19 December 2002

Ethiopia, Africa's Pride Not Disgrace

Drive out prejudices through the doors, and they will return through the window - Frederick the Great.

On November 28, 2002, the Daily Trust published Idang Alibi's article entitled, 'Ethiopia, an embarrassment to Africa' in which Mr. Alibi asserts that Ethiopia is only known for its 'war and hunger'. There are, however, several other qualities that come into our consciousness of Ethiopia. Any ordinary person in any part of the world very well knows Ethiopia's world-known runners. Peoples of all races on our planet also know Ethiopia as the only 'uncolonised' African state. Ethiopia is also home for both Christian and Islamic civilizations. Ethiopia is ubiquitously mentioned in the Bible. All in all, Ethiopia is known to the world by the fact that it is a nation that produces heroes of athletics, owns one of the oldest African civilisations, succeeded with uninterrupted sovereign statehood and co-founder of the League of Nations as well as the Organisation of African Unity. Modern Ethiopia has also now emerged as a 'peace maker' of its sub- region.

Ethiopia cannot, therefore, be taken as a burden of Africa but is rather widely perceived as Africa's primary source of pride. That is why former South African President Nelson Mandela said: "Ethiopia always has a special place in my imagination and the prospect of visiting Ethiopia attracted me more strongly than a trip to France, England and America combined. I felt I would be visiting my own genesis, unearthing the roots of what made me an African. Alibi, however, singled out one straw of phenomenal nature that suits the goal he may have set out for - injuring Ethiopia. The weapon Alibi has used, hunger, is not new either to Ethiopia or to Africa. What seems strange is the strong intention in subtly using hunger as a weapon against the victim - Ethiopia.

This article is not, therefore, a full-length analysis of Ethiopia's prestigious position in Africa but a response to Alibi who vainly depicted Ethiopia as an encumbrance to Africa.

Indeed, Alibi's ideas are at best only conjectures intended to denigrate the reputation of Ethiopia. Most of it is however misleading at best and incorrect at worst. For instance, Alibi's statement that Ethiopia needs food for its over 50 million hungry souls is absolutely erroneous. Food is available in many areas of Ethiopia's agricultural heartland and acutely in shortage in some other parts and for that reason the ensuing drought is not an all-embracing phenomenon. While 15 million are exposed to hunger, the rest of the population is relatively well-fed.

Mr. Alibi conceded that Ethiopia is in peace within itself and with Eritrea but completely failed to pinpoint why this was so. He could not unearth the relevance of the 'peace' which Ethiopia has achieved to its development either. 'Peace' was not a free gift Ethiopia received from without but a precious asset that was dearly paid for and achieved by the peoples of Ethiopia guided by its leadership. There is a link between the achievement earned and the vision of the leadership. It can be stated that the foresight in values, issues, and objectives such as peace and deve-lopment gauge the vision of the actors in question. A former US president said in this regard that "to grasp and hold a vision that is the very essence of successful leadership - not only on the movie set where I learnt, but every-where". Why should Mr Alibi then crudely dilute the statesmanship of the Ethiopian leadership for a cause (hunger) whose roots need to be reasoned rather than proclaimed?

Drought has, in fact, ensued as a result of rain failure in some parts of Ethiopia. Alibi has however preferred sensationalising the event to writing a real record of what is happening. Essentially, weather, not the leadership, has caused the drought to alight on Ethiopia. Rain has always been erratic in Ethiopia causing frequent droughts. Indeed, the rain-fed economy would naturally be sensitive to such occurrences so long as agriculture does remain as the country's mainstay. In order to effectively breach the swords of such frequently occurring drought that increasingly expose the country to the full force of disaster, the Ethiopian government has delineated its linkages with the country's agriculture, environment and poverty.

Ethiopia's food production growth naturally comes from higher produc-tivity. Increase of its crop production will come from high yields, extensive and intensive farming. The government's investment and extension strategy is fully in gear to modernise the sector by creating favourable conditions for farming revolution and then introduce sustainable agriculture. As a political basis for this, it has done away with the system of land tenure and created a secure farming base by discharging the peasantry from a feudal chain so as be able to produce its own food security. As a result, Ethiopia was once declared a food exporter by the Atlanta-based Carter Centre. A vision was behind all these trends but Mr. Alibi was either unwilling to accept or unable to see it.

