By Jennifer Schwab |
Addis Ababa―So we got used to “Made in Japan,” “Made in China,” “Made in Hong Kong” and most recently “Made in Vietnam.” There’s going to be a new kid in town, but he’s not Asian. Prepare yourselves for “Made in Ethiopia.”
Much has been written about the “BRIC” countries — Brazil, Russia, India and China – saying these giants would lead the new world economy. And certainly to some extent, they are. However, the next wave may well be the “EMIC” countries – Ethiopia, Myanmar, Iran and Colombia. I wrote about the prospect of EMIC coming on strong last summer.
With this in mind, I ventured to Ethiopia to investigate further the economic and sustainability potential of this large and populous nation. Ethiopia is best known for its deceased long-term ruler, Haile Selassie, who was credited with embracing multilateralism and Collective Security which led to Ethiopia becoming a charter member of the U.N. While he passed in 1975, he is still a national hero and is widely hailed as the face of the first free nation in Africa. In the early 70s, with the cold war and socialist/Marxist views spreading across the globe, the disenfranchised sector of the Ethiopian population namely the farmer, with the support of the young university students started revolting. Soon, a handful of army leaders joined in the anti-monarchy movement which quickly led to the demise of the Haile Selassie regime, replaced by the Derg Regime, which some call, one of the most violent regimes in Ethiopian history. The Derg ruled the country from 1973 to 1992 until it was ousted by the EPRDF (Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front) which still leads the country following ethnic federalism ideology and a market led economy. The country of 90 million is now truly independent, and while still technically an LDC, or less developed country, the EPRDF is on a mission to bring long term, sustainable economic growth and expansion. I found that while it is not open season for “carpetbaggers,” anyone with a great business idea that can help elevate Ethiopia’s economy will have a legitimate shot at admission.
I started my due diligence on how things have changed with a member of the Ethiopian diaspora, San Diego-based entrepreneur, Feben Yohannes. Upon reentering Addis Ababa after 15 years of absence, she commented, “My people have much to be proud of, the development that has occurred over the past 15 years is by Ethiopians, for Ethiopians. And knowing that Rome wasn’t built in a day, the city will continue to improve.” She was visibly awestruck by the airport expansion, extensive roads, bridges and freeways constructed or currently under way.
She also noted, “kids on the street looked clean, well-fed and well-dressed compared to 15 years ago. The heart of the city is beating with an air of opportunity. Addis used to be the playground for the few, now it is a thriving cosmopolitan city for the masses, this makes me very happy.”
Next I looked for boots on the ground, folks ingrained in the community. “Ethiopia is serious about forming a green economy,” says Omar Bagersh, scion of a family that has conducted business in Ethiopia for three generations. “The government wants to do manufacturing the right way, with an eye toward sustainable processes and truly green materials with little byproduct or waste. We want to safeguard our trees and foliage, and new development will only be allowed after careful environmental scrutiny. At the same time, we are attempting to create a self-sufficient economy and feeding our people is of primary importance. Thus while we are very conscious of GMOs, we have to feed many people and the need is urgent so while organic farming is preferred, other options may be considered.” Thus there exists a natural tension between sweeping development vs. sustainable development that will be good for the environment as well as the population in the long term.
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