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In this scenario, like a Broken Chair that appears to stand but cannot
bear any weight, our incapacity cannot support progress at all levels of
society. There are bright spots initially but the need to respond to the
booming population places strain on the system. The challenges are
clear, but our inability to develop the capacity to respond effectively
and early leads to stagnation later on We have 105 million people and our population is growing rapidly. About 80% of
our people live in rural areas, but this is changing. Large numbers of people are
moving into cities. There are big projects to provide housing but demand outstrips
supply. 

ሠባራ ወንበር BROKEN CHAIR

The provision of housing is part of the wider challenges that Ethiopia faces
across governance, economic development, poverty alleviation, food security and the
environment. Will we have the capacity to respond to these challenges?

The government has done well to grow the economy steadily over the past decade.
Major infrastructure is being built, including railways, road networks and energy
projects. Domestic funding is inadequate. This has opened the space for foreign loans.
Some are concerned that it is a ploy to transport natural resources out of Ethiopia,
and to bring in consumer goods easily. Others believe that excessive investment
on infrastructure drains funds without certainty on returns. Still, these assets are
symbols of our intention to speed up development.
Donor countries continue to offer us development aid packages. We are dependent on
such funding to respond to persistent poverty even though much progress has been
made in that regard. Our capacity to use aid effectively is questionable. It complicates
the way we run our country. It also makes it harder for us to move forward in an
original and uniquely Ethiopian way.
Insufficient job creation is a major challenge. We need to create one million jobs a
year in cities alone. Youth that are entering the job market also need work. With the
unemployment rate at 19% and forecasted to worsen, prospects overseas are enticing.
We can ill afford a brain drain of skilled people at the same time.
We have made progress with education. Literacy levels are increasing. But there are
problems. Policy formulation and implementation is weak. Enrolment into lower
grades is much higher than completion rates at higher grades. Girls remain less
educated than boys. School nutrition is nearly absent in primary schools. The quality
of teachers, their levels of education and the regard for teaching as an occupation are
of concern. We will need to do much more to develop the skills to create and fill jobs in
subsequent years.
We lack the capacity to realise our vision for the country. Our incapacity extends
across all aspects of society, and it is not confined to the state. Our media, both
state and private, is biased and weak. Institutions, lacking credibility, cannot enforce
law and order. The justice system is frail, inefficient and corrupt with an inability to
normalise rules and norms. Institutions are run by people who do not have the ability
to deliver. The participation of women in political and public life is low. Our private
sector is not contributing in any significant way.

There are many driving forces behind our lack of capacity. The main ones are lack of experience
and knowledge. Corruption and nepotism are a constraint. Another challenge is the assignment
of people to key bureaucratic posts based on loyalty. The state is thus unable to create credible,
competent and accountable institutions across the board.
The incumbent party wins a majority of parliamentary seats in the 2020 elections. It takes place
against a backdrop of weak institutions and poor supporting infrastructure for such a key event.
Allegations of election rigging and irregularities are rife. It is incapacity that reduces the election
to a symbolic and fake event. The government does not have the capability – mediation or
military peacekeeping – to respond to the violence that follows after the election.
Incapacity at the government level leads to other groups filling the void. Youth movements
are stronger and emboldened. Religious institutions have a more influential voice as well.
Proliferations of smaller political parties – resentful of the election results – also compete for
a leadership role. These multiple poles of power mean that there is no chance for a unified
leadership of our country at this point.
The federal government lacks the capacity to work constitutionally with regional states. There
is a felt lack of clarity on laws and rules to govern these relationships. The federal government
is distant from the affairs of regional states besides the allocation of budgets to each of them.
Regional states are in need of support and development. If the federal system is to be effective,
positive changes in the economic and social development status of regional states is a primary
indicator. It does not seem that this is about to happen, especially with the regions that may
need such development the most.
By 2025, our economy is unbalanced and in decline. Our resources are not used efficiently.
Unemployment is climbing and wages are stagnating. Our country is importing much more
than it produces for export. The economy is not robust enough to address our development
needs that far exceed our total income.
Our population size is rapidly ballooning. Fertility rates are following projections. The
government realises that action is needed now to avert a crisis a decade or two down the
line. But, it does not have the capacity to draw up an effective policy, nor to implement it.
There are inadequate resources to do the much-needed family planning. One big opportunity
is to increase the levels of education in girls and women. But, our education system has not
produced good results with female enrolment and school completion rates up to now.
We have ambitious plans to meet the growth in power demand – significant at 30% annually
– and to export green energy to other countries in the region. However, our mega powergeneration projects – mostly wind, solar, geothermal and hydropower – are delayed. The delays
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are due to project funding obstacles as our foreign partners feel the pinch of a global downturn.

