Archive for the ‘Ethiopian News’ Category

Hot air from Arat Kilo

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

By Yilma Bekele

Our new name is the Ethiopians in the Diaspora. ‘The term Diaspora (in Greek διασπορά – “a scattering [of seeds]”) refers to the movement of any population sharing common ethnic identity who were either forced to leave or voluntarily left their settled territory, and became residents in areas often far remote from the former.’ I really don’t like it. We used to be immigrants. I have no idea when we became the Diaspora.

I don’t like both terms. They have finality about them. It means that wherever we are, we intend to settle permanently. I would rather think of myself as a refugee. A refugee is some one in transit. I like that. Isn’t that what we are? We have scattered to all four corners of the world because we are seeking shelter from danger. We escape from our country because it is not safe. Some are political refuges. They left to avoid persecution. A lot are economic refuges. They are running away from slow death. Our country offers its population such choice as physical death due to starvation, mental and spiritual death due to forced ignorance.

Sometimes good can come out of a bad situation. This refuge business is one such instance. Our ancient country is always looking after us. It gave us a solid foundation to withstand the shock of settling in strange far away places. We were mentally fortified. Every nationality thinks they are unique. We don’t only think we are unique, we believe it. It is like Ethiopia said to each one of us ‘if you have to go, go but don’t forget who you are and please return.’

Where ever we have settled we have thrived. We seek each other. We congregate. All you got to do is find one of us. It is like opening a floodgate. You find one you find them all.

This has been a week of graduation in our area. A proud moment for a lot of families. A celebration of achievement. Sons and daughters of refugees feeling good about them selves and making their family proud. There is nothing like being free to excel.

So how did these offspring’s of destitute refugees get to attend some of the best institutions in this great land? It is simple. It is so because those refugee parents had to learn fast and adapt to the new situation. Most arrive with just their shirts on their back. They work hard. They work long. They study with passion. They aim high. They succeed like no other.

When one is far away from home and there is no one to lean on one learns fast. We learn to think beyond today. We plan and project far into the future. We become masters of our own success or failure. We stop being crybabies and assume responsibility for our actions.

We learn that there is no free lunch, no reward without effort, and no easy short cuts in life and if we are lucky we learn to be empathic to our fellow humans.

I, as a bona fide refugee and graduate of the ‘hard knock’ school of life I was highly disconcerted when I heard what the Ethiopian Prime Minster said to a Mr. Jason McClure of Bloomberg News. I don’t know how Mr. McClure took the news but I was forced to say ‘come again?’ Believe me I have made up a lot of excuses for my actions and I have heard some bizarre ones too but this one takes the gold. No question about it. Talk about chutzpah!

Ato Meles blames ‘the World Bank and international donors’ for the scarcity of Electricity in Ethiopia. Mr. Mc Lure wrote:
The World Bank underestimated electricity demand in previous years and failed to provide funding for new power-generation projects the government had wanted, leading to under-investment in the industry, he said.
“We could have avoided that mistake if we had the money or had we had the support of our donors,” Meles said.

I believe most of us were under the impression that Ato Meles and his TPLF politburo are in charge of Ethiopia. At what point did World Bank enter the picture? What else are they running besides Electric power? I want to know if the Somali invasion was their idea? Did they force Ato Meles to declare ‘state of emergency’ after the 2005 elections and gave the order to shoot to kill? Was that the World Bank that forced Ato Meles to arrest Judge Bertukan too? Frankly I never trusted the World Bank and Ato Meles is confirming my worst fears.

That ‘gotcha’ moment was short lived. It looks like the reporter talked to a Mr. Kenichi Ohashi, the World Bank’s director for Ethiopia. Well apparently Ato Meles did not clear his story with Mr. Ohashi, and Mr. Ohashi is not amused. This is what he has to say about it:

“The notion that because we didn’t finance power they have a problem, that’s bogus,” Kenichi Ohashi, the World Bank’s director for Ethiopia, said by phone today. “If we financed power that would come at the expense of something else”

Interesting. I don’t know what the choices were but it must have been difficult for outsiders to make decisions for a nation they have neither kinship nor strong bond. You can say the same about Ato Meles but today we are not going there. So where is the sovereignty Berket is always babbling about? Now since we all know who is running Electric power you know where to forward your complaints.

There is more. TPLF is the gift that keeps giving.
Power cuts might also have been alleviated if the Washington-based multilateral lender had provided funding for a 60-megawatt diesel generator the government requested this year, Meles said.
A lousy 60-megawatt diesel generator just to hold us over until the July rains and they said no! Those heartless bastards what do they care. Bankers are cold. They are willing to destroy the economic well being of a nation. Hold on that is not the story Mr. Ohashi is telling.
The World Bank didn’t finance the generator because the government’s contracting process didn’t meet World Bank standards and wasn’t “open and transparent and competitive,” Ohashi said.
Now I see it. The Bank wants ‘open and transparent’ process and EFFORT had already won the contract. Ato Meles was just asking for the cash and the Bank has the audacity to say no. May be the Bank thought diesel is not such a good idea considering the shortage of dollars to buy fuel. I get the feeling that Ato Meles leaves a lot out when telling a story. I have no idea if he forgets or it is pathological. What is certain is that he is not telling the truth. In other words he is lying. Simple.
So when Mr. Ohashi’s outfit said ‘No” to the loan what did Ato Meles’s government do to mitigate the effects of the certainty of power shortage? You just don’t fold your hands and sit. I guess you can. They did not even ask their Abuna to urge the people to pray for rain.
This is the difference between the Diaspora (refugees) and TPLF. We have learned to take responsibility for our actions. We don’t shift blame nor do we cry in public. We avoid welfare and work double shift to meet our obligations. Just try telling your mortgage holder that you can’t pay your note since the bank did not give you the loan subsidy. Your sad ass will be out on the street in a New York minute.
There seems to be a lot of speculation with what the Prime Minster might do or not do regarding his future plans. He speaks in hyperboles and wants to sound mysterious. Listen to this:
“My guess is this is going to boil-down to plus or minus a year or two,” he said. “I’m simply thinking aloud. Now if it were to boil-down to plus or minus a year or two, I would probably say this is not a matter on which I ought to leave the party.” It’s also possible, “some would say very likely” that he will be succeeded as prime minister by a person from outside the Tigrayan ethnic group, Meles said.
I dare you to make sense of that. What does plus or minus a year mean? Boil down? Why he speaks in clichés is foreign to me. Here in the US politicians start running the day they are elected. It is a 24/7 job. You don’t hide in gated community surrounded by armed solders. If they want to be elected they mingle with their constituents. Not the supreme leader. He still thinks in ethnic terms. The notion some one capable without the ethnic baggage is foreign to him. It is possible the TPLF folks can sign petitions to force him to be Prime Minister again. May be he is being coy with us so we can start a nation wide campaign to crown him as Yohanes V. Anything is possible in Ethiopia. As I said we are very resourceful people.
What he said regarding Judge Bertukan is very mean. A head of state does not make a statement like that regarding the leader of the biggest opposition Party in the country. This is what he said:
Meles said there is “zero” chance that opposition leader Birtukan Mideksa will be released from prison in time to compete in the elections scheduled for next May. He also said Birtukan’s jailing is not a pretext to eliminate political opposition.
Judge Bertukan has been in jail one hundred seventy six days. That is five months and twenty-six days. She has been in solitary confinement. She is not allowed visitors except her daughter Hale who is four years old and her mother Weizero Almaz who is seventy-two years old. She is not allowed to see her lawyer, listen to the radio or visit by the Red Cross. Complete isolation in a dark cold room is torture. Ato Meles said the chances are zero that she will be released. On the other hand the chances are 100% that Ato Meles will be tried for torture, genocide and crime against humanity both by the Ethiopian people and the International Criminal Court. We will be the first ones to defend Ato Meles’s and his fellow criminals right for a fair and speedy trial. We will not tolerate torture and the prisoners will be allowed to hire even foreign lawyers but not with our money. The sight of Ato Meles and friends in a pink prison garb will be priceless. Just picture it my friends.
It looks like the situation in Iran further complicates Ato Meles’s grip on power. It is obvious that there will be no repeat of 2005. The world is watching. Europeans will follow the US lead. President Obama’s administration is allergic to state sponsored killing. The Diaspora Ethiopians are loud and everywhere. The ‘Eight’ points by Kinijit are still the minimum demands. No party in Ethiopia will be accepted as legitimate contender with out the eight points being fulfilled. There is no such thing as a free election without a free press and the opposition’s right to free assembly and organization is respected.
Remittances from the Diaspora has dried up, commodity prices are plunging, inflation is spiraling, devaluation is over due, Ana Gomez, Donald Payne, Russ Feingold, Berhanu Nega are circling over head, what are you going to do? You definitely are not going to Disney land. I urge my hero Shambel to sing ‘Express train to Kaliti’

Resources used:

Top 10 recent protest symbols

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

Time Magazine

iran woman killed protest Neda

A Shot Heard Round the World
Most media coverage of the protests that greeted Iran’s widely disparaged presidential election results were already being captured and transmitted by cameraphone and text message, so it’s perhaps only fitting that the last moments of 26-year-old Neda Agha-Soltan’s life were captured on a grainy cellphone video. The 40-second clip, which has become an internet sensation, is a graphic testament to the protests’ brutal suppression: Neda, searching the camera with helpless eyes, struggles for life after being shot in the chest during a Tehran street demonstration, as bystanders crowd around desperately trying to help. Her name, which is Farsi for “voice” or “calling” has become a rallying cry for the growing opposition movement and a symbol of their resistance.


burning monk Vietnam

The Ultimate Sacrifice
Sometimes an image has the power to change the world. On June 11, 1963, Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc sat down crosslegged in the middle of a busy street in Saigon, his robes soaked in fuel, and set fire to himself; his body was quickly engulfed in flames. The haunting and horrifying protest against the persecution of Buddhists by the U.S.-backed South Vietnamese regime got results: as more monks began to emulate Thich Quang Duc’s example, President Ngo Dinh Diem fell from favor. In November 1963 he was removed from power by a coup d’etat and executed.


Saddam Hussein statue Iraq

The Fall of Saddam
While the advisability of the U.S. invasion of Iraq will long be a matter of debate, the overthrow of one of the world’s most notorious dictators was inarguably a moment of jubilation for many Iraqis. On April 9, 2003, as U.S. troops moved into Baghdad, Iraqi citizens slipped a noose around the neck of a statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square and dragged it from its plinth, with the assistance of a detachment of U.S. Marines and their armored vehicle. The towering statue subsequently beheaded and dragged through the streets. The effusive demonstration was a stunning symbol of the nation’s liberation from Saddam’s brutal regime.


Kent State

Four Dead in Ohio

On May 4, 1970, a Vietnam War protest at Kent State University turned ugly. As students were dispersing, Ohio National Guardsmen fired into the crowd, killing four students and wounding nine. The dark day set off a nationwide student strike that shut down hundreds of colleges and universities and came to symbolize the sharp political and social divisions of the age. Among the most potent images to emerge from the incident is this photo of 14-year-old runaway Mary Vecchio wailing over the body of Jeffrey Miller, one of the slain students. Snapped by John Filo, an undergraduate photojournalism major, the shot appeared on the front pages of newspapers around the country and won a Pulitzer Prize.


Marian Anderson
THOMAS D. MCAVOY / TIME Life Pictures / Getty

A Concert on the Mall

Marian Anderson had a three-octave range and a voice that conductor Arturo Toscanini reportedly said was “such as one hears once in a hundred years.” Yet in the 1920s U.S.— where African-Americans were as unwelcome in famous concert halls as they were at the front of buses — she was an unlikely star. Her remarkable voice propelled her past barriers: in 1936 she became the first African-American to sing at the White House, and she regularly sold out her her shows. Anderson’s most lasting legacy, however, came out of a concert she didn’t give: in 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution denied her request to perform in their Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. Amid a public outcry during which First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the D.A.R. in protest, the federal government gave Anderson permission to sing at the Lincoln Memorial instead. On Easter Sunday, 75,000 Americans gathered in person and millions more tuned in on the radio to hear Anderson perform. Her first song was “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.” She became a civil rights icon overnight.


Berlin Wall

Tear down this wall

Ever since the wall separating East and West Berlin was constructed in 1961, it was a symbol of the postwar rift between East and West Germany and the great power struggle of the Cold War. Yet on Nov. 9, 1989, a moment came that shaped Europe’s history: East Germany announced it would open borders with the West. In the celebration that ensued, tens of thousands poured across the boundary and began to dance and chisel away the wall — tearing down 28 years of deadly separation and ushering in a new era. The change would later come to represent the end of the Cold War and the eventual fall of the Soviet Union. The following October, Germany officially became one nation.


Don Cravens / Time Life

Standing up by sitting down
Even though African Americans constituted some 70% of total bus ridership in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks still had trouble keeping her seat on December 1, 1955. It was against the law for her to refuse to give up her seat to a white man, and her subsequent arrest incited the Montgomery Bus Boycott. One year later, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s decision that made segregated seating unconstitutional. Parks was known thereafter as the “mother of the Civil Rights movement.”


Bettmann / Corbis

Fists in the Air
African-American track athletes Tommie Smith (first place) and John Carlos (third place) used their wins in Mexico City’s 1968 Olympic Games to show their opposition to the continued oppression of blacks in the U.S. They stood in black socks to represent black poverty; Carlos wore beads to symbolize black lynchings; together they raised their black-gloved fists in a cry for black unity. The second place winner on the podium, Australian Peter Norman, wore an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge on his track suit in solidarity. It cost him a hero’s welcome upon his return home. Both Smith and Carlos were removed from the Games and none of the three men ever recanted their stances.


Stuart Franklin / Magnum

The Unknown Rebel
After the death of pro-democracy leader Hu Yaobang in mid-1989, students began gathering in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to mourn his passing. Over the course of seven weeks, people from all walks of life joined the group to protest for greater freedom. The Chinese government deployed military tanks on June 4 to squelch the growing demonstration and randomly shot into the crowds, killing more than 200 people. One lone, defiant man walked onto the road and stood directly in front of the line of tanks, weaving from side to side to block the tanks and even climbing on top of the first tank at one point in an attempt to get inside. The man’s identity remains a mystery. Some say he was killed and others believe him to be in hiding in Taiwan.


Ethiopian Review Editor’s Note : The Western media may not want to remember, but Ethiopia has its own symbol of protest, Shibre Desalegn, who was gunned down by the U.S.-financed tribal junta in 2005. Here is her story:

A young heroine pays the ultimate sacrifice

Addis Ababa — Her name is ShiBire Desalegn. She is the first person to be killed when Meles Zenawi unleashed his forces following a peaceful protest by Addis Ababa University (AAU) students on June 6, 2005. She was shot and killed by EPRDF troops as she and her friends tried to block the road in Kotebe that leads to the Sendafa torture camp. She helped escape several AAU students from torture by helping them jump from the trucks that were taking them to Sendafa. She didn’t have any weapon. But that didn’t stop the EPRDF troops from shooting her to death.

A high caliber bullet pierced through her neck.

Because of ShiBire’s actions, some AAU students escaped torture. But because of the action and inaction of others, thousands went through unspeakable brutality in the hands of the EPRDF security forces under the direct orders of Meles Zenawi. Thirty days later, Meles Zenawi was standing next to President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair at the G8 meeting in Scotland, looking proud of his barbaric actions.

Ethiopian Review spoke with ShiBire’s mother, Wzr. Ayelech Birkneh. She is devastated by her daughter’s sudden death. As the bread winner of the family, the 21-year old ShiBire was supporting her mother and six teenage siblings. The father passed away, leaving only a 50 birr monthly pension.

ShiBire could not continue her education, because there was nobody else to support the family. Her income was not enough to support the whole family even though she worked hard. The only choice she had to generate enough income was to go to a foreign country looking for a job.

People in ShiBire’s neighborhood appreciate what she did and died for. They think she is a heroine and a role model. They talk about her with a great deal of pride. She stood up for the students who only demanded respect for the people’s vote. She paid the ultimate sacrifice trying to save others.

Women's power in Iran: An overlooked force

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

By Anne Applebaum | Washington Post

Women in sunglasses and headscarves, speaking through megaphones, brandishing cameras, carrying signs: When they first appeared, the photographs of the 2005 Tehran University women’s rights protests were a powerful reminder of the true potential of Iranian women. The images were uplifting; they featured women of many ages; and they went on circulating long after the protests themselves died down. Now they have been replaced by a far more brutal and already infamous set of images: The photographs and video taken this past weekend of a young Iranian woman, allegedly shot by a government sniper, dying on the streets of Tehran.

I don’t know whether the girl in the photographs is destined to become this revolution’s symbolic martyr, as some are already predicting. I do know, however, that there is a connection between the violence in Iran over the past week and the women’s rights movement that has slowly gained strength in Iran over the past several years.

In the United States, the most America-centric commentators have somberly attributed the strength of recent demonstrations to the election of Barack Obama. Others want to give credit to the democracy rhetoric of the Bush administration. Still others want to call this a “Twitter revolution” or a “Facebook revolution,” as if zippy new technology alone had inspired the protests. But the truth is that the high turnout has been the result of many years of organizational work, carried out by small groups of civil rights activists and above all women’s groups, working largely unnoticed and without much outside help.

Since 2006, the One Million Signatures Campaign has been circulating a petition, online and in print, that calls for an end to laws that discriminate against women and the enactment of laws that provide equal rights for women in marriage, equal rights to divorce, equal inheritance rights and equal testimony rights for men and women in court. Though based outside the country, the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation, founded by a pair of sisters, translates and publishes online fundamental human rights documents; it maintains an online database of the names of thousands of victims of the Islamic Republic as well. In the past decade, Iranian women have participated in student strikes as well as teachers’ strikes, and in organizations of Bahai, Christian and other religious groups whose members are deemed “heretics” by the regime.

Not Obama, not Bush and not Twitter, in other words, but years of work and effort lie behind the public display of defiance and, in particular, the number of women on the streets — and their presence matters. Their presence could strike the deepest blow against the regime. For at the heart of the ideology of the Islamic Republic is its claim to divine inspiration: Its leadership is legitimate, as is its harsh repression of women, because God has decreed that it is so. The outright rejection of this creed by tens of thousands of women, not just over the past weekend but over the past decade, has to weaken the Islamic Republic’s claim to invincibility, in Iran and across the Middle East. The regime’s political elite knows this well: It is no accident that the two main challengers to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the Iranian presidential campaign promised to repeal some of the laws that discriminate against women, and it is no accident that the leading challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi, used his wife, a political scientist and former university chancellor, in his campaign appearances and posters.

The Iranian clerics know that women pose a profound threat to their authority, too: As the activist Ladan Boroumand has written, the regime would not bother to brutally repress dissidents unless it feared them deeply. Nobody would have murdered a peaceful, unarmed young woman in blue jeans — unless her mere presence on the street presented a dire threat.

The regime may succeed. Violence usually succeeds, at least in the short term, in intimidating people. In the long term, however, the links, structures, organizations and groups set up by Iranian women, not to mention the photographs of the past week, will continue to gnaw away at the Iranian regime’s legitimacy — and we should take note. I cannot count how many times I’ve been told in recent years that “women’s issues” in the Islamic world are a secondary subject: Whether the discussion is of the Afghan constitution or the Saudi government, the standard line among most commentators has always been that other things — stability, security, oil — matter more. But regimes that repress the civil and human rights of half their population are inherently unstable. Sooner or later, there has to be a backlash. In Iran, we’re watching one unfold.

Ethiopia: Anatomy of Sebhat Nega's big lies

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

By Fekade Shewakena

Ato Sebhat Nega’s interview on the Voice of America, Amharic Service, recently sounds like a play out of Orwell’s, Animal Farm, but it also speaks volumes about the mindset inside TPLF, and the groupthink the regime officials are possessed with. Like all people intoxicated with power and anything that comes with it, Ato Sebhat had no limits or inhibitions to stop him from making bold faced lies. Ato Sebhat belongs to a category of humans that Orwell describes as people who use ordinary language “to make lies sound truthful, murder respectable, and give an appearance of solidity to pure wind”.

The voice of America Amharic service has also invited listeners to put questions to Ato Sebhat for a future airing. But what is the use of asking questions when you know the person who takes the questions thinks the sky is the limit for lying? This man didn’t even stutter for a second when he told us that his TPLF invented Ethiopia and introduced the Ethiopian people to one another for the first time in history.

An interesting part in the interview was also Sebhat’s elaboration on the nature and work of EFFORT, the so called Endowment Fund for the Rehabilitation of Tigrai, the TPLF business conglomerate. Sebhat told us what Mussolini would tell any journalist in 1935 about his “civilizing” ventures in Ethiopia when he told us about the role of EFFORT in building the Ethiopian economy. Now that is very interesting in itself but the man’s idea of what capitalism is and his vision of how he intends to build it is even more troubling. This robber baron bragged about EFFORT being the biggest investment company in Ethiopia and wants us to be surprised by that achievement. What would have been surprising was if a company supported by a ruling party, that has unlimited capacity to crush all its competitors and one that has the privilege of getting as much as 3.2 billion birr debt written off by the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia by order of the ruling class, was to rank in second place. It is ironic that the Ethiopian people have to subsidize the same company which in the first place was set up with money and property looted from them. But I credit Ato Sebhat for inadvertently but bluntly telling us that his idea of building capitalism is preparing the Ethiopian people for apartheid-like serfdom.

Why make big lies?

Absolute power often makes absolutely delusional. Understandably, some of the lie has its source in Sebhat and his friends being delusional. There is a pervasive groupthink inside the opaque TPLF clique that is heavily powered by its narrow ethnic nationalism. Like all autocrats, they often manufacture their own facts and after repeating that for a while tend to accept them as truth. Once they accept a lie as truth they often stick by it even if evidence proves them wrong. Anyone presenting evidence to the contrary is often considered criminal or the enemy and punished. This is why every opposition in Ethiopia, weak or strong, and citizens who dare to ask fair and hard questions are subjected to merciless persecution. That is why Birtukan Mideksa is languishing in prison. That is why we hear a barrage of draconian decrees being promulgated every now and then. That is why entire villages in the Ogaden were burnt to the ground and people killed like flies. Isn’t their crime only asking questions and demanding to be consulted before they were forcibly evicted from their land to give way for foreign oil finders? It is the same reason that led to the genocide of the Agnuak in Gambella.

Many people I know were dumbfounded to hear Ayatollah Sebhat, say that his clique invented Ethiopia in 1991. It is unbelievable how a very old man of his age pulled the energy needed to put a bold face as his mouth puffed the mega lie that the Ethiopian people came to know one another for the first time after his group took power 18 years ago.

You may think this goon is off his medication when he spewed this offensive absurdity, but the truth is that this is right out of the talking points of the entire delusional TPLF cabal who are trying their best to rewrite history. There was a big public amazement about Ato Girma Woldegiorgis, the “President”, regarding a letter he wrote in condolences for Tilahun Gesesses death. Ato Girma is reported to have written thanking Tilahun Gesesse for breaking through a government ban of singing in Oromoffa. Many people cringed how this extremely old man of not so good health, and on his way to God, can make such a bold faced lie through his teeth. Ato Girma, I heard, is reported to have confided to people close to him, that he has not read the letter himself and that it was written in the Meles Zenawi’s office for him to sign and issue. I found Ato Girma’s explanation plausible. This is purely a TPLF kind of lie.

This self-serving clique thinks that Ethiopians don’t even know that the period between Menilik and Mengistu Hailemariam has seen a more ethnically diverse ruling class, than TPLF’s ethno-centered reign of the last 18 years. Sebhat, Meles and Bereket think that they have succeeded in hiding from us that, for the first time in modern Ethiopian history, since Menilik, there are no Oromo generals in any key position in the Ethiopian army. Sebhat and the whole clique think the Ethiopian people are not watching.

The assertion of Sebhat that the TPLF invented Ethiopia also tells us something more: this tribal clique thinks and acts as if it is still the Zemene Mesafint (Era of the Princes) in Ethiopia. They deny the existence of time in between. As far as the TPLF is concerned, the most revolutionary proclamation that made land public property in 1974 and that fundamentally took away the key instrument of oppression of one group of people by another, has not taken place. If they admit that this actually happened, and that there was a revolution that transformed ethnic relations in Ethiopia, they know their colonial and apartheid look-alike tribal politics would fall apart. They have also convinced themselves that there was no parade of cultures of nations and nationalities during the dergue. They think they have invented that too. They don’t want to think the Institute of Nationalities in Addis Ababa was even set up under the dergue. They think the Ethiopian people spent sleepless nights trying to find out the ethnicity (nationality) of Mengistu and the rest of their rulers. History and time exist only when it agrees with the TPLF. Since they are stuck in time, they have not lived to see the early periods of Mengistu who at the time used language similar as theirs as reason to slaughter Amharas. Meles and Sebhat still keep calling Mengistu the protector of Amharas. Those of you who may have been amazed by Sebhat’s phantom assertions should know that these are the ingredients from which Sebhat’s sick and thick mind is made of.

Yes, if you see what looks like a colonial or an apartheid model of governance in Ethiopia today, where 93% of the leadership of the country’s army is from Sebhat’s ethnic group (Tigreans) and the security and bureaucracy is almost exclusively controlled by TPLF operatives, the reason is that Sebhat and Meles and Bereket think we cannot see reality for ourselves but take their words for everything they claim and read the history they have tried to rewrite for us.

