Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Cold war politics over US food aid to Ethiopia (part 1)

Clyde Ahmad Winters

Unicef warned about the impending drought in Ethiopia in the summer of 1983. In the spring of 1984, the Oxfam report on the Tigre province said that 1.2 million villagers "would be starving by May and 400,000 people would have already migrated in search of food".
In Ethiopia over 200 people die each day due to famine. Although the Western nations have agreed to supply Ethiopia with 2.6 million tons of grain, out of a requested 2.9 million tons to fight starvation, controversy surrounds the US and British response to famine in Ethiopia.

In the US, this controversy embarrassed the Reagan administration, which has been trying to dislodge its image of being insensitive to the needs of the poor in the US, and the world. As a result this administration has been criticized by both relief workers in the field, and US politicians.

The Reagan administration maintains that it has done all it can do to help hungry Africans through the commitment of $480 million to famine relief in Africa. But critics of the administration considered this to be a drop in the bucket since the Reagan administration cut $700 million from the food for peace programme. In addition the American government has hundreds of tons of food set aside to help the world's hungry that is not being used to help the needy, because of what many critics see as the use of food as a weapon. The Director of Catholic Relief Services in Ethiopia, said that "We can no longer continue to use food as political weaponry."

Rev. Charles Elliot, the former director of Christian Aid in Great Britain, told the London Observer that the United States and Britain, "thought that if there was a major catastrophe" in Ethiopia, "it would probably change the regime again."

According to him, "They took the view that if there were another famine, it would serve the Ethiopian government right, that they had it coming to them."

But Peter McPherson, administrator of the US Agency for International Development lambasted the Ethiopian leader Mengistu Haile Mariam, who is a Marxist, for spending $100 million on the tenth anniversary celebration of the 1974 coup which put in the present Marxist government.

This, noted McPherson, indicated that the Ethiopians in power were "not especially interested" in feeding the hungry in Ethiopia.

It is obvious that the Ethiopians have not committed all their resources to relieving the famine. But given the reality of civil war throughout the country, especially in the famine zone, and the lack of adequate roads has led many experts to agree that Ethiopia has done just about as much as it can to help identify and attack its problems given its limited resources.

Ethiopia receives the least development aid per capita than any country in the world. But Dr Kenneth King, the UN's development specialist in Ethiopia, noted that "This is a country that has been bad at managing what it has”

See part 2

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