Monday, July 15, 2013

NEVIS Review No 21 , Section II, Ref # 21.2

NEVIS Review No 21
Section II (Danny Arku’s Section) 
Ref# 21.2
July 15, 2013

(Ed’s note:
It is to be recalled Danny Arku , the founder and Editor-In-Chief of NEVIS, so far contributed only  one article some months ago titled “Is objectivity an oxymoron in contemporary journalistic reporting and analysis?: A reflection to shed light on the issue. “ in NEVIS Review No 4, Section  II,  Ref# 4.2. It can be found :
He has now decided to contribute a series of articles (both previously written and new ones) together with their (facebook) discussion of his insightful circle of friends. We have labeled the section “Danny Arku’s section”. We would like to remind NEVISers that all the opinions which Danny and his discussant express in the forthcoming series of articles are their personal opinion and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of NEVIS, the society or the editorial team ET.
In this section, we want to present you the amazing facebook discussion which was held a year ago (on July 22, 2012, to be exact)  where Danny asked “Why are we Ethiopians still poor?”. Since the discussion were very interesting, valuable, interdisciplinary, we are presenting them here under exactly as they first appeared for the sake of originality and authenticity, except minor editing for few spelling and grammatical errors. It is hoped that documentation of discussions would stimulate further thought and research on the issue and will serve as a knowledge database. At last, we want to thank Danny and his friends for their reflection on such an important issue. Note: NEVISers who didn’t participate in the discussion are welcome to add their reflection here in this issue in the comment section. Those who already did participate are free to add/modify their opinion.
Danny Arku [Main thread]: One of the blessings of Facebook is the ease with which and the possibility that people from different corners of the world and from multiple disciplines can discuss on issues of importance/interest. Accordingly, I would like to hold a discussion here on the question which is always on the mind of every Ethiopian. This question is:" Why are we Ethiopians still poor, as compared with other countries; A) what do you think are the THREE major reasons for the relative backwardness of our country and B) what do you suggest can be done to solve the problem you cited in A
NB. I am referring to economic poverty. For convenience we can use UN Human Development Indicator, 2011, where Ethiopia is ranked 174 out of 187 countries (at the bottom). Although there is increasing trend in the HDI index, its current index is too low. We can even examine its GDP at PPP and compare it with other countries, growing though it is, its current GDP is too low. So in this context, Ethiopia is definitely “poor” but growing.
 Yemesrach Yohannes
May be we all are settled for less. All of our believe systems designed in a way to make our thinking low. This is what "God" gave you, So accept it, Be thankful for it & Live with it .... Kind of continuous teaching.
Henock Y. Tessemma:
Danny, it seems to me that it would be better and more interesting to deal with the flip side of your question: Why are we Ethiopians still wondering why we are not rich, whatever that means? In fact, do we have sufficient reason to expect to have done any better?
Anania Sorri:
I think we Ethiopians are 'poor' b/c we lost ourselves in 'modernization'. First, we need to identify and clearly define what "Poverty" is. Second, why are we poor if we are indeed 'poor' in every angle of the definition of the word? I think we are not poor environmentally, socially, culturally, spiritually, and mentally. But, we are poor economically and politically. Economically- financial capital. Politically-democratic governance system. Therefore, we need to be conscious in what aspect we are poor and not. Only after that, we can discuss why. What do you think guys?
Dawit Teferra:
Right Danny, the social-media have fundamentally changed our lives.
Let me raise the points which I consider as reasons for our relative
1. With distinct history of passionate association with the three major Abrahamic religions, Ethiopia, for millennia, had been alienated from the attributes which would help develop 'worldly (secular) wisdom' and 'material wealth'. The superior achievements on the spiritual arena show where our ancestors considered their treasures to be (for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also -the Holy Bible).
2. Our introvert and complacent culture which severely impaired our ability to exchange any idea or material with the 'aliens'.
3. Our history of domestic feud
