The media occupies a crucial space within all societies. It always has, but in an uncertain age, dominated by social media with its proliferation of opinions and “facts”, and the trend towards increasingly polarized, controlling governments, it is more important than ever.
In order to serve the interests and needs of the people, media organizations must be ideologically unshackled, financially independent; able to scrutinize and criticize governments and corporations, highlight social injustice, reveal corruption, prejudice and dishonesty, examine the causes of crises and offer solutions. Free and independent media is a cornerstone of democracy, an essential element in the maintenance of civil liberties, and the upholding of human rights, however, research published by the think tank Freedom House (FH) reveals that media freedom has been deteriorating over the past decade, with, “new forms of repression taking hold in open societies and authoritarian states alike.” In Europe, where media freedom has traditionally been strong, “the [controlling] trend is most acute. As well as Eurasia and the Middle East”, including Israel, where, in 2019, ex-PM Benjamin Netanyahu was charged with corruption for offering regulatory advantages to major media in exchange for favorable coverage.
Journalists are under threat and media freedom is being stifled by dictatorial regimes (whose number is growing), curtailed by manipulative governments (autocratic, democratic, and professing democratic) that routinely distort the truth or blatantly lie, and undermined by corporate influence. Mainstream media (BBC News, Fox, CNN, national newspapers etc.) is the primary area of concern. This is where most people, often unconsciously, ingest their news and information, as the TV or radio drones on in the background, or on the bus, train or tube/metro via a free tabloid.
Investigative journalism, which is regarded as expensive and messy by corporate owners and public broadcasters, is increasingly rare; media outlets are overly dependent on Government press briefings, leaders’ comments or remarks/assertions from international bodies. Statements that steal the headlines and are repeated endlessly on national airwaves (with subtitles), psychologically conditioning the public, coloring the way events and global crises are understood. Bending information, influencing public opinion, corrupting or slanting “facts” with a loud title, a statistic, tone of voice or inference, to support the corporate position or Government/ideological view.
Good to bad to very bad
Shocking, but perhaps unsurprising data from FH suggests that only 13% of the world’s population enjoys a free press. In part this dark statistic is due to China and India, which account for around a third of the global population, and are both media suppressive; totally for China, which is now throwing a heavy shadow over Hong Kong as well as the mainland, and increasingly so in India (ranked 142 out of 180 countries on The World Press Freedom Index), where PM Mahendra Modi’s government is overtly heavy handed. Beating up and arresting journalists covering the army occupation of Jammu and Kashmir, and intimidating any outlets/reporters deemed to be critical of the authorities, particularly their handling of Covid.
The annual freedom listing from Reporters Without Borders (RSF) classes (180) countries from good to very bad. Scandinavian countries routinely top the chart, and so it was with in 2020, with Norway leading the way. Germany comes in 13th, the UK 33rd, France 32nd, the USA limps in at 44th. Turkey, Russia and parts of Eastern Europe, such as Hungary (where government allies own around 80 percent of the media) and Poland, wallow dark red in “problematic”, as does Brazil and 51 other countries.
Lower down the murky Ladder of Paranoia, media outlets operate in a dense fog. Described as “bad” – meaning the state controls or owns the press in one form or another, manages access to the internet, and will happily silence anyone attempting to speak out. There are twenty such places of fear and suspicion. Singapore, routinely touted by western politicians as a shiny model of success, slumbers here, and just above Syria and Iran we find America’s Middle-East pal, the Royal Dictatorship of Saudi Arabia (170th), where according to RSF, the “press is completely gagged”. Appearance (not truth or principles) is all in contemporary politics, and while most newspapers in Saudi are privately owned they are subsidized and regulated by the government.
Within these “problematic” and “very bad” territories journalists and media workers who criticize royals, politicians (none of whom it seems can bear criticism) and the like, run the risk of being killed, abducted, beaten. In 2020, according to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), 66 journalists and media staff were murdered globally, up from 49 in 2019. Mexico, with 14 killings, is the deadliest, followed by Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Philippines and Syria. Deaths of journalists were also recorded in Somalia, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Colombia, Honduras, Paraguay, Russia, Yemen. And a Pakistani journalist, Sajid Hussain, was killed in Sweden, where he had lived since 2018. He fled Pakistan in 2012 after receiving death threats following his work on forced disappearances and human rights abuses in the Baluchistan region of the country. RSF said that, given his controversial reporting, Hussein may well have been killed “at the behest of a Pakistani intelligence agency”.
Particularly shocking was the death of 47year old Russian journalist Irina Slavina, Editor of the Koza Press news website. She died in October after setting herself on fire outside an interior ministry office in the city of Nizhniy Novgorod, Russia (ranked 150/180 countries by RSF).
Intolerance, fear of criticism or of being exposed as corrupt/dishonest, and criminality, underlie the killing of journalists and media workers in these countries and elsewhere; weak judicial systems and corrupt governments allow such crimes to go unpunished.
Methods of political control
In countries where violence is not an acceptable option for silencing pesky journalists, as well as in authoritarian regimes where it is, a variety of methods of control are employed and increasingly so: Regulation of media laws (including defamation law suits); financial pressure; internet shut-downs and cyber bullying; low pay, poor working conditions; the pursuit of profit and/or political advantage over journalistic integrity, and the inhibiting impact of hostile sections of the public towards the media, particularly the so-called “liberal” media. Police intimidation; arresting and imprisoning journalists without a fair trial; the (government facilitated) concentration of media ownership, which places excessive power in the hands of individuals, corporations, governments, or political authorities.
The aim of all such measures and patterns is to ensure that the media serves power (political and corporate) rather than the public. The effect is stifling and deeply concerning, however the broader impact on democracy is even more dangerous; many democracies are under attack, experiencing a decline of political rights and curtailing of civil liberties – something Covid has further strengthened.
Such onslaughts are symptomatic of a broader reactionary trend – a conservative retrenchment arising in opposition to the impulse towards unity, social justice, and freedom in all its forms (including media freedom), that is sweeping the world. This is the preeminent movement of the age. Its inclusive qualities of synthesis, tolerance and cooperation, are diametrically opposed to the divisive, repressive ideals that are fueling, among other things, the control of the media.
As we gradually, and somewhat painfully, transition out of the old and into a new and as yet undefined time, the fight between these opposing forces and the struggle for freedom and justice will continue, and intensify. It is a fight being played out in all areas: between inclusive values which rest firmly within the hearts of many and a pernicious set of fear-ridden ideals that would perpetuate a misguided way of living rooted in separation that has created unhealthy societies and poisoned the planet.
Social justice and freedom in all its forms, including media freedom, are at the core of the fight; a fight that will be won by advocates of “the good” taking action, relentlessly calling out repression, shining a light on corruption and duplicity and highlighting acts that limit freedom and erode justice.
As the armed conflict between Ethiopia and the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) enters a new phase, Ethiopians are uniting against their common enemy. The TPLF is not a group of freedom fighters standing up for the downtrodden; they are a terrorist insurgent force waging a war against a sovereign state. Murdering, raping, destroying property and the lives of Ethiopians, the TPLF is a cancer that for decades has thrown a suffocating shadow of fear and division over the country, a cancer that must be cut out totally if Ethiopia is to flourish.
For 27 years they were the dominant force within a so-called coalition government. Corrupt and brutal, the TPLF stole election after election, trampled on human rights, embezzled federal funds and aid money and committed State Terrorism in various regions of the country. Administering a policy of Ethnic Federalism, they ruled through fear, divided the people along ethnic lines and are widely hated by most Ethiopians.
In 2018, after sustained public protests, they were ousted. However, after such a long period in power their divisive methodology and ideals still have influence. Senior members retreated to their Tigray heartland after losing office, regrouped, plotted, and waited for an opportunity to rise up against the government.
