September 3, 2011

Wikileaks: Party patronage and foreign assistance in Ethiopia

Classified United States diplomatic cables sent from US Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Released by Wikileaks





E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/24/2019

¶B. 08 ADDIS ABABA 3370
¶C. 08 ADDIS ABABA 2159

Classified By: CDA Roger A. Meece for reasons 1.4 (B) and (D).

¶1. (C) Recent allegations of the politicization of foreign
assistance in Ethiopia, including humanitarian food aid, are
consistent with reports by non-governmental organizations,
opposition political parties, the media, and members of the
international donor community. The manipulation of
humanitarian assistance for political benefit by the ruling
Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF)
since 2005 should be viewed in the context of broader efforts
to utilize government resources to ensure EPRDF’s political
and electoral supremacy. U.S. foreign assistance is less
vulnerable than many countries’ aid because the USG insists
on maintaining a large measure of control over the mechanics
of aid distribution. Post strongly endorses the Productive
Safety Net Program (PSNP) as the most effective and most
closely monitored assistance program of its kind and urges
other donors to adopt PSNP-type anti-manipulation safeguards.
Although USAID is confident that PSNP funds are being
directed to legitimate beneficiaries, EPRDF members may well
be receiving priority. Efforts to monitor food distribution
are aimed at making sure vulnerable people are fed and cannot
be expanded to include investigation of political pressures
applied to those people without jeopardizing that primary
mission. End summary.

Increased Political Patronage Since 2005

¶2. (C) Since the controversial 2005 elections, the Government
of Ethiopia (GoE) has engaged in a systematic campaign to
tighten control over opposition parties and their allies.
The closure of political space has been achieved in part by
the passage of restrictive laws governing civil society (Ref
A), political parties (Ref B), and the media (Ref C), the
intimidation of opposition candidates campaigning in their
constituencies (Ref D), as well as the purging of ethnic
groups perceived as disloyal to the ruling party from the
military (Ref E) and civil service (Ref F). As the GoE has
used its network of local officials to enforce these new
rules, Post has received multiple reports that the GoE is
also using the complete spectrum of government resources –
including many basic public services – in a patronage system
to shore up support for the EPRDF.

¶3. (C) Post has reported specific complaints of patronage and
coercive recruitment techniques used by the government, such
as the use of military facilities and civil service trainings
for political indoctrination (Ref G), the withholding of food
aid, seeds, and fertilizers to non-EPRDF members (Ref H), and
preferential treatment in job assignment, promotion, and
professional development for EPRDF members (Ref H). In one
recent allegation, opposition Member of Parliament Bulcha
Demeksa, of the Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM),
told Post that local EPRDF cadres had asked his constituents
to join the party during the same visits in which they
distributed seed and fertilizer. He said that voters who
refused to join did not receive seed or fertilizer in the
next round of distribution. Beyond these specific
allegations, Mission officers are frequently told by contacts
that it is commonly understood that eligibility for
government services is made easier by party membership as a
practical matter. This practice is felt most strongly in
rural areas, where many Ethiopians are dependent on food
assistance and agricultural inputs such as seeds and
fertilizer, and where local officials can more easily monitor
the political activities of their constituents.

¶4. (C) The GoE has attempted to silence reports of patronage
and coercive action, as in the recent case of journalist
Wossenseged Meshesha (protect), of Mesenazaria newspaper. In
a recent article, Wossenseged quoted opposition United
Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF) leader Beyene Petros
describing incidents in which his constituents had been
forced to make financial contributions to the EPRDF upon
receiving seed and fertilizer. Despite the fact that the

ADDIS ABAB 00002809 002 OF 003

statements he printed were directly quoted and backed up by
hard copies of receipts the farmers were given for their
forced contributions, Wossenseged is now being sued by the
GoE for defamation. In a November 10 press conference the
opposition Forum for Democratic Dialogue (Forum) publicly
criticized in general terms the ruling party’s use of
government and donor resources for political patronage,
resulting in a series of local and international media
reports on the politicization of food aid. Several
international NGOs have researched the issue as well,
including Human Rights Watch, which plans to release a report
on the general issue of politicization of government services
in January 2010.

Foreign Assistance Vulnerable to Politicization
——————————————— —

¶5. (SBU) As reports of patronage have increased since 2005,
Post has become keenly aware that foreign assistance,
including U.S. humanitarian assistance, is vulnerable to
politicization. Direct budget support, which the USG does
not provide but is favored by many donors, is the most
vulnerable form of assistance. As an example, Post has
received numerous reports of graft and politicization of
donor support provided through the Provision of Basic
Services (PBS) program, which provides block grants to
regional governments and is coordinated by the World Bank.
(Note: The USG does not contribute to
PBS. End note.) Emergency relief food is also vulnerable to
politicization, owing to the large volume of food transferred
and the urgent need to distribute it quickly. USAID and its
partners closely monitor the distribution of most relief food
distributed by NGO partners and WFP through the “hubs and
spokes” system now used in the Somali Region, which allows
for better control over distribution at the local level.
Urgent needs and limited geographic coverage by NGOs
sometimes necessitate distribution which transfers food
resources directly to the GoE. (Note: The Mission continues
to press WFP to ensure greater transparency and
accountability in relief food distribution, and much progress
has been made over the past year since the “hubs and spokes”
system went into effect in October, 2008. End note.)

