Norway’s aid to Ethiopia under fire

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Norway sent around NOK 240 million to Ethiopia last year, in foreign aid, but human rights activists claim the money is being used to crush the political opposition and critics of the Ethiopian government.

Prime ministers Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia (left) and Jens Stoltenberg of Norway have been working together on the UN climate project. PHOTO: Statsministerenskontor

The Norwegian aid funds are supposed to be used for food programs and aid to children, but Norway’s state Auditor General (Riksrevisjonen) has complained that Norwegian foreign aid workers haven’t done enough to prevent corruption and misuse of funds.

Newspaper Aftenposten reports that Human Rights Watch recently concluded that Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and the government party (the Revolutionary Democratic Front) instead use Norwegian aid money to crush the opposition by paying people loyal to the party.

The payments are made in the form of food and agricultural resources, according to Human Rights Watch, which interviewed more than 200 persons around Ethiopia over a period of six months.

Human Rights Watch is calling for a thorough evaluation of how aid funds to Ethiopia are used, and criticizes Norway’s strategy of “state to state” funding. Norway hasn’t received insight into how its aid, funneled through UNICEF and UNFPA, are accounted for in Ethiopia’s state budget.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, who has been working with Zenawi on the United Nations’ panel to fund climate change measures, declined to comment on the criticism. His government colleague Erik Solheim, however, believes Ethiopia has shown signs of successful use of aid money and he questions Human Rights Watch’s claims.

Solheim, Norway’s minister for the environment and foreign aid, stressed that Norway is part of a large group of donor countries that have a common strategy for aid to Ethiopia.

He said Ethiopia is an example of a country that can show “considerable success” tied to development and growth in areas such as schools, education, economy and food supplies. Much remains to be done, he acknowledged, in the area of human rights.

Solheim said his ministry would follow up the state Auditor General’s criticism “and try to correct any weaknesses.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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