Bereket Gebru 04-03-18
I recently read an article entitled: “China helps boost Ethiopia’s economy” by Mark Kapchanga on Global Times website. I had mixed feelings about the article as it sends out ambiguous images of Ethiopia’s rapid economic growth over the last fifteen years. After applauding the rapid turnaround of the country’s fortunes, the writer gives all the credit for that transformation to China. As he so blatantly put “The question to many, however, is how Ethiopia has managed to leapfrog other economic tigers in Africa despite political problems in the recent past. The answer to this question lies in China.”
The writer, described as an economist specializing in China-Africa relations, argues that it is the $12 billion Chinese loan between 2000 and 2014 and other major Chinese investments in Ethiopia that have resulted in the tremendous changes in the country over the past fifteen years. The dams, roads, railways, factories and other major Chinese loans and investments in Ethiopia’s infrastructure are depicted by the writer as an account of China single handedly pulling Ethiopia out of poverty.
It does not take an economist to figure out that development is a function of numerous factors. It is the product of policies, implementation strategies, public participation, regional and international opportunities and challenges, etc. It is the change in policies and approach to the problems of the country that should be considered the reason for the immense change. Considering all these policies and changes in approach are designed and implemented in Ethiopia, it is unprofessional to conclude that the answer to its rapid economic growth is in China.
I’m not being conservative about the writer’s expression. For someone who claims to be an economist specializing in China-Africa relations, the article is just a hasty generalization based on a few raw data. The level of analysis that is expected with such a title is generally non-existent as the writer cites some major Chinese investments in the country and hands all the credit to Ethiopia’s development to those investments.
The reality, however, is that China has become a major investment partner to Ethiopia. Through the years of Ethiopia’s rapid economic growth, China has been a vital source of finance, investment and technology. The flow of investment from China has also soared over the stated time although the whole leather and textile sector growth could not be attributed to Chinese investments.
For all the initiative western countries take to criticize recent Chinese engagement with Africa, they have refrained from investing in Africa. Rather than considering Africa as a trading partner, they have adopted an aid driven policy that fails to address the fundamental problems of finance, investment, technology and human development. They generally take African countries as having irresponsible governments and ignorant people. What follows from such an outlook is that these countries are not worthy of the abundant resources they sit on. As ‘noble’ human beings, though, westerners don’t want to sit back and watch as Africans suffer from poverty and hunger. Therefore, they provide Africans with food, medicine and firearms to help them fight hunger, disease and dictatorial regimes. In return, they might just trouble themselves with some of the resources Africans are not worthy of anyway.
After the long, destructive, genocidal and racist period of colonialism, western powers have still not come to accept Africans as their equals. Either it is that or their interests would not be served best if they dealt with them as partners. After all, a lot has been said about the politics and debt of aid.
Some scholars call the period after decolonization of states as the period of economic colonialism. The period is also not going to end soon as the pressure from the international monetary forces is increasingly pushing poor states like those of Africa against the wall. The sovereignty of states is trumped on regularly by more powerful states and Multi National Corporations (MNCs) these days.
As most of the other African countries, Ethiopia sought to find alternative sources of finance and investment. Although the world economy generally hangs on the conventional source of finance in the west, finding an alternative could provide states with a much needed breathing place away from the debt associated political, economic and social bullying of the west. The amount of finance and investment they provide is also not at the level poor countries like Ethiopia demand to implement the wide ranging policies they design to change existing conditions.
With the formulation of five year plans that seek to reduce poverty and transform the economy, large investments in expanding infrastructure were taken as the corner stone of the march to development. In circumstances where human labor could be used primarily to build these infrastructural projects, such as rural roads, the local community was mobilized in the implementation process. However, large capital intensive infrastructural programs need huge funds that cannot be made available by the state.
Accordingly, Ethiopia found the alternative it was looking for in China. For its part, China was looking to expand its influence in the African continent and that created an opportunity for both parties to pursue their interests together. As it has proved to be, the engagement of the two has been important in Ethiopia’s rapid economic growth. However, finance is just not as important a resource in development if the enabling environments are not there by the government and the people. The finance could have been misused and there could have been another option. The investment platform in Ethiopia is also as narrow as the writer described it to be. Turkish, Indian and European investments are growing by the day. Ethiopia currently draws investment from all around the world.
By focusing only on the Chinese finance and investment section of Ethiopia’s development, the article belittles the fight of Ethiopians to escape poverty and march on the road to prosperity. As the African novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie so eloquently put in her Ted talk speech on the danger of a single story, the China-Africa relations ‘expert’ failed to see beyond China when an African country achieved the fastest economic growth rate in the world.