Mr. Al Mariam: You are not the smartest person in the room


by the Strathink Editorial Team

For a long time now, Strathink has chosen not to respond to the many articles written by Alemayehu G. Mariam, or Al Mariam as he seems to prefer being called. We found his articles, frankly speaking, infantile—his frequent use and misuse of American slang, his pretentious allusions to often times obscure literary and historical references and his simplistic approach to complex issues. However, his recent post, “USAID and Famine in Ethiopia: What Does Gayle E. Smith Have to Say?” is especially egregious.

Mr. Al Mariam cites a number of reasons which “surprised, confused and bewildered” him. The first is what USAID Administrator Gayle Smith said was a cause of drought in Ethiopia—el Nino. Ms. Smith is quoted as saying “this phenomenon called El Nino, which is striking hard at a number of parts of the world, nowhere harder than in Ethiopia.”

Mr. Al Mariam then proceeds to mock Ms. Smith’s assertion, despite the science that backs up this statement. Second, Mr. Al Mariam chastises USAID’s Administrator for not citing “poor governance and planning” as a “partial proximate or actual cause” of the drought. We understand that Mr. Al Mariam is not a scientist, but “drought” is a weather condition—the absence of adequate rainfall—and neither governance nor planning can control the weather.

Third, Mr. Al Mariam refers to the amount of money pledged by the United States to mitigate the impact of drought on people. The majority of aid from the U.S. to Ethiopia is food aid–$267.3 million dollars worth of food. Mr. Al Mariam, do you really think the Government of Ethiopia is stealing food to fill their coffers with wheat or cooking oil? There has never been any accusation against the Ethiopian government of stealing food from the Ethiopian people. If you have evidence of corruption or malfeasance, we would appreciate it if you provide the documentation.

Fourth and fifth, you cite land as a cause of food insecurity. Actually, the fact that farmers do not own the land but lease it for 99 years is a safeguard for their assets. If a farmer sells his/her land during a period of economic shock, where do they go for their livelihood? Until Ethiopia’s manufacturing sector expands—and it will—the farmer’s only asset is land. The economy cannot yet absorb landless farmers.

We are not sure about the relevance of leasing land to foreign investors. Perhaps Mr. Al Mariam can explain it further in his next blog.

Sixth, you appear dismayed at the Administrator’s statement about international donors being “aligned.” You quote Ms. Smith saying, “We are moving earlier in this case because we have found that there is real alignment between donors, NGOs, the government, and UN agencies that if we move very, very, very quickly, we can avert the worst impacts of this drought.” There is no mystery in this statement at all. When a number of actors are trying to address a problem, “alignment” of resources is very important. This means that the multilaterals, NGOs and donor governments, along with the Government of Ethiopia, work together in a concerted way to avoid redundancy and waste. We are guessing you don’t understand this because you have never been involved in a humanitarian assistance effort.

Seventh, and we started to get tired here, are your questions concerning the amount of money provided by the Ethiopian “government”—we are not sure why the word “government” was put in quotes. The Ethiopian government has provided a great deal of resources to mitigate the drought, including through the Productive Safety Net Program, which is welfare-for-work initiative enabling about 6 million people to work on public infrastructure projects in return for food or cash. There is a national food reserve as well as and early warning systems throughout the woredas.

Eighth, you question Ms. Smith’s assertion about losses from the drought. Ms. Smith cited livestock losses and not the loss of human life. There are no numbers for lives lost. The response of the Ethiopian Government and the international community has kept Ethiopia from moving into a situation with loss of human life.

By the way, Mr. Al Mariam, the words you casually throw around—“famine”, malnutrition”, “food insecurity”, “food scarcity”, “food insufficiency”, “food deprivation”, “severe food shortages”, “chronic dietary deficiency”, “endemic malnutrition”—have real meanings based on a range of variables that are quantifiable.

Your use of the word “famine”, for example, is incorrect. There is a body of scientific literature that defines famine on a scale that disaggregates the intensity and magnitude of a crisis at a given point in time; moves from a binary conception of famine/no famine to a graduated understanding based on scales; and assigns harmonized objective criteria instead of individual subjective judgements.

Anthropometric and mortality indicators along with food descriptors measure the intensity level in a given population area.

Mr. Al Mariam, you did not do your homework before writing this blog.

Ninth, you ask Ms. Smith, “Do you believe you have a moral obligation to tell the Ethiopian people that there is “something worse” than the “worst drought in 50 years” possibly in store for them in 2016?” We don’t know what this means and concluded that you don’t know what it means either. Sometimes, Mr. Al Mariam, we think you just like the sound of your own voice.

Tenth, you again refer back to the Productive Safety Net and ask Ms. Smith to explain USAID’s robust monitoring systems. You can visit USAID’s website at and read for yourself what she means by this.

Eleventh, well, we feel again you just like to hear the sound of your own voice.

Mr. Al Mariam, your arrogant and self-important assertion of wanting only to protect the American taxpayer—to “make sure that U.S. humanitarian aid is delivered in Ethiopia is put to proper use and in conformance with applicable U.S. laws”—is transparently false, condescending and egregious.

Once again, you are exploiting the Ethiopian people for your own gain—to pander to your “considerable readership in Ethiopia and globally”.

The editorial team at wants you to know that you are not the smartest person in the room. Second, you mention to Ms. Smith that you were against her nomination. Odds are, she has no idea who you are–seriously.

Mr. Al Mariam, when was the last time you had visited your country? Was it really 40 years ago?

By the way, you give Ms. Smith until April 8th to respond. Then what? We suppose you could write he another letter. That would be punishment enough.

One Response to “Mr. Al Mariam: You are not the smartest person in the room”

  1. Liyu says:

    Wow! Mr. Al Mariam, when a man is blinded by hatred neither his knowledge nor his logics can save him. Please clean up your mind first so that you can also see the good sides of the government of Ethiopia. Yes, we admit that the government of Ethiopia have flaws as it’s not a collection of angels rather visionaries that set the sovereignty of their country first! I believe, had it not been for the collective effort of the government, we wouldn’t have achieved what we can see today. I must admit there are gaps, but didn’t you refer the World Bank reports or any other references such as the African Economic Outlook or others to realise even a single positive impact of what the government is undertaking to bring real developmental change regardless of any international influence and pressure in any form be it in the name of Human Right, policy or in the sphere of democracy against the country’s own national development plan or constitution and rule of law. As a young development practitioner, i expect people like you to deliver a constructive critique and propose alternative policies and remedies that would lift the bars in the development path of the people of Ethiopia, not from the Western’s point of view! We Ethiopian can only afford to learn from best practices of any sovereign country be it Western or Eastern, developing or developed as long as it serves as a building block of our development. As a young nation moving in the path of development Ethiopia shall continue to deeply widen its understanding and analysis of how developed countries like where you’re residing, come to where they are today as we can only compare Ethiopian to the then America, synthesize and adopt some best practices to fit the people of Ethiopia and only Ethiopians! I do hope this opens door to see where I’m heading……but to do all this it requires one’s clear mind, clear from hatred, self-magnification, and disrespect for his own people. Thank you!


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