March 26th, 2011 Print Print Email Email

How Germany comes into the picture

I took on this issue to share my take on the news coverage of the review undertaken by the German parliamentary Committee on Economic Cooperation and Development of Ethio-German cooperation that took place in mid-March. The committee’s work came against the backdrop of extensive discussions between Ethiopia and Germany during the visit to Ethiopia by Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Dirk Niebel’s in the first half of January 2011.

Mr Niebel was accompanied by a 40-member delegation. Among others, it included parliamentarian Thilo Hoppe, deputy chairman of the above-mentioned committee, who also happened to be actively involved at the forefront of the above-mentioned review, stressing the need for serious engagement in Berlin using respect for human rights as a criterion. Also included in the delegation were other parliamentarians, business community members and representatives of civil society organizations.

During his four-day stay in Ethiopia, Minister Niebel visited German supported projects in Tigrai, Dire Dawa and Harar. Unlike his colleague’s in the delegation, Minister Dirk Niebel is reported to be satisfied with his field visits. On the surface, it was learnt, official interactions were diplomatic and polite, but not wholly smooth with touchy issues raised and the recipient country’s responses dodgy, reportedly giving rise to some distrust by some members of the delegation.

The purpose of the visit, according GIC, was to enable the donor country to impact assessment of its financial and technical support to Ethiopia, as per the terms of the development cooperation agreement between the two countries. In the past three years, the two have cooperated in three priority areas:

(a) a bi-pillar sustainable economic development scheme, aiming at creating new jobs and income generating opportunities for the fast-growing population. The Germans have packaged this as a means by which they help gear the country toward industrialisation. The other is support for education sector.

(b) The second one is sustainable land management. The Germans see it as capacity building to enhance productivity; and

(c) Urban development and decentralisation, among others, Germany is to focus on 15 cities and towns with the aim of “setting up markets, abattoirs, roads, waste disposal and drainage systems. Funds also go towards training and advice for public authorities and their staff.”

To achieve these objectives, in the past three years—by its estimate—Germany has provided €96 million as its development aid to Ethiopia. Nonetheless, there is no clear indication of how much of it is tied aid, meaning the amount charged as overhead cost—the percentage of these funds that is paid to German consultants and as salaries for their field staff and the import of German goods. A study presented to Aid Conference places Germany at fourth place in the amount it spends on overhead—especially staff costs. It is also one country whose percentage of its aid transparency is only at the 75-percentage level, according to Claudia R. Williamson, the author of Fixing Failed Foreign Aid: Can Agency Practices Improve?

German funding for Ethiopia is split into two components: a package of €54 million for financial cooperation and €42 million for technical cooperation. Financial cooperation is a strain of a rechristened direct budget support. In the German case, ‘investments’ frequently employed, for instance, in education, infrastructure and health or agriculture. Government is implied to have the say where to use the funds. However, a major difference as it is from direct budget support, implementation is carried out “in close coordination with other German or international development cooperation activities.” BMZ defines the overall objective of the technical cooperation aid package as enabling poorer population groups to improve their conditions.

In the coming few years, Germany is likely to play a bigger role in Ethiopia. For this reason, it badly needs to showcase Ethiopia as its success story in Africa. In Ethiopia, the German technical cooperation office is the largest anywhere in the developing world. The overall objective is to attain higher market share in a region that is lauded as having bright prospects in its economic future. This view is also shared by guidelines of the German foreign policy

German foreign policy is oriented to global values: respect for human rights, democracy, the rule of law, peaceful resolution of conflicts/international jurisdiction.
As a major export nation we are dependent on a secure, functioning system of world trade. This presupposes peace, security and stability. Environmental and climate protection is a priority because we want to ensure that this world remains a good place for future generations too. We need equal partners who are confident but also tolerant: that’s why we promote education and the willingness of civil societies to engage in dialogue, and that’s why we seek to establish conditions in which prosperity can be created and fairly distributed. We are securing our energy supply by helping to open doors for German companies in Africa as well.”

Could Germany live up to its foreign policy tenets in a balanced manner, as indicated above?
The possibility is there, with the growing pressure for reform in Ethiopia within the ranks of German politicians, civil society organizations and the public at large. In August 2010, the ARD national television in its Fakt programme had reportage on the worsening human rights violations in Ethiopia, that years of indifference by the rest of the world has turned the country into a single party state, at a time when the world is moving into pluralism. In that programme, the ARD questioned why the federal government continues to throw away public funds in support of a government that has made the country hell for its citizens.

After watching that programme, citizen Huper Neudeck gave his testimony as the latest addition to the list of German human right activists, fully engaged now in lobbying the government for action. He says, “I can’t understand how the German Federal Gov. continues to work with this regime. This should be stopped immediately.” The ARD also agreed stating that this should be taken up in the discussion on the German Africa policy. The sense is that the rising tide of popular clamour for democracy and respect for fundamental human rights in North Africa and the Middle East has added to public support.

People cite now Germany’s professed policies on human rights, as it appears on the webpage of the federal ministry for economic cooperation and development. It clearly states:

Human rights remain a problematic issue. There are regular reports of arbitrary arrests for example. The judicial system is overstretched and not sufficiently robust to guarantee legal security. This not only deters potential foreign investors, but also prevents numerous local entrepreneurs from realising their business ideas. Despite a constitutional ban on discrimination, women’s rights in Ethiopia are not consistently upheld. In addition, press and civil society freedoms have recently been curtailed. For example, restrictive laws have been adopted with regard to the media and the work of non-governmental organisations. Obstacles placed in the way of opposition parties also suggest that the government is using every available means to shore up its hold on power. There are frequent incidents of unrest in Ethiopia, caused by militant liberation movements, which the government regards as terrorist organisations.

For now, in spite of this, the clamour by politicians and the public, Minister Niebel’s preoccupation seems to have focussed only on the second pillar of German interests in Africa—a market for its products. Therefore, he has promised €115 million in the coming three years.

At the same time, his visit has also exposed to the world what has so far been wrong in the Ethiopian political environment, to which Germany can no longer afford to close its eyes. For parliamentarians from the different political parties and civil society organizations, the focus is not the self serving future German strategy in Africa, but also the here and now, whether German funding should continue to bankroll repression and human sufferings. The Ethiopian regime’s consistent denials of any such charges have failed to allay the fears and concerns of Ethiopia’s friends on behalf of Ethiopians, whose voices have been muzzled.

After what he saw first hand at the field level, Minister Derik Niebel on 18 January could not skip the need to serve cautionary notice, underlying which are his misgivings about those issues. After all, he had heard first hand from Mr Hoppe, his parliamentary colleague and the deputy chairman of the economic cooperation committee, when he was upfront with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, raising all the thorny issues. Not surprisingly the prime minister dismissed the charges as concoction of his opponents, only to earn the distrust of the visiting delegates. Mr Niebel was compelled to sideswipe the issues in generalities, in an unwilling attempt to find common ground with his colleague. He was quoted by GIC stating, “It is also very important [for Ethiopia] to strengthen civil society and to create more scope for the private sector. Ethiopia must ensure that all citizens enjoy access to government services, free from discrimination.”

This to some degree ties with the questions Mr Thilo Hoppe raised with the prime minister (VOA interview, 22 March). These included the issues of discriminatory treatment of citizens, as practiced by the ruling party in respect of education and training opportunities to bolster his party, even with German funding. The other is displacement of citizens on account of land grabbing by foreign investors.

Sadly, some of the displaced by farm grabbing are not only those regime claims it is trying to help them change their primitive way of life. But it has also affected those that were already resettled in Gambela years ago after escaping the famine affected parts of Ethiopia and are used to farming. There is no better evidence to show clearly the extent to which our citizens have been mistreated and humiliated than selling of our country block by block to foreign investors, as the Guardian’s John Vidal’s href=”“>Here video and the heart rending tragedy shown on YOUTUBE have established.

That is why Mr Hoppe’s statement was quoted predicting the looming danger in Ethiopia: “The thundering voices that now refuse their continued deprivation of democracy and violation of their human rights is not limited to the Arab world only. This condition is also simmering in Ethiopia” (unofficial translation).

The donor matrix

When a donor gives aid, there are always strings attached, as we saw it above. Especially when the opposition is weak, as fragmented as it is in Ethiopia, the donor community emphasizes the peace and stability angle for the Horn of Africa. Such consistent responses by diplomacy have also bothered the respected European political scientist Dominique Moisi, the author of The Geopolitics of Emotion. He examined the issue in the context of why diplomacy failed to foresee or handle the popular revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, once it erupted. He attributes this to the fallibility of the autopilot response, of which he observed:
Why do revolutions so often take professional diplomats by surprise? Is there something in their DNA that makes them prefer the status quo so much that, more often than not, they are taken aback by rapid changes, neither foreseeing them nor knowing how to respond once they begin? … Revolutionary ruptures upset diplomats’ familiar habits, both in terms of their personal contacts and, more importantly, in terms of their thinking. A fast-forward thrust into the unknown can be exhilarating, but it is also deeply frightening. In the name of “realism,” diplomats and foreign-policy strategists are naturally conservative.
(Blind, Project Syndicate, 28 Source: The Diplomacy of the February 2011)

What is wrong with the media in Ethiopia today?

