuel Assefa, 2018).

So it is important to understand the nature of the recent political reform initiated by Oromo Democratic Party in Ethiopia. The nature of political reform explains the characteristics, purpose or the expected outcome of the given political reform.  The following are the major natures of ODP’s political reform to transform the country.  

Ø  Political liberalization[9] with democracy[10]: The first nature of the recent ODP’s political reform is political liberalization with democracy in the countries. Political liberalization can mean any reform that enhances the individual freedom enjoyed by citizen (Chris Zambelis, 2005). The national reform encourages and recognized the independent political thinking to realize fast social transformation. Any political party promotes its political program peacefully. Nobody criminalized or imprison due to its political stand. The government after reform removed a number of political parties from terrorist list though parliament decision. The new administration decided to unblock a number of website, blogs and radio and TV-stations including two Diaspora TV station (ESAT and OMN)-which were previously unavailable to the population.  Ethiopia new political reform implemented both political liberalization[11] and democracy.

Ø  National unity and prosperity: The second nature of the political reform introduced by ODP was to strength the national unity and prosperity in the country. The reform implemented in the ruling party created suitable political environment to all citizen inside and outside the country to work on national unity and prosperity. The new philosophy of “MEDEMER” coined by Dr. Abiye to bring all nation and nationality under the new united and strong Ethiopia.  Forgiveness, peace and love are the major uniting instruments for all nations in the country to transform the nation and nationality. All foreign based political party enters the country after the reform to work on national unity and prosperity. The new ODP’s political reform encouraged everyone to focus on the new united and prosperous Ethiopia than group or individual differences.   

Ø  Pro-poor democracy: The lack of pro-poor democracy during the blast three decades in the country affected the effectiveness of the rural transformation. The pro-poor spending allocated by the government could not bring the desire outcome due to poor ownership by the poor at local level.  The higher economic growth achieved during the last two decades failed to include the low-income earning people which worsen inequality and social injustice. The economic growth achieved in the country during the last two decades brings migration, urbanization, disruption to livelihood and social mores and social upheaval (Alex de Waal, 2018).

Lack of real democracy in the country excludes the poor from resource ownership. The ODP’s political reform focused on pro-poor democracy that enhances involvement of poor people in political participation and decision making to improve their livelihood. Pro-poor spending without active participation of the poor could not bring the expected change. The major target of the ODP’S reform is to consolidate the pro-poor democracy with existed fast economic growth. Public participation at higher level improves equality and faire resources distribution. According to this reform the poor not only participate in electing their representative but they would be the main beneficiary of the national economic development[12] through employment opportunity and asset ownership.

Ø  Consolidating multiparty political system: The experience of dominance party system in Ethiopia challenged by social and economic factors due to inability of the ruling party[13] to change itself with the need of the people. On January 2, 2018, the EPRDF’s executive committee released a statement following weeks of closed-door meeting. The statement explained that an ‘absence of internal party democracy’ and narrow group interests had become ‘obstacle’ for the developmental state and blamed governance failure and weak leadership for conflict and instability in the country (Mohamed Salih, Andreas Eshete and Samuel Assefa, 2018).

 The new political reform   encourages the multiparty system that broadens the political space in the countries. More than 20 foreign based opposition parties have entered the country to join the new reform. The main opposition groups OLF (Oromo Liberation Front), ONLF (Ogden National Liberation Front) and Ginbot 7 had been removed from the national list of terrorist organizations[14] and their leadership accepted invitation of the government and returned to Ethiopia to consolidate the multiparty political system.

Ø   Modernize the political system: The new ODP’s political reform expected to transform the political culture of the country from traditional to modern political practices that would improve economic and social interaction of the nations. Modern political thinking encourages everyone take part in peace and stability without their respective political ideology. It also emphasis on institutional value and rule of law that uphold social and economic equalization. Modern political system not support or encourage any group working to specific political ideology by the cost/interest of national unity.  In the same way as long as the country gets peace, stability and economic transformation any idea would be accommodated to promote innovative idea or new thinking. Such modernization of political system in the country enhanced the representative democracy[15] by increasing political and civic organization participation. ODP recognizes that modern political system would have effective institutional mechanisms to settle political differences to enhance national and regional unity.

