Elections, accountabilities and home

My time in Addis is coming to an end. My replacement – Ahmed – has already started. Employing me was always only a temporary measure, which makes sense. I’ve had a great time. I’ve learned a lot and have been able to make a useful contribution to things (and I wasn’t 100% sure that I would), but Ahmed probably had a better understanding of Ethiopian politics and governance at the age of 12 than I do now, and that might be doing him a dis-service! There is a place for outsiders to share their perspectives and experience in relation to governance in developing countries (for me, for a while at least, that place is going to be the UK), but you can’t beat local knowledge.

I’m due back in the UK at the end of May. Before then, there are elections to be held in Ethiopia, on the 23rd May. The elections in 2005 did not go well – disputes about results, violence, people being shot, people being locked up. The Ethiopian Government’s take on things is here. The EU Electoral Observation Mission’s take on things is here.

The expectation is that things will be more peaceful this time around. There are a variety of reasons for that, very few of which are about a strengthening of democracy and human rights in Ethiopia and most of which I would probably be unwise to comment on. I will leave that to others, including the EU’s Electoral Observation Mission, whose interim reports look good – it will be interesting to see whether their final report, which I imagine will have more oversight from higher political levels (of the EU and its member states), builds on or is substantially different from the interim reports.

I’m not supposed to be here – here is in Addis – this weekend. I had been planning to go to Arba Minch for a couple of days, staying in Paradise Lodge. However, there was some uncertainty this week about whether foreigners would be able to travel outside Addis this close to the election. The authorities here don’t want foreigners to risk getting caught up in any election-related trouble. Or something like that … So, my trip has been cancelled or at least postponed until things are clearer.

Has been a wee bit frustrating travel-wise the last few weeks. A couple of weeks ago I was due to go down to the Somali region – on the border with Kenya and Somalia – on a work field-trip. Turned out that because of my contract – I am in effect a consultant – I am not insured in the same way as regular British DFID staff. My personal insurance would not have been valid so close to the border and DFID (rightly) felt that if I got injured on the trip and needed medical evacuation they would be obliged to pay, and as the cost could be as much as £150k they could not take that risk.

All a bit disappointing, but also thought-provoking. Not easy explaining to Ethiopian colleagues – dependent on the Ethiopian health system – who were going on the visit that I wouldn’t be going because I didn’t have coverage for medical evacuation. I was surprised how easily I put aside any principles – or imagined some new ones – in order to look after my personal interests. My Ethiopian colleagues must think I’m a right wuss, although I guess that foreigners having options that they do not, and making choices that they cannot, is nothing new for them. On a related note, there’s been some discussion in the blogosphere of an interesting piece by Ravi Kanbur about the cushy life of people who work in international development.

As well as elections in Ethiopia, elections in the UK have of course been a hot topic amongst DFID staff. DFID was set up in 1997 so has never served a non-Labour government. It will be interesting to see what changes the Conservatives/Liberal Democrats make. Owen Barder has done a useful primer on the new UK Government’s Development Policy. In his introductory speech to DFID staff, the new Secretary of State, Andrew Mitchell MP, bigged-up Clare Short, which I thought was a nice touch!

Some of the things that the new Government have said they will prioritise – more focus on results, independent evaluation, greater transparency, more attention to accountability, possible introduction of Cash-on-Delivery Aid – have the potential to be good (although I trust that there will be serious discussion about the limitations as well as the potential of the results agenda, impact evaluation and techniques such as Randomized Controlled Trials – for instance, on results, it might not be the case that everyone in the aid chain will prioritise the same results). It will also be interesting to see how the new Government manages the relationship between poverty reduction objectives and other more security-related objectives, and – notwithstanding the Conservatives commitment to meet the 0.7% target by 2013 – what that means for spending on poverty reduction.

Once my time in Addis comes to an end, I will be returning to Brighton – in recent years, and not discounting the fact that I am NOT A SOUTHERNER, my spiritual home, along perhaps with Arsenal-Land). I didn’t vote for Caroline Lucas – I didn’t feel that it was the best option tactically – but I am very pleased, even proud, that Brighton now has a Green MP.

Work-wise, from June I will be working 60% with both the “politics and state” and “fragility and development” teams in DFID’s policy division, focussing on accountability-related issues. So, I’m very excited about that. And then the plan is to use the other 40% to make sure that what I do in policy division is well-informed by the realities of governance in developing countries. I don’t want to be designing frameworks and models and writing How To Notes that aren’t useful for DFID’s country offices. So, I hope to remain engaged in governance work in Ethiopia, and through being involved in other governance/accountability programmes in places such as Ghana, Rwanda, Tanzania …

Non work-wise, I’m very much looking forward to being back with Amanda and to enjoying the Summer in Brighton. There’s plenty of wind-surfing, mountain-biking and swimming in the sea to be done and we’ve booked to go to Benicassim music festival in Spain. The weather here in Addis has been rubbish – not sure whether it’s been good for the farmers, whose interests should take precedence over my desire to sunbathe! – so I’m looking forward to a bit of sun too.

Fingers and everything else crossed for the Ethiopian elections.

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