Foreign aid observers have often worried that Western aid to Africa is propping up autocratic regimes. Yet seldom has such a direct link from aid to political repression been demonstrated as in “Development without Freedom,” an extensively documented new report on Ethiopia by Human Rights Watch. Based on interviews with 200 people in 53 villages and cities throughout the country, the report concludes that the Ethiopian government, headed by prime minister Meles Zenawi, uses aid as a political weapon to discriminate against non-party members and punish dissenters, sending the population the draconian message that “survival depends on political loyalty to the state and the ruling party.”
The aid agencies say their own investigations fail to find widespread evidence of the misdeeds that the report documents—withholding government-provided seeds, fertilizer and microloans from non-party members, barring suspected critics of the regime from food for work programs, and denying emergency food aid to women, children and the elderly for refusal to join the ruling party. However, some aid officials admitted to Human Rights Watch (HRW) knowing about them:
As one western donor official said, “Every tool at [the government’s] disposal—fertilizer, loans, safety net—is being used to crush the opposition. We know this.”
Our post concludes by suggesting ways that the aid community might help Ethiopians rather than their rulers.
We of course welcome alternative views, including criticisms of the HRW report and HRW's operations in Ethiopia.