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The Toxic Ecology of African Dictatorships

By Alemayehu G. Mariam

The inconvenient truth about Africa today is that dictatorship presents a far more perilous threat to the survival of Africans than climate change. The devastation African dictators have wreaked upon the social fabric and ecosystem of African societies is incalculable. Over the past several decades, bloodthirsty dictators like Uganda’s Idi Amin, Zaire’s (The Congo) Mobutu Sese Seko, Central African Republic’s Jean Bedel Bokassa, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir, Chad’s Hissiene Habre, and the political fraternal twins Mengistu Haile Mariam and Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia have been responsible for untold deaths on the continent. Millions of Africans have starved to death because of the criminal negligence, depraved indifference and gross incompetence of African dictators, not climate change. Millions more suffer today in abject poverty because corrupt African dictators have systematically siphoned off international aid, pilfered loans provided by the international banks and plundered the tax coffers. Africans face extreme privation and mass starvation not because of climate change but because of the rapacity of power-hungry dictators. The continent today suffers from a terminal case of metastasized cancer of dictatorships, not the blight of global warming.

The fact that greenhouse gas emissions (global warming) from human activities are responsible for a dangerous elevation of the global temperature is accepted by most climatologists in the world. Only clueless flat-earther troglodytes like U.S. Senator James Inhofe believe that climate change is a conspiracy hatched by “the media, Hollywood and our pop culture.” The general scientific understanding is that the planet is facing ruin from an unprecedented combination of extreme weather patterns, floods, droughts, heat waves and epidemics. The developed countries are primarily blamed for the rise in temperatures caused by excess industrial carbon emissions. This is evident in the increase in the average temperature of the Earth’s near-surface air and oceans. Africa has contributed virtually nothing to global warming. For instance, Africa produces an average of 1 metric ton of carbon dioxide per person per year compared to 16 metric tons for every American.

For Africa, climate change paints a doomsday scenario: Global warming will severely aggravate the atmospheric circulation and precipitation in the African monsoonal system resulting in severe shortages in agricultural output. Millions of Africans will die from famine, and the continent’s agriculture will be crippled. Deforestation and overgrazing will cause further increases in global temperatures through emission of greenhouse gases. Africa’s subsistence farmers who already operate in marginal environments will face catastrophic consequences in terms of decreased tillable and pastoral lands. Competition for water, agricultural and grazing land and other resources will inevitably result in conflicts and wars. Vector-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue, trypanosomiasis and others will spread rapidly causing large scale deaths in Africa.

The climate change debate has been honey in the mouths of forked tongue African dictators. It has provided them the perfect foil to avoid detection and accountability for their corruption and mismanagement of their societies, and a convenient opportunity to divert attention from their criminal state enterprises. Global warming has proven to be the perfect substitute for the old Bogeymen of Africa– colonialism, imperialism, neo-colonialism and poverty. Why is Africa reduced to becoming the “beggar continent of the planet”? Global warming! Why are millions starving (euphemistically referred to as “severe food shortages” by officials) to death in Ethiopia? Climate change. African dictators are using global warming as their new preferred ideology behind which they can hide and ply their trade of corruption while expanding their thriving kleptocracies.

The global warming debate has also offered African dictators a historic opportunity to guilt-trip the industrialized countries and rob them blind. Beginning on December 7, a phalanx of African climate change negotiators will swarm Copenhagen to attend the U.N. Conference on Climate Change. For Africa, the outcome of the negations is foreshadowed by pronouncements of comic bravado. On September 3, 2009, the Patriarch of African Dictators and head of the “single African negotiating team” on climate change, Meles Zenawi, huffed and puffed about what he and his sidekicks will do if the industrialized countries refuse to comply with his imperial ultimatum. Zenawi roared, “We will use our numbers to deligitimize any agreement that is not consistent with our minimal position… We are prepared to walk out of any negotiations that threatens to be another rape of our continent.” (Whether African dictators or the industrialized countries are raping the continent is an open question. Witnesses say it is a gang rape situation.)

It was vintage Zenawi with his trademark zero-sum game strategy writ large to the world: “My way or the highway!” It does appear rather preposterous and irrational for the master of the zero-sum game to open negotiations with his longtime benefactors by sticking an ultimatum in their faces. Obviously, the strategic negotiating bottom line is to shakedown the industrialized countries and strong-arm them into forking over billions in carbon blood money; and Zenawi did not mince words: “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.”

Curiously, we could ask what Zenawi and his brotherhood of dictators would do with the windfall of billions, if they could get it? It is reasonable to assume that they will use it to expand their kleptocracies and cling to power like ticks on a milk cow. They will certainly not use to meet the needs of their people. What they have done with the international aid money and loans they have received over the decades provides compelling extrapolative evidence of what they will do with any windfall of carbon blood money.

