By Alemayehu G. Mariam
Groundhog Year in Prison Nation
In December 2008, I wrote a weekly column entitled “Groundhog Year in Prison Nation” summarizing some of my weekly columns for that year. I used the “groundhog year” analogy following the title of the motion picture “Groundhog Day” in which a hapless television weatherman is trapped in a time warp and finds himself repeating the same day over and over. I wrote:
2008 in Ethiopia was Groundhog Year! It was a repetition of 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004… Everyday millions of Ethiopians woke up only to find themselves trapped in a time loop where their lives replayed like a broken record. Each “new” day is the same as the one before it: Repression, intimidation, corruption, incarceration, deception, brutalization and human rights violation. Everything that happened to them the previous day, the previous week, the previous month, the previous 18 years happens to them today. They are resigned to the fact that they are doomed to spend the rest of their lives asphyxiated in a Prison Nation. They have no idea how to get out of this awful cycle of misery, agony, despair and tribulation. So, they pray and pray and pray and pray… for deliverance from Evil!
It is December 2010, the end of the first decade of the 21st Century. Are Ethiopians better off today than they were in 2009, 2005…2000?
Does bread (teff) cost more today than it did a year ago…, five years ago? Cooking oil, household fuel, beef, poultry, gasoline, housing, water, electricity, public transport…?
Are there more poor people today in Ethiopia than there were a year ago… five years ago? More unemployment among youth, less educational opportunities, less health care?
Is there more corruption, more secrecy, less transparency and less accountability in December 2010 than in December 2009…?
Are elections more free and fair in 2010 than they were in 2008, 2005?
Is there more press freedom today than five years ago? More human rights violations?
Is Ethiopia more dependent on international charity for its daily bread today than a year ago…?
Is there more environmental pollution, habitat destruction, forced human displacement and land grabs in Ethiopia today than there was in 2005?
Are businesses paying more taxes and bribes in Ethiopia today than in years past?
Is Ethiopia today at the very bottom of the global Index of Economic Freedom (limited access to financing, inefficient government bureaucracy, inadequate supply of infrastructure)?
Let the reader answer these self-evident questions. Suffice it to say, “It is what it is!”
Montage of Scenes From 2010 Time Loop
So here we are in Ethiopian Groundhog Year 2010. As a year-end overview, I decided to select and highlight a few of my columns from the multiple dozens of weekly and other commentaries I wrote in 2010 and published on the various Ethiopian pro-democracy websites, and the Huffington Post where all of my commentaries for the year are readily available.
January 2010 – Looking Through the Glass, Brightly
“Ethiopia is the country of the future,” Birtukan Midekssa would often say epigrammatically. Ethiopia’s number 1 political prisoner is always preoccupied with her country’s future and destiny. Her deep concern for Ethiopia is exceeded only by her boundless optimism for its future… To be the country of the future necessarily means not being the country of the past. Birtukan’s Ethiopia of the future is necessarily the categorical antitheses of an imperial autocracy, a military bureaucracy and a dictatorship of kleptocracy. Her vision of the future Ethiopia is a unified country built on a steel platform of multiparty democracy. Birtukan would have been pleased to explain her vision and dreams of the future country of Ethiopia; unfortunately, she cannot speak for herself as she has been condemned to “rot” in jail.
February 2010- Putting Lipstick on a Pig
Ethiopia’s dictators think we are all damned fools. They want us to believe that a pig with lipstick is actually a swan floating on a placid lake, or a butterfly fluttering in the rose garden or even a lamb frolicking in the meadows. Put some lipstick on hyperinflation and you have one of the “fastest developing economies in the world”. Put lipstick on power outages, and the grids come alive with megawattage. Slap a little lipstick on famine, and voila! Ethiopians are suffering from a slight case of “severe malnutrition”. Adorn your atrocious human rights record by appointing a “human rights” chief, and lo and behold, grievous government wrongs are transformed magically into robust human rights protections. Slam your opposition in jail, smother the independent press and criminalize civil society while applying dainty lipstick to a mannequin of democracy. The point is, “You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper and call it ‘democracy’ but after 20 years it stinks to high heaven!”
