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HomeOpinionThe US-Africa Leaders’ Summit: Is Ethiopia Ready for Such an Opportunity?

The US-Africa Leaders’ Summit: Is Ethiopia Ready for Such an Opportunity?

Yonas Biru, PhD 

President Biden is hosting the US-Africa Leaders’ Summit in Washington, December 13-15, 2022. The State Department Website presents the preamble of the summit’s communiqué as such: 

“The Summit will demonstrate the United States’ enduring commitment to Africa and will underscore the importance of U.S.-Africa relations and increased cooperation on shared global priorities. Africa will shape the future — not just the future of the African people, but of the world. Africa will make the difference in tackling the most urgent challenges and seizing the opportunities we all face.” 

The website itemizes Seven Priority Items for the Summit: Foster new economic engagement; Advance peace, security, and good governance; Reinforce commitment to democracy, human rights, and civil society; work collaboratively to strengthen regional and global health security; promote food security; respond to the climate crisis; and amplify diaspora ties. 

These are all good. The question is: What are Africa’s priority agenda items? Are  the African’s  coming with a common agenda or basically listen to what the US has to offer? Let us for now forget the Africa part and focus on Ethiopia. 

As  I  have  noted  in  numerous  articles,  since 2018, there have been important geopolitical transformations that have made Africa’s economic development a strategic imperative for the West. The watershed points for the strategic shift on Africa were President Trump’s (1) US Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development (BUILD) Act enacted in 2018, and (2) New Africa Strategy developed in the same year. 

The Trump administration officially declared “lasting stability, prosperity, independence, and security on the African continent are in the national security interest of the United States.” The European Union followed suit with a Comprehensive Strategy with Africa with the aim to achieve an “enhanced cooperation on global and multilateral affairs.” 

Consequently, the US and EU new Africa strategy triggered fundamental changes in the international development aid modality, requiring international agencies such as the World Bank and IMF to align their work programs with the US and EU policies.

Ethiopia, a strategic geopolitical anchor for the Horn of Africa took center stage in the US and EU Africa strategies. Not surprisingly,  the World Bank and IMF expanded their loans and grants to Ethiopia to an unprecedented level. In 2019, they pledged $9 billion to help finance PM Abiy’s economic reforms. In March 2020, the US committed additional $5 billion investment through its newly created International Development Finance Corporation (IDFC) that was established by the BUILD Act. 

In early 2021, Ethiopia sought international debt relief under the G20 joint debt restructuring framework. It was one of the only three African countries that were selected for debt restructuring, among Zambia and Chad. Since the PM came to office, Ethiopia has been by far the number one aid recipient. 

The rapid globalization, the immigration crisis, Africa’s unsustainable population explosion, ballooning youth unemployment, protracted poverty (extreme poverty in Africa is nine times the average for the rest of the world), and the continent’s lackluster economic prospect are creating a  potential ground zero for terrorist recruitment, not to mention an exodus of refugees of biblical proportion. 

Add to this Africa’s unsustainable urbanization rate. Africa is projected to have the fastest urban growth rate in the world. According to the African Development Bank, “urbanization in Africa has largely been translated into rising slum establishments, where sanitation are inadequate” In sub Saharan Africa, 71.8% of urban dwellers live in slums, the highest proportion in the world. Consequently, the potential for a pandemic is a ticking timebomb, as population explosion growth and urbanization interact with extreme poverty in sprawling slums. 

According to the IMF, owing to the ravages of COVID, the median global GDP dropped by 3.9% from 2019 to 2020, making it the worst economic downturn since the great depression. 

For reasons noted above, the world is increasingly seeing Africa as a vector of threat to global economic order and security. Africa’s development is not only the West’s strategic imperative, but also a priority of first order. 

Why the only the West, but not China and Russia? China and Russia are the least affected by global immigration and terrorism. When it comes to crisis in Africa, China and Russia are missing in action. China’s annual contribution to Africa’s health aid is estimated to be $150 million. By

comparison, the US invested over $100 billion in public health in Africa over a span of 20 years or an average of $5 billion per annum. 

To give a more specific example, China’s contribution during the 2014 Ebola crisis was $47 million (1.3 percent of the total global support). Compare this to the United States’ 1.8 billion dollars, almost half of the total, or the UK’s 364 million dollars. During the current COVID-19 pandemic, China is the only member of the G-20 countries that remains reluctant to bear its fair share of global obligation, especially considering that it was the source of the pandemic. 

What Should Ethiopias Strategy be to Leverage the New Development Paradigm?  