This piece is not aimed at criticizing the journalists per se, accusing them of lack professionalism or integrity. Even if they all were graduates of famous and internationally recognized schools of journalism, the situation would not be any different under the policies of the present regime. The evil lies within the architects and their policies that work against the country and its citizens. This is because the current leaders are only concerned with them dying in power and ensuring dynastic control, instead of power becoming an expression of the will of the people.

In thinking of the media as an institution, one would naturally expect the media in Ethiopia to serve the public interest—to inform, educate and facilitate the participation of citizens in the affairs of the nation. Unfortunately, even by the standards of Sub-Saharan Africa, the Ethiopian media is designed to be typically Orwellian in deeds and character. It is good at praising the leaders, even when they are wrong, spill blood and wallow in corruption, covering up their misdeeds and unjust actions. They bedevil with falsehoods those opposed to the regime and hound those that do not support it. What then is national about it?
Today, Ethiopia today finds itself at the end of the second decade, since the media has altogether betrayed the nation and the people’s aspiration for democracy under the leadership of the TPLF and a government that has become the antithesis of democracy. I am not implying here that before the TPLF-led EPRDF Ethiopia had free press or was democratic. At least, its two predecessor governments committed whatever injustices and violations of human rights, wars and murders, unlike the present regime, without the pretentions of being democratic or trying to fool everyone, especially foreigners, that they are hospitable to pluralism of ideas and organizations. Why then should the country become a single party state?

To observe that from the media’s functions in Ethiopia, I invite readers to see that in what is conveyed to the people, for instance, about the visit by the German delegation we discussed above. At best, what all of them tried to do, as can be see hereunder, is to suppress any critical remarks or questions. They exaggerate the positives and add their praises, as if there have never been any contentious issues. The following would give answer to the above question as to what is wrong with the Ethiopian media and all sources of information in the country.

(a) The Ethiopian foreign ministry (A Week in the Horn, 14,1.2011)

“…The bilateral meetings dwelt at length on ways and means of consolidating current Ethio-German relations. While expressing deep gratitude and appreciation to Germany’s development partnership, which is seen as exemplary, the Ethiopian side called on Germany to strengthen its development assistance, especially in view of the tremendous development tasks envisioned in the new Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP)…Following his discussions and what he described as successful visits to project sites, the Minister expressed his own satisfaction and that of his government over the current state of Ethio-Germany’s economic partnership. He made it clear there would be further German commitments to assist Ethiopia’s economic development in the future, in addition to the sum of 115 million Euros earmarked for Ethiopia under the 2008-2011 development program.“

(b) Ministry of finance webpage, 11 January

“The Minister [Sufian] remarked that Ethiopia has managed to expand education, health, and infrastructures among others. According to the Minister, this was made possible because Ethiopia has been using all the assistance drawn from development partners in a very effective ways. The Minister also noted that if the country manages the current economic development with the assistance from development partners particularly from Germany, Ethiopia will achieve most of the MDGs. H.E. Mr. Dirk Niebel, on his part, remarked that it will be important to focus on small and medium scale enterprises so that they could play an important role in the efforts of the country to eradicate poverty. Mr. Dirk also emphasized the need for the active participation of private sectors and civil societies in the sense that they contribute for the country’s economic development. Ato Sufian noted that the Ethiopian Government is well aware the fact that without the correlation of the government, the private sector and the civil society, no economic development will be gained and the government is working to this effect.”

(c) Ministry of agriculture about land grabbing (quoted on UN-IRIN)

Minister of agriculture: “I know [this] is a very controversial and hot issue at the global level. As far as Ethiopia is concerned, we don’t see it as a threat because it is smallholder agriculture, which is the driving engine of the agricultural development in this country.”
Gambela village resident speaking to UN-IRIN: “We were told by government that we should preserve the forest and trees, because they give us rain. Now the Indians are burning and bulldozing the forest in broad daylight.”

Esayas Kebede of Investor Support Services of the ministry of agri: “Only a very small portion of the forest is burnt…There might be investors who are cutting forests. We will follow them and take appropriate actions. Previously we have taken some measures on those investors who have damaged the environment in some way…We don’t simply give land for investment. We have conducted appropriate studies and the company [Karuturi] has also conducted an environment impact assessment (EIA). So such allegations [about evictions] are far from the truth.”

(d) Ethiopian New Agency—ENA 14 Jan.

“German delegation lauds Ethiopia’s efforts to increase number of women MPs. It also quoted from a German embassy press release, “The Ethiopian government makes great endeavours to reach their millennium development goals and has made impressive progress.”

