Seifu Tsegaye Demmissie — The regime of Meles Zenawi is one of the most favourite clients of the global aid industry on which its existence is hinging. The nature of the industry’s involvement in Ethiopia is such that it has become an international force posing a formidable challenge to the Ethiopian movement for democracy and freedom. Therefore, Ethiopians need to explore and devise better and effective ways of dealing with the industry and reaching out to the public in the west that are the financial sources for it. The aid industry has earned a bad reputation among Ethiopians because of its insensitive and unconditional support to the ethno-fascistic regime of Meles Zenawi. It is regrettable to note that instead of becoming a partner for democracy, development and human rights, the aid industry has become a partner for tyranny and repression in Ethiopia.
The aid industry is synonymous with the so called International Development and western countries and their organizations are the major players in it. It emerged out of earlier missionary and colonial interventions in Africa, but has not been able to wholly transform itself into becoming a partner for democracy and development. It is still attached to donor interests and being used as one of the prime weapons in their foreign policy. Geopolitics still plays a decisive role and political considerations override development needs. This situation is expected to continue as new donors such as China become part of the aid industry (3).
The years under Zenawi have seen a surge in the presence and operation of aid organizations and agencies in the country. Despite Zenawi`s worsening human rights violations and abysmally poor governace records , western aid is continuing to flow into the coffers of his regime. Different sources indicate that direct budget support has risen to account for nealrly 60 percent of the regime`s annual expenditures. It is clear that foreign aid has has become the regime’s important source of revenue and any effort aimed at linking foreign aid to democracy and good governance faces stiff resistance and accusations from the rank and file of the TPLF.
The World Bank has a leading role in the aid industry and donors wield significant influence over recipients. The aid industry is also prone to corruption, the most common form of which is the misuse of aid by the recipients. The manifestation of corruption related to the aid industry in the recipient country take the forms of cronyism and misuse of aid to personal wealth accumulation. The lack of accountability, transparency and patronage are the order of the day in Zenawi`s rule and have created all the suitable conditions for the flourishing of corruption in the country. Mention could also be made of the lack of transparency and accountability in the multilateral sources of aid such as the European Union (EU) and the World Bank. Corruption and cronyism in the European Commission or the Executive Branch of the European Union had led to the resignation of the entire commission (2). This has led to loss of confidence in western European donors and shows the gap between what Meles Zenawi`s major donors preach and practice regarding good governance and transparency. Had the west been serious about democracy, human rights and good governance, they would have abandoned Meles Zenawi who is committing atrocities.
The recent investigative report of the British Broascating Corporation (BBC) on the TPLF`s diversion and misuse of relief aid is what Ethiopians have known for decades. What has perturbed Meles Zenawi is the potential damage the report could do to his vital source of revenue (western aid) through drawing the attention of the western or British public to the corruption inherent in his ethno-fascistic front and regime. Western governments are accountable to their respective electorates and the issue of their taxpayers` money being abused to bankroll corrupt client regimes like that of Meles Zenawi should not avoid public scrutiny.
Aid to emergency relief and humanitarian assistance is specially vulnerable to corruption or misuse particularly under conflicts or civil disorder. This fact counts against the forces and interest groups attempting to defame and discredit the recent BBC investigative report on the TPLF`s diversion and misuse of emergency aid to purchae armament. Instead the aid industry and agencies should acknowledge corruption as a serious challenge facing the industry and seek all the means and ways to address it. The BBC and its journalist Martin Plaut deserve appreciation and encouragement for taking up and investigating this very sensitive issue of diverting and misappropriating food aid meant to save the lives of millions. In doing so Martin Plaut and the BBC have taken the extraordinary step of bringing the issue to the attention of the British public whose government is spending hundreds of millions to prop up the corrupt regime of Meles Zenawi. As long as I know it is unusual of a British or Western journalist to deal with a sensitive issue as this one directly concerning Anglo-American interests in Africa. The diversion and misappropriation of food aid meant to those starving to death amount to serious crimes against humanity and the perpetrators should be brought to justice. Hence we expect the journalists of the BBC and other western media to discharge their professional duties of impartiality and objectivity in reporting and informing their public.
The increasing dependence on aid is deforming the country’s economy and as a consequence it is well on the way to face what some experts term ` the aid curse`. The `natural resource or oil curse` is well investigated, documented and some parallels can be drawn between aid and oil curses. It is known that countries rich in such natural resources as oil, diamonds, and rubber have often slower rates of growth than their peers- a phenomena described as `resource curse`. The most important resource to the regime of Meles Zenawi has been foreign or western aid, not oil or minerals. Though claiming to tie aid to good governance, western aid is not promoting good governance as evidenced by the atrocities of Meles Zenawi who still remains the idol of the donors. Nor is it promoting overall economic growth in Ethiopia. As rightly pointed out by Chukwo-Emeka Chikzie (1), along with corrupt dictators, the self serving aid industry is contributing to Africa’s continuing dependence on aid by capitalizing on the misery in the continent to raise money in the west. Continuing or increasing dependence on aid has its negative impacts on the overall development of the recipient country. Some of these undesirable impacts are:
1. It damages institutions and hampers healthy growth.
2. Aid can sustain poor governments and hinder political reforms.
Aid dependent regimes like that of Zenawi are accountable to donors, not to the population. The growing direct budget support (estimated to account for 60% of the regimes official budget) the regime receives is not encouraging reform and accountability.
3. Aid created a situation called `a moral hazard. This situation leads to governments spending more money without a budget discipline or firm budget control certainly counting on donors to bail them out of any crisis.
4. Large aid projects take away skilled workers from government by offering very attractive salaries. These in turn weaken domestic institutions.