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Poor Ethiopia’s $5M diner for trees pleases liberal elites in Trump era

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By Teshome M. Borago 

(New York/Addis Ababa) – When it comes to the liberal obsession with global warming or the Democrat party’s “Green” agenda, US President Donald J Trump has always depicted them as being out of touch from reality. Case in point, New York’s Congresswoman Ocasio helped Trump and embarrassed her own party when she recently mentioned banning airplanes and “farting cows” to fight climate change. Ironically, what happened in the impoverished Ethiopia last week also became another sample of elitism behind the pro-green movement. 

Last Saturday, the smooth talking Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed organized an extravagant dinner party in the capital Addis Ababa, where the entrance fee was a whopping $5 Million Birr in local currency ($173,000 dollar) per a person. According to the government, it was a fundraising event to help pay for an expensive urban project that would allocate a large area for parks, bicycle path and entertainment around the capital city. 

The optics of a multimillion per plate exclusive event would not have looked that bad if Ethiopia was not one of the poorest countries on earth, with an annual income per person under $750

It was mind-boggling that there were so many super rich Ethiopians, who can afford millions for one dinner, enough to make it a well-attended legitimate event. Ethiopians wondered where are our priorities and how did all these people became millionaires, or perhaps billionaires, in a country where millions depend on food aid to survive. And many Ethiopians questioned the wisdom of prioritizing green space and bicycle paths in the city, while the government has often ignored droughts in the rural as well as small-scale irrigation, water conservation and modernization of farming in this ancient country. 

But this picture looks familiar for the populist crowd across the Atlantic Ocean in the United States who elected a brash non-politician in 2016. President Trump has made a living exposing the hypocrisy of anti-Trump celebrities, elites and politicians driving around in gas-guzzling and polluting SUVs; while preaching about green energy. That was the case with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez here in New York City, where a large Ethiopian-American population lives in its Bronx district. In addition to advocating for an unrealistic green economy at the expense of jobs of today, she is famous for kicking out of New York billions of dollars worth in AMAZON investment, the biggest company in the world. 

Trump was successful in exposing such anti-business policies and the suffering of American jobs under too much regulation as more and more companies leave the country. He pointed out the failure of international treaties like the Obama-era Paris Agreement in lowering carbon emissions from countries like China who pollute our environment the most. As if America is a planet on its own, many US Democrat politicians self imposed a strict environmental regulation that crippled American economy, putting US companies in more competitive disadvantage globally. These politicians ignored the financial suffering of Americans in rural and industrial midwestern states while providing no alternative or transitional employment to US communities who lost income because tech-heavy few “green jobs” replaced thousands of Coal and other mining jobs. After Trump won the presidential election, Hillary Clinton even admitted in 2017 that her elitist slogan – “we are going to put coal miners out of business!” – was one of her biggest mistakes for why she lost. 

Ethiopia and the United States are not unique cases. Worldwide, in the eyes of the working-class globally; electric cars, fancy parks, urban bicycle paths and pro-green policies are still foreign concepts. They are a luxury for the lower middle-class masses because green energy policies are often job-killing ideas for the developed world and investment deterrent for the developing world. But this has not stopped some dictators in third-world countries like Ethiopia from embracing the liberal talking points. In 2009, Ethiopia’s authoritarian ex-leader Meles Zenawi became the African champion fighting climate change; which rewarded him favorable media coverage in the WEST.  Meles quickly became a darling in Obama’s White House which openly defended his dictatorial actions in Ethiopia, compared to the Bush White House that casually turned a blind eye to Meles’s abuses. Obama’s office even gave an emotional eulogy and idolizing statement for the 2012 funeral of dictator Meles Zenawi, who was the first black leader to institutionalize tribal segregation and apartheid under the guise of “ethnic federalism.” 

Thus it is no surprise that the Ethiopian ruling party’s new Prime Minister has adopted similar tactics; with gender-equality and pro-green rhetoric for western media consumption, while the rest of the country is burning in ethnic conflict. Ethiopia is now ranked number one in the world having the most internal displacement of its own citizens in 2018. 

When the new Prime Minister is not busy doing photo-ops while digging holes to plant a tree or dinning with progressive millionaires, he is welcoming in new refugees from Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia, as if Ethiopia has no overpopulation problems and feeding its own people. Not surprisingly, he was praised for allowing more refugees from neighboring countries and used by western liberal media as a tool to shame Trump’s policies for refugees at the Mexican border. The media conveniently ignored the fact that the weak Ethiopian state is forced to have open-borders policy, due to its incapacity to control its long porous borders. It seems like most of the media is willing to overlook the widespread human suffering in Ethiopia, as long as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed expresses their set of beliefs. 

With Ethiopia in chaos nationwide, Western elites know they have Abiy’s reputation on its knees and in their hands so they will maximize their dividends, including by pushing a long sought liberal agenda of pushing gay rights in Africa. Thus, it is no surprise that a British company has recently planned a culturally insensitive trip of planting the LGBT flag in the heart of the ancient Ethiopian Orthodox Church – Lalibela. The group is well aware that a trip to Addis Ababa would be relatively tolerated by the Ethiopian capital’s progressive crowd and less risky for their safety; thus not newsworthy. The local Orthodox Church in the rural already refused the LGBT group entry into Lalibela. But during a BBC interview, the UK gay group leader sent a threat to Ethiopia that “the world is watching” and there will be consequences. Yet, knowing that these Western elites tolerate and make excuses for homophobic middle eastern nations nearby who are more brutally against homosexuality, there is often a racial dimension to these threats, due to racism and bigotry against the cultural sovereignty of black African nations. Nonetheless, PM Abiy is likely to comply and he will be happy to have this distraction from the unraveling security and erratic carnage through out Ethiopia. 

After all while Prime Minister Abiy was fundraising by wining & dining with the super rich elite to make Addis Ababa greener; hundreds of thousands more Ethiopians were displaced due to fresh tribal conflicts like Somali vs Afar and Amhara vs Gumuz. It seems like Abiy has forgotten his national priorities as a leader, which is to fix the economy, provide safety and peace for citizens. Even optimistic Ethiopians, who admired Prime Minister Abiy’s tactics to acquire dollars from the diaspora and foreign governments, are now puzzled by his reckless plan to selloff Ethiopian Airlines to Western investors (a checklist for neo-liberalism) despite EAL being a successful national company that already operates like a private entity excelling in a global market and bringing in hundreds of millions of much needed foreign currency. Over a year since gaining power, the PM does not seem to have a clear strategy on how to stabilize the economy, nor guarantee the security of citizens around the country. 

Externally, the Prime Minister is still viewed as a champion for change and considered for the Nobel Peace Prize. But domestically, the new image of the ABIY-era has become violent nativism, rabid tribalism and mass killings by vigilantes; with a little bit of public hangings in Oromia, lynchings in Sidama and outlaws in Tigray. Just in case we forget how backward Ethiopia has become, a college student was this week stoned to death by a mob in Amhara region, just because of his tribe. 

If the Ethiopian people were allowed to vote between one leader who promises food & safety for citizens; or another leader who promises more gender equality & trees; they will certainly elect the first one. Similar to what happened during the 2016 US election. But it is not too late in Ethiopia. Despite the growing crisis and the massive challenges ahead, Ethiopian Premier Abiy still has time to fix his priorities by addressing the urgent problems of the common man today, instead of the future theoretical concerns of the elite.

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