What’s Wrong with U.S. Policy for Ethiopia and Africa?

What’s Wrong With U.S. Policy For Ethiopia and Africa?

Lawrence Freeman, July 31, 2021

Knowledgeable American analysts of U.S.-African relations are disturbed by the U.S. government’s treatment of Ethiopia.  In the first six months of the Biden Presidency, we have witnessed a dramatic reversal of U.S. support for a long standing ally in the Horn of Africa.  Ethiopia, the second largest nation in Africa, has been a regional leader, with its bold economic vision to improve the lives of its 110 million people.  

Ethiopia has achieved two major accomplishments under the leadership of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed during June and July. First, the successful June 21st national elections, and second, the natural partial filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

Regrettably, there were no robust congratulations from President Biden for either achievement. Following the freest, fairest, and most peaceful elections in Ethiopia’s history, U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken’s only comment was: “the United States commends those who exercised their right to vote on June 21.”  Unusual for elections in Africa, not one individual died in Ethiopia’s voting process. In contrast, several Americans died during the January 6th, violent protest of the U.S. electoral vote.  

Equally astonishing, President Biden failed to praise the second filling of almost 14 billion cubic meters of water in the reservoir of the GERD, which will lead to production of electricity later this year. Following in the footsteps of former President Trump, the Biden administration and the Democrat controlled Congress, have tried to discourage Ethiopia from filling the GERD. Despite Ethiopia’s important role in Africa, Prime Minister Abiy’s notable reform movement, and the success of his Prosperity Party, President Biden has never talked to the Prime Minister.

Patient voters during the June 21, Ethiopian election

America’s Agenda for Democracy

Secretary of State Blinken along with several other officials from the Obama administration are leading President Biden’s global foreign policy with their mantra: “democracy, human rights, and rule of law.” But what do these words mean other than a desire to impose their world order on other nations.

Prime Minister Abiy’s non-ethnic based Prosperity Party won overwhelmingly in a democratic election deemed fair, free of violence and intimidation, and credible. Ethiopia Election: A Vote for Peace, Unity, and Prosperity.  Millions of Ethiopians approved of Prime Minister Abiy’s policies, giving him a mandate to lead for another five years. That is democracy.

Shouldn’t “human rights” include the most fundamental right; the right for human beings to live a productive and dignified life?  How is that possible when Africans are suffering from abject poverty, lack of food, clean water, and electricity.  It is not possible. 

The solution lies in physical economic development that transforms the conditions of life. As the Ethiopians are fond of saying: “eliminate poverty, don’t manage it.” Aid is not sufficient. Building vital infrastructure is an absolute necessity, not an option. More than anything else, African nations need electricity—a thousand gigawatts at least. Africa needs a minimum of 50,000 kilometers of high speed railroads.  With the billions of dollars in aid given to African nations, transformative infrastructure projects could have been built. Isn’t the right to electricity a human right?

Then, why hasn’t Ethiopia been profusely praised for building the GERD to produce 6,200 megawatts (6.2 gigawatts) of electricity. Physical economic development is the most fundamental of human rights.

Prime Minister Abiy, responded to the attacks on the Ethiopian National Defense Force, (November 4, 2020), by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), as a leader should.  He used the military capability of his nation to defeat the enemy within Ethiopia. Whatever grievances the TPLF might have had, a violent assault on the government’s military, is an insurrection.  Americans have learned that lesson afresh on January 6th.  Preserving the sovereign nation-state  from a rebel insurgency, is the most supreme responsibility of a Head of State. There is no higher “rule of law,” as President Abraham Lincoln properly understood.

U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken

U.S.-Africa Policy; Does It Exist?

There are several components of U.S. policy towards Africa that undermine Ethiopia’s noteworthy effort to become a self-governing economically independent nation.

First, the U.S. does not have a long term development policy for Africa. It is willing to spend billions of dollars on short term aid, but nothing for large scale infrastructure that would actually improve living conditions. Despite all the attacks, and rantings against China and its Belt and Road, if China were to pull out of Africa it would negatively impact the continent.  That is because the U.S. would not step in to fill the vacuum. Sadly, the last U.S. President that understood the importance of physical economic development in Africa, and acted on it, was John F. Kennedy.   

Second, one cannot underestimate the general level of  ignorance about Africa in U.S. society, especially our elected officials. Yes, there are a few members of Congress who have some knowledge about a few African nations.  However, I can report to you with authority, after observing Washington for decades, that the overwhelming majority of Congress, have little knowledge of the actual dynamics, when implementing legislation affecting African nations, Overall, there is no in-depth historical understanding of the African continent or the nations that comprise it.   

Third, the continent of Africa is close to last on the list of priorities for American Presidents. Often, U.S. policy for African nations is rarely articulated until the second year of a president’s term, except for the standard four page “talking points” paper on Africa.

Why African Leaders Are Opposed

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam-GERD, upper right, will drive economic development in East Africa with its 6,200 megawatts of electrical power.

This final point may be the most difficult for many readers to comprehend.

Following the liberation of African nations from the yoke of colonialism  three score years ago, African leaders, who fight to improve conditions of life on the continent, always face opposition from within and without.  There exists a financial-political elite, perhaps identified as an oligarchy, who see Africa for its material resources and financial gain. They attempt to exploit nations through international finance, manipulated terms of trade, and raw material prices controlled by the City of London based commodity cartels. 

The key concerns of the neo-colonialist financial institutions have always been, if they cannot control the leadership of a country, a  “divide and conquer” tactic is employed to weaken that nation.  War and chaos are the preferred fallback alternatives to losing command of the targeted nation.

They have always opposed genuine development programs that would lift a nation out of poverty, and abhor strong governments and leaders that aspire to national sovereignty. Their ideology is dominated by “geo-politics” that sees the world as a zero sum game of winners and losers.  Those with the most political and financial power are the winners. They have little desire to eliminate poverty. Except for the last one to two decades of China’s intervention, the West has dominated the African continent, with no demonstrable proof that their policies have improved the standard of living for the majority of Africans. Any progress in Africa is the result of national leaders, not Western policy.  

Abiy is seen as a strong leader with enough personal determination to move his nation forward, as evidenced in the rise of the Prosperity Party, which was founded in opposition to ethno-nationalism.

The most recent vivid example of the elimination of an African leader was the overthrow and assassination of President Muammar Gaddafi, followed by the destruction of Libya. Remember this was done by the “liberal” Obama administration, led by then Ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power. Many of those same operatives from the Obama era are now part of the Biden Administration. Have those individuals admitted their culpability in creating the failed state of Libya, and the destruction of North Africa after Gaddafi’s removal? Those same cast of characters are attempting to undermine Ethiopia today with their fake and hollow cries for “democracy, rule of law and human rights.”

There is often a coincidence of action and interests between those insisting on implementing their “liberal” doctrine, and the objectives of the political financial elites.

Samantha Power, then U.N. Ambassador under President Obama, and now head of USAID under President Biden. (courtesy of axios.com)

Almost nine months after Prime Minister Abiy chose to defend his nation, the TPLF, now been rebranded the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF), continues their violent attacks on the state of Ethiopia. After the June 28, unilateral declaration of a ceasefire by the government of Ethiopia, the TDF has launched offensive military deployments against two neighboring regions; Afar and Amhara. Not surprisingly, there have been no statements of condemnation of TDF by the Biden administration or Congress.  Blinken, and the Congress have never  acknowledged Ethiopia’s declaration that the TPLF/TDF is a terrorist organization. Instead, they continued to insist on reconciliation. Thus, establishing an equivalency between a duly constituted government and a rebel insurrectionist militia that is intent on destroying the nation of Ethiopia. This crucial failure, to withhold support from the government of Prime Minister Abiy, is contributing to Ethiopia’s turmoil today.

