Poverty and Terrorism in the Horn of Africa

Ethiopia: Beggars Can Be Choosers

Ethiopian children
Ethiopia's new face (Photo: AFP).

Ethiopia is going through a trying time. The country is facing a raft of pressing and challenging problems. Though we are not new to these problems, we require a wise leadership to deal with them effectively as the biggest problems are coalescing to pose a particularly unpleasant threat.

Our poverty is making us vulnerable to danger. According to official government reports, around 15 million of our people are facing starvation and some of them have died as a result. We are not fortunate enough to be able to overcome such a calamitous situation on our own. This has come about not because we don't possess the required competence, but primarily because of our myopic leadership which doesn't allow us to adapt our polices to changing circumstances.

Because we can't feed ourselves we have been forced to beg for alms (or, to phrase it more politely, “aid” or “assistance”). We need our leaders to have the wisdom to know it would be… foolish to be too proud to ask for help when millions are hunger-stricken. It is imperative that we ask for assistance. But it should be understood that the international community won't come to our help without first poking its nose into our affairs, without exerting some kind of pressure.

When we say we need a wise leadership we mean to say that we should ask for help because it's much needed but at the same time it must not compromise our national pride for the sake of foreign assistance. Our leaders should be wise enough to differentiate true friends from those who scorn us and want to take advantage of our misfortune.

But this is not the only issue of our concern. The issue of terrorism should likewise be examined critically. We should combat terrorism in all its ugly forms. The perpetrators of terror might procure a temporary gain from their acts; but they certainly won't be able to ensure their long-term vested interest. The price is defeat and failure.

The public will back our government if it declares a fight against terrorism. But it should act with prudence and far-sightedness in such a matter. The government and our leaders should take care not to jump aboard the bandwagon that claims that terrorism emanates from Muslim or Arab areas, because associating terrorism with a particular religion or racial group can alienate half our population and the people of neighboring countries. If we fail to set the criteria by which terrorism is defined properly and act accordingly to combat it, we may well breed terrorists in the name of fighting terrorism. We should thus avoid an approach that could backfire.

Now more than ever, we need the support of the international community to avert the multi-faceted danger hovering over us as a result of drought, famine, the scourge of HIV/AIDS, and terrorism. The assistance may come from the West or the East, from Christians or Muslims, from whites or blacks. But some may not have good intentions in extending help. The government henceforward ought to set limits so that our interests are not detrimentally affected while receiving aid.

Beggars can choose; they have the right to choose. They won't refuse any food they are offered because they're hungry. But if the food is poisonous, they will sensibly choose not to eat it….

But differentiating between those who have our interests at heart and those who want to advance their interests at our expense is not sufficient. We must demonstrate to our true friends that the assistance they give us is used to alleviate the problems of the people who are truly in need and that we are doing everything possible to find permanent solutions to the problems that have been besetting us for a long time. Otherwise, they will become weary of our perennial requests for help.