In the last decade, Ethiopia, the second most populated nation in Africa with over 100 million people, has become a leader in economic growth. This is the result of the leadership’s commitment to the continuation of the previous government’s developmental state model, which directed public credit to finance vital infrastructure projects. Now, under new leadership, innovative initiatives are being launched to sustain and expand Ethiopia’s progress.
On September 9, 2019, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed unveiled his nation’s “Homegrown Economic Reform Agenda” (Homegrown Reform) at the United Nations Conference Center in Addis Ababa. Its primary goal is to expand the nation’s economic capabilities, and create employment opportunities for millions of unemployed youth. Addressing the audience, Prime Minister Abiy said: “The Reform Agenda is our pro-job, pro-growth, and pro-inclusivity pathway to prosperity.” To achieve these objectives, this new initiative proposes to entice private investment in the following sectors; agriculture, manufacturing, mining, tourism, and Information and Communication Technology- (ICT). Key goals of the agenda’s macroeconomic reforms are, curbing inflation that is averaging over 15% in the last four years, increasing foreign currency, improving access to finance, and debt sustainability.
Home Grown Initiative
The Homegrown Reform Agenda is not meant to be a replacement for Ethiopia’s Growth Transformation Plans II (GTP II), which covers the period, from 2014-2019.
Ethiopia, aims over the next three years, to attract $6 billion in new soft loans and $4 billion in debt reduction from multilateral and bilateral institutions to alleviate the country’s financial constraints. According Fitsum Arega, Ethiopia’s ambassador to the United States, “many industries are operating below capacity for lack of foreign currency to pay for imports.”
For Ethiopia to advance to the next stage of development certain imbalances and bottlenecks in the economy have to be corrected, which the Homegrown Agenda intends to accomplish through macro and fiscal reforms. The number one constraint to growth cited by manufacturing firms, is the shortage of foreign exchange. Access to financing, inefficiency in government, and insufficient infrastructure are also leading constraints to doing business in Ethiopia. In an effort to address these limitations, the Homegrown Reform intends to shift from relying exclusively on public sector investment, which has led to a rise in Ethiopia’s debt, to promoting private sector financing.
Another area of concern for the government is relying on inefficient state-owned firms. A case in point is the military-run industrial conglomerate METEC, which is being investigated for corruption and suspicion of misappropriating public funds.
To complement the new reforms, it is recommended that the government make additional efforts to; discipline public expenditures, attract remittances through legal channels, and end contraband.
Ethiopia On The Road of Progress
The following indicators of economic growth are reported in A Homegrown Reform Agenda: Pathway to Prosperity power-point. From 2004 to 2015, Ethiopia succeeded in reducing the percentage of people living in poverty-$1.90 per day or less- from 39% to 24%. From 2004 to 2018 per capita income grew from $200 per day to over $800. During that same time frame, child mortality (under age 5) decreased from 123 to 55 per 1000 live births, and life expectancy increased from 56 years to 66. And from 2005 to 2016 the percentage of the population with access to electricity rose from 14% to 43%–a 300% increase.
Ethiopia aspires to reach the status of a “lower middle income” nation by 2025. This is an ambitious goal that will require; raising yearly per capita income from its levels of $856 to $2,219, reducing poverty from 27.3 % of the population to 13.8%, and increasing access to electricity to 86% of its citizens. For Ethiopia to achieve its objective in the next five years, it needs to mechanize its agriculture sector to be more productive and less labor intensive, and increase manufactured exports five-fold.
Ethiopia’s Job Offensive
Simultaneously, Ethiopia’s leadership is tackling the critical issue of unemployment, especially for the growing number of college educated youth, who are seeking jobs and upward mobility. Ethiopia’s Jobs Creation Commission-(JCC) announced on October 30, a bold plan to create 14 million jobs by 2025, and a total of 20 million new jobs by 2030. This will provide employment opportunities for millions of new entrants into their labor force. The government intends to create 3 million jobs in the budget year that began this July.
In partnership with the JCC, Mastercard Foundation presented its Young Africa Works Initiative–committing $300 million to assist in this job creation program. Their focus will be generating new employment opportunities in the ICT and Small Medium Enterprises-(SME) sectors. According to the JCC website: “The Young Africa Works in Ethiopia is an initiative that will enable 10 million young people to access dignified and fulfilling work by 2030…It was designed in partnership with the government, the private sector, academic institutions, and young people and; is currently aligned with the Ethiopian government’s plan to create new jobs to spur economic growth.”
Economics and the Nation State
Ethiopia’s economy has been growing at a faster rate than other sub-Saharan nations. However, its prolific university system is graduating more young people than Ethiopia’s economy can employ. Simply put: despite the progress that Ethiopia has accomplished in reducing poverty and building physical infrastructure; the economy is not growing at a level fast enough to accommodate its large and expanding population.
Frustration over the slower than desired rate of development is being expressed by various elements of society. Economic well-being is a substantial motivation that underlies the anger by ethnic movements at those in power. Ethnic groups believe it is necessary to have “their leaders” in charge, in order to ensure a bigger slice of the “economic pie.” People, who judge that they are being economically neglected or marginalized can become desperate, and thus susceptible to being manipulated and aroused to take action against their own government.
To avoid such instigated conflicts, the only real and lasting solution is to create a “bigger economic pie” that equally satisfies the needs of all people regardless of geographical region or ethnicity. It is the unique responsibility, nay obligation, of the nation state to provide for the “general welfare” of its people and their posterity, as beautifully articulated in the preamble to the US Constitution. The nation state transcends (not negates) regionalism, ethnicity, and religion. Its primary concern is the continued existence of a single sovereign Ethiopian nation with one integrated and unified people.
The government is responsible for ensuring that every Ethiopian has the necessities of food and shelter, and the opportunity for a meaningful life for oneself and one’s progeny. Deliberating on the best pathway to achieve these goals is the responsibility of every citizen. It is in the self interest of all Ethiopians to collaborate in securing a prosperous future for their nation.
Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa with thirty years of experience in Africa promoting infrastructure development policies.