Ethiopia (April 1995)
by Humanitarian Practice Network April 1995

In December 1994 the new Ethiopian Constitution was ratified. Most controversially, this provides for the secession of the newly created regions. Opposition to this remains vigorous within the country, but the donor community remains broadly supportive of the government.

The Oromo opposition appears to be consolidating and reorganising. Three Oromo movements: the OPLF (Oromo People’s Liberation Front), United Oromo People’s Liberation Front (UOPLF), and the Oromo People’s Liberation Organisation met in Nairobi in December to consolidate their organisation and strategy. An agreement was also reached between the UOPLF and the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Oromia to unite within a new, United Oromo Liberation Front. UOLF rejects the new constitution and refuses to participate in the elections in May. Instability is expected to increase during the election period.

3,400 officials of the former regime have been put on trial for war crimes, including genocide. Unique among the accusations is that the government of Mengistu Haile Mariam withheld and manipulated food aid during one of Ethiopia’s periodic droughts in order to suppress dissent.

Ethiopians hope that these trials will set a precedent for other countries which have experienced extreme abuses of human rights and where food has been used as a weapon of war.

While the 1994/5 meher (main) season’s production is greater in overall terms than the previous year’s, the population increase has meant an overall decline in production per capita. There are widespread food needs throughout Ethiopia, but the most urgent problems are in South Wello and Wolayita.

The number of refugees/returnees in the country, has risen to 379,000, due largely to an influx of Somali refugees into Eastern Ethiopia and the continued influx of Sudanese refugees in the west. Fighting in Hargeisa, Somaliland, led to an influx of 74,000 people, and food distributions for the new arrivals were carried out in January 1995.

Overall the refugee population in the east of the country is not reported to be at heightened nutritional risk, despite the influx. However, the returnee population in the Ogaden (Gode) is still in a critical state, and the refugee population in southern Ethiopia is at moderate risk with elevated levels of wasting.

Eritrea – Asmara’s dramatic snapping of diplomatic relations with Khartoum in December is looking more and more like part of a concerted regional strategy to isolate the NIF Government, coming as it did after a series of accusations against Sudan’s government from Cairo and Kampala. Eritrean President Aferworki accuses Khartoum of funding and training fundamentalist terrorists operating in Eritrea.

Under a new policy, foreign aid agencies are prohibited from being operational, a role reserved entirely for Eritreans. Donor agencies are also restricted from paying Eritrean staff more than the prevailing in-country rates to prevent them from draining skilled people away from government services. Agencies are required to account for all funds spent in Eritrea, and no more than 10% is be used for office overheads.

In December 1994, the first Consultative Meeting on Eritrea was held in Paris. Donors earmarked US$250 million in international aid for 1995, and the country was added to the IMF’s list of members.