By 2030, the impact of climate change at a global level, for example through shortened drought
cycles, affects our farmers and pastoralists as they have little capacity to respond to it. Officials
have not responded with the scale of the acute challenges presented by climate change. Our
response is often inadequate. This is about a lack of capacity and knowledge in emergency
preparedness and disaster response at a time when the attention of the aid industry is taken
up by other ‘priority’ countries that are privileged over Ethiopia. The response to environmental
events that happen more frequently is beginning to consume more of our annual budget.
With neighbouring countries, one flashpoint is the fair utilization of the Nile River for the
Renaissance Dam project. Another contentious area is the issue of cross-boundary grazing
land. Internally, there is competition for natural resources while environmental degradation
is not controlled. So is trans-regional waste flow. These threats are enough to slow down the
development of infrastructure and to distract politicians from domestic challenges.
There is an expansion in the activities of new extremist groups in Ethiopia. The incapacity of the
state makes Ethiopia an ideal base for these groups to organise their operations. Traditionally,
we have always come together to fight foreign adversaries. In this case however, our willingness
is not matched by our capacity to respond.
By 2035 our people are leaving their homes and regions. The effects of climate change such
as drought and other extreme events, is one cause. Another cause is that there are fewer
opportunities for our burgeoning population. Violence related to competition for land
acquisition and for grazing also plays a role.
Violence continues in various forms. Violence related to ethnic-based politics sharpens divisions.
Conflict arises as major religious institutions grapple with their organisational structure across
the country. Women particularly, bear the brunt of tensions. There is a huge need for conflict
resolution. Traditional approaches are more effective at the local and regional levels but prove
more difficult to use across regions and at a national scale.
In the face of these challenges, the government undertakes a wide public consultative process.
The aim is to find common ground on the continuity of Ethiopia. It is a decent attempt at
consensus-building in the face of serious divisions. The result of the process is a “Declaration of
Unity”. The document aims to be a reflection of the common interest of the people. However,
political interests ensure that the process does not reach individual Ethiopians to hear from them directly. The existing capacity to lead such a strategic conversation is not much in the
country. Still, the “Declaration of Unity” makes a contribution to a sense of unity. A lot of work
remains.

 We have not built the capacity to run credible elections. Elections over the years bear similar
results. Each election cycle yields a fake voting event. The electorate does not have the capacity
to push for meaningful change either.
Food insecurity continues as a structural problem. Production requires a boost. Our smallholder
farmers and pastoralists are not improving their skills and knowledge to enhance production.
The transition to a services economy and uncertainty around land ownership has contributed
to the problem. Food distribution is difficult in the midst of violence and instability. The right to
food is protected through continuing donor-based food security programs. There are concerns
about nutrition in children and adults. This leads to compromised public health, high school
dropout rates and an unproductive workforce. By 2040 we are building half a million housing units each year. We have 150 million people
and the rate of urbanisation has tripled. It is not enough to cope with the growing demand for
housing. Our population has grown in line with the projections as the government has failed to
moderate it years ago. Another factor is the lack of internal capacity to complete infrastructure projects alone. The
delays threaten our power supply at a time when the economy desperately needs energy
stability.

 Now, the big challenge is to provide housing, jobs and services.
Land rights and security to access land is crucial for our rural people, especially farmers and
pastoralists. The millions who now live in urban settings are vulnerable to ending up in
informal housing. The government’s policy to land ownership requires urgent work. Should the
government continue to own land? Should we shift to private ownership? What is the policy
that will unlock the potential of our country? As with the response to climate change, food
security and a rapidly rising population, the state is unable to formulate a clear response.
The tree seedlings that we planted since the 2019 grand campaign have grown tall over the past
two decades. So too have the millions of young people who are now adults expecting access to
jobs and opportunities. Our efforts to educate our people and to provide jobs for them continue.
The spotlight is also directly on the sense of agency of our people. We seem to lack the capacity
to proactively create opportunities for ourselves.
In this world of Broken Chair, Ethiopia’s struggle to develop capacity still permeates all aspects
of social and economic life. Institutions are not resilient, effective, or credible. It is difficult to
develop priority institutions in order to break out of the vicious cycle of incapacity. We wait for
change but it is hard to see where it will come from in our state of dependency. We have big
dreams but what would enable us to make them a reality?