Ethiopia: On a dilemma in the Horn

February 23rd, 2007 Print Print Email Email

The Economist | Feb 22nd 2007

Should the West go on helping a repressive Ethiopia?

THE second most populous country in Africa and one of the poorest, Ethiopia is a test case for the West in its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty on the continent. But its government’s undemocratic leanings have presented donor countries with a dilemma. Should they continue to funnel their taxpayers’ money to a country that routinely jails and tortures its critics or should they turn off the tap and thereby hurt the blameless poor?

Most donors are keeping up or even increasing their giving. Britain, with qualms, is upping its aid from $180m last year to $260m this year. Some donors have harmonised and even pooled their support. Many have signed up to schemes to promote transparency and hold the government to account. Whether the nastier bits of Ethiopia’s government will co-operate fully is moot.

So the donors””Western governments and charities””think that on balance they should continue to improve farming, health care, education and access to water in the rural areas where 85% of Ethiopians live. There are signs that the government’s ambitious poverty-reduction strategy is working. Infant mortality is down, school attendance and literacy are up, though only 40% of Ethiopians can read and write.

Farming practice may be improving. In Ethiopia’s wet highlands farmers may try to diversify crops. Ethiopia hopes to export hydroelectricity to neighbouring Djibouti and Sudan. Some agronomists think that, with enough investment, Ethiopia will be able to feed itself. That may be optimistic. The population of 75m-plus is growing by about 2m a year. Food prices in Addis Ababa, the capital, rose last year by 27%.

In any event, Meles Zenawi’s government is finding it hard to run the show. Some 80% of the people in Addis Ababa probably back opposition parties. In response, the government has become harsher, muzzling free speech and forcing independent newspapers to close. Many journalists are in jail on trumped-up charges. Dissidents have been disappearing, along with critical websites. Telephones are often tapped. For more than a year, text messaging on the country’s small number of mobile phones has been hampered by “technical difficulties”?.

The government keeps up a hum of fear with attacks on opposition supporters. Teachers are a favourite target. Some have been beaten so badly in detention they could not stand up in court. Even schoolchildren have faced the authorities’ wrath. In Ambo, west of the capital, some 14 of them in a secondary school were detained; some were allegedly tortured. The usual charges, if brought at all, are sabotage or treason. Suspects are often “found”? to have links with familiar bogeymen: neighbouring hostile Eritrea; the Oromo Liberation Front, a movement in the centre and south; or, in the heartland of the once-ruling Amhara around Addis Ababa, “terrorist groups”? whose existence is fuzzy.

The opposition’s lot may be worsening. Dissidents say as many as 250 supporters were rounded up on terrorist charges after the African Union summit last month; some have disappeared. The opposition’s main leaders have been in prison for over a year. Torture, especially against lesser-known prisoners, is common. If rural areas are taken into account, extrajudicial killings may run into thousands. But the opposition is divided, often has regional rather than national allegiances, and tends to take its cue from radicals in exile.

Moreover, despite help from abroad, the economy is struggling. Exports are worth $1 billion against imports of $5 billion. Sales of coffee and flowers to the West have increased but not enough. Mr Zenawi has applied for membership in the World Trade Organisation. He has also asked China for loans””some say for $3.5 billion.

But most of all he is banking on keeping up his friendship with the EU and the United States, whose administration was delighted by the Ethiopian armed forces’ recent success in invading neighbouring Somalia, capturing its capital, Mogadishu, and smashing the Somali Islamists who had taken over there. Still, there are conflicting attitudes to Ethiopia in Washington. Congress has lambasted Mr Zenawi’s human-rights record and demanded cuts in aid. The Pentagon, on the other hand, is dead keen to boost his armed forces.

In September, hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians from their vast and far-flung diaspora are expected to visit their homeland to celebrate the coming of the third Christian millennium, according to their ancient church’s calendar. Some hope Mr Zenawi, in a gesture of conciliation, will free some of his opponents from jail before then. But do not bet on it. Mr Zenawi has got used to wielding an iron fist.

  1. | #1

    To the Economists and this web site publishers
    Meles zenawi is still harrassing and killing innocent
    civilians in Ethiopia. He will continue his repression
    for the sake of his position.
    My point to this article is “zENEWi” will never
    compromise with the ethiopian people. He is not goint to release
    the elected ethiopian leaders for the celebration of the
    millenium. We have to continue our struggles and prayers to our Almighty God.
    Ethiopia will prevail.
    Allen 7

  2. tatek
    | #2

    By now it must be obvious what kind of government we have in Ethiopia.
    We of course need a new one, which is better than eprdf.
    First we have to be sure that we have one which can replace this one.
    Then we have to curve the democratically way of changing it.
    Kinigittand and its way is not an alternative and they have never been one.
    I can even say the way you are trying it is more catastrophe than eprdf is
    Planning to do it…
    So take a deep breath and think once more before you cry to the donors and the western countries. With that you are trying to make those opposites of what of your intentions.

