Ethiopia’s Uncertain Future

November 25, 2016

As you may know, the last several months in Ethiopia have been tumultuous, especially in Oromia state, home to the numerous Oromo tribes. In fact, the unrest has been brewing for some time as the Oromo and Amhara have expressed discontent and frustration with the Tigrayan-led federal government.

We’ve shared a bit about this in our weekly prayer bulletin but thought it was important to bring to light to you. Here’s a brief description from the Washington Post:

“The protests began in November (2015) in the Oromia region, which surrounds the capital. People there complain of a corrupt local administration and illegal confiscation of land to set up multinational factories. The unrest has since spread to the Amhara region, Ethiopia’s cultural heartland, and now there is turmoil in the southern provinces as well. The Oromo people, who make up at least a third of the population, have long complained of economic and political marginalization.”
(Read the entire article.)

Conditions worsened and caused alarm when places we are very familiar with became the flashpoint of turmoil in September, leading Discovering Light to postpone an October vision trip. Over the years, as eye-witnesses to Ethiopia’s economic progress, we have seen the potential for unrest. Visiting every several months has revealed significant changes to the landscape including construction of hotels, factories, roads, and highways. Our connection to rural families through our village-based projects offers a window into the disparity between the industrial development and the subsistence farming culture that is the norm for 80% of the country.

IMG_9065Modernization and industrialization is surely to discomfort some and unsettle traditional living practices. The question is whether this process is a ‘rising tide lifting all boats’ or a tidal wave that wreaks havoc on the poor, weak, and vulnerable. Despite the protests and very real concerns from the marginalized tribes, in our nearly 10 years and dozens of visits with Ethiopians not one has raised a concern about the federal government’s development plans or unequal representation in parliament. Expressed needs center around clean water, educational opportunities for children, jobs, and access to credit. Maybe this is because South Ethiopian farmland hasn’t been affected by the new expressway or significant land confiscation. Or possibly because their daily needs are so great, the national issues are not as important.

We’ve seen with savings groups, micro-loans, and vocational training that rural Ethiopians will take whatever opportunities are offered to better their life. We’ve also seen they’ll take ‘handouts’ that disempower individuals from being agents of their own development. When the contrast between the industrial development and the subsistence farm-by-hand population is taken into account, it would be a mistake to think they are ignorant, backwards people. What they lack is a vision of what is possible with the resources within and around their villages, and how to pursue their potential. We’ve seen time and again how receptive the Arsi Oromo are to a positive vision of their future.

20150312000616_0477That is why, while the struggle with the government seems somewhat distanced from our work, we care about the nature of fight. We pray often for the government to see every citizen as highly valuable and as a catalyst in the development of the nation. We oppose the notion that only the educated and internationally connected know best what will help Ethiopia.

In the past few weeks, some good news has come through despite the continued State of Emergency.

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn swore in a group of technocrats and new finance and foreign ministers on Tuesday in a reshuffle meant to respond to grievances behind six months of violent protests.

The reshuffle swapped out half of his 30-member cabinet and brought in technocrats to take over important portfolios including trade, health, water and electricity, farming and the environment.
The cabinet is one of Ethiopia’s most ethnically diverse and includes nine newcomers from the Oromiya region, the center of protests over land grabs and political rights in which hundreds have died and foreign-owned businesses have been destroyed. 

Ethiopia’s advancements are truly remarkable and deserve to be praised. We hope and pray these new cabinet appointments are only the beginning of a political and cultural transformation that everyone inside and out of this great nation can celebrate.