On 4 November 2020 they attacked the Ethiopian National Defense Forces Base in the northern region of Tigray. They killed soldiers, took control of the military’s Northern Command in Mekelle (capital of Tigray) and raided federal armories. This act of terrorism, set in motion an armed conflict in the northern region of Tigray; a fight the TPLF had been itching for, which has now spread into the neighboring region of Ahmara.
Thousands have died, combatants and civilians; claims of rape and sexual violence are widespread; tens of thousands have been displaced, homeless and hungry, with large numbers, frightened and distressed, making their way to camps in neighboring Sudan.
The TPLF’s brutal actions should be condemned unreservedly by foreign governments, particularly Ethiopia’s major donors. But, far from standing with the government, the US, UK and EU have consistently supported the terrorists, circulating misinformation, making false claims against Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, his government and Ethiopian forces.
In an attempt to stop the killing and defuse the situation, on 28 June, the Government declared a “unilateral humanitarian ceasefire” and withdrew its forces from Tigray. In response, the TPLF marched into the regional capital and issued a series of outlandish conditions for complying: They demanded the release of all Tigray political prisoners (imprisoned for atrocities committed over many years), falsely accused Prime Minister Abiy of starting the war, and claimed that Tigrayans “have been subjected to…genocide and ethnic cleansing”. Federal forces are fighting the TPLF not the people of Tigray. But, as a result of the TPLF instigated conflict, civilians in Tigray have been severely impacted.
Unrelenting, obdurate, Tigray forces, which have now combined with another extremist group, the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), have ignored the ceasefire and continued their attack on Ethiopia, moving into the Afar and Amhara regions bordering Tigray. Death, destruction and chaos is left in their wake with distressing reports of civilian killings, rapes, kidnapping and robbery. Homes are destroyed, office buildings, including Kabele (local government) headquarters vandalized, documents burnt, water and electricity supplies cut, Churches and schools damaged or demolished, cattle killed, crops destroyed.
Over 200 civilians were killed in Afar including more than 100 children, according to UNICEF, and around 300,000 were displaced. Federal forces have now driven the aggressors out of this region. In Deber Tabor in Ahmara, the main hospital was attacked and homes destroyed. A local resident, Mr. Deres Nega told Ethiopian media how his wife, children and friends had been killed by the TPLF. His life has been torn apart. His agony is being repeated throughout the area, his pain is the pain of a nation, a pain that has but one cure, the eradication of the TPLF.
Over 200 km north of Deber Tabor, in Chena Teklehaymanot, mass graves were recently discovered containing 124 bodies, many more people (over 100) are missing feared dead. Witnesses state that the TPLF went house to house and slaughtered men, women, children, even priests (revered throughout Ethiopia) were killed. The massacre, which has been confirmed by Gizachew Muluneh, Director of Communications for the Amhara Regional State, is but one atrocity in a series of coordinated assaults by the TPLF since the government ceasefire. Getachew Shiferaw, a leading Ethiopian activist, relates that, “Civilians were massacred [by the TPLF] in Woldia, Kobo, Alamata, Lalibela, Abergele, Maytemri, Gaint, Gashena and Mersa, among others towns.” He warns that, “Chena is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Prime Minster Abiy Ahmed’s press secretary, has said that TPLF atrocities in Ahmara “were carried out to avenge the military loss the clique suffered by federal and state troops,” as its fighters were routed from Afar. The government believes the Chena massacre was carried out by “the TPLF’s Samri youth group”, who are also thought to be responsible for killing over 1,000 civilians in “the town of Maikadra…last November.” After which they escaped to Sudan and hid in a UNHCR refugee camp.
Such brutal attacks, which are consistently ignored by western governments (who know very well what is actually happening) and prominent mainstream media, are forcing the Ethiopian government, until now relatively restrained, to respond and mobilize its forces. Ethiopia’s foreign ministry recently said the TPLF was pushing the government to “change its defensive mood which has been taken for the sake of the unilateral humanitarian ceasefire,” and that unless (government) overtures for a peaceful resolution were reciprocated, “Ethiopia could deploy the entire defensive capability of the state.”
The government, which has been weak on law and order enforcement, cannot simply sit back and allow the TPLF to murder civilians. They must respond swiftly and decisively, including, if necessary, deploying the air force, something they are reluctant to do because of potential civilian casualties.
Malicious foreign forces
Since the conflict began the Ethiopian government has been battling, not just the terrorists, but malicious foreign forces and misleading information from western governments and mainstream media – the BBC, CNN, New York Times, Facebook etc. The US, which is widely believed to be indirectly arming the TPLF, have led the misinformation campaign, and appear (together with the UK and EU) to have sanctioned the TPLF’s attack on Ethiopia.
To its utter shame the Biden administration (and UK and EU) has failed to condemn the TPLF attacks, and has undermined the Ethiopian government from the outset. They repeatedly call for reconciliation (thereby legitimizing the terrorists), and instruct PM Ahmed to negotiate with the TPLF, which is not only unacceptable to the government, but to the vast majority of Ethiopians, who liken the TPLF to a pack of hyenas, pointing out the impossibility of negotiating with wild animals.
In response to their international backers’ call for ‘negotiations’ the TPLF drafted a list of preposterous demands for any such talks. Among other fantasies, they wanted PM Ahmed to step down and be replaced with one of their own, and a power-sharing arrangement introduced. This would amount to the overthrow (with US backing) of a democratically elected government: The Prosperity Party (a party of national unity founded by Abiy) has a huge mandate, taking 410 out of 436 seats in the June 2020 general election. The formation of a new government, which will include opposition parties, is expected by the end of September/early October, and is eagerly awaited.
As these malicious foreign forces seek to destabilize Ethiopia for their own corrupt geo-political reasons, and the TPLF commit atrocity after atrocity, the Ethiopian people are laying aside long held divisions (largely caused by TPLF policies) and coming together, standing shoulder to shoulder with their brothers and sisters against the poison of the terrorists and the Imperial arrogance of America and Co.
While this is unquestionably a deeply troubling moment for Ethiopia, at the same time there is cause for celebration and real optimism: The staging of the first democratic elections in the country’s long and rich history was a major achievement, as was the second filling of The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (the largest dam in Africa) reservoir. These, along with the imminent formation of a new and democratically elected government, are unifying national events. Significant developments which the Ethiopian people can take great pride in as they unite against the TPLF/OLA terrorists. Destructive groups, which must be purged from the country completely and utterly if peace and social harmony are to be established, and the needed work of national transformation is to go ahead.
The 16 Year Old, middle class, privileged, argues that meat and other animal produce are essential for his health, his ability to play sport, and the development of his adolescent brain; besides, one person becoming vegetarian/vegan, won’t make any difference to the environmental crisis.
The total failure to respond in any meaningful way to the environmental emergency rests firmly within the boundaries of such complacency. It can be found in all areas, from politicians and corporate board rooms to small businesses, NGO’s and community groups, education institutions, homes, and, apparently, some teenagers.
Complacency and the refusal to change individual behavior and collective ways of living are stoking the underlying cause of the crisis – Consumerism. Irresponsible Compulsive Consumption, as habitually practiced by populations in the rich nations, principally and excessively by the wealthy, but to a lesser degree throughout all sections of society.
Consumerism is the bedrock of the prevailing socio-economic system and materialistic way of life. Sold duplicitously as the Path to Happiness and Contentment it has poisoned the planet and created unhealthy societies of divided, insecure individuals. Inherent within the Ideology of Division is a methodology and set of values that encourage selfishness, greed and complacency. Sufficiency, cooperation and social responsibility, all essential if the environmental crisis is to be met, whilst routinely spouted by politicians and the like are thin on the ground or, more often than not, totally absent.