  3. Chachi
    | #3

    Thank god there are foreigners who very well understand out plight and our disgust with the west’s hipocracy.

    Ethiopians should unite more and corner this minority government both internally and globally. As an american tax payer I refuse to buy the bullets with which my peasant relatives are being slaguhered.

    The heartlessness of the west is beyond believable. We in Ethiopia do not even have the level of animal rights in the west. Many suspected people are being picked from their homes and workplace and get tortured by the brutal agazi ( the equivalent of the black shirts and the SS of Europe).

    By the way did you read the farytale (teret) teret about catching terrorists. A cover up fabrication. Zenawi is relizing that his sun is setting and now he comes up with this dirty trick.

    Ethiopians south of Tigrai stand up. We are under a systematic killing. In the rural areas where nobody hears news, people are dying everyday in agony. Many peasants who openly supported Kinijit during the election are being killed in cold blood.

  4. Mesfin
    | #4

    The Economist assessment of what is going on in Ethiopia right now is just about close to the truth. Particularly, it underlines the fact that “In any event, Meles Zenawi’s government is finding it hard to run the show” Yes, Meles’s death squads couldn’t bring political power to him. Free will of the majority can’t be forced with arm. Meles and Woyannes are yet to learn this very basic truth. One thing that I disagree with the Economist is that it’s labeling the Kinijit support groups in Diaspora as radicals. It is easy to believe that the Economist writer reflects Meles language when he labels the Kinijit supporting groups as radicals. The Kinijit supporting groups are only supporting the Kinijit leaders in Ethiopia (Kality Jail), who are struggling to realize a vibrant democracy in Ethiopia. The Kinijit leaders only demand the formation of institutions that would enable to establish a real democracy. Supporting this basic pursuit is not radicalism

  5. garamuleta
    | #5

    Dear all,

    I read the article with interest. However, the dilemma for the West to help Ethiopia or not should not be Ethiopia’s mantra.

    I say this ONLY because although we live on an interdependent world, what justify the end are one’s hard work and creativity ““ PERIOD.

    For this reason, I believe there should be some basic questions that should be addressed in relation to the West’s help to Ethiopia.

    I therefore raise the following issues:

    - Aid or cooperation for whom?
    - With whom?
    - When?
    - How?
    must be clearly answered.

    Nevertheless, one must not forget the reality and it is: aid could be a gift that kills creativity and hard work of the recipients.

    My dream for Ethiopia is therefore, to establish a prosperous and democratic country in which all its citizens enjoy a high standard of living with social justice.

    Of-course, in order to achieve this goal, swift and balanced regional growth at federal level, participatory political system and vibrant economy that enjoy rapid, regionally and sectorally balanced economic growth should be developed.

    I therefore conclude by expressing my believe and it is: Ethiopia should recognize the very fact that development partners may OR may not play a crucial role in promoting development and a developing nation like Ethiopia MUST rely on her human resources and human capitals as a paramount importance.

    Of-course this requires, genuine commitment, tolerance, and mutual respects among the whole stakeholders.

    Any meaningful thoughts?

  6. caro
    | #6

    I think Meles is the best leaders to that unfortunate country so far. However, that doesn’t mean he is the best of the best in time and in space.

    There are people who can do better, at least in mobilizing the people . However, these Cudites are the worst of the worst yet. How can they beg donors to stop aid to the starving people for their own selfish political gain? Hm, is that how they represent the people?

    Do they know that if USA and UN suspended their aids for one year, at least 10 million of our people were gone for good? It is like to plug off the life support of a critical patient. Hm, Cudites don’t care as long as they control power.

    To your surprise TPLF were acting like angles through the mouth of its leaders until they command power from the palace. However, through time they failed the scarified people and the poor who started to smile imagining a better Ethiopia(economically things have been going better in the last three years).

    However, these senile Cudites failed the poor at the very beginning even before clinging to power by working hard to block aid. They have shown to the world that their calculations don’t have the people in their domains.

    I’m happy to see Meles renounces to a more competent and responsible young generation. I’m fed up with these old monstrous who are blinded by rhetoric chauvinism. C’mon be pragmatic and think about to change the life of the people, not about your political gain based on blood , hair and history.