March 2010- Waiting for Godot to Leave
The politics of “succession” to Zenawi’s “throne” has become a veritable theatre of the absurd. The personalities waiting in the wings to take over the “throne” (or to protect and safeguard it) bring to mind the witless characters in Samuel Beckett’s tragicomedy play Waiting for Godot, arguably the most important English play of the 20th Century. In that play, two vagabond characters anxiously wait on a country road by a tree for the arrival of a mysterious person named Godot, who can save them and answer all their questions. They wait for days on end but Godot never shows up… and the two characters keep returning to the same place day after day to wait for him; but they cannot remember exactly what happened the day before. Godot never came. Waiting for Zenawi to leave power is like waiting for Godot to arrive. It ain’t happening. He is not only the savior and the man with all the answers, he is also the Great Patron who makes everything work.
April, 2010- C’est la Vie? C’est la Vie en Prison!
When Meles Zenawi, the arch dictator in Ethiopia, was asked about Birtukan’s health in his prison on March 23, 2010, he was comically philosophical about it. He said Birtukan health is in “perfect condition”, except that she may be putting on some weight. “The health situation of Birtukan, the last I heard, is in perfect condition. She may have gained a few kilos, but other than that, and that may be for lack of exercise, I understand she is in perfect health… I am not surprised that they [U.S. State Department] have characterized Birtukan as a political prisoner, because I understand they have also characterized Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and Oromia Liberation Front (OLF) terrorists… as political prisoners… But that is life; I think the French say, ‘C’est la Vie.’
May, 2010- Speaking Truth to Power
For the past year, I have been predicting that the 2010 Ethiopian “election” will prove to be a sham, a travesty of democracy and a mockery and caricature of democratic elections. Without my literary and rhetorical flourish, that is now the exact conclusion of the international election observers. The “Preliminary Statement” of the European Union Election Observation Mission- Ethiopia 2010 stated: “The electoral process fell short of certain international commitments, notably regarding the transparency of the process and the lack of a level playing field for all contesting parties.” … Johnnie Carson, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in the State Department told the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee that “we note with some degree of remorse that the elections were not up to international standards… The [Ethiopian] government has taken clear and decisive steps that would ensure that it would garner an electoral victory.” Even Herman Cohen, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State who served as “mediator” in the so-called May 1991 London Peace Talks which resulted in the establishment of the Zenawi regime decried the outcome: “… I don’t think it was a fair election.”
June, 2010- Speaking Truth to the Powerless
Now that the hoopla around Meles Zenawi’s “election” is over, it is time for the Ethiopian opposition to take stock and re-think the way it has been doing business. We begin with the obvious question: “What happened to the Ethiopian opposition in the make-believe election of 2010?” Zenawi will argue vigorously that he defeated them by a margin of 99.6 percent (545 of 547 parliamentary seats). If that were the real “defeat” for the opposition, I would not worry much. Losing a sham election is like losing one’s appendix. But there is a different kind of defeat that I find more worrisome. It is a defeat in the eyes and hearts of the people. I am afraid the opposition collectively has suffered considerable loss of credibility in the eyes of the people by making a public spectacle of its endless bickering, carping, dithering, internal squabbles, disorganization, inability to unite, pettiness, jockeying for power, and by failing to articulate a coherent set of guiding principles or ideas for the country’s future.
July, 2010- Hummingbirds and Forest Fires
World history shows that individuals and small groups — the hummingbirds — do make a difference in bringing about change in their societies. The few dozen leaders of the American Revolution and the founders of the government of the United States were driven to independence by a “long train of abuses and usurpations” leading to “absolute despotism” as so eloquently and timelessly expressed in the Declaration of Independence… The Bolsheviks (vultures in hummingbird feathers) won the Russian Revolution arguably defending the rights of the working class and peasants against the harsh oppression of Czarist dictatorship. They managed to establish a totalitarian system which thankfully swept itself into the dustbin of history two decades ago… Gandhi and a small group of followers in India led nationwide campaigns to alleviate poverty, make India economically self-reliant, broaden the rights of urban laborers, peasants and women, end the odious custom of untouchability and bring about tolerance and understanding among religious and ethnic groups. Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo led ANC’s Defiance Campaign and crafted the Freedom Charter which provided the ideological basis for the long struggle against apartheid and served as the foundation for the current South African Constitution. In the United States, Martin Luther King and some 60 church leaders formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, becoming the driving force of the American civil rights movement.
