This poor, landlocked country of coffee growers has a restrictive, authoritarian regime. It also has astonishing growth, a generation of returnees and the invaluable support of China
By Katrina Manson |
In the heart of Addis Ababa’s old Italian quarter is a wood-clad restaurant resembling a private members’ club. In one of its rooms, my Ethiopian dining partner offered me a revealing, if acid, insight into his countrymen. “An Ethiopian can sound like he’s flattering you,” he smiled at me over marinated vegetables. “But really he’s insulting you.”
That one dark remark helps unlock the complicated, closed politics of this authoritarian country. Characterized by transformative growth, Ethiopia is hankered after by donors and foreign investors alike. But doublespeak features deep in its soul. “Twenty per cent of language here is said; 80 per cent is understood,” my companion went on. For him, shadowy language is ticket to a greater truth: “There are monopolies, secrets everywhere . . . this place is tight.”
While Ethiopia was only recently ignominious for the “biblical famine” that afflicted millions in 1984, today it delivers development like no other country in Africa. The World Bank forecasts it will be the world’s fastest-growing country in the four years to 2017, at 9.6 per cent a year. It has built 35 universities for 500,000 students. It will have the first urban metro in sub-Saharan Africa. It even aims to build the world’s biggest hydropower dam, with a $5bn price tag, which the country refuses to believe it cannot afford. Landlocked and poor, the nation of coffee growers wants to reach middle-income status by 2025.