Dry and cracked earth in the desert plains of nothern Ethiopia. Drought has not been as devastating to Ethiopians as their own autocratic governments, says Bill Easterly. Photo by: Siegfried Modola / IRIN

Aid ending up in the hands of autocratic rulers can do more harm than good. Ethiopia is a classic example of such a phenomenon, William Easterly says.

In the 1980s, the military junta Derg forced Ethiopians to resettle in the southern lowlands by denying people access to relief supplies sent by foreigners. The Derg refused to give food and medicine to those who resisted the resettlement plan.

That decade, the African nation experienced what many consider to be one of the worst famines in the continent.

“If it were possible to sum up in one sentence Ethiopia’s struggles with famine over the past quarter-century, I’d suggest this: It’s not the rains, it’s the rulers … drought has not been as devastating to Ethiopians as their own autocratic governments,” Easterly writes in a Wall Street Journal article reviewing “Famines and Foreigners,” a book by Peter Gill on how foreigners “unwittingly” support Ethiopia’s autocratic rulers.

Not much has changed in Ethiopia despite the aid, the economics professor argues.

Incumbent Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who has been accused by non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch of “war crimes and crimes against humanity,” is making “ life awkward for Westerners who want to aid Ethiopians,” Easterly says.

“In recent years, donors have steered aid away from Ethiopia’s central government and toward local governments. Such efforts have had little effect, though, since the former controls the latter. If anything, the Meles regime has become harsher still,” Easterly says.

About the author

  • Ma. Rizza Leonzon

    As a former staff writer, Rizza focused mainly on business coverage, including key donors such as the Asian Development Bank and AusAID.