Wednesday, February 22
lies, damn lies & statistics
There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.
Mark Twain (or Benjamin Disraeli) said this a long time ago but they could have been talking about Meles Inc. today.
Federal Police Anti-Terrorism Taskforce
Wasn't Axel Foley on one of those?
In the last half of the post How About Chinese? we discussed the illusions revolving around Chinese aid, investment and trade in Africa and Ethiopia in particular. Actually, unless Ethiopia has enough oil found in the near future to justify a multi-billion dollar investment in pipelines over Ethiopia's rough terrain and pumping & loading facilities in a friendly port there is no reason for China to keep Meles Inc. afloat. The EU and the US may have billions in Euros and Dollars to spare but China can't afford to and wouldn't bother to throw big money around for the sake of 'third world solidarity'.
China may loan enough money so that repayment will bankrupt Ethiopia for further generations like Soviet arms shipments to the Dergue did before they were largely forgiven, but since the Chinese actually want to be paid back and since absent oil they have no grand strategic design in Ethiopia - loans won't be enough either. Enough money may get through for the functioning of a skeletal vampire government like Mugabe but remember that Ethiopia is much bigger, far more complex and much higher maintenance than Zimbabwe.
The China illusion is important to the government because it has embraced the notion that Ethiopians are the enemy and best kept down while foreign 'development partners' are far more reliable. The Chinese are supposed to be the magical foreigners who don't care how many Ethiopians that the Ethiopian government kills.
Think about that repugnant concept once more. Ethiopia's government is proud to have found someone to beg from who doesn't care how many Ethiopians are killed. That is what Ethiopia has been reduced to by Meles Inc.
Playing hard to get
Another set of illusions being projected by the government has to do with how allegedly well the economy is doing under Meles Inc. ownership and how aid is therefore not a big deal. This is all a rather silly strategy in the end. The politburo knows it needs aid since they abandoned actual policies to bring about development in exchange for the greater personal security of permanent beggar status.
So to keep getting aid they have decided to use reverse psychology on aid donors / critics by pretending that they don't really need the aid anyway. 'Playing hard to get' is part of the Chinese dreams being floated as much as claims of high Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).
This article from the L.A. Times "Africa's 'new generation' linked to old" (link from Ethiomedia) has the requisite degree of mature cynicism about despots like Meles. Just a year ago such an article would have been totally worshipful of Meles but this one still manages to play along with government talking points
Throughout the decade that followed, [Meles] spoke of decentralizing power, building a strong parliament and restoring the economy. Last year, Ethiopia, one of the world's poorest nations, attracted $1 billion in foreign investment, officials said.From the first part of the article one has the impression that Meles talked about that good stuff but did not deliver then the reader is presented with the $1 billion FDI figure for one year and the conclusion that Meles is at least doing something right.
It all depends on what one means by 'officials'. Ethiopian government officials, journalists who trust them and international experts / bureaucrats who parrot them are always talking in such rosy terms. The government is no surprise as the origin of lies. The message is that instead of creating a variation on communist kleptocratic crony vampire states that they are doing some good and deserve support.
The journalists are often just too lazy to do an appropritate Google search. The international types have a vested interest in the lies of the Ethiopian government. Imagine if you will - billions have been spent based on the word of all those Lords of Poverty while the per capita food production, GNP and FDI has been shrinking.
They have to pretend things are good or government's and donors will back off of giving aid and their own private empires of Ethiopian poverty will be shaken up. They figure that as long as no one is looking too closely and Ethiopians still need aid (never mind that the government policy's keep them poor) then some 'white lies' every now and then hurt no one.
When you look at any organization of humans, oh dear reader of ethiopundit, you must do so with an eye for what is really at stake. No we aren't talking conspiracy theory absurdities here like the familiar 'America / the British / Europe want to keep Ethiopia down and Meles is their instrument because they are mad about our long history / Adwa / the Soviet alliance etc.'
What we are talking about is any group from a volunteer Fire Department in rural New England to a government agency in Brussels onto a group of humanitarian internationalists in Addis. All of those structures given time take on an evolutionary imperative to survive and prosper.
If a law was passed to study if American homes had enough chairs a law would eventually be passed to ensure that all American homes have enough chairs. You should be certain that within years there would be a massive chair shortage caused by government interference, regulations and politics. It would all be on the news every night requiring massive taxes to finance a chair bureaucracy and for grants to related 'chair issue' special interest groups. All going on about the Chair Crisis that probably did not exist to begin with.
