Land-locked or Brain-locked - Ethiopia's Misfortune
By: S Marcos
March 18, 2004

Since record began, it is ranked at the bottom end of the poorest of the poor nations. To be exact, it is the 171st poorest out of 173 countries assessed. It has always been at the bottom of the heap. This country cannot survive a day without the generous help of outsiders. Begging has become a profession and a national obsession to an extent that the leaders no longer flinch an eye when they stretch out an arm to beg. They have mastered the art of begging. It has no contender for being an embarrassment of the entire continent. Well, you will get no trophy for guessing the country. It is poor Ethiopia.

Many have given up hope on Ethiopia. Why is it that it is not able to break the endless cycle of war, poverty, hanger and lawlessness? Why is it that this country that pride itself on a three thousand years of civilization is still living in a dark age, in absolute poverty and misery. Why is it that its name is embroiled in man-made disasters, hunger, famine, and disease? The clues are there for all to see.

Many Ethiopians in the western world are ashamed to say that they are from Ethiopia. They would proudly and with confidence tell you that they are Kenyans or Ugandans. The embarrassment is just too much for any self-respecting Ethiopian to bear. Prisoners of their own past and trapped by hatred and jealousy, Ethiopians have not been able to free themselves from a debilitating reliance on others. Preoccupied by their obsession with Eritrea, Ethiopians have neglected their day-to-day business of running a nation. One can't open pages of an Ethiopian newspaper without seeing the word 'Eritrea' splashed all over it.

War mongering has become a natural past time for many Ethiopians. "Akaki Zeraf" is the most commonly used word in Ethiopian vocabulary. Ethiopian leaders and armchair professors who live in comfort continue to arouse the feelings of the mass population and send hundreds of thousands poor peasants to their death so that their pride and fictitious glory can be preserved.

Out of the 32 million people in the world infected by the HIV virus, 3 million are Ethiopians. Ethiopians consist of 1% of the world population, but 11% of victims of HIV in the world are Ethiopians. If it is not AIDS, it is war. If it is not war, it is hanger. If it is not hanger, it is disease. If it is not disease it is hopelessness. War, ethnic cleansing, starvation and disease takes turn to balance and reduce the explosive increase in population. The number of Ethiopians killed in Eritrea is more than the population of Eritrea. Famine killed millions. HIV AIDS is killing Ethiopians like no other disease in history. It sounds awful, but it is fact. What has befallen this land? What is its crime? Is it luck or a curse?

The reason for Ethiopia's misfortune is nothing but its leaders. It is a cursed land when it comes to leaders. It is a land bereft of leaders. Finding a leader with a brain, with farsighted vision, a leader who is humble but firm, a leader who cares and feels the pain of its people in this impoverished land is as unlikely as a pig flying. Ethiopia has plenty of leaders whose bravery and thoughtfulness is limited to smashing a bottle filled with blood. Ethiopia is blessed with leaders who have mastered the art of lying through the back of their teeth.

Ethiopia is blessed with raw materials. It is rich in minerals and other natural resources. Ethiopia is heaven for tourists. Ethiopians are well-mannered and hard working people. Why is it then this nation of plenty can't learn to utilize its god given resources, live in peace with itself and its neighbours? Why is it that this nation can't exploit the resources that God bestowed up on it?

Talks organized by the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) is being held in Entebbe, Uganda and Nairobi, Kenya, between the 10 contributing African countries to discuss and agree on the use of the Nile water. Many meetings were held in the past, and Ethiopia who contributes the lion's share of the Nile has always come out empty handed. It tries to show that it is trying to do something, but as ever nothing will change. Ethiopia would rather spend the money fighting its neighbours than invest in large-scale projects to feed its ever-hungry population.

When Egypt and the Sudan signed the terms of the 1929 Nile Waters Agreement, Ethiopia wasn't consulted. The shares agreed stipulate that Egypt will receive 96% while the Sudan receives 4%. When President of Nasser built the Aswan Dam, he ridiculed the idea of storing water in Ethiopia to reduce cost and minimise the evaporation rate. When Mengistu Hailemariam half-heartedly complained about Egypt's intention to divert waters to the Sinai Desert, Egypt, knowing well that Ethiopia's attention is on Eritrea, threatened war.

The 1959 Nile Waters Agreement, Egypt would have a total control of water flowing from Ethiopia by creating huge storages. Out of the 84 billion m3, 75% was agreed to be Egypt's share while the Sudan retains the 25%. Again Ethiopia was not given a share of its own resources. It has no option but to beg and Egypt is not giving, because it is well aware that Ethiopians are pre-occupied thinking about the pie in the sky - Eritrea.

