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Ethiopia Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative Multidimensional Poverty Index

Ethiopia: The Art of Bleeding a Country Dry

Alemayehu G. Mariam

Ethio-Corruption, Inc. (Unlimited)

The people of Ethiopia are being bled dry. No matter how hard they try to fight their way out of absolute destitution and poverty, they will be swimming upstream against the current of illicit capital leakage”, wrote Economist Sarah Freitas who co-authored an upcoming report with  Lead Economist Dev Kar of Global Financial Integrity (GFI). The GFI report entitled, “Illicit Financial Flows from Developing Countries over the Decade Ending 2009,” previewed in the Wall Street Journal, found that

Ethiopia, which has a per-capita GDP of just US$365,  lost US$11.7 billion to illicit financial outflows between 2000 and 2009. In 2009, illicit money leaving the economy totaled US$3.26 billion, which is double the amount in each of the two previous years… In 2008, Ethiopia received  US$829 million  in official development assistance, but this was swamped by the massive illicit outflows.  The scope of Ethiopia’s capital flight is so severe that our conservative US$3.26 billion estimate greatly exceeds the  US$2 billion value of Ethiopia’s total exports in 2009.”

Two weeks ago in my commentary, “Why is Ethiopia Poor?”, I highlighted the fact that the Legatum Institute (LI), an independent non-partisan public policy group based in London, had recently ranked Ethiopia a pretty dismal 108th/110 countries on its 2011 Prosperity Index (LPI). 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 cancer of corruption is deeply embedded in the marrow of the Ethiopian body politic. The recently released  Transparency International (TI) 2011 Corruption Perception Index report on Ethiopia confirms the findings of GFI and other anti-corruption international organizations. For the past decade, TI has ranked Ethiopia at the bottom of the barrel of countries ruled by the most corrupt governments. In fact, for the past ten years Ethiopia’s score on the TI index has remained virtually unchanged (TI ranks countries on a 0 (“highly corrupt”) to 10 (“very clean”) scale.

TI Corruption Index Score for Ethiopia by Year

2011     2.7

2010     2.7

2009     2.7

2008     2.6

2007     2.4

2006     2.4

2005     2.2

2004     2.3

2003     2.5

2002     3.5

In light of the 2011 GFI and TI reports, is there any doubt today why Ethiopia is the second poorest nation in the world? Is it rocket science to figure out why Ethiopians are the second poorest people on the planet? Ethiopians are poor because they have been robbed, ripped off, flimflammed, bamboozled, conned, fleeced, scammed, hosed, swindled, suckered, hoodwinked, victimized, shafted and taken to the cleaners by those clinging to power like bloodsucking ticks on an African milk cow. Is it not mindboggling that the US$3.26 billion stolen out of Ethiopia in 2009 was double the amount stolen in 2008 and 2007!?!

The Art of Bleeding Ethiopia Dry

I have long argued that the business of African dictatorships is corruption. In a November 2009 commentary entitled “Africorruption Inc.”, I wrote the following about corruption in Ethiopia:

The devastating impact of corruption on the continent’s poor becomes self-evident as political leaders and public officials siphon off resources from critical school, hospital, road and other public works and community projects to line their pockets. For instance, reports of widespread corruption in Ethiopia in the form of outright theft and embezzlement of public funds, misuse and misappropriation of state property, nepotism, bribery, abuse of public authority and position to exact corrupt payments and gain are commonplace. The anecdotal stories of corruption in Ethiopia are shocking to the conscience. Doctors are unable to treat patients at the public hospitals because medicine and supplies are diverted for private gain. Tariffs are imposed on medicine and medical supplies brought into the country for public charity. Businessmen complain that they are unable to get permits and licenses without paying huge bribes or taking officials as silent partners.

