The Sandcastles and Dams of African Dictators
All dictators on the African continent have sought immortality by leaving a legacy that will outlive them and endure for the ages. But all have inherited the wind.
Kwame Nkrumah led the first sub-Saharan African country to gain independence from colonialism in 1957. Nkrumaism sought to transform Ghana into a modern socialist state through state-driven industrialization. He built the Akosombo Dam on the Volta River, at the time considered the “largest single investment in the economic development plans of Ghana”. He promoted the cult of personality and was hailed as the “Messiah”, “Father of Ghana and Pan Africanism” and “Father of African nationalism”. He crushed the unions and the opposition, jailed the judges, created a one-man, one-party state and tried to make himself “President for life”. He got the military boot in 1966. He left a bitter legacy of one-man, one-party rule which to this day serves as a model of dictatorship for all of Africa. Nkrumah died in exile and inherited the wind.
Gamal Abdel Nasser sought to create his own brand of Arab socialism and nationalism and propagated it as a secular Pan-Arab ideology. Using an extensive intelligence apparatus and an elaborate propaganda machine, he promoted a cult of personality projecting himself as the “Man of the People.” He built the Aswan High Dam with Soviet aid. He ruled Egypt in a one-man, one-party dictatorship and crushed all dissent, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood. Today the Muslim Brotherhood is in power and Nasserism is in the dustbin of history. Nasser left a legacy of military dictatorship in Egypt and inherited the wind.
Mobutu Sese Seko proclaimed himself “Father of the Nation” of Zaire (The Democratic Republic of the Congo), and became dictator for life. He declared, “In our African tradition there are never two chiefs….That is why we Congolese, in the desire to conform to the traditions of our continent, have resolved to group all the energies of the citizens of our country under the banner of a single national party.” Mobutuism consisted of the delusional thoughts of Mobutu and his program of “Zairianization”. He promoted a cult of personality describing himself as the “the all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, will go from conquest to conquest leaving fire in his wake”. Mobutu built the Inga Dams over the Congo River hoping to create the largest hydroelectric facility in the world. He left a legacy of kleptocracy and inherited the wind.
Moamar Gadhafi proclaimed the “Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya” and ushered the era of the state of the masses (Jamahiriya). He sought to elevate Libyan society by reducing it to a massive collection of “people’s committees”. He brutally suppressed dissent and squandered the national resources of that country. He launched the Great Man-Made River, the world’s largest irrigation project and proclaimed it the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” After four decades in power, the “Brother Leader” and author of the Green Book literally suffered the death of a sewer rat. He left a legacy of division and destruction in Libya and inherited the wind.
Idi Amin Dada, the “Butcher of Uganda” and the most notorious of all African dictators, imposed a reign of terror on the Ugandan people and sadistically displayed his tyrannical power to the international press. He pompously described himself as “His Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea, and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular.” He built no dams by damned the Ugandan people for 8 years until he was forced into exile. He left a legacy of death, destruction and ethnic division in Uganda and inherited the wind.
The “Great Leader”?
The late Meles Zenawi, like all African dictators, sought to make himself larger than life. He was not only Ethiopia’s savior but Africa’s as well. He sought to project himself as a “visionary leader”, “inspirational spokesman for Africa” and supreme practitioner of “revolutionary democracy.” Following his death sometime in late Summer 2012, the propaganda to deify, mythologize, exalt, immortalize and idolize him became a theatre of the absurd. Hailemariam Desalegn, Meles’ handpicked titular prime minster, in his speech to the party faithful in parliament virtually made Meles a lesser god offering blessings of “Eternal Glory to Our Great Leader.” Even the original “Great Leader” Kim Il-sung of North Korea achieved no more glory than being “The Sun of the Nation”. Desalegn promised to consummate his own divinely delegated mission with missionary zeal: “My responsibility now… is to successfully carry out the aims and ambitions of a great and notable leader… Following in the footsteps of our great leader, we will strive to maintain and develop the influential voice in regional, continental and international forums” and “successfully implement the aims and vision of our great leader. He was not just a brilliant generator of ideas: he was, par excellence, the embodiment of selflessness and self-sacrifice…”
Was Desalegn talking about Meles or the Man of Galilee?
The Vision and Legacy of the “Visionary Great Leader”
Like all African dictators before him, Meles had illusions, delusions and obsessions. He did not have a grand vision; he had illusions of grandeur. Like Mobutu before him, Meles had the illusion of building Africa’s largest dam, the so-called Grand Renaissance Dam, on the Blue Nile at a cost preliminarily estimated (unadjusted for cost overruns) at nearly USD$5 billion. Experts believe such a dam if built will “flood 1,680 square kilometers of forest in northwest Ethiopia, near the Sudan border, and create a reservoir that is nearly twice as large as Lake Tana, Ethiopia’s largest natural lake…. The current cost estimate [for the dam] equals the country’s entire annual budget…” Moreover, the dam “could cut the Nile flow into Egypt by 25% during the reservoir filling period” and substantially reduce the reservoir capacity of the Aswan High Dam. According to a document obtained by Wikileaks from the private intelligence group Stratfor, “Sudan’s president Omer Al-Bashir had agreed to build an Egyptian airbase in his country’s western region of Darfur to be used for assaults on The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) should diplomatic efforts fail to resolve the dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia over Nile water-sharing.” A legacy of regional war and strife?
Meles did not have a growth and transformation plan; he had delusional plans of economic growth and transformation. As I have demonstrated in “The Voodoo Economics of Meles Zenawi”, Meles “has been making hyperbolic claims of economic growth in Ethiopia based on fabricated and massaged GDP (gross domestic product) numbers, implying that the country is in a state of runaway economic development and the people’s standard of living is fast outstripping those living in the middle income countries.” When the U.S. State Department reported an average inflation rate (FY 2008-2009) of 36 percent, Meles predicted a decline in inflation to 3.9 percent in 2009/10. His Growth and Transformation Plan (or what I called “Zenawinomics”) which I reviewed in my June 2011 commentary “The Fakeonomics of Meles Zenawi”, “is a make-a-wish list of stuff. It purports to be based on a ‘long-term vision’ of making Ethiopia ‘a country where democratic rule, good-governance and social justice reigns.’ It aims to ‘build an economy which has a modern and productive agricultural sector with enhanced technology and an industrial sector’ and ‘increase per capita income of citizens so that it reaches at the level of those in middle-income countries.’ It boasts of ‘pillar strategies’ to ‘sustain faster and equitable economic growth’, ‘maintain agriculture as a major source of economic growth,’ ‘create favorable conditions for the industry to play key role in the economy,’ ‘expand infrastructure and social development,’ ‘build capacity and deepen good governance’ and ‘promote women and youth empowerment and equitable benefit.’ Stripped of its collection of hollow economic slogans, clichés, buzzwords and catchphrases, Meles’ growth and growth and transformation plan is plain sham-o-nomics. A legacy of inflation, economic mismanagement, crushing foreign debt and environmental destruction?
