Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Burning Splint: Horn of Africa: Will Famine in Ethiopia lead to a Regime Change?

Horn of Africa: Will Famine in Ethiopia lead to a Regime Change?

Ethiopian PM Meles Zenawi, his government has been implicted for holding aid from rebels and opposition areas.
The report of Ethiopian government under Meles Zenawi using aid as a weapon against opposition in the famine ravaging the Horn of Africa is worrying. This trend is compounded with mass detentions, widespread torture and extra judicial killings.
Sadly, this same scenario during famine in the country helped in toppling Haile Selassie and Mengistu in 1974 and 1991 respectively. The current famine affecting about 10 million people in the region and the worst in 60 years according to UN may cause a regime change.
BBC Newsnight report has uncovered the ruling party Ethiopia People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) as denying people deemed to have voted for the opposition in 2005 and 2010 elections food, fertilizer and seeds.
The report has been supported by earlier ones by Amnesty International and UN.
As a major western ally in counter terrorism, Ethiopian is among the largest recipient of aid in the continent explaining the laxity in upholding human rights record since the country is pivotal in controlling Somalia’s Al-shabaab rebels.
It is estimated that 13 million Ethiopians are dependent on aid making it a potent weapon of war.
“There is a great deal of political differentiation. People who support the ruling party, the EPRDF, and our members are treated differently. The motivation is buying support (by) holding the population hostage” Prof. Beyene Petros an opposition politician is quoted in the report.
Southern Ethiopia is worst hit like areas controlled by Somalia tribe Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) where about 200 people throng to Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya daily.
Considering the country’s history of regime change in famine will the ripple in Ethiopia tickle in other countries of the Horn of Africa?
The 1973 famine that claimed tens-of-thousands peasant became the last straw that broke Emperor Selassie by coalescing disparate rebels and elites against his monarchy. The rebels included Ogaden, Oromo and Eritrea.
Then, like now, the government insisted it could feed the population to avoid shame in international community. When he was toppled and killed by Mengistu in 1975, a British movieThe Hidden Famine was aired on state television showing the Emperor and his entourage feasting on champagne, caviar and feeding dogs from silver trays while the famine killed people. (I posted Selassie's life here)
Later, in a sharp precision the ghost of 1984 famine would topple Mengistu in 1991 undermined by support gained from Soviet bloc and Cuba in quashing rebellion. To avoid international condemnation and shame the government banned donors, journalist and foreign visitors from famine areas.
Aid was used as a weapon in war, to fund the army and in celebration of Mengistu decade rule. (Mengistu's rule is here )
“There was famine in Ethiopia for years before we took power, it was the way nature kept the balnce” Mengistu is quoted by Dawit Wolde Giorgis his minister in Red Tears: War, Famine and Revolution in Ethiopia (Red Sea Press: 1989)
The world was only jolted into reality when Kenya photojournalist Mohammed Amin and Michael Burke from sidelines of Mengistu celebrations on 23rd October 1984 broadcasted the famine for BBC which was aired on 425 TVs worldwide and aid in rising over $1 billion in a year. (Read about Amin's life here)
A famine victim in Dadaab Kenya
This revelation never made Ethiopia to relent on her stance which brought together Tigray rebels (now in power), Eritera and Ogaden in a major offensive that toppled the government.
Now Zenawi is in power supported by aid from the West which he uses against opposition and rebels. Zenawi is reading from the same script as its predecessors and expects peace and unity.
The famine across the Horn of Africa is causing mass movements, conflict and little faith on governments. The big question now is: how long will foreign aid be used as a weapon in Ethiopia before a war against the regime erupts?

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