Yonas Biru, PhD
As one who has spent his professional life at the World Bank working on global economic comparison, I am keenly aware that nations manipulate their data for various reasons. Such activities are often rampant during election years. I am also aware that some nations have two datasets – one is what they use for policy making and another for the World Bank and IMF. I know firsthand that China and Russia do this. Russia inflates its GDP. China intentionally undervalues its figures. Russia wants to put itself in the top ten Economies of the world. China wants to continue its growth under the West’s radar screen.
A recent study that used satellite data to monitor economic activities estimated autocratic nations exaggerate their nation’s yearly GDP growth by about 35% relative to democratic nations (China is an exception). The author of the study was Luis Martinez of the University of Chicago. For those who may not know, when it comes to economic studies, University of Chicago is what Harvard wants to be when it grows up. Martinez noted “The crucial difference is that in a democracy you have a whole network of checks and balances that restrains this behavior somewhat.”
Data fabrication is bad for any economy. The situation in Ethiopia is far worse. The government lies not only to the international community and to its citizenry, but also to itself. When the country needs to declare a state of economic emergency and develop appropriate policy sets, the government is dancing to its own barrage of lies and touting Ethiopia as the top economic performer in Africa.
In democratic nations, members of Parliament serve as economic gatekeepers. They challenge false data and demand access to the raw data to recompute government aggregated data. Our parliamentarians know two things: clapping and giggling as the Prime Minister feeds them false economic data that they know to be grossly exaggerated if not outright fabricated.
Not long ago, the Ethiopian government was touting an IMF projection of 13.5 percent growth for 2023. At the time I blogged a short commentary, stating anyone who is remotely familiar with economics knows that a 13.5 projection is bad fiction. Not long after, IMF projection was cut by 55 percent to 6.1 percent. I wrote again the IMF will revise it downward because the 6.1 percent growth is weaved out of thin air.
Currently, the Central Statistical Agency (CAS) of Ethiopia and the PM Abiy government are at loggerheads about the state of the Economy. The 2020 Household Expenditure and Income Survey that the CAS produced shows the worsening of the nation’s economic situation. It takes two years to compile, edit, and verify such data before publication. They are often published with significant time lags.
The government has blocked the publication of the data. In its stead it wants CAS to publish data fabricated by government cadres. The professionals who are in charge of the Survey and the publication of its results refused to publish fabricated data that is at war with the reality on the ground. Another area of contention is the fictional data that the government wants to publish about wheat production and export. Here also CSA professionals refused to publish fabricated wheat data.
How can a government lie about its export? Ethiopia’s export data can easily be cross checked against import data published by those who imported from Ethiopia. This is the problem when a nation is run by mature clowns with a propensity to feign prosperity.
Experts in CAS know you cannot lie about export data. Their professional integrity and knowledge about the consequences of publishing fabricated data do not allow them to go along to get along with the government. They stood firm and pushed back against the government’s pressure and threats with termination. Consequently, the government is in the process of firing experienced professionals and replacing them with inexperienced cadres who are readily available to discharge fabricated data.
The IMF will take such fictional figures as legitimate data and project a new growth figure. God knows how high it will be. May be back to 13.5 percent, or TPLF’s favorite number of 11 percent. Two years ago, the Prime Minister declared on national TV that Ethiopia will be one of the two superpowers in the world by 2050. He did not say whether it will be Ethiopia and the US or Ethiopia and China who will dominate the world come 2050.
For Ethiopia to overtake the US by 2050, it needs to grow at a compounded rate of 21 percent every single year. That will not be enough. It will need to register zero inflation rate and no devaluation of its currency. Its population growth must be checked not to impact per capita estimates. That is not all. The US must grow at zero percent to let Ethiopia catch up and overpass it.
On the military sphere, Field Marshal Berhanu Jula must find it possible to get nuclear power, aircraft carriers, and nuclear-powered submarines. We must also take our global responsibility seriously. We must move the World Bank and IMF to Addis and appoint Mamo Mihretu and Ahmed Shide as President and Managing Director, respectively, of the World Bank and IMF. Sweden, Russia, and Canada that have been generous to us in the past must be on top of our international aid program to help their economies grow.
Please do not think my intention is to ridicule the Prime Minister. I am just putting flesh on the bones of the Prime Minister’s economic plan for 2050. In so doing I am showing the utter stupidity that has become the trademark of our government. I am spending time on this because it is the single most existential threat to the country.
Economic collapse is dangerous in a country such as ours where the political situation is polarized along tribal lines. It is one thing to liberally lie about the number of trees planted. It is another to cover up a collapsing economy with fabricated data.
I feel sorry for Mamo Mihretu and Ahmed Shide. They are quietly sitting in the car driven by the Prime Minister without putting on their seatbelt hoping to eject themselves as the Prime Minister speeds toward a cliff. Oblivious to their panic, the Prime Minister is praising the Lord about Ethiopia’s ascent toward becoming a superpower.
Our Most Gracious Father, the Creator of all things, saints, and clowns alike. You have delivered us from the idiocy of Tigrayan exceptionalism. Our Heavenly Father, we come unto ye again with prayers to deliver us from the stupidity of Oromummaa. Oh Lord, save us from our self-anointed prophets and apostles. Relieve them oh Lord of the plight of Abiyonomics that thrives of lies and for lies. Give your power of healing to our earthly master whose mother has throned him as our seventh king. Relieve our Prime Minister of himself for he is enamored with his lies that are driving him toward the cliff of demise.