Why is Ethiopia hungry again? – by Jawar Mohammed

By Jawar Mohammed
Just a couple months ago, Western leaders and media outlets were fascinated with Ethiopia’s ‘miraculous’ economic growth. From Bill Gates to Obama, and everyone else in between, they were convinced and tried to persuade others that Ethiopia had put that sad history of famine behind itself and emerged as the fastest growing economy in Africa, if not the world.
7-5-million-going-hungry-as-ethiopia-crisis-worsens-1443822037-7619
Fast forward to these past few weeks, reports have begun – giving back Ethiopia its old name – a starving country begging for urgent food aid. A month ago, the number of people needing aid were reported to be 4.5-million; now its 8.2-million and expected to reach 15-million by the end of this year. Two months ago, when OMN first reported about the death of children from hunger in Western Hararghe, the regime dismissed the reports and suppressed the plea for emergency food aid. It has now been forced to admit the crisis and it is, as usual, asking the world for food aid to feed its hungry population. No amount of PR campaign or cooking the numbers to showcase double-digit economic growth can hide the fact that Ethiopia is, once again, hit with famine.
Let’s ask the obvious question: why is Ethiopia hungry again? Within the Ethiopian discourse, four factors are often attributed as causing the recurring famine. First, the government – not just the current, but also past regimes, usually blame the famine on the change in weather and climatic conditions for causing crop failures that result in food shortage. But how does an economy growing by double-digits, whose agricultural sector apparently shows at least 9% annual growth for over a decade and produced ‘millions of millionaire farmers,’ fail to produce enough surplus to feed few regions hit with shortage of rainfall?
The second factor attributed to the problem of famine is not on shortage of food, but its weak circulation within the country. Popularized by Dr. Eleni Gerbremedihin, this argument states that a ‘market failure’ results in a situation where one region starves while another wastes food due to surplus production. So, Dr. Eleni took her “idea whose time has come” to the World Bank and Meles Zenawi resulting with the establishment of the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX) in 2008. Launched with a huge financial injection and a massive public relation campaign, the project promised to make famine history by ushering in a new system of market efficiency. As inspiring as Dr. Eleni was, few of us remained skeptical from the get-go. In response to her article promoting her project, I wrote a piece which argued that as long as the political market remains monopolized by one group, her ambition of creating an efficient and competitive exchange system is unlikely to be realized. I hate to say ‘I told you so,’ but 7 years later, ECX’s much anticipated revolution in agricultural market is not visible. Eleni herself has moved on (quit or fired depending on who you ask). And famine is back to being Ethiopia’s trademark. Genuine efforts to engineer market efficiency are either been rejected or sabotaged to serve the regime. If we take Dr. Eleni’s project, the regime twisted and turned it into a tool for further monopolizing the market. ECX enabled EFFORT-owned companies to push out competitors and monopolize the coffee export. A mechanism (ECX) – that meant to open up the market to increase efficiency – has turned out be a tool for control, corruption and monopolistic market practice.
The third argument blames the famine on the land tenure policy of the country. The argument goes that the source of food shortage in Ethiopia is farmers cultivating crop on small and fragmented plots of land using century-old subsistence farming practices. Highly publicized during the 2005 election as a key policy element of the Amhara opposition, this proposed solution advocates privatizing land ownership so that wealthy investors can help develop large plots of land using technologically advanced tools and inputs. This argument has already been put to test and failed to yield its intended results. Although land has not been officially privatized, domestic and foreign investors have been granted as much land as they request at dirt cheap prices. Yet, we are not witnessing the anticipated improvement in agricultural productivity, and famine remains a recurrent problem. Millions are starving even after over 3 million hectare of land has been leased out to the rich. Privatizing land while the political system is not competitive means, land would be transferred from millions of smallholders to few with connection to the ruling class. These few ‘investors’ are driven with profit maximizing incentives, hence mostly produce for export, or hoard their product to limit circulation with the market to keep price high.
This leaves us with the fourth argument which asserts that lack of freedom is the real cause of famine. This idea was developed by India’s Amartya Sen, who used Ethiopia as a main example on a thesis that would net him the Nobel Prize. Basically, the argument affirms that famine occurs only in dictatorship not in democracy. In democracy, drought doesn’t necessarily lead to starvation as the media, civic society and elected officials preemptively publicize and exert pressure on the government to act early to ensure food supply. Let’s take Ethiopia and Kenya, for instance. Their shared border regions are inhabited by the same people who mostly live nomadic life, and the climate condition is the same. Whenever drought hits Southern Ethiopia, it also hits Northern Kenya. But famine in the Ethiopia-side of the border is a frequent phenomenon; Kenya rarely witnesses it. Hence, the lack of democracy is the only argument of the four which has not been tested and still stands as plausible in Ethiopia. As long as the country is governed by authoritarian regimes, drought projections are unlikely to be acted up on, leaving farmers to starve during the natural calamity whenever the climate changes.
This current famine did not only bust the myth of Ethiopia’s economic miracle. It has also debunked the argument that the country could imitate the East Asian model of rapid economic growth while suppressing freedom. They can cook numbers, they could fool western diplomats and media outlets, but famine has come back once again to unravel the deception of the regime and illusion of its supporters. Poverty, and its worst form – hunger, will remain the hallmark of Ethiopia until the people attain freedom and establish a government that depends on their consent rather its own gun and external aid.

