America is Watching!?
Diplomacy by hypocrisy is “diplocrisy”.
Edmund Burke, the British statesman and philosopher, said “Hypocrisy can afford to be magnificent in its promises, for never intending to go beyond promise, it costs nothing.” We’ve heard many promises on human rights in Africa from President Obama and his Administration over the past four years. “We will work diligently with Ethiopia to ensure that strengthened democratic institutions and open political dialogue become a reality for the Ethiopian people… We will work for the release of jailed scholars, activists, and opposition party leaders… We align ourselves with men and women around the world who struggle for the right to speak their minds, to choose their leaders, and to be treated with dignity and respect…. Africa’s future belongs to its young people… We’re going to keep helping empower African youth… Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions. We support strong and sustainable democratic governments…. America will be more responsible in extending our hand. Aid is not an end in itself… [Dictatorship] is not democracy, [it] is tyranny, and now is the time for it to end… America is watching…” All empty promises and cheap talk.
Last week, the U.S. State Department released its annual Human Rights Report for 2013. In his remarks launching that report, Secretary of State John Kerry announced
…[These] reports show brave citizens around the world and those who would abuse them that America is watching…
So anywhere that human rights are under threat, the United States will proudly stand up, unabashedly, and continue to promote greater freedom, greater openness, and greater opportunity for all people. And that means speaking up when those rights are imperiled. It means providing support and training to those who are risking their lives every day so that their children can enjoy more freedom. It means engaging governments at the highest levels and pushing them to live up to their obligations to do right by their people…
Is America really “watching” and “standing up”?
I am always curious when someone is watching. Big Brother is watching! Aargh!!
When Kerry tells “brave citizens” in Ethiopia like Eskinder Nega, Reeyot Alemu, Wobshet Taye, Sertkalem Fasil, Bekele Gerba, Olbana Lelisa, Abubekar Ahmed, Ahmedin Jebel, Ahmed Mustafa and so many others “America is watching”, what does he mean? Does he mean America is watching them rot in Meles Zenawi Prison #1 in Kality and/or #2 in Zewai? Does he mean America is watching Ethiopia like birdwatchers watch birds? Or like amateur astronomers watching the starry night sky? Perhaps like daydreaming tourists at the beach watching the waves crash and the summer clouds slowly drifting inland?
Is “watching” a good or a bad thing? If we believe Albert Einstein, watching is no good. “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.” (Silent watchers, watch out!) Like Nero Claudius Caesar who watched Rome burn from the hilltops singing and playing his lyre. Or, (I hate to say it but it would be hypocritical of me not to) like Susan Rice who watched Rwanda burn. Her only question was, “If we use the word ‘genocide’ and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November [Congressional] election?”
I like it when Human Rights Watch (HRW) watches because when they watch they witness. They saw the genocide and crimes against humanity in the Ogaden and Gambella and they have witnesses. They watched independent journalists jacked up in kangaroo court and railroaded to Meles Prison #1 or #2. (Sounds like the equivalent of a hotel chain? Well, they do put chain and ball on innocent people at the Meles Zenawi Hilton.)
I like watching watchdogs watch crooks, criminals and outlaws. I mean “watchdog journalists” like Eskinder, Reeyot, Serkalem, Woubshet and many others. These journalists used to watch power abusers and alert citizens of the crimes they were watching. Now the criminals are watching them in solitary at the Meles Zenawi Hilton.
I also like the way the watchdogs’ watchdog watch those who dog the watchdogs. I am referring to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The CPJ guys are like McGruff, the crime watchdog, always tracking to “take bites out of crimes” committed against journalists. Not long ago, they watched and sounded the alarm that Reeyot Alemu was heading to solitary confinement just because she complained about inhumane and inhuman treatment in Meles Zenawi Prison. Last week, the CPJ watched Woubshet Taye being hauled from the Meles Zenawi Prison #1 to Meles Zenawi Prison #2. (They think he will be forgotten by the world lost in the armpits of Meles Zenawi Prison #2.)
I pity those who just watch. Like the “foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear” or those who may “indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand.” I have no idea what the Obama Administration is watching, perceiving or seeing in Ethiopia? I would like to believe they are watching human rights abuses and abusers and the criminals against humanity. But how is it possible to watch with arms folded, ears plugged and wearing welding goggles? I wonder: Could they be watching the tragicomedy, “The Trials and Tribulations of the Apostles of Meles”? Perhaps they are watching kangaroo courts stomping all over justice and decency? I am certain they are not watching the political prisoners. Perhaps they are watching the horror movie, “Dystopia in Ethiopia”? Sure, it’s a scary movie but it really isn’t real. But if it is real, what’s the big deal? The same horror film has been playing all over Africa since before independence. Get over it!
From where I am watching, the Obama Administration seems to be watching Ethiopia peekaboo style; you know, cover your face with the palms of your hand and “watch” between the fingers. “I seee yooou!” That is, stealing elections, sucking the national treasury dry, handing over the best land in the country to bloodsucking multinationals, jailing journalists and ripping off the people.
Doesn’t “America is watching,” sound like Orwellian doublespeak. You know, “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” Dictatorship is democracy. Watching is turning a blind eye.
When America is watching, those being watched in Ethiopia are watching America watching them. They watch America waffling and shuffling, double-talking, flip-flopping and dithering, equivocating, pretending, hemming and hawing and hedging and dodging. But those chaps in Ethiopia watch like George Orwell’s Big Brother (Nineteen Eighty-Four) who watched everybody and everything in Oceania. Well, Big Brother Meles is gone from Ethiopiana but the “Little Brothers of the Party of Meles” keep on watching and yodeling:
…The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just around the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know what no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now you begin to understand me.
I have been watching America watching Ethiopia for a very long time. I have been watching the Obama Administration watching and coddling the criminals against humanity in Ethiopia, Rwanda and Uganda. I must confess that I enjoy watching and re-watching President Obama’s speeches in Accra, Cairo, Istanbul and elsewhere. “History is on the side of brave Africans…” (whatever that means).
I liked watching former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton declare moral victory on the Chinese and capture the commanding moral heights. “We don’t want to see a new colonialism in Africa… It is easy to come in, take out natural resources, pay off leaders and leave… and not leave much behind for the people who are there.” Right on! Power to the people of Africa! Down with colonialism! (I think that may be a bit passé.)
Sometimes I feel bad watching. When I watch hard earned American tax dollars bankrolling ruthless African dictators who laugh straight to the bank to deposit their American tax dollars, I really get bummed out. I am peeved when I watch the American people being flimflammed into believing their tax dollars are supporting democracy, human rights and American values in Africa. But when I watch those miserable panhandlers “enfolded in the purple of Emperors” bashing and trashing America on their way back from depositing their foreign aid welfare checks, I just plain get pissed off!!
“America is watching,” but is America watching where its tax dollars are going? It is NOT. According to an audit report by the Office of the Inspector General of US AID in March 2010 (p. 1), there is no way to determine the fraud, waste and abuse of American tax dollars in Ethiopia:
The audit was unable to determine whether the results reported in USAID/Ethiopia’s Performance Plan and Report were valid because agricultural program staff could neither explain how the results were derived nor provide support for those results. Indeed, when the audit team attempted to validate the reported results by tracing from the summary amounts to the supporting detail, it was unable to do so at either the mission or its implementing partners… In the absence of a complete and current performance management plan, USAID/Ethiopia is lacking an important tool for monitoring and managing the implementation of its agricultural program.
Watching diplocrisy in Technicolor
There is nothing more mind-bending and funny than watching hypocrisy in Technicolor. Earlier this month, in an act of shameless diplocrisy, Secretary Kerry expressed grave reservations about the legitimacy of the election of Nicolás Maduro as president of Venezuela. Maduro won the election by a razor thin margin of 50.66 percent of the votes. Opposition leader Henrique Capriles rejected the results alleging irregularities and demanding a recount of all votes.
Kerry supported Capriles’ demand for a recount. “We think there ought to be a recount… Obviously, if there are huge irregularities, we are going to have serious questions about the viability of that [Maduro] government.” White House spokesman Jay Carney also issued a statement calling for a recount of all the votes.
… Given the tightness of the result — around 1 percent of the votes cast separate the candidates — the opposition candidate and at least one member of the electoral council have called for a 100 percent audit of the results. And this appears an important, prudent and necessary step to ensure that all Venezuelans have confidence in these results. In our view, rushing to a decision in these circumstances would be inconsistent with the expectations of Venezuelans for a clear and democratic outcome.
In May 2010 when the late Meles Zenawi claimed 99.6 percent victory in the parliamentary elections and leaders from Medrek, the largest opposition coalition, and the smaller All Ethiopia Unity Party alleged glaring election fraud, vote rigging and denial of American food aid to poor farmers unless they voted for the ruling party, the U.S. response was “see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil.” White House National Security Spokesman Mike Hammer could only express polite “concern” and muted “disappointment”:
We acknowledge the conclusion of Ethiopia’s parliamentary elections on May 23, 2010…
We are concerned that international observers found that the elections fell short of international commitments. We are disappointed that U.S. Embassy officials were denied accreditation and the opportunity to travel outside of the capital on Election Day to observe the voting. The limitation of independent observation and the harassment of independent media representatives are deeply troubling.
An environment conducive to free and fair elections was not in place even before Election Day. In recent years, the Ethiopian government has taken steps to restrict political space for the opposition through intimidation and harassment, tighten its control over civil society, and curtail the activities of independent media. We are concerned that these actions have restricted freedom of expression and association and are inconsistent with the Ethiopian government’s human rights obligations.
…We urge the Ethiopian government to ensure that its citizens are able to enjoy their fundamental rights. We will work diligently with Ethiopia to ensure that strengthened democratic institutions and open political dialogue become a reality for the Ethiopian people.
Victory by 50.66 percent is irrefutable evidence of election fraud in Venezuela but “all Ethiopians should have confidence” in the 99.6 percent election victory of Meles Zenawi? Sounds like election certification in Oceania. Rigged elections are free and fair elections!
Watching “fools, idiots” and sanctimonious diplocrites
If Susan Rice is to be believed, critics of Meles Zenawi and his regime (and by implication critics of U.S. policy that supports the regime) are “fools and idiots”. I guess if one must choose between being a “fool/idiot” and a hypocrite/diplocrite, one is well-advised to choose the former. A fool does or does not do the right thing because s/he lacks intelligence and understanding. S/he has the potential to learn and make right choices. But the cunning diplocrite does the wrong thing with full knowledge and understanding of the wrongfulness of his/her acts. S/he is unteachable and incorrigible. No one knows more about the difference between right and wrong than diplocrites, yet they do wrong because they don’t give a _ _ _ _!
The U.S. has been practicing diplocrisy in Ethiopia for the past two decades. It has propped up the regime of Meles Zenawi with billions of dollars of “development” and “humanitarian” aid while filling the stomachs of starving Ethiopians with empty words and emptier promises. Since 1991, the West in general has provided Meles’ regime nearly $30 billion in aid. In 2008 alone, $3 billion in international aid was delivered on a silver platter to Meles, more than any other nation in sub-Saharan Africa. In March 2011, Howard Taylor, head of the British aid program declared Ethiopia will receive $2 billion in British development assistance. In 2010, the EU delivered £152m to Meles Zenawi.
