Monday, March 27

Despots and the Terror Excuse

From Instapundit this link to a Financial Times piece on the EU view of the 'elections' in Belarus.
EU ministers endorsed the damning findings of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s 476-strong observer mission.

The mission’s report found that Mr Lukashenko had “permitted state authority to be used in a manner which did not allow citizens to freely and fairly express their will”.

It said statements by the Belarusan KGB associating the opposition with terrorism and accusing it of planning a coup had led to a "climate of intimidation". Campaign workers and opposition figures had been subject to "physical assaults, detention and even imprisonment."
Note how "the Belarusan KGB associating the opposition with terrorism and accusing it of planning a coup". Sound familiar? It should that is how the prison camps, the killings and the Potemkin treason and genocide trials have been justified against Ethiopians in general and their elected leaders in particular by the ideological soulmates of the Belarusan KGB in the form of Meles Inc.

The usual blaming of the diaspora, the long dead Dergue, Eritreans, the OLF and the elected opposition - jointly or singly is also in the KGB handbook. Lies about terror and lies about plans for genocide and other ridiculous charges are beyond laughable to anyone except for maybe the folks at Reuters.

Actually the charges of planned genocide began in Ethiopia long before the election. The fiction that without Meles Inc. that Ethiopia would plunge into tribal chaos started 14 long years before that. There is little 'carrot' in the regime approach to Ethiopians and their prospects. Rather what is at issue is how severely the 'stick' should be applied - the choices seem to be 'very hard blows or 'extremely hard knocks' - depending on the level of obeisance.

Fake acts of terrorism are part of this effort. In Ethiopia foils 'terror' plot we hear of 'TNT explosives'. Then in Ethiopia says Eritrea behind bombings there is a leap to 'using a grenade known as C-4'.

Someone at the newly minted Federal Police Anti-Terrorism Task Force was catching up on their Hollywood DVDs for that jump to occur in the space of a week or so and it is generally the same grenade and cache of weapons being thrown or discovered week after week.

The TNT to C-4 transition is absurd because it is unlikely that TNT is used much anymore anywhere but it is firmly rooted in the popular mind as a generic explosive. It was just the first serious sounding explosive that came to the propagandist's mind. Later on, memories of all those Hollywood movies were the hero cop / secret agent mentioned C-4 and everyone's eyes widened on screen at how bad the bad guys were to use something so bad, caused the newer explosive to be mentioned.

We must wonder what is next. Perhaps the opposition in concert with Eritrean agents and the rest of the usual list of suspects will be caught red handed with Semtex or maybe the very same 'nuclear grenades' that Idi Amin complained were unfairly used against him and the PLO during the Entebe raid.

No one believes any of this nonsense but it allows those inclined to cozy up to the regime to find excuses for doing so since they figure Ethiopians can do no better than Meles Inc. anyway. The likes of Reuters can be counted on to pick up and repeat any government story without context or analysis so it is hoped that it will spread around and influence just enough minds or at least to cloud the truth enough so that the weak willed just go along with the government program.

That is why there is such a spate of fake good economic news being spouted of late. It is an attempt to gain confidence that should be had in no arena. The message is "sure we aren't running a democracy here. But we deserve your money because at least we are developing the country or at least we have gotten enough of the media to say so. Go on and send the reward money we would have gotten for being democrats and we will all agree never to expect much from Ethiopia."

Don't expect those who go along with that meme to turn around and report that the ruling party / government literally owns the economy of the whole country and runs it for its own benefit. From the days of Lucy (Dinkinesh) walking the earth millions of years ago through today only Mengistu and Meles have had that much of an absolute monopoly on wealth and power in Ethiopian history.

There is literally no place where money can be made or traded all the way from remitted, loaned or donated dollars and pounds onto lone birr snatched from peasants that is not dominated by the party / government / crony business empire.

Back to the matter at hand, here is what the EU final report (pdf) had to say about the 'elections' in Ethiopia presented as a 'best of' list from Addis Ferengi
During the campaign

"Nevertheless the opposition alleged widespread intimidation and arrests of its supporters. Often, intimidation in the rural areas included threats with land dispossession and deprivation of fertilizers or food assistance. The EU EOM was not able, for logistical reasons, to verify all these allegations, but could confirm most cases that it looked into. For example, observers confirmed arrests and imprisonment of CUD candidates in Debre Tabor/Gonder, in Betucha Angalo/Oromia and in Addis Ababa. In Gambela, 52 supporters of independent candidates were arrested under the charge of ‘hooliganism’. In Gebre Guracha/Oromia 12 supporters of the opposition ONC were imprisoned. The EU EOM recorded no arrests of EPRDF supporters for campaing offense."

The election day

"Across the country, almost all EU observers received reports from opposition party representatives alleging intimidation of their supporters and candidates by government or EPRDF representatives, including threats against their lives, beatings, presence of militia, arrests, etc. In some cases observers were given detailed accounts by persons who alleged that they were victims of intimidation, including violence. Some 20 per cent of EU LTOs spoke to election officials who reported that they were fearful of negative reactions against them if the EPRDF did not win in their area. As many of the officials held government jobs, they were particularly concerned about their professional future. In a few cases, in areas where opposition won, they expressed fear for their lives, because they felt they would be held responsible for the results."

After the elections

"On 5 June, incidents started at the University of Addis Ababa and spread, the next day, to other parts of town. According to the Police, on 6 June, 520 students were arrested in the campus and more than 50 “vagrants” were arrested elsewhere. On 7 June, army, police and armed militia trucks patrolled the city streets day and night. On 8 June, demonstrations took place in Addis Ababa in which the security forces killed at least 36 persons. (...) Following the demonstration and killing of demonstrators, the government conducted a wave of arrests, some directly connected to the demonstration, others without any obvious connection. The exact numbers are controversial and cannot be ascertained in absence of official figures, but were in the thousands. In late June, Federal Police stated that 3,132 people were held at one prison (Ziway, near Addis Ababa), of which 2,665 would be released. High school children were among those detained, some of whom informed the EU EOM Chief Observer that they had been picked up at their homes late at night."