If billions can be wasted in America that way what possible chance does Ethiopia have when faced with the same mentality as its only lifeline?
The bureacracies and aid groups dealing with Ethiopia are little different. They know full well that the reason Ethiopia needs aid is because everything that made their own societies wealthy is totally absent from Ethiopia beyond rhetoric. But if they say so they are out of a job and have no purpose anywhere else either. Hell - they might actually have to go back to Ohio and Bavaria to make a living for a change.
So it is easier to go along and in fact develop a symbiotic relationship with a goverment that they all know is bad. Sharing the same lies everyone gets what they want. At least everyone who matters. The bureaucrats get to be important and live like the colonial viceroys of ages past in Ethiopia while those in donor countries carve out their own special aid niches to guard and nurture. The government gets to be taken seriously and gets direct aid and a chance to siphon of vast funds.
Everyone gets to pretend that building a few things here and there is doing wonders for Ethiopians when what they really need - institutions and accountability in a new social contract is something that they can never have. It is a delicate dance in some ways all around.
The Lords of Poverty have to acknowledge that the country is poor and needing billions without sayin why it is poor. The government balances on the collective Ethiopian neck while pretending to be all about the free market and honest.
Here is what a qick Google search turned up on the subject of FDI in Ethiopia:
-World Bank Group FDI for 2000 $135 million and for 2003 &60 million
-United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (PDF) FDI for 2000 $135 million and for 2002 $75 million
--UNCTAD seems delighted that from 2001 to 2003 FDI tripled from $25 to $75 million
A large part of all of this comes from one very generous source. Indeed the investment in the Sheraton Hotel alone accounts for more than FIVE YEARS worth of all FDI into Ethiopia since 1991. Actually, the $135 million dollar figure for 2000 may be based on when the light fixtures or the linens for the Sheraton Hotel were delivered.
Ethiopia has one of the lowest rates of FDI on the planet based on GNP or based on per capita figures. Simply put, there are few places on earth that people have so little desire to invest in. We simply don't believe that from $60 million in 2003 that the FDI flow increased to $1,000 million (1 billion) in 2005 over a period of two years.
That massive increase in FDI was supposed to be happening during the same year that the government was massacring people in the streets, warning that everyone around it was guilty of terrorism, starting civil war and ethnic genocide, when tourism was even lower than usual and a tour bus had been held at gunpoint, when tens of thousands were under arrest and so many killed ...
... and to a country where the government / party literally owned all the land and the whole economy. None of the above inspires confidence from investors who after all aren't in it for charity but to make money. In Cognitive Dissonance we tell of one official who actually said that " He sees [diaspora] investors as interested in financial gain rather than the good of Ethiopia."
The only people who actually SEND money into a ridiculous economy and situation like that manufactured by Meles Inc. are Ethiopians abroad who feel immense emotional ties or Western taxpayers who do so involuntarily through their governments and various aid bureaucracies.
The L.A. Times article and so many others take the word of the Ethiopian government and repeat absurdities like $1 billion FDI in one year so it bears repetition on the part of those interested in the truth to point out the truth.
Like every other aspect of reality this is all about lies and what will distract critics and keep the government with its hands around Ethiopian necks and deep in piles of cash for another day.
One day of lies and spilling blood at a time.
double digit growth and more
Another favorite set of lies that all like to print is that the economy grew by 'x percent' last year, this year or next year. Usually since 1991 this has been a double digit figure. In reality countries that grow at that rate are in the midst of economic revolutions like South Korea or China experienced at some point.
Ethiopia has grown progressively poorer since 1991 and the very low standards set by Mengistu. Per capita income has fallen steadily to a point where it is less than one-quarter of what it was in the mid 1970s. National income measured by GNP is less than half of what it was then. Both continue to fall in real terms every year.
The only difference has been a massive infusion of aid that keeps the whole creaky mess stumbling along as Meles Inc. strips more and more of the meat from the bones of the national economy having finished off all remaining fat. Aid and remittances from Ethiopians abroad who actually live in countries where wealth can be created have given a patina of gloss to Addis Ababa.
