It is not a secret that the word Ethiopia has become so embarrassing to Ethiopians, so that some of us no more hesitate to decline telling our true origin and identity. To be associated with failure as is expressed in its wide ramifications is really agonizing. Living among Europeans and North Americans has been always a struggle for guarding one’s dignity; by trying to explain the unexplainable.


In contrast to the usual reports, by other media, regarding the situation in Ethiopia, serious charges are made against the Ethiopian government and aid organisation by the German weekly „DIE ZEIT“ in an article of its April 16, 2003 issue . We feel it is appropriate to translate some subjectively chosen excerpts of the article, where thestatements are significant. Concerned bodies may reject the charges, and let us know about true nature of the situation. 



(A partial translation of the article Der inszenierte Hunger of Die Zeit, one of the most recognized German weeklies)



There is enough water in Ethiopia – but Aid workers of the UN tell the world about drought catastrophe.

The three minutes, that take to reach his office in the sixth floor of the UN-building in the Ethiopian capital from the reception counter in the ground floor, are enough forWagdi Othman to tell every thing of importance about the current food situation of the country: Failure of rain leads in the high lands to drought and bad harvests, within the nomads in the plain to high losses in the cattle stocks.

“… Inorder to facilitate a correct understanding of the drama, he adds: ‘we are facing a much bigger hunger catastrophe than 1984’ …”

“… a pack of 64-page high gloss folder lies besides to Othmans desk. They forecast, in gloomy colors, a ‘Hunger Catastrophe in Ethiopia 2003’…”

The former BBC-Correspondent Othman in his air-conditioned office receives daily journalists from the whole world, aiming at their participation in publicizing the alarming numbers. The international aid machinery is set in motion only through their reports. It depends on the media how many millions of dollars are going to flow to Ethiopia in the coming months.

In the WFP-paper, the Somali-region is described as the worst hit. 

…It mentions the haggard cows and camels. … But one cannot see these. Thousands of strong oxen, camels, goats and sheep roam through the glimmering semi-desert. Resembling a biblical scene, hundreds of animals in good condition and with full and tight hunchs gather around the water hole “Oman”. Farmers and nomads withina two-day march report, that there is no real emergency. 

“… all water holes, known to them, have water. No one in their family, that lives wide-spread in the dry plain suffers from hunger. ‘and it will remain so in next time’, say the brothers and laugh optimistically.

“… in Jigiga …in the small garden of the Africa Hotel … Mohammed Beul enjoysa bottle of water. In Jigiga he is known by his nickname pilot. He started to talk, after he hears the word “Food aid”. … he has a fighter pilot training of the US-Air force and lives in San Diego, but visits his old home occasionally. … ‘you are writing on the hunger catastrophe? You are in the wrong place’ … ‘ I have criss-crossed the whole Ogaden in the last two months. There are problems here and there, but I have seen nothing of a catastrophe.’

whilst, by a Hotel dime light, a big white Toyota Land cruiser with a “WFP” sticker stops outside, says Beul: ‘Just write about those people there!’. Two well-dressed men come out of the cruiser. ‘They drive the biggest cars, earn fat salaries, and few of them have the slightest notion about the life of the nomads’. Beul is full of disrespect to the aid organizations, which distribute free-of-charge cereals to nomadic Somali clans in so-called Feeding Centers. ‘This leads, meanwhile,that the nomads have adjusted their wandering routes in a manner, that they move to places, where currently free cereals is being distributedMost of it is feed to the animals or sold. Besides to it, my people are being used tocereals as food. The stuff is like a drug for them. It destroys their food culture, because they have relied on their animals.’

SuddenlyBeul is laughing: ‘Do you hear it? Their hunger catastrophe is being spoiled’. Heavy rain drops fall on the canopy of the Hotel. It rained for the whole night, on the coming morning hours and in the next days. One cannot see the stars.

In Dire Dawa it rains too. The City is located a half-day drive away firm Jijiga. … Facing the train station, the aid organization Hararghe Catholic Services has its unimpressivehead–office. Dr. Paulo Pironti works there, and he is known in the Aid Workers Community as a recognised specialist for nomads. … he lives since 18 years in Äthiopia. From his office …, he governs over 80 aid workers. ‘ We don’t have a hunger catastrophe in the low land. These are dramatically exaggerated forecasts that may happen or not’. Pironti shakes his head. ‘The problem is, many of the so-called experts and politicians in Addis never leave their air-conditioned offices. They haveno idea about the life of the nomads and therefore declare a sick camel immediately for a catastrophe’.

Prontis face displays his anger. He takes a deep breath …: ‘Since 20 years food is brought in, not only to help the needy, but also to reduce the overproduction of the highly subsidized farmers in the USA, Canada and West Europe. Otherwise, why don’t they give us the cash? I would buy here in the region twice as much grain for that money, because the prices are lower and the long transportation would be avoided.’ … Why is the west concerned about Ethiopia? Because it is considered a strategic strongholdin between the Sudan and Somalia and facing Arabic Peninsula.

