The papers brought together in this volume represent a selection from my writings, and span a period of thirty years (1967-97). There was, however, a significant break in this long period, during which I wrote virtually nothing. These were the years I spent as an involuntary guest of the Mengistu regime, first one year (1974-75), and then six (1976-83), making a total of seven. During the first stint, books were not allowed, and there was thus no intellectual activity to speak of. During the second, much longer period, although I did no writing, I read a considerable amount. In fact, it represents the most intensive as well as extensive period of my reading. The break between the two years was one of personal turmoil, and did not lend itself to much writing.

In this selection, the earliest items are from A Profile of the Ethiopian Economy, a book Assefa Bequele and I wrote jointly and was to serve several generations of Ethiopian students. Of all my writings, this is the one of which I am proudest and sentimentally most attached to. I was twenty-one years old when we embarked on the writing of that book, a graduate assistant in the Department of Economics at Haile Sellassie I University. I am fond of the book because it reminds me of what I was capable of doing in my youth. No less important a reason is that it was a product of what was for me a most valuable intellectual and personal friendship.  Working with Assefa on the writing of that book was a most rewarding experience, both professionally and personally. That the book was in wide use even after it had been rendered out of date by events has also been most gratifying. At the same time, it is a sad commentary on the state of scholarship in our country and in our profession that no similar book has been published for more than a quarter of a century, even though there were two changes of the political order during this time.

Although the papers cover three regimes with significantly marked characteristics, I believe they reveal an essential unity in that their fundamental common theme is Ethiopia’s underdevelopment. In my writings, I have attempted to understand this reality, but I have certainly not succeeded in explaining it. In fact, as I argue in my presidential address to the Ethiopian Economic Association, I do not believe any student of the Ethiopian economy has managed to adequately address the question of why Ethiopia’s underdevelopment has been so tenacious. I realise that it may not be a question to be answered by economists alone, but there is no doubt that it cannot be done effectively without the active and leading contribution of the economics profession.

I am persuaded that the most fundamental cause of Ethiopia’s underdevelopment is political, and I believe this applies to all three regimes. To be sure, all of them desired economic progress and perhaps strove for it in ways that they deemed most appropriate. The question, therefore, may not be one of will. It is rather a question of whether the entire political environment was conducive to development. And I submit that this was not the case. During the imperial era, politics was anything but democratic. Power was concentrated in the person of the emperor, political organisations were not allowed to exist, the press was essentially state-owned and controlled, and parliament was an ineffective institution. This degree of authoritarianism was briefly challenged by the 1960 coup d’etat, but with the failure of that attempt, it was more or less back to business as usual. The political order was incapable of solving some of the most urgent questions of the day, especially that of land tenure, which imposed a formidable constraint on agricultural development. It was only towards the end of the regime that some form of land reform was contemplated, but even then the effort was half-hearted and fell short of providing a solution to the problem. Essentially, the problem of land tenure was a political one. The system of land tenure had also significant implications for what came to be known as “the national question”, because it had created a situation in which a good deal of the population in the southern regions of the country was dispossessed of land, giving rise to contradictions which assumed ethnic dimensions. Another political problem was the Eritrean question, to which the regime found no effective answer, with – as it turned out – significant consequences for the country’s future. It also meant, at least in part, a diversion of resources to the military from concerns of economic development. In the end, the regime left behind an undistinguished economic record.

The military regime that replaced it professed great commitment to economic development, but it left a legacy that was poorer than the one it inherited, again largely because the political environment it created was most unconducive to development. First, its policies ended by smothering private initiative. There was limited domestic private investment and no foreign investment to speak of. Interestingly, it took a bold initiative to resolve the land question, which was to nationalise all land. This measure eliminated tenancy at one stroke, a move that was, at least initially, heartily welcomed by the peasantry. However, whatever gains were achieved were soon obliterated as the state replaced the landlord and implemented policies that led to the virtual ruin of the peasantry. Another political dimension was the attempt to solve the country’s problems, especially those in Eritrea, by military means. Especially during the last years, the economy was a war economy in the full sense of that phrase, and military spending drained an inordinately large proportion of the country’s meagre resources. Additionally, the regime turned out to be even more repressive than its predecessor, and created an atmosphere of fear and terror, which was not conducive to economic growth.

OSSREA Strategic Plan 2016 - 2020

The OSSREA 2016 - 2020 Strategic Plan is a blue print that guides the activities of the Secretariat and its National Chapters for the period 2016 to 2020. Download the PDF version and be informed about the planned intervention areas.

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OSSREA Catalogue

The OSSREA catalogue which is updated yearly contains short information about the publications of OSSREA. The PDF version of the catalogue is freely available for download. Download now the 2013 Catalogue to find out more about the publications of OSSREA.

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