Ethiopia Accused of Using International Aid to Silence Opposition

By Daniel M. Austin
Impunity Watch Reporter,  Africa


Ethiopian government official at a food distribution center in Jijiga, Ethiopia (Photo Courtesy of Barry Malone, Reuters).
A government official monitoring supplies at a food distribution center in Jijiga, Ethiopia. (Photo Courtesy of Barry Malone, Reuters).


NAROBI, Kenya – The Ethiopian government is denying claims it used international aid as a weapon against opposition groups. A recently published report from the Human Rights Watch (HRW) finds the Ethiopian government withheld international aid, including food and micro-loan payments, from political opponents. HRW believes international aid was withheld to suppress opposition groups ahead of the country’s May 2010 election.

During these elections, the government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, won all but one of the 536 seats in Ethiopia’s parliament. This result stands in sharp contrast to the last election cycle in 2005, when 170 seats of parliament were captured by opposition groups. After the May elections, opposition groups took to the streets to protest. The government moved to crush these protests, ultimately killing over 200 people in the process.

In response, Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs insists the HRW report is inaccurate. To substantiate their claim, the government points to an investigation carried out in January 2010 by the Development Assistant Group that investigated similar claims of corruption. This investigation found the distribution process of international aid was adequate, and the appropriate safeguards were in place to allow for equitable allocation of aid. The Ministry believes these accusations are an attempt to blackmail the Ethiopian government as part of HRW’s personal vendetta against them.

Human Rights Watch claims this report was based on an extensive six month investigation, which included interviews with over 200 people in 53 villages across three regions of Ethiopia. The findings across the nations were consistent; people had been denied aid or loans because they either supported an opposition party or had views that opposed the sitting government. Consequently, food, housing, fertilizer, seeds, and micro loans were denied to opposition group supporters. Furthermore, some sources claim that disagreeing with the ruling government can also limit admission into the country’s university and even the type of employment opportunities available.

Since Ethiopia is a strategic western ally in the troubled Horn of Africa, it has been receiving generous amounts of international aid. Specifically, the amount of international aid the government receives has doubled between 2004 and 2008. In 2008, Ethiopia received over $3 billion dollars (U.S.) from the international community.

For more information, please see:

BBC Africa — Ethiopia used aid to bribe voters – Human Rights Watch – 19 October 2010.

Ezega — Ethiopia Rejects Human Rights Watch Allegations – 20 October 2010.

AFP — Ethiopia using aid to suppress dissent: rights group – 19 October 2010.

Macon — Rights group: Ethiopia denying opposition aid – 19 October 2010.

The Globe and Mail — Ethiopia using Canadian aid as a political weapon, rights group says – 19 October 2010.

Author: Impunity Watch Archive