We live in a world of plenty, resource rich, financially wealthy, but, despite this abundance an estimated 700 million people go hungry every day. Millions more are food insecure, meaning they may have food today, but have no idea if they will have any tomorrow or next week. Additional millions can only afford nutritionally barren, poor quality food laced with salt and sugar, increasing the risk of illness and obesity.
In September 2020 a report published by the Global Hunger Index concluded that hunger could be eradicated by 2030, at a cost of $330 billion if rich countries doubled “their aid commitments and help poor countries to prioritize, properly target and scale up cost effective interventions on agricultural R&D, technology, innovation, education, social protection and on trade facilitation.” The detailed report lists 11 countries with ‘alarming levels of hunger’, eight of which are in Sub-Saharan Africa; two are war zones: Yemen and Syria. A further 31 nations (26 are in Africa) are listed as having ‘serious levels of hunger’.
Statistics around hunger and malnutrition are disturbing and shameful. After years of gradual decline, since 2015 the number of undernourished people has been increasing yearly: from 2018 to 2019 the number of undernourished people grew by 10 million, and Covid has intensified this trend. Hunger now affects 9% of people in the world – 60% of whom are women and children. The World Health Organization (WHO) state that “47 million children under 5 years of age are wasted [severe acute malnutrition], 14.3 million are severely wasted [malnourished] and 144 million are stunted; around 45% of deaths among children under 5 years of age are linked to under-nutrition.”
Hunger is a violent act, a shameful scar on our collective consciousness. The principal cause is routinely stated to be poverty, and while it’s certainly true that those with money don’t starve, the primary underlying cause is social injustice, and a set of perverted assumptions about the worth of one human being compared to another. In addition, there are two main drivers: Climate change and armed conflict – often erupting in poor nations with fragile social support structures. Where there is war there is hunger; people are displaced and food shortages are quickly created. Climate change, which is affecting poor countries more than the rich, comfortable, and complacent, nations is the other key trigger. Oxfam lists five links between changing climate and hunger:
Lost livelihoods as harvests diminish through drought or other extreme conditions, e.g., the 2020 locust infestation that decimated the horn of Africa. In addition to intensifying food insecurity such events can force people to leave the land and migrate in search of (economic) opportunities elsewhere. Increased prices/food shortages. Food may be available but when weather impacts on infrastructure (roads, bridges docks), food cannot reach markets, shortages occur, prices rise, the poorest go without. Access to water, particularly in drought-prone areas, e.g. Somalia. Nutrition/health: Climate change-driven water scarcity impacts on the ability of famers to produce enough quality food. Those impacted most are children. Oxfam – “climate change is intensifying the threat from the three biggest killers of children – diarrhea, malnutrition, and malaria.” Inequality: Climate change intensifies inequality. Developed, western countries are historically responsible for the weight of greenhouse gas emissions; those most at risk of the impact – including food insecurity – are the southern hemisphere nations, with women and children hit hardest.
Hunger and poverty are issues of social justice; it is deeply unjust that simply because a child is born in a poor village in Sub-Saharan Africa or a city slum in South-East Asia, that he/she is at greater risk of malnutrition, hunger-related illness and starvation, than a child born in the lap of middle class prosperity. Hunger could be ended tomorrow but complacency allows it to continue, because it doesn’t affect the privileged, the comfortable, and on the whole takes place elsewhere. It is a consequence (on of many) of a particular approach to life, not lack of food, and of systemic structures designed in response to this construct.
This approach is a narrow ideological view based on competition, the commodification of all aspects of contemporary society, and the focus on individual achievement over group well-being. Selfishness and social division have been fostered and, in spite of routine acts of community kindness, a ‘dog eat dog’ mentality has taken root. To the extent that, as a global community, we let children die or suffer from various levels of malnutrition simply because their family or community are poor, their country, often culturally rich and diverse, economically undeveloped.
Crisis of Values
As the West emerges from the Season of Overindulgence and Waste, and Covid-19 continues to impact public health and national economies, the divisions in our world are more visible than ever; the privileged versus the marginalized; the supported versus the neglected; the hungry versus the satisfied; the rich versus the poor or economically anxious.
While hundreds of thousands lost their jobs in 2020 and were forced to turn to governments and charities for support, the number of billionaires in the world increased to 2,189, and their overall wealth surged, Forbes record, “by more than $2 trillion…to reach an all-time high of $10.2 trillion.” In China alone the country’s super-wealthy earned a record US$1.5 trillion – more than the past five years combined. Such increases are the inevitable consequence of a socio-economic system designed to concentrate wealth, and thus power, in the hands of a few.
It is totally unjust and immoral and has fostered a set of destructive divisive ideals that allows hunger, poverty and the environmental emergency to exist. At the core of the interconnected crises facing humanity is a crisis of values, which can cogently be described as a spiritual crisis. As a consequence of the reductive values of the time, ‘value’ has been equated to gain: Monetary worth/profit, status and influence. Someone or something capable of generating income or return that is higher than another is prized. Business strategies and decisions are chiefly dictated by profit, the ultimate value and principle factor in determining action. Countries (like Australia, Canada, the UK) have adopted immigration policies based on the ‘skillsets’ or human values they require. Refugees/asylum seekers are valued (and earn points) or not, depending upon their ability to add worth to the overall national economy. Those with no such attributes (not enough points) are deemed to be of no value to society and are rejected, relegated to the shadowy peripheries of society.
This valuation of human beings as economic commodities or assets is utterly abhorrent and is a contributory reason why hunger still stalks the land, the notion that some people are more worthy, are of more value that others, that some can be left to starve or become ill due to lack of nutrition while others cannot.
Humanity is, it appears, faced with a choice between values and ways of organizing society that flow from the unifying magnetic force we call love, and those rooted in fear, selfishness, and greed, which, while fading, are currently pervasive. But if the issues of the day are to be overcome there is actually no choice, and millions of people around the world know this. The solutions to the issues of the day lie in totally rejecting attitudes that divide humanity, and adopting values that rest in and cultivate unity and brotherhood. Perennial values held within the hearts of men and women everywhere that encourage social/environmental responsibility, cooperation and tolerance and give expression to our essential oneness.
There are said to be around 30 armed conflicts currently taking place in the world, some large, some small, all deadly. The warring factions of today are more likely to be insurgent groups – ‘rebels’ (sometimes fighting proxy wars for a regional or global power) or terrorists, extremists – right and left, battling with a federal army or police force – than nation squaring up to nation.
Research shows that less people are dying in such clashes than at any time in history. This is positive of course, but the number of deaths isn’t really the issue, although clearly less is better. What’s important is to unearth the reasons for violence, to create a world in which the causes of conflict are removed and allow peace, that long held ideal, to be realized.