U.S.-Ethiopia Today

Is the U.S. lack of support for Prime Minister Abiy, encouraging the TDF to continue fighting?  Is the U.S. today still demanding reconciliation with the insurrectionists who have announced their intention to march on Addis Ababa, the capital? Will the TDF military campaigns against other regions spark a greater war?  If the conflict spreads in Ethiopia, will the U.S. accept responsibility for their encouragement of the TDF?

Who benefits if Ethiopia is torn apart by war? As the case of Libya has demonstrated; not Africans.  If Ethiopia was to be torn apart in inter-ethnic warfare, tens of millions of Africans, not just Ethiopians, would suffer extreme hardship.

It is not too late for the Biden administration to correct its policy towards Ethiopia, before more Africans suffer from the spread of ethno-nationalist war.  

Watch my 20 minute interview below, where I discuss the conflict between Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan, the filling of the GERD, and U.S. policy towards Ethiopia.

Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in economic development policies for Africa for over 30 years. He is the creator of the blog: lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com. Mr. Freeman’s stated personal mission is; to eliminate poverty and hunger in Africa by applying the scientific economic principles of Alexander Hamilton

Successful Ethiopian Election Proves Critics Wrong

Successful Ethiopian Election Proves Critics Wrong

Lawrence Freeman

July 7, 2021

On June 21, the Ethiopian people voted in peaceful fortitude to advance their nation towards democracy. Voting in their 6th General Election, the Ethiopian people exhibited with their hands and feet how important it was to choose their leadership, despite the many challenges the nation faces. The Ethiopian people exposed the patently false predictions of violence and chaos, by the Western media and governments. Nothing but political propaganda in an attempt to tarnish the election as illegitimate. However, most revealing of their intent, the same news outlets that falsely portrayed the Ethiopian election prior to its occurrence, have thus far refused to publicize its actual success. Ethiopians with calm determination, voted for unity, peace, and development as they stood in lines for hours in such large numbers that polling stations stayed opened hours longer then scheduled.

Voting on election day (courtesy nebe.org.net)

Africans Give Elections A ‘Thumbs Up’

The African Union Election Observer Mission-AUEOM, headed up by H.E. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, former president of Nigeria, had a total of 65 election observers, who covered five regions, visiting many dozens of polling stations.

The June 23rd African Union preliminary statement reads:

“The Mission concludes that despite some operational, logistical, security, political and COVID-19 related challenges, overall, the pre-election and Election Day processes were conducted in an orderly , peaceful, and credible manner. There was nothing in the Mission’s estimation, that distracted from the credible conduct of the elections. The Mission, therefore, commends all Ethiopians for the demonstrated commitment to the democratic development of the country.” (emphasis added)

One day earlier, on June 22, the Eastern Africa Standby Force (EASF) Election Observation Mission (EOM), which consisted of a total of 28 observers drawn from eight East African nations released their preliminary report with similar conclusions to that of the AU. The EASFEOM were able to observe the voting process in eight regions of Ethiopia on election day.

There were no election observers from the West except a handful of Americans, who were unable to issue any report due to their small numbers and inability to observe a credible sampling of polling stations. Thus, the only two observer missions, both from African institutions, recognized the Ethiopian General Elections as legitimate. Instead, of  the U.S. and other Western nations congratulating Ethiopia, they have been conspicuously silent.

Chief Olusegun Obasanjo (behind microphones) addressing the press on June 23, 2021 (courtesy of L. Freeman)

Media Caught Speechless

At a packed press conference in the Skylight Hotel, Chief Obasanjo released the findings of the AUEOM to representatives from the media. The journalists present were virtually silent during the question- and-answer period. 

This author asked the first question to Chief Obasanjo, which put the scores of press attending on the defensive.  I asked, if the success of the Ethiopian election had proven all the predictions by the West and their propaganda outlets of a “violent, chaotic, and illegitimate” election were shown wrong. He answered in a parable. He said: If a person comes to Africa intending to see a ghetto, and that is what is in his mind, even if you show  him a palace, he will insist he sees a ghetto. My question, and Chief Obasanjo’s answer, effectively muted the press. The only other two questions came from a South African newspaper and the London Times. Shortly after a second question from this author,  the press conference ended. The silence from the reporters attending was deafening, and ironically amusing as well.

Election Board Prevails

Chief Obasanjo and AUEOM emphasized the accomplishments of the National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) in conducting an orderly election free of any type of harassment or intimidation. This environment allowed each voter to choose their member of parliament without interference. Ethiopians expressed their pleasure to be able to vote freely in what is now praised as Ethiopia’s most open election.

Quoting from the official statement released by the AUEOM:

“It is noteworthy that the June 2021 general elections took place within the context of reforms that opened the political and civic space which enhanced the enjoyment of more basic rights and freedoms in comparison to the 2015 elections. Among the many positive political developments, the most prominent were the institutional strengthening of the National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE), the release of political prisoners and the return of exiled political activists.”

The report continues:

“Based on the overall assessment of the constitutional and legal framework for the June 2021 general elections, the AUEOM notes that it was largely adequate and meets regional and international standards for the conduct of democratic elections.”

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is BM-NEBE.jpg
Birtukan Mideksa, Chairperson of National Election Board of Ethiopia NEBE (courtesy aa.com.tr)

NEBE is recognized with overcoming many election challenges in this diverse nation of a 110 million people immersed in ethnic conflicts.   Yet in this historic election, 47 political parties were on the ballot, including opposition parties, with 9,300 candidates vying for 745-seat federal parliament positions and regional councils. There was a noticeable increase in participation by civil society in the election process prior to and on election day.

Much of the credit is given to Birtukan Mideksa, who was recruited to return to Ethiopia from the U.S. as part of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s reform movement, and she was immediately elected  her position as Chairperson of the NEBE in November 2018. Her history as a lawyer, a judge, an opposition party leader, who was twice detained in jail by the Ethiopian government, gave her the qualifications and authority to make NEBE independent, and free from government control.

“The AUEOM notes NEBE enjoys the trust and confidence of stakeholders. This is mainly due to the transparent and consultative process constituting NEBE as well as the positive perception of the Chairperson, Ms. Birtukan Mideksa, a former Judge and political detainee.”

At the press conference, Chief Obasanjo rejected any notion that the June 21 election was illegitimate due to the absence of voting in a  minority of the nation’s 550 voting districts. There will be a second election in September for citizens of those regions unable to vote, excluding Tigray.

Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in economic development policies for Africa for over 30 years. He is the creator of the blog: lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com. Mr. Freeman’s stated personal mission is; to eliminate poverty and hunger in Africa by applying the scientific economic principles of Alexander Hamilton

Ethiopia Election: A Vote for Peace, Unity, and Prosperity

Lawrence Freeman speaking with Dr. Birhanu Lenjiso of Prime Media

Below is a 30 minute interview with on the Ethiopian national elections conducted on June 21, 2021. It was conducted in the studio of Prime Media on the June 23rd, in Addis Ababa.

The Ethiopian people proved all the critics, pundits, Western media, and Western governments, especially the United States and Great Britain wrong in their predictions of violence and chaos for Ethiopia’s national elections. The Ethiopian people surprised even some government supporters with their orderly, calm, and peaceful manner in electing Prime Minister Ably Ahmed and the Prosperity Party.

