ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia–Right after the visit by Barack Obama, the President of the United States, the familiar images of the 80s Ethiopia started emerging from the caves of the web sphere. The American president hailed the “growing” economy. He praised the “democratically elected” government. What he could not see was happening only 240 miles from where he was watching the well-nourished professional dancers. In Afar Region, in the northeastern part of Ethiopia, the only available food was for the vultures, per social media reports and eye-witness accounts. The livestock on which the people depended turned into carcasses for the birds. The drought also affected other areas in the southern parts of Ethiopia.
Ethiopia and hunger have been interchangeably used in informal conversations in the West. The adjective “Ethiopian” is butt of every joke pertaining to starvation and fly-infested children. If anything “positive,” it would be the occasional reference to Hailesellasie, in part thanks to the Jamaicans.
NBC Nightly News' report from southern Ethiopia, you would see children wailing when placed in a swing weighing scale. Their bellies are distended—a sign of malnutrition where fluid is collected in the sac lining their abdominal organs. Flies stormed their faces. Clingy mothers hugged their children as if the tight grip will save them. They were in a queue for the monthly ration they receive. It is a gut wrenching scene to watch. One may assume the man explaining the situation to the media faced the same fate by looking at his ballooned belly. Not quite. That’s the result of overeating.
The report goes to prove one thing. The “fifth-fastest” growing economy is not for everyone. In fact, it is for a select few; the connected, handpicked from one region, and moved to the capital and other fertile lands. It is for the ones who accumulated the wealth that accounted for over 10% GDP growth. They are mostly members of the ruling party. They are the ones who often win public auctions and contracts. They are the ones who own the tall buildings in Addis Ababa. They are the ones who wore bow ties to the state dinner for President Barack Obama. They are the ones who danced the night away.
United Nations estimated over 10 million Ethiopians are in need of emergency food aid. Ethiopian government disputes that number as if that would lessen the humiliation of declaring prosperity one day and begging for food the next day. The Ethiopian government pointed to the cyclic drought, which often hits the affected areas, with insufficient explanation for lack of preparation.
Wondimu Filate, spokesperson for Ministry of Agriculture of Ethiopia told the Associated Press, “the government has enough food stock and it is assisting farmers to continue the farming practices with improved seed items and drought-resistant crops.” Redwan Hussein, minister of Ethiopia’s communications affairs blamed the affected regions’ governments in an interview with Fana Broadcasting Corporation saying the regions were not well prepared even though insufficient rainfall was forecasted. He also offered reassurances regarding the public concern about a hike in food prices saying there are chances for replacing the deficits without further explanation.
Ethiopian government spokesperson did not respond to a request for clarification on how the “fifth-fastest” growing economy failed to feed its own people.
As originally published on Sept. 4, 2015.