The spectre of hunger is never an easy thing to contemplate, particularly by those accountable to the populace. But denial seems to be the watchword while peasants struggle for survival in the midst of conflicting stories both about the impact of the drought and the relief measures. While there are exceptions to the rule, there is serious and partisan imbalance in the distribution of wealth.
Developing countries worry about the right type of food to eat or not to eat. They protect themselves from obesity. For them people of a country going hungry or sleeping rough is something hard to believe. We argue about exactness of the numbers suffering.
We deny the cause to the death of children as if dying by other causes were justifiable. We try to impress people that we have 270 million quintals of grain in store for times of need. But we do not know when that time of need is.
We claim that not a single soul has died of hunger. We accept the death of livestock in many areas, as if the people do not depend on cattle for their survival. We talk about projects planned to dig deep wells for the thirsty people, as if lack of water can be resisted until the projects become functional.
We try to wash our hands clean like Pontius Pilate, as if we can go through everything without taking any share of the blame. we try to play Peter at the determining moment.
We preach that America and Australia are experiencing drought. But we request them to come to our rescue when we are in dire need for food.
We have been making a big deal about the nouveau riche in the community of farmers. We have been awarding some with prizes and medals for remarkable achievements. We have been telling the world, although not showing in pictures or permitting journalists the freedom to ask the right questions, about how we have been able to groom “millionaires”.
These illusions seem to be sticking to this day. Journalists have gone around places to see the extent of the looming danger. All the peasants interviewed had confirmed that nobody has died of hunger so far. But they all agree on one thing. They confirm that if the rains do not come soon they fear that they cannot survive the coming season.
Asked if any help has come to them so far one interviewee quipped that “they have sprinkled a few grain on us “. That was naked satire.
Asked what he thinks about the report of two dying per day, the Head of Communications Affairs Office, Minister Getachew Reda said outright that it was a mere lie. I would have thought for a man in his key position, he would have used polished language even if he had to scoff at what the BBC and UN agencies have reported.
It all transpires to one fact. The agriculture, which is believed to be the bedrock of our economy still produces at a subsistence level.
In a subsistence farming economy whatever yields are obtained are carefully managed. If for some reason there is a shortage of rain, the farmer becomes vulnerable to hunger. As we have been following in the interviews given to reporters, the peasant farmers are waiting for handouts of food and water both for them and their livestock.
We understand why there is all the fuss to cover up the facts. The government knows well that external food aid can come and be distributed to the affected people directly via non-government organisations (NGO). A by-law to disband or control NGOs seems to be cooking up.
As we have observed from the type of people interviewed even by EBC journalists, they are either elderly folk or women. We do not see the youth around. We can make wild guesses. Either they have flocked to Addis Abeba and other towns or fled the country altogether.
Government officials seem interested in contemplating figures and language. This is more so when it concerns the number of people flocking to the capital. Addis Abeba is already overloaded, with more than its carrying capacity. What our politicians tend to forget or shy away from mentioning, is the rising price of food in urban areas. That has caused a substantial risk of some experiencing hunger, even if there is food stacked in Merkato.
As experts in economics tell us, urbanites going hungry because they lack the purchasing power of money, are no less danger than the hungry folks further afield.
What is more intriguing, is the ridiculous fact that the APDM party celebrated the 35th anniversary of its founding, spending over 300 million Birr at a time when six regional states are reported to be under the shrouds of looming danger. This is not to speak of the decision to construct exquisite luxurious buildings for only six senior officials. Some say that such actions are like spitting in the wind.
When we say that the bedrock of the economy is subsistence agriculture it does not mean that there are not exceptional situations at all.
In a few areas where some farmers have larger areas of land it has been possible to produce both cash crops like vegetables and fruit and cereal farming. These few lucky ones have been able to amass wealth even if over 50 per cent of the population is still depending on subsistence farming. This mode of production is vulnerable to the slightest change in the weather.
That forces youngsters to migrate at any cost. Ruling parties know too well that partisan supporters can share wealth better than the rest of the population. This is characteristic of poor people grabbing political power and greedily holding on to it using everything in their means to make others fearful. The philosophy bequeathed from dictators in history is to engulf people with fear since one can do everything to people who are afraid. Fear has no mercy even for those causing it and more so for hungry people.
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