|Wednesday 28th of April 2021
June 5, 1954 @NewYorker Issue The Story of the First Sherpa to Climb to the Top of Mt. Everest
“I thought if I climbed Everest whole world very good,” he said recently. “I never thought like this.”
Both “Tenzing,” which means “thought holder” or “thought grasper,” and “Norkay,” which means “increasing wealth,” are given names, and “Sherpa,” which means “man from the East,” is a caste or clan name.
Darjeeling, the Sherpas, and Mount Everest make up a triangle that has framed Tenzing’s life.
Darjeeling is a town of twenty-five thousand people, seven thousand feet above sea level, on a steep slope in the southern Himalayas. From the plain below, its buildings look like strips of paper pasted on a screen.
For decades, people have come to Darjeeling by a small mountain train, with tiny red cars and a tiny green locomotive, that chugs in and out of the bottom of town, but now one can also make the trip by auto, corkscrewing up a steep road between terraces of the tea bushes that, before Tenzing, made Darjeeling famous.
The principal streets are level, running across the face of the slope, and these are intersected by steep, zigzagging lanes and by steps.
Tenzing’s flat is in a pink stucco house on the highest of the level streets, formerly Auckland Road and now Gandhi Road, and on clear days it has a fine view of snowy peaks to the northwest, including Kanchenjunga, the world’s third highest.
To see Everest, one must go to a lookout called Tiger Hill, thirteen miles to the southeast.
In the old, imperial days, the British used Darjeeling as a refuge from the heat of Calcutta, three hundred miles away, their main Indian port and the capital of Bengal Province.
The Bengal government came up for the hot months, and so did the wives and children of businessmen.
To Westerners, Darjeeling is a simple place, but to the Sherpas it is a great city. Sherpa boys run off to it as other boys run off to sea; Tenzing did this himself.
The Sherpas’ home country is in the northeastern corner of Nepal, just below the Tibetan border.
The southern edge of the Tibetan plateau is fenced by peaks, including Everest, and then the ground falls sharply toward the plains of eastern India; most of Nepal lies on the higher reaches of this slope.
The Sherpa country is sparsely settled, and the largest village, called Namche Bazar, which apparently means Big Sky Market, consists of a few rows of small stone houses.
The Sherpas get along by raising yaks, which thrive on their blizzardy pastures and the thin air, and by growing potatoes; in one spot, they know it is time to begin planting when a frozen waterfall thaws.
There is a strong tendency among Sherpas to leave their difficult homeland.
One escape is to turn trader, run yak caravans over the high passes into Tibet, and ultimately settle down there, and another is, of course, to go to Darjeeling, which is about a twenty days’ walk from Namche Bazar.
Most of the Sherpas in Darjeeling—there are about a hundred families—live in a poor neighborhood called Tung Soong Bustee, a short walk from the center of town.
Right up to Tenzing’s success on Everest, he, his wife, and their two daughters shared a single room there.
One sunny morning recently, when the rest of the town was still buttoned up, I went over to have a look.
I walked along Nehru Road to the Chowrasta, Darjeeling’s main square, where a few Sherpa men and women were sluicing down and brushing small ponies—chestnut, piebald, and gray—which they would later try to rent to sahibs and their children.
This is the way Tenzing earned his living when he came here. From the square, I made a hairpin turn over to what once was Calcutta Road but now is Tenzing Norkay Road, a dry, hard dirt road with paths running off to houses scattered in the brush below.
Soon I was looking down on the tin roofs of the cluster of buildings where Tenzing used to live.
A dozen prayer flags, flying from bamboo poles, rose above them; they had been white originally, but were gray with the columns of prayers, thousands and thousands of words, stamped on them.
Flapping in the breeze, they set up spiritual vibrations that, according to Sherpa belief, which is Tibetan Buddhist, would spread far and wide.
A few women with the braids, high cheekbones, and small, square build of the Sherpas were filling pails and old kerosene tins with water from a public tap on the road.
Down below the roofs, the world fell away to a valley where I knew there were tea gardens, but I couldn’t see them now, for there was a haze, and the valley seemed infinitely deep.
I heard hoofbeats and a voice, and when I turned, there was Tenzing. He was riding a brown pony, wearing English-style boots over khaki trousers, and using an English saddle with a bright Tibetan rug under it.
The pony was just under thirteen hands, fit, and well groomed; stopping to chat for a moment, Tenzing said it came from Tibet, and showed me a brand on its hind quarters that looked like a Chinese character.
Mount Everest has been a British institution—or at least climbing it has—since a year or two after the First World War.
About the middle of the nineteenth century, it was measured by triangulation from the Indian plains, and was found to be the world’s highest mountain.
This came as something of a surprise, for Everest does not appear to stand above the peaks around it.
Since then, there have been threats from flash contenders, like Amne Machin, in northwest China, but Everest is still rated highest, even though there have been arguments over exactly how high it is.
In 1852, the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India, a British project, called it 29,002 feet—admittedly an approximation.
Some authorities say it is 29,141—the result of later sightings—but 29,002 has prevailed, on the ground that no sighting can be reliable and it is better to choose one and stay with it.
The peak was named for Sir George Everest, a Survey of India man who had retired in 1843, and the name has stuck, although there have been advocates of local names; a Survey pamphlet mentions, among others, Chomolungma, the commonest Tibetan name,
and Mi-ti Gu-ti Cha-pu Long-nga, which can be translated roughly as “You cannot see the summit from near it, but you can see the summit from nine directions, and a bird that flies as high as the summit goes blind.”
Since last year, there has been agitation to rename it Mount Tenzing, but it doesn’t look as if anything will come of this.
Katmandu, the capital of Nepal, has become the usual jumping-off place for climbers, but Darjeeling remains the recruiting ground for Sherpas.
They are generally hired through an organization called the Himalayan Club, which provides expeditions with advice and services, and which keeps dossiers on more than a hundred Sherpas, listing their vital statistics, their working records, and their good and bad qualities.
The Sherpas report early in the year, often walking from Namche Bazar for the purpose, so that they can have jobs by March, when the climbing season begins, and the Club assigns them tasks from sirdar, or foreman, down to common porter.
Tenzing used to be one of the Club’s sirdars, and he went as such with Hunt in 1953, but he isn’t one any longer.
Tenzing was born in a village called Thami, near Everest and at an altitude of fourteen thousand feet.
His father owned yaks, and as a boy Tenzing herded them, often in pastures thousands of feet above Thami.
He also went on caravan trips over the Nanpa La, a nineteen-thousand-foot pass near the western shoulder of Everest.
From the start, he lived as close to Everest as a human being could.
Two legends, both circulated by Tenzing and both perhaps true, have grown up to explain why he wanted to climb it.
After his descent, he said that the monks of Thyangbocke Monastery, in the Sherpa country, had once told him “the Buddha God” lived on Everest, and that he had wanted ever since to worship there.
As everybody knows, he left an offering—a chocolate bar, biscuits, and candy—on the summit.
Recently, however, he has been inclined to explain, making no reference to the Deity, that he had wanted to master Everest since his boyhood, when he caught glimpses of climbing parties and heard stories about them from older Sherpas.
There seems room for both motives, but the difference is there, and it reflects a general de-emphasis of the Buddhist faith in his affairs since last year.
When Tenzing was a boy, his heart was set on going to Darjeeling, but his father insisted that he stay home and herd yaks.
He obeyed until he was nineteen, and then, in 1933, he and a few other young Sherpas fled to Darjeeling.
For a couple of years, he made his way by renting out his pony and doing odd jobs, and in 1935 he was hired as a porter for a British Everest party.
He went again in 1936 and again in 1938, learning the things that Sherpa guides must learn, including how to cook Western meals for sahibs. His cooking is said to be good.
The war suspended climbing for a decade, and it was not until 1952 that he tried Everest again, with the Swiss.
He has tackled many other peaks as well. He has been through the mill.
At times, one hears, he has been very down and very out, but long before his final success he was known as one of the most able Sherpa sirdars of this generation.
When Tenzing and Hillary reached the top, on May 29th, it was the end of the climb and the beginning of the arguments.
Issue No. 1 was whether Tenzing or Hillary had got there first.
This came from the outside world, from a public conditioned to thinking that there must always be a winner.
Mountaineers, especially when they are roped together, as Tenzing and Hillary were, seem to lack the zest for personal triumph.
Soon after Hillary and Tenzing descended, they said they had reached the top together, and that is what they have been saying ever since.
The next controversy came when the party rejoined the world, in Katmandu.
Nepalese nationalists objected to the news that Hunt and Hillary were to be knighted and that Tenzing was only to receive the George Medal.
Hunt made matters worse by telling reporters that Tenzing was a good climber “within the limits of his experience”—a defensible remark, for Tenzing knows little of, say, rock-climbing in Europe, but an odd thing to say of a man who had more experience of Everest than anybody else in the world.
Tenzing objected publicly, and became estranged, for a time, from Hunt and the rest of the British in the expedition.
War with China “may be inevitable” and those in positions of power are finally “being honest” about the threat posed by the superpower, @SkyNewsAust @RitaPanahi
Law & Politics
War with China “may be inevitable” and those in positions of power are finally “being honest” about the threat posed by the superpower, according to Sky News host Rita Panahi.
Home Affairs Secretary Michael Pezzullo recently stated we should “get ready to fight for our liberty” and prepare to send “our warriors to fight”.
