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Ethiopia International Monetary Fund

Why is Ethiopia Poor?

First, Why is Africa Poor?

George Ayittey, the renowned Ghanaian economist and president of the Free Africa Foundation swears that “Africa is poor because she is not free”. Like Ayittey, Robert Guest, business editor for The Economist, in his book The Shackled Continent (2004), declares that “Africans are poor because they are poorly governed.” He argues that “Africa is the only continent to have grown poorer over the last three decades” while other developing countries and regions have grown richer. Much of Africa, it seems, was better off at the end of colonialism than it is today.

For Ayittey and Guest, the tens of billions of dollars in Western aid to Africa have done very little to improve the lives of Africans; at best, aid has served to “bankroll tyrants” and facilitate experimentation by “idealists with hopeless economic policies.” Statism (the state as the principal change agent) and dictatorship have denied the African masses basic political and economic freedoms while the few privileged kleptocrats (or thieves that have pirated the ship of state, emptied out the national treasury and plundered the economy) live the sweet life of luxury (la dolce vita), not entirely unlike the “good old” colonial times. As Ayittey explains, much of Africa today suffers under the control of “vampire states” with “governments that have been hijacked by a phalanx of bandits and crooks who would use the instruments of the state machinery to enrich themselves and their cronies and their tribesmen and exclude everybody else.” (“Hyena States” would be a fitting metaphor considering the African landscape and the rapacious and predatory nature of the crooks.) Simply stated, much of Africa languishes under the rule of thugtators (thugtatorship is the  highest stage of African dictatorship) who cling to power for the single purpose of using the apparatuses of the state to loot and ransack their nations. Such is the unvarnished truth about Africa’s entrapment in perpetual post-independence poverty and destitution.

Could it be said equally that Ethiopia is at the tail end of the poorest countries on the planet because she is not free and gasps in the jaws of a “vampiric” dictatorship? In other words….

Is Ethiopia Poor, Hungry, Ill and Illiterate Because She is Not Free and Poorly Governed?

A couple of weeks ago, the Legatum Institute (LI), an independent non-partisan public policy group based in London, released its 2011 Legatum Prosperity Index (LPI) which ranked Ethiopia a pretty dismal 108th/110 countries.[1] LPI’s findings are sobering as they are heartbreaking. Ethiopia has an “unemployment rate [that] is almost 21%, which is the sixth highest rate, globally.” The “capital per worker in Ethiopia is the fourth lowest worldwide.” The country has “virtually no investment in R&D.” The ability of Ethiopians “to start and run a business is highly limited… [with a] communication infrastructure [that] is weak with only five mobile phones for every 100 citizens”; and the availability of internet bandwidth and secure servers is negligible. Inequality is systemic and widespread and the country is among the bottom ten countries on the Index. The Ethiopian “education system is poor at all levels and its population is deeply dissatisfied.” There is “only one teacher for every 58 pupils at primary level, there is a massive shortage of educators, and Ethiopian workers are typically poorly educated.” Less than a “quarter of the population believe Ethiopian children have the opportunity to learn and grow every day, which is the lowest such rate in the Index.”

On  “health outcomes, Ethiopia performs very poorly. Its infant mortality rate, 67 deaths per 1,000 live births, and its health-adjusted life expectancy of 50 years, placing Ethiopia among the bottom 20 nations.” The population has high mortality rates from “Tuberculosis infections and respiratory diseases. Access to hospital beds and sanitation facilities is very limited, placing the country 109th and 110th (very last) on these measures of health infrastructure.” The core problem of poor governance is reflected in the fact that “there appears to be little respect for the rule of law, and the country is notable for its poor regulatory environment for business, placing 101st in the Index on this variable.”

But it is not only the LPI that has ranked Ethiopia at the rump of the most impoverished and poorly governed  nations in the world. Last year, the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHDI) Multidimensional Poverty Index 2010 (formerly annual U.N.D.P. Human Poverty Index) ranked Ethiopia as the second poorest (ahead of famine-ravaged Mali) country on the planet. According to OPHDI, the percentage of the Ethiopian population in “severe poverty” (living on less than USD$1 a day) in 2005 was 72.3%.  Six million Ethiopians needed emergency food aid in 2010 and many more millions needed food aid in 2011 in what the U.N. described as the “worst drought in over half a century to hit parts of East Africa”. The World Bank this past June concluded that  “Ethiopia’s dependence on foreign capital to finance budget deficits and a five-year investment plan is unsustainable.” The Bank criticized dictator Meles Zenawi’s “dependen[ce] on foreign capital or other means of financing investment in an unhealthy, unsustainable way.” Ethiopia is the world’s second-biggest recipient of foreign aid, after Afghanistan, according to the Organization for Cooperation and Economic Development rankings of developing nations because its “leaders” have perfected the art of international mendicancy (panhandling).

That is not all. Every international index over the past several years has ranked Ethiopia at the very bottom of the scale including Transparency International’s Corruption Index (among most corrupt countries), the Failed States Index (among the most failed), the Index of Economic Freedom (among the most economically repressive), the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development Investment Climate Assessment (among the most unfriendly to business),  the Ibrahim Index of African Governance (among the most poorly governed African countries), the Bertelsmann Political and Economic Transformation Index (among countries most in need of reform) and the Environmental Performance Index (among countries with poorest environmental and public health indicators).

Of course, none of that comes as a surprise to those who are familiar with the  fakeonomics of Meles Zenawi. Zenawi says all of the Indexes, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are wrong. He boldly claims the Ethiopian “economy recorded an average economic growth rate of 11 percent over the past seven years.” But that incredibly rosy growth rate figure, often repeated and republished mindlessly and unquestioningly by the international media, is based exclusively on statistics manufactured by Zenawi’s statistics department. This past June, the IMF debunked Zenawi’s imaginary economic growth estimate of 11.4 percent for 2009 “saying 7.5 percent is more realistic.” The IMF “forecast is even lower growth of about 6 percent for the coming year” because of a “more restrictive business climate”.

Economic principles, facts and realities are irrelevant to Zenawi. According to “Zenawinomics” (a/k/a “Growth and Transformation Plan”), there are bottomless pots of gold awaiting Ethiopians at the end of the rainbow in 2015: The Ethiopian economy will grow by 14.9 percent (oddly enough not 15 percent). There will be “food security at household and national level.” There will be “more than 2000 km of railway networks would be constructed” and power generation will be in the range of “ 8,000 to 10,000 MW from water and wind resources during the next five years.” The “whole community has mobilized to buy bonds. This huge savings and mobilization is used for infrastructure development… We are getting loans from China, India, Turkey and South Korea, so all these foreign savings are also mobilized… So I think we can perform on the ambitious plans that are in place.”

