Gwynne Dyer

Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed, the Nobel Peace Prize Winner in 2019, waited the statutory two years before launching his genocidal war in Tigray last November.

“Statutory’’ is the right word. US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who won the Peace Prize in 1973 for ending the Vietnam War, even admitted that he only wanted a “decent interval’’ of two years after the US withdrawal before North Vietnam conquered South Vietnam—which it did in 1975.

Whereas Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese pro-democracy leader who won the Prize in 1991, waited almost 20 years before defending the genocide against the Rohingya committed by the government she nominally led before the International Court of Justice.

They should all remember Groucho Marx’s rule: “I refuse to join a club that would have me as a member.” The Peace Prize Club has some very dodgy members, so I went back and looked at what I wrote when these luminaries first won their prizes. (I’ve been in this game for a long time.) It turns out that I sort of defended all of them.

Henry Kissinger wasn’t trying to win a prize. He knew the United States had lost the war in Vietnam and he wanted to get out, but he needed to disguise the defeat in order to bring the more ignorant nationalists in Congress and the country along with his policy. So he signed a “peace treaty’’ that neither he nor his North Vietnamese counterpart expected to last.

Cynical realpolitik, if you like, but they were actually trying to minimise the killing, knowing full well that there was more yet to come. That’s the defence that I also offered for Aung San Suu Kyi. She couldn’t stop the army from massacring the Rohingyas, and she defended its actions internationally because she thought that might stop it from seizing power again.

If that was her motive, she failed: look at the bloodbath in Burma now. Was that really her motive?

It’s impossible to tell, because she has repeated the military’s racist lies about the Rohingya with more enthusiasm than was strictly necessary just to placate the generals.

But you can see both her and Kissinger as intelligent people trying to choose the lesser evil.

This defence is not available to Abiy Ahmed, who got the Peace Prize just 17 months after ending the “frozen conflict’’ with Eritrea and 19 months after taking power in Ethiopia. As with the preposterous Peace Prize for Barack Obama only ten months after he took office in 2009, the selection committee just jumped too soon.

At least Obama did not start a war, whereas in retrospect it seems likely that Abiy Ahmed signed a peace treaty to end the 20-years-dormant military confrontation with Eritrea because he saw it as a likely ally in the war he already foresaw with his own erstwhile allies in Tigray. (Tigray is an Ethiopean province that shares a border with Eritrea.)

The war was almost inevitable, because Abiy’s rise to power marked the end of a 27-year period when members of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) dominated Ethiopia. (Abiy belongs to one of the countries two biggest ethnic groups, the Oromo.)

Tigrayans are only six per cent of Ethiopia’s 100 million people, but their fighters outnumbered everybody else in the guerilla army that finally overthrew the Derg dictatorship, so they just naturally slid into the seats of power in 1991—and stayed there semi-permanently.

Every other ethnic group was seeking a way to oust the TPLF without a civil war, and Abiy seemed a good choice because he had fought alongside Tigrayan rebels from the age of 14 and spoke fluent Tigrinya. But that wasn’t enough to reconcile Tigrayans to their loss of power, of course, and Abiy and the TPLF both knew it would probably end in war.

Which it has, and the Eritrean army joined Abiy’s Ethiopian federal troops in invading Tigray. The TPLF’s regular forces were defeated in a few weeks, and the years-long, maybe even decades-long war against Tigrayan guerilla resistance has begun. So have the mass murders, the mass rapes, the looting and random destruction that are the hallmarks of ethnic wars.

Now the first videos are appearing, of Ethiopian troops shooting unarmed young Tigrayan men and kicking their bodies over a cliff. (Why do they always make these videos? Are they proud of it?)

By the end of this year, we will probably be officially calling it a genocide, but that won’t stop it. Nothing will, for a long time.

And can I defend Abiy Ahmed, too?

I understand how difficult his situation was, and all the other separatist pressures in Ethiopia, and the fact that he started out as a child soldier, but no, I can’t.

Message to the Nobel Peace Prize committee. Next time, wait a little longer.

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The problem for St Vincent and the Grenadines and other Caribbean small states is that they’re not poor enough.

By standard World Bank macroeconomic measures such as Gross National Income (GNI) per capita, they’re not as badly off as sub-Saharan African countries.

The problem for St Vincent and the Grenadines and other Caribbean small states is that they’re not poor enough.

By standard World Bank macroeconomic measures such as Gross National Income (GNI) per capita, they’re not as badly off as sub-Saharan African countries. It means that when the bank and other multinational agencies decide on the allocation of aid and development dollars, they’re given less access and fewer concessions.

