Ethiopia just underwent a test of unity and resolve among its 105 million people in a campaign that was initiated and launched by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
The message of ‘greening the country’ was so popular and taken very seriously that even children as young as a year and a half and people with disabilities were viewed on TV planting seedlings. For some weeks it was practically the only important event taking place in the country. It has been monopolising the media in terms of promotional ads, interviews; including songs by popular artists which were created to highlight the event. The message was well driven home. Finally, people began to realise that the state of the environment determined their own livelihood. Its depletion means risks in their own daily life and they see it practically with the unfamiliarly hot weather and aridity that has prevailed in the country.
The call to awaken seems to have worked well. The fact that Ethiopia was pursuing India’s all-time record of 66 million tree seedlings planted in one day must have created more competitiveness among people to take the matter seriously. In my opinion only the anti-HIV campaign that the country conducted some years ago and the mobilisation during the Ethio-Eritrean border conflict had similar monopoly of the news media and public discourse.
Indeed, the comparison seemed to have worked as it was later heralded by experts at the Ministry of Innovation and Technology that on 29 July alone , more than 353 million tree seedlings were planted in more than one thousand sites involving nearly 23 million people.
In the case of India, only 800,000 people were reported to have taken part. Numbers and comparisons apart, what remains permanently as a result of this exercise, is understanding public response where matters of concern are highlighted. The tendency to unite rather than divide it the nation.
There were of course more than a few legitimate concerns with regards to security, particularly in some areas like the South Region where issues and arguments around identity have taken centre stage. People on social media continued to militate towards a sort of uprising; and in most cases these are not totally insulated from violence. Besides, there are always criminal elements that try to take advantage of turbulence. Apart from reported fatalities and burning down of property, there were also cases of looting.
These acts are of course condemned by all but the risk of recurrence is always latent; and if so called activists and bloggers use their social media outlets to disseminate even fake or unverified information, the risk becomes more probable until such time when society reaches a stage of maturity whereby it would be in a position to check and dismiss certain unfounded stories.
Following the continuous degradation of our environment and the evident signs of climate change, the government’s recommendation could not fall on deaf ears. The campaign has been dubbed as ‘a healing process of nature and the environment, a redeeming of our homeland’. Side by side, it was also a mobilisation of the population in terms of changing the mind frame to start appreciating nature; inculcating the minds of young people and children about the importance of conserving and protecting natural resources from unscrupulous waste.
There is no doubt that the personal involvement of the premier has helped galvanize an otherwise sceptical population that does not readily respond to leaders’ calls. It has also served as an opportunity to raise the awareness of nationhood and unity of purpose and patriotism, dismissing talks of fragmentation and regionalism.
Many have commented that this event has in a way served to dilute the talk of regionalism and ethnic splits by getting engaged in something beyond partisan politics. Indeed, this can be seen as a positive result even beyond the basic objective of the campaign.
The highest authorities of the country including President Sahle-work hailing this as a golden opportunity to stifle stories of division among the various ‘nationalities’ and create a lasting bond of unity and nationhood. The deputy premier along with religious leaders echoed the same sentiments.
What was then to be extraordinary was the fact that many were seen buying tree seedlings not to wait until the government delivered them for once initial stock finished. People were so taken by the momentum on a national scale that they did not want to miss the opportunity to ‘place their fingerprints on the Green Legacy Day’.
As a matter of fact the invitation by premier was taken literally. Every home, every household, every individual seemed to heed his call. The future of life at stake.
The pledge is to plant 4billion tree seedlings over this summer period. But side by side it was stated that the recommendation was to continue as a matter of habit rather than only participate as a one-time experience.
The venture to catch up with the reforesting of the country as soon as possible has got off to the right start. The Premier has been commended by international bodies and missions who supported the move and also took part in the campaign with satisfaction. What should follow now is nurturing the planted seedlings so that real impact can be made.
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