It is really an interesting time to live in Ethiopia. A country that used to once be defined by a suffocating political space is now witnessing relaxation. As Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed told members of the national parliament this morning, suppressive laws are being revised, dissidents are called upon, exiled politicians have returned back, thousands got freed from jail, serious discussions on the future of the country are being held and many more.
But this is not the whole story. There remain challenges with a potential to reverse the course of things. And these range from ethnic clashes to widespread informal gun market, from violent propaganda (sometimes backed by regional state apparatuses), to dysfunctional local government structure, and from populist inclination to lack of sense of urgency in the bureaucracy.
Regardless, the transition in Ethiopia has attracted headlines of the global media and the international community. As the captain of the transition, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is also getting international acclaim, with Foreign Policy, a magazine, Indeed, one could not find a better expression to what is unfolding in the country of 100 million than a senior World Bank official that named PM Abiy’s passion “. There can be no major shift, as such, for Ethiopian politics, which has for long been identified for its authoritarian tendency and brutal police state.
Much is being said about politics, in almost all mediums. Sadly, though, little is being debated on the economic aspects of the transition. That is why I attempt in here, much as in my other articles previously, on the outstanding economic challenges of the country that is seeing sea change in its political culture and trends.
It is not a mystery that popular pressure is what drove the current change happening in Ethiopia. A realization from the side of the ruling party – EPRDF – that the quest for change has reached its tipping point has taken the interaparty ball to the side of the reformists. One thing that we often forget, however, is that the old guard has also done a good job in terms of leaving the space all the more peacefully. Had they resisted, the cost of the transition would have been higher.
Thanks to the commitment of the reformists, the cost has been reduced and hence the transition has started before the possibilities of a state collapse became imminent.
In the background of the rather inflaming anger in many parts of the country sat the economic marginalization that communities felt. With the Ethiopia being one of the youngest in Africa – 70% of the population of is below 35 – the disappointment of the youth and their subsequent uprising against the status quo put things forward to the transition. No doubt the journey cost hundreds of lives, millions of assets and took years.