My suggestions are:
Government policies for development should give due attention to providing far reaching and well founded education to the people. Education liberates us from our wrong conceptions about material wealth.
Knowing the fact about our situations would stir sense of regret among us which would make us committed to pay what it takes to get away with the prevailing shameful state.
Also big efforts should be exerted to create national consensus on matters relating to the country's direction to reduce poverty.
Fisseha Fantahun:
I'll try to put my ideas as precise as I can get. If it is Ethiopia weighted against the developed world, I would have to say that the main underlying problem is of external nature. The international political economic system has put us in the position which we are in now. Other internal political, leadership, societal, individual, etc problems, in this regards, are more of symptoms-nothing more. BUT, if it is about why we are specifically the least of the least developed, I would say it’s just because some country is supposed to be at Ethiopia's current status and unfortunately it is Ethiopia. But my point is, in the political economic scene, things are not as such ideal (NO WIN-WIN scenario) as they are much said. Reality (ZERO-SUM) is what is being practiced. That is to mean, we are crippled because of the zero-sum game the external international system is allowing (more of persuading) us with our counter least developed countries. DOWN TO EARTH: we are located in one of the few fragile geopolitical position (ahun kalitefa bota Ethiopia'n wesido kend laye mesekaten min ametaw ale Be'ewiketu) in the world. Why? That would be a complicated issue. But let’s just pass that by: We re made to be so. The thing is we are here n what is to be done??????? I would say, we need a wise leadership that can handle the external pressure for perusing a path for development (Let’s forget democracy here, I can live with good governance) and who can hold on to the internal tension that are expected to prevail until foreseeable future; until at least the average living standard becomes somehow decent (that's vague, I know, but I hope u all understand me by what I mean descent)
Esubalew Haile:
@Danny, Many thanks for giving us a chance to discuss this wide but important issue! In my opinion, there are many factors affecting one another. In addition, each factor could be potentially a cause and or an effect. Having said that, I put the following factors in order of their significance. 1, Lack of good governance which is usually a result of 'bad' policy designed to prolong a regime. (2) Our history which is predominantly of continuous war and conflict. (3) Our belief system regarding life in general. i.e poor sense of ownership and responsibility for our country and its people leading to contemplate to work for change and better life.... What should be done? I think the so called 'elite' should take the lead and work on how we can establish a democratically elected government with limited terms to stay in power. I believe this is basic. We need to clearly write up our history and teach the people so that we can learn what was beneficial for us. This job should be left for the scholars alone. It is then, that both the government and its people would have a common goal to achieve. It is then, that we all have a sense of ownership and full responsibility for our country. That is how we can prevent internal conflicts and close the doors for external forces and hence make war history.
Kumlachew Getu:
The root cause of poverty is poverty itself....all could be summed up in this way most of the reasons that works for the poverty of other economically poor countries also works for Ethiopia except certain peculiarities . Those reasons have been studied for half a century since the emergence of development economics as a separate discipline.
 Natnail Feleke:
Danny, witnessing the blessings of FB yet again here reading the comments!
A. A common interest has been lacking in for a better Ethiopia! It is like each clique of society is more concerned about things that directly affect its primary surrounding. An extension of this problem is that we don't trust each other. One sect in one way or another is skeptical of any novel idea/initiation just because it is raised by someone from outside a circle. And because there is no national interest for which people can link it too, the idea is considered to represent and do good only to one sect. This makes good ideas/initiatives capable of pulling us away from the chronic poverty either to fail miserably or not to surface at all due to a perceived lack of acceptability and endorsement.
