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Monday, 4 June, 2001, 15:16 GMT 16:16 UK
Stirrings among Ethiopia's cafe generation
Le Notre patrons
Many young people are upset with the lack of democracy
By Nita Bhalla in Addis Ababa

Le Notre is the most fashionable cafe in Addis Ababa at the moment.

With its stylish European furniture, trendy music and delicious French pastries, it's no wonder that the capital's young professionals congregate here.

I returned to Ethiopia after six years in the States, hoping to see a more democratic government. But it seems it's just the way it was before.

Accountant Fekadu Yohannes
Located in the centre of town, it's the ideal place for Ethiopia's young elite to meet for lunch, or stop by for a coffee.

The smartly dressed clientele, all with mobile phones, are in their late 20s and 30s. Most are university educated and have good jobs working in the private sector, with the UN or other international agencies based in Ethiopia.

They travel abroad two or three times a year and consider themselves ambitious and successful.


Most remember 10 years ago, when in May 1991, the tanks of the EPRDF rebels rolled into Addis Ababa, ousting Mengistu after 17 years of bloody rule.

Mengistu: Ten years since the hated dictator was overthrown
"It was like a dream when I look back on it now. I remember the day when Mengistu left the country and fled to Zimbabwe. There was a mass influx of EPRDF rebel soldiers coming in the capital.

"Seeing this, I was hoping when these people come to govern Ethiopia, they would create a democratic atmosphere with equality of nations and the unity of Ethiopia. I feel this didn't happen," says 32-year-old IT consultant Tamirat Hailu.

He is not alone. Many of his peers say they had hopes and dreams for the country when the EPRDF took over.

Hopes dashed

After a decade, many express disappointment.

cafe society
Young people feel forgotten by the government
"I returned to Ethiopia after six years in the States, hoping to see a more democratic government. But it seems it's just the way it was before. It's still a one party government as the EPRDF is not giving a chance to other parties," says 30-year-old accountant Fekadu Yohannes.

Others claim there are little opportunities even for those who make it through university. Most can't find jobs and those that do, say that salaries are poor.

Twenty-seven-year-old Tizita Mesfin is a PR officer for an international non-governmental agency. She says things are moving too slowly, but sympathises with the government.

"They are trying to do as much as they can. We are a poor country and nothing can change that. We have been unfortunate to have drought, famine and conflict in the region. But hopefully it is over and we can at last get on with developing our beautiful country", she says.


These young professionals however admit they are luckier than most in their age group.

Ethiopian soldier
Ethiopia has been devastated by the war with Eritrea
Unemployment in the country is at an all time high and the urban poor cannot even afford the basic amenities.

The number of homeless and beggars on the streets of the capital has increased three fold with most under the age of 25.

They feel largely forgotten by the government, who has for the past three years diverted valuable funds from development to fund a war with Eritrea and combat recurring droughts.

Frustrations however surfaced in April, when thousands of jobless youths took to the streets looting shops and setting vehicles alight. Over 30 died and millions of dollars of property damaged.

Many believe this signals a serious warning to the government to sit up and take notice of the Ethiopian youth after a decade of neglect.

Analysts warn that if they government doesn't, Ethiopia could face more public violence, but on a much larger scale.

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See also:

27 May 01 | Africa
Ethiopia 10 years after Mengistu
22 Mar 01 | Africa
Mengistu to stay in Zimbabwe
08 Dec 99 | Africa
Mengistu skips South Africa
11 Nov 99 | Africa
Fall of the Wall echoes in Africa
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