We need to plant trees, not just cut them down.

‘In a few decades’, you told them, ‘the relationship between the environment, resources and conflict will seem almost as obvious as the connection today between human rights, democracy and peace.’

But they wouldn’t listen. Seeking power, like those who came before, they fought each other, ignoring the lessons taught by Ethiopia’s history. How a thousand years ago its capital, Aksum, grew so large it exhausted the land around it and its people moved south to Lalibala; but they consumed the trees again and were forced to move further south to Shewa, then later to Gondar. How from 1883 it took just twenty years for the voracious new capital at Addis Ababa to raze a treeless zone a hundred miles deep around the city.

You reminded them of the 1980s, when poor harvests triggered the largest famine relief effort in history, affecting ten million people; how tens of thousands still died.

You pointed to the last remains of Ethiopian forests with their unique creatures and plants nearly gone, including the last wild coffee in the world.

You did not give up, Wangari Maathai; your Green Belt Movement planted trees, beginning to help farmers to find new ways to build a future for your beautiful, scarred land.

 

Ethiopia