Today: July 22, 2024

Why Ethiopia Trapped in Underdevelopment: Do not blame the Culture

August 22, 2022

Tsegaye Tegenu, Ph.D.

Recently I read an article on your website written by Dr Yonas Biru about “Cultural Enigma in Development Dynamics: Ethiopia & Iran Vs. China & Japan”. According to him the causes for the economic progress of Japan and China is cultural change.  He did not clearly define what is meant by culture (way of life and belief system) and how this relates to institutional changes and development of capitalism (private sector development). He concluded that China and Japan experienced economic progress because they westernized their codes of manners, dress, language, religion, rituals, and art. According to him the adoption of western Europe and America culture is a source of economic progress and development.

He recommended that Ethiopia and Ethiopians can economically develop if they start to eat western food, wear western-style suits and dresses, have European hairstyle, speak their language, abandon their religion, break with African neighbors, love and embrace westerners, appreciate their dominance and condemn Russian and Chinese communists. In other words, westernization is the causes of economic progress and prosperity. It is as simple as that.

To begin with, cultural attributes are effects and not causes of economic growth and progress. In the economic literature factors commonly recognized as sources of growth are factor allocation, geographic location, human capital development, political systems, economic policies, etc. (see figure 1 below).

The author simplified the developments of Japan and China. In the second half of the nineteenth century, Japan adopted a sweeping policy of modernization in pursuit of parity with the industrial West, under the slogan fukoku kyōhei: “enrich the country, strengthen the military.” This old slogan states “He who wishes to make his soldiers powerful exerts himself to enrich his people.” Japanese officials thought that strengthening and improving of the economy (agriculture, commerce and industry) was the key to a stronger military force and strengthen sovereignty. It is the idea of forming strong military state and vision of economic sovereignty that made Japan rich.

In the case of China, it’s quest for “self-reliance” and achievements in science and technology that led to its economic progress and success. See China’s Pathways To Economic Self-Reliance: Lessons For Ethiopia. In both cases, as Professor Tyler Cowen observed, it is the idea and vision of creating a great nation that spurred capitalist development in both countries.

The Iranian version of strengthen sovereignty has literally killed the private sector development and market transaction of labor. The establishment of the Islamic Republic paradigm and the consequent interventionist government bureaucracy did not bring about a well-defined economic strategy in the country. The Iranian case shows that claim and guarding of national sovereignty is not enough. Their nationalist and populist rhetoric was devoid of economic strategies that transforms the economy and creates jobs just like Japan and China.

In Ethiopia the idea of national sovereignty and creation of strong state is questioned by ethnic politicians and political opportunists. The sovereignty of the state and the federal government is challenged by separatist forces. Just like Japan and China the idea of unity and sovereignty is not yet used as a platform and ideology for creating economic vision and mobilization of resources. The PM Abiy Government is struggling on this front.

In Ethiopia, the challenge is not only on sovereignty but also absence of consensus on long-term development strategies and goals similar to Japan and China. The absence of clearly stated long-term goals and development strategies in the country has contributed to lack of vision among the people. It is not possible to get among the people an outright agreement on the need for radical economic changes. There is no national consensus and agreement on goals and paths of economic prosperity.

For growth and development to happen, citizens should share a common strategy, goal, guiding policy and direction. What are the common vision and strategies of economic development shared by all ordinary people of the country? You do not get answer even if you want to ask this question.

What we have instead is a split-up economic ideas and hodge-podge economic policies (ad hoc, fragmented and patched up interventions) devoid of systematic and structural approaches. Officials speak all types of interventions out of good intentions and will. Unfortunately, all roads do not lead to Rome. At this moment the Ethiopian people need to share not only one-size-fits-all solution (common economic progress vision) but also strategies that they believe bring about exponential economic growth.

Ethiopian population has grown slowly and then accelerated to reach a breakneck speed of growth over the past 40 years. If a population grows by a constant percentage per year, this eventually adds up to what we call exponential growth.  The larger the population grows, the faster it grows. Ethiopia is the second most populous country in sub-Saharan Africa after Nigeria. Current population is about 112 million and is expected to surpass 137 million by the end of 2037. Each year an estimated 2 million persons are added to the population. The economic solution to population growth (namely increase in GDP per capita) should therefore be big and fast to recover from backlogs and re-adjust to new additional shortages every year.

To conclude, the cause for lack of economic development in Ethiopia is not culture. It has nothing to do with religion, one’s belief or metaphysic. It is related to the absence of autonomous institutions, absence of exponential economic growth thinking and lack of a formal prosperity vision-strategy document that reflects the consensus of the people. If you have one, please put it on the table.

As to the challenge of globalization and how to deal with shifting balance in world economy, the answer is not cultural change. Opportunities and threats are numerous, and one needs to have good understanding of game rules, institutions, and growth of global networking.

Further references

Ethiopia’s Economic Prosperity Vision-Strategy: Challenges Of Old And New Recommendations

Ethiopia’s Economy Needs Strategies and New Policy Design







  1. Quote: “Why Ethiopia Trapped In Underdevelopment: Do Not Blame The Culture” Unquote

    Humble Commentary, 22 Aug 2022
    We can also ask why our dear Black African Continent is backward?

    We can also muse: Is there a connection between the COLOUR of the skin and the intelligence of the MIND?

    We can also wander and wonder why the so-called ‘modern’ education did not make the slightest difference to the Honest, Modest, Relifgious Black African People?

    WE can also be pointedly rude but humble (!?!?) and ask: Why didn’t the countless Black Africans, who carried Doctor of Philosophy Degrees, on various subject matters, from top most Universities around the Globe, did not make, nor have the inclination to do so, in the future. In short, their extraordinary knowledge, on any stratospheric subject matter, is not making the slightest difference for the development of our dear Continent Black Africa. What a classical TRAGEDY!!!!!

    And so, WE PURE HEARTED AFRICANS will keep on EXISTING with crumbs of crumbs of Life. THE END

  2. Here You Go Again You Intellectuals! In Stead Of Bickering At Each Other I Wish You Guys Get Together, Have Civil Pow Wow And Come Up With Something That Further The Accord For Those Glorious People Who Produced Us All. I Hope We have Learned from the Senseless and Costly Argument from the Generation before You In The 1960’S And 70’S. In Stead Of Wasting Valuable Time Looking For Dirt Of The Other Person’s Utterance Or Writing You Well Read Countrymen/Women Should Try To Tone It Down And Get Together To Find Ways How To Drag Those Upright People Out Of Misery Of All Sorts. Nobody Can Tell Me What To Do Did Not Work Before And Ain’t Gonna Work Now Or In The Future Either. Then In Those Years Of The Past One Group Said The Right Way Is To Wage A Struggle Beginning In The Countryside And March Into The Palace. At First Both Groups Seemed To Agree Until One Of The Groups Said It Will Wage A Violent Armed Struggle. The One Said No You Are Wrong. The People In The Country Must Be Awakened First(To Be Honest With You I Did Not Understand What Awakening The People Meant) Then Start The Armed Struggle. The Bickering In Public Got More And More Intense. Then Both Returned To The Country With One Of Them Sending A Dozen Of Its Members To Start The Armed Struggle. But They Had To Through The Rebel Held Area In Eritrea. Those 12 Men Spent More Than Two Years With The Rebels Where They Were Used As Cooks. Finally Both Groups Decided To Stay In The Capital Where One Street Smart Demon Made An Easy Pick Out Of Them Like A Ripened Wide Open Wild Berry. That Behavior Has Not Left Us Yet. We Are Busy Looking For What That Can Divide Us In Stead Of Finding What Can Unite Us For The Good Of Those Beleaguered People.

  3. China made a strategic decision in the late 70s to open its economy to the West and to harness its own resources for the benefit of its people. It invested in its own human capital, infrastructure development, and created an enabling business environment. And in a few decades, it was able to attract unprecedented level of investment, knowledge, and technology to transform itself into the second biggest economy in the world and lift the majority of its 1.4 billion people out of poverty! What a story!

    Even though one might find its politics unattractive, China no doubt is imbued with visionary and committed leadership that saw/see the big picture beyond parochial interests that made this incredible achievement possible and lasting. More importantly, they are not as wedded to communist ideology as one would think. It takes an incredible level of pragmatism for a sworn communist ideologue to dump Marxist economic policy and adopt market economy.

    In Ethiopia, the priority should be to reform the constitution, the source of the unhealthy competition, distrust, and conflict and to nurture peace, harmony, and trust within. You can’t trade with the outside world and attract talent, investment, and technology in any meaningful way to overcome developmental challenges and fight poverty, when you are still bogged down in petty tribal politics that inhibits such inflow and interconnectedness within. The question should be – – has Aby Ahmed and his Prosperity Party learned from the mistakes of Meles Zenawi (and his ideological disciples) and ready to dump ethnic/tribal politics for an inclusive merit-based political economy for their country’s sake and their own fate?

    First Things First!

  4. እንደምናችሁ!

    When too educated people go too far to prove the obvious, they remind me of my funniest math teacher. One day, he was saying, “The area of this rectangle is just L x W…” when a student interrupted him with “Professor, why don’t we use integrals [integral calculus]?” He said, “Young lady, that would be like pulling a gun to kill a fly!”

    As I see it, Ethiopia’s troubles are really the cumulative effect of the following:

    1). Europe’s Colonial Ambitions: Ethiopia was mired in successive anti-colonial wars which drained its resources and prevented it from launching much needed projects.

    2). Ethiopia’s Poverty: Egypt’s Guardian [the White Supremacist West (WSW)] is the Chief Architect of Ethiopia’s Poverty. Because of the Abbay-Baro-Akobo-Nile factor, the WSW has been imposing covert/overt embargoes/sanctions on Ethiopia. Worse, the Egypt-WSW-funded Anti-Ethiopia Proxy Wars have been bleeding Ethiopia bone-dry!

    3). Ethiopia’s dependence on the WSW’s education, technology, aid, etc. Ethiopia has been at their mercy for everything since time immemorial. Hiring educators, technologists, etc. and building corresponding institutions were/are nearly impossible!

    4). Brain drain of intellectuals: Most Ethiopians sent abroad on higher education scholarships never returned. Since Ethiopia couldn’t afford to hire professors & professionals from the West, skilled manpower has been scarce even before I was born.

    i_Mognu / don_Q

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

The Failure and Redemption of Ethiopian Politics
Previous Story

The Failure and Redemption of Ethiopian Politics

Ambassador Mike Hammer: Your Mission on Ethiopia Needs a Reboot
Next Story

Ambassador Mike Hammer: Your Mission on Ethiopia Needs a Reboot

Latest from Blog

A New Approach for Lasting Peace in Sudan – OpEd

By Arlene Schar and Dr. David Leffler Despite ongoing efforts to resolve tensions and stabilize Sudan, longstanding divisive issues remain largely unresolved, and civil war persists. Achieving a sustainable and lasting peace remains
Go toTop