Ethiopia: Aid as a Weapon by Leslie Lefkow ( Human Rights Watch )

October 26th, 2010 Print Print Email Email

Many western officials who manage international aid cite Ethiopia as an example of how assistance from donors like Canada can help African nations escape poverty. The reality is far more complicated – and far more cruel.

A recent Human Rights Watch report reveals that Ethiopia’s repressive government has put foreign aid to a sinister purpose, with officials in Ethiopia’s ruling party using their power to give or deny financial assistance to citizens based on their political affiliation. Perhaps even more shocking, international donors appear to expend more energy pretending these abuses don’t exist than trying to address them.

The depth of the need of many poor Ethiopians is hard to dispute, and there is little doubt that the 3 billion CAD Ethiopia receives annually in donor assistance has brought help to the people of that country. In 2009 Ethiopia was selected as one of the Canadian International Development Agency’s 20 preferred countries, and it has received more than 400 million CAD from Canada over the past few years. Many of the programs that receive donor assistance seek to tackle the harshest impacts of poverty head-on, through food-for-work programs or by providing much-needed resources like food, seeds and fertilizers to needy farmers.

There is nothing wrong with the goals of these programs. But donors have implemented them in ways that can only be described as indefensibly – and in some cases deliberately – naive.

In recent years, the Ethiopian government has carried out a meticulous campaign of intimidation, harassment and abuse that has managed to silence most of the government’s independent opposition. Foreign aid has become one of the government’s most effective tools in suppressing and punishing criticism. Human Rights Watch’s research found that local officials often deny assistance to people they perceive as political opponents – including many who are not actually involved in politics at all. Impoverished farmers know they risk losing access to aid which their livelihoods depend on if they speak out against abuses in their communities. Most respond by staying quiet; aid discrimination has made freedom of speech a luxury many Ethiopians quite literally cannot afford.

Much of Canada’s development aid funds a justice reform project in Ethiopia and it’s a case in point. In the course of Human Rights Watch’s investigation we met with several trainee judges who were suspended from their training and blacklisted from getting any public sector jobs after they raised concerns about the way in which the judicial training was used to indoctrinate students and coerce them into joining the ruling party. As one of the trainees put it, “Three times the trainers told us publicly to join the EPRDF [ruling party]. They want every judge to be a member of the party and they want you to do what they say, not what the law says.”

Publicly, international donors argue that human rights cannot be shoved aside because rights and sustainable development are inextricably linked. But in Ethiopia this is only rhetoric. Donors have not just failed to stop their aid from being used as an instrument of repression, they haven’t really tried. Some donor officials argue privately that Ethiopia should be allowed to pursue development without freedom – a position that is completely out of line with the principles their agencies use to justify their hefty budgets. Other donor officials say they worry that the Ethiopian government might not accept their assistance if they insist that it not be misused – an absurd argument that turns logic on its head.

Canada is one of Ethiopia’s largest bilateral donors and Canadian officials should not continue sitting quietly by while Ethiopian government officials use foreign assistance to abuse poor Ethiopians.

Taxpayers cannot be asked to underwrite aid programs that are used as tools of repression.

CIDA has said it is “deeply concerned” by the Human Rights Watch report. If so, the right first steps are clear. Canada should be much more vocal in pushing to make sure aid is not used as a weapon to fight dissent, and programs that provide direct budget support to the Ethiopian government should be off the table altogether. All aid programs in Ethiopia should be independently monitored – a sensible measure that donors have no legitimate reason to resist.

Leslie Lefkow is senior Horn of Africa researcher for Human Rights Watch.

  1. Hlina
    | #1

    May I respectfully request Abugida to convey my heartfelt gratitude to the writer and her colleagues for speaking out the truth!

    I know they consider it their mission to speak about Human Rights violations but the way Ethiopia and its citizens have been treated over the last few years and continue to be treated by the Western world makes me consider the HRW effort particularly heroic!

    As for the so called Development Assistance Group (DAG) in Addis Ababa and the Western governments acting as if they have no idea the brutal regime is using their money to abuse its citizens and entrench itself, I would simply say let your conscious (if you have one) judge you!

    I know the whole world recognises the members of the so called ‘DAG’ in Ethiopia as silent partners of the dictatorial regime there but in case there are few who are doubting this, let me quote a couple of sentences from a study produced in August 2006 by Kay Sharp (Overseas Development Institute London, UK), Taylor Brown (The IDL Group Ltd Bristol, UK) and Amdissa Teshome (A-Z Capacity Building Consult Addis Ababa, Ethiopia)entitled TARGETING ETHIOPIA’S PRODUCTIVE SAFETY NET PROGRAMME (PSNP)

    The timing of the Safety Net’s inception also made it possible for the PSNP to be used as a political resource both before and after the elections.
    Unquote (Page 50)

    When one local informant was asked if targeting was used to reward or punish political support, he replied: ‘why do you ask such a question when it is revealed by the sun…it is clear, as clear as day.’ (Tsehaye yemokew)
    Unquote (Page 50)

    There are several studies with similar observations and conclusions if one cares to pay attention to the plight of the poor in Ethiopia. I cannot tell you how painful it was to see the press release by the so called ‘DAG’ where they claimed they cannot establish whether this is going on in the country. President Obama, Prime Minster Cameron as well as Chancellor Angela Merkel should be ashamed of what their representatives and aid agencies are doing to the Ethiopian people!

    Ethiopia shall be free soon!

  2. Anonymous
    | #2

    I just wonder how The ethiopian people cant get a leader who concern for people and the country how came most of the oposition leaders been except brtucan god bless her it’s very Disterbing and shame on them I hope soon we ll get a real leader like brtukan who makes us free from agazi meles and western ignorant

  3. aha!
    | #3

    Most of the report relevant to the core issues in Ethiopia come from human rights watch and or foreign correspondents, depite the fact they have little grasp of ethnic and secessionist politics and /or policies in Ethiopia, laced with socialistic ideology of the liberation movements as regards oppression of the nations and nationalities instead of class struggle for the masses. Nor do they want to touch upon it because it is an internal matter and internal conflict into the souls of Ethiopians that Ethiopians alone could resolve. As regards non-humanitarian aid, it is not set up following immediate relief to alleviate hunger not as food for work program, but direct help based on need and the food security program borders on being ineffective to say bluntly, because it did not have the correct projects/or programs to go with it like a revitilization projects in the central and Northern highlands and other farmlands of Ethiopia in a more tangibele fashion and perhaps tied in with food for work program in the work to be performed in the project, but with the principle of “Teach a person how to fish he will feed for a life time, and give a person a fish and he will feed himself for a da”, to say the least these foods are bulky commodities, the tranportation alone are exorbitant and takes resources to prepare it let alone carry to to individual sites, instead of being produced on individual sites and locally on a massive irrigation projects and transporatation with sustainable aid funding programs.

    Add to that add the inability of the donor nations to track and monitor the effectiveness of the humanitarian aid and perhaps development programs to say the least their tax money is used for repression of Ethiopians, let alone the principle stated above and the the ineffective prevaing programs like food for work and food security programs.
    and for recruitment of cadres and members of TPLF/eprdf regime.

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