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When Meles Zenawi spoke to the continent

Meles Zenawi

Meles Zenawi

He could have had his troubles, but Prime Minister Meles Zenawi will go down as one of the most brilliant African leaders.

A medical school dropout and Marxist pan-Africanist, coming to power in the era of privatisation, Zenawi understood the problem with Africa’s small postcolonial economies: support, and protection from the marauding multinationals.

Indeed, under his 17-year tenure, Zenawi unapologetically pushed back on structural adjustments, and advocated for pro-poor policies, and strengthened the public sector. Even foreign news outlets such as The New York Times, despite chastising him for his socialist- Marxist economic policies, acknowledged that Zenawi had genuinely transformed Ethiopia into Africa’s fastest-growing economies by the time of this death.

If Ethiopian Airlines isn’t enough proof for your eyes, dear reader, please visit Ethiopia to appreciate this man’s legacy. During his leadership, Zenawi appeared in many places, talking African economics and politics, etc.

One of the most burning—almost obsessive questions—he had to deal with was the question of liberalising the Ethiopian economy, which meant allowing European and North American multinationals, specifically banks and telecoms, to operate in Ethiopia, and compete with local businesspeople.

Note that to this day, there are only locally-owned commercial banks operating in Ethiopia, as are only locally-owned telecoms. There is no private ownership of land (thus no accumulation by dispossession), and housing is mostly in the hands of government, among other things.

Appearing at the World Economic Forum in 2012 in Addis Ababa (the same year he died), in characteristic fashion, Zenawi spoke from his heart.

It began the question about the insistence that the government should allow private sector players to participate and cash in on building public infrastructures (power, telecoms, roads) cross the country. In his response, he busted the fiction that private players like to invest in infrastructure development.

It was a fiction because infrastructure development was not only high risky, but the private sector does not have money for these big projects. But it was in responding to the question of telecommunication and finance where he spoke with precision and power. I will produce these responses verbatim, and a little analysis:

ZENAWI ON BANKING

“We have not liberalised the financial sector in the sense that we have not allowed foreign banks to operate in Ethiopia. Why? Tidjane here [pointing at Tidjane Thiam, Group Chief Executive, Prudential, United Kingdom], manages an economy that is many times bigger than mine. [If] these giants [such as Tidjane] can wreck a giant economy such as that of the United Kingdom, ours is a flimsy boat. They come in, they use instruments we cannot control, and in most instances, the best of us do not even understand.

How are you going to regulate these people? It is not possible. We do not have the capacity now. So, what did we do? We allow the private sector in Ethiopia, which is not infinitely more complex than the public sector, and therefore could easily be monitored and regulated by the public sector... So, we have more than 10 private banks here [in Ethiopia], but not foreign banks. Is it not going to be a permanent feature? No. [But] as we grow, as we develop, and as we become more sophisticated in regulatory capacity, of course we will liberalise. But not now. And we have lost nothing because of this policy.”

One quickly realises that Zenawi understood (a) that African governments were young. Both the public and private sectors needed protection from the sophisticated private sector players in the Western world. (b) Government with the imperative to regulate the private sector has to build sufficient local capacity to regulate a private sector that would even use technologies they may not understand.

Consider Crypto Currency, for example, which is the new thing everywhere, who in Bank of Uganda understands this thing really well? Zenawi also understood (c) government had the imperative to facilitate and protect local entrepreneurs from marauding multinationals. Thus, one needed to have a strong group of native bankers.

ON TELECOMMUNICATION

“Ethiopia as a country, I think in per capita terms, is investing more in infrastructure than perhaps any other country in Africa. Whether it is railways, power or telecommunication. We are doing it by borrowing from banks that are not good at speculation, mostly, Chinese banks. So, we have the money—borrowing it—and we want telecommunication in every school, every village, and we want it cheap. Not at 30 per cent discount rate, but two per cent or three per cent [interest rate]. That is why we have not opened up telecommunication to private investors.

Is that going to be the permanent feature? No. Once the market failure is overcome, we move out. There was a time we owned breweries in this country, now we are privatising all our breweries because the [local] private sector can now do a good job. We used to own—and still own—some textiles. The only textile factories we have are the ones we could not privatise, because they were not making profit.

One quickly sees a man who understands that while some sectors might be of no interest to the private investor, they are of importance to the public. Later in his speech, Zenawi stressed that their “policy is based on making sure that the public sector plays its role so that we’ll have an Asia-type growth.”

AFRICA PUPPET SUMMIT 2022

I recalled Zenawi’s wise words while painfully watching African leaders lining up in Washington under the so-called “US- Africa Leadership Summit 2022” inside what they called a “dealer room,” (Sic) signing clearly extortionist-colonialist deals with the United States.

These leaders handed over entire economies (cobalt and copper for DRC and Zambia, and Uganda danced to a supposedly free $4.5bn investment in oil security). There is no free lunch in Washington, my friends. Can you imagine, the United States promised a paltry $21m to be given to the IMF to improve financing situation of low-and middle-income countries?

No wonder, Col Muammar Gaddafi treated these African leaders like children, and Zenawi didn’t want to associate with many of them.

yusufkajura@gmail.com

The author is a political theorist based at Makerere University

Comments

+2 #1 Remase 2022-12-21 14:45
Doc, the fact of the matter is, US isn't the world's number 1 economy for nothing.

US is the master when it comes to its interests. US always looks out for its interests first. So, it will sit with a devil [M7] on a round table, as it deed, while the devil doesn't believe in democracy and rule of law.