Publicly-owned assets are acquired by regime-supporters or officials through illegal transactions and fraud. Banks loan millions of dollars to front enterprises owned by regime officials or their supporters without sufficient or proper collateral. Businessmen must pay huge bribes or kickbacks to participate in public contracting and procurement. Those involved in the import/export business complain of shakedowns by corrupt customs officials. The judiciary is thoroughly corrupted through political interference and manipulation as evidenced in the various high profile political prosecutions. Ethiopians on holiday visits driving about town complain of shakedowns by police thugs on the streets. Two months ago, Ethiopia’s former president Dr. Negasso Gidada offered substantial evidence of systemic political corruption by documenting the misuse and abuse of political power for partisan electoral advantage. Last week, U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelley stated that the U.S. is investigating allegations that “$850 million in food and anti-poverty aid from the U.S. is being distributed on the basis of political favoritism by the current prime minister’s party.” [As of December 2011, over two years after the investigation was launched, the State Department has not publicly released the results of its  investigation.]

Deceit, chicanery, paralogy and sophistry are the hallmarks of Meles Zenawi’s regime in Ethiopia. The cunning dictator has been able to shroud his corrupt empire by pursuing a propaganda policy of mass distraction and by staging one farcical political theatre after another. Zenawi has successfully distracted public attention from rampant corruption by

Making wild allegations of terrorism against his critics, persecuting and prosecuting his opponents and by jailing and exiling independent journalists (a couple of weeks ago, Zenawi shuttered Awramba Times);

Proclaiming a bogus Growth and Transformation Plan that will “double economic growth by an annual average of  14.9 percent” by 2015;

Selling Ethiopia’s most fertile land for pennies above the table and for millions under the table;

Panhandling the international community for famine and humanitarian aid and misusing that aid for political purposes;

Taking massive loans from international banks without     any significant accountability on how it is spent;

Trying to shame and intimidate Western bankers and donors by hectoring them of the evils of  “neoliberalism”;

Proclaiming the construction of an imaginary hydroelectric dam over the River Nile;

Sending troops to occupy Somalia and threatening war with other neighboring countries;

Vilifying international human rights groups, election observers and officials of multilateral organizations who disagree with him;

Dispatching swarms of officials to panhandle the Ethiopian Diaspora for nickels and dimes to buy dam bonds;

Systematically extracting foreign remittances sent by Diaspora Ethiopians;

Staging political theatre by a toothless anti-corruption agency to hoodwink complicit Western donors and loaners.

Etc., etc.

The Economics of Corruption

The Economist Magazine in its November 7, 2006 editorial described “the Ethiopian government as one of the most economically illiterate in the modern world.”  In 2009 at a high level meeting of Western donor policy makers in Berlin where, a German diplomat suggested that Ethiopia’s economic woes could be traced to “Meles’ poor understanding of economics”. They are all wrong!

No one knows corruption, the economics of kleptocracy, better than Zenawi.  The facts of Zenawi’s corruptonomics are plain for all to see: The economy is in the stranglehold of businesses owned or dominated by Zenawi family members, cronies, supporters or hangers-on. According to the World Bank, business enterprises affiliated with Zenawi’s regime control “freight transport, construction, pharmaceutical, and cement firms receive lucrative foreign aid contracts and highly favorable terms on loans from government banks.” Dataprovided by Zenawi’s regime  showed that by the end of the 2009 fiscal year, Ethiopia’s  outstanding debt stock was pegged at a crushing USD$5.2 billion. The USD$11.7 billion stolen over the past decade could easily retire that debt. Ethiopia is Africa’s largest recipient of foreign aid at nearly $USD4 billion in 2009, and the second largest foreign aid recipient in the world after Afghanistan.

Is There a Way to Stop Ethiopia from Bleeding?

The international community “naively” believes that corruption in Ethiopia and the rest of Africa could be controlled and significantly reduced by anti-corruption programs. The U.N. Convention Against Corruption (2003)requires signatories to “develop and implement or maintain effective, coordinated anti-corruption policies that promote the participation of society and reflect the principles of the rule of law, proper management of public affairs and public property, integrity, transparency and accountability.” Ethiopia signed the U.N. Convention in 2003. The Africa Union Convention on Preventing and Combatting Corruption (2003)  established a regime to empower African countries to “prevent, detect, punish and eradicate corruption and related offences in the public and private sectors.”  The Convention prescribes that “in order to combat corruption and related offences in the public service, State Parties” shall “require public officials to declare their assets at the time of assumption of office during and after their term of office  in the public service.” Ethiopia signed the AU Convention in 2004. Neither of these Conventions has even made a dent in controlling the metastasizing corruption in Ethiopia.

