An illuminating report from a beat reporter whose beat is Ethiopian famine. I benefited from Gill's knowledge of the peoples, politicians, and geography of Ethiopia, and his dogged attempts to be fair to almost all sides. I say "almost" because he offered neither wisdom nor fairness toward anything American, governmental or otherwise, and because he obviously had his pet charities (whose rivals had little or no room to respond). Moreover, what hooked me into buying this book was the chance of a follow-up on the whole global charity phenomenon that surged in the 1980s: what did it leave behind? Is it still active in Ethiopia? Can I look inside its 21st-century progeny? How did it change (or not) westerners' desire to help the hungry, how did it spawn compassion fatigue, did it eventually shake off charity dilettantism or is that plague still with us?
Gill has a fine sense of irony, so it was disappointing to spot the places where he didn't employ it. As in his efforts to parse the Meles government and its progress toward feeding people, reforms and techniques and strategies and so on, without once confronting the question of whether this is a land that could EVER feed itself, and if not, what the clear-eyed response should be. Maybe a country that endlessly perfects its ways of collecting and channeling aid from better-fed countries is not actually solving its problem. What could Ethiopia do, anyway, to bear itself up in a globalized world? Should we make a fetish of these scrawny, unreliable, tiny farms and their inevitable seasonal failures, or does Ethiopia need an injection of something entirely different that could pull it into the world economy? Is Ethiopian subsistence -- spotty subsistence -- enough for us all to feel smug and happy about what we've helped bring about there? Wouldn't we want more for ourselves?
Moreover, Gill gets contraception backward: it's not an investment used to cut down the number of hungry mouths (western reductionism) but a technique that people will adopt AFTER their livelihoods become more secure. That's been shown. Family planning is the cart, prosperity the horse. "Feed the World" still echoes in my head from that dreck 1980s ballad. "Feed Ethiopia's future, and thus its prosperity, and thus its people" is presumably not as much of a hook.
Interesting to watch the news today. Famine is once more raging in these barren lands, and nothing at all has been solved.