Remarks By H


Remarks By H.E Prime Minister Meles  Zenawi of Ethiopia


September 5, 2000-  Harvard University-Cambridge, MA U.S.A.

Mr. Chairman,

Ladies and Gentlemen,


Let me start by saying how very pleased I am to be here in this prestigious institution of learning. I wish to express my deep appreciation to the organizers of this occasion for having made it possible for me to share with you a few thoughts on the issue of U.S.-African partnership.


Few would contest the assertion that relations with the United States are most vital for Africa as a whole and for individual African countries. No one can be oblivious of the fact that if there is the requisite desire and political will, the U.S. does have the wherewithal to make a difference in Africa.


It might be argued, and quite plausibly, that since Africa has been seen to have a tendency to shoot itself in the foot and to squander opportunities it has had, there is no point for the U.S., or for others, to try to make a difference in Africa. However, no matter the temptation many might have for subscribing to this argument, this level of pessimism about Africa is not justified. Africa's wounds are not always self-inflicted. Nor have there been sustained efforts made by Africa's partners, including by the United States, to make a difference in Africa to justify the undue frustration over Africa's failure and over Africa's inability to show progress.


The best place to start, would thus be where U.S. engagement with developing countries has been most successful in transforming these countries politically, economically and socially. Taiwan and South Korea are two such places. In the 1950's the two countries were perceived to be basket-cases. Many African countries had higher per-capita income than both countries. We all know where they are now. Obviously, all the credit cannot go to the U.S. Clearly too, everything that the U.S. did in these countries is not repeatable or may not be worthy of emulation. But I don't believe that there can be any doubt about the fact that these two countries would not have transformed themselves so successfully without U.S. partnership and assistance.  


I don't believe it can be questioned that some of the policies pursued by United States in its engagement with these two countries were central to the success story.


The exigencies of the cold-war convinced the U.S. that these two countries were of vital interest to it. The U.S. was thus fully committed to ensuring that these countries became successful, economically, politically and militarily. The U.S. appeared to have been prepared to do whatever it took to make a success of engagement with the two countries.


The defense and security umbrella that the U.S. provided was clearly part of the package, but that could only go so far. The U.S. had to try to understand the two countries, identify what needed to be done to secure and transform them, and to go all the way to implement the necessary measures. The land-reform measures that the United States pushed through in those countries in the late forties and early fifties, despite the resistance of key constituencies in both countries, is a case point. The enormous amounts of money spent by the U.S. to build the economic and social infrastructure in hese countries is another case in point. The U.S. went further and gave these countries non-reciprocal access to its markets, encouraged U.S. firms to invest in these countries, and allowed them to pursue highly interventionist industrial policies. In some instances, U.S. consultancy firms were contracted to develop such industrial policies. Economic orthodoxy was not allowed to stand on the way of success. Textile and other interests in the U.S. were not also allowed to be obstacles to success. The U.S. was ready and able to go all the way to help these countries become bastions of free-market economy in the region.


The experience that Africans have had with the U.S. is different, and continues to be in sharp contrast to the experiences that South-Korea and Taiwan have had.


To its credit, the Clinton Administration has endeavored to reinvigorate U.S. Partnership with Africa, out of conviction that Africa has relevance to wider U.S. security interests. But, though this was welcomed by many in Africa, it could not provide the necessary boost for a new departure because there is still no broad consensus in the U.S. on Africa's importance to the U.S. and hence on the need for strong partnership based not on philanthropy, but on the pursuit of vital interests beneficial to both sides in the partnership. Related to this, and perhaps as a reflection of the absence in the U.S. of a broad consensus on real and effective partnership with Africa, there is a hardly any effort made to craft U.S. policy towards Africa based on a real understanding of the nature and challenges of African societies. Perhaps the desire to understand grows out of a sufficient commitment to help.


 Mr. Chairman

 Ladies and Gentlemen,


In my view, there are two features that broadly define African societies which are shared by overwhelming majority of African countries. The first distinguishing mark of African societies, and which in my view is most critical for understanding our dilemma, is related to the fact that our economics are what economists call rent-seeking economies. Rentseeking in our economies is not a more or less important phenomenon as would be the case in most economies. It is the center piece of our economies. It is what defines and characterizes our economic life. This has had enormous implications, not only for our economic prospects, but also for our capacity to address the so many political challenges we face.


Thus, the fact that African economies are characterized not by value-creation but by rent allocation, has encouraged zero-sum approaches to conflict resolution and even to democracy. In a situation where value-maximization is deemed to have little prospect, the rent-seeking approach has left little room for a win-win scenario, either in politics or in the economic domain.


