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Climate Change and Meles Zenawi’s hypocrisy 5

The Ethiopian government’s record on both the environment and human rights is abysmal, writes Rezene Hagos, and Meles’s demands for vast sums from donors in support of Africa’s battle against climate change should be viewed with a great deal of scepticism.

Last week we read in the news that Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi was warning that African delegates may walk out of the upcoming UN World Summit on Climate Change to be held in Copenhagen in December unless they are assured of a huge sum – hundreds of billions a year – by the countries of the West. A number of things may come to one’s mind on reading such warnings. For the sake of this article however, we will only focus on whether or not African leaders, and Meles in particular, have the moral high ground to issue that warning. We believe not.

Environmental protection or the conservation of nature are absolutely crucial for Ethiopia as the greater part of its social formation is constituted by activities of the natural economy, as well as the fact that more than 85 per cent of its population live in rural areas and depend on what nature provides. The rural population’s survival depends on the environment and it goes without saying that the sustainable use of the environment is the crucial link to food security.

Now, what are Ethiopia’s environmental problems that have a direct bearing on the prevalence of continued environmental destruction, poverty and under-development? First of all, massive deforestation.

Records show that Ethiopia’s forest coverage by the turn of the 20th century was 40 per cent. By 1987 (under the military government), it had gone down to 5.5 per cent and in 2003 (under Meles’s government) it had gone further down to 0.2 per cent. In terms of area, Ethiopia’s rate of deforestation was between 150,000 and 200,000 hectares of land a year. And deforestation has led to massive soil erosion.

A study by M. Constable suggests that the highlands of Ethiopia contain one of the largest ecological degradations in Africa. Soil erosion in turn contributes to the drying of lakes. In the last few years alone, three Rift Valley lakes have dried up: Lake Alemaya, Lake Adele and Lake Lange. When soil is massively washed into the lake, silt develops underneath, pushing the water upwards and expanding the area of water coverage. This gives the impression that the lake has more water and in fact makes it look as if flooding takes place. The reality is exactly the opposite, however. The water is pushed to a larger surface and exposed to massive evaporation, drying up at the end.

The same process is repeated at Lake Awassa. A study by one international NGO concluded that Lake Awassa is threatened by the same process through which the other three lakes dried up. The regional government of Meles Zenawi refused to accept the report and argued that they are actually noticing that Lake Awassa threatens a flood situation because they see more water in a larger area. (So much for the capacity his officials in the region.) Undoubtedly, the issue of water in general is crucial for Ethiopia as an agricultural society as it is often hit by drought, resulting in a situation of perennial food insecurity. There was no visible sign of seriousness or alarm on the part of Meles’s government when the three lakes dried up completely. The town of Harrar, probably the fourth or fifth largest town in the country, which depended on Lake Alemaya for its water supply, was left to suffer from acute water shortage for weeks when the government watched the lake dry and did practically nothing noticeable until the last minute.

When Meles Zenawi threatens Western leaders, he seems to be forgetful of the most serious warnings made by Ethiopian environmentalists, particularly those made in 2004.

The negative role of Meles’s government on the environment also includes its hostile attitude towards environmental NGOs who try to educate the public and conduct policy advocacy campaigns. Like all other development NGOs, environment NGOs are seen by Meles as undesirable. The recent NGO law that literally outlaws advocacy NGOs also would undoubtedly outlaw environment NGOs or obliterate their role.

Now we have a dictator threatening the donor community that he will walk out of the Copenhagen summit on climate change unless Africa leaves the summit with US$200 billion annually, as if to suggest an excellent record in preserving the environment and ensuring respect for human rights and freedom. It has been proven through the experience of the last 40 years that aid money has been mismanaged and extorted by politicians manipulating political power in Africa.

Meles’s government has been one of the largest recipients of aid money in Africa. It is indeed because aid money has been mismanaged and stolen that some African economists are compelled to question the validity of aid money in the first place. Some even go to the extent of holding aid money accountable for Africa’s poverty, as one Zambian economist argues strongly. Then, what is this noise about threatening a walk out from Copenhagen? Isn’t this like a thief calling ‘thief!’?

