It's still 1976 in Ethiopia, where Lenin towers, Cubans sing, and the sun shines
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia — Make your way past Revolution Square, with its huge pictures of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Ethiopian leader Mengistu Haile Mariam. Enter an office building. Climb the stairs -- and there in a conference room, white figures tacked to green wallboards tell the urgent story. ``Affected people: 10,750,660.
``Needing immediate assistance: 7,923,150.
``Food assistance requirement [for 1985] -- grain: 1,295,764 tons.
``Total food assistance [including other foods]: 1,451,479 tons.
``Pledged: 50 percent. Secured: 21 percent.''
The figures etch the dimensions of the continuing famine here in this proud country, a country which has seen many a drought in its 3,000 year history but few, if any, like this one.
The office belongs to Dawit Wolde Giorgis, a member of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Ethiopia andhead of the government Relief and Rehabilitation Commission.
It is the commission's job to organize famine relief. Its figures don't always match those of the United Nations Office for Emergency Operations here, run by widely-respected, grandfatherly Kurt Jansson.
But figures are imprecise in Africa anyway, and no one doubts that the Ethiopian famine crisis is growing by the day, especially in the north.
New waves of Tigreans have been pouring into the provincial capital of Makale. Eritreans and Tigreans are still trudging across the border into Sudan to find food and water, athough some have walked home again on hearing that rain had fallen.
Six months ago the total numbers affected here were in the 6 million to 7 million bracket. Now they are much, much higher.
Next year's wall-calendar has just been handed out to government officials bearing next year's date: 1977. Yes, that's right, 1977. Ethiopia uses the old Julian calendar, which is seven years and eight months behind our Gregorian one. Right now it is still 1976 in Ethiopia, and will turn 1977 three months from now.
The calendar, incidentally, has a 13th month of five to six days each year.
The local tourist office has the slogan, ``Thirteen months of sunshine.''
Considering the length and scale of the drought, the slogan seems ironic indeed.
``It's the civil war in the north that makes relief work so hard here,'' says one Western diplomat. ``Mengistu simply isn't feeding the Eritreans and the Tigreans.''
When Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts recently asked the fourth-ranking man in the Politburo, Berhanu Bayih, about sending free loads of food into the northern areas, Berhanu replied flatly, ``Unimaginable.''
In neighboring Sudan, another inside observer is blunter: ``Mengistu thinks it's cheaper to starve his enemies than to shoot them.''
The Reagan administration keeps on urging Mengistu to allow the starving people in ``gray'' areas (where control is disputed between guerrillas and government) to come into feeding stations once a month to draw rations without fear of being forcibly resettled to the south in a Soviet transport plane, or conscripted in the government army.
The standard Mengistu reply is that he controls ``all areas'' of Ethiopia and is taking care of their needs. Reagan officials say that is just not so.
Although the United States has provided more than 400,000 tons of grain since December and pays for one-third of all famine relief in Ethiopia, US aid officials here find their hotel rooms searched and their travel permits delayed.
The US could try harder to use its food aid to force policy changes here, but Mengistu and his Soviet advisers remain frosty. Mengistu gets his food from the US -- and his guns from the Russians.
In an Addis apartment block not far from the biggest statue of Lenin in Africa live a number of Cubans.
When the Ogaden war with Somalia was at its height in the late 1970s, Cuban troops and advisers reportedly numbered about 17,000. By early 1984 the Reuters news agency as well as the Xinhua news agency in Peking were reporting a pullout of 12,000 to 13,000, leaving a division of about 1,200 men outside Addis at Debre Zeyt. Now, according to expert observers here, the Cubans in Ethiopia number about 4,000.
Several Ethiopians in the vicinity of the Addis apartment block confirmed that Cuban families remained there. ``They laugh and sing,'' said one, ``but I don't know what else they do.''
Lenin stands at the bottom of one of Addis Ababa's many steep hills, frozen in dramatic forward stride, his left hand on his left lapel.
In two visits here, a number of Ethiopians have commented wryly to me on Soviet-style slogans that adorn the city (such as ``Long live Proletarian Internationalism'') -- and on the statue of Lenin.
``You see, he is facing the airport,'' was one of the first comments I heard when the man with me discovered that I was an American. ``He doesn't like it here.''
``It is America that sends us food, not the Russians,'' was a comment I heard over and over again. ``We all know that.''