By Amanuel Zekarias,
Concerning the world governments and humanitarian agencies response to drought in Ethiopia; UN Secretary General Antenio Guterres and UN aid chief Stephen O’Brien in January 29 of 2017 whispered that the international community must ensure ‘total solidarity’ with Ethiopia government as not only a matter of generosity but also of justice and self interest.
This was stated at 28th summit of AU in Addis Abeba. The UN Secretary General also describes Ethiopia as country of the largest refugee hosting country in Africa, with its open border for any cross boundary transactions. Besides, the head officer also commends Ethiopia as the source of stability in the Horn of Africa and the world community must collaborate in maintaining Ethiopian security for not to be challenged by the surrounding multifaceted chaos sourced from Eritrea, Somalia and South Sudan.
At last, the message of those UN occupants concludes by proposing and by calling the international community to take urgent initiatives to join this global charity move in funding the 2017 Humanitarian Requirement Document which seeks $948 million funds for assisting 5.6 million drought affected people in Ethiopia.
In its humanitarian version, this is a generous message with humanity and touching generosities at its core as a handful portion of the Ethiopian masses have been in destitute situation. This is also a positive move in safeguarding basic human rights and in mobilizing a global risk management strategy. In advance, this action nurtures a culture of humanity, cooperation and interdependence, as on its principles of cultivating a global norm to combat humanitarian challenges. Therefor, such kind of humanitarian outlooks must be apolitical, non-discriminatory and non-subjective in their content and objective procedures.
Despite this fact, what the words of the UN secretary general precisely tell in regard to the Ethiopian famine (despite many questioning its existence and concluding, it is the TPLF tactic of getting external hard currencies and aid matters) is a mere subjective ones with lucid content and blind partisan positioning alongside the genocidal regime. Its subliminal content also concretely informs how the one who portrays those words have ‘a very little knowledge about the ongoing political situation and history’ of Ethiopia and its surrounding environs.
On December 27, 2016, the Ethiopian PM gave pledges that Ethiopia “will register a double digit economic growth in the fiscal year as it is now on the right track of growth, as agriculture, even though challenged by drought, has shown a positive trend of growth.”
The 2017 UN Humanitarian Requirements Document report also claims that in 2016 “the Government of Ethiopia allocated more than $735 million to initiate the HRD response and to facilitate a speedy response to additional needs as the situation evolved.”
It also reports, due to a good rain that led to good harvest, “the number of people that require humanitarian assistance has significantly decreased in 2017 than in 2016″.
Then, many critical commentators raise one big question, why does the EPRDF regime still request one billion U.S. dollar amount of money to mitigate famine in the very start of the New Year?
Principally, states always form, join and remain in international organizations because they are perceived as to serve their own national interests. Therefore, they dedicate themselves in making a system of world governance in which interdependence becomes a reality but not an option. This is the core reason that derives the existence of the UN system.
In its idealistic objectives, this institution gives a considerable focus to maintain international peace and security. This is thought to be achieved by practicing tolerance and cooperation, developing friendly relations among member states based on the respect of sovereign equality and mutual respect. This inter-state relationship, either friendly or no, always has a prominent focus with non biased, impartial and mediatory UN roles.
In attaining those objectives, the UN office must run by knowledgeable, efficient and responsive individuals whom have the potential for deriving the universalization of morality uncompromisingly and with non partisan positioning. If the UN office oversights the ongoing political situations around the globe, and fails to take timely and relevant actions in due time, the faith that has been placed on the organization as a watchdog for international peace and order and its moral, political or legal responsibility could be evaporated overnight. So it needs to be investigative, responsive, informant and non-judgmental.
Concerning the above UN occupant’s message regarding the Ethiopian famine, therefore, as many of its content is at odds with the real facts on the ground; the following questions must need a concrete answer: First, what is there in Ethiopia? Is there drought or famine? Second, grounds for the consideration of Ethiopia as a source of stability in the Horn of Africa need to be defined in evidences? Third, Ethiopia is in amoral responsibility of hosting a large number of refugees. Is that scenically acceptable?
In trying to answering these questions, let us assess the following facts, of course, not to refute the considerate humanitarian move but to give a partial image of the ongoing situation on the ground in the country at hand.
First, famine but not drought plays a central role in Ethiopia, history can attest it and the current situation proves it and famine in Ethiopia is always man made. In historical literatures, the words Ethiopia and famine are two sides of the same coin. They have been abundantly represented the moments of Biblical famine, humiliation and disgrace. Historical portrayals of famine stricken period was there during the reigns of emperor Menelik, HaileSilassie, Derg regime and most profoundly during the EPRDF era.
