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Today’s Ethiopia is colonized by foreign aid – Alex Martinez, Sanford University

EDITOR’S NOTE: Stanford University grad Alex Martinez concludes after visiting Ethiopia and working with USAID for over a month that Ethiopia, a country that has never been colonized, is now a colony of foreign aid. The architect of such colonization is the TPLF junta and its former leader, the late dictator Meles Zenawi, who was the darling of Ambassador Susan Rice and other Western diplomats who shamelessly tried to glorify the beggar dictator as a brilliant African leader. Even though we cannot blame foreign aid for all the ills in Ethiopia, it has played a major role in extending the life of one of the most brutal and corrupt dictators in the world.

Inside and outside the American embassy compound in Ethiopia: my summer at USAID

By Alex Martinez

From the outside, the American Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, looks just like you would imagine. A high wall surrounds the complex and a series of gates and barriers mark the main entrance. All that’s visible behind the fortifications are the top few floors of a plain, government-style building. Outside, teenage boys herd groups of sheep through the streets towards the informal livestock markets in the center of town. Blue minibuses – carrying twice as many passengers as seats – pass by in all directions, weaving their way around the sheep. A few salesmen push handcarts laden with soaps, candy, cigarettes and SIM cards through the street, avoiding both the sheep and the minibuses as they go.

Inside the embassy, it’s easy to forget this is Ethiopia.

In addition to the main offices, there’s a smaller building that houses the embassy commissary, which is stocked with all the staples of an American diet (ketchup, sugary peanut butter, Gatorade and the like). A paved running path winds its way around the complex, weaving between basketball and tennis courts. There’s even an outdoor pool house where embassy employees can swim laps or just lounge, watch American television on flat screen TVs, and use the pool WiFi – assuming it’s working. Not even the American Embassy is immune to the constant blackouts that characterize Ethiopa’s state-run internet network.
All American employees of the embassy live in similar gated compounds (minus the swimming pools and tennis courts, of course). In theory, a U.S. government employee stationed in Ethiopia could spend their entire tour of duty – only two years, because Ethiopia is considered a “hardship” post – without ever stepping outside of a gated compound or a Land Cruiser.
Just over one month ago, I arrived in Addis Ababa to intern with the US Agency for International Development (USAID), as part of the Stanford in Government Stipends Program. One month is really not enough time to fully experience Addis Ababa, and certainly not enough time to fully experience Ethiopia or the field of international development. However, my time as an intern has allowed a glimpse into all three.

Since the beginning of my internship, it has been my mission to try to get a sense of what drives people to live and work overseas, and to figure out if I could make a career in international development. I’ve met and talked with quite a few Americans from USAID and other development agencies, but most don’t really want to talk about their work. Inevitably, our conversations drift towards how difficult it is to live in Addis Ababa.

Complaining – about blackouts, the long rainy season, the complete lack of traffic regulation in Addis Ababa and the poor service at restaurants and hotels – makes for easier conversation than intellectual forays into the role of foreign aid in Ethiopia’s development. If I ask how they feel about suggestions that foreign aid is be doing Ethiopia more harm than good, most expatriates tend to get suspicious, even the young professionals just a few months into their careers. Some answer thoughtfully, but others behave as if I’m mounting an assault on their character or their motives.

At first, I thought they simply didn’t want to be questioned by some kid with less than a summer’s worth of experience in international development (a totally reasonable reservation, I might add), but I’m beginning to wonder if this is simply the kind of question most expats would rather not ask themselves.

I think people have a romantic image of international development. Before my internship I certainly did, and to a certain extent I still do now. The draw of development is that you feel like you’re doing something meaningful – having a real impact. As everyone says, you’re making the world a better place.

But how do you know you actually are?

