Why Ethiopia struggles to meet people’s basic needs

The short answer is poor governance.

By Roy Byrnes

I was cycling indoors at home recently while watching a tape of the just completed LA Marathon. Like the movie Groundhog Day, Ethiopians moved to the front of the both the men’s and women’s races. Ethiopia’s Bizunesh Deba, looking freakishly fresh, sat on American rookie Amy Hastings for the first 18+ miles at which point she slowly put 150-200 meters into her for victory in 2:26:34. Deba, 23, has won seven of the nine marathons she’s entered. Someone is mismanaging her, but I digress.

In the men’s race 26 year-old Ethiopian marathon rookie Markos Geneti ran a 1:02+ half and blew away the field coasting home in a course record 2:06:35. He’s a preeminent short and middle distance runner, but the marathon is where the money is in track and field these days. From now on, he’ll get six figures to show up at races.

The LA Times reported that Geneti plans to invest his $125,000 in earnings in a school in Addis Ababa.

I was intrigued by Amy Hastings grittiness and guts. When she fell off Deba she crawled back into touch, fell off again, and got back in touch, before fading right before the finish. It was an incredible debut. Afterwards, I read an interview with her from before the race that included this question: One of the appeals of elite-level running is that the people, by and large, are smart, nice, insightful, introspective, all those good things. In addition to the fact that you obviously love the sensation of running, I would think that the kind of people that you meet in running, the kind of people you’ve been teammates with, the kind of people you’re rivals with, have been a big part of the appeal, isn’t it?

This got me thinking about what else we may be able to generalize about elite marathoners. To the interviewers list I’ll add: self confidence, intense competitiveness, extraordinary self-discipline, resilience, optimism, and off the charts toughness.

If I were to write about every elite Ethiopian runner, you’d have to set aside the next hour. It’s Kenya, Ethiopia, then all the other countries of the world combined. I like Geneti and Deba in London (assuming Deba starts spreading out her races better).

And when I taught at a private international school in Addis Ababa, my best students were Ethiopian public school students who won scholarships to our school and went to Harvard and other elite universities after graduating. These athletes and these students accomplishments beg the question, how does a country with Geneti and Deba and Nebiyeleul Tilahoun type of human resources continue to struggle to meet people’s basic needs?

The short answer is poor governance. No doubt Meles Zenawi celebrates “his” runners accomplishments and uses them to bolster his own image among his people.

I hope Ethiopia’s runners, young students, and other citizens find inspiration from the Middle Eastern protestors to help close the Great Rift Valley that exists between their impressive human potential and bitter day-to-day realities. And I hope upon hope that Meles Zenawi is living in exile when Geneti and Deba walk into the opening ceremonies in London in the summer of 2012. Assuming, that is, they make the team.

4 comments on “Why Ethiopia struggles to meet people’s basic needs

  1. koster on

    Yes you are right the root cause of Ethiopian misery is poor governance. Development without freedom is not sustainable look what happened in IRAQ it took only a month to destroy what has been done for years. As long as there is no peacefull power transition in Ethiopia all what has been done in the last years could be destroyed. Unfortunately Meles will not live Menelik palace alive, he preferred to follow the last Romanian Communist Leader and be dragged by angry/hungry Ethiopians dead or alive.

  2. B.Tufa on

    I argue that with present economic and global structure, Ethiopia, like other third-world countries, is extremely at disadvantage. Unless we address this problem, Ethiopia and other third-world countries (or so-called developing countries) will never prosper. Whatever government we bring their would not be any significant differences. By the way almost all, with very few exceptions, countries in Africa are politically and economically dependent on the West and some are brought to power by direct interference and massive military and economic support of the West. Most of them listen to their western masters than to their people. They are practically installed by the west to keep their interest. The problem is the so-called oppositions are also dependent on the west. They are always seeking and appealing to the west for political as well as economic support.

  3. Denden on

    Dear Ron,

    I think the answer is right in front of you:right under your nose, that is to say it is the western governments actions and deeds that kees Ethiopia unable to feed or as you put it struggles to meet the Ethiopian people’s basic needs.

    You might be aware Of Ethiopian History, not the daily trampeted mumbo jumbo talk of christian country of 3000 years but the recent history, just under hundred years.

    the recent history goes back to Hailesellasie period, which was backed by USA and generally the west, while keeping his people hungry under feudal ssytem, USA did nothing to stop him from keeping his people backward and destitut. More over, when a brutal junta Derg led by Cl Mengistu blood thursty low life took over USA was cosying up to him to by weapons while the country was in accut situation and he rebuffed here comes the ugly USSR with its killing machins and propoganda tools to replace uncle Sam.

    Foreget the above for history to documet it cos we can only just document it not learn from it. the current situation in Ethiopia is single handedly directed and excuted by USA experts in helping the criminal clique mercenary government to kill and devide Ethiopia into ETHINICally based politics polarising the whole nation going from bad to worst and now to the abiss this is with out forgetting the mess he is creating in the Horn again with the help of none other than USA, the great and the benovelant nation.

    So in a nut shell, that is why Ethiopia is unable to provide the basic needs to the people, however if you are a favoured Ethinc group by this mercenary governmnet you get aid provided by again by the good doers of US of America.
    There fore, I think your question should be directed to your congres man and woman and to the current President Obama, yes Obama who was expected to rescue Africa and act as a messiah with talk of HOPE but now that HOPE is even extinguished by his policy of never changing of USA policy towards this black nation.

  4. dawit on

    Meles by design has handicapped Ethiopia by confiscating land, denying access to technology, and of course by creating tribal tension, as wekk as lack of security for citizens and investors. Unfortunately, that is the only way Meles can stay power. He is smart in using divide and conquer and by keeping Ethiopians desperate for survival, so that they stay preoccupied and divided.

    He is a cruel hoax on Ethiopia. Hope he is gone sooner than later for the sake of all oppressed, the dispossed, and the suffering people of Ethiopia.

    Poor governance combined with oppressive system are sapping the creative juice of all Ethiopians and are leading to their destitution.


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