Ethiopia's food exporting status was, however, short-lived. In lieu of sustainable food security, continuous hunger stalked the country .There is a solid reason why this so happens. A comparison of two completely different countries (Ethiopia and the USA for instance) can explain the situation. As an effect of rain failure drought may likely reign anywhere for any nation, including even the mightiest nation on earth (the USA), cannot be immune to rain failure. But, while American farmers do not starve, the Ethiopians do because of the prosperity and poverty situation in both counties respectively.

While the Americans have striven in putting nature in harness, Ethiopians are indeed far behind and largely remain vulnerable to the environment. The fact that environment, poverty and drought are all interlocking is well understood. Environmental crisis in Ethiopia has ascended over the decades making Ethiopia take the full brunt of drought that followed. The deterioration of the environment has but deepened the level of poverty. The Ethiopian government is poised at reforming its agricultural system, protecting and rehabilitating the environment so the peasantry will not primarily be driven to abysmal poverty and at best attain prosperity.

Indeed, the development agenda of Ethiopia operates under the context of real internal-external constraints. The actualisation of the agenda requires the use of human and technological resource coupled with the exploitation of other vital resources such as water. While modern biotechnology and environ-mental rehabilitation are set to offer promises as a means of improving Ethiopia's food security, irrigation is strategically crucial to the country's reliable and sustainable food self-sufficiency.

Water is in fact ubiquitous in Ethiopia. In this regard, Mr. Alibi's statement that Ethiopia's modern rulers want the world to believe that Ethiopia is barren is bizarre. They do not. On the contrary, they believe that Ethiopia is endowed with abundant resources. Ethiopia's standing as 'Africa's water tower' therefore indicates the country's huge potential for irrigation. This gives good reason to believe that Ethiopia as a major source of the mighty Nile deserves, alongside the riparian states, to be mighty where at that juncture the talk of the day would be Ethiopia's affluence, not of drought.

To that effect, the Ethiopian government has set out strategies for regeneration of the country and carries out measures aimed at transforming Ethiopia all the way round to effectively curb the root causes of hunger. This takes longer, allowing drought to be an intervening snare. This is the reason for the current tragic drought and cannot be taken as the making of the leadership.

Mr. Alibi has also made mention of the 'aid syndrome'. He seems to believe that Africans are infinitely set for receiving charity. Ethiopia does not, however, take aid as a factor to reckon with. Rather, Ethiopia aims at gradually but surely reducing 'imported dependency' and finally declaring, as did Israel some years ago, that she does not need aid. But to do away with aid you first need aid of a special crop. In this regard the Ethiopian premier some time ago conveyed to the American authorities a message of paramount importance: the quest for a 'Marshal plan' to Africa. His articulation demonstrated his vision which was acclaimed and acknowledged. American policy makers were receptive of his roadmap for Ethiopia and Africa and he must have been heard by Washington. The idea he coined seems to have gradually gained steam and would be of value in changing the skewed North-South relationship.

I should but only concede to Alibi's view of South-North economic relations. The causes of development and underdevelopment explain the 'wealth transfer' between these poles and to tip the fulcrum up into Africa requires broader awareness. NEPAD is the outcome of such awareness and Ethiopia is not only on board but is indeed one of those who are making 'credible com-mitment' for such 'awakening and consciousness' to take root. This is one indicator of Ethiopian vision which Mr. Alibi could not understand.

In cruel irony, Alibi pretended that he wrote his article out of pure concern for Ethiopians but advised his readers not to send food, clothes or money to Ethiopia. He has, nonetheless, put the "sharpest" knife at the throat of the anguished and as such his ill advice has to be tantamount to sentencing those millions who are at the mercy of the scourge of drought. That does not however hold water in dissuading people of reason and cannot thus disarm the call on human compassion and moral imperative of assuaging the horrific drought.

All in all, Alibi's article confuses readers instead of enlightening, lacks perspective, thought and moral weight. It is likely that Alibi's story is 'planted' by those who are envious of Ethiopia's success in setting the direction for peace, development and democracy aright, the performance of which would eventually solidify its pride. Why then should an Ethiopian ambassador who is to protect and promote Ethiopian national interest be convinced that an article that is shallow in thought and weightless be sent to his government? I for one will rather advise him to put it in his dustbin. Thoughtful materials are, however, more than welcome.

Mr. Tsebaye is of 19 Ona Crescent, off Lake Chad Crescent, Maitama, Abuja.

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