As an intern at USAID, I’ve been assigned to work on the SCOPSO project, more formally known as the School-Community Partnership Serving Orphans and Vulnerable Children Affected by HIV/AIDS. SCOPSO helps school communities provide services like school supplies, food support, loans, healthcare, and psychosocial counseling to schoolchildren and their families. During visits to primary schools I’ve seen lives changed by foreign aid firsthand – a single mother who turned a $50 loan from SCOPSO into a thriving small business, a child who gets the cost of his antiretroviral drugs reimbursed at school and a little girl who received a school uniform for the first time in her life.

But for the majority of my internship, I’ve collected and analyzed data that will probably be ignored, and helped write reports that will most likely never be read. It’s incredibly frustrating trying to reconcile marginal improvements in healthcare, education and environmental sustainability with the billions of dollars of foreign aid flowing into Ethiopia each year ($3.5 billion, according to Global Humanitarian Assistance).

I’m beginning to understand why so many expats seem jaded. As a field, international development is incredibly degree-heavy. For example, nearly all entry-level positions with USAID require a master’s degree and several years of working experience. I’ve met several expats who invested so much time and education at the beginning of their careers only to get locked into a field that’s far less rosy than they expected. It’s taken me barely four weeks to become somewhat disillusioned with the field, and I can’t imagine coming to this realization after investing years of education in international development.
Most people starting a career in development never intend to lose touch with people out in the field, but nearly all career paths in development inevitably lead to less time on the ground and more time stuck behind a desk in some gated compound. As you gain experience, and move up the ranks in development organizations, it becomes easier and easier to distance yourself from the very people you’re supposedly trying to help.

Thankfully, my internship revolves around work on the ground. Although SCOPSO is funded by USAID, it’s actually carried out by an implementing partner, in this case an independent NGO called World Learning. That means I get to work with an all-Ethiopian staff. It also means that I actually get out to the field to visit schools. Every other week I pack a backpack of clothes, hop into the backseat of a Toyota Hillux, and spend five days driving all over Ethiopia with two World Learning program officers.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my internship, it’s that I only really experience Ethiopia when I leave Addis Ababa and everything it represents – hot water, internet cafés, pizza, my expat friends – behind. With no iPhone to distract me, I simply sit in the truck, chat with the program officers and listen to radio stations in Amharic, Ethiopia’s most widely spoken language. I’m always amazed how quickly the geography of Ethiopia changes, even during the course of a short car ride. My coworkers love to point out the different ethnic tribes as we drive by villages on our way to school visits.
When I first came to Ethiopia I pictured a relatively flat, dry country with one unified culture, populated by one group of people. In reality, it’s a country divided amongst a seemingly endless array of cultures, languages, and landscapes. It’s also a country divided by foreign aid. Even in the most rural parts of the country Ethiopia’s villages are divvied up between World Vision, USAID, South Korean Model Villages, Save the Children and many other development agencies.

Ethiopia was never colonized by a western power. Even so, I think a different kind of colonialism exists here today—one where thousands of foreigners with different visions of what is best for Ethiopia compete for the rights to experiment with the country’s villagers. I think you would be hard-pressed to find a single Ethiopian whose life hasn’t been touched by aid in some way, sometimes for the better.

My first week in Ethiopia, I interviewed a little boy at Yetimihirt Bilichta Primary School in Addis Ababa. The boy lost both his parents to AIDS and now lives in a rented bedroom with his older brother. Before USAID intervened at his school, he skipped class frequently, performing odd jobs to pay for food and rent. Now, using a shoeshine kit provided by SCOPSO, the boy shines shoes before and after school and on the weekends. He makes enough money ($.50 to $2.70 a day) to pay the rent, eat and attend class every day. He’s 11 years old.

At times during my internship, there are moments when I want to run away from international development completely. But how do you run away from a story like this?

As I near the halfway point of my time in Ethiopia I understand why so many expats struggle to share their perceptions of foreign aid. My thoughts change from day to day, and the more time I spend immersed in development the more confused and conflicted I become. I see the promise of foreign aid, and I see its peril. After this experience, I may never return to Ethiopia. I might go down an entirely different career path, but I’ll carry my experience this summer with me forever. I’ll always feel the constant draw of development forever pulling me back.

(Originally posted at

Exponential Population Growth and Carrying Capacity of the Ethiopian Economy

By Tsegaye Tegenu, PhD

On July 5, 2013 the Central Statistical Agency of Ethiopia announced that the Ethiopian population has reached 86 million people. Seizing the occasion I would like to warn about the consequences of exponential population growth in Ethiopia. The mathematics and context of exponential population growth in Ethiopia signals alarm about an impending economic and population growth crash. Empirical evidences show that the Ethiopian population is growing exponentially beyond the accommodating capacity of the economy. According to my indicators and calculation, the Ethiopian population overshoots the country’s economic carrying capacity by 25 million people. The resource quantity and productivity level of the economy supports only 65% of the population (calculated on the basis of 2007 census data).

Most political and economic discussion on Ethiopia considers performance improvement, rate of implementation and governance as the most important factors affecting change. My view is that rapid population growth and its economic consequences are the most serious problems faced by the Ethiopian people. The focus on power struggle and market conditions could have been more important if death and fertility are equal, or nullify each other as in the cases of developed countries. But Ethiopia is now at historical stage of demographic transition and in economic planning number, size and speed matter above all else. In this summary essay I will explain the features of the exponential growth, estimate the carrying capacity of the economy, discuss current approaches to development reforms and make suggestions to avert the danger of “major proportion” collapse. … [continue reading here]

BOOK REVIEW: Tower in the Sky by Hiwot Teffera

By Selam Beyene, PhD

Following the publication of Hiwot Teffera’s widely acclaimed book, Tower in the Sky (AAU Press, 2012), several reviews have been posted in the Internet and other media, both by government propagandists [1] and others in the Diaspora and elsewhere, see, e.g., [2] and [3]. In this commentary we provide a brief elucidation of how the historical significance of the bona fide message of the book is wickedly tainted by apologists of the ethnocentric regime in power in Ethiopia, and the extent to which a totalitarian regime can go to corrupt historical records for the sole purpose of legitimizing subjugation and repression.

In the literary world, it is a long-established tradition to opine on, express approbation of, or accentuate misrepresentation of facts in the works of others, with a view to advancing a trend of thought, promoting the sharing of knowledge, enhancing the development of a discipline, or bestowing due credit upon the originator of the work. This is generally done in strict adherence to time-honored protocols for critical reviews that have universal allure, regardless of culture, ideology, language or other pertinent persuasions. One exception to the rule often tends to be the practice in totalitarian regimes, where knowledge generation is tolerated to the extent that it is in the service of the ruling elite and the illuminating endeavor of critical reviews is coercively consigned to those mundane tasks performed by paid propagandists.

In democratic societies, seldom is this medium of literary interaction distorted for the illicit purpose of advancing a personal agenda or promoting odious political and ideological objectives. In the singular cases where this happens, the culprits invariably are either individuals of blinkered disposition or those who have indifference to academic integrity or established norms of civilized discourse.

Before we delve into the central themes of some of the reviews by apologists of the ethnocentric regime in Ethiopia, it may be fitting to recognize the contribution of the book to the growing body of knowledge about a turbulent era and an enigmatic generation in the history of that country.

To most Ethiopians who were witnesses of or participants in the tumultuous events that the author so vividly and eloquently narrated, the book conjures up painful memories of a traumatic epoch that was simultaneously defined by unparalleled idealism, youthful gallantry, government brutality, aborted dreams and an insidious disillusionment.

