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Awarded Norwegian Prize; Now His People Are Starving

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has been honoured by the Norwegian company Yara for his support for agriculture and the reduction of poverty. Today Ethiopians are starving, while at the same time Zenawi refuses his political opponents access to grain and fertiliser.

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has been honoured by the Norwegian company Yara for his support for agriculture and the reduction of poverty. Today Ethiopians are starving, while at the same time Zenawi refuses his political opponents access to grain and fertiliser.

Meles_ZEthiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi (middle) is having a rough time. BBC visited Ethiopia and found villages in which the whole population was starving, after having been refused basic food aid, seeds and fertiliser, because they did not support Prime Minister Zenawi. Here Zenawi is shown with Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and Ban Ki-moon. (Photo: the Prime Minister’s Office, Norway).

The Norwegian company Yara is an important supplier of mineral fertiliser to Ethiopia, one of the countries on the Horn of Africa experiencing severe drought. The Ethiopian authorities’ fight against hunger and poverty was the justification for the first Yara Prize, awarded in 2005 to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

Today, Ethiopia has been hit by the drought on the Horn of Africa, and the world’s food programmes now provide food for 3.7 million people to Ethiopia. But the authorities’ programmes to aid the rural districts have a serious drawback. Several independent investigations have established that families and areas that have not voted for the government party EPDRF are refused aid for mineral fertiliser, seed and food supplies by the authorities.

Mineral fertiliser and seed are key factors for food security in a country where more than 80% is employed in agriculture – mainly families who live by their own agricultural production.

BBC Newsnight and Bureau for Investigative Journalism recently carried out a news report trip in the southern areas of Ethiopia under the pretext of being tourists. There they encountered villages in which the whole population was starving because, according to their own assertions, they were refused food aid, seeds and mineral fertiliser because they had not supported Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, BBC reported. BBC visited a village in which the inhabitants voted for the opposition. There several families were desperate from starvation, and many people are supposed to have perished. In neighbouring villages that voted for the government party there was, on the other hand, no destitution.

“Because of our political views we are now met with repression. We are denied the right to fertiliser and seed because of political ideology,” one of the farmers told BBC Newsnight.

Similar information has been documented by Human Rights Watch reports from Ethiopia and by independent researchers.

etiopia180Ethiopia has been struck by a starvation catastrophe. (Photo: Giro555SHO/flickr.com.)The Yara Prize for an African Green Revolution is an annual prize awarded to “recognise significant contributions to the reduction of hunger and poverty in Africa”. Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi won the first prize in 2005 for his “decisive steps towards increasing food production and reducing poverty in one of the poorest countries of the developing world”. Three months later Yara itself won a fertiliser contract with the Ethiopian regime for a value of 95 million kroner. Both cases, which you may read about here and here, were at the time covered by The Future in Our Hands through Norwatch.

Even though Yara in 2005 knew the development in Ethiopia well enough to be able to award a prize to Meles Zenawi, they are today not acquainted with the information from BBC and Human Rights Watch.

“This is news to me,” Asle Skredderberget, Yara Media Officer, stated. “It does not sound good, but I am not familiar with the facts of the case.”

He made reservations that others in the organisation may be acquainted with the situation in Ethiopia but referred to the fact that Yara does not have employees or offices in Ethiopia and that they therefore are not acquainted with the local conditions.

Read comments from a researcher and the Norwegian embassy regarding the allegations against Ethiopia here.

Yara participates regularly in open bidding rounds for the delivery of fertiliser to the Ethiopian state. Yara’s deliveries vary from year to year, dependent on who gives the lowest tender and wins the bid. This year Yara will supply “a couple of hundred thousand tonnes of fertiliser” to Ethiopia, which, according to Skredderberget, is more than usual.

On the Norwegian embassy’s online pages Yara’s position is described as “approximately monopoly position”, which Skredderberget denies. The bids and contracts for the fertiliser deliveries have been published in Ethiopian online newspapers, and Yara is one of several companies that participate in these competitions.

Yara is actively present in several other African countries, where they promote so-called partnership between private and public sectors. On their online pages they also emphasise Yara’s “corporate citizenship” and responsibility for sustainable development in Africa.

“Does this mean that you have a responsibility for discussing the BBC’s and Human Rights Watch’s criticism with Ethiopian authorities?”

“That is something we must consider,” Skredderberget stated. “I am unsure as to what practical possibilities we have for doing so. It is a political question, but this does not sound good,” Yara’s Asle Skredderberget concluded.

See also our article on Yaras application for a linsence to start large scale extraction of potash in Afar in Ethiopia.