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Ethiopia’s fake economic growth borrows from ENRON’s accounting December 28, 2015

Posted by OromianEconomist in Uncategorized.
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Odaa Oromoo

the-grim-reality-behind-ethiopia-rise-hype1ethiopia_03Dounle digit EthiopiaEthiopia is the one of the lowest in social Progress 2015

Ethiopia’s fake economic growth borrows from ENRON’s accounting

J Bonsa analyses Ethiopia’s economic growth over the last ten years.  Africa At LSE

More than 70 people have been killed and dozens wounded in an ongoing crackdown on peaceful protesters in Oromia. One of the underlying causes of the prevailing tense political situation is Ethiopia’s bogus claim about “miraculous” economic growth in the last decade.

The youth is not benefitting from the country’s supposed growth and doesn’t anticipate the fulfillment of those promises given the pervasive nepotism and crony capitalism that underpins Ethiopia’s developmentalism.

Courtesy: OPride

Courtesy: OPride

The ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) came to power in 1991 and briefly experimented with democratic transition. However, a little over a decade into its rule, the party’s former strongman, the late Meles Zenawi, realized that their pretentious experiment with liberal democracy was not working. Zenawi then crafted a dubious concept called, “developmental state.”

Stripped of the accompanying jargon and undue sophistication, Zenawi was simply saying that he had abandoned the democratic route but would seek legitimacy through economic development guided by a strong hand of the state. This was a ploy, the last ditch attempt to extend EPRDF’s rule indefinitely.

Using fabricated economic data to seek legitimacy and attract foreign direct investments, the regime then advanced narratives about its double-digit economic growth, described with such catchphrases as Ethiopia rising, the fastest growing economy in the world and African lioness. The claims that EPRDF has delivered economic growth at miraculous scales has always been reported with a reminder that it takes several decades to build democratic governance. The underlining assumption was that, as long as they deliver economic growth, Ethiopia’s leaders could be excused on the lack of democracy and human rights abuses associated with the need for government intervention in the economy.

EPRDF spent millions to retain the services of expensive and well-connected Western lobbying firms to promote this narrative and create a positive image of the country. These investments were also accompanied with a tight grip on the local media, including depriving foreign reporters’ access if they cross the government line. Ethiopia’s communication apparatus was so successful that even serious reporters and analysts started to accept and promote EPRDF’s narrative on rapid economic growth.

However, a few recent events have tested the truthfulness of Ethiopia’s economic rise. Drought and the resulting famine remain the Achilles heels of the EPRDF government. The government can manipulate data on any other sector, including the aggregate Gross Domestic Product, and get away with it, but agriculture is a tricky sector whose output is not so easy to lie about. The proof lies in the availability of food in the market, providing the absolute minimum subsistence for the rural and urban population.

The sudden translation of drought into famine raises serious questions.  For example, it is proving difficult to reconcile the country’s double-digit economic growth with the fact that about 15 million Ethiopians are currently in need of emergency food aid.

Rampant famine

Except for some gullible foreign reporters or parachute consultants, who visit Addis Ababa and depart within days, serious analysts and students of Ethiopian economy know that authorities have often fabricated economic statistics in order to generate fake GDP growth.  To the trained eye, it does not take a lot to find inconsistencies in the data series. In fact, Ethiopia’s economic growth calculus is so reminiscent of Enron accounting.  (See my recent pieces questioning EPRDF’s economic policies, including anomalies in the alleged achievements of millennium development goals, crony businesses, devaluation, external tradeand finance.)

The tacit understanding in using GDP as a measure of economic growth is that responsible governments generate such data by applying viable international standards and subjecting the data to scrutiny and consistency checks.

Unfortunately, these standards are not foolproof; irresponsible governments with mischievous motives can abuse them. There is credible evidence that shows Ethiopian authorities deliberately inflated economic statistics to promote feel-good, success stories.

Let’s take the agricultural data, which is timely and topical given the ongoing famine. This came to light recently as the European Union tried to understand anomalies in Ethiopia’s grain market, particularly persistent food inflation which the EU found incompatible with the agricultural output reported by the Central Statistical Authority (CSA) of Ethiopia.

