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Why is the West still feeding Ethiopia?

October 23, 2009










It has now been 25 years since more than 1 million Ethiopians died as those of us lucky enough to live in the rich world sat transfixed in front of our television screens. The horrible suffering brought with it the biggest outpouring of charity ever seen as governments and ordinary people dug deep to stop it.

But a quarter of a century on foreigners are still feeding a huge number of Ethiopians. The Ethiopian government says poor rains mean 6.2 million of its people need food aid this year and has asked the international community to provide it.

Another 7 million hungry people are on a government-run but foreign-funded scheme that gives food in exchange for work, which means more than 13 million of the country’s 83 million people rely on foreign handouts to survive.

Aid agency Oxfam is now saying that food aid is trapping Ethiopia in a cycle of dependence on the West and that donations could be better spent.

In the valleys of northern Ethiopia much has changed since 1984 when hundreds of thousands of dying people streamed down from the hills desperate for food.

Chinese engineers in huge trucks hurtle down newly built roads financed by their government and children now flow from the hills on the way to school.

Ethiopians say they are sick of their image as a people beset by famine and war and point to foreign investors showing growing interest in their country.

This week I travelled to a small village called Abay where Oxfam and Ethiopian NGO Orda are trying to help the locals become independent of food aid so that, when a drought hits, they will be able to survive without charity.

Men worked fields rich with wheat, young boys threshed barley for a local brewery and women had set up self-help groups and were giving out loans so their members could buy the five sheep necessary to start a breeding business.

The area looked prosperous and the people said they felt more pride now.

A growing number of aid experts — many of them African — say that if more money was spent on schemes like this, rather than on food, then Ethiopians and other Africans dependent on food aid could eventually wean themselves off it.

“I am 100 percent confident that day will come,” one farmer told me, standing in his impressive field of wheat. “Begging is a shameful practice for Ethiopia.”

So is food aid making Africans dependent? Is it time donor countries cut back on it? Should more money be spent on helping people become self-sufficient? Could foreign direct investment improve things? Or is there another answer?


Excellent article. On a related note, China’s foreign policy model of helping third world countries develop their infrastructure, and developing business partnerships with these countries, seems much better than the U.S. policy of exporting military technology and abandoning these countries when they are no longer useful.

Posted by Steve B | Report as abusive

Yes is the answer. It is very very true. If donating nations start spending their money on helping Ethiopians (Africans in general) stand on their own feet. Help us help ourselves. Help us not to beg or to ask more but to work more help ourselves.

Posted by HM | Report as abusive

Several factors are not mentioned in this article that could make a difference. Food aid is necessary not because of a drought but because of land use policies of the ruling party, which has the primary goal of staying in power and benefiting financially while still there.Speficially, the government owns the land. Non-ownership of the land being farmed combines with other destructive policies to create a man made famine.Examples of other EPRDF policies include legal restrictions on movement of farmers to the cities, access to fertilizer being dependent upon political support of the EPRDF, self-help groups (like those mentioned above) bring required to support the ruling party or otherwise risk legal and financial harassment or even detention – and the ruling party’s sending of spies into such self help groups to assure non-opposition. All of these and many other factors create an environment that brings about the current situation.In 2005, an opposition party ran on this platform, won the elections, but were not permitted to take power. If you want to solve the problem of famine, the political problem must first be attended to.

Posted by Jim Roberts | Report as abusive

It is sad to hear over and over about the starvation, hence the government is not change the policy on the LAND owner ship to the right full ownership (the local people) there will not be any change in the near future.Good governess + democracy = Prosperity.

Posted by Tezera Molla | Report as abusive

wake up mom Africa

Posted by bahru | Report as abusive

Helpin’ a dying child with a cost of 10 Cents a day is a definition of humanity, for me.

Posted by King T | Report as abusive

I don’t understan why the west is fedding the ethiopia,, the govrement doesn’t care for their poeple, they sepnd mailions dollar on war, rather than fedding the ethiophian popel.. It’s the shame that they are bugin other country for food for their poeple,, where’s all the money they been geeting from westren countr

Posted by Amin | Report as abusive

While sometimes neccessary in the short term, free hand outs are a slippery slope. If continued long term, this type of aid can breed feelings of entitlement. On the other hand, spending money to teach and to empower the individuals to take charge of their own futures is never a bad idea. It builds pride in one’s own accomplishments and enables the population to pass on the knowledge gained.”Teach and man to fish…” and all that.

