Mark P. Lagon, President of Freedom House
Harsh repression of dissent, use of the anti-terrorism law to imprison journalists and bloggers, opposition leaders, and civil society activists as well as rigged elections where the ruling EPRDF declared 100% victory are all signs that the regime in Ethiopia could not be a viable US partner, according to Mark Lagon, President of Freedom House.
Presenting his case at a US House hearing on Wednesday on “human rights under siege worldwide,” the former US ambassador for anti-human trafficking, Mark Lagon said the Ethiopian regime “viewed as a key partner in the war on terror, its harsh repression of dissent raises questions about its long-term viability as an effective partner.”
He argued that “there is a difference between the superficial appearance of stability based on repression and the true stability that democracy brings. One argument popular with undemocratic leaders is that the crushing of dissent is necessary to maintain peace and stability. In fact, harsh rule often foments unrest, and unquestioning support for repressive regimes works against U.S. security interests.”
Lagon argued “there cannot be peace and stability if the government restricts political space and suppresses legitimate dissent with force. And without peace, there can be no reliable access to food or health care or education. A country cannot free itself from dependence on foreign aid without strong and accountable governance.”
He pointed out that US aid money should rather be spend on strengthening democratic institutions. “It is far preferable to spend a small amount in the present to strengthen good governance and maintain peace than to spend a large amount in the future attempting to completely rebuild governance institutions after nations have devolved into war, or a large amount of money and lives on military intervention.”
He went on to say that “In fiscal years 2013 and 2014, Ethiopia received no democracy and governance funding from the United States, despite receiving a total of more than $1.2 billion in foreign assistance. In fiscal year 2015, Ethiopia received nearly $651 million in foreign assistance, but only $1.25 million was designated for rule of law, good governance, and civil society.” And “Everything else went into financing and training Ethiopia’s military.”
Lagon said the Charities and Societies Proclamation and the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation were designed to squash all dissent.
“The United States would be far wiser to fund a more comprehensive approach to development. We should work to strengthen human rights in Ethiopia to enable a truly peaceful, prosperous, and more reliable security partner,” Lagon underscored