Consistently, Ethiopian governments created their own policies without listening to rural people first. But there can never truly be any hope for the country’s future if the forgotten majority continue to be ignored.

(CNBC Africa)―Abiy Ahmed has made a raft of radical steps since taking over as Ethiopia’s prime minister in April 2018. He has redressed some of the wrongs committed by his own party, brokered peace with Eritrea and released political prisoners. Abiy has also invited opposition political groups back into the country and overseen the reunification of a splintered Orthodox church.

Abiy’s approach is summed up by his philosophy of medemer, or inclusivity and unity. His reforms have led millions to believe that positive revolutionary change is on its way. But there’s one significant group he has yet to address: the rural majority.

More than 80% of Ethiopians live in rural villages beyond the reach of mass media. So far, they have not been included in the ongoing national conversation. Yet, they contribute significantly to the economy by providing 85% of all employment and 95% of agriculture outputs.

Past governments exacted revenue from rural people but ignored their voices in policy making. During Haile Sellasie’s rule, rural people had to pay a share of their produce to their chiefs in order to keep their land. Mengistu Haile Mariam’s marxist regime introduced land reform based on its communist ideology but required rural people to fund and fight its wars.

The current government came to power with the promise of ensuring food security but it politicized ethnic identity and is currently focusing on rapid economic growth through the commercialization of agriculture.

Consistently, Ethiopian governments created their own policies without listening to rural people first. But there can never truly be any hope for the country’s future if the forgotten majority continue to be ignored.

The reality for rural people

Since the 2000s, Ethiopia has been praised for fast economic growth. The government celebrates small holding farmers as the drivers of its success. But, so far, economic growth has not translated into a better life for the rural poor.

In 2015, some 18 million (20% of the total population) were affected by drought, the worst in 50 years. This year alone, 7.4 million, mostly children and women, are in need of help.

In addition to natural disasters, rural people are victims of an ill-conceived land policy. Land is controlled by the government. Farmers don’t own their land. They’re simply granted the right to use it. Land scarcity is a major problem. More than 60% of rural households survive on less than one hectare of land. A lack of access has led to young people being uprooted from rural areas.

Continue reading this story at CNBC Africa
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