Save Lake Koka First Before Saving the Continent of Africa!

By Prof Alemayehu G. Mariam / September 14, 2009

Bluster of the Con Artists

Last week Ethiopia’s arch dictator was in tears, crocodile tears that is, over the unfair and shameful treatment of Africa by the heartless Western imperialists on the issue of global warming and climate change. Frothing at the mouth and brimming with moral indignation, the dictator threatened to go all out Ghandi on the West at the December climate change talks in Copenhagen. With sanctimonious and self-righteous rebuke, he railed:

If need be we are prepared to walk out of any negotiations that threatens to be another rape of the continent… While we reason with everyone to achieve our objective we are not prepared to rubber stamp any agreement by the powers… We will use our numbers to delegitimise any agreement that is not consistent with our minimal position… Africa will field a single negotiating team empowered to negotiate on behalf of all member states of the African Union… The key thing for me is that Africa be compensated for the damage caused by global warming. Many institutions have tried to quantify that and they have come up with different figures. The sort of median figure would be in the range of 40 billion USD a year.

The dictator’s sidekick on climate change, African Union chairman Jean Ping, (the longtime and one of the closest advisers of Omar Bongo, Gabon’s 42-year dictator who died recently) took an even harder line:

It is my expectation that such financial resources must be from public funds and must be additional to the usual overseas development assistance… What we are not prepared to live with is global warming above minimum unavoidable levels… We will therefore never accept any global deal that does not limit global warming to the minimum unavoidable level, no matter what levels of compensation and assistance are promised to us.

The Moral Profundity of Tyrants: Hope Springs Eternal!

It is truly refreshing to hear words and phrases that signal latent moral awakening in the “conscience” of tyrants. Use of such phrases and words as “not prepared to rubberstamp” (in contrast to a rubberstamp parliament), “rape of a continent” (in contrast to the rape of Ethiopia), “delegitimise” (in contrast to delgitimizing rigged elections), “walk out of negotiations” (in contrast to walking opposition parties through make-believe negotiations), “compensation for damages” (in contrast to compensation for damages to families of victims of extrajudicial killings, victims of excessive and unreasonable use of deadly force under color of law and victims of illegal arrests and detentions) give new meaning to the expression, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.” Mahatama Ghandi could not have been more proud of such resolute declarations of profound moral outrage against the wily Westerners who have been exploiting Africa for centuries.

Indeed as Ghandi taught, “Non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as cooperation with good.” Therefore, never cooperate with the malevolent Western overlords on issues of fair play, equity, and certainly environmental justice! That is the essence of the bluster of a “walk out” and “delegitimization” of the Copenhagen climate talks. Ghandi argued that the only way to get the British to abandon their evil ways in South Africa and India was to actively resist their colonial rule through civil disobedience, particularly through a campaign of non-cooperation. He encouraged Indian workers, policemen, soldiers and civil servants to go on strike. He called for massive boycotts of public transportation and English-manufactured goods. Ghandi used the moral weapon of Satyagraha (satya, meaning “truth” and agraha, meaning “holding firm to”) to campaign against the myriad crimes and abuses committed by the British colonial masters. He aim was to use “satyagraha to convert the wrongdoer, to awaken a sense of justice in him, to show him also that without the cooperation direct or indirect of the wronged, the wrongdoer cannot do the wrong intended by him.”

Remarkably and commendably, that is the intrinsic logic of the arch dictator’s outburst of moral outrage. By exposing the hypocritical West on climate change to the light of Truth and by threatening to visit moral condemnation upon them, they could be persuaded to change their evil ways. Indeed, by a resolute act of non-cooperation, the West could be held to account for its reckless abuse of nature and make Africans whole by paying them monetary damages. In short, the West could be named and shamed into doing right by Africa. But is the dictator’s pronouncement of moral outrage sincere and made in good faith? Or is it a veiled threat of naked political extortion?

Blood Money, Carbon Money and the Devil Who Can Cite Scripture

Shakespeare wrote, “The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose. An evil soul producing holy witness is like a villain with a smiling cheek.” Or a villain shedding crocodile tears? The bluster about “walking out” and “delegitimizing” the Copenhagen talks, etc., is nothing more than a cynical and beguiling appeal to lofty moral virtues to guilt-trip and shakedown Western countries into paying billions of dollars every year as “blood money”. That is certainly the conclusion of the Economist Magazine, which in its recent issue stated that the wrath of the African “leaders” is aimed at

making the rich world feel guilty about global warming. Mr Meles has made it clear he is seeking blood money—or rather carbon money—that would be quite separate from other aid to the continent. If the cash were not forthcoming, the African Union (AU) might take a case to a court of arbitration and ask it to judge overall culpability for climate change. In a rare fit of African unity, it was decided at a recent flurry of leaders’ meetings that the United States, the European Union, Japan and others should pay the continent the tidy sum of $67 billion a year, though it was unclear for how long.