Hours after my interview, former Nigeria President Olusegun Obasanjo, at a press conference in Addis Ababa, representing the African Union declared that the election was conducted in a “peaceful, orderly and credible manner.” Obasanjo echoed the observations made by the East African Standby Force in a press conference on Tuesday following the election. Both ESAF and AU has observers monitoring the election process.

Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in economic development policies for Africa for over 30 years. He is the creator of the blog: lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com. Mr. Freeman’s stated personal mission is; to eliminate poverty and hunger in Africa by applying the scientific economic principles of Alexander Hamilton

Will The U.S. Support Egypt’s Violation Of Ethiopia’s Sovereign Right to Operate The GERD?

Countries of the Nile River Basin-World Bank (Courtesy of researchgate.net)

Will The U.S. Support Egypt’s Violation Of Ethiopia’s Sovereign Right to Operate The GERD?

Lawrence Freeman

June 5, 2021

Is the United States’ continued escalation of hostile policy towards Ethiopia preparing the groundwork to support Egypt’s “colonial rights” over the Nile River? As the White House and Congress threaten more sanctions against Ethiopia, their sovereign right to generate electricity for its people through the operation of the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam (GERD) is being linked to the conflict in Tigray. Is the Biden administration and the Democrat controlled Congress ominously following in the footsteps of President Trump, who shockingly gave a “green light” for Egypt to bomb the GERD? This would be a grave mistake, with more disastrous consequences than the Obama’s administration’s bombing of Libya and overthrowing President Kaddafi. While U.S. foreign policy in the region is aligning itself more closely to Egypt, it continues to undermine Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s sovereign authority to prevent the Balkanization of his nation.

Sanctions Are Not For Allies

Secretary of State, Antony Blinken’s still unproven, but often repeated March 30th allegation of ethnic cleansing by the Ethiopia government in Tigray, has provided the impetus for the crescendo of group-think Congressional voices to attack Ethiopia, America’s foremost ally in the Horn of Africa. On May 23rd, Blinken intensified U.S. aggression towards Ethiopia by:

  • Issuing sanctions.
  • Cutting off funds for security and economic growth.
  • Pressuring multi-lateral institutions to cease funding programs in Ethiopia.
  • altering U.S.-Ethiopia defense accords, which have been essential in the war against terrorism and providing security for East Africa.

(Read: New U.S. Hostilities Against Ethiopia Threatens Horn of Africa)

Addis Ababa February 5/2021 (ENA) Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed held phone conversation with United States Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken on Thursday.

Both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives support Secretary Blinken’s sanctions against Ethiopia. Sanctions are a very poor and crude tool for conducting foreign policy, and I have opposed their implementation except in the most unique cases. However, it is unheard of to apply sanctions against a long-standing ally, and it is utterly counterproductive. The government of Prime Minister Abiy should be supported in defeating the insurrectionists, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). This is contrary to calls from the U.S and United Kingdom for a cease fire and reconciliation between the Ethiopian National defense Forces (ENDF) and the TPLF.

TPLF, not the Tigrayan community, is intent on tearing apart Ethiopia, and weakening the government of Prime Minister Abiy.  Ethiopia’s future existence as a sovereign nation-state depends on quelling this insurrection.

Pause for a moment, think, then ask yourself; how did President Lincoln personally conduct the war against the southern rebels? He summarily shunned all calls for peace and reconciliation, until the anti-Union, insurrectionist movement was defeated.

The Biden administration and the U.S. Congress are contributing to the potential dismemberment of the most vital nation in East Africa by sanctioning, threatening, and punishing the government of Prime Minister Abiy.  If these officials, actually had any knowledge of the dynamic of ethno-nationalism in Ethiopia, they might come to realize that their actions could encourage more ethnic regions to attempt separation from the nation of Ethiopia.

Senate Recklessness Led by Bob Menendez

A new level of belligerence towards Ethiopia was on display at the May 26th,  Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the conflict in Tigray.  It is interesting to note that all but one of the speeches and accusations against Ethiopia were uttered by liberal Democrats. Ranking Member, Frank Risch, was the only Republican to join the anti-Ethiopian crusade.

Chairmen Bob Menendez referenced Secretary Blinken’s allegations of ethnic cleansing and other alleged crimes by the Ethiopian government. He demanded that Ambassador Godec, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, who was testifying, provide the proof that Ethiopia has “committed war crimes and crimes against humanity” in Tigray. Appallingly, the other Democrats on the committee followed Menendez in lock-step, demanding “action now” against Ethiopia.

Senator Bob Menendez (D. NJ) Chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee (Courtesy foreign.senate.gov)

Sarah Charles, testifying from USAID Humanitarian Assistance, further inflamed the hearings by projecting that Ethiopia will experience another “man-made famine,” reminiscent of 1985, if actions are not taken immediately. The potential for a new famine became the mantra of the senators at the hearing.

Allegations of hunger, and atrocities committed during the conflict must be fully investigated.  However, to compare the current situation in Tigray to the famine of 1983-1985 that caused over one million deaths in Ethiopia, is contemptible. That famine was exacerbated by the destructive policies of Mengistu Halle Mariam, leader of the fascist-Marxist Derg. Likely unbeknownst to the uninformed senators, Mengistu, from 1976-1978  launched the “Red Terror,” murdering over half a million Ethiopians, in a genocide against his own people. To equate the famine of 1983-1985 and Mengistu’s policies to Ethiopia today and Prime Minister Abiy, is beyond reprehensible.

Senator Menendez opened the hearing by claiming that the conflict in Tigray echoes what happened in Darfur, Sudan. I travelled to Sudan many times from 1996 to 2012, including two tours of Darfur. Between that and my own extensive research, I am very familiar with Sudan and its history.  I can assert unequivocally that there is no resemblance between Darfur, Sudan, and Tigray, Ethiopia.

Tragically, the behavior by the U.S. Congress, is shameful and reflects an acute superficiality in understanding the complex history of Ethiopia.

Overturn Geo-Political Thinking

While the U.S., led by Secretary Blinken, is reversing decades of friendship between Ethiopia and America, and endangering the Horn of Africa, the Biden administration is enhancing its rapport with Egypt.

On May 26th, while the Senate was ratcheting up the pressure on Ethiopia, Secretary Blinken was in Cairo conveying:

“President Biden’s appreciation to President Sisi for Egypt’s critical mediation efforts in support of a cease fire between Israel and Hamas…”

“The Secretary affirmed the strong strategic partnership between the United States and Egypt, and President Biden’s commitment to this relationship.  He reiterated the United States’ commitment to Egypt’s water security and to the urgent resumption of substantive and results oriented negotiations under the leadership of the African Union to resolve the dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).”

The sovereign right of Ethiopia to fill and operate the GERD for the general welfare of its citizens has become linked to the conditions in Tigray.

Democrat Senator Mendez, at the hearing ostensibly on Tigray, made the same veiled threat on the GERD as President Trump, who infamously suggested that Egypt might try to blow-up the GERD. Mendez blurted out, that Egypt has told him more than once, “if the GERD issue is not dealt with in a way that assures their water needs…they will do what is necessary…They have red lines…”

Ethiopia and its seven neighboring countries

On May 27, Egyptian President Sisi, traveled to Djibouti, whose port provides access to the Gulf of Eden and Indian Ocean for its neighbor and major trading partner, Ethiopia. This was the first visit ever of an Egyptian head of state to Djibouti. According to African Intelligence, the two leaders discussed new security relations between their nations. African Intelligence further reports that Egypt’s defense minister and army chief of staff, who also visited Djibouti, “would like to see the creation of an Egyptian base in Djibouti not far from the Ethiopian border.”

