The statements presented a very rosy picture of Ethiopia and hid the income inequalities, adjunct poverty and dismal standard of living that persist. Today, the regime and its partners are forced to admit and present the true state of the Ethiopian economy and its effects on the majority of the population, of which 15 million are now in need of food aid.
Ethiopia touted as the “powerhouse in the Horn” is once again begging the international community to feed its people.
To prove that things had changed in Ethiopia, even Bob Geldof, the lead singer of the Boomtown Rats, who sprung to global prominence with his role in Band Aid to raise money for the Ethiopian famine in 1980s, was now leading the call for investments in Ethiopia. The Wall Street Journal in its article, “Rock Star Bob Geldof Spearheads U.S. Private-Equity Push Into Ethiopia”, reported the following on 30 March 2015:
“… A generation ago, this African nation was a magnet for Western charity. Today, some of America’s richest deal makers are delivering something new: investment…
8Miles, the private equity firm Geldof chairs, owns Blue Nile, a company which acquired the 70-year old winery based in Addis Abeba and vineyard near the town of Ziway from the Ethiopian Privatization & Public Enterprises Supervising Agency (PPESA).
There were also others (probably hired by Ethiopia’s million dollar lobbyists) who weighed in and promoted investment in Ethiopia. In his 8 July 2015 article, “Ethiopia: From Famine to Feast”, Andrew S Nevin, PhD, said to be “one of Canada’s global thinkers”, touted Ethiopia’s “renaissance” with this:
“…A nation once characterised by land-locked isolation and poverty, Ethiopia has emerged as Africa’s ‘newest Lion economy’ and continues to accelerate in the global economy. With a population of 70.7 million people, Ethiopia has enjoyed a period of rapid economic growth by about 10% a year since 2004…Ethiopia was once a synonym for poverty and famine. Even though it is still one of the poorest nations in Africa – with an estimated third of the population earning less than $1 a day – the country has one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa, and development of the agriculture industry is a major feature of Ethiopia’s economic growth… Ethiopia still remains an attractive business destination for investment, and a risk that is worth taking…”
But just a few months later, the headlines would read differently.
Rene Lefort in an 18 December 2015 wrote the following facts about the Ethiopian famine:
“…The United Nations has warned that more than 8.2 million people in Ethiopia will be in need of food aid by the beginning of 2016 because of a severe drought. The number of people in need climbed from 2.9 million (March 6) to 4.5 million (August 18) and suddenly to 8.2 million (September 21)…”
But the regime went on an extensive propaganda campaign to deny that there was “famine”. Addis based diplomats and journalists remained mum as the regime’s cadres hid the impending humanitarian disaster unfolding right in front of their eyes. When the BBC reported about the famine, the minority regime was not happy and it sent out its deputies to ridicule its reports.
The Deputy Prime Minister, Demeke Mekonen, commenting on a BBC report about the famine in Ethiopia said:
“…It is obvious that the foreign media works with different bodies of special interest. There is no such thing as famine in Ethiopia these days…”
In addition, the minority regime put out a Press Release on 10 November 2015 decrying news reports about famine in Ethiopia.
“…Up to now, the country has mobilised 2 billion Birr [£62 million] and has positioned food from the national reserve in places that are affected, or could be affected, by the drought. The government is working hard to ensure that no one dies from lack of food in this El Nino year and, contrary to some western news reports, there will not be famine of any sort, let alone anything remotely like the magnitude of that of 1984.
… The sensational news broadcast by BBC TV, regarding children dying on a daily basis, does not reflect the current broad reality on the ground and the full preparation that has gone into overcoming the problem. The report also failed to give perspective to the drought situation currently unfolding in Ethiopia and around the world, and how it is triggered by the El Nino phenomenon…”
UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon visited Ethiopia in January 2016 to see first-hand “the consequences of thedrought in one of the worst affected areas”. At a round table discussion in the Ethiopian capital, Ban Ki Moon said:
“…a crisis of this scale was too much for any Government…The international community must stand with people of Ethiopia, immediate support for Ethiopia will save lives and avoid preventable suffering. Immediate support will also safeguard the impressive development gains that Ethiopia has made over the past years and decades…”
Gayle Smith, longtime friend of the TPLF regime and now Administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) echoed Ban Ki Moon when she made this announcement on 31 January 2016.
