Reporter Peter Gill spent a lot of time reporting in Ethiopia. Gill's new book "Famine and Foreigners: Ethiopia Since Live Aid," examines the country 25 years later. From the publishers blog, the Oxford Universality Press blog, we see this interview with the BBC reporter.
OUP: What is the situation in Ethiopia now?
PG: In lots of ways, it’s very much better. Up in those former famine lands, there’s been peace for almost 20 years, and there’s been a real drive for development. Even in the harshest conditions and despite the impact of climate change, there are real grounds for optimism. The problem remains that so many Ethiopians – more than three in four of them depend on the land – live on a real knife edge. The population, for instance, has doubled since the big famine. That sort of increase is unsustainable in the long run. And some parts of the country like the South and the Somali Region are subject to terrible food shortages.
OUP: Do you think that other parts of Africa can learn anything from Ethiopia’s experiences?
PG: Despite the challenges that Ethiopia faces, maybe even because of them, I think there are very important lessons for the rest of Africa – and for the rich donors as well. Ethiopia has insisted on charting its own development course over the past 20 years. The country was never colonised and it is not going to accept the dictates of outsiders now. On the face of it, everyone agrees that Africa will only really move when it fully takes charge of its own destiny. On policy matters, Ethiopia keeps showing the way. That’s sometimes uncomfortable for the aid-givers, but they’ve been proved right already in some of the directions they took.
OUP: Is China’s role in Africa broadly negative or positive?
PG: When I started researching this book, I knew only what I’d read about the Chinese in Africa – their rapacious interest in the continent’s natural resources and their relations with some pretty unpleasant regimes. I didn’t frankly think I’d learn much more. What I found was that the Chinese were both helpful and courteous – far more open than I’d expected and far more so than they ever used to be. China has a large and ambitious programme in Ethiopia – infrastructure, telecommunications, trade, aid, there are even teams of Chinese volunteers – and Ethiopia certainly doesn’t fit the pattern of the easily exploited or exploitable. We seem already to acknowledge China’s growing influence around the world. What I’m interested in watching is how China’s approach to raising people out of poverty works in Africa.