In addition to armed battles, societies everywhere are violent, dangerous places in varying degrees, as are many personal relationships and homes. Then there is the vandalism mankind is inflicting on the natural world, on intricate ecosystems, on plant and animal species, on the air, the waterways and the earth itself. Although this form of abuse may appear separate from uniformed killings, stabbings or roadside bombs, it flows from the same destructive source – human consciousness and behavior.
Humanity appears to be incapable of living together in peace, or in harmony with the other kingdoms in nature; our long past is punctuated and in many ways shaped by war, by death, destruction and suffering, and by wholesale vandalism and exploitation, of one another, of groups that are (militarily/technologically) weaker, and of the environment.
Some argue that human beings are inherently brutal, others that we are conditioned into violence. This is the reductive nature versus nurture debate; a conversation that centers around the degree to which each aspect influences and colors the behavior of the individual: is humanity (or a specific individual) inherently violent and abusive for example, or is such behavior the result of conditioning, the way we are raised, nurtured, the type of atmosphere we are exposed to, the prominent values and modes of living that are promoted and unconsciously absorbed?
While people’s natures vary and we are all unique individuals – different yet the same – within each and every human being the potential for tremendous good exists (routinely demonstrated in times of need), as does the propensity towards great cruelty, to which some appear more at risk than others. The environment in which an individual lives, the conditioning factors he/she is exposed to, the values and beliefs, all influence the extent to which one or other innate tendency is expressed and or comes to dominate.
Although some forms of conditioning are more damaging than others, all conditioning inhibits, divides, and creates a false sense of self and a distorted view of others. Conditioning into competition, into tribalism/nationalism and adherence to any ideology – religious, political, economic – constructs a barrier, fuelling division, facilitating violence; that which is inherent, the seed of the good, is stifled, consigned to the margins, merely an alarming echo, the voice of conscience. As a result of the current socio-economic system, which has found its way into all aspects of life, including education and health care, such conditioning is widespread.
It is a socially unjust model, a violent system founded on ideals that agitate the negative and breed violence. Competition, ambition, greed and desire are promoted, in fact they are essential for its survival; nationalism, via the agency of competition, encouraged. All perpetuate and strengthen separation, dividing humanity, one from another, and where division exists – within the individual and/or within society – conflict is inevitable.
Under the Doctrine of Greed everything and everyone is seen as a commodity, a consumer of relative value, or an obstacle to enrichment of some kind (indigenous people living in the Amazon rain forest for example), something or someone that can be used and profited from, and when drained of value, discarded. Inequality of all kinds, wealth, income, opportunity, influence, is built into its mechanics, which grind the goodness out of all but the strongest; social justice denied, injustice ensured.
Social injustice is a form of mass violence, perpetrated by the architects and devotees of the system, all of whom have profited well and are determined to maintain the cruel status quo and remain in power for as long as possible. Given the level of injustice, particularly between the rich global north and impoverished south (albeit with pockets of enormous wealth), it is surprising that riots don’t break out all the time. There is resentment and anger among people everywhere, but physical exhaustion, economic insecurity; fear and a conditioned sense of guilt and inadequacy coalesce to inhibit action.
Barriers to Peace
The concept of peace has been held in our collective consciousness for at least two thousands years, probably longer. Peace between nations, peace within countries and regions, peace in our communities, longed for by people everywhere and routinely promised by politicians and leaders of all colors, while they invest in the machinery of war, trade in arms and follow the ideology of conflict. Hollow hypocritical words uttered without intent like a mechanically recited prayer, and so (for the most part), like other noble constructs, peace has remained an ideal. And believing in the ideal alone, the conditions for its realization have not been created, systems that ensure conflict are maintained, and so, inevitably violence has erupted, again and again and again.
Despite this fact, and contrary to our history of brutality and cruelty, peace and harmony are the natural order of life. They are aspects of life that are eternally present – like the sun, which even when obscured by cloud or darkness remains in the heavens. All that is required is that the obstacles to their manifestation be identified and removed.
The principle obstruction is division, followed by selfishness and greed. The notion that we are separate, from one another, from the environment and from that which we call God; divisions based on tribal/nation affiliations, ideologies of all kinds (including religions), race and or ethnicity; inequality and social injustice in its myriad forms. Greed and the focus on material wealth, and with it political influence, is itself divisive and has led to the violent exploitation of people (the slave trade being perhaps the greatest and most abhorrent example) and the natural world.
In order to rid the world of violence an understanding and rejection of those modes of living that create environments of conflict and fuel discord is needed; a shift in consciousness away from selfishness, greed and tribalism; and recognition that humanity is one. We are living in extraordinary times, transitional times, and such a realignment is well underway; there is a growing awareness that if humanity is to overcome the issues of the day and save the planet we must come together, cooperate and share. In the pursuit of peace sharing is essential, for without it there can never be social justice, and social justice is critical in creating trust and community harmony.
Together with justice and freedom, peace is no longer simply a dormant ideal, a cherished aspiration, it is a living force flowing through the hearts of men and women throughout the world, inspiring collective action, demanding change and an end to all forms of violence. Its time for humanity to come of age, to reject all that divides us, to unite and create a space in which peace and harmony can ring out across the world.
Grandmothers carrying babies, mothers, children, men young and old with nothing but the clothes on their backs are fleeing fighting in northern Ethiopia and making their way to Sudan, where emergency camps await them; according to the UNHCR 5,000 a day are making the journey.
Ethiopians are killing one another in the Tigray region of the country where an armed conflict is raging between the Ethiopian military and forces loyal to the regional government, the TPLF (Tigray Peoples Liberation Front), a group that some in the country describe as terrorists.
The TPLF formed the dominant force within the ruling coalition (the EPRDF), and ran Ethiopia with an iron fist from 1991 until 2018. Brutal and centralized, human rights were trampled on, free speech outlawed, state terrorism routine; the TPLF were vicious, ruled by fear and are hated still by many Ethiopians, inside and outside the country.
Sustained protests led to their overthrow in 2018 when the new Prime Minister took office. Although the EPRDF coalition remained, the approach changed dramatically under PM Abiy Ahmed and his team; a sense of optimism swept across the country and many Ethiopians living abroad returned to help rebuild their homeland. The TPLF were marginalized, vilified in some quarters and a number of the key figures arrested for crimes committed when in power, more arrest warrants are outstanding.
Bordering Eritrea in the North and Sudan to the West, Tigray is a small region (accounting for only 6% of the population), which has built up an extremely strong, armed unit (police/militia), with, according to some sources, around 250,000 men in uniform, including 20,000 commandos.
And the people cry out
On November 4th they attacked the Ethiopian National Defense Forces Base located in the Tigray region, reportedly killed a number of soldiers and stole artillery and military equipment. The Ethiopian government’s response was to initiate military operations; actions described by the Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed as law enforcement and by others, including the TPLF, as an act of war.
