New Internationalist


July 1983

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Map of Ethiopia

Leader: Lt. - Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam.

Economy: GNP $140 per person (1980). Monetary unit: Birr.

Main exports: Coffee, primarily; also hides, vegetables, oil-seeds, petroleum products, incense.

People: 32.2 million (1981). Town dwellers: 15% (1980).

Health: Infant mortality: 146 per 1,000 live births (1980). (Sweden: 7 per 1,000).

Daily calorie availability: 78% (1977).

Access to safe water: 6% (1975).

Culture: One of the oldest states in the world; Christian culture established by 4th century AD but isolated from other Christian influences till 15th century. Invaded in 19th century by Britain and Italy: independence 1955. Haile Selassie regent in 1916: monarchy abolished in 1975.

Languages: Aniharic (official): English second language at school: also French, Italian, and local languages like Tigre, Afar, Galle.

Sources include: World View 1983, African Guide 1983, World Development Report 1982.

CONICAL huts interspersed with conical stacks of grain, women carrying heavy water jars on their backs, men in the fields and little boys herding sheep, goats or camels — it’s a scene from rural Ethiopia which has endured for centuries. The tide of modernism has crept slowly to the land of the Queen of Sheba.

The outside world has yet to impinge on Ethiopia’s inaccessible mountain regions, but inhabitants of the capital, Addis Ababa, are well acquainted with at least three foreigners. Marx, Lenin and Engels survey the city from the walls of the Central Stadium. Billboards and hoardings bear the legend: ‘Long Live Proletarian Internationalism!’ and ‘Workers of the World Unite!’

Ethiopia’s ‘Provisional Military Government’ which overthrew Emperor Haile Selassie, the ‘Lion of Judab’, in 1974, has made little effort to adapt Soviet slogans and heroes to Ethiopian custom. The people of Ethiopia for their part have done little to adapt their traditional ways to Soviet-style communism. Most important in everyday life is still the Church. Dressed in white cotton the women in flowing dress and shawl, the men in trousers bound from ankle to knee — Ethiopians flock to church every Sunday and feast day.

Despite a redistribution of wealth since the 1974 Revolution, most Ethiopians remain in abject poverty. Deforestation and soil erosion caused by harmful agricultural practices and repeated drought, combined with largely unsuccessful attempts to collectivise agriculture, keep yields low and peasant farmers poor.

Peasants stream into Addis Ababa, whose population increases by five per cent each year. Since the government dispossessed landlords, rents have been reduced, but housing — like employment — is scarce.

Despite Ethiopia’s extreme poverty, it receives the lowest per capita official development aid of all Least Developed Countries — US $8 per person per year —mainly because Western governments are loath to support a regime so closely allied with the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, the Ethiopian Government has increased health facilities from 15% coverage to 40%, trebled the literacy rate and provided a nearby source of water for 6 million people since the 1974 Revolution.

Fighting and famine have characterised Ethiopia during the past decade. There are continuing skirmishes with neighbouring Somalia, which invaded in 1977 to claim the disputed territory of Ogaden. The army is also occupied with beating back seccessionist guerillas demanding independence for Eritrea and Tigrai provinces.

The drought of 1973-74, kept secret from the world for over a year, cost some 300,000 lives. Today, parts of the country are in the grip of another severe drought. Timely action by the authorities and international aid agencies has averted a major famine in Wollo and Gondar provinces. But in Eritrea and Tigrai, where the government has little control, the situation remains critical.

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Land reform has helped the farmers
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Food importer. No heavy industry
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‘Being improved through Women’s Associations movement
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[image, unknown] Left aligned military government
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Major campaign since revolution. Literacy level raised from 15% (1974) to reported 45% (1983)
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Issue complicated by wars for secession and regional autonomy

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‘40 years. Mountainous terrain adds to difficulties of providing rural health care.

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This feature was published in the July 1983 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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