On June 16, 2018, I wrote an open letter to PM Abiy underscoring his administration should proactively leverage Ethiopia’s aggressive development agenda and position its strategic development framework at the nexus of the emerging global geopolitics and the ensuing international development policy. I stressed further that he needed to make Ethiopia an active international development aid seeker, not a passive recipient of it. The international community is readily and excitedly available for such a partnership. They want a success story to replicate across Africa. Therefore, positioning Ethiopia to such a global play should be Ethiopia’s priority. 

In September 2018, Professor Lemma Weldesenbet and I recommended establishing an Independent Economic Advisory Council to help the PM formulate an economic vision and strategy, taking the evolving geopolitical and geoeconomic landscapes into consideration. More than two years later, in December 2020, the PM established the Council. I was privileged to be appointed as one of the 15 members of the Council and served as its interim chair for a brief period until my resignation. Nearly two years after its establishment, neither the PM nor his Macroeconomic team has met with the Council. For all practical purposes, the Council is a cross between a sitting duck and  the resurrection of the classic Ethiopian novel “አልሞትኩም ብየ አልዋሽም.” 

Evidently, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the PM has neither interest nor intention to seek council and advice from reputable and globally recognized subject matter experts. Sadly, when it comes to expertise and international repute, his cabinet leaves much to be desired, to put it generously. 

When the PM’s administration developed Ethiopia’s so-called ሃገር በቀል economic plan, no effort was made to seek input from the Economic Council some of whose members are internationally acclaimed leaders in their field. Instead, it sought help from the IMF. An IMF staff was stationed in

Ethiopia to serve as an advisor and help draft the economic plan. The falsely named ሃገር በቀል plan is neither ሃገር በቀል nor bold enough to capitalize on Ethiopia’s strategic geopolitical importance. 

Anyone who believes Ethiopia’s economic plan is bold and concomitant with the nation’s strategic geopolitical importance neither knows geopolitics nor deserves to be anywhere close to developing an economic plan. 

In May 2020, I had an opportunity to talk to PM Abiy by phone. During our brief conversation, I brought to his attention that the Trump administration has put a policy in place to “rip global supply chains from China.” I also let him know that India’s Prime Minister Modi had established a committee that was chaired by him to take advantage of Trump’s policy and make India “the global nerve center of multinational supply chains in the post-Covid-19 world.” 

I added to note that countries such as Vietnam and Indonesia were following India’s steps. I kindly asked the PM to set up such a committee, consisting of three domestic and three diaspora experts chaired by him. I offered my service if needed to be a part of the Committee to develop a strategy to put Ethiopia on the map in the new supply chain landscape. Nothing came out of the proposal. 

In the meantime, nations such as India, Indonesia, and Vietnam are making the best use of the opportunity that greater diversification and the shifting of the global supply chains entailed as Western multinational enterprises decided to shift their supply chains away from China. 

Global newspapers are heralding headlines such as “India Looks to Lure More Than 1,000 U.S. Companies Out of China”; “How India can seize the global supply chain opportunity in the post COVID-19 era”; “Vietnam emerges as focus of Japan’s post-pandemic supply chain diversification”; and “With effort, Indonesia can emerge from the COVID-19 crisis stronger.” 

The supply chain shift is not happening by happenstance or accident. These nations are busy lobbying the US government and courting and offering incentives to multinational corporations. For example, a report titled “Indian Lobbying and Its Influence in US Decision Making” highlighted India’s effort “to shift toward a focus on economic partnerships in the post-Cold War era.” The report took note of the role Indian Americans play in the effort. 

By comparison, the Ethiopian intellectual class at home and in the diaspora is bracketed and confined between two extremist views. On the right, the ሙአዝ enthrones that against all odds Ethiopia will build itself using stones that outsiders throw at her. On the left, Professor AL Mariam claims

American politicians and lawmakers are “doggedly committed to destroying Ethiopia.” He believes  they want “to avenge the humiliating and devastating double loss of a white army in Africa in recorded history.” 

