"Andrew from New York" was the only way he wished to describe himself to mee for the purposes of this column. he had spent 7 1/2 months as a freelance journalist in Ethiopia. He was willing to talk frankly about all that he had seen, but he knew his chances of returning would be seriously impaired if the Mengistu governement of Ethiopia could attribute to him any critical remarks about its rigid and secretive communist regime.
I met Andrew near the Kenya/Ethiopia border. For two nights we were guests at the Lodge in Marsabit National Park. He planned to return to Ethiopia following his short rest. I would return to Nairobi to catch a flight back to America.Andrew talked for three hours and forty-five minutes about his experiences in Ethiopia. It seemed that the longer he spoke, the more details he was able to provide.
These were his observations: "The famine area of Ethopia is isolated to the northern provinces of Eriteria that parallels the Red Sea. The crop failure here, due to the lack of rain, exceeded 80 percent. Hundreds of thousands have already starved to death in this area. One should not make the fundamental mistake of assuming tht drought alone has caused all of these deaths. It is the combination of drought, mismanagement and civil war that brings on famine. You see, Ethiopia is presently afflicted with all three.
"I had scores of relief workers tell me that if the people continue to die, it will not be due to the drought, but to the political-military situation. The Mengistu government is battling at least tow dozen rebel groups and factions throughout the country. Mengistu is a former army major whose whose primary concern is remaining in office rather than feeding the hungry. He has three priorities, I was told. They are fighting the rebels, fighting the rebels and fighting the rebels.
"You will find this hard to believe. I know I did. When the first relief shipments began to arrive in Ethiopia from Europe and America, Mengistu slapped a $50-a-ton tax on them in order to help finance his 225,000-man army, the largest in all of black Africa.
"The rebel forces, particularly the Eritrean People's Liberation Front, have now begun to complicate the relief effort. They have attacked convoys loaded with food and destroyed both the trucks and supplies. To attack these food trucks is in my mind tantamount to mass murder. It would appear that neither the government nor the rebels want the aid program tow ork. That is, unless it works to their advantage. And since it seldom does, they are effectively turning their nationa into the position of being a country of begars, permanent beggars!
"Let me change course for a few minutes and tell you about some of the remarkable organizations and people I was able to see in action. Not enough can be said about the effective relief efforts expended by such organizations as the International Red Cross, Oxfam, Caritas, Care and the Catholic Relief Services. Hundreds of thousands of lives have been saved by these brave and tireless people.
"The were any number of individuals that I should mention because of their humanitarianism. I shall limit it to two--Michael Buerk and Bob Geldof. Michael was the BBC correspondent whosereporting first alerted the world to the scope of the first famine in 1984. Through his efforts, camera crews brought televised pictures of starving children to the world. Bob GGeldof, the rock star, organized the Band Aid effort in England. He raised millions to help the Ethiopians and Somalis through his charity rock concerts. Geldof then came to the sub-Sahara to personally assist with the relief effort.
"I have to admire Geldof. he had only been in Ethiopia short time before he became particularly outspoken in his comments to the press about the way mengistu Haile Mariam was running things. He called him `inept,' `irresponsible,' and `incompetent.' I was sure Mengistu would have his army henchmen throw Geldof out of the country or even worse, in jail. bu then a peculiar thing happened, Queen ElizabethII gave Bob an honorary Knighthood and no one in the Mengistu government dared to touch him after that."
With this Andrew threw his head back and laughed in an unrestrained manner for several minutes.
(to be continued.)