Ethiopia: Africa’s new economic powerhouse

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By Florence Gichoya

Ethiopia is a country of many contrasts. Africa’s most populous land locked country, is a rising economic powerhouse, recording the highest economic growth rate in the continent. But then again, Ethiopia performs dismally in the area of democracy and press freedom. The country’s parliament is deficient of opposition MPs. The ruling party, Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), and its allied parties, won all the 546 parliamentary seats, in last year’s May elections.

Still, the state driven economy is upbeat and trounces many African countries, which are either grappled with conflict, corruption or hostile political environment that is unfavorable for investors.

There is an unstoppable construction boom. In 2013, Africa’s biggest wind farm was built in the south of Addis Ababa. The 324 MW wind power will address the growing energy demand for domestic and industrial use. Another mega project is the construction of the 6, 000 MW Grand Renaissance dam. It will cost $4.8 billion, making it the seventh biggest hydropower plant in the world.

By increasing and diversifying the source of energy, Ethiopia has paved way for local and foreign investors. In April last year, an American owned company General Electric Transportation announced that it would set up an electric cars factory in Ethiopia, it will be the first in the continent. The plant is expected to make 4,000 cars per month, and will offer employment to thousands.

In November last year, Ethiopia’s Ministry of Transport launched the country’s first manufacturing and assembly plant. The Bushoftu Automative Industry located in a military base, is expected to manufacture 10,000 to 20,000 vehicles per year. The Transport Ministry indicated that in 2014, there were only 587,400 vehicles for 94 million people in the country. That translates to two vehicles for every 1,000 people.

“This is a light duty manufacturing plant. In this factory we can manufacture and assemble pickups, station wagons, single and double cabins and mini-trucks. We can manufacture or assemble more than 20 units per day. If there is more demand we can increase this production,” said Major Metafer Beshawhwured, the factory’s Assistant General Manager.

Ethiopia has an ambition to not only manufacture automobiles to cater for domestic demands, but also to export to neighbouring countries including Kenya.

Transport and infrastructure boom

In November last year, Ethiopia made history when it launched the first light rail system in Sub-Saharan Africa. The 32 km rail is essential in decongesting the city that has a population of more than 4 million people. Another 800 km railway line connecting Addis Ababa and Djibouti’s Port City was completed. The train ferries 1,500 trucks of goods daily to land locked Ethiopia.

An elaborate road network to increase the economic growth is under construction. The World Bank Group is partly financing the construction of Modjo-Hawassa 203km road, to the tune of $370 million. The expressway will connect the southern region to central area, and northern Ethiopia will be linked to the Djibouti Port. The road will reduce duration of travel, from four hours to two hours, and accommodate 4,000 vehicles per day. The road is part of the transcontinental 10,000 km Cape Town to Cairo highway.

Unlike other African airlines that are making loses, year in year out, Ethiopia Airlines has maintained a sturdy profit making record. In the 2014 to 2015 financial year, the government owned airline recorded $175 profit. Last month, the carrier signed a pact with Rwanda’s RwandAir, to rid the fifth freedom rights. This partnership now allows both carriers to operate without restrictions in Ethiopia and Rwanda airspace.

Sustaining traditional exports

Coffee is Ethiopia’s leading foreign exchange earner and the country is Africa’s leading exporter of Arabica coffee. According to National Geographic Magazine, 12 million Ethiopians depend on coffee as a source of income. Kenya has a lot to learn from Ethiopia’s coffee industry.

In January this year, Ethiopia projected a 45 per cent increase in coffee exports. “Coffee exports will increase 45 per cent to over 260,000 tons this year. Incentives will help achieve this goal, and they will include marketing linkage, loans for coffee exporters and processors, and the promotion of the Arabica coffee that the country exports at trade shows abroad,” Shimelis Arega, Ethiopia’s Trade Ministry spokesperson pronounced.

In 2014, the World Bank indicated that Ethiopia’s coffee contributed to 84 per cent of the country’s total exports and 80 per cent of the country’s total employment. The country’s Ministry of Trade has embarked on training small scale farmers on value addition, in order to increase sales.

