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Famine and foreigners: Ethiopia since Live Aid

Famine and foreigners

By Peter Gill
Published by Oxford University Press
Website: www.oup.com
2010, 294pp, ISBN 978 0 19 956984 7(Hb), £14.99

In 1984, Peter Gill was the first journalist to travel to Korem in northern Ethiopia, and witness the unfolding famine. Twenty five years later he returned, to investigate what has happened in Ethiopia since, and whether famine of this scale could ever happen in the country again. His journey of enquiry is a gripping piece of journalism, and for those working in development makes sobering but essential reading. From the cynical failure of the UN and national governments to respond to the famine of 1984, to the contemporary boom in trade with China, Gill offers a modern history of a country that has pursued its own vision of development and resisted the strategies of western donors.

In returning to Korem, Gill asks school students whether they think famine will happen again in their country; tentative hands are raised. His translator, however, is more certain. Eighty percent of Ethiopians live in rural areas and nearly all depend on rain-fed agriculture and have just one harvest per year. If the rains are bad, there will be a problem, he concludes.

As a critique of the tortuous path that development often treads, the book deserves to be widely read. The current restriction on NGOs with foreign funding from taking part in 'advancement of human and democratic rights', according to Ethiopia's Charities Act of 2009, is just one example. At a stroke, the government was able to severely restrict the rights-based development model that aims to empower the poor, not just help them. But it is Gill's numerous meetings and conversations recounted in Famine and foreigners that are key to its success - fascinating first hand accounts, presented with great skill and based on a passionate commitment to truth.

Date published: October 2010


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