Monday, February 28

Remembering M.L.K.

"It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can stop him from lynching me, and I think that's pretty important."
Martin Luther King Jr.
January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968

Here are two of our favorite examples of his writing. The 'Letter From a Birmingham Jail' of April 16, 1963 can give us a good sense of the man and his vision. His 'I Have a Dream' speech is even more uplifting and tragic for what we know was to come.

It is hard to have something original to say about MLK. He is an icon and his legacy is not in doubt. It would be impossible to forget the man who walked point in the battle to make America see itself clearly ... and to reform so that it wouldn't have to turn away in shame.

This July 2004 article from the Macon Telegraph, 'Civil Rights Act of 1964 paved way for prosperity' points out an oft ignored part of his legacy. The whole thing is certainly worth reading but we will try and find the hightlights.
Today, the Civil Rights Act and its equally sweeping companion piece, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, are credited with improving the lives of blacks: by ending Jim Crow - laws and customs that separated the races - and by spurring the election of thousands of black officeholders across the Old Confederacy.

But as bitterly as white Southerners fought these encroachments on their "way of life," the federal laws freed them, too.

"It liberated the South to make money," says Ferrell Guillory, director of UNC Chapel Hill's Program on Southern Politics, Media and Public Life. "So long as we held ourselves to a segregationist system, we held ourselves chained to an old economy."

Removing the stigma of racism that had long isolated - and impoverished - the South led to a Sun Belt boom that drew high-paying employers, major-league sports teams and northern transplants by the millions.
Since 1978, the South has led the nation in job growth, accounting for four of every 10 new jobs. The region's population has jumped by more than 20 million since 1978 - a growth rate of 30 percent, nearly double the rest of the country.

The civil rights laws "made the South wealthy - black and white," says King biographer Taylor Branch. "It opened up middle-class jobs that had been walled off to black people. And it freed even many whites who were entangled in fear and worried that they couldn't have a business meeting with a Northern company because a black person might be sitting in the room."

Southern merchants looking for a way to serve blacks without losing white customers found one, says Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.: "They were able to do it as a group and say, `It's the law.'"

Today's Charlotte - an international banking center - could not exist in a still-segregated South, says Juan Williams, author of "Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965."

"That's not possible if people in New York and London and Tokyo say, `Charlotte - that's some strange place beset by political instability. We can't be comfortable doing business in an area ...with all that discrimination and all those protests and sit-ins and riots,'" he says.
But in the years leading up to the 1960s, when segregation was still the norm in the South, the region lagged in job creation and in the quality and pay of the jobs it did have.

MDC, a Chapel Hill think tank, described the workers of the pre-civil rights South this way: "Mill hands and farmhands, clerks in the dry-goods stores and hardworking folks wearing straw hats. Only an elite few went off to college and then practiced law, managed companies or engaged in commerce in the world beyond."

The status of blacks was even lower. When the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964, only about one of every four black adults had a high school diploma. Today, eight in 10 do.

In 1966, 41.8 percent of blacks lived in poverty. By 2002, that had been cut almost in half, to 23.9 percent.
In 1965, only about 100 blacks held public office in the whole country. By 1989, that had climbed to 7,200 - including more than 4,800 in the South.
The article points out that Kennedy's death gave Johnson the influence he needed to get the bills through the Congress and Senate. However, MLK was at the very core of the moral force behind the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts - and these economic facts are just another wonderful part of his legacy.

an economic morality?

It is tragic how seldom we can count on men to do the right thing and value the freedom of others. The eventual practice of a 'national morality', beyond rhetoric, in political life is an inescapable part of human development.

It is therefore reassuring that economic necessity and the institutions needed for mass prosperity require respect for human rights. Ultimately, it is only a self interested and deceptive ruling class that can make mass failure seem somehow desirable to all of its victims.

One view of the ante-bellum South holds that the origins of the Civil War were economic. Northern traders and industry certainly profited from slavery after the invention of the cotton gin. However, the North had long before abandoned slavery and quickly determined that the long term interests of the Union were harmed by it.

To see why let us imagine the South of that time. Blacks obviously led daily lives dominated by the very distilled essence of evil in the form of slavery and its racial justifications. Whites by their millions were willing to fight to the death to defend that evil but only a few benefitted from it.

The Southern elite lived lives of faux European pretension. They had the money to imitate the most unproductive nobles (of which none had ever been part anyway) that Americans had fought to be free from just a few generations before. They crafted a martial world of ready violence, held at bay for their own class anyway, by ritualistic old world manners.

Southern Whites in general did not have it good at all. Compared to their Northern counterparts they were poorer in every imaginable aspect of human productivity and development except for a surfeit of pride. Compensation for their status and their poverty was found in the consolation of racism that allowed them to feel better about themselves and to have someone to hate and fear besides the elite authors of their misery.

Slavery impoverished most whites as did single crop agriculture - either cotton or tobacco it drained the soil of life. The Southern system gave them little of the benefits of the Industrial Revolution convulsing and enriching the North so all they really had to offer was muscle power. Slaves had that for free - mainly in the service of the elite.

Slaves were actually not cheap - each represented a significant investment. One of the principal structural faults of the Southern economy was that so much investment was tied up in slavery that there was little left over to build the infrastructure and enterprises that the North had in abundance.

Indeed, slavery encompassed many trades such as blacksmithing further limiting the options of poor whites. The burgeoning capitalism of the North clearly recognized that slavery was not only unprofitable but ultimately a historical and economic dead end.

The North's relatively more representative elite did not want slavery to spread West into the rest of the continent. The Southern elite did want to spread out but couldn't compete in any way beyond politics. Their influence was disproportionate in Washington because they had managed to get Slaves partially counted as human beings so that the numbers of their own Congressmen could be inflated.

Southerners were also belligerent and constantly threatening a North preoccupied by prosperity with war and seccession. The South, having set itself apart and lost in its complex and layered but always fantastic self image, was losing a race for the survival of the fittest so it started the bloodiest war in American history to cling to slavery and illusions.

morality with economic rewards

It is often sad that the Civil War was started because of slavery but was fought to preserve the Union or to preserve States' Rights. Yeah sure, but it was about slavery anyway. The Abolitionist impulses that ended slavery in the North and that stopped the African slave trade with the might of the British Fleet may have all manner of economic interpretations but its moral arguments can not be ignored.

Actually, before the modern era only the Union and the British Empire considered it an issue at all. From an essay by Thomas Sowell
To me the most staggering thing about the long history of slavery -- which encompassed the entire world and every race in it -- is that nowhere before the 18th century was there any serious question raised about whether slavery was right or wrong.

In the late 18th century, that question arose in Western civilization, but nowhere else.

It seems so obvious today that, as Lincoln said, if slavery is not wrong, then nothing is wrong. But no country anywhere believed that three centuries ago.
This moral development that heralded good for all of mankind did not occur in a vaccuum. That was also the Age of Enlightenment, an intellectual movement
which is described as being the use of rationality to establish an authoritative ethics, aesthetics, and knowledge. This movement's leaders viewed themselves as a courageous, elite body of intellectuals who were leading the world toward progress, out of a long period of irrationality, superstition, and tyranny which began during a historical period they called the Dark Ages.
The Enlightenment revealed to us modern science, liberalism, capitalism and the enshrinement of the rights of man. There is no coincidence that all of these factors are observed together repeatedly in successful societies across history and the globe. It is always good to know that morality has loyal friends like freedom and prosperity.

The evil of slavery tried to hide from the Englightenment and lost. Simply put capitalism won the Civil War but more accurately the future did. The Enlightenment also gave us its 'bastard children' in the form of messianic totalitarianism of various stripes. Some still cling to life and others live on in the roots of the more modern perversions of religion.

History may not be over just yet but inherent systems and qualities make the good guys stronger not just in the past but also for the battles being fought all over the world. Given the darker side of human nature there will be more battles to come in every arena.

Friday, February 25

The Armenians of Ethiopia

We have long been familiar with the Armenian presence in Ethiopia but we did not realize it went back so far until a reader sent us this article from The Armenian General Benevolent Union News.
When Mateos Armenawi embarked on his first diplomatic mission on behalf of an Ethiopian Queen in 1512, little did he know that he was paving the way for generations of Armenians to play an active role in Africa’s first Christian nation.

Armenawi, or Armenian in the Amharic language, was dispatched to Portugal via India to seek help in halting an Ottoman expansion toward Ethiopia.

He returned after an arduous journey which took him ten years to complete only to die of ill health a few weeks later. But Armenawi had earned his place in the Ethiopian history books as a trusted emissary and skilled negotiator.

A decade later, a fellow Armenian by the name of Murad was already following his footsteps by gaining prominent positions in the palaces of Ethiopian Kings and Emperors.

He too traveled the world on behalf of Ethiopian royalty and is noted for his role as a key intermediary with a number of European states, and primarily Holland from where Murad brought back a massive bronze church bell which is considered one of the country’s historical treasures.

Armenawi and Murad were involved in the Ethiopian framework as individuals, and it was not until 1875 that Armenians began arriving in Ethiopia in significant numbers, setting the stage for what later became a small but influential community halfway around the globe from historical Armenia.

Among those in the first wave was Kevork Terzian, a young caterer who entered the northern town of Harare with the Ottoman Army.
The Terzian clan has been well established ever since in all manner of trade and industry. The numbers of Armenians grew as their troubles in Turkey mounted including a group of 40 orphans brought to Addis Ababa by Haile Sellassie in 1923. Before the fall of Haile Sellassie and the ascent of a Communist dictatorship, the Armenian Community was at its "zenith".