Posted by Chiachky DelVekkio | Report as abusive

Dear Sir:The West,I think including you, think of Ethiopia as one people— speaking the same language, have the same culture etc. It is hard I know. Most Americans I know think Africa is one country.But the reality is we are multiethnic and multicultural. Had it been handled properly it would have been good.But as you may know, although you have not mentioned the problem in your article, the Tigre tribal junta shifted famine from Northern Ethiopia to the South and Central Ethiopia.If you have been in Ethiopia, you can confirm, every where in government offices, in business, in militray, or even at the air port check points you only find Tigre ethnic group. What happen to the Oromos or the Amharas?TPLF have instituted an apartheid system to only enrich and develop Tigray. They did not farm Tigray to make it self sufficient—- they looted resouces from the country and other ethnic groups.I hope you know about more than 100 thousand Oromo political prisors. I am not sure of the Amhara but the number is raising as well.Yet the west kept supporting Tigre tribal minority which represents less than 6% of the Ethiopian population.So the problem is ethnic apartheid which is supported by the west. I am sure if you give it time and closely look at the policies of TPLF you will find it.Politically the hate for TPLF is changing into hate for the West. I am sure it will be not that far to see what you see in South West Asia unless the west changes the course.It is depressing sir to be from that country. Could you help by giving policy makers sound advice?Send me an email if we could jointly do something about this.

Posted by David | Report as abusive

According to your calculation, 70 million Ethiopians are just doing fine! This is a miracle!

Posted by Geo | Report as abusive


Posted by DAN | Report as abusive

Ethiopia: TPLF using famine to obliterate and break the political will of rival ethnic groups.The Tigre Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) regime of Meles Zenawi, a tribal rebel group which represents less than 6% of the Ethiopian population, come to power in 1991 with the help and support of the United States and the United Kingdom after Ethiopia’s military junta backed by Soviet Union collapsed.Ever since, the Western powers including the Breton Wood financial institutions, European Union and the United Nations nurtured, protected and kept the ethnic minority regime in power knowing very well that all the development and humanitarian assistance they give to the regime in the name of Ethiopian people goes only to the tribal homeland of TPLF in northern Ethiopia.The Western Powers consistently approved and funded ethnic apartheid economic, educational and political policies of the regime. The tribal junta used these financial, political and military supports to control and subjugate multiethnic and multicultural Ethiopia particularly the two political rivals, the Oromo and the Amhara, which jointly constitute about 75% of the Ethiopian population.Same Western Powers, on the other hand, consistently refused and declined to condemn war crimes, crimes against humanity and other gross violation of human rights the tribal junta committed against the Oromo, Amhara, Ogaden, Anuak and other people of Ethiopia.Now, with about 35 million Ethiopians facing serious malnutrition and famine according to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, the West and their international institutions are yet to recognize and condemn this brutal ethnic minority regime despite the continued call from Ethiopians, international humanitarian and human rights organizations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to do so.Two decades later, the ethnic apartheid policies of the regime the West supported and nurtured have achieved what it was designed to achieve. The TPLF ethnic apartheid rule of Mr. Zenawi, West’s aid darling, is on the verge of reaching its goal of obliterating the rival ethnic groups– namely the Oromo and the Amhara, and break their political will of jointly ruling and living in Ethiopia using the weapon of famine.Yet again, to the dismay of millions of voiceless Ethiopians suffering under the brutal tribal junta, the U.K Secretary for International Development, Mr. Douglas Alexander is asking permission the very regime who caused the famine to allow international humanitarian assistance to reach dying Ethiopians in Oromia, Amhara, Ogaden and other parts of the country.It is high time for the international community to heed the call of 80 million Ethiopians and stop supporting this ethnic apartheid regime in Ethiopia; and channel humanitarian and development assistance to needy Ethiopians through international humanitarian organizations, Ethiopian non-governmental organizations and opposition political groups operating in the famine affected regions of Ethiopia.The ethnic apartheid regime of Meles Zenawi does not represent the Ethiopian people; and should not be supported by all friends of Ethiopia and the Ethiopian people and the rest of international community.Ethiopia on brink of famine disaster once again, says Minister – Yorkshire Post

Posted by David | Report as abusive

Dear Mr. David,While I agree to some extent about the ethnic division that has been broadening in an alarming rate since the reign of the current party, I do however want to point that that’s the not the only cause of economic imbalance that exists in the country. I think that those who have been awakened and developed a before non-existent work-ethics are fairing well than those who chase after the sight of food-aid trucks. This mentality I tell you is not bred from hostility amongst each other but a dire desire to grow oneself (the writer’s example town serves that purpose)I fear though that this hate-based approach that the oromos and amharas are currently taking to solve the economic problem will only worsen the situation and leave many to suffer, especially those stuck in the middle.In my opinion, people should put more focus on economic victory than ill-mannered power struggle. I believe working towards that under any environment will beget much more than sitting around and complaining about what they lack.

