Pressure to Suspend Canadian Aid to Ethiopia Could Jeopardize Millions

    An Ethiopian court handed down a life sentence Aug. 3 to Canadian citizen Bashir Makhtal, after he was convicted of terrorism-related charges.

    Lorne Waldman, Makhtal's Canadian lawyer, has called the charges baseless and said he will appeal the conviction.

    Waldman also suggested that Ottawa reevaluate its aid to Ethiopia.

    In 2006-2007, the latest period for which figures were available, Canadian development assistance to Ethiopia totaled US$77 million. This would make Canada the fourth largest bilateral donor to the African nation.

    Lawrence Cannon, minister of foreign affairs, already issued a statement saying he was "extremely disappointed by the conviction," and that the government "will continue to explore all options" to support Makhtal.

    "All options" could prove disastrous for Ethiopia's poor if Canada heeds Waldman's advice and curtails humanitarian aid.

    Chronic food insecurity affects over 8 million people annually in Ethiopia.

    Canada's vital assistance goes beyond bilateral aid, and includes support for the work of international organizations such as the World Food Program and UNICEF.

    The Productive Safety Net reached 7.2 million chronically food insecure beneficiaries in 2006. As reported by the Canadian International Development Agency, the program has also supported the construction of 2,679 kilometers of irrigation canals, built 119 farmer training centers and extended 340 school classrooms.

    Ironically, CIDA also reports governance programming support, which resulted in "improved functioning of the court system," and "significant impact on the improvement of all rule of law indicators."

    Guilty or not, millions of food insecure Ethiopians should not be paying the price for a Canadian's conviction.

    About the author

    • Jody Nesbitt

      Jody is a Devex international correspondent in Washington, D.C. Previously, he worked as a monitor in South Africa's provincial parliament, as well as a researcher for the Center for Economic and Policy Research and for Glass Lewis & Co. He has studied at Rutgers University, the University of Natal and the University of the West Indies, earning a bachelor's in political science and a master's in international relations.