It is perhaps time for the Ethiopian authorities to send a delegation…




It is perhaps time for the Ethiopian authorities to send a delegation of wise men and women from their administration to Phnom Pen, Cambodia, in order to get a lesson or two on how to fend off the impending storm from the World Bank’s Board of Directors, gossip advises. Very soon – September this year, to be precise – the Board of Directors will meet to review reports by an investigative panel on allegations of the violation of rights, gossip disclosed.

Three members of the panel were in Addis Abeba a few months ago, although not able to visit the locations where the Administration of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn have committed the alleged abuse of rights in indigenous communities, claims gossip. Nonetheless, they have had their share of tension with authorities on the manner in which regional governments are carrying out resettlements. The Administration accused members of the panel of being biased to the extent of being unable to carry out an impartial investigation on these allegations.

One of the regions – from the four where resettlement is taking place – is Gambella Regional State, which is attempting to relocate over 40,000 families through ‘villagisation’. Staff at the Ministry of Federal Affairs are relatively pleased with the accomplishments of the program, although multilateral organisations, such as the World Bank (WB), never supported the idea of resettlements, according to gossip. Regardless, the government is determined to pursue it, at the same time denying allegations of human rights abuses.

That was what happened in Cambodia, back in 2009.

Its land management and administration project, financed by the WB and thought to have benefited over one million people situated by a lake, was found to be displacing residents without their consent, failing to pay adequate compensation and functioning in the absence of a dispute settlement mechanism. The country office of the WB was found to be complacent in the act of the Cambodian government, for failing to respond to complaints in good time. The result was a decision by the WB to suspend a little over 23 million dollars in aid for the reform and modernisation of land management, which the government was keen to implement.

Unlike Cambodia, where the complaints were filed by NGOs on behalf of the victims, the investigation ongoing in Ethiopia was provoked, a few months ago, after a large group of people from the regional state travelled into Kenya and filed their complaints from there. The WB has a rule that requires investigations to be conducted on complaints lodged by the alleged victims themselves, as a result of projects it is funding.

The WB is one of the donor countries (the Revolutionary Democrats like to call them development partners) that participates in a program developed as a result of the loss of trust between them following the 2005 electoral debacle. A large part of the 3.5 billion dollars in annual aid to Ethiopia comes in the form of protection of basic services (PBS), which simply implies that donors give as much money as in the past, but with policy tools and instruments to account for each penny; although the accountability component never worked as they had first intended, gossip claims.

Interestingly though, the WB’s country office and its officials – who have grown hypersensitive to how the government feels and are determined to restore the relationship severed by Ken Ohashi, the former country director – are subject of the panel’s investigation, thus restricted from speaking out, gossip disclosed. They will likely face as much wrath from the board as the government, claims gossip.

The objective that will be difficult for the panel to succeed in is the establishment of a link to the board, between the regional officials executing the resettlement program and those whose salaries are paid through the PBS program, claims gossip. It will be a daunting task, because the issue will be not whether the government has displaced people involuntarily. It will rather be whether the WB’s fund was used in any way as part of this situation, claims gossip. If that is the case, the consequences for the Ethiopian government may not stop at withdrawing from the PBS, but could well be far more dire, gossip warns.



Published on June 16, 2013 [ Vol 13 ,No 685]


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