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Why Vietnam Developing & Ethiopia Has Not: A Rejoinder to Aklog Birara’s Article

Vietnam _ Ethiopia _ Comparison
The author (file_

Yonas Biru, PhD

I read Aklog’s article titled “What Do Ethiopia and Vietnam Have in Common” with interest. The purpose of my brief rejoinder is to highlight two points that are not adequately addressed in Aklog’s piece: Culture and International Relations. Aklog has touched upon both issues, but I believe they require more attention because they are integral parts of the foundational elements of Vietnam’s development. 

Aklog chose Vietnam as a comparator country stating: “like Ethiopia, Vietnam [] possesses long and rich civilization, traditions, culture, and other tangible and intangible assets that are under-reported and under-appreciated in the Western world and are threatened by external influences.”

The statement that Vietnam’s traditions, cultures, and other tangible and intangible assets are threatened by external influence is a flawed perspective. Nearly two years ago, I wrote a 15-page article titled “Cultural Enigma in Development Dynamics: Ethiopia & Iran Vs. China & Japan.” 

The purpose of the article was to show Vietnam, China, and Japan registered impressive and transformative economic development for two reasons: Their focus on cultural renovation and their positive attitude towards the West, particularly the US. They did not see the West as a threat. They embraced it. Japan, China, and Vietnam understood old traditions and cultures are drag to economic transformation and developed cultural transformation policies. In Ethiopia talking about cultural innovation is seen both as blasphemy and treason.

Japan’s economic transformation started with the Meiji restoration period. Meiji restoration had two pillars: Eradicating their old and backward cultures and embracing modernization (read westernization). The phrase Japan “left Asia and entered Europe” became part of the restoration’s lexicon. The Meiji restoration period “created a British-style navy, French-style bureaucracy and established a Prussian-style constitution.” During this period, Japan witnessed a time not only of scientific, political, and economic innovation, but also of cultural rejuvenation. 

Japan’s transformation has enormous influence over China’s development. Under Mao Zedong’s successor, Deng Xiaoping acknowledged that at the root of China’s failure “was not merely a loss of faith in communism but a loss of faith in Chinese culture and tradition as well.” 

Meng ushered in a two-pronged economic development strategy: “Reform and Opening-up.” Both components were bold in their call for a paradigm shift. The reform component required bidding farewell to the Mao-era mindset of internal self-reliance and the communal system. The opening-up component promoted joining the global economic system. 

Deng was aware that the global economic order was the exclusive domain of capitalism. His visits to Japan, Singapore and other capitalist nations including the US helped him to see the economic miracle of capitalism. Deng made a strategic choice, stating: “As we look back, we find that all of those countries that were with the United States have been rich, whereas all of those against the United States have remained poor. We shall be with the United States.” The rest is history. It is only after 40 years of unprecedented development China started to challenge the West.

Vietnam’s progress mirror’s those of Japan’s and China’s.  Their economic development strategy was pursued in parallel with cultural innovation strategy. Successive Vietnamese governments made deliberate efforts to transform the nation’s culture in tandem with the nation’s economic transformation. New cultural values were encouraged as a matter of policy “in accordance with the development trend and the international integration of the country.”

What separates Japan, China, and Vietnam on one side and Ethiopia on the other side? There are two factors. First, the trio የጃጀ ባህል አቅፎ የኢኮኖሚ እድገት እና ሞደርናይዜሽን እንደሌለ ተገንዘበው የጃጀ ባህላቸውን እንደ አረጀ ካልሲ አውልቀው በመጣላቸው ነው. Ethiopians would rather die with their የጃጀ ባህል. 

Second, Japan, China and Vietnam have a profound understanding of geopolitics and geo-economics. Both have managed to develop deep economic and political ties with the US. And the successes of their economic development have a lot to do with it. 

The US has attacked Japan with two nuclear bombs and has done unimaginable harm to Vietnam during the Vietnamese war. Yet, the two nations have opened new diplomatic chapters and developed a healthy diplomatic relationship with the US. On the other hand, Ethiopians still use a 50-year-old alleged (never proven) statement that Secretary Kissinger made about Ethiopia as evidence that the US is Ethiopia’s permanent enemy. 

As Aklog rightly stated, “ordinary Vietnamese no longer hold animosity or grudges against the American people. Ethiopians may learn from this phenomenon that you cannot develop your society by holding grudges.” 

But grudge is the badge of honor for the hermitized intellectual colony. We cannot cure ourselves from it until we are ready to free our culture from the chains of centuries past and bring it up to date to the 21st century.

One line that stopped me cold in Aklog’s piece is “Ethiopia deserves international attention before it falls apart completely and irreversibly.” 

Before I recover from it, Aklog followed the line with the following. “On their part, the country’s quarreling elites and the Ethiopian people must set aside minor differences, come together, and overhaul the oppressive system that keeps them divided, suspicious of one another, poor and dependent on foreign aid to survive.” 

How fast have we come from the #NoMore philosophy of do not get involved in our affairs to please save us from ourselves before our country “falls apart completely and irreversibly.” 

I agree that the international community is Ethiopia’s only hope. If we recognize this, our journey must start from changing our narrative about the international community. Otherwise ዛሬ “#NoMore” ነገ “#YesMore” ከነገ ወዲያ “#BRICS” ከዛ ወዲያ “#BRICS” ain’t got shit እያልን የhermitized ህይወታችንን እንገፋለን
ሳላውቅ በስተት ወይም በከንቱ ንዝህላልነት KaTefahu YiQrta 

Editor’s note : Views in the article do not necessarily reflect the views of


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