The Retarding Role of Foreign Aid in Ethiopia
By Aklog Birara
“Not even shooting and jailing the opposition, manipulating aid to starve the opposition, seizing the lands of villagers (Gambella, the Omo Valley, etc.) and relocating them (Villagization) against their will, and perpetrating violence against villagers who protest has been enough to shake the technocratic faith that autocrats (and dictators) can be trusted to be implementers of technical solutions.” — William Easterly, The Tyranny of Experts
Ever since the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) that it dominates took political power 23 years ago with the pretense of establishing a democratic state, Ethiopia has become the darling of the donor community. It is the largest recipient of aid in Africa and one of the top four in the world. Aid is a business and as such it serves a strategic purpose for donors. It is a vital part of globalization that serves as a mover of capital, technology, knowledge, trade, people, EBOLA etc. In this sense, it is transformative. I suggest that aid and globalization are beneficial to the extent that countries are endowed with nationalist, inclusive, competent, merit-oriented and empowering governments. Otherwise, as we see in the case of Africa, both facilitate a new form and rather insidious form of colonialism with new actors at play. These players go after the most precious resources such as farmlands and water basins. The global financial, trade and investment regime does not operate on a level playing field. The “big fish eats the little fish.” The scramble for African natural resources, investment opportunities and trade is more intense today than it has ever been. For all practical purposes the “last frontier” with its immense natural resources is being carved into new spheres of influence—the old colonial powers are back; and newly emerging economies such as Brazil, China, India, the Gulf State and Saudi Arabia as well as the world’s mover and shaker, the United States are all scrambling for the same pie. Land grab and investments in mineral and other resources is part of this scramble. Ethiopia is at the center of the scramble. It has a facilitating and welcoming single-party government.
In an outstanding and timely piece on the new scramble for African resources, especially precious farmlands and waters, Frederick Kaufman, contributing editor of Harper’s Magazine highlighted the dark side of globalization and the price Ethiopia (ባለቤት የሌላት ሃገር) is paying. “The Man Who Stole the Nile: an Ethiopian billionaire’s outrageous land grab” July 2014 presents a compelling piece concerning the deliberate and massive scale transfer of swaths of land by the TPLF/EPRDF government to foreign investors—Chinese, Indian, Saudi, etc. and the disenfranchisement of millions of Ethiopians. In a country that is disintegrating before our eyes (with Article 39 being used to formalize secession in some cases), Ethiopia is left to fend for itself, alone. Its resources are being plundered. My book, “The Great Land Giveaway” 2011 had forewarned Ethiopians and the world community that land grab will impoverish the country and cause it to disintegrate. Little recognized and appreciated by Ethiopia’s divided civic and political society, intellectuals and others is the fact the TPLF/EPRDF has transferred millions of hectares of farmlands and rivers that support large scale irrigated farming to foreign and a limited number of loyal domestic investors, 75 percent Tigrean nationals. It is the largest transfer of natural resources assets in Ethiopia’s history. It will have adverse effects on succeeding generations of Ethiopians. Kaufman put it succinctly and starkly. “Forget about diamond heists, bank robberies, and drilling into the golden intestines of Fort Knox. In this precarious world-historic moment, food has become the most valuable asset of them all—and a billionaire from Ethiopia named Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi is getting his hands on as much of it as possible, flying it over the heads of his starving countrymen, and selling the treasure to Saudi Arabia,” his sponsor and financier. ”Last year, Al Amoudi, whom most Ethiopians call the Sheikh, exported a million tons of rice, about seventy pounds for every Saudi citizen. The scene of the great grain robbery was Gambella, a bog (marshland) the size of Belgium.” In the same year, Ethiopia imported $1.1 billion worth of food to feed Al Amoudi’s “starving countrymen.” Ironically, Saudi Star diverts and uses more water than all Ethiopian owned irrigated farms. Talking of adverse consequences in using Nile waters by the Saudi sponsored and financed farms, the author notes “The hydrological consequences would be astonishing. Each acre of rice requires a million gallons of water a season, which means the Sheikh’s project could eventually suck more than a trillion gallons from the Nile. From November to February, the farm would extract more than 10 percent of the White Nile’s total flow. In a dry year, even more.” The Egyptians have focused on the wrong problem. The Renaissance Dam does not divert the amount of water that the Saudi Star Conglomerate in Gambella does.
More detrimental to Ethiopia and its growing population is massive transfer of hundreds of thousands of hectares of Ethiopian farmlands and waters to the Saudis, the Indians and others. It is a travesty. Land and other natural resources ownership by Ethiopians for Ethiopians will determine reduction of poverty, food self-sufficiency and security, employment opportunity, identity, stability, national security and territorial integrity and more. There is absolutely no economic, social or political justification for the Ethiopian government to transfer Ethiopia’s sources of food and wellbeing at an immense and lasting cost to the Ethiopian people. This transfer shows clearly that Ethiopia’s Foreign Direct Investment regulatory framework is opaque, non-participatory and intended for plunder. It reinforces my contention that Ethiopians suffer from two hurdles: a repressive regime that does not value justice, fairness, equity and national security; and globalization that is utterly undemocratic.
