Ethiopia, Feed Your Own; it is a Noble Thing To Do
Ghidewon A Asmerom
July 22,1999

Many will remember the damning indictment Ambassador Baboucarr-Blaise Jagne of Gambia, the then President of the UN Security Council, threw at Ethiopia and Eritrea on June 23, 1999. In a nutshell this was what he had said: stop the fighting and feed your starving peoples. This might be harsh, but that is the truth. In my opinion, the Ambassador should be praised for his straightforwardness.For the fact that the hungry need to be fed and to do that the war must stop, he is right on the mark. The War must stop immediately and unconditionally.

Eritrea, Ethiopia and Famine: Nature is not the Differen ce but Vision
For the continuation of this war, the world might want to equally point fingers at Eritrea and Ethiopia. But the truth of the matter is that Eritreans have never wanted and don't want this war. Why? Eritreans know, first hand, what war can do and they want to live in peace so that they can build their country and feed themselves. It is to be remembered, before Ethiopia decided to attack Eritrea at Badma, up to the first half of 1998 the whole focus of Eritrea was on development and reconstruction. It is a well documented fact that every able bodied Eritrean was participating in one or another form of development and reconstruction to build the country.

One main reason the National Service (Sawa) was started was to mobilize the Eritrean youth into reconstruction and development. It was also for the very same reason that students were spending about two months of their summer vacation in the country side planting trees and repairing roads. To this end Eritrean youth had made a tremendous contribution in the past 8 years of liberation. The Eritrean desire was to build a country where the people can live independent of foreign aid and food hand-outs. From day one, May 24, 1991 that is, the Eritrean people and government had fully accepted the responsibility of feeding themselves and were on the right track to meet that challenge.

There is no doubt that the Eritrean vision of making itself independent of Western handouts and insisting on self-reliance than perpetually stretching hands for food had angered many NGOs. The NGOs could not find Eritrea to be an easy target for their exploitation. Yet this vision of the Eritrean people and government had made an amazing head-start and praise was pouring in from some sectors who observed, first hand, what a determined small country was doing. Everywhere one went in Eritrea there was a visible change. Schools were being built at a ratio of one elementary school for every four villages, health clinics were springing everywhere, and dry weather roads were built connecting all areas that were inaccessible only seven years ago. Adjectives like "an Oasis" and "beacon" of hope were being used to describe the Eritrean progress.

The Eritrean vision was based on the sole understanding that feeding, educating and taking care of the health needs of the Eritrean public was the primary responsibility of the Eritrean people and government, not foreign nations or aid agencies. Eritrea was determined to continue this path of self-epowerment and was willing to work hand in hand with others in the region so that the adjectives used to describe Eritrea could also be used for the whole region as well.

Apparently and unfortunately, this path of hope and progress didn't sit well with the Ethiopian government and not only did it set out to put obstacles on Eritrea's path to progress but it also conspired and planned to destroy it. We are talking here of a country, Ethiopia, that was jealous of lagging behind Eritrea in every economic index. Granted Eritrea's scores were not where Eritreans want them to be and they are not indices to brag about, but compared to how long it took to reach them and taking the rate at which they were moving upward into consideration, it was a good motivating factor. On the other hand, Ethiopia's numbers were always at the rock bottom with no sign of moving up. What is sad is that they have stayed there for the past century. Or should we say the past 3000 years?

The Ethiopian government might want to boast and that might be designed to fool the world, but the truth, as any person who had visited Ethiopia will tell, is that there is nothing it can show for. In its 8 years of stay in power the TPLF (the Ethiopian ruling party) had made no progress; the progress the TPLF government brought to Ethiopia is zero. In fact, if the policy of ethnic division and setting up of Bantustan type of regions is taken into consideration, then Ethiopia under the TPLF had regressed instead of progressing. Ethiopia under the leadership of the TPLF is more divided than united, more destitute than rich, and descending more into despair than looking up in hopefulness. Even in Tigray, the home of the TPLF, except for the huge marble war memorial in Makele, there is nothing the TPLF can say it has brought to the people of Tigray. There is nothing, zero! There is no doubt the TPLF is a clever government when it comes to propaganda and manufacturing lies, but not in helping its population lead an independent and confident life. This can be verified by any person who has visited Ethiopia and Tigray.

