Wednesday, May 31, 2006

World Bank, PBS and Aid Politics for Dummies: Part 2

My quest to seek higher knowledge about economics has unearthed the inner geek in me. How else can I explain why I spent a whole hour watching Nova? … Renewed hope on String Theory that has led to the M Theory… how extra dimensions exist because they come out of the equations of string theory… strings need to move in more than three dimensions… Yummy.


So donor nations’ problem child, Ethiopia, got a $1.o5 billion aid package from the World Bank. See? See what blocking opposition websites, repressing free speech, jailing the opposition and being an AK-47 wielding goon in a silk tie gets ya? Schweeet.

And, as always, the World Bank’s ‘aw shucks’ explanation as to why the Ethiopian government gets rewarded for ragamuffin behavior is more interesting than the reward itself because, true to form, the World Bank assumes we are all snot-eating imbeciles. Love that.

Get ready, set… whatever…

Instead of lending to the national government as it usually does, the [World] bank will provide $215 million of its new aid to hundreds of local governments, mainly for basic services such as water, health and education.

Monsieur Ishac Diwan, care to string together a blustery, yet oddly predictable vociferation? You do? Oh well.

"It's not a magic solution. It's just a completely different way of doing business."

Completely different? Hmm. Like paying protection money to Tony Soprano through Benny Fazio instead of Silvio Dante different?

The problem is, no one asks Dr. Diwan what exactly is the difference between the federal and local government. Who controls local governments? Who are its leaders? Oh, yeah. Why were local elections ‘postponed’ by the federal government? So when Dr. Diwan tells us this is a “completely different” way of doing business, I think we are supposed to nod seriously and be awed by his declamatory fiat. We’re not worthy. We’re not worthy.

On November 16, 2005, a clearly agitated Dr. Diwan was unwavering in his convictions.

"Aid will be cut. The question is by how much?" Isaac Diwan, World Bank country director in Ethiopia, said in an interview.

"We have sent very clear signals that international and World Bank assistance will be cut over time if the governance situation does not improve," Diwan said.

Well the “government situation” must have improved since November... what? Why are you giving me the stink eye? All opposition leaders are safely in prison; journalists are journaling… in prison, and Prime Minister Meles has not called anyone else a “self appointed colonial viceroy.” Let aid money rain.

In a May 17 letter to EthioMedia, Dr. Diwan promised this new direct budgetary supplement that shalt not be referred to as direct budgetary supplement would:

have stringent reporting requirements and explicit mechanisms for promoting transparency and accountability in public budgets, resource use and service delivery.


The project has not one, but two, strong components that would seek to empower the poor to demand quality public services.

Ya? Two? Well, good luck with that because the Ethiopian government has not two but hundreds of strong components to keep its poor nice and un-empowered. But, okay. We get it. Maybe ‘stringent reporting requirements’ will tempt the Ethiopian government to treat its people decently. We all know what deference Prime Minister Meles has for ‘stringent’ reporting.

But here comes the Ethiopian American Civic Advocacy to put the kabash on Dr. Diwan’s buoyant head trip. On May 24, our own Inde Hewan, patron Saint of Wonqville and econ chick extraordinaire, wrote a response to Dr. Diwan.

The letter takes umbrage with the awkward nomenclature and the logic behind the whole “thou shalt not call the Protection of Basic Services (avert your eyes and bow) direct budgetary supplement. Ahoy, witness the birth of PBS…may it live long and prosper. You may FedEx your ululations ” reasoning.

Speak, EACA.

… just because the loan is no longer channeled directly to the federal government budget, but rather to the subnational government budgets, it is no less a form of budget support. We are critical on the basis of the substance of the loan, not its formal labeling.

Oh, EACA. Picky, picky, picky.

But the EACA is rankled by something else. It ferreted out the bank’s February project information document, which I assume means a document that has information on a particular project. (I told you, genius resides amongst you.) In it, we are told why the PBS is not the bastard child of direct budgetary supplement. (Italics theirs, underlining mine.)

What sets the approach of the PBS apart from the previous modality of direct budget support, is the way in which the PBS operation will involve more timely and detailed reporting on the use of resources, explicit monitoring and oversight of the fairness of the transfers, monitoring of service delivery results at the Regional/sub-national levels rather than national levels, and the introduction of measures to encourage local accountability to support Government’s commitment to distribute resources for basic service delivery equitably.

(Haaaaa? “Government’s commitment to distribute resources for basic service delivery equitably”!!?? Is that like telling Tony Soprano, “Hey, ho. Ho, hey. Vinne “two fingers” Blundetto said to make sure you distribute his ‘contribution’ evenly between Carmella and all the rest of your gumbahs.”)