In December 2010, Human Rights Watch called on the Development Assistance Group (DAG), a coordinating body of 26 foreign donor institutions for Ethiopia to “independently investigate allegations that the Ethiopian government is using development aid for state repression.” In July 2010, a DAG-commissioned study issued a whitewash denying all allegations of improper use of aid. In August 2011, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the BBC reported the “Ethiopian government is using millions of pounds of international aid to punish their political opponents.” The report presented compelling evidence of how “aid is being used as a weapon of oppression propping up the government of Meles Zenawi.” Despite numerous documented reports of aid abuse and misuse, Western leaders and governments continue to hide behind a policy of plausible deniability and the massaged and embellished reports of swarms faceless international poverty-mongers creeping invisibly in Ethiopia.
The Center for Global Development in its comprehensive 2012 report cautioned, “The United States could be making a dangerous long-term bet with its assistance dollars by placing so little emphasis on governance in Ethiopia”, and US policymakers should temper their expectations for future development prospects in Ethiopia under the current regime. Sorry, no one is listening at the U.S. State Department, only watching.
Watching truth on the scaffold and wrong on the throne
“America is watching.” But is anybody watching America? The people of Ethiopia are watching America asking, “Is America watching? Watching what?”
The powerful don’t believe the powerless are watching them because they equate powerlessness with blindness. The powerless do watch because that is all they can do. They watch boots pressing down on their necks. They watch crimes committed against them as they sit helplessly with empty stomachs and hearts filled with terror. When Kerry says, “America is watching”, he should be mindful that Ethiopia’s poor and powerless are watching America with outrage on their faces, sorrow in their hearts and resentment in their minds.
I have watched Ethiopia’s “best and brightest” fall silent, deaf and mute watching truth on the scaffold and wrong on the throne. They have been watching the scaffold and throne like bystanders watching a crime scene — horrified, terrified and petrified. Perhaps they should heed Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s counsel, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
But if Robert Lowell is right, it does not matter who is watching silently, watching peekaboo style, watching by turning a blind eye, watching for the sake of watching or not watching at all, because there is One who standing within the shadow watches the watchers, the watched and the unwatched:
Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne,— Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown, Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.
Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.
Previous commentaries by the author are available at:
Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at:
Alemayehu G. Mariam
“Bondage” is the state of being bound by or subjected to some external power or control. When people are bound by debt, they are in “debt bondage”. When they are held in involuntary servitude, they are in “bondage slavery”. Before much of Africa became “independent” in the 1960s, Africans were held under the yoke of “colonial bondage”. “International aid” addiction has transformed Africa’s colonial bondage into neo-colonial bondaid. Could it be reasonably argued that Africans are sinking deeper and deeper into a quicksand of “bondaid” (to coin a new word) in the second decade of 21st Century?
In 1989, Graham Hancock wrote the “Lords of Poverty” scrutinizing the international aid “industry” including U.N. agencies, USAID, the World Bank and the IMF. His withering criticism infuriated many in the “international aid bureaucracies”. But his incisive analysis could not be easily dismissed. His basic argument is that international aid “has financed the creation of monstrous projects that, at vast expense, have devastated the environment and ruined lives; it has supported and legitimised brutal tyrannies; it has facilitated the emergence of fantastical and Byzantine bureaucracies staffed by legions of self-serving hypocrites…” It is a “a waste of time and money” and harmful to poor recipient countries ($60 billion in 1989). “Aid is not bad because it is sometimes misused, corrupt, or crass; rather, it is inherently bad, bad to the bone, and utterly beyond reform…. It is possibly the most formidable obstacle to the productive endeavors of the poor. It is also a denial of their potential, and a patronising insult to their unique, unrecognised abilities.”
Hancock views “international aid” as an elaborate “game” in which “public money levied in taxes from the poor of the rich countries is transferred in the form of ‘foreign aid’ to the rich in the poor countries; the rich in the poor countries then hand it back for safe-keeping to the rich in the rich countries.” He debunks the myth that “international aid works” and “must not be stopped because the poor could not survive without it.” He argues that “if the statement that ‘aid works’ is true, then presumably the poor should be in a much better shape than they were before they first began to receive it half a century ago. If so, then aid’s job should by now be nearly over and it ought to be possible to begin a gradual withdrawal without hurting anyone.”
The message of Hancok’s analysis is that the lords of poverty make up an invisible army of faceless, nameless, heartless, thoughtless, merciless, gutless, clueless, conscienceless and feckless “international civil servants, development experts, consultants and assorted freeloaders” unleashed on Africa to perpetuate and sustain a culture of poverty and beggary. Hancock points out
… the ugly reality is that most poor people in most poor countries most of the time never receive or even make contact with aid in any tangible shape or form: whether is it present or absent, increased or decreased, are thus issues that are simply irrelevant to the ways in which they conduct their daily lives. After the multi-billion-dollar ‘financial flows’ involved have been shaken through the sieve of over-priced and irrelevant goods that must be bought in the donor countries, filtered again in the deep pockets of hundreds of thousands of foreign experts and aid agency staff, skimmed off by dishonest commission agents, and stolen by corrupt Ministers and Presidents, there is really very little left to go around. This little, furthermore, is then used thoughtlessly, or maliciously, or irresponsibly by those in power — who have no mandate from the poor, who do not consult with them and who are utterly indifferent to their fate. Small wonder, then, that the effects of aid are so often vicious and destructive for the most vulnerable members of human society.
