Ethiopia: Of Light Rails and Famine

Despite claiming double-digit economic growth largely based on its agriculture industry, the Ethiopian regime is now calling for international assistance to help feed 15 million of its citizens. 

By The Mitmita Girls

The Mitmita Girls have been on a sort of hiatus for some time! Lest you think we have been sunbathing on some tropical island or running around the world touring with Beyoncé, we want to be clear that we have been, as the Little Prince would say “busy with matters of consequence.”

We decided to go long (as financiers are prone to do) on Ethiopia. We invested. Heavily. Into the damn Grand Renaissance Dam (what a name!) and also into the light rail which is this amazing new train (oh the train!!!!!! The train! Have you all seen the train? Addis has a train! A light rail! We have arrived! Ethiopia is developed! Seriously: We.Are.Here.At.Arrived.Status).

Also we have been très busy with commodities! Specifically we have been all aflutter about the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange and now (and may we say finally) we have traceability! This means that when our precious coffee is being traded out of the country (so that only inferior coffee beans are left for the natives) we will be able to “tag” each coffee export and tell you where it came from and where it ended up! This snazzy technology cost $4.5 million! What a steal! What theft!

We also bought a couple of chic condominiums in Addis. For like a billion birr! The exchange rate to USD is about $21.00 so as you can see, it was a sound investment. We are buying from Ethiopia’s newest colonial overlords, the Chinese. We have been supporting the Chinese takeover of Ethiopian projects because neocolonialism, obviously.

Our relatives in Ethiopia have assured us that it is really for the best and for the good of the country that the Chinese have come in to do all this work! They have built the famous Bole Road; they are building luxury condominiums. And of course they have built the light rail! (Oh the train!!!!!! The train! Have you all seen the train? Addis has a train! A light rail! We have arrived! Ethiopia is developed! Seriously: We.Are.Here.At.Arrived.Status).

Everyone pretty much knows about the shallow and lazy nature of Ethiopian workers! They are unreliable! They are ungrateful! The Chinese on the other hand are a godsend!

So we have been busy. Supporting projects. Supporting economic growth. Supporting commodity markets. Because we are nationalists at the end of the day. We want Ethiopia to thrive. And after the untimely and shocking death of our dear Prime Minister Meles, we thought that all hope was gone! We presumed doom. We assumed failures and we prematurely predicted the end of the Golden Age of Ethiopia that Meles and his cronies have brought us! Alas, we needn’t have worried! Meles’ replacements have done him proud.

The world is at their feet: for instance the International Monetary Fund (“IMF”) is certainly impressed; in the fall of 2015 the IMF published a report which began thusly: “Ethiopia’s recent macroeconomic performance has continued to be strong overall, though with some rising domestic and external vulnerabilities.” Some rising domestic and external vulnerabilities you say? Hmmm. But have you people seen the train, though? The light rail! That will make everything great again!

There is one glaring omission in this IMF report from the fall of 2015? Famine! They don’t mention it! Well, not in so many words anyway! There is some language about food insecurity and also this throwaway statement: “increased food aid may also be needed to protect the most vulnerable.” Food aid MAY also be needed…. So in September of 2015, the IMF while steadily mentioning that as part of the Ethiopia Millennium Development Goals, they are still working on “goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger”, they do not mention an impending disaster.

But rest assured that all is going well because they want us to know that “the [Ethiopian] government’s outlook for the economy is highly positive.

Well. We can all sleep soundly now that we know the Ethiopian government thinks that its own outlook for its own economy, manipulated driven by its own policies, is highly positive. It begs the question of whether the Ethiopian government ever views its policies and its economy in any negative light or ever expresses concern or doubt as to its direction? The answer is never. Because in reality, the Ethiopian government is not a democratically elected body which responds to the populace. It is a military junta, which has been in power since 1991, and its chokehold grip on the country and the economy has had devastating effects. To wit: the impending human rights disaster.

But before we discuss doom and gloom, let’s move on to our other friends, the World Bank and see what this illustrious institution has had to say. Their forecast on Ethiopia is also optimistic! We needn’t have worried! Everyone is taking happy pills! Positivity! Someone did send the World Bank pictures of the rail or more likely the World Bank workers themselves have ridden the rail because they certainly allude to it here: “Fueled by substantial public infrastructure investment and a conducive external environment, the country’s growth has been stable, rapid and it has managed to decrease poverty substantially from 44% in 2000 to 30% in 2011.”

