March 22, 2016 – IF you drop in on Ethiopia once every one or two years, the outward progress you see in places like the capital Addis Ababa, is very impressive.
It is a country in a hurry. It is pouring cement, stone, and laying down tar like it is going out of fashion. Ethiopia has been notching up the fastest growth of any African – and world –economy, turning nearly 11% a year.
If you ever visited Ethiopia in the awful days of Mengistu Haile Mariam’s military junta in the 1980s, the difference is like Earth and Mars.
Some old habits die hard, though. Ethiopia is not a bright-eyed democracy by any measure. The ruling EPRDF dominates power, and still rules with hammer and tongs, though with a velvet touch. And while its economy is galloping, the benefits have not been fairly shared and inequality is deepening.
Its state-led capitalism and political model were recently tested when high-handed plans to expand the capital into neighbouring Oromo lands provoked protests. According to human rights organisations, over 200 Oromo protestors were killed in the ensuing confrontation.
The government has now backed down and abandoned the expansion, for now, and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn has struck a rare moderate tone on the Oromo demonstrations.
Also, despite the progress, and an aggressive push to bring more electricity and green power to the grid, outages are still frequent in Addis Ababa. Internet services are in the Stone Age, compared, for example, to what is offer in tech savvy Nairobi.