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Ethiopia is a country with unique history and present. A nation united where pride in being “Ethiopian” is unwavering regardless of political or social differences. Distinct culture in food, clothing and social behaviour. King Menelik II said in 1909 “There was never a time when united that Ethiopians lost to an enemy; it is non-existent in history.” How very true!

They can trace their origin back 3 million 200 years to Lucy. A nation that had homo sapiens in their archaeology 200,000 year back. The majestic stelas in Axum stand as tall as the Ethiopians.

My knowledge of Ethiopia comes from multiple visits over 45 years to the 4 corners of Ethiopia. This blog post gives my reflections from a recent visit to Addis Ababa, Axum and Adwa. I was in Ethiopia  in April for an International Conference (IC) in Adwa to promote the Adwa Pan-African University (APAU).

The motivation, compassion and passion component of the IC was very warm. On the substantive pillar of realising the project of APAU, there is still a lot of work to do to have a Pan-African University on the ground.

Being a long-time supporter of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on technical and rights grounds, I did not miss the opportunity to discuss it with a wide range of Ethiopians.

Knowing the role of Orthodox Tewahedo Christianity, I also talked to youth about it. I also talked to youth about their aspirations and dreams for Ethiopia. I was surprised to see youth of Ethiopia are still committed to their religion and going to church on Sundays. The morality of Ethiopian Youth is still based on religion.

No Ethiopian I met is against GERD in any way. The bulk of the $4.5 Billion (cost of GERD) was raised through bonds bought by citizens. Donations contributed to the fund; with Billionaire Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi (Still jailed by the Saudis) contributing $88 million. Al Amoudi is an Ethiopian-Saudi national. His giant cement factory is supplying cement (almost all the production) to GERD. There are 100 million citizens standing up for the dam and there is little that Egypt can do about it.

It was impressive to see that PM Abiy Ahmed Ali visiting Saudi Arabia May 17 to May 20, 2018 and securing the release of 1,000 Ethiopian nationals who had been in prison there for a variety of offences. He respects his citizens wherever they are. The Saudi Kingdom forcefully deported more than 14,000 Ethiopian nationals last year. At least 70,000 others returned to the East African country voluntarily.

Officials in Riyadh are in the process of deporting an estimated 500,000 Ethiopian migrants, whom they claim to have arrived in Saudi Arabia illegally. So far, 160,000 have returned to Ethiopia. (These figures are mostly estimates.)

We need to mention the 734,000 registered refugees, mostly Africans, who are hosted by Ethiopia. Gambella in the South West has taken Nuers from South Sudan into its villages;  an estimated 170,000 Ethiopian Nationals in Gembella are also Nuers. Ethiopia allows immigrant children and youth (including refugees) into its national educational system.

The tireless efforts by the Ethiopia of hosting the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)’s sponsored mediation for the South Sudan conflict is credible. They have shown considerable patience and leadership, although the process itself is in limbo.

The positive actions of the new Prime Minister can also be seen by the Ethiopian Parliament lifting the state of emergency, and the Government decided to honour the ruling on Badme and the Eritrean borders  delivered by the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission an International Arbitral Award on 13 April 2002. That ended a decade and a half of not complying with the ruling. Now only the Bakassi peninsula ruling between Cameroon and Nigeria delivered by the International Court of Justice has not been implemented.

Two observations caught my eye with mixed feelings:

The first one was that the people were “Happier” than when I saw them 5 years back. Despite the “Green Poverty” (as most parts of Ethiopia are green, despite  the images from past famines), people were managing. When they open up, they recognize that there is infrastructural development, that there are universities and technical institutes spreading across the country. Roads have improved remarkably. Regional airports are no longer landing strips. They still talk about lack of equitable “equalization”  (between regions) but they see it coming.

The second observation that needs more attention from the Government of Ethiopia is the alarming numbers of young men who are doing “marginal jobs” around towns when they should have been in school or higher education institutions. This is more in Addis Ababa than in rural areas.

In conclusion:  Ethiopia is no longer the country that slept for 1000 years and woke up in the 21st century. It is no longer the land where people spend hours in “coffee ceremonies” and the usual photos of women with the clay coffee “Jebena”. With 9% to11% rate of growth of the GDP, its is emerging as a regional power that is playing a major role in regional security and tranquility. The GERD is a major catalyst for interdependencies with their neighbors.

Addendum

On January 11th, 2018, Mohammed Ademo and Jeffery Smith wrote a worrying article in Foreign Policy (FP) with the shocking title “Ethiopia is falling apart”. When I arrived there on April 20th, 2018 and for the 7 days and travelling and talking to people, I did not see anything “falling apart”. This is a mistake that people writing about or talking about Ethiopia often make, forgetting it is one of 54 African Countries and not one of the 5 Nordic Countries. When former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn walked into the APAU Conference Hall in Adwa on April 23rd , he got a long standing ovation. He came in as a citizen with minimal security or entourage. Will Foreign Policy write about that?

Some of the critics and opposition stakeholders find it difficult to differentiate between “Constructive Criticism” and “Destructive Criticism” and in the process hurt the very country they are aiming to reform and support.

Shakespeare said in “Julius Caesar”: “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones”. One wonders why do critics pick only on the evil of Ethiopia and forget the massive good?

Tag Elkhazin