At his news conference in Djibouti, President Sisi said:

“I stressed Egypt’s rejection of any attempt to impose a fait accompli through unilateral measures that disregard the interests and rights of the two downstream countries.”  

Egypt has made repeated military threats against Ethiopia, has formed a military alliance with Sudan, and last month, carried out joint military exercises with Sudan labeled “Guardians of the Nile”.

Since Egypt is the second largest recipient of U.S. aid next to Israel,  it would not be difficult for the U.S. to convince Egypt to stand down.

According to a knowledgeable expert on the region, the Biden administration is preparing to relocate the hub of its anti-terrorism  deployment in the Horn of Africa, from Ethiopia to Kenya.  The U.S. is trying to persuade Gulf nations, who support Ethiopia, to leverage their relationship in an effort to pressure Ethiopia to abandon its commitment to the GERD.

President Biden may or may not be aware of the implications of his decision to undermine Prime Minister Abiy’s government and support Egypt in their brinkmanship with Ethiopia regarding the GERD. His administration, filled with personnel from the Obama and Clinton presidencies, is following the same warped geo-political doctrine of his predecessors. Rather than responding to the fixed contours of the contentiousness surrounding the GERD, a true statesman would desire to shift the discussion to a higher level of potential resolution. Instead, the U.S., dominated by geo-politics, is fixated on seeking partners, who serve their narrow immediate interests, such as Egypt’s role in mitigating the Israel-Palestine crisis.

In fact, there is no danger of Ethiopia depriving downstream nations (Egypt and Sudan) of water for their people.  This was admitted by Egyptian Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry himself: Egypt Foreign Minister Says Water Safe Despite Ethiopian Dam Threat.

The GERD will actually help both Egypt and Sudan by regulating the Nile, preventing deadly floods, reducing evaporation, and providing a water bank to draw on in emergencies. However, the GERD is not even the fundamental cause of Egypt’s water problem, as Yaniv Cohen explains: Egypt has a water problem and it’s not only the GERD

 

Eskom’s Koeberg nuclear power station today turned on its temporary mobile groundwater desalination plant, which will ease the pressure on the City of Cape Town’s water supply. Courtesy esi-africa.com)

The real issue concerning the Nile River is strategic; the Nile does not have enough water to provide for the hundreds of millions of Africans living in the nations of the Nile Basin.

For the economic growth and well being of the nations of the Nile Basin, more water is needed than the Nile can deliver. The equivalent of a second Nile has to be created by human beings. This is the discussion that should take place among the Nile Basin nations and the larger international communities. It requires creative and visionary  thinking, outside of the box, not confined to geo-politics. To alleviate nations from quarreling over a limited supply of Nile water, let us be bold in our imagination. Instead, conceive of the New Nile Project by constructing nuclear powered desalination plants along the Mediterranean and Red Sea to create large amounts of new potable water. These nuclear plants in additional to efficient desalination, and supplying abundant energy, would become nuplexes– manufacturing hubs for industrial and agricultural development.

Some addicted to the narrow thinking of geo-politics today, will object and say it cannot be done, it will take too long and cost too much. To those naysayers, I would respond by asking, is it better to have water wars among emerging nations that are struggling to feed their people laden by poverty? As populations expand, and economies grow, more water will be required. Why not use the urgency of resolving today’s combative dispute over the filling of the GERD, to prod our lazy minds to create a solution for the future of the Nile Basin?  Overcoming all the many engineering and scientific impediments to achieve our New Nile Project will be challenging, but this is the very reason we human beings were put here on earth.

President Lincoln delivering his Second Inaugural Address March 4, 1865. (courtesy hisotyplace.com)

A Just End To A New Beginning

The fighting in Tigray, the ancient birthplace of Ethiopia, must come to end as soon as possible to prevent the loss of more lives and further suffering. This laceration in the fabric of Ethiopian society should be healed, and not allowed  to propagate. Following the government’s safeguarding of the Tigray region, an all-out mobilization must be launched, with vigorous international support, to rebuild the province, upgrading economic conditions to guarantee that every person living in Tigray, a productive and dignified life.

When the conflict in Tigray is concluded, it would be appropriate for Prime Minister Abiy to emulate the spirit of President Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. It was delivered  on March 4, 1865, almost four years after the war began, which killed hundreds of thousands of Americans, and six weeks before his enemies assassinated him. After President Lincoln affirms his commitment to defeat the southern rebels at all costs, he compassionately pleads for peace.

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Let Prime Minister Abiy use this overture as a prelude to lead a healthy dialogue with the Ethiopian people; to unite the nation around the preeminence of an Ethiopian identity, one that supersedes ethnicity.  Reformulation of the Ethiopian Constitution of 1995 to emphasize Ethiopian citizenship, which transcends ethno-regionalism, should follow.

It is in the shared, common, and self-interest of all Ethiopians to participate in the development of their society and increase the wealth of their economy for the benefit of themselves and their posterity. With the near future generation of 6,200 megawatts of electricity from the GERD, Ethiopia will bring light and prosperity to all its citizens. This is cause for all Ethiopians to join together in joyous celebration.

Read my earlier posts:

New U.S. Hostilities Against Ethiopia Threatens Horn of Africa

Prime Logue/Media Interviews Lawrence Freeman in Addis Ababa: “Without the Elimination of Poverty, There Will Be No Democracy in Africa”

U.S. Senators’ Call for Postponing Ethiopian Election Is Foolish & Very Dangerous

Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in economic development policies for Africa for over 30 years. He is the creator of the blog: lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com. Mr. Freeman’s stated personal mission is; to eliminate poverty and hunger in Africa by applying the scientific economic principles of Alexander Hamilton

New U.S. Hostilities Against Ethiopia Threatens Horn of Africa

Photo by Getty Images

New U.S. Hostilities Against Ethiopia Threatens Horn of Africa

Lawrence Freeman

May 24, 2021

On May 23, U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, announced visa restrictions “for any current or former Ethiopian or Eritrean government officials, members of the security  forces or other individuals …responsible for or complicit in undermining the resolution of the crisis in Tigray.” According to the State Department press statement, the Biden administration has “imposed wide-ranging restrictions on economic and security assistance to Ethiopia and will bring our defense trade control policy in line with them.” Although not explicitly stated by Blinken, the U.S. will suspend $130 million of U.S. security assistance to Ethiopia, originally paused by the Trump administration. Multiple government sources report that the Biden administration is in the process of taking additional punitive measures against Ethiopia, including pressuring the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to hold back funds already designated for programs in Ethiopia. Additional U.S. sanctions have not been ruled out.

With the announcement of  these bilateral and possible multilateral assaults against Ethiopia, the U.S. will not only reverse decades of cooperation between the two nations, but potentially could endanger the entire Horn of Africa, and beyond. Ethiopia has played an indispensable role in providing security and stability in East Africa. This new U.S. posture towards Ethiopia, meant to appease the international liberal establishment, is reckless and perilous.

These types of measures, usually reserved for enemies of the U.S., are being implemented against a longtime trusted ally. A nation that has vigorously collaborated with the U.S. under both Republican and Democratic Presidents in fighting terrorism and violent extremism in the region.

Expressing the gravity of this abrupt policy shift by President Biden, Cameroon Hudson, of the Atlantic Council said to Foreign Policy: “This is a major strategic shift in the Horn of Africa, to go from an anchor state for U.S. interests to become a potential adversary to U.S. interests.”

courtesy of aa.com.tr

This foolishness and lack of judgment by President Biden, Secretary of State Blinken, and the U.S. Congress, can potentially lead to a calamity for Africa, not seen since the disastrous decision by the Obama administration to overthrow the Libyan government in October 2011. Nations in the Sahel and millions of Africans living in that region are still suffering today from the misadventure by President Obama and his zealot regime change advisors, who removed President Kaddafi from office. Look at Libya today, and the affects almost a decade later on North Africa. Attempts to weaken Ethiopia through economic strangulation and political isolation, in this turbulent period of Ethiopian society, are downright dangerous and could cause severe harm for millions of Africans.

