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Comments on “Wax, Gold and Accountability in Ethiopia”

Shanta Devarajan's picture

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.


Submitted by SJ on
Please first tell us what values does the World Bank attach to facts and interpretations? World Bank is the biggest lender. Shouldn't you be setting the example by transparently and publicly announcing and discussing your values?

Submitted by Anonymous on
It would be nice to have progress in democracy along with economic and social development. But the historical record shows that the former is not a prerequsite for the latter. Soviet Russia and China made huge strides in development under undemcratic regimes. For people who are worried about their next meal, their health and shelter, survival rather than democracy may be their top priority. Slowly, but surely development undermines autocracy (think Russia and Eastern Europe), though not fast enough for the elites of the third world and Western society that developed dmocracy over centuries;but now, in the instatnt world of communication, demand the third world does it in a few years.

Submitted by Bezabeh Belachew on
"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." A play of words on "democracy' and "human rights' as though these are separate issues. Democracy is to be distinguished from mobocracy. The latter pays attention to what people in a given occasion may want, with allegedly the majority determining a desired outcome. In contrast, democracy entails pursuing avenues as per the bylaws ratified by the people who wish to practice it. The people give up a little of their rights for asecrtaining their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Each individual is an end in nature. When the individual dies the universe ends for him as does his nature. Thus his/ her rights must be respected while he/she is alive. This is the highest form of morality and of human rights - the right to life. A group of individuals constitute a set of ends, or what we call a kingdom of ends. Thus, people should respect the life of the other as an end in itself and not to satisfy or meet any other purpose. [See Zereyacob, or Kant for details].This is deaontological morality. Liberty is freedom. How freedom is achieved and how it is measured could be deontological, utilitarian or even virtues egotism. In any case, the liberty to own property is fundamental to any definition of liberty. If democracy is not intended to ensure liberty then democracy is a word used by cleaver people to lie to others. Human rights include the right of an individual to justifiably defend his property. So, where is the distinction between the purposes of democracy and human rights. The pursuit of happiness might involve happiness of the flesh that Zereyacob considered immutable, and John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau and others including the authors of American Declaration of Independence (authored by Thomas Jefferson and edited by Benjamin Franklin and John Adams) enshrine. The pursuit of happiness that some seek may have nothing to do with issues concerning the flesh; yet, they have the right to pursue it. Whereas democracy does not guarantee happiness it none the less offers opportunities for all to pursue it to their satisfaction. How can such pursuit be divorced from human rights. If slave commune is quite productive and some slaves are fattened what has that got to do with efforts at contrasting between human rights and democracy. I therefore submit that the quoted discussants are at best talking heads with no respect for scholarship or they are willfully deceptive.

Submitted by jana b on
The human development approach takes fully in to account the political nature of development policies. It is one thing to focus on what should be done to make policies conducive to human development outcomes and another to make it happen through the political process. Sound macroeconomic policies should be followed but these policies are not adopted because of systematic biases that protect interests of elites .

Submitted by Anonymous on
There is no doubt that the World Bank and Imf and their agencies have been throughout the years a strong engine of development around the world. However, the success of the projects they finance depends also on the receiving governments of ezch country they lend money too. Which puts these istitutitions in very difficult and often irreconciliable situations in which they have to choose options that are not the best. Corruption, graft, parocchialism and many misdeeds by the receiving countries, and sometimes of their own internal failings produce undesired results. All said and done their role in world development has been positive and beneficial.

Submitted by Dawo on
"The greatest problem with inflationary pressure and income in equality in developing countries is not attributed to fiscal and monetary policy environment, But the source being mainly due to the limitation exist within legal environment adopted" It has been observed that developed nations, since economic crisis of year 2008/09, have adopted major reforms on fiscal and monetary policies in order to stabilize their economy. some have cut public debt and raising tax structure while others cut public expenditure by raising tax base to resort fiscal imbalance which has bearing on employment creation. Developing countries, like developed nations, have also adopted various policy reform measures with effort to control inflationary pressure and reduction in income inequalities between people. However, these parallel tightening fiscal and monetary policy with relaxing Industrial policy experiencing that it did not brought about the desired change in meeting inflationary control and reduction in income inequality rather contributing to widen the gap between developed and developing countries as the economy interrelated world wide. For developing countries, announcement of economic planning by indicative rising in GDP rate worth nothing where there exist uneven distribution of wealth among people, that largest proportion of GDP concentrated in the hands of very few group, poor domestic saving mobilization, excessive widening fiscal imbalance, continuous rise of inflation eroding the wealth of largest group of people, etc..all these can be considered as important indicators of macroeconomic stability which resulted from failure to adopt analytical system of instrumental policy of economic growth instead for extension of political power of ruling party. Formulation of economic growth Viz-a-vis Industrial, fiscal, and monetary policy are those interrelated and require careful and systematic analysis of their correlation and regression in line with short and long run economic objective. when thinking about these major economic environment, a country should bring top priority of socio-cultural environment and social responsibility issue which has became critical element globally. Most developing countries in today world adopting mixed economic planning system for driving their growth forward with indicative rising in GDP. this coexistence of public and private where by public sector play dominant role in undertaking development activities, has therefore, pose conflicting situation over resource by which private sector strive for maximizing its economy and leave alone social consideration to public at large for government on one side, at the same side the government play reactive role by adjustment in its fiscal and monetary policy to protect malpractice of private sector on the economy, these have direct impact on living condition of large community and negligence of social responsibility ultimately increase inflation pressure. In developed nations where there exist clear indicative economic planning system by which private sector play dominant role within market economy, and the government in its policy incorporated clear guide lines of social responsibilities of private for different dimensions along with economic consideration. so that there was two-way understanding and expectation between social and economic policy bind laid in the initial stage, Hence responsibility of private was not only tax paying but covered all issues like rural development, infrastructure, education, ethical and fair trading (i.e contribution to control inflation), job creation, etc.. However, failure of the government to regularly and systematically conduct Audit, reviewing the social accounting report along with economic accounting report to be submitted by private corporations led the country to financial and economic crisis. Further, brought about widening the gap in income in equalities among people. In developing countries, unlike developed nations, factors like : following unclear economic system direction that seems mixed economy in its nature but indicative in its planning, interrelated constraints with in economic policy formulation, absence of social responsibility along with economic responsibility to different stake holders in its legal frame work, weak mechanism of verifying social responsibility accounting and Audit to private sector due to hand cap private policy contributed to un existence of mutual understanding between private and public. these further contribute to influence global environment of business like the world face today. Lastly but least, prevalence of clear direction of economic planning and formulation of workable policy frame work incorporating social responsibility and economic consideration for private sectors and public will bring about integrative and efficient way of allocating resources thereby create joint responsibility to control inflation and reduction in income inequalities led to positive economic growth . If there is socially responsible organization and existence of good corporate governance from both public and private, there will be high possibility of achieving the intended health economic growth keeping inflationary pressure under control. therefore, government of developing countries should focus on creating conducive environment that could realise adaptation of balanced approach (i.e economic and social expectation) so that economic policy designed in such away it consider economic and social environment. the government indeed emphasizing on creating socially responsible corporations and stringent on systematically reviewing of social accounting report along with economic report to be submitted by private sector instead of restricting from participating in development activity as it seem to be discrimination from creature of society.

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