Ethiopia is a unique country in Africa not only because it was not colonised but because it stands as a beacon of resilience regardless of the challenges it has faced over the decades.
Alongside Liberia which was also not colonised, the two countries repelled colonisers due to their political status, economic viability, location and unity. The two countries survived the rabid “scramble for Africa” by Europeans between 1890 and 1914.
Unlike in 1914 when around 90 per cent of Africa fell under European control, the scramble for Africa now is disguised in many forms including peacekeeping forces, aid and many other diplomatic terms which are working to the disadvantage of the continent. This time round, though, Ethiopia has not managed to keep all this diplomacy at bay and there are many foreign countries angling for its resources under the cover of bilateral trade and strategic positioning.
As a country in the Horn of Africa (HoA), Ethiopia’s strategic location and resources have seen countries line up to establish themselves as key development partners economically and militarily. The establishment of military bases is rampant in the HoA and no country is without a base or two by either China, France, Germany, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey, UAE, the UK or the USA. All these HoA countries are Ethiopia’s neighbours. Should Ethiopia be wary, then?
Ethiopia is attractive to the world’s economic powers and most people would wonder why.
The answer to this is resources. Just like we have China, the US and other world powers strategically spread out across the continent to access the various resources, the same quest is driving these countries to Ethiopia.
Ethiopia is one of the richest countries in Africa and even though it cannot match up to the Democratic Republic of Congo in terms of natural resources wealth, the HoA country has abundant deposits of minerals which include gold, platinum, copper, potash and natural gas, and gas. Despite these resources, mining remains a small contributor to the country’s economy. The country also boasts of a vast land mass of an estimated 1.112 million km², almost twice the size of Texas, in addition to a burgeoning population of 113.5 million inhabitants by 2022 estimates.
In terms of natural resources, 2014 estimates showed that the country’s iron ore deposits were at more than 70 million tonnes with major deposits in Amhara, Oromia and Tigray regions, according to the Geological Survey of Ethiopia. This figure is not conclusive.
Ethiopia also produces about 300,000 tonnes of mined and marine salt annually. In addition, Ethiopia has potash deposits estimated at one million tonnes per year.
The country also enjoys the Blue Nile waters where it uses one per cent of its estimated annual surface water of 110 billion cubic metres for irrigation and hydropower. The Blue Nile was used to fill the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), a project that was greatly opposed by Egypt and Sudan. Ironically, the US was backing Egypt on this despite its so-called ‘friendly partner’ claim on Ethiopia.
In its economic diversity, Ethiopia’s tourism which is a key contributor to its economic growth is supported by famed national parks including Gambela, Awash, Bale, Omo and Simien.
Opportunities attracting China, US to Ethiopia
Ethiopia, a one-party state, is Africa’s second most populous country with a planned economy.
It has enjoyed fast growth rates outpacing most of the 188 IMF member countries. This growth was largely driven by investment in infrastructure and sustained progress in agriculture and the service sectors.
Despite this, Ethiopia is still one of the poorest countries in the world and the state is heavily engaged in all aspects of the economy.
Opportunities in Ethiopia offer lucrative prospects for the world powers lining up military bases in the HoA region. These multibillion-dollar opportunities are in infrastructure projects including power production and distribution, airports, roads, rails and industrial parks.
The Ethiopian government controls key sectors through ownership including banking and insurance, telecommunications and power distribution.
Despite the country liberalising the economic sectors, the government still owns all land and provides long-term leases to tenants. This means that prospecting for any natural resources has to be through the approval of the government.
With an abundance of natural resources not only in Ethiopia but also in the entire HoA region, military bases in the region by foreign countries begin to make sense.
Ethiopia has considerable gold reserves with the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) noting that the country boasts around 200 tonnes of gold, 360 million tonnes of coal and 69 million tonnes of iron. These are just a few of the resources Ethiopia has which makes it a lucrative venture for Western powers and China.
To access these resources, interested parties have to prove their mettle and ensure that they are first and fast.
Unlike in other African countries where it has been easy to siphon off resources due to many factors including corruption, Ethiopia is at a point of advantage where it can control the narrative and how its resources can be extracted for the maximum benefit of its people first. There is a reason to be optimistic about Ethiopia’s mineral future.
Towards successful exploitation, Ethiopia has to make better use of its natural resources especially avoiding soil degradation and erosion as well as deforestation. This will ensure that the country’s economic activities involving natural resources will be sustainable.
With the diplomatic tiff between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan over the Blue Nile waters, water remains an important natural resource for the country.
The 12 river basins in Ethiopia have to be protected to ensure that the potential for irrigation and hydropower is realised. As it is, hydropower is the only power source in the country.
When rainfall reduces and rivers dry up, crops may fail and the country may be condemned to darkness as their source of electricity is cut off. Lack of food could stoke unrest necessitating the need to have so called peacekeepers. Ethiopia should work towards stability to continue enjoying the independence it has over decades.
Despite the establishment of military bases all-round the country’s neighbours, Ethiopia remains a beacon of hope for many Africans and weathering Western influence will be a step closer to making the country a truly African democracy.
For Africa, unity is a key factor that lacks between many African countries which has seen the continent lag behind economically despite its being the resource centre that runs the world. There are lessons on unity that African countries need to learn from Ethiopia and Liberia if the continent is to be economically emancipated from western powers’ strangleholds.