The California-based Oakland Institute joins in external opposition’s destructive abuse

The California-based Oakland Institute joins in external opposition’s destructive abuse

The California-based advocacy organization, Oakland Institute, was quick to take note of Ethiopia’s State of Emergency, issuing a statement on Friday last week, typically describing the measure as “authorizing oppression.”  With the its usual effort at misdirection, it began its comment: “The government of Ethiopia has responded to a groundswell of protests, which are calling for democracy and human rights for all, by imposing a six-month long state of emergency, effective October 8.” Over the next two pages it then manages to totally ignore the fact that the declaration of the State of Emergency followed the draft of proposals for change and reform outlined in the President’s speech to Parliament a few days earlier, notably, of course, proportional representation. The proposals detailed by the President are, of course, proposals that require peace and stability for implementation. In a piece of deliberate duplicity, designed to deceive, Oakland Institute even claims the State of Emergency does not address the situation on the country but merely “legalizes and expand the authoritarian and repressive rule that the Ethiopian regime has maintained for years.”

The Oakland Institute claims that the State of Emergency is “far-reaching”, though in fact the regulations it imposes is normal in a situation where the government is concerned that the sort of gross exaggerations and false information, peddled all-too-often by organizations like Oakland Institute itself, among others, appears intended to generate ethnic conflict. It is hardly accurate to describe as appalling an attempt to limit listening to the abhorrent and dangerous encouragement of violence that are regularly put out over the US and Europe-based ESAT TV station or over the Oromo Media Network. Similarly, to claim a ban on the provision of information to “international civil society groups” such as the Oakland Institute begs the question as to whether Oakland Institute has any right to describe itself in those terms, given its record of support for violent opposition in Ethiopian politics, its own manipulation of information and its efforts to end development aid to Ethiopia.

In its comments last week, the Oakland Institute managed within a page to misquote the Prime Minister, seriously exaggerate the number of deaths that occurred in a prison fire and repeat a whole number of its previously unconfirmed allegations. It also launches into its usual attack on Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation  of 2009, which no more violates international humanitarian law than do the anti-terrorist laws of the US, the UK and other states around the world.  It also launches into its usual attack on Ethiopia’s donors, accusing the US, the UN , the EU and Canada of “toothless rhetoric”,  for failing to condemn “the violence and repression,” and mocking their calls for peaceful or inclusive  dialogue. It accuses donors of failing to acknowledge what Oakland Institute calls “years of oppression and abuse” and claims there is no one left  for the government to talk with.  It goes on: “For years, the US, UK, and others have heralded Ethiopia as a blueprint for development, and provided massive financial support to their champion. But the model has failed.”

Oakland Institute claims its most recent report “Miracle or Mirage? Manufacturing Hunger and Poverty in Ethiopia”, published last month, shows that economic growth in Ethiopia has “not lifted up the masses.” Surprisingly admitting for the first time that there has actually been growth in Ethiopia, it claims this has happened “alongside widespread hunger and poverty, forced displacements, and massive human rights abuses,” arguing that it is this that has led to the tensions in the country “finally, understandably boiling over.”  It is this sort of statement that makes it very clear that Oakland Institute has no understanding of what has been happening in Ethiopia in recent months, or years, or why demonstrations have been taking place. Even by its own accounts “the widespread hunger and poverty and forced displacements” it claims have been occurring have not been happening in areas where there have been demonstrations. Nor does the Oakland Institute seem to have any knowledge of the way some of the demonstrations have been high-jacked by criminal or opposition elements deliberately aiming to cause violence.

These exaggerated and inaccurate claims are exactly what the Oakland Institute, making no secret of its dislike of the Ethiopian Government and of its development policies,  has persistently produced in a number of reports, viciously, if inaccurately, attacking government policies and criticizing any, and all, organizations that have provided support to the country’s development efforts. Its targets include the World Bank, the UN the EU, the UK’s DfID and most countries that provide developmental assistance and aid to Ethiopia.