Zenawinomics is the economics of a magical wonderland, very much like Alice’s Wonderland: “If I had a world of my own,” said Alice “everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary-wise; what it is it wouldn’t be, and what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”

Maybe you don’t see. That is the whole point. In what Zenawi describes as “one of fastest growing non-oil economies in Africa,” inflation is soaring, and by mid-2011, Zenawi’s Central Statistical Agency reported that the annual inflation rate had increased by 38 percent and food prices had surged by 45.3 percent. There are more than 12 million people who are chronically or periodically food insecure. Yet, Zenawi is handing out “large chunks” of the most fertile land in the country for free, to be sure for pennies, to foreign agribusiness multinational corporations to farm commercially and export the harvest. This past July, the U.S. Census Bureau had a frightening population forecast: By 2050, Ethiopia’s current population of 90 million population will more than triple to 278 million, placing that country in the top 10 most populous countries in the world. It just does not make any sense.

In May 2010, the Economist Magazine rhetorically asked: “Ethiopia’s prime minister, and his ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) expect a landslide victory in the general election due on May 23rd, and are likely to get one (they actually “won” it by 99.6 percent!). The bigger question is whether another five years of EPRDF rule will help ordinary Ethiopians, who are among the poorest and hungriest people in the world.

Ethiopia Can Prosper Only If She Has Good Governance

The United Nations Development Programme and other international lending institutions define ‘governance’ as the “exercise of power or authority – political, economic, administrative or otherwise – to manage a country’s resources and affairs.” Good governance has to do with the “competent management of a country’s resources and affairs in a manner that is open, transparent, accountable, equitable and responsive to people’s needs.” There is substantial empirical research showing that political freedom, strong social and political institutions and proper regulatory mechanisms significantly contribute to economic growth. Stated simply, good governance and “good” (sustainable) growth are based on mutually reinforcing principles.

Where there is good governance, there is substantial political and legal accountability and much greater respect for civil, political and property rights. Leaders are held politically accountable to the people through fair, free and regular elections; and an independent electoral commission ensures there is no voter fraud, voting irregularities, vote buying, voter intimidation and voter harassment. Institutional mechanisms are in place to ensure the rule of law is followed and those exercising political power and engaged in official decision-making perform their duties with transparency and legal accountability.  Where there is good governance, citizens have freedom of association and the right to freely exchange and debate ideas while independent press, and even state-owned media, operate freely along with robust civil society institutions to inform and mobilize the population.

Good governance is an essential precondition for sustainable development. Stable and democratic governing institutions protect political and economic liberty and create an environment of civic participation, which in turn “determines whether a country has the capacity to use resources effectively to promote economic growth and reduce poverty.”   On the other hand, bad or poor governance stifles and impedes development and undermines competition in the marketplace. Where human rights and the rule of law are  disrespected, corruption flourishes and development inevitably suffers aspolitical leaders and public officials siphon off resources from critical school, hospital, road and other public works and community projects to line their pockets.  But where there is good governance, not only is economic development and growth accelerated, even chronic and structural problems of  food insecurity (famine) that have plagued Ethiopia for decades can be controlled and overcome. As Amartya Sen has argued no substantial famine has ever occurred in any independent country with a democratic form of government and a relatively free press.

Because there is little or no political accountability, Ethiopia suffers from poor governance and remains at the bottom of the indexes of the most impoverished nations  in the world. Programs intended for “poverty reduction” have been misused for political mobilization and rewards for voting for the ruling party. The country has been unable to promote broad-based economic growth because business attached to the ruling party have a near-total monopoly and chokehold on the economy making fair competition for non-ruling party affiliated entities in the market an exercise in futility. Because there is little respect for property and contract rights, those non-aligned with the ruling party feel insecure and disinclined to invest. The ruling regime has made little  investment in human resources through effective policies and institutions that improve access to quality education and health services as the LPI data shows. As a result, the rate of flight of professionals, intellectuals, journalists and political dissidents, is among the 10 highest in the world. The  International Organization for Migration has said it all: “There are more Ethiopian doctors practicing in the US city of Chicago than in Ethiopia.”

Ethiopia is universally regarded as one of the least free countries in the world and ranks at the very bottom of the 10 most repressive countries in the world for citizens’ freedoms in expression, belief, association, and personal autonomy. The respected Committee to Protect Journalists says, “Ethiopia is the second-leading jailer of journalists in Africa.” There is little regard for the rule of law as the LPI data confirms. In other words, those who occupy official positions have little respect for the country’s Constitution or laws, or show any concern for the fair administration of justice. The judiciary is merely the legal sledgehammer of the dictator and ruling party. The judges are party hacks enrobed in judicial garb with the principal mission of giving legal imprimatur to manifest official criminality. In sum, the rule of law in Ethiopia has been transmuted into the rule of one man, one party.

Few should be surprised by LPI’s conclusions that the “levels of confidence in the military and judiciary are both very low” and “Ethiopia is the country where expression of political views is perceived by the population to be most restricted.” None of the facts above matter to the dictators in Ethiopia because they are ready, willing and able to do whatever it takes to cling to power.

LPI’s dismal ranking of Ethiopia merely augments what has been solidly established over the years in the other Indexes. The question is why Ethiopia remains at the tail end of the most impoverished countries year after year. Zenawi’s “Federal Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission” (FEAC) conflates corruption and poverty in seeking to pinpoint the answer to this question. FEAC says the major sources of corruption in Ethiopia are “poor governance, lack of accountability and transparency, low level of democratic culture and tradition, lack of citizen participation, lack of clear regulations and authorization, low level of institutional control, extreme poverty and inequity, harmful cultural practices and centralization of authority.” Not quite! Poor governance, lack of accountability and transparency (a/k/a corruption), lack of citizen participation and the absence of the rule of law are the root causes of extreme and widespread  poverty, underdevelopment, aid-dependency, conflict, instability, starvation and injustice in Ethiopia. Have free and fair elections, allow the independent press to flourish, institutionalize the rule of law and maintain an independent judiciary,  professionalize and depoliticize the civil service, the military and police forces and Ethiopians will be well on their way to permanently defeating  poverty and making starvation a footnote in the history of the Ethiopian nation.

Ethiopia is poor, hungry, ill and illiterate because she is poorly governed and not free!


[1] The Legatum Index is based on 89 different variables covering the economy, entrepreneurship and opportunity, governance, education, health, safety and security, personal freedom, social capital and so on. The Institute uses data collected by the Gallup World Poll, World Trade Organization, World Development Indicators, GDP, World Intellectual Property Organization, UN Human Development Report, World Bank, OECD and World Values Survey.

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Ethiopia’s regime and the weaponization of famine

By Alemayehu G. Mariam

Author’s Note:  On June 16, 2008, I published a special commentary (reproduced below in its original form) explaining the sysetmatic use of disinformation by Meles Zenawi, the dictator in Ethiopia for two decades, to deny widespread famine in various parts of Ethiopia and insidiously manipulate famine as a political and military weapon to cling to power. I wrote: “Famine is not just about images of skeletal children gasping for their last breath of air as their mothers gaze into nothingness in the sun baked landscape. It is also a military and political weapon. Meles today is using denial of food aid to “rebel areas” in the south/southeast as did Mengistu to “rebel areas” in the north back in his day. That is the classic strategic lesson Meles learned from Mengistu. Famine can be used both as a tactical and strategic weapon against one’s opponents…” I offer that commentary which originally ran without a byline to my readers at this time in light of recent revelations by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the BBC showing that the U.S., Britain,  the European Union, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are still providing billions of dollars of aid to Zenawi’s regime despite evidence that it is used as a tool of political oppression in Ethiopia.  Shame on them all!

Special Commentary: The art of denial (lying)  June 16, 2008

Credit must be given where it’s due. And Meles Zenawi and his crew deserve full credit. For perfecting the art of denial (lying) just like the smooth career criminals who deny everything when caught: “Didn’t do it! Wasn’t there! Didn’t happen! Somebody else did it. Someone stole my fingerprints to make it look like I done it!” Deny, deny, deny!

Famine? What famine? That’s the response of Meles and his gang about the famine that is slowly enveloping Ethiopia, and swallowing its people region by region. A few days ago, the reptilian “Deputy Prime Minister” Addisu Legesse groused: “Institutions that exaggerate the food shortage in Ethiopia and report inflated figures of the needy are intent on belittling the economic growth of the country and calculating their interests.” According to Meles, Inc. Ministry of Disinformation, the whole famine thing is a figment of the overactive imagination of the foreign media and humanitarian organizations: “It is ridiculous and unethical that some media outlets are reporting as if food grain price hike is typical of Ethiopia, though it is known that the existing global price hike is a result of soaring price of oil and ever-increasing demand of food grain among the developing countries. The reporting of some media is very much exaggerated and far from the truth,” concluded the garbled statement of the Disinformation Ministry.

The bottom line from Meles Inc. is: There is no famine in Ethiopia. Just millions of Ethiopians who can’t afford to buy food because it is damn too expensive! But Meles runs a pretty slick disinformation campaign: Blame the international commodities markets for high food prices in Ethiopia, and demonize the foreign media and aid organizations for ruining Ethiopia’s image. Then dish out boldfaced lies to distract public attention from the raging famine, and promptly declare victory: “The country has registered during the last five consecutive years rapid double digit economic growth…”

The fact of the matter is that people in Ethiopia are starving to death, by the thousands every day. There is no question about that: “We’re overwhelmed,” said Margaret Aguirre recently, a spokeswoman for the International Medical Corps, a California-based aid agency. “There’s not enough food and everyone’s starving and that’s all there is to it.” Georgia Shaver, the World Food Programme’s director in Ethiopia, painted an equally bleak picture saying that while up to 14 million people needed food aid across six countries in southern Africa, “in Ethiopia we could have the same number in just one country.”

Now, why would Aguirre, Shaver, the BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera… lie about famine in Ethiopia? What would they gain from “exaggerating” the famine?

Famine Facts

For over three decades, Ethiopia has been the international poster lady for famine and starvation. Images of throngs of skeletal children and their starving parents scratching the sun-baked earth are indelibly imprinted in the minds of people around the world. In 1974, mutinous soldiers deposed Emperor Haile Selassie after foreign reporters (“The Unknown Famine” by Jonathan Dimbleby) and some international humanitarian organizations revealed to the world that a famine of biblical proportion was taking place in the north of the country. Just like Meles today, Haile Selassie then denied reports of widespread famine and starvation, and tried to cover it up. When news of the famine shocked the world, Haile Selassie blamed the foreign media for exaggerating the scope of the disaster and for tarnishing Ethiopia’s image.

In 1985, after a decade of disastrous experiments in socialism, Mengistu presided over a famine that claimed the lives of nearly a million people. He also blamed drought and poor rainfall for the famine (but never his disastrous socialist policies) and set out to deal with the problem by putting into place a reckless policy of forced resettlement of hundreds of thousands of people from the north to the more fertile south. Like Meles today, Mengistu then, sat with his arms crossed waiting for massive international food aid to be delivered to his door. Meles today claims the problem of famine in Ethiopia, if it existed at all, is caused by drought and poor rainfall during successive seasons (but never his disastrous economic policies that give higher priority to growing roses than teff), and now expects delivery of massive emergency food aid from Western nations to rescue Ethiopia. Like Haile Selassie who blamed the famine, the high costs of imported goods, gasoline, and skyrocketing food prices, unemployment, etc., on the international oil crises of 1973, Meles today blames the oil crises of 2008 for exactly the same things.

Meles’ Fine Art of Denial (Lying)

Meles and his gang have perfected the art of denial (lying) and raised it to new heights. They have done it by:

Denial of fact: They deny undeniable facts with a straight face. Example: “Famine does not exist in Ethiopia. It is a story made up by the foreign media and aid organizations. It is all ‘exaggerated  and far from the truth’.”

Denial of responsibility: They deny responsibility in the event such a thing as famine should be discovered. Example: “There is no famine, but if, in the unlikely event it exists, it is first and foremost the responsibility of God. He failed in his divine duty to send the rains. He did not. Therefore, there was no harvest, which means famine. God’s co-conspirators include the oil cartels and the greedy manipulators of global food prices. Last but not least of the culprits is the West. They also failed in their duty to supply food aid as they have dutifully done for the past three decades. We had nothing to do with it. We were just minding our own business growing roses and making sure of double digit economic growth.”

Denial of impact: There is really no famine as such in the country, just some pockets of grain deficits. Example: “With the exception of spot shortages in Oromiya and Somali regions, everything is hunky dory. There is plenty of food in the rest of the country, if people have the cash.”

