Africa’s Green Voice Falls Silent: 2013 London Memorial to Meles Zenawi


By Michael Street

Our struggle is not a marathon but more akin to a relay race where those who ran earlier pass on the baton to those who came later – Meles Zenawi

On 30 April 2013 a memorial service was held in London for Meles Zenawi, the late Prime Minister of Ethiopia who died on 20 August 2012. British speakers included former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, several former government ministers, former ambassadors to Ethiopia, diplomats and other renowned figures, as well as many more in the audience. Apart from those at the funeral itself in Addis Ababa last September this was probably the most distinguished group assembled to pay their respects to Ethiopia’s former leader. Read more >>

Throughout the service all the speakers referred to the late Prime Minister simply as Meles, as do most Ethiopians. This is the term of address used here and it by no means implies any familiarity or disrespect.

A Special Relationship
It is not surprising that such a memorial was held in London. If Ethiopia has ever had a special relationship with a foreign power it is with Great Britain, a relationship that began with the arrival of the first British travellers in the 18thcentury. Throughout the 19th century the British government appointed special Consuls to successive emperors. By the 1890s Britain had established one of the first and most important foreign embassies, or legations, in Addis Ababa. During the 1916 Rebellion, it was the British Legation to which the Regent, Haile Selassie, turned for the protection of his son. (Link – Thesiger, 1998) During the Italian occupation of Ethiopia the emperor was given refuge in Britain. In 1941 it was a British military campaign that reinstated the emperor on his throne.

After the war the special relationship continued and the tradition of resident British Consuls placed around Ethiopia endured at least until the 1950s. Such Consuls, travelling mostly on foot, made an important contribution in opening up the remote country and in building the modern Ethiopian state. They studied the landscapes, ecologies, cultures, traditions and languages. They built relationships, gathered information, made maps and helped make peace. They administered, managed and developed places that had never been seen by the outside world. The scale of the developments and the technologies used by these British Consuls could serve as models for what today we call sustainable development. The farm on the ‘English Mountain’ in Mega in southern Ethiopia, for instance, could be a green project for the 21st century. (Link – Lessing, 1962)

In 1973 it was the BBC that exposed the famine that contributed to the fall of Haile Selassie, paving the way for the revolution. It was the BBC that brought world attention to the famine in 1984. The subsequent Band Aid campaign to raise money for Ethiopia, driven by rock musician Bob Geldof, was largely a British campaign.

Since the end of military rule in 1991, Britain has been a stalwart supporter of Ethiopia and of the late Prime Minister. Throughout Meles’s leadership, despite inevitable ups and downs, Britain supported his government’s poverty reduction programs and to this day Ethiopia is the largest recipient of British aid. In the ‘war on terror’ in Eastern Africa, Britain and Ethiopia have been the closest of allies.

In 2005, UK prime minister Tony Blair appointed Meles to his Africa Commission and both men played important roles in the G8’s debt relief program for Africa. In April 2009, then PM Gordon Brown invited Meles to represent Africa at the historic G20 Summit in London, a move which cemented the Ethiopian leader’s reputation as the ‘Voice of Africa’. During 21 years of leadership Meles formed many friendships and forged many special relationships with British officials and citizens, the evidence of which was the attendance of so many of them at the London Memorial.

Colossal Achievements 
That Meles was an exceptional leader with exceptional gifts was in no doubt judging from the accolades delivered by all who took to the stage in London. His accomplishments were so wide-ranging, his involvements so deep, his ability to inspire so great that he has been called a visionary, national saviour, hero, genius, intellectual giant, philosopher-king, one of Africa’s finest sons. On the subject of his academic work alone, one speaker at the Memorial said it was socolossal that ‘it was difficult to believe sometimes that he was also running a country.’

It is hard to exaggerate the esteem in which Meles was held by the British speakers. He was, they said: ‘the very best…a man of action…an exceptional academic…a fiercely independent thinker…a forensic intellect…a remarkable man…supremely analytical and quantitative…brilliantly political and strategic…a key player in climate change negotiations…a man of deep convictions…an irreplaceable leader…a great foot soldier…a precious friend…a great African’. Clare Short, former Secretary of State for International Development, said Meles was ‘the most intelligent politician I’ve ever met in my life’.

The speakers also recognised his humanity and some of them touched on his shortcomings. Some broached the delicate subjects of his leadership style, the human rights issues and the slowness of the democratic process in Ethiopia. Development and democracy were meant to be advancing side by side, one said, but in recent years ‘the former has been getting ahead of the latter’.