During the "investigation process"

"The complaints investigation process took place in the context of serious violations of human rights and freedoms, namely of opposition leaders and suspected supporters. This undermined the opposition’s ability to participate effectively in the process, independently of their competence to argue their case: material evidence was unobtainable because detained or fearful witnesses were unable to testify and, in one case, an important witness was killed. The climate of threats and intimidation was maintained throughout the complaints investigation process. EU EOM observers reported cases, where militia, police or armed forces were present around the location of the hearings. Also opposition witnesses were arrested before or after they testified in front of the panel, and many witnesses or opposition supporters reported to the observers that they were threatened in various ways, as it happened in Albuko and Eteya constituencies."
It didn't take the EU almost a year to decide what is happening by other Revolutionary Democrats in Belarus was awful but in all fairness the EU did begin to be critical right around the May 'elections' in Ethiopia.

We do expect, however, that the consequences for the regime in Belarus will be far more serious than for the one in Addis. In addition we will assume that Reuters won't choose this very moment to recycle government propaganda about how really well the economy in Belarus is supposedly doing without checking its facts first.

Wednesday, March 22

The 7% Maskirovka

Maskirovka "is a Russian military term which means a set of processes designed to mislead, confuse, and interfere with accurate data collection regarding all areas of plans, objectives, strengths, and weaknesses (of a force, organization or nation)."

The practice of maskirovka was the equivalent of mass produced art during the Soviet era and there were entire departments of the KGB that were financed to the tune of billions to carry it out worldwide - often with great success.

The Ethiopian government is still up to the same tricks by its own custom and nature while generally trying to trick or bogart cash from anyone that is handy. This is often done with help from news sources who should know better.


Reuters reports some really big news that although edited quite adequately for grammar and punctuation displays vanishingly little to do with reality.
Ethiopia, one of the world's most needy countries, said on Wednesday it could end extreme poverty if it kept up the healthy 7 percent economic growth of the last three years.

Finance Minister Sufian Ahmed told journalists that sub-Saharan Africa's second most populous nation could jump to the ranks of middle-income nations if current growth was sustained through coming decades.
The Ethiopian government's style of 7% growth would have to be sustained for several centuries worth of 'decades' to pull off that trick. Too bad none of this makes sense except as a bit of what can only be understood as an altogether successful cooperative propaganda effort.

Gross National Product (GNP) / Gross Domestic Product (GDP) / Gross National Income (GNI) are the value of national income and output used to estimate the value of goods and services produced in an economy and are for all practical purposes the same. Per capita GNP is that value divided by the population of a country that gives a crude but usually revealing picture of relative poverty and wealth between nations.

GNP rises when an economy is growing and GNP falls when an economy is shrinking. Per Capita GNP also rises and falls accordingly with the extra added wrinkle of population growth to consider. Population growth can all by itself increse the size of an economy by virtue of increasing the number of participants but population growth can also drag Per Capita GNP down if GNP growth is not adequate to keep up or exceed it.

There is also inflation to deal with but we will get to that much later on.

Let us consider the report from the Ethiopian government, faithfully broadcast worldwide by Reuters with absolutely no filter for truth or common sense in evidence. The word 'says' in the headline "Ethiopia SAYS may end poverty at current growth rate" does not let them off of the hook either.

Unless Reuters sees itself simply as vessel for passing on the claims of such regimes it is duty bound to analyze and be critical. Otherwise one is forced to the conclusion that Reuters does not see Ethiopian news as worthy of analysis or criticism - perhaps because so little is expected from Ethiopian anyway.

EXCEL is a spreadsheet program that usually comes bundled with Windows and probably some version of it comes with Apple as well, so it is probably on every computer out there - except for maybe the ones at Reuters.

Let us plug into EXCEL, Ethiopia's 2005 population of about 77 million, a generous figure for current per capita GNP of about $100, an unrealistically steady economic growth rate of 7% (from the Reuters piece) and a population growth rate of 2.33% from 2005-2015(from the Globalis Database) to see what happens.

Ten years from now our figures show a per capita GNP $156 and the total GNP about $15 bn for a nation nearing 100 million souls. All figures are in current prices but even if the numbers are eventually inflated by inflation all prices will be higher by the same factor as well - that illusion of growth provided by increased prices is a trap for the unwary.

For example, the $100 per capita GNP of the mid 1970s in Ethiopia is actually far higher than the $100 dollar per capita figure today. Similiarly the annual $500 million income from coffee in the mid 1970s is about $2 billion at today's prices and far above the $340 million in today's prices from coffee reported in the 2004/5 'boom year'.

Ethiopia's gold reserves in 1974 were worth almost $1 billion in today's prices while today there is not enough hard currency on hand to fund more than a few month's of imports - if even that. The current Ethiopian government has accomplished all of this with tens of billions of dollars in aid with little accountability that no other government enjoyed.

Ethiopians have been getting steadily poorer for thirty years and even 7% growth (if true) is not adequate to raise that standard 'to that of middle income countries' either unless as we said you are talking about centuries of decades to do it. One reason beyond the simple math that it won't be raised is that it is not true anyway.

We read that for the first time that three years of 7% growth were achieved but the government usually claims double digits every year in economic growth just as next year will be the year agriculture will take off or investment will explode or gold will fall from the sky.

