Inviting GMOs to Ethiopia: A Needless Act of Destructive Destruction.
Abiy’s policy decisions are unusually quick. But one experience marks them all: They get us into new crises faster than we are solving old crises. Nonetheless the recent bombshell report that Ethiopia will approve commercial cultivation of genetically engineered cotton has a uniquely poisonous quality which carries infection far beyond the current regime. This particular epoch was supposed to have been the era of a laser type focus on democratic elections. It has turned out to be the era of big policy processes unrelated to a political transition. Attempts to privatize flagship companies and approve GMOs are only the latest of this kind. In its report Agricultural Biotechnology Annual on February 5 2020 the United States Department of Agriculture/USDA/ expressed its happiness at the decision of the Ethiopian government to approve GMOs. This is nothing short of rushing to wreak the peasant economy and impoverish the country’s extensive reserves of traditional seed varieties.
The collapse of Ethiopia’s ability to act independently and sensibly , first in the form of US interference and then in the Gulf countries’ intrusion, obtrusive Eritrean intercession, and surrogate wars in Somalia all took place in the same few years. It comes as no surprise, then, that the incumbent could emerge as a GMO friendly government. The problem is that the current administration and its supporters don’t want to have a sense of memory, sense of chronology or history of political resistance of the recent past. Successive leaders have rejected policies perceived to be against their long-term national interest. Ethiopia has been at the forefront of the global fight against GMOs mainly for its own sake.The roots of the present predicament go back to the efforts of the current leaders to extricate themselves from all the progressive agendas that happened before 2018. It is not even an act of creative destruction.To the degree to which new policy is successful, it tends to be detached from a specific nature and history of the people and from the country itself.
Now the US does not care about political reform, human rights and democracy. There are less, new type of, preconditions for choosing alliances. Political support including financial aid is dependent on policy prescriptions of an economic or biotechnological nature. The West is feeling it can take advantage of this time, when there is widespread sense of cynicism and all eyes and focus is on immediate security concerns. When the interest is so vast, the urge of the Monsanto’s for managing Ethiopia’s food security and biodiversity — becomes obsessive. And how powerful the temptation to project their influence when the country is under stress. It seemed as if they got their wish granted. As is often the case Washington is pledging to support financially. In return, all kinds of policy tools are being pushed through. But even the promised help is not significant enough for Ethiopia to embark on a dangerous mission.
Quite understandably, fixated on keeping his power, Abiy might want to ingratiate himself with powerful external forces and whatever policy prescriptions coming from outside, discouraging reasonable debate on critical issues of national importance, which he saw less as a national issue than as a public relations problem for his premiership. Many other leaders before him have found ways to take deplorable policy choices. Yet there is something new about these decisions, and they have taken a different and more ominous form. Long before the first reported cases of the deal with USDA became known some of us may have foreseen https://medium.com/the-current-analyst-blog/the-biotechnology-trap-17ed1d1d1a33?source=collection_home---5------0----------------------- the catastrophe that was to crash upon us, but few could have predicted the astonishing speed with which it came to reality. I expect Ethiopians from all backgrounds to say no to the hasty introduction of modified organisms. Your future is not expendable. The danger has an egalitarian aspect. At least on this one we should be in the trenches, together.
But the African Union should also rise to the occasion. It must consider this matter as the final battleground against neocolonialism, a place where the advance of Western Corporate power, unopposed and in fact at times actively encouraged by member states, might be given a serious if not decisive setback. Particularly because the report by the USDA went on to say that Ethiopia’s adoption of Bt-cotton not only has important economic importance but also expected to have positive influence on the acceptance of this technology in the region. American philanthropists and foundations, who sponsor dubious medical practices, have stepped forward in the name of increasing productivity while Africa’s regional security organizations have largely disappeared from the scene. Even if there is a need to use biotechnology to increase productivity in the continent there are critical considerations such as inadequate human resource capacity, bio-safety regulation, lack of infrastructures, intellectual property rights and many others. It is understandable that nations seek novel methods to eradicate poverty but African governments must be in charge in solving these problems themselves.
I hope Ethiopia will not become the theater in which the baffling and conflicted status of the GMO industry in Africa is playing out. But the first step must to be to ensure an independent and credible investigation on the report of the deal. Then the controversies surrounding transgenic crops including the disputes between Washington and Brussels over adoption of GM crops need to be studied and debated in a bid to reach broader consensus at the continental level. Rushing to portray GMOs as agents of food security and continuing to channel untested food and seed to Ethiopia that may have unforeseen and irreversible effects across the continent cannot be considered as an act of kindness but an attempt to lure Africa into further dependence on foreign aid. Time to urge member states support a halt in gene drive releases. Failure to do this will only help neocolonialism be permanently embedded and institutionalized.