It gets a disproportionately large slice of Africa's aid, but the Ethiopian regime does not act in the best interests of its citizens or its neighbours. So why has the G20 made the country a spokesman for the entire continent?by M G Zimeta / June 30, 2010 / Leave a comment
Published in July 2010 issue of Prospect Magazine
Last week the leaders of the world’s largest economies met at the G20 Summit in Toronto. The key items on the agenda were global economic recovery, sustainable and environmentally-friendly growth, and the impact of the recession on social justice. Special invitations were also issued to Vietnam, Malawi, and Ethiopia. Vietnam attended as chair of the Association of South East Asian Nations. Malawi came as chair of the African Union (AU). Ethiopia, it seems, was invited in a somewhat ambiguous role, as the “voice of Africa.” You can always tell a lot about a party from the guest list. So what agenda was served with this group?
At first glance, it looks as though Ethiopia was there to represent African development issues in the discussion about the global recovery. Ethiopia was, after all, chair of NEPAD—the New Economic Partnership for African Development. NEPAD was an AU initiative that aimed to help develop Africa internally, mobilising the continent’s own resources instead of seeking foreign aid; creating a new vision and direction for Africa in place of one shaped by donor interests. But herein lies a problem. NEPAD has been so unsuccessful in achieving its goals that the AU recently voted to disband it—an outcome that does not exactly reflect well on Ethiopia’s leadership of the initiative.
Indeed, was it ever in the Ethiopian government’s interests for NEPAD to succeed? Part of NEPAD’s mandate is to ensure good governance in African states, and the Ethiopian leadership is hardly a model of this. It has been accused of serious human rights abuses, persecution of political opponents, and anti-democratic governance. Human Rights Watch has called Ethiopia’s recent record “poor…and on a deteriorating human rights trajectory.” The US State Department has cited reports of “unlawful killings, torture, beating, abuse, and mistreatment of detainees and opposition supporters by security forces, often acting with evident impunity.” Foreign policy magazine has just ranked Ethiopia’s prime minister Meles Zenawi the 9th worst dictator in the world, while the country’s opposition leader and former judge Birtukan Mideksa languishes in prison on a life sentence for treason. In the recent national elections, which returned a 99.6 per cent majority for the government, EU observers reported that the polls “fell short of certain international commitments, notably the lack of level playing field for all parties and transparency of the process,” with a “climate of apprehension and insecurity” in the weeks leading up to the vote. Ethiopia therefore seems a strange choice to be the “voice of Africa” in discussions about African development.