Some form of conflict had been brewing for some time, the criminal raid on the military base being the final straw in a series of provocations; most notably holding banned regional elections in September (which the TPLF won). As a result, the government claims the TPLF is not a legitimate regional government. For their part, due to general elections being postponed because of the coronavirus (although there have been very few cases in Ethiopia) and the government remaining in office, the TPLF claim the government is not legitimate either.
Many have been calling for talks between the parties, directly or via mediators, and an immediate unconditional ceasefire, but neither of these common-sense suggestions seems likely. As Prime Minister Ahmed shouts that this conflict can only be resolved militarily, and declares a ‘final push’, the voices of the TPLF express their determination to defend their land; ‘Tigray is now a hell to its enemies….the people of Tigray will never kneel.’ And so it goes on, humanity’s lunacy.
There is no communication from within Tigray, the UN and other humanitarian agencies have been denied access and the government is controlling the narrative.
The situation is extremely serious, unless handled with great care it could quickly escalate into a wider armed conflict dragging in neighboring states, and triggering a major humanitarian incident, the seeds of which have already been planted. With no supplies being allowed into the region food is running low in Tigray, as is money, and an estimated 30,000 people have fled their homes and made their way to Sudan were they are being accommodated in basic camps. Before the fighting began the International Organization for Migration (IOM) revealed that there were more than 1.8 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Ethiopia; around 100,000 of whom are in Tigray.
Beyond the pettiness of governments, the duplicity and self-interest of geopolitics, it is the people who suffer the greatest loss and pain in a conflict, and so it will be in Ethiopia.
Death destruction and trauma are the hallmarks of war and armed conflict; lives are lost, mostly civilian non-combatants lives, homes demolished, people displaced, fear created, poverty and hunger exacerbated. This is what war is, it is an abomination and it should be avoided at all costs; where disputes arise alternatives should be found, fully explored, compromise reached and violence rejected. And in a country like Ethiopia where most people are poor, their lives hard, a country that ranks 173rd out of 189 countries in the UN Human Development Index, war should never be contemplated. The government has fighter jets and tanks, but people are hungry and homeless, health care is inadequate at best, education poor, and now there’s a war; it is lunacy, isn’t it?
Violence has been the resounding tone of human history, tribal conflicts abound, fights over land and power, resources and dominion over others. Currently there are around 30 violent conflicts taking place in the world including the Ethiopian one: data from the Armed Conflict Location & Event data Project (ACLED) shows the areas where clashes between state forces and others have occurred. Most incidents in red are in the global south, but if you factor in national homicides and general violence, it’s a worldwide image of carnage.
Talk of ‘peace’ and ‘brotherhood’ is commonplace, but the killing and fighting goes on and on; hollow words then. Even in Ethiopia, where religion – Christianity and Islam, both of which espouse peace – dominate the lives of most people. Look at Syria, or Yemen, Afghanistan, Libya; beautiful countries all, wonderful people, and yet conflicts persist, death and destruction continues daily. And now Ethiopia, where the fear must be that even if the TPLF are ‘defeated’ they will go underground and an armed insurgency will take hold – something that is in a sense even harder to combat or limit.
It is time for humanity to grow up and recognize that we are brothers and sisters of one humanity – this is not some religious platitude, or new age drivel, it is a fact in nature. I spent two years working in Ethiopia running aid projects and feel a close connection to the country; it is a wonderful land, the people are warm and kind, but social divisions rooted in ancient tribal groupings are deep, historic grievances unresolved. The path out of conflict into peace is the same in Ethiopia as it is for the world as a whole, it is made up of principles of goodness that are innate, but buried; it requires the negation of behavior and modes of living that divide and ferment suspicion and resentment.
Unity, cooperation, tolerance and sharing, these are the key qualities of the time and the antidotes to hate and division; we could add forgiveness, understanding and respect. All flow from the same foundation – love. Not sentimentalized, corrupted love, but love as the cohesive force binding all life together; that impelling agent for good.
It matters not what the political justifications are for violence; of course if attacked a nation, region, family, individual will defend themselves, but to attack – with ‘overwhelming force’ and justify the killing as necessary, as the Ethiopian PM is doing – is to feed that fog which obscures our inherent humanity, the nature and residing quality of which is love. It is this purifying quality, which needs to become the guiding force for our actions, in Ethiopia and throughout the world.
For most of 2020 Covid-19 has dominated mainstream media, and whilst serious, the pandemic is but the latest in a series of dark clouds gathering upon our collective horizon: interconnected crises, from the environmental emergency to war, poverty, inequality, and social division among others. All flow from the same root – a misguided set of conclusions about life and ourselves; this fragmented and conditioned pattern of thinking fuels actions that result in the various crises we see all around us. It is the consciousness of humanity with its misplaced values and beliefs, its ideologies and reductive notions of self that constitute the underlying crisis.
For the issues of the day to be met and overcome a major shift in attitudes is needed, a change in consciousness allowing for the creative re-invention of civilization to take place. The current ‘way of life’ is largely unhealthy, for the individual and society, and has proved deadly for the natural environment. It is an unkind brutal construct based on ideologies that separate, setting one against the other, creating an atmosphere of fear and suspicion. Pleasure and desire are promoted as surrogates for natural happiness and love, competition and conformity insisted upon; it is an outdated construct that has no place within the positive movement of the times, which is well underway.
The transition into the new is happening apace and as those forces obstructing change begin to be swept aside there is a sense that humanity is poised to turn a corner. Sharing, cooperation, tolerance, understanding, these are some of the keynotes of the time. Perennial principles held within the hearts of people throughout the world, and which, given the correct conditions will explode into life, sweeping aside all obstacles to freedom, justice and unity. But resistance is fierce, conditioning and attachment to the old ways, strong. And the issues are daunting, overwhelming.
Given these prevailing conditions and the hostility to fundamental change – as opposed to the manipulation of existing systems – it is difficult even for the most optimistic of us to imagine a new world evolving within the short space of time we have. It is hard to see how humanity can make the leap, embrace a radically new, simpler way of living, and overcome the enormous challenges without support and guidance.
We are not alone
While the responsibility to create a new just civilization rests entirely and solely with humanity, we are not alone in this endeavor, nor have we ever been. Withdrawn from the hurly-burly, the noise and pollution, and unknown to the vast majority of people (particularly those in western countries), there exists a large group of highly evolved, perfected men, who, from behind the scenes, are actively engaged in all aspects of life on Earth. They are the senior members of the spiritual hierarchy, (spoken of by H.P. Blavatsky, Helena and Nicholas Roerich and Alice A Bailey among others) the Masters of Wisdom and Lords of Compassion.
The Masters are our elder brothers, those who have gone ahead of us, and have become perfected. They are the custodians of the plan of evolution, yes, according to the esoteric literature there is a plan, one that involves all the kingdoms of nature including the human and works towards total harmony.
