By Daniel Teferra (PhD)*

President Barack Obama at a press conference (7/27/15) in Addis Ababa said that Ethiopia is one of the fastest growing economies. He said that it has lifted millions of people out of poverty. President Obama also said that the government is democratically elected.

President Obama is not the only one who made these kinds of remarks. For instance, about three months ago, Deputy U. S. Secretary of State, Mrs. Wendy Sherman, also said that Ethiopia is a democracy.

International organizations have also said, repeatedly, that Ethiopia is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. They have said that Ethiopia has established an outstanding record of poverty reduction.  Unfortunately, none of these remarks is borne out by hard facts.

Ethiopia’s yearly income per capita (per person) is about $500, one of the lowest in Africa.  In Ethiopia, real income per capita (standard of living) has fallen in both rural and urban areas.  It has declined overall six-fold in the last 30 years.

Ethiopia is a food-deficit country; and consequently, it still lives under the threat of famine. Ethiopia receives about $300 million (400,000 metric tons of food) every year in the form of aid from the United States of America and its partners.

President Obama probably did not want to acknowledge how the current regime took state power in Ethiopia 24 years ago. He therefore went on to say that the government is democratically elected.

In the 1991 London Conference, the U. S. Government was supposed to mediate between the then Ethiopian government and the ethnic-based, Marxist-Leninist rebels from the north. However, the mediation ended before it even began when the U. S. mediator arbitrarily imposed rebel decisions on the people of Ethiopia. The people of Ethiopia were hoping that there would be a peaceful transition of power through the appointment of a transitional government, representing all groups and interests of the society. That did not happen.

President Obama talked, about the ugly realities of ethnic division at his Nairobi press conference (7/26/15).  At least in Kenya, ethnic division is illegal.  In Ethiopia, it is enshrined in the Constitution. President Obama was completely silent about ethnic division in Ethiopia, which is threatening to tear the country apart.

Ethiopia is divided into ethnic territories (kilil).  People in each kilil are divided into natives and settlers. The latter are discriminated against since they are not allowed to work in the local bureaucracy, run for political office or have land-use right.  People in Ethiopia cannot live anywhere they choose. They cannot move freely seeking work and investment opportunity.

Ethnic division is a form of racism. It violates the United Nations Charter and UN Declaration of Human Rights, which expresses the idea of a world order which safeguards basic rights and the freedom from cruelty and oppression everywhere on this planet.

The President emphasized at the Addis Ababa press conference America’s interest and praised the regime in Ethiopia for fighting effectively militants in Somalia.  While all this is understandable, the President could have at least given the pro-democracy groups, who are fighting the good fight alone and against great odds, an opportunity to be heard. After all, democracy is not shaped by one group alone, but by all groups with compromises to benefit all members of society.

*Emeritus Professor of Economics at Ferris State University; UW-Whitewater; teferrad@uww.edu.