By Tom Porteous
Ethiopia is the largest recipient of western development assistance in Africa. In 2005-08, aid to Ethiopia more than doubled – from $1.9 billion to $3.4 billion. Yet the country’s domestic politics are becoming less democratic and more repressive. Could there be a link between aid and repression?
That’s a question Human Rights Watch has set out to answer in recent months; and a report published on 19 October 2010 gives an unsettling answer. In the course of several months’ research involving interviews with over 200 people in three regions of Ethiopia and the capital Addis Ababa, we uncovered evidence that multi-billion dollar programmes funded by the World Bank and others have been politicised and manipulated by the Ethiopian government and are used as a powerful tool of political control and repression.
Meanwhile the donors, particularly Britain and other European Union donors, have failed properly to acknowledge the problem – let alone challenge the Ethiopian government over it or propose remedies.
A state of insecurity
Ethiopia is a de facto one-party state masquerading as a democracy. Its ruling party, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), permeates the state and goes to great lengths to ensure citizens’ political loyalty. In parliamentary elections in May 2010, the EPRDF won 99.6% of the seats. In local elections in 2008 it won more than 99%.
When the opposition protested against the declared results of the election in 2005 – which took place in an unusual atmosphere of freedom, though the process was still flawed – the security forces shot dead 200 protesters and arrested and detained tens of thousands of opposition supporters, including dozens of politicians.