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

Tsegai Berhane Ghebretekle


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.’

Keywords: Ethiopia, sustainable development, economic growth, social development, ecological sustainability, weak sustainability, strong sustainability

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eISSN: 2309-902X
print ISSN: 1998-9881