An Armenian community school was founded back then and remains popular with Ethiopians and the foreign community. The number of Armenians has fallen to a low of about 150 including people of mixed Ethiopian - Armenian heritage. Once "a community of influential traders, factory owners and goldsmiths" they now feel isolated from the rest of their own diaspora.
For the academic year ending June, 1994, three Armenian children will graduate from the Armenian elementary school and will, like others before them, hopefully make their way to the Melkonian Educational Institute of the Armenian General Benevolent Union in Nicosia, Cyprus.

But the number of graduates will drop in the coming years if the demographic structure of the community does not improve with new births and less deaths.

According to available figures, two Armenian youngsters will graduate from Kevorkoff in 1995, but none in 1996 and 1997, and only one in 1998, two in the year 1999 and up to three again in the year 2000. Not an encouraging picture, as Archdeacon Vartkes Nalbandian sees it.

The community today consists of about half a dozen under 12 years old, five over 12 years old, 10 between the ages of 20-25, some in their mid-40’s and a majority of 60 to 80 year olds.

According to church records for the period 1979-1994, there have been nine Armenian weddings in Addis Ababa, 37 births and 55 deaths.

“This community is not growing in numbers. We are facing a very difficult future,” says the electromechanical engineer turned Archdeacon .

The St. Kevork Armenian Church, built in 1934, lost its last “real” clergyman in 1980, leaving the parish in limbo.

“The Armenian and Ethiopian Orthodox churches are very close, but this community was not ready to get a clergyman from a non-Armenian church to bury its dead or baptize its children,” Nalbandian said.

“For a while after the last priest left we used a tape recording of Holy Badarak as the centerpiece of our Sunday service. Imagine a handful of people sitting in church listening to the Divine Liturgy on tape,” he said.
Their community center remains open and hopefully more will continue to call Ethiopia home.

Wednesday, February 23

Blood, Oil and Ethnic Rule in Gambella

Often when the West questions the Human Rights practices of other countries the reaction is official protest at the ‘interference in internal affairs‘ or just plain denial. Sometimes foreign pressure can make a difference.

In situations like that detailed below a profound respect for all parties is evident in the ‘foreign interference‘. Simply put, it is reassuringly being assumed that third world governments ‘do know better’ than to hurt their own people and should be held accountable for it when they do.

One point to keep in mind when taking in the tragic events below is that the Ethiopian Consitution is based on ethnic and regional seperation with the dishonest and unworkable legal right for any 'nation, nationality or people' to become independent at will. All participation in political life is based on tribalism.

The ruling party, which is inseperable from government, uses brute force as well as local and national divide and rule - all for the sake of absolute control. The fate of the Anuak is a natural consequence of current Ethiopian governance and ethnic manipulation.

Ethiopians and interested foreigners are fed up.
The US on Tuesday [February 3, 2005] called on Ethiopia to punish those responsible for violence in its western Gambella region that claimed hundreds of lives last year.
[US Ambassador Aurelia Brazeal], whose comments came after a visit to the region, also called for greater protection of human rights by the security services in Gambella. She said the region, which is rich in oil and gold reserves, was "the conscience of Ethiopia".

Gambella’s population of 228,000 is multi-ethnic. In addition to people from the Nuer, Anyuak, Majanger, Komo and Opo ethnic groups, it includes an estimated 60,000 people from other parts of Ethiopia, who are known locally as highlanders.
The attention of the Ambassador is of critical importance for the wellbeing of the Anuak and of Ethiopians in general. We have pointed out on several occasions that without the interest of Western aid donors, even the current Potemkin Village of democracy and human rights as well as the Cargo Cult ersatz market economy in Ethiopia would be absent.

Usually there is the stunning omission in reporting on the Anuak issue that. the entire system of governance in Ethiopia today is based upon the manipulation of ethnicity at the pleasure of her rulers. It is to be expected that such ethnic violence occurs and a surprise it does not happen more. Or perhaps it does, out of the purview of dedicated Ethiopians who pursue such issues at great risk and far from the protection of Western Embassies no one really knows what is happening.

The highlanders mentioned above are ethnic Amharas and Tigrayans who have over the past two decades been resettled in Anuak territory in ill conceived resettlement schemes - all are victims of government policy such as the absence of property rights that can further inflame all manner of rivalries.

'No, we want to talk about the oil now.'

The Anuak were under the radar of government enmity until a new factor appeared in Gambela to cause state mandated violence - oil.
On June 13, 2003, Malaysia's state-owned petroleum corporation, PETRONAS, [with two Chinese subcontractors] announced the signing of an exclusive 25-year oil exploration and production sharing agreement with the EPRDF government to exploit the Ogaden Basin and the "Gambella Block" or "Block G" concession. On February 17, 2004, the Ethiopian Minister of Mines announced that Malaysia's PETRONAS will launch a natural gas exploration project in the Gambella region. Block G covers an area of 15,356 square kilometers within the Gambella Basin.

According to Anuak sources, the Ethiopian government held a public meeting in Gambella in February, even as violence against Anuak in rural areas was continuing to rise. One witness testified: "They told people about the oil and how it would benefit everyone. But the Anuak said: 'How can you talk to us about oil when people are still being killed? We don't want to talk about the oil.' But the government said, 'No, we want to talk about the oil now.'"
This all sounds distressingly like what happened in Central and Southern Sudan when oil was discovered. Trouble began
[i]n July 2002, the regional government accused the central government in Addis Ababa of flagrant interference in the day to day affairs of the Gambella region, an act which contradicts the commitment to regional autonomy and devolution of power to the regions.

In November 2002, the central government in Addis Ababa reacted swiftly and severely by overthrowing and virtually disbanding all democratically elected regional institutions in the Gambella region, including the Regional council.

The former Regional President and other council members were arrested and transferred to federal prison in Addis Ababa and remain in detention without being charged of any crime.
This despite the Constitutional mandate for decentralization of power and the right of all ‘nations, nationalities, and peoples’ to seccede at will. At a UN Human Rights Commission meeting in Geneva on April 8, 2004 the Anuak Survival Organization representative said
I speak to you as the representative of a forgotten people, the Anuak (or Anywaa) of Ethiopia. We number only 100,000 persons in the Gambella province of south-western Ethiopia. Our province is the tongue of fertile land, rich with natural resources such as oil, gold and other minerals that extends into southern Sudan. In the past four months, over 1137 Anuak have been murdered by the Ethiopian defense forces and some others from the highland.
He described how thousands have fled to Sudan and blamed government incitement of some highlanders following an ambush of eight officials by parties other than Anuaks. Over three days hundreds were killed in placed in mass graves. Noting that although
The Ethiopian government claims that ‘only’ 57 Anuak were killed and blames the murders on ‘ethnic conflict’ between Nuers and Anuak but the Nuers had nothing to do with the killings. In fact, it was Nuers and the majority of Ethiopian civilians from the highlands who helped save thousands of Anuak lives by hiding them under their beds. This is not an ethnic conflict between Nuers and Anuak or between highlanders and Anuaks.

killings and mass rape

In May of 2004, the International Secretariat of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and Genocide Watch reported that killings and other acts of ethnic cleansing were ongoing
“We have interviewed numerous victims and eyewitnesses from the minority Anuak ethnic group who fled south-western Ethiopia in the wake of massive and unprovoked violence against unarmed men, women and children,” said Genocide Watch/SRI researcher Keith Harmon Snow.

“We have collected detailed testimony suggesting that acts of genocide and crimes against humanity were committed against unarmed civilians by Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Defense Forces (EPRDF) and ‘highlander’ militias.”

“There is irrefutable evidence of atrocities against thousands of civilians, and we continue to receive reports of killings and mass rape,” Mr. Snow said. “We are very concerned about rural areas where communications and access to civilians are prevented by isolation and a heavy military presence
The Ethiopian government asserted that the military presence was preventing further violence and
dismissed reports that the Ethiopian army targeted and killed Anuaks as ‘fiction’ and said that at the most 200 people had been killed in clashes in the region. He stated that the “only people who had been killed by the military in the area were armed Anuak insurgents who had staged cross-border raids from Sudan.”
However, unlike Sudan, the relative aid dependence of the Ethiopian government has made it more amenable to early Western intervention. The government appears to appreciate the need for action on the issue so the attention may already be working.
The Ethiopian government has apologised to various ethnic groups in the western Gambella region for failing to avert clashes which claimed more than 300 lives since December, reports said on Saturday.
The Reporter says that a Parliamentary Commission found that some members of the Ministry of Defense were involved in killings. However, the numbers of victims seem to be deflated from other accounts and only “some "unidentified" troops from the defence ministry had murdered 13 people“ is reported. Of the above reported population of 228,000 up to 51,000 are still displaced.

a litany of crimes ... ongoing

Cultural Survival Quarterly details some of the history of Anuak exploitation at the hands of Ethiopian government that has grown ever more brutal with time.

Historically, the Anuak were victims of slave trading. From the 1980s on the frankly murderous Dergue used every means at the disposal of its totalitarian state from helicopter gunships to brutal local rule to abuse the Anuak as the process of resettling highlanders from the north began.

Those highlanders themselves were moved involuntarily and remain victims of government policy. In the 1980s the Dergue was then conducting a campaign of death and destruction against the people of Tigray, among others, and moved thousands south in poorly planned resettlement schemes. One aim was to isolate potential supporters of Tigrayan rebel forces, who have now become the government of Ethiopia.

Amnesty International reports that Oromos, Amharas and Tigrayans were among the resettled highlanders who were incited to act against the Anuak by government officials. Next time if it serves the purposes of power and ethnic divide and rule - any number of combinations of tribes will be made to fight each other countrywide.

The Ambassador’s recent statement seems to be made in encouragement for the admission of error accompanied by pressure against the minimization of the problem. There is also an growing sense of American and E.U. wariness of and weariness with the Ethiopian government, its pronouncements and unmistakable reality. Given the parts of the American President’s State of the Union speech that touched on human rights, more of this type of pressure should be expected - and should be welcomed by all observers.

