(Sit back and relax, this one's gonna be long!)
Ahh…Jeffrey Sachs—the American economist-turned-humanitarian we just “love to hate” in these parts.
As the UN Special Advisor on the Millenium Development Goals, he has actively lobbied in favor of increased aid funds for Africa—and Ethiopia, in particular. He has continually applauded the ‘development efforts’ of Meles Zenawi in addition to repeatedly expressing respect for his intellect, personal charisma and “vision”. Sachs was on hand to personally award him the “first ever African Green Revolution Award” (only a couple of months after the June 2005 civilian massacre)—and since by now we are all more than aware of the ‘dubious conditions’ under which that prize was awarded, we can only assume that rumors of a personal friendship between the two must at least be somewhat founded.
The much celebrated UN-supported Millenium Village Project (a continent-wide 'sustainable development project, endvoring to eradicate extreme poverty at the village level within a 5 year timeframe' ) is also the brainchild of this man, and Ethiopia was selected by him as the second “host country” to participate—thus blessing us with the village of Koraro and promised future “subsequent national scale-up’.
Under normal circumstances, the political assessment of a foreign economist is generally (arguably) irrelevant. However, our man Jeffrey Sachs is of a different, and dangerous breed. His public humanitarian pledge to “end extreme poverty by 2015” (proclaimed in his bestseller, The End of Poverty) has won him the favor (and ears…and pocketbooks) of charitable Western citizens who wouldn’t otherwise give a rat’s tail about African economic policy. He is already highly-esteemed in his field due to his shining credentials and international experience, and now thanks to the global race for ‘MDG alignment’, he also holds incredible sway in the international donor community as a powerful lobbyist for increased “official development funds”.
This leaves a pretty diverse and powerful arena now uniquely occupied by this single man and, in my opinion, it naturally follows that with such influence comes a certain amount of responsibility. For that reason, his continued endorsement of the Ethiopian government is becoming particularly detrimental in light of the recent escalation of political oppression and wide-scale government abuses here. It seems that no matter what Meles does, the aid continues to flow—and unfortunately most often straight into the pockets of EPRDF cadres. I truly believe that Jeffrey Sachs has personally done lasting damage to this country through his undue public affection for Meles Zenawi and continues to play a very large role in fostering exactly the kind of dangerously inaccurate perception of this dictator within the international community that allows him to continue his ‘reign of terror’ unopposed!
I thought that, perhaps, Jeffrey Sachs had been understandly duped by the eloquent false ernest of Meles, or possibly didn’t fully realize the far-reaching and devastating effects of his perceived partnership with the Ethiopian federal government. Call me naïve, but I thought I would give it a shot:
I have consequently been having an ongoing discussion (via email)with him for a couple of weeks now and thought it might be worth sharing. I apologize for the length of this post, but hope it proves interesting for some: (*my name and identifying details have obviously been omitted. Enjoy!)
Sent: Tuesday, December 19, 2006 7:30 AM
To: Jeffrey Sachs
Subject: from a concerned ____________ working in Ethiopia
Dear Professor Sachs:
I am a _______________*, currently working in Addis Ababa . Prior to my arrival, I read as much of your published work as I could get my hands on, truly inspired by your most recent humanitarian interests and model for village-level sustainable development. Now that I have been in Ethiopia for some time, however, I find myself confused and utterly disillusioned by many of your claims; to be frank, it has become unmistakeably clear that even to reach the cherished ‘bottom rung of the development ladder’ in this country, true democracy must first come to Ethiopia.
In your book you clearly state that a pre-requisite for participation in the Millenium Village Project is “good governance”—I must admit, I cannot fathom the criteria used when selecting Ethiopia as a host country! The governance profile report issued by the Economic Commission for Africa at that time (2004) expressed serious concerns regarding levels of political opression and wide-spread human rights violations, and according to more recent global governance indicators, the EPRDF ranks in the bottom 10th percentile--among the most corrupt in the world. Despite repeated condemnation from international human rights watchdog organizations, hundreds of political prisoners currently languish in prison without trial, and life in Addis, (due to escalating police brutality and mounting civil unrest) is becoming increasingly unbearable, even for a foreigner.
I have heard you repeatedly and publicly praise Prime Minister Meles on several occasions and have watched you lobby tirelessly for increased health funding for this country; however, I have been unable to find even so much as a single critical public statement issued in regards to the most recent findings of the independent commission assigned to investigate the mass civilian murders in June and November 2005. I find it impossible to believe that someone of your stature, experience and humanitarian concern could possibly support such violent government action, regardless of any personal affinity or relationship you may have with this national leader. Therefore, I wish to ask you now: Do you still support this man who has been found guilty (by a self-appointed panel, no less!) of the murders of over 193 peaceful civilians—men, women and children?
