Open letter or open pandering to corruption?
“As I look around the EITI implementing countries, I do not accept that the situation for civil society in Ethiopia is worse than a great many of them.” That was the didactic pronouncement of Ms. Claire Short, Chair of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) in her “Open Letter” to Ali Idrissa, Faith Nwadishi and Jean-Claude Katende who are civil society representatives on the EITI Board and the Outreach and Candidature Committee. Short penned her bizzare “Open Letter” to announce her resolute conviction that EITI should give Ethiopia the green light because she “passionately believe[s] that the entry bar to candidates should be clearly and simply whether there is enough space for civil society to work with EITI, and that compliance and validation should be a test whether civil society participation is free, fair and independent.”
Short’s “Open Letter” was stunning for its temerity, effrontery, insolence and sheer arrogance. Short went to extraordinary lengths to browbeat the civil society representatives and EITI’s “civil society partners” in her “passionate” appeal for the admission of Ethiopia. She made a thinly-veiled accusation that EITI’s civil society representatives have effectively become the patsy of the international human rights organizations allegedly opposed to Ethiopia’s admission to EITI. She accused them of being “unhelpfully influenced by strong voices from a special interest group with perfectly well-meaning intentions but who have too much of a ‘north telling the south what to do mindset’”. She intimated that they were in flagrant dereliction of their duties by falling under the spell of the civil society partners, and hectored them that the fate of EITI itself hangs in the balance on their decision to admit or reject Ethiopia’s application. Short enlightened the civil society representatives that “EITI is not a human rights standard. Our job is to ensure that there is enough space for civil society to work with and around the EITI and help drive reform in the extractive sector for the benefit of the people.” She apocalyptically warned that the decision on Ethiopia’s application shall determine whether “EITI is an international coalition with a Standard that serves all countries that seek reform in extractives, or an organization that is driven by campaigners.”
In an amazing display of chutzpah, Short enjoined the civil society representatives from being “tools of campaigners” and hatchet men for “strong voices from a special interest group.” She even tried to name and shame the representatives for their hypocrisy in not “raising a murmur” when “Occupy protesters from outside St Paul’s Cathedral [were removed] by force in my own country” and accused them of cowardly duplicity for their silence over the “existence of Guantanamo and use of torture… in relation to the US application.” She sermonized that the “approach” of the civil society representatives and “civil society partners” should be to “enable [EITI] entry and encouraging locally owned continuous reform.” She pontificated with a moral equivalence argument that “the situation for civil society in Ethiopia is no worse than a great many of them.” She sought to draw comparisons between Ethiopia and other countries that have poor human rights records to justify her view that it is morally acceptable to accept the regime in Ethiopia into the EITI fold despite its long record of gross human rights abuses and decimation of civil society organizations. She sanctimoniously reassured the civil society representatives. “I of course support the idea of making it clear to the Ethiopians, and indeed all new members, that the Board will expect them to deliver on their commitment on civil society space and that this will be monitored.” She sternly admonished, “We have to guard against efforts to use the EITI to serve other agendas, no matter how worthy.”
Short’s patronizing and thinly-veiled denunciation of the international human rights organizations allegedly opposed to Ethiopia’s EITI admission was incredibly disdainful shocking. She contemptuously reminded those organizations that but for EITI’s work, their efforts in those “oppressive” countries would not have amounted to a hill of beans. “I greatly admire much of the work that many of our civil society partners have done in challenging the status quo and working for reform often in oppressive environments” but they should know and be grateful that EITI has made their work easier by “afford[ing] a space and a platform that would not otherwise have been open to those campaigning for reform.” Short saved her long knife for Diaspora Ethiopians who have opposed Ethiopia’s admission to EITI. She issued a cavalierly dismissive fatwa urging that the EITI “should listen to [the]…clear and united voice of civil society in Ethiopia, rather than opposing voices from the Ethiopian diaspora.”
It is difficult to say whether Short’s “passionate” “Open Letter” is a statement of her convictions or a window to her soul!
