There is a rather peculiar group based in Addis Abeba known among a few circles…

There is a rather peculiar group based in Addis Abeba known among a few circles as the Donors Assistance Group (DAG). Its palms are wide as its hands are long. As is deducible by its name, it is an exclusive club of Ethiopia`s largest donors; its co-chairs rotate among its 28 members. Currently, it is the head of the Irish Cooperation Agency and the African Development Bank that co-chair the Group, which oversees the funding of an annual 3.8 billion dollars to Ethiopia.

Their heads are not diplomats; but as country directors of their respective cooperation agencies, they are good at exerting influence – they are certainly more resourceful than their brethren from the embassies. The latter can only assist them in having political clout when dealing with officials of their host country. Both do, however, share frustrations when they hit brick walls over controversial issues, gossip noted.

One such controversial subject was back in 2007, in the aftermath of the bloody national elections. DAG members had had enough of the incumbent and wanted to play tough; their message to the government was brief – “business [with them] can`t be as usual”. It was only the UNDP`s Country Director who opposed the subsequent decision to punish the EPRDFites by terminating direct budget support, gossip recalled.

Ironically, their “innovative” programme of protection of basic services (PBS), designed to deprive the government of funds and instead send money directly to beneficiaries, was eventually supported by the government.

A decade later, DAG members appear to be heading towards a potential standoff, although of a lower intensity than at that time. DAG is about to release a rather controversial report, kept confidential up until recently, after a team of seven agencies visited weredas in the South Omo Zone, Southern regional state, in April 2016, gossip disclosed. For they have developed a special interest in this region, various groups representing DAG have visited the place every year, since 2012, gossip reveals.

This is an area where the federal government is planning to develop 175,000ha of sugar estate under the state-owned Ethiopian Sugar Corporation, and provide an additional 75,000ha to private commercials farms. If successful, no less than half a million migrant workers are expected to head to the region from other parts of the country – to the Salamago, Minit Sasha, Mursi, Bodi, Suri Dassanech, Hamer and Nyangatom communities. The population size will explode by 700pc, claims gossip.

The verdict by DAG is damning, gossip disclosed. Dwelling extensively on issues of villagisation, loss of grazing land and the impact of the Omo-Kuraz sugar estate on the livelihood of these communities, the report concludes that the communities there are not providing a fully informed consent when giving up their rights over the land to state sponsored mega projects, claims gossip.

The report discovered that communities in Kara, Nyangatom and Dassanech have failed to cultivate their lands in 2015, either due to the El Nino effect or the termination of water flow due to the Gilgel Gibe III dam, gossip revealed. Last year has passed without any flood, the first in their living memory, thus leaving behind 70pc of the population to be food aid dependent, the highest proportion ever, claims gossip.

Although Ethiopia has a law requiring all state financed projects to have social and environmental impact assessments before launching them, DAG found out that these assessments were conducted a year after sugar development began in Kuraz, gossip disclosed. Even a private commercial farm developing a 10,000ha plot completed the assessment long after its owners started work on the land, according to gossip.

South Omo and communities residing there remain an ideological battleground between a ruling party with leftist bent and a group of donors, which the prior accuse of being neo-liberals with the desire to keep the communities as the subject of touristic amusement, says gossip. The report and its recommendations just about to be made public can only add fuel to the tension between them, claims gossip.

Published on Jul 26,2016 [ Vol 17 ,No 847]



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