ETHIOPIA: Ethiopia commits itself to making famine a thing of the past
Karin Palmquist

With donor fatigue spreading like the flu, and so many disasters competing for attention, Ethiopia realizes that it can't depend on the world's goodwill. It can't put the fate of its people in the hands of foreign aid that might not come quickly enough. The country knows it needs a long-term cure, not just the Band-Aid of international relief.

"We have an unflinching determination to turn things around. The alternative would be a disaster," says Ethiopia's ambassador to the United States, Kassahun Ayele. His country's government has an ambitious plan to make Ethiopia food self-sufficient in three to five years. "There are more mouths to feed around the world every year. The weather is still unreliable. We have to succeed."

Part of the plan is to increase the productivity of farmers and other workers, and to attract foreign investment. "The Ethiopian labor force is not fully utilized. If it were, it would generate $10 billion a year more in output."

Ambassador Ayele says the United States has shown a very positive attitude toward the project. USAID has actively responded to the Ethiopian initiative, and proposed its own approach to realization of the development goals. The ambassador welcomes the support. "It is clear that this cannot be solved by Ethiopia alone. We need the help of the United States to do this. We need a lot of assistance and support, not just in the form of bilateral and multilateral support, but also in the form of investments. Our financial capacity is limited. We have the resources but not the capacity to develop them."

There is also a need to coordinate the help from the Ethiopian diaspora. There is a large community of some half million Ethiopians in the United States, with close to 80,000 in the Washington, DC area alone. "This is a vibrant, hardworking community. We need to make use of this asset. It is our responsibility to facilitate and channel these resources in times of crisis, and facilitate for people who want to go home and help out," the ambassador says. Remittances are a sizable part of the country's cash inflow and a lifesaver for the relatives that receive them.

"But to succeed in any endeavor we need peace in the region," the ambassador continues.

A long-standing dispute over the 600-mile border between Ethiopia and Eritrea escalated into war in 1998. The conflict ended with the signing of a peace agreement in 2000, but the dispute is not over. Ethiopia has objected to the demarcation phase of the decision, made by an independent UN commission set up under the 2000 Algiers peace deal, on some of the contested border areas.

On other fronts, the country has taken on a role as a peace broker in the region, taking an active role in the peace processes in Somalia and Sudan.

"Ethiopia has suffered a lot. We suffered from terrorism, from Somalia. We fought terrorism single-handedly. After September 11, the United States took over the global fight against terrorism. We joined the fight. The United States has noticed and taken us on as a strong partner."

"The region is still in difficult circumstances. We cannot tackle this alone in the region. We need the help of the United States and the United Nations."

With the sustained support of the international community, and a lot of determination, Ethiopia will make famine a thing of the past.

Ambassador Kassahun Ayele's biography
Ambassador Kassahun Ayele was born on June 17, 1949 in Bale Goba, Ethiopia. With over 28 years of engineering, consultancy, management and policy-related work experience, Ambassador Kassahun was the Minister of Trade and Industry from August 1995-October 2001. In this post, he became intimately acquainted with the U.S. African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), successfully negotiating Ethiopia's certification for the Act. He also led several successful promotional trade missions to foreign countries, including the United States, in which he has traveled extensively, working with government officials, business leaders and Ethiopians residing here to promote trade and investment to Ethiopia.

With years of experience in the field of engineering, the Ambassador has served as a member and Chairman of the Ethiopian Society of Mechanical Engineers, and as a member of management boards for various Ethiopian enterprises, including Ethiopian Airlines, the National Bank of Ethiopia, the Export Promotion Agency of Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Investment Authority, the Basic Metals and Engineering Industries Agency, and the Public Enterprises Supervising Authority. He has also served as a member of the Advisory Council of the Environment Protection Authority and as a member of the Ethiopian National Council for HIV/AIDS.

Ambassador Kassahun received his M.SC. in Tribology in Machine Design from Leeds University, Leeds England, in 1988, and holds a B.SC. degree in Mechanical Engineering from Haile Sellasie I University in Addis Ababa. He is married with two children.