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Fighting against poverty: lessons from Ethiopia (Part 1)

Publishing Date : 10 July, 2017

Ndulamo Anthony Morima

From 21st to 22nd June 2017 I joined delegates from China and Africa at the African Union (AU) headquarters in Ethiopia, Addis Ababa for the Africa-China High-Level Dialogue and Think Tank forum under the theme ‘fighting against poverty for common prosperity.’

The forum was organized by the AU Leadership Academy and The Institute of African Studies of Zhejiang Normal University of China. The forum, which was chaired by the Deputy Chairperson of the AU Commission, H.E Mr. Kwesi Quartey, was graced by the Chinese Foreign Minister, H.E. Mr. Wang Yi, and Chairperson of the AU Commission, H.E Mr. Moussa Faki Mahamat.

Unfortunately, as I was planning to share the lessons from the forum with my readers our nation lost one of our country’s founding fathers, Sir Ketumile Masire. Rightly so, the subject of this series was shelved while we mourned the passing of the Democrat. In this multi-part series we learn lessons from Ethiopia. This week we learn lessons from Dr. Arkebe Oqubay, the Inter-ministerial Coordinator to the Office of the Prime Minister of Ethiopia.


These invaluable lessons, inspired by the Chinese President Xi Jinping’s book ‘Up and Out of Poverty’ are on Ethiopia’s poverty reduction efforts, especially through its industrialization policy. In the main, Dr. Oqubay’s lessons are discussed in his book ‘Made in Africa.’ He argues that Africa needs to have vibrant industrial policy in order to transform its resources based economy to the industry-led one and to ensure sustainable development at the same time.


According to Dr. Oqubay, for Africa to emerge out of poverty she needs to invest heavily in Agriculture. It is partly though Agriculture, he said, that 718 million people have been pulled out of poverty in China since 1978. In his view, for Africa to win the war against poverty she needs to fight the poverty mentality. According to him, it is this poverty mentality which makes Africans less productive and reliant on foreign donations and aid. 


Starting from a poverty background, he argues, should not determine a person’s destiny because like the Chinese President Xi Jinping argues in his book ‘Up and Out of Poverty’ “a weak hatchling bird can be the first to fly”. Likewise, a poor person who works hard to break the cycle of poverty can be the first to attain wealth. Poor countries which industrialize their economies and develop industrial parks for instance can attain economic prosperity for all and relieve their people from the bondage of poverty.


In his view, for poverty to be eradicated or at least minimized it has to be fought over many generations. Not only that. The fight against poverty has to be as much relentless as it is targeted. It is only if we fight poverty to that extent that we will attain common prosperity for all. Dr. Oqubay, a former mayor of Addis Ababa and an internationally acclaimed author, argued that to eradicate poverty African countries need to develop industrial policies which focus on such core sectors as Agriculture, and the leather and horticulture industries.


He emphasized the centrality of science and technology in development, arguing that African governments should not regard investment as a relief, but should rather invest where there is a multiplier effect so that as many people as possible are uplifted from poverty. Borrowing from Xi Jinping’s mantra that ‘we must advocate an economic chorus’, Dr. Oqubay implores us, Africans, to pursue economic development like one singing a chorus. In Xi Jinping’s own words “... to sing in unison, a choir must focus on the theme and the rhythm. The same is true of economic work...”


Xi continues to say “... If every entity only stresses the importance of its own work, each following its own score and singing a different tune, the performance will inevitably fail. So, we must advocate an “economic chorus...” Therefore, according to Dr. Oqubay, for Africa to prevail against poverty she needs coordinated and organic development; she needs economic interventions that argument one another; her development interventions need to be in tandem with one another.


It is not only working in unison though that is requisite for poverty eradication. Persistence too is required. Once more Dr. Oqubay borrowed from president Xi’s words of wisdom-‘water droplets drilling through rock.’ Rock and water, president Xi says, are two opposing elements that are used to symbolize dogged stubbornness and gentle fluidity. Yet, despite being “gentle”, water will drill through “solid” rock over time.


In order to eradicate poverty and achieve prosperity for all, Dr. Oqubay contends, Africans have to work persistently in such sectors as Agriculture, Tourism and industry. Ethiopia, for example, persistently focused on such industries as leather and horticulture to turn around its economy. According to Dr. Oqubay it is not only economic growth that Africa requires to eradicate poverty. She also requires clean leadership as well as ethical leadership guided by integrity.  What Africa does not need are opinionated leaders drunk with political ideologies.


Africa, like president Xi contends, needs pragmatic leaders who always keep the people in mind; and seize new opportunities. She needs countries with proficient officials who work for the interests of the people. For us to eradicate poverty we need to open up the economy; sustainably exploit our natural resources for the benefit of our people; and develop new economic resources. We need to strengthen the great unity of all ethnic groups.


Dr. Oqubay agrees with president Xi that we can break the shackles of poverty if we work towards intellectual and cultural progress in impoverished arears of our countries. In his view, as is president Xi’s, if we enhance our strengths on the front line we can eliminate poverty.


This we can do by improving our education system, and, I would add, teaching education with production instead of mere theory without practice as is the case with most educational curricula in Africa. We need what president Xi calls paving the path to ‘Big Agriculture’ and building collective economic strength in townships and villages to alleviate poverty.


In the coming articles in this series we become practical in our discussion of how Africa in general and Botswana in particular can fight against poverty for common prosperity. We share lessons from such renowned scholars as Mr. Chen Zhigang, Dr. Newai Gabreal, Mr. Zhou Yuxiao, Mr. El-Hadj Bash and Mr. Li Dan. Without being prescriptive, we conclude the series by identifying the lessons we can use to enhance Botswana’s Poverty Eradication Strategy and the fight against poverty in general. We also share Botswana’s poverty reduction success story with the world.   

Ndulamo Anthony Morima



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