Globalization and Ethiopia

By Dr. Andargachew Tiruneh


I would like to start by apologizing for choosing a topic other than war at a time when Ethiopia is engaged in the biggest

international armed conflict of its kind at present with Eritrea and when patriots are sacrificing their lives. On the other hand,

however, Ethiopia seems to be condemned to perpetual internal and external wars and there will not be a chance to consider other topics if we have to wait until peace arrives.


The destiny of states is said to be determined by internal and external factors. In my view, the modern Ethiopian elite has focused on the internal factors to the exclusion of the international. Let us take the important question of Ethiopia's economic development as an illustration.


Economic development has eluded Ethiopia for a long time. In the 17th century, the Gondar Kingdom was exposed to external

architecture resulting in the construction of durable castles, churches, bridges and houses. These constructions have since been

reduced to ruin and, on the whole, the people have reverted to their age-old huts made from twigs and mud. Again, Ethiopia was exposed to the West at about the same time as Japan ( in the second half of the 19th century). Whereas Japan subsequently caught up with the West and even surged ahead of it, Ethiopia is still in its medieval state as far as regards its industrial and agricultural know-how.


One possible internal factor which explains this lag in development is the nature of the state and it is on that variable that the

Ethiopian modern elite has laid emphasis. Starting from the 1920s, it has blamed feudalism as having retarded productivity and

condemned the region of Haile-Selassie for failing to take effective land reform measures. Starting from the 1960s, it advocated and struggled for a communist take-over of power which it achieved under the leadership of Mengistu. The new government was criticized by various sections of the elite excluded from power for being antithetical to development. Those on the right attributed this to the communist nature of the government, while those on the left, to the assertion that it was not sufficiently communist enough. The present government is accused of being partial to a particular region and, therefore, prejudicial to development at least as regards the rest of the country.


That the state should sponsor economic development is a very modern idea promoted in particular by the ex-communist countries which in any case made a mess of it. Industrialization, which took place in the


West, was not state-Sponsored. There, it was private individuals, not state employees nor government bodies, that made the

various inventions and converted them into steam and other energy engines, electricity, steel and the like. There is, therefore, room to argue that development is normally achieved by society independently of the state. In fact, the current trend everywhere in the world is that the economy should be left to market forces and that the state should limit itself to maintaining law and order. This trend is catching up with Ethiopia where the government is busy adopting deregulation measures concerning the various economic sectors except for land.


This takes us to the other internal factors which may explain the lag in Ethiopia's economic development, namely, the quality of the people, their culture and their institutions. For example, the protestant work ethics is said to have been achieved in the West as long ago as the Reformation. In Ethiopia, however, one of its dominatent institutions (the Orthodox church) still prohibits work on most days of the month in hour of one saint/angle or another. Moreover, the peoples of the country have abdicated responsibility for their fate to God and other forms of super-natural powers such as Satan, Zars, trees The people, believe that their poverty, their health, their future and all the calamities that befall them are the will of providence and that, therefore, they cannot do much about them. Such medieval attitudes are bound to have some determinant effect on the people's inventiveness and on their ability to build industries and to curtail the effects of natural disasters.


Besides these internal factors, there are external ones which explain the lag in Ethiopia's economic development. About a hundred years ago, the population of the country was about 10 million whereas now it is almost 60 million. In large measure, the increase in population can be attributed to the intervention of Western medicine: antibiotics, inoculations and control of epidemic diseases. These were made available by the west through aid via international organizations like WHO and also through purchases.


Population explosion on its own results in the decline of the people's standard of living when it is not matched by an equivalent

increase in production. What is more, it creates pressure on the environment: in the over explorations of the land for farming and forests for fuel. Finally, this leads to desertification: the destraction of forests and the degradation of the soil.


Desertification has a tendency to perpetuate itself. Lack of forests means loss of moisture from the atmosphere and, hence, a

decline in rainfall. Lack of vegetation to cover the land also means the exposure of the soil to erosion and, hence, to further



Other external factors which contributes to environmental damage are global warming and over-use of chemicals for such

activities as agriculture. The West in particular uses a large amount of fossil fuels and chemicals which pollute the atmosphere and poison water systems as well as well as land. The damage to the echo-system from these activities is not limited to regions which produce it but affects the entire world.


The increase in the recurrence of Ethiopia's cyclical drought and famine can be traced to western medicine, global warming and

over exploitation of chemicals. External factors such as these can affect the destiny of states and their peoples to no less extent

than internal ones: consequently, we can ignore them at our peril. Globalization is the debate on the shape that external factors

have been taking in the last few decades. The importance of taking part in the discourse o globalization lies in understanding

contemporary world affairs which affect us all deeply.


( To be Continued Next Week)