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Conquering Famine in Ethiopia

By Berhane Kahsay
Tigrai Online, September 18, 2013

Ethiopia’s achievements since the fall of the military regime in May ‘91 have been exceptional and unparalleled in the history of the country.  It needed a great deal of determination and judicious leadership to lift the nation from the abyss and change it into the   leading economy of East Africa and beyond.

Teff field in the highlands of Ethiopia
Famine is no longer synonymous with Ethiopia thanks to the awesome hard work of the EPRDF government led by the late Premier Meles Zenawi. Food production is now at an all time high   owing to the introduction of modern farming technologies; water harvesting and irrigation; massive terracing &afforestations to prevent soil erosions.

Ethiopia has truly altered beyond recognition. In the not too distant future, it is expected to join the ranks of middle income countries as the double-digit economic growth that occurred over the last two decades is certain to persist. Ethiopia is now regularly cited as an African economic success story and is no longer associated with long drawn out civil conflicts and devastating famines. The complete makeover of the country is pulling a mosaic of heavy weight multi-national investors from all over the world, and this is set to continue as the prevailing peace and stability is unlikely to be perturbed. It is imperative to jog our memories and look back at the state of play with regard to famine pre and post 1991 in order to appreciate the current position of the country.

Regular appearances of skeletal, emaciated and bloated bellies of Ethiopian children on global TV screens were common during the reigns of Emperor Hailesellasie and the Derg.  According to a 1974 UN FAO report, over 300,000 people perished as a result of the 1973 famine that transpired in the northern parts of Ethiopia. The Emperor’s futile stab to conceal this colossal human tragedy was foiled by Jonathan Dembleby of the BBC who filmed the horror incognito and brought it to the attention of the world. In 1974, a popular revolt ensued and the Emperor which ruled the country for 44 years was unceremoniously removed, and replaced with a military government that lingered for 17 years.

Things progressively deteriorated during the Derg’s epoch; the despotic regime frittered millions of dollars to acquire modern Russian and East European weapons to eliminate an assortment of liberation movements that were waging an armed struggle for equality of nations, justice and democracy. Under the Junta’s watch, in excess of 1,000,000 people died due to the 1984/5 severe, rampant and devastating famine. Furthermore, hundreds and thousands of people including very young children were forced to abandon their homestead and had to trek long distances under the hail of aerial bombardments in search of shelter, food, water and tranquillity. Large numbers of these were not able to make it to the end of their destinations due to various ailments, and complete absence of food and water.  

Prevention of peasant farmers to remain in their homes to till their lands; forcible conscription of the productive young in order to continue with the unwinnable war exacerbated famine, mass migration and economic malaise until the Derg was decisively defeated by the TPLF and its allies in May 1991. So what is the situation like in Ethiopia at this moment in time? Has the country made strides with regard to food production and vulnerability to famine? What sort of image is the country projecting right now?

Famine is no longer synonymous with Ethiopia thanks to the awesome hard work of the EPRDF government led by the late Premier Meles Zenawi. Food production is now at an all time high   owing to the introduction of modern farming technologies; water harvesting and irrigation; massive terracing &afforestations to prevent soil erosions; revitalisation of over used land; use of fertilisers; utilisation of high yielding seeds; mechanised commercial farming; widespread availability of health centres to minimise sickness absences, and the presence of Agricultural Extension workers who are invariably by the side of the peasant farmers to advise and give guidance on ways of increasing productivity. Millions of dollars have also been spent constructing micro irrigation dams throughout the country especially in draught prone and pastoralist regions in order to help them produce enough food and avoid dependency on state assistance.

All weather roads that connect remote parts of the country have been built to enable farmers to swiftly shift their produce to the markets and return to their land in good time to prepare for the next sowing season. Cordless land lines and mobiles have also made it to the hinterlands and are being used habitually to gauge market information, from the comfort of their homes, which would help them choose an opportune moment to sell their harvest at an optimum price. Various studies indicate that the monetary returns have incentivised farmers to work even harder resulting in a mammoth augment in food production.

Although famine is no more a possibility in today’s Ethiopia, drought still persists and is affecting agricultural output. And to address this quandary, millions of tonnes of government grain reserves that can be used to assist affected areas until external help arrives (if necessary), and to combat price hikes for months are available in various parts of the country. Even China, the second biggest economy in the world, was a recipient of World Food Programme’s (WFP) assistance until it was phased out in 2005. The UN organisation fed 35 million people in China for over a quarter of a century, and the country has now become the world’s third largest food aid donor. India, which is a member of BRIC club and a nuclear power, is still supported by the UK government and receives an annual financial aid of £200m.

Ethiopia’s long term strategy is to create a favourable environment for private investors to establish medium and large sized industries, and reduce dependency on rain fed agriculture. To this end, the Agricultural led Industrialisation policy has been implemented, and as a result of this, a number of sugar, textile, leather, and agro-processing industries have been launched. Other related industries such as pharmaceutical, chemical, steel and plastic have also been formed in various parts of the country in the last few years. Furthermore, the infant Metals and Engineering Corporation( MEC) is currently able to manufacture transport vehicles, excavators, compactors, forklifts, dozers, loaders, cranes, rock drillers and deep well digging machineries. To increase the capacities of these industries, 31 state universities have been producing copious scientists and engineers annually.   

In order to guarantee uninterrupted provisions of energy needed for present and future industries, a number of dams have been built at a cost of millions of dollars. Shortly, the Grand Millennium Renaissance Dam will go operational boosting the country’s energy harvest by a whopper 6000 Mega Watts. Ethiopian experts of all fields who are managing this massive project are determined and working extremely hard to complete it within the scheduled time scale. MEC, which provided the steel products needed for the diversion of Abay River, is also performing its utmost to meet its contractual obligation to carry out the electromechanical and hydraulic parts of the dam.

