So help me I’ve read some rubbish in the Daily Mail over the years – and I know it to be a potent brew of prejudice and lies. But this article must rank in the top-ten for stupidity.
The headline – “A heart rending dispatch from Ethiopia” – seemed promising. Could it be that the Daily Mail is taking an interest in the challenges being faced by 80 million people here in Ethiopia? Heaven knows, it would be about time. About 5 million people here need emergency assistance, and about 75,000 children are suffering with severe acute malnutrition. Approximately 73% of the female population undergoes female genital mutilation. Only 22% of the population has access to an improved water supply, and only 13% of the population has access to adequate sanitation services (less in rural areas). Only 46% of girls in Ethiopia go to primary school, and fewer than 25% go to secondary school (these numbers are a huge improvement on the figures only a few years ago).
And the situation today is dire. Less than a year ago, a quintal of teff (a type of grain from which people make injera, a staple food) cost about 350 birr; today it has spiralled to to over 1,100 birr for the same amount, which is about what you need to feed a family for a month.
But none of that worries Liz Jones of the Daily Mail:
What I will remember most about my trip to Ethiopia is the sight of the grain market, held just outside the small town of Hossana – human population 70,000; equine population 91,040. Mules – half donkey, half horse – are used for the terrible task of carrying grain because they are bigger and stronger than donkeys.
She is in a country in which children are dying of malnutrition and what she will remember most is the mules?
I’ve been vegetarian since I was a teenager, so I count myself as someone who takes the rights of animals seriously, but I cannot begin to understand how Ms Jones can think that, of all the insults to dignity and humanity facing this country, the plight of donkeys could feature anywhere in the top ten. But Ms Jones ranks donkeys right up there with Ethiopian children:
I tried to imagine how I would treat a donkey if I had seven mouths to feed, and I hope I would still have a vestige of compassion. But if my children were starving, I cannot be sure that that would be the case. No one can.
I don’t have children or a mule, but I am pretty sure that if I did, I’d put my children first. And I’d be keen to prosecute anyone who took a different view.
Almost every day here, I see women hauling huge loads of firewood on their backs from the outskirts of the city, to bring fuel for their family. A few are lucky enough to have a donkey to bear the load. Ms Jones of the Daily Mail does not approve:
The owner explains that she has been walking with her donkey since 7am; it is nearly 5pm, and the sun is still beating down relentlessly. I ask why she has not taken the load from her donkey’s back, and she replies that she would not have the strength to lift the sacks back on to her donkey again. Can she not let the donkey rest? The woman shakes her head. She has to hurry, to be home before 6.30pm, so that she can take part in a religious feast.
Ms Jones suggests you might want to give money to a charity to help the mules (and, almost unbelievably, to “educate owners in better animal care,
preventing problems from reoccurring”).