¶6. (SBU) PSNP, to which the U.S. is a major contributor, is a
highly monitored program operated by the GoE and NGOs with
donor support that provides cash and food to more than seven
million Ethiopians in exchange for labor, in a graduated
system designed to move families toward food security. While
PSNP has been the object of allegations of politicization
leveled by the opposition (including those in Ref H) and has
received recent media coverage, PSNP has easily the best
safeguards in this regard among all assistance programs in
Ethiopia. These safeguards include semiannual “Joint Review
of Implementation and Support” missions, quarterly financial
audits, targeting studies, Rapid Response Team field visits,
regular beneficiary benefit transfer reports, and an appeals
system. The strong support PSNP receives from the donor
community is a result of these safeguards and the fact that
PSNP is more closely monitored than other programs.

USG and Other Donor Action on PSNP

¶7. (SBU) In recognition of the vulnerability of foreign
assistance to politicization, USAID and other PSNP donors
have examined transparency in PSNP selection of beneficiaries
and distribution of assistance, and agreed upon a framework
to ensure accountability and investigate allegations of
corruption and politicization. An independent study
conducted in 2008 showed that 85% of PSNP participants
believe the selection process is fair, and a recent USAID
Fiduciary Risk Study revealed no evidence of direct political
interference. Although the forthcoming HRW report reportedly
cites examples of PSNP-related corruption in times of extreme
food insecurity, when some monitoring safequards are relaxed
in order to expedite distribution, USAID is confident that
PSNP resources are not directed to unqualified (i.e., food
secure) families as a result of political connections. USAID
notes, however, that the percentage of families who qualify
for PSNP (i.e., the poorest, most food insecure households)
who actually receive PSNP support is higher in the Tigray and
Amhara regions (considered to be the most loyal to the ruling
party) than in other regions of the county that are equally
needy (e.g., Oromia and Southern Nations, Nationalities, and
Peoples Regions). This trend is not limited to PSNP, but

ADDIS ABAB 00002809 003 OF 003

rather applies to many government-provided services and
benefits. (Note: For years, the Somali Regional State was
denied nearly all government services and foreign assistance,
for similar reasons. This has largely been reversed.)

¶8. (SBU) USAID’s recent Fiduciary Risk Study confirmed that
families known to local officials (who are usually EPRDF
members) are more likely to receive PSNP support. It is also
possible that opposition party members hide their political
sentiments in an attempt to avoid repercussions, that they
are afraid to voice their concerns to donor monitors, or that
politicization is simply not overt. While Post is confident
that local officials are not checking voter ID cards when
selecting beneficiaries, for example, party affiliation is
well known in remote areas and may subtly influence

¶9. (SBU) Amy Martin, Deputy Director of the UN Office for the
Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA), told PolOff
recently that media coverage of the politicization of food
aid is a welcome wake-up call in OCHA’s efforts to make
donors recognize the problem. Some donor representatives in
country have noted that if these reports continue, their
governments are likely to take further action, up to and
including cutting support for various aid programs. In a
statement released on November 18 during a visit to Ethiopia,
British International Development Minister Gareth Thomas
called on the GoE to investigate allegations of the
politicization of food aid, and stated that the UK would make
“tough decisions” regarding its foreign assistance if


¶10. (C) The politicization of humanitarian assistance,
including both emergency relief food and distributions made
through structured programs such as PSNP, is merely one
example of the GoE’s utilization of government resources to
strengthen support for the ruling party, and should be
viewed in the context of all EPRDF preparations for the 2010
elections. While U.S. humanitarian assistance is less
vulnerable to GoE manipulation because it is provided through
neutral NGOs and structured programs, all assistance is
vulnerable. PSNP, which has received much scrutiny of late,
is an easy target because of its high visibility, but it is
in fact less susceptible to politicization
than most aid.

¶11. (C) Closer scrutiny of the potential vulnerability of
PSNP and other USG assistance to
politicization would carry significant risk. Mission staff
(including direct-hire officers, locally engaged staff, and
third party consultants) with the most direct access to
beneficiaries are of course those whose primary task is
distribution of assistance. On the other hand, individuals
with whom political staff meet to discuss such issues are
commonly visited thereafter by local officials in their homes
or offices, or taken by local police to security services
offices for questioning about their perceived disloyal
activities. Blurring the lines between distribution of
assistance and the monitoring of political pressures brought
to bear on beneficiaries risks putting the assistance
programs themselves in jeopardy from a ruling party that has
become confident that its vast patronage system is largely
invulnerable. End comment.




  1. […] Andrew Mitchell was questioned on the issue by Jeremy Paxman on the BBC’s Newsnight. But as a WikiLeaks cable revealed, western donors know the Ethiopian government is resistant to any “disruption of its […]

    Pingback by Congo stands at the crossroads| Madeleine Bunting | — September 29, 2011 @ 8:15 am | Reply

  2. […] Andrew Mitchell was questioned on the issue by Jeremy Paxman on the BBC’s Newsnight. But as a WikiLeaks cable revealed, western donors know the Ethiopian government is resistant to any “disruption of its […]

    Pingback by Congo stands at the crossroads| Madeleine Bunting | African News — October 4, 2011 @ 1:18 pm | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: