The Intellectual Poverty and Moral Bankruptcy of Ethiopia Famine Deniers
|The Intellectual Poverty and Moral Bankruptcy of Ethiopia Famine Deniers
By Prof. Al Mariam
May 16, 2016
There is “no famine in Ethiopia… Ethiopians aren’t starving to death… People aren’t dying… Animals are dying of thirst…” Alex de WaalLast week, in an op-ed piece in the New York Times (International Edition), Alex de Waal from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia declared the end of the “era of great famines” and proudly announced to the world, “Ethiopians aren’t starving to death”, only their “animals are dying of thirst.” Of course, that is exactly what USAID Administrator Gayle E. Smithsaid in her recent interview. I guess they all use the same talking points.
de Waal proclaimed:
de Waal feigns astonishment over the adeptness and resourcefulness of the Thugtatorship of the Tigrean Peoples’ Liberation Front (T-TPLF) in licking famine in Ethiopia (no pun intended):
de Waal is beside himself fawning over the T-TPLF’s savvy statecraft (I did not say witchcraft) which has delivered the coup de grace in the final conquest of famine and starvation in Ethiopia:
After reveling in a hearty tribute to the T-TPLF’s masterful management of food security in Ethiopia, de Wall aims his rhetorical guns and blasts the “military regime headed by Mengistu Haile Mariam” whose “government blocked trade, bombed markets and withheld emergency supplies in rebel-controlled areas” in Tigray and Eritrea. Not to worry. The late Meles Zenawi and his T-TPLF rode their white horses into Addis Ababa and saved the day:
de Waal downplays the severity of “food shortages” under T-TPLF rule. He asserts that in 1999 there were “food shortages in the southeastern part of the country [which] killed 29,000 people.” That was certainly not famine. Just a garden variety food shortage (no pun intended). Another “major drought in 2002 caused hunger nationwide” (not famine), but the following year when de Waal visited, everything was hunky dory “in Wollo (north), Hararghe (east) and Sidama and Wollaita (south)”.
de Waal argues in 2015, “El Niño brought the worst drought in decades” but “Ethiopia was better prepared than ever.” The “government had begun programs to help families facing food shortages with various forms of food and cash assistance. It had taken measures to mitigate the effects of droughts, rehabilitating water catchments, reforesting and building roads and clinics, especially in the countryside.”
Managing the 2015-16 “El Nino drought” is a piece of cake (no pun intended) because the “government” had stashed “aside nearly $1 billion in case oil prices rose” which could be diverted to drought relief.
How does de Waal know all of these juicy tidbits of information on the final conquest of famine in Ethiopia? “Finance Minister Abdulaziz Mohammed told me,” says de Waal.
In his “there is no famine in Ethiopia” story line, de Waal cleverly slips in the old T-TPLF canard about skyrocketing economic growth rates in Ethiopia. de Waal laments, “The economy will take a hit. Animals are dying of thirst… The G.D.P. growth rate will drop to about 8.5 percent in 2015 and 2016, down from more than 10 percent in 2014.But that’s still 8.5 percent, an impressive figure. And people aren’t dying.”
Of course, de Waal is willfully propagating the lies, damned lies and discredited statistics of the T-TPLF. I have challenged the T-TPLF, World Bank, USAID and all others to prove up the double-digit growth claims in Ethiopia, or shut up. They have chosen to shut up. You don’t see the World Bank, the IMF, USAID and the rest of the poverty pimps making the double-digit claim anymore because they know it is a damned lie.
I have demonstrated beyond a shadow of doubt, time and again, that the T-TPLF claim of double-digit growth over the past ten years is a crock of statistical horse manure. I challenge de Waal to prove (not merely regurgitate statistics from the talking points handed to him by the T-TPLF and USAID) the veracity of his double-digit economic growth claim!
I also do not understand how de Waal can say the animals are dying of thirst but the people are not.
Isn’t livestock production the driving force of Ethiopia’s rural agricultural economy and the lifeline of the pastoralists? If the animals are dying, how long will it be before the people begin to die?
I can imagine how deeply embarrassing it could be to claim double-digit growth over the past ten years and simultaneously admit 20 million people are also facing famine in a country touted as having one of the red hot economies in the world.
But it is what it is.
Who is Alex de Waal anyway?
I do not know if Alex de Waal is a lobbyist for the T-TPLF.
I do not know if Alex de Waal is a publicist, media or public relations agent for the T-TPLF.
I do not know if Alex de Waal is the T-TPLF’s international strategic communications officer.
I do not know if Alex de Waal is the Leni Riefenstahl of the T-TPLF.
What I know is Alex de Waal is listed as Executive Director of the World Peace Foundation and a Research Professor at The Fletcher School, Tufts University. He touts himself as “one of the foremost experts on Sudan and the Horn of Africa,” having done his doctoral dissertation on the 1984-85 Darfur famine. In his biography, he claims to be on “the list of Foreign Policy’s 100 most influential public intellectuals in 2008 and Atlantic Monthly’s 27 “brave thinkers” in 2009.”
de Waal has been in “Tigray on a mission for Oxfam to study local food markets.”
de Waal has been the (un)official historiographer of the Tigrean Peoples’ Liberation Front (TPLF)and written “Evil Days: Thirty Years of War and Famine in Ethiopia”, a book which is basically a hatchet job on the “evil” military Derg regime and its relentless counter-insurgency campaign against the TPLF.
de Waal delivered the keynote address in 2013 “on the occasion of the first anniversary commemoration of the death of Meles Zenawi”. In his speech, de Waal said, “The second pillar of Meles’s security doctrine was national pride. He condemned what he called ‘jingoism on an empty stomach’”.
Today 20 million Ethiopians are dying because they have empty stomachs, and de Waal says, “There is no famine in Ethiopia.”
In an “Open Letter” (a letter I believe should have been more appropriately captioned, “A Public Ode to Gayle E. Smith” since it read like a letter canonizing Smith instead of urging her confirmation”) in the Boston Review, Alex de Waal bloviated about Smith’s impeccable credentials and why she should be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Hubristically, de Waal pontificated: “No one should question your [Smith’s] credentials.”
Well, I questioned Smith’s credentials and fiercely opposed her confirmation. But she was confirmed by a vote of 79-7 in November 2015. In that roll call vote, we separated the wheat from the chaff (no pun intended). After Smith became Administrator, I have sought to hold her accountable; and will continue to do so.
Alex de Waal is an unabashed toady, apologist, propagandist and hagiographer (a writer of the lives of saint) of the late T-TPLF thugmaster Meles Zenawi.
de Waal claims that he personally trained Meles and his gang in economics and even reviewed Meles’ written papers. de Waal reminds us in his beatification and canonization of Meles Zenawi that without Meles and his T-TPLF Ethiopia would be ashes today and a wistful historical memory:
de Waal (a social anthropologist by training) ran a discussion group on political economy for Meles and the T-TPLF leadership in the bush. De Waal recounted:
“I travelled each night on the back of a truck, that was like a travelling seminar”, said de Waal at “the first anniversary commemoration of the death of Meles Zenawi.”
Meles, the great “economic theoretician” was trained by a “social anthropologist”!
I certainly knew Meles was practicing voodoo economics when I wrote my commentary by the same title in May 2011. But I used “voodoo economics” as a metaphor. Little did I know that Meles was indeed trained in voodoo economics by a social/cultural anthropologist. What more can I say!
As the chief expounder of Meles’ political economy, de Waal heaped praise on Meles as the Second Coming, the messiah, not only for Ethiopia but all of Africa. De Waal proclaimed, “Enough of Meles’ writings are in the public sphere to demonstrate that Meles was a truly original thinker. Let us hope that his unpublished papers provide sufficient material to fill out the other, less explored, areas of his intellectual inquiries.”
Does the internet qualify as “public sphere” because there is little online that can be called “writings” of Meles Zenawi. For years, I have sought to find the writings of the “truly original thinker” in the most comprehensive libraries in the world and have found NONE.
Meles’ magnum opus, “African Development: Dead Ends and New Beginnings” (undated) is available online with the warning “PRELIMINARY DRAFT (Not for quotation). The “chief economic theoretician” was great at phrase mongering and cooking economic statistics but not much more. Meles should have titled his “book”, “The Voodoo Economics of African Development”.
Interestingly, no where does de Waal say that he was given honorary membership in the TPLF or the T-TPLF for his service, beyond and above the call of duty, exceeding well over a quarter of a century.
de Waal speaketh with forked tongue
de Waal has done research on “famine” and “food shortages” in the Sudan and Ethiopia.
