Aklog Birara (Dr)
August 4, 2021
“The World and Africa and Color and Democracy” by Dr. W.E. B. Du Bois published by Oxford Press is a source of wisdom for all Black people. It is a groundbreaking treatise of the ravages caused by Western colonialism and imperialism on the Black people of Africa. This political tool of “divide and rule” that pits one ethnic group against another in a cycle that is perpetual, and debilitating is a core Western doctrine. Europeans implanted this doctrine that ensures economic, financial, market and political hegemony for them and deprivation for Black peoples in Africa remains largely intact.
Governments of Western democracies, the global institutions they established to maintain dominance and their massive media operate in synch and seamlessly. This is because they speak from the same script to achieve an end game. They recruit and incentivize country elites that mimic them; and do their bidding through proxy wars. Unbridled loyalty is core. But the reasoning behind are norms and values that are familiar to the international community. They do not say the TPLF is an unabashedly subservient to us.
Instead, if the script is the “rule of law or democratic governance or social and human rights or ethnic cleansing or genocide or rape” the story line is repeated by AP, the BBC, Reuters, CNN or any other Western media and hammered repeatedly to make it authentic and true. You repeat lies repeatedly, these lies become norms. They serve as a basis for policy and decision-making. You remember Iraq and “weapons of mass destruction.” It turned out to be untrue after the damage was done. Iraq is no longer the same state. You can cite Libya and numerous others.
Creating conditions for regime change has a track record.
Falsehoods repeated by international media contribute to instability by emboldening terrorists. This is true regarding Ethiopia. Only recently did the BBC allow a journalist to state the fact that it is the TPLF; and not the Government of Ethiopia that is making it impossible to allow access to humanitarian aid via Afar. Only recently did this same media entertain the truth that the TPLF was a brutal dictatorship that the Ethiopian people ejected from power. Only this time is the notion that the TPLF has now morphed into an insurgency force that is creating havoc and destruction all over Ethiopia.
Despite these revelations, the US Department of State still insists that the way out of the TPLF initiated war and destruction is a “negotiated ceasefire” and some form of transition. Would the US Government negotiate with terrorist groups such as those who caused the 9/11 bombing or the bombing before that in the state of Oklahoma or most recently the insurrection at the US Capitol?
Therefore, I refer to US and EU approaches as hypocritical and self-serving.
Misleading media coverage is a powerful tool in changing regimes. The same thing happened many years ago in Chile. The democratically elected President of Chile was killed and replaced by a military dictator. The reason given was that Allende was a “Communist.” Democracy lost; dictatorship won. I was in college when the CIA murdered the promising and patriotic leader of Zaire, Patrice Lumumba.
Western democracies cultivate enduing relationships with those they trust to do their bidding.
Ethnic and other elites that mimic them are rewarded handsomely. The hard currency they rob from the society is provided a haven. On the other side of the equation, those that try to reform their countries and societies are punished mercilessly by the West. It makes no difference to them whether the culprits commit treason, cause instability and insecurity, destroy infrastructure, recruit, and deploy child soldiers.
If the situation causes permanent war and perpetuates instability and poverty, that is fine by them too. If the number of forcibly displaced people increases dramatically as is the case all over the world today, that is fine too. It has “doubled globally in a decade, to more than 80 million people.” The displaced are someone’s problem if they do not cross the Mediterranean and land in Europe or cross the Rio Grande and move to the USA.
What does the West do?
Let me repeat a thesis I have tried to hammer repeatedly. Whether humanitarian or Official Development Assistance (ODA) aid is simply a business. Europe fortifies its borders so that Syrians and Black Africans do not move in. As compensation, the West announces new forms of humanitarian aid to avert the crisis they created. This way, they respond to two audiences at one time: domestic audiences that vote them into power; and the affected population that has literally no other option.
No amount of humanitarian or ODA will transform Africa’s lagging development. You need to go back to history to understand the core problem. The origin of the treatise that still applies to the entire Africa today is the Berlin Conference of 1884–1885, also known as the Congo Conference or West Africa Conference. The platform dictated by European colonialists not only framed the economic and geopolitical rationale for fragmenting Africa for the sole use and prosperity of Europeans; but it also created international institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF and governance that will make this hegemony permanent. Africa is treated as an extension of the colonial and imperial past.
From the Berlin Conference onwards, trade, foreign direct investment (FDI), developmental and humanitarian assistance modules to African states is regulated to serve Europe and increasingly the United States of America. The USA emerged as the most dominant global power after World War II. Today, it is the USA that dictates and dominates global policy and decision-making in Africa and across the globe. Europe is a direct beneficiary of the model.