Defence Minister Peter Dutton also admitted on Sunday that Australia cannot discount conflict with China over Taiwan,” Ms Panahi said.
“Australia must also be prepared to offer asylum to those fleeing Hong Kong, and perhaps Taiwan as well, if China’s aggression intensifies.”
Ms Panahi said Australia has a “moral obligation to provide asylum” for those who are genuinely fleeing tyranny, and the country “would be enriched fulfilling this moral obligation”.
“Those coming from Hong Kong are unlikely to be a drain on our welfare resources and their economic contribution would help address the issue of an ageing population,” she said.
“An injection of productive, working-age taxpayers is just what we need post COVID.”
"The Dark Forest," which continues the story of the invasion of Earth by the ruthless and technologically superior Trisolarans, introduces Liu’s three axioms of “cosmic sociology.” @nfergus
First, “Survival is the primary need of civilization.”
Second, “Civilization continuously grows and expands, but the total matter in the universe remains constant.”
Third, “chains of suspicion” and the risk of a “technological explosion” in another civilization mean that in space there can only be the law of the jungle.
In the words of the book’s hero, Luo Ji:
The universe is a dark forest. Every civilization is an armed hunter stalking through the trees like a ghost ... trying to tread without sound ...
The hunter has to be careful, because everywhere in the forest are stealthy hunters like him. If he finds other life — another hunter, an angel or a demon, a delicate infant or a tottering old man, a fairy or a demigod —
there’s only one thing he can do: open fire and eliminate them. In this forest, hell is other people ... any life that exposes its own existence will be swiftly wiped out.
Kissinger is often thought of (in my view, wrongly) as the supreme American exponent of Realpolitik. But this is something much harsher than realism. This is intergalactic Darwinism.
Turning To Africa
We are getting closer and closer to the Virilian Tipping Point
“The revolutionary contingent attains its ideal form not in the place of production, but in the street''
Political leadership in most cases completely gerontocratic will use violence to cling onto Power but any Early Warning System would be warning a Tsunami is coming
Residents of Somalia's capital flee amid splits within security forces @Reuters
Residents of the Somali capital Mogadishu fled neighbourhoods on Tuesday fearing renewed clashes between rival factions in the security forces, who have split in a dispute over an extension to the president's term.
Government forces also raided an independent radio station and confiscated equipment.
Forces loyal to the opposition hold parts of the city and the two sides clashed over the weekend, raising fears that al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab insurgents could exploit a security vacuum as state forces turn on each other. read more
Many soldiers in Somalia's armed forces owe their loyalties to clan militias which have often battled each other for power and resources.
The presidential term extension has also angered foreign donors, who have backed Mohamed's government in an attempt to bring stability to a country that has been wracked by civil war since 1991.
Residents said they left some Mogadishu neighbourhoods, fearing fighting after armed forces moved in.
"This morning, we were surprised to see more well-armed pro-opposition troops have settled in this area of Siigaale, they told us to move," said Abdullahi Mohamed, a local elder. Siigale is near Maka al Mukarama road that leads to the presidential palace.
Also on Tuesday, Turkish-trained Haramcad ("Cheetah") police forces stormed Mustaqbal Radio, a private outlet, taking equipment and harassing journalists, the station's manager said.
28 OCT 19 :: From Russia with Love
“Russia regards Africa as an important and active participant in the emerging polycentric architecture of the world order and an ally in protecting international law against attempts to undermine it,” said Russian deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov
Recently we have seen Russian interventions in the Central African Republic CAR.
In July this year, a three-minute animated video appeared on YouTube. Called Lionbear, the cartoon was aimed at children and told the story of a brave but beleaguered Central African lion, who was fighting a losing battle against a pack of hungry hyenas.
Luckily the lion had a friend who came to the rescue — the strong Russian bear. The bear fights off the hyenas brings peace to the land and everyone lives happily ever after.
Andrew Korybko writes Moscow invaluably fills the much-needed niche of providing its partners there with “Democratic Security”, or in other words, the cost-effective and low-commitment capabilities needed to thwart colour revolutions and resolve unconventional Wars (collectively referred to as Hybrid War).
To simplify, Russia’s “political technologists” have reportedly devised bespoke solutions for confronting incipient and ongoing color revolutions, just like its private military contractors (PMCs) have supposedly done the same when it comes to ending insurgencies
Abiy Ahmed’s Counterrevolution @thebafflermag Alex de Waal
ON NOVEMBER 4, 2020, Ethiopians awoke to find that their country was in civil war.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed—the fresh face of a reformist agenda—announced that troops loyal to the previous government had attacked army bases in the northern region of Tigray, and he was launching a “law enforcement operation” to bring this “criminal clique” to justice.
Hostility towards the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the leading party in the coalition that had ruled Ethiopia for twenty-seven years until Abiy took power in 2018, was already running high.