“The Minnesota media is an early warning system for this African genocide” according to the McGill Report run by Doug McGill, a journalist close to the Anuak Community of Minnesota. Anuak Genocide Watch, is a dormant blog from Bethel University whose archives and links are of value. Genocide Watch, is also following developments closely.

Events are detailed here from Genocide Watch and Survivors’ Rights International in a report titled “Today is the Day of Killing Anuaks”.

Monday, February 21

Nouveau Art from Ethiopia

by Shiferaw Girma

by Lulseged Retta

Both paintings are from Mesai Haileleul's Nouveau Art from Ethiopia.
This web site is an extension of Mesai's mission: To share the work of Ethiopian artists with the world. It is intended as a means by which Ethiopian artists can overcome barriers, both economic and geographic, to show their work.
Perhaps this virtual cyber-gallery can function as a viable alternative to a physical space. It is Mesai's wish that as many people as possible are exposed to the work of the wonderful artists working in Ethiopia today. The public's interest and support may make actual exhibitions possible in the future, while sustaining the creativity of the artists in the present.

Thursday, February 17

Expo 67

The Ethiopian pavilion from Expo 67 in Montreal. From Jeffrey Stanton Expo 67.
Ethiopia's pavilion was cone-shaped and colorful, purple and red with golden decorations. It was reminiscent of the ceremonial umbrellas of the priests of the ancient Ethiopian city of Axum. At the head of the access staircase, flanked by lions representing the 13 provinces of the empire, visitors looked down on a replica of the Church of St. George at Lalibella. It contained the Crowns of Axum, 1000 silver crosses and other art objects. A replica of the Imperial throne was also on display.

The pavilion's interior roofing was covered with paintings on canvas that told the history and legends of Ethiopia. Below where exhibits of animals and birds native to the country, those that told of Ethiopia's natural resources, and the work of the country's various artists and artisans.

The pavilion also featured a bar and cafeteria where visitors could enjoy famed Ethiopian coffee from Harrar and other specialties.
There is a pic here.

Monday, February 14

but the Constitution says ... oh, nevermind

This item “National Army Expresses Support To New Peace Proposal” just does not seem right. Ideally, it should not matter where the armed forces of any country stand on any political issue. Realistically, in a non-democratic system, the military may be the guarantors of government rule so military pronouncements on civilian policy are actually even more disturbing. This is crucial for a country like Ethiopia which for 17 years experienced a particularly vicious military junta.

After the Eritrean invasion of 1998, Ethiopia became one of the few victims of aggression to ever gain an expensive victory on the battlefield who willingly submitted to binding arbitration. All members of the panel, including Ethiopia’s appointees, voted for Eritrea so a stalemate resulted. In late 2004, the Ethiopian government announced a Five Point Peace Proposal which either does or doesn‘t accept the arbitration - no one knows for sure.

The Army Chief of Staff makes some statements that raise all manner of questions. Why must the military have “an in-depth discussion” before it supports their government? Are the soldiers going to VOTE on it? How can an army NOT be “at the disposal of a public agenda“? Finally, why must the army strive to serve “the interests of the people AND government of Ethiopia?” Are the people and the government being acknowledged to have separate interests?

The issue here is not the Chief of Staff, but a political system that would place such an able and professional soldier in the uncomfortable position of commenting on the byzantine world of politics. Has the subject of Eritrea stirred such passions that supporters of civilian rule must be comforted? Maybe opponents of current government are being warned that both military and civilian forces are independently arrayed against them.

It is all too confusing and like the Kremlin and Kremlinologists of old, this too requires a dedicated Gibee-ologist to sort out. One clear point is that this whole business is unconstitutional anyway. Article 74 of that document says that the Prime Minister is “the Commander-in-Chief of the national armed forces“. Article 87 adds that “[t]he armed forces ... shall carry out any responsibilities as may be assigned to them [by whom?] under any state of emergency declared in accordance with the Constitution.” and that they should “ obey and respect the Constitution” while “ free of any partisanship to any political organization(s)”.

Not one word is written there about the armed forces making up their own minds unless the bit about who assigns them in an emergency is some kind of a loophole. Civilians all over the world may respect their own country's military (in a free society only if they choose to) but the military has the absolute duty to serve civilian authority. Even rhetoric to the contrary is dangerous.

It seems that the parts of the constitution that deny Ethiopians the right to private property and that divide them by ethnicity are meant to be taken seriously while other parts are disposable. The constitution promises all manner of human rights that aren’t respected. It also promises an absolute right to secession on demand ... but any of the 'nations, nationalities and peoples' who count on that are likely to be unpleasantly surprised.

It is clear that the rule of law is not to be taken seriously by any serious observer. If anyone out there really thinks for a second that the army is not totally and utterly under party control - there's this bridge for sale in Brooklyn you might want to take a look at. We can get you a great price too.

UPDATE: A reader alerted us to this April 5, 2003 Economist article (no link available) on the Ethio-Eritrean conflict and the utility of the myth of armed forces independence as a political factor.
To diplomats from aid-giving countries, [the Ethiopian Prime Minister] argues that his generals will not accept the loss [of Badme - one of the towns given to Eritrea by arbitration]. If Badme goes to Eritrea, his government may fall, he claims, causing chaos, Ethiopia is large and volatile, and its region, the Horn of Africa, has some strategic importance, so foreigners do not dismiss this plea out of hand,
Essentially then, the principal consumers of Ethiopian policy are aid-giving countries - who may at times have the wool pulled over their eyes quite willingly. That is why defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory in accepting arbitration and why the Five Point Peace Plan even exists.

Any single member of the armed forces who could possibly be a threat to the already united political / military center of the ruling party would long ago have 'disappeared' or be in prison. Revolutionary parties don't win wars and stay in power tolerating any internal dissent at all. If an observer can't seperate the party from government, the military definitely can not be separated from the party.

Saturday, February 12

Cognitive Dissonance

On Ethio-American Investment in Ethiopia an official says that
[h]e wanted to see Ethiopians come back to invest for the greater good for the country, because they want to help Ethiopia develop a sustainable economy.

His experience, however, has been one of Ethiopian Americans asking for special favors when considering investing or coming back expecting special treatment for the government.

He sees these investors as interested in financial gain rather than the good of Ethiopia.
Hello! The whole idea of a market economy, classical liberalism, capitalism, competition and investment that has made some of the world free and prosperous or on its way to being so is based upon financial gain ... the shared opportunity for all to seek their own totally and utterly selfish financial gain.

In normal economies the common good is defined by millions of free and necessarily selfish individual decisions that cause the best to rise up and the worst to fall. It is the genuine democracy of the marketplace that does so well everywhere at creating prosperity and laying the groundwork for the rise of the bourgeoise and political freedom and all of that other good stuff ... given limited government intrusion.

If government wants to define the common good by the willingness of investors to lose money and waste time while being comforted by a sense of national duty - then there will never be meaningful investment or willing risks taken.

Certainly, choosing where to invest can rationally be based in part on emotion and familiarity, but without a sea change in the most basic Ethioian economic philosophy, Foreign Direct Investment will remain at about a tiny $ 70 million a year on average ... and much of that comes from just one person.

The government also seeks to determine whether investors in Ethiopia are 'rent seekers' or 'development investors' before welcoming them. Perhaps that means they are not willing to lose money and put up with bureaucracy or whether they just have a secret desire to be poor. One must seriously wonder if 'proto-kulaks' are not welcome to invest in the agricultural sector.

What is a 'sustainable economy' anyway, and what is wrong with 'rent seekers'? These disposable post-modern and revolutionary catch phrases are essentially meaningless and actually quite silly. One never hears such language spoken in developed and developing economies where money is actually being made and development is really taking place.

That is the vocabulary of folks writing weighty policy papers and speaking at academic conferences. All of the foreigners who play with these words then go home to live very well and to invest and live in the very bosom of their own rapacious 'unsustainable rent seeking' systems while Ethiopians are stuck with the consequences of those ideas.

All of this is certainly not inspiring for potential investors, who after all want to use their hard earned money ... to make more money.

And you know what happens when money meets new money in a friendly place ... they just get right down to making even more money and building lots of stuff.

Pretty soon more money comes over because it feels really welcome and so on and so on ... before you know it everybody has more money.

You can get money to behave properly and you have to protect money too. But try and tell money what to do or where to go and it will stay away or run away ... so all but a few stay poor.

This phenomenon is also known as the free market.

Thursday, February 10

Not just a river in Egypt

Egypt was a gift of the Nile.

Herodotus, 4th century B.C.

NASA’s Earth Observatory has some fascinating pictures taken from space. This section of the Nile near Luxor shows just a sliver of green in the day and a thin ribbon of light at night. Beyond that is nothing but the desert, perhaps marked by a few oases. Even though the floods have been controlled by the Aswan High Dam, the Nile has remained at the core of the Egyptian national consciousness. It is clear that Egypt is the Nile.

Nile Watershed

The Nile, however, is more than Egypt.
The Nile is the world's longest river, and an estimated 123 million people [only about 70 million of them in Egypt] depend on the Nile waters for survival. The river originates from two distinct geographical zones, the basins of the White and Blue Niles. The source of the White Nile is in the Great or Equatorial Lakes Region, and is also fed by the Bahr-el-Jebel water system to the north and east of the Nile-Congo Rivers divide.

Its catchment area includes the riparian states of Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Congo/Zaire, Kenya and Sudan. The Blue Nile originates in the highlands of Ethiopia and Eretria, as do the other major tributaries of the Nile, the Atbara and the Sobat. About 85% of the Nile's waters originate in Ethiopia and Eretria, while the majority of the river's water is used in the Sudan and Egypt.
This post will look at Egypt and Ethiopia, among other nations that are dependent on the Nile and its promise - and the potential for conflict.

