My good and brilliant friend Catbird, who I’ve known for a long time and has no political ax to grind, wrote this to me in March 2018. I thought it should have a wider audience, so I’m posting here with her permission.
When I spent six weeks traveling in Ethiopia in late 2016, it looked like China was using the country as a stepping stone into Africa. They’d built important trade roads (Addis Ababa to Djibouti and Kenya), a light-rail system in Addis that’s quite heavily used, and a new railroad to Djibouti, which, although it’s not actually in Ethiopia, is Ethiopia’s port after it and Eritrea separated and Asmara was no longer available.
My impression was that the Ethiopian government had been blinded, or maybe just seduced, by money from China. There were also lots of factories with their little company towns that looked more like prisons with their walls, razor wire and distance from the highway. This and other foreign investment has happened much to the consternation of the populace: every once in a while there’s an uprising with riots, buses (and sometimes trucks) turned over and set afire and so on. I saw that, too. If my trip had been for government business, I wouldn’t have been allowed to go.
However, this gifts/flattery strategy may not work out in the end. I observed that Ethiopia as a whole basically doesn’t do maintenance, which, when it comes to infrastructure, will eventually lead to huge inefficiencies. There were plenty of hotels — even new ones — had once been grand but had declined due to lack of maintenance. I also saw jaw-dropping soil erosion in rural areas.
Apparently the government believes that it owns all the land and can take it at any time. My guides told me it was that, for instance, if you improved your land, the government could just kick you off of it at any time, so there was no point in improving anything.
IMHO, this is an unfortunate artifact of communism. That regime (the Derg) murdered hundreds of thousands of people.
I also learned that Ethiopians don’t think much of the Chinese, and say things like “those people will eat anything—even scorpions!” because they eat pork. Muslims don’t eat it because the Koran forbids it, and Christians believe pigs are just unclean.
I was particularly interested in this after reading that the American ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley wants to cut aid to poor countries who challenge the U.S. It’s as though the regime thinks the United States is the only game in town, which it is not.