20 August 2004

Ethiopia: Why Ethiopians in the Diaspora Should Join the `Big Noise'


The global power landscape

The big powers like the US are "ruling" the world through different mechanisms of global organizations such as the World Bank, IMF, and recently WTO (World Trade Organization) that, more often than not, serve their purposes. Besides, their governments are so short-sighted that they tend to see as far only as the next election.

Big multinational corporations that support, financially or otherwise, the survival of these governments are having unprecedented influence on the world through their invisible hands.

In contrast to the group of countries now known as G-8, the so-called G-77 countries have been weakened since the 1990s after the break-up of the Soviet Union, an event that rendered the precursor of the G-77, namely the group of the Non-aligned countries, toothless. Since then there was no significant resisting voice to whatever the countries in the North (G-8 and their likes) do to manipulate the global economy and politics that leaves the countries in the South (the G-77 and their likes) at severe disadvantage while guaranteeing the long-term interest of the few countries in the North.

While it is a welcome news that the G-77 countries recently were trying to re-organise themselves towards a consolidated voice, of paramount importance is the emergence of activists of North origin that not only inform citizens of the their respective countries about the unfair play in the global economy and politics but also go as far as hindering meetings and summits that cruelly decide on the fate of the global poor.

According to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, activism, in a general sense, can be described as involvement in action to bring about change, be it social, political, environmental, or other change. This action is in support of or in opposition to one side of a controversial argument.

The big advantage of these activist groups is that their members have the power of voting to unseat parties from the government in their countries. Hence the governments in the North are supposed to listen to such voices merely for the sake of keeping themselves in power.

It is then logically imperative for citizens of countries in the South, including Ethiopia, to join such North-born activists who are crying our cry.

The role of activists can be assumed by different forms of organizations and can employ different approaches. There are few NGOs that contribute towards inducing changes in different global and regional arena towards making the world a better world. Oxfam International as one of such NGOs is a confederation of twelve organizations working together in more than 80 countries to find lasting solutions to poverty, suffering and injustice.

The Oxfam Case

Oxfam has been organizing different campaigns, petitions etc that target different decision-makers of global significance such as the WTO as well as big multinational corporations.

In the context of Ethiopia, Oxfam's contribution was seen in the case of Nestlé, the largest food company in the world with headquarters in Vevey, Switzerland, where the company was founded. Tensions between the Ethiopian government and Nestlé were high last year following Nestlé's claim of $6m against Ethiopia for its long-standing property, a meat processing property that had been nationalized in 1975 by the then government in power. Oxfam then mobilised to great effect through its online e-mail campaigns. Nearly 50,000 e-mails were sent from different corners of the world and after just a week Nestlé was forced to climb down from its decision to claim $6m from the government of Ethiopia

Ethiopia versus the Big Noise

Despite the fact that Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee, home of Coffee Arabica plant, a species normally recognised for its high-quality beans and the womb of the recently found natural decaf coffee, international trade rules have left poor Ethiopian coffee farmers and their families in misery. Coffee prices are at a 30- year low, and this has resulted in a big disaster for more than a million Ethiopian smallholders who produce coffee for a living.

Ethiopia depends on revenues from coffee for a large part of its income. Fifty-four percent of the country's exports come from coffee, so the current coffee price crisis is having a catastrophic effect. Ethiopia's export revenues from coffee fell from $257 million in 2000 to $149 million in 2001 - a 42 percent reduction in just one year. This drop in income is almost twice the $58 million granted the country in debt reduction under a World Bank program for Highly Indebted Poor Countries. It is worth noting that this debt reduction has come after imposing all kinds of demands of restructuring the economy from which many households have suffered a long-term pain of economic problems.

In short, with it's around 43 percent of the population living on less than $1 a day and 85 percent of the population living in rural areas, coffee cultivation is essential for survival.

To this end, Oxfam's ongoing campaign called the Big Noise is of interest. The Big Noise is a petition representing the voices of millions of people who are calling for key decision-makers to make trade fair, including coffee market. The Big Noise campaign in Ethiopia, which is co-ordinated by Oxfam International, Panos and the Ethiopian Coffee Unions, is gathering support from all quarters. High profile people like Haile Gebrselassie and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, and other famous Ethiopians from all walks of life are joining up to the Big Noise campaign, calling for a better price for Ethiopia's coffee farmers. Coffee FC (Ethiopia Buna) football players, Coffee Sports, Club Volley Ball Team and some musicians have all announced their support for the Big Noise petition for fairer trade rules and action from international coffee companies to address the coffee crisis. Others include people like famous athletes Getie Wami and Birhane Adere. Names have also been collected at matches between Ethiopia Buna and Qidus Giorgis (Saint George), adding up to the number of signatories of the petition. Musician Teddy Mosisa has also contributed a song - 'Buna' - in the campaign's honor.

Considering the fact that the pendulum of the global politics is mainly swinging around one's lobbying capacity, it is the duty of all of us who do care about the suffering of farmers in Ethiopia to join Oxfam's Make Trade Fair online petition. As I type this sentence 5 447 433 people have signed the online petition including over 1 million in Ethiopia. Why don't you then join the Big Noise at <http://www.maketradefair.com/en/index.htm>?


- Most of the figures and information used in the article are taken from Oxfam International's website.

The author (http://www.ima.kth.se/personal/getachew/) is an Ethiopian who closely follows global political and economic developments from the perspective of Ethiopian Development with no link of whatsoever to Oxfam International.

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