By Neguse Gamma, 31 October 2010 –The Human Rights Watch (HRW) report that documented the ways in which the Ethiopian government used donor-supported resources and aid as a tool to consolidate the power of the ruling TPLF/EPRDF might seem shocking to those who do not know the history of the party and the ruthless tactics it employed to come to power. There are a number of internal and external factors that contributed to its success other than its considerable military power.
The year-long documentary research by Martin Plaut, the BBC World Service Africa editor, released in March 2010, investigated a similar issue. Western aid channeled for victims of the Ethiopian famine of 1984-85 was diverted by the then rebels and the current leaders of the country to buy weapons and strengthen their military power to fight against the Derg regime of Col. Mengistu Hailemariam.
The CIA agrees with Plaut’s report and alleged that aid money was being misused. Its report concluded: “Some funds that insurgent organisations are raising for relief operations, as a result of increased world publicity, are almost certainly being diverted for military purposes.”
Gebremedhin Araya, a senior TPLF rebel during the relief operation, has estimated the relief aid misuse to be $95 million (£63m) from Western governments and charities, including Band Aid. The money was spent to buy weapons and political machinery to support the rebel group.
Leave alone denying access to fertilizers, seeds, loans and other agricultural inputs to opposition farmers, who did not support him during a normal election period, PM Meles and his party have shown no remorse whatsoever for ruthlessly killing over a million famine victims by diverting the huge western relief towards their military purpose. The criminal minority group abuse of western aid to enrich them has its roots in the 1980s, a time when humanitarian aid organizations were unable to reach victims of the famine in the areas controlled by the rebel groups.
In a report entitled: Humanitarian governance in the new millennium: An Ethiopian case study
, the authors said:
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) faced a clear dilemma of either engaging in solidarity with rebel forces in the north or remaining neutral in operations administered under Derg control. Humanitarian assistance became deeply integrated into the logic of war on both sides. Relationships among international NGOs (INGOs) deteriorated into acrimonious, public infighting over this dilemma in international fora. Those that opted for solidarity with the rebels formed the Emergency Relief Desk (ERD), established in 1981 in Sudan to provide unsanctioned cross-border assistance to the TPLF, EPLF and OLF rebel areas of northern Ethiopia (Duffield and Prendergast 1994).
Relief Society of Tigray (REST) – the humanitarian wing of the TPLF – worked closely with almost all the NGOs in the country, particularly those operating in the north. At the time, vehicles of UN agencies, diplomatic missions and humanitarian aid organizations were not subject to government check-point searches and, undeniably, the TPLF and ERA were exploiting these free movement opportunities. With no restriction and in the absence of accountability, the rebel groups sustained their military power in logistics and supplies of ammunition, food, medicine and so on – either fully or partially denying the hard-to-reach victims they were supposed to be looking after.
This is the way they succeeded to power, and REST, “the humanitarian wing”, came to be in charge of the office of the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (RRC) during the transitional period. TPLF, as a ruthless rebel group, having learnt its lesson from real experience, has been preoccupied in controlling and reforming humanitarian organizations and their operations since it came to power in 1991.
The same report cited above, states:
While grateful to the humanitarian organisations, they were keen that history should not repeat itself. As an astute observer of Ethiopian politics observed recently: “The TPLF knew exactly how effectively subversive humanitarian assistance can be.” The new government assumed that those organisations that had elected to work in Ethiopia under the Derg were somehow aligned against them. They had seen the country humiliated in the international media and had observed foreigners speaking with assumed authority on behalf of the people of Ethiopia – in language that smacked to them of racism and that, certainly from the mouth of Bob Geldof, was peppered with offending expletives. They knew that allegedly NGOs had served as influential political advisors to foreign governments.
The purpose of adopting the new Charities and Societies Proclamation law (CSO law) by the TPLF/EPRDF ruling party of PM Meles Zenawi has been to strictly control and monitor the general operation of both domestic and international humanitarian organizations
On 8 December 2009, Amnesty International stated that the law’s repressive provisions are believed to be an attempt by the Ethiopian government to conceal human rights violations, stifle critics and prevent public protest of its actions ahead of expected elections in 2010.
The HRW report – Development without Freedom – How Aid Underwrites Repression in Ethiopia, provides a clear evidence that Meles and his ruling party made use of the aid money and supporting programmes for political means while donors turned a blind eye.
The report is based on facts collected through a six-month undercover investigation carried out in 53 villages. The respected human rights organization has documented all supporting evidences, open for independent further verification and how could one expect there to be any other intention behind the report?
There is nothing new that makes the current HRW report different from a previous report – A Hundred Ways of Putting Pressure. They both state that government services, including food aid distributions, are “tools used to discourage opposition to government policies, deny the opposition political space, and punish those who do not follow the party line”.
The opposition coalition forum, MEDREK, has also raised the issue that foreign aid and donations are inappropriately used by the ruling minority ethnic group to meet its political agenda, rather than the needs of those it was targeted at.
At the beginning of the year, Jason McClure, the Bloomberg journalist, while attempting to investigate allegations of relief aid misuse, was taken into custody and detained in Tigray, Mekele and deported from the country 48 hours later.
In its preliminary report, the EU Election Observation Mission (EOM) presents evidence that state resources have been used for ruling party election campaigns.
Following the parliamentary election result of May 2010, which Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s TPLF/EPRDF ruling party and its allies claim to have won, the US State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said:
“Ethiopia’s recent elections were designed to give the ruling party a ‘clear and decisive’ advantage that deprived voters of a free choice of candidates.
Laws and regulations introduced after elections in 2005 made it difficult for opposing candidates to run for office and for voters to pick among a wide range of candidates. It is our assessment that throughout the electoral process, freedom of choice for voters was constrained by the actions and inactions of Ethiopian government officials, the National Elections Board of Ethiopia and the ruling political party and its cadres”
Be it the above US State Department report, the EU EOM report, or the opposition party’s demand and court appeal for a re-run of the election, all have a direct relation with the report of the HRW. PM Meles and his party have been able to empower themselves through exploiting humanitarian and developmental aid that ought to reach the poor rural population, regardless of their political persuasion.
As usual, PM Meles and his government’s spokesman have dismissed the fact that they have used the aid to strengthen the political power of the ruling party. Furthermore, donors say that they do not have sufficient evidence to prove their aid has been used as a tool to serve the campaign of the dictator.
According to IRIN, the US, which gave Ethiopia US$937 million in aid last year, sent a team to southern Ethiopia in December, accompanied by government officials, to investigate the allegations. US efforts found “no evidence that food aid is being denied to supporters of the opposition”, wrote Alyson Grunder, a spokeswoman for the US embassy.
A team led by the World Bank analyzed data on aid distortion from the PSNP and found no widespread pattern of aid misuse, said Kenichi Ohashi, the World Bank’s country director for Ethiopia.
A Development Assistance Group(DAGs) formed in Ethiopia recently has published a statement that they do not concur with the conclusions of the recent HRW report regarding widespread, systematic abuse of development aid in Ethiopia and that their study did not generate any evidence of systematic or widespread distortion.
The question is, how do they(DAGs, World Bank) think that systematic abuse of development and humanitarian aid carried out by a well-organized ruthless minority group would generate evidence they could easily verify? The farmers, the teachers and the civil servants who are denied the humanitarian food-for-work aid, as well as capacity building trainings and promotion, are evidences on the ground. There is no way that neither HRW nor the victims could unjustly accuse the government.
We need to critically examine why these Development Assistance Groups (DAGs) defend actions of the brutal government of PM Meles Zenawi.
We may first of all need to know why INGOs wanted to operate in a strictly controlled and monitored environment, especially after the CSO law. It is true that a number of INGOs resisted the draft law initially. However, they failed to strongly challenge it, despite their democratic and humanitarian values.
