|The Courier N° 145 - May - June 1994- Dossier : European Union: the Way forward - Country Report: Ethiopia (EC Courier, 1994, 104 p.)|
|Ethiopia: Emerging from a long Dark Age|
Demobbed soldiers return to civilian life
Mengistu's military dictatorship maintained itself in power by force. and created the largest army in black Africa to try to put down the increasing number of ethnically and politically motivated rebellions which finally overwhelmed it. When the TGE took over, it inherited a demoralised force of 400 000 which, if left in place, might have fumed into a serious threat to peace and stability. Most of the men were unwilling conscripts uprooted from their home areas, used to put down uprisings by their fellow countrymen and dispersed all over the country. Rather than try to reorganise or reduce the existing armed services, the Government decided to dismantle them completely and start again from scratch (and on a much smaller scale). The disbanded ex-servicemen - and some 45 000 disabled war veterans - had first of all to be returned to their homes and then reintegrated into the communities with some sort of livelihood or support.
A special government department, the Commission for the Rehabilitation of Members of the Former Army and Disabled War Veterans, was set up to organise this vast process. The programme started with an order to the men to report to the military centres where they were based; there they were demobilised and taken to their home areas by the Ethiopian and International Red Cross. The Commission then reunited them with their families, and each man was given food rations for five months, in the form of food for work, while he was slotted into the appropriate part of the reintegration programme.
The start-up packages provided for men from rural areas, of whom 169 000 were settled on crop-producing land and 20 000 in coffeegrowing areas, comprised an ox and seeds bought from local suppliers and fertiliser and hand tools imported by the Ministry of Agriculture. One piece of land per man was allocated out of holdings assigned to local communities ('kebeles') and associations such as women's and youth groups by the communist regime; it was usually the most fertile land but, according to the Commissioner for Rehabilitation, Mulugeta Gebrehiwot, there was generally no resentment at this among local people, for two reasons: first, the ax-servicemen were their relations and second, there was an awareness that if the veterans were not allowed to farm they might become a threat to public order, as the only other training they had had was in fighting and killing.
Reintegrating men from urban areas was more problematic, as there were already (and still are) hundreds of thousands of unemployed people in the towns and cities. To start them off, the ax-servicemen were given seven months' subsistence rations and a small monthly allowance to cover outgoings such as rent and electricity. About 7 500 older ax-soldiers were able to retire on government-funded pension schemes, and the same number of younger ones resumed their studies, with a year's exemption from fees. Over 20 000 men who had the right qualifications found permanent skilled jobs in the public or private sectors, while others who had skills but no licence to practice were given the requisite certificates. Nearly 40 000 men found contractual work on building sites or picking coffee and other crops outside the towns; training these unskilled workers was a major achievement for the programme, as they had been spoiled for the labour market by years in the army, and the Commissioner hopes more work will be created for them as the (separate) Emergency Recovery and Reconstruction Programme progresses.
Reintegrated ax-servicemen have been encouraged to set up income-generating self-help groups and briefed on how to go about it. Nearly 600 projects, involving 12 000 ax-soldiers, are under way. The activities, which are screened and developed by government-run technical committees, include quarrying, running grinding mills, weaving and tailoring. Several Ethiopian and foreign NGOs provide help with rural development projects, such as terracing in Tigray, which rehabilitate not just the individuals concerned but the area and, by extension, the national economy. Projects of this kind were started off with a grant of three million birr from the state-owned Agricultural and Industrial Development Bank, though twice as much is needed for projects already appraised and approved. The Commissioner hopes more funds will be allocated from the government's 'safety net' programme, which was set up to help people adversely affected by economic reforms.
Very few of Ethiopia's disabled war veterans needed permanent care more complicated than what they could get at home; the majority required physical rehabilitation and/or reintegration into society. Medical care, physiotherapy and appliances were provided where needed, and three out of four men were given invalidity pensions. Vocational training in tie dyeing, silk screen work, weaving, tailoring, carpentry and metalwork was given for others in what had once been an Italian army camp in northern Ethiopia, and the Commissioner says results have exceeded all expectations. The Tigray Development Association has built workshops where men who have taken these courses can make a living from their new skills. This part of the rehabilitation programme caters primarily for disabled EPRDF fighters who took part in the struggle to overthrow Mengistu and were obviously not eligible for that regime's programmes. Commissioner Mulugeta pointed out, however, that all ethnic groups in Ethiopia suffered during the wars, so the programme as a whole is for all of them. It may not have to last much longer, in any case, he says: all the people it was set up to help have now been settled in one way or another, and the operation can probably be wound up this year.
The orphans and widows of soldiers who died under arms have not been so lucky, alas. The rehabilitation programme does not cater for them, and thousands have been reduced to begging in the streets. Their best hope for the long term is a revival in the economic situation which will bring them and other needy categories more government or private help, but that does nothing to make the struggle for survival easier in the here and now. R.R.