Correctly so, you could argue. The poverty and deprivation I saw in rural Sierra Leone in West Africa were far worse than I’d seen elsewhere, including Haiti. Added to that, the country hadn’t recovered from a brutish civil war abetted by notorious Liberian warlord Charles Taylor—the kind that saw unspeakable atrocities, such as soldiers carving foetuses out of the bellies of pregnant women.

SVG, Haiti and Guyana are underdeveloped countries, but not as much as Sierra Leone. However, regardless of the facts on the ground or the numbers in the computer, the bank recognised that GNI per capita was an incomplete measure of a country’s development.

All countries are rich or poor to degrees that are macroeconomically measurable. But when climate change can wipe out some of them, GNI measures can’t capture that. Additionally, in the case of Caribbean countries, they’re set back decades by hurricanes, as Grenada was by Ivan in 2004 and Dominica by Maria in 2017.

A Caribbean or Pacific small island state can go from middling prosperity to poverty in the course of one natural disaster.

In a report titled “Small States: Vulnerability and Concessional Finance”, the World Bank acknowledged calls by countries in its Small States Forum (SSF) “to include vulnerability as a criterion for accessing concessional resources”.

It said that work needed to be done in defining a Vulnerability Index. That report was in 2018. And yet as I recall, the index was an issue at SIDS 1994—the United Nations Global Conference on Sustainable Development held in Barbados 24 years earlier.

“SIDS” means Small Island Developing States. That is a misnomer, since big states were represented. The sight of Fidel Castro walking into the room and instantly causing a rock star stampede won’t be forgotten.

The World Bank’s Vulnerability Index incorporates “small states” of the SSF, including Namibia and Botswana. Namibia is two-thousand times bigger than St Vincent, four times Guyana, and mineral rich. Their resilience to shocks is much stronger than SVG’s. Why are they even in the small states conversation? This definitional elasticity doesn’t seem helpful to the cause of SIDS.

From SIDS 1994, the UN crafted the Barbados Programme of Action. Top of the list were climate change, and natural and environmental disasters. It’s remarkable that the World Bank was still talking about defining a Vulnerability Index more than two decades later.

Climate change continues to be the main consideration, but the volcanic eruptions on St Vincent should reopen the conversation.

Most Caribbean volcanoes do not seem to be a present danger in the way that La Soufriere in St Vincent is. Mount Liamuiga in St Kitts, for example, is a great hike. When you reach the top, you can descend into the crater.

Nonetheless, The UWI Seismic’s website says that “there are 19 ‘live’ (likely to erupt again) volcanoes in the Eastern Caribbean. Every island from Grenada to Saba is subject to the direct threat of volcanic eruptions”.

In St Vincent, overseas relief kicked in to ease water and other shortages. But short-term emergency measures are not enough.

Here’s the bind in which small Caribbean states find themselves. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) told them that no, they have to compete at market price to sell their bananas and sugar. No more preferential pricing that recognises their disadvantages on economies of scale.

WTO regulatory insensitivity effectively killed these industries. In many Caribbean SIDS, all their eggs are in one basket. If that isn’t acute vulnerability, I don’t know what is.

For Caribbean SIDS, we should have been at a place where development aid allocation matches a universally-agreed index; and we have strategic, joined-up planning/execution from the UN, the World Bank, the IMF and others.

Small states partially compensate by playing geopolitical games of influence. Getting money from China or Taiwan. Throwing in their lot with Japan on whaling, to the consternation of their own conservationists.

It’s not enough.

Last week I wrote about how Montserrat has done since the 1997 eruption. They are a British Overseas Territory, but the British-funded rebuild has been sluggish. In my two visits in 2007 and 2014, little changed. I was told in 2007 that a new airport would be built soon. To date, it hasn’t.

However Montserrat’s former premier Reuben Meade told me last week that “the Brits covered all of our expenses for the volcanic situation during and post eruption”.

“They continue to fund some 60 per cent of recurrent expenditure each year”.

Meade said the task of Ralph Gonsalves, the Prime Minister of SVG, will be hard.

“SVG will need to find a donor to fund the continuing evacuation expenses which will be very high. Their economy will be in freefall for quite some time. It’s going to be tough for them”.

For SVG, mother country largesse is not an option. They’re nearly broke. Even if La Soufriere stops erupting and the pandemic is eradicated tomorrow, they’ll need smarter, long-term development engagement by donor agencies. A true measure of their vulnerability would be a good start.