Letter to Ethiopian Concerning Starvation:
Are we so absorbed in our own
lives or groups or in competition with others that pity
for the less fortunate has disappeared from our souls?
September 26, 2008
I am addressing this letter to every Ethiopian, especially
those in the Diaspora. A huge and urgent food crisis
is endangering the lives of countless Ethiopians back
home and we must wake up to the reality of it or millions
of lives will be lost!
We all know about it! The tragic images are everywhere.
Those traveling back home bring back horrible accounts
of the hardship and hunger of our people. We can read
the reports from NGO’s and western reporters in
the news and on websites. We have no excuse for not
Why then is there such a lack of response from most
Ethiopians? Where is the engagement of multiple individuals
or organizations into a large and effective group effort?
Why is there such a resounding silence and the lack
of any collective action?
What is wrong with us? Do we not care? Are we so absorbed
in our own lives or groups or in competition with others
that pity for the less fortunate has disappeared from
our souls? Are our minds so disconnected from our hearts
that no amount of the reality of their situation will
overwhelm us with sympathy towards our people? Do we
justify inaction by stubbornly holding on to weak excuses
for not helping?
It is close to one year since we first heard that 11
million people needed food and since that time, the
seriousness of the situation has worsened even though
the numbers of those in jeopardy keep changing. Now
we hear that the starvation could be worse than what
happened in 1984, but there is no response from those
in charge of our government. The American economy is
in crisis and you can see how hard the government and
institutions are working in order to find solutions,
but there appears to be nothing similar going on in
Ethiopia during one of our worst ever crises.
The United Nations is appealing for $460 million dollars
to help feed starving Ethiopians. The U.S. and the U.K.
are also making plans to contribute along with other
international organizations who are pleading for funds
to meet the needs of starving Ethiopians, but it bothers
me that we are not hearing the same urgent pleas from
Ethiopians outside the country. This is what is motivating
me to write this letter.
Why are non-Ethiopians working harder than we are?
Why should they care about our people if we do not care
enough to share? Why do we expect others to do the work
for us like we are incapable of doing anything ourselves?
Are we only victims who constantly have to be taken
care of by “leaders” or “outside beneficiaries”
as if we were a culture of children?
How can we live in such a delusion of being “proud
Ethiopians” from an “ancient culture,”
“never colonized” by outsiders”, when
we expect everyone else to do the work for us? This
is to our shame! It is like we are refusing to “grow
up” and assume responsibility for helping our
own people back home, even if it is a dollar at a time!
First of all, I am coming to you only as a person who
can no longer stand it! This is no longer about the
Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia—no matter
how much I believe in its principles. It is not about
the Anuak Justice Council or any other organization
because I am fearful that Ethiopians might simply use
such a label as an excuse not to join in and help. For
the same reason, it is not about Kinijit, Ginbot 7,
Andenet, EPRP, the OLF, the ONLF, the EPRDF or the many
diverse other political, ethnic, religious and civic
organizations! This is about all of us Ethiopians!
I am not saying that joining together in solidarity
would not be better because the basic objective of the
Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia is about saving
lives and saving our country from disintegration. This
is a time to put our differences aside and join to create
a stronger, more effective and more compassionate society!
The mission statement of the Solidarity Movement for
a New Ethiopia is: To establish a viable alliance—a
united front composed of all dissatisfied groups, irrespective
of their ethnic backgrounds, religious affiliations
and political tilts, with the common goal of installing
genuine democracy and social justice in the spirit of
a united Ethiopia.
I also am convinced that Ethiopian solidarity is the
only way to succeed in surviving as a nation; however,
at this point, there is too much resistance to unifying
even though it is about coming together under the principles
of putting humanity above ethnicity and
fighting for the freedom of each other since no one
will be free unless we all are free.
If we could have already established an effective institution
to spearhead this effort—one that was largely
supported by all Ethiopians—this would have been
the time to organize a mass effort. However, because
that is not the case, we must each now do our best to
help, in whatever way we can, instead of failing to
do anything because we are opposed—or wary of
giving support—to any outside our own organizations.
A week ago we saw a video of the Tigrayan people,
praying to God for food and rain. Just recently we saw
the video of the Ogadenis who are starving. We heard
about children unable to attend school because of hunger
and families having to eat in shifts. In the last month
it has been a daily thing with new examples of suffering
and hunger. My appeal to Ethiopians is to put yourselves
in the shoes of those people back home. Forget the division
between the political groups and who has done what—attacking,
blaming and finger-pointing! Enough with all of this!
The people of Ethiopia are dying.
There is no way that differences between
Ethiopian political parties are more important than
the Ethiopian child who is dying because of no food.
There is no way that differences between
Liberation Fronts or break-away groups and those who
oppose such break-away groups are more important than
the mother who just buried three of her children because
There is no way that differences between
those who advance an armed struggle and those who advocate
a peaceful struggle are more important than helping
the father or mother who can only offer emotion, tears
and despair to their children, rather than the food
for which the child is crying.
There is no way that differences of ethnicity
and language are more meaningful than reaching out to
help those who are only able to eat one meager meal
every other day.
Many Ethiopians are religious people, but if Jesus
Christ or Muhammad came to Ethiopia today, would we
be ashamed of how Ethiopians who have more, have treated
other Ethiopians who have nothing?
Right now we have no time to argue about what divides
us. Every one of us is needed to act with compassion
and generosity towards those in need—to be Good
Samaritans to those Ethiopians who are starving. If
we ignore the great crisis facing Ethiopians at home
it will be a disgrace to us as a people. Why should
we be doing less than those in the west who are now
pleading for help more than we are?
Consider the last time we Ethiopians rose up in action,
it was following the shooting of election protestors
in the streets of Addis Ababa and following the imprisonment
of Kinijit leaders. That was good, but what about now?
