ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Ethiopia is one of the largest and fastest growing economies in Africa and over the past decade has averaged double digit economic growth. The country has successfully met several of the Millennium Development Goals. Poverty has been reduced from 44 percent in 2000 to 30 percent in 2011. Primary education is now universal and infant mortality rates have fallen dramatically.
New skyscrapers are being built all over Addis Ababa and Ethiopia is aiming to become a middle income country by 2025. Corruption has declined greatly too and Ethiopia is now considered the least corrupt country in East Africa. The country is often called an “economic lion,” a comparison to the economic “tigers” of East Asia.
But despite this success and progress in Ethiopia, there are many other aspects of Ethiopia’s development that are causing alarm. For one, human rights abuses are rife and the government has effectively kept a lid on the opposition. Elections are due in May but few expect them to be free or fair and there is no mobilized opposition against the EPRDF government that has been in power since 1991.
In fact, the opposition only holds one seat in parliament. Critics of the government are regularly jailed and tortured. Ethiopia jails more journalists than any other country in Africa besides next-door Eritrea. Income inequality has also increased significantly as many poor Ethiopians have not benefited from any of the economic growth. Beggars and street people are still a common sight in Addis Ababa. Many accuse the government of using new skyscrapers to cover this up.
This has created polarization and many Ethiopians strongly resent and oppose the government, although most are unwilling to voice it publicly. One of the biggest sources of contention is the government’s policy of selling off farming land to foreign investors and forcibly evicting locals and relocating them into planned villages.
This has led to many confrontations between poor farmers and government authorities who often use force and violence to evict protestors. Local leaders are often jailed or forced to flee the country for opposing relocations. Resettled farmers do not have access to farmland and complain of being deprived of their livelihoods and their food security. Many end up leaving for Europe or neighboring countries to make a living.
The government has been accused of failing to provide for poor Ethiopians, particularly those who have been forcibly resettled. The sold off farmland is being used for commercial agriculture, but most of the crops produced are exported abroad. Many are also worried about the high levels of deforestation as trees are being cleared for commercial firms to plant more crops. There are fears this could have long term environmental consequences.
There are definitely reasons for optimism as Ethiopia’s economy continues to grow, but there is also cause for concern. Ethiopia clearly has the resources to continue to grow and lift millions of its citizens out of poverty. But unless the government is reformed and the growth occurs in a way that benefits everyone, Ethiopia’s successes will be limited and may be short lived.
– Matt Lesso