Meles had no national vision; he only had a vision of ethnic division. His warped idea of “ethnic federalism” is merely a kinder and gentler reincarnation of Apartheid in Ethiopia. For nearly two decades, Meles toiled ceaselessly to shred the very fabric of Ethiopian society, and sculpt a landscape balkanized into tribal, ethnic, linguistic and regional enclaves. He crafted a constitution based entirely on ethnicity and tribal affiliation as the basis for political organization. He wrote in Article 46 (2) of the constitution: “States shall be structured on the basis of settlement patterns, language, identity and consent of the people.” In other words, “states”, (and the people who live in them) shall be corralled like cattle in tribal homelands in much the same way as the 10 Bantustans (black homelands) of Apartheid South Africa. These tribal homelands are officially called “kilils” (enclaves or distinct enclosed and effectively isolated geographic areas within a seemingly integrated national territory). Like the Bantustans, the Killilistans ultimately aim to create homogeneous and autonomous ethnic states in Ethiopia, effectively scrubbing out any meaningful notion of Ethiopian national citizenship. Meles’ completely fictitious theory of “ethnic (tribal) federalism)”, unknown in the annals of political science or political theory, has been used to justify and glorify these Kililistans and impose an atrocious policy of divide and rule against 90 million people. A legacy of ethnic balkanization, political polarization, brutalization, and sectarian strife?
Under Meles, Ethiopia became the poster country for international alms and charity and crushing international debt. During his two decades plus tenure, Ethiopia has been among the largest recipients of “economic aid”, “development aid”, “military aid”, “technical aid”, “emergency aid”, “relief aid”, “humanitarian aid” and aid against AIDS in the world. As I argued in my commentary “Ethiopia in BondAid?”, Meles has successfully subverted international aid and loans, particularly U.S. aid, to strengthen his tyrannical rule. A legacy of international aid addiction and beggary?
Corruption under Meles Zenawi has put Ethiopia on life-support. The World Bank recently issued a 448-page report entitled, “Diagnosing Corruption in Ethiopia” . The cancer of corruption has metastasized in the Ethiopian body politics. The Telecommunications Sector of Ethiopia is in terminal stage:
Despite the country’s exceptionally heavy recent investment in its telecoms infrastructure, it has the second lowest telephone penetration rate in Africa. It once led the regional field in the laying of fiber-optic cable, yet suffers from severe bandwidth and reliability problems. Amid its low service delivery, an apparent lack of accountability, and multiple court cases, some aspects of the sector are perceived by both domestic and international observers to be deeply affected by corruption.
In the Construction Sector, “Ethiopia exhibits most of the classic warning signs of corruption risk, including instances of poor-quality construction, inflated unit output costs, and delays in implementation.” Corruption in the Justice Sector “takes one of two forms: (a) political interference with the independent actions of courts or other sector agencies, or (b) payment or solicitation of bribes or other considerations to alter a decision or action.” Corruption in the Land Sector is inherent in the law. “The level of corruption is influenced strongly by the way policy and legislation are formulated and enforced. For example, the capture of state assets by the elite can occur through the formulation of policy that favors the elite.” In other words, the laws are written to rig the bidding process to give Meles’ cronies, buddies and supporters a significant advantage so that they can pick up state assets at fire sale prices. A legacy of endemic corruption?
Meles’ “revolutionary democracy” as an ideology or policy guide never quite transcended the sloganeering and phrase-mongering stage, but he indulged in its rhetoric whenever he was overcome by revolutionary fervor. In a seminal analysis of “revolutionary democracy” and arguably the “first paper to seriously examine the political programme and political philosophy of EPRDF based on a review of its major policy”, Jean-Nicolas Bach of the Institute of Political Studies (Bordeaux, France) in 2011 described “Abyotawi democracy (revolutionary democracy) [as] neither revolutionary nor democratic.” Bach argued that revolutionary democracy is a ‘‘bricolage’’ (hodgepodge) of “Leninism, Marxism, Maoism, and also liberalism” concocted by a “small group of party ideologists around Meles, and a few agencies.” As an ideology, “revolutionary democracy” “provides justification for fusing political and economic power in the party-state run by EPRDF.” A critical “review of party pamphlets and official party/state discourses reveals the degree to which revolutionary democracy has become an ambiguous doctrine vis-a`-vis ‘liberalism’” and “remains a powerful fighting tool to exclude internal and external ‘enemies’.” One commentator recently likened revolutionary democracy to communism and fascism. Revolutionary democracy is responsible for delivering a 99.6 percent parliamentary victory to Meles’ party in 2010. A legacy of rigged and stolen elections and bad governance?
Melesismo: Meles’ Greatest Legacy
Meles’ singular legacy is Melesismo, a political legacy I foretold in my December 2009 commentary entitled “The Raw Machismo of Power”. Meles perfected Melesismo– the political art of “My way, the highway, no way… or jail!” Melesismo reaffirms the ignoble principle that might makes right.
Meles’ worshippers proclaim they are marching in his footsteps with the same reverence of those who claim to walk in the footsteps of the Man of Galilee. They ostentatiously display raw machismo invoking the divine power Meles. How little things have changed? From a legacy of the divine right of kings to a legacy of the divine rule of a lesser god!
Meles’ worshippers seek to mythologize, canonize and idolize him. But they cannot reincarnate Meles as the “Messiah”. Even the great Nelson Mandela is undeserving of “eternal glory”. He said so himself, “I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.” Neither saints nor demons deserve “eternal glory”. Meles will eventually be consigned to the dustbin of history as nothing more than another petty African tyrant.
Meles’ greatest legacy would have been what he said his legacy would be. In 2007, Meles said his “hope is that [his] legacy” would be not only “sustained and accelerated development that would pull Ethiopia out of the massive deep poverty” but also “radical improvements in terms of good governance and democracy.” Without radical democratic improvements by Meles’ worshippers, Meles will be remembered in history as a reactionary petty African tyrant.
Is it possible for Meleismo to hold the center after Meles? Will Melesismo survive Meles?
