Monday, January 31

Blog Roundup

Socialism in an Age of Waiting quotes Bronowski on “... where people were turned into numbers”.

Israpundit coordinates 'blogburst' to commemorate the liberation of Auschwitz.

Foreign Dispatches is our most frequently read blog. Just pick any post.

AdamSmithee, a clear headed economic development blog, on how Small-scale irrigation dams in Ethiopia improve yields and food security, but they also increase the burden of disease.

Booker Rising is a great overall source of news and opinion that has a regular Ayaan Hirsi Ali Roundup, sometimes translated from the original Dutch.

Baldilocks looks at the Super Bowl.

Rambling's Journal on a fake car VW ad.

LaShawn Barber has some thoughts on the Roe v Wade annivesary.

Ambra Nykol will be on the radio and in print.

... and the rest of the Conservative Brotherhood

The hardest working man in blogdom, Chrenkoff adds 'Who's who of Iraqi political parties and lists' to his usual 'Good news from Iraq' series.

Venezuela News And Views on why the US media ignored Chavez's insults toward Condi Rice. More here.

The Volokh Conspiracy on the National Academy of Science report on gun control laws.

The Global Growth Blog on corruption and growth in Kenya.

The Head Heeb is paying attention to the Ethio-Eritrean border issue.

Marmot's Hole on North Korean nukes and Pakistan.

One Free Korea
is angry that China has sent a 72 year-old South Korean prisoner of war back to North Korea after he escaped his fifty-year captivity.

Meskel Square has some interesting thoughts on the rubble index of economic growth. He also wants to know where all the Ethiopian bloggers are.

Amber Henshaw tells of a terrifying ordeal and has a thoughtful slice of life blog out of Addis.

Friends of Ethiopia on the New Federal Laws that Lead to the Arrest of an Ethiopian Torture Suspect in the U.S.

Tezeta which means recollections or nostalgia? in Amharic is a historical / literary blog.

Life in Ethiopia takes an occasional look at a missionary and her experiences.

Michelle Malkin finds yet another columnist on the take.

Ambiguous Adventure a blog on Ideas, Culture and Politics in African Affairs is one of our favorites.

GotDesign, usually about Foreign Policy, the Intelligence Community, General Politics, and Miscellaneous Musings, does a great job of defending Harry Potter from a religious point of view.

Ethan Zuckerman on Keywords, folksonomies and Ghanaian barber shop signs.

Chippla on the problem of Nigeria.

Big Pharaoh on scandal in Egypt.

and some non-blogs

The Monty Python pages are about some of the best humor in human experience, seriously. Fawlty Towers, a short running English comedy about a second rate hotel in England and its psychotic / obsessive / passive-aggressive owner played by John Cleese is brilliant.

Rolls Royce journey through a jet engine.

Army and Air Force

Great Novels of alternate history.

The Mongols in World History.

Art Nouveau from Ethiopia.

Wordcount - tracking the way we use language.

The Man Who Told the Truth.

The history of sanitary sewers.

Friday, January 28

Cargo Cult Economics

21st century cargo cult economic theory joins watered down marxist - leninism among the destructive varieties of magical thinking

In the 19th century and particularly after World War II a series of religious movements appeared in areas of the South Pacific that had experienced often jarring contacts with the West.
Cargo cults are usually revivalist, and in some cases messianic and millenarian, movements found among certain peoples indigenous to Oceania. The word cargo refers to foreign goods possessed by Europeans; cult adherents believe that such goods belong to themselves and that, with the help of ancestral spirits, the goods can be returned to them through magico-religious means. Some cult prophets promise that the arrival of cargo will herald a period of prosperity and well-being.
Essentially, the desired objects, i.e. cargo - included everything from Spam and Coca Cola onto metal tools and textiles - were divorced from the societies and institutions that produced them and were instead seen as the result of rituals. By that faulty logic, building runways complete with life size model airplanes and log control towers along with other detailed re-enactments of the American occupation could entice more cargo planes to land and usher in a future of paradise and plenty.

Of course, natural human logic dictated that the cargo cults faded away while their former members quickly moved on to more fruitful and productive engagement with the modern world that has seen consistent economic growth. To make some real money, many former practitioners revived the rituals and pretended to believe for a time for the sake of tourists (and given the Margaret Mead story, probably some anthropologists as well).

Wikepedia has an introduction to the cults and links to the University of Calgary where there is a detailed historical presentation. Today, the term is used for "studies with all the trappings of real science, but which are nonetheless pseudoscience."

so ...

Ethiopia’s rulers have also mastered just enough of the rituals of prosperous and free societies to hang on to power - fro example, pretending to have a free market and pretending to hold elections. The intended audience for that massive Potemkin village of rituals is not the Ethiopian people, but potential aid donors - the foreigners in their turn pretend to believe that the rituals are meaningful.

