What Should the World Do To Save Starving Ethiopians? By By Alemayehu G. Mariam

August 29th, 2011 Print Print Email Email

Nearly a quarter of a century ago, Time Magazine on its cover page asked two weighty questions about recurrent famines in Ethiopia: “Why are Ethiopians starving again? What should the world do and not do” to help them? In my commentary last week, I gave ten reasons in response to the first question; here I offer ten more for the second.

For the past one-half century, the “Western world” has been the principal source of charity and handouts in Ethiopia. For the last two decades, the West has been feeding the regime of dictator Meles Zenawi with billions of dollars of development and humanitarian aid while filling the stomachs of starving Ethiopians with empty words and emptier promises. Now that another famine is spreading like wildfire in that country, the question remains: “What should the Western world do and not do to help Ethiopians permanently escape the endless cycles of famine described in the sugarcoated language of the self-serving international aid agencies as “acute food insecurity, extreme malnutrition, green drought and food crisis”.

Ten Things the World Should Do and Not Do to Help Starving Ethiopians
Take the moral hazard out of Western aid in Ethiopia.

Western taxpayers have been footing the bill to provide a fail-safe insurance policy for the dictatorship of Meles Zenawi on the theory that he is too servile to fail (not unlike the notion of corporations that are too big to fail). Zenawi has proven to be a reliable proxy warfighter for the West in the Horn. He has received hearty congratulations for a “fantastic Somalia job” even though his invasion created the worst humanitarian crises in Africa in the last decade. Tony Blair appointed him to his Commission for Africa. He has been the West’s man in Africa on climate change. In return, the West has provided Zenawi billions of dollars in “safety net” aid, multilateral loans and a perpetual supply of relief handouts to insulate his regime from the natural consequences of a mismanaged economy, debilitating corruption and proliferating poverty and famine. The West should now stand back and let Zenawi face the consequences of chronic budget deficits, galloping inflation, corruption and empty grain silos. Turning a blind eye to gross human rights violations and Western complicity in the regime’s denial of democratic rights to Ethiopians presents not only a moral hazard but also irrefutable evidence of moral bankruptcy.

Put humanity and human rights back in Western humanitarian aid in Ethiopia.

The West should treat the starving people of Ethiopia as human beings, not as pawns in a strategic regional chess game or as pitiful objects of charity and handouts. The root cause of the food famine in Ethiopia is an underlying political famine of democracy, rule of law, lack of accountability and transparency and flagrant human rights abuses. More democracy and greater respect for human rights necessarily means less famine and starvation because a government that is not able, willing and ready to feed its people will be swept out of office by a hungry and angry electorate. The West should tie its aid to specific and measurable improvements in human rights observances and properly functioning democratic institutions. If Western aid and loans are decoupled from human rights and good governance, they become powerful tools of oppression, persecution and subjugation in the hands of dictators.

Promote and support a stable and healthy Ethiopian society through aid, not entrench an iron-fisted and malignant dictatorship.

Western donors believe that they can buy “stability” in the Horn of Africa region by spending billions of aid dollars to support the Zenawi dictatorship. But they remain willfully ignorant of the lessons of history. Supporting a dictator is as risky as carrying an open powder keg at a fireworks festival. As we have recently seen, the West for decades supported dictators Ben Ali in Tunisia, Hosni Mubark in Egypt and Gadahafi in Libya. For a time, these dictators staged the illusion of stability, control and permanence for the West. But they all went up in smoke when young Mohammed Bouazizi torched himself to end a life of oppression and indignity. In the long run, the West knows no amount of foreign aid or loans could possibly buffer Zenawi’s dictatorship from a tsunami of popular upheaval. Shouldn’t they stand on the right side of history as President Obama often exhorts?

Never bankroll bad actions by dictators with good Western taxpayer money.
The West has a bad habit of rewarding the bad acts of African dictators with more and larger amounts of Western taxpayer-supported aid and loans. After Zenawi stole the 2005 elections in broad daylight, jailed nearly all of the opposition leaders, human rights advocates, civic society leaders in the country and mowed down nearly two hundred unarmed demonstrators and wounded nearly eight hundred, the West gave him billions in aid and loans. In 2008 alone, Zenawi received $3 billion, the largest amount of aid in Africa. Zenawi must indubitably believe that there is a linear cause and effect relationship between his human rights abuses and increased foreign aid and loans. It seems to be a simple case of operant conditioning in which behavior and actions follow a system of rewards and disincentives. If human rights violations are always reinforced by the positive reinforcement of increasing amounts of aid, there will be more and more outrageous abuses committed to obtain that outcome.