My friend Eskinder Nega, the personification of press freedom in Ethiopia today, who was jailed by Meles, was likely right in foretelling the inevitable implosion of the “EPDRF”. Eskinder wrote, “Scratch beyond the surface and the EPRDF is really not the monolithic dinosaur as it is most commonly stereotyped. [It has become] a coalition of four distinct phenomenon: the increasing confusion of the dominant TPLF [Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front], the acute cynicism of the ANDM [Amhara National Democratic Movement], the desperate nihilism of the OPDO [Oromo People’s Democratic Organization] and the inevitable irrelevance of the incongruent SEPM [South Ethiopian People’s Movement] (a grab bag of some 40 ethnic groups from the southern part of the country).”
Meles was a man with a mission who confused mission with vision. He has completed his mission. History will record his legacy to be human rights violation, press suppression, ethnic division, endemic corruption, obsessive secrecy and a political culture whose lifeblood is impunity, lack of accountability and transparency. Shakespeare wrote, “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones…” Scripture teaches that “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind: and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart.” Meles and his worshippers have profoundly troubled the Ethiopian house and they shall inherit the wind!
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:
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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:
First, Why is Africa Poor?
George Ayittey, the renowned Ghanaian economist and president of the Free Africa Foundation swears that “Africa is poor because she is not free”. Like Ayittey, Robert Guest, business editor for The Economist, in his book The Shackled Continent (2004), declares that “Africans are poor because they are poorly governed.” He argues that “Africa is the only continent to have grown poorer over the last three decades” while other developing countries and regions have grown richer. Much of Africa, it seems, was better off at the end of colonialism than it is today.
For Ayittey and Guest, the tens of billions of dollars in Western aid to Africa have done very little to improve the lives of Africans; at best, aid has served to “bankroll tyrants” and facilitate experimentation by “idealists with hopeless economic policies.” Statism (the state as the principal change agent) and dictatorship have denied the African masses basic political and economic freedoms while the few privileged kleptocrats (or thieves that have pirated the ship of state, emptied out the national treasury and plundered the economy) live the sweet life of luxury (la dolce vita), not entirely unlike the “good old” colonial times. As Ayittey explains, much of Africa today suffers under the control of “vampire states” with “governments that have been hijacked by a phalanx of bandits and crooks who would use the instruments of the state machinery to enrich themselves and their cronies and their tribesmen and exclude everybody else.” (“Hyena States” would be a fitting metaphor considering the African landscape and the rapacious and predatory nature of the crooks.) Simply stated, much of Africa languishes under the rule of thugtators (thugtatorship is the highest stage of African dictatorship) who cling to power for the single purpose of using the apparatuses of the state to loot and ransack their nations. Such is the unvarnished truth about Africa’s entrapment in perpetual post-independence poverty and destitution.
Could it be said equally that Ethiopia is at the tail end of the poorest countries on the planet because she is not free and gasps in the jaws of a “vampiric” dictatorship? In other words….
Is Ethiopia Poor, Hungry, Ill and Illiterate Because She is Not Free and Poorly Governed?
A couple of weeks ago, the Legatum Institute (LI), an independent non-partisan public policy group based in London, released its 2011 Legatum Prosperity Index (LPI) which ranked Ethiopia a pretty dismal 108th/110 countries. LPI’s findings are sobering as they are heartbreaking. Ethiopia has an “unemployment rate [that] is almost 21%, which is the sixth highest rate, globally.” The “capital per worker in Ethiopia is the fourth lowest worldwide.” The country has “virtually no investment in R&D.” The ability of Ethiopians “to start and run a business is highly limited… [with a] communication infrastructure [that] is weak with only five mobile phones for every 100 citizens”; and the availability of internet bandwidth and secure servers is negligible. Inequality is systemic and widespread and the country is among the bottom ten countries on the Index. The Ethiopian “education system is poor at all levels and its population is deeply dissatisfied.” There is “only one teacher for every 58 pupils at primary level, there is a massive shortage of educators, and Ethiopian workers are typically poorly educated.” Less than a “quarter of the population believe Ethiopian children have the opportunity to learn and grow every day, which is the lowest such rate in the Index.”
On “health outcomes, Ethiopia performs very poorly. Its infant mortality rate, 67 deaths per 1,000 live births, and its health-adjusted life expectancy of 50 years, placing Ethiopia among the bottom 20 nations.” The population has high mortality rates from “Tuberculosis infections and respiratory diseases. Access to hospital beds and sanitation facilities is very limited, placing the country 109th and 110th (very last) on these measures of health infrastructure.” The core problem of poor governance is reflected in the fact that “there appears to be little respect for the rule of law, and the country is notable for its poor regulatory environment for business, placing 101st in the Index on this variable.”
But it is not only the LPI that has ranked Ethiopia at the rump of the most impoverished and poorly governed nations in the world. Last year, the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHDI) Multidimensional Poverty Index 2010 (formerly annual U.N.D.P. Human Poverty Index) ranked Ethiopia as the second poorest (ahead of famine-ravaged Mali) country on the planet. According to OPHDI, the percentage of the Ethiopian population in “severe poverty” (living on less than USD$1 a day) in 2005 was 72.3%. Six million Ethiopians needed emergency food aid in 2010 and many more millions needed food aid in 2011 in what the U.N. described as the “worst drought in over half a century to hit parts of East Africa”. The World Bank this past June concluded that “Ethiopia’s dependence on foreign capital to finance budget deficits and a five-year investment plan is unsustainable.” The Bank criticized dictator Meles Zenawi’s “dependen[ce] on foreign capital or other means of financing investment in an unhealthy, unsustainable way.” Ethiopia is the world’s second-biggest recipient of foreign aid, after Afghanistan, according to the Organization for Cooperation and Economic Development rankings of developing nations because its “leaders” have perfected the art of international mendicancy (panhandling).
That is not all. Every international index over the past several years has ranked Ethiopia at the very bottom of the scale including Transparency International’s Corruption Index (among most corrupt countries), the Failed States Index (among the most failed), the Index of Economic Freedom (among the most economically repressive), the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development Investment Climate Assessment (among the most unfriendly to business), the Ibrahim Index of African Governance (among the most poorly governed African countries), the Bertelsmann Political and Economic Transformation Index (among countries most in need of reform) and the Environmental Performance Index (among countries with poorest environmental and public health indicators).
Of course, none of that comes as a surprise to those who are familiar with the fakeonomics of Meles Zenawi. Zenawi says all of the Indexes, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are wrong. He boldly claims the Ethiopian “economy recorded an average economic growth rate of 11 percent over the past seven years.” But that incredibly rosy growth rate figure, often repeated and republished mindlessly and unquestioningly by the international media, is based exclusively on statistics manufactured by Zenawi’s statistics department. This past June, the IMF debunked Zenawi’s imaginary economic growth estimate of 11.4 percent for 2009 “saying 7.5 percent is more realistic.” The IMF “forecast is even lower growth of about 6 percent for the coming year” because of a “more restrictive business climate”.
