Last year, in November 2005, the EU and the US called for respect for human rights in Ethiopia, an end to mass arrests, the lifting of restrictions on the opposition, and the freeing of political detainees. In January 2006, the donor community halted direct budget payments to Ethiopia over concerns about its commitment to human rights This article argues that: “Until the political situation shows remarkable improvement, budget support from the donor community translates into the undermining ...read more
Last year, in November 2005, the EU and the US called for respect for human rights in Ethiopia, an end to mass arrests, the lifting of restrictions on the opposition, and the freeing of political detainees. In January 2006, the donor community halted direct budget payments to Ethiopia over concerns about its commitment to human rights This article argues that: “Until the political situation shows remarkable improvement, budget support from the donor community translates into the undermining rather than the building of democracy in Ethiopia. The donors must not reward the arrogance and rigid stance by the regime.”
The Ethiopian Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, appeared on BBC recently asking the donor community to give budget support to Ethiopia. Remarkably, apart from a British EU MP, the critics of the Meles government were not invited to the programme. The lack of opposition representation, when the BBC deals with the question of Ethiopia's aid dependency is a serious omission. This article therefore, is in part a response to the BBC report on this issue.
In Ethiopia today, elected opposition leaders are in jail. More than 20 journalists are in prison. Thousands of political prisoners are languishing in prisons throughout the country. It must be emphasised that they are innocent. They were arrested because they dared to contest the rigging of the election last year. They are in jail because they hold different political views. They are in jail because their conception of a democratic state, human rights and good governance contradicts that of the government. Independent observers agree that the elections were rigged. Most serious political analysts reject the regime's claim that there were no irregularities in the counting of ballots. A significant component of the international community took a symbolic step by suspending budget support to show their disquiet regarding the mishandling and subsequent excessive violence by the regime against those who protested against electoral injustice.
As a consequence, Britain, the EU and even the World Bank made a symbolic gesture by suspending budget support alleging breakdown of 'trust' (Hilary Benn) mainly because of the government crackdown on democracy, the people and the opposition. The understanding was that the political situation had to improve first before budget support could be reinstated. That seemed to be the overall donor position regarding the political situation in Ethiopia.
However, it now looks like the World Bank has found a trick to make it seem as if it is not giving budget support to the regime directly while, in reality, it is giving funds to branches of the local regional government indirectly. Budget support to the current government only helps the regime and not the poor. Aid should go directly to the people or to the programmes that yield direct benefits to the people. It should go directly to the health services, schools and other local services to the people, but not to the local government offices, which are run by one and the same political party, and its overt and covert structures of control. The World Bank is fully aware that the central and the local Government are run by one and the same party, as a number of its own studies on the budgetary flows between the centre and regions attest. The indirect aid to the Meles government agreed to by the World Bank will strengthen the government, and this is going to prove to be a further barrier on the efforts to bring about the much anticipated democratic transition in the country.
The situation has NOT changed
The crackdown continues. The elected opposition leaders are still in jail. If health and education services are suffering due to budget cuts, who is to blame for the situation? The responsibility falls entirely on the shoulders of the Government. It is not to be ruled out that the Government can tamper with these vital services to protest the donor community's just action to suspend budget support direct to its coffers. It has always been the government's position that aid be channelled directly to its coffers. We encourage the donor community to be creative by finding alternative avenues that will enable it to reach directly the people or civil society groups, especially community, faith-based and other grassroots groups, which are interested in providing communities with sanitation, water, health, education, farm support and other local needs. The donors must not give the money to the Government knowing that the regime wants to have complete control of the flow of aid in Ethiopia. Until the political situation demonstrates remarkable improvement, the current budget support by donors translates into the undermining rather than the building of democracy in Ethiopia. The donors must not reward the arrogance and rigid stance by the regime. The goal of providing monetary aid should be to empower the public, strengthen civil society, and to build an independent media and organise independent judiciary.
