Comparative analysis of Ethiopia under the Derge and EPRDF


Comparative analysis of Ethiopia under the Derge


By Bereket Gebru


Ethiopians last week celebrated the 23rd anniversary of the may 28, 1991 overthrow of the Derge regime through the leadership of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary and Democratic Front (EPRDF). As expected the few days prior to and after the public holiday were marked by special media coverage of what the day has brought to Ethiopia. Local and foreign based Print and electronic Ethiopian media have also dealt with the topic extensively. Obviously, some of the comments made regarding the issue were positive while others were not.

After going through most of these reports and comments, I decided to make an analysis of the changes registered in the last 23 years. In doing so, I have tried to consider data from the Derg era and a few from the early days of EPRDF’s ascendance to power to make a comparative analysis of the changes we see these days. Accordingly, the analysis is divided into sections dealing with economic, political and social changes.

Economic Comparisons

The 2002 edition of “Ethiopia, a country study” edited by Thomas P. Ofcansky and LeVerle Berry states that the economic policies of Imperial Ethiopia were a failure that many Ethiopians supported the 1974 revolution in hopes that it would improve their standard of living. The l974 revolution resulted in the nationalization and restructuring of the Ethiopian economy.

During the Derg regime, the country's economy deteriorated gradually. According to the study, by 1990-91 Ethiopia's economy was in a steep decline, from which recovery would be difficult.

The study denotes that during the last year of the military government, GDP declined by 5 percent in real terms, and inflation soared. Defense expenditures accounted for 40 to 60 percent of the national budget. Merchandise exports fell to their lowest level since 1974, and a collapse in international coffee prices (during the 1979-89 period, coffee accounted for an average of 55 percent of total exports) reduced foreign-exchange reserves to an all-time low. Recurring cycles of drought and famine again threatened millions of Ethiopians; and ill-conceived Marxist economic policies further eroded the country's economic performance. As a result of these and numerous other problems, the World Bank classified Ethiopia as the world's poorest country. Mengistu's early 1990 adoption of a new economic policy failed to reinvigorate Ethiopia's ailing economy. Without massive and genuine political, economic, and social reforms, it appeared unlikely that Ethiopia could harness its resources and improve the lives of its citizens anytime soon.

Other sources show that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country in 1990 was US$6 billion with per capita GDP estimated to be about US$120. Following the overthrow of the Derge by the coalition of forces from various ethnic groups, EPRDF, a decentralized market-oriented economy was introduced instead of the command economy adopted for much of the Derge era.

Three years into the era of EPRDF, in 1994, the GDP purchasing power equivalent grew to $US 20.3 billion with per capital of $US 200. As early as 1995, the real growth rate of GDP was 6%. The 1994 GDP was broken down into 31% services, 3% manufacturing, 10% industry and 56% agriculture. The data clearly show that positive changes in the economy came just a couple of years after the assumption of power by the EPRDF despite projections that it would take much longer.

With the adoption of the Agricultural Development Led Industrialization (ADLI), Ethiopia has set to develop agriculture as the fuel for industrialization gradually decreasing agriculture’s contribution to GDP and increasing that of the industry. Accordingly, the latest data (2014) show that GDP per capital has increased to $US 500 (from a mere $US 120 in 1991) with the population estimated to be as much as 91 million. That means the GDP of the country is $US 45.5 billion, over two folds bigger than the 1994 figure of $US 20.3 billion.

The progress reports on the Growth and Transformation Plan of 2010/11 and 2011/12 show that the growth rate of GDP in the fiscal years was 11.4% and 8.5% respectively. In fact, the Ethiopian economy has shifted to a higher growth trajectory since 2003/04. This has been sustained, and during the last five years, overall real GDP has grown rapidly at an average of 11% per annum. Agriculture, Industry and Services have registered an average annual growth rate of 8.4%, 10% and 14.6% respectively.

The share of GDP for the agricultural sector during the 2011/12 fiscal year was 44.0% while that of the industrial and service sectors were 11.0% and 45.0% respectively. That is a significant step towards decreasing the share of agriculture and increasing that of the industry as the figures, as indicated above, show that the 1994 share of the sectors was 56%, 10% and 31% respectively.

The periodic recurrence of famine every decade has been one of the characteristic features of Ethiopian economy throughout the Imperial and Derge regimes. The problem has also manifested during the post 1991 period; however, the country has now managed to break the ten year cycle of famine. In a stark contrast to conditions under the Derge regime that led to international organizations designating the country as the poorest in the world, it is nowadays recognized all around the world as one of the fastest growing economies and is credited for its bright future.