A decade later in 2009, Dambissa Moyo, echoed similar views: “Aid is an unmitigated political, economic and humanitarian disaster…. Over the past 60 years at least $1 trillion of development-related aid has been transferred from rich countries to Africa. Yet real per-capita income today is lower than it was in the 1970s, and more than 50% of the population — over 350 million people — live on less than a dollar a day, a figure that has nearly doubled in two decades…”
Hancock indicts the international aid industry as unaccountable, smug, detached, self-aggrandizing and paternalistic:
… At every level in the structure of almost all our most important aid-giving organisations, we have installed a tribe of highly paid men and women who are irredeemably out of touch with the day-to-day realities of the … underdevelopment which they are supposed to be working to alleviate. The over-compensated aid bureaucrats demand — and get — a standard of living often far better than that which they could aspire to if they were working, for example, in industry or commerce in the home countries. At the same time, however, their achievements and performance are in no way subjected to the same exacting and competitive processes of evaluation that are considered normal in business. Precisely because their professional field is ‘humanitarianism’ rather than, say, ‘sales’, or ‘production’ or ‘engineering’, they are rarely required to demonstrate and validate their worth in quantitative, measurable ways. Surrounding themselves with the mystifying jargon of their trade, these lords of poverty are the druids of the modern era wielding enormous power that is accountable to no one…
BondAid: “Legitimizing Brutal Tyranny in Ethiopia”?
My reference to Hancock’s book above is not merely academic. I have been following reports on therecently announced $1.54 billion USAID assistance program in Ethiopia and studying other USAID reports on Ethiopia in light of Hancock’s arguments or hypotheses on the role of “international aid” in “legitimizing brutal tyrannies in Africa”. Is there an unhealthy bonding between dictators and donors?
Thomas Staal, the USAID Mission Director in Ethiopia, said the $1.5 billion assistance program “will transform our relationship with Ethiopia from one of assistance to one of economic and social cooperation, trade and investment.” In 2011-2012, “USAID assistance grants to Ethiopia will total USD 675 million” and support four specific priority objectives, including “education, health, agriculture and good governance”.
The fourth objective of “strengthen[ing] good governance practices for improved social accountability and conflict mitigation in programs in every sector” is the focal issue here. Could the $1.54 billion in USAID assistance serve to legitimize the brutal tyranny of Meles Zenawi and undermine the establishment of “good governance” in Ethiopia?
In an interview Stall gave before his reassignment to Bagdad, Iraq last week, he made the stunning admission that “with respect to political participation, we have not done a good job. Specifically, with respect to the election that took place two years ago, we have not done much to promote democracy. Customarily, USAID in various countries engages in election education with non-governmental organizations. It works to empower all political parties without preference. We support the local media to analyze elections and give information to the voters. But all these things are prohibited in [Ethiopia]. This is a hard situation that causes us to despair. We will try to talk to the government authorities…” (Frankly, one could get the “government authorities” to listen good and hard by practicing the old saying, “money talks and… walks.”)
In March 2012, USAID Ethiopia published a 72-page Country Development Cooperation Strategy (CDCS) (2011-2015) report entitled“Accelerating the Transformation Toward Prosperity”. The following excerpts from the CDCS report are offered below to the reader to undertake a preliminary evaluation of Hancock’s hypothesis on the relationship between “international aid” and the legitimization of tyranny, particularly in Ethiopia.
… After the shock of the relatively free elections in 2005, in which the EPRDF drastically overestimated its popularity, much democratic ground has been lost. Subsequently, the opposition groups were divided and crushed, and the size and control of the ruling party was increased immensely. Legislation was introduced to limit and control the space for civil society and media, and wide powers of arrest were included in the “anti-terrorist” legislation. In 2010 the ruling party “won” 99.6% of the Parliamentary seats… (p. 8.) Limited political space, crushed opposition, 99.6 per cent win of parliamentary seats in 2010, wide powers of arrest and still pouring in $1.5 billion in aid? $3.8 billion in total development assistance in 2009?
… In the areas of democracy, governance, and conflict resolution, USAID is already working well with the Ministry of Federal Affairs (MoFA) on conflict management, mitigation and reconciliation issues,… Now that the May 2010 elections are over, there is an apparent relaxation of political harassment, and a major opposition detainee has been released… (pp. 11-12.) Apparent relaxation of political harassment? A major opposition detainee released? Forgot the thousands of political prisoners, hundreds of journalists, dissidents and opposition leaders rotting in Zenawi’s dungeons? …
The strong donor consultation and coordination on the critical issues of democracy and governance has not always resulted in a willingness to take a strong, united stance against clear abuses of constitutional commitments, legislation, or democratic processes. The DAG [Development Assistance Group] includes the World Bank, UNDP, DFID, CIDA, UNICEF, EU, SIDA, Ireland and Germany among others… (p. 13.) No willingness to take strong, united stance against clear abuses of constitutional commitments because…?? Say what!?!
(In October 2010, I wrote a weekly commentary entitled, “Feed Them and Bleed Them” and observed, “Huddled together in DAG-istan, the poverty pimps have collectively resolved to continue to do their usual aid business in Ethiopia because “broad economic progress outweighs individual political freedoms”.)
… Largely as a result of USAID support, first state and local governments and finally national level institutions (particularly the Ministry of Federal Affairs) are abandoning inclinations to respond to local conflict primarily through security forces, and are increasingly developing and applying capacities to assist conflicted communities with local government support to negotiate and consolidate local peace agreements and ensure that their own administrative actions at a minimum “do no harm.” …On the practical side, the GOE is making progress through the gradual rolling out of its “good governance” trainings around the country…” (p. 55.) Excuse me, but is “good governance training” for brutish dictators the same as obedience training for vicious dogs?
