As the government seeks to maintain high growth rates, forced relocations cause widespread anger and levels of human development remain low.

The 2015 National Human Development Report, launched  by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) at the United Nations Economic Commission of Africa (UNECA), indicates that Ethiopia has seen some of the highest economic growth rates over the last 15 years but has not encouraged widespread inclusive development, being ranked at 174 out of 187 on the UNDP Human Development Index (HDI).

Africa’s oldest independent state and second most populous nation has marked itself as amongst the continents top performing economies after being amassed in a discourses  of poverty and conflict in the 1990s, largely propagated by the international media.

Between 2003 and 2013 growth rates in Ethiopia averaged around 10.9%, with the most recent estimates in 2012/13 revealing a GDP growth rate of 9.7%; the country was the 12th fastest growing economy in 2012 indicates the UNDP report. The government has set out aims to make Ethiopia a middle income country by 2025, investing in economic and social infrastructure, public services, tax collection systems, and small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

Ethiopia figures

Catalysing this growth, according to the UNDP report, has been strategic policy decisions aided by political stability, weather conditions, high levels of foreign direct investment amongst reforms to economic activities, trade and public sector management, with the government prioritising development in agriculture and industry.

At the launch of the report the atmosphere was dominated by the defensiveness of the government in the wake of UNDP conclusions that while growth has contributed to reduced poverty levels, the absolute number of people in poverty has remained largely unchanged over the last 15 years, due to high population growth. Development has concentrated on certain socio-economic groupings, according to the Addis Fortune, who explained that “Ethiopia has attained success in providing access to more, but not necessarily better quality, social services”.

Outside observers have criticised the state-led development strategy, particularly the forced removal of local populations to make way for industries needed to support continued growth. Recent work on the Gibe III Dam has seen communities living around Lake Turkana in southern Ethiopia predict widespread conflict as the dam reduces water levels and increases competition for scarce resources, report UK-based the Guardian.

Ethiopia’s state agricultural development strategy has been characterised by a ‘villagisation’ programme facilitating the removal of indigenous communities from areas reserved for large scale development. A report entitled ‘Ignoring Abuse in Ethiopia: DFID and USAID in the Lower Omo Valley‘ produced by international advocacy group the Oakland Institute, explores the forced removal of populations in the name of development in Ethiopia.  .


Omo River Valley (CC 2013)

Such disparities in economic and human development are surprising considering recent praise for Ethiopia’s ‘green economy’; East Africa Business Week report Fritz Jung, a representative of the German government who have financed Ethiopia’s Sustainable Land Management Programme, as saying “it is proof of Ethiopia’s visionary engagement for combining socio-economic development as well as environmental sustainability”.

Perspectives and priorities differ; while Ethiopia continues to see growth, some 37 million people still remain in poverty and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has identified that more than half of  farmers are cultivating plots barely large enough to provide sustenance, resulting in large swathes of rural-urban migration. Moreover state ownership of land is creating unfair competition in the economy, favouring government supported conglomerates, reported the Inter Press Service.

While for some Ethiopia’s rapid economic growth is seen as an “economic miracle” for  large sections of the populace very few benefits seem to have materialised.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin

Ethiopia: Building First Class Infrastructure
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.52, Issue 3, Pp. 20770B-20770C

Ethiopia: Poverty Down 30% Since 2000
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.52, Issue 1, Pp. 20701A-20702A

Ethiopia: Huge State Investment
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.51, Issue 11, Pp.20628C-20629B

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