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An Ethiopian Dream Becoming True: An Eyewitness Account

By Asghedom G/Michael, PhD
Tigrai Onlne - April 26, 2014

To live in a politically, socially, economically, and bio ecologically transformed, strong, peaceful, and prosperous new Ethiopia has been a dream of generations of Ethiopians. The current generation is fortunate to see that dream becoming true. Every Ethiopian is indebted heavily to those young heroes and heroines (the Tegalties), who sacrificed their lives to completely annihilate the brutal-fascist military junta that terrorized Ethiopia for 17 years (1974-1991). They have met their ultimate goal of ensuring present and future generations of Ethiopians enjoy life to its fullest in a new Ethiopia. Thanks to the well admired and respected national security apparatus, Ethiopia is peaceful in the volatile and rough neighborhood, the Horn of Africa.

This is a short note of a journey my family and I made to the Motherland after many years. We had a joyful tour. We saw and enjoyed it all. The environmental, social, economic, and political landscapes, where I grew up and spent a major part of my professional life, are rapidly changing. I dare to say that a totally new Ethiopian landscape is being constructed. A real transformation is progressing rapidly with full gear. It is an all-encompassing change.

However, a word of caution is in order at the outset. There is no state of perfection in any governance system throughout the world; and the Ethiopian case should not be expected to be any different from the global phenomena. With this fact in mind, a constructive critique is imperative. A detailed critique is beyond the scope of this piece. I have deferred it to a near future. My goal is simply to highlight my personal observations on what I consider successes, challenges, shortcomings, and opportunities. Health and integrity of ecosystems, which constitute the natural environment, are foundations of a genuine sustainable development. Hence, starting with current conditions of the natural environment is in order.

Health and Integrity of the Natural Environment

Natural environment refers to all what Nature offers us: the air, water, plants, animals, soils, mountains, meadows, rivers, the ecosphere, the atmosphere, solar energy (sun energy), and much more. A genuine sustainable development can only be realized in a healthy environment. All living things thrive in ecosystems whose health and integrity are preserved. An ecosystem is an assemblage of a dynamic set of organisms (humans, animals, plants, and microorganisms) interacting among themselves and the physical environment of water, air, soils, light (solar energy), and heat at a given location. Ecosystems generate multiple services that sustain life. In contrast, degraded natural environment, mainly caused by rapid deforestation, is a source of drought, famine, starvation, and social conflicts.

Recently rehabilitated site, soil stabilization in progress naturally
Recently rehabilitated site, soil stabilization in progress naturally

The rate of deforestation and environmental degradation in Ethiopia was alarming. It has been reported that 40% of the Ethiopian landmass was covered by breath-taking natural forests. Most of the species were reported to be unique to the Ethiopian ecosystems. In the 1970s and 1990s, however, heart-breaking reports appeared. Only a rough estimate of 3% to 4% of that total had survived the anthropogenic onslaught. The landscape was characterized by:  barren hills, huge gullies that have reduced farm lands into fragmented plots, expanses of lands exposed to desiccation and to wind and runoff erosions, huge protruding rocks on sides and tops of mountains and hills, drying up rivers due to irrecoverable ecological damages, and deep dry gorges that divided rural towns and villages long distances apart.

Deforestation and environmental degradation were the main causes and consequences of poverty. For centuries, rural households and poor urban dwellers depended on fuelwood as the only source of energy. In addition, stems, barks, branches, leaves, and roots of trees and shrubs were extracted as sole means of livelihood for houses, fences, fodder, agricultural tools, furniture, artisan-subsistence activities, poles for telephone and electricity lines, scaffolds, bridges, and traditional medicines. Communal lands were overgrazed to the extent of being barren and desolate. This complete dependence on natural forest ecosystems was the main cause of environmental degradation, drought, and rapid decline in agricultural productivity, which created the vicious cycle of chronic poverty. Now, that trend appears to have been reversed. The ongoing national campaign of afforestation and reforestation is paying off. Observing water catchments and mountains covered with multiple species of plants and grass was a pleasure. Thanks to those healed water catchments, springs and rivers have started to generate sustainable water supply for the rapidly expanding irrigation systems. Consequently, not only that agricultural productivity has started to increase, but also microenterprises focused on: beekeeping, fisheries, and processing of multiple nontimber forest products (NTFPs) are flourishing on those watersheds. This means a viable integrated rural development (IRD) that will eventually lead to genuine sustainable development is bound to be realized. These encouraging results appeared to me that they were achieved through devolution of political power to local communities; enhanced awareness of the masses; sustainable management of natural resources; and expansion of health services, primary schools, rural roads, electricity, and telephone lines.

A pleasant view of an extensively rehabilitated natural environment in Adwa Enda Mariam Shewito
A pleasant view of an extensively rehabilitated natural environment: From the compound of Mariam Shewito Complete Elementary School, at Maibeles

A pleasant view of an extensively rehabilitated natural environment:  From the compound of Mariam Shewito Complete Elementary School, at Maibeles, cast your eyes to a far distance horizon, south-east of the School, and adjust your camera to its landscape feature, focus, and click to capture: (a) Emba Semayata, the mother of all mountains in the Adwa region (far middle view); (b) a portion of the long chain of the Mai-Agam watersheds (left); and (c) the historic mountain of Emba Gesoso (right). These mountains, hills, valleys, deep gorges, and rivers represent unique geographic features of the Adwa region, where Ethiopia’s glorious history was made. The Ethiopian heroes and heroines took maximum advantage of Yeha, Gendebta, Enda-Mariam Shewito, Endaba Gerima, and other similar-topographic endowments to score the Victory of Adwa, the victory considered by many as a victory of the black race. In his book, The Battle of Adwa: African Victory in the Age of Empire (2011), Raymond Jonas attributes the Victory to two main factors: Ethiopian bravery and unique topographic features.

