Monday, 11 November 2013

Ethiopia’s slow but steady march forward

By LEE MWITI | Thursday, November 7  2013 at  10:53
While all the focus has been on the billion-dollar mega projects such as the Grand Renaissance dam and other big-dollar infrastructure projects, it is a tour of Addis Ababa that shows just how much Ethiopia is on the move.
The entire capital city feels like one giant construction site, from skyscrapers steadily darkening the skyline to numerous luxury hotels and the ubiquitous Chinese swarming all over vital city arteries.
Addis Ababa’s real estate sector is booming—one of the more reliable indicators of strong economic growth in a country. The Horn of Africa country has consistently chalked up double-digit growth in recent years, but economists have warned that the benefits will take a bit longer to be felt by the majority of the 78 million inhabitants who live below the poverty line.
It is however misleading to suggest the country’s growth is ordered. Some wag once said a country’s observance of traffic rules is as good an indicator as any of the state of the national psyche. In this regard Ethiopia’s drivers resemble kamikaze pilots.
But the scale of the economic activity is only in keeping with its national Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) launched three years ago. This plan outlines a target of creating three million new job opportunities by 2025 and is the reference point for all the economic buzz being felt.
Clever move
The country is also considering a debut Eurobond issue to fund the infrastructure surge, even as it comes under criticism for its reluctance to open up its much coveted financial and
telecommunications sector to outside employers.
These, it says, are funding all the growth projects. It is all in keeping with the theme that Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn has no intention of deviating from the path trodden by his predecessor Meles Zenawi.
Indeed nothing appears to have changed in Ethiopian political life since the transition. The more things change the more they remain the same, Ethiopians I interacted with say, after a shrug.
Despite taking a barrage of criticism from rights groups, there is much to be admired in Ethiopia’s resilience in the face of the sustained campaign. It even managed to pull off a clever move by allowing the leaders of Africa’s independent media to hold their annual high-profile get-together in the capital, in what detractors have equated to hiding in plain sight.
"No one has been convicted because of the speech they made or the article they have written," PM Hailemariam said recently. "Democracy is a process ... and Ethiopia is on the right track building a democratic culture."
Underneath the controversy, the message in Ethiopia’s command economy is clear: Growth at all cost. And as long as the ordinary Ethiopian is well-fed, such criticism from outside flies over their head.
Indeed, it has even had the unintended but welcome effect of inspiring zealous patriotism as a sense of near- siege is created.
And as the building boom heaves and strains, and the drills bore in grating dissonance, one thing is undisputed: Nothing will stop the proud country from its determined march forward.