So abysmally low are international expectations of Ethiopian governance, that the simple act of not being Mengistu's Dergue is enough to cause considerable international satisfaction and delight with the current state of affairs. Indeed, 70 million Ethiopians are hostages to the willingness of their own rulers to let foreigners help them while they have not been allowed to help themselves.

The rather obvious policies and practices that made the donor countries rich to begin with, that have allowed many others to emulate them and escape seemingly eternal poverty are denied to Ethiopians in the service of their ruler‘s insecurities.

Government is beholden to the archaic and destructive leftovers of revolutionary ideology and laws are based upon the atavistic call of ethnicity and the practice of tribal divide and rule. There are purposeful barriers to external and internal investment. Meanwhile, efforts to develop independent civil society are tenaciously resisted.

These are all ongoing themes for ethiopundit, take a look at the archives on the right sidebar.

Dictated by policy, a situation has been created where aid does not just help but where national survival has become impossible without aid. So aware are the rulers of the harm they are causing that they are unwilling to risk the evolution of a society and economy in which any possible rivals may emerge.

Dynamism of any variety originating from Ethiopians is assumed by her rulers to be dangerous and to be put down. So the only way to even stagger forward is ... more rituals and the dream of more cargo.

Some in donor governments and aid organizations clearly appreciate the degree of pretense but comfort themselves with the hope that some minimal amount of practices conducive to eventual democracy and development are being accepted.

They are wrong. The very credibility of those vital institututions, whose practices are daily subject to pretension, is being destroyed by the feigned participation of all concerned.

The natural intelligence and common sense of millions of weary Ethiopians tells them that ...
... democracy is not an effective one party state that wastes reams of paper every few years in 'elections' to please foreigners.
... freedom doesn't mean peasants are government sharecroppers in a country where all have no basic rights of ownership, public speech and assembly.
... a free market is not a place where the mass of the powerless compete with the actual businesses or allies of an inseperable government and party.

Decades of lies and slogans have made many cynics and current practice is corrosive to every manner of public life. Today's short sighted pretense is stealing from the present and the future.

Ethiopia does not have all the time in the world to get things right.

Ultimately nations are prosperous and free because of political, economic and social INSTITUTIONS supported by rational laws, experience and beliefs. Ritual talk from every variety of international commission and sincere recommendations from a thousand think tanks together with all of their grandiose plans that ignore the development of INSTITUTIONS are worse than nonsense.

Cargo, if it does magically appear in the form of massive foreign aid or a flood of petrodollars is assumed to be better than nothing at all - but it may not be. Anyway, cargo is by definition unsustainable and will be corrupting and harmful if unsupported across the whole spectrum of human development.

Given the opportunity and instituitons that they are denied there is little development that Ethiopians could not achieve on their own and no limit to their ability to use aid effectively. We must wonder if more cargo alone will hurt or help.


The Millennial Development Goals (MDG) from the U.N. are self described as
... the opportunity in the coming decade to cut world poverty by half. Billions more people could enjoy the fruits of the global economy. Tens of millions of lives can be saved. The practical solutions exist. The political framework is established. And for the first time, the cost is utterly affordable. Whatever one’s motivation for attacking the crisis of extreme poverty—human rights, religious values, security, fiscal prudence, ideology—the solutions are the same. All that is needed is action.
Sounds great right? At least $100 billion dollars a year just for the MDG! Eventually rich nations are to provide 0.7% of GDP for foreign aid programs - up from 0.15% now in the U.S. For Americans that would mean a total foreign aid budget of well over $80 billion dollars a year.

No one really expects that much to be spent - it is actually just the first bid in the international aid bazaar made of poor countries / international and government aid bureaucracies / NGOs / and weary Western taxpayers. Even the fraction of that amount that appears will matter - as the Congressional saying goes “a billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you’re talking real money.”

One problem for supporters is that there is a huge, and many would argue, very justifiable stockpile of global cynicism about most foreign aid programs of the past half century. This editorial from The New York Times decries such ‘carping’ while nevertheless allowing that the
strongest, and probably most legitimate, critique of approaches that flood poor countries with money is that many of these poor countries are run by corrupt governments that will stash most of the donor money in private Swiss bank accounts. That has certainly proved true in the past, particularly in Africa, where the poor have stayed poor while a succession of despots have run country after country into the ground.

But it is counterproductive to make poor people suffer because they have bad governments. Mr. Sachs says now is the time to try the radically different approach of giving bigger amounts of real, quality aid directly to recipients on the ground.
The MDG approach as interpreted by the Times appears to assume that throwing enough money around will just have to some do good. We will try to see if that is wise in the rest of this series of posts. Then we will vow to write shorter posts for a while.

Monday, January 24

Tsehay and a Roundel History

This is the third in a series of posts about the Ethiopian Air Force. The second described the involvement of two African Americans who either commanded the Air Force or served in it during its early days.

The first described the Potez 25 back in 1933 and one of the first Ethiopian pilots who flew that machine. That plane did not have any of the familiar form of national markings but did have an Imperial Lion painted on the side next to the name of a Prince (?) Makonnen.

This Meindl/van Nes A-VII (M7) (image from Insignia Magazine) is depicted as it was at Jan Meda in Addis Ababa in 1936. It has the green, yellow and red of the national colors painted on the rudder and wings. On the side is written the word Tsehay (Sun) which may be there because it is name of a Princess (?) Tsehay, one of Emperor Haile Sellassie's daughters.

This may be the same plane now in Italy whose return is being campaigned for along with other historical treasures. The new terminal at Addis Ababa / Bole Airport is to be its home after it is returned. Only one of the type was delivered, served from 1935 to 1936 and is described as being locally modified with new engines and wing flaps.

Ethiopian Roundels

The first traditional roundel used by the then Imperial Ethiopian Air Force has rings of green, yellow and red around a yellow six pointed star that seems to be a stylized Star of David. One of the Emperor's titles was 'Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah', in addition the Imperial House traces its origins to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba so that origin for the roundel seems likely.

The older roundel was in use from 1946 and can be seen on this F-86F delivered sometime in the early 1960s.

This MiG-21 depicted during the 1980s has the newer five pointed star roundel that came into use after an undetermined period when no star at all was used.

This site has a page dedicated to the history of Ethiopian roundels and has large stand alone images.


All military aircraft have markings on their sides and wings called roundels that provide for national identification - basically, to make sure who to attack or not. It all began during the first days of the First World War when the primitive planes of the day were used only for reconnaisance and occasional artillery spotting. Far above the trenches in France and Belgium, Allied and German flyers would encounter each other in the air and wave and otherwise behave like the 'gentlemen' they imagined themselves to be.

Rather soon, all concerned realized that they would not return home victorious before Christmas and settled in for the long bloody years ahead. In the air they started shooting at one another first with pistols, then rifles and finally with machine guns strapped to the fuselages of the planes or wielded by gunners.

Propellors got in the way and were at first armored so fire could be directed forward through them and aimed easily. Fokker and then the Allies developed interruptor gear that allowed the machine guns to mechanically coordinate firing with the propellor's spin.

After these and other technological advances such as improved engines, aerial warfare and the fighter plane were born and there has never again been anything genteel about it. Bright roundels and other colorful forms of personal and unit identification stayed on in all Air Forces until the 1980s.

It was then realized that modern infra-red guided 'air to air' (AAM) and 'surface to air' (SAM) missiles were sensitive enough to be guided not only by the hot exhaust of engines and friction heated leading edges of wings, but also by the differential heating and cooling of brightly painted markings to find their targets.

The U.S. began to use muted shades of gray for roundels and camouflage on almost all of its planes but other countries have continued to use large and bright national markings. One reason the U.S. no longer needs them is its likely dominance of any potential aerial combat and the low chance of fighting other American made aircraft. Even more important is the perfection from the 1950s of IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) equipment.

Airplanes that come to the attention of fighters or SAM crews by visual, infra-red or radar means can be electronically interrogated. The plane being tracked automatically responds with coded signals that identify which team they are playing on. This is a similiar technology to the transponders that most commerical aircraft use to identify themselves and their flight path to air traffic controllers.

Of course, military planes are far more choosy about who they respond to ... if it all.

Although there have been instances of 'friendly fire' among American forces in the air, they are very rare. This has not been the case for other nations such as the Arabs during the October War of 1973. A little known aspect of that conflict is the number of Arab fighter aircraft that were lost, not only to the Israeli Air Force but also to Arab SAMs.

As a result, Cairo and Damascus seldom used airplanes in support of ground operations or often avoided the immediate battlefield entirely. Many other countries just don't trust IFF*. The realization that anything electronic can be tricked probably determined overall Arab and Soviet doctrine to accept high levels of fratricide or to avoid having their own planes anywhere near their own SAMs for any reason. Most Soviet designed man-portable SAMs don't appear to have IFF equipment at all.

Most aerial combat today will probably happen at beyond visual ranges and even during close up dogfights when the opponent is in sight, a bright roundel may not be seen. Today, logic, communication and planning should prevent most errors of identification in air to air engagements but IFF will always remain essential for SAM crews.