Ø  Strengthening democratic institution:  The ODP’s new political reform is aware of the benefit of accountable and autonomous democratic institution in political transformation or modernization. ODP believe that the regional and national injustice and unfairness is the outcome of weak democratic institution in the country. The last three years political crisis, the growth of corruption in the public services and the growing disruption over the fundamentals of constitution, suggest that the institutionalization is not sufficiently consolidated (Alex de Waal, 2018). The current reform focus on strengthening the democratic institution like election board, human right commission, parliament and ombudsman. After the reform new leadership assigned for democratic institution based on competency, qualification and experiences than party loyalty. Strong democratic institution facilitates protection of human right violation and social injustice.

Ø  Economic reforms with political transformation: The political reform introduced in the country accompanied with economic reform.  The new reformist government decided to encourage efficient resources allocation and public participation to accelerate economic development. A number of adviser councils established to come up with alterative policy prescription to carry out economic development with structural change. The ruling party also decides to privatize partly or fully the public enterprise to solve the existed economic problems. According to Alex de Waal (2018) the partial privatization Telecom and Ethiopia Airline will bring help fill immediate gaps in the national finance especially foreign currency. In addition to this different economic reforms measure taken to improve national business environment to speed up economic development. The government economic reform measure with political reform improves the social justice, resources distribution and equity. Many countries political reform was ineffective due to its inability to use immediate corrective measure on economic liberalization with political change.

Ø  Focus on regional peace and integration: The new political reform started in Ethiopia extended restoration of peace and integration in the Horn Africa. Regional peace and integration in the East Africa helps the political stability and economic development. Dr. Abiy’s new regional integration initiative has solved the two decades conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea. In the same way various regional agreements was signed between Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia. Many countries[16] and multilateral institutions also promised to finance cross-country infrastructure development project to strength the regional integration. Such regional integration and peace agreement accelerate economic and social development.

Ø  Constructivism than idealism political reform: The ODP’s political reform is more relied on local context with new knowledge (new know how) or winning idea. The new reform measure applied research outcome that involves local people and concerned institutions. Now the question is not about ideology rather solving the problems of our people with effective planning and policy implementation. During the last decades various policy measures taken to solve the national problem without consulting the public at large and professional in particular. For example government project spending on sugar and fertilizer factories are good examples of failed government intervention in the name of developmental state political ideology.

The country need to go beyond ideology that focuses on the social transformation and economic development. ODP’s political reform is emphasis on idea that based on the local context that ownership and social inclusion in economic development. Ideology that could not be owned and applied at local context could not transform our people life. We need constructivism with social ownership, understanding and participation to solve economic and political problems.

  1. Summary

The quality or value of a given political party would be evaluated by its application or use of dynamic of political reform.  Any reformed political party considers the international reality with the level of social, political and economic development prevailed in the country. ODP emerged with the broad-based and wide range political and economic reform in Ethiopia. The success of this reform depended on the understanding level of the public at large rand intellectual in particular.  The new reform measure taken by ODP has specific nature that transform the country to the higher level. The major nature of the new ODP’s  political reform include political liberalization with democracy, national unity and prosperity, pro-poor democracy, consolidating multiparty political system, modernize the political system, strengthening democratic institution, economic reforms with political transformation, focus on regional peace and integration and constructivism than idealism reform.  

This ODP’s transformative political reform invented based on the practical evaluation conducted on the national and regional level. It is incremental political reform that broadens people participation and social development at national and regional level.  This progressive and inclusive political reform owned and implemented by concerned people, national and international institutions or organization to create the strong, united and modern Ethiopia.


  1. References

Adebayo Olukoshi,(2003): Changing Patterns of Politics in Africa, Council for the Development of Economic and Social Research in Africa, Dakar  

Alex de Waal, 2018 Developmental State or Political Marketplace?

