Ethiopian government’s increasing reliance on foreign loans is posing a serious risk of economic collapse, a renowned economist has revealed.
“Take for instance China, which has loaned over $17 billion to the Ethiopian government for infrastructure projects. Our total investment is 40 per cent of the GDP. Our saving is between 10-20 per cent of the GDP.
"We import $13 billion and export $3 billion. They are the ones who are filling all these deficit gaps,” said Dr Alemayehu Geda.
The Addis Ababa and London universities don was presenting his paper on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Ethiopia and Credit Financing.
“What will happen if they stopped such financing tomorrow? What if, for instance, the Chinese government tomorrow says sell for me Ethio Telecom or sell to me Ethiopian Airlines or give me some share or buy my aeroplanes, or I will stop such credit financing?
"The country will collapse, I guarantee you,” he said.
Dr Alemayehu went on: “About 77 per cent of our imports are strategic items. Fuel only has 25 per cent share of the total import. As a result, even if we want to reduce these imports, we can’t. Ethiopia needs to minimise strategic vulnerability.”
The don elaborated giving the example of how the Koreans mitigated against such dependency risks when they used to source 75 per cent of their imports from the US some decades ago.
Dr Alemayehu presented his paper in Addis Ababa at the launch of a two-year 12 series of public dialogue by the Forum for Social Studies – a local civil society, partially financed by the UK's Department for International Development (DfID).
“The Koreans came out of such vulnerability risk after analysing their situation properly, discussing the issue with their intellectuals and setting long term plans,” he said, advising the Ethiopian government to invest in quality education, skilled labour and improve the negotiations capacity as well as have in place a well-designed policy.
Official estimates have shown the Ethiopian economy growing by double digits annually for about a decade now, a figure that has highly been doubted by independent scholars.
The Addis government has been applauded for growing the country's GDP by around 10 per cent per year for the last decade.
In his paper, Dr Alemayehu indicated that Ethiopia's external loan included $17.6 billion from China for various infrastructure developments, around $3 billion from Turkish and close to $1 billion from Indian governments.
The World Bank’s data shows that from 2012 – 2016, Ethiopia has taken a total loan of close to $6 billion from the global lender. Last year, Ethiopia for the first time, joined Euro Bond and accessed $1.5 billion.
In addition to loans, reports show that some $3 billion annually came to the country in the form of aid from donors.
Ethiopia's exports have declined from around $3 billion last year to around $2.5 billion this year, as revealed in the recent six-month report of the prime minister to the parliament.
Even though tax collection has been growing by an average of 20 per cent annually over the past five years, Ethiopia’s tax to GDP ratio still stands at 13 per cent, which is less than the around 16 per cent of the sub-Saharan average.
Last year, Ethiopia collected around $6 billion from tax, including $25 million recovered from contraband traders. The figure could have been raised by at least $3 billion had it not been for the generous tax incentives the country has provided to investors, according to latest report of the Ethiopian Revenue and Customs Authority (ERCA).
In only nine months of Ethiopia's last budget (July 8, 2014 – July 7, 2015), the country provided tax incentives of around $2.4 billion to investors, by exempting them from customs and excise duties and withholding, VAT and surtaxes, according to ERCA’s report.
A financial integrity report last December indicated that around $2 billion was leaving Ethiopia every year through mis-invoicing and other tax frauds.
When it comes to the FDI coming from China, India and Turkey, close to 71 per cent of their investments in Ethiopia were in the manufacturing sector.
However, job creation, technology transfer and export contribution were insignificant for Ethiopia, which has over an 90 million population dominated by the youth. The country has about 16 per cent unemployment rate, according to Dr Alemayehu.
Between 2003-2012, there were 93 Chinese companies that had reportedly invested $600 million, creating around 69,000 permanent and 79,000 temporary jobs for Ethiopians. There was little contribution to technology transfer and foreign currency generation through the exportation of their products.
According to Dr Alemayehu's paper, during the same period, Indian investments in Ethiopia created 24,000 and 26,000 permanent and temporary jobs respectively, while 341 Turkish companies operating in Ethiopia created a total of 50,000 jobs.
Though much was being talked about Chinese investments growing in Africa, the Asian giant had less than 4 per cent of total share of FDI on the continent, out of the total stock of $554 billion worth in 2010. Most of the investments in Africa were still dominated by the Western companies, according to Dr Alemayehu.
Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn recently told the local media that Ethiopia’s GDP growth was not expected to record a double digit this year and would likely drop to around 7 per cent.
However, his special economic adviser with a ministerial docket, Dr Arkebe Equbay, reportedly told Bloomberg media that the economy was expected to grow by 11 per cent this year.
The government was now expected to deal with puzzles such as why the economic performance was not as good as in the previous years, with all the generous incentives to investors and huge infrastructure investments mainly dependent on local and external loans?
How to repay its local and foreign debts before the lenders force the government to cede shares in its highly protected businesses, such as, Ethio Telecom, Ethiopian Airlines, the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Insurance Corporation and Ethiopian Shipping Lines is, for sure, the elephant in the room.
But the big question is: How soon will these issues get the attention of a government pre-occupied with trying to feed about a dozen million people affected by drought and dealing with political unrest and conflicts mainly in Oromia and Gondar area of Amhara Region?