Oxford Handbook of the Ethiopian Economy

Started in 2015, published in 2019, and penned by leading thinkers on the Ethiopian economy (Fantu Cheru, Christopher Cramer, Arkebe Oqubay) "The Oxford Handbook of the Ethiopian Economy" is a treasure. Standing at 955 pages, I am aware of no similar effort to cover the diversity of the country's economy. The contributing authors are a whose-who of experts, and this is really a testament to the editors and their leadership in bringing this collection together. Even listing the titles of the 50 chapters is beyond what this brief post can offer. Unfortunately, the book is not Open Access and prohibitively expensive (particularly for readers in Ethiopia), running at US$135 from Oxford University Press. 

For readers not familiar with this collection, the main sections are: (1) Context, concepts, and history, (2) Economic development, (3) Social policy and development, (4) Agricultural and rural transformation, (5) Industrialization and urban development, and (6) Structural transformations and the African context. There are some interesting gaps; khat makes only brief mentions despite playing an important economic role nearly on part with coffee, which has two chapters; FDI in the agricultural sector is also interestingly not covered in depth, particularly the large scale acquisitions (which were very apparent by 2015 when the project began). Potentially more broadly, the role of politics and governance, while it is interwoven, might have played a stronger role (not in the sense of the Growth and Transformation Plans, but more in the realm of political economy, which Clapham adds a chapter on). Readers have the benefit of hindsight on this. Compared to when the project started in 2015, it was a completely different Ethiopia when the book finally hit the market in 2019. A wonderful resource, unparalleled, and highly recommended.  

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Rural Development Options

In 1990, Ethiopia was on the cusp of a major transition. The military government was on the way out and the EPRDF would come to power in the following year. It was in this year that "Ethiopia: Options for Rural Development" (1990), edited by Siegfried Pausewang, Fantu Cheru, Stefan Brune and Estetu Chole, was published. The writing was done during the late 1980s, but nonetheless provides an interesting window into how development researchers and practitioners felt about rural development - and what was prioritized - at that moment in history. The book has contributions from major scholars, in addition to the editors there are contributions from Dessalegn Rahmato, Alula Pankhurst, Helen Pankhurst, and a host of others. This is quite a rich book and I feel it offers insight for very similar questions being asked today. It was published by Zed books and is relatively available (compared to most books from the 80s and 90s on Ethiopia, which can be very difficult to find).

Advice that seems oft repeated (and slightly romantic): "The authors share the view that rural development is not just a question of choosing one or the other model, and that the "socialism" versus "capitalism" dichotomy has little relevance to Ethiopian rural society. Small peasants in rural communities have their own forms of organizing cooperation and equity. Instead of importing solutions from Western or Eastern models, it would be worth considering indigenous knowledge and experience, and building on local institutions with traditions of mutual aid and solidarity." (p. 4)

Pausewang's remarks on land remain useful: "There is hardly any field in which so much confusion persists so obstinately as that of land tenure in Ethiopian tradition. Even the word itself is misleading: rather than tenure, it would be more correct to speak about access to land. Land holding practice changed over time, and tremendous variations can be observed not only in different regions, but even within the same village and family. Most confusing of all is the social dimension of conceptions about rights to land: a nobleman may have conceptions of his rights to the land which are completely different from those of "his" peasants. Moreover, urban viewpoints on rights over land are often completely different from the rural viewpoint. Many misconceptions are still reproduced in public debate as well as in scientific literature and official documents. Misunderstandings are repeated time and time again. Many official statistics have been produced in such a confused and misguided fashion that the figures are not even guesses; they bear simply no relation to the reality of land holding. Nevertheless, they are quoted in scientific findings, and continue to mislead everybody." (p. 38).

Resettlement was practiced before the military government in Ethiopia, however it is interesting to note that one of the main pushes for resettlement in the country (which contributed to the loss of potentially hundreds of thousands of lives) was the World Bank: "The World Bank and US-AID proposed resettlement programmes to relieve certain areas of Tigray and Wollo. By 1979, under the supervision of the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (RRC), some 20,000 ha were under cultivation in 84 resettlement sites." (p. 26)

Pausewang hints at questions of governance in the concluding chapter. However, given it was written in the late 1980s and published in 1990, the lack of discussion about governance (not as policy, but as how governing occurs) is interesting. It reflects how we might be seeing the tree very clearly, but missing the forest. Makes one wonder what we are missing today, as we focus on a range of our own issues.

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