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Alemayehu G. Mariam Headshot

Speaking Truth to Strangers

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Note: In my first commentary [1] on the theme, "Where do we go from here?", I suggested that the ruling dictatorship in Ethiopia following its 99.6 percent "victory" in the May 2010 parliamentary "election" will continue to do business as usual in much the same way as it has over the last two decades. In the second commentary [2], I focused attention on the Ethiopian opposition collectively and argued that they must atone to the people and reinvent themselves if they hope to play a significant role in that country's future. In this commentary, I accuse Western donors as accessories to the crime of democricide in Ethiopia and argue for greater accountability in Western aid and loans to the dictatorship in Ethiopia.[3]

Accessories to Democricide in Ethiopia

In the criminal law, an accessory is a person who assists in the commission of a crime without actually participating in it. Those who are "accessories before the fact" assist in the commission of a crime. "Accessories after the fact" help the criminal conceal his crime and escape liability. In a perfect world, Western donors in Ethiopia would be prosecuted for being accessories before and after the fact to the crime of first-degree "democricide" and for aiding and abetting a ruthless kleptocracy. But we live in an imperfect world, and must be content with bringing them to trial in the court of world opinion.

For the past two decades, Western donors and the international banks have nurtured, coddled and sustained some of the most brutal and tyrannical regimes on the African continent. They have done it rather craftily. First, they created the fictional character of the "new breed African leaders" and promoted them as Africa's saviors. They were presumably much different than the old style in-your-face dictators like Robert Mugabe, Mobutu Sese Seko, Idi Amin and the self-coronated Emperor Jean Bedel Bokassa. The "new breeders" were said to be committed to multiparty democracy, economic reforms and civil liberties. Bill Clinton and Tony Blair lionized Meles Zenawi and his ilk (Yoweri Musaveni of Uganda, Kagame of Rwanda, Thabo Mbeki of South Africa). Of course, Clinton and Blair knew they were selling the natives the same old rancid wine of dictatorship in a new bottle labeled "New African Democrats." Zenawi gloated and basked in the sunshine of Western praise and used that fame devastatingly against his opposition: "I am the one, and only one. So I am by the grace of the Western donors."

Ethiopian Mortality = Western "Stability"

The primary explanation for the silence of Western donors in the face of gross and massive human rights violations, corruption and electoral fraud in Ethiopia is "stability." On May 24, 2010, Agence France Press quoted a Western diplomat in Addis Ababa saying: "It's a great thing if there are several opposition parties, but when it comes to the long-term stability of the country and the region, Meles is still your best bet." Such anonymous diplomatic statements are repeated with such nauseating frequency that one is confused about the meaning of the word. We know the diplomatic justification of "stability" for Western donor inaction in Ethiopia has a long and ignoble history. In the early 1970s, they failed to act against the imperial regime because doing so could destabilize the country. They said the same thing about the military junta that overthrew the Ethiopian monarchy, except they wanted to maintain stability in the cold war balance of power in the Horn. Now, they are pulling out the same old tired rabbit out of their hat. "Meles is the best bet for the long term stability of the country."

Zenawi has cultivated and foisted the "stability" canard on the Western donors for years. He has tried to convince them that he is the glue that keeps the 80 million Ethiopians from exploding into ethnic warfare and civil war. The donors know it is all a grim fairy tale, but they go along with it. The facts speak differently. It was Zenawi who created ethnic Bantustans to keep the people corralled in homelands as part of his divide-and-rule strategy. He is the one who facilitated the process by which the country lost its outlet to the sea. He is the one giving away territory secretly to neighboring countries and selling the country's best land to outsiders. By the time Zenawi is done with Ethiopia, stability will be the last thing Western donors will be concerned about.

The second justification for Western donor inaction in Ethiopia has to do with Zenawi's cooperation (particularly with the U.S. and the U.K.) on the war on terror. In 2006, Zenawi proxied a war for the U.S. to wipe out Al-Qaeda terrorists in Somalia. He got bogged down in a war he promised will take only a couple of weeks; he found few, if any, Al-Qaeda terrorists. Two years later he suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of Somali fighters and exited, leaving behind a rap sheet of untold war crimes against Somali civilians. The Bush Administration lionized him for making "monumental advancements in the political environment" and "opening up political space." The third reason for inaction is said to be the impracticality and futility of ending or suspending aid. Significant cutbacks in economic aid and loans would not be practical because of the nature of the needs on the ground; and using aid to leverage change could invite condemnation by other poor countries. The carrot and stick approach is said to be unworkable in the Ethiopian context.

True Lies

As Helen Epstein has shown in her recent meticulously researched and cogently argued piece, "Cruel Ethiopia" [4], since 1991 the Zenawi dictatorship in Ethiopia has received some $26 billion in development aid from Western donors including the US Agency for International Development, the World Bank, the European Union, and Britain's Department for International Development. By 2008, Ethiopia was the highest foreign aid recipient in the African continent with an inflow of $3 billion in foreign aid. The obvious questions are: 1) What really happened to all of the aid money? 2) Did it do any good?

