A single party (Front), known as the TPLF has been fully in control of the country since 1991 after seizing power by violent means. In the last 26 years of its repressive rule, the TPLF regime has never been willing to create a conducive atmosphere for fruitful engagement and a genuine political dialogue with all stakeholders in the country. This blog is mainly focused on raising awareness, driving change and creating impact for the realization of a genuine multiparty democracy in Ethiopia.
Monday, April 11, 2016
USAID and Famine in Ethiopia: What Does Gayle E. Smith Have to Say?
Author’s Note: The following is a true
and correct copy of my letter to USAID Administrator Gayle E. Smith dated March
16, 2016, and the response I received from T.C.
Cooper, Assistant Administrator, USAID Bureau for Legislative and Public
Affairs dated April 7, 2016..
My letter questions recent
statements made by Ms. Smith regarding the famine in Ethiopia and solicits
factual and policy clarifications.
letter is non-responsive to my inquiries and ignores specific factual and
policy issues I have raised with the Administrator.
It is a matter
of public record that I have fiercely opposed Ms. Smith’s confirmation to
become USAID Administrator. But as a true-blue constitutionalist, I
acknowledge and respect the Senate’s vote to confirm Ms. Smith despite my
My inquiry letter is guided purely by my concerns as an
American citizen and taxpayer, and not by any residual personal animus from the
In one of my first commentaries opposing Ms.
Smith’s confirmation, I promised, “We will use every legal
means available to us under American law to question Smith’s official actions
and decisions…” The fundamental purpose of my inquiry letter is to hold USAID
accountable in its use of American tax dollars in a country whose “government”
has a proven history of “using aid as a
weapon of oppression” and as an insidious tool of corruption.
Ms. Gayle E.
United States Agency for International Development
1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20523
By U.S. Mail Certified
I am writing to follow up on your March 3,
2016 interview with James Kirby in
which you discussed “new measures” aimed at addressing the “drought” in
Before I get
into the gravamen of my letter and in the interest of full disclosure, I should
like to state at the outset that I am one of the individuals who fiercely
opposed your appointment to head USAID.
I came out against your confirmation in my op-ed
in The Hill on May 12, 2015.
to your confirmation was based on three factors. First, I believe your record
in promoting and supporting democracy, freedom and human rights in Africa is
poor. Second, I believe your unwavering support for African dictators for the
past three decades has been detrimental to the welfare of Africans.
Third, I disagree with your approach to U.S. foreign policy in Africa, which I
believe treats Africans as welfare aid recipients who must be perpetually
tethered to the pockets of hard working American tax payers.
I am making
the foregoing disclosures not to rehash my past opposition, but to
contextualize the instant inquiry letter.
interview with John Kirby on March 3, 2016 concerning “what USAID is doing to
mitigate the effects of drought in Ethiopia”, you made a number of observations
which surprised, confused and bewildered me.
First, in your interview comments, you
appeared to strongly suggest that the current “drought” in Ethiopia is solely
the result of “this phenomenon called El Nino, which is striking hard at a
number of parts of the world, nowhere harder than in Ethiopia.”
I found your
remark quite jarring as it suggests that Ethiopia is being singled out and
struck harder than any other country on the planet as a manifestation of divine
curse and wrath.
I trembled as
I contemplated your remark and the possibility that the Black Horseman of the
Apocalypse has been sent to visit Ethiopia on a divine mission of retribution
not meted out to any other country.
Why is “El
Nino” “striking Ethiopia harder than any other country” on the planet?
your remarks you mentioned absolutely nothing about the role of poor
governance, lack of planning and organization by the ruling regime in Ethiopia
as even a partial proximate or actual cause for the “drought”. You also made no
mention of the manifestly poor response to the human costs of the drought
despite advanced warning by your own Famine Early Warning System. Do you
believe that poor governance and planning are at least aggravating factors in
the causation, spread and/or persistence of the current “drought” in Ethiopia?
Has your agency inquired and come to any conclusions concerning the fact
that the absence of good governance, bureaucratic incompetence and corruption
in the ruling regime in Ethiopia have contributed to the “drought” or consequences
of the “drought”?
stated that the “United States has, to date, provided over $500 million” and
“deploy[ed] what [is] call[ed] a disaster assistance response team.” You also
indicated the U.S. is “prepared to look at more” than $500 million.