Economic principles, facts and realities are irrelevant to Zenawi. According to “Zenawinomics” (a/k/a “Growth and Transformation Plan”), there are bottomless pots of gold awaiting Ethiopians at the end of the rainbow in 2015: The Ethiopian economy will grow by 14.9 percent (oddly enough not 15 percent). There will be “food security at household and national level.” There will be “more than 2000 km of railway networks would be constructed” and power generation will be in the range of “ 8,000 to 10,000 MW from water and wind resources during the next five years.” The “whole community has mobilized to buy bonds. This huge savings and mobilization is used for infrastructure development… We are getting loans from China, India, Turkey and South Korea, so all these foreign savings are also mobilized… So I think we can perform on the ambitious plans that are in place.”
Zenawinomics is the economics of a magical wonderland, very much like Alice’s Wonderland: “If I had a world of my own,” said Alice “everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary-wise; what it is it wouldn’t be, and what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”
Maybe you don’t see. That is the whole point. In what Zenawi describes as “one of fastest growing non-oil economies in Africa,” inflation is soaring, and by mid-2011, Zenawi’s Central Statistical Agency reported that the annual inflation rate had increased by 38 percent and food prices had surged by 45.3 percent. There are more than 12 million people who are chronically or periodically food insecure. Yet, Zenawi is handing out “large chunks” of the most fertile land in the country for free, to be sure for pennies, to foreign agribusiness multinational corporations to farm commercially and export the harvest. This past July, the U.S. Census Bureau had a frightening population forecast: By 2050, Ethiopia’s current population of 90 million population will more than triple to 278 million, placing that country in the top 10 most populous countries in the world. It just does not make any sense.
In May 2010, the Economist Magazine rhetorically asked: “Ethiopia’s prime minister, and his ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) expect a landslide victory in the general election due on May 23rd, and are likely to get one (they actually “won” it by 99.6 percent!). The bigger question is whether another five years of EPRDF rule will help ordinary Ethiopians, who are among the poorest and hungriest people in the world.”
Ethiopia Can Prosper Only If She Has Good Governance
The United Nations Development Programme and other international lending institutions define ‘governance’ as the “exercise of power or authority – political, economic, administrative or otherwise – to manage a country’s resources and affairs.” Good governance has to do with the “competent management of a country’s resources and affairs in a manner that is open, transparent, accountable, equitable and responsive to people’s needs.” There is substantial empirical research showing that political freedom, strong social and political institutions and proper regulatory mechanisms significantly contribute to economic growth. Stated simply, good governance and “good” (sustainable) growth are based on mutually reinforcing principles.
Where there is good governance, there is substantial political and legal accountability and much greater respect for civil, political and property rights. Leaders are held politically accountable to the people through fair, free and regular elections; and an independent electoral commission ensures there is no voter fraud, voting irregularities, vote buying, voter intimidation and voter harassment. Institutional mechanisms are in place to ensure the rule of law is followed and those exercising political power and engaged in official decision-making perform their duties with transparency and legal accountability. Where there is good governance, citizens have freedom of association and the right to freely exchange and debate ideas while independent press, and even state-owned media, operate freely along with robust civil society institutions to inform and mobilize the population.
Good governance is an essential precondition for sustainable development. Stable and democratic governing institutions protect political and economic liberty and create an environment of civic participation, which in turn “determines whether a country has the capacity to use resources effectively to promote economic growth and reduce poverty.” On the other hand, bad or poor governance stifles and impedes development and undermines competition in the marketplace. Where human rights and the rule of law are disrespected, corruption flourishes and development inevitably suffers aspolitical leaders and public officials siphon off resources from critical school, hospital, road and other public works and community projects to line their pockets. But where there is good governance, not only is economic development and growth accelerated, even chronic and structural problems of food insecurity (famine) that have plagued Ethiopia for decades can be controlled and overcome. As Amartya Sen has argued no substantial famine has ever occurred in any independent country with a democratic form of government and a relatively free press.
Because there is little or no political accountability, Ethiopia suffers from poor governance and remains at the bottom of the indexes of the most impoverished nations in the world. Programs intended for “poverty reduction” have been misused for political mobilization and rewards for voting for the ruling party. The country has been unable to promote broad-based economic growth because business attached to the ruling party have a near-total monopoly and chokehold on the economy making fair competition for non-ruling party affiliated entities in the market an exercise in futility. Because there is little respect for property and contract rights, those non-aligned with the ruling party feel insecure and disinclined to invest. The ruling regime has made little investment in human resources through effective policies and institutions that improve access to quality education and health services as the LPI data shows. As a result, the rate of flight of professionals, intellectuals, journalists and political dissidents, is among the 10 highest in the world. The International Organization for Migration has said it all: “There are more Ethiopian doctors practicing in the US city of Chicago than in Ethiopia.”
Ethiopia is universally regarded as one of the least free countries in the world and ranks at the very bottom of the 10 most repressive countries in the world for citizens’ freedoms in expression, belief, association, and personal autonomy. The respected Committee to Protect Journalists says, “Ethiopia is the second-leading jailer of journalists in Africa.” There is little regard for the rule of law as the LPI data confirms. In other words, those who occupy official positions have little respect for the country’s Constitution or laws, or show any concern for the fair administration of justice. The judiciary is merely the legal sledgehammer of the dictator and ruling party. The judges are party hacks enrobed in judicial garb with the principal mission of giving legal imprimatur to manifest official criminality. In sum, the rule of law in Ethiopia has been transmuted into the rule of one man, one party.
Few should be surprised by LPI’s conclusions that the “levels of confidence in the military and judiciary are both very low” and “Ethiopia is the country where expression of political views is perceived by the population to be most restricted.” None of the facts above matter to the dictators in Ethiopia because they are ready, willing and able to do whatever it takes to cling to power.