In light of the above, globalization is corrosive and destructive with regard to Africa. As Joseph Stieglitz, the Nobel Laureate in Economics and others suggest, the rules of the game must be changed radically for Africa to have a fighting chance. The system must be democratized in order to serve the needs of poor and middle income countries. To level the playing field, poor countries need to protect their interests. To do this, they need nationalist governments, robust and empowered societies and a free press that can mitigate globalization’s undesired effects. African countries ought to take a unified position on the governance of the new order. They need to grasp the reality that weak societies lose their identity, culture and assets because they do not dictate the terms of engagement. As Ethiopia’s case illustrates, weak societies and communities run by dictatorships cannot protect their infant industries and domestic capitalists. They are practically at the mercy of multinational corporations and governments that sponsor them. The imbalances are reflected in numerous areas. Unfair trade practices, loss of control over intellectual, proprietary and property rights (for example, indigenous seeds such as Teff and Ethiopian barley), domination of domestic markets, displacement of indigenous people, adverse environmental degradation in the exploitation of farmlands, mistreatment of migrant workers, unfair advantages over the domestic economy, corruption and massive illicit outflow are some of the major social and economic impacts of unfettered globalization. These are all manifested in Ethiopia.
The premier institution that tracks graft, theft, mispricing, corruption and illicit outflow is Global Financial Integrity (GFI). Its paints a dark and alarming picture that the August 2014 US-Africa Summit in Washington failed to address. It also failed to address the most critical determinant of sustainable and equitable development namely, good and democratic governance. Why? These are too sensitive; they affect most African leaders. GFI estimates that at least $1.8 trillion was stolen out of Africa over 39 years. This is a minimum. Africans lose $10 for every $1 they retain. The loss is estimated at 5-7 percent of GDP. How does Africa catch-up with the rest of the world if unfettered exploitation of its riches, theft, graft, mispricing, bribery, corruption and illicit outflow continue unaddressed? How does Africa thrive if there is no rule of law? How does Africa compete in a system of globalization that is patently corruption prone? Those who move capital illicitly use connections and global networks who benefit. They use Africans to punish Africans. In its seminal report in 2010, GFI put it starkly.
“This massive flow of illicit money out of Africa is facilitated by a global shadow financial system comprising tax havens, secrecy jurisdictions, disguised corporations, anonymous trust accounts, fake foundations, trade mis-pricing and money laundering techniques.” Alarmed by the report, the Guardian reported quoting findings that “This capital loss has a devastating effect on development and attempts to alleviate poverty. Even by a more conservative estimate, using accepted economic models from the World Bank and the IMF, Africa has lost $854bn in cumulative capital flight between 1970 and 2008… This would be enough to not only wipe out its 2008 external debt of $250bn but potentially leave $600bn for poverty alleviation and economic growth.” What happened after this report is stunning. It is identical to the Ethiopian case. “Instead, cumulative illicit flows from the continent increased from about $57bn in the decade of the 1970s to $437bn over the nine years 2000-2008.”
The Guardian noted that “Africa lost around $29bn a year between 1970 and 2008, of which the Sub-Saharan region accounted for $22bn. On average, fuel exporters including Nigeria lost capital at the rate of nearly $10bn a year.” GFI reflected on the devastating impact of the outflow. “The impact of this structure and the funds it shifts out of Africa is staggering. It drains hard currency reserves, heightens inflation, reduces tax collection, cancels investment, and undermines free trade. It has its greatest impact on those at the bottom of income scales in their countries, removing resources that could otherwise be used for poverty alleviation and” and economic development.
In its report on the Ethiopian case 2011/2012, GFI painted this bleak and real picture. “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 against the current of illicit capital leakage” estimated minimally at $11.7 billion between 2000-2009; $3.26 billion in 2009 alone. Subsequently, the University of Massachusetts confirmed this figure and estimated the annual leakage at $3.4 billion. We can extrapolate from this and suggest that Ethiopia has thus far lost $29 billion. This amount would build would build about 6 Renaissance Dams. In net terms, all of Ethiopia’s export earnings and aid transfers are wiped out through illicit outflow. The bulk of these monies are deposited in Western, East Asian and Caribbean banks. Most recently, Nigeria retrieved some of the stolen billions by going after one of its dictators and his family. In August, 2014 the U.S. Department of Justice announced that a D.C. District Court had made a ruling against the Nigerian dictator, Sani Abacha and his family stating that “Rather than serve his country, General Abacha used his public office in Nigeria to loot millions of dollars in brazen acts of kleptocracy.” Earlier in June this year, Nigeria recovered $228 million from the small county of Lichtenstein; and $1.3 billion from Abacha’s assets in other parts of Europe—offshore banks in France and the UK; accounts in Ireland and so on. I should like to suggest that retrieving stolen capital is possible. It can’t happen until and unless the government that leads the victim country is nationalist; or unless concerned nationals form a strong consortium and take their case to courts in recipient countries. This requires unreserved commitment and dedication to do the right thing for Ethiopia and the Ethiopian people. ደጋግሜ እንዳሳሰብኩት፤ ባለቤት የሌለው ሃገርና ሕብረተሰብ የተሰረቀውን ለማስመለስ አይችልም። Unity and solidarity determine the capacity to take action. What would it take to make Ethiopians wake-up and do this?
