Food Politics and Pride in Ethiopia
Method of Analysis:
The Analytical Study:
1935 --This analysis begins in 1935. Ethiopia up to this point had not been colonized by a European power and this was a source of great pride to the country. Ethiopia was ruled by Emperor Haile Selassie who was indeed a proud man. When Tafari Makonnen took to the thrown in 1930 he named himself Haile Selassie, “Power of the Trinity,” while his full title in office was “His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, and Elect of God” (Murrell, Spencer, McFarlane, 159). Ethiopia, as evident by its emperor’s title, was Christian. It was in a speech to the League of Nations, urging them to not allow Italy to invade Ethiopia in 1935, that Selassie said, “Outside the Kingdom of the Lord, there is no nation which is greater than any other” (imperialethiopia.org).
Ethiopia’s Christian background served as it archetype, the model and logical force by which all other things were evaluated by. For Ethiopians, God and the Lord viewed all countries as equals under Their reign. The country had every right, by this notion, to autonomy. Not only that, but Selassie believed he had every right to rule as emperor; his power was God given.
Ethiopia’s self image was a positive one at this time. Being the only African country not colonized by a European power established it as a role model for other African countries as well as a source of hope for freedom (Gonzalez-Ruibal, 548). Ethiopia had also been recognized by other European powers as independent after Italy had attempted a take over in 1896, but failed. Forty years later, Italy tried again.
Italy during this time is firmly established as Roman Catholic. Recognizing that the church had massive sway over Italy, Benito Mussolini made an agreement with the Roman Catholic Church to extend religious education to secondary school in exchange for the Vatican acknowledging the kingdom of Italy in 1929 (localhistories.org). At this time, Italy was fascist, so all political power was given to its dictator, Mussolini and the nation was to be exalted above all else. During the early 1930s, Italy experienced an economic downturn and an increase in unemployment. Mussolini saw an opportunity in Ethiopia. He planned an attack on Ethiopia, seeing it as “an occasion to reconstruct the
Roman Empire, alleviate economic problems derived from overpopulation and
unemployment in Italy by establishing settler colonies in the Horn of Africa, and
reshape Italian identity by buttressing new fascist values: manhood, aggressiveness,
self-assurance and warrior qualities” (Gonzalez-Ruibal, 548).
Fascism and Mussolini’s need to improve Italy was not the only encouraging factor to attack Ethiopia. What was known as the “scramble for Africa” occurred at this time. European countries were in a period of colonization and expansion, each hungry to get a chunk of Africa. European countries saw great potential in these African countries; in fact, the “African continent has long been associated with agrarian modes of livelihood and an underlying assumption that its abundance of land and relative shortage of labor, especially skilled labor, provides it with a comparative advantage in agricultural production” (Bryceson). The scramble for Africa was all about land and agriculture. In essence, food production. And so, Italy attacked Ethiopia in 1935.
Ethiopia saw this attack, this episode, as a repeat of history. In 1896, Ethiopia had defeated Italy at the Battle of Adowa. With a strong, proud self- image, the Ethiopian army was prepared again to defend its homeland. Italy’s invasion was interpreted as an unfounded act of aggression and Ethiopia found it compulsory to fight back. Recall, Haile Selassie proclaimed this country autonomous by the power of God.
For Italy, this attack was legitimate. Several other European countries had invaded and colonized countries in Africa- this was no different. There was also lingering shame from the previous failed invasion of Ethiopia. Shame, in the fascist mindset, was a sign of weakness and stood for everything fascism did not. Colonizing Ethiopia was a sure way to eradicate this shame. With advanced weaponry, including tear gas, Italy defeated Ethiopia and proceeded to annex it.
1941—Following the Italian invasion, Selassie went into exile in Britain. He was able to earn the support of Britain to get Ethiopia’s autonomy back and in 1941, Britain attacked the Italian army in Ethiopia, ultimately running them out of the country. During this time period, Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill, had signed the Atlantic Charter. The Atlantic Charter, also signed by the United States’ president Franklin D Roosevelt, stated that those countries that signed the charter “wish to see sovereign rights and self government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them” (Rosenman, 314). These Allies nations were democratic and capitalist believed in self-determinism as well as reconstruction and development for countries newly liberated from Axis domination. These ideals made up a large part of the Allies’ culture. Britain’s own self- image of being a major European nation with an obligation to a country that had been dominated by an Axis power, along with the Allies’ fear of the “domino effect” prompted Britain to attack Ethiopia and get rid of the Italian army there.
