By Keffyalew Gebremedhin The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)
In the Great Donkey Rush, the Daily Maverick opened its major story of September 9, 2016 with the following theme:
“Forget gold, diamonds or rhino horn. The hottest commodity in Africa right now – the most prized ass-et, if you will – is the humble donkey, thanks to a critical donkey shortage in China.”
Dwelling on a different angle of the same theme, two days earlier Quartz Africa highlighted an interesting development – crime popping up across Africa becuse of donkey meat market, as follows:
“No wonder Chinese businesses have shown a growing interest in donkeys from Namibia to Nigeria over the past few years. Earlier this year, Botswana arrested four people involved in a donkey hide smuggling syndicate with operations in Zimbabwe, Botswana, and China. Donkey slaughterhouses have also been opened in Kenya to meet Chinese demand. Last year South Africa was considering beginning a training program for farmers in anticipation of exporting donkeys to China’s Henan province.”
The largest donkey populations in the world are found in China and India. Unfortunately, China’s love for donkey meat and skin has caused the animal’s diminution. Add to this Vietnam’s 95.2 million population, no mean importers of donkey meats.
Of late, China has been hit hard, The Guardian reports, by shortage of donkey skin gelatin. They say this is a translucent, colorless, brittle (when dry), flavorless food. Gelatin is derived from collagen obtained from various animal/donkey body parts.
For the Chinese, gelatin is both traditional medicine; it is also commonly used, according to some sources, as a gelling agent in food, pharmaceutical drugs, vitamin capsules, photography and cosmetic manufacturing.
I never knew until fairly recently, we too have become the unmasked indirect consumers of donkey parts, i.e., through the medicines China produces.
In recent times, this donkey shortage in China has exerted pressure on Beijing and local governments, market agents persistently demanding government actions to support local donkey breeders and importers from the rest of the world. Especially targeted for this are poor African nations, whose eyes could easily get stuck on the foreign exchange and ignore all other things.
Our tragedy is that, African leaders being unwilling to think on their own or receive advice, this new donkey meat business is likely to affect Africa over the medium-and-long-terms, via consequences of such trade. One problem now is its encouragement of transfrontier donkey smuggling in vast parts of Africa for sale to China, as mentioned above.
Consequently, in response to this deepening donkey meat and skin trade between a number of African and some Asian states, the African donkey population in the last few years has been terribly decimated.
When Ethiopia is added to the list of donkey meat and skin traders, this is likely to have huge adverse implications on African farmers. The region would increasingly lose its beast of burden that for generations has been serving as means of transport for agricultural goods.
In Where have all the donkeys gone? Burkina Faso’s export dilemma, Phys.org clearly highlights the dilemma of poor nations without sufficient resources, or fallback, such as the benefits of science and technology.
Ethiopia’s curious relations with its donkeys
Out of ignorance, Ethiopia’s utilitarian society has done little to improve its donkey breed. Nor has it ever credited its utility. In fact, this little cared for and little respected animal – አህያ – its name has been used to demeaningly insult/describe a fool and the lazy in Ethiopia.
And yet, this has not stopped Ethiopia from being the silent beneficiary of a donkey’s contributions to family productivity. Also, one needs to keep in mind a donkey is source of family security, as a lower category rural asset. As the most uncomplaining ally in stressed health circumstances, however, the donkey has also been useful in transporting pregnant women to health centers to deliver their babies in a number of countries, including northern Ethiopia.
The best and rarest praise for the donkey’s unitility in Ethiopia I have come accross is from a Haramaya University research paper (Zewdie and et.al). They have done donkeys the honor of inserting the praise in the academic records. What that record does is transmit the real sentiments of one Ethiopian rural farmer, who aptly says: “Without a donkey, my wife and I become the donkeys”.
In this article, I am trying to understand the disconcerting news to Ethiopian citizens across the board both at home and abroad of the implications of Ethiopia’s lurch into the donkey meat market with the Asian nations of China and Vietnam. From what I read here and there, Ethiopians appear preoccupied by a revolting sense of the what next of sorts questions for the ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) despotic leaders.
All over the world, the mafia and other inebriates, like those of ours in political power, are seen getting most of what they need – if they are lucky – by their use of bruteness of force. That does not mean this has made them win the people’s trust, respect and loyalty. It is one of the key elements in governance, which has eluded the TPLF in Ethiopia.
Even at this time as the corrupt and dictatorial Abay Tsehaye makes a fool of himself about past TPLF arrogance and tyranny that, according to him, has hit the height of heights, the TPLF is promising itself ‘fist full of dollars’ from the donkey meat business by the forex strapped nation!
The donkey in Ethiopia primarily is a component part of the ‘factors’ contributing to 50-60 percent of nation’s gross domestic product (GDP). There is a creeping concern, informed by living together with the TPLF for such a long time, that the business Ethiopia just started could adversely affect the nation’s agricultural sector – due to the TPLF member’s insatiable appetite and disregard for Ethiopia.
Why should it be different from land grab?
Lurking in the background are three Ethiopian concerns.
Firstly, there is the well-founded fear of the usual ruling TPLF greed, deceptiveness and hubris. If the past has taught Ethiopians any lesson, it is wariness of the TPLF, a concern ingrained in the future China-Ethiopia donkey meat and skin business, driven by the TPLF greed.
We know for a fact that invariably almost all TPLF members suffer from foreign exchange hunger. Amassing vast wealth by any means, as dictator Meles Zenawi has taught them, above every non-Tigrean, is likely to become their goal with a view to enabling them achieve their ethnic overlordship over the rest of the Ethiopian people.
