David Monyae Picture: JAN POTGIETER 2016,
COMMENT - In my teenage years in the early 1980s, I remember Africa’s worst case of war, famine, disease and poverty was in Ethiopia. For Americans it was a golden era when the US marshalled soft power at the height of the Cold War. Although the liberation movements in southern Africa were politically aligned to the former USSR, we could not resist as children the US’s soft power channelled through music, movies and Western media including the likes of CNN.

I remember watching traumatising news about the famine in Ethiopia. The country under Mengistu Haile Mariam fought a devastating war with Siad Barre of Somalia, as the USSR was imploding, bringing to an end the Cold War.

Ethiopia and Somalia had followed different paths. Somalia disintegrated and became a failed state when Siad Barre’s regime fell during a civil war. In Ethiopia, an insurgent Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) led by Meles Zenawi defeated the dictator Mengistu Haile Marian ushering in a developmental state. Ethiopia’s fortunes drastically changed from one defined by famine, war, disease and poverty, to one that sheds a bright light on the African continent.

Former president Thabo Mbeki hailed Zenawi saying in September 2012 he was “a great architect of the new Ethiopia”. Geographically well located on the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia is the continent’s second most populous nation (with 102 million people in 2016) after Nigeria. It is close to the Middle East and also serves as the gateway to the world’s second and third largest economies, China and Japan.

There is nothing that will stop Ethiopia achieving its dream of reaching the lower-middle-income status by 2025 as its economy has registered an impressive growth rate of 10.3% since 2005. Ethiopian Airlines remains Africa’s most profitable airline reaching more global destinations than SA Airways and Kenyan Airlines. Ethiopian Airlines is in the early phases of building yet another airport in the Bishoftu area, 48km from Addis Ababa, with a projected annual capacity of 80million people.

If Zenawi was the “great architect of the new Ethiopia”, the current Ethiopian leader, Abiy Ahmed, appears to be a peacemaker with a developmental agenda for the wider region. He has wasted no time to end the senseless war with neighbouring Eritrea. The peace with Eritrea is part of Ahmed’s broad strategy of reforms in Ethiopia. He has filled half of the national parliament with female MPs, breaking with the tradition of having a male-dominated national assembly like most African countries.

In recent weeks, the prime minister has appointed a female scholar and diplomat Sahle-Work Zewde to the position of president. Although this remains a largely ceremonial position it has nonetheless sent a positive signal to Africa’s male-dominated body politic.

Ahmed has vowed to continue with his predecessors’ economic agenda, the second phase of its Growth and Transformation Plan. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is halfway complete.

It is expected to supply Ethiopia and its neighbours with much-needed energy to power economic development in the region. The new Chinese-built 750km Ethiopia-Djibouti railway has shortened the time in getting goods from port. Ethiopia is attracting more investment from China.

It is becoming an alternative destination for Chinese companies. The country has already earmarked itself to be Africa’s manufacturing hub. The world’s attention remains fixed on South Africa and Nigeria as the most vibrant African economies, but it seems Ethiopia will soon have a seat at the table with the giants.

It won’t be long before more South Africans and Nigerians head to Ethiopia for a better life. Ethiopia’s poverty curse has been lifted.

Monyae is a senior political analyst at the University of Johannesburg.

The Mercury