Last week, dictator Meles Zenawi hectored his rubberstamp parliament in Ethiopia about the forced expulsion (or as some have described it “ethnic cleansing”) of Amharas from southern Ethiopia and zapped his critics for their irresponsibility in reporting and publicizing it. Zenawi denied any expulsion had taken place, but explained that some squatters (he described them as “sefaris from North Gojam") had to be removed from their homesteads in the south purely out of environmental conservation concerns for the area’s forestlands.In a broadside against organizations “that promote the view that our collective identity is Ethiopianity,”Zenawi harangued:
… By coincidence of history, over the past ten years numerous people -- some 30,000 sefaris (squatters) from North Gojam – have settled in Benji Maji (BM) zone [in Southern Ethiopia]. In Gura Ferda, there are some 24,000 sefaris. Because the area is forested, not too many people live there. For all intents and purposes, Gura Ferda is little North Gojam complete with squatters’ local administration. That is not a problem: There is land to farm [in BM zone], and there are people who want to farm it. Everybody wins, no one loses. There is only one problem: The squatters did it in a disorganized way. The squatters settled individually and haphazardly and in an environmentally destructive way. The settlement was not based on a sound environmental impact study on the destruction of the forest. The pristine forest in the area must be protected. The squatters want land that can be easily developed and cultivated. They don’t care if it is a forest or not. They cut the forest and used the wood to make charcoal to aid in their settlement. As a result massive environmental destruction has occurred…. Settlers cannot move into the area and destroy the forest for settlement. It is illegal and must stop. Those who try to distort this fact are irresponsible. It is necessary to filter the truth. The rights of all Ethiopians must be protected on equal footing. Those who allege persecution and displacement of Amharas are engaged in irresponsible agitation which is not useful to anyone…
Stated more simply, the “sefaris of North Gojam" are environmental criminals who deserved forcible expulsion; and they should thank they lucky stars they are not prosecuted criminally.
When it comes to defending the African environment, no person has more expertise or passion than Zenawi who, after all, is theanointed C.E.O. (Chief Environmental Officer) of Africa. In 2009, Zenawi headed a delegation of African negotiators to the Copenhagen Summit (2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen) to morally and financially hold accountable the wayward West for its environmental destruction, climate change, global warming and all the rest. In the run up to the Summit, Zenawi threatened to bring down the Summit if the West did not do right by Africa and cough up $40bs:
We will use our numbers to de-legitimise any agreement that is not consistent with our minimal position... If needs be we are prepared to walk out of any negotiations that threaten to be another rape of our continent... Africa's interest and position will not be muffled as has usually been the case... Africa will field a single negotiating team empowered to negotiate on behalf of all member states of the African Union.... The key thing for me is that Africa be compensated for the damage caused by global warming. Many institutions have tried to quantify that and they have come up with different figures. The sort of median figure would be in the range of 40 billion USD a year.
A day into the Summit, Zenawi was ready to cut a deal with “Africa’s rapists” for a cool $10bs. He told his African brethren cold cash is better than talking trash:
I know my proposal today will disappoint those Africans who from the point of view of justice have asked for full compensation for the damage done to our development prospects. My proposal dramatically scales back our expectation with regards to the level of funding in return for more reliable funding and a seat at the table in the management of such funds.
In October 2011, in a speech before the African Economic Conference, Zenawi lectured:
Much of our land has been cleared of tree cover resulting in massive land degradation, soil erosion and vulnerability to both flooding and drought. As a result of the global warming that has already happened we have become more exposed to strange combinations of drought and flooding. The resource base of our agriculture is very seriously threatened.
In other words, we need to go back to the Western rapists and squeeze some more cash out them.