It is obviously a futile exercise to ask questions of people like Sebhat Nega, Meles Zenawi or Bereket Simon in hope of getting a straight answer just as the VOA journalist tried hard on Ato Sebhat. These people have eaten up all sense of cultural inhibition and decency to stop them at anything. For example, you may want to ask them, as the VOA journalist, Ato Addisu Abebe, tried on Ato Sebhat, about the ever narrowing political space for opposition groups in the country, even give them a quantitative measure of how narrow it has gotten or compile testimonies from everyday people in Ethiopia who are disgusted with their rule, or show them research by respectable international human rights groups, and academics who tell us that the political space for building democracy in Ethiopia has diminished and human rights abuse is at its worst. Sebhat and Meles would simply tell you that democracy is flourishing in Ethiopia and people are happy. “There are no angry people in Ethiopia”, said Sebhat in the VOA interview. How much evidence you may have to the contrary does not matter. Even the people whose children are mowed down on the streets of Addis Ababa are happy and love the Agazi as far as Sebhat is concerned. Meles in a recent interview with the Financial Times was asked about the draconian civil society laws recently instituted in the country. He simply said, “some people would say this is clamping down, we would say this is an empowering law.” In TPLF-speak you can say “we killed them in order to let them live.”

Ato Sebhat, if you happen to read this I will live you with the following two lines hoping that you will let them permeate through your head.

1. Not all political conflicts in a country are ethnic conflicts or wars between nations and nationalities. Your characterization of conflicts in Ethiopia as a war between ethnic groups is too dumb even to people who have not read history. Rivalries and wars come in different packages including in the form of class conflicts. They even occur within the same ethnic group and there were many in Ethiopia. Even as they were struggling against their oppressive rulers, the Ethiopian people have often considered themselves Ethiopians who were not given a share of what their country should give them. This is a country where people across ethnicity rose up together to defend. Ato Sebhat, there in Adwa, near your village, you can find the bones of most nationalities in Ethiopia. And that your notion that we knew each other with the help of TPLF in 1991 exits only in your paranoid and tribal dense head.

2. Like every people who lived under tyranny, the Ethiopian people will rise up, most likely in your life time, to take back their country. Looking at it from where most of us stand, your government looks more like an apartheid establishment than anything else. Believe me, the people you have burnt their villages will rise up from the ashes soon. The people whose children you mowed down on the streets of Addis Ababa have not forgotten. The Amharas and Oromos and the rest of our people you despise and whose children you are packing your prisons with, are not far from the horizons of their freedom. Even the people of Tigrai in whose name you do your crimes will definitely rise up some day and will say enough already, get off my back and not in my name. You will find that you have left your children a pile of ash and thin air instead of the personal wealth and prosperity you accumulated.

3. Please spare the people of Tigrai from lying in their name. I have not seen anything to show me their ownership of EFFORT as you claimed. Sir, through your actions and your tribalization of loyalty and privilege you are buying hatred for the people of Tigrai. Tragically you have done this with some success. Please know that ethnicity as a political tool can be redirected in any direction and with relative ease. You have no monopoly of it, sir.

I wish you and the cabal can come back to your senses before it is too late. The silence of the people you subdued by force is fooling you. You have confused silence with agreement and happiness. You are sitting on a time bomb, sir. There are angry people all around you. You said they are not the people “they are individuals” but how many million individuals do you think constitute a people?

Ato Sebhat, if you have made your lies with some mix of truth, we would have engaged in a useful debate. It is sad that you limited my job to restating everyday observations, things that are as clear as the September sky over Ethiopia. In the words of the satirist I quoted above, “we have now sunk to a depth at which re-statement of the obvious has become the first duty of intelligent men”.
As for VOA’s call for questions to Ato Sebhat, I have only one question that I ask you to put to him. I have the same question put to Senator McCarthy in the US senate at a hearing known as the Army-McCarthy Hearings in 1954 by the head attorney of the US army – “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

(The writer can be reached at

Swarms of locusts swoop down on Ethiopia

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

ADDIS ABABA (AFP) — Crops in large swathes of Ethiopia risk being destroyed by swarms of locusts coming from northern Somalia, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said Tuesday.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) “reports that locust swarms have been confirmed in seven regions in the country, including in areas where there is no previous record of infestation,” a statement said.

“The government is expected to present a response plan specifying immediate and medium-term actions to be taken during the week,” OCHA said.

It added that 1,390 hectares of land in several regions, mainly in southeastern Ethiopia had been sprayed in ground and air operations.

The vast majority of Ethiopia’s 77 million inhabitants depend on subsistence agriculture and have been badly hit by successive infestations of voracious locusts that destroy every plant in their path.

Kenya rejects call for military help in Somalia

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

(CNN) — Somalia’s transitional government has the right to request military help from its neighbors against armed militants, the African Union said Monday, but Kenya was quick to reject the idea of sending troops and suggested the AU should spearhead such a move.

Somali parliament speaker Sheikh Adan Madowe on Saturday called on Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Yemen to send in their military forces to help government troops stop hardline Islamist militants from taking over.

“Militants are wrestling the power from the government and so we call for military help from neighboring countries,” the speaker said at a news conference in Mogadishu. “Please send your military to help in 24 hours’ time.”

But Alfred Mutua, spokesman for the Kenyan government, told CNN that “Kenya doesn’t engage in military support to our neighbors.” He said that any such support would be under the umbrella of the African Union.

However, he did say that “different types of support can be given, not just military, and Kenya’s options are open.” He said that the government should announce by Wednesday how it will move forward.

Jean Ping, chairman of the African Union Commission, said in a communique issued Sunday that the transitional government, as Somalia’s legitimate government, “has the right to seek support from AU Member States and the larger international community.”

Ping also said that the AU would “continue to do its utmost to assist the Somali people and its authorities in their lasting quest for peace and reconciliation.”

Somalia’s call for help came hours after a third top politician was killed in ongoing fighting in the capital.

Mohamed Hussein Adow, a powerful member of parliament who was leading the fight against the Islamists, was slain Friday in the north of the city.

His death came two days after Islamists killed Internal Security Minister Omar Hashi Adan in a suicide attack in central Somalia. The nation’s former ambassador to Ethiopia, Abdikarin Farah Laqanyo, was also killed, along with at least 11 others, government officials said.

Madowe said a Pakistani militant who is a high-ranking official in al Qaeda is leading the fighting in Somalia against the government.

He warned that militants will spread fighting into the rest of the region if they topple the government in Somalia.

EPPF Texas chapter launched

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

The Ethiopian People’s Patriotic Front (EPPF) supporters in Texas have come together and formed a support chapter on Sunday, June 21, 2009, after holding a series of meetings.

The newly formed chapter has released a press statement, which is posted on the EPPF official web site, Click here to read.

50 great softwares that are available for free

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

The following is a list of 50 great software applications that you can download and install for free. The list is originally compiled by TechVivo and edited by Elias Kifle.

1. Audacity – Audacity is a free, easy-to-use audio editor and recorder for Windows

2. VirtualDub – VirtualDub is a video capture and video processing application for Windows

3. Avidemux – Avidemux is a free video editor designed for simple cutting, filtering, and encoding tasks.

4. K-Lite Mega Codec Pack – K-Lite Codec Pack is a collection of codes, needed for encoding and decoding (playing) audio and video formats. With the K-Lite Codec Pack you should be able to play most of the popular audio and video formats, even the rare ones.

5. SUPER – If you need a simple, efficient, and ugly tool to convert any of your multimedia files into any other format, then SUPER is all you need

6. FormatFactory – If you need a simple, efficient, easy-to-use, and a not-so-hideously-ugly tool to convert any of your multimedia files into any other format, then FormatFactory is all you need

7. Mozilla Sunbird – Sunbird is an open-source, cross-platform calendar application.

8. VLC Media Player – VLC Media Player is a multimedia player that can play most of the audio and video formats out there, including DVDs and CDs, without the need of a codec.

9. WinAmp – WinAmp is a fast and flexible music and video player for Windows

10. Media Player Classic – Media Player Classic looks like Windows Media Player 6, but with additional features, such as AVI subtitle support, QuickTime and RealVideo support, and a few built-in codec. And it doesn’t have the bloat the Windows Media Player 11 has.

11. KeePas – KeePas is an opensource password manager which helps you manage your passwords in a secure way

12. MemoKeys – MemoKeys allows you to create shortcut key combinations (hotkeys) and associate them with any text information of your choice.

13. AutoIt – AutoIt is a freeware BASIC-like scripting language designed for automating the Windows GUI

14. AutoHotKey – AutoHotKey is a free keyboard macro program. It supports hotkeys for the keyboard, mouse, and joystick.

15. PeaZip – PeaZip is an open-source file and archive manager

16. 7Zip – 7zip is an open-source file archiver predominantly for Microsoft Windows OS

17. GMail Drive – GMail Drive is a Shell Namespace Extension that creates a virtual filesystem around your Google Mail account, allowing you to use GMail as a storage medium

18. Mozy – Mozy is the industry-leading solution for online backup. Its offers 2GB storage for free.

19. Recuva – Recuva is a freeware Windows utility to restore files that have been accidentaly deleted from your computer

20. Windows Live Writer – Windows Live Writer is a desktop blog-publishing application that has many features.

21. BitTorrent – BitTorrent is a BitTorrent client and a good alternative to uTorrent.

22. ZoneAlarm Free – ZoneAlarm Free is one of the best and well know free firewall software in the market.

23. Ashampoo Burning Studio Free – If you’re looking for a fast, responsive, and high-quality burning software that does not cost a dime, then Ashampoo Burning Studio Free is for you.

24. DeepBurner – DeepBurner is a free CD and DVD burning tool

25. Defraggler – Defraggler lets you defrag individual files, without having to process the whole drive, and it allows you to schedule runs

26. CCleaner – CCleaner is a system optimization and privacy tool. It removes unused temporary files from your system, allowing it to run faster, more efficiently, and giving you more hard disk space.

27. Startup Delayer – Startup Delayer allows you to setup how many seconds after Windows has started, to load each program.

28. RevoUninstaller – RevoUninstaller can be used to uninstall programs, and scan for leftover registry keys, files, and folders.

29. Eraser – Eraser is a secure data removal tool for Windows

30. SUMo – With SUMo, you’ll be able to keep your PC up-to-date by detecting required updates for your software.

31. RadarSync – Stop searching for drivers and app updates, update your PC for free with RadarSync

32. FileHippo Update Checker – The Update Checker will scan your computer for installed software, check the versions, and then send this info to to see if there are any newer releases. These are then neatly displayed in your browser for you to download.

33. Launchy – Launchy allows you to launch programs with just a few keystrokes

34. FileZilla – FileZilla is a powerful FTP client that is easy-to-use, has many features, and is fast and relaible.

35. Kompozer – WYSIWYG HTML and CSS editor derived from Nvu

36. HTML-Kit – HTML-Kit is a full-featured and customizable HTML text editor that can be used to create and edit web pages.

37. Ades Clr Picker – AdesClrPicker is a very easy-to-use, yet powerful color picker application for web designers.

38. Notepad++ – Notepad++ is a free source code editor and Notepad replacement that supports several languages.

39. Internet Download Manager – Internet Download Manager is a tool that can increase download speeds, resume, schedule, and manage downloads.

40. FlashGet – FlashGet is a free download manager that allows you to spit the files you’re downloading into different sections.

41. GIMP – The GIMP is a multiplatform photo manipulation tool. It’s suitable for a variety of image manipulation tasks, including photo retouching, image composition, and image construction.

42. Paint.NET – Paint.NET is an image and photo manipulation software. It’s meant to be a free replacement for the MS Paint software that comes with all Windows operating systems.

43. CamStudio – CamStudio records screen into standard AVI files. It’s an ideal tool for creating software demonstations.

44. Mozilla Thunderbird – Thunderbird is a great email client from the same people who brought you the Firefox browser

45. PDFCreator – PDFCreator can create PDF files from almost any Windows app

46. Gadwin PrintScreen – Gadwin PrintScreen is an easy-to-use utility that allows you to capture any portion of the screen, and save it to a file, copy to Windows clipboard, print it, or email it to a friend.

47. Skype – Using Skype, you can make telephone calls over the Internet, and calls to other people using Skype.

48. SAM – SAM is a simple voice answering machine for Skype users

49. OpenOffice – OpenOffice is an open-source, multi-platform, and multi-lingual suite comparable with MS Office.

50. AbiWord – AbiWord is a free word processing program similar to Microsoft Word and is rapidly becoming a state-of-the-art word processor.

Washington DC train smashes into another, killing 6

Monday, June 22nd, 2009


WASHINGTON – One Metro transit train smashed into the rear of another at the height of the capital city’s Monday evening rush hour, killing at least six people and injuring scores of others as the front end of the trailing train jackknifed violently into the air and fell atop the first.

Cars of both trains were ripped open and smashed together in the worst accident in the Metrorail system’s 33-year history. District of Columbia fire spokesman Alan Etter said crews had to cut some people out of what he described as a “mass casualty event.” Rescue workers propped steel ladders up to the upper train cars to help survivors scramble to safety. Seats from the smashed cars spilled out onto the track.

D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty said six were confirmed dead. Fire Chief Dennis Rubin said rescue workers treated 76 people at the scene and sent some of them to local hospitals, six with critical injuries. A search for further victims continued into the night.

A Metro official said the dead included the operator of the trailing train. Her name was not immediately released.

President Barack Obama sent his condolences to the victims of the crash.

“Michelle and I were saddened by the terrible accident in Northeast Washington, D.C., today,” Obama said in a statement issued Monday night. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends affected by this tragedy.”

The president also thanked rescue personnel who helped to save lives.

The crash around 5 p.m. EDT took place on the system’s red line, Metro’s busiest, which runs below ground for much of its length but is at ground level at the accident site near the Maryland border in northeast Washington.

Metro chief John Catoe said the first train was stopped on the tracks, waiting for another to clear the station ahead, when the trailing train, one of the oldest in the Metro fleet, plowed into it from behind.

Officials had no explanation for the accident. The National Transportation Safety Board took charge of the investigation and sent a team to the site. DC police and the FBI also had investigators at the scene to help search the wreckage for any overlooked injured or dead passengers and evidence.

Officials would not say how fast the train was traveling at the time of the accident. The crash occurred in an area with a sizable distance between rail stations in which trains are allowed to travel at higher speeds, Metro spokeswoman Candace Smith said.

Investigators are searching the wreckage for the trains’ devices that record operating speeds and commands, NTSB member Debbie Hersman said.

Each train had six cars and was capable of holding as many as 1,200 people. Hersman said the trains were bound for downtown. That would mean they were less likely to be filled during the afternoon rush hour.

The trains had pulled out of the Takoma Park station and were headed in the direction of the Fort Totten station.

More than 200 firefighters from D.C., Maryland and Virginia eventually converged on the scene. Sabrina Webber, a 45-year-old real estate agent who lives in the neighborhood, said the first rescuers to arrive had to use the “jaws of life” to pry open a wire fence along rail line to get to the train.

Webber raced to the scene after hearing a loud boom like a “thunder crash” and then sirens. She said there was no panic among the survivors.

Passenger Jodie Wickett, a nurse, told CNN she was seated on one train, sending text messages on her phone, when she felt the impact. She said she sent a message to someone that it felt like the train had hit a bump.

“From that point on, it happened so fast, I flew out of the seat and hit my head.” Wickett said she stayed at the scene and tried to help. She said “people are just in very bad shape.”

“The people that were hurt, the ones that could speak, were calling back as we called out to them,” she said. “Lots of people were upset and crying, but there were no screams.”

One man said he was riding a bicycle across a bridge over the Metro tracks when the sound of the crash got his attention.

“I didn’t see any panic,” Barry Student said. “The whole situation was so surreal.”

At Howard University Hospital, Dr. Johnnie Ford, an emergency room doctor, said a 14-year-old girl suffered two broken legs in the accident. A 20-year-old male patient “looked like he had been tumbled around quite a bit, bumps and bruises from head to toe,” Ford said.

Homeland Security Department spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said less than two hours after the crash that federal authorities had no indication of any terrorism connection.

“I don’t know the reason for this accident,” Metro’s Catoe said. “I would still say the system is safe, but we’ve had an incident.”

Monday’s crash was the third major subway or commuter rail crash in a big city in the past nine months. In the earlier accidents:

• In September 2008, a commuter rail train and a freight train crashed in Los Angeles, killing 25 people. The crash was blamed on an engineer on the commuter rail sending text messages on a cell phone.

• Last month about 50 people were injured in Boston when one trolley rear-ended another. The conductor admitted to sending a text message when the crash occurred.

No reason was given for the Washington crash, but some safety experts are concerned about the recent increase.

“I’m not sure if everyone in the safety system is paying the proper attention that needs to be paid,” said Barry Sweedler, a San Francisco-based safety consultant and former investigator and manager at the NTSB. “These things shouldn’t be happening.”

However, Robert Lauby, a former NTSB rail investigator, said the increase in accidents could well be mere coincidence.

“Just because you had them doesn’t mean there’s a specific issue that caused them,” Lauby said.

The only other time in Metrorail’s 33-year history that there were passenger fatalities was on Jan. 13, 1982, when three people died as a result of a derailment underneath downtown. That was a day of disaster in the capital — shortly before the subway crash, an Air Florida plane slammed into the 14th Street Bridge immediately after takeoff in a severe snowstorm from Washington National Airport across the Potomac River. The plane crash killed 78 people.

(Associated Press writers Brett J. Blackledge, Eileen Sullivan, Richard Lardner, Jim Kuhnhenn and Seth Borenstein in Washington and AP researcher Judith Ausuebel in New York contributed to this report.)

"Zero chance Birtukan Mideksa will be released" – Meles

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

By Jason McLure | Bloomberg

[Ethiopia’s dictator] Meles Zenawi said on Friday that there is “zero” chance that opposition leader Birtukan Mideksa will be released from prison in time to compete in the elections scheduled for next May. He also said Birtukan’s jailing is not a pretext to eliminate political opposition.

Birtukan, a leader of the now-defunct Coalition for Unity and Democracy alliance, was first jailed along with more than 120 other opposition leaders, activists, and journalists after unrest following Ethiopia’s disputed 2005 elections.

Birtukan was freed under a government pardon in 2007, before being put back in jail under a life sentence in December after she denied requesting the earlier amnesty. Her supporters say she was jailed because of the growing popularity of her new party, Unity for Democracy and Justice.

The prime minister also defended local elections last year, in which opposition candidates won just three of 3.6 million seats, saying that “democracy is about process, it’s not about outcome.”

Ethiopia’s largest remaining opposition parties withdrew in advance of the poll, citing government intimidation.

“If the process is clean and you get zero, tough luck,” he said.

Woyanne blames World Bank for power blackouts

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

By Jason McLure | Bloomberg

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia — Ethiopian Prime Minister warlord Meles Zenawi said the World Bank and international donors share the blame for nationwide power cuts that led the government to trim its economic growth forecast.

The Horn of Africa country’s economy may grow 10.1 percent in the fiscal year ending in July, compared with an earlier prediction of 11.2 percent, Meles said in an interview on June 19 in the capital, Addis Ababa. The World Bank underestimated electricity demand in previous years and failed to provide funding for new power-generation projects the government had wanted, leading to under-investment in the industry, he said.

“We could have avoided that mistake if we had the money or had we had the support of our donors,” Meles said.

A shortage of electricity in Africa’s second most-populous country led the state-run Ethiopian Electric Power Corp. to institute nationwide blackouts every second day this month. The outages, which began in March, are partly due to “unpredictable” factors such as rainfall shortages that left dams without enough water, and delays in building new hydropower plants, Meles said.

“The notion that because we didn’t finance power they have a problem, that’s bogus,” Kenichi Ohashi, the World Bank’s director for Ethiopia, said by phone today. “If we financed power that would come at the expense of something else”

Generator Dispute

Power cuts might also have been alleviated if the Washington-based multilateral lender had provided funding for a 60-megawatt diesel generator the government requested this year, Meles said.

The World Bank didn’t finance the generator because the government’s contracting process didn’t meet World Bank standards and wasn’t “open and transparent and competitive,” Ohashi said.

This is the second consecutive year Ethiopia has experienced nationwide blackouts in the months before July, when reservoirs begin to refill during the country’s rainy season.

Economic growth in “the last part of the year has not been as good as we thought it would,” Meles said. A reduction in coffee exports from Africa’s biggest producer of the beans also trimmed growth expectations, he said. The International Monetary Fund estimates Ethiopia’s economy will grow 6.5 percent or less this year.

Coffee Sabotage

Ethiopian coffee export revenue has declined by more than 30 percent this year. In March, Ethiopian authorities shut six of the country’s largest exporters’ warehouses after accusing them of hoarding beans bound for export.

“The transition from the traditional marketing network to the commodity exchange was not universally popular amongst the exporters and traders in the coffee market,” Meles said. “We felt that some were trying to sabotage the transition.”

Ethiopia’s coffee earnings have declined this year due to a smaller crop, lower world prices and exporters stockpiling beans in anticipation of a devaluation of Ethiopia’s currency, Eleni Gabre-Madhin, chief executive officer of the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange, said in March.

Shipments declined to 97,846 metric tons in the first 10 months of Ethiopia’s fiscal year that ends next month, compared with 133,423 tons a year earlier, according to data from the Trade Ministry.

Stepping Down

Meles, who is 54 and has been in power since 1991, reiterated an April 2008 pledge that he would like to step down after next year’s elections. He indicated he would stay for part of an additional five-year term if his ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front requests it.

He said he would resign from the ruling party only as a matter of “fundamental principle” and not over a small difference in how long he should remain in office.

“My guess is this is going to boil-down to plus or minus a year or two,” he said. “I’m simply thinking aloud. Now if it were to boil-down to plus or minus a year or two, I would probably say this is not a matter on which I ought to leave the party.”

It’s also possible, “some would say very likely” that he will be succeeded as prime minister by a person from outside the Tigrayan ethnic group, Meles said.

Veterans of Meles’ Tigray People’s Liberation Front, a rebel group from northern Ethiopia that helped defeat Ethiopia’s Communist Derg government in 1991, form the core of the current ruling party. Though Tigrayans make up just six percent of the country’s population, they dominate the upper levels of Ethiopia’s civilian and military leadership.

Ethiopia's regime rejects Kenya's proposal to monitor Omo River dam construction

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

By Benjamin Muindi | (Nation)

Ethiopia’s regime has rejected Kenya’s proposal to monitor the construction of a hydro-power dam on River Omo that could lead to the death of Lake Turkana.

A row between the two countries now looms over the waters of the river, the main tributary of Lake Turkana. Ethiopia is midway through construction of its largest dam upstream on the river. It is feared that the giant project may pose a great threat to more than 300,000 people in Turkana Central and North, if the lake recedes.

River Omo supplies 20 billion cubic metres of water to the lake, but three-quarters of this volume will go to the dam to turn turbines for power generation. The dam is designed to generate 1,870 mega watts of electricity, some of it to be sold to Kenya (500 MW) and Sudan (200-300 MW).

After realising the danger posed by the project, Kenya this month sent a 15-man delegation to Ethiopia to discuss its impact on water levels in Lake Turkana. After a five-day mission in Ethiopia, the team, led by Mr John Nyaoro, the director of Water Resources, discovered that the water will only run the turbines and flow downstream.

However, the team proposed the formation of an independent joint commission to regulate the use of the basin. “We want a commission that will help moderate the effects of the recession,” said Mr Nyaoro at a press conference on the matter.

Not necessary

He added: “The commission would also make sure that the waters of River Omo would not be used for other purposes other than generation of electricity.” But the Ethiopian authorities have declined to accept the proposals, saying “they were not necessary”.

According to Mr Nyaoro, failure to have a joint commission could leave room for Ethiopia to utilise the waters for other purposes such as agriculture.

He feared the river course could be diverted permanently. “There is need to have a joint commission monitoring the activities taking place around the river,” he said.

Meles Zenawi said he would re-invade Somalia

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

By Hamsa Omar and Jason McLure | Bloomberg

Somalia declared a state of emergency amid increasing violence in the war-torn country as the leader of neighboring Ethiopia’s [tribal junta] threatened to invade if its security is threatened by Islamists seeking to take power.

Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed’s declaration came after three government officials, including Security Minister Omar Hashi Aden, died in separate incidents last week.

“I take this decision after we encountered many attacks from insurgents to remove the government,” Sharif told reporters at the presidential palace today in the capital, Mogadishu. “We decided to impose martial law in order to overcome the risky conditions that exist in the country.”

The United Nations said last month that al-Qaeda has sent as many as 300 fighters to Somalia to support Islamists and warlords seeking to topple Sharif. The foreigners are training members of the al-Shabaab rebel group and helping them mobilize funds and weapons, Nicolas Bwakira, the head of the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia, said on May 22.

Somalia’s government called for foreign troops to enter the country to help fight the insurgents on June 20. A day earlier, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister warlord Meles Zenawi said he would reinvade Somalia if Hisbul Islam, led by Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, and its allies in the al-Shabaab militia pose a “serious threat” to his country.

U.S.-backed Ethiopian Woyanne troops invaded Somalia in December 2006, ousting the Islamic Courts Union government that had briefly captured southern Somalia. The army occupied the Mogadishu and the southern town of Baidoa in an effort to bolster the government, though the forces became bogged down in a guerrilla war with Islamist militias that now control most of the country’s south. They withdrew in January.

