In an article previously posted on Gadaa.com, Naatolii Gadaa argued that the root cause of the recurrent famine in Ethiopia was neither drought nor lack of rain nor the global financial crisis, but “famines occur as the result of bad government policies, lack of basic human rights protection, and lack of democracy. It has nothing to do with the lack of rain or drought.”
Actually, the above argument has earned the Nobel Prize for the Indian Economist Amartya Sen. Amartya Sen postulated in what has since become to be known as the Amartya Sen’s Law:
“Shortfalls in food supply do not cause widespread deaths in a democracy because vote-seeking politicians will undertake relief efforts; but even modest food shortfalls can create deadly famines in authoritarian societies.”
Droughts do occur in many parts of the world from time to time. But, they only cause “famines” in undemocratic, repressive and authoritarian countries, such as Ethiopia. In many parts of Ethiopia, the food crisis is actually coined by some non-governmental organizations as the “green famine” since there is no drought or lack of rain. In Ethiopia, misguided and myopic agricultural and economic policies are forced into implementations without any voters’ backlash against the ruling party, which has clung to power with the help of the brute military that is accountable only to the ruling party, not the peoples of Ethiopia.
Debate on Numbers or Debate on THE PROBLEM
Once again, 6.2 million people (if one takes the government’s underestimated figure) or 12 million (nearly 20% of the population) (if one takes United Nations OCHA-Ethiopia’s figure) are in need of humanitarian assistance of food in Ethiopia. The Zenawi government continues to underestimate the number of people affected by the famine; not too long ago, Mr. Meles Zenawi accused donors of exaggerating the food crisis, as reported by VOA. Exaggerated or not, year after year ever since TPLF (Zenawi’s party) came to power 18 years ago, millions have been starving to death, and now to the extent of two-third of the country (see map) becoming food insecure. A thief can argue that he has stolen only $200,000 while others accuse him of stealing a million dollars; the fact of the matter is not how much the thief has stolen, but that the theft has occurred and he’s admitted it. Similarly, Mr. Zenawi should stop mincing words for the sake of argument and contemplate about stepping down for failure to contain the food crises that have ravaged the country over the last 18 years.
Live Aid (aka Band-Aid) or Dead Aid
Over the last year, the Zambian author Dambisa Moyo has increased the awareness of the world about the consequences of “live aid” (donating money to corrupt African governments) and how foreign aid has crippled Africans while emboldening tyrants who rule over them; she called for “dead aid.”
“aid has trapped developing nations in a vicious circle of aid dependency, corruption, market distortion, and further poverty, leaving them with nothing but the “need” for more aid.”
In many interviews she has done over the year, she has singled out the policies of Mr. Zenawi and how Ethiopia’s vicious cycle of famine is a result of the government’s reluctance to encourage self-reliance of its people, such as through opening the telecommunications market, which the state has a monopoly over, while it heavily relies on the West for both humanitarian and development aid.
The vicious cycle of famine will not stop unless the West restricts its assistance to only humanitarian emergencies; the government of Ethiopia should be given no unconditional development aid. The TPLF government must be held accountable to the peoples it reigns over; per the Amartya Sen’s Law given above, as far as the TPLF government is insulated from voters’ backlash because of the West’s unconditional development assistance, the horror of famine, that has haunted the peoples of Ethiopia every decade until 1991 (when TPLF took power) and every two years since then, will never stop.
The call from the opposition also concurs with this. Mr. Bulcha Demeksa, the Co-Chairman of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), has called on the donor community to make development assistance conditional:
“Humanitarian aid should be continued, but development assistance should be conditional on the country being democratic,” said Bulcha. “How can you imprison and kill your people and have the world treat you like a democracy?”
Where are the Dimbleby’s and Buerk’s of the International Press?
Google News’ Timeline of Articles on the Latest Ethiopian Famine
25 years to the day since Michael Buerk’s BBC documentary on the 1984 famine and some 36 years since Jonathan Dimbleby’s 1973 report on the previous major famine, the reason why a famine once again devastates the peoples of Ethiopia is because, similar to the previous two regimes, the Zenawi regime is authoritarian, repressive and undemocratic. The 1973 and 1984 reports have exposed the vulnerability of both of the previous regimes, but what has happened to similar critical reporting of the real situation in Ethiopia these days? In the last 24 hours, more than 300 news websites picked up the “famine” story without fully analyzing the situation on the ground (see the Google News Timeline of Articles). What has happened to the Dimbleby’s and Buerk’s of the world? Who will report the new famine from the “closest thing to hell on earth” as Michael Buerk did in 1984?
Farmland for Sale to the Highest Bidder
In Ethiopia, land can not be sold or bought by individuals; the government is the only entity that can lease land for industrial or agricultural “development” – “development” is the single most abused word by the government since any and all corrupt practices are propagandized as “development” to the public. Here, keep in mind, the government is synonymous with TPLF (the ruling party) — for analogy, assume that in America, the Republican Party or the Democratic Party (a single party) controls every level of government from the county all the way to the White House, the Congress and the Supreme Court, and including the Police and the Military (from the policeman to the policewoman to the soldier to the Chief of Staff reporting to the single political party). In short, what’s in Ethiopia is a totalitarian government.
So, “that” single-party government of Ethiopia has the power to evict the farmer from his land and designate the land as an “industrial or agricultural” zone. The land will then be leased to the highest bidder; that highest bidder is not a person, but a country. As part of the global land grab, countries in Asia and the Middle East have gone to Africa looking for fertile farmland; the indigenous people till, labor on these “sweat farmland”, and the crops harvested are exported to the country that owns the farmland, leaving behind Ethiopian farmers with minimum wages, and the corrupt TPLF officials with millions of dollars from land leases.
Shamelessly, the TPLF-dominated government claims that such a scheme will alleviate the food crisis in Ethiopia. As the Washington Post video report reveals (watch a recent report from the Washington Post below), the investors are “interested mostly in growing food for export.”
It is such and other misguided policies of TPLF that has kept Ethiopia to remain as the “dictionary” example of ‘famine.’ Not the global financial crisis, not drought, not lack of rain – but the lack of democracy, freedom and accountable governance are the reasons for the famine. And, the unconditional development assistance from the West, and the lack of a Dimbleby or a Buerk in the international press have insulated the government from being held responsible for the famines of the last 18 years.
Donate for the Current Humanitarian Crisis
Here is the official appeal from the government:
On Thursday, Mitiku Kassa, the minister in charge of disaster risk management and food security, said the number of Ethiopians in need of food aid swelled to 6.2 million from 4.9 million earlier this year — out of a population of 83 million.
Mr. Kassa requested a total of $175 million in aid, including more than 160,000 tons of food as well as nonfood assistance such as health and sanitation support and help for agriculture and livestock.