Another economic indicator is unemployment. According to data from the then Ministry of Labor, the unemployment rate increased 11.5 percent annually during the 1979-88 period. With reported 2 million new jobs created in the last three years of the Growth and Transformation Plan period in Ethiopia, the unemployment level has gone down from over 23% in the 1990s to 17.5% in 2012.

The Ministry of Urban Development and Construction publicized months ago that well over two million Ethiopians have joined the working section of the population in the first two years of the Growth and Transformation Plan period.

Political Comparisons

After a long history of Imperial rule, 1974 marked the end of that era. The Ethiopian people went through with the revolution as the Imperial administration proved unable to respond to popular demands. There were strong sentiments of change and nationalism throughout the country.

However, the hijacking of the popular demand for change by the military led to the ascendance of the Provisional Military Administrative Council to the pinnacle of power in the country. As that did not go well with the people, there were a number of forces trying to stop Derge from stabilizing itself in the position and forcing its legitimacy out of the people.

The response of Derge for these opposing forces was fierce and bloody. It brutally killed thousands of Ethiopians in its infamous “red terror” campaign. Even after stabilizing itself as a military dictatorship with Marxist Leninist orientation, Derge never hesitated to use force on Ethiopians.

With time passing by, Derge assumed the role of vanguard of the revolution and that of workers. The military administration made sure that there was only one political party in the country – the Workers’ Party of Ethiopia. By restricting the right of people to organize themselves into political parties, Derge infringed on social participation in politics. Therefore, Derge robbed the Ethiopian people of their hopes for a better political environment after the Imperial regime and alienated them with the chance to determine their destiny.

The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), on the other hand, fought Derge and eventually managed to lift the burden of coping with it off the people of Ethiopia. By doing that, I ensured that the blood of all those Ethiopians spilt by the Derge was not in vain and restored the popular hope for a better political, social and economic environment.

By adopting a democratic agenda, EPRDF reinstated the people of Ethiopia as the sole determinants of their destiny through unreserved political participation. It introduced a multiparty political environment in which other parties could operate and run for political power. Periodic elections have become a pillar of political legitimacy in today’s Ethiopia.

The country study Edited by Thomas P. Ofcansky and LaVerle Berry states: “before and after the 1974 revolution, the government controlled Ethiopia's mass communications. However, after 1974 the ideological orientation of mass media in Ethiopia underwent a substantial change insofar as they became vehicles for spreading Marxist dogma.”

The Ministry of Information and National Guidance published the two daily newspapers, Ethiopian Herald and Addis Zemen, besides Hibret newspaper published in Asmara. The study further stated that there were about a dozen periodicals published, the major ones being Serto Ader, Yekatit and Meskerem – all mouthpieces of the Workers’ Party of Ethiopia.

The media has, however, expanded its realm out of state control and into private ownership under EPRDF. The decentralized market orientation along with the democratic political venue EPRDF has chosen to follow has given private media, especially those in the print stream, conducive environment to flourish.

With the latter addition of the electronic media as an integral part of the private sector, the media has become a vehicle of political participation, national cohesion and economic development instead of a propaganda machine serving the views of the ruling elite.

Social Comparisons

The Derge regime was marked by armed struggle of different ethnic groups against the government in all parts of the country. Armed liberation movements operated in all four corners of the country. The Eritrean and Tigrayan liberation movements in the North, Ogaden in the South East and Oromo liberation movements in the west all fought for a more accommodating political and social environment.

With the rise to power of ERPDF and the subsequent call for all those powers to join hands in nation building, the need for armed struggle became irrational. Therefore, Ethiopia has enjoyed a much more peaceful internal condition since the overthrow of the Derge 23 years ago.

Another major leap in social conditions between the two regimes is human development. Credited for shooting up literacy levels in the country from a mere 10% to about government figures of around 63% and independent figures of 37%, Derge expanded ‘reading and writing’ skills well.

However, researchers and educators criticized the educational system for being elitist, inflexible, and unresponsive to local needs. Other criticism of the educational system under the Derge was that it suffered from inadequate financing. Yet another one is that access to tertiary education was still poor at best.

