The Sudan, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia and Eritrea: the Full belly Thesis

By Ankob Zuta, Blogger of De Birhan Blogspot


Somalia’s malnutrition, has been declared a famine by the United Nations yesterday. It is so unreal, in the 21st century famine? damn. The whole region of the Horn of Africa is starving. So sad. But what can a poor man like me do…except lip service and bewail? I am ashamed of the region as a whole as it failed in this high-tech century to develop and be still holding the bowl of begging. Dambiasa Moyo (PhD), the Zambian born international economist had preceded few years ago a new school of thought that decimated the aid model. She argued the the so called NGOs, aid agencies and donations have done nothing for Africa but made them dependent fools. I added ‘fools’ in fact lol. But we are—yes we are fools who still depend on others for our survivals. Although, some would say even European countries and the US do beg IMF and WB…it is a completely different scenario from us …Social Welfare and food stamps are also different from the beggaries of ours. So I was saying, Moyo’s new movement and thought of changing the aid model that has been gaining momentum has been crushed down by the shameful and starving nations of the Horn of Africa, who revived and rejuvenated the dying international NGOs again. If the drought and famine of the Horn of Africa didn’t happen or had the leaders and governments of the Horn of Africa had enough preparation and readiness for such times, the international NGO model would have fully perished. And Africans would have been compelled to stop looking at the hands of others and worked their ass off.

Look at the Diagram below,

It is the most used and applied social psychological theory. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology, proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper A Theory of Human Motivation. Maslow’s theory suggests that the most basic level of needs must be met before the individual will strongly desire (or focus motivation upon) the secondary or higher level needs. Let’s now take the above diagram and apply it to the politics and politicians of the horn of Africa. Do moist us or our politicians see ourselves/themselves in the above diagram? Do you think our politicians have reached the self actualisation stage before they joined the political struggle ? Can we name any of them?

I personally like the theory and feel that it applies in most contexts to me and even politicians. If you ask me …in which stage I am I can proudly say I am at the bottom— I am the stage of fighting for my daily food, wising to build my own house, have a wife and settle and do SEX lol in general I am working hard to fulfil my psychological needs now. But that doesn’t and hasn’t prevented me from having or aspiring to have the stages in the esteem section and worrying about the welfare of others and basically from leaping that Stage.

Now, are the people of the Horn of Africa, whose 50% are under the poverty threshold/hunger stage, so calm and unable to fight for their freedom, equality, rights and democracy because they haven’t fulfilled their psychological needs? Closed ended question again.

The Full-Belly Thesis

Just a year after I was born, in 1983, there came a cross-cutting research by Rhoda Howard entitled “The Full-Belly Thesis: Should Economic Rights Take Priority over Civil and Political Rights? Evidence from Sub-Saharan Africa’’. The Full-Belly Thesis, it is a theory, and is my topic for today.

According to Howard, the “full-belly” thesis is that a man’s belly must be full before he can indulge in the “luxury” of worrying about his political freedoms. Simply put it says that freedom and civil and political rights are luxuries for the starving masses and can only be bestowed upon them once the primary needs of food and health have been fulfilled. Proponents of the ‘full belly thesis’ would point to the history of the industrial revolution in Europe or to the success of the four Asian dragons to vindicate their stand, insisting on the need to focus the energies of the population towards meeting basic needs.

The Sudan, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia and Eritrea

The region that holds these countries is one of the most unstable, corrupt, repressive, diseased, hungered, war ravaged, totalitarian, and ‘backward’ regions of the world. Recently, it has appeared in the headlines of the international media once again not for any success story but for famine and hunger as usual. One good thing that this chaos brought the region was an attention from the Western Policy makers, who now started to view the regions as a strategic location. Crisis makes a place a strategic spot. If it is strategic then, influential Westerners would start to hear the voices coming from the Region, either from oppositions, civil societies or tiny creatures like me who think have panacea for the regions mess that disrupts international peace and prosperity.

Leaving, that aside let me delve on these countries from the spectrum of Full-Belly Thesis.

The Sudan: Sudan has recently found oil. It is one of the major exporters of oil in the Horn as well. Sudan is making huge economic strides. Infrastructures, huge manufacturing are being built in Khartoum.On the other hand, according to this year Amnesty International report ‘throughout Sudan, the government routinely represses human rights defenders, political opponents and ordinary civilians, subjecting many to torture and other forms of ill-treatment.’’ All forms of civil and political rights are suppressed mainly due to repressive religious laws and government.Al Bashir’s regime still sequences economic development (filling the belly) before freedom and civil and political rights.