B. The forgotten poor. Government policies failed to directly address root problems of the poor and sometimes lacked consistency. Whenever there was/is growth, it seems to be larger for the tiny rich than the greater poor.
What can be done?
A. We should work on bringing friendly and enthusiastic national projects to the forefront and try to always refrain from linking them to any single clique. (The Abay dam project is a good example, but the incumbent is working hard to stick the project with its legacy).
B. Push investment in sectors where the poor is abundantly. A seriously planned and strategically implemented Agricultural Investment policy. The poorest poor are located in rural Ethiopia engaged somehow in agriculture; a policy that reaches them effectively will for sure impact the overall country.
Zelalem Zewdie:
To me the main reason is that 1, Lack of respect for ourselves. To me it is great thing we lost . Once I meet a man who lived in U.S.A FOR LONG time. He said that his American friend told him ''be proud of being Ethiopian '' and he continued “have you seen Lalibela?” and the man replied ''no'' the American man said “Shame on you!” . 2, We lack a habit of tolerance/respect for each other . In Ethiopian history we developed a bad habit that blaming each other based on hasty generalization. 3, Pro-westernization, especially not their work habits rather their Hollywood made culture 4, Giving less value for knowledge.....
Adiam Hagos:
A lot can be said about the reasons behind the country’s backwardness. As a couple of people have indicated above, the country’s previous experience of poverty contributes to the current state. Poverty has the tendency of sustaining itself. Many studies have shown that a person from a poor family is likely to remain poor. It is, therefore, important to look deep into the sheer nature of the dynamics of poverty in the country and nip the factors that are sustaining it from their roots. In addition, policies must be made envisaging the long term consequences along with the short term effects to which more attention seems to be paid.
The need for a common understanding about the current status of the country and setting out a common goal must also be heeded. I think this will help us organize our resources in the best possible way.
Goldneh Gebeyehu:
I have learned a lot from the above explanations and suggestions.
Danny Arku thank you for the question you raised and your invitation. I think EPRDF also believes that the root cause of most crises in Ethiopia is our socioeconomic status. That might be the reason for the ruling party to state "Poverty" as the only enemy Ethiopia has. Any one, any group, any institution, any country that has money (fund) can call us to a meeting and can lead us to the valley of death. This might seem an insult, but a fact that shouldn't be denied. So Danny dealing with such question will help us to think on curing the disease than treating the signs and symptoms. For me poverty is a symptom, or let it be a disease, but its causative agents should be dealt well.
Shimelies Ahmed:
Limited resources and climatic inconsistencies should be mentioned as major factors in this regard, in my opinion. However, the pull from those should have been overcome by an effective mobilization of human resources, as it was the case in other countries. But, such was not the case of ours. We own a thick history of wasting man power due to: (1) lack of education (or proper education), (2) attitude and awareness problems- leading to unproductiveness (3) lack of appropriate agricultural, economic and marketing strategies, and (4) shackles from the successive civil wars (or wars). Anyhow, I like the post Danny !!
Mukemil Bedru Sabir
Some points:
1. Lack of entrepreneurial culture which hampered z private sector from playing vibrant role.
2. Failed leadership due to capacity problem.
3. Party motivated policies that are failed.
4. Lack of democracy/ dictator leaders so far in our history
Danny Arku
Sabr Ibn and Shimelies Ahmed, very brief but pointed remarks. Shimelis, you reminded me of what the great economist of 20 the century Sen, said on famine, "No famine has ever taken place in the history of the world in a functioning democracy,'' There is an articles casting doubt on the above assertion of Sen: Does Democracy Avert Famine? - New York Times                ---------------------
Yona Bir
Danny, I was busy and wanted to dig a little bit further about this thrilling topic and came up with a research kind of analysis, instead of forwarding my opinion from the top of my head. Before putting my points here, I want to limit the time span within the last 150 years only (on the history of modern Ethiopia).

