China / World

Unrest in Ethiopia threatens growth

By Edith Mutethya in Nairobi, Kenya (China Daily) Updated: 2019-10-30 07:54

The rioting that Ethiopian authorities are battling to contain is threatening the prospects of a country that has been touted as having the fastest growing economy in the region, experts say.

During the latest outbreak of deadly protests, at least 67 people were killed and many others injured last week in the Oromia region, which is part of the capital Addis Ababa.

Many properties were destroyed, including those of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the largest faith organization in the country. It is mostly associated with the Amhara ethnic group.

The conflict has pitted not only the demonstrators against the police but also entire communities against each other.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed issued a statement on Saturday vowing to bring the perpetrators to justice. He also warned that instability could worsen if Ethiopians failed to unite. The protests appear to have lost some steam since the weekend.

Benedict Wandeto, an expert on East African regional security, said: "It's difficult to develop a country when a large segment of the society is discontented and always rising up against the government. This has been the case with the Oromo and the Somali ethnic groups in Ethiopia."

Wandeto said that despite the conflicts, Ahmed has tried to unite the country and that his efforts to make peace with neighboring Eritrea have greatly benefited Ethiopians, bringing greater levels of peace to the Oromia, Ogaden and Amhara regions. They earned Ahmed the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.

"Ahmed is the right person to resolve both the conflicts and the economic situation in Ethiopia," he said.

Macharia Gaitho, a Nairobi-based political analyst, said that unless a lasting solution to the underlying causes of the protests is found, they will continue to hurt an economy that has still managed remarkable growth over the past 10 years.

The World Bank said Ethiopia's economy experienced strong growth at an average of 9.9 percent a year from 2008 to 2018, compared with a regional average of 5.4 percent.

Through its Growth and Transformation Plan, the country has targeted annual growth of 11 percent in gross domestic product. And in line with the government's strategy to boost manufacturing, the industrial sector is set to expand by an average of 20 percent a year, the World Bank said.

Gaitho said the riots could prompt foreign investors to suspend their investment and expansion plans. The impact of the ethnic conflicts could also spill over into neighboring countries, which have provided logistics services to landlocked Ethiopia.

"One of Kenya's major development plans, the northern corridor project, involves providing road and rail networks from the Indian Ocean to Ethiopia. A destabilized Ethiopian economy thus impacts on Nairobi's plans," Gaitho said.

He said it was unfortunate that the latest round of conflicts comes weeks after Ahmed was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this month. Ahmed's bridge building with Eritrea comes on top of his work to address the long-standing ethnic divisions within the country.

Gaitho said the recurring conflicts indicate deeply rooted grudges that require more than one person's efforts to be resolved.

"There is a need for serious discussions within Ethiopia that involve bringing the rival groups together with their recognized leaderships for frank discussions on what actually needs to be done," he said.

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