All Commentary
Thursday, April 1, 1976

Eat, Drink, Talk


The Rev. Mr. Mahaffy served for twenty-three years as a missionary of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Ethiopia and is presently serving as a home mission pastor north of Chicago.

Back in 1961 I pointed out that instead of a time of progress and development for the great continent of Africa, the chains of a far deeper servitude than that of colonial rule were being forged with a “Made in Moscow” or a “Made in Peking” label attached.¹ For twenty-three years I have lived and worked in Eritrea, now a province of Ethiopia. I observed firsthand the changes in that land from the time shortly after the Italians were defeated, through the eleven years of British rule, ten years as a federated state of Ethiopia, and since 1962 as a province of Ethiopia.

One day while traveling back country I stopped in the last tea-shop before entering forty miles of hot dusty desert. While I was leisurely drinking tea and eating a hard biscuit, a man engaged me in conversation and asked if I wanted to know the difference between the Italian colonial rule, the later British rule (from 1941 to f952) and the subsequent rule of Eritrea by Ethiopia.

His graphic description of the three governments appeared to me to characterize the history not only of Eritrea but of much of Africa in recent decades as countries one by one have been freed from colonial rule. Under the Italians, he said, the people were commanded to bet, u’ub, mawanishin which translated is, “Eat, drink, don’t talk.” Under the British it was mabetin, ma’ubin, wanish — “Don’t eat, don’t drink, talk.” Now, under Ethiopian rule, it is mabetin, ma’ubin, mawanishin — “Don’t eat, don’t drink, don’t talk.”

Under Italian rule which began toward the end of the last century the Italian immigrants built roads and a mountain railroad, planted tropical fruit orchards, raised cattle and poultry, opened small factories and garages, built houses and cities and greatly improved the economy. To be sure, later under Mussolini’s Fascist regime much wealth was poured into the country to support the ruthless attack on Ethiopia in 1935. But whether for legitimate enterprise or the illegitimate business of military conquest, under the Italians the people generally had enough to eat and drink, the economy was healthy, though there was little freedom of the people to express themselves.

When the British conquered Eritrea in 1941, they confiscated as war booty the large cement factory in Massawa and other industries. They had little interest in the economic development of the country as they were a temporary caretaker government. There was progress in improved civil service, education, and other areas, but little economic development. So many lacked enough to eat and drink; they suffered from economic depression. Under United Nations pressures the British opened the land to the formation of political parties.

This new idea was received with so much enthusiasm that numerous pro-Ethiopian and pro-independence political parties formed, armed themselves and began three years (1949-1952) of intense political activity. Among their purposes was to destroy the opposing political bands, robbing to support themselves, with one party bent on the murder of Italians. Travel on the roads was only in armed convoy. One political band robbed us at gun point and then demanded a future payment of $45 (this was before the inflation of the 60′s and 70′s) on pain of death — a payment we refused to make. Three years later the bandit chief who set the price on my head was apprehended and hanged for multiple murders.

Union with Ethiopia

The fruit of the freedom of speech was federation with and later union with Ethiopia (although many contend that this did not represent the true feeling of the people). Union with Ethiopia did not improve the economic situation and it greatly diminished the freedom to talk. Political favoritism and misrule by the Ethiopian ruling class who were not liked by the diverse tribes of the province of Eritrea led to growing discontent. Some of the pro-independence bands collaborated to form the Eritrea Liberation Front (ELF). They were strengthened when Russia, and later Communist China (with aid also from the neighboring Arab states) upgraded their arms, financed the military training of their leaders — and indoctrinated them in the ideology of Karl Marx.

The ELF was increasingly committed to the communist philosophy, and the same influence was quietly pervading the educated classes in Ethiopia proper. Haile Selassie, a powerful monarch and skillful diplomat, succeeded in preventing overly-ambitious cabinet members, governors, and other high-ranking officials from securing too much power by frequently changing their positions or appeasing them with gifts of land. For many decades as a popular emperor he held the diverse elements in the country together.

In the late 50′s and 60′s, against the counsel of some of his advisers, His Imperial Majesty made official visits to communist countries and invited teachers, technicians, doctors, and many others from these lands to Ethiopia. Their influence, along with that of the professors of the new Haile Selassie University in Addis, began to spread through the country. Students at the University, in the high schools, and even in the grades became increasingly committed to the ideology of Karl Marx. This influence was strong enough among some military leaders to enable them to successfully overthrow the old regime, execute many of the former leaders, depose the king, and establish a socialist Ethiopia.

Like Uganda, Angola, Nigeria, and many other African countries, Ethiopia has found the road to the socialist utopia a path strewn with corpses. Nor has all the bloodshed been the blood of those who preferred the old order and resisted the advance of the socialist ideal. Five to ten thousand were reported killed last spring when the ELF beseiged Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, and the Ethiopian army defended it with tanks, guns, and planes. Far more civilians apparently were killed than were members of the army or of the ELF.

Civil War

As is so often the case, two groups professing the same basic goals are engaged in a bloody battle. The ELF describes the socialist Ethiopian rulers as “Imperialists and Colonialists.” Within the ELF there have been, as is the case elsewhere, rival pro-China and pro-Russia groups. The pro-China branch of the Peoples Liberation Front (PLF) is reported to have suffered a serious defeat by the ELF some months back. In Ethiopia thousands of Chinese Communists have been invited in recent years to help implement the new socialist policy and to help the Ethiopian students educate the back-country illiterate people and to establish cooperatives on the land which has been taken and redistributed to the peasants.

The official declaration of the economic policy of the new Ethiopia is pure socialism. Major industries and all banks and financial institutions have been nationalized. A few small businesses are to be left to private ownership though under strict government controls. Even some private schools and hospitals are to continue for a while under private control until the government is able to assume this responsibility. The official paper of socialist Ethiopia states:

The basic cause of the economic exploitation of man by man is the private ownership of the means of production. The ownership of the major means of production by a small section of the population in a situation where the vast majority of the population has nothing but its own labour power leads to the exploitation of the many by the few and to a highly uneven distribution of income. The elimination of exploitation through the public ownership and control of the major means of production is therefore one of the primary goals of Ethiopian Socialism.2

Ideals and Motives

While it would be naive to believe that pure idealism and not the ruthless struggle for power is often the driving motive behind the leaders of the socialist movement, yet it is the ideals that draw the multitudes to rally to its banners. The Ethiopian socialist paper states:

… the major and immediate economic goal of Ethiopian Socialism cannot be but the elimination of poverty through the development of the productive forces and the consequent expansion of production and the prevention of exploitation of the Ethiopian people.³

A leader in the ELF in talking to Debbie Dortzbach, who was kidnapped by them and held captive for twenty-six days, said to her, “We’re fighting for peace and contentment. When the ELF win our freedom, Eritreans will have peace and much more: education, healthcare, and productive farming. Then there will be freedom at its best.”4 With the savagery of Ethiopian rule vivid in their minds, the people of Eritrea generally have rallied behind the ELF, making it extremely difficult for Ethiopia effectively to rule Eritrea even with a military victory.

Socialism in Ethiopia, however, is really not a new idea. There has been a change in rulers, and the assets of some wealthy former rulers have been taken and their land given to the people; but there is little change in the idea that the State is the mother and caretaker of the people.

Some years ago I was arrested and underwent interrogation by officers in the Ethiopian army, the police, and finally by the Criminal Investigation. One of the charges against me (the only true one) was that I had given charity to some widows and orphans who were not approved by the State for private charity. I was repeatedly told that charity is the work of the State and if I wanted to help people, I must give my contributions to the governing body to distribute. (In the U.S. one is not yet arrested for helping poor widows and orphans, but charity is popularly deemed to be the work of the State and not of individuals, families, and voluntary institutions.)

Peace, economic progress, and freedom, the “Eat, drink, talk” of my friend in the teashop, is the goal of most people, even of multitudes who profess adherence to socialist ideology. It is inevitable, however, that socialism in Africa or elsewhere is incapable of attaining these goals. There are a number of reasons for this fact. Socialism is the rule of men and not of law. As the Ethiopian socialist paper puts it:

The Government, because of its control of the commanding heights of the economy, can engage in a meaningful and effective planning, marshalling available resources and generating and directing popular participation to carry out the historic task of transforming Ethiopia from a land of poverty into one of prosperity.

