The ‘Ferenji’ Year in Review

As always there’s good news and bad news in politics or anything related to it when reflecting on the year past or looking forward to the future. Today I want to reflect on how things fared in the past year. I must caution you from the start, that my analysis of the news is opinion-driven and not data-driven, so please take it with a grain of salt. Also, I will not be exhaustive in my selection of issues, but will only spotlight some of the most controversial and talked about issues.
Let’s look at what happened:
Election: It was undoubtedly a smooth year for PM Haile Mariam. The ‘Opposition’ (Capital “O”) was brushed away with much practiced ease, giving the EPRDF total control of Parliament. In many ways the 2015 election did not generate much excitement, and voters, by and large, were hardly enthusiastic. But winning by 100% is always difficult to make sense. Now there is a potentially more radical and progressive opportunity to renew the political system of the nation. The question is, will the EPRDF leadership opt for reform at victory? Can it be a force for introducing greater opportunities for political participation? Just asking!
Economy: High probability that the government will continue with high growth using public investment in infrastructure. Despite a higher than average portion of GDP dedicated to infrastructure, spending is still low. It’s critical that international partners continue to increase support to infrastructure. As to the private sector, realistically it’s hard to see where the strength will come from, whatever growth there is it will still remain short on scale. There is need to find ways to expand the role of the private sector. Today we live in a country where opportunity is stifled. Unfortunately it serves no useful purpose whatsoever to try to limit people’s access to opportunity.
Corruption: The problem has now reached crisis levels, our leaders tell us. To change the situation, they argue, the government should act fast and decisively. That’s right! But talking about it is not enough. There are several reasons why the problem persists. First, is the general economic situation, it may sound banal but the monstrous regulatory burden the government continues to introduce deepens corruption. Second, is the endemic culture of impunity, and the few court convictions at the highest levels of government. Third, the hush over the yearly reports of the Auditor General to the parliament, none of which were reviewed or acted upon. Put simply we’re getting to the point where people believe that in Ethiopia today honest business no longer pay.
Infrastructure: By and large the results there have been considerable!
Real Estate: It’s very hard to ignore the government’s effort in developing low cost housing in Addis Ababa and other cities. But this is not enough. The government is failing to get enough homes built, leading to rising rental levels and growing overcrowding, with more families squeezed into ever smaller spaces. People of lower incomes (the young and the poor) are finding it harder to pay for a roof over their head. There is need to step up government efforts to realize citizens‘ housing rights by speeding up housing delivery rate, facilitating financing to independent or group home builders, and transferring land at discounted price to those committed and ready to build their house. It should also encourage and support innovative private housing: Why not go for a true renaissance and implement, say, Housing for All program. Ambitious? Yes. Impossible? No.
Addis Ababa: Never a dull place. No doubt efforts were made to keep up with the demands of the city. Sad to see, however, so few kids out playing soccer, and so many chewing ‘Tchat’!
Free press: while the constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, to say that this government guarantees every citizen’s right to free speech would be an over statement. In the past fifteen years, the people of Ethiopia have gone from enjoying the freest political autonomy to fearing their own government more than almost any other internal or external threat. Believe me a letter or a call from the ministry of information can cause instant weight loss. It’s sad to see our new generation of leaders oppose those who don’t follow the herd, unfortunately it is precisely that herd mentality that will ultimately keep Ethiopia in mediocrity and under development. Are we entering a new dark age?
Judicial system: Citizens are very concerned of the state of our judicial system. There can be no development without a sound justice system, period.
The recent upheaval over land issues: The authorities must have thought that everything done in the name of development in Oromya is good news. But here is the thing, people today can sense when something is wrong. The belief that someone always benefits from these land schemes, in most cases the politically connected is wide spread. And this is resented. To suggest that policy tweaks would now resolve the problem is absurd. The issue is much more complex than officials suggest, it would require a bit of imagination and dialectical ability. One last thing: I’m not supposed to say things like “This is dumb,” but the government’s riot control of civilians have been dumb.
Drought: The situation is clearly in the danger zone, and although the government’s response is adequate for now a lot of things could go wrong. The people of Ethiopia are willing to help their brothers and sisters in need…Call them to chip in! Open the minds of the people to the fact that everyone is in this together. Remember a nation is only as strong as the bonds between its people; and if people have a strong social bond, they will labor together during difficult times and work out all problems.
“What’s next?”  is a key question that everyone should be asking. I still think Ethiopia is terrific. It’s still growing. There’s still enthusiasm in the air.  At the same time there is a sense of uncertainty, partly because of the problems mentioned above, but also because of lack of space and opportunity to cultivate clashes of ideas, lack of debates over the principles by which we should reorganize the government, both politics and economy.
See you next ‘Ferenji’ year!