Sam Loewenberg reports in The Lancet on accusations that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the World Bank, Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID) and other organizations are turning a blind eye to abuses by the Ethiopian government.
Ethiopia has been something of a success story in foreign aid. The country is now engaged in a ‘villagization’ program, the removal of 1.5 million people from poor communities to new regions with the promise of better services. Others have reported that the promises are seldom kept and most of these are forced evictions from productive land to land with poor soil and lack of services. This is not unique to Ethiopia, but it highlights a dilemma for Western aid. Writes Loewenberg:
The Ethiopia case is a microcosm of the issues regularly faced by wealthy western governments and international aid organisations attempting to provide health and other types of foreign assistance to governments with questionable records on issues like human rights, corruption, and governance. Ethiopia is one of the biggest recipients of foreign aid money, according to the Oakland Institute, receiving an average of US$3·5 billion a year from donors, which accounts for more than half of its national budget.
This new report, mostly authored by Human Rights Watch, illustrates in stark detail what can happen when Western governments go too far in de-politicizing foreign aid. Loewenberg quotes experts who note that some of the West’s biggest aid recipents are also some of the worst human rights abusers.
Some development experts like Owen Barder challenge the notion of making too strong a link between aid programs and what’s driving the alleged abuses of the Ethiopian re-settlement program. But few seem to question that these forced evictions are sometimes abusive. So perhaps the question is not so much determining cause-and-effect as in deciding what, if anything, Western aid agencies should do to reduce the abuse.