The Ethiopian government didn't accept the responsibility of helping and guiding its people to care for itself. Instead of working for an economically viable and independent Ethiopia, the Ethiopian government was willing to continue a policy of dependency and beggary. It didn't even take a year of staying in power before the TPLF made Ethiopia the hub of all sorts of NGOs. What the government wanted was not the development of Ethiopia but a lion's share from what the NGOs were profiting. As it didn't care about the welfare of the Ethiopian people, development was forgotten and corruption and bribery became the name of the game. Corruption climbed ten-fold of what it was in the previous regimes. Ask any Ethiopian who had conducted business, processed a visa or acquired a passport, they can tell you. Corruption has become the middle name of Ethiopian leaders.

Ethiopian corruption was a bold corruption. The bribes the Ethiopian leaders were taking were not "chicken or honey" as their ancestors were doing. The demand for bribe was mind boggling. Money was exchanging hands not in the thousands but in the millions. The TPLF leaders took no time to start shifting millions of dollars into foreign bank accounts. The accounts were in their names, names of their wives and in the names of their toddler children. Tamrat Layne, the former deputy prime minister, was made an escape goat, otherwise most of the top TPLF cadres had had their fair share of this pie of corruption. In fact instead of feeding their people they had tried to feed their hungry pockets. Furthermore the reason they declared war on Eritrea might as well be to make it easy for them to transfer more money to their foreign bank accounts. Unlucky Ethiopia! Haile Selassie had transferred about 11 billion dollars of Ethiopia's wealth to Swiss bank accounts and to this day no one knows who has the money. Mengistu Haile Mariam transferred not only money out of Ethiopia but all the gold and silverware that was property of the Ethiopian monarchy and he is now living in luxury in Zimbabwe. At the ration they are going Ethiopia's newest leaders will break Ethiopia's for that matter any country's record of money transfer. What is unfortunate in all these is that because of the TPLF leaders greediness and wrong and misplaced policies hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian are now at the verge of being devoured yet by another famine.

Donors' Dilemma:
Since it came to power, year in year out, all what the Ethiopian government has been doing is appealing for food aid. At the outset this looks markedly different from what the former Ethiopian regimes were doing. Those were hiding their population's starvation. To their credit, the TPLF leaders didn't want to hide and are not hiding the famine and starvation. Why should they? They are smart. Quite to the contrary they have been begging and appealing for aid forcefully. Why? They want to cash in the money and aid that comes their way. What they are forgetting is that it was their responsibility not the world's to feed the Ethiopian people. They have also never stopped to ask why, unlike before, the response for help from the world community is very poor. This poor response must be a reflection on how much the donor community is fed up with Ethiopia's year in year out appeal for food. Call it donor fatigue if you wish; but it is more than donor fatigue. The world is learning about the corruption of Ethiopian leaders. Let me explain.

There is no question that the world is well informed of the looming humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia. That is, if help is not given right away, as usual, hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians will starve to death and the TV screens will be covered with living Ethiopian-skeletons. There is no doubt also that the world would have been willing to help. But it is facing an obvious dilemma. This difficulty and this dilemma is that of reconciling Ethiopia's perpetual appeal for food aid and stubborn willingness to continue, at any cost, wars that it declares on Eritrea.

It has to be noted that Ethiopia is now spending about 1.3 million US dollars a day for its war against Eritrea. This totals up to more than half a billion US dollars in the 14 months since the Badma incident. To this add three fourth of a billion US dollars that was spent on purchasing weapons. This means the Ethiopian government has so far poured more than 1.25 billion dollars into the war. At the same time it, shamelessly, is asking the world to shoulder feeding its 5 million starving citizens. This is the dilemma. Why should the world shoulder the burden of feeding Ethiopians? Isn't the primary responsibility of a government to feed its people? Defending a country is one thing, but spending this much money so that it can invade a small neighbor is unacceptable to the world. What is more appalling is that when Eritrea stretches its hand for peace and goes the extra mile and compromises for the sake of peace, Ethiopia is heading the other direction; the direction of war. Yet it wants the world to feed its hungry.

A simple arithmetic would show that the money that Ethiopia had so far spent for its war against Eritrea would reach about 250 US dollars per starving head. This amount is twice as much as Ethiopia's annual GNP (which is about $110). Wouldn't this have been enough to feed the famine victims for more than two years? As a matter of fact the UN thinks to alleviate this looming tragedy it needs only $50-million in food aid. This is a mere 1/25 or 4% of what Ethiopia has spent for the war so far. This is the fact why the world is unwilling to respond to Ethiopia's appeal for food aid. Can we blame the world? Not at all. This is also the real reason why no body is throwing pennis at the pan Ethiopia is handling.

