Friday, 7 June 2013

The paymasters of repressive regimes

On 17 April 2013, following a meeting with Hailemariam Desalegn, Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Martin Schulz, the President of the European Parliament, said this:
"Ethiopia is a key EU ally in the Horn of Africa. I… (pay) tribute to Ethiopia's leading diplomatic and security role in the region and in the whole of Africa… 
I took note of the commitment of the Prime Minister to strengthen democracy in the country, allowing for greater pluralism and a freer civil society, to uphold the freedoms enshrined in the Ethiopian constitution. 
The EU will continue to support the country on its path to greater stability, democracy and economic growth and in our common fight against poverty."
‘In a landmark case,’ an Ethiopian known only as ‘Mr. O’, who is currently living in a Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp, (the world’s largest) is suing the UK’s Department for International Development.

A member of the Anuak tribe, Mr. O, (he refuses to supply his real name as ‘he is terrified taking this case could lead to fatal reprisals against his family,’ says our aid money supports 'a Stalinist programme of brutal forced relocations' driving families from their traditional lands.
“We lived in a village alongside the river where you could grow anything, maize, sorghum, lemon, bananas, oranges, pineapple,” he says. “We were so happy growing up there and living there in our village…

I am very angry about this aid… Why is the West, especially the UK, giving so much money to the Ethiopian government when it is committing atrocities on my people? The donations have not gone on development but on supporting the government and the army. We would be happy if it really went on development; instead, the very opposite has happened with your money…

The government was pretending it was about development, but people refused straight away… They just want to push the indigenous people off so they can take our land and the gold.

At the meeting I said this could not be allowed to happen. We were under a big mango tree and I said we’d been living under this tree all our lives, working the fields and living along the rivers. Our parents and grandparents were buried nearby.”
Subsequently arrested and tortured, Mr O added:
“It got to the point where I could not feel the pain, since I had been beaten so much. I thought I would die, indeed, I thought it would be better to die than to suffer like this.”
After fleeing to the Dadaab camp, Mr. O now says:
“I don’t want to be relying on handouts in a refugee camp. I want to be productive.”
In the 25 May 2013 edition of The Daily Mail, Ian Birrell explained the background to this affair.
“He was lucky to escape with his life. Friends and relatives from his village of Pinykew and others nearby have been butchered, the women subjected to mass rape by gun-toting soldiers and gangs armed with machetes.

Now he is fighting back on behalf of his Anuak people, instructing lawyers to confront the paymasters of the repressive regime that ripped apart his life. Those paymasters are the British Government…

In response, the Government must spend taxpayers’ money defending itself from charges it is destroying the lives of some of the world’s poorest people, rather than helping them. If it loses, it might have to abandon key aid projects and pay compensation to thousands of exiled Ethiopians. This could cost millions of pounds.

The test case marks the culmination of long-held concerns over Ethiopia. It has become the biggest recipient of British aid, despite being an autocratic one-party state, run in similar style to the old Soviet Bloc countries.

Britain is giving £1.3 billion to Ethiopia over the course of the Coalition, the annual handouts rising by nearly two-thirds between 2010 and 2015 as the Department for International Development struggles to find places to spend its soaring, ring-fenced budget. Yet this is a regime that shoots street protesters, locks up dissidents and jails more journalists than almost any other country in the world.

The ruling party uses foreign handouts to strengthen its tyrannical grip, giving food and vital farming aid only to supporters, even in regions suffering hardship and hunger…

At the centre of the case is Ethiopia’s ‘villagisation’ of four million people in the west and south of the country… The lucrative land they lived on for generations is being sold off to foreign investors or given to well- connected Ethiopians…

Army-led atrocities in the region date back at least a decade, when 400 people were slaughtered in one town and hundreds of homes destroyed.

One village leader was in tears as she told me of seeing her husband shot dead, then being raped by six soldiers and stabbed in the belly with a bayonet. Again, she had scars to verify her story.

Yet Britain gave aid direct to the Ethiopian government until 2005. DFID only stopped after an outcry when nearly 200 people objecting to rigged elections were mown down in Addis Ababa and thousands of opposition activists were jailed. This happened as former prime minister Meles Zenawi was being entertained by Tony Blair at the GB Gleneagles summit and hailed as an example of good governance...

DFID documents reveal that, despite denials of funding forced relocations, British cash pays salaries of officials implementing the programme and for infrastructure in new villages.

As a Christian nation at the heart of the volatile horn of Africa and bordering two unstable Islamic states, Ethiopia is a key Western ally in the war on terror. It has exploited this to pass anti-terrorism laws that enable it to crush dissent, jail journalists and eliminate free expression…

Zerihun Tesfaye, a leading Ethiopian journalist who fled four years ago after threats forced the closure of his paper, said British-backed projects to aid agriculture were routinely manipulated, with access to seeds and fertiliser used to control villages and crush dissent.

‘The Ethiopian government knows the West, especially Britain, is ready to assist its repression,’ he said. ‘And they play the anti-terror card to get all the money. Sadly, people in the West give money because they have heard these famine stories since their childhood. But the money is not going to the poor, it is going to support a government making things worse in many areas, not better'."
After Human Rights Watch issued a series of damning reports, a former HRW ‘team leader,’ Ben Rawlence, said this:
“British aid is having an enormous, negative side effect, and that is the forcible ending of these indigenous people’s way of life…
Our aid is underwriting repression.”
Many of us tend to assume that the aid money doled out so liberally to the third world by those we elect to represent OUR interests will find its way into the Swiss bank accounts of tin-pot dictators.

This truly grotesque tale will do nothing to change our minds.

Why would you vote for those who arranged for this to happen? Every last one of you knows that, at a time when we are all feeling the pinch, they give far too much away in overseas aid. Most of you, I’m sure, will have suspected that much of it was being wasted. However, I doubt it will have occurred to many that £1.3billion was being given to an ‘autocratic one-party state, run in similar style to the old Soviet Bloc.’
“This is a regime that shoots street protesters, locks up dissidents and jails more journalists than almost any other country in the world. The ruling party uses foreign handouts to strengthen its tyrannical grip, giving food and vital farming aid only to supporters, even in regions suffering hardship and hunger.
That’s where our aid money goes, ladies and gents. Those who see to it that such a ‘regime’ receives so much of our money would describe me as a ‘racist, Fascist, Nazi, bigot.’ And yet they couldn’t care less about the plight of the Mr. Os, could they? I could though. This ‘racist, Fascist, Nazi, bigot’ cares. His predicament, and our involvement in the creation of that predicament, makes my blood boil.

I hate politicians. I also hate the fact that you allow yourself to be conned, time and time again, into voting for such people. People who have your WORST interests at heart. People who have THEIR worst interests at heart. People who only seem interested in shoring up their own power and that of the corrupt and brutish elites elsewhere on the planet.

Trust me, ladies and gentlemen, the Camerons, the Cleggs, the Blairs, Browns and Schultzes would feel more at home with Ethiopia’s slaughterous leaders than the villagers our aid money is helping to displace.

In fact, our politicians would feel more at home with them than us.

You can bet your life on that.

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