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    « 2010 Corruption Report For 178 Countries | Main | CDC Report: More Than 1 In 4 American High School Students & Young Adults Binge Drink »

    World Bank Turns A Blind Eye As It's $3 Billion Aid To Ethiopia Is Abused

    Last week Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a 105-page report on how the extensive financial support given to the Ethiopian government by the Western world via the World Bank is unfortunately helping to support the dictatorial regime led by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). Ethiopia receives one of the largest financial aid packages in the world. The money is directly given to the government, both at the federal and district level. The funds are intended to eradicate poverty, hunger and support the Ethiopian people in dire need of such aid. However the distribution of the aid is left mostly up to the EPRDF, which selectively gives aid only to those who are government loyalists.

    Image Source:Wikicommons

    Here's an excerpt from the HRW report: "Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world. Half of Ethiopia’s 85 million people live below the poverty line, and 10 to 20 percent rely on food aid every year. A large percentage of the population needs government assistance in the form of food, seeds, fertilizer, and cash support. 

    Ethiopia is also one of the world’s largest recipients of foreign development aid. It receives approximately US$3 billion in funds annually—more than a third of the country’s annual budget—from external donors, including the World Bank, the United States, the European Commission, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Canada, and Japan. Indeed, Ethiopia is today the world’s second-largest recipient of total external assistance, after Indonesia and excluding wartime Iraq and Afghanistan.

    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. In a meeting with Human Rights Watch in December 2009, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi denied that there was a policy of using government services to discriminate against the opposition and punish dissent. Civil servants who were interviewed separately by Human Rights Watch contradicted him.

    Ethiopia’s foreign donors are aware of this discrimination, but have done little to address the problem or tackle their own role in underwriting government repression. As a result, Ethiopia presents a case study of contradiction in aid policy. Donors acknowledge that aid is most effective when defined by accountability and transparency, and when programs are participatory. But development agencies have turned a blind eye to the Ethiopian government’s repression of civil and political rights, even though they recognize these rights to be central to sustainable socioeconomic development.

    Donors defend the decision to support the government by pointing to Ethiopia’s stability—particularly when compared to neighboring Somalia—and by highlighting the country’s progress in meeting development indicators. Some donor officials also argue that broad economic progress outweighs individual political freedoms. Frequently, they also concede that existing monitoring programs are simply not able to track the political manipulation of donor-supported services. The Ethiopian population pays a heavy price for this approach to development."

    PM Zenawi, Image Source:Wiki

    HRW gives examples in the report of the funds (from World Bank's aid package) being used in some areas to encourage people to join the ruling party (EPRDF). The 'food-for-work', 'cash-for-work' programs being exploited and used only for the benefit of those who have either joined the EPRDF or pledge to do so. HRW gives a sad story of a villager and his cachectic child as an example, who are both shunned from all aid because of the father's vocal criticism of the EPRDF. No one will hire him. His land has been reduced by the village authorities. When he went to enroll in the food-for-work program, he was denied. He was told that he could get help (food) if he wrote a 'letter of regret' (apologizing for his previous criticism of the government), and join the EPRDF. Unfortunately he is just one of many who have to live through such hell. 

    HRW further adds, "The sensitivity of this issue, and of any independent reporting in Ethiopia, was demonstrated when Human Rights Watch tried to interview farmers from the northern Tigray region who alleged that they were not allowed to participate in the food-for-work program for political reasons. When Ethiopian government officials learned about the meetings, the farmers were detained and the researcher deported. A foreign journalist who tried to interview the same farmers was also detained and threatened with deportation."

    Over the past few years, when the violence perpetrated by the EPRDF has become too obvious to ignore (like during the 2005 elections when 200 people were killed and more than 30,000 were arrested by the EPRDF) the World Bank sporadically threatened to withdraw or reduce it's aid to Ethiopia. But such threats either don't materialize or even if they do, the aid miraculously returns to previous levels and sometimes becomes even more robust within just few months.

    One of the main reasons for this is that the West is afraid that if it withdraws aid to Ethiopia, Addis Ababa will turn to China for the same aid. Beijing is turning out to be one of the biggest players in the African continent. China doesn't give a hoot about human rights, and has no qualms supporting other autocracies for it's selfish gains. HRW concludes, "(Western) Donors are in a bind. They fear that if they push Ethiopia too hard, it may turn toward China's no-strings money. But continuing to write checks in the face of Ethiopia's increasing authoritarianism runs counter to donors' own policies, which state that human rights are central to sustainable development."

    ~ Gauri

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