Zenawi knows the power of corruption. He has effectively used corruption allegations to neutralize and eliminate his political opponents. He used his “Federal Ethics and Anticorruption Commission” to railroad his comrade-in-arms and former defense minister, Seeye Abraha, to jail for six years on unsubstantiated allegations of  corruption. When then-Judge Birtukan Midekssa, and later Ethiopia’s first female political party leader and long suffering political prisoner, released Seeye for lack of evidence, Zenawi rammed legislation through his rubberstamp parliament  to deny Seeye bail and keep him in pretrial detention. He later fired Judge Birtukan.  In 2008, Zenawi’s anticorruption commission reported that “USD$16 million dollars” worth of gold bars simply walked out of the bank in broad daylight. A number of  culprits were fingered for the inside bank job, but no one was ever prosecuted. In February 2011, Zenawi publicly stated that 10,000 tons of coffee earmarked for exports had simply vanished from the warehouses. He called a meeting of commodities traders and in a videotaped statement told them he will forgive them because “we all have our hands in the disappearance of the coffee”. He warned them that if anyone should steal coffee in the future, he will “cut off their hands”.

For years, I have documented and railed against corruption in Ethiopia. In December 2008, three years to the month, in a weekly commentary entitled, “The Bleeping Business of Corruption in Ethiopia”, I wrote:

The fact of the matter is that the culture of corruption is the modus operandi in the Ethiopian body politics. Former president Dr. Negasso Gidada clearly understood that when he declared in 2001 that ‘corruption has riddled state enterprises to the core,’ adding that the government would show ‘an iron fist against corruption and graft as the illicit practices had now become endemic’. In 2007 when Ethiopia’s auditor general, Lema Aregaw, reported that Birr 600 million of state funds were missing from the regional coffers, Zenawi fired Lema and publicly defended the regional administrations’ ‘right to burn money.’…. Ironically, in 2003, Ethiopia signed the U.N. Convention Against Corruption; and a couple of months ago, a conference on institutions, culture, and corruption was hosted jointly in Addis Ababa by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa.

The fact of the matter is that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Zenawi has absolute power in Ethiopia.  Pleading for transparency and issuing moral exhortations against corruption will have no effect on the behavior of Zenawi or any of the other African dictators. Indeed, to plead the virtues of accountability, transparency and good governance with Zenawi and Co., is like preaching Scripture to a gathering of heathens. It means nothing to them. They are unfazed by moral hectoring or appeals to conscience. They sneer and jeer at those who rail and vociferate against corruption. Preaching to the corrupt, to put it simply, is an exercise in total futility!

In my November 7 commentary “To Catch Africa’s Biggest Thieves Hiding in America!”, I discussed the importance of initiating and cooperating with the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) in civil forfeiture actions to seize corruptly obtained cash, personal or real property of any person or entity that can be traced to “specified unlawful activity”. These civil court actions extend to foreign offenses involving extortion, money laundering, or the misappropriation, theft or embezzlement of public funds by or for the benefit of a public official of a foreign government. (18 U.S. C. sections 981 (a) (1) (c); 1956; 1957.)  The U.S. has recently filed action to seize personal and real property of Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, the 43-year old son of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea.

Carefully review and analysis of GFI and TI data sources reveals that public assets and funds stolen from many African countries, including Ethiopia, are often hidden in banks located in the U.S. and Europe, although the clever African dictators are now diversifying by taking advantage of  financial havens in countries experiencing rapid growth and industrialization. Much of the corruption activity centers around money laundering (that is,  illegal or dirty money is put through a complex cycle of financial transactions or washed and is transformed into legitimate or clean money).

The basic idea in money laundering is to minimize the chances of detection of stolen public assets and funds by breaking the direct link between the kleptocrats or “corruptocrats” and their collaborators by disguising the true ownership. Using financial consultants, shell companies (bogus companies that exist to simply create the appearance of legitimate transactions through fake invoices and balance sheets), fraudulent official documentation, wire transactions, and “smurfing” techniques (breaking up large amounts of money into smaller, less-suspicious amounts in the names of multiple persons) etc., those who have stolen public assets and funds try to sever or camouflage their loot from its illegal source by placing it in international financial institutions. The aim in money laundering is at least twofold: 1) gain anonymity and hide the audit trail in case of a criminal investigation, and 2)  plough the “clean money” into the legitimate economy by buying homes, investing in legitimate businesses, starting businesses and so on.

