By Rahel Abera
Tigrai Onlne - May 13, 2014
Ethiopian farmers, workers, students, and other segments of the nation and nationalities mounted bitter and persistent struggles for economic and social development, justice, democracy and good governance. Especially in the 1950s and 1960s, Ethiopian young students became major drivers of the struggle through various initiatives and groupings in diverse forms and objectives to bring about radical change by raising the land tenure question, stressing and other popular issues.
However, the lack of effective organization was a major problem that always setback the struggle. Though many sacrificed their lives for these noble causes and put an end to the decadent imperial era, political system, it was hijacked by the military junta Derge. Therefore, the struggle had to continue even more bitterly against the undemocratic regime in the period 1974-1991. However, most of those struggles were effectively crushed by the military dictatorship as their strategies and tactics made them vulnerable.
The matter was fundamentally changed under the scientific leadership and mobilization of the EPRDF. Though EPRDF was formally established in 1989, TPLF and ANDM have been fighting the Derg since 1975 1982, respectively, both separately and in coordination.
The people-centered mobilization strategies of the EPRDF not succeeded in flushing the Dergue army from its strong holds and bases around urban centers, but also withstood natural calamities that can frustrate any armed struggle. For example, when drought hit northern Ethiopia. At the time, millions farmers were threatened by famine, as the drought coupled with years of war, poor provision of agricultural input and market access as well as recurrent irresponsible bombing of civilian areas by the Dergue. Even more sadly, the Dergue refused TPLF's offer for a truce and for providing full access to humanitarian agencies. However, EPRDF was able to avert the catastrophe by sharing its fighter's food to surrounding people, by transporting hundreds of thousands to refugee centers in Sudan and by lobbying & providing protections for aid organizations who were willing to enter through the border with Sudan.
The Ethiopian peoples' struggle led by EPRDF program and leadership became unstoppable after the mid-1980s. However, that didn't turn EPRDF into a military adventurist rather consistently perused negotiations and peace talks both with the Dergue and other armed groups regardless of TPLF's fast growing military strength.
EPRDF's leading motto was to mobilize everyone who can contribute even by throwing a stone. For example: EPRDF persistently perused talks with OLF to establish ties and a common front. Though OLF had been ideologically unfocused and militarily weak organization that it was believed better to include all forces of change rather than rely on sheer military power. Sadly, OLF was not of the same attitude. After several time-wasting discussions and talks, when TPLF sent as per their agreement two of its cadres to help train OLF fighters, OLF officials mistreated them labeling them spies and the whole effort failed.
The first Congress of the EPRDF took place in Kolla Tembien in January 1991, at the time when the gallant fighters of TPLF and ANDM as well as the later founders of OPDO and SEPDM were in control of half of the country. They were close to achieve victory against the Dergue and they knew it was inevitable.
Becoming close to power didn't turn TPLF & ANDM against each other, as we see with today's opposition parties who quarrel & broke their partnership when they achieve a sizable diaspora money or popularity or become close to power. Rather, TPLF & ANDM decided to take their decade-long cooperation ideological discussions to next stage by forming a Front.
The Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front was born with equal representation of the two parties in the Front's leadership. The first EPRDF Congress deliberated on and approved the Revolutionary Democracy political program that saved the Ethiopia from the existential threat it was facing and put her in the right track of democracy and development following the downfall of the Derg regime.
The resolutions of the first Congress and the leaders it elected succeeded in the delivering the down-fall of the military regime on May 28, 1991 and also in making the Transitional period characterized by peace, multiparty democracy and development.
Therefore, Ethiopia escaped not only the immediate threats posed by the downfall of Derg & the empty treasury and tens thousands of small arms scattered all over the country; but also managed the more fundamental threats that arise from centuries old national operation and denial of the farmers' fruits of labor.
Not only Ethiopia safely passed the looming threats of disintegration and communal conflict, it managed to set-up a multinational federalism that addresses the roots of the problem. National and nationalities started governing themselves and for the first time they voluntarily renewed their commitment to live as one country by ratifying the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia through their elected representatives in 1995.
The16 or more armed groups that existed at the time of the downfall of the Dergue were persuaded to lay down their arms and join the political process while their fighters either resumed their peaceful lives or joined the national army, militia and police in accordance with their qualification and skills. Some, like, OLF, who tried to impose their will on the people were effectively put under control with the cooperation of the public before they inflicted further damage.
