TPL Inc. the ‘aid’ hurdle: commentary nine By Aklog Birara, PhD

February 29th, 2012 Print Print Email Email

“Men’s hearts ought not to set against one another, but set with one another and all against evil today.”

Thomas Carlyle

Ethiopia is, potentially, one of the richest countries in the world. It is a country that should not be poor. Why? It has the requisite natural resources: ample arable farm and irrigable lands, one of the largest livestock in Africa, rivers, predictable rainfall, varied climate, minerals, strategic location and a huge and diverse population. Why Ethiopia remains among the least developed, poorest, hungriest and unhealthiest countries in Africa continues to baffle development experts of every variety, including new comers such as China and India. At US$3 billion plus last year, it is the largest aid recipient in Africa and among the largest in the world. Yet, 46 percent of Ethiopians want to immigrate and thousands do each month for unknown destinations. Human capital is the country’s largest export today. Per capita income is still US$350.

Aid continues to grow as repression intensifies

Destitution, malnourishment, hunger, hyperinflation estimated at 50 percent last year, 60-70 percent unemployment among youth in urban areas and at least 21 percent nationally, endemic corruption and massive illicit outflow estimated at US$3.26 billion in 2009 alone, have done absolutely nothing to deter the donor community from making the Meles regime a darling of its development assistance. This is done for a good reason: Ethiopia’s strategic location and the reliable interlocutor role that TPLF Inc. plays not only in Ethiopia but also in the Horn and the rest of Africa assures a semblance of peace and stability. Yet, people suffer each day because of a system that does not free them from destitution. There is thus symmetry of interests between foreign governments and firms on the one hand, and the interests of the governing party on the other. Given this symmetry, I find it legitimate to examine the thesis of whether or not the medium and long-term security and other strategic interests of the country and the current vital economic and social needs and demands of the vast majority of the Ethiopian people are being served or compromised either by the donor community or by the Ethiopian government or by both.

The aid business

Ana Gomes, Chief of party of the European Union’s Election Observer Team to Ethiopia in 2005, and one of the few staunchest Western supporters of free and fair elections in Ethiopia offered insight into the contradictions between the altruism of aid on the one hand and a blind eye to repression by the Ethiopian government on the other. “There is this industry or aid not only in the European Commission but in the different member countries, namely those who are the biggest aid donors to Ethiopia, like Britain (the second largest bilateral donor after the US), like Germany, who want the business to continue as usual because they have their own interests at stake.” This, in my own research and estimation, is the lead reason why aid continues to flow to the Ethiopian governing party despite worsening conditions in all areas: gross human rights violations, hyperinflation, high unemployment, income inequality, hunger, malnutrition, theft, embezzlement, growing corruption and massive illicit outflow of foreign exchange. This leads me to enumerate on the purpose of aid, a subject on which I feel competent to speak and write.

I ask your indulgence for a minute and forget or park the usual cultural traits of ‘what is new?’ Why is this priority? Forget the standard cynicism that is rampant among us. Overlook the dysfunctional behavior that this is not the current issue or crisis in Ethiopia. After all, I am not talking about illusive notions of freedom and liberties in a country where people are crying for basics such as food to eat and a decent place to live. Park the perennial thought of aligning my name with my ideas. Think of me as someone from planet Mars. Try to focus on the concepts here and see what I am trying to convey with regard to the convenient marriage of repressive governance and aid. Ignore for one minute your suspicion and mistrust of what anyone on earth says about aid and the miracle growth in Ethiopia. Instead, open your mind and learn its impact on the poor and on the few rich. Try to place yourself in a tukul or hut in Gambella, SNNP, Afar, and Beni-Shangul Gumuz or anywhere in the country where the poor live and work like their ancestors have done for thousands of years. Kindly reflect on their conditions. It is they who matter the most; and who should drive our thoughts and actions. For them, life is a constant struggle to survive. Aid has done little to nothing in removing the structural and policy hurdles that keep them in this status.

