For those who are familiar with the delightful world of comics or have not missed the movies by the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Wakanda is the true ‘El Dorado’ — a mythical civilization in Africa with the most technologically-advanced city in the world.
Now, the comparison would seem even more dismal. Comparing Ethiopia and Wakanda may seem far-fetched as one is real life and the other is fantasy, but none the less a trendsetter. Ethiopia is definitely not the most advanced country in the world.
However, there are some similarities. Both Wakanda and Ethiopia was never under foreign colonial rule, although Ethiopia was briefly and partially occupied by Italy for four years.
But more importantly, Ethiopia and Wakanda have something cherished by many countries. In Wakanda’s case, it is the Vibranium, the most sought-after metal and the technology fashioned from the rarest metal on earth. In Ethiopia’s case, it has not one but several.
First, is its long history and traditions. Ethiopia is the mythical land of Lucy, one of the earliest humanoid examples and arguably the place of origin of modern human civilization. It is also the land of the Queen of Sheba, a mythical figure who was famous for her many intrigues to secure nuptial relations with King Solomon, the great king and the apostle. One can trace many tales, particularly, the culinary rituals of the court of Sheba even today being one of the richest cultural heritage carried throughout history.
Like Vibranium, the Blue Nile River, with its origin in Ethiopia, helped the creation of rich civilizations and powerful kingdoms, like Nubia, Kush, ancient Egypt and Aksum. More importantly, the countries have been led by great leaders who not only surpassed their contemporaries but ascended to dizzying heights.
Thirdly, the untapped natural and mineral resources, social entrepreneurship potential and commercial opportunities that Ethiopia may present would be staggering. There are a good number of untapped or explored albeit unused natural and mineral resources. Precipitation rate here is the second highest in Africa yet this deceptively invaluable resource is often overlooked, particularly by water-rich regions and countries. The whole economy may present a greenfield for opportunity seekers.
Last but not the least, the diverse nature of the population dynamics and ethnicities of religious, linguistic, tribal or cultural nature which are the greatest strengths yet may also pose formidable challenges.
The case of modern-day Ethiopia is, it’s the only country that kept itself free from foreign colonial rule. At the height of colonialism, Ethiopia was the only non-colonial country to have defeated a colonial power in a full-scale war. It is the first and only African country to have a seat in the League of Nations most of whose members were large colonial powers or western countries. It was also one of the 51 original member states of the United Nations. So, internationally, Ethiopia always retained the role of a pioneer, first responder or interlocutor.
The former Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie is credited with the idea of creating an organization for African countries in the model of the European Union. His skilful steering and diplomatic manoeuvring helped create the erstwhile Organization of African Unity (OAU), succeeded by the African Union (AU).
As a tribute to his Majesty’s remarkable initiatives, the headquarters of OAU and that of AU was based in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, which has truly become the ‘Diplomatic Capital’ of the African Continent. After the Emperor was deposed in a coup, Ethiopia went into a decline due to successive waves of violence unleashed by the autocratic regimes, civil wars, famine, border wars and diseases.
However, in the last decade or so, more and more democratic and liberalized values were either restored or adopted. The healing of Ethiopia has been accelerated due to people’s participation in the governance process. With the coming of Dr Abiy Ahmed merely 19 months ago, the process came full circle. Now it’s time for accelerated development.
With the coming of the Ethiopian T’Challa — Dr Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia underwent a fast reconciliation process while the neighbouring countries felt the change in the wind as well. The 20-year-long stand-off between Ethiopia and its neighbouring Eritrea was over due to the unilateral initiative of Dr Abiy who resolved the bone of contention by ceding the disputed town of Badme to Eritrea which caused the conflict in the first place.
Within 3 months in office, he brought the President of Eritrea to the terms of peace and to his capital. President Isaias Afeworki, the earlier declared nemesis and ‘arch enemy’ of Ethiopia by the Ethiopian leadership, not only came to Addis Ababa but also invited Dr Abiy to his capital in Asmara which experienced a modern-day ‘African Westphalia’. The scornful ‘Horn of Africa’ became immediately the centre of attention of the globe.
Immediately after the peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea, Addis Ababa saw another peace event happening. The conflicting parties in South Sudan came to the table for talks, which resulted in the longest peacetime in South Sudan since the civil war broke out half a decade ago. In very recent times, the Ethiopian Prime Minister played the instrumental role in the resolution of conflicts in Sudan following the ouster of Omar al-Bashir.