Posted by Lolan | Report as abusive

I have lived in the horn of Africa. I worked as an NGO for many years there. The problem is bad governance and corruption. The one man dictator in Ethiopia has squandered much aid money into the military and into his own pocket. Of course you being Barry Malone will not report that, seeing how from your reporting of Ethiopia, it’s clear that you’re a paid mercenary reporter for this awful, genocidal regime of Ethiopia.Search articles of Bary Malone and look how he writes about Ethiopia’s genocidal regime and compare that with those that he’s payed to attack (mainly Eritrea) by the Ethiopian government. Bary Malone you’re an awful reporter and a biased one at that. I do hope Reuters drops you from their payroll, so you can rely on the Ethiopian birr the Ethiopian government pays you.

Posted by Perkins | Report as abusive

Well I do not think you have to tie up political problems, and famine… Actually most famine in Ethiopia happen in the North, or south east because that is where lands get less rains… And people have no habit of irrigation… Now we can see improvements on the north because the governement made efforts to devellop ruaral areas, but the south east have been neglected simply because most of the ruling class, including opposition parties menbers come from agricultural societies as oppossed to agro pastoralist in the south east and hence have no idea how to solve people problems their, where less is done… It is also the case that it is a “war zone” Overall, Amharas are doing much better than others, Tigreans and Oromos not bad… But yes their is a problem of ethno centricity in the ethiopian administrations in general, but not because of ethno centrism sake, but simply because the regime prefers people that are affiliated with it, so logically mostly Tigreans by historical construction, than none affiliatedAs for monopoly of land in Ethiopia, and monopoly of distribution of agricultural goods, they are their mostly to protect the peasants. If you know Ethiopia you know how much agriculture is strtegic in Ethiopia. Letting private companies provide agricultural goods to Ethiopia could lead to disaster, because the peasant simply don’t understand that sometimes the agro industries simply lie to sell goods. Disrupting confidence in Ethiopia is very problematic, as in the rural areas trust is the important commodity holding together the society, and a hard thing to gain for outsiders… Land monopoly is not new in Ethiopia, it exists since the communist era, people not being able to sell land is actually good in a sense because it limits rural exodus, and hence extreme poverty in cities which are far more difficult to attend to, and land microdivisions like in India… Of ourse no land policy is balanced, so their are downsides…

Posted by kebrab | Report as abusive

One visit to a northern area of Ethiopia is not research. The majority of suffering occurs in the southern part of Ethiopia. That is where many children have lost parents to malaria and AIDS.The government has seized lands from farmers who now need to subsist on land with no infrastructure for water or transportation. The issue is not the absence of resources, but the absence of a government that actually intends to make lives better for its people.On the main road leading south from Addis Ababa, there is one power line and many people rigging makeshift connections to their tin and mud houses. People bathe themselves in the stormdrains. The more fortunate have donkeys to carry water from the rivers to their land, carrying big jugs on their backs. The rest spend all day carrying it themselves.Get real. I agree that repeated charity does not solve the problem, but it does not create helplessness either. The government, rife with corruption, is doing a great job of that all on its own.

Posted by Cathy | Report as abusive

This is a beautiful story. I didn’t have to read it completely.


Why is the West still feeding Ethiopia? it is simple because they want them to be beggers forever

Posted by mg | Report as abusive

we have to make a huge dam over the river nile.nile is the property of Ethiopia,so please WHO and IMF borrow us some money so as to build a dam and make famine history.

Posted by solomon | Report as abusive

Ethiopia is pretending to be democracy nation. It is not easy for the majority to become self-sufficient in a highly corrupt dictatorship. Current Ethiopian leaders have no affection to the nation and its people. They don’t give a damn. They enjoy annoying the people (sounds strange, but is reality). Nothing is going to get better for Ethiopia until freely elected, and leaders who love their nation and people are given a chance to govern.

