Clare Short has won! Congratulations, Clare! Brava!
Last week, Clare Short, Chair of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), succeeded in bullying the EITI Board members into voting to admit the ruling regime in Ethiopia into her Club. She did it the old-fashioned way— arm-twisting, browbeating, bulldozing, rear-end kicking, a little bit of jawboning and sweet-talkin’ and a whole lot of temper tantrum throwing. She had learned her lessons well. In 2003, when Short ripped into Tony Blair and threatened to resign her position as Secretary of State for International Development over the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, she fulminated defiantly, “But they were going to war anyway and they were going to bully and pressure countries to vote for it.”
Clare, we knew “you were going to bully and pressure your Board members to vote and let the corrupt regime in Ethiopia into EITI anyway.” Brava! You have won. Take a victory lap. Raise the roof. You have vanquished the “human rights campaigners”, humiliated and mocked the civil society representatives on your Board in front of the whole world and chased those hapless and voiceless Diaspora Ethiopians right out of town. Now, it is time for you to go to Addis and celebrate. You’ve earned it. Let the champagne and cognac flow. You now own EITI. It’s your baby! While you’re at it, make it real. Give EITI a new name. How about Clare’s Corruption Club? Has a nice ring to it. “The Triple C.”
What is truly fascinating is the fact that Short’s philosophy (she calls it “principles”) of controlling corruption in the mining and extractive industries in the most corrupt countries of the world has prevailed. In batting to admit the regime in Ethiopia into the EITI, Short advanced a short-sighted theory of mining corruption control, which can be reduced to the following simple proposition: Admit the most corrupt regimes in the world into EITI by having them playing-acting transparency and accountability. Have them do a little shuffling and song and dance. Insist that they make a public confession by babbling a few trendy phrases about transparency and good governance. Have them complete a make-believe application form with a lot of feel-good bureaucratic mumbo jambo. Demand that they publicly pledge allegiance to mining best practices. Then wine and dine them. In other words, dress up crooks, thugs and racketeers in designer suits, parade them in public like respectable national leaders, groom them for three years and re-introduce them to the world as anti-corruption warfighters in Clare Short’s Army. That’s the Clare Short Way of cleaning up the corrupt mining, mineral and oil sectors in Africa and elsewhere.
The decision to admit the regime in Ethiopia into EITI was a complete fraud done with smoke and mirrors. When the regime’s application was rejected in 2010, the reason given was that the
board concluded that Ethiopia’s ‘Proclamation on Charities and Society’ would prevent civil society groups from being sufficiently independent and meaningfully participate in the process. The board decided, in effect, not to admit Ethiopia ‘until the Proclamation on Charities and Society is no longer in place.’ This is the only such instance in the history of EITI where a country has failed to be admitted and the grounds for this action was clearly rights-based. (Emphasis added.)
Was the “Proclamation on Charities and Society” changed to justify admitting Ethiopia now? Of course not. What has changed for civil society in Ethiopia since 2010? As a direct result of the “Proclamation”, in 2010, “the number of civil society organizations in Ethiopia was reduced from about 4600 to about 1400 in a period of three months in early 2010. Staff members were reduced by 90% or more among many of those organizations that survive.”
In one fell swoop, within a span of three months, the “Proclamation” had wiped out 70 percent of the civil society organizations in Ethiopia. In February 2010, 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.
After the Board rejected the regime’s application in 2010, one thing had changed for sure. In March 2011, Clare Short was elected chair of EITI. Short is a longtime cheerleader and champion of the ruling regime in Ethiopia and a groupie of the late Meles Zenawi. She worshipped Meles, and not necessarily in a figurative way. Perhaps she felt she had to avenge the honor of her comrades and avatar for the drubbing they got in 2010 at the hands of the civil society board representatives. After all, when the regime’s application was rejected, that was “the only instance in the history of EITI where a country has failed to be admitted” on “clearly rights-based grounds”. Short set out to get even and avenge the “dishonor” of Meles & Co., by humiliating before the entire world the civil society representatives on the EITI Board who were instrumental in defeating Meles’ first application. Clare, the Avenger got even!
When Short launched her brazen lobbying campaign (I did not say bullying) on behalf of the regime in Ethiopia in her March 11 “Open Letter”, she hectored the civil society representatives on the EITI Board like juvenile delinquents. She also made a maddingly flabbergasting observation. “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,” bloviated Short. What did she mean by that? Who are the members of EITI?