An essential question we Africans who care ought to ask is this. Why do Western and other countries allow looted money to enter their banks and other financial institutions in the first place? Don’t expect an easy answer. Whether the US, the UK, Switzerland, Singapore, the Cayman Islands or Lichtenstein, self-interest dictates public policy. The key point is that caring and nationalist governments and organized and committed citizens can go after the thieves no matter how hard it may seem and no matter how long it may take. Theft and illicit outflow should not have a safe-haven anywhere in the world; especially in Western countries that profess that financial integrity is key to sustainability, peace and anti-terrorism. However, someone or a group must do the hard work to uncover and go after the thieves. No one will do it for us.
It is clear to this commentator that, similar to the rest of Africa, Ethiopia is bedeviled by institutionalized greed, theft and the squandering of precious natural resources such as farmlands, waters and minerals. Consequently, the system that created graft and corruption can’t be expected to go after itself. The one party state that allows Al Amoudi to sell more than one million tons of rice to Saudi Arabia while Ethiopians starve cannot correct itself. Readers should appreciate the notion that the country’s poor are deprived of more capital and natural resources than Ethiopia receives in benefits or retains in the form of monies. For every dollar retained Ethiopia loses ten dollars. I often wonder how much donors receive or return to their homelands or through payments to their own nationals out of the aid monies they give to Ethiopia and other poor nations. What we can say safely is that, in the same way that the rest of Africa “bleeds” from hegemony and plunder by multinational corporations, land grabbers and new elites that collaborate with them; Ethiopia faces an identical or worst case scenario of perpetual “bleeding.” This “bleeding” is a form of cancer and manifests itself in the form of nepotism, ethnic-based favoritism, graft, bribery, corruption, illicit outflow and the transfer of precious resources to the Saudis and others that is system driven. Tragically for Ethiopia’s poor and youth, the travesty and injustices are ignored and in some cases condoned by the donor community. In his highly acclaimed book, “The Global Power Elite and the World they are making,” David Rothkope put the injustices of globalization as follows. “The current global system seems, to many people, to be fundamentally unjust. The richer get much richer and the great majority of others (most are in Africa) struggle to remain in place.” The Saudi are richer; they use their riches to buy Ethiopian lands and waters and secure food for their own citizens while millions of Ethiopians go hungry each day. The system is patently unjust and unfair.
What we can do
Non one in his/her right mind expects the TPLF to honor the rule of law and allow the Ethiopian people to express their will through the ballot box. This doesn’t mean that, as another form of struggle, free and fair elections should not be tried. However, this does not negate the cardinal truth that we—those who wish to see a rule of law based, equitable, just and democratic Ethiopia– are our own enemies. We bark at the wrong thing all the time while the TPLF and its sponsors diminish our worth. For example, we fight one another on strategy to unseat the TPLF defining and bickering constantly that this option is better and correct than that option while Ethiopia is disintegrating before our eyes. Whether armed or peaceful resistance, there is ample room for mutual understanding and acceptance of one another as long as the purpose and destination are the same. The key is to force the TPLF/EPRDF to submit to the will of the Ethiopian people before the country Balkanizes even further. Only principled partnership, mutual cooperation and trust, formation of consortiums across ethnic, religious and demographic boundaries and solidarity among political, civic, faith and professional groups and intellectuals would save the country and pose enough risk to the TPLF. My personal preference is a country-wide peoples’ resistance including sit-ins, boycotts, demonstrations, silences and withholdings of remittances, aid and travel etc. on a sustainable basis regardless of the cost. I acknowledge the notion that others have a democratic right to choose their means of struggle to achieve the same objective. Regardless of the options, those who desire a transition towards a democratic government must decide to make the country ungovernable. And they should try to do this in unison. In the long-run, peoples’ resistance is a prudent basis in establishing durable democratic institutions. In the meantime, it is vital that we all refrain from demeaning, degrading, bad mouthing one another. We should not expect donors and foreign governments to save Ethiopia and to stand-up for Ethiopians. Ethiopia and Ethiopians have always been on their own. It is the same today.