If this is not the case (as I suspect) I would like to ask why your condemmnation of such extreme brutality and the escalating political oppression in this country has not been forthcoming?
Many economists today may enjoy the luxury of walking away from a failed model, simply citing ‘human error’ and calling it a day. But you, sir, have achieved a kind of celebrity status that has made you a household name (both here in Ethiopia and in the West)—due primarily, I believe, to your public commitment to alleviating the sufferings of others as outlined in your book. Because you now occupy a unique forum which includes the United Nations, international donor community, politicans and citizens alike—it is absolutely vital that you also publicly identify and denounce this negative government practice, since millions of lives continue to be severely affecetd by the ongoing abuses inflicted by this current dictatorship (which has been significantly strengthened by ‘aid dollars’ embezzled to line the pockets of EPRDF members).
In your book, you refer to the Ethiopian political climate as “better governance than might have been expected” (presumably in the face of extreme poverty and economic decline) and even go so far as to qualify it as a “good government…struggling mightily against the odds”. I cannot conceive why your expectations for the leader of this continent’s third most populous nation were ever so inexplicably low to begin with--low enough that even the massacre of hundreds of innocent civilians can apparently be easily overlooked ‘between friends’?
You also stated clearly that “to understand and overcome such crises, it would be necessary to unravel the interconnections”; I challenge you to begin to do so in this country, sir, beyond the carefully conrolled environment of your ‘clinical economic’ experiment in the region of Tigray—I am confident that you will find unacceptable levels of government corruption beneath every stone and the shocking violation of human life and liberty around every corner.
As an academic and world-renowned economist, it is your responsibility to defend the systems which you devise—which, in this case, involves identifying and addressing the wide-spread political corruption that will eventually arrest plans for the project scale-up so enthusiastically envisioned. And as one who has pledged publicly to support those condemned by extreme poverty, it has become your self-appointed duty to serve as their voice—and denounce the widespread government abuses that foster such unbearable conditions wherever you encounter them, (even when they are committed by your ‘partners in African development’!)
I in no way intend to suggest that you are somehow responsible for the current national crisis or for the horrific crimes committed by the Ethiopian government; however, it remains a fact that your endorsement has done much to generate international support for the government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, and the donor funds that have flooded across the borders as a result in recent years have most certainly served to empower an otherwise waning regime.
There is certainly no shame in realizing that you have been deceived by a cunning, eloquent and systematic dictator who claimed to share your passion for sustainable development and economic reform (perhaps he too even legitimately shared this enthusiasm for a time?). The shame lies rather in remaining silent once this deception has been revealed and such violations clearly exposed. With all due respect, because you are now in a position to greatly influence the world-opinion of this tyrant, you have long ago forfeited the luxury of silently observing this country disintegrate into ruin; should you choose to say nothing, your name will be forever associated with the atrocities committed under the rule of Meles Zenawi and the blood of thousands of Ethiopian people will forever stain your conscience.
I strongly support more development aid for Ethiopia and am equally strongly against sanctions.
I do not believe that well-directed aid supports any political outcome other than improved economic conditions for the poorest, which in turn promotes long-term democratization as well. I do not believe that sanctions improve the situation of Ethiopia or hasten political change in a reliable manner, and can foment destabilization of economies and destitution of the poorest. I’ve seen that on many occasions.
I have spoken strongly and clearly against the violence, and in favor of democracy and reconciliation. You are just wrong to claim otherwise.
The progress in the Millennium Villages is remarkable. The poorest of the poor are staying alive, improving their livelihoods, and seeing their children survive. There were no deaths from malaria this year in the Ethiopian Millennium Villages, a truly remarkable outcome, and thanks to these interventions. Childbirth is no longer the killer that it was. Hunger is diminishing dramatically.
Thank you for your message, your concern for development, and your concern for Ethiopia . I share these concerns, and do the best that I can. I hope that you do the same.
Jeffrey D. Sachs—
Jeffrey D. Sachs
Director, The Earth Institute at Columbia University
Sent: Wednesday, December 20, 2006 3:47 AM
To: Jeffrey Sachs
Subject: RE: from a concerned ______________ working in Ethiopia
Thank you for your response. I am very interested in reading your comments publicly denouncing the violence of the EPRDF government--could you please point me to where I might find these?
