By Ephrem Madebo
On her recent trip to Ethiopia, Wendy Sherman, President Obama’s Under Secretary for Political Affairs said: Ethiopia is one of the fastest growing economies on the African continent. Ethiopia is a democracy. Two weeks ago, Marie Harf, Acting Spokesperson of the State Department said that, the speech made by Wendy Sherman in Addis Ababa fully reflects the U.S. Government’s positions on these issues. Evidently, diplomacy is the patriotic art of lying for one’s country, but Wendy Sherman’s double lie in just one statement is neither patriotic nor artistic, it’s a barefaced lie that exposed her true face.
I wonder what Wendy Sherman’s understanding of democracy is. On one hand, her own Department’s official annual report mentions about torture and arbitrary killings in Ethiopia. On the other, Madam Sherman praises those who torture and kill, and calls a nation that kills at will a ‘democracy’.
What is the so called position of the US Government? Endorsing torture, politically motivated trials and arbitrary killings in Ethiopia? As a tax payer of this great nation, I need an answer to this question. I’ve already heard from Wendy Sherman, I’ve also heard from the Acting Spokesperson of the State Department. Now I want to hear it from the horse’s mouth. Mr. Kerry, please read what your envoy recently said in Ethiopia and skim the 2013 US Department of State HR report on Ethiopia and tell me which one is your government’s positon on Ethiopia? Mr. Secretary, I need straight answer, not the same flip-flopping that I saw in the October 2004 presidential debate. As to Madam Sherman, well, as far as I am concerned, Wendy Sherman is a diplomat and diplomats are useful only in fair weather. They sink in every drop as soon as it rains, and it is raining heavy in Ethiopia.
Discussing what Wendy Sherman said in the capital city of my beloved native country was not even remotely close to the essence of what I wanted to say today. I’m a person who gets healed when I vent, and I just vented in the hope of being healed from the wounds inflicted by Wendy Sherman.
The late PM Meles Zenawi, one of the most able liars in Ethiopia’s political history, used the word “double digit” growth to fool donor nations. Surprisingly, the gullible west, especially nations like the US and the UK fell into Zenawi’s trap and gave this merciless killer the green light to arrest, torture and kill Ethiopians. The US, UK, EU and many other western nations granted a much needed diplomatic cover and a bag full of money to the Ethiopian tyrants and allowed evil to prevail over good in Ethiopia. In fact, the TPLF minority regime enjoyed ten times more financial assistance in just 10 years than its two predecessors did in 45 years. For example, between 1950 and 1980, Ethiopia received $600 in aid. In 2001, foreign financial aid to Ethiopia totaled $1.6 billion. In each of the last 12 years the TPLF regime has received at least $3 billion in foreign aid (the largest in Africa). Had the TPLF regime used just half of this huge sum of money for development purposes, Ethiopia would have been out of poverty years ago. But. . .
Recently, some dull politicians and carpetbagger intellectuals have tried to compare Ethiopia to the four Asian tigers. World economic history and empirical works clearly depict that economic growth and poverty were inversely proportional during the great economic run of the four Asian tigers. The case in Ethiopia is different, or Ethiopia is stranger in the mirror where poverty increases as the economy grows in “double digit” rate, which basically means that in Ethiopia; “fast economic growth” and poverty are directly related. Did anyone ask why? Why do Ethiopians get poorer as their nation’s GDP grows at “double digit” rate? Why do tens of thousands of young Ethiopians leave their country and suffer in refugee camps than witnessing the economic ‘miracle’ of their nation and enjoying its fruit?
The TPLF regime tells the world that the Ethiopian economy is growing at unprecedented rate, but the youth and the educated (medical doctors, engineers, college professors) are exiting Ethiopia in a historically unprecedented rate. Why? Is the absence of freedom and human right abuse the reason for this mass exodus? Yes, but not just that. The Chinese are world leaders in limiting freedom and human right abuse, but the Chinese people are not leaving their country at such an alarming rate as Ethiopians do. For the Chinese government, all Chinese are equal, or the Chinese Communist party does not see its citizens along ethnic lines. In Ethiopia, things are different. The path to prosperity is open to the few and closed to the majority. Higher education opportunities, access to capital, and employment opportunists are directly tied to either ethnic and/or party affiliation.