The EU’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) then developed the technical specification for studying the scope of the Cereal Availability Study in order to account for the developments in the Ethiopian cereal markets. The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) was selected to carry out the study.

ethiopiagraph_images_growth1Figure 1 (above) compares the EU-sponsored survey and the Ethiopian government’s survey produced by the CSA. I am using the data for 2007/08 for comparison. The negative numbers indicate that the IFPRI estimates were consistently lower than the CSA data. For instance, CSA overstated cereal production by 34 percent on average.  This ranged from 29 percent for maize to 44 percent for sorghum. The actual amount of Teff produced is lower by a third of what’s reported by the CSA.

The research team sought to explain this “puzzle” by examining the sources of the confusion, the methodological flaws that might have led CSA to generate such exaggerated economic data. Toward that end, they compared CSA’s crop yield estimates with comparable data from three neighboring countries:  Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda (see Figure 2).

ethiopiagraph_images_growth2

From 2000 to 2007, the average increase in cereal yield for these countries, including Ethiopia, was 19 percent. Yet the CSA reported a whopping 66 percent for Ethiopia’s yield growth. The country was not experiencing an agricultural revolution to justify such phenomenal growth.  It is unrealistic that Ethiopia’s yield growth would be greater than the neighboring East African countries, particularly Kenya, where the agricultural sector is at a much more advanced stage. If anything, the reality in Ethiopia is closer to Uganda, which did not report any yield increase during that period.

This reveals the extents of data manipulation by Ethiopian authorities to create an inexistent economic success story and seeks political legitimacy using a bogus record. We now know the widespread distortions in official statistics on cereal production thanks, in no small part, to EU’s intervention in sponsoring a study and explaining the disparities. Cereals represent only a sub-sector in the agricultural realm. It is likely that worse distortions would be revealed if similar studies were done on Ethiopia’s growth statistics in other sectors, including manufacturing and service divisions.

‘Poverty reduction’

The IMF has praised Ethiopia for achieving accelerated growth with a focus on equity and poverty reduction, a challenging dilemma for most countries. However, a closer look at three interconnected facts turns this claim on its head.

First, as noted above, Ethiopia’s agricultural output has been inflated by 34 percent on average. Second, a33 percent poverty reduction since 2000 is widely reported. Third, there is a consensus that poverty reduction has happened mostly in rural Ethiopia. Now we put these three facts together and apply a simple logic to establish that the 33 percent poverty reduction is explained by the 34 percent exaggerated agricultural outputs. Notice that it is not by accident that the two percentage points are almost identical. Therefore, the ups and downs cancel each other out. In the best-case scenario, poverty rate must remain at the same level as in 2000.

The World Bank, IMF and other donors have often anchored their conclusions on poverty reduction on alleged changes in the agricultural sector, where the bulk of the poor live and work. Little do they know that the data they used to compute the poverty index comes from agricultural statistics with hugely inflated yield assumptions as shown above.

This raises the question: where has the billions of dollars in bilateral and multilateral aid pumped into Ethiopia in the name of poverty reduction and the millennium development goals gone?

‘The enclave economy’

The ‘Ethiopia rising’ storyline is a standard set by foreign correspondents who often repurpose official government press releases, or reports based on the construction projects in the capital, Addis Ababa.

For example, Bloomberg Africa’s William Davison, often uses the proliferating high-rise buildings in Addis Ababa as tangible evidence of Ethiopia’s double-digit economic growth. In his latest whitewash, Davison writes, “such growth is already visible in parts of the capital, where shopping malls and luxury hotels are sprouting up.” That a veteran reporter for a business website unashamedly passes judgment on economic success by referring to heights and width of buildings underscores his shallow understanding of the country’s social and political fabric.

Here are some of the questions that reporters aren’t asking and seeking answers for:  Who owns those building?  Where did the investment money come from?  Are there any firm linkages between these physical infrastructures and the rest of the Ethiopian economy? I have partially answered some of these questions in a previous piece and will soon provide additional insights.

For now, I would like to draw attention to the existence of an “enclave economy” within the mainstream Ethiopian economy. This enclave is made up of highly interconnected crony businesses, which are owned and operated by Tigrean elites, who also have a tight grip on the political and military command structures. Take, for example, the Endowment Fund for Rehabilitation of Tigray (EFFORT), a business conglomerate affiliated with the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). EFFORT has its humble origin in the relief and rehabilitation arm of the TPLF. However, it has undergone amorphous growth and now controls the commanding heights of the Ethiopian economy. By some estimates, EFFORT now controls more than 66 business entities.

