Network of Ethiopian Scholars- Scandinavia Chapter

November 10th, 2007 Print Print Email Email



November 9, 2007

Title: Chinese Success: Lessons for Ethiopia!

1. Inspiring quotes
“By breadth of reading and the ties of courtesy a gentleman will also keep from error’s path.” (Confucius, the Chinese Sage)

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest. “

“Faced with what is right, to leave it undone shows a lack of courage.”

“He, who learns but does not think, is lost! He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger.”

“In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of. “

“Our greatest glory is in never falling, but in rising every time we fall. “

“It is easy to hate and it is difficult to love. This is how the whole scheme of things works. All good things are difficult to achieve; and bad things are very easy to get. “

2. Introduction

Today the rise of China is a much acknowledged fact. Napoleon is often quoted to have said let China continue to sleep. Once it wakes up the world would tremble. We are now seeing a new phenomenon in international relations-the rise of China in world affairs. China has stood up and economically it is rising ever more in a spiral surpassing many developed economies in the world. What factors are behind the successful rise of China in the world? How much has its sense of history, culture and civilisation played in this rise? How much has this rise to do in learning from the outside world? How did the Chinese learn? Did they learn by mimicry? Did they learn by reflection absorbing what is worthy and discarding what is harmful? Is the learning experience bitter, positive or negative and/ or both harmful and useful? How did they resist against the harmful and encourage the absorption of the useful?

Ethiopia is as old and even perhaps has had an older civilisation than that of China’s. Ethiopia too has a long history! It has an old culture. But it has not yet found from the encounter from outside a way of learning, borrowing and imitating from others by adding an Ethiopian characteristics that recalls and employs its rich history, civilisation and culture to help it to transform root and branch its economy, culture, politics, society. Ethiopia has tried monarchy, military run state control of state power to run society and economy, and now something called ethnic- vernacular anchored democracy or ethnic federalism that seems to have succeeded to sow distrust rather than alleviating possible hate and misunderstanding. None of these ideas of government have been able to create ideological and political stability- which are indeed essential conditions to unify, modernise and develop Ethiopia and secure stable and independent relations with the rest of the world. The critical good that China managed to create is combining outside learning with Chinese culture, history and civilisation to create a robust ideological and political stability to transform the country and make it independent in the world. China succeeded to do this because its culture, history, philosophies and civilisation have imparted Chinese characteristics to any ideas borrowed or forced into China. The consequence of this capacity in China is to make the country to reveal independence in its dealings with friend and foe alike.

In Ethiopia democracy is the only good left untried to bring the much needed ideological and political stability to make sure Ethiopia evolves as the epic centre of stability, peace and development as a country, in the region, Africa and the world.

But the journey to make Ethiopia democratic roughly coincided the same time that China tried to create a modernized, unified and independent country. To date this democracy has not succeeded except after the May 2005 election hopes have arisen that something like a democratisation course and its contrary are in evidence to shape the future stability of this ancient country.

3. Ethiopia is the Epic Centre for the Horn of Africa Region

Ethiopia is not only a nation of nearly 80 million people making it amongst the three most populous countries in Africa. Peace and political and ideological stability in Ethiopia is not only critical for Ethiopia, it is also even more critical to all the peoples, states and regions of the wider Horn of Africa and indeed Africa in general. Any project to break this country is fraught with the danger that 80 million people will be dispersed throughout the world. That is not acceptable to any one. Look what is happening to the good people from Somalia. They are dispersed and they are suffering everywhere away from home on their own, not yet able to go back home.

Breaking and blackmailing the national framework and creating ethnically and vernacularly organised states are difficult to sustain in Ethiopia in the long run. Imagine how difficult it has been and indeed a nightmare it still is to construct a security community after Eritrea broke away. We had war five years after Eritrea’s referendum in 1993. There is now a talk that another war is eminent. Even though the Ethiopian Government swears it has no intention to go to war, the Eritrean Government has produced statement and after statement charging Ethiopia and foreign powers behind Ethiopia are plotting to start another conflagration. Given Ethiopia’s involvement in Somalia, it would be truly foolhardy to open another war front. Why the drums of war threats are hovering over the region is beyond anything one can comprehend. The problem is that often we do not know who is lying and who is telling the truth. All we can say is that there is remotely no good reason for one to attack the other. Stop it who ever is thinking of starting another bloody war. Let not the world say that here they go again like bald men over a comb. That should think long and hard before the children of poor people to die from their wealthy comforts and palaces.