Through November, Abiy’s operation seemed to be going according to plan. While drones destroyed the armor and artillery of the rebel region, federal forces closed in on the regional capital of Mekelle and occupied it.
Abiy declared victory, claiming “not a single civilian” had been killed; the last remaining job was to round up renegade TPLF leaders who had fled to the hills. Some were captured or killed over the following weeks.
Since then, this rosy account has unraveled, despite a blanket communication blackout.
Abiy was first compelled to concede that there were indeed massacres needing to be investigated, most notoriously in the city of Axum.
The killing of hundreds of civilians was painstakingly documented by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
Evidence for dozens of other massacres seeped out, along with stories of mass rape.
Having denied that the army of neighboring Eritrea was involved, Abiy then admitted their presence, hinting at their responsibility for abuses.
A leaked report from the U.S. State Department said that the western part of Tigray had been ethnically cleansed by militia from the Amhara region, which were fighting alongside the national army.
A humanitarian crisis deepened, its scale and nature obscured because journalists and aid workers were at first debarred from Tigray entirely, and then could only reach a handful of towns.
Médecins Sans Frontières announced that most of Tigray’s hospitals and clinics had been ransacked.
Eyewitness testimony and satellite imagery have revealed a scorched earth campaign of arson and pillage, with Eritrean and Ethiopian forces using starvation as a weapon and destroying farms, factories, and services. Tigray is on track to a man-made famine.
Wars do not happen overnight. Before November, Ethiopia’s political road was rocky, with inter-ethnic conflict in many regions and an increasingly mercenarized and transactional political arena.
Tigray was made particularly combustible by the involvement of Eritrea, the most closed and dictatorial of all regimes in Africa.
Eritrea’s president Isaias Afewerki rules a country with no constitution, parliament, free press, or judiciary.
The Eritrean state is little more than a vast army and security agency dedicated to its despot’s will—and his long-cherished goals have been annihilating the TPLF and its constituency.
Had Abiy attacked Tigray alone, we would have seen turmoil. With Isaias as his partner, his project has turned into a campaign of ethnic extermination.
The two men are united in their egotism. The former Eritrean foreign minister Petros Solomon—who vanished into Isaias’s oubliette twenty years ago—said the president considered himself bigger than the country he commands.
Many who have met Abiy report that the Ethiopian leader likewise believes he is on a God-sent mission. Today, they cannot let go of one another.
Abiy needs Isaias’s army and security agents; Isaias needs Abiy’s international credibility and funds, fading though they may be.
The Tigray war is also a counterrevolution: a ruthless repudiation of the progressive ideals that animated a generation of Ethiopians.
The first act of the Ethiopian revolution unfolded in 1974, when popular protests challenged the feudal regime of Emperor Haile Selassie, and a military junta stepped into power.
Over the next forty years, a cohort of radicals in Ethiopia and Eritrea shaped their country’s destinies. They fought the ancien regime and one another, enacted dramatic reforms, and the leaders of the two countries diverged bitterly.
Under Isaias, Eritrea relapsed into totalitarianism. Under Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia became an authoritarian developmental state—with remarkable achievements in reducing poverty, eliminating hunger, and expanding education.
By 2017, with Zenawi gone, his hapless successors were exhausted, and people pressed for democratic change.
Reform was always going to be fraught, more likely to result in a turbulent market in political allegiances than a mature democracy.
But, mismanaged by Abiy, the process has descended into something far more alarming: war, mass starvation, and the disassembly of the state itself.
The story begins with the old feudal empire. Ethiopia prides itself on thousands of years of unbroken statehood, but that is, of course, a myth.
The idea of a special nation beloved of God validated the long reign of Emperor Haile Selassie—champion of African liberation abroad, practitioner of autocracy at home.
In the tradition of France in 1789 and Russia in 1917, the Emperor met his end in 1974 in a sanguinary revolution, led by students and hijacked by army officers.
The victorious military junta proclaimed itself socialist and allied with the Soviet Union, which supplied almost unlimited weaponry, while Cuba sent combat troops and East Germany provided intelligence expertise.
In the ensuing “Red Terror,” the junta’s leader, Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam, murdered tens of thousands of young people on suspicion (sometimes valid, sometimes not) of supporting rival camps.
There were in fact several revolutions bundled into one.
The first was the armed struggle for independence in Eritrea, part of the empire that been spun off to become an Italian colony in the 1880s.
After driving out the fascists in World War Two, the British set up a temporary military administration and then dithered over what to do with the territory.
They handed the problem to the United Nations, which approved a liberal constitution but decided that Eritrea should be federated “under” the Ethiopian crown.
The transfer of sovereign authority took place in 1952. Ten years later, Haile Selassie abrogated the terms of the federation, dismantled Eritrea’s representative institutions, and suppressed opposition by force.
