Meles urges Africa to move to green economy, as Ethiopia gets increasingly barren and drier By Keffyalew Gebremedhin

October 27th, 2011 Print Print Email Email

These days, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is in his ‘green economy’ mind. The problem with this state of mind is its inadequacy to differentiate between reality and aspirations. Whatever his definition of green economy, Meles has not said it in clearer terms heretofore in the Ethiopian context, i.e., until Tuesday 25 October 2011, although the terminology has now celebrated its second year since it became part of the international development and environmental lexicon.

This past Tuesday, in welcoming the African ministers of the economy at their Sixth African Economic Conference that began at the United Nations headquarters in Addis Abeba (ECA) in a speech titled ‘Green economy and structural transformation of Africa’, the prime minister claimed, “Ethiopia is exemplary for other African countries in utilizing clean source of energy” and in its utilization of “its domestic resources to build infrastructure of the sector.” While I sympathized with his aspirations and the latter part is true, as far as the green economy example is concerned, I wondered if this is not Meles’s Gore moment, as Vice President Al Gore on 9 March 1999 told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer “During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet.”

I was not comfortable with our prime minister’s excesses in many respects and now this boldness. Trust me, I would have kissed the heavens if what he said were true. I stopped to think what the world could see in Ethiopia and confirm its economy is green. If the idea were meant to explain the country’s preparations to exploit its natural resources to generate power, he could have put it differently as hope and the efforts underway. We know for a fact that at this stage Ethiopia in 2011 has only 2000 mw of power generating capacity; thus, of the few factories and industries the country has had, some are already slumbering because of power shortages and outages. Meles forgets that Ethiopia has a long way to go before claiming green economy, or experiencing countrywide electrification and crank up the economy and facilitate the country’s development.

It is not lost on Ethiopians that the Renaissance Dam is still an idea, whose realization is demanding a lot more in terms of the bricks and mortars, especially when viewed both from the point of resource mobilization, both domestic and foreign, and for assembling the many of its technical requirements. Moreover, although the officials read the financial contributions to date backwards, from the information they provided the reality of its financing at the end of GTP’s first year at ETB 7 billion ($409 million] has been less than expected. Even in future, the danger that all resources would be mobilized toward it, as the clock ticks and that the rest of the economy would be starved has not escaped being the concern of Ethiopian citizens.

What else could there be in our prime minister’s mind that compelled him to read his aspiration as the country’s reality? Evidently, because of this when he claims he has turned Ethiopia into one of the best examples of green economy, not only has he misrepresented the facts, as we know them. But also he could not manage to show that concretely in terms of the human security and wellbeing of Ethiopians that the green economy implies. Claims often come easy, because they are words, especially when there is no compulsion to present evidence. Apparently, at a recent roundtable in Europe on the topic of hunger and malnutrition, three countries were picked to demonstrate magnitude of the problem—Ethiopia, Haiti and North Korea.

In Ethiopia today, there are 12.6 persons depending on international humanitarian aid—7.4 million under the productive safety net (PSNP) and 4.8 million under the current Horn of Africa drought and famine. In the capital city Addis Abeba itself, according to news reports, today one ETB is no longer good enough to buy a decent loaf bread that many families use to silence hunger. This also is notwithstanding the promises and acclaimed successes under Goal 1 of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG) that relates to actions to reduce extreme poverty and hunger in a country where income inequality has been escalating it significantly.

Incidentally, a review of performance of PSNP itself, away from saving lives, the World Bank’s Project Performance Assessment Repot (No.: 62549), frankly states “the PSNP demonstrates what can be achieved in a low-income country with limited capacity and high levels of poverty.” Why do they sound so uncertain? The prospects of people in the 260 food insecure districts of Ethiopia has become uncertain. It has helped in saving lives, but it is not showing the way forward. This has come out in the Bank’s performance assessments in PSNP in the following manner:

Where poverty and food insecurity are generalized across a large proportion of the population and where humanitarian responses and emergency appeals are the norm rather than the exception, an appropriate view of sustainability might be more useful if it focused on: i) whether programs receive broad-based support among government and all development partners; ii) whether safety net programs are embedded in long-term development visions (such as PRSPs); iii) whether there is recognition that graduation is a long-term goal requiring long-term resources; and iv) there will always be a portion of the population that depends on safety nets.

