(René Lefort 04/05/09):-As a rule, professional medias publish first an article before analyzing or commenting it, or at least quote the excerpts of the article that they discuss so that their readers could make their own judgement.
From what I know, Aigaforum didn’t publish my article “Ethiopia’s Famine : Deny and Delay” and even didn’t quote some key excerpts in its strong critic (“René Lefort and the Art of Misunderstanding”). So let me at least reply shortly.
First, a detail. You wrote that I am back only now after my book was published at the beginning of the 80’s (“Ethiopia. An Heretical Revolution?”). In fact, I have published a lot of stories about the situation in Ethiopia during the last years, mainly in Le Nouvel Obsverateur (the widest distribution in France among the weekly newsmagazines), the well-known Le Monde Diplomatique, and academic reviews like Nord Sud Aktuell (“A short survey of the relationship between powers – mengist – and peasants – gebäre – in a peasant community of Northern Shoa”) and the well-respected Journal of Modern Africa Studies (“Powers – mengist - and peasants in rural Ethiopia: the May 2005 elections”).
Now the first of the three main points I want to emphasize. You said that I “accused the Government of Ethiopia, among other charges, of deliberately hiding the actual figures of people who need humanitarian aid”. You are wrong. I wrote that the Government initially denied and then consistently underestimated the food crisis when it began at the beginning of 2008 (one year ago). That’s the core of my article. I think it proves it. I note that your critic doesn’t content any fact that would dismiss this assertion.
You also said that I wrote that “the Ethiopian government admitted that 13 Million people were in need of emergency humanitarian food aid” while, you wrote, it ‘clearly puts the number at 4.8 million, not thirteen” (accusing me of “a three hundred per cent discrepancy”). You are wrong. What I wrote is exactly the following: “the “Humanitarian Requirements” released on 30 January 2009 by the government in Addis Ababa and their “Humanitarian Partners” stated that “13 million Ethiopians - one-sixth of the population - are in neeed of aid” (and not in need of “emergency humanitarian food aid” as you said. From where these figures come from? From official documents of the Ethiopian authorities and of the main donors, including the Humanitarian Requirements. They state that:
- 4.9 million people (and not 4,8, as you wrote) will require emergency assistance in 2009, beyond those covered by the PSNP.
- The beneficiaries of the PSNP number to 7,5 million (or 7,2 million, depending on the sources).
- In addition, an estimated 1.2 million acutely malnourished children under five and pregnant/ lactating women require a food aid.
4,9 million + 7,2 million + 1,2 million = 13,3 million.
I wrote : « For over 10 million of these 13 million, the need is urgent”. This figure comes from “Ethiopia – Complex Emergency – February 6, 2009” released by USAID, one of the main donors and signer of the “Humanitarian Requirements”. It states that among the beneficiaries of the PSNP, 5,6 million require an “emergency food assistance”. 4,9 million + 5,6 million = 10,5 million.
Second main point: the Productive Safety Net Programme. You wrote that I didn’t “offer evidence that the programme has failed”. You are wrong. When the Programme was launched in 2005, its official aim was to provide transfers to millions of the most chronically food insecure Ethiopians so that they would be able in a five years period to overcome by themselves a possible shock – like the present drought – by having accumulate enough assets. I wrote that in its fourth year of operation, “three quarters of the beneficiaries of the Safety Net required emergency relief because they could not survive with their regular welfare assistance” given by the Programme. The exact figure was 5,7 million, or 79% of the beneficiaries of the Programme (see for example “Horn of Africa: Complex Emergency Fact Sheet #9 (FY) 2008”, September 26, 2008, USAID, or “Humanitarian Bulletin”, September 29, 2008, OCHA). Taking this essential fact into account, it is evident that I can not share your opinion that “Ethiopia’s safety net programme is largely a success story”, as you stated in your critic.
Third main point: yes, I doubt that Ethiopia is experiencing during the last years the famous “double digit growth’. I never contested, in this article or in former articles I wrote, that Ethiopia’s economy is growing very fast, that the Government has its fair share of this growth, as I never contested the principle of “the agricultural development led policy of the government”. But for years, and only off the record, foreign experts in Ethiopia admitted that this double digit figure was grossly exaggerated. Finally, Ken Ohashi, World Bank Country Director for Ethiopia and Sudan, stated publicly on August 29, 2008 that “the average growth rate from 2000/01 to 2006/07 turns out to be about 7.7% ». It has since decline, if only as a consequence of the drought and of the world economic crisis.
Finally, I would like to underline that by writing this article my aim was never, as you wrote, to express “a deeper resentment with the government” and “to blow every negative story way out of proportion”. It was simply to try to explain why and how localized food shortages, due to erratic rains, have plunge Ethiopia in its deeper humanitarian crisis since 1984/85, despite the early warning systems, despite the Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Agency, despite the very large number of international humanitarian organization in Ethiopia.
I hope that Aigaforum will be fair enough to make these comments known to its readers. I am also willing to debate calmly and objectively any other topics of my article, based on facts and facts only, if you so wish.