To transport exportable industrial and agricultural products with ease, the government has heavily invested on infrastructure development including new railway network linking different parts of the country with the port of Djibouti.

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In less than two decades, Ethiopia has been catapulted from a famine and strife stricken country into an economic power house of the Horn. The stupendous accomplishments have been made feasible as a result of the presence of peace and stability supplemented by a strong and determined leadership prepared to go the extra mile. Of late, new breed of extremists have come to the forefront are jeopardising the socio-economic and political attainments that came about after years of dogged fortitude and hard work.

Ethiopian democracy and religious tolerance that existed for many generations are being gravely threatened by very vocal minority Islamists. They have come up with Awolia contrived flimsy raison d’être to oust a government that has been placed at the helm by the electorates. With the passage of time it is becoming clearer that this is simply a ploy and the real agenda of the Islamists is the back door introduction of Political Islam that has caused tremendous hardship, destruction, lawlessness and bloodshed in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. Other Islamic law adhering countries that are in similar predicaments include Afghanistan and Pakistan. In Algeria, the Islamic Salvation Front fought with the government from 1991 until 2002 resulting in the demise of over 200,000 people. America’s reluctance to intervene in Syria by and large is due to fear of a takeover by foreign and indigenous Islamists that are lurking in the background.

The current constitution of Ethiopia doesn’t permit religious based politics; hence the Islamists attempt to remove the government in order to re-write the FDRE constitution to their specifications. Fringe and unelectable political parties utterly desperate for power are joining the militants band wagon to help them make their dangerous grand plan a reality. Last week over a million people of all religious persuasions took to the streets of the metropolis and strongly expressed their opposition to a grossly repressive and alien concept that the Islamists have been striving to shove down their throats. The messages that reverberated during last Sunday’s huge gatherings were laud and clear----- no room for Egyptian Brotherhood type of politics in modern Ethiopia.

The peaceful demonstrators further dispatched clear and unequivocal messages to the so called opposition parties not mix religion with politics. Semayawi Party which is allegedly financed by G-7 is regularly out on the streets making noises together with the   flag burning Islamist militants. Money is no object thanks to the Eritrean President who is funding G-7 to the tune of millions of dollars. In appreciation, the Secretary General of G-7, Andargachew Tsege, went on ESAT TV to speak very highly of his sponsor for wearing sandals and driving around Asmara looking for booze house without security escorts. Andargachew went on to say that, unlike Ethiopia, Eritrea does not receive foreign aid ignoring the fact that the dictator received 122,000,000 Euros from the EU’s Aid Fund between 2009-2013 to ameliorate food insecurity and prevent famine.

Glorifying a despot that rules a failed state with an iron fist and shows scant respect for human rights is beyond comprehension. This grotesque deed clearly exposes the level to which G-7 has sunk. The defenders of ‘justice’ and ‘democracy’ are now openly and unashamedly admiring a ruthless tyrant strongly opposed to plurality and has caused the exodus of hundreds and thousands of his own people to Ethiopia and Sudan. Over a decade ago, Andargachew’s pay master locked up his closest comrades (G-11), who fought for Eritrean independence for 30 years, in containers for demanding elections and the implementation of the constitution that was prepared by a commission led by Bereket H Selassie. These poor souls are chained day and night and have never been tried in a court of law. Some have committed suicide and the rest are destined to die in prison as they are unlikely to be set free by the man Andargachew is lionising.

How is it possible that an autocrat who is under strict instructions from Egypt to destroy Ethiopia could be adored by G-7 in such a manner?  Is Egypt not preventing us from harnessing the Nile River to combat abject poverty?  How did G-7 end up in this sort of pickle?

The terrorist organisation was established by Andargachew and Dr Berhanu in 2008. And after all these years, it has not managed to build a significant following among Ethiopian’s at home and in the Diaspora. Its leaders also exceedingly endeavoured to garner support from the international community but to no avail. The European Parliament MP, Anna Gomez, did her level best but miserably failed to secure European recognition for the terror outfit by besmirching the good name of Ethiopia. It is hardly surprising that Dr Berhanu and Andargahew have finished up as the collies of the ostracised Eritrean dictator who is intensely disliked by his own people for making their lives unbearable. G-7 has undoubtly reached a phase where it is no longer a political party but a business enterprise that is being used to fill up the coffers of the two leading personalities with Esayass’ dollars that he received from his masters.         

Now let us revert to the main theme of this article which is the conquest of famine and leave the worthless and marginalised opposition to one side to venerate the tin-pot dictator. Ethiopians   are now able to walk with their heads held high and feel no more shame and humiliation which was the case when their country was regularly afflicted by devastating famines. No more Live Aid or Band Aid; no more newspaper appeals or street collections, and no more harrowing pictures of Ethiopian children on global TV boxes. Ethiopia has moved on from these disgraceful and distressing episodes and the impressive achievements of the last two decades have completely altered the image of the country. This is down to the perseverance and sheer hard work of our leaders for which we are eternally grateful.

The current agenda is: construction of mega dams; sustaining double-digit economic growth; swelling food production by extensive use of irrigations; increased availability of higher education institutions to combat poverty and boost prosperity; introduction of rail transport ; expansion of mobile usages and electronic communications; industrialisation; consolidation of democracy and the rule of law; rural electrifications; development of massive infrastructures; building large numbers of affordable homes, and assigning Health Extension workers to substantially dent mother’s death during child birth and under five mortality rate to name but a few.  Famine has been made history by the EPRDF government, and what we expect next is a lofty future agenda that would place the country among the principal economies of the African continent.

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