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Abiy Ahmed’s Economic Strategy: A Step Backwards Towards Mao Zedong’s China

May 5, 2024
2 mins read

Yonas Biru, PhD

Mao Zedong strived to outdo Russia as the primary communist nation globally by implementing the “Great Leap Forward” from 1958 to 1962. This initiative aimed to shift China from an agricultural-based economy to a robust industrial one, emphasizing self-sufficiency and rapid industrial expansion.

Communal farming was established by the Communist Party, which required farmers to combine their resources and work and eat together in communes. The practice prohibited saving resources for future use by individual families, as all resources were directed towards the rapid industrialization of China through the agricultural sector.

Local party cadres demanded communal farmers to increase their production by planting seeds closer together. Taxes from each commune were assessed based on the Party’s cadre’s unrealistic production projections.

To meet their taxes, farmers were required to send all their productions to the government, cutting on their food consumption and seeds. As a result, China’s grain exports increased to a historic level. The policy met with remarkable success in its initial phase but in the end ran out of steam and ended up with a disaster of epic proportions. The peasantry was subjected to starvation. As noted in South China Morning Post, “at least 45 million people died unnecessary deaths.”

The passing of Mao on September 9, 1976, presented a chance to bring closure to his era with a blend of outcomes. While it set the stage for industrial development, it also highlighted the devastation in the agricultural sector and demonstrated that Mao’s emphasis on self-reliance was not enough to establish a fully industrialized country.

His successor, Deng Xiaoping ended Mao’s policy. Under Deng’s leadership, China ushered in a two-pronged economic development strategy: “Reform and Opening-up.” Both components were bold in their call for a paradigm shift. The reform component required bidding farewell to the Mao-era mindset of internal self-reliance and the communal system. The opening-up component promoted joining the global economic system, embracing the marvels of capitalism.

Deng made a strategic choice, stating: “As we look back, we find that all of those countries that were with the United States have been rich, whereas all of those against the United States have remained poor. We shall be with the United States.”

Under Abiy, Ethiopia’s industrial base shrank. In 2023 alone over 500 manufacturing entities were closed. The government’s agricultural report is rejected by experts as fabricated. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimated MY 2023/24 wheat area is approximately the same as the previous two years. Satellite imagery analysis by USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service and several other researchers indicated that irrigated wheat area did not increase by two million hectares as claimed by Ethiopia’s Ministry of Agriculture.

Abiy’s policy is focused on building vanity projects, including palaces, parks, museums, siphoning resources from farmers.  In the Oromo tribal land farmers were forced to sell their produce below market price to the government to meet the nation’s unrealistic export quota.

Ethiopia’s economy epitomizes a house whose foundation is being devoured by termite while the owner of the house paints the roof and covers the walls with glittering façade. The Prime Minister’s Achilles’ heel is the economy.



  1. I wish Brother had mentioned about the role of the late President Nixon. As visionary he was about the future global economy, he correctly chose Red China to be the factory of the world. By doing that, unintentionally, in a way, he saved Mao’s and his successors’ behind. We who happened to be there on business in the late 1970’s and early 80’s how China looked like industrially and economically. Mao was skeptical about President Nixon’s ‘ideas’ but his successor embraced it and went on to designate the huge swath of Southern China and Guangdong Region a ‘Special Economic Zone’. In his twisted mind he believed that lead China to a perfect ‘socialism’ where milk and honey will rain and flow like raging rivers. Then the world will never forget about the pro democracy rally in 1989. It was believed that his cadres encouraged thousands of young people to go in the streets and demonstrate. Then he sent his tanks and APC’s and butchered them in their tens of thousands. That was a perfect replica of what his predecessor, the demon Mao, did in the 1950’s. Mao felt that students in high school, universities and professor had started criticizing his policy/ideology beginning the mid 1950’s and wanted to smoke out those grumbling below his watchful radar. So he came up with the so-called ‘Let Hundred Flowers Bloom’. In promoting this game plan, he urged everyone to say anything on his/her mind. Millions took the ploy and started telling him that his ideology is leading their country to a disaster. While they were writing and talking in the open he was taking down names. Then his bloody carnage began in late 1950’s lasting thru the early 1960’s in which millions were rounded up and butchered. Deng replicated that to the letter at 1989 at Tiananmen Square and in every city. Tens of thousands were never seen again.
    So, please don’t start with me either about Mao or Deng.

  2. Make that:
    I meant to start with ‘I wish Brother Yonas had mentioned’

    1) We who happened to be there on business in the late 1970’s and early 80’s know what China looked like industrially and economically.

    2) In his twisted mind he believed that would lead China to a perfect ‘socialism’ where milk and honey will rain and flow like raging rivers.

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