Denial of awareness: We were so busy doing “double digit economic development” and tending to our rose gardens, we were not aware of any famine. Example: “It is impossible to have famine in a country that has been wallowing in ‘double digit economic growth for the past five years’. We’ve been so busy building office structures, luxury villas with swimming pools, world class hotels, exporting roses and importing French wines and champagne, we simply did not know famine was ravaging the countryside. Oops!! Sorry!”

Denial of recurrence: If there is famine, it just happened. Example: “We did not know this famine thing is recurrent. There were no early warning signs. No sentinel events to cause us concern that real famine was going to happen. Anyway, no big deal. We are in ‘double digit economic growth’ and this famine shall be over soon like all the rest. It is just once in a decade type of thing.”

Denial of denial: There is nothing that we must do to deal with the problem of famine, if it exists. Example: “The whole famine thing will take its own course. For decades, there has been famine in Ethiopia. It’s not like this is the first time. Nothing happened in the past from famine. There are a lot more people in Ethiopia today than were in 1974 or 1984. So, famine will have no real effect on the population. It is natural. We don’t need to do anything.”

Denial-by-admission: The whole famine thing is an overblown “exaggeration”.  Example: “It is true that millions of people are at risk of food shortage. But what some describe as famine in Ethiopia is nothing more than food insecurity. Those skeletal children that are seen in the international media are just nutritionally-challenged, but they are, by no means, famine victims! Their parents are victims of critical food shortages for extended periods, not famine. At worst, the food situation in Ethiopia points to large-scale chronic food deprivation, which is not the same as famine.”

Why is Ethiopia Stalked by Recurrent Famine?

When Haile Selassie was deposed over the famine, the people asked: Why didn’t he do something to prevent it? When Mengistu celebrated the tenth anniversary of his socialist government and hundreds of thousands of people died in a catastrophic famine, the people asked: Why didn’t he do something to prevent it? Now, the same question must be put to Meles: Why didn’t he do something to prevent the current famine as he enjoyed his Millennium celebration in Pharaonic  splendor? The answer to the question is very simple. Meles does not care! He doesn’t give a damn if famine wipes out half the population. (He might even shed a few crocodile tears!) He is concerned only with keeping himself and his gang in power, and making Ethiopia their playground. That is the absolute TRUTH!

We must go beyond the obvious to fully appreciate the severity of the current famine situation. The indisputable fact is that famine in Ethiopia is NOT a natural disaster. Certainly, it is aggravated by certain meteorological phenomena, but it is, and has always been, a preventable man-made disaster. So, we must ask some tough questions of those who have been feasting at the Table of Plenty for the last 17:

Has Meles learned any lessons at all from the Great Famines of 1973-74 and 1984-85 to prevent a famine in 2007-08?

Why isn’t famine prevention given the highest policy priority in the Meles regime?

Why is Meles so adamantly opposed to complete privatization of land, which by all expert accounts is the single most important factor in the food security of any nation?

Why is Meles spending millions upon millions of dollars in Somalia when millions upon millions of Ethiopians are starving?

Why does military spending consume nearly one-half of Ethiopia’s budget?

Why is exporting roses to Europe more important than raising teff and wheat to feed the starving people of Ethiopia?

Why hasn’t the Meles regime implemented a national family planning program in the same manner as those countries experiencing high birthrates?

Why is Meles addicted to international food aid and rescue?

Why is Ethiopia listed 138/179 countries on Corruption Index for 2007?

The Weaponization of Famine

Famine is not just about images of skeletal children gasping for their last breath of air as their mothers gaze into nothingness in the sun baked landscape. It is also a military and political weapon. Meles today is using denial of food aid to “rebel areas” in the south/southeast as did Mengistu to “rebel areas” in the north back in his day. That is the classic strategic lesson Meles learned from Mengistu. Famine can be used both as a tactical and strategic weapon against ones opponents. It could be used to depopulate troublesome regions by creating refugees and eliminating hostile guerilla forces. Like Mao Zedong said, “Guerrillas are like fish, and the people are the water in which fish swim.” When you weaponize famine, it is like draining the water out of the lake. No water! No fish! No problem!

Famine can also be used as a political weapon of control and elimination of any organized opposition. For instance, by controlling and manipulating the supply of grain to the urban markets, the regime can effectively punish and bring that population to its knees while eliminating any capacity for organized political opposition.

But famine is also very good for business (famine profiteering). Regime-allied middlemen buy massive amounts of grains from farmers at low prices (by offering what appears to be a generous price at the time) and eliminate legitimate small businesses that deal in grain. When these middlemen have an absolute monopoly on the acquisition, sale and distribution of agricultural commodities, particularly grains, it not hard to imagine how profitable famines could be. It makes perfect economic sense from the perspective of famine profiteering to place low policy priority on famine prevention and control. It’s the old supply and demand curve. High demand for food and less supply on the market, and complete control on the distribution of international food aid equals to “mo’ money, mo’ money, and mo’ money” for Meles and his gang.

The Real Reasons for Recurrent Famines in Ethiopia

The prime reason for the current famine in Ethiopia is the misguided economic policies of the Meles regime. That is the judgment of the most experienced development economists. As Amartya Sen, the Nobel laureate and world renowned welfare (development) economist, observed, “There has never been a famine in a functioning multiparty democracy.”

In Ethiopia, drought and other meteorological phenomena are aggravating factors in the causation of famine, but their effects can be mitigated through effective policies, improved planning and better coordination in a functioning multiparty democracy. But there is no way famine could be effectively addressed in a one-party totalitarian police state that places a higher priority on the cultivation of rose bushes, coffee exports, tourism and construction of villas, resorts and unneeded office buildings than feeding its people. There is no way to overcome famine when artificially low prices are maintained for agricultural commodities (so that regime-allied middlemen could make obscene profits) and few incentives are provided to farmers for expanded food production. There is no way to rid famine from Ethiopia when fertilizer is used to blackmail farmers into voting for the regime. It is impossible to avoid recurrent famines when the regime relies on flawed policies promoted by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund which ignore the critical role of the private sector in food production. Famine will always rear its ugly head in Ethiopia so long as it is used as a military and political weapon. There will always be famine in Ethiopia so long as privatization of land is prohibited.