If the problem of corruption is to be addressed effectively in Ethiopia and the rest of Africa, it is not going to be at the fountainhead of the corruption itself but in the ocean where the river of corruption terminally flows. As one cannot expect the fox to safeguard the henhouse, one cannot similarly expect Africa’s dictators and corruptocrats and their collaborators to safeguard public assets and funds. A big part of the answer to the question of corruption lies in the Laundromats of financial institutions where the dirty money is washed. That’s why I believe it is the civic and moral duty of every Ethiopian and African to help the U.S. Justice Department catch Africa’s biggest thieves hiding in America. It is very easy to do, and do it anonymously.  Individuals with information about possible proceeds of foreign corruption in the United States, or funds laundered through institutions in the United States, should contact Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations (ICE HIS) toll free at 866-347-2423 or send email to: [email protected] If calling from outside of the U.S., the number is: 802-872-6199  

BLOW THE WHISTLE ON AFRICA’S BIGGEST THIEVES HIDING IN AMERICA!!!

Previous commentaries by the author are available at:

www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/

and

http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/

 

 

We Went, We Saw, We Got Chased Out…

Alemayehu G. Mariam

Following the Battle of Zela in 47 B.C. (present day Zile, Turkey), Julius Caesar claimed victory by declaring: “I came; I saw; I conquered.” In 2011, Caesar Meles Zenawi, the dictator-in-chief in Ethiopia, scattered his top henchmen throughout the U.S. and Europe to declare victory in the propaganda war on Diaspora Ethiopians. But there was no victory to be had, only {www:ignominious} defeat at the hands of Zenawi’s {www:tenacious}, resolute and dogged opponents. No victory dances; only a speedy shuffle back to the capo di tutti capi (boss of all bosses) to deliver the message: “We went; We saw; We got chased the hell out of Dodge!”

The purpose of the recent official travelling circus was to introduce and generate support among Diaspora Ethiopians for Zenawi’s five-year economic program pretentiously labeled “Growth and Transformation Plan”. In city after city in North America and Europe, Zenawi’s crew received defiant and pugnacious reception. Ethiopians made the various meeting venues and sites virtual mini-Tahrir Squares (Egypt). Ethiopian men and women, Christians and Muslims, young and old, professionals and service workers, students and teachers and members of various political groups and parties showed up in a united front to confront and challenge Zenawi’s henchmen. One need only view any one of the numerous videotapes online to appreciate the intensity, depth and strength of Diaspora Ethiopian opposition to Zenawi’s regime.

In Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Atlanta, Dallas, Seattle, New York, Toronto, London and various other cities, Ethiopians came out in full force and tried to gain admission into the meetings.  Many were singled out and turned back. In a widely-disseminated and cogently argued “open letter”,Fekade Shewakena, a former professor at Addis Ababa University, wrote Girma Birru, Zenawi’s official representative in the U.S., complaining about his discriminatory treatment in being refused admission at the meeting held on the campus of Howard University:

I was formally invited by an [Ethiopian] embassy staffer… I faced the wrath of the protestors as I was crossing their picket lines [to attend the meeting]. Then I met the people who were deployed by the [Ethiopian] embassy to man the gate, and do the sad job of screening participants and deciding what type of Ethiopian should be let in and what type should be kept out. I was told I was ineligible to enter and saw many people being returned from entering. One screener told me… “ante Tigre titela yelem ende min litisera metah” [Tr. Do you not hate Tigreans? What business do you have here?…]

The ethnic stripe test was the last straw for many of the protesters who denounced Zenawi and his crew as “murderers”, “thieves” (leba) and “opportunists” (hodams). Inside the meeting halls, those who asked tough questions were singled out and ejected by the organizers, often violently. Some were physically assaulted requiring emergency medical assistance. Nearly all of the meetings were disrupted, cancelled, stopped or delayed. To sum it up, those who made peaceful dialogue impossible, made angry verbal exchanges inevitable.

Zenawi in September, His Troops in April?