August, 2010 – Steel Vises, Clenched Fists and Closing Walls
U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton gave a speech in Poland… and singled out Ethiopia along with Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo and others to warn the world that “we must be wary of the steel vise in which governments around the world are slowly crushing civil society and the human spirit.”… She pointed out: “Last year, Ethiopia imposed a series of strict new rules on NGOs. Very few groups have been able to re-register under this new framework, particularly organizations working on sensitive issues like human rights.”… Secretary Clinton said the acid test for the success or failure of U.S. foreign policy is whether “more people in more places are better able to exercise their universal rights and live up to their potential because of our actions?” By this measure, U.S. policy in Ethiopia has been a total, unmitigated and dismal failure. The evidence is overwhelming and irrefutable…
September, 2010- Indoctri-Nation
Ethiopia’s Ministry of Education issued a “directive” effectively outlawing distance learning (or education programs that are not delivered in the traditional university classroom or campus) throughout the country… Wholesale elimination of private distance learning programs by “directive”, or more accurately bureaucratic fiat, is a flagrant violation of Higher Education Proclamation No. 650/2009. Under this Proclamation, the Ministry of Education and its sub-agencies have the authority to regulate and “revoke accreditation” of a private institution which fails to meet statutory criteria on a case-by-case basis following a fact-finding and appeals process…. I believe the regime has a long term strategy to use the universities as breeding grounds for its ideologues and hatcheries for the thousands of loyal and dependent bureaucrats they need to sustain their domination and rule. The monopoly created for the state in the disciplines of law and teaching (which I will predict will gradually include other disciplines in the future) is a clear indication of the trend to gradually create a cadre of “educated” elites to serve the next generation of dictators to come.
October, 2010- Birtukan Unbound!
Birtukan was held for months in a dark room with no human contact except a few minutes a week with her mother and daughter. Fear, anxiety and despair were her only companions. Heartache knocked constantly on the door to her dark room needling her: “Did you do the right thing leaving three year-old Hal’le to the care of your aging mother?” Self-doubt kept her awake in that dark room where time stood still asking her the same question over and over: “Is it worth all this suffering? Give up!” But a voice in her conscience would echo thunderously, “Like hell you’re going to give up, Birtukan. Fight on. Keep on fighting. ‘Never give in — never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.'” In the end Birtukan signed Zenawi’s scrap of paper making exception to convictions of honor and good sense. We expected nothing less from such a great young woman…. Prisoners can be brainwashed to say anything by those who control them. Prisoners who have endured torture, extreme degradation and abuse have been known to do shocking things to please their captors and ease their own pain and suffering. Abused prisoners have been known to deceive themselves into believing the cruelty of their captors as acts of kindness. It is called the “Stockholm Syndrome.” When the victim is under the total and complete control of her captor for her basic needs of survival and her very existence, she will say and do anything to please her captor.
November, 2010- Remember the Slaughter of 2005
November is a cruel month. Bleak, woeful, and grim is the month of November in the melancholy verse of Thomas Hood:
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member–
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,
And no justice for the hundreds massacred in Ethiopia in November (2005).
No redress for the countless men, women and children shot and wounded and left for dead.
No apologies for the tens of thousands illegally imprisoned.
No restitution for survivors or the families of the dead.
No trace of those who disappeared.
No atonement for the crimes of November.
No absolution for the slaughter of November.
November is to remember.
December, 2010- “So What!”
So what are the lessons of Groundhog Year 2010? The first decade of the 21st Century?
Lesson I. Crush your opponents with full force. Alternatively, vegetate them forever.
Lesson II. If you get into America’s face and stick it to her, she will always back down. Always!
