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:
Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at:
Alemayehu G. Mariam
Western Donors as Accessories to “Democricide” in Ethiopia
The helping hand that feeds Ethiopians is the same hand that helps bleed Ethiopia. Every year, the U.S., U.K, Germany, the Netherlands, Canada, Japan and other Western countries hand out billions of dollars in “humanitarian” and “economic” aid to the regime of dictator-in-chief Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia. Every year, these donors turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the notorious fact that their handouts are used to prop up and fortify a repressive one-man, one-party totalitarian dictatorship. Today, Western donors have collectively embraced the proverbial principle to “see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil” of what their “aid” money is doing in Ethiopia.
Last week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) pried open Western donors’ eyes to see the havoc their aid money is wreaking in Ethiopia and unplugged their ears to hear the truth about the evil they are helping to spread throughout that poor country. In a report entitled, Development Without Freedom , HRW sketched out the architecture of a vast kleptocracy (government of thieves) whose lifeblood is continuous and massive infusion of foreign aid. The report represents a devastating indictment of Western donors and their client regime for crimes that, if committed in the donor countries, would constitute Class A felonies:
Led by the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), the government has used donor-supported programs, salaries, and training opportunities as political weapons to control the population, punish dissent, and undermine political opponents–both real and perceived. Local officials deny these people access to seeds and fertilizer, agricultural land, credit, food aid, and other resources for development. Such politicization has a direct impact on the livelihoods of people for whom access to agricultural inputs is a matter of survival. It also contributes to a broader climate of fear, sending a potent message that basic survival depends on political loyalty to the state and the ruling party.
HRW charges that Zenawi’s regime has used Western aid to benefit its supporters by giving them special access to micro-credit (small loans designed for poor households) loans and benefits under the productive safety net program (multi-year cash payments to those vulnerable to famine to avoid disaster from food shortage emergencies). The regime has misused state educational facilities for political purposes and engaged in systematic political indoctrination of students, repression of teachers and purging of individuals who are unwilling to support the ruling party from their jobs. In sum, after 19 years and “investing” $26 billion in “aid”, the crowning achievement of Western aid in Ethiopia is the establishment and entrenchment of a one-man, one-party totalitarian state!
The Western donors refuse to accept any responsibility for the misuse and abuse of their aid money in Ethiopia; and the conspiracy of silence to cover up the ugly facts uncovered by HRW continues. A few days after HRW released its report, a gathering of vulturous poverty pimps known as the Development Assistance Group (DAG) representing donor states issued a statement denying the undeniable. “We do not concur with the conclusions of the recent HRW report regarding widespread, systematic abuse of development aid in Ethiopia. Our study did not generate any evidence of systematic or widespread distortion.”  DAG co-chair Samuel Nyambi was manifestly dismissive of HRW’s findings when he arrogantly proclaimed that “development partners have built into the programmes they support monitoring and safeguard mechanisms that give a reasonable assurance that resources are being used for their intended purposes.” In DAG-istan, what HRW found and reported simply could not happen. HRW made it all up! The report is all lies and fabrications!
The fact of the matter is that it is in DAG’s self-interest to bury the truth and keep covering it up even when the truth it is exhumed for public display. For DAG to acknowledge any part of the HRW evidence is tantamount to self-incrimination. They could never admit that the things HRW reported occurred under their watch. As the HRW reports demonstrates, DAG and the donor countries “have done little to address the problem [aid abuse/misuse] or tackle their own role in underwriting government repression… even though they recognize [civil and political rights] to be central to sustainable socioeconomic development.”
Huddled together in DAG-istan, the poverty pimps have collectively resolved to continue to do their usual aid business in Ethiopia because “broad economic progress outweighs individual political freedoms”. In “their eagerness to show progress in Ethiopia, aid officials are shutting their eyes to the repression lurking behind the official statistics.” They say “their programs are working well and that aid was not being ‘distorted.'” They refuse to carry “out credible, independent investigations into the problem.” The “donor country legislatures and audit institutions [have failed] to examine development aid to Ethiopia to ensure that it is not supporting political repression.” They refuse to “wake up to the fact that some of their aid is contributing to human rights abuses” in Ethiopia. The Western donors have ignored calls to “seriously weigh the impact that their funding has on bolstering repressive structures and practices in Ethiopia.” They are unwilling to do a “fundamental re-thinking of their strategy.”
The People of Ethiopia v. Western Donors
When I wrote my commentaries “Speaking Truth to Strangers” this past June and “J’Accuse” last November  , I argued that in a perfect world Western donors in Ethiopia could be prosecuted for being accessories before and after the fact to the crime of first-degree “democricide”, gross human rights violations and for aiding and abetting Zenawi’s kleptocracy. The recent HRW report furnishes a fresh boatload of damning evidence for use in the criminal conspiracy case of The People of Ethiopia v. Western Donor Countries to be tried in the court of international public opinion and in the consciences of all the taxpayers in Western countries shelling out their hard earned money to support one of the most brutal dictatorships in the world.