In addition to spending thousands of millions to continue its war of aggression, there is rumor that food donated to the starving masses is "being diverted to feed troops" fighting Eritrea. Knowing that was what the former Ethiopian regimes did with the food aid that landed on their laps, there can be no doubt that this government would do the same. It has been a tradition of Ethiopian leaders to beg for food in the name of their starving population and when they get it they either divert it to feed their soldiers or they sell it to get more money for buying weapons. Mengistu used to sell American and Canadian wheat to the USSR to get more weapons. Even today it will be a matter of time before Foreign journalists' cameras capture sacks of Canada's wheat and cans of US oil in captured Ethiopian army lines or a journalist catches an Ethiopian ship loaded with food aid being diverted off the costs of Djibouti for other countries. Let's just wait.

Ethiopia's Curse: Leaders not Nature
It is a fact that as members of Africa's "famine belt", Eritrea and Ethiopia have always been victims of drought . But the way the two governments have handled drought is markedly different. While Ethiopia wants to cash in on food aid and is not ashamed to beg come January year after year, the Eritrean government and people are determined to fight famine and drought and have resolved not to beg. By the way, had Ethiopia wanted to fight famine, it could have faired better than Eritrea or any of the countries in the "famine belt" of Africa. It didn't want to put a fight and this is the kernel of the tragedy.

Look at the other members of this "famine belt"; they are: Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, the Sudan, and Somalia. Ethiopia shouldn't have been a member of this club. The rest of them, from Mauritania to Eritrea, can blame nature. Their land is either desert or semi desert, but not Ethiopia. This is what makes the Ethiopian famine ironic. Let alone these countries that are always critically impaired by drought, Ethiopia has better resources than all the other African countries that are chronically affected by drought, countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Rwanda, Burundi....

The Ethiopian empire, without a doubt and thanks to the land of Oromia, is a country endowed with rich and fertile land that gets abundant rain. If properly exploited, the land that modern Ethiopia is sitting on could feed all of Africa let alone the people of Ethiopia. Unfortunately, instead of being a bread basket Ethiopia has now become a basket case. The truth is that Ethiopia's curse is not nature but its leaders. Ethiopia has yet to produce leaders that think and work for Ethiopia.

The problem of Ethiopia is not lack of resources but lack of vision. As late as when the Berlin was falling, the current Ethiopian Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, was looking up to Albania as his model for development. This is the problem of Ethiopia. Ethiopia's leaders vision is still stuck is the inspiration they got from the most notoriously unproductive Stalinist State of Eastern Europe. No wonder these same leaders have been making a lot of noise when they hear Eritrea's desire to build an economy like that of Singapore and Hong Kong.

Why is Ethiopia's name has long been synonymous with famine and mass starvation? What pride can there be in one's country if a million people are dying of starvation every year? This has to be devastating to the pride of any decent Ethiopian. It indeed is a pity. The truth is that it has nothing to do with the way nature has treated Ethiopia or the nature of the Ethiopian people. The blame squarely rests on its leaders.

Isn't it ironic that Ethiopia, a country that claims and takes pride in a "3000 years of independence" can not feed itself? Isn't it strange that a country that boasts of being Africa's leader is Africa's chief pan-handler? Isn't it a tragedy that this nation that is so proud of its past civilization has to beg to feed its own? What a misfortune!

Famine: Ethiopia's Faithful Visitor:
In the last 100 years alone Ethiopia has witnessed more than eight famines that were of biblical proportions. Except for the first one, the Great Famine of 1888-1892 that devastated all of the Horn, the rest were famines that ravaged only two provinces of Ethiopia: Tigray and Wello. Of course Tigray is home to Ethiopia's strong men Seyoum Mesfin and Melles Zenawi, the foreign and prime minister in that order. It is these leaders of this continual land of famine who are now desiring to expand their territory by changing internationally established borders. The famines of 1958, 1966-67, 1973-74, and 1984-85 had victimized the unfortunate people of Tigray and Wello. Now that the TPLF is in charge of all Ethiopia's resources, one would expect the TPLF to do its best to eliminate famine from its own region, unfortunately for the poor people, it doesn't look like it. How sad and tragic! Shouldn't the country's priorities be rearranged so that the remaining provinces could help feed these regions?