Whew! We were worried about the World Bank missing the light rail parade but alas, they included it in their discussion of “public infrastructure investment.”

More importantly in this November 2015 report, the World Bank noted “Ethiopia has moved from the second poorest in the world in 2000 and, if it can keep the current pace, it’s on its way towards becoming a middle income country by 2025.”

A middle income country! What! We are jumping for joy! This calls for a celebration! An opportunity to buy pretty dresses!

A middle income country is defined “as having a per capita gross national income of US$1,026 to $12,475”. This is where the World Bank thinks we will be in 2025! By comparison in 2015, the GNI per capita of the United States was $55,200.

In case you didn’t get the full picture, the World Bank report also included this nifty graphic which uses the green, yellow, red flag colors and a man who is a runner/marathoner/sprinter, alluding in a very heavy handed way to Ethiopia’s long history of producing exemplary runners to demonstrate our sprint, run, (crawl?), climb to this coveted(?) middle income country status.Ethiopia's' Great run

Now that they have included pretty pictures, we are convinced that we are all running towards becoming a middle income country! Count us in! (A small, really a miniscule, voice asks “so do middle income countries struggle to feed their population?”) But never mind that! A thriving country, we are! You want to buy a fabulous pied-à-terre in Addis? Done! In an exclusive section of Addis? Done!
Yet someone didn’t inform the industrious journalist Paul Schemm at the Washington Post about all of this development. About all of this progress. Someone neglected to send him pictures of the shiny new light rails! (oh the train!!!!!! The train! Have you all seen the train? Addis has a train! A light rail! We have arrived! Ethiopia is developed! Seriously: We.Are.Here.At.Arrived.Status). Somehow the Washington Post did not get the memo. Probably those pesky Diaspora activists have prevented the Washington Post from finding out about the damn Great Renaissance Dam and the even more damned train! The damn light rail!

Because in the midst of all of this economic progress (macro and otherwise), the Washington Post, the official voice of the Metro literati, ran a story on famine. In Ethiopia. In 2016. The article included the following graphic:

Poor, hungry people are ALWAYS trying to ruin everything! How can anyone focus on the light rail and how pretty it is when everyone wants to talk about hunger?

It is proven that if you are poor it is because you are lazy and if you are hungry, it is because you don’t want to eat. Why, when we were at the Sheraton in Addis, there was plenty of food to go around!! And not just injera, but actual American food. Burgers and lattes and the like! Also they were charging totally American prices!! And they even took our dollars!

The Mitmita Girls can only surmise that the Washington Post has not been apprised of the glowing reports from the IMF and the World Bank. They most assuredly have not been sent pictures of the light rail! (oh the train!!!!!! The train! Have you all seen the train? Addis has a train! A light rail! We have arrived! Seriously: Ethiopia is developed! We.Are.Here.At.Arrived.Status).

One of the most passionate stances of our dearly departed Prime Minister Meles was that development can be separated from human rights. He pointed to China as an example of a country that was thriving economically, notwithstanding its (abhorrent) human rights record. He wanted to model Ethiopia after that. In essence he believed that the muzzling of political dissent, the suppression of speech, the jailing of journalists, the shuttering of civil society can be done AND Ethiopia can still be a development star as long as it was an economic success. One would have to say that the major NGOs seem to have bought into that theory! The West has certainly bought into it because they continue to fund this tragedy strategy.

So the question du jour is: can a government maintain that a country is an economic success while failing miserably at feeding its people? Can we divorce development from famine? Are you a development star heading towards a middle income country status when you have an impending human rights crisis in the form of a famine? Is the government outlook on its economy highly positive when massive hunger is on the horizon?

Because the Ethiopian government might be able to convince the world that jailing dissidents and journalists is a price to be paid for a thriving middle income country…. but dear reader, the Mitmita Girls think, that the sight of malnourished children may not go hand-in-hand with the glowing accounts of Ethiopia’s alleged “growth acceleration.” And no light rail—no matter how flashy—can fix that.