From 1885-1892, there was an appalling famine in Ethiopia prior to the upcoming of Italians to Eritrea. By 1890, almost 90% of the cattle were dead. This added with the chronic malnourishment, and the destructive invasions of Locusts and Caterpillars, created an extraordinary horrible situation in human’s record as the words of Martini (Italian governor of Eritrea) illustrates on his recorded memos that was written in that period.
In explaining the situation, he stated that ; (quoted by Dawit Weldegergis in his book titled; ‘The Red Tears’)
“The dead awaited the hyenas, the living awaited death. From a thicket issued a thin murmur of voices… We are accosted for help, and from their death beds suddenly rises a mob of skeleton whose bones can be seen under the taut skin as in the mummified skeleton of Saint….They try to follow as, they also crying out meskin, meskin…I stumble on young boys, searching in the excrement of camels to find a grain of durra. I flee horrified, hiding my watch chain ashamed of the breakfast I had eaten, of the dinner which is awaited me”
This was a time where Ethiopian parents sold their children as slaves to the Arabs than watching them die, Cowhides were ground to powder and baked into cakes, horses, dogs and even the carrion eaters themselves were consumed and Cannibalism broke out. It was a horrific time where there was an appalling stories of mothers devauring their children. Lions, leopards and hynas became so bold and even entered the largest cities to feed from the dying hunger victims lying in the streets.
What historians witness through their historic contribution was, the difference of emperor Menelik from the other Ethiopian rulers. He acted with humanity and generosity, opening private granaries, building shelters, encouraged peasants to use hoe by hand for agriculture instead of depending on their oxes. He himself also went into the fields with a hoe to encourage working habits for the Ethiopian masses.
During HaileSilassie reign, from 1973-1983, Ethiopia was once again struck by famine, which resulted in deadly catastrophe as almost 200,000 people died, the Emperor’s neglect of the situation to preserve his pride and throne, is a notable cause for such avoidable calamity. Specifically around the Wollo province, denials and contempt were at hand until a British Journalist Jonathan Dimbleby filmed the situation and aired a documentary titled, ‘The unknown famine’ in September 1973. This resulted is an overnight drastic loss of faith on the Emperor, who at that moment had private Lions that ate 18 kg of meat per day while children had been dying out of destitution. The inevitable happened in 1974, a civil war erupted, which saw the Emperor ousted and overthrown by the Derg juntas.
During the Derg regime also, history repeated itself. Mengistu, the chairman of the military council, detached himself from reality, living in his own illusion, as there was no place for famine in his metaphysical world. His infamous reply to one of his ministers on the ongoing dire situation was;
“Your primary responsibility is to work forward to our political objectives. Don’t let these petty human problems that always exist in transition period consume you. There was famine in Ethiopia for years before we took power- it was the way nature kept the balance…. So let nature takes its toll, just don’t let it out in the open”. (quoted by Dawit Weldegergis)
The famine in 1984 was difficult to be noticed by the outside world, Ethiopia was closed to the international media, its people isolated and starved. This was a period where the Mengistu regime was on the bustle of dismantling the revolutionary movements across Eritrea and in other parts of Ethiopia by diverting two third of its public budgets into the Red Star Campaign. In that moment, the Derg regime was also on the verge of celebrating the 10th annual anniversary of the revolution for self glorification, by budgeting more than 100 million Euros and by importing more than 400,000 Whisky from Britain for the celebration of the moment, while more than 10 million people were in an earnest need of food aid, whom 70% of the total number had perished.
The famine has greatest spot in human’s record as the whole world never organized and responded jointly to combat some humanitarian challenges as such throughout its history till present. Exclusively, for blacks, it was the moment of shame and humiliation, as the members of the ruling elites in Ethiopia lived in an ostantanous life and celebrity, the government at times declared an emergency decree to dispose food beggars from the cites, while thousand died out of hunger.
Moreover, famine also occurred in Ethiopia in 1998, 2008, and most profoundly in 2015. One important thing to discuss here is about Ethiopian resources. Facts prove that, Ethiopia’s resources could nourish five times greater than the current given number of population at hand. Many also wonders at the fact that how in one of “the world’s fastest growing economies” nearly 20 percent of the population is facing chronic famine, year after year.
Then the reason that always throws Ethiopian masses into the narrations of hunger victims is because of the inexistent visionary, popular and effective political figures, who have a dream of emancipating Ethiopian masses from the tells of hunger victims. Most profoundly, rent seeking, chronic corruptions, maladministration, and nepotism are always there as systemic credentials and certainly, Ethiopian politics can be associated with.
Ethiopia’s resources are always hijacked by corrupt, shortsighted and cleptokratic rulers, who fundamentally purse their individual and ethnic objectives ahead of the nationalist ones.