LPI’s dismal ranking of Ethiopia merely augments what has been solidly established over the years in the other Indexes. The question is why Ethiopia remains at the tail end of the most impoverished countries year after year. Zenawi’s “Federal Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission” (FEAC) conflates corruption and poverty in seeking to pinpoint the answer to this question. FEAC says the major sources of corruption in Ethiopia are “poor governance, lack of accountability and transparency, low level of democratic culture and tradition, lack of citizen participation, lack of clear regulations and authorization, low level of institutional control, extreme poverty and inequity, harmful cultural practices and centralization of authority.” Not quite! Poor governance, lack of accountability and transparency (a/k/a corruption), lack of citizen participation and the absence of the rule of law are the root causes of extreme and widespread poverty, underdevelopment, aid-dependency, conflict, instability, starvation and injustice in Ethiopia. Have free and fair elections, allow the independent press to flourish, institutionalize the rule of law and maintain an independent judiciary, professionalize and depoliticize the civil service, the military and police forces and Ethiopians will be well on their way to permanently defeating poverty and making starvation a footnote in the history of the Ethiopian nation.
Ethiopia is poor, hungry, ill and illiterate because she is poorly governed and not free!
 The Legatum Index is based on 89 different variables covering the economy, entrepreneurship and opportunity, governance, education, health, safety and security, personal freedom, social capital and so on. The Institute uses data collected by the Gallup World Poll, World Trade Organization, World Development Indicators, GDP, World Intellectual Property Organization, UN Human Development Report, World Bank, OECD and World Values Survey.
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Alemayehu G. Mariam
On December 21, 1987, Time Magazine on its cover page featured a downcast and crestfallen young Ethiopian mother as a symbol of famine victims in that country. Time asked two timeless questions: “Why are Ethiopians starving again? What should the world do and not do?”
In its analysis, Time wrote something that should strikes us all as déjà vu today.
Three years ago , a famine began to strike Ethiopia with apocalyptic force. Westerners watched in horror as the images of death filled their TV screens: the rows of fly-haunted corpses, the skeletal orphans crouched in pain… Today Ethiopia is in the midst of another drought… Ethiopia, which has earned the unhappy honor of being rated the globe’s poorest country by the World Bank (average annual per capita income: + $110; infant mortality rate: 16.8%), is on the brink of disaster again. At least 6 million of its 46 million people face starvation, and only a relief effort on the scale of the one launched three years ago will save them… As the cry [for aid] goes out once more for food and money, the sympathetic cannot be faulted for wondering why this is happening all over again. Is the latest famine wholly the result of cruel nature, or are other, man-made forces at work that worsen the catastrophe?…
In 2011, Ethiopia is the second poorest country in the world despite fanciful claims of 15 a percent annual economic growth and fantasies of building the largest hydroelectric dams in all of Africa by dictator Meles Zenawi. According to official statements of the Zenawi regime, 4.5 million of the estimated 90 million Ethiopians need 380 metric tons of food at a cost of USD$400 million. Jason Frasier, mission director of USAID in Ethiopia recently cautioned that Zenawi’s regime “may be underestimating the country’s needs in its drought crisis, even as the government announced that 4.5 million Ethiopians need food aid, 40 percent more than last year. We are concerned that we are underestimating the situation, especially in the southern provinces.” We are back to the future in 1984!
On August 17, 2011, Wolfgang Fengler, a lead economist for the World Bank, weighed in with a definitive answer to Time’s question: “The [famine] crisis is man made. Droughts have occurred over and again, but you need bad policymaking for that to lead to a famine.” In other words, it is bad governance that is at the core of the famine problem in Ethiopia, not drought. This is a rare and refreshing departure from the all-too-common bureaucratic mumbo jumbo about the causes of famine often spouted by international aid agencies and multilateral organizations.
TEN REASONS WHY ETHIOPIANS ARE STARVING AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN…
Reason #1: Famine is not merely a humanitarian catastrophe in Ethiopia; it is a powerful political and military weapon.
There is a long and ignoble history of political and military weaponization of famine in Ethiopia. In the mid-1980s, the military junta government of Mengistu Hailemariam used famine to punish civilian populations perceived to support rebels in the northern part of the country. The junta prevented delivery of food aid in rebel-held areas (as did the rebels themselves) and implemented a cruel policy of forced migration of civilians in an effort to drain recruits and deny support to the rebels. Zenawi’s regime pursued the same policy to defeat alleged rebels in the Ogaden region and has further used humanitarian aid to consolidate power and starve out his opposition as documented recently in a BIA/BIJ report. Mao Zedong taught that “Guerrillas are like fish, and the people are the water in which fish swim.” Both Zenawi and Megistu understood that by militarily and politically weaponizing famine, they can poison and drain the water in the lake. No water! No fish! No problem!
Reason # 2: Famine is a recurrent fact in Ethiopia because that country has been in an endless cycle of dictatorship for decades.
Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen argues that “there has never been a famine in a functioning multi-party democracy.” In a competitive political process with a functioning free press, there is a much higher degree of political accountability. No freely elected government could afford to ignore famine or abstain from doing all it can to prevent it. Opposition politicians will make famine a major political issue to win elections. A free press will mobilize public opinion to hold those in power accountable for letting “famine occur on their watch.” In Ethiopia, opposition political parties are non-existent. In 2005, Zenawi jailed the entire leadership of the opposition for nearly two years. He even jailed the first woman political party leader in Ethiopian history, Birtukan Midekssa, and with sadistic indifference declared, “there will never be an agreement with anybody to release Birtukan. Ever. Full stop. That’s a dead issue.” No opposition, no multiparty democracy, no free press, no accountability equals recurrent famines.
Reason # 3: Famine in Ethiopia is an annual crisis because dictators do not give a damn if the people die one by one or by the millions.
The current rulers of Ethiopia, like their junta predecessor, continue to derive spiritual guidance from their patron saints: Stalin and Mao (Chinese financial support today is one of the cornerstones of Zenawi’s regime). Stalin was blasé and arrogantly dismissive of the Ukraine famine of the early 1930s. He said, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” In 1959 during China’s Great Famine, Mao was equally matter-of-fact: “When there is not enough to eat, people starve to death. It is better to let half of the people die so that the other half can eat their fill.” Mengistu said there was no famine when millions of Ethiopians dropped like flies from starvation in 1984-85. But Zenawi is more cunning and pretty slick when it comes to public relations. He said there are emergencies, but no famines. “Famine has wreaked havoc in Ethiopia for so long, it would be stupid not to be sensitive to the risk of such things occurring. But there has not been a famine on our watch – emergencies, but no famines.”
Reason #4. Famine is a structural part of the Ethiopian economy because the “government” owns all the land.