Yet, British troops did not immediately leave Ethiopia. In fact, Ethiopia remained under British occupation for several years following 1941. Britain also had a personal interest in Ethiopia’s agrarian resources. So while Britain viewed this episode of attack as saving Ethiopia from fascism and giving help, Haile Selassie recognized the help came with a few strings.
Selassie was back on the throne in Ethiopia, with the help of Britain, and he now sat in a delicate position. He was indebted to Britain for their help with the Italians, but Selassie and Ethiopia’s self-image was still proud and independent. It was still Ethiopia’s right to govern itself. Selassie then had to be mindful of the relationship he held with Britain. He was prohibited from getting rid of the troops that helped free his people and yet he was unwilling to give up all power. He then found a legitimate course of action that could satisfy both conditions; Selassie began campaigning for the reconstruction and development the Atlantic Charter had promised. He recognized that by appealing to the Allies’ ideals, he could improve his own country and economy as well as start agricultural programs under his own jurisdiction. This resulted in agricultural and developmental investments for Ethiopia granted by the Allies who saw the agricultural potential of Ethiopia.
A quick word on Eritrea- Eritrea had been under Italian rule since the 19th century but with the Allied invasion into Italian occupied lands, Eritrea was freed from Italian rule. It was then federated with Ethiopia but Haile Selassie “unilaterally abolished the federation and imposed imperial rule throughout Eritrea” (Ofcansky and Berry).
1943—It was in the year 1943 that a large region in the Middle East suffered from a famine. This was bad news for the Allies who found the region strategically important to them in their fight against the Axis powers, specifically Russia. To help keep the area stable, “Allied powers established the Middle East Supply Center (MESC), which they mandated to oversee relief operations, trade, and food production in that part of the world” (Getnet). Because the Allies had established a positive relationship with Ethiopia and had been investing in the country, not to mention the ideal geographic location Ethiopia provided (limited sea exposure in the case of submarines but still accessible), they found it legitimate to establish Ethiopia as a supply center for the MESC. Ethiopia then became a “major food supplying area and an integral part of the expanding trans-regional market and the politics the former engendered” (Getnet).
For Ethiopia, this was the opportunity Selassie had been waiting for. Culturally, Ethiopia had always been a proud country rooted in agrarian lifestyle. In stepping up as a major food provider, Ethiopia was in a position of power. Ethiopia could prove its merit as an agricultural country and successful food distribution would guarantee further investment. At this time, Sealssie gain political capital for his involvement with famine aid. In fact, Franklin D Roosevelt met with Selassie in 1945, and expressed gratitude for Ethiopia’s help and reiterated that even though the famine had passed, the world still had a large demand for food production that he felt sure Ethiopia could help manage. Needless to say, Selassie “took pride in the world's recognition of Ethiopia's contribution to the international food market and was delighted to know that Roosevelt recognized that country's ‘untapped agricultural potential.’ He ended his speech by insisting that Ethiopia's ability to contribute to the international food market in the future hinged on the kind of support it received from its allies, such as the United States” (Getnet). Indeed, the country was rewarded with more investment.
Well into the mid 1950s Ethiopia continued to develop its agriculture. Specialists were sent in to train farmers on the best techniques and an agricultural school was established. Slowly but surely the British troops left as well until it seemed Haile Selassie had made his dreams come true.
