AWA: student activist, professional and public servant SOLUTIONS WITH DEBTERAW, XII

AWA: student activist, professional and public servant

Call me by my name, address or title By Obo Arada Shawl – July 23, 2009

This is the final piece of article written in memory of a student activist, a planner in transport & communications and a public servant. His name was Assegid Wolde Amanuel (AWA). His professional address extended from Moyale in the south, Assab in the east, Karora in the north and Kurmurk in the west labeled as MAKK ኤትዮጵያ. His job title was an economist and later a minister of Transport & Communications. His civil title was Ato Assegid as opposed to ግራዝማች ፤ ቀጝዝማች ወይም ጛድ


In the past two articles, I have indicated AWA’s participation in the Ethiopian Student Movement as well as in his professional expertise in transport & communication sectors of the Ethiopian economy where it is believed that Transport and Communication are the nerve centers for any meaningful development.

Aethiopia is considered to be a backward nation not because of its lack of social, religious or cultural factors but of its undeveloped modes of transport and communications. In Aethiopia almost 80%-90% of its passenger and freight are moved by traditional mode of transport such as walking and horses for traveling, pack animals such as donkeys and mules for transporting goods and services.

As a public servant, AWA has facilitated the movement of Aethiopians to and from. Doing so, the interaction of peoples of Aethiopia whether in going to war or running away from war was accomplished by AWA’s responsibility via his professional understanding of public service not military service. In other words the interactions of T&C have brought the Eathiopian people to a better understanding of cooperation though not necessarily of coordination (CC).

Public Service

I know that there are individuals who think that working under the Monarchy or the DERG would automatically qualify them to be servants of Haile Sellassie and Menghistu but not of the Public. Such ideas emanate from people who were neither ever landed in professional jobs nor do have a clue about a clandestine political struggle – where freedom of any kind is banned. I bet the contribution of those professionals who had worked under the Monarchy or the DERG could weigh more than those who were in the battlefields. Let the benefit and cost analysis begin to roll – sabotaging the aims and objectives of militarism as well as of feudalism.

Public sector is about “budgeting” whereas in the private sector it is about “cost”. Transport and communications sector in Eathiopia was and is public, private and autonomous. From this we can understand how difficult it was to evaluate and pinpoint AWA’s role in this sector of economy especially when it was dominated by a public policy dubbed as the “revolutionary Ethiopia”.

By the way, what is public policy? Public policy is an attempt by a government to address a public issue. In public policy, there are three parts (PPP),

  • Problems

  • Players and

  • Policy

The problem in AWA’s case was the issue that needed to be addressed namely the transport of people, goods and services.

The player is the individual or group of individuals that is influential in forming a plan to address the problem in question. Again in AWA’s case the Central Planners of the DERG dubbed as the agents of the so-called revolution had their models from GDR and Moscow whereas the model of T&C for Assegid was from the West, resulting in a conflict of visions.

Policy is the finalized course of action decided upon by the government in this case Menghistu and his military cronies. AWA has nothing to do with top level of decision-making body. In most cases, policies were widely open to interpretation by non-governmental players, including those in the private sector. In this case, the role and influence of AWA was limited due to his non-membership holder of workers of Ethiopian party alias COPWE.

How was Public policy defined? It is defined as the course of action or inaction taken by government entities in regard to particular issue or issues. Normally, public policy was to be embodied in constitutions, legislative acts, and judicial decisions. The era of AWA’s public service was the era of revolution and counter-revolution.

Ministry of Transport & Communications

Politically if not psychologically, anything that flies in the sky, crawls on land, swims in sea or water, was under the “Ministry of the DERG”. Technically and in practice though it was a different matter. Everyone and everybody had his/her own game plan. A country of conspiracy and secrecy, the end result is what and where we are now.

However, for the ministry of transport and communications where AWA had spent his entire professional and public life, the following procedures were relevant

The rational model for the public policy-making process can be divided into the following three parts:

  • Agenda setting

  • Option-formulation and

  • Implementation.

Within the agenda-setting stage, the agencies such as the Highway Authorities and government officials from the Central Planning used to meet to discuss the problem at hand. In the second stage, option-formulation, alternative solutions are considered and final decisions are made regarding the best policy. Consequently, the decided policy is implemented in the final stage. Implied within this model is the fact that the needs of the Aethiopian societies are a priority for the players involved in the policy-making process. Also, it is believed that the government will follow through on all decisions made by the final policy.

Unfortunately, those who frame the issue to be addressed by policy used to exert an enormous amount of influence over the entire T&C process through their political affiliations, personalities, and personal interests. The final outcome of the process, as well as its implementation, was therefore not as effective as that which could result from a purely rational process. The Public policy though it continued to be vital in addressing economic and social concerns of societies, the DERG, notwithstanding along with its loyal friends had collapsed on its own weight.