For the first time in history, free and fair national and regional elections were held across the country. It was clearly seen Ethiopia started to rise from the brink of collapse to the regional prominence and influence in the region. The stability of the government and the unity of nation nationalities and peoples during the Eritrean aggression and the subsequent full-scale war (1998-2000) were further evidence of the success of the struggle under EPRDF leadership. Previously marginalized people, like Somalis, Gambellas, Afar, etc. made it clear that for the first time they feel owners of the country and they are willing to pay price to preserve and protect it.
In the early 2000s, it was a time to refine the basic principles of Revolutionary Democracy and further elaborate and revise the sectoral policy frameworks based on the achievements, challenges and shortcomings observed in the previous decade.
However, as it is always the case with tranformative changes, it was not easily accepted by all. Some members of the leadership stood against the need for change either because it affects their personal interest or because they were trapped by rent-seeking tendencies and believed there was no need for reform.
The division in opinion and the expulsion of a faction from the leadership appeared as if EPRDF faced an insurmountable challenge. Doomsayers jumped to request a coalition government, assuming that EPRDF would not pass the test.
The challenge, however, was turned into strength by the Fourth Congress, “Renewal Congress”, conducted in August 2001, which evaluated the party's performance since the down-fall of the Dergue. Under the chairmanship of Meles Zenawi, the Congress identified that democracy and development are matters of survival for the nation.
The Congress approved directions to enhance the performance in agriculture, capacity building and other key sectors as well as the Second Five Year Plan for Peace, Development and Democracy. The Congress also issued several resolutions to fight corruption, chauvinism, narrow nationalism, undemocratic and rent-seeking tendencies from among the party leadership and members.
EPRDF emerged stronger and unified ready to tack head-on the legion administrative and developmental problems facing the country. The first of the continuous double digit GDP growth registered in 2003/4 was an outcome of the reform and the democratic developmental state built subsequently.
EPRDF tirelessly cultivated the developmental consensus and public ownership necessary to make the vision and plans a reality. That led into the adoption of the Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) in 2010. The GTP was not merely a 5-years plan, it set the direction which Ethiopia shall undertake to reach the middle-income countries level by 2025. Most of the medium and mega projects of the GTP are to be scale-up and expanded in the next 5-years plans.
It was under EPRDF's leadership that Ethiopia successfully embarked on the on-going virtuous cycle of development.
As it was re-confirmed by a recent report from the African Economic Outlook:
Spending on initiatives to counter poverty rose by 70% in 2011/12, continuing a longstanding effort. As a result poverty in Ethiopia has declined at an annual average of 2.32% since 1995. The proportion of people living below the poverty line fell from 45.5% in 1995/96 to 29.6% in 2010/11. The government target is to reduce the rate to 22.2% by 2015. Similarly, the national Gini coefficient declined to 0.298 in 2010/11 from 0.3 in 2004/05.
The secret behind the success was nothing but a leadership commitment. As the IMF stated in its recent report, entitled "Translating Economic Growth into Higher Living Standards: Inclusive Growth In Ethiopia":
"A key feature of the economic strategy has been an explicit commitment to poverty reduction and structural transformation.
This is underpinned by the vision of a “developmental state”, whereby a proactive public sector leads the development process and the private sector is oriented to support the development goals."
The commitment of the EPRDF-led government to the masses and the poor is demonstrated in its poverty-focused spending that has improved access to basic services. Impressive results in health service expansion have been achieved. Contraceptive prevalence increased to 29% in 2011/12 from 15% in 2005 and the coverage of antenatal visits reached 34% from a baseline of 28%. The rate of deaths among under-fives declined from 123 per thousand live births in 2005 to 88 in 2010. Infant mortality dropped from 77 to 59 during the same period.
There is a clear focus on poverty-related health issues such as communicable diseases, and health problems that affect mothers and children. There has likewise been progress on water and sanitation services. By 2010, the proportion of the rural population with access to potable water rose to 65.8% from 46% in 2006. The government aims to reach universal access to water supply in 2015.
Primary school enrolment rates increased from 68% in 2004/05 to 85% in 2010/11. The completion rate of grade eight students increased from 48% in 2009/10 to 49% in 2010/11, not yet high enough to achieve the education goal. Literacy rates have risen since 2004 from 38% to 47%. There is a parallel drive to expand vocational training and tertiary education to provide students with skills needed by the economy.
