We can learn a few lessons from Ethiopia

Ethiopia has not been a good example over the decades despite priding itself of not having been colonised.


There are number of reasons why the world may not have fairly judged Ethiopia, some of which include the 1984 drought, the incompatibility of their governance to those of the generally acceptable standards.

As much as the Western intellectual machinery has imposed the lenses through which we view governance systems, an unquestioned conclusion has been imposed on them and that such governance system is responsible for the high poverty and suffering of Ethiopians. Western scholarship teaches us that leaders must leave office at a certain period of time to allow the country to develop.

The ability for countries has been so much tied to the concept of leadership change and not change of policies on the presumption that new leaders will bring new ideas.

That narrative has remained unchallenged for many decades despite many examples to the contrary.

For that same reason African countries have become dust grounds for destructive elections, even when sometimes elections are not necessary.

But that democratic checklist must have election to be endorsed as a democratic country. Time and resources, which could be used for development projects, have been spent on running elections with politicians spending more time scheming for the next election than develop their countries.

Over the past two years, I have been privileged to pass through Ethiopia after every two months.

The Ethiopia I saw seven years ago is different from what I see today. Then it was a country that was marked by images of poverty, lack of order in the city and stagnation. Today, there are major highways that cut through different parts of the city. A colleague joked recently that Ethiopia is the fastest growing economy because they now have traffic lights.

What my colleague thought was a joke is actually a fact.

According to the Africa Development Bank, in 2012/13, Ethiopia’s economy grew by 9,7%, which made it one of Africa’s top performing economies. They used the same governance system which is often considered autocratic to bring down inflation to single digits.

A light electrical railway system is currently under construction and was 60% complete by end of April.

The project will be finalised in 2015. This is the first railway system in Addis Ababa, initiated after funds were secured from the Export-Import Bank of China in 2011. China general does not operate on charity basis.

Ethiopia might have succumbed to some concessions, perhaps painful decisions were made, but the benefits of a functional transport system outstrip those costs.

May be as you read this and may be cross-checking with what you know about Ethiopia, you may be wondering why an electrical railway system when most countries are failing to meet their energy requirements?

The same arrogance that has made Ethiopia one of the fastest growing economies in Africa underpins their ambitions. They are not ready to be hindered by unnecessary arguments that do not bring food on the table.
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam along the Blue Nile is currently under construction. In addition to supporting agriculture projects and improve water supply, the dam will be the largest hydroelectric power plant in Africa when completed, that will be used to supply power to the railway project in the capital, including supporting its growing industry.
Ethiopians are aware of the potential tensions this brings from its neighbours, especially Egypt. Egypt, a country whose livelihood depend heavily on the waters of the Nile, has demanded that Ethiopia cease construction of the dam as a precondition to negotiations, sought regional support for its position, and some political leaders have discussed methods to sabotage it. But Ethiopia would not have its people starve each year when massive amounts of fresh water pass through their shores. So they have made a bold step and are on course with the project.
There are interesting similarities and differences with Ethiopia. We both have provided home for Mengistu Haile Mariam, the former Ethiopian leader. Our governance system is seen by both our people and the West as autocratic. We both claim rights to revolutionary movements in Africa. But there are differences as well in the way autocracy has been used. Our autocratic governance system is to blame for economic downturn and increase in poverty, while in Ethiopia their autocratic system is building a foundation for economic growth. There is a tendency to salvage pride by flagging that we have a better or best literacy rate in Africa and yet we have a high unemployment rate.
Ethiopia has among the worst literacy rates in Africa and yet their people are among the most enterprising on the continent. I wish one day some will tell us that our education system produces labourers and not entrepreneurs hence we are stuck in poverty waiting for Western investment to create jobs for our people.
With Ethiopia taking the risk of breaching the Nile pacts with Egypt, our own Zambezi River flows freely and untapped pouring valuable waters into the salty Indian Ocean. In fact it passes through Muzarabani, a fertile area which by now could have been converted into a greenbelt only if power was not more important than feeding the nation.
The Zambezi River project for Matabeleland water supply remains a pie in the sky. As Ethiopia looks to inaugurate their railway system, we continue watching ours decay.

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  1. Trouble with Zimbos is that we like to play to the gallery too much to please the Brits, Europeans & Americans. See how we opened up our economy under ESAP resulting in irreversible de-industrialization. We then adopted the US$ as our national currency worsening the lack of competitiveness of our local businesses. All our neighbours now export to us under the cover of regional free trade agreements of SADC & COMESA. We cannot raise tariff and non-tariff barriers against these cheap imports to protect the nascent industries we wish to establish.

    Ah, we are gentlemen & ladies who cannot retaliate against the same neighbours who block our exports to their markets. We prefer to remain local warehouses for highly subsidized South African imported goods with our high education. And right now, anyone from outside with money imposes their will on us as if we do not have the technical & other skills to develop & run projects.