Did Reuters think to check on any of this freely available information before spreading mendacious propaganda around the globe in the service of a dictatorship's eternal rule? Not at all. Reuters, which is too careful to call Osama bin Laden a terrorist and too careful to take the word of the American, British or Israeli or current Iraqi democratic governments at face value seems to have no problem repeating the words of assorted dictatorships like Ethiopia on economics and Sudan on slavery as though they were gospel.

What happens then is that unwary bits of the fourth estate lose touch with reality in what amounts to a mass LSD trip in the media with headlines like End to poverty in sight for Ethiopia from the New Zealand Herald. What utter and absolute nonsense! But as far as the world is concerned Reuters said it so it is OK.

The Ethiopian government controls all media in the country through a variety of public and private guises owned by the interchangeable party / government / crony business apparatus while it simply lashes out brutally at independent journalists who are brave enough to function as such. Leaders of the nearly free press who assumed protection from Western guarantees are like the leaders of the opposition and civil society all on trial for their lives on trumped up charges.

Those charges really amount to just the apparent crime of holding assumptions that Ethiopians deserve accountable government.

The regime has legions of consultants, lawyers and agents abroad including diplomats and even fake blogs sponsored by its intelligence agencies to influence opinion abroad. In Ethiopia, Western journalists (the few who bother to go there in person) are under constant threat of expulsion if they report the way they would in America, Britain, Israel or Iraq and they are intensely monitored by security services to make sure they don't stray beyond acceptable bounds.

Others prefer the Reuters brand of uncritical repetition journalism above or the Washington Post brand of surfing the internet journalism that drone on and on about lost cheetahs while a whole nation is dying and that requires no acutal presence or knowledge in the country to do one's alleged job. At that point why shouldn't they just repeat the government's propaganda since they have abandoned every concept of journalism they learned in school or under the tutelatge of their harder working elders.

That is why we see endless pieces on the Fistula Clinic in the world press. Don't get us wrong - it is a wonderful organization run and supported by admirable people. But ... is it really the center of the Ethiopian experience and universe? Seriously, that clinic and an outline for the very same human interest article we all have read dozens of times over the years must be on the front page of some secret journalistic 'Cliff Notes for Ethiopian Reporting' or 'Reporting from Ethiopia for Dummies' that is shared around that exclusive club.

If journalists made the slightest effort to be familiar with their subjects they would be so much more useful in serving the vital purpose that the press should serve on a global basis. We expect Bush and Blair to coddle their pet dictator in the Gibee for their own (wrong) short term interests but why should journalists from independent news organizations do the same when they are so aggressive in other matters?

The whole purpose of the government statement is to put forward a number of lies, most of them obvious to the minimally inquisitive mind, for dissemination by legitimate news organizations. The truth is that Ethiopians are getting poorer every year and that they are far poorer than they were during the reign of Haile Selassie and even poorer than during the rule of Mengistu Haile-Mariam.

The purpose of this statement in particular is to make it seem like all is well in Ethiopia and that the government is just peachy keen so that foreign aid which allows the government to make ferenjis its constituents instead of actual Ethiopians can keep rolling in.

All of those tens of billions in aid wasted on Ethiopia's kleptocracy in a poverty generating system with no private property rights and government / ruling party OWNERSHIP of all land and more than 3/4 of THE WHOLE ECONOMY has to be justified. Especially when the same government is cracking down on human rights and even the illusion of democracy it tried to maintain.

You see, the ultimate donors are US, EU and Japanese taxpayers whose earnings are passed, without their consent, through bureaucracies and every manner of agency. If they start getting ideas about their money going to waste - well then everyone's gravy train is likely to get upset and every manner of geopolitics along with it.

So from the press, to governments, to aid agencies at every level there is a quiet complicit policy amongst those who are normally not allies to cover up third world malfeasance and hide the ugly truth. Essentially it is all based upon assumptions that people like Ethiopians can't really do any better for themselves and that if all those taxpayers are allowed to find out that they would, in their ignorance, cut off the World Bank, IMF, a massive grab bag of NGOs and their own national aid bureaucracies.

The nonsense in the article about how Ethiopia only needs aid for roads etc. that its government is already working hard on ignores that much of the government budget comes directly from aid so that it all costs the regime nothing. Most development projects are not only financed by the West but also proposed by the West while the regimes lets them be carried out as long as it and its own 'private' companies get a fat cut of the resulting contracts.

Essentially, the whole article and statement are part of a chronic propaganda effort as well as a specific acute one to deal with sanctions from the EU for the conduct of the fake election and its bloody aftermath. It translates along with all other government press efforts as the following
Hey we're already doing a fine job sorting out this lot over here - don't you worry just keep sending money and ignore the fine print of the Ethiopian Civil Contract between ferenjis and Meles Inc. that leaves out all those bothersome Ethiopians and all will be well.

Oh and in the meantime could you please stop filling up their minds with strange ideas about democracy and freedom. We will be forced to hurt them even more and you know damn well we will do it right in front of you. Anyway, since those Ethiopians are all a bunch of tribalist genocidal primitives anyway, they need tough enlightened realpolitik sorts like us to keep them under control.

So just be good sports about it all and send money, a whole lot of money all the time and remember we are sending plenty of it back to numbered accounts and investments right where it came from so it won't be gone long.

Oh and did we mention this - send even more money - someone has to keep all these Ethiopians under control and fed and we are sure you don't want it to be you - directly anyway.

P.S. send more money - we will kill as many Ethiopians as we need to stay around so you might as well send us all the cash you can.
No amount of aid will develop or help Ethipia in the end just as no amount of dreamed of oil will do that job either. Both ultimately bring corruption and social disintegration as sources of unaccountable easy money that ultimately benefit a few while decoupling normal society and reponsibility.

