Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Cold war politics over US food aid to Ethiopia (part 2)

Clyde Ahmad Winters

"In the Ethiopian case, it was a country that's caught up in the matter of international political disputes, and this made it more isolated than some of the other countries might be." (see part 1)
This view is supported by the fact that Ethiopia can produce 6.2 million tons of grain per year, and usually has a short fall of around 1 million tons. This suggests that if it had more aid, and civil wars were ended, it could do more. Some scholars speculate that given the right development programme, Ethiopia could feed 300 million people. Due to this fact many relief workers claim that Ethiopia's alliance with the Soviets slowed the response of the West to Ethiopia's request for food aid.

The Western world has known about an impending drought in Ethiopia since 1982. It is easy to blame the Russians' lack of response to the Ethiopian request for food as an example of its lack of help for an ally. But, this is foolish, because as we all know if not for the wheat Russia buys from the US, the Soviets could not feed their own people and cattle. Today, due to US reserves it can decide who will or will not eat.

The Ethiopian drought began in the Wollo and southern Tigre provinces in late 1982. This forced families to head south toward Addis Ababa in search of food, and or employment. Other Ethiopians, mainly Muslims fled to Sudan. By January 1983 over 5,000 refugees were in the town of Korem.

The government gave them food and asked them to go back to their farms but they refused, because their farms were ruined. By April 1983, over 40,000 people were living at relief camps.

On 29 April, guerillas who control most of the region attacked Korem. The refugees scattered and the distribution of food was halted for two months. In the summer of 1983, 50,000 refugees went to Sudan in search of work, but found none. Only 20,000 stayed in Sudanese relief camps, the remainder went back home or starved to death.

Unicef warned about the impending drought in Ethiopia in the summer of 1983. In the Spring of 1984, an Oxfam report on the Tigre province said that 1.2 million villagers "would be starving by May and 400,000 people have already migrated in search of food."

In March 1984, the Ethiopian government warned that 5 million people were at risk, because Ethiopia's state controlled farms cannot produce enough food for the country. And the presence of severe drought in the North, all but eliminated small scale family farms in many parts of Ethiopia.

Private relief agencies maintain that western governments should have responded to aid request by Ethiopia much sooner. James Grant, director of UNICEF, said that "Now the warnings were there, but governments did not respond." Gill Wittington, of the Red Cross, said that the hunger problems in Ethiopia were mainly due to the "poor response" to Ethiopia's request for food back in the spring.

No matter who is right the facts speak for themselves; the present food controversy surrounding US efforts to help hungry Africans as a result of this public debate has prompted the US to send more food to African countries But most observers appear to agree that the radical-marxist policies of Ethiopia makes it one of the less attractive recipients of aid from the Western countries. (Many US officials are more than happy to acknowledge to the media, that they are pleased that Mozambique due to its most severe need for food and loss of 200,000 Many people associated wit people due to the famine there, made conservative groups in the Unite them sign a peace treaty with South States, have long advocated the use o Africa, and disassociate themselves from the Soviets in order to get US food and development aid

Mr Grant observed that "In the Ethiopian case, it was a country that's caught up in the matter of international political disputes, and this made it with the US. more isolated than some of the other countries might be. And the international community preoccupied with other things did not respond." He added that, "virtually everybody shares some of the blame for the situation that we have in Ethiopia. But the important thing is that the world community is beginning to respond."

The Reagan administration since October 1984 has provided Ethiopia with 200,000 plus tons of grain, towards a total of $45 million in food aid for fiscal 1984-1985. This sum is up from $15 million in fiscal 1982-1983 and $19 million in fiscal 1983-1984.

Congressional sources are satisfied with present US food aid to Ethiopia and the rest of Africa, but this aid was only given to Ethiopia due to public pressure. According to congressional sources, in October 1982, Ethiopia made an appeal for food aid. But the first response to the request was not made until May 1983, after a Congressional delegation had returned from a visit to drought stricken Ethiopia. This delegation was able to develop bipartisan support for more aid to drought stricken Africa, but the administration has consistently underestimated the monies necessary to fight hunger in Africa.

Food aid to Ethiopia, even if it was a Marxist regime is complicated by Marian's refusal to pay US businessmen for property his government nationalized after the 1974 coup. This means that US food aid to Ethiopia is handled by the Catholic Relief Services (CRS). CRS is an umbrella group of 26 private agencies handling all US food aid sent to Ethiopia under Public Law 480, Title II Concessional Food Aid.

Many people associated with conservative groups in the United States have long advocated the use of food as a weapon. These theorists believe that in the next four years due to the worsening economy, and weather in many parts of the world the US will be able to force many third world countries to realign themselves with the U.S.

The use of food as a weapon by the Reagan administration in relation to Ethiopia was first criticized by House of Representatives speaker Thomas O'Neill. O'Neill, put pressure on the administration when he announced d national television that "I am speaking out today because I believe that this administration actually on its own lacks the political and moral will to cut through the politics to get food to those starving people." He went on to say that "something is very, very wrong. We turn on the evening news and we see African children starving to death and we get no explanation whatever why we Americans are allowing this to happen."

O'Neill repeated earlier criticism surrounding a bill containing $150 million for African food aid, which was held up for weeks in Congress, because administration amendments to the bill would have given assistance to Nicaraguan rebels. He said that "this administration has shown that it is ready to starve Africans, so that it can kill Latin Americans."

The Reagan administration to say the least, was upset over this criticism. Millicet Fenwick, a member of the US delegation to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, said that "When there is starvation, we don't hold back." Larry Speakes, spokesman for President Reagan, disputed O'Neill's claims and placed the blame on Ethiopian officials, who he claimed had played down famine crisis until after the 10th anniversary coup celebration

No matter who is right the facts speak for themselves, the present food controversy surrounding the US efforts to help hungry Africans, as a result of this public debate has prompted the US to send more food aid to countries where it is needed except in southern Angola. Since October 1, already over $20 million in food aid has been sent to Chad, Murtons and Mozambique, countries experts believe that the crisis could occur.

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