The Suez Canal Crisis in 1956 tampered with Selassie’s success greatly, however. At this time, Egypt’s leader, Gamal Nasser, was receiving Allied aid to fund the Aswan Dam. Because Egypt had recently created ties with the Soviet Union, the Allied powers revoked the financial support they had originally promised. Nasser, in order to fund the project, nationalized the Suez Canal which had acted as the main passageway between Ethiopia and the rest of the world. Nasser was demonstrating his autonomy and power over the water way that ran alongside Egypt. For Nasser, this was a legitimate show of authority over the area, especially after having had support withdrawn on a project he favored. Ethiopia was now unable to transport any food. The Allied powers fought to regain control of the Suez Canal and within the next year, the United Nations set up a force to keep the peace in the canal. Unfortunately for Ethiopia, even with peace in the Suez Canal, it never regained its position as food supplier/ provider.
1957-1959— Losing their position as food provider for the Middle East was only the beginning for Ethiopia. Due to natural occurrences of drought and pests, harvests the following year (1957) were poor. A famine began in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, located in the north east part of the country.
As an ally and investor, the United States was willing to help out. Several factors contributed to the United States motivation to held Ethiopia. For one, the United States was predominantly Christian at this time, which meant Americans believed in a merciful God and in attempts to emulate this archetype, a notion of helping those less fortunate prevailed. Culturally, the United States put stock in the “American Dream” and capitalism and so to let a country fall to famine would undermine these ideals and reinforce the need for a safety net like communism. Above all else, culturally, the United States did not want Ethiopia to acquire socialist/communist sentiments and so they viewed it as their duty to protect the developing nation they had invested so much into already. Episodically, the United States also had an opportunity to improve foreign diplomacy and keep Ethiopia as resource-filled ally. For the U.S., they were prohibited from doing nothing, and saw giving foreign food aid as a legitimate act of lending a hand.
For Ethiopia, however, this episode was a humbling moment of accepting aid. Its archetypal religious framework had the citizens feel as though they were blessed and favored by their God. Their country had been given the right to autonomy and yet now they needed aid which put them far from autonomous. The pride from getting rid of Italy, twice, and supplying other countries with food during a famine was now waning as Ethiopia experienced their own famine. Selassie was notably hesitant to accept food aid or report the severity of the famine. If he did accept food aid, it was slowly or poorly distributed which resulted in more deaths that began to anger citizens hit hardest by the famine- the peasants in the Tigray region.
One probable cause of Selassie’s delay was the PL 480 food assistance regulations code- food aid sent to Ethiopia had to have proof it was from the U.S. While the regulation was to ensure food rations were being distributed properly, it was also publicizing the United States’ gift/ charity to Ethiopia.
This publicity was irksome for Selassie in two ways. Firstly, Ethiopia had recently accepted food aid from the Soviet Union and “given the delicate state of his new relationship with the Soviet Union, Haile Selassie was reluctant to irritate Moscow by generating the required pro-American publicity” (Kissi). Secondly, for an African country that was once the role model of the continent, the only one not colonized by a foreign power, the publicity on the food aid and even accepting the food aid was humbling and insulting. Coming into this famine, Ethiopia’s self-image was not as positive as it has once been. Ethiopia saw accepting food aid as obligatory.
1966— Unable to fully recuperate from the famine before, another one hits seven years later. This time, the famine started in Wollo region, again a north eastern part of the country. A new farming practice has been adopted in the past several years in which venture farmers bid on pieces of land that currently belonged to an absentee owner. The absentee owner had been allowing a sharecropper to work the land and keep a percentage of the crops for himself. The newer farmers, however, were eager to work the land themselves to try and make big profits. The sharecroppers were unable to buy the land themselves and therefore lost the land they had been sharecropping for years.
To make matters worse, Selassie was once again slow to mobilize and distribute much needed food. The peasants of the land felt marginalized by the lack of attention (and food) they were receiving. 200,000 people died in this famine alone (mfa.gov). Selassie’s inefficient food distribution was interpreted by the peasants as a strong message that they were unimportant in the eyes of the government.
Starting in the 1950s, an insurgent movement had gained popularity in Ethiopia. The group was called Ethiopian Student Movement. By the early 1960s, this group had adopted Marxist ideals and was actively protesting and rioting against the monarchy. The Ethiopian Student Movement (ESM) was concerned by the increasing wealth gap and, as Marxists, felt capitalism was a root cause to this gap. A point of contention for the group was in the new farming practices as they perceived this land distribution as a real problem for those incapable of buying their own land. They adopted the slogan, “to the tiller goes the land,” making that statement that the one who worked the farm should be entitled to it and the crops produced. They saw themselves as young revolutionaries speaking for those who were not heard in the wake of a corrupt and neglectful government.