Why did Ethiopian rulers refuse to erect a single monument that commemorates the Victory of Adwa? This question will persist until justice is served. Ethiopia’s history could be enhanced by a large monument at Adwa town and smaller ones at the specific battlegrounds. These monuments will keep the greatest African victory alive and be treasures for learning and tourism ventures. Particularly ecotourism business ventures that can diversify and develop rural community-based economies can be established.

The ongoing effort of Dr. Mulgeta Fisseha of Addis Ababa University is worth highlighting here. I personally had an opportunity to discuss with Dr. Mulgeta. He explained to me the social, economic, and environmental benefits of ecotourism ventures in the historic mountain chains of Adwa. Because this is one of my areas of research, I fully agreed with him. He has written a book on that subject. It is translated from English into Tigrigna and Amharic. Dedicated Ethiopians like Dr. Mulugeta need to be supported by all of us- particularly the Government of Tigrai. By-the-way, while thinking of closing this section, a project related to that of Dr. Mulugeta came to my mind:  the Berhan Africa for Adwa Cultural and Historical Centre project. What happened to it? Was it cancelled?

Health and Performance of the National Economy

Possessing untapped highly productive labour force of a young generation, huge wealth of natural resources, a glorious history, and an all-inclusive modern governance system, I believe Ethiopia’s future is bright. When touring the country with an open and independent mind, one senses a booming economy. The nonstop operations of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and the fast paced construction of: residential and business buildings, highways, streets, rural roads, the Addis Ababa light train (LRT) network, and the extensive national satellite communication network are good indicators of a well performing healthy economy. Expansion of the education sector, with science oriented 32 universities and hundreds of colleges, is admirable. Effective combination of the services of both the education and the health sectors is bound to be a source of sustainable supply of high quality human capital. The commendable performance of the national economy is an outcome of results oriented mix of macroeconomic policy instruments.  It (the economy) continues to pick-up steam at an encouraging rate.

In sum, the Agricultural Development Led Industrialization (ADLI) strategic policy, enshrined in the Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP), has ushered in national optimism. For example, experts of the UN have reported that Ethiopia will meet most of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of the UN by 2015. Each consisting of specific targets and measurable indicators, the MDGs are: (1) eradication of poverty and hunger; (2) achievement of universal primary education; (3) gender equality and empowerment of women; (4) reduction of child mortality; (5) improvement of maternal health; (6) combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases; (7) ensuring sustainability of the life sustaining quality of the natural environment; and (8) building partnership network for sustainable development. But, wait, everything is not so rosy in Ethiopia yet.

Multidimensionality of the Challenges

The major obstacles to a genuine sustainable development include absolute greed revealed through chronic corruption, cynicism, fatalism, defeatism, stickiness and failure of some institutions; lack of a cohesive social capital; and disenfranchisement of the poor. Hence, Ethiopia remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Poverty is deprivation of the essential livelihood assets and opportunities that determine human well-being. It has become a trap in Ethiopia. That trap must be broken. Its horrors are manifested through: lack of sufficient basic needs, including food, shelter, clothing, sanitation, clean-drinking water, and energy; susceptibility to various diseases; inaccessible social services (e.g., law of the land, healthcare, education, information, and financial credit markets); lack of social capital for collective voice and action; lack of capacity to manage the life sustaining multiple services of ecosystems; an absolute submission to higher political, social, and economic classes; extreme vulnerability to the risks associated with sudden climatic, political, and social changes; and utter insecurity in the face of changing circumstances that put life at risk.

However, the adverse effects of poverty can be alleviated through a good governance system, facilitated with well specified institutions. In a democratically functioning governance system, institutions are socially and legally sanctioned rules and regulations that specify goals, objectives, obligations, rules, and decision-making procedures used to maintain order of human interactions. By extension, a good governance system is characterized by: participatory decision making and collective action; effectiveness and efficiency in allocating scarce productive resources;  long-run strategic vision;  accountability (ability to demonstrate and explain one’s actions); transparency (free flow of information) in all operational and managerial activities; responsiveness to society’s preferences, aspirations, and expectations; equity in rights, obligations, benefits, and costs; and upholding the rule of law  manifested through: equality before the law, absence of arbitrary political power, and an effective mechanism for replacing undemocratic government.

Every one of us has obligations to contribute to the mechanisms and processes of building a good governance system for a new, prosperous, and peaceful Ethiopia. With a good governance system Ethiopia’s victory against her enemy number one, poverty, is guaranteed. Our immediate priority should be making sure that the GERD is completed successfully. It will be one of the major symbols of Ethiopian pride and a source of genuine sustainable development (GSD). GSD is a multidimensional process that preserves health and integrity of ecosystems, which generate multiple services for well-being of humans and animals.

Rehabilitated and relatively developed rural community in Tigrai, Ethiopia
Rehabilitated and relatively developed rural community, whose socioeconomic and cultural fabrics were destroyed by the brutal-fascist military junta that perpetrated the 1984/85 tragedy, the tragedy that uprooted millions of rural households


On behalf of my family and myself, I gratefully acknowledge the generous hospitalities of many family members and friends. It is impracticable to list them all. But, I feel obligated to name those who played major roles, including provision of vehicles with their drivers, to make our tour joyfully memorable. They are:  Dr. Deribie Gurumu, Dr. Costantinos Berhe, Ato G/Medhin Hadera, Dr. Fetien Abay, Dr. Tekebash Araya, Tegadalai Teklewoini Assefa, Dr. Kindeya G/Hiwot, Tegadalai Heshe Lemma, Memhir Teklay Tesfay, and Ato Mekonnen Abraha. I am short of words to thank you all enough. I look forward to meeting you soon!


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