Let us face the truth. What did separating Eritrea from Ethiopia bring to both except war and fighting? So if being independent brings not peace but war and more war, it would have been better not to have split in the first place. The problem was that being together also invited armed conflict. Separation also invited armed conflict. What is it that would work for Eritrea and Ethiopia? It seems as yet no formula and insight exists to find an agreed way out of the conflict.

However exasperating and confounding what happens may between the elites in Eritrea and Ethiopia, the fact remains clear the separation they promoted without clear appreciation of the consequences did not resolve the problem by silencing the guns, war and violence from their periodic recurrences.

What this means is that any effort to break Ethiopia by following the Eritrean example by others is likely to create more problems than bring solutions for stabilising the region as a whole. Any war that the elite in Eritrea has been warning will break out will be indeed a monumental crime if it breaks out, as the alternative to negotiate and solve amicably any problem is open except for the intransigence and bellicosity of the elites that rule Ethiopia and Eritrea by splitting the country into two in the first place.
There are also other important reasons why Ethiopia remains an epic centre for the whole region of the Horn of Africa:

1. It is the only power that stood to resist the ‘inferiorising’ forces against the black race. Any attempt to destroy Ethiopia is to destroy that symbol of African freedom that it has come to represent as the quintessential African imagination of defiance and resistance against racial oppression. Undermining this symbol of African freedom is tantamount to undermining the black race’s claim to be African, proud and free from the ‘inferiorising’ schemes of all those that have subjugated and created absurd and obnoxious theories of racial subjugation. Ethiopia stood against this and by its victory against those ‘inferiorising’ forces it has registered its place in black African history. The entire black race must do all they can to preserve Ethiopia and keep it to live on in the wonders of time for as long as this planet survives. Nothing else vindicates this nation’s historic significance for the black race than a determined rebuff to those forces that use whatever legitimate demands to redress claims to rights and opposition to internal oppression to argue that they cannot redress their claims and demands without destroying Ethiopia. It is perfectly possible to enjoy all rights, cultural diversities, linguistic freedom within an Ethiopian national framework. Ethiopia as a nation is not the problem. It is ruling classes and forces that oppress not the country. Fight the forces of oppression and save the nation together and build it.
2. Since 2005, Ethiopia has entered a democratic civilisation that all those who understand the significance of democracy for creating political and ideological stability can in principle evolve a rule of the game to create an all inclusive and negotiated and non- violent competition amongst the various parties to develop a workable democratic system. The full emergence of Ethiopia as a functioning democracy will make the country strong and play a pivotal role in promoting peace and stability in the region as a whole and indeed in Africa.
3. Ethiopia has been one of the countries in the forefront for bringing colonial freedom by supporting African effort to come together and unite the continent. It promoted African unity by contributing to the formation of the OAU. It has and continues to play a significant pan-African role and must take its African role as paramount at all times to contribute to African wide peace and development.
4. It is a large populous country. The risk of breaking it is simply unthinkable especially when there is a constructive alternative to maintain the national framework and permit with democracy the production of justice, rights and cultural diversities. Arguably and to be true, unacceptable internal oppressions and injustices and inequalities exist. There is also a much better alternative where internal relations of oppression can be redressed by the fullest possible promotion of cultural and human rights of all the people that suffered under imperial systems and the post 1974 authoritarian dispensations. The oppressions must be resisted within the national framework but not by destroying it.
5. Ethiopia needs to mine its long historical memory, culture and civilisation to make sure that it navigates and helps the region and Africa to also navigate an independent course in this turbulent world.
6. Ethiopia must try to win the trust of all the forces in the region by building internal democratic legitimacy and support from the region by not implementing the policies that others have produced to pursue goals that disrupt the trust and unity of the people of the region.

Ethiopia must learn from the outside, but it must also use its own rich histories, cultures and civilisations like China to find and pursue independent course that inspires the confidence of friends and neutralises enemies. What China managed is to create a national framework and an ability to attain agency and independence in the world to pursue goals it deems fit to select. The Chinese people made huge sacrifices and its elites also made many mistakes and probably will continue to do so. But what remains interesting is China’s ability to construct and maintain a national framework by combining its cultures, history and civilisation with the invited and uninvited contacts it confronted with the rest of the world. That national framework in Ethiopia has been undermined by alien ideas of ethnicism that has been deployed by colonising powers in colonized societies to divide and rule them. Ethiopia needs to assert a robust national framework with democracy by making those contesting to establish democratic government to reject ethnicism. This debate to overcome the harm that ethnicism inflicts in undermining the national framework must continue. The example of how China combined its own culture and history with foreign contact to maintain a strong Chinese national presence will be useful to relate to advance the case for establishing without any doubt the Ethiopian national framework.