It is said of the golden rule that he who controls the gold makes the rules. The same can be said of land in Ethiopia. Those who own the land makes the rules for those who till the land. Article 40 (1) of the Ethiopian Constitution provides that “the right to ownership of rural and urban land, as well as of all natural resources, is exclusively vested in the State and in the peoples of Ethiopia.” For all intents and purposes, that means the ruling regime and its supporters own the land. The regime controls who gets what plot of urban or farm land. The regime sells, leases or otherwise traffics in land without any accountability. Recently, the regime sold a large chunk of the country’s most fertile land to Indian companies for pennies: “For £150 a week (USD$245), you can lease more than 2,500 square kilometres of virgin, fertile [Ethiopian] land – an area the size of Dorset, England – for 50 years, plus generous tax breaks.” The bottom line is that those who own the land are more interested in meeting the needs of other people in other places than the Ethiopian people. Zenawi has condemned Ethiopian developers who were transferring their leaseholds in urban land in Addis Ababa as “land grabbers” and “speculators” who should be “locked up”. The old feudal landlords are today replaced by new landlords in designer suits.
Reason # 5: Famine persists in Ethiopia because massive human rights abuses persist.
The Zenawi regime is well-known for trashing the human and constitutional rights of Ethiopian citizens. Perhaps unknown to many is the regime’s flagrant violation of its affirmative legal duty to provide a “standard of living adequate for the health and well-being… including food for its citizens.” (Universal Declaration of Human Rights 25(1); The International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) Article 11(2) [“fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger”]; Ethiopian Constitution, Article 90 of the Constitution, [“provide all Ethiopians with access to public health and education, clean water, housing, food and social insurance”]. Weaponizing hunger to decimate one’s opposition is a crime against humanity. But hunger is the new weapon of choice in human rights violations in Ethiopia. Those who oppose the regime are not only denied humanitarian food and relief aid, they are also victimized through a system of evictions, denial of land or reduction in plot size as well as denial of access to loans, fertilizers, seeds, etc. In the case of the people of Gambella, entire communities are forced off the land to make way for Indian investors in violation of conventions that protect the rights of indigenous peoples. Zenawi’s regime believes that the most effective way of crushing the hearts and minds of the people is by keeping their stomachs empty.
Reason #6: Famine persists in Ethiopia because Zenawi has succeeded in keeping the famine hidden.
Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974 pretended there was no famine until the documentary “the Hidden Famine” by Jonathan Dimbleby was aired to a shocked and angry Ethiopian public. Former junta leader Mengistu was arrogantly dismissive during the 1984-85 famine. He asked, “What famine?” Zenawi is far more cunning. His solution is to clampdown on the press and shut the country down to all foreign journalists and media representatives. If any foreign journalists should somehow manage to get through, jail them. That is exactly what he did recently to two Swedish journalists, photojournalist Johan Persson and reporter Martin Schibbye, who were arrested in the Ogaden region where the regime has committed massive human rights violations for years. Regime representative Dina Mufti explained that the two journalists “will be tried according to the national law … for the terrorist activities they were planning to undertake.” Woubshet Taye, deputy editor of Awramba Times (a struggling weekly paper) and one of the few female journalists in the country, Reyot Alemu of Feteh (another struggling weekly paper) newspapers were recently jailed on bogus charges that they were “organizing a terrorist network.” Since there is no independent press in the country and those trying to offer an alternative voice are subject to intimidation, arrest and detention, the famine remains hidden not unlike the days of Emperor Haile Selassie.
Reason #7: Famine persist in Ethiopia because there is a “conspiracy of silence” by Western aid agencies and timid NGOs.
Zenawi has made it clear that anyone who disputes his claim of 15 percent annual economic growth and rosy picture of the country will be thrown out of the country, vilified or not allowed to operate. Recently, when Ken Ohashi, the World Bank Country Director for Ethiopia said Zenawi’s economic plan (“Growth and Transformation Plan”) is unsustainable, Zenawi unleashed his legendary vitriol on him: “The World Bank [country] director is used to having other developing nations simply listen to his orders and is not used to nations refusing implement policy based on their wishes. He left here after we refused to let him tell us what to do and wrote this article to get back at us.” In other words, attack the man’s integrity savagely to divert attention from the man’s message.
But all NGOs and international aid agencies know never to use the “F” word, unless of course they use it to deny there is no famine. That is precisely what USAID Deputy Administrator Gregory Gottlieb did last week on a VOA broadcast. He said, “There is no famine in Ethiopia.” The strange thing is that it does not seem Gottlieb had spoken about the “situation” to Jason Fraser, mission director of USAID in Ethiopia, before making his glib declaration. Fraser said, “We are concerned that we are underestimating the situation, especially in the southern provinces [in Ethiopia].” So the conspiracy of silence goes on to keep the famine hidden by using euphemisms. It is not FAMINE, it is the “situation”, severe malnutrition, food insecurity, food crisis [when Zenawi recently visited China, Premier Wen Jiabao called the famine “crisis”], green drought and so on. The “crisis” is not the result of lack of preventive or long-range planning, official incompetence, corruption, criminal negligence, etc., but the effect of “erratic rains damaged or delayed crops, deforestation overgrazing” and other ecological, environmental, and climatic disasters.
The international poverty mongers are so slick that they have even invented a “scientific” classification system for famine: “Acute Food Insecurity, Stressed, Crisis, Emergency and Catastrophe.” They want us to believe that famine is some sort of neatly-staged transitional process. For a mother and child who have not eaten for days or scrimp on ten kilograms of grain a month, the famine taxanomy is meaningless. It would be interesting to hear what famine victims would say when they are told that they will not be in a famine state until they drop dead! The fact of the matter is that a famine by any other name is still famine and just as deadly!
On the other hand, the international agencies and NGOs have a manifest conflcit of interest because by revealing the truth aboout the famine, they are likely to run the risk of a severe tongue-lashing (See Ohashi above), exoposure that their programs are a waste, or if an NGO, deceritifcation and expedited removal from the country. They would rather turn a blind eye and remain silent than use the “F” word.
Reason # 8: Famine persist in Ethiopia because the regime in power for 20 years has failed to devise and implement an effective family planning policy.
In 1993, Zenawi’s “Transitional Government of Ethiopia” in its “National Population Policy of Ethiopia” (NPPE) declared that “its major goal [was] the harmonization of the rate of population growth and the capacity of the country for the development and rational utilization of natural resources thereby creating conditions conductive to the improvement of the level of welfare of the population.” It aimed to reduce “total fertility rate of 7.7 children per woman to approximately 4.0 by the year 2015 by mounting an effective country wide population information and education programme, expanding clinical and community based contraceptive distribution services, raising the minimum age at marriage for girls and removal of unnecessary restrictions pertaining to the advertisement, propagation and popularization of diverse conception control methods.” In 1993 Ethiopia’s population was estimated at 53 million. In 2011, the population is estimated at 91 million. The numbers speak for themselves!
