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Not a Cause for Celebration but a Hope for Optimism
December 27, 2008.

In the late years of Mengistu Haile Mariamís reign in Ethiopia, an Ethiopian economist made a prognosis to the effect that even if Mengistuís reign ended then and Ethiopia started a peaceful economic development, it would take 20 years to bring up Ethiopiaís economy to the level it was under Emperor Haile Selassie Iís rule. The economist made that prognosis in an interview with the Voice of Americaís Amharic language service. Whether the prognosis assumed the continuity of the Emperorís feudalistic rule or economic continuity over its transformation was not clear.

Siye Abraha, former Defense Minister of Ethiopia, who was once one of the top leaders of the Tigray Peopleís Liberation Front (TPLF), expressed in the early 1990s to the effect that it would have been better if all the money that was spent during Mengistuís reign to buy weapons to fight the various liberation fronts in Ethiopia were dumped in the Red Sea. He expressed this in an interview with the Ethiopian Television Service. In that interview, he did not make clear about the economic damage done by the groups on his side of the divide. That was before he was put in prison for years by his own group that he now pledges to struggle against peacefully.

Meles Zenawi, at the top of the TPLF for over 20 years, made a new economic prognosis several months ago to bring Ethiopia to a middle income country in 20 years.

The political turmoil in Ethiopia in the past half a century and the ensuing historical trajectory it has taken have seriously reflected on it economic situation in a negative way. Perhaps, not many had the foresight about the damage their actions in their various shallow groups would have on the economy of the country and the people.

The sign of this political turmoil is clearly evident in the histories of the two Ethiopian leaders in the last nearly forty years. Mengistu Haile Mariam was one of the top three leaders of Ethiopia after Emperor Haile Selassie I, who was deposed as a result of a widespread mass movement. Mengistu is believed to have orchestrated the killing of Generals Tafari Banti and Aman Andom. Together with Mengistu, they constituted the top three leaders of post-Haile Selassie Iís Ethiopia.

Meles Zenawi, Tamirat Layne, and Siye Abraha were believed to be the top three leaders of the TPLF/EPRDF (Ethiopian Peoplesí Revolutionary Democratic Front) that took the political power in post-Mengistuís Ethiopia. Tamirat Layne, who was the first Prime Minister in post-Mengistuís Ethiopia, was imprisoned on corruption charges, and sentenced to 18 years in prison. He was released recently after serving 12 years, and is reported to have quit politics for good. Siye was also imprisoned on similar charges and was released about a year ago. He is back in politics to struggle against his own former comrades-in-arms in a peaceful way.

The mass movement in Ethiopia seems to be gaining a formidable ground over the various political groupings, especially since 2003, when Melesí government decided to relocate Oromiaís capital from Finfinne (Addis Ababa) to Adama and since the killing and displacement of civilians in the Gambella regional state took place in the same year. The mass movement in the run up to the 2005 legislative elections in Ethiopia epitomizes this struggle. Arguably, the mass has reached a stage of shifting its support from being taken fore granted by any political grouping to a power to be granted to a political grouping worthy of the cause of the mass. A press statement from the United States Department of State in June 2005 clearly summed up this historical achievement of the mass as follows: ďThe United States commends the Ethiopian people for their peaceful and democratic expression of political will on May 15. The elections have immutably changed Ethiopiaís political landscape and broadened that countryís democratic horizon.Ē

As the grip on the rights of the mass by illegitimate political groupings are left in tatters and met a dead end, the country seems to start showing signs of meaningful revival in various aspects that are important to the mass. One of these is the latest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth forecasts for 2009 by The Economist, which shows Ethiopiaís as the fourth in the fastest ten in the world. This is a good sign that is not cause for celebration since the forecast is yet to be realized, but for optimism that the momentum is there for Ethiopiaís economy to take a better path to the future. Interestingly, Djibouti is the sixth in the mentioned ranking of GDP growth forecasts for 2009 by the Economist. Even though it is not clear how much of Ethiopiaís use of Djiboutiís port factors in the latterís economic growth, it wouldnít be far fetched to speculate how much of this economic growth Eritrea would be a beneficiary of had it made arrangements with Ethiopia about the right of the Afar people to use their port of Assab. Endowed with rich natural resources, comfortable climate, strategic geographic and geopolitical locations, Ethiopia has no one to blame for its economic situation in the last half a century more than the political turmoil caused by its own children.

The optimism in this forecast of fast GDP growth may need to be looked at within the context of our expectation of our economic status and to what higher level it ought to be elevated. That higher level can be measured in terms of the intuitive factors such as the emergence of: 1) An appreciable number of individual Ethiopians making wealth through hard work and without favoritism from the bureaucrats or without some sort of free subsidies from their relatives who reside in countries in a better economic situation than Ethiopia, 2) Enough number of Ethiopians who are financially at ease to send their children to learn at any university of their choice in this world and without the expectation to have the tuition paid for through a scholarship, 3) Enough number of people who are financially at ease to be able to visit any part of the world using their own hard earned money, 4) A significant number of Ethiopians who are motivated to do what they are interested in the most and seek self-actualization without having to worry about where to get the money from to do it or without having to make the money their end goal. We can argue that these intuitive factors are signs of a healthy economy and society and the forecast by The Economist is far from showing those factors. That is why it is not a cause for celebration of a forecast that is yet to be realized, but a hope for optimism.










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