Okay, alright already! There will be strict monitoring of funds. We get it.

But… hold it, hold it… what is this on page three…?

While the PBS itself has no direct mechanism to influence choices made at the local government level, the preservation of resource flows for basic services should enable expansion in service coverage and incremental improvements in service quality.

Okay, now I am confused. Hhhh’watt? Whaddayamean the PBS has “no direct mechanism to influence choices made at local government level”, bud? But what happened to the stringent accountability we were promised? And what in the heck does “the preservation of resource flows for basic services should enable expansion in service coverage and incremental improvements in service quality” mean??

Me no likee economics.

Naturally, the EACA has questions about the “we can’t influence what happens with the money” part:

This statement is no longer present in the May version of the PID. Is that because the PBS has indeed been redesigned to [introduce] mechanisms for influencing budget choices, or is it structurally the same as the February conception of the PBS, on this point?

Goddamit. Does this mean that I have to read the May PID. Say no… say no… say no…

So let’s get this straight: after so much hype about accountability and transparency and how this is a completely different way of doing business, we are told that the bank has, really, no influence as to how local governments distribute the money? Then, someone at Dr. Diwan’s office realized we know how to… what do you call that thing… read, and xnayed that phrase. Hope they replaced it with examples of some of them crazy stringent requirements.

Not quite. Hmm. I don’t know about this Diwan feller. I just don’t know.

Okay. Bygones. I am sure after realizing the faux pas in the February PID the bank lays out a series of clearly thought out and specific ways to monitor the moolah. La-la-la. It does. It does. I refuse to believe it doesn’t.

So, how would the PBS make sure that, say, an Ato Demissew Sereqe, chairman of Asresh Michew district in Central Ethiopia does not “appropriate” X number of PBS dollars to a ‘water project’ located in, say, his backyard that kinda might resemble a swimming pool but not really? No doubt the bank is taking extra care of Americans’ tax money.

Weeeelll, not so much. EACA, care to opine?

... the document does not further elaborate what thresholds of divergence of actual spending patterns from budgeted allocations would set off a discontinuation of spending.

Huh? I read that as, “We all know the money is gonna be diverted, Diwan. Question is, do you have a threshold for what is acceptable divergence and unacceptable divergence of aid?” What would the Ethiopian government have to do with PBS money for Dr. Diwan to get unsettled? Let’s say Ato Demissew decides to add a cabana to that pool. Would that mean he won’t get money for the stainless steel outdoor grill his wife has been haranguing him about?

Goddamit. Now I really have to read the May PID.

Let’ see…. Open your books to the May PID, boys and girls, wet your thumb and start flipping… Country and Sector Background… Okay. Objectives… yadda.. yadda. Rationale for Bank Involvement… whatever. Description… four components … Ah! Component 3 on Financial Transparency and AccountabilitySit back. Enjoyyy.

Sub-Program C will support… [eh?] government-implemented (i.e., supply side) activities at the Regional/City Administration, and Woreda and sub-Woreda levels to significantly enhance transparency around public budget procedures (budget preparation, expenditure and audits); and, foster broad engagement, strengthened “voice” and client power of citizen representative groups and citizens more broadly on public budget processes and public service delivery.

Blink. Blink... Blink?

This component will also finance accountants and Information Technology experts to be hired by MOFED to enhance its own capacity and to provide TA to the regions and Woredas. It will also finance urgent capacity strengthening activities for the Office of the Federal Auditor General.

MoFED = Ministry of Finance and Development of Ethiopia.

TA does not = T and A

Well, this is creepy.

After whipping us into a frenzy about “timely and detailed reporting… explicit monitoring… oversight and monitoring of service delivery ” we are left with hope that the Ethiopian government will self-monitor?

What is the economics-y way of saying cotius interuptus?

So, to summarize, and forgive me for the plebian interpretation of Component 3, Dr. Diwan, but does it boil down to giving the federal government money to hire, um, beady-eyed accountants and misanthrope IT geeks who can maneuver a mouse through Excel spreadsheets to significantly enhance transparency? We are giving the Office of the Federal Auditor General (hopefully not a fancy name for Prime Minister Meles’ personal banker) money for some urgent “capacity strengthening.” Exsqueeze me very much, did they say that we are going through MoFED to ensure transparency and accountability? We are soooo Mo-Fucked.

In case you care anymore, here is how “Basic services” are defined in the PBS:

…primary and secondary education, health, water supply & sanitation, rural roads, agricultural extension, labor, social welfare.”

Basically, anything a half-way decent government should be providing for its people without being begged to do so.

And what, pray tell, is possibly excluded?

… spending on public order and security, and some economic sectors whose link to poverty is ambiguous, e.g. Mines and Energy, and [read this carefully] “miscellaneous spending”

Umm… really? “Miscellaneous spending” will no longer be an acceptable line item? My, my. These are stringent checks and balances. Can someone inform the new accountants?

Okay, help us out, Dr. Diwan. We realize you might have forgotten to add specifics on accountability here; after all, $1.05 billion has a lot of zeros in it and little details are bound to get lost. So, we in Wonqville, the economic theory challenged, would like to ask your help in deciphering which of the following is/is not legitimate spending of PBS funds:

1) An assistant to the Minister of MoFED who will hire accountants, but not IT support staff

2) An assistant to the Minister of MOFED who will hire IT staff but not accountants

3) A “Sanitation Czar” who will make sure all the supporting documents coming to you will be sanitized as defined by MoFED

4) Curtains for the Office of the Federal Auditor General

5) Security, um, consultants to protect primary and secondary school students from the influences of “anti-peace” elements

6) A Ministry that will try to understand what “social welfare” means

7) Clinics to inoculate the citizenry from deadly busybodies viruses such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch

8) A mechanism that faily and effectively distributes fertilizer to the poor (who did not vote for the CUD.)

We look forward to Dr. Diwan’s response.

And incase you are not quite yet pulverized by WB logic, sink your teeth into this baby:

[PBS] would thus aim to provide the required funding to prevent Government from having to make cuts in pro-poor expenditures especially at sub-national levels.

Surely the Ethiopian government cannot be expected to cut its “upholding of rule of law” budget to feed its poor and provide them with basic services, could it?

And someone, please, check the Ethiopian government’s loose definition of “pro poor”…

This economics is fun. Will be back with part three.

In the meantime, here is Dr. Diwan on VOA. It’s required listening for part three.


VOA Amharic, you know, the one that harbors genocidal maniacs, reported on a seminar at the American Embassy in Addis about AGOA, a program that promotes trade and entrepreneurship as way to development. Funnily, the EPRDF has not bothered to jump on that ‘pro-poor’ bandwagon. Well, to be fair, it IS easier to extort money from the west. “Give us money or more people will die.”

Redeem Ethiopia elaborates on that.

Besides, there is no Ministry of Fiscal Adherence to Conceptual, Keen Efficiency and Development (MoFACK-ED) in Ethiopia. (Oh yeah. Have a million of those.)

Quote of the month:

However, they also serve to change the subject from human rights, EU Parliament meetings and US Congressional hearings to focus the donor mind on how happy the West should be that Ethiopians at least aren't engaged in cannibalism and how little should be expected from or for them.

Ethiopundit: Meles Love You Long Time.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Day

In memoriam. To the men and women who died for this great country. A country which gave us a home. A sanctuary. Peace of mind… when no one else would take us in.

In memoriam.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Prozac, Mr. Annan?

Despite someone having pumped Kofi Annan with a potent Red Bull and speed cocktail, then Crazy Gluing his eyelids open before propping him in front of BBC News cameras, he still manages to come across as numbingly lackluster. He’s on my TV, dispensing yet another one of his trademarked prosaic edicts: Free… Aung … San … Suu… (yawn!) Kyi …

I believe her release will facilitate national dialogue and allow the National League for Democracy to participate in that dialogue. I think it will be in the interest of Myanmar, the region and the world at large. It would also allow the government and the people not only to build the nation together, but to focus on the essential issue of economic and social development. For the democratic process and the reconciliation process to be truly successful, it has to be inclusive. And she has a role to play.

Atta boy!

I was going to call on Mr. Annan to make the same statement for the release of the imprisoned Ethiopian opposition leaders, journalists and civic movement members, but… whaddaya know? They have not been in prison for 10 years. It takes a lot to get Mr. Annan’s attention.

I need to have faith in Annan. Maybe we can highlight some of his successes? (Besides saccharine apologies after genocides.) Anyone?

Free Our Leaders provides information and how to help.

The New School for Social Research bestows Dr. Berhanu Nega with Distinguished Alumnus Award.

Press Release


Wednesday, May 24, 2006

What did I tell you?

You thought I was kidding when I said you can’t compete with the EPRDF when it comes to parodying the EPRDF, dinja? Dindja!

Zegabi, break it down, baby.

You can’t make this shit up.

To answer Zegabi’s poignant question: the scary thing is, YES. This is what qualifies for thinking. Aww. How far we have come. Remember when the most EPRDF could come up with was accuse Ana Gomes of taking a 20% cut from the money raised by the Diaspora in exchange for saying the May 2005 elections did not pass muster? We have graduated to asking Google to identify politically dissenting bloggers. Beqabeqabeqa.

Wonder if Reporters without Borders will ask Google is it is willing to cooperate with the Ethiopian Government.