The EFFORT controlled enclave and related military engineering complexes have created a semi-autonomous economy in Ethiopia. They made smart choices and specialized in engineering and construction businesses. This means they do not have to rely on the Ethiopian public for their products; instead, each specialize in separate industrial branches and buy from each other and also sell to the government, which is also in their hand. The huge government infrastructural projects necessitated by the “developmental state” model create business opportunities for these engineering companies.

The enclave economy is only loosely linked to the mainstream economy and it does not benefit the bulk of the Ethiopian people in any meaningful way. The luxury hotels and supermarkets that Davison refers to cater for the needs of the affluent business classes, their families, and the expatriate community.

In other words, Ethiopia’s miraculous economic growth, if it in fact exists, must have happened only in the enclave economy. Statistically, it is possible to generate a double-digit economic growth at the national level through a combination of some real astronomical growth in the enclave component and stagnation or declines hidden, through some accounting tricks, in the rest of the economy.

Lock-in style of reporting

Unfortunately, the unquestioned reporting on Ethiopia’s economic success has continued. Even the EU study appears to have been shelved, or deliberately ignored despite the significant findings. Even as a fifth of the population is in need of emergency aid, the World Bank is sticking with the outdated data and has recently released a sensationalized report entitled “Ethiopia’s Great Run: the growth acceleration and how to pace it.”

The ensuing famine has shaken the foundation of Ethiopia’s growth narrative, yet western NGOs and media outlets appear to suffer from the lock-in effect in adopting consistent storylines. They continue to link and refer to the World Bank, IMF and others reports and indexes by multilateral organizations.

That’s why we continue to see comical headlines such as “Ethiopian Drought Threatens Growth as Cattle Die, Crops Fail,” which assumes that Ethiopia’s growth is actually occurring. This acquiescence does not only display ignorance, but it also underscores an effort to evade accountability for previous mistakes and failure to report accurate information.

In a recent interview with The Ethiopian Reporter, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn made a rare and fateful admission: “if we crave for too much praise for our achievements, we might run the risk of undermining the challenges we are facing. These challenges could grow bigger and become irreversible and that would be detrimental.”

Over the past 25 years, the EPRDF worked tirelessly to create a distorted image of the country and began craving and lobbying foreigners for praises.

Enron’s success involved an elaborate scam, but the firm was named “America’s Most Innovative Company” for six consecutive years. This fame did not stop Enron from crumbling. EPRDF’s fate will not be any different. The Oromo uprising has already started the unraveling of its elaborate scams devised to attain legitimacy on the back of non-existent economic and democratic advancement.

 J. Bonsa is a researcher based in Asia.

 

This article was first published on OPride.

 

http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/africaatlse/2015/12/24/ethiopias-fake-economic-growth-borrows-from-enrons-accounting/

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OPride: HAS ETHIOPIA REALLY ACHIEVED THE MDGS? October 8, 2015

Posted by OromianEconomist in Uncategorized.
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ethi_famine_30_years1414175983Drought, food crisis and famine in Afar state captured through social media, August 2015

 

HAS ETHIOPIA REALLY ACHIEVED THE MDGS?

By J. Bonsa,  Opride Contributors, 8 October 2015

 

http://opride.com/oromsis/articles/opride-contributors/3802-has-ethiopia-really-achieved-the-mdgs

 

 

On Sept.13, the BBC World Service aired the first segment of a two-part documentary entitled: Africa Surprising. As part of the series, journalist Hugh Sykes reported thatEthiopia has achieved a number of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) ahead of schedule.

Ethiopia has long been praised for being “on track to meet most of the MDGs by 2015 if progress continues or the pace increased.” Earlier this year, the Horn of Africa nation declared achieving a few of the targets even before the end of 2015. Sykes’ aim was to capture this “exceptional success story.”

Unfortunately, the report illustrates the Western media’s sloppy and superficial coverage of African success stories. At least in Ethiopia, the much-celebrated storyline does not actually exist on the ground.

The BBC documentary

The most central and relevant part of the broadcast is Sykes’ visit to a health center in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. It is unclear how the BBC chose to profile this particular site, but Ethiopians know that such matters are typically handled by the regime. Authorities pick a site, tidy up everything and then let unsuspecting visitors or journalists such as Sykes in at their own convenience. As Sykes walked around the clinic, he noticed that the doctors and nurses greeted him with “broad smiles.” Their exuberance looked too unreal that Sykes had to ask why they were smiling so much. “They were so happy for over achieving the MDGs ahead of time,” a health staffer murmured. Of course, they had to smile, how else could they keep their jobs and a straight face while talking about a barely existent achievement?