‘Existential Threat’

If Aweys is “a real threat, an existential threat to us and if he wants to be attacked then of course we will try to do what we did before,” Meles said in an interview in Addis Ababa. “If he poses a clear and present danger, then we will deal with a clear and present danger in any way we can.”

Aweys was previously based in Asmara, capital of Eritrea. Ethiopia fought a border war with the neighboring country from 1998 to 2000. Eritrea has denied it supports Aweys.

“We don’t like him, there is no pretension on our side that we like him or are comfortable with him,” said Meles. “We would like to see his back.”

Aweys said in a statement to reporters yesterday in Mogadishu that the rebels would oppose foreign troops deployed in Somalia “by any means.”

Al-Shabaab has been accused by the U.S. of providing safe-haven and logistical support to al-Qaeda, which aims to establish a caliphate, or Islamic government, in Somalia. The militia vowed to defeat any foreign troops that come to the aid of the government.

“Our cats and dogs are eager to eat the dead bodies of your boys if they will deploy to our territory,” Sheikh Ali Mohamoud Rage, a spokesman for al-Shabaab, told reporters in Mogadishu.

Somalia has requested assistance from the United Nations, the AU, the Arab League and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development in East Africa to help deal with an emerging humanitarian crisis as thousands of people flee fighting in Mogadishu.

The AU Commission said in a statement late yesterday that Somalia’s government “has the right to seek support from AU member states and the larger international community, in order to protect the Somali people.”

Somalia is in its 18th year of civil war and hasn’t had a functioning central administration since the ouster of Mohamed Siad Barre, the former dictator, in 1991.

Torture Inc. (Ethiopia)

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

Alemayehu G. Mariam

Inside the Torture Chambers of the Dictatorship in Ethiopia

Last week, Barry Malone of the Reuters news agency reported that families of the suspects allegedly involved in a “terror network” against the dictatorship in Ethiopia told him that some of their loved ones had “been tortured and are injured. They have been interrogated for up to nineteen hours. One man with injuries to his penis had to be treated in hospital.” Voice of America’s Peter Heinlien further reported:

At a pre-trial hearing, attorneys and defendants in the so-called ‘Ginbot Seven’ case indicated the accused had suffered physical and psychological abuse while being held in pre-trial detention. Former army General Asamenew Tsige, one of five leaders of an alleged coup plot being held in solitary confinement, pleaded for special human rights protection. An attorney for another defendant, businessman Getu Worku, asked that her client be allowed to see a private doctor for injuries suffered in detention. Both requests were denied.

The dictatorship’s servile prosecutor and master of doublespeak, Shimeles Kemal, said: “They have the right to relate any indignities they allege they have suffered openly in court. If this had been the case [tortured], they would have [reported it in court], but they didn’t.” In other words, General Asamenew Tsige’s “court” request for “special human rights protection” and the request by Ato Getu’s lawyer for an independent medical examination “for injuries suffered in detention” do not “relate to any indignities the suspects have suffered” while in custody.

It was also reported that less than two weeks ago, Birtukan Mideksa, leader of the opposition Unity for Democracy and Justice Party, apparently confronted her prison guards after being kept for six harrowing months in solitary confinement. According to the report, she was manhandled by the prison guards until paramedics were called by the warden of Kality prison. Birtukan was given some sort of sedative by the paramedics to render her motionless and speechless. It appears she was temporarily transferred to a cell with two other female inmates following this incident.

None of the “Tales From the Torture Chambers” of the dictatorship in Ethiopia comes as a surprise to anyone who has followed events there over the past few years. The torture chambers are veritable dungeons of horror and terror as documented in the February, 2009 U.S. State Department human rights report on Ethiopia:

Although the constitution and law prohibit the use of torture and mistreatment, there were numerous credible reports that security officials tortured, beat, or mistreated detainees. Opposition political party leaders reported frequent and systematic abuse and intimidation of their supporters by police and regional militias, particularly in the months leading up to the local and by-elections held during the year. In Makelawi, the central police investigation headquarters in Addis Ababa, police investigators reportedly commonly used physical abuse to extract confessions. Innocent people are tortured for any reason.

In April 2007, the San Francisco Chronicle made the following conclusion following its private investigation: “Interviews with dozens of people across the country, coupled with testimony given to diplomats and human rights groups, paint a picture of a nation that jails its citizens without reason or trial, and tortures many of them — despite government claims to the contrary.” Bereket Simon, the Svengalian player in the capo dictator’s inner circle, responded to the Chronicle investigation by issuing a blanket denial: “No way. No way. No way. I think you know, these are prohibited by laws, by Ethiopian laws — torture, any human treatments… In fact, we have been improving on our prison standards. We’ve been working hard to train the police forces, the interrogators.”

The Law Against Torture and the Prohibition Against Inhuman Treatment

Torture is illegal! Torture is illegal!

Article 1 of the Declaration Against Torture (1975) defines torture as:

… any act by which severe pain and suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted by, or at the instigation of a public official on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or confession; punishing him for an act he has committed; or intimidating him or other persons…. Torture constitutes an aggravated and deliberate form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

Article 18 of the dictatorship’s constitution embraces the Declaration Against Torture by guaranteeing that “Everyone shall have the right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Articles 14 and 16 provide a double guarantee by securing “the inalienable and inviolable right to life, liberty and security of person.” Article 21 provides prisoners special protections against torture: “Any person in custody or a convicted prisoner shall have the right to humane treatment which accords with his human dignity. Any person in custody or a convicted prisoner shall have the right to communicate with and be visited by spouse(s), close relatives and friends, medical attendants, religious and legal counselors.”

Under Article 13 of the dictatorship’s constitution, the “fundamental rights and freedoms enumerated… shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [UDHR], international human rights covenants and conventions ratified by Ethiopia.” Article 5 of the UDHR and Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, (both ratified by Ethiopia) are incorporated verbatim in Article 18 of the dictatorship’s constitution (“Everyone shall have the right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”). The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984) (ratified by Ethiopia in 1994) requires signatories to take effective measures to prevent torture within their borders. Articles 7 and 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court include torture as a crime against humanity and a war crime. Many other declarations, conventions and resolutions prohibit and condemn torture in its entirety, and some specifically require official designation of detention centers, registration of the identities of detainees, service of notice of detention to detainee families and records of the times and places of all interrogations.

Torture, Inc. (Ethiopia): The Business of Torture in the Dictatorship’s Prisons

There are a few irrefutable facts on the question of official torture in Ethiopia that need to be stated for the record:

1) The business of torture in Ethiopia is second only to the business of corruption. Torture, arbitrary arrests, detentions without charges or trials, threats, intimidations and extrajudicial killings are the tools of trade of the dictators’ political enterprise and survival.

2) The ruling dictatorship is openly scornful of international human rights covenants and the prohibitions of its own constitution on the practice of torture. To the dictatorship, these legal instruments and prohibitions are not worth the paper they are written on.

3) Torture raises absolutely no moral questions to the depraved dictators. Simply stated, they do not believe torture of a human being is inherently evil and wrong, and unjustified under any circumstances. In their perverted moral universe, they believe torture is an absolutely necessary tool to maintain themselves in power.

4) The dictatorship could not care less whether the court of world opinion, the International Court of Justice, human rights organizations, countries or anyone else condemns them for practicing torture because they believe fundamentally that they will never be held accountable for their criminal acts.

Having established the foregoing irrefutable facts, we can turn to the central question: Why do the dictators choose to inflict planned and calculated physical and mental pain on their opponents and others they perceive as threats to their power? To answer this question is to understand the dynamics of the internal operation of the dictatorship.

Several reasons can be given. First, the dictators operate in their own echo chamber of intrigue. They talk to themselves and reinforce each other’s fears and paranoia. Looking out through the dark glass of their echo chamber, they see a world inhabited by enemies and adversaries fully engaged in a Grand Conspiracy to uproot them from power. Inside the echo chamber, the dictators live each day in a state of terminal paranoia, re-creating new fantasies of a conspiracy concocted to destroy their chokehold on power. They internalize the massive dissatisfaction of the people with their misrule, the intense popular dislike directed against them and criticisms of their illegitimacy and incompetence, which in turn fuels their illusion of a Grand Conspiracy. They refuse to accept the simple truth that ordinary citizens individually or collectively could on their own (without a grand conspiracy) volition be motivated to reject them and their style of leadership after nearly two decades of tyrannical rule. The fact of total rejection by the society keeps them awake at night. The fact that they are disliked intensely and despised ubiquitously drives them crazy; and they just can’t handle the truth locked in their echo chamber!

The systematic practice of torture becomes their way of lashing out at the individuals they perceive to be the causes of this societal rejection and never-ending resurgence of an illusionary Grand Conspiracy. They justify their actions against their victims by invoking “higher ideals”. Their opponents become “desperado terrorists”, criminals who act “against the constitutional order,” subversives “against the interests of the nation” and defiant deniers of pardon. They convince themselves and try to convince others that those who oppose them are “evil” and they are “good’. They create a rigidly defined world of “them” and “us” and seek to demonize and dehumanize their opponents and critics. They make special laws to punish their imaginary enemies — independent journalists, civic society institutions, opposition political party leaders and members — and to demonstrate to the international community that any actions they take, including torture, is legal.

Second, the torture of the “desperado terrorists” is really not motivated by any fear of what the “desperadoes” could do to overthrow them or “wreak havoc” in the country. It has everything to do with sending a message to the “masterminds” outside of the country, and discouraging opponents, dissidents and others considered threats from further political activity within the country. It should be understood that the dictators’ use of torture against the “desperadoes” has little to do with criminal investigation or information gathering. The dictators know that there is little information that can be obtained from the “desperadoes” through physical beatings and severe psychological trauma. As they have publicly conceded, the whole “conspiracy” is directed by “masterminds” from the outside. There is little reliable or useful information the “desperado” detainees can provide through torture about the outside “masterminds”. In any case, any information they may acquire from the “desperadoes” by torturing them is unlikely to produce useful information because the whole “conspiracy” theory is a fabrication of the dictators themselves. No reasonable person could believe an 80-year old grandfather could lead a “terrorist network”. The bizarre official tale of a gallery of “desperadoes”, “terrorists,” “disgruntled” military officers, shadowy assassins and “dangerous” international “masterminds” who manipulated them all by remote control from the United States and Europe is so goofy that it deserves serialization in Marvel’s comic books.

But there is also a larger message to the population. By torturing the “desperadoes” and hundreds of thousands of other innocent people, the dictators seek to project the illusion of invincibility and omnipotence. Although they are objectively weak, have very little support in the population and are generally confused and inept in handling the enormous social, political and economic problems they have created, they still want to project the illusion that they are totally powerful, strong and unbeatable. Torture serves to enhance this illusion by publicizing the fact that they can eliminate, punish or neutralize their opponents into silence, fear or apathy.
Third, the dictators use torture to break down the will power and self-identity of their victims and bring them into total submission. They will use any means to achieve this purpose, including isolation, humiliation, intense psychological pressure and physical pain. The accumulated evidence from those lucky enough to have escaped the dictators’ torture chambers speak not only of the brutal acts of torture voluminously documented by international human rights organizations (e.g. physical beatings until victim loses consciousness; suspension of victims by feet and hands, face downwards, with chest touching the floor; electric shocks on legs and back; denial of food, water and sleep; beatings with rubber truncheons, tying a large bottle of water around a victim’s testicles; shackling, beatings to coerce the signing of false confessions, etc.) but also of the terror instilled in victims to destroy their identity and sense of self and well-being (e.g. prolonged solitary confinement, ethnic insults and personal humiliation, threats about family and children, forcing victims to view others being tortured and so on).

Fourth, the dictators use a special torture technique against the thousands of their ordinary and “unknown” victims to keep them in a state of complete despair. It is called torture by prolonged detention without charges or trial. Such victims have no idea why they are arrested or jailed. They have no idea if they will ever be charged, brought to trial or released. They have no visitors. They have no means of challenging their detention (even though Art. 19 of the dictators’ constitution provides for a court challenge [habeas corpus] where the “public prosecutor fails to bring the accused to court within the time limit provided by law.” They have no one to defend their rights or publicize their illegal detention. They live in a world of complete hopelessness and helplessness. Their torture has no cut off date. Many fall into a state of deep depression and resort to primitive mechanisms such as splitting (hatred of their torturer and themselves), dissociation (disconnect from their thoughts, memories, feelings, or sense of identity) and introjection (internalize the abusive and negative view of the victim created by the torturer and attributes of their all-powerful torturer). These experiences have been reported by former victims lucky enough to make it out of the dictators’ torture chambers.

Birtukan Mideksa’s Solitary Confinement: A Case Study of Psychological Torture

Although Article 21 of the dictatorship’s constitution guarantees that “Any person in custody or a convicted prisoner shall have the right to communicate with and be visited by spouse(s), close relatives and friends, medical attendants, religious and legal counselors”, Birtukan has spent the past six months in total solitary confinement prison in a “cell measuring 2m square”. She is visited by her mother and child every week for a few minutes. Even when she is allowed her few minutes with her mother, she is supervised and censored by one of the prison cadres. She is allowed only to exchange pleasantries with her mother. All other conversations are strictly prohibited. She is not allowed to visit with her lawyer or other family members, close friends or religious counselors despite two standing “court” orders. According to one report, an official from Kality prison could not explain why Birtukan is in solitary confinement. He stated that solitary confinement is reserved for “dangerous or violent criminals,” which he admitted Birtukan is not. Amnesty International considers Birtukan “at risk of torture and other ill-treatment.”

Sometimes referred to as the “invisible torture” or “torture lite”, solitary confinement (long periods of incommunicado detention) is a sophisticated and subtle form of mental torture that is just as bad as physical torture, as recent empirical studies have shown. In the classic handbook Torture and Its Consequences (1992), the medical, psychiatric and psychological issues of torture victims have been established. Victims held in solitary confinement for all, or nearly all, of the day with minimal environmental stimulation and minimal opportunity for social interaction often suffer severe psychological harm. The psychiatric effects of solitary confinement include perceptual distortions, hallucinations, panic attacks, depression, difficulties with thinking, concentration, and memory, intrusive obsessional thoughts, aggressive ruminations, overt paranoia deteriorating into a state of being spaced out and problems of impulse control. Other effects include insomnia, irritability, restlessness, and attention deficits. Recollections of the traumatic torture events intrude in the form of nightmares, night terrors, flashbacks, and distressing associations long after the torture victim is released from detention.

The sadistic dictators in Ethiopia understand that solitary confinement could be an effective weapon in breaking down Birtukan’s will and destroying her self-identity and effectiveness as a leader. They have learned from decades of practice that by keeping Birtukan in prolonged and painful isolation, they can create the conditions for her to first lose grasp of her identity and sense of self followed by disconnection to reality, her friends and colleagues in the party, the Ethiopian people at large and her supporters throughout the world. Her torturers expect that over a prolonged period of isolation she will lose her raison d’etre (reason for existence) and that she will come to believe that she is all alone in the world and forgotten by the world outside. As her isolation continues, they expect her to disintegrate psychologically – that is, experience a breakdown in her conviction about her very existence and the reality of her external world – and ultimately become her own psychological torturer.

There is a secondary aim in the dictatorship’s use of solitary confinement against Birtukan, (and many others in similar situation including Gen. Asamenew Tsige). Should Birtukan be released in the future, the dictators hope that the harm she suffered through prolonged confinement will be so intense that she will have permanent psychiatric disability, including psychological impairments which will seriously reduce her capacity to lead her party and people and reintegrate into the broader society. The scientific data suggest that victims of prolonged solitary confinement suffer a very high likelihood of cognitive impairment (learning and memory loss), social withdrawal, inability to maintain long-term relationships, phobias, ideas of reference and superstitions, delusions and hallucinations long after they have been set free. To make a long story short: The sole and only reason for torturing Birtukan by solitary confinement is to drive her literally crazy, mad, insane. There is no other reason!

Birtukan and All Ethiopian Political Prisoners and Torture Victims: You are Not Alone!

Official torture is not simply about brutalizing and inflicting massive amounts of physical pain on the victim. It is first and foremost about destroying the inner self of the victim, and the recreation of a shell of a human being that is incapable of thinking or resistance. Torture is about taking fully functioning human beings and making them the living dead. It is also about using the living dead as an example to those living in constant fear and trepidation that resistance to the dictator’s rule is not only futile but also impossible.

The scientific data clearly show that nothing gives torture victims more spiritual, emotional and cognitive energy and power than knowledge of the fact that they are not alone and are not forgotten by their families, friends, compatriots and the outside world. For torture victims, nothing is more important than the thought of knowing that others share their pain and are thinking about them and working on their behalf to set them free. Just this thought alone makes their dehumanizing experience in the vermin-infested torture chambers bearable, and sustain their will to never submit to their torturers.

That is why I ask every freedom-loving, human rights respecting, decent and moral human being to join in the effort to FREE BIRTUKAN AND ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS IN ETHIOPIA!

I look forward to the day soon when Birtukan Mideksa will emerge triumphantly from the dungeon of her solitary confinement in Kality prison and proclaim the magnificent words of Nelson Mandela to the people of Ethiopia:

We have at last, achieved our political emancipation. We pledge ourselves to liberate all our people from the continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender, and other discrimination. Never, never, and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another… Let freedom reign. God Bless Africa, and Ethiopia!


The writer, Alemayehu G. Mariam, is a professor of political science at California State University, San Bernardino, and an attorney based in Los Angeles. For comments, he can be reached at

On the Passing of a Great Ethiopian Patriot

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

Commander Zeleke Bogale

It is with a sad and broken heart that we announce the passing away of Commander Zeleke Bogale who had served his country both as a distinguished naval officer and civilian Administrator par-excellence.

For those who know Cmdr. Zeleke Bogale, his passing away marks the end of the life of a courageous Ethiopian who left an indelible mark in the development of his beloved country.

No man, presently alive or long gone, has done more to modernize the former sea-ports of Ethiopia and its marine related infrastructure. Although now under the control of Eritrea, Cmdr. Zeleke’s years of hard work and the foundation he laid will undoubtedly benefit both the people of Ethiopia and Eritrea in the future.

Cmdr. Zeleke was credited by many for his visionary leadership and management of the staff and thousands of employees of The Ethiopian Marine Transport Authority and in transforming the cities and ports of Assab and Massawa.

Cmdr. Zeleke was a leader whose imagination created two of the most efficiently run ports in Africa. Well before private institutions found the concept of community development and service as a way of building partnership with local communities, Cmdr. Zeleke had integrated this concept within the Marine Authority he led. Through his work, the residents of the City of Assab were able to drink clean water from the city’s modern water system installed by the Marine Authority and many found natural shelter from the burning sun under the green trees that the Authority planted all over Assab and Massawa. Only those who endured the sweltering sun of those cities can truly appreciate the meaning of such refuges to the local inhabitants. The Afar people and those who live in Assab and midway transit port of Tiho benefited from Comdr. Zeleke’s visionary leadership of the Marine Transport Authority.

Cmdr. Zeleke was born on September 22, 1934. The youngest of five children, he was raised in the city of Harar. His father, Ato Bogale Jato, was a businessman and a patriot who fought during the Italian occupation of Ethiopia, who instilled a strong sense of citizenship, honor, and duty in his children.

Cmdr. Zeleke attended Ras Mekonen High School in Harar before joining the Imperial Ethiopian Naval Academy’s first class of cadets. He once recalled a speech by a Bishop at his high school as a catalyst for his interest in joining the then newly established Ethiopian Navy. The Bishop recounted his experience in the war of Italian aggression against Ethiopia. The Bishop explained to the young students how the gross disparity in the equipment and training of the two armies led to the massacre of many of his friends. He impressed upon them of the need to build a modern army, one that can defend its nation from invasion by a technologically advanced nation. By the end of his speech, the Bishop had succeeded in convincing at least one among his audience to join the cause.

Cmdr. Zeleke joined the Imperial Ethiopian Naval Academy as a cadet and graduated first in his class as a Valedictorian, earning special awards from the Emperor HaileSelassie. Many of his classmates soon became leaders of the Ethiopian Navy and contributed to the growth of the Ethiopian Navy and Maritime Institutions of Ethiopia over the following decades.

After graduating from the Naval Academy and completing various assignments as a young officer, Cmdr. Zeleke received further Naval education and military training at the San Diego United States Naval Academy, and at the British Naval Academy in Dartmouth, England, where he completed advanced naval warfare and Executive/Leadership training. Later, he attended University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, and received a post graduate diploma in the Social Sciences and Arts.

Since its inception, the Ethiopian navy was led and trained by retired British, and later Norwegian, Naval Officers. In 1958 the Navy became an independent branch of the Ethiopian armed forces. It also operated as a Coast Guard operating in the Red Sea waters off of Assab and Massawa.

The first group of naval officers was tasked with the responsibility of eventually taking over the naval operations from the foreign officers. Among those to assume this responsibility was Cmdr. Zeleke. He became the first Ethiopian Naval officer to command the flag ship of the Navy, HMS Ethiopia, when he earned the title of vice commander of the warship.

Cmdr. Zeleke also held various other posts including Chief of Naval Operations of the Ethiopian Navy. After the fall of the Emperor HaileSelassie, Cmdr. Zeleke began his career as a civilian administrator of Ethiopian ports at Assab and Massawa. He was appointed as the administrator-in-chief of the Ethiopian Marine Department in 1967 by Lt. Gen. Aman Andom, who was then Head of State.

The Department later became an independent authority and became known as The Ethiopian Marine Transport Authority.

Cmdr. Zeleke led the organization as a general manager for the following seventeen years until 1991. In that position, he oversaw the administration and operation of the two sea ports as well as Inland Waterways at Lake Tana in Bahir Dar and Gorgora, Lakes Shala and Abaya in Arba Minch, and the Barro River in Gambella.

He also spear-headed and oversaw grand projects such as the development of a third port at the island of Haleb off of Assab, a Maritime Academy, a state-of-the-art boat manufacturing center—one of a kind in eastern Africa—and a new ship maintenance yard.

The Maritime Academy envisioned under the leadership of Cmdr. Zeleke was designed to provide degree and diploma level training to students in several Marine related fields. Cmdr. Zeleke’s administration style and achievements drew much praise from those who had the opportunity to visit the massive development and expansion of infrastructure of the ports and the modern housing and recreational facilities built for port employees.

He was a recipient of many awards for distinguished service from the two administrations under which he served. He is known to many as one the most hardworking individuals, dedicated to the development of his country. The hallmark of his administration style was building and sustaining the moral of his colleagues and building durable bridges between his organization and the public. He worked tirelessly day and night and spent very little time at the main office in Addis Ababa, choosing instead to personally oversee the daily port operation in Assab and Massawa.

Those who remember Cmdr. Zeleke’s work ethic pray that the passing of a man so dedicated to the betterment of his fellow citizens is not the mark of the end of an era that produced men of such strength, integrity, and dedication.

A self effacing man, who avoided publicity and fan fair, Cmdr. Zeleke has left a legacy that posterity will look to for an example of burning patriotism and love of country. He left his off-springs a legacy of dedication to country and fellow citizens through thick and thin. They hope our nation will continue to breed men of such integrity, dedication and good will who will sacrifice for the common good.

Cmdr. Zeleke entered eternal peace on June 18, 2009 at 12:30 PM, after fighting a terminal illness over the past several months.

He was a kind and loving father and a role-model to his children.

To his friends and family members, he was a man willing to extend a helping hand to anyone in need.

His memory will live forever etched in the minds of those who knew him and will be carried forward through the lives he enriched.

Cmdr. Zeleke is survived by his two sons, Neamin Zeleke and Adinew Zeleke and two grandchildren, Emalafe Neamin and Eyor Neamin.

Family, friends, and admirers of Cmdr. Zeleke shall be converging at St. Micheal Church in Washington DC to pay tribute to this great Ethiopian.

Following the service, Cmdr. Zeleke’s remains will travel to Ethiopia to his final resting place.

Service: St. Michael Church Ethiopian Orthodox Church, 3010 Earl Place, NE, Washington DC.

Date: Tuesday, June 23, 2009 Time: 10:30 AM

Contact e-mail:

Vacillation of Ethiopian Review within the opposition camp

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

By Wondem Tilahun

The flashy title on Ethiopian Review (ER) website reads … “Mersha Yoseph makes a fool of himself”. For those of us who are regulars and fans of ER, the title and the message is not a surprise. ER several times has flipped flopped its position within the opposition camp. In 2005 Dr. Birhanu was the enemy and Engineer Hailu was the champion of democracy. Now that is reversed. Dr. Birhanu is the darling and Engineer Hailu the sore looser. Two years ago, Mersha was the champion of democracy and Iyasu was the no good dictator. One 10 minutes VOA interview changed the mind of ER and the position is now reversed. Iyasu is the darling of ER and Mersha the trouble maker. That is probably why at the outset ER started the article with “there are no permanent friends or enemies in politics …” popular quotation.

In the past when people get furious at ER’s similar unwarranted attack on other opposition groups or their leaders, I strongly defended ER. Citing ER’s unwavering stand on TPLF and its persistent effort to expose the common enemy, Woyane, I honestly and passionately argued that we need to look at the bigger picture and tolerate marginal political immaturity. Even when this one hit a nerve very close to home, I promised myself to continue to do so by pointing errors. Hence, my individual opinion on what I believe is a misguided review and suck up political reporting.

