Unprecedented Honour Amid Controversy

Feb 17 , 2024
By Hintsa Andebrhan

In a surprising turn of events that has left many bewildered, the Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO), a United Nations agency, recently awarded Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (AU) the esteemed Agricola Medal. This honour, bestowed for leadership and commitment to food security, contrasts with previous criticisms directed at his administration by international bodies, including the FAO itself.

Notably, various UN agencies criticised the federal government for obstructing humanitarian aid to the conflict-ridden region of Tigray during the two-year civil war. Further allegations surfaced in September 2023, with both the World Food Programme (WFP) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) blaming it for misappropriating over 7,000tns of wheat and 215,000ltrs of oil designated for those in dire need.

This backdrop of criticism makes the FAO's accolade appear incongruous to observers and the public alike. The recognition has sparked a mix of scorn and outrage among those who see it as a mocking gesture by an international organisation towards a country nabbed by drought and governance issues. While international accolades may bolster the government's image abroad, they do little to address the pressing problems of food security and economic hardship that affect the populace.

The Prime Minister's response to the ongoing drought crisis, which he discussed before Parliament two weeks ago, did little to quell public dissatisfaction. He seemingly underestimated the crisis by equating the drought to the historic victory at Adwa, urging against its politicisation. Such statements have drawn criticism for glossing over his administration's responsibility to implement effective policies to combat and mitigate the impacts of such natural disasters, rather than simply relying on international aid.

His Minister of Planning & Development, Fitsum Asefa (PhD), defended the FAO's recognition, characterising it as a global acknowledgement of Ethiopia's strides towards transforming its food security. However, her statement sits uncomfortably with the reality of her government's policies on wheat exports, which have been criticised for aggravating the daily struggles of ordinary Ethiopians.

In his address, Prime Minister Abiy also expressed confusion over the West's stringent posturing towards Ethiopia, suggesting a misunderstanding or disagreement with the Western approach to international relations, which typically emphasises adherence to certain policies and regulations. It primes a broader issue of geopolitical strategy and the challenges faced by the government in aligning its policies with those of Western countries, which often wield significant influence in international affairs.

The discussion extended to Ethiopia's geopolitical ambitions, particularly of the Red Sea corridor, a region of strategic importance. The Prime Minister's remarks about Ethiopia's historical contributions to peacekeeping and its diplomatic efforts revealed his frustration with the perceived shift in Western support from Ethiopia towards other countries like Kenya, which appears to be enjoying favourable relations with the West under William Ruto's administration. Ruto's government has been adept at international politics, balancing African interests and Western expectations.

Eritrea's position was also raised as a counterpoint to Ethiopia's situation. Despite past criticisms from American officials such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Eritrea's policy of self-reliance has recently seen a shift in perception from the West, indicating a possible thawing of relations and a reevaluation of Eritrea's role in regional politics.

The recent trends in international relations, domestic policy challenges, and regional dynamics show the delicate balance Ethiopia must strike in pursuing its interests. The FAO's award to the Prime Minister ostensibly celebrates his leadership in food security. However, the timing and context it was given have led to scepticism and criticism within Ethiopia and among international observers. The incident serves as a microcosm of the broader crises Ethiopia faces, where the need for effective governance, robust economic policies, and strategic diplomacy is acute. His administration's responses to these challenges will be crucial in shaping Ethiopia's future about its domestic stability and standing on the global stage.

The wisdom of the late Henry Kissinger, who noted that America's foreign policy is driven by permanent interests rather than permanent friends or enemies, should offer a poignant reminder. For Ethiopia, the imperative is to formulate policies that safeguard national interests while engaging constructively with the international community. This involves ensuring food security and economic stability at home while steering through a web of international relations and regional geopolitics.

PUBLISHED ON Feb 17,2024 [ VOL 24 , NO 1242]

Hintsa Andebrhan (hintsa1974@gmail.com) worked as a researcher with the United Nations Population Fund and IPAS International Ethiopia. Interested in history and politics, his work was on social affairs.

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