How Ethiopia gets Korean development model wrong

By Andualem Sisay Gessesse [OPINION] – During the 53rd annual meetings of the African Development Bank Group I got the opportunity to see the beautiful city of Busan South Korea. I couldn’t believe that this is the country to which Ethiopia sent some 3,000 troops under the United Nations to reverse the North Korea invasion in 1950.

With its nice beaches and mountains, Busan (formerly known as Pusan) is not only a tourist destination; it is also the manufacturing hub of Korea. What amazes me most is the way they managed to harmonize those tall skyscrapers including Trump World Marine towers in three different locations, with the green mountains spreading across the city and the Yellow See.

Then I began asking myself several questions…How in the world did they grow that fast and became the high-tech product hubs such as, Samsung, Hyundai, Kia, LG, etc?

After all how did the country, which in the 1960s was even poorer than many African countries including the now one of the poorest nations in the world – Ethiopia – has managed to boost the per capita of its citizens to $26,000?

Is it really the country we helped during that war because we were in better condition?

Then I began to thinking about my country… Why are we stuck when they managed to move forward out of that cold war period? Why?, Why? Why?

But I couldn’t answer any specific justification. Except trying to convince myself that after we saw the catastrophe of civil war between South and North Korea, we chose to replicate that in our country – dive into civil war. We failed to learn from their mistake.

How Ethiopia gets Korean development model wrong
The beautiful city of Busan, Korea where Ethiopia’s Imperial troops Known as Kagnew were first arrived in 1951 to join the UN forces and defend the country from the North Korean invasion – Photo-

But that is not what I found out…Even after we end those civil wars in 1991 and declared that we follow Korean fast growth development model, we didn’t achieved much.

Especially when we compare what Korea achieved in the last 30 years to Ethiopia, which is much endowed with natural resources, how could we still be thinking about the basic things such as, enabling our people to feed them?

How on earth we brag about double- triple economic growth while we should be ashamed for stretching our hands to receive food from abroad? It is indeed a shame Ethiopians and the people of African countries so to speak deserve more than that. The people have everything.

But the leadership got things wrong – they choose tribal politics. As a result of grid, they began favoring one excluding – in some case even revenging others. As a result, those who politically or tribally connected become the movers and shakers of many African countries including Ethiopia.


In the case of Ethiopia though untold someone who do a few research on the ownership of big businesses and the buildings that popup every day in the capital Addis Ababa, she/he can easily tell which group of people are owning them and why?

Most of the building that we see are either built by bank loans, which primarily was given to the so called investor who showed a sexy manufacturing or agriculture proposal; or the result of money collected through contraband trade and/or by the people who have customs green card to import consumer goods without paying taxes, etc.

How Ethiopia gets Korean development model wrong
Busan, Korea – Photo-

Our politicians deliberately also mixed politics with business and every aspect of our lives killing professionalism. Some of our leadership directly or undercover use ‘out of the blue millionaires’ and dived into business, while in other African countries they party owned businesses with shareholdings by individuals in the party leadership?

Guess where we are today – starve the economy by smuggling and stashing hard currencies in offshore banks. This is what happened in Ethiopia, which makes the new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to publicly warn his officials last week about his investigations on their offshore accounts.

Guess where we are today:
  • One builds; while the other demolishes
  • Professionals exile; while thieves invest
  • Farmers and pastoralists continue to starve; while others get second passport from tax heavens to move the stolen money across the globe
  • The corrupt send their kids to school out of Ethiopia for study; while others struggle to afford the growing school fee for rubbish education at home
  • The corrupt travel business classes to chill with prostitutes and check their offshore accounts in Dubai, Bangkok, London, etc; while others die trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to escape the injustice, unfairness and hopelessness
  • And so on…

And guess what Busan city is preparing itself for? – hosting the World Exhibition in 2030. But look at us? Who cares about tomorrow and the coming generation? Just for today! We say what can I get today when I sign this deal?

Steal today, build rubbish buildings and roads, etc…I guess that is what citizens inherit from a corrupt leadership.

Back to my topic, I believe these are the few points how Ethiopia mainly and some African countries are failing to industrialize their countries and improve quality of their citizens’ lives like Korea did in a short period of time. In my view without undoing those things and pursuing business as usual is like doing the same thing expecting different result.

By the way, I started writing my opinion believing what the ruling party Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed signaled about press freedom and his recent comments about the need for as many media as possible in Ethiopia. So, I just want to say thank you for the premier and urge the party to continue on its healthy reforms for the benefit of ALL ETHIOPIANS.