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Humanity before Ethnicity

SMNE’s Comments on the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition

May 18, 2012

To: Members of the international media
From: Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia (SMNE)
Topic: SMNE’s Comments on the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition

As the African leaders and others at the G8 summit at Camp David, to discuss this new initiative, we in the SMNE have many critical concerns we believe must be addressed and remedied if the goals of this worthy effort are to be achieved. We hope by bringing these to your attention, you, as a member of the international media, will examine these issues more closely.  

Who we are:

The Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia (SMNE) is a non-violent, non-political, grassroots social justice movement of diverse Ethiopians, formed in 2008 to advance truth, justice, freedom, equality, reconciliation, accountability and respect for the human rights of all Ethiopians; motivated by the truth that no one will be free until all are free. We are working to mobilize Ethiopians in the Diaspora and within Ethiopia to unite in a coalition across ethnic, regional, political, cultural and religious lines to build a society where humanity comes before ethnicity or any other differences. The SMNE has branches in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and chapters in Norway, Sweden, Australia, Japan and in various cities and countries throughout the world, including within Ethiopia. Our work has included international human rights advocacy, raising awareness, refugee advocacy, investigation and analysis, reconciliation work, networking and coalition building.

Concerns and Comments:

We applaud the commitment to the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition in its goal of raising 50 million people out of poverty over the next 10 years. We support the idea of the “critical role played by smallholder farmers, especially women, in transforming agriculture and building thriving economies” and hope that every effort is made on the ground to realize this goal. This has not happened in most places in the past and now most efforts leap-frog over the people to form new partnerships with foreign investors that disenfranchise the people and further jeopardize their current and future hope of food security.

In Africa, the stated goal of working with Africa’s leaders and people must be carefully integrated into the plan and its monitoring if this new initiative is to attain its goals. For example, in countries like Ethiopia, meaningful government reforms must be undertaken first, including the privatization of land, the opening of political space, the restoration of freedoms of expression, the rule of law, the representation of stakeholders at every level and the return of civil and human rights. All sectors of society are controlled by the current regime where access to private enterprise is politically linked and inaccessible to the majority.

In Ethiopia, 84% of the people live in the rural areas and most are small subsistence farmers; however, most have no voice and have been pushed aside. To include the local people, there must be real transparency; yet transparency and accountability do not exist in Ethiopia, a situation that must be corrected if funding for this initiative is not going to end up in the hands of the corrupt and the most powerful. Africans are starving because corrupt, autocratic regimes refuse to give up power after decades and as a result, enjoys impunity. 

Evidence gathered in Ethiopia has shown how much foreign aid has been used to shore up political power. To ensure that the local people are engaged, aid cannot be linked to being a government supporter. Conversely, not being a party member should not result in the withdrawal of supports like food, seed, fertilizers, jobs, educational opportunity and ease of doing business. Neither should those who speak out be subject to punitive measures or charges under Ethiopia’s vague anti-terrorism laws. Instead, genuine democratic reforms are paramount. Democratic rhetoric will not create the broad-based stakeholder inclusion that is necessary to make this program effective no matter how great are the goals. 

While Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is promoting food security at the G-8 in Washington DC; at home, in Ethiopia, he has blocked the private sector and undermined the self-sufficiency of the smallholder farmers. In Ethiopia, the people are being forced from their land, decreasing their food security. If you consider where L’Aquila’s GASFP funds have been used in Ethiopia, it is not in the regions of the most marginalized, most of whom have received no benefits at all. (Please see http://maps.worldbank.org/maps/2146 ) Instead, the locations of the largest land-acquisitions—given to foreign agricultural companies mostly for export—are in these same regions.

For example, the Gambella region has long been known to be the potential bread basket of Ethiopia; yet, no GASFP funds have gone into its agricultural development. The people are forced to use antiquated methods of agriculture; yet, Gambella has become the epicenter of land grabs in all of Africa. Instead of empowering the smallholder farmers, they are being forced into resettlement areas. Despite the claims of the TPLF/EPRDF regime that this is voluntary, the SMNE is in close contact with people on the ground and know this to be false.  

When Meles came to power in 1991, he stated his main goal to be to ensure that Ethiopians had three meals a day. Twenty one years later and after receiving billions in aid, more Ethiopians are hungry, eating only one meal a day or one meal in two days. Ethiopia’s only television station, under government control, even reported that children were fainting in the classroom from hunger. Most Ethiopians are reporting the number one fear is not a terrorist or al Shabaab, but finding food for their family.

