Sad update on Ethiopian blogger Eskinder Nega: sentenced to 18 years for "terrorism"

July 13, 2012 story from the BBC:

A prominent Ethiopian journalist and blogger has been sentenced to 18 years in jail for violating the country's anti-terrorism legislation.

Eskinder Nega and 23 others were found guilty last month.

They were accused of links with US-based opposition group Ginbot Seven, which Ethiopia considers a terrorist organisation.

"The imprisonment… is emblematic of the Ethiopian government's determination to gag any dissenting voice in the country," Amnesty's Ethiopia researcher Claire Beston said in a statement.

"The Ethiopian government is treating calls for peaceful protest as a terrorist act and is outlawing the legitimate activity of journalists and opposition members."

That same government continues to be flooded with aid by the World Bank, US, UK, and other donors.

*See previous post on Nega July 9, letters to the New York Review of Books forthcoming August 18, 2012 and a previous one   January 12, 2012, and another post on Democracy and human rights being absent at the World Bank.

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The World Bank Clock

UPDATE V January 24, 2012: 123 days later, the CAO is on the case  Yesterday we heard from Oxfam that the World Bank has finally announced an independent investigation into complaints from two communities in Uganda who lost their land in forced evictions to make way for forestry plantations.

The Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman (CAO) reports directly to the President of the World Bank and examines cases brought by people affected by World Bank private sector lending projects, usually dealing with social and environmental problems.

This announcement comes 123 days after the Bank promised to investigate. Forgive us for being a tiny bit underwhelmed that it took so long to start an investigation that will now take another six months.  The CAO’s mandate is to make the Bank more accountable by responding “quickly and effectively” to complaints from affected communities. Allowing 123 days of obfuscation and confusion to pass instead was a disaster for such accountability.

UPDATE IV January 11, 2012: Everybody loses

The World Bank (through subsidiary IFC) has pulled $1 million in funding from New Forests Company, alleged to be responsible for the forcible eviction of thousands of people in Uganda. This is according to a statement from NFC, which announced a halt to new tree planting, prompted also by the loss of $14 million from a new, unnamed investor.

New Forests Company (NFC), Uganda’s biggest forestry group, announces today that it has suspended tree planting across the country for 2012 that will result in 560 job losses in the Mubende, Kiboga, Kyankwanzi and Bugiri districts.

NFC blamed Oxfam, and the negative publicity its report caused, for the suspension and resulting loss of jobs.

An Oxfam spokesman responded today, saying they were “disappointed to hear of the job losses” and that “[w]ithdrawing investment is not a solution to the issues we have highlighted. We think that existing investors should engage with the company to put things right.”

No word yet from the World Bank/IFC to explain their decision, or their position on how the evicted communities should be compensated.

This looks like the worst case scenario, with the communities displaced and no compensation for them, and the forestry company not even creating the positive benefits of job creation, renewed forests and new economic activity in Uganda.  In other words, everybody has lost out, all because there were no safeguards to protect the residents, and no procedures for NFC and the World Bank/IFC to respond promptly to allegation of rights violations.

UPDATE III, October 18, 2011: What investigation?

Okay, that Twitter post was a practical joke. If you read the post carefully, neither Justin Bieber nor Kim Kardashian announced a hunger strike of any kind as far as Aid Watch knows. We can only fantasize about celebrity activism so bravely challenging the unacceptable impunity of aid agencies. Today's real story of interest is an Oxfam America update about how the (self) investigation into World Bank-financed Uganda land evictions has so far issued threats to the poor  Ugandans who publicly complained about their homes being burned down. There is seemingly no end in sight for the Investigation Commitments Clock.

UPDATE II, October 9, 2011: The World Bank Responds 

The World Bank (through its subsidiary International Finance Corporation--IFC) finally followed up yesterday on their promise below to investigate -- by issuing another promise to investigate:

IFC is committed to ensuring New Forests Company undertakes an independent and transparent review. NFC is drafting a terms of reference that IFC and other stakeholders will validate before the review gets underway.

How would you rate their responsiveness at this point?

UPDATE I, September 29, 2011Oxfam joins us, after we join them 

Oxfam joins us in our rebel alliance against the Empire.  They kindly overlooked that we neglected to highlight their critical role in documenting the misdeeds in the first place -- they did the report on which the NYT based the story.