The altruistic side of development aid is to help people help themselves. It is to unleash local and national capabilities so that people and the country will not have to rely on aid in perpetuity. It certainly is not to contribute to repression, discrimination, inequality, corruption, a closed and monopolistic market or uneven development. In countries such as China, Indonesia, Korea, Vietnam and Brazil, aid played and still plays catalytic roles in lifting millions from destitution and poverty by empowering beneficiaries; not by keeping them captives. These countries are led by nationally committed leaders and institutions even if some manifest authoritarian rule and corruption. They try to level the playing field as much as possible. It is true that, in almost all cased, aid stimulates some growth. However, growth supported by the aid stimulus does not necessarily transform a poor country into a sustainable and equitable one. Why is this? It is principally because governance conditions do not put country and beneficiaries in the driver’s seat. TPLF Inc. and the donor community do not make any effort to put the Ethiopian poor and the country in the driver’s seat.

From its offing, TPLF Inc. was determined to take control of the commanding heights of the Ethiopian economy in the name and on behalf of the Ethiopian people. It crafted a new democratic constitution and made a mockery of the rule of law. It tantalized ‘marginalized and oppressed nations, nationalities and peoples’ to side with it; TPLF Inc. being the policy and decision-maker as discussed in commentary eight. In the aid business, relations are rarely horizontal, namely, with local communities and with the population (beneficiaries) at large. Aid is discussed with and channeled through the central government regardless of repression and dispossession. William Easterly, one of the most formidable critics of the aid business said: “Aid agencies do not even criticize specific tyrannical acts, although they might advocate ‘good governance’ and they wind up supporting bad governance with aid funds,” (the Whiteman’s Burden).

This statement is corroborated by numerous others. On August 5, 2011, BBC news-insight, in collaboration with Investigative Journalism, confirms that “Ethiopian federal and regional governments control the distribution of (all) aid in Ethiopia.” In other words, localities and ordinary people have no say in how aid monies are used; by whom and for whom. The same report quotes Professor Beyene Petros, a member of the opposition, who says, “There is a great deal of political differentiation (discrimination)…The motive is buying support (for the governing party), that is how they recruit supporters, holding the population hostage.” This is the critical point to note. It is Ethiopian communities and the larger population that should be the ultimate beneficiaries from aid. They cannot demand government officials to account if they are held “hostage” by their own government. This is why they cannot question aid’s effectiveness. They cannot ask donors why aid–principally supposed to lift millions out of destitution and poverty—is used as an instrument of control or “hostage.”

Here is the explanation for this phenomenon that is unlike other countries. A government that is not accountable to the population has a better chance of deploying foreign aid as it wishes than a participatory or pluralist one. In a one party ethnic- elite state, the opportunity to divert billions is, thus, a given. There is no accountability to the public. There are no independent institutions to monitor graft, bribery or hush money; or to assess appropriate procurement of goods and services and so on. Institutions such as courts, police and customs, local and regional administrations, municipal authorities—all faces of the governing party—are infected with corrupt officials. They are part of the problem. For this reason, we cannot afford to be callous and unconcerned about the role of aid in Ethiopian society. We need to appreciate and respond to the immediate concerns of ordinary people before we can entertain the lofty ideals of freedom and liberty as important as these are long-term. What we need to look at and act on immediately is the sad impact of “differentiated” or discriminatory allocation of resources by TPLF Inc. and its subordinates on ordinary citizens, especially the poor, the marginalized and dispossessed who have no voice or representation. It is Diaspora activists of all varieties who should advocate accountability in the use and abuse of aid.

The diversion of funds or their misuse affects ordinary people in real ways each day. I suggest that this happens regardless of ethnicity or religion. The poor and hardworking women and women are the ones who need basic services such as safe drinking water, basic health services against communicable and preventable diseases, adequate food supplies at competitive prices, fertilizers, seeds, credits, farmlands, rural roads, education for their children and so on. These are the things aid is supposed to fund but is not and cannot. Why? It is because monies are channeled directly to the governing party. Aid is used for political rather than for social and economic development purposes. “Differentiated” or discriminatory treatment of Ethiopians on the basis of ethnic or party or other affiliation deters sustainability and undermines the fundamental principle of equitable development. The reader may ask, ‘so what?’ There is a cost. In the long run, “differentiation” or discrimination is destabilizing for the country. More and more people will be poorer and poorer. This is happening now.