The government has enacted policies, strategies and programmes to tackle HIV/AIDS. The HIV/AIDS prevalence rate is estimated at 2.3% of the population. But Ethiopia has scaled up its effective coverage and services and has a commitment to reach universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.
Primary health service coverage reached 96% in 2010/11 from 89% in 2009/10. There has been progress in controlling malaria and tuberculosis. In 2005, only 2% of households had an insecticide-treated net against malaria. By 2010, all malaria-prone areas had a net. In 2010, 90% of children aged under-five slept under insecticide-treated bed nets, compared to 5% in 2003. Over the same time the death rate from malaria declined by 55% and hospital admissions by 54%. There is now an 84% success rate in treating tuberculosis.
The government has sought to implement gender equality in all policies, with joint planning between individual ministries and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. This has reduced gender disparities, especially in education.
Ethiopia recorded a near 40% improvement in its gender parity index in primary school enrolment from 1991 to 2010, and is near gender parity at primary school level. At the secondary level, gender parity index moved from 0.67 in 2007 to 0.82 in 2010.
Maternal mortality fell sharply from 510 deaths per one hundred thousand live births in 2005 to 350 in 2010, due in part to a concerted effort to make family planning services more widely available. The percentage of married women using a modern method of contraceptive went from 14% in 2005 to 27% in 2011. Access to health care for women remains low, however, as only 10% of Ethiopian women give birth with a skilled health worker in attendance.
Other gender equality indicators are promising. The percentage of parliamentary seats held by women was 28% in 2012, up from 8% in 2005. Adolescent birth rates fell from 109.1 births per thousand women aged 15-19 in 2002 to 79 in 2010. The government has reviewed discriminatory laws and made genital mutilation and other forms of violence against women punishable crimes.
Another demonstration of the pro-poor developmental committment is the investment in the road infrastructure that has been the focal point of the government for the last two decades and continues to be so. In our country, the dominant mode of transport is road transport, having a share of 90% in transporting passenger and cargo transports across the country.
The activities undertaken over the last 16 years in this sector enabled the country to raise the road coverage to 70 per cent.
The total length of road in the country has reached over 86,000-kms due to the enormous investment and commitment of the EPRDF led government.
However, despite what some routinely claim, the main source was not foreign donation. In the past years Ethiopia invested more than 142 billion birr in the road sector. Of the entire total amount spent, 77 percent was by the government.
One of the major works in that regard is the two roads linking the Addis Ababa-Adama Expressway with Addis Ababa City into two directions. The 28.1-km roads Addis Ababa-Adama Expressway was constructed at a cost of more than 4.2 billion birr allocated by the government of Ethiopia and loan obtained from Chinese Exim bank.
Another major example is the construction and renovation of 1,700-kms roads carried out in the Benshangul -Gumuz State with over 172 million birr in the last twelve months. Now, as result of the works, the once marginalized region now have 3,000-kms roads.
Three times to what used to be 20 years ago!
Similarly, the capital city Addis Ababa, which has long been horrible in its roads network has seen a major leap unprecedented in her recent history. Addis Ababa has constructed more than 1,219- kms road in the last five years with more than 10 billion birr budget. Now, Addis Ababa's road coverage has reached 15.64 per cent raising the network to 4,148-kms of which 2002- kms is asphalt , 727-kms cobblestone and the remaining 1,419- kms is gravel.
The meaning of the achievements in the social sector with regard to realizing the gains by the sacrifice of the fallen martyrs of Ginbot 20 was summed in the speech of President Dr. Mulatu Teshome as follows:
“It is obvious that Ethiopia today is at an altogether different level than twenty-two years ago. The social and economic changes of theses peaceful years have not only checked the country's down-ward spiral, but have more importantly set Ethiopia on a path of renewal and development. It is important, therefore, to keep in mind that we owe the gains that we are enjoying today to the martyrdom of many.
As the late EPRDF Chairman and Prime Minster often said and proved in practice, the continuity of the gains by the sacrifice of the fallen must be ensured in the present peaceful phase of the struggle for good governance and development through the passing of the mantel from one generation to another.
Hence, it is fitting to pay tribute to the martyrs of peace and development. in the course the last two twenty years of democracy-building process of which the last ten years occupy a unique place in our history, we have entered a new phase of development that has earned the recognition of the entire world. It is clear that the changes we have made so far are the result of our collective effort.”