“…The Government of Ethiopia estimates that 10.2 million people are currently in need of emergency food assistance. This is in addition to 7.9 million chronically food insecure people who are covered by the Government of Ethiopia-led Productive Safety Net Program, supported by USAID and the donor community. Though the drought in parts of Ethiopia is the worst on record, famine-level mortality like that seen during the mid-1980s is very unlikely given improved safety nets, lack of conflict, and improved information and early warning systems…Ethiopia will need additional support from the international community in order to weather this crisis and to sustain its significant development gains…”
Everyone was sticking to the narrative …
A few months later, despite UN and NGO appeals for food aid, the minority regime and its cadres continued to deny the existence of famine in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Embassy in Washington reported the following in its 8 February 2016 newsletter:
“…Special Envoy and Ambassador Extra-Ordinary and Plenipotentiary to the US, Mexico and Jamaica, Girma Birru gave interviews on current situations in Ethiopia to Tsenat and Selam radio stations in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. respectively. Ambassador Girma said that though the current drought in Ethiopia impacts a vast area and relatively a huge population the government is trying its level best that it does not cause much harm to the people affected…”
Ambassador Girma also said that there was no famine in Ethiopia. Insulting the intelligence of the Ethiopian people, showing utter contempt for their suffering, the Ambassador:
“… challenged those who claim that the drought has turned into famine, by referring to a UN accepted measurement which states for a famine to exist. First, 20% of the house hold in the drought affected area should have nothing to eat or drink. Second, 30% of the entire population in the drought afflicted area, must be suffering from acute malnutrition. And the third is that in every 10,000 people in the drought affected area, two persons must be perishing daily for famine to exist. After having put the internationally accepted criterion, Ambassador Girma, took million people as a base in the drought affected area and proved that there is no famine in Ethiopia…”
The food crisis in the country was downplayed and the reckless regime chose instead to deal in semantics- renaming “famine and starvation” as “food insecurity”.
NGOs were warned not to use the words “famine, starvation or death” in their food appeals. The NGOs were not to state that “children are dying on a daily basis,” or refer to “widespread famine” or say that “the policies of the government in Ethiopia are partially to blame.” They were also not allowed to “compare the current crisis to the famine of the eighties.” They were not to place the blame on the government or its development policies that have uprooted Ethiopians from their lands. Instead, the latest drought in Ethiopia was to be described as “food insecurity caused by a drought related to El Nino.”
The regime was desperate to maintain the narrative of Ethiopia’s great economic renaissance, and the “double digit” annual growth. It was more interested in saving face, than facing the fact that millions of its own people continue to be “fed by donated sacks of grain”.
It did not take long for the bottom to drop.
The United Nations is now calling it the worst drought in 30 years and is saying that 400,000 children were suffering from severe acute malnutrition and more than 15 million people were in need food aid. UN and the Ethiopian government are currently appealing for $1.4 billion in emergency food aid
Carolyn Miles, Chief Executive of Save the Children, US said:
“…We only have two emergencies in the world that we have categorised as category one. Syria is one and Ethiopia is the second. And so we’ve said we need to raise $100m for this response…”
On 1 March 2016, AllAfrica’s Reed Kramer’s interview with Haile Mariam Desalegn was posted. In the interview, the Ethiopian Prime Minister said:
“…The famine, which is the result of the El Niño effect, is unprecedented in our country. The government is doing everything possible to feed our people and prevent starvation. We want to do this without slowing down progress we have made in health and education. To do that we need to work with our international partners. The response to date has not been sufficient…In the event that the lackluster response continues, the government will take every step necessary to avert humanitarian disaster, including diverting funds from other priorities, if that is what it takes…”
Not getting the donor response it desired, the regime is now resorting to threats.
The Ethiopian Prime Minister, who had chastised those who first reported about the famine was now warning the international community for its “lackluster” response to the regime’s, albeit belated, calls for help:
“…If something goes wrong, it is the international community who has not come in. The aid provided to us so far is very little and it often came very late. I urge organisations like UNICEF to come in if they think this is a worst case scenario. Just talking is not a solution…”
A responsible regime would know that the buck stops at Menelik Palace…
Finally, researchers have long argued that poverty was the ultimate cause of famine-and that climate acts simply as a catalyst. Blaming the famine in Ethiopia on El Nino likens it to a natural disaster-it is misleading and irresponsible.
The minority regime and its handlers, including the western media, should stop lying to the Ethiopian people and do the right thing. The regime must first feed its own people instead of feeding its over inflamed ego with tired old propaganda.