Yonas Biru, PhD
The geo-political space is going through a dizzying transformation with rapid changes of sign along its contour. Its center of gravity is also experiencing a tremor, if not a shift. Nations who are best prepared for it are those who are focused on limiting down-side risks and exploring opportunities for upside gains. This requires strategy based on knowledge, not guess work.
During the US-Africa Leaders Summit, you were given a red-carpet treatment despite your Administration’s adversarial diplomatic posturing supported by the Diaspora’s preposterous #NoMore street diplomacy. This shows the US sees Ethiopia as a nation of vital strategic importance. Ethiopia lacks strategic direction, focus and clarity to leverage its geo-economic and geo-political advantage.
We can learn a lot from South Asian nations. The Strait, which runs between Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore, is arguably the most important trade route in the world. Approximately 40 percent of the world’s trade and 25 percent of all oil go through the strait. Nations around the strait have made themselves critical players in the geopolitical game because they are artfully hedging their geopolitical policies with strategic ambiguity and flexibility.
The Red Sea, though less busy, is also an important passageway for global trade, accounting for 10 percent of the world trade and nearly 9 percent of all oil. According to UNCTAD, global trade for 2021 was estimated at $28.5 trillion. This means nearly $3 trillion worth of goods pass through the Red Sea. This makes Ethiopia (the anchor of the Horn of Africa region) a critical geopolitical land. Only if we understand the driving interests of geopolitical forces will we be able to develop strategic policies, enlighten our emissaries and sharpen our diplomatic tools.
Sadly, the Ethiopian intellectual class is shackled with አሮጌ ባህል mixed with a mythological national identity anchored in holly books and Greek mythology. This is the source of our poverty and ignorance. This is nowhere clearer than in the weekly commentaries of Professor Al Mariam (one of the leading Ethiopian contemporary political scientists).
In one of his commentaries, he accused a US Senator of “a hidden aim” to “Dismantle Ethiopia by orchestrating ethnic and religious warfare, making Ethiopia the Libya/Syria of Northeast Africa.” This was not enough. In another commentary he wrote about another US Senator who is “doggedly committed to destroying Ethiopia because he wants to avenge the humiliating and devastating double loss of a white army in Africa in recorded history.”
To believe the Professor, we must be willing to assume that US’s disdain toward Ethiopia is so much so that it will deliberately jeopardize the stability of the Horn of Africa by dismantling the anchor of stability for the region. Professor Al is not an exception. His writings reflect a large part of the Diaspora intellectual class. This is how the Ethiopian intellectual class has undermined the geopolitical advantage of our nation with the #NoMore cacophony devoid of insight and substance, much less a coherent strategy.
The US’s disdain for Ethiopia must be worth more than the smooth transportation of $3 trillion worth of international trade. This is how utterly nonsensical our intellectuals are.
The Sub-Saharan Africa region needs to learn from South Asia. It needs to develop a geopolitical agenda and strategy. Ethiopia is the host of the Africa Union. As the head of the government of Ethiopia, you can play a leading role to build a robust knowledge center in Africa.
Africa needs to establish the Equivalent of Princeton School of Public and International Affairs or Walsh School of Foreign Service (SFS) at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. The two schools are considered to be among the world’s leading international affairs schools. Asia has schools that can come close to rivaling these schools.
One of the most intractable problems constraining Africa’s development is the absence of established research universities and independent think-tanks that are able to articulate and promote the architecture of their continent’s strategy. Compounding this problem is that Africa’s leading researchers are outside of Africa attracted by more rewarding career opportunities in Europe and the United States.
Building strong local research institutes and think-tanks takes time and resources. Meanwhile, there is a pressing need for a viable strategy in the short-to-medium term that will concurrently lay a strong foundation for a long-term solution for the knowledge drought in Africa. I have a 20-page proposal that directly responds to this challenge.
The proposal was written in 2014 but remains just as relevant today. If you are open to the idea, I will be happy to send you the draft and bring it up to date. The following are remarks from leading African and Africanist Scholars who read the proposal in 2014.
“This is an excellent project that fills a gap in Africa.”
Professor Mthuli Ncumbe, Former Chief Economist African Development Bank and former Professor at London School of Economics. Currently the Minister of Finance of Zimbabwe
“It is a great idea, and I would be happy to be involved.”
Professor Makau Mutua, Dean & SUNY Distinguished Professor and Floyd H. & Hilda L. Hurst Faculty Scholar, New York University:
“I certainly endorse and embrace its purposes and recognize the need to which it responds. Your highlighting the exit [of research] from universities to consultancies, and the low quality of the research most consultancies produce, is spot on. I will be honored to be a part of it. I hope that I can help make this work.”
Professor Robert Bates, Eaton Professor in the Department of Government, Harvard:
“This proposal is imaginative and timely. You can count on me to join the advisory group.”
Professor Lemma W. Senbet, William E. Mayer Chair Professor of Finance and Director of Center for Financial Policy, Univ. Of Maryland:
“This is a tremendous project which is innovative, timely and likely to have high impact. I would feel honored to serve on the proposed Technical Advisory Panel.”
Professor Prasada Rao, ARC Professor and Professorial Fellow
“This is a great initiative, and I would indeed be honored to be part of it.”
Dr. Ibrahim Elbadawi, Former Minister of Finance of Sudan, Currently, Managing Director of the Economic Research Forum, Economic Policy and Research Center, Dubai Economic Council:
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