Stretching Her Hands Unto God

Let’s face the facts. For well over three decades, Ethiopia has been forced into recurrent famines by reckless, careless, heedless, feckless, aimless and worthless governments whose solution to the structural problem of food insecurity is to stretch out unbending begging hands to the Western countries. For well over three decades, the West has responded with kindness, goodwill, mercy, understanding, charity and compassion. Today, the limits of Western charity and generosity has reached its limits. For the first time, the West has come to the conclusion that it has no moral obligations to save Ethiopia when the Ethiopian “government” is sitting on its hands and doing nothing; or when it does do something, it is only to stretch out the hand that begs.

We must come to terms with the fact that the West is no longer willing to be blackmailed into accepting moral blame for Ethiopia’s famine. That is why it will be different this time. There will be no Bob Geldofs to save Ethiopia. No Live Aid. No Michael Jacksons singing “We are the World.” It will do us no good to stretch out begging hands to the Western Powers. This time Ethiopia must stretch her hands to a much Higher Power, the only Power that can save her. And Ethiopia will be saved — let there be no doubt about that — because we believe, as written in Psalm 68:31, “Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God.” And He will hold and lift her tenderly by her hands and raise her from the depths of despair, privation and misery, and deliver her from the plague of oppression! This time Ethiopia’s children must not only stretch out their hands unto God, but they must also hold hands — extend helping hands — from across the globe and embrace their brothers and sisters who are dying simply because they have nothing to eat. No Ethiopian should die from starvation!

Food for Thought: How many Ethiopians died today for lack of food?

Afterword: I have written about famine in Ethiopia on a number of occasions since June 2008. Here are some of my commentaries:

Ethiopia: Dictator With a Conscience? July 25, 2011

Ethiopia: Apocalypse Now or in 40 Years? July 10, 2011

Licensed to Steal March 10, 2010

Ethiopia’s “Silently” Creeping Famine January 11, 2010

Speaking Truth to Strangers June 10, 2010

Famine and the Noisome Beast in Ethiopia November 2, 2009

Previous commentaries by the author are available at: and

Ethiopia: Apocalypse Now or in 40 Years?

By Alemayehu G. Mariam

In October, 2009, I wrote a weekly commentary titled, “Famine and the Noisome Beast in Ethiopia”:

It is hard to talk about Ethiopia these days in non-apocalyptic terms. Millions of Ethiopians are facing their old enemy again for the third time in nearly forty years. The Black Horseman of famine is stalking that ancient land. A year ago, Meles Zenawi’s regime denied there was any famine. Only ‘minor problems’ of spot shortages of food which will ‘be soon brought under control,’ it said dismissively. The regime boldly predicted a 7-10 percent increase in the annual harvest over 2007. Simon Mechale, head of the country’s Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Agency, proudly declared: ‘Ethiopia will soon fully ensure its food security.’… Zenawi’s regime has been downplaying and double-talking the famine situation. It is too embarrassed to admit the astronomical number of people facing starvation in a country which, by the regime’s own accounts, is bursting at the seams from runaway economic development.

I concluded with a rhetorical question:

Images of the human wreckage of Ethiopia’s rampaging famine will soon begin to make dramatic appearances on television in Western living rooms. The Ethiopian government will be out in full force panhandling the international community for food aid. Compassion fatigued donors may or may not come to the rescue. Ethiopians, squeezed between the Black Horseman [Scriptural metaphor for famine] and the Noisome Beast [Scriptural metaphor for evil beasts that terrify the land], will once again cry out to the heavens in pain and humiliation as they await for handouts from a charitable world. Isn’t that a low down dirty shame for a proud people to bear?

In January 2010, I followed up with another commentary titled Ethiopia’s “Silently” Creeping Famine challenging the “famine deniers.”  At the time, Mitiku Kassa, a top official of Zenawi’s regime had declared: ‘In the Ethiopian context, there is no hunger, no famine… It is baseless [to claim hunger or famine], it is contrary to the situation on the ground. It is not evidence-based. The government is taking action to mitigate the problems.’ Kassa issued assurances that his regime had launched a food security program to ‘enable chronic food insecure households attain sufficient assets and income level to get out of food insecurity and improve their resilience to shocks…and halve extreme poverty and hunger by 2015.’ Zenawi was entirely dismissive: “Famine has wreaked havoc in Ethiopia for so long, it would be stupid not to be sensitive to the risk of such things occurring. But there has not been a famine on our watch — emergencies, but no famines.”

It is now July 2011 and the Black Horseman is standing at the gate. No more “emergencies”, just plain old-fashioned famine. This time it is the international aid agencies that are frantically sounding the 5-alarm famine. They warn that if donors do not provide substantial emergency food aid to 12 million people now, there will be famine of Biblical-proportions in Ethiopia and other neighboring countries unseen in the last 60 years. UNICEF warns that “millions of children and women are at risk from death and disease unless a rapid and speedy response is put into action.”

The silently creeping famine was visible to anyone who bothered to study the periodic reports of the aid agencies (and read between the lines) and regularly monitored the “famine early warning systems” over the past few years. But until now, no aid agency or donor country could force itself to use the “F” word. Political correctness had trumped the truth and the welfare of millions. The very aid agencies that are now frothing at the mouth sounding the alarm of a doomsday famine were describing the problem for the last few years in terms of “severe malnutrition”, “food shortages”, “acute food security phases” “food insecurity, scarcity, insufficiency and deprivation”, “chronic dietary deficiency”, “endemic malnutrition” and other clever phrases. They simply could not call a spade a spade. But famine by any other name is still famine. The “severe malnutrition” of yesterday has become today’s famine silently spreading to consume 12 million people.

Apocalypse in 40 Years?

Lately, everybody has been talking about facts and figures. It’s been all about percentages. Meles Zenawi says between now and 2015 Ethiopia’s economy will be growing at 12-15 percent a year. Recently, he told his party members: “We have devised a plan which will enable us to produce surplus and be able to feed ourselves by 2015 without the need for food aid.”  That plan is anchored in what Zenawi calls “agricultural development–led industrialization”  (ADLI), which purports to focus intensively on agriculture by technologically boosting the low level of productivity of small scale farmers and commercially linking them to the non-agricultural (industrial) sector. Zenawi says by 2015 extreme poverty in Ethiopia will be cut by 50 percent along with hunger (“severe malnutrition”) consistent with the U.N. Millennium Development Goals. The Ethiopian currency has been devalued by 20 percent over the past year. The annual inflation rate is galloping at 34.7 percent according to official reports (likely much higher).  The International Monetary Fund predicts Ethiopia will likely have economic growth of 7.5 percent in 2011. On the political side, Zenawi said he won the May 2010 election by 99.6 percent. But lost in the stacks of fantasy percentages is a little big 3 percent that will ultimately determine the survivability of the Ethiopia people.

Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau had frightening predictions for Ethiopia, Nigeria and India. By 2050, India will be the most populous nation in the world, bypassing China sometime in the mid-2020s. Nigeria’s current population of 166 million will explode to 402 million. In just four decades, Ethiopia’s population will more than triple to 278 million, placing that country in the top 10 most populous countries in the world.

Ethiopia’s population growth has been spiraling upwards for decades. In 1967, the population was 23.5 million. It increased to 51 million in 1990 and by 2003, it had reached 68 million. In 2008, that number increased to 80 million. The Census Bureau estimates Ethiopia’s population today at 91 million. Since 1995, the average annual rate of population growth has remained at over 3 percent.

Every government and regime in Ethiopia over the past one-half century has blamed famine on “acts of God.” For the last two decades, the current regime has blamed “food shortages”, “chronic or severe malnutrition”, “food insecurity”, etc., on “poor and erratic rains,” “drought conditions,” “deforestation and soil erosion,” “overgrazing,” and other “natural factors”. Zenawi’s regime even had the brazen audacity to blame “Western indifference” and “apathy” in not providing timely food aid for the suffering of starving Ethiopians. There is not a single instance in which any Ethiopian government or regime has ever taken even partial responsibility for food shortages, extreme malnutriion or failure to act and prevent starvation and famine.

The issue of “food security” aside, the central question is: Does Zenawi have a policy to deal with the little big 3 percent problem?

In 1993, Zenawi’s “Transitional Government of Ethiopia” in its “National Population Policy of Ethiopia” (NPPE) declared that “its major goal [was] the harmonization of the rate of population growth and the capacity of the country for the development and rational utilization of natural resources thereby creating conditions conductive to the improvement of the level of welfare of the population.”

Among the major objectives of the NPPE included “closing the gap between high population growth and low economic productivity through planned reduction of population growth…, reducing the rate to urban migration, reducing the current total fertility rate of 7.7 children per woman to approximately 4.0 by the year 2015… mounting an effective country wide population information and education programme addressing issues pertaining to small family size and its relationship with human welfare and environmental security.”

Among the strategies to be used in achieving these objectives included “expanding clinical and community based contraceptive distribution services, raising the minimum age at marriage for girls from the current lower age limit of 15 to, at least, 18 years, making population and family life related education and information widely available via formal and informal media”, facilitating delivery of population and family planning related services by non-governmental  organizations  and changing the law “to remove unnecessary restrictions pertaining to the advertisement, propagation and popularization of diverse conception control methods.”

Given the fact that the average annual rate of population growth in Ethiopia has remained at over 3 percent since 1995,commenting on the NPPE is belaboring the obvious.

Will There Be Ethiopia in 2050?

Whether Ethiopia survives as a viable nation in 2050 free of war, disease, pestilence and famine will not depend on an imaginary 15 percent economic growth or a ludicrous 99.6 percent election victory. It will depend on what is done to deal with the little big 3 percent problem. In other words, overpopulation poses the single most critical problem and decisve issue  in Ethiopia today and the years to come.

Thomas Malthus, the 18th Century British economist argued that human population, if unchecked, tends to grow much faster than the capacity of the land to produce food.  He explained that population can be controlled through “preventive checks” (such as family planning, wide use of contraceptives to slow growth, marriage at later age) or “positive checks” (mortality caused by war, disease, plague, disaster). The bottom line is that if Ethiopia cannot adequately feed, clothe and shelter 90 million of its people today, there is no way on earth she can do so for 278 million in just 40 years. If the “Malthusian catastrophe” is what is looming on the Ethiopian horizon, the outcome is predictable and certain: massive starvation and famine, extreme overcrowding, endemic poverty, total depletion of natural resources and massive environmental degradation. Widespread and extreme civil strife, conflict over scarce resources and epidemics will complete the grim picture.

What needs to be done is pretty clear. As the Indian economics Nobel laureate Amartya Sen  has convincingly argued, the best way to avert famines (and simultaneously deal with the underlying problem of overpopulation) is by institutionalizing multiparty democracy and strengthening human rights: “No famine has ever taken place in the history of the world in a functioning democracy” because democratic governments “have to win elections and face public criticism, and have strong incentive to undertake measures to avert famines and other catastrophes.”

Ethiopia’s famine today is a famine borne of “food scarcity” as much as it is a famine borne of a scarcity of democracy and good governance. Ethiopians are famished for democracy, starved of human rights, thirst for the rule of law, ache for accountability of those in power and yearn to breathe free from the chokehold of dictatorship.  But after two decades of one-man, one-party rule, we do not even see the ghost of democracy on Ethiopia’s parched landscape. We can only see a malignant and entrenched dictatorship that continues to cling to power like ticks on a milk cow; and in the dark and gloomy 40-year Ethiopian horizon, we see the specter of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse aiming their swords, spears and arrows against a defenseless population of 278 million. Our only shield is a genuine multiparty democracy that functions under the rule of law!

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Ethiopia: The Voodoo Economics of Meles Zenawi

“There are lies, lies and implausible lies,” to quote Meles Zenawi, the dictator-cum-economic spinmeister of Ethiopia. Last week, Zenawi told a snickering Parliament a story that is the equivalent of the proverbial bull that gave birth to a calf (or in Amharic “bere welede”): “We will be seeing an economic growth rate of 10.1 percent this year, while inflation will fall to 3.9 percent. This is the result of sound economic policy.” (Sorry, but this is the result of voodoo economics!)

For the past several years, Zenawi has been making hyperbolic claims of economic growth in Ethiopia based on fabricated and massaged GDP (gross domestic product) numbers, implying that the country is in a state of runaway economic development and the people’s standard of living is fast outstripping those living in the middle income countries. In March 2009, for instance, Zenawi’s bragged that he expected the Ethiopian economy to grow by 12.8 percent. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) disagreed in the same month stating that given the global economic crises Ethiopia could expect only about 6% economic growth. Zenawi dismissively countered those who pointed out the discrepancies: “We have differences with the international financial institutions when we predict our economic growth, but we usually agree on the economic growth statistics at the end of each year.” The questions remain: Did the Ethiopian economy grow by 12.8 percent in 2009/10? Could it be expected to grow by 10.1 per cent in 2010/11? Who is keeping track of the economic statistics?