By Rezene Hagos – The full article on Pambazuka News

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  1. No Blank Check for African Kleptocrats at Copenhagen Climate Conference!
    From December 6 to 18, 2009, leaders and representatives of nations around the world, international organizations, and prominent individuals will convene in Copenhagen, Denmark at the much anticipated Summit on Climate Change. We look forward to a positive outcome of this gathering and are hopeful that the conference achieves its objectives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to avert the colossal implications of climate change globally. We also recognize that those who would be most affected by ongoing damaging climate change are the people of developing nations, particularly those living in the continent of Africa.
    Nevertheless, we are disappointed that the African Union has selected and the Climate Summit has given an opportunity to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia to represent the African continent. We believe that Meles Zenawi is the wrong person to represent Africa, since his policies are the causes and drivers for the incalculable environmental degradations currently taking place in Ethiopia. Under Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s regime, Ethiopia is facing an ecological catastrophe: deforestation, recurrent drought, and desertification. Water pollution, air pollution, soil erosion are becoming alarmingly high due to Zenawi’s regime lacks both sustainable development plans and non-transboundary environmental policies. It is due to this fact that UNDP and other environmental organizations have been reporting about the alarming state of the ecological degradation in Ethiopia. Mr. Meles Zenawi’s colossal failures in environmental policies are highlighted by his regime’s land tenure policy and his relentless suppression of civil and economic rights. Millions of Ethiopians are exposed to periodic hunger and famine in part due to his regime’s land tenure policy. After almost two decades of Zenawi’s rule, in 2009 over ten million Ethiopians are exposed to hunger and malunitrition.
    As is customary, Meles Zenawi’s regime has signed numerous international and environmental treaties that it never implements. To add insult to injury, Mr. Meles Zenawi even chairs Ethiopia’s Environmental Council. It is partly due to his control that the existing Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lacks the political clout to discharge and enforce the duties and responsibilities vested in it. To those who pay attention to what is going on in Ethiopia, the story of the EPA’s feebleness is a direct byproduct of profuse lip service given by the regime of Zenawi about its concern for the environment– as is the case about good governance, democracy, human rights, etc,. In addition, Mr. Zenawi’s hostile attitude towards Environmental NGOs – and civil society organizations, in general, has created enormous hurdles for those who want to mitigate the colossal environmental crisis facing Ethiopia.
    According to the government’s own Ethiopian Agricultural Research Institute, Ethiopia has been losing up to 200,000 hectares of forest every year. In a very recent statement, the head of the same Institute, stated: “deforestation has continued at an alarming rate in several parts of Ethiopia as a result of illegal logging, deforestation and other human induced activities”. Forty percent of the land covered by forest by the turn of the 20th century had gone down to 5.5% in 1987 and only 0.2% in 2003. If the current trend continues, Ethiopian forest covers would be extinct along with the loss of the country’s uniquely rich wildlife, fauna, flora, and a broad and general loss of its biological diversity.
    The governance problem is one of the main causes of the environmental distress taking place in Ethiopia Soil erosion, which is linked with deforestation and Meles Zenawi’s land tenure system, continues to contribute to the drying up of the country’s lakes. Major Ethiopian Lakes such as Haro Maya (Alemaya), Adele, Awasa, and others have dried out totally. Acute shortages of water afflict major towns such as the city of Harrar and the capital city, Addis Ababa. As a result of the shortage of water resources, thousands of Ethiopians are affected by water born diseases.
    The use of pesticides, untested and unfitting fertilizers, other toxic chemicals, some of them long abandoned by the industrialized countries, are now common in Ethiopia. The excess chemicals that are being washed off from the farms to rivers, streams, and lakes, are causing a plethora of problems including the poisoning of inhabitants, increasing algae blooms, and excessive plant growth leading to eutrophication, thereby making the water bodies and vegetation harmful to humans, wild and aquatic life and polluting the underground water. The level of environmental destruction caused by the chemicals used by foreign and party owned commercial flower farms and the leather industry is among the worst in the world. The environmental destruction and its hazardous impacts on human life and other inhabitants at and around Lake Koka, for instance, are captured by a few investigative reports and were televised recently by the members of the International media such as the Al-Jazeera Television Network and detailed by an eminent British Scientist.
    Vehicular emissions in the capital city of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, are alarmingly high. The presence of lead and sulfur in imported fuels, despite a ban since 2002, and the absence of emission inspection clearly indicate that the laws Zenawi passes only give lip service to clear and present dangers to the lives of Ethiopians.
    Ethiopia’s government human right abuses and suppression of press freedom are well-documented, by Human Rights Watch; The US State Department Annual Report on Human Rights, Amnesty International, the New York based Center to Protect Journalist (CPJ), Journalists without Borders, and many other creditable international and regional human rights and press freedom organizations. The organization–Genocide Watch– has called on the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, to initiate an investigation against the atrocities committed by the government of Meles Zenawi. Wide spread corruption also adds to the malaise of ordinary Ethiopians. Transparency International’s most recent report has ranked Ethiopia as 126th most corrupt country in the world.
    Periodic ethnic conflicts in the country are destroying and weakening the institutions and these in turn are prohibiting the citizens and the NGOs to make informed decisions about the environment. The governance problem is one of the main causes of the environmental distress taking place in Ethiopia.