If you want to know about hunger, then go to Mieso. Some Villages had a total failure during the last harvest. They are really in trouble. Pictures of hunger on TV-Screens come from there. Most of the journalist go to that area, and the president has been there too - for a couple of hours.

The weather was not favourable. Is he happy about the rain now? ‘the rain is good for our oxen. In one week time there will be grass again. Otherwise it is of no use for us’.A neighbour: ‘ We get 14 kilos per head and month. We eat since months the same food. But the worst thing is, that we couldn’t sow this funny maize fromoverseas . It is sterile.’

Aliye’s neighbour complains: Without seeds they are dependent on aid supplies permanently. Alye Mumed … ‘Look at my field! It is ploughed, it is prepared. Now I cloud begin to sow! May be, I have some chance this time’.

Grain, that is supplied to Ethiopia as food aid is due to many reasons not germinable. … The Ethiopian government is aware of the seeds problem, but it a makes a business out of it. It has launched an agricultural package programme, in which it sells to the farmers seed and fertilizers on loan. But the package doesn’t help the farmers, who are really suffering. They become dependent not only due to the repayments, but also because of the seeds. These are highly developed hybrid seeds from the American firm Pioneer Bred International, which promises rich harvest for one season. It cannot reproduce itself and it must be bought every year. 

The 3500 m² lake Tana scheins under the sun light. The Blue Nile originates here. The surrounding areas show dense settlements. One has a good view from an airplane, that the small farms witness how the farmers use any farm space. 

… Debre Tabor lies 100 km from Bahr Dar. Klaus Feldner works here. The agricultural expert, working for the German technical Cooperation firm (GTZ), supervises the ‘Integrated Food Securing South-Gondar’. His region is also, according to official statements, described as strongly under hunger emergency. The bearded German shakes his head in disbelief, after he studied the numbers and statistics of the forecasted catastrophe. ‘Again a number of districts are declared as non-food secure. During my seven-years stay here, I have never experienced that even a single district has been removed from the statistics. The status remains unchanged, irrelevant of, whethergood or bad harvest years. Here, in the villages there are individual families, that face emergencies. But it is not the whole village.’ Feldner is confident, that Ethiopia could not only feed itself, but could also export food. The potential of this country is gigantic.’

South-Gondar is Feldner’s last project and his “first success”, according to his words: The cereal Triticale, a crossing of wheat and rye. Feldner brought Triticale to Ethiopia in the 90s, after it has been cultured in the South African University of Stellenbosch in two variation that are suitable to tropical situations, after prior tries of the Ethiopian government in introducing other Triticale-breeds were failures. In the meantime, the seed with the long awns is spreading rapidly among the small fields of the Amharic farmers, independently of the GTZ- efforts. In order to evaluate Feldner’s Masterpiece, even some Ethiopian Ministers and Ambassadors of EU-States have journeyed the long way from Addis Ababa to Debre Tabor.

Anger on the ‘white collar’ aid workers

The brawny 60-years-old man has to go through unorthodox ways for this success: … he smuggled the seed and equipment to Ethiopia. He is often in quarrels with the Ethiopian Orthodox church, because it forbids the strictly worshipping Farmers in the highlands working on their fields on uncountable religious holidays.

… Feldner criticizes that the development aid in Ethiopia is increasingly being more an academic practice. There is a steady increase of highly qualified scientists, with neck-ties and shirts that are populating the desks in the capital city as consultants. ‘There is lack of people who could take a plough in their hands’ says Feldner.

He criticizes the World Food Programme for its double standards. He considers it as a government friendly, in addition, it pursues its own interests, which is not perceived by the world community. ‘If there is no hunger catastrophes, the WFP could no more finance its gigantic organisation.’ They get money for each distributed ton of food. Therefore, they are highly interested, to exaggerate crisis situations. Ethiopia, South Sudan and Bageladesh have been in the last decades, the continuously flowingsource of money for the WFP.’

… Jonas Bekele*,a high government official, says the weather is not to blame for the current food shortage, there are rather, ”after decades of food aid five to six million people Ethiopians permanently dependent on it. This has lead in South-Gonder to a destructive take-away mentality among the farmers. We are accustomed to aid likewise to the rising sun. There goes a saying among the farmers here: We pray for rain in Canada’

The government doesn’t tolerate any critics

… Bekele … ‘we must enble our farmers to feed themselves’… ‘The task of the aid agencies shall not be, to bring bread to the people. The helpers should enable them to bake it themselves. In the last 20 years, huge amount of aid money has been squandered. This must end.’ Many aid agencies aggravate the problem, which they are supposed to solve. This is due to the fact that their functionaries draw the justification for their existence from the Organising of food aid, says the government official. A huge accusation – that is shared by the umbrella-association of the catholic aid organisation in Ethiopia, with 141 members. They believe that in the meantime, one-third of the 325 registerdaid agencies in Ethiopia, are busy exclusively in distributing food aid. “Sustainable development” and “Help for Self-help“, as we know them from big talks and study papers remain with out any attention.