The Central Statistics Agency (CSA) and the “National Accounts Department of the Ministry Finance and Economic Development” are the two institutions in Ethiopia that are responsible for keeping track of the statistical data and providing analysis on economic performance. But neither organization has the institutional capability to collect reliable and accurate economic data, let alone assemble complete and comprehensive data sets which could serve as empirical bases for economic prognostications. This fact was emphatically stated on March 24, 2010 in the official statement of Paul Mathieu, the IMF team leader who, after conducting an evaluation of the current half fiscal year economic performance of Ethiopia, said: “Statistics collection of the country requires transformations, and we advised the government to do that.” Translated from “diplomatese” into ordinary language, Mathieu’s statement makes it plain that the statistics and data generated and used by the regime to describe Ethiopia’s economic performance and make predictions are basically “cooked up.” The simple fact of the matter is that the statistics buttressing Zenawi’s exaggerated claims and projections of stratospheric economic growth, vanishing inflation and red-hot performance of key economic sectors originate from seriously flawed, massaged and deficient economic data cooked up in the kitchens of the two institutions for whom the IMF recently prescribed “transformations”.

Zenawi’s stated claims of multi-year runaway GDP growth taken at face value defy not only economic realities but also common sense. On March 4, 2009, the IMF reported that Ethiopia’s economic growth could slow to 6 percent in 2009 based on objective factors rooted in the global economic slowdown and specific trends in the critical foreign exchange earning sectors in Ethiopia such as coffee exports (with decreased demand and a 19 per cent decline in price), tourism and transportation, and depreciation of effective foreign exchange rates by 30 percent. The IMF also indicated that Ethiopia has the highest inflation rate (26%) in Africa outside Zimbabwe. In its April 2010 “Background Note: Ethiopia”, the U.S. State Department reported an average inflation rate (FY 2008-2009) of 36%. There is no IMF (or any other credible multilateral institution) year-end or any other report which indicates that Ethiopia could expect a 12.8 or 10.1 percent economic growth or a decline in inflation to 3.9 percent in 2009/10 or any other subsequent year. Indeed, IMF’s Mathieu stated on March 24, 2010 that “non-food inflation remains close to 20 percent, and has been rising in recent months.” The claim that “we usually agree on the economic growth statistics at the end of each year” is simply not true.

However, for a number of years Zenawi’s regime has been pulling a public relations sleight-of-hand by using the IMF as a front to channel its own preferred economic statistics to prove its economic prowess and unrivalled success to the world. For instance, IMF Country Report (Ethiopia) No. 08/264 (July 2008)[1], states: “Growth has averaged 11 percent since 2003/04, far exceeding the minimum target of 7 percent in the Program for Accelerated and Sustainable Development (PASDEP), that is estimated to be consistent with keeping the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) within reach.” On pp. 20-24 of this Report, the origin of the data indicating an 11 percent growth is not some independent data collection and analysis source but the very same Central Statistics Office which last month the IMF said needs massive “transformation”. The footnotes in the above-referenced pages state: “Sources: Ethiopian authorities; and IMF staff estimates and projections.” Similarly, the data source for “Financial Soundness Indicators for Banking” is identified as the “National Bank of Ethiopia; and IMF calculations.” In its official reports, the IMF simply accepts and incorporates at face value the data for GDP growth given to it by the Central Statistics Office (with its own staff estimates) and incorporates those figures in its own report without so much as qualifying it for completeness, accuracy or reliability.

In the above-referenced report, the IMF further presents GDP growth data given to it by Zenawi’s regime for 2005/06 at 11.6 percent and 11.4 percent for 2006/07. The IMF uses its own “estimates” (without fully disclosing its methodology given the fact that IMF staffers are allowed considerable latitude in incorporating country-specific circumstances in making estimates) to make additional GDP growth projections for 2007/08 at 8.4 percent, followed by 6.0 percent for 2008/09; 6.5 percent for 2009/10; 7.5 percent for 2010/11; 7.5 percent for 2011/12 and 7.5 for 2012/13. The discrepancy between the IMF’s and the regime’s estimates appears to reflect the IMF’s clear lack of confidence in the regime’s economic data and analysis.

The bottom line on the regime’s statistical claims of economic growth, financial soundness and the rest of it is that the figures are cooked up in the Central Statistics Office and fed to the IMF, which slavishly (with a wink, nod and a smile) parrots back to the world the same figures with some of its own “staff estimates and projections”. This is the extent of the economic statistical game that continues to be played before our eyes.[2]

On the other hand, with respect to inflation, the World Bank (Policy Research Working Paper 4969, June 2009), citing IMF data concluded, “One of the most affected countries is Ethiopia, which, with the exception of Zimbabwe and small island economies, has had the strongest acceleration in food price inflation during recent years. Average food prices rose by more than 34 percent in 2007/08, but annual inflation reached historical record growth of 91.7 percent in July 2008.” On March 17, 2010, the regime’s Central Statistics Office reported, “Except for cereals, all food components have shown a rise. The prices of fuel, construction materials, clothing and footwear, furniture and personal care (products) are on the rise.” What empirical evidence exists in the first half of 2010 to justify a prediction of a steep decline in inflation to 3.9 percent in 2010/11 or beyond?

All of the statistical fairy tales about the economy told in Parliament were a source of puzzlement and amusement for Mr. Bulcha Demekssa, the leader of the Oromo Federalist Democratic Party (OFDM) and former vice-minister of finance and senior official at various international institutions. Mr. Bulcha asked Zenawi in Parliament how such fantastic GDP figures could be achieved: “The prime minister and the government have repeatedly said Ethiopia has grown by 10 and 11 percent. The prime minister and Ethiopian economists know that it is a miracle for Ethiopia to grow by 11 percent. How is it that Ethiopia grew by 11 percent? We know that China, South-Korea are registering such economic growth. But we are confused how Ethiopia ’s economic is growing like these countries. Our unemployment and poverty is on the rise.” Zenawi’s response was characteristically evasive, and he denied any real discrepancies: “We have differences with the international financial institutions when we predict our economic growth, but we usually agree on the economic growth statistics at the end of each year.

The answer to Mr. Bulcha’s question, of course, is obvious. Magic! All one needs to achieve an 11 percent growth is to invoke the GDP Spirits and recite to them the right incantations about “sustainable development”, “export-led growth” and “improved export revenue sector”. Then sprinkle a palmful of that fine IMF gold dust and command: “Shazam! Let there be economic growth of 10.1 percent! (or 12.8, does not matter any number will do). Abracadabra! Inflation, I command you to go down to 3.9 percent (or 1.1).” But the real “miracle” occurs when the magic wand is waived to deliver economic growth to a precise tenth of a percentage point such as 10.1 percent instead of merely 10.

