The World Bank has just published an authoritative study of poverty reduction in Ethiopia. The fall in overall poverty has been dramatic and is to be greatly welcomed. But who has really benefited?

This is the basic finding:

In 2000 Ethiopia had one of the highest poverty rates in the world, with 56% of the population living on less than US$1.25 PPP a day. Ethiopian households experienced a decade of remarkable progress in wellbeing since then and by the start of this decade less than 30% of the population was counted as poor.

There are of course many ways of answering the question – “who benefited” – were they men or women, urban or rural people. All these approaches are valid.

The Ethnic Dimension

But in Ethiopia, where Ethic Federalism has been the primary driver of government policy one cannot ignore the ethnic dimension.

Here this graph is particularly telling:

Ethiopia poverty reduction

Tigray first

The answer is clear: it is the people of Tigray, whose party, the TPLF led the fight against the Mengistu regime and took power in 1991, who benefited most. What is also striking is that the Oromo (who are the largest ethnic group) hardly benefited at all.

This is what the World Bank says about this: “Poverty reduction has been faster in those regions in which poverty was higher and as a result the proportion of the population living beneath the national poverty line has converged to around one in 3 in all regions in 2011.”

The World Bank does little to explain just why Tigray has done (relatively) so well, but it does point to the importance of infrastructure investment and the building of roads. It also points to this fact: “Poverty rates increase by 7% with every 10 kilometers from a market town. As outlined above, farmers that are more remote are less likely to use agricultural inputs, and are less likely to see poverty reduction from the gains in agricultural growth that are made. The generally positive impact of improvements in infrastructure and access to basic services such as education complements the evidence for Ethiopia that suggests investing in roads reduces poverty.”

Not surprisingly, the TPLF under Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and beyond concentrated their investment on their home region – Tigray. The results are plain to see.