The economic legacy of Ethiopia's Meles Zenawi

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi speaks on October 10, 2011 during the opening of the Energy for All conference in Oslo.

Jeff Horwich: Today the global economy is taking note of a country it doesn't often pay much mind to: Ethiopia. The country's leader since 1991 has died. Meles Zanawi was just 57, so people weren't expecting this. Meles faced criticism for civil and human rights abuses in recent years. He also got credit for a remarkable run of economic growth.

Michael Jennings is chair of the Center of African Studies at the University of London. Good to talk to you.

Michael Jennings: Hello, thank you.

Horwich: It's heavily dated, I’ll admit but many American's impressions of Ethiopia are still linked to the 80's -- "We Are The World," images of famine. How has the country changed during Meles' 20 years in power?

Jennings: Well, I think that people visiting would be surprised by how Ethiopia has changed. That old image of a country hit by famine, if it was ever true, certainly isn’t now. In terms of economics, Ethiopia has been or is heralded as a success story of sub-Saharan Africa. The region as a whole over the past decade has seen some quite significant growth and Ethiopia has been at the forefront of that. It’s benefited from inward investment, its encouraged commercial agriculture; it’s expanded its exports of certain key commodities. On the face of it, it looks it’s doing pretty well and has continued to do so.

Horwich: As I understand it Meles’ approach to economic policy was not exactly unfettered, free-market capitalism. How would you characterize it?

Jennings: I think there has been a transition by Zinawei. I think he started off as Marxist but over the past two decades has transformed into something more akin to state capitalism. It’s not unfettered capitalism but neither could it really be characterized as socialism -- certainly not Marxism.

Horwich: Michael Jennings at the University of London, thank you so much.

Jennings: Thank you.

About the author

Jeff Horwich is the interim host of Marketplace Morning Report and a sometime-Marketplace reporter.

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