As Dambissa Moyo and others have shown, in the last fifty years the West has poured more than a trillion dollars of aid into Africa. Today, over 350 million Africans live on less than USD$1. Real per-capita income in Africa is lower today than it was four decades ago. Aid money and international bank loans have been stolen by African dictators and their henchmen to line their pockets and maintain their huge kleptocracies. In 2002, an African Union study estimated the loss of USD $150bn a year to corruption in Africa, and not without the complicity of the donor countries. Compare this to the USD$22bn the developed countries gave to all of sub-Saharan Africa in 2008. In 2006, former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, who faced impeachment for corruption and ineptitude, declared at an African civic groups meeting in Addis Ababa that African leaders “have stolen at least $140 billion from their people in the decades since independence.” Ghanaian economist George Ayittey citing U.N. data argues, “These are gross underestimates… $200 billion or 90 percent of the sub-Saharan part of the continent’s gross domestic product was shipped to foreign banks in 1991 alone. Civil wars in Africa cost at least $15 billion annually in lost output, wreckage of infrastructure, and refugee crises… In Zimbabwe, foreign investors have fled the region and more than 4 million Zimbabweans have left the country along with 60,000 physicians and other professionals….” Is it any wonder that Africa today is worse off than it was 50 years ago?

The question is not whether global warming could impact Africa disproportionately, or Africa is entitled to assistance to overcome the effects of greenhouse emissions caused by the industrialized countries. The question is whether African dictators have the moral credibility and standing to make a demand for compensation and what they will do with such compensation if they were to get it. Certainly, the capo African negotiator has as much credibility to demand compensation in Copenhagen as a bank robber has from the bank owners. It has been a notorious fact for at least two decades that Ethiopia is facing environmental disaster. 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. What has Zenawi’s regime done to reverse the problem of deforestation in Ethiopia? They have sold what little arable land is left to the Saudis, the Shiekdoms, the Indians, the South Korea and others with crisp dollar bills looking for fire sales on African lands.

There has been a lot of environmental window dressing and grandstanding in various parts of Africa. In Ethiopia, lofty proclamations have been issued to “improve and enhance the health and quality of life of all Ethiopians”, “control pollution” and facilitate “environmental impact” studies. The “nations, nationalities and peoples” are granted environmental self-determination. There is an Environmental Protection Council which “oversees activities of sectoral agencies and environmental units with respect to environmental all regional states.” The Environmental Protection Agency is “accountable to the Prime Minister.” What have these make-believe bureaucracies done to save Lake Koka, just outside the capital, and the 17,000 people who drink its toxic water daily?

Zenawi and his minions will show up looking for a pot of gold at the end of the Copenhagen rainbow. It does not appear that a bonanza of riches will be awaiting them. If the advance Barcelona negotiations held last month are any indication, a deal does not appear possible in Copenhagen. German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the Barcelona summit that “global climate negotiations would inevitably drag out after the meeting in Copenhagen ends on Dec. 19.” African dictators deserve our grudging admiration for their sheer tenacity and brazen audacity. After sucking their people dry, they are now moving camp to the greener pastures of climate change to continue their vampiric trade.

The fact of the matter is that while the rest of the world toasts from global warming, Africa is burning down in the fires of dictatorship. While Europeans are fretting about their carbon footprint, Africans are gasping to breathe free under the bootprints of dictators. While Americans are worried about carbon emission trapped in the atmosphere, Africans find themselves trapped in minefields of dictatorship. Handing over carbon blood money to African dictators is like increasing industrial emissions to cut back on global warming. It is the wrong thing to do.

Africa faces an ecological collapse not because of climate change but because of lack of regime change. It is humorously ironic that African dictators who panhandle the industrialized countries for over two-thirds of their budgets should threaten to walk out on them. We know the bravado is nothing more than the “chatter of a beggar’s teeth”. As the bank robber will not walk out of the bank empty handed because of moral outrage over the small amount of money sitting in the vault, we do not expect the band of African negotiators to walk out Copenhagen because they are offered less than what they are asking. We expect to see them making a beeline to the conference door for handouts for there is no such thing as a choosy beggar. We wish them well. Go on, take the money and run….

Regime Change Before Action on Climate Change in Africa!

(Alemayehu G. Mariam, is a professor of political science at California State University, San Bernardino, and an attorney based in Los Angeles. He writes a regular blog on The Huffington Post, and his commentaries appear regularly on Pambazuka News and New American Media.)

9 thoughts on “The Toxic Ecology of African Dictatorships

  1. It is a very informed and in-depth article….
    Apart from the political games our leaders in Africa are playing and the global environmental stress our world is facing, we shouldn’t also forget the Environmental destruction these ill-minded African leaders are committing to our land.

  2. The natural and political climate in Ethiopia are closely related and can be seen in isolation from each other. The most dangerous crisis challenging Ethiopia is the ethnical fascist rule of Meles Zenawi which is repressive and anti-Ethiopia in all its aspects. The ethnical fascists have poisoned and polluted the political climate in the country through their most dreaded ideology of fascism and racism. As a result Ethiopians have been forced to live in constant fear and suspicion which prevent them from focusing their energy and other resources on development. The ideology of ethnical fascism implemented by the TPLF ethnic supremacists is discriminating and marginalizing the vast majority of Ethiopians. Similarly, the ethnic fascists are selling the fertile and productive lands of the country to foreign bidders which are likely to cause environmental hazards in the country. The land selling spree of
    the ethnic fascist Meles Zenawi is robbing millions of poor and starving Ethiopians of their livelihood and going to force them to depend on western food aid. So it is clear to see that the ethnic fascists and supremacists are destroying both the natural and political environments of the country. Recently,I met one blind follower of Meles regime and raised the ongoing sales of land. This follower of ethnical fascism behaved in the typical arrogant and racist TPLF ways due to my criticism of the policies of his fascist boss. Since he does not have any reasonable point to defend his boss, the angry and blind ethnic follower said that you guys from the south do not like hard work and modernization. This is when I came to my own conclusion that it is of no value or use to try to engage the ethnical fascists and racists in any meanigful dialogue. Therefore, the most pressing issue for Ethiopians is the removal of the ethnical fascists and their foreign sponsors from their land. Ethiopians should join and support the anti-ethnical fascist and genuine oppostion movement, Ginbot7.

  3. Al Mariam, God bless you. God has given the power words to speak for all Ethiopians, Africans, and nations. Everytime you write, Weyane weakens. Keep on doing it.

  4. Alem, you have done a good job. Your article makes me feel that EPRDF is losing hope a bit. As you write more, Meles Company will lose hope more and more. Finally, EPRDF will disappear like a mist. Then we will feel that was a nightmare that fade away when we wake up, thank God EPRDF is gone !!!!!!

  5. Meles the vampire will pay it dearly. His minions will disappear like henchmen of Mengistu. For Ethiopia, the priority is regime change; the environment is secondary. Ethiopians need Meles to go. That is it.

  6. “Over the past several decades, bloodthirsty dictators like Uganda’s Idi Amin, Zaire’s (The Congo) Mobutu Sese Seko, Central African Republic’s Jean Bedel Bokassa, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir, Chad’s Hissiene Habre, and the political fraternal twins Mengistu Haile Mariam and Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia have been responsible for untold deaths on the continent.”

    The above paragrah is a direct qoutation from DR.Alemayehu G.Mariam’s article.
    Dr. Alemayehu I got a question for you where is the name of HILESILASE? belive it or not Hilesilase is the FATHER of all dictators and must be held not only for the distruction of Ethiopia but also for the backwardness of Africa.
    Unfortunitley, you are afraid of mantioning his name eventhogh you know the truth! please first get rid off your cultural influence which seems to be taking away your acadamic achivements.
    otherwise in few years you would say Hilessilase is GOD.

    Ethiopia never have a shortege of acadamics but what it doesnt have is a true acadamic that stands for the truth…. most of them are BIASED Including DR. Alemayehu. DR. Please please dont cary with you your GOJI BAHIL… other wise you will be a laghing stalk of your Ferenji students.

    we all stand againsts all dictators,including HILESSILASSE who starved to death millions of ETHIOPIAN while feeding his dog importing food from EUROPE.

  7. Congradulation for great article, but I do not agree on the conclusion. Meles and his genocidal buddies will get their money alright. The west is in competition with china and korea for dwindling natural resources and would not backout of this. More over they would shape whatever they are giving in such a way that it is recycled back. The house cap and trade legislation specifically asks any environment related aid to be attached to creating economies of scale for local manufacturers and serve as a means of rinsing out inventory based on old technology in a rapidly changing field of alternative energy. Also the west knows that what ever money they provide in cash will end up in swiss banks or isle of man banks. Those banks use the money to buy treasury bonds and the cycle goes on. But meles and buddies will keep their fat bank accounts.

  8. Very interesting points – enviromental improvements comes from sustainable technology, substitution to non-fossil fuels, less consumption and above all fewer inhabitants on the planet.

    The dictators demand more money to their countries, i.e. to their own pockets under cower of “Rich countries pay you climate debt” Instead it should say “Developing countries – pay your population debt.”

    perhaps a raw deal in Copenhagen should be:

    ” 1 % consumption cut in the rich countries equals 1 % population cut in the developing countries.

    “Fewer is more” in every respect.
    Best regards

  9. it is a great article i’m about to cite it fir my research paper . what i don’t get it about Ethiopian people they blame their leader for his one sided rule but they are more racist than the people they blame. i see people hating each other and separating public places “”” oh that is oromo restaurant or tigrey restaurant i don’t want to go there , oh he is this ethnic i don’t want to date him””””” and things like that it is so embarrassing and nasty …………….be fore u blame some one we need to ask our self ” am i doing the right thing”?/??????

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