Author | Editor: Kuznar, L. (NSI, Inc.)
Five datasets on wealth and status distribution in Ethiopia were analyzed: 2016 World Bank quintile and decile estimates of income, International Labor Organization (ILO) income by occupation estimates for 2013, and USAID Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) data from 2016 on wealth factor scores and agricultural land ownership and 2005 data on wealth factor scores.
Ethiopia is paradoxical; compared to other countries it is an extremely poor nation with an extremely high economic growth rate and low inequality across the entire population. However, Ethiopia’s strides in economic growth and reducing inequality are uneven across socio-economic, rural/urban, educational, and ethnic lines. Economic growth has been differentially enjoyed by well-educated, urban elites from minority ethnic groups such as the Tigray.
Significance for Risk Taking and Stability
The differential distribution of Ethiopia’s limited wealth has led to grievances from poorer uneducated members of ethnic groups such as the Oromo and Amhara as well as risk acceptant elites from these ethnic groups. These grievances have erupted into protests that have destabilized the Ethiopian government and led to the resignation of the Tigray Prime Minister and the recent (June 2019) assassination of the Army Chief of Staff and the president of Amhara State in a coup attempt. The groups that the authors would predict to be acceptant of taking political risks appear to be acting upon their grievances.
Implications for US Interests
Ethiopia is the United States’ primary ally in East Africa and one of the US’ most important allies on the continent. To that end, the US continues to invest heavily in the country through foreign direct investment and governmental aid. The current shape of inequality and its attendant social unrest threaten these interests. Ironically, China’s aggressive involvement in Ethiopian development may enable it to eclipse US influence. The US is in danger of losing its influence in Ethiopia no matter what direction the country goes economically and politically.
Implications for China’s Interests
China is currently the primary investor in Ethiopia, through foreign direct aid (especially in infrastructure) and loans. Inequality fueled instability threatens these investments. However, China’s larger investment (2.5 times that of the US) provides it the opportunity to eclipse US influence if Ethiopia stabilizes.
Implications for Russia’s Interests
Russia has not invested nearly as much in Ethiopia but has recently signed an agreement to support the development of Ethiopian nuclear capability. Ethiopian political instability may threaten this Russian investment. However, if Ethiopia stabilizes and continues to grow economically, then Russia would gain a strategic and economic advantage and consequent leverage in Ethiopia.