The environment cannot wait
Governments and businesses are completely invested in maintaining high levels of consumption; their profitability and continued existence depend on it. Indeed, far from prioritizing the environment and working to change societal behavior and deter individuals from spending, huge resources are expended to persuade and encourage consumption; to expand market share, develop new products and increase profits for shareholders.
It is this poisonous Ideology of Profit, which, in direct contrast to the needs of the environment for simplicity of living, collectivity and sharing, perpetuates, not just rampant consumerism, but widespread apathy and inaction. Governments talk a concerned environmental talk, but policies are determined by economic growth and voters’ concerns rather than CO2 emissions, pollution, or bio-diversity. And most companies, particularly big ones, routinely demonstrate that they don’t give a damn about the environment, unless by doing so sales increase and their annual dividends rise.
The environment cannot wait until governments and business judge that going “green” is more profitable or popular than the destructive status quo, before they act in a responsible manner. It is their insatiable thirst for power and profit, and their deep attachment to the Ideology of Greed – because, while the majority suffer, it has served them very well, that allows collective complacency to persist, and complacency (not money) is the root of all evil.
The final leg in the trinity of environmental neglect is formed by Ignorance or Misinformation. Ignorance of how individual choices impact on the natural environment; Ignorance of the depth and scale of the crisis and Ignorance of the impact of diet on the planet. Such ignorance and lack of awareness exist due to decades of government negligence in countries everywhere (some more some less). This could be changed with a UN coordinated public awareness campaign; a global project designed to make plain the relationship between consumer based lifestyles (including animal agriculture) and environmental destruction/climate change.
While it is true that only governments and business can make the needed large scale changes (fossil fuels to renewables, electrification of transportation networks, green production methods etc), individuals can make a valuable impact, and when individuals act collectively large-scale change can be accomplished.
Ultimately ‘we’ are the problem. It is our obsessive ignorant behavior, our complacency, greed and selfishness that has poisoned the planet. And it is up to all of us to act in the most comprehensive way possible to begin to clean up the unmitigated mess we have caused. We are all only ‘one person’, but every day we have a choice, every time we eat, or shop, or travel: Are our actions, our choices and decisions responsible or harmful, is the way we individually live detrimental to the planet or not?
Diet is one area everyone can look at; reducing the intake of animal produce or, better still, moving to a plant-based diet is the single most important step most individuals can take. In some countries there are encouraging signs that people are waking up to this fact, and the number of vegetarians/vegans, particularly among young people, is growing. And according to the Vegetarian Resource Group (US), providing a varied diet is followed, all their nutritional needs can be adequately met. In fact, various detailed studies show that, vegetarians are at lower risk of a variety of diseases and conditions, including: heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, some forms of cancer, (conversely, The World Health Organization has classified red and processed meats as cancer-causing), and obesity. And according to Walter Willett at Harvard School of Public Health, “There is strong evidence that a plant based diet [vegan] is the optimal diet for living a long and healthy life.”
So, cutting out animal produce is not only good for the environment, it’s good for human health. Despite this, globally only some 8% of people identify as vegan, vegetarian, or something in between. Meaning 92% of the 7.8 billion world population consume meat, fish, poultry and all manner of dairy. The environmental result of this obsession is disastrous and multi-faceted.
Animal agriculture is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), which are the poisons disrupting natural climate rhythms. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization’s (UNFAO) put the figure at 14.5% of total emissions, but estimates vary, some studies suggesting it’s a good deal higher: Greenpeace e.g. say that, “Livestock and animal feed is responsible for approximately 60% of direct global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.”
Whatever the precise number, animal agriculture is clearly a major source, if not the greatest source of emissions (surpassing the transportation industry); it’s also the biggest cause (80%) of deforestation, habitat destruction and species extinction, contributing to soil erosion and water contamination. And its driven by the incessant demand for meat, dairy and fish.
A revolution in behavior and values is needed, moving away from excess to sufficiency, from selfishness to group responsibility, from complacency to action. Education and awareness plus a sense of imperative are the keys to igniting such a shift and generating urgent action. Action by government and businesses and action by us, all of us, particularly those of us living in developed nations where the historic burden for the catastrophe rests; action rooted in love, demonstrated as social and environmental responsibility undertaken by each and every one of us.
Once upon a time Nationalism was an ideology reserved for extremists. But in recent years it has moved from the irrelevant fractious fringes to become a central movement in western politics. Rooted in fear, it feeds on tribal instincts and has become mainstream by offering oversimplified explanations to complex problems, such as poverty and immigration.
The ideal of a post-cold war tolerant world where resources (including food and water), are shared equitably, governments cooperate and borders soften has been usurped by rabid intolerance and racism, wall building, flag waving, cruel unjust immigration policies and violent policing of migrants and migrant routes. Rather than addressing issues and tackling underlying causes the ardent nationalist blames some group or other, ethnic, religious or national.
Love, distorted but potent, and hate sustain the monster: Love and corrupted pride of nation and ‘our way of life’, seen among the flag wavers as somehow superior; hatred of ‘strangers’, and hatred of change to that which is familiar. It is an insular reactionary movement of introspection and division based on false and petty notions of difference: skin color, religion, language, culture, even food.
Such prejudices lead to an agitation of suspicion and hatred of ‘foreigners’. National interests are favored over international responsibilities; minorities and refugees insulted, abused or worse. Covid has intensified such vile human tendencies, and highlighted what were already strained relations with ‘outsiders’ – those that are different — with ‘the other’.
People of Asian appearance have been victimized in various countries, most notably the US, Australia and Britain; trapped in refugee camps, asylum seekers/migrants have been forgotten, and vaccine nationalism, the “me first approach”, with wealthy western countries buying up vaccines, has been widespread. As a result of this injustice, while the rich will have their populations vaccinated by late 2021, developing countries (relying on the inadequate COVAX scheme) are looking at mass vaccination by the end of 2023, if ever. It is a moral outrage that flows from and strengthens ideas of global separation, enflames resentment and will prolong the virus.
Central to the fear inducing nationalist program is reductive national identities and cultural images tightly packaged in ‘the flag’. Described as “primordial rag[s] dipped in the blood of a conquered enemy and lifted high on a stick” (in Flags Through the Ages and Across the World by Whitney Smith), national flags evolved from battle standards and means of group identification held aloft during the Middle Ages. They are loved by nationalists who always believe their country to be ‘the greatest on Earth’, their people the strongest and the ‘best’, their way of life superior.
Such ignorant, meaningless and completely false ideas have become common elements of political rhetoric. Politicians (of all colors) in many, if not all western democracies, believe they must reinforce such crass sentiments, or face losing populist support, being attacked as ‘enemies of the people’ – as High Court Judges were in Britain during the Brexit fiasco, or labelled ‘traitors’.
Torrents of abuse
There are various interconnected threads to and expressions of Nationalism, from the political realm to mainstream and social media, popular culture to education. This suffocating network strengthens discrimination and prejudice of all kinds, including racism. During the recent Euro ’21 tournament black England players who had missed penalties in the final were subject to a torrent of abuse online. The same England ‘fans’ booed opposition teams singing national anthems and their own team, when they ‘took the knee’ before matches; a universal non-political act of solidarity that UK Home Secretary, Priti Patel disparagingly described as “gesture politics”.
She was later (rightly) accused of “stoking the fires of racism”, by refusing to endorse the players’ actions. Her new widely condemned immigration policy, has also given license to nationalist bigots and racists. Some of them have recently been recorded hurling abuse from the beaches of southern England at refugees in boats crossing the English Channel.