4. China and the hybrid imagination

What lessons can Ethiopians draw from China? I shall briefly outline what the concept of ‘Chinese success with Chinese characteristics’ has come to mean in helping forge a strong national framework for solving problems , dealing with challenges and opening opportunities and warding off successfully dangers for China’s case. China provides a very good case of building success step by step in a largely turbulent world by adding Chinese characteristics to every form of foreign imported or forcibly introduced ideas, knowledge, system, values and norms. This ability to impart Chinese characteristics to everything that came into contact with China speaks primarily to the resiliency, depth, and richness of Chinese culture, history and civilisation. The self- image of China as a leading and ancient civilisation has current relevance and instils in the population and national leadership the drive and mission to make this ancient and historical nation to contribute the best to itself and the world. It is not thus what China does now alone that accounts for its current spectacular success. It is where China came from, its deep philosophical tradition, its civilisation and its culture and history that is behind its current mission and programme to forge ahead with vision and foresight by navigating in a complex world and in rethinking and making a new world of full of hope and possibilities that it wishes to be a strong part of.

The synthesis between what is Chinese with what is foreign almost always generated a hybrid imagination that is often captured by any new ideas however novel that came from outside acquiring Chinese characteristics. We can look back and see how at different times some tricky encounters from outside have been handled by the Chinese whose sense of historical, civilsational and cultural rooted-ness often asserts finally regardless of how difficult and adverse the circumstances the country has faced in absorbing new knowledge, ideas, science, art, music, religion and cultures .

5. Consistency in Imparting Chinese Characteristics to all Challenges

Let me take a few examples: during the 13th century Catholic Christian missionaries introduced Christianity in China. Not only did they fail to convert many Chinese to Christianity, but those Chinese that were converted kept Confucian rites and customs that infuriated the Papal authorities in Rome so much that the Church in China and the Christians were ex- communicated. This is evidence that even Christianity when it got introduced cannot do away with Chinese characteristics.

In the late 1800s the Chinese nation was carved like a melon by imperial powers triggered by Chinese attempt to ban opium in Canton in 1839. Unequal treaties brought Hong Kong under the British, and forced China to be under foreigners that straddled along the coast of China by installing treaty ports that led to trade, the operation of foreign legal system on the coast, Christian missionaries and foreign control of tariffs. Chinese arms were no match to foreign superior arms. This humiliation led to the birth of a long resistance from the Opium war to the victory of the modern Chinese nation on October 1, 1949! Ever since the 19th century the Chinese effort to meet the political and military challenges of the West relied in part by bringing to the forefront historical memory, culture and civilisation that needs to endure and defeat the fear of time along with a positive uptake of military and western technology and know-how. China learned it needs to build science, technology and engineering and modernise and unify the country in order to remain free and independent from external forces that have used military power successfully to keep it in an inferior position.

In the 20th century the May 4th Movement and the Chinese Communist party and other political, social and intellectual movements borrowed ideas of democracy, and socialism that dominated the intellectual landscape. These western theories along also with science and technology were given Chinese characteristics and helped to stimulate the most powerful national renaissance the Orient ever saw. After 1921 Marxism with Chinese characteristics also emerged to build a liberated, united and modernised Chinese nation.

After victory in 1949 the Chinese nation stood up and wished to build the Chinese socialist peoples republic and this it did with the particular Chinese logo: from the Great Wall of China and Tien a mien Square the great call that nations want liberation, countries want independence and people want revolution resounded across the world. China originated a path of socialist development that was neither with the former Soviet Union nor with the capitalist powers. It was pre-eminently Chinese! Again China’s socialist success is entirely national and followed the Chinese national framework and independent path of evolution, transformation and development.

After 1979 China has opened itself more to the world and wishes to contribute to peace and development both at home and abroad. That is what the Chinese leadership came out with after changing the direction from the relative success of socialism with Chinese characteristics to market socialism with Chinese characteristics.

Today, China‘s leaders say China needs one stone, two cats, three fishes and four chickens. By one stone they mean in a turbulent world China needs to find a stone to stand on and remain steady and rock-firm. By two cats, China needs to be pragmatic and go for results, and not fear opening itself to the world since it is capable like Sun Tzu’s Art of War, when China opens to the world more and more, it keeps its own identity even stronger and stronger and not less and less. By three fishes China needs to maintain ideological and political stability, keep opening to the world economy, and peace and development at home and in the world. To maintain the four chickens, China needs to maintain and keep the leadership of the communist party, the primacy of Marxism,-Leninism and Mao Tse Tung Thought, the primacy of worker- peasant, intellectual and business alliance by keeping the cardinal principle of serve the people to keep in check from corruption the Chinese peoples Government, and finally keeping the primacy of worker- peasant rule in the state by largely maintaining the state control of the economy even though market and commodity expansion is permitted, expanding and growing.