Lesson III. “Democratization is a matter of survival.” If democracy stays alive in Ethiopia, Zenawi cannot survive. If Zenawi survives, democracy cannot stay alive.
Lesson IV: If you want democracy, you must struggle and sacrifice for it.
Lesson V. If your rights are being violated, defend them!
Lesson VI. Elections are like children’s marble game where everybody can play as long as the guy who owns the marbles wins all the time.
Lesson VII. If you want to win, you need to organize, mobilize and energize your base. You need to teach, preach and reach the people.
Lesson VIII. You want funding, don’t beg for it; dig deeper into your own wallets.
Lesson: IX. There is one law, one regime, one ruler, one circus master and only one man who runs the show in Ethiopia.
Lesson X: The greatest lesson of 2010 and the first decade of the 21st Century:
DESPAIR NOT! “THERE HAVE BEEN TYRANTS AND MURDERERS AND FOR A TIME THEY SEEM INVINCIBLE BUT IN THE END, THEY ALWAYS FAIL — THINK OF IT ALWAYS.” Mahatma Gandhi.
RELEASE ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS IN ETHIOPIA
Alemayehu G. Mariam
Western Donors as Accessories to “Democricide” in Ethiopia
The helping hand that feeds Ethiopians is the same hand that helps bleed Ethiopia. Every year, the U.S., U.K, Germany, the Netherlands, Canada, Japan and other Western countries hand out billions of dollars in “humanitarian” and “economic” aid to the regime of dictator-in-chief Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia. Every year, these donors turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the notorious fact that their handouts are used to prop up and fortify a repressive one-man, one-party totalitarian dictatorship. Today, Western donors have collectively embraced the proverbial principle to “see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil” of what their “aid” money is doing in Ethiopia.
Last week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) pried open Western donors’ eyes to see the havoc their aid money is wreaking in Ethiopia and unplugged their ears to hear the truth about the evil they are helping to spread throughout that poor country. In a report entitled, Development Without Freedom , HRW sketched out the architecture of a vast kleptocracy (government of thieves) whose lifeblood is continuous and massive infusion of foreign aid. The report represents a devastating indictment of Western donors and their client regime for crimes that, if committed in the donor countries, would constitute Class A felonies:
Led by the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), the government has used donor-supported programs, salaries, and training opportunities as political weapons to control the population, punish dissent, and undermine political opponents–both real and perceived. Local officials deny these people access to seeds and fertilizer, agricultural land, credit, food aid, and other resources for development. Such politicization has a direct impact on the livelihoods of people for whom access to agricultural inputs is a matter of survival. It also contributes to a broader climate of fear, sending a potent message that basic survival depends on political loyalty to the state and the ruling party.
HRW charges that Zenawi’s regime has used Western aid to benefit its supporters by giving them special access to micro-credit (small loans designed for poor households) loans and benefits under the productive safety net program (multi-year cash payments to those vulnerable to famine to avoid disaster from food shortage emergencies). The regime has misused state educational facilities for political purposes and engaged in systematic political indoctrination of students, repression of teachers and purging of individuals who are unwilling to support the ruling party from their jobs. In sum, after 19 years and “investing” $26 billion in “aid”, the crowning achievement of Western aid in Ethiopia is the establishment and entrenchment of a one-man, one-party totalitarian state!
The Western donors refuse to accept any responsibility for the misuse and abuse of their aid money in Ethiopia; and the conspiracy of silence to cover up the ugly facts uncovered by HRW continues. A few days after HRW released its report, a gathering of vulturous poverty pimps known as the Development Assistance Group (DAG) representing donor states issued a statement denying the undeniable. “We do not concur with the conclusions of the recent HRW report regarding widespread, systematic abuse of development aid in Ethiopia. Our study did not generate any evidence of systematic or widespread distortion.”  DAG co-chair Samuel Nyambi was manifestly dismissive of HRW’s findings when he arrogantly proclaimed that “development partners have built into the programmes they support monitoring and safeguard mechanisms that give a reasonable assurance that resources are being used for their intended purposes.” In DAG-istan, what HRW found and reported simply could not happen. HRW made it all up! The report is all lies and fabrications!
