Why Ethiopians must unite? (Part one of three) By Aklog Birara, PhD
As people, Ethiopians do not lack a history of courage and resiliency or a culture of collaboration and mutual tolerance. This is how generations of Ethiopians fought side by side, sacrificed their lives and properties, and preserved a remarkable country with extraordinary values, traditions and diverse people. This is how Ethiopia became a beacon of independence for all people of African origin and beyond while most of the so called third world suffered under the yoke of colonialism. Just take a look at the flags of numerous African countries and reflect on the meaning of independence and the heritage Ethiopians passed on to their African sisters and brothers. The flag is not a piece of cloth; it had meaning then and now.
This proud heritage does not belong to one or two ethnic or nationality groups. It belongs to all Ethiopians. Our willingness and readiness to set aside differences and accept our individual and collective identity as Ethiopians will determine the extent to which we, as Ethiopians, are determined to support the advancement of freedom, equality of opportunity, unity in diversity, political pluralism and shared prosperity within Ethiopia. It is no longer defensible to intellectualize and rationalize the problem. It is no longer defensible to be cynical. It is no longer defensible to stick to old norms of division and partisanship.
Accordingly, we must reject any and all political orientations that divide us and the country’s diverse people who possess the foundation for a common destiny and shared prosperity. In this connection, I believe that the now and the future are more critical than the gyrations and tribulations of history through which other peoples around the globe have gone through. There is no country in the world that has not gone through ‘bloody’ formations. Those of us who live in the United States ought to know this. America was not formed through a bloodless coup. Nor was Italy, Germany, China, Russia or the rest. Just think of this. A natural resource poor country devastated by wars and Imperial occupation, namely Korea, is today one of the most prosperous countries in the world. It has a per capital income of US$33,000. Korea and other developmental states in East Asia and the Pacific invested heavily into education and training and empowered millions, especially youth. These investments and the unleashing of the national private sector propelled fast growth; boosted individual incomes and transformed the structure of their national economies. More than anything else, these developmental states manifested a high level of nationalism and national purpose. These states capitalized on their youthful population; girls and women were integrated into their national economies.
In contrast, Ethiopia, with enormous natural resources including farmlands, waters and minerals and aid volume that are in excess of US$3 billion per year has a per capita income of US$350, almost a third of the Sub-Saharan African average. Korea transformed itself within a quarter of a century. The TPLF/EPRDF regime has been in power for more than 20 years and intends to cling to power indefinitely. It wastes the potential creativity, energy and productivity of the country’s youth population by forcing it to submit to party loyalty without which finding and holding on to a job is virtually impossible.
As a country, Ethiopia is not poor. It is potentially rich. It is still one of the poorest in the world because of poor, exclusive, greedy, cruel, discriminatory and oppressive political and socioeconomic governance. Just take a look at the statistics concerning gaps in incomes and wealth and you will see that uneven development and inequality are among the worst in the country’s history. Ethiopia possesses all of the prerequisites to make poverty history: ample arable lands and water resources, minerals, human capital and knowledge, strategic location, even financial resources. Yet, the Oxford University Multidimensional Poverty Index identified it and Niger as the two poorest countries in the world. Year after year, millions of Ethiopians depend on some form of emergency international food aid. Despite billions in foreign aid, the country cannot feed itself. Agricultural production has not kept up with population growth. The vast majority of Ethiopian farmers are land poor and increasingly landless. Provisions of land, credits, fertilizers, permits and other inputs are dictated by political loyalty.
Take unemployment and see who is affected. The government’s own statistical data shows that 1.6 million Ethiopians are unemployed: an understatement in a country where data is consistently manipulated and doctored. Most of the unemployed are girls and women. Unemployment in urban areas is either at par or worse than in North Africa and the Middle East. The government reports that unemployment ranges from a low of “20.6 percent overall and 27.7 percent for females.” Unemployment is highest for those between the ages of 15 and 49; and within this, highest for those in the 15 to 24 age bracket. Given job scarcity, the governing party can pick and choose among the best of the best on the basis of ethnicity and political loyalty. Unlike East Asian countries, merit and competence are thrown out of the window.
Ethiopia had a tradition that rewarded education and training. No more. The government’s own documents tell us that “unemployment for literate people is higher than for illiterate” people. Just think of it. Where in the world does a developmental state that that claims to be impartial and fair penalize the educated and pity one group against another for jobs and other opportunities? In East Asia and the Pacific, China and Brazil and others, education pays dividends for the individual as well as for the society.
The TPLF/EPRDF regime contends that the country has been and will grow at double digits. Yet, its own statistical office informs us that unemployment increased from 22 percent in 1994 to 26.4 percent in 1999. Who then benefits from the growth boom? Estimates are that unemployment in towns and urban areas is higher today than before. In Addis Ababa for which government data is available, the unemployment rate is 30.5 percent. Knowledgeable sources tell me that you should multiply this figure by a factor of at least 50 percent. In Glabella, the center of The Great Land Giveaway, unemployment is at least “25.6 percent.”
The social group that suffers the most is girls and women. It is largely this group that is forced to move out of the country in search of jobs. No matter how one looks at the data, the conclusion I reach is that, in Ethiopia and under this regime, it is predictable for someone to be born into poverty and to die poor.
It is heavily dependent on foreign aid and the provisions of humanitarian aid to feed millions. Hyperinflation is among the worst in the world. The educated and uneducated, the middle class and students, the poor and the unemployed are unable to feed themselves. Those who were able to purchase food and feed their families 30 to 40 years ago are no longer able to cope with scarcity and daily price escalation. Ethiopia deserves a smallholder farming revolution. This should have been and should be the government’s lead responsibility. Yet, the regime is more interested in obtaining foreign exchange by leasing and selling lands to foreign investors and domestic supporters than in empowering smallholders and domestic entrepreneurs with interest and potential to enter into commercial farming. Here is the lead economic and political reason. A poor, disempowered and disconnected “peasantry” is easier to control than a rural-based asset owning and prosperous smallholder farming community.
To be continued….
Author can be reached at Biraraa@yahoo.com