0 Comments

  1. Would have been perfect scholarly analysis, had it not been blotted by the usual ethnocentric bias. No “Amhara” opposition during the 2005 election made privatization of land as its “key element” to challenge the incumbent. What Jawar wrote on paragraph 5 as “the third argument” is deliberately misleading thereby the undoing of the piece from achieving objectivity in scholarship. The opposition that demanded land to be taken out of the State’s monopoly and be given back genuinely to the tiller whom it argued knows what’s best for itself was the Coalition for Unity and Democracy. The members of this coalition were so diverse ethnically and religiously. What’s more the most eloquent proponent of land privatization from this coalition was Dr. Berhanu Nega who was Gurage ethnically which is a far cry from “Amhara.” Also Dr.Berhanu never advocated for a privatization that dispossess the small time farmer to enrich so-called greedy investors from near and far. That’s a gross distortion of fact.

  2. Jawar,
    Your short commentary on why our people are starving again is right on the spot. It is lack of freedom that is causing recurrent famine in our country, and we have to stop fooling ourselves and stand together to get rid off those incompetent people hanging on to power using their guns.
    And, you make a lot of sense when you talk about our collective problems and suggest a good solution instead of I am this first and that second stuff.
    Cheers.

  3. Well come back to the club Jawar. All I saw was Ethiopia , Ethiopia , Ethiopia on your article. We hope you mean and really care about that.

  4. Jawar,
    You said above … Highly publicized during the 2005 election as a key policy element of the Amhara opposition ….
    You are rude and you better start to be truthful …. you need to call political organization by their names not by ethnic they do not represent. Did those organization called themselves ‘amhara opposition’ at the time? The answer is “No”. So it is the hatred you have to a particular group that comes out even out of your ink. Are you trying to tell us those organizations who call themselves “Ethiopia” are all amhara? Your shallow divisive mind is still obviosly showing itself in everything you write or say.
    Stop blending your ethnic poisonous propaganda in everything you touch.

    • Jawar called the organization by their real name they stand for not camouflage they carry to cover their true identity and intention to mislead unsuspected ” foolish” others.

  5. I was at first reluctant to read this piece of Ato Jawar, but as I read it through I found out that it was telling the truth and pointing to the bankruptcy of the socalled “developmental government” which has been lying and lying to the people for almost a quarter of a century.

  6. Jawar,
    What kind of analysis is this? This is your usual name calling, ethnic poison spreading … dirty gossip. You think you have the answer for everything. And the cause for that is your ignorance about almost everything. Going to political class does not empower you with the knowledge in marketing, meteorology, social motion, …. little knoledge makes one foolishily bold and assertive and that what we are seeing in your writing.
    By the way, where is your mencha (sword) you promised us publicly to kill everyone who stand on your way to Islamic Oromia.

  7. Hi Jawar
    The photo accompanying your article doesn’t look authentic or genuine. The kids on it looks most likely kids on school lunch queue.