The sum of
USD$500 million is undoubtedly a considerable amount of money. As an American
taxpayer, I feel the sting of such generous alms-giving.
My concern has
to do with corruption in the expenditure of the $500 million. As you may be
aware, the ruling regime in Ethiopia has been accused of misappropriating,
stealing and converting humanitarian assistance for political purposes (e.g.
buy votes) and corruption.
I refer to Human Right Watch’s report, “Ethiopia: Aid as a
Weapon”. That report documents, “Ethiopia’s repressive government has put
foreign aid to a sinister purpose, with officials in Ethiopia’s ruling party
using their power to give or deny financial assistance to citizens based on
their political affiliation.”
I believe you may also be aware of the conclusions
of the USAID’s Office of Inspector General which concluded (p. 26, also Appendix
… [W]we could
not determine the extent of that contribution because of weaknesses in the
mission’s performance management and reporting system. Moreover, the audit
could not determine whether the results reported in USAID/Ethiopia’s
performance plan and report were valid, because mission staff could neither
explain how the results had been derived nor provide support for those reported
safeguards, if any, are in place to ensure the ruling regime will not put any
of the $500 million to political purposes?
accountability processes are in place to ensure the prevention of corruption in
the administration of the aforementioned assistance in Ethiopia? How much of
the $500 million is provided to the ruling regime in Ethiopia in the form of
discretionary or non-discretionary expenditures?
Fourth, I am
completely shocked by your remark, “You get into a worst-case scenario if
they’re forced to sell their land or abandon their land for temporary
With all due
respect, are you aware that the “government” owns all land in Ethiopia? Are you
aware that Ethiopian farmers cannot sell the land by law? Is it possible you
may have confused Ethiopia with some other country where full private ownership
in land is permitted?
Fifth, as you
may be aware, “land-grabbing” facilitated by the ruling regime has been alleged
as the principal cause of recent uprising throughout the country. For a number
of years, various informed commentators have suggested that the “government[‘s]
leasing [of] fertile land to foreign investors” is partially to blame for
famine and food insecurity in the country. What do you believe to be the
consequences of foreign investors leasing large swathes of fertile land on
Ethiopia’s food sufficiency and mitigation of food deficits? Do you believe
there is any causal relationship between landlessness and the incidence and
severity of famine in Ethiopia?
stated, “We are moving earlier in this case because we have found that there is
real alignment between donors, NGOs, the government, and UN agencies that if we
move very, very, very quickly, we can avert the worst impacts of this drought.”
What exactly is the “real alignment” between donors and the other elements of
the humanitarian communities? Was it the absence of “real alignment” between
donors, NGO’s, etc., in the past which has undermined rapid response to “avert
the worst impact of droughts”?
stated that the “[Ethiopian] government has actually put forth a fair amount of
money. As I recall – and don’t quote me on this; I think you should ask them
for the number – they were, I think 350, 400 – [Interviewer: 1.2 billion is
what they said.] No, no, no. Well, maybe. Maybe. That may be their number. I’m
aware of the last announcement they made when I was there, which was
significant. I think what is significant here is the government is responding
and they are putting money into the mix and doing their equivalent of kind of
an emergency request and adding money to the budget. But I would refer to them
for the exact numbers.”
You added, “I
think what is significant here is the government is responding and they are
putting money into the mix and doing their equivalent of kind of an emergency
request and adding money to the budget.”
I should be
glad to be corrected but the Ethiopian “government” has made no public
statement regarding its contribution of “1.2 billion” “into the mix”. Is that
$1.2 billion USD, Ethiopian birr or some other currency?
The “Ethiopian National Risk Management
Coordination Commission” in December 2015 announced that “1.2 billion
USD is required to cope with the current drought that affected over 10 million
around the “1.2 billion” figure without empirical support could seriously
mislead the Ethiopian public and ultimately undermine the credibility of USAID.
It may be helpful if USAID were to issue a clarification on this issue.
the core question is exactly how much money in USD or birr the Ethiopian
“government” is putting “into the mix and doing their equivalent of kind of an
emergency request”. Could you share that piece of information?