Miracle or Mirage? Manufacturing Hunger and Poverty in Ethiopia,” fits squarely into this negative approach to development in Ethiopia, as its title underlines. Indeed, in its press release on the publication of the report on September 27, the Oakland Institute enthusiastically claims that “as months of protest and civil unrest hurl Ethiopia into a severe political crisis,” it is now debunking “the myth that the country is the new “African Lion”, exposing how authoritarian development schemes have perpetuated cycles of poverty, food insecurity, and marginalized the country’s most vulnerable citizens.” It says food shortages over the last year were widely attributed” to the El Nino phenomenon, but calls this “very convenient” for the government and its international backers who have been closely involved in Ethiopia’s development strategy. For the Oakland Institute, “the 2016 crisis is a harsh reminder that despite the trumpeted economic model, Ethiopia has not moved beyond its tragic history of chronic hunger and famine. Every year since 2005, 8 to 18 million Ethiopians have relied on food assistance for their survival.”

Ms. Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute, in an interview with VOA this month underlined these views, and indeed it appears her own hopes: “You cannot just focus on building the economy and talk about double-digit growth….An economic model which is built on denying democracy, denying people basic human rights, isn’t sustainable, and it will collapse.” Underlining her support for the collapse she is predicting, Ms. Mittal said: “If I am a foreign investor, I look for opportunities. I understand that there are risks, but in the face of this growing unrest where foreign companies have been targets, given all that has happened in terms of displacement of people and their lands given away to foreign investors, it would be astute to not go into a country like that.” Ms. Mittal’s comments are, of course, based on the Oakland Institute’s own failures of research as well as the seriously exaggerated stories emanating from Diaspora social media in the US. These, as even the Washington Post, normally highly critical of the Ethiopian government, was constrained to admit a couple of weeks ago, are “a bit hard to swallow”; the Post even referred to more and more dissident voices being heard over social media “but often without the restraint or commitment to accuracy of more mainstream media”. It quoted Prime Minister Hailemariam at the UN General Assembly: “We are seeing how misinformation could easily go viral via social media and mislead many people, especially the youth…Social media has certainly empowered populists and other extremists to exploit people’s genuine concerns and spread their message of hate and bigotry without any inhibition.”

As the Oakland Institute has shown in a number of reports it always accepts, totally uncritically, all Diaspora information as a norm in support of its contention that the promotion of large-scale industrial farming along with large-scale land seizures has been the key governmental strategy to drive development in Ethiopia. It argues that this is the central element in what it claims has been the total failure of development – the mirage, “manufacturing hunger and poverty in Ethiopia.” Its latest report says, “By 2011, the government had earmarked 3.6 million hectares for large-scale agriculture, and recently announced that 11.5 million hectares are available to investors.” This is a statistic repeated from earlier reports. In December 2014, Oakland Institute said: “in recent years, the Ethiopian government has leased over 3 million hectares to corporations for the development of large-scale agricultural plantations and is making available a total of 11.5 million hectares to investors.” In an earlier paper in 2011, “Understanding Land Investment Deals in Africa,” it said: “since early 2008, the Ethiopian Government has embarked on a process to award millions of hectares (ha) of land to foreign and national agricultural investors. Our research shows that at least 3,619,509 ha of land have been transferred, though the actual number may be higher.”

This is quite simply untrue. After an extensive investigation, done in 2014, of all relevant deals over the previous two decades, the Gates Foundation found the actual figures amounted to just about a million hectares leased. These came from the federal land bank – 380,000 hectares; regional government allocations – 335,000 hectares; and a further 335,000 hectares allocated for state-run sugar plantations. The Gates Foundation also pointed out these figures gave no indication of how much of this was actually in process of development. A great deal is not. The amount of land actually being used by large-scale investors is no more than a fraction of what the Oakland Institute, despite being corrected on a number of occasions, still persists in claiming is 3.6 million hectares.

