August 23rd, 2012
12:46 PM ET

U.S. aid to Ethiopia helping neither us nor Ethiopians

Yesterday, the body of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi arrived in Ethiopia from Brussels. No one is sure yet how he died, but that's part of the secrecy which shrouded his authoritarian rule.

The story matters to America because Ethiopia's dictator was an ally in the fight against Al Qaeda in Somalia. Thanks to that allegiance, the US looked the other way on things like how the Zenawi regime jailed opposition leaders and journalists, and led Ethiopia to a ranking of 174 out of 187 countries in the Human Development Index, which measures human rights.

We saw what an african police state looked like when I was in Ethiopia last month.

At the airport, it took an hour to clear customs – not because of lines, but because of checks and questioning. Officials tried multiple times to take us to government cars so they'd know where we went. They only relented after forcing us to leave hundreds of thousands of dollars of TV gear in the airport.

Outside the airport, we saw a crowd. Inside, it was empty. When we asked the people why, they said they're not allowed to greet their arriving families and friends indoors because the police are worried about unrest. So the people wait outside, exposed to the elements.

One visual that ties some of this together is a photo of myself and our cameraman Christian next to a Lada. Those are the ancient Russian cars which are still the taxi cab of choice in Addis Ababa – left over from when Ethiopia was a socialist ally of the USSR.

Maybe that's why the United States is so proud of winning Ethiopia over as an ally – it's proof we won the Cold War. But despite supporting a regime that has deprived its nation of a free press, we're not reaping the benefits you might expect.

Who is? Aside from the regime itself, the answer is China. Chinese businessmen are everywhere in the capital. China is the biggest investor in Ethiopia now, spending money on infrastructure and other construction projects and building better economic connections with the country.

Here's the bottom line: the United States gives a billion dollars a year in aid to a dictator, looks the other way on human rights, and China gets the prize.


Filed under: Corruption • Erin's Essay • International
soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. Nrens

    Actually the winners are Meles zenawi and China. Check out or google his net worth on celebrity net worth list . He and his friends are richer than Jay Z and p diddly... Shame!!

    May 7, 2014 at 11:18 pm | Reply
  2. Zeleke

    I just saw this page today and said to myself "better late than never":) Thank you Erin. This is the reality in Ethiopia.

    February 19, 2014 at 1:23 am | Reply
  3. Ethio_Sunshine

    We love you Erin.

    Thank You!

    February 18, 2014 at 9:24 pm | Reply
  4. Ame

    Thank you, Ms. Burnett. Information is our weapon to a Dictator. The Late Prime Misery of Ethiopia, PM for Tigray Ethnics. South Africa abolished the Apartheid system for a good reason. For Meles, this was his driving policy. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
    Your name will be remembered in the New Ethiopia.

    August 27, 2012 at 2:58 am | Reply
  5. Harbe

    Dear Erin,

    Congratulation, it has been years since we have seen real reporting on the situation in Ethiopia. You did a fantastic job exposing the dictator as well as the hypocrats in the US - and I hope you will work hard to bring the rest of your colleague at CNN to the harsh realities of Ethiopia. Again Thank You for doing your job.

    August 27, 2012 at 12:20 am | Reply
  6. WeyGUD

    Iam late to respond to this wonderful analysis but I was thrilled by your report. I have never seen any western journalist talk the truth about Meles. Thanks a lot for your rare review of the truth.

    August 26, 2012 at 8:26 pm | Reply
  7. Fkirgeta

    Just to say Thank you Erin.
    Standing for truth requires a huge courage!

    August 26, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Reply
  8. Maggie

    Keep the truth coming – put it out there for all to see!!! We need to ensure another brutal dictator does not replace Zenawi.

    August 26, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Reply
  9. Allen 7

    I would like to forward my appreciation for Erin Burnett for displaying the dictatorship and the deceased zenawi for the WORLD.

    August 25, 2012 at 11:17 pm | Reply
  10. Gebeyehu

    For over 20 years, Ethiopians have been ruled by one of the most crafty and cunning dictators that the world has ever seen. As Richard Dowden, a journalist who has covered Ethiopia for a few years once wrote, "Meles Zenawi is the cleverest and engaging prime minister in Africa but I always felt that when I talked to Ethiopians about him, it seemed like I was speaking a different person....it was as if he had two personalities– one for Ethiopians and the other for Westerners."

    August 25, 2012 at 8:09 pm | Reply
  11. alex

    God bless you for having the courage to speak the truth. Meles the dictator is the darling of the west. his aparthied system that benefits only his clan is ignored by the west including America. Not sure how america will earn friends in the future particularly in Ethiopia and that part of the world. the state departments short sighted policy will not earn them friendly future governments in ethiopia because they are enablers of meles zenawi and his dictatorship

    August 25, 2012 at 8:05 pm | Reply
  12. Mintesinot A.

    Wow, how refreshing... I ad given up on American and Western "journalism" which has become so lazy, that all they do is write or report whatever the government want them to report. My hat's off to Erin Burnett, for truely exposing what Ethiopia under Meles Zenawi's oppressive state. Ethiopian society has been suffering for over twenty years in every facet of their lives, economically politically and socially, under this extremely cruel junta - while the US and UK have been praising Meles Zenawi and his cohorts as "progressive", intelligent leaders. In such a short visit, you, Erin Brnett and CNN exposed the reality, and for that I and I sure Millions of Ethiopians Salute you for a job well done!

    August 23, 2012 at 4:32 pm | Reply
  13. Solomon Arega

    Thank you, Erin for telling the truth. It is always the short-sightedness of the USA for policy which ends up in creating more problems than it solves. The west led by the USA poured Billions of the tax payer money to prop up an ethno centric dictator as an allay for a war against terrorism in the war throne Somalia, when the situation in Ethiopia itself could easily deteriorate into the same level. Then they will find out what a mess they got in to.

    August 23, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Reply
  14. ABIY


    August 23, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Reply
  15. victor

    We saw what an African police state looked like when I was in Ethiopia last month. That is what you said. That was just a glimpse. The true nature of the state in Ethiopia is not apparent in the major cities. If you travel to the rural areas you would have suffered a greater shock. Far away from the cities, removed from the eyes of the international media and community people in rural Ethiopia are leading a hellish life. They are spied and brutalized 24 hours a day. Meles’ cadres are demi gods on their own rights in the rural areas. They can torture kill expropriate any person for anything as little as a hostile glance at a petty official. Any way you have added your voice to expose the suffering of the people of Ethiopia and the paradoxical and foolish policy of the US administration. I thank you for that. Keep on the good job.

    August 23, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Reply
  16. Askale Dama

    Dear CNN:

    Thank you so much for the word of truth. Yes, ugly is the word. It seems that US policy makers have concluded that we Ethiopians don't deserve freedom because we are poor. But, we are a free people, we need freedom like any other people. American policy is on the wrong side history and should not be a part of cruel ethnic dictatorship. We hope you continue to be the voice of the voiceless Ethiopians.

    August 23, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Reply
  17. Ethiopian

    Thank you Erin for being the voice of millions by writing your rational observation. I wish most of the journalists who have been praising the ex-prime minister had the opportunity to see the dismal state of human rights and freedom of speech people have to live with in Ethiopia. I believe US policy makers and donors should revisit their policies for countries like Ethiopia. Ethiopia would still have been a US ally in a democratic leadership just as it was with Meles Zenawi's dictatorship as the fight against terrorism is not a option. It is a matter of survival for Ethiopia to stay as a nation.

    August 23, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Reply

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.