At the head of the hierarchy sits Maitreya, the World Teacher. Maitreya is awaited by all the world’s religions under different names: He is Krishna, for the Hindu, the Imam Mahdi for Muslims, Maitreya Buddha expected by Buddhists, and embodying the Christ Consciousness, the second aspect of divinity, the energy of Love, Maitreya is the Christ; the Lord of Love, the Prince of Peace – a deeply controversial statement that many Christians will no doubt resolutely reject.
Maitreya is the teacher for this time and He is once again among us waiting for the most positive moment to step forward into full public view and begin His open work. This is the message that British artist and writer Benjamin Creme shared with the world for over forty years. I first heard him speak in 1987 and although I had no knowledge of such things I intuitively recognized that what he said was true.
According to Creme, Maitreya has been in the everyday world since July 19th 1977 when He “descended from His ancient retreat in the Himalayas” and entered His ‘point of focus” as it is called” – London, England. Maitreya is a teacher in the broadest sense; He comes for everyone as our brother and friend. He will offer advice, guidance on how the crises that weigh so heavily on humanity can be overcome; “My task will be to show you how to live together peacefully as brothers. This is simpler than you imagine, My friends, for it requires only the acceptance of sharing” – from Message no. 82 (of 140 messages given by Maitreya between September 1977 and June 1982). Sharing is crucial: when we share, we create the conditions in which trust and justice can come into being, and when these are present peace between people becomes possible; conversely, without trust and (social) justice there will never be peace.
To claim that the World Teacher is here and waiting for the right moment to emerge is of course deeply contentious, and many may dismiss it out of hand. But whilst the appearance of the teacher – a Buddha or Christ figure – is indeed extraordinary it is not unusual. We have lost sight of ourselves and our long past; historically a teacher has always come forth from the spiritual hierarchy at particular times of crisis or transition; and we are living through such a time. So why should now be any different? Look at the world; it is in a state of enormous turmoil, of division and pain, opportunity and awakening. On the one hand huge numbers of people throughout the world are calling for change, for justice and freedom, an end to racism and hate and for substantive action to tackle the environmental emergency. In the opposite corner are the reactionary fearful forces that are desperate to stop progress and to maintain the cruel status quo. It is these very forces that are the major obstacle to change and the swift emergence of Maitreya, who is the harbinger of the new.
Their weapons of choice are fear and division, interconnected poisons that feed on each other, and that once imbedded can tear people apart, feeding hatred and anger, within a family, a society or nation. One of the loudest expressions of the reactionary strain in recent years has been the rise of political populism, and with it tribal nationalism, intolerance and isolationism. With the fall of Trump – a hugely significant and positive event for the world – this destructive movement has lost one of its leading cheerleaders, others will gradually fall by the wayside and become increasingly marginalized figures.
After decades of tension there is a real sense now that the tide is finally turning, a feeling that a pivotal point has been crossed. Few can deny that change is underway; as a guide to the direction of such change, which must be measured and ordered, and the nature of our actions, Maitreya advises us to “Take your brother’s need as the measure for your action and solve the problems of the world. There is no other course.”
The momentum will continue to increase, dynamically gaining greater and greater strength, leading to the inculcation of totally new structures and modes of living. And as resistance is overcome, not through conflict, but by growing awareness and the weight of collective will, the space into which Maitreya can step forward will open up, allowing for what one of the Masters describes as the “Dispensation of Love” to take place.
Destructive human behavior based on selfishness, greed and ignorance has created the interrelated environmental emergency. A global crisis of unprecedented scale that threatens the survival of over a million plant and animal species, the security of tens of millions of people and the health of the planet.
Unlimited irresponsible consumption of goods, services and animal food produce is the underlying cause; destructive unhealthy behavior encouraged by short-term political and business policies rooted in nationalism and the ideology of competition and greed.
Land sea and air are contaminated everywhere, more or less; the natural climatic rhythms have been radically disrupted, chaos created where order once held sway; the great rain forests of the world are being decimated, trees cut down, land turned over to cattle, or agriculture – principally to grow soya for animal feed – indigenous peoples displaced or killed, cultures shredded, ecosystems shattered, animal habitat destroyed, plant species crushed under the vile weight of corruption and money.
The scale and urgency of the crisis is impossible to overstate; with every new scientific paper that appears the reality becomes more and more overwhelming, the task of salvage more daunting, the need for action more urgent. Most people of course don’t read such texts or notice the rare piece of news coverage that they, or the natural world more broadly receive. And despite being the most pressing issue of this or indeed any other time, within government circles, corporate boardrooms, as well as far too many individual households, the environmental catastrophe remains a marginal matter within the relentless urge for profit, economic growth and personal pleasure; little more than an afterthought within the business plan, a political add-on to appeal to the green contingent or customer base.
In opposition to this crippling complacency there is a growing army of people ringing alarm bells, trying to instill a sense of urgency and wake people up. Loud voices, some well known, like Sir David Attenborough, Greta Thunberg and Prince Charles, who has been ‘banging on’ about environmental abuse for thirty years or more, together with movements like Extinction Rebellion and the Schools Strike for Climate, and a raft of environmental campaign groups such as Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund. All work tirelessly to share information about the scale and depth of the crisis and raise awareness.
And awareness is growing, behavior shifting; the details and scope of the emergency may not be known but there is a general awareness (in developed nations at least), however vague and inadequate, that the natural environment is in crisis, particularly among young people, who, in many cases are rightly appalled (and extremely worried) at the level of environmental vandalism perpetrated by previous generations. But the scale of change is nowhere near what is needed and it’s too slow; gradual changes over decades or generations will not cut it, neither will reliance solely on technology.
The response among corporations and governments is consistently inadequate, and the reaction of the mass of people is often indifference and/or a sense of individual inadequacy in the face of such massive issues. Most people live hard insecure lives, are physically tired, emotionally drained and mentally confused, overwhelmed by their own difficulties and trying, for the most part, simply to get by, to feed themselves and their families and find some lightness within what are often heavy days and dreary nights.
If, and it’s a large ominous if, humanity is to reverse the damage, education and widespread environmental/social responsibility are essential.
A global public information campaign is urgently needed. Coordinated by the UN Environment agency utilizing national media outlets and designed in conjunction with environmental groups to raise awareness not just of the scale of the emergency, but to encourage responsible ethical behavior among populations, corporations/businesses and Governments. Environmentally progressive policymaking can no longer be a series of ill conceived halfhearted add-ons within the manifestos of political parties and leaders running for office. Environmental responsibility must be fostered so that it becomes the central consideration in all decision making, for governments, businesses and individuals. It is part of a broader sense of social responsibility, which includes the recognition that we are responsible for one another, and requires the cultivation of a general attitude of positive communal living.
