Last month’s post on the exchange between Helen Epstein and Ken Ohashi on Ethiopia generated a large number of comments (and rejoinders), a response from Helen herself, and references in the Addis press.
One set of comments were about the facts. Many commentators questioned whether human development indicators were actually improving in Ethiopia, while others questioned whether the political situation was as repressive as described by Helen in her original piece in the New York Review of Books. Some asked whether the facts coming out of Ethiopia (on agricultural productivity for example) were reliable. Since these are questions of fact, they can and should be verified.
Another group of comments questioned my interpretation of the facts,
namely, that the progress in health and education were due to improved service delivery which, in turn, derived from greater accountability at the local level.
For instance, Helen and others said there were no third-party civil society organizations in Ethiopia. Even if this were true, there is clearly something working with service delivery in Ethiopia, and we need to understand what it is.
Finally, a third group discussed the values we attach to these facts and interpretations. If poverty is declining and human development improving, but there is little progress on democracy, are people really better off? Conversely, if there are improvements in human rights but no reduction in poverty, in what sense has welfare improved? While they cannot be resolved by examining facts, these are questions worth discussing.