EITI now has some 40 plus members. A good many of the member countries are under the thumbs and boots of some of the most corrupt and brutal regimes in the world. Among them include Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Kazakhstan, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Republic of the Congo, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tajikistan and Yemen. In her “no worse than a great many of them” parallelism, Short was actually declaring a manifest and undeniable truth: The regime in Ethiopia is no worse than or different from many of the current EITI members who engage in gross and massive abuses of human rights. They are all corrupt to the core; they have all crushed and decimated civil society institutions; and they are thugs and gangsters in designer suits sporting bridle leather briefcases. Her real message to her Board, human rights organizations and the Diaspora Ethiopians was simple. “Chill out y’all. Don’t get bent out of shape. Let’s put lipstick on the corrupt thugs and continue with business as usual. Can’t we just get along?”
I agreed with candidate Barack Obama when he said, “You can put lipstick on a pig; it’s still a pig. You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper and call it change; it’s still going to stink.” EITI can dress up thugs in designer suits, put makeup on them and call them “transparent” and “accountable”, but they are still thugs. You can wrap corruption in EITI logo and call it clean, but it is still going to stink. EITI is the lipstick put on African thug regimes to make them look pretty and clean.
In a strange way, Short is actually quite right. Mea culpa! It is true that many of the African countries in EITI are run by a bunch of wolfish corrupt thug regimes. I actually theorized about them in my commentary, “Thugtatorship, the Highest State of African Dictatorship.” Short is right on the money. Why exclude the thug regime in Ethiopia from its rightful place at the EITI Grand Table of Corruption? It is not fair.
In an even stranger way, Short proves my point perfectly. EITI is indeed mining Corruption Club Central. It reminds me of Alibaba and the 40 Thieves.
Strangest yet, I am grateful to Short for what she has done in her Open Letter fighting tooth and nail to get the regime in Ethiopia admitted into the EITI system. I admire her fighting spirit. Short is the type who will take down anybody to the mat if they stand in her way.
In bullying her Board to approve the regime’s application, she did us all a great service. She inadvertently exposed EITI for what it truly is, a protection and extortion racket. In organized crime enterprises, protection rackets operate in situations where the police and judiciary are unable, unwilling or are incapable of providing legal protection to the community. In exchange for a “small protection fee”, the racketeers effectively maintain “law and order” for their clients and ensure that they are not bothered by other gangsters and hooligans.
Many of the EITI member countries are incapable of controlling corruption through their own legal institutions. The vast majority of them are one-man, one-party jobs. Political institutions are corrupted to the core. They have rubberstamp parliaments. Their prosecutors are benighted goons and party hacks with make-believe law books under their armpits. The judiciary is in the back pockets of the regime leaders. The anti-corruption commissions are used as guided missiles to wipe out political opponents, including dissenters within the regimes. There is no rule of law, only the rule of ignorant thugs.
Comes now EITI ready to impose a new world order of morality and integrity on age-old mining corruption in Africa and elsewhere. Supposedly, that is what EITI has been doing for the past decade. Truth be told, EITI is actually a protection racket for all of the corrupt regimes in its Club. It serves as a safe harbor to corrupt thugs who rapaciously plunder and steal their national resources away from any prying eyes. All the corrupt regimes have to do to be born again and attain the kingdom of EITI is go through a rite of passage: 1) Sign up and recite the EITI catechism. 2) Get baptized and be anointed by the Priestess. 3) Perform a few acts of contrition in public. 4) Give indulgencies for all prior acts of corruption. 5) Wait in limbo for three years in preparation for beatification from corrupt to clean.
It is a great scam for the thug regimes. They get to wear the EITI badge of (dis)honor and swagger about pontificating about how free they are from corruption. The EITI badge will give the corrupt thugs in Ethiopia bragging rights. They will flaunt their EITI good housekeeping seal of approval in the face of the international human rights organizations and the voiceless Diaspora Ethiopians. “In your face Human Rights Watch! In your face, Diaspora Ethiopians! We’re clean as a hound’s tooth, and we can prove it. Check out this cool badge!” They will continue to ply their mining corruption above suspicion, aboveground, aboveboard and above the law. EITI membership gives them the license and to steal, wheel and deal their natural resources to unsuspecting investors and the moral legitimacy to squeeze the loaners and donors for some mo’ extra cash.
EITI’s charade about its standards and criteria for admission is its omerta (code of silence) and its method of silencing not only its external critics but also internal dissenters. EITI shrouds itself in a whole litany of bureaucratic mumbo jambo about admissions criteria, accountability and transparency. Short dismissed all that as nice PR verbiage in her Open Letter when she wrote, “the entry bar to candidates should be clearly and simply whether there is enough space for civil society to work with EITI.” What about those high-falutin’ and pretentious official standards? Are they mere ritual songs and dances?
By any objective measure, the admission of the regime in Ethiopia into EITI shows that the EITI standards are hollow and vacuous. EITI proclaims that to join the Club, a “government is required to issue an unequivocal public statement of its intention to implement the EITI.” Big deal! A government “must appoint a senior individual to lead on the implementation of the EITI.” Sure, corrupt Tweedle Dee appoints corrupt Tweedle Dum to lead the implementation. A government is “required to commit to work with civil society.” What civil society? Not a problem. Since the corrupt thugs have decimated all real civil societies in their countries, EITI gives them permission to invent their own. That is precisely what the regime in Ethiopia did when it invented out of whole cloth the “Ethiopian National Journalists Union”. What a joke! The Meles Zenawi Prison in Kality, just outside the capital city of Addis Ababa, warehouses all of the real journalists — internationally celebrated ones and multiple recipients of the most coveted and prestigious press awards in the world — including Eskinder Nega, Reyot Alemu and Woubshet Taye. Eskinder was sentenced to 18 years for criticizing the late Meles Zenawi and for commenting on the Arab Spring. Reeyot and Woubshet were handed 14 year sentences for expressing their views in their weekly magazines.
Expecting the “Ethiopian National Journalists Union” to press for real accountability and transparency in the mining sector is like expecting an accurate accounting of missing hens from the fox guarding the hen house. The basic idea in the EITI regime is to facilitate the publication of accurate and verifiable data on the mining, mineral and oil sectors under strict independent public oversight and scrutiny with direct public engagement. The ultimate aim is to make sure “Revenues generated from the extraction of natural resources are available for the public to see.”
When it comes to data, the regime in Ethiopia is notorious for cooking the books. As I demonstrated in my commentaries “The Voodoo Economics of Meles Zenawi” and “The Fakeonomics of Meles Zenawi”, the Meles regime had been cooking the economic statistics to falsely claim that under his leadership Ethiopia achieved “double-digit economic growth” for a full decade. What is fascinatingly instructive is the fact that Meles cleverly fed his bogus economic growth data to the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) so that they can blow his trumpet. Even though they knew better, the WB and IMF were willing accomplices in the perpetuation of one of the greatest and boldest economic canards in recent times.
I shall argue that the regime in Ethiopia will pull the same tricks and hide behind EITI’s skirt to report all kinds of bogus statistics about mining production and revenues, while siphoning off hundreds of millions and depositing them in their personal offshore accounts. In due course, I expect to write a commentary entitled, the “The Voodoo Statistics of Mining Corruption in Ethiopia Through EITI”.
EITI aims to create the illusion of legitimacy, credibility, transparency and accountability through its lofty-sounding standards while in fact legitimizing and giving cover to corruption in the extractive industries in Africa and other developing countries. EITI is the “stealth technology” the corrupt regimes in Africa and elsewhere having been looking for so that they can cruise in plain view while ripping off the resources of their people without suspicion or detection. EITI is one of the slickest, sleaziest and slimiest con games to be played out on the world stage in a long time.
Demanding a double apology and insisting on one
In my last commentary, Mining Corruption in Ethiopia: A Reply to Clare Short, I suggested that Short should offer an apology to Diaspora Ethiopians for her monstrous fatwa demanding that they be shut out of the debate over Ethiopia’s admission into EITI. She urged her Board to “listen to [the]…clear and united voice of civil society in Ethiopia, rather than opposing voices from the Ethiopian diaspora.” She effectively argued that the voice of Diaspora Ethiopians should be silenced.
The “clear and united voice of civil society of Ethiopia”, of course, is only a figment of Short’s unhinged imagination. There is neither clear, united nor even a voice of civil society in Ethiopia. The real civil society organizations have been muzzled, gagged and bagged years ago. But Short for some reason wants to perpetuate the myth that there is “civil society” in Ethiopia. Perhaps like her bosom buddy Meles Zemawi, she must love telling bedtime stories. I am actually cool with fairy tales. I also like Dr. Seuss. “One fish. Two fish. Red fish. Blue Fish.” One civil society organization. Two. Red civil society organization. Blue.