Short “Open Letter” is in violation of Article 12 of EITI’s Articles of Association
In issuing her “Open Letter” and by engaging in “passionate” adversarial advocacy on behalf of the regime in Ethiopia, Short has flagrantly violated EITI’s Articles of Association. The duties of the EITI Chair are enumerated in Article 12 of the “EITI Articles of Association” and include “presentation of reports to the EITI Board, Conference and Members’ Meetings, representation of EITI Board in external matters, follow-up with the EITI secretariat regarding the implementation of the resolutions of the EITI Board; and fostering collaborative relationships between EITI stakeholders.” Partisan advocacy, media-based lobbying for admission on behalf of a country, letter writing and conducting virtual online petition and other public relations campaigns for prospective EITI applicants are not only repugnant to her official duties and role but also recklessly compromise the integrity of EITI.
By launching a strident public relations campaign on behalf of the regime in Ethiopia, Short has improperly overreached and effectively interdicted the deliberative process of the members of the Publish What You Pay (PWYP) coalition by discussing in the public square matters duly delegated and entrusted to the designated bodies of the EITI. By issuing her “Open Letter”, Short has plunged the civil society representatives and the PWYP into acrimonious global public debate in a manner that unmistakably denigrates their integrity, professionalism and capacity for fair and independent judgment. In her “passionately” blind zeal to support the regime in Ethiopia, Short has divisively politicized EITI and undermined its global credibility. Short’s “Open Letter” amounts to an abuse of power and office and is nothing less than a grotesque attempt to arm-twist the civil society representatives and heavy-handedly intimidate those civil society organizations who disagree with her.
Condescending treatment of civil society representatives
I do not speak for the civil society representatives or civil society organizations who are the object of Short’s “passionate” fury. However, as a human rights advocate, I deeply resent the fact that Short should publicly humiliate them as delinquent children who need her schoolmarmish guidance and discipline. Her condescending tone and dismissive contempt for the civil society representatives is intolerable, appalling and outrageous. She caricatures the representatives as benighted desk-jockeys who cannot think for themselves and need to be enlightened and shepherded into doing the right thing. Truth be told, she portrays them as simpletons who could be easily manipulated, misled and bamboozled by nefarious unnamed organizations whose secret plan is to hijack EITI and make it “a tool of [human rights?] campaigners”. Short’s disrespect and unprofessional treatment of the civil society representatives in her “Open Letter” is unforgiveable.
Are those who oppose Ethiopia’s admission in the EITI racists?
Short’s “Open Letter” subtly alleges that those organizations that oppose Ethiopia’s admission into EITI are in effect perpetuating the practice of the “north telling the south what to do mindset”. The whole notion of the “north telling the south mindset” is a kinder and gentler way of saying, “Those non-Ethiopians who oppose Ethiopia’s admission in the EITI are blathering racists!”
The “north-south” trope is a well-worn code phrase used by those who do not have the guts to come out and say what they really mean. When the phrase is decoded in the context of human rights, it simply means that Western organizations that seek to uphold basic human rights principles in African and other non-Western societies are arrogantly imposing their Eurocentric values and ideals. By invoking the “north-south” trope on the civil society representatives, Short is essentially arguing that opposing Ethiopia’s admission to EITI is tantamount to “white” people telling black Ethiopians and other Africans how to run their affairs.
I am outraged by such paternalism (more accurately, “maternalism”) and thinly-veiled demonization of international human rights organizations. Short eerily echoes the late Meles Zenawi, who gratuitously dispensed disparaging barbs against “neo-liberalism” whenever his record on human rights was challenged. Meles sermonized, “We believe that democracy, good governance and transparency and fighting corruption are good objectives for every country, particularly for developing countries. Where we had our differences with the so-called neoliberal paradigm is first on the perception that this can be imposed from outside. We do not believe that is possible. Internalization of accountability is central to democratisation. The state has to be accountable to the citizens, and not some embassy or foreign actor.”
Short’s “Open Letter” affirms Meles’ canard by equating those who seek to promote human rights in Ethiopia with neoliberal cultural neocolonialists. Her basic exhortation is that EITI should cut the regime in Ethiopia some (a lot of) slack by leaving the whole issue of “governance challenges” to “internal” institutions of that country. Her proposal is to hold the regime accountable as narrowly as possible by accepting as sufficient the regime’s declaration of “compliance with the [EITI] Standard itself”. She wants that regime to be given a pat on the back for having made “meaningful achievement” merely because it declared its intent to comply with EITI standards. It is laughable that an organization that prides itself and is founded on strict accountability should be urged to practice “accountability with slack.”
