It’s easy for Westerners to decry corruption overseas and to demand more “transparency” from nations that receive U.S. aid and strategic assistance, but not always so easy for those on the ground or in-country expected to serve as the watchdogs on this front.
The trials and tribulations of Ethiopian journalist Dawit Kebede are a case in point. Kebede is being honored as one of this year’s press freedom recipients by the Committee to Protect Journalists for his perseverance in pursuing the truth and reporting it in the face of government retaliation.
Ethiopia is one of the U.S. government’s most valuable strategic partners in Africa and the biggest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance on the continent. Yet it has been criticized for its authoritarian approach to governance, for using foreign aid as a tool of political retribution and for generally not acting like the democracy it claims to be.
As the Obama Administration and other governments are now looking at ways to improve the effectiveness of foreign aid, perhaps the criteria should include some measure of how aid recipients engage in (or suppress) public criticism and dialogue.
Bill Easterly of AidWatch also had some kudos for Kebede, noting that individual bloggers often have even less protection than established journalists.