However, error will always be a part of the horror of war. Ultimately roundels have stuck around because the standard issue human eyeball is the most reliable and error free instrument invented.

Roundels of the World has a clickable map with all the world's current national markings.

Air Vectors has detail on the origins of IFF and additional info here, here and here.

*For a while during the Vietnam War, Americans had equipment that could pick up the IFF transmissions from MiGs so they knew where they were and where they were going.

Friday, January 7

The long fetasha

This post from Meskel Square was particularly striking to us for what it questioned that we had long numbly accepted.

Many of us were used to being subject to constant physical searches every time we left home. In more distant memory for some, entire neighborhoods were surrounded by armed thugs and subject to systematic home invasions and searches by revolutionary cadres and soldiers.

We always figured they must have been looking for something ... but not necessarily. The actual and most effective purpose of such continual assaults on human privacy and dignity was not simply to reinforce fear of the government's already absolute power but also to create a sense of paranoia and impotence within the self.

In addition, dictatorships carefully maintain concentric networks of broken, opportunistic informers and liars among friends, neighbors and even relatives. The culture of absent morality, insecurity and corruption thus fostered, dehumanizes all, demeans traditional culture and tears apart all loyalties but those to the state.

Every breath drawn to speak about anything could be among one's last in freedom or in life. 'Revolutionary measures' - meaning death - were common results of bad luck or even hints of incorrect opinions.

Eventually, this combined assault on the minds of millions of victims gave the oppressive state a constant offensive presence in individual minds. Dictators like that kind of thing, it makes them sleep better at night but seldom lasts as long as they would like.

In Ethiopia, 1984 really was "1984" ... and 2005 is still far away.

Thanks to Andrew Heavens for letting us post his entire piece below.

The long fetasha

One of the few downsides to life in Addis Ababa is the number of times you are searched and frisked going about your daily business. You are searched going into the bank, searched before queuing up to pay your telephone bill, searched going into the city's main shopping mall the Dembel Centre, searched going into the compound of Addis Ababa University.

You are searched on the way into the National Museum - but, oddly, not on the way out. You are searched every time you walk into the main post office to engage in the highly sensitive business of buying a stamp. (The post office guards make a particular point of confiscating all cameras.) Every time you visit the Ministry of Information - the headquarters of Ethiopia's state TV company ETV - your bag is stripped of all information-gathering equipment including microphones and tape recorders. Your bags are x-rayed every time you go into the Hilton for a swim or a quick drink - although if you are reasonably well-dressed the guards just nod you through even if your bag sets all the alarm bells ringing.

If you ever ask why you are bring searched, no-one seems to know. Up until recently, it was all a mystery. That was until my wife, Amber, came across the following passage in Ryszard Kapuscinski's book The Emperor about the reign of Haile Selassie. The passage describes the regime imposed on the streets of Addis immediately after the Emperor's downfall in the 1970s.

To get things under control, to disarm the opposition, the authorities order a complete fetasha [amharic for search], covering everyone. We are searched incessantly. On the street, in the car, in front of the house, in the house, in the street, in front of the post office, in front of an office building, going into the editor's office, the movie theatre, the church, in front of the bank, in front of the restaurant, in the market place, in the park. Anyone can search us because we don't know who has the right and who hasn't, and asking only makes thing worse. It's better to give in. Somebody's always searching us. Guys in rags with sticks, who don't say anything, but only stop us and hold out their arms, which is the signal for us to do the same: get ready to be searched. They take everything out of our briefcases and pockets, look at it, act surprised, screw up their faces, nod their heads, whisper advice to each other. They frisk us: back, stomach, legs, shoes. And then what? Nothing, we can go on, until the next spreading of arms, until the next fetasha. The next one might be only a few steps on, and the whole thing starts all over again. The searchers never give you an acquittal, a general clearance, absolution. Every few minutes, every few steps, we have to clear ourselves again.

So there you have it. Thirty years have passed and the fetasha lives on.

Wednesday, January 5

Malthus, Hobbes and the Red Queen

Malthus Yiwdum!
Hobbes Yiwdum!
Kuy Nigistwa Tiwdum!
Capitalism Yikdem!

(updated Amharic revolutionary slogans of the 1970s ...
'Down with Malthus, Hobbes and the Red Queen!
Capitalism First! (or victory to Capitalism!) '

The post Ethnicity , Poverty and War discussed the issue of poverty in terms of per capita GNP and GDP over time. Our figures depended on memory, that provided a sense of the trends over time, but was not as accurate as the subject demanded. We will now give some of those trends more definition.

GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is the total output value of goods and services of a country in a year. GNP (Gross National Product) is GDP plus income from abroad. Both are convenient measures of national wealth. GNI (Gross National Income) is used by the World Bank and appears to mean essentally the same thing as GDP.

There is no single source we have found that can provide data from the post World War II period or even the 1970s until the present so we will shop around various databases and sources while using an inflation calculator where appropriate.

The Cross-National Time Series is a rich source for economic data that gives a 1973 per capita GDP figure of $66 but it is not clear what adjustments are made for inflation. The Military Balance for 1981-82 published by the International Institue for Strategic Studies (no link available) gives a calculated per capita GNP figure of about $134 for 1980 while the same publication for 1975-76 gives a per capita GNP figure for 1974 of about $100.

According to the World Resources Institute the GDP in 2003 dollars was $142 in 1981, rose to $192 in 1992 and was $94 in 2003. World Bank Documents (no link available) track closely to the above and show the GDP in 2003 dollars was $134 in 1981, rose to $183 in 1992 and was $97 in 2003. Another World Bank source give a current dollar figure of $90 for 2003. A world ranking of GNI and PPP by the World Bank lists Ethiopia dead last at #208 for per capita GNI and at #201 for PPP.

According to this International Monetary Fund Report, "Government expenditures ... is estimated to amount to 39 percent of GDP in 2002/03 ... largely reflecting the high level of food aid received." In addition, 2-3% of annual increases in GDP are simply due to population increases. Overall performance is superior to the Dergue years but that is certainly an exceedingly poor standard for reasonable judgement.

Any way you look at it 70 million Ethiopians are in desperate straits.

straight out of addis ...

The Ethiopian Economic Association website has an excellent and impassioned piece by Berhanu Nega (translated from the original Amharic by Y. Admasu) that traces the course of the economy over the recent past and projects its performance into the future.

The situation he describes is like that of the classic "The Red Queen Syndrome." Akin to Alice in Wonderland, who was running as fast as she could to stay in the same place. Just like Ethiopians who are struggling and even falling behind economically.
A good indicator of Ethiopia’s general economic performance is its overall economic growth and the associated per capita income.

For the purpose at hand, the annual rate of increase of this income is sufficiently reliable to indicate whether or not the population’s livelihood has been improving. According to the estimate based on this indicator, the Ethiopian economy has been growing at an annual rate of 2.6% over the last four decades. At the same time, however, the population has been growing at an annual rate of a little over 2.6%.

Precisely because of this, the people’s per capita income has not only remained where it had been at the time, it has, in fact, declined, however little the amount. The average per capita income (at 1980/81 constant prices) was Birr 228 in 1960/61 and Birr 257 in 1964/65, while the average per capita income for 2001/02 was only Birr 261, and for 1995, Birr 244 only.
Our economy has not scored any structural change in the course of such a long time. The majority of the people are still scraping through life by means of a highly backward agricultural economy totally dependent on nature as it is. Even worse, as the size of the country’s population continuously increases, the per capita income gained from this economic sector has been declining, as a result of which the people have reached a stage where they could even barely make it through life.

The per capita income from the agricultural sector has been declining at the rate of 1.2% per annum for the last 42 years. Because the industrial and service sectors’ share of GDP has shown some improvement, the livelihood of that population engaged in economic activities outside of the agricultural sector has managed to stay afloat.

Even then, the improvement these sectors have shown is really not something we can speak of as worthwhile. The per capita income of the population engaged outside of the agricultural sector has been increasing at an annual rate of 0.8% in the period under consideration.
In our country, where the large majority of the population lives in rural areas, we need no further evidence than the ever-worsening poverty situation of the rural population to demonstrate what kind of pitiable livelihood the rural population and, therefore, the majority of the country’s population leads.

Although, relatively speaking, the livelihood of the urban population appears better than that of the rural population, there are concrete data that confirm the increasing proliferation of poverty in the urban areas as well. According to government estimates, the size of the urban poor has increased by 12% in the five years between 1995/96 and 1999/00.
The author goes on to provide a pointed summary of recent history and the linked economic and social results of policy from recent governments. Significantly he looks forward and is not happy at the projection of current trends into the future. Income, particularly rural income (where the great majority of the population lives) would decrease through the year 2028, the furthest year of his analysis.
This kind of proliferation of poverty in the country is sure to affect other aspects of our life. If, therefore, the situation continues at the current trend, our very dream of living in peace will itself be thrown into doubt. The political, social and psychological crises that have come in the footsteps of the poor economic conditions over the past forty years will inevitably head for the worse.

The worsening poverty situation, coupled with the mutual suspicion among the different ethnic groups, would more than likely encourage divisive forces who are after solutions inimical to our vision of Ethiopianness, and not paying heed to this possibility is, once again, to fail to learn from the lessons of history. Moreover, as the intensity of the poverty the country is experiencing now increases, by that much will favorable conditions be created for all sorts of religious extremists (fundamentalists) to flourish.

