Monday, April 23
The Greater East Africa Co-Prosperity Sphere
How Meles, Museveni, the Donors Group, the IMF, the World Bank, and even North Korea, all got together to create The Greater East Africa Co-Prosperity Sphere
Sometime during the turn of the century, just after the Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac had been killed, a friend of ethiopundit (the same guy in this post) somehow got into a music industry party in L.A. About the major topic of discussion, he opined that “it makes no sense, Marvin Gaye was never worried about being shot by Smokey Robinson’s crew.” (Actually Marvin probably should have been worried about his Pops, right?)
The group response offered by a producer (of course) was “watch out, you’re calling gangster rappers stupid without knowing it.” So goes one example of a process of internalization where otherwise moral people accept the dubious rules of others in public and change their ways of thinking for the sake of cold hard cash and self justification.
pity the poor ferenji
We were reminded of the above story when hearing some accounts of official and semi-official statements about the situation in Ethiopia by folks who should know better.
The World Bank and a litany of N.G.O. reps say that the Ethiopian economy is growing, blessed with a cooperative government and a healthy business environment. The current U.S. Ambassador warns that accounts of human rights violations should not be believed. A past Ambassador who claims to be in touch with the secret heart of Ethiopia justified post-election government violence by calling upon the spirit of the Civil Rights Movement back in the 60‘s.
Some insist that they have never been personally asked to pay a bribe themselves so corruption must not exist . Others say that during their time in Ethiopia no one that they spoke to was concerned about the imprisonment of Ethiopia’s elected leaders so it wasn’t an issue to be concerned about. One reporter hewed so close to the regime’s talking points that he wrote that opposition was centered on ex-Dereguists living in Georgetown, District of Columbia.
Other reporters are busy writing yet more articles about the Fistula Clinic (a wonderful institution but there are other stories), commenting on the restaurant scene and marveling at all of the tourist potential while the rotten fruit of dictatorship stares them in the face.
Remember the gaggle of world famous economists and development experts who along with former President Carter have recommended Meles for sainthood? How about the Clinton administration that thought Ethiopia’s dictatorship was part of an ‘African Renaissance’? (what ever happened to that line?) The Bush administration is a bit more realistic, having never expected any good from the Gibee at all so it was easy to have the attitude that “sure he’s an S.O.B., but at least he’s our S.O.B.”
Blair was once upon a time ‘best friends forever’ with Meles and put him in the spotlight of the Commission for Africa (don’t hear much about that one now either). That is until he suddenly discovered that he was dealing with a murderous thug - but he still found time to make sure the world knew the election was free and fair. All this along with legions of others who delight in the smiles of poor children and the certain personal GOOD that they are doing for the natives.
Now ,don’t get us wrong here. We are actually rather seriously fond of ferenjis and much of their works. We kind of like the liberal democratic capitalist societies they have made for themselves and particularly in the US for immigrants too ... and how they have shown that the life of man does not have to be ’poor, nasty, brutish, and short.’ Without the even fitful attention that some ferenjis now pay to the actual lives of Ethiopians, Meles would today be cutting out the living hearts of tens of thousands in Revolutionary Democratic rituals right there in Meskel Square.
Ferenjis beg and threaten Meles to treat his own people decently and sincerely hope that he will. It usually doesn’t work but he is aware that there are limits on his public behavior and he is sure to perpetrate public rituals of civilized government, democracy and market economics. Why does Ethiopia’s dictator bother with making nice to ferengis and pretending to be what he is not?
He bothers because he needs ferenji money and at least the illusion of ferenji respect.
Even today Meles mourns the victory by the ‘imperialist forces’ in the Cold War and pines for a time when he could be himself without ever having to say he is sorry for being a revolutionary at the feet of capitalists. Ethiopia’s system from its rag of a constitution with its enshrinement of tribalism and the absence of private property onto the corrupt government monopolistic / ruling party / crony business empire commanding the economy all the way to the brutal police state that binds it all together - guarantee only one thing for certain besides eternal rule and enrichment for the practitioners of revolutionary tribal feudalism.
What the current Ethiopian system and that of Mengistu guarantee besides power for a few is eternal poverty for tens of millions. The economic freedoms that would make Ethiopians begin to prosper also bring political freedoms and threaten dictatorship so a clear choice has been made in the Gibee, no actually more than thirty years ago in the bush, to depend on ferenjis above all since Ethiopians can’t be counted on to be complicit in their group suffering.
