Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ethiopia Makes Appeal For Emergency Aid Amid Drought

Ethiopia Makes Appeal for Emergency Aid Amid Drought

U.S.-backed regime faces worsening crisis ahead of 2010 elections

by Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
News Analysis

After months of food deficits, deepening political problems domestically and regionally, within the broader context of the world economic crisis, the Ethiopian government has made a request to aid agencies and foreign states for $175 million in assistance to address the pressing needs of 6.2 million people living in the country. The Horn of Africa nation of 83 million has experienced drought for several years along with other countries in the region such as Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Djibouti.

This crisis in Ethiopia comes at a time when the United States-backed government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is making preparations for the upcoming 2010 elections. The government has also been involved in military operations in neighboring Somalia where it invaded during late 2006 and remained until January 2009.

Recent reports indicate that the Ethiopian military is carrying out periodic incursions into central Somalia in response to advances by the Islamic resistance movements which control large areas of the country. In recent months the lack of economic resources being allocated to domestic expenditures has created a grave humanitarian crisis that could threaten famine.

Ethiopia’s State Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, Mitiku Kassa, said recently that “As a result, the number of people needing emergency assistance during the period Oct-Dec. 2009 has increased to 6.2 million from 4.9 million at the beginning of the year.” (Reuters, October 22) The official indicated that the request included nearly 160,000 tons of food in addition to nonfood assistance such as health and sanitation supplies as well as support for agricultural and livestock production.

A spokesman for the international aid agency Oxfam, Paul Smith-Lomas, said that “This is the worst drought in 10 years. This is a bad year within a number of bad years.”

A report on the Ethiopian situation in the Wall Street Journal stated that “Most aid is expected to come from Washington, according to U.S. and Ethiopian officials. The U.S. represents between 70% and 80% of all food aid to the country, which was an ally in the previous U.S. administration’s war on terror and its efforts to stabilize neighboring Somalia.” (WSJ, October 23)

The U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia has been engaged in discussions with the government around the type and volume of assistance. Embassy spokesman Michael Gonzales said in response to the Ethiopian appeal for aid that “We perceive that as a request to the U.S. government.” (WSJ, October 23)

Gonzales claimed that the first shipment of food was already en route to Ethiopia and would arrive within weeks. The U.S. Embassy spokesman declined to give specific figures related to the assistance but stated that the actual numbers would be released very soon.

In addition to increased assistance from the Obama administration, the World Bank, which is headquartered in Washington, D.C., announced on October 24 that it is proving grants totaling $480 million to the Ethiopian government.

“The board of directors approved US$350 million grant and a US$130 million credit to Ethiopia to support an innovative program that is keeping millions of families out of extreme poverty and helping them to achieve food security,” the World Bank said in a statement.

Crisis Must Be Viewed Within Regional and Global Context

The current situation in Ethiopia must be viewed within the broader regional political and social dilemma facing Africa and the overall world economic crisis that has thrust hundreds of millions of people further into poverty and uncertainty. With specific reference to Ethiopia, its close relationship with successive U.S. administrations has served to place the country as a military outpost for imperialism in the Horn of Africa.

In the aftermath of the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in December 2006, the country and region was driven into a worsening humanitarian disaster. Over four million people have been displaced inside and outside of Somalia. In the breakaway autonomous Republic of Somaliland, there is an ever rising tide of immigrants fleeing the fighting inside both Somalia and Ethiopia.

In a recent report published by the Inter-regional Information Network (IRIN), “Immigration officials in the self-declared republic of Somaliland have expressed concern over the increase in the number of illegal Ethiopian migrants entering the region, with claims of up to 90 people are arriving daily, against 50 in 2008.” (IRIN, October 23)

This article goes on to state that “An immigration official, who requested anonymity, said most of those arriving in Somaliland were asylum-seekers from the Oromiya region of Ethiopia. Others transit through Somaliland en route to the Arabian Peninsula.”

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that there are 1,600 Ethiopian refugees in Somaliland and some 14,000 asylum-seekers. A spokesman for the Horn of Africa Human Rights Organization, which is based in Hargeisa, Somaliland, said that: “UNHCR has granted refugee status to only 1,500, but it is estimated that there are thousands of Ethiopians in Somaliland.”

In addition to Somaliland, there are thousands of Ethiopians and Somalis who have fled to across the Red Sea to Yemen where many are subjected to forced labor and imprisonment. A recently issued press release from the Horn of Africa League for Human Rights (HRLHA) on October 20 claims that “Hundreds of Oromos and Somalis from Ethiopia and Somalia, who fled their respective countries due to political unrest, are currently facing very harsh situations, including forced labor and extrajudicial imprisonment in Yemen.”

A HRLHA representative in San’a, Yemen is quoted in the press release as saying “hundreds of Oromo and Somali refugees, who were apprehended at different times from different places in Yemen on various allegations, are currently being held in Jawazata prison.

“The HRLHA representative, who managed to talk to imprisoned refugees themselves and take the list of some of those refugees, has learnt that the Oromo refugees, in particular, were arrested from around the UNHCR office in San’a, where they usually spent their day times in order to hear or see if there were any changes to their asylum cases. The allegation was that they protested against attempts of deportation by the Yemeni government, as their cases of asylum claims and re-settlement in a third country were pending.” (HRLHA Press Release, No. 20, October 20, 2009)

At the same time, neighboring Djibouti has a U.S. military base which serves as the launching pad for the so-called “war on terrorism” in the Horn of Africa. The government in Djibouti has targeted the small Red Sea nation of Eritrea by accusing the country of training resistance movements throughout the region.

