By Jacob J Akol
I just received this message from someone I trust. This person stated in these clear terms:
“I was in "Gogrial" area (you will know why I put Gogrial in quotation marks) and my observation is that markets were empty, even in Wau, and no signs that the harvest from this past year would sustain people, not to speak to the already messed up Equatoria and Upper Nile. Much worse is the fact that town populations are relocating to rural areas, sharing the meager resources with their rural kin, quickly diminishing these resources in a climate where there will be nowhere to buy food even if one had a cow to sell. It is a very dangerous storm gathering and there is hypocrisy among the leadership, empty pride not to be seen as incapable of taking care of people. It is exactly the 1983/84 Nimeiri denial of famine in Darfur and in Ethiopia you have observed. I shudder to think that we have leaders. Best regards.”
This message brings back bitter memories, making me wonder if we are in or approaching the Ethiopian Famine of 1984/5 or not? Here is partially what I wrote then and included in my book, “Burden of Nationality” in the chapter on Ethiopia:
“”In an open space in the middle of one village, we found an Irish nun sitting on a chair. She had on her head an enormous white hat to protect herself from the scorching sun. All around her were the bodies of starved men, women and children. Many of them were brought there on stretchers. Some had lost much of their top skin to famine and their bodies were covered with oozing sores. More starving children were carried in as we watched the dreadful spectacle. The children who could still feel the pangs of hunger moaned. Those far-gone felt no pain; their silence spoke louder: nothing could save them. The nun had no food to give them. All she had were a few biscuits and some medicines and oils with which she dabbed on the sores on the children.
The nun was incredibly composed amid all that, as if she had long done with mourning. "We urgently need food and medicines," she told us calmly, "children are dying every second in this greenery."
In private meetings, international NGOs implored the Ethiopian government to permit wider coverage of the famine by the Western media. They received promises. But, while the government pretended co-operation with international journalists, they were, nevertheless, refused entry visas or in-country travel permits on the flimsiest excuses. They were often denied access to areas severely affected by the famine "for security reasons."
At the same time, the regime continued to talk tough and tow the Communist line at international conferences; thus antagonising and biting the fingers that could feed its people. For example, the day we returned to Addis Ababa from witnessing starvation not very far south of the capital, the Ethiopian Minister of Foreign Affairs grilled Western participants of an international conference, then taking place at the Addis Ababa Hilton, on West-East relation’s issues.
When we told an Australian parliamentary delegation of the severity of the famine, one of them responded: "What famine? The minister did not give any impression today that there was severe famine in the country."
We invited them to see the video footage shot that day in the villages south of the capital. It was short but before it ended, the parliamentarians were shedding tears.”