Almost all development experts agree that there cannot be peace and stability without fairness and equity. If you share this thesis, you would agree with me that development aid that does not unleash the productive potential of a broad spectrum of Ethiopians and places them on an equitable trajectory will not lead to sustainability. Instead, it will aggravate social and geopolitical imbalances and societal tensions.

Aid and imbalance

Uneven development and income inequality are, largely, a result of how the society is governed and how resources are used, misused and appropriated. In Ethiopia, the key agent of growth and development is the government. Increasingly, evidence shows that it determines who becomes rich or poor; who lives or dies; and who lives the country and who immigrates. What the single party state decides affects the lives of ordinary people, communities, regions, and the country. What philosophical argument do the brains behind the single ethnic party state use to justify concentration of wealth and assets in a few hands? It is rapid development that will lead to Middle Income status in the next few years. This is done by barring opponents and civil society. “In Ethiopia today, it is argued, all civil society organizations, opposition political parties, individuals in private enterprise, and other groups are described (by TPLF Inc.) as rent-seeking, while in contrast, EPRDF (TPLF Inc. at the helm), the ruling party, is claimed to be the only one which has development credentials” (Dessalegn Rahmato, in Large-Scale Land Transfers in Ethiopia, AA, 2011).

Ethiopia is not financial capital rich; and relies heavily on aid and remittances to achieve development objectives of the state. Outside those who belong to the governing party and those who are avid allies– whether in the public or private sector– the rest of social, economic and political actors are suspect of “rent-seeking.” This is to say that they are after their narrow self-interest exploiting others; making profits and corrupting the system. According to TPLF Inc. these actors captured in the above quote have no legitimacy. They have no role in advancing themselves or in advancing their country’s development. If one extends this verdict of TPLF Inc., those outside the governing party are inimical to it; and are a deterrent to the advancement of communities, regions and to the country as whole. TPLF Inc. wishes this mantra for a sound self-serving reason. This notion provides the top leadership of TPLF Inc. the developmental rationale that all authority in the country is and should be vested in it. A political, social, leadership and organizational vacuum serves TPLF Inc. best. This is why opponents cannot afford to delay cooperation, collaboration and solidarity.

Why the rest are restricted or banned

In the absence of independent civil society organizations (banned), opposition parties (either banned or heavily restricted), free and independent press (banned), nationally oriented private sector (restricted and crowded out by party and endowed enterprises and favored individuals), and patriotic individuals (encouraged to leave the country in droves), the political, social, economic and diplomatic space is void of competition. It is real political, social and economic competition that TPLF Inc. hates most.

Opponents ought to grasp the reality that the strategy for continued restrictions in the political, social and economic space is to achieve and maintain two key objectives: to ensure that political power is not shared broadly; and to make certain that the governing party and its allies have complete control over the commanding heights of the national economy, aid and other sources of funding. This is the reason why the rest of us cannot afford the luxury of fighting one another.

Despite the above condition that vests authority, power and wealth in a hegemonic single ethnic-party state, we continue to fight one another at huge costs for the poor who are getting poorer, ordinary Ethiopians who suffer from hyperinflation and the country we love that is caught in a vicious cycle of dependency on foreign aid. The struggle “ought not to be against one another.” Rather, it should be against an ugly and “evil” system that spreads its tentacles everywhere; and causes the dispossession and disempowerment of the majority by pitying people at home and us against one another. It is sad but true; donors and the diplomatic community understand this. However, they are unable and unwilling to change their programs anytime soon. It is those who want a better future for the Ethiopian people who must create solidarity among one another and with those who struggle for justice at home.