Committee to Protect Journalists:

What next?

World Bank, PBS, and Aid Politics for Dummies: Part 1

I haven’t been this excited about economics (and it might just be hormones) since I was a kiddie intern at a law firm and discovered that each copy I made for the partner ka-ching-ed the firm something like $1.50. I used to go home and record my august contribution to the corporate machine.

There is a fascinating conversation going on between Ethiopians in the Diaspora and the World Bank, and even for us econ-dropouts, it has been an epiphany. Let the choir say ‘Amen.’

I know. I know. Is there a subject any less interesting than economics? I hear ya. But trust me on this… something’s different.

So last December, after the Ethiopian government decided the best way to handle peaceful protest was to… negotiate in good faith to find a solution to the problem…. Ehhh… damn hormones. No. After the Ethiopian government thought it was best to shoot people and establish newly-minted concentration camps, the World Bank and donor nations took a principled stand and suspended direct budgetary aid. Who’hatt?! Did they ever.

But spring has sprung and donor nations and the World Bank got that itchy feeling. Talk about resuming aid to the Ethiopian government started. (By the way, donors who provide budget support to Ethiopia include the African Development Bank, Canada, the European Commission, Germany, Ireland, Sweden, the UK, and the World Bank.)

Tiny problem: with the Ethiopian government continuing to act like a goon (say, like, conducting the most deliriously bizarre trial against opposition leadership, journalists and members of civic movements this side of an Australian zoo), no decent human being would dream of rewarding it with a blank check.

Big Solution: Resume direct budgetary aid but don’t call it direct budgetary aid. This is your brain; this is your brain on World Bank.

Here is the flyer that started it all for me. It urges American taxpayers to hold the World Bank accountable, and not repeat past disastrous forays into lending money to authoritarian governments. There was an action item to call the lead economist, the country director and the country programme coordinator of the WB.

That was followed by a brilliant article in Ethiomedia, Is aid in Ethiopia a tool for, or a hindrance to, poverty reduction, written, I do believe, by our own Inde Hewan. Just brilliant.

The article points out a few examples of aberrant spending habits of budgetary assistance by the Ethiopian government (besides what it spends on “security and order”), including:

For example, the government has used funds earmarked for education for a two-week long highly politicised mandatory training of tens of thousands of high school and elementary school teachers on matters of “peace and security”. This training was intended to make the teachers cooperative in denouncing high school and elementary school children who have been protesting in many towns in Ethiopia against the imprisonment of opposition leaders and human rights activists.

So the country director of the World Bank, a Dr. Ishac Diwan, introduced a new way to resume aid in the form of a loan titled “Protection of Basic Services” (PBS). Terrible name for us dieheart aesthetes. Even more terrible news for those brave souls actually concerned with, what’s it called, substance.

PBS endeavors to funnel money not through the federal government of Ethiopia (which up until now has been standard practice), but through districts (local governments). This was distressing because the PBS was sans “the safeguards that accompany standard Bank investment projects.” Okay. Fine. Do it through districts. Tiny problem: the EPRDF has made sure a majority of the districts are controlled by the same party—the EPRDF. You see how that works? What is the difference between giving money directly to the government as opposed to the districts? Nothing. So…uhhh? Why go through the whole charade? Because. Three donor nations signed up for this, as Dave Chappelle would put it, malarkey: Canada, Ireland, and the UK.

Then, because the World Bank is badass like that, the district level focus changed to regional support- sort of like states. And who controls the states? Three guesses--- and one of them is not Tom Delay.

So the article basically lays out the discrepancy between the donor nations’ lip service about good governance (Tony Blair call your office) and their actions. Ethiopia’s rural poor cannot be aided if block grants are made through regional operatives, and in fact, the way this budgetary support is structured, it can have the opposite effect... so sayeth Inde Hewan.

Here’s a sentence I found intriguing, that later ‘splains a lot.

We are also keenly aware that, while there are many dedicated and competent staff in the Bank, incentive structures for promotion and recognition do not reinforce, but rather work against, motivations of staff to work toward reducing poverty.

Huh?! Read on.

Backing up a little, on March 10, 2006, Dr. Diwan had written a letter to Ethiomedia in response to the uproar about the introduction of PBS. I know I am an economics neophyte, but here is something I found a tad disquieting.

In justifying PBS and to refute calls to postpone its launching Dr. Diwan states:

An issue raised was that of whether the proposed Bank strategy and Protection of Basic Services Project might be postponed. With any significant delay, teachers' and nurses' salaries may go into arrears; children may go to school but may not learn anything in classes with too few teachers; malaria bednets will not be procured in sufficient quantities and the numbers of children exposed to malaria will remain very high; immunization of young children against the most basic of diseases will be severely curtailed; thousands of women who demand contraceptives will not be able to access them. It is difficult for us to justify delaying funding when these are predictably the results.