Despite claims of double-digit economic growth, the rate of inflation has been over 30% for most of the last year and Ethiopia is considered one of the hungriest countries in the world in 2011.[1] Yet, even today at the G-8 meeting when President Barack Obama unveiled a major new initiative aimed at shoring up food security and combating global hunger a bold and prominent exiled Ethiopian journalist Mr. Abebe Gellaw was compelled to yell out during Meles Zenawi’s speech to assert that Meles Zenawi is a “Killer, Criminal, Dictator” and that Ethiopians wanted “freedom more than food!” (Please see the video http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=nvT28hQU070) The 2011 Legatum Prosperity Index[2] among 110 countries in the world places Ethiopia at the very bottom for freedom and 108th overall.

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia is among the most repressive leaders in Africa; however, since September 11, 2001, autocrats like Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia have gained support from democratic nations for “cooperating” in fighting the War on Terror. On August 28, 2009 Ethiopia’s ethnic-based government passed an anti-terrorism bill with the distinct purpose of using the rhetoric of fighting terrorism to suppress their political opponents. Definitions within the law are intentionally so vague that most any anti-government statements can be construed as a violation of this law. As a result, this law has been used as a strongman’s tool to curb freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly. 

Those under attack are human rights activists, journalists, members of the media and any who speak out against the iron-fisted rule of the Meles regime resulting in the imprisonment of many of the most brave and outspoken critics of this regime. Despite the regime’s claims of working in international cooperation with the Global War on Terror and “to enforce agreements entered into under the United Nations,” they have a vested interest in maintaining the battle.

Democracy activist and journalist Eskinder Nega is awaiting sentencing after being convicted on terrorism charges for writing on the topic of freedom of assembly. Two Swedish journalists were given 11 years in prison for attempting to report on government-sponsored human rights violations committed in the Ogaden. According to this law, such violations are punishable with “rigorous imprisonment of 15 years to life or with death.” 

Mr. Meles Zenawi policies have made it impossible for the civic sector to do its job. A repressive 2009 law against civil society, the Charities and Societies Proclamation now prohibits any organization that receives more than 10% of its budget from foreign sources from (a) advancing human and democratic rights, (b) promoting equality of nations, nationalities, peoples, gender and religion, (c) promoting the rights of the disabled and children, (d) promoting conflict resolution or reconciliation and, (e) promoting the efficiency of justice and law enforcement services. This has meant the closure of most every independent civic organization. In their place, the regime has created pseudo-organizations or appointed government-approved leadership of established groups, all controlled by the regime, including of religious groups. Recently, Ethiopian Orthodox and Ethiopian Muslims have come together in protest of government interference with the practice of religion. 

As long as there is a government that uses these funds without a high level of accountability and representation of diverse people, the obstacles for success of the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition will be nearly insurmountable.  

We in the SMNE are avid supporters of the privatization of land, of empowering the private sector, of foreign investment and of economic development; however, we hope that this new initiative will ensure a greater accountability from those in power. Money laundering, bribes,[3] violence, imprisonment and forced displacement are not useful companions to a truly noble initiative to raise 50 million people out of poverty. The people of Ethiopia and Africa are ready to work together in achieving this goal and hope their voices will be heard.


For media enquiries, including interview requests, contact Mr. Obang Metho, Executive Director of the SMNE. Phone 202 725-1616 or Email: Obang@solidaritymovement.org. You can find more about the SMNE through its website at: www.solidaritymovement.org.


[2] http://www.prosperity.com/country.aspx?id=ET ; 2011 Legatum Prosperity Index

[3] http://www.financialtaskforce.org/2011/12/05/illicit-financial-outflows-from-ethiopia-nearly-doubled-in-2009-to-us3-26-billion-reveals-new-global-financial-integrity-report/ Ethiopia lost US11.7 billion in illegal capital flight from 2000-2009 and illicit financial outflows from Ethiopia nearly doubled in 2009 to US$3.26 billion—double the amount in the two preceding years—with the vast majority of that increase coming from corruption, kickbacks and bribery as revealed in a preliminary 2011 report by the Task Force for Financial Integrity and Economic Development. Ethiopia has been previously listed by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) as being among the worst five countries in the world—along with Iran, North Korea, Ecuador and Angola—for failure to correct strategic deficiencies in their financial system that can put the international financial system at risk due to increasing the likelihood of money laundering and the financing of terrorism. 

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