To be responsible is to respond. To respond to the need, whatever that may be, to the challenge or the urgency of the time. The nature and quality of the response is critical, what it is that we respond with. If the response is anchored in selfishness and conditioned by motive, if it is limited by ideology or constrained by considerations of personal gain, financial profit or economic growth for example, then the response, and this is what happens in most cases, will not only be inadequate to the demands of the moment, it will intensify the issue, or crises. Such actions are rooted in the past and cannot, therefore sufficiently meet the crisis; whatever it is, in this case, the environmental crisis, fully, because the crisis is taking place now.
Being responsible also means being “accountable for one’s actions”, which is a quality of living that is lacking in varying degrees, among politicians and corporations – where it is virtually totally absent, as well as large swathes of the world’s population. In place of social/environmental responsibility the dual poisons of complacency and irresponsibility habitually condition action, adding to an overall atmosphere of selfishness and social division. We have come to believe in separation, identifying ourselves with a nation, race or belief system, divided from, superior or inferior to another, ‘the other’, who may not look, pray or think like we do, and therefore cannot be trusted. The ideology of division, based as it is on fear and hate is anathema to responsibility.
If, and there again is that omnipresent if, there is to be an adequate response to the environmental emergency a new atmosphere of collective responsibility needs to be fostered and the nations of the world must unite; this call for united global action is a common-sense statement enunciated and agreed upon many times at various gatherings, but like world peace or equality its little more than a hollow ideal under which the pattern of competitive nationalism drones on, and on and on. International agreements are signed, no doubt in a spirit of optimism, and sincerity, but hypocrisy and duplicity are the worldwide hallmarks of politicians, and commitments are largely ignored, the business of corporate politics continues unhindered and little or nothing changes.
The greatest environmental impact, for good or ill, lies with governments and corporations, but the behavior or individuals is crucial; en-masse it is the neglect, greed and rampant consumerism of the people of the world (primarily the wealthier people of the world) that is the underlying cause of the interconnected environmental crisis. All of us are equally responsible – individuals, businesses and governments – particularly those of us living in the developed nations, and that responsibility demands a change in lifestyle: living simpler lives, consuming less, in many cases, much less, and making decisions based on environmental considerations first.
If we embrace this sense of individual responsibility for the whole, recognizing it to be not just true, but an opportunity to contribute in a positive manner, fully and deeply, then maybe, just maybe, the planet beautiful can be salvaged and with it social harmony and unity be realized.
It’s the beginning of autumn in the northern hemisphere, a beautiful and refreshing space between the heady days of summer and the chill of winter, a transitional time. And collectively we are living through a time of global transition; a shift from one civilization, colored by certain influencing qualities, to a new time, growing out of the old but infused with a different energy, with distinct unifying qualities and evolving modes of living.
Inherent in this natural movement is the promise of change, but also resistance and tension, resulting in conflict and fragmentation. Ancient divisions are being strengthened, new divisions fermented, injustices highlighted; under the action of cleavage all are being drawn to the polluted surface of human affairs.
With every day the weight and impact of the new intensifies, the forces of the old, the forms and systems, institutions and structures decline, fragment and decay. Despite this disintegration, attachment to the familiar is strong, and change in any direction, particularly when it threatens to weaken the control of the controllers, evokes a strong opposing reaction. Broad lines of demarcation between people desperate for a different way (the majority in many cases), for social justice, environmental action and freedom, and those fighting to maintain the status quo have become increasingly stark.
Resistance is fierce among those groups that are wedded to the existing unjust, dysfunctional ways, many of whom hold the reins of power – political and corporate; believing in the doctrine of greed, which has served them well, and defining life in narrow materialistic terms, they refuse to see any alternative to the ideology of money and nationalism, and will fight to the bitter end. But transition to a new way of living is beginning and will accelerate, impacting on all areas of society. Some transitional trends have been accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, including working practices, transportation (particularly in cities) and the shift to online shopping.
The old is established, its modus operandi defined, institutions and systems, ideologies and values well known, imbedded in the minds of all. The shape of the ‘new’ is not known, forms need to evolve, but its qualities are becoming clear. It speaks of unity, cooperation, tolerance and understanding, social justice and freedom. Universal perennial principles held within the hearts of many for generations, which under the ideology of division, have been ignored or buried, at best partially honored, selectively demonstrated; broad principles that will increasingly determine the tone of the new civilization.
Modes of living, systems, institutions and values are formal reflections, or constructs, of the consciousness of those within society, local and global; the nature of this consciousness is the underlying cause of the interconnected crises facing humanity and constitutes the fundamental crisis; we are the real crisis. All proceeds from this murky source, and, for the required transitions to take place a much needed shift in attitudes is needed; a move away from actions motivated purely by selfish gain or reward to a growing sense of social and environmental responsibility; a transition from fear, desire and division to unity, love and compassion. This is a process that has been building in momentum over the last forty years or so, leading to the unprecedented global protest movement (including the passionate response to the environmental emergency) among other positive developments.
As transition becomes more widespread and momentum builds, it is crucial that in those areas impacted most (the energy sector for example, and, with the expansion of artificial intelligence, all forms of manufacturing), the changes be just, and in order to be lasting, are made with the broadest possible consensus. Of the many changes needed a radical transition in consumer habits is foremost: Like many areas of contemporary life consumerism is an integral part of the socio-economic system, an immoral paradigm sitting at the core of many, if not all of our problems, that must be radically overhauled if social justice, and indeed peace (for there will never be peace without justice), is to be brought about.
Consumerism, including the consumption of animal food produce, is the underlying cause of the environmental emergency; a change in lifestyles and movement away from excess to sufficiency is imperative if we are to reverse centuries of environmental vandalism. Changes in education are also key – a transition (already underway in some countries, and theoretically prominent) away from a system of propaganda and conditioning, with schools and colleges functioning as little more than feeding grounds for employers, to creative centers of learning that encourage independent thinking, freedom from sociological and psychological conditioning, and self-enquiry. Creating social justice – something again that is conditional on changing the economic model – facilitating freedom for everyone everywhere, and bringing about an end to prejudice of all kinds are other key areas of change. And while there is a growing awareness of the need for acceptance and understanding, ignorant flag-waving groups bent on violence still soil our streets, defame our shared humanity.
Tolerance and acceptance in opposition to division and bigotry is one area of many in which polarities of views can be seen, the environmental emergency is another, as is immigration, education, and state support for, say, health care. Differences, which often find a focus in political allegiances, but differences which run much deeper and are broader in tone, between those who are in tune with the rhythms of the age and backward-looking fearful groups attached to old ways of thinking and living, who are determined to obstruct any progressive movement for change. Change that cannot be stopped, but change that can be delayed, and given the intense need – the crippling poverty, armed conflict, displacement of people, and, the major issue, the environmental emergency – delay is something neither we nor the planet can countenance. The house is on fire, our house is on fire and urgent sustained action is desperately needed.
It’s been a weird time, the last six months, and so it continues; perhaps it always was. It’s certainly been an unjust violent mess in varying degrees of severity, for as long as most can remember. With selfishness, division and pleasure firmly in the driving seat, and the planet beautiful, slowly choking to death under the weight of human greed and stupidity.
After Covid-19 erupted, widespread lockdowns like a blunderbuss were enforced in many countries, and for a brief interlude hush descended on towns and cities across the world. Whole populations from Europe to New Zealand and most points in between were forced to desist from ‘going out’ and socializing, made to curtail their habitual shopping urges and change their work patterns. A strange and uncertain time, aggravating pre-existing anxieties, triggering depression, threatening economic meltdown.
A rare space opened, is still available, creating the opportunity to reflect on how life was and is being lived, individually and collectively; an opportunity to redefine what is important, and for those so inclined, to ponder life after the virus. A feeling of post-pandemic hope circulated among the hopeful. Could, will, ‘things’ change for the good at last, would corporate governments emerge with a new attitude towards public services, ‘key workers’ – who had suddenly become heroes – the environment and national health care systems (where they exist, and where they don’t with a recognition that they should), refugees and migrant workers.
Will the many acts of community kindness foster lasting social responsibility, can the pause in consumerism, manufacturing, and travel, ignite a major shift in political and social attitudes, leading to a change in policies and collective behavior rooted in environmental and social responsibility? Many hope for such a long overdue bonanza, but as countries tentatively begin to emerge from the shadow of Covid the political rhetoric and corporate talk is depressingly predictable.
Saddled with huge national debt, the prospect of an economic ‘slump’, or ‘slowdown’ and mass unemployment, anxious politicians, lacking vision, and business leaders (understandably) concerned with survival and profit, repeatedly, and desperately talk about getting back to ‘normal’; re-starting the economy – the very economy that has polluted the air, the oceans and the land – and speedy recoveries. It is predictable lunacy; no, no, no, not business as chuffing usual, many cry. This is a chance to think outside the existing foul paradigm, to creatively re-imagine how life could be. If we are to face the most pressing issues of the day, there must be real change.
The term ‘new normal’ is routinely bandied around by politicians, business leaders and commentators these days; it’s often used to describe the changes to working methods – Zoom meetings for example, education bubbles in schools, one-way systems and hand sanitation in shops, face coverings on public transport. Cautionary health care measures, but nothing of substance; nothing that will save the planet, mitigate the ecological vandalism being perpetrated by humanity; create social justice, end violent conflict, racism and starvation; banish malnutrition, reform education, offer justice and support to migrants, and house the homeless in every land – for example.
We do not need a ‘new normal’, referring as it does to the old, decrepit, inadequate, poisoning ‘normal’ that has cast a cloak of misery and insecurity everywhere it is found, and it’s found everywhere. 99.9% of people around the world, and the natural environment require revolutionary change. Fundamental socio-economic change, true and lasting shifts in attitudes and behavior, not simply Covid-19 enforced adjustments encased in the existing structures and values – manipulations of an inadequate socio-economic model, which needs dismantling. As author Phillip Pullman put it: “ It’s all got to change. If we come out of this crisis with all the rickety, flyblown, worm-eaten old structures still intact, our descendants will not forgive us. Nor should they. We must burn out the old corruption and establish a better way of living together.” And if you take a walk through a shopping area, an industrial site or office island, it’s clear; the old is dying before our very eyes, not due to the pandemic, but because it is devoid of vitality, totally and utterly. It’s finished, let it burn, and let’s turn our attention to re-imagining society and the systems under which we all live.
Save Our Planet (S.O.P.)
For months Covid-19 has stolen the headlines and dominated mainstream media programs, but within a burgeoning list of interconnected crises, of which the current pandemic is one, it is the complex environmental emergency that screams out as the single greatest issue facing humanity. And if humanity is to rise to this greatest of challenges, wholesale change is need. Under lockdown the environment appeared to be given a respite, the air somewhat cleaner, rivers lighter, but, perhaps surprisingly, greenhouse gas emissions have been barely affected. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) expects this year’s annual emissions to be reduced by just 6-8%. This, they make clear, will have no measurable impact on carbon concentrations, or climate warming. In fact, 2020 is on track to be hottest year on record, on the back of subsequent hot years. According to the UK Met Office, a 10% drop is needed “to have a noticeable effect on the rising CO2 concentrations, but even then concentrations would still be rising.”
The principle cause of the environmental catastrophe is consumerism, insatiable ignorant human consumption of stuff, most of it unnecessary, and, crucially, animal-based food produce, and if we are to Save Our Planet (S.O.P.) and provide a viable world in which our children and grandchildren can live and grow, radical changes in our modes of living are needed, alternative values encouraged. Changes that move humanity in a new direction completely, that negate totally the urge, tempting or inevitable as it may appear to many to be, to resurrect the terminally sick economy and pursue the Growth Genie. Rooted in endless consumption, greed and competition such obsessive behavior has, in addition to strengthening nationalism and division, pushed the planet into critical care and, if we continue to be hypnotized by the pursuit of transient pleasures, will lead, if we are not already there, to irreparable climatic disorder and chronic ecological disease – and soon.
Returning to ‘normal’ means re-igniting the consumer-based economy, encouraging consumerism and affirming negative, habitual patterns of behavior. That’s what the politicians and the corporate voices are concerned about, and, while they may include the words ‘green’ or ‘alternative’, ‘renewable’, or ‘eco’, in their rousing duplicitous rhetoric, their principle goal is not salvaging the environment, changing behavior and encouraging simplicity of living, it is generating profit, perpetuating ‘growth’. And the way that’s achieved is by populations consuming, irresponsibly and in excess. An economic system based and reliant upon limitless consumption, in all its facets, including animal agriculture, is completely incompatible with the health of the planet, and the well being of people.
Instead of excess, simplicity and sufficiency need to be the goals; responsible consumerism, in which goods and services are bought based on need, and choices/decisions are determined by the impact on the natural world. This requires personal effort and worldwide education. National public education programs, run by governments in collaboration with environmental groups, are needed to make people aware of the impact of their behavior on the environment, including animal agriculture; cutting out all animal food produce is the single most significant step individuals can take to help reduce their impact on the environment.
Changes in behavior are essential, but governments, long-term political policies and corporations have the biggest impact; while the rhetoric from some in office may be resonant, it is difficult to see any politicians within the current crop who have the breadth of vision and the will to enact the radical measures needed if the environmental emergency is to be overcome. All are married to the existing structures and appear to believe in the pervasive socio-economic ideology. Intense public pressure then, like the actions undertaken by Extinction Rebellion, Greenpeace, the Schools Strike for Climate and others, is crucial and must be applied, consistently and forcefully if, and it is a loud and deeply troubling if, the needed actions to Save Our Planet and heal our societies – for the two are inextricably linked – are to take place within the time frame required.