This disparity, or rather this major error, on which much of Oakland Institute’s subsequent comments are based, must raise serious questions about the quality of Oakland Institute ‘research’ and the sources it employs. Similar questions arise out of other assertions that it persists in making. It claims, for example, in another repeated inaccuracy that the Gilgel Gibe III Dam, and the creation of sugar plantations in the Lower Omo River, could reduce the flow of the Omo River by as much as 70%, threatening the livelihoods of 200,000 Ethiopians and 300,000 Kenyans who depend on the water for herding, fishing, and flood-recession agriculture. The most recent studies of the Omo flow, ignored by the Oakland Institute, show that the amount of water needed for irrigation of the sugar plantations will only be extracted over three or four months each year, and will take out no more than 4%-6% of the river’s flow, and will have a minimal impact on Lake Turkana. In July this year, the World Heritage Committee concluded Ethiopia’s Kuraz Sugar Development Project neither endangered the Lower Omo Valley World Heritage Site nor compromised any environmental issues. As usual, the Oakland Institute’s ‘research’ ignores inconvenient facts like these. It prefers to quote problems that arose from the flawed attempts to set up sugar and cotton plantations in the Awash Valley in the Afar Region in the 1950s. Those projects did indeed drastically reduce land and water availability for people and livestock in the Awash Valley. But that was sixty years ago, and it has little bearing on the very different current development projects.

The central claim of the Oakland Institute is that the government is only interested in accelerating industrialization through large scale farming projects, through land grabs and driving indigenous groups off the land through its Commune Development or Resettlement Program. In order to support these allegations, it has to ignore the mass of publicly available information about all the programs that support, directly and indirectly, development of smallholder farmers. This is, in fact a core element of both the Growth and Transformation Plans 1 (2010/11-2014/5) and II (2015/16-2019/2020) as well as central element in the Government’s commitment to pro-poor spending, the progress achieved in poverty reduction and massive contributions to health, education and employment across the country. Over 70% of the federal budget is dedicated to pro-poor policies.

In fact, with its central aim of poverty reduction, much of Ethiopia’s growth strategy has been centered on the Agricultural Development-Led Industrialization program, focused on agriculture supplying commodities for export, domestic food supply and industrial output and expansion of the market for domestic manufactured goods. This has, of course, involved some support for large-scale commercial agricultural development, but it has also, necessarily and consistently involved major support for commercialization of smallholder agriculture, which makes up the far larger part of the country’s agricultural production. The ADLI operates through product diversification, a shift to value-added crops, promotion of high-value export crops and integration of local farm production with internal and external markets. A key element has been the deployment of agricultural extension workers, supported by an extensive TVET program, to every kebele in the country where they can provide support to smallholder farmers. Between 2004/05 and 2009/10, 61,785 agricultural extension agents were trained and 9,265 farmer-training centers were established. A very large part of the finance for this came from the Government, allowing it to ensure agricultural extension programs continued to be aimed at smallholder farmers.

Other pro-poor development programs have included the Sustainable Land Management Program (SLMP II), specifically aimed at reducing land degradation and increasing land productivity of smallholder farmers; and the Purchase for Progress (P4P) program to provide training for smallholder farmers in key techniques such as post-harvest handling, group marketing, agricultural finance and contracting; the Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP), the largest social protection program in Africa and a key driver of poverty reduction, targeting the most vulnerable areas and households in order to increase rural poor families’ long-term resilience to food shortages; and the Promotion of Basic Services (PBS) program, much of which specifically benefits smallholder agriculture with its continued decentralization of basic services, increasing completion of primary levels of education, lowering maternal mortality rates, increasing agricultural productivity, lowering the average time to reach all-weather roads, increasing access to potable water, increasing local government budget controls and audits controls, and increasing information flows to people in the woredas (districts). As the financial breakdown of the PBS demonstrates, education (62%), health (17%), and agriculture (18%) account for 97% of woreda spending. It is complemented by support for greater engagement among the people, improvements in local capacity to manage resources, and better access to information on national and local budgeting and development objectives. Increased woreda-level spending on agricultural extension workers is associated with higher yields for major crops, including cereals, vegetables, enset, coffee and fruit, and increases the probability that farmers, regardless of the size of their plots, will use improved farming techniques. The latest World Bank report noted the PBS was one of the few examples of a development program that has clearly quantifiable achievements. Indeed, not only does PBS meet its objectives, it has helped to make government spending more effective.  The PBS has been described by those who know as “the most successful project of its kind in the world.”