Djibouti, a former French colony, also hosts France’s largest military base on the African continent. The country of only 800,000 people is the main route to the sea for the landlocked nation of Ethiopia.

The port in Djibouti is utilized by many foreign naval vessels which travel the Gulf of Aden to purportedly fight piracy in the region. The foreign minister repeated claims that Eritrea is supporting al-Shabaab, one of the Islamic resistance movements fighting the U.S.-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) based in Mogadishu, Somalia. The U.S. government alleges that al-Shabaab and the Hizbul Islam organizations fighting the TFG are affiliated with al-Qaeda.

Djibouti Foreign Minister Mahmoud Ali Youssef told journalists in Cairo recently after talks with Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa that “Eritrea is exporting chaos. Exporting chaos has become routine in Eritrea . They have started training militias and arming them to carry out sabotage in Djibouti, just as they support elements in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia.” (Reuters, October 25)

Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki denied that his government was supporting resistance groups in Somalia and Ethiopia. Isaias charged that the internal problems in Somalia derive from the interference of neighboring Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya, all of which are heavily backed by the United States.

According to Reuters, “The U.N. Security Council, the African Union and Washington have all warned Asmara (Eritrea’s capital) against destabilizing Somalia, and a move to impose sanctions has gathered speed, with Britain joining a chorus of states willing to punish Eritrea.” (Reuters, October 25)

Finding Long Term Solutions to the Food Deficits

Even though the United States government has pledged to provide the overwhelming majority of assistance to Ethiopia in the current period, aid organizations have begun to question the policy of responding to crisis situations without addressing the underlying causes of food deficits and famine.

Penny Lawrence, the Oxfam International Aid Director stated in a recent report that “We cannot make the rains come, but there is much more that we can do to break the cycle of drought-driven disaster in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa. Food aid offers temporary relief and has kept people alive in countless situations, but does not tackle the underlying causes that continue to make people vulnerable to disaster year after year.” (Band Aids and Beyond, October 22)

Another aid agency, ActionAid, also issued a report which dealt with the same problem of crisis-driven humanitarian assistance in Africa. The report entitled “Who’s Really Fighting Hunger,” questioned why over one billion people in the world today are hungry.

The report read in part that “Almost a third of the world’s children are growing up malnourished. This is perhaps one of the most shameful achievements of recent history, since there is no good reason for anyone to go hungry in today’s world.”

ActionAid continues in the report by saying “hunger begins with inequality—between men and women, and between rich and poor. It grows because of perverse policies that treat food purely as a commodity, not a right. It is because of these policies that most developing countries no longer grow enough to feed themselves, and that their farmers are among the hungriest and poorest people in the world. Meanwhile, the rich world battles obesity.”

Moreover, the nature of agricultural production and food distribution in developing countries must be examined in order to get a clearer picture of why these problems reoccur on a periodic basis.

As a result of the legacy of colonialism and neo-colonialism, agricultural production in many African countries is geared towards export to western industrialized states. The export of agricultural crops and raw materials to the industrialized and imperialist nations is the major source of foreign exchange or what is known as “hard currency.”

With the decline in commodity prices and the fluctuations in demand for exports, the developing states are dependent upon the economic conditions in the imperialist states and the terms of trade set by the international organizations that are dominated by the West. Consequently, since the advent of the economic crisis in the western industrialized states, the impact on developing countries has been quite severe as it relates to the decline in foreign exchange earnings as well as the overall gross domestic product.

Subsistence farming is also difficult for independent producers due to the lack of credit to acquire seeds, livestock and implements. When governments are being influenced by the economic interests and foreign policy imperatives of the imperialist states, it is almost impossible for them to focus on the concrete needs of their own people, particularly the workers and farmers.

In Ethiopia during 1973-74, famine struck large sections of the country. In February 1974, mass unrests developed in the capital of Addis Ababa and spread throughout the country. Workers and students engaged in general strikes and rebellions which eventually led to the overthrow of the monarchy of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie. The monarchy had been dominant in Ethiopia for centuries and its reign on power was swept away in a matter of months.

The country instituted massive and unprecedented land reform policies that empowered workers and farmers in the rural areas of the country. The mass struggles of the 1970s were led by various leftist parties and mass organizations. However, since there was no unified revolutionary front that could seize power in its own name, a provisional military council took control and instituted the socialist-oriented reforms.

When the Workers Party of Ethiopia was formed in mid-1980s, the country was engulfed with internal and regional conflicts. Changing policies within the Soviet Union, which had provided assistance to the Ethiopian revolution along with Cuba, hampered the ability of the country to maintain a foreign policy independent of the United States.

Drought and famine struck in 1984-85 and was utilized for propaganda purposes by the United States and British imperialists. The Soviet Union worked with the Ethiopian government at the time to re-locate thousands of people from drought affected areas to other regions of the country. Nonetheless, by the beginning of the 1990s, the Soviet Union was in decline and the Worker’s Party government collapsed in 1991.

Since the early 1990s, the Ethiopian government of Meles Zenawi has been closely allied with the United States and western imperialism. The federal government that is currently controlled by the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization and the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front presides over what Alemayehu G. Mariam described in a recent article as “an extensive security and media network entirely in its own interests. Ethiopia’s 2010 elections appear likely to be far from ‘free and fair.” (Pambazuka News, October 22)

The experience of the last two decades in Ethiopia illustrates the failure of capitalist agricultural policies which have not empowered the workers and farmers and have made the country even more dependent on assistance from U.S. imperialism. What is needed is a break with U.S. imperialist-controlled domestic and foreign policy and the creation of a government that is committed to the interests of the workers and farmers of Ethiopia and the development of fraternal relations with the peoples throughout the Horn of Africa region.

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