This draconian assault against Ethiopia by the U.S. can potentially lead to a weakening of the Ethiopian nation by encouraging more ethno-nationalist attacks on the government. Were that to happen, be forewarned, that like Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth, who lamented, “what, will these hands ne’er be clean,”–the blood stain of millions of Africans may never be removed from the hands of the Biden administration and the U.S. Congress.

There are evil forces, who would like to see Ethiopia devolve into a balkanized territory of hostile competing ethnic fiefdoms. This would be a disaster for Africa and the world, and is not in the self-interest of the U.S.

Changing the Narrative

Woefully, war is always ugly and always leads to atrocities, but let us remember the cause of the conflict in Tigray. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) conducted a surprise attack on the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) in Mekele in the early hours of November 4, 2020. They attacked the armed forces of the Federal government i.e., the nation state of Ethiopia. Like President Lincoln, who responded to the confederate attack on the Union’s Fort Sumpter, by declaring war, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed had no other choice, but to respond militarily. Otherwise, the nation of Ethiopia could have been dismembered by emboldened ethno-nationalist forces declaring their independence from the central government.

There have been attempts by numerous individuals and organizations in and outside of Ethiopia to falsely claim an equivalence between the TPLF, an ethno-regional organization, and the national government of Ethiopia located in Addis Ababa. Some even try to equate the ENDF with the TPLF militia.

Various news organizations have now intentionally resorted to blurring the actual cause of the war. A recent article by Associated Press referred to the TPLF attack in Mekele as an “allegation” even though TPLF leaders have proudly admitted their action. The New York Times claims that Prime Minister Abiy’s armed response was in reaction to TPLF “defiance” rather than the truth, which was the slaughter of ENDF troops by the TPLF.

Does the U.S. Congress Possess Intelligence?

The U.S. Senate unanimously passed Senate Resolution 97 (S.Res.97) on May 19, following multiple requests by the Foreign Relation Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives for sanctions to be imposed on Ethiopia.

There has been no official report of evidence by the U.S State Department or intelligence services verifying allegations of “genocide” or “ethnic cleansing” by the Ethiopian government. It is pathetic, yet valuable to know that accusations against Ethiopia by the State Department, the House of Representatives, and the Senate, have in large part come from news organizations. Whatever happened to U.S. intelligence capabilities? Has U.S. intel gathering been so corroded that it has to rely on private organizations, who have their own agenda? Should the U.S. be making foreign policy decisions without independent knowledge of events? CNN brags in its own May 21st article that it was their news (sic) organization and a pro TPLF lobbying firm ,Von Batten-Montague-York, that was responsible for convincing U.S. Senators to support S.Res.97. The U.S. Senate, sometimes called, the world’s greatest deliberative body, was in fact led like lemmings, by CNN and a DC lobbying firm to condemn Ethiopia’s government. Is that what the founding fathers of this great republic contemplated when they created the Senate? I think not.

No Respect for Ethiopia’s Sovereignty

Despite the fact that very few, if any U.S. Senators have a deep-seated knowledge of the complexities of Ethiopian culture and society, they did not refrain from encroaching on Ethiopian sovereignty, which obligates the central government to act in the interest of safeguarding the nation.

S.Res.97, ignores the responsibility of Prime Minister Abiy to defend his nation, demanding instead: an immediate cessation of hostilities in the Tigray Region; strongly disapproving of the escalation of political tensions between the Government of Ethiopia and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) into armed conflict; and most egregiously urges the government of Ethiopia to engage in a full cessation of hostilities.  In essence, S.Res.97, rebukes the Ethiopian government for defending its nation from an insurrection, and demands reconciliation with the insurgents.

Breaking up the Union, only weeks after President Lincoln took office, was the explicit intent of the southern states, who insisted that the U.S. government, no longer represented them. President Lincoln would not allow the republic to be divided. He waged a relentless war that ultimately led to the deaths of upwards of 750,000 Americans. He ignored all pleas to come to the peace table and negotiate with the enemy of the Union, who he would only refer to as “rebels.” The only negotiation President Lincoln would accept from the “rebels” was unconditional surrender. Under no condition would he allow some other country to dictate to him, the President of the United States of America, how to conduct the war to save the Union.

Read my earlier posts:

U.S. Senators’ Call for Postponing Ethiopian Election Is Foolish & Very Dangerous

Horn of Africa Endangered by Untrue Media Attacks on Ethiopia

Ethiopia’s Conflict: A War Won to Preserve the Nation-State

Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in economic development policies for Africa for over 30 years. He is the creator of the blog: lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com. Mr. Freeman’s stated personal mission is; to eliminate poverty and hunger in Africa by applying the scientific economic principles of Alexander Hamilton

US-Africa Strategy Should Focus on Long-Term Development for the Continent’s 2.4 Billion People

Lawrence Freeman giving a lecture on Africa. He teaches several courses on African history in Maryland.

December 25, 2020

Below is a lengthy year end interview with me by Pan African Visions, published on December 21, 2020, entitled: “Most US Administrations Have Not Had Good Policies On Africa.” In this interview, I discuss a number of issues facing the Africa continent, as well as the past and future of US-Africa policy.

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Pan African Visions: We end with the last word on how you see 2021 playing out for Africa, what are your hopes and fears?

Lawrence Freeman: If you look at the problems we have now if we do not implement certain measures today, we are going to have problems 10 or 20 years from now. If you have an approximate population of two and a half billion and approximately one billion may be young people; if those young people do not have jobs, see their nation as providing for them then you can have very nasty operations and demonstrations, regime changes on the continent. On the other hand, we have all these very bright people, if we implement policies today that will bring about the kind of economic growth that is needed then you will not have an increase in alienation, anarchy and protests.

I would like to see the United States join with China and probably Russia to help Africa. They have to unite and assist Africa and not tell them what  to do, and not seize anything. I estimate that Africa needs at least a thousand gigawatts of power to give people access to electricity. These things are primary. If we can begin in 2021 with a robust commitment to developing, then I think Africa will have a very interesting and beautiful future. If we do not, then we could be facing more serious challenges over the years ahead. I am approaching 70 years and I am going to put everything I have to make those things happen. If more people in the United States, Europe, and Africa will work with me on that then I think we can make some improvements that will benefit billions of people that are not only living today but those who will be born in the future. And that is my goal and commitments.

Read the entirety of my interview: Pan African Visions Interviews Lawrence Freeman on US-Africa Policy

Read the entire issue of Pan African Vision for December 2020: PAV-News-Magazine-Dec.-2020-Edition-27

As I am sending out this post on Christmas Day, I would like to wish everybody an enjoyable Holiday Season. At this time of the year, it is important for me to emphasize that ending poverty and hunger in Africa is not an idealistic dream. It is an accomplishable strategic vision for the African continent. All men and women are endowed by the Creator with the power of creative reason. This unites all peoples of all nations as part of one human culture. If we exercise this uniquely human power of creativity with the good will of governments, there is no limit to the qualitative and quantitative growth of civilization. The same brute-force commitment that utilized our creative scientific capabilities to develop vaccines for the COVID-19 virus in record time, can be applied to feeding the world.

 Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in economic development policies for Africa for over 30 years. He is the creator of the blog: lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com

Will IMF Austerity Policies Lead to More Deaths in Africa? The Answer is Obvious

African nations must have infrastructure to develop industrialized economies .

October 16, 2020

An October 12, 2020, Oxfam International press release, IMF Paves Way for New Era of Austerity Post-Covid-19, exposes the danger of African nations following the dictates of the International Monetary Fund. A major reason that African nations have fragile healthcare systems is the IMF insistence on countries servicing their yearly debt service at the cost of under funding healthcare. Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, emphasized the cost service service early this year: “In 2019, 64 countries, nearly half of them in sub-Saharan Africa, spent more on servicing external debt than on health. Ethiopia spends twice as much on paying off external debt as on health. We spend 47 percent of our merchandise export revenue on debt servicing…” Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed: Debt Cancellation for the World to Survive. Read my post: IMF Conditionalities Contribute to Shortage of Health Workers: Africa Suffers.

Africa has the highest number of people working in the informal economy. In some countries-over 80% of its people have to live hand to mouth each day to provide for their families. Millions are struggling every day just to survive, with no health and unemployment insurance safety-net. The COVID-19 pandemic has driven more Africans into poverty, and hunger is increasing across the continent. It is criminal and immoral for the IMF to to insist that nations implement austerity, when hundreds of millions are already suffering from lack of income, lack of food, and lack of healthcare. In fact, IMF policies have never helped nations develop their economies. African nations have yet to recover from the infamous IMF dictated “Structural Adjust Program” (SAPs) that destroyed their economies in the 1980s and 1990s. It may be difficult for people to hear, but the truth is; IMF’s Insistence on maintaining debt service and IMF conditionalities are killing Africans. Read my post: Africa Needs Real Economic Growth, Not IMF Accountants

In the history of modern economy, austerity measures have never led to economic growth. All honest economists, and even the IMF and World Bank, know this. The only solution is the creation of a New Bretton Woods system that must include: 1) suspension of debt service, 2) a new financial mechanism to issue credit for economic development 3) upgrading of healthcare infrastructure, 4)  massive investments in hard physical infrastructure of roads, energy, and railroads.

Excerpts from Oxfam:

“84 percent of the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) COVID-19 loans encourage, and in some cases require, poor countries hard hit by the economic fallout from the pandemic to adopt more tough austerity measures in the aftermath of the health crisis, warned Oxfam today.

New analysis by Oxfam finds that 76 out of the 91 IMF loans negotiated with 81 countries since March 2020 – when the pandemic was declared – push for belt-tightening that could result in deep cuts to public healthcare systems and pension schemes, wage freezes and cuts for public sector workers such as doctors, nurses and teachers, and unemployment benefits, like sick pay.

“The IMF has sounded the alarm about a massive spike in inequality in the wake of the pandemic. Yet it is steering countries to pay for pandemic spending by making austerity cuts that will fuel poverty and inequality. These measures could leave millions of people without access to healthcare or income support while they search for work, and could thwart any hope of sustainable recovery. In taking this approach, the IMF is doing an injustice to its own research. Its head needs to start speaking to its hands,” said Chema Vera, Oxfam International’s Interim Executive Director…

“Nine countries including Angola and Nigeria are likely to introduce or increase the collection of value-added taxes (VAT), which apply to everyday products like food, clothing and households supplies, and fall disproportionately on poor people. Unemployment in Nigeria has surged to 27 percent, the highest in at least a decade…

“The IMF has contributed to these failures by consistently pushing a policy agenda that seeks to balance national budgets through cuts to public services, increases in taxes paid by the poorest, and moves to undermine labor rights and protections..

“The IMF’s austerity drive will hurt the countries it claims to help.” (emphasis added)

IMF Conditionalities Contribute to Shortage of Health Workers: Africa Suffers

Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed: Debt Cancellation for the World to Survive

IMF Paves Way for New Era of Austerity Post-Covid-19

Africa Needs Real Economic Growth, Not IMF Accountants

IMF Conditionalities Contribute to Shortage of Health Workers: Africa Suffers

A nurse in Uganda is giving a woman an injection

July 14, 2020

IMF Conditionalities Contribute to Shortage of Health Workers

Lawrence Freeman

As I have told my friends for many years, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is incapable of helping nations grow their economies. I do not believe the IMF can point to any success story, where its policies led to improving the standard of living of the population. Their macro-monetarist ideology fails to understand the essential driver of real (not monetary) growth. Following IMF prescriptions usually results in more suffering for the victim nation.  For a more in depth analysis read my article from last year: Africa Needs Real Economic Growth, Not IMF Accountants.

The report cited by the ActionAid and Public Service International highlights the failure of the IMF:  IMF Told Countries Facing Critical Health Worker Shortages to Cut Public Sector Wages The statistics are revealing, but should not be shocking to those of us who study physical economics. Throughout its history we have seen the IMF insist on cuts to meet to macro-economic goal at the expense of the population. This report clearly pinpoints the effects of tying loans to cuts back in healthcare. Africa was suffering from an acute shortage of healthcare workers before the COVID-19 pandemic. Sub-Saharan Africa has the fewest physicians per 1,000 population and the lowest number of hospital beds per 1,000 population.

It was pointed out by Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, earlier this year, that   payments of debt service equaled or surpassed the amount of money nations spent on healthcare.  He wrote “In 2019, 64 countries, nearly half of them in sub-Saharan Africa, spent more on servicing external debt than on health. Ethiopia spends twice as much on paying off external debt as on health.

African nations, or any country for that matter, should not be subjected to this kind of treatment. Human life is real and precious. Debt is merely a financial accounting mechanism. There is no equivalence.

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the failure of the world globalized financial system, which has been become decoupled from the real economy. Genuine economic growth uses credit to promote human life. President Franklin Roosevelt’s Bretton Woods system, in its perverted form, came to an end on August 15, 1971. For the last fifty years, the City of London-Wall Street centered financial system has become more corrupt each decade, serving the interest of a tiny few. Now is the time to launch a New Bretton Woods, dedicated to improve the conditions of life for all people of all nations. I will be writing more on this subject in the future.

Below are excerpts from the cited report:

“New analysis by ActionAid and Public Services International (PSI) reveals how International Monetary Fund (IMF) austerity policies restricted critical public employment in the lead up to the Covid-19 crisis. (emphassis added)

“The analysis, released to mark UN Public Service Day (23 June), shows that every single low income country which received IMF advice to cut or freeze public employment in the past three years had already been identified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as facing a critical health worker shortage.

“Key findings include:

  • Of the 57 countries last identified by the WHO as facing critical health worker shortages, 24 received advice from the IMF to cut or freeze public sector wages.
  • When countries are told to contain wage bills – it means fewer doctors, nurses and frontline workers in countries already desperately short of medics.
  • All but one of the 18 low-income countries advised by the IMF to cut or freeze public sector employment funding, are currently below the WHO’s recommended nurse-to-population threshold of 30 per 10,000.
  • The WHO predicts that these countries will experience a collective shortage of at least 695,000 nurses by 2030.

“ActionAid’s 2020 report Who Cares for the Future: Finance Gender-responsive Public Services exposed the detrimental IMF loan conditions and austerity measures which have pushed 78% of low-income countries to plan for zero increase in public sector wages.

“When countries are told to contain wage bills it means fewer doctors, nurses and front line health workers in countries already desperately short of medics. This was a dangerous practice even before the Covid-19 pandemic and is unthinkable now.”