In a world where nationalism and social division is increasing, bigotry growing, are the words refugee, asylum seeker, migrant worker, derogatory labels triggering prejudice and intolerance? Such terms create an image of ‘the other’, separate and different, strengthening tribalism, feeding suspicion, our common humanity denied.
Under the shadow of Covid-19 those living on the margins of world society have been further isolated; the refugees and migrants of the world, those displaced internally or in a foreign land, people living in war zones, and the migrant workers in the Gulf States, India, Singapore and elsewhere.
Refugees, migrants and migrant workers are among those most at risk from Covd-19, the economic impact of the pandemic as well as xenophobic abuse linked to the virus. Migrant workers (who universally have few or no labor rights) from Qatar to India have been discriminated against, discarded and ignored. Migrants, particularly those of Chinese or Japanese appearance in the US and elsewhere subjected to violence and abuse, in Britain the ‘Domestic Abuse Bill’ currently going through parliament excludes migrant women (often from minority groups) who have no immigration status, and in refugee camps across Europe and the Middle East, including Gaza, thousands have been left in unsafe camps without medical support.
Homeless, hungry and at risk
Even before the pandemic erupted, to be a refugee, a migrant or migrant worker was commonly to be mistrusted, marginalized and in danger. Whether working as a maid in one of the Gulf States, an internal migrant worker in their homeland or living inside an overcrowded refugee camp these men, women and children are amongst the most vulnerable people in the world. In Europe, where thousands of refugees (many from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan) are packed into camps, their lives already swamped by uncertainty, the fear of the virus hangs heavy. Lacking in sanitation and essential services these overcrowded tarpaulin cities are unsafe; the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, for example, was designed to accommodate 2,840, but now has 19,000 people; 40% are under 18, self-harming and attempted suicides are widespread. Compounding the heightened risks Covid has created, since July 2019 asylum seekers in Greece no longer have free access to the healthcare system, other than emergency support.
Meanwhile, in countries with large populations of migrant workers Covid-19 and the economic impact of the pandemic is adding additional layers of suffering to already arduous lives, not just of workers, but the families migrant workers support According to the UN, round 800 million people globally are supported by funds sent home by migrant workers. Families depend on such payment to pay rent and buy food; when this flow stops, as in many cases it is now, poverty and the risk of starvation is made more acute. The World Bank is warning of huge drops in global remittance payments of around 20%, resulting from the economic downturn triggered by the pandemic, which they say has impacted on migrant communities particularly hard.
In the Gulf States, which depend on millions of workers from Africa and Southeast Asia, Covid-19 is intensifying discrimination and increasing abuse against migrant domestic workers, including abrupt termination of their contracts. In Kuwait suicide among migrant workers has surged; Saudi Arabia has deported thousands of Ethiopian workers (A total of 2,968 migrants were returned in the first 10 days of April, UN state), without any medical screening, which the UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Ethiopia said, is “likely to exacerbate the spread of Covid-19 to the region and beyond.” And the International Labor Organisation (ILO) relates, that lower income families in Lebanon (where the majority of migrant workers are Ethiopian) and elsewhere across the region, unable to cover salaries, cover food costs or provide accommodation have laid off domestic staff; resulting in migrant workers being at high risk of forced labor, including prostitution.
Worse still is the case of freelance (‘live out’) workers, whose work has stopped, leaving them with no income, no food and nowhere to go. In Qatar, (one of the richest countries in the world, with over two million migrant workers) which has one of the highest rates of infection per capita in the world, many of those suffering from the disease are migrant workers. As the economic impact of the virus hits, foreign workers from Nepal, Bangladesh, the Philippines are being laid off or remain unpaid. Some domestic workers (women) have been made destitute. In Singapore, widely thought to have responded well to the pandemic, migrant workers, mainly in the construction industry, were thrown to the wolves. And in India following the ill-thought through decision by Prime Minister Mahendra Modi to lock the country down on 25th March, (giving people four hours warning!) tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of internal migrants working in cities were forced by their landlords to vacate their homes and had no choice but to head back to their native village.
Without funds and with transportation suspended, huge numbers were forced to walk the hundreds or thousands of miles home. Homeless, hungry and at risk of contracting coronavirus, migrant workers were ignored by the Modi regime, that provided no worthwhile support. Reacting to this wholesale neglect, the UN Special Rapporteurs on the right to housing and on extreme poverty said (4th June), “we are appalled at the disregard shown by the Indian Government towards internal migrant laborers, especially those who belong to marginalized minorities and lower castes…..the Government has failed to address their dire humanitarian situation and further exacerbated their vulnerability with police brutality and by failing to stop their stigmatization as ‘virus carriers’.”
Covid-19 has highlighted a raft of social inequalities and destructive practices throughout the world. As such issues float to the murky surface of human affairs an opportunity presents itself for reform, for changes in attitudes and practices.
There needs to be a fundamental overhaul of employment rights for migrant workers throughout the world, with migrant workers receiving the same protections as native employees, including access to health care, limits on the hours of work, rates of pay, days off etc.
The Kafala System, which Amnesty International relates, “ties the legal residency of the worker to the contractual relationship with the employer,” is used throughout the Gulf States, where the UN estimates there to be “35 million international migrants in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, and Jordan and Lebanon, of whom 31 per cent were women.” Under Kafala a migrant worker, many of whom are domestic staff and therefore out of sight, cannot resign if an employer is abusive, the work exploitative or the conditions unacceptable. The system enables employers to essentially own workers, giving them total control of workers’ movements and in often keeping them under lock and key. This legitimization of modern-day slavery must be brought to an end immediately.
Refugees and migrants are human beings fleeing violent conflict (and often traumatized), persecution and economic hardship. The journey into an unknown future is often treacherous, always uncertain. In the vacuum left by governments and regional authorities like the EU, that should be processing asylum applications in designated centers and offering safe passage, criminal gangs control migration routes and methods of travel, which are unsafe and extortionately expensive. Deaths are commonplace, abuse widespread. If they survive the dangers and arrive in their destination country, all too often they are viewed with distrust and antagonism, instead of being warmly welcomed. They are pushed into the shadows, the margins of society, offered little or no state support and made to feel unwanted. This must change; all should be embraced, not only those with skills in short supply.
The idea of judging who can and cannot enter a country based on some discriminatory points system related to national need (the Australian way – a country with a shameful immigration record), as the UK government is proposing, reduces human beings to commodities, some of which are more valuable on the ‘open market of immigration’ than others – and is completely abhorrent.
Deal with the causes of migration, help construct a world at peace by cooperating, sharing and building relationships; reject competition and nationalism in favor of unity and tolerance and see a dramatic fall in the numbers of people forced to leave their homeland.