For anyone with any knowledge of Ethiopia it was clearly never going to be easy to end more than 2,000 years of central rule and replace it with multi-party democracy. Meles, more than anyone, knew it was a long term project, what he called a necessary ‘work in progress’. Without condoning any of the authoritarian aspects of his leadership, Mark Malloch-Brown, former UK Minister for Africa, put them into context: ‘Meles was a tough man in a tough neighbourhood’.

However, while the London Memorial acknowledged Meles as one of Africa’s greatest and most influential modern leaders, it missed the opportunity to highlight a part of his legacy that is critical for Ethiopia’s future – his green vision for Ethiopia. While there was much praise for Meles’s brainchild, the 2010-2015 $80 billion five year Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP), his other brainchild, the Climate Resilient Green Economy (CRGE) strategy, was not mentioned.

Launched in 2011 and the first of its kind in Africa, Ethiopia’s CRGE strategy is the culmination of Meles’s green thinking over the past 20 years. This $150 billion strategy, designed to transform Ethiopia into a sustainable, low carbon economy by 2025, is arguably his greatest long term legacy to Ethiopia and indeed to Africa. Yet none of the speakers at the Memorial mentioned the CRGE strategy as one of Meles’s achievements. An even greater concern is that hardly any of today’s glowing reports on Ethiopia’s growth prospects, many written by Ethiopians themselves, include it in their enthusiastic deliberations. After Memorial, when I pointed out to Lord Malloch-Brown the lack of discussion on Ethiopia’s green economy he said, ‘that wouldn’t be the case if Meles were here.’

It is as if Meles’s green voice has fallen silent.


The Lem Meeting
Meles’s green vision first came to light at the international Lem (Green) Conference in Addis Ababa in June 1992, an historic meeting held to coincide with the UN’s first Rio ‘Earth Summit’ in Brazil. Only a year before and when he was only 36 years old Meles had assumed responsibility for one of the most challenging countries on earth. His address at the Lem Meeting in Addis was a landmark view of Africa from an African leader in the post cold war world.

After the failure of the centrally planned, post colonial development model in Africa, Meles spoke about a new type of development that would have its roots on the land. As in Rio sustainability was the word of the day. He blamed Ethiopia’s ‘hardship’, ‘suffering’ and ‘senseless’ natural resource destruction on the ‘top down’ and ‘irresponsible’ development strategies of the previous regime. Encapsulating Agenda 21 and in the spirit of the day, Meles called for ‘a conservation-based, people-led, people-centred development’, requiring a ‘multi-disciplinary, broad-spectrum approach for there is no piecemeal solution to the problems at hand’. In just a few lines Meles summarised what had gone wrong in Ethiopia and in the rest of Africa and what was needed to put it right. Over the following 20 years he worked to turn this green vision into reality.

The New Africa
Having spent many years on the land as a guerrilla fighter Meles knew that a real ‘green’ revolution must start there. His development strategies based on commercial smallholder farms and ambitious land rehabilitation schemes were the foundations on which a sustainable Ethiopia would be built. Breaking with the ancient tradition of centralised control, Meles’s historic experiment with ethnic federalism, which divided Ethiopia into nine rural and three city states, was a huge leap forward for the environmental management of this vital water tower of Africa.

Dividing rural Ethiopia around ethnicity, culture, ecology and geography – where the people are the decision makers as well as the beneficiaries of development – was the natural and holistic framework on which to construct sustainable development models based on local knowledge and conditions. The post colonial development ‘experts’ with their one-size-fits-all, piecemeal thinking had ignored local knowledge and Meles knew only too well that this was why their systems had failed.

Ethiopia became a leader in the democratisation of the development process that was spreading across Africa in the mid-1990s. This was Bill Clinton’s ‘New Africa’ and Ethiopia was way ahead of the curve. By the late 1990s the results of Meles’s rethinking of Ethiopia were beginning to show. In farming, forestry, water management, land rehabilitation, animal husbandry, eco-tourism and many more sectors, innovative multi-disciplines were rediscovering Ethiopia’s legendary ‘great abundance’. Journalists started quoting Pliny the Elder – Ex Africa semper aliquid novi (Out of Africa, always something new). Meles’s people-led, green vision was slowly taking shape.

