The Ethiopian Foreign Ministry has posted on its webpage a story titled The UK pledges to continue to support Ethiopia’s development (Nov 19, 2012). As an Ethiopian citizen, I am grateful to the people of the UK for their generous aid.
A slight problem I have with this story is the fact that it badly misrepresents the nature of the cooperation between Ethiopia and Britain. It gives the impression that Ethiopia is just on the receiving end and Britain in the habit of dispensing its wealth in largesse, especially in these lean times. This is far from the truth!
Britain does give aid to support Ethiopia’s development. In the meantime, as Ethiopia works to address its development problems, the UK aid facilitates opening up of the country for more and more British companies to do business, which now are prospering. Whether Ethiopia ensures that it gets the appropriate share of the benefits is the responsibility of the Ethiopians.
Therefore, when I clicked on that story on the said webpage, I was hoping to read some exchanges between two officials, say about issues in the areas of cooperation between our two countries. It is disappointing to see that the whole cooperation between Britain and Ethiopia is simply reduced to portraying how generous the UK is. This is not even in the best interests of the UK.
Surely, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London would not do that. Nor would it allow its webpage to be used by another country to praise itself, no matter how deep the friendship. Countries have cooperation in many spheres and the whole purpose of it is to benefit both sides.
Therefore, receiving foreign officials at the foreign ministry usually means exchanging views, something which denotes that relations are two-way traffic. Interestingly, in receiving DFID’s Country Director Melanie Robinson, there is not a single iteration by her counterpart at the foreign ministry on behalf of Ethiopia!
We do not even know who the new DFID country director met at the foreign ministry, other than the foreign ministry posting UK embassy or DFID press release on its webpage.
Let me hope that Ms. Robinson would agree with me that the UK companies, on behalf of whose interests this generous aid has been granted and has widely swung the country open, have benefitted the most in these past several years. I am happy they did, so long as the benefits are shared, and both countries have something to be proud of in their cooperation.
In the light of this reality, at least, the minimum that could have been done is that, although UK gives huge amount of aid, the world needs to know that their firms are making money in Ethiopia. People should get the idea that Ethiopia is not simply wretchednes living on British taxpayers kindness. This may only take away, possibly 5 percent from British gains in public opinion such stories unduly give it. Five percent loss from similar stories that make Britain presumably make it appear proud of seeing Ethiopia year after year as the largest recipient of its aid is not a bad bargain, after all.
Today, the UK companies are in a wide range of activities in Ethiopia – from mining (potash, gold, oil, etc.,) to manufacturing of lots of products (beers, fine leather, cement etc.), commodity exports, consultancy services to a number of government agencies from finance to road building, education, media, security to government inner political level council.
In a land where foreign financial concerns such as banks and their derivatives are prohibited by law from operating in the country, Britain’s is the first private equity investment fund (Schulze Global Ethiopia Fund), launched last May. All these business activities make huge returns for the UK firms, with Ethiopia having neither the capacity nor evem the breathing space to assess each stream of the cooperation arrangements and how much it has benefitted from all of them in that regard.
Moreover, in reading the DFID director’s interview on Addis Fortune (Nove 11, 2012), I note that on one hand she quotes Prime Minister David Cameron’s direction on working toward both development activities and good governance institutions. On the other, however, one senses from her interview she has preferences to prioritization, notwithstanding her reiteration of vibrant civil society being “an essential part of Ethiopia’s development.” Normally, I hate second-guessing other people; but in this case, it appears that those words are deployed either for affect’s sake or for the benefit of the gallery.
One thing all those in development activities need to do is convince themselves that it is an imperative necessity to be persistent in linking both aspects – development and democracy – lest every effort on which lots of resources and hopes have been invested do not become sandcastles.
It is also important to bear in mind that Ethiopians also loathe being boxed into status of permanent aid recipient, for that matter some of it only promoting consumption the country cannot even afford.
Hereunder is the story, as it appears on the foreign ministry webpage:
The UK pledges to continue to support Ethiopia’s development (Nov 19, 2012)
The UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) has said the UK will continue its support to help Ethiopia continue its development and expand access to basic services. The Head of DFID in Ethiopia, Melanie Robinson, said that the UK’s development program in Ethiopia was its largest in the world, and the overall UK aid program in Ethiopia was currently running at 300 million pounds, six times larger than it was in 2005. She said UK has been undertaking various development activities to support Ethiopia’s efforts towards lifting citizens from poverty, with an outlay of US$1.3 billion. The UK’s priority areas are helping to expand access to basic services such as health, education, water and agriculture, and last year alone, the UK supported nearly four million people through the Productive Safety Net Program. Ms. Robinson said the UK’s development assistance to Ethiopia was based on the country’s commitment to end poverty, and over the next couple of years she expected 800,000 people to be lifted out of poverty through the development activities assisted by the UK. This support would also enable two million school children to stay in schools and 500,000 mothers to give birth safely in health institutions. She also said nearly nine million more people would benefit from health and safe water facilities during the reported period.