A rebel region is being starved into submission
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