The bottom line is this. Silence is no longer excusable. We can’t remain helpless and hopeless. At minimum, the rest of us who live in freedom, care and should care can acknowledge that the current system of globalization and its derivative FDI are skewed in favor of rich and developed countries, foreign investors, domestic elite collaborators and their allies who run most African states. At minimum we should acknowledge the fact that the TPLF has broken the bonds of the Ethiopian people and triggered an unstoppable trend of balkanization. We should acknowledge the fact that the country is bleeding from corruption and disenfranchisement of millions. The clearest exception to this tragedy of repressive government in Africa is Botswana. This country shows that a clean and democratic government advances welfare to the maximum; and reduces corruption to the lowest level. Botswana uses its natural resources to boost domestic capabilities and to improve life for its citizens.
As a feature of globalization, aid is not a free good. It is not non-partisan. In Ethiopia where there is absolutely no rule of law and where constitutional and democratic rights are suppressed as a matter of government policy, foreign aid serves as a tool of the single party state that is entrenched. Experts that have vested interests in the system tend to downplay the injurious aspects of aid, FDI and other features of globalization. For example, Ethiopia’s unique cultural degeneration—lack of respect for elders and mutual respect and acceptance of one another, lack of honesty, integrity, sharing, self-reliance, lack of recognition and appreciation for the sanctity of human life and Ethiopian identity, absence of love of country and its diverse people, the dangers of dispossession and forcible evictions etc. are among the worst feature of the patronage state and the global community that supports it. If aid and or FDI were successful, millions of Ethiopians won’t go hungry each night. The cultural values Ethiopians lose are irreplaceable and invaluable; as are resource transfers. Aid and FDI should not diminish these values; they should enrich them.
How aid is channeled makes a difference
I do not suggest that aid is altogether bad. It has lifted other countries such as war torn Germany and Korea into prosperity. But it needs guardians in the form of caring and responsible governments. Remember, aid is channeled through the federal government; and even when channeled through regional governments, the federal government controls it. The federal government means the TPLF. It is “their government” and not the government of all of the Ethiopian people. For this reason, aid operates within a “black hole” and is susceptible to misallocation, mis-distribution and corruption. There is no transparency, accountability or scrutiny on how, where and what it is used for. What we know is that it bankrolls the TPLF single party state and emboldens it to be more repressive and oppressive. What we know is that Ethiopians are suffering or “bleeding” from institutionalized misallocation of funds and illicit outflow. What we know is that Ethiopian farmlands and waters are being leased at the lowest possible prices possible for up to 99 years and without tangible social or economic benefits for Ethiopians. What we know is that there are no checks and balances in the system. What we know is that the donor community does not apply rigorous monitoring and does not call on the Ethiopia government to be accountable for results. In effect, the system is self-protective. It enriches a few who are well connected to the one party state. It recruits, entertains and pays handsome fees to foreign experts and converts them into cheerleaders. It has global and local cheerleaders because cheerleading has value. Cheerleaders benefit. It is not because there are no foreign or Ethiopian experts who see the reality on the ground. In fact, foreign experts are part of the problem in Africa and Ethiopia is no expectation. Kaufman confirms this. “I turned and saw Ivy League Africanists, European aid workers, politicians, prostitutes, gunrunners, helicopter pilots, diplomats from South Sudan, and careerists from WFP, UNHCR, and USAID–all of them well-fed, drunk, and dancing close to the water’s edge (in Gambella).” These and the thousands of other experts whose profession it is to “reduce poverty” and advance the welfare of Ethiopians do not see anything wrong with graft and theft, nepotism, corruption and illicit outflow, massive brain-drain and land grab by the Saudis and others.
Experts as cheerleaders
One cheerleader illustrates this point. On August 5, 2014, the former ambassador of the U.S. to Ethiopia, Tibor Nagy—like many of us an immigrant from communist dictatorship who should know better— complemented Ethiopia’s dictatorship and dismissed the opposition as “not serious. It is fractious, petty, selfish and generally irrelevant.” He did not pay Ethiopians the respect they deserve. The TPLF is the leading factor to the fractured, inept and “petty” opposition and for the imprisonment and expulsion of Ethiopia’s young generation of leaders. He did not say that the TPLF will never allow democracy to take roots in Ethiopia. The TPLF arrests young leaders and or forces them to flee the country. Ethiopia is left without leaders and economic movers not because it does not have educated and trained human capital. It has legions. This vacuum is filled by so-called experts whose primary preoccupation is their own welfare. The TPLF makes it inhospitable for Ethiopians to work for their country. It is quicker to issue a passport than issue a driver’s license.