Nominally, the Post-World War II global community of nations is different. Black Africa, the Middle East, East and South Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America are no longer colonies. Fifty-four African countries possess their own flags. But they hardly dictate their own policies or programs. For example, Francophone African nations transfer $500 billion to the French treasury each year.
Although former President Trump went further than others by labeling some Black nations as “shithole countries,” most African countries are basket cases with enormous natural resources. Sadly, whether in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in Southern Africa or in the Ivory Coast in Western Africa, the trade and investment links created deliberately by colonial and imperial powers remain strong.
Humanitarian assistance and ODA are minuscule compared to the gap in investment capital in Africa; and relative to the huge sums of monies that are extracted from Africa each year.
The mathematics tell the story
More capital moves out of Africa than comes in. In September 2020, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) published a report showing that each year, Africa “losses US $88. 8 billion in illicit outflow.” This is roughly equivalent to 4 percent of the entire continent’s GDP.
Africa’s loss from illicit outflow is simply staggering. A report entitled “Illicit Financial Flows and the Problem of Net Resource Transfers from Africa: 1980–2009, found that cumulative illicit outflows from the continent over the 30-year period ranged from $1.2 trillion to $1.4 trillion.” This is four times Nigeria’s GDP. The bleeding continues unabetted. Just imagine the economic and social costs to the peoples of Africa, especially the poorest of the poor.
Have Government officials in the US or the EU or the institutions they established to regulate and guide financial and monetary governance across the globe demanded transparency and accountability for this hemorrhaging of Africa?
The EU is quick to pinpoint the migrant problem from Africa to Europe; but dismisses or ignores deliberately the tragedy of illicit outflow that makes rich countries richer and poor counties poorer.
Based on the facts alone, I can safely conclude that keeping Africa poor, conflict-ridden and fragmented is in the interest of so-called Western democracies.
How is this bleeding this century still possible?
It is possible because local elites in partnership with foreign agents, corporations and other beneficiaries milk the financial system. Local Government and private officials participate in illegal economic, trade and financial transactions. Those who steal from the society avoid taxes that should go to the public to build schools, clinics, hospitals, roads etc. They misrepresent invoices. They participate in the black market to exchange monies and or to transfer funds illicitly etc. The TPLF has a well-established track record in the black market that still runs a robust network across the globe.
The TPLF is the only political group that I know of in Ethiopia that encourages, promotes, and celebrates bribery and theft, robbery, graft, corruption, and illicit outflow of funds as a demonstration of intelligence and bravery.
In the case of Ethiopia, TPLF agents offer remitters attractive exchange rates. Instead of the official dollar to Birr rate, they may offer 40 percent plus. The consequences of such illegal transaction on the poor and the national economy are catastrophic. The current war has aggravated the black market. It has spurred an inflationary spiral that must be contained fast. The West must appreciate the fact that the Tigrean poor suffer from illegal trade.
Ethiopia’s war economy, theft, bribery, graft, and corruption
In my book, organized plunder (ድርጂታዊ ምዝበራ) I tried to show the link between poor or bad governance on one side and theft, bribery, graft, corruption, and illicit outflow on the other. This link implanted by the TPLF is so entrenched in Ethiopian society that you cannot do any investment transaction without bribing someone.
For Ethiopia to prosper, this systemic and structural problem must be dealt with sooner and not later.
If the West is committed to a world free of poverty, why do they fail to hold the TPLF accountable for theft, graft, and illicit outflow?
Official Development Assistance (ODA) is a mirage
The amount of capital stolen and taken out of Africa illicitly can hardly be compensated by ODA. If you believe that any form of aid that is not well managed by a corruption free government system will lift hundreds of millions of Africans out of poverty, you are “touched in the head” as my African American friend at a summer camp used to say to spoiled kids. Corrupt officials are spiled kids.
UNCTAD concluded in its study that “The billions lost annually to Illicit Financial Outflows (IFFs) are almost equal to Official Development Assistance (ODA) and Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) flows to Africa combined.” ODA goes to ameliorate poverty and FDI is injected into the economy to induce productivity and sustainable prosperity. If you are giving aid on one side and then taking it out on the other side, who benefits then? It is this core question that Western aid agencies fail to answer.
Local elites receive crumbs. It is primarily Europe and the USA that serve as destinations that benefit hugely. In each case, the primary destination of stolen wealth is where safety and security under the law are assured. Is not Geneva or Brussels or Dubai or Hong Kong or the Cayman Islands safer than Johannesburg or Delhi or Mekele?
Ms. Cristina Duarte, UN Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Africa put the matter best. “The estimated $88.6 billion that Africa loses annually is not just a number. It should be looked at through the lenses of missed development opportunities, lost livelihoods and increased poverty.”