Read the full report: IMF Told Countries Facing Critical Health Worker Shortages to Cut Public Sector Wages

Read my earlier posts: 

VIDEO: Africa’s Healthcare Infrastructure Requires a New Bretton Woods

World Needs New Economic Platform to Fight COVID-19

New Economic Order Required to Combat COVID-19 in Africa

Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in the economic development policy of Africa for 30 years. He is the creator of the blog: lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com

Ethiopian & Nigerian Leaders Want Debt Cancellation; UNGA President: Infrastructure for Food and Health

Informal economy in Africa (courtesy Grandmother Africa)

May 7, 2020

Human life in Africa is threatened more by the COVID-19 pandemic than any other continent due to the appalling living conditions for the majority of the population.  During lock-down conditions, millions of Africans are faced with the choice of trying to just subsist day by day working in the informal economy to make enough money to feed one’s family or stay home and go hungry.  However, the informal economy itself is part of the problem, since it no health insurance, no unemployment insurance, and income is precarious at best. The very existence of the informal economy is a malignancy that should have been eliminated decades ago, and replaced with an industrialized economy.

The International Labor Organization (ILO), estimates the total world labor force is 3.3 billion people, and about 2 billion of them, or 61% of the total, are working in the informal economy. The vast majority of such informal workers (93%) are to be found in the Third World. In the first month after the pandemic hit their countries, laborers in the informal economy suffered an average 60% drop in their income. Now, 1.6 billion of those 2 billion informal workers—almost 80% of all informal workers—have lost their jobs or are about to. Tragically, Africa has 86% of its labor force working in the informal economy-the highest of all continents.

RFI reports that Nigeria, with over 200 million people, has 40% of its population living in life threatening poverty. According to the country’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), from September 2018, to October 2019, 82.9 million Nigerians earned less than 400 Naira-($1) per day. In Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), which compromises the majority of the continent with almost 1 billion people, 41% live in extreme poverty-$1.90 per day or less. The NBS reports that poverty in Nigeria’s rural areas is more than 50 percent. The economic cruelties of life in Nigeria typify conditions throughout SSA.

Muhammadu Buhari
Muhammadu Buhari Photographer: Drew Angerer/Getty Image

Life is More Precious Than Debt

Prior to COVID-19 pandemic, African nations required a debt moratorium to save the lives of their people. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic intersecting the existent conditions of poverty, food insecurity and lack of healthcare infrastructure, Africa leaders are demanding debt cancellation, to prioritize addressing the economic and health needs of their nations. Kenya, Senegal, South Africa, Ethiopia and Nigeria are asking for debt relief.

Following Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy’s op-ed in the April 30 edition of the New York Times, PM Abiy wrote  on May 1, that there is an “urgent need for the Global Health Pledging Conference.” In his essay, “ PM Abiy: A Pledge to Combat COVID-19 in Africa, he  outlines the urgency for debt cancellation.

Up to now, there has been a huge disconnect between the rhetoric of rich-country leaders – that this is an existential, once-in-a-century global crisis – and the support for the world’s poor and developing countries [is more] than they seem willing to contemplate. Indeed, until last week, African countries were spending more on debt payments than on health care.”

“In 34 of Sub-Saharan Africa’s 45 countries, annual per capita health spending is below $200 – and barely reaches $50 in many of these countries. Such low levels of spending make it impossible to fund acute-care hospital beds, ventilators, and the drugs needed to confront diseases like COVID-19. Paying for doctors, nurses, X-ray technicians, and other health professionals, together with their equipment, can seem almost like a luxury.”

Nigerian President Mahammadou Burhari, echoed PM Abiy’s demand for debt cancellation, in a May 4 meeting with heads of state from the Non-Aligned Movement. President Buhari “urged official lenders to help cushion the pandemic fallout with outright debt cancellation,” according Alonso Soto of Bloomberg. The article reports that, “nearly half of Nigeria’s outstanding external debt is with multilateral lenders, led by the World Bank Group with $10.1 billion. Beijing-based Export-Import Bank of China is the second-biggest creditor with loans totaling $3.2 billion, while Eurobonds account for $10.86 billion or 39% of external debt.”

The author with Amb Tijjani Muhammad-Bande at the Nigerian Mission to the UN-August 2019

Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, President of the United Nations General Assembly, discussed how the spread of the coronavirus is a threat to those already suffering from poverty and food insecurity in a May 1, op-ed by published by Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. In his statement, Preventing a Pandemic Induced Food Emergency, Ambassador Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, head of the the Nigerian Mission to the UN, wrote: “two billion people did not have regular access to safe, nutritious, and sufficient food prior to the outbreak of the Coronavirus.  Indeed, hunger has been on the rise globally for the past four years

“The COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating pre-existing inequalities, putting immense strain on tenuous systems; and plunging those in the most precarious contexts deeper into poverty and hunger.

“In many places, travel restrictions aimed at containing COVID-19 has reduced access to markets; and the purchasing power of millions of people has been decimated as a result of an exponential increase in unemployment rates.  Moreover, school closures have disturbed the main source of nutrition for over 370 million children around the world.

“Those suffering from hunger are at greater risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms as a result of associated health conditions, such as malnutrition and non-communicable diseases, which compromise the immune system. Compounding this is the fact that those who are hungry are often trapped in poverty and do not have access to health services, water and sanitation facilities, or indeed the space to quarantine or practice social distancing.

“In both our rapid response to the pandemic, and our long-term planning, it is imperative that we link food security to health interventions and investment in infrastructure.” (emphasis added)

 

For more analysis of COVID-19 and Africa, read my previous posts below:

Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in the economic development policy of Africa for 30 years. He is the creator of the blog: lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com

Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed: Debt Cancellation for the World to Survive

Coronavirus testing supplies being unloaded at the Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in March.
Credit…Tiksa Negeri/Reuters

Lawrence Freeman

May 1, 2020

Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, has made an audacious salient call for debt cancellation for low income countries. It was published in the Opinion section of the April 30, New York Times, Why the Global Debt of Poor Nations Must Be Canceled, (printed in full below). PM Abiy is correct, debt cancellation is absolutely necessary to save lives and for developing nations to survive the COVID-19 pandemic. To compel a nation like Ethiopia to spend almost half of its revenue on debt service, while its people are suffering from a perfect storm of Desert Locust swarms, food insufficiency, and a weak healthcare infrastructure, is immoral if not criminal. PM Abiy wrote:

“At the very least, the suspension of debt payments should last not just until the end of 2020 but rather until well after the pandemic is truly over. It should involve not just debt suspension but debt cancellation…

“These steps need to be taken with a sense of urgency. The resources freed up will save lives and livelihoods in the short term, bring back hope and dynamism to low-income economies in the medium term and enable them to continue as the engines of sustainable global prosperity in the long term.

“In 2019, 64 countries, nearly half of them in sub-Saharan Africa, spent more on servicing external debt than on health. Ethiopia spends twice as much on paying off external debt as on health. We spend 47 percent of our merchandise export revenue on debt servicing…

“The dilemma Ethiopia faces is stark: Do we continue to pay toward debt or redirect resources to save lives and livelihoods?”

PM Abiy’s analysis of the urgent need for the cancellation of debt service is relevant to the exacerbating effect of COVID-19 in Africa’s rising food insecurity.

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Smoked fish produced in Ghana is sold all over the country and in neighboring Togo – as long as transport routes and borders can remain open for the movement of food to markets. Credit Jane Hahn/Oxfam America

COVID-19 Worsens Food Crisis

In the month from March 30 to April 30, COVID-19 cases in Africa rose from 4,760 to 37,296-800% increase, and the total of deaths from 146 to 1,619-1,100% increase.  Experts are legitimately concerned, that millions more may die from hunger and poverty as a result of the needed efforts to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Closing borders, stay at home orders, loss of income, interruption of supply chains, and disruption of traditional animal migration cycles inauspiciously contribute to amplifying food insecurity.

