Published on allAfrica, 7 June 2010.
Addis Ababa — After harvesting just 50kg of grain last year from his tiny plot in an arid corner of Ethiopia’s Amhara region, Asmenaw Keflegn knew he would have to ask for help.
But when the 44-year-old member of the opposition All Ethiopia Unity Party asked his village chairman to put him on a list of those eligible for emergency food aid from foreign donors, he was refused. The chairman told him, “Let the party that you belong to give you aid.”
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and its allies won 545 out of 547 seats in the parliament in May elections, amid opposition charges – dismissed by the government – that it employed a broad-based campaign of harassment, intimidation and coercion, including the systematic denial of food aid to opposition supporters.
Despite annual economic growth of over 7 percent in the past five years, about 13 million Ethiopians – nearly one-sixth of the population – receive some form of foreign aid.
The ruling party vigorously denied the reports and said the opposition was fabricating such evidence to discredit the elections and undermine the government. The accusations are “outrageous and stupid”, Meles told reporters. “There is no such system. There will never be such a system” … //
But opposition supporters in the countryside say the denial of food aid has proven to be a potent political weapon in a famine-prone country. Yimer Ahmed, 45, an opposition candidate for the regional council in the central Amhara region, said his wife recently divorced him because his membership of an opposition party had kept their family from receiving US food aid.
“Because life is hard, people are saying that being a member of the opposition will invite hunger,” he says. “This aid is coming through the government and without this aid they will starve, so they don’t want to have any problems with the government.” (full text).