You say that you do not believe that "well-directed aid supports any political outcome other than improved economic conditions for the poorest" however I have seen evidence time and time in this country that the aid, in fact, is not well-directed but embezzled and abused for political purposes.
I am impressed by the progress of the Millenium Village but suggest that this is so because operations, local leadership and distribution of funds remain so closely monitored (and are centered within the region of Tigray--the region of origin of most EPRDF members)--once the project is significantly scaled-up nation wide (and repsonsibilities eventually delegated), I believe that you will certainlyencounter the wide-spread govn't corruption I speak of.
Have you undertaken any studies to significantly investigate national government transparency? It is amazing what I have discovered here without even looking for it--even through 'careless', off-the-record revelations of many prominant aid workers here, including the WFP.
Any aid program should monitor what it does. Aid works best when it is directed at specific needs, with specific technologies, and with measurable, monitored outcomes. The problem comes when aid is cash transfers for vague purposes. I am not in favor of such vague support. Ethiopia needs medicines, bed nets, fertilizer, improved seed varieties, village health workers, etc., the kinds of things that can indeed be monitored, audited, etc. When the Millennium Villages project started, we said that all aid would go direct to the grass roots level, in kind, and not through cash transfers. The federal government entirely agreed.
I can’t direct you to published remarks on Ethiopia since these have come in speeches, presentations at the UN, and elsewhere, on several occasions. I denounced the violence last year on several occasions, recommended more power sharing, especially across ethnic divides, and yes, called for more aid, not less. I was also against sanctioning Ethiopia . I believe that the current aid programs are too small and too incoherent, and are not properly targeted.
Impoverishment is one of the key causes of bad government and risk of destabilization. The poor often can do little or nothing to defend themselves from official abuse. Targeted aid which succeeds in raising living standards can be an instrument thereby for improved governance.
Why don’t you figure out how to do this in Ethiopia in specific sectors, or regions? That would be a highly valuable contribution. Which NGOs are successful, and why? I know that many are successes, and determining the causes of their success would be very important, and you would make a fine contribution.
Jeffrey D. Sachs
To: Jeffrey Sachs
Sent: Mon Dec 25 05:10:05 2006
Subject: more on Ethiopia
I have found that you have previously mentioned the "attacks on the current govnment"-is this what you meant when you said that you have denounced the violence here? If you are somehow under the impression that the current state of civil unrest has been created by the imprisoned members of the opposition party, you have been gravely misinformed: The citizens that stand trial now have been considered "prisoners of conscience" from the very beginning by Amnesty International and other international human-rights organtizations, "imprisoned solely for on account of their non-violent opinions and activties". If you have been following the trial, you know that insufficient evidence has been submitted by the prosecution (despite evident perjury of the witnesses) to convict any of the prisoners of even a single crime with which they have been charged (yet they languish in prison as we speak). The recent findings of the independent commission appointed to investigate the disturbances in both June and November 2005 (hand-picked by Meles himself!) have, in no uncertain terms, found the government guilty of the murder of nearly 200 peaceful civilian protestors-men, women and children. Such violence (considered the most extreme and tragic manifestation of 'bad governance') simply cannot be attributed to impoverishment, no matter how you choose to look at it, and the responsibility weighs entirely on the shoulders of this country's ruling party. The fact of the matter is, whether these victims were poor or wealthy, public channels for 'defence against official abuse' simply do not exist under the EPRDF regime, period.
I understand that you are choosing to remain diplomatic throughout our exchange but, I admit, I still fail to understand how the atrocities committed (specifically) by Meles Zenawi in this country can possibly be ignored. I again ask you why the standards of governance for Sub-Saharn Africa differ so greatly from those of Western nations? Granted, poverty fosters prime conditions for political corruption and manipulation, but that is simply no longer a viable excuse for the dangerous climate created under the current dictatorship. The leaders repsonsible for such failures must be held accountable, regardless of economic conditions or favorable international regard, don't you agree? Continually excusing them (due to impoverishment or any other national plague, for that matter) at some point becomes the equivalent of direct endorsement of such oppression.
Secondly, in reality, 'targeted aid' in this country is not as streamlined as it may appear. For example, as far as the health sector is concerned--I am curious to know whether you were ever taken to visit any of the hundreds of newly contsructed health posts that remain completely without medical supplies? Or, by chance, have you ever walked through the pediatric casulty ward of Black Lion Hospital? As a central health unit, conditions are horrifying (despite the encouraging statistics of the most recently issued Ministry of Health report)-children lie on the floor with IV tubes sticking out of their head and infants are perilously crowded together on a steel tray (used in the West for holding sugical equipment!). Yet the donor funds are pouring in!