From Bad Times to Boom Time
The war with Eritrea changed everything. In addition to the huge cost in lives, property and money, it also caused the remilitarisation of both governments and the inevitable return to central control. The pursuit of ethnic federalism was dramatically curtailed. This fall-out from the war, the drought in 2002 followed by a contraction in Ethiopia’s GDP in 2003 conspired to deal heavy blows to Meles’s green vision for Ethiopia. The ‘war on terror’ in the Horn of Africa after September 2001 put a further brake on sustainable investment.  Ethiopia’s historic borderlands were becoming more volatile than ever. Climate change was making things worse.

Developing from the ‘bottom up’ was a tricky, trial and error process in the 1990s. Sustainable, or green, growth was slow worldwide and green investment into Ethiopia was in its early days. Ethiopia’s population was growing fast with more than a million more mouths to feed and jobs to create every year.  Despite huge efforts by the government the perennial problems of deforestation, over-grazing, soil erosion, flooding and biodiversity loss were continuing at alarming rates thus undermining any progress made on sustainable development. No wonder Meles often said, ‘Ethiopia needs rapid and sustained growth….we have to run just to stand still’.

The 2003 nadir coincided with China’s ‘big push’ into Africa, with Addis Ababa being the first port of call. China’s arrival in Ethiopia and Meles’s central role in the China-Africa relationship helped open up the rest of the continent to China’s surging demand for resources and huge investor power. This relationship was one of the key links in the chain of events that led to the greatest global economic boom in history. China began investing in Ethiopia when Ethiopia needed investment most, and Meles’s conservation-based, sustainable development strategies had created the foundations for economic take-off.

With China as Ethiopia’s newest and most important partner Meles turned towards Beijing for inspiration as well as investment. China’s economic miracle was plain to see. The success in poverty reduction was the biggest and fastest in human history. China and Ethiopia, as former ancient empires, also shared historic and cultural similarities. Over the course of the next five years, in what seemed to be a contradiction to his green development strategies, Meles steered Ethiopia towards the centralised ‘China model’ of the late 20th century. He called it the ‘democratic developmental state’.

Following this model, between 2003 and 2008 the Ethiopian government launched a series of mega-scale public projects – dams, sugar enterprises and farms. These multi-billion dollar investments over such a short time, when the rest of the global economy was booming, sparked a surge in Ethiopia’s growth. Investors started pouring in. By 2008, just before the financial crash, Ethiopia was seen as the ‘China of Africa’ and Addis was becoming ‘Africa’s Shanghai’.

Meles’s rejection of neo-liberal economics was vindicated by the global financial crisis caused by light touch regulation in the west. His tightly controlled developmental state had produced some of the highest growth rates in Africa and some of the highest in the world. Ethiopia’s rapid rebound from the crisis and continued growth has put this ancient land on the verge of an historic Renaissance. The government’s ambitious Growth and Transformation Plan, masterminded by Meles, is a critical stage in the process.

Some Big Questions
At the London Memorial a large screen above the stage showed images of some of Meles’s achievements. All the images were of Ethiopia’s mega projects – dams, farms and sugar plantations – under the title ‘Ethiopia’s 21st Century Renaissance’. This return to top down planning for rapid growth has occurred at a critical time in Ethiopia’s history. A Renaissance for Africa’s oldest civilisation would be good for Africa and good for the world. The outcome of the GTP is therefore crucial. Considering the security implications alone, particularly in such a ‘tough neighbourhood’, anything short of total success could have global repercussions.

When he announced the GTP in October 2010 even the supremely confident Meles admitted it was ‘ambitious…extremely ambitious…very, very ambitious…but doable’. (Reuters) Meles knew better than anyone that such ambition does not come without risk.  Never before in Africa have so many billions of dollars of public money been invested in such enormous projects. Never before in Africa has the transformation of such fragile landscapes and cultures on such scales been attempted. Never before in a land where risk-aversion has played such an important role in human development have so many huge risks been taken. Never before has so much been at stake.

Much has been written about the risks surrounding some of Ethiopia’s current development strategies. From around the world, foreign and Ethiopian scientists and specialists – from The International Monetary Fund to International Rivers – have suggested a ‘rethink’ of some of the elements of the GTP. Ironically, Meles himself gives us clues as to where the risks lie and where the rethink should be directed.