If the Ethiopia-Eritrea peace deal was any indication, Dr Abiy’s following actions were to carry his immaculate touch. Immediately after taking power, he freed thousands of opposition activists from jail and allowed exiled dissidents to return home, setting an immediate tone of enthusiasm and hope.
The people of Ethiopia of all ethnic and religious identities voluntarily organized some of the largest gatherings in the history of the country to honour their leader. This was a feat unheard of in the recent history of this country. He ushered in a new sense of duty and pride among the otherwise indifferent Ethiopians.
He not only appointed a woman as the president and but half of his cabinet members are female to maintain gender parity. That was also a first for Africa as a whole. Most importantly, he adopted the way of cool-headedness and showed maturity in governing his nation while identifying and resolving the causes of conflict.
Dr Abiy has been a vocal supporter of the ‘Pan-Ethiopianism’. While his reforms also unveiled the hitherto secret details of Ethiopia's ethnic tensions, which resulted in violence among different tribes in the ethnically divided regions of Ethiopia and the forced displacement of some 2.5 million people from their homes, the penultimate outcome may well save Ethiopia from disintegrating into pieces (like the former Yugoslavia) due to these violent clashes spread across and borne from the ethnic fault lines.
Just like Wakanda, Ethiopia has its different tribes and clans separated by internal borders across nine regions. The animosity and distrust among them in recent times have risen to an unforeseen height causing violence and casualties regularly.
People are more worried about their ethnical identities and the problems they may face in unfamiliar territories, than how to raise themselves from poverty and hunger. It’s just a matter of time that groups and entities with vested sinister intentions would try to capitalize on this disunity. Yet, hope remains in the form of human individual and that individual is Dr Abiy Ahmed.
Ethiopia's recent economic successes also came breathtakingly fast. A country with next to no industrial bases just merely a decade ago, has been implementing its Growth and Transformation Plan I & II, which has been creating an industrial product-based export-led economy. While readymade garments and textile is the prime focus in its industrial drive, other sectors like pharmaceutical, leather, petrochemical, light engineering sectors are also getting importance.
Ethiopia is the highest FDI receiving country in Africa and one of the highest in the world in 2018 attracting nearly $4.5 billion, most of which went into the manufacturing sector. Soon, Ethiopia may very well say ‘Gone are those days when Ethiopia will be energized by Coffee and Khat’. However, the Ethiopian Government has also been trying to alleviate its food shortages through domestic means. That means, agriculture and livestock sectors have also been targeted for investment and development.
Just like Wakanda, Ethiopia still kept itself shut. Although sectors like banking, telecommunications and micro-credit may soon be opened for foreign investment, Ethiopia remained till this day a closely protected and restricted market. Like many African countries, Ethiopia lacks in infrastructure, which it has been zeroing in.
Multiple large projects in energy, transportation and financial sectors have been underway and upon completion, will give a huge boost to the Ethiopian economy. Unlike Wakanda, however, Ethiopia has been very liberal and welcoming to people of all races, colour and creed. Ethiopian ports offer on-arrival visa for nearly all the countries.
Having nine UNESCO world heritage sites and numerous natural and historic venues of attractions, more and more tourists are coming to the country. Ethiopian Airlines, one of the fastest-growing carriers in the world and the largest in Africa, has been significantly contributing to this influx.
Countries with major economies are already taking an interest in Ethiopia and are moving to develop more intimate relations. Countries like Bangladesh have been nurturing a limited but critical relation with Ethiopia, so far.
However, the whole gamut of bilateral and multilateral relations may go through a warmer and friendlier dimension since Bangladesh has been gradually increasing its footprint in this country. As Bangladesh-Ethiopia Foreign Office Consultation Meeting is going to be held soon for the first time ever, the outlook for flourishing the relations between the two countries looks promising indeed.
Notwithstanding, partnering with Ethiopia would involve challenges similar to the way that Ethiopia would be facing to be a true Wakandan replica. But they have, for now at least, a real-life Superhero figure name Dr Abiy Ahmed. Time will indeed be interested to tell the story of Ethiopia with Dr Abiy at the helm.
Tarik Hasan is the head of political, economic and consular affairs at Bangladesh embassy in Addis Ababa.