During the last two decades, Ethiopia for sure witnessed improvements in some fronts. Basic infrastructure such as hydroelectric dams, roads, education and health institutions, and catering businesses are significantly expanded. Particularly important are the efforts made to make schools and universities accessible to a huge number of students that is found to be higher even by international standards. In fact, Ethiopia is among the few countries in the world that achieved the highest expansion of of the education sector. This and other signs of improvements must be duly acknowledged and commended.
In this paper, I however wanted to expound on those challenges and problems that seem to ‘check’ the very future existence and prosperity of the country. Originally, I planned to write about another topic which was related to life and living in Addis and Oslo. Having read a gruesome story from a paper about how two Ethiopians fought each other to death in the Middle East, I started thinking about how and when our problems would be solved. I then decided to write on some of the most troubling facts about Ethiopians. I do this out of sheer concern and believe that discussions like this would bring awareness and then possible change.
Everyone can enlist several problems but to me, the following six are the most serious of all. If they are not dealt with soon by the government and the general public, the country would suffer from further stagnation and regression at best.
Exodus of Ethiopians
Mind boggling is the stable exodus of Ethiopians to foreign lands. There is no official statistics on this but it is estimated too high that we find Ethiopians in nearly all countries of the world, from New Zealand to the Scandinavian points, from Argentina to Canadian provinces, and from South Africa to the Mid and Far East. The highly educated never return to their home following their completion of studies, workshops, seminars, and/or conferences. University professors and medical doctors, who are educated at high cost, are ‘grooming’ Western institutions. Their home institutions are being run by inexperienced and inadequately educated people.
Particularly mind blowing is the unimaginable horrors Ethiopians are forced to face in Africa and the Middle East. How many innocent Ethiopians died in the Sahara and Sinai Deserts? How many of them found themselves in the underworlds of the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea? How many are killed by their employers in the Middle East? How many turned physically, mentally, psychologically, and morally disabled due to the unspeakable Arab abuses? How many Ethiopian citizens are leaving the country for a whole set of reasons for other assumed to be better places? Neither the government nor any other agency knows the magnitude for sure. One could say that Ethiopia appears a byword for poverty, famine and now migration. This highly compromises the potential and capacity of the nation to live up to the standards and expectations of the 21st Century. Who is to be held accountable for the exodus? For sure, the government must be the first if not the only one.
Accountability and Transparency
The government in Ethiopia has all the structures and ‘gaits’ of a fully functioning modern system. The polices and laws formulated usually appear responsive to contemporary developments in society. But then comes the problem of making all the decision making transparent and participatory. The public is not adequately being informed about all major developments taking place at Arat Killo- the seat of government. If effort is made to communicate certain issues, it is inadequate, exaggerated, and/or contrary to the truth. For instance, following the Ethio-Eritrea non-sensical war, the then Foreign Minister the now Ethiopian Ambassador to China, Seyoum Mesfin, gave a televised speech, where he in absolute clarity and inconfidence told the public that the most controversial territory, Badme, was recognized by the UN to be part of Ethiopia. I recall how exhilarated the public was. But the truth was nearly the opposite.
Similarly, we as citizens are denied of our rights to know the truth related to several matters. We do not know our precise borders with our neighbors. We do not know how/why our late premier died ‘instantly’. We do not know how much power is vested on the new premier- HaileMariam Dessalegn. We do not know how many Ethiopians are benefiting from the double-digit economic growth the government reports every year. We do not know why we happen to have three Deputy Premiers contrary to what the constitution allows. We do not know why the so-called anti- terrorism law is given a much higher esteem than the constitution itself.
To me, there is nothing more troubling than having a government which is nontransparent and unaccountable to its decisions and policies. The government must be the first entity to exercise in absolute clarity and consistency the rule of law. This way, it can bring and sustain functional political literacy among the masses.
