Meles the Badger and The British Government
June 22, 2005
Meles's name is derived from the French word bêcheur' which means a digger.
Indeed, Meles is a good digger. Meles has a striking black and white striped
head. It can grow up to a meter long and weighs up to 14 kg. Meles has powerful
claws and legs with which it can dig and move earth. It keeps opening up new
setts & extending old ones to expand empire. I am not talking about Meles
Zenawi of Ethiopia, the butcher, and I am not also talking about his digging,
expansion and settlement programs on other people’s land. To be fair to the
man, he also weighs more than 14kg and surely stands taller than a meter.
I am talking about Meles the badger.
Anyone who works within the realm of the environment knows that Meles-Meles is a type of badger, which enjoys an extremely high level of legal protection in the UK under the Protection of Badgers Act, 1992, and Schedule 6 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981. It is illegal to intentionally kill or trap Meles-Meles except by applying for a license. It is also illegal to touch their setts. Many multi-million projects have been shelved because of this species. If a group of Meles-Meles decide to make your garden their home, you have no right to get anywhere near them.
It seems that the British government has wittingly or unwittingly extended this protection to another Meles, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia. The British don’t like anyone messing around with Meles. He is the shining star of the bushes, the endangered species of Africa, the ‘progressive’, the visionary, the intelligent, and the highly skilled who can’t set a foot wrong …………well until last week.
Last week saw the real Meles exposed with his reputation in tatters. It was an awful scene even by Meles’s standard. He mowed down mercilessly 36 protestors and wounded hundreds more. Although the world tried to cover it up in the past, it is known that this was not his first time. In April 2001, he was responsible for killing more than 46 people and wounding over 500 more in putting down a student demonstration at Addis Ababa University. In 2002, his soldiers killed 230 peaceful demonstrators in Oromia and Southern regions of Ethiopia – including 25 farmers in the city of Awasa. In December 2003, his troops again massacred 424 unarmed Anuaks in the Gambella province, South-western Ethiopia. In the ensuing months, over 2,500 more Anuaks were killed while 60,000 fled the region to neighbouring Sudan and Kenya. This time around, he has taken it too far and Meles the digger is digging his own grave.
Meles is building schools, 400 new houses, and other infrastructures on sovereign Eritrean territory. Although UNSC Resolution 1430 determined that no movement of peoples and new settlements be undertaken, Meles has been moving his people in broad daylight to settle on Eritrean land.
Meles expelled over 70,000 innocent Eritreans and Ethiopians of Eritrean origin including unaccompanied children and the elderly without any legal process and confiscated their properties just because in his own words ‘he didn’t like the colour of their eyes’.
Meles Zenawi has squandered 3 billion dollars on the war against Eritrea at a time when 15 million Ethiopians were at the verge of dying from hunger. In 2004 alone, Meles spent US$339 million on arms.
Thanks to Meles, Ethiopia remains to be one of the poorest nations in the world despite the fact that it is by far the largest recipient of all foreign aid in the sub-Saharan Africa amounting to US$1 billion a year excluding food aid.
Meles is the only leader in the modern world who has rejected with impunity a final and binding ruling of a boundary commission. Even the man considered as insane by the West, Colonel Gadafi of Libya has respected and accepted a border ruling delivered in favour of Chad.
With his record, Meles shames Mugabe many times over. The difference between the despicable Mugabe and Meles is that the latter is prepared to sweet talk with a begging bowl in hand and is pleased to have a brown nose at every opportunity.
Meles’s government was critically condemned for harassing, illegally detaining, torturing, killing members of political oppositions and demonstrators. On June 14, Meles’s police killed a member of the Oromo National Congress (ONC) and arrested other members of the opposition.
It is against all the above that the British government went out of its way to give unqualified protection to their toy boy, Meles Zenawi. Before they realised it, however, the spoilt child has grown to be a monster. It was rather funny seeing Meles Zenawi standing shoulder height between the rather tall Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and giggle uncontrollably while looking up to his masters like a naughty child who had just been given a candy. Badger’s Act may have saved badgers from extinction, but with the current development in Ethiopia, even an Act of parliament, Meles’s Act, is not going to save Meles. Meles the trickster has run out of tricks. His forked-tongues could no longer deliver.
Against the advice of many, Meles was appointed as commissioner in the Commission for Africa whose principles stand at odds with everything that Meles has done so far. In an interview, Myles Wickstead, the ex-British Ambassador to Ethiopia and currently the Head of the Secretariat of the Commission for Africa stated, "…the decision to invite certain people to become members of the Commission was made by the Prime Minister. So they are personal invitations from him to people with whom he has created a good relationship, with whom he feels he has a good sort of working relationship… people were selected for their individual capabilities…”. As outrageous as it may sound, Meles, with his abysmal record, was handpicked to come up with a panacea for Africa’s problem. The fate of Africans was left in the hands of a butcher and a lawless criminal. There cannot be a sane African in this planet who would not see this as an insult.
The British government encouraged Meles to flout international law with respect to the Eritrean Ethiopian border ruling. One senior official stated once that “there is no thought that the British Government puts a gun to the head and says Britain will no longer provide you with financial assistance unless you immediately give effect to the decision of the Boundary Commission”. Putting a gun to someone’s head may only be Mr Zenawi’s style, but the British no doubt could have used their considerable leverage to force compliance. Unfortunately, true to its words, the British government has not so far lifted a finger to ensure that the Algiers Agreement is respected. Meles is not Sadam and Ethiopia is not Iraq.
Meles spends many times over the money he receives from the British government on buying weapons. Figures from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a report by id21 and the World Bank indicate that the arms spending has been increasing year on year. Yet, the British government has tripled the financial assistance given to Ethiopia, with a plan to double that again. This is not in any way tied to Ethiopia’s acceptance of the border ruling. Any person with the right state of mind would know that sustainable development cannot be achieved without peace and security, and most of this so called aid would be squandered and be diverted to the war effort.
Without giving due attention to the record of the Ethiopian government led by Meles, The British government decided to act as the champion in the campaign for Ethiopia’s debt to be cancelled without any preconditions. Ethiopia receives about $2 billion in aid annually including debt relief, food, aid, budgetary support and development assistance. Ethiopia has received tens of billions of dollars in aid over the last 3 decades. Yet, all economic indicators of the World Bank and others suggest that things are getting worse and not better. What is then the logic of pouring good money after bad? How is it that the British government gives so much money without making an effort to secure peace in the region? There is no doubt that British tax payers would strongly oppose had they known what the British government has been up to. It must be said that there is no country in the world that deserves more help than Ethiopia and you will not find many people as hospitable as Ethiopians save the elite and the ruling class. It must however be realised that pouring money on Ethiopia through Meles’s government without addressing the fundamental issue of peace and security is no different from building a house on a soft alluvium. It will sooner or later crumble leaving the occupiers of the house in a more desperate situation.
The British government has been instrumental in encouraging the world to buy the idea of ‘open ended dialogue’ as a way of solving the problem between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Chris Mullin, the former Minister for Africa, is believed to be the architect of the new so called peace proposal by PM Meles Zenawi. In January 2004, he had said in a press conference in Addis Ababa, "We are looking to Ethiopia to accept the border decision in principle and enter into dialogue." He also stated that, "We are calling on Ethiopia to accept in principle the decision to be on equal footing on moral grounds with Eritrea, who are now having the upper moral ground." Meles Zenawi almost parroted what Mr Mullin had said. The British government was one of the very first of the few countries to welcome Ethiopia’s bogus ‘peace plan’. In a joint statement, Chris Mullin and Hilary Benn stated that the Ethiopian move represented “an important step forward, which the international community has been urging the Ethiopian government to take.” No surprise there. No surprise also that even with the support of the British government, Meles’s plan was dead on arrival.
There has also been a report on the BBC Monitoring Service on Dec 19, 2004 that, concerned by the US silence to Meles’s ‘peace plan’, an Ethiopian delegation travelled to the USA to explain the plan and solicit support. It was reported that British experts who sympathize with Ethiopia’s position and with diplomatic experience gained from the British Foreign Office, accompanied Ethiopia’s delegation headed by Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin. Their involvement is more than what meets the eye.
Mr Brown, UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, also stated in parliament that there are still outstanding issues with the boundary commission’s ruling. Mr Brown would not explain what these outstanding issues are. Mr Mullin, the ex-Minister for Africa, was also convinced that Eritrea has to be forced into negotiation. In one of his responses in parliament, he said, “Professor Lauterpacht, who ‘was’ the chairman of the Eritrea-Ethiopia boundary commission, has said that any issue can be discussed, provided that both parties agree. We think that that should happen, and that is the view that we are making clear to all parties, including the Eritreans.” The British government knows well that there is no provision made in the Algiers peace agreement for any ‘dialogue’ and negotiation on an already settled dispute to take place. The world and especially Eritreans cannot be hoodwinked by the efforts of the British government to make the Ethiopian stance palatable.
Aid donors have been providing huge sums to Ethiopia to keep its economy afloat while starving Eritrea of any development assistance. The strategy as I see it is aimed at prolonging the implementation of the ruling as much as possible in order to strangle Eritrea economically to an extent that the government will be forced to enter into a dialogue and accept Ethiopia’s illegal demand. This emanates from the underestimation of the resilience and determination of the Eritrean people to see justice prevail.
With his name tarnished by the Iraq war, there is no doubt that Tony Blair is eager to leave a legacy behind that will take people’s mind off his past track record. If Blair is dreaming of achieving prosperity in Ethiopia at the expense of Eritrea, then he is seriously mistaken. Tony has ignored our pleas, our letters, and our demonstrations. He will retire from politics at the end of this term and live with Cherie and his kids happily ever after. Many years later after he has left the scene, the unfortunate people of the Horn would still be picking up the mess he is leaving behind.
It doesn’t matter how much effort Tony Blair spends in covering up and beautifying a badger, a badger will always remain a badger. Regardless of his effort to pull wool over the eyes of the world, last week’s atrocities in Ethiopia cannot be justified. Following the massacre, I would not be surprised if more funding is made available to train the brutal Agazi force that came down from the north to squash the dissent, because that is exactly what happened in 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004. It would not be a surprise to see the British government denounce the actions of the Ethiopian government in public and at the same time try to dress a broken leg.
The sufferings of the Eritrean people over the last half-century is not of their own making, but the result of the unfair and unjust policies imposed by successive British governments, UN and others alike. When the British liberated Eritrea, Eritreans hoped that they would be fair and just. Instead the British dismantled and looted the country’s main infrastructures worth over 2 billion pounds and left nothing that is worth few shillings. The British bartered over Eritrea’s destiny and were party to the hand over of a country and people to a neighbouring country without their will. This decision led to a destructive and bloody war. Over 60 years later, Eritreans still expected fairness and justice from the British. They ‘didn’t do it for us’ in the past and it appears that ‘they will not do it for us’ now. Tony Blair may be in love with a nasty ‘badger’, but he must realise now that the countdown to the end of the badger’s era has commenced and nothing can stop it.