ER’s article appears to evaluate and judge the VOA interview on only one factor. This factor seems to be what the two individuals said about Eritrea. ER condemn Mersha because he mentioned Iyasu’s, self initiated clandestine trip to Eritrea. Iyasu is praised because ER found some commonalities with Iyasu in their separate trip to Eritrea. ER probably drew an illogical conclusion that if Mersha is accusing Iyasu for the trip, it would be logical to assume that Mersha would also accuse ER for its trip to Eritrea. The missing logical link in this assumption is that Mersha was not really accusing Iyasu for making the trip. He was condemning the fact that Iyasu made the trip without consulting his other leadership comrades. He was giving the trip as an example of Iyasu’s totalitarian leadership within the organization. This should not lead to a condemnation of Mersha and commendation of Iyasu.

At this point in time EPRP (both sides) treat TPLF as the sole enemy of Ethiopia and its people. Both factions state that the small exclusive group of TPLF leadership must be held responsible for all democratic repression, economic and social suffering of the people. In its most recent publication, EPRP (d) loudly called for the collaboration of all opposition groups to topple TPLF’s hegemony and formation of new democratic national Ethiopian government. This means that EPRP (d) is willing to work with all anti TPLF organizations including those that have political ties to Eritrea. Is this ‘hypocritical’ and ‘contradictory’ as ER put it? I don’t think so. It is rather sophisticated, rational and prudent politics. Because, when it comes to the lasting interest of Ethiopia and its people, most Ethiopians don’t think Isaias and EPLF give an iota of care for it. After all, was it not Isaias’s EPLF who referred to everyone south of the Mereb River as (donkey) adgee? Therefore, the relationship with Isaias and EPLF should be reconstructed with caution. This position does not undermine the natural brotherhood of the people. It just means that the strong brotherly relationship that was eroded by EPLF needs some time and lots of positive actions to be built back to its historical status. Let’s not forget that for 30 years EPLF deceitfully had poisoned the minds of Eritreans with empty superiority ego, like Hitler fed ‘Pure Aryan blood’ garbage to the Germans. It takes some time to clean the minds from that poison. Therefore, While it is both admirable and necessary that ER and other organizations take the initiative to build that natural brotherly relationship, it is prudent and in the best interest of our people to move with caution without loosing respect and independence.

When evaluating the interview, I am at a loss to why VOA chose now, almost two years after the split, to make the interview. I also cannot see a political gain for either group to come out after two years and choke each others throat. They need to move forward and spend their valuable time and resources fighting the common enemy. ER also needs to respect the fundamentals of journalism and stop its vacillation within the opposition camp.

Beyond that, I beg to differ with ER in that Mersha was clearer, concise and conciliatory on the given agenda. Considering the limitations of a radio interview in terms of time and presentation, he actually pointed the core differences correctly, truthfully and accurately by stating that the differences were nothing but lack of internal democracy; while Iyasu lamented again and again that the reason for the split is that Mersha wants to work with TPLF. That is what is known as bold and blatant lie. Which means it is in complete opposition to the truth in the ground. Forget that Mersha said repeatedly that he is against TPLF, what is he doing in exile for the past two years, since the split, if he wants to work with TPLF?

Another white lie, told by Iyasu in the interview, is when he answered the interviewers question about his Eritrea trip. Instead of answering the question directly, Iyasu gave little white lie by saying “he has not seen Isaias since he met him in the 70s in Sudan’. As if going to Eritrea is the same as meeting Isaias. Iyasu evade the real question, and instead he reminded us when he met Isaias long time ago. I wonder how and why ER missed this crucial evasion.

(The writer can be reached at

Two killed at ritual killing at Kenya-Ethiopian border

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

KAKUMA, Kenya (Xinhua)  — Suspected Ethiopian warriors killed two Kenyans and wounded 14 others on Wednesday night in a ritual killing barely a fortnight when deadly clashes between Merrile and Turkana tribesmen killed dozens others along the common frontier.

Survivors and officials said on Thursday that hundreds of Merrile youths aged between 13 and 18 are queued for a circumcision ritual between this month and August and cultural dictates that they exhibit braveness by killing an enemy before being circumcised.

Once they kill, they chop off private parts and other organs oftheir victims, including ears, noses and toes, which they carry away and present as a sign of bravery.

And on Wednesday night, Merrile initiates from Namurupus area, Southern Zone travelled over 40 km inside Kenya and indiscriminately fired at a dancing crowd during Wednesday night attack at Kokuro village.

“The Turkana villagers were dancing ‘Edunga’ (a respected and popular traditional dance) when the intruders attacked at 23:00 (2000 GMT) and opened fire killing two and injured several others,” said JacK Obuo, the Turkana North District Commissioner.

The villagers were caught off guard as they were busy jumped up and danced before they could retire to bed.

The Edunga dance purposely is used as an occasion for men to lobby and hunt for women to marry and usually is conducted at night due to high heat during the day.

“We were about 200 people busy dancing and everybody was happy with the occasion when the gun shots were heard from all directions. But I thank God I’m that I’m alive,” narrated a survivor Ekiru Lokale recuperating from bullet wounds at Lodwar District Hospital.

Lokale said the assailants were repulsed when local Police reservists (home guards) were alerted and challenged them in a gunbattle.

The assailants were unable to chop off their victim’s organs which they must present no casualty was reported from the attackers’ side during the attack that last few minutes.

“They Merrile treked over 40 km inside Kenya and ambushed the villagers intentionally to kill and many could have died were not the immediate response from the police reserve,” added the DC.

Government official and rescue workers evacuated the injured people to Lodwar hospital nearly 400 km away from the attacked remote village.

Obuo could not confirm the number of the attackers but villagers put at 50 youthful boys who were armed with assault rifles.

The official said home guards have been supplied with enough ammunition to protect the villagers from ritual attacks.

Nearly 35 people were killed a fortnight ago in revenge fighting between the two communities over cattle raids and fishing row.

The clashes were elicited with theft claims of fishing nets by the Turkana fishermen at River Omo and Lake Turkana delta.

Cattle raids and row over fishing territories are common at Todonyang and hostilities have continued to hamper fishing activity, a major source for living for the two tribes.

First cases of swine flu confirmed in Ethiopia

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopia has confirmed its first cases of H1N1 flu virus, Health Death Minister Tewedros Adhanhom said on Friday.

It was the second country after South Africa to report the deadly flu.

“Since swine flu was declared in Mexico, Ethiopia has been free of the disease. But today we can confirm two cases,” he said.

Both were teenage girls who arrived back in the country on Saturday for a break from their U.S. high school, he said. “We have enough drugs to treat 100,000 people should it break out,” Tewedros said.

(Reporting by Barry Malone, writing by Helen Nyambura-Mwaura)

Exclusive interview with CNN heroe Alfa Demmellash

Friday, June 19th, 2009

In November 2007, TsehaiNy had an opportunity to meet and share with its readers the story of Alfa Demmellash, the co-founder and CEO of Rising Tide Capital. This 29 year old Ethiopian woman is passionate about the work she is doing and hopeful of what lies before her. Rising Tide Capital provides the tools and guidance for underprivileged New Jersey residents to be self-reliant, and has graduated over 250 individuals from its Business Academy, in the last five years. Watch the interview below. You can read more about Alfa at

Commander Zeleke Bogale passed away

Friday, June 19th, 2009

Commander Zeleke Bogale passed away Thursday afternoon after receiving medical treatment in the U.S for the past several weeks.

Commander Zeleke is the father of our dear friend and comrade-in-arms Neamin Zeleke.

The late Commander served his country in different capacities as a Navy officer. (A detailed biography will be posted shortly).

A memorial service will be held at Kidus Mikael Church in Washington DC Tuesday, June 23, at 11:00.

Members of the Ethiopian Review staff extend out heartfelt condolences to the family of Commander Zeleke.

God rest his soul in peace.

Messages of condolences can be sent to

More information about the memorial service will be posted later.

Ambassador Donald Yamamoto leaves Ethiopia

Friday, June 19th, 2009

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (APO) — The African Union and the United States government have worked together in significant ways to improve the lives of people in Africa. This collaboration, which can be found in diverse areas such as agriculture, HIV and AIDS, reducing hunger and poverty, As well as peace and security, ought to be strengthened and re- modeled to ensure that any future efforts will be aligned to the interests of Africa and other developing countries.

This was the gist of discussions which took place today at the African Union Commission, between the Commission’s Deputy Chairperson and the outgoing US Ambassador to Ethiopia, Mr. Donald Yamamoto, who came to formally bid farewell to the Commission after being Ambassador to Ethiopia since November 2006. Since January this year, he has also doubled as US Ambassador to the African Union.

Mr. Yamamoto disclosed that a new paradigm for development will be formulated and implemented by the new administration of President Obama. The new thinking, he said, questions whether aid is the best means to assist Africa and that, increasingly, there is the feeling that the focus should be on development, which is more sustainable.

In the context of a need to strike a balance between domestic and international policies for the US, the Deputy Chair suggested that the African Union can also assist the US government to adjust its national policies to suit global demands. He highlighted a need for a mechanism that allows both parties to listen and to talk to each other, so that development can progress smoothly, and that African perspectives are taken on board in the development of policy. He talked about the issue of climate change for example, where he said Africa, though a recipient of the effects of the climate change, can help in formulating adaptation strategies.

The two leaders also discussed current and future collaboration between the AU and the US government, such as linking the AU library to the Library of Congress, and an expected training programme to upgrade the Commission’s communication strategies and policies.

Small U.S. businesses thrive with an Ethiopian woman's help

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

JERSEY CITY, New Jersey (CNN) — Alfa Demmellash grew up on less than a dollar a day, and against the backdrop of torture and murder. But these days she’s living the American dream and helping others do the same.

Alfa Demmellash helps low-income entrepreneurs in New  Jersey start or grow their businesses.

Alfa Demmellash helps low-income entrepreneurs in New Jersey start or grow their businesses.

“Entrepreneurs are at the very heart of what the American dream is all about,” says Demmellash, a native of Ethiopia. And from her small office in Jersey City, her nonprofit, Rising Tide Capital, is helping small businesses flourish.

Robin Munn, who runs a flower shop in Jersey City, says the skills she learned through Demmellash helped her transform the way she operates her business. “I was thinking about closing, but once I started taking the classes I found that the fire came back.”

Kim Bratten, a 39-year-old painter and mother of six, says she’s seen her yearly income increase by 50 percent since she started working with Demmellash and her team. “They put hope back into the community,” Bratten says.

Demmellash’s own struggle began in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, amid instability and unrest. Thousands of Ethiopians — including her aunt — disappeared or were tortured and/or killed under the ruling military regime.

When Demmellash was 2, her mother fled the country, leaving the toddler in the care of her grandmother and aunt. Demmellash lived on less than a dollar a day but never considered herself poor.

Nearly a decade later, Demmellash and her mother reunited in Boston, Massachusetts. But Demmellash found her mother wasn’t living the American dream she’d envisioned.

“I [thought] I would find my mom in a beautiful mansion with trees [and] gold everywhere,” recalls Demmellash, now 29. “I was shocked when I found her in her tiny apartment … working very, very hard.”

Her mother had worked as a waitress during the day and a seamstress at night to earn money to bring her daughter to the United States. Watching her mother sew beautiful gowns for low profits, Demmellash thought there had to be a way for her to increase what she was making as a seamstress.

“Even though she had the skills, she did not necessarily have the business skills,” she says, adding that her mother’s pricing “was completely off.”

Still, her mother worked tirelessly to keep her daughter adequately fed, clothed and in school. Demmellash was later admitted to Harvard University, which she was able to attend with the help of “wonderful financial aid.”

At Harvard, Demmellash and classmate Alex Forrester discussed what their generation could do to alleviate poverty on a local level. They set out to learn what resources people needed — or as Demmellash says, “to find people like my mom.”

In 2004, the pair started Rising Tide Capital (RTC) to help those who had ideas and abilities but needed the education and support to launch or grow their businesses.

“You hear a lot of talk about Main Street and Wall Street, but no one really talks about how exactly you go about helping the Mom-and-Pops,” says Demmellash.

The group runs the Community Business Academy, an intensive training session coupled with year-round coaching and mentorship to help individuals “really work on the hands-on management side of their business,” Demmellash says. The organization supports underserved populations, including women, the formerly incarcerated, minorities, unemployed and working poor, and immigrants and refugees.

Demmellash and Forrester — now married — have helped 250 entrepreneurs and small-business owners in New Jersey so far, 70 percent of whom are single mothers.

RTC raises money from corporations and works with local governments for funding in order to provide classes and support its participants at affordable costs. Participants pay a small materials and registration fee based on their income range: either $100 or $225 for the course that Demmellash says would cost thousands of dollars otherwise.

The organization has also built partnerships with micro-lenders, so when students are ready, the lenders provide financing.

“The ability to become self-reliant, to have economic hope, [that is] the fabric of this country and we have to fight for it,” Demmellash says.

Many of RTC’s students use the increased earnings from their new business to supplement their wages, allowing them to better provide for their families and transform the face of their communities, according to Demmellash.

“There are thousands of entrepreneurs, millions across this country, who do incredible things and make money to put food on the table, to pay their bills, and to save for the future and their children,” she says.

“If we were to literally bank on them, invest in them [and] support them … that’s the kind of stuff that changes lives and strengthens families.”

(Want to get involved? Check out Rising Tide Capital’s Web site and see how to help.)

UN expert puts forward measures to regulate 'land grabbing'

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

(UN News) — An independent United Nations human rights expert proposed a set of measures today to guide large-scale international land purchases, known as “land grabbing,” ahead of upcoming negotiations by the “Group of Eight” (G8) industrialized nations on responsible investment in agriculture.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, identified the practice of international investors buying or leasing large amounts of farmland in developing countries as one of the new trends to emerge out of last year’s global food crisis which needs to be addressed.

Although transactions can be opportunities for development, with the potential for creating infrastructure and employment, increasing public revenues and improving farmers’ access to technologies and credit, they also have negative effects on the right to food as well as other human rights, noted Mr. De Schutter.

The eviction of people who have informally cultivated the land for decades, the loss of access to land for indigenous peoples and pastoral populations, and increased competition for water resources are some of the potential detrimental impacts.

“These principles and measures are intended to assist both investors and host governments in the negotiation and implementation of large-scale land leases and acquisitions,” Mr. De Schutter told reporters in Brussels, Belgium.

He said that the proposed measures are meant to ensure that such investments work for the benefit of the population including the most vulnerable groups in the host country, with obtaining the right to food as the ultimate goal.

“From a human rights perspective, the negotiations leading to investment agreements should be conducted in full transparency and with the participation of the local communities whose access to land and other productive resources may be affected as a result of the arrival of an investor,” stressed the Special Rapporteur.

“Any shifts in land use should in principle be made with the free, prior and informed consent of the local communities concerned.”

Other measures included arrangements in investment contracts that obliged foreign investors to provide farmers with access to credit and improved technologies, and the establishment and promotion of farming systems that are labour intensive.

“A multilateral approach could avoid beggar-thy-neighbour policies, with countries competing against each other for the arrival of foreign direct investment and thus lowering the requirements imposed on foreign investors,” he argued.

Mr. De Schutter – who reports to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council in an independent, unpaid capacity – stressed that land not only represents the main means to access and procure food for millions, it is also critical to the identity of certain peoples and communities.

UN development chief continues Africa tour with stop in Ethiopia

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

UN News Centre — The head of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) was in Ethiopia today, where she met with the country’s leader and discussed ways to support efforts to tackle poverty, address climate change and ensure that progress made thus far is not lost amid the global economic downturn.

“I think many countries would be happy to be seeing the progress Ethiopia is making,” UNDP Administrator Helen Clark said, highlighting achievements in areas such as maternal health and universal education.

While in the capital, Addis Ababa, Miss Clark met with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who she said was “obviously very serious about the climate change negotiations and the possibilities that come from that.”

She said there are huge opportunities for developing countries if the Copenhagen talks aimed at a global agreement on tackling climate change “go right and deliver a deal for development.”

In addition to meeting with the Prime Minister, Miss Clark also met with members of the House of People’s Representatives, with whom she discussed the work being done to encourage women’s participation in local government and the importance of UNDP’s support to parliaments around the world.

The top UN development official also addressed a meeting of UN resident coordinators in Africa, stressing the importance of achieving the globally agreed anti-poverty targets with a 2015 deadline known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

“In the middle of a global economic crisis, making progress on these goals is of course challenging. In fact, we risk going backwards,” she noted.

“But if we drill down to the specific situation of any country and to evidence of progress and failure on specific MDGs, or we look at growth potential in new and emerging areas, we will find that dramatic progress is often possible.

“That progress will depend on what kinds of policies nations pursue, their budget priorities, their ability to enact governance improvements, and investments in filling crucial capacity gaps,” she stated.

Ethiopia is the last stop on Miss Clark’s inaugural tour to Africa as head of UNDP, which also took her to Liberia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

From Georgia to Ethiopia: the fight against Blinding Trachoma

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

ATLANTA, GA (WABE) – The Atlanta-based Carter Center has been fighting neglected tropical diseases like river blindness and guinea worm all over the world. In our week-long series “From Georgia to Ethiopia”, WABE’s Odette Yousef focused on the Center’s fight against another disease, called “trachoma.” Trachoma is the leading cause of preventable blindness in the world… and the most affected country is Ethiopia.

In April, the Center’s launched a major new part of its health initiative: to treat and educate 5 million people in one region of the country, in just one week.

But trachoma is not exclusive to countries far away. It was once a health concern right here… in Georgia.

In 1921, the U.S. Public Health service dispatched a certain Dr. John McMullen down to Camilla, in southwest Georgia, to investigate reports of an outbreak of an eye disease. McMullen, who ten years earlier had found trachoma endemic in parts of Appalachia, was greatly concerned about what he found, and wrote about it in a report.

McMULLEN: A subsequent examination some months later showed many more trachoma cases, some of whom had lost both eyes from trachoma; others had been blinded in one eye, and a considerable number of others had had their vision greatly reduced as a result of this disease.

A temporary clinic was opened in the neighboring town of Pelham to focus on what McMullen termed an “epidemic”. In the four-and-half months that it operated, the hospital recorded 200 cured cases of trachoma, and McMullen declared the venture a success.

McMULLEN: Mothers have been restored to their places in their families, fathers resumed their work as bread winners, and children returned to school as a result of this public health endeavor by the United States Public Health Service, the State of Georgia, and the local authorities.

At the time, U.S. Public Health officials were not only worried about the endemic trachoma that was found in Georgia and Appalachia, but from other sources, too.

KRAUT: But there was also a major concern about trachoma being brought from abroad by immigrants entering the US.

Alan Kraut, professor of medical history at American University in Washington, says that U.S. officials began examining immigrants for trachoma when they offloaded at Ellis Island and other depots. They’d flip up immigrants’ eyelids, to see whether they were red, grainy, and irritated on the inside — the tell-tale signs of trachoma. Those who had it were sent back.

KRAUT: Imagine yourself standing on line, waiting to be assessed by a physician, hoping that nothing goes wrong so you can enter the US uneventfully, and someone comes along and everts your eyelid, and not just everts your eyelid, but uses for want of a better instrument, a buttonhook.

Chlamydia trachomatis is caused by a bacteria that irritates the inside of the eyelid. If untreated, repeated infections over the years can cause blindness. The only thing that can save someone from blindness in later stages, is surgery.

But what once was a major health concern is now more likely to draw blank stares…

HARPER: Tell me what kind of hospital it used to be? Trachoma. Which is an eye disease, right?

Tom Harper and his family live in the building in Pelham, Georgia, that served as the temporary hospital in the early 1920s. The one-story complex is now a neutral beige, and has a car port in the back, but it still looks institutional, with a very plain exterior.

HARPER: If you actually look at the inside of the house, you can tell that each of the rooms was definitely designed for hospital rooms. The doors are much larger than typical doors, and inside the rooms you can tell that the closet doors are much smaller because obviously the patients would only be there for a short period of time.

There’s a skylight in the kitchen, which once served as the light source for the operating room. And perhaps most revealing about the structure’s former use

HARPER: Almost every one of the rooms has its own individual sink, sink and mirror where they can stand and wash their hands, or the patients can wash their hands. Yeah, you can tell there are a lot of features inside the house that still remain that were for a hospital.

Hand-washing, and face-washing, are key components in controlling the spread of trachoma… and health officials at the time promoted that type of basic hygiene.

Paul Emerson, director of the Carter Center’s trachoma control program, says the disease can be found anywhere, but it thrives where people are poor.

EMERSON: Where slum conditions exist, or where there’s poor access to water, where there’s poor access to sanitation, where people are living in high densities close to one another, without washing their clothes, without access to hygiene and sanitation facilities, that’s where you find trachoma.

As western countries developed, the conditions that favored trachoma disappeared: housing became less crowded, easy access to water became the standard, and trachoma went away. Now the battleground has shifted to places like China, India, Sudan and Ethiopia — a landlocked country roughly twice the size of Texas, in the Horn of Africa.

Experts say that Ethiopia is the most endemic country in the world for trachoma. Out of a population of roughly 80 million, more than 1 million have been blinded by it already. Eighty-five percent of Ethiopians live in places where they’re at risk of getting it. Former President Jimmy Carter says the magnitude of the problem is what convinced the Carter Center to work there:

CARTER: We are demonstrating to others who are working on the same disease the techniques that can be used.

And one of those techniques that the Center has recently ramped up is the wide-spread use of antibiotics. In late April, nearly every one of the 5 million people in the eastern part of the state of Amhara got the medicine, in just one week. The same was done in the western half in November, and it will become an annual feature of the project.

Paul Emerson says that helps to relieve people’s irritated eyes, but it’s no long-term solution

EMERSON: The antibiotic is a great kick, and really accelerates the process. But antibiotic alone is never going to be the answer.

Still, the attention and resources poured into the massive treatment campaigns will bring attention back to trachoma, which often lies in the shadow of bigger-name, fatal diseases that also afflict the country, namely, malaria and HIV. The trick is, how to spread the messages of hygiene and sanitation, the habits that will ultimately defeat trachoma, where the prospects for development are decidedly dimmer than they were in the U.S. in early 1900s.

London doctors to help an Ethiopian hospital

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

By Oliver Evans | This is Local London

London, UK — Buckinghamshire NHS Hospitals NHS Trust has signed a memorandum of understanding to advise staff at Menelik II Hospital, in Addis Ababa.

Five senior staff members from the hospital visited the county to learn about ophthalmology services.

It came after staff from Stoke Mandeville Hospital, Aylesbury visited the Ethiopian hospital.

A trust statement said there is a “chronic shortage of skilled staff, with just one ophthalmologist for every one million population” in Ethiopia.

Poor nutrition and disease means four million are blind or visually impaired, the statement said.

Consultant ophthalmologist Consuela Moorman said: “Visiting the hospital in Addis Ababa certainly put things in perspective, and enhanced our understanding of what staff there face on an everyday level.

“Their staff are skilled but the issue is the sheer volume of patients needing treatment – it’s overwhelming.

“The infrastructure they work in lets them down too as conditions are sometimes very difficult to work in.”

Menelik dean Professor Milliard Beyene said: “It’s difficult when you are on your own to tackle a problem of this size.

“Here at Stoke Mandeville Hospital we have seen marvellous facilities and really good staff.

“We hope that this partnership can directly improve the services we offer and the training programme we can provide to our own staff.”

Should Obama speak out on Iran?

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

With Iran, Think Before You Speak

By Senator JOHN KERRY | The New York Times

THE grass-roots protests that have engulfed Iran since its presidential election last week have grabbed America’s attention and captured headlines — unfortunately, so has the clamor from neoconservatives urging President Obama to denounce the voting as a sham and insert ourselves directly in Iran’s unrest.

No less a figure than Senator John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee in 2008, has denounced President Obama’s response as “tepid.” He has also claimed that “if we are steadfast eventually the Iranian people will prevail.”

Mr. McCain’s rhetoric, of course, would be cathartic for any American policy maker weary of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s hostile message of division. We are all inspired by Iran’s peaceful demonstrations, the likes of which have not been seen there in three decades. Our sympathies are with those Iranians who seek a more respectful, cooperative relationship with the world. Watching heartbreaking video images of Basij paramilitaries terrorizing protesters, we feel the temptation to respond emotionally.

There’s just one problem. If we actually want to empower the Iranian people, we have to understand how our words can be manipulated and used against us to strengthen the clerical establishment, distract Iranians from a failing economy and rally a fiercely independent populace against outside interference. Iran’s hard-liners are already working hard to pin the election dispute, and the protests, as the result of American meddling. On Wednesday, the Iranian Foreign Ministry chastised American officials for “interventionist” statements. Government complaints of slanted coverage by the foreign press are rising in pitch.

We can’t escape the reality that for reformers in Tehran to have any hope for success, Iran’s election must be about Iran — not America. And if the street protests of the last days have taught us anything, it is that this is an Iranian moment, not an American one.

To understand this, we need only listen to the demonstrators. Their signs, slogans and Twitter postings say nothing about getting help from Washington — instead they are adapting the language of their own revolution. When Iranians shout “Allahu Akbar” from rooftops, they are repackaging the signature gesture of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Mir Hussein Moussavi, the leading reformist presidential candidate, has advocated a more conciliatory approach to America. But his political legitimacy comes from his revolutionary credentials for helping overthrow an American-backed shah — a history that today helps protect protesters against accusations of being an American “fifth column.”

Iran’s internal change is happening on two levels: on the streets, but also within the clerical establishment. Ultimately, no matter who wins the election, our fundamental security challenge will be the same — preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. That will take patient effort, and premature engagement in Iran’s domestic politics may well make negotiations more difficult.

