Ethiopia: The Era of Great Famines is Far From Over – Not Yet!

15 mins read

By Shewarega Assefa
Alex de Waal, executive director of the World Peace Foundation at Tufts University, Op-ed on May 8 on the online version of` NY times titled: Is the Era of great famines over?
Alemneh Wase News: The number of hunger stricken ethiopians increases to 7.5 million.
A month ago he travelled through the northern and central regions of Ethiopia and was overwhelmed by the effort of the Ethiopian government in dealing with the famine that affected about a fifth of the country’s population. He claimed that Ethiopia has been transformed from a symbol of a country plagued by a recurring famine which saw 600,000 people perish in the 1984 draught that “turned the name Ethiopia synonym for shriveled, glazed-eyed children on saline drips….” to a country that is effectively dealing with a famine that affected about 20 million people. Quite a remarkable progress!
He went in detail how peace, greater transparency and prudent planning helped the regime fend off starvation. The narration seems to have been copied right out of the regime’s image building and deceptive propaganda that fostered humanitarian assistance and development funds keep on pouring into the coffers of the government in an unprecedented scale for the past quarter of a century.
The prevailing famine, for him, affecting close to 20 million people only dealt a dent to the miraculous growth of GDP, by slowing the growth down to a mere 8.5% for 2015 and 2016 from a high of more than 10% growth of 2014. This rosy growth rate –concocted from tortured numbers by the government and echoed by IMF and other donor countries –is a facade retched up by the regime as part of the image building scheme, corroborated by donners. A growth, no doubt, created a few lords of poverty who have enriched themselves at the cost of a vast swath of the population visibly suffering from the corrosive anxiety of poverty.
A polarized growth which can be palpably felt in Addis by mere observation of a flock of beggars that conspicuously swarm the modern buildings mushrooming in the city.
One couldn’t agree more with the writer’s conclusion that “there is no record of people dying of famine in a democracy.” And also with the assertion that “politics creates famine, and politics can stop it.”
An assertion copied from the experience of other countries and pasted to the Ethiopian situation where neither democracy nor a political system capable of stopping famine exist. Experts closely monitoring the situation assert to the contrary: Ethiopia has a totalitarian government lacking the will and the capacity to mitigate the impact of recurring famine endemic to the country.
Ethiopia is not a democracy. Unless, of course, Alex believes the bizarre claim that the regime won the election by a 100% in the last sham election, 96.6% in the previous one, where journalists and opposition politicians have been summarily imprisoned and some brutally tortured and/or murdered. The writer conveniently misses to mention the annual country reports of gross human rights violation by the US state department, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty international.
In today’s Ethiopia, a handful of ethnocentric freaks hailing from a minority ethnic group obscenely possess power and wealth running the country with a bandit system. I fail to see how the very undemocratic system where transparency and accountability are missing could effectively help stave off the dire situation of famine that is killing children at worst, or permanently damaging their life by malnourishment, at best.
All the factors mentioned by the writer to have contributed for the government to fend off starvation miserably fail to apply to the Ethiopian situation. Undoubtedly, prevalence of peace and political stability significantly contribute to growth and development, having a cascading effect of augmenting the living standard of the people. However, unless one defines peace to mean solely an absence of war with bordering countries, warranting internal peace has never been the hall mark of the government of Ethiopia. Even border skirmishes continually happen on virtually every corner of the country.
Lasting peace only prevails where freedom exists.
In the absence of freedom to speak, write, organize, and of genuine elections peace would only be a mirage –as is the case in Ethiopia. Obviously, the movement of people to look for a better livelihood is also severely curtailed in the absence of freedom. History tells us that there has never been true peace in a totalitarian government and the regime in Ethiopia is no exception! In today’s Ethiopia the government can only be equated to an apartheid system where a minority from one small ethnic group entirely controls the government. Peace may seem to prevail for those powerful oligarchs who are protected by all the might of the government with full support of the western world –who are blindsided by the service they are getting to fight terrorism in the neighboring Somalia. The case is not true to 90% of the population, though.
Unlike Alex’s claim, the system of government in Ethiopia today is neither accountable nor transparent. The staggering amount of funds that have been pouring to the country to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars have never been put to the full use of their intended targets. Sadly, this has been going on with a full knowledge of the donners and the so called development partners. Despite their awareness of how development funds and of aid money that have been rampantly siphoned off by a corrupt system, donner countries have carried on applying the same policy of catering for dictators –turning a blind eye dovetailed with being part of the corrupt system.
To make matters worse, the Ethiopian government use these abundant funds to hire a lobbyist group like D.L. Piper to project a presentable image through some bought out politicians and experts, including academicians here in the US whose real concern is the exorbitant amount of money that is rolling into their bank accounts, and warranting a constant flow of funding for some academicians to run projects. The writer in question definitely fits in the above category.
Alex has probably been driven to feeding and distribution sites set by the government to show case their best case scenario of providing services to the victims. Upon his return, he wrote on a venerated newspaper editorial exactly what the government of Ethiopia provided him to write. He showed no care at all to do any fact checking from other sources to substantiate what the authorities are claiming to be a fact in the ground. I was dismayed to read an article taken right from the TPLF deception manual, sugar coated by some universally accepted notion that hardly apply to the Ethiopian situation.
In sharp contrast to Alex’s op-ed page in the NYT where he absurdly toyed with a question of the era of famine being over, based on the Ethiopian experience –not quite fitting the caption of the article; another reporter named Christiabel Ligami, visiting Ethiopia probably at the same time has reported ten days ago on equaltimes.org about the emerging hunger stories to the world. Unlike Alex, Ligami wrote unfavorably about the ludicrous effort of the government to censor starvation, lest not to project an image incapable of containing the impending disaster.
How could the two reports be dramatically different after visiting the same country almost at the same time? Where Alex flirted with the idea of the era of famine being over praising the efforts of the government to control the damages of starvation; the other article talked about the glaring drought compounded by the censorship imposed on NGOs and journalists who were forbidden by the government not to report the severity of the situation and the ensuing loss of lives in the affected areas. Ligami stated that journalists were imprisoned for talking to foreigners about the drought.
The variation in the two reports could easily be explained by the sources they used to write the report. While Alex entirely based his observation on the visits he made of food distribution sites that government officials showed him, Ligami gathered his information from journalists and actual victims of the drought.
BBC, The daily Telegraph, NPR, Grham Pebble, the Auckland Institute all seem to concur with Ligami as they have reported that the government has imposed censorship on foreigners, local journalists and even organizations tasked to help the drought victims not to reveal the egregious situation in Ethiopia to the world. In addition, the government’s intransigency, at the onset of the draught, not to accept the advice of UN, FAO and other similar organizations’ request to timely mobilize resources might have also dramatically worsen the situation.
In a BBC interview, one mother was narrating how she lost a son who died of hunger. Immediately after the story surfaced, the regime officials tracked her and forced her to recant her story in the Ethiopian media and said that her son died of an illness, instead. Far from controlling the dire effects of the prevailing calamity and alleviating the deplorable situation from taking a turn to the worse, the government of Ethiopia was obsessively concerned about the image of the country whose economy they have been absurdly claiming to have grown in double digits.
As much as Alex’s extensive dwelling on the prudence of the government in meeting the challenges, he never mentioned the impact of the land policy of the government that has uprooted the indigenous people from their land (without proper compensation commensurate to their loss of a source of livelihood and a sea change in life style) by leasing it at a dirt-cheap price to foreign investors from India and Saudi Arabia. The local people became landless over night without a grazing land for their live stocks or a plot of land to farm, either. Basically, the land was used as a ‘surrogate mother’ where the locals never benefited from such ventures obtained by leasing the womb of their land while Indians and Saudis ship out the produce to their respective country.
Op-eding on influential newspapers like NYT no doubt builds an image that could sway the minds of policy makers by building a false image of facts on the ground. On the flip side, the victims of tyranny lack the financial wherewithal to lobby in the American congress or write the truth on the front pages of those newspapers. But thanks to the pervasive presence of the social media and its wider reach, the conspiracy to silence who are silently dying of hanger has not been successful.
It is a colossal travesty that the writer claims to be the executive director of a world peace organization. My trajectory barely misses its mark, if I predicted the world to remain in turmoil (not at peace) as long as the likes of Alex de Waal continue to do such a shoddy work –warranting the longevity of totalitarian regimes and their own stay at the helm of an organization with no accountability.
Shewarega Assefa

Read Aloud:   BBN Daily Ethiopian News November 29, 2017


  1. I am sure this sadistic scavenger “Shewarega Assefa” probably not Ethiopian? , was hoping to enjoy watching children dying in mass from his flat TV while lying in his sofa quenching his thirst with his favorite French wine.That was their last call for coming to power and reverse Ethiopia’s hard earned development.
    I guess have to wait and try in another 10 years because the current drought which affected 18 million has been successfully averted by a coordinated effort of Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia.Too bad for enemies of Ethiopia.

  2. Thank you! Alex de Wall has been and continues to be a known TPLF propagandist. He has served the TPLF since the 1980s when he was stationed in the Sudan. One must be able to listen to his interviews in the 1980s, at the height of the rebellion in Northern Ethiopia.

  3. I read Alex’s “Is the Era of Great Famines Over?” in Tufts University blog [published 8 May 2016] and right away sent in my comments. For some reason it was not published in several days. I sent in the comments again and again and again. Four times. Turned down. Then I sent in one more time yesterday – only this time I also made a copy to two departments. This morning I checked if my comments were published. Guess what? The article was removed from Tufts World Peace Blog altogether. This is simply incredible and a serious offense. Tufts University has to save its impeccable reputation by relieving Alex from his responsibilities. Resources of such an institution as Tufts should not be used for other than promoting human freedoms.
    Dear Alex,
    You are too loyal to your Tplf comrades. You write, “Under the government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia enjoyed internal peace for the first time in a generation …a crisis devolved into disaster because the government was at war with Eritrea and foreign donors, appalled that the government would spend its meager resources on fighting, were slow to provide food aid.”
    In effect you are excusing 29,000 deaths to war with Eritrea, never telling your readers the figure is from the ruling party headquarters. You are silent about the causes or consequences of the war with Eritrea. That would mean outing policy blunders of your “comrade” Meles. Figures for the dead and the disappeared have not been made public; no one to-date has been held accountable for the war dead. UN is reporting 15 million people [5 million of them children] face death NOW and Ethiopian rulers have yet to allow international investigative journalists. I say “international” because all local independent journalists are either in jail or in exile. You of course are not unaware of the relationship between free press and deaths from famine.
    Alex, you know this all too well. You wrote here, for example, that you “traveled through northern and central provinces” [you mean Tigray?] and was encouraged by what you saw. Did it occur to you that the current famine is in the south and southeastern regions of the country!! Impervious to this fact you went on to reminisce about Tplf base Tigray!
    Need I remind you that in the 1980s dictator Mengistu’s gov also waged war with Eritrea/Tplf while tackling famine? Then donor community was totally against pro-Soviet Mengistu’s regime; aid for Mengistu’s gov was less than one-tenth of what it was during Meles’s war with Eritrea [1998-2000]. You could not have missed that. Secondly, over 100,000 people died in the 1998-2000 war. And the ruling party to-date has managed to shrug off responsibility. I could not believe you are explaining away or excusing the current famine to El Nino and such? How about corruption and incompetence for starter? You don’t want your readers to know there has not been a single year that famine/hunger did not occur in Ethiopia since Tplf/Eprdf took over.
    Alex, you are not only loyal but also a coward; you know what is going on but won’t be truthful about it. Every time you fly out to Addis you are given a red carpet treatment. As an academe you should be the first to note that free press and development go hand-in-hand. That corruption undermines human and socioeconomic development. Praising 8% growth [or 4.5& according to VOA quote] hides day-to-day reality for majority Ethiopians. When you get a chance you should tell your readers why there are over a million mostly young women in the Middle East effectively in indentured servitude. Why tens of thousands prefer to flee their own country to Europe well aware of death on high seas, etc?
    BTW, When was the last time you checked reports on corruption put out by the World Bank, Global Financial Integrity, Transparency Int’l, Chatham House, [your alma mater] Oxford Poverty and Development, etc?
    I challenge you once again Alex. You need to be truthful about your relationship with Meles Zenawi and the Foundation bearing his name. YES or NO?: Have you ever received gifts in cash or in kind as a result of your association with “comrade” Meles and the Foundation bearing his name, or with his party the Tplf? How come a senior member of the Tplf is Program Director of the WPF African security sector and peace operations program? How is it you failed to notice ongoing human rights abuses and the very recent murder of hundreds of unarmed civilians? and thousands thrown in jail on flimsy charges? Do you not care about the stamping out of free press and of the opposition? How do you explain the fact that Meles turned Ethiopia to a one-party state [similar to dictator Mengistu]? Why is it you continue to compare Meles to Mengistu [when the latter operated in a bi-polar world] instead of grading Meles on what he promised to deliver; ie, multiparty democracy for which he received upwards of $30 billion?
    My suggestion is that you step down as exec. director of the program at Tufts. Tufts is an institution of great distinction and should not allow uses of its resources for purposes other than promotion of human rights and freedoms and the fair exchange of ideas. Any attempt to legitimize human rights abusers and corrupt regimes should be opposed.

