Ethiopian Leader Slams Rich Nations
By Andrew England
Associated Press Writer
Monday, May 27, 2002; 2:02 PM
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia –– Ethiopia's prime minister slammed the United States and other developed nations Monday for spending billions of dollars subsidizing their own agribusinesses, effectively shutting out markets to Africa's struggling farmers.
Meles Zenawi's comments at the opening of an African Development Bank symposium came the day before U.S. Treasury
Secretary Paul O'Neill was to arrive in this impoverished Horn of Africa nation to discuss the effectiveness of aid to the continent. The Ethiopian capital of Addas Ababa is the last stop on a four-nation tour O'Neill is making with Irish rock star
Removing subsidies and tariffs is far more important to Africa's development than aid, Meles said. The problem, he said, is that wealthy nations extend "enormous subsidies" to their own agribusinesses while placing taxes on the very products Africans have the comparative advantage in, such as grain and cotton.
"This is clearly and blatantly hypocritical," Meles said.
President Bush signed a $190 billion farm bill May 13 raising subsidies for grain and cotton growers in midwestern and southern U.S. states – where key political races will be held next year. The bill will increase spending by nearly 80 percent over the cost of continuing existing programs.
The symposium was about the New Partnership for Africa's Development, or Nepad, the latest in a string of initiatives intended to help eradicate poverty on the world's poorest continent. Nepad, which has been hailed as an African-led plan, is supposed to build a new partnership between rich countries and Africa.
Meles warned that if there is no willingness on the part of developed nations to change the global trading environment, "we can be dead sure that there is no commitment to Nepad on the part of our development partners."
"The main problem with the advice that we have been given is ... not that the advice is wrong, but that the promoters of the idea are not implementing it in their countries," Meles said.
The former Marxist rebel leader who came to power in 1991 said the state of Africa's development was of direct material interest to the rest of the world. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States proved that "you cannot have a desperate ghetto next door to a prosperous safe haven," he said.
In Africa, which is beset by conflicts and HIV/AIDS epidemics, 340 million people, or half the population lives on less than $1 per day.
One of Nepad's ambitious goals is to achieve 7 percent annual economic growth in African nations over the next 15 years.
Meles said Africans also have to hold themselves responsible for the continent's problems.
"While the rest of the world has materially contributed to the creation of the current deep economic and political crisis in Africa,
there cannot be any doubt that we Africans are the central element of the problem, and we cannot but be the central element of
the solution," he said. "The underlying fact is that African states are systems of patronage and rent-seeking activities."
In many ways Ethiopia, most of whose 62 million people are dirt-poor subsistence farmers, typifies Africa's problems. The nation is subject to periodic, devastating droughts, and critics say Meles' government is unresponsive, unrepresentative and undemocratic.
The country also fought a brutal 2½-year civil war with neighboring Eritrea that cost both countries $1 million per day and tens of thousands of lives, even as aid organizations fed millions of people suffering from drought-induced food shortages.
© 2002 The Associated Press