Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is welcomed by the European Council president upon his arrival at the European Council in Brussels on January 24, 2019. (Photo by EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP) (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)
© Emmanuel Dunand/AFP

Ethiopia’s new, reformist prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, has many of the qualities needed to take his great but challenging country forward (The Big Read, February 22). He has youth, ambition, self-confidence and a vision for democracy that could end the country’s authoritarian rule. In another historic break with the past, he is embracing capitalism to achieve his dreams (February 24). Historic though they are, his achievements are low hanging fruit. Higher up in the tree, as your articles point out, he has to deal with Ethiopia’s debt and chronic shortages of foreign exchange, maintain rapid growth, create millions of jobs and prevent liberalisation from “spinning out of control”.

Ethiopia faces severe ecological degradation and the devastating effects of climate change. To cap this Mr Abiy has inherited billions of dollars’ worth of climate-vulnerable mega projects — dams, farms and sugar enterprises — that if not completed and managed effectively could turn out to be dangerous white elephants.

Ethiopians are famously reluctant to listen to foreigners, but here are three suggestions: put a freeze on new mega projects and concentrate on finishing off what has been started and make them all work for Ethiopia’s sustainable development; study and embrace the green legacy of former prime minister Meles Zenawi, with a focus on his groundbreaking Climate-Resilient Green Economy strategy; and draw up green growth plans, including a rethink of gross domestic product as an accounting system, that will attract investors and capitalists with a conscience.

Unless Mr Abiy pursues as radical an approach to Ethiopia’s economy and environment as he does to its politics his admirable dreams could end up as business as usual.

Michael Street
Noto, Sicily, Italy

Get alerts on Letter when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window)