Dictatorship and the Famine Industry

By Alem Mammo

Displaying his trademark diatribe/rant, Meles Zenawi recently accused international aid agencies of inflating the number of famine stricken citizens in Ethiopia. The reason why aid agencies exaggerate the numbers, according to Mr. Zenawi, is the following: “It is a huge industry, and this industry are actors who have their own views on this condition. They sell food aid because they can sell it above the market price. They get some rent for it,” he said. “It is to their benefit and their advantage. They are selling their food where food is scarce. The same with those who are transporting food in their ships. And those truckers who get it from the ports to the consumer areas. People take quite a chunk of the benefits from this.”1 —— Meles Zenawi

It sounds like Déjà vu, doesn’t it? We wouldn’t have thought that Meles Zenawi would be echoing the exact same accusation levelled by Mengistu Hailemariam against international aid agencies and donor countries. In his Memoir Red Tears, Dawit Woldegiorgis, head of Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (RCC) under Mengistu Hailemariam, discusses his conversation with Mengistu. Upon returning from a foreign trip appealing for food aid, Dawit was subpoenaed to Mengistu’s office and he describes Mengistu’s reaction to Dawit’s effort in convincing aid agencies about the impending famine and it’s magnitude. “…. The imperialist elements would do everything possible to thwart our efforts, to embarrass us, to destroy the gains of the revolution, one way of trying to embarrass us, he said, was by exploiting the drought….” 2 ——— Mengistu Hailemariam

Ironic, is it not? Almost 25 years ago one of the most ruthless tyrants of our time accused the donor countries and international aid agencies for fabricating and inflating famine. Today it appears Meles Zenawi is almost quoting Mengistu Hailemariam (without crediting him). Dictators, regardless or which time period they are in or what cultural context they come from, almost always behave the same way.

The statement of accusation presented by Mr. Zenawi is almost comical. I say this because I find it astonishingly dishonest and hypocritical to accuse international aid agencies of benefiting from the misfortunes of starving men, women and children when your political and business empire is built on the famine industry.

There seems to be a need to refresh the collective memory, and in particular that of Mr. Zenawi, as it appears that he is having difficulty remembering his own identity and past actions. It was the 1984 famine, and Mr. Zenawi was one of the senior leaders of Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). It was there in the guerrilla camps that he mastered the art of inflating famine and exploiting the suffering of the people so that he could win the sympathy and support of international donors and aid agencies. Perhaps, Mr. Zenawi remembers someone by the name of Gebremedhin Araya. He was a member of TPLF’s and the head of finance. Since leaving the organization, Gebremedhin has exposed the inner workings of TPLF and how Zenawi and his inner circle profited from the famine business.

When Mr. Zenawi accuses the international aid agencies of creating the food aid industry, does he consider providing the names of their local partners in Ethiopia? For example, Endowment Fund For the Rehabilitation of Tigray (EFFORT)? The Trucking companies in Ethiopia run by people he might know? Just curious!

Isn’t this thing that Zenawi calls the ‘food aid industry’ the very foundation of one of his own biggest business conglomerates (EFFORT). Furthermore, isn’t it because of his ability to fabricate, exaggerate and manipulate famine that he is in power today? Is this an attempt by Zenawi to play the guardian of moral values and ethics?

Now, this kind of hypocrisy and utter lies are at best not going to impress anyone, both in Ethiopia and within the international community. We all know famine is TPLF’s political and economic capital and the aid agencies accused of creating ‘food aid industry’ have partners in Ethiopia and we would like to know who they are. How about if we start with EFFORT? For 18 years Zenawi has lied to the Ethiopian people and deceived the international community in these dying days his rule. I urge him to change his pattern of deception and lies. Remember, there is a saying that when you point a finger in blame at another person, you have three fingers pointing back at yourself.



The writer could be reached at alem671@hotmail.com.

1 http://www.voanews.com/english/2009-10-11-voa12.cfm.

2 Woldegiorgis, Dawit. Red Tears: War, Famine and Revolution in Ethiopia, Red Sea Press, Trenton, 1989.

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