It’s hard not to be impressed by the clarity of strategic vision, single-mindedness, lack of political correctness and focus on execution in Ethiopia. Greg Mills interviewed the country’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.

By Greg Mills |

“We see China becoming expensive, but Africa being unready to take advantage, partly because the continent’s labor costs are expensive. But in Ethiopia,” says Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, “to achieve our advantage in light manufacturing, we have kept such costs low. This,” he says, “starts with government wages. If you make government wages large, it impacts and inflates on the market.”

Ethiopia, confirms its leader, who takes home less than $400 a month, has “the least salaries for government officials in Africa. We also have productivity-based salary increases, not just simple increments.”

More than a few African countries could learn from this. This is not the only useful lesson.

He was interviewed in the former royal palace in the center of Addis Ababa. Security was thorough, if decidedly low-key. I walked alone from the guard hut, housing a single soldier, to his office where, again, I took the lift alone to his floor. The meeting started exactly on time, just the two of us in a pleasantly functional but hardly luxurious meeting room.

Hailemariam became prime minister in August 2012 at the age of 47 on the death of Meles Zenawi. As a young man he wanted to become a doctor, but was put off by a visit to hospital in Addis with his sick father. Instead he trained as a civil engineer, along the way acquiring a Masters in hydrology from Finland’s Tampere University.

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