Ethiopia’s crackdown on journalists, opposition ahead of May polls leads to funds cut

Aid in the past 5 years helped Ethiopia reduce child mortality by nearly 70% and introduce social welfare for 8 million of its poorest people.

THE UK ended support for a programme funding public services in Ethiopia partly because of the  Horn of Africa nation’s crackdown on journalists and opposition politicians in the run-up to May elections, the Department for International Development said.

The Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening decided to “accelerate” DfID’s withdrawal from the multi-donor funded Promotion of Basic Services (PBS) in January after making an initial decision in May 2014 to focus more on supporting economic development, according to a statement made to the UK High Court on March 4 and e-mailed to Bloomberg by DfID’s press office two days later.

“This was as a result of ongoing concerns related to civil and political rights at the level of the overall partnership in Ethiopia,” DfID told the court. “And in particular recent trends on civil and political rights in relation to freedom of expression and electoral competition, and continued concerns about the accountability of the security services.”

Ethiopia will hold parliamentary elections on May 24. Rights groups including Amnesty International and donors such as the US have criticized Ethiopia’s government for criminalizing dissent using a 2009 anti-terrorism law. Ethiopian officials say cases against the media and political activists haven’t infringed on constitutionally protected civil rights.

Ethiopian State Minister of Communications Shimeles Kemal wasn’t available to comment when contacted on Tuesday.

Resettlement plan

The DfID statement was an explanation to an Ethiopian plaintiff, identified only as Mr. O, about why the organisation ended its support for PBS on January 6. He has now dropped his complaint that DfID funded an allegedly abusive resettlement plan in the western Gambella region through PBS.

DfID planned to donate 368 million pounds ($554 million) to Ethiopia this year, part of a 1.33 billion-pound five-year package announced in 2010 that made it the single largest recipient of British assistance. Aid in the past five years has helped Ethiopia reduce child mortality by two-thirds and introduce social welfare for 8 million of its poorest people, DfID said.

DfID will re-direct the PBS funds into other health, education and water programmes because of the rights issues and Ethiopia’s increasing ability to fund public services using growing tax revenue, according to the court statement. “Those programmes involve a lesser degree of responsibility and authority of the government of Ethiopia than the PBS,” DfID said.

The World Bank’s $4.9 billion PBS programme runs from 2012 to 2016 and provides Ethiopia with grants to be spent by local authorities on health, education, agriculture, water and roads.

After a two-year investigation, the World Bank’s Inspection Panel said last month that there was an “operational link” between PBS and the government’s resettlement programme in some areas of Gambella.

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