The fact of the matter is that it is in DAG’s self-interest to bury the truth and keep covering it up even when the truth it is exhumed for public display. For DAG to acknowledge any part of the HRW evidence is tantamount to self-incrimination. They could never admit that the things HRW reported occurred under their watch. As the HRW reports demonstrates, DAG and the donor countries “have done little to address the problem [aid abuse/misuse] or tackle their own role in underwriting government repression… even though they recognize [civil and political rights] to be central to sustainable socioeconomic development.”
Huddled together in DAG-istan, the poverty pimps have collectively resolved to continue to do their usual aid business in Ethiopia because “broad economic progress outweighs individual political freedoms”. In “their eagerness to show progress in Ethiopia, aid officials are shutting their eyes to the repression lurking behind the official statistics.” They say “their programs are working well and that aid was not being ‘distorted.'” They refuse to carry “out credible, independent investigations into the problem.” The “donor country legislatures and audit institutions [have failed] to examine development aid to Ethiopia to ensure that it is not supporting political repression.” They refuse to “wake up to the fact that some of their aid is contributing to human rights abuses” in Ethiopia. The Western donors have ignored calls to “seriously weigh the impact that their funding has on bolstering repressive structures and practices in Ethiopia.” They are unwilling to do a “fundamental re-thinking of their strategy.”
The People of Ethiopia v. Western Donors
When I wrote my commentaries “Speaking Truth to Strangers” this past June and “J’Accuse” last November  , I argued that in a perfect world Western donors in Ethiopia could be prosecuted for being accessories before and after the fact to the crime of first-degree “democricide”, gross human rights violations and for aiding and abetting Zenawi’s kleptocracy. The recent HRW report furnishes a fresh boatload of damning evidence for use in the criminal conspiracy case of The People of Ethiopia v. Western Donor Countries to be tried in the court of international public opinion and in the consciences of all the taxpayers in Western countries shelling out their hard earned money to support one of the most brutal dictatorships in the world.
The silent conspiracy between the Western donors and Zenawi’s regime operates on a couple of simple premises. The Western donors in their chauvinistic view believe there are two social classes in Ethiopia. One class consists of the large masses of poor, impoverished, illiterate, malnourished and expendable masses who will not amount to much. The other class consists of the tiny class of elites who maintain a lavish life style for themselves and lord over the masses by manipulating the billions given to them to strengthen their chokehold on the political structure and process. The silent conspiracy is sustained by mutuality of interests. The Western donors want “stability” in Ethiopia, which often means the absence of internal strife that will not undermine their economic and political interests in the country. They want regional “stability”, which means having someone who could be called upon to patrol the neighborhood and kick the rear ends of some nasty terrorists. For those addicted to aid, it’s all about more aid, more free money to play with.
As long as the Western donors meet their dual objectives, they do not give a rat’s behind about what happens to their aid money or what harm it does to the Ethiopian masses. When confronted with the truth about the misuse and abuse of aid money as has been documented in the HRW report, the donors will deny it (“we have built in safeguards, it couldn’t happen), play it down (“nothing to it”), ignore it (“nor worth commenting”), excuse it (“it’s not as bad as it seems”), rationalize it (“we’ve got to work with the government”), and wax legal about it (“there is a sovereignty issue”); and to fool the people occasionally, they will come out in public, put on a show of feigned outrage and pontificate about democracy, the rule of law and the rest of it. After all is said and done, they go right back to business as usual.
Ethiopia: The Potemkin Village
A Potemkin village is “something that appears elaborate and impressive but in actual fact lacks substance.” Western aid has reduced Ethiopia to a Potemkin village. It’s all a façade, a smoke and mirror show complete with illusions and sleights of hand. DAG is full of it when it counterclaims against HRW’s findings:
The aid provided by members of the DAG in Ethiopia is transforming the lives of millions of poor people through basic services such as healthcare, education and water, and long-term food security. Our programmes are directly helping Ethiopia to reach the Millennium Development Goals.
