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Introduction

Ethiopia is one of the most important actors in East Africa and it exerts great influence in its neighboring regions. On January 1, 2024, Ethiopia officially joined BRICS. On the same day, Ethiopia Foreign Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement, declaring that Ethiopia remains committed and ready to play a constructive role in promoting peace and prosperity as a new member of BRICS family in collaboration with its members.

This article aims to demonstrate Ethiopia’s entry as a new BRICS country. The first part briefly introduces the basic situation of Ethiopia. The second and third parts analyze the reason for Ethiopia to join BRICS, and the significance of Ethiopia as a BRICS country, by exploring the political, economic, and cultural strengths and challenges, while proposing relevant suggestions to provide a reference for cooperation between China and Ethiopia, as well as West Africa.

Background of the BRICS

The BRICS stands for an association of five major emerging economies, originally consisting of Brazil, Russia, India, and China, known by the English acronym “BRIC.” South Africa’s inclusion later expanded the group to “BRICS.”

Ethiopia Overview and Challenges

With a GDP of $126.78 million in 2022, Ethiopia is the sixth largest economy in Africa and one of the fastest growing economies in the region. Moreover, the country’s population is the second largest in Africa at $123.37 million, as of 2022. Finally, for Ethiopia’s production sectors, in 2022, the share of the agriculture, industry, and service sector was 37.6%, 22.7% and 39.7% (World Bank, 2024). The agriculture sector had been the key driver of Ethiopia’s economic growth, but the service sector has overtaken the agriculture sector in terms of total GDP, while the share of industry sector is also growing rapidly, and it has increased by more than 10 percent in the last 10 years.

Also, Ethiopia operates under a federal system with multiple ethnic groups. The political system is a parliamentary system, with the Prime Minister serving as the head of state. In recent years, the Ethiopian government has implemented a series of political reforms and economic openness policies, thus attracting substantial foreign investment and promoting national economic development. Although Ethiopia maintains a relative political stability, and the government actively promotes national development, achieving certain results, it still faces political challenges, such as ethnic conflicts and regional security issues. In response to these challenges, the Ethiopian government has taken a series of political reform measures, such as promoting ethnic reconciliation and strengthening social governance.

Overall, Ethiopia’s political stability and development have a positive impact on West Africa. Firstly, it provides a successful political development model for West African countries. Secondly, it helps to strengthen cooperation and exchanges between West African nations. Lastly, it brings more investment and business opportunities to the region.

In terms of economy, Ethiopia’s economy is predominantly agricultural, with service and manufacturing sectors also experiencing rapid development in recent years. Additionally, Ethiopia has abundant water resources, mineral resources, and a skilled labor force, presenting significant development potential. Ethiopia’s economic cooperation with West African countries has been increasingly intensive, engaging in agricultural, infrastructure, and energy sector. Moreover, Ethiopia actively participates in the regional economic integration process of West Africa, contributing to the development of the region’s economy.

Despite rapid economic development, Ethiopia faces challenges such as poverty, inadequate infrastructure, and debt. To address these challenges, the Ethiopian government has implemented various measures, including promoting privatization, strengthening infrastructure construction, and expanding international cooperation.

Regarding culture, Ethiopia boasts a rich cultural heritage with a long history and unique traditions. Cultural characteristics are primarily manifested in religion, clothing, cuisine, and architecture. Additionally, Ethiopia is home to famous landmarks such as the Lalibela Rock-Hewn Churches, which hold great tourism value. On top of that, Ethiopia participates frequently in international cultural exchange events and has hosted cultural exchange activities with various countries. Furthermore, Ethiopia disseminates its culture through education, media, and other means, fostering friendship between its people and those of other countries.

Until the present time, Ethiopia’s culture has had a significant impact on West Africa. Firstly, it enriches the cultural landscape of the region. Secondly, it promotes cultural exchange and integration among West African nations. Lastly, it provides a reference and inspiration for the development of the cultural industry in the region.

Ethiopia’s cultural development faces several challenges, such as balancing cultural inheritance and innovation, and protecting cultural diversity. In response to these challenges, the Ethiopian government has taken a series of measures, including strengthening cultural education, protecting cultural heritage, and promoting cultural innovation.