Really, I was somewhat wishful that Short may issue an apology to Diaspora Ethiopians out of a sense of magnanimity and noblesse oblige. Perhaps she might have said, “Sorry, I have been misunderstood and quoted out of context.” She does not actually have to mean it, just a nice PR exercise. Short does not have the generosity to apologize to the victims of her misguided wrath. She has a long reputation for being a bully bordering on “thuggy”, to use the contemporary parlance of youth. Short is known for being short-fused and short-tempered. Richard Dowden, the respected British Journalist, recounted his experiences with her in 2011. “I once interviewed her on a plane and when I pressed a point about human rights in Rwanda she threatened to have me thrown off. Since we were over Guinea at the time, I backed off. Now we meet in the genteel tranquility of London’s Commonwealth Club and she is calm and reflective – though still capable of taking a swipe at anyone who tries to tinker with her creation.” Short don’t play. She bullied Tony Blair into submission. (No wonder Blair confessed, “I feel like an abused and bullied wife.” It’s Short’s short way or the long highway! I have to give her credit though. She is a formidable apologist for the thugs in power in Ethiopia.
No need to apologize to Diaspora Ethiopians. But Short must apologize to Ali Idrissa, Faith Nwadishi and Jean-Claude Katende, the civil society representatives on her Board, and the other members of Publish What You Pay. I insist on it! In her “Open Letter”, she unjustly lambasted the trio for being stooges of the international human rights organizations. 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 hectored them for putting the fate of EITI in the balance by opposing the application of the regime in Ethiopia.
Idrissa, Nwadishi and Katende respectfully replied to short’s Open Letter and told her she had jumped the gun. They said, “Ethiopia’s application to join EITI was not on our agenda at the regional PWYP meeting in Pointe Noire, although the issue did come up when we held our session on the enabling environment.” They explained that there were two views aired at Pointe Noire, one to admit the other to oppose. They challenged her “neutrality” stating, “You have openly taken a position in favour of admitting Ethiopia as an EITI candidate country, going against the principle of neutrality that should characterise your chairmanship. The trust from which you benefit as a chair is grounded in this essential principle.” They expressed puzzlement over her bizarre Open Letter. “On this issue, we would like to note that we do not understand to what end the letter was made public when it was only addressed to a few people… We would also appreciate if our letter, like yours, would be published on the EITI website. In addition to that, it will be made available to our coalition members on the PWYP-International website.”
Short responded to Idrissa, Nwadishi and Katende, not directly, but through her secretary, Jonas Moberg. It was her way of adding insult to injury. She had no problems writing Idrissa, Nwadishi and Katende in her Open Letter and hectoring and pleading with them before the whole world, but when they talked back, how dare they?! They needed to be put in their place. Moberg was the man given the dirty job. I personally felt deeply humiliated when I read the following:
Clare has asked me to answer your letter. Your points are fully noted, except the so called neutrality of the chair. As I have mentioned to Jean-Claude, the chair does not need to be neutral. She should not act as a representative of any of our stakeholders, which is not the same as being neutral. The chair serves the EITI because she believes in its principles. It is her duty to defend those principles and act in the interest of the EITI, which is what she was doing when she wrote to you. There was no breach of her role in her letter.
Idrissa, Nwadishi and Katende are not worthy of a direct response from Her Majesty?!
As I re-read Moberg’s letter, I was pissed off like a squirrel with a frozen pine cone. How dare Short respond to them through her secretary! Who the hell does she think she is?! Couldn’t she have had the grace, no! the simple human decency and courtesy to have her secretary draft the letter for her to sign. Obviously, Short wanted to send Idrissa, Nwadishi and Katende a clear message. She wanted to show them who’s the boss and what it’s all about. She is the Boss and it’s all about mind over matter. Short does not mind and Idrissa, Nwadishi and Katende don’t matter!
I am going to apologize to Idrissa, Nwadishi and Katende in the name of human decency, respect and honor. I have never met them or talked to them, but as fellow Africans I want them to know that their humiliation is my humiliation. My pride as an African was hurt to see them treated that way, but I want them to know that I am mighty proud of them. Their reply to Short’s off-the-wall Open Letter was an example of rationality, logic and common sense. In their reply, they showed restraint, professionalism, equanimity and intellectual honesty. They also showed that their generation of Africans will never say, “Yes! Bwana!”, “Whatever you say Bwana!” Short and her ilk should know that the new generation of Africans will not kowtow to anyone. The days of “yes suh massah” are long gone. All Africans should be proud of Idrissa, Nwadishi and Katende because they showed dignity and grace in the face of disgrace and outrageous indignity. They did it all in class. Bravissimo! Idrissa, Nwadishi and Katende!