We should state at the outset that it would be a monstrous crime for anyone to deny Egypt any part of the Nile that could harm her. No one sane wants to do so anyway and there is little chance that any actors on the world would let that happen - but Egypt does tend to look at the matter in those terms. To a degree it makes sense - one must look at another’s potential for harm as much as their motives.

But ... Egypt does have a long history of acting against Ethiopian interests on this issue that the reality of any Nile dispute can not justify and that can cause equal Ethiopian passion about not only equitable distribution of the Nile but also about Ethiopia’s national survival. In addition, although the religion card will inevitably get played in this issue, it should have no place here. There are tens of millions of Ethiopian Muslims and Egyptian Christians who have been vital parts of both nations today and throughout any historical interactions.

the past

After the mysteries of its origins were no longer a source of wonder, unreasonable fears arose of what upper riparian nations could do to the Nile were common - as though given a place to stand in Ethiopia, someone could use a spigot big enough to shut the Nile off or divert it. Reality could certainly not credit those fears.

Ethiopian and Egyptian civilizations have had contact for thousands of years but it was after the advent of the Ottoman Empire that Egyptian government looked upriver and down the Red Sea with a strategic vision of their own ’Ethiopian Question’. The rather distant Nile threat has been used over countless centuries when invading Ethiopia for the sake of Imperial conquest (sometimes using the convenient banner of Islam) or simply to keep Ethiopia as fragmented and weak as possible .

Indeed fighting Egypt or the Ottoman rulers of Egypt has been one of the constants of Ethiopian history and the principal reason after about the 7th century that Ethiopia lost contact with the Middle East and Europe. Ethiopian Emperors have occasionally used the empty threat of the Nile to bargain on behalf of Egypt’s Coptic community (which for almost one thousand five hundred years until the 1950s sent Ethiopia her archbishops).

According to this article “Egypt and the Hydro-Politics of the Blue Nile River”
especially in the 18th and 19th century, Egypt's invasion and final conquest of the Sudan was largely motivated by its desire to secure control over the entire Nile system. Muhammed Ali (1769-1849), for instance, felt that the security and prosperity of Egypt could only be assured fully by extending conquests to those Ethiopian provinces from which Egypt received its great reserves of water. The objective of such a conquest was designed to impose Egypt's will on Ethiopia, and either to occupy it or to force it to give up the Lake Tana area.

Hence, the conquest of the Sudan in 1820 served as a stepping-stone to the increased appearance of Egyptian soldiers in the western frontiers of Ethiopia, and to the subsequent Egyptian occupation of Kasala in 1834, Metema in 1838, Massawa in 1846, Kunama in 1869, and Harar in 1875. Khedive Ismail (1863-1879), too, wanted to make the Nile an Egyptian river by annexing to Egypt all the geographical areas of the basin. To that end, the Swiss adventurer Werner Munzinger (1832-1875), who served him, had remarked: "Ethiopia with a disciplined administration and army, and a friend of the European powers, is a danger for Egypt. Egypt must either take over Ethiopia and Islamize it, or retain it in anarchy and misery."

The decision was made to conquer Ethiopia. However, Khedive Ismail lived to regret that decision. The series of military expeditions which he launched in 1875 and 1876, resulted in ignominious defeats for Egypt. Between November 14, 1875, and November 16, 1875, more than 2,500 Egyptian soldiers were routed at the Battle of Gundet. Similarly, from March 7, 1876, to March 9, 1876, some 12,000 Egyptian soldiers were annihilated at the Battle of Gura.

It may be interesting to note that two American military officers, Colonels William MacEntyre Dye (1831-1904) and Loring William Wing (1816-1886), who fought on the Unionist [actually Confederate] side in the American Civil War (1861-1865) and who were recruited by the Egyptians along with six other American soldiers, participated in the Egyptian military campaigns against Ethiopia. In the same year, the expedition led by Munzinger was decimated in northeastern Ethiopia by the Afars. Munzinger himself was killed. Yet, despite the enormous debacle, Egyptian raids against Ethiopia still continued. The raids were eventually brought to a temporary halt only when Britain occupied Egypt in 1882.
Other sources and significantly the survivor’s memoirs say that the Americans were Confederates exiled by the Yankee victory in the American Civil War.

the more recent past

Actually, it probably wasn’t until the late 19th century or so that mankind even had the elementary means to dream of any such gargantuan construction job not to mention doing it. Even modern Egypt was led to fear that imagined potential along with the more viable issue of the waters being siphoned off elsewhere. According to the Inventory of Conflict and Environment (ICE) from American University conflict with Sudan was caused as well.
In 1929, the Nile Waters Agreement was concluded through an exchange of notes between the British High Commission in Cairo [Egypt was a sort of semi-colony at the time] and the Egyptian government. The agreement heavily favored Egypt's "historic rights" allocating for Egyptian use 48 bcm per year, only 4 bcm for the Sudan, and leaving 32 bcm per year unallocated.
Especially after Sudanese independence in 1956 a revision was asked for by Sudan. Planning for the Aswan Dam in Egypt prompted. Sudan to withdraw its support of the colonial era agreement and Egypt ended up moving troops to the Sudanese border.
In November 1958, there was a military takeover in Sudan and the establishment of a regime more open to negotiation with the Egyptian government. Within a year, the two countries re-negotiated the 1929 agreement and developed the 1959 Agreement between the Republic of the Sudan and the United Arab Republic.

The new agreement set Egypt's share of Nile waters at 55.5 bcm per year and allocated to the Sudan's an allotment of 18.5 bcm per year. Other riparians were not included in this agreement. Favorable relations between the two continued until the ouster of Sudanese President Nimeiri, and relations further deteriorated in 1989 as the Islamic fundamentalist regime unilaterally abolished the cooperation agreements and began supporting anti-Egyptian forces in its territory.
In 1979 Wondimu Tilahun from Addis Ababa University expressed Ethiopia’s ongoing frustration with the Nile issue and Egypt when he wrote ‘Egypt’s Imperial Aspirations over Lake Tana and the Blue Nile’ (no link available) he states “The great danger of unutilized rivers to Ethiopia is that it creates an insane desire on the part of her neighbors [Egypt and Sudan] to see to it that she will never attain the capacity to utilize these rivers.”

Egypt, of course, has acted characteristically against Ethiopian interest by supporting separatist groups in Eritrea from the 1950s on and also backed Somalia during the attempted Somali conquest of Eastern Ethiopia in 1977. As we shall see Ethiopian regimes such as the Dergue have also cooperated with those Egyptian aims by contriving to keep Ethiopia weak, poor, divided by ethnicity and riven by failed ideologies.

After Ethiopia became a Soviet puppet state - especially after the Camp David Accords and the Soviet expulsion from Egypt, Soviet animus towards Egypt was expressed in the most concrete threat to date, that of a large Soviet project on the Nile. This was not for the sake of Ethiopian leverage over Egypt, however. Aside from the guaranteed dead end of Soviet inspired social and economic policies in and of themselves, the Soviets wanted Ethiopia to retain the weakness and confusion that allowed her to fall into and stay in the Soviet Empire.

After establishing peace with Israel in 1979, Sadat turned his attention south and said that in the future only the Nile would be a reason for Egypt to go to war. According to the authoritative “The Cross and the River” by Haggai Erlich, 1987 was the time that very modern Egyptian concerns about the Nile grew acute. After three years of drought in Ethiopia, the water level in Lake Nasser was so low Egypt feared a disaster.

Some accommodations were made between Mubarak and Mengistu’s government after 1987 but nothing much ever came of it. Ethiopia was too embroiled in the Dergue’s bloody ethnic and ideological wars and its general reign of destruction to do anything controversial on the Nile - or any good anywhere else. Egypt continued to aid rebel groups bent on overthrowing Mengistu.

ICE continues about similiar circumstances in Sudan “In recent years, disputes between Egypt and the Sudan have been more overtly political and less about water, in part because the Sudan's civil strife has halted significant development in this country.”
In October 1991, Egyptian Defense Minister Lt. Gen. Mohammed Hussein Tantawi remarked in al Ahram that his country would not hesitate to use force to defend its control of the Nile River, and predicted that future Middle East wars could result from water scarcity issues. He said, "I do not actually expect an impending control of the Nile River by a foreign country, but we consider it a possibility and are planning our military strategy accordingly.”
Of late Egypt has been taking even more of a share of Nile water than the 1959 treaty with Sudan granted it. Meanwhile, the drainage area of the Nile in Ethiopia needs irrigation more desperately than ever before. Ethiopia has started some small scale projects on tributaries to the Nile but has been frustrated by Egyptian refusal to attend to her concerns so that international cooperation may be more forthcoming. Increasingly other riparian states like Uganda and Kenya have expressed greater concern on these issues as well.

So ... the stage is set for rumours of war

Ethiopian frustration with the state of affairs including Egypt’s use of ever more of the Nile’s waters for thirsty new projects to turn parts of the desert green, brought about this statement from the Prime Minister.
"While Egypt is taking the Nile water to transform the Sahara Desert into something green, we in Ethiopia - who are the source of 85% of that water - are denied the possibility of using it to feed ourselves. And we are being forced to beg for food every year," he says.

Mr Meles says he is becoming increasingly angry at Egypt's long running objections to requests from other Nile basin nations to use the river's waters for major irrigation projects.

And he warns that his government, along with those of Kenya, Uganda Tanzania - who share the White Nile with Egypt - will no longer be intimidated by past threats, principally by the late President Anwar Sadat, to use force to maintain its grip on the Nile.

"I think it is an open secret that the Egyptians have troops that are specialised in jungle warfare. Egypt is not known for its jungles. So if these troops are trained in jungle warfare, they are probably trained to fight in the jungles of the East African countries," Mr Meles says.