I resolutely reject the suggestion that those human rights organizations and non-Ethiopians who urge and stand by a single standard of human rights for all people are racists. I do not believe there are black, white, brown or yellow human rights. There is no such thing as a special brand of African freedom of association or speech. Press freedom does not come wrapped in stars and stripes. Nor does it come draped in a flag with a blue cross against a red background. Every country that has signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the other human rights conventions is bound by a universal human rights standard. That has been the mission and work of all international human rights organizations. They believe a person anywhere in the world has human rights because s/he is a human being, not because of one’s race, color, gender, religion, language, country or some other classification.
I do not know if there is anything more racist and deeply disdainful and disrespectful of Ethiopians than proposing the idea of reviewing Ethiopia’s EITI application through the prism of the “north-south mindset”. I am personally offended by any suggestion that there should be two human rights standards, and that Ethiopia should be governed by the “southern” standard. I believe those who espouse a “north-south mindset” on human rights reflect their own deep-seated arrogance that the people of the “north” are entitled to the real deal on human rights while the people of the “south” are condemned to suffer a raw deal on human rights. Short’s “Open Letter” effectively argues and urges that when it comes to human rights in Africa, those in the “north” should do nothing more than give lip service and perform elaborate human rights window dressing ceremonies.
Chairperson of EITI or lobbyist for the regime in Ethiopia?
Short says she is “passionate” in her plea and appeal for the admission of the regime in Ethiopia in the EITI. My initial reaction reading her “Open Letter” was simply that the letter must have been written by DLA Piper, the longtime Washington lobbyist firm for the regime in Ethiopia. The “Open Letter”, for all intents and purposes, is indistinguishable from letters and press releases often issued by lobbying firms. Short’s letter is a blend of advocacy, clarification, admonition and self-serving exhortation. It has all of the typical elements of professionally written lobbying letters in cases where official decisions have to be made in controversial human rights cases.
As a lobbying letter, Short’s “Open Letter” subtly aims to humanize a regime that dehumanizes its citizens everyday by suggesting that the regime in Ethiopia “is no worse than” regimes in any “other implementing country”. It minimizes and trivializes the “work that many of [the] civil society partners have done” and demands that these organization demonstrate gratitude for being “afforded a space and a platform that would not otherwise have been open to th[em] campaigning for reform.” It demonizes those who champion human rights and oppose Ethiopia’s application by suggesting that they are not only full of themselves but also closet racists who “have too much of a ‘north telling the south what to do mindset’”. It criticizes, marginalizes and sidelines Diaspora Ethiopian voices who are fighting against human rights abuses in their country by suggesting that they should be ignored, unabashedly urging that EITI “should listen to [the] clear and united voice of civil society in Ethiopia, rather than opposing voices from the Ethiopian diaspora.” It pleads for what sounds like moderation. “That is why I passionately believe that the entry bar to candidates should be clearly and simply whether there is enough space for civil society to work with EITI.” It romanticizes Ethiopia’s application by suggesting that “EITI [is] a journey open to most, but that compliance with the Standard itself should be a meaningful achievement…”
I have read many press releases, letters and statements issued by the regime’s highly paid lobbyists in Washington, D.C. over the years. With all due respect to DLA Piper, I have to say that they have nothin’ on Claire Short!
Is the soul of EITI in the balance in the decision to accept or reject Ethiopia’s application? Will civil society organizations vanish from Ethiopia if Ethiopia’s application is denied?
In her “Open Letter” Short (melo)dramatically argued that the survival of EITI and civil societies in Ethiopia depends on the decision to admit or reject Ethiopia’s application. The decision of the civil society representatives on Ethiopia’s application will determine whether “EITI is an international coalition with a Standard that serves all countries that seek reform in extractives, or an organization that is driven by campaigners.” She prophesied, “Rejecting Ethiopia’s application will leave Ethiopian civil society with nowhere to go.” Is the END really near!?
