July 5, 2921
In 1960, the average Ethiopian citizen had an income of $722 a year compared to that of $1600 for S. Korea, $874 for China and $575 for Botswana. In 2021, the S. Korean citizen makes 21 times the income of the Ethiopian (37,928) while citizens of China ($13,102) and Botswana ($15,842) make 7-8 times that of the average Ethiopian ($1838). It cannot be the climate or geography since Ethiopia has a conducive environment for agriculture and livestock. Since 1991, over 100,000 Ethiopians have been leaving their country every year (40% as refugees seeking asylum). The share of highly educated emigrants is among the highest behind Asia (23% versus 13% for the Africa region as a whole). Such emigration of skilled and young people is likely to have adverse effects on economic growth and development.
When young people are asked about what they would like to do in future, the most common response is not to open a business or to be an engineer but to go overseas (US, EU or Canada). It is a good indication of the state of affairs in the country, i.e., a silent referendum on the country and its political elite. Young people are voting with their feet to expand their liberty and well-being. Many are taking a perilous journey by boat across the Red Sea often facing exploitation and torture in the hands of human traffickers. Some of them die on the way and others are often subjected to abusive prison conditions before they are summarily deported back home. Even after all this, many of them would still like to go back looking for economic opportunities overseas and escape the endless conflict in the country. This is a self-inflicted tragedy that did not have to happen. Ethiopia is a country that has all the resources needed for economic development and yet failure is all around it. The people’s predicament is now worsened by intercommunal conflict that that is tearing apart the social fabric of the country. We have met the enemy and he is us.
The ongoing conflict with Tigray is imposing heavy costs on an already struggling economy. Although blame can be attributed to both sides, the TPLF shares most of it. First, it has been quite evident that TPLF leaders have been preparing for a fight since 2018 as their role and influence in the Federal government began to dwindle. They organized and supported dissident groups in several parts of the country to destabilize the regime. Over and above that, they declared war on the government.
The TPLF was one of the factions that voted for this leadership and should be working within the established system to bring about the changes they desire in the country. The idea of going to war simply because you disagree with the government’s policies is dangerous and retrograde. In the US, the Republicans and Democrats disagree on almost everything and yet none of the parties contemplate the idea of going to war to take over the government. Similar to what happens in most corrupt African regimes, the war appears to be a cover to preserve the privileges and ill-gotten gains of the previous leadership. For example, the Global Financial Integrity Report estimated illicit financial flows such as money laundering and transfers from Ethiopia at $23 billion for the 2005-2014 period. There were no legitimate political issues (political party organization, devolution of powers, territorial disputes) that could not be resolved through negotiations and compromise. War could only resolve conflict only if it completely extinguishes the opposition.
Even though TPLF was summarily defeated in two weeks by the Federal army, thousands of people on both sides have lost their lives. The country is dealing with ethnic leaders who are stuck in the 18th century while the world has moved on to better things. It is fair to state that the ordinary Tigray has not benefitted from the TPLF leadership. This is exemplified by the large numbers of people (over 1.3 million) who have been on state food safety programs (about 20 % of the population) for decades. Yet, the Federal army that was there to enforce law and order and protect the people was attacked by ordinary citizens in several Tigray cities. Some were poisoned and others were injured and killed. It is quite worrisome when such despicable actions are committed by civilians against their own army that has protected and supported them for the last few decades. It makes one wonder whether the ordinary Tigray citizen is in support of the TPLF that has and continues to tear apart the social fabric of this country.
One point is quite clear. The TPLF will not and should not be allowed to come back to power in Tigray or elsewhere under any circumstances. Its leadership has failed Tigray and the country at all levels: Recruited kids as young as 10 to fight their own army, taken food rations from mothers and children, bombed churches and bridges, used state development funds to prosecute a needless war as well as conspired with our enemies to undermine the country. It is unforgivable. Moreover, none of this had to happen since there was no political question that could not have been resolved through negotiations. It was a cynical and calculated attempt at grabbing political power by force of arms.
Tigray and its people have been an important part of Ethiopia for generations and have a proud history. They deserve better political leadership than the one they have at this time, a leadership than can build bridges between communities and start constructive conversations. The ordinary person in Ethiopia (whether from Tigray or the rest of the country) is not on the extremes of any of the political issues but most of what they hear is from those that take extreme positions. I do not believe that the average Tigray person identifies with the TPLF and their spokespeople who have created and strengthened polarization (mutual radicalization). It is obvious that TPLF will push people to take more and more extreme positions till they find themselves at war with everyone around them. This is not sustainable in the long run. At this becomes too costly, the rest of the country will have serious reservations about whether Tigray should to be part of this political union since it takes all parties to make the union work.
The collective mental health of the country is at risk as we move from one atrocity to another. Scarce resources that should be used to build schools or factories are being wasted on prosecuting a needless war to fight our own brothers and sisters. None of this makes sense.
Good political leadership can heal and fortify the spirit and soul of citizens. Regardless of our passions and politics, we still have the ability to heal the country and move forward by working together. We all have to soften our hearts by appealing to our better angels and stop name calling and face-book attacks. However, this requires a different leadership in Tigray that can heal and bring Tigray and its people back to their natural home. We need to stop fighting among ourselves and work for a better country that can take care of the needs of its citizens. It is time for civic associations or other societal groups to sideline the TPLF and organize moderate political groups in Tigray that can work with the rest of the country. It is obvious that the TPLF has lost credibility and exhausted its political capital. Let us remember our young people who are drowning at sea looking for better opportunities. Otherwise, the danger of state collapse is real and should be avoided at all costs.