Zenawi’s Stewardship of the Environment in Ethiopia
Zenawi is manifestly the go-to expert on the impact of climate change and global warming on Africa. But does he have a clue about the environmental destruction, and particularly, the deforestation of Ethiopia? By 2020, Ethiopia is expected to lose all of its forest resources according to the Ethiopian Agricultural Research Institute (the foremost agricultural research institute in the country):
Ethiopia's forest coverage by the turn of the last century was 40%. By 1987, under the military government, it went down to 5.5%. In 2003, it dropped down to 0.2%. The Ethiopian Agricultural Research Institute says Ethiopia loses up to 200,000 hectares of forest every year. Between 1990 and 2005, Ethiopia lost 14.0% of its forest cover (2,114,000 hectares) and 3.6% of its forest and woodland habitat. If the trend continues, it is expected that Ethiopia could lose all of its forest resources in 11 years, by the year 2020.
According to a 2004 study, Ethiopia has some 60 million hectares of land covered by woody vegetation of which nearly 7 percent is forestland. Some 63 percent of the forestland is located in Oromiya, followed by Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples region [SNNP] (19%) and Gambella (9%). It is remarkable that Zenawi decided to draw the line on deforestation in Benji Maji/Gura Ferda in 2012 given the worsening nature of the problem in that region as a result of uncontrolled foreign commercial export agriculture. It is equally remarkable that he chose ethnic removal as a tool of reforestation and land reclamation.
But is Zenawi’s claim of environmental concern and forest protection for the expulsion of the "North Gojam sefaris” supported by evidence? Or is he using an environmental subterfuge to evade controversy and withering criticism? Over the past five years, Zenawi has “leased” (sold) some of the most fertile land (much of it forestland) in the country to the Saudis, the Shiekdoms, the Indians, the Chinese and Koreans (SSICKs) and anyone else sporting a crisp dollar bill.According to the respected Oakland Institute[OI], beginning in 2008, Zenawi’s regime has
transferred at least 3,619,509 hectares of land to foreign investors although the actual number may be higher… The Ethiopian government insists that for all land deals consultation is being carried out, no farmers are displaced, and the land being granted is “unused.” However, the OI team did not find a single incidence of community consultation…There areno limits on water use,no Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA), and no environmental controls. It is alarming that investors are free to use water with no restrictions. Investors informed the OI team of the ease with which they planned to dam a local river and of the virtual lack of control and regulations over environmental issues.Despite assurances that EIAs are performed, no government official could produce a completed EIA, no investor had evidence of a completed one, and no community had ever seen one….Displacement from farmland is widespread, andthe vast majority of locals receive no compensation….Displaced farmers are forced to find farmland elsewhere, increasing competition and tension with other farmers over access to land and resources.
The bottom line is that the SSICKs who slash and burn pristine forests for large-scale commercial export agriculture are called investors. Ethiopians who clear small plots of land to feed themselves and their families are called “sefaris” (squatters). The SSICKs are given 99-year leases to millions of hectares to “develop”. Ethiopians are forcibly ejected from their ancestral lands and tiny homesteads to make way for the SSICKs. The SSICKs are allowed to grab as much land as they want for pennies; Ethiopians are grabbed and thrown off the land and lose every hard earnerd penny they have invested. The SSICKs are welcomed with open arms at sunrise; Ethiopians are kicked in the rear end and told to get out of town before sundown. The SSICKs have property rights in land; Ethiopians do not have a right to own land. The SSICKs are treated like royalty; Ethiopians are given the shaft. The shame of it all: Ethiopians are “hunted down like animals where they are constantly asked if they support these [SSICK] plantations” according to the Oakland Institute study.
Welcome to SSICKistan.
Are there Environmental Laws the "North Gojam Sefaris” Could Follow?
Zenawi claims that the expulsion was necessary because many of the "North Gojam sefaris” engaged in a pattern and practice of settlement that is disorganized, haphazard and environmentally destructive. But does Zenawi’s regime have policies that would facilitate an orderly, systematic and organized settlement of rural areas or ensure sound forest conservation practices? For instance, the seminal law on the subject, the “Rural Lands Administration and Use Proclamation No.456/2005”, authorizes free access to rural lands for all who intend to engage in farming activities; but it provides no clear direction on how settlements are to be established or administered. It leaves implementation of the Proclamation entirely to the “regional authorities” who often do not have the expertise or capacity to implement it. To be sure, Proclamation No. 456 is virtually silent on the use, conservation or management of forestlands. In fact, it makes only three passing references to “forestry”, “forest degradation” and “forest land.”
