A difficult pair- the economist
JUST as a meeting of east African heads of states was delayed due to difficulties accommodating Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s pariah president, two new reports have cast still more unfavourable light on the governments of Sudan and Ethiopia. The long-anticipated referendum on independence for southern Sudan, scheduled for January 9th 2011 is the focus of “Race Against Time”, by the Rift Valley Institute, a non-profit research organisation operating in the region. With optimism that the vote would proceed smoothly already waning in the face of overwhelming secessionist sentiment in the south, and equally overwhelming denial of such sentiment in the north, Aly Verjee, the author, goes a step further. Delays and disputes in planning for the vote, and their likely effect on the credibility of the process could, he says, end up reigniting the civil war that had become Africa’s longest when it ended it 2005, with 2.5m people killed and many more displaced over two decades.
With less than ten weeks until the referendum, the report argues that “the self-determination process is in peril.” Disputes over voter eligibility, registration and border demarcation between the two main political forces—the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM) in the south and the National Congress Party (NCP) in the north—mean the likelihood of the vote taking place on time within the agreed laws is small. Yet postponement would be dangerous: the SPLM fiercely opposes any deferral, interpreting (probably correctly) the NCP’s stalling as an attempt to derail the process, or to cast doubt on the credibility of the predicted outcome—that the south will vote to secede.
Unpromising terrain to make recommendations from, but the institute does so nonetheless, calling for a new deal between the SPLM and the NCP that recognises that it is too late to hold the vote in strict accordance with the laws, and that parks some issues—such as physical border demarcation—until later. The referendum commission needs to act “with unprecedented speed” in order to overcome the logistical hurdles to hold a vote.
How likely is this? It would assume goodwill on both sides. But the report also points out that “lessons need to be learned” from the conduct of the presidential election in April. The SPLM may smile wryly at the NCP’s pledge that they will accept the referendum result only on the basis of a “free and fair” process. The institute is forthright about the scale of the task ahead but is motivated most of all by a need to focus minds, within Sudan and without, on what is at stake. “At this final stage, brinkmanship, delay and broken agreements…threaten to turn the political and technical challenges into a national disaster. Only concerted international attention and skilful diplomacy can bring the process of self-determination in Sudan to a successful conclusion.”
With Sudan, international expectations have long been low. A report on Ethiopia, from New-York based Human Rights Watch (HRW), indicates how far a country’s halo can slip. Once upon a time, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) led by Meles Zenawi, the prime minister, was hailed as part of a new democratic dawn in Africa. The country became an “aid darling” for the West. Yet today, after suppression of opposition following the election in 2005 and a rigged poll earlier this year, life in Ethiopia is more akin to the days of the “Derg” regime, overthrown by the EPRDF in 1991.
Ethiopia, desperately poor, remains one of the largest recipients of foreign development aid—some $3 billion annually. HRW argues that the aid has become subject to “political capture”, with the doling out of donor funds at local level used “to control the population, punish dissent, and undermine political opponents—both real and perceived.” HRW reached its findings after a six-month investigation in the second half of 2009, which ended with Ben Rawlence, its researcher, being deported.
The Ethiopian population, says HRW, “pays a heavy approach for this approach to development.” But its ire is focused on the donors as well as the Ethiopian government. Speaking in London at the report’s launch, Mr Rawlence pointed out that development agencies—such as Britain’s DFID—recognised the harm the government’s actions caused, but turned a blind eye, because of policy that governments themselves “own” aid policy. Monitoring mechanisms which focus on fiscal controls simply did not detect the politicisation of aid.
Such a situation poses a familiar dilemma for donors: aid is often misused, but stopping aid harms people in recipient countries. HRW is not calling for this. Instead, it calls on donors to acknowledge the politicisation of aid “across the board” in Ethiopia and to work together in bringing pressure on Ethiopia’s government when the current country assistance strategy expires in 2011. Easier said than done perhaps, but very necessary, especially if donors are to adhere to their own belief that “aid is most effective when defined by accountability and transparency.” Ethiopia, says HRW, is “a case study of contradiction in aid policy.”