Conundrum of Half-baked Rights, Development in Ethiopia

Ethiopia has gone through multiple regimes in its long history. Some of these are remembered for their military accomplishments and others for the modest but flawed economic developments they were able to achieve. However, not a single government has been able to guarantee individual rights or the equitable distribution of resources comprehensively.

We have had a peaceful transfer of power from one leader to the other, but we have never had an election that changed the party or system of the government. It has either been through coups or the handover of power from one monarch to another. This process has not been without the destruction of property, loss of human lives and yet another historical grievance to spawn a future conflict.

Since the EPDRF had come to power, it has been able to build roads, factories, power plants and improve access to health and education. Despite these accomplishments, economic growth has not been equitable. One can sense this in the stubbornly high levels of jobless graduates and a private sector that has been crowded out in terms of access to credit.

The Gini Coefficient, which measures the inequality of the distribution of incomes between individuals and households, has increased from 0.29 in 1995 to 0.33 two decades later. It is an indication that inequality is growing.

Individual rights have likewise been undermined. International organisations have signalled this over the years, but the true scale of the problem has not been as evident as when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) admitted state-sanctioned torture. Subsequent reports, including by state-run media outlets, about the treatment of prisoners, have been profoundly distressing.

Inequitable development combined with unaccountability to the rule of law by public officials has unprecedented pitfalls. We have been witness to this in the past three years when political unrests took the lives of individuals and properties were destroyed.

What such problems have done over the years is erode the autonomy of institutions and the checks and balances of government. It has left us with a government unable to fend off public sector corruption and nepotism. It has also made the bureaucracy inefficient and our institutions incapable of allocating resources productively.

Much of this can be traced back to the EPRDFites insistence in gaining legitimacy through economic growth. It inadvertently left it blind to the erosion of trust between government and the public as well as an adequate increase to the standard of living.

As it is, citizens are faced with the challenges of few job opportunities, low paying jobs and double-digit inflation. The private sector is being confronted with the shortage of foreign currency, credit, and skilled human power.

It is too cynical to say that the EPRDFites are loath to the democratic ideals that the constitution espouses. There are bad apples as well as genuinely concerned members that work for the betterment of society.

Such problems have persisted as a result of a lack of an informed public. This mainly has to do with a public media that was not autonomous as well as the lack of a private media industry. There has not been an alternative and objective assessment of the government’s achievement and tailores other than the ruling coalition’s pronouncements of double-digit gross domestic product (GDP) growthrate.

Individual rights are a must for any given country. Although democracy is ruled by the majority, it is of little value if individuals and minority rights are not respected. The alternative is a society that does not progress as it would not see the fault in its way of life, and systems. The media and dissenting citizens that are allowed to voice their thoughts will enable us to notice the cracks and right the wrongs before repressed public sentiment turns into violence.

Media serves as an independent observer of government activities, and analyses the equitability of development and the fair exercise of power by the government. It also helps alternative views to be expressed and offers a platform to opposition parties. Most importantly, a vibrant media, aided by a transparent government, will give rise to a generation that is well aware of its rights and duties.

By Belay Abera
Belay Abera is a public health professional and researcher. He could be reached at

Published on Jul 14,2018 [ Vol 19 ,No 950]



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