ORIGINAL POST, September 22, 2011:

[gigya src="" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowscriptaccess="always" width="480" height="261" flashvars=id=36023@1]

This clock shows the time since the World Bank promised an investigation on Thursday, September 22 into the charges from an Oxfam study that they financed a project in Uganda in which poor people had their homes, cattle, and crops destroyed as the project forced them off their own land. Click the image once to reveal clock.

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Laura Freschi and Alanna Shaikh's Gates Foundation Article Tops Alliance Magazine's Most Read List

Congratulations to  our associate director Laura Freschi and Alanna Shaikh, an international health consultant,  who topped the list of Alliance Magazine's most read articles of 2011. Their piece -- Gates - a benevolent dictator for public health? -- was published in the special 'Living with the Gates Foundation' edition in September.  Gates - a benevolent dictator for public health? Laura Freschi and Alanna Shaikh

The public health landscape today looks unquestionably different from how it did in the late 1990s when the Gates Foundation strode on to the field. To its credit, the foundation has brought about a resurgence of interest in global health issues at a time when the cause was running low on energy and funds. Before Gates, global health funding covered little more than HIV and emerging infectious diseases – a bare shadow of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Health for All[1] vision of the 1970s. But Gates’ support for global health also raises questions: is it pushing us too much towards simple technological responses to multifaceted problems? With its influence so far-reaching, who will be willing and able to offer objective feedback? Click here to read

The Gates Foundation edition, which was guest-edited by Philanthropy Action's Timothy Ogden, examined the foundation's impact on both philanthropy and the fields it contributes to. Watch footage from a panel discussion on 'Living with the Gates Foundation' at the Hudson Institute.

See the other most-read articles below, including this one on culture and philanthropy by Tim Ogden:

How much difference is it making? Tim Ogden

Every autumn, an American university publishes a list of once popular items and phrases that fell out of standard use before the new class of students were born. For instance, a few years ago the list noted that incoming students probably hadn’t ever used cassette players. The intent is to remind professors and administrators that young people do not necessarily share many of our perceived cultural touchstones. Today, a discussion of philanthropic foundations’ role in society always begins with the Rockefeller Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation and the Ford Foundation. But this shared cultural touchstone is being eclipsed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Click here to read

Interview - Jodi Nelson

In November 2007, Alliance talked to Fay Twersky, recently appointed to head up the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s brand-new Impact Planning and Improvement Unit. Three and a half years later, Caroline Hartnell asked her newly appointed successor, Jodi Nelson, to what extent Bill and Melinda Gates’ original aims for the unit have been achieved. And what challenges does she face in her new role? One thing she emphasizes is the need to measure selectively and only when the results will actually be used to do something. Click here to read

‘They want to save the world in 45 minutes’ Olga Alexeeva

This is a shorter version of an interview with Olga Alexeeva published by CAF Russia’s magazine Money and Charity on 25 May, less than two months before she died. Carried out by Matvei Masaltsev, this interview reflects the unique insights into philanthropy around the world that informed all of Olga’s work, and in particular her most recent venture, the Philanthropy Bridge Foundation. Alliance thanks Sue Rogers for translating this from the Russian original. Click here to read

Why does Bihar matter? Simon Desjardins

Long before Gandhi would use it as a launch pad for his campaign for independence, Bihar was an economic powerhouse, serving as the capital of India during Ashoka’s empire in the third century BC, when India’s boundaries stretched to include present-day Afghanistan and parts of Iran to the west and Bangladesh to the east. It is a state rich in history, home to one of the world’s oldest universities (Nalanda) and the oldest democracy, and they even say Buddha found enlightenment here. Click here to read

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No Aid for Repressive Tyrants

We … call on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and America’s Western allies to publicly repudiate Ethiopia’s efforts to use terrorism laws to silence political dissent. We also urge the U.S. to ensure that our more than $600 million in aid to Ethiopia is not used to foster repression.

This is the call to action from a letter published in the New York Review of Books this month.

We at DRI are inspired by the courage of Eskinder Nega, an Ethiopian journalist, newspaper publisher, and dissident arrested on September 14th after writing a blog post demanding freedom of expression and an end to torture in Ethiopian prisons. Despite previous arrests, both Eskinder and his wife, Serkalem Fasil, have chosen to remain in Ethiopia and continue their work.

While we don't want to meddle in other countries' politics, we do want to speak out against aid that supports rights-violating regimes, in solidarity with Ethiopian citizens who are simply asking to exercise their own civil liberties.

