Cover Story

Ethiopia's new flowers

Christian care is vital in a country recovering from Marxism and challenged by both poverty and Islam

Issue: "Ethiopia's new flower," May 31, 2008

ADDIS ABADA, Ethiopia- The Lonely Planet overview of Ethiopia begins, "Once an icon of misery, Ethiopia is coming out of the shadows." But at least in the country's most populous city, shadows are still deep: Although Addis Ababa means "new flower," wilt is common-yet so is grace.

At the gated and well-guarded entrances to the Hilton and Sheraton hotels, beggars lie like Lazarus. It's a 10-minute walk across dirt paths from one hotel to the other, with lush gardens giving way to corrugated metal and cardboard shacks and open sewers before the walker returns to posh. Concierges urge Americans to taxi from one hotel to the other: That advice suggests the existence of two Ethiopias, one of which is generally ignored by diplomats, international organization executives, and tourists. It's easy to go to conferences, travel by taxi, and shop at shiny malls on the road to the airport without seeing abject poverty. But those following the affluent agenda also miss seeing how some Christians are giving up Western comforts for the opportunity to save and change lives.

Those Christians have an exceptionally difficult task. Ethiopia has a population of about 77 million (43 percent under age 15) in an area twice the size of Texas, so it's not a country like India where residents elbow each other for space. But life expectancy in Ethiopia is only 48 years for men and 50 for women: Since the typical Ethiopian woman has five children, the average age of Ethiopians is 18, and only 3 percent are over 50 years old. Most cannot read or write.

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Ethiopia has a per capita annual income of perhaps $700, according to the CIA Fact Book's analysis of purchasing power, and one of the highest rates of malnutrition in sub-Saharan Africa: Almost half of children under 5 years of age don't get enough to eat. Micronutrient problems such as Iodine Deficiency Disorders-which irreversibly reduce children's IQ levels-are common.

Estimates of religious adherence vary, but roughly half of Ethiopians may have some connection with Christianity, and half with Islam. Most of those loosely designated as Christian have some connection with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which claims to go back to the Ethiopian eunuch schooled by Philip in chapter 8 of Acts. Evangelicals make up perhaps 10 percent of the population.

How can U.S. evangelicals be helpful to their brethren in Ethiopia (and other African countries), as well as to the millions who don't know their right hand from their left?

Press releases late last month shouted one answer: "world bank launches new assistance strategy for ethiopia . . . world bank provides funds to address nutrition needs of vulnerable groups in ethiopia . . . world bank/global environment facility trust fund support efforts to reverse land degradation in ethiopia."

The stories emphasized the World Bank's support for the Ethiopian government's Plan for Accelerated and Sustained Development to End Poverty: "The Bank will support the country's macro-fiscal stability as well as key sectors such as agriculture and . . . large-scale infrastructure. A particular emphasis will be placed on strengthening supply responsiveness of the economy . . . greater economic engagement of women and youth . . . protecting and restoring ecosystem functions and diversity in agricultural landscapes . . . institutional strengthening and capacity building."

All of that could be very useful, but Ethiopia has long been one of the largest beneficiaries of the World Bank and other transnational organizations. The Bank's International Development Association (IDA) had 24 active projects in Ethiopia-valued at $2.3 billion-at the end of last year. Two years ago the World Bank canceled 100 percent of Ethiopia's IDA debt. Ethiopia never was under European control, except for a four-year incursion by Mussolini's Italy that ended in 1941, so imperialism cannot reasonably be blamed for the country's problems.

Ethiopia was one of the 51 original members of the United Nations, and Addis Ababa hosts the headquarters of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and of the African Union-formerly the Organization of African Unity, of which Ethiopia was the principal founder. But when Mercer Human Resources Consulting last year ranked 215 cities worldwide based on their levels of air pollution, waste management, water potability, infectious diseases, hospital services, and medical supplies, Addis Ababa was the sixth worst.

To check such critiques by getting some sense of hospital services and medical supplies, one morning last month I visited Addis Ababa's top governmental hospital, Black Lion. Its waiting rooms were packed with patients, including a child with a fractured arm who had waited for days without receiving medical attention. Potential patients in the waiting rooms were better off than those in a dim corridor where beds lined one wall. Those in the corridor were better off than the multitudes waiting outside.

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