A Plan for Rescuing Starving Ethiopians

Report Middle East

A Plan for Rescuing Starving Ethiopians

December 27, 1984 16 min read Download Report
Edwin J. Feulner
Founder and Former President
Heritage Trustee since 1973 | Heritage President from 1977 to 2013

(Archived document, may contain errors)

400 December 27, 1984 A PLAN FOR RESCUING STARVING ETHIOPIANS INTRODUCTION Americans are horrified by televised pictures of starving Ethiopians.

Confronted w ith a human catastrophe of such magnitude, Americans are naturally and admirably eager to offer aid. Clearly, some- thing must be done--perhaps a gigantic rescue mission on a scale unseen since the Hoover Relief program in Russia in 1921-1923.l Relief pro p osals apparently are brewing in the Reagan Administra- tion and in Congress with estimated costs running up to $1 billion blind itself to the causes of the Ethiopian famine. Relief efforts should be crafted to end-not merely alleviate-the threat of famine in Ethiopia and not exacerbated by policies that transform a temporary disaster into a permanent one by encouraging continued dependence on external relief These have struck a deep chord in the national psyche L In its rush to compassion, the United State s should not Its food problems must be solved The relief effort thus must meet several criteria 1) starvation in Ethiopia must be ended as quickly and completely as possible 2) the relief effort must be international, recognizing that every nation has a mo r al.obligation to help those starving The Hoover relief mission sustained more than ten million Russians at the height of the famine in Soviet Russia: 1921-1923 (Stanford, California: Hoover Institution 1974 p. 199 Benjamin Weissman,'Herbert Hoover and Fam i ne Relief 2 3) it must recognize that the United Nations is not capable 4) steps must be taken to prevent future famines in Ethiopia 5) the repressive Ethiopian communist regime must not be of organizing the relief allowed to exploit U.S. relief efforts t o gain credit for itself .or for its Soviet patron; and be squandered 6) the American charitable impulse and generosity must not Today Ethiopia is wracked by a famine that threatens the lives of up to seven million of its 33 million people. An esti- mated 3 00,000 Ethiopians alre,ady have starved to death; fatalities are believed to be mounting by 15,000 each week. Ethiopia claims that it will need 1.2 million tons of food aid through 1985 Roughly one-quarter of this amount had been pledged by late November, mainly by American 210,000 tons) and European donors More help is needed. The U.S., as the world's leading food exporting nation, should play a major role in the international relief effort.

But before the U.S. launches major famine relief, it should take care to learn the lessons of past international relief programs. The results of such efforts have been uneven, particu larly in famine areas controlled by communist regimes more con- cerned with preserving their own power than with rushing emergency aid to their peoples In the Ethiopian rescue mission, donors must ensure that food supplies actually reach the Ethiopians in dire need, not just those deemed politically acceptable to the government supplies for political reasons should be tolerated.

Americans must be assured, moreover, that their relief efforts are not vitiated by the demonstrated incompetence of the Ethiopian government and the weaknesses of existing international relief organizations and operate its own relief mission in Ethiopia to supervi s e distribution of food and to safeguard supplies of food from the Ethiopian bureaucracy exempt from this moral obligation bors have something to offer, as do the communist countries of Europe and Asia responsibility of the U.S. and other Western nations. T o mobilize such a global effort, Ronald Reagan should convene a Council of Ambassadors, an ad hoc committee comprised of all nations that have representatives in Washington plus those that desire to send Absolutely no Ethiopian manipulation of food relief This means that the U.S. must establish All nations must be asked to help Ethiopia. None should be Rescuing starving Ethiopians is not solely the Even Ethiopia's poor neigh The Washington Post, November 29, 1984, p. A35 3 representatives to the meeting fu n ction unencumbered by the bureaucracy, ideology, and posturing that paralyze the United Nations; for flawed policies advocated by the U.N. are in part responsible for the famine in Ethiopia and elsewhere in Africa Such a Council would be able to Finally, t he international rescue mission must contribute to the long-term solution of Ethiopia's food problems. Anything less would be the equivalent of offering band-aids to a bleeding hemophiliac. Such actions may temporarily assuage troubled con sciences, but t hey do little to assist permanent recovery.

FACTS OF THE FAMINE Fact 1: EthioDian Policies Share the Blame.

Although chronic drought has been the major contributing factor to the famine, acts of men have transformed this into a calamity. Adverse weather c onditions set the stage for Ethiopia's disaster, but it is the political priorities of Ethiopia's dic tator, Lieutenant Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam, that have crippled Ethiopian agriculture and reduced its ability to cope with the drought.