In the intellectual barren land bracketed between the ሙአዝ and the nutty professor exists the clownish #NoMore panorama, እንዘጭ እንቦጭing on the streets of Washington and Brussels with “Down with Imperialism”, and “Down with Neo-Colonialism” slogans. Their domestic counterparts follow the same strategy with such slogans as “አንቺ ሳማንታ ፖወር ወዮልሽ አርፈሽ ብትቀመጪ ይሻልሻል”. A diaspora  

even went as far as proposing to burn US flags in front of the US Embassy. አይ ዳያስፖራ! Steps to De-dumbify and De-ደነዝify the Ethiopia Diaspora Colony  

In one of my old articles titled “An Intellectual Culture Unfit for Progress”, I made the case that the Ethiopian intellectual colony both at home and in  the diaspora needs emancipation from cultural backwardness. As intellectuals, we are plenty screwed and pretty doomed. Pedagogically, we stand at par with the world’s best scholars. Culturally and socially, we exist in the bygone’s era of yester century. The tension between the liberating spirit of pedagogy and the gravitational force of backward cultures that resist transformative change often favors the latter. Hence the #NoMore  craze. 

Nations cannot grow without the contributions of its intellectual class as opinion leaders. As opinion leaders, Ethiopian intellectually have failed to sustain our nation much less to lead an Ethiopian renaissance. A first critical step in this journey is pushing back against cacophonous and unruly intellectuals among our ranks and freeing ourselves from the gravitational force of change-resistant cultures. Seasoned and true intellectuals need to build a critical mass to free themselves from their parasitic cousins. That can be the first step towards the emancipation of the intellectual class from backwardness. 

My advice to the Ethiopian diaspora colony is to sit down, shut up, listen, and learn from  India. Since India’s independence, India’s and US’s relationship has been rocky often engaged in diplomatic rows. At some point the row was escalated, leading the US Ambassador in India to resign. The New York Times described the two nations’ diplomatic rows with a fitting tile: “India and the United States: Two Countries That Can’t Live With Each Other or Without Each Other.” 

Currently, the US and India have a strained relationship under US’s pressure over Russia. India stood firm  on  its ground. Its supremely qualified diplomats are engaged in እሰጥ አገባ with US State Department. In the meantime, its economic leaders are working closely with the US Treasury and US multinational corporations to bring more US supply chains to India. Their lobbyists are schmoozing

and hobnobbing with US policy makers to create a cordial environment without surrendering India’s sovereign right to determine its diplomatic and business relationships with Russia. 

This is how complex geopolitical diplomatic differences are dealt with. Your street protests neither serve any meaningful purpose nor fill the  oceanic diplomatic gap created by PM Abiy’s failed geopolitical and diplomatic establishment. You would do your nation and your PM service if you could find it possible to pressure the PM to upgrade his diplomatic establishment, appointing capable officials and hiring lobbying powerhouses. 

Is Ethiopia Ready to Capitalize on the Opportunity the US-Africa Summit Avails?  

The  simple  answer  is  a  resounding  No.  But  given  Ethiopia’s  strategic  geopolitical  importance  the  opportunity is still there. The most relevant question is: What critical steps should the PM take? Three  critical steps stand out as priorities of first order. 

• Overhaul his economic, finance, and foreign affairs establishments.  • Develop a bold economic plan that is concomitant to the nation’s geopolitical importance. • Actively seek the council and advice of reputable experts both inside and outside of the country.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. We I read this part in this well written article by Obbo Dr. Yonas Biru what came out of my mouth was ‘say it again?!’
    ‘Why the only the West, but not China and Russia? China and Russia are the least affected by global immigration and terrorism. When it comes to crisis in Africa, China and Russia are missing in action. China’s annual contribution to Africa’s health aid is estimated to be $150 million. By comparison, the US invested over $100 billion in public health in Africa over a span of 20 years or an average of $5 billion per annum.’ That was what I have been alluding to for quite some time now. Those two bullies in Moscow and Beijing have been doing brisk business with Africa including our own old country by shipping instruments of death and destruction since the independence days of the early 1960’s. The bully in Beijing has another booming lucrative business by offering interest bearing payday loans that would make Johnny Torrio and Al Capone bloody jealous. Just as the finance minister and he will tell how much is the old country on the hook with debts from the commies in Beijing. Africa has missed the boat of industrialized advancement since the heyday of the 1960’s. Now with this scheduled meeting next month the boat will be making another port of call. They should look at the history of South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and even Thailand(I purposely excluded Japan from this list). A typical question I ask has been ‘what happened to Admiral Corp of the 1970’s?’ What happened to the flat panel display invented by RCA? Aha! Those countries are my darling especially Taiwan. They stayed with the West and absorbed every technology available. What was Africa doing? It was busy with its unending coup de etas, fighting each other like rival prides of lionesses and stupid home grown socialisms. Those countries in Asia especially my darling Taiwan built their country attractively and like the enduring adage goes ‘if you build it sooner or later they will come’. Taiwan was a favorite destination for GI during their R&R days throughout the 1960’s and 70’s. When the West noticed the built up industries and came knocking the women started disappearing from bar scenes and brothels and off they went into factories. They continued moving up at the factories. They did not stop there. Ladies I met at the factories as line supervisors in mid 1980’s I met them again as factory owners and brokers in the 1990’s. Such advancement of women in Taiwan is the main factor that put an abrupt kibosh on the then population explosion there without the need of ‘one child one family’ imposed government policy. Some of those successful Taiwanese women are still good friends with me and my wife. When I think about such missed opportunity it left me so incensed. It was all Africa’s fault. All that talk about Western conspiracy was nothing but a cope out, my dog ate my homework’ kind of lame excuses.