Reasons for Ethiopia to Join BRICS

The first reason refers to enhancing and consolidating multilateral relations. Apart from South Africa which is also located in Africa, among the original BRICS countries, firstly, China is Ethiopia’s number one trading partner and there is extensive cooperation in malaria prevention and treatment, as well as people-to-people exchanges between the two actors; secondly, India likewise maintains an important relationship with Ethiopia, and on November 17, 2023, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia attended the 2nd Voice of the Global South Summit hosted by India, and also on November 6, 2023, the two actors held the Sixth Joint Trade Committee meeting at the level of Director General / Joint Secretary; finally, Russia and Ethiopia are promoting their relations with each other, and besides leaders meeting during Putin’s trip to Africa in July 2023, on December 19-20, 2023, the two actors held the meeting of the Co-Chairs of the Intergovernmental Russian-Ethiopian Commission on Economic, Scientific, Technical and Trade Cooperation, as well as the Russian-Ethiopian Business Forum.

The second one deals with promoting development and infrastructure. In Ethiopia’s development process, it has been focusing on the energy sector for more than a decade and has planned to develop it further. On January 30, 2024, Alemu Sime, the Ethiopian Minister for Transport and Logistics, announced a plan that non-electric automobiles would not be allowed to enter Ethiopia. Although the effective date of the policy is not clear, this makes Ethiopia the first country to announce a ban on the import of non-electric vehicles. The ban will greatly increase the country’s need for infrastructure related to new energy vehicles, and the membership in BRICS enables it to cooperate as soon as possible with other countries in the organization to achieve its development goals in energy and transport.

Significance of Ethiopia as a BRICS Country

Therefore, Ethiopia’s inclusion in BRICS is of great significance. It enhances the international influence and representation of the BRICS, provides more development opportunities and international cooperation platforms for Ethiopia, and promotes cooperation and development between Ethiopia and West Africa, while strengthening the unity and cooperation among the BRICS countries. It also provides Ethiopia with more development opportunities and enhances the status and influence of African countries in affairs.

As a new member of BRICS, Ethiopia offers extensive market and investment opportunities to other BRICS nations. Additionally, it has engaged in cooperation with other BRICS countries in agriculture, water resources, and infrastructure development, achieving positive results.

Regarding West Africa, Ethiopia’s development achievements and contributions to other BRICS countries have a positive radiating effect on this region. Firstly, it provides more development opportunities and cooperation platforms for West African countries. Secondly, it strengthens the economic and political ties between Ethiopia and West Africa, promoting regional stability.

Ethiopia has also a more specialized diplomatic position in Africa. Although both South Africa and Ethiopia are African countries, on the one hand, Ethiopia is more culturally similar to other African countries than South Africa; on the other hand, its capital city is home to the African Union headquarters and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, which makes it easier for the three international organizations to cooperate in their work.

Still, East Africa is a fragile region, and Ethiopia’s government is at the heart of a series of events, including the conflict in the Eritrea region, the Somali region, and the Sudan region. Most of them are the result of complex historical factors and domestic development dilemmas of various actors, but it does not mean that these problems are completely insoluble. After Ethiopia joined the BRICS organization, BRICS countries in other regions are able to engage more deeply in mediation and address the problems faced by various countries in the Horn of Africa, such as Ethiopia’s current foreign exchange shortage. In this way, various actors might achieve mutual understanding with each other, and Ethiopia would be able to continue to play a key role in solving regional crisis like before.

Conclusion

Ethiopia is a high-potential country in East Africa, with a relatively high GDP in Africa. On the one hand, through its membership in the BRICS organization, Ethiopia is able to consolidate and enhance its relations with other important developing countries and promote the development of its infrastructure, particularly in the areas of energy and transportation. On the other hand, Ethiopia’s accession would also make it easier for the BRICS countries to cooperate with other African countries and participate in the work of the United Nations in Africa, as well as contributing to the resolution of current issues in East Africa.

In these conditions, Ethiopia is expected to continue its stable political development, economic growth, and cultural promotion. Its development will bring more opportunities and challenges to West Africa.

 

Disclaimer. The views and opinions expressed in this op-ed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of MEPEI. Any content provided by our authors is of their opinion and is not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual, or anyone or anything.

 

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About the author:

Jun Qiao and Mingxuan Huang

Mrs. Jun Qiao is student at the Anhui University, China and Mr. Mingxuan Huang is student at the Yunnan University, China. They are interns at MEPEI.

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