    I don’t care who leads that country, Amhara, Wolayeta, Afar, Oromo,tigre, Benishangul”¦. I want to have leaders who can snatch our poor people from the Jaw of ruthless Hunger . I fancy leaders who can listen and respond to the heartbeats of the poor. I dream to have a leader who can feed food , not cheap propaganda and chuvinism, to the poor three times a day. Finally I prey God to give the poor people his grace.

    Peace for us!

  7. Mesfin
    | #7

    Hi Caro, I thought on your message you contradict yourself. Let me explain how I reach to that conclusion: On your first statement you said “I think Meles is the best leaders to that unfortunate country so far.” and your last paragraph reads ” don’t care who leads that country, Amhara, Wolayeta, Afar, Oromo,tigre, Benishangul”¦. I want to have leaders who can snatch our poor people from the Jaw of ruthless Hunger . I fancy leaders who can listen and respond to the heartbeats of the poor. I dream to have a leader who can feed food , not cheap propaganda and chuvinism, to the poor three times a day. Finally I prey God to give the poor people his grace.” Personally, I kind of share your dream, that you states on your last paragraph, for a good leader in Ethiopia. What I don’t understand is that if you have such good dream for Ethiopia, how on the earth you call Meles the best leader in Ethiopia so far? If I share the majority of Ethiopians opinion with you; Meles is not even qualified to be called Ethiopian for two main reasons. First, he hates Ethiopia and has been working to destroy it. Second, he is half Eritrean and had been using the Tigray people to implement Shabia’s mission. That is secession of Eritrea and weakening Ethiopia.
    The other easy factor you should notice is that Meles has been leading Ethiopia with iron fist in the last 16 years. In his watch Ethiopia has become totally dependent of foreign aid. You even acknowledge the fact that if the westerns stop fueling food and economic aid to Ethiopia for a year, about 10 millions of Ethiopians will be exposing for hunger. In his 16 years Meles couldn’t even make Ethiopia to feed itself. Regarding law and order: Melse said that he struggled for democracy for 17 years, but he incarcerates the opposition party leaders for being to strong opposition on him. He has been killing, torturing and jailing any one that dares to stand up against him. So how do you say such a butcher is the best leader ever in Ethiopia? In the real world the best statement that describes Meles is the devilish leader Ethiopia has. Remember even the Bible says that devil is smarter that human beings. However, his smartness leads him and his followers deep down to hell. There is no good will, no compassion and emotion among devils. Meles is a devil that has been shedding the blood of thousands and thousands of people.

    Finally, I suggest to you that you should take a look at the 8 preconditions that the Kinijit leaders set forward to join the parliament. If you are a reasonable person, you would know that the heroic kinijit leaders are not after power. They just want make sure that there are democratic institutions in Ethiopia. Their heroic and peaceful act is still inspiring Ethiopians and still moving the country to the right direction slowly, but surely.

    No Ethiopian should be scare of Kinijit. Kinijit doesn’t have arm forces to kill; Kinijit is about love, respect, unity, prosperity, peace and vibrant democracy. Every reasonable Ethiopian should join the peaceful struggle, so one day we will bring ourselves up where civilized nations are right now.

    Long live Ethiopia

  8. | #8

    1.The Ethiopians in exile are not radicals as stated in this piece.They enjoy the freedom of speech here in the west that’s denied to them and to their country men back home.
    2.The choice to the donors is not either funneling aid to a tyranny or
    turn off the tap thereby hurting the poor.When a patient is diagnosed with an illness that can be cured by operating him,you don’t spend time giving him a pain killer instead.What I am trying to say is that there is
    a third way.If there is a will,there is a way.

  9. terrara
    | #9

    Honestly speaking, we created Esayas the dictator, and it is our responsibility to remove him. Of course, Eritreans residing in the country would not even think of making a move towards that end. The people are living under harsh conditions. To give a comparison, during the Derg time (former military regime) was better in some aspects as the people would say. Some even say that Esayas is the Tigrigna speaking Mengistu Hailemariam (former Ethiopian military leader). The difference between the two is that they speak two different languages. Nowadays, the people are saying that Esayas has become even worse than Mengistu. Living conditions were better back then.
    Yes, there were technical mistakes committed during the process of disengagement from Ethiopia. Declaring independence is not a mistake. I myself struggled for independence from Ethiopia. But I have no grudge against the Ethiopian people. My problem was with the regimes.

    Things always change. Regimes change. But the bond between the people must remain as it is. Let’s not dwell too much on past mistakes.

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