Jun
30

The Challenges of Drought

Ethiopia and its people struggle with food insecurity and recurring drought. What are the pathways to overcome these challenges? Access to land, the establishment of justice, the creation of cooperatives, agricultural input distribution, farmer training, environmental rehabilitation, irrigation infrastructure, building institutional capacity, creating effective governmental structures. These are components of the narrative we hear in 2019. One might think that over the decades we have used evidence to arrive at the right decisions. Interestingly, this list of actions for the pathway forward were penned in 1985 by the military government, as outlined in "The Challenges of Drought: Ethiopia's Decade of Struggle in Relief and Rehabilitation" (1985) published by the Relief & Rehabilitation Commission (a governmental agency). In addition to raising many questions about the potential impact of implementing the same policies and initiatives more than three decades later, the book also is a unique source of information on the 1972-74 famine and the responses the military government (largely known as the Derg) took from 1975 to 1985.

Some interesting reflections:

Little seems to have changed in some regards, in what could be the preamble to an NGO proposal today, the RRC states: "Having done so much to rescue so many people from starvation and death, the international community would be taking a logical step forward if it now helped to provide those inputs that are needed to bring an end to dependence on foreign assistance. There is at present a very good opportunity to enable people in the drought-prone areas to break out of their cycle of dependence and to start leading self-sufficient productive lives." (p. 13-14)

Similarly, the heavy-handed state action, often imposing on its people: "In February 1985 a law was enacted whereby all nationals will contribute one month's wages out of their annual earnings to help the victims of famine." (p. 14). So-called "voluntary" contributions were also done in recent years to help pay for the cost of building what could be Africa's largest hydroelectric dam.

A similar situation would result in the downfall of the government that made this claim: "Historians of the future may well see the drought of 1972-74 as the sorrowful setting from which a new society began to emerge. That drought was the catalyst that crystalized a nationwide anger, a defiant feeling that enough was enough, that henceforth the people's own needs would decide the framework for economic development. This anger also revealed that the subjective conditions were at last present for a modern society. By welcoming the overthrow of the self-seeking monarchy, the people at large had given their consent for the restructuring of social relations along more liberal and productive lines." (p. 106)

Yet another recurring theme: "There is no pleasure to be derived from pointing out that, despite the rigours of the drought, Ethiopia's poverty has much to do with this negative attitude of Western governments. The economic pressures that bear down on our export earnings and thus reduce the agricultural inputs we can buy abroad; the deteriorating terms of trade that decrease the purchasing power of our commodities; the protectionism that makes it difficult to get our produce on to the markets; and the interest payments on our foreign debt that leave us less foreign exchange with which to modernize our agriculture – these are destructive forces beyond our control but which the international community certainly could alter in our interests if it so desired. In this sense, Ethiopia's predicament is in part the direct result of the unfair nature of relations between the industrialized world and the developing countries." (p. 228) 

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Sep
18

Ethiopia: Victorious Struggle Against Fascism

The Derg / military government era of Ethiopia (1974-1991) is often glossed over as a terrible period, epitomized by the 'red terror' that rooted out any opposition and eliminated it. As a result, while there is much documentation on the atrocities, less is known about the rest of the social, political, ideological and legal aspects. Particularly, the insider view that analyzes why the Derg did what it did. 

This booklet, of 55 pages, presents the Italian occupation, what preceded it and what followed. "Ethiopia: Victorious Struggle Against Fascism" presents an internal view. It is a presentation of an Ethiopia aligned with the Soviet Union, struggling for alignment with socialist ideal, and battling against fascism, imperialism and the failures of capitalism. It also comes along with 20 pages of photos, some quite graphic (including an Italian holding up the head of a decapitated Ethiopian). 

I shared an earlier government-produced document, published by the Ministry of Information. This is a similar document, but is without a listed author. It appears to be the Ministry of Information. There is also no date, but my copy is stamped with "May, 1985". Documents such as these would prove useful for a historical study, and hope to make them available in full in the near future.

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Jul
19

Power tends to corrupt...

Fiction (1945):

  • "...out from the door of the farmhouse came a long file of pigs, all walking on their hind legs...out came Napoleon himself, majestically upright, casting haughty glances from side to side, and with his dogs gambolling round him. He carried a whip in his trotter. There was a deadly silence. Amazed, terrified, huddling together, the animals watched the long line of pigs march slowly round the yard. It was as though the world had turned upside-down." (George Orwell, Animal Farm)

History (1988):

  • "At the beginning of the Revolution all of us had utterly rejected anything to do with the past. We would no longer drive cars, or wear suits; neckties were considered criminal. Anything that made you look well-off or bourgeois, anything that smacked of affluence or sophistication, we scorned as part of the old order. Then, around 1978, all that began to change. Designer clothes from the best European tailors were the uniform of all senior government officials and members of the Military Council. We had the best of everything: the best homes, the best cars, the best whiskey, champagne, food. It was a complete reversal of the ideals of the Revolution." (Dawit Wolde Girgos, Red Tears)

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