Stephen Hayes is president and CEO of the Corporate Council on Africa.
I say this thinking of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. If one goes outside the city to the hills around, and looks down at the bowl into which most of the city fits, I think that this too will be a very different city in less than ten years, as will many African cities. In Abuja, Nigeria, they are enacting a twelve-phase development plan, and are now in phase four. For nearly all the development work for phase five, the Chinese have invested, ensuring that phase six is not so far away.
Addis Ababa, at 8,000 plus feet above sea level, is the third highest capital in the world, but because it sits in a bowl, at times of thermal inversion it will be a city increasingly hard to see from the hills, just as Mexico City and Los Angeles are on some days now. The pollution of progress will wash over the city, and what one will see will be the peaks of buildings that have yet to be built. Addis Ababa will be a very different city than even the hub of activity and perceived chaos it is today, a mix of old and new, just as Shanghai was thirty years ago.
There are several similarities to China of 1987 in the Ethiopia of 2013, though it seems difficult for Americans to comprehend. The standard of living for the people is rising and there is slowly, cautiously, a creeping openness in public discussions. By American standards, political control is too heavy-handed, but one must realize what the country's recent past has meant. China had the Cultural Revolution and its aftermath into the early 80s, and Ethiopia had its own horrific oppression in the 70s and 80s. Both countries took a giant leap backwards before beginning to come out of the abyss.
It is difficult to have perspective if you haven't ever been through these type of experiences. We can look at how our own Civil War affected our nation and see some of those wounds still affecting us more than 150 years later.