The Revised SNNPRS Determination of Executive Organs’ Powers and Responsibilities Proclamation No. 106/2007 [Southern Nations, Nationalities' and Peoples' Regional State], purportedly aims to implement Proclamation No. 456, but the region has no environmental protection agency. The task of implementing Proclamation 456 is apparently given to the region’s Bureau of Agriculture and Rural Development which purportedly has oversight authority over conservation of natural resources and wild life, but no specific responsibility to undertake forest conservation or management. Land use restrictions under SNNPRS Rural Land Administration and Use Regulation No 66/2007 does not deal with forestlands at all; it is principally concerned with the use of wetlands and sloping lands. Simply stated, there is no regional law that deals with deforestation or clearing of forests for settlements or farming. What are the “sefaris” to do?
Similarly, the “federal” “Forest Development, Conservation, and Utilization Proclamation No.542/2007” is so vague and general as to be nothing more than a statement of policy orientation. The Proclamation recognizes “government” and “private” forests, but provides no indication on how the forests can be developed or where individuals could apply to get authorizations. Incredibly, the Proclamation catalogues the obligations of private forest developers without enumerating any of their rights. The bulk of the Proclamation is not law but aspirational policy statements about what ought to be done in the future.
Zenawi secondary argument is that the Amhara “sefaris” settled in Benji Maji/Gura Ferda without the required environmental impact assessment (EIA) presumably pursuant toProclamation No. 299/2002 (“Environmental Impact Assessment Proclamation” [EIAP]). That Proclamation requires an assessment to “identify and evaluate in advance any effect which results from the implementation of a proposed project or public instrument”. As a technical legal matter, the “sefari’s” pattern of homesteading falls outside of the EIAP’s statutory definition of “proposed project” or “public instrument”. In other words, under the present language and definitions in Proclamation No. 299, the “sefaris” would be exempt from performing an environmental impact assessment. Rather, they would be subject to Proclamation No. 456 (Rural Lands Administration and Use ).
But all of the technical legal analysis and arguments aside, the fact of the matter is that a tiny percentage of all private sector projects are subject to the EIAP because of exemption loopholes and political decisions that override the technical merits of such reports. As the OI report has shown “despite assurances that environmental impact assessments [EIAs] are performed, no government official could produce a completed EIA, no investor had evidence of a completed one, and no community had ever seen one….” The regime’s “environmental impact assessment” on Gibe III Dam demonstrates the pro forma nature of such undertakings when it is politically expedient.
Ethnic Cleansing or Forest Conservation?
There is no question that tens of thousands of Amharas have been forcibly removed from Benj Maji/Gura Ferda in southern Ethiopia, and not just from "North Gojam".Numerous interviews of victims by the Voice of America provide substantial evidence of forced expulsion. So we must face the unavoidable question: Is the forced expulsion of the “sefaris” a form of ethnic cleansing or the consequence of the unintended effects of routine ecological remediation? The evidence on this question from the two individuals who are in the best position to know is rather curious to say the least. Zenawi says the "North Gojam sefaris" were evicted solely because they were destroying the forest in their haphazard settlement patterns. But in his written order, Shiferaw Shigute, President of SNNP, does not not mention a single word about deforestation or harm to the environment in the expulsion of the Amhara “sefaris”. Goodness gracious, who to believe?
