The Economist said that Ethiopia under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who was hailed to power in 2018 as a “reformer”, appears to be using hunger as a weapon in its struggle with the rebels in the northern Tigray region.
The British magazine stated – in a report – that Ethiopia, which is the second largest African country in terms of population, lived through famines in the past, but their cause was not always poor harvests but the policies of “evil rulers” such as the Marxist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam in the 1980s.
Between 1983 and 1985, it was not the weather that killed nearly a million people, but the policies of Mengistu, which forced peasants at gunpoint to move to collective farms, and tried to crush the rebellion in the northern Tigray region by burning crops, destroying grain stores and slaughtering livestock.
When the then head of his government’s humanitarian agency begged him for money and feed the hungry, he expelled him with a harsh and memorable phrase, saying, “Don’t let these little humanitarian problems consume you.”
Today – the magazine confirms – it seems as if the same scenario is being repeated in the same region, the northern Tigray, since since the outbreak of the conflict between government forces and the elements of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front last November, it is believed that two million people out of 6 million have fled their homes. In the region, many of them are now starving, because the government has allowed very little food aid to enter the area.
Relief agencies believe that between two million and 4.5 million people are in need of urgent assistance in the region, which are approximate numbers because telephone networks are broken and because the government has prevented reporters from entering the region, while few of those who manage give “horrific stories” of killings on the basis of Ethnic, starvation and gang rape cases.
Abiy Ahmed insists – the Economist says – that his forces respect humanitarian law and that the ongoing conflict in Tigray is not a civil war but just a process of policing, and his government also claims that the restrictions imposed on aid workers are only for their safety, a narrative that many do not believe.
Many observers fear that the fighting in the region has become so complex that the central government will not be able to control it, as forces from neighboring Eritrea have joined operations on the ground, as well as militias from the Amhara race competing with Tigray.
Western authorities must then – according to the magazine – to pressure all parties to allow food aid to reach civilians, and Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy official, has already announced the suspension of $ 107 million in aid to Ethiopia until aid agencies are allowed access to Tigray.
This is a “good” first step that other countries, such as the United States and Britain, should emulate and put additional financial pressure on the Ethiopian authorities.
Also, Ethiopia – the magazine concludes – suffers from a severe shortage of foreign currency and depends on loans and grants from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, so donors must in turn stop any support or aid to the government unless food aid is allowed to enter Tigray.