Democracy and Development: Lessons from Turkish Experience Applied to Ethiopia Paul B. Henze

Third International Conference on Development Studies in Ethiopia, June 18-19, 2005, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Abstract

Ethiopia’s development problems are not unique. Similar problems have been (and are being) encountered in many other countries.

Turkey’s successful transformation from a politically and economically backward, stagnant country into one of the most dynamic societies of our time offers an example of the kind of progress Ethiopia can hope for during the 21st century. How did Turkey transform itself in little over half a century?

Turkey and Ethiopia have similarities. Both have complicated geography but lack major wealth in minerals and oil. Both have suffered strife and political turmoil. Both have unstable and aggressive neighbors. Both carry a heavy burden of history, but neither has ever been colonized or effectively conquered.

When the modern Turkish Republic was proclaimed in 1923, it had barely 12 million people most of whom were illiterate and lived in a countryside which had barely changed over several thousand years. The country lacked infrastructure and industry. Its exports consisted of tobacco, nuts, dried fruit and carpets, produce of traditional peasant agriculture. It was equally backward politically.

A small elite class led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk–who ruled as a benevolent but firm monarch–was determined to turn the country into an open society moving toward European civilization and modern development.

Today Turkey has over 70 million people, almost all literate. All Turkish children go to school. Every Turkish village has electricity and running water. Everybody has access to doctors and medicines. Turkey’s exports totaled $60 billion in 2004 and included automobiles, televisions, and manufactured goods of many kinds, huge amounts of processed food and vast quantities of textiles and other consumer goods.

A majority of Turks now live in cities and enjoy a steadily rising standard of living. More than 30 universities produce skilled specialists. Communication and transportation systems approach those of most countries in Europe.

A network of super-highways is now being built. For more than 50 years Turkey has enjoyed a democratic political system, a free press, and lively cultural life. It is likely to join the European Union by 2020.

Turkey’s experience offers comparisons and lessons worth considering as Ethiopia embarks on a period of accelerated development.

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