Interrogating the economy-first paradigm in ?Sustainable Development': towards integrating development with the ecosystem in Ethiopia

Author:Tsegai Berhane Ghebretekle
Position:Tsegai Berhane Ghebretekle, LL.B. (Addis Ababa University), LL.M (the University of Oslo), Ph.D (University of Warwick); Assistant Professor of Law, Mekelle Univesity School of Law; currently Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the Institute for Dispute Resolution in Africa (IDRA), University of South Africa. Email: tsegai7@yahoo.com
Pages:64-87
SUMMARY

This article examines the concept of sustainable development after the Post- 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement with particular emphasis on Ethiopia. Various African countries are vulnerable to climate change, as is evidenced by recent droughts. Ethiopia is selected as a case study in light of its pace in economic growth and as a country which is among the ones that are most affected by climate... (see full summary)

 
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64
Interrogating the Economy-First Paradigm
in ‘Sustainable Development’:
Towards Integrating Development with the Ecosystem in Ethiopia
Tsegai Berhane Ghebretekle
Abstract
This article examines the concept of sustainable development after the Post-
2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement with particular emphasis on Ethiopia.
Various African countries are vulnerable to climate change, as is evidenced by
recent droughts. Ethiopia is selected as a case study in light of its pace in
economic growth and as a country which is among the ones that are most
affected by climate change. I argue that the concept of sustainable development
will be meaningful if it is related only to the core idea of ecological
sustainability. Long-term economic growth in Ethiopia is possible if the
underlying environmental resources that underpin it are protected and
enhanced. Sustainable development remains peripheral and impractical as long
as the pursuit of economic and social development remains the practical driving
force behind the Ethiopian government’s policy as the primary measure of
success. It is argued that the overarching standard for the application of
sustainable development should be the integrity of the country’s ecosystem. It
is the economic growth which needs to be aligned to the ecological integrity,
not the other way round because equitable economic growth requires the
protection of its foundation, i.e. the ecosystem. If sustainable development is
not based on ecological integrity; it remains a form of hegemonic knowledge,
‘based on a narrow, weak notion of sustainability that promotes reformist
fantasies that the crisis can be addressed within the social, political, economic
and cultural structures that created it.’
Key terms
Ethiopia, sustainable development, economic growth, social development,
ecological sustainability, weak sustainability, strong sustainability
DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.4314/mlr.v11i1.3
This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-
NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND)
Tsegai Berhane Ghebretekle, LL.B. (Addis Ababa University), LL.M (the University of
Oslo), Ph.D (University of Warwick); Assistant Professor of Law, Mekelle Univesity
School of Law; currently Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the Institute for Dispute
Resolution in Africa (IDRA), University of South Africa. Email: tsegai7@yahoo.com
I would like to thank Professor John McEldowney, Dr. Elias N. Stebek and the
anonymous reviewers for their comments.
Interrogating the Economy-First Paradigm in ‘Sustainable Development’ … 65
Introduction
Developing countries such as Ethiopia face different daunting and sometimes
contradictory challenges to promote sustainable development. One of the
problems developing countries, especially in Africa, are facing is drought and
food shortage. The United Nations has warned that ‘… more than 36 million
people face hunger across Southern and Eastern Africa. The immediate cause of
the drought which has crippled countries from Ethiopia to Zimbabwe is one of
the strongest El Niño events ever recorded’.1
According to the scientists, climate change has ‘turned normal weather
patterns upside down around the globe’.2 It is also undermining ‘[Africa’s]
ability to endure extremes in weather, leaving huge numbers of people
vulnerable to hunger and disease’. The Common African Position (CAP), which
stresses that the post-2015 Development Agenda should reflect Africa’s
priorities and development programmes, also underlines the urgency to address
‘the challenges posed by climate change, desertification and land degradation,
drought, loss of biodiversity, sustainable natural resource management ...’.3
Agenda 2063, which is claimed to be an endogenous plan for transforming
Africa, also calls for urgent action regarding climate change.4
Ethiopia is facing its worst drought in decades, with more than 10.2 million
people in need of food aid. This is due to the weather conditions ensuing from
the El Niño phenomenon. According to the Ethiopian Government‘ [t]he failure
of two consecutive rainy seasons, including the Kiremt rains, which normally
feed 80 to 85 per cent of the country between June and September, has
devastated livelihoods and greatly increased malnutrition rates across the
country’. According to the Government’s statement an about ‘435,000 children
are in need of treatment for severe acute malnutrition (SAM), and more than 1.7
1 The Guardian (16 March 2016), ‘Drought and rising temperatures ‘leaves 36m people
across Africa facing hunger. Available at
<https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/mar/16/drought-high-temperatures-el-
nino-36m-people-africa-hunger> (accessed 24 October 2016).
2 Ibid.
3 The Common African Position (CAP) on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, Available at
http://www.uneca.org/sites/default/files/uploaded-
documents/Macroeconomy/post2015 /cap-post2015_en.pdf (accessed 29 October 2016).
4 Agenda 2063 is an endogenous approach on ‘how the continent should effectively learn
from the lessons of the past, build on the progress now underway and strategically exploit
all possible opportunities available in the immediate and medium term, so as to ensure
positive socioeconomic transformation within the next 50 years’. See African Union
Commission (2015), Agenda 2063: The Africa we want. Available at:
http://agenda2063.au.int/en/sites/default/files/agenda2063_popular_version_05092014_EN.pdf
(accessed 29 October 2016).

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