Regarding Ethiopia's Economic and Social Problems

THE SITUATION

Ethiopia, a country rich in natural resources, remains underdeveloped  despite much investment from outside the country--both financial and in terms of human resources.

Opportunities for entrepreneurship abound, yet relatively few people take advantage of these opportunities to lift themselves out of poverty.

In addition, famines, HIV/AIDS, orphans' needs, abuse of women, and other hindrances to development persist in spite of huge expenditures of effort and money.

WHAT ARE THE PROBLEMS?

  • Worldviews influence development greatly. In spite of widespread conversions to Christianity and Islam, most people in Ethiopia retain the animistic worldview of their ancestors, with its sense of fatalism and helplessness. This understanding of the world makes it difficult for them to take initiative, to trust one another, and to work together towards common goals. Many development efforts, both secular and Christian, don't address this deeply-entrenched worldview issue and therefore, when funding ends, the target community tends to revert back to previous behavior patterns.

  • In addition, charitable giving, especially from the West, has done much to create a dependency mentality and destroy self-sufficiency. Once this has occurred, people may be worse off when the charitable giving ends than before it was even started. Unfortunately, a great deal of development has not been implemented in ways that are sustainable. Often, even modest loans aren't available to help those people who want to take initiative.

  • Many people don't have even a basic understanding about how to manage money.

  • Training and mentoring in entrepreneurship and practical skills is often unavailable.

  • Addressing social problems in isolation from their context often limits progress. For example, HIV prevention education does little to help vulnerable people unless communities also deal with stigma, availability of treatment, bad theology, poverty and unemployment, literacy, poor nutrition, gender inequality, and other issues.

  • Many faith-based organizations often do not take a wholistic view of development. Some focus on spiritual aspects alone, often reinforcing the status quo by providing only emotional escapes from practical problems, and shifting hope from the present to the life to come. Others focus on practical development alone and therefore don't help bring about internal spiritual transformation without which practical changes are very difficult to bring about.

WHAT ARE THE ANSWERS?

  • Worldviews which impede development must be changed. The church needs to address this as a high priority. (See "As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God." by Matthew Parris, The Times, Dec 27, 2008); see also Ron's commentary on this article, and section on Church Development.

  • Self help groups, through which members save small amounts weekly and eventually make each other loans for starting small businesses, are one of the most effective ways to enable very poor people to rise out of poverty without charity from outside.   See the story of Matnitu for how these self-help groups.
  • Donors must be educated on how to provide help that is relevant to the felt needs of the community that involves the target community in the process of decision making and implementation, and that gives help in such a way as to reduce, not increase, the sense of dependency. They should give high priority to sustainable income-generating activities because once people have disposable income they will be able to pay for education, health care, etc. with their own money and demand these in ways that are most beneficial and relevant to them.

  • People who want to help should provide training and on-going mentoring in community development, micro-finance, financial management, and business skills to that would-be entrepreneurs can get started on the road out of poverty.

  • Those doing development in one field should network carefully with those doing other types of development to assure a combined strategy that addresses all the hindrances to development in a unified way.

  • Churches must change their self-understanding so as to become more effective in transforming individuals and communities in all areas of life, not only in their spiritual lives.