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Economy - Development | Politics | Human rights

"Ethiopia abused aid to bribe voters"

Ethiopian voter and EU election observers at poll station in Addis Ababa

© EU EOM/afrol News
afrol News, 19 October
- Ethiopian authorities are accused of having manipulated their handing out of foreign development aid before this year's elections. Opposition supporters were banned from aid, human rights activists claim.

The New York-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a report published today says it can document Ethiopian government abuse of foreign aid funds in the preparations of its much criticised polls. HRW has become one of the fiercest criticisers of the Ethiopian government.

According to the 105-page HRW report, government was "using development aid to suppress political dissent by conditioning access to essential government programs on support for the ruling party." Local officials had routinely denied government support to opposition supporters and civil society activists, including rural residents in desperate need of food aid, the report adds.

The HRW activists had interviewed more than 200 people in 53 villages across three regions of the country during a six-month investigation in 2009, prior to the May 2010 election. "Farmers described being denied access to agricultural assistance, micro-loans, seeds, and fertilizers because they did not support the ruling party," according to the report.

Rural villagers further had reported to the HRW researchers that many families of opposition members were "barred from participation" in the food-for-work or "safety net" programme, which supports 7 million of Ethiopia's most vulnerable citizens.

HRW holds that the human rights situation in Ethiopia is growing steadily worse, with the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) taking on totalitarian powers.

"The Ethiopian government is routinely using access to aid as a weapon to control people and crush dissent," said HRW analyst Rona Peligal. "If you don't play the ruling party's game, you get shut out. Yet foreign donors are rewarding this behaviour with ever-larger sums of development aid."

"In their eagerness to show progress in Ethiopia, aid officials are shutting their eyes to the repression lurking behind the official statistics," Ms Peligal said. "Donors who finance the Ethiopian state need to wake up to the fact that some of their aid is contributing to human rights abuses."

Ethiopia is one of the world's largest recipients of development aid, more than US$ 3 billion in 2008 alone. The European Union, the US, the UK and Germany are the largest bilateral donors. Ethiopia remains a donors' darling as the country sees record progress in fighting poverty and is a main ally to the West in the unstable Horn region.

The government of Ethiopia holds that HRW is campaigning against the country in general terms. A spokesman said the report the report reflected the "usual lies" against Ethiopia by HRW activists.

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