Economic growth is not an absolute phenomenon; it’s an aggregate value that must be measured relative to time and baseline. Hence, when measuring Economic growth of any nation, it’s important to ask the questions when (time) and from where (baseline). In the 1950s, immediately after World War II, West Germany’s economy was growing at the speed of 10% per annum. After the fall of the Berlin wall, Germany became larger, but is the economy of this larger Germany growing 10% per year? No, because the time is different and Germany has a different baseline now. The TPLF regime inherited war torn Ethiopia from the military regime where the country’s economy was in shambles. In the first ten to fifteen years of the TPLF regime, any decent amount of investment must and should have resuscitated the Ethiopian economy at a much faster rate compared to any other African economy. And in those 15 years, the TPLF regime not only received a decent amount of capital, but it has been and it is the largest recipient of foreign aid in Africa.
With growth rates averaging 10% over the past 30 years, China has been the world’s fastest-growing major economy. However, unlike Ethiopia, the Chinese economic growth is a real growth that changed the life of millions. From 1978 to 2001, the incidence of poverty in rural China declined from 250 million people to 29 million people. In Ethiopia, the TPLF is a party, a government and an economic institution. As the former US ambassador to Ethiopia, Donald Yamaimo warned his government, there is ideological dominance over the Ethiopian economy. Given the huge foreign aid that it received, and compared to where it was, yes, the Ethiopian economy has shown some signs of growth, but it is not only the economy that grows in Ethiopia, poverty too is growing at an alarming rate. And it is this eccentric pairing of poverty and growth that makes the Ethiopian experience of the so called double digit economic growth a paradox. The “double digit” GDP growth rate in Ethiopia is good news that makes some to clap their hands, yet to many Ethiopians, it’s like an earth quake, where the quake itself and the aftershock cause untold level of suffering.
Poverty is present in Africa, but Ethiopia’s poverty is of great magnitude both in its spread and dimension. In countries like Kenya, Ghana and Botswana any manifestation of poverty is a challenge to move forward. In Ethiopia, the reverse is the case. Millions and millions of Ethiopians live in squalid conditions of hunger, disease, and desperation. The TPLF leaders deafen us with “double digit” economic growth and profess their commitment to poverty eradication, but they have never showed their willingness to address the systemic causes of poverty in Ethiopia. That is exactly why we see GDP growth and poverty walk in the same direction in Ethiopia.
To me, the argument is no more whether Ethiopia’s ideologically controlled economy is growing or not. There is no economy in the world that does not grow when a truck load of money is thrown at it. The valid question is that, does Ethiopia use all of the money it gets from outside sources for development purposes, or is Ethiopia’s “double digit growth” benefiting its poverty stricken population? The undisputed answer is no. The three economic indicators, the Human Development Index (HDI), Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) and the Misery Index used by international organizations and research universities to measure the economic wellbeing of nations all tell the same story about Ethiopia. Regardless of the highly acclaimed “double digit growth”, the Ethiopian people are suffering from abject poverty.
Yes, as the ruling minority regime and its puppets want us to believe, Ethiopia has created millionaires and billionaires, but who are these millionaires and billionaires that stash their money in foreign banks? Almost all of the millionaires and billionaires in Ethiopia are TPLF party members, their families, or those who have pledged allegiance to the TPLF Party. World Bank reports and other International financial studies have indicated that, in the last 20 years, at least 20 billion US dollar from Ethiopia has made its way to large Asian and European banks. For example, according to Celebrity NET Worth, at the time of his death in 2012; Meles Zenawi’s net worth was $3 billion (http://www.celebritynetworth.com/richest-politicians/presidents/meles-zenawi-net-worth/ ). No matter what Zenawi does, it’s next to impossible to become a billionaire (in dollar) in Ethiopia, and Zenawi was just employee of the people who was on the government payroll. Then where did he get the 3 billion dollar? The answer is easy- he became multi – billionaire by stealing from the people, throwing the very people he is supposed to enrich deep and deeper into poverty.