The Imperial Ethiopian Government held fast to the old ways of the monarchy- a monarchy that had allegedly a long line of rightful rulers in the eyes of God. The IEG fought these insurgent groups back, determined to keep them under control. As far as Selassie was concerned, this episode of food shortage and rebellion was an obstacle in the road that would pass soon enough. He interpreted the ESM’s riots as clear defiance against the government and country and so he considered it legitimate to keep the insurgent group in line and fight them back with force.
Just a few short years pass before another famine erupts over Ethiopia in 1973 and 1974. It is evident that Ethiopia remains on the brink of a famine each harvest and without proper government action, the famine is never directly addressed, only held off momentarily. Haile Selassie does not reach out for foreign food aid and it is not until a British journalist writes a piece on Ethiopia’s “hidden famine” that the world is even made aware of the food shortage occurring in Ethiopia. Selassie, by this point, has made it very clear that he will not admit his country is suffering some real problems. It would seem that “His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, and Elect of God” is too proud to admit defeat against the recurring agricultural issues in Ethiopia.
The Marxist rebels and peasants have now seen three famines within their lifetime and have had enough. Truly fearing for their lives, civilians and army officials alike feel obliged to start a revolution to remove the incompetent government officials, specifically, Haile Selassie. In 1974, a coordinating committee of the armed forced began to make arrests of leading officials and by September, Haile Selassie was deposed. In his place was a left-wing provisional military council that acknowledged Ethiopia as a socialist nation.
Known as the Derg, by 1976, the group claimed that they would “progress toward Socialism under the leadership of workers, peasants, the petite bourgeoisie, and all anti-feudal and anti-imperialist forces. The Derg’s ultimate aim was the creation of a one party system” (mfa.gov.et). The Derg made up slogans like, “self-reliance,” “the dignity of labor,” “the supremacy of the common good.” In 1977, Mengistu declared himself chairman and began to claim more and more power.
Late 1970s—By the late 1970s, right after Mengistu rises to power, there is an insurgent movement that launched a terrorist attack on the Derg called the White Terror (mfa.gov.et). This immediately prompted a counter attack by the Derg known as the Red Terror. The Red Terror was a purge of all the anti-Derg civilians. The Derg had in fact “promised that for every revolutionary killed, [there would be] a thousand counterrevolutionaries executed. The promised ratio was not to be much of an exaggeration" (Africa Watch Sep. 1991, 102). It was clear Ethiopia had traded one dictator for another, perhaps more brutal one.
Throughout the late 1970s, there is a scarcity of food, not historically recognized as a famine but a shortage none the less. Because the Derg was militant by nature, so were their ideals and values. The government’s self image was one of strength, power, bottom lines, and no nonsense. As a socialist institution, the Soviet Union then support the new Ethiopian government and the two made a military agreement which consolidated Mengistu’s power even more. Favoring the army, the Derg funneled food rations first to the army and cities and then to the peasants and other civilians. The Red Terror and army favoritism made the clear statement that the Derg held all the power and the army was the ultimate authority.
Those with anti-Derg sentiments, notably, the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front, were infuriated by the new government in place. Historically, areas like Tigray, Wollo, and Eritrea had been hit the hardest by famines and had suffered the most severely when food rations were poorly distributed. Just as the revolution had been about food (or a lack of it) so too, were the issues insurgent groups had with the Derg. Culturally, the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front was democratic and supported by the United States. They saw themselves as freedom fighters, “demanding social justice and self-determination for all Ethiopians” (Ofcansky and Berry).
The hierarchies of logic of both the insurgent groups and the Derg, like issues in the past with rebel groups and the Imperial Ethiopian Government, continued this pattern of fighting. The Derg was determined to keep army-like order over the country and display force against the insurgent movement. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front was democratic and so the Marxist, uni-party system set up by the Derg violated the group’s notions of good governance. The two continued to fight, motivated by their hierarchy of logic.
