Oromo protests sign of Ethiopia’s failure to attain social progress

oromo Protest 2015
Written by OPride Contributor

(OPride) —Ethiopia is facing a popular and historic wave of Oromo resistance. Oromo people have been protesting against the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, EPRDF’s, iron-fisted rule for the past two decades and a half.

More than 160 people have been killed in the latest upsurge that started in mid-November. Victims include children as young as 8 years old, a pregnant woman, a grieving mother, college students and 70-year-old elderly.

A university education still remains a luxury in Ethiopia. Poor peasants often dedicate their meager resources to see their sons and daughters achieve what they could only dream of — a decent education. It’s these students that the Ethiopian security forces have targeted and mascaraed over the last few weeks.

Yet Ethiopia’s key international donors and allies have looked away amid reports of excessive use of force and gross human rights violations. The EPRDF regime often hides behind claims of fledgling democracy and double-digit economic growth it supposedly brought to the country.

However, measured against the hard facts on the ground, Ethiopia’s much-hyped economic growth rate is a lie. The current popular resistance against the regime in Addis Ababa is a timely reminder of this façade. One of the underlying causes of the anger that led to the current revolt is the declining well-being of millions of Oromo people, perpetuated by the relentless looting of its natural resources including fertile farmland, destruction of its culture and continued systemic socio-political marginalization. Under these prevailing circumstances, reports of high economic growth amount to mere fabrication and an outright lie.

In the sections below, I will examine the facts that reflect the current realities of Ethiopia and provide evidence to refute the country’s much-hyped economic rise.

Youth Exodus

Ethiopia is one of the main contributors to the global refugee crisis, along with conflict-affected countries such as Syria. Ethiopians migrate in large numbers to the Middle East and Europe, braving high seas and the scorching heat of the Sahara desert. Every year, tens of thousands of Ethiopian girls and women migrate to Gulf countries in search of better opportunities. For a majority of the migrants, the untold abuse they face at the hands of their masters and loss of dignity is akin to a modern slavery. Thousands of young men cross the border every year, embarking on weeks and moths of a perilous journey through East and southern African countries to reach South Africa; many have suffered jails and forced repatriations from the countries they passed through; several were eaten by the wild animals along the way. Despite the nauseating rhetoric of the country’s meteoric rise, young people in Ethiopia today feel increasingly hopeless and want a way out of the country. A growing economy could have remedied this by creating employment opportunities.


In addition to ballooning youth unemployment, Ethiopia also faces a rising inflation. Ethiopia’s inflation is the result of weak demand and supply shortage, not an expansion in consumption of goods trigged by growth, as repeatedly claimed by the government. For example, EPRDF officials often say the serious shortage of consumer goods such as sugar is a result of “more and more Ethiopian households, including farmers, consuming sugar.”

In December, Ethiopia posted a 10 percent inflation rate. From 2006 to 2015, this rates averaged 17.88 percent, reaching an all-time high of 64.20 percent in 2008 and a record low of -4.10 percent in 2009. The country’s trade performance is not healthy, either. Ethiopia consistently experiences a huge trade deficit, despite reports of double-digit economic growth. Ethiopia’s trade deficit has deteriorated from $2.02 billion in July 2012 to $3.4 billion in July 2015, i.e. a decline by 67 percent in 2015 compared to 2012. In 2013, Ethiopia trade imbalance was $10.2 billion.

Ethiopia’s trade deficit in relation to the national GDP was -18.3 percent, -17.6 percent and -19.1 percent between 2011 and 2014. This raises the question: where does a saving and capital investment in the ‘growing economy’ come from if the country’s foreign exchange earnings from trade has significantly deteriorated over the years?

‘Miraculous’ Growth

Contrary to the Ethiopian government’s claim of double-digit economic growth, several studies have come up with indicators that rank Ethiopia at the bottom of world economies. Yet, the rosy economic forecasts by donors and international financial institutions continue to rely on official data and reports by foreign correspondents and expatriate analysts who collude with the government or are forced to use official statistics.

For example, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Index (HDI) has failed to capture Ethiopia’s impressive economic growth. In 2004, Ethiopia was among the bottom 8 countries with low human development index, i.e., 170th out of the 177 countries. The last country on the list had an HDI of 0.273 while Ethiopia’s HDI was 0.359. Ten years later, in 2014, Ethiopia was still among the bottom poorest 15 countries at 173 from 187 countries.

Ethiopia had the lowest HDI even by an African standard. “Ethiopia’s 2014 HDI of 0.442 is below the average of 0.505 for countries in the low human development group and below the average of 0.518 for countries in Sub-Saharan Africa,” according to UNDP. A miraculous and sustained economic turnaround could have improved Ethiopia’s position in this respect.

 “A key facet of human development philosophy is giving people more control over their lives,” according to the UNDP. Unfortunately, this did not happen in Ethiopia, as the country continues its backward slide into authoritarianism. This is a country where citizens’ lack freedom and their life and movements are controlled.