Social, political and economic development are about social trust, institutions and accountability. All concepts long ago abandoned or always ignored by Ethiopia's rulers as personal threats to their rule.

In that vein one of our favorite blogs, Jewels in the Jungle in a post titled ' Global Business Reports: A Stewpot of Corruption' points out some fascinating things about why certain poor nations are poor and remain so. The links there all go a long way to explaining why Ethiopia is among the poorest nations on earth and why things are likely to get worse.

The Index of Economic Freedom 2006 describes itself thus "Wealth comes from the actions of people, not the actions of government, and the freer people are to direct their efforts to where they are most productive, the greater the wealth created" and notes that Ethiopia's overall score is WORSE than it was ten years ago
corruption is widespread, bureaucracy is burdensome, and much economic activity occurs in the informal sector. In addition, taxation is unevenly enforced, the judiciary is overwhelmed, and key sectors of the economy remain closed to foreign investment.
Fewer than 35 foreign firms are active [IN THE WHOLE COUNTRY there are only 35 foreign firms active!!]
The judicial system does not offer a high level of property protection.
Ethiopia's cumbersome bureaucracy deters investment. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, "Corruption in Ethiopia poses various problems for [the] business environment, as patronage networks are firmly entrenched and political clout is often used to gain economic prowess."
The EIU reports that corruption imposes a serious burden on economic activity.
The Forbes Capital Hospitality Index describes itself as a one stop shop for investment information in a globalizing world compiled by
seeking out several of the world's top institutions of sociological and economic theory, we gathered the results of surveys, statistical studies and socio-economic data on each of the 135 countries in our index, assigning relative percent-rankings for each of the chamber's largely qualitative principles. We then aggregated scores across ten separate categories to develop the first Forbes Capital Hospitality Index.
There Ethiopia is listed at 120th out of 135 economies as a place where people with money to invest are likely to invest. The Capital Hospitality Index has an Interactive Map Guide that is worth visiting that places Ethiopia among the worst in attracting investment and therefore actual economic good news and not by coincidence news of freedom as well.

None of this is because poverty and suffering are native to Ethiopians but because her government places its security and ideology far above the interests of her citizens.

The Economist Magazine is deservedly critical of Meles Inc. for its bloodthirstiness but then provides a fake economic cover up where the movement of a flower company from Kenya is a big sign of economic movement
The government's repressive tactics have proved embarrassing to outsiders. Mr Meles has won international plaudits for reducing poverty and for managing the economy.

European governments regard his regime as one of Africa's least corrupt, and Mr Meles has become an aid darling. Entrepreneurship is at last starting to flourish in Ethiopia. For example, the country has lately managed to win some of the lucrative flower-exporting business away from neighbouring Kenya.
While better informed than the simple Xerox operation over at Reuters, the Economist shares the same tendency of the press to repeat good economic news which simply does not exist. Kenya with all of its reputation for corruption is at number 90 on the list of Capital Hospitality far above Ethiopia.

One flower factory does not make a trend but does make for supposed 'deep' analysis from journalists too lazy to do more than surf around the web for the first headline on Ethiopian economics rather than think about economics and actual growth every now and then. If Mr. Meles has won international plaudits for his handling of the economy it is because of rank ignorance on that issue among the circles who hand out those plaudits or because they figure the truth about Ethiopia is not worth dealing with.

Transparency International's
annual TI Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), first released in 1995, is the best known of TI’s tools. It has been widely credited for putting TI and the issue of corruption on the international policy agenda. The CPI ranks more than 150 countries in terms of perceived levels of corruption, as determined by expert assessments and opinion surveys.
The TI report for 2005 lists Ethiopia solidly within the 'highly corrupt' category at the bottom of the list grouped near a number of oppressive and poor regimes. You may have noticed by now that all these factors are always found together.

Thus Ethiopia is one of the most corrupt countries on earth and is one of the least favorite places on earth to invest in. This is not determined by the nation's character or by God but by men who have made it so and who expect others to pay the bill for them to do it.

Agricultural production and the absence of private property rights go along with corruption and kleptocracy to forever deny domestic sources of capital from coming forth to change that downward economic trajectory.

Foreign aid can never make up the difference and foreign investment is essentially unwelcome. The last actual figure for Foreign Direct Investment was about $60 million and most of that came from one generous source.

Yet and still, ignorance and laziness produce and reproduce fake good economic news that is not simply a matter of interpretation but is simply a matter of repeating lies put forth by the Ethiopian government. The circle of those who benefit from such bad news and the dire straits of Ethiopia's fortunes not being widely know want us all to ignore the cause and effect of despotism and poverty.

Who knows? Maybe the economy did grow by 7% although it is not likely but it sure as hell did not grow by any of the reported, usually double-digit percentages any other year so why should any of it be believed? In the meantime Ethiopians get poorer and poorer every year and most international sources just repeat the numbers from the Ethiopian government with no critical or reasonable input at all.

One problem with this whold subject of economics is that the World Bank, the IMF, foreign governments and the media all turn to the Ethiopian government for news of how it is governing. It is hard to imagine a less reliable source.

7% growth over even decades will not change the fortunes of Ethiopians if true or if not especially when one loan, one foreign investment or simply cooking the books is enough to get everyone to believe it is happening. We can only marvel at the ability of the regime to get folks to believe its nonsense or to wonder at the capacity folks have for not giving a damn for the truth in favor of their own scripts.

The US Department of Agriculture maintains an "International Macroeconomic Data Set [that] provides data from 1971 through 2014 for real (adjusted for inflation) gross domestic product (GDP), population, real exchange rates, and other variables for the 31 countries and 34 regions that are most important for U.S. agricultural trade."