And that such a situation will put to the test the long-standing mutual respect and coexistence among the different religions of the country, which is one of the emblems of our pride as a country, cannot be doubted. For one who observes closely, the symptoms of such a trend are clearly visible and widespread in our society.
Wondering if Ethiopia’s future could become better than it is now, Ato Berhanu answers with a resounding YES! Given that a capitalist society is allowed to develop with its requisite institutions based on a new civic contract between government and citizens.
It is, therefore, such individual initiative and creativity, on the one hand, and policies and governance that encourage such initiatives and creativity, on the other, that together help bring about productivity and economic growth, as well as the cultural and social prosperity that necessarily results from the former.
The author sees the modern manifestations of government as the major obstacle to this alternate future.
In Ethiopia’s modern history, the power of governments has invariably been absolutely unchecked, while individual freedom has been highly stifled. During the imperial era, the Emperor, who believed he was the Elect of God, perceived the limits of his power as concurrent with his lifetime and, but for the fear of God, the then rulers could do anything they wanted to their subjects.
This is an astute and fair observation by the author. The imperial rule of Haile Selassie, while by no means a liberal democrat, did have crucial limits on its behavior based on tradition and religion. The Dergue and the current government do not because both inhabit moral universes inspired by Marx and Lenin. Two 'gods' who will never be remembered for being in touch with their inner children. To be fair we should note that the current government is a great improvement over the Derg exactly to the degree that today their shared communist roots have been betrayed.
At the time of Mengistu, this was not considered enough, so that he turned an individual’s life into something he could manipulate and play with, as flies are to wanton, little boys, if you will. By so doing he completely desiccated the inner sense of freedom the people had, of which there was not much to speak of in the first place.

This inner sense of freedom, which forms one of the bases of economic growth, one would have expected, would get a second chance at replenishment after the demise of the Derg regime, but as things stand now, it couldn’t even convalesce to an even modest degree. The people’s inner feelings are still entangled in fear. It is not many people who believe they have the ability, as well as the capacity, to bring about the necessary change, whether individually or through collective effort.
What Ato Berhanu defines as the most crucial aspect of the new civic contract is enfranchisement and democracy to give people a sense of their own potential as opposed to the current resignation to a harsh fate.
Although there are multiple political, economic and social causes for this sense of impotence, when we think particularly of seeking solutions to the problem, our main focus should be on how we could curb the unchecked power of government that has for long prevailed in our country.

In order to achieve this, our starting point should be effecting fundamental changes in the society’s perception and view of government, as well as government’s perception of the people and its own power. The people should learn to see the government and the institutions it oversees, not as some kind of monster but as the phenomena they themselves created for their own benefit and as instruments for facilitating their economic growth and peaceful life.

Government officials and civil servants, for their part, must be the type that respect the people; they must be the type that recognize the fact that the political power that they wield is bestowed on them by the people and that it is absolutely transitory, that any time any day they could relinquish this power and become ordinary citizens living among the people.

They should, accordingly, use their power properly. It is my belief that, when the power of any government is unconditionally subordinated to the principle of the sovereignty of the people, it will play a critical role in the enrichment of the people’s inner sense of freedom.

I also believe that this enrichment of the people’s inner sense of freedom is absolutely without alternative for our economic growth. That the existence of a democratic government is a prerequisite for a country’s peace, stability and economic prosperity is, over and above being just a matter of principle in the abstract, supported by concrete evidences drawn from the experiences of many countries.

That this link between a democratic system and peace, stability and economic prosperity, should apply to the Ethiopian situation is beyond any doubt.
Rural areas where most people live have been getting poorer for sometime now and given current trends the future looks even worse. A very few sectors of urban areas (especially those dependent on government spending and foreign aid) alone register growth that is offset by otherwise rising urban poverty and the generally declining state of the national economy as a whole - again trends are not positive. The likelihood of a 'poor, nasty, brutish and short' future for Ethiopia without significant reform should terrify her friends and humanity in general. There is no vaunted 'third way' but there is a clear path to the future. The reader should take a look Berhanu Nega's whole paper.

As anyone who has ever visited this blog can imagine, it has been a pleasure for us to discover this article by him.

Monday, January 3

Ethnicity , Poverty and War

In the archives of Foreign Dispatches is a post that highlights the unfortunate link between ethnic division and poor economic performance. Ethnic Homogeneity and Economic Growth in Africa draws upon this revealing paper by William Easterly and Ross Levine - Africa's Growth Tragedy: Policies and Ethnic Divisions.

