Prescribing The Wrong Pill Again

Prescribing The Wrong Pill Again

The Reporter (Addis Ababa) , April 13, 2000


Addis Ababa - Now that drought and famine in Ethiopia has reached a calamitous stage, the international media and community are finally showing interest in it. Starving children have finally attracted the attention of BBC cameras, and donors

do not now seem to be as reluctant to respond to the disaster as they were, say, a few weeks ago.


Among the various reasons that have resulted in poor donor response is the country's image as tarnished in the global scene by the Ethiopia- Eritrea conflict. And it was only very recently that a singer, Bob Gildof, stated that the war should not be an excuse for inhibited response. Western governments and the United Nations now seem to agree with this singer and their names are now being mentioned in connection with food aid to Ethiopian famine victims. (If it is necessary, we may also remember that loans approved for Ethiopia by international financial institutions have been suspended because of the war with Eritrea.)


It is typical of western literature that conflicts in Africa are explained in terms of poverty. While much of that is true, i.e., while poverty and scarcity of resources are the major forces behind most of the conflicts in Africa, the Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict is, however, hardly related to the famine now most visible in eastern Ethiopia. This  would very much erode the assertion that the famine was caused or aggravated by the war.


Going back to the accepted relationship between conflict and poverty, however, it is paradoxical that the presence of conflict tends to deter humanitarian response to poverty. It is a well known fact that conflict and poverty are closely intertwined, each forming part of a vicious circle. It does not make sense, therefore, to withhold aid and relief as a means of discouraging the engagement of poor states in conflict. It is a contradiction to state on the one hand that poverty and conflict are directly related, and on the other hand to suspend poverty-alleviation measures at a time of conflict - something that is destined to exacerbate conflicts. As long as donors are not willing to acknowledge this fact, and as long as they are prescribing the wrong pill for poverty and conflict in Africa, they will continue to be significant players in aggravating both poverty and conflict situations in Africa.