HRW's concealed moves amidst Ethiopia's development stride

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By Bereket Gebru  (12 April 2014)

At the dawn of the overthrow of the dictator Dergue regime some twenty years ago, the first and foremost measure undertaken by the government was devising a constitution which ensured democratic and human rights to Ethiopian citizens. The constitution upholds equality, freedom, respect and tolerance irrespective of religious, cultural, ethnic and gender differences. Put differently, all citizens of Ethiopia, despite differences mentioned above have equal rights to cherish the political, social and economic arena of life.

The constitution also boldly put that power belongs to the people and the roles of the executive, judiciary and legislative bodies of government have been clearly identified with the judiciary practically granted freedom and independence from the other two. The existence of such a noble constitution is the datum point for the democratization process and inculcation of equality and freedom in the country – virtues the people have been denied since time immemorial.

With this background, one can appreciate the government's commitment and willingness to move Ethiopia into a new era of growth and development. True, Ethiopia is still at the cradle of democratization that is incomparable with nations like India and a few more countries in the world, which have hundreds of years of experience.

Twenty years on, Ethiopia is proud to proclaim that the development policies and strategies it has adopted are now bearing fruit. Besides, democracy being a process, Ethiopia is in a fast stride considering the inception of the concept in the country was only a couple of decades ago.

In stark opposition to such realities in the country, some international groups have been spreading accusations and mere allegations with concealed motives against the country. One of the most notable of these is Human Rights Watch (HRW). HRW has been accusing every move of the Ethiopian government for what seems to be an era now. It has, time and again, come up with superficial reports on alleged human, civil and political rights violations in the country. Despite its outcries for the segregation of Ethiopia from the fora of the international community, the country has been performing brilliantly in its diplomatic dealings. 

Yet another one of HRW’s stunts against the Ethiopian government has come recently in the form of a request to reject Ethiopia’s efforts to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), an international initiative that helps governments manage the income they get out of their resources better.

Ethiopia, in a view to get close cooperation from the global economic circle thereby catapulting its economic development journey, has been requesting membership to EITI after accepting its principles in 2008. Just over a decade after its formation, however, the initiative could not denounce the country's request for candidacy, which is the first step for membership in the near future.

The HRW, though, could not bear a positive response going in the way of Ethiopia. Therefore, it once again opposed the move and called for it to be dropped claiming that Ethiopia’s Charities and Civic Organizations Proclamation is “evil” and that its acceptance would be rewarding its ill-treatment of civil society.

Despite HRW’s rhetoric, it has increasingly become obvious that foreign aid organizations and International NGOs serve a political purpose in their host countries. The color revolutions that have been catching countries across the globe as wildfires are highly associated with INGOs and foreign aid organizations. In light of such realities, Ethiopia’s proclamation deals with the manner in which these organizations would be allowed to carry out their humanitarian objectives and puts a limit on their scope of political activities.

When the nuts and bolts of the 2009 proclamation is to ensure accountability, transparency of CSOs and uniformity in the regulation of all CSOs operating in the country, HRW presented the ideals of the proclamation in a different way as if it was meant to restrict and highly influence their operation with  a great deal of government interference.

The government of Ethiopia acclaims and gives maximum possible support to CSOs and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), who are development partners in the multi-sectoral poverty alleviation endeavor of the country. The proclamation was entrusted to assist these development allies execute their missions and visions in a more transparent, highly effective and efficient manner thereby helping to meet their targeted goals.

One would expect a human rights watchdog to denounce espionage and other acts instigating violence and chaos in various countries carried out by the INGOs as they infringe on the rule of law – a major prerequisite for enhancing human rights. On the contrary, HRW aligns itself against a state that strives to do something about these destructive moves while turning a blind eye to the instigative roles played by such organizations to incite violence that results in the generic violation of human rights.

Known for its attack on developing countries and lenience on the developed world’s human rights transgressions, HRW has rightfully aligned itself with the INGOs by providing a double standard on the meaning of human rights. Poor human rights records are, as demonstrated time and again, one of the causes cited by western powers to invade or act violently against developing countries.

The World Bank, department of Gas, oil, mining unit of sustainable energy, on the other hand applauded Ethiopia’s move appreciating its step so far taken to engage on transparency issues. As World Bank has been closely working with Ethiopia for many years in the past on Multisectoral economic development activities, its testimony emanates from an acquaintance with the development endeavors of the country and the overall atmosphere in general; hence would be more relevant of a testimony about Ethiopia and what goes on in the country.

Likewise, over the past three years, the World Bank has worked closely with the Ethiopian government through an EITI Multi-Donor Trust Fund project that facilitated preparation for EITI candidacy. The focus of preparation was not only on the basics of revenue transparency, but also on capacity building and learning from experiences of other EITI implementing countries like Liberia and Tanzania.

EITI is a prominent international natural resource transparency group based in Oslo, Norway. EITI was launched by former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair in 2003. Ethiopia accepted the principles of EITI in 2008 and began implementing the initiative in the following year by establishing the Ethiopian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EEITI) chaired by the minister of mines.

Recently, Ethiopia re-applied for membership. After evaluating Ethiopia’s application the board of EITI approved the request with differences. The board of EITI said candidature is not recognition of a country's levels of transparency or accountability. As a candidate, the country has three years to achieve compliance with EITI Standards.

The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) is an international standard that ensures transparency around countries’ oil, gas and mineral resources. It is developed and overseen by a coalition of governments, companies, civil society, investors and international organizations. All of these groups are represented on the EITI Board which is supported by the EITI International Secretariat.

The EITI Standard has a robust yet flexible methodology, which countries adopt to address the specific issues they are facing. When implemented, EITI ensures more transparency in how the country’s natural resources are governed, and full disclosure of government revenues from its extractive sector.

The final candidacy is a breakthrough for Ethiopia. Dismayed by such witty consideration of EITI, HRW is applauding voices of some opposition groups who relentlessly strive to pose themselves as hurdles on every development endeavor of the country. It is no wonder that HRW has consistently sided with these foreign based opposition leaders since they are its comrades in arms in the struggle towards achieving another mockery of constitutionalism in the form of color revolution.

A recent compilation by Professor Alemayehu Gebremariam, a conspicuous opposition blogger living in Diaspora who denounced Ethiopia’s acceptance of candidacy in the EITI is a clear evidence of how HRW activities are manipulated by opposition groups. The professor tried to testify that the acceptance of Ethiopia’s quest for candidacy was due to the pressure of the board chairman, a lady who he said was a fan of the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

Here lies the fallacy of the professor’s weak argument. A globally reputed initiative that upholds good governance and transparency, and established to ensure corruption free investment climate across the world is corrupt itself, according to him. After all, such executive decisions will be made after fulfilling specific formalities that demand years of intensive compilation of reports which will finally be judged by the decision making circle of the board - not just by the will of an individual.

Ethiopia believes in the undertakings of the EITI for it aspires to ensure good governance, speed up its democratization process and transparency of the development activities. Besides, the road towards membership of the EITI would help the country’s endeavor of transparency in terms of managing natural resources, catapulting Foreign Direct Investment and mitigating potential negative impacts.

Besides, it will benefit the country by paving the way for an improved investment climate through the provision of a clear signal to investors and international financial institutions that the government is committed to greater transparency. EITI membership also assists in strengthening accountability and good governance, as well as promoting greater economic and political stability.

Other benefits include serving as center on mitigating political and reputational risks. Political instability caused by opaque governance is a clear threat to investments. In extractive industries, where investments are capital incentive and dependent on long-term stability to generate returns, reducing such instability is beneficial for business.

Transparency of payments made to a government can also help to demonstrate the contribution that their investment makes to a country. Furthermore, benefits to civil society come from increasing the amount of information in the public domain about those revenues that governments manage on behalf of citizens, thereby making governments more accountable.

It is all these benefits that Ethiopia seeks to acquire in its development endeavor and ensure sustainable, more dynamic and global systems. HRW and the few fanatic opposition groups do not envision Ethiopia’s development endeavors bearing fruits.

EITI’s designation of candidacy to Ethiopia, despite HRW’s outcries for a rejection, is a mark of the diplomatic prowess and practical approach of the Ethiopian government. By strictly striving to meet the standards set by EITI and not giving any attention to those with negative motives, the Ethiopian government has managed to keep its eye on the trophy. The final result, however, has brought the Ethiopian government victorious in the tug of war against HRW. 

Despite such attempts to hamper the development stride of the country, Ethiopia is on the right track to development. The country has sustained double digit economic growth for the past twelve successive years. It has now managed to be one of the most dynamic economies in Africa. The western world, which had been mentioning Ethiopia colloquial with draught and famine for many years in the past, has now started to apprehend the actual development endeavor of the country.

The US magazine, TIME, in its March, 2014 edition made a headline entitled “forget the BRICS, follow the PINES”. The writer of the article argues that the BRICS countries which are Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa are not the world’s most dynamic economies anymore. Rather, it is the PINES - Philippines, Indonesia, Nigeria and Ethiopia – that are scoring significant economic growth year after year.

Although it would take Ethiopia a continuous economic growth for a considerable number of years to achieve the planned middle income country status, it is very clear that the country is destined to achieve that down the line. That sort of development would certainly favor human rights conditions, not that HRW would agree.

By trying to sabotage Ethiopia’s effort to join an international organization it deems would enhance its benefits, HRW has once again stood in the way of Ethiopia’s development efforts. As usual, Ethiopia has managed to move past the hurdles. What HRW is yet to comprehend is that there can be no possible damage it can cause on Ethiopia now that the people are so focused and united on what they want to achieve.

Besides, the country has attained a great deal of diplomatic success with the rest of the world in all arena of life - be it political, economic and social. The country is now mentioned as one of the most ideal investment destinations in the continent and among the few in the world. The investment policy has been amended time and again to give maximum room in the effort to attract FDI. To sum up, it is high time for HRW and some opposition groups to swallow the truth. Nothing stops or even hampers the current development strives of the country.



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