Irresponsible nationalist politicians like Patel (and the world is full of them), thick with ideology and ambition, are dogmatic in their beliefs and concerned solely with getting and retaining power. To this narcissistic end they employ the inflammatory rhetoric of nationalism – ‘our country’, ‘this great nation of ours’, ‘controlling immigration’, and ‘the flag’. Predictable and crude methods used to cajole the slumbering masses and agitate their tribal tendencies.
In order to strengthen their nationalist credentials presidents, politicians and military men and women, adorn themselves with the national emblem: embossed badges, a trend led by the US, who are flag-waving world leaders, and at press briefings/interviews they are rarely seen without a flag at their side – two, where there were none pre-Covid, in the case of the totally inept UK Government, desperate one suspects to shift the focus away from their homicidal management of the pandemic, and the calamity that is Brexit Britain. The flag is not in itself the problem, but its growing use is a powerful sign of the unabated rise of nationalism, a trend that with the fall of Trump, many had hoped was in decline.
Unifying acts of kindness
Nationalism grows out of fear, it feeds hate, leads to violence, and creates a climate of ‘us’ and ‘them’, indeed it thrives and is dependent upon such divisions. The stranger, the foreigner, refugee, asylum seeker or migrant is targeted. Blamed for the country’s ills, slandered as criminals, rapists, murderers. Accused of stealing jobs, draining health care services, degrading housing, corrupting the pristine national culture with their vile, primitive habits and beliefs.
In this way the ‘stranger’ becomes dehumanized, making it possible to abuse and mistreat him or her in varying degrees: From verbal insults on the street, the workplace or in the classroom to violent assault; detained in offshore prisons (Australia), imprisoned for years without charge (Guantanamo e.g.), housed in inhumane conditions in refugee camps, detention centers and/or temporary housing, or allowed to drown in the Mediterranean, North Sea and elsewhere.
Such atrocities are all fine, because the men women and children who are being mistreated constitute the ‘them’. ‘They’ are the enemy, the destroyer of civilisation and decency, less than human, even the children, and as such they deserve it. And the further away such ‘strangers’ are kept the easier it is to perpetuate the demonisation myth, maintain suspicion and strengthen hate. Conversely as Joe Keohane makes clear in The power of strangers: the benefits of connecting in a suspicious world, “connecting with strangers helps to dispel partisanship and categorical judgements, increase social solidarity and make us more hopeful about our lives.” Mistrust of ‘strangers’ is strengthened by division and dispelled by contact; by sharing a moment, by acts of kindness – given and received, in which our common humanity is acknowledged.
Nationalism poisons the mind and the society and must be rooted out. Despite the apparent signs to the contrary, it is completely at odds with the tone of the times, which is towards unity – greater cooperation, tolerance and understanding. It is in reaction to this unifying movement that the demon of nationalism has risen; it is cruel, ugly and extremely dangerous and must be countered by unifying acts of kindness and compassion wherever it is seen.
If the unprecedented crises confronting humanity – environmental emergency, displacement of people, poverty and armed conflict – are to be faced, mitigated and overcome, individuals, communities, businesses and governments must increasingly come together, agree methods and global policies and build united integrated societies founded on compassion. Given the unprecedented scale and range of the issues, particularly climate change and the broader environmental calamity, there is no alternative.
With a population of 118 million (expected to top 200 million by the end of 2049) Ethiopia is the second most populous country in Africa. 70% (c.80 million) are under thirty, the median age being just 20.
The majority of people live in rural areas where infrastructure is poor or non-existent: around 67 million are currently without electricity; for millions of others (including in the capital, Addis Ababa) the supply is inconsistent, with frequent power cuts, 62 million, according to the WHO Joint Monitoring Programme, do not have access to safe drinking water (7.5% of the global water crisis is in Ethiopia); farmers are routinely hit by floods or drought, millions are food insecure.
In an attempt to address these basic needs, some would say rights, in 2011, Ethiopia revised plans first drawn up in the 1950s, and began constructing the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Owned by the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCO), the $5 billion “Peoples’ Project” has been largely funded by the Ethiopian government through the sale of government bonds, together with donations from Ethiopian citizens and an initial investment by China of around 30%.
Situated in the western region of Benishangul-Gumuz (about 40 km from the Sudan border) on the Blue Nile, the dam is 80% complete, and to the jubilation of Ethiopians everywhere the reservoir has been part filled (in 2020 5 billion m3 – total capacity is 74 billion m3) for the second year in succession.
The GERD is the biggest hydroelectric dam in Africa (the seventh largest in the world), it harnesses water from the Blue Nile and will provide millions of Ethiopians with secure electricity and a reliable water supply. The Blue Nile is the major tributary of The Nile: it flows from Lake Tana (the largest lake in Ethiopia) in the Ethiopian Highlands and supplies 86% of the great river’s water. Despite this fact, it is Egypt and Sudan that use almost the entire flow.
Since its inception, Egypt and Sudan, with political support from the U.S., Britain and Co., have attempted to derail the project and maintain their historic control over the Nile, which both countries depend on. In the early days there was even talk, by Egyptian leaders, of war, and in March 2021, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi stated hyperbolically: “No one can take a drop of water from Egypt… If it happens, there will be inconceivable instability in the region that no one could imagine. This is not a threat.” To their credit the Ethiopian government, which holds all the Nile cards, has ignored such inflammatory rhetoric, and persevered with the work of construction. When the project was first announced in 2011 the Ethiopian government invited Egypt and Sudan to form an International Panel of Experts (IPoE) to understand the benefits, costs and impacts of the GERD. The recommendations made by the IPoE, however, were not adopted.
For decades, access to and control of the life-giving waters of The Nile has been governed by various unfair agreements dating back to British colonial rule (Egypt and Sudan were both British colonies). 1902, 1929 and 1959 agreements all gave control of the Nile to Egypt and Sudan, primarily Egypt. The 1959 agreement allocated 75% of the total flow of the Nile to Egypt and 25% to Sudan, and nothing at all to Ethiopia, not a drop.
Enraged by these lop-sided, antiquated “agreements” in May 2010, the upstream states of the Nile (including Ethiopia) signed a Cooperative Framework Agreement pronouncing the 1959 Treaty dead in the water, and claiming rights to more of the river’s bounty. Egypt and Sudan, unwilling to share what they had hoarded for decades, refused to sign. As a result of this intransigence no mutually acceptable agreement between upstream and downstream countries exists, and Egypt and Sudan worried, they say, about water security, have consistently argued against the project.
Egypt in particular has been pushing for a legally binding agreement on the operation of the GERD and the filling of the reservoir. At the request of Tunisia the matter was recently heard at the UN Security Council (UNSC), a completely inappropriate forum for such a topic: the Security Council is set up to establish and maintain international peace and security (something it has serially failed to do), not intervene in development issues, and the GERD is a development project. Negotiations are set to continue under the auspices of the African Union, and early signs are more positive. Ethiopia’s willingness to work towards an agreement (not a legal requirement) is in itself an act of goodwill, and augers well. Any agreement must reject totally the colonial constructs and recognize that Ethiopia has a right to utilize the natural resources that lie within its territory, a right that has been denied for generations.
A vital resource
The GERD is badly needed, it will play a significant part in reducing poverty and transforming the country. Among the many potential benefits to Ethiopia, it will quadruple the amount of electricity produced, providing millions of people with access to electricity for the first time while allowing surplus electricity to be exported to neighbouring states, generating national income. It will provide clean water, which will lower the spread of illness, provide decent drinking water to those who currently have none, and irrigate 1.2 million acres of arable land – helping to create successful harvests, therefore reducing or eliminating food shortages.