Ambassador Nagy talks about Ethiopia’s “dynamic, young people experiencing unparalleled growth and incredible infrastructure, with a realistic shot at becoming a middle income country by 2025.” He fails to tell us that Ethiopia suffers from one of the worst cases of brain-drain and financial capital leakage in the world. It can’t feed itself. But it feeds Saudi Arabia. Its per capita income is a third of the Sub-Saharan African average. It is the worst jailer of journalists and so on. I agree with him that “Ethiopia is an ancient nation—and the only Sub-Saharan one to have developed through history and geography rather than by having colonizers drawing lines on a map that, in most cases, made little sense.” Does it make sense then to replace Ethiopians with foreign experts at a scale never seen in Ethiopian history? He says nothing about the budding of new and separate nations; or the new forms of colonialism that come under the pretext of globalization, FDI and aid and the war against terror. He says nothing about the human toll emanating from land grab. He belittles assaults on human dignity and freedoms by emboldening and endorsing the repressive state. He says practically nothing about ethnic federalism that is tearing this ancient country apart. He sees no distinction between the American form of federalism that is synergistic and the Ethiopian one that is polarizing. He says absolutely nothing about TPLF’s Apartheid system. Apology to the TPLF and belittling the root causes of instability and civil conflict won’t advance Ethiopia’s national interest; nor would it advance the interests of the U.S. Such a narrative and similar narratives by other foreign experts simply justify the unjustifiable. “Incredible infrastructure” does not feed the hungry or help the dispossessed in Gambella; nor would it hold together this ancient country that is falling apart. It isn’t unthinkable to imagine that some foreign powers would want small states to emerge out of Ethiopia’s fragmentation as long as their interests are protected.
A highly flawed aid narrative
The contention in this commentary is that Ethiopia’s famed aid narrative is completely flawed, partisan, self-serving, misguided and serves repression. It is not anchored in the welfare of the majority. Massive Official Development aid estimated at $40 billion to date has not enabled Ethiopian producers to achieve food security and self-sufficiency. This massive inflow grew from a low of $605 million in 1997 to a staggering $4 billion at the end of 2012. Knowledgeable sources say that the single most important trigger of the increase was “9/11.” America’s war against terror required friends and Meles’ government became a willing partner. Essentially, America’s war for which the TPLF is rewarded handsomely became Ethiopia’s war. Easterly put this succinctly, “Like historic examples of backing an autocrat (Mubarak, Pinochet, Mobutu, Moi, and Museveni) for foreign policy reasons, it was politically convenient for the U.S. and the U.K. to support Meles Zenawi as a reliable ally in the War on Terror.” British Department for International Development (DFID), USAID and the World Bank carried out their lead responsibilities for their constituencies by sending experts who articulated concepts and projects; and by funding projects and programs through the Ethiopian government. They bought Meles’ articulation that he is benevolent and cares for all Ethiopians. In Easterly’s view, “The idea of a benevolent autocrat (Meles) implementing expert advice to achieve great results in Ethiopia was already in place in 2005,” Ethiopia’s most democratic election. The assumption made then and now is that somehow the benefits of aid will trickle down to the poorest of the poor. That Saudi Star will feed Ethiopians. Ethiopia would then achieve “the East Asia miracle” without the participation of its population. Predictably, this did not happen. Why? Simply put, the development narrative is not people-based. It is essentially ethnic-elite based. People are in fact peripheral to this narrative.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has done more thorough and groundbreaking research on the reasons for exclusion and marginalization than anyone else. In “Development without Freedom,” October 9, 2010, HRW reported that the TPLF/EPRDF used donor monies to “intimidate, harass, blackmail and buy loyalty” from peasant farmers. It quotes affected individuals in vivid terms. “Every tool at their disposal—fertilizers, loans, safety net payments (a massive World Bank initiated program to protect the poor) including food—is being used to crush the opposition.” Ethiopians know that aid is used routinely and systematically to strengthen the ethnic-based federal state and its collection of beneficiaries to control, repress and plunder at a level not seen in the country’s history. The more aid flow the more repressive the TPLF/EPRDF regime has become. Repression entails enormous costs for the repressed, the society and the country. Repression, oppression and disempowerment suffocate human potential, deter productive capacity and inhibit Ethiopia from achieving sustainable and equitable development for all stakeholders. There is no way that Ambassador Nagy’s projection of middle income status can be achieved by 2025. This doesn’t mean there won’t be growth and or more millionaires.
In Easterly’s assessment, this self-serving system “Promotes lack of trust that in turn inhibits trade (mobility of capital and property rights) and facilitates more oppression. It entrenches a hereditary political and economic elite that blocks creative destruction (meaning constant structural reform) necessary for development.” This observation is backed by others, notably by HRW. Its 2010 report “How Aid Underwrites Repression in Ethiopia” provides compelling documentary evidence that Meles Zenawi and his team used “donor food relief” to punish the opposition and to buy loyalty. Similar to ODA monies, food aid is granted to the federal and regional governments on behalf of the Ethiopian people without any oversight from donors or independent third party institutions. “World Bank aid, British aid and U.S. aid not only fund forced relocation, they help pay the salaries of the brutal jailers of Eskinder Nega (Andualem Aragie and thousands of others). We can choose not to let our own governments and our own development agencies forget democracy; not to let them forget rights; not to let them forget Eskinder Nega (and thousands of others like him.” This is what we can do; we can advocate change much more vigorously than we have ever done before together.