US clearly knows that M7 is an organized criminal who captured power by means of violence and the gun. To the US, it all comes down to, what could it get from Uganda? Or, where is its interest? Kyagulanyi could make the noise about M7's human rights abuse in Uganda all he wants, US will focus on its interests.
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+4 #2 Lysol 2022-12-21 19:14
All the so-called African Marxist revolutionaries end up becoming corrupt venture capitalists. The best example is one Museveni.
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0 #3 Akot 2022-12-22 13:38
Quoting Remase:


US isn't the world's number 1 economy for nothing.

US is the master when it comes to its interests. US always looks out for its interests first. So, it will sit with a devil [M7] on a round table, as it deed, while the devil doesn't believe in democracy and rule of law.

US clearly knows that M7 is an organized criminal who captured power by means of violence and the gun. To the US, it all comes down to, what could it get from Uganda? Or, where is its interest? Kyagulanyi could make the noise about M7's human rights abuse in Uganda all he wants, US will focus on its interests.


Thanks.

This is so with UK/EU; all bent on their interests, not aware now poor billions from shitholes have understood & are migrating to USA/UK/EU to get Public/Social Sercices!
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0 #4 Akot 2022-12-22 13:46
Quoting Lysol:


All the so-called African Marxist revolutionaries end up becoming corrupt venture capitalists. The best example is one Museveni.


Thanks.

The difference is that Museveni, like Mobuto...are migrant African conquerors, accepted because they are/were black, not like whites who are still hated, even when they left +60 years ago!

Yet, Africans migrate to whites' lands to get Public/Social Services, things they didn't, don't, never will get in the Africa they still blame whites for having colonised & left when Africans wanted to be the rulers & not governors/protectors of their rich land!

Once Dr Obote & Sir E. Mutesa ll put aside their pride/tribal differences, Ugandans UNITED & got independence from UK in PEACE!

Even the health/education system...UK put in place in Uganda has been completely destroyed by Museveni, the black conqueror/owner of Uganda!
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0 #5 Akot 2022-12-22 14:06
African rulers are conquerors who don't love their people!

blaming USA/UK/EU won't help Africans; African populations MUST UNITE & stop their demon rulers then ensure they are well governed!

Africans need real National Leaders to help UNITE them for independence from black African rulers/conquerors, who enjoy people's miseries, while being the richest demons on earth!

Africans useless rulers learnt a lot from multi millionaire Putin, reason they are with him, unaware Ukraine war is against the entire world!

USA/UK/EU are locked in Politico-Social war due to migration,caused by bad rule in shitholes & are at pain keeping their leaders in posts, which means Putin, Museveni...will destroy people, lands at will!

USA/UK/EU can replace leaders every year, every 4 or 5 years, but this won't stop migration to their lands!

Walking out of UN will help developed world!
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0 #6 Remase 2022-12-23 13:42
Akot, my love, when it comes to interest, Ugandans are the worst. Perfect example are our leaders in all walks of life. As a nation, we are surfing from leadership deficiency! All of them are focused of their own interests rother than the society.

M7 hoodwinked us that he was bringing a fundamental change. look where we are! It's all about his interest. M7 clearly told us that he is not a servant of anyone but only cares about his family only.

M7 is manifestly driven by greed and far too self-centred to care for anyone and/or the nation. To M7 Uganda is a family business for them to earn a living. Their livelihood is entirely dependant on the govt as their source of income.

So whatever M7 does, it must be in his personal interest as an individual and/or his family, relatives and tribesmen. M7 has led Uganda into unabated corrupt enshrined system. US cant look into that but focus on its own interest.
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-1 #7 Remase 2022-12-23 15:00
Fellow Ugandans, our leaders are motivated by self gratification. As Lakwena says, in other words, "What is in it for me?" Not what is in it for the society!

Take for example a leader like Katikiro C Mayiga who clearly knowns who M7 is, corrupt to the core, ruthless and brutal killer, who has killed countless innocent people, rigged elections one after another and/or a well organized hardcore criminal and has plainly declared himself and his family for life presidency.

However, with all that knowledge, Mayiga has come out and urged the nation to accept rigged elections and further made certain that M7 realize him dream of life presidency by telling us that M7 is the best president of all times! Mayiga clearly knows that M7 returned all Indian property back to them, however M7 refused to return all Buganda's property [Ebbyafe] back to them!
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-1 #8 Remase 2022-12-23 16:07
Fellow Ugandans, "Prime Minister Meles Zenawi will go down as one of the most brilliant African leaders." How will go down as? That goes without saying.

Apparent and obvious that M7 is the worst president Uganda has ever had and will ever have! Then how will Mayiga, an ardent aficionado of M7's way of governing, go down as?

Mayiga will go down as one who made the most successful fundraising [Etofali] for Kasubi tombs, which were burnt down by you know who. Mayiga raised billions of money, howver, to this date, the Kasubi tombs are incompletely done!

Talking about US, it demanded accountability of the collection of etofali and after Mayiga failed to account for it, US demanded its contribution back. However, the same US looks on and further continues "to supposedly offer free $4.5bn investment in oil security to M7! Without asking questions of accountability of previous offers!
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+1 #9 James biharo 2022-12-25 16:58
Ur exaggerating alot because although some of those plo policies are in place capitalism is higher in Ethiopia.

Some people can't afford food always taking coffee as lunch. Their small size is not out of choice I have been there several times even he died when am there. Stop intellectualizing forr the sake of getting fans
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0 #10 Lakwena 2022-12-27 08:45
But what self-respect do our so call African leaders still have, when every year they are all herded to Beijing, Washington, Paris, London and Moscow like Gen Tibuhaburwa's cattle?

And yet, when they come back at us; they shake theirs fists in the air, thump their chests and rave like a locomotive with anti colonialism/imperialism rhetoric.

It is humiliating and sickening!
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