Ethiopia: Ginbot 20 – Marks Some Progress, Deeper Problems –

by Zelalem

As the head of the ruling party, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn made the Silver Jublee felicitation speech to a crowd of attendees at the Addis Abeba Stadium last Saturday, May 29, 2016. The choice of the setting to be in a confined and well secured football field was understandable from past lessons at Mesqel Square which was known as “Revolutionary Square” during the Dergue regime.

We recall very well what happened at an official rally called by the party to protest the beheading of Ethiopians at the Libyan shores of the Mediterranean Sea. A couple of angry youngsters took the opportunity to condemn the government for causing the vulnerability of their peers to flee their country, risking their lives on their way to Europe, either as asylum seekers or economic migrants, by land or by sea.

Nothing seems to have improved. Unemployment has reached its highest mark. The cost of living is sky high. The population has exploded at an accelerated rate. Job seeking has become an indulgence for a few, while a partisanship privilege for others.

Hailemariam’s presentation was not highly intonated. He seemed to be charged on to read the text as if he was telling his audience about an ideal Ethiopia one can paint in the best colours. His narrative was full of superlative jargon.

He said that the government has achieved everything a multi-party democratic system would ever aspire to achieve. He made no mention of his apology and the wrong finger pointing phenomenon. Nor did he remark about the issues of finger pointing at the maladministration, rent seekers and corruption to be responsible for inciting students and residents in different towns and villages in Oromia.

Outside the Addis Abeba Stadium, where those assembled were under strict scrutiny and the one to five surveillance arrangement prevailed, the jubilation won in the form of honey mead or tej and dining in the form of anything ranging from roasted to raw meat. A huge sum of millions was rolled out for all expenses of the celebration.

When we compare the current situation in the country following the food and water shortage and the ensuing floods, even if we may not be God-fearing citizens with our own concerns, we see budgeting for such money to be spent for eating and drinking as improper. Some may even say this is a cruel hypocrisy.

The Prime Minister, in his rehearsed speech, sort of hinted that his government is strictly delivering in accordance with the articles set within the national constitution, which by the way is accepted as one of the best in the modern world, human rights and press freedom included. If that were true and practical, the free press alone would have ensured the checks and balances in all the pillars of any government. If the press was free to ask the right questions of the right people at the right time, much of the maladministration and corruption issues would have been exposed early, before such a high price would have been paid.

I am not closing my eyes to some of the positive achievements of the last 25 years though. I respect the education expansion, for example. Even the EPRDF government acknowledges that illiteracy was basically curbed at a higher level, as was acknowledged by UNICEF, during the military rule. The higher schools of specialization, however, were progressing at a snail’s pace although Addis Abeba University and the other colleges were competing with Makerere University and other highly reputed institutions. We know that most of the ministers and officials were distinguished graduates of highly celebrated universities such as the London School of Economics, Oxford University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard University, Leeds University and Perdu, only to mention a few of them.

As for expanding the numbers of the universities, however, the last 25 years have no equals. But the quality of the content has been very controversial to this day. Ironically, at the time of writing this article, close to 300,000 school leaving certificate exam takers have been left stranded as the exams have been rooked. Some of the culprits are alleged to have some link with the recent protests in Oromia.

That decision has involved no easy money. Hundreds of millions of Birr have been spent on the project as a whole, not to speak about the disappointment of students and members of their hopeful families.

Public health centres and hospitals have also been built all over the country. Mothers deliver their babies under the supervision of professionals. Availability of medicines, however, is almost nonexistent. The few pharmacies available sell them at exorbitant prices. And this adds to the rising cost of living, the immense population growth and increasing poverty.

There is, of course, some wealth that sprinkles over to some beneficiaries, including party members even in Addis Abeba. But this by no means is genuine wealth creation. It is just corruption in plain clothes.

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