Saturday, November 28, 2009

"Schwarzwaldtorte" , a shanty village and a palace

We went for afternoon coffee in the Addis Sheraton, one of those obscene first world bubbles that you find all over the third world, the kind of place where you sup steamy latte at the pool and chomp into the kind of "Schwarzwaldtorte" that they would be proud of in Freiburg, Forbach or Forcheim.

There is a little lane to the left of the main gate and when you walk up that little lane you will find a slum, a shanty village of sorts, corrugated roofing, mud walls, snuggled in behind the hotel, stuck almost out of sight, under the main road and there we were latte gulped down, "Schwarzwaldtorte" scoffed, taking the short cut to our next bubble. Chris had decided that he wanted to swim not in the Sheraton pool but in the one at the slightly more "down to earth" Hilton. The route through the slum offered a short cut and the alternative would have taken us the long way round, past the ostentatious presidential palace, up the hill and across the road and we would, no doubt, have made our route slightly longer just to have had a look at the Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi's, even more ostentatious home.

Prime Minister Zenawi has his "wee house" perched above the Sheraton, perched above the presidential palace and perched above the little Shanty village and with armed guards perched in little watch towers all around its walls, you wouldn't want to be looking too closely or too long and, having been in power uninterrupted since 1991, it would appear that the occupant is not in a hurry to move out. Yes, Meles Zenawi belongs to that "rare" breed of African "democrat" who finds it difficult to give up power, who believes in jobs for the boys and who, if necessary, knows how to deal with the opposition. No, he is no Jean-Bédel Bokkasa, he is no Idi Amin Dada or Mobuto Sésé Seko and indeed, Mengistu, the man he forced from office, was a much worse tyrant than he was or will probably ever be. No, the present Prime Minister of Ethiopian "only" heads a government that remains practically unaccountable to its citizens, in theory democratic but in practice not and, while not as corrupt as many other countries in Africa, nevertheless corrupt.

That is why while we can agree with Meles Zenawi when he says that the developed countries, having bailed out the bankers, cannot oppose funds to fight global warming, and while we also might agree that Africa is suffering from a mess that it didn't create, we should be a bit wary when it comes to giving Africa the reported $300 billion in financial support and technology transfer to mitigate the impact of climate change that he is apparently asking for. Meles says in the 'Guardian':  "It is about moral values that make it appropriate to rescue bankers, who expect everyone but themselves to pay for the mess they created, and inappropriate to compensate the world's poorest people, whose survival is threatened precisely because of the mess created by developed countries." If Mr Meles were really concerned about the "world's poorest people', he might just open the doors of his palace to those poor souls who are stuck in a shanty village somewhere between the Addis Sheraton and the Addis Hilton and until he does, the western taxpayer should be paying neither for the extension to his "wee house", nor for the extension of his term in office.

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