CHRIS ZAMBELIS(2005 ):The Strategic Implications of Political Liberalization and Democratization in the Middle East 

Chris Zambelis, 2005): The strategic Implication of Polatical Liberalization and Democratization in the Middle East 

He Zengke (2007): international political reform and transition toward democracy,

He Zengke(2007): Incremental Political Reform and Transition toward Democracy 

Michael R. Reich (1995): The politics of agenda setting in international health: Child health versus adult health in developing countries

Mohamed Salih,Andreas Eshete and Samuel Assefa(2018): Refelaction on Expanding Ethiopia’s Democratic Space, Aspiration, Opportunities ,Choices ,Frieddrich Ebert Stiftung. 

Suisheng Zhao ( 2003).: Political Liberalization without Democratization: Pan Wei’s proposal for political reform, journal of Contemporary China

Suisheng Zhao(2003) Political Liberalization without Democratization, Journal of Contemporary Chinan

The Danish Immigration service (2018): Ethiopia Poltical Situation and treatments of Opposition, Danish Ministry of immigration and integration  

Worku Burayu(2018) Oromo Democratic Party (ODP): Beautiful in Name, Ugly in Action , October 11, 2018

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[1] The author can be reached by email address:

[2] A political system is a system of politics and government. It is usually compared to the legal system, economic system, cultural system, and other social systems.

[3] Revolution is refers to the Successful attempt to overthrow an existing government, aimed at changing the political and social structures as well as the leadership of a country.

[4] A multi-party system is a system in which multiple political parties across the political spectrum run for national election, and all have the capacity to gain control of government offices, separately or in coalition.

[5] The political history of Argentina revealed an extraordinary pattern where democracy created in 1992, undermined in 1930, re-created in 1946, undermined in 1955, fully re-created in 1973, undermined in 1976 and finally re-established in 1983.

[6] In politics, gradualism is the hypothesis that social change can be achieved in small, discrete increments rather than in abrupt strokes such as revolutions or uprisings. Gradualism is one of the defining features of political liberalism and reformism.

[7] Political liberalization differs markedly from democratization, since it has little to do with enhancing the public’s ability to directly participate in government. Instead, it expands the space of participation in the public sphere (Chris Zambelis, 2008).

[8] Following Deng’s call, political reform was carried out along with the development of economic reform. As a result, political liberalization has taken place evident in the following three broad aspects of social life. First, the interference of the state in the daily life of Chinese people has been reduced. Second, the opportunities for popular participation at grass-roots levels have been expanded. Third, the role of the Chinese people’s congresses has been redefined. Together, the reforms have greatly relaxed the degree of political control over Chinese society albeit without fundamentally altering one-party dominance(Suisheng Zhao, 2003)

[9] Political liberalization implies an easing of repression and extension of civil liberties within an authoritarian regime.

[10] Democratization signifies a move toward greater degrees of political participation in existing government system. In essence, it enhances the collective freedom of the citizen vis-a-vis the state, especially in terms of public’s ability to participate in and influence the government. (Chris Zambelis, 2005)

[11] Few countries like China implemented political liberalization without democracy. Other countries accepted democracy without political liberalization. 


[12] In the last two decades the economic growth achieved in the country accompanied with corruption, market imperfection and inflation that highly affected the poor. Few elite enjoy the economic growth by using the market imperfection to accumulate illegal resources.

[13] The de facto one party system in Ethiopia for the last thirteen years has been extremely unhealthy for Ethiopian democracy. Among other things the de facto merger of the EPRDF with the state apparatus has meant that the EPRDF as party lost its identity (Alex de Waal, 2018).  

[14] The parliament passed a Bill of Amnesty in June 2018 that annuals the charges against all individuals, at home and abroad, except those who are charged with murder and rape.

[15] A representative democracy is a system where citizens of a country vote for government representatives to handle legislation and ruling the country on their behalf.

[16]  Italy, EU and UAE are the major countries and multilateral institutions promised to finance road and rail way projects.