By Keffyalew Gebremedhin, The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)
The story on Thursday’s (July 22) The New York Times, hinting by implication, Bill Gates indifference about repression and censorship in Ethiopia comes across as extremely troubling – to put it mildly. Its tone was very much Trump-esque, examined in the lens of the latter’s acceptance speech at the Republican Party Convention.
That is to say, Bill Gates defense of the ‘government’s’ sovereignty was cold and indifferent in the face of the nonsensical pretext under which the dictatorial regime in Ethiopia has shut off the Internet and all social media throughout the country. That decision came into effect, shortly after the United Nations Human Rights Council on July 1, 2016 adopted a resolution by which it affirmed disrupting Internet access as a human rights violation.
This Associated Press story, which appeared on the international media and the ubiquitous blogs around the world, had as their subject Mr. Gates’ response to a question by Ethiopian journalists asking for his reaction to one of those bouts of censorships Ethiopian officials dutifully resort to.
That story quotes its source telling the rationale of the TPLF regime, stupidly alleging it was to protecting students from being distracted during national examinations.
Initially, I was displeased with the response, even more on the angry side. Then I decided not to accept the idea of Bill Gates being indifferent. He knows well that repression leads to rising tensions. The end result of such tensions, such as that building in Ethiopia at present, would be more conflicts. I do not believe that would be in the billionaire’s interests and his projects in Ethiopia.
He is fully aware from his philanthropy work that conflicts create population displacements and dislocations. Refugees and migrants dislocate with their communicable diseases, against which he has been campaigning, giving aid fore research wherever possible.
Rather his reaction to censorship in Ethiopia has refreshed in my mind a maxim attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte. It is reported that once the French emperor had made up his mind during his European warring campaigns, everything else was forgotten – except what ever could lead him to his envisioned success. It appears to me that seems to be the case now with Bill Gates.
Nevertheless, while the heavy-handedness of the TPLF regime is both habitual and political through and through, what is striking is the extent to which Bill Gates has gone the extra mile in trying not to offend a client state of his Gates Foundation, the British in 2011 referred collaboration with the TPLF cause for ‘reputational risk to partners’.
Although Mr. Gates is not the kind of person who does not lose sleep over issues of human rights violations, perhaps his thinking is that he has an investor/philanthropist’s job he must do. In other words, he did not see the need to break his ties with client nation that is accused of terrible human rights crimes.
Bill Gates has been Paul Kagame’s friend, even when the latter has been constantly accused of severe repressions and gross human rights violations. The only possible difference in the case of the Rwandan leader’s case perhaps is less elimination of his enemies with cruel means relative to the TPLF’s. Also his achievements in both national and human development are verifiable, unlike the fictitious growth numbers the TPLF manufactures.
I would not miss the opportunity here to mention that, in the TPLF’s doctoring the records is also the allegation that implicates those dovetailed by the Gates Foundation either releasing a distorted story of growth, or having a direct hand in doctoring the data, or accused of encouraging the deception.
Ethiopia is the poorest country on the planet that the billionaire for almost the last six years has been experimenting on to see if his venture could alleviate the nation’s profound health problems and food insecurity. Recall that Ethiopia is one of the nations at the bottom of the 48 least developed countries in the world.
The anticipation on the part of Bill Gates in picking Ethiopia, it is presumed, he must have a plan to eventually turn it around like a bankrupt company reviving to profitability. In that regard, he must have been aiming to make Ethiopia his model for other developing nations – if one cares to scrutinize his April 4, 2012 presentation at the Stanford University.
The tycoon underlined at the time:
“Ethiopia is a very interesting case, because it has more food insecure people who need food aid than any country in the world…If agricultural productivity would go up faster in Ethiopia from a very low-level, then in almost any country over the next three, four years, as they fix these key bottlenecks.”
A that time, the follow-up action was then left to his experts and Ethiopians the TPLF regime assembled to set Ethiopian agriculture on a productivity growth trajectory. It did not take long, before foreign seed companies came in, including DuPont, with Bill Gates himself as a go-between and a minor others following. Even a ruling party company was set up as a seed enterprise operating in all parts of the country.