To the generations that came after the harrowing period and grew up under successive dictatorships, the book is permeated with latent messages that the youth, as an engine of social change, have an immutable responsibility and the duty de rigueur to altruistically challenge repression and injustice. Further, the book mesmerizingly underpins the venerable truism that the struggle for freedom is arduous and not without cost, and that in a struggle for freedom there are often unintended consequences. Most importantly, it ominously, but divinely, promulgates the ethereal message that the sacrifices paid by the golden generation would be in vain only if the youth of our time failed to carry and advance the torch of freedom passed to them by their forerunners.

A book about a fateful period in the history of a country is likely to engender angst, apprehension and introspection in a number of disparate circles — and this seems to be the case with this book. To those players who share responsibility for the miscalculations of the EPRP that led to the catastrophic collapse of the party, and who now cohabit with the current tyrants, the book has provided several outlets to vent off indignity and discomfiture. To others, who had played prominent roles in the struggle of yesteryear, but now have closed their eyes to the continued injustice against the very people they had fought to liberate, the book appears to offer an affirmation of their egotistical thinking that, having paid their dues as naïve youngsters, no cause at the present is worth dying for, and that they are justified in turning their backs to the prevailing tyranny.

To the ethnocentric dictators in power, the book indubitably is a double-edged sword that needs to be managed with care and prudence. On one hand, the potent lesson that the current generation can learn from the experiences of those gallant young boys and girls, who selflessly fought a vicious dictatorship with the lofty goal of liberating their people and establishing a utopian state, is a dangerous phenomenon that must be nipped in the bud. On the other hand, the graphic description in the book of the vicious measures taken by the brutal government of the Derge to suppress the popular movement can now complement the scare tactics the Woyane propaganda machinery has effectively used as a means of silencing and thwarting any semblance of resistance to the atrocious dictatorship in power.

It is, therefore, in the above framework that the reviews of the book posted by various individuals should be scrutinized and evaluated. Understandably, most of the reviewers shower the writer with well-deserved accolades for her literary fineness, extraordinary faculty to reminisce detailed events of the era, and cogent elucidation of the follies of the EPRP leadership.

However, a few of the reviewers tended to jumble propaganda with historical facts, sycophantly embellishing the records of a dictator and, hence, contravening basic tenets of critical reviews of a book of this nature. Among the latter category belong some apologists whose brazen remarks were so contemptible as to manifestly put to shame even those in power they are trying to flatter.

In one instance, for example, one reviewer [1] wrote a scathing castigation of the EPRP for lack of tolerance of dissent and excessive measures against dissenting members, while praising the late dictator, Meles Zenawi, for his exemplary leadership before and after imposing his vicious ethnic agenda over the people of Ethiopia. This, is of course, a deliberate act of misinformation and a despicable transgression of the fêted literary tradition. In his haste to praise his masters in the guise of a literary exercise, the reviewer has expediently ignored the shameful and bloodthirsty history of the TPLF in which numerous acts of violence were perpetrated by the dictator and his party against their dissenting comrades, both during and after the formative years of the ethnic-based party. Indeed, based on credible accounts of those in the know, the crimes committed by Zenawi and his party have few parallels in their viciousness in the annals of totalitarian organizations.

In another vain attempt to posthumously paint a larger-than-life picture of the late dictator, that same reviewer made perhaps one of the most egregious statements ever made about Zenawi’s role in the student movement of the era. While there is no denial of the early ambitions of the dictator, and his efforts to get visibility as an immature sophomore, it is emphatically and utterly preposterous to suggest that he was ever elected as a congressman to the University Students Union of Addis Ababa (USUAA). His failed campaign to represent the students in his constituency, if anything, revealed early signals of his arrogance that later became his trademark of unstatesmanlike deportment.

