Ethiopia’s government appears to be wielding hunger as a weapon

A rebel region is being starved into submission

Source: Economist

Ethiopia suffered famines in the past. Many foreigners know this; in 1985 about one-third of the world’s population watched a pop concert to raise money for starving Ethiopians. What is less well understood is that poor harvests lead to famine only when malign rulers allow it.

It was not the weather that killed perhaps 1m people in 1983-85. It was the policies of a Marxist dictator, Mengistu Haile Mariam, who forced peasants at gunpoint onto collective farms. Mengistu also tried to crush an insurgency in the northern region of Tigray by burning crops, destroying grain stores and slaughtering livestock.

When the head of his own government’s humanitarian agency begged him for cash to feed the starving, he dismissed him with a memorably callous phrase: “Don’t let these petty human problems…consume you.”

Things were supposed to be different under Abiy Ahmed, the Ethiopian prime minister who was hailed as a reformer when he took charge in 2018, and who won the Nobel peace prize the following year.

Yet once again it looks as if hunger is being used as a weapon in Africa’s second-most-populous nation. And once again the scene of the horror is Tigray. Since fighting broke out in November between federal forces and those of Tigray’s rebellious former ruling party, perhaps 2m out of 6m Tigrayans are thought to have fled their homes.

Many could now starve because the government has let so little food into the region

Plenty of food is available. Charities and un agencies have been trying to get supplies through for months. But Ethiopia’s Orwellian Ministry of Peace has sent them on a paperchase for permits. “For more than two months there has been essentially no access to Tigray,” says Mark Lowcock, the un’s humanitarian chief.

“There are 450 tonnes of supplies we’ve been trying to get in that are stuck.” On those occasions when the federal government grants permission for an aid lorry to pass, it is typically stopped en route by regional governments, which insist that they, too, need to give permission, or halted by troops inside Tigray. Meanwhile there are credible reports of government forces or their allies killing livestock and burning crops. If true, both the perpetrators and those who gave the orders are guilty of war crimes.

Abiy insists that his troops are respecting humanitarian law. The conflict is not a civil war, but a mere police action, he claims. His government claims that restrictions on aid workers are for their own safety. Few believe him. Moreover, many observers fear that the fighting has grown too complex for the government to control. Troops from neighbouring Eritrea have joined the fray, as have militias from a rival ethnic group, the Amharas.

Outsiders should press all parties to let civilians eat. Josep Borrell, the eu’s foreign-policy chief, has suspended €88m ($107m) of budget support until aid agencies are given access to Tigray. This is a good first step. Others, such as America and Britain, should add financial pressure. Ethiopia is desperately short of foreign currency, and depends on loans and grants from the imf and World Bank. Until its government allows food into Tigray, donors should not give it another dollar.


  1. The international community must act urgently to avert catastrophe , 2-5 million people are threatened by famine in a worst-case scenario . All Restrictions by Abiy Ahmed must be lifted and main transport routes kept open and safe so that essential aid are allowed to reach their destinations .

  2. In the past, the so called the humanitarian groups have been given tremendous assistance to the tigirayans rebellion to overthrow the military government by the name of food aid. So, the government of Ethiopia has said that they have credible evidence of the western repeating the same situation as before.

    1. So, you believe 2 to 4 million civilians should die of hunger and sickness, I guess you are Amhara Ethiopian in diaspora. This group is dehumanized to an extent it can accept the holocaust of the Tigrian people. It is sick.

      1. De-humanized due to a false dream. They a striving to turn back the wheel of history to their days of imperial rule; The days they were superoirs of all; The plus two hundered years they looted the wealth of the country;The days they userped the chance of education gifted by the western countries for all ethiopians.
        They got for this a perfect puppet – #abiy and they are hidding behind a non sense called madamar.
        Fortunatly, majority of ethiopians – the before marginalized – see clearly for their being the hyna in the sheap skin!
        That is what they are and every word they utter should be be understood in this dream context.

    2. Anwar You are 100% right. There is an agenda and that agenda is to destroy Ethiopia. In the first place while the low CNN life weyane bandits were looting Ethiopia, slaughtering ogaden ppl, oromo ppl , uprooting the wolqayt and Agniniuaks in Gambela, no one said anything. The world was silent, why ? Because weyabe were the hit man of the west be it in Somalia, Eritrea and both Sudans. The west don’t like to see self sufficient free Ethiopia or Africa. The millennium dam is the enemy of Ethiopia and Africa. 6000 mw is a game changer in africa. All African nations have to protect that great dam.

      1. The 6000mw should be the wealth of UNITED FEDERAL ETHIOPIA based on equality and justice, not for a false ethiopia based on #amhara superiority – the one you are striving for hidding behind your puppet #abiy – the so called PM – and his stuped madamar.

  3. I agree 100%, but not only give another dollar. Exports should also be embargoed. #abiy is using every penny for his unjust war effort.Embargo has been utilized before on many countreis for a very much lesser offences. This is a #GENOCIDE!

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