It is tragic for Ethiopia that the institutions that in other countries advance sustainable and equitable development are the very ones that justify the current TPLF model of the developmental state. Dr. Jim Kim, the new President of the World Bank sees no harm that the TPLF state has crowded out and suffocated Ethiopia’s nascent domestic private sector. This sector is not even empowered to dominate Ethiopia’s modern commercial agriculture. Dr. Kim sees no harm that Ethiopia suffers from massive brain drain; corruption that the World Bank has surveyed twice in less than two years; illicit outflow of capital from food aid dependent Ethiopia, etc. He says, “Ethiopia’s transformation is due to a stable government that “pursues prudent economic policies and takes a long-term perspective.” I wonder if the World Bank is now saying that the repressive Ethiopian government that evicts indigenous people in Gambella and the Omo Valley; that permits its security forces to “kill, maim, rape, jail and expel citizens in the Ogaden;” that prompts ethnic cleansing in numerous parts of the country; and that transfers the country’s food supply to the Saudis; that closes political space etc. is “stable.” You can maintain temporary stability through repression. By this definition, Mubarak’s Egypt; Gadhafi’s Libya and others were stable when popular revolutions swept them away. I wonder if he is saying that transfer of Ethiopian ownership of lands to foreign land grabbers and massive flight of Ethiopia’s youth is a measure of farsightedness. I wonder if he is saying that state and party monopoly of more than 51 percent of the modern economy is an acceptable “long-term perspective.” I wonder if massive deficit financing that causes inflation and a heavy domestic public debt that would be unacceptable in Korea is acceptable in Africa etc. Whatever happened to the Bank’s mantra of equitable development, civic engagement, empowerment, accountability and transparency? Are Africans being treated as second class compared to East Asia and the Pacific, Eastern Europe and Latin America?
Democracy is inevitable
Easterly is right. “We understand that the autocrats have offered a false bargain to meet the material needs of the poor while we overlook their suppression of rights. The rights of the poor is needed than ever before” and that the donor community especially the World Bank, DFID and USAID should not continue to adhere to a flawed policy of development without rights. “Despite the trampling of rights by Western governments and development agencies, there are plenty of grounds for hope when we see how much the global change in freedom is positive anyway.” In much of the rest of the world “Both political and economic freedom are much more widespread than they were at the beginning of official development, or even than they were two decades ago.” This advancement in rights and freedom does not come freely. It is earned by people through civil or other resistance rather than through the positive contributions of donors and development agencies. It is clear that in Ethiopia and other parts of Africa donors prefer stability over rights. Democratic gains in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and the rest of the Arab world have been squashed by reactionary forces. “The trampling of rights by Western Governments and their development agencies” manifests itself in a pronounced way in African countries most prominently in Ethiopia. Some parts of Africa are making progress; while Ethiopia retrogresses.
In 2012, Freedom House reported that the number of African democracies increased from 2 in 1988 to 11 in 2012. It notes that “Ethiopia is ruled by a ruthless dictatorship;” yet receives the largest aid in Africa. The lesson of history is this. Tyranny is doomed to fail. The worry I have is that, unless civil and political opposition, professional groups, faith institutions, intellectuals and the rest create a sense of solidarity, the country may also fail. If this happens, the collateral damage for the Horn and for the West will be huge. The Ethiopian one party state is now our adductor, our tormentor and our disintegrator. It deploys “unrestrained” power not so much because it is omnipotent; but because the rest of us live in fear and let it “divide and rule us.” It gets away with impunity to suppress because the donor and diplomatic community bankrolls it; condone or tolerate it; and the rest of us became numb. The opposition gives this logic a reason because it is unable to set aside differences and present a compelling vision and a positive alternative for all Ethiopian stakeholders. This fracturing and ineptness aside, the donor and diplomatic community is now part of the problem Ethiopians face. Among other things it fails to appreciate that the dictatorial regime in Ethiopia is and will remain to be “the enemy” of sustainable and equitable development. It bears lead responsibility for Ethiopia’s disintegration.
Why not back words with deeds?