All dams have an impact on the natural environment and surrounding ecosystems, and the GERD is no exception. However, while solar and wind are the ideal, hydroelectric dams are preferable to nuclear or fossil fuel power plants and the broader positive effects are potentially substantial. Without electricity, millions of people burn wood or dry dung to cook with. This causes de-forestation and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as respiratory illnesses. As electricity is generated and supplied, these practices, which are embedded in many communities and have been followed for generations, can be dropped, resulting in a decrease in GHG emissions, the revitalization of natural habitat, and enable dung to be used as a fertilizer by farmers.
The dam will also help manage the impact of climate change by providing consistent water flow. Not only for Ethiopia, but also for downstream countries (particularly Sudan) that are frequently hit by drought or flooding. As Meles Zenawi (Ethiopian PM when construction began) said, “when the dam becomes operational, communities all along the riverbanks and surrounding areas, particularly in Sudan, will be permanently relieved from centuries of flooding.”
The GERD is rightly a source of national pride, a unifying symbol in a dangerously divided country and an essential resource if the country is to move into a new phase of economic and social development. Its successful completion is a significant achievement, and reaffirms Ethiopia’s place as a major regional power, not just within the Horn of Africa, but the continent as a whole. Once the dam is fully operational, Ethiopia will once again become a beacon of hope and empowerment to other nations in Africa, many of which have lived under the shadow of poverty, conflict and external control for far too long.
A powerful Ethiopia however, is something neither Egypt or “the West”, meaning the U.S. and her allies, welcome. Ethiopia has been a thorn in their imperialist side for centuries; never colonized by force, fiercely proud and independent with a rich diverse culture. An example to nations throughout the continent, Ethiopia and the Ethiopian flag have long been a symbol of defiance for other African countries, many of which incorporated the colors of the Ethiopia flag (red, yellow, and green) into their own.
This is a crucial moment in Ethiopia’s long history; the country has just staged its first democratic elections, which should be seen as extremely positive, but millions are displaced and armed conflicts in Tigray and elsewhere continue. Ethiopians are faced with a choice: unite and prosper or withdraw into ethnic rivalries and fall into further conflict and discord. While there are those inside and outside the country that are fanning the flames of division, hatred and fear, the vast majority yearn for peace and social harmony. It is these voices that must prevail if this wonderful country is to flower once again.
Despite ongoing violence in the northern region of Tigray, persistent attempts to de-rail the process and cries of catastrophe by western powers (most notably the US) and mainstream media, on the 21 June Ethiopia conducted its first ever democratic elections.
The mechanics of the election were not perfect, but crucially there were no reports of violence and the (independent) National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) claims that turnout was good. Although some opposition parties complained about the voting process (which the NEBE is investigating), African Union observers found that, the elections were “conducted in an orderly, peaceful and credible manner”.
Due to conflict or logistical issues around 20% of the country (100 of 547 constituencies) did not take part, with the exception of Tigray these areas will vote in September. The election is a major milestone in the recent history of the country and the movement towards a more democratic form of governance.
To the surprise of nobody the government (The Prosperity Party), under the leadership of PM Abiy Ahmed, won an overwhelming victory. The full results are yet to be released, but signs suggest the incumbent may have taken all 547 parliamentary seats; however, in a positive move, PM Abiy has said he will invite members of opposition parties to participate in forming a new government. While total dominance is regrettable and unhealthy, it does place responsibility and opportunity firmly with the government, as well as unavoidable accountability.
The country is beset with a range of serious problems, the task before the government is daunting, the priorities clear. Firstly and essentially, establishing peace – nothing can be achieved unless the ongoing conflict in Tigray between TPLF forces and the military, and ethnic violence in other areas is brought to an end. The humanitarian fall-out of the Tigray war must be urgently addressed: over 131,000 (according to IOM UN Migration) have been displaced in the region, taking the total number of internally displaced persons to over two million, and millions require food aid.
Overall numbers and intensity of need are disputed; the UN estimates that up to five million people in Tigray are facing starvation, but the Ethiopian government has dismissed such numbers as “alarmist”. Contrary to reports in western media, that federal forces have sabotaged aid convoys, deliveries of food aid made by the World Food Programme (WFO) have been disrupted by TPLF forces inside the region. The deputy prime minister and minister for foreign affairs, Demeke Mekonen, has said that in the first round of humanitarian response “effort was made to reach out to 4.5 million people in the Tigray region through the delivery of food and non-food items. In the second and third rounds, the relief efforts were able to reach out to 5.2 million people.”
Establishing verifiable, reliable information in a war zone, where access is restricted, is difficult, nigh impossible; it is a mystery how western media and assertive commentators routinely make statements (that circulate and are repeated from one outlet to another until taken as fact) about the situation inside Tigray and other parts of the country without having been there, or in many cases, spoken to people inside the country. A point that is not lost on many Ethiopians.
The African Union (AU) has launched a commission of inquiry into the conflict, and a joint investigation by Ethiopia’s Human Rights Commission and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) is also underway. Currently an agreed ceasefire is in place in Tigray and TPLF forces are in control of the regional capital Mekelle. If the people of Tigray want to be governed by the TPLF, as it appears they do, then as PM Abiy has suggested, they will soon see if that is a wise decision.
The welcome lull in fighting may create potential for discussions between the two sides, however distasteful this may be to both government and populace. To the fury of Ethiopians, home and abroad, in addition to sanctions and withholding aid (the US and EU), ‘talks’ are something western powers, most notably the US, have been calling for over past months: In March 2021 Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the House Foreign Relations Committee that “we need to get an independent investigation into what took place there, and we need some kind of…. reconciliation process.” “Reconciliation” with the TPLF, who terrorized the country for 27 years and are rightly despised throughout Ethiopia?
In response to US sanctions and lectures the Ethiopian government said, “if such a resolve to meddle in our internal affairs and undermining the century-old bilateral ties continues unabated, the government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia will be forced to reassess its relations with the U.S., which might have implications beyond our bilateral relationship.” The level of condescension and interference displayed by the US and others has angered many Ethiopians.
The TPLF, regarded by the Ethiopian government and much of the populace as terrorists, were, and apparently remain the favored force of western powers. They ruled Ethiopia from 1992 to 2018 under the guise of a coalition , before collapsing under the weight of sustained protests in 2018. A totalitarian, unforgiving regime the TPLF ruled through fear and ethnic division. Corrupt to the core they syphoned off federal funds, divided communities along ethnic lines, committed state terrorism and Crimes against Humanity in a number of regions to a variety of ethnic groups.
Western powers supported the TPLF throughout their violent reign, notably the USA and the UK (with money and political legitimacy), and seem intent on levering them back into office and curtailing Ethiopia’s rise as a regional independent power. ‘Stop interfering in a sovereign state’ is the message loud and clear from Ethiopians of all regions, except Tigrayans; a message delivered at protests in Washington DC and at the recent G7 gathering in Britain that went unreported by mainstream media, who focused their coverage solely on the ‘humanitarian situation’ in Tigray (of which they appear to know little), ignoring the passionate cries against interference.
Mainstream media (including the BBC, CNN, The Guardian – which recently published a widely inaccurate piece about Tigray – Al Jazeera, VOA etc) is rightly regarded as a propaganda tool of western governments. The coverage of the election was broadly negative, slanted to echo the western/US agenda of delay. A key voice in this subversive effort is well known to Ethiopians; Susan Rice was US ambassador to the UN (2009-2013) and Obama’s national security adviser from 2013-2017. She has been ‘advising’, i.e., lobbying the Biden administration on behalf of the TPLF mafia, who she, and Obama, supported. The US (the worlds biggest arms dealer) appears to now be arming the ‘rebels’, via the military dictatorship of Egypt – the primary western voice-piece in the region.
