Dr. Jim Yong Kim
President of the World Bank Group
1818 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20433
October 10, 2014
Dear Dr. Kim,
I am writing this letter in my capacity as Chairman of the Ethiopian People’s Congress for United Struggle (SHENGO), a coalition of more than a dozen civil society organizations, political parties and prominent individuals in the Ethiopian Diaspora. SHENGO is established in response to a glaring gap in civic, social and political space and organization emanating from single ethnic-elite based dictatorship in Ethiopia. Our goals are to mobilize Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia in raising global awareness concerning gross human rights violations, the decimation of civil society, free press, the rule of law and peaceful political reform in Ethiopia. You will agree with us that it is the institutionalization of these principles that will lead to genuine democratization. It is our belief that sustainable and equitable growth that the World Bank pursues as a central policy and as an essential principle to enhance prosperity won’t take place without freedom, broad-based participation and due diligence on the part of the donor community, especially the World Bank. It is here where we are deeply concerned about the Bank’s role.
We share skepticism among the vast majority of Ethiopians that the World Bank has ignored the rights of ordinary Ethiopians which it is expected to serve almost completely. Instead, it continues to shore-up Ethiopia’s dictatorship that has been in power for 24 years.
SHENGO recognizes the fact that the World Bank Group has been involved in alleviating poverty in Ethiopia since 1950. We note that over the past 24 years, the current Ethiopian government has been a major beneficiary of Western aid led by the World Bank. Ethiopia is the largest aid recipient in Sub-Saharan Africa and one of the largest in the world. Aid has in fact increased dramatically since the flawed elections of 2005 that the Donor Assistance Group (DAC) led by the World Bank had criticized. Things have deteriorated sharply. Despite this, the World Bank and other donors have turned a blind eye to wide-spread human rights abuses including intimidation, beatings, rapes, arbitrary arrests and detentions of bloggers, journalists, opposition leaders and supporters and religious leaders who dare to air their voices and challenge the ruling party. Ethnic-divisions, polarization and hate, discrimination and ethnic cleansing and forcible evictions of indigenous people from their lands—-Gambella, the Omo Valley, the Ogaden and Beni-Shangul Gumuz—have reached a tipping point and entail existential risks for the country. Ethiopia suffers one of the most damaging cases of brain-drain in the world. Between 1991-2006, 3,000 Ethiopian trained medical doctors left the country; the situation in other professions is the same.
Under these circumstances the 2015 election will be no more than a paper exercise that will no doubt appease the donor and diplomatic community.
As an avid advocate of human dignity and rights and the rule of law, you no doubt know that the Ethiopian government’s draconian Anti-Terrorism and Charities and Societies Proclamations of 2009 are used as blunt instruments to diminish the role of civil society organizations and to erode further government accountability and transparency by providing the governing party legal cover. Reports by the U.S. Department of State, Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, Amnesty International, the U.N. Human Rights Council and others show that these laws have had devastating impact on Ethiopian society; and have taken Ethiopia backwards for decades in advancing the democratization process. There are ominous signs of ethnic-based conflict throughout the country. The glitz of dramatic growth is shallow, discriminatory, unjust and exclusionary. Wealth is concentrated at the top; and Ethiopia’s per capita income is $470, less than a third of the African average. Ethiopia continues to bleed from nepotism, bribery, poor and burdensome administration and massive illicit outflow that has reached more than $25 billion. As the Bank’s most recent report shows, Ethiopia has an unsustainable debt. The state, party and endowments own more than 50 percent of the modern economy.
As part of the UN Human Rights Council’s periodic review of human rights of 193 countries, UN human rights experts urged the Ethiopian government to stop misusing the Anti-Terrorism law to terrorize innocent civilians. “Two years after we first raised the alarm we are still receiving numerous reports on how the anti-terrorism law is being used by security forces, defense and police to target journalists, bloggers, human rights defenders and opposition politicians in Ethiopia. Torture and inhuman treatment in detention are gross violations of fundamental human rights.” Unfortunately, the Ethiopian government does not make any distinction between those who seek justice and bona-fide terrorists. We too recognize that terrorism in Somalia, the rest of the Horn and several parts of Africa poses a real danger to the very survival of countries. However, we feel strongly that, by its misuse of its anti-terrorism law and its commitment to the principle of divide and rule, the Ethiopian government fosters ethnic and religious polarization, tensions and fragmentation. It is inevitable that, unless donors and the diplomatic community leverage their resources and call for reconciliation and peace among all stakeholders, civil conflict will deepen and the development process will be thwarted.
We share Human Rights Watch’s numerous researches and conclusions including “Development without Freedom, Abuse Free Development and Waiting Here for Death” and others. The World Bank has not worked hard to avoid the risks that the Ethiopian government’s quashing of free speech, association and denial of basic services to perceived or real opponents or forcible eviction and relocation initiatives partly financed by your organization entail. In fact, we feel that the Bank has compounded the problem. As Human Rights Watch notes, “At one time, the World Bank said that its non-political mandate precluded it from even considering human rights in its funding decisions. Now the Bank accepts that it can consider human rights, views that as discretionary.” We do not believe aid that is not anchored in the respect for and advancement of human rights and institutions that strengthen it will establish sustainable and equitable development in Ethiopia or the rest of Africa. In light of this, we agree with Hunan Rights Watch and others that “It is high time that the World Bank recognized that universal human rights are not discretionary” but central to people-anchored development.
The World Bank has a moral obligation to the very people it was set-up to help 70 years ago—the very poor, indigenous people, women and youth. The Bank’s safeguard instruments have been instrumental in averting environmental disasters, hunger and displacement of indigenous people. We urge you not to abandon this tradition in a country where the government does not allow civil society or free process to defend these safeguards. Further, Ethiopia’s infant private sector suffers from a regulatory environment that favors the party, state and endowments. A robust national private sector is essential in creating jobs and a competitive economy.
We urge you to stand for an all-inclusive, participatory and people-based development model. It is this model that will usher in prosperity, peace and stability in Ethiopia.
We also urge you to join the global community, especially the UN’s call for special investigation of human rights abuses and for the release of political prisoners in Ethiopia. “We call upon the Government of Ethiopia to free all persons detained arbitrarily under the pretext of countering terrorism…Let journalists, human rights defenders, political opponents and religious leaders carryout their legitimate work without fear of intimidation and incarceration.” Generations of Ethiopians will remember a World Bank that stood for human rights and freedoms and the rule of law and not a World Bank that shores up one of most repressive regimes on the planet.
We are concerned that the World Bank faces reputational risks among Ethiopia’s 94 million people and especially youth not only today but for generations to come unless World Bank lending is directly linked to public participation in policy and decision-making and independent civic oversight in the use of loans and grants.
We look forward to your attention and are ready to meet and discuss our concerns with Bank officials.
Taye Zegeye, PhD