    We are scared to re-introduce our own domestic currency even in a gradual & judicious manner in order to bring the majority of our pipo back into productive activities. What would the rest of our admirers say?

    We want to see a dramatic change after the December ZANU PF Congress to follow the Ethiopian strategy for development by a reshuffled government.

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  2. Zimbabwe needs visionaries like the late Ethiopian leader Meles Zenawi Asres. Under his watch after deposing the clueless dictator Mengitsu, that is when Ethiopia went back on track. Meles cannot be compared to the Zimbabwean idiot. He can be ranked with Mandela. He had a good vision to develop his country not to loot, destroy the foundations of his country.

    The company that is building Gibe 3, The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and other dams in Ethiopia is the same building Tokwe-Murkosi. They are being paid in Ethiopia and doing an excellent job there. In Zimbabwe because the government has stupid priorities, all projects are taking forever. All we hear is they have signed this deal with the Chinese…just bull shit.

    Meles was not full of talk and shouting but a man of action

    1. Wow.. you come here an just insult other people. What arrogance! Why are Ethiopians so arrogant?

      1. Mr. Marimba,
        I apologize on behalf of this goon. I wish you didn’t generalize that “Ethiopians are arrogant” He appears to be a mule and blind supporter of the late dictator Meles who was no better than Mengistu. What is going on in Ethiopia is purely of God’s providence which has nothing to do with the current corrupt rulers. There is a real opposition in Zimbabwe which in fact had participated in power sharing scheme with the Zanu PF come Ethiopia, you can’t even say anything against the ruling party much less become part of an active opposition. Chances are, you will be labeled “terrorist” under the new terrorism law by which numerous journalists are set to the slammer for merely writing some thing. Opposition is nonexistent in Ethiopia and this was the vision of none other the late dictator Meles Zenawi. Zimbabwe’s problems are temporary – once Mr. Mugabe is gone, things will improve because the Zimbo people will simply demand CHANGE. Again, I apologize on behalf of the person who hurt your feeling.

    2. Meles was a brutal killer, human rights abuser, a landlocker and everything evil. President Mugabe, despite his challenges in recent years, delivered a nation to a nation. You should be ashamed to even compare the two. Robert Mugabe is a legend, While meles was a thug. He will always be remembered as a senseless thug.

    3. Please— Meles with Mandela; you have no idea what Mandela stands for! Under Meles govt system many killed, moved abroad, corrpute gov’s system, Ethiopia lost access to the sea, War with Eritrea etc. You have right to love him but read more about Mandela.

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  4. “For that same reason African countries have become dust grounds for destructive elections, even when sometimes elections are not necessary.”-

    Mdhara, i couldn’t read past this line, the nausea was too much

  5. Yes, only the achievements of the Ethiopian people counts. Is there any good governance in Ethiopia, the answer is NO!

    Like most of the African countries, the government of Ethiopia is: murderers, corrupt, bunch of morons, ugly, etc. Zambia? I don’t even count it as a country; it is “terra incognita”

    1. Dear Lasta, you seem had came from Space…not born on earth! you condemn almost all African countries including Eth that no longer good governance , murders, corrupt…. if you know what is good governance and other things why don’t tell us the way how it should be instead of generalizing negativism. It doesn’t help I tell you! If you think always negative you can’t know any thing except CRITICS. So, tell you people how it should be! your intellectualness should be valid and used in your own country. thank you!!

      1. Dear Bacha, I sincerely apology for the comment from Lasta, as you say his brain is filed with heat and negativity, of any thing and every thing happen in Ethiopia .
        un fortunately my country Ethiopia is on the clear rode planning to be in the middle in come country’s for 2025, and Every Ethiopian is pupped up for the goal, except her and there people like lasta and his followers from the previous military juntas !
        have a good day
        Africa united !
        long live Ethiopia !

    2. Lasta: You don’t know how tired we are about people like you. We don’t need someone who barks like a dog far beyond the border or behinde the screen. It is all matter of choice, but consider the consequences while you being belly bounded creature! try to be natural!

      1. Thamaba Kurakula

        Having lived n Ethiopia i have seen that when one person makes a comment that is somewhat different the others want to shout him/her down. This is not even an Ethiopian website yet they are shouting at each other. What hate and ignorance they are displaying to the world. No respect of another person’s opinion unless it agrees with theirs. This is not even an Ethiopian site and no one wants to hear your guys attack each other. A country with a bunch of people like this can’t be a great country.

        1. Dear Thamaba!
          As a comment yours is fine. Tolerance and generalization is the common disease on all scope of communication all over the world not specific to the nation with good history for Ethiopia. So all people and nations learn through time after learning from their failure. Let all of us get patient before we blame others for their fault for which help them to learn from it.