On the agricultural front there are regular official announcements about bumper crops always a few weeks before calls for massive aid lest X number of millions die. Chronic malnutrition and regular death have become Ethiopian traditions rather than tragedies to be noted.
At each stage the usual suspects in the government, international bureaucracies and the media play the same game with each other using the lives of Ethiopians. For them it is a win - win situation. If lies present a good face to the world then everything they are all working so hard for is really working. If reality makes things look bad then they are all needed more than ever.
A meme is
A unit of cultural information, such as a cultural practice or idea, that is transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another.It is actually just a fancy way of saying theme but with the extra emphasis on how deep set or of hidden importance it is, hence the repeated use of the word culture in the definition.
The memes of the government lies are trying to burrow themselves into the collective mind by repetition and by drowning out other voices. By violence in some places and imitation in others. Like the worst lies they are based on what people actually want and universal truths that their reality always denies and corrupts.
Take this story Ethiopian police foil "terrorism" plot - report
Quoting a statement from the Federal Police Anti-Terrorism Taskforce, ENA said security forces had arrested several members of the group and seized a cache of TNT explosives, bombs and small arms.This comes out of the Ethiopian government's "Federal Police Anti-Terrorism Taskforce". Wow that sounds so official and serious that it must all be true right? Try again - even that unit name was made up to impress ferenjis with the illusion that they are dealing with a normal government here that wants to supress bad guys instead of being a collection of them itself.
"The group was planning to launch simultaneous attacks... targeting various government officials, peoples' delegates, public figures as well as private and public institutions," ENA said in a report on its website.
"The clandestine group is linked to the Coalition for Unity and Democracy which it said opted to pursue the path of violence after the May elections," ENA quoted the police as saying.
Police accuse unnamed groups and individuals who live abroad of financing the group, ENA said.
Last month police said several public buildings and hotels in Addis Ababa were damaged by explosive devices planted by unknown people.
CUD officials were not available for comment.
This reminds us of the end of the big action scene in Beverly Hills Cop. Eddie Murphy's Axel Foley has just finished shooting up a mansion without jurisdiction or authority. In a moment as corny and fun as Hollywood has ever had to offer humanity, the formerly straight laced police chief defends the renegade Detroit cop as he explains to his superior that Detective Foley could not be in trouble because he was really part of a "top secret multi-jurisdictional federal-local police task force."
The last bit from the Reuters article would be as hilarious if it wasn't tragic at the same time. "CUD officials were not available for comment" we are told. That would be fine if they weren't all in jail for trumped up treason and genocide, dead, disappeared, in mass detention camps or thoroughly intimidated by threats and the reality of deadly violence. One must wonder if the writer meant this to be funny.
In addition "Police accuse unnamed groups and individuals who live abroad of financing the group". Wow again. It is the vocal diaspora who are doing all this just as they pull all the strings from abroad. You see, as a matter of definition all Ethiopians (at least those within Ak-47 range) love Meles so anyone who doesn't (and who is past AK-47 range or the range of bribes, flattery and threats) is a terrorist or supporter thereof.
So dear reader what should you think? All this covers several fake memes doesn't it? The alleged care for orderly government and society, the violent unrepresentative diaspora, and the link to the main opposition group whose leaders would be dead unless the government feared for its aid fix.
This as propaganda is laughable but Reuters reports it without comment or even the shallowest mental Google search of logic. Are journalists and international news agencies this gullible or do they figure that a place like Ethiopia is such a mess anyway that why should they bother with the truth or critical analysis?
In The Natural Language of Dictatorship we discussed other occasions when the terror or law & order card was used to uncritical attention from the press.
Next time the government will continue to blame its own penchant for violence on Eritreans, the Dergue's revanchists , the Emperor's feudal agents, tribalist Oromos, disloyal Tigrayans, Neftegna Amharas, Rwandan genocide perpetrators, the European Union, the villianous diaspora, Ana Gomez, hooligans, bank robbers or Darth Vader all at the same time or alternatively.
Except for Darth Vader the government has actually blamed all of the above at various points.
Watch for journalists to lap it all up and ask for more. They apparently have no filters for truth and logic when it comes to Ethiopia. The government memes then spread like an epidemic. The best antidote is knowing exactly what they are and developing an internal filter of common sense.
related posts of note
Ethiopians are not poor even by the standards of Biblical suffering and they are not oppressed even by the standards of familiar African dictatorship by accident or fate. It is all about government and policies that many of the posts below investigate in depth.