Ancient ethnic divisions and long held grievances die hard. Ethiopia is made up of dozens of tribal/ethnic groups, divided into nine regional states. Oromia is the largest region (it includes the capital, Addis Ababa) and, with 34% of the population (c.40 million), the Oromo people make up the biggest single group.
On 29th June the popular Oromo singer/political activist Hachalu Hundesa was murdered in Addis Ababa, triggering protests, killings and violence. The UN Human Rights agency report that protests were ethnically driven, roads in parts of Oromia were blocked, “buildings vandalized and burnt…. gunfire and bomb explosions in Addis Ababa.” Official estimates say that 239 people died in the unrest.
The government’s heavy-handed reaction was to arrest almost 5,000 people including political activists, journalists and a leading critic of the government, Jawar Mohammed, and shut down the Internet (30th June). Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said that Hundessa had been killed by groups working to inflame ethnic tensions and trigger civil war, but gave no details; the Minister in Charge of Democratization, Zadig Abraha, accused “external forces opposed to democratic change of involvement in the violence,” again without details. In an interview with France24 he also denied widespread claims that the government was using the unrest as an excuse to crack down on the opposition and stifle dissent. It has nevertheless arrested key members of opposition parties, who they claim are linked to the violence.
At demonstrations in Paris by the Oromo diaspora on 11th July organizers claimed that Hundessa was murdered “on government orders”, because “he was Oromo.” The government has since announced that they have arrested suspects in the murder of Hundessa.
Abiy is the first Oromo PM, and when he took office in 2018 the Oromo people rejoiced. Initial jubilation was short lived though; some within the community remain loyal, others are disappointed in his tenure – “we thought that Abiy Ahmed supported our cause because he is Oromo, but over the past year Ethiopia has became a dangerous country for us,” while some, including Jawar Mohammed, have gone further and are actively working to undermine his leadership and destabilise the government.
For decades Ethiopia was ruled by a brutal regime that terrorized and suppressed large sections of the population. The ruling party outlawed political opposition, trampled on human rights, tortured, raped and murdered. Despised and widely feared, after four years of protests in which Hachalu Hundesa and his music played an important role, the EPRDF government (made up of parties from four regions but dominated by a group of Tigray men within the TPLF) collapsed in April 2018.
No elections were held and the EPRDF coalition stayed in office; Abiy Ahmed (a member of the previous administration) became Prime-Minister and a fresh, gender-balanced cabinet was installed.
Acknowledging the atrocities of the previous regime and the deep-seated ethnic divisions in the country, in his inaugural speech Abiy pleaded: “I call on us all to forgive each other from our hearts. To close the chapters from yesterday, and to forge ahead to the next bright future through national consensus.” Restrictions on independent media were lifted, websites unblocked, political prisoners released, repressive laws repealed and the border conflict with Eritrea resolved. Many Ethiopians living abroad returned home amid an atmosphere of expectation and hope.
But as the political space opened, suppressed feelings and historic grievances related to land, and issues of identity and governance surfaced among various ethnic groups. Military insurgencies and inter-communal violence erupted in a number of regions (Amhara, Oromia, Harar, Dire Dawa, Benishangul, and the SNNP) leading to the internal displacement of (currently) 1.5 million (down from 2.9 million in 2018); people whom the government has failed to support. And, consistent with the policy of Ethnic Federalism (used by the previous regime a tool to ‘divide and rule’) enshrined in the 1994 constitution, there have been calls for autonomy from groups in Oromia, the northern Amhara region and by Sidama in the Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples (SNNP).
The atmosphere is volatile, and while under Abiy much that is positive has taken place, “local governance and security have sharply deteriorated in many locations,” and the lack of law and order, HRW report. “means there are few constraints on how grievances are expressed.”
The government’s response to inter-communal conflict has fluctuated between inadequate and inflammatory, and disturbingly, there have been a series of violations by security forces. Killings, torture, and arbitrary arrests have been documented by HRW, in addition to “shutdowns of phone and internet services in Oromia, and the arrests of journalists and opposition leaders and their supporters.” Amnesty International, in their detailed report, relate that between December 2018 and December 2019, “at least 10,000 people were arbitrarily arrested and detained ….as part of the government’s crackdown on armed attacks and violence in Oromia Region.” They claim that, reminiscent of the previous regime, security forces “burned homes to the ground, committed rape and extrajudicial execution in response to inter-communal violence.”
And while old laws of control have been repealed, controversial new ones have been enacted. On 23rd March 2020 the Government introduced The Hate Speech and Disinformation Prevention and Suppression Proclamation, in order they state, to curb, inflammatory language on social media. Human rights groups say it contains a vague definition of disinformation, and HRW describe it as “an ill-construed law that opens the door for law enforcement officials to violate rights to free expression.”
“A 5-month State of Emergency (SOE), beginning in April,” has also been imposed. To limit “the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19).” This seems unjustified – when it was brought in only three deaths and 82 cases of the virus had been reported in Ethiopia, and to date, according to Worldmeter, the numbers remain low – 128 deaths and fewer than 8,000 reported cases. The SOE essentially bans protests and has been used HRW says “as a pretext to restrict free speech.”
General elections, due to take place in August this year have also been cancelled due to the pandemic. However, in order for parliamentary elections to go ahead at all, a national census (postponed once in 2017 and again this year) is badly needed.
The need for unity
Moving from an authoritarian government to democracy, which has never existed in Ethiopia, was never going to be easy or take place overnight. Many challenges are involved in such a transition and mistakes are inevitable. It is crucial, though, that the Government does not dilute reforms and revert to suppressive methods. For change to be lasting, developments need to be gradual and have broad consensus: this requires that everyone who wishes to contribute to the debate, is able to do so.
There have been changes within civil society including the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC), the media and the judiciary but they are still not seen to be free of government influence. Fully independent transparent institutions (particularly the EHRC) that are trusted should be quickly established; institutions that are capable of dealing with community grievances impartially and effectively, and thereby reducing the risk of escalation. The government needs to reinstate law and order where it has broken down, this is crucial, and, as HRW say, “perpetrators of violence need to be charged in accordance with Ethiopian law.” Importantly this must include members of the security forces, who have acted with impunity for decades; anyone breaking the law must face justice.
Ethnically based identity is currently a powerful divisive force in the country, this need not be the case. Ethnic diversity should be seen as a positive factor, with each group being respected and encouraged to add their distinct tone and colour to the overall life of the nation, thereby enriching the culture for all. Diversity in unity should be the aim. Historical injustices and grievances need to be acknowledged, and, in an atmosphere of forgiveness and tolerance, community healing allowed to take place.
Political parties aligned along ethnic lines intensifies existing divisions; political groups need to evolve that are free from any specific ethnic association. This would negate the suspicion of community bias and build trust. Despite the recent upheavals, the opportunity for lasting change persists in this wonderful country. Unwavering commitment to human rights, social justice and national unity, should be the government’s driving goals; the Ethiopian people deserve no less.