Will EITI suddenly come apart at the seams if Ethiopia’s application is rejected for the second time? Will EITI suddenly become a “campaign tool” of the international human rights organizations if Ethiopia’s application is rejected?
EITI has survived and flourished since its establishment in 2002, without Ethiopia’s membership. It became a more robust organization in 2011 after it issued its revised standards. It has maintained a high reputation for integrity and effectiveness (though I am not sure if that will continue be the case after Short’s “Open Letter”).
Frankly, Short’s “Open Letter” reminded me of the fable of Henny Penny (sometimes known as Chicken Little) who was once hit on the head by some object from above. She believed the world was coming to an end and ran all over crying out, “The sky is falling!” The sky did not fall and neither will EITI if Ethiopia’s application is rejected for the second time.
Short’s test for admission in EITI
Short stated in her “Open Letter” that she believes there should be a three-pronged test for EITI admission: 1) She “passionately believes the entry bar to candidates should be clearly and simply whether there is enough space for civil society to work with EITI”. 2) “Compliance and validation should be a test whether civil society participation is free, fair and independent”. 3) “There should be more emphasis on continuous improvement” in determining compliance.
Is there “enough space for civil society in Ethiopia to work with EITI?
What excatly is “enough space”? Short’s implicit suggestion is that the EITI civil society representatives are so much under the spell of the “strong voices from a special interest group” and human rights “campaigners” that they have effectively forfeited their intellectual faculties to make the delicate determination on what is “enough space”. Short’s notion of “enough space” for Ethiopia’s civil society organizations reminds me of Martin Luther King’s disappointment over those white liberal clergymen who exhorted him to “wait” for change. He wrote, “For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait!’ It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’”
Does Short’s notion of “enough space” for Ethiopian civil society organizations mean, “Wait until there is enough space. Wait until the regime decides to make enough space available to you.” How much space is just enough or more than enough for civil society organizations in Ethiopia? When is “enough space” for civil society organizations in Ethiopia not enough? Does “enough space” mean “Never”? When is enough, enough?
The whole notion of “enough space” in Short’s letter reflects a common cynical moral relativism among some who believe there is really no right, only gradations of wrong. In practice, it means “just enough space” is good enough in a situation where there is no space. It is a view founded on the idea that expediency should trump principle when practical necessity demands it. Such haughty moral relativism is the kind of thinking that deadens our consciences and paralyzes us from acting and doing the right thing at the right time. Such moral relativism is the foundation of moral cowardice which prevents us from confronting evil and the perpetrators of evil while conferring upon us the privilege of sanctimonious moral arrogance to blame the victims of evil. Such moral relativism makes us principled hypocrites who are willing to sacrifice principle on the altar of expediency at the drop of a hat.
Short talks about “enough space”; but I talk about free space — free space to think, to worship, to write and to associate. I beg forgiveness if I sound oversensitive on the issue of “space”. Short may be satisfied with “enough space” for Ethiopians. I am not. What Short must understand above all else is that “sapce” is the one thing Ethiopians need more than anything else today. For over two decades, they have been corralled like cattle in a space called “killil” (kililistans), a modern version of Apartheid’s bantustans. They have been forced to move from space to space in their own country because they are told they have the wrong ethnic stripe. They have been moved from space their ancestors had occupied for millennia because that space is now needed to produce harvest to feed the people of Saudi Arabia and India. They live under a regime that prides itself in depriving citizens access to cyberspace. Enough space? No, free space!
Is “civil society participation in Ethiopia free, fair and independent”?
Short seems to be in total denial or is willfully ignorant about the situation of civil society organizations in Ethiopia. She exhorted the EITI must “listen to the clear and united voice of civil society in Ethiopia”. What “united voice of civil society” is Short talking about?