It is a fascinating resource that shows that Ethiopians have a lower per capita GNP now than they did in 1971 although unlike other sources it shows improvement since the Dergue era. What Meles Inc. and the Dergue have in common are similiar attitudes towards corruption, human rights and the free market while what they don't have in common is a willingness on the part of the West to send billions in aid today to provide for an illusion of economic growth.

The rates of economic growth nowhere matches the wild claims of the Ethiopian government that Reuters and the Economist are so enamored of. We at ethiopundit have obsessively made this point before but we must repeat DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE no matter where it comes from.

Above all remember - no matter what you hear - that no country that does not respect private ownership of land has ever had normal economic growth or developed democratic social institutions. If you know that you are already far ahead of the reporters and assorted bureaucrats everywhere who don't know or pretend to not know that universal fact.

If you don't run prison camps, kill people who disagree with you or run the entire economy of a poor country as though it was your own private checking account - then you are already far ahead of the Ethiopian government in moral terms.

One thing Meles Inc. knows clearly is the harm it is doing. They would just rather stay wealthy and in control for as long as possible at any cost to others. In the meantime whatever absurdities they use to justify themselves are repeated everywhere by their effective journalistic allies in the ongoing misery of Ethiopians.

Friday, March 17

Sympathy for the Prime Minister

Please allow me to introduce myself
I’m a man of wealth and taste
I’ve been around for a long, long year
Stole many a man’s soul and faith

The Rolling Stones

From the L.A. Times, a revelation for the ages: Africa's 'New Generation' Likened to Old Leaders once lauded by the West are accused of adopting the autocratic ways of predecessors. Amid absurdities about foreign investment and 'free elections' here is the money quote
The current leaders blame what they call the overbearing policies of international donors for many of their woes. In an interview, Ethiopia's Meles contended that his only fault was refusing to ride the "roller coaster" of Western opinion. "I have no regrets," he said.
How characteristic of recent Ethiopian governance is that? Not much different than when Mengistu's Communist policies starved Ethiopians and he blamed the imperialist powers is it?

Having chosen the path of eternal destitution and begging rather than any other standard of economic and social development that could enfranchise Ethiopians, the Prime Minister playfully snaps at the hand that keeps him in power and that feeds the people he impoverishes and oppresses.

Beyond the internal and external deadly bounds of a Marxist- Leninist Liberation Front named for its first victims that was locked in a death match with a Marxist-Leninist Military Dictatorship to see who the true heir of Marx and Lenin was - the rise to power and security of this regime has been based on honey tongued promises to Westerners to be whatever they wanted it to be at any given moment.

They in turn pretended to believe because they expected no different from or for Ethiopians than bibilical poverty and dictatorship.

With Blair and the left it was about sober post-liberal progressivism with a shared nostalgia for the good old days when radicalism was cool.All this while being an 'African we can talk to' despite some rather unpleasant habits as a despot.

With Bush and the right it was about realpolitik 'keeping the lid' on Horn of Africa instability while knowing very well that the regime was manipulating those fears to be appreciated as an 'African who may treat his people like sh*t but who sure as hell plays geopolitical ball'.

With international bureacrats it is about the very best cocktail party post-modern faux economic intellectualism with the same silly failed theories onanistically and ritualistically re-exhumed in the presence of an 'African who really listens to us and gives some of our theories' another chance on his captive subjects.

It wasn't the body count of the 'election' that upset the West as much as the fact that it was done where the world would somehow hear about it. Pressured to treat his people decently for a change by the West, or at least to spill a little less blood in public - the Prime Minister has been totally defiant. What did anyone ever expect anyway?

Tens of thousands are in prison camps, thousands are dead and those who operated in a false democratic space supposedly guaranteed by the West are 'on trial' for their lives for the high crimes of treason, genocide and for all we know jaywalking. In Ethiopia, if the Prime Minister says that up is down or that jaywalking demands a death sentence then - the party, the government, the parliament, the courts, the media, the military, the secret police and by definition all Ethiopians agree.

Everyone knows to play along with the game but the West changed the rules so Meles is upset. Who can blame him? As far as Meles was concerned no one could ever have really thought he was any kind of democrat anyway. The whole 'election' was a show to justify increased aid to Western taxpayers. So when Westerners started actually asking that he act like a democrat he felt betrayed and justifiably so.

Looking back on a career of canny tricks and bloodshed to subdue first the TPLF then Tigray then Ethiopia while bamboozling the whole world he must wonder if he was really that convincing as a 'Renaissance African Leader' after all and that such stage success comes with a price.

One imprisoned opposition leader told of a meeting with a Western diplomat before the 'election' where he asked what Western contingency plans where for an opposition victory. The diplomat was stunned into silence upon realizing that Berhanu Nega wasn't just going through the motions so that Meles Inc. could receive more Euros, Dollars and Yen.

The only people who took it all seriously where 70 million Ethiopians who voted out the government wherever observers where present and who somehow also supported the government when no observers where present. Everywhere there reward was loss of property, freedom and whatever hope they had that providence was about to give Ethiopians a break for a change.

Take the recent negotiations with Eritrea where there has been a 'breakthrough' which can only mean that Meles is finally going to go along with the results of the arbitration that he rejected then accepted then rejected then accepted then rejected over the past six years. In What are the Real Reasons Why Meles Decided to Accept the Border Ruling? from last year Dagmawi pretty much has the final word on this subject all the way from the issue of real loyalties to serotonin levels.

We would add that Ethiopia is in these negotiations now simply to make Westerners happy and possibly Eritrea's government too. Ethiopia's government never adopted a policy of making Ethiopians happy to stay in power so it has sought out other constituencies.

Billions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives were lost to gain a victory in a war where Ethiopia was attacked. A bitterly won victory was inexplicably surrendered to arbitration against all human experience and common sense. The surrender then came for the sake of looking good to ferenjis and the games being played now come for the same reason.

Meles knows that he and his permanent revolutionary aristocracy are loathed in every region among every ethnic group. Easing up on the opposition or on Ethiopia's who want to inhale a breath of free air will put Meles Inc. out of business so he will NEVER take his foot off of the collective Ethiopian neck.

Tomorrow if a deal is struck with Eritrea's government the whole government information machine will viciously attack anyone who ever had a less than generous thought about the Eritrean government before, during and after the war. In fact the whole war will be re-written off as a sneak attack by disloyal Tigrayan, neftegna Amhara and tribalist Oromo with Western aid against all that is true and good.

Love is hate, peace is war etc. - you've all heard of Newspeak before. Westerners who clearly care more for Ethiopia's people than Meles does have to be given something else to think about and they really seem to love Melesian Newspeak. Accusations of terrror against the totally non violent opposition serve that purpose as do rumors of war with Eritrea and rumors of peace with Eritrea.

Without even a pretense of analysis or the barest historical memory the international press just laps it all up and spits it back out. When things really get ugly the occasional reporter and official may be very mildly doubting or slightly upset at times - but it remains to be seen to what end.

It is no roller coaster that Western opinion has forced Meles on but rather a perverse carnival house of mirrors right out of a Stephen King movie. The Prime Minister rushes around blocking reflections of bodies while trying to convince his rich constituents in the West that they really don't see blood everywhere and that even if they do it would all be much worse without him.

All the while he wonders why they even bother to look or to act surprised when he hasn't changed at all.

Whatever critics of Meles may say of the West - without their even fitful concern with the fate of Ethiopians Meles Inc. would revive the East African slave routes of the past tomorrow to make a buck and stay in power. Of course the Prime Minister has no regrets.

The alpha and omega of his politburo / party / government / business empire is eternal power and wealth ... one day, thousands of lives and millions of suffering serfs at a time ... as long as the foreign money keeps rolling in and there are Ethiopians alive to squeeze a centime from.

Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name, oh yeah
Ah, what’s puzzling you
Is the nature of my game

The Rolling Stones

Wednesday, March 15

Helter Skelter

Events of the night of August 9, 1969 and the morning of September 11, 2001 occured a whole continent and thirty years apart. They were, however, the results of remarkably alike assumptions of human corruption and infectious psycopathic ego. Charles Manson and Osama bin Laden wanted and continue to want exactly the same thing - to take over the world - it is really that simple, that insane and that evil.

[under construction ... this is what happens when some folks expect everyone else to finish their posts for them]

Wednesday, March 1

Falling Off the Climate Curve

This fascinating quote below from a PBS / Scientific American article about the ‘Little Ice Age’ caught our attention so we decided to Google around a bit based on some associations from memory and curiosity.
It was only a few hundred years ago that the earth experienced its last ice age. Global temperatures started falling during the 1300s and hit their lowest points in the late 1700s and early 1800s. New Yorkers could walk from Manhattan to Staten Island across a frozen harbor, while Londoners held "Frost Fairs" on a solid Thames River. Glaciers advanced in China, New Zealand, and Peru, and snow covered Ethiopian peaks.
The Monumentum Adulitanum describes another cold era of Ethiopian history centuries before. It is an anonymous inscription in Greek, which was the lingua franca of Axum’s trading partners and ultimately of her elite, that survives in a copy made in the early sixth century AD by Kosmas Indikopleustes at Adulis. In the context of the great challenges faced by the Empire of Axum in its efforts to expand while using its relative great wealth, military prowess and access to resources over some of the world‘s roughest terrain, the author describes
inaccessible mountains covered with snow where tempests and cold are continuous and the snow so deep that a man sinks up to the knees
The “the snow and frost of the Semien mountains” is specifically noted, all leading us to realize that the Ethiopian climate back then was rather different. Or was it? Anyone who has visited Ethiopia’s highlands is not surprised to find that today
The cool zone consists of the central parts of the western and eastern sections of the northwestern plateau and a small area around Harer. The terrain in these areas is generally above 2,400 meters in elevation; average daily highs range from near freezing to 16°C, with March, April, and May the warmest months.

Throughout the year, the midday warmth diminishes quickly by afternoon, and nights are usually cold. During most months, light frost often forms at night and snow occurs at the highest elevations.
Throughout much of Ethiopia heavy coats or thick cotton traditional blankets / robes are a must at night and routine in the day depending on the season. After all while it is near the equator it is also at a high altitude. The story does not end there thought. The periods during the Little Ice Age and the one noted centuries before in Axum’s history where certainly far colder than what Ethiopians experience today. In addition the Ethiopian climate is certainly quite changeable.

“Present and Past Extreme Climate events in Ethiopia” is a noteworthy paper from the Department of Geology at AAU. First a definition, the Holocene epoch is a geological interglacial period that extends from the present back about 10,000 radiocarbon years, a period that encompasses all of human civilization. The paper notes that
“Extreme climate events in Ethiopia occurred at different time scales over the Holocene.” Particularly, during recent years the country has been the subject of major news due to the recurrent drought which has caused the loss of numerous human and livestock life. In the second half of the last century alone, droughts occurred in 1957-58, 1964-65, 1972-73, 1983-84, 1990-92 and 1993-94. The 1972-73 and 1983-84 events have attracted global attention.
Famine has now become regular as clockwork while drought may also be more common. More on that connection later but for now back to the AAU paper: there have been centuries long arid periods noted in Rift Valley Lake levels and lake sediment levels.
In the last millennium the occurrence and impact of climate during the "Medieval Warm Epoch" and the "Little Ice Age" have been the subject of research. Equatorial east Africa was significantly drier than today during the Medieval Warm Period from AD 1000 to 1270, while it was relatively wet during the Little Ice Age from AD 1270 to 1850.

