It is Cool to be an Ethiopian

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By Ezana Sehay
March 14, 2013

It wasn’t long ago when foreign observers, especially the western media – playing to pre-existing perceptions – run issues that feature unflattering and sometimes semi-satirical images of Ethiopia. To a certain extent, making fun of Ethiopia became part of their pastime, At times doubted our ability to solve our problems.

Well, today, no one is laughing at this ancient and proud nation – especially the western media – and certainly no one would accuse Prime Minister Hailemariam’s government of ineptness. To the contrary, Ethiopia’s trajectory of economic development and social security is being considered as a model of efficiency.

As economic confidence in the west plunges and the European financial sector fiasco edges toward catastrophe, many experts in the west and the economic powers of Asia are starting to praise Ethiopia as an attractive investment destination and a beacon for sound development policy and good governess.

In other words, despite Europe’s dystopia decay status, America’s ailing economy, Middle East’s turmoil, Ethiopia’s prospect looks brilliant. Its books look better; its economy, which has a strong and deeper agricultural base, is now diversifying and striding along, stocked by expanding infrastructure investment. The country’s annual growth rate, for the last ten years, has been double that of the continental [Africa] average and is considered one of the top five global performers.

Meanwhile, surprising articles are being written, noting that Ethiopia is emerging as the go-to destination for those looking for solid investment opportunities. As a result foreign direct investment [FDI] to the country has shown a dramatic surge.

What is most surprising about all the plaudits is that much of them are coming from the heretofore most critical corners – particularly from Europe and the US, print medias, who at one time, as I mentioned aforesaid, run editorials suggesting that Ethiopia was “ incorrigible”.

Prestigious print Medias like the Economist, are now postulating that, Ethiopia has the potential to replicate the economic miracles of the Asian tigers and china: dubbing it as one of the African lions – a generic term attributed to the fast growing African countries.

African governments are also looking to Ethiopia for ideas. A consensus is emerging in the continent, that Ethiopia is handling the headwinds created by the global economic down turn better than any other African country, and African leaders have been particularly impressed with the EPRDF’s macroeconomic policies.

Who can blame them? A brief visit to the country and one can see the country’s prosperous veneer. Recently, when one of the delegates to the annual meeting of Africa’s heads of states, was asked to comment about the country’s economic progress, he stated: “It doesn’t need any more explanation, it’s self-evident. Look at Addis half of it looks like a vast construction site”. He then motions to walk away from the reporter, but suddenly, stops and turns to the reporter and says “all we [other African leaders] want to know is how they [Ethiopian leaders] do it?”

Another group of Ethiopia’s admirers are the international regimes [organizations], such as the UN and World Bank. Everything from our public health to education policy is being promoted by these organizations as a good example that should be emulated by other developing countries.

And why not? All empirical data indicate, in the last nine years, infant and child mortality is down by over half. The country is nearing universal primary education coverage; health care accessibility is above 80%. Ethiopians living below the poverty line has shown a dramatic decline- from 50% in 2004 to 29% in 2011. And, Ethiopia is one of the very few countries that are expected to achieve all the millennium development goals.

This doesn’t mean we don’t have detractors though. There are, and – as you might have guessed – come from the west, whose remedy to African problems is usually as bad as the malady.

These critics, while acknowledging the remarkable progress the country has registered, raise concern; such as the economy being” over-regulated”. But the government of Ethiopia has consistently defended its managed capitalism or the safe route of balanced approach, as the best alternative to the risk prone unregulated [laissez-faire] economy.

When situation warrants it, the government would spend on, shovel-ready projects, where people can be employed immediately. It also recognizes as long as the reasons for stimulus are temporary, so should stimulus be too. Such combination of highly accommodative fiscal policy, monetary policy, and a resilient consumer has given the country one of the best performing economies in the world.

A quick pat on the back is more than deserved, and we should give credit to the EPRDF government for its sound economic policies that have led us to this status. But we shouldn’t get caught up in self-congratulation either.

Keep in mind it wasn’t long ago that we were battling the brain drain [which is now showing signs of reversal].

Never the less, We obviously have many challenges ahead of us, but let this international admiration remind us that things in Ethiopia are going pretty well – though we have to work hard to hold on to our status as an enviable economy. That status is, for lack of better term, worth something.