Posted by kz | Report as abusive

The honest answer is the west continue to feed Ethiopia because it wants to. For example the west could have encouraged the Ethiopia to focus on working on its economy instead of sending to make against Somalia. For over half a century the west has spent billions in food and military aid while Ethiopia government starve its people and abuse the citizens of it neighbors such Eritrea and Somalia. I found it very surprising that the west continue give aid to Ethiopia while Ethiopia illegally occupy Eritrean land. Ethiopia would could to beg for decades until the west starts stop supporting corruption in Ethiopia. What we see is designer famine in Ethiopia in order to increase the military budget of Ethiopia and pump up the bank accounts the governments of Ethiopians and perhaps some individuals arranging the donations.

Posted by King Yacob | Report as abusive

It’s horrible to see famine in Ethiopia again. David, you have to see the evil work of the ruling minority regime.This is man made famine to exterminate the Oromos, Amharas, South people and Ogadenis.This criminal regime have already killed more than 150 000 forced people to die as mine sweepers in its war against Eritrea, the same in Somalia and against many Ethiopian freedom fighters.This regime is cruel, inhuman and as we speak he is hiding billions of dollars in the west banks. Because he is corrupt leader the west likes hime,even if he is the most genocidal regime in the world. God help Ethiopians!

Posted by Sarah | Report as abusive

I don’t want to find a “scapegoat” from out side for all our problems there in Ethiopia. First let us fight to have a good governance. The melese’s regime is so dictator and doesn’t have the ability to build a strong nation. All the higher officials worry about how systematically rob the nation resource and maintain their statsco. So if we need any support from out side, it is better to focus on creating good govrnance rather than food aid.

Posted by BBM | Report as abusive

I Think the problem is deeply buried inside the culture of people of Ethiopia. Specially, the northern part of Ethiopia. People tend to get satisfied with what they have for now and never work hard enough to make sure that they have something for tomorrow. Take the Gurages for instance, they are exceptionally prosperous than any other tribe in Ethiopia. That only attributes to their proper work ethics.In my opinion if there is a good governance that lead the people in the right direction, teach the mostly illiterate farmers how its properly done, well, we can achieve food security and more. But again the government seems not willing enough to teach the people or let the people of Ethiopia in general connect with the rest of the world. Take the Ethiopian Telecommunication and mass medias for example they are under state control. We are only seeing and hearing what the few people in the government administration think is right. And obviously these people are biased with their own politics and the Ethiopian economy comes second to their politics. I bet if there is better transparency with the Ethiopian people and the rest of the world the government also will be in more stress to deliver what is expected. Its funny, do you people know that you can NOT access any blogs hosted in on blogger from Ethiopia? The government is restricting access to most famous information source on the internet just because it raise red flag for its politics(there are blogs that oppose the existing government). That just a simple demonstration how Ethiopian people prosperity and Economy comes second to Ethiopian government’s politics.

Posted by Dave | Report as abusive

I disagree with the comments which suggest the solution is to teach Ethiopia better practices instead of giving them aid.The problem of starvation in Ethiopia could be solved in 24 hours.People starve in Ethiopia because of economic issues. People starve there for the same reason they starve anywhere there isn’t an active war, they are too broke to buy food.The US and EU could grant visas to any Ethiopian with basic literacy skills. Voila all the so-called illegal Mexicans in the States, the ongoing labor supply for unskilled labor, would have to compete for unskilled work. Starvation in Ethiopia would stop overnight (well, within a month) from remittances.Meanwhile, Western aid should be viewed for what it is, a payoff so they can feel good about not letting Ethiopians work in the West where there are jobs right now.

Posted by Carl Rosenberg | Report as abusive

Why the donators and NGO’s worry too much to Ethiopia. This is what His Excellency Prime minster Meles Zenawi said referring to donors:This is what His Excellency Prime minster Meles Zenawi said-food aid industry-industry actors- It is to their benefit and their advantage. They are selling their food where food is scarce. The same with those who are transporting food in their ships. And those truckers who get it from the ports to the consumer areas. People take quite a chunk of the benefits from this.” See VOA 0-11-voa12.cfm


For me, reading the comments of the article was more frustrating than the article itself. Look what we are doing to ourselves; we are encouraging Hatred, Anger, pointing fingers at others… We have been doing that for the last 30 years and look where we are? Is that what we want to do in the coming years? Or do we really want to change? Do we want to see drought free Ethiopia? Do we want to change our history? If so we need to take a bold and deliberate decision to handle things differently. Can we do that? And remember it is us who can bring a difference; others can only support our initiatives.

Posted by Fann | Report as abusive

Yes I always think about it and gives me pain to see every year appeal for food from the west. Our own management work hard on population growth strategy, as well as our dietry and feeding styles. A lot of teaching has to be made about the way distribution is made from one region especialized in cereals to those who are rich in vegetables and fruits, or fish ,livestock or honey. Ethiopia has a potential of 4 seasons a year, harvesting and collecting could also be managed accordingly. The west do not care it is their way of survival. They have to come and work because of the competition in their respected countries. and is their way of releasing tax freedom from their government because they are engaged in humanitarian works in Ethiopia or elsewhere. So, this generation has to be more knowledgable in stoping the hunger, by working hard and exchanging what they have with others internally then work for external. With all the rivers,lakes,land,people, we have to work hard and stop hunger in the country. Show a man how to catch the fish not how to eat. God Bless Ethiopia

Posted by asrat | Report as abusive

When it is Etitrea saying it, meaning, self reliance then it´s something very wrong but when others later copy it and say it then it´s ok. Africans should look at >Eritrea and learn. In Ethiopia, the first thing needed is the removal of this satanic government of meles Zenawi.

Posted by jack | Report as abusive

Both food and water are still huge issues in Ethiopia. Many women there and around the world have to spend several hours a day just walking to a far away well for water for their families. This is a huge roadblock to their getting an education and earning an income. According to, which was co-founded by Matt Damon, women spend more time collecting water each day than all the hours worked in an entire week by Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, Target, IBM, UPS and Kroger employees combined. Check out this YouTube video. There’s also more info on this issue at ttp:// lALU-BBNTKo


The world it seems to me have got used to polticize thestarvation of an african country,with a population of about 70 million with mostely fertile ground,water and all kind of natural resorces,its the wests give and giveattitude that created the gov do nothing and wait for thedonors.The current gov and other nehiboring countrieshave to able to sit and talk seriouse bussiness of peace,harmony of their people.and the donores have to make surethat war is avoided,leaders are talking to make africatake of their bussiness.the politicians and their familyare always safe,while most of the population is starvingall fleeing the country.DONORES PLEASE HELP BUT HELP FORTHOSE LEADERS WHO ARE TRYING TO HELP THIER PEOPLE.YOU HAVE THE RESPONSIBLITY TO SEE WHERE THE HELP IS GOING ,YOU HAVE TO BE ABLE HELP THEM TO FIND SOLUTIONS,WHERE SOME DAY THEY WOULD SAY TO AID ,NO THANKS

Posted by samson | Report as abusive

How about all those diamonds that are found in Africa someone use that to pay the people. Normally the diamonds are posted all over the internet and tv. Africans do not seem that hung up over diamonds just the rest of the world. If we the people of the world where being watched by aliens, the aliens would more than likely see that people of planet earth are selfish. The people of the planet still have hungry people, says alot about all of us as a whole?

Posted by daniel moses | Report as abusive

Why don’t donors stop giving when they know that most of thier money goes in to procuring weapons to crack down on opposition and invade or distabilize neighboring countries? Ethiopian leaders are famous for crying “starvation” any time they are in crisis or sense one coming – election is coming up and they are still mired in the Somali crsis and refuse to abide by intrenational laws and agreements such as the situation in Eritrea. Ethiopians should not be starving today! Food security is national security but succesive Ethiopian governments have used it for their own survival.

Posted by Abraham | Report as abusive

The west is feeding Ethiopia because it is a profitable Business

Posted by Bashir | Report as abusive

There is no hope for Ethiopia. There was famine when the Amharas on Power . Most probablity Oromos will be the next rulers and the hardship and famine will continoue. It is the way of life in Ethiopia. We should be thank full for westerners feeding Ethiopean starved people. Stop blameing US

Posted by habon | Report as abusive

I think we forgot one thing. When country existed, there is one thing happen. The government, the people, and the land all to gether make up a country. There is also unwritten treaty between the government and the people. The goverment is obliligated to protect, feed, and preserve the peoples’ right to work in that land. Having saying that Ethiopia has none of them in place so the people and the government don’t know their prespective place. So famine is happening again and again, the government should be responsible and pay for it. This government should removed becouse of this mess.

Posted by sam | Report as abusive

The only way to get ANY country out of poverty these days, is for the corporations that are raping them to be forced out. And the imf, world bank and all the other mafia gangs to be removed.They give money to suffering nations and twist their arm in the process, making sure that they never leave a cycle of poverty, and that the countries natural resources are shipped to the highest bidder.This is evident throughout Africa and other resource wealthy regions like Iraq and Afghanestan.A bitter view, but in my opinion, no less than the truth.

Posted by Baghdad_boy | Report as abusive

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