“Ethnic cleansing” does not have a specific formal legal definition. A 1993 United Nations Commission defined the phrase as, “the planned deliberate removal from a specific territory, persons of a particular ethnic group, by force or intimidation, in order to render that area ethnically homogenous.” A UN Commission of Experts established pursuant to Security Council Resolution 780 held that the practices associated with ethnic cleansing “constitute crimes against humanity”. Others have defined “ethnic cleansing as the expulsion of an ‘undesirable’ population from a given territory due to religious or ethnic discrimination, political, strategic or ideological considerations, or a combination of these." Article 7 (d) of the Rome Statute declares that “deportation or forcible transfer of population”, (defined as “forced displacement by expulsion or other coercive acts from the area in which they are lawfully present, without grounds without grounds permitted under international law”) is a “crime against humanity”. Whether the expulsion of the Amhara “sefaris” is part of a deliberate and systematic policy of “ethnic federalism” in which ethnic purges of a civilian population are undertaken to ensure the ethnic homogeneity of the southern part of the country to the detriment of other Ethiopians of a different ethnic stripe will bear significantly on the question of ethnic cleansing.
Just Compensation for the Amhara “Sefaris”?
Zenawi says the “sefaris” are expelled from their homesteads because they were destroying forestland and as part of a national forest reclamation and environmental protection effort. That being so, they are entitled to just compensation under Proclamation 456, which provides, “Holder of rural land who is evicted for purpose of public use shall be given compensation proportional to the development he, has made on the land and the property acquired, or shall be given substitute land thereon.” The “sefaris” were expelled with only their clothes on their backs and their children in tow. They received no substitute land nor compensation for their land, improvements made thereon, cattle or other personal property. Are they not entitled to just compensation under the law?
Be fair to the people!
Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at:
Previous commentaries by the author are available at:
(This is the second installment in a series of commentaries I pledged to offer on U.S. policy in Africa under the heading “The Moral Hazard of U.S. Policy in Africa". In Part I, I argued that democracy and human rights in Africa cannot be subordinated to the expediency of “engaging” incorrigible African dictators whose sole interest is in clinging to power to enrich themselves and their cronies.)
Clinton said democracy in Africa is undergoing trial by fire despite a few successes in places like “Botswana, Ghana, and Tanzania.” She told the swarm of jackbooted African dictators that their people are gasping for democracy: “[W]e do know that too many people in Africa still live under longstanding rulers, men who care too much about the longevity of their reign, and too little about the legacy that should be built for their country’s future. Some even claim to believe in democracy – democracy defined as one election, one time.” She said Africa’s youth are sending a “message that is clear to us all: The status quo is broken; the old ways of governing are no longer acceptable; it is time for leaders to lead with accountability, treat their people with dignity, respect their rights, and deliver economic opportunity. And if they will not, then it is time for them to go.” The alternative for Africa’s “long standing rulers who hold on to power at all costs, who suppress dissent, who enrich themselves and their supporters at the expense of their own people” is to face the types of “changes that have recently swept through North Africa and the Middle East. After years of living under dictatorships, people have demanded new leadership; in places where their voices have long been silenced, they are exercising their right to speak, often at the top of their lungs.”
U.S. Sounding Like a Broken Record
For some time now, President Obama, Secretary Clinton and other top U.S. officials have been doing the same song and dance about dictatorship and poor governance in Africa. In July 2009 in Ghana, President Obama declared, “Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.” Today Secretary Clinton says: “Good governance requires free, fair, and transparent elections, a free media, independent judiciaries, and the protection of minorities.”
Two years ago, President Obama lectured African dictators: “No person wants to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to the rule of brutality and bribery. That is not democracy, that is tyranny, and now is the time for it to end.” Today Secretary Clinton sarcastically notes, “Too many people in Africa still live under longstanding rulers… [who] believe in democracy – democracy defined as one election, one time.”
Two years ago, President Obama berated African dictators: “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history.” Today Secretary Clinton warns the same dictators, “If you do not desire to help your own people work and live with dignity, you are on the wrong side of history.”
Two years ago, President Obama threatened African dictators: “I have directed my administration to give greater attention to corruption… People everywhere should have the right to start a business or get an education without paying a bribe. We have a responsibility to support those who act responsibly and to isolate those who don’t, and that is exactly what America will do.” Today Secretary Clinton pleads with the same dictators: “We are making [corruption] a priority in our diplomatic engagement, and we look to our partners to take concrete actions to stop corruption.”