More Ethiopians will lose their lives to starvation
and related disease today than were shot following the
election of 2005.
I responded to the brutal attack on the Anuak people
at the time of the massacre of Anuak leaders in 2003,
but it is very possible that more people will die in
one day throughout the country from starvation than
were massacred on December 13th. The Meles government
is passively ignoring this crisis and people are dying
as a result. Why our complacency now over these deaths?
We can look at most every region in the country and
find that more lives may be lost to starvation in Oromia,
in the Ogaden, in the Southern Nations, in Tigray and
all over Ethiopia in the next weeks and months than
have died in the last 17 years of the EPRDF through
direct human rights abuses!
One Ethiopian from Boston recently told me that the
only thing that would get Ethiopians to take action
now would be if they saw pictures of people shot and
killed in Addis Ababa! What has happened to us?
Yet, I know of some wonderful examples of Ethiopians
whose hearts of compassion have led to practical acts
of generosity and kindness—and there are probably
many more of which I have not heard. The example I am
giving you is of Ethiopians who are ordinary people
who are making a life and death difference to other
Let me tell you my friend from Washington D.C., who
is one of five friends who are doing their “dirsha”
share, providing rays of hope to some struggling Ethiopians.
Ten years ago they formed a financial savings fund that
is regularly distributed to the most needy Ethiopians
by their families in Ethiopia.
These friends have been contributing $20 a month that
was sent to trusted members of their families in Ethiopia
who would look for the poorest of the poor in their
communities and help them by giving them 1000 birr at
a time, to not only use for expenses, but to use to
start a small business through receiving this “micro-loan.”
The recipients were not related to them, but were people
struggling to survive who could now be empowered by
this small gift. They probably will never fully know
the impact of what they have done for these individuals
and families over all of these months and years, but
I am sure there would be stories of inspiration.
We Ethiopians should follow the example of these five
Ethiopians who have found a way to contribute back to
the people of the country without requiring that the
funds go for one ethnic group, one political group or
one religious group or to any other “select”
group. The only requirement was that the recipient was
We have two dilemmas related to taking action collectively.
First, if one organization was to collect the money,
which organization would it be that is trusted and in
a position to make sure that the funds get to those
who most need it in Ethiopia especially since we can
see that the Meles government has built up countless
obstacles? Secondly, how do we make sure that the money
does not end up in the hands of those who will pocket
it themselves or misuse it? These are real concerns.
We can see resistance on the part of Meles to Ethiopians
in the Diaspora helping their fellow Ethiopians because
we can see evidence that he may be intentionally starving
the people to make the people weak because then they
will not have the energy to resist. Others, with good
documentation as proof, believe he is punishing the
people who are most resistant to the EPRDF with the
lack of food in places like the Ogaden.
Reports from the EPRDF meeting last week in Awassa
clearly indicate their intention to destroy the opposition
inside and outside of the Ethiopia. In fact, during
that meeting, it was made clear that the EPRDF believes
they have succeeded in destroying the opposition in
the Diaspora—that the opposition is finished,
making it possible to move forward on their EPRDF agenda
because the Kinijit, the OLF, the religious groups,
the community groups are all so divided that they are
no longer a threat! The other reason is because of our
Yes, this system is evil and is heavily contributing
to the destruction of our country, but I cannot pretend
that Meles is the only one who needs to change. There
is something wrong with us if we ignore this crisis
and use our divisions as a reason not to act.
There are many obstacles; yet, if we do not try to
find ways to overcome these obstacles, people will continue
to die. If we have trouble going through civic organizations
due to the Woyane sabotaging our efforts, we should
follow the example of the five Ethiopia in Washington,
DC I mentioned.
Some of us should also try to work through our churches,
mosques, communities and other civic organizations who
can deal more directly with their counterparts within
the country for the person of helping the poor and the
hungry. Also, people traveling to the country can bring
along funds from others to be used to help.
The West is doing more than we are! Shame on us! If
we pretend that we are proud people and that we care
yet we do not respond to this, it is a disgrace and
it makes me ashamed of being an Ethiopian! There are
a million of us out here and if we can even contribute
one dollar each. That means we could use a million dollars
that will get to the neediest of our people because
it is interpersonal giving. You do not need a politician,
a political party or your own ethnic community to do
it—this something you and people you know can
do on your own.
What I want people to do is to take action
immediately. Make phone calls to family, co-workers
and friends and organize informally so you develop a
system, increased accountability to each other to continue
and brainstorm about ideas that might be most effective.
If you come up with some good ideas, share
them. You may be contributing money to your family,
but if you can add more for others, do so. If your family
is able to make it without your help, ask them to help
find needy individuals and families in their area.
Call your government representatives in whatever country
you are living to ask them to address the crisis of
food and governance. Tell them about the issues that
have led to these problems. Together our voices can
be loud and persuasive if we work together for the people.
When we in the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia
said that this is your movement, this is what we mean.
Put these things in action. We will give you the ideas
and you do it. Each of you must be a leader and not
wait for someone else. This is not about politics but
about survival! The role of politicians is to enrich
and protect the lives of the people, but if they die,
what is the point?
During the Ethiopian famine and the mass starvation
of millions of people in 1984, there was a group called, “We are the World,” but today,
there is no such group except for you. Each of us should
now be saying, “We are Ethiopia!”
The suffering and deaths of our people should make us
What more do we need to unify us than our dying
people? Starvation does not have a tribe or a language.
It is targeting all of us. Let the dying of our people
unify us not by words, but by actions until we become
the hands and feet of God to the suffering, until we
become a blessing to our people.
May God help us to be people of virtue, integrity,
compassion and justice.
For more information please contact me by email at: Obang@solidaritymovement.org