December 1, 2015, Washington, DC,
According to some inside Ethiopia, NGO’s are being warned not to use the words “famine, starvation or death” in their food appeals. Neither are they to say 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.” Neither are they allowed to “compare the current crisis to the famine of the eighties.” Instead, the latest drought in Ethiopia is to be described as “food insecurity caused by a drought related to El Nino.”
Those not governed by these politically correct descriptions are saying it may be the worst drought in thirty years, similar to the famine of 1984-1985 that caused millions of deaths from starvation and triggered a world-wide response.
As one can see, the regime in Ethiopia is quite sensitive to this issue and is also actively denying media reports that substantiate the crisis. This was shown in the regime-controlled media’s efforts to debunk previous testimonies in a BBC TV program where a mother wept as she spoke of the death of her son from starvation. In a subsequent interview[i] by the regime’s media of the same woman, she retracted her statement, saying her son’s death was unrelated to hunger. The regime is also taking issue with the UN’s projections[ii] that 15 million Ethiopians will be affected, replacing that figure with their own estimate of 8 million.
Some might ask why? Ethiopians believe they know why—because it is an embarrassment to a regime that has been enjoying international attention as an “economic lion” based on its own claims of double-digit economic growth. To start with, Ethiopians question the dependability of these growth statistics from an authoritarian regime that lacks any transparency and accountability; but on the other hand, their 100% electoral victory this past year is just as unbelievable. The economy has grown, but the majority is left out. Instead, the ruling ethnic apartheid party and their patronage networks have singularly enjoyed the economic boom as they have made off like “bandits”—literally. The largest export in the past year has been gold (21%) [iii] to Switzerland—who is getting that?
Keep in mind that the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), the coalition party of 4 of the 9 regions of Ethiopia, is controlled at the top by the Central Committee of the Tigrayan Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF).
They came into power in the aftermath of drought, starvation and death in Ethiopia, which may now recur. The Derg government of Mengistu Hailemariam, which they overthrew, had themselves come into power following another great famine in Ethiopia during Haile Selassie’s rule.
The EPRDF has had 24 years in power to prepare for another famine of historic proportions; but instead, they have exploited that power to prosper themselves. Instead of accepting any responsibility for bad decisions, failure to plan, or selfish use of resources and opportunities, the regime is now blaming “nature”, seeing Ethiopia’s “food insecurity” as an unavoidable effect of “El Nino,” something others dispute[iv].
Ethiopians in the Diaspora are worried that many will die as a result of the regime’s failure to speak the truth. The drought promises to create a full-blown emergency; however, sadly, the regime is ill prepared to respond. In fact, good evidence exists that the blatant self-interest exercised by the current Ethiopian regime has created a disaster scenario that could have been avoided were there more equitable opportunity and better governance. This includes such negative contributors as the lack of privatization of land, failed agricultural policies, land-grabs by foreign and regime cronies of prime agricultural land and water sources, and the consolidation of power into the hands of TPLF-members and cronies, giving exclusionary access to the marketplace and agricultural land and supports based on this affiliation.
According to UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, the amount of food aid necessary to meet the size and scope of this crisis is so huge that humanitarian groups are deeply worried that they are already running far short of what is needed for the rest of 2015. Despite large pledges of food aid from the US, UK and China; it is not enough. Even though it is inconceivable, if ever there was an important time for substantial land reforms and the loosening up of a dictatorial grip on the lives and livelihoods of the Ethiopian people, it is now. No one expects it to happen.
So, in response, we propose a project be launched to gain widespread support from Ethiopians in the Diaspora as well as from concerned others, including those in the religious communities, to contribute to areas of high need through humanitarian organizations on the ground with a proven track record of effectiveness in Ethiopia.
Initially, there was an appeal from many Ethiopians throughout the world asking the SMNE to identify credible organizations working on the ground in Ethiopia so the SMNE might coordinate a fund-raising effort to support the work. The idea was to work with these organizations to make it easier to donate directly to an Ethiopian effort and then keep track of the amount being given as an encouragement to continue in the effort.
We began to investigate the possibilities and found that these organizations were very encouraged by the desire of Ethiopians to help the people. However, even though they really liked the idea, it had some risk in its execution. They feared that going public with such an effort, meaning making their partnership with the Diaspora known, could result in losing their license and being kicked out of the country.
Who loses then but the people in greatest need? Because of these serious concerns, we decided against doing it publically. Instead, we will do our best in directing people to the right organizations behind the scenes or by listing organizations that are working on the ground without referring to any in particular. We hope that later on, the organizations will eventually be able to give us more feedback. If you have questions, please feel free to contact us. Unfortunately, the EPRDF government values a boycott on truth more than they care about the deaths of our children.
In closing, we appeal to our fellow Ethiopians in the Diaspora to stand together, putting humanity before ethnicity, religion, political view, region or any other differences, so as to share in overcoming this manmade national crisis. We must unify together to raise money to help and then find ways to get the money to those helping Ethiopians on the ground. It is our most vulnerable who are suffering and it is our responsibility to be the first to help our own people for no one is free until all are free. Please raise this issue in your churches, mosques, community organizations, schools and among other groups who could help raise money to send home.
For those of you living in Ethiopia, please document what you see and hear through pictures, videos, written testimony and any other means you have so the word gets out and the world knows the truth.
Let us fill in the gap for a self-focused regime that has failed us. In addition, we can work together to raise awareness among our elected political representatives, wherever we are in the Diaspora. Many do not know the actual stories on the ground and believe the hype fed to them by groups promoting questionable statistics promoted by the regime.
Help your elected officials to better understand that this corrupt, ethnic-based regime, which many of them have supported, cannot be trusted to address the very real threat of famine, starvation and death of some 15 million people, even members of their own ethnic group. Let us bring attention to the needs of our people before it is too late.
May God reveal the truth and bring an end to this tragic and mostly avoidable crisis.
For more information, contact Obang Metho, Executive Director of the SMNE. Email: Obang@solidaritymovement.org
[i] http://www.untoldstoriesonline.com/ethiopia-drought/; Ongoing drought in Ethiopia Being Hushed by its Own Government
[iii] http://www.tradingeconomics.com/ethiopia/exports Ethiopia main exports are gold (21 percent of total exports) and coffee (19 percent). Others include: live animals, oilseeds, flowers and khat. Ethiopia main export partner is Switzerland (21 percent of total exports) mainly for export of gold. Others include: Somalia (11 percent), China (8 percent), Sudan (8 percent) and Saudi Arabia (7 percent).