Make partnership with the Ethiopian people, not the Zenawi dictatorship.
There is documentary evidence from Wikileaks cablegrams to show that the West basically wants a “guy they can do business with” in Ethiopia. The core business of the West in Ethiopia and the Horn is counterterrorism. Zenawi invaded Somalia in 2006 and neraly three years later packed up and left. Today Al Shabab and the other warlords still operate in Somalia with impunity. A partnership with a dictator on a single issue is not only short-sighted but also counterproductive to the long-term strategic interests of the West in Ethiopia and the Horn. That is why the West should nurture a long-term partnership with the Ethiopian people based on a demonstrable commitment to good governance, the rule of law, accountability, anti-corruption practices, private sector development, basic education and health services and so on. The easiest way to sever a relationship with the people is to give a fat welfare check (free money) to a depraved dictatorship year after year.

Hold the local paymasters of aid accountable.

Zenawi’s regime today is accountable to no one for the famine that is spreading throughout the country or the aid that it receives from the West. The international aid bureaucrats dare not question Zenawi fearing his legendary torrent of scorn, mockery and insults. They are mere rubberstamps of Zenawi’s regime. Recently, when Ken Ohashi, the World Bank Country Director for Ethiopia said Zenawi’s economic plan (“Growth and Transformation Plan”) is unsustainable, Zenawi derided him as a neocolonial overseer: “The World Bank [country] director is used to having other developing nations simply listen to his orders and is not used to nations refusing implement policy based on their wishes.” Last year Zenawi called the European Union Election Observers’ report “garbage”.
Whenever questions are raised about the misuse and abuse of aid money, the international aid bureaucrats run for cover or get into high gear to deny any improprieties and wrongdoing. For instance, Human Rights Watch and more recently BIJ/BBC have made serious and well-supported allegations of political weaponization of the so-called “safety net” aid. In July 2010, the Development Assistance Group, a coordinating body of 26 foreign donor institutions for Ethiopia, issued a whitewash report which concluded that the administration of the aid programs is the “supported by relatively robust accountability systems.” In the past couple of weeks, USAID Deputy Administrator Gregory Gottlieb spoke to the Voice of America and declared, “There is no famine in Ethiopia.” Yet an audit report by the independent Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of US AID in March 2010 came to the distressing conclusion that USAID has no idea what is happening to its agricultural programs in Ethiopia. By rejecting the data generated by the regime and local USAID officials, the OIG implicitly indicts them for manufacturing data to make things look good. The West must call a spade a spade, insist on the truth and let the chips fall where they may!
Condition aid and loans on the implementation of comprehensive family planning programs in Ethiopia.

Recently, the U.S. Census Bureau had frightening predictions for Ethiopia. By 2050, Ethiopia’s population will more than triple to 278 million, placing that country in the top 10 most populous countries in the world. Ethiopia’s population growth has been spiraling upwards for decades. Since 1995, the average annual rate of population growth has remained at over 3 percent. Comprehensive family planning services are essential to avoiding the predicted doomsday forty years from now. Such services educate, train and prepare couples and families when and how many children to have, provide them contraceptive counseling and help them acquire skills to prevent and manage sexually transmitted diseases, among other things. A decade ago, the World Health Organization and the World Bank estimated that $3.00 per person per year would provide basic family planning, maternal and neonatal health care to women in developing countries, including contraception, prenatal, delivery and post-natal care and postpartum family planning and promotion of condoms to prevent sexually transmitted infections. A decade or two from now when it is too late, providing such services in Ethiopia will be prohibitively expensive.
To help the starving people of Ethiopia, help Ethiopian women.

The distressing status of women in Ethiopian society has been documented over the past decade. The U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (2000) reported: “Violence and societal discrimination against women, and abuse of children remained problems, and female genital mutilation (FGM) is widespread.” The situation remains pretty much the same in 2011. Western aid should seriously focus on improving the status of women and go beyond empty rhetoric. For instance, there is a lot of talk and window-dressing by the USAID about the empowerment and advancement of women in Ethiopia, but the rhetoric falls short of demonstrable outcomes. USAID claims to have helped thousands of rural women obtain microfiance, and through its extension services enabled hundreds of families adopt better technologies to improve their productivity. USAID also claims to have helped remove “road blocks to development” by improving gender integration, expanding educational opportunity, increased awareness of legal rights and so on and by “providing high-impact, results-oriented technical assistance that promotes participation and transparency.” There is little convincing evidence in the public reports of USAID to support any of these claims. In any case, given the chummy and cozy relationship between the local USAID operatives and Zenawi’s regime and the OIG’s audit referenced above, one would have to take USAID’s word not just with a grain but a big sack of salt.
To help the starving people of Ethiopia, help Ethiopia’s youth.