As the ‘Green Voice of Africa’ at the 2011 UN Climate Change talks in Durban, Meles made it clear where Africa’s and Ethiopia’s future lies: ‘It doesn’t make sense at all when you are carrying out investment in the green field investment area to start with yesterday’s technology…We have to start with what is viable in the future.’ In other speeches he tried to drive this point home by paraphrasing Albert Einstein: ‘We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.’ As in 1992 this is Meles telling us to rethink Africa.

Here we confront one of the paradoxes of Meles’s legacy. As a leader he straddled two centuries. His green vision for Ethiopia is unquestionably a vision for the 21st century, yet many of the major strategies he was using to realise that vision are firmly rooted in the 20th.

Many of Ethiopia’s GTP projects are using yesterday’s technologies based on yesterday’s thinking and yesterday’s plans. The most ambitious of all, the $4.8 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, was designed in the 1960s by the same Italian company building it today. Some projects are on or near the sites of experiments that failed in the post colonial development era because the externalities, or ‘hidden costs’, were overlooked. The $1 billion Tendaho sugar project, for instance, at the end of the diminishing Awash River in the middle of the Afar Desert will be subject to many more of the enormous hidden costs that caused the Dergue’s cotton project to fail so dramatically in the 1970s.

Meles was aware of the risks, was prepared to take them and had his reasons for doing so. In 2007, during the global food crisis and after years of resisting calls for corporate farming in Ethiopia, he announced his government’s decision to lease large tracts of land to foreign investors. As this controversial move seemed to contradict his people-led development strategies, he said the mega projects were there to ‘supplement’ the small scale, sustainable development programs, not to replace them.  To do so, he said, would be ‘patently stupid’.

Considering what Meles said at the Lem Meeting in 1992 about irresponsible andtop down development strategies, and with only two years left for the GTP to take Ethiopia to the next stage in its Renaissance, the first big question is whether his development strategies based on 20th century technologies will be able tosupplement Ethiopia’s 21st century Renaissance? Will the water-intensive and therefore climate-vulnerable mega dams, farms and sugar enterprises be the drivers of his Climate Resilient Green Economy strategies?

The hidden costs of the late 20th century development model in Africa are now well known, there are more of them and they are increasing as the planet heats up, populations rise, biodiversity disappears and ecosystems break down. If the China model in China, as the country’s former leaders often said, has produced an economy that is ‘unbalanced, uncoordinated and unsustainable’, these hidden costs in a far more fragile and complex country like Ethiopia could be greatly magnified.

In a world where worst-case scenarios must always be considered, another question is whether Ethiopia’s new leaders are prepared to continue taking such huge risks? Will Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn forge ahead with yesterday’s plans and risk losing sight of Meles’s green vision for tomorrow? Of all the hidden costs of yesterday’s development model (or business-as-usual) perhaps the greatest of all is the cost of locking Ethiopians and their investment partners into yesterday’s thinking.   As Meles himself might have said, we have to start with the thinking that is viable for the future.

Meles’s Mega Green Strategies
If Meles was a genius one area it was manifested was in his ability to run two seemingly contradictory development strategies at the same time. While he was planning mega ‘brown’ projects around the country based on 20th century thinking he was also planning large scale green strategies for the 21st.

At the 2007 Clinton Global Initiative in New York, Meles was the first African leader to insist on Africa’s right to sell carbon credits to the rich, polluting world in order to ‘grow in a green fashion’. The following year Africa held its first Carbon Fair in Dakar, Senegal. In the United Nations 2008 Billion Tree Campaign, Ethiopia was way ahead with over 700 million trees planted (the next best was Turkey with 400 million). Vast land rehabilitation schemes in Tigray have turned the northern state into ‘the land of 40,000 micro- dams’. (Marsden, 2005)  Across the country smallholder farm yields have doubled in places and awards have been received for organic fertiliser production.  Such accomplishments around Ethiopia have confirmed the country’s legendary ability to field large numbers of people on a variety of projects in very challenging terrains.

By 2009, influenced by his friendship with climate change economist Nicholas Stern (who also spoke at the London Memorial), Meles had become the climate spokesperson for Africa and was instrumental in building a case for climate change funds for Africa. In 2007 Ethiopia was one of the first countries in Africa to produce a UN-backed National Adaptation Program of Action (NAPA) against climate change. In September 2009, when the so-called ‘green shoots’ of the global recovery from the financial crisis were showing, Meles pointed to Africa’s vast green growth potential: ‘Africa is a green field for investment because it is the least developed region on earth’.

