News of Ethiopia

Ethiopian News Summary

complied by Barry Hillenbrand

War over the waters of the Nile?

The battle over the waters of the Nile continues. In an interview with Reuters, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said that he does not fear the Egyptians who have taken exception to a pact by five African nations — Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya — to work out a new formula for sharing the water from the Nile. “I am not worried that the Egyptians will suddenly invade Ethiopia,” Meles told Reuters in an interview. “Nobody who has tried that has lived to tell the story. I don’t think the Egyptians will be any different and I think they know that.” For more details of the interview and some very good background on the squabble over the waters of the Nile see:

Religion in Ethiopia

Each year the U.S. Congress requires the State Department to issue a report on religious freedom in countries around the globe. In the case of some countries–China  and Eritrea come to mind–the reports generate friction between the U.S.  and the country with a poor record on religious freedom.  (See the News of Eritrea section of the HERALD for the a summary and links to State’s report on the sorry state of religious freedom in Eritrea.) Ethiopia, on the other hand, does pretty well on religious freedom issues. But still the report makes good reading for its extensive information about the various religions of Ethiopia. Using government census numbers, which have been critized for their slant, the report says that 44% of the population follow the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Thirty-four percent of the population is Sunni Muslim, mostly Sufis. For more see:

Good Harvest, Fewer in need of aid

Good news does not big headlines make. So you may have missed the report by the United Nations that Ethiopia has experienced good rains this year and thus a bumper harvest. As a result, says the UN, the number of people needing emergency food aid will drop by nearly 3 million to 2.3 million.  Another 7.4 million people get some sort of assistance under a Safety Net program. Still this year, at least, Ethiopia has been spared a famine, but this will be little noted, we are sure.

New Ethiopian ambassador to the U.S.

Ambassador Girma Birru (photo:

The post of Ethiopia’s ambassador to Washington has been vacant for several months, but now that the elections are over, Prime Minister Meles has filled this job – as well as a host of other diplomatic positions around the world.  Picked for Washington is former Trade and Industry Minister Girma Birru. Girma won a seat to Parliament in the recent election which gives him a certain political credibility. He is also experienced in international dealings — and surely that will come in handy. Of course, one of the items on his agenda when he arrives in the U.S. is approving the use of the Ethiopian Embassy for E&ERPCVs’ dinner in September 2011.

Ethiopia’s Export Boom

Tending the growth in flower exports

One of the points Prime Minister Meles constantly makes as he jets around to international conferences (G20, World Economic Forum, climate change confabs, etc.) as the West’s designated hitter for Africa is that Ethiopia has done pretty well in the last decade. Sure, Ethiopia still languishes among the poorest countries on earth, but, says Meles, his country’s growth in G.D.P. and in exports has been impressive. Meles has a point. In 2009 Ethiopia had a GDP growth of 9.9%, the highest in Africa. It is likely to grow more than 10% in 2010 and 2011. The growth in exports has been equally impressive, up 38% from last year and now totaling a new high of $2 billion. Adding to the luster is a new range of export items. While coffee remains the country’s largest export, Ethiopia has developed export earners like gold, oilseed, cut flowers and khat.  For example, cut flowers exports, which did not exist 10 years ago, now earn $17o million a year. Each week Ethiopia exports an equivalent of 37 fully loaded cargo planes of flowers.

Okay, now the less than bright news: while the growth in exports has been encouraging, Ethiopia still lags behind countries like Uganda which with much a smaller population and exports of more than $3 billion. The strides Ethiopia has made in recent decades have been modest compared to those of other developing nations. In the 1980s Ethiopia exported more than Vietnam, a country with a similar sized population. Now Vietnam exports $65 billion compared to Ethiopia’s mere $2 billion. For really good analysis of Ethiopia’s export performance see the Ethiopia Reporter at

Aid debate continues

The controversy over how aid money and supplies are used in Ethiopia continues to simmer. In March of this year the BBC ran a report implying that some of the money raised by Bob Geldof through the Band Aid and Live Aid music benefits was funneled to rebels to buy arms. Geldof protested the reports bitterly and in November the BBC backed off slightly from the story saying that the reporting did not make the allegation that funds were diverted, but that the BBC acknowledges that “this impression could have been taken from the programme. We also acknowledge that some of our related reporting of the story reinforced this perception.” See for details.

And the October 2010 Human Rights Watch issued a blistering reporting claiming that the Ethiopia government uses donor aid to promote its repressive political agenda and to support Prime Minister Meles’ political party. HRW said that donors turn a blind eye to this misuse of food and aid. The government, of course, bitterly dismissed the report out of hand accusing Human Rights Watch of “unbridled arrogance” and “warped neo-colonialism.” See a Voice of America report on this at

Even aid organizations have criticized the Human Rights Watch report. The Development Assistance Group, which comprises 26 bilateral and multilateral development agencies providing assistance to Ethiopia, issued a statement saying that “we do not concur with the conclusion of the recent [HRW] report regarding the widespread systematic abuse of development in Ethiopia.” DAR conducted its own investigation into abuse charges and made the following statement: “Nonetheless, we recognize that the programmes we support are not immune to the potential for aid misuse and have included safeguard measures to address these risks.” See:

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