Samuel Lowenberg has an article in the Lancet:

The World Bank, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) have consistently failed to act on allegations of human rights abuses in Ethiopia, including ones that are tied to their aid programmes, according to new reports…

The reports raise troubling questions over alleged abuses—including beatings, rape, and murder—connected to the government’s villagisation programme…

The report by the Oakland Institute documents how officials from USAID and DFID, who were investigating claims of abuse, heard first-hand accounts from villagers recounting brutal treatment by Ethiopian authorities under the villagisation programme. But even after these reports the two agencies failed to act.

One renegade former World Bank economist comments:

In view of the long-running problems documented in Ethiopia, “the impunity of the donors astonishes me”…. Human rights are essential to development, so when a foreign donor finances a government that represses these rights, it does not help a country develop, it sets it back, he says.

Please read the whole article, it is essential reading for anyone who cares about development.

By William Easterly and Laura Freschi

It is a rare day that we former Aid Watchers congratulate the US Agency for International Development on self-imposed changes that will actually help aid benefit the poor.

Today is not that day.

That day was February 6, when USAID changed its own rules to allow itself flexibility to buy more goods and services locally. Buying and contracting locally, rather than shipping goods from the US and contracting services through American companies, can be a cheaper and more efficient use of US aid dollars.  It can also help local economies thrive, and strengthen small businesses, local governments, and NGOs.

USAID plans to increase its funds spent through local actors to 30 percent by 2015, from 11 percent in 2011. Huzzah. This small but promising change means that hundreds of local nonprofits will no longer have to go through contractor middlemen. It means that where public financial management systems are strong and representative enough, more local governments can be helped with direct support rather than through experts employed by American contractors. It also means that the American companies (the so-called “Beltway Bandits”) that earn hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts each year from USAID stand to lose a little.

Naturally, these firms have accepted the prospect of this loss in revenue with equanimity, acknowledging that the reforms will improve outcomes for the proper beneficiaries of aid, and have set about adapting their business model to the new funding environment.

Haha, that was a joke. They’ve actually gone and hired a major Washington lobbying firm to kill the reforms in Congress.  Joining forces as the Professional Services Council and the public-facing Coalition of International Development Companies (from the website: “Did You Know…that funding through international development companies offers superior accountability and transparency?”) they have employed the Podesta Group, which, according to lobbying disclosure forms, has been hard at work “promoting the work of international development companies” in Congress at PSC’s behest.

And the Podesta Group has delivered: House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-California) has told USAID he will seek to block these reforms, just in time for the markup of the international affairs budget beginning next week.

“This agency is no longer satisfied with writing big checks to big contractors and calling it development,” thundered USAID head Raj Shah in a speech in DC last year. The Beltway Bandits and their lobbyists only want him to take out the words “no longer” and then utter the remaining sentence.

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.

Read More →

Professor Easterly writes for the Guardian Poverty Matters blog on November 21, 2011:

US foreign aid programmes should be for poverty relief and should not be taken over by national security interests, abetted by delusions of nation-building.

As the US government budget wars continue, everyone agrees that among the most vulnerable programmes is foreign aid. What is now forgotten is that foreign aid enjoyed strong bipartisan support until quite recently. On 16 March 2002, President George W Bush announced large funding increases for aid, which have indeed been realised across two administrations since. Even former opponents such as Jesse Helms became aid boosters. What happened to destroy that support?

The answer is that the US aid programme was taken over by national security interests, abetted by delusions of nation-building. The US Agency for International Development (USAid) wound up in the most self-destructive position – the unsuccessful cover-up. USAid arguably had little choice, but development intellectuals and celebrity aid advocates did have a choice – and most chose to stay inexcusably silent during the national security takeover of aid. The resultant failures overshadowed notable successes in more traditional aid programmes like health. These disasters and the neglect of more feasible poverty relief failed to sustain the compassionate constituency evident earlier in the decade. Aid can still be saved politically if it now forswears the undoable nation-building dictated by the defence department, and returns to its original mission of poverty relief – a mission both cheaper and more likely to succeed.

Read the full article on the Guardian website.