Ethiopia: Famine and Bad Governance – By Lakech A.

June 20th, 2008 Print Print Email Email

Over the last few weeks our sensibilities have been challenged by stories of the onset of yet another famine in our unhappy country. Both print and electronic media are replete with harrowing stories of famine-struck communities, children, mothers and fathers accompanied by more disturbing pictures of emaciated bodies, fly-infested children and sunken-faced and distraught mothers. The usual litany of causes and consequences are put into the trajectory of our mental imaginaries. (more…)

Over the last few weeks our sensibilities have been challenged by stories of the onset of yet another famine in our unhappy country. Both print and electronic media are replete with harrowing stories of famine-struck communities, children, mothers and fathers accompanied by more disturbing pictures of emaciated bodies, fly-infested children and sunken-faced and distraught mothers. The usual litany of causes and consequences are put into the trajectory of our mental imaginaries. Invariably, drought, fast multiplying population, poor agricultural technologies, political instability, poor infrastructures, government ineptitude and mistaken policies, the rise of food and oil prices in global markets and the wrath of God, to cite a few, are being used as framing devices to explain the nature, scope and multi-dimensional causes and consequences of famine. While all the above factors have negative impacts on national development in general and famine in particular, they cannot be considered as deterministic. More perversely, some have seen famine as an inevitable concomitant of underdevelopment. Such trajectory of thinking hides the simple and basic fact that famine is largely a political economy problem, more specifically, the product of bad governance, period.

For those of us who have had the opportunity or burden to live under three autocratic and unaccountable governments, the question of famine is nothing new. Likewise, the reason for recurrent famine is as clear as a sunny day. It is the product of bad governance and no other contributing factor comes anywhere close as an explanatory variable. Unfortunately many Ethiopians at home and the Diaspora get confused by the construction of pseudo- scientific biophysical explanations about the causes, nature and scope of the problematic Though, I respect the opinions of all, I would like to argue that Ethiopia’s recurrent famine has little to do with drought or the wrath of God for our transgressions. Unfortunately, our collective cultural cognition and praxis are often clouded with flawed logic and partisan discourse on the political, socio-economic and environmental causes and consequences of human-made or induced disasters such as famine. Our feudal past and the traumas inflicted on our collective and individual psyche by socialist and revolutionary democracy since 1974 have dulled our senses and capabilities to entertain different perspectives and accept criticisms on every aspect of life with dignity and grace. It is no wonder that we often opt for the simplistic notion that famine is an inevitable natural phenomenon with strong correlation with the vagaries of climate and underdevelopment. I strongly disagree with such false and misleading interpretations and argue that famine is largely a function of bad governance in all its manifestations.

The current famine in our country, just like the ones under the monarchy and the Dergue, is the product of the irresponsible and failed policies of the government. I remember not a single instance when any of the three successive governments ever took any responsibility for the causes and damages that famines brought on the Ethiopian people. The monarchy tried to hide the death and displacement of thousands of famine ravished people from Wollo province and ultimately paid with its extinction from the political arena. Likewise, the Dergue underplayed and whitewashed the gravity of the 1984/85 famine that killed an estimated 1 million people by celebrating the 10th anniversary of its ascent to power with significant extravaganza while hundreds of thousands were dying through the breadth and width of the country. It was live Aid and the solidarity of the world community that saved millions of others. The government embarked upon resettlement and villagization programs using drought as the framing device for the tragedy. The current government has upped the mantra of misrepresentation and public denial about the famines in 2003 and 2008. The head of the Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Agency was recently passing ultimatums to the international community, presumably, holding them responsible for the dire consequences of the famine if enough food was not delivered to the more than 4.5 million people facing starvation by the month of July. On the other hand the minister of information was accusing the international press for exaggerating the scope and gravity of the problem. For the prime minister, the problem was limited to a few pockets of drought stricken areas of the country. Others were surmising that civic organizations were using the famine ploy to mobilize resources for their own ends. Such misinformation and denials are not new. They are second nature to the governing party and its illiterate or semiliterate cadres. In their convoluted logic, there cannot be famine in a country where double-digit economic growth rate has been reported at every international and local forum for the last five consecutive years. Worse yet, they would have us believe that the all knowing prime minister of the country would have known about the gravity of the problem and resolved it with his magic bullet.

Should we continue to accept such irresponsibility from callous and unrepresentative governments and leaders ad infinitum? No. Famine in Ethiopia is a failure of governance and the solution lies in removing this critical encumbrance. I have no doubt in my mind that the Ethiopian people will be able to solve their food security challenge within a very short time with a democratic and responsible governance system. The structural deformity that has fettered the collective energy of 81 million Ethiopians has to be removed before famine becomes a historical relic in the collective experience of Ethiopians. The continuation of the current system of governance that is based on ignorance, nepotism, corruption, sectarianism and perpetually socially engineered conflicts is an affront to decency and a sure guarantee for even more hideous famines and loss of precious lives. Ethiopians have suffered for far too long under incompetent, ignorant, callous and irresponsible governments and enough is enough. A government that fails to guarantee minimum access to basic goods and services to the governed has no business of continued tenure. The current government is ruling the country with brute force and there will be no end in sight for famine in the immediate future if things continue the way they are. Every Ethiopian has a moral and generational responsibility to fight against bad governance and build a prosperous and famine-free country. The diverse natural resources of the country can become useful only when the collective energies of the Ethiopian people are mobilized and dutifully deployed in agriculture and other supporting sectors of the national economy. The humiliation that we have been facing as a society due to the shameless practice of asking for international alms to save the famine affected population has to end now. The removal of the current system of governance and its replacement with a democratic and accountable one is the only plausible guarantee for food security and decency.

Long live the Ethiopian people

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