… The donor community is torn between the competing objectives of engaging with and assisting Ethiopia as a high profile example of poverty and vulnerability to famine, and addressing the major challenges and constraints to democratic space, human rights abuses, and severe restrictions on civil society and constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of speech, association and access to information. The GOE does not make this any easier, waveringbetween seductive and sophisticated rhetoric on development and economic topics on the one hand, and political repression, state dominance over the economy, and outright downplaying of humanitarian emergencies on the other hand. Added to this double-edged sword is the GOEâ€Ÿs extreme sensitivity to any direct or even implied criticism, and its willingness to actively punish the criticizer, including members of the international community… (p. 53.) Ah! Beware the seductive and sophisticated rhetoric of the silver- tongued devil with an angelic voice, as Shakespeare might have cautioned.
… In the absence of competitive elections and other democratic processes, governance that is responsive to the aspirations and needs of its citizens and the knowledge and perspectives of stakeholders provides an important alternative release mechanism for political frustrations that have no other constructive outlet… Ethiopia’s new five year GTP [Growth and Transformation Plan] contains explicit commitments and targets to improve governance. However, traditions, capacities and resources to conceptualize and implement bottom-up accountability are lacking in a country where good governance was not a high priority during the imperial and communist periods and is only becoming a priority but constrained within the ideology of Revolutionary Democracy… (p. 58.) After 21 years of Zenawi’s iron-fisted rule, still blaming H.I.M. Haile Selassie and the Derg for the withering of democracy in Ethiopia? Give me a break!
…Understanding that faith in the efficiency and impartiality of the justice system is a key factor in the risk calculations that govern investment decisions by the private sector, individuals and donors,… Another concern is that politically favored businesses or sectors are able to leapfrog over methodical and inclusive planning processes and legally required contracting procedures. Expectations are more modest here, recognizing that the system itself is thoroughly under the control of the ruling party. The Mission will develop programs that promote the rule of law for sustainable development practices… (p. 59.) Modest expectations for justice and democracy because the system itself is thoroughly under the control of the ruling party! Heard that!
… USAID/Ethiopia recognizes that there is no policy space to conduct programs focused on competitive elections. Instead, the Mission will focus primarily on tackling the deeper issues of governance by aligning its focus with the achievement of the OE’s GTP sustainable development goals and commitments to improve accountable governance and conflict reduction… (p. 61.) So reward dictatorship with more money, mo’ money and mo’ money?
…With the increasing ‘land giveaways’ to private, foreign agricultural investors, policy efforts will be undertaken… to support land use planning and natural resource management thatavoids displacement of existing communities and helps ensure balanced development… (p. 19.) Increasing ‘land giveaways’ to private, foreign agricultural investors! Heard that!
Back to 2004: The Good Old Days of Telling It Like It Is!
In 2004, USAID issued its CDCS entitled “Breaking the Cycle of Food Crises: Famine Prevention in Ethiopia.” Andrew S. Natsios was the Administrator of USAID at the time. Here is an excerpt from that report:
… Ethiopia does not stand at this precipice of food insecurity and instability alone. And, it did not get there by itself. Ethiopia, its neighbors and its development partners have collectively failed to break the downward spiral of hunger, poverty and recurring food crises, which is a critical first step in improving the health and economic conditions of present and future generations of Ethiopians…. [S]uccessfully addressing this challenge will require Ethiopian leadership, commitment and the will to change.Evidence on Ethiopia’s performance is compelling and clear. The country has performed badly over the years, even relative to most other African countries, and to East Africa specifically. Gross per capita incomes are a fifth of the African average, declining about 40% between 1990 and 2000 ($160–$100), relative to a smaller decline of 13% for sub Saharan Africa. The poor performance of the economy is not due to drought, but results from the weak economic policies of the country over a sustained period—characterized by low rates of investment in economic growth and agriculture by both government and the commercial private sector, low levels of capacity, and low rates of agricultural and nonagricultural growth. In turn poor economic performance has led to worsening social standards, and created an increasingly fragile state that lacks the resiliency to manage through shocks (environmental, economic, political) that induce crises… (p. 5.)
In May 2012, Rajiv Shah, the current USAID Administrator moderated the G8 Food Security Summit in Washington, D.C. In his ingratiating introductory remarks to Zenawi, (grandiosely stroking Zenawi’s ego) and using the usual “mystifying jargon” of the international aid industry, Shah inquired:
… So many people have associated a mental image of hunger with Ethiopia and at the same time because of actions in the public sector maintaining strong public investment in agriculture you were able to protect millions of Ethiopians during the recent drought from needing food aid and food assistance. Could you speak to, even as we are launching a new food alliance, to engage the private sector, could you speak to some of the comments you have shared with us privately how important it is we live to our commitments to invest in public investment, in public institutions?
Meles was speechless!
Ethiopia has been the recipient of all kinds of aid from the U.S. over the decades. She has received “economic aid”, “development aid”, “military aid”, “technical aid”, “emergency aid”, “relief aid”, “humanitarian aid” and aid against AIDS. She has also received “BandAid” and “LiveAid” from others. Today, Ethiopians are afraid. They ask, “Is Ethiopia permanently trapped in “bondaid!?!” They pray for deliverance from the twin Lords of Tyranny and Poverty!