  8. Hi Jawar
    The photo accompanying your article doesn’t look authentic (genuine) and the kids on it look most likely kids on school lunch queue.

  9. Jawar,
    Why you try to pretend to be concerned about Ethiopia now? Last time you said on Al jazera Ethiopia is no a country of your choice but imposed on you . Then you created your likes at that time by spewing your nonsense about ethinc politics and worst of all you preached about mench and formation islamic state.
    Jawar,
    You are very dangerously divisive force. You a clear and present danger to Ethiopia and Ormia.
    Jawar,
    Even in this current writing of yours you could not help yourself refrain from spewing ethic poison. Kinjit was the political organization that was promoting about privatization of land in Ethiopia in 2005 election but you substituted kinjit with amhara. You hate amhara. It sad to see some people are born to hate.
    Jawar,
    Your knowledge on history, weather, marketing, philosophy …. is very superficial. At times you sound like a political cadre.

  10. Simple logic if dictatorship and monopolizing market is the cause for famine Eritrea would have been number one in the list of starving countries. That shows your ignorance and bias.

  11. Jawar,
    Do not politicize every thing. Please try to expand your knowledge. Please try to teach (if you can), not to confuse and contribute to the hate building up in Ethiopia. Yes, the policy of the dictators is bad. But that is not the only reason. Weather change also is a factor. Look drought in California, it is causing lots of damage but the state is surviving only because USA is a huge and rich country. Always, extreme rain, extreme drought, …. will have adverse impact on society. Get educated about other areas, do know assume you know everything …. get matured.
    Few months ago you were telling us how much you and your like are ready to use MENCHA if christian amharas are not complying to your dream of Islamic Ormia, how is that project going?

  12. Jawar is on the spot again as far as the political failure of the Woyane’s regime goes. I couldn’t agree with him more. Keep enlightening us about the darkness, that woyane is ! Bravo!

  13. Let´s add one more reason why ethiopia is again and again enter in to deep famine.
    work hard to graw hate between ppl is a more danger part which contribuite for instability of development for one country ppl can´t farming and recollecting pecefuly, ppl can´t move one place to other to work or to sale thier product pecefully, ppl can´t develop drainage sistemy pecefully,,,and all this for sure leado to deep hangry that is exactly you and like you are doing evry where you are present, no need to go to the past article you wrote or the past speach or message you developed to instigate genocide against ethiopian family here in this article exactly you came again to graw hate to our brother ethiopian Amharan ppl
    What stand mean “Highly publicized during the 2005 election as a key policy element of the Amhara opposition” posted in your article”?
    your presence here with this article is not to adress ethiopian problem for developing you came here to graw hate between ethiopian family ppl and never never you can get and forget it,,,,,,

  14. well for long time you were meles zenawi’s ethnic federalism supporter you got what exactly what you asked for. your language culture even the land not belongs to your favour. stop complaining oromo is well profited from woyane regime.but your wish to control political economy and military through innocent muslim group(80% oromo muslim!?) or nation nationalities by condemning Amhara will remain your dream.now everybody learned from ISIS what is ‘sliting with mencha’ISOS(Islamist Oromo state)…you are the one you divide the nation by old mentality not to stand together to defend our poor people’s right and injustice.
    stay away….this is a crocodile tears!

  15. Well for a long time you were meles zenawi’s ethnic federalism supporter you got what exactly what you asked for. Your language culture even the land not belongs to your favour. stop complaining oromo is well profited from woyane regime.but your wish to control political economy and military through innocent muslim group(80% oromo muslim!?) or nation nationalities by condemning Amhara will remain your dream.now everybody learned from ISIS what is ‘sliting with mencha’ISOS(Islamist Oromo state)…you are the one you divide the nation by old mentality not to stand together to defend our poor people’s right and injustice.
    stay away….this is a crocodile tears!

  16. Jawar’s artcle make sense because, a joint undercover investigation by BBC Newsnight and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has uncovered evidence that the Ethiopian government is using billions of dollars of development aid as a tool for political oppression. Published Friday, 5 August 2011 12:48 UK- Peace ! Dimos

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.