6. China is Successful!

With China’s rise both economically and politically with its stature in international relations, the country has now more rich people than ever and there are persistent problems of inequalities. 106 billionaires are counted this year alone! The concept of endogenous innovation and development and harmonious society espoused by the current leadership can encourage those who lose and hopefully restrain those who go on becoming rich.

China faces the challenge of maintaining political and ideological stability with growing wealth and still significant poverty within the domestic economy whilst its own status is rising in international affairs. A new logo of the harmonious society has been coined to encourage the losers to strive and restrain the winners in society to submit to humility by maintaining the national framework.

We see China scoring ever more and more achievement and we have seen this taking place very often in hard times as well as good times. What is constant is that however difficult the challenge and however new the new idea borrowed or imitated, China reflected and stamped everything with the imprint of a Chinese character borne from the rich memory and legacy of a deep and ancient history and civilisation. What remains thus a unique feature is that China never abandoned giving a Chinese character to the various challenges and confrontations in its 5000 years old history. But Chinese culture and civilisation is not static. It moves on in the flowing river of time with its own pace, and always with independence and self-reinforcing vitality enriching itself with hybridity whilst retaining at all times the core identity of the culture.

7. Concluding Remark: Lessons for Ethiopia

There is much that Ethiopia and more widely Africa can learn from China, not so much in the investment flows that is coming from China now to Africa that is much talked about, but in its ability to employ all resources both hostile and helpful to create a strong national framework and by also maintaining independence in the face of impossible challenges it faced in the course of its history.

We in Ethiopia must strive to create a national framework where rules that permit peaceful democratic debate create a democratic civilisation where ideological and political stability for stimulating human and national development and freedom with independence become secured. We have had a very destructive politics for a long time that puts into question mark the very idea of establishing and sustaining a national framework. It is thus time during this 3rd millennium to learn from China how they secured both a national framework and independence. These two goods- national framework and independence- they are essential for development and freedom for all in Ethiopians. All must rally together and apply them with political intelligence and collective imagination to move forward.

If democracy is to contribute to strengthening national framework and independence, it is high time for all those engaged in politics in Ethiopia to rethink how they do politics. For the ruling parties they must strive to evolve out of their ethnicistic mind set and try to re-find their parties on citizen- based rather than ethnic based parties. The sooner they evolve, the less the danger and harm to Ethiopia’s national framework.

The opposition parties that are polarised need to rethink seriously how to bring at the core the national Ethiopian perspective whether these are organised on a pan-Ethiopian or self-determination based parties or fronts.

They must learn from the split of Eritrea from Ethiopia the bitter lesson that it is war and not peace that ensued regardless of how one justifies the resort back to war after a generation of killing one another. This is not time to hatch another one behind the backs of the people. This is time to make a vow never to go to war again, and never repeat 1998! There is absolutely no point to go to war beyond demonstrating an acute failure of the elite that run the two states now. All in the region must also learn from Somalia and vow not to behave, do and think in a way that exports what happens in Somali elsewhere. There must be a spirit, movement and strong rejection of spreading the danger of further wars in the region. This is time to open dialogue amongst the various forces in the region for peace and not war as the region is already in a desperate state already and does not more of the same lethal killings.

There must be a shared consensus against war amongst the peoples of the region from the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean. A grand movement is needed to stand against war- a real movement against all those who embroil the region to continue in the path of war… There must be a debate on Ethiopia’s role in the region, its pivotal role that can be used productively to create peace and stability for the region.

In Ethiopia itself, once a shared consensus evolves for an Ethiopian agreed national framework, there can be democratic debate on who should come to power or not without any damage to the national framework for institutionally insuring political and ideological stability that can in turn help to bring stability for the region. It is high time that the ruling parties criticise their self-enclosing ethnicism and the opposition parties make efforts to end their disarray by showing willingness to unite on principles that can create long-term ideological and political stability. Ethiopia has the histories, cultures and civilisations. It should now add like the Chinese did to all new ideas, Ethiopian characteristics to democracy and re- launch the nation to contribute to peace and development as the epic centre of the region in and for Africa, like China has become in Asia and the world.

Mammo Muchie, Chair of NES
Professor, Director of Development, Innovation and International Political Economy (DIIPE)
Aalborg University
Fibigertraede 2
9220-Aalborg East
Aalborg, Denmark: 00-45 9635 9813
fax. no. 00 45-9815329

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