The dishonorable reviewer also bestowed upon Zenawi the credit of granting freedom of expression to the people of Ethiopia, unlike the predecessor, Mengistu Haile Mariam. In point of fact, there is no misapprehension about the brutality of the latter; however, it is a travesty of commonsense and a defiance of basic human decency to anoint Zenawi and his party as defenders of basic human rights. In essence, Mengistu’s Derge and Zenawi’s TPLF are two sides of the same coin. As has been repeatedly remarked, both regimes are vicious dictatorships, whose only differences lie in the approaches they follow to suppress the basic rights of the people of Ethiopia. One major divergence between the two is that the TPLF, under the guise of fighting terrorism, enjoys the full support of the West as it hones and perfects the machinery of oppression contrived by the Derge to harass, intimidate and subjugate an entire nation. The reality is that even the recent issue of the U.S. State Department Country Reports was unable to conceal the fact that, in 2012 alone, the TPLF regime had arrested more than 100 opposition political figures, activists, journalists, and bloggers. No reasonable person could deny the imposition of severe restrictions on civil society and nongovernmental organization activities, thanks to the draconian Charities and Societies Proclamation issues by Zenawi’s repressive regime. No human being with an iota of decency would write about the existence of freedom expression in Ethiopia in the face of the continued detentions of journalists and bloggers in the likes of Eskinder Nega and others on trumped up charges. Tragically, this is an example of the dreadful use of a form of literary exercise as an instrument of state machinery designed to misinform, inhibit flourishing of ideas and promote horrendous and venomous ethnic ideology.

“Tower in the Sky” is a veritable monumental contribution to our understanding of the sacrifices paid in those auspicious years with a vision to establish a system of government where individual freedoms would be respected, everyone would enjoy the equal protection of the law, and all citizens would have the unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. As one admires the intensity with which the writer conveys the true essence of the revolutionary fervor that swept the country at that time, one cannot help but express one’s disenchantment in the lack of interest, on the part of many surviving members of that generation, in the present predicament of the people of Ethiopia. It is indeed mindboggling how any member of that generation who once demonstrated superhuman fits and discipline in their formative years to build a just system, would turn blind eyes to the appalling abuse of human rights by the current regime. Can the follies of a handful of EPRP leaders justify the condoning of the atrocities being committed by the present rulers? Unlike the struggle for personal success, from which one can walk away in the face of adversity, there can be no turning back in the search for justice and liberty. Only hypocrisy, hedonism, vanity and egoism would explain the motives of a person who dithers about a noble cause he or she once embraced. And, there is no cause that is nobler than fighting for justice, equality and freedom; and there is no action that is more pusillanimous and reprehensible than turning away from such a cause on frivolous ruses.

At a time when there is much to be learned from the experience of those momentous years in the search for a solution to the present crisis in Ethiopia, anyone who focuses only on the blunders of EPRP leaders as a central theme of any treatise about the upheavals of the time should be either a political neophyte or a baleful minion paid to prolong the Woyane ethnocentric totalitarianism. Centuries ago, Plutarch observed: “To make no mistakes is not in the power of man; but from their errors and mistakes the wise and good learn wisdom for the future.” Plutarch’s observation is especially germane in the struggle for freedom and justice in Ethiopia — a struggle that requires persistence and continued sacrifice to liberate the people from a pernicious manacle of totalitarianism. Parties rise and fall, and ideologies flourish and perish. However, the lofty ideal of liberating men and women from the yoke of tyranny and authoritarian rule is an absolute dictum that cannot be cloaked in a patina of relative expediency. If there is any message to be drawn from the events of those extraordinary years, or any exposition of them such as “Tower in the Sky”, it is the need to organize, inculcate discipline in the youth, raise awareness of the dangers of ethnic-based totalitarianism, and extol the inviolability and sublimity of paying the ultimate sacrifice for the cause of justice, equality and freedom.

The writer can be reached at [email protected]


The July 2013 conference on Ethiopian transitional government concluded with agreements on key points

The two-day conference that was convened by the Ethiopian National Transitional Conference (ENTC) in Washington DC to discuss the formation of an all inclusive Ethiopian transitional government has been adjourned on July 3 after participants agreeing on major issues and to take the next step in the process.