In his book, “Famine That Kills” (1989), de Waal wrote, “When faced with a drought that left fifteen million Ethiopians facing hunger in 2002, the fiscal conditionalities for staying on track for HIPC [highly indebted poor countries debt forgiveness initiative] meant that the government had to reduce spending… Ethiopia had to rely on international agencies to bring huge quantities of food aid… which flooded the market… This is an example of a shockingly bad policy that fails to pass the simple test of being consonant with the realities facing rural people…”
In 2016, de Wall does not talk about the impact of “huge quantities of food aid flooding the market”. He glibly talks about seeing “imported wheat being brought to the smallest and most remote villages, thanks to a new Chinese-built railroad and a fleet of newly imported trucks.”
(I don’t want to sound petty, but American taxpayers have doled out hundreds of millions of dollars to provide “huge quantities of food” to Ethiopia. In 2015-16, during the “El Nino drought”, U.S. taxpayers doled out USD$441 million in food aid to Ethiopia. A lot more has recently been pledged. In 2012-2014, when there was no El Nino drought, U.S. taxpayers doled out USD$759 million in food aid. I guess de Waal could not see the bags of wheat emblazoned with the words “USAID From the American People” loaded on the trains secured by Chinese loans (built by Chinese companies who brought their own workers on a no-bid contract) from the backseat of his SUV. Who gets the big THANK YOU at the end of the day? The Chinese! You are damn right, I am pissed!)
de Waal pontificated in his book that “most books about famine are written from the viewpoint of outsider, such as relief agencies and other organizations [committed] to alleviate famines.” His book “analyses famine from the perspective of the rural people who suffered it.”
de Waal castigates the international humanitarian donors and distributors for “arrogating to themselves the power to ‘cry famine’, at the expense of the local famine victims who are suffering.” The “foreigners create a perceived moral imperative for external intervention. The famine victims live (or die) under an alien definition. Another strand of this ‘famine industry’ of the specialized agencies , who see famines in terms of technical issues such as ‘early warning systems’, ‘food scarcity’, logistics, and ‘nutritional surveillance’”
de Waal declares, “The starting point for an analysis of famine should therefore lie with the understandings of those who suffer famine themselves.”
When de Waal wrote his N.Y. Times op ed piece, did he step out of the T-TPLF-provided air conditioned SUV to talk to the “rural people who are suffering” from the “drought” or famine?
Did de Waal talk to any villagers and ask them how many have died from the “drought”?
Did de Waal talk to starving (excuse me, extremely food challenged) mothers and ask them how many of their children have died?
Did de Waal talk to health workers in the clinics and ask them how many people died from extreme food challenges?
Did de Waal talk to herders whose animals have died?
Did de Waal talk to any malnourished children and ask them how they feel about not eating for days on end?
There is absolutely nothing in his piece that suggests that he talked to any victims or those helping victims on the ground.
It seems de Waal told his driver to scoot along the Chinese-built roads surveying the Chinese rail lines and trains carrying food aid paid for by American taxpayers (thank you very much, Uncle Sam).
Why didn’t de Waal report a single statement he heard from those suffering the effects of the “El Nino drought”?
The answer is simple. He never got out of his posh SUV to talk to the “drought” victims.
de Waal forgot in his op ed piece his own admonition written long ago. “Famines are not situations where dying people are constantly and everywhere to be seen. They are situations of acute poverty and destitution are most prominent.”
If he had talked to the famine victims, he would have gotten an earful. If he had gotten out of his SUV and talked to the mothers, children, herders, the men too weak to go out and beg, he would have seen the savage face of FAMINE etched on their skins and bones.
Who did de Waal talk to for his op ed piece to conclude that “there is no famine in Ethiopia” and “people are not dying”?
de Waal talked to T-TPLF “Finance Minister” Abdulaziz Mohammed. He mentions no one else in his piece.
Abdulaziz told him there is a stash of a billion dollars available for the drought. I imagine Abdulaziz told him there is no famine. Abdulaziz told him only animals are dying and not people. Abdulaziz told him the T-TPLF has “devised a national drought insurance plan”. Abdulaziz told him there is a big pie in the sky that will fall down and feed the people! Abdulaziz…
(In 2011, Meles Zenawi pompously declared, “We have devised a plan which will enable us to produce surplus and be able to feed ourselves by 2015 without the need for food aid.” In other words, famine, starvation, severe malnutrition, etc. will be banned from Ethiopia for eternity!)
In 2016, the T-TPLF is talking about a national drought insurance plan? (They must think we are all damned fools!)
de Waal wrote in his book that “Mesfin Wolde Mariam has perhaps more experience of famine in Ethiopia than any other social scientist.”