1983-1985—By the early 1980s, it became clear another famine was eminent. There was a drought in 1981 and harvests were very poor. By 1983, a famine had started, again in the Ethiopian highlands of the north east. The civil war was causing a big strain on the land, agriculture and food production. The main regions affected were “Tigray,
Eritrea and Wollo in the North of the country…Warfare played a key role in causing famine in Tigray even before the drought occurred. Military offensives, aerial bombardment of markets, destruction of cattle and grain stores, burning of crops and tight controls on movements of migrants and traders combined to prevent the normal redistribution of grain and livestock surpluses in Northern Ethiopia” (Dercon and Porter). Mengistu was unwilling to properly deal with the impending famine. In fact, the Derg withheld food rations from the rebel areas of Ethiopia in order to weaken the insurgent groups. The government reaction to the early 1980s famine was highly criticized: “The government's inability or unwillingness to deal with the 1984-85 famine provoked universal condemnation by the international community. Even many supporters of the Ethiopian regime opposed its policy of withholding food shipments to rebel areas. The combined effects of famine and internal war had by then put the nation's economy into a state of collapse” (Ofcansky and Berry).
The government’s primary solution to the famine was to resettle the civilians living in the northern part of Ethiopia. The forcible resettlement of these peasants resulted in thousands of deaths and peasants would flee to avoid resettlement (Ofcansky and Berry). This act further incited insurgent sentiments.
The severity of the famine encouraged foreign aid from several countries including the United States and the Soviet Union. At first, the foreign aid from the western world was reluctant because “the West feared it would bear the cost of drought aid while the military government of Mengistu Haile Mariam spent money buying weapons and cementing a Marxist-Leninist regime” (Milner). With more television and newspaper coverage, however, the western countries in Europe and the United States soon began donating large sums of money and food. Perhaps the most well-known donation effort was that of Bob Geldof. Geldof saw Michael Buerk's news reports in 1984 about the famine in Ethiopia and he co-wrote a song “Do They Know It’s Christmas” which was then recorded by other singers to raise money and was called Band-Aid. After the success of Band-aid, “Bob Geldof visited Ethiopia to oversee the distribution of aid and realized that if the Band Aid organization owned its own fleet of trucks to transport much-needed supplies, they would be in a better position to have a more direct impact on the famine. So the idea of a concert was born, and in just 10 weeks the project of Live Aid was put together” (BBC news-http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/thelive8event/liveaid/history.shtml). Live Aid was a concert held in England, Russia, Australia and the United States to raise money for Ethiopia and countries such as Japan, Holland, Yugoslavia, and Germany contributed donations as well.
While the western world had originally been reluctant to give foreign aid to Ethiopia because of the government in the early 1980s, “Western sources accounted for more than 90 percent of Ethiopia's economic aid” during that time (Ofcansky and Berry). The allied powers were not as concerned with their political hierarchy of logic (democracy and capitalism) so much as their humanitarian archetype that innocent humans should not die. The relationship had changed because politics were not in the forefront of the allied powers’ minds; the western world was now a guardian, protector, to Ethiopia. This episode with Ethiopia was not about saving them from any political power, simply saving the citizens of Ethiopia from starvation.
For the Derg, however, the relationship was a bit more complicated. As mentioned earlier, the Derg was hesitant to even admit there was a food crisis in Ethiopia. While more industrialized countries saw themselves as being privileged and in a position to offer help, Mengistu may have seen their help as charity and accepting charity counted as accepting defeat and a sign that he was incapable of ruling over his country. This would put the Derg’s self image into question. To reiterate, the Derg was a military group that envisioned itself as a strong, Marxist ruling power. The government chose to ignore the famine and would not let reporters into the country. Brian Stewart of CBC News recalls working with Tony Burman to report on the famine and how Tony “fought the regime’s hostile bureaucracy” to get the crew into Ethiopia and how “the regime looked set to block [their] famine reports” from leaving the country (Stewart). Any negative publicity, despite dire circumstances, was avoided out of pride.
