[A first hand observation]

Ezana Sehay May 25, 2012- Nowadays, a day never passes without one reading or hearing about the Ethiopian economic phenomenon. But haw deep and comprehensive is this economic growth?

In an attempt to address the above question, on our last trip, I and some friends devoted some of our time, to have a ring side view of the scale of progress in our country. The following is a very condensed reportage of our findings.

Everyone agrees this positive trend started twenty one years ago, when the Ethiopian people revolutionary democratic front [EPRDF] come to power. Under normal circumstances, twenty years is not too long a time for a country to show a measurable economic progress. But, the Ethiopia of twenty years ago was nothing but normal.

Pre – 1991, Ethiopia was by all measures a failed state, controlled by a vicious military junta, which was so preoccupied with murdering its own citizens it never bothered to build an economy worth discussing. It spent its meager resources fighting wars that could’ve been avoided. The country’s best brains were either liquidated or pushed in to exile. In the end twenty one years to this month, the leadership of that vulture regime fled the nation taking with it what was left in the coffer.

In other words, when EPRDF assumed power it practically had inherited a bankrupt nation in a state of economic paralysis. In fact things were so bad there were those who doubted its mere survival.

The revolutionary democrats recognized the challenge of reviving the country from its state of terminal decline would indeed be daunting, but were never discouraged by the negative prognosis flying around by those so called experts. Their burning desire to bring peace, stability and create conducive environment for democratic institutions to flourish, and then lay the foundation for the country’s renaissance was so great nothing could deter them.

Once a revolutionary, always a revolutionary --- These gallant fighters who are experts of winning military wars quickly mastered the art of governing and, as they say --- the rest is history.

The last time we were in Ethiopia, the country was in its second year of the uninterrupted cycle of economic growth. But its enemies were also in full gear. In an attempt to sabotage that progress, western based civic organizations and extreme opposition groups were waging a coordinated attack on the government. They even went as far as lobbying tirelessly against emergency and development aid. Fortunately, the twisted delusions of our enemies never materialized. The pragmatic policies of the government have prevailed and the country has found real development partners in the East and South. Today, Chinese, Indian, Turkish, Saudi, Brazilian … companies are all over the country doing what they do in their respective countries’. I.e. invest heavily and create jobs.

As the nation’s main port of entry, ADDIS ABABA, off course was our first destination. There is no better place than Addis for one to see the symbol of Ethiopian come back. Everywhere you go you see new residential and office spaces being erected. Old shanty cottages are being demolished and replaced with new villas or housing complexes. The expansion of infrastructures, including the light rail network is well in progress. The new high rises which are soaring in this lovely city are being sapped by expatriate Ethiopians and foreigners whose number is swelling. To use a metaphor: Addis Ababa is undergoing a reconstructive surgery.

Our ultimate destination was the state of TIGRAY. But instead of flying to MEKELLE we decided to take a bus. Because we wanted to visit as many places as we could, to get a comprehensive picture of what life outside the big cities look like. Our journey with SELAM BUS was cozy and the staff was accommodating. We didn’t care much for their music selection, but overall it was a pleasant experience.

As for our expedition, it was both informative and inspiring. We were pleasantly surprised to find all the cities and towns are enjoying some level of growth. Even DESIE, which is founded on a very difficult piece of real estate, suitable to a military post rather than a city is rebuilding itself. We were also impressed by the rapid progress being registered by the city of KOMBOLCHA. We think, this industries city is on its way to becoming the brightest and biggest in that part of the region. We were also equally pleased by the relative growth of KOREM and MAICHEW cities.

Few days later we reached MEKELLE. We obviously expected to see changes but we were struck by the degree of the expansion and beautification. This charming heritage city is prosperous and vibrant than ever. In fact the talk of the town is, the city administration is having trouble keeping up with the hot private sector’s real estate investment. In other words, basic infrastructures like water, sanitation and power lines are not laid out in time.

Nevertheless, folks! What overwhelmed us the most about today’s Ethiopia was not the glitter and night life of our cities but the radical transformation that is affecting the lives of those rural communities we visited.

We believe for a country like Ethiopia whose population is about 80%rural, to effectively defeat poverty, it has to address the problems facing farmers and pastoralists. We were thrilled to find that is exactly what’s being done.

The regional governments of AMHARA and TIGRAY have done a commendable job of rehabilitating and emancipating their respective rural communities. They are building schools and health posts. Roads to access vital institutions. Through the ingenious policy of micro lending they have made millions of farmers become self sufficient. By providing basic training and education they have helped poor peasants expand their interest beyond tilting the land and venture in to the likes of animal husbandry and bee keeping. The expansion of micro dams and terracing to preserve the environment is simply stunning.

There is a philosophy flourishing in todays rural Amhara and Tigray. It is called utilitarianism. No stone is left unturned, literally, in the fight against mortal enemies’ poverty and dependency. Now, we were told such policies are not confined to these two regions, that every regional administration employs the same method, with varying degrees of success.

Nonetheless, we say hats off to the Amhara and Tigray governments for reaffirming our belief that our glory days are closing in. Such policies in congruent with the federal government’s macroeconomic policies has made Ethiopia one of the fastest expanding economies in the world with a GDP that is showing exponential growth.

This positive multi facet development that prevailed in Ethiopia in the last twenty one years is attracting a deserving attention. Currently, there is a global consensus that Ethiopia is the best investment destination in an otherwise difficult part of the world.

Security is an investment and safety is a democratic value. Today Ethiopia’s 80+ million residents are much safer and prosperous. These two conditions are not mutually exclusive, because security is critical infrastructure when it comes to growing economy. By instinct and choice Ethiopians, it seems have retooled their minds and started the next war. Not the war of survival but the war of innovation and expansion.

How this is for contrast? Despite abundant material wealth, strong democratic institutions and generous social safety net, people in our adopted country are apprehensive about the future. But, people of today’s Ethiopia in spite of their limited resources at their disposal, are contend and optimists.

When you ask Ethiopians what make them so confident about the future, their response goes like this: ‘because finally, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel’. They add ‘in fact, it is so close we can almost touch it’.

Here you have it. The new spirit of Ethiopia.

Happy Genbot 20!

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