Towering facts of ‘May 28’

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By Bereket Gebru

11 June 2014

Prime Minster Hailemariam Desalegn delivered a speech for all those gathered at the Stadium and the millions following on national television and radio in celebration of the 23rd anniversary of the May 28, 1991 victory of the people over the Derge. In his speech, he raised some major milestones of the last 23 years. As a brief speech though, he merely stated the facts without going into each major milestone thoroughly. Accordingly, this article is prepared to give a thorough look into some of these major achievements.

One of the main points the Prime Minister raised was the fact that the country was at the peak of its aid dependence 23 years earlier when the EPRDF assumed state power. He recalled that food self-sufficiency seemed like a problem that would take an awful lot of time to overcome and that only 50 million quintals of main crops were produced annually.

In fact, during the Derge regime drought and famine occurred every decade. The drought affected various regions and a large number of people while efforts to interrupt its cycle proved to be weak. Numerous sources show that the 1984-85 drought affected almost all regions of the country. That meant the already scarce resources of the country had to be allocated towards alleviating that problem. Consequently, the external accounts and the overall fiscal deficit worsened, despite international drought assistance totaling more than US$450 million. Notwithstanding these efforts, close to 8 million people became famine victims during the drought of the mid-1980s, and about 1 million died.

Prime Minister Hailemariam in his May 28 speech then stated that steady efforts to increase production and productivity have paid off with figures of 250 million quintals of main crops produced annually a couple of decades into the victory over Derge.

That, he stressed, has helped us achieve the great victory of food self-sufficiency. Considering famine and drought put the lives of millions of Ethiopians in jeopardy every decade, breaking their cycle and finally ensuring food self-sufficiency is a highly notable achievement. He further pointed out that the success of the family based food security program has helped the country readily cope with the harshest famine in 60 years that hit the horn of Africa three years ago.

The PM then concluded, considering ours was a country associated with hunger and famine until recently to the point that we were cited as an example by the Oxford dictionary to explain these words, the news of our achievement of food self-sufficiency in just a couple of decades is a testament to the big strides the country has taken.

In the late 1980s, as a result of the recurring cycles of drought and famine that affected millions of Ethiopians and other numerous problems, the World Bank identified Ethiopia as the world’s poorest country. For the same country to become one of the biggest economies in Africa and most notably one of the fastest growing in the world in a matter of just over a couple of decades is truly remarkable. Besides brightening the hopes of Ethiopians, such an achievement clearly shows how effective efforts taken during those years have been.

The Prime Minister went on to say that these are just the early days of the taste of victory and that the people should stand by the government as productivity, quality and prosperity still need to be improved much further. He then stated that the government will continue the development of rural roads, rural electricity, telephone and potable water needed to launch modern production and industrial development in rural areas.

Various sources indicate that there were approximately 18,000 kilometers of roads in 1991, the last year of the Derge, of which 13,000 kilometers were all-weather roads. By then Ethiopian road density was the lowest in Africa with perhaps three-fourths of farms more than one-half day's walk from an all-weather road. Only about l2 percent of the population had ready access to roads. Most roads in the national network were concentrated in the central, eastern, and northern highlands.

The 2011/12 GTP progress report states that the federal and regional total road length has increased from 53,143 in 2010/11 to 56,190 in 2011/12, indicating the construction of 3074 km by federal and regional roads in the year. Most importantly, 9365 km of woreda roads were constructed during the year under review under URRAP. This has in turn resulted in an increase in the stock of all weathered woreda roads to 10,219 km including last year’s accomplishment of 854 km. This has also resulted in an increase in road density per 1000 km2 from 48.1km in 2010/2011 to 57.4 km in 2011/ 2012, which indicates a 19 percent increase in performance from the previous year. Moreover, the proportion of acceptable roads (good + fair) has increased from 82 percent in 2010/11 to 86 percent in 2011/2012. The average travel time to all weathered roads has also declined to 2.9 hours in 2011/12 from 3.5 hours in 2010/11.This imply that local communities’ have now access to different social services such as health and education within a short distance.

Despite the fact that total road length, road density and average travel time to all weather roads need to improve even further, the achievements so far show that Ethiopia has already come a long way from the days when it had the lowest road density in Africa and probably the whole world by extension.

Ethiopia's two original rail systems were the Franco- Ethiopian Railroad (FER) and the Akordat-Mitsiwa railroad. A French company built the FER by authority of Emperor Menelik II. Construction began in l897 at the port city of Djibouti, and the final link reached Addis Ababa in l9l7. In l959 the Ethiopian government acquired a 50 percent holding in the line. An Italian company completed construction of the Akordat- Mitsiwa line in l922. The Ethiopian government acquired ownership of the line after World War II. By the early l970s, the railroad's equipment was old, and the line was in need of track improvements. In the mid-1970s, operation ceased to be viable because of the threat posed by Eritrean guerrillas and the realization that existing road facilities could handle the railroad's traffic. For these reasons, the government closed the line in l976, and it was partially destroyed in later fighting.