It will be recalled that in September 2010 when Zenawi came to the U.S. to speak at the World Leader’s Conference at Columbia University, he set off a firestorm of opposition among Ethiopians in the U.S. Busloads of Ethiopian activists descended on New York City to confront Zenawi, but they were kept away from the campus. A massive campaign (reminiscent of the anti-war protest days at Columbia in the late 1960s) was undertaken to mobilize Columbia students, faculty and staff to put pressure on the university administration to disinvite Zenawi.

Zenawi’s invitation also provoked strong reaction among non-Ethiopians. Prof. Ted Vestal, the distinguished and respected scholar on Ethiopia, outraged by Zenawi’s invitation wrote Columbia President Lee Bollinger: “The only way you can redeem the damaged reputation of the World Leaders Forum is by publicly making known the shortcomings of Prime Minister Meles and his government in your introductory remarks–a refutation similar to what you did in introducing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran in 2007.”

World-renowned Columbia economist Prof. Jagdish Bagwati wrote in disgust: “It seems probable that the President’s [Bollinger] office was merely reproducing uncritically the rubbish that was supplied by one of these Columbia entrepreneurs [Columbia Professors Joseph Stiglitz (Zenawi’s sponsor) and  Jeffrey Sachs] whose objective is to ingratiate himself with influential African leaders regardless of their democratic and human-rights record, to get PR and ‘goodies’ for themselves at African summits, at the UN where these leaders have a vote, etc.”

I vigorously defended Zenawi’s right to speak at Columbia because I believed the opportunity could offer him a teachable moment in the ways of free people:

I realize that this may not be a popular view to hold, but I am reminded of the painful truth in Prof. Noam Chomsky’s admonition: ‘If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.’ On a personal level, it would be hypocritical of me to argue for free speech and press freedoms in Ethiopia and justify censorship or muzzling of Zenawi stateside. If censorship is bad for the good citizens of Ethiopia, it is also bad for the dictators of Ethiopia.

Following the Columbia episode, one has to wonder why Zenawi would send hordes of his top officials to the U.S. and elsewhere to evangelize on behalf of his regime. It is logical to assume that Zenawi conducted a “vulnerability analysis” of Diaspora Ethiopians before sending out his crew. It is likely that he studied Diaspora attitudes and perceptions toward his regime and the current situation in the country, the ethnic and political divisions and tensions in the Diaspora, the strength of Diaspora elite cooperation and intensity of conflict among them, etc. and decided to make his move. He likely concluded that any potential opposition to the meetings could be handled by utilizing an “ethnic filter” at the door of the meeting halls.

But what are Zenawi’s real reasons for sending his top cadre of officials to North America and Europe? There could be several answers to this deceptively simple question.

Zenawi’s Arsenal of Weapons of Mass Distraction

Careful evaluation of Zenawi’s propaganda strategy shows that the dispatch of officials to the to the U.S. and Europe is part of a broader integrated campaign to undermine opposition in the Diaspora, energize supporters and reinforce favorable perception and action by  foreign donors and banks. Manifestly, the mission of the crew sent to “dialogue” with the Ethiopian Diaspora was to divert attention from the extreme domestic economic, political and social problems in the country and to exude public confidence in the fact that the upheavals in North Africa are of no consequence in Ethiopia. The other elements in this propaganda campaign of mass distraction include belligerent talk of regime change in Eritrea, {www:inflammatory} water war-talk with Egypt, wild allegations of terrorist attacks, wholesale jailing and intimidation of opponents, proposals for the construction of an imaginary dam, attacks on international human rights organizations that have published critical reports on the regime (just a day ago, Zenawi’s deputy said he “dismisses” the 2010 U.S. Human Rights Report as “baseless”) and so on.  The hope is that the more Diasporans talk about the manufactured issues, the less they will talk about the real issues of stratospheric inflation, food shortages, skyrocketing fuel costs, massive repression, information and media suppression, etc. in Ethiopia.

By alternating propaganda topics from day today, Zenawi hopes to keep his opponents and critics talking reflexively about his issues and off-balance. The more outrageous his claims, the more reaction he is likely to elicit from his opponents and critics, and be able to better control the debate and the minds of those engaged in it. To be sure, by sending his travelling circus to the U.S., Zenawi has succeeded in angering, inflaming and riling up his Diaspora opponents. He knows just how to “get their goat”. He manipulates that outpouring of anger, rage and frustration to keep his opponents’ eyes off the prize.