Bekele reports about enormous food surpluses, that are produced in different parts of Ethiopia. The last record harvest was in 2001. Neither the people who are facing shortages, nor the farmers that produce the surpluses are gaining any profit. On the one hand, due to lack of marketing system, on the other side, due to food aid imports - also during years of good harvests. Twenty to 40% of the yearly imports of, on the average,800 000 tons of grains supplies, land in the markets of the towns and villages for give-away prices. No farmer can compete with this dumping prices. In many areas no cerealis cultivated. Instead, Chat is flourishing in large areas in East Ethiopia.


In their publicdeclaration and conferences, government representativesin Addis Ababa always affirm, that one must depart from food aid. But instead, the aid industry is being controlled much perfectly. For the currently governing party EPRDF, a party that governs Ethiopia alone and a party with a wide network of firms, food aid is not an emergency solution, but a blessing. 

… Big trade and transportation firms, that distribute food aid in the country and which are owned by the government party, earn about 150 [US] dollars from each ton of food aid. Depending on the magnitude of the proclaimedemergency situation, three-digit millions flow into the coffers of the party. In addition, the party applies food aid as rewarding means, in order to secure the loyalty of its supporters.


Due to his participation in the student protests of 2001 one of the prominent opponents of Ethiopia, the Economist Berhanu Nega, has been jailed. … The small, agile guy … comes to the point: ‘Is drought followed by a hunger catastrophe? Of course not. It has structural causes. For example, the fact that the state owns the whole land. Private initiatives, for instance in irrigation systems or new production methods remain neglected. Our farmers produce applying wooden ploughs, as it is the case since 3000 years. The average farmer produces on one hectare land, and this is the case for 85% of the 65 million Ethiopians.’

… Nega… goes on: ‘our Government doesn’t want to change anything, it wants neither the privatisation of land, nor strategies for industrialization. Why? Maybe, because it can hold to power only in this manner. It has already lost its supporters in urban centers.’ Foreign food aid, believes Nega, does not contribute to solve this problem, it rather cements it. The donor countries and aid agencies should focus their attention on the democratisation of Ethiopia. ‘ Sustainable development can only come from within.’

All TV-Teams shot the same pictures

… Although the EU has participated in the preparation of the forecast on the looming drought catastrophe, the statistics is seen critically – as far as no one is quoted by his name. “The number are therefore note quite reliable. “ 

Two dozen teams, comprising of employees of the government, the UN and aid agencies, upon whose work the statistics is based, have estimated the situation in November 2002, in a haphazard manner. Finally, while preparing the report, the responsible people stroke a deal concerning the millions, who are going to be hungry. The report is after all an expression of the fight-for-a-bigger share of the yearly allocated aid. 

… Since months waves of aid is rolling for the hungry in Southern Africa. In order not to be forgotten, dramatic numbers are required. 

Representatives of the Ethiopian government and of WFP pleaded to confront the world community with much higher number of the hungry, the people of the EU want lower numbers. “Some how, an agreement is reached”, says one insider.

The word Ethiopia is a reliable means of pressurizing financially stronggovernments, because many people still remember the hunger catastrophe of 1984/85. … ‘Then, the Ethiopian government and the world community have allowed, that tens of thousands in the North of the country had to die of hunger. The indescribable death could be experienced so closely on the TV. These pictures were a shock, and Ethiopia plays this card regularly. And it is also easier for the aid agencies to mobilize the public with the symbol Ethiopia.”

[In 2000] Once more the WFP has worked on the publicity and has invited TV-Teams, whose pictures had the right impact. BBC, Reuters, CNN – the big guns of the industry reported. “Ethiopia 2000” became a fast-selling item . … ‚ Every thing happened only in the small place Gode in Ogaden. But the TV-Pictures were so intense, that one has the impression, that the whole Ethiopia is sinking in hunger again. Almost all TV-Teams shot their pictures in Gode, the same pictures of hunger and they had same interviewpartners. This single case was projectedfor the whole country. It was the talk of ten millions that are hungry’. This exaggeration was too far even to WFP-head Catherine Bertini. But her statement, ‘ this is not a hunger catastrophe,’ was not heard by any one.

The climax of the this year’s hunger catastrophe is forecasted by the Ethiopian government and by the spokesman of the WEF in Addis Ababa, for the months April and May. They urge for speed. Until then, many millions of dollars and food aid must have flown into the country.

And no one would criticize them, they had not warned earlier.

* Name has been changed by the editorial board.