Ethiopia is one of the world’s largest recipients of foreign development aid. It receives approximately US$3 billion in funds annually—more than a third of the country’s annual budget—from external donors. Indeed, Ethiopia is today the world’s second-largest recipient of total external assistance, after Indonesia and excluding wartime Iraq and Afghanistan.
Foreign donors insist that their support underwrites much-needed agricultural growth, food security, and other putatively non-political programs. However, the development aid flows through, and directly supports, a virtual one-party state with a deplorable human rights record. The regime practices include jailing and silencing critics and media, enacting laws to undermine human rights activity, and hobbling the political opposition.
Foreign aid-funded “capacity-building” programs to improve skills that would aid the country’s development are used by the government to indoctrinate school children in party ideology, intimidate teachers, and purge the civil service of people with independent political views.
The government has used donor-supported programs, salaries, and training opportunities as political weapons to control the population, punish dissent, and undermine political opponents. The Productive Safety Net Programme—a cash-for-work program for vulnerable populations is controlled by local officials who also can restrict its use to those who join the ruling party. Local officials deny those people who didn’t join access to seeds and fertilizer, agricultural land, credit, food aid, and other resources for development. Such politicization has a direct impact on the livelihoods of people for whom access to agricultural inputs is a matter of survival .The aid is used to encourage teachers and farmers to join the ruling party. Farmers denied access to agricultural assistance, micro-loans, seeds, and fertilizers because they did not support the ruling party.
Meanwhile, the World Bank’s Public Sector Capacity Building Programme, which is used to train civil servants, is simultaneously a vehicle for government officials to indoctrinate trainees on the ruling party’s ideology, and to target opposition supporters in the name of weeding out under-performing staff.
Denying foreign aid, to individuals and their families because of their perceived or actual political viewpoints or affiliations violates the rights to freedom of expression and association and to take part in public affairs. Denying food aid or educational opportunities because of membership or perceived support for opposition political parties also violates the rights to food and education.
In their eagerness to show progress in Ethiopia, aid officials are shutting their eyes to the repression lurking behind the official statistics. Donors need to wake up to the fact that their aid money is used to fuel human rights abuses.