Our problem is very complicated and diversified which can be categorized as cultural, political, geopolitical and historical facts.

The first point is, Ethiopia has been applied a Eurocentric educational system (modern schooling) since the opening the first school (Minilik school) and sent a lot of young people to Europe and America universities to higher education. What do we get out of that? Can these elites solve the actual problem on the ground and modernize the public life. No, the education system has not been applying to address our problems. The very good example is, though, we have had a lot of scientists and engineers, and we are still using the OX dependent farming which is our main production sector that employs more than 80% of the total population. Did you notice the instrument called MOFER? It is made out of a single metal. How come we fail to make at least two over these 2000 years? Our culture doesn’t encourage entrepreneur. We insult people as faQi, Ketikach, kutit Betash…etc.

The second major contributing factor is the lack of visionary leader. This includes from Kebele to the premiership position of the country and in all bureaucracy and private sectors. I may include the problem of democracy here. Ethiopia has seen only three leaders within for the last 100 years (almost a century). HIM H/Selase was very visionary when he first came to power, but after half a century, he became the most corrupt, outdated and visionless leader. The dergue regiem is a complete loss in Ethiopian history. Among many things, Derg eradicated one educated, vibrant and nationalist generation in the name of Red Terror. In addition to that Derg took the country many years back economically (the socialist ideology coupled with the long civil awaited war). I don’t have the exact figure now but from Ethiopian Economics class in the AAU, I remember, the per capita income decreased in many folds from HIM to Mengsitu time. When we come to EPRDF regime, they were sleeping in the first 10 years and trying to move ambitiously in the second half of their period. But there are some problems regarding EPRDF, which they should address before anything. ERRDF don’t believe on educated people. I remember once Ato Meles said, “We don’t care about educational background of our ministers as long as they are loyal for EPRDF.” Such kind of party based promotion and assignment led the country to nepotism, corruption, inability and failing to organize and incorporate the majority of people towards change.

The last point is historic and geopolitical fact. Ethiopia is located in Africa and this means that we have been suffering from:-
- the legacy of colonization (the east Africa conflicts between all countries and the tribal and Ethnic problem)
- The climate problem in sub Saharan Africa
- The lack of skilled man power and brain drain
Danny Arku:
@ Sabir, on your #1 point, you have brought the untouched area of entrepreneurship. Since almost all economists believe in the market as best way to effectively coordinate resource, and since the private firms have usually been the engines of economic growth in most countries, it is an area worth investigating. Sabir, since you have worked for long time now on that area, you may share us the nexus between entrepreneurship and poverty reduction.thanks for your intervention.
Yodit N. Gedamu:

Thank you for your invitation to discuss this topic. he best way to address any issue of importance is to speak on it within the framework of your field of specialization and, if I might add, to stop being afraid of the words "I don't know". In doing this we can begin to paint a more accurate picture of what is, and what is not going on.

With that in mind, please allow me to add these points to the discussion. As a social scientist, these are my thoughts on the question. You will find my response starts with (I) an explanation of the critiques of statistical collection & methodology, (II) consequences of framing questions in this way, and (III) the challenges that they present in development.

On the topic of: "Why are we Ethiopians still poor, as compared with other countries; A) what do you think are the THREE major reasons for the relative backwardness of our country and B) what do you suggest can be done to solve the problem you cited in A"

I. Critiques of Statistical Collection & Methodology

***** What is the question asking & saying? *****

The question as it is posed above is saying as much, if not more, than it is asking. What has been most recently coined as "Eurocentrism" has imbedded in it certain impositions that shape/reshape identity, particularly for "people of color". Evidence of "Disagency" are among the most frequent and obvious indicators of those impositions. One way of identifying "disagency" is by looking at a text and seeing if it is exhibiting signs of sociologist Willie Canon-Brown's litmuses for determining if a text/context (1) Exist through the prism of a cultural prospective that is outside of the society (ie: Ethiopianism being described through the values of the WASP, African American, Chinese, etc..) and/or (2) Exists without the cultural presence of the society.

The litmus of these two categories is an assessment of 3 elements; language, attitude and direction.

Language: Without being too sensitive to writing styles/questioning that uses occasional irony or sarcasm to make a point, look at the language being used and determine its cultural accuracy. Whose cultural standpoint does the language represent? If any?

Attitude: Refers to a predisposition to respond in a characteristic way to some idea, situation, person, etc... This is basically literary stereotyping. If it occurs, who's stereotypical standpoint is present in the undertone/overtone of the question.

Direction: Direction is the continuity in how you express themes, sentiments, interests, etc... You can pinpoint the direction by looking at the symbols, tropes and analogies that a writer uses. Are they rooted in the cultural prospective of someone else? or of noone at all?

Evaluating the Language, Attitude and Direction of the question will pinpoint how/if it directs the resulting answers to affirm what is known as "Disagency" by stripping the subject of (1) an interest in a psychological/sociological location, (2) a commitment to finding the Ethiopian subject place, (3) the defense of cultural elements, (4) a commitment to lexical refinement, and (5) a commitment to correct the dislocations in Ethiopian history.