It’s a forgone conclusion that sustained economic growth reduces poverty, or to say it in a different way, even the usually discordant economists agree that there is a direct relationship between economic growth and poverty reduction. A report from the Operationalizing Pro-Poor Growth Research Program reveals that in countries that experienced economic growth between 1990 and 2003, a 1 percent increase in GDP per capita reduced poverty by 1.7 percent. If this is the obvious truth, then why do economic growth and poverty go in the same direction in Ethiopia? If Ethiopia’s economy is growing in double digit rate, then why would tens of thousands of Ethiopians risk their lives and exit the country seeking employment elsewhere?
The answer is obvious. The Ethiopian economy is a party controlled economy, hence, the fruits of it’s so called “double digit growth” is also party controlled. The Ethiopian economy is designed to quickly enrich the few and marginalize the majority. It has never been tailored to address the systemic causes of poverty in Ethiopia. The ideologically dominated Ethiopian economy is also owned by three giants – the TPLF regime, MIDROC (owned by Mohammed Al-Amoudi, a close associate of the ruling party), and by EFFORT who directly and indirectly benefit from the growth of the economy.
The extent to which growth reduces poverty depends on the degree to which the poor participate in the growth process and share its proceeds. Government growth policies should be designed to combine growth promoting policies with policies that allow the poor to fully participate in the growth opportunities and contribute to the growth. Ethiopia’s, economic policies systematically alienate the poor from economic opportunities. Hence, a large number of young men and women leave the country seeking economic opportunities elsewhere in Africa, the Middle East and Europe. There are many reports by various international organizations that indicate the TPLF regime using development aid to suppress political dissent by conditioning access to essential government programs on support for the ruling party. Moreover, the Ethiopian regime has routinely used access to aid as a weapon to control people and crush dissent. Farmers interviewed by HRW in different parts of Ethiopia described being denied access to agricultural assistance, micro-loans, seeds, and fertilizers because they did not support the ruling party.
Access to information technology, the rate of growth of internet users, or the penetration of internet is a good indicator of where a country is, and most importantly, where it is heading. According to the UN MDG 2014 report, there are less than 2 Internet users per 100 inhabitants in Ethiopia. It is shocking, rather an absolute shame to know that the total number of internet users in Ethiopia is five times less than the number of internet users in Nairobi (BTW, I did not say Kenya).
The West, be it the US, UK, EU, or G20, has effectively failed on its policies towards Ethiopia. In 1945, when the World Bank started operating in Ethiopia, Ethiopia was one of the poorest countries on earth. Today, after billions and billions of aid money and a claim of double digit growth, Ethiopia is still a leader from the bottom in the World Bank list of poor countries as it was seven decades ago. In their Seoul Summit in 2010, G20 countries agreed to contribute to the fulfilment of the commitments of countries to achieve the MDGs. Many of the MDGs (7 out of 8) are one way or another related to the fundamental rights and freedoms. Ethiopia is the primary enemy of freedom and the universal abuser of universal human right. This simply means that, either the commitments were unspoken cosmic rules, or the G20 countries have failed their commitment (individually and as a group). It is absurd and utterly incomprehensible why the US, the UK and EU display such a powerful interest in maintaining the status quo in Ethiopia. The status quo cannot and must not be allowed to continue in Ethiopia.
We the Ethiopian people have always been ill-treated, tortured and killed by our own tyrant regimes, but we have held to the hope, the belief, and the conviction that there is a better life and a better world. No more! For this generation of young Ethiopians, the TPLF regime has killed hope itself, the very reason to leave for.
By Ephrem Madebo