"And from time to time Egyptian presidents have threatened countries with military action if they move. While I cannot completely discount the sabre-rattling I do not think it is a feasible option. If Egypt were to plan to stop Ethiopia from utilising the Nile waters it would have to occupy Ethiopia and no country on earth has done that in the past."
As we have seen it is no surprise that Egypt is very jealous of the Nile and that it takes all measures to assure that others use less of it and are not in a position to use more. The PM’s complaints are accurate but however sympathetic we may be to his sentiments, his projection of the future is in error.

There will be never be an armed conflict no matter what happens precisely because Egypt is already getting what it wants and because Ethiopia‘s CURRENT options are limited beyond protest. We will try to examine these dispassionately even though they are unpleasant.

Beyond some small projects on tributaries of the Nile, international financing has not been forthcoming for Ethiopia to do more, presumably because of Egyptian influence in international and banking circles and her refusal to discuss the issue.

Egypt maybe a high debtor nation but the size of her debts may actually give her some influence because at some point the threat of default or late payment comes to equal that of denying future credit. In addition, her economy and per capita GNP are over ten times larger than Ethiopia‘s.

The influence of the Arab world, even excluding the massive effect of petrodollars, also weighs heavily in Egypt’s favor. Whatever differences they have with each other, helping Egypt out on the Nile issue comes naturally and represents a great source of power arrayed against Ethiopia.

These economic issues also translate to monetary reserves that are higher beyond compare in Egypt along with an ability to receive forgiveness, loans and grants from banks, Arab and other nations.

Appeals to the world are of dubious value because in most world capitals or the U.N. where there is concern with strategic issues, Egypt weighs more heavily because of the Suez Canal, Oil, the War on Terror, Secularism vs. Fundamentalism, Nuclear Proliferation, Iran, Iraq, Israel and a host of other reasons.

It is realistic to foresee Security Council and General Assembly votes (if the issue is allowed to get that far) where no one, including the other upper Nile riparian states support Ethiopia.

If Ethiopia pushes ahead somehow despite these obstacles, desirable international contractors would hesitate to offend the combined commercial and strategic influence of most other countries. At some point enough pressure on Djibouti, Port Sudan, Berbera and Mombasa would effectively block Ethiopia from trade in relevant materials or even restrict trade altogether.

If Egypt actually came to consider the possibility of using force it would never have to occupy a single meter of Ethiopian soil. Air power from a base in any of Ethiopia’s neighbors to the north, east, west or across the Red Sea (some more willing than others) would be sufficient to attack construction sites and more importantly to isolate the northern Ethiopian road network.

Over 25 years of importing more than $25 billion dollars of some of the most sophisticated Western armaments available including hundreds of F-16s along with hundreds of other fighters including Mirages and rebuilt Soviet aircraft has put Egyptian airpower in an advantageous position.

Those jungle trained soldiers may be there for an emergency, but more likely they just help to justify Egypt’s oversized war machine to its people who really have no potential enemies beyond the remote chance of a border skirmish with Khadafi’s Libya.

So what then must be done in the FUTURE?

Discussing the possiblity of war over the Nile is for the express purpose of bringing attention to Ethiopia’s desparate situation and perhaps to play to Ethiopian nationalism in competition with government critics.

During the Ethio-Eritrean war there were similar martial appeals to unity and when sports heroes are welcomed home there are similar appeals to nationalism. We doubt Ethiopians take this at all seriously at this point because the principle of governance has been to divide and rule and suppress national sentiment.

The critical matter that is raised by this issue is how to make Ethiopia speak with a voice that will be heard backed up by influence, economic resources and the option to act independently far before conflict becomes an issue. Egypt would have to fairly negotiate with such an Ethiopia and enough of the world community would take her seriously and back her up as well.

Tragically, as we mentioned earlier, successive Ethiopian governments have fully cooperated with the Egyptian aims of keeping their own country‘s potential crippled by treating their own people as the enemy and their own country as occupied territory.

Decades of ruinous ideological, ethnic, regional wars and policies have placed Ethiopia in this tragic position. Successive Ethiopian governments have preferred to see Ethiopia weak, poor and divided rather than take the risk of allowing for enterprise, unity and dynamism that could someday threaten their power. Those choices, including a preference for dependence on aid and dreams of massive aid rather that economic growth at home were quite consciously made.

Sure, Egypt and the issues of the Nile are a grave threat to the national interest but unless there is reform of Ethiopian governance, Egypt can just lay back and watch with satisfaction that Ethiopia’s government is serving its purposes for free.

The Egyptian government is reliably looking out for Egyptian interests, who is really looking out for Ethiopia's long term interests?

Sunday, February 6

Cargo Cult Economics 3 - Structural Corruption

What do the O’Jays have to say about the potential for money, acquired by other than legal means to result in patterns of destructive social behavior?
For the love of money
People will lie, rob, they will cheat

For the love of money
People don't care who they hurt or beat

For the love of money
A woman will sell her precious body

For a small piece of paper it carries a lot of weight
Oh, that mean, mean, mean, mean, mean green

Almighty Dollar!

Talkin' bout, talkin' bout - cash

I know that money is the root of all evil
Do funny things to some people
Foreign Dispatches agrees and is far more concerned with this predictable and tragically human aspect of money and the MDG
All talk of "absorption capability" really is beside the point when talking about a regime like the one that currently runs Ethiopia: the only "absorption capability" that matters in such circumstances is that of Andorran and Cayman Island bankers, and they can handle the inflow of billions just fine. Cash is fungible, and even if the actual aid doesn't get stolen, it loosens up a lot of other funds to be siphoned elsewhere.
Transparency International (TI) is a Berlin-based organization compiles an
index defines corruption as the abuse of public office for private gain, and measures the degree to which corruption is perceived to exist among a country's public officials and politicians. It is a composite index, drawing on 17 surveys from 13 independent institutions, which gathered the opinions of business people and country analysts. Because of the absence of reliable data, only 146 of the world's countries are included in the survey. The scores range from 10 (squeaky clean) to zero (highly corrupt). A score of 5.0 is the number Transparency International considers the borderline figure distinguishing countries that do and do not have a serious corruption problem.
Ethiopia’s rating in 2004 was a not encouraging 2.3, right between the Republic of Congo and Honduras. Haiti was at the bottom with 1.4 and Finland at the top with 9.7 - the U.S. got a 7.5.

The level of perceived corruption is quite properly multiplied above common bribe payment by insidious structural corruption protected by the government. According to the U.S. State Department "membership in the EPRDF [essentially the TPLF] conferred advantages upon its members, and the party owned many businesses and awarded jobs to loyal supporters."
Of 548 seats in the House of People's Representatives (HPR), 496 were held by the EPRDF or its affiliate parties. The EPRDF-affiliated Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) occupied 40 seats. The EPRDF, its affiliates, and EPRDF supporters controlled all seats in the 108-member House of Federation, whose members were appointed by regional governments and by the federal Government. In the Southern Region, opposition parties held approximately 7 percent of the seats in the Regional Council.

Opposition parties accused the NEB [national election board] of being an instrument of the ruling party and for failing to take meaningful action upon being informed of electoral irregularities, including ballot stuffing, vote count fraud, bribery, killings, beatings, and widespread intimidation and harassment by ruling party supporters during the 2001 and 2000 elections.
Ethiopia is effectively a single party state where the tightly disciplined ruling party directly owns or takes great interest in numerous companies, fronts and organizations that command the heights of the modern (i.e. hard currency) economy and other businesses at all levels.

It is important to note that corruption is not inherent to all members of government, business, society at large and the ruling party.

In fact, the country is kept afloat by the unsung daily struggle of millions of decent citizens at every level of society, who only need a chance in a fair system to thrive.

The point being made is that the very structure of Ethiopia's effective one party ideologic state is inherently corrupting and corrosive to human values - independent of those forced to engage it.

the reporter's required reading on a system built for graft

The Reporter addresses the issue
Corruption has become pervasive in our country beyond its capacity to endure it. It has permeated it with its stench. What is more alarming is that the possibility whereby it may be arrested in the future is not distinctly in sight.
I would like to make clear two points regarding the subject under discussion. The first has to do with the repeatedly raised contention that Ethiopia is not as corruption-ridden as Nigeria, Kenya etc. Yes! It may not be. But this fact should not be mentioned as a "boost" to Ethiopia's fight against corruption. Ethiopia's battle strategy should not be formulated by comparing itself with Kenya but in terms of the quagmire it is mired in.

The second point is that regardless of whether Ethiopia may be higher up than other countries on the corruption index, the fact that the present level of corruption is much worse and widespread than during the reign of Emperor Haile-Sellassie or the Dergue should not be suppressed.
This poor country is suffering from the grip of corruption where millions and billions of birr is misappropriated in connection with bank loans, procurement, tax and the like. These days, it has become virtually impossible even to get simple public services without bribery. Corruption has spread out "its tentacles" beyond cities to rural areas unchecked. It has "poisoned" not only the economic arena but the political as well.
The article details coverups conducted under the guise of fighting corruption and the punishment of news outlets who ran exposes of practices at several government enterprises such as Telecommunications, the Airlines, Banks and TV. Government news agencies participated in the charade, characteristically charging critics such as the Reporter with having ulterior motives.
Most of us recall that the EPRDF [essentially the TPLF with some hangers on] won praise for fighting and hunting down thieves when it took control of Addis Ababa in 1991. However, soon after, i.e. in 1992 and 1993, some of its fighters began to be observed to have acquired homes, household furnitures and other properties not commensurate with their salaries.
Fighters at the lower echelon were grilled to prove how they acquired even such trivial things as utensils. But when questions were asked about the situation regarding the leadership, their attitude altered dramatically in an unprecedented manner. As the fact that the leaders and top cadres regularly changed cars and houses was quite known, the question, "Why aren't the leaders evaluated?" was raised. The answer was short and simple: "You cannot evaluate the leadership." The agenda was closed with this threatening and arrogant answer.
This attitude is epitomized by the saying of one of the characters in George Orwell's Animal Farm: "All animals are equal. But some animals are more equal than others."
Does the EPRDF want to pull the wool over our eyes and tell us that it covers its expenses only by membership dues while it owns various buildings and vehicles, and employs numerous salaried staff? Even a "toddler" understands that the EPRDF earns money by engaging in commercial and industrial activity in breach of the law it enacted as well as using its political power and that this amounts to economic and political corruption.
The author goes on to say that at every stage of national life, the ruling TPLF party seeks its interests above all else and that loyalty to the party is paramount. In regard to the charade of party members policing the inseperable government / party apparatus this is said "Party discipline is unforgiving."