Last year, President Obama told a delegation of African youths: “Africa's future belongs to its young people… We’re going to keep helping empower African youth, supporting education, increasing educational exchanges… and strengthen grassroots networks of young people…” Today Secretary Clinton laments, “A tiny [African] elite prospers while most of the population struggles, especially young people…”
When it comes to Africa, the Obama Administration is increasingly sounding like a broken record.
Empty Words and Emptier Promises
The U.S. has been talking a good talk in Africa for the last two years, but has not been walk the walk; better yet, walking the talk. Following the May 2010 “elections” in Ethiopia in which dictator Meles Zenawi claimed a 99.6 percent victory, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State P.J. Crowley said, “We value the cooperation that we have with the Ethiopian government on a range of issues including regional security, including climate change. But we will make clear that there are steps that it needs to take to improve democratic institutions.” The U.S. “clearly” took no action as Ethiopia has become a veritable police state behind a veneer of elections.
Following the rigged elections in Uganda in February 2011, Crowley said, “Democracy requires commitment at all levels of government and society to the rule of law, freedom of speech and assembly, independent media, and active civil society.” The U.S. promptly congratulated Yoweri Museveni on his election victory and conveniently forgot about the rule of law and all that stuff.
Following the elections in Cote d’Ivoire last November and Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to step down (calling it a “mockery of democracy”) Crowley said, “The U.S. is prepared to impose targeted sanctions on Ivory Coast's incumbent PresidentGbagbo, his immediate family and his inner circle, should he continue to illegitimately cling to power.” The U.S. imposed a travel ban, but that did not matter much since Gbagbo had no intention of leaving the Ivory Coast. Months later he was collared and dragged out of his palace like a street criminal.
In July 2009, the White House in a press statement said, “The United States is concerned about the recent actions of Niger’s President Mamadou Tandja to rule by ordinance and decree and to dissolve the National Assembly and the Constitutional Court as part of a bid to retain power beyond his constitutionally-limited mandate.” The U.S. took no action against Tandja, but Niger’s military did.
A couple of weeks ago, Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon visited the U.S. and received a warm reception at the White House which put out a press statement applauding the “the important partnership between the United States and Gabon on a range of critical regional and global issues.” Ali is the son of the notorious Omar Bongo who ruled Gabon with an iron fist for 42 years before his death in 2009.
Not long ago, Crowley called Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea a “dictator with a disastrous record on human rights.” Nguema’s son, Teodorin frequently travels to his $35 million-dollar mansion in Malibu, California flying in his $33 million jetliner and tools around town in a fleet of luxury cars. He earned a salary of $6,799 a month as agriculture minister. Forbes estimates his net worth at $600 million.
America Should Stop Subsidizing African Kleptocracies
The U.S. should stop subsidizing African kleptocratic thugtatorships through its aid policy and hit the panhandling thieves in the pocketbook. In one of my weekly commentaries in November 2009 ("Africorruption, Inc."), I argued that the business of African governments is corruption. Most African "leaders" seize political power to operate sophisticated criminal enterprises to loot their national treasuries and resources.As Geroge Ayittey, the distinguished Ghanaian economist and arguably one of the “top 100 public intellectuals worldwide who are shaping the tenor of our time” recently noted, Africa’s “briefcase bandits” run full-fledged criminal enterprises. Sani Abacha of Nigeria amassed $5 billion, and the Swiss Supreme Court in 2005 declared the Abacha family a “criminal enterprise”. Omar al-Bashir of the Sudan has stashed away $7 billion while Hosni Mubarak is reputed to have piled a fortune of $40 billion. In comparison, Ayittey says, “The net worth of 43 U.S. presidents from Washington to Obama amounts to a measly $2.5 billion.”
