Dear Ali Idrissa, Jean-Claude Katende and Faith Nwadishi, and other members of the EITI Board:
We in the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia (SMNE) are contacting you in regards to the upcoming Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) board review concerning Ethiopia’s reapplication for membership in the EITI. The outcome of your decision related to this case will either help or hinder Ethiopians both now and in the future so it is critically important that you hear a representative voice from the people.
For your information, the SMNE, of which I am the executive director, is a non-political and non-violent social justice movement of diverse people that advocates for freedom, justice, good governance and upholding the civil, human and economic rights of the people of Ethiopia, without regard to ethnicity, religion, political affiliation or other differences. The SMNE believes a more open, transparent and competitive market economy, supported by viable institutions and reasonable protections, which provides equal opportunity, will result in greater prosperity to the people rather than keeping it in the hands of a few political elites as is the case today.
We also contend that the future well being of our global society rests in the hands of those among us who can put “humanity before ethnicity,” religion or any other distinctions that divide and dehumanize other human beings from ourselves; inspiring us to care about these “others”; not only because of the intrinsic God-given value of each life, but also because “none of us is free until all are free.”
As you know, Ethiopia’s application for membership in 2010 was rejected based on its systemic repression of Ethiopian civil society; in particular, its implementation of a draconian law, the Charities and Societies Proclamation (CSO), which essentially eliminated Ethiopian civil society from functioning independently of government control. As of 2014, the situation has only worsened.
It is our understanding that each of you is a member of the African Steering Committee of Publish What You Pay (PWYP)[i], an organization that was founded following the 40-year civil war in Angola, when the call for transparency—Publish What You Pay—was made in a report from Global Witness alleging that elites from the country had worked in secretive complicity with multi-national oil companies in the mismanagement and embezzlement of oil revenues. This is similar to what is going on today in Ethiopia.
It is also our understanding that you were appointed by the PWYP to assume the role as Civil Society Representatives on the EITI International Board 2013-2015. We are aware of your mandated obligation to represent the interests of civil society on that board. Recently, it has come to our attention that while operating in that capacity, you have received a strong letter from the EITI chairperson, Clare Short, in support of Ethiopia’s admission to the EITI.[ii] (See a copy of that letter in the endnotes.)
That letter has been made public and we find it highly offensive, inaccurate and a blatant attempt to lobby other board members towards a pro-Ethiopian government position despite the fact that abundant evidence indicates that independent civil society cannot exist in Ethiopia.
Chairperson Short also attempts to discredit the entirety of the Ethiopian Diaspora, presuming to better know the state of civil society than do they. She also strongly opposes the inclusion of human rights violations in considering this case, discounting the seriousness of such by comparing widespread perpetration of crimes against humanity and other egregious human rights violations to removing protestors by force in her own country (the United Kingdom). In doing so, she is dismissing the seriousness and pervasiveness of those human rights crimes, ignoring the vast amount of documentation, and minimizing the personal experiences of refugees outside of Ethiopia and the close connections they maintain with family and communities on the ground that attest to the connection between the Government of Ethiopia’s (GOE) serial violation of human rights in Ethiopia and the exploitation of its natural resources.
She also appears to invalidate the many contributions of international advocates, calling them “campaigners” and seeing them as less relevant because they convey “north telling the south” dictates. At the same time, she is prescribing to you, as African members of the African Steering Committee of the PWYP and members of the EITI Board, as well as to Ethiopians within and outside of the country, her own “north to south” position. It also appears that she has directed a veiled threat that the failure of EITI to accept Ethiopia may have ramifications on the status of “Niger and the Congo B”, two of the countries two of you personally represent. This kind of approach by the chairperson appears to be intentionally intimidating and is very disturbing to those seeking a transparent and fair approach.
We just recently became aware of your own PWYP response to her letter[iii], (see a copy of such in the endnotes) which we highly commend and will transmit to others, including Ethiopian websites, many of which are blocked within Ethiopia—like our own. We also would kindly suggest you view two SMNE articles, “Civil Society Cannot Exist in Ethiopia: SMNE Calls for Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) Board to Reject Ethiopia’s Re-application for Membership and SMNE Calls for Strong Measures from the International Community, Donors and International Investors in Confronting Official Corruption in Ethiopia for more information on the state of civil society in Ethiopia as well as Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam’s well-written article, Mining Corruption in Ethiopia: A Reply to Clare Short.