Late 1980s-1991— Following the famine, in 1987, Ethiopia became the People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. There was now a parliament in place and the government was no longer military-run, but civilian run. However, “members of the now-defunct Derg still ran the government but with different titles” (Ofcansky and Berry). The same, corrupt men were in control again, and despite a new constitution, conditions were the same. The famine relief assistance that had been coming into the country from 1985 onward (“during the period of party construction and constitution-making) allowed the regime to devote more of its budget to suppression of the rebellions in Eritrea and Tigray” (Ofcansky and Berry).
The Soviet Union, by the late 1980s, was beginning to take a new direction in politics which affected the Soviet Union and Ethiopian ties previously established. Another major factor to the relationship was the “strong undercurrents of Soviet disapproval of Ethiopia's conduct of its internal affairs and of Addis Ababa's inability to make effective use of the aid that Moscow sent” (Ofcansky and Berry). This left Mengistu with a greatly stunted military that was no longer supported by a large, foreign power. Without his powerful military, Mengistu was ill prepared to continue his fighting with the Eritrea Liberation Front and other insurgent groups. By 1989, several liberation movements took this opportunity to consolidate forces while the government was at its weakest. The Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF), the Ethiopian People's Democratic Movement (EPDM), and several smaller allied groups formed a united front called the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) (US Citizenship and Immigration Services). It was these developments that led Mengistu to attempt economic reforms in 1989 and 1990 and to initiate peace talks with the Eritrea People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) and EPRDF. Ultimately, these did not go anywhere.
The insurgent movements were stronger than ever while the Ethiopian government was weakest. They had all united to form one cohesive group that was slowly closing in towards the national capital, located in the center of the country. These insurgent groups, as mentioned before, began in the region of Ethiopia that had been most distraught with famine (which stemmed from drought and warfare in this north, eastern area).
Mengistu, lacking military backing and facing a new, united insurgent movement, no longer saw himself or his government as strong and unyielding. This weakness changed the relationship he had with the insurgent groups because he no longer had the clear, upper hand over them. The episode changed from fighting rebels until they are all gone. Now it was about offering amends to save his position in government so he could still be in power. The implicative force, or motivation, to stay in power did humble Mengistu who was once cold and calculated with the insurgent groups.
For the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and its new partner, the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF), their energy was renewed. The EPLF had been fighting since 1941 when Eritrea had been ushered under Ethiopia’s rule by Selassie, following the defeat of the Italians. The EPLF wanted total autonomy over the area. It had been sanctioned by the League of Nations that they were to be federated with Ethiopia, not ruled by it. They had Allied support over the years. When the 1987 Constitution was released, it allowed for the possibility of regional autonomy of Eritrea (Ofcansky and Berry). The supporters of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front, after the regime was unsuccessful in establishing a party and administrative infrastructure, then doubted the regional autonomy would happen by the hands of Mengistu, calling it, “old wine in new bottles” (Ofcansky and Berry). With both insurgent groups convinced the old government was up to its old ways with a new title, they fought even harder in the northern part of Ethiopia, slowly making their way to Addis Ababa, the capitol.
The two growing groups had a self image that was changing from righteous underdog to a powerful group of revolutionaries. This time, the episode was not just to keep fighting back, but to surge harder than ever and put an end to this cruel dictator government once and for all. In February 1991, the EPRDF and the EPLF launched new offenses against Derg forces and were able to overpower the army, which had become divided and frustrated with the brutality of Mengistu's rule. On May 21, the EPRDF entered Addis Ababa and took control of the country (Mayfield 1995).
1991-Today, with Concluding Discussion of Data Analysis—Following the 1991 Revolution, a transitional government, overseen by Meles Zenawi who has sought to stabilize and strengthen Ethiopia (imperialethiopia.org). In 1995, a new constitution established the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE) which is responsible for national defense, foreign relations and general policy of common interest and benefits. The federal state, comprised of nine autonomous states, is vested with power for self-determination. The FDRE is a bicameral parliament, with the council of Peoples’ Representatives being the highest authority of the federal government; the federal council represents the common interests of the nations. Members of both councils are elected by universal suffrage for a five-year term (Ministry of Foreign Affairs).