Data from neighboring Kenya has however shown that this latter period was interrupted by three periods of prolonged dryness: AD 1390-1420, 1560-1625 and 1760-1840 which had profound societal impact. The latter two overlap with historical droughts in Ethiopia which occurred in 1543-1562, 1618, 1828-29, 1864-66 and suggested to coincide with the ENSO events.
ENSO is the (El Niño-Southern Oscillation) and a global coupled ocean / atmosphere phenomenon thought to be responsible for much climactic variation over time. The oscillations involved seem to be on a 3-8 year cycle with a variety of associated inter-decadal results far beyond ethiopundit’s ken and we suspect that of climatologists as well.

Anyway, probably much like the rest of the planet Ethiopia has been through some profound climactic changes during the era of human civilization. It can’t be assumed that they are more dramatic today or that they are accelerating. After all, people certainly noticed changes in the past but only kept records in the last third or so of the Holocene while overall after a generation or so few probably knew that the climate had ever been different.

We repeat - a large part of all issues revolving around global climate changes is that we have started to pay attention in only the last microscopic bit of geologic time and the last tiny portion of human time. Science and research provide many clues to the past but what is really interesting to us is the experience of the changes themselves.

During the Little Ice Age, Northern Europe changed from a wine culture to a beer and hard liquor one. (All cultures are defined in a sense by their relation to alcohol but that too we will deal with another time.) Formerly favorable conditions for the exploration of the Atlantic and presumably North American disappeared. Certainly manners, customs and farming methods changed as well along with modes of social organization that either created or accentuated the differences between North and South in Europe.

During the Little Ice Age
average global temperature dropped only one to two degrees Celsius below what they are today, the cold spell nevertheless drastically affected life at this time
Between 800 and 1200, Europe basked in a warm spell known as the "Medieval Warm Period" (MWP); temperatures were 2 to 3 degrees Celsius higher than they are today.
What has been discussed popularly recently in terms of Global Warming involves a one degree change in temperature over the last century which many believe is caused by human activity that has produced greenhouse gases that bounce heat back down instead of letting it escape into space.

Without any greenhouse gases we wouldn't be here to begin with - that and tectonic / volcanic activity help to make this planet warm enough to live on so it is all a matter of degree and very subtle changes. Imagine if you will, we are all on the third rock from the sun in the endless cold of space.

On this planet we can only survive with any degree of reasonable comfort on a thin layer no more than a few miles thick. Much of that and more than 3/4 of the surface is either really hostile or salt water. So we do need to be careful with our home but there certainly have been many climactic changes that had nothing to do with any human ability to influence the environment in the recent past and beyond.

We repeat - it is certainly a good idea to keep our planet as unpolluted as possible and we therefore consider ourselves to be environmentalists but we have a hard time accepting that somehow the one climate change we humans have happened to seriously document is also the one necessarily caused by us. That is a bit egotistical at least and also a little inconsiderate of geologic and human history.

Temperature like any other stream of data from a complex system from ground hog populations on the Great Plains of North America to the activity of Pacific volcanoes is noticed when there are changes but best examined as a curve examined in varying amounts of detail. The earth has been around for billions of years. A temperature curve that took that into account would leave out not only any given year but also any given epoch like the Holocene.

A tighter focus would reveal changes over thousands of years and on and on until we get down to centuries, then years and then down to seasons. The appearance of the curve at any level of focus would not be much different once the earth had cooled down to any temperature where biological events such as the creation of an oxygen atmosphere mattered at all.

We would bet, and we guess that we would bet accurately that the oscillations seen at a daily level defined as ‘weather’ would seem random then take on familiar curves defining seasons and at some level if we could sit by God as he graphed it all out there would be familiar patterns defining curves over millennia and epochs and even longer periods.

What we are so consciously experiencing today is like those cartoon stream of images that go from the microscopic to the cosmic where instead of seeing the whole thing we are sitting on one piece of one curve that could be a dip on the way up temperature wise or a brief rise on the way down. Basically we have no idea if we are just experiencing the ‘background noise’ of all data streams or not but we may be beginning to appreciate what that statistical noise can mean to us puny humans.

We don’t know what caused the Little Ice Age or any of the others or the warming periods either. Sunspots and more strongly volcanic activity are suspected but human activity was not at issue back then.

Again it makes sense to take care of the planet one way or the other but be wary of all hyper-certainty on this subject, either way, from those who would define morality and human ‘goodness’ by the degree to which one accepts the teachings of one school of environmentalism or another. It is hard to imagine that as the economies of India or China approach a level of polluting familiar to the First World that greenhouse gas levels will not rise far faster than ever before.

Even though constitutions like that of Ethiopia’s make hip concessions to the environment by promising to limit development (one promise Meles Inc. is keeping) that promise is about as meaningless as the rest of the document. You see, in the Ethiopian context today development has been abandoned for eternal aid dependence but that is no good for anyone in the end either.

No normal country will sacrifice its economic growth for the sake of global warming in the end. Political pressure in Europe and the US (and nowhere else except maybe Japan) makes it all a rather noisy issue but even world attacks on the US are predicated on the fact that no one else ever intended to obey the Kyoto Agreement anyway. America’s outright refusal simply makes it an easier target than those who made all the right noises but absolutely none of the hard political and economic decisions that those noises would naturally lead to.

Actually, rapid development may be the way out of the environmental trap but more on that another time.

Returning to the original subject of the experience of climate changes what happened in Europe those centuries past was dramatic. Those two or three degrees led to centuries of relative malnutrition evidenced by shorter populations on one level and social tension on another as governments tried to take shrinking harvests from their people.

This BBC article 'Ethiopia's food aid addiction' has this distressing litany of facts
Like a patient addicted to pain killers, Ethiopia seems hooked on aid. For most of the past three decades, it has survived on millions tonnes of donated food and millions of dollars in cash.

It has received more emergency support than any other African nation in that time. Its population is increasing by 2m every year, yet over the past 10 years, its net agricultural production has steadily declined.
"Droughts have always been a fact of life in this region," says economist Dessalegn Rahmato of the Forum for Social Studies in the capital, Addis Ababa.

"But it used to be on a cycle of 25 to 30 years. Now, that has been reduced to four or five years. Yet we still don't seem to be able to cope with that basic fact of life."
The reasons discussed are varied. The distorting effects of aid and the economic results that aid has on incentives are highlighted along with the aforementioned change in climate. The answer to the government seems to be the dream of 'Agricultural Development Led Industrialization' which sounds good in discussions with reporters and apparently World Bank officials but is really a meaningless concept.

With a seriously, no - catastrophically - underperforming agricultural sector where is the money supposed to come from to do anything? Presumably foreign aid that has been a constant in the setting of exploding levels of fertilizer usage per hectare along with falling yields. The article and so much other analysis leaves out the obvious.

No one in Ethiopia owns the land they farm which means that the government and ruling party control it and use its distribution as a means of political and economic control. Everyone knows that model will produce starvation but the trade-off is control if their are cooperative foreigners around willing to feed the people and fatten up the ruling party.

How does this go along with our previous assumption that we are all on a temperature / climate curve but don’t know where? Especially in light of reports like this one, Recent Drought Tendencies in Ethiopia and Equitorial Sub-Tropical Eastern Africa (pdf) (via Meskel Square) that
Multiple sources of evidence converge on a post-1997 tendency towards lower rainfall, especially during the Belg (March-May) season. This finding appears to hold for many parts of eastern Africa. Rainfall conditions have been stable in the relatively water-secure northwest of Ethiopia, and declining in parts of the water-insecure southeast, northeast and southwest of Ethiopia.
Well, Mother Nature is apparently doing her thing, sure, and that is not always nice for humans. However, that is being used as an excuse by successive despotic governments to surrender the very concept of rural development in favor of letting foreigners feed Ethiopians and letting them remain eternal sharecroppers and serfs of the state and ruling party.

You see, if the idea is abroad that Ethiopians can do no better because the land is somehow cursed by drought then the real curse that is Ethiopia’s government gets a pass and is even seen by some favorably in comparison. Destroying the same incentives and guarantors of security that ownership has always meant to any people will of course lead to their suffering.

In Ethiopia’s case that means the enrichment of a few who control all aid, all agricultural marketing, all fertilizer sales, all indebtedness and own all the land. If we are all riding a curve that may be on the way up or down in terms of climate and temperature then the Dergue and Meles Inc. are doing their very best to throw as many people off of the curve so they can rule without challenge.

Do not forget that without changes in climate or any environmental reasons whatsoever that totalitarian governments like those that inspire Ethiopia's Revolutionary Democracy have starved their people as a matter of routine.

Stalin, Mao, Ho-Chi Minh, Pol Pot, Mengistu, Mugabe and too many other tyrants have caused famines taking tens of millions of victims in the absence of drought. Just as in Ethiopia's current reality basic totalitarian policies such as the absence of private property rights and brutality led to mass suffering and death as a matter of very purpooseful political and economic policy.

The issue is not that Ethiopia or the world present a challenging environment. The real issue is that Ethiopia's government prevents its people from overcoming those challenges, makes them far worse by design and fits into a long and dismal tradition of destitution and destruction utterly independent of global warming or cooling.

So even if Ethiopian greenhouse gases will not be an issue for the foreseeable future because of the planned destitution of government policy - that same government policy will result in every climactic change being experienced by Ethiopians in the worst possible way. The drought article mentioned above notes that areas that receive sufficient rainfall could feed the others given rational distribution and incentives and that given the same the whole nation could forestall cyclic famines.

Remember this fact: anyone can experience drought but only the utterly powerless experience famine. In countries with rational and civilized governments on every continent the two are not necessarily related concepts at all.

Indeed, the former province of Gojjam - by itself - could feed all of Ethiopia and much of the rest of East Africa. However, a neo-Stalinist hostility to alleged kulaks (successful farmers) and politically and corruption determined redistributions of land deter commercial investment and even small local individual improvements.

Meanwhile peasants are chained to whatever piece of land repressive local party officials determine and in some regions like Oromia one must seek permission to go beyond the boundaries of nearby farms. All this to control and to suck the peasants dry.

The crisis caused by climactic change is ongoing and its social and historical implications are becoming ever clearer now. We don’t know which way the climate curve is really headed but the curve defining the fortunes of Ethiopians is heading straight down with a bullet.

However much or little we may influence our planet we can always make Mother Nature’s works far worse. Given a social contract essentially defined as ‘do exactly as we say and we will let ferenjis feed you’ things will get far worse under this government.


Here are a few past posts on related subjects: Those Tigabugna Greens, Genetically Modified Crops and Ecological Footprints. Also Axum or Axum and A Warrior Society and its Weapons.


Where else would an essay on global climate over time turn into criticism of Ethiopia’s dictatorship? Unless something really big happens (or one of us just feels like it) there will be no posting on this blog for most of the month of March except for some much needed tinkering with the archives - mainly sorting them out by subject and source. In the meantime there are numerous links to many routinely excellent blogs on the right side of this page along with more than a year and a half worth of our posts.

Above all - Don't Believe the Hype!