All of the economic swagger and wind-bagging about unrivalled economic boom, prosperity and progress comes from a regime not known for its economic “literacy”. In an editorial published in the Economist magazine on November 7, 2006 in the context of the Starbucks coffee row, the magazine was graphic in its description of the regime: “The Ethiopian government, one of the most economically illiterate in the modern world, would do well to take Starbucks’s advice.

But there is a more fundamental question to be answered: Could a nation’s economic health be reduced to a single statistical summation? Does GDP growth necessarily mean improved in standard of living? Zenawi says GDP is the only measure of economic performance that has universal acceptance, and he will continue to use it until a better measure comes up. As anyone with an elementary understanding of economics knows, GDP has little value in meaningfully understanding a country’s economic growth, development and prosperity. Its analytical and descriptive value has been thoroughly critiqued in the economic literature. Suffice it to say that to claim that an economy grew by an 10.1 percent is like saying “activity” on city streets increased by 10.1 per cent. The street “activity” without specificity as to crime, car accidents, pedestrian traffic or other events by itself is meaningless. Yet for the past few years, the regime has been trumpeting GDP numbers as some sort of fetish that definitively explains Ethiopia’s economic growth. The GDP numbers, for instance, tell us nothing about the enormous disparity in incomes between the rich and poor in Ethiopia. By overstating economic welfare, GDP calculations do not tell us the magnitude of environmental damage that is taking place. GDP is certainly not a measure of the sustainability of growth, a point repeatedly made in numerous IMF reports on Ethiopia.

Even if actual GDP growth in Ethiopia is 11 percent or more, it is a meaningless statistic when considered in light of the basic needs and well-being of the people. In the vital area of health, for instance, Ethiopia is in a state of absolute wretchedness. According to World Health Organization (WHO) (2006) data[3], to serve a population of 77 million people, there were 1,936 physicians (1doctor for 39,772 persons); 93 dentists (1: 828,000); 15,544 nurses and midwives (1: 4,985), 1,343 pharmacists (1: 57,334) and 18,652 community health workers (1: 4,128). Total expenditure on health as a percentage of gross domestic product was 5.9 per cent. General government expenditure on health as a percentage of total expenditure on health was 58.4 per cent, and private expenditures covered the balance of 41.6 percent. Hospital beds per 10,000 population was less than 25. Per capita expenditure on health was USD$3 at an average exchange rate. WHO’s minimum standard is 20 physicians per 100,000 population, and 100 nurses per 100,000 population. Such is the real matrix of Ethiopia’s 12.8 or 10.1 or whatever fictional GDP number that is pulled from thin air.

On November 3, 2007, the Economist magazine reported:

The fact is that for all the aid money and Chinese loans coming in, Ethiopia’s economy is neither growing fast enough nor producing enough jobs. The number of jobs created by flowers is insignificant beside an increase in population of about 2m a year, one of the fastest rates in Africa…. The government claims that the economy has been growing at an impressive 10% a year since 2003-04, but the real figure is probably more like 5-6%, which is little more than the average for sub-Saharan Africa. And even that modestly improved rate, with a small building boom in Addis Ababa, for instance, has led to the overheating of the economy, with inflation moving up to 19% earlier this year before the government took remedial action. The reasons for this economic crawl are not hard to find. Beyond the government-directed state, funded substantially by foreign aid, there is—almost uniquely in Africa—virtually no private-sector business at all.

The IMF estimates that in 2005-06 the share of private investment in the country was just 11%, nearly unchanged since Mr Zenawi took over in the early 1990s. That is partly a reflection of the fact that, despite some privatisation since the centralised Marxist days of the Derg, large areas of the economy remain government monopolies, closed off to private business. This is where Ethiopia misses out badly. Take telecoms. While the rest of Africa has been virtually transformed in just a few years by a revolution in mobile telephony, Ethiopia stumbles along with its inept and useless government-run services…. There is no official unemployment rate, but youth unemployment, some experts reckon, may be as high as 70%. All those graduates coming out of state-run universities will find it very hard to get jobs. The mood of the young is often restless and despairing; many dream of moving abroad…. Just as the government is slowing the pace of economic expansion for fear that individuals may accumulate wealth and independence, so it is failing to move fast enough from a one-party state to a modern, pluralist democracy. Again, the reason may be that it is afraid to.

The Heritage Foundation, the pre-eminent conservative American think tank echoes the Economist in its 2010 Index of Economic Freedom[4] concluded:

Ethiopia underperforms in many of the 10 economic freedoms. The business and investment regime is burdensome and opaque. The overall quality and efficiency of government services have been poor and are further undermined by weak rule of law and pervasive corruption. Monetary stability is hampered by state distortions in prices and interest rates, and trade freedom is hurt by high tariff and non-tariff barriers…. All imports must be channeled through Ethiopian nationals registered as official import or distribution agents with the Ministry of Trade and Industry. Foreign participation is prohibited in domestic banking, insurance and microcredit services, and several other activities…. Ethiopia ranks 126th out of 179 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index for 2008. Despite legal restrictions, officials have been accused of manipulating the privatization process, and state-owned and party-owned businesses receive preferential access to land leases and credit.

Zenawi is desperate to show economic development of epic proportions in Ethiopia after nearly 2 decades of clinging to power. The fact remains that despite the incredible claims of economic growth, tens of millions of people are starving and go without any health care. Millions of young people remain unemployed and trapped in hopelessness. There is no rule of law and human rights violations are widespread. Whether or not Zenawi’s regime has accomplished an economic feat with few rivals in modern history is not a matter of wishful thinking or public relations. It is a matter of evidence: accurate, complete, reliable and comprehensive statistical evidence that is systematically and carefully collected, analyzed and verified. Such evidence can not be invented, fabricated, manufactured, contrived, concocted or cut from whole cloth. Benjamin Disraeli, the 19th Century British prime minister said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” In Ethiopia today, we are witnessing all three!

[2] To see a consistent pattern of “economic gamesmanship”, see also IMF Country Report (Ethiopia) No. 07/247 (July, 2007); IMF Country Report (Ethiopia) No. 06/159 (May, 2006); IMF Country Report(Ethiopia) No. 05/25 (January, 2005) and other reports prior to these dates.

Alemayehu G. Mariam, is a professor of political science at California State University, San Bernardino, and an attorney based in Los Angeles. He writes a regular blog on The Huffington Post, and his commentaries appear regularly on,, and other sites.