In the end, all of the climate change pontification is about African dictators extorting a $67 billion payola (hush money) every year to line their pockets. It has absolutely nothing to do with remedying the environmental degradation of Africa. It has everything to do with Africa’s tin pot dictators striking gold in a modern day El Dorado (also known as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, Western donors, etc.,). They know there is a huge pot of glittering gold at the end of the climate change/global warming rainbow. Africa’s dictators are drooling -- literally slobbering at the mouth and licking their chops -- at the prospect of putting their grubby hands on that $67 billion delicious golden pie and sinking their teeth into it.

Save Lake Koka First Before Saving the Continent of Africa

Let’s face hard facts: Ethiopia is facing an ecological disaster! Not from catastrophic climate change (that is macro-climatic changes resulting from variations in solar radiation, deviations in the Earth’s orbit, changes in greenhouse concentrations, etc.) but from man-made causes. Ethiopia is facing an ecological catastrophe caused by deforestation, soil erosion, over-grazing, over-population, desertification and loss of biodiversity, and chemical pollution of its rivers and lakes. Hundreds of square miles of forest land and farmland are lost every year. According to the Ethiopian Agricultural Research Institute1, “Ethiopia loses up to 200,000 hectares of forest every year and warned that if the trend continues the country would lose all of its forest resources by the year 2020.” Other data show that “Between 1990 and 2005, Ethiopia lost 14.0% of its forest cover (2,114,000 hectares) and 3.6% of its forest and woodland habitat. If the trend continues, it is expected that Ethiopia could lose all of its forest resources in 11 years, by the year 2020.”2 The wild animal population is disappearing at an alarming rate due to deforestation and loss of natural habitat, and hundreds of plant and animal species are facing imminent extinction.

Dr Gedion Getahun, Research Scientist at the Environmental Radioanalytical Chemistry in Mainz, Germany writes3,

According to the UN, Ethiopia’s forests are depleted, at present less than three percent of the entire country is covered with trees… In Ethiopia, biodiversity is treated in very awful manner. The destruction of natural habitat as well as a threat to the flora and fauna and other biological resources diminish the economy of the country. This affects the country’s wealth and with it, the existence and the well being of the nation.

The Lake Koka environmental disaster -- a topic of special coverage by the Al Jazeera Network4 -- a few kilometers outside Ethiopia’s capital is only the tip of the iceberg of Ethiopia’s environmental nightmare. As one resident of the Lake Koka community put it5:

The main problem here is the water. People are getting sick. Everyone around here uses this water. There is no other water. Almost 17,000 people… come from 10 kilometers away and use this water. The water smells even if you boil it; it does not change the color. It is hard to drink it. The people here have great potential and we are losing them, especially the children. I am upset but I don’t have the ability to do anything. I would if I could, but I can’t do anything.

Another local resident lamented the polluted Lake Koka water in apocalyptic terms:

It is better to die thirsty than to drink this [Koka] water. We are drinking a disease. We told the local authorities our cattle and goats died due to this water, but nobody helped. We are tired of complaining.

Nothing has been done to hold criminally accountable the polluters of Lake Koka, or “compensate for damages” the people living in that community for the devastating health problems they continue to face from using the toxic water of the lake.

Almaz Mequanint, who has struggled for years to bring attention to the devastating environmental pollution caused by the Wonji/Shoa and Metehara sugar factories, wrote six years ago:

I feel helpless and in despair when I think of my whole family and the 100,000 voiceless residents who have been living around the sugar factories of Ethiopia…. I now suffer from asthma because of the air pollution at that time. My teeth are decayed and I have knee and other joint problems. My kids are suffering from tooth decay, cavities and staining.”6

Nothing has been done over the past six years to improve the health conditions of the tens of thousands of people who worked in the sugar factories or community residents, nor has any action been taken to “compensate them for the damages” they suffered as a result of industrial pollution of criminal magnitude. Just this past week, a website was set up to call attention to the plight of these victims.7

Africa’s knights in shining armor should take care of business in their own backyards -- lakes, rivers and factories -- before mounting their steeds on a crusade to save Africa from global warming.

What is Good for the Goose is Good for the Gander!

If truth force (Satyagrha) could be used against nasty Western rapists of Africa, there is no reason why it could not be used against the rapists of Ethiopia. Does it not logically follow that Ethiopians should “use their numbers to delegitimise” any regime “that is not consistent with minimal positions” under universally accepted standards of justice and international law such as protection of basic human rights, respect for the rule of law, free elections, free press, etc.? Aren’t Ethiopians entitled to resist anyone who “threatens to (perpetuate) the rape of” their country? Are they not entitled to “field a single negotiating team empowered to negotiate on behalf of all” the people against a one-man, one-party dictatorship? Is it not true that what is good for the goose is good for the gander?

Doesn’t it make more sense to save Lake Koka FIRST before saving the whole continent of Africa?