Second, a percept that states Ethiopia has been opening its borders and receiving migrants is not convincing for me. Morally speaking, many, the UN Secretary General included, could be convinced and could entail their appreciation in according. But the true fact is, Ethiopia in its task to host refugees has two strategic objectives. First, economically speaking, hosting a large number of refugees has a tremendous profit. The cost coverage for food, water, land for rent, shelter and other medical services for the migrants, are covered by external donors. This, of course, goes to the government. Moreover, the whole job is only reserved to Ethiopian occupants but not the refugees themselves. Thousands of Ethiopian nationals also get entry-visa’s to western countries posing to be refugees.
Furthermore, hosting migrants is also a lucrative business for Ethiopian security institutions, as most of its members engage in illicit activities of smuggling and trafficking refugees.
The government has been busy in forging the number of refugees in the country in the hopes of convincing external donors for maximum cooperatives. European Union for example, donated some 500 million Euros to help Ethiopia create jobs for refugees inside the country. This sends a wrong message, as it implies the union is backing a government that is at war with its own people. Further, this decision also implies how the western countries realistically engage in pulling migrants by trying to make ‘safe heavens’ despite the fact that they could invest the money in their origins.
Politically speaking, Ethiopian government bustle move to host refugees can be seen as a ticket-out-of-jail, as the government has been at war with its own citizens. The EPRDF regime kills, tortures, imprisons, and use Draconian measures for individuals who express his/her free will.
The government’s decision to open its borders to refuges can be seen as a façade to obscure its very own gross human rights violation, deceive its Western donors to believe that the government is on a moral high ground to be a rescuer in the region.
Which leads me to my third point, Ethiopia is by no means a source of stability in the Horn of Africa. This misguided attitude that always put Ethiopia at the epicenter of Horn African stability is not true; the reality on the ground on other hand proves otherwise. Let as assess Ethiopia’s invasion for Somalia in 2006 for example:
Ethiopia’s unilateral intervention in Mogadishu in December 2006, aiming to eliminate the constructed ‘Al-Shabaab’ threat (a name which was less echoed from 2003-2007 and dramatically designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department in 2008) reasonably entrenches the above assumptions. The intervention created a fragile situation in Somalia as the country became a prime example of a ‘failed state’ and leading its people to become the victims of unrelenting humanitarian crises.
Further, Ethiopia’s regional policy also totally contradicts any regional moves of harmonizing regional interests. First, Ethiopia always purses an interventionist strategy for its national objectives and is always in a proper dream of projecting its influences throughout military means. Second, regional organizations such as AU and IGAD are always Ethiopia’s outfits as Somalia and South Sudan peace making process qualifies how these organizations have been entirely used for Ethiopia’s geo-strategic interests and subsequently tickets to purse an interventionist policies. Third, Ethiopia is a regional hub for harboring terrorists, opposition groups in regards to destabilizing its surrounding countries.
Suffice it to say, the Algiers Peace Agreement is a final and binding decision by the EEBC in dreaming a lasting peace, stability and security between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Eritrea from the day of the decision fully abides by the EEBC decisions and has been waiting for its enforcement for almost 15 years. Ethiopia denounces the decision and still is in a presence of occupying Eritrea’s sovereign territories.
In conclusion, the words of the UN occupants also tell cooperating with the EPRDF’s regime is also a matter of “justice and self- interest”. Are they aware, they are talking about a government that should be held in contempt for genocides acts, a government that declares a state of emergency to undo democratic oppositions, counterfeit election results, tortures, kills, massacres? And do they really investigate and do they have any clue about the drought situation in Ethiopia? The answer is precisely NO, as in the first place; the TPLF regime is weaponizing the famine issue by over-dramatizing the situation and by trying to show Ethiopia as if it is still in the grips of Biblical famine.
This is aimed at receiving hundreds of millions of dollars from external donors as some says, ‘it is a way of profiting and trading on the misery of poor and starving Ethiopian citizens’.
At last, the TPLF regime will take the money either to buy weapons or to enrich the ruling class’s pockets. In 2016 for instance, Ethiopia receives more than 1.7 Billion to respond the El-Nino drought. Certainly, no one knows where this big money goes, either to the victims (surely not as the TPLF still begs one billion dollar to mitigate famine) or to the pockets of the TPLF rulers.
At last, in its conclusion, this article agrees with what Prof. Alemayehu G. Mariam recommend in his commentary entitles ‘TrAIDing in Misery: The T-TPLF, its Partners and Famine in Ethiopia’, puts on and stated that “Starve the wealthy TPLF beast feeding on the Ethiopian body politics, and help feed the starving Ethiopian people!.”