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Is Forbes article on corruption in Ethiopia annoying?

March 6,2017
by Dimetros Birku

foreign-aid-corruption-Ethiopia- Forbes
Graphic Source : Acton Institute

Forbes Article on Corruption Annoying?

Opinion piece on corruption, entitled “Ethiopia’s Cruel Con Game” , that appeared on Forbes got me into what turned out to be acrimonious conversation on twitter. What caused reaction was my remark that the opinion was an informed one. The objection from a tweep, who cornered it as a sort of “mistake from western writer”, is that the article is “unsubstantiated,” and poorly researched- and it seems that he is not alone. Both reasons, however, are unpalatable and I will explain why.

The article didn’t come from someone who has no clue about Ethiopia. It appears that the writer, David Steinman, already published a book on Ethiopia entitled “Money, Blood and Conscience” – a topic that sounds close to the subject matter he discussed in his article on Forbes. In fact, in the article, he flashed out the level of corruption in Ethiopia succinctly and squarely identified as to who is responsible for it.

Contended from the article in the twitter conversation I mentioned above was rather the figure $30 billion in corruption since TPLF government came to power, the noun TPLF is not used in the article, for which the writer cited a UN report related to illicit financial outflow, Thabo Mbeki wrote forward for it, as supporting evidence. Given the evident prevalent corruption for well over two decades now, may be the figure is rather modest. For Ethiopians, it does not even take research to know to tell stories of the level of corruption in Ethiopia. They have been living it with all its hierarchical levels. Obviously, those who amassed colossal amounts in corrupt ways will look for ways to deposit it overseas for safety and other reason which will require them to get hard currencies. As we speak now, the country is in dire shortage of foreign currencies.

But again, even in terms of figure, we are talking about a government that has been bagging 3 to 4 billion in foreign aid annually for a good part of its twenty-five years in power. And when one sees that the TPLF party itself has formed a business empire in the country worth 5 to 6 billion dollars -not to mention the multimillionaire military generals, hundreds of thousands of millionaires affiliated with TPLF party – and the two figures billions of dollars that left Ethiopia illegally, as Transparency International reported about it a few years ago, I tend to think that probably the figure is much higher than $30 billion.

Other Implications of Corruption

And let it be clear that corruption, for which Ethiopia was not known before TPLF, is not just harming the coffer. It has become one of the factors that makes rule of law a matter of illusion in Ethiopia as we have come to a point where the outcome of a legal process is predicated on the purchasing power of individuals. “Injustice” is justice and is commodified. Social base formation for political purpose, on the part of TPLF, turned out to be something the hallmarks of which became fundamentally corrupt. A cumulative effect of all that is being observed in the changing Ethiopian culture; principle and patriotism gave way to opportunistic and corrupt a way of life.

Imagine this is a country where it was very hard to corrupt individuals. When Italy invaded Ethiopia in the 1940’s, one of its challenges was that it was unable to corrupt many Ethiopians in one way or another. As many of you know, the Martyr Abune Petros was given a choice between what Fascist Italians considered to be “prosperous life with power” if he opted to serve fascism or death if he continues to resist it. And he opted for the latter with an Ethiopian pride.

To consider a more recent example, even the administration before TPLF could be given all sorts of names in terms of dictatorship but it was not a kind of government that corrupts a generation culturally and economically for a political purpose and in pursuit of power game.

What TPLF has done when it entrenched corruption as a tool for governance is that it put the security of the country into a precarious condition and condemned a generation to a slave like existence. Alarmed by recent unprecedented resistance, TPLF administration is thinking in terms of buying a way out of the current political crisis by way of purchasing “vote of confidence” from the Youth through “investing on the youth.” The damage that corruption caused Ethiopia is in some ways incalculable so much so that it makes us think if Ethiopia will survive, with the new corrupt culture, should a situation that challenges tits existence as a country emerge.

Trump Administration,America First and Foreign Aid

I must mention that David Steinman raised another interesting point. Commenting on Trump administration ’s possible response to a call for aid in lieu of the looming hunger in the eastern parts of Ethiopia, already affected at least five million Ethiopians, he noted, rightly, that it would be a test for his administration.

Indeed, it will be interesting to see how “America First” policy is interpreted vis-à-vis international. However,on this matter, I tend to think that If we are to speak out of total indifference to “political correctness,” it is very unlikely that US aid programs abroad were erstwhile administered in a way that capitalize on the interests of aid recipient countries. US interest, whether it is in a form of a long term economic investment via aid, geo-strategy, political (“democracy and human rights”), cultural expansion or something else, has been a significant, if not dominant, part of the equation in policy formulation regarding foreign aid. Will Trump administration do it differently? Probably in a way to save tax payers’ money. Otherwise, foreign aid was never at odds with “America First” policy unless there was a case of unintended consequence.

Writer could be reached on twitter: @dimetros

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