Open Letter to Professor William Easterly, Development Research Institute
September 15, 2010
Professor William Easterly
Development Research Institute (DRI).
The Aid Watch
New York University
Office: Room 705, 19 W. 4th Street
New York, NY 10012
Dear Professor Easterly:
We in the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia (SMNE), a non-violent, grassroots social justice movement of diverse Ethiopians committed to bringing truth, justice, freedom, equality, accountability and the respect for human and civil rights to the people of Ethiopia and beyond, are contacting you to ask your assistance in response to Columbia University’s invitation to Meles Zenawi to be a keynote speaker at their African Leadership Forum on September 22, 2010, despite his abysmal record in suppressing the peoples’ struggle for true democracy.
We are aware of your highly commendable reputation for calling donors of African aid to better examine the ways financial, military and humanitarian aid often fail to support the people, and instead; due to little accountability, end up propping up corrupt regimes like that of Meles Zenawi. The Ethiopian people are well aware that such aid—and partnership in the War on Terror—has been an obstacle to their struggle for freedom, justice and opportunity in the country; often advancing a cloak of legitimacy to this regime that covers endemic horrors and hardships on the ground.
Now, regrettably, he has been invited to speak at a prestigious American educational institution where he is certain to advance government propaganda rather than truth. As you most probably know, many in the West had hopes that under his leadership, Ethiopia would become a model of genuine democratic reform for other African countries. Unfortunately, he has failed to live up to such expectations; instead, Ethiopians today live under the brutal grip of one of the most repressive and corrupt dictatorships in all of Africa.
Human rights abuses; including multiple incidents of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, have accompanied the regime’s exploitation of land, minerals, petroleum and other natural resources. Electoral manipulations, harassment, intimidation,beatings, political imprisonments and the withholding of humanitarian aid for any who do not support Meles ‘ethnic-based EPRDF party, have effectively closed all political space to any opposing groups. Now, the EPRDF has claimed another five years of power following the recent 2010 national election—where they claimed a 99.6% victory—following almost 20 years of absolute dictatorship. The criminalization of dissent, advanced through new repressive laws regarding civil society and vague anti-terrorism laws that could make nearly anyone guilty, have further silenced the people and the media.
At the same time, this regime is greatly profiting at the expense of the people. A recent “Multi-dimensional Poverty Index” completed by Oxford University concluded that among all the countries studied, Ethiopia was the second poorest country in the world, with 90% of its people living below the poverty line.
It is one of the largest receivers of food and humanitarian aid yet this regime is engaging in secret land-leasing deals where foreign investors from countries such as Saudi Arabia, India, China, Turkey, Egypt and Japan acquire the agricultural rights to fertile land for up to 99 years at give-away prices of $1 per hectare; with most intending to export the produce to other “food-insecure” destinations. This “land-grab” is resulting in the displacement of many of the most marginalized people from their homes with no compensation or consultation with the local people.
Here are some additional facts:
- The public has little access to information. This regime has had no official website since it came into power 20 years ago.
- Within the entire country, there is only one radio station, one TV station and one Internet provider; all owned and operated by the government. Also the regime jams any media broadcasting from other countries with the help of Chinese technology and experts. It also blocks opposition Internet websites as well as monitors and limits access to the Internet and cell phone usage.
- The official investment portal has little information for the public, but yet, continues to make secret deals with foreign and private investors of their choosing.
- The bulk of foreign aid expenditures are funneled through non-governmental organizations operated by NGO’s affiliated with the regime, as are related business contracts.
- The private sector is also dominated by regime-affiliated businesses, which are taking advantage of the public resources, preferential loans and preferential privileges regarding “no tax” and “duty-free” privileges.
- The regime spends tens of thousands of dollars in monthly lobbying costs in the United States; details can be found at: http://foreignlobbying.org/client/Government%20of%20Ethiopia/.
Most Ethiopians consider Meles Zenawi an illegitimate and brutal leader—no different than Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe or Omar al Bashir of Sudan, who has taken control of Ethiopia by force while robbing the people of the country of their national resources. Columbia University has the right to invite whomever they choose, but yet, such an invitation will only be misused to further elevate a dictator who is oppressing the people of Ethiopia. Because of your passion for the truth and for transparency in governments receiving aid, we are hoping you might make arrangements to attend the lecture or if not, to write an expose’ piece for the WSJ or NYT to let world know the truth.
If you would like to contact me or others for more information, we would be more than happy to talk to you further about this issue and other possibilities for intervention, exposure and greater accountability related both to this event and future opportunities.
Obang Metho; Executive Director of the SMNE
PO Box 50561. Arlington, VA 22205
Phone: (202) 725-1616