Question: what exactly does the Ethiopian government DO for a living if it can’t even provide these very basic needs for its citizens? You mean without donor assistance the EPRDF can’t pay salaries for teachers and nurses? And yet, the government machinery tells us that Ethiopia will enter middle-income nations soon what with all the economic growth coming out of its tushy.

In fact, according to Dr. Diwan,

the Bank has identified critical areas of need that require additional financing in order to be able to improve the lives of the poor. These areas include primary and secondary education, primary healthcare (especially for malaria, immunizations, and maternal health), safe water supply and sanitation, social welfare, and agricultural extension services that are provided by regional and local woreda level administrations.

(AllEmphasis mine.)

Hmm. So donor nations will take care of educating Ethiopians, providing them with clean water, immunization, social welfare… So what has the Ethiopian government been doing all these years? I mean, I know ethnic baiting and running around in Humvees is a lot of work, but really?

Part 2 is coming up. In the meantime, here are some excellent articles:

Addis Ferenjie has a superb interview with an economics Ph.D. (thankfully they still make them) who patiently explains to us the basics of economics and what this PBS means. For those of us whose eyes glaze whenever the subject of economics comes up, it is overwhelmingly useful and very economics- fara friendly.

Dr. Diwan responds to Inde Hewan’s letter.

And then, bara bing! A response to the response.

The Network of Ethiopian Scholars (fast becoming one of my favorite think tanks-- although why they don’t have their own website is beyond me) also respond to Dr. Diwan.

Let me be the first to thank Inde Hewan for her incredible work in bringing light to this story. I, for one, was frustrated by the working of aid, and could not understand why after billions of dollars in aid, Ethiopia and Africa have not made a dent in alleviating poverty.

Most of us in the Ethiopian Diaspora, very much including me, have been absent from this dialogue, and it is especially inexcusable since there are so many educated Ethiopians among us. Whatever our failures in the past, it appears we are finally saying “never again” to disengagement and apathy. I am in awe of people like Inde Hewan who have taken it upon themselves to stay involved, even when there is no overarching support system to help them. So, sister girl, salute.

It’s important to remember we can’t keep leaving Ethiopia’s welfare to others. We have to show up. As much as I harangue Carter, Blair, Clinton, the World Bank etc, I have come away with the fundamental understanding that each one of us has a choice: we either do our part, or bear witness to another cycle of poverty and misery geared to shut up yet another generation of Ethiopians. We should wish better for our children.

Dr. Diwan has very graciously invited World Bank employees of Ethiopian decent to a meeting to discuss this matter further. Maybe someone can update us.

The African Renaissance can’t be jump started by anyone except Africans.


On a different subject, Black Looks covered the story on the Ethiopian government’s magnificent show of ‘good governance’ by blocking Check out this brilliant comment from an “aeth”:

It is easy to assume that the Ethiopian government is blocking certain blogs because it wants to silence political opposition, however the fact that only a selected opposition blogs calls for a more detailed analysis. The Ethiopian blogosphere is dominated by extremist elements in Ethiopia; especially the majority of the blog writers were members of the military junta that ruled Ethiopia before 1991. Most escaped to the west as the criminal government collapsed. Today they call themselves Democrats, however if one is to read their blogs it is filled with hateful speech designed to ignite Ethiopia in to a genocidal nightmare.

Hm. So much for ‘detailed analysis.’ Is intractable mediocrity a prerequisite for everyone at the EPRDF?

Sunday, May 21, 2006

How do you compete with THIS?

Good parody, I am told, requires a steady stream of woozy, earnest and disdainfully unglued ammunition. And who is woozier or more unglued than the EPRDF? It is the gift that keeps on giving.

Prime Minister Meles, God bless his, um, heart (?), stomps around like a bull in a botanical garden, regurgitating terribly cliff-noted diplospeak about democracy, rule of law and justice with the kind of earnestness that unclogs arteries. For those of us who feed off the wackiness of aberrant, AK 47-wielding pseudo intellectuals, it’s been one helluva trip.

Who can keep up? El primo mysterio’s tragically besotted ode to himself was a high low point in Ethiopian politics, only to be upstaged by legions of loyal EPRDF valets (here, here and here) who are sprayed all over the world to help spread the Gospel according to Melesocracy.

But now the EPRDF is beginning to parody itself, and really, who can compete with that?

