Aie Zu Guo — In 1984 Brian Stewart of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) reported Ethiopia’s worst famine of the 20th century putting the blame squarely on the communist regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam. Canadian taxpayers took his report at face value. On the contrary he praised the Tigrian Liberation Front (TPLF) guerrillas of Meles Zenawi2 for distributing food aid to famine victims. Unfortunately, he never reported to us that TPLF was a Marxist-Leninist group identical to Enver Hoxha of Albania. Then one wonders about Brian’s motive of hiding the true faces of the TPLF. For those who are familiar with Ethiopian politics, then and now, two reasons remain outstanding. First is to discredit the military cum communist government of Ethiopia. Secondly is to help TPLF assume power in Addis Ababa.
In 1991, seven years after the famine, the communist military regime came to its demise. Another communist group called TPLF assumed state power. For Brian mission is accomplished. Soon he became the most favored journalist of Meles Zenawi, Prime Minister of Ethiopia. His reports are often skewed to appeasing a dictatorial regime in Africa. The journalist’s regular mantras are that Ethiopia’s social, economic and political situation improved under Meles. Since his retirement in early 2009, many Ethiopians assumed that they are free from his claptrap cyber information about their country. Unfortunately, he comes out from his retirement cell in Toronto and feeds the Canadian public and the international community with news about Ethiopia’s rulers and on the famine looming over Ethiopia.
Instead of It is time to stop gibberish reports on famine, we would request Brian tell Canadians on the state of human rights, democracy, and governance in Ethiopia. If he can’t, we have the temerity to tell this reporter about the true nature of the Government of Ethiopia (GoE), and the underlying causes of famine in Ethiopia as follows.
Frequency of famine and its causes:
Under the TPLF rule of Meles, famine occurs every 3 years (in 1993, 1997, 2007, and 2009) against that of once every ten years during the military regime.
The causes of famine are both natural and man made. Ethiopia’s fully rain fed subsistence agriculture is dependent on the vagaries of nature for which even tyrants have no control. But with the right agriculture policy, this could be offset through the introduction of irrigation. If Ethiopia has gained economic and social transformation (as Brian prophecies), the GoE would have contained famine by transforming Ethiopia’s rain-fed agriculture to irrigated agriculture.
Monthly the GoE pays US$50,000 (US$ 600,000/year) to DLP Piper3 a US lobbying firm since the 2005 popular election that revealed the emptiness of the communist rule of TPLF. Over the past 5 years the regime has paid DLP US$3 million Dollars. At Birr 3500/Mt4, this money would buy 12,857 MTs of wheat from local markets.
In Ethiopia Agriculture is a crucial activity that contributes to more than 60% of exports, 46.3% of GDP, 80% of foreign exchange revenues, and a massive 80% of employment5. It is a sector dominated by the poor and who are extremely vulnerable to natural disasters and famine. Unfortunately the GoE’s priorities are different from people’s immediate needs. TPLF uses donor money to buy guns instead of making butter. Meles invaded Somalia to spend $1 million a day to sustain the invasion all in the name of terrorism.
The Honourable Hugh Segal6 reported to The Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade that bags of Canadian wheat are stored in a warehouse in the city of Mekele, Tigraye province to serve TPLF HQs when food aid is needed to starving children in the southern regions of the country. This journalist must remain honest to his profession and the organization he works with and tell us the truth about the GoE.
Population doubled yes it has doubled. Brian need to understand that international (including Canadian) aid to Ethiopia has also doubled. The G8 countries including Russia and China right off Ethiopia’s debt almost one hundred percent. This should have given GoE the momentum to contain famine and invest on food self sufficiency programs.
Governance, democracy and good government:
Lack of good governance and lack of democracy hinder development and food self sufficiency. In today’s Ethiopia a one party dictatorship has been the norm for nearly two decades. Three federal elections were held and won by the incumbent regime with 99.9% vote since 1991. In the 2005 election, the TPLF gunned down at close range 193 peaceful and innocent demonstrators, jailed leaders of the opposition and sent 70,000 to concentration camps to the south of the country. The seasoned journalist did not utter a word to the Canadian public when such gross human tragedy takes place at the door steps of the Canadian Embassy in Addis Ababa. Yet still, Canada spends millions of Tax payers’ money for human rights, governance, democratization and rule of law. Is it not that ‘Good governance is perhaps the single most important factor in eradicating poverty and promoting development7.’ In our view good governance is also one of the important factors of eliminating famine and hunger in Ethiopia and elsewhere for that matter.
The 4th federal election is scheduled for June 2010. Unlike the past, this election is won before people cast their votes. If Brain asks why, we have the audacity of telling him that public media is 100% controlled by TPLF. Private and independent media is paralyzed by draconian press law. Opposition leaders and supporters are harassed and imprisoned. For example Birtukan Midekas, a female opposition leader is imprisoned for life. Human rights are of abysmal failure. We advise Brian to refer to Amnesty International8 and State Department reports9.
Let it be known that 4% of the 80 million people are ruling Ethiopia with a tyranny and impunity unparalleled in Ethiopia’s history. Ethiopians die of famine in thousands, but the most lethal one that kills the poor is bad government.
In developmental economic theory democracy, good governance, rule of law and respect of human rights are the fundamental pre-requisites of development, eradicating famine and poverty. These are also important ingredients of political, social and economic stability. Rightly so Pranab concludes that “if we take a suitably broad concept of development to incorporate general well-being of the population at large, including some basic civil and political freedoms, a democracy which ensures these freedoms is, almost by definition, more conducive to development on these counts than a non-democratic regime”10.
True Ethiopians hate their nation’s image as perpetual victim of disasters. They are protective of their image and decency. There is high level cultural and traditional sensitivity to be called beggars. During the 1984 famine, mothers carrying their dieing toddlers waited for their cue to receive food ration with at most discipline. In many parts of the world such a situation would end in a stampede or riot. Ethiopians prefer to die of hunger than telling lies and get food rations. It is shocking to see those who are not hungry and wealthy enough to feed themselves continue feeding their audience with false information.
Since Brian and CBC are blinded by their self aggrandizement, Ethiopia appeared to them as a difficult problem for the world to fix. Fixing Meles and his Marxists tyrants is harder than fixing Ethiopia’s famine and underdevelopment. With the right leadership and governance in place, Ethiopia’s famine and poverty can be fixed without fanfare. For the moment the time to fix Ethiopia takes longer than necessary, because some media outlets like CBC are not telling their taxpayers the true causes of famine and underdevelopment in Ethiopia. So long as the truth and the only truth about the causes of famine are not told, Ethiopia’s problems continue to be hard to fix and Ethio-Canadians remain worried about Brian’s reports. In the midst of this worrisome reporting it is important for CBC to remember that of all the ills that kill the poor, none is as lethal as bad government11.
The writer, Aie Zu Guo, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org