II. Consequences of Framing Questions in this way

*****Consequences of Disagency in Data Collection & Statistical Reporting *****

What Cannon-Brown identifies as "disagency" is noted in a collection of essays & critics regarding statistical calculations & methodology compiled by Tukufu Zuberi & Eduardo Bonilla-Silva. This collection brings together an array of scholars in various fields which identify how the ways in which questions are framed serve to compile seemingly unbiased reports that become the numerical epistemology of nations which often skewed by a collective subjectivity that masquerades as an objective lens. Socially, it creates a deficit mentality as the subject nation/people begin to aspire towards either affirming or negating this false image of themselves.

III. Challenges to Development

*****Moving Forward*****

Here in, lies the challenge in moving forward. As we abandon more traditional norms of digesting foreign philosophy, thought, art, literature, etc... and breaking them down to their most fundamental and functional components so that we can then reconstruct them in our own cultural likeness and make them reflect our own values; we are opening ourselves up to this more subtle deficit thinking that may be more insidious to rid ourselves of. It is the first step towards making ourselves bystanders in our own historical narrative.

In the area of development, those cultures suffering from a prevailing sociological standpoint of disagency are often unable to evolve functional educational or economic systems to promote their own interests. A prime example is that of the African American community in the United States.

Please pardon the very theoretical (and slightly lengthy) response to your question, but if we intend to get to the root of the issue that it is pointing to, then how we ask the question is just as important as what we are asking.
Yemesrach Yohannes:
This discussion is Amazing. Danny, you should create a close group called "Danny Circle". At the end, The discussion may evolve into some kind of action
Yona Bir:
Shimels Ahmed I don't agree with your 'limited resource' argument. We have enough resource, at least to feed our own people. We have better resource comparing to many European, African, Asian countries but we are far behind them.
Mesfin Tekle:
Danny, You posed questions that are complex to respond to but I'll try to answer them with my limited knowledge of our history both economic and political. By the way before I respond to the questions you posed, I like to remind you Mr.Sen's assertions that famines do not occur in democracies should not be taken as absolute. I've quoted him on some of my articles fully aware of the meaning. Unlike authoritarians who work hard to hide famine, in democracies famine can be exposed through a free press or other outlets before it gets to a critical stage and politicians will have to work hard to come up with solutions because their political career depends up on it. It's as simple as that. Democracy can expose the reality on the ground but unlike Mengistu's one time slogan it cannot control nature. 1) Why are we relatively poor compared to the rest of the world? Without getting in to complex economic theories about poverty let's look at the make up of our economy. We're an agrarian society. Even today in 2012 more than 80% of our populace work and live in rural Ethiopia and our population there is growing geometrically. Malthusian pessimism of population growth and diminishing returns may have outlived its usefulness in the developed world. But in agrarian societies like Ethiopia his pessimism about unchecked and unproductive population growth can’t be discounted. Ethiopia has a population of more than eighty million people, with greater than eighty percent relying on farming and is still on a state of permanent crisis whenever the rain fails to fall. Land to the tiller was the feel good slogan of the 1960’s student movement. But the end result was an ideology based on an unsustainable and impractical dogma which saw small low tech farming persist with continuous diminishing return for more than forty years. Developing mechanized commercial farming cannot be successful if the majority of land holding is occupied by small scale farmers who will have a hard time making a living from year to year with low tech farming that hasn’t improved for centuries. The percentage of farmers in the developed world that are feeding not only their population but also populations far and wide around the world are less than three percent of the total labour force. That says a lot about how far behind we are lagging from the rest of world. Productivity in Ethiopia and in Africa in general has been stagnant while population growth has exploded in the last century. Yet in Ethiopia where the majority of the population make their living as farmers, agricultural productivity leaves much to be desired. Severe weather conditions and primitive farming practices are part of the never ending challenges that have existed for years on end. In a modern world where labour based farming has progressively been moved to technology and knowledge based farming to enhance the productive value of the land; keeping the status quo ante is counter-productive. Governments have always grappled with the best way to move forward to improve the standard of living of the populace. But it is the less dogmatic practical governments who are willing to experiment that tend to come up with a solution that brings about positive change.
It’s important for a country like Ethiopia to concentrate on industries where its comparative advantage gives it an edge. With abundant labour and lower cost of doing business, expanding mechanized farming and low tech medium size industries can be used as a spring board to the next stage of development. Ethiopia also has to avoid the pitfalls of dual economy between urban and rural where a modern sector of the economy contrasts sharply with the rest of the economy. Wage differentials with the value of output per worker in different sectors of the economy can create a class of people who will have a hard time catching up to the fast moving modern economy.
There is always going to be a short term pain when ever disruptive ideas like technology or new way of doing things are applied. Dislocation of the old system is part and parcel of progress. Industrialization whether in agriculture or manufacturing initially is going to disproportionately favour investors and be less favourable to the working class. But in the long term innovation and productivity will lift all boats and create a fairer society that will enjoy the fruits of its hard work.
Shimelies Ahmed:
Yonas, By limited resources- I was trying to indicate the fact that we don’t have immense natural wealth which could have counterbalanced the burden of poverty and backwardness. It was to say we are not endowed with vast natural gifts but we have limited resources. That, in the first place, creates peace between us and the reality. If there are facts against this though, I stand to be corrected.
But, whenever discussing this issue with my friends, as almost every Ethiopian does, I nearly prefer to look at what we lack in comparison with countries that are doing well, despite deficient natural resources, unfavorable climatic conditions, and destruction caused by war(s).
Given those three similar conditions between us and those countries, why are we still on the mud while they pulled themselves out?
Earlier this morning, a friend mentioned the lack of societal mindset of a ''sacrifice for a common good'' as one factor adding to the pull. I pondered for a while thinking ''that may be the reason why: (1) we don’t persist to detail and extend such conversations for long, and (2) such discussions amongst us end up only as mere conversations.

Danny Arku
Mesfin Tekle, your penetrating analysis is appreciated. Yodit N. Gedamu, thanks for your foundational insight, that was a good vantage point, on a higher plane indeed, but I would also appreciate if you also include some direct answer to the question as it is phrased in the main note. Btw, my focus is on economic lagging behind, which is a painful fact.
Yodit N. Gedamu:
Danny. As this is not an area that I am very familiar with, please excuse any unintentional error. Please correct me if I am wrong, but in its initial stages I believe that Ethiopia was on par, if not far advanced in the efficiency with which we exchanged goods and services both domestically and internationally (I am talking about in the early1400s). From what I understand, the shift was not a result of Ethiopia's lagging, but rather Europe's Turbo thrust and subsequent strategies to maintain their foothold.

While Europe was experiencing war, famine, plague, etc... we were reaping the benefits of the unity and infrastructure that came from an early Iron age revolution years before, like China was. Then Europe got a hold of something that was instrumental in the "Great Divergence" of the West, Free Labor & Raw Materials! The colonization of Africa gave Europe the economic advantage that allowed for the Commercial, Scientific and Industrial Revolutions (the measures of which became the litmus of our current understanding of development/underdevelopment). From the 1500s to the early 1800s all we saw was Europe milking and solidifying its advantage. As the development of Europe hit record rates via their African exploits in the late 1700s, Ethiopia entered the Zemene mesafint and Europe saw new markets in playing feudal lords against one another. From the unification of Ethiopia again under Atse Tewodros until tomorrow, we have and will continue to deal with constant external influences seeking to make Ethiopia an economically/politically dependent nation.

We have never been a people who, on mass, have really come to grips with the international interests in Ethiopia and therefore are left to explain things in terms of an Ethiopian deficiency/backwardsness. Hope comes in that Ethiopian solidarity is a foundational part of our identity and once the mechanisms of its undoing are identified, I believe that the people will reject those mechanisms whole-heartedly (minus a few banda here and there). So, I agree with many of the people who have stated that Education and domestic economic development are key to moving ourselves forward. However, I will point back to my previous post in that, the first and most pivotal step is for us to begin to measure ourselves by standards that were developed centric to our societal values and goals. Otherwise, we are entering into a game that is tilted against our success.
Danny Arku:
Yodit N. Gedamu, thanks. I am glad that you brought the question which I have asked myself some years back, how to "measure ourselves by standards that were developed centric to our societal values and goals."
Esubalew Haile:
"We need to make sure that we tackle the root cause of poverty and ethnic tension, which is the monopoly of the politics and economy by self anointed dictators and the disenfranchment of the majority" Jawar Mohammed @Danny, while discussing another current issue, a friend send us the following link I found it very relevant to the topic & my thoughts. Democratization; common goal (government t & people) to achieve; make war history; better attitude of ownership and responsibility; work for a better life and make poverty history!
Costy B Costantinos:
New faces and forces of poverty and the demise of human, social, cultural, economic and political capital has led to the abject poverty where Ethiopia ranks only third form below in human development indicators, much below the phenomenal failed and genocidal states. This must force us to review our development strategies from a different ecological, social, economic and political perspective -- underscoring the paucity of our earlier paradigms on human adaptation to marginal environments. Environments marginalised by decades of incompetent and bad governments, the dependence of an ever-increasing population on a ‘finite’ resource base coupled with climatic changes have synergistically acted to create the poverty and vulnerability that ridiculously haunt the continent. Life is even made more exacting and demanding by the knowledge that only; a few of the millions who struggle for survival outlive the next subsistence meal.
Within a life span of something like four decades, the Ethiopian state has exhibited an enhanced degree of coercive power. This has resulted in a pervasive military ethos leading to the emergence of ‘socialist’-cum-military oligarchies through a long and painful process of ideological schooling. A major obstacle to efforts to install and consolidate democratic and developmental system in Africa is the all powerful, highly centralised and hierarchical bureaucratic structure; further exacerbated by economic adjustment programme, which antedated the democratisation process by almost a decade. The organisational imperative of the massive bureaucratic machine is to command and control and is preoccupied with its own survival and enrichment.
In relation to poverty and complex emergencies, conventional 'humanitarian' and 'development' discourse is now outmoded. It tells us little about protracted crisis and offers few policy innovations. Since the 1980s, in response to continuing economic polarisation and social upheaval a deregulated aid market has emerged; with the ad hoc proliferation of donor country international NGOs. In the space of a generation, the notion of 'development' has changed from one of large-scale infrastructural programmes to what, in practice, is little more than the international provision of basic public welfare functions. Organisational adaptation to emergencies is part of the globalisation of public policy. It is an ad hoc process, which defines in outline the emergence of a new system of global governance. Rather than societal convergence, the emerging system is adapted to the process of co-evolutionary and separate development that systemic crisis has given rise to. Within this new system, North-South relations are now being shaped by the interplay of Northern strategic concerns and aid market interests; resulting in the creation of new forces and faces of impoverishment.
Unfortunately, such lessons, which may be learned through the shocks administered by an uncompromising reality, are rarely translated quickly into personal or organisational memories and the inherent will to change. The reasons for this are sometimes rooted in human inertia, weakness and self-interest. They are equally often the product of a genuine confusion about how to act most effectively in an environment that seems to be growing more complex. Preparedness, relief, rehabilitation and disaster prevention are still seen as unilinear and mutually exclusive programmes to be implemented in linear succession; when our field experiences and the realities demand that all aspects of response should be seen as mutually supportive elements in one dynamic and dialectical process of developmental change. The highest priority now is to use the great collective experience to convert brutal disaster lessons into improved practices for the future.
Indeed, we are slowly coming to the realisation that effective poverty and disaster response requires a combination of three closely related perspectives in a single strategy: identify people’s vulnerability and their multifaceted coping mechanisms and stress strategies; to eliminate the vulnerabilities that are the bases of poverty and emergencies and to ensure that vulnerable people are protected by increasing the ability of communities to anticipate and respond to emergencies by developing self help systems. Preparedness should be a basis for sustaining life and maintaining the morale of affected groups in order to create the conditions for qualitative social change.