The Situation in Ethiopia (Part 2)

Submitted by hadrian on Wed, 08/17/2016 - 21:36

Introduction

In the first part I discussed the complex political situation in Ethiopia. Of course, this situation is intimitely connected to the economic situation. Even the best-intentioned political experiments only succeed or, usually, fail because of economic realities. Although the Ethiopian experiment would probably have failed solely on the basis of its reliance on a one-party dictatorship, the country is also undergoing enormous economic changes. The Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF), the de facto ruling party of the country, calls itself Marxist but has cleary forgotten Marx' insight that class struggle is an important motor of history. One of the major causes of the current wave of protests, which already started in 2015, is the class struggle in Ethiopia.

Economic Changes

Ethiopia, like many countries in the region, has a predominantly agricultural economy. The most important export is coffee, followed by sesame seeds. Roughly 85% of the working population works in agriculture, 10% works in services, and only about 5% in industry. In comparison, only 4% of the Dutch working population works in agriculture (Source: Ethiopia,, the Netherlands). While the Netherlands is burdened by a heavily developed form of capitalism, which implies a very technified agriculture, Ethiopia is in a very early stage of capitalism. A country, under the right circumstances, can survive for a long time without developping a later stage of capitalism but the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) has decided to try and economically grow the country. Statistics show they've been hugely succesful, but statistics are also an excellent way of covering up the daily reality that people have to live with.

In short, the EPRDF is trying to force a rapid capitalist development. In the European context, capitalist development meant, amongst others, displacing peasants from the land and forcing them to move into the cities. In England, for example, the 'Enclosure Acts' were used to make common land unavailable and, thus, rob peasants of their livelihood. In Ethiopia, a similar strategy is used through the infamous land-deals. From a legal standpoint, the land in Ethiopia is owned by the state and, as such, the state can do whatever it wants with the land. The Ethiopian government claims the land they lease to foreign investors is currently not being used or only sporadically being used by the local population. The reverse seems to be the case. People who were able to, although with some difficulty, provide for their own livelihood are now forced to become wage-labourers. Instead of working the land for themselves, they will have to work for a boss. The government hopes that investors will bring modern technologies which will make agriculture more efficient, and this is undoubtedly true, but this doesn't change the fact that people are being forced into a new system of dependency.

Unfortunately, food safety in Ethiopia is low. Earlier this year, there were droughts and food shortages. Agriculture as a means of living is becoming less reliable which, together with the land-deals, makes young people want to move to cities. The urbanisation that was common in Europe during the early stage of capitalism is now being repeated in Ethiopia. The growth of cities in Ethiopia has been roughly twice as large compared to the national population growth. Where the national population growth was about 2.48% over the last year, the urban population grew by 4.86% (source). At the same time, the population density of the capital city, Addis Ababa, is getting smaller. The federal government wants to expand the borders of Addis Ababa into Oromo territory. As this plan would mean a large group of Oromo agricultural workers would be displaced, it has become one of the immediate causes of the current wave of protests.

Conclusion

The Ethiopian economy is changing rapidly. While Ethiopia has a mostly agricultural economy at this point, the EPRDF is forcing the country to undergo a capitalist development that should remind Europeans to some of the darkest pages of Europe's local history. Ethiopia has never been colonized by Europe, although it has been temporarily occupied by Italy. However, capitalism is now quickly colonizing the country. It is certainly true that Ethiopia's economy has to change. After all, there have been repeated food-shortages and Ethiopia's agriculture has to modernize in order to fill the gap. However, the EPRDF, in the standard arrogance of political parties, is forcing these changes onto the Ethiopian people. People are rapidly pushed into subservience to the global capitalist system. In Europe, similar changes led to big revolts, such as the Midland Revolt where countless people were murdered by the land-thiefs. The Ethiopian government's reaction shows that the ruling classes, no matter their ideological background, are the same everywhere. When we resist, they will do everything in their power to oppress us and push their plans.

The development of Ethiopian capitalism is, however, more difficult than the European development was. Europe simply stole the capital necessary for the early growth of capitalism from the rest of the world, especially in the form of South-American silver. Nowadays, countries like Ethiopia have to compete in a much more complex global social-political system. This will be the topic of the next article.