Whatever the volume, aid can serve the Ethiopian people as a catalyst in raising productive capabilities of the Ethiopian people only if and when it is completely depoliticized. I do not believe that TPLF Inc. will depoliticize aid or land tenure or other forms of the economy or political system on its own. It is not in its interest to change structure and policy. What then? It is when Ethiopian political and social elites set aside minor differences for the sake of the greater good, cooperate with one another, speak with one voice, and demand accountability from the governing party that donors and the diplomatic community would begin to listen and to change. If the donor and diplomatic community would heed to anyone, it would have heeded to the devastating report by Human Rights Watch (HRW): Development without Freedom.

In its seminal report, HRW reported that “development aid flows through, and directly supports a virtual one-party state with a deplorable human rights record. Government practices include jailing and silencing critics and media, enacting laws to undermine human rights activity, and hobbling (stomping out) the political opposition.” Where and how does aid feature in all of these? HRW gives aid prominence to the undermining of potential beneficiaries, especially the rural poor who constitute the majority. There is no sustainable or equitable development without them. “The government has used donor supported programs (the Safety net initiated by the World Bank when I served there), salaries and training opportunities as political weapons to control the population (making it “hostage”), punish dissent, and undermine opponents—both real and perceived.” Forget sophisticated urban elites and focus on the rural poor who punished if they do not support TPLF Inc. How does it do it?

TPLF Inc. and its agents and allies in rural areas deny “access to seeds, fertilizers, farmlands, credit and food aid.” It restricts these and other inputs and privileges to those who support the governing party. This politicization of the aid industry or business sends “a potent message that basic survival (in Ethiopia today) depends on political loyalty to the state (the only legitimate development agent) and the ruling party (the sole authority that rules through an iron-fist).” This condition sends shivers and fears through the entire system and justifies corruption that the top leadership of TPLF Inc. says is anathema to sustainable and equitable development. Deeds speak louder than words. TPLF Inc. cannot escape the verifiable truth that it is not opponents who are “rent seeking” and corrupt. They are not in power and cannot be held accountable. Instead, it is those who wield political power, control the national economy and enrich themselves, their families, relatives, friends, ethnic elites and party and endowments who are accountable for the abysmal situation Ethiopia and Ethiopians face today.

Commentary ten will examine the nexus among three variables: aid, TPLF Inc. governance and corruption. 2/28/2012

  1. ananymous
    | #1


  2. Teshale
    | #2

    Thank you very much Dr.Aklog Birara for your unceasing effort to inform Ethiopian oppostion about the dire situation in the country.

    There is not asingle answer to the delima we faced;however,the oppostion leaders need to listen and quickly adopt effective strategy and leave behind pst strategy behind.What I have in mind is this.Some how many commentators inadvertently suggest the notion a time wil come that the U.S and Europian leaders will listen the cry of the people. Even though the rank and file had never accepted this fact many figures among us thought in this line.Now we need to dis card this idea for once and for all.

    Instead,we need to explore many avenues to bring the plight of our people to the general public of these western nations. In the state the Tea party is an outgrowth of aprotest movement itself.Memberws of this party are alarmed about a host of issues facing their country.Such as unemployment,border security,offshore business,and unsertainity of the futrue in general.It appears most supporters want to take controle of the political leadership.For instance,the Republican candidate Ron Paul has openly said ,if elected, he will drustically curtail foreing aid,cut military spending,and abolish the FED.

    Now such being his stand it is unlikely that he will win the n omination of his party.Some say even if he loses in the primary he might run as independent in the general election.Beside, the Tea party there are politically active groups in the country.My suggestion is this we need to link with these actively engaged groups and bigin to educate the country’s problem.I have no doubt in the long run our effort will pay.
    Only by working closely with such parties,human right,and faith groups we can make some head way n our fight against tyrany. If we persist atleast we can get foreign aid to the country to belowerd drastically if not altogether stoped.

