Lessons from the Ethiopian famine 32 years ago – By Michael Abraha
Lessons from the Ethiopian famine 32 years ago. By Michael Abraha Estimated thousands of of people began starving to death everyday by 1983 in the hidden famine in Ethiopia under Mengistu's rule mainly caused by war and
Lessons from the Ethiopian famine 32 years ago.
By Michael Abraha
Estimated thousands of of people began starving to death everyday by 1983 in the hidden famine in Ethiopia under Mengistu’s rule mainly caused by war and drought. The Communist regime was then busy preparing to celebrate its 10th anniversary in 1984. In a circular to media workers including myself, the regime had ordered a news blackout on the mass starvation until after the communist festivities. Most of the places affected were the northern provinces including parts of Shoa, Wollo and Tigray.
US NGO Catholic Relief Service knew of most disturbing news reaching Addis Ababa about emaciated women and children who were being prevented from entering the capital in search of food. As journalist, CRS approached me to write a field report on the disaster in Qorem, Wollo, one of those designated as off-limits to local or foreign reporters. CRS hoped I could sneak into Qorem – take photos and talk to victims for the report. This simply out of the question. I wrote a lengthy report but I could not even include interviews I had in Addis with people who witnessed the disaster first hand.
But America and Europe had the means of knowing of the a looming mass starvation which the Ethiopian authorities were trying to conceal.
US President Reagan naturally had no interest in the Soviet supported Communist regime in Addis Ababa and he condemned it for neglecting its own people. Bad of course the suffering millions knew nothing of Cold war politics.
Soon it became too hard for the regime to continue hiding the crisis and towards the end of 2004 it allowed a BBC-TV team to have access to the victims and report on the famine. Billions of people around the wold watched starving men, women and children on their TV screens. Within days, Reagan ordered the shipment on US military aircraft of tens of millions of emergency food aid and medicines. For some, the help came a title late where no amount of assistance would save them. Still, the US intervention saved millions of lives. The US government paid for the food, for its transportation until it reached the individual beneficiary.
As I recall, the USSR offered to send 30,000 metric tonnes of rice provided the Ethiopian regime paid for the transportation to its destination, a cost which was higher than the price of the food pledged. Mengistu rejected the offer. It signaled the beginning of an end in relations between Ethiopia and the USSR.
I soon decided to suspend my journalistic work and joined CRS full-time as Director for public information. One of my tasks was to count the number of dead bodies everyday in feeding and medical treatment camps in Mekele and Qorem. The information was part of data collected in preparing appeals for additional foreign help.
Then in 1984/85, we had the phenomenal charity concerts by US and British artists – including the “We Are The People” and “Do They Know It IS Christmas” performances. They raised over 100-million US dollars.
Any government that hides information of mass starvation or malnutrition or fails to ensure food security for its people should be kicked out of office by all means possible.