Seventy percent of Ethiopia’s population is said to be under the age of thirty. This past May, USAID announced that it will partner with Pact (an NGO) and UNICEF to implement five-year, $100 million program to benefit over 500,000 Ethiopian orphans and vulnerable children affected by HIV and AIDS. The program “will support efforts by the Ethiopian Government and civil society to standardize comprehensive care and support services for vulnerable children and their families.” Reliance on a combination of donor-funded NGOs, regime-managed and –owned civil society organizations and bloated bureaucracies to implement such a program is manifestly unconvincing. The fact of the matter is that Ethiopia’s youth need access to better educational and employment opportunities now. Youth alienation, joblessness, nihilism breed despair and anarchy which the country can ill afford.

The West should know that aid and loans will not save Ethiopia.
The West should know that neither aid nor loans will save Ethiopia. Only Ethiopians, poor and famished as they are, can save Ethiopia and themselves.

Starve the Beast, Feed the People.
The West should heed the words of Helen Epstein:

The problem with foreign aid in Ethiopia is that both the Ethiopian government and its donors see the people of this country not as individuals with distinct needs, talents, and rights but as an undifferentiated mass, to be mobilized, decentralized, vaccinated, given primary education and pit latrines, and freed from the legacy of feudalism, imperialism, and backwardness. It is this rigid focus on the ‘backward masses,’ rather than the unique human person, that typically justifies appalling cruelty in the name of social progress.

Stop the cruelty. Starve the beast and feed the people.

  1. Heartless dictator Meles
    | #1

    Since the current starvation that is going on in Ethiopia is a man made problem, the world should help Ethiopians to get rid of this inhumane, brutal, cold-blooded killer and a looter that has gotten to be a billionaire by stealing from the mouths of starving Ethiopian children. Tyrant Meles could have been the beloved son of Ethiopia, if had put all his energy and his top priorities to wards developing Ethiopian fertile land to feed Ethiopians and eradicate hunger, than looting and giving it free of charge to Sudan and selling the rest dirty cheap to foreigners, period!

  2. Reader
    | #2

    Interesting commentary. I think the solution, for the most part is the Ethiopian government should abandon the communist model of government owning all the land and return it to the people.

  3. iwnet
    | #3

    AFP – 2 days ago
    GENEVA — The Ethiopian-born secretary-general of the Red Cross said his native country is better “prepared” to handle Africa’s worst drought in decades than ..

  4. Sheger
    | #4

    I would add that we get our natural wrights like any body to use our rivers and waters for development. Other wise
    It is “Ye gedel laye chuhete”. And reform the land issue. But why are the west so responsible about all of this?
    If they are the ones who makes the ultimet what ever then may be we shouldn’t talk about Meles. It is our issue and responsibility to do the wright and make sure every thing is in order. And after all of this talk if it is still up to them
    What does it matter? It can matter if they care but not if they don’t. We have said enough for so long they have seen
    Enough for so long since the time of the DERG even though I don’t see any difference between the two.

    But any how it is like fighting terrorism you have an enemy but you don’t know where they are and who els more
    Not to make funn out of Goerg Bush who asked the world to join with him on the war when he wasn’t even sure
    Where this people wore. Though thanks to God we got some of them. We might even stop them soon completely.
    By what ever war or politics. Or help them understand the world. They are after all against the world or the world
    Is their hostage. god forgive them or don’t. I don’t even know what to say.

    But how ever going back to our country, think about it. If it is Meles who is doing this, why is it impossible to stop him from doing what he is doing? We all know Chinia gives him a lot of support but why is china like that? Even if China has
    A great interest in Ethiopia, isn’t it at there benefit if Ethiopia prospers and developed? We can say this to any body who
    Is interested in friend ship with Ethiopia. What ever the interest, don’t they know the people matters just like any bodys country people?

    And dear sir Proffesor we are not poor by the way. If not the richest in the world if we can keep what is ours or share it
    Fairly with the world around us specially the Ethiopian people in all and that is should be at the best of every body’s

    Thanks again.
    On our country

  5. Sheger
    | #5

    I didn’t wright ” on our country” but let’s say I said thank you in the name of our country.

  6. Sheger
    | #6

    Things are easy when we like each other and care and help each other. Not fear each other. We need democracy in Ethiopia also in China and every were. And add fairness to it. It all becomes beautiful an nice.

    God loves us all so we should love him and love each other.

  7. simeneh
    | #7

    This has always been a method of “self-serving”, NGOs and other humanitarian organizations building a lasting business in the name of charity. Only 10 cents in a dollar goes to the needy. Why? How would they pay themselves and continue to flourish if they have given everything donated for the calamities? It is good that all Ethiopians from every corner should let the world know that we’re not harvesting famine but ripping dictators who causes them unequivocally supported by countries, charities operating as business and unfortunately, naïve and honestly supporting humanitarians around the world. Thanks, Prof. Alemayehu, for illuminating donors on “Why is famine recurrent in Ethiopia and Africa in general and even everywhere?