The FDRE, decidedly very different from the dictatorships the country had seen in the past, operated on the Archetypal values of democracy and republic. Under this government, people were ruled by representatives of the nation they elected and so they were more autonomous than ever- the insurgent groups had won and now had given the power to the people. The new government, in being democratic and republic, also valued egalitarianism. A National holiday was also set in place to honor the overthrow of Mengistu (CIA World Factbook). This could serve both for celebratory reasons and as a sign that dictatorships are a thing of the past, never to be repeated again.
Unfortunately, despite the turn in government, Ethiopia still suffers from frequent famines and food shortages. In the past twenty years, “Ethiopia [has been] experiencing more and more frequent and successive droughts (1984, 1994, 1999-00, 2002-03). Even in a normal year, five to six million people depend on food aid to survive” (OXFAM article). Some people in the western world have started to question if constant food aid is the right answer for Ethiopia. During the 2008 famine, the US gave “more than $800 million to Ethiopia; $460 million for food, $350 million for HIV/AIDS treatment—and just $7 million for agricultural development. Western governments are loathe to halt programs that create a market for their farm surpluses, but for countries receiving charity, long term food aid can become addictive” (Perry and Addis).
In the 2003 Ethiopian famine, the US government “spent more than $500 million on food aid… but it spent less than $5 million on agricultural development aid… US policy [as had been stated before] also mandated—and it still does—that US food aid take the form of crops grown in the United States rather than cash with which recipients could buy local crops” (Thurow). The Ethiopian farmers cannot compete with the free food sent in through food aid and so they no longer grow. It is evident that more developed countries feel both a moral obligation to help in any way they can but also see food aid as an opportunity to move their own food surplus and bolster their own feelings of self worth.
The United States in particular, still predominantly Christian, feels a strong obligation to help another, fellow Christian country. This archetypal force permeates and resonates with the country’s other forces of logic. Culturally, the US considers itself, and is considered, a major world leader and it is out of a sense of duty and responsibility to help out its worldly neighbors. US’s self image is especially high, somewhat self-righteous even. As one reporter in an article titled “Ethiopia needs US leadership” wrote, regarding the 2003 famine, “There is no greater impending humanitarian emergency in the world. This is occurring, mind you, in a barely developing society that is at least half poor, with the third highest AIDS population in the world as well as a million AIDS orphans… So far, the United States and the Europeans have responded with speed and generosity to the immediate crisis. The US contribution to humanitarian assistance totals nearly $450 million in pledges so far this year, a timely and significant commitment that includes the vital medicines that can slow the spread of diseases” (Oliphant, emphasis mine).
Within the US narratives, it is clear that the country sees themselves as the merciful, generous, developed country helping out another poor, undeveloped country that cannot take care of itself. United States’ ego is boosted by repeatedly helping out Ethiopia in the form of food aid that undermines the Ethiopian farmers’ crops and earns the US good publicity. This type of foreign aid has been repeated and patterned into US-Ethiopia relations to the point where alternative options are not apparent to the US.
Other US reporters feel that the Ethiopian government is at fault. For this reporter, the western powers have no option but to give more food to Ethiopia: “Because of a failed harvest, more food has to come from outside” (Economist). For this reporter, there is no other way to combat famine- only give more food. The article goes on to claim “the government’s lack of enthusiasm for private enterprise is matched by its lack of enthusiasm for competition in politics,” making a remark on Ethiopian President, Mr. Zenawi, and his counter-insurgent efforts. The article further states, “Mr. Zenawi is particularly sensitive about famine talk. He has denied that pastoralists in the south are losing livestock…or that rates of malnutrition elsewhere are at all close to what foreign aid workers claim. The government has banned photographs of the starving… the government’s attitude comes close to denial; it will not help the people of Goro Gutu” (Economist).
