by Yoseph Berhane
Published on: Jun 7, 2006
Type: Opinions

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.

Poverty in Ethiopia is often viewed as a linear syndrome of the lack of food, water, roads or shelter. It is increasingly becoming clear that poverty in Ethiopia is far more complex than the lack of wealth or many of these items. There is much more to it than earning a dollar a day or meeting a family's basic needs. Poverty has social, ecological, political, cultural and spiritual dimensions that seemed to be ignored. The underlying problems are often social and cultural including ignorance and lack of information on the options to take different routes than what the mainstream norm suggest.

Learning, information and communication are therefore central to the development of people, their economic, political, social, ecological and spiritual well being. Changing the capacity and attitude of people, communities and institutions to effectively manage their development is very important for progress. For example for many of us good education has proved to be effective in helping us get out of poverty. Productivity increases with access to appropriate knowledge and technology. Information services can provide a sense of hope for people by improving their knowledge levels thereby bringing the change in attitudes that are necessary for development.

Profile on the current government system of Ethiopia

Ethiopia now has a four-tier government system-federal government, regional states, zones and districts(woredas).There are nine regional states, two special city administrations (Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa),66 zones and 550 woredas and six special woredas. An extensive power is assigned to regional states that can establish their own government and democracy according to the federal government's constitution. Each region has its appex regional council where members are directly elected to represent the districts and the council has legislative and executive power to direct internal affairs of the regions. The councils implement their mandate through an executive committee and regional sectoral bureaus. Such elaborate structure of council, executive and sectoral public institutions is replicated to district(woreda)levels.

« return.