Tuesday, February 28, 2012

African Subjugation Part One: The Ethiopian Anomaly

Before we dig into international relations, let’s establish the curious circumstances surrounding Ethiopia. With the exception of South Africa, Ethiopia is arguably the most comprehensively unique country in Africa. Ethiopia is one of two African countries (the other being Liberia, which is quite another story) that retained sovereignty throughout the twentieth century. Ethiopia was occupied by Italy for five years preceding World War II, but has otherwise avoided imperialism. This is the prevailing theory as to why Ethiopians are so friendly towards foreigners (read: The White Man) – their experience with whites is not one of conquest and villainy.

With a population of 85 million, Ethiopia ranks second to Nigeria amongst African countries. The population growth rate is 3.2%, one of the highest figures in the world. Mass urban migration to the sprawling metropolis of Addis Ababa is rapidly changing the economy from one of agricultural domination to soft industrialization, though the majority of the people still belong to a strictly agrarian society.

Most interestingly, Ethiopia is the most populous landlocked country in the world. This is not an enviable position. Ethiopia is forced to trade through the Horn’s ports in Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia. This trying situation is made more problematic by jagged relations with Somalia and Eritrea, the latter which is more or less at war with Ethiopia. The products Ethiopia does export from the Horn – coffee, khat, and traditional fruits and vegetables – aren’t exactly golden egg-laying hens. There is little oil inside Ethiopia. Still, Ethiopia has the agricultural capability to export huge amounts of food to surrounding countries, and was even called a potential "breadbasket for Europe" by the New York Times if they could ever organize their agricultural industry. Ethiopia does have one intriguing 21st Century resource - water - but the surrounding need is not yet desperate.

This leaves Ethiopia as a large, rapidly expanding country with limited opportunity for economic refreshment. The people of Ethiopia are poor - almost all of them.

And this is where things get interesting. I was always under the impression that poverty and crime had a directly causal relationship, but Ethiopia has little crime and almost none of it is violent. Before coming out here I assumed that was because there were no weapons (false - AK-47s are more ubiquitous than wireless routers) or there was something distinctly unique about the culture, but I now believe the explanation is a little simpler. About a month ago, in a debate on the right to bear arms, a wise man told me his theory why Ethiopia has so little crime:

Because everyone is poor. The lack of an upper class eliminates potential conflict. It's not poverty that begets crime, it's the explicit gap between the upper and lower class. If there's nothing worth stealing, stealing's not worth it. Contrast this with the most violent places in America, cities like Los Angeles and St. Louis, and it becomes self-explanatory. There are a lot of reasons why crime isn't an issue here, but that's the most plausible.

Despite its sustained independence, Ethiopia certainly hasn't been immune to the vagaries of hegemony. I'll discuss more later - and explain why I can't right now.


Blogger Spencetron said...

Interesting little factual post. At my dad's peace corp reunion one of his classmates (from 1970-71) discussed setting up an agricultural program based on potatoes to prevent famine. I think it has been a few years since Ethiopia experienced mass starvation, and hopefully this is because they have begun to harvest some of their agricultural wealth. Also, check this out: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Africa/2012/0215/Africa-Rising-Ethiopia-moves-to-diversify-exports

10:21 AM  
Blogger Michal Greenberg said...

Sounds like you might be interested in taking African Studies courses at CU when you get home =)

12:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I bet if you dug a little deeper you'd find that the lack of disparity is not the reason for the lack of crime. Also, serious crime has dropped significantly in LA and around the country and class disparity would not predict that.

As an aside, I've heard there has never been a famine in a country that had a free press.


1:18 PM  
Anonymous Taylor said...

Another reason for the lack of crime could be that maybe Ethiopian people place value not on possessions but on less-tangible things, unlike some countries with class disparity issues and a "free" press (but no famine, k.o.w.).

6:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

+1 for "hegemony." you went to Mac. never forget.


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