All these pro-poor programs operate at local and regional state levels and thus place special emphasis on enhancing the productivity of smallholder farmers and pastoralists, strengthening market systems, improving participation of the private sector in agriculture, expanding the amount of land under irrigation and reducing the number of chronically food insecure households. They have achieved some impressive progress, an 8% or more growth rate for agriculture, the reduction of safety net program beneficiaries from 7.8 million to 1.8 million households, doubling production of major crops, and raising the emergency food reserve to 3 million tones. The delivery of public services across the country has allowed woredas, inter alia, to hire 100,000 additional primary school teachers, 38,000 health extension workers and 45,000 agricultural extension workers. It has helped people gain access to public budget information and provide basic budget literacy training for thousands. The proportion of people living below the poverty line has fallen steadily in the last few years, reducing to 22% last year. The Oakland Institute ignores all this, and equally disregards the fact that Ethiopia’s policies over the last decade or more have been specifically based on pro-poor and pro-development strategies, implemented though integrated planning, coordination, management and cooperation of government at federal, regional and local levels, aid agencies and the people. The fact that poverty reduction and food security have yet to be fully achieved does not render the policy a failure, whatever the Oakland Institute may think.

A good example of the way the Oakland Institute operates can be seen in its response to the Commune Development or Resettlement Program, instituted in 2003 for relevant areas of Afar, Gambella, Benishangul Gumuz, Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples, Somali, Amhara and Tigrai regional states. This is a program based on voluntary resettlement after full consultation; the use of under-utilized land; resettlement within the same regional state; and adequate preparation and provision of infrastructure and public services. The programs have achieved considerable level of success, and despite Oakland Institute claims of forced resettlement and widespread abuse, no independent investigations have found any serious failures or extensive abuse, though there have certainly been some minor hiccups.

The Oakland Institute, however, persists in claiming the World Bank, the IMF, UN agencies, EU agencies, the African Development Bank, the Donors Assistance Group, donor ambassadors and embassies in Ethiopia, NGOs working on the ground, and visitors to these areas, including Sir Malcolm Bruce, Chair of the UK Parliament’s Committee for International Development, and former US Ambassador, Donald Booth, either repeatedly and consistently lie, or deliberately refuse to see all the “numerous atrocities” that the Oakland Institute has seen from California. It dismisses out of hand all World Bank investigations and assessment missions, 34 investigations and evaluations of the PBS program by officials and experts of a dozen INGOs, assessments by representatives of the Governments of Austria, Spain, the Netherlands and others, Ethiopian federal, regional and local officials and others.

In its latest paper the Oakland Institute complains that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has labeled it as anti-development. We have. It is a conclusion that is difficult to avoid when one considers the repeated efforts of the Institute to put a stop to the assistance provided by DfID, the World Bank and other partners to support the PBS and other highly successful pro-poor development programs aimed at improving smallholder agriculture. The Oakland Institute uses flawed methodology, unacceptable by any normal evidential research standards, built up from unverified and unverifiable information, with inaccurate and exaggerated accounts drawn from externally-based politically-motivated sources and seldom, if ever, checked on the ground. It ignores any criticisms of its reports. It refuses to accept any factual corrections. Indeed, despite a significant number of highly detailed and accurate refutations of its claims, it remains armored in its own “certainties”. It repeatedly criticizes the development programs that Ethiopia is trying to implement and even invents facts and figures to try to buttress its claims. In fact, it gives every indication of propagating a political agenda aiming to stop the contributions of the World Bank and other donors to Ethiopia’s pro-poor developmental programs and of supporting violent opposition to the government as well as contributing to the country’s destabilization. Indeed, in one of its recent report, the Institute specifically said, “Our hope is that this report will further pressure the US Congress and State Department to renegotiate the development assistance to Ethiopia.”


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