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The Myth of Development and Growth in Ethiopia

By Alem Mamo

“The government talks about poverty reduction, but what they are really trying to do is to get rid of the poor. They destroyed us by taking our forested land, 70% of the population has to disappear, so that 30 % can live on. Under Pol Pot we died quickly but we kept our forests. Under the democratic system it is a slow, protracted death. There will be violence, because we do not want to die.”

— A Cambodian villager affected by an Economic Land Concession

“We want to be clear that the government brought us here… to die… right here… we want the world to hear that the government brought the Anuak people here to die. They brought us no food; they gave away our land to the foreigners so we can’t even move back. On all sides the land is given away, so we all die here in one place.”

— An Anuak elder in Abobo Woreda , May 2011

Over the last 40 years Ethiopia and Cambodia travelled similar tragic historical journeys. Mass killings perpetrated by two ruthless Stalinist totalitarian regimes remain a deep historical wound for the majority of the citizens of both countries. Tragically, the pain and suffering inflicted on the collective psyche of the peoples of these two countries haven’t had the proper social, economic and political avenue to heal, this is more so in Ethiopia than Cambodia. While Cambodia continues to make concerted efforts toward national reconciliation and healing, the TPLF/EPRDF minority regime in Addis Ababa followed its predecessor’s brutal crackdown on opposition or anyone suspected of being opposition. Carrying out torture, extrajudicial killings and gross violations of human rights the regime in Addis Ababa remains one of the most repressive governments in the world.

It is against this backdrop of the absence of fundamental human rights and respect to the rule of law that the TPLF/EPRDF regime is engaged in a deafening propaganda campaign of “development” and “economic growth.” Development in its authentic and complete form is not just a matter of a few glittering buildings or some paved roads; development in its broadest and complete form must be demonstrated through political, economic and social aspects of the lives of all citizens. Ethiopia is currently under the rule of former East Germany`s Stasi style security and surveillance police state. The government regularly spies on citizens both inside and outside the country. The social climate in Ethiopia is one of unease and dissatisfaction with the regime.

While the TPLF led regime in Addis Ababa continues in its endless propaganda campaign of “development” and “economic growth” four major undercurrents of ecological, political, economic and demographic tinder are developing. When combined these four components could not only disprove the government`s false narrative of “development and economic growth,” they may well be catalysts for social upheaval and fundamental change.

Land grabbing, forced eviction, and ecological catastrophe : Less than a half century ago 40% of Ethiopia was forested. Today only 2.7% remains and according to the UN report, Ethiopia could be completely deforested by 2020—that is 6 years from now. In the simplest of terms what this means is that the ecological im on human and all forms of life will be devastating. If indeed there is anyone in the current TPLF/EPRDF regime concerned about the future of human and all other forms of life, and the very existence of the country, they shouldn’t have sold 1.9 million hectares of forested land to foreign corporations to produce flowers, rice and bio-fuel. These forested lands sold to multinational companies were part of the few remaining tropical forests that play a key role in the health an maintenance of the eco-system. In doing so the TPLF/EPRDF minority rule is working to make sure that by 2020 Ethiopia will be fully deforested and the country’s eco-system turns into a desert. Forced eviction and displacement of farmers from their ancestral land is becoming a routine exercise in Ethiopia. In its recent report the Oakland Institute provided a disturbing trend of forced eviction in southern Ethiopia region. According to Oakland Institute “260,000 local people from 17 ethnic groups who live in the Lower Omo and around Lake Turkana—whose waters will be taken for plantation irrigation—are being evicted from their farmland and restricted from using the natural resources they have been relying on for their livelihoods.” The attack on the natural world and the environment is perhaps one of the most frightening and dangerous by this government.

Concentration of political and economic power in the hands of TPLF/EPRDF inner circle: Ethiopia as a country is effectively a one-party state. The political apparatus is fully controlled by members of TPLF, their allies, and close family members. The domination of the TPLF inner circle is not just in the political arena; it includes all major business ventures in the country. The concentration of most of the wealth and the monopoly of the economic and financial outlets has marginalized the general public from participating in building inclusive and fair economic structures in the country.

Anti-terror law terrorizing law-abiding citizens: The legislation that was designed to “fight terrorism” in Ethiopia is largely becoming a tool for terrorizing law-abiding citizens and to stifle dissent. In the process anyone who criticizes the regime would be incarcerated under the anti-terror law. In the process the regime itself is more violent and more lawless than citizens and organizations it accuses.

Young population: 63% of Ethiopia’s population is under the age of 25. Largely unemployed and excluded from the economic and political discourse, the younger demographic is an important tinder that could ignite major social upheaval in the country. The youth in Ethiopia has a long standing history of being at the forefront of social movements. The current generation is no different from the previous; with proper mentoring and collaboration, the youth in Ethiopia could claim its rightful place in history and rescue itself and the country from a catastrophe.

19TH CENTURY British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) once said “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” The TPLF-led regime in Addis Ababa has been mastering the art of lies and the art of putting out bogus statistics. Hollow statistics cannot address the fundamental problems facing the country. History tells us that deception and manipulation ultimately will not replace the truth and the facts on the ground. The tinder for social change in Ethiopia is escalating as the ecological, political and economic crises merge together demanding social transformation in the country.

The writer could be reached at

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