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Ethiopia Table of Contents


Growth and Structure of the Economy

Developments up to l974

By African standards, Ethiopia is a potentially wealthy country, with fertile soil and good rainfall over large regions. Farmers produce a variety of grains, including wheat, corn, and millet. Coffee also grows well on southern slopes. Herders can raise cattle, sheep, and goats in nearly all parts of the country. Additionally, Ethiopia possesses several valuable minerals, including gold and platinum.

Unlike most sub-Saharan African countries, Ethiopia's resources have enabled the country to maintain contacts with the outside world for centuries. Since ancient times, Ethiopian traders exchanged gold, ivory, musk, and wild animal skins for salt and luxury goods, such as silk and velvet. By the late nineteenth century, coffee had become one of Ethiopia's more important cash crops. At that time, most trade flowed along two major trade routes, both of which terminated in the far southwest in the Kefa-Jima region. From there, one route went north to Mitsiwa via Gonder and Adwa, the other along the Awash River valley to Harer and then on to Berbera or Zeila on the Red Sea.

Despite its many riches, Ethiopia never became a great trading nation. Most Ethiopians despised traders, preferring instead to emulate the country's warriors and priests. After establishing a foothold in the country, Greek, Armenian, and Arab traders became the economic intermediaries between Ethiopia and the outside world. Arabs also settled in the interior and eventually dominated all commercial activity except petty trade.

When their occupation of Ethiopia ended in 1941, the Italians left behind them a country whose economic structure was much as it had been for centuries. There had been some improvements in communications, particularly in the area of road building, and attempts had been made to establish a few small industries and to introduce commercial farming, particularly in Eritrea, which Italy had occupied since 1890. But these changes were limited. With only a small proportion of the population participating in the money economy, trade consisted mostly of barter. Wage labor was limited, economic units were largely self-sufficient, foreign trade was negligible, and the market for manufactured goods was extremely small.

During the late l940s and 1950s, much of the economy remained unchanged. The government focused its development efforts on expansion of the bureaucratic structure and ancillary services. Most farmers cultivated small plots of land or herded cattle. Traditional and primitive farming methods provided the population with a subsistence standard of living. In addition, many nomadic peoples raised livestock and followed a life of seasonal movement in drier areas. The agricultural sector grew slightly, and the industrial sector represented a small part of the total economy.

By the early l950s, Emperor Haile Selassie I (reigned 1930- 74) had renewed calls for a transition from a subsistence economy to an agro-industrial economy. To accomplish this task, Ethiopia needed an infrastructure to exploit resources, a material base to improve living conditions, and better health, education, communications, and other services. A key element of the emperor's new economic policy was the adoption of centrally administered development plans. Between l945 and l957, several technical missions, including one each from the United States, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and Yugoslavia, prepared a series of development plans. However, these plans failed to achieve any meaningful results, largely because basic statistical data were scarce and the government's administrative and technical capabilities were minimal.

In 1954/55 the government created the National Economic Council to coordinate the state's development plans. This agency, which was a policy-making body chaired by the emperor, devoted its attention to improving agricultural and industrial productivity, eradicating illiteracy and diseases, and improving living standards for all Ethiopians. The National Economic Council helped to prepare Ethiopia's first and second five-year plans.

The First Five-Year Plan (1957-61) sought to develop a strong infrastructure, particularly in transportation, construction, and communications, to link isolated regions. Another goal was the establishment of an indigenous cadre of skilled and semiskilled personnel to work in processing industries to help reduce Ethiopia's dependence on imports. Lastly, the plan aimed to accelerate agricultural development by promoting commercial agricultural ventures. The Second Five-Year Plan (1962-67) signaled the start of a twenty-year program to change Ethiopia's predominantly agricultural economy to an agro-industrial one. The plan's objectives included diversification of production, introduction of modern processing methods, and expansion of the economy's productive capacity to increase the country's growth rate. The Third Five-Year Plan (1968-73) also sought to facilitate Ethiopia's economic well-being by raising manufacturing and agro-industrial performance. However, unlike its predecessors, the third plan expressed the government's willingness to expand educational opportunities and to improve peasant agriculture. Total investment for the First Five-Year Plan reached 839.6 million birr (for value of the birr --see Glossary), about 25 percent above the planned 674 million birr figure; total expenditure for the Second Five-Year Plan was 13 percent higher than the planned 1,694 million birr figure. The allocation for the Third Five-Year Plan was 3,115 million birr.

Several factors hindered Ethiopia's development planning. Apart from the fact that the government lacked the administrative and technical capabilities to implement a national development plan, staffing problems plagued the Planning Commission (which prepared the first and second plans) and the Ministry of Planning (which prepared the third). Many project managers failed to achieve plan objectives because they neglected to identify the resources (personnel, equipment, and funds) and to establish the organizational structures necessary to facilitate largescale economic development.

During the First Five-Year Plan, the gross national product ( GNP --see Glossary) increased at a 3.2 percent annual rate as opposed to the projected figure of 3.7 percent, and growth in economic sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing, and mining failed to meet the national plan's targets. Exports increased at a 3.5 percent annual rate during the first plan, whereas imports grew at a rate of 6.4 percent per annum, thus failing to correct the negative balance of trade that had existed since l95l.

The Second Five-Year Plan and Third Five-Year Plan anticipated that the economy would grow at an annual rate of 4.3 percent and 6.0 percent, respectively. Officials also expected agriculture, manufacturing, and transportation and communications to grow at respective rates of 2.5, 27.3, and 6.7 percent annually during the Second Five-Year Plan and at respective rates of 2.9, l4.9, and l0.9 percent during the Third Five-Year Plan. The Planning Commission never assessed the performance of these two plans, largely because of a shortage of qualified personnel.

However, according to data from the Ethiopian government's Central Statistical Authority, during the 1960/61 to 1973/74 period the economy achieved sustained economic growth. Between 1960 and 1970, for example, Ethiopia enjoyed an annual 4.4 percent average growth rate in per capita gross domestic product ( GDP --see Glossary). The manufacturing sector's growth rate more than doubled (from 1.9 percent in 1960/61 to 4.4 percent in 1973/74), and the growth rate for the wholesale, retail trade, transportation, and communications sectors increased from 9.3 percent to 15.6 percent.

Relative to its neighbors, Ethiopia's economic performance was mixed. Ethiopia's 4.4 percent average per capita GDP growth rate was higher than Sudan's 1.3 percent rate or Somalia's 1 percent rate. However, Kenya's GDP grew at an estimated 6 percent annual rate, and Uganda achieved a 5.6 percent growth rate during the same 1960/61 to 1972/73 period.

By the early l970s, Ethiopia's economy not only had started to grow but also had begun to diversify into areas such as manufacturing and services. However, these changes failed to improve the lives of most Ethiopians. About four-fifths of the population were subsistence farmers who lived in poverty because they used most of their meager production to pay taxes, rents, debt payments, and bribes. On a broader level, from 1953 to 1974 the balance of trade registered annual deficits. The only exception was l973, when a combination of unusually large receipts from the export of oilseeds and pulses and an unusually small rise in import values resulted in a favorable balance of payments of 454 million birr. With the country registering trade deficits, the government attempted to restrict imports and to substitute locally produced industrial goods to improve the trade balance. Despite these efforts, however, the unfavorable trade balance continued. As a result, foreign grants and loans financed much of the balance of payments deficit.

Data as of 1991

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