- “Under our new programme, we will be adding a new element called “wealth creation,” which is designed to particularly support the private sector (in Ethiopia)…. That sends a signal that most of our money, which has been channeled through government channels, will now be channeled through private channels” said the UK Ambassador to Ethiopia Norman Ling in an interview with the Ethiopian private newspaper Fortune.
(Excerpts from Interview below)
Q: Do you agree with the criticism against this government that, due to its ideological predisposition toward a developmental state, it is expanding the state’s domain at the expense of the private sector?
Norman Ling: Yes. There you have a single word straight from the representative of the British government. I believe that. This is a centre-left government, which has achieved a great deal with the developmental state model in terms of providing basic services to its people.
However, for the long-term development of this country, there is a real need, right now, for the shackles on the private sector to be lifted and for it to be allowed to develop.
There are a whole series of reasons why that is not happening. Some are better reasons than others, but, it must happen soon if Ethiopia is not to be handicapped in its development.
Q: Considering that the political party in power has a leftist background, the best one may expect from them is, perhaps, to move centre-left. Do you think this country has a credible and viable political alternative that would create more room for the private sector?
Norman Ling: One reason why we have not seen the political diversity that Ethiopia requires is the weakness of the opposition parties since 2005. That is regrettable. Every government needs an effective opposition. While they do not always welcome it, they need it.
That is holding back Ethiopia’s broader development. Economic and social development does not happen in isolation. It needs a challenge that a democratic system provides. I hope that will happen.
Q: In the aftermath of the 2005 elections in Ethiopia, former Prime Minister Tony Blair said confidence between the British public and the Ethiopian government had been breached. As a result, experts came up with this aid mechanism known as Protection of Basic Services (PBS). In hindsight, do you think it was the right thing to do?
Norman Ling: If the question is whether we should have done something more draconian, such as stopping aid, the answer is that it would not have been the right thing to do because we have millions of vulnerable people in this country.
I am not justifying what happened in 2005, as many things happened then that are unjustifiable. Yet, you do not correct one wrong by perpetuating another. You could argue that we should have done more. Nothing is ever perfect, but I would have opposed cutting aid.
Q: PBS was designed to be a temporary mechanism for three years, but it continued. Does it mean that you are comfortable with it? What did you learn from the experience and how long will it continue this way?
Norman Ling: I do not know how long it will continue. What I can say is that we are not entirely happy with political governance here; that is an issue for us. We believe it is also an issue for Ethiopians. As we see elsewhere in the world, sustainable development is achieved only if you have good political governance.
Ethiopia’s political governance needs to improve. However, we are reasonably happy with the way in which aid has been spent here over the past five to 10 years, even including since 2005.
We are always looking to improve how we deliver aid. Under our new programme, we will be adding a new element called “wealth creation,” which is designed to particularly support the private sector. For the reasons I gave you before, it is underdeveloped.
We need to support small entrepreneurs to encourage private sector development and growth in the economy more generally. That sends a signal that most of our money, which has been channelled through government channels, will now be channelled through private channels.
Q: Can you elaborate on which part of political governance you are dissatisfied with?
Norman Ling: We do not have a fully functioning democracy here. What we have is, as the ruling party has made clear, a dominant party model.
Elections should be free, fair, and transparent. The opposition should be given more space. The media should be given more space to report and more protection when it does so.
We would like to see greater freedoms enshrined in the laws of this country so that people know if they went to court if a case was brought against them, the courts will be truly free and fair [in their rulings].
There are many areas where we believe the political, legal, and judicial systems need to improve. The government here tells us that that is also its objective, that it is working on parallel lines on economic and social development as well as political governance.
We see the evidence on the economic and social side. We see less evidence on the political side. We would like to see more progress there.