The country has also diversified into horticulture business, which has grown tremendously over the years. According to World Bank Economist, Lars Christian Moller, who authored Strengthening Export Performance through Improved Competitiveness (July 2014). He evaluated Ethiopia’s flower industry had grown, “from one single firm 14 years ago to about 100 firms today, earning $200 million per year from exports and employing an estimated 50,000 people.”

When it comes to livestock industry, Ethiopia takes the lead. The livestock contributes to 17 per cent of the country’s GDP. According to Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Every year, the country produces about 2.7 million hides, 8.1 million sheepskins and 7.5 million goat skins.” The government attributes the high volume of animal hides and skins to the large population of 54 million cattle, 25.5 million sheep, 24 million goats, 7 million donkeys, two million horses and one million camels in the country. As a result, the leather industry has continued to thrive. Over 30 tanneries and numerous factories are used to process leather into shoes, bags, purses, industrial gloves, and other assorted items.

The end-products are exported to Asia, Europe and American markets. Foreign investors are encouraged to invest in the leather industry, where they enjoy a wide range of incentives, including more relief from income tax for a period of five years.

Ethiopia is an emerging power house that is on the rise. There is divided opinion on the ruling regime’s track record on human rights abuses, and its punitive methods of combating dissent. Nevertheless, Ethiopia continues to achieve great economic strides, making it an envy of Africa’s leading democracies


Worrying Trend of Violence Against Journalists and Threats to Media Freedom in Eastern Africa

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By Florence Gichoya

ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa recently launched a report on cases of human rights violations against journalists and media outlets across East Africa since January 2013. At least 13 journalists have been killed in the region showing a worrying trend of media intimidation.

Somali remains the deadliest country in the region for journalists, where the group notes the killing of 10 journalists so far this year.

The report provides a snapshot of the violence and intimidation including reports of death punitive legal action taken in relation to media reports, as well as bans to publications and broadcasts for the past ten months.

“The killing of journalists is the ultimate form of censorship and a severe blow to democracy. The authorities must make every effort to bring those responsible for these killings to justice or risk the security situation deteriorating even further” said Henry Maina, Director of ARTICLE 19 East Africa.

It is important that all stakeholders take responsibility in proper evidence documentation and not blanket accusing government or political parties. Journalists need to hold each other accountable. “While impunity reigns, corruption also reigns in journalists” Henry Maina observed. The common cry of “poor pay” is not sufficient to warrant compromising the rule of law. Journalists should work together to weed out the rot in the profession.

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Patrick Mutahi, the Programme Officer – ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa

Patrick Mutahi the programme officer with ARTICLE 19 observed that all Eastern African countries have enacted national laws guaranteeing freedom of expression and freedom of media. However, there have been cases of deliberate attacks on editors in Tanzania and hostile environment on investigative work in Kenya. In Uganda there have been reported cases of journalists’ assaults and arrests. In May 2013, media houses like Daily Monitor, KFM, and Dembe FM were shut down by the state.

Rwanda has seen three journalists arrested and on 4th June 2013 copies of the Rwandan newspapers Impamo, Rushyashya and Intego were confiscated by guards in Gatuna at the border with Uganda. The guards alleged that the newspapers contained information that President Paul Kagame might seek re-election for a third term. Five days later, the newspapers were released after the media owners agreed not to publish the information.

Somalia is a conflict zone and there are constant deliberate attacks on media workers by clans, warlords, and alshabab. This year alone 10 Somali journalists have been killed, 4 media houses banned and 22 journalists arrested. Rahmo Abdulkadir a Somali journalist who worked for Abudwaq media network was shot dead on 24th March 2013. No arrests have been made despite the police promising to investigate. Fu’ad Nur Alasow who worked for Radio Al-Fuqaa was shot dead by Al-Shaabab after the terrorist group accused him of spying for the government.

Eritrea is a closed country that is run in presidential decrees since the constitution was suspended. There are scores of Eritrean journalists in exile or imprisoned by the state and the numbers are not ascertained. There is lack of political will to promote freedom of expression in the country.

