Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Bird's Eye View into the Gains of Past 23 Years

Ethiopians are celebrating the 23rd Anniversary of Ginbot 20/May 28 in a very colorful way. Ginbot 20 marks the fall of the then dictatorial and brutal military regime and the coming into power of the New Ethiopia with federal structure. The New Ethiopia was constituted on the basis of equality, mutual respect, common interests of all the nations, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia as well as of all religions and faiths in the country: in short, unity in diversity.

But, under the ruling of the previous regimes Ethiopians had been deprived of their human and democratic rights. They had suffered at the hands of ruthless dictators at all levels of state structure and their lives had been shattered by misguided policies. The Military regime, Dergue, had officially unleashed mass killings and gave armed officers the license to kill. Nations and nationalities were not allowed to exercise the right to choose or to be chosen so as to administer their matters and make collective decisions in their country’s fate. Moreover, to demand one’s individual or group right was considered as a threat to the unity of the state and would result to be labeled as separatist; thus, a ‘legitimate cause’ to kill a citizen. 

Despite all the disappointing situations, however, Ethiopians did not accept things as they were. Instead, they paid every price including their life to gain their freedom. Hence, following the bitter struggle carried out for over 17 years, nations and nationalities of Ethiopia gave an end to the regime in which they subjected to gross oppression. On May 28, 1991 the current ruling coalition, Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) entered Addis Ababa. 

The victory of the Ethiopian people over the Derg was not just a mere change of government; it was a victory which opened the way to development, democracy and good governance. The past 23 years after the Victory Day registered vast amount of changes. For the sake of space and readers’ time, only few of the leap forwards are mentioned here.

The FDRE Constitution

The current Ethiopian Constitution has its beginnings in the Transitional Charter during the transitional period, 1991 – 1995. The Charter most importantly provided for the establishment of a Constitutional Commission with the mandate to draft a constitution. The Constitutional Commission was constituted in 1992. Once the draft was finalized, the Commission had submitted it to the Transitional Council /TCR/ of Representatives which was composed of representatives of liberation forces and professional organizations. The TCR discussed each provision for about a month. Most of the discussions were televised nationally. After adoption by the TCR, the Commission presented the draft to the people for popular discussion which embrace meetings at various levels throughout the country. Once the draft was adopted by the TCR, a Constituent Assembly was to ratify the Constitution. The Assembly discussed the draft again and ratified it on 8 December 1994. The Constitution, having passed through such democratic, inclusive and participatory phases, entered into force on 21 August 1995.

Ethiopia is a country in which more than eighty ethnic groups exist and twice as many dialects are spoken. The constitution had moved many steps forward in taking fundamental steps to guarantee human and democratic rights and to allow nations and nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia to determine on their own affairs plus develop their language, culture and beliefs. It laid the foundation for the federal structure of governance bestowing nations the right to self determination up to succession. 

According to the Constitution all sovereign power resides in the nations, nationalities, and peoples of Ethiopia. They exercise their sovereignty through their elected representatives and through direct democratic participation. Thus citizens, apart from representative democracy, directly engage themselves on issues related to their day to day activities.

The system of democratic federalism has ensured equality of all nations, nationalities and people of Ethiopia, and of course, equality and freedom of religion. Women’s right is constitutionally guaranteed and women began to equally participate in political, economic and social affairs of the country. Of course, two third of the constitution is all about rights: individual and group rights, human and democratic rights, women and children right. The constitution pledges freedom of expression without any interference. This right includes freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas. Freedom of the press specifically states the prohibition of any form of censorship.

Economic Development

Ginbot 20 has not only marked Ethiopian political transformation but paved the way to sustainable growth and economic transformation. The subsequent reforms and activities following the Victory Day at federal and regional levels have changed the path of the economy’s move from sliding to rising. However, they were not in a position to move the country out of backwardness and poverty and guide the country to sustainable socio economic development.

Understanding the situation, EPRDF made a thorough analysis of its internal affairs and purified its ideological line in what is commonly called Renewal Program of EPRDF. It is then the five well known policies and strategies crafted; it is then every resource and power allocated to the fight against poverty. Registering broad based, fast and sustainable development and making poverty history are the common objectives of the policies and strategies.

The war waged against poverty is yielding substantial results. Under the unwavering leadership and commitment of EPRDF, Ethiopia managed to register a double-digit economic growth over the past decade. For the first time in its history, Ethiopia is in a dynamic process of vigorous transformation. It is one of the ten fastest growing economies in the world. The success of its development is proven by its capacity to bring about rapid and continuous development which has benefited people at all levels. Per capita income has reached USD 550 in 2013 from USD 70 in 1991. The percentage of people living under poverty line has decreased to 26 percent.