What does that really mean?
I remember debating corruption with an Indonesian colleague in Jakarta on a mission there. I said that “corruption bleeds.” He asked me if I knew who constructed “the textile factory” across where we were drinking coffee? He told me that it was a corrupt man who felt that he had moral obligation to at least keep the money in Indonesia where it can employ girls and generate incomes. Sadly, in Africa this is not the case. State and private thieves take out the money and buy a villa in Paris or in Virginia where their families enjoy life while the poor suffer from lack of adequate food. The TPLF and its allies stole, took out the money and did not invest in Tigray.
Contrast the life conditions of Tedros Adhanom’s family and Tigrean mothers whose children are forced to sacrifice their lives for the TPLF. Does the chief of USAID really care about this contrast? The doctrine of “responsibility to protect” is misplaced. It does not demand responsibility and accountability on the part of the TPLF leadership. This group undermines safety and security. Its insurgency limits unfettered movement of vehicles that provide humanitarian assistance etc.
Why is this phenomenon so common in Africa in the 21st century?
I want you to always reflect impacts beyond the numbers. If you lose tens of billions of dollars per year, the amount left to build health, education, sanitation, roads, bridges, hydropower dams and other social and physical infrastructure is limited. Children who should attend school are instead forced to carry woods on their backs. Mothers are unable to give birth to healthy children because there are no midwives etc. Access to electricity, safe drinking water, sanitation and the internet is virtually a pipe dream for hundreds of millions.
Is poverty alleviation possible?
It is. So, you need to ask the question of how China was able to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in three decades, while the entire Black Africa lags? Remember that China was a huge borrower of World Bank funding. The secret is that China used borrowed money to expand productivity, employment, and country-wide wealth creation. China built thousands of schools, hospitals, bridges, and towns. It linked investments to job creation, etc. Millions of peasant farmers and others moved to urban areas where they were employed. Development, in turn, strengthened China’s stability and national cohesion. Its status as the second mot powerful economy in the world earned it a place in shaping global policy and decision-making.
Global governance is no longer controlled and dominated by colonial and imperial powers.
I underscore China’s growing influence in Africa for a reason. It is a strong influence poised to replace colonialism and imperialism in Africa. The USA is deeply concerned about this. But its policy towards Ethiopia and the rest of Africa is a miscalculation. Black Africa wants economic transformation but is adamantly opposed to replacing one form of colonialism or imperialism by another. This is where the West’s calculation is wrong.
Today, China is transferring some of the same transformative investment tools in Africa. It fills the huge investment capital gap created by illicit capital outflow. The UN had projected that the investment capital gap for Africa to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs by 2030 is $200 billion per year. Where would this huge capital come from if Africa is losing at least $88.6 billion each year?
Ethiopia has been losing at least $3 billon per annuum over the past three decades. Believe it or not, all the $30 billion from the USA was stolen by the TPLF and its allies. So, why is this not a concern for the Biden Administration that still supports the TPLF?
Whatever ambivalence you may have about China, one thing stands out in Africa. China is filling the gap in numerous countries across the vast continent. Among other things, China constructs heavy infrastructural projects—rails, roads, hydroelectricity and irrigation dams, conference halls, etc.– shunned by ODA and FDI from the West. FDI in Africa focuses on extractive and quirk return investments.
Do you know any Black African country where ODA and Western FDI transformed the society and made it resilient? Do you know of Western aid, FDI or other resource transfer that changed the structural foundation of a Black African country’s economy?
Moral outrage is a partisan issue.
Just think of one of the most mineral rich nations on the planet. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (Zaire) is conflict ridden and poor. In this potentially rich country, the human cost of the precious and scarce minerals minded in the DRC to make smart phones and other electronic goods is simply staggering and immoral.
Does the West ever ask who benefits and who loses in this massive asset transfer?
In the DRC alone, more than 6 million people have lost their lives. Rich minerals are exploited by private persons and multinationals. Yet, we do not hear outrage from the Government of the United States or the European Union. Why is that?
Would you not think that American officials whose tax dollars they gave to Ethiopia to alleviate poverty would demand accountability for the loss of $30 billion under the TPLF? They did not do so for one reason. The thieves of state and their associates are their thieves. If you serve the national interests of the USA, it makes no difference whether you are “Mother Teresa” or a group that marshals child soldiers and sends them to the war front and die in vain. The argument of humanity and humanitarian and social aid is simply a tool; nothing more than that.
Further, it is not because they lack intelligence. Each NGO, each aid agency etc. is a source of intelligence. It is not because they do not know the devastating impact of theft, graft, corruption, and illicit outflow on society.