Fasil Girma a journalist from Ethiopia during the Report launch
Fasil Girma a journalist from Ethiopia during the Report launch

In Ethiopia, the government controls the flow of information and journalists are not allowed to form a professional association. The country has only one state TV broadcaster and only government sponsored newspapers are in circulation. The anti-terrorism law adopted in 2009 has been used by the state to intimidate journalists and arrest them. Solomon Kadebe an Ethiopian journalist with Yemuslimoch Guday Magazine was detained in January 2013 and his case is being held in a closed court.

Lawrence Mute, Commissioner at Africa Commission on Human and People’s Rights emphasized that “impunity cannot be resolved outside the political context; it is lazy to ascribe all impunity to the state organs. Media ownership, business community interests and terror groups like Al Shabab also play a key role in propagating impunity in the region.”

The report was launched to coincide with the International Day to End Impunity which is commemorated on 23rd November. Impunity has had a chilling effect on the media in the region with many journalists opting for self-censorship. The society is left with a vastly controlled media that is not protected and unable to provide the public with objective information on vital issues. Instigators of attacks on journalists are rarely held accountable thus leading to impunity cycle.

This report has been compiled from initial media monitoring by ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa. It includes information about cases in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, Tanzania and Uganda. These incidents are currently under investigation by ARTICLE 19 which is working to verify and fully document the human rights abuses against journalists and media outlets in each country.

My Addis Ababa experience

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By Florence Gichoya

It was my first time to visit Ethiopia on 22nd January, 2012. I was eager to experience the most populous land locked country in the world. My first impression of Addis Ababa was beauty and warm loving people.

Beautiful scenery of distant mountains meets you as you drive from Bole International airport. The city has great warm weather during the day and it gets chilly at night. I was in the country for FK preparatory course training.

It was interesting to learn that Ethiopia is in year 2004! The country applies the Ethiopian calendar which is 7 years behind the Gregorian calendar that is mainly used by many countries in the world.

As we embarked on the training i got to meet other FK participants from different countries. We were all excited about our FK exchange opportunities. The home coming participants were also present and they shared with the new participants on their experiences with FK exchange in former host countries. It was a valuable session as they shared with us both the good and the challenges that they went through in 2011.

Having attended training sessions for the first five days, during the weekend the organizers Eminence Group organized for us a tour to various historical sites in the city.

The first was Menelik II museum; the shrine is located on a hill overlooking the Addis Ababa city in the valley. The scenery was breath taking. We learnt of Ethiopia’s hero Emperor Menelik II’s courageous role in the battle Adwa that gave the country victory over the Italians hence they were never colonized. The Menelik II museum consists of the original palace where the emperor and his wife lived in the 19th century.

Our guide also enlightened us on the history of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church – which majority of the Ethiopians attend. Later in the afternoon we attended the Merkato – the biggest market in Africa. In this market there was everything and anything that anyone wanted to buy, from clothes, vegetables, livestock, vehicle spare parts name them all.

Ethiopia has a rich culture. It is evident in their tradional dressing, monuments, language which is mainly Amharic. The main local food is injera which is made of teff flour. Injera is eaten with spiced beef stew. Their weddings are also flamboyant with dances and traditional music. I was also shocked to know that raw meat is a delicacy for the Ethiopians!

The night life in Addis is vibrant. There are many night clubs that are frequented by the youth and young at heart revelers. Some clubs play hip hop, rap, rock and other western music. On the other hand there were those clubs that played Ethiopian music and served coffee instead of alcoholic drinks.

As the training concluded the deputy director FK Norway – Grete Thingelstand told us that the FK experience will give us an ‘extreme makeover’. That some of us will develop a bigger heart while for some we will develop a totally different mindset from what we had. Through these experiences we will be good change agents. She concluded with a quote from Nelson Mandela “a different world cannot be changed by indifferent people”

What i gained from the preparatory course in Addis Ababa was informative, educative and eye opening. I made lots of friends and realized that we’re all working towards the same goal and collectively real change will take place. And i concur with Grete Thingelstand that we will always remember the year we were on FK exchange.

FK participants in Addis Ababa