I also plead with Idrissa, Nwadishi and Katende not be overly offended by Short’s repeated injuries and usurpations. After all, Short worshiped the late Meles Zenawi. In April 2013, Short spoke of her unbounded admiration for Meles “Superman” Zenawi at a memorial service. She said Meles was “the most intelligent politician I’ve ever met in my life”. (Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Harriet Harman, Ed Milliband, David Cameron, John Major, Maggie Thatcher, eat your heart out!) I don’t know about “Meles the Omniscient,” but I have no doubt he was the pick of the litter. Just look around; they are all chasing their tails.
Meles, like Short, was an arrogant man who “thugged” those who opposed or criticized him. He routinely called his opponents “idiots”, “dirty”, “mud dwellers”, “pompous egotists” and “good-for-nothing chaff and husk.” He also called them names that cannot be repeated in polite company. After Meles jailed Birtukan Midekssa, the first woman political party leader in Ethiopian history, he called her a “chicken” who has “gained weight (while she was in solitary confinement in prison) due to lack of exercise.” He took sadistic pleasure in humiliating and demeaning parliamentarians who challenged him with probing questions or even merely offered an alternative perspective. His put-downs, sarcasm and jibes were so humiliating and eviscerating that few parliamentarians dared to stand up to his bullying. When the European Union Election Observer Group confronted Meles with the truth about his theft of the May 2010 election by 99.6 percent, Meles condemned the entire EU Group for preparing a “trash report that deserves to be thrown in the garbage.” What can I say? Like demigod, like acolyte!
Did Short “defend EITI principles” or was she a lobbyist/agent for the regime in Ethiopia?
Short via Moberg’s reply to Idrissa, Nwadishi and Katende said that she was not being partial to Ethiopia but discharging “her duty to defend [EITI] principles and act in the interest of the EITI” when she wrote her Open Letter. Really?
Was Short “defending EITI principles” or pandering to the regime in Ethiopia when she wrote the following in her Open Letter:
I do not accept that the situation for civil society in Ethiopia is worse than a great many of them.
I must add that I find the discussion on Ethiopia to have been 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”.
Rejecting Ethiopia’s application will leave Ethiopian civil society with nowhere to go.
I also believe that we should listen to what strikes me as a clear and united voice of civil society in Ethiopia, rather than opposing voices from the Ethiopian diaspora.
There is no doubt in my mind that there is a strong group of activists who mean well but are quick to pick on some African countries which, whilst far from ideal, are no worse on human rights than many other countries.
There is also a serious problem of double standards. For example, removing the Occupy protesters from outside St Paul’s Cathedral by force in my own country hardly raised a murmur. The existence of Guantanamo and use of torture has not been mentioned in relation to the US application.
If [EITI] it is seen as a tool of campaigners it will lose effectiveness and support.
Fall on the sword for what?
Short has fought tooth and nail for the regime’s admission into EITI. She proclaimed in her Open Letter that she is passionate in her advocacy for admission of the regime in Ethiopia. I respect anyone who has passion for a cause and fights for it, even if I disagree with them. I admire Short for having the balls to stand up for what she believes in. But I do wonder, really wonder! What the price is for her passion? What is the price for Short to fall on the sword for the thugs in Ethiopia? What is the price of Short’s soul?
Who really cares about EITI?
EITI, CCC, EEITI, whatever! Who cares? Who gives a damn!? You can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig. You can put a whole lot of African thugtators in EITI and call them transparent and accountable. At the end of the day, they are still thugtators in designer suits and fancy briefcases.
The suffering, violence and cruelty is going to go on and on in Ethiopia
Short once ruminated, “I think the suffering, violence and cruelty and Guantanamo and the rest is going to go on and on in Iraq.” Well, I feel the same way about Ethiopia. The suffering, violence and cruelty in Ethiopia is going to go on and on. Journalists will be jailed, civil society will be crushed, opposition leaders will be harassed and jailed, dissidents will be kicked around and elections stolen in broad daylight. That will not stop the struggle for peaceful nonviolent change. That will go on and on and on… Ethiopia’s young daughters and sons will rise up and shout out,
We can’t take it anymore! We are hungry! We need freedom! We need freedom! Free Eskinder! Free Andualem! Free Abubaker! Free Reeyot! Free political prisoners! We need justice! Freedom! Freedom! Freedom! Don’t divide us! Ethiopia is One! One Ethiopia! We can’t take it anymore! We are hungry…”
Just as Short holds American presidents responsible for the suffering, violence and cruelty in Guantanamo and Iraq, I hold Short responsible as an accessory after the fact for the decimation of civil society in Ethiopia.
Clare Short, “J’Accuse…!”
“If you shut up truth and bury it under the ground, it will but grow, and gather to itself such explosive power that the day it bursts through it will blow up everything in its way.” Emile Zola
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: