Acute poverty amidst "double-digit economic growth" - contradictions in terms

By Getachew Begashaw / September 28 2010
Gebru Tareke, once a professor of history at Haile Selassie I University, wrote: “…by supporting a social hierarchy that was markedly extractive and exploitative, Ethiopian peasants lived for very many years in a terrible state of ignorance and gruesome conditions of deprivation and poverty”1. Philippa Bevan of the University of Bath made reference to this statement to explain how the tradition of exploitative structures which existed in Ethiopia was the major cause of the poverty of the Ethiopian people2.

Today, twenty years after the seizure of the state power by a group that claimed to abolish this exploitative structure, and after two decades of foreign aid by the West, the Ethiopian peasants still live in a terrible state of ignorance, deprivation and poverty.

Despite the glaring poverty of the people of Ethiopia, excepting the power players, the government of Mr. Meles Zenawi, for political reason, has continued to issue inflated figures of economic growth in the country. Certain international backers of the government, in particular the IMF and the World Bank, have also been irresponsibly reproducing and propagating the same faulty and manufactured data and information supplied to them by the government.

Paradoxically, these repeated lies about economic growth and development in Ethiopia appear to have duped some of our own Ethiopian compatriots in the Diaspora, who are misled to believe that the country is enjoying an enormous economic growth unseen ever before. Quite a few of them have already fallen in the traps set up by the TPLF regime in a sudden urge to be part of the ongoing economic life of the country. They share their casual observation on some of the economic activities in the service, constructions, and real-estate sectors in some urban areas reveal their lack of awareness of the extent to which such activities are controlled by Zenawi's party as an instrument of subjugation and propagation of absolute power over the people.

The purpose of this paper is, therefore, to carefully analyze the true and sad state of the economic situation in Ethiopia, with particular reference to studies conducted by other reliable and independent sources.

It's now humdrum that Meles Zenawi and his government attribute and attempt to legitimize the continued one-party rule over Ethiopia to their alleged success in bringing economic growth and ushering in a new era of economic prosperity to the country. As recently as September 22, 2010, when asked to justify how his party was able to get 99.6% of the seat in the recent election, Mr. Zenawi retorted: “…[h]is party is popular because he's presided over seven years of growth”3. Earlier on September 16, 2010, addressing the 8th organizational conference of his ruling party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EFRDF), in Adama, he claimed, “Ethiopia has registered remarkable economic growth for the first time in the history of the country over the past seven years,” and further asserted: “…. the rapid economic growth registered over the past seven consecutive years is the direct result of the development policy implemented under the leadership of the EPRDF”4. He is also quoted on many other occasions as declaring that “the “base-case” scenario of 11% average economic growth over the seven year-period was “doable” and that the “high-case” scenario of 14.9 % for the next 5 years is “not unimaginable”.

Through the web pages of its embassies, Mr. Zenawi's government repeats the same claim of continued economic growth. Listing “stable economic environment” as one of the 10 reasons why people should invest in Ethiopia, it declares that “Ethiopia has been able to achieve macro-economic stability” and to record “stable annual economic growth in double digits since 2003,” thereby giving prospective investors a sense of assurance of “stable exchange rate” and “government commitment to the private sector”.5

The Truth Behind Zenawi’s Growth Numbers

To anyone familiar with the appalling living conditions of the Ethiopian people, urban or rural, the spurious figures manufactured by Zenawi's regime are not only ridiculously imaginary, but sinister and immoral. The claims are outlandish, because there are compelling reports by independent researchers and institutions showing to the contrary. The assertions are criminal because they are intended to hide the bare fact from the outside world that poverty is a potent instrument chosen by Zenawi?s regime to subjugate the populace, win elections and command absolute rule.

full text ...(pdf)
Getachew Begashaw is a Professor of Economics at Harper College and can be reached at