Memo to Human Rights Watch
Today’s major news on Ethiopia is Human Rights Watch’s(HRW) detailed report on aid abuse by the Ethiopian government. The report supports what has been a conventional wisdom in Ethiopia with strong, albeit suggestive, evidence: the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front(EPRDF) uses aid to consolidate power by abusing human rights and constraining arenas of power contestation. That is all well and good. I am, however, really troubled by the fact that even HRW, an organization which has systematically exposed the real face of the Ethiopian government for years, succumbs to the “development rhetoric” so readily. In its choice of title and inside the 105-page report, the rights group seems to be implicitly suggesting that Ethiopia is a repressive but developmental state. This is not true if serious economists who have studied Ethiopia are to be believed. As William Wallis of the Financial Times notes, the numbers are just made up.
It is also an unforced own goal by HRW. In a world that is shamelessly seduced by China’s authoritarian but highly competent government, the argument that donors ought to rethink aid to a repressive state even if it delivers the economic goods gets little sympathy beyond New York University and the dwindling number of scholars and organizations with unflinching commitment to the values of the enlightenment.
Memo to HRW: In Ethiopia, there is neither freedom nor development.