The Government of Ethiopia is exerting the maximum effort to combat the coronavirus disease raging across the world and mitigating its devastating impacts. Citizens are supporting it wholeheartedly in its endeavor. Though acts not befitting the threat facing the country are still prevalent, Ethiopians must rise as one to the occasion in the hope that the malefactors will come to their senses. The situation calls for a stop to bickering over inconsequential matters and concentrating entirely on containing the havoc COVID-19 is wreaking. From the totally destitute to daily income earners to those living paycheck-to-paycheck millions of compatriots require urgent assistance in meeting their basic needs. It’s imperative to exercise strict oversight lest the humanitarian support provided to them is sacrificed on the altar of greed.
It must not be lost on anyone that food banks and other projects launched by the government are intended to tide over vulnerable segments of the public in times of adversity. Currently, the number of people seeking emergency food assistance in Ethiopia has soared to over 30 million even before the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak become full-blown. Even as they play a vital role in beating back the pandemic Ethiopians need to watch out for and expose cheats intent on profiting from the disease by bilking the government and gullible individuals. It’s prudent to keep in mind that while the vast majority of the public stand together in times of crisis bloodsuckers who do not care an iota about the country or its people will always look to exploit it no matter the cost.
As the limitations and obligations stipulated under the state of emergency enacted last week start to take effect it’s important that the government displays transparency and accountability when enforcing them. Moreover, it’s incumbent on it to institute a strong control and monitoring system to see to it that the additional budget it has allocated from its coffer as well as the resources it mobilizes from the public is put to their intended use. If the mismanagement and incompetence which have long blighted most government agencies afflict the nationwide effort to curtail the spread of the coronavirus, it is bound to be futile. The scathing reports issued by the Federal Auditor General for over a decade now detailing staggering levels of financial misconduct and the resulting loss for the nation lend credence to this concern. This phenomenon is not unique to Ethiopia though. Much has been said about how aid destined for the victims of natural and man-made disasters has been misappropriated. The victims are considered to be lucky if 25 percent of the aid collected in their name actually reaches them. The culprits are not highway robbers, however. Dubbed by some as “lords of poverty’ they are unethical bureaucrats working in aid organizations and their accomplices who use different tactics, including drawing outrageous salaries and inflating procurement expenses. That is why stringent control mechanisms are of vital importance.
The channels through which the resources mobilized by the government as part of the national COVID-19 response plan can be distributed to the end users need to be clearly identified. Will the government consider community help groups and other traditional associations or will it insist on using its unreliable structures and thereby botch the response? This misgiving is not unfounded. There is no denying that the administrators and staff of woredas and kebeles, the lowest administrative units in Ethiopia, woefully lack capacity, integrity, a sense of public service and public trust. Given that corrupt cadres the public loathes have not been purged completely from the bureaucracy, the government must clean house. While expertise and experience are necessary attributes the persons the government appoints to positions of leadership must manifest, honesty is an equally important trait they need to possess. The practice of putting party interest above the nation and its people has to stop immediately. Weaklings who blindly do whatever they are told under the straightjacket of democratic centralism still abound within the bureaucracy. So do crooks belonging to mafia-like networks that have no qualms about misusing their government and party positions to rob blind the public as the pandemic continues to exact a heavy toll on society. It’s for this very reason that Ethiopians need to come together in ensuring that the cruelty of these elements does not overshadow humanitarian actions.
The specter of a cataclysm due to COVID-19 can galvanize volunteers, respected elders, seasoned professionals, the youth and workers idling on account of the economic slowdown induced by the pandemic can do their part in battling the outbreak. The best way to starve oxygen to heartless elements which, contrary to Ethiopians’ long tradition of helping those in need, gamble with the lives of fellow citizens is to empower compatriots recognized for their upstanding character and ability to give their best shot as well as arrest the slide into moral decadence. It’s then that humanitarianism can triumph over greed.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) and the deputy mayor of Addis Ababa Takele Uma (Eng.) have earned recognition for the leadership they have shown by example. The kind of capable leadership they have demonstrated ought to be emulated by other government and party officials at the federal, regional and local levels. Leadership is not about cheering from the back while others do the hard lifting; it’s about leading from the front and getting things done. No matter what office they hold government leaders need to realize that the COVID-19 pandemic presents them with an unprecedented set of challenges requiring extraordinary actions that help avert a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions. History will judge them harshly if they fail to provide stewardship that is guided by knowledge, experience, honesty and the welfare of the public. Acquitting themselves in these difficult times will go a long way to ensuring that humanitarianism is not sacrificed on the altar of greed.