What comes next in Iran is unclear. What is clear is that the tough talk that Senator McCain advocates got us nowhere for the last eight years. Our saber-rattling only empowered hard-liners and put reformers on the defensive. An Iranian president who advocated a “dialogue among civilizations” and societal reforms was replaced by one who denied the Holocaust and routinely called for the destruction of Israel.

Meanwhile, Iran’s influence in the Middle East expanded and it made considerable progress on its nuclear program.

The last thing we should do is give Mr. Ahmadinejad an opportunity to evoke the 1953 American-sponsored coup, which ousted Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh and returned Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi to power. Doing so would only allow him to cast himself as a modern-day Mossadegh, standing up for principle against a Western puppet.

Words are important. President Obama has made that clear in devising a new approach to Iran and the wider Muslim world. In offering negotiation and conciliation, he has put the region’s extremists on the defensive.

We have seen the results of this new vision already. His outreach may have helped to make a difference in the election last week in Lebanon, where a pro-Western coalition surprised many by winning a resounding victory.

We’re seeing signs that it’s having an impact in Iran as well. Returning to harsh criticism now would only erase this progress, empower hard-liners in Iran who want to see negotiations fail and undercut those who have risen up in support of a better relationship.

John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Obama's silence favors Iran's mullahs

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

By Ralph Peters | New York Post

SILENCE is complicity. Our president’s refusal to take a forthright moral stand on the side of the Iranian freedom marchers is read in Tehran as a blank check for the current regime.

The fundamentalist junta has begun arresting opposition figures, with regime mouthpieces raising the prospect of the death penalty. Inevitably, there are claims that dissidents have been “hoarding weapons and explosives.”

Foreign media reps are under house arrest. Cellphone frequencies are jammed. Students are killed and the killings disavowed.

And our president is “troubled,” but doesn’t believe we should “meddle” in Iran’s internal affairs. (Meddling in Israel’s domestic affairs is just fine, though.)

We just turned our backs on freedom. Again.

Of all our foreign-policy failures in my lifetime, our current shunning of those demanding free elections and expanded civil rights in Iran reminds me most of Hungary in 1956.

For years, we encouraged the Hungarians to rise up against oppression. When they did, we watched from the sidelines as Russian tanks drove over them.

For decades, Washington policymakers from both parties have prodded Iranians to throw off their shackles. Last Friday, millions of Iranians stood up. And we’re standing down.

That isn’t diplomacy. It’s treachery.

Despite absurd claims that Obama’s Islam-smooching Cairo speech triggered the calls for freedom in Tehran’s streets, these politics are local. But if those partisan claims of the “Cairo Effect” were true, wouldn’t our president be obliged to stand beside those he incited?

Too bad for the Iranians, but their outburst of popular anger toward Iran’s oppressive government doesn’t fit the administration’s script — which is written around negotiations with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

To Obama, his dogmatic commitment to negotiations is infinitely more important than a few million protesters chanting the Farsi equivalent of “We Shall Overcome.”

This is madness. There is no chance — zero, null, nada — that negotiations with the junta of mullahs will lead to the termination (or even a serious interruption) of Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Our president’s faith in his powers of persuasion is beginning to look pathological. Is his program of negotiations with apocalypse-minded, woman-hating, Jew-killing fanatics so sacrosanct that he can’t acknowledge human cries for freedom?

Is the Rev. Jeremiah Wright a better role model than Martin Luther King? It’s a damned shame that our first minority president wasn’t a veteran of our civil-rights struggle, rather than its privileged beneficiary.

An ugly pattern’s emerging in our president’s beliefs:

He’s infallible. This is rich, given all the criticism of the Bush administration’s unwillingness to admit mistakes. We now have a president with Jimmy Carter’s naivete, Richard Nixon‘s distaste for laws, Lyndon Johnson’s commitment to the wrong war, and Bill Clinton‘s moral fecklessness.

Democracy isn’t important. Our president seems infected by yesteryear’s Third-World-leftist view that dictatorships are essential to post-colonial development — especially for Muslims.

Look where Obama has gone and who he supports: the pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, his groveling speech in Egypt, his embrace of Hamas, his hands-off approach to the gory regime in Sudan — and now his dismay at the protests in Iran.

Strict Islam is true Islam. This is bewildering, given Obama’s childhood exposure to the tolerant Islam practiced in most of Indonesia. The defining remark of his presidency thus far was his Cairo demand for the right of Muslim women to wear Islamic dress in the West — while remaining silent about their right to reject the hijab, burqa or chador in the Middle East.

History’s a blank canvas — except for America’s sins. Of course, we’ve had presidents who presented the past in the colors they preferred — but we’ve never had one who just made it all up.

Obama’s ignorance of history is on naked display — no sense of the brutality of Iran’s Islamist regime, of the years of mass imprisonments, diabolical torture, prison rapes, wholesale executions and secret graves that made the shah’s reign seem idyllic. Our president seems to regard the Iranian protesters as spoiled brats.

Facts? Who cares? In his Cairo sermon — a speech that will live in infamy — our president compared the plight of the Palestinians, the aggressors in 1948, with the Holocaust. He didn’t mention the million Jews dispossessed and driven from Muslim lands since 1948, nor the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestinian Christians from the West Bank.

Now our president’s attempt to vote “present” yet again green-lights the Iranian regime’s determination to face down the demonstrators — and the mullahs understand it as such.

If we see greater violence in Tehran, the blood of those freedom marchers will be on our president’s hands.

Somali Security Minister Omar Hashi Aden killed in explosion

Thursday, June 18th, 2009


NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Somalia’s national security minister and at least 24 other people were killed in a suicide attack Thursday, and an extremist Islamic group with alleged links to al-Qaida claimed responsibility.

President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed accused al-Qaida of being behind the bombing, which also killed a senior Somali diplomat, but did not offer any evidence. In March, Osama bin Laden, the leader of the global terrorist network, urged Somalis to overthrow Ahmed, calling him a tool of the United States in an audiotape that outlined al-Qaida’s ambitions in Somalia.

“It was an act of terrorism and it is part of the terrorist attack on our people,” Ahmed told journalists in Mogadishu, his country’s capital. “Al-Qaida is attacking us.”

The bombing in western Somalia far outside Mogadishu raised concerns that Somali insurgents are aiming to take out leaders of security forces to further cripple the country’s weak, U.N.-backed government. Analysts say the insurgents have identified suicide attacks and assassinations as the best way to defeat the government.

National Security Minister Omar Hashi Aden was the second senior security official to be killed in as many days. Mogadishu’s police chief died during fighting with Islamic insurgents in the capital on Wednesday that saw at least 34 people killed.

“Omar Hashi Aden’s death is a huge blow to the government,” said Ali Said Omar, director of the Nairobi, Kenya-based Center for Peace and Democracy, an independent research organization that works in Somalia.

The national security minister had become an important figure in the government because he was successfully recruiting militiamen to fight anti-government forces in central and southern regions Somalia where it has few allies, Omar told The Associated Press.

BeletWeyne, where Aden was killed, is the capital of the central Somalia region of Hiran.

Diplomats had described a surge in violence in May as a major push by the insurgents, backed by foreign Islamic militants, to topple the government in Mogadishu. But government forces managed to hold on to the few blocks in the capital they control as well as the air and sea port that are guarded by African Union peacekeepers.

During Thursday’s suicide attack, witness Mohamed Nur said a small car headed toward the gate of the Medina Hotel in Belet Weyne, then drove into vehicles leaving the hotel and exploded.

Ali Mohamud Rage, a spokesman for Al-Shabab, an extremist Somali Islamic group, told local radio stations by telephone that his group carried out the attack and that one of its fighters died. “We killed the national security minister and the former ambassador to Ethiopia,” said Rage, speaking from an undisclosed location.

The U.S. State Department considers Al-Shabab a terrorist organization with links to al-Qaida, but al-Shabab has denied that.

Experts have expressed fears that foreign Islamic militants could use Somalia as a base for terror in the region.

Somalia has not had an effective government for 18 years after warlords overthrew Mohamed Siad Barre and plunged the country into anarchy and chaos. The lawlessness also has allowed Somali pirates to flourish, making the nation the world’s worst piracy hotspot.

Diplomats have said that up to 400 foreign Islamic militants backing local insurgents were involved in a surge of violence in Mogadishu in May that killed nearly 200 civilians. The U.N. says the conflict has displaced more than 122,000 people.

The United States accuses al-Shabab of harboring al-Qaida-linked terrorists who allegedly blew up U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. The United States has attempted to kill suspected al-Qaida members in Somalia several times with airstrikes.

Counterterrorism experts have long feared the nation is a haven for the terror network.

President Ahmed is a moderate Islamist who was elected in January under an intricate peace deal the U.N. mediated. His election split the Islamic insurgency trying to topple the government for two years but did not put off hardline elements, who want to form a strict Islamic state in Somalia.

Al-Shabab, the main hardline group, has found it difficult to dislodge the government from its strongholds in Mogadishu and is seeking other ways to defeat it, said Ted Dagne, an Africa specialist with the U.S. Congress. “The suicide attack and assassinations are now seen as the most effective method to disorganize and disorient the government,” Dagne told the AP.

Ahmed said the national security minister was on official business in Belet Weyne but did not elaborate. In recent weeks Aden had frequently gone to Belet Weyne, which is considered a strategic town because it is close to the Ethiopian border and is on a road that goes directly to Mogadishu.

Aden, a former police officer, had risen to the rank of colonel during dictator Mohamed Siad Barre’s regime, the last effective central government in Somalia before the country descended into chaos. Aden later became a player in Somali politics and more recently had become an ally of Ahmed.

(Associated Press writer Malkhadir M. Muhumed in Nairobi, Kenya, contributed to this report.)

Accused Ethiopia coup plotters ask for protection

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

By Peter Heinlein |

A group charged with conspiracy to overthrow Ethiopia’s government has asked a court for special protection, alleging their human rights have been violated during detention. Our correspondent reports relatives say some defendants have been tortured.

At a pre-trial hearing, attorneys and defendants in the so-called “Ginbot Seven” case indicated the accused had suffered physical and psychological abuse while being held in pre-trial detention.

Former army general Asamenew Tsige, one of five leaders of an alleged coup plot being held in solitary confinement, pleaded for special human-rights protection. An attorney for another defendant, businessman Getu Worku, asked that her client be allowed to see a private doctor for injuries suffered in detention.

Both requests were denied.

Getu Worku’s wife, Rakeb Messele, who is also an attorney and human rights activist, said her husband was told he could only be examined by prison doctors.

“He was told he can try to address those issues through the health personnel of the prison administration,” said Rakeb Messele. ” [They said] you cannot ask for a private doctor to examine the client because now he is at the custody of the prison administration. What she said that the report of the medical examination might serve as evidence for her client.”

Rights groups have expressed concern about the political implications of the arrest of the 32 Ginbot Seven activists. The organization is led by Berhanu Nega, who was elected mayor of Addis Ababa in 2005.

Berhanu was later jailed along with other opposition leaders in connection with violent post-election protests and sentenced to life in prison. He was pardoned in 2007 and went to the United States, where he founded Ginbot Seven, named for May 15th, the date of the disputed election. He has repeatedly stated the group’s goal is to oust Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s government, which it considers illegitimate, but he denies the existence of any assassination plot.

Thirty-two accused conspirators appeared in court for pre-trial hearings. Berhanu Nega is among 14 others charged in absentia.

Most of those in custody are current or former military officers, including two generals. But the government has rejected suggestions that the group was planning a military coup.

Relatives of some of the defendants told reporters their loved ones had been subjected to harsh physical abuse during interrogation.

Government spokesman Shimelis Kemal rejected the charge, and pointed out that in three court appearances, the defendants had not filed any specific charges of abuse or torture. He said investigating officers never resort to what he called ‘third-degree measures’ to procure information from prisoners.

The case was adjourned for further study until June 30, when a bail request will be heard. The court also turned down a special bail request by the 83-year-old father of a top Ginbot Seven official. The official is living in Britain, and is among those charged in absentia.

Ethiopian spice of life

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

By Denise Taylor |

Incense perfumes Habesha Restaurant as we’re seated near the large, dark wood bar that anchors the dimly lighted dining room. The musk scented smoke is so strong that it’s dizzying, but soon another more intoxicating aroma takes over.

A large shared platter of Ethiopian stews, spiced meats, and slow-cooked vegetables is set before a group of Ethiopians sitting near us. We greedily inhale the cloud of exotic spices that wafts over as they tear squares of thin injera bread, use it to gracefully pinch bites of food, and pop the mini bundles into their mouths, all while chattering in a pretty, sing-song language that must be Amharic.

With the help of two partners, Abeba Golum opened this Ethiopian restaurant in Malden in December. A native of Addis Ababa, she is a lifelong hobby cook and prefers to create from scratch. Really. She churns her own butter to “keep it Ethiopian style.” And her bread – oh, the bread.

Every bite of a traditional Ethiopian meal is eaten not with a fork but with injera bread, a spongy, crepe-thin sourdough bread. So the better the bread, the better the meal, and Golum’s injera is superb.

While some Ethiopian restaurants here make do with wheat flour, Golum uses traditional teff, a slightly nutty-tasting grain. She does add a touch of self-rising flour, but the key is that she ferments the dough long enough to develop a pleasing tanginess (a step some restaurants skip). The result is just the right sourness and earthy flavor to liven up every bite of the meal.

Injera is especially good wrapped around beef awaze tibs, chewy but flavor-rich bits of beef glistening in a savory sauce that is red with berbere spice blend (Ethiopia’s answer to curry). Doro wat ($10) is also a standout. This chicken stew is so complex you could spend a whole meal trying to guess the many spices that perfume this delicious, intense, brown sauce: nutmeg, cardamom, paprika, clove? And the kifto, steak tartar ($10) drizzled with the house’s fresh butter, is pure carnivorous joy.

Other standards like lamb tibs ($10) or chicken tibs ($8) and some of the vegetables are less interesting than versions elsewhere. But, again, the bread elevates them. Every meal should include the vegetarian combo ($12), a rainbow of mild to fiery sides, including addictive fried green beans.

The menu is brief: 11 entrees and a kid’s meal. In fact, the drink list, which includes Ethiopian pilsners, stouts, and many wines, is longer. But with injera this good, even one dish would be enough.

Ethiopia's dictator swears by 10 percent

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

… facts on the ground tell a different story, as the video below shows.

U.S. State Department reverses course on Eritrea

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first positive step on the part of the U.S. Department of State after a decade of failed policy by the previous officials who had contributed to the chaos in the Horn of Africa by financing Meles Zenawi’s tribal junta that has turned the whole region into a war zone. The best thing for the U.S. State Department to do is to stay out of the Horn of Africa and allow the people of the region to sort things out for themselves. All the current wars and conflicts in the Horn have the U.S. finger prints on them. Stop fueling the Woyanne killing machine and Meles Zenawi and his tribal warlords will have no option but to sit down and negotiate on equal terms with all the political players in the region for the sake of their own survival.

The United States Seeks to Engage Eritrea

By Tizita Belachew | VOA

The U.S. Secretary of State’s assistant for African affairs told VOA’s Tizita Belachew today “the door is open” to improving relations between the United States and Eritrea.

In his second month on the job, Secretary of State for Africa Johnnie Carson today discussed issues confronting several African countries including Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, Somalia and Zimbabwe. Carson has previously accused the State of Eritrea of shipping arms and fighters to Somalia to support the insurgency of al-Shabab. Today, the assistant secretary revealed a surprising twist in his efforts to engage Eritrea.

Carson, who has served as a U.S. diplomat in six African countries, told Tizita, “I met with the Eritrean ambassador and asked to meet with President Isaias Afwerki. If he will give me a visa, I will be there.” However, after Carson left his passport with the Eritrean embassy “for an extended period” he was surprised to find it returned “without a visa in it.”

“If relations are not improved it will not be because we’re not trying to act as a respected partner.”

Carson said the Obama administration seeks to normalize strained relations. “This administration seeks a better relationship with Eritrea,” Carson said. The most recent difference is over Eritrea’s support for the insurgency against the Transitional Government of Somalia.

President Afewerki told VOA’s Tigrigna service in Asmara two weeks ago that he looks forward to meeting Carson, but Afewerki repeatedly denies flying weapons to al-Shabab in Somalia.

“There is a growing volume of real and circumstantial evidence of continuing relations between Asmara and al-Shabab,” Carson said today. “We encourage Eritrea to cut off relations” with the insurgents, he said. “There should be no transit for foreign fighters through Eritrea.”

“The door is open if they are transparent on Somalia.”

Result of Woyanne's 10 percent economic growth – video

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

After receiving over $1 billion from donors and claiming an annual growth rate of over 10 percent, Ethiopians are growing more poor by the day. The most vulnerable victims of Ethiopia’s tribal junta are the children, as you see in the video below.

President Obama's restraint on Iran

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

By Jeff Jacoby | Boston Globe

TWENTY YEARS ago this month, the first President Bush refused to condemn China’s communist rulers when they unleashed a violent assault on pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing.

For weeks Bush had refrained from encouraging the student-led reform movement that had blossomed around the country. “Clearly we support democracy,” he said, adding that it wouldn’t be appropriate for an American president to endorse the protesters’ pleas for more freedom. “Exactly what their course of action should be,” he demurred, “is for them to determine.” Even after the massacre in Tiananmen Square, Bush – unwavering in his commitment to engagement with Beijing – would say nothing that might offend the Chinese government. “Not the time for an emotional response,” he told reporters. He even spoke respectfully of the Chinese troops. “The army did show restraint. . . They showed restraint for a long time.”

In reacting to the recent Iranian election and to the protests that erupted after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the runaway victor, the Obama White House seems to be taking a page from the elder Bush’s 1989 playbook.

“The administration has remained as quiet as possible,” the Washington Post reported on Monday, even as images streaming out of Iran showed the mullahs’ basij thugs bloodying unarmed protesters. Vice President Joseph Biden told “Meet the Press” on Sunday that while there were “doubts” about the election’s fairness, the administration was “going to withhold comment” until a more thorough analysis could take place. But even if the election results were fraudulent, engagement with Iran’s theocratic government would go forward, he said.

Not until Monday evening did Obama himself finally address the crisis in Iran, and when he did it was Bush-on-Tiananmen all over again – halting, mealy-mouthed, passive. “I want to start off by being very clear that it is up to Iranians to make decisions about who Iran’s leaders will be,” he said, as if that isn’t precisely what the mullahs rigged the election to prevent. “I am deeply troubled by the violence that I’ve been seeing on television,” he continued, without a word of censure for the despotic regime committing that violence, let alone a demand that it stop.

Like Bush Sr. in 1989, Obama made it clear that he was not going to lift a finger for the courageous throngs in the streets – and that he was keen to engage the junta, no matter how vicious its behavior. “We will continue,” he said, “to pursue a tough, direct dialogue between our two countries.” He repeated yesterday that he does not like to see “violence directed at peaceful protesters,” but that it would not be “productive” for the president of the United States “to be seen as meddling” in Iranian affairs.

But neutrality is not an option. By not supporting the Iranian protesters, Obama is aiding their oppressors. Reporting from Tehran, CNN’s Samson Desta noted that Iranian students have repeatedly approached him with an “appeal to President Obama. They say, ‘Is he going to accept this result? Because if he does, then we are doomed.’ ”

Should it really be so difficult for a president who campaigned on the themes of hope and change to raise his voice on behalf of the brave Iranians who are risking their lives to bring hope and change to their country? Obama proclaimed on his first day in office that those “who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent . . . are on the wrong side of history.” If he could say it at his inauguration, why can’t he say it today?

“Engagement” with the foul Ahmadinejad and the turbaned dictators he answers to has always been a chimera; if that wasn’t clear before last week’s brazenly rigged election results, surely it is clear now. Iran’s ruling clerics, headed by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, didn’t just endorse the Ahmadinejad approach – the pursuit of nuclear weapons, the vile anti-Semitism, the demonization of America, the partnership with terrorists, the trampling of human rights. They unreservedly embraced it. Ahmadinejad’s fraudulent reelection was hailed by Khamenei as “a divine blessing” and “a glittering event.” With such a regime, no compromise is possible. Neither is impartiality. Like it or not, the White House must choose: Will America stand with the mullahs and their goons, or with the endangered people of Iran?

(Jeff Jacoby can be reached at>

Ethiopian rights lawyer, VOA reporter face prison

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

By Peter Heinlein | VOA

ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA — A prominent Ethiopian attorney and a Voice of America journalist face stiff prison terms in a case linked to an exiled opposition leader accused of plotting to overthrow Prime Minister Ethiopia’s dictator Meles Zenawi’s government. The accused are free on bail, pending trial.

The Chairman of Ethiopia’s independent Human Rights Council and former Supreme Court justice Abebe Worke is scheduled to appear for pre-trial hearings on Wednesday in an Addis Ababa court along with VOA Amharic service reporter Meleskachew Ameha. The two men are charged with trying to sell illegal radio broadcasting equipment that was imported without paying taxes.

Defense attorney Atnafu Bogale says the pair face long prison terms, if convicted.

“One charge carries a sentence of seven to 15 years and the other charge carries a sentence of three to five years,” said Atnafu Bogale. “Both charges are serious, rigorous imprisonment.”

The suspected contraband was seized by customs agents at the Addis Broadcasting Company, ABC – a firm founded by a shareholders group that includes Meleskachew, Abebe and opposition leader Berhanu Nega.

The company obtained studio equipment in 2002 through a grant from the Norwegian government intended to foster independent media in Ethiopia. But subsequently, the firm was unable to obtain a broadcasting license.

Attorneys says ABC’s link to Berhanu Nega is a complicating factor in the case. He was elected mayor of Addis Ababa in 2005, but was later jailed in connection with post election violence. After being freed in 2007, he went to the United States, where he heads Ginbot Seven, an opposition group committed to ousting the Ethiopian government.

Police recently arrested 32 suspected Ginbot Seven members and accused them of hatching a plot to assassinate public officials.

Fourteen others were charged in absentia, including Berhanu Nega. Berhanu denies the charges.

Law professor and co-founder of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council Mesfin Woldemariam says Berhanu’s involvement in ABC makes it a target.

“They are definitely going at Berhanu Nega with ABC,” said Mesfin Woldemariam. “[If] they wanted Berhanu Nega, they don’t have to arrest so many individuals who have shares. So it is irrational, perhaps motivated by fear.”

The arrest of Meleskachew Ameha comes at a time of tense relations between the government and the Voice of America, which broadcasts in four of Ethiopia’s main languages. The government temporarily suspended Meleskachew’s reporting license earlier this year to underscore its displeasure with VOA’s news coverage.

Ethiopia’s Communications Minister, Bereket Simon, told journalists it is no secret that the government has qualms about VOA’s reporting. But he denied that the ABC case is aimed at silencing reporter Meleskachew.

“Absolutely not,” said Bereket Simon. “The arrest of Meleskachew is related only to tax evasion and doing illicit activities in terms of bringing in radio equipment without prior knowledge of the government. So it has nothing to do with content.”

In a related development, the government last week ordered a local FM radio station in Addis Ababa to immediately stop all rebroadcasts of VOA programs. The popular Sheger FM station had been broadcasting several hours daily of mostly music programming in English, including brief international news bulletins.

Mogadishu police chief killed in gun battle

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

By Mohamed Olad Hassan | AP

MOGADISHU, Somalia — Somali government forces attacked rebel strongholds in Mogadishu on Wednesday, triggering battles that killed at least 11 people, including the capital’s police chief, witnesses and officials said.

Residents cowered in their homes or took cover behind buildings as mortars slammed into the city. Islamist fighters wearing headscarves and ammunition belts draped over their shoulders were seen arriving from the outskirts of the capital to join the battle.

“A mortar landed on a neighbor’s house and killed two people and injured four others,” said Abdiwali Dahir.

Police spokesman Col. Abdullahi Hassan Barise confirmed the death of police chief Col. Ali Said, but had no further details.

Another witness said he saw five corpses lying in the capital’s battle-scarred streets. Farah Abdi told The Associated Press on the phone as the sound of heavy gunfire echoed in the background that three were civilians. Abdi said that residents identified the other two as the bodies of an Islamist fighter and a government soldier.

An administrator at Medina Hospital, Ali Ade, said the hospital received 39 wounded people. Ade said three of them died from their wounds.

Abdulqadir Haji of Amin Voluntary Ambulance services said his team ferried 20 wounded people to hospitals.

Mogadishu resident Hanad Abdi Garun, who was huddled up in his house in Hodan district in the capital’s south, said government forces brought in more reinforcements overnight before they started the offensive against Islamist bases.

“This is the strongest fighting we have seen in recent months,” said resident Asha Moalim. “We are ducking inside our rooms.”

A surge of violence in Somalia’s capital since last month has killed about 200 people as insurgents battle the government and its allies. Insurgents want to topple the Western-backed government and install a strict Islamic state.

The government only controls a few blocks of Mogadishu with the help of an African Union peacekeeping force that guards the air and sea ports and other key government installations. Different Islamic insurgent groups control the rest of Mogadishu.

The U.N. says the conflict between the government forces and Islamist fighters has displaced more than 122,000 people since the start of the latest fighting on 7 May.

Somalia has had no effective central government for nearly two decades. The lawlessness on land has also allowed piracy to thrive off the Somali coast, making Somalia the world’s top piracy hotspot.

