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Fighting against poverty: lessons from Ethiopia (Part II)

Publishing Date : 01 August, 2017

Ndulamo Anthony Morima

Two weeks ago I started what I promised would be a multi-part series on the lessons from the Africa-China High-Level Dialogue and Think Tank forum held in Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, from 21st to 22nd June 2017 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. In part 1, we shared lessons from Dr. Arkebe Oqubay, the Inter-ministerial Coordinator to the Office of the Prime Minister of Ethiopia. As shown in the article, the lessons, mainly from his book ‘Made in Africa’, were inspired by the Chinese President Xi Jinping’s book ‘Up and Out of Poverty’.

I promised that in forthcoming articles we will share lessons from such renowned scholars as Mr. Chen Zhigang, Dr. Newai Gabreal, Mr. Zhou Yuxiao, Mr. El-Hadj Bash and Mr. Li Dan. Unfortunately the series was disrupted by the attention that had to be given to the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) following its tumultuous Bobonong congress. This week we share lessons from Dr. Newai Gabreal, former Economic Advisor to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia. Dr. Gabreal, Director of Ethiopian Development Research Institute, presented a paper titled: The Experience of Developing State in Ethiopia: Lessons for the Continent & Beyond.     

Dr. Gabreal’s treatise was based on a triad of rhetoric questions which, for the purposes of this article, I will refer to as the Gabreal triad. The first question he asked was: ‘Is the experience of the developmental state unique to North-East Asian countries’? He wondered whether it is these countries’ cultural back ground which has made them reduce poverty levels to the extent they have. Prima facie, the question appears to be a nugatory since it suggests that some people’s cultures have such inherent defects as to predispose them to poverty.

He further posited whether it is the countries’ historical back ground that has made them attain such impressive levels of development. Is it possible, he posited, that the war between the United States of America and Japan, for example, made the Japanese people more industrious and enterprising? The second leg of the Gabreal triad was the question: ‘what are the essential characteristics of the developmental state?’ In his view one such characteristic is division of labour between the state and private sector.

In this realm, he argues, the state defines the direction of labour while the private sector implements developmental programmes. This, in his view, is a combination of socialism and capitalism. Though he did not expressly say that, he seemed to suggest, albeit in undertones, that these two political ideologies, which have divided the world, are not necessarily irreconcilable, but can augment each other for the good of humanity. Could it, therefore, be that one reason for the success of the economies of the North-East Asian countries is that they do not restrict themselves to one political ideology, say capitalism as in Botswana’s case?

Is it not incontrovertible that no political system is perfect? Is it not instructive that instead of limiting itself to capitalism the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) could at least borrow some socialist ideas if that would advance the developmental state it seeks to achieve? After all, the ordinary person in the street does not really care about political ideologies. All Batswana need is a decent life. Government should, therefore, fight against poverty for common prosperity without the limitation of a political ideology.  

Still under the second leg, Dr. Gabreal argues that it is possible that one of the essential characteristics of the developmental state is the zeal to catch up with economically advanced countries. Countries with such enthusiasm strive to be owners of technology. Not only that. They also strive to grow industry and transfer technology. Perhaps this is what Botswana should seek to achieve. The question is: are such institutions as Botswana Innovation Hub and Botswana Institute of Technology, Research & Innovation assisting Botswana in that regard?

Does Botswana, for instance, have an Industrialization Policy? Is the Industrialization Policy, if any, in tandem with the National Poverty Reduction Strategy? Does our development focus on core sectors of the economy? Is science and technology central to our development programme? Gabreal also seems to suggest that one of the essential characteristics of the developmental state is efficient leadership. He posed piercing questions: ‘in Ethiopia it is not efficient leadership, but then what?’ Almost in an attempt to negate his question he further quizzed: ‘It is not authoritarian leadership, but then what’?

In my view, the other essential characteristic of the developmental state is hard work. Some call it smart work. There is a widely held view that people from North-East Asian countries are hard workers.  On the contrary, Batswana, for example, are said to be lazy. Could this be true? Can hard work and laziness be part of a people’s culture?  The third leg of the Gabreal triad was the question: ‘Are these characteristics replicable’? Put differently, can the essential characteristics of the developmental state discussed above be replicated in other countries?

Using the Ethiopian experience Dr. Gabreal argued that they are indeed replicable though they have to be relevant to a particular environment. According to him, instead of going the industrialization route as the North-East Asian countries did, Ethiopia opted for Agriculture. So did Botswana though Agriculture’s contribution to her Gross Domestic Product (GDP) remains inexplicably low. While some blame poor rains for this, others blame the state sponsored Agricultural programmes for being based on a hand out model rather than an entrepreneurial model.

The other mistake that government has made is to regard Agriculture as a relief and not an investment. In several Agricultural programmes, Government has, therefore, failed to follow the cardinal rule that one should invest where there is a multiplier effect. Also, they argue that though Agriculture can really thrive in rural areas, most rural areas lack such facilities as electricity and good roads that could attract business oriented farmers and youthful farmers to rural areas. Yet some blame the ‘resource curse’, arguing that it is because of the abundance of minerals, especially diamonds, that Botswana became too comfortable and failed to industrialize her economy in a diversified manner.

Back to Gabreal’s primal question: Is the experience of the developmental state unique to North-East Asian countries? In my view, it is not. Baring such things as corruption and poor governance the experience can be replicated in all countries of the world, including Botswana.



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