So exactly one year into doing this blogging thing, I find myself sitting in front of my computer trying to satirize the on-going ‘genocide and treason’ trial of the opposition leadership, journalists and civic movement activists. But no matter what I dared come up with, nothing could beat the real thing as chronicled by Seminnawerq. You have to read it to understand why I am vexed. Goddammit, who can compete with mercurial warlords who are running low on Lithium?

The Sub Saharan Informer also covered the resumption of the trials, where the government unfurled its rock solid evidence to support ‘attempted genocide’ and treason charges.

Stuff entered into evidence? A two- hour videotape labeled, “…it is impossible to be elected by intimidating and menacing people.” Huh?!

Okkkayy. Habeas corpus on crack, but okay. Anything else?

The prosecutor also stated that on the cassette, the defendants alleged that a free election could not be expected, as there is no free government, and this made the people lose trust in the May election.

They lost so much trust that 80-90% of registered voters voted in the elections. So this was Monday. I hope they are serving popcorn and Jujubes at these CUD home movie screenings ‘coz apparently there’s a lot of ‘em.

The court sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday looked at the second and third evidence presentations, also videos lasting well over two hours.
The second videocassette, filmed on
December 2nd, 2005, showed the demonstration the CUDP called against the five-point peace plan of the Prime Minster and dealt with the issue of Ethiopia and Eritrea border tension.

“The cassette shows two of the defendants saying there will [be no] peace under a dictator regime, and speeches that incite the people to violence,” [the prosecutor] said.


Okay. It’s official. I am mad. I am mad because on my best day I could not come up with a line like “The cassette shows two of the defendants saying there will no peace under a dictator regime, and speeches that incite the people to violence.”

Makes you wonder what the evidences presented against journalists and civic organization members will entail. (“Your honor, as we shall show in this 5 hour video, these journalists, these peace-haters, these unsightly genocidal maniacs working for NGOs are seen passing by the CUD subvert-ors and sniffing in the air of constitution overturning. Would you like butter on your popcorn?”)

[Sigh] It just ain’t the same. (Read just how freaky inane these trials are here .)

So you get I am morbidly fascinated by these trials. Damn straight. They are the most fantastic courtroom proceedings I’ve read about since that time a macho classmate demanded the uncooperative judge at a moot court recuse herself because he felt inexorably attracted to her, thereby impeding his ability to adequately defend his case.

It is all sooo wonderfully creepy.

So then, then comes news of a petition signed by members of the Ethiopian parliament decrying how Voice of America and Deutsche Welle are hell bent on, goodness gracious me…

disseminating reports aimed at smearing the image of Ethiopia and marring the ongoing democratization process.

[emphasis mine]

Hm. Might have sounded credible if the Ethiopian government had not, what’s it called, charged VOA journalists with genocide! International pressure, including a strapping condemnation from the US Broadcasting Board of Governors, forced the Ethiopian government to drop the charges.

So instead of dropping the whole thing and hoping people won’t remember that the Ethiopian government had once upon a time contended American journalists hired by the US government were complicit in genocide, the brainiacs in the EPRDF insist on picking the wound.

The Ethiopian Embassy will hand over the petition to the US Congress, and (God forbid) should an ambitious congressional staffer bother to crack his fingers and Google the EPRDF’s hazy record on “freedom of the press”… wonder what that would reveal? Hopefully not Reporters without Bordersassessment. Nor the Committee to Protect Journalists’ musings. Hmm.

For God’s sake, let… it… go, already!

Unlesssssss… does “ongoing democratizing process” includes expelling AP journalists for "tarnishing the image of the nation" and jailing local ones under draconian press laws?

Has the fact that the Ethiopian government, ranked fourth in countries jailing journalists, petitioning for the censure of American and German journalists struck anyone in the EPRDF as, mmm, ironic, for example?

What exactly was the purpose of the petition? It was the EPRDF’s cripplingly lame and awkward attempt at appearing ‘statesmanlike.’ Cute. But if anyone had written a story about the Ethiopian government collecting signatures from parliamentarians to complain about radio broadcasts… Oh wait. Someone has.

Please God, don’t wake me up.

Is this the real life-
Is this just fantasy-
Caught in a landslide-
No escape from reality-

And just when we all thought the EPRDF could not possibly hand us another gift, it slaps a pretty bow on the biggest one yet.

Seminnawerq reported all ‘’ pages have been blocked in Ethiopia.

Scaramouche, scaramouche will you do the fan-dan-go!

How big was that gift? Big enough to compel His Punditness Ethiopundit to come back early from a blogging vacation. Sign of Desperation tears the EPRDF a new one.

Ego Portal joins the fray. Mesqel Square confirms the story. Ethiopian Politics opines. Aqumada provides details on how to subvert the blockage.

So how do we say ‘thank you’ to a government that has everything?

Let’s see. What makes bloggers, a tempremental bunch, from all over the world go into collective convulsions? The stench of a government … with close ties to China, a so called “ally in the war against terrorism’… pawing at the Fifth Estate that is the Blogosphere. And whose duty is it to tell all these bloggers what’s going on?

Thunderbolt and lightning-very very frightening-


Apparently, the Ethiopian government learnt nothing from the aftermath of deporting /expelling Addis Ferenjie. Yeaaaah. This latest bone-headedness move was more to control information getting out than coming in, which means that the Ethiopian “Byte (Me)” Revolution is on full force. Ethiopian bloggers in Ethiopia have touched a nerve, and leave it up to the Ethiopian government to completely miss the point of blogging.

The self destruction has shifted to second gear.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Colonial Masters and Things that go Boom! in Daylight

Two quick points:

Life always gets a little brighter whenever Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi gives an interview to the Western press. His incurable Turrets Syndrome about how the West has an obligation to give him alms is what has made him the backbone of everything magnificently banal… and may I say, thank you, Mr. Prime Minister.

UK’s The Times had the honor of speaking to Ato Meles. The result: Rejected ally says Britain cut off aid like an old colonial master.

Ehhh. Need I go on? Seriously?

For a leader whose country was not colonized by Europe, Ato Meles has this grimy itch about things colonial. But the ills of colonization only seem to rile him when the West pisses him off. Other times, not so much.

The drive-by, wintry vituperation directed at Chief EU Elections Observer made Prime Minister Meles a legend in African warlord circles, and why not? A “self appointed colonial viceroy” is what he called Ana Gomes when she decided Melesocracy was frighteningly deficient in democracy. Still tugs at your heartstrings, don’t it?

But a year has passed and ‘self appointed colonial viceroy’, though brilliantly campy, had started to run out of prissiness. Soooooo……

Mr. Meles accused Mr. Blair of behaving like an old colonial master in cutting off aid in response to the killing by government troops of scores of opposition protesters last year.

Ahhhhhhhhhhh. It’s like a long, ice-cold drink of flippancy in the middle of an intellectual drought. But, wait. The UK’s brand of colonial mastery is different.

“From the UK we expected more (but) they acted in a manner not consistent with their principles.”

Uh… their colonial principles or other principles? I am rusty on my colonial history, but did colonial powers withdraw aid whenever heads of their colonies mowed down civilians? Somebody look it up.

Mr. Meles said that Britain had reneged on a promise to develop a new relationship with Africa. “This from a donor which championed a new relationship with Africa,” he said. “I disagree very strongly with what they did.”

That Blair! He must have snuck in a small-print caveat about how the UK will have to withdraw aid if aid recipient publicly embarrasses, vexes or in any way annoys the UK. How the legion of intellectuals heading the EPRDF missed that clause before cashing in the check is a puzzler.

“I have no personal ill feeling about the position taken by Mr. Blair regarding his feeling that we overreacted, but where I disagree strongly is what they did next. It was not consistent with the new policy.”

Uh. I am beginning to worry about this fabled “new relationship” and “new policy” of the UK’s. What did it entail? That aid money would flow into Ethiopia as long as the EPRDF wore three-piece suits and killed people outside of Addis? Well, I ain’t no nuclear scientist, but something here doesn’t quite add up. How exactly was ‘Good Governance wink-wink-nudge-nudge’ defined in the Africa Commission because Ato Meles doesn’t seem to think that riddling a crowd with bullets then violating the country’s constitution by banning demonstrations, imprisoning the opposition and setting up concentrations camps is, um, bad governance.

I dunno. It seems to me that there needs to be a re-knighting of new- new African renaissance leaders (this time make them “deliciously carb free”) since the last batch (Museveni, Meles and Issayas) have turned out to be gun-totting bores.

Anyway, suffice it to say, Ato Meles is displeased. “Colonial master” displeased.

The British government, deeply embarrassed by the violent crackdown, withdrew about £50 million in direct budget support. A planned increase of £30 million was also put on hold, disrupting plans for “basic services” projects.

Other donors followed suit. Ethiopia, which had previously been held up as a beacon of good governance, saw about £580 million of aid frozen.

Blah… blah…

Hilary Benn, in January 2006:

… I have not decided to reduce the aid budget to Ethiopia, nor have I made a decision to reallocate funds to non-government aid agencies or the UN. I have made a decision not to give budget support which the Ethiopian Government can use for any purpose. This is because the provision of budget support is based upon shared commitments between partners, one of which is upholding human rights. Recent political events have led to a breach of trust on this. That’s why all the donors who have been giving budget support have made the same decision.

Methinks no aid cut happened and all this is massive posturing. The UK is just making the Ato Meles jump through a few more hoops before cutting the check—standard procedure to not look like it is propping up an authoritarian regime. And Ato Meles has gotten fat and lazy, petulant and humiliated about actually having to jump through those hoops: he had kinda gotten used to putting out his hat and it magically filling with coins. Somebody hand him a Gatorade.

In the end, the UK seems to be rerouting aid through ‘other’ Ethiopian government channels, which in turn are channeling that money to, well, if The Independent is to be trusted, back to the UK.

Money flowing into UK bank accounts from developing countries has surged in the past few years, dwarfing Britain's official aid budget, figures show.

The amount flowing in from poor countries in areas such as Africa and South America surged more than $115bn (£61.2bn) last year to $385bn.

The scale of the exodus of capital from countries with major social problems will raise fears of massive corruption and money laundering that will hurt the welfare of the world's most vulnerable people.

The New Economics Foundation said deposits had risen noticeably over the past five years, with inflows from Cameroon up 516 per cent, from Ethiopia rising 103 per cent and Nigeria up by 47 per cent…

So what’s all the bellyaching about?

Second quick point:

Could the residents of Addis Abeba please start acting more terrified? Just so the bombings can stop? I called several people in Addis, all of whom seem brazenly unperturbed by nine bombs ka-booming all over the city.

The timing of this latest series of bombings is way-ree way-ree fishy: a day before the first anniversary of the Ethiopian elections. Someone obviously wanted to divert attention. The places: government offices (to indicate it is someone who has a beef with the guvment), public transportation, cafes and hotel restrooms-- places designed to illicit maximum terror… who doesn’t take a taxi and sit at a café sipping café con leche? Hmm. Who would possibly benefit from a terrified populace that will duck its head in fear?

The most interesting part: the government was unusually coquettish about pointing to who was responsible for the boom-boom. Usually it wastes no time pointing to the OLF, the pesky Eritreans, the man on the moon and colonial viceroys. This time, nada.

This is very disturbing because:

a) where is all the money the US is pouring into Ethiopia to fight ‘terrorism’ going?

b) how can any organization so boldly penetrate the tight ship the Ethiopian government runs to willy-nilly plant nine bombs without being detected

It’s also a dicey PR problem: the EPRDF needs to point out there are terrorist in its midst (which justifies its military highhandedness), while at the same time telling us that bombs exploding in buses and cafes in the capital city is nothing to get spooked over. How to send out this message? Enter… oh, look… one Zemedkun Tekle, spokesman for the Ministry of Misinformation, who talked to VOA.

The capital is very peaceful and nothing is new. We find those kinds of explosions even in big cities in like the United States and other international cities.

Well, I feel better.

[Sigh] I miss our old friend Bereket Simon, former Minister of Information, uber kvetcher and imponderous dispenser of drivel. But on the other hand, yes, which one of us living in the United States has not dodged bombs on the way to Starbucks and on the T?

Addis has a new mayor elected by… no body. But perhaps on the new mayor’s task list should be a new catch phrase for Addis… “Addis: bombings don’t slow us down. They shouldn’t you. Come, invest.”

The Returnees Caucasus has been… bombarding (get it?) us with reasons why international aid to Ethiopia should not be cut and how we should aggressively invest in Ethiopia, but maybe it can try informing the government that bombings are scaring away investors and tourists.

Here’s who I predict the Ethiopian government will blame for the bombings: sympathizers of…Al Qaeda. Always a winning tactic, IF Ato Zemedkun can somehow comfort us with his soothing words: “Yes. Islamist anti-peace elements aided by OLF, Eritrea and Wal-Mart are actively trying to discredit our beautiful democracy. But, really, it’s no big deal. It happens in Baghdad every day. Pass the ketchup. Er, someone clean up that smashed window, please.”

So, Addis Abebans, just please pretend you are terrified. Sheesh.


I am trying to collect anecdotes from people who called the World Bank about this flyer. If you are willing, please share your experience.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Democracy Rebooted

"You are our messenger to the outside world. Please tell them this: We don't want bread. We don’t want money. But please don't allow the government to take away our hope."

-Sister of a 17-year old shot dead by government forces in the aftermath of the May 15, 2005 elections.

Our children will eventually ask us, “What have you done for Ethiopia?” Our generation can either stand on the right side of history, or shackle the next one with yet another cycle of apathy, mediocrity and helplessness. If they can vote, we can tell their stories.

“Ethiopians will remember who they have always been and not what they have been told to be at the point of a gun.” (Ethiopundit.)

Do your part. Tell the story.

Network of Ethiopian Scholars- May 15 Statement

Advocacy Ethiopia

Transcript of Ana Gomes’ Statement

Video: Ana Gomes