Famine & Foreigners: Ethiopia & The Ravages Of Political Statecraft

Norman Borlaug won the Nobel Prize in his expertise in the biochemistry of farm grains, this prevented the growth of destructive fungi and other organisms that destroy grains and plants thus engendering the likelihood of famine.  But Dr. Borlaug was sufficiently formidable enough to acknowledge that even biochemists have limits in acknowledging Amartya Sen’s dictum that famines don’t happen in democracies, only under tyrannies.  This ought to help us understand both the naivete of musicians, NGO’s, celebrities and humanitarians, all who staged aid to Ethiopia and in so doing worsened a nation and culture.

Peter Gill has written ‘Famine & Foreigners:  Ethiopia Since Live Aid’, published by Oxford 2010.  Gill sums up his book like this:  Ethiopian struggles with famine over the past 30 years is simple to understand:  its not the rains, its the rulers!  His book explains how this dictum is true through examining the political train wreck that becomes of non-representative autocratic regimes.

‘The Derg’ is the name of the brutal Marxist junta that ran Ethiopia contributing to the memorable 1984 famine by forcing farmers to sell crops to the state at low prices.  The autocratic militant regime of ‘Derg’ then began a military campaign against the northern region of Tigrayan, targeting food production and trade.  This along with forced resettlement in the southern lowlands in an effort to undermine recruiting efforts of Tigrayan rebels brought about the disaster that became Ethiopia 1984.

An Ethiopian expert named Alex de Waal has written extensively on how both forced resettlement and the militant targeting of food production created an unfathomable crisis of famine.  All of it politically motivated.

It continues today under Meles Zenawi, now ruler of Ethiopia and former Tigrayan rebel.  Because the government owns all the land, their is no incentive to prevent erosion or invest in soil fertility.

Any reading of Ethiopian history reveals the nexus of politics and aid at the core of Ethiopian famine.  Today, Ethiopia is considered a developmental state which requires strong authoritarian government to succeed in carrying out successful development.

Peter Gills book is a must read to understand how the media starving west contributes to Ethiopian famine by supporting either Marxian or authoritarian rule, confounding both famine and political progress.

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About William Holland

Systematic Theologian/International Relations
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