by Paolo Inturri
Contributing Writer & Section Editor
Based on an Interview conducted by Pieter Jespers from Veto
After a period of decolonization from Italy, Ethiopia is strengthening in an attempt to impose itself as an economic power both in Africa and worldwide. In order to do so the former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi came up with the idea of a developmental state. In an interview conducted by Pieter Jespers from Veto, Grum Abay, the Ethiopian ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg and E.U. explains this concept: “A poor country like Ethiopia first has to develop its economy. […] In a nutshell, the developmental state means that the government will be the major investor in the economy for a certain period of time but paving the way for the private sector to take over in the economy of the country”. Basically, the economic and political view of a developmental state is the one adopted by all European countries after WWII, a form of policy that Ethiopia couldn’t adopt back then due to political instability and colonization. However, this system may present some contraindications: antidemocratic developments and social inequity.
As a matter of fact, Abay says that not only they “failed in creating jobs for the youth”, but also that “the developmental state project […] has ended now, because it was not able to produce what it was supposed to produce at the end of the day, both politically speaking and economically speaking. That is why now we are in a reform mode…”.
“One has to see things in context, you cannot expect - and this is my personal opinion - that a country like Ethiopia that used to use its anti-terrorism law to imprison journalists, to persecute and harass political opponents, changes instantly.”
Despite the difficulties, Ethiopia is looking forward to the goals set in the project “Africa 2063” established by the African Union, which deals with several topics such as security, economic, sustainable development, social emancipation, gender equality, climate change and clean energy.
Abay already perceives the first fruits of this project: “Why are the Chinese and others coming? They see the market. They see the possibility of a growing consumer market. People have money now; they can buy. That's why economic integration, peace and security, political stability are critically important…”. China isn’t the only country which foresees a potential in Africa: “The European Union” continues Abay “as a continental Union would like to continue its engagement with African countries not leaving behind bilateral relations, but a continent to continent relation with Africa.”
Despite existing good relationships (especially in the area of security, which is directly financed by the E.U.) there is a great difference between the two continents: immigration.
Therefore, Abay explains the African perspective on the topic: “…how many Europeans understand that it's only 6% of Africans illegally emigrating to Europe? 6% percent. I personally don't understand why it's a big deal…” continues Abay “There's much more migration within Africa itself. […] The figures show clearly that it should not be a major issue in our dealings with Europe. Because we are not the ones that are contributing for 70% or more of migrants here. Those are other countries.”
Only time will tell us whether Ethiopia may reach its goals. What it is important to understand now is that Ethiopia’s situation is very complex, as is the case for many other countries, and it can only be understood by foreigners through learning from those who live within the country. This is why the role of ambassador Grum Abay is important in broadening the views people here in Europe might have about Ethiopia.
Transcript of Selected Questions from the Interview
“What would you advise KU Leuven students who want to study in Ethiopia?”
“Enjoy their time. I mean the Ethiopians are - and I keep repeating this - we are a very old people you know? For us, a guest is a guest. Europe has lost that tradition. The West has become selfish, in many ways. It's only you, it's your life, it's your car, it's your house. It's you. But what about your neighbor?”
“We have a saying: "When your neighbor’s house is burning, you better help him by dowsing it with water." Because tomorrow your house will be burning and if you haven't helped him, he will not help you. Ethiopia is more of a community. It's a mentality an idea of 'we are all one people'.”
“Selfish tendencies, individualistic tendencies, of course they're cropping up now, with money coming in, but basically, especially when you go to a farmer's house in the countryside and he knows that you are a guest, or a passer-by and you ask if you can stay at his house for the night, he will leave his bed for you. And he will sleep on the floor. He will leave his bed for you!”
“But you know, they can just enjoy the country, people are nice (laughs).”
“How is it possible that Meles Zenawi, the PM from 1995-2012, was loved by the people, despite the many infractions on human rights during his reign?”
“Meles Zenawi was, in my own personal opinion, a very intellectually astute person. He had a very great intellect. And, I think he was also one of the greatest political strategists that Ethiopia has ever seen. That's not easy. For a country like Ethiopia with more than seventy various ethnic groups, different types of political goals, needs, aspirations, it's not easy.”
“So you have to know how to navigate these various interests, how to coalesce them without jeopardizing on the one hand, the stability of the country, at the same time the continued economic development of the country. It's not easy.”
“[Meles Zenawi] came up with this idea of a Developmental state. What is developmental state?”
“It basically means: A poor country like Ethiopia first has to develop its economy. In developing its economy, the government or the state will interfere in those major strategic economic sectors, to build a critical mass that could serve as a basis for industrialization, improved output in agriculture, avail the necessary infrastructure. The basis for investment. The basis for energy generation. In a nutshell, the developmental state means that the government will be the major investor in the economy for a certain period of time, but paving the way for the private sector to take over in the economy of the country.”
“Through public investments it will be creating the conditions for an economic environment conducive for the economy to continue to grow. Also creating jobs for the youth. We failed in creating jobs for the youth. The economy had grown in leaps and bounds. But we were not in a position, for all the investments that the government made, all the investment that we had from outside, we were not able to create the jobs that were needed for the multitude of young people, that were seeking jobs.”
“That on top of the absence of political liberties. Actions that were against respect for human rights. Other actions, corrupt actions within governmental institutions and state apparatus, political and religious persecutions. On top of the economic problems, on top of the jobless youth; You add this and it became a powder cake. It became a Tinderbox. It became explosive.” “So we knew that whatever the developmental state project has provided Ethiopia with, it has ended now, because it was not able to produce what it was supposed to produce at the end of the day, both politically speaking and economically speaking. That is why now we are in a reform mode, in trying to maintain what we have had through the developmental state system and build on that, minus its excesses.”