  6. Great article and great point on autocratic – “Our autocratic governance system is to blame for economic downturn and increase in poverty, while in Ethiopia their autocratic system is building a foundation for economic growth.” I think the heart of its message imbedded here. whatever governance any country follows, the end game should muster benefits to the lager public, and the hope of dividend will take on continuum path…

  7. The problem with Zimbabweans is all too apparent in this article and some comments. There is an arrogance that is buttressed by ignorance about other countries, in some ways it is characteristic of African countries that experienced a modicum of success or had some infrastructure that is beyond what was achieved by other African countries(see Zuma in SA and Ivory Coast before FHB died). The Ethiopian model is directly influenced by China and East/Southeast Asia development model, the argument is that given a choice between democracies and the “instability” with regards to changing adminstrations and not having constant policies and having an autocratic model pushing through reforms ,industrialization and economic development they would choose the latter. It is the reason why they still own the large businesses in telecomms and the national airline that they are very proud of because of its long record of success. The model only works when there is zero tolerance for incompetence and state enterprises and large businesses perform according to expectations. There is no tolerance for ZISCO,GMB,CSC type situations because the entire strategy relies on it.

  8. Othathekile! Until Zimbabweans understand that you cannot always copy China, India, Ethiopia or RSA, you will not go anywhere. Zimbabwe must just adopt democracy, transparency and improve the health and education sectors. Let Zimbabweans own and run railway infrastructure and not military generals. It’s no use crying and copying other countries. Heh, Look East, Heh, Look West, Heh South South Cooperation, Non Aligned Movement foot foot nonsense! Remove Mugabe and build a proper democracy, or divide Zimbabwe and give some pieces to Botswana, South Africa and Mozambique! What a useless country!

  9. Get away from the grievance poor me colonialization culture. All countries or areas in the world were once dominated by someone else. Those who moved forward had an “I can do” attitude. China, Singapore, USA, Canada, etc. What must be done is elect a government that wants to work with others and move forward for the benefit of all Zimbabweans. This doesn’t include the existing Royal family who only blame others.

  10. Yes Ethiopian is running by autocrats, they do a lot of good things for Ethiopia, building a lot of dams and Addis Ababa is change for good, I left Ethiopia 15 years ago to the USA and I could not be able to recognize the City, it is amazing but the fact is the Ethiopian government is too coward and they scared the people and they are African worst tribal regime ever exist in African history but a lot of you did not know that.

    And after they did all these good things they do not trust the people, they transfer their bad tribal system to other African country like Somalia South Sudan and etc, they did not have a good human values without tribal tag, they are 5% of the population and they have no ear to hear, they can not listen the mind and the heart of Ethiopians. so Ethiopian reject them and they ruled Ethiopians by force

  11. I wonder if the writer of the article is aware that according the United Nations Development Program’s 2013 human development index, Ethiopia ranks 173rd whereas Zimbabwe is much better as it’s 156th!!

  12. This commentary is totally inaccurate and misleading. The writer tries to present as if Ethiopia is transformed into a first world country. Rather to the contrary. Ethiopia is still one of the dirt poor countries on the continent. As an Ethiopian, I can tell you the level of human rights abuse in the country is a 100 times worse than that of Mengistu era. We are being ruled by a bunch of thugs who refused to share power for a quarter of a century. Now you praise them because they built a stupid rail network in a country that is dominated by apartheid style one tribe control? Give me a break. You said Ethiopia was uncolonized….well, right now I feel like I am colonized by a minority ethnic group. They kill anyone who challenges their choke on power. And yes elections work for a better governance.

    1. Thomas Abas…….You are right, Ethiopia is still dirt poor, we are being run by a bunch of thugs who do refuse to share power. Yet how can you say human rights abuse are 100 times worse?! Did you live in Ethiopia during Mengistu? I am appalled at your comparison between EPRDF and Mengistu. In the Ethiopia of 2014 do you see people killed hanging on light posts as you walk through the city? Do you see government forces randomly raiding universities and high schools arresting anyone who just ‘looks’ suspicious? Do you see the government going to Oromos and Somalis on the street saying your people are trying to destroy the country like Mengistu said regarding Tigray’s and Amharas? Do you see a government withholding food development programs from the most vulnerable? Do you see the government forcing everyone to convene regularly to shout for joy for the leader as they did for Mengistu? EPRDF is scared that if another party comes to power it will go back to repression and non development. Unfortunately the opposition is a joke. If we had a unified opposition united on all aspects facing the government than we might have some success. But its just a bunch of splinter groups each organizing their own protests without consulting other opposition groups.

      NEVER can you say that EPRDF is worse than mengistu. even though they deny free press, they still build infrastructure and have cut the poverty rate by 50%. Mengistu left Ethiopia in a mess and we are fixing it but we cant fix everything at once because its useless to have democracy without having three meals a day. EPRDF is much better than Mengistu. If you want a taste of mengistu go to Eritrea .. Be appreciative of what we have now…democracy will come its a process. Democracy only works effectively in developed countries.

  13. Zimbabweans dont look at us. Aim a bit higher. We are mired in dictatorship.

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