The reward Bill Gates sought was the introduction of genetically modified/manipulated organisms (GMO), since dictator Meles Zenawi was open to the idea, often African diplomats speaking of him being the GMO ambassador to Africa.
Within the quiet Ethiopian academic environment, there was tumult underground and it was not publicly pursued, after a GMO law was adopted. Having realized the resistance, although Mr. Gates is one of the largest investors in the GMO companies, the Gates Foundation has begun to show, as at June 2015, it has softened its pressure/position by stating:
“Ethiopia has had some debates, internal debates between the government research institutions, academics and others about how we can increase the productivity of the agriculture system and make it more robust and modernise it. And you can really have different choices within that space.
Some of them require technology, and some do not. Within technology, there is biotechnology and even within biotechnology, there are very different aspects of biotechnology, all the way to GMOs. Our position is that farmers and governments should decide what is needed or what they prefer to use under these circumstances.”
As a focused and disciplined person, who exerts himself to the task at hand, investor/philanthropist as his day job, for Mr. Gates his continued relations with Ethiopia appears very important. We hear from the Ethiopian side he had asked for a briefing on GTP II, although unclear how different his approach would be in the second phase that has learned little from GTP I and has already started showing signs of huge strain.
The Gates Foundation and Ethiopia started their engagement in late 2000s and took off in earnest in early 2012. I recall his presentation of April 4, 2012 at Stanford University, where he outlined as his benchmark Ethiopia’s transition to doubling food production by 2015. This apparently was tied to the regime’s five-year plan that only is now remembered as motley of numbers, by the admission of the TPLF, none of whose targets attained.
Undeterred by failures of the food security target date of 2015 long gone, especially Mr Gates without seeking to blame El Nino, indication was given Thursday the two sides had discussed areas of cooperation in the next ten years. Thursday in the Amharic news story, an expression of recognition by Mr. Gates of Ethiopia achieving “encouraging results in the agricultural sector.”
This is unlikely to be Mr. Gates view, given that the Gates Foundation in June 2015 had issued its assessment of Ethiopia’s progress in the agricultural sector still requiring a great deal of efforts over a long time.
In the English story, the story’s focus has been on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s “interest to expand its partnership with Ethiopia.”
It is troubling that Mr. Gates should exclusively focus on his success in a country, where tens of hundreds of youngsters, high school and university students are being slaughtered by regime-hired assassins in Oromia, home of the country’s largest ethnic group, the nation’s breadbasket and 60 percent of its growth and domestic product (GDP). The story is the same in many parts of the country.
This is not in concert with the theory of human and societal development, irrespective of the politics, ideology and economic theory one espouses, especially when the goal is the eradication of poverty, human and national progress.
Growth and development in Ethiopia require the TPLF-imposed imprisonments without due process, fear and insecurity removed from the lives of our people. There is also need to ensure respect for property rights, especially the right of urban and rural lands that have become source of illegal seizures by and enrichment of the member of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
The contributions of the Gates Foundation are recognized worldwide, and would enjoy the success he dreams of in Ethiopia, if only two conditions are met: (a) His lieutenants in Ethiopia are members of the ethnic minority regime and they have more loyalty to the regime than to his Foundation; and
(b) Effectuation of Mr. Gates Foundation’s dreams for Ethiopia could succeed, if its work in Ethiopia are meant to improve the lot of the people of Ethiopia, not to become insurance policy to the corrupt regime that cannot see beyond ethnic ties, going down to the village level.
If the Gates Foundation fails to sees the ills that create the callusing wounds within Ethiopian society, it would only come to the realization late in the day that it has been building in the health and agricultural sectors on an uncertain foundation!
More than the fertilizers and vaccines, Ethiopia today is badly in need of the rule of law! That is the only way to avoid the second Rwanda genocide in Sub-Saharan Africa!