Global poverty and post-colonial ‘development agendas’

Paul O’Keeffe

[Global Research] When one thinks of the word ’agenda’ a few obvious meanings may come to mind – a list of things to do, a plan for a meeting, a goal to achieve or perhaps even an ideology. In the context of international development aid an agenda often means something altogether very different – a plan or goal that guides someone’s behaviour and is often not explicitly stated. Development aid agendas do not always reflect the needs and desires of the people they propose to serve. More often than not development agendas serve those who institute and organise them. Be it international development donors or governments who receive billions in aid subsidies, development aid and assistance is hardly ever free from condition or expectation on either the donor or receiver side.

The world of international aid is a multi-trillion dollar exercise with transactions affecting every country on earth. Some give, some receive, some give and receive, but all are involved in aid flows that are ultimately held up as virtuous considerations of man to fellow man. The world has long been used to the cycles of dependency and desperation that these aid flows illustrate. Ethiopia, for example, with its frequent food insecurity issues and prominence as a major receiver of international aid is perhaps the most perfect example of aid desperation and dependency. In 2011 alone Ethiopia received $3.6 billion in Overseas Development Aid (ODA)[1] . This enormous figure represents over half of the Ethiopian regime’s annual revenue. With the international community’s growing concerns for security and economic interests in the Horn of Africa it is not difficult to imagine how this ODA necessitates a certain amount of condition or expectation for the Ethiopian regime. It is, after all, somewhat unrealistic to expect international donors to hand over vast amounts of money to a regime that neither fits the neat description of sympathetic governance nor reflects the tenets of democracy.

A pragmatic view of the complexities of handing over millions of Dollars, Euros, Pounds or Renminbi might even posit that development aid should never be without condition. Perhaps it shouldn’t. For example, if a country like Uganda continues to give oxygen to a ferocious anti-homosexual lobby then its ability to receive development aid may be seriously compromised by its donor partners. The diplomatic and international donor furore that erupted in response to the Ugandan ‘anti-gay’ bill[2] which was first proposed to the parliament in 2009 (the bill proposes the death penalty for some same-sex acts and criminalises others) and is still before parliament has highlighted the moral leverage that ODA can play in promoting human rights. Threats and petitions to reduce or withdraw aid from Uganda have largely been credited with halting Uganda’s fervour in passing the bill thus far (the United Kingdom and the United States have both threatened to cut aid to Uganda if it passed the bill). These threats and petitions from major donors have largely been met in Uganda with the rancorous response that the West is trying to impose a “gay agenda” on Africa.

If by ‘agenda’ Uganda means a position that promotes the human rights of people who are homosexual then it is very difficult to argue that the international donor community is not justified in using its financial prowess to resist such human rights abuses. However, despite its use of such leverage, the question arises as to why the West fails miserably at propagating its ‘gay agenda’ in countries such as Russia and Saudi Arabia where similar human rights abuses are codified in law. A similar question can be posed as to why Western governments and donor agencies would supply a country such as Ethiopia, with its record of human rights abuses[3], with enough money to continue functioning – business as usual? Evidently agendas are not uniform, but instead are situation and country specific. Everybody has an agenda but what matters is the power-outcome dynamic that governs the particular agenda.

With regards to ODA in Ethiopia, to even begin to understand the agendas in play one has to look at the Ethiopian regime’s most ostensible economic development raison d’être – utilising the country’s vast agricultural potential to become a middle income country by 2025. Under the so-called Agricultural Development Led Industrialisation (ADLI) programme[4] the regime purports to elevate the vast amount of the country’s population out of grinding poverty in just over a decade. A potential feat that has everyone from the EU Commission to USAID dancing in the bleachers. Never mind that Ethiopia suffers catastrophically from a cycle of food insecurity, famine and dependency and is consistently languishes in the lower echelons of the UNDP’s Human Development Index[5] (currently 173rd out of 187 countries and territories around the world), the World Bank[6] approved ADLI is supposedly saving the day. When everything appears to be going to plan a blind eye is easily turned to the realities that stifle the lives of millions. It is far easier for a non-critical West to accept and fund the ostensible agenda of lifting millions out of poverty rather than the less palatable one of maintaining an unjust regime’s vice-like grip on power and control as long as its security and economic interests are upheld.

The interplay between development agendas, the regime and its tightening stranglehold on Ethiopian society permeates most areas of life in Ethiopia. Higher education development is one example of how the development agenda is being used to stead fasten the regime’s hold over the country. In the last 15 years the country has gone from having 2 federal universities to 31, serving more than 90,000 new enrollments annually.

While this number is still small for a country of its size (it represents only 3% of the relevant cohort as opposed to 6% in the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa) the rapid expansion of universities across the country has left many questioning the motivation behind a sudden investment (40% of the total education budget goes on higher education) in higher education development. On the one hand the regime has touted higher education as a means to serve the growing need for qualified and competent workers who can facilitate its desire to reach the status of a middle income country. A satisfying explanation for those who green light the billions that are transferred to the regime annually. On the other hand the Ethiopian higher education system is frequently admonished by critics of the regime as aiding and abetting its stranglehold on Ethiopian society by creating a new layer of loyal party elites, locking education attainment into regime membership and using the lecture hall as a podium for its own propaganda. This is one agenda that doesn’t fit well with the Western cooperation and development narrative used to justify huge transfers of funds into the regime’s coffers.

Another agenda that doesn’t fit so well with development narratives, but one that is no less easy to countenance, is that of the international agri-biotech industry and its influence on development aid. The nexus between the huge financial interests of companies such as Monsanto and development aid has seen greater emphasis on agri-biotech solutions for Ethiopia’s chronic food insecurity issues being placed on agriculture development initiatives in recent years. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for example, provides millions towards ‘improving’ Ethiopia’s agricultural industry, most notably through its cooperation with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)[7].

Agra is a partnership organisation whose members include DFID, The Rockefeller Foundation, The International Development Research Centre, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, the African Union’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development, the Association for European Parliamentarians for Africa and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It receives funding from governments and organisations around the world, including USAID, DFID, SIDA, and DANIDA to name a few[8].

AGRA aims ‘to achieve a food secure and prosperous Africa through the promotion of rapid, sustainable agricultural growth based on smallholder farmer’. While such an agenda is commendable the organisation’s connection with Monsanto, a company that has a long history of locking farmers into commercial relations which require them to buy their patented seeds and use their chemicals in order to grow their crops, is less commendable. In 2010 the Gates Foundation purchased $23 million worth of shares in Monsanto. The Gates foundation, in what many would suspect as a cynical public relations exercise to try to separate itself from the murky reputation of Monsanto, has tried to distance itself by saying that its philanthropic and business arms don’t influence each other. One has to wonder though as to what extent this unholy alliance does not influence each other’s agendas and how much of this is about profit making rather than philanthropy.

Taking into account the prominence of the agri-biotech industry in global agriculture and its closeness to policy makers (as evidenced in confidential cables leaked by Wikileaks[9]which showed that the United States was vehemently against the Ethiopian Biosaftey Proclamation[10] and lobbied to scrap it) it is clear that the connection between the agri-biotech industry and development goes further than a non-influential relationship. Increasingly higher education is the vehicle used to facilitate this relationship. Western agri-biotechs and ODA agencies are heavily involved in funding academic endeavours at Ethiopian universities which aim to improve food security and achieve the ADLI agenda of middle income status. On the more benevolent side ODA agencies such as SIDA and Irish Aid fund sustainable bio-resource programmes at various Ethiopian universities (SIDA funds the Bio-resources Innovations Network for Eastern Africa Development programmewhich is partnered with Addis Ababa University and Hawassa University and Irish Aid Funds the Potato Centre of Excellence partnered with Arba Minch University). On the other side organisations such as AGRA, with its connection to Monsanto through one of its main funders is heavily involved with agricultural projects at Haramaya University and the Ethiopian Institute for Agricultural Research[11]. Considering what is available openly on these organisations websites it doesn’t take your inner conspiracy theorist to connect the massive agri-biotech industry’s agenda to Ethiopia’s ADLI programme.

The development narrative may not sit so easily with the commercial agendas of big business but it is there for anyone to see. Governments and development agencies may be reluctant to admit the full extent of their development agendas for fear that their commercial and security interests may be compromised. Should this even matter when at the end of the day ordinary peoples’ lives are improving? Morality aside, it probably shouldn’t if indeed this is so. In Ethiopia’s case the evidence for this improvement is marginal. It is true that fewer people are dying from preventable famine, just as it is true that Ethiopia has the dubious honour of having the fastest growing rate of dollar millionaires per capita in Africa[12].

In excess of 35 million Ethiopians still live in abject poverty subsisting on less that $2 a day while a tiny fraction of the country’s 85 million people has become excessively rich. As more and more ODA is pumped into the country Ethiopia’s HDI rank hasn’t improved (in fact it has gone from 169th in the world to 173rd in the last decade), journalists, academics and opposition figures are still jailed for speaking out against the regime, ethnic minorities such as the Oromo are discriminated against and forced off their lands, corruption and human rights abuses are still rife. Less people may be dying but are ordinary peoples’ lives improving at a rate that warrants the West to turn a blind eye to the crimes of those in power? It may suit certain agendas to do so but it does a massive disservice to ordinary Ethiopians.