The student revolutionaries were sympathetic to the Eritrean cause, but Mengistu vowed to crush them.
He launched fifteen annual offensives—every year, except for his first and last in power—promising that the next one would break Eritrean resistance. In fact, they broke Mengistu, and won de facto independence in 1991, internationally recognized after a referendum in 1993.
The second revolution was economic: an end to the famines that recurrently devastated the peasantry and “land to the tiller”—abolishing feudal land tenure and the exactions that accompanied it.
This began well, but the junta’s Soviet-inspired agricultural policies and its scorched-earth counterinsurgencies meant that famine made a comeback, worst of all in 1984.
The third was ending the myth of a divinely mandated Ethiopia, its culture in the image of its aristocracy: Orthodox Christian, Amharic-speaking.
There are many different ethnic groups in the country, especially in the frontier zones of the nineteenth century imperial expansion.
The empire placed them in a hierarchy with the Amhara at its zenith; next their historic partners and rivals in state-building, the Tigrayans; below them the largest group, the Oromo; and lastly, a host of others considered slaves or potential slaves.
Some had previously had their own principalities; others were stateless peoples or pastoral nomads.
After 1974, leaders of the Oromo argued that Ethiopia was ripe for decolonization. The Tigrayans of the northern highlands made a similar case for self-determination.
After the urban revolution had been drowned in blood, Oromo and Tigrayan guerrillas continued the armed struggle in the mountains.
The TPLF proved particularly skilled at waging people’s war. In alliance with the Eritreans, they defeated the junta in 1991.
The victory of the guerrilla armies gave the revolutionary generation a second chance. Eritrea took its independence.
The TPLF had in the meantime constructed a coalition of ethnically based parties—the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF)—with a shared program.
An alliance between the EPRDF and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) lasted just long enough for the two to agree on a federal constitution that enshrined the right of the major ethnic groups—“nationalities” in the day’s communist parlance—to linguistic and cultural rights, self-administration, and self-determination within regional boundaries.
The EPRDF did not, of course, invent ethnic politics. What it did was formalize a particular version of ethnicity into constitutional form. Those wedded to a unitary Ethiopian project objected in principle.
Others were concerned that the grouping and drawing of boundaries would impose an arbitrary grid on far more complex and fluid reality.
And some—notably the OLF—objected to how the federal system was stripped of its democratic vision and instead turned into a new centralism.
The OLF stayed in government only briefly, rebelled, and was militarily defeated.
Nonetheless, in the years after the EPRDF took power in 1991, there was a genuine sense that peace had finally arrived and that democracy was in progress.
For a while. The Eritrean and Tigrayan allies fell out; in 1998, there was a bloody border war. Ethiopia won, and the Eritrean regime withdrew to lick its wounds.
Eritreans enjoyed a brief blossoming of civic debate, but in September 2001—while the world’s attention was distracted by Al Qaeda—President Isaias cracked down.
He imprisoned most of the senior leadership, who literally disappeared into his gulag. Even their families have not heard from them for almost twenty years.
As noted, Eritrea has no constitution, no parliament, no press, no independent judiciary. All eleventh graders must join the army for indefinite national service, which is cruel and dehumanizing.
After Syria, Eritrea is the world’s most prolific generator of refugees relative to its population size.
Isaias’s justification was that there was an ongoing cold war with Ethiopia, which refused to withdraw from a small piece of land it had occupied during the war, against the ruling of the International Court of Justice.
So Eritrea became a garrison state, maintaining its trenches and its artillery.
The TPLF didn’t recover from the war either. Despite winning, Ethiopia’s ruling party was riven by infighting, eventually resolved in favor of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who expelled most of the veteran leadership and allowed the grassroots mobilization to wither away.
Today, leaders in Ethiopia claim that there was a TPLF clique dominating the country for almost thirty years, enriching Tigray at the expense of everyone else. The reality is more complicated.
After the TPLF split, Tigrayans stayed on at the helm of the army and security, but Meles shifted his political base to the Amhara and Oromo parties within the EPRDF.
Tigray, previously among the poorest regions, merely caught up with other regions on the indicators for development.
Meles’s strategy was less revolutionary, more conventionally authoritarian.
But Meles retained one progressive goal. In his first press conference after taking power in 1991, he was asked about his ambition for the country. “Ethiopians should eat three meals a day,” he replied.
On this issue, he was consistent, single-minded, and creative. Ethiopia cut poverty in half and child mortality by two-thirds, doubled income per head, and put in place welfare and emergency relief measures that ended famine.
Ethiopia became a favored aid partner, despite the fact that it was following state-led policies, which ran counter to the reigning free-market orthodoxy.
Meles in fact modeled his vision on East Asian developmental states such as Taiwan and South Korea.
