It's the development, stupid!

By Ephrem Madebo / September 1, 2010
Just days after the ground invasion of Iraq, 90% Americans approved President Herbert Bush's job performance. In just a little over a year, President Bush's job performance rating was 29%; and he eventually lost his re-election bid to Bill Clinton. Why? It’s the economy, stupid. President Barak Obama enjoyed 69% job approval rating in 2009, in August 2010; his approval rating was 42%. Why? Well, the jobless economic recovery may not be stupid, but it’s not astute either. In Ethiopia, the economy has been dormant for 12 of the past 19 years, but the man and party responsible for the dormancy are guaranteed to stay in power at least until 2015. In the last seven years, larger amounts of foreign aid and loan have over heated the Ethiopian economy. However, the heat of the economy gave more heat for less than 5% Ethiopians and left 95% of the population in the cold. If this is what Zenawi’s regime tells us- “economic development” It’s not only the development that is stupid - It’s the regime, Stupid!

The scope of economic development includes the process and policies by which a nation improves the economic, political, and social well-being of its people. In the last five years, the news from Addis Ababa has been all about “economic development”. I do value development, and nothing puts smile on my face than the news of economic development in my native country, Ethiopia. But, I also believe in the value of evidence and I am deeply cynical of anything contrary to reason or lacking evidence. I believe in having an open mind - ready to contemplate new ideas backed by persuasive evidence - but not an empty one. I am not ready to accept Zenawi’s development news that has neither sense, nor evidence.

The United Kingdom, a country that provides huge capital to Zenawi’s regime is the founding member of the UN; and it has one of the finest research universities in the world [Oxford]. According to the most recent poverty study carried by Oxford University and the UN, Ethiopia is the second poorest nation in the world. I’m sure Zenawi has been telling his UK counterpart about seven years of double-digit economic growth. Well, Zenawi tells anything anyone as long as he is getting dollar or pound. The question is why does the UK believe him? Who does PM David Cameron trust, the UN, an organization founded by his country? Oxford University (BNC, his alma mater)? Or, he just trusts Meles Zenawi, a person that has no acquaintance with the truth? I’m sure my inquiry gets a prompt reply from the British Primer, otherwise; he must know that the cruelest lies are often told in silence. As to Mr. Zenawi, his lies may take care of the present, but not the future.

Ethiopia has an adult population of about 43.6 million. Forty six percent or about 20 million of Ethiopia’s adult population wants to leave the country due to acute poverty, political repression, human right abuse and lack of educational opportunities. Imagine 46% of the work force wants to get out of a fast democratizing country whose economy is growing in double-digit numbers. What a Joke! Other than Egypt, no other African nation receives financial aid in excess of $3 billion per annum, and no country in Africa boasts double-digit economic growth like Ethiopia. Paradoxically, no country in Africa has poor economic, social or political performance like Ethiopia. Let’s closely look at the following table.

Countries Life Exp. Infant Mort. Cellphone in millions Agri in economy Agri workforce percentage Roadway in km
Ethiopia 55.4 80.8 3.2 43.5% 85% 36,469
Kenya 58 54.7 16.3 19.7% 75% 160,886
Uganda 52.7 64.8 8.56 22.5% 82% 70,746
Ghana 60.1 51.2 11.5 33.6% 56% 62,221

For a long time Ethiopia’s nickname was the “infant death trap” of Africa. After 20 years of Zenawis’ rule, 8% new born Ethiopians do not live to see their first birth day; and Ethiopia is still Africa’s infant death trap. With most Africans living on $2 a day or less, no one expected Africa to do well in the cell phone market. But, things changed when African nations began to privatize their telephone monopolies in the mid-1990. Today, cell phones are catapulting rural Africa to the 21st century. Thanks to Ethiopia’s Mr. “Double-digit” growth man, Ethiopia is the only country that resisted privatization; and as a result, only one in 27 Ethiopians has a cell phone while one in 11 Africans is a mobile subscriber. In Kenya, just south of the boarder, 16.3 million Kenyans [42%] enjoy the use of mobile technology, in Ethiopia; only 3.2 million Ethiopians [3.7%] have access to mobile technology.

Seventy two million [85%] Ethiopians are farmers, but they cannot feed themselves, and as a result 16 million Ethiopians face starvation. Thirteen million Ghanaians [56%] are farmers. Today, Ghana is a leading exporter of farm products, and three meals a day is the norm in Ghana, not the exception. Both Ghana and Ethiopia were dogged by dictatorship, poverty & instability. Today, Ghana is a vibrant democracy in Africa and the future of Ghana is at the good hand of Ghanaians. Ethiopia is the symbol of ethnic dictatorship where 90% of its population lives in acute poverty, and the future of Ethiopians is darker than the darkest night.

