VOLA: Ethiopia, a Classic Case of Growth without Development – Alex Njeru Ndungu


Of all contemporary statecraft in the world today, one state continues to defy all logic and conventional wisdom.  Ethiopia the 85 million people horn of Africa behemoth of a state continues to baffle all that care to throw more than a superficial glance at its modern day realities.  Ethiopia is surprisingly one of the most insular states in the world today. 

Ethiopian economic growth stands at 11% one of the few countries in the world in this harsh economic climate to grow its economy in double digits figures. Doubts though do exist, as to the authenticity of the growth figures coming from Ethiopia with the World Bank and the IMF quoting her economic growth rate at a conservative 7%.  At the recent inauguration of the new government in Kenya, the Deputy President, William Ruto alluded to the fact that indeed Ethiopia, worked to serve as an exemple into how African countries can grow their economies.  Ethiopia’s economic growth though has its own peculiarities. Economic growth in Ethiopia is not anchored on extractive industries as in the case of Angola, and neither is it based on the development and expansion of the service industry like Rwanda, albeit the Ethiopian government gone on an appeasement spree in a bid to court multi-national horticultural farmers stationed in Kenya.  So much so that today Ethiopia is a net exporter of flowers.

Unfortunately though this is where the plaudits stop, for Ethiopia is a society replete with inner and inconceivable contradictions. It is a society struggling to break away from the yokes of feudalism and for all the pillorying that colonialism receives around the continent we must be appreciative of the fact that had Ethiopia been colonized it would have dealt with inhibitive feudal production and other repressive social formations by now. Of course others might argue that there are no landlords in Ethiopia but it was worth of note that the State in Ethiopia is the Supreme landlord.

Although the Ethiopian government welcomes foreign investments, labour restrictions leave little room for entrepreneurial maneuverability. Government policy ensures that multi-nationals employ locals however scanty their skill sets and experience may be.  As commentators have observed in the past, the foreign investor is welcomed and abhorred in equal measure in the Abyssinian state.

Perhaps more worrying, especially for human rights activists is that the Economic growth in Ethiopia has heralded or entrenched the growth of ‘unfreedoms‘ in Ethiopian society. Civil liberties like the right to assemble, right to free speech, and other fundamental freedoms are repressed to near oblivion.  As a matter of fact the digital/social media revolution rocking the rest of the world are passing Ethiopia. Some other time I tried hitting up my former college mate who’d travelled to Ethiopia on skype, he was really apprehensive because the Derg was cognizant to the fact that social media tools like twitter and Facebook can be used as revolutionary flare points.

The Civil Society Movement is also constrained in Ethiopia, apparently a law called the Charities and Societies Proclamation Law prohibits civil societies that get more than 10% of their funding from active engagement in select human right issues. This enfeebles the very effort that is supposed to extricate Ethiopia’s people from social economic repression.  

In light of all these can we truly and honestly say that Ethiopia is developing? Does Ethiopia merit being included in the so-called ‘new Lions’ of Africa?  Or is Ethiopia the perfect crucible within which ‘growth without development’ can be examined.  Whether Ethiopia looks, left right or centre is irrelevant, whether she chooses the state-centrist approach to development is of little consequence either, for as long as the people within Ethiopia continue to suffer under the yokes of near slavery by their government Ethiopia will, shall not be considered a developmental state, notwithstanding state benevolence.

For a paradigm shift needs to come from within Ethiopia, a paradigm shift that places, people and their freedoms at the fore of all development endeavors.  People, governments, policy makers must begin to realize that it is indeed fashionable to conceive development as the ‘development of freedoms and repression of unfreedoms. Amartya Sen was right you know! There can be no development without freedom.

Alex Njeru Ndungu wrote in from Kenya. Alex is a regular contributor to the AfricanLiberty.org Voice of Liberty, Africa project

Alex writes there is more to Ethiopia than meets the eye