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Sudan Tribune

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Human Rights Watch calls on donors to review aid for Ethiopia

By Tesfa-Alem Tekle

October 20,2010 (MEKELLE, Ethiopia) – Human Rights Watch released a report on Tuesday accusing Ethiopia’s ruling party of using foreign developmental aid as a weapon to suppress political dissent.

The New-York-based rights group called on donor nation’s legislatures and audit institutions to examine development aid to Ethiopia to ensure that it is not supporting political repression.

“The Ethiopian government is routinely using access to aid as a weapon to control people and crush dissent,” said Rona Peligal, Human Rights Watch’s Africa director.

“If you don’t play the ruling party’s game, you get shut out. Yet foreign donors are rewarding this behavior with ever-larger sums of development aid,” added Peligal in a statement.

Prime minister Meles Zenawi’s Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) is abusing foreign-aid funds to consolidate the rule of a repressive one-party state the report, Development Without Freedom: How Aid Underwrites Repression in Ethiopia, says.

Farmers who fail to support the ruling party are denied access to the fertilizers, seeds, loans and other agricultural aid that is funded by foreign donors, the report, based on a six-month investigation in 53 villages said.

An official from Ethiopia’s biggest opposition political group said the ruling party has a policy that prevents members and supporters of opposition groups benefiting from the food-for-work or “safety net” programme that supports 7 million people across nation.

“The ruling EPRDF party always has a non-changing permanent policy that barres oppositions from benefiting foreign aids” Gebru Asrat, chairman of ARENA-MEDREK party told Sudan Tribune on Wednesday.

“Let alone being an opposition even if you are a neutral one you wouldn’t benefit from the safety-net program or other foreign funded schemes”, he said adding, “this is how they (ruling party) uses aid as a weapon to recruit members”

In the run to up to the country’s May 23, 2010 national elections, the same opposition leader told Sudan Tribune that there was widespread abuse of aid in the northern Tigray region, the strong hold of the ruling party.

The former Tigray regional governor and once a close ally to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said that his party would launch its own study into the Human Rights Watches’ report.

Ethiopia, one of the world’s largest recipients of foreign aid, received more than US$3 billion in 2008 alone.

The country is considered as a strategic ally for the United States in the efforts of bringing stability in the volatile Horn of Africa’s region and also in battling Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists, who operate in neighbouring Somalia.

The World Bank and donor nations provide direct support to district governments in Ethiopia for basic services such as health, education, agriculture, and water, and support a “food-for-work” program for some of the country’s poorest people.

The European Union, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany are the largest bilateral donors.

“In their eagerness to show progress in Ethiopia, aid officials are shutting their eyes to the repression lurking behind the official statistics,” Peligal said. “Donors who finance the Ethiopian state need to wake up to the fact that some of their aid is contributing to human rights abuses.”