The Toshka project in Egypt with its huge Pumping Station is diverting Nile waters and transfers it through a hundreds of kilometres long canal, into the desert, to create the basis for thousands of hectares of new agricultural land, and new towns for hundreds of thousands of people at a cost of 20 billion dollars. The barren desert is now being converted to an economically productive land that provides jobs, create exports and relieve the pressure on Egypt's overcrowded banks of the Nile as people move out to the green desert. New towns with a population of up to 150,000 are being built with over half million hectare of land being reclaimed for farming. According to World Bank's key indicators, Egypt's GNI per capita income is 1470 dollars and life expectancy at birth is 69 years. 97% of Egyptians have access to improved water source.

Contrast this with Ethiopia's achievements. Ethiopia with all the natural resources it has, with all the highland mountains that are suitable for storing huge volumes of water, could not lift a finger and make any worthy large-scale infrastructure development project that could transform the lives of millions of its desperate citizens. Ethiopia's per capita income is around 100 dollars with life expectancy being 42 years, 27 years less than Egypt's. Only 24% of Ethiopians have access to improved water source. There has been no improvement in the standard of living. Ethiopia continues to export fertile soil to the Sudan and Egypt in an imaginable quantity. The country is being stripped of the fertile topsoil with every drop of rain while the entire nation is living at the verge of starvation. While Egypt is moving its citizens to newly reclaimed desert, Ethiopia is moving its citizens to Badme, a foreign land. What goes round comes round and the country continues to be the first from last.

Egypt will have a green desert very soon while Ethiopia's forests are turning into a desert. Unlike Ethiopia, Egypt is not only making use of the natural resource, but also changing the face of their barren desert. The leaders of Ethiopia would lead you to believe that they are observing an agreement reached so many decades ago that they themselves were not part of. If Ethiopia didn't flinch an eyebrow to blatantly reject the verdict of an independent boundary commission, how on earth can they abide by a rule that was signed over 70 years ago?

Is there a way out for Ethiopia? I believe there is, only if Ethiopia unlock its brain and give peace a chance for its own sake. Just as Egypt signed a peace treaty with its archenemy Israel so that it can fully concentrate on development, Ethiopia should make peace with Eritrea and the other neighbours. Yes, it needs to swallow its pride, forget about its perceived glorious past and make peace with itself and neighbours. The false sense of self-worth will only lead to further misery. For Ethiopia to have any chance of achieving meaningful and sustainable development, it should accept and implement the decision of the boundary commission and move on.

By its own admission, Ethiopia exaggerated its claim and won large areas of Eritrea's land. For example, the borderline is pushed right to the doorsteps of Tserona, semi-circling this well-known Eritrean town. Having respect for the rule of law and for the sake of peace, Eritrea accepted the decision in good faith. Ethiopia did not reciprocate this goodwill and prefers to maintain heightened political tension with Eritrea It is willing to spend large portion of its meagre income on buying arms to create havoc in the area. Can anyone then be surprised why a country with 'three thousand years of history' and huge resources finds itself in such terrible mess?

Ethiopia is one of the countries that drafted the OAU Charter. One of the tenets of the OAU charter depicts that the borders as demarcated by the colonial powers is recognised. It is this very tenet that Ethiopia has been attempting to break by trying to subjugate Eritrea. It is known that Eritreans will pass through needle's eye to safeguard their independence for which they have paid so dearly. For Ethiopia to even think of reversing Eritrea's independence can only be considered as suicidal. Eritrea has vested interest to see Ethiopia prosper. Eritrea has always been willing for Ethiopia to use its ports for free or very minimal charge. Eritrea has always wanted to have a friendly relationship with all its neighbours based on mutual respect. However, it will not take orders from anybody nor will it compromise its territorial integrity for the sake of appeasing others.

The western powers pity Ethiopia so much that they are prepared to tolerate its mischievous behaviour. During my discussion with a politician who had recently visited Ethiopia, I was taken aback by his response when I asked the reason as to why Western countries are not showing any will or determination to take action against Ethiopia in view of its clear violation of the Algiers agreement. He said, "Would you punish your own terminally ill child with days to live for a mischievous act?" My response was that I would if the act has the potential to cause harm to the child or others. With a hint of despair in his face, the politician stated that the Western countries have been finding it difficult to strike a balance between helping Ethiopia and forcing it to become responsible. No doubt that Ethiopia is receiving an intensive care treatment and that it has been extremely good in playing the game of being a patient that moans and groans to avoid punishment. Imposing sanction or taking any action against Ethiopia is seen as the last straw that will break the camel's back. Ethiopia has been crying wolf for years and the time has come to smack this giant child that refuses to grow up.

If Ethiopia is to see the light of day, it will have to stop living in the false glory of the past and seriously engage its brain. Ethiopia's misfortune is not a result of it being land-locked, but being brain-locked. It has to unlock its brain and settle the border dispute as soon as possible so as to focus on development and spare the region from a cycle of violence and further trauma.