Rejected ally says Britain cut off aid like an old colonial master

From Jonathan Clayton in Addis Ababa
In an interview with The Times, the Ethiopian leader says Blair forgot his new approach to Africa

MELES ZENAWI, the Ethiopian Prime Minister, once hailed as one of Tony Blair’s “new breed” of African leaders, has turned on Britain for freezing millions of pounds in aid to his impoverished nation.
He was speaking to The Times on the eve of the anniversary of last year’s disputed elections. Addis Ababa was bracing itself for more violence today after a series of bomb blasts on Friday and Saturday left at least four people dead and 42 injured.
Mr Meles accused Mr Blair of behaving like an old colonial master in cutting off aid in response to the killing by government troops of scores of opposition protesters last year.
He said that the Prime Minister should not have switched off the aid tap without first engaging in real dialogue.
Such a knee-jerk reaction was out of line with Mr Blair’s promised new approach to Africa, adopted a few months earlier at the G8 summit in Gleneagles, he said. “From the UK we expected more (but) they acted in a manner not consistent with their principles.”
Mr Meles, a leading member of Mr Blair’s Commission for Africa, was the subject of international condemnation after last May’s elections.
His party was returned to power but the vote was described as seriously flawed by foreign observers and the opposition, which refused to take up government posts.
Violent clashes between government forces and protesters took place in June last year and again in November, leaving at least 84 people dead.
Up to 13,000 people were held in detention camps outside the capital in what the government said was a pre-emptive action to head off a planned insurrection. More than 100 opposition figures and journalists are now on trial.
The British government, deeply embarrassed by the violent crackdown, withdrew about £50 million in direct budget support. A planned increase of £30 million was also put on hold, disrupting plans for “basic services” projects.
Other donors followed suit. Ethiopia, which had previously been held up as a beacon of good governance, saw about £580 million of aid frozen.
Mr Meles said that Britain had reneged on a promise to develop a new relationship with Africa. “This from a donor which championed a new relationship with Africa,” he said. “I disagree very strongly with what they did.”
The former rebel leader, who has governed Ethiopia since overthrowing a Marxist dictatorship in 1991, also defended his democratic record.
He pointed out that the election results, which gave the ruling party a large majority in parliament, were largely accepted by the international community, including Mr Blair.
“He (Blair) does not deny the obvious fact that we did not steal the election,” he said.
“I have no personal ill feeling about the position taken by Mr Blair regarding his feeling that we overreacted, but where I disagree strongly is what they did next. It was not consistent with the new policy.”
When Mr Blair visited Ethiopia in October 2004 before last year’s G8 summit, he praised Mr Meles’s economic and democratic credentials and promoted his plans for a new deal for the continent as part of the Make Poverty History campaign.
But the deterioration in relations has highlighted the limitations of policies based largely on increased aid flows and debt forgiveness.
According to one diplomatic source: “More emphasis should be placed on getting functioning democratic structures in place first — such as constitutional safeguards, independent judiciaries — and less on elections. If not, elections themselves create the problems we hoped they would get rid of.
“The reality is that Meles was never as good as they thought. Neither is he as bad now. The tragedy is that because of this election the whole situation is now very polarised and dangerous.”
Mr Meles blamed the crisis on an opposition that, encouraged by mixed signals from foreigners, believed that it could engineer a Ukrainian-style Orange revolution.
“They miscalculated,” he said. “Ethiopia is not a spineless, corrupt, ex-Soviet rump. Ethiopia is not Ukraine. Whoever violates law in Ethiopia, no matter how powerful, will be held accountable.”
He skirted around the repression and heavy-handedness of his government and insisted that if the opposition had its way many more would have been killed. The opposition, itself fractured, rejects this.
Abdul Mohammed, an independent analyst and political commentator, said: “It was an open campaign, but things went wrong afterwards.
“The government has been repressive, but the opposition is not an answer . . . they have unleashed negative, backward-looking forces.”
-In January Britain cut off aid to the Ethiopian Government of about £46.5 million, because of nrest after elections last May
-Hilary Benn, the International Development Secretary, said that aid would be redirected to humanitarian agencies
-About six million Ethiopians are fed by international aid each year
-It has received more relief aid since 1984 than anywhere else, yet 47 per cent of its under-5s have suffered from malnutrition
On Britain and Tony Blair
“I have no personal ill feeling about positions taken by Tony Blair . . . Where I disagree very strongly is what they did next . . . They acted in a manner not consistent with their principles” On the deaths of some 80 protesters “I do not think that this was an over-reaction. When these riots happened in June we were not prepared in terms of crowd control. Blair told me what he thought, but he did not say to me that I had let him down.”
On NGOs and human rights groups
“These self-appointed guardian angels of democracy in Africa believe that these bloody African leaders will not democratise unless we breathe down their necks all the time. African leaders are guilty until proven innocent . . . allegations become facts before they are investigated”
On the opposition
“The opposition wanted an Orange Revolution, but they failed miserably. They miscalculated. Ethiopia is not a spineless, corrupt, ex-Soviet rump. Ethiopia is not the Ukraine

posted by Ethiounited Moderator at4:11 PM


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