It is startling that an astute journalist like Sykes was not aware that the whole thing was a setup. Ethiopia’s success stories are often created by manufacturing data or instructing project managers on how to provide information to foreign journalists. (In the case of journalists at the state-run media, reporters are given instructions on how to tell such stories.) In the BBC documentary, the clinic’s staffers appear a bit overzealous to the point of making Sykes uncomfortable. He asks what exactly they did to reach their targets ahead of schedule. Among other things, they recounted their work educating families on the benefits of breastfeeding and family planning. Incidentally, one of Ethiopia’s MDG success stories is the reduction of birth rates through a “highly successful and exemplary family planning” scheme. Little do reporters like Sykes or novice Western researchers know that the decrease in birth rate has nothing to do with the government’s family planning but the excessive outmigration of large cohorts of young women to the Middle East and South Africa, among other places.

In 2012 alone, an estimated 500,000 migrants, mostly young women, migrated to the Middle East. At that rate, several millions of female in fertile age group have left the country in search of better opportunities over the past few years. (The 2012 estimate doesn’t include migration to destinations other than the Middle East.)

Importantly, the excessive outmigration of Ethiopia’s youth is a reflection of dire poverty, and failure to achieve the MDGs. This outflow has intensified since the MDGs were put in place. Despite this, Sykes seems to nod, admire and move on. “Over the last ten years we achieved more than what was achieved during the previous century,” Ethiopia’s Minister of Health, told Skyes, an audacious and superfluous claim that the journalist let stand.

The series wrapped up by paying lip service to the truth: Sykes showed high rise buildings within a few meters of slums with shabby dwellings, rusty tin roofs and muddy walls; executives with stylish modern suits walking on the same streets with bony beggars; SUVs shuffling along with donkeys and goats on the streets, etc. He then offered a faint reference to ruling party’s embarrassing declaration of 100 percent electoral victory in May, alluding to a familiar storyline — Ethiopia’s economic rise despite a few governance hiccups here and there.

The paradox of double-digit growth

Ethiopia’s so-called double-digit economic growth brings to mind German politician Joseph Goebbels’propaganda principles: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

The regime in Addis Ababa has ridden Ethiopia of educated manpower so much that the capacity to put numbers together and generate sensible economic statistics and estimate reasonable economic growth rates has been grossly diminished over the years. This is not a place to delve into the niceties of GDP estimation and growth rate calculations. By government’s own admission, almost all of the last five-year Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP I) targets have not been achieved, with all large infrastructural projects stuck at their early phases. However, the GDP growth rates remained more or less at the level forecast at the plan’s preparation stage. If all economic activities have not reached their goals as planned (in fact most lagged behind anticipated targets), how did Ethiopia somehow manage toachieve only the MDG targets, before schedule at that?

From SAPs to MDGs

The distribution of income and wealth are aspects of economic progress that are most relevant to the MDGs. The widening gulf between the haves and have-nots in Ethiopia does not require a journalist or any analyst to leave Addis Ababa.  The alarming increase in the number of beggars in the streets and the exodus of unemployed youth across deserts and high seas are sufficient to inform any observer interested in arriving at a balanced assessment. But such a story may not generate enough clicks in donor countries. It may also undercut the Western narrative of saviordom that’s driven by the aid-industrial complex.

Why are donor countries and their institutions so keen to tell the “Ethiopia rising” story to the extent of getting ordinary Ethiopians irritated and uncomfortable?  It is appropriate to provide a broader background on the origins of the MDGs.

Back in the 1980s, African governments were told to adjust their economies to market rules through structural adjustment programs (SAPs). There was little to no concern with “poverty” in the West. Laissez-faire economics or economic policy based on market rules was the order of the day.

By mid-1990s, the failure of SAPs became apparent, primarily because they gave rise to widening gaps in income distribution and propagation of poverty, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, who promoted SAPs, were at one point even referred to as Lords of Poverty. However, rich western nations were behind these multilateral agencies, arm-twisting leaders of developing countries to adjust their economies to the needs to the “global economy,” a proxy for the economies of the industrialized countries.