  3. Girum
    | #3

    Dear Dr. Aklog Birara you write such a wonderful detail scenario of Ethiopia related to foreign loan aid and the rule of the incumbent in abusing this loan and aid. I agree with most of the details as they are factual.However it is also very important if we ask critical questions regarding foreign aid and NGOs.
    Why foreigners provide us aid in the first place? Why we receive foreign aid in the first place? Types of foreign aid and NGOs? First of all in today’s modern world we understand that there is no such a thing as free lunch and free gift. And hence every gift and free lunch is done in expectation for something else in return, whether be it own personal satisfaction or expectation of favor, for today or for tomorrow directly or indirectly. We can not deny this reality and rather what matters most whether it is fair and mutual, not Zero-Sum-Game that is beneficiary for all parties who participate in this big game. And hence I really appreciate and support aid and loan based on mutual benefit and it is inevitable as long as we are human. I think the donors do not simply give donation just simply because they are rich. And we receivers should not simply accept it just because we are poor. The entire donation and loan issue is mainly economical and political and sometimes purely humanitarian as well. Donation and loan can be carried out through fair and mutual “give and take” play rules and hence it is good if it is done this way all the time. However things are mainly happening in contrary to this fair and mutual “give and take” play rules. And hence for every 100 dollars we take today in donation (that is even being abused by few) then the majority mass pays it back in 100,000 dollars worth directly or indirectly sooner or later as a nation.And it is this irresponsible gambling game against own nation and mass that is totally becoming immoral. Even the humanitarian one also has both economical and political strings attached behind the curtain. In that there is proliferation of aid business enterprises playing such an ample gambling game behind this humanitarian aid issue. Let’s assume the humanitarian aid is no more that much controversial and for the sake of simplicity and understanding it is better we simply accept it as humanitarian though there are complications behind it as I mentioned it. However other huge donations and loans provided for governments are targeted indirectly to support the incumbent stooge client-regimes as usual. It is such an insidious symbiotic relationship that is usually traditional between Global Capitalists system and its servants as stooge client-regimes. For some one who cleverly understands the inherent inner workings of global capitalist system then it is not that much obscure to unravel this issue. For the Global Capitalists system to have loyal servants as stooge client-regimes and other institutions then it has to facilitate aid and loan that can indirectly be bribed and siphoned back to the pockets of those loyal stooge client-regimes and the associated food chain hierarchy in their local an global capitalist system affiliates. If this is not the case then how on earth can the system recruit friends who loyally advance its global system? No body is working for his soul as such and hence money is such a tasty sugar that is the bet effective tool to bribe others. For the global capitalist system to work effectively then it has to create some sort of its own class structures that crate favorable conditions for its inherent inner workings. Huge aid and loans are used to bribe corrupt and irresponsible 3rd world regimes to make them loyal stooge client regimes for the global capitalist system. Additionally donation through small NGOs to the local community at the grass root level also helps to create some middle class parasitic society in that nation that is also a good stooge servant that works hard in order to indoctrinate and shape a certain society that is subservient to the interests of global capitalist system. So the MAIN objective of NGOs is to serve the global Capitalist system from where they get the source of their main fund and other supports not to serve the community they claim they are serving. So many NGOs,at the highest level of hierarchy , are screwed by such top level NGOs like NED (National Endowment For Democracy) that is a politically driven organization, under the disguise of political activism for democracy, instigates and orchestrates local national opposition movements at the grass root-level against alleged belligerent regimes in 3rd world nations who do not bow to this global social order. And that is the main reason why donation through NGO is abused rampantly through operational costs rather than its claimed ultimate mission for the community. Therefore I do not agree with the usual consensus mentality of so many Ethiopians in that they complains that aid and donation is being abused ,bribed and siphoned back to the few hands by illicit flow. And my contention is that it is this way that the entire global capitalists system is designed and intended to work in the first place. And that is why I said that there is no such a thing as free-lunch. And donation and aid in 3rd world nations has the main insidious agenda that is driven by a motto of “Bribe the few local elites and then exploit them as a stooge in order to facilitate to exploit the larger mass and the nation’s resources.” And that is why that there exists such a pervasive