Ethiopia is going through a difficult, but potentially exciting time of transition, from serial dictatorship to some form of democracy. A system that observes human rights and allows universal freedoms including freedom of speech, unlike under the TPLF. However, there are a range of disruptive, subversive elements intent on derailing any democratic development, some of which sit firmly within the government and need to be purged. There are also malicious external forces that would see Ethiopia split, and ethnic division run wild: Egypt and Sudan are anxious and, one suspects, shocked by and envious of the construction of the Grand Renaissance Dam (the largest in Africa), and of Ethiopia’s potential strength and influence within the region and continent. And, angered by the country’s historic independence – it was never colonized, ejecting the Italians twice, 1896 and 1941 – jealous of its rich, ancient culture (dating to at least 3000BC), and nervous about China’s involvement in the country (and continent), the old European colonial powers and the decaying force of the US, apparently do not want Ethiopia to flourish, and would be happy to keep the country enslaved to western aid, as it was under the TPLF.
As the country attempts to move forward it needs friends, not nominal allies whose actions are corrupted by self-interest, arrogance and resentment; nations (USA, UK and EU chiefly) that stood by for decades watching the TPLF murder, torture and steal, and declared corrupt elections legitimate. Such voices have little credibility in Ethiopia.
The Ethiopian people are desperate for change, for peace and stability; they have given The Prosperity Party under the leadership of Abiy Ahmed a huge mandate to govern: as their term in office begins they will be closely watched, by Ethiopians at home and abroad. To unite a country that has been systematically divided over decades will take time, skill and patience. Mistakes will inevitably be made, but if the intent is sound and honesty is demonstrated, trust can be built and divisions will gradually begin to collapse.
‘Net Zero Emissions’ is the new political slogan, chanted by governments and business leaders desperate to be seen to be taking the environmental emergency seriously.
Of the nations pledging to hit zero greenhouse gas emissions (GGE) no later than 2050, twenty have legal commitments to do so (Sweden, Austria, Bhutan, Costa Rica, Denmark, European Union, Fiji, Finland, France, Hungary, Iceland, Japan, Marshall Islands, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Slovenia, United Kingdom), another twenty countries, including the USA, are drafting policy documents, leaving 100, including China, talking it over.
Many suspect that, like other catchy lyrics, the net zero song governments and corporations are singing lacks substance, and that corporate politicians with their short-sighted policies, have no intention of taking the radical steps needed. Interviewed by the BBC, US climate envoy, John Kerry recently dismissed suggestions that changes in American lifestyle and reductions to the colossal levels of consumption, including large amounts of animal produce, were needed, saying, “You don’t have to give up quality of life to achieve some of the things we want to achieve.” The American public (and presumably the overindulgent everywhere), according to Kerry, can have their cake and eat it.
Habitual irresponsible consumerism by rich, comfortably off nations, is the underlying cause of the environmental emergency, including climate change. If the fundamental changes needed to achieve net zero are to be introduced, the poison of complacency infecting John Kerry, among others in power, political and corporate, needs to be cut out, urgently.
Warming and food
It is man-made GHG emissions that are causing the planet to heat up. Emissions that must be purged from the atmosphere in order to meet commitments made in the 2016 Paris Climate Accord to limit average global warming to 1.5˚C. Even if net zero is achieved, there is no guarantee that warming will be limited to 1.5˚C, and whatever increases occur they are not uniform across the planet; some areas, the north and south poles e.g., are heating up more quickly than others. Since 2017, when, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, global warming reached 1˚C above pre-industrial levels, global ground temperatures have increased (despite repeated warnings) at between 0.1˚C and 0.3˚per decade. Natural weather patterns have been completely disrupted by this level of warming, resulting in the melting of polar ice caps, rising sea levels, more frequent, intense heatwaves, floods and droughts. If net zero is achieved, and if global temperatures are limited to 1.5˚C (by latest 2050), both very big ‘ifs’, the projected impact will be less than if warming exceeds 1.5, but still far reaching. IPCC: “Ocean warming and acidification…would impact a wide range of marine organisms and ecosystems, as well as …aquaculture and fisheries…the majority (70–90%) of warm water (tropical) coral reefs that exist today will disappear …malaria and dengue will increase…Poverty and disadvantage are expected to increase for many populations…risks for coastal tourism, particularly in subtropical and tropical regions, will increase…small islands are projected to experience multiple inter-related risks: coastal flooding and impacts on populations, infrastructures and assets.”All shocking, and one suspects, conservative predictions.
To support companies and countries the United Nations Climate Change agency has set up Race to Zero, – “a global campaign to rally leadership and support from businesses, cities, regions, investors.” Over 2,300 businesses in 708 cities have signed up, and together with 120 countries, they form what the UN describe as “the largest ever alliance committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest.” If this target is to be reached a revolution within the sectors that produce most GHG emissions is needed. This requires a major shift in focus within governments and businesses, as well as changes in collective behavior.
Energy production accounts for around 70% of total emission; this includes electricity and heat (30%), manufacturing and construction (13%), transportation (15%), followed by food production, consumption and waste. The UN Food Agency reports that, “the world’s food systems are responsible for more than one-third of global anthropogenic [man-made] greenhouse gas emissions.” This includes deforestation, “agricultural production…packaging and waste management.” Animal agriculture alone contributes around 12% of the total, and global food waste (primarily an issue in developed nations), which accounts for a third of all food produced, is responsible for eight to 10% of GHG emissions.
Renewable energy and awareness
Moving to renewable sources of energy production (solar, wind, hydroelectric and biogas), which are now less expensive than fossil fuels, is essential if the sector is to reduce GHG emissions. Although countries vary, the trend is positive: In Germany 46% of power production for 2020, came from renewables, this resulted in a decrease in GHG emissions in Germany of 42% compared with 1990 levels. In Sweden, where 54.5% of power now comes from renewables (hydroelectricity and biomass), the structure of power production is also changing. Smart grids are turning Swedish homes into power-making ‘prosumers’ (producer/consumers). Photovoltaic solar panels, thermal energy storage and heat pump systems are being installed in residential buildings, an energy grid connects them and helps to charge electric cars overnight. The UK, where COP21 is being held, produced 42% of power from renewables in 2020, slightly more than the 41% from fossil fuels.
China (population 1.4 billion), which currently emits the largest percentage of GHG emissions, although per capita the USA is the single biggest emitter by some margin, aims to hit peak GHG emissions by 2030 and neutrality by 2060; in 2020 29.5% of total electricity consumption is said to have been from renewables. At the lower end of the scale according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, only 11.4% of US energy comes from renewables, 80% from fossil fuels. In addition to China, the EU and America, what happens in India (per-capita emissions are extremely low but rising) is crucial to the evolving global total. Currently around 10% of energy production comes from renewables, up 6% from 2014.
Individuals cannot determine energy production, but we can all decide where we buy our energy from and participate in pressurizing government and corporations to move quickly to renewables. Choosing companies that genuinely supply electricity from renewables (not always straightforward), is a socially/environmentally responsible action; such diligence should govern, not just decisions on energy supplier, but all our consumer commitments and lifestyle habits.
Reducing emissions from the food industry is something everyone can contribute to: cut down the amount of animal produce, or stop it altogether; reduce the quantity of food, many of us eat too much, and, through lack of education and poor habits, too much of the wrong type of food; select non-packaged foodstuffs; where possible shop at markets and buy local seasonal produce, and don’t waste food.
Another way to reduce GHG emissions is by strengthening natural sponges. Planting more trees, protecting forests and woodlands, incorporating trees and gardens into urban developments, maintaining and restoring peatlands, all of which not only soak up carbon, the main GHG, but enrich biodiversity and encourage wildlife.
Reaching net zero within the timeframe agreed calls for united global action by governments, corporations and individuals. Reversing the appalling damage humanity has inflicted on the natural world requires a fundamental change in behavior, attitudes and values, and at some point fundamental reform to the socio-economic system. A shift towards simpler, cleaner lives, moving from excess to sufficiency, only buying stuff when it’s needed, driving and flying less, shopping and eating in an environmentally responsible manner, boycotting environmentally destructive companies, and withholding support from environmentally irresponsible governments.
As with change of all kinds, awareness is key. Being aware of the urgency and depth of the crisis through education; awareness of governments policies and actions, are they rooted in environmental concerns or are they still anchored in the economics of greed. And awareness of our daily behavior and the impact it has on the environment. We all have a part to play in the work of environmental salvage, if we unite and act, if our governments and businesses respond whole heartedly, perhaps, net zero can be achieved and the healing of our beautiful planet can begin in earnest.
In what feels like a throwback to another era, banks and big business are once again talking about ‘growth’, and economic development. Both of which amount to the same thing to the men and women of money – profit.
After over a year of utter turmoil, death, illness, heartache, social and economic lockdowns, some nations – the wealthy nations who, unlike poor countries, have been able to stock-pile vaccinations and immunize their populations, are opening up. The impact Covid has had on their coffers has been measured and, as the twisted wheels of consumerism begin to churn again, they are evaluating their short term financial prospects and working out how much richer they can become.
In the UK, the head of Barclays Bank recently announced, “The UK economy is on course for its biggest economic boom since 1948” – whoopee! In the midst of the pandemic, the bank, which is Europe’s largest financier of fossil fuels (£20bn in 2020 alone), made record profits in the first three months of 2021 of £2.4 billion, due, to quote the nauseating jargon, to “strong growth in its corporate and investment banking division and an improved mortgage book.” Lending money to ailing businesses mainly, loans that have been guaranteed by the government, so another win-win for the banks.
France and the US have announced ‘growth’ (of 0.4%) in the first quarter of 2021. In UK house prices are once again increasing, announced as if that’s a good thing by greedy estate agents and ideologically-trapped politicians. German financial institutions are forecasting a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increase of 3.7% this year. China has declared GDP growth of 18.3% in the first quarter of 2021, which is the highest ever recorded. In India, where Covid is running wild due to government stupidity and a totally inadequate, criminally underfunded health care system, estimates of GDP growth for the year vary from 10.5%-13%.
All of this ‘growth’ is based on one thing, consumerism, the very same consumerism that caused and is fueling the environmental emergency, which is the greatest crisis of this or any other time. Consumerism has also imprisoned the human spirit, and led to the construction of petty little lives that revolve around the pursuit of pleasure, which is sold as happiness, and the accumulation of stuff, the vast majority of which is not needed. Discontent is maintained, desire constantly enflamed, widespread misery leading to wholesale mental health illness, guaranteed.
And so it goes on, the madness, the ideologically-rooted consumer lunacy in which a tiny number benefit enormously, while the majority struggle to survive.
Some hoped, prayed, begged, that Covid would bring about a fundamental change in approach; perhaps a period of quiet, of enforced economic withdrawal would allow for a socio-economic re-evaluation, for an influx of common-sense. ‘Build back better’, ‘new normal’, a ‘green recovery’, all such slogans have tripped of the tongues of duplicitous politicians and corporate leaders everywhere. But now as some countries begin to relax controls, the divisive, environmentally destructive pre-Covid patterns are set to be repeated. What will it take, we ask, for substantive change to come about and socio-economic justice to be created?
We, by which I mean the vast majority of people, the masses, are not interested in GDP figures. ‘Growth’ needs to be completely re-defined, released from the narrow confines of an exploitative economic model that is obsessed with profit, is inherently cruel and destructive, and has promoted a set of values and ideals that have caused widespread illness, of people and the planet. What matters to individuals everywhere is not GDP growth, what matters, is the creation of happy, harmonious societies; societies in which governments, businesses and individuals live socially and environmentally responsible lives, where the pressure to become something, to conform to a stereotype and to achieve, is absent or diluted.
Love as Growth
At the heart of any fresh understandings around ‘growth’ must be the cultivation of social justice and trust, which, if brought about, would allow the possibility at least for peace to come into being for the first time in human history. For such a rational shift to occur, the socio-economic order needs to be re-fashioned and perennial values of goodness – cooperation, tolerance, mutual understanding, that unite people actively encouraged. Consumerism, founded on greed, fear and insatiable desire must be allowed to fall away, replaced by sustainable ways of living based sufficiency; competition (subdued somewhat during Covid) between nations, regions, states and cities must soften in light of the recognition that the various interrelated crises of the age, can only be met and overcome by united action.
Focused expressions of goodwill, as seen by community endeavors throughout the world in times of need (Covid pandemic included), unite people, helping to banish tensions and build trust; this is worthy development or growth, and is readily achieved when the habitual urge to compete is negated.
Individual growth we could describe as the apprehension and expression of who and what we essentially are, of realizing innate potential, and contributing to the well-being of society, thereby strengthening group growth, not financial gain, success and status. And collective growth, which flows from such individual understanding, must be concerned with growth in the expression of love in our world; with the creation of peace and unity and of environmental healing, ending hunger (which could be quickly achieved if the will/love to do so existed) and compassionately responding to the refugee crisis and the global displacement of people. Love, expressed not in emotional, sentimental terms, but love as that driving force for good.
An unresolved war in the north of the country; ethnic based violence some are describing as genocide in the West; random explosions of aggression in various regions: Ethiopia is trembling.
With around 117 million people, Ethiopia has the second largest population in Africa, made up of 80 or so tribal groups, all with their own cultures, language or dialect. Three big ones dominate: The Oromo (35% of population), Amhara (27%) and Tigrayan (6%). Historic disputes over land and power exist between these powerful groups; grievances which are being aggravated by pernicious elements attempting to destabilize the country.
On November 5th 2020 an armed conflict erupted in the Tigray region, between the federal government and the armed wing of the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF). It had been brewing for some time and both sides were prepared, itching for a fight. The Ethiopian government invited Eritrean troops to the party and then denied they were fighting side by side against a common enemy — the TPLF, widely hated in Eritrea and by many Ethiopians.
Tens of thousands of civilians have been displaced (Ethiopia has around two million IDP’s) by the fighting, combatants on both sides killed, civilians (nobody knows how many) massacred and injured. Women and girls raped and tortured, reportedly by Eritrean military — thugs, committing vile acts, destroying lives, and all with impunity.
The government has claimed victory, but sporadic fighting continues and the TPLF leadership has escaped capture. They are believed to be reorganizing and recruiting young men to join what is morphing into an insurgency force. Intransigence prevails, with neither side willing to back down; the government is refusing to enter into negotiations, something that in the long-term, and given the high level of popular support for the TPLF in the region (they were elected as the regional government in banned elections in October 2020), may well be needed.
A UN investigation into atrocities in Tigray and elsewhere in the country is urgently required, but to date this has been rejected by the Ethiopian government who, it seems, want to appear to be in control; access to the region, which was shut off by the government during the conflict, remains limited.
Tigray does not exist in isolation, Ethiopia is one state. Violence legitimizes and breeds violence and in an atmosphere of uncertainty, where law and order is weak it can quickly spread. Attacks are being committed mainly in the west of the country, but in other areas as well, against the Amhara people, by ‘rebels’; code for the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) — a breakaway armed wing of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), founded in the 1970s to fight for the self-determination of ethnic Oromo.
The ethnically based killings, destruction of property, rapes and displacement of persons, constitute what some Ethiopians claim is genocide. This is reinforced by Genocide Watch, who have issued a Genocide warning “for Ethiopia due to the government’s inaction to stop ethnically motivated violence between Oromo, Amhara, Tigrayan and Gedeo peoples.”