The other important feature of African societies is that they are extremely diverse. Ethnic, religious and other sources of diversity are the hall-marks of African societies.


In light of this, the challenge for Africa today is to carry out a fundamental transformation of its economy and politics from a rent-seeking zero-sum game one to a value-creating and diversity-accommodating system. It is also when U.S. partnership with Africa is based on a clear-cut and deep understanding of this African reality, and on a deeper commitment to Africa's fundamental transformation, that the U.S. can be a vital force for such transformation.


Despite the deeper commitment shown by the current administration to Africa, and the various positive steps taken in this direction, I believe U.S. policy towards Africa is still far from being based on consensus on the importance of Africa to the U.S., and on a thorough understanding of African realities and challenges. Hence, in a variety of areas, U.S. efforts in Africa have not succeeded to produce results commensurate with the capacity that the U.S. has to make a real difference in Africa. Only few examples would suffice.


With respect to conflict resolution, the level of U.S. commitment to, and understanding of Africa, has had many unintended consequences of a negative nature. While the U.S. has been committed enough to pressurize those that are amenable to such pressure, it has nonetheless been not committed enough to go all the way to ensure that ll actors play by the same internationally accepted norms and principles. This allows the Foday Sankohs of Africa to have a field day. Responsive and responsible governments are prevailed upon to accommodate the thugs because the thugs have no sense of responsibility and are not responsive enough to the measures entailed by the limited commitment and understanding of Africa on which U.S. policy is based. Long-term peace and stability in Africa can only be endangered by such an approach.


The effort being made by the U.S. to encourage democratic governance has fared no better. The laudable pursuit of democratization of Africa that the U.S.has sought to promote has failed to appreciate and address the fundamental challenges that democracy in Africa faces. Democracy is viewed not in the context of fundamental; transformation of the politics and economics of African societies, but as a set of simple responses to the U.S. stimuli. Under these circumstances, a long-term and sustained engagement becomes next to impossible. The superficial changes initiated in this spirit cannot be sustained because they become a form of playing the zero-sum game of a rent-seeking society, rather than an instrument of its transformation.


The process of economic reform in Africa faces similar challenges. Economic orthodoxy of a neo-liberal kind which has to a large extent been imposed on African economies has failed to elicit the required supply response and economic transformation. The liberalization measures carried out have not been specifically tailor-made to transform African economies from rent-seeking to value creation. As such what they have succeeded in doing so far is to modify the forms of the rent-seeking activities and to replace some of the beneficiaries of such activities by others.


The contrast with South Korea is very instructive. Korea in the 1950's in many ways could also be described as a rent-seeking society. However, the reform measures of the 1960's that put South Korea on a completely different trajectory were very different from the policies promoted in Africa. Here again, one has to recognize that positive changes have been introduced in the World Bank in the context of the so-called Comprehensive Development Framework. It remains to be seen what level of support such a potentially helpful approach will garner from the U>S. and others.


In light of this, it is difficult to resist arriving at the conclusion that it is the combination of the lack of deep understanding of African societies and the absence of an overriding U.S. commitment to the transformation of Africa---capacities that were readily available in the experience that the U.S. has had with South Korea and Taiwan---that explains the fact that the U.S. has had little opportunity for utilizing the real capacity it commands for making a real difference in Africa.


We hope this will change. But a meaningful change in this regard will require a far more broader definition of U.S. security interests in Africa and further deepening and building upon the relatively stronger commitment to engagement with Africa pursued by the current Administration. This could also be assisted by what the World Bank is seeking to explore at present. The efforts by the Bank to promote what is called a Comprehensive Development Framework, if pursued with greater seriousness and built upon, could contribute to making a difference in Africa. One can only hope that this is possible.


This is not a plea for the U.S. and the World Bank to solve all of Africa's problems. They cannot do that even if they wanted to. It is for Africa's leaders and people to create the environment in which U.S. partnership can bear fruit and be effective. This is rather an appeal for the U.S. to provide such support and partnership in instances where the African leaders and people concerned have created the environment for the success of such partnership. It is a call for the U.S. to be prepared to go all they way, and not allow economic and other orthodoxies to stand on the way of the transformation of Africa.


The starting point for all this, however, is the presence in the U.S. of the required level of broad consensus for a strong and robust American commitment to Africa and to partnership with African nations. It is my hope that it will not be too long before we see such U.S. engagement in Africa.


I Thank You.