Supposedly all of the aid money and loans have helped produce "double digit economic growth" and spawned a variety of social programs. Do Western donors know the real truth about the efficacy of their aid money and loans and the real growth of the Ethiopian economy? Of course, they know; but prefer to play dumb. The truth is that Zenawi's claim of "double digit economic growth" is simply FALSE! As I have recently demonstrated in one of my commentaries, all of the figures about double digit growth over the past half dozen years or so years were simply and literally cooked up in the regime's statistics office [5] and served to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on a silver platter with garnish. It is a simple trick not known to many: The IMF asks its client states to provide economic performance statistics. In Ethiopia's case, they pull numbers out of thin air or their back pockets and give it to the IMF, which in turn incorporates it in its official reports. Zenawi turns around and tells the world that the IMF said the country's economic growth has been in the double digits. It is just that simple!

But the story of "economic growth" goes beyond fabricated statistics to the story of a chokehold on the economy by a full fledged kleptocracy. As Epstein describes [6]:

According to the World Bank, roughly half of the rest of the national economy is accounted for by companies held by an EPRDF-affiliated business group called the Endowment Fund for the Rehabilitation of Tigray (EFFORT). EFFORT's freight transport, construction, pharmaceutical, and cement firms receive lucrative foreign aid contracts and highly favorable terms on loans from government banks. Ethiopia is not a typical African kleptocracy, and there is no evidence that Meles personally benefits from these businesses. Rather, they are part of a rigid system of control that aid agency officials, beguiled by Meles's apparently pro-Western exterior, have only recently begun to recognize.

What about the health programs that have been touted as the crown jewels of so much aid effort? The evidence on those programs is no less shocking. Epstein who actually completed a first hand investigation of aid supported health and social services reported:

I first traveled to Ethiopia in 2008 to study the country's new public health strategy. Nearly every government and aid agency official I met expressed enthusiasm for the many programs underway. Rates of AIDS, malaria, and infant mortality were falling and Ethiopian health officials told me that there was no corruption; medicines were always in stock, even in faraway rural clinics; and community health workers were trained, efficient, and never absent from their posts... Most of these programs were in rural areas far from the capital, Addis Ababa, where my interviews took place. I wanted to see them for myself, not least because I knew that some of the claims I was hearing weren't entirely true. Government officials claimed that in 2005, 87 percent of children had received all major vaccines, but an independent survey suggested that the figure was closer to 27 percent. Similarly, the fraction of women using contraception was 23 percent, not 55 percent as government officials claimed. The annual growth in farm production was also probably nowhere near the government's own figure of 10 percent.

...
One day, I heard an aid official give a lecture about a small nutrition project in one of the poorest regions of the country.... A few days later I visited the region myself. I was amazed by what I saw there. Roads were under construction, a university had recently opened, and crowds of children were on their way home from a new school. Health workers spoke enthusiastically about the malaria bednet program, the immunization program, the pit latrine program, and the family planning program... But when I went to visit the nutrition project, my enthusiasm faded. It was intended for children, but many of their mothers were also malnourished. Several had obvious goiter, and a few were so anemic they nearly fainted while they were speaking to me. When I asked these women why they could not adequately feed their children or themselves, most replied that they didn't have enough land, and therefore couldn't grow enough food either to eat or to sell.

Hanna Ingber Win's recent five-part analysis of maternal health care programs in Ethiopia supported by the U.N. Population Fund paints a similar picture of failed international aid policy[7]. In my commentary on Win's report, I noted: "It is simply preposterous and irrational to talk about economic growth or development when a country has 'one of the world's worst health care systems." [8]

Western Donors Through Zenawi's Eyes

In a recent commentary, I outlined my views on what I believe to be Zenawi's strategy in dealing with the Western donors [9]. The fact of the matter is that Zenawi knows the Western donors very well; and he anticipates and plans for any moves they are likely to make on the aid and loan chessboard. He knows what makes them tick and not tock. He knows they want two things: 1) "stability" (whatever it means) and 2) plausible deniability (that is if something goes wrong, they can say they did not know about it). Zenawi's logic in dealing with the Western donors is demonic, but flawless in execution. When he massacred hundreds of unarmed protesters in the streets and imprisoned some 50 thousand political prisoners (by official Inquiry Commissions accounts) and stole the 2005 election, he was rewarded with hundreds of millions of dollars in loans and aid. When he herded and jailed nearly all of the opposition leaders, he was given more aid and loans. When he passed a repressive press and charities law, he was showered with more aid and loans. Every time the international human rights organizations issued reports of gross violations of human rights, Western donors rewarded Zenawi with more aid and loans, NEVER less. The best the Western donors have done in terms of bringing pressure on Zenawi has been to windbag about human rights, democracy and all of that good stuff. Lesson learned: Getting aid and loans from the Western donors and banks is like taking candy from a child. There is nothing to it!