Since seizing power in a 1974 military coup, Mengistu has outlawed traditional agricultural practices and severely disrupted peasant patterns of food production without providing a workable alternative. He instituted a land reform under the slogan land to the tiller b ut installed a fixed price system that drained the tiller's motivation to produce and market food surpluses.

The state kept farm prices artificially low to hold down the costs of feeding the burgeoning Ethiopian Army, now the largest in black Africa with 2 50,000 troops investment into inefficient state farms that produce only 6 percent of the nation's grain.3 Virtually no land has been irrigated, and little has been done to correct such environmental ly destructive practices as deforestation and overgrazin g that accelerate soil erosion and degrade agricultural prod~ctivity Marxist rule drove thousands of talented technocrats into exile including agricultural scientists whose Western training made them suspect in the eyes of Ethiopia's Marxist rulers.

Not only has the Mengistu regime failed to develop policies to minimize the effects of the drought but it has hamstrung the ability of Ethiopia's peasants-85 percent of the population--to cushion themselves against food shortages. Traditionally The Mengis t u regime channels 90 percent of agricultural D Paul Henze Ethiopia Wilson Quarterly, Winter 1984, p. 724 New York Times, November 18, 1984, p. 18. 4 Ethiopian peasants have saved food in good years to prepare for bad harvests. The government outlawed this practice, branding it as hoarding. Peasants traditionally invested money earned from surplus crops in their own farms to expand production. This was denounced as capitalist accumulation. Independent food traders traditionally bought food in food-surplus a reas and transported it to markets in food-deficient areas. This was outlawed as ex ploitation, and government commissions replaced the free market.

The regime's oppressive economic policies and repressive political program provoked rebellion in Tigray pro vince and elsewhere while renewing the determination of the Eritrean guer rillas, who have battled the Ethiopian army intermittently since 1962 Eritreans and Tigrayans, although they have signalled a willing ness to end armed struggle in return for greate r autonomy.

Mengistu's stubborn prosecution of these stalemated wars in the northern highland provinces has produced large, unproductive refugee populations, hindered the sowing and harvesting of crops disrupted food distribution, diverted manpower from fo od-growing activities, and imposed a heavy defense burden estimated to be one-third to one-half of the national budget. Ending the intrac table fighting in the northern provinces would go far toward reducing the threat of famine Mengistu has ruled out a n egotiated settlement with the Fact #2: Africa Embraced Policies Doomed to Fail.

The spectre of famine is not limited to Ethiopia. Many other African states suffer from drought, civil war, and damaging government economic policies. By one count 36 African s tates face food shortages this year, with Ethiopia, Chad, Somalia, and Kenya the hardest hit.5 Africa has the highest rate of popula tion growth in the world, but per capita food production declined by 10 percent during the 1970s. Although the Sahel droug ht and the world recession contributed to the decline, the prime reason for falling agricultural productivity was misguided domestic policies.

African governments favored centrally directed industrializa tion at the expense of agriculture. They have been h ostile to free market economic strategies. Centralized governments have established monopolies on buying and selling food, experimented with costly schemes to collectivize agriculture, and subsidized food prices to mollify urban populations--the loci of p o litical power. Because peasants had little political influence, they bore the brunt of these policies. Artificially low prices gave them little incentive to expand food production and left them with little cash to buy fertilizer or maintain equipment E, T h e Guardian, October 31, 1984 5 Marxist economic policies that had failed miserably when practiced in the Soviet bloc nonetheless were imported by African governments. International organizations such as the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) pro m oted flawed agricultural policies that ignored the important role of the private sector in food production.6 In one sense, today's food crisis in Africa is the harvest of Soviet and socialist policies embraced by African regimes. Moscow and Beijing convin c ed Africa to follow their examples, and Africa is now paying a heavy price for having done so It is no coincidence that Ethiopia, one of the most doc- trinaire Marxist states in Africa, is suffering the continent's most severe famine. Perhaps the only ben e ficial side effect of the Ethiopian tragedy is that diplomats. at the Organization of African Unity headquarters in Addis Ababa, only miles away from the edge of the famine areas, will inform their governments of the shortcomings of Ethiopia's agricultura l strategy. Farmers like all workers, must be motivated, not indoctrinated. Food production can be expanded most effectively through economic incentives given to free men, not coercion imposed on reluctant collectives.

Fact 3: The West Is Not to Blame.