Between 1974/75 to 1985/86, the number of primary schools grew from 3,196 to 7,900. During the same time, primary school enrollment increased from about 957,300 to 2,450,000. Enrollment in higher education grew from 4,500 in 1970 to more than 18,400 in 1985/86, of whom nearly 11 percent were women.

The main strategic direction of the education sector since 1991 has been ensuring equitable access to quality education at all levels. The TVET institutions are reoriented to primarily focus on supporting micro and small scale enterprises through training, business counseling and technology transfer, proving a high degree of responsiveness to local needs. With the allocation of 25.7% of GDP for education, the sector is enjoying a much improved financing scheme. To increase participation in higher education, one of the major implementation strategies stated in the GTP is increasing the intake capacity of all universities especially in science and technology.

With big surges to 22 million in 2012 from only 2 million children in school in the 1990s, the gross children enrolment rates in Ethiopia have reached 95% from 32% enrolment in the 1990s. The 2011/12 GTP progress report states that the number of elementary schools increased from 26,951 and 28,349 in 2009/10 and 2010/11, respectively to 29,482 in 2011/12. This shows that the number of additional elementary schools that have been constructed in 2010/11 and 2011/12 were 1,398 and 1,294, respectively. In total during the first two years of the GTP 2,692 schools have been constructed. The document states that the total undergraduate participation in higher education increased from 420,387 and 444,553 in 2009/10 and 2010/11, to 491,871 in 2011/12, respectively. It also indicates that the proportion of female participation in higher education regular program slightly increased from 29.0 and 25.6 percent in 2009/10 and 2010/11 to 26.5 percent in 2011/12.

Another social issue is health. The country study edited by Thomas P. Ofcansky and LaVerle Berry states that by the mid-1970s, at least 80% of the people in rural areas did not have access to techniques or services that would improve health conditions. Forty- six percent of the hospital beds were concentrated in Addis Ababa, Asmera, Dire Dawa, and Harer. In the absence of modern medical services, the rural population continued to rely on traditional folk medicine.

According to official statistics, in 1983/84 there were 546 physicians in the country to serve a population of 42 million, a ratio of roughly one physician per 77,000 people, one of the worst ratios in the world. Less than 40 percent of the population was within reach of modern health services. Starting in 1981, a hierarchy of community health services, health stations, health centers, rural hospitals, regional hospitals, and central referral hospitals were supposed to provide health care. By the late 1980s, however, these facilities were available to only a small fraction of the country's population.

The 2011/12 GTP progress report states that in 2009/10 and 2010/11 the number of health posts were 14,192 and 15,095 respectively. In 2011/12 the cumulative number of health posts has increased to 15,668. Hence, according to the current implementation procedure one health post is providing service to 3-5 thousand citizens. In addition, during the fiscal year under review 2,268 health posts were equipped with the necessary materials.


Health centers are used as referral centers and have the responsibility of providing technical support to Health Extension Workers (HEWs). One health center is currently providing service to a population of 30,794. Given the standard of health center 1:25,000, Ethiopia needs 3,300 health centers to meet this standard. Currently the number of health centers is 2,999 health centers. With reference to hospitals, in 2009/10 and 2010/11 the number of hospitals were only 116 and 122 respectively. However in 2011/12 the number of hospitals has increased to 125 and the proportion of hospitals to beneficiaries stood at 1:671,402 by the end of 2011/12.

In 2010/11, the number of nurses stood at 29,550 and currently the proportion of nurses to beneficiaries reached 1: 2,762 exceeding the WHO standard of 1:5,000 in least developed countries. Regarding population to physician ratio; the WHO standard for developing countries is 1:10,000. In 2011/12, Ethiopia has reached 1:30,158. That is, however, a big step from the 1:77,000 ratio of the Derge period.

Life expectancy has also increased from around 49 at the start of the 1990s to 58 for men and 61 for women in 2011 (Index Mundi).

The 2011 Ethiopian Demographic and Health Survey (EDHS) showed infant mortality had decreased by 23 percent, from 77 to 59 deaths per 1,000 births reported in the 2005 EDHS, while under-five mortality had decreased during the same time by 28 percent, from 123 to 88 per 1,000 births.



As has been demonstrated above, the assumption of state power by EPRDF following the downfall of the Derge has transformed Ethiopia economically, politically and socially. The last 23 years have proved to have revived the lost hope of Ethiopians during the Derge regime through considerable economic growth, widened political arena and massive social development. That is why may 28 is marked colorfully every year by Ethiopians around the world.








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