The authors define the problem ...
Africa's economic history since 1960 fits the classical definition of tragedy: potential unfulfilled, with disastrous consequences. In the 1960s a leading development textbook ranked Africa's growth potential ahead of East Asia's and the World bank chief economist listed seven African countries that "clearly have the potential to reach or surpass" a 7 percent growth rate. Yet, these hopes went awry. On average, real per capita GDP did not grow in Africa over the 1965-1990 period, while, in East Asia and the Pacific, per capita GDP was over 5 percent and Latin America grew at almost 2 percent per year. Much of Africa has even suffered negative per capita growth since 1960, and the seven promising countries identified by the World Bank's chief economist were among those with negative growth. Sub-Saharan Africa's growth tragedy is reflected in painful human scars.
GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is the total output value of goods and services of a country in a year while GNP (Gross National Product) is GDP plus income from abroad. Both are convenient measures of national wealth.

While the article does not address Ethiopia directly, the issues do apply to it. Ethiopia's per capita GNP was $100 back in 1973 on the eve of Haile Selassie's overthrow and today remains at $100 - one of the lowest on earth. Adjusted for inflation the per capita GNP today is $23.97 in 1973 dollars. Another way of putting this is that Ethiopians today have only a fourth of the income that they did thirty years ago.

Some sources now use a PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) conversion factor which attempts to provide a more meaningful value for wealth across national borders. The relative costs of the same amounts of goods and services in the domestic market as compared to the United States are calculated to arrive at the conversion factor. This gives an adjusted per capita GNP for Ethiopia up to seven times higher which is still subject to the comparative devaluation of inflation over time.

In the case of economies like Ethiopia's all figures are somewhat suspect because in a subsistence agricultural economy taking in up to 90% of the population, many or at times most citizens may simply be off of the statistician's radar. There also seems to be a semi-offical floor for reported per capita GNP figures of about $100.

Over several decades it seems at times that GNP is determined by simply multiplying often inaccurate estimated population sums by a factor of 100. Given the great levels of income disparity present, the average citizen apparently has to make due with substantially less than that already low figure.

The U.N. Human Development Report Index for 2004 provides a graphic display of the dire straits in which Ethiopians, desperate for development, find themselves.

so what does ethnicity have to do with this?

In their detailed study using a variety of economic and mathematical models, the authors compare the regions by computing the relative parts of the difference in growth rates associated with a number of explanatory variables and discover that "in sum, ethnic diversity differences are important for explaining Africa's tragedy versus Asia's miracle" and that
ethnic diversity alone explains between one-fourth and two-fifths of the East Asia-Africa growth differential and may fully account for some extreme country cases. While hardly supporting a mono-causal view of Africa's difficulties, our results suggest that ethnic divisions have played a significant role in Africa's growth tragedy.
The authors conclude that
High ethnic diversity is closely associated with low schooling, underdeveloped financial systems, distorted foreign exchange markets, and insufficient infrastructure.
These problems are not particular to Africa but are magnified there. In addition, detrimental activities such as corruption and the relative importance of black markets are associated with ethnic fractionalization.

As Foreign Dispatches notes, the ethnic homogeneity in states such as Botswana helps to explain the relative success there. FD also points out that Africa's current boundaries are largely the result of European agreements to divide the continent among themselves without respect to extant states, groupings or ethnic boundaries.

As we touched on in a previous post about military tradition, the tribally contentious and diverse states of Europe had centuries in the modern era - that they created - to consolidate their national identities. History has demanded that their former colonies get their 'acts together' in a timespan measured in years - in many cases this is simply an impossible task.

Ethiopia has great potential for escaping the horrors of a failed state. After all, just a few of its largest ethnic groups together - the Oromo, the Amhara and the Tigray - together number well over eighty percent of the population. These three along with other related groups have deep cooperative cultural, linguistic, historical and indeed genetic ties stretching back for centuries before the modern era.

In his book, Greater Ethiopia: The Evolution of a Multiethnic Society Donald Levine argues that the current nation represents an ingathering of intimately related peoples. The opposite view that Ethiopia, like Imperial and Soviet Russia, is a 'prison of nations' and the product of 'black colonialism' seems to be far more influential today. The post about the the TPLF (the current government) and the post about the old land tenure system under which many Oromo suffered show that visions of national unity are often not shared because of legitimate historical grievances.

However, it is also clear that war, ethnicity and history are manipulated to the advantage of elites whose personal interests are often far removed from those of the millions they supposedly speak for. Even in times of relative peace ethnicity is manipulated using divide and rule tactics to the advantage of rulers. In addition the most basic principles of governance are dedicated to the eternal constitutional ethnic separation of the population into tribal regions with no particular connection to eachother.