Th e Mengistu regime repeatedly has berated Western nations for allegedly failing to provide enough food aid even as tons of food from the West was pouring in has praised the Soviets for their unselfish and timely relief even though Moscow and its allies hav e provided Ethiopia with little food but much weaponry. Praise for the stingy Soviets coupled with reprimands for the generous West prompted M. Peter McPherson, director of the U.S. Agency for International Develop ment, to warn Ethiopia not to bite the ha n d that feeds it. Yet the Mengistu regime is attempting to use Western donor nations as scapegoats for its own disastrous economic policies. Mengistu is painfully aware that the ineffective response of Haile Selassie's government to the 1973-1974 famine un dermined its support and created conditions that led to the Emperor's overthrow in 1974.

The current famine has already claimed more Ethiopian lives than the one that prompted Selassie's downfall-an ominous sign for Mengistu At the same time, Mengistu If t he West is morally responsible for Ethiopia's food crisis, it is not due to a lack of charity but to its lack of courage when it acquiesced to and indirectly financed ruinous economic and social experiments in Ethiopia and Africa.' Between See Georges Fau riol, The Food and Agriculture Organization: A Flawed Strategy In the War Against Hunger (Washington, D.C.: The Heritage Foundation, 1984).

See Patrick Buchanan The Destruction of Africa Washington Times November 20, 1984 6 1978 and 1982 the Mengistu regim e received $1 billion in Western aid, the bulk of it through multilateral agencies, which made explicit accountability impossible.8 suppress private enterprise and supplant it with state monopolies Much of the aid was Ilroutinely diverted into projects de s igned to bolster Colonel Mengistu's regime This aid helped Mengistu In 1982, the Ethiopians were warned of impending famine by a U.N.-sponsored study directed by Keith Griffin of Oxford Univer sity. The study recommended immediate food rationing and a shi f t in agricultural investment away from state farms to local projects run by local peasant associations. According to Griffin, the Mengistu government rejected the study's findings because it could not tolerate autonomous local groups. The U.N. agency spon s oring the research acquiesced to the suppression of the report. 10 Over the past 20 years, Western aid rograms have poured over $80 billion into African countries. The tragedy is the sad lack of lasting benefits from this massive generosity. The economies of most of these countries stagnate or decline because of domestic economic policies based on ideology or short-term political goals. T:anzania, for example, probably has received more per capita Western aid than any country in the world, yet its pursuit of socialism has crippled its economy and imposed extraordinary hardship on its people.

Fact 4: Ethiopia Mishandles Famine Relief.

Until recently, the Mengistu regime assigned low priority to famine relief. The government-controlled press made little of t he famine in the months before this past September's elaborate ceremonies celebrating the tenth anniversary of the 1974 revolu tion. Many observers believe that the regime minimized the extent of the famine to avoid tarnishing the revolution's image and e m barrassing the more than 50 Communist Party delegations that participated in the $150 million to $200 million gala. The festivities also marked the founding of the Ethiopian Communist Party. Catholic Relief Services officials estimate that 250 people in E t hiopia's northern rovinces starved to death each day during the lavish festivities. P2 Ethiopian authorities for a long time refused to grant preferential treatment to Western food shipments in congested Ethiopian ports. Soviet cargo ships carrying cement were given The Times (London November 12, 1984.

Philip Jacobson Famine's Fatal Combination--Red Tape, Gold Braid The Times (London November 10, 1984.

Frederick Stokeld Africa and Foreign Aid Orbis, Winter 1982 p. 996 Washington Times, November 6, 1984 lo Ibid l1 l2 7 priority over ships carrying Western food relief.13 when donated food supplies finally were unloaded, the Ethiopians charged an import tax of 12.50 a ton, plus handling and trucking charges of 165 a ton.14 ports for lack of the means to tran s port it inland.15 point almost half of the 500 trucks of the inefficient Ethiopian Relief and Rehabilitation Commission were out of service because of the lack of spare parts. Few Ethiopian officials are willing or able to assume responsibility because of the lack of trained manpower and the rigidity of the overcentralized, labyrinthine Ethiopian bureaucracy tation Commission, accountability ends. Food supplies have been diverted, and many times, have disappeared. Reports of abuses are rampant. In late 198 3 a senior official of the Commission defected to Sudan with evidence of a cover-up concerning 15,000 tons of missing food aid.16 laborers in lieu of salary.17 reported to be selling relief food 1g that province is pakd in grain--up to 120 kilos per month. l g effect, the brutal Mengistu regime is subsidizing its war in Eritrea by siphoning off relief aid And then Tons of food have rotted at Red Sea At one Once food shipments reach the Ethiopian Relief and Rehabili Relief food has been used to pay Ethio ian s o ldiers in Eritrea are The "People's Militia" in In Fact #5 An estimated 60 to 80 percent of Ethiopia's starving are Many Starving Ethiopians Are Denied Food. located in rural areas controlled by Eritrean and Tigrayan rebel forces.20 tions. in these areas, most Western relief agencies refuse to provide food supplies to rebel areas for fear of jeopardizing their relief operations elsewhere in Ethiopia relief agencies have initiated shoestring relief programs through neighboring Sudan, famine victims in Eritr e a and Tigray have received much less aid than other.Ethiopians announced their willingness to negotiate a cease-fire to permit Since the government does not sanction relief opera Although several To save their people from starvation, rebel leaders have ex t ernal relief operations to function safely. The l3 New York Times, September 20, 1984, p. A14 l4 Flora Lewis A Moral Test in Ethiopia New York Times 1984 l5 The Washington Post, November 3, 1984, p. Al l6 London Sunday Times, December 4, 1983 l7 Christian Science Monitor, July 20, 1984, p. 31 l8 The Guardian. November 10. 1984 Mengistu November 9 l9 George Galloway The Mengistu Famine ,I1 Spectator, December 1, 1984, p 8.