    We believe that in an age of Globalization humanity’s interest, wellbeing, and destiny are directly intertwined. In view of this, we urge you to take tangible steps that include the following concerns of ours:
    1. Mr. Meles Zenawi must be held accountable to the massive environmental degradtion in Ethiopia. We urge you not to ignore the environmental damages that the Zenawi’s regime has committed inside Ethiopia. For doing so sends a very bad message to all of us who care about the environment. Zenawi should not be rewarded for the seemingly non-transboundary environmental degradation he has brought to Ethiopia.

    2. Emphasize the crucial roles of a representative’s records in environmental protection, social justice, good governance, human rights, and the rule of law that are important in shaping and averting Global crisis in climate change.
    3. Ensure the appropriate use of any climate change financing package to nations with non representative leaders with bad track records on environment, human rights, good governance, and social justice by binding conditions tied to strict measures that would ensure that the funds would not be siphoned off by corrupt leaders such as Mr. Meles Zenawi and others in Africa.
    4. Refrain from giving funds to a corrupt regime such as Zenawi as doing so would be a waste of resources and tantamount to committing the same mistakes that the world community has made during the 1983/4 Ethiopian famine when., as recently revealed by Zenawi’s rebel comrades, the food aid and money was used to build his Red Army. Mr. Zenawi will use the same international funds, as in the past, to keep political and ethnic cronies to continue suppressing the Ethiopian people.
    5. Do not undermine the importance of social justice, good governance, human rights, and the empowerment of citizens, and their civil societies in shaping and in averting Global warming

    We urge countries of the industrialized world attending the conference not to write a blank check and reward dictators, such as the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, who have abysmal records of human rights and the environment.

    CC:
    His Excellency Mr. Ban Ki-Moon
    Secretary –General, United Nations
    Office of the Secretary General
    885 Second Avenue
    New York, NY 10017

    His Excellency Anders Fogh Rasmussen
    Prime Minister of Denmark
    Christiansborg
    Prins Jørgens Gård 11
    1218 Copenhagen K, Denmark

    His Excellency Jacob Zuma
    President of South Africa
    Union Buildings
    Private Bag X1000,
    Pretoria,
    0001,
    South Africa

    His Excellency John E. A. Mills
    President of Ghana
    Office of the President
    Osu Christiansborg
    Ghana

    His Excellency Ian Khama
    President of Botswana
    P/Bag 001
    Gaborone
    Botswana

    Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton
    U.S. Department of State
    2201 C Street NW
    Washington, DC 20520