Here is the death tally of these past famines: the 1958 famine claimed over 100,000, the 1973-74 took more 200,000 and that of the 1984-85 snatched higher than 750,000. As if these were not enough it is heart-breaking to learn that in 1999 about 5 million Ethiopians (Tigreans + Welloyes) are still facing death by starvation. Will the world witness another terrible catastrophe? I hope not.

Woyane, Derg, and Haile Sellasie: Different Names but the sa me Curse:
It seems that every Ethiopian leader commits suicide by climbing up the ego of Ethiopian grandeur and jumping off of it. How pathetic. Haile Selassie, climbed up his ego of "the elect of God and the Lion of Judah", and in the process he condemned nearly a million Ethiopians to perish of starvation. He tried to hide the Tigray-Wello starvation of 1973-74 and it marked the end of his monarchy. The Ex-Communist dictator, Mengistu Haile Mariam, choose to spend millions of dollars (more than 125) to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the coup (revolution??) that brought him to power and to build huge monument to mark his power, at a time when thousands, again from Tigray and Wello,were dying of starvation. At the end his neglect caught up with him and he had to run for his life. He had climbed up the ego of an envincible Communist Ethiopia but at the end he jumped off and the legacy he left his country with is tragic. Sadly enough the same is happening with the Woyane (TPLF) Gang that is currently ruling Ethiopia. The propaganda the dream of these people is even worse. However, The dream of an Ethiopia they have in mind, one whose power base is in Axum, is leading them to commit suicide. As this Gang is squandering billions of dollars on a war that has no purpose but expansion into someone else's territory, the people they call their own are dying of famine. What a tragedy!

The Profits of Famine
The world should not be surprised by the Woyane historical neglect of their responsibility. They know of this: if they can continue the war against Eritrea and the people of Tigray and Wello continue to starve it means more profit for them. Yes they are willing to exchange the welfare of their people for the sake of money. That has been their tradition. If we need reminding we have amble evidence in their past. The Woyanes (TPLF) are the kind of leaders who do not hesitate to exchange, sell, people for cash and arms. The recent news of exchanging 3,800 "Kwara Jews" that "had been stranded in Ethiopia since 1991" for 50 million dollars is a recent case in point. Read this:

"According to Foreign Report, 'It was only in November 1998, after pressure from the Jewish community in the United States, that the Israeli government started to negotiate with Ethiopia about the Kwara Jews'.The negotiations were reportedly conducted in Ethiopia by senior Israeli Defense Ministry and Mossad officials after the Ethiopian government had initially rejected appeals from Israel and the United States to allow the Kwara Jews to emigrate. The result of the negotiations, the report said, was an agreement that would allow the Kwara Jews to leave in exchange for an Israeli commitment to deliver ammunition and missiles, as well as to upgrade Ethiopian Air Force MiG fighter planes, many of which are currently grounded."
--The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, June 30, 1999 quoting the June 24 issue of the Foreign Report

What about the past? What about Operation Moses (1984-85), an operation that transferred 8000 Amharas to Israel? What about Operation Joshua that relocated 1000 Gondaries? All these were air-lifted to Israel, via the Sudan, through the blessing and cooperation of the TPLF. What about Operation Solomon in 1991? Over 14,000 Ethiopians were air-lifted to Israel directly from Addis. Again all these happened at the blessing of the newly enthroned TPLF government. In both Operation Moses and Operation Joshua the TPLF is believed to have made millions of dollars for facilitating escape routes for the Fellashas through Sudan. The TPLF worked closely with the Mossad and the CIA, for money, to spirit away the Ethiopians. It was people for money exchange alright. In Operation Solomon it was Mengistu Haile Mariam, during his waning days, who had begun the people for money exchange negotiations. He got millions of dollars for it. But there can not be any doubt that the TPLF also cashed in on the operation for it was consummated under its watch. Mengistu Haile Mariam was damned for his act and now Meles Zenawi and Co. are doing the same thing. Could they be looking at their waning days too?

The more one looks, the more the Woyane, the Derg and Haile Selassie are beginning to look alike. While they live in luxury and conducting wars they can not win, their people are condemned to perish of starvation.

Feeding your own starving people is a noble thing to do. War Kills. It does not feed people. Thus, Ethiopia, stop wars of aggression and instead feed your people.

--Ghidewon A Asmerom