Bereket Gebru 09-30-16
As has been proven through the past fifteen years of rapid economic growth, Ethiopia has formulated sound policies that have been the bed rock of development. The country has managed to come up with policies that specifically fit its situation rather than adopting those promoted by other international actors. In a February, 2016 report entitled “Ethiopia’s Great Run: the growth acceleration and how to pace it,” the World Bank attested to this reality by stating “Ethiopia is a unique country and its economic growth strategy is no exception.”
Despite these sound policies and strategies, however, implementation has always been a challenge. As impressive as the level of development the country has registered over the years has been, a better implementation capacity could have pushed things into unchartered chapters yet. Whether it is the lack of skilled manpower or the socialization of policies, implementation lingered as a main challenge throughout the years.
There have recently been violent clashes in some parts of the country that largely features the youth. Following these fatal engagements with law enforcement, it has become apparent that the youth have felt neglected. Considering the country has had a National Youth Policy since 2004, it would be reasonable to ask whether the policy failed to reach out to a large portion of the youth, it simply became outdated or its implementation was poor. Accordingly, this article tries to take a closer look at the youth policy and identify the reasons behind the failure to prevent such an outburst from the youth.
As the fundamental ideas behind the formulation of the policy are incorporated in the visions and objectives of the policy documents, let’s kick things off by dealing with them first. Section three of the policy document states the vision as: “To create an empowered youth generation with democratic outlook and ideals, equipped with knowledge and professional skills, get organized and built on ethical integrity.”
The vision emphasizes the human development aspect of empowering the youth with ideals, knowledge, skills and ethics. In the past twelve years since the policy has been formulated, the youth have gained more access to these things through mainly the expansion of education at all its three levels. The clear arguable point could be that of ethical integrity as it also depends on new cultural trends imported from abroad that have their own bearing on ethics. With the number of young people joining universities and graduating from them growing in folds in the twelve years since the policy was indorsed, the implementation of the policy does not seem too bad.
However, the issue of empowerment seems to have resumed another chapter where the youth have relatively better access to skills but need a mechanism to turn them into economic benefits. With a large number of young people with graduate and post-graduate degrees facing a hard time to come across jobs to create one, only a few fortunate ones land jobs that fit their educational standard. Others have resorted to jobs of manual labor or unemployment. This is one of the major reasons behind the recent violent outburst by the youth.
Accordingly, the omission of the crucial element of empowering the youth through employment from the policy vision and the subsequent down grading of the degree of attention it deserves needs to be amended. After all, the emphasis on youth empowerment through knowledge and skills seems to have helped the achievements in that regard. It is reasonable to assume that the omission of employment as a clear vision could have contributed to the problems along that line.
Moving on, section two of the policy document deals with “general situation of Ethiopian youth.” The first paragraph states:
Population censuses and projections conducted in different years show that youth constitute a high proportion of the Ethiopian population. For instance, according to the 1999 medium variant projection, Ethiopia’s population was estimated at 63.5 million out of which 17.9 million or 28.2% (14.2% male and 14% female) were youth. Of these, 17.9% and 82.1% were living in urban and rural areas respectively. According to the 1997 projection, the population will reach 73 million and the youth population will be 28.4% of which 18.6% and 81.4% will be living in urban and rural areas respectively.
Although the last sentence quoted out of the document does not indicate the year for which the projections were made, it is safe to assume that it referred to 2004 when the policy document was produced. Accordingly, the youth made up 28.4% of the Ethiopian population in 2004. Prime Minister Haile mariam Desalegn recently stated in his speech that the youth currently make up 70% of the country’s population.
The sharp contrast in the proportion of the youth to total population in the two specified years is so staggering that it must affect the viability of the policy. There is an issue of scope in designing a policy for 28% of society and 70% of society. The gravity of the problems of a far larger section of society would be prioritized while those of a much smaller section would be treated with less urgency.
Accordingly, the amount of national resources to be allocated in each case would vary tremendously. The severity and nature of the problems could also change with the huge increase in the size of the group. New problems could also arise with the large increase in size. The strategy used to address problems could also change considerably with the huge surge in number.
The mammoth gap in numbers also puts pressure on the political and economic realities of the country. Obviously, with 70% of the population, the representation of the youth in parliament needs a tremendous improvement. Their involvement in politics also brings in its own twist to Ethiopian politics. Adjusting the economic realities with the new social facts is also a huge challenge on the nation.
In general, it is hard to comprehend that the mind boggling surge in the proportion of the youth to total population has been incorporated in a policy designed for 28% of the population. Despite the limited number of policy issues this article has dealt with, there seems to be an obvious need for policy amendment as it seems to run short of covering the large changes evident since its formulation fourteen years ago. Whether there were implementation problems was not addressed in this article but it is safe to consider there have been. Therefore, the recent governmental fallout with the youth needs policy amendments along with better implementation for it to be normalized in the coming years.
A deeper look at the problem and a proper research on the issue could go a great length towards utilizing the more than two-thirds of the total population, ensuring a more prosperous and peaceful Ethiopia.