The Horn of Africa is facing its worst drought in 30 years due to an El Niño weather pattern, according to the United Nations. More than 8 million people are in immediate need of food aid, and that number could rise to 15 million by early next year.
The famine was the subject of a recent report from the BBC’s Clive Myrie. The report documents harsh conditions in Northeastern Ethiopia and features the story of Bertukan Ali. The video shows the tearful mother explaining that her son, Abdu Mohammed, had died of malnutrition as a result of the drought only a few days before.
But the Ethiopian government has strongly denied the severity of the situation and reportedly attempted to censor charity and media organizations soliciting international aid.
According to a report from All Africa, Ethiopian Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonen, when asked about the BBC report, said “There is no such thing as famine in Ethiopia these days.”
The Ethiopian Embassy in the United Kingdom denied the BBC’s claim that two children are dying from malnutrition on a daily basis and called the report “sensational.”
Less than a week after the BBC’s report, the Ethiopian government brought Bertukan Ali onto a state-run television network where she changed her story and claimed that her son died not of malnutrition but of “sudden illnesses.”
Another article from All Africa says that charities in Ethiopia have been told not to use the words “famine, starvation or death” when appealing for donations. Additionally they have been warned not to claim that children are dying on a daily basis or to refer to a widespread famine but to instead describe the drought in Ethiopia as “food insecurity caused by a drought related to El Niño.”
In a conversation with All Africa, exiled Ethiopian journalist Argaw Ashine said there is a reason behind denying the dire situation. Ashine said the government does not want to admit that the country's rapid economic growth has not benefited everyone. "It costs them politically. The success story they fed to Ethiopians and the international community falls severely short after an exposition of the hunger."
Yared Hailemariam, an exiled human rights advocate, also claimed Ethiopia's growth has not benefited everyone. "The so-called development is not humanitarian based — rather, it is based on numbers and the economic aspect."
Writing for the Huffington Post, Dawit Ayele Haylemariam recently wrote that the Ethiopian government has made these denials “because there is no incentive for the government to work hard to avert famine.” He wrote that the ruling Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), has been in power for 25 years and has no threat of being voted out of office because they rule by force. In the spring of 2015 the EPRDF won 100 percent of the seats in parliament.
Famine has been a recurring problem for Ethiopia, where the famine of 1984 left 400,000 dead, according to another BBC report at that time.
According to the international aid organization OxFam, a famine results from a “triple failure” of food production, food access and political response. “Crop failure and poverty leave people vulnerable to starvation — but famine only occurs with political failure.”