The authors of these policies are the ones that aid donors and other development partners embraced and continue to value after a decade and a half of economic and social de-evolution masked by tens of billions of aid to one of the most corrupt, poorly governing and brutal governments on earth.
Economic Absurdities details how all accounts of Ethiopia's economic performance must not be considered at face value and that the economy is in fact a stagnant mess utterly dependent of foreign aid and remittances.
Cargo Cult Economics Pretense of freedom and a free market is alive and well in Ethiopia with absolutely no attention given to the institutions and accountability necessary for free and prosperous nations. The whole edifice of the massive money transfer to Swiss banks (aka MDGs) is like the Pacific Cargo Cults based on the idea that prosperity comes from rituals.
Cargo Cult Economics 2 - All About the Benjamins? Development is about more than cash - it is about institutions. In fact any money in the absence of reason and rationality will hurt more than help by breeding corruption and the destruction of needed institutions.
Cargo Cult Economics 3 - Structural Corruption Corrupt and unaccountable party and government owned businesses and monopoly service providers in an effectively single party state do not provide a setting where you can expect freedom and prosperity or accountability.
Cargo Cult Economics 4 - Short Term Memory Recent African history from the era of independence in the late 50s and 60s on is full of the serial discovery of visionary rennaissance leaders that the world has fallen in love but whose policies have only bought tragedy for their people.
Cargo Cult Economics 5 - Cheerleaders and Cargo Cult Economics 6 - Sachs & Violence Intellectuals and academics who give cover and encouragement to third world despots and their bound to fail economic schemes imagine that it is OK for some to live under different rules than they would expect for themselves. That is an example of the vile sentiment of actual romance and purpose that is found by some in other people's suffering.
The World Is Yours Is an introduction to anothers series from numerous sources detailing the essentially corrupt system that Ethiopians suffer under. A system that simultaneously wastes billions in aid dollars and euros while impoverishing millions:. Basically, the Ethiopian government at present is difficult to distinguish from an organized crime network. The World Is Yours II - The Syndicate, The World Is Yours III - The Commission, The World Is Yours IV - "An Offer They Can't Refuse", The World Is Yours V - Capo di tutti Capi
'Zenawinomics' and the Aztec gods, let the ferenjis feed 'em again and let the ferenjis feed 'em take a look at the game of 'bumper crops' and 'looming famine' that is played out regularly with the result that taking care of Ethiopians or even allowing them to take care of themselves has been abandoned in preference for letting aid donors take care of it all.
The Birth of Plenty, Do the Right Thing and Luck and the Idea Trap show exactly how other nations have escaped destitution and tyranny, why Ethiopia as currently governed never will and how such horrible decisions are purposefully made by governments.
On Borrowed Time focuses on the agricultural economy and how all present trends given current policies point downwards. Malthus, Hobbes and the Red Queen looks to the future and further finds that without changes Ethiopia is heading for a horrible appointment with destiny so that a few can remain powerful and rich.
The Politburo Knows Best series looked at the prospects for liberal democracy and found them poor indeed. Almost all of the same factors predict prosperity as well and they have all been abandoned in favor of eternal power for a few. The following provide clues to the ideological undperpinnings of Ethiopia's current suffering and the policies that define it. Basically, the controls provided for below explain why the trade-off was made for eternal beggar status vs actual development.
Politburo Knows Best III - Revolutionary Democracy The national guiding ideology is still Marxist-Leninist-Maoism - so you can assume there aren't great prospects for freedom and prosperity. Since about the time this seminal essay ;-) was posted the government has not mentioned Revolutionary Democracy aloud again but it still defines their world view exactly.
Politburo Knows Best IV - Revolutionary Feudalism There are no rights to own private property whose protection is essential to all prosperity and personal & political rights worldwide throughout any period of history.
Politburo Knows Best V - The Wretched of the Earth Ethiopia's system of tribal divide and rule 'bantustans' has more in common with medieval feudalism than anything modern or decent for humans to live under.
Politburo Knows Best VI - Defending the Revolution An intense system of of control inherited from the Communist Dergue of Mengistu (known in Cuba as 'Committees to Defend the Revolution') exert absolute government control and fear at the lowest (neighborhood or block) level in unseen rural areas (85% of the people) and urban lives as well.