    José Manuel Barroso
    President, the European commission
    1049 Brussels, Belgium

    Robert B. Zoellick
    President, World Bank
    1818 H Street, NW
    Washington, DC 20433

    His Excellency Dr. Jean Ping
    Chairman, the African Union Commission
    African Union Headquarters
    P.O. Box 3243
    Roosevelt Street, W21K19
    Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

    Donald Kaberuka
    President, African Development Bank
    15 Avenue Du Ghana
    P.O.Box 323-1002
    Tunis-belvedere, Tunisia

    Justice Navanathem Pillay
    Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
    Palasi Des nations
    CH-1211 Geneva 21 Switzerland

    Dr. Jacques Diouf
    Director –General, Food and Agriculture Organization of The United Nations
    Viale Delle Termi Di Caracalla
    00153 Rome, Italy

    Honorable President William J. Clinton
    Clinton Global Initiative
    1301 Avenue of the Americas, 37th Floor
    New York, NY 10019-6022, USA

    Honorable Vice President Al Gore
    2100 West End Avenue Suite 620
    Nashville, TN 37203

    Jean –Paul COSTA
    President, European Court of Human Rights
    Council of Europe
    67075 Strasborug-Cedex, France

    Senator Daniel K. Inouye
    Chairman, Senate committee on Appropriations,
    722 Hart Building
    Washington, D.C. 20510-1102

    Senator Jeff Bingaman
    Chairman, Energy and Natural resources
    703 Hart Senate Office Building
    Washington, DC 20510

    Senator John F. Kerry
    Chairman, US Senate Foreign Relations
    446 Dirksen Senate Office Building
    Washington, DC 20510-6225

    Senator Richard G. Lugar
    Ranking Member, Committee on Foreign Relations
    306 Hart Senate Office Building
    Washington, D.C. 20510-1401

    Senator Russell D. Feingold
    Chairman, Senate Subcommittee on African Affairs
    506 Hart Senate Office Building
    Washington, DC 20510-4904

    Senator Patrick Leahy
    Chairman, Subcommittee on Foreign Operations
    433 Russell Senate Office Bldg
    United States Senate
    Washington, DC 20510

  2. Chebude says:

    I felt both pieces above are myopic and blinkered by negative views of PM Meles, to see the big picture. The issue at hand is not about good governance and democracy in Africa. It is pathetic to blame the PM for ecological crisis in Ethiopia which has complex and multiple roots. If we take enviromental cridential as measure to argue who should participate, then leaders of the big carbon emission countries including US; Germany, Britain, Canada, China etc should not be represented. Again if it is democratic cridential, then who shall represent Africa….may be Esayas Afewerki of Eritrea? Iam fed up of African ‘incomplete intellectuals’ that ared deluded by Western ideals and lost touch of the African reality on ground.

  3. ALSAMARI says:

    PM MELES ZENAWI Is one of the few intelligent leaders in Africa i think he properly represented Africa in Copenhagen summit >first of all what we should have to remember is that africa is not rich country if th PM present some huge money no one look at him even properly but what he have made is the right way he made great deal because this is not a money which is going to be given for Africa as a compensation because they cant compensate Africa’s climate change because they don’t want to.As much as we are begging money from them we should not have to be rigid bigger because they can even say no 10 billion dollar a year .As much as there is no law on climate cause and compensation no one can force the US CHINA and other polluting countries So as me PM made great task for reaching in agreement

  4. tinchelu says:

    I dont think that PM melese can represent Africa on the face of his so many problems in his own ountury.He is a criminal who killed thuosands of people in different parts of ethiopia .This is realy shme for Africa to select him as a representative for the cmeeting in Copenhagen.we saw what he did as usual his destructive plan .

  5. Emmanuel says:

    I thank you for giving this chance. Look Africa doesn’t want compensation for global warming. Because money compensation can not solve the PROBLEM .The only thing that solve the problem is developed nations please put your carbon wast on the least level developing nations please stop deforestation .THINK GLOBALLY ACT LOCALLY.
    THANKS.

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