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Donor Dollars aiding political repression in Ethiopia

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us_dollarBy Graham Peebles

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) quote 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

Ethiopia receives around $3 billion dollars in long-term development aid each year (second only to Indonesia); this is more than a third of the country’s total annual budget. Funds and resources donated to support the needy, in the hands of the Zenawi regime are being employed as a means of manipulating the Ethiopian people along partisan ideological lines. HRW states in DWF, “the Ethiopian government is using development aid as a tool of political repression by conditioning access to essential government services on support for the ruling party.”

The EPRDF has complete control of funds donated to Ethiopia by the Development Assistance Group (DAG), a consortium of the main donors, including the World Bank, USA, the European Commission and Britain. The government holds the purse strings of every dollar and cent allocated for the four major areas of development work: Protection of Basic Services (PBS), the Productive Safety Net Programme, Public Sector Capacity Building and the General Education Quality Improvement.

The largest single donor is the USA, which in 2011 according to US state department figures “provided $847 million in assistance, including more than $323 million in food aid.” The European Commission gives 400 million and Britain, via the Department Foreign Investment and Development (DFID) has committed £331million ($516million) per year until 2015. The British taxpayers’ pounds according to DFID “will meet the needs of the very poorest and support proven results-driven programmes that will bring healthcare, education and water to millions of people.” Well intentioned perhaps, however in attempting to ‘meet the needs of the very poorest’, as DFID claim, HRW research found that all international development aid, “flows through, and directly supports, a virtual one-party state with a deplorable human rights record, [whose] practices include jailing and silencing critics and media, enacting laws to undermine human rights activity, and hobbling the political opposition.” Facts well known to donors, who are content it seems to allow, indeed support the politicization of aid, a catalogue of human rights violations and the widespread suppression of the people,forced to live in an ideological straight jacket fastened tight by agents of the Zenawi government, at national, regional and community level.

Conditional support

The EPRDF government 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.

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 state 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) state 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

Ethiopia is a one party state, with no freedom of speech, or assembly nor freedom of the media and where opposition forces critical of the government are silenced in the most brutal fashion. It is puzzling then, that the DFID (PFE) states, “Ethiopia has also made some progress toward establishing a functioning democracy,” It is certainly not an image of democracy recognizable to anyone who holds human rights and freedom of expression central to such an ideal and is contradicted by USAID’s statement in its Strategy Plan for Ethiopia where they acknowledge the“$13 million+ that USAID/Ethiopia invested between 2006 and 2010 specifically to promote democratic transition produced little in the way of tangible results, and specific programs have been the subject of stalling and even outright hostility.” The DFID however, go on to compound the misrepresentation asserting, “Ethiopia has achieved a strong degree of political stability through decentralized regional government.” If by ‘stability’ the DFID mean lack of popular resistance to imposed governance, through the fearful subjugation of the people, then yes this the EPRDF has succeeded in doing.

Opposition to the government is not tolerated nor is there decentralized governance, as Thomas Staal, USAID Mission Director to Ethiopia recently stated, and “the [Ethiopian] government wants to be able to control political space very carefully The kebele, woreda and sub kebele’s are extensions of central government, carrying out the divisive partisan policies of the EPRDF, the sole expression of democratic principles in Ethiopia are those found within constitutional articles, that sit neatly filed upon ministerial shelves, collecting dust, as HRW make clear “democracy [is] a hollow concept in a country steered by a powerful party-driven government in which the distinction between party and state is almost impossible to define.” And In their report “One Hundred Ways of Putting Pressure Violations of Freedom of Expression and Association in Ethiopia“ HRW echo USAID’s comment, observing that “despite the lip service given to democracy and human rights, respect for core civil and political rights such as freedom of expression and association in Ethiopia is deteriorating.” DFID officials it seems have been duped by a plethora of conformist federal laws and signatures to multiple international treatises, into accepting the word of a government that terrifies its people and tramples on international human rights law.

Partisan monitoring

Not only are all key development programs 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 programs; 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 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 England’s Open Letter to DFID Secretary of State Andrew Mitchell 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

At the core of the EPRDF’s suppression and disregard for human rights is an ideological obsession. Revolutionary Democracy. Evangelical party political indoctrination takes place in within schools, teacher training institutions, the civil service and the judiciary. All contrary to international law, the Ethiopian constitution and federal laws, composed to conform to universal legal standards, conveniently cited by politician and diplomats, ignored and unenforced they mean nothing to the people.

School children above grade 10 (aged 15/16 years) are required to attend training sessions in the party ideology, policies on economic development, land sales and education. Admission to university, although not legally the case is implicitly dependent upon membership of the party, HRW found “students were under the impression that they needed party membership cards to gain admission to university.” The EPRDF stamp is also required to secure government jobs after graduation. All teachers, civil servants and judges are under pressure to tow the party line, to join the EPRDF and follow its doctrine, failure to do so impacts on employment and career prospects. Ethiopia’s largest donor, the USA, in the State Department human rights country report for 2011 notes, “Students in schools and universities were indoctrinated in the core precepts of the ruling EPDRF party’s concept of “revolutionary democracy…. the ruling party “stacks” student enrolment at Addis Ababa University… Authorities did not permit teachers at any level to deviate from official lesson plans and actively prohibited partisan political activity and association of any kind.”

Educational brainwashing of course contravenes the Ethiopian constitution, which clearly states in Article 90/2 “Education shall be provided in a manner that is free from any religious influence, political partisanship or cultural prejudice.” Words, righteous and legally binding are of no concern to Zenawi, his ministers, foreign diplomats and the cadres or spies who patrol the city neighbourhoods, university campus and civil service offices, infiltrate villages and towns of rural Ethiopia intimidating and blackmailing the people. International donors however, should be deeply concerned and take urgent actions to stop such violations of national and international law and the politicisation of aid distribution including emergency food relief.

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 “the Al-Shabab militia [Islamist group 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 in the Bureau of Investigative Journalism 4th August 2011 “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 taxpayer’s money and a betrayal, of international human rights laws and the Ethiopian people. 

Graham is Director of The Create Trust, a UK registered charity, supporting fundamental social change and the human rights of individuals in acute need.


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