Dan Connell Famine and Politics I Christian Science Monitor, November 19 1984 2o 8 regime has refused to consider this, apparently hoping that famine will do what its soldiers could not-bring the rebels to their knees. This use of famine as a political we a pon is remi niscent of MOSCOW'S use of the famine that killed some seven million Ukrainians in 1933-1934.21 The Eritrean Relief Association estimates that 1.75 million Eritreans face starvation and that 20,000 tons of food a day would be necessary to sust a in them.22 Due to the pusillanimity of most relief organizations operating in Ethiopia, Eritrea receives only 2,000 tons a day, leaving nine out of ten Eritreans with no-assistance at all.23 Under cover of the famine, the Ethiopian communist regime b has b egun one of the largest forced resettlement programs in modern history-1.5 million people are to be relocated in this year alone. Although ostensibly undertaken to llrehabilitatell thos'e endangered by the famine in the northern provinces, little preparat i on has been made in the resettlement areas in the south for sheltering or even feeding these new refugees. It is also unclear how the regime intends to contain the medical threat of malaria and the tsetse fly among highland people unfamiliar with such dan g ers. The resettlement plan also diverts scarce transpor tation resources, from the vital task of distributing food to people. Given that some of the 70,000 already resettled have escaped to begin the long trek home, it is unlike1.y that resettle ment is'a voluntary affair.24 The resettlement program is prompted by political, not humanitarian, considerations. By depopulating the rebel-dominated in which its guerrilla opponents swim. The Soviets, who have unleashed a scorched earth policy in Afghanistan to a c complish the same his resettlement campaign. At a time when millions face starva tion, the Soviets are hauling human cargoes exclusively and not even going through the motions of providing humanitarian food relief I northern highlands, the Mengistu regime hopes to drain the ocean i are providing logistical support to Mengistu for Fact #6: A Global Rescue Is Needed.

The 'Ethiopian famine is an Ilunnatural disaster, II in that 'the Mengistu regime's policies exacerbated and sought to exploit the food crisis for political reasons. Addis Ababa now desperately needs more food but has proved that it is not to be trusted to 21 See Robert Conquest, Dana Dalrymple, James Mace, Michael Novak, The Man Made Famine in Ukraine (Washington, D.C 1984).

Galloway, op. cit p. 8..

EYork Times, December 14, 1984.

See Claude Malhuret Report From Afghanistan Foreign Affairs, Winter 1983- 1984 American Enterprise Institute 22 23 Ibid. 24 25 9 manage such a massive feeding program effectively. It has been unwilling to feed all Ethiopians.

A global relief operation thus is required. It is the responsibility of every nation, no matter how poor, to help ameliorate a human tragedy of this scope. Even countries wracked by food shortages should send volunteer workers; they could learn techniques that would be useful in reducing food shortages in their own homelands.

The U.N.'s encrusted bureaucracy is not competent to rescue Ethiopia's starving masses. The mandate of U.N. agencies, for example, forces them to deal only with established governments they thus would be unable to operate in the rebel-held areas where most of the famine is concentrated. In earlier crises moreover, the U.N. failed to deliver the food relief to those in need. .The U.N.Is World Food Program (WFP) relief effort in Cambodia in 1979-1980, for instance, allowed itself to be plundered by the Vietnamese-backed Heng Samrin regime.