Reason # 9: Famine in Ethiopia is good business.
There are many who profit from economic emergences created by famines. There is much money to be made from trafficking in famine relief aid. According to FAO’s Global Food Monitor for August 2011, in Ethiopia and other Horn countries “prices of cereals have reached record levels… well above their levels a year earlier, substantially reducing access to food by large numbers of population and aggravating the food insecurity in the subregion.” Who benefits from the high prices? Regime-allied middlemen buy massive amounts of grains from farmers at low prices (by offering what appears to be a generous price at the time) and eliminate legitimate small businesses that deal in grain. The same middlemen have an absolute monopoly on the acquisition, sale and distribution of agricultural commodities, and it is not hard to imagine how profitable famines could be. It makes perfect economic sense from the perspective of famine profiteering to place low policy priority on famine prevention and control. It’s the old supply and demand curve. High demand for food and less supply and a chokehold monopoly on the market, and complete control on the distribution of international food aid equals to “mo’ money, mo’ money, and mo’ money” for those in power. Grotesque as it may sound, famine is good for business.
Reason # 10: It is true “a hungry man/woman is an angry man/woman.” Is it not?
The great Bob Marley sang:
Them belly full, but we hungry;
A hungry mob is a angry mob.
Cost of livin’ gets so high,
Rich and poor they start to cry:
Now the weak must get strong;
Now the weak must get strong.
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There is the economics of Adam Smith, the intellectual father of capitalism. There is Levitt & Dubner’s freakonomics of weird stuff. Then there is the fakeonomics (economics by gimmickry) of Meles Zenawi, the dictator in Ethiopia and author of the five-year “Growth and Transformation Plan” (GTP). Zenawi forecasts a “not unimaginable” 14.9 percent economic growth for Ethiopia over the next five years after devaluing the currency by 20 percent, slapping price controls on many food items and watching from the sidelines annual inflation galloping at 34.7 percent. He has accused the country’s business community of price gauging and hoarding and threatened to shut them down, jail them and literally cut the hands of any business person caught in the illicit trade of coffee.
The GTP is a make-a-wish list of stuff. It purports to be based on a “long-term vision” of making Ethiopia “a country where democratic rule, good-governance and social justice reigns.” It aims to “build an economy which has a modern and productive agricultural sector with enhanced technology and an industrial sector” and “increase per capita income of citizens so that it reaches at the level of those in middle-income countries.” It boasts of “pillar strategies” to “sustain faster and equitable economic growth”, “maintain agriculture as a major source of economic growth,” “create favorable conditions for the industry to play key role in the economy,” “expand infrastructure and social development,” “build capacity and deepen good governance” and “promote women and youth empowerment and equitable benefit.”
In my regular weekly commentary on May 5, I observed:
The ‘economic plan’ (“GTP”) itself floats on a sea of catchphrases, clichés, slogans, buzzwords, platitudes, truisms and bombast. Zenawi says his plan will produce “food sufficiency in five years.” But he cautions it is a “high-case scenario which is clearly very, very ambitious.” He says the ‘base-case’ scenario of ‘11 percent average economic growth over the next five years is doable” and the ‘high-case’ scenario of 14.9 percent is ‘not unimaginable’. The hype of super economic growth rate is manifestly detached from reality. The Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative Multidimensional Poverty Index 2010 (formerly annual U.N.D.P. Human Poverty Index) ranks Ethiopia as second poorest (ahead of famine-ravaged Mali) country on the planet. Six million Ethiopians needed emergency food aid last year and many millions will need food aid this year. An annual growth rate of 15 percent for the second poorest country on the planet for the next five years goes beyond the realm of imagination to pure fantasy. The IMF predicts a growth rate of 7 percent for 2011, but talking about economic statistics on Ethiopia is like talking about the art of voodoo.
It seems the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has come to the same conclusion. In a May 31, 2011 statement, the IMF artfully asserted:
Strong growth has continued in 2010/11 that the mission estimates at 7.5 percent (compared to an official estimate of 11.4 percent)…. The mission sees lower growth for 2011/12, at about 6 percent, on account of high inflation, restrictions on private bank lending, and a more difficult business environment… The growth and investment objectives of the new five-year Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) are ambitious. The mission urged the authorities to the pace implementation of the plan to avoid any further overheating of the economy. Success will also hinge on allowing room for the private sector to thrive and maintaining a low risk of debt distress…
On June 8, Ken Ohashi, the World Bank’s (WB) country director for Ethiopiacandidly stated:
Ethiopia’s dependence on foreign capital to finance budget deficits and a five-year investment plan is unsustainable… I can’t see it’s sustainable short of discovering huge oil reserves, essentially an unexpected windfall… I don’t see how they can sustain such an aggressive investment plan without getting into serious problems… If you’re not as a nation saving enough, you are dependent on foreign capital or other means of financing investment in an unhealthy, unsustainable way… That’s the sort of trap they seem to be falling into… On debt there is a danger… If this public investment-led growth at some point really stumbles or stagnates for a while then all these debt equations could unravel. … I do worry that without the private sector expanding much more vigorously then rapid growth is not likely to be sustainable and if that’s the case then all these debt balances could go out of control.
On June 6, Zenawi’s finance chief said the WB and IMF are all wrong. He insisted the GTP will “double economic growth by registering 14.9 percent growth on average”. He proclaimed that in the next five years there will be “fast and sustainable economic growth,” and “food security at household and national level.” There will be “more than 2000 km of railway networks would be constructed” and power generation will be in the range of “ 8,000 to 10,000 MW from water and wind resources during the next five years.”
On June 9, Zenawi’s deputy, Hailemariam Desalegn, offered assurances that “economic expansion won’t drop below 9 percent in the fiscal year to July 7, 2012, from 11.4 percent this year.” He boasted that “the whole community has mobilized to buy bonds. This huge savings and mobilization is used for infrastructure development… We are getting loans from China, India, Turkey and South Korea, so all these foreign savings are also mobilized… So I think we can perform on the ambitious plans that are in place.”
Cutting Through the Diplomatic Bull
For the last several months, Zenawi has been staging one farcical political theatre after another to distract attention from his brutal repression and to pretend that he is the one immovable object in the Sub-Saharan universe come the gusting southerly winds of change from Tunisia, Egypt and Libya or high water. He has been engaged in belligerent talk of regime change in Eritrea, inflammatory water war-talk with Egypt, wild allegations of terrorist attacks, proclamations for the construction of an imaginary dam over the Blue Nile, vicious attacks on international human rights organizations and wholesale jailing and intimidation of opponents.
