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Book Review: Essays on the Socio-Political and Economic Perspectives of Ethiopia

By G. E. Gorfu
Tigrai Onlne - March 12, 2014

Francisco Goya, documenting the Spanish Wars of the 19th Century in scores of his paintings, demonstrated history can be presented in one of many ways – through the art of colors on canvass. Such is Professor Desta Asayehegn’s Essays on the Socio-Political and Economic Perspectives of Ethiopia, a fast paced work of art which has fourteen essays that can be seen as independent and stand-alone chapters on historic epochs of Ethiopia, but are in reality a well crafted and carefully documented series on the history of Ethiopia spanning the last hundred years. These essays focus on the interaction between the major and underlying economic forces, both on, and by international and domestic actors, and how Ethiopia’s history progressed from the era of Menelik and Italian invasion and occupation to develop into what we have today. These essays give us quite a perspective of looking at history from an economic view, explaining why events unfolded the way they did not only because of the personalities of the leaders and their policies, but also due to underlying economic factors that forced it to turn out as it did.

Just like history books may use stories of war, heroism, idioms, proverbs, and poetry, Dr. Desta’s book of economic essays uses statistical data, tables, and figures to narrate the events, to arrive at the findings, to make serious conclusions, and explain historic events and why they played out the way they did.  A brief summary is: the human capital and the socio-economic structure dating back to the era of Menelik, the Italian occupation and its impact, economic dependence and stagnation after Italian occupation, the economic factors that brought about the downfall of Haileselassie and rise of Military Socialism, to the economic factors of Ethnic Federalism and present day Transitional Democracy.

Once the first half of the book lays out the historical backdrop up to the present era, the second half starts with micro-economics, micro-finance and it effectiveness, to examine and question exactly what sustainable development means. To answer that it looks at case studies of several African countries: Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Nigeria, Ethiopia …etc., and their experiences with micro-credit, where a whole chapter is devoted to look into micro-credit as a mechanism for the Alleviation of Poverty, where more interesting concepts like capability deprivation, Human Development Index, and Perception of Poverty, are explored and expounded with more data, figures, and tables.

The essays then move into Globalization and examine first the Japanese management system known as ‘Kaizen’ – the recognition that the greatest asset of an organization is its workforce – how investing in that workforce could give an improvement in quality and productivity, and could help to positively impact Ethiopia’s fledgling industries. A Kaizen Institute has been established and this mode of management system adopted in a few companies in Ethiopia, and there are experiences examined.

Next comes China’s South – South Cooperative Investment not just in Ethiopia but in Africa, technology transfer, human capital, and direct investment as it relates to Ethiopia. The looming dilemma of inflation is then examined with deeper analysis of what it really means: the push and pull factors that are the causes that bring about inflation, Inflation as a monetary phenomenon, and Inflation as economic growth phenomenon.

Then come the examination of Malaysian experience of globalization and the viability of its economy and is compared with that of Ethiopia. The precedence of Malaysian poverty rate dropping drastically compared with the meager results in Ethiopia; not only poverty but also health index, child and maternal mortality rate,… etc., where even though there are significant achievements in these metrics, the findings indicate that the achievement of Ethiopia over the last two decades falls far below that of Malaysia. Why? The reason provided: inadequate and undue delay in implementation of projects ‘because the government officials and functionaries lacked professionalism and commitment… to mobilized resources of the nation… and their prevalent rent seeking behavior, and resistance to reform.’ These are serious diagnosis of the Ethiopian economic malady.

Finally the Malaysian model has an insulation of its bureaucracy from political and societal forces, and how this insulation has given it the capability to achieve rapid economic development. These and many more concepts which can help propel Ethiopia’s economy and achieve as rapid a development are discussed and recommended in order to achieve progress not only in economics but also in democratic governance.

Unlike history books that usually document only the past, Dr. Desta’s essays on the Socio-Political and Economic Perspectives of Ethiopia examines the Five Year Growth and Transformational Plan, its progress and achievements up to the present, and boldly attempts to give a perspective for the future. This is where economic analysis attempts to foretell what is to come. Is that prophecy? So, what does the future hold for Ethiopia? I will leave that for you to read the book and find out for yourself.

This is a book not just for those who study and specialize in economics, but for any self respecting educated person who wants to know, understand, and intelligently discuss what is taking place in Ethiopia, in Africa, and the world global community. It is a book that removes the shroud of mystery of economics as a subject, and makes it accessible and meaningful to any interested reader. I highly recommend the book.


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