No monies from the EU’s flagship Emergency Trust Fund (ETF) for Africa goes to the Ethiopian government or its agencies, the Commission stressed yesterday (6 September), as human rights groups say more than 400 people have been killed in clashes with the government.
The ETF was set up last year, at the Valleta migration summit, in an attempt to mitigate the ‘pull’ factors behind uncontrolled migration from sub-Saharan Africa to Europe, in the wake of the migration crisis.
Ethiopia, with a stable and West-friendly government in the Horn of Africa, is one of the major recipients of the trust fund, which aims to improve life chances and livelihoods in some of the world’s poorest countries.
However, the authoritarian government in Addis Ababa has long been the butt of accusations over its treatment of the Oromia people and their region – which surrounds the capital.
Since November 2015 – when Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker signed the ETF – some 400 people have been killed by Ethiopian government security forces during protests, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch.
Thousands more have been detained.
Amnesty International says over 100 people were killed at a demonstration in early August.
This week, the situation deteriorated further, with the deaths of at least 23 inmates in a fire at a prison believed to be holding detained protestors.
Pictures showed smoke billowing from the jail, but the BBC cited local media reporting the sound of gunfire from the Qilinto prison.
Pressed by EurActiv.com on whether the Commission had a view on the unrest in one of its key partners in sub-Saharan Africa, and whether the ETF contained a mechanism for either reviewing or even suspending payments through the Emergency Trust Fund, a spokesman was quick to point out that no monies were channelled directly through the government in Addis Ababa, or any government agencies.
In an emailed statement later, it added, “As far as the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa is concerned, it is important to know that no funding are decentralised to, or channelled through, the beneficiary countries’ government structures.
“This of course also applies to Ethiopia.”
Ethiopia, which is a close ally of Washington, is surrounded by failed states in the Horn of Africa, such as South Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea. This year it has had to deal with one of its worst droughts in 50 years, worse even than that of the famine of 1984-85, exacerbated by the El Niño weather phenomenon.
However, it has a difficult relationship with major aid agencies and NGOs, some of whom complain privately that operating in the country is dependent on not criticising the government in Addis Ababa.
The government in Addis Ababa, led by Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn, has angrily dismissed the numbers cited by HRW, although admitting people have died in the protests, and blamed “illegal demonstrations and criminal attacks on property” for the unrest.
Desssalegn gave a press briefing on 30th August in which he made it clear that the government had a “responsibility to deal carry out its mandate to maintain law and order.”
“The government would never abrogate its responsibility to maintain peace, law and order. It would not allow the illegal demonstrations, violent clashes or criminal attacks on property that have been disturbing the country to continue,” he added.
Dessalegn stressed that peaceful demonstrations were allowed under the Ethiopian constitution – but must be agreed in time and in advance over location, be peaceful and “avoid disrupting day-to-day public activities or civic engagement.”
The PM also criticised the New York Times and the Financial Times, at length, for recent articles which he claimed romanticised the opposition or downplayed the country’s economic strengths, respectively.
Although no single event seems to have triggered the 10 months of demonstrations in Ethiopia, the Oromo people complained of a plan to expand the capital, Addis Ababa, into their lands, and that they are disenfranchised by a government largely led by the Tigray grouping, from northern Ethiopia.
The cause of the Oromo people hit the headlines worldwide this summer, as Ethiopian runner Feyisa Lilesa crossed the finishing line at the Rio Olympics with his arms crossed in protest, before seeking political asylum abroad.
A spokesman for the Commission said, “The EU follows the human rights situation in Ethiopia very closely.
“Through high-level political contacts, the EU consistently raises concerns with the Ethiopian government.
“The EU also provides specific assistance to support human rights in the country, notably through the EU Civil Society Fund. We firmly believe that the combination of constructive dialogue and targeted development assistance will lead to positive changes in the human rights situation in Ethiopia and in the region.
“Key areas of concern are human rights, peace and stability in the country, as well as irregular migration and displacement.
Recently, the Ethiopian government began a big drive to increase its attraction as a high-end international tourism destination.