I agree with you, that "in theory", aid is obviously preferable to sanctions; however, in a country with such entrenched political corruption, the constant flow of international aid dollars serves primarily to advance personal and party interest, not to develop infrastructure, social sectors or programs (as proclaimed by countless 'donor assessment reports'). Further, the idea of decentralized government in Ethiopia remains just that -an idea, and nothing more, and if you have spent significant time in this country, you know that aid is unequitably distributed (regionally channeled according to political affiliation). So, even when some funds do manage to "trickle down" to the desparately poor, the current regime is being simultaneously strengthened -able to redouble their violent abuses in the meantime. A system that works only "in theory" (within the Ethiopian context, anyway) then simply cannot be continually applied while the devastating consequences are repeatedly ignored-these are human beings we are talking about! Lives are literally at stake! How can one choose which life is worth more-the one depressed by extreme poverty or the other crushed by escalating federal abuse? It is, no doubt, a vicious cycle in this country but, at the end of the day, the factors that will ensure eventual ascendance out of the mires of extreme poverty (economic prosperity, national policy reform, improved education, equitable technology distribution etc.) can never effectively come into existance independent of good governance. In Ethiopia, it remains that simple.
I further agree that 'vague support' is detrimental, but it seems that the international supply of goods and technologies is unfortunately similarly marred by corruption--the current fertilizer agreement, for example, positively reeks of it! First of all, it seems the "first-ever African Green Revolution Award" was internationally announced as it was awarded by Yara ( I am curious, were other countries even considered? What on earth was the selection criteria?), coincidentally only a couple of months before Ethiopia signed an exclusive fertilizer contract with the same Norwegian company. The logic surrounding such a deal is impressive! Importing fertilizer to a primarily agrarian society (in desparate need of this vital technology) from an entirely different continent seems more than uneccessary (resulting in frequent procurance delays--and thus increased costs to rural farmers-and ensuring a government distribution monopoly). It is even more interesting to note that Sheik Al-moudi (as Ethiopia's biggest private investor and staunch EPRDF supporter) happens to be one of the largest shareholders in one of Yara's holding companies (Norsk Hydro). Seems more than a little suspicious to me... You were on hand at the presentation ceremony, if I am not mistaken-perhaps you could explain the dubious circumstances surrounding this environmentally-friendly award?
What you observe in the health sector (the miserable state of clinics and hospitals, the lack of medicines, etc.) is what you would observe in any impoverished country in sub-Saharan Africa. I have visited hundreds of such places, in Ethiopia and many other countries, and devoted my efforts to doing something about it. Your claim that this is the result of Ethiopia's corruption or authoritarianism is an incorrect inference. Please visit Mali, or rural Tanzania, or rural Senegal or Malawi, and you will witness the same: the massive and disastrous effects of extreme poverty on human health. Please check (not guess) whether Ethiopia's health centers stand empty because health aid has been stolen, or because the level of public spending on health (aid included) is so tragically constrained. Have you checked the level of international aid directed at Ethiopia's health sector? It is pitifully small, and until the very recent past was basically insignificant or zero. Please have a look and let me know what you find.
I hope that your work will take you to at least one other impoverished country in the region, so that you can make comparisons.
How do you suggest that Ethiopia make it's own fertilizer? That requires an enormous amount of primary energy, which Ethiopia lacks, and which if it had would be much better used for providing basic electricity services to the population, which utterly lacks it.
MENGEDENGA, the entire Horn of Africa could soon be embroiled in war which will claim vast numbers of lives. My belief remains that with all of the highly dubious, disastrous, and regrettable politics of the region, the rich world should still be working even more actively on economic development with perhaps the poorest place on the planet, the Horn of Africa, to find real solutions to extraordinary poverty, disastrous farm yields, lack of water, lack of family planning, excessive population growth, and extreme environmental degradation. I believe the route to peace and human rights will best be found by a major effort to address the unconscionable conditions of human deprivation. Your hypothesis that the extreme poverty is the result (and not the cause) of bad politcs is not correct in my view. I would encourage you to look more deeply at the root causes of extreme poverty, which have roots in ecology, disease burden, agronomy, demography, climate, transport costs, and history, which far predate the current regime, and which share conditions with other parts of tropical Africa with vastly different political conditions.
As I've said before, I believe that more aid not sanctions, and more practically targeted help is vital. I doubt at the moment that this will come. An approach that you seem to favor, of denunciation and disengagement, is much more likely to prevail. More suffering, and more disengagement by rich countries seems likely.to contribute to a growing disaster.