Sioux Falls Ethiopian-owned bar gets second chance

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

By Jim Nelson |

The bar, located on West 11th Street, faced heavy scrutiny from the city council Monday night. “I have zero tolerance for underage alcohol sales. and I am extremely disappointed, irritated, annoyed and flabbergasted,” says councilwoman De Knudson.

She’s upset over what transpired at Lalibela bar and restaurant. Just five days after the council tried to help them out, police discovered underage drinkers in the facility. The bar’s owner, Mulugeta Endayehu, an immigrant from Ethiopia, says the bouncer had one plan, while he had another. “The security guard told us 18 and over.”

Endayehu says he never authorized an 18 plus night, that the bouncer was acting on his own. The council had a tough time believing that.

“I just have a problem with the doorman being the fall guy for this. If you had a bad cook, you’d have gotten rid of him. You’d have known that right away. I just can’t see the doorman holding the bag on this,” says councilman Bob Litz.

Councilman Gerald Beninga echoed those comments. “You’re the person who is responsible for the facility. How are you going to prevent that from happening again?”

Endayehu response; it starts with better communication between he and his staff.

When the meeting was all said and done, the council had approved the renewal of a liquor license. However, it comes with conditions. Endayehu must attend an alcohol training course, and he’s not to allow anyone under 21 into the bar after 11:00 p.m..

After the meeting, he expressed his gratitude toward the council. “They gave us a chance. We’ll try to do what the law says.”

United Nations runs out of aid for Ethiopia

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

EDITOR’S NOTE: Ethiopia’s dictatorship needs stop buying weapons and use the money to buy food. The current official military budget is $400 million. This doesn’t include the secret budget that is allocated to the intelligence services and the death squads.

(BBC) — The UN has warned that it has run out of food to provide for nine million Ethiopians who rely on its assistance.

A UN spokesman told the BBC the port of Djibouti was seriously congested and there was little prospect of supplies arriving for the next five months.

Following a border war, Eritrea denied Ethiopia access to its ports, so the landlocked country relies on Djibouti.

[This is not true. BBC needs to get its facts straight. The Government of Eritrea had offered free access to Assab port for donated food to Ethiopia. It was the Meles regime that has declined the offer. BBC needs to also report that tonnes of donated food intended for Ethiopia are currently rotting in the Djibouti port because the Meles tribal junta is unwilling and unable to provide transportation, although the excuse they give is port congestion, according to a U.N. report. Read here.]

Correspondents say this time of year is known as “the hunger season”, three months before the next harvest.

The UN World Food Programme says breast-feeding mothers, children and refugees will be among those worst hit.

It warns after it hands out final rations this month there will be no further deliveries until September or October.

The agency says it has no option but to cut back on the food they provide, which has already been cut by a third since July 2008.

“We have a small refugee population here and their ration is being cut by half beginning this month. We run out of food and people will be very hungry,” WFP’s Barry Came told the BBC.

BBC Africa analyst Martin Plaut says in the jargon of the aid agencies, the food pipeline has ruptured.

The port of Djibouti is full to overflowing and the Ethiopian government has prioritized the delivery of fertilizer [to be distributed to poor farmers at high profit margin by Woyanne-owned companies], to try to increase the next harvest.

But even when the grain gets through the WFP says there is an acute shortage of trucks, with the Ethiopian authorities preventing the agency from bringing in its own fleet from Sudan.

The UN says the Ethiopian authorities have exacerbated the situation by refusing it permission to use a fleet of trucks to transport the grain from Djibouti.

Aboy Sebhat speaks to VOA

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

By Yilma Bekele

I am sure you have all heard that Ato Sebhat Nega aka Aboy Sebhat, the Prime Minster’s mentor and a very high official of the ruling TPLF party was a guest on Voice of America. I was very glad. We are always happy when TPLF officials submit to unrehearsed interviews. It seems that it is the only way we get to know them close and personal. I fondly remember Ato Meles’s appearance on Hard Talk with Stephen Sakur in 2005 and Zenib Badawi in 2009. Ato Sebat’s interview is another gem to be savored.

Ato Sebhat was interviewed by Ato Addisu Abebe of VOA Amharic program. Ato Addisu is a consummate professional. He did his job very well. He was not there to prove Ato Sebhat right or wrong. He knows it is up to the listener to make that determination. Like a language surgeon he is, with his soothing voice he lulled his subject into an incredible comfort zone. Then it was a matter of pealing the public fake persona TPLF have constructed for him. Ato Addisu was able to draw Aboy Sebhat out of his skin and reveal the inner self. It was not a pleasant sight. The Sebhat Nega we saw is a very embarrassing figure. Full of hatred, suffering from an inferiority complex, very angry and a pathological liar are the descriptions that come to mind.

I do hope that Aboy Sebhat took some lessons from his experience with VOA. Although his party controls all media outlets and does not allow the airing of ideas different than the ruling party’s here in America it is the responsibility of the press to present different views and let the public be the judge. It has served them very well for over two hundred years. We hope Aboy Sebhat’s outfit Ethiopian Radio and TV will invite leaders of the real opposition and have them explain their vision for their country. The opposition is more than happy to comply.

This was a two-part interview. In this short piece I will concentrate on a few of the ill conceived ideas he was trying to disseminate. I knew it was going to be interesting when I heard his title in the introduction. He is a member of the Ethiopian Parliament, I guess from Tigrai (one never knows since Ato Berket represents Wollo) and President of International Center for Peace and Development. There is no one opposed to peace and development, but this one in Addis it is nothing but. The truth is it is Orwellian double speak at its best. The Center is one of those TPLF created outfits to swindle cash from European Union and Western aid agencies. Ato Sebhat and his organization have never known peace nor developed any enterprise using legal means. As for being elected, I am sure he garnered 99.9 percent of the vote and he did not even have to campaign for it.

He started the interview with a bold lie. There was no need to lie. He can’t help it. His quick motor response is to lie at a drop of a hat. There was no stopping him after that. Blinded by his hatred, emboldened by his false sense of self worth Sebhat Nega was swimming in a cesspool of lies, falsehood and ignorance. We wouldn’t give a damn what he have to say if it wasn’t for his influence and advice to that other powerful person sitting in Arat Kilo with a loaded gun in his hands aimed at our country.

To start him off Ato Addisu thanked his guest for accepting the invitation and out of curiosity asked him regarding TPLF’s policy of not granting interview to VOA’s Amharic programming. That they do not is an established fact. The question was simply what the reason is for such a policy. His response was outright denial of the existence of such a decision.

Could this be true? There is one Nation wide radio station in Ethiopia, Radio TPLF. By all accounts VOA and Deutche Welle are the two most listened to independent news services favored by the population. The minority based government views unfiltered news as a threat. Thus on numerous occasions it has officially complained to both the US and German government regarding the radio stations. The TPLF regime has invested millions of dollars in purchasing radio signal jamming devices from Chinese and East Europeans to silence independent voices.

Is Ato Sebhat’s claim of the Politburo not discussing VOA and formulating different policies credible? To top if off he said he personally does not listen to VOA! When you consider that the Prime Minter himself anonymously participates in Radio call in shows isn’t this assertion a little difficult to swallow? So he claims that he personally does not listen to VOA and since he came to the US he has been told that ‘VOA lacks objectivity, that it is not balanced and it is in the camp of the opposition’. The word he choose to translate the word ‘camp’ into Amharic is very revealing. He said ‘yetequamiwoch Beret’. As far as I know ‘Beret’ is where we keep animals. Enclosed so they do not escape, watched by guards and dogs so wild animals do not harm them. Is that how he views his fellow Ethiopians. Which of these two are we? The domesticated animals fattened for labor or dinner? Or the stupid and gullible sheep and cows and have to be watched by TPLF cadres from undue influence? A curious choice of words but it speaks a lot about the mindset of the individual and his friends.

The crazy part of this farce is that he is telling all this to Ato Addisu Abebe, a VOA correspondent and victim of TPLF injustice. You see Ato Sebhat’s government charged Ato Addisu and twenty-one Ethiopian journalists with ‘involvement in an attempt to overthrow the government’ in the aftermath of the famous 2005 elections. Ato Addisu is lucky. He has the US government behind him. The Ethiopian journalists suffered a lot. They all lost their livelihood. Some are still in prison. Some were jailed for over two years and their license revoked. A few were hounded out of the country. Many were scared for life. Our country lost its brave and brightest sons and daughters. Ato Sebhat as member of the Politburo is personally responsible and will be asked to account for his actions. Whether this will happen or not is not relevant. He is responsible in the eyes of the Ethiopian people.

The next discussion was about EFFORT (endowments fund for the rehabilitation of Tigrai). The eight hundred-pound gorilla. Ato Sebhat’s claim is that it is the premier corporation in Ethiopia both in asset and reach. After confirming that it is audited both internally and by external government agencies he feigned memory loss when asked to disclose the capital of the multi national in numbers. What he said was ‘it is not important’. It was very curious answer for a person who has been the CEO and President of the company. A company without a balance sheet and net worth unknown to the CEO can only happen in TPLF fairyland.

What was absolutely laughable is the claim that TPLF brought the capital from outside to establish the company in Ethiopia. That is insulting the intelligence of eighty million people. For the life of me I do not remember our Tigrai cousins being known for their special skills in being traders and merchants in our Ethiopia. Here we are in 2009 and the most visible conglomerate is EFFORT and the richest and smartest merchants are our Tigrai cousins. Wonder never ceases. Keep talking Aboy Sebhat.

The next line of questioning has two threads and it is full of the most bewildering mish mash of ideas put together in a very haphazard manner. The first one consists of TPLF’s philosophy of what he refers to as ‘bourgeois revolution’, followed by the party’s view of our country Ethiopia.

Ato Sebhat’s attempt to describe the theory of ‘bourgeois democracy’, ‘revolutionary democracy’, ‘emerging democracy’ or ‘developmental state’ (depending on the mood) the society his party is trying to build in Ethiopia completely went over my head. His claim is that TPLF masquerading as EPDRF is accelerating the growth of capitalism in Ethiopia and will wither away on its own is a very lame interpretation of the Marxist idea of the ‘withering away of the state’ as the final stage of capitalist development. Suffice to say that it is proven to be a fairy tale. So, at a certain point in time EPDRF will hand power to the new classes and disappear. That is what he said and he is sticking by it. He did not elaborate when this is projected to happen or who these new classes are. Why there still are classes upon the withering away of the state is left open. May be the theory is in a developmental state. Let us just say it is not well thought of.

The second thread is where Abboy Sebhat’s version of Ethiopia is defined. When he started the journey to liberate Ethiopia this is where he began. His assertions are very troubling. In computer speak there is something they call GIGO. It stands for garbage in garbage out. A ‘computer will unquestioningly process the most nonsensical of input data and produce nonsensical output.’ The same with leaders saddled with faulty, incomplete, or imprecise and utterly wrong data they come up with wrong and imperfect solutions that cause harm and agony to their people.

His claim that we stayed enclosed in our own regions isolated from each other is utterly false. His assertion that we have been fighting each other for hundred years and lived with our hands in each other’s throat is both ugly and abhorrent. His very violent statement that we do not know each other uttered in such forceful manner is very alarming. He repeated ‘Anetwawekem! Antewawekem!’ twice. It made me very sad. It is far from the truth. It is not the Ethiopia I know and I am a typical Ethiopian.

How he is able to hold two contradictory thoughts at the same time is bewildering. He said that he embarked on the struggle to get rid of national oppression. Well and good. But the solution he came up with is very strange to describe it mildly. In order to foster equality they decided to divide the country into Kilils. Everybody was ordered to get an identity card with his/her ethnicity registered by the authorities and was encouraged and forced to go settle in his own enclave. Those with mixed ethnic identity were forced to pick one. I am sure this did not pose a problem in Adwa, but in the rest of Ethiopia many people were put in absolute quandary. How being strangers to each other was going to foster one people one country is not clear. This was a sad moment in our history

So the theory goes the TPLF as an advanced and vanguard party under the tutelage of Meles Zenawi, Sebhat Nega, Azeb Mesfin, Seyoum Mesfin, Arkebe Uqbai and their immediate families will preside on this lofty Nation building endeavor. The Military and security forces with Woyane Generals and high-ranking officers will work in bringing the Oromos, Amharas, Sidamos, Wolamos, Anuaks and other assorted Nationalities to a newer level of preparedness to build the new emerging Ethiopia.

One can see the common thread in this new philosophy of Nation building process. Our Tigrai masters seem to be the center of the Ethiopian universe with wealth and power emanating out until it engulfs the whole society. Le Ras Sekorsu Ayasnasu comes to mind. What do I think? I think Komatan Komata kalalut Gebeche Lefetfit Yelal is most approperate. I believe for so long no one have bothered to tell Aboy Sebat ‘with all due respect sir, you are full of crap!’ I know it is not grown up, but it serves the purpose. I could put it delicately in a more civilized way. But what is the point?

To come up with such preposterous idea it is possible Ato Sebhat’s Adwa was different. That must be the glass he is using to see Ethiopia. But he lived in Addis while going to Haile Sellasie I University. Did he not see how the others lived together? Wasn’t the cry ‘land to the tiller’ by the privileged University students of the time? Surely the students were not fighting for a plot of land. How about during the fight against the Derg? We are told that the TPLF army was composed of all Ethiopians. Weren’t Addisu, Kuma, Tefera, Aba Dula in the TPLF military or did they have their own regiment? Did they fight for the freedom of all Ethiopians or freedom for their ethnic group?

During the process of Nation building animosity does arise between people. Solving such problems and emerging stronger is a difficult task. Some countries are blessed by visionary leaders that harness the positive power of their people and lay a strong and unshakeable foundation. Some are cursed by the likes of the Rwandan Hutu leaders, Milosevic of Yugoslavia and Stalin in Armenia. They bring war and destruction on their people. They go away but they leave animosity and mistrust behind. It takes a long time to undo the damage they cause. In the mean time the rest of humanity marches forward. Evil has to be stopped at its inception before it takes roots. Silent people allow evil to flourish.

Lots of things were said by Aboy Sebhat. The assertion that there were no national Organizations that fought the Derg is not correct. Without going far both EDU and EPRP were National based and stood for the unity of our country. Both were violently attacked by TPLF. Both were expelled out of Tigrai by TPLF. The EDU leader His Excellency Prince Ras Mengesha Seyoum was warned regarding an official trip to his beloved Tigrai. His presence in Tigrai was a threat to the mighty TPLF. The existence of EPRP was denied. When he said that TPLF was ‘overjoyed’ when they found the existence of Ato Kifle Wodgajo’s party in the USA it was nothing short of wonder about the capacity of Aboy Sebhat’s brain to have woven such a tapestry with imaginary yarn of silk. Listen to it and you be the judge my friends in the Diaspora. You can go to VOA website and listen to it from the archives. Unfortunately our people in Ethiopia cannot do that. There is no electricity; when Internet service is available it is a slow crawling modem with all the independent Ethiopian websites blocked. That in a nutshell is the Ethiopia TPLF is building deaf, blind and ignorant.

Resources used in this article:

Ethiopia foreign currency shortage causes tax revenue decline

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

By Hayal Alemayehu | The Reporter

The shortage of foreign currency reserve has helped drop tax revenues following [a slower] foreign trade performance, Belachew Beyene, Director of Duties and Tax Audit with the Ethiopia Customs and Revenue Authority (ECRA), said Thursday.

“The import/export trade [during the current Ethiopian fiscal year] has not performed as expected partly due to shortage of foreign currency,” Belachew said. “And this has led the tax revenue to decline.”

The director made the remark while presenting a paper at a half-day seminar on “tax compliance” organized by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA).

Foreign trade accounts for 48 percent of the total tax revenue, with direct and domestic tax constituting 21 and 31 percent, respectively, according to the director.

Revenues secured from the export sector during the first nine months of the current fiscal year has fallen USD 800 million short of the target while the import trade showed a slight slowdown.

Aside from the shortage of foreign currency reserves, non-tax compliance was to account for the slowdown in tax revenues, according to Belachew.

“The average tax revenue /GDP ratio in sub-Saharan Africa, middle income countries and high income economies is 16 percent, 25 percent and 40 percent, respectively,” Belachew said. “The average tax revenue/GDP ratio for Ethiopia is 11 percent [which shows a weaker tax compliance rate compared to countries around the world].”

Accused coup plotters in Ethiopia ask for Protection

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

By Peter Heinlein | VOA

A group charged with conspiracy to overthrow Ethiopia’s government has asked a court for special protection, alleging their human rights have been violated during detention. Our correspondent reports relatives say some defendants have been tortured.

At a pre-trial hearing, attorneys and defendants in the so-called “Ginbot Seven” case indicated the accused had suffered physical and psychological abuse while being held in pre-trial detention.

Former army general Asamenew Tsige, one of five leaders of an alleged coup plot being held in solitary confinement, pleaded for special human-rights protection. An attorney for another defendant, businessman Getu Worku, asked that her client be allowed to see a private doctor for injuries suffered in detention.

Both requests were denied.

Getu Worku’s wife, Rakeb Messele, who is also an attorney and human rights activist, said her husband was told he could only be examined by prison doctors.

“He was told he can try to address those issues through the health personnel of the prison administration,” said Rakeb Messele. ” [They said] you cannot ask for a private doctor to examine the client because now he is at the custody of the prison administration. What she said that the report of the medical examination might serve as evidence for her client.”

Rights groups have expressed concern about the political implications of the arrest of the 32 Ginbot Seven activists. The organization is led by Berhanu Nega, who was elected mayor of Addis Ababa in 2005.

Berhanu was later jailed along with other opposition leaders in connection with violent post-election protests and sentenced to life in prison. He was pardoned in 2007 and went to the United States, where he founded Ginbot Seven, named for May 15th, the date of the disputed election. He has repeatedly stated the group’s goal is to oust Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s government, which it considers illegitimate, but he denies the existence of any assassination plot.

Thirty-two accused conspirators appeared in court for pre-trial hearings. Berhanu Nega is among 14 others charged in absentia.

Most of those in custody are current or former military officers, including two generals. But the government has rejected suggestions that the group was planning a military coup.

Relatives of some of the defendants told reporters their loved ones had been subjected to harsh physical abuse during interrogation.

Government spokesman Shimelis Kemal rejected the charge, and pointed out that in three court appearances, the defendants had not filed any specific charges of abuse or torture. He said investigating officers never resort to what he called ‘third-degree measures’ to procure information from prisoners.

The case was adjourned for further study until June 30, when a bail request will be heard. The court also turned down a special bail request by the 83-year-old father of a top Ginbot Seven official. The official is living in Britain, and is among those charged in absentia.

The slum behind the colorful wall

Monday, June 15th, 2009

By Eden Habtamu |

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia — I am not good at joking. I don’t even remember most of the jokes I hear, nor do I have the habit of memorizing them to tell others. But I cannot forget the jokes I have heard about “Cherkos” – the slum known for its poor and overpopulation. May be because the stories are touching, or they have great relevance to life for most of our population. In that sense, I don’t believe the jokes are only about “Cherkos” but, rather, about the majority of us.

Whenever the name “Cherkos” is mentioned on any casual talk, I expect scary jokes. One day, I was thinking about these jokes and started wondering what part of our city (Addis Ababa) does not have such places? I could not find any. Semien, Debube, Misrak and Meirab – all have something in common. You will find all kinds of people: millionaires, rich, upper middle class, middle class, average, below average, poor, very poor, and the homeless.

I don’t hate seeing the rich live near the poor, or the co-existence of the palace with the slum. In fact it’s good thing that at least we share the same place and air, although we use it differently.

I assume sometimes we become blinded by names regardless of what is behind them. When we hear about Bole and Cherkos, we see the stereotypical images we have of them. We just feel Bole is a place only for those who can afford the expensive supermarkets, pricey cars, and those who live in the “palaces”. Of course, the opposite is true for Cherkos and the other slums in our town.

But, in reality, I find that it is just a matter of degree but all have various types of people in different proportions. Recently, I visited the big slum in the Bole area (the so-called high class “sefer”) around 2Km from Bole International Airport. Bole, as we all know, is the place that everyone wishes to reside. Although there are pockets of Bole where we find slums, I focused mainly on the one slum that is commonly called “Wollo Sefer” – the one that is hidden from Bole Road (Africa Avenue) by the colorful wall.

They proudly call it Bole!, with a stress on ‘e’. Many people think of Bole as a “Sefer” with full of abundance, stability, tranquility, and a place reserved for only those who can afford to be Bole residents. I wondered what makes the slum in “Wollo Sefer” different from the slum in “Cherkos” that people joke about so often? Is there any difference with being homeless and needy regardless of where you live? Do the residents of these two slums live differently? I wondered if the people at the Cherkos slum look at people at the Bole slum with envy. It is difficult to see any difference in being poor and homeless in any part of the city.

Anyway, I went to check out for myself into the smaller slum at the beginning of Wollo Sefer, just behind the colorful and greenish wall, which I believe divides the slum residents from the stereotypical Bole.

I headed into the village right away and unplanned (of course, you cannot plan to visit a slum – you just go) to see the messy and very destitute “houses” there.

I was looking at households with 3-10 occupants. I started looking for someone who was willing to take part in my interview. I met girls who were eager to show me their compound and to get me someone for my interview. When I reached their compound, I noticed three houses irregularly placed – houses that cannot really be called houses. I was expecting the girl to take me to one of the houses but, instead, she invited me to follow her to the back of the houses. I didn’t hesitate. She took me over a drainage covered by 60 cm wide fragile “bridge” made with sticks, in between the two walls. I should have been careful not to break my legs if I missed the sticks. I tried to see the running flood; it was a mix of toilet and other waste substances.

The girl happily took me to the lady that she thought may accept strangers for an interview. At the back side of the compound (which has no particular fence but has territory marks), I noticed single room “houses” that were placed arbitrarily, which I doubt most people can get in standing straight. The houses seem to be shrinking and sinking to the ground, since almost all of them are less than 2 meter high. In the very small open area, there were red pepper and grains left to dry by the sun. One must be careful not to walk over these items along the passage between houses.

My guide introduced me to W/o Etalem Worku, a mother of four. I asked her permission to talk to her for few minutes. She nicely welcomed me to share her life experience. She has been living here for 30 years, 18 years of which in the single room that she is living now. Etalem, her husband, the four children and her mother live in this single room. Etalem washes clothes at various places for a living, and her husband is a laborer at different construction sites. She told me that they are trying to fulfill the need of their family, although it has been very difficult to attain any of their goals.

I have asked Etalem what is their most important need. She did not even complain about living in a single room with a family of seven. She just told me how hard it is to live in a place where there is no sanitation facility. “Sometimes the lavatory overflow comes right into our door. Usually our children are playing and we are cooking outside; you can imagine how difficult it is” Etalem said.

I asked here if she feels their life will improve if they resettle somewhere else. Etalem said exhaustedly, “I believe so.” She continued, “The government told us many times that they will give us a place to settle, something like a condominium. That would have been much better for us, but we got nothing so far. We don’t have anything to live a decent life here.”

I asked her for her picture at the side of her door. She was positive and agreed to be photographed. Fortunately her mother was also nearby and was included in the picture. As I was taking her picture, I noticed that she stood just right on her door near the open drainage that I walked over so carefully.

I thanked Etalem and left their “compound”. As I walked out of the slum, I noticed a “Kuralee’w” (a person who buys old commodities – metals, plastics, glass, etc., going door to door). He was counting items excitedly and forecasting his profits. I assumed he brought it from the so-called high class Bole Sefer.

So, this is life at the Wollo Sefer slum in short. There is little difference from what I saw in Cherkos, Abenet, Sebatega, or even at “egna sefer”, the place I live in right now. In the end, it is all the same – a slum is a slum.

A telecom monopoly connecting Ethiopia to nowhere

Monday, June 15th, 2009

By Hallelujah Lule | The Addis Connexion

ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA — Forty years ago, the Ethiopian Telecommunications Board (precursor to today’s ETC) was viewed as a progressive government utility agency providing critical services. It even had a robust marketing department putting out ads such as the one below that were humorous and not at all like the image that today’s ETC usually fosters. In fact, today ETC has probably only been recently surpassed by EEPCO as the state utility company that Ethiopians most love to hate. Isn’t it time to open up the field to new players?

If the economy is a motor propelling the country forward, communications is a lubricant to make the journey efficient. When it comes to Ethiopia, the lack of ICT development causes severe friction inside the engine.

Ever since the EPRDF led government took over, the country has experienced a surge of public investment in various infrastructure projects such as energy, transportation, telecommunications etc. Though the overall case for liberalized markets are clear, experiences such as China’s have shown us that wise public infrastructure investment in different infrastructural developments often result in trickle down to the poor.

But perhaps the most shortcomings are present in the telecom sector. Lacking a policy framework to promote both physical and human capacity, the state telecom monopoly has left the country years behind most of the world in both telephony and internet penetration.

As technology is dominant in the sector, private initiative is crucial in identifying the less costly and more efficient products to supply through competition. This calls for an integration of the private sector in the telecommunications development policy and framework. It should also focus on delivering efficient services through removing bureaucracy from the system and provision of services to the grassroots level. It is crystal clear that the quality and accessibility of information technology has a huge impact on the whole economy starting from pulling investment to facilitating growth inside, creating jobs, raising public income and more.

The government has recently reaffirmed its intention to keep the status quo in telecoms for a long time to come. In instances where the state practices a monopoly over a certain sector, procuring the necessary financing tends to be difficult, often requiring questionable loan provisions such as exclusive supplier agreements, and can come at the expense of other sectors.

