The Numbers Say the Ethiopian Economy Is Doing Very Well. Reality Says Many Ethiopian Citizens Are Not
D. Amari Jackson
For some, the emergence of Ethiopia as Africa’s third-largest economy is cause for celebration. The ancient nation skirting the continent’s horn recently surpassed its southern neighbor Kenya as the largest economy in East Africa with a projected Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $78 billion. The first country to open an electric cross-border railway line in Africa, Ethiopia’s rapid economic expansion is due to major innovations in industry, irrigation and energy alongside its successful attraction of foreign investment. In 2015, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn was named “Man of the Year” by Africa World News for sustaining the country’s substantial economic growth.
But for many Ethiopians, there is little to celebrate. The country remains desperately poor with the World Bank reporting Ethiopia’s per-capita income to be $619, well lower than the regional average. With food aid expected to run out next month, the United Nations estimates close to eight million Ethiopians are in danger of starvation. Human trafficking continues to be a major problem for the country’s poverty-stricken migrants. And human rights abuses have been rampant given ongoing land grabs by the Desalegn regime and its violent crackdown on associated protests, press and media freedoms.
Accordingly, some believe Ethiopia’s recent economic growth was not forged for its masses of struggling citizens but upon their backs.
“In the name of modernization, people have been forcibly removed from their land to clear those lands for sugarcane and cotton plantations,” says Anuradha Mittal, founder and executive director of the Oakland Institute, an independent think tank for international policy matters. The California-based institute’s recent report on Ethiopia notes its government’s plan to become one of the world’s largest sugar producers and exporters by 2023. Because of the associated displacement, explains Mittal, you had “widespread protests last year that led to more than 36,000 people being arrested. So, you have every political opposition leader behind bars, you have no freedom of press, you have people being arrested for challenging the government’s plan to take over their land with no compensation” while the country’s “newspaper editors and indigenous leaders have all been locked up” and charged as “terrorists.”
For the past eight years, the institute has shed light on how Ethiopia’s economic expansion has masked human rights abuses and how its government has displaced millions of small farmers while moving forward with plans to earmark over 15 million hectares of land for large-scale agricultural investors. It has further exposed the torture, oppression and silencing of those who have attempted to resist forced removal in indigenous and pastoralist communities within the Afar, Oromia and Amhara regions.