Over the past 20 years countless reports have been written and are still being written on what has gone wrong in Ethiopia. Only recently have we begun to understand what is going right and what great opportunities lie ahead. Over the past two decades Ethiopia’s multi-disciplines have opened up the country like never before and the green growth potential they have discovered is colossal. Ethiopia’s Least Developed status is now Ethiopia’s greatest advantage for building a Climate Resilient Green Economy based not on piecemeal projects but on what Meles called the broad-spectrum approach or ‘systems thinking’.

Integrated River Basin Management (IRBM), an essential tool for CRGE strategies and an excellent example of systems thinking, has advanced in each of Ethiopia’s 12 major river basins over the past 20 years. The importance of this is vastly under-appreciated by development planners and investors. It has been noted by many scholars and observers of Ethiopia that ‘a geographical community is a much more salient source of identity and object of loyalty for many Ethiopians than any ethnic or clan affiliation.’ (Tronvoll, 2009) A traditional slogan from the first Tigrayan uprising in 1941 sums up the primary importance of geography in peoples’ lives and allegiances and serves as a directive for future development plans: arriena gerreb  – ‘we have united around our rivers’. (Tronvoll, 2009)

Within IRBM and at the instigation of Ethiopia’s late President Girma Wolde-Giorgis (one of Ethiopia’s great green pioneers), biosphere reserves are being established in Ethiopia as ‘laboratories’ for sustainable development where the people, environment and economy are reintegrated. Ethiopia is also setting up carbon sequestering projects under the UN-backed Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) scheme. The country is also beginning to exploit its abundant supplies of sustainable wind, solar and geo-thermal power potential. Eco-camps in various wild and beautiful places around the country are where ‘green consuls’ for the 21st century promote sustainable tourism while adding social and environmental values to Ethiopia’s evolving green economy.

With Meles’s as leader, Addis Ababa not only regained its position as diplomatic capital of Africa but became a hub for green thinking. Africa’s Green Economy Initiative, Ethiopia’s Climate Resilient Green Economy strategy and Africa’sConsensus Statement to the UN’s 2012 Rio+20 ‘Earth Summit’, one of the most important documents for understanding the growth potential in Africa’s green economy, were among a number of important initiatives launched in Addis and heavily influenced by Ethiopia’s former Prime Minister.

For 20 years, until his untimely death, Meles was preparing the green case for Africa on the global stage. Due to illness, his sudden departure from public life after the G20 Summit in Mexico in June 2012 and just before the historic Rio+20 was Africa’s great loss. His presence at Rio might have resulted in a better deal for Africa. More than anyone he had the vision and the conviction to influence the world to rethink the world’s most challenging continent. This vision can now help re-establish the momentum.

Resolving the Ethiopian Paradox
Since ancient times Ethiopia has been seen as a paradise by outsiders. The ancient Greeks called this vast, well-watered plateau surrounded by fertile lowlands a ‘Celestial Isle’. Throughout the ages foreign visitors have been astounded by Ethiopia’s ‘great abundance’ (Link – Pankhurst). By the early 20thcentury they were flocking to Ethiopia as the Promised Land (Link – Nesbitt). In the 1960s they thought Ethiopia could feed the whole of Africa. For many foreigners today Ethiopia is still a Garden of Eden and there is talk again of Ethiopia feeding Africa. Yet while astounded by this ancient land’s natural wealth, foreigners are equally astounded as to why so much poverty and hardship exists.  This is the Ethiopian paradox.

Meles’s twin legacies embody the Ethiopian paradox. On the one hand his green vision, conceived in the Tigray highlands during the 1970s and 1980s, born at the Lem Meeting in Addis Ababa in 1992 and developed over the past 20 years, needs micro-management based on intimate knowledge of the land, its inhabitants and their history. Meles knew it might take generations to achieve. He also came to realise that this vision could only be fulfilled by building a balanced, coordinated and sustainable green economy. His CRGE strategy was the outcome. On the other hand the methods he was using in the GTP to accelerate this process depended on macro-management, mega projects and business-as-usual. By keeping one foot in the last century he was hoping that yesterday’s plans would supplement tomorrow’s green economy.

The centralised China model suited Ethiopia very well during the global boom. Building on Ethiopia’s green foundations it gave the economy a much-needed boost. Now, more than five years after the great oil-fuelled bubble burst, the global economy is still lurching from one crisis to the next and no one knows what the future holds. In Ethiopia the billions of dollars of public money being invested in yesterday’s technologies are playing a dominant role in the GTP and imbalances are becoming evident. The IMF, the World Bank and other global institutions have repeatedly warned Ethiopia of the risks. The IMF has recently expressed deepening concern over Ethiopia’s macroeconomic situation: ‘Ethiopia’s huge public spending has created one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies, but volatile inflation, balance of payments pressures and a stifled private sector raise questions over its sustainability.’ (Reuters)

Ethiopia’s experience over the past 20 years shows that achieving Meles’s green vision requires a skilful combination of macro and micro management requiring responsible top down and bottom up planning. Not one or the other but both:people-centred development strategies in a developmental state. Building such a unique model, challenging though it might be, seems to be the only viable basis for Ethiopia’s Renaissance. The Cradle of Mankind could be where mankind develops its newest ideas in ways that will ultimately benefit us all. The Ethiopian people are well qualified to lead the way. Meles, a true ‘Renaissance Man’, spent 21 years on this essential work.

Ethiopia’s new leaders face a choice. Do they try to fulfil Meles’s green vision by continuing to expand yesterday’s technologies and yesterday’s thinking or do they switch focus and funds to take Ethiopians on different journey into the 21st century where new experiments yield new results?

Rethinking some of the 20th century projects of the GTP, even at this stage in the plan, and redirecting some of the finance, energy and ingenuity towards Meles’s CRGE strategies could have a stabilising and at the same time truly transformative effect on Ethiopia’s economy, and become a model for Africa’s sustainable development. It would send a strong message to investors and donors alike that Ethiopia is committed to achieving something new. It would fulfil the aspirations of both Rio ‘Earth Summits’ and help turn Meles’s green vision into a reality.

If, as someone said at the London Memorial, Meles was ‘brilliantly political and strategic’ one of his most brilliant political and strategic moves was choosing Hailemariam Desalegn as his deputy Prime Minister. Notwithstanding Mr Hailemariam’s personal qualities as a leader, being a southern Ethiopian from a minority ethnic group he is now, as Prime Minister, in a unique position to revitalise Meles’s experiment with ethnic federalism as a way to bring bottom up planning back into Ethiopia’s development strategies.

Without giving development choices to the people whose land is being developed it is difficult to see how Meles’s green vision as embodied in the CRGE strategy can be fulfilled. The importance of this cannot be overstated. As Wangari Maathai, one of Africa’s great green pioneers, said in her 2004 Nobel Prize acceptance speech: ‘Culture plays a central role in the political, economic and social life of communities. Indeed, culture may be the missing link in the development of Africa.’

A green stimulus for Ethiopia
The good news is that behind the headline news of Ethiopia’s controversial mega projects, the main elements for realising Meles’s green vision are in place. Everything needed for a boost in Ethiopia’s green investment is ready. The knowledge and information for a broad-spectrum approach are there.  The tools and technologies have been developed and are already in use. The infrastructure is in place to accelerate the process. Over the past 20 years Ethiopia’s multi-disciplines have been laying the foundations for a green economy. Global green investors are looking for opportunities. Ethiopia’s quiet and uniquely green revolution is ready to expand.  What Ethiopia needs is a ‘green stimulus’ to build on what Meles achieved in his 21 years as leader.

There are three immediate and interconnected ways in which Ethiopia’s CRGE strategy can be stimulated. Each of them have their roots the June 2012 Rio+20 ‘Earth Summit’.

Institutional frameworks. The institutions inherited by Meles’s government in 1991 were hopelessly inadequate for sustainable development. Although considerable reforms have been made over the past 20 years, much more can be done. Further institutional reforms needed to implement the Climate Resilient Green Economy strategy could include the elevating Ethiopia’s Environmental Protection Authority to a higher status. The institutional framework that has delivered progress on the Millennium Development Goals could be strengthened and adapted to carry out the necessary work on the Sustainable Development Goals, a major theme of Rio+20, set to replace the MDGs in 2015. Read more >>>

Green accounting. Of all the systems introduced to Ethiopia from the outside, one that needs reforming most urgently is the accounting system based on gross domestic product because it tells us nothing about sustainability. Since the early 1990s economists have been exploring new forms of national sustainability accounting which include more thorough cost-benefit analyses as well as national wealth accounting. Backed by the UN, the World Bank and other major global institutions, this has been called green GDP or, at Rio+20, GDP plus. Without this it seems impossible for Meles’s green vision to be realised and impossible for Ethiopia to build a dynamic and sustainable economy. Read more >>>

Green investment plans. In Africa’s Consensus Statement to Rio+20 in June 2012, Item 24 called on the international community ‘to put an international investment strategy into place to facilitate the transition towards a green economy.’ This represents an opportunity for Ethiopia. Instead of waiting for the international community, preoccupied as it is with multiple crises, to deliver a meaningful investment strategy on time, Ethiopia is well qualified to propose its own. Incorporating IRBM within the framework of Meles’s CRGE strategy, Ethiopia is in a unique position to design mega green investment plans as a counter-balance to the mega ‘brown’ strategies of the GTP. Read more >>>

Such a green stimulus to effect these changes needs green partners. This might be the time for Ethiopia to draw on its special relationship with Britain, the country perhaps best positioned to fulfil that role.

A Special Green Relationship
Britain has a number of advantages for stimulating green growth in Ethiopia. These are outlined in this blog: Britain’s Role in Unlocking Africa’s Green Economy. Briefly, for Africa in general and for Ethiopia specifically the advantages are as follows:

1. As the aid-versus-trade debate rages unabated, Britain, as the most committed of the G8 countries to maintaining aid levels, is well-qualified to propose a new approach to aid in Ethiopia.

2. Britain’s unrivalled knowledge of Ethiopia amassed over the past 200 years, from the 18th century travellers to 21st century green development workers is invaluable.

3. Britain’s institutions working in Ethiopia are among the most experienced in the country and are well qualified to work with Ethiopians on the urgent reforms required to cope with the challenges of the 21st century.

4. Britain’s engineers, scientists and researchers have a vast amount of learning and expertise to draw on for meeting the challenges of such a vast and complex country as Ethiopia.

5. As English is the global language and therefore will be the language of the green economy, Britain has a distinct advantage in exploring this new territory and in disseminating knowledge.

6. London is the financial capital of the world and as the world transitions to a low-carbon economy, the City has huge financial advantages to accelerate the process.

7. The progress made at recent Somali Conferences in London is giving Britain a leading diplomatic role in Africa. This work as political mediator and peace builder could return Britain to a position of major influence and a force for good on the continent especially in the Horn of Africa.

8. UK Prime Minister David Cameron is one of three co-chairs of a High Level Panel appointed by the UN secretary-general to oversee the establishment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to replace the MDGs when they expire in 2015.

On taking office in 2010, Mr Cameron pledged that his government will be ‘the greenest ever’. Instigating a green aid stimulus for Africa, beginning with Ethiopia, would create a multi-win situation and be a contribution of global significance. It would stimulate the true economic transformation of Ethiopia where production, consumption, finance and trade are restructured and reformed to meet the urgent challenges facing the country.

The invitation to the London Memorial for Meles Zenawi included a quote from the late Prime Minister. Acutely aware of the enormous challenges facing not only Ethiopia but the whole of Africa, Meles once said: ‘Our struggle is not a marathon but more akin to a relay race where those who ran earlier pass on the baton to those who came later.’

Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, has now taken the baton from Meles. In a fast changing world with Ethiopia at the frontline of climate change with many more huge challenges besides, the weight of this baton cannot be overstated. What he does with it is of global importance. It was perhaps Meles’s destiny  that he carried most of the baton for 21 years. Will the new Prime Minister try to carry it alone, as Meles did, or will he seek responsible partners within and outside Ethiopia to help him take it forward into the 21st century?

Related articles:

Rethinking Ethiopia’s growth and transformation (05.11.12)

Ethiopian ahead of the curve: the green legacy of Meles Zenawi – part II(07.09.12)

The green legacy of Meles Zenawi – Part I (23.08.12) 

The paradox of Meles Zenawi (22.08.12)

About the Author: Michael Street’s connections with Africa began 40 years ago. In the 1970s and 1980s he worked in a number of African and Asian countries as a ‘brown’ development expert on various agro-industrial projects. He first visited Ethiopia in 1975. During the 1990s and early 2000s he travelled extensively in Ethiopia and lectured widely on the country’s history and ecology. Since 2001 he has been based in Sicily where he is establishing two small biosphere reserves as part of an initiative to understand and expand Sicily’s green economy.