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Ethiopia's Meles says US at Fault for Africa's Econ Woes

Ethiopi's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi (2008 photo)

Ethiopi's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi (2008 photo)

Ethiopia Prime Minister Meles Zenawi says failures in the U.S. financial system are largely to blame for Africa's economic crisis, and pointed to China as a possible key to recovery. Our correspondent in Addis Ababa has details of the Ethiopian leader's keynote address to the annual African Economic Conference.

Speaking to an audience of academics and policymakers, Ethiopia Prime Minister Meles Zenawi painted a gloomy picture of Africa's economic outlook. He said the theme of the conference, fostering development in the current economic climate, may be impossible.

"The first question that comes to my mind is: Is it possible to foster development when we have a whole era of economic crisis ahead of us? I am going to suggest today that while it is probable that Africa will not be able to foster development in the current era, it is nevertheless possible to do so," said Meles Zenawi.

Mr. Meles, a former Marxist rebel leader, launched a blistering attack on what he called "discredited neo-liberal economic policies" imposed on Africa from outside. He said unsustainable consumption by the United States when times were good had condemned Africa to a protracted period of low growth ahead.

"The United States has hitherto served as the consumer of last resort and helped to maintain the unsustainable division of labor and division of production and consumption," he said. "It is no longer able to do it, and this is the main cause of the current crisis."

Mr. Meles suggested Africa's best hope might be a massive infusion of cash from China and other countries that have amassed surplus savings by producing goods for the consumers.

"It is possible to imagine that the Chinese will decided to redirect some of their surplus savings to infrastructural development in Africa," said Meles Zenawi. "It is possible to do so because to some extent it is already happening. Such a shift would mean tens of billions of dollars per annum invested in African infrastructure, again opening the opportunity for the transformation of the overall economy. Indeed, it is not only possible but highly probable that the Chinese will take steps that would widen the window of opportunity for Africa."

The Ethiopian prime minister, who will lead the African delegation to next month's Copenhagen climate summit, expressed doubt the world is serious about tackling global warming. But he said a climate deal could be a boon to Africa, with its sources of renewable energy.

Some experts say Africa stands to receive as much as $100 billion a year from rich countries to offset the effects of climate change.

The three-day African Economic Conference is being held against a backdrop of low-growth forecasts for the near future. The 2009 growth estimate for sub-Saharan Africa is just 1.3 percent, with a prediction of an increase to four or five percent next year.

African Development Bank chief Donald Kaberuka, said prospects for recovery remain fragile. He said a full recovery would not occur until the continent returns to seven-percent growth, possibly within a few years.