It is irrespective of this that the prime minister came up with surprising story of Ethiopia’s green economy and the rehabilitation of the countries exhausted lands. He claimed, “Ethiopia, where agriculture is the backbone of the economy, has undertaken afforestation of 15 million hectares of land through environmental conservation and green development initiative. This will enable the nation to transform the economy radically.” He added, “Trees planted have a share to contribute to boosting the income of farmers by increasing agricultural productivity.” If this has been achieved, i.e., the equivalent of 150,000 square kilometres, I would say Ethiopia has done a great deal, since that is almost half of Oromia, the largest region in Ethiopia or 283 times the size of Addis Abeba.

I am skeptical, given the whimsical manner in which the lack of appropriate institutions and the obstacles ideology has set in whether this level of success can be attained. By all available indications, in fact government and its policies are the obstacle for environmental protection and conservation. The Meles government is the first culprit directly responsible for much of the do nothing, or massive deforestation or by its sanctioning of massive destruction of forest and water resources by doling out forest lands to investor in huge agricultural schemes in areas that for centuries have been covered with forests. Meles’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2003 reported that the annual deforestation rate in Ethiopia is 150,000 – 200,000 hectares. This has worsened with expansion of large-scale agriculture. Until recently, according to researchers, 54 percent of forests remaining in Ethiopia have been in the southwestern part of the country. This happens to be the area now investors in farmlands, domestic and foreign have concentrated.

Added to the highland areas of the country that have significantly suffered from erosion by water flows, the situation of forests in Ethiopia has been cause for concern for a very long time, and many experts express worries that the trend in recent years is not that of reversal but worsening. In addition, I recently read news reports that (

Interestingly, the land that was being cleared was declared national park years ago. Since the 1960s, according to the news report, plantation of cordia africana and other species of trees were planted. Recently, the government changed its mind and the forestland that has been designated for national park was made booty for political cadres of the prime minister’s ruling party and a few businessmen.

Against the backdrop of that reality, his proselytizing to other Africans about importance of forests and soil protection at an international forum took me by surprise. It sounded like campaign speech, as if he were in preparation for and mental journey to protect his African leadership position on environmental issues at the Rio+20 Conference in Brazil in 2012. Otherwise, what he was saying is not his record in the 20 years he has been in power in Ethiopia.

I called an old school friend in Ethiopia who is specialized in forestry. When I mentioned to him my skepticism about Meles’s claims, he was not surprised; nor did he confirm or deny what he had said and I know the reason why. He simply referred me to consult FAO’s Global Forest Resources Assessment 2010, which I have already seen but was also skeptical of it in the first place how 15 million ha of forestry efforts it has not reported. In a calmer voice, he added, in spite of FAO’s data weaknesses, it is something better to work with.

Therefore, according to the FAO,, forest cover in 1990 was estimated at 15,114 (per 1000 ha). In 2000, this figure went down to 13,705 ha, and five years later in 2005, it has gone down to 13,000 ha. By 2010, it is still going down now having reached 12,296 ha, according to FAO. The report contains many interesting data and in turn I recommend it for every Ethiopian to consult in ().

Meles then turned his attention to green economy to lecture the ministers why Africa needs it. He urged them, according to ERTA, that Africa needs to “give due attention to green economy if it has to ensure sustainable development and bring economic transformation.” He was emphatic it must be done, adding “We cannot hope to mitigate the impact of droughts and floods without a massive re-afforestation of our hills and mountains. But the impact of such a massive re-afforestation program will not be limited to its effect on soil erosion and water management. The trees we plant could become vital sources of new income for our farmers if we can sustainably manage and harvest them. Green development involving massive re-afforestation, water management and soil conservation programs is thus central to any hope of transforming agriculture and improving the income of our farmers.”

I stopped to ask myself, if I have parted with Meles on meanings on the green economy, especially why it is not the reality in Ethiopia as he claims? I checked and the briefest definition of a green economy I have come across from United Nation’s publications, as I guessed, says green economy “is one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities” (Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication, 2011).

Indicating that the green economy is one of the several closely related constructs that have emerged in recent years to enhance convergence on the three pillars of sustainable development (economic development, social development and environmental protection), a joint report by ECA and UNEP amplified green economy “as an economy that results in improved human well-being and reduced inequalities over the long-term, while not exposing future generations to significant environmental risks and ecological scarcities” (A Green Economy in the Context of Sustainable Development: What are the implications for Africa?, 2011) In its simplest expression, the report amplified, a green economy can be thought of as one which is low-carbon, resource efficient, socially inclusive, and that protects and enhances biodiversity and ecosystem services.

This gathering in Addis Abeba is preparatory for Africa’s participation in the conference that would take place in Brazil from 4-6 June 2012, known in short as Rio +20. ECA’s press release indicates that, in opening the conference in Addis Abeba, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Secretary of ECA Abdoulie Janneh on his part stressed, “It is now evident to all concerned that mankind needs to move from old resource-intense methods of growth in which progress has been at the expense of the environment to one in which productivity is boosted by using and managing natural resources more efficiently and effectively.”

Meles was critical of the international community for failing to generate the necessary resources to help Africa to jointly embark on a new and more sustainable way of managing the planet’s resources. He indicated because of that the promises of Agenda 21 have never been fulfilled since the first Rio conference in 1992. He said, “But even as we embark on the struggle to get every penny that we deserve we should recognize the issue of green development and structural economic transformation in Africa are too urgent and too important to be left to the tender mercies or the goodwill of others.”

Meles went on to say that structural transformation could only take place with a massive increase in the production of energy in Africa from renewable sources, which Ethiopia had already embarked on such a program to increase energy generation five-fold in the next five years. “By 2025”, the prime minister said, “when we expect to be a middle-income country, we will have close to zero net emissions of carbon in our economy.” Here it sounds better, since it is forward-looking.

If things are specifically viewed from principle point of view, one would be compelled to ask the Ethiopian prime minister what his government has done in respect of the commitments undertaken in Agenda 21 as it relates to realizing sustainable development in agricultural sector. I have in mind especially sustainable agricultural development. My problem in reading Meles’s statement is the difficulty of establishing what is real and fiction, whims or institution based national strategy and longstanding vision about the economic progress, economic justice and environmental protection in Ethiopia.

If indeed he is a person of conviction and vision, instead he ought to have reversed in these 20 years the resource destructions in the country. I am disappointed by his government’s double standard of saying something and doing the opposite. Ethiopia has for a long time been dangerously exposed to drought and famines, whose cycles have become shorter with every other passing year. Exhausted lands have not been retired to revive for the future, in view of future needs of Ethiopia’s fast growing population. Nor has rehabilitation of those tired areas allowed to take effect.

More distressing is the fact that natural and regenerated forests have been wantonly destroyed, with the government having failed to implement the numerous laws it has in its book. For instance, the 12-page Proclamation No. 542/2007 on the Forest Development and Utilization underlines clearly underlines the important role forests play in satisfying the needs of the society for forest products and in the enhancement of national economy. In that regard, the proclamation in Part II also goes long way in defining the role of individuals, associations, and governmental and non-governmental organizations.

What has not come out clearly is the responsibility of the state itself. In practice, it is the state that has failed to protect and conserve state forests, as discussed above. In fact, the few forests remaining, as mentioned above, less than 3 percent is because of their own initiative farmers that are planning trees, when government has been colluding with destroyers of those remaining forest resources and the country’s rich biodiversity renting out the lands to investors. This writer is not against investments, domestic or foreign. The problem is there is no serious government in the country that can ensure the interests of citizens, their wellbeing and the environment.

Even in that regard, the proclamation spells out that utilization of state forests should be “in accordance with the management plan to be approved.” It also has provisions for penalty, when individuals or companies are found in violation of the laws therein. It seems to me what is lacking is caring and commitment on the part of the Meles regime, as the FAO data indicates. Nevertheless, this has not stopped the Meles regime from playing the role of environmental advocate regionally and internationally, when it has not put into practice what it tries to lecture others.

This is not the first time that Prime Minister Zenawi felt comfortable in becoming advocate for green growth. On 11 October in Oslo, Norway, at the Global Green Growth (3G) Conference he made the same claims as at the conference at ECA about the progress he has made in Ethiopia in terms of green economy.International diplomacy is polite; they would listen, without the actors indicating they disagree until such time everything falls apart.