In the article by the SMNE, we attest to the lack of any independence within civil society; instead, Ethiopian civil society has from foreign sources from (a) advancing human and democratic rights, (b) promoting equality of nations, nationalities, peoples, gender and religion, (c) promoting the rights of the disabled and children, (d) promoting conflict resolution or reconciliation and, (e) promoting the efficiency of justice and law enforcement services.[iv] Violators who are found “guilty” can be sentenced to years in prison. Over 2,600 civic organizations have closed their doors. In order to dupe outsiders, the TPLF/EPRDF government has created pseudo-organizations, controlled and run by regime insiders. Such organizations now make up civil society in Ethiopia, pretending to be a voice of the people, but most Ethiopians know better than outsiders like Chairperson Clare Short that only the government’s voice can be heard.
Contrary to Chairperson Short’s view, human rights are relevant to the evaluation. Such abuses are tools of suppression and exclusion. Land and resource grabs are accompanied by human rights atrocities, the forced eviction of people from their land, increased hunger, suffering and more refugees seeking asylum throughout the world, easily exploited by human traffickers. Contracts are vague and deals are made behind closed doors. Groups like the Task Force for Financial Integrity and Economic Development [v] rank Ethiopia among the worst in the world in regards to the lack of transparency and illicit capital leakage.
As revealed in a preliminary 2011 report they indicate that Ethiopia lost US11.7 billion in illegal capital flight from 2000-2009 and illicit financial outflows from Ethiopia nearly doubled in 2009 to US$3.26 billion—double the amount in the two preceding years—with the vast majority of that increase coming from corruption, kickbacks and bribery. [vi]
All this is going on while the voice of civil society has been silenced. When they do speak out, laws like the Ethiopian anti-terrorism law,[vii] enacted at the same time as the CSO, have resulted in charging journalists, editors, activists, religious leaders and some of the most courageous voices of civil society with prison terms; people like Mr. Eskinder Nega, Mr. Wubshet Taye, Ms. Reeyot Alemu, Mr. Andualm Arage and many others. Others are self-censoring, fearing punitive actions.
In conclusion, we believe the chairperson’s highly biased viewpoint, her lack of respect for Ethiopians in the Diaspora and the letter’s aggressive and demeaning tone have already contaminated the belief that a fair, honest and open evaluation of this case is possible under her leadership. Her self-reported relationship on her website as a trustee on the board of the NGO, African Humanitarian Action (AHA), which is based in Addis Ababa and includes on its board some of Ethiopia’s most powerful persons, also may cause many Ethiopians to suspect that she is representing the government’s position rather than genuinely reflecting the principles and values of the EITI.
This organization includes on their trustee board, ten Ethiopians[viii], at least some who are known to be members and supporters of the current Ethiopian government. One of the most significant is the Co-Chair, Sheikh Dr. Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi, a Saudi/Ethiopian who is both the largest investor in Ethiopia and the wealthiest. He is someone who is involved in oil, gold, cement, agriculture and other endeavors in Ethiopia.[ix] This is a conflict of interest for the chairperson of EITI that we believe will undermine the integrity of the entire process, certainly in perception but also very possibly in reality.
Creating a civil society in the current environment is impossible; however, without it, the few elite in power, who already control every sector of society,[x] will continue to accrue massive personal wealth as they continue to exploit the vast resources of Ethiopia, present and future, similar to what happened in Angola. Without meaningful reforms, the people of Ethiopia will continue to be some of the poorest in the world.[xi]
In light of these concerns, we urge you to deny admission of Ethiopia to the EITI. If the government wants to become a member, let them earn the right fairly; not by favoritism, pressure for leniency, deception or by having someone from the north lobby for acceptance on behalf of the Ethiopian government; all of which would make a mockery of the entire process. Real change will not be given to the people voluntarily without motivation.
Let the government of Ethiopia genuinely open up Ethiopian civil society to the people of the country. Let them restore basic freedoms, independence in Ethiopian institutions, and the respect for human rights. Let them release all political prisoners. Let them open up political space to the opposition and economic opportunity to all people, not only regime cronies. If they did these things, they would not need a friend in high places in the north to speak for them. The civic institutions of the people of Ethiopia could do it for themselves. Until then, unmerited membership in the EITI will be a free pass to a kleptocracy.
Thank you for your noble work and your strong stand for the principles and values of the EITI.
Obang Metho, Executive Director of the SMNE
In behalf of the SMNE and other freedom-loving Ethiopians