The conference was attended by Ethiopians representing various organizations and institutions. They came from as far as South Africa, Sweden, London, and many cities from across the United States.

The ENTC leadership has told Ethiopian Review that a detailed report that includes the topics discussed and the agreements reached will be released shortly.

The highlight of the conference was the signing of a memorandum of understanding between ENTC and the Ethiopian National Youth Movement on the urgent need of removing the Woyanne junta and replacing it with an all inclusive transitional government.

Conference on Ethiopian transitional government formation – Day 2 Update

ENTC conference on Ethiopian transitional government

ENTC conference on Ethiopian transitional government

ENTC conference on Ethiopian transitional government
The historic conference called by the Ethiopian National Transitional Council (ENTC) to discuss the removal of the Woyanne junta in Ethiopia and replacement with an all-inclusive transitional government is in its second day of session.

Today’s session will follow up on a successful meeting yesterday where participants laid out the need for transition from dictatorship to democracy.

At yesterday’s session; Abune Filipos, Ethiopian Tewahdo Orthodox Church Bishop for the Sate of Maryland, opened the conference with his blessings and gave advice on freedom.

Also on the first day, renowned scholar Professor Georgie Ayittey, author and president of the Free Africa Foundation, spoke about how to remove a dictatorship. Ms. Anuradha Mittal, founder and executive director of the Oakland Institute spoke about the lasting damage of the ongoing land grab in Ethiopia. Noted activist Wzr. Lemlem Tsegaw delivered a presentation on the role of Women in the struggle for freedom. Prominnet Ethiopian Scholar Dr Messay Kebede gave a presentation on the need for a Transition Process and endorsed the concept of a Transition Council.

The second day session was opened this morning with blessings from the Abune Filipos and Imam Khalid Mohammed of the Ethiopian Diaspora Muslim Ustaz.

Various stakeholders, including representatives of civic groups, women and youth associations, religious institutions, political parties and prominent individuals are present on the second day of this conference.

Wzr. Mekdes Worku, ENTC Vice Speaker, introduced the day’s program:

* Proposals from various stakeholders on how to remove and replace TPLF/EPRDF with an all inclusive government
* Conference resolution will be passed
* Agreement to continue the national dialogue


Conference on Ethiopian transitional government formation underway in Washington DC – update

UPDATE: July 2, 2013, 8:00 PM
Today’s session has ended with presentations by Dr Messay Kebede and Wzr. Lemlem Tsegaw in the afternoon.

Tomorrow morning, representatives from various organizations will present their proposals and share their ideas on removing and replacing the Woyanne junta. In the afternoon, there will be an open discussion.

Video of the speeches and discussions will be posted by ENTC after the conclusion of the conference.


Professor George Ayittey spoke about how to remove dictatorship and discussed Ghana’s experience. He answered questions from the conference participants.

The next speaker was Ms. Anuradha Mittal, founder and executive director of the Oakland Institute. She spoke eloquently about devastating consequence of the ongoing land grab in Ethiopia.

After a lunch break, Dr Messay Kebede and Wzr. Lemlem Tsegaw will deliver their presentations.

UPDATE: 11:00 AM
Ethiopian National Transitional Council logoA historic conference that is called by the Ethiopian National Transitional Council (ENTC) to discuss removing the Woyanne junta in Ethiopia and replacing it with an all-inclusive transitional government is currently underway in Silver Spring, Maryland, a suburb of Washington DC.

The conference was opened this morning with a brief welcoming remarks by ENTC Speaker Ato Sileshi Tilahun, followed by representatives from the Christian and Muslim communities who gave their blessings.

Chairman of the Washington DC ENTC Chapter, Ato Ashebir Gebre, welcomed the conference participants who came from as far as South Africa, Italy, Sweden, and other countries from around the world.

Among the invited guests who are scheduled to speak in the morning is renowned scholar Professor Georgie Ayittey, author and president of the Free Africa Foundation.

Stay tuned for updates.