I first met Meles when he was a guerrilla in the 1980s, on the back of a truck trundling through the TPLF-controlled mountains.
(We traveled at night to avoid the relentless aerial bombing that took place after sunrise). The truck was a mobile seminar in which we debated politics, economics, and philosophy.
I continued those debates with him after he was in power, while he was catching up on his studies; he completed a master’s in economics from Britain’s Open University and began, but never finished, a PhD thesis on the political economy of African state-building.
He was ready to listen to harshly critical arguments—over the laws restricting civil society, his clampdown on opposition parties, or his military intervention in Somalia—though he rarely compromised on strategy.
Meles argued that if Ethiopia didn’t escape its poverty, it couldn’t achieve stability or democracy.
Abiy Ahmed’s Counterrevolution @thebafflermag Alex de Waal [continued]
Western governments took Abiy’s reform agenda at face value. But he had over-promised, telling every constituency what they wanted to hear.
Before long, he had to choose whom to disappoint, and first in line was the Oromo democracy movement—the very people who had brought him to power.
In June 2020, following the killing of a popular Oromo musician and protest leader named Hachalu Hundessa, he arrested their leaders, clamped down on their media, and set about dismantling their political parties.
The much-postponed national elections are now scheduled for June. Abiy is engineering the process so that the next parliament will contain members of the Prosperity Party, his closest allies, and a swath of bribed independent candidates who will give a veneer of pluralism to the results.
It is a political marketplace in which loyalties are individually bought and sold—a reversion to a formula familiar from many kleptocratic systems of rule.
International donors had been impressed with the results of Meles’s developmental state. But they didn’t trust its independent-minded architect and his defiance of liberal economic orthodoxies.
When Abiy promised economic liberalization—privatizing the most valued state assets, including the telecoms and airlines—Western governments were smitten.
Meles had gambled that Ethiopia could overcome poverty before its political strains became unmanageable, but the winnings of that bet were proving too tempting to the new political elite and a fast-growing band of cronies and admirers. They were impatient to cash in.
Eager in turn to appease the Trump administration, Abiy made his first foreign policy blunder.
Ethiopia had long wanted to build hydroelectric projects on the Nile, but ran into opposition from Egypt, which considered the river a matter of national security—and any Ethiopian dam a direct threat.
Ethiopia cannot stand alone against Egypt, and over decades it had constructed an alliance of African states that share the Nile waters.
The dam was the centerpiece of Meles’s developmental state, the African coalition its diplomatic extension. The most important partner was Sudan, which Ethiopia was particularly careful to keep onside.
But, aggrandized by his Nobel prize, Abiy abandoned the coalition and met with Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi alone, offering direct talks with the U.S. treasury as mediator.
Al-Sisi must have been dumbfounded when Abiy essentially discarded every card in his own hand.
Trump, of course, sided with his “favorite dictator”—al-Sisi.
Within a few months, public pressure in Ethiopia forced the Abiy to backtrack, and this angered Washington, which suspended some aid.
Abiy is now stuck up this blind alley, trading threats with Egypt from a position of weakness—the grand dam now a symbol of national pride.
As a sidebar to this story, the third country in the talks—Sudan—had no choice but to side with Cairo and Washington.
Ethiopia lost a valued friend. Today, the Sudanese are in the midst of a troubled transition to democracy, and Ethiopia has embroiled them in a border war.
The other dictator who smartly seized his chance was Isaias. Eritrea had been languishing without money or international legitimacy, under sanctions for destabilizing its neighbors.
Abiy gave Isaias the key to escape from this prison, and the only thing he got in return was a medal from a committee in Oslo—and a military pact against the TPLF.
For Abiy, the TPLF was a political problem that should have been amenable to compromise. The Tigrayan leadership had accepted their diminished status and retreated to Mekelle, though they were playing hardball on regional autonomy.
For Isaias, however, the TPLF is an enemy to be destroyed completely. This means reducing Tigray and its people to abject destitution, unable ever again to challenge Eritrea.
His dream was that the two forces he feared—the Ethiopian national army and the TPLF—would destroy one another, leaving him to play divide-and-rule over an unstable, diminished neighbor. By declaring war on Tigray, Abiy played into his hands.
The Prosperity Party is little more than a personality cult.
There was no shortage of warnings that war was imminent. The world’s attention was, of course, distracted by the U.S. election. Abiy controlled the narrative on day one.
The TPLF botched its pre-emptive move: most of its takeover of the army bases was done without violence but several federal units resisted, and the Prime Minister could justifiably portray the attacks as mutinous.
Miscalculating again, the TPLF was unprepared for the onslaught that followed. The biggest attack came down the road from Eritrea. Drones from the Eritrean airbase at Assab relentlessly destroyed the Tigrayans’ armor and hunted down their leaders.
This airbase had been used by the United Arab Emirates for drone flights in the Yemen war, but those operations stopped in October.
In November, drones flew from the same base to Tigray. The UAE hasn’t publicly said anything and nor have its western allies, but the drone strikes stopped in January when the Emiratis packed up their Assab base.
For the first few months, Abiy’s military campaign was largely popular in Ethiopia, as people accepted the official script, relished the humbling of the Tigrayans, expecting a return to peace and the reform agenda.
That expectation—never well-grounded—is fast draining away.
Abiy’s public denigration of TPLF political leaders became a license for soldiers to humiliate ordinary Tigrayan people, most horribly manifest in sexual violence against women and girls.
Similar animosity is growing commonplace across the country, directed by each group against its neighbor, with everyone blaming the Prime Minister for conspiring against them.
The Prosperity Party is little more than a personality cult, whose leader opens public parks and tweets daily visions of a glowing national future.
With barely a month left before national elections, scheduled on June 5, Ethiopia is trapped between Abiy’s dash to win a popular mandate and a rising tide of discontent and violence.
Scarcely more than half of the country’s fifty thousand polling centers are likely to open.
Twenty-five years ago, one of Isaias’s leading advisors remarked that Ethiopia was an “overdressed Zaire.”
It was meant as an insult, referring to that infamously kleptocratic state, just then plunging into bloody convulsions.
But unless Ethiopians can pause in their mutual destruction and set aside their bitterness to begin a civic dialogue, it may also be a forecast.
‘The genie out of the bottle’ @AfricanBizMag
“I don’t think he’s the person who can deliver that development. I don’t think the regions want him to deliver or have the faith in him to deliver it,” says Aly Khan Satchu
With ‘the genie out of the bottle’, Abiy is fast losing ground ahead of the poll, says Satchu.
“Everybody else is going to start wanting more freedom within the constitution. It’s impossible for the state to manage a guerrilla war up there and at the same time manage to control the rest of the country. If he put more resources into Tigray he’s going to lose more control of the other regions.
“There’s no hope for him. If he has a fair election he will lose full stoP''
@PMEthiopia has launched an unwinnable War on Tigray Province.
Ethiopia which was once the Poster child of the African Renaissance now has a Nobel Prize Winner whom I am reliably informed
PM Abiy His inner war cabinet includes Evangelicals who are counseling him he is "doing Christ's work"; that his faith is being "tested". @RAbdiAnalyst
@PMEthiopia has launched an unwinnable War on Tigray Province.
The low road to economic ruin, as illustrated by a trip through Mozambique
Our five-day journey across Mozambique reminded us of how little progress has been made in that country, of the cost of war, the extent of the carelessness of its political leadership, and of the relative impotence of donors to enable development.
“You go to the police station,” menaced Sergeant Silvestre, turning to point behind his back at a lime-green building, explaining that the crime was “not wearing a mask in the car”.
We were stopped in a queue of trucks and cars negotiating speedbumps, army, police, paramilitary, immigration agents and sellers of nuts, cooldrinks and much else at the bridge that spans the great Save River in Mozambique’s Inhambane Province, just north of the popular tourist destination of Vilanculos.
We saw no tourists at all on the road to Malawi from Maputo, not even adventuresome overlanders and members of the 4×4 brigade.
This may have (partly) been down to Covid-19, but their absence was hardly surprising given the levels of intimidation and friction from officialdom.
We had set off from Johannesburg two days earlier, a short (and, as it turned out, a fast and friction-free) 550km day’s driving to Maputo.
But the Lebombo/Ressano Garcia border post just 100km from Maputo provided an inkling of what was to come.
Two stops on the South African side for customs and passports, and no fewer than seven to gain entry into Mozambique.
The road surface progressively deteriorated on the journey northwards from Maputo to Lilongwe via Vilanculos, Beira and Tete.
Despite travelling as fast as safely possible, leaving each day at 6am to avoid driving in the dark, our average speed scarcely inched above 60km/h.
At one point, in the 70km between Changara and Guro, south of Tete, only a small strip of road was open for 30km, forcing an informal stop-go arrangement – and the occasional game of chicken – with the fuel, logging and other trucks that dominate the route.
Save for the very good road between the port of Beira and Chimoio on the corridor with Zimbabwe, the surface followed a predictable pattern –
an okay sector for a few kilometres, followed by disintegration of the road in the dips and around the bridges, and then whole sections where the road, for reasons of age, lack of maintenance, the quality of the original construction, and the extent of rainfall, had simply fallen apart into potholes, which sometimes spanned its entire width.
There were additionally five tolls, costing a total of 220 meticais, including 50 meticais (or $1) for the journey over the Rio Save bridge.
The journey over the border to Dedza cost 100 meticais on the Mozambican side for a road pass, and $20 for road tax and $50 for car insurance in Malawi.
The woman who removed the bollard at the Malawi border also asked for 4,000 kwacha, or $5.
And then there was the software, human challenge of Sergeant Silvestre and his ilk.
In the 1,833km from Maputo to the Malawian border at Dedza, we encountered 97 police and army roadblocks, being stopped at no fewer than 64 of them.
Without fail they asked for water, sometimes food.
There were nine speed traps between Maputo and Tete, at which we were stopped twice and forced to pay on-the-spot fines, one for travelling at 66km/h in a 60 zone (I was going 56 according to the GPS), the other for going 82km/h in a 60 zone.
With no signs, it’s virtually impossible to know what the speed limit is.
That, one supposes, is the whole idea.
The sergeant pretended to write down our details on a small piece of paper at Save.
As he circled the car, continuously tapping on our, by now, rolled-up windows, while his colleagues peered in the back of our Land Cruiser, we pretended to ignore him.
Eventually I could take no more, rolled down the window and let rip. He changed tack, rubbing his hand on his stomach while pretending to drink a bottle.
A Red Bull, bottle of water and 200 meticais lighter, we were again on our way, smiles all around.
Aggravation aside, such exchanges add costs and complexity to an already fraught journey littered with broken trucks and road accidents, one involving four trucks which we only narrowly avoided.
It explains why the cost of moving a (forty-foot – or FEU) container to Lilongwe is around $4,750, including port and handling charges totalling $2,000 – nearly 10 times the cost through Antwerp, for example.
The cost of moving a container through Beira and on to Harare is $3,800, Beira-Lusaka is $5,300, and Beira to the Congo a whopping $9,000.
The comparative cost of shipping an FEU 10,000km from Shanghai to Beira is $6,000.
The journey reminded us – you have a long time to think over five days of travelling, plus one waiting around for a Covid test result – that Mozambique in 2021 is the chronological equivalent of Singapore in 2011, the East Asian city-state having received independence effectively in 1965 on the dissolution of the Malay Federation.
There are differences, of course, not least the extent of the geography and the nature of the respective regions, but it does remind how little progress has been made, of the cost of war, the extent of the carelessness of its political leadership, and of the relative impotence of donors to enable development.
We stopped off in the villages of Mulambo and Mvala, close to the Malawian border post of Dedza.
There we met the Mozambique Leaf Tobacco (MLT) “Farmer of the Year”, Atanasio George (45) and his wife, Edita Lorenzo.
They had increased their tobacco yield to 1.6 tonnes per hectare, enabling the duo to purchase a cart, build a house, and buy a herd of cattle. MLT was assisting them with maize seed to improve their food security.
The leaf technician, or extension officer, Edison Lazarus, who arrived on his motorcycle with a solar-powered tablet containing information on the 250 farmers on his watch, spoke about new crop possibilities, including honey and vegetables, in the area, which is already known for its fruit and tomato production.
Just 10km away, we stopped to speak to José Charles (45), who farms eight hectares of maize and seven of tobacco, the produce neatly stored in his drying shed.
In less than 10 years he has increased his land eightfold, also purchasing cattle, and admitting, with a broad grin, to ownership now of a motorbike.
The tobacco out-grower scheme enables these farmers to access the global economy, and to profit from it.
Extending this to other areas demands prying the dead hand of government from controlling – and smothering – such opportunities, and of course identifying and exploiting these new crops where Mozambique, Malawi and other countries can realise their tremendous agricultural potential.
There is no one single answer to the poverty challenge, no one “super crop” or sudden discovery of minerals.
To the contrary. Improperly managed and fiscally regulated, such finds can destabilise the fiscus and disincentivise diversification, not least by raising currency values – what is known as “Dutch disease”.
Across the range of economic activities bringing down transport and access costs is the critical element of meeting the development and demographic challenge.
The answer to Mozambique and Malawi’s railway problems lies not in the construction of new, expensive lines, but getting existing links to work properly.
The government should prioritise Access Malawi – an initiative to reduce the premium of transport as a driver of diversification and wealth creation.
This should centre on developing rail alternatives to Nacala and Beira, aligning customs systems and procedures across the region as a matter of urgency, simplifying border post procedures and making these easy to follow, improving road safety and maintenance, and instilling a greater sense of regional collaboration and compliance.
Here regional diplomacy is critical. The leaders of both Malawi and Mozambique – and their supporters outside – need to contemplate the contemporary role of borders in Europe when they consider the means to spur regional trade and integration.
Today in Europe these are signified by signs that you flash by at 90km/h, or more.
In Africa, borders remain places to slow down traffic, to do arbitrage, to extract bribes and “help”, and exact a premium of money, hassle and, above all else, uncertainty.
Absent a solution to the state of the roads, and the frictional costs of the man with a gun and a uniform, the prospects of trading to prosperity remains remote.