Did Meles not break state banks, such as the public-owned Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE), the Construction Bank of Ethiopia that finally went down because of TPLF corruption and finally merged with CBE, and the Development Bank of Ethiopia (DBE)? Lawless Meles compelled these state institutions to throw public monies in their vaults on TPLF members and to the TPLF-owned Endowment Fund for the Rehabilitation of Tigray (EFFORT) businesses.
They took the monies with no interest payments, or even not necessarily paying back the loans they took. This is a common knowledge even with the common man in the highlands, lowlands and streets of Ethiopia – likely to be replicated in the dog meat businesses case!
The lesson here for people is that the TPLF have little respect for the law; they are likely to force themselves onto a peasant’s humble manger and seize the donkey of the humble farmer to take it to one of the Chinese donkey slaughterhouses that would soon dot the land. If the TPLF could seize a land belonging to an individual or a community, demolish homes on the heads of residents to seize the urban lands, what law could stop the TPLF members from seizing an ordinary citizen’s donkey?
Consequently, I fear, in a short while Ethiopians may someday wake up when they no longer see donkeys, not only in city streets and towns across Ethiopia, but also across rural areas in this vast country.
Offending Ethiopian sensibilities
The second concern arising from the new TPLF business in donkey meat is the offense to the country’s religious and cultural convictions. The irony is that, this comes at a time when a number of African nations are closing down the donkey meat business under popular pressure.
There is the real danger and possibility of donkey meat from the Chinese-owned Debre Zeit slaughterhouse or elsewhere later creeping up in ordinary Ethiopian meat markets.
For now, the TPLF tells the nation that the Ethiopian Revenues & Customs Authority (ERCA) has already set up an office inside the company’s plant to stop from the source donkey meat from finding its way into the local meat market, according to Addis Fortune. This is no assurance to citizens, especially given the corruptibility of the TPLF officials and agents.
China is a strong nation. But it could not stop the sale of contaminated baby milks, produced in the mainland. The only thing China could do is to allow its citizens to travel and buy the milk Hong Kong residents feed their children. Why should Chinese investors care for Ethiopian beliefs, when they have not cared for their children, or the corrupt TPLF cadres and the security stop wrong meats going to the right consumers?
On this matter, one of the latest TPLF deceits relates to donkey slaughterhouse expansion. We learn from Addis Fortune that TPLF investment spokesperson Fitsum Arega saying the slaughterhouses are limited in number to those registered before 2014. Its rationale of varying degrees of sinfulness is troubling: “We don’t approve of applications for such investments anymore as they are against values and the culture of the society”.
What on Earth has assured the TPLF those that were registered before 2014 are less of a sin and acceptable to societal values? This is a problem with a regime fearful of consulting the people. They could even dare stepping on the faith of citizens, as if a small donkey meat is acceptable to our faith and cultural values!
The fact of the matter is that very soon the TPLF’s EFFORT and individual TPLF members could jump into operations, banks pumping the nation’s resources only to expand donkey killing places all over the country and the chains of meat supplier chains.
The Chinese custom-built Debre Zeit donkey slaughterhouse is expected to kill 200 donkeys a day, bought from local farmers. The Asela slaughterhouse, also owned by Chinese investors, is still under construction. Fitsum Arega does not disclose how many permits they have so far registered and when those donkey meat slaughterhouses open.
In some African nations, moral, health considerations (including the stench from processing, open air drying of the skins) and the negative economic implications have aroused youth anger that subsequently forced the closure of the businesses benefitting corrupt African leaders.
The third Ethiopian concern is donkey meat breeding lawlessness.
The TPLF action has so far turned Ethiopia into society of unequals, which Ethiopians very much resent. The robbers using state powers have become richer grabbing someone else’s land, as the rest have gone down on rungs of the poverty ladder.
The more enriching economic conditions are in sight, the more lawless has Ethiopia under the TPLF become – no pretensions about property rights irrespective of what the law says!
Gambella, where the TPLF has built one of its garrisons has left sufficient lessons for all citizens. The Gambella garrison is not and could not protect citizens nor ensure Ethiopia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity from Murle marauders, but ensure the TPLF settler occupation of the region.
Because of TPLF interests, we cannot anticipate what and where the next garrison after Gambella, because of the donkey meat business.
For the record, while the data out of date, Ethiopian regions’ donkey endowment, according to a regional survey by the Ethiopian Central Statistics Agency (CSA, 2007/8), shows Oromia to have the largest donkey population (2.2 mil), followed by Amhara (1.8 mil), Harar (0.8 mil), Tigray (0.5 mil), Benishangul-Gumuz (0.5 mil), SNNPR (0.4 mil) and Dire Dawa (0.14 mil).
In a lawless state such as Ethiopia, I would say, these citizens concerns are all reasonable and legitimate.
This is more jutified by the abundant donkey resources Ethiopia has been endowed with: an estimated 6.2 million donkeys; the share of our country’s donkey resource is 32 percent of Africa’s donkey population and 10 percent of the global estimate.
Another study, appearing on the International Journal of Interdisciplinary and Multidisciplinary Studies (IJIMS), 2015, Vol 2, No.6, 13-22, pushes the Ethiopian donkey population estimate to 40 percent of the global donkey figure.
The fear now is that the usually-undisciplined and never law-abiding TPLF, which all of a sudden may have started salivating to scoop foreign exchange exporting dog meats, may consider Ethiopian donkeys its inexhaustible resource – so long as it is the forex collector!