By: Ghelawdewos Araia
The sub-title of this article, which will also bear the name of the Task Force, is invented to suit the acronym RE.HAB E.N.A.T.F.FA. (Let's eradicate famine, in Amharic). The invention is entirely mine, but the inspiration comes from multitude of concerned Ethiopians including Ato Benyam Kebede of Ethiopiafirst.com, those who were writing on the Ethiopian famine, and those who love their country and their people.
I have written extensively on the Ethiopian famine and many other Ethiopian scholars posted their commentaries on various Ethiopian websites. We need not repeat ourselves over and over again, and therefore the purpose of this brief article is to convey a call to all Ethiopians, especially professionals and intellectuals, who can make a difference in the collaborative effort to fight famine in Ethiopia. This historical mission is the responsibility of all Ethiopians and must not squarely fall on a tiny segment of the population.
Quite understandably, however, more responsibility falls on the shoulders of Ethiopian professionals. My earlier argument in Uprooting the Root Cause of Famine in Ethiopia reinforces my present call upon fellow Ethiopians: "Ethiopian scholars and professionals (experts in agronomy, development economics, rural development, political economy, and related fields) have an opportunity to seize the moment and explore the true profile of the Ethiopian enigma and contradictions of a famine prone society. This complex and complicated scenario will ultimately be unraveled, though I gather there will be a tacit collusion with the powers that be and other global interests who wanted to bury the truth in the arid zones of Ethiopia."
The reluctant, incompetent, and unpatriotic leadership in the country, of course, engenders the collusion. The first litmus test of any government is whether it can guarantee the availability of basic provisions such as food, shelter, and clothing, and inextricably linked to this criterion are the sovereignty, territorial integrity, as well as peace and stability. Unfortunately, we were griped by the four supplementary criteria in the last five years and patriotic Ethiopians were traumatized by the overall performance of their country.
Although famine is not necessarily correlated with bad governance, the latter can definitely exacerbate it. Famine is a complex phenomenon that needs to be explained in light of political economy, agronomy, climate and environmental science, and a constellation of other related disciplines.
Moreover, development and the defeat of famine are not necessarily the results of democratic regimes as some mistakenly like to argue. Countries like China and the so-called Tigers of South East Asia with their label "Asian Miracle," were not presided over by democracies. Most of them experienced the 'miracle' under dictatorships, and so was the Soviet Union under Stalin.
By the same token, there is no guarantee for development and the defeat of famine by simply carrying out land reform and abandoning the Ethiopian farmers in limbo, i.e. without giving them the necessary tools and guidance as well as appropriate technology in such a way to enjoy food self-reliance (see Uprooting the Root Cause…). The defeat of famine could come only by a sound economic policy initiated by a visionary and patriotic leadership that is ready to undertake a draconian overhaul of the national economy.
Understanding the depth of the problem and its causes is the essential first step toward combating famine and toward change. But if we simply scratch the surface of the problem and superficially treat the famine situation in Ethiopia, we will never end the misery of mass starvation, as we know it. Additionally, if we critically examine at the other end of the spectrum, the so-called Tehadso (renewal) is a meaningless repertoire unmatched by other disguises in modern Ethiopian politics, and as I like to say, even camouflage has limitations. It is about time to acknowledge the potential of Ethiopian professionals.
For all I know, there are hundreds of talented Ethiopians in Ethiopia and in the Diaspora whose skills and creativity are not unleashed to the challenge of monumental effort to defeat famine. In this context, the indolent, seemingly lethargic, and uncommitted leadership in Ethiopia is responsible for a historical travesty.
It is the height of arrogance and corruption to preside over lavish gala nights at Sheraton Addis when 14 million Ethiopians are affected by famine of Biblical proportions. I vividly remember when we (Haile Selassie I University Students) donated half of our breakfast ration for the 1973-74 famine. We could not simply reconcile the haunting pictures of the walking skeletons and the fat bellied stomachs in the urban areas, and by doing so we were trying to save some souls and use the hunger incident as a propaganda platform to tell the world of the "hidden famine." That famine, brought curse to the then government of Ethiopia and in fact became prelude to the Ethiopian revolution of 1974-75. Similarly, the current mass starvation will be bad omen to the present regime, and I am afraid the final resort could be a 'fight or flight' primitive instinct in an attempt to dealing with the coming political crisis.
As I have underscored in many of my previous writings, the agriculture-led industrial development is a good policy provided the agricultural sector goes beyond small scale (the recent editorial, "A Failed Policy," of The Reporter is quite persuasive) and serves as lynchpin to industrial development. The latter should not limit itself to small scale either.
An Ethiopian economic agenda should aspire, at least in principle, heavy industry that can altogether guarantee foreign exchange, dramatically reduce deficit, enhance export and minimize import, and finally render Ethiopia as a viable economic force. Then and only then can we say we have reduced poverty, laid the cornerstone for sustainable development, and have signed the death warrant of a recurring famine in Ethiopia.
While we do our historical mission to salvage the Ethiopian people from a destitute and famine-stricken socioeconomic status, we must set aside our ideological and political differences and embrace a common national agenda, and it is for this simple reason I want to call upon patriotic Ethiopians to join the RE.HAB E.N.A.T.F.FA. Project.
It is my fervent belief that useless political altercations and political bickering should not mar Ethiopian discussion forums. This kind of sub-culture of vituperation only serves the interests of the enemies of Ethiopia and elongates the tenure in office of the much despised political elite in power. It should also be known that longevity of bad governance is tantamount to the misery of millions of citizens who always pay the heaviest toll.
The Ethiopian opposition groupings should also gather momentum in first finding an all Ethiopia agenda and supra national political organizations that promote Ethiopian unity and national interest. They must realize that they have a lot in common and greater cause (Ethiopianess) as opposed to their petty differences, and they must collectively contribute to the realization of RE.HAB E.N.A.T.F.FA., a test for their future leadership.
In the not distant future, Ethiopia will begin to resurrect and our time in the Sun will be inaugurated in earnest. This path to resurrection may exhibit some ugly encounters, but it will be the end of all misery and I hope I will not be wrong on this modicum of prediction. That will be the day when I stop writing about the Ethiopian famine and other negative experiences of my people. But I wish to compose a requiem for the Ethiopian famine.
NOTE: Ethiopians who like to volunteer their time and expertise in the eradication of famine and join the spirit of RE.HAB E.N.A.T.F.FA. can contact Ben's Page by writing to Abessha@hotmail.com