Members take an "oath" to believe only in the party's principles, to listen to only what the party says, to hate only what it hates...." In addition "those who have "fallen out” with the EPRDF are made answerable while anyone who satisfactorily passes the criteria - regarding whether he is a supporter or an opponent - will be given protection. This is no way to combat corruption!"

Often, under the guise of reform and transparency in government, the authorities also use charges of corruption against political foes. See this article, “Disabling a Political Rival Under the Cover of Fighting Corruption in Ethiopia” from Deki-Alula.

Because the party can't be distinguished from government, concepts such as privitization, regulation or competition are meaningless. Here is what the U.S. Embassy has to say about
Privatization, like other government tenders, is subject to corruption. The EPA Board of Directors is made up of government officials and cannot be considered neutral. The decision of what enterprises to schedule for privatization, or whether to remove an enterprise from the schedule, rests with people who have vested interests and manipulate the system to benefit themselves, friends and/or family.

Observers speculate that people with connections benefit from re-tenders as they are able to buy viable enterprises at rock-bottom prices. Meanwhile, the government appoints managers to run state-owned enterprises until privatization, creating the opportunity to skim profits, overstate expenses, etc. The privatization process functions, but could garner more revenues for the government if it were more efficiently, and more importantly, independently managed.

A proper system of sealed-bid auctions, for example, might eliminate some of the opportunities for collusion, and would speed up the process.
The Heritage Foundation Index of Economic Freedom 2004 places Ethiopia in the 'mostly unfree' category and says that
Ethiopia’s cumbersome bureaucracy deters investment. Much of the economy remains under state control, and the evidence suggests that businesses also must contend with political favoritism.

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, “Corruption in Ethiopia poses various problems for its business environment, as patronage networks are firmly entrenched and political clout is often used to gain economic prowess.”

The U.S. Department of State reports that “state-owned enterprises have considerable de facto advantages over private firms, particularly in the realm of Ethiopia’s regulatory and bureaucratic environment, and including ease of access to credit and speedier customs clearance.”
The Reporter continues
The EPRDF has set up huge organizations, ostensibly as endowments, by the name EFFORT [Endowment Fund of the Rehabilitation of Tigray], Tiret, Dinsho… wherein political and economic corruption are widely reflected.

First of all, these organizations are not endowments. They can become endowments when they are freed from the control of the member organizations of the EPRDF (TPLF, ANDM, OPDO) and establish their own council and board; when their assets, the amount of the loans they have taken and the outstanding balance, their profit and loss statement as well as their plans for the future are publicized to the community who is supposed to own them.

These organizations, however, have not made public any of the information mentioned above. It is impossible to mislead anyone this way.
EFFORT operates under it Almeda textiles factory, Messebo cement factory, Addis pharmaceuticals, Mesfin Industrial Engineering etc. If these companies have been registered as endowments we will patiently await until the registrars tell us the fact. But how many of the rank and file as well as central committee members know EFFORT owns a UK-based company called Tower Trading? This company has considerable capital and exports various items to Ethiopia.

For instance, it is Tower Trading which ships, whether at high or low costs, print paper to Mega Printing House and the state-owned Brehanena Selam Printing Enterprise (BSPE).
The author expounds on the various mysteries of these enterprises. The actual numbers and relations between dozens of organizations is not known and even less is known of their tangled financial webs of public, international and private indebtedness. There is also an absolute lack of public audits at any time.

The author says that the organizations run at a loss at every level and only survive because "they are the properties of the persons who are at the helm of the political machinery or of the EPRDF’s member parties." Given the level of transparency, no one knows if they make money or not. One thing all can be sure of is that a few at the top of the food chain will make money whatever happens and that the mass of disenfranchised millions will lose whatever happens.
The organizations can secure bank loans, win tenders, rent and use government-owned buildings not because they compete equally with other Ethiopian businesses but because everything is at their disposal on the snap of a finger, because they are privileged to use the country’s political setting to their advantage.

The manner in which they are availed with better access to credit and be more competitive than other businesses using this political privilege is an expression of the economic facet of corruption.
[I]t is dismaying as well as astounding that a ruling party that is unwilling to be self-critical not only perpetually flounders in a quagmire of error but also has hardened itself to bring down others.
Ethiopia is not alone in this structurally determined mess characteristic of all one party states. According to the Independent of Zimbabwe, government / ruling party owned businesses there are "in a shambles" with billions lost to corruption and mismanagement with considerable "externalization of funds". Often there are no records of audits having been done at any time, significant deals are made verbally with no other record and no one knows who owns what. The only constant is that the ever poorer Zimbabwean population pays and pays.

Both countries will have elections, or more accurately simulated elections in 2005. Watch for full coverage of the one in Zimbabwe and nary a word of the one in Ethiopia.

now imagine what the structural corruption described above would do with billions from the MDG

The system is primed to spiral into unimaginable depths of abuse under MDG. Even in ideal circumstances that much money could leave Transparency International's pristine Finland a ruined society by destroying its existing checks and balances, institutions and even its culture.

All ‘free money’ is naturally corrupting, dangerous and addictive. In a place where thousands or millions of tax or aid money is at hand, the demands on corruption calculators are limited. When there are billions lying around the calculators need to go up into the realm of a baker’s dozen of digits ... or more. A flood of petrodollars is analogous to a MDG level flood of cargo and is as corrupting, especially given the blind faith in spending above all else exhibited by the New York Times.

The MDG will be, without doubt, a prescription for worldwide levels of corruption and depravity unseen before in human history. In short order it will not matter whether or not the receiving government manages the money at all. Consider the comparatively few billions of 'oil for food' dollars intended for the Iraqi people whose skim managed to corrupt dozens of politicians, governments and ’altruistic’ organizations of every stripe around the globe. Any less objectionable regime such as Ethiopia's, would of course, have less oversight, especially if dozens of poor countries were engaged in MDG simultaneously.

Frankly, we would not trust a committee made of Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Mandela, Mother Theresa nor any other saintly icons with that much cash so far out of the purview of extant national institutions capable of handling it. Dante would have to come back and invent a new 'MDG circle of hell' to handle the flood of formerly decent people seduced by the ‘good intentions’ of placing the importance of money above the personal and the social institutions that give it value and meaning.

Given the right institutions Ethiopians are capable of creating an "African Lion*" economy like the "Asian Tigers" that would transform the country in a generation. What needs to be realized is that there are no cash shortcuts to development and that current modes of governance are the biggest problem. Ethiopia's rulers, even more than any observers, are aware of these simple truths.

*Phrase borrowed from Booker Rising.

Friday, February 4

Don't Believe The Hype

the ethnic and radical varieties of delusion

One thing for Ethiopians and foreigners to be constantly aware of when considering ethnicity in the recent past and present is the minefield set by ethnic opportunists. When ethnic politicians say that their party speaks for a whole people, it is always without the consent of those people.

The Tigrayan people, for example, have far more in common with their fellow Ethiopians of every region and tribe than they do with today's TPLF elite. By demanding absolute conformity and national discipline of the variety of Lenin's 'democratic centralism' today's rulers want Tigrayans to be isolated and unable to look outside of the party structure for common cause with anyone.

The 'leaders' contrive and manipulate enmity and then cynically charge critics with being the real tribalists. Revolutionaries of every stripe think that 'the people' (be they Ethiopians in general, Tigrayan, Oromo, Amhara or others) are a fundamentally ignorant herd that must be defined by the passing fancy and personal interests of the revolutionary class.

We shall see below that ethnic manipulation is just another destructive aspect of Marxist-Leninist politics and Ethio-radicalism.

Don't Believe Their Tribal / Radical Hype!

what are the root causes of the hype?

We noted some of Messay Kebede's interesting ideas in the post Revolutionary Spirit Hangover to try and understand why much of an educated generation of Ethiopians made the leap into the arms of the most radical leaders available. The theory discussed was one of 'belief substitution'. Basically, it was a dash from the most powerful and resented of traditional beliefs straight into Communism with no pause to think in between.

Recently he penned "Bringing reason back to Ethiopian politics" as a companion piece to the original article and elaborates on his theory about why so many educated Ethiopians became so much more destructively radicalized than the educated youth and intellectuals of other countries .

This is a read as revealing as it is just plain sad. A veritable catalog of how a generation in the very flower of youth and possibility destroyed all that they could not understand. He finds as we find convincing a deadly linkage between radical and ethnic solutions.

Let us finally see what Ato Messay has to say.
One basic assumption of my approach is that those explanations deriving the radicalization of students from the socioeconomic conditions of Haile Selassie's regime are basically insufficient and ultimately wrong. True, these conditions were appalling and the society was more and more polarized. But however brutal and deep the contradictions were, they were not enough to account for the rise of revolutionary convictions for the simple reason that a sensible approach would have advised reformist solutions. For a sound mind, the more momentous the problems, the more cautious the approach should be.

The point, however, is that active members of Ethiopia's educated circles simply rejected reformist solutions even before they discussed them. The standpoint reflected an a priori commitment to radical solutions that was derived neither from facts nor from sober examinations. Hence my conclusion: there was a need, most probably unconscious, for revolutionary beliefs. There was something in that generation that longed for radical solutions.

