UK aid reaches $300m: Will they ever speak of how much their firms amass in Ethiopia?

 

The Ethiopian Foreign Ministry has posted on its webpage a story titled The UK pledges to continue to support Ethiopia’s development (Nov 19, 2012). As an Ethiopian citizen, I am grateful to the people of the UK for their generous aid.

The only problem I have with this story is the fact that it badly misrepresents the nature of the cooperation between the two countries. It gives the impression that Ethiopia is just on the receiving end and Britain in the habit of dispensing its wealth in largesse, especially in this lean times. This is far from the truth!

Britain does give aid to support Ethiopia’s development. In the meantime, While Ethiopia works on its development problems, the UK gives aid also facilitates opening up the country for British companies to do business and prosper. Whether Ethiopia ensures that it gets the appropriate share of the benefits is the responsibility of the Ethiopians.

Therefore, when I clicked on that story, I was hoping to read some exchanges between officials of the two countries, say about issues in their areas of their cooperation. We do not even know who she met, other than the foreign ministry posting UK embassy or DFID press release on its webpage.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London would not do that. Nor would it allow its webpage to be used like this, no matter how deep the friendship. Therefore, it is disappointing to see that the whole cooperation between Britain and Ethiopia is simply cast to portray how generous the UK is. This is not even in the best interests of the UK.

While receiving foreign official means exchanging views, the relations being two-way traffic. Countries have cooperation in many spheres and the whole purpose of it is to benefit both sides. Interestingly, in receiving DFID’s chief in Ethiopia, there is not a single iteration by her counterpart at the foreign ministry on behalf of Ethiopia!

Let me hope that the new DFID Country Director Melanie Robinson would agree with me that the UK companies, for which this generous aid has widely swung the country open, have benefitted most in these past several years. I am happy they did, so long as the benefits are shared, and both countries have something to be proud of in their cooperation, instead of only Britain becoming proud of seeing Ethiopia year after year as the largest recipient of its aid.

Today, the UK companies are in a wide range of activities in Ethiopia – from mining (potash, gold, oil, etc.,) to manufacturing of lots of products (beers, fine leather, cement etc.), commodity exports, consultancy services to a number of government agencies from finance to road building, education, media, security to government council. All these business activities make huge returns for the UK, without the country even having the opportunity to assess how much it has benefitted.

In reading the DFID director’s interview on Addis Fortune (Nove 11, 2012), I note that on one hand she quotes Prime Minister David Cameron on working toward both development activities and good governance institutions. However, in the course of her interview one senses prioritization, to the extent reiteration of her belief in a vibrant civil society being “an essential part of Ethiopia’s development” is simply a thing that has to be said to the benefit of the gallery.

One thing we all need to revise from experience is the imperative need to be persistent in linking both aspects, lest every effort on which lots of resources and hopes have been invested do not become sandcastles. Ethiopians also loathe being boxed into status of permanent recipient.

    Editor’s Note:

Hereunder is the story, as it appears on the foreign ministry webpage:

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The UK pledges to continue to support Ethiopia’s development (Nov 19, 2012)

The UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) has said the UK will continue its support to help Ethiopia continue its development and expand access to basic services. The Head of DFID in Ethiopia, Melanie Robinson, said that the UK’s development program in Ethiopia was its largest in the world, and the overall UK aid program in Ethiopia was currently running at 300 million pounds, six times larger than it was in 2005. She said UK has been undertaking various development activities to support Ethiopia’s efforts towards lifting citizens from poverty, with an outlay of US$1.3 billion. The UK’s priority areas are helping to expand access to basic services such as health, education, water and agriculture, and last year alone, the UK supported nearly four million people through the Productive Safety Net Program. Ms. Robinson said the UK’s development assistance to Ethiopia was based on the country’s commitment to end poverty, and over the next couple of years she expected 800,000 people to be lifted out of poverty through the development activities assisted by the UK. This support would also enable two million school children to stay in schools and 500,000 mothers to give birth safely in health institutions. She also said nearly nine million more people would benefit from health and safe water facilities during the reported period.