Obama: Failing the African Spring?

The New York Review Daily February 25, 2013

Today, Western nations give $3.5 billion a year in aid to Ethiopia, most of it for health care projects, food aid, and other development programs. Of this, the US alone provides roughly $700 million—an amount that has quintupled in the past decade, even as the nation’s human rights record has deteriorated to the point that Freedom House now designates it one of the least free countries in the world. The Ethiopian government has rigged elections, taken control of the economy, and outlawed virtually all independent media and human rights activity in the country—including work related to women and children’s rights, good governance, and conflict resolution. Thousands of political prisoners languish behind bars and dozens of editors, journalists, judges, lawyers, and academics have been forced into exile.

Why Are We Funding Abuse in Ethiopia?

The New York Review Daily March 14, 2013

In 2010, the Ethiopian government began moving thousands of people out of the rural villages where they had lived for centuries to other areas several hours’ walk away. The Ethiopian government calls this program the “Commune Center Development Plan and Livelihood Strategy” and claims it is designed to bring scattered rural populations closer to schools, health clinics, roads, and other public services. But the Commune Center program has been marked by a string of human rights abuses linked to government attempts to clear huge tracts of land for foreign investors. According to testimony collected by Human Rights Watch and other groups over the past two years, the relocations have involved beatings, imprisonment, torture, rape, and even murder. In many of the new “villages” the program has created, the promised services do not exist. Deprived of the farms, rivers, and forests that once provided their livelihoods, many people fear starvation, and thousands have fled to refugee camps in Kenya and South Sudan.

Cruel Ethiopia

The New York Review of Books, May 13, 2010

On May 23, Ethiopia will hold its first parliamentary elections since 2005, but the results seem foreordained. Opposition groups have been prevented from opening local offices and some opposition candidates have been assaulted by EPRDF officials or arbitrarily detained by the police.10 The government uses Chinese spy technology to bug phone lines and Internet communications, and countless journalists, editors, judges, academics, and human rights defenders have fled the country or languish behind bars, at risk of torture. New laws passed since 2005 have made political activity more difficult than ever. The Anti-Terrorism Proclamation of 2009 makes hearsay admissible as evidence in court, and one of Ethiopia’s few remaining independent newspapers recently closed after its editors learned that charges against them were being prepared under the act. Voice of America and other international radio programs are routinely jammed before elections, including this one.11

These events are unfolding as billions of dollars in foreign aid pour into the country. Foreign aid is important. It helps needy people, it creates allies for our causes and markets for our products, and redeems some of the damage inflicted on the third world during the cold war. But aid agencies need to ensure that their programs don’t exacerbate the political problems that are keeping people poor in the first place.