I respect your fervor and your commitment to political and human rights. I would urge you to combine it with a deepening understanding of the complex causes of extreme poverty, rather than translating your understandable political indignation into a narrow and unproductive understanding of development and poverty.
Prof. Jeffrey D. Sachs
Your response still does not seem to address most of what I’ve mentioned—namely political corruption (specifically within the aid sector), the absence of decentralized government, and the increasing violent human rights abuses committed by Meles Zenawi. You seem to prefer to continually discuss broad aid idealology instead of the very specific in-county issues I am raising.
I am still confused. You have repeatedly gone one step further than the traditional role of economist, and publicly claimed to be a champion for this world’s most poverty-stricken peoples; in your last email you lament the lives that will be lost in the impending regional war. Yet you refuse to acknowledge or denounce the thousands of lives that have been lost as a direct result of EPRDF opression. I simply do not understand how regard for human life can, for you, exist on a sliding scale? Is it possible that you don’t fully realize your influence on international opinion of Ethiopia’s government? In relevant discussion, you are cited without fail as one of the Prime Minister’s biggest fans (within the international community) –therefore, the need to directly and publicly condemn his recent actions seems quite obvious--unless, of course, these are deeds you support.
As far as the health centers go, the ones I am speaking about are newly constructed buildings—it makes very little sense that these would be constructed if funds were not also previously officially alotted to stock them with at least a bare minimum of basic supplies.(Fortunately for some in this country, it appears the MDG targets are concerned with facility numbers and not inventory!)
In regards to the fertilizer issue, I am not claiming that Ethiopia is capable of manufacturing enough fertilizer to satisfy its domestic needs at this time. I was merely pointing out the suspicious circumstances surrounding the current Yara contract, which you have also chosen not to address. (You might be interested to know that Dr Berhanu Nega (economist, 2006 New School Alumni of the Year , and current political prisoner) started up a wonderfully productive organice fertilizer manufacturing plant in Addis—the first in the country, it seems—which converted the hazardous city waste in the Kera district into a usable agricultural technology, (which was distributed to farmers and merchants at low cost). Around the time of the elections, the plant unsuprisingly came under severe government harassment--the facilities were closed for a time, supplies were confiscated from rural farmers and merchants who continued to sell the product were forced to shut down.)
You misquote me—I am not advocating complete ‘denouncement and disengagement’, I am merely suggetsing that you hold the governments accountable to the criteria which you yourself have outlined. A “vital pre-requisite” for participation in the Millenium Village Project is “good governance”, is it not? If this country was carefully selected according to such standards, shouldn’t there be subsequent scrutiny and evaluation if the internal climate changes as such to longer comply?
We could debate the root causes of extreme poverty forever it seems, but our differing ideologies aside, I fail to see how (or why) you continually overlook the role of governance. Whether you feel that bad policy results in extreme poverty or not, it cannot be denied that, at the very least, it most certainly greatly contributes to such a climate, and must therefore be directly addressed if eradicating extreme poverty truly is your aim. The conditions you describe (again, as the root causes of extreme poverty) do predate EPRDF rule, but this only means that the current government has done nothing but propagate much of the negative pratices of the former repressive regimes (take the current land tenure system, for example). In such light, Meles cannot not be continually heralded as an “African role model for development”—upon in-depth assessment of country circumstances and recent economic performance, this is simply not accurate.
I agree with you that the other least-developed nations in Africa experience similar conditions to that of Ethiopia. However, just because the ‘end result’ (of extreme poverty) is the same, does not mean that the ‘root causes’ are necessarily the same across the board. Some countries have been devastated by colonialism, or are left to pick up the pieces after long-lasting, brutal civil conlflict or genocide. Others are at a more serious demographical disadvantage or have been harder hit by AIDS in recent years. Ethiopia has evaded colonialist rule and for the most part, escaped the ravages of war common in other neighboring regions; vast amounts of resources exist here (like water and arable land) but these have never been effectively harnessed or exploited, due to failing government policy. Perhaps it can be considered equally narrowminded to lump all of the poorest African nations together and stubbornly insist that governance must not be even considered as a root cause of extreme poverty, despite overwhelming evidence (in this country) to the contrary.
To be honest, I had relatively little interest in African politics prior to moving to Addis, and my conclusions come from both work and life in this country, day in and day out. What I have found in Ethiopia, contrary to your suggestion, is that almost every one of the ‘complex causes’ of extreme poverty you cite are, in fact, deeply rooted in detrimental government policy and practice, whether initially introduced by the EPRDF or merely encouraged.
(Hmmm…No response on this one. Are we surprised?)