Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Revolutionary Democracy Starves: Starvation in Southern Ethiopia

Addis Fortune
The confusing politics that ruling party officials abide by is exposing thousands of farmers and their children to starvation in southern Ethiopia, observes this writer whose identity Fortune withholds upon request. It is ironic why the Revolutionary Democrats would wish to spoil their moment of glory by forbidding a response to the spreading malnutrition in the region, he considers.

As founders of a political movement that based itself on poor peasants, it is amazing to see the neglect with which the Revolutionary Democrats are treating suffering farmers in the south of the country.

Every economic growth model has winners and losers that cannot be an excuse to discontinue economic growth. The Revolutionary Democrats have taken it a step further, however, basking in the glory of the World Economic Forum and the G8 meetings, while at the same time trying to deny and suppress the critical needs of drought-stricken farmers in Southern Regional State whose children are starving to death.
Experts have been warning that the failure of the early rains in the South has disrupted crop production, particularly root crops, they say. The farming families affected are so vulnerable that they immediately fall into hunger. Despite warnings from various systems, which worked in the latest drought in the Horn of Africa, the Revolutionary Democrats in the South have refused to acknowledge the scale of the problem or to allow enough assistance to those affected, experts also contend.
As a result of inadequate food distribution, children, the most vulnerable of all, have fallen into severe malnutrition, with no immediate prospects of improvement.
Severe malnutrition rates in the South, as measured by entrance of children into therapeutic feeding have skyrocketed since January, reaching 10,000 in March, nearly double the number from 2011, and continued to rise quickly in April and indeed through to today.
There are always some children who die once high numbers of severely malnourished are reached, experts often say. Surely, severe malnutrition can be largely prevented by allowing food to be distributed in a timely way.
So, why did the Revolutionary Democrats in the South allow children in their own region to fall into preventable starvation?
It boggles the mind. Shortage of resources does not come into it. There was plenty of carryover food stock from the 2011 drought that was available when the problem started in January. It neither is ignorance, as local officials are certainly very aware of the crisis and have been trying to generate a response, as have some aid agencies. So, it must be politics.
Clearly, the Revolutionary Democrats do not want any bad news to undermine their charge into middle-income status. The language has to not only be positive but it has to be over-the-top enthusiastic, with targets met or exceeded and no clouds on the horizon. Under these conditions, which regional official would want to be the one admitting that there is a crisis in their neighbourhood?
The Southern officials have a reputation of causing costly political embarrassment to their comrades with high malnutrition in previous droughts in 2006 and 2008, both in the highly sensitive post-2005 election period. It seems that when problems are mentioned from the South, officials risk their necks and federal Revolutionary Democrats talk darkly of mismanagement, bad cultural practices, and food aid dependency.
Since 2005, the Revolutionary Democrats have based their claim for legitimacy not on democratic models but on their ability to deliver economic growth, infrastructure, and social services. Officials are indoctrinated at the ruling parties “courses” to show how good things are. Exaggerated statistics in health, education, and water services have become the norm.
The high food inflation of the last year makes the claim of 10pc annual crop production over the last five years obviously false. Bad news is the last thing a government official wants to report, especially some throwback to the memories of famines past.
Ironically, the way the Revolutionary Democrats are acting is likely in their own worst interest.
How bad does it have to be for them to acknowledge that despite all the progress, there are still vulnerable people who need assistance?
Although the South is suffering from underlying causes to their vulnerability, such as population growth leading to smaller plots of land supporting more people, the immediate cause of the problem this year is poor rain, which the Revolutionary Democrats cannot be blamed for. At the end of the day, this particular drought area of the region has only a few hundred thousand people affected, a tiny proportion of the Ethiopian population of over 80 million.
Why not allow or even lead a response to these needs as a sign of the ongoing concern towards the “precious” peasants?
There is a lot of international goodwill for Ethiopia and an eagerness to see a success story from the ashes of the famous Ethiopian famine.
Why jeopardise all of that with the denial of a relatively minor drought in a remote part of the country?
It would be ironic, indeed, if that mistake costs the Revolutionary Democrats their moment of international glory.

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