In their annual dog and pony show, these poverty pimps have been singing the same old song for years: “We are saving lives in Ethiopia by the millions. Imagine how many millions would have perished but for aid; how many children would have not gone to school. See the clinics and hospitals that aid has built.” They challenge us to look at how much economic development aid has brought to Ethiopia: “Behold the shiny glass buildings. See all of the fancy roads that snake over the hills and valleys. Look at all of the universities we helped build. Look at the double digit annual economic growth. Aid money made all that possible.”
What they don’t tell is the fact that many of the shiny buildings have little running water and many more stand unfinished or vacant. The universities have few books and educational materials and even fewer qualified instructional staff. The hospitals and clinics have few doctors and virtually no medical supplies or equipment to care for 85 million people. Ethiopia has one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world. Inflation has made it impossible for the vast majority of Ethiopian families to meet their basic needs. The poverty pimps say nothing about the fact that famine and hunger stalks a third of the Ethiopia population year around. As to “double digit” economic growth, it is all made up by Zenawi’s regime. . So the smoke and mirror aid show goes on and on. The multi-billion dollar alms industry keeps on humming and squeezing more and more money from the wallets of hard working men and women in the West.
The fact of the matter is that aid is incapable of creating or sustaining economic development (its effects under the best of circumstances are transitory). As Dambissa Moya has argued ,
In Ethiopia, where aid constitutes more than 90% of the government budget, a mere 2% of the country’s population has access to mobile phones. (The African country average is around 30%.) Might it not be preferable for the government to earn money by selling its mobile phone license, thereby generating much-needed development income and also providing its citizens with telephone service that could, in turn, spur economic activity?
To add insult to injury, it is now becoming clearer than ever that aid has become the principal tool of repression, human rights violations and suppression of democratic institutions in Ethiopia.
Western Donors on the Horns of a Dilemma in Ethiopia
Based on the HRW report, one can reasonably conclude that U.S. aid policy in Ethiopia is reeling out of control. U.S. tax dollars given as aid are being misused by Zenawi for political purposes in violation of U.S. law with the apparent tacit approval of U.S. authorities. Cumulatively, the U.S., as the largest aid donor in Ethiopia, has been singularly responsible for the creation of a repressive Frankenstinian regime over which the U.S. has little influence or leverage.
Zenawi’s contempt for the Western donors in general is nothing less than the proverbial “bite of the hand that feeds.” The Economist recently noted, “Mr Meles’s contempt for what he calls the “neoliberalism” of the West is as plain as his admiration for ‘generous’ and ‘dependable’ China. Chinese Communist Party officials were feted at a recent EPRDF conference… The Europeans and Americans find this galling, since they continue to pay for many of Ethiopia’s hospitals and schools, as well as handing out free food.” Zenawi’s contempt is not just for “neoliberalism” (market driven approach to economic and social policy), but also the very essence of what the U.S. and the West in general claims to be its fundamental values including the rule of law, civil and human rights and free democratic processes and institutions.
After sucking up $26 billion dollars of aid, Zenawi is telling his Western donors that they are chumps and wimps, and he is going to dump them for the rising sun of East Asia. The Western donors don’t seem to get it; and they keep shelling out billions more to keep Zenawi on the dole as he thumbs his nose at them and sneers at their policies. That is nothing new. After troops under the direct command and control of Zenawi massacred 200 unarmed protesters, wounded over 800 more and jailed 30,000 opponents following the May 2005 elections, Western donors took him to the side and told him, “Be nice. Don’t do stuff like that. Anyway, here is a couple billion to do what you will.” In May 2010, Zenawi announced that he had won the elections by 99.6 percent. On September 23, 2010, the U.S. agreed to write him a handout check for a cool $229.3 million. It is sad to see American taxpayers not only having their back pockets picked, but also their rear ends kicked.