Perhaps, it is time that his regime assumed its responsibilities as signatory to the following international instruments relating to the environment:

• Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), ratified on 10 June 1992;
• United Nations Convention on Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC), ratified on 14 April 2005;
• Kyoto Protocol, ratification 14 April 2005;
• United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), ratified on 25 Sept. 1997;
• UNESCO Heritage Convention, ratified on 7 July 1977;
• Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), ratified in 1989

Finally, I should stress here that sustainable agriculture is a part of Agenda 21 and the UN Commission on Sustainable Development has also identified 12 priorities areas for action by states. These specifically deal with the review of agricultural policy, planning and integrated programming in the light of the multifunctional aspect of agriculture, particularly with regard to food security and sustainable development. These areas call for:

• ensuring people’s participation and promoting human resource development for sustainable agriculture;
• improving farm production and farming systems through diversification of farm and non-farm employment and infrastructure development;
• land-resource planning information and education for agriculture;
• land conservation and rehabilitation;
• water for sustainable food production and sustainable rural development;
• conservation and sustainable utilization of plant genetic resources for food and sustainable agriculture;
• conservation and sustainable utilization of animal genetic resources for sustainable agriculture;
• integrated pest management and control in agriculture;
• sustainable plant nutrition to increase food production;
• rural energy transition to enhance productivity; and,
• evaluation of the effects of ultraviolet radiation on plants and animals caused by the depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer.

(This article has been updated with additional material)

  1. The color of money
    | #1

    Give me a break! Meles doesn’t have an ounce of conscience in his body, enough to care for planet earth. A heartless dictator who is responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent human beings, doesn’t care what happens to the environment. Meles only cares, thinks and lives for the color of money that is green, period!

  2. Zelalem
    | #2

    Anti socials are criminals with no remorse the pathalogical lier Legese must suffer from split personality disorder.Or is it he spoke under the influence of his drug?

  3. beyu
    | #3

    mr Gebremedhin,

    what does ‘green’ mean to the ethno-fascist dictator Meles, when he sold off Ethiopian land to heartless indian and arab landlords who are dessimating vast tracks of land in Western Ethiopia, in Gambella, western Wollega, Illubabor and Bale regions. Large tracks of woodland and forest have been cleared to grow food for hungry indians and pakistanis.
    Even the Ethiopian wild life have been made refugees fleeing to neighbouring countries due to lack of shelter. Meles is devastating the whole country animal, human as well as the living environment. What is ‘green’ about this.

    Meles is a cruel barbaric dictator whose only aim is dessimating Ethiopia to enable him to build his ‘tigrei republic’ at the expense of others.

    Meles has

  4. The Eritrean one!
    | #4

    The title should read: MELES URGES AFRICANS TO BE MESSENGER BOYS OF SUSAN RICE, INDIAN SLAVES, AND WESTERN SOPHISTICATED SLAVES. All the hoopla of Meles and his boss Bereket are nothing but to cover the US involvement with the drone base in the nation and people that prides itself with, “3000 of independence”. If there is anyone that believes Meles and his boss with their recent hoopla it must be the peasants of weyanes!!!

  5. Narcissist’s Fake Empathy
    | #5

    TPLF have no conscience or empathy. How can any sane person expect a TPLF regime to care for the environment, when the same regime planted a bomb and killed its citizens…,locked up countless number of law-abiding Ethiopians…, gunned down unknown number of innocent Ethiopians…, robbed billions of dollars…,cut down over a hundred years old trees to sell the land to foreign billionaires etc, etc…

  6. Dawi
    | #6

    Here is what G7 Endargachew said about “claimed” growth rate in Ethiopia today – I am paraphrasing what he said.

    What ever development registered in Ethiopia, it could have been double or more with the participation of all the stake holders.

    Bearing that in mind, there is no reason to dismiss every progress under the sun as Keffyalew tries to do.

  7. true
    | #7

    When is the TPLF/Meles regime is stopping from laughing and slapping us on the face and making a joke on Ethiopians when he claims to African leaders Ethiopia under his regime to be a “green economy” where, people are starving! When are we stopping this joke that Ato Meles/TPLF is making on Ethiopians like this?


    How much are you getting paid by Meles con artist? You are coming here and spewing your garbage about irrelevant things, why don’t you discuss the topic.

    That being said, African leaders should have laughed at him. He is very much now in comfort at AU where it was built by African leadrs and Haile Selassie who have struggled to make the AU a reality, Ato Meles is playing jokes in it and taking this prestige.

    On the other hand, in a way, the TPLF is exactly seeing the Oromia and Ogaden region as alien. AFter all the ONLF and OLF demonstrated that (TPLF is under cover) they don’t want to be part of Ethiopia so by giving their land away and plundering it that is what tPLF is doing. However, in TPLF’s case they are using up the whole Ethiopia. So I could say could they be at fault for going along and conspiring with TPLF against Ethiopia in the first place?

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