Paul O’Keeffe is a doctoral research fellow at Sapienza University of Rome


[1] OECD DAC Statistics Ethiopia 2011

[2] Human Rights Watch Uganda Country Report 2013

[3] Human Rights Watch Ethiopia World Report 2013

[4] Ethiopian Government Portal ADLI

[5] UNDP’s Human Development Index

[6] World Bank Ethiopia Cooperation

[7] AGRA in Ethiopia –

[8] List of Donors to AGRA

[9] Wikileaks Cables on Biosaftey Proclamation

[10] Ethiopian Environmental Protection Authority’s Biosafety Proclamation

[11] AGRA Funded Academic Programmes

[12]Ethiopia hailed as ‘African lion’ with fastest creation of millionaires.

Copyright © 2013 Global ResearchDr. Ismail Salami

In his refusal to sign the Afghan-US security pact which would enable some US troops to stay in Afghanistan after 2014, Afghan President Hamid Karzai is signaling a clear message to the United States: Afghanistan does not need US troops on its ground any more.

Unlike the US claim that the presence of its troops is meant to safeguard security and safety in the country, Karzai is manifestly no longer capable of bringing himself to envisage a safe country with American boots at its doorsteps. On the contrary, in the presence of US troops lingers an overriding sense of insecurity which has cast its phantasmagorical dark shadows over the entire region.

The NATO now has some 84,000 troops in Afghanistan, the majority American. In a tone which clearly sought to underestimate the authority of the Afghan President, US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday that Afghanistan’s defense minister or government could instead sign the pact.

The controversial Bilateral Security Pact will determine how many US troops can stay in Afghanistan after the planned withdrawal of foreign forces at the end of 2014. Further to that, it will give legal immunity to American soldiers who remain in Afghanistan, an issue which has become a sticking point.

On November 19, Afghan President Hamid Karzai rejected a key provision of the pact which allowed the US forces to enter homes and said it was an act of aggression.

Besides, US troops in Afghanistan are disrupting order in the country as they interfere in the affairs of the Afghan police and military forces.

On Sunday, Karzai issued a statement claiming that US-NATO forces were withholding fuel and other material support from their Afghan counterparts in an effort to force him to sign the security agreement.

“This deed is contrary to the prior commitment of America,” Karzai’s statement said. “Afghan forces are facing interruption in conducting of their activities as a result of the cessation of fuel and supportive services.”

“From this moment on, America’s searching of houses, blocking of roads and streets, military operations are over, and our people are free in their country,” he said.

“If Americans raid a house again, then this agreement will not be signed,” he said, with the American ambassador, James B. Cunningham, in the audience.

Karzai has come under severe attacks by many in the US and in the West.

A senior US official has even warned that Afghanistan will eventually lose global support if Karzai keeps contributing to this recalcitrant attitude.

Tom Donilon, Obama’s national security adviser until earlier this year, has said Karzai was “reckless” for risking a situation in which no US or allied troops would remain in his country after next year.

“I think it’s reckless in terms of Afghanistan, and I think it also adversely impacts our ability to plan coherently and comprehensively for post-2014,” Mr. Donilon told ABC News.

In another diatribe on Karzai, Dianne Feinstein, a senior Democratic senator, described the Afghan president as “a cipher.” She said Karzai is “the victim of what thought occurs to him right at the moment based on some anger that he feels about something that may not even be related.”

An ill-founded observation in this regard also comes from Omar Samad, former Afghanistan ambassador to France (2009-2011) and to Canada (2004-2009) and spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry (2002-2004). In his article titled: Be patient, the Afghans are fed up with Karzai which he has penned for CNN, he argues, “What lies at the heart of his aggressive posturing is the future of his family’s political and financial interests after his second term ends in 2014. That strategy has also been markedly shaped by 12 long and strenuous years of Machiavellian exploits, insecurity and frustration with his Western backers.”

Certainly Samad has been exposed to frequent political rote learning by the Westerners. And he wishes to hammer home an idea which hardly fits into any logical argumentation.

In other words, the only reason he sees behind Karzai’s opposition to the security pact is purely personal rather than anything beyond.

Karzai who was even awarded an honorary knighthood by the British Queen at Windsor Castle is no longer an asset, a friend as he now stands in the way of the very pivotal forces which used to prop him up.

The deferment in signing the pact on the part of Afghan President has naturally frayed Washington’s nerves and exhausted their patience. No doubt, the pact is of utmost significance to the US as it guarantees the success of any future military or intelligence operations in the region. That is why Iran has responded negatively to the pact. On Sunday, Iranian Foreign Ministry said Iran does not believe the security deal will prove beneficial to the Afghan government and nation.

The pact, if signed, will allow the US to maintain their nine permanent military bases in Afghanistan, which borders on China, Pakistan, Iran and the former Soviet republics of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

As the situation stands, pressure is piling up on the weakened Afghan government and the Americans apparently seek something more than a sheer presence in the war-weary country. Viewed as an American blank check, the agreement can well serve long-term military and intelligence purposes in the region.

Copyright © 2013 Global Research