Two weeks ago, the U.S. State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices in Ethiopia for 2013 reported, “The implementation of the law continued to result in the severe curtailment of NGO activities related to human rights. In July 2012 the UN high commissioner for human rights expressed concern that civil society space ‘has rapidly shrunk’ since the CSO law’s enactment.” That report concluded, “The government continued restrictions on activities of civil society and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) imposed by the Charities and Societies Proclamation (the CSO law).” Is Short talking about the same civil society organizations that the U.S. State Department and the U.N. Human Rights Commissioner are reporting on? Is Short referring to the make-believe civil society organizations created by the regime to enable its supporters to set up shop and extort money from international donors and others?
The “free, fair and independent nature” of civil societies is not measured by exhortations to “listen to the united voice of civil society” but by well-established criteria. Does the system of political governance permit legitimate access to and use of civic space and resources? Does it maintain fairness within the existing political and judicial systems by promoting and protecting the welfare of the people? Does it allow for the existence of civil society institutions, groups and networks that are strong, active, vibrant and diverse? Does it enable community stakeholders to hold economic and political actors accountable for outcomes of policy decisions? Does it promote the “common good,” with particular concern for inclusion of those currently marginalized?
None of these questions can be answered in the affirmative with respect to the charities and societies law of the ruling regime in Ethiopia. With all due respect, Short’s ex cathedra exhortation to use the standard of a “united voice of civil society” to determine the existence of a free fair and independent civil society institutions in Ethiopia calls into question not only her intellectual acumen but also casts serious doubt over her ability to undertake elementary due diligence to discover facts before opining in public.
What constitutes “continuous improvement” in the regime’s treatment of civil society organizations in Ethiopia?
Short argues that one of the primary criteria for EITI admission should focus on “continuous improvement.” The fact of the matter is that the regime has had three years to show “continuous improvement” since its first application was rejected. It has not shown continuous improvement; it has shown continuous regression. Since 2010, “the number of CSOs in Ethiopia has been reduced from about 4600 to about 1400 in a period of three months in early 2010. Staff members have been reduced by 90% or more among many of those organizations that survive according to my informants.” In the same year, the regime froze the assets of Ethiopia’s Human Rights Council, Ethiopia’s oldest human rights organization, and the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association, effectively incapacitating these two vital institutions; indeed for all intents and purposes outlawing them.
In October 2012, the regime announced closing down 10 non-governmental organizations and announced that 17 other organizations were under active investigation. The regime further alleged 400 organizations were operating in violation of the Proclamation and affirmed that appropriate action would be taken against them. In November 2012, the Heinrich Böll Foundation, a German NGO which promotes democracy and human rights, packed up and left in protest against restrictions on its activities. In February 2013, the regime banned three NGOs including One Euro, the Islamic Cultural and Research Centre, and the Gohe Child, Youth and Women Development Organisation accusing them of conducting “illegal religious activities”. In 2013, “out of 29 charities funded by US Agency for International Development, 27 can’t comply” with the Proclamation.
As a student of policy analysis, I am quite familiar with theories of “continuous improvements” which occur over time, “incremental” improvements which occur episodically and “breakthrough” improvements which occur all at once. Can Short point to a single instance of the regime’s “continuous improvement” or intent to show continuous improvement over the past three years in the area of civil society institutions? Can Short point to a single instance of an incremental or breakthrough improvement by the regime in the area of civil society organizations?
The fact of the matter is that the regime still criminalizes and chokes civil society organizations in the country. To expect “continuous improvement” on the regime’s draconian civil society law is like expecting “continuous improvement” on Apartheid laws. Some laws and policies are so abominable that the only type of “continuous improvement” that can be made on them is to continuously junk them! Short’s argument of “continuous improvement” as an admissions standard should be seen for what it is — a canard, a false and misleading argument that over time a bad law can become good. Bad laws are not like good wine. They get worse as they age.
Taking cheap shots at Diaspora Ethiopians?
Short delivers a body blow to Diaspora Ethiopians by urging EITI to ignore “opposing voices from the Ethiopian diaspora.” Her remarks are in line with the views of the regime’s apparatchiks and die-hard supporters. When I and many others Diaspora Ethiopians engaged in grassroots advocacy efforts to pass HR 2003 (Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act of 2007) in the U.S. Congress, the regime, its supporters and lobbyists worked overtime to cut off our voices. Back then they called us the “extremist Diaspora”; today we are described by the kinder and gentler label “opposing voices”. Diaspora Ethiopian voices may be silent and even silenced, but we are not deaf. We get Short’s message. We do not mind the labels because we believe that being “opposing voices” or “extremists” in the cause of liberty and human rights is a virtue and not a vice.