    What I want to tell my dear countrymen/women is grab this opportunity and run with it. Do not let it get away from you. Once you build up you country with peace and stability rest assured they will come. There is an ocean of products that will never come back to the USA or its western allies. There will be new products on the horizon that need to be sourced. As always I’m bullish about the future. Good luck and good night!!!

  2. Dr Yonas Biru is getting more and more hysterical, as Ethiopia emerges from a successive wave of western onslaught. It is as if he didn’t wish the country to emerge battered but resilient and unified than ever in the last 50 or so years. Elitist arrogance appears to have blinded him not to see the folly of imagining PM Abiy as a personification of Ethiopia, or the … of his views that the destiny of the nation state depends on a handful of “successful” technocrats like him. He lambasts as extremist everyone who don’t’ share his opinion and analysis. Everyone is dumb, except him and a few elites like him. If his attitude isn’t extremist, I don’t know what is.
    Also why is Dr Yonas resentful of the #NoMore movement? Why is it that elitist technocrats, and pro-ethnonationlist journalists like Tsedale Lemma, et.al. begrudge the movement? Is it because defiance to neo-colonialism, humanitarian imperialism, Western meddling in the global south pose a threat to their career or social standing?
    Dr Yonas paints a rosy picture of the US and the West, and of the international financial institutions which he served for long. He describes how generous they are to Africans, especially Ethiopians; how they are eager to develop our economies. It is almost as if the devastating two years of war in northern Ethiopia didn’t happen, a war in which the west didn’t engage in a relentless concerted attack to bring the country to its knees.
    As he pontificate about PM Abiy for ignoring his advice in 2018, 2020, Ethiopia was fighting for survival on four fronts: a war against western diplomatic, economic and propaganda fronts, and a war against the TPLF, which is also their proxy. Whilst he … the West, it is interesting to observe the disregard he dished out to China & Russia, two of the countries who stood by Ethiopia (along with few others, Eritrea, UAE, Turkey and India). When the West were busy harassing poor Ethiopia with sanction, resolutions, fabricated genocide, propaganda & economic sabotage, it was these few countries who defended the country. Ethiopia is eternally grateful to them. Unlike Dr Yonas, the country is not in the habit of biting hands that feed it.
    Incidentally, while Dr Yonas is excited about pledges of loans and grants amounting to USD 14 billion (money even if it is provided will be used as leverage, while much of it find is way back to sources through corruption, contracts to western companies, etc.). In contrast China signed a USD 5 billion contract to build a five-Star hotel in Addis (on Nov.13 2022) in addition to a contract worth USD 95 million to establish a metals industrial park (on Aug.12, 2022), just to mention two in the last four months. Elites may salivate on western promises of aid and loans (they prosper on them), but for the overwhelming majority of Ethiopians meaningful investment and trade are infinitely preferable.
    Loyal corporation technocrats keep telling us Ethiopia fails without heeding to their discredited neoliberal ideas. Fortunately, the country soldiers on, proving to us they are relics from a bygone era.
    Ethiopia is not in cloud-cuckoo-land, thinking of buzz words like “global supply chains”. It exists in a continent where western corporations along with their neoliberal politicians and technocrats strive to maintain or enhance economic exploitation and political dominance. Realistic Ethiopia is fighting poverty and underdevelopment. Priorities include survival as a nation, which includes ensuring national security, achieving self-sufficiency in food and renewable energy, and bolstering growth in trade with neighbours and friendly nations in the global south.
    Ethiopians are hopeful as the motherland survived the most recent western onslaught with a gun on hand, a plough on the other. If this makes Dr Yonas unhappy, so be it.
    #NoMore

  3. Make that: . Just ask the finance minister and he will tell how much is the old country on the hook with debts from the commies in Beijing.

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