Kenya, with a population of 39 million and a total land area of 580,367 sq km has 160, 856 kilometers of roadway while Ethiopia with more than twice the population of Kenya and a total land area of 1,104,300 sq km has only 36, 469 kilometers of roadway. Unlike Ghana, Kenya is not the beacon of democracy in Africa, but still Kenyans enjoy a much better freedom of speech, freedom of press and independent judiciary than Ethiopians. Just last week Kenya ratified a new constitution while its northern border is stuck with a constitution even the authors themselves don’t respect. The above table shows that the three countries are much better than Ethiopia in almost all of the economic indicators, but none of the leaders of those nations brags double-digit economic growth. Ghana, Uganda and Kenya in aggregate received less financial assistance than Ethiopia in the last five years.

In October 2008, Meles told his parliament that the global Financial Crisis will have little effect on Ethiopia. He said: “our financial structure is not as liberalized as those of affected countries and the economy is not intertwined to Western economies to face a crisis” But, according to the World Bank, Ethiopia is among the most vulnerable group of countries with high exposure to the Financial Crisis. This view is shared by Sukwinder Singh, IMF Resident Representative in Ethiopia who said: “Ethiopia’s economy was seriously affected by the financial crisis”. At the end of 2009 the IMF provided Ethiopia with $420 million loan to cope with the financial crisis, a crisis that Zenawi wrongly believed will have no effect on his aid sensitive economy. To substantiate his baseless claim, Meles Zenawi estimated a 2009 GDP growth of 11.2%, however, his overestimates were latter revised to 7.5% (IMF, 2009b) and 6% (World Bank, 2009). This simply shows us that unless the IMF and the World Bank cross check and validate Zenawi’s cooked economic numbers, Zenawi is the best “cook” that the West has never seen.

Ethiopia is quickly becoming a strange place in which beneficiaries of the regime and the West seem able to doubt almost everything (such as the certainty of the fall of tyranny and the inevitable victory of freedom) and yet these same people are willing to believe almost anything (such as poverty and the economy growing at the same rate) with little or no regard for rationality or evidence. Ethiopia is an extremely poor country where effects of economic growth are hard to miss. In a country where people live on fewer than two dollars a day, the slightest change in income will easily be felt throughout the nation, let alone 7 years of double-digit economic growth. But, a nation as a whole can never prosper when every government contract and sub-contract is awarded to ethnically managed parastatals. Poor Ethiopians will not benefit from construction projects when construction firms, suppliers and movers of building material, and the buildings built are owned by the same group of ethnically associated people.

The Ethiopian economy performed very poor in the last decade of the 20th century. The average GDP growth rate from 1990 to 2001 was – 0.9%. The annual GDP per capita growth was estimated at -2.6% and the average GDP per capita was estimated at $106 (Anders et al, 2000). The poor performance of the economy during the decade is attributed to the 1998-2000 war, negligible foreign aid and TPLF’s concentration on how to penetrate and control all sectors of the nation’s economy than showing any effort on economic growth.

After the dubious privatization that literally transferred Ethiopia’s sate owned enterprises from public domain to the TPLF party parastatals, the IMF, the World Bank and donor nations started pumping capital to the Ethiopian regime. The heavy dose of foreign fund eventually resuscitated the otherwise dying economy. Ever since, the Ethiopian economy has displayed some signs of GDP growth, but the Population, hunger, and poverty grew at a much faster rate than the GDP because the lion’s share of the nation’s industrial, agricultural, financial, transport and construction institutions were owned and operated by the TPLF party (EFFORT) and by the party heavy weights who benefited from the GDP growth and got richer and richer while Ethiopia as a nation maintained its last spot on the global poverty list. Besides, Ethiopia has one of the most regressive land policies in Africa which is designed to give the government more controlling power over the rural population. Ethiopia’s land policy has impeded development within the agricultural and several other key sectors. If we divide the last 15 years [since privatization] income of Ethiopia into thirds, we find that the top ten percent received half, the next 10 percent received a fifth, and the bottom eighty percent claimed the rest. The US, UK, the EU, the World Bank and the IMF must understand that unless this lop-sided and ethnic oriented growth is checked in any way possible, Ethiopia’s so called double-digit economic growth means nothing more than double-digit poverty growth.

I believe, it is also the belief of the Ethiopian people that such words as improvement, growth, achievement and success have no meaning without actual progress and change in the day-to-day life of people. The principle of economic development lies in the human choice, and the Ethiopian people did not choose the economic system or the regime that runs the system.


The writer can be reached at ebini23@yahoo.com.

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