Donor Dollars Aiding Political Repression in Ethiopia

July 18th, 2012

Published on Dissident Voice, by Graham Peebles, July 17, 2012.

An ideological poison is polluting all life within Ethiopia, flowing into every area of civil society. Local governance, urban and rural neighbourhoods, farming, education and the judiciary all are washed in Revolutionary Democracy, the doctrine of the ruling party. Human Rights Watch, (HRW) in their detailed report, “Development without Freedom” (DWF) quotes Ethiopia’s Prime Minister for the last twenty years, Meles Zenawi, explaining that: 

When Revolutionary Democracy permeates the entire society, individuals will start to think alike and all persons will cease having their own independent outlook. In this order, individual thinking becomes simply part of collective thinking because the individual will not be in a position to reflect on concepts that have not been prescribed by Revolutionary Democracy.

A society of automatons is the EPRDF vision — the Borg Collective in the Horn of Africa, men, women and children of the seventy or so tribal groups of Ethiopia all dancing to one repressive tune sung by the ruling EPRDF.

Dollars and Nonsense: … //

… Conditional Support:

The EPRDF controls all areas of government and civil society in Ethiopia, from the judiciary to the classroom, the media to the farm, telecommunication and the banks. Its reach into urban neighborhoods and rural communities was greatly increased before the 2008 elections, when the number of seats in the woreda and kebele were expanded from 15 to 300. Only the EPRDF was able to field candidates in all councils and with opposition parties largely boycotting the unfair elections, the EPRDF ‘won’ over 99.9% of the seats, meaning as HRW state “the ruling party had total control of the rural majority of the Ethiopian population.”

Through the regional offices of the woreda and kebele the government exercises its ability to control ordinary rural and urban Ethiopians.  It is here that the administration of daily life takes place. Local offices approve or reject applications from farmers for seeds and fertilizer, decide on micro credit support, distribute food to the needy (10 – 20 million rely on food aid), allocate education and employment opportunities, issue business permits and ID cards. The result, as HRW states, is “state/party officials have significant influence over the livelihoods of citizens.” An understatement; in fact, they govern all aspects of life, within the city or the village, for the teacher or the judge, the women seeking to start a small business, or the Mother desperate to feed her family. All are at the mercy of government officials.

Emergency food relief is given as part of the PBS program, a highly expensive complex development scheme, which assigns around $1 billion a year reports HRW, in a “block grant to the federal government.”  They disperse the funds through their kebele’s and woreda offices. Distribution is based not on need, but on political association.  Support the opposition groups in Ethiopia and find your name scratched from the food aid list and go hungry. HRW found “the partisan allocation of food aid, [is] a problem that has been anecdotally reported in many areas and over many years in Ethiopia, especially in recent years in Somali region.”

Such political discrimination of food aid distribution is not only immoral; it is in violation of international law. Farmers who express dissent towards the government have the agricultural seeds and fertilizer needed to grow crops for their family and community withheld.  Voice concern over local governance as a teacher and find your career destroyed and your job taken away. HRW found “the EPRDF controls every woreda in the country, and can discriminate against any household or kebele within these administrative areas.” Given such repressive illegal actions it is inexplicable that the DFID in its Plan For Ethiopia (PFE) states the government shows “a strong commitment to fight corruption.” What the EPRDF shows is a strong commitment to suppress dissent, silence all critical voices and control the people utterly.

Big Ethiopian Brother: … //

… Partisan monitoring:

Not only are all key development programmes implemented by the EPRDF, but also monitoring is also undertaken in partnership with government agencies. Objective accurate monitoring is essential in determining the effectiveness of development programmes.  It is difficult to see how unbiased data can be collected under such highly restrictive circumstances. HRW makes the point that “donors should recognize that Ethiopia’s own accountability systems are moribund, and that the principal barrier to detecting distortion is the Ethiopian government.” Their view that independent monitoring “is needed (without the participation of the Ethiopian Government)” is clearly correct and the bare minimum that donors should insist on.

In its wisdom, however, the DFID, a key donor, whilst recognizing the importance of monitoring, appears happy to rely on the Ethiopian government, in which they naively invest such trust. They plan to “continue to monitor progress using national data drawn from administrative and survey sources” — i.e., the Ethiopian government. This demonstration of neglect by the DFID is an abdication of duty not only to British taxpayers, but also to the people of Ethiopia, who the EPRDF, with the help of international donors, continue to suppress and intimidate. They cannot — and should not — be trusted. HRW Deputy Director Jan Egeland’s Open Letter to (the then) DFID Secretary of State Andrew Mitchell (7) makes this plain:

The Ethiopian government is extremely resistant to scrutiny the British government and other donors to Ethiopia should not allow the Ethiopian government to dictate the terms on which British public money is monitored, and every effort should be made to prevent British development aid from strengthening authoritarian rule and repression.

Ideological imposition: … //

… Mixed Motives, Distorted Action:

Western governments’ reasons for providing development aid to Ethiopia are both humanitarian and strategic. USAID, in its country plan, calls Ethiopia “the most strategically important partner in the region,” and the DFID states, “Ethiopia matters to the UK for a range of development, foreign policy and security reasons.”

Regional stability and the ‘fight against terrorism’ is cited as justification for continuing to support the EPRDF, in spite of extensive human rights abuses, the partisan distribution of aid and state terrorism. In fact, far from bringing stability to the area, the Zenawi regime is a cause of instability.  This Anna Gomez makes plain in the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, August 4, 2011:

“The Al Shabab militia [Islamist group in in Somalia] have only grown stronger [emphasis mine] and survival has been made more difficult since Ethiopian troops invaded in 2006, at the behest of George W. Bush.”

With conflicting interests, some might say corrupt and corrupting, donor countries find themselves funding a deeply repressive violent regime, enabling a coordinated policy of ideological indoctrination to take place.  As HRW found “the government has used donor-supported programs, salaries, and training opportunities as political weapons to control the population, punish dissent, and undermine political opponents.” Western donors’ silence and complicity in the face of such violations of international law is, as Anna Gomez rightly says, “letting down all those who fight for justice and democracy and increasing the potential for conflict in Ethiopia and in Africa.”

The politicization and manipulation of aid distribution by the EPRDF violates international law and all standards of moral decency. Those providing aid must take urgent action to ensure this illegal practice comes to an end. Donors are well aware of the human rights abuses taking place, but have turned a blind eye to the repression of civil and political rights and a deaf ear to the cries of the many for justice and freedom. Western governments’ silence amounts to collusion.  It is a gross misuse of taxpayers’ money and a betrayal of international human rights laws and the Ethiopian people. (full text).

(Graham Peebles is Director of The Create Trust, a UK registered charity. He worked in the West Bank in 2009, running a series of education workshops for Palestinian children. He can be reached here. Read other articles by Graham).


Report – Development without Freedom, october 2010: find under HRW/Publications/DWF, 16 pdf-pages, or full report, 106 pdf-pages;

short notice on HRW;

HRW’s press release.

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