(d) Walta Information Centre Addis Ababa, January 12 (WIC)

“Prime Minister Meles Zenawi held talks on Tuesday with a German parliamentary delegation led by the country’s Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, Dirk Niebel. Meles on the occasion briefed the delegation on on-going development activities in various sectors in Ethiopia including in environmental protection, food security and resettlement. He called on Germany to strengthen its development assistance to Ethiopia. Niebel on his part his part expressed admiration to Ethiopia’s food security strategy. He also lauded Ethiopia’s development policy, which promotes the expansion of green energy projects.”

What should we learn?

Clearly, this is a firm indication of rule by fear. It has resulted in complete suppression of freedom of speech, as applicable to individual citizens and professionals, such as government officials, journalists and teachers, against which the notoriety of the totalitarian system of governance is known. This has pervaded society with all its manifestations.
I lamented about this situation in Ethiopia the day the Supreme Court of the United States adopted by 8 to 1 its decision on 2 March, upholding the right and freedom of speech of protestors. It was one bold stoke by which the Supreme Court countered challenges to democracy on a very sensitive issue involving picketing at military funerals. What makes this bold and unique is that it comes at a time the country fights one major war with many fronts and dead soldiers are coming back home in body bags, having fallen defending United States’ interests.

The case for the Court’s judgement arose from one brought against a protest at the funeral of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, who died in Iraq. Members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, appeared near his funeral ceremony bearing signs “America is Doomed” and “God Hates Fags.” The father of the deceased was hurt and sued the church, anguished by the denial to his son of honourable burial. For that matter it is reported that Mathew Snyder was not homosexual.

Even then, the Court decided in favour of the right of the church to free speech. In delivering the Court’s opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts stated:

Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and—as it did here—inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker. As a Nation we have chosen a different course—to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate. That choice requires that we shield Westboro from tort liability for its picketing in this case.”

The Court also acknowledged, “Westboro’s choice added to Mr Snyder’s already incalculable grief.” In contrast, compare this with the political dispensation in Ethiopia, where speech on public issues destroys a human being. Judge Birtukan Mideksa is the young mother and lawyer, the first female Ethiopian opposition leader who was given life imprisonment on two different occasions for her peaceful political views—even though moderate and well informed. In comparison, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has said so many hurtful things to the nation’s history and the sacrifices of our fathers. When Judge Birtukan Mideksa was in imprison and even before his court pronounced itself on her case, the prime minister had time and again cast her as the enemy of Ethiopia—obviously not concerned that his court would decide otherwise, but to turn public opinion against her. Mr Meles’s case against her was her allegedly tarnishing his regime’s image, i.e., portraying it as a liar.

One would assume that a self-confident power, as the prime minister often likes to project his regime, hold, could be magnanimous in the tradition of statesmanship expected of a leader. Unfortunately, this was not meant to be in practice in Ethiopia. She was, thus, handed life imprisonment in solitary confinement on account of the speech she gave to the Ethiopian community in Sweden in 2008. Alone and in darkness, she was violated physically and emotionally. Even in times of serious illnesses, she was denied of medical assistance and visitors except her five-year old daughter accompanied by her 80 year-old grandmother.
Judge Birtukan Mideksa remained in such a condition until the May 2010 election was over.

The prime minister and his party won, by their count, with 99.6 percent electoral victory, following which she was released. By the time, she came out from prison, she was a shadow of her old self, her spirit broken by the cruelty she was subjected to. Recently she resigned from the presidency of the largest opposition party in the country and has now decided to move to the United States initially to ensure her wellbeing.

The past two decades have shown that this is the condition Ethiopians have been living through and are expected to build democracy. This is the kind of treatment Ato Meles Zenawi and his party have reserved to any formal and informal opposition to their power—the very factor that for now has cowered Ethiopians into submission in the face of the worst forms of deprivations of their human dignity. That much is clear, still more and more people are being thrown into his dungeons, most of them tortured.

In the Snyder case, the United States Supreme Court was not preoccupied with the ego of the US Administration, or how the entire government would feel by such judgement, or the image this may convey to some about the country. The Court had only three criteria for its decision, i.e., whether: (a) ‘the overall thrust and dominant theme of the demonstration spoke to broad public issues’; (b) the attack against Mathew Snyder was motivated by personal vendetta; and, (c) the demonstration was held in public street to avoid causing IIED (intentional infliction of emotional distress) to the mourners.

What role did the media play? The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 21 news organizations filed brief to the Supreme Court, supporting the church. That document is contained in brief 09_10_09_751. In its editorial of 2 March, The New York Times wrote:

In a narrow ruling in the sense of applying law to one set of facts, the Supreme Court has provided an admirable reminder of how broad the protection of free speech is under the Constitution’s First Amendment, including hurtful and hateful speech.

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