By Dula Abdu
July 16, 2019
When my wife decided to go to Ethiopia with our three kids to see their grandparents despite my reservation, I decided to go on a vacation somewhere else too. I flew to Cuba with my oldest daughter. While I was in Cuba I felt at peace with no fear or concern for our safety, on the other hand, I was worried about the safety of my family in Ethiopia and the safety of the Ethiopian people as a whole.
I had mixed feelings about Cuba which could be described as a fascination for its revolutionary spirit but disdain for its failure to adopt like the Chinese or Vietnamese to usher a vibrant mixed economy.
Unlike many places that I visited, I found the Cuban people especially in Havana color-blind and respectful of foreigners and each other regardless of color or sex. You see women walking by themselves the dead of night without fear despite the absence of police like other major cities. Street after street I saw Cuban kids; black, mulattos and white playing like any kids with no inkling about their color or gender.
Whether you go to the beaches, parks, clubs or other places the idea that someone is paying attention to you about your pigmentation or gender seems to disappear because you just become a human being. Of course, as a tourist, you have to be careful not to be taken advantage of by taxis or anyone else. Nonetheless, you have no fear of being robbed or attacked.
One of my biggest disappointments when visiting Ethiopia last August was traffic pollution and potholes. In Cuba, the roads are wide, clean and I did not see one pothole during my range of travel, which included both cities and the countryside like valley of Viñales. One of the reasons for the smooth traffic could be linked to government control of imports and exorbitant tariffs. This is despite the fact that one of the dreams of many Cubans is to own a car.
Cuba like Ethiopia is a resource poor country, despite that you don’t see homeless Cuban, beggars, and I am told by many Cubans that no one in Cuba goes to bed hungry.
Despite many interesting aspects about Cuba, its telecom system is terrible and the economy is stagnant instead of growing given Cuba’s highly educated workforce. You see elaborate and eye-catching mansions, buildings and homes unkempt but still being occupied. Just a nice paint or selling some of them to private owners will bring them alive. Since they are government owned it takes a long, long time to address such neglect.
Cuba’s free healthcare and free education system have created an equal and intelligent society. What Cuba needs to do is unleash its massive human capital without destroying its almost color-blind society and highly egalitarian system.
For countries in Africa, they should look to Cuba to embody the mantra of live and let live and coexistence while creating a level playing field for their citizens under a benign free market system.
Despite the history of master and slave legacy, the white, blacks and the mulatto communities in Cuba have integrated to form a cohesive society. They regard the Cuban nationality as their citizenry and don’t identify as ethnic groups.
In Ethiopia, the road that Dr. Abiy chose is the correct way. Partial privatization and lessening ethnic animosity or differences, that was magnified and exploited by TPLF will bring peace economic growth, and prosperity at last. Leveling the playing field for all Ethiopians regardless of their religion or ethnicity and respecting individual rights is the only path to peace. It also shows that with the right leadership it is possible to overcome ethnic, economic and other challenges and create a peaceful and sustainable economy for all citizens.
Despite Cuba’s some shortcomings, it is wonderful that there is a place that you don’t have to look over your shoulder because of your ethnicity or gender. I hope Ethiopia will move towards an ethnic-blind society while firing its economic engines to address years of economic malaise and neglect to transform itself as leading technological and economic power in Africa. Ethiopians should strive to lift the stigma of being known as a country of famine, displacement and ethnic conflicts. Without a doubt, Ethiopia’s failure to build a democratic institution will be catastrophic to all ethnic groups, both small and large. The world is eager to see the cradle of mankind ascend to the mecca of democracy. To get there, Ethiopians should listen to peace makers instead of prophets of hate and ethnic agitators if they want to survive and thrive.
Dula Abdu is a retired banker and economist residing in Texas.
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