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What went wrong in Ethiopia Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Yoseph, Ethiopia Jun 7, 2006
Technology , Poverty , Human Rights   Opinions
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Ethiopia is one of the ancient independent states located in the horn of Africa bordering Sudan, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia and Djibouti. It is widely known for its physical and ethnic diversity and for over dependence on volatile agricultural economy that is subject to severe episodes of drought and famine. Although it scores lower in almost all social and economic indicators, Ethiopia has abundant human resources and social capital that has yet to be tapped.

The majority of the 74 million people in Ethiopia live in rural areas. These people are generally poor and undereducated but have developed one of the most elaborate social capital systems built around interdependence for many generations against poverty, diseases, and external invasion.

The urban inhabitants that account only 15 percent of the population comprise of traders, farmers and civil servants. The civil servants adhere to similar norms to those in rural areas transcending various social divides such as religion, ethnicity and socio-economic system. The middle class in Ethiopia is generally small but growing. Civil servants account for the majority of the middle class. Although they are highly disciplined, they lack exposure to new ways of doing things. The technical and institutional capability of the civil service is relatively weak. Programs and projects are poorly planned and implemented. The level of responsible decision making and action is so slow to the extent that lethargy has began to choke development altogether.

The government is very keen to change the situation. It has adopted an Agricultural Development Led Industrialization(ADLI),lately renamed Rural and Industrial Development(RID) that promotes widespread extension services, use of fertilizers, good farming practices and injection of better seeds. The focus on rural areas and small households has led to expansion of agricultural extension and credit schemes, primary education, primary health care, rural water supply and rural roads. In collaboration with international financial institutions, the government launched a civil service reform, and decentralization and empowerment programs focusing on districts(widely known as Woredas).

In addition ,the last two decades have seen a considerable influx of international NGOs that have been doing development works ranging from constructing roads, bridges, clinics, schools and stores to conducting workshops on all aspects of development. Efforts made by NGOs in the areas of education, healthy, food security, empowerment of women and children and fighting HIV/AIDS were exemplary.

Despite the efforts of the government and NGOs, the situation of rural people remained the same, in some places even got deteriorated. A close look at the situation shows a conundrum-a disparity between social and economic progress and the enduring capacity of Ethiopia's rural people, the government readiness to alleviate poverty, the relatively disciplined civil service and the untiring support of NGOs. Observes argue that the government and NGOs are unable to mobilize the capacities and resources of rural people. They have problems in mobilizing the energies of the private sector and the civil society organizations to the fullest extent.

Simply focusing on the conventional approaches of development such as increasing agricultural input or constructing bridges failed to deal with the human and institutional dimension of people. In spite of the outstanding social capital, Ethiopians had a difficulty in creating a civil and commercial enterprise that drives the economy forward.

It can be argued that the long standing political scenery that advanced the government as the sole provider of everything may have contributed to the current state of affairs. Politically, Ethiopia has undergone long term wars. Its feudal system followed by a command and control Deg regime that led to civil war that lasted for two decades. Thereafter, the new government adopted an ethnic based federal system with an extensive decentralization down to the district(woreda)levels.

This transition from a feudal system to a socialist system, and then to a highly decentralized ethnic based federal system, the two wars, an episode of drought has been disruptive to the process of creating the requisite skills, knowledge and competence that are necessary for social and economic well being and personal advancement. The progress was also distraction for the creation of the capacities of the people to mobilize their social capital for economic development. People were required to contribute more to civil wars or to fellow citizens affected by drought than put their energy in a collective long term and sustainable development.

Ethiopian policy makers remained at the center of every of these changes. Much of the development took place with out significant involvement of civil society and the private sector. Clearly something is missing from the menu of development approach. The good intentions of the government and international actors had a difficulty in securing community commitments and building community structures that can preserve and sustain collective efforts. The underestimation of people's capability to take their development in their own hands seems to have undermined local initiatives.

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Writer Profile

I am a young professional who has been extensively engaged in socio-economic research, sustainable development studies, project planning and management, baseline and impact assessment surveys, marketing surveys, feasibility studies, and consultancy works in Ethiopia.

I am a sociologist by education and have attended various training courses, workshops and seminars in Ethiopia on information and technology (IT), leadership skills for the fight against HIV/AIDS, refugee studies, child rights, gender and development issues.

I have worked as a consultant, a team leader, a social worker, a coordinator of many workshops and seminars, and a socio-economic researcher for national and international organizations in the fields of needs assessment, HIV/AIDS and development, refugee studies, impact assessment, market research, sustainable development strategies, poverty reduction, income generating schemes, food security, sustainable livelihood, and the monitoring and evaluation of development projects.

I am a member of many professional associations and interest groups such as the Ethiopian Society of Sociologists, Social Workers and Anthropologists (ESSSWA) and various internet-based sociological and child rights professional associations.

Currently, I work as a Child Support Unit Coordinator at the Relief Society of Tigray, Ethiopia.

I am single and enjoy touring, reading, visiting relatives and friends, playing and watching football, and participating in voluntary activities during my spare time.
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