The Propaganda Value of “In-Yo’-Diaspora-Face” Confrontation

By sending a large delegation into the Ethiopian Diaspora, Zenawi is also sending an unmistakable message: “In yo’ face, Ethiopian Diaspora! I can do what I am doing in Ethiopia just as easily in your neck of the woods.” It is a confrontational propaganda strategy tinged with a tad of arrogance. Zenawi seems to believe that the Ethiopian Diaspora is so divided against itself and inherently dysfunctional that it is incapable of mounting an effective opposition to his regime or even his crew’s visit. By unleashing swarms of regime officials in the Diaspora, Zenawi likely intended to further degrade the Diaspora’s ability to conduct or sustain opposition activities, {www:demoralize} and disconcert them and confuse their leadership. On the other hand, if he can muster a successful foray with his crew, he could establish his invincibility and spread pessimism and despair in the Diaspora. But the whole affair proved to be a total failure as have all previous efforts to stage “in yo’ face” confrontation with Diaspora Ethiopians. The Diaspora may be divided but not when it comes to Zenawi’s regime.

Effective Propaganda Tool Against the “Extreme Diaspora”

The other less apparent side of “in yo’ face” confrontation is to make a record of the “extreme Diaspora”. Zenawi will no doubt use this episode to show American and European  policy makers that he is reasonable and statesman-like while the opposition, particularly in the Diaspora, consist of an assortment of wild-eyed, hysterical, fanatical, intolerant, irrational, hateful and mean-spirited extremists. He will argue to American policy makers that he sent his top leaders to engage Diasporan Ethiopians in civil dialogue only to be attacked, insulted and berated. He will hand them copies of  well-edited videotapes of agitated protesters titled: “Behold the Ethiopian Diaspora!” In short, Zenawi will use the protest videos as Exhibit A to demonize, discredit, dehumanize, marginalize, categorize and sermonize about the Evil Extreme Ethiopian Diaspora. At the end, he will offer American policy makers a simple choice: “I am your man! It’s me or these raving lunatics.” Based on historical experience and empirical observations, some American policy makers may actually buy his argument.

Pandering to the U.S., IMF, E.U.

A third objective of the dog and pony show about the “Growth and Transformational Plan” is to please (hoodwink) the U.S., the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and others. It is an elaborately staged drama for this audience to show that Zenawi has a real economic plan for Ethiopia that exceeds the “Millennium Goals” (e.g. eradicate extreme poverty, reduce child mortality, fight AIDS, form global partnership, etc. by 2015). By making gestures of engagement with the Ethiopian Diaspora, Zenawi is trying to build credibility for his “economic plan” and that it has broad support within and outside the country. He deserves billions more in in loans and economic aid. Zenawi knows exactly what buttons to push to get the attention and approval of donors and loaners.

The “economic plan” 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.

Dialogue, Like Charity, Begins at Home

Like charity, dialogue begins at home. Zenawi should allow free and unfettered discussion of his economic plan as well as human rights record within Ethiopia first before sending his troupe into the Diaspora.  Conversation is a two-way street. If Zenawi wants to talk about his economic plan to Diaspora Ethiopians, he must be prepared to listen to their human rights concerns.

There is not a single Ethiopian who will oppose food sufficiency in that hungry country by 2015 or decline to contribute to the prosperity and development of Ethiopia. Reasonable people could disagree on Zenawi’s “growth and transformation plan”. History shows that similar schemes based on foreign agricultural investments in Latin America have produced Banana Republics. Whether Zenawi’s economic plan will produce a Barley or Rice Republic in Ethiopia is an arguable question. But there can be no development without freedom. There can be no development in a climate of fear, loathing and intimidation, and one-party, one-man domination. Most certainly, there can be no development without respect for fundamental human rights and the rule of law. Though it is very possible to pull the wool over the eyes of people who have very little access to information, it is impossible to fool a politically conscious, active and energized Ethiopian Diaspora community by putting on a dog and pony show.