The EPRDF led government has created a situation in which the private entrepreneur can become the motor of development by creating an exceptional and conducive environment and drying up various forms of rent-seeking practices. It allows the government to selectively and effectively interfere when market gaps occur and lets it play a leadership role in coordination and improving the capacity of development forces. It was the organizational competence of the EPRDF and the effectiveness of its policy makers that made public mobilization possible; especially in the rural areas and the agricultural sector which takes the lion share for the GDP growth. Farmers and pastoralists are able to contribute to the growth of the national economy as well as becoming self-reliant. 


The infrastructural expansion of the country focuses on some basic pillars which are related one another. All infrastructural projects are measured up on their contribution to speed up the overall development of the country. Building national capacity through technology transfer and ensuring fair and equitable sharing of benefits through job creation are the directions that guide the course.

In the country’s move to build one economic and political society, road networking plays vital role. Though the sector requires huge finance, the government is paying the sacrifice to realize its vision of having a road network in line with middle income countries status. The total length of roads has increased by 4.5 times since the Victory Day; thus decreasing the seven hours travel to standard roads by 3.6 hours. The fast economic growth however urges rail transportation. Therefore, the country has planned to have 5000 of rail way network of which the 2395kms is to be constructed within the period of the Growth and Transformation Plan /GTP/. And the construction is going well as per the plan.

Power generation is another area where Ethiopia succeeded exceptionally. Ethiopian’s electric supply had been limited to few cities and in low amount for long. Now the country produces 2177 mega watts of energy. Upon the completion of the Gilgel Gibe 3 hydroelectric power project and the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam together with other micro power projects in a years time, the total production capacity will reach up to 10,000 mega watts of energy. This, besides fulfilling the increasing demand of power for local consumption, enables the country continue exporting power to the region and abroad. More importantly the power generation relies on renewable clean energy sources.

Also, as part of the efforts to build one economic and political society, schools, health stations, water projects and irrigation canals have been built at Kebele levels, too. Telecommunication, too is expanding to every corner of the country. More than 12,000 rural Kebeles are using automatic or/and wireless telecom service. Mega projects like sugar and fertilizer factories, houses construction are going well benefiting the society in which they are being built.

Foreign Policy

Historically, the foreign policy of Ethiopia had been limited to defensive style and susceptible to foreign pressures and actions. The extreme ideological dependency on one side and ignorance and arrogance to the other side forced the country to sway based on other countries’ foreign relation direction. Moreover, its foreign policy was not aimed at improving the lives of the people. Rather, priority was given to the military needs of the regimes both for internal and foreign wars. 

Though Ethiopia was able to maintain its sovereignty and territorial integrity, its relation with neighbors was dire. Dergue’s relation with neighboring countries was characterized by organizing and helping insurgencies so as to destabilize neighbors, considering them as an agent to "Arab enemies and imperialists" and banning needy immigrants from crossing the Ethiopian border. It can be said there was no peace with neighboring states. Besides, its internal weaknesses had opened a door for foreign intervention.

After May 28/1991, the foreign policy’s orientation shifted dramatically. The gist of Ethiopia's foreign relation and national security has become characterized by the determination to improve citizens’ lives by deploying everything for economic development. Guiding principles of the FDRE Foreign Affairs and National Security Policy and Strategy focused on mutual respect and benefit, good neighborliness, mutual growth and international peace and stability. The strategy put in clear expressions the best forms of integration and the best forms of development partnership with each neighbor. This led to a strategic engagement with neighboring countries, with emphasis on the economic and infrastructural integration, especially in terms of transport, communications and energy. Therefore, it can simply put as Ginbot 20 is the turning point from military diplomacy to economic diplomacy.

Knowing that without the conquest of poverty, Ethiopia would remain weak and vulnerable, the government has waged war on poverty and backwardness. Dergue, nevertheless was, as some believe satisfied with the impoverished and weak Ethiopia as far as the neighbors are unstable and fragile. Now, Ethiopia has good relation with all neighboring countries except Eritrea which already lost its reputation and crumbled itself from the world community. The bond that links Ethiopia with its neighbors founded on the basis of mutual benefit from economic cooperation as well as political and security relations. The relationship is increasing both in scope and scale.

Adjacent to this is its prominent role in international peace keeping operations. Being one of the most stable states, Ethiopia has provided support for peace and security in the Horn of Africa as a vanguard in combating terrorism. Besides, Ethiopia is contributing its share in ensuring the benefit of Africa by making the continent’s voice heard at continental and international forums. It represents Africa on global climate change negotiations. The effort Ethiopia has been making in this regard has helped Africa get financial assistance from the rich nations for copping up the effects of climate change caused mainly by carbon emissions from the developed world. 