The study once again states,
There is a perception within government that INGOs in Ethiopia benefit extensively from each successive crisis. For example, CRS was granted $53 million from USAID in September 2008 for 75,000 metric tons of food aid. Such massive grants are now seen as commonplace for humanitarian INGOs, including the high proportion that goes to fund expatriate staff, modern equipment and buildings, and generous overhead rates that support the costs of overseas offices and staff. Many INGOs, in Ethiopia at least, are now the size of major corporations. Globally, some organizations’ budgets surpass major operational UN agencies. Their best-paid governmental counterparts, by contrast, earn less than $200/month, The costs also include the political risk – the still persistent narrative that many INGOs present to the world about their role in “saving” Ethiopia, the use of the image of starving mothers and children, and the liberties that some take while in the country, including operating unregistered. At heart, though, there persists a strongly held perception in government that INGOs are perpetuating vulnerability and dependency for their own good.
We may be required to deeply investigate how far this truth can take us in the future.
Meles Zenawi has clearly spelled out his government’s view that NGOs and civil society organizations were needed only to fill gaps in services and functions that the government was unable to reach. With this view in mind, if the INGOs are operating in Ethiopia despite restrictions leveled by the CSO law, then we shall be forced to accept that they are no more than right hands of the dictator. However, as far as most Ethiopians understand, INGOs have democratic as well as humanitarian principles and visions. It is impossible to fully accept that they are in Ethiopia to cover weaknesses of the Meles regime.
The US State Department spokesperson PJ Crowley, in addressing concerns of his government, has clearly stated that the US has worked closely with the Ethiopian government in the last decade in counterterrorism efforts and in stabilizing neighbouring Somalia.
The US, the UK, or any other country for that matter can consider and support the government of PM Meles as a partner in the international war on terrorism. Nevertheless, it is vital that human dignity should be valued first and foremost before any form of “partnership” with leaders and governments such as Meles’, which aspire to rule by force and deceit.
Since the TPLF/EPRDF government of Meles came to power, the country and its people have been under a constant crisis. The government denies the basic human rights of its citizens. Illegal detentions, tortures and arbitrary killings are taking place in every corner of the country against opposition party members, their supporters and citizens who oppose the policies of the ruling party. Freedom of political opinion is restricted and the media of the country is fully under government control.
Meles Zenawi is systematically destroying and dismantling the country. He is a dictator in power without the consent of the people. His leadership lacks transparency and accountability. The ethnic-fascist authorities serving the government are totally corrupt.
The people of the country are starving whereas Meles, his very few top colleagues as well as his party’s economic empire, are saving billions of dollars in foreign banks.
With all these horrifying situations in the country, with lots and lots of tangible evidences, the support given by the so-called Development Assistant Groups (DAGs) in defending the ruthless minority ethnic group in power is heart breaking. Ethiopians know that the INGOs were his King Makers, and they need to stop doing that and abide by their democratic values and principles. The poor people of the nation are aware of the life saving contribution of the INGOs and shall never forget them.
Development cannot be expected without freedom; and the HRW report calls upon the donor governments to closely monitor the impact of their aid in Ethiopia. In the absence of the natural and democratic rights of the people, their effort is simply wasted.
Meles Zenawi is a criminal to be prosecuted at the International Court of Criminals (ICC) and doesn’t deserve to be a partner under any measure.
Tyrants like him have no concern for their country and people. They look after the interests of themselves, as well as the wellbeing of their small minority groups and puppets that they enrich at the expense of poor citizens, with the sole aim of buying time to stay in power.
Gerard Padro Miquel, assistant professor of political economy at the Graduate School of Business, demonstrated that “African dictators distort their economies and steal foreign aid as the means to buy support from selected segments of the populace. These dictators not only deprive their subjects of human rights, they loot their countries so openly that they have become known as “kleptocracies.” Efforts by the developed world to aid these economies are often sabotaged by corrupt bureaucracies that siphon off a huge percentage of external development money.”
This is the truth about PM Meles and his ruling party who ever boldly denies the report and attempts to defend the crime.
I hope Independent Ethiopians who believe in democracy, freedom, equality and the rule of law fully endorse the HRW report.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org