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Famine, the Arbiter of Ethiopia’s Fate!

February 4, 2024

By Said Osman


Today, in the 21st Century, most countries around the world have a system that determines the choice of their political leadership, and these take some form of elections based on their constitutions. However, in some less advanced countries the rules and regulations laid down in the constitution are not followed strictly as the leaders of the day try and impose their own autocratic preferences on the population with some short-lived success, before being forced to follow the law or being overthrown by the disgruntled population! In the case of Ethiopia, the last three regimes did not follow a universally accepted democratic system of elections to give the population the right to choose their national leadership. While there may have been some low level of descent from time to time, famine, starvation, and massive deaths of the population appeared to have been the powerful force which led to the removal of the rulers of the day from power!


Historical Examples

Emperor Haile Selassie ruled Ethiopia for 46+ years as a proud leader of the only non-colonized country on the continent of Africa. His rule was not democratic. In 1931 he created a bicameral parliament to which he nominated the representatives of the population without an electoral process. At the time the entire continent of Africa was under colonial rule, so, the creation of bicameral parliament was accepted as progress. Over the years of his rule, there were challenges to his rule – for example in 1930, because of over-taxation in Gojjam; the Wello and Tigray famine in 1958; attempted coup to overthrow the emperor in 1960, and autocratic land-grabbing from ordinary citizens. What sealed the fate of Emperor Haile Selassie’s rule was the Wello famine of 1973 to 1975 in which upward of 260,000 died of starvation, the horror was witnessed all around the world. In addition to the draught which contributed to the loss of harvest, it was the dysfunctional administration, political stagnation, and lack of appropriate response to the famine that led to popular uprising and the confidence of the military to overthrow the emperor’s rule!


The Derg rule under Mengistu Hailemariam established the Marxist–Leninist system which violated human rights and caused violence and repression against its opponents – students, politicians, academicians, etc. Between 1974 and 1991, Derg tortured and killed more than 150,000 people. Ethiopia was struck by another famine 1983-1985. An estimated 1 million people lost their lives, over 200,000 children were orphaned, and the combination of harsh rule and famine led about 8 million Ethiopians to flee their Motherland. With their focus on punishing the population to gain firm control, the Derg failed to understand the meaning of effective and responsible governance. The population had no power to change their quality of life, but famine what a force the Derg could not defeat! The ethnic-based liberation fronts joined hands and formed a force which eliminated the Derg. So, Ethiopia needed a famine for the second time, in just over a decade, to get rid of the unpopular brutal dictatorship!


Prime Minister Abyi Ahmed came to the leadership of Ethiopia through, by all account, a fair, legitimate, and democratic election in which 80% of the population participated. By all measures it was a new dawn for life and future in Ethiopia. But the outcomes of elections depend on the perceptions of the public regarding how and whom they vote for, and the sincerity, commitment, honesty, etc. of those they vote for. Furthermore, it is the duty of the public who voted for the leaders to make sure their promises are kept! On the 7th of September 2018, I posted an article cautioning Ethiopians about the risk of leaving the Prime Minister to handle all the responsibilities of protecting the future of Ethiopia on his own, and even offered the mechanism that could be used to protect the country from sliding back into chaos which led to the failures of the previous regimes.


After 27 years rule by the EPRDF, led by the TPLF, Ethiopia had been split along ethnic identities with autonomy all the way to declaration of independence by the regional entities, based on the new constitution! To my knowledge there is not any other country in the world which has that kind of constitution! That disruptive constitution is still alive in Ethiopia, and in my view, it is responsible for the on-going and expanding regional conflicts in the country today! Mainly based on this constitutional order, today there are a number of internal rebellious movements across the country – TPLF, OLF with its OLA, Amara ethnic group’s FANO, etc. Since the launch of Tigray war in November of 2020, the Ethiopian National Defense Force has been involved in constant internal wars against various groups. So far it is estimated that more than a billion US dollars have been spent on these wars. The country is facing a decline in economic performance and is unable to provide basic services to the population, including security!


About 8 million people in Oromia, Somali region, and Southern Ethiopia are starving! 90% of Tigray are experiencing starvation. About 1.8 million people in the Amhara region are facing starvation according to the Amhara Regional State Disaster Prevention and Food Security team! About 20 million Ethiopians need food assistance today!


So, all these facts warn us that what brought down Emperor Haile Selassie’s rule and Derg’s regime are gearing up to bring down the PM Abyi Ahmed’s government and may even split the country in a way not seen before! When the population fail to keep the administration within the guardrails of safety and security, when there is lack of honesty and commitment to justice, when there is lack of commitment to the national unity, when there is lack of the knowledge of democratic principles, etc. the system becomes easily vulnerable to preventable natural disasters and, once again, famine is on the verge of deciding the next phase of life in Ethiopia. Sad!


My take

In the last several months, I have shared certain principles which I felt were necessary to make progress at all levels. 1. Win-Win strategy: We must all come together and work for the benefit of ALL. That is why a country like the USA, with people coming together from all over the world, is a global leader today. Winning at the expense of someone else almost invariably ends up with a loss for all. TPLF’s failure is the most powerful example. 2. The definition of insanity by Albert Einstein, a famous physicist: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Negligence, lack of proper governance, creation of disharmony, and poverty brought down previous governments, it is the definition of INSANITY to expect this time the outcome will be different! 3. The path of human history is circular: Like the face of a clock and the hour-hand moving in a circular path!  The path may not be so perfect circle that it comes back to the same place. So, while the pattern of the path is circular it most likely becomes a spiral – moving forward or backward in that circular trajectory. Spiraling forward means progress is being made – like establishing proper democratic principles, having responsible people in place, bringing unity among all citizens of Ethiopia, and building on the natural resources of the country. Spiraling backward means worsening conflict between various groups, failure of the administration, split of the country, etc.


There are good and bad sides to each coin. The Derg regime was a disaster for Ethiopia (bad side of the coin), but millions of people ran away and took refuge in countries all over the world. Today, many Ethiopians in the Diaspora have adopted to and are thriving in healthy democratic societies, many are lecturers, professors, successful businessmen/women (good side of the coin). Most are giving back to their Motherland. They have children, many of them now adults, and passionate about giving back to their Motherland. With such a support from within and abroad, Ethiopia has a great chance to change course and give hope to all Ethiopians. As human beings, we all make mistakes! To admit to one’s own mistakes is the ultimate definition of strength, and it puts the person on the right path for their own future, the future of their families, and the future of their nation! I have no doubt, PM Abyi has the best interest of Ethiopia at heart, but unfortunately, it takes more than best intention to deliver on promises! It needs skill, thorough knowledge of problems facing the nation and how to solve it in the most effective way, without endangering the path of the nation to development. Lack of progress and the decline of the nation in most aspects have eroded any trust in him! So, as I said before, the most honorable thing for him to do now is to create a strong and reliable team to govern, and step aside! I am certain he has a lot more to offer the country going forward, but I think it’s time for him to act now and avert disaster!


1 Comment

  1. Here we are still caught up with pushing war and destruction while millions are starving and face inevitable deadly famine. We are beating the drums of war from our comfy homes while innocent citizens are dying from starvation. People can die from diseases like cancer or epidemics and their deaths can be agonizing. People dying from starvation take their last breath after going through a slow and the most agonizing deaths of all. It is now confirmed that about 400 people, adults and children have died from starvation already with much higher number of deaths to follow. I’m holding the leaders of Tigray, Amhara regions along with leaders of armed groups in Amhara, Oromia and the top echelon of the federal government responsible for every death from this avoidable famine. There will not be an iota of excuse for this tragedy.
    Your Excellency Prime Minster Abiy; Citizens are dying from starvation under your watch. H.E. Regional President of Tigray Getachew Reda; This is happening under your watch. I will be holding you both responsible for every Allah blessed human life lost to starvation. What you are doing and behaving in light of this deadly calamity is utterly irresponsible and criminal. I’m not buying your diatribe trying to pass the buck. ‘He did it, not me’ ain’t gonna flying with me or the watchful global public. People are dying from starvation in your backyard and you go home to gobble down your choice filet mignon? I can see you both where you waist line is busting at it seams. You are sending your children to schools well fed while another child die crying from starvation? You may try playing with words to call it drought or lack of food but the reality is citizens are dying because of lack of food for no fault of their own. Damn, damn, damn, damned you two!!! Damn, damn, damned you two!!!!! Damn you!!!!

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