Mukhisa Kitutyi, Secretary General of UNCTAD is quoted saying “Illicit financial flows and corruption are inhibiting African development by draining foreign exchange, reducing domestic resources, stifling trade and macroeconomic stability and worsening poverty and inequality.” The US and the EU know very well the devastating impacts of illicit outflow and poor governance on Africa’s poor.
Asset recovery and the West’s reluctance to commit
Why did they fail to help African Governments including Ethiopia in the battle to establish institutional capacity and partnerships for asset of recovery of stolen wealth?
When threatened by officials and private individuals who care, thieves of state and private thieves that participate in graft, corruption and illicit outflow revert to what they know best: rebellion, insurgency and more robbery. In turn, this undermines the rule of law, peace, and stability. This is exactly what the TPLF is doing in Ethiopia. It does this by claiming that the Government of Ethiopia is murdering innocent Tigrean Ethiopians. The TPLF murders and then narrates that the murder is done by Ethiopia’s Defense Forces, Amhara Special Forces, Eritrean forces etc. The tragedy is not that the TPLF lies. Rather, it is that Western democracies that emboldened it to lie have become part of the problem.
Beware of the “Good Samaritans”
The TPLF does not operate in isolation at all. It is supported by a plethora of foreign entities: Egyptians, Sudanese, the EU, the USA, their media, think tanks and numerous “good Samaritans” who parade as protectors of human life: girls and women, the elderly and poor farmers etc. It makes no difference to them that the TPLF is treasonous, a mass murderer, thief of state etc. It makes no difference that for almost three decades, the TPLF ruled Ethiopia within an iron fist, sharpshooting thousands of youths; jailing tens of thousands; and robbing tens of billions of dollars.
It gets away with murder because it is their thief. The TPLF is their loyal ally that defends and advances their national interests at huge costs to Ethiopia and to the millions of Tigrean Ethiopians who are still poor and aid dependent.
In summary, the USA and the EU are part and parcel of the problem Ethiopia is facing today. Fighting and dismantling the TPLF would have been easy without external support.
Ethiopia is fighting on two fronts at the same time: an internal agent that committed treason; and an external group of adversaries that threatens Ethiopia’s very existence as a state.
I draw one example to buttress my point. Goal 16 of the SDGs that the entire UN family of nations adopted “calls for the significant reduction of illicit financial and arms flows, strengthening the recovery and return of stolen assets and combating all forms of organized crime. It also calls for the substantial reduction of corruption and bribery in all their forms and encourages the development of effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels.” For the first time in decades, Ethiopia has the chance to do that. The prerequisite is peace and stability.
Goal 16 of the SDGs is intended to show that illicit outflow of the kind committed by the TPLF during its rule of Ethiopia is a “tinder that fuels conflicts” and threatens peace and security in the Horn and the rest of Africa.
If this goal is genuinely embraced by the USA and by the EU, why would they not change course; drop supporting an insurgency group and support the Ethiopian people who are unified as never before to subdue the thieves of state; and help Ethiopia recover its lost billions of dollars?
Why would they not hold the TPLF and its accomplices accountable for the Mai Kadra massacre, for numerous similar massacres, ethnic cleansing and genocide that took place from at least 1991 to 2018, for the current insurgency, for deploying child soldiers to the war front?
Let us even challenge them and say, keep the stolen tens of billions of dollars; but leave Ethiopia and the Ethiopian people alone so that they can resolve their domestic problems. If you do nor do that; you are total hypocrites that Black Africans will inevitably reject.
The Governments of the USA and the EU consistently tell Africans and the rest that there must be integrity, transparency, and accountability for the misuse of ODA funds and for squandering humanitarian assistance. These are meaningless and empty words.
If you believe in what you tell Africans, why do you fail to demand that the TPLF that held power for 27 years and continues to create havoc and suffering for the second most populous nation in Africa is held to the same standard of scrutiny and accountability to that of any terrorist or insurgency group any group anywhere on this planet?
American and European policy and decision-makers must walk the talk. They can no longer afford to preach the Gospel while supporting the “the devil.” It may be their “devil”, but a devil is nevertheless a devil that mut be ejected at all costs.
If they do not change course, they will find that Black Africa will decide to dissociate itself form a colonial and imperial system whose time must now end for good.
Finally, and looking ahead into the foreseeable future, I urge all African countries to demand that colonial and imperial powers allow the United Nations to play an independent and constructive role in accordance with the Charter to which Ethiopia contributed. The African Union must also demand that it sits at the table with the EU in global forums such as the G-20. It is only then that 1.4 billion Black Africans can leverage their size and resources and make substantial impact in protecting their national interests and in recovering some of the more than trillion dollars stolen from their economies.
August 4, 2021