Uncanny Resemblance

All countries are different, and a one size fits all approach is likely to fail to achieve its target. Policymaking should at all times take into consideration natural resources, nature of labour force and cultural backgrounds.

But nations ought to be able to take lessons from their counterparts. For developing countries such as Ethiopia, the norm has been to look towards China. This is more out of convenience, for the Asian country has been famous the world over for its economic development that has broken the rules of market economics.

It is more practical to try and learn from countries that are still lower-calibre developing countries, specifically Bangladesh.

The similarities with Ethiopia are uncanny. Addis Abeba could be described as Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh – only calmer. With around 19 million people, it is densely populated, and the most developed of the cities in the country. Like Ethiopia’s capital, it is notable for the various buildings still in construction and traffic congestion. It is also very warm and noisy, even worse than Ethiopia.

Similar to Addis Abeba’s African Avenue, Dhaka has a highway from the airport to many of the well-known hotels. In between are some of the best buildings and eateries – showcasing the development that Bangladesh has achieved. It saves non-nationals from the horrors of underdevelopment that the average Bangladeshi is faced with.

The resemblance does not stop at the capitals. The nation also has its personality cult, with portraits and statutes of Mujibur Rahman, the first Prime Minister of Bangaladesh after independence was gained from Pakistan. Often dubbed the father of the nation, one would be hard-pressed to walk or drive a mile without catching a sight of his liking.

It uncannily resembles the case of Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia, especially in the Addis Abeban streets. Rahman may not even be a cult personality, and his popularity may be drawn from the simple fact that his daughter, Hasina Wazed, is the current Prime Minister of the nation. There is likewise an unfettered nationalism in Bangladesh – much emphasis is put on tradition and nationalism.

Of course, the Bangladeshi have many unique qualities. Almost all the men wear sandals – hard to blame given the warm climate. And many women wear lots of makeup. There too is an infatuation with white people. Many walk up to any one of the millions of random Caucasians in the world to ask for a selfie.

How much the nation is striving to develop is touching, and their democracy, although far from having come full circle, ought to make Ethiopians jealous.

The nation is still underdeveloped, but it has a thriving external sector. Export is well over 30 billion dollars annually, a far cry from Ethiopia’s measly almost three billion dollars. Known for their textiles, the Bangladeshi are trying to diversify their economy, into ship building and information and communication technology.

How they are trying to cope with their high population numbers is as impressive. Dhaka has few pieces of land that are left underdeveloped. There are many buildings in the city, and where there are no high-rises, new ones are getting built.

It is critical to note that the nation has a lively private sector. The commanding heights of the economy have long seen privatization, as in telecommunication and aviation. The United Nations has said that 78pc of the wealth that Bangladesh has, comes from the private sector. The country has a modest wealth, but the macroeconomic situations are as a result, more or less healthy, with inflation under six percent and the trade deficit at less than a third of exports as opposed to that of Ethiopia’s, which is more than three times of exports.

The transport infrastructure in Dhaka is bad. There is harsh congestion but given the density, it could be considered low. This may have to do with the fact that there are many motorcycles, three-wheelers and lorries zigzagging through the streets. It is about time that the authorities in Addis Abeba take a similar approach and encourage such alternative uses of transport.

Privatisation has included that of the media. Bangladesh has a flexible media policy, best typified in the fact that there are three thousand newspapers in the city, according to the nation’s Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu. Circulation can reach hundreds of thousands. This has improved journalistic standards and is playing a crucial part in disseminating information about important government policies.

Such that most of the accomplishments that Bangladesh has are a result of reasonable policies, it is crucial to learn from them to fix the kinks in our own economy.

By Christian Tesfaye
Christian Tesfaye (christian.tesfaye@addisfortune.net) is Fortune’s Op-Ed Editor whose interests run amok in the directions of both print and audiovisual storytelling.

Published on Apr 21,2018 [ Vol 18 ,No 938]



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