The narrative seems all too familiar, a proud leader that is slow to admit the magnitude of a famine and is quick to wipe out insurgent movements. Zenawi, like Mengistu, does not want reporters or photographers to document what they have seen in his country. When looking to the cultural logic of Ethiopia, it is key to take into account the prefigurative forces at work as well. Ethiopia’s economy is based on agriculture accounting for 45% of its GDP and 85% of its employment (CIA World Factbook). Ethiopia was called upon in a time of crisis for their agricultural production and now it cannot recover from one famine enough to avoid the next one. As was stated at the open of this analysis, “Ethiopia is a proud nation, the only place in Africa never to be colonized and a place with a civilization that dates back as far as ancient Egypt. Christianity flourished in Ethiopia before it took hold in Europe” (Perry). According to this article, Ethiopians are celebrating their New Years Eve with a concert, but do not wish for Bob Geldof (from Live Aid) to take part. Alex Perry states that “Geldof’s absence is about pride,” as Ethiopians remember the times of Geldof and famine with “more than a tinge of humiliation” especially after Geldof, in 2005, told Prime Minister Zenawi to “grow up” and “behave” in light of oppositional protests. Ethiopian men, such as Mulugeta, were angry with these remarks, “What right has he got to be so paternalistic as to tell African leaders how to behave?” (Perry).
Other Ethiopians feel similarly, tired of being disrespected and humiliated as Africa’s poster child for famine. A group of Ethiopians organized a Live Aid concert of their own, claiming, “We have to help ourselves…this is self-reliance…the problem cannot be solved by donations” (“Ethiopia Stages Live Aid”).
From the very beginning of the timeline analysis, starting with the “scramble for Africa,” food is central to foreign affairs between Ethiopia and other countries. Recognized as a country abundant with natural resources, an agricultural country, Ethiopia is sought after by European powers. Italy overtly attempts to take control while Britain is more covert in leaving behind troops after saving Ethiopia from the Axis powers. With the famine the in the Middle East, Ethiopia gets an opportunity to supply where there is a strong demand and feel productive and (self) sufficient. This episode, along with Allied powers pledge to invest further into Ethiopia’s agriculture, was a time when all the logics of reasoning in Ethiopia’s hierarchy aligned to create a charmed loop where each logical force reinforces the others. This is the only occurrence of a charmed loop in Ethiopia’s past, starting from 1935.
Food politics turn the other way, however, with the Suez Canal Crisis in 1956, Ethiopia has been put in a disempowering position ever since due to countless famines that follow (1957, 1966, 1973, 1983, 1994, 1999, 2003, 2007). Warfare from neighboring countries but especially internally strain Ethiopia’s harvests even more, adding to the severity of the famines in most cases. From the outside, Ethiopian leaders look negligent and haughty. Consider Ethiopia’s prefigurative force, specifically; their perceived favoritism from God, their independence that no other African country could boast, and the imperial values from the Imperial Ethiopian Monarchy. With such a positive history, Ethiopians became very proud, and indeed their leaders had the most to be proud of- rulers of such a valuable land.
The famines were humiliating. Now these proud leaders were faced with the dilemma of accepting foreign aid at the price of the country’s dignity or to let their people starve but maintain their pride and the country’s pride- a trait that had become a strong part of identity and self image. With every passing famine, the continued food aid became enmeshed in the interaction between Ethiopia and western countries. This interaction has been repeated so many times that it becomes imbedded in politics, identity, and the economies of the countries involved. This interaction has taken on a momentum of its own- the logic of interaction in which case neither country is fully in control but both are swept up in its force.
To put an end to such severe and frequent famines, each country enmeshed in Ethiopia’s affairs needs to evaluate their actions. Are they benefitting Ethiopia? Perhaps in looking at how the leaders feel disempowered will encourage other foreign leaders to validate Ethiopians’ pride and invest in the country rather than continue participating in this patterned behavior that keeps Ethiopia in a strange loop. Foreign countries that unthinkingly give Ethiopia food need to evaluate if they are receiving the pride and ego boost at the expense of Ethiopia. Through empowering Ethiopia’s agriculture, the famines will be weakened and should the famine occur, perhaps Ethiopia’s leader will not feel so ashamed to reach out and accept aid. Perhaps Ethiopia can return to supplying food for the rest of the world as it did before.
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