Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

Coleman maps the intersections between political reform, economic growth, and U.S. policy in the developing world.

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Missing Pieces: Meles Zenawi’s Death, Development Debates, and More

by Isobel Coleman
August 23, 2012

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi meets with Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir during an official visit to Khartoum, August 21, 2011 (Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/Courtesy Reuters).


Charles Landow covers events in Africa and Asia, as well as the debate over development’s drivers, in today’s edition of Missing Pieces. Enjoy!

  • Meles Zenawi’s Death: Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi leaves a conflicted record following his death this week. Under his rule, annual GDP growth regularly topped 10 percent. “Ethiopia became a donor darling, valued… for its ability to spend development funds in a transparent, effective manner,” says an analysis from the Center for Strategic and International Studies. A New York Times piece explains that Meles shrewdly traded his backing of U.S. antiterrorism efforts for “serious diplomatic support and millions of dollars in aid.” But as that article and a Financial Times piece report, his government locked up opponents and reporters, killed almost 200 protesters after a contested 2005 election, and pursued military campaigns rife with abuse. An International Herald Tribune op-ed praises Meles for “intellectual rigor” and a measured approach to Ethiopia’s war with Eritrea. But it, too, acknowledges a “democratic deficit.” Either way, Meles’s death has unleashed uncertainty about Ethiopia’s trajectory, with a smooth succession far from assured.
  • Development Debates: Jeffrey Sachs reviews Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson’s Why Nations Fail in the new Foreign Affairs. He disputes the book’s contention that “inclusive” political institutions pave the way for economic development, arguing that many autocrats, too, have an interest in promoting prosperity. As Sachs writes of South Korea and Taiwan, “the causation in both countries ran from economic reforms to political democratization, not the other way around.” Sachs also indicts Acemoglu and Robinson for insufficient attention to geography. Though they attribute Botswana’s relative wealth to a “long tradition of political inclusion,” Sachs writes, the more important factor is geography—specifically the size and “institutional” characteristics of Botswana’s diamond endowment. Ultimately, while he acknowledges that “politics matters,” Sachs argues that development is more complex than the book allows. Isobel Coleman blogged about a CFR meeting with Daron Acemoglu in April, and I highlighted another review of Why Nations Fail in June.
  • China and Vietnam: A Wall Street Journal article offers an arresting finding: 69 percent of Chinese college graduates earn entry-level salaries lower than those of migrant workers. The problem is that while the number of college graduates is up, China lacks enough high-quality jobs to accommodate them. The result is significant underemployment. Though this has produced no political protests, the Journal says, the prospect surely concerns Chinese leaders. Meanwhile, the New York Times reports on the teetering economy of Vietnam, Asia’s other Communist/capitalist bastion. The main problem: “a once-booming property market has come crashing down.” State-owned firms that indulged in property speculation fueled by cheap loans now face “unsustainable debt levels” and potential bankruptcy. Jobs are becoming harder to find. Though growth remains near 4 percent, the article notes, “the country’s list of problems continues to grow.”
  • South Africa’s Struggles: Following the death of 34 miners in a strike last week at the Marikana platinum mine, a Time article assesses inequality and frustration in South Africa. Alarmingly, the piece says, more black South Africans live in poverty “today than did under apartheid.” The ruling African National Congress has pursued “neo-liberal orthodoxies,” producing a few black “tycoons” while keeping the broader economic structure in place. But “maintaining the inequalities in wealth and economic power of the apartheid era leads, inevitably, to a violence born of despair,” the article concludes. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal chronicles a trend of “baby abandonment” in the country. Though exact numbers are lacking, the problem seems to be growing “as families that are already fractured by disease and poverty grapple with the fallout of the global financial crisis.” Adoption is costly, abortion legal but not always accepted, and rape widespread. Several organizations now care for babies abandoned anonymously.

Post a Comment 6 Comments

  • Posted by Jerusalem

    It is in the interest of west to remove TPLF and meles supporters from Ethiopia government as this will lead us to etnical and racial war as a result of meles dividing the country and favoritism to his own ethny Tigre ! The west will loose a strong ally in Ethiopia should Islam spread over ad Meles let a Saudi guy owning half of the country! Time to bring an Amhara/ Oromo coalition – Amhara being either Christian or Jewish … And Amhara supports strongly the well being of Isrsael …. The world leaders have to be careful… Ethiopia is complex .,,
    Hope my little voice echoes in the ear of the elites who think they know it all !
    Help Ethiopian people please! This is the oldest judeochristian country!

  • Posted by Gezahegn

    Your news are always reliable.

  • Posted by hageren chekonuat

    20 years before, he promissed us his government will strive to make us eat three times a day, but after 20years we stopped eating breakfast. Then after 21 yrs we eat breakfast, lunch and dinner once in all. Food price grew exponentially. You know if you buy food you pay 15% VAT. That is our economic development. I am goverment employee who earns net 2050 birr a month, but this is not enough to live on for a month. That is our growth they tell the westerns. Look the human development index from independant sources, that is enough to realize our most talked growth.

  • Posted by amanuel

    sorry about meles

  • Posted by Jerusalem

    I am definitely nor sorry about Meles! He taught he was ireversible! I am less sorry when I see the talk of surviving TPLF! Especially I. The mouth of Beteket the silly! Do they really think we are that stupid??? Or is it pride over nation survival ???

  • Posted by Zena Yissema

    By the way, I just came across a site dedicated for Meles Zenawi:

    May God bless Ethiopia and her children where ever they are!

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