Millions of Ethiopians are technically speaking literate; they can write and read. When it comes to political consciousness, the majority seems ‘extremist’. This particularly concerns those who claim that they are participating in politics. To EPRDF members and sympathizers, for instance, the Ethiopian Diaspora are groups of frustrated, egoistic, uncompromising, and cold-blooded personalities. To them, there is no any better way of governance other than theirs. They consider and seem to believe that only their party is a natural leader. To justify their dominance and sustained rule, they resort to explain the nearly two-decade long wars they wagged against the Dergue. To them, non-EPRDF members and supporters do not worry about Ethiopia’s well-being. Consequently, they require all public employees to be EPRDF members. To many Diaspora, on the other hand, entering into discourse with EPRDF members and supporters is just unthinkable. Accordingly, all government- affiliated people are egoistic, corrupt, ignorant, and abusers.
How could one say that these and other manifestations of political life are genuine, functional, and/or healthy? Both sides, the governing party and the opposition including the Diaspora seem to be infested with an incurable political virus called ‘only my perspective’. The media are nothing but institutions that perpetuate this polarized view of politics and Ethiopia.
Equally ‘sick’ are our media. The national television and radio organizations are ‘megaphones’ of the ruling party. I would not complain had our media reported true accounts of the deeds of the government. They disturbingly fabricate, exaggerate, falsify, and/or overlook reality which stands naked before public eyes. According to ETV, there is a country called Ethiopia where: annual economic growth hits double digits, the rule of law and democracy reign, the media are entirely free, and big companies from abroad are attracted. And worse is that we are having non- government media (such as radios, newspapers, websites, and television talk shows) that embarrassingly mimic the whims and styles of government-owned media.
On the other hand, ‘independent’ media such as radios, newspapers and magazines ‘own’ the other side of the coin. To them, commending the government for its investment in basic infrastructure is equal to treason. All what comes from the ruling party is unjustly criticized, dismissed, and politicized.
In a way, both pro-government and opposition media report reality in incommensurable ways. They hold and champion mutually exclusive paradigms, which in the end confuse and frustrate the public.
Ethiopia joins the countries which achieved the highest expansion of education services. It has now over 30 public universities and over a 100 private higher education institutions. Still, the enrollment rate is below the Sub-Saharan average. Schools are built in nearly every village. All these are great efforts which must be commended. But then comes the issue of quality. How quality is our education? Yes, ‘quality education’ is defined differently by different stakeholders. There seems however a general take that students must be functionally literate- they must use the skills and knowledge they acquire from schools to tackle life’s enduring problems. Or in lay terms, a university graduate must solve problems given to him by his employer.
It has been a public discourse that Ethiopian university graduates ended up being unemployed or under employed. Some accepted jobs that are unrelated to their training such as cutting stones. Several are reportedly homeless and made streets their homes. This has been confirmed by a study conducted by the Addis Ababa Administration. Even those who are employed according to their trainings appear incompetent.
Those university graduates with apparently good grades apply for further education in European universities, which make their admission decisions mainly based on grades. There are unfortunately bad signs now that some Western institutions appear to question the quality of Ethiopian students and hence they are silently and systematically reducing the number of Ethiopians joining their institutions.
Shortly, there are ample signs which attest to the poor quality of education being offered in Ethiopia. The government also understands the problem but seems not interested in investing on quality- e.g. it must be a natural decision to strengthen existing universities rather than opening new ones. If the education system is suffocated, all the other sectors will be suffocated. And suffocated systems are corrupts, inefficient, ineffective, change phobic, and prone to extinction. Scramble for Southern Ethiopia A lot has already been written about this. That foreign investors are scrambling the virgin lands of Ethiopia, south of Addis Ababa.
There is no problem in attracting foreign capital as such. The problem begins when 1) investors are given thousands and thousands of hectares of fertile land in nearly no price, 2) their produces are not made available to local markets, 3) issues related to land degradation and environmental pollution are not adequately monitored, 4) forests are uncontrollably cleared for agriculture, 5) local residents are displaced without full consent and compensation, and 6) foreign investors receive loans from Ethiopian banks to start their businesses. Several foreign media already disclosed how Indian investors got huge pieces of lands with minimal prices and with contracts that last for nearly a century. These must be the most worrisome news for all concerned Ethiopians.