From 2005, when Eskinder Nega was first imprisoned in the aftermath of Ethiopia’s parliamentary elections marred with rigging and violence, to the present, international aid to Ethiopia has more than doubled to well over $4 billion. The three largest donors are the World Bank, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

Although they acknowledge “concerns” about governance and the protection of basic human rights, aid agencies continue to increase aid flows, praising the Ethiopian regime for high national growth rates and improvements on some health and poverty metrics. Even if not entirely reliable, these figures allow Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles to capitalize on The Myth of the Benevolent Autocrat, under which a “strong leader” (in the tradition to Lee-Kwan Yew, Deng Xiaoping, and even Paul Kagame) is given undue credit for a period of high growth, and excused for whatever human rights abuses and press freedom repression was deemed necessary in the pursuit of economic growth. Unfortunately for Meles, recent DRI research has found that there is no empirical basis for a belief that unconstrained autocratic leaders outperform democratic leaders.

The Ethiopian predicament raises tough questions for people concerned with both poverty alleviation and human rights. The Ethiopian government uses aid to build schools, vaccinate children, and provide social safety nets for the poor. But a Human Rights Watch report found that the government also systematically uses aid as a political weapon to discriminate against non-party members and punish dissenters. The report found widespread evidence of village leaders withholding seeds, fertilizer, and loans from farmers not in the ruling party, and local officials denying emergency food aid to women, children and the elderly as punishment for refusing to join the party.

In Ethiopia, aid agencies should do all they can to make sure aid helps Ethiopians rather than their rulers. One (albeit imperfect) measure of this is “channel of delivery” – data collected by the OECD on whether country aid agencies route funds through the public sector, NGOs, private-public partnerships, or multilateral organizations. These two graphs show available data for the US and the UK.

Like the UK, the World Bank has long given its aid through direct budget support either to the central or local governments, insisting that social accountability mechanisms are in place to prevent misuse. But many observers and journalists tell a different story: that such mechanisms are either not present, or are not working because independent, third-party observers upon which such accountability measures depend are more often ruling party-affiliated NGOs.  Even a study commissioned by the donors found that two of the programs for Ethiopia’s most needy “face important challenges in their accountability systems” and “significant weakness” in safeguards and monitoring processes intended to detect distortion and produce evidence about whether or not the program works.

While it is logical to believe that the way donors deliver aid can strengthen or weaken the compact between rulers and their people in democratic countries, aid cannot create this compact where it does not exist. Empirical evidence does not support the idea that aid can cause dictatorships to become democracies, and in fact a new DRI working paper suggests that aid is more likely to push countries further down their existing path—so that aid to dictatorships makes them more dictatorial, not less.

Bad news for Eskinder Nega and other dissidents and journalists wrongfully persecuted and imprisoned, as aid agencies continue to empower the regime at the expense of the Ethiopian people.

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UPDATE: The Price of Cocoa, Delivered to Your Phone

With mobile phones achieving an estimated 80% penetration rate in Ghana, can cellular technology help make agricultural markets more efficient? Could providing market information to farmers alleviate information asymmetries between farmers and traders?

One idea being explored in Ghana is a text message-based market information system, which would provide automatic and personalized price alerts for agricultural commodities and buy and sell offers directly through SMS. At the Center for Technology and Economic Development (CTED), an Abu Dhabi-based NYU organization affiliated with DRI, Professor Yaw Nyarko and a team of graduate students are evaluating the effect of such a system set up by Esoko, a private company based in Accra, on the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in rural Ghana. The goal of the study, designed as a randomized controlled trial, is to see whether providing farmers with market information leads to fundamental changes in the bargaining process between farmers and traders.

Last summer, the team conducted a baseline survey of 1,000 farmers in nearly 100 communities in the Northern Volta region of Ghana, asking them what crops they were planting and bringing to the market, how the bargaining process with the traders works, and how often they use cell phones. The farmers were then randomly divided into two groups – a treatment and a control group of roughly the same size.

In early October, the farmers in the treatment group were given training and access to the Esoko technology, including regular messages regarding crop prices. Next summer, farmers from both the treatment and the control groups will again be given the same survey. The team will rely on the baseline and annual follow-up surveys to document the changes in the bargaining process and in farmers’ marketing behavior brought about by the Esoko text messages.  After the follow-up survey in July 2012, the farmers in the control group will also be offered free training and access to the Esoko technology.