The Social Progress Index (SPI) is another well-known indicator that provides a comprehensive framework for measuring the multiple dimensions of national social progress and human well-being. This measure was developed based on 52 indicators under three major categories: Basic Human Needs, Foundations of Wellbeing, and Opportunity. In 2015, Ethiopia’s SPI was 41.04, ranking it 126th from 133 countries. Ethiopia’s score in indicators such as political rights, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and others was 25.76, pushing its rank down to 115th. 

Where Ethiopia’s economy has shown some signs of growth, corrupt EPRDF officials and their affiliated monopolists have looted and exported a large quantity of the nation’s gold and precious metals under the guise of foreign investment. But the export earning never comes back to the country’s coffers. Why would a growing economy borrow a loan as small as $5 million and accumulate a debt so enormous that debt to GDP ratio is now more than 50 percent?  

From 2008 to 2013, Ethiopia had an average public debt (percentage of GDP) of 42.7 percent. It reached 50.4 percent in 2013. A growing economy is expected to save and invest in expansion. If is difficult to explain Ethiopia’s decade-long positive economic growth while the living condition of a majority of the Ethiopian people continues to deteriorate. There have also been reports illicit capital flight of billions of dollars from Ethiopia in the recent years. From 2000 to 2009 Ethiopia lost $11.7 billion in illegal capital flight, according to the Global Financial Integrity. Corruption, kickbacks and bribery are on the rise in Ethiopia.  

Ethiopia’s food security and famine

A healthy economic growth should also lead to an improvement in the welfare and income distribution of the citizens. In reality however while few regime cronies have become overnight billionaires, millions of Ethiopian cannot even earn a decent living. An estimate 20 million people currently need emergency assistance as a result of severe drought and government inaction. Millions of farmers and herders, whose year-to-year agricultural production has reportedly increased under EPRDF, have found themselves in a dire circumstance with no backup or reserve food supply to bridge the gap in the event of harvest failure. To add an insult to injury, the government has managed to feed and arm its military that is killing Oromo protesters and opponents elsewhere in the country.

More than 7 million Ethiopians, who are covered by the donor-funded popular Productive Safety Net Program, have become aid-dependent over the last 15 years. A real economic growth would have promoted a gradual self-reliance. Yet, Ethiopia remains highly dependent on external assistance. In 2011, Ethiopia was the world’s 5th largest recipient of humanitarian aid and it has received $3.6 billion in total assistance, the latter representing 50 to 60 percent of its total budget. Ethiopia’s share of total official assistance placed it only behind Afghanistan in 2011.

Studies on Ethiopia’s agricultural sector also suggest the presence of inconsistencies and cast doubt in the national statistics. The Central Statistical Agency’s data shows that cereal cultivated lands was 7.6 million hectares in 2000/01 and increased to 8.4 million ha in 2006/7 and reached 10.1 million ha in 2014/15, i.e. an increase by 33 percent over 15 years period. Similarly, cereal production was ported to be 9.8 million, 12.8 million and 23.5 million metric tonnes during 2001, 2006/7 and 2014/15, respectively. The data relates to average cereal yields of 1.2, 1.5 and 2.3, respectively for those years. The source of a yield increase from 53 percent in 2006/7 and 2014/15 and by 90 percent between the years 2000/01 and 2014/15 is not clearly explained.

A 2008 study funded by UK’s Department for International Development (DFID)reported that significant growth in yields was recorded over time during 2004 to 2008. The result of the analysis, however, as per the report, points to a limited change in input use. Another research, also funded by DFID, has revalued that the assessment of the progress in Ethiopian agriculture and the constraints on its growth and commercialization has been hindered by the data and the puzzles and contradictions they present. The authors found that the data shows dramatic increases in areas cultivated with cereals, up 44 percent in the last 10 years, without any clear record or reporting on the process by which more land was obtained.

Yields increased by 40 percent in the same period, with most of this growth in the last 5 years, but without any sign of intensification via fertilizer, improved seeds or irrigation, and limited increases in land under the extension programme. The report further noted that, as yield growth has fast outpaced the experience elsewhere in Africa or during the Green Revolution in Asia but without input intensification. This has led to the lack of trust in the current data and the extent of the country’s yield growth.

Finally, a real economic growth normally translates to betterment in the people’s living standard in multidimensional wellbeing including dignity and respect for human rights. Ethiopia has not achieved these quantitative and qualitative yardsticks to exhibit the kind of reported economic and social progress. It is one of the top countries that suffer a long-standing problem of food insecurity, repression, lack of freedom, imprisonment of journalists and tens of thousands of ordinary citizens sometimes for simply opposing those in power.

In their seminal 2013 book, “Why-Nations-Fail,” Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson argue that man-made political and economic institutions underlie economic success (or lack of it). In this respect, Ethiopia’s failure to attain democratic political system and institutions of governance does not qualify it to claim a real economic and social progress that benefits it citizens.

The writer, K.Berhanu, is an academic and researcher. He can be reached at fardeenjidaa@gmail.com



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