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    Unemployment in Ethiopia: socio-political implications

    Unemployment is an economic plague, and even the most advanced and economically thriving countries face difficulties promoting job creation and growth. Needless to say, the least developed countries often have the highest rates of unemployment, when a quarter or one-third of active adult population does not have a regular job. Ethiopia, one of the rapidly growing African countries, has a history of unemployment. At different times, unemployment rates in Ethiopia ranged between 16 and 26 percent. Its causes vary, but its impacts are tangible and profound. Unemployment in Ethiopia, particularly among the young college-educated people, presents a barrier to economic development and growth while pushing healthy adult professionals to the margins of physical and financial survival.

    High unemployment always has dramatic socio-political repercussions, no matter if it happens in a developed country like the United States or a developing country like Ethiopia. What matters is a set of measures that governments are ready to take to end the political, social, and civil unrest due to the lack of job opportunities in the country. Unemployment is a huge challenge facing the new Ethiopian Prime Minister. In the absence of any feasible or visible steps to promote economic situation in the country, unemployment can readily turn into a major threat to the country’s social, economic and political stability. When unemployment results in poverty, starvation, depression and suicides, it turns into an object of political bargaining. Ethiopia can be one of the fastest developing countries in Africa, but without an organized policy for employment and job creation, the relevance of even the best economic achievements will quickly and irreversibly wither.

    “Unemployment” is a curse word for many contemporary governments, and Ethiopia is not an exception. However, when government officials forget about their mission to serve the needs of the public, unemployment quickly becomes a major driver of political instability. This is what happened in Ethiopia, when thousands of young unemployed people went to the streets to express their dissatisfaction with the country’s economic, social, and political policies. “The anti-government protests that swept through parts of Ethiopia in late 2015 through the better part of 2016 were (partly) as a result of youth unemployment,” according to an Africa News article.

    In fact, young people in Ethiopia are particularly vulnerable to the risks of unemployment. They also constitute the most powerful political force. The past years witnessed numerous political protests in Ethiopia, and youth was always at the center of mass political movement. Street protests have become a popular form of political self-expression for young Ethiopians across the country. Young people use streets as a forum for expressing their political and social discontent.

    As a result, youth unemployment remains a major source of political instability in Ethiopia. Young people without jobs have nothing else to do but to spend their time in the street, hoping that the government will take measures to improve the economic situation and foster the expansion of the labor market. They have nothing to lose, except for their lives. Unfortunately, mass protests can become a convenient force for manipulating public opinion, undermining the foundations of political stability in the country. This seems to be the worst scenario for Ethiopia, a country that has just entered a new stage of political and historical development, with the new Prime Minister Abiy bringing hope and enthusiasm about future changes.

    Unfortunately, politics is just one of the many dimensions of Ethiopia’s unemployment issues. The problem has far-reaching social implications for the country. Poverty is probably the most serious consequence of mass unemployment in any country, including Ethiopia. Rural territories more than urban districts have realized the graveness of the socioeconomic deprivation caused by unemployment, Bereket Gebru states. Individuals and families keep struggling to find financial resources that would ensure their growth and survival.

    Still, the most devastating as the social consequences of unemployment such as depression, lack of motivation, and even suicidal moods in young people. It is not difficult to imagine a young man who graduates with a degree and leaves the university premises fully enthusiastic about the contribution he will make to the economy and politics in his home country. This enthusiasm quickly fades away, when the graduate faces the striking reality of unemployment and poverty. Many find themselves in a vicious circle of poverty and deprivation, which leave little room for optimism and hope. Not surprisingly, substance abuse and suicidal intentions become more prevalent in Ethiopian youth, Bereket states.

    Substance abuse is an ever-growing issue in Ethiopia, as thousands of young unemployed people seek emotional relief and refuge in a cruel world of unemployment and poverty. Young unemployed people with all kind of pressures have an increased risk of being addicted to alcohol and drug abuse. Unemployment may be the primary factor of substance misuse in this population group, and it definitely contributes to the social uncertainty across the country.

    These economic and social controversies necessitate the provision of adequate measures that could expand employment opportunities for the youth. These measures must be multidimensional. It is not enough to launch new projects that would provide temporary employment to educated young people. The government should provide new employment incentives for urban youth who may want to go and work in rural territories. New laws and policies should be developed to create opportunities for youth entrepreneurship. For instance, tax breaks and subsidies could provide an impetus for expanding the market for young entrepreneurs. Without these measures, the formidable prospects of continued unemployment will keep looming ahead, creating major impediments to sociopolitical and economic stability in Ethiopia.    

    Ed.’s Note: Samuel Alemu, Esq is a partner at the ILBSG, LLP. He is a graduate of Harvard Law School, University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School, and Addis Ababa University. Samuel has been admitted to the bar associations of New York State, United States Tax Court, and the United States Court of International Trade. He can be reached at [email protected]

    Contributed by Samuel Alemu

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