I believe there is another less visible, but equally catastrophic, damage caused by the unsupervised Western aid in Ethiopia. The cumulative anecdotal evidence is compelling and shows that Western aid has helped create in Ethiopia a culture of poverty captained by poverty pimps and their client regime. A review of World Bank, IMF, U.N. and US AID studies and reports over the past 5 years demonstrates the near-total dependence of the Ethiopian economy on foreign aid. Today, aid is to the Ethiopian economy as khat (a popular hallucinogenic drug used in the Horn of Africa) is to the poor addict who is unable to function without that drug. Like khat, aid gives the Ethiopian economy a burst of short-term energy followed by economic lethargy and long-term incapacitating addictive dependency. One cannot help but worry over the fact that the next generation of Ethiopians could adopt a way of life and a set of attitudes that glorifies international handouts and panhandling. The millions of Ethiopians permanently trapped in a culture of intergenerational poverty may have no choice but to kneel down before the altar of foreign aid and pray to the gods of free money for their daily existence.
Time to Re-think U.S. Aid Policy in Ethiopia: Need for Congressional and Other Investigations
It is time to re-think U.S. aid policy in Ethiopia, regardless Zenawi’s apparent threat that he will turn to China to get money with no strings attached. The time for U.S. pretension must end. If there is a scintilla of fact that has any merit at all in the damning evidence assembled by HRW (the HRW report is fully corroborated), it is time for the U.S. Congress to get involved and exercise its oversight functions by undertaking a formal investigation.
There are numerous congressional authorization and appropriations subcommittees and committees that have jurisdiction over U.S. foreign assistance programs. The Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations and the House’s Committee on International Relations have primary jurisdiction over bilateral development assistance. To the extent funds are misused from U.S. contributions to multilateral development banks, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Financial Services Committee have authority to investigate. The appropriations committees and subcommittees in both Houses could also look into the HRW’s findings for misspent and illegally expended funds.
The Office of the Inspector General of the State Department has authority to investigate instances of fraud, waste, and mismanagement that may constitute either criminal wrongdoing or violation of Department regulations. The HRW report provides ample legal basis to launch an official investigation by the OIG. The United States Agency for International Development (US AID) is purportedly committed to rooting out corruption in the use of aid funds. U.S. AID claims, “Corruption damages international development and poverty alleviation by limiting economic growth, reducing social cohesion, skewing public investments, and weakening the rule of law… Democratic governance rooted in the rule of law contributes to long-term, sustainable economic and social development.” AID’s feet need to be held to the fire until it sets up an independent investigation of HRW’s findings. The U.S. Secretary of State could also order an investigation of the HRW findings.
If the Western donors want to redeem themselves in the eyes of the Ethiopian people, they must fully embrace HRW’s prudent and sound recommendations to deal with the problem of aid misuse and abuse.
In light of the government’s human rights violations, direct budget support to the government should not even be considered, and programs supported by international funds should be independently monitored. Credible audit institutions should examine aid to Ethiopia in the context of whether it contributes to political repression. External donors must also demand that Ethiopia does more than pay lip service to respecting fundamental human rights; they must be more vocal about the steps Ethiopia should take to ensure that its citizens enjoy the rights to which they are entitled under the country’s constitution and international human rights law.
No Business Like the Panhandling Business
Anyone who says “there is no business like show business,” has not tried the international alms (begging) business. What could be more fun than sitting around and waiting for the “aid man” to show up and hand out free money to use like a drunken sailor. International panhandling is a lucrative business. Everybody is in it. The panhandlers who live off handouts frolic in their dreams every night shaking down the aid money tree. The rock stars, bankers and aid bureaucrats who work 24/7 peddling aid across the globe are intoxicated by it. Even ivy league professors have gotten into the act; they have found a new calling as “entrepreneurs of aid” in much the same way as the procurers of the world’s oldest profession. Giving alms to Ethiopia is one of the favorite “indulgences” of the Western donors. It is their way of sanitizing their consciences into believing that they are doing good in Africa. If they really want to do good, let them teach Ethiopians how to fish and be self-sufficient. They don’t need to supply a villainous fish monger never-ending boatloads of fish and give him the power to decide who to feed and who to bleed.
RELEASE ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS IN ETHIOPIA