Why would Westerners be interested in Ethiopia?
By Frehiwot Ghion*
May 10, 2006 — It has to be recalled that the EU has declared the election in Belarus as invalid (didn’t meet international standards). And America called for re-election in Belarus. The same body, EU, ruled that the election in Ethiopia did not meet international standards. But we don’t hear America calling for re-election. In fact, its diplomats are working hard to divide the opposition. But why?
Every time people discuss third world politics, the issue of Western interference is raised up. The usual argument is that Westerners support leaders of the third world as long as they can draw some form of benefit. As a result they want to protect their interest by supporting even the most dictatorial regime without regard to the rights of the masses. Economic benefit was the primary suspect in the past, but these days support in the war against terrorism is also gaining some mention.
In the case of Ethiopia, none of the above arguments seem to be plausible. Take for instance, economic benefit. Ethiopia has very limited resources, compared to other African countries, to offer to the West. Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries on the planet. The majority of the people are functionally illiterate and its youths are not skilled enough to attract Western businesses. The country has very poor infrastructure and corruption is rampant. One has to wonder what could possibly be the Western interest in country like Ethiopia.
The other argument, alliance in the war against terrorism is equally invalid. Any government, would, of necessity, fight any form of terrorism, especially when the most powerful nation in the world put it as a matter of “you are with us or against us.”
The culprit in Ethiopia may be its poverty. You probably have heard about a book entitled Lords of Poverty. I believe the poverty business is a big industry. As those of you who live in North America recall, the familiar Sunday morning TV infomercial picture is an Ethiopian baby trying to suck the barren breasts of his dying mother with his eyes as a playground for flies. These infomercials are prepared by and aired for some NGO working in third world countries. There is a competition of sorts going on with all these NGO’s vying for your dollar. Some NGO’s declare they are better than the next NGO because they only use up 50 cents on the dollar as administrative costs, while the other guys use up 90 cents. The buzz phrase now is “sustainable development.” This should serve you as a warning that whenever you hear this phrase, it means money has to be collected indefinitely. In the recent tsunami of south-east Asia, the Red Cross obtained more money than it anticipated. Red Cross traditionally worked in area of immediate need but never in continued support. However, in order to keep all the money collected, it wanted to get involved in sustainable development. This action naturally triggered an outcry from the other “sustainable development” type NGO’s. They want to be the ones to operate in sustainable development projects not the Red Cross. What I am trying to say is charity is a big business. In some instances these charities work with donor governments hand in hand, the governments recruit diplomats from the NGO industry. The obvious follow up question is then do these charities have the well being of the poor at heart? Not always, at least I don’t think so. I sound cynical but I strongly believe that charity is a big business just like any ordinary private operation. In order to continue to offer their services, “sustainable development” type NGO’s will need poverty and/or disease or famine. There are hundreds of thousands of people working for charities in North America. Imagine what will happen if poverty and disease were to be eradicate tomorrow.
Ethiopia has had a stellar performance in producing more poor people than the rest of the world, especially in the last fourteen years. A million or so people were affected by the famine during the time of the Emperor. About three to four times that number were affected by the famine during Mengistu’s regime. Today, we have a cool seventeen to eighteen million starving people in Ethiopia. Go figure!!
* Frehiwot Ghion is based in canada. he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org