The rationale given by the Ethiopian government to keep ETC isn’t holding water. Mismanagement, corruption, inefficiency and ineffectiveness cannot be excused for plans of rural expansion and stability that have not come. Privatization with regulation and taxation appear a much better route to achieving targets and garnering revenue.

The Internet, introduced in Ethiopia in 1997, is a case in point. The number of subscribers still stands as one of the lowest in simple and per-capita magnitude anywhere in the world while, according to research by Samuel Kidane (PhD), the potential Internet user base (basic e-mail and some web-browsing) is as high as high as 250,000 in the city of Addis Ababa alone.

This is a potentially big market capable of sustaining a continued growth and also capable of generating significant revenue that could guarantee a strong foothold for Internet in Ethiopia.

However, the state of Internet penetration in the country hasn’t shown much improvement for the past 5 years. Even the long awaited upgrading of the national Internet infrastructure, when completed, will increase the subscriber base to only 12,500, a fraction of the potential market size.

Telecom monopolies used to be commonplace on the continent. But now almost all African countries seem to have learnt their lesson and allow competition in the communications space. Ghana for example has licensed as many as 40 ISPs, Malawi 24, with Egypt boasting 40 and Kenya, a long believer in telecom monopoly finally agreeing to license a staggering additional 50 players in the ISP industry.

But the real kicker when evaluating Ethiopia’s experience is that the last African country to get connected to the net and world’s worst failed state, Somalia, boasts multiple service provider and better infrastructure than much of the continent. Samuel asks, if ISP industry could thrive in an environment as difficult and challenging as in Somalia – in the absence of a government – then why is it that Ethiopia, a country with one of the oldest telecom monopolies and most experienced telecom technical and management labor force, is wasting such an opportunity and valuable time in its endeavor to develop?

Some may say that its about the over 3 billion ETB in revenue that the government is loath to relinquish such direct control over. Others may believe it’s mostly about ideology. In any case, it does not appear likely that the embrace of open communications technology which in part propelled Obama’s recent victory, is likely to be seen here for quite some time.

A Wisconsin high school graduates send gowns to Ethiopia

Monday, June 15th, 2009

WAUSAU, Wisconsin ( — A Wausau West High School teacher this summer wants to make graduation a little more special for students on the other side of the globe.

Choral director Phil Buch has asked local graduates to donate their commencement gowns so that students in Ethiopia may wear them. Buch has collected 30 gowns since June 1, with a goal of 75.

Wausau residents Dan and Grace Esterline plan to take the gowns with them during one of their frequent mission trips to Ethiopia later this year. The Esterlines have traveled to Ethiopia since 1966 to teach theology, English and first aid.

Graduates at the Ethiopian Kale Heywet School of Mission will wear the gowns in ceremonies next spring. Other schools in the northeastern African country also will receive gowns, depending on the number of donations, Grace Esterline said.

This is the first year the Esterlines have asked Buch to help collect gowns, which will be much appreciated by students who cannot afford them, said Wausau West graduate Zeru Shiferaw.

Shiferaw, 18, emigrated from Ethiopia to the United States in 2002 with his parents and three brothers.

Ethiopia is one of the world’s poorest nations, with a per-capita income of about $700, Shiferaw said. Students at Wausau West paid $25 for their gowns this year.

“Instead of just sitting in the closet collecting dust and filling up space, it’s going to be used and appreciated by some grateful individuals,” Buch said.

Wausau West’s Wakong Lor donated the gown he wore to graduation this year — a garment that already has a lot of miles on it. It already was put to good use by some of his seven siblings, including sister Mai Ying Lor, who wore it last year.

Wakong Lor, 18, heard about the gown drive during his time in Buch’s concert chorale class. Buch also encouraged West’s 460 graduates to give their gowns after their graduation rehearsal last week.

Lor said he spoke to his cousins to see if they, too, could donate their gowns.

“I’m … just so willing to do the most I can to give back,” he said. “I understand the importance of being on the other side and receiving and how happy I would be.”

The mission school director was grateful to hear about the donations, Esterline said.

Ethiopia budget shows 10 billion birr deficit

Monday, June 15th, 2009

By Bruck Shewareged | The Reporter

Next fiscal year’s budget shows a deficit of 10 billion birr, Sufian Ahmed, the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, told parliament Thursday. The Government was asking parliament to approve a 64.5 billion birr budget for 2009-2010 fiscal year which starts in July.

Sufian said that the revenue that the government was able to collect stood at around 54.1 billion while its expenditure would be 64.5 billion birr, showing a deficit of 10.4 billion birr.

The Government expects to fill the gap in the budget from both local and foreign sources.

Sufian said that the government was hoping it would secure a loan of 3.9 billion birr from foreign financial sources while the rest, 6.9 billion birr, would come from local sources.

He added that the 10.4 billion birr that the government was going to borrow was 1.5 percent of the GDP and would not contribute to inflation or affect local borrowing.

Some MPs raised their concern whether it was possible to secure foreign loans at a time of global economic crisis.

Sufian argued that Ethiopia often borrowed from multi-national institutions such as the World Bank, and that these institutions were not that much affected by the global crisis.

“Moreover, the World Bank grants loans or direct assistance every three years, the current period extending from 2008-2011″, Sufian said.

Other institutions like the EU had a five-year grant programme, according to the minister.

Sufian said that donor countries like Britain would not reduce their assistance since PM Gordon Brown had pledged more assistance and even urged other big economies not only to maintain the amount of their assistance to poor countries but also to increase it significantly.

According to Sufian, the flow of foreign direct investment (FDI) would not show any significant variation in the coming budget year since, in the first place, it was low.

He said that the concern right now is that remittance money could significantly reduce it. Ethiopians living abroad are seriously affected by the economic crisis.

Of the total budget, nearly 14.5 billion birr is allocated for recurrent expenditure while the capital expenditure stood at 29.1 billion birr.

The rest, 20.9 billion birr, is allocated for subsidy appropriation to the various regional administrations.

The biggest subsidy goes to Oromia regional state and amounted to 6.8 billion birr while Amhara regional state came next with 4.9 billion birr.

The smallest subsidy goes to the Addis Ababa City Administration with nearly 114 million birr.

Today's Ethiopia kangaroo courtroom drama

Monday, June 15th, 2009

ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA — The 32 defendants who are accused by Ethiopia’s tribal junta of plotting to assassinate government officials appeared at the Lideta district court in Addis Ababa, the same kangaroo courtroom where Teddy Afro’s sham trial was conducted.

General Asaminew Tsige, one of the accused, asked the judge why himself and four other people were held in solitary confinement in Kaliti.

He said that their human rights are being abused and asked the court to the measure. The judge said that it wasn’t a court matter but rather an administration matter.

Also apart from five defendants all the 27 others don’t have a legal representation. The court today agreed to have them represented by two lawyers, despite unwillingness from one of the three judges, and an aggressive opposition from the prosecution.

Once two of the three judge made the decision, 15 minutes were given for the lawyers to consult their clients.

Strangely enough, two cameras were rolling at the time close enough to record the voices of the defendants and their lawyers, clearly violating their privacy.

After less than five minutes of consultation between the lawyers and their clients, one police officer who was guarding the prisoners protested to the judges. He told the judges that there was no reason why the defendants needed to be allocated time to speak to the lawyers.

Surprised by the outburst from the officer, one of the judges told him off, telling him that it was the defendants’ constitutional right, then adding: “if you don’t allow this in court, what is it like in prison?”

The officer kept quiet, and the crowd cheered and clapped. To which the pro-government judged told off the crowd for showing its emotions. That is a kangaroo court in action.

The other interesting part in the hearing this morning is that the defense lawyer of Berhanu Nega’s cousin Getu Worku asked for a private doctor to inspect her client. She added that the report would be kept as evidence.

Reuters managed to speak to several family members who said their loved ones were tortured. One of them had to be hospitalized after an injury to his penis due to the torture. Col. Biraa might have performed her specialty on him. She is a sadistic Woyanne intelligence officer whom Meles assigns to get any information out of suspected military officers.

The judges denied access to a private doctor, saying that the prison doctor should be enough.

The lawyer for Ato Tsige Habtemariam, the 80-year-old father of Ginbot 7 Secretary General, tried to get bail for his client. It was not denied, as the judges admitted that the health of the man and his age made it a special case, despite strong opposition from the prosecution. The prosecutor said that once freed Ato Tsige could be in touch with Ginbot 7 (his son in particular).

Next hearing is Friday, June 26.

Out of the 32 who appeared in court today, 14 are military military officer.

Also today, representatives from the Germany and American embassies were present at the hearing.

Ethiopia power scarcity approaching complete blackout

Monday, June 15th, 2009

Addis Ababa, ETHIOPIA (The Reporter) — Electric power outage is becoming one of the most devastating problems in contemporary Ethiopia. It appears to be routine practice living without light every two days, where the power sources are dominantly depend on rain-fed dams.

The Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCo), in its latest announcement, disclosed that power will be interrupted for 18 hours per shedding day for 15 days between June and July. The new schedule, which divided the nation in two groups and covers cities, towns, kebeles as well as villages, is now starting to be implemented from June 9 to July 7. Many fear that if the rain would not fall and the dams continue running short of water, the whole country would face a complete blackout. Currently, all major manufacturing firms are disconnected from the national power grid, and EEPCo told flour mills and other manufacturing firms across the nation to use electric power economically only during less power load. This time the corporation, which is already in a power crisis, is idly waiting for the rain instead of searching for other alternative sources of electric power. Its officials are too busy in telling stories about incomplete hydropower stations.

Addis Ababa, the seat of the federal government and many international organizations could not escape the frequent power shedding due to acute shortage of power. While the untapped hydropower potential of the country stands at 30,000 MW, the total installed capacity of the national grid from hydropower, diesel and geothermal sources is only 870 MW.

According to official figures, the national electric power demand gap is an alarming 120 MW, while the annual power demand growth is going up by 16 percent.

World Bank set to grant $1 billion to Ethiopia

Monday, June 15th, 2009

By Bruck Shewareged | The Reporter

In response to the current world economic crisis which is putting a big pressure on developing economies, the World Bank (WB) is set to increase its assistance to Ethiopia to USD 1 billion, World Bank Country Director for Ethiopia and Sudan Ken Ohashi said yesterday.

In a roundtable discussion he held with local journalist, yesterday, Mr. Ohashi said that the amount of money to be available to Ethiopia is 30 percent more that what the Bank was initially contemplating.

The money will be available starting from the beginning of July, which is the start of the next fiscal year for the World Bank.

Mr. Ohashi said that the Bank is seriously considering to increase the amount of financial resources available to African countries who are beginning to feel the pinch from the current global economic crises.

He said that it was unfortunate for African countries to suffer from the crisis which was not of their own making.

Ohashi said that it was up to each African country to take measures extricate itself from this problem.

The World Bank assistance alone cannot bring change, he noted.
“Unfortunately, the burden of adjustment falls on the African countries themselves,” he said.

He added that inflation in Ethiopia seemed to go down compared to twelve months before.

“Last July, the inflation was out of control as it stood at 64 percent. This time it is not at least out of control,” he said.

Relatives say Ethiopia's regime tortured coup suspects

Monday, June 15th, 2009

By Barry Malone

Gen. Asaminew Tsige is one of the 46 suspects charged by Ethiopia’s tribal junta

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – A group of men accused of plotting to topple Ethiopia’s government were tortured in prison during lengthy interrogations, relatives said on Monday.

At a pre-trial hearing in Addis Ababa, a judge refused a request from a lawyer for one of the 32 men for a doctor chosen by the families to visit the detainees in prison to compile a report on any injuries.

The arrest of the group in the biggest such crackdown for several years has worried rights group, who say Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s government has become increasingly authoritarian and tough on any critics in the Horn of Africa nation.

Officials say the group planned bombs and assassinations.

At Monday’s hearing, the judge said the group had access to a prison doctor, which was adequate. Some members of the group discussed with the judge how, with their meagre means, they should hire lawyers. A few threw waves and smiles at relatives.

After the hearing, three family members told Reuters suspects had spoken of mistreatment in jail.

“Some of them have been tortured and are injured,” one relative, who asked not to be named, said outside court. “They have been interrogated for up to nineteen hours. One man with injuries to his penis had to be treated in hospital.”

Lawyers said five of the group were being held in solitary confinement. The 32 accused were mainly former and current army personnel, including two generals.


A Government spokesman said the allegations were “baseless”.

“They have the right to relate any indignities they allege they have suffered openly in court,” Shimeles Kemal said. “If this had been the case, they would have, but they didn’t.”

The government has identified only two of the prisoners despite calls by rights groups to give all the names.

Another 14 people, some resident in the United States and Britain, have been charged in absentia.

The government says the accused, arrested more than a month ago, belonged to a “terror network” formed by Berhanu Nega, an opposition leader who teaches economics in the United States.

Berhanu denies the accusations.

Addis Ababa says the group had planned to kill senior government officials and blow up power and telecommunications facilities to provoke protesters who would then march on government buildings and attempt to topple the government.

Opposition parties have called the charges trumped-up.

Security forces killed about 200 protesters after elections in 2005 when the opposition disputed the government’s victory. The next national election is due in 2010.

Berhanu was elected mayor of the capital Addis Ababa in the 2005 ballot, but was arrested and accused of orchestrating the street protests. He was pardoned and released in 2007.

His “May 15th” organisation was named after the date of the 2005 poll. He has made statements in the United States saying it wants to overthrow Meles’ government.

The Ethiopian government says the plotters received money to buy weapons from Berhanu and other diaspora opposition members.

The accused will appear in court again on June 30th.

(Editing by Matthew Jones)

Echo Chamber for Dictatorship?

Monday, June 15th, 2009

By Alemayehu G. Mariam

Fierce Urgency of Speaking Truth to Power

Are we becoming an echo chamber for the dictatorship in Ethiopia by repeating its never-ending political babble and lies?

In the high-decibel Diaspora critique of oppression, widespread human rights violations and political dysfunction in Ethiopia, I have observed in dismay some pro-democracy activists, civic leaders, bloggers and media elements parroting and, sometimes unwittingly, toeing the line ordained by the ruling dictatorship. Recently, I did a radio interview in which I was asked for my views on the “coming 2010 elections in Ethiopia,” the “new anti-terrorism law that is before the parliament,” and the “criminal charges and court case against those accused of plotting a coup”, among other things. On previous occasions, I have been asked to comment on “Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia”, the “civic society law,” the “new press law”, and the “revocation of pardon granted to Birtukan” and other topics.

I have often found questions on such topics mildly amusing, but also deeply troubling. By discussing and commenting on such topics without contextualizing and clarifying the assumptions that underlie them, one creates the risk of confusion and confirmation of facts which do not objectively exist. Here I am concerned about the loose and uncritical use of language in political dialogue and discourse. George Orwell, the famous English author whose penetrating understanding of totalitarianism, oppression and the need for clarity in language, argued that modern political prose and speech is intended to hide the truth rather than express it; and by using buzzwords and political platitudes one’s political consciousness and understanding of reality could be badly distorted. Orwell explained, “In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible. Political language…is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind…”

Guarding Against “Doublethink”, “Doublespeak” and the Case for Unmasking Dictatorship

In our time, the means of communication available far exceed any limits that can be imposed upon them by the likes of Orwell’s all powerful Big Brother. The internet makes information available instantaneously to untold millions, which makes the task and duty of telling the truth urgent and all important because of the potential impact of propagating lies on the collective psyche of the citizens who inhabit the borderless cyberspace. Those of us who communicate by using internet technology or manage it must develop an acute sensibility about our indispensable role in public truth-speaking and unmasking official falsehoods. We must guard against both “doublethink” and “doublespeak.”

In his book Nineteen Eighty Four, Orwell wrote:

[Doublethink is] The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them….To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies — all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth.

The result of doublethink and doublespeak is that “war is peace, freedom is slavery ignorance is strength”; or alternatively, dictatorship is democracy; a kangaroo court is a real court of law, rigged and stolen elections are peoples’ choices; terrorizing the population is enrapturing them; and a cascade of lies is a torrent of truth.

What do I think of the “2010 elections”?

To answer this question one must deconstruct the “doublethink” that surrounds the word “elections” Are we talking about the “2010 elections” in the same sense as the “elections” of the apartheid regime in South Africa from 1948-1994? That illegal white minority regime defended its “democratic elections”. Or are we talking about elections a la Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe where opposition leaders were beaten and their followers harassed and jailed? Or elections held under the spiritual guidance of Ghaddafi’s Greenbook in which the Supreme Leader and the Revolutionary Command Council are ordained to rule forever while local congresses are elected periodically? Perhaps we could be talking about the “2010 elections” in the same sense as the 2002 Iraqi elections where Izzat Ibrahim, Vice-Chairman of Iraq’s Revolutionary Command Council under the regime of Saddam Hussien, declared, “There were 11,445,638 eligible voters [in Iraq]- and every one of them voted for the president.”

To talk meaningfully about elections, one must frame the question in terms of the preconditions that make possible the likelihood of free and fair elections such as the existence of competitive political parties, a functioning independent media and civil society institutions, free exercise of civil and political liberties by the people, the application of the rule of law and other similar things. An election that is not free and fair is not an election; it is a cruel fraud perpetrated on citizens. Thus, it is meaningless — nonsense– to talk about any kind of elections in Ethiopia. The most important opposition leader in Ethiopia, Birtukan Midesa, is jailed for life on trumped up charges, and opposition political parties suffocate under the oppressive thumbs of a brutal and maniacal dictatorship. Since the 2005 elections, we have witnessed widespread violations of human rights and unspeakable political violence. There are no independent newspapers and civic society institutions are outlawed. There are no independent institutions through which citizens can meaningfully participate in the political process or assert their rights against the state. Under these circumstances, to talk about a having elections in Ethiopia in 2010 is as meaningful as taking about a fish riding a bicycle!

What do I think of the “new anti-terrorism law”?

To answer this question, at least three logical proposition must be true: 1) There is such a thing as the rule of law in Ethiopia. 2) There is a legitimate law making body to enact laws. 3) The “anti-terrorism law” itself conforms to the “supreme law of the land” (“constitution”). Proposition one is false because there is no rule of law in Ethiopia or anything that approximates it. Because Ethiopia is ruled by a dictatorship, the arbitrary command of the dictator is “The Law”, which trumps any other law in the country. The dictator and his coterie can order the arrest, imprisonment, torture and killing of any person in the country with impunity. Following the elections of 2005, security force under the direct command and control of the leader of the dictatorship fired on unarmed protesters and killed 193 persons while wounding 763, with impunity. Proposition two is false because a rubber-stamp parliament is incapable of performing the legitimate function of legislation which requires genuine broad-based deliberation, consultation, negotiation and accommodation. Proposition three is false because the draft “anti-terrorism law” before the rubber-stamp parliament is a violation of the “constitution”. Ethiopia’s former president and parliamentarian Dr. Negasso Gidada described it as “unconstitutional” and a tool to terrorize opposition groups in the country:

The proposed bill contradicts the constitution by violating citizens’ rights to privacy… and it generally violates the rights of all peoples of Ethiopia… Such laws are manipulated to weaken political roles of opposition groups there by arresting and prosecuting them using the bill as a cover.

OFDM chairman and parliamentarian Bulcha Demeksa described the bill as a

a weapon designed by the ruling party not only to weaken and totally eliminate all political opponents. Ethiopian election is next year and if this law is endorsed it will definitely be very hard for opposition groups to run for election… Our campaign for election, political or other meetings will be restricted under this law as a single call from any one to the police, no matter if there is any evidence or not could be considered as terror-related activity and put us all in jail.

To talk about a “law” that is designed as a weapon of mass incarceration, persecution, oppression and suppression of the civilian population and political opposition as a legitimate law is as meaningful as talking about a fish riding a bicycle!

What do I think about “Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia”?

The war waged in Somalia by the dictatorship is a war of aggression and illegal under international law. But it is totally wrong to characterize it as “an Ethiopian invasion of Somalia.” It is an illegal war waged in the name of Ethiopia and its people. War is a matter of the ultimate seriousness undertaken only when a nation faces grave danger and only after all peaceful and viable alternatives have been exhausted or proven to be impractical, and the prospect of success assured. In war, military action is directed against combatants, not civilians. It is illegal to launch an attack on a military objective in the knowledge that the incidental civilian injuries would be clearly excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage.

In a televised speech, the leader of the dictatorship said, “Ethiopian defence forces were forced to enter into war to protect the sovereignty of the nation and to blunt repeated attacks by Islamic courts terrorists and anti-Ethiopian elements they are supporting. Our defence forces will leave as soon as they end their mission. We are not trying to set up a government for Somalia, nor do we have an intention to meddle in Somalia’s internal affairs. We have only been forced by the circumstances.”

Of course, the only reason for the dictatorship’s intervention in Somalia was to “meddle in Somali’s internal affairs” as the dictator himself explained long after the invasion: “But on a more fundamental level it appears that this jihadist movement is hell-bent on controlling all of Somalia. That for them, the negotiations are a ploy used to facilitate their goal. They see Ethiopia as a stumbling block.” By invading, Ethiopia becomes a “stumbling block” to a negotiated settlement in Somalia – a classic Orwellian doublethink and doubletalk. The fact of the matter is that no substantial evidence exists to show “attacks by Islamic courts terrorists” against Ethiopia. The “mission” that began in December 2006 is still ongoing, supposedly after an official “withdrawal”. The number of Somali civilian deaths to date exceeds 20,000, and displaced persons exceeds one million. War crimes charges in Somalia have been documented by international human rights organizations.

Equally important, a legitimate war waged by a nation brings with it accountability because of the enormous sacrifices in lives and resources. The people in whose name the war is waged are entitled to know what happened and hold those who prosecuted the war accountable: Did the leaders lie to them in marching to war? Did the leaders engage in illegal activities? How many soldiers died in the war? How many were wounded? How many civilians? How many of the “enemy” killed and wounded? How many displaced? How much money was spent on the war? If such accounting can not be made, ipso facto, it was and is a private war waged in the name of Ethiopia and its people.

What do I think of Birtukan’s re-arrest and imprisonment by the “government for violation of the terms of her pardon”?

According to the so-called Justice Ministry, Birtukan was imprisoned to serve out a life term because she denied receiving a “government granted pardon… and she failed to annul her denial, though she was repeatedly requested to do so.” This claim is patently false as Birtukan has attested in her widely disseminated public statement Q’ale (“My Testimony”): “As one of the prisoners, I had indeed signed the document, a fact which I have never denied.” The truth of the matter is, to paraphrase the dictator himself, that the ruling dictators are “hell-bent on controlling all of Ethiopia” come hell or high water. Birtukan was re-imprisoned not because she “denied” a “pardon” but because she posed a singular threat to the dictatorship. Here is a young woman who comes from a modest background irrevocably committed to peaceful change and dialogue. She has never advocated violence or armed struggle. There is no reason whatsoever to jail her. But the law of unintended consequences has intervened on her behalf. Birtukan today is the brightest point of light under the blue Ethiopian skies capable of leading the people out of the darkness of repression into the sunlight of freedom. She is a symbol of heroic and peaceful resistance in the face of oppression, and an outstanding example of the “power of the powerless”. Like Aung San Suu Kyi, Birtukan believes: “‘Human rights’ means every human being should be able to live as free and respected members of society. But we are not free in our own country. We are very much prisoners in our own country. Prisoners of [a regime] which decides whether we have the right to freedom or the right even to live. Many of our people have been arrested without trial or without a fair trial, and many of them have been condemned to long years in prison.” Like Aung San Suu Kyi, like Birtukan!

What do I think about “the charges brought against the persons accused of plotting a coup”?

By official accounts the accused army officers are “desperadoes” whose plan was to “assassinate high ranking government officials and destroying telecommunication services and electricity utilities and create conducive conditions for large scale chaos and havoc.” But even assuming the “charges” were valid, is there a reasonable way to defend against them? To answer this question in the affirmative is to accept the truth of the following assumptions: 1)Political crimes are charged by prosecutorial professionals who make decisions only on the evidence of wrongdoing before them, and without political pressure, manipulation or interference. 2) There is a judicial system that functions independently of the dictatorship. 3) There are independent professional judges who perform their duties not only without political interference but also in active resistance to it and with unshakeable fidelity to the principle of the rule of law.

None of the three propositions is true with the judicial and prosecutorial systems in Ethiopia. As Human Rights Watch concluded in its 2007 report, “In high-profile cases, courts show little independence or concern for defendants’ procedural rights… The judiciary often acts only after unreasonably long delays, sometimes because of the courts’ workloads, more often because of excessive judicial deference to bad faith prosecution requests for time to search for evidence of a crime.” Dictatorships and judicial independence are like oil and vinegar. They do not mix. As vinegar is mostly water, dictatorship is mostly about the rule of one man. As oils are “hydrophobic” (chemically repel water), truly independent courts are “tyranno-phobic”. They repel arbitrary and dictatorial rule. Thus, to talk about justice, due process and the rights of the accused in a dictatorship is as meaningful as talking about a fish riding a bicycle.

Calling a Spade, a Spade

Ethiopians can never be reconciled to a dictatorship that maintains itself by brute force alone. In a country where there are no expressive freedoms but a flourishing culture of corruption and impunity, where the integrity of intellectuals is squeezed out by intimidation, threats and coercion and where universities are turned into temples of darkness, it is important for those in the Diaspora to take every opportunity to unmask the crimes, wrongdoings and brutality of the dictatorship. There is nothing more they wish than to have us become their unwitting cheerleaders talking about their bogus elections, laws and trials. But we should always guard against their ceaseless and slick efforts to make us echo chambers for their rackets. Our job is to call a spade a spade and tell it like it is. Analyze, scrutinize, criticize and publicize the crimes of dictatorship!