There may be some Diaspora Ethiopians who may feel insulted and disrespected by Short’s cavalier and hubristic dismissal. They may be angered by a manifestly petulant, provocative and inflammatory remark. That is understandable. After all, Short proclaimed to the world that Diaspora Ethiopian voices do not matter. Apparently, it is not enough that the regime in Ethiopia has silenced opposing voices in the country. Short now piles on by openly advocating suppression of “opposing voices from the Ethiopian Diaspora.”
I am not sure where Short got such haughty moral authority to silence and dismiss the voices of millions of Diaspora Ethiopians with a single stroke of her pen. Perhaps such arrogance is a privilege of high office for the high and mighty. I am afraid Short’s ostentatious display of self-righteous arrogance will likely nurture bitterness and invite incivility from the targets of her verbal arrows. Ultimately, it will likely breed ill-will against EITI. I believe Short owes an apology to Diaspora Ethiopians.
I take no personal umbrage from Short’s abysmally uninformed statements and assertions in her “Open Letter”. I am accustomed (actually deafened by) to listening to the “voices of ignorance”. I have tried to speak truth to the arrogance of ignorance for years with the same effect as dripping water on a slab of New Hampshire granite. In my commentary two weeks ago, Dignifying Mining Corruption in Ethiopia Through EITI?, I argued with full factual support that the regime in Ethiopia is engaged in gamesmanship with EITI and that it aims to weasel its way into the organization so that it can legitimize its corrupt mining sector. The evidence for my analysis and argument came from a voluminous report of the World Bank.
I would like Short to know that I am not particularly concerned that my “Diaspora voice” is unheard. I have often said that preaching human rights and the rule of law to the regime in power in Ethiopia and its advocates and lackeys elsewhere is like preaching Scripture to a gathering of deaf-mute and blind Heathen. I may not be heard but I shall not be silenced by the stroke of Short’s pen. Paraphrasing Omar Khayyám’s verse, “my moving finger shall continue to write; and, having writ,/ Move on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit/ Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,/Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”
I will be charitable to Short and overlook her contemptuously dismissive comment in like manner as William Buckley. “I won’t insult Ms. Short’s intelligence by suggesting that she really believes what she wrote about listening to the ‘united voice of civil society in Ethiopia’ and ignoring ‘opposing voices from the Ethiopian diaspora.’” I do, however, take solace in Dr. Martin Luther King’s observation that “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.”
As one Ethiopian Diaspora voice representing many Diaspora Ethiopian voices, I am glad to engage Ms. Short in any policy debate on human rights in Ethiopia. I want to make it clear that I respect her opinion and her right to express it in her “Open Letter” though I could not disagree with her more. I urge all Ethiopians to respect her right to express her opinion and to disagree with her without being disagreeable. Despite differences on virtually everything on the EITI application of the regime in Ethiopia, Short and I share one thing in common. Passion. She is “passionate” in promoting the regime in Ethiopia. I am equally “passionate” in my opposition to the gross human rights abuses of the regime, its decimation of civil society, incarceration of journalists and closing of all political space. Time will tell who has been on the right side of history.
Though Short advises EITI to ignore “opposing voices of the Ethiopian Diaspora”, I advise her not to ignore the voice of history that appeasement of dictatorships and rewarding dictators for bad behavior only emboldens them to inflict more pain and suffering on their victims. Appeasement does not humanize dictators; it hardens them and reinforces their conviction “they got one over.”
Of all people, Short should remember that the “desire for peace in our time” led to a horrible war. Appeasement expressed in terms of “enough space” (I guess it was once called “lebensraum”) dangerously subordinates human rights to the politics of expediency and aids in the unleashing of suffering and misery on those trapped in Ethiopia’s kililistans. I believe that when international organizations professedly committed to enforce accountability and transparency begin to turn a blind eye to crimes against humanity, they become not only appeasers but also accessories before and after the fact.