Among the encouraging results Ethiopia has attained is the improvement in its relations with the Nile riparian countries on issues related to the utilization of the Nile water. Ethiopia has contributed a lot for bringing understanding and trust among riparian nations on the equitable utilization of the water easing mistrusts due to unfair and unlawful colonial agreements. The Co-operative Framework Agreement, which is the product of long negotiations to replace the 1929 treaty, written by Britain that awarded Egypt veto power over any project involving the Nile, may be viewed as a remarkable and even historic development in which Ethiopia takes the lions share on the process. The diplomacy Ethiopia has been pursuing has also a significant contribution in attraction of greater number of foreign tourists, too. The number of foreign tourists visiting the county has increased at an accelerated rate in the past years.

Image building

The achievements indicated above have not only increased its influence in the regional and global politics but also helped change Ethiopia’s previously tarnished image. The face of Ethiopia before and after Ginbot 20 is dissimilar. War, migration and drought have long been the narratives of Ethiopia. It was known for its droughts and famines, especially the mid 1980’s famine. To use interchangeably the word poverty to Ethiopia has been the norm for the international media. Some 22 years ago, Ethiopia was to fragment into small pieces. However, the longstanding unity of nations, nationalities and people has given an end to that breach. The Ethiopia of 2014 is very different from Ethiopia of the 1970s or 1980s. 

Bright and hopeful Images are substituting the 1984 dreadful images. The remarkable economic growth of the country is now the talk of the international media. At first, Ethiopia's developmental path had faced pessimist attitude of western analysts, media and financial institutions due to their ideological predisposition and their strong skepticism of a development path engineered in the "hopeless state". But now, Ethiopia can be described as one of the fastest growing economies in the world as a result of the policies and strategies and the double digit growth of the last decade is a vivid illustration. 

These days, the fast and continuous economic development of the country is getting acceptance even from the neo liberal camp. International financial institutions put question marks on Ethiopia's growth targets at the beginning of the year, only to congratulate at the end of the year. Lately, the socio-economic strides have become undeniable. Encouraged by these achievements, the Ethiopian government and people launched even more ambitious plan – the GTP, which envisions to extricate Ethiopia from poverty to reach the level of a middle-income economy between 2020 and 2023.

What Makes this Victory Day Special?

This year’s anniversary of Ginbot 20 comes weeks after the three well-known international agencies, informally referred to as "the Big Three", rate Ethiopia's economy "B" grade. 

Standard and Poor, one of the agencies announced that Ethiopia continues to achieve high economic growth, exceeding the average in Sub-Saharan African countries. Fitch experts noted that Ethiopia has outperformed regional peers due to significant public investments in infrastructure as well as growth in the large agricultural and services sectors. Fitch also stated that the outlooks of Ethiopia's long-term and short-term foreign currency and local currency issuer ratings are stable. Moody on its part notes that Ethiopia has made significant progress in developing the country over the past decade, mainly supported by significant public sector investment, and has reached key targets set out in the Millennium Development Goals. These results were another confirmation of the prudence of Ethiopia's economic policies and the competence of the leadership both of which are the result of Ginbot 20.

More to this point, Ginbot 20 is being celebrated in a time when the role and influence of Ethiopia at regional and international level has reached an undeniable height. Last month's visit of two global powers, the Prime Minister of China and the Secretary of State of United States is a re-confirmation of that. In fact, Secretary of State John Kerry explicitly said: "Ethiopia plays such an essential role – a key role, a leadership role – and we’re very, very grateful for that". The premier, too made too much of solidarity and comforting speeches about Ethiopia at every spot. These international respects, recognitions and cordial relations are not accidental. They are rather results of the carefully crafted and executed policies in the past twenty three years.

Our Martyrs

Our martyrs who have sacrificed themselves for the current better Ethiopia deserve high gratitude. Their sacrifices have resulted in the making of policies and strategies that continue lifting the country and its people out of poverty. This being compounded with the legacies of the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is making the people of Ethiopia to stand in unison in defending their shared benefits of development and democracy. Glorifying the victories of the martyrs, the current generation has to payback the patriots by taking part in various development activities. 

The existing broad participation of all segments of the Ethiopian society in and out of the country should be transformed to a broader public campaign in the government's development and democratization efforts including in the completion of the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. The Day has to be marked in such a way that all the peoples of Ethiopia renew their commitment to build upon achievements gained so far in development and democracy. Besides, the government and citizens of Ethiopian shall be watchful and vigilant to preserve and continue the positive national image we now have and the impressive growth we have achieved so far.

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