The silent conspiracy between the Western donors and Zenawi’s regime operates on a couple of simple premises. The Western donors in their chauvinistic view believe there are two social classes in Ethiopia. One class consists of the large masses of poor, impoverished, illiterate, malnourished and expendable masses who will not amount to much. The other class consists of the tiny class of elites who maintain a lavish life style for themselves and lord over the masses by manipulating the billions given to them to strengthen their chokehold on the political structure and process. The silent conspiracy is sustained by mutuality of interests. The Western donors want “stability” in Ethiopia, which often means the absence of internal strife that will not undermine their economic and political interests in the country. They want regional “stability”, which means having someone who could be called upon to patrol the neighborhood and kick the rear ends of some nasty terrorists. For those addicted to aid, it’s all about more aid, more free money to play with.
As long as the Western donors meet their dual objectives, they do not give a rat’s behind about what happens to their aid money or what harm it does to the Ethiopian masses. When confronted with the truth about the misuse and abuse of aid money as has been documented in the HRW report, the donors will deny it (“we have built in safeguards, it couldn’t happen), play it down (“nothing to it”), ignore it (“nor worth commenting”), excuse it (“it’s not as bad as it seems”), rationalize it (“we’ve got to work with the government”), and wax legal about it (“there is a sovereignty issue”); and to fool the people occasionally, they will come out in public, put on a show of feigned outrage and pontificate about democracy, the rule of law and the rest of it. After all is said and done, they go right back to business as usual.
Ethiopia: The Potemkin Village
A Potemkin village is “something that appears elaborate and impressive but in actual fact lacks substance.” Western aid has reduced Ethiopia to a Potemkin village. It’s all a façade, a smoke and mirror show complete with illusions and sleights of hand. DAG is full of it when it counterclaims against HRW’s findings:
The aid provided by members of the DAG in Ethiopia is transforming the lives of millions of poor people through basic services such as healthcare, education and water, and long-term food security. Our programmes are directly helping Ethiopia to reach the Millennium Development Goals.
In their annual dog and pony show, these poverty pimps have been singing the same old song for years: “We are saving lives in Ethiopia by the millions. Imagine how many millions would have perished but for aid; how many children would have not gone to school. See the clinics and hospitals that aid has built.” They challenge us to look at how much economic development aid has brought to Ethiopia: “Behold the shiny glass buildings. See all of the fancy roads that snake over the hills and valleys. Look at all of the universities we helped build. Look at the double digit annual economic growth. Aid money made all that possible.”
What they don’t tell is the fact that many of the shiny buildings have little running water and many more stand unfinished or vacant. The universities have few books and educational materials and even fewer qualified instructional staff. The hospitals and clinics have few doctors and virtually no medical supplies or equipment to care for 85 million people. Ethiopia has one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world. Inflation has made it impossible for the vast majority of Ethiopian families to meet their basic needs. The poverty pimps say nothing about the fact that famine and hunger stalks a third of the Ethiopia population year around. As to “double digit” economic growth, it is all made up by Zenawi’s regime. . So the smoke and mirror aid show goes on and on. The multi-billion dollar alms industry keeps on humming and squeezing more and more money from the wallets of hard working men and women in the West.
The fact of the matter is that aid is incapable of creating or sustaining economic development (its effects under the best of circumstances are transitory). As Dambissa Moya has argued ,
In Ethiopia, where aid constitutes more than 90% of the government budget, a mere 2% of the country’s population has access to mobile phones. (The African country average is around 30%.) Might it not be preferable for the government to earn money by selling its mobile phone license, thereby generating much-needed development income and also providing its citizens with telephone service that could, in turn, spur economic activity?
To add insult to injury, it is now becoming clearer than ever that aid has become the principal tool of repression, human rights violations and suppression of democratic institutions in Ethiopia.
Western Donors on the Horns of a Dilemma in Ethiopia
Based on the HRW report, one can reasonably conclude that U.S. aid policy in Ethiopia is reeling out of control. U.S. tax dollars given as aid are being misused by Zenawi for political purposes in violation of U.S. law with the apparent tacit approval of U.S. authorities. Cumulatively, the U.S., as the largest aid donor in Ethiopia, has been singularly responsible for the creation of a repressive Frankenstinian regime over which the U.S. has little influence or leverage.
Zenawi’s contempt for the Western donors in general is nothing less than the proverbial “bite of the hand that feeds.” The Economist recently noted, “Mr Meles’s contempt for what he calls the “neoliberalism” of the West is as plain as his admiration for ‘generous’ and ‘dependable’ China. Chinese Communist Party officials were feted at a recent EPRDF conference… The Europeans and Americans find this galling, since they continue to pay for many of Ethiopia’s hospitals and schools, as well as handing out free food.” Zenawi’s contempt is not just for “neoliberalism” (market driven approach to economic and social policy), but also the very essence of what the U.S. and the West in general claims to be its fundamental values including the rule of law, civil and human rights and free democratic processes and institutions.
