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Ethiopia: China's successful little brother

China Daily, October 31, 2016 Adjust font size:

China has often expressed its appreciation and admiration for Ethiopia, just as an elder brother would for a younger brother who has become a success. This is so because Ethiopia has presented a lot of opportunities for China, which has openly stated that Ethiopia is its best bet because of its low-cost labor and stability.

Ethiopia has emerged as a growing economy. The World Bank says that in 10 years, a consistent trend of 10.6 percent average growth has been realized. No wonder Ethiopia it being flagged as a destination of choice with regard to both large-scale and light manufacturing - particularly textiles and garments.

Often, Ethiopia has been characterized as the next China for Africa, with massive industrial growth and a steady political environment, despite the fact that its neighbors are unsteady. Ethiopia's minimal corruption, efficient bureaucracy and cheap production costs have been a major draw for foreign direct investment.

History has documented the relationship between Ethiopia and China. It is not recently evolved but has been in place for a long time. Ethiopia's economy started out slow, as China's did. However, it has now started to pick up through FDI, particularly from China.

One could argue that the success being experienced by Ethiopia arises from its China similarities, especially in governance. It has been a fairly closed society - in the sense that not many investors were given easy access, but with its booming economy and through the advantages of foreign investment, Ethiopia has opened up its society.

The growth of Ethiopia has not come only through investments but also through promotion of its agriculture. The landlocked country has benefited immensely from its crops as a key income generator.

The milestones Ethiopia has passed clearly show the political will toward ensuring that its people benefit from a booming economy - through infrastructure, an open market, investment opportunities and job creation. This is because, early on, Ethiopia's only investors were India, China and Turkey. Currently the United States and Europe have expressed interest.

This is all glorious for Ethiopia, and it shows the level of commitment the government has for ensuring the country develops sustainably.

However, Ethiopia still grapples with one thing. While it has achieved so much success, very little is directed to the ordinary citizens of the country. The population appears to be struggling to experience the benefits of all the projects the government is involved in.

This brings classic Marxist theory into the discussion. It projected variations by class level in society, with the wealthy continuing to be wealthy - justly or unjustly - and the poor continuing to be poor, languishing in poverty either through natural circumstances or unfair play. The effect of Marx-style classicism in Ethiopia is something the government needs to address.

Democracy in the country may be questionable, but the will of the government to assist its people is not. Thus, all it needs to do is ensure that it has given a level playing field to the masses. And even then, positive and sustainable development can only be achieved if everyone participates.

Ethiopia: China's successful little brother

China has proudly presented Ethiopia as a success. The country has much in common with China - in governance, for example - which favors good relations. However, China also has a responsibility to ensure that Ethiopia understands the importance of equal development, of creating an environment where everyone in society benefits.

China's goal for itself has been to achieve sustainable development. This was possible because it factored in how its population would be served. This led to the commitment that the poor would not be allowed to languish in poverty while everyone else was relatively well-off.

This should be the pattern that Ethiopia emulates to ensure that it becomes "Africa's China". China should also be able to encourage Ethiopia to integrate this aspect into its sustainable development plans; otherwise, the lofty future vision can never be realized.

As Ethiopia celebrates its success, it should also be careful to ensure that the relationship with China is a win-win. By supporting a policy of engagement with China - recognizing all the complexities - Ethiopia stands to gain much.

For example, China can offer managerial and technological expertise to Ethiopia's citizens, while encouraging education to improve the skill level of the population.

A strategic engagement plan is essential.

The author is the coordinator of the China-Africa Relations Program at the Africa Policy Institute and a master's Student at the University of Nairobi's Institute of Diplomacy and International Studies