Western powers and their multilateral agencies reluctantly acknowledged the failure of laissez-faire economic policies and replaced them with the MDGs amid pressure from their progressive constituents, presumably to redress the damage caused to the developing countries’ economies. MDGs were grouped into sets of eight targets and handed over to developing countries with a condition that development aid would be strictly linked to achievements of the MDGs.

Statistical lies

When the MDGs came into existence, Ethiopia’s current rulers had already been in power for more than ten years. The regime immediately became a darling of the West because of massive poverty, which led to the outpouring of a substantial amount of development aid over the last two decades. The coupling of development aid with the achievement of MDGs target has created a precondition and breeding ground for misreporting on achievements of those targets.In dictatorial regimes like Ethiopia, numbers related to achievements can easily get churned out and systematically built over the years.

It is often hoped that donor countries, and the United Nations, which is responsible for monitoring the progress on MDGs, would scrutinize data accuracy and ensure that the targets have genuinely been achieved. That is the ideal scenario, but we live in the real world, not in the ideal world. In the real world, the required level of scrutiny does not often come into existence simply because it is costly to setup and operationalize them. To begin with, donors often assign inexperienced and naïve staff with skills unfit for the purpose of managing large and complex programs and projects. Additionally, donor agencies and NGOs have a responsibility to report back to their governments or fund providers on implementations of programs they are entrusted with. Therefore, it is not in the interest of such agencies to report program or project failures.

The Ethiopian regime has often presented itself as a key partner with the Western powers. Geopolitical interest and the excessive weight assigned to security concerns mean authorities in Addis Ababa could do anything and get away with it.  This has adversely affected scrutiny on MDGs progress. No analyst or reporter would dare to question records supplied by officials in Addis Ababa. A journalist or researcher, who tries to shed some doubt on the credibility of official statistics, would be harshly treated, including expulsion with short notice or even physical attacks.

It is also abundantly clear that there is a tacit understanding between the Ethiopian government and the donor agencies not to scrutinize Ethiopia’s record on MDGs to a required extent. Donors need a foreign aid success story. Besides, for fear of political backlash from the general public, Western leaders would not object to the success story lines. It is in this scheme of things that the Western media appear to be given the role of generating the “Ethiopia rising” or “Africa Rising” storylines to enhance the “feel good factor” in donor countries. The increasingly muzzled Ethiopian public can do little more than helplessly watching this drama being played out in the name of poverty reduction.

Drought, food crisis and Famine in Ethiopia 2015: Children and adults are dying of lack of food, water and malnutrition. Animals are perishing of persisting drought. The worst Affected areas are: Eastern and Southern Oromia, Afar, Ogaden and Southern nations. #Africa #Oromia August 14, 2015

Posted by OromianEconomist in Ethiopia's Colonizing Structure and the Development Problems of People of Oromia, Famine in Ethiopia, Malnutrition, Micronutrient deficiency in Oromia, The State of Food Insecurity in Ethiopia.
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Due to lack of rain, food crisis and famine people are dying in Ethiopia. Mainstream medias are not reporting. In the absence of free press, the TPLF/ Ethiopian government is hiding the tragedy going on. Children, women and men are dying in rural areas of  Eastern and Southern Oromia, Afar state, Ogaden and southern nations. Animals are being perished due to persistent drought. The TPLF/Ethiopian government has also engaged in intensive land grabs and evictions in unaffected (food surplus) areas and intensified the destructions of food security system. In central Oromia (Burrayyuu, Sululta, Bishoftu, etc) and Western Oromia (Ilu Abbaa boraa and Wallaggaa) families in thousands become homeless and destitute because of land grabs both in urban and rural areas. Citizens  are reporting the crisis and crying for help and no help is received yet both from the government and international humanitarian aid.  Social media and Oromia Media network are reporting in Afaan Oromoo.

https://www.oromiamedia.org/2015/08/omn-oduu-hagayya-13-2015/

NBC Nightly News   |  August 14, 2015

Food crisis in Ethiopia

Aug. 5: Hunger is once again threatening vast swathes of Africa because of drought and high food prices. The United Nations has estimated that 14 million are at risk and at the heart of the looming catastrophe is Ethiopia, where over 10 million are in need of emergency food aid.  ITN’s Martin Geissler reports.

http://www.nbcnews.com/video/nightly-news/26041485#26041485

Drought, food crisis and famine in Afar state (North East Ethiopia) captured through social media, August 2015

Is this famine Ethiopia or fastest economic growth? Beela moo misooma?

