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Soviet Complicity in Ethiopia's Famine
, pp. 74-75 -
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Soviet Complicity in Ethiopia's Famine
M i k h a i l Gorbachev is an accomplice in one of the
most appalling holocausts of the 20thcentury. He is mas-
sively arming a Communist government in Ethiopia whose
man-made famine tactics took one million lives in 1984-
85, and threaten three million more in 1988.
Mikhail Gorbachev took power in the Soviet Union in
March 1985 just as the famine of 1984-85 was coming to a
close. During that famine, almost $2 billion in food, medi-
cine, and other aid from the West helped save hundreds of
thousands of Ethiopians' lives. The Soviets' famine relief
efforts were limited to sending 3,500 tons of rice (a rather
thoughtless grant in the midst of a drought since each cup
of rice requires approximately two cups of water to cook).
Meanwhile, the Kremlin poured $800 million in military
hardware into Ethiopia in 1985 alone.
In 1988 three million lives are at stake as the result of the
decision by Lt. Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam to expel
international relief workers and prevent Western aid from
reaching the famine-stricken provinces in the north. But
Gorbachev's military aid to Ethiopia has not been shaken.
Already this year, an estimated $800 million worth of So-
viet military equipment has been sent to Mengistu, and an
estimated $5.8 billion worth of such Soviet equipment has
arrived since 1977. "It is clear the Soviets have no concern
for the starving,'' says Hade Tassew, a high level defector
from Mengistu's diplomatic corps. "They are exclusively
concerned with achieving their military and strategic objec-
tives in Ethiopia."
Everything to the War Front
Under world pressure, Gorbachev did recently agree to
send 252 million tons of grain to the Ethiopian govern-
ment's Relief and Rehabilitation Commission, 50 million
of which had actually arrived by early June. Even this
gesture shows a callousness to human life. Aid distributed
by the government relief organization is extremely unlikely
to be distributed in Eritrea or Tigre, where rebels are op-
erating and famine is most severe. Furthermore, govern-
ment-distributed aid is frequently used by Mengistu to
draw Ethiopians to areas where they can be forcibly
boarded on Soviet transport vehicles, split with their fam-
ilies, and resettled to the south and the west.
Much of the military hardware received from Moscow
has been used in carrying out indiscriminate bombings,
shellings, and scorched earth tactics against civilian targets
in Eritrea and Tigre, contributing greatly to the current
famine situation in the north. Soviet military equipment
has also been used to bomb and burn famine relief centers
in the north and along the Sudan border. These attacks,
along with sporadic rebel assaults on relief transport vehi-
cles, have greatly complicated Western relief efforts.
"Food convoys must come at night, because they know the
government will attack," says anthropologist Jason Clay of
Cultural Survival, a U.S.-based organization that tries to
protect tribal cultures.
In April, after Eritrean separatist rebels killed or cap-
tured 18,000 Ethiopian soldiers, including three Soviet ad-
visors, in the northern garrison town of Afabet, Gorbachev
immediately resupplied Mengistu with $500 million worth
of Soviet military hardware, allowing Mengistu to carry on
the war against the Eritreans. In the face of another famine,
Mengistu has launched a massive Soviet-supported military
campaign, "everything to the war front," in which he has
asked all Ethiopians to forfeit one month's pay for the war
effort and has doubled the size of the Ethiopian army in
the north, often with conscripts as young as 12 years old.
"After that attack at Afabet," says an Ethiopian govern-
ment defector, Dr. Aradom Tedla, "new Soviet cargo
planes arrived in Eritrea, and literally for hours they un-
loaded equipment and troops."
Mass Resettlement, A Soviet Idea
Soviet transport trucks aqd planes have played an impor-
tant role in Mengistu's hated villagization and resettlement
programs, which have forceably relocated over five million
Ethiopians. According to the French medical group
Medecins sans Frontieres, Mengistu's resettlement pro-
grams have resulted in the deaths of some 100,000 Ethiopi-
ans, often from cholera and other diseases. The
villagization program uproots peasants from their rural
hamlets-many unthreatened by famine-and marches
them into squalid government collectives where food is
often less plentiful, and where they are usually separated
from their immediate family.
MICHAEL JOHNS is assistant editor of Policy Review.
74 Policy Review
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