With only the Menelik era railroad still operational in the country, the ambitious Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) has identified construction of a national railway network as an important task. Under the Growth and Transformation Plan, a total of 2,395Km railway line is planned to be constructed in three corridors and five lines. Though, the physical work is not yet to be started due to long preparatory and planning works, in 2011/12 detail study and design activities have been conducted under different alternatives. Project agreements have also been signed to a number of projects. Construction agreements have been signed with contractors for Addis Ababa/Sebeta-Mieso, Mieso-Dire Dawa-Dewenle, and the Addis Ababa Light Rail Transit (LRT) Projects. The Addis Ababa LRT project has less than a year to go operational with the others already underway presently.

Regarding electricity, electric power production in l985/86 totaled 998.7 million kilowatt-hours, 83 percent of which was produced by hydroelectric power installations. In 1985/86, of the total 847.7 million kilowatt-hours of power sold by The Ethiopian Electric Light and Power Authority (ELPA), 59 percent was for industrial use, 29 percent for domestic use, l0 percent for commercial use, and the remaining 2 percent for other uses such as street lighting and agriculture. By 1987 about 9 percent of the total population, 4.3 million people, were using electricity.

The 2011/12 GTP progress report denotes that the country’s power generating capacity has increased from 2048.5 MW in 2010/11 to 2,177 MW in 2011/12. In 2011/12, the plan was to increase electricity distribution lines to 145,838 km in 2011/12 by constructing additional 7,006 km of distribution line from the previous fiscal year. Actually, a total of 14,398 Km additional distribution lines were constructed in 2011/12, which increased the total length to 153,230 km by the end of the fiscal year under review. In 2011/12, the national electric service coverage reached at 48.5 percent. The over fivefold increase that we have seen above is once again kept in electricity coverage as the 9 percent coverage of the Derge days was 48.5 percent two years ago.

The other social service raised in the Prime Minister’s speech is telecommunication. Sources show that in 1989 Ethiopia counted only 109,000 telephones, or two sets per 1,000 inhabitants, one of the lowest per capita figures in the world. Only 84 percent of service was automatic; the rest still used outdated manual systems. Over two-thirds of the telephones were in Addis Ababa or Asmera; the remainder were scattered throughout a few of the larger towns or regional capitals. Most users were either government offices or businesses. International direct dial was available to some users in Addis Ababa. Local or long- distance calling was difficult, however, with frequent busy signals for uncompleted calls.

Ethiopia has come a long way from such records. It has been quite a while since the country introduced mobile and wireless phones besides expanding fixed line telephones. The 2011/12 GTP progress report states that the rural telecom expansion program is already underway to install telecom services in 7000 kebele’s generally.



The number of mobile subscribers and telecom density for mobile lines increased from 10.7 million and 12.85 % in 2010/11 to 17.26 million and 20.4 % in 2011/12 respectively. Similarly, the coverage of wireless telephone service increased to 90 percent in 2011/12 even if the plan was to reach 63 %, while the number of subscribers and telecom density for fixed line declined from 0.854 million and 1.03 percent in 2010/11 to 0.805 million and 0.95 % in 2011/12 respectively. This decline in the number of fixed line subscribers is due to the expansion of mobile services and illegal optical fiber cable damage and cut. Generally, the total subscribers’ base has increased to 20.73 million at the end of 2011/12.



Although data on potable water supply during the Derge regime have eluded me for now, there are general statements in various sources indicating that it was very low. The 2011/12 GTP progress report cites the Central Statistical Agency (CSA) census data to make its point that the water supply coverage is now estimated to be 55.21% in rural and 78.71% in urban areas, while the national coverage is estimated to be 58.25 % in the 2011/12.

According to this census survey, the existing water supply schemes are now benefiting 40.26 million people in rural and 8.53 million in urban totaling 48.79 million populations throughout the country. Of these about 50 % are estimated to be female beneficiaries. The improvement in access to 53 potable water benefits women in terms of reducing water fetching time and increasing school attendance of girls as well as encouraging them to spend more time on income generating activities.

Another big leap that was just briefly dealt with in the Prime Minister’s speech was the creation of employment opportunities. With the mega projects being undertaken in all directions taking in a large number of employees, millions of jobs have been created during the GTP period alone (since 2010/11). Both the construction and trade and services sectors were noted as the next most contributors to employment opportunities.

The construction sector absorbed some 482 thousand individuals while the trade and services sector aggregated some 467 thousand in just about the last fiscal year of Ethiopia. The construction sector in particular has been associated with a large intake of female workers. The housing projects being carried out in the capital and other regional cities have provided young women with wide opportunities of employment. The government’s commitment to encourage both local and foreign investment has surely paid off in recent years as thousands of businesses are being registered and resuming operation in the country. Such trends coupled with the bigger size of the economy have resulted in the expansion of trade and the service giving sector in general. The consequence has been the rise in the number of work force engaged in the sector.

Yet another point raised by Prime Minister Hailemariam was the long spell of peace the May 28 victory has accorded Ethiopians. Marked with a history full of conflicts and war, Ethiopia barely had a long time of peace and calm. Internal armed struggles and foreign aggressions have always kept Ethiopians on their toes sharpening their abilities at it along the way. Following the May 28 victory however, they have enjoyed a relatively long spell of peace except for the time Eritrea invaded our territory. After dealing with the problem swiftly and effectively, Ethiopians have once again sorted their priorities right claiming their hard earned steady development out of poverty.

The upcoming political elections are just another chance of extending this upward trajectory and peaceful spell. Therefore, Ethiopians need to vigilantly guard the peaceful completion of the elections and make good use of their opportunity to elect those who would administer their country.

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