Oh, yes! I almost forgot…
What about the regime’s application to EITI? I will not waste time commenting on it. Suffice it to say that it is the biggest package of padded fluff I have seen in a long time. The “candidature application” consists of 25 pages of text full of embarrassing typographical and syntactic errors.
Much of what is in the application would make sense only in a world of nonsense. As I scrutinized the application for substance, I chuckled. It reminded of Alice’s puzzlement in Alice in Wonderland. “If I had a world of my own,” said Alice “everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary-wise; what it is it wouldn’t be, and what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”
I cannot imagine how any self-respecting bureaucrat or regime would proffer such an application for EITI consideration, unless of course it was submitted tongue-in-cheek. Perhaps the cruelest joke played on EITI in the regime’s application is the inclusion of the “Ethiopian National Journalists Union” as one of the five members of the local civil society oversight group formed to ensure proper implementation of the EITI protocols if Ethiopia’s application is approved. Yes! The Ethiopian National Journalists Union?! The Committee to Protect Journalists has described Ethiopia as the “the second-worst jailer of journalists” in Africa. What an insult to the intelligence of the members of the EITI Board! Is Short seriously urging EITI Board members to “listen to the clear voice” of the Ethiopian National Journalists Union?
The application itself is full gobbledygook. Here are a few examples. “Of course, the board was cited that, proclamation No.621/2009 will affect CSOs participation in the implementation of EITI in Ethiopia. However, as we clearly explained to the board, unless the board defines it differently, the proclamation is not a matter or an obstacle for CSOs to participate in the application of EITI rules in Ethiopia.” Say what?! The application states, “Even though, Ethiopian application with regard to the communicated EITI sign up was differed or pended by the board, the government through the custody of the initiative is sustainably performing to attain the maximum privileges of the initiative.” Huh!? It further explains, “Accordingly, the custody of the [EITI] initiative was made different workshops and trainings for stakeholders to enable them to speak freely on transparency and natural resource issues without any restriction, and tried to cope up their understanding to use their right to communicate and cooperate with each other to talk about the natural resource issue boldly on the large EITI meeting & else-where.” A fine literary example of mumbo-jumbo that makes sense only to those “who have a world of their own”.
I pride myself in speaking truth to power and those who abuse power. The regime’s EITI application could best be described with a word that momentarily eludes me, but I believe it starts with bull.
Ms. Short must resign!
By issuing her “Open Letter”, Ms. Short has gone rogue on the EITI Board. She has overreached and acted beyond the scope of her authority as set forth in Article 12 of EITI’s Articles of Association. She has engaged in conflict of interest by subordinating the institutional interests of EITI to her personal crusade to get admission for a particular regime. She has irresponsibly plunged EITI into a global controversy by maliciously attacking civil society organizations and national stakeholders of a prospective applicant country. She has chosen to openly debate the internal affairs of the organization in the public domain by engaging outside groups who now feel they have legal and moral standing to demand disclosure of internal EITI decision-making processes. She has compromised the integrity of EITI by acting as a lobbyist and partisan advocate for a particularly country. She has further compromised the integrity of EITI by publicly presenting herself as an agent and (un)official representative of the regime in Ethiopia. She has abused the privileges of her office and brought contempt and ridicule to EITI’s civil society representatives. She has engaged in an outrageous vilification campaign against international human rights organizations and others. She has dehumanized and demonized Diaspora Ethiopians who oppose the EITI application of the regime in Ethiopia.
When Short resigned from her position as International Development Secretary in 2003, she blasted Tony Blair for the false “assurances [he] gave [her] about the need for a UN mandate to establish a legitimate Iraqi government have been breached. This makes my position impossible. I am sad and sorry that it has ended like this.”
What was good for the gander then is good for the goose now. What Short has done in her Open Letter is an egregious breach of EITI’s Articles of Association and a flagrant dereliction of her duty as chair of that organization. Going forward, her “Open Letter” makes her position with EITI impossible. We will all be sad and sorry that it must end this way, but Clare Short must do the right thing once again. She must resign from her position as Chair of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.
Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino and is a practicing defense lawyer.
Previous commentaries by the author are available at:
Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at: