Crystal gazing 2013: The relations between Ethiopia and UK in perspective

23 Feb

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin

2013 seems hardly a promising year, at least, not for everyone. I know it from the experience of my country that it is not, as bad policies have piled up to roil governance. While it still is too early to be conclusive, not Brazil, not China nor India have also fluttered any positive signals about 2013.

While in the United States its economy’s Achilles Hill – the housing market – is showing signs of improvement to to pull a tired superpower out of the doldrums and everyone else too, I cannot help being affected by the manner in which Portugal pained over and announced its misfortunes over two percent of its population having already left their country because of the economic hardship.

I sympathized with that country, having witnessed the devastating effects of such exit of good experts, sons and daughters of my country, mostly the young and educated, although Ethiopia’s is caused by state violence with economic problems becoming the attendant consequences.

At the latest European summit, Prime Minister David Cameron returned home leaving behind in manland Europe the impression that the United Kingdom was holding the key for possible recovery of Europe, with London as the world’s financial center.

Nevertheless, not long after, i.e., February 22, Moody’s Investor Service said to Mr. Cameron, “Not so fast, Sir!” Not that I believe Moody’s that carries the last word, still its downgrading of Britain’s domestic and foreign-currency government bond ratings to Aa1 from Aaa, speaks volumes – in the circumstances.

The British government makes us (Ethiopians) think and believe that they know what is better for Ethiopia. Again, I sensed that from Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg during his vist in Ethiopia last week. To make matters worse, that came on the heel of the article on The Guardian by UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne. His effort was to show how much with British aid the Cameron Government has become proud of Ethiopia’s success in its revenue collection efforts.

I knew something was wacky there, especially in contrast to the reality on the ground. But Mr. Osborne’s preoccupation was finding “good example”, as they are preparing to preside over the G-8 and G-20, whose leadership they took over from the United States. Therefore, he wrote:

    “As part of this work [British aid], we are clear that the developed world must lead by example. Britain is leading efforts in the EU to require oil, gas and mining companies to publish key financial information for each country and project they work on, and is a strong supporter of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. We will use the G8 to drive greater transparency, to ensure that revenues from these sectors can help developing countries forge a path to sustainable growth, instead of fuelling conflict and corruption. Professor Paul Collier, a leading development economist, is working with us to consider how through the G8, under Britain’s leadership, we can make the biggest difference.”

Unfortunately, he has picked up a poor example. After all, Ethiopia’s membership request has been rejected by the EITI.
Also one can understand that this refers to a body Tony Blair initiated in 2002, when he wanted to help poor countries by stopping the robbery of their resources by international corporations and corrupt governments. The question is how come the British Government could not remember that the Ethiopia it bankrolls is not qualified to become member of the Initiative, the last decision of which was taken two years ago nest month?

The EITI records show that Ethiopia’s was objected by its membership because of its suppression of the media and civil society organizations – which are vital for the success of EITI’s objective and operations. It was on March 20, 2011, at a meeting chaired by the Honorable Claire Short, a former British Government official, Ethiopia recognized that it was not suitable candidate for membership in EITI. It did not have any choice but to withdrew its application after the third attempt failed.

If that effort had succeeded, it would have been a great achievement, although, if the media report are credible, UK banks are beneficiaries of the illicit outflows of financial resources from Ethiopia.

I bring this to make the point that not many things are all right in Ethiopia, notwithstanding either British indifference or inability to read the situation properly. If the Cameron Government is Ethiopia’s friend, it should stand for fairness and justice and push this exercise forward, at a moment when the country is moving closer to becoming oil and gas produceer, if the security situation permits.

Or would the Uk have difficulties doing that, because there are important British interests that need not be disturbed? The world knows, even by its own admission, there are in Ethiopia today more UK companies than other countries in the world. The list of these companies includes:

    Diageo, Tullow Oil, Nyota Minerals, Satya Capital, UK Chambers of Commerce, Chaucer Foods, British American Tobacco (BAT), Pricewaterhouse Coopers LLP, Herries Gibbs Ltd, Tricor, African Bamboo PLC, Global Counsel, the Eastern Africa Association, NEDBANK, Clyde & Co LLP, TVET, G4S, Margin Capital, Mott MacDonald Ltd., Business Council for Africa, Beale and Company LLP, British Expertise, Sagewood Ltd. and Addleshaw Goddard.

If the efficiences Mr. Osborne were talking about were indeed true in the sense of increases in revenues to advance the collective interests of the nation, under normal circumstances, I would agree with him. However, he knows better than that it is not the case in Ethiopia today.

I ams sure, if he cared to pay attention to the reality in Ethiopia, he would have refrained from using Ethiopia as an example. At this point, the country is very much divided and its future may shock everyone, including the British Government, not if, but when that country heads into chaos, merely because of lawlessness and state violence.

Who would have believed five years ago, besides ethnicity an old nation such as Ethiopia would find themselves their government leading the charge to religious conflicts.

Of course, 2013 ia not lost for everyone. The United States earned distinction making it a year of acquisitions and mergers. On February 14, 2013, the Omaha-based Berkshire company, overseen by the legendary investor Warren Buffett has acquired H.J. Heinz, Pittsburgh’s iconic ketchup and pickle maker at a cost of $28 billion – the largest sum of its type.

On the contrary, in Ethiopia it still is time for acquisition to prison of journalists, people from the “wrong” ethnic groups and rising number of murders, if one recalls what happened to Suri in the Omo Valley, who were shot by the army and about 150 were reportedly buried in the same hole. They were opposing the government’s sugar project, which has dispossessed them of their lands.

The country’s two major religious institutions – Christianity and Isalm – are being is being rocked. The Moslems are fighting for their religious freedom and respect for their fundamental human rights. Some members of the Ethiopian Church are also infuriated, because government is undermining the separation of politics and faith.

This has created nexus between the struggles of the two groups. Knowingly or unknowingly, the regime is facilitating the ground to force festering extremism in a nation whose culture and demeanor has never been open to.

As I was write this, my spirit danced to Teddy Afro Chemnin de Fir, the words flowing clearly:

    ሰው ተዋዶ ያለበት እስላም ክርርስቲያኑ
    ተዘነጋሽ እንዲ ኢትዮጵያ መሆኑ?
    አንቺም በሃይማኖቲሽ፤ እኔም በሃይማኖቴ
    መኖር እንችላለን አይጠበንም ቤቴ።

The UK stands better chance of serving its economic and security interests in the Horn of Africa, especially with Ethiopia as the center, by genuinely defending the cause of human rights, equality of all Ethiopians and human dignity in that country. Its current polices reflect ambivalences of sorts, at its worst, one sidedness.

TE – Transforming Ethiopia

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