Red Cross official in Phnom Penh at the time NO one knows anything. For the WFP it's total rape.1126 And this month, at General Assembly sa w nothing wrong with appropriating 73.5 million for a conference center in Addis Ababa Complained a senior the very moment when Ethiopia desperately needed help, the U.N. 11 I In place of the U.N., the U.S. should call for and help I organize an ad hoc in t ernational rescue mission. Ronald Reagan I should convene a Council of Ambassadors in Washington. He should invite all the ambassadors and envoys of foreign nations now based in Washington, plus special ambassadors from countries that do not have relation s with the U.S. Reagan should keynote the gathering. Its main purpose would be to allow the ambassadors to pledge their government's level of relief aid to Ethiopia. They would discuss and organize the means of transporting the relief.

Countries refusing to participate in the Council or to provide aid would be conspicuous for their lack of compassion.

This rescue mission would furnish aid to Ethiopia, but only Aid should be contingent on on the donor's terms ate. It would only bolster Ethiopian bureaucrats and insulate them from their own costly errors Aid without strings would not be appropri 1) Accountability in the form of an independent corps of international observers (whose composition would be proportional to the aid donated) to monitor food needs, coordinate logistical efforts and ensure that sufficient aid reaches all needy William Shawcross The Quality of Mercy Conscience (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984), p. 367.

Cambodia, Holocaust and Modern 10 Ethiopians without regard to their political orientation 2) A warning that never again will such a rescue be mobilized unless Ethiopia begins to help itself.

Ethiopia should abandon rigid policies that stifle food production in favor of policies that encourage output. It should remove restrictions tha t hinder the most important agricultural sector-small landholders--from maximizing food production 3) Assurances that food go to the hardest hit provinces Eritrea and Tigray-regardless of whether or not the central government accepts the Councilfs terms f or aiding the rest of the country.

The U.S. should offer to deliver the aid on behalf of those nations lacking the means to do so to help Ethiopia, the U.S. should reconsider its own level of aid of Western nations to shoulder the burden of saving Ethiopia Should many nations refuse It is inappropriate and unfair for the U.S. and a handful Whatever aid the U.S. does supply should be delivered by a system completely controlled by the U.S organize a food airlift to supplement the current sealift to help ease logistical bottlenecks inside Ethiopia. The U.S. Air Force should speed America's aid and any other donor's aid to Ethiopia via C=5A Galaxy transports. Each C-SA can carry over 50 tons of food 6,500 miles from transhipment points either in Europe or.the A z ores to Addis Ababa airport. From there, U.S. C-130 Hercules cargo air transports and helicopters could distribute the food to as many diverse points as possible to prevent refugees from massing in great numbers in any one place, thereby becoming vulnerab l e to outbreaks of disease Washington should Helicopters and C-130s using the LAPES (Low Altitude Para chute Extraction System) should drop supplies in small clusters to relief personnel stationed in remote areas with famine victims unable to make it to Et h iopia's limited road system. reduce the bottlenecks in truck transport and limit the number of peasants that might abandon their fields in search of food. It is crucial that as many farmers as possible remain close to the arable lands so that the next cyc l e of crops can be planted in the event of adequate rainfall. If they do not, Ethiopia will be forced into long-term dependence on international relief efforts To ensure that the food is not diverted by the Mengistu regime to serve its own ends, U.S. milit a ry personnel, specializ ing in logistics and health care, must be dispatched to Ethiopia with the early airlifts of food. Should great numbers of person nel be needed in the Ethiopian countryside to administer the U.S. relief, Washington should consider m o bilizing several thousand Peace Corps volunteers for temporary duty in Ethiopia This would 11 CONCLUSION The United States should help end the famine devastating Ethiopia but should do so only on specific terms. It should make' clear that relief aid is me a nt for the Ethiopian people and is not the property of the swollen Ethiopian bureaucracy. It should not tolerate the denial of food relief to rebel areas To ensure that the food gets where it is needed in a timely fashion personnel must administer the res cue mission in Ethiopia Good intentions are not enough-there must be follow through U.S.

The U.S. also must insist that the responsibility to help Ethiopia is global. Finally, the Ethiopian government must be told that this is the last time that the U.S. is going to save it or other developing countries from catastrophes that they bring on th emselves by policies that are proved failures cannot be expected to be generous and compassionate when called on repeatedly to staunch the bleeding from self-inflicted wounds The U.S.

James A. Phillips Senior Policy Analyst Richard D. Fisher, Jr.

Research Associate


Edwin J. Feulner
Edwin Feulner

Founder and Former President