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Aid “supports repression” in Ethiopia, says rights group – Reuters AlertNet

April 9, 2010

The World Bank, European Union, United States and Britain are paying the salaries of local government workers who are using aid to reward and punish their political allies and opponents, the report said.
“People are being threatened. They are being told they need to join the party or else they will suffer. That’s including students in high school from the age of 14. So it’s really building a single party state,” Ben Rawlence, one of the report’s authors, told AlertNet.
Parents with hungry children have been locked out of food-for-work programmes because they are pro-opposition, and only farmers who support the government are able to access loans, seeds and fertilisers, HRW said.
“Western taxpayers are contributing to the financing of that architecture of repression,” Rawlence added.
Ethiopia receives more aid than any other country in Africa. Development aid to Ethiopia doubled between 2004 and 2008 because of “swollen” Western aid budgets strongly focused on helping Ethiopia achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
The eight goals were set globally in 2000 and include halving global poverty and hunger, improving access to education and cutting child death rates by 2015.
Ethiopia is also strategically important to the West because it borders Somalia, which is largely controlled by radical Islamist insurgents.
“It’s one of the most repressive societies in the world and the donors fear that if they put too much pressure on Ethiopia, the government will tell them to go take a hike,” Rawlence said.
Donors suspended aid to Ethiopia in 2005 following a post-election crackdown in which 200 people were killed, 30,000 detained and dozens of opposition leaders jailed.
Yet the aid tap was switched back on two years later with money being channelled to “capacity building” district governments in order to bypass the central government.
This made little difference because the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) party controls local government as well.
“The democracy situation now is positively worse than it was in 2005 and the spending is double,” Rawlence said.
“There is now zero opposition activity. People are terrified. There have not been the mass round-ups that there were post-2005 but the number of political prisoners is still completely unknown because there is no independent access to Ethiopian jails.”
Donors have few other avenues for their money. The government passed a law in 2009 barring non-governmental organisations working on human rights and good governance from receiving more than 10 percent of their funding from foreign sources.
HRW urged donors to insist jointly on independent evaluation of their aid projects, which the Ethiopian government does not currently allow.
“We want them to sit up and rethink and stop characterising Ethiopia as a democratising nation and turning a blind eye to these problems… rather than just carrying on business as usual, pumping money into the central treasury while the EPRDF builds a single party totalitarian state,” Rawlence said.

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