AWA had the skills and knowledge to understand not only the complexities of transport and communications but also the feudal mentality of many of his colleagues’ vis-à-vis his revolutionary contemporaries’ vision and mission. The following facts and figures could indicate the nature of AWA’s industry in which he was involved.

On the one hand, the costs of infrastructure is astronomical as shown in the examples below

  • Roads cost $410,000 per km

  • Railways cost $900,000 per km

  • Ports cost $40-60 million per berth

  • Airports cost $300 per 1 passenger capacity

The above figures are in us dollars and are obtained from World Statistical Data

On the other hand, demand for freight and passenger was very high. Transport is essential not only in developed nations but also in developing countries that we tend to take for granted.

Transport and communications not only are expensive but also they are complex in the sense that we have also what is known as the “hardware” and the “software” infrastructures. AWA was mainly involved in the “software” infrastructure and as such it was/is more than we think we know enough about people to be involved in this type of infrastructure investment. AWA was a classical example to be misunderstood.

AWA has definitely assisted in the development of transport and communications such as roads, ports, airlines, railways, river and sea development as well as in the “software” infrastructure investment that were/are mostly financed by the World Bank and international finance capital. A case in point was that AWA has sent his employees for further studies for over two years while other ministers and authorities send their trainees for short duration in order to buy consumer goods from abroad notwithstanding the long term benefits of our country Eathiopia.


AWA’s support for DEMOCRACIA did not seem to be born out of a naïve sense that democracy means or will necessarily brings rapid economic progress. Unlike many of his colleagues AWA did not define democracy in terms of procedural terms to the protection of civil liberties, participation in decision-making, voting election and governance reforms. AWA knew when such democracy fails, people will have to resort to another form of government. The MIESO group as well as GINBOT 7 had confirmed HIS POINTS of view.

AWA’s Democracy was a substantive outcome like economic development or social justice. Demand for Democracies emanates from

  • Understanding democracy

  • Political awareness

  • Political knowledge

  • Formal education and

  • Membership in the student movement

The above criteria had solidified AWA’s belief in a public service that was based not only on a fundamental change of economics but also on a political system of government.

In contrast to AWA’s work colleagues the right to rule is ascribed to an office rather to a person. AWA was loyal to laws and to the “Eway Revolution”. AWA did not pay loyalty to the big bosses either to Emperor Haile Sellassie or the Dictator, Menhgistu and in return AWA’s subordinates were expected not to pay loyalty to him but to the laws and institutions of Aethiopia.

For AWA, no challenge was more profound than controlling corruption as he had believed then that when public resources bleed and as public officials serve their own ends rather than the public good. AWA’s dilemma was not to be deciphered so easily.

On the hand as economists love to say, AWA understood

  1. As Development and governance suffer by the policy of the DERG

  2. As the conflict intensifies by the nationalists

Aethiopians would turn to alternative regimes.

While on the other hand, AWA has realized that

No country in Africa was suffering between democracy and pseudo democracy than Aethiopia as

  1. Civil liberties were constrained

  2. Opposition rights were tenuous

Because of the above dilemma, AWA’s aspiration was geared to the following two principles

  • To achieve sustainable development, democracy would not stand still; freedom alone will not be enough

  • Democratic institutions to control corruption and constraint would have to be installed.

The exercise of power by the DERG may have seemed to AWA as the delivery of public goods, not private ones. He might have believed sometimes that the revolution was in the right course. This was his dilemma. He was detached from the true clandestine revolution that was going on by DEBTERAW’S EPRP.

AWA was in conflict with the current president of Ethiopia, Girma W. Giorgis as well as with the chairman of All Amhara party, Hailu Shawl, not because of their political positions but because of their personal ambitions and greed while dealing with investment in transport and communications. That was AWA that I know serving the public good.


The shaping of public policy in Aethiopia is not only a multifaceted process but that it was very complex. AWA could be considered as an advocacy group who had attempted to influence public policy through knowledge and participation without political pressures.

Because of AWA participation in the student movement to define the problems faced by the lack of progress and his commitment to be at the service to Aethiopian public, he was a typical an Eway Revolutionary who would have confirmed his struggle for a subtle transform of change in toppling the ethnic government, the international attempt to deplete the potential resources of Aethiopia that have been preserved for centuries by the Orthodox churches and the Monarchies. We salute his effort in the “Eway Revolution” to initiate DEMOCRACIA.

AWA was not in a position to educate the general public but in a position to the public policy makers to explain about the nature of problems in transport and communications and how to solve them not by decree by POSDCORB, an acronym coined by Luther Gullick for (Planning-Organizing-Staffing-Directing-Coordinating-Reporting-Budgeting). In my terminology, I call AWA as ጽንሐተ ምሁር akal not only because he had participated in the Aethiopian student movements but also he was a professional who could evaluate and limit funding from the World Bank and other international organizations. That was a public service in its own right.

Time and history will tell whether AWA belonged to the SAD or MAD generations of Ethiopia.


For questions or comments

This entry was posted in Articles. Bookmark the permalink.