Ethiopia is a fascinating location for this year’s regional World Economic Forum on Africa, not least because of the nation’s recent amazing progress, and the remaining challenges it faces. In many ways, both of these contrasts are symptomatic of the whole continent.
Firstly, the progress. Seeing it is remarkable, especially for those in the West who are wedded to images of the famines of the 1980s. Ethiopian progress defies the stereotypes. Rapid economic growth, halved poverty rates, rapidly reduced rates of infant, under-five and malaria mortality and increased education enrolment rates are breathtaking developments in pure human terms. Indeed, the sheer scale and statistics of such huge achievements often squeeze out the human stories at the heart of this success. Think of all these minds that are now nourished with food and intellectual fuel. We can see a nation and continent increasingly ready to transform and take off.
However, the challenges are equally immense. The population has doubled in recent decades and will do so again in the next 10 years – 30% still live in extreme poverty and many are facing chronic food insecurity. While Ethiopia’s leadership has delivered on development in many ways, it has yet to deliver on democracy. How will rising youth unemployment, combined with rising expectations, engage with a government that is reluctant to be open? The travails of bringing mobile telephony to the country are indicative of broader challenges. Access to opportunity is still insufficient for too many of the poorest people, and this is, at least, partially a result of policies that have hindered investment.
The meeting in Addis Ababa is taking place just before the G8 meets in Camp David, with Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi representing his people, and Africa, at both. The team at ONE hopes that he will take two messages from the meeting in Addis to the G8, and then on to the African Union (AU) summit in Malawi: the first is Agriculture and Food Security; and the second is Transparency, especially in the extractives sector.
The G8 is considering a significant expansion in support of African nations’ agricultural investment plans. If such plans are fully funded, we estimate that 50 million people will be lifted out of poverty and hunger, and 15 million will be saved from stunted development. In Ethiopia’s case, this will require US$ 20 billion in investment over the next decade, most of which will be supplied by Ethiopia itself, with 40% needed from donors and investors. Will the G8 agree to fully back such promising plans and, crucially, to galvanize the private sector to invest more? It is essential that this happens, but it is also essential that these investments are transparent and accountable to citizens, so that aid is effective and the threat of “land grabs” is eliminated. Through transparency, the citizens of nations such as Ethiopia can scrutinise and ensure that the real interests of the people come first.
Transparency is also essential in the extraction of oil gas and minerals. Potential oil and gas discoveries in southern Ethiopia could be a great boost to the country’s development. However, if investment and payments are not well governed and transparent, they could fuel corruption and conflict. We know too well how elsewhere in Africa abundant natural resources have been a curse. Equally, we know how resources should, and can, be a blessing when well-managed, such as in Botswana. The G8 must address this particularly significant item, especially as the EU and USA are considering how to implement crucial “Publish What You Pay” transparency legislation in the next few weeks. This legislation will govern how multinational oil and gas and minerals companies operate, especially in resource-rich countries with weak governments.
Perhaps we can see Ethiopia’s development as a bellwether, not only for Africa, but for the whole world. We all must deal with rapid global population increases and surges in material consumption, as the middle classes of emerging and developing nations swell. With the boom in demand for resources, the risk of increasing global resource scarcity heightens the potential for conflict. How we, collectively, manage our precious natural resources, whether non-renewable (such as oil, gas and coal), or potentially renewable (such as our land, forests and water for agriculture), will be the central test of global governance in the coming decades. If well governed, resources will be the key to lifting a billion more people out of extreme poverty, and ensure peace and prosperity for a far greater number well into the 21st century.
Simply put, the issues at stake – this week in Addis, and next week at Camp David for the G8, and next month at the AU Summit in Malawi – are central to our collective common interests. Leaders must not shirk from their responsibilities, and citizens around the world must be active and ensure that their leaders are engaged and act on these important issues.
Jamie Drummond is the Executive Director and Co-Founder, One International
Photo: An aerial view shows the Abay bridge in Gorge, some 200 km (124 miles) north of Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa