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The Dam and the Damned: Gibe III Ethiopia

Alemayehu G Mariam

Cry Me a River, Cry Me a Lake

Three years ago to the week, I wrote a weekly commentary entitled, “Cry Me a Lake: Crime Against Nature”. That commentary focused on the plight of tens of thousands of Ethiopians who are sick and dying from drinking  the polluted waters of Lake Koka, once a pristine lake, located some 50km south of Addis Ababa. A world renowned scientist from the University of Durham, U.K., analyzed water samples from Lake Koka and found “high concentrations of the microcystis bacteria”, which he said are among “some of the most toxic molecules known to man.” I argued:

The Lake Koka environmental disaster is only the tip of the iceberg. Ethiopia is facing an ecological catastrophe: deforestation, desertification, soil erosion, overgrazing and population explosion. The Ethiopian Agricultural Research Institute says Ethiopia loses up to 200,000 hectares of forest every year. Between 1990 and 2005, Ethiopia lost 14.0% of its forest cover (2,114,000 hectares) and 3.6% of its forest and woodland habitat. If the trend continues, it is expected that Ethiopia could lose all of its forest resources in 11 years, by the year 2020.

Dam, Dams and Damned Dams

omoLike the people who are dying around Lake Koka, the people who live in the Omo River Basin in Southwestern Ethiopia are facing an environmental disaster that could push them not only to hunger, starvation, dislocation and conflict, but potentially to extinction through habitat destruction. According to International Rivers, a highly respected environmental and human rights organization committed to “protecting rivers and defending the rights of communities that depend on them”:

“The Omo River is a lifeline for hundreds of thousands of indigenous people in southwest Ethiopia and northern Kenya. The Gibe 3 Hydropower Dam, already under construction, will dramatically alter the Omo River’s flood cycle, affecting ecosystems and livelihoods all the way down to the world’s largest desert lake, Kenya’s Lake Turkana. The Lower Omo Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to an estimated 200,000 agro-pastoralists from eight distinct indigenous groups who depend on the Omo River’s annual flood to support riverbank cultivation and grazing lands for livestock.”

The Omo River and its tributaries are being exploited for their hydro electrical potential, and the surrounding areas are handed out to so-called international investors for export commercial agriculture. “Gilgel Gibe I” was built at a cost of nearly USD$300 million provided by the World Bank and other European investment banks. It became operational in 2004 after 6 years of construction and generates 183 MW. The 63 square-kilometer reservoir created for the dam displaced some 10 thousand people. “Gilgel Gibe II”, according to Salini Costruttori, the Italian company that built it, “is a continuation of Gilgel Gibe I project” and is “not a dam” but “instead will use the water discharged by the Gilgel Gibe I channeled through a 26km tunnel under Fofa mountain to Omo River Valley.” It was built at a cost of 373 million euros provided by Italy and the European Investment Bank. Gilgel Gibe II collapsed in February 2010 just weeks after its official inauguration.

The “Gibe III” Dam is the one that has raised the most concern among environmentalists and multilateral institutions because it poses the most serious hydrological risks to the quarter of a million people and the flora and fauna of the Omo Basin. Experts fear that Gibe III could destroy the fragile ecosystem for an additional 300,000 people downstream in Lake Turkana, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (a site of special cultural or physical significance to the world at large) which gets up to 90% of its water from the Omo River.

“Gibe III”- A Dam Environmental Disaster Under Construction

In 2006, construction began on the Gibe III Dam. In July 2008, Ethiopia’s Environmental Protection Authority issued the Gibe III Environmental Social Impact Assessment approving the project. The report was a shameless whitewash which rubber-stamped the project. The report unabashedly concluded that there will be little adverse environmental impact and that the reservoir area for Gibe III is unfit for human habitation because it is infested by deadly mosquitoes and tsetse flies (which cause “sleeping sickness”):

In 2006, an estimated 253,412 people around the Gibe III… However, as a result of steep slope and Tsetse fly infestation, there is no settlement in the future reservoir area and settlements are concentrated on the highland in areas outside the valley… As the result of the less favorable rainfall, Tsetse fly infestation and the consequent occurrence of cattle disease, trypanosomiasis, there is very little farming activity around the Omo valley bottom lands. The project areas are highly endemic for malaria with continuous transmission and malaria is by far the most common of the diseases… The presence of several rivers (tributaries to Omo River) provides ideal breeding habitats for mosquitoes…The the population living within the proposed dam and the reservoir areas are not in close proximity to this UNESCO designated heritage site. No visible archaeological remains, which have scientific, cultural, public, economic, ethnic and historic significances, have been observed in the area and dam sites. The sites have no archaeological importance… A wide range of livestock diseases affect animal in the Lower Omo.

This “environmental impact statement” has been roundly criticized for “its poor preparation and belated release two years after construction began, a flagrant violation of Ethiopian environmental law, which requires an impact assessment be approved prior to construction.”

Tewolde Geber Egziabher, the General Manager of the Environmental Protection Authority of  Ethiopia, is dismissive of human rights groups and other international institutions who have expressed doubt or criticized the lack rigorous environmental analysis in the construction of  Gibe III. Geber Egziabher said:

I doubt if they [international rights groups] know where Gibe III is except on the map. Those who have been shouting about Gibe III Hydroelectric Project they know it only from thousands miles away. I really do not take their voices seriously… None of the opponents of the Project are from Ethiopia. I  know one from Kenya and several others from Europe. The only person who claimed to have gone to the Gibe III dam site was the BBC reporter; and he can also not judge such measure undertakings from one –day- visit… The interest behind the adverse comment against Gibe III Dam is ignorance. Therefore, I simply dismiss the complaints as they are irrelevant.

An independent study by the African Resources Working Group (ARWG), an expert group of “scholars and consultants from the United States, Europe and  eastern  Africa, with extensive experience in  large hydrodam and  river basin  development research  and  policy issues in the Horn and East Africa,” presented a detailed rebuttal pointing out numerous flaws:

The document [Environmental Impact Assessment] rests on a series of faulty premises and that it is further compromised by pervasive omissions, distortions and obfuscation. The downstream EIA is laced with tables and figures with multiple types of ‘quantitative data’, creating the illusion of a scientific work. While this practice is well known to increase the likelihood of approval by development, finance and oversight agencies, it is fully unacceptable…

An accurate assessment of environmental and social processes within the lower Omo Basin indicates that completion of the Gibe III dam would produce a broad range of negative effects, some of which would be catastrophic in the tri-country region where Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya intersect… The indigenous peoples of the lowermost Omo Basin are dependent on riverside and delta recessional cultivation, as well as grazing resources, food gathering, fishing  and other activities wholly  dependent on flooding  by  the Omo  River. This population would face massive economic losses, with widespread severe hunger, disease and loss of life occurring on a regional scale, if the Gibe III dam is completed.

In June 2011, UNESCO concluded that “GIBE III dam is likely to significantly alter Lake Turkana’s fragile hydrological regime, and threaten its aquatic species and associated biological systems” and “urged the State Party of Ethiopia to immediately halt all construction on the GIBE III dam [and not] damage directly or indirectly the cultural and natural heritage located on the territory of another State Party.” Terri Hathaway, director of International Rivers’ Africa program, said Gibe III is “the most destructive dam under construction in Africa.” The project would condemn “half a million of theregion’s most vulnerable people to hunger and conflict.” 

Other regional and international organizations have similarly concluded that Gibe III will have “catastrophic consequences for the tribes of the Omo Riverwho already live close to the margins of life in this dry and challenging area.” They assert that the “dam would dramatically alter the Omo River’s flood cycle, affecting ecosystems and livelihoods and ultimately destroy the local food security and economy. The dwindling of resources caused by the dam is likely to increase local conflicts between ethnic groups.” Even the traditional sources of funding – the European Investment Bank, the African Development Bank, the World bank, the Italian government and others – have withdrawn their support for Gibe III.

Dictator Meles Zenawi responded to the international critics of Gibe III in his usual demeaning and contemptuous style. He claimed those who call for a halt to the construction of the dam “don’t want to see a developed Africa; they want us to remain undeveloped and backward to serve their tourists as a museum.” Zenawi’s representatives followed suit directing their ire at the “vociferous campaigners against the dam: International Rivers and Friends of Lake Turkana”. They charged, “Western activists have no monopoly of concern of environmental issues. Nor do they have any monopoly on accuracy.” They claimed that the international environmentalists make unsubstantiated “assertions” and are “ignorant”.

Verbal pyrotechnics against critics is stock-in-trade for Zenawi and his regime. When the European Union declared in November 2010 that the May 2010 election in which Zenawi claimed victory of 99.6 percent does not meet international standards for fair elections, Zenawi frothed at the mouth calling the report “trash that deserves to be thrown in the garbage. The report is not about our election. It is just the view of some Western neo-liberals who are unhappy about the strength of the ruling party. Anybody who has paper and ink can scribble whatever they want.” Last month, Zenawi shredded Human Rights Watch for criticizing his flagrant abuse of a so-called anti-terrorism law to decimate the independent press and political dissent in Ethiopia:

A campaign has been launched against us… There’s a reason behind it.  This institution [Human Rights Watch] is playing a role of [promoting] ideologies.  This organization and its friends’ world view are playing a role to speak against some countries, if they look to be on the road to success on an ideology that is different from the current world view.  So it’s a campaign to [bring] those of us to our knees that deviate from the current world view.  There’s no connection with human rights.”

So the official view is that all of the opposition to Gibe III is an international conspiracy by the usual boogeymen suspects of  “neocolonialists” “neoliberals”, and perhaps “neoideologists” and “neonates.”

African Dictators and African White Elephants

African dictators like to build big projects. It is part of the “Big Man” syndrome in Africa where public office is a means to private gain and personal glory. Africa’s “Big Men” undertake big projects as a means to achieving glory, greatness,  immortality, and more importantly, as a means of accumulating wealth for themselves and cronies. But these projects in the main are “white elephants” (wasteful, and useless projects).  In the Ivory Coast, Félix Houphouët-Boigny built the largest church in the world, The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro, at a cost of USD$300 million. It stands empty today. Mobutu built the The Inga Dams in western Democratic Republic of the Congo (Zaire) on the largest waterfalls in the world (Inga Falls). Inga I and Inga II were advertised to provide vast amounts of power domestically; today operate at low output.  When civil war broke out in the late 1990s, these dams went unmanaged and fell into disrepair. Bujagali dam in Uganda had a devastating effect on communities in the area. The backflow submerged a huge area of cultivable and settled land forcing migration and resettlement of large numbers of people. Self-appointed Emperor Jean-Bedel Bokassa of the Central African Republic built a 500-room Hotel Intercontinental for hundreds of millions of dollars in the middle of a residential district while millions of his people suffered from starvation.

African dictators like to build dams, shiny glass buildings and commission all sorts of extravagant projects as their people remain trapped in a relentless cycle of poverty. They do it to accumulate great personal wealth, increase their prestige, feed their fragile and insatiable egos, mask their gross incompetence, cover their bloody hands and justify their clinging to power indefinitely. They seek to clothe their naked dictatorships by displaying veneers of progress and development. These dictators could not care less if the people starve, are displaced from their ancestral homes, remain in poverty or go to hell. They could not care less if the environment is destroyed, cultural and archaeological relics are lost or the  ways of life of indigenous people and communities are obliterated. Zenawi wants to be known for having built the “240-meter  Gibe III, the tallest dam in Africa.” He wants to be known as an “African Messiah”. In February 2011, announcing the development of a massive 245,000 hectare sugar plantation in the lower Omo Basin, Zenawi declared with rapturous certainty: “In the coming five years there will be a very big irrigation project and related agricultural development in this zone. I promise you that, even though this area is known as backward in terms of civilization, it will become an example of rapid development.”

The price to be paid for “rapid development” by the Mursi, Suri and Bodi agro-pastoralists and others – those damned by the dam — in the Omo Basin is dislocation, displacement, destruction of traditional ways of life, persecution, loss of ancestral lands, starvation, conflict and potential extinction.

More Power for Ethiopians, No Power for Dictators

Ethiopia, like all other African countries, needs to develop its energy resources to meet the needs of its people,  support its long range economic development plans and improve the standard of living of the people.Ethiopia’s population is expected to triple to 280 million by 2050, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. There is no question that the country needs diverse sources of energy, including renewable energy sources, for its future.

But Gibe III is not intended to meet domestic power needs. Rather, much of the estimated 1,870MW is planned for “export” to Djibouti, Sudan and Kenya, presumably generating 300 million euros annually in profits. That is not particularly reassuring. A recent report by the Global Financial Integrityshowed that between 2000 and 2009, 11.7 billion was stolen out of the country.  In light of this evidence, those claiming to develop Gibe III for national economic development are fooling no one. As the old saying goes, “We may have been born yesterday, but not last night.”

The Toxic Ecology of African Dictatorships 

In December 2009, I wrote a commentary entitled, “The Toxic Ecology of African Dictatorships”:

The inconvenient truth about Africa today is that dictatorship presents a far more perilous threat to the survival of Africans than climate change. The devastation African dictators have wreaked upon the social fabric and ecosystem of African societies is incalculable…. Africans face extreme privation and mass starvation not because of climate change but because of the rapacity of power-hungry dictators. The continent today suffers from a terminal case of metastasized cancer of dictatorships, not the blight of global warming…. The fact of the matter is that while the rest of the world toasts from global warming, Africa is burning down in the fires of dictatorship. While Europeans are fretting about their carbon footprint, Africans are gasping to breathe free under the boot prints of dictators. While Americans are worried about carbon emission trapped in the atmosphere, Africans find themselves trapped in minefields of dictatorship… Africa faces an ecological collapse not because of climate change but because of lack of regime change.

Geber Egziabher, the General Manager of the Environmental Protection Authority, made a comment which Ethiopians should heed carefully. He said those who criticize Gibe III “know it only from thousands miles away. I really do not take their voices seriously… None of the opponents of the Project are from Ethiopia.” He said critics of the dam were “ignorant”.

The fact of the matter is that Zenawi’s regime provided little public information on Gibe III prior to the start of construction and stonewalled any request for information once the project got underway. There has been little  consultation with the people in the Omo River Basin, and the few locals who were “consulted” got the opportunity long after construction was under way. Obviously, in the absence of free speech and a free independent press, it is difficult to discuss, propose alternatives or criticize the dam project. But the evidence is clear that those locals who disagreed with Gibe III and/or the Omo land-grab were treated harshly. A report by the Oakland Institute, a US-based think-tank, has documented how regime soldiers “arrived at Omo Valley villages (and in particular Bodi, Mursi and Suri villages) questioning villagers about their perspectives on the sugar plantations. Villagers are expected to voice immediate support, otherwise beatings (including the use of tasers), abuse and general intimidation occurs”.

Geber Egziabher’s criticism that “none of the opponents of the Project [Gibe III] are from Ethiopia” should be clearly understood. What he is saying is that Ethiopians (including those in the Diaspora) are so environmentally unaware and uninformed that outsiders are making the case for them. Obviously, environmental advocacy is best done by civil society institutions (an Amnesty International report issued last week concluded, “Human rights organizations in Ethiopia have been devastated by the impact of the Charities and Societies Proclamation  passed in January 2009”) but such institutions have been decimated, leaving Ethiopians uninformed about the environmental impact and potential risks of public projects, including free land give-aways to foreign “investors”. It is said that the Chinese will complete work on Gibe III. But there are many environmental challenges looming in Ethiopia; and in addition to taking on the enormous political, social and economic challenges, Ethiopians must now take on the environmental challenge.

We should be grateful to the great international human rights organization that have created awareness on Ethiopia’s precarious environmental situation, particularly on the destruction of Omo River Basin. But we cannot have them do all of the heavy lifting for us. We need to join them and help them help us, and engage in vigorous environmental activism of our own. That means we must create our own environmental civil society organizations, particularly in the Diaspora, and ensure that Ethiopia’s rich and diverse ecosystem is preserved and protected today and for future generations. If we fail to do that, we will all find ourselves in the same  position as the people of the Omo River Basin who are damned by the dam.

Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at:

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Ethiopia: Apocalypse Now or in 40 Years?

By Alemayehu G. Mariam

In October, 2009, I wrote a weekly commentary titled, “Famine and the Noisome Beast in Ethiopia”:

It is hard to talk about Ethiopia these days in non-apocalyptic terms. Millions of Ethiopians are facing their old enemy again for the third time in nearly forty years. The Black Horseman of famine is stalking that ancient land. A year ago, Meles Zenawi’s regime denied there was any famine. Only ‘minor problems’ of spot shortages of food which will ‘be soon brought under control,’ it said dismissively. The regime boldly predicted a 7-10 percent increase in the annual harvest over 2007. Simon Mechale, head of the country’s Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Agency, proudly declared: ‘Ethiopia will soon fully ensure its food security.’… Zenawi’s regime has been downplaying and double-talking the famine situation. It is too embarrassed to admit the astronomical number of people facing starvation in a country which, by the regime’s own accounts, is bursting at the seams from runaway economic development.

I concluded with a rhetorical question:

Images of the human wreckage of Ethiopia’s rampaging famine will soon begin to make dramatic appearances on television in Western living rooms. The Ethiopian government will be out in full force panhandling the international community for food aid. Compassion fatigued donors may or may not come to the rescue. Ethiopians, squeezed between the Black Horseman [Scriptural metaphor for famine] and the Noisome Beast [Scriptural metaphor for evil beasts that terrify the land], will once again cry out to the heavens in pain and humiliation as they await for handouts from a charitable world. Isn’t that a low down dirty shame for a proud people to bear?

In January 2010, I followed up with another commentary titled Ethiopia’s “Silently” Creeping Famine challenging the “famine deniers.”  At the time, Mitiku Kassa, a top official of Zenawi’s regime had declared: ‘In the Ethiopian context, there is no hunger, no famine… It is baseless [to claim hunger or famine], it is contrary to the situation on the ground. It is not evidence-based. The government is taking action to mitigate the problems.’ Kassa issued assurances that his regime had launched a food security program to ‘enable chronic food insecure households attain sufficient assets and income level to get out of food insecurity and improve their resilience to shocks…and halve extreme poverty and hunger by 2015.’ Zenawi was entirely dismissive: “Famine has wreaked havoc in Ethiopia for so long, it would be stupid not to be sensitive to the risk of such things occurring. But there has not been a famine on our watch — emergencies, but no famines.”

It is now July 2011 and the Black Horseman is standing at the gate. No more “emergencies”, just plain old-fashioned famine. This time it is the international aid agencies that are frantically sounding the 5-alarm famine. They warn that if donors do not provide substantial emergency food aid to 12 million people now, there will be famine of Biblical-proportions in Ethiopia and other neighboring countries unseen in the last 60 years. UNICEF warns that “millions of children and women are at risk from death and disease unless a rapid and speedy response is put into action.”

The silently creeping famine was visible to anyone who bothered to study the periodic reports of the aid agencies (and read between the lines) and regularly monitored the “famine early warning systems” over the past few years. But until now, no aid agency or donor country could force itself to use the “F” word. Political correctness had trumped the truth and the welfare of millions. The very aid agencies that are now frothing at the mouth sounding the alarm of a doomsday famine were describing the problem for the last few years in terms of “severe malnutrition”, “food shortages”, “acute food security phases” “food insecurity, scarcity, insufficiency and deprivation”, “chronic dietary deficiency”, “endemic malnutrition” and other clever phrases. They simply could not call a spade a spade. But famine by any other name is still famine. The “severe malnutrition” of yesterday has become today’s famine silently spreading to consume 12 million people.

Apocalypse in 40 Years?

Lately, everybody has been talking about facts and figures. It’s been all about percentages. Meles Zenawi says between now and 2015 Ethiopia’s economy will be growing at 12-15 percent a year. Recently, he told his party members: “We have devised a plan which will enable us to produce surplus and be able to feed ourselves by 2015 without the need for food aid.”  That plan is anchored in what Zenawi calls “agricultural development–led industrialization”  (ADLI), which purports to focus intensively on agriculture by technologically boosting the low level of productivity of small scale farmers and commercially linking them to the non-agricultural (industrial) sector. Zenawi says by 2015 extreme poverty in Ethiopia will be cut by 50 percent along with hunger (“severe malnutrition”) consistent with the U.N. Millennium Development Goals. The Ethiopian currency has been devalued by 20 percent over the past year. The annual inflation rate is galloping at 34.7 percent according to official reports (likely much higher).  The International Monetary Fund predicts Ethiopia will likely have economic growth of 7.5 percent in 2011. On the political side, Zenawi said he won the May 2010 election by 99.6 percent. But lost in the stacks of fantasy percentages is a little big 3 percent that will ultimately determine the survivability of the Ethiopia people.

Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau had frightening predictions for Ethiopia, Nigeria and India. By 2050, India will be the most populous nation in the world, bypassing China sometime in the mid-2020s. Nigeria’s current population of 166 million will explode to 402 million. In just four decades, Ethiopia’s population will more than triple to 278 million, placing that country in the top 10 most populous countries in the world.

Ethiopia’s population growth has been spiraling upwards for decades. In 1967, the population was 23.5 million. It increased to 51 million in 1990 and by 2003, it had reached 68 million. In 2008, that number increased to 80 million. The Census Bureau estimates Ethiopia’s population today at 91 million. Since 1995, the average annual rate of population growth has remained at over 3 percent.