Zenawi knows the Western donors so well that he now openly shows his contempt for them by getting in their faces. He jammed the Voice of America and came out in public and told the U.S. that it is no different than the genocidal interahamwe maniacs in Rwanda. American taxpayers dropped a cool $4 billion of their hard earned dollars in Ethiopia in the past few years, and they get spit in the faces. What a shame! The point is that Zenawi will continue to taunt and play confrontational with Western donors until they put a stop to it. That will happen when hell freezes over and the devil goes ice skating!

It's All About Mind Over Matter

The bottom line for the Western donors it that it is all a simple problem of mind over matter. They don't mind the dictatorship and its corruption and human rights violations, and Ethiopians don't matter. In other words, they don't give a damn if there is democracy, dictatorship or despotism. They are all words that start the letter "D". They just want a "stable" government that will let them do their thing. Millions are dying from starvation? Send a few boatloads of grain to ease their consciences. Human rights violations? Stolen elections? Political prisoners? Suppression of press freedom? Issue a few public statements expressing dismay. Otherwise, have breakfast with the dictator in Stockholm, lunch in Toronto and dinner in Pittsburgh. It is all about mind over matter. Western donors and international banks don't mind, and Ethiopians don't...

The Need for Greater Accountability for Aid and Loans

Few are foolish enough to believe that Western aid and loans alone could develop Africa. In fact, the evidence is entirely to the contrary. In her recent book, Dead Aid, Dambissa Moyo has made a compelling argument to "cut aid to Africa" not only because it has not promoted development, but also because it has compounded Africa's problems. Moyo argues that aid helps create kleptocratic governments in which powerful elites embezzle public revenues. William Easterley in his book The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good, has shown the incestuous relationship between the international aid bureaucracies and corrupt local officials that benefit from aid funds.

High aid revenues going to the national government benefit political insiders, often corrupt insiders, who will vigorously oppose democracy that would lead to more equal distribution of aid. Systemic evidence in a couple of recent studies suggests that aid actually decreases democracy and makes government worse. Steve Knack of the World Bank finds that higher aid worsens bureaucratic quality and leads to violation of the law with more impunity and to more corruption.

Both Moyo and Easterly have argued for more accountability and tougher scrutiny of the "foreign aid industry." The problem of accountability is complicated by the fact that the aid and lending agencies have a vested (conflict) interest in proving that their programs are working, and the dictatorships want to show that they are using the money well. It is a well known fact that the performance of the aid agencies is judged primarily by short-term criteria such as how much aid is disbursed, rather than longer-term effects on accountability. Aid and lending agencies are also insulated from the consequences of their failures. This often makes it difficult to implement a structure of accountability and transparency in recipient countries. For instance, the IMF has no mechanism to hold its client states accountable for the economic data they collect as I have demonstrated in my recent commentary . USAID performs perfunctory annual program evaluations that are self-serving and intended to show that U.S. tax dollars are actually doing good in Ethiopia.

In the short term, the best that can be done is to demand transparency on the part of the donor countries in the administration of their aid money, and in seeking greater accountability on the part of the multilateral lending institutions such as the IMF and World Bank. For instance, there have been numerous recent allegations of U.S. aid being used to buy votes and influence elections in Ethiopia. In the U.S., Congress has the power to look into such allegations of abuse of U.S. aid money. The second area of action should focus on demanding imposition of "governance conditionality" (reasonable conditions on grant of aid). H.R. 2003 (Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act) is a good example in this regard.

Those advocating for change in Ethiopia should take heed of the words of Helen Epstein:

The problem with foreign aid in Ethiopia is that both the Ethiopian government and its donors see the people of this country not as individuals with distinct needs, talents, and rights but as an undifferentiated mass, to be mobilized, decentralized, vaccinated, given primary education and pit latrines, and freed from the legacy of feudalism, imperialism, and backwardness. It is this rigid focus on the 'backward masses,' rather than the unique human person, that typically justifies appalling cruelty in the name of social progress.

The question is simple: When we witness the crime of democricide being committed against the "backward masses," we have the choice of acting to stop it, or being accessories before and after the fact. I can imagine the thunderous crescendo of 80 million people shouting with index fingers pointing at the Western donors: "We accuse!"

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/of-elections-and-diapers_b_595203.html
[2] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/ethiopia-speaking-truth-t_b_602507.html
[3]See also, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/western-diplomatic-omerta_b_453003.html
[4] http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/may/13/cruel-ethiopia/
[5] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/ethiopia-the-voodoo-econo_b_542298.html
[6] See footnote 4.
[7] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/hanna-ingber-win/mothers-of-ethiopia-part_b_300333.html
[8] http://www.abugidainfo.com/?p=11726
[9] See footnote 1.