  8. solomon
    | #8

    there are some main reasons that Ethiopia should concider from now on.

    1-we should use our land properly.
    2-we don’t have to relay on rain water.
    3-we should use our rivers for irrigation.
    4-we should invent modren technology for agriculture.
    5-bad states mans from haileselasei to melese.
    6-bring all ethiopians together as one to eradicate poverity and forgive one onother.
    7-creat job opportunity then people can help themselves.
    8-respect each one another and eradicate corruption.
    I think this could help and stop the country being beger all the time.

  9. Sheger
    | #9

    Dear people what I don’t understand in all of this is why Ethiopia and Eritiria are problematic. Why did the Eritirianse
    Wanted to separate from Ethiopia to begin with and because of that a million Tigirayan died of starvation also half
    Million Wolloyes and the people that died with starvation by the time Hailessilasse by war Italy caused and Italy or man made famine. And the people that are still dying at Meless regime. At Badimay war and still starvation and so on almost
    Every year. In the name of God why? Aren’t this people responsible of about at least 5 or 6 million peoples lifes. And you call that leaders? This are murderers sorry. Ruthless murderers.

    So as to revang all of this we should return Eritiria and make peace in Ethiopia with every one and live in peace before
    We become all dead or the lough and stuck of the world. May be kind of are already but what did we do to Italy man?
    And Egypt? Can they please live us alone or become friendly nations with us? What will they gain out of it. Don’t they no no bad man weens in this world or the after? They can do bad like a job but it won’t get them any were as the world
    Comes to light every day. And it always does.

  10. Daniel Assefa
    | #10

    Chief Alemayehu.
    What can you do to resolve the continuous food crisis in Ethiopia?
    I suggest that you write an article as far as what your contribution is.
    Don’t expect someone else to resolve the issue of famine for Ethiopia.
    For a change, instead of hammering and blaming others let’s do something concrete as responsible citizens.
    Since we claim to know it all let’s walk the talk and come up with a solution.
    The articles you write will be more significant if you change your approach in uniting your readers to engage themselves for visible and positive contribution towards a nation that you and me owe for where we are today in life. To build a vigorous and vibrant nation state is possible but then a lot is expected from individuals who ripped the benefit of exceptional education and fringe benefits.

  11. ታመነ ወንድሙ
    | #11

    እንግሊዘኛ በደንብ ለማይገባን ሰዎች ምን ታስቧል?

  12. koster
    | #12

    Famine in Ethiopia is woyane made but diaspora also is to be blamed for philosophizing for 20 years instead of uniting and free Ethiopia from state terrorism and famine. Ethiopians are hungry of freedom and food and we can fight tyrany and famine simultaneously by saying no to state terrorism in Ethiopia

  13. The #1 terrotist lives in 4 Kilo
    | #13

    Good point, but I am afraid, Mengestu, Melese, Isayas have killed the most majority of our jegna Ethiopians who feel and believe in Ethiopiwent. I recently heard that people are finding more dead bodies here and there in Ethiopia, not knowing who killed them and why. The only explanation is, this is another form of genocide being committed by the current regime. Sadly, since the bloodhound Mengestu came to power and now the killer machine Woyanes, the Ethiopian culture that we love and admire have gone down the drain because of the bloodshed, looting and the mistrust of the last two regimes and one another. However, I still I have hopes that we can change this if we unite and fight the current regime for the sake of Ethiopia and all Ethiopians. Good day!

  14. TALKS
    | #14

    The only true solution to rid of Meles and TPLF is a full blown revolt of the Ethiopian people or organized and armed opposition. Talks and intelligent articles have little or absolutely zero effect in bringing a drop of a change. Meles and TPLF obtained their status after several years of struggle and are now sitting on a position where they enjoy billions of dollars of profit. They were hungry dogs whose bellies are fat and full now after feeding on years comfort. They will not relinquish their power under any circumstance lest someone forces them out of it. The question we should ask and the propaganda we should propagate is; how can we start a true armed opposition from the grounds of Ethiopa and who is up to the task? Otherwise, we will be writing articles till kingdom come and will not change a damn thing. I appreciate the intelligent and consistent struggle of Al Mariam but doc, the fat dogs have turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to the plight of Ethiopian people. No reason or rhyme is going to convince them in any shape or form. Got to rise up as a people as we have done with King and Mengistu. Only then, can we bring a true change. My fear is that we don’t start another cycle with another dictator. It seems to be a black Africa disease.

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