In all of Africa, USAID arguably has the largest aid program in Ethiopia. There are some who are skeptical about USAID’s claims of program effectiveness in Ethiopia. One can fairly judge the efficacy of USAID programs and the credibility of its asserted achievements in Ethiopia when the facts and data are made available for critical analysis and evaluation by intra-institutional authorities and other concerned communities. Unfortunately, facts and data appear to be the Achilles Heel of USAID/Ethiopia. This issue was made clear to USAID mission director Staal in 2010 by the Regional Inspector of the U.S. State Department Office of the Inspector General in his “Audit of USAID/Ethiopia’s Agricultural Sector Productivity Activities (Audit Report No. 4-6663-10-003-P (March 30, 2010)”. In that Report, the regional inspector informed Staal:
…The audit found the program is contributing to the achievement of market-led economic growth and the improved resilience of farmers, pastoralists, and other beneficiaries in Ethiopia. However, it is not possible to determine the extent of that contribution because of weaknesses in the mission’s performance management and reporting system. Specifically, while the mission used performance indicators and targets to track progress in several areas…, the results reported for the majority of those indicators were not comparable with the targets. Moreover, the audit was unable to determine whether the results reported in USAID/Ethiopia’s Performance Plan and Report were valid because mission staff could neither explain how the results were derived nor provide support for those reported results. In fact,when the audit team attempted to validate the reported results, it was unable to do so at either the mission or its implementing partners (pages 6-12)…
While some may rely on intuitive analysis and inferences from anecdotes to draw conclusions about USAID/Ethiopia, I much prefer evidence-based policy analysis. Hopefully, that body of evidence will be made readily available not only to dispel doubts, discredit rumors and enlighten critics of USAID/Ethiopia, but most importantly, to enhance and reinforce “the growing emphasis within USAID on transparency, accountability, and results.”
Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at:
Previous commentaries by the author are available at:
Alemayehu G. Mariam
Western Donors as Accessories to “Democricide” in Ethiopia
The helping hand that feeds Ethiopians is the same hand that helps bleed Ethiopia. Every year, the U.S., U.K, Germany, the Netherlands, Canada, Japan and other Western countries hand out billions of dollars in “humanitarian” and “economic” aid to the regime of dictator-in-chief Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia. Every year, these donors turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the notorious fact that their handouts are used to prop up and fortify a repressive one-man, one-party totalitarian dictatorship. Today, Western donors have collectively embraced the proverbial principle to “see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil” of what their “aid” money is doing in Ethiopia.
Last week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) pried open Western donors’ eyes to see the havoc their aid money is wreaking in Ethiopia and unplugged their ears to hear the truth about the evil they are helping to spread throughout that poor country. In a report entitled, Development Without Freedom , HRW sketched out the architecture of a vast kleptocracy (government of thieves) whose lifeblood is continuous and massive infusion of foreign aid. The report represents a devastating indictment of Western donors and their client regime for crimes that, if committed in the donor countries, would constitute Class A felonies:
Led by the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), the government has used donor-supported programs, salaries, and training opportunities as political weapons to control the population, punish dissent, and undermine political opponents–both real and perceived. Local officials deny these people access to seeds and fertilizer, agricultural land, credit, food aid, and other resources for development. Such politicization has a direct impact on the livelihoods of people for whom access to agricultural inputs is a matter of survival. It also contributes to a broader climate of fear, sending a potent message that basic survival depends on political loyalty to the state and the ruling party.
HRW charges that Zenawi’s regime has used Western aid to benefit its supporters by giving them special access to micro-credit (small loans designed for poor households) loans and benefits under the productive safety net program (multi-year cash payments to those vulnerable to famine to avoid disaster from food shortage emergencies). The regime has misused state educational facilities for political purposes and engaged in systematic political indoctrination of students, repression of teachers and purging of individuals who are unwilling to support the ruling party from their jobs. In sum, after 19 years and “investing” $26 billion in “aid”, the crowning achievement of Western aid in Ethiopia is the establishment and entrenchment of a one-man, one-party totalitarian state!
The Western donors refuse to accept any responsibility for the misuse and abuse of their aid money in Ethiopia; and the conspiracy of silence to cover up the ugly facts uncovered by HRW continues. A few days after HRW released its report, a gathering of vulturous poverty pimps known as the Development Assistance Group (DAG) representing donor states issued a statement denying the undeniable. “We do not concur with the conclusions of the recent HRW report regarding widespread, systematic abuse of development aid in Ethiopia. Our study did not generate any evidence of systematic or widespread distortion.”  DAG co-chair Samuel Nyambi was manifestly dismissive of HRW’s findings when he arrogantly proclaimed that “development partners have built into the programmes they support monitoring and safeguard mechanisms that give a reasonable assurance that resources are being used for their intended purposes.” In DAG-istan, what HRW found and reported simply could not happen. HRW made it all up! The report is all lies and fabrications!
The fact of the matter is that it is in DAG’s self-interest to bury the truth and keep covering it up even when the truth it is exhumed for public display. For DAG to acknowledge any part of the HRW evidence is tantamount to self-incrimination. They could never admit that the things HRW reported occurred under their watch. As the HRW reports demonstrates, DAG and the donor countries “have done little to address the problem [aid abuse/misuse] or tackle their own role in underwriting government repression… even though they recognize [civil and political rights] to be central to sustainable socioeconomic development.”