Every government and regime in Ethiopia over the past one-half century has blamed famine on “acts of God.” For the last two decades, the current regime has blamed “food shortages”, “chronic or severe malnutrition”, “food insecurity”, etc., on “poor and erratic rains,” “drought conditions,” “deforestation and soil erosion,” “overgrazing,” and other “natural factors”. Zenawi’s regime even had the brazen audacity to blame “Western indifference” and “apathy” in not providing timely food aid for the suffering of starving Ethiopians. There is not a single instance in which any Ethiopian government or regime has ever taken even partial responsibility for food shortages, extreme malnutriion or failure to act and prevent starvation and famine.

The issue of “food security” aside, the central question is: Does Zenawi have a policy to deal with the little big 3 percent problem?

In 1993, Zenawi’s “Transitional Government of Ethiopia” in its “National Population Policy of Ethiopia” (NPPE) declared that “its major goal [was] the harmonization of the rate of population growth and the capacity of the country for the development and rational utilization of natural resources thereby creating conditions conductive to the improvement of the level of welfare of the population.”

Among the major objectives of the NPPE included “closing the gap between high population growth and low economic productivity through planned reduction of population growth…, reducing the rate to urban migration, reducing the current total fertility rate of 7.7 children per woman to approximately 4.0 by the year 2015… mounting an effective country wide population information and education programme addressing issues pertaining to small family size and its relationship with human welfare and environmental security.”

Among the strategies to be used in achieving these objectives included “expanding clinical and community based contraceptive distribution services, raising the minimum age at marriage for girls from the current lower age limit of 15 to, at least, 18 years, making population and family life related education and information widely available via formal and informal media”, facilitating delivery of population and family planning related services by non-governmental  organizations  and changing the law “to remove unnecessary restrictions pertaining to the advertisement, propagation and popularization of diverse conception control methods.”

Given the fact that the average annual rate of population growth in Ethiopia has remained at over 3 percent since 1995,commenting on the NPPE is belaboring the obvious.

Will There Be Ethiopia in 2050?

Whether Ethiopia survives as a viable nation in 2050 free of war, disease, pestilence and famine will not depend on an imaginary 15 percent economic growth or a ludicrous 99.6 percent election victory. It will depend on what is done to deal with the little big 3 percent problem. In other words, overpopulation poses the single most critical problem and decisve issue  in Ethiopia today and the years to come.

Thomas Malthus, the 18th Century British economist argued that human population, if unchecked, tends to grow much faster than the capacity of the land to produce food.  He explained that population can be controlled through “preventive checks” (such as family planning, wide use of contraceptives to slow growth, marriage at later age) or “positive checks” (mortality caused by war, disease, plague, disaster). The bottom line is that if Ethiopia cannot adequately feed, clothe and shelter 90 million of its people today, there is no way on earth she can do so for 278 million in just 40 years. If the “Malthusian catastrophe” is what is looming on the Ethiopian horizon, the outcome is predictable and certain: massive starvation and famine, extreme overcrowding, endemic poverty, total depletion of natural resources and massive environmental degradation. Widespread and extreme civil strife, conflict over scarce resources and epidemics will complete the grim picture.

What needs to be done is pretty clear. As the Indian economics Nobel laureate Amartya Sen  has convincingly argued, the best way to avert famines (and simultaneously deal with the underlying problem of overpopulation) is by institutionalizing multiparty democracy and strengthening human rights: “No famine has ever taken place in the history of the world in a functioning democracy” because democratic governments “have to win elections and face public criticism, and have strong incentive to undertake measures to avert famines and other catastrophes.”

Ethiopia’s famine today is a famine borne of “food scarcity” as much as it is a famine borne of a scarcity of democracy and good governance. Ethiopians are famished for democracy, starved of human rights, thirst for the rule of law, ache for accountability of those in power and yearn to breathe free from the chokehold of dictatorship.  But after two decades of one-man, one-party rule, we do not even see the ghost of democracy on Ethiopia’s parched landscape. We can only see a malignant and entrenched dictatorship that continues to cling to power like ticks on a milk cow; and in the dark and gloomy 40-year Ethiopian horizon, we see the specter of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse aiming their swords, spears and arrows against a defenseless population of 278 million. Our only shield is a genuine multiparty democracy that functions under the rule of law!

Previous commentaries by the author are available at: and