Ferenjis matter because the Ethiopian civil contract is between Meles and ferenjis only. Ethiopians are hostages to ferenji good will because of the proven record of the government to do them harm when ferenjis don‘t give it what it wants and on time. With the exception of those Ethiopians who will do or justify anything for the chance to root about for the crumbs that fall from the high table of their betters, Ethiopians have nothing to do with their own government besides what it tells them to do or to be.
Ultimately, this is all about what Ethiopians are doing to Ethiopians. We just wish that ferenjis wouldn’t make it all so easy for Meles Inc. to ignore the wishes of the natives and to do them certain harm. Ethiopians spent countless centuries fighting to be left alone only now to find themselves subjected to a foreign sponsored dictatorship which thinks the country’s existence is an opportunity to be important, powerful and wealthy at best and essentially illegitimate at worst.
getting along with the natives
Any ferenji that deals with Ethiopia in official terms at any distance carries a whole lot of baggage in the form of interests and justifications. Doing GOOD is certainly an important personal motivation but political, national, institutional and career motivations are even more prominent. Basically, what is the purpose of having anything to do with the natives if you can’t get along with them?
In a dictatorship, however, getting along with the natives means getting along with the government, however nasty and brutish it may be. Getting along with the government in the guise of the people then takes on a life of its own and become is own justification. We are not talking about appreciating foreign cultures here or respecting other ways of life.
What we are talking about is convincing oneself to appreciate foreign dictatorships and to respect the ways of dictators because without some measure of approval by the regime there is always the threat of expulsion, rejection of projects or paperwork and bad reviews from one’s superiors back in Washington or Brussels or any media HQ etc. Occasionally when it happens, rebellious ferenjis can feel justifiably brave and good but ultimately for national or international or N.G.O. bureaucrats or reporters it is not a realistic agenda to follow.
Not getting along with the native thugs is career suicide and even institutional suicide because whoever is paying for it all wants something or the appearance of something in exchange for all those dollars, euros and yen. Part of that approval has to come from the native thugs who might not get with the program if their own despotic interests are threatened - no matter what harm comes to the people themselves.
As we have pointed out so many times the whole Ethiopian system of government by design guarantees poverty - forever. Ferenjis know very well from their own histories and those of countries busily escaping ‘nasty, poor and brutish’ lives, that countries that don’t respect private property & free markets, that are based on internal divide & rule, foment hatred & fear, that are corrupt and run by strongmen don’t and can’t develop into democracies and can never escape grinding poverty.
They know that billions in foreign aid , direct budget support and contracts going to party / crony businesses will not develop Ethiopia, encourage corruption and destroy popular accountability. They also know that Ethiopians will never be able to even feed themselves given current policies.
All of the figures about the growth of the Ethiopian economy come from the government itself. Bumper crops are announced and then the world taken to task for not responding to mass starvation. It is announced that economic growth is so massive that in a generation Ethiopia will be entering the camp of donor countries and nobody does the math to see if it is even logical to say so. 7% ,no 10%, now 12% growth is trumpeted and repeated from the offices of the IMF and the World Bank and the press with no proof demanded or consideration of past ridiculous claims.
Take this fascinating Wikipedia entry (that links back to itself) about the regime’s Central Statistical Agency which is supposedly “the best government agency in statistical information development in Sub-Saharan Africa.” Yeah right. The bottom line is that for aid to continue and grow the only evidence needed is Ethiopian blood, sweat and tears probably caused by the government. Actual economic growth can be simulated or pretended or played at. Here the interests of donors and the government are in perfect concert.
The act of giving is more important than any results in improved Ethiopian lives. So doing GOOD and getting along with the natives has come to mean that the most sincere individuals are captives of a machinery that is not in any sense performance based but rather based on the press releases and pronouncements of those at both ends whose only interest besides the status quo is more of the status quo.
Vaccination or well digging or road building projects are all well and good but in each instance, besides perhaps the first, any help has to get through a sticky obstacle course / maze of government / party / crony hands to get where it may never even reach. This is built into the donor - regime system. The New York Time recently estimated that corruption eats up from 20% to 25% of all the tens of billions handed out regularly by the World Bank. We assume that is an overly optimistic point of view.
That kind of unaccounted for money not only necessarily corrupts countries but along with political demands mixed in it also corrupts the often very well meaning donor individuals, workers and taxpayers doling it all out. That doesn't mean aid workers are being handed bags of cash at midnight in empty parking lots but it does mean that their interests depend on the opinions and cooperation of the native thugs.
All then necessarily internalize the logic of the regimes that they are propping up and the institutions take on lives of their own that have very little to do with the stated mission of development of just helping.
so what‘s it all about then?
Continued in The Greater East Africa Co-Prosperity Sphere II