Eight, I am
shocked by your statement: “Now, I don’t want to underestimate the fact that
it’s already having impact. There have been losses to livestock. There are
signs and growing signs of malnutrition. We are at risk of poor farmers
invoking coping mechanisms and thus becoming poorer and more vulnerable over
time. But again, the important thing here is this is almost an act of emergency
stated, “Because, as you all know very well, what too often happens is we wait
until the newspaper and the televisions are littered with images of starving
children. In this case, there is a great deal of human suffering now, but we
think it’s more prudent to get ahead of it.”
strongly suggests the only “losses” to date are livestock.
Media reports are currently
headlining, “Ethiopia hit by worst drought in five decades”.
well-established that in the 1984-85 “drought” 32 years ago hundreds of
thousands of people died as a result of famine.
It is also
established that in the 1973-74 “drought” 42 years ago, hundreds of thousands
of people died as a result of famine.
completely bewildered by your exclusive reference to livestock “losses” and not
even mention any losses of human life in Ethiopia in 2016 when Ethiopia is hit
by the “worst drought in five decades”.
surveyed for human losses in the current “drought”? If so, what are the losses
in human life?
stated in your interview that, “We are challenging the world not just to
respond to human suffering, but to respond quickly enough to prevent something
Pardon me for
being confused. What could be “something worse” than the “worst drought in 50
years”? What could be worse than the “biblical famine” of 1973-74 or the
cataclysmic famine of 1984-85?
Do you believe
you have a moral obligation to tell the Ethiopian people that there is
“something worse” than the “worst drought in 50 years” possibly in store for
them in 2016?
Tenth, in your
interview you also touted the “considerable progress [in Ethiopia] of something
called the Productive Safety Net Program… where through harvesting small
amounts of water that can be used for livestock for people and for agriculture
they can build a buffer so that when people face things like drought…”
encouraged by your remark that “We and our partners always have in place robust
monitoring systems to make sure that it gets where it needs to go.”
As you may be aware, Human Rights Watch and others
have reported (pp. 75-78) that the
Development Assistance Group, of which USAID is a part, has resorted to willful
ignorance to well-founded allegations of “politicization” of the Productive
Safety Net Program. There are some informants who allege nothing has changed in
the politicization of that program over the past six years.
In your claim
of “considerable progress” in the Productive Safety Net Program, what do you
consider to be “progress” and what are you criteria for measuring
progress? What safeguards are in place to prevent future
“politicization” Productive Safety Net Program by the ruling regime in
Ethiopia? What are the specific “robust monitoring systems” you mentioned were
in place “to make sure that it gets where it needs to go”?
stated that “in the case of Ethiopia, we are constantly looking at the numbers
to try to determine are we staying at 10 or are we moving to 11 or are we
getting ahead and moving down. So that’s an iterative process that’s done on a
I take it the
“10” and “11” refer to millions of people “affected by the drought”. Your
comments are not clear to me. Are you suggesting that you have a margin of a
million people to determine if the drought situation is turning into a famine
situation? What is the significance of staying at the 1o million magic number
in quantifying the number of people affected by the “drought”?
I have no
illusions that you will respond to my inquiry given my fierce opposition to
your nomination. By the same token, I would not be surprised if you felt my
inquiry is not made in good faith.
I should like
to suggest that I am not the only person who has questions about your
answers in your recent interview.
Let me assure you that I am writing this letter as
an inquiry from a concerned citizen and a tax payer. I am also writing in the
spirit of vigilant citizen engagement in the democratic process in much the
same way the U.S. Supreme Court explained (p.242) the
“basic purpose of FOIA [which] is to ensure an informed citizenry, vital
to the functioning of a democratic society, needed to check against corruption
and to hold the governors accountable to the governed.”
I do not
believe in political gamesmanship. I do believe in gathering facts to “hold the
governors accountable to the governed.”
I trust you
will accept my declaration that my only purpose in writing this letter is to
make sure that U.S. humanitarian aid is delivered in Ethiopia is put to proper
use and in conformance with applicable U.S. laws.
hope to raise the questions herein with my considerable readership in
Ethiopia and globally.
present your responses to my readers unedited should you find it appropriate to
I shall await
for your responses until April 8, 2016.
G. Mariam, Ph.D., J.D.
Professor and Attorney at Law
Attn: Office of Inspector General
1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20523
Click HERE to read the true
and correct PDF copy of the response to my letter by USAID’s T. Charles Cooper,
 Note: References in the original letter were
provided in footnotes, which have been converted herein into hyperlinks.