The Government can, because it controls the resources, direct all available resources, both physical and human.5

Uncertainty Hinders Progress

Where men gain control of their fellow men, even though their motives should be the highest, the resultant uncertainty makes planning, investment, and wise economic decisions impossible. Under law which is known by all and enforced, the individual and entrepreneur can plan for the future. Where the whim of the man in charge determines the profits attainable by those from whom he is able to confiscate wealth which he deems excessive, the very motive for the planning and investment essential to progress and prosperity is eliminated. Socialism can control the economy only by controlling the people. General Teferi Banti, the Premier of Ethiopia, said:

Not only have the masses of farmers efficiently organized themselves to carry out the revolution by wiping out reactionary forces and feudal landlords, but they have started to show their productive capacity by running collective farms.6

Reactionaries, i.e. non-socialists, must be wiped out. Recently the new government leaders executed without trial over sixty former leaders in Ethiopia, not all of whom were by any means “right wing reactionaries.”

While there has been little semblance of a free press in Ethiopia in the past, one of the fourteen activities reserved exclusively for the State is “Large-scale printing and publishing.”

It is the promise of socialists that under them you will be able to eat, drink, and talk. This promise of prosperity and freedom lures many people to its fold. Socialism cannot deliver what it promises and instead effects the most stringent curb of freedom, thereby assuring economic distress. In place of the promised peace, there is war and conflict. Nor is this only between the opponents of socialism and the socialists. One of the characteristics of socialism is internal conflict. The conflict between the Nazi socialists and Russia and between Communist China and Russia are examples of internal strife between those who follow the socialist ideology. The Red China-Russian conflict has manifested itself among the followers of these rival leaders in Africa.

Socialism Breeds Conflict

Because socialism is an irrational system, it is bound to lead to inner conflicts. Karl Marx denied rationality to his opponents, describing their thinking as that of the bourgeoisie determined by their economic environment. There is no reason why the thinking of the proletariat, likewise determined by the economic environment, should set the absolute standard by which to judge the thinking and rationality of another class, especially in a system which denies absolutes! The Marxists have adopted a system inimical to production, based on the distribution of what is already produced. It destroys the freedom that alone has led to progress, denies God and His law as the framework under which man — the creature — must labor, and replaces God with the State. The omnipotent State has set itself a task impossible of fulfillment. Since the rule is by men, not law, blame for the failure is placed not on the system but on the men in power; and so an internal power struggle ensues.

It is inevitable that socialism will destroy itself because it is a system designed for a world of unreality. It has survived this long largely because such capitalist countries as the United States have supported it with their largess. Left to itself, it would soon amass the evidence that it is not a viable system. As R. J. Rushdoony well says: “There is no greater sign of hope today than our world crises: they witness to the collapse of the enemy’s power and the impossibility of his worldplan.”7

It is time we left the socialist countries to destroy themselves or, hopefully, to realize that the fault lies in their irrational and immoral system and to turn again to freedom under God. Perhaps there is a strong enough remnant of people in Ethiopia to turn the nation onto the path of freedom after the socialists have reached the end of their rope.

Let us also develop a remnant in our land strong enough to turn us back to a rule of law, honest money, and freedom under God, lest we too continue down the disastrous path of full-blown socialism. May we learn the lesson from the African teashop and practice the principles that will enable us to eat, drink, and talk.


¹ Essays on Liberty, Vol. IX, Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y.: The Foundation for Economic Education, 1962, p. 191.

² Declaration of Economic Policy of Socialist Ethiopia, 1975, p. 4.

³ Ibid. p. 3.

4 Karl and Debbie Dortzbach, Kidnapped, Harper & Row, 1975, p. 118.

5 Declaration of Economic Policy of Socialist Ethiopia, 1975, p. 3.

6 Christian Anti-Communism Crusade, Aug. 1, 1975, p. 8.

7 R. J. Rushdoony, Chalcedon Report, August, 1975.



Majority Rule

The prescriptions in favor of liberty ought to be leveled against that quarter where the greatest danger lies, namely, that which possesses the highest prerogative of power. But this is not found in either the Executive or Legislative Department of the Government, but in the body of the people, operating by the majority against the minority.


  • A graduate of Wheaton College in 1941 and Westminster Theological Seminary in 1944, Mr. Mahaffy served as a missionary to Eritrea for twenty-three years. In 1968, he was appointed Evangelist for the Presbytery of the Midwest and served faithfully in that role, helping to establish Hope OPC, Libertyville, Illinois, Christ OPC, Janesville, Wisconsin, and Trinity OPC, Chicago.