Friday, January 25, 2008

Zenawi to West: Don’t force democracy upon Africa, but keep the checks coming

From the Guardian:

Western countries should stop trying to browbeat Kenya's warring political leaders into submission and do more in practical terms to prevent poverty, lack of opportunity, and Islamist terrorism from further destabilising the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia's prime minister, Meles Zenawi, has told the Guardian.

"The threat of western sanctions as a response to the current crisis in Kenya is very, very misguided," Meles said. "If it is presumed that the Kenyans will democratise in order to eat the peanuts of development assistance from the European Union, for example, it would be a big mistake."

Placing pressure on resources to influence the post-election process, which has degenerated into violence amid claims of government-engineered fraud, would not work and could be counter-productive, he said.

So says the man who has been in power since 1995 and whose government received $1.9 billion in bilateral and multilateral aid in 2007, the world’s fifth highest amount.

What does that money buy? Here’s what the U.S. Dept. of State reported about Ethiopia’s 2005 parliamentary elections:

After the May elections, serious human rights abuses occurred, when the opposition parties refused to accept the announced results, and in November after the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) called for civil disobedience, which resulted in widespread riots and excessive use of force by the police and military. Although there were some improvements, the government's human rights record remained poor and worsened in some areas. In the period leading up to the May national elections, campaigning was open and debates were televised. The Carter Center described this period as credible and commendable. However, in the period following the elections, authorities arbitrarily detained, beat, and killed opposition members, ethnic minorities, NGO workers, and members of the press. Authorities also imposed additional restrictions on civil liberties, including freedom of the press and freedom of assembly.

For documentation of some of the Ethiopian Army’s handiwork during its invasion of Somalia, taken from testimony from Human Rights Watch:

In the Ogaden, we have documented massive crimes by the Ethiopian army, including civilians targeted intentionally; villages burned to the ground as part of a campaign of collective punishment; public executions meant to terrify onlooking villagers; rampant sexual violence used as a tool of warfare; thousands of arbitrary arrests and widespread and sometimes deadly torture and beatings in military custody; a humanitarian and trade blockade on the entire conflict area; and hundreds of thousands of people forced away from their homes and driven to hunger and malnutrition.
He's right, democracy alone will not pull a country out of poverty. Good governance, however, does help. The Mo Ibrahim Good Governance Index rates Ethiopia 27 out of 48 states. I'd call that C work. Corruption is also important in the fight against poverty and the battle against Islamist terrorists, who prey on crooked governments. But the fight against corruption is not an exceptionally bright spot for the Zenawi regime, either. Transparency International ranks Ethiopia 138 out of 179 in its Corruption Perception Index.

One way to pull a country out of poverty is to make it a little easier to do business there. Ethiopia does rank well against other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, but it remains in the bottom half of the "Ease of Doing Business" index when compared to the rest of the world.

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