Friday, 1 July 2016

ETHIOPIA: The Politics of ''Drought''

The worst drought in half a century has stricken large part of Africa, as a result of high population growth. The Governments of Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Swaziland have already declared states of emergency, and massive crop losses have caused food prices to explode in South Africa. 

Particularly hard stricken are the countries in the southern part of the continent as well as around the Horn of Africa. Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea and especially Ethiopia. More than 50 million people are threatened by hunger and few countries have been hit as hard as Ethiopia. Allow me to focus on Ethiopia. 

Since the massive famine that struck Ethiopia in 1984-85, the country's population has swollen from 41 million to 101 million. One-third of the population is already considered to be malnourished because the agriculture production has failed to keep with the pace of the population growth. 

Much of that situation is attributable to the country's antiquated system of subsistence farming. Millions of small farmers are incapable of yielding larger harvests because of their inability to access investment capital, equipment, fertilizers and high-quality seeds. In addition, their property belongs to the state, meaning they can cultivate it, but are unable to use it as collateral on any potential loans. They thus slave away just as in biblical times,using hoes, oxen and wooden plows to till low-yield soil. 

What Ethiopia needs an agricultural revolution, but the government is doing too little to mechanize agriculture--one that includes the leasing of giant farmlands to foreign agricultural companies which then export foodstuffs in grand fashion from the country at a time when it must import hundreds of thousands of tons of wheat in order to compensate for the crop losses caused by the drought. 

There also appears to be little concern in political circles about annual population growth of 2%. The attitude seems to be: the more the people it has, the stronger Ethiopia will be. What this overlooks, is that the rapid recent population increase has been successes in development policy. Agriculture experts warn that if the Ethiopia population swells to 150 million people by 2035 as some are predicting, famine could become a chronic problem. 

The Ethiopian government denies the impact of the drought. It wants to overcome Ethiopia's image as a country eternally beset by famine and instead present itself as an emerging nation. The Ethiopian economy, after all, is among the fastest growing in the world, with annual growth rated as high as 10% in recent years. 

Ethiopia, one the world's poorest countries, has transformed itself into a successful development dictatorship based on the Chinese model. It wants to achieve middle-income country status by 2025 and establish itself firmly as an emerging nation. Pictures of starving children with large, sorrowful eyes do not fit with that image. 

The country's boom is visible in the capital city of Addis Ababa, which is currently undergoing an incredibly fast process of modernization. High rises and giant new district are sprouting up everywhere, new motorways crisis-cross the capital and light-rail system has even been built--the first anywhere south of the Sahara. Numerous new industrial enterprises are located at the city's outskirts, where they produce textiles and leather goods for the global market. 

For a long time, the government insisted that the country could handle the situation on its own. Indeed, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn first requested assistance from the international community in March. But international aid organizations were also ordered not to speak publicly about the true scale of the disaster. 

The authoritarian regime doesn't tolerate criticism. Members of the opposition are persecuted and unruly journalists are imprisoned. Nor are oppositional voices to be heard n Parliament, where the governing Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front ( EPRDF) holds 100% of the seats. The party liberated Ethiopia in 1991 from the socialist terror rule of Mengistu Haile Mariam, but itself likewise acts with a heavy hand. 

The country's Western allies ignore the continuing human rights violations because Ethiopia, a bastion of Christianity, is an important military partner in the battle against Islamist terror on the Horn of Africa. 

In praising itself, the government often points to the lessons learned from 1984-85 famine, In response, Ethiopia set up a disaster early warning system and created emergency grain reserves. The country built dams, irrigation systems and roads. Around 7 million small farmers now receive crisis aid through a state safety net. 

The United Nations estimated that more than 50 million people in Africa are acutely threatened by famine. After years of hope for increased growth and prosperity, the people are once again suffering from poverty and malnutrition.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Investigative Journalist
Political Analyst/Writer
African Affairs Expert

Photo-Credit: France24-photo of: Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn