The Political Ecology of War and Famine in the Horn of Africa: Oromia in Focus

Introduction: The Horn of Africa in general, and Ethiopia’s pastoralist frontiers in particular, have become epicenters of…

Introduction:

The Horn of Africa in general, and Ethiopia’s pastoralist frontiers in particular, have become epicenters of disasters – drought, famine, war, violence and displacement. As a result, over 9 million people in the pastoralist regions of Ethiopia are currently in need of emergency food aid, according to a report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. More specifically, over the last four years, Oromia became a theater of state violence, human suffering and politically induced famine and displacement.

In broader humanitarian, policy and governmental discussions, famine is often attributed to drought as the latter reduces productivity of land and livestock. Such representation of famine and drought as natural phenomena depoliticizes human suffering by disconnecting it from complex political and economic factors. From a critical political ecology perspective, however, famine and drought are often interpreted as political instruments of control and subjection.

Apart from the anthropogenic factors leading to climate change which exacerbates periodic droughts in such fragile arid environments, politically designed systemic marginalization, exclusion, and restrictions on access to resources are additional major factors behind the catastrophic famine in the region. In addition, the war that Abiy Ahmed’s regime has launched in Oromia, Benishangul Gumuz, Tigray and its spillover effects in the Somali and Afar regions has disrupted economic activities leading to famine and starvation. In a conversation with Dr. Asebe Regassa (the Oromo Studies Association’s president), Professor Gufu Oba and Dr. Gutu Olana Wayessa reflected on their analysis of the war and famine in the region within a political ecology framework. This write-up briefly summarizes the conversation.

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