Huddled together in DAG-istan, the poverty pimps have collectively resolved to continue to do their usual aid business in Ethiopia because “broad economic progress outweighs individual political freedoms”. In “their eagerness to show progress in Ethiopia, aid officials are shutting their eyes to the repression lurking behind the official statistics.” They say “their programs are working well and that aid was not being ‘distorted.'” They refuse to carry “out credible, independent investigations into the problem.” The “donor country legislatures and audit institutions [have failed] to examine development aid to Ethiopia to ensure that it is not supporting political repression.” They refuse to “wake up to the fact that some of their aid is contributing to human rights abuses” in Ethiopia. The Western donors have ignored calls to “seriously weigh the impact that their funding has on bolstering repressive structures and practices in Ethiopia.” They are unwilling to do a “fundamental re-thinking of their strategy.”
The People of Ethiopia v. Western Donors
When I wrote my commentaries “Speaking Truth to Strangers” this past June and “J’Accuse” last November  , I argued that in a perfect world Western donors in Ethiopia could be prosecuted for being accessories before and after the fact to the crime of first-degree “democricide”, gross human rights violations and for aiding and abetting Zenawi’s kleptocracy. The recent HRW report furnishes a fresh boatload of damning evidence for use in the criminal conspiracy case of The People of Ethiopia v. Western Donor Countries to be tried in the court of international public opinion and in the consciences of all the taxpayers in Western countries shelling out their hard earned money to support one of the most brutal dictatorships in the world.
The silent conspiracy between the Western donors and Zenawi’s regime operates on a couple of simple premises. The Western donors in their chauvinistic view believe there are two social classes in Ethiopia. One class consists of the large masses of poor, impoverished, illiterate, malnourished and expendable masses who will not amount to much. The other class consists of the tiny class of elites who maintain a lavish life style for themselves and lord over the masses by manipulating the billions given to them to strengthen their chokehold on the political structure and process. The silent conspiracy is sustained by mutuality of interests. The Western donors want “stability” in Ethiopia, which often means the absence of internal strife that will not undermine their economic and political interests in the country. They want regional “stability”, which means having someone who could be called upon to patrol the neighborhood and kick the rear ends of some nasty terrorists. For those addicted to aid, it’s all about more aid, more free money to play with.
As long as the Western donors meet their dual objectives, they do not give a rat’s behind about what happens to their aid money or what harm it does to the Ethiopian masses. When confronted with the truth about the misuse and abuse of aid money as has been documented in the HRW report, the donors will deny it (“we have built in safeguards, it couldn’t happen), play it down (“nothing to it”), ignore it (“nor worth commenting”), excuse it (“it’s not as bad as it seems”), rationalize it (“we’ve got to work with the government”), and wax legal about it (“there is a sovereignty issue”); and to fool the people occasionally, they will come out in public, put on a show of feigned outrage and pontificate about democracy, the rule of law and the rest of it. After all is said and done, they go right back to business as usual.
Ethiopia: The Potemkin Village
A Potemkin village is “something that appears elaborate and impressive but in actual fact lacks substance.” Western aid has reduced Ethiopia to a Potemkin village. It’s all a façade, a smoke and mirror show complete with illusions and sleights of hand. DAG is full of it when it counterclaims against HRW’s findings:
The aid provided by members of the DAG in Ethiopia is transforming the lives of millions of poor people through basic services such as healthcare, education and water, and long-term food security. Our programmes are directly helping Ethiopia to reach the Millennium Development Goals.
In their annual dog and pony show, these poverty pimps have been singing the same old song for years: “We are saving lives in Ethiopia by the millions. Imagine how many millions would have perished but for aid; how many children would have not gone to school. See the clinics and hospitals that aid has built.” They challenge us to look at how much economic development aid has brought to Ethiopia: “Behold the shiny glass buildings. See all of the fancy roads that snake over the hills and valleys. Look at all of the universities we helped build. Look at the double digit annual economic growth. Aid money made all that possible.”
What they don’t tell is the fact that many of the shiny buildings have little running water and many more stand unfinished or vacant. The universities have few books and educational materials and even fewer qualified instructional staff. The hospitals and clinics have few doctors and virtually no medical supplies or equipment to care for 85 million people. Ethiopia has one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world. Inflation has made it impossible for the vast majority of Ethiopian families to meet their basic needs. The poverty pimps say nothing about the fact that famine and hunger stalks a third of the Ethiopia population year around. As to “double digit” economic growth, it is all made up by Zenawi’s regime. . So the smoke and mirror aid show goes on and on. The multi-billion dollar alms industry keeps on humming and squeezing more and more money from the wallets of hard working men and women in the West.
The fact of the matter is that aid is incapable of creating or sustaining economic development (its effects under the best of circumstances are transitory). As Dambissa Moya has argued ,
In Ethiopia, where aid constitutes more than 90% of the government budget, a mere 2% of the country’s population has access to mobile phones. (The African country average is around 30%.) Might it not be preferable for the government to earn money by selling its mobile phone license, thereby generating much-needed development income and also providing its citizens with telephone service that could, in turn, spur economic activity?
To add insult to injury, it is now becoming clearer than ever that aid has become the principal tool of repression, human rights violations and suppression of democratic institutions in Ethiopia.
Western Donors on the Horns of a Dilemma in Ethiopia
Based on the HRW report, one can reasonably conclude that U.S. aid policy in Ethiopia is reeling out of control. U.S. tax dollars given as aid are being misused by Zenawi for political purposes in violation of U.S. law with the apparent tacit approval of U.S. authorities. Cumulatively, the U.S., as the largest aid donor in Ethiopia, has been singularly responsible for the creation of a repressive Frankenstinian regime over which the U.S. has little influence or leverage.