“If the pandemic worsens, as many as 50 million more people could face a food crisis in the [Sahel} region,” according to Coumba Sow, Food and Agricultural Organization Resilience Coordinator for West Africa in her interview: FAO: COVID19: 50 Million in Sahel Could Face Food Crisis. Coumba Sow reports that across West Africa, 11 million people need immediate food assistance and that this number could rise to 17 million in the period from June to August. She says that it is “crucial to anticipate COVID-19’s impacts on agriculture, food security and the lives of vulnerable women and children. Ensuring that food systems and food supply chains are maintained is one of the most important action to take at national and regional levels.”

The World Food Programme (WFP) projects that the number of people facing acute food insecurity could rise from 135 million to 265 million in 2020 as a result of COVID-19.  According to the WFP, five of the countries that had the worst food crisis in 2019 were located in Africa; Nigeria, Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Arif Husain, economist for the WFP said: “COVID-19 is potentially catastrophic for millions who are hanging by a thread. It is a hammer blow for millions more who can only eat it they earn a wage. Lockdowns and global economic recession have already decimated their nest eggs. It only takes one more shock—like COVID-19 to push them over the edge.”

Mauritanian herders (Courtesy of UN-FAO)

 A New Financial Architecture Required

While debt cancellation is essential, international and federal mechanisms are required to issue i.e. create new lines of credit to build up nation-wide advanced healthcare infrastructure, which all African nations lack. This endeavor should be part of a much larger undertaking to place African nations on a path to become developed industrialized economies.  I discuss the importance of emerging nations  to generate physical economic wealth in my earlier article: World Needs New Economic Platform to Fight COVID-19. Trillions of dollars of new credit must become accessible for African nations to address the dearth of infrastructure in energy, roads, railroads, and healthcare, that is literally killing Africans, every day. Successful transformation of African nations requires an urgent focus on nurturing combined manufacturing-agricultural processing industries. Speaking at a Johns Hopkins webinar on April 22, Gyude Moore, former Liberian Minster of Public Works (2014-2018) emphasized that creating manufacturing jobs is essential to transitioning to a more developed economy.

What has been glaringly brought to the surface by the combined COVID-19 pandemic and the malnourishment of Africa’s population is; that the global economic-political system of the last five decades has failed. A new financial architecture is compulsory to save lives and put civilization on the trajectory of progress. This new financial architecture should encompass the following essential missions in Africa:

  • Cancellation of debt
  • New credit generation for physical economic growth
  • Massive investment in hard infrastructure
  • Urgent mobilization to establish modern health infrastructure
  • Significant upgrading of manufacturing and agricultural sectors

It is unacceptable in the twenty-first century for every nation not to be equipped with advanced modern healthcare infrastructure.  One of the most egregious defects of globalization is that nations have become dependent on imported food from thousands of miles away because it is somehow construed to be cheaper than producing food at home.

Nations exist to foster the continuation of a human culture moored to the conception that human life is sacred. There is no equivalency between servicing debt and safeguarding human life.  Money really has no intrinsic value. Banks are mere servicing bureaus of an economy.  Governments legitimately create credit to generate future physical wealth to benefit their citizens. When borrowing or lending arrangements fail to benefit society then they should be restructured or cancelled. Such financial reorganizations have been achieved many times throughout history.

PM Abiy has brought to the attention of the world, a profound underlying principle that should govern all national and international policy: the promotion of human life is supreme, monetary instruments are not.

Delaying the repayments to the Group of 20 is not enough.

By rime Minister of Ethiopia. Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, 2019

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — On April 15, Group of 20 countries offered temporary relief to some of the world’s lowest-income countries by suspending debt repayments until the end of the year. It is a step in the right direction and provides an opportunity to redirect financial resources toward dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

But if the world is to survive the punishing fallout of the pandemic and ensure that the economies of countries like mine bounce back, this initiative needs to be even more ambitious.

At the very least, the suspension of debt payments should last not just until the end of 2020 but rather until well after the pandemic is truly over. It should involve not just debt suspension but debt cancellation. Global creditors need to waive both official bilateral and commercial debt for low-income countries.

These steps need to be taken with a sense of urgency. The resources freed up will save lives and livelihoods in the short term, bring back hope and dynamism to low-income economies in the medium term and enable them to continue as the engines of sustainable global prosperity in the long term.

In 2019, 64 countries, nearly half of them in sub-Saharan Africa, spent more on servicing external debt than on health. Ethiopia spends twice as much on paying off external debt as on health. We spend 47 percent of our merchandise export revenue on debt servicing. The International Monetary Fund described Ethiopia as being at high risk of external debt distress.

The dilemma Ethiopia faces is stark: Do we continue to pay toward debt or redirect resources to save lives and livelihoods? Lives lost during the pandemic cannot be recovered; imperiled livelihoods cost more and take longer to recover.

Immediate and forceful action on debt will prevent a humanitarian disaster today and shore up our economy for tomorrow. We need to immediately divert resources from servicing debt toward responding adequately to the pandemic. We need to impede a temporary health crisis from turning into a chronic financial meltdown that could last for years, even decades.

Ethiopia must spend an extra $3 billion by the end of 2020 to address the consequences of the pandemic, while our balance of payments is set to deteriorate. Increasing health care spending is essential, irrespective of debt levels, but we have less money on hand, and much of it is due to creditors.

A moratorium on bilateral and commercial debt payments for the rest of this year will save Ethiopia $1.7 billion. Extending the moratorium till the end of 2022 would save an additional $3.5 billion.

Low income countries can use the financial resources freed up by cancellation or further deferment of debt repayments to invest in our battle against the pandemic, from providing necessary medical care to our citizens to ameliorating our financial difficulties.

In October, the I.M.F. reported that the five fastest-growing economies in the world were in sub-Saharan Africa, which includes Ethiopia. In early April, the World Bank reported that sub-Saharan Africa would face its first region wide recession in over 25 years and the region’s economy could shrink by as much as 5.1 percent.

This is not a result of bad policies, mismanagement or any other ill typically associated with developing economies. The recession will be the product of the coronavirus outbreak.

Preventing or at least minimizing the recession is critical to maintaining years of hard-won economic gains across the continent. The current moratorium in bilateral debt collection until the end of the year will help, but it won’t be enough, given the gravity of the challenge we face.

The moratorium must be extended until the coronavirus health emergency is over or canceled altogether. The creditors need to do this unconditionally.

Official bilateral creditors are no longer the principal source of external debt financing for many developing countries. Private-sector creditors, including investment banks and sovereign funds, are. They should play their part in the effort to rescue African economies from permanent paralysis with a sense of solidarity and shared responsibility. It would help avoid widespread sovereign defaults and chaos in the market.

And it would be morally indefensible if resources freed up from a moratorium in bilateral debt collections were to be used to pay private creditors instead of saving lives.

Most of our countries managed to borrow funds on the back of solid economic performance and highly promising and evidence-based development programs and trajectories. Nobody foresaw this promise being derailed by a once-in-a-century event such as the coronavirus pandemic.

Under these circumstances, there is no room for traditional arguments such as moral hazard. Low-income countries are seeking relief not because we squandered the money but because we need the resources to save lives and livelihoods.

It is in everybody’s enlightened self-interest that the borrowers be allowed breathing space to get back to relative health. The benefits of rehabilitation of the economies of the hardest-hit countries will be shared by all of us, just as the consequences of neglect will harm all of us.

Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in the economic development policy of Africa for 30 years. He is the creator of the blog: lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com