Saturday, July 29, 2017

Ethiopia 2017 - Day 12. Addis Ababa

Another day hard at work, with nothing funny to report.

It was a thought-provoking day, however, because at lunch the conversation drifted toward the topic “What is the future of Africa?” Getachew has devoted much time to thinking about the future, and in fact has operated for years under the belief that positive change is possible. A dozen years since the last time I was here have certainly convinced me that Ethiopia has now come of age, and that tremendous progress has been made. Having said that, there is still a long way to go if Ethiopia in particular, and Africa in general, are to be seen as equals by the nations of the world. So, what is the best strategy to move the country forward?

I have no idea. Do any of you have some words of wisdom to impart?

I imagine the first thing to do would be to take inventory of your strengths, and see where those strengths can lead you. Let me see:
   - Hard working people, who are willing to take any challenge.
   - Good and honest people, who are most welcoming to foreigners.
   - Cheap labor force, albeit most of them uneducated. Chinese investors are poised to take advantage of this asset.
   - A large country with reasonable land resources (but no oil or mineral production).
   - A large country with natural beauty and some cultural resources.
   - A large market, particularly if you add together all of Africa.
   - An initial boost by Chinese investment.
   - Basic transport infrastructure

I would work hard at strengthening the tourism industry, and at diversifying in-country production of the top import goods.

Regarding tourism, I think the country has a major asset in its friendly and honest people, and in its natural beauty. I would like to see development of a good network of small, modern hotels to cater to western tourism, and promotion of touring agencies through sites such as Expedia (I am assuming that most tourists are not like me, but enjoy tourist comfort and are willing to pay for it). The example set by Botswana, which caters to expensive tourism in their safari lodges, would be worth of careful consideration.

Regarding diversifying in-country production of the top import goods, I would start by making a list of what the country imports, and follow it with realistic potential for entering those markets. For example, if clothing is a big import item, I would think it is realistic to think that investing on textiles could redirect some of those imports to domestic sources. What about wide-screen TVs? Well, no chance to replacing imports in the new future, but they could follow the Chinese model and evolve from assembling plants to domestic manufacture over a period of say 30 years.

Of course I am believer on higher education, but I think considerable efforts need to be invested in overall literacy, and in trade schools. The ultimate goal, of course, would be to offer an educated and capable force to foreign investors.

I feel I am babbling at this point and should stop. But I set all of us an interesting homework: What would you do?

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