The study will shed light on how mobile phones can increase the efficiency of agricultural markets and improve the livelihoods of farmers in the developing world.

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UPDATE: The Knowledge Exchange

While entrepreneurs, civil society and grassroots organizations know best the problems of development in a particular context, they don’t always have access to the resources or expertise to help them evaluate and scale-up projects. At the same time, academic researchers can benefit from better access to practical knowledge from the field. A new DRI program matches development practitioners with academic researchers, by providing free technical assistance to practitioners in exchange for access to the field. Our goal: to improve the quality of development interventions by providing practitioners with the resources and academic expertise to evaluate, replicate and scale-up projects.

For more on the Knowledge Exchange, and to find out how to participate in the program, visit

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The Development Research Institute is now accepting entries from NYU master’s students for our first New Ideas Prize. This university-wide competition will recognize exceptional work on international development produced by NYU students. Students are invited to submit original research papers, documentary films, or photography projects focused on development in economically poor countries. Each winner will receive a cash prize of $250, will have their work published by DRI, and will be invited to a reception hosted by DRI next semester. The deadline for submissions is December 21, and we will announce the winners at the beginning of the spring semester.

For more on eligibility and submission guidelines, visit

(image source)

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UPDATE: The AidSpeak Dictionary

By William Easterly This is a sampling of actual posts on Twitter that I requested (@bill_easterly) last weekend for “decodings of aid/development jargon” .  Inspiration was from 40 Publishing Buzzwords, Clichés and Euphemisms Decoded. I don’t necessarily endorse any implied viewpoint, if any.

“beneficiaries” : the people who make it possible for us to be paid by other people @monanicoara

“bottom-up” : don’t ask someone what might work, just make something up instead @thejoeturner

“baseline” : a point which is so low that positive results are the only possible outcome @ANLevine

“accountability for results”: we keep all our promises by  issuing new promises @bill_easterly

“bottoms-up development”: downing single-malt whiskey in one shot at Davos @Arvind11d123

“civil society involvement”: consulting the middle class employee of aUS or European NGO @dangay

 “community capacity building” : teach them what they already know @fauvevivre

“demand-driven approach”: you create the demand and then you respond to it

“empowerment” : what is left when all the quantifiable variables give non significant results @MarianaSarastiM

“entrepreneurial” : vaguely innovative and cool, but definitely nothing to do with the hated “market” @jselanikio

“experienced aid practitioner” : has large number of air miles in account @thejoeturner

“expert” : I read a book about the place on the plane @savo_heleta

“field experience” :  I can’t bear DC anymore @MarianaSarastiM

“gender” : counting how many women attend your meeting @liamswiss

“Global North” : White academics; “Global South” : Indian academics  @Isla_Misty

“innovation” : we’re sexy, you want to be associated with us @DarajaTz

“leverage” : we’re not paying for all of this @katelmax

“low overhead” : volunteers run headquarters @thejoeturner

“low-hanging fruit”:  we were already going to achieve this anyway @Global_ErinH

“mainstreaming” : forgetting @swampcottage

“microfinance” : not as good as sub-prime lending @lippytak

“meetings” : our grant said we had to host an event @Global_ErinH

“per diem”: what we have to pay local officials to attend our meetings @Afrophile

“participatory stakeholders” : people who should solve their own problems @UCGHR

“participation” : the right to agree with preconceived projects or programs @edwardrcarr

“partnering with other institutions” : we’re raising barriers to entry @JustinWolfers

“political will” :  I have no comprehension of the incentives faced by the people who I wish would do stuff I want @m_clem

“practical solutions” : photogenic solutions @thejoeturner

“pro-poor” : the rich know best @james_tooley

“RCT” : research method yielding same results as qualitative work at 10 times the cost –@texasinafrica

“rent-seaking behavior” : everything not nailed to the floor will be stolen- @charcoalproject

“outreach” : intrude @langtry_girl

“ownership” : we held a workshop @dangay

“raise awareness” :  no measurable outcome @jonathan_welle

“scale-up” :  It’s time for follow on grant @HunterHustus

“sensitize” : tell people what to do @zw1tscher

“sustainable” : will last at least as long as the funding @thejoeturner

“tackling root causes of poverty” : repackaging what we’ve already done in a slightly more sexy font @thejoeturner

“UN Goals”: making up targets for problems we don’t understand paid for with money we don’t have @jacobhorner

Notes: I have done some very minor editing for spelling and clarity. 

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