Many studies suggest that an increasing number of Ethiopian students and intellectuals became Marxist-Leninists because Marxism was a fashion, a worldwide phenomenon at that time. The rising generation understandably defined itself by embracing the dominant ideology of the time. The suggestion is not without a grain of truth, but so presented it begs the question. For something to be accepted as a fashion, it must first be valorized and judged fit to express and satisfy the aspirations of those who adopt it. Fashions are not simply imposed; they are welcomed to the extent that they respond to the expectations of a given generation.
Many student movements like those in India did not become fashionably Communist even though many feel that social problems are the cause of radicalism. India had severe problems but educated Indians rejected radical change.
There is no escaping: the attraction comes from a definite psychological need that we must decipher. The need is more emotional than rational, more unconscious than conscious, more multifarious than one-sided. In a word, Ethiopian students and intellectuals became enamored with Marxism-Leninism because it appeased a deep trauma that was eating them up. To determine this unconscious longing for a radical ideology is to uncover one of the deep causes of the revolution.

This is not the place to embark on the arduous process of detecting and analyzing the trauma. Instead, I ask the reader to pay attention to the crucial relevance of such an approach. Unless we bring the deep distress to light and become aware of it, the unpleasant fact is that unconscious and emotional drives control decisions and political views, be they those of the ruling party, opposition parties or private individuals. We need to detect the hidden sickness so as to find the cure that can give us back the rational control of our decisions and positions.

I see a characteristic illustration of the persistent presence of emotional forces in the last Ethio-Eritrean war. Many observers, expatriate as well as native, have vainly tried to understand the rationales for the war. After elaborate attempts, they are forced to admit that it was an irrational war that, alas, cost the life of thousands of people. Given that the leadership that initiated this war originated on both sides from the radical Ethiopian student movement, it is worthwhile to inquiry into the psychology of that generation to understand the war.

The generation ethnicized politics on the grounds that the main problem is to bring down the Amhara domination, which it perceived as the sole culprit for all of Ethiopia's ills. The paradox is that the overthrow of Amhara domination took the roundabout way of a commitment to a radical ideology. Most supportive of ethnicization were Tigrean and Eritrean students, who also became furiously radicalized. Yet the radicalization strongly questioned and rejected the traditional Tigrean and Eritrean societies and values as well as leaders, thereby lowering the grudge against the Amhara domination to a secondary concern. People struggled to defend Tigray and Eritrea by values and social programs that were foreign in addition to being more disruptive than Haile Selassie's autocratic incursions.

The ethnicization of Marxism-Leninism shows that the real reason for the radicalization of Tigrean and Eritrean students was no so much the famous Amhara domination as a deeper grudge against the Tigrean and Eritrean older generation, the very one that bowed to Haile Selassie's autocracy. How else can one explain that the removal of Amhara domination was judged worthwhile only on condition Tigray became socialist, and of the wildest type at that? Young Tigreans and Eritreans could hope to remove the humiliation only by outdoing the failed generation and by throwing away its social system and values. That is why the movement was never about democratizing the Ethiopian society, still less restoring the Tigrean legacy. It was about demolishing the Amhara oppressor as well as the Tigrean upper class. For angered Tigreans, it had to be total revolution or nothing; for Eritreans, independence alone was acceptable.
The author goes on to discuss the recent Ethio-Eritrean war, described by someone as "two bald men fighting over a comb", in terms of the old revolutionary rivalries and their shame-honor obsession to erase old perceived humiliations.
Everything was done to avoid all avenues leading to a peaceful settlement. When finally the war broke out and the one party had the upper hand after huge human and material sacrifices, a peaceful settlement in which neither party gained anything was quickly agreed upon. Clearly, the military confrontation was caused neither by interests nor by anything that we can call rational. Because neither party wants to recognize the deep emotional roots of the war, another showdown is most likely to take place because the defeated party is now tortured by the implication that its independence is a TPLF gift after all.

Another case of a political position sustained by a deep emotional trauma is OLF's claim to independence. Nobody can find any rational reason for this claim, all the more so as it comes from a party that professes to represent the majority of the people and the richest region of the country [claiming] independence instead of defending the right of the majority is anything but logical. What guides OLF's position is not reason but the need to eradicate humiliation by going back into the past and demolishing Menelik's empire. Only thus can the deep trauma of defeat and humiliation be removed.
Like all ethnic parties the OLF(Oromo Liberation Front) trades on ethnicity and claims to represent all of its ethnic group. It was an initial member of the EPRDF coalition but soon realized that the whole party and incoming government was really just the TPLF with very junior hangers on from other ethnic parties. It is clear that the TPLF made it impossible for them to participate in the political system without total subservience and the ruling TPLF created a junior Oromo party to 'represent' all Oromos.

A history of the OLF and whether or not they had seccessionist tendencies or if they abandoned them at any point is for another time. However, their opting out of Ethiopia rather than competing for the center is a function of their sense of ongoing total disenfranchisement. Because of the current system we may never know if the OLF could have been part of a united Ethiopian government.
Nowhere is this need to appease a trauma better illustrated than by the fanatical consensus of ethnic parties on the right to self-determination that even includes secession. Politically, the principle is utterly unsound and unworkable; its function is to assuage the emotional trauma that Menelik's southern expansion caused. When the whole issue is to emancipate ourselves from the emotional residues that cloud our judgments, strange is the way we sink deeper by still refusing to admit how radicalism fooled us. All nations have resulted from expansions and conquests, the difference being that those nations that overcame the trauma of conquest by channeling it into constructive works, especially economic pursuits, have achieved great success. Emotional trauma is good provided it does not devour us.

Understanding our past is precisely putting ourselves in the position of reclaiming the conscious and rational control of our social and individual life. Many of the events and developments of present-day Ethiopia appear incomprehensible because we respond to deep unconscious traumas, not to our real interests. Unless we bring these disturbances to light, our troubles will never end. Who can deny the invariable eruption of irrational, emotional hiccups that cause so many misunderstandings and suspicions each time Amhara, Tigrean, and Oromo intellectuals meet to talk about Ethiopia and its problems?
This article is an interesting read as history and for the theory it puts forward (there has to be some deep seated reason to explain an entire generation's mass delusion). It is fascinating as well for the sense of avoidable tragedy, past - present - and future, underlying it.

from ... On the Origins Of The TPLF

This following passage is from a previous post on the origins of the TPLF based on a thoughtful and frank article written by one of its founders, Aregawi Berhe. The degree of ethnicization that radical politics took on is seen. After a history of the early days of the movement ... the author continues his analysis with an account of the role of leftist ideology in all aspects of the student movement including in particular the views of Marx, Lenin and Stalin on ethno-national movements.

These ideas were used to redefine Ethiopia. The words of Wallelign Mekonen (an Amhara from Wollo region)in 1969 reflect the feelings of many of the era's educated youths "Ethiopia was not a nation, but a collection of nationalities ruled by the Amharas. To be an Ethiopian, you will have to wear an Amhara mask".

The ethno-national struggle was to have far reaching implications far beyond that envisioned from ideology alone.
Those who saw the ethno-national struggle as a tactic to achieve equality within a united Ethiopia and not as a strategy for secession were unaware of the turns and zigzags that ethno-nationalist mobilization could take. They were not able to see that ‘The more politicized ethnicity becomes, the more it dominates other expressions of identity, eclipsing class, occupational, and ideological solidarities’, and that ethnic struggles can become ominous. The young revolutionaries focused only on the positive contribution of ethno-nationalist mobilization as the most effective and shortest way to uproot the oppressive system. Their attitude was in conformity with Horowitz [?], when he wrote that ‘Ethnic affiliations provide a sense of security in a divided society, as well as a source of trust, certainty, reciprocal help, and protection against neglect of one’s interests by strangers’.
In addition, in the early days, no mention of Communism was made to peasants - that is until the opinions of peasants no longer mattered. The problem with manipulating ethnicity is that it is like playing with fire. It measurably harms development at best and is even more harmful when emphasized and it lays waste to democratic prospects before they can be attempted.

for radicals, ethnicity is tool to reach power. the only ethnic group they are worried about is literally inside their own skin

The entire ethnic component of radical solutions has roots far back in Marx and Engels onto Lenin, Stalin and Mao. The Soviet constitutions, like the Ethiopian Consititution today was based on the 'voluntary association' of disparite peoples. Every group like the Ukranians, Tibetans or Chechens who resisted suffered brutal repression, genocide, mass expulsions to Siberia or ethnic cleansing.

Like most of Marxist-Leninist justifications, the whole ethnic issue was a scam. Liberal, democratic and traditional elements could be weakened at no cost by appeals to ethnicity that would never be honored. Ethiopia's ongoing experience with radicalism and opportunistic ethnicity is the greatest con job of all.

The totalitarian search for enemies to blame is evident in Ethiopian radicalism as well. For the Dergue the enemies were defined by class and later ethnicity when the Eritrean and Tigrayan movements grew strong. For the current government the Amhara are the enemy of choice. This piece Human Rights Abuses in Ethiopia by Theodore Vestal is revealing of this factor
The ethnically divisive policies of the Transitional Government of Ethiopia (TGE) and the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE) have led to the escalation of ethnic tensions in the country. In particular, the Tigrean cadres who are veterans of the Tigrean People's Liberation Front (TPLF) have played a central role in arousing hatred against, first, Amhara citizens, stigmatized as responsible for past inequalities in the country, and later, virtually all other ethnic groups.
In another work he has this to say
When the Woyane [the name of an early Tigrayan rebellion against Imperial rule, later used generically for Tigrayan rebellion] came to power in Ethiopia as the TPLF in 1991, their resentment [of the way the rebellion was put down by bombing] was manifested in official and unofficial discrimination and harassment of the Amhara. Indeed, one aspect of the ethnic federalism of the FDRE is but a thinly disguised license to encourage hatred of the Amharas.
It is also important to keep in mind that the first victims of this ugly ethnic politics has been the Tigrayan people who suffered under previous governments, who fought and died to overthrow the Dergue and who now find themselves chained by the democratic centralism of the TPLF that has no desire to see them ever make common cause with any other Ethiopians.

