Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Ethiopia: Business as Usual

(Oct 03, 2012, Human Rights Watch)--Amid the tributes to Ethiopia’s recently departed prime minister was much twittering (and tweeting) about ‘stability’ and the ‘transition’, especially from Ethiopia’s foreign donors.

There is considerable concern that without Meles Zenawi, the charismatic former rebel leader who ruled Ethiopia for 21 years until his death, the country may implode, infighting might engulf the ruling party or Ethiopia’s fragile economic growth might reverse.

While these fears about the country’s stability are warranted, there has been little recognition of the role that human rights play in underpinning stability. Sadly that is nothing new. On September 21, Meles’ former deputy and foreign minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, was sworn in as his successor as both prime minister and ruling party chief. In his inauguration speech, Hailemariam pledged to continue Meles’ policies.

These, it should be remembered, included not only far-reaching plans for economic development, but crushing political opposition, the evisceration of independent media and civil society, and the use of arbitrary detention, torture, and other repressive measures to suppress dissent.

Three days later, the World Bank approved its biggest grant to Ethiopia, $600 million, for the third phase of its flagship Protection of Basic Services (PBS) programme, along with a new Country Partnership Strategy for Ethiopia, largely drafted before Meles died, that will underpin $1.15 billion in new loans.

The new Country Partnership Strategy makes no reference to the deteriorating human rights situation over the past seven years or the complex political landscape that Ethiopia now faces with Meles’ death. The only glancing reference to the profound political and human rights problems in Ethiopia comes in the last line of the document, which reads, “In the longer term there is also a risk associated with the next elections, scheduled for 2015”.

Indeed there is a risk to the country’s stability created by long-suppressed basic freedoms of speech, association, assembly and democratic choice. But it is not a risk that the World Bank and other donors have done anything to mitigate. Read more from Human Rights Watch »

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