The US has suspended food aid to Ethiopia because of widespread theft of emergency food by government officials. This is saddening because Ethiopia was for long considered one of a few countries in Africa with a “developmental state” economic model.
The “developmental state” was a term applied to the economic model that catapulted the Southeast Asian “Tigers” — Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan — to developed status within a single generation. Later, in the 1990s, China and Malaysia would apply a variation of that economic model to make equally spectacular developmental strides.
China’s growth was especially mindboggling. In the 1960s, the most optimistic economists calculated that it would take China hundreds of years to lift its mammoth population out of poverty.
Today, most economists predict that China will soon surpass the United States as the premier military, economic and technological power.
The development state is an economic model in which a strong state leads economic planning and implements uncompromising regulation. For states that were late to industrialise, a laissez-faire market-led economy is not an option.
In the developmental state, every department and official is committed to achieving goals set by the state.
The state relentlessly sanctions negligence, mismanagement, corruption and laxity.
There was something else peculiar to the developmental state: everyone, from the president to the factory worker, was motivated by a patriotic duty to perform to the highest possible standards to rescue their country from the shame of being a Third World country.
In contrast to the developmental state, we have the predatory state. The predatory state exists in effect to prey on the country.
Planning and regulation are deliberately weakened to facilitate looting and plunder.
Tragically, many African countries fall into this category. We have the paradox of resource-rich, poor countries.
Officials, in cahoots with foreign profiteers, pocket proceeds from the country’s natural resources. Thus oil, gold and gas deposits, and agricultural exports such as coffee only enrich a few.
Officials steal funds meant for sick and dying. And, as we now see in Ethiopia, officials steal food aid meant for the starving.
For over a decade, Ethiopia, a country plagued by ethnic conflict and prone to drought, made great strides. Its infrastructure modernised rapidly.
Addis Ababa, a rural town, became a construction site. Ethiopian Airlines remained the only profit-making airline in Africa. The few natural resources in the country were put to good use.
At international conferences in Europe, Ethiopian delegates attended every meeting while their Kenyan counterparts went on shopping sprees.
Ethiopia, like Rwanda sanctioned corruption and negligence. The two countries improved efficiencies and made huge investments in health, agricultural innovation, and education and training.
Is theft of food aid an indication that Ethiopia is regressing into a predatory state?
Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator.