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The Davos Forum and the Ethiopian Guest

The Davos Forum and the Ethiopian Guest

Monday, 28 January, 2019 - 08:30
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper
Backwardness is not an inescapable fate. A people, who have long suffered, can change the course of events if they had the will, vision and leadership. Ethiopia could have remained stuck in the wars of the past. It could have remained embroiled in endless ethnic and border conflicts and compounded its poverty and hunger. It instead chose to go against this path. It chose to belong to this era and hop on to the train that is headed towards the future.

This is what officials at the World Economic Forum in Davos sensed when they listened to what Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed had to say. This leader knows his country. He has witnessed the catastrophic impact two decades of war with Eritrea have had on his country. Prior to that, he witnessed the heavy price paid over the Ogaden war with Somalia. He also witnessed the terrible failure of Mengistu Haile Mariam when he rose up against dictatorship. Moreover, he saw the suffering and hunger among the people and their longing for an end to their misery.

Abiy Ahmed derived lessons from the past. Poverty, not Eritrea, was the main enemy. What good is a victory against a neighboring country when you are being defeated at home by poverty and backwardness? He also realized that victory by one ethnic group against the other was meaningless as long as hunger and unemployment persisted. He learned that the solution lies in getting out of the wars of the past and forging partnerships with the future through creating opportunities and raising hope.

Abiy Ahmed realized that he had to make a major decision between remaining in the catastrophe of the past and becoming an additional burden on Africa and the world or between becoming part of the cycle of development and making a decisive move that completely breaks free of the past. This is how coexistence prevailed over conflict. Ethiopia turned towards development, progress and investment in an effort to join the successive technological revolutions. His motto became “breaking down walls and building bridges.” He shunned wars with neighbors and instead opened partnerships with them. In Ethiopia, he built a country of law, institutions, respect of human rights and transition of power that is attractive to investors.

Abiy Ahmed knew that the time for change was now and that countries did not have the luxury to keep stalling forever. This is why, ten months ago, he launched a series of reforms. But most importantly, he revived hope among his people. The Ethiopians, who had given up on their country, started to return. This was demonstrated by the figures Abiy Ahmed presented at Davos this week that revealed Ethiopia as the fastest developing country in Africa. His figures showed that Addis Ababa had put behind it the phase of censorship and arrest of journalists and political opponents. He proved that the war on corruption will not spare anyone.

Another African caught the attention of Davos participants when he sounded the alarm over the situation in his country. This was the first time that Somalia’s Mohammed Hassan Mahmoud, 28, saw snow when he landed in Davos. He recounted a painful story about being born amid civil war in his country. He fled with his mother and siblings to Kenya after his father was killed. He moved from refugee camp to another until the Kakuma camp became his new country. He could not go to university because he lacked the necessary identification papers. In the camp, he became the liaison between the UN refugee agency and Kenyan government.

Addressing the gatherers, he said: “There are 60 million refugees in the world today. I want to be part of the last generation of refugees who have been stuck in camps for 20 years.” He called on countries to change their views on this issue. “It is time for refugees to be treated as partners in development efforts instead of a burden on governments. There are people among them who boast talents and competencies. They can become productive partners if they are given the chance,” he pleaded.

Abiy Ahmed and the refugee’s remarks were not the highlight of the Davos forum, but I chose to speak about them because a sizable amount of our countries are still living in the war and delusions of the past. “Small wars” are still depleting budgets and eating away at stability. Corruption rears its ugly head whenever a government attempts to uproot it from state institutions. I spoke about the refugee’s testimony because some of our countries produce refugees, while others, who eye them warily, are tasked with hosting them.

Davos 2019 was weighed down with many concerns. From the moment of its opening and until its conclusion, concerns were rife over the eruption of an open trade war between the United States and China. The gatherers warned that the price of this war will not be limited to the globe’s top two economies, but the entire world. The Chinese vice president’s speech was clear when he said that the trade war cannot create winners and that any confrontation will harm all sides. He attempted to ease mounting fears over signs that the Chinese economy was slowing down, stressing that it will continue to achieve sustainable growth.

Other issues preoccupied the participants. The fourth industrial revolution and the changes it will create, especially in artificial intelligence, and its impact on job opportunities and unemployment. Another issue was the ambiguous situation in Britain over Brexit. Some attention was given to the marginalized, who have been forgotten by globalization and persistence of high poverty rates in the world. This may lead to political and security unrest and massive migration waves that have started to spark populist movements and severe identity crises. Climate change was present more than ever before amid warnings that the world could no longer keep hesitating in this issue, especially since the majority of governments were not doing enough to combat this phenomenon.

The speeches at Davos revealed that officials prioritize their governments and countries. Discussions revealed ongoing concern that the world will be divided between those who hold technology and the keys to the future and those who are still stuck in the past and refuse to swallow the bitter pill and turn to the future.

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