mass impoverishment and migration while to the contrary at the expense of this misery there exists a new breed of very little parasitic richest society that devours foreign aid and loan in a very systematic way. And that is why I recently commented that we have to stand for the intrinsic virtues and values of Socialism and I happen to face the usual stereotypical condemnation and labeling which I do not care as such. In today’s pervasive global capitalist system it is money and mainly money that rules the entire world. And hence money through loan and donation is such an ample instrument to bribe 3rd world nations. In today’s pervasive global capitalist system politics is even bribed and ruled by money and hence politics is becoming business as usual. And the same is true for intellectual integrity that has been falling under the insidious traps of this pervasive money monster. And that is why even the last 20 years of TPLF rule and the entire situation in this nation becomes so complicated beyond the stereotypical game of party politics and bogus democracy.
    Why we receive foreign aid in the first place? The main reason is simply just because we are poor in real tangible terms though we have so many resources and hence we are not poor as such but rather potentially rich as the writer says so. Foreign aid is mainly directed in a way not help us in a mutual benefit so that we help ourselves eventually but rather to the contrary we even must need more of same type of help in the future. The sincere and sacred motto regarding help that is “help others in a way that until they help themselves eventually” is falling under the trap of making business as usual. Foreign aid and loan creates business for few both abroad and locally. And hence rather than focusing on the main objective and beneficiary of this claimed foreign aid and loan then now a days, contrary to this objective aid and loan is being heinously devised in a way to even make business out of it for the sake of the benefit of the few parasitic rent-seekers. So the entire mission is gradually becoming in that few are thinking of how can we make business and plundering out of foreign aid and loan rather than helping others we claim we stand for in their name. If there is foreign aid for AIDS then the usual gambling game starts with luxury hotels and entertainments to host meetings and hence also the associated business that can be made out of this move. If foreign loan is made under the name of the mass and nation then the usual gambling game starts with selecting those parasitic rent-seeking business affiliates like EFFORT that must be benefited by engaging in the projects that are less feasible and less efficient but with exaggerated prices so that it can be possible to snatch so many millions overnight. The amazing tragic thing regarding TPLF racists regime is that if projects are to be carried out in Tigray region then they some how make the required proper prudent feasibility studies to achieve good results out of projects. To the contrary if the projects are in other regions then things happen to the contrary and the main aim is not regarding the effectiveness of the project but rather in its feasibility based on unfair business profit that can be snatched out of it. And hence the main objective of foreign aid and loan is mainly in order to bribe and benefit few local elites so that they can serve the main interests of global capitalist system, politically, economically, socially etc. Unless irresponsible and corrupt regimes are lulled and bribed through foreign aid and loan and then become stooge client-regimes then how comes it is possible to effectively control and plunder the resources of 3rd world nations? The main objective of foreign aid and loan is to control and plunder the resources of 3rd world nations. The entire complication regarding foreign aid and loan is mainly due to the inherent nature and inner workings of the Global Capitalist system rather than the nature of local regimes. We need foreign aid and loan that we like it to be symbiotic, mutual and fair that is directed towards with regard to the main benefit of majority mass not unfair and immoral symbiotic mutualism directed towards with regard to the main benefit of those rent-seeking parasitic few local elites in our society both with in the regimes and outside of it in other institutions who are selfish and treacherous of their nation. And that is why I say the global capitalists system is some how corrupt and heartless. The more we unwisely irresponsibly receive corrupt foreign aid and loan through irresponsible and corrupt regimes like TPLF through the prisms of the global capitalist system then inevitably the more we have to expect that our resources shall be controlled and then plundered and we will also be exploited and impoverished. The main reward we get from foreign aid and loan for the last 20 years is mainly አኬልዳማ-EFFORT, the plundering machine and Economic Empire solely owned by TPLF and this sort of mass impoverishment and plundering of nation’s wealth. So I advise the writer to focus not only on problems of foreign aid and loan as is described like this but also on the main MASTER, that is Global Capitalist System. Otherwise these all exposure of details of problems, which are factual and I appreciate too, regarding foreign aid and loan and its associated abuse shall not be fruitful eventually.

    God bless Ethiopia !!!

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