I agree with President Obama’s statement in Ghana in 2009 that “Africa needs strong institutions and not strong men” and with his plea to African leaders at the U.S.-Africa Summit in August 2014 that “even though leaders don’t like it, the media plays a crucial role in assuring people that they have the proper information to evaluate the policies that their leaders are pursing and that nations that uphold these rights and principles will ultimately be more prosperous and more economically successful.” I am sure the President for whom thousands of Ethiopian-Americans voted knows that Ethiopians are deprived of “strong institutions” and press freedom that will provide the public unbiased and unfiltered information. Access to information is a fundamental human right. It is a powerful tool in advancing the rule of law, human rights and the democratization process. In the long-term, freedom of the press and civic engagements are more critical than the aid Americans provide to Ethiopia. The President could have taken the opportunity to inform Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn that future American aid will be conditioned on human rights and the rule of law. He could have informed him in a private setting that Hailemariam’s government must respect rights and press freedom; open political space to avert civil unrest and advance the democratization process; that he should release journalists and other political prisoners from prison; and that he should desist from using the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation to ‘terrorize’ innocent people who demand justice and the rule of law. The Government of the United States knows full well that Ethiopia faces an imminent danger of collapse and civil conflict. The vast majority of the population does not trust or respect the TPLF/EPRDF leadership to do the right thing for the right reason. Its definition of right and wrong is ethnicized and politicized. It is thus narrow and self-serving.
Secretary of State John Kerry says the right thing too; but has not provided teeth to U.S. policy with regard to Ethiopia. At the Summit he said this. “When people can trust their government and rely on its accountability and transparency, that society flourishes and is more prosperous and more stable than others.” Our government (I am referring to myself as an American citizen; the TPLF refused to renew my passport and or return the old one), is the largest bilateral donor to Ethiopia. Secretary of State Kerry knows that U.S. food aid has done nothing to make Ethiopia self-sufficient and food secure. Whether one looks at it from the rights side or the social side, the vast majority of Ethiopians are losing. Ethiopian farmers produce 90 percent of the country’s food needs; the gap is 10 percent. It is this gap that donors, especially the U.S. fills each and every year. The FAO estimates that the Amhara region produces 20 percent more than it consumes. The Oromo region produces 600,000 tons of surplus food. Yet, millions of Ethiopians in both regions starve. Why wouldn’t the U.S. buy this surplus and pressure the Ethiopian government to distribute it to those who need it instead of buying and shipping U.S. farm surplus to Ethiopia? In effect, Ethiopia and the rest of Africa are still treated “as dustbins of the world.” In 1999-2000, USAID sent 500,000 tons of untested maize to Ethiopia. OXFAM America reported numerous times that “The emergency programs are not the “solution” to Ethiopia’s recurrent food crisis but the cause of famine in Ethiopia.”
In his well-researched book, “Globalization of Poverty and the New World Order” Michel Chossudovsky of Canada tells us that food aid dumping and “food aid (in general) is sometimes used to capture markets” and not to solve the structural and policy roots that cause hunger. I have argued in the past and suggest again that hunger is not caused by weather conditions. Ethiopia enjoys varied climate and good weather, rains and ample water. Therefore, hunger is caused primarily by poor policies and programs. Food aid masks the problem for reasons that have to do with U.S. and other donor and investor interests and access to markets. In “Food Aid: a critical program, ripe for reform,” March 5, 2014, OXFAM America reports that “Our current food aid program requires the purchase and shipment of U.S. sourced food to locations around the world and is both outdated and inefficient.” Clearly, food aid helps American farmers while keeping Ethiopians dependent. It is no secret that other famine-stricken countries such as China and India have overcome famine by investing heavily into modernized smallholder farming. The report says that “Food handouts are not the long-term answer to Ethiopia.” In 2001, OXFAM reported that “91 percent of humanitarian aid to Ethiopia has been food; and only 0.14 percent of aid was used to avert future food shortages.” This policy should have been reversed in order to remove the policy and structural causes of famine and hunger.
If the same policy of food aid was used in India, the country would have not survived. The U.S. Government and foundations such as Ford invested heavily in India’s Green Revolution. Africa and especially food aid dependent Ethiopia need their own green revolution. America can help to make this happen. While I acknowledge that food aid to famine-stricken Ethiopians has saved lives, the current moral argument of feeding the hungry instead of making them self-reliant does no longer hold 23 years after the U.S. begun pumping billions of dollars of humanitarian and development aid to the ruling party. It has in fact made Ethiopia more dependent than ever before. Ethiopia’s smallholders should not be hostages to a repressive regime; and to a donor community that shows no genuine commitment for the urgent need of unleashing the productive capacity of Ethiopians by Ethiopians. Indians, Chinese, Vietnamese and others have done it; Ethiopians can too. “Band Aide and beyond: 25 years after the great famine, what have we learned” by OXFAM tells us this. “In 1984, one million Ethiopians died during a catastrophic famine. But drought still costs Ethiopia roughly $1.1 billion a year—almost eclipsing the total overseas assistance (net inflow) to the country that year.” What is required on the part of the Ethiopian government and donors, especially the U.S., the largest bilateral donor, is the political will to change. It is unlikely that the Ethiopian government will change willingly. It controls the rural population and has forced the population to serve its political longevity. It is the rest of us who should push with vigor together.
