The Ethiopian government has designed a five-year plan it has dubbed
the Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP), with which it wants to
realise its vision of building an economic community with a modern
and productive agricultural sector using enhanced technology, and an
industrial sector taking a leading role in the economy.
It pronounced its policy objectives in ensuring sustained economic
development and secured social justice as well as an increase in the
per capita income of citizens for the country to reach the level of
a middle-income country.
The administration of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has subscribed to
the ideals of a developmental state model that was adopted by South
Korea, where it proved to be successful.
During a visit to Seoul to attend the G-20 Summit in 2010, Meles
told a South Korean newspaper about his strong desire to “learn from
Korea’s unique experiences in development.”
South Korea is widely regarded as a dynamic and telling example of
economic development in Asia. Only half a century ago, it was one of
the world’s least developed countries. In 1962, its per capita
income measured 82 dollars. Only in 2007 did it pass the 20,000
South Korea is classified by the World Bank (WB) as a high-income
economy and ranks among the 10 strongest nations in its export
A developmental state is characterised by heavy-handed state
intervention as well as extensive regulation and planning. The most
striking element of the Korean development model is the central role
played by the government in the country’s economic development. It
did everything to ensure fast economic growth, even when it
necessitated politically unpopular decisions.
However, it is not only the correct policies that propelled Korean
economic development. The single-minded effort by its leaders and
people to implement those policies made the difference.
However, people sometimes tend to overemphasise the role of the
state’s draconian measures in achieving economic development.
Although the Korean government has undeniably played a catalytic
role, it is only a part of the bigger picture and should not
overshadow the role of the market and non-state actors.
Development may not necessarily come from outside, as the success of
the Korean economic model suggests; but some development insights
and experiences can be shared at any stage of development. Some of
the often unnoticed Korean virtues are worth emulating.
Economic development is not possible without an adequate supply of
educated and skilled manpower. Korea’s rapid expansion of
opportunities in education and the improvement of its quality is a
marvel to many policymakers around the world. The accumulation of
human resources through the expansion of the education system was
crucial to powering the country’s rapid economic growth. Its
education delivery taught people to do what they were told and to
see their life as one in service to their country.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the Korean government tried to repatriate as
many scientists and engineers as possible. Korea’s reverse brain
drain was an organised government effort, rather than a spontaneous
social phenomenon, with various policies laying the groundwork for
Particular features were the creation of a domestic environment that
saw government sponsored strategic research and the development of
institution building, as well as legal and administrative reforms in
addition to the empowerment of returnees.
Since the 1970s, many graduate students who studied abroad have
returned to Korea. About two thirds of those who received doctoral
degrees in the US returned between 1970 and 1990. South Korea, along
with Taiwan, is one of the few countries that have not suffered from
a “brain drain,” as they have successfully attracted many highly
educated professionals back to the home country.
Korean bureaucrats are known to be disciplined and hardworking.
Korean government agencies are never short on talent, because of the
high esteem and respect they earn in their society. To be a public
servant is viewed as an honour for the individual and her family.
Promotion is based on seniority, in addition to merit, leading to
the expectation that loyalty and hard work will advance one’s
At times, human nature and a competitive spirit prompts individuals
to try to take advantage of others to get ahead, but in the long run
only brilliant and committed bureaucrats move on to the highest
levels, while many self promoting ones are weeded out.
The intervention by the state in the economy was extensive, but
Korea contained corruption and rent seeking. Institution building
and monitoring, as well as improved welfare for government
officials, helped to control the negative side effects. Making
government support contingent on performance in competitive global
markets helped to reduce the potential for corruption.
Korean public servants, in principle and largely in practice,
believed in living a life of service and rejecting the lure of
materialism. As indicated by the country’s early experience,
maintaining a well trained and competitively compensated government
bureaucracy is indispensable to the realisation of economic
Strategic thinking is exactly what is needed to help an organisation,
whether it is a company or country, to meet new challenges and
thrive in an ever-changing world. Bureaucrats have neither the time
nor the inclination to engage in this kind of thinking, especially
when the environment is unfavourable and they seem to put their
heads in the sand and adhere more closely to business-as-usual
principles that worked in the past.
Think tanks are like weather forecasters and sailors that help a
ship navigate stormy waters. To provide strategic thinking, the role
of Korean think tanks is vital. Trained researchers from diverse
backgrounds provide analysis and policy suggestions that can help
turn the sticky rudder of state policy. They have been good at
analysing long-term trends and tackling vexing problems.
The relationship between think tanks and government bureaucracies is
smooth, despite the two institutions having different goals.
Bureaucracies seek calm waters in which to work, while think tanks
make waves. However, rather than being troublemakers or
second-guessers, in the final analysis, think tanks provide the
government with new and objective analyses.
Countries with business friendly governments generally perform
better than those where the relationship has suffered. The Korean
experience illustrates the advantages of forging close and
cooperative public-private sector relations.
Throughout most of the period during which the Korean economy grew
at unprecedented rates, these kinds of relationships thrived and
were actively promoted. The government also effectively used the
carrot and stick approach to ensure that resources are allocated in
a way that foster economic development.
Strong work ethics were the main underlying reason for the economic
success of Korea. It was instrumental to the country’s prosperity.
Koreans view work as fulfilling, and not as degrading.
The country’s experience illustrates that the state has been
exemplary in discharging its crucial and irreplaceable duties in the
economy; it has been a provider of institutions, promoter of
economic growth, and instrument of income distribution. Yet, it also
showed that no government can address a society’s pressing problems
on its own.
This relationship between the government, the private sector, and
the general public appears to be the secret behind Korea’s success.
Ethiopia would be better off if it drew on these experiences to
coordinate and mobilise the people, the private sector, and NGOs in
its bid to achieve the overriding development agenda of
transformation and growth on a sustained and broad based path.