Wednesday, February 2

Cargo Cult Economics 2 - All About the Benjamins?

is development really all about the benjamins?

No it is not.

One faulty argument for the purely cash approach to development asks for a Marshall Plan for Africa and sees the MDG as such an opportunity. Chipla’s Weblog argues that
The success of American assistance to Europe after the second world war cannot be replicated in Africa, where unlike in pre-war Europe, there was already a high standard of living and experience with the markets.
Western Europeans already had the basic institutions of developed economies in their very recent collective memory - so simple rebuilding was a logical and relatively easy aim. What would probably have happened anyway in a matter of a decade or two was accelerated because of the political exigencies of the Cold War.

It was a good deal for all concerned given the alternative of decades of economic and political dead ends offered by the Soviet empire. Those circumstances are not to be found in Africa nor will ritual handing out of money create them. Africans are literally dying for the want of decent institutions above all else. Chipla quotes the IHT
Africa is already relatively flooded with aid. The continent as a whole receives development assistance worth almost 8 percent of its gross domestic product. Exclude South Africa and Nigeria, and aid jumps to more than 13 percent of GDP - or more than four times the Marshall Plan at its height - for the other 46 African countries.
Some African countries such as Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia are dependent on foreign contributions to the tune of 40-50% of their national budgets in addition to other aid projects. During the 1990s, AdamSmithee reveals that even with that volume of aid that Sub-Saharan Africa saw an increase in the poverty rate.

Insisiting, as the almost delirious NYT editorial does, that more and more money can fix anything leads to the problem of absorptive capacity. AdamSmithee points out that the day after the release of the Millenial Development Goals that Ethiopia is already the first 'victim' of the promise for massive levels of aid.
Wealthy nations must quadruple aid to Ethiopia if it is to escape the mire of poverty and meet the 2015 international goals, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said on Tuesday.

Meles also called for debt cancellation and fair trade if the country - one of the poorest nations on earth - is to overcome massive and entrenched poverty. Ethiopia, he added, receives around US $13 per capita in foreign aid compared to other African countries that receive around $30.

Officials estimate that Ethiopia needs $122 billion over the next decade if it is to wipe out poverty and hunger. It currently receives $1.9 billion in aid a year.
AdamSmithee notes that the $122 billion dollar figure is
... considerably more than the country's total GDP in non-PPP terms. In 2000, total government expenditure in Ethiopia was about 30 percent of GDP. At the moment, Ethiopia gets about $1.4bn in ODA a year [already some 20% of a GDP of about $7 billion]. It does seem, all in all, that it is somewhat implausible that Ethiopia would get the aid, or could absorb it if it did.
Questioning such aid is somewhat difficult to do from and Ethiopian perspective - who wouldn’t want to see a promise of prosperity actually delivered or at least see that much cash end up in Ethiopian hands? The problem is, such amounts would transform Ethiopia beyond all recognition, maybe in more negative ways than positive.

what might happen?

One obvious consequence would be levels of inflation that are hard to imagine. Discussing the ongoing highway projects and how vital they are it was shown that "Ethiopia itself has spent $1 billion on roads in the past seven years - half from international donors".

In and IRIN interview Berahanu Nega, director of the Ethiopian Economic Association noted that "in terms of overall development, the country’s capital budget to the tune of 70 percent is foreign aid".

This means that already of every dollar spent on highways only a fraction comes from government revenues. Given Ethiopia's terrain, road building can cost up to $2 million a mile so - under MDG levels of support there will be so much money around that accountability will no longer matter at all to native auditors - who knows how high the prices may go?

This does not necessarily imply graft either, although that will necessarily occur. If there are billions being spent where 'only' tens of millions where once at issue prices will rise several fold. Increase salaries? It is a certainty that the prices for every staple such as grain or eggs will jump up even more. Regulations will only make matters worse as is always the case.

There will be severe shockwaves felt in the society with so much money in the pipeline and at hand - donors will have little control over what happens. Government will either become powerless to control the flow or all but certifiable saints will exploit it for personal gain. The inflationary boom will probably render the national economy and psychology totally dependent on foreign largesse and little able to do much more that crash down when it inevitably ends.

Even assuming something like this happens in a democracy the results would be bad. After World War II Argentina had a living standard superior to Canada. By electing the Perons and their successively more destructive 'populist' heirs the country effectively thought it was voting for itself an earthly paradise of eternal government benefits - without thought of who would have to pay for it all in the end.

how vital have current levels of aid been anyway?

Argentina is still trying to recover from that mess that even led to periods of dictatorship. The Argentines destroyed their own institutions using only locally mispent funds. Now imagine enough aid to dwarf an entire ecomony with little to no accountability. Actually, even current levels of aid are not necessarily helpful. Ato Nega's interview continues

Q: Do you think it [aid] has had a negative effect on the economy?
A: No. There are specific kinds of foreign aid that have helped, like emergency relief has saved lives. But if one is looking at the long-term development of this country, and trying to pick up the degree to which foreign aid has contributed, unfortunately I must say the foreign aid contribution to long-term economic development of this country has not been positive.

Is it negative? We can say a number of things of what foreign aid has done in terms of social psychology of the country, in terms of the operational attitude of governments in this country. In that sense I must say there has been, if not deliberate on the part of the donors, it has created an attitude of dependence that in the long run has contributed negatively towards both the potential for our development and our self-respect and attitude towards ourselves, which I think is an important part of the overall development process.
Q: What would Ethiopia look like without foreign aid?
A: I sometimes wonder what a country like Ethiopia would look like if there were no foreign aid. For sure, one of the things I think would happen is that government would be much more responsive to its own citizens than is currently the case. I presume that would be the case in many African countries. The link between state and society is seriously severed in countries like Ethiopia because of donors.

That is one of the unfortunate, maybe collateral, damage of foreign aid. That is why I think, while donors should continue their support to societies such as ours, the modalities of this contribution, as much as possible it should not be in such a way that it would affect the organic development of a society - the relationship between state and citizens and people’s self respect and attitude towards themselves.

I don’t have a formula on how to do that, but it has affected us negatively, because it has made our governments accountable to foreigners [rather] than to their own citizens.
There are specific projects such as relief for victims of famine, digging wells or the building of roads that are important but the overall effect on Ethiopian society is thought to be of dubious value.

what can be done locally using existing resources and more efficient use of aid? REFORM!

The Adam Smith Institute Blog looks at the Economic Freedom of the World: 2004 Report and notes that economic freedom is the best predictor of foreign investment and of
Prosperity is as possible in Asia and Africa as it is anywhere else in the world. It is not related to natural resources or to climate or to population density but only to better or worse governance.
Crispus in 'How Regulation Fuels African Poverty' quotes the Economist about the World Bank Report 'Doing Business in 2005' - "To register [a business] in Ethiopia, a would-be entrepreneur must deposit the equivalent of 18 years’ average income in a bank account, which is then frozen."

The Heritage Foundation Index of Economic Freedom 2004 places Ethiopia in the 'mostly unfree' category and says that
Ethiopia’s cumbersome bureaucracy deters investment. Much of the economy remains under state control, and the evidence suggests that businesses also must contend with political favoritism.
Ethiomedia reports from a U.N. Economic Commission for Africa Report that 'Ethiopia one four countries ranked last for good governance' adding of Kenya, Ethiopia, Chad, Zimbabwe and Malawi that "there are doubts about the commitment of government agencies to respect and implement the rule of law."

Well spent money in the right setting can achieve wonders. AdamSmithee quotes a World Bank report
"in countries suffering from poor governance, the positive effects of increased spending on education is reduced, and those of higher health spending can be completely negated
and from this IMF working paper
An increase in education spending of 1 percentage point of GDP is associated with 3 more years of schooling on average and a total increase in growth of 1.4 percentage points in 15 years.

Similarly, an increase in health spending of 1 percentage point of GDP is associated with an increase of 0.6 percentage points in the under-5 child survival rate and a rise of 0.5 percentage point in annual per capita GDP growth."Even better, "there are substantial differences in the effects of social spending on social indicators and growth among different country groups. The positive effects are the highest in low-income countries and sub-Saharan Africa.
Even small projects such as building local bridges can have profound economic impact with very small investments.

development can't be separated from the right institutions, including political ones, no matter how much money is spent

There are particularly negative consequences to the survival and development of accountable and democratic economic and political relations between the rulers and the ruled. For example, government policy is responsible for recurrent starvation but as long as foreigners will feed the people and the victims have no political power, what does it matter to unrepresentative rulers what happens?

In the absence of basic policy changes such as private ownership of land instead of the current status of serfdom on state land suffered by all Ethiopians it is clear that the cycle of famine will continue indefinitely. The aid dependent economy will continue to underperform in other areas as well, including the growth that is dependent on government spending.

Essentially, current levels of aid in the absence of democratic or even traditional accountability has allowed the country's rulers to be entirely divorced from the consequences of their policies.

What is needed to make Africa and Ethiopia survive and then prosper are native institutions whose potential is untapped and that remain so because of ill considerd aid. It is a tragic that bad government and aid donors have made themselves partners.

Actually, one can wonder if the aid donors could do better even if they wanted to because the country's own rulers have goals often entirely seperate from the interests of the population. Development is not all about money and an African Marshall Plan might indeed be a final catastrophe.

There are no substitutes for Doing the Right Thing. After that, MDG or near-MDG levels of aid, properly applied, may do more good than harm.