After sucking up $26 billion dollars of aid, Zenawi is telling his Western donors that they are chumps and wimps, and he is going to dump them for the rising sun of East Asia. The Western donors don’t seem to get it; and they keep shelling out billions more to keep Zenawi on the dole as he thumbs his nose at them and sneers at their policies. That is nothing new. After troops under the direct command and control of Zenawi massacred 200 unarmed protesters, wounded over 800 more and jailed 30,000 opponents following the May 2005 elections, Western donors took him to the side and told him, “Be nice. Don’t do stuff like that. Anyway, here is a couple billion to do what you will.” In May 2010, Zenawi announced that he had won the elections by 99.6 percent. On September 23, 2010, the U.S. agreed to write him a handout check for a cool $229.3 million. It is sad to see American taxpayers not only having their back pockets picked, but also their rear ends kicked.
I believe there is another less visible, but equally catastrophic, damage caused by the unsupervised Western aid in Ethiopia. The cumulative anecdotal evidence is compelling and shows that Western aid has helped create in Ethiopia a culture of poverty captained by poverty pimps and their client regime. A review of World Bank, IMF, U.N. and US AID studies and reports over the past 5 years demonstrates the near-total dependence of the Ethiopian economy on foreign aid. Today, aid is to the Ethiopian economy as khat (a popular hallucinogenic drug used in the Horn of Africa) is to the poor addict who is unable to function without that drug. Like khat, aid gives the Ethiopian economy a burst of short-term energy followed by economic lethargy and long-term incapacitating addictive dependency. One cannot help but worry over the fact that the next generation of Ethiopians could adopt a way of life and a set of attitudes that glorifies international handouts and panhandling. The millions of Ethiopians permanently trapped in a culture of intergenerational poverty may have no choice but to kneel down before the altar of foreign aid and pray to the gods of free money for their daily existence.
Time to Re-think U.S. Aid Policy in Ethiopia: Need for Congressional and Other Investigations
It is time to re-think U.S. aid policy in Ethiopia, regardless Zenawi’s apparent threat that he will turn to China to get money with no strings attached. The time for U.S. pretension must end. If there is a scintilla of fact that has any merit at all in the damning evidence assembled by HRW (the HRW report is fully corroborated), it is time for the U.S. Congress to get involved and exercise its oversight functions by undertaking a formal investigation.
There are numerous congressional authorization and appropriations subcommittees and committees that have jurisdiction over U.S. foreign assistance programs. The Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations and the House’s Committee on International Relations have primary jurisdiction over bilateral development assistance. To the extent funds are misused from U.S. contributions to multilateral development banks, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Financial Services Committee have authority to investigate. The appropriations committees and subcommittees in both Houses could also look into the HRW’s findings for misspent and illegally expended funds.
The Office of the Inspector General of the State Department has authority to investigate instances of fraud, waste, and mismanagement that may constitute either criminal wrongdoing or violation of Department regulations. The HRW report provides ample legal basis to launch an official investigation by the OIG. The United States Agency for International Development (US AID) is purportedly committed to rooting out corruption in the use of aid funds. U.S. AID claims, “Corruption damages international development and poverty alleviation by limiting economic growth, reducing social cohesion, skewing public investments, and weakening the rule of law… Democratic governance rooted in the rule of law contributes to long-term, sustainable economic and social development.” AID’s feet need to be held to the fire until it sets up an independent investigation of HRW’s findings. The U.S. Secretary of State could also order an investigation of the HRW findings.
If the Western donors want to redeem themselves in the eyes of the Ethiopian people, they must fully embrace HRW’s prudent and sound recommendations to deal with the problem of aid misuse and abuse.
In light of the government’s human rights violations, direct budget support to the government should not even be considered, and programs supported by international funds should be independently monitored. Credible audit institutions should examine aid to Ethiopia in the context of whether it contributes to political repression. External donors must also demand that Ethiopia does more than pay lip service to respecting fundamental human rights; they must be more vocal about the steps Ethiopia should take to ensure that its citizens enjoy the rights to which they are entitled under the country’s constitution and international human rights law.
No Business Like the Panhandling Business
Anyone who says “there is no business like show business,” has not tried the international alms (begging) business. What could be more fun than sitting around and waiting for the “aid man” to show up and hand out free money to use like a drunken sailor. International panhandling is a lucrative business. Everybody is in it. The panhandlers who live off handouts frolic in their dreams every night shaking down the aid money tree. The rock stars, bankers and aid bureaucrats who work 24/7 peddling aid across the globe are intoxicated by it. Even ivy league professors have gotten into the act; they have found a new calling as “entrepreneurs of aid” in much the same way as the procurers of the world’s oldest profession. Giving alms to Ethiopia is one of the favorite “indulgences” of the Western donors. It is their way of sanitizing their consciences into believing that they are doing good in Africa. If they really want to do good, let them teach Ethiopians how to fish and be self-sufficient. They don’t need to supply a villainous fish monger never-ending boatloads of fish and give him the power to decide who to feed and who to bleed.
RELEASE ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS IN ETHIOPIA