Zenawi’s contempt for the Western donors in general is nothing less than the proverbial “bite of the hand that feeds.” The Economist recently noted, “Mr Meles’s contempt for what he calls the “neoliberalism” of the West is as plain as his admiration for ‘generous’ and ‘dependable’ China. Chinese Communist Party officials were feted at a recent EPRDF conference… The Europeans and Americans find this galling, since they continue to pay for many of Ethiopia’s hospitals and schools, as well as handing out free food.” Zenawi’s contempt is not just for “neoliberalism” (market driven approach to economic and social policy), but also the very essence of what the U.S. and the West in general claims to be its fundamental values including the rule of law, civil and human rights and free democratic processes and institutions.
After sucking up $26 billion dollars of aid, Zenawi is telling his Western donors that they are chumps and wimps, and he is going to dump them for the rising sun of East Asia. The Western donors don’t seem to get it; and they keep shelling out billions more to keep Zenawi on the dole as he thumbs his nose at them and sneers at their policies. That is nothing new. After troops under the direct command and control of Zenawi massacred 200 unarmed protesters, wounded over 800 more and jailed 30,000 opponents following the May 2005 elections, Western donors took him to the side and told him, “Be nice. Don’t do stuff like that. Anyway, here is a couple billion to do what you will.” In May 2010, Zenawi announced that he had won the elections by 99.6 percent. On September 23, 2010, the U.S. agreed to write him a handout check for a cool $229.3 million. It is sad to see American taxpayers not only having their back pockets picked, but also their rear ends kicked.
I believe there is another less visible, but equally catastrophic, damage caused by the unsupervised Western aid in Ethiopia. The cumulative anecdotal evidence is compelling and shows that Western aid has helped create in Ethiopia a culture of poverty captained by poverty pimps and their client regime. A review of World Bank, IMF, U.N. and US AID studies and reports over the past 5 years demonstrates the near-total dependence of the Ethiopian economy on foreign aid. Today, aid is to the Ethiopian economy as khat (a popular hallucinogenic drug used in the Horn of Africa) is to the poor addict who is unable to function without that drug. Like khat, aid gives the Ethiopian economy a burst of short-term energy followed by economic lethargy and long-term incapacitating addictive dependency. One cannot help but worry over the fact that the next generation of Ethiopians could adopt a way of life and a set of attitudes that glorifies international handouts and panhandling. The millions of Ethiopians permanently trapped in a culture of intergenerational poverty may have no choice but to kneel down before the altar of foreign aid and pray to the gods of free money for their daily existence.
Time to Re-think U.S. Aid Policy in Ethiopia: Need for Congressional and Other Investigations
It is time to re-think U.S. aid policy in Ethiopia, regardless Zenawi’s apparent threat that he will turn to China to get money with no strings attached. The time for U.S. pretension must end. If there is a scintilla of fact that has any merit at all in the damning evidence assembled by HRW (the HRW report is fully corroborated), it is time for the U.S. Congress to get involved and exercise its oversight functions by undertaking a formal investigation.
There are numerous congressional authorization and appropriations subcommittees and committees that have jurisdiction over U.S. foreign assistance programs. The Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations and the House’s Committee on International Relations have primary jurisdiction over bilateral development assistance. To the extent funds are misused from U.S. contributions to multilateral development banks, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Financial Services Committee have authority to investigate. The appropriations committees and subcommittees in both Houses could also look into the HRW’s findings for misspent and illegally expended funds.
The Office of the Inspector General of the State Department has authority to investigate instances of fraud, waste, and mismanagement that may constitute either criminal wrongdoing or violation of Department regulations. The HRW report provides ample legal basis to launch an official investigation by the OIG. The United States Agency for International Development (US AID) is purportedly committed to rooting out corruption in the use of aid funds. U.S. AID claims, “Corruption damages international development and poverty alleviation by limiting economic growth, reducing social cohesion, skewing public investments, and weakening the rule of law… Democratic governance rooted in the rule of law contributes to long-term, sustainable economic and social development.” AID’s feet need to be held to the fire until it sets up an independent investigation of HRW’s findings. The U.S. Secretary of State could also order an investigation of the HRW findings.
If the Western donors want to redeem themselves in the eyes of the Ethiopian people, they must fully embrace HRW’s prudent and sound recommendations to deal with the problem of aid misuse and abuse.
In light of the government’s human rights violations, direct budget support to the government should not even be considered, and programs supported by international funds should be independently monitored. Credible audit institutions should examine aid to Ethiopia in the context of whether it contributes to political repression. External donors must also demand that Ethiopia does more than pay lip service to respecting fundamental human rights; they must be more vocal about the steps Ethiopia should take to ensure that its citizens enjoy the rights to which they are entitled under the country’s constitution and international human rights law.
No Business Like the Panhandling Business
Anyone who says “there is no business like show business,” has not tried the international alms (begging) business. What could be more fun than sitting around and waiting for the “aid man” to show up and hand out free money to use like a drunken sailor. International panhandling is a lucrative business. Everybody is in it. The panhandlers who live off handouts frolic in their dreams every night shaking down the aid money tree. The rock stars, bankers and aid bureaucrats who work 24/7 peddling aid across the globe are intoxicated by it. Even ivy league professors have gotten into the act; they have found a new calling as “entrepreneurs of aid” in much the same way as the procurers of the world’s oldest profession. Giving alms to Ethiopia is one of the favorite “indulgences” of the Western donors. It is their way of sanitizing their consciences into believing that they are doing good in Africa. If they really want to do good, let them teach Ethiopians how to fish and be self-sufficient. They don’t need to supply a villainous fish monger never-ending boatloads of fish and give him the power to decide who to feed and who to bleed.
RELEASE ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS IN ETHIOPIA