Drought, food crisis and famine in Afar state captured through social media, August 2015Drought, food crisis and famine in Afar state captured through social media1, August 2015

The following pictures are drought, food crisis and famine in Eastern Oromia captured through social media, August 2015

People are dying of famine in Ethiopia, Hararghe including children, mothers and adults July, August 2015 during Obama Africa visitPeople are dying of famine in Ethiopia, Hararghe including children, mothers and adults July, August 2015 during Obama Africa visit1People are dying of famine in Ethiopia, Hararghe including children, mothers and adults July, August 2015 during Obama Africa visit4

Land grabs and evictions in Oromia

TPLF Ethiopian forces destroyed Oromo houses in Ada'a district, Central Oromia, July 2015Tigrean Neftengna's land grabbing and the Addis Ababa Master plan for Oormo genocide

The tale of two countries (Obama’s/TPLF’s Ethiopia and Real Ethiopia): The Oromo (Children, Women and elders) are dying of genocidal mass killings and politically caused famine, but Obama has been told only rosy stories and shown rosy pictures. #Africa #Oromia

http://paper.li/UNICEFEthiopia/1381134230?edition_id=be3b1460-39a8-11e5-a22c-0cc47a0d164b

If Ethiopia’s economy is so vibrant, why are young people leaving? April 28, 2015

Posted by OromianEconomist in Africa, Africa Rising, Ethiopia the least competitive in the Global Competitiveness Index, Ethiopia's Colonizing Structure and the Development Problems of People of Oromia, The 2014 Ibrahim Index of African Governance, The extents and dimensions of poverty in Ethiopia, The State of Food Insecurity in Ethiopia, The Tyranny of TPLF Ethiopia.
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OjimmaEthiopia is the one of the lowest in social Progress 2015

If Ethiopia is so vibrant, why are young people leaving?

Al Jazeera

April 28, 2015

Within a week, Ethiopians were hit with a quadruple whammy. On April 19, the Libyan branch of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) released a shocking video purporting to show the killings and beheadings of Ethiopian Christians attempting to cross to Europe through Libya. This came only days after an anti-immigrant mob in South Africa killed at least three Ethiopian immigrants and wounded many others. Al Jazeera America reported that thousands of Ethiopian nationals were stranded in war-torn Yemen. And in the town of Robe in Oromia and its surroundings alone, scores of people were reportedly grieving over the loss of family members at sea aboard a fateful Europe-bound boat that sank April 19 off the coast of Libya with close to 900 aboard.

These tragedies may have temporarily united Ethiopians of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds. But they have also raised questions about what kind of desperation drove these migrants to leave their country and risk journeys through sun-scorched deserts and via chancy boats.

The crisis comes at a time when Ethiopia’s economic transformation in the last decade is being hailed as nothing short of a miracle, with some comparing it to the feat achieved by the Asian “tigers” in the 1970s. Why would thousands of young men and women flee their country, whose economy is the fastest growing in Africa andwhose democracy is supposedly blossoming? And when will the exodus end?

After the spate of sad news, government spokesman Redwan Hussein said the tragedy “will be a warning to people who wish to risk and travel to Europe through the dangerous route.” Warned or not, many youths simply do not see their dreams for a better life realized in Ethiopia. Observers cite massive poverty, rising costs of living, fast-climbing youth unemployment, lack of economic opportunities for the less politically connected, the economy’s overreliance on the service sector and the requirement of party membership as a condition for employment as the drivers behind the exodus.

A 2012 study by the London-based International Growth Center noted (PDF) widespread urban unemployment amid growing youth landlessness and insignificant job creation in rural areas. “There have been significant increases in educational attainment. However, there has not been as much job creation to provide employment opportunities to the newly educated job seekers,” the report said.

One of the few ISIL victims identified thus far was expelled from Saudi Arabia in 2013. (Saudi deported more than 100,000 Ethiopian domestic workers during a visa crackdown.) A friend, who worked as a technician for the state-run Ethiopian Electricity Agency, joined him on this fateful trek to Libya. At least a handful of the victims who have been identified thus far were said to be college graduates.