If Meles wants budget support desperately he should not persecute the opposition. Meles has submitted conditions to the donor community on how he should receive aid. He has asked the donor community not to take the lid of aid on and off, meaning he indirectly begs them to put the lid on rather than take it off. The current development assistance prioritises good governance, democracy, human rights as paramount for aid. Meles has been violating these values and principles - most glaringly during the election in May 2005. If the donors uphold these principles that he has violated, they should be congratulated. When they fail, they should be criticised. At the moment, it is the regime in Ethiopia that is violating these principles. It is principled not to give money to those who kill and violate the rule of law, abuse human rights and put in jail the opposition. The BBC should have invited the opposition to explain and clarify why budget support was suspended in the Ethiopian in the first place. There was no opposition representative to put the case forward. The BBC should redress this omission in the future. Generally speaking, the BBC, the donor world and others must understand that the Meles regime has structural and objective weakness that will sooner or later cripple it. Internally the Ethiopian people are against its chicanery and fraudulent actions. There is growing urban and rural resistance. Externally it has been embroiled with Somalia's Islamic Court. It has a war-like relationship with Eritrea for nearly a decade now. There are pockets of resistance sprouting for this or that reason everywhere. Regardless of what problems the opposition camp may have, the Meles regime has even bigger and more structural problems.
The opposition forces grouped around Kinjit, the new Alliance for Freedom and Democracy, have called for a national dialogue with the regime in order to change the political environment. The regime seems hell-bent on undermining national reconciliation and is determined in its belief that it can fight on all fronts as long as it can hoodwink the Bush administration as its partner in the 'global war on terror.' The regime has been blinded by its own arrogance, and appears more desperate to win back its loss of budget support by its inexhaustible willingness to assume the role of regional policeman, than to release political prisoners and create a favourable environment for a broad-based, all inclusive national dialogue and reconciliation.
The international community must hold firmly to the position by linking budget support to the immediate and unconditional release of the political prisoners in Ethiopia. Nothing is acceptable other than this. First, the prisoners must be released, and then budget support can follow. Not the other way around. We call upon the international community not to sacrifice political prisoners who have risked their lives for no other crime than trying to create a sustainable system of democratic transition. In order to bring back budget support, the pre-condition of the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners must be a top priority.
The Struggle for Democracy Continues
At present, Ethiopians inside and outside the country are united in their desire and motivation to see the birth of a democratic transition within a united national framework in their country. Ethiopians want to achieve, at a time when their own millennium is just around the corner, the following: the structural uprooting of poverty and inequality by instituting a comprehensive, effective and capable system for fair representation in politics, fair distribution in economics, fair governance in administration, fair treatment in the eyes of an impartial legal/judicial system, and freedom, rights, justice, dignity and security for all. A lot of Ethiopians in the Diaspora have decided to act as a moral community by focusing on the larger issues of making our country achieve a major civilization shift from authoritarian and tyrannical traditions to democratic, participatory and people empowering frameworks and traditions. May 15 2005 saw a massive voter turnout serving as a guidepost and as a huge resource for effecting the transition from tyranny to democracy. Ethiopians at home and abroad united, and struggled tooth and nail to show how debased it was for that massive turnout to be marred by accusations of fraud in the post-election period. Those who remained true to their principles and fought to the end against this gross abuse of peoples' trust were thrown into jails. The donors must not finance this gross injustice by funding their jailors.
We call on the international community not to finance injustice owing to unrelated and possible expedient reasons to the development of Ethiopian democracy. We urge the international community to stand firm against injustice. It is only by upholding such principles that a democratic renaissance in Ethiopia could come into existence. In Ethiopia, the immediate and unconditional release of the prisoners comes first. It actually brooks no delay. Withholding budget support and supporting other well-targeted boycotts are necessary to change the rigidity and arrogance of the regime. Financing its rigidity is to court injustice and not to serve justice. The international community must support the people, the opposition and especially those who are languishing in jail such as the renowned human right activist like Prof. Mesfin, the elected mayor of Africa's capital, Dr. Berhanu, elected party leaders such as engineer Hailu and judge Birtukan, journalists and civil society activists, and an unaccounted number of innumerable rural and urban young people across the breadth and depth of Ethiopia. Above all, the media and others should not exclude and must include the voice of the opposition for justice, freedom, democracy and dignity for all Ethiopians.
* Professor Mammo Muchie , Chair of NES-Scandinavian Chapter, Berhanu G. Balcha, Vice- Chair of NES-Scandinavian Chapter, Tekola Worku, Secretary of NES-Scandinavian Chapter.
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