    • Thank you Alem. I think we should pressure Taft to see what disservice he is doing to their esteemed institution. Let us launch collecting signatures and write a petition to Taft, so willing to help in any course of action you deem is appropriate. Let me know.

  4. The worst kind of callous lie coming out of Alex De Wall a British writer and researcher on African issues and the executive director of the World Peace Foundation. What a shame to put some one like Alex who denies food to 11.5 million starved people and children of Ethiopia!!! He is the enemy of starved Ethiopians under the rule of his friends EPRDF regime.
    We must demand what and how much Alex De Wall has been paid to come up with this kind of lie in the face of 11.8 millions of starved to death Ethiopians!
    He is known to have been working with late Meles Zenawi and TPLF gangs. So no surprise he has put himself between TPLF/EPRDF and the starved people as a way to sway from the truth.
    His impermeable and cruel character comes as he is trying to shut the door on the starved people, women and children just by lying as to save the notorious TPLF criminal groups controlling power for 25 years.

  5. Famine is one of the crises rather the outrage caused by TPLF to our great nation. Famine causes death and also long term psychosocial and manpower base crises.
    TPLF has committed various forms of genocides against Ethiopians for more than 4 decades.
    But we Ethiopians need to realize that TPLF’s appointment to destroy Ethiopia/Ethiopians is a USA/UK lead Western program.
    We have consistentelly and peacefully expressed our displeasure and discontent against their courses for more than 25 years.
    It is enough Ethiopians?! We have to take another route, the route which we didn’t want but being provoked to embark on: military courses.
    We have to start taking actions first against its appoints (TPLF/EPRDF) and Western diplomats in Ethiopia particularly in Addis Abeba.
    We are dying any way: through famine, through visible and invisible warfares implemented by tplf/eprdf against us, most importantly our psychosocial and human nature are being devastated.
    Thus, let us kill before we die because we are dying any way!
    Let us repeat Adwa victory!

  6. Thank you Alem. Can we start organizing a petition to Taft University to remove him from his position? I am willing to help in anyway possible if you think it is the right course of action to take.

  7. Most people think Ethiopia is still full of lazy people but I will tell you from experience with the right environment Ethiopians would surprise the world how much hidden potentials is left untapped. The last decade or so had been an eye opener for me and my company. We finally agreed that we can transform Ethiopia to achieve the growth and transformation plan set by the great visionary leader the previous Prime Minster Meles Zenawi .Orbis trading owned by business people from Germany had been performing within Ethiopia for the last three governments.We are proud to say Ethiopia had never been this attractive for foreign investors ever. Here at Orbis we restructured our company so we can adopt to the new energetic spirit of Ethiopians . We are being the backbone for Ethiopia’s development and transformation plan for the last decade or so.That is why Ethiopian Ex-Prime Minister Meles Zenawi was awarded the first African Green Revolution Yara Prize . The Yara Prize 2005 is awarded to Meles Zenawi, for his dedication and inspirational leadership, for the results achieved in improving food security for his people, and for Ethiopia’s response to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s call for a uniquely African green revolution for the 21st Century. With little co-operation and guidance from the west which is needed the most for Ethiopian agriculture sector the farming community within Ethiopia had been the backbone for Ethiopia’s economy until today eventhough the government faced some constructive criticism by some people . Here are some of the constructive criticisms below .

  8. Mr. Rolf Gautschi,
    Two things:
    1. Melese was great killer of Ethiopians and destructor of Ethiopia. You may call him visionary in reference to pursuing Westerns’ interests, thus that of Orbis too.
    2. You are right ‘Ethiopia had never been this attractive for foreign investors ever’. That exactly what we (Ethiopians) are fighting against. Our businesses and resources are being given away to aliens such as Orbis and Heinekens. We are fighting to avert that and re-own our businesses/resources and all.

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