Offically, the reason for the current ethnically based government is a desire to avoid conflict and to generally provide for legitimate self determination. Unfortunately, with issues ranging from internal commerce to education, development measurably suffers. Indeed, given increasing competition for resources in a system where ethnic division is encouraged, the prospects for widespread ethnic warfare are frightening.

the potential for conflict

Ethiopia in 1998 was a demobilized and inward looking country following many years of internal and external war under the Mengistu dictatorship. Her military was dismantled and replaced by the former guerrilla army that had won and was leisurely transforming itself into a formal military. Like most armies in the third world, it was dominated by the mission of regime security. In the few months after war broke out with Eritrea that year, the army expanded by several hundred thousand well trained and equipped men organized into numerous divisions and corps which were ably led by a central general staff and supplied by competent support services.

At great human and monetary cost they won the war in what became the rout of a formerly feared and always victorious enemy. In the recent past the current Ethiopian government has its roots in that guerrilla army that bested the large and lavishly equipped forces of the Mengistu dictatorship. During the five year Italian occupation most of the country outside of the major cities was under the control of the resistance.

The point being made is that making war is something that Ethiopians by the necessities of survival have had to do very well when properly motivated. Studies showed that back in the 1960s, Ethiopians were among the most heavilly armed people on earth in terms of modern weapons held by individuals at every level of society. Today those weapons are mainly AK-47 assault rifles and present in even greater numbers. The nightmare vision of an ethnic conflict that could dwarf the machete based genocide in Rwanda is a real possiblity.

It should also be noted that Ethiopian society has traditional social restraints that make it remarkably law abiding in general. Throughout the reign of the Mengistu dictatorship, the police were mainly concerned with pressing a reign of terror on any possible opposition and indeed after the fall of that regime towns and cities went without any formal law enforcement for up to a year or longer. Even at times of great political chaos there has been little in the way of rioting, looting or general increases in citizen on citizen violence.

The danger lies in the capacity for organized violence at any level initially directed by opportunistic actors in power and elsewhere who assume that they can always manipulate people as they wish. Ethnic agendas are daily infused with meaning and relevance by the very nature of current governance and any sense of common identity is denied except for the occasional celebration of sports champions.

In his new book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed Jared Diamond discusses events in Rwanda. He sees a situation where population pressure and its economic consequences were most responsible for violent ethnic conflict that could in turn be used by elites for their own advantage. Given a dedication to ethnic factors that common sense and now Easterly / Levine show are related to poverty - and given the ongoing dedication to a guaranteed poverty generating economic system that does not allow for private property - the prospects for a cycle of poverty, competition and increasing ethnic conflict that may spin far beyond the bounds of stage managed divide and rule sentiment is indeed nightmarish.

There is absolutely no reason that the above must happen and that the talents for organization and the degree of national sentiment held by Ethiopians can not be directed in ever more productive directions. The current system of tribally based governance actively abandons meaningful economic and social growth in the service of the overly jealous and unnecessarily insecure grasp of power by Ethiopia's rulers.


When the globally and historically right path to peace and development is so obvious why is it ignored? The current rulers are NOT, as many vocal observers suspect, determined to destroy their own country because they are villianous by nature. They are NOT part of a larger anti-Ethiopian conspiracy directed from any foreign country or countries. NOR are they unable to grasp what their policies are doing.

Primarily they want to stay in power, for themselves and secondarily for what they imagine - conveniently or not - is the long term benefit of the country. They are also observant witnesses of recent history and the fates of the two modern Ethiopian govenments, both almost omnipotent to observers in their day, that they have replaced in power. They see that, however unlikely it may seem at any given moment, they too can be replaced if events are allowed to slip out of control. After all, that is why they are where they are.

Their struggle was such a difficult and bitter one that much of their world view is understandable even if it is not acceptable. Even if they don't always believe it - the war is over and they have won . Another 'revolution' would, as all such adventures eventually do, cause further decline and in any event is unlikely to happen.

No one can reasonably want such a catastrophe but it may happen because the government is playing with fire. As we have seen with the case of ethnicity - it is so potentially harmful in the very best of circumstances that it is impossible to imagine how emphasizing it can be of help.

Essentially, Ethiopian governance is based on a sense of insecurity in power that feeds on itself and leads to a cycle of ever greater harm and insecurity over time ... and a lack of imagination and appreciation of the risks and benefits of changing course.

The most basic tasks of government in a country at such great risk of failure and with such a desparate need for development are of course, to maintain order but equally importantly to prepare the country for the government's own eventual orderly replacement. The real challenge is to create a society for all where there is no fear associated with not being in power.