The situation throughout the country is unstable and complex; ethnic identities are strong and long-standing differences between groups are easily enflamed by malicious forces, inside and outside Ethiopia. There is speculation that Egypt (angry with Ethiopia over the construction and control of the Renaissance Dam) is supporting the OLA with arms, and that the ‘rebel’ group is working with the TPLF, with the aim of destabilizing the country ahead of general elections in June. Elections postponed from 2020 that the incumbent party (the newly formed Prosperity Party) under the leadership of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, are expected to win.
Defeating the men of hate and violence
For generations Ethiopia has been governed by intolerant repressive dictatorships that have ignored human rights and ruled through fear. The current government came to power in 2018 on the back of years of widespread protests against the TPLF, it has opened up the country and aspires to be democratic. Prime-Minister Abiy is the first Oromia PM, and the cabinet (50/50 male and female) is populated largely by other people from Oromo.
The TPLF ruled from 1991 to 2018. Dismantling 27 years of corrupt governance, purging all areas of government, national and local, the police and armed forces, of TPLF personnel, or TPLF-influenced/sympathetic personnel; changing habitual methods and attitudes, will not be eradicated in a few years. Such far reaching change takes time. Some Ethiopians claim that little or not enough has changed in the last two years, and blame the government, or elements within the government apparatus for the current unstable situation.
A cornerstone of the TPLF’s rule was ethnic federalism; a seemingly liberal policy, that promised to respect different cultures and honor aspirations for autonomy, but a divisive tool in the hands of the TPLF, employed to agitate conflict between ethnic groups, divide and rule being the objective. The aftermath of their abhorrent reign, is community carnage, pent-up anger, corruption and distrust.
Like all such regimes, they ruled through fear and division and were widely despised in the country and among the Ethiopian diaspora, but to there utter shame, western nations, including Ethiopia’s primary donors (and therefore the countries with the greatest influence) the US, Britain and the European Union, supported them. Consecutive western leaders, most notably Tony Blair and Barak Obama, not only failed to call out the regime’s atrocities, but were complicit, hailing corrupt elections as fair, legitimizing the results of one stolen election after another. And now, when Ethiopia is being assailed by criminal gangs, domestic terrorists masquerading as ‘freedom fighters’, and many believe, foreign interference, they stand by and do nothing.
With the odd exception, the mainstream media is also largely silent; uninterested it appears, in the deaths, rapes, and abuse of Ethiopians – men women and children whose lives were riddled with difficulties even before the current violence exploded. And now, as a result of a number of factors, including the fighting, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) state that, “Ethiopia is second only to Yemen for the total number of people in need in 2021 (IRC estimate at least 21million). As the year progresses, vulnerable communities will increasingly struggle to access necessary food and resources.”
In order to support vulnerable communities and deal with the dire humanitarian and social issues facing the country, there must first of all be peace and stability.
The safety of civilians is the first requirement of any government, and in this major respect the ruling party under PM Abiy Ahmed, has completely failed. Enforcement of the law must be a priority, police and security forces need to be strengthened, deployed to areas where communities are at risk; corruption weeded out of all areas of public life. And every effort made, by politicians, religious leaders and the media, to unify the country. Talk of unity is easy, commonplace, but without justice, tolerance and understanding, it is a hollow word that means nothing.
Ethiopia is a diverse whole, ethnic differences and culture divergence enrich the country and should be respected and celebrated. For generations people from different ethnic groups have lived side by side; marrying, praying and working together. Community harmony is being poisoned by power hungry men intent on sewing unrest and wreaking chaos. These divisive forces, wherever they may be (and some will be found hiding within government bodies), must be rooted out of the country, and those responsible for the horrendous killings, rapes and destruction hunted down and arrested, tried in a court of law.
To move this wonderful country, which has suffered so much, out of the suppressive violent shadow of the past is no easy task; time is needed, solidarity and patient perseverance. But within Ethiopia there is a powerful movement towards justice and freedom, a movement that despite the best efforts of the men of hate and violence cannot and will not be stopped.
We are living through extraordinary times. Even pre-Covid they were strange, unprecedented in a variety of ways; now more so, crazy in many ways. Among the madness, contradictions and movements for and of change, the detritus of human society is somehow being raised from the shadows into the light of public awareness, apparently impossible to conceal or deny.
As well as providing a stage for social goodness and acts of community kindness, the pandemic has functioned as a mirror to a range of social horrors and abuses, failed structures, inept politicians and corrupt methodologies. Nothing new, nothing previously unknown; old issues rooted in divisive attitudes, broken systemic practices and organized methods of conditioning and control made loud. Racism and abuse, inequality, exploitation, and mistreatment of migrant workers, are some of the habitual issues being washed up.
Inequality in its many forms, has proven to be, not simply abhorrent and socially divisive, but a killer, literally. Abuse in a number of areas has increased: against women, both inside (with women trapped indoors with their abusers) and outside the home, and racial abuse including violence against people of Asian appearance, which is through the roof, particularly in the US. Mental health illness has also dramatically increased worldwide. Anxiety and depression are rampant in many countries; grief, anger, economic uncertainty and a lack of hope about the future are common conditions. The WHO say that, “The mental health and wellbeing of whole societies have been severely impacted by this crisis [Covid-19] and are a priority to be addressed urgently.”
In addition to highlighting these and a range of social problems, the interconnected interdependent nature of life and of humanity has been starkly revealed during the last year. Substantive hope rests within this recognition, and unlimited potential for good; if lasting change is to be achieved the first and essential step is the recognition that humanity is one. One with each other and one with the natural environment of which we are a part. Despite apparent differences there is only one — unity or oneness, is the essential fact of life. Many people, despite the flag-waving propaganda that screams nationalism and intolerance from the lectern, sense this truth, and long for a new world order built on compassion and freedom that fosters unity, peace and justice.
Appetite for change
If the issues highlighted by Covid are to be addressed, government methodologies and the prevailing socio-economic order must be re-imagined. Policies, systems, values and modes of living that strengthen injustice, antagonize surface differences, stir up hatred and conflict, must be rejected totally. Replaced by pragmatic creative proposals, reached through inclusive forums, that seek to address the major issues of the time: establishing peace; safeguarding the natural world and stopping climate change; creating social justice and ending poverty.
The appetite for such a shift in approach is enormous; substantive change that addresses these fundamental concerns and safeguards the future. Individuals can powerfully contribute to the cultivation of a new dynamic, and many around the world are doing so, but for a fundamental movement to take place corporations and most importantly governments must rise to the challenge and seize the opportunity of the time; recognise the urgency of the crises, be open to new ways of doing things, listen and act.
Constraining ideals anchored in idealism, nationalism, protectionism, need to be discarded totally, and non-partisan ways of working that seek to establish the broadest possible consensus, embraced by politicians of all colors. Parliaments (not just governments) need to act from a unifying position (as some have during Covid), stay true to agreed long-term goals and principles of fairness and brotherhood, and not be swayed by corporate voices and the insistence on short-term political or economic gain; and crucially they need to listen. Listen to communities, to community leaders and to children/young people; listen to those working in the areas of concern, e.g., people engaged in civil-society and environmental campaigning.
It is in these groups that the purifying waters of change, that are now pervading the world, are being most powerfully felt and most keenly responded too. The qualities inherent in this global cleansing are perennial principles that many hold dear: sharing, cooperation, tolerance, understanding. Simple ideals known to people everywhere, repeated to children in homes and classrooms throughout the world; ideals that now must be embraced by the political and corporate class, and brought to life. Seen not simply as a list of comforting, but hollow phrases to be wheeled out at political rallies and elections to appease the masses, but as the essential building blocks of a new and just civilization; principles of goodness guiding action, informing the design of policies and new modes of living and unifying societies.