So, it is not enough for the President of the U.S. and the Secretary of State to tell us what we know—that democratic countries prosper and dictatorships do not. It is hypocritical. Ethiopians have been fighting for democratic governance for more than 40 years. One dictatorship has replaced another. What donors and governments who care about Ethiopia’s future need to do is not offer platitudes any more. It is to provide teeth to what they say. For example, they can condition all aid on the Ethiopian government’s willingness to respect human rights, freedoms and the rule of law now. They can channel their monies directly to the beneficiaries and usher in a new era of Ethiopian smallholder-led green revolution. If it was good for India; it should be good for Africa too. Ethiopians and other Africans deserve it. Africans can and should claim the 21st century not under the terms of old and new colonial powers but on their own terms. For this to occur, Africans need to speak with the one voice—freedom to choose their leaders. Africans should demand accountability from their respective governments, the donor and NGO community and governments that sponsor them. Can we Ethiopians take the lead?
Donors can’t afford to dismiss social justice if they expect stability and peace
Africans can contain and defeat terrorism. But not if they continue to be poor and dependent on aid and FDI over which they have no control. Not if dictators continue to rule them. In my estimation, social justice, political, religious, social and economic freedom are quintessential for sustainability, equity, stability and harmony in Ethiopia and the rest of Africa. A governing party that politicizes emergency food aid and terrorizes its own people under the guise of anti-terrorism can’t be just or fair or equitable. We have seen over and over again in Ethiopia that even food aid has lost its social and humanitarian meaning and purpose. It is highly politicized. If food aid cannot serve its primary objective of saving lives; it cannot be expected to achieve its secondary objective of reducing poverty and boosting the capabilities of the poor.
To summarize, this fundamental flaw in the provision of funds in the form of all sorts of aid to a dictatorship shows that the donor community has lost the moral courage to live up to its own values of fairness, justice, equity and improving the lives of the poor. It has in fact become part of the problem and the social effects are immense. They will have multigenerational effects.
Enormous social costs
Ethiopia’s impressive infrastructural growth aside, per capita income is a third of the Sub-Saharan African average. Ethiopia has one of the worst cases of income inequality in the world. Ironically, the Guardian reported in April, 2014 that the number of Ethiopian millionaires rose from 1,300 in 2007 to 2,700 in 2013. Millionaires are growing faster than the middle class. This statistical fact reinforces Meles’ notion that there is no “connection between democracy and development.” How is it possible or justifiable for donors to buy into this development thesis that is not people-based and that will cause disintegration of ancient Ethiopia? At minimum, donors and governments ought to recognize and defend the notion that democratic governance enables the society to grow its middle class. People with rights can negotiate; but people who are suppressed can’t. The model of growth engineered by Meles, accepted as a successor story by donors and investors; and followed by Prime Minister Hailemariam is so detached from the real hopes and needs of the vast majority that it has become a norm in Ethiopia for generals to become wealthy while millions go hungry each day. The developmental state does not really care. Generals ensure longevity. It does not care if millions more Ethiopians leave the country. The TPLF mantra of “power or death” justifies the merger of ethnic elite politics, government, state and institutions such as defense, federal police, intelligence and security, the judiciary and so on into a seamless machine. This merger is essential for the system to survive. This is the reason why the military is not detached from politics. The gains that accrue for top generals are substantial. The cost to the society are enormous. The appropriate response to a seamless dictatorship that suppresses the vast majority is to create an equally strong solidarity among the opposition and the people. William Adam of Battlestar Galactica put the danger of not separating and defining the respective roles of institutions of any country this way. “There’s a reason you separate the military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state; the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people.” In Ethiopia, both the federal police and the military serve the ruling party, often against the people they are supposed to help.
High officials in the military, federal police, intelligence and security command high unofficial income and perks; own high-rises and villas that they rent; and are largely tax exempt. A poor and food aid dependent Ethiopia has 150 generals, more than 90 percent Tigrean. The Development Bank of Ethiopia provides hundreds of millions of loans to generals and other high officials to build “lavish rental high-rises and buildings and palatial homes.” Recently, the “army command decided that it cannot be audited. Against this staggering social injustice and income inequality that the seamless state runs Oxfam reports that “Ethiopia ranks 123rd of 125 worst fed countries in the world.” The UN World Food Program estimates that “14 million Ethiopians are at risk and 10 million in constant need of emergency food aid. Ethiopia continues to score low in human development. It ranks 5th of 10 countries with the highest adult illiteracy rate; and only 30 percent of females in rural areas can read and write.” The educational system is among the most mediocre in Africa.
This is among the most compelling reasons why I contend that aid, FDI and other aspects of globalization are part of the problem. Donors and governments that sponsor them must decide to be part of the solution by siding with the vast majority of Ethiopians who want freedom, the rule of law and democracy more than alms.