A landlocked country (since 1993, when, by popular referendum, Eritrea became Africas fifty-third sovereign state and Ethiopia became Africas fifteenth landlocked state), Ethiopias huge population, droughts and food crises, nonindustrial means of production, huge debt-service obligations, massive military spending, ongoing border disputes with Eritrea, and state ownership of land all foil and baffle development experts and keep the people rural, unemployed, and destitute.
The Ethiopian populace has struggled again and again to install democratic leaders who will promote industrialization, education, and civil equality; but the citizenry has been repeatedly disappointed.
In 1995, Ethiopias first multiparty elections made Meles Zenawi prime minister and awarded his Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) a legislative majority. But the governmentthe first in Ethiopias history with democratic pretensionshas been unable to steer a path toward industrialization, economic growth, and human rights. Recurrent cycles of drought, food shortages, and famine inspire critics of the government to call, in vain, for land reform and for agricultural modernization as stepping-stones to development.
In a country where good governance does not exist and where the government is the land- and business-owner and the people are tenants, it is difficult to imagine that the private sector would prosper, said Lidetu Ayalew, secretary general of the opposition Ethiopian Democratic Party (EDP), last year.
After fourteen years or so of leadership by the EPRDF, up to twenty percent of the countrys sixty-five million people are not able to eat even once a day, said Berhane Mewa, president of the Ethiopian and Addis Ababa Chamber of Commerce.
Instead the administration has veered toward ethnic politics (the singling out for promotion of the Tigrayan peoplethe prime ministers ethnic groupas if others were rivals), saber rattling toward Eritrea, and the silencing of journalists and opposition voices. Land will remain state-owned as long as the EPRDF is at the helm of the countrys leadership, Meles has said. Border disputes with Eritrea spur massive military spending: the escalation into war in 1998 cost the government $2 million a day; in 2000, the defense budget exceeded $800 million.
Health and education budgets decline correspondingly whenever there is a military buildup. Funding for social and health sectors has expanded since 2000, but remains far below what is desperately required. Even across sub-Saharan Africa, health spending is about ten dollars per person per year, while, in Ethiopia, government spending on health, per person per year in 2002, was two dollars.
Thus victims of polio and malaria and HIV/AIDS and cancer, and the blind and the lepers, and the mentally ill and the malnourished, and the orphans and the dying, roam the streets of the capital city, or lie on its sidewalks, defeated.
Twice in the twentieth century, Ethiopia overthrew its authoritarian rulers: Emperor Haile Selassie was toppled by a Communist coup led by Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1974; and then Mengistu was overthrown by Meles Zenawi and the EPRDF in 1991. Both revolutions came with horrendous bloodshed.
To watch Meless government turn dictatorial and martial is a source of momentous disappointment and discontent.
Neither the child nor the father was at home, we discovered. We also discovered that home was a pile of dirty rags and plastic bags on the sidewalk, a few feet from a bus stop. Scraps of corrugated tin and wood had been tied together to make a low fence around the filthy bedding. He was born here, his mother gave birth to him right here, said Gerrida.
Excerpted from There Is No Me Without You, (c) 2006 Melissa Fay Greene. Reproduced with permission of the publisher, Bloomsbury USA/Walker & Co. All rights reserved.
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