Now Zenawi is shifting from political to economic theatre. As the country convulses in spiraling inflation Zenawi says, “It’s all good. Not a problem.” But the verdict of the big time bankers is in: Zenawi’s GTP is pure fantasy, a figment of his imagination. Of course, bankers like diplomats avoid straight talk and prefer to tip-toe and tap-dance around the truth. When they can say the GTP has as much chance of success as a snowball in hell, they would say the plan is “ambitious,” “unhealthy” and “unsustainable.” Instead of saying the plan is manifestly doomed to failure, they hedge on absurd contingencies that the plan will work only if “huge oil reserves are discovered” or the country gets an “unexpected windfall”. When they can say the Ethiopian economy has collapsed, they hem and haw about their concerns that the plan could “further overheat the economy”. They twiddle their thumbs and “worry about the private sector not thriving,” and express concern over Ethiopia’s “dependence on foreign capital”, the “unraveling of debt equations” and “debt balances getting out of control.”
As I have demonstrated in a previous commentary, Zenawi’s economic planning is based on juggled figures, massaged statistics and irrational exuberance about overrated and illusory economic development. Systematic falsification of economic data, fraudulent statistics and creative accounting in economic reports have largely gone unchallenged for years by the learned economists. The lack of systematic and sustained critique by Diaspora economists is all the more surprising and baffling given the fact that the economic swagger and wind-bagging about stratospheric economic growth and development comes from a regime not known for its economic “literacy”. The Economist Magazine in its November 7, 2006 editorial, in the context of the Starbucks coffee row, bluntly stated: “The Ethiopian government, one of the most economically illiterate in the modern world, would do well to take Starbucks’s advice.” The same observation was repeated in 2009 at a high level meeting of Western donor policy makers in Berlin where, according to a Wikileaks cablegram, a German diplomat suggested that Ethiopia’s economic woes could be traced to “Meles’ poor understanding of economics”. Today, to the surprise of many observers, the IMF and WB who have previously swallowed whole the regime’s preposterous economic claims are openly echoing the views of the German diplomat and the Economist Magazine.
Deceit, chicanery, paralogy and sophistry are the hallmarks of Zenawi’s regime. For many years, that regime has managed to scam the multilateral bankers and donors by talking about “sustainability,” “double-digit growth”, “renaissance” and “accelerated development in the developmental state”. It has even sought to shame and intimidate Western banker and donors by moral hectoring of the evils of “neoliberalism”. Zenawi seems to follow the old principle that “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” In the Information Age, if you tell one big lie and embellish it with little lies every day, you will end up fooling yourself and no one else. (That obviously does not apply to Ethiopia which is hopelessly stranded and trapped in the Censorship and Disinformation Age).
The economic facts about Ethiopia are plain for all to see: The economy is in the stranglehold of organized racketeers and regime cronies. Regime-affiliated businesses and enterprises control “freight transport, construction, pharmaceutical, and cement firms receive lucrative foreign aid contracts and highly favorable terms on loans from government banks.” According to the regime’s data, by the end of the 2009 fiscal year, Ethiopia’s outstanding debt stock was pegged at a crushing USD$5.2 billion. Remittances by Diaspora Ethiopians were the mainstay of the economy, and in 2008 Ethiopians in the U.S. alone sent $1.2 billion. “Ethiopia is Africa’s largest recipient of foreign aid (at $3.3 billion in 2008 and rising).” The regime has auctioned off millions of hectares of the country’s best land for less than pennies. “For £150 a week (USD$245), you can lease more than 2,500 sq km (1,000 sq miles) of virgin, fertile land – an area the size of Dorset, England – for 50 years, plus generous tax breaks.”
According to the regime’s data, Ethiopia’s year-on-year rate of inflation jumped to 34.7 percent in May (2011) from 29.5 percent a month earlier; and food prices rose 40.7 percent during the year. Every year, Zenawi’s regime runs up the SOS flag begging for emergency humanitarian aid . So far in 2011, humanitarian pledges, commitments and contributions to the regime exceed USD$212 million. To get a government job or higher education, one has to be a member of Zenawi’s party. Ethiopia’s current population of some 80 million is expected to double in the next thirty years. It is mind-numbing to imagine the number of people who will be living in abject poverty without access to health care, education and employment in Ethiopia in three decades. The regime has failed to implement any policy aimed at controlling population growth.
One has to assume that those in the inner circle of the regime are aware of the massive economic crises in the country despite their manifest lack of “economic literacy.” But that assumption may be questionable given the fact that the regime appears to be in denial and has used its modest economic ingenuity to pin the blame for Ethiopia’s galloping inflation and the rest of that country’s economic problems on global market forces. Zenawi now offers the GTP as a “pie in the sky” plan that will not only provide food security but also catapult Ethiopia into becoming a middle income country like Malaysia in five years. The fact of the matter is that the regime’s self-centered short-term interests in accumulating wealth for its members and determination to cling to power forever have trumped the long-term strategic interests of the country.
Zenawi now is not only having difficulty persuading its bankers that it has the right economic policy, but the bankers are looking at his plan with increasing derision and cynicism. Ohashi says the GTP will work if Ethiopia “discovers huge oil reserves” or gets “an unexpected windfall.” Ohashi might as well have said the plan will work if manna falls from the sky.
Zenawi’s fakeonomics is nothing new. The old communist regimes in Eastern Europe used to pull the same types of political and economic stunts. They would hold “elections” and declare they won it by 99 percent (to their credit not by 99.6 percent). They also had their “five-year economic plans” in which they predicted and “achieved” incredible economic growth. For instance, they would set a production target of ten thousand tractors a year and actually produce five thousand. They would publicly report they produced fifteen thousand tractors and give the factory bosses increased wages and bonuses for exceeding the production target. The communist regimes would even say they did not have inflation just high prices and deny high quality food items and other amenities to the masses while the nomenclatura (party bosses) and their cronies wallowed in luxury. The reality in Ethiopia is that basic necessities are unavailable and unaffordable to the vast majority of the people, and even those who could afford the inflated prices must have the right connection to get an adequate supply. A regime incapable of providing sugar, cooking oil and other basic staples to the people now boasts of making Ethiopia a middle income country in five years.
Are Ethiopians better off economically today than they were five years ago? The answer to that question will be the answer to what they will be five years from now!
In the final analysis, it is not about the plan. It’s about the man. As George Ayittey said, “Africa is poor because she is not free.” I say Africa is poor because of dictators who cling to power like ticks on a milk cow.
Previous commentaries by the author are available at: www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/ and http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/