Given the depth of poverty, Ethiopia’s much-celebrated economic growth is nowhere close to accommodating the country’s young and expanding population, one of the largest youth cohorts in Africa. Government remainsthe main employer in Ethiopia after agriculture and commerce. However, as Human Rights Watch noted in 2011, “access to seeds, fertilizers, tools and loans … public sector jobs, educational opportunities and even food assistance” is often contingent on support for the ruling party.

Still, unemployment and lack of economic opportunities are not the only reasons for the excessive outward migration. These conditions are compounded by the fact that youths, ever more censored and denied access to the Internet and alternative sources of information, simply do not trust the government enough to heed Hussein’s warnings. Furthermore, the vast majority of Ethiopian migrants are political refugees fleeing persecution. There are nearly 7,000 registered Ethiopian refugees in Yemen, Kenya has more than 20,000, and Egypt and Somalia have nearly 3,000 each, according to the United Nations refugee agency.

As long as Ethiopia focuses on security, the door is left wide open for further exodus and potential social unrest from an increasingly despondent populace.

Ethiopians will head to the polls in a few weeks. Typically, elections are occasions to make important choices and vent anger at the incumbent. But on May 24, Ethiopians will be able to do neither. In the last decade, authorities have systematically closed the political space through a series of anti-terrorism, press and civil society laws. Ethiopia’s ruling party, now in power for close to 24 years, won the last four elections. The government has systematically weakened the opposition and does not tolerate any form of dissent.

The heightened crackdown on freedom of expression has earned Ethiopia the distinction of being the world’sfourth-most-censored country and the second leading jailer of journalists in Africa, behind only its archrival, Eritrea, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

There is little hope that the 2015 elections would be fundamentally different from the 2010 polls, in which the ruling party won all but two of the 547 seats in the rubber-stamp national parliament. The ruling party maintains a monopoly over the media. Authorities have shown little interest in opening up the political space for a more robust electoral contest. This was exemplified by the exclusion of key opposition parties from the race, continuing repression of those running and Leenco Lata’s recent failed attempt to return home to pursue peaceful political struggle after two decades of exile. (Lata is the founder of the outlawed Oromo Liberation Front, fighting since 1973 for the rights of the Oromo, Ethiopia’s marginalized majority population, and the president of the Oromo Democratic Front.)

A few faces from the fragmented and embittered opposition maybe elected to parliament in next month’s lackluster elections. But far from healing Ethiopia’s gashing wounds, the vote is likely to ratchet up tensions. In fact, a sea of youth, many too young to vote, breaking police barriers to join opposition rallies bespeaks not of a country ready for elections but one ripe for a revolution with unpredictable consequences.

Despite these mounting challenges, Ethiopia’s relative stability — compared with its deeply troubled neighbors Somalia, South Sudan, Eritrea and Djibouti — is beyond contention. Even looking further afield, across the Red Sea, where Yemen is unraveling, one finds few examples of relative stability. This dynamic and Ethiopia’s role in the “war on terrorism” explains Washington’s and other donors’ failure to push Ethiopia toward political liberalization.

However, Ethiopia’s modicum of stability is illusory and bought at a hefty price: erosion of political freedoms, gross human rights violations and ever-growing discontent. This bodes ill for a country split by religious, ethnic and political cleavages. While at loggerheads with each other, Ethiopia’s two largest ethnic groups — the Oromo (40 percent) and the Amhara (30 percent) — are increasingly incensed by continuing domination by Tigreans (6 percent).

Ethiopian Muslims (a third of the country’s population of 94 million) have been staging protests throughout the country since 2011. Christian-Muslim relations, historically cordial, are being tested by religious-inspired violence and religious revivalism around the world. Ethiopia faces rising pressures to choose among three paths fraught with risks: the distasteful status quo; increased devolution of power, which risks balkanization; and more centralization, which promises even further resistance and turmoil.

It is unlikely that the soul searching from recent tragedies will prompt the authorities to make a course adjustment. If the country’s history of missed opportunities for all-inclusive political and economic transformation is any guide, Ethiopians might be in for a spate of more sad news. As long as the answer to these questions focuses on security, the door is left wide open for further exodus and potential social unrest from an increasingly despondent populace.

*Hassen Hussein is an assistant professor at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota.

http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2015/4/if-ethiopia-is-so-vibrant-why-are-young-people-leaving.html