Did de Waal talk to Mesfin Wolde Mariam who currently lives in Addis Ababa for his op ed piece? No, de Waal preferred to talk to Abdulaziz Mohammed.
de Waal wrote in his book, “In Ethiopia, a major relief operation distributed immense qualities of free food to about fifteen million people, and the government and most of its donors concurred that no famine occurred. The affected people were not consulted over this, and the data that might reveal excess mortality are only now being collected and analyzed (July 2004).”
Do we need to wait for a few more years to accurately determine how many Ethiopians died from famine in 2015-16?
The fact of the matter is that calling the famine-spade, a famine-spade is a power relationship. In the days when de Waal was critical of the international poverty pimps, he wrote:
Did de Waal talk to the herder or pastoralist whose livestock are dying for his op ed piece? No, he talked to Abdulaziz Mohammed.
Truth be told, de Waal is right. There is no famine in Ethiopia until and unless the foreign relief organizations, foreign powers and people like de Waal say, “There is famine”. To be sure, there is no famine in Ethiopia UNLESS USAID, UN agencies, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the rest of the international poverty and famine pimps say, “There is Famine in Ethiopia!”
If 29,000 people die from lack of food, that is just too bad. They died of hunger.
It is precisely because the international poverty and famine pimps have arrogated to themselves the power to “cry famine” that I have raged against them all these years. Whether there is a famine in Ethiopia is a question to be answered by Ethiopians suffering famine, not USAID, the World Bank, the IMF or the de Waals of the world.
Let me repeat it: The only way to know if there is famine in Ethiopia is talk to the people suffering famine conditions.
That is what Jeremy Konyndyk, USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, found out when he recently visited the Tigray region in Ethiopia.
de Waal fully adopts Amartya Sen’s “reconceptualization of the nature of famine” that “Famine is the characteristic of some people not having enough food to eat. It is not the characteristic of there not being enough food to eat.”
It seems 20 million Ethiopians today do not “have enough food to eat”.
I ask de Waal straight up. By his own definition, do 20 million Ethiopians today have “enough food to eat”? Is there famine in Ethiopia today?
In his article, “Famine and Human Rights” (1991 Development in Practice, Vol. 1, No. 2), de Waal talked about solving the problem of famine:
How the hell can you have a “political contract” when the T-TPLF says it has won 100 percent of the seats in parliament?
In his book “Famine Crimes” (1997), de Waal argued that the cause of famine is not necessarily drought but political pigheadedness and lack of accountability on the part of African governments and international humanitarian organizations. He urged the creation of a political environment where food entitlement is a right and government that fails to ensure food sufficiency could be held accountable by its citizens.
de Waal even argued that liberal rights and democratic institutions are critical in preventing famine. He proposed the idea of a political contract which imposes obligations on those in power making famine itself a legal, political and moral crimes for which governments can be brought down, held accountable and replaced. He suggested that the international famine aid industry (international poverty pimps, as I like to call them) including the elite staff of international relief agencies, academics, consultants, specialists, journalists, lobbyist have tended to obstruct the establishment political contracts against famine by eliminating the political nature of famine and making it a problem of a technical fix.
(Is de Waal one of the obstructionist “academics, consultants, specialists”?)
In his 1991 article, de Waal argued:
de Waal pulls no punches as he demonizes the Derg military regime and its weaponization of famine. He says, “Ethiopia is notorious for its famines, and the government which fell from power in May 1991 was notorious for its violations of human rights. [The factors] which have turned hardship into famine and famine into mass starvation [during the Derg period] include among others “forced removals and displacement by resettlement, villagisation, and military campaigns, heavy taxation, diversion, obstruction, and destruction of food aid.”
In my August 2011 commentary, I demonstrated how the T-TPLF had weaponized famine to cling to power. Indeed, the T-TPLF has used “famine as a tool of political repression”, to borrow a phrase from de Waal.
de Waal says absolutely nothing about T-TPLF land grabs that have left hundreds of thousands landless. He says nothing about T-TPLF mass villagization in Gambella and other regions. He says nothing about T-TPLF forced removals in the outskirts of the capital.
de Waal says absolutely nothing about diversion, obstruction, and destruction of food aid by the T-TPLF.
de Waal says nothing about the T-TPLF’s use of food aid for political coercion and recruitment of party members.
de Waal says absolutely nothing about the total and complete ownership of all land in Ethiopia by the T-TPLF and its cronies!
Does de Waal speak with forked tongue?
Were there a serpent seen with a more practiced forked tongue than de Waal’s, to paraphrase Shakespeare?
Why is de Waal so blind to the FAMINE CRIMES of his T-TPLF buddies but is so strident in condemning everyone from Mao Zedung to Mengistu Haile Mariam?
Is it not ironic that the China whose population was decimated by Mao’s famine is today saving Ethiopians dying from famine? (U.S.A., who?)
de Waal skewers Mao for “strict censorship” during the great famine of 1958-61 and the “lack of information about the crisis.” He castigates the Sudanese government for strict controls on the press and government actions against groups that tried to organise on behalf of the stricken people.”
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), “Ethiopia was the second-worst jailer of journalists in Africa, after Eritrea.”
de Waal says nothing about T-TPLF’s “strict controls on the press” and indiscriminate jailing of journalists and bloggers.
No matter how de Waal sugarcoats it, the only difference between Mengistu Haile Mariam and Meles Zenawi is that the former is a brazen criminal against humanity and the latter a smooth criminal against humanity.
Why is de Waal so blind to the famine that is killing 20 million of Ethiopians today one person at a time?
de Waal wrote in his book, “It is distasteful in some ways to build a career on the suffering of other people…” I say to de Waal, “Look in the mirror!”
de Waal likes to criticize “disaster tourists” who are “drawn towards aspects of the famine that reinforce their prior conceptions of what famines are” and exaggerate the severity of famines. “Failing to comprehend how rural people really survive, disaster tourists often predict that in the absence of external aid, millions will starve…”
I wonder if the same can be said of “Disaster Scholars and Researchers”.
Whitewashing Famine in Ethiopia: The axis of famine deniers
de Waal asked in his op ed piece if the “era of great famines is over”.
I regret to tell de Waal that the era of great famine never left Ethiopia. It is alive and well in Ethiopia in May 2016.
I regret to tell de Waal that the era of hidden famines, creeping famines, famines that kill and famine crimes that are perpetrated on innocent victims is upon us.
The era of famine apologists who obscure the truth is upon us.
I am pleased to tell de Waal that the era of international poverty and humanitarian pimps in Ethiopia is over. Y’all can’t tell us when we hungry, starvin’ or just dyin’ of famine.
You have taken everything from us. But we ain’t gonna let you take our dignity to suffer and die. Drown in your own crocodile tears! Stop telling us we are just hungry when we are dying of famine!
When the great Harry Belafonte went to Ethiopia (Live Aid) in 1984 to visit famine victims, he said what impressed him most was the fact that the famine victims maintained their utmost dignity, not fighting to get more food or to get more than their share.
There is no need to add insult to the injury of famine victims by telling them that the fact that do not have enough to eat is the equivalent of missing afternoon tea.
I have no problems with de Waal’s support of the T-TPLF or his deification of Meles Zenawi. I respect his right to support whomever and whatever he wishes.
But when he gets involved in matters of life and death of my people and whitewash to the world a notorious famine that is taking place today, the least I expect is full disclosure of his affiliation, service and comradeship with the very people who are, in my view, responsible for the famine.
Everyone knows how I feel about the late Prince of Darkness, the Prince’s surviving Horsemen and the Devil’s Advocates. I do not hide behind the veil of scholarship to hide the truth. I remove the veil of deceit and hypocrisy so all can see the face of EVIL.
That EVIL is FAMINE and those responsible for failing to plan and prevent it.
Thousands have died in the famine (and many more will die) and the T-TPLF, with the aid of the international poverty and famine pimps, has so far succeeded in keeping the famine crime hidden from public view.
In his op ed, de Waal said Ethiopia used to be a “a synonym for shriveled, glazed-eyed children on saline drips.”
Is that the litmus test to be met before the international famine pimps officially declare famine in Ethiopia?
I hope this commentary will be food for thought for de Waal and his ilk.
Finally, I ask de Waal two simple question:
In 2011, Meles Zenawi pompously declared, “We have devised a plan which will enable us to produce surplus and be able to feed ourselves by 2015 without the need for food aid.”
Are Ethiopians eating three meals a day in 2016?
Are Ethiopians able to produce a surplus and be able to feed themselves in 2016?
There are famine crimes, and they are taking place in Ethiopia today.
There is also a “failure to report a famine crime” crime. J’accuse de Waal!
To read the full commentary, click here.