Foreign aid is known as the perfect breeding ground for corruption in Africa.According to the Brussels Journal (“Voice of Conservatism in Europe”), “Most serious analysts of the failures of development aid [in Africa], including a number of government commissions, not only identified corruption in recipient governments as a reason the aid programs failed but, in fact, found the projects actually fueled additional corruption and increased the plight of the people.” Africa’s thugtators not only siphon off foreign aid targeted for critical school, hospital, road and other public works and community projects to line their pockets, they also use the aid they receive to fortify their regimes and suppress the democratic aspiration of the people. In its October 2010 report on Ethiopia, Human Rights Watch reported:
Foreign aid has become one of the government's most effective tools in suppressing and punishing criticism. Human Rights Watch's research found that local officials often deny assistance to people they perceive as political opponents - including many who are not actually involved in politics at all. Impoverished farmers know they risk losing access to aid which their livelihoods depend on if they speak out against abuses in their communities. Most respond by staying quiet; aid discrimination has made freedom of speech a luxury many Ethiopians quite literally cannot afford.
Simply stated, an endless supply of the hard earned cash of American Joe and Jane Taxpayer is making it possible for African thugtators to cling to power and crush the legitimate aspirations of African peoples. The thugtators know that as long as billions of American taxpayer dollars (free money) keep flowing into their pockets, they do not have to do a darn thing to improve governance, respect human rights or institute accountability and transparency.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told a gathering of African dictators in Uganda in 2010 that “the U.S. Department of Justice is launching a new Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative aimed at combating large-scale foreign official corruption and recovering public funds for their intended and proper use.” More power to Holder. It is great to grab the corrupt and thieving African dictators and their cronies in the U.S. as they launder hundreds of millions of dollars every year buying businesses and homes and making "investments". But it is more important to hold them accountable for the billions of aid dollars they receive from U.S. every year.
If the Obama administration is committed to battling corruption as ‘one of the great struggles of our time’, as it has so often declared, it needs to undertake a thorough and complete investigation of aid money given to African dictators. In November 2009, U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelley stated that the U.S. is investigating allegations that “$850 million in food and anti-poverty aid from the U.S. is being distributed on the basis of political favoritism by the current [Ethiopian] prime minister's party.” There exists no official report in the public domain today concerning the outcome of that investigation. (If any such report exists, we are prepared to scrutinize it.) In the absence of evidence to the contrary, one must logically assume that no one for sure knows what happened to the USD$850 million handed over to Zenawi. Since the State Department does not seem to be up to the job of investigating aid-related corruption allegations in Ethiopia, it is appropriate for the General Accounting Office (the independent nonpartisan Congressional watchdog) to undertake a full investigation of the Human Rights Watch allegations.
When the U.S. hands out billions of dollars of free money to countries like Ethiopia without any meaningful accountability and discernable performance requirements, the effect on governance and observance of human rights is disastrous as evidenced in the fact that Zenawi used American aid money to suppress dissent and steal elections in 2010. In Ethiopia, where aid constitutes more than 90% of the government budget, establishing the scope of corruption in aid is absolutely necessary. Such accountability could have a huge impact not only on improving governance in Ethiopia but also in all other U.S. aid recipient countries on the continent.
Corruption is fundamentally a human rights issue. As Peter Eigen, founder and chairman of Transparency International has argued:
Corruption leads to a violation of human rights in at least three respects: corruption perpetuates discrimination, corruption prevents the full realisation of economic, social, and cultural rights, and corruption leads to the infringement of numerous civil and political rights. Beyond that, corruption undermines the very essence of the rule of law and destroys citizens' trust in political leaders, public officials and political institutions."
By turning a blind eye to endemic aid-related corruption, the U.S. is unintentionally promoting disregard for human rights protections and undermining the growth of democratic institutions and institutionalization of the rule of law and good governance in Ethiopia and the rest of Africa. When foreign aid provides 90 percent of the regime’s budget in Ethiopia, is it any wonder that Zenawi’s regime “won” the May 2010 “elections” by 99.6 percent?
As the old saying goes, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” I regret to say that aid given to Africa with the best of intentions in the name of the most generous people in the history of the world has made the continent a heaven for bloodthirsty dictators and hell for the vast majority of poor Africans. I wonder if the American people would tolerate and approve of the the crimes that are being committed in Africa using their hard earned dollars year after year if we took it upon ourselves to educate them!