The missing 8.6 million Ethiopians, where art thou?

By Yilma Bekele

I couldn’t sleep all night. I kept turning and tossing to no avail. What was bothering me was what I heard on VOA yesterday afternoon. VOA is Voice of America for those of you not in the know. I found out I can listen to VOA on my smart phone and things haven’t been the same. My phone has become my best friend. I can surf the web, send email, watch You Tube, shoot a video, listen to the radio and oh yes talk too. My phone has become indispensable. Back to my story.

Dispersed among the many important stories of the day I heard the announcer discussing food, rather the lack of food in East Africa. Looks like the FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization) was passing out the plate to collect donations to feed poor Africans and the pledge from the Europeans fell short and the director and African delegates were crying about the indifference of the rich countries. This is what you call aggressive begging. It takes balls to sit on such virgin land and blame others for your own stupidity so I didn’t pay that much attention to the story.

What came next was what piqued my interest. UNFPA (UN population fund) was discussing the state of human population growth. According to them there are eighty-two and half million Ethiopians. Plenty of us if you ask me. On the other hand the Ethiopian government count shows seventy-three point nine million Ethiopians. Quiet a discrepancy wouldn’t you say. We are talking about eight point six million Abeshas an accounted for. Now you know why I couldn’t sleep.

I don’t mind if we are missing a few thousand of us. You know how African borders are. It is possible the day or week of the count some have ventured far following rich grazing grounds or even gone to the market in a neighboring country. It is also possible so many are escaping and temporarily situated in Sudan, Kenya, Somalia, Eritrea or Djibouti. I doubt if they will stop for the census bureau to be counted. Believe me eight point six million is not a small number. For crying out loud it is larger than a whole bunch of countries entire population.

Staying up all night has its rewards. As the sun was rising over the rolling hills of East bay, the birds chirping signaling a new day the answer came to me, we Ethiopians have a problem with numbers! We just don’t know how to count. That is not idle talk my friend, I got proof.

Let us just start with famine. According to the UN, US Aid, Oxfam and other professionals who do this sort of stuff for a living there are over ten million Ethiopians in need of food. According to the Meles regime the number is less than four million. It sort of bizarre to haggle over the number of your own people condemned to die of hunger but that is what has become of our country. Why this obsession with numbers you might ask. It is because the TPLF regime is always interested in the degrees of suffering of our people.

They start with the great famine of 1973 and compare that with the famine of 1983 and arrive at the startling conclusion that says less are dying thus we are doing better. With TPLF the question is not how to avoid famine but how to manage famine. Thus they spend time, energy and try our patience playing with numbers.

How about the much heralded 12% growth. Again it is a number TPLF throws with abandon gets quoted by Reuter or Bloomberg ergo it becomes a fact. The question is does reality on the ground jive with fantasy in the collective brain of TPLF cadres? I am afraid not. Putting up some concrete structures using Diaspora money, paving roads with IMF and Chinese loans is not an example of sustainable growth. It is just feel good economics or voodoo economics. The numbers are repeated again and again purposely to etch them in our mind.

Even the so-called Federal budget is not immune to this number challenge we face. After the 2005 elections the TPLF regime was printing money as if it was going out of style. The money was used to bribe the different EPDRF minions and buy their temporary loyalty. When the Federal Audit Report showed the truth about the minority regimes borrowing of billions of Bir the Prime Minster was not amused. Our fearless leader called the report a ‘junior accountants error’ and rejected the findings. His handpicked teams of investigators were able to shift a few zeros and bring the report in line with his wishes.

The mother of all ‘number challenged’ problems was the 2005 general elections. It was a situation where electorate and the ballot were in complete and total dis-harmony. It took more than six months of the best TPLF cadre’s brain to reconcile what really happened with what was supposed to happen. Even our favorite Woyane Bereket Semeon’s Wollo constituency was in disarray. The second balloting ordered by TPLF showed more people than what turned out to vote during the first free and euphoric election. Go figure that out!

Numbers and facts came to clash during the recent ‘Tekeze dam’ inaugaration. The prime Minster was proud and precise when he said Tekeze was built by “berasachin genzeb” Again does this jive with reality or does it leave many un answered questions. According to some knowledgeable sources ‘The Tekeze Dam Project financing is by China National Water Resources and Hydropower Engineering Company (CWHEC), 49pc, and China Gezhouba Water and Power (group) Ltd, 30pc, and Sur Construction, subsidiary company of EFFORT, 21pc. (TPLF) So what is it? Does it belong to us or the bond holders? Is this a new formula of financing? Questions, questions.

I will leave you with one number problem we encountered a while back as told by our own Tamagne Beyene. He tells it a whole lot better but I will do my best. The TPLF radio, yes they used to have a radio station during their armed struggle for the liberation of Tigrai, in its reports of their heroism was throwing increasable numbers regarding the number of Derg solders they have killed. Unfortunately when the numbers were added up at the end of the day they showed that they have killed more solders than all the Derg military combined.

The question for us is shall we get out of this numbers business? Shall we bring in outsiders to do any and all counting business in our country? Can Ethiopians be trusted with numbers or is it a localized TPLF problem? No matter it still leaves us with eight point six million Ethiopians out there with no one to claim them. Misplacing that many Abeshas is nothing to sniff at, I want my people accounted for.