Djibouti :located in the shores of the Horn of Africa, this small country of less than one million people is also making good economic strides especially in terms of GDP, around 6 percent in 2010. However the United States Department 2011 reports states,Significant human rights abuses in the country included difficult prison conditions; prolonged pretrial detention; denial of fair public trial; interference with privacy rights; restrictions on freedoms of the press, assembly, and association; lack of protection for refugees; corruption; discrimination against women; female genital mutilation (FGM); discrimination against persons with disabilities; and restrictions on unions.” Omar Gulleh , who is a monopolist capitalist himself, promotes fast economic development by relinquishing the above rights. He practices the full belly theory too.

Eritrea : a small nation that seceded from Ethiopia in 1992, has been described to have had this kind of civil and political rights level by the 20111 report of Amnesty International The government severely restricted freedom of expression and freedom of religion. No opposition parties, independent journalism or civil society organizations, or unregistered faith groups were allowed. The authorities used arbitrary arrests, detentions and torture to stifle opposition, holding thousands of political prisoners in dire conditions, many in secret detention. Military conscription was compulsory and deserters, draft evaders and their families were harassed, imprisoned and ill-treated. A “shoot to kill” policy against anyone attempting to flee across the border remained in place.

In the middle of these atrocities, it is only Eritrea that has little suffered or has so far been affected by the drought problem in the Horn of Africa. In his recent, interview, the Information Minister of Eritrea said that his country had achieved full food security and wouldn’t need any food aid from anyone. The Country has also found gold mines and is showing progress. Eritrea also openly practices the full-belly theory.

Somalia: Somalia which is now famine hit, failed state led by a shaky government. The Nation is difficult to be considered in the above theory or any other deconstruction. One thing clear here is that; Somalia’s famine is mainly caused due to long-term political and civil rights absence meaning state failure,war and conflict from the nation not just due to yesterday’s rain absence.

Ethiopia: Ethiopia, my mother land is a good case of the Full-Belly Thesis. The regime of Meles Zenawi is the darling of the West.He plays and flexes to all beats. Meles has been a Maoist, then a liberal and since 2004/05 a developmental democrat. Intrinsically and ideologically; a revolutionary democrat. Since then he has been advocating that economic growth and filling the belly of poor Ethiopian precedes social and political rights or success. His recent Growth and Transformation Plan is a prime case in point as it only plans to ambitiously be wealthy than the latter. “A serious analysis of the relationships between civil/political and economic human rights must confront the fact that sub-Saharan African societies, like all other societies, are stratified by social class, and that the elites who formulate economic policy may well be doing so in their own interests, not in the interests of the malnourished masses.” (Howard,1983) says.

The service sector of Ethiopia has been highly growing and the GDP was reportedly growing too. But, Ethiopia has now one of the most repressive regimes in the world that denies all the civil and political rights of its citizens at home and even in the Diaspora.

China set out one version in a 1991 white paper, arguing that survival rights – to food, shelter and health – take priority over freedom of expression and other civil and political rights, since the latter are meaningless if one is starving. Violation of those rights is justified as a trade-off by states with limited resources.

Bundle up

I bundle up my points with three conceptions; interactivity, universality and indivisibility. By interactivity I mean, basic human political and civil rights and human security (economic development) are interactive not sequential. That was Howard’s contention too.

And the last two points as I quote from another study here “‘universality’, that is that human rights and obligations apply worldwide, and cannot be watered down in a particular country or region – through bogus arguments about cultural specificity for example; and ‘indivisibility’, that all rights are vitally important that the right to development, for example, does not take priority over the right to join a trade union. These are arguments that continue to be used by governments today to justify torture, killings and ‘disappearances’. If development is to result from substantive participation not only have all to be free to join in the debate but, be empowered to contribute.

As an anonymous participant in the 1966 Dakar seminar on human rights quoted by Howard (1983) put it, ‘To sacrifice the liberties inherent in the human personality in the name of economic development… [is] to reduce the individual to the role of producer and consumer of goods, which . . [is] far too high a price to pay for improving the material conditions of existence.”

Countries of the Horn of Africa :The Sudan, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia and Eritrea ought to be revolutionised. A new generation of freedom,justice, equality,peace, liberty , prosperity and comfort lovers and upholders need to come in. The new generation has to take power. Instead of solely working for selfish and individual national solutions, these countries should work for a regionally cooperative and mutual growth and benefit. The current enmity and war tempered situation of the Horn would and could be solved by the reconciling and forward thinking youth. The Horn of Africaners should work for a holistic solution to our identical miseries.


  1. The ideal of free human beings enjoying civil and political freedom and freedom from fear and want can only be achieved if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his civil and political rights, as well as his social, economic and cultural rights.
    —International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, 1966.
    so u c these countries should uphold them all well.

  2. loved the writing
    well observed especailly the linkage between Maslow and The Full Belly thing–poverty and hunger are creations so don’t bother –aight

  3. Dear De Birhan Bro
    In most of your writings i read a sense of personalisation of the hardship,hunger and so on of that Country. You shouldn’t it is a regional one and no individual is blamed for–rather it is historical, institutional and structural.
    So take it easy and all will be well in the future

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