Meeting the challenges of the generation

Meeting the challenges of the generation

The Reporter

Wednesday, December 04 ,2002

In a country where meetings of all sorts have proliferated over the past 18 months, if we really want to solve our problems through dialogue then the mother of all discussions surely is on the current drought and famine thatís threatening the lives of 14 million of our fellow citizens.


During the two major famines in Ethiopiaís recent history in 1974 (at the time of Emperor Haile-Selasieís reign) and in 1984-85 (during the rule of the Dergue regime) various opponents of the then governments and other concerned parties attributed the cause of the catastrophes to the failure of the policies of the governments. But both governments rejected the accusations and attached the blame to failure of the rains rather than of their respective policies. Likewise, the EPRDF is adopting the same attitude. Although opposition parties have laid the blame squarely on the shoulders of the EPRDF for the most serious famine to afflict the country since it assumed power in 1991, the party is saying that had it not been for the failure of the rains its policy would have made Ethiopia the breadbasket of Africa.


Our main concern here is not whether the cause of famine in Ethiopia has been a subject of disagreement or quarrel. It is rather that the enormous loss in life, livestock and property as a result of failure to properly examine and address the root cause of the disaster and the fact that Ethiopia has become synonymous with famine, makes all Ethiopians cringes with shame.


In the past six or seven months, though the signs were apparent to those who had cared to observe that a serious drought was looming over the country, considerable time and money was invested nationwide on less burning matters like the civil service reform programme, the constitutional right (Art. 39) of the right to self-determination including secession, the nebulous theory behind revolutionary democracy etc. However, the major agenda of discussion should have been and is to identify the nature and cause of the drought and famine that have dogged us throughout most of our history with severe consequences, and how we can deal with them decisively. This deliberation must involve a cross-section of the public at large where various ideas can be entertained freely and openly.


If we are of the opinion that the recurrent drought and famine are a result of failure of the rains and not of policy, we must undertake a radically new approach which ensures that we donít solely depend on the seasonal down pour for food production. If, on the other hand, we attribute the problem to policy formulation or failure we need to urgently revise our policies. A government, which refuses to do so, will definitely be responsible for the ensuing consequences.


We call upon all concerned to accord special attention to the issue. As the famine worsens and the international communityís attention of the weapons inspection in Iraq wanes, the pages and screens of the media of the world will again be filled with the faces of hunger-stricken Ethiopians. The large number of drought-affected people who are already migrating to Addis Ababa and other major cities are indicative of the gruesome picture the famine can assume in the months ahead.


Therefore, alongside rescuing millions of our citizens who are on the brink of death, the government should facilitate things where by all Ethiopians, including those in diaspora, deliberate freely, comprehensively and at length on what the causes of the problem are and the measures that can be taken to prevent its occurrence as well as in preparation of its materialization. A generation is considered wise and prudent not when it thinks about itself only but when it leaves behind a nation that is developed, or at least on the road to development, and whose security politically, economically and socially is put on solid basis for the generations to come. Thatís how its success is measured. If the present generation is not to fail in its historical responsibility, then we should make drought and famine the top priority of the country so that not even a single person, dies of hunger and forever disassociate our name from this curse.

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