(The writer, Alemayehu G. Mariam, is a professor of political science at California State University, San Bernardino, and an attorney based in Los Angeles. For comments, he can be reached at

Mersha Yoseph makes a fool of himself on VOA

Monday, June 15th, 2009

Two senior leaders of the Ethiopian People Revolutionary Party (EPRP), Ato Iyasu Alemayehu and Ato Mersha Yoseph, were guests on the Voice of America Amharic program Saturday. Mersha Yoseph is one of the leaders of the faction that split from EPRP and named itself EPRP-Democratic about two years ago.

In explaining the main reason why his faction left EPRP, Ato Mersha said that he and his comrades had opposed the dialogue that Iyasu Alemayehu initiated with the Government of Eritrea. He accused Ato Iyasu of taking it upon himself, without the leadership committee’s knowledge and approval, to establish contact with Eritrean officials. EPRP insiders argue otherwise, and are expressing outrage at Ato Mersha’s claim. They say that Ato Mersha was on board when the leadership committee decided to send Ato Iyasu Alemayehu and Ato Mohammed Ahmed (EPRP’s head of foreign affairs) to Asmara. On the second trip, Ato Tegegn Moges had joined them.

It seems that after some 40 years in politics, Ato Mersha has yet to learn the ABCs of politics: In politics there is no permanent enemy, only permanent interest. EPRP and EPLF (the current ruling party in Eritrea) were once enemies. But that was then. Today, these two forces have a common interest — the removal of Woyanne that is currently pillaging Ethiopia and preparing to invade Eritrea. The irony in Ato Mersha’s position is that he favors dialogue with Woyanne, which was and continues to be a deadly enemy of EPRP.

On the interview, Ato Mersha was incoherent, self-contradictory, and ideologically bankrupt. He opposes cooperating with Eritrea, but says that his party wants to work with those who cooperate with Eritrea. Ethiopian Review is not a big fan of Iyasu Alemayehu, but we need to give credit where it’s due. He explained himself well, he was articulate, consistent, and intelligent. Whereas Mersha exposed his weak stand toward Woyanne, Iyasu was clear about what he believes needs to be done. From what we heard on the VOA interview, the Mersha faction is more like EPRP-Hypocritic, not -Democratic. Click below to listen the interview:


Iran president's re-election sparks riots across Tehran

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

By Siavosh Ghazi

TEHRAN (AFP) — Iran has rounded up at least 10 reformist leaders, a party member said, after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election in a deeply-disputed vote sparked riots across Tehran.

Ahmadinejad appeared on television on Saturday to declare his landslide victory over moderate challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi was “fair” after thousands of angry opposition supporters took to the streets in protest at alleged vote-rigging.

Iranian security forces have arrested at least 10 leaders of two reformist groups who backed ex-premier Mousavi in Friday’s vote, an official from one group told AFP.

“At least 10 members of the Islamic Iran Participation Front and the Islamic Revolution Mujahedeen Organisation were arrested yesterday,” said Rajab Ali Mazroei, a member of the front.

Thousands of Mousavi supporters swept through Tehran on Saturday shouting “Down with the Dictator” after final results showed the hardline incumbent Ahmadinejad winning almost 63 percent of the vote.

Baton-wielding riot police firing tear gas clashed with protestors who pelted security forces with stones and set rubbish bins and police vehicles ablaze in unrest not seen since student riots a decade ago.

“The election was completely free… and it is a great victory,” Ahmadinejad, 52, said in his television address, calling on his supporters to gather on Sunday in a Tehran square where many of the clashes occurred.

Mousavi cried foul over what he branded a “rigged” vote and a “charade” and said it could lead to tyranny in the Shiite-dominated nation, which has lived under clerical rule since the Islamic revolution three decades ago.

But he had called on his supporters to stay calm and show restraint after official results showed he had secured less than 34 percent of the vote despite some expections he would win enough to go through to a second-round runoff.

The election results dashed Western hopes of change after four years under the combative Ahmadinejad, who set the country on a collision course with the West over its nuclear drive and his anti-Israeli tirades.

Iran’s all-powerful supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei hailed Ahmadinejad’s victory and urged the country to unite behind him after the most heated election campaign since the Islamic revolution in 1979.

However the vote outcome appears to have galvanised a grass-roots movement for change in the Islamic republic, where 60 percent of the population was born after the revolution.

The international community reacted cautiously to the vote outcome and the allegations of vote irregularities.

“The United States has refrained from commenting on the election in Iran. We obviously hope that the outcome reflects the genuine will and desire of the Iranian people,” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.

The United States is “monitoring the situation as it unfolds in Iran,” she added.

New US President Barack Obama has called for dialogue with its arch-foe after three decades of severed ties, a major policy shift following his predecessor George W. Bush’s description of Iran as part of an “axis of evil.”

The European Union said it was “concerned about alleged irregularities during the election process and post-election violence.”

Israel voiced concern over the return of Ahmadinejad, who has caused international outrage by repeatedly describing the Holocaust as a myth and calling for the Jewish state to be wiped off the map.

“The results of the election show, now more than ever, how much stronger the Iranian threat has become,” Israeli deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon said.

Mousavi had protested at what he described as “numerous and blatant irregularities” in the vote which officials said attracted a record turnout of around 85 percent of the 46 million electorate.

The election highlighted deep divisions in Iran after four years under Ahmadinejad, who had massive support in the rural heartland and among the poor, while in the big cities young men and women threw their weight behind Mousavi.

As the protests intensified on Saturday, Iran’s main cellular phone network was cut and social networking site Facebook was also blocked.

Police beefed up their presence in main streets and squares of the capital, especially in the area housing Mousavi’s campaign office, while dozens of men were seen handcuffed and detained in an interior ministry compound.

Members of Iran’s volunteer Basij militia were also deployed in some parts of the city while smouldering garbage cans were lying on pavements after being set ablaze by rioters.

Africa ICC members will not quit despite Bashir move

Saturday, June 13th, 2009

By Barry Malone

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – African member countries of the International Criminal Court (ICC) will not pull out of the body despite their opposition to its indictment of the Sudanese President, diplomatic sources said.

The ICC has issued an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to face charges of war crimes carried out during almost six years of fighting in Sudan’s violent Darfur region, but he has refused to deal with the court.

Africa is the most heavily represented continent in the ICC with 30 member countries. They are meeting in Addis Ababa to discuss their opposition to Bashir’s indictment.

“They will reach a consensus and ask for the warrant against al-Bashir to be deferred for some time,” a diplomat told Reuters. “But an en masse withdrawal will not happen,” he added.

Diplomats told Reuters only Libya, Senegal, Djibouti and the Comoros had lobbied the two-day meeting that ends on Tuesday for all African member countries to leave the court.

An African Union (AU) heads of state meeting in February decided the continent’s ICC members should consider such a move.

The AU has said the warrant will compromise peace efforts in Darfur, and the 53- member organisation wants the indictment deferred for at least one year.

“The pursuit of peace can be deadly impacted upon if players including a head of state, are denied even the fundamental presumption of innocence,” said AU Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamara.

Former South African President Thabo Mbeki is chairing an AU panel charged with helping to bring peace to Darfur by making recommendations to the AU’s Peace and Security Council as an alternative to the ICC indictment.

International experts say 200,000 people have died and more than 2.5 million have been driven from their homes in the remote western region since mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms against the government in 2003. Khartoum puts the death toll at 10,000.

Lamamra described Darfur as a “low-grade conflict” and said that 130 to 150 people were killed in the region every month, one third of them civilians.

“The situation is obviously different from what the ICC prosecutor described last Friday before the U.N. Security Council as ‘ongoing extermination of civilians’,” he said.

Bashir has travelled to several countries that are not members of the ICC since the warrant was issued in March.

The leader of the oil-exporting nation has visited Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Libya and Zimbabwe in trips that are seen by analysts as an attempt to shore up regional support and show defiance to the international court.

Local radio in Ethiopia ordered to drop VOA programming

Saturday, June 13th, 2009

ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA – The tribal junta regime in Ethiopia has ordered the Addis Ababa-based Sheger FM (102.1) private radio to stop all its re-broadcasts of Voice of America (VOA) programming effective immediately.

Sheger FM had been carrying some of the VOA Amharic programs, mostly music and entertainment, through a contractual arrangement.

The order followed the release of VOA Correspondent in Addis Ababa, Meleskachew Amaha, from jail after detaining him for being in possession of radio equipments.

A kangaroo court judge set Ato Meleskachew free yesterday after ordering him to post a 15,000-birr bail. He was detained for two weeks.

American Ambassador Donald Yamamoto had visited Meleskachew in prison and might have did some arm-twisting at the highest level to get him released.

The equipments in question were imported by ABC Broadcasting with a grant from the Government of Norway a few years ago, hoping that it will secure the license to operate a radio station.

Last month, the Woyanne regime shut down the company and accused Ato Meleskachew Amaha, Ato Abebe Workie and others of illegally owning broadcasting equipments. Both were shareholders in the company.

ABC Broadcasting’s principal shareholder was Dr Berhanu Nega, chairman of Ginbot 7 Movement.

U.S. Congress rejects proposed measure against Eritrea

Saturday, June 13th, 2009

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Woyanne tribal junta ate dust in the U.S. Congress on Thursday after paying tens of thousands of dollars for lobbyists to have the Eritrean Government labeled a sponsor of terrorism rejected. The fact is that, according to the U.S. Department’s own report, it is the Woyanne regime that is brutalizing and terrorizing the peoples of Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa. The Human Rights Watch accuses Meles Zenawi of committing war crimes in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia. It was the Woyanne regime that sent its army into Somalia, slaughtered 10,000 Somalis and made 2 million of them homeless. It is shame on Congressman Ed Royce to close his eyes to these facts. The tribal junta in Ethiopia, with the help of its high priced lobbyists, is working to have the U.S. designate Eritrea “a state sponsor of terror” to use that as a pretext to launch a military offensive. If that happens, the people of Ethiopia will stand with the Eritrean army and crush the vampire regime that has planted itself in Addis Ababa.

US House Of Representatives Approves State Department Funding Measure

(VOA) — The House of Representatives has approved legislation authorizing U.S foreign assistance programs and other spending for the 2010 and 2011 fiscal years. Lawmakers debated a range of global issues before the 235 to 187 vote approving the measure.

The legislation is part of an effort by Foreign Affairs Committee Democratic Chairman Howard Berman to reform foreign assistance and strengthen the diplomatic and other resources the U.S. deploys each year.

The United States, Berman says, faces a range of threats while grappling with economic difficulties. “The U.S. now confronts the most complex array of threats in many decades, if not [in] the entire history of our nation. Afghanistan and Pakistan, Iran [and] North Korea, terrorism [and] nuclear proliferation, drug trafficking and climate change. All pose major challenges to our national security. And we must confront these threats in the midst of a global financial crisis with enormous ramifications both at home and around the world,” he said.

Among other things, the measure requires the president to present a national security strategy for U.S. diplomacy and development every four years, modeled on a similar review produced by the Pentagon.

It authorizes more than $18 billion for the State Department in 2010, including 1500 new Foreign Service officers at State, and 700 at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and expands the Peace Corps, one of President Barack Obama’s priorities.

Provisions improve oversight of U.S. security assistance, support international peacekeeping operations in Darfur, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Chad, and strengthen State Department arms control and nonproliferation capabilities.

The measure also funds U.S government-funded international broadcasting activities, establishes permanent authority for Radio Free Asia and extends the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy.

In the Western Hemisphere, the measure broadens the Merida Initiative with Mexico, and other Latin American and Caribbean countries to combat drug trafficking.

In the Middle East, it directs the president to implement policies to address resettlement needs of Iraqi refugees and internally-displaced persons.

In Africa, the measure requires an assessment for Congress on continuing needs of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, and a report to Congress on a government-wide strategy and the strengthening of U.S. civilian capacities to prevent genocide and mass civilian atrocities.

The legislation seeks tighter coordination of U.S. policy on Tibet and authorizes establishment of a Tibet Section in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and directs the Secretary of State to seek establishment of a U.S. consulate in Lhasa.

House consideration brought debate on familiar issues such as U.S. policy regarding abortion, and contributions to the United Nations.

Democrats such as Lynne Woolsey from California argued that the measure marks a move away from policies pursued under the Bush administration, while Texas Republican Ron Paul disagreed:

WOOLSEY: This bill moves our foreign policy away from intimidation and pre-emption to a policy based on smart security.

PAUL: Some are hopeful that this will be a less militaristic approach to our foreign policy [but] quite frankly I don’t see any changes.”

Florida Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen questioned U.S. funding for the U.N. Development Program. “The U.N.D.P. to which the U.S. contributes $100 million or more per year continues to be the poster child for mismanagement, corruption and waste. From Zimbabwe to Uganda to Burma to North Korea,” she said.

The House rejected Ros-Lehtinen’s proposed amendment to require the U.S. to withhold funds from the U.S. contribution to the International Atomic Energy Agency equal to nuclear technical cooperation provided by the agency in 2007 to Iran, Syria, Sudan and Cuba.

Also rejected was an amendment by California Republican Ed Royce declaring that Eritrean support for insurgents in Somalia poses a direct threat to U.S. national security, and calling for Eritrea to be designated a State Sponsor of Terrorism.

Among those approved included an amendment by Texas Republican Michael McCaul to require a presidential report to Congress on a comprehensive interagency strategy and implementation plan to address the ongoing crisis in Sudan.

“Implementing this comprehensive strategy will advance respect for Democracy, human rights and religious freedom through Sudan. It will address internal and regional security while combating Islamic extremists and by advancing regional security and cooperation it will eliminate cross-border support for armed insurgents and it will shut down safe havens for extremists who pose a threat to the national security of the U.S. and its allies,” he said.

In the end all but 7 Republicans voting opposed the Foreign Relations bill, while 18 Democrats voted against the legislation, which the Congressional Budget Office has estimated will cost the government about $40 billion to implement over the next five years.

Peaceful or Armed Struggle? Ethiopian Dialogue

Saturday, June 13th, 2009


Ethiopian Dialogue for Peace and Common Ground


* Dr. Messay Kebede, Professor of Social Philosophy, Dayton University.

Which Way Ethiopia: Peaceful or Armed Struggle?

Professor Messay will explore the current political landscape; discuss options available to Ethiopian political parties; and relate these options to the 2010 General Elections. (See attached brief biographical statement).

* Dr. Seid Y. Hassan, Professor of Economics, Murray State University.

Socioeconomic Governance and the issue of corruption in Ethiopia: An assessment

Professor Hassan will present a thorough analysis of Ethiopia’s political economy, with primary focus on state and private actors; corruption and its impact on growth, development and poverty. (See attached biographical statement).

Moderator & Facilitator: Dr. Alem Hailu

Date and Time: June 28, 2009; 2:00 PM – 6:00 PM

Venue: The George Washington Law School (Lerner)
Jacob Burns Moot Court Conference Room, L-101
2000 H Street NW (Intersection of H and 20th Streets)
Washington, DC 20052

Forum starts promptly at 2:00


Brief Biographical Statement of Speakers

Dr. Messay Kebede

Undergraduate and graduate studies in philosophy at the University of Grenoble, France, where he earned his Doctorate degree. Taught at Addis Ababa University for a many years; dismissed from the University in March 1993 for political reasons, along with other 40 Ethiopian instructors and professors.

Currently a full Professor, Dr. Messay has been teaching Philosophy at the University of Dayton, Ohio, since 1998.

Dr. Messay’s publications include: Radicalism and Cultural Dislocation in Ethiopia: 1960-1974; Africa’s Quest for a Philosophical Decolonization (2004); Survival and Modernization—Ethiopia’s Enigmatic Present: a Philosophical Discourse (1999); Meaning and Development (1994). He has also published numerous articles in leading journals and on Ethiopian websites.

Dr. Seid Hassan

Currently full Professor of Economics in the College of Business and Public Affairs, Murray University, Kentucky; he earned his undergraduate degree from the American University of Cairo, Egypt; his MA from Texas Technical University; and his Ph.D. from Texas A&M University in Economics, in 1993. His work experience includes News Anchor (Amharic Section), Egyptian Broadcasting Corporation, Cairo; Graduate Assistant, Texas Technical University and Texas A& M University.

Dr. Seid’s publications include Education’s contribution to Economic Growth in Sub-Saharan Africa; Accounting for Emergence and Significance of the Informal Sector in Sub-Saharan Africa; The New Millennium Bond and the Impact of the Diaspora Community Plays; The Link between ethno-centric minority rule and corruption: the case of Ethiopia; Corruption in infrastructure building in Ethiopia: who is benefitting from the construction projects? The Impact of Trade Liberalization on Economic Growth in Sub-Saharan Africa; Financial sector reform and economic growth: the case of Ethiopia coauthored with Syed Ahmed and Abdul-Hamid Sukar and numerous others.

A complete list of publications by both authors will be available upon request.

Ethiopia spends $1 billion per year importing petroleum

Friday, June 12th, 2009

ADDIS ABABA (APA) — Ethiopia, which imports around 7,000 cubic meter petroleum products a day, has an annual petroleum import bill of over one billion dollars, Ethiopian Petroleum Enterprise (EPE) said on Thursday.

EPE said this is as a result of the increasing demand for petroleum following rapid development registered in the country.

Ethiopia imports petroleum products from Sudan and Middle East via the port Djibouti.

Around 300 fuel trucks are involved daily in transporting the fuel.

Ethiopian Airlines says to go ahead with Dreamliner order

Friday, June 12th, 2009

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (Reuters) — Ethiopian Airlines will take all 10 of the Boeing 787 Dreamliners it has ordered, its CEO said on Tuesday, and may buy more planes as it sees medium-term growth of 20 percent in revenues and passengers.

The airline ordered 10 Dreamliners which are due for delivery between July 2010 and 2013, and it is considering buying more from 2014 onwards.

“We’ve started talking to both Boeing and Airbus — it depends who gives us the best price,” Chief Executive Girma Wake told Reuters on the sidelines of an airlines meeting, adding that he was also looking at buying other types of planes from next year.

(Reporting by Neil Chatterjee; Editing by Sara Webb)

Abebe Workie, Meleskachew Amaha released on bail

Friday, June 12th, 2009

ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA – A Woyanne regime kangaroo court has ordered the release of distinguished attorney and chairman of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council, Ato Abebe Workie, and Voice of America correspondent in Addis Ababa, Ato Meleskachew Amaha, on bail yesterday afternoon.

Both left their jail cells earlier today after Ato Meleskachew paid 15,000 birr, and Ato Abebe, 30,000 birr.

The charges against Ato Abebe and Ato Meleskachew include illegal use of radio equipments and trying to sell equipment illegally.

Open Letter to Tigrayans

Friday, June 12th, 2009

An Open Letter to my fellow Tigrayan brothers and sisters who are supporting the TPLF

By Obang Metho

Dear Fellow Ethiopian,
I want to address those Ethiopians who are Tigrayans, especially focusing on those who are benefiting from this regime at the expense of the majority of other Ethiopians.

I am accountable for the following words that I will be saying to you. With that in mind, I am not speaking as an expert or as someone who is perfect because I am neither, but I am doing this because I care about you and you need to hear the truth, at least, as I see it. Take what you agree with from this message and discard the rest. I am hoping you will find something of benefit to you.

I am opening this delicate subject up for discussion and I hope more people will join me in looking for ways to strengthen our broken relation and Ethiopia. I will be frank and straight-forward, speaking to you in love and in hope that all of us can benefit from speaking honestly and directly with each other. Let me start with “the elephant in the room!”

Anyone who says that Tigrayans, not all, but many, have not benefited under Meles, are lying to themselves. We all know that the key positions in the government, in the military, in the economy, in the judicial system, on the national election board, in banking and finance, in education and in any other sector of society are mostly held by Tigrayans who are loyal to Meles. For the most part, those from other ethnic groups are given certain positions by the TPLF only to fool the outsiders so they can look better.

We also know that there has been more development, services and opportunity of every kind in the Tigrayan region and available to persons of Tigrayan ethnicity than in any other region or to any other group of Ethiopians. There is no debate about this being true. Even when I was attempting to start the Gambella Development Agency in 2002, Ethiopian government officials at the Minster of Justice office tried hard to convince me to go to the Tigray region instead of Gambella. This kind of preference has been going on at a large-scale level over the last 18 years of TPLF rule.

In reality, there are only two branches of government in Ethiopia, one that runs everything—the TPLF—which is mainly dominated by Tigrayans, and the other—the EPRDF—which has more diversity, but only pretends to run everything. The public knows this very well, but people avoid talking about it. This preferential treatment is not only unacceptable and wrong, it is immoral. It is a model of government that is built on greed, self-interest, pride, corruption, oppression and lack of empathy for others. It has been doomed to failure from the beginning as were other preceding regimes who were built on the same shaky foundation. We have created a cycle of destruction and deception for ourselves that should be discarded if we do not want to keep repeating our mistakes and perpetuating our suffering.

The purpose of this letter is to ask Tigrayans, the TPLF and also Woyane to join with your fellow Ethiopians in ending this system that perpetuates the destruction of one another. Our society greatly needs reconciliation in order to accomplish this great task. Our Tigrayan brothers and sisters have an opportunity to come together at a strategic moment in our history that could dramatically change our shared future. “Tyranny” and “Injustice” are always thirsty for new victims and perpetrators.

If we are to break out of this cycle, we need Tigrayans to rise up out of their silence, something that will make a bridge of reconciliation between yourselves and other Ethiopians in this very divided nation. This is also for your own protection because somehow, we must heal the animosities that have built up over these past years so when this regime collapses, our future together in Ethiopia is secure and harmonious. In doing so, you are preparing the way for a better future for your children and grandchildren.

Together, we can make this crucial transition from a government built on tyranny and ethnic domination of one group to a government built on God-given principles of “humanity before ethnicity” and the promotion of truth, freedom, justice, the respect of human rights, civility  and equal opportunity for all Ethiopians  for “no one will be free until all are free.” In such an Ethiopia, you will be at home; but do not wait until this TPLF government collapses to claim these principles for yourselves or it may be too late. Instead, I am hoping that you will be part of the solution in bringing about a New Ethiopia right now. Let us start by looking at our history of consecutive “one village rule” regimes and where it has gotten us.

The “One Village Rule All” System:

We Ethiopians are caught up in a cycle of replacing one ineffective and abusive government of a “village group”, (meaning our ethnically-based political groups like the TPLF) with another that duplicates the actions of the last, with the same predictable results. Each new group rises up out of oppression, but fails to learn the lessons of its own past. Instead the new group greedily seizes the new found power, becoming the next “village” opportunist and oppressor, brutally lashing out in pent-up anger and repression against their “previous oppressors” and “new opponents.” Suppression begins against any competing groups vying for power, including those wanting “a legitimate voice in their own regional affairs.” Eventually, the cycle will be repeated with new victims and perpetrators. Let’s look at the stages we have been going through as a country:

Stage One: “Village groups” suffer at the hands of the government, giving rise to rebellions and insurgency groups. Individual groups—“villages”—experience repression, marginalization, exploitation and human rights abuses. Because legitimate ways to voice grievances are denied and because complainants are punished, “village groups” form separatist groups or liberation groups to protect the lives, the rights and the livelihoods of threatened families, communities, ethnicities and regions.

Stage Two: “Village” insurgency groups work alone or join temporarily with other “villages” to overthrow the government, but still pursue their own “village” goals, causing power struggles from within until one emerges as the new “village ruler” of Ethiopia and excludes all the others from the perks of the struggle, such as happened with the TPLF becoming the EPRDF. As soon as the EPRDF gained power, the old “village group” of the TPLF re-emerged to take charge and the EPRDF became its cover name.

Stage Three: “One Village” group rules over everyone else, making the rules, always in their own favor, while pretending to be inclusive of all groups outwardly. Two layers work in synchrony: 1) the public face of the EPRDF in the international community, and 2) the private face of TPLF as controlling everything as the reality lived out by the Ethiopian people. A layer of inclusion on the exterior hides the non-spoken truth, which is that one small elitist group controls and monopolizes every sector of society. Competitors are left out of important government positions.
They fail to get the jobs, bids or opportunities within the “system,” all of which is carefully controlled to reward and punish. More outspoken critics are threatened, harassed, beaten, imprisoned or killed. The justice system and election process cannot be separated from the control of the “one-village rule.”

Stage Four: Anger, resentment, bitterness and rebellion increase and begin to give rise to challenges by others, leading to government crack- downs and counter-insurgency attacks against rebel groups. Those benefiting from the government become increasingly fearful of retribution should the government fall so even if they disapprove of government actions, they continue to do their best to maintain the status quo.

Stage Five: The regime is finally overthrown; vengeance is taken and another “village” government sets itself up to do the same. Now we are back to stage one which starts all over again. It is a given, that there will never be a turn for any minority group, who continue to be oppressed, exploited and marginalized, regardless of who is in charge.

We Ethiopians have to transition to a different system—one where “many villages” exercise representative rule over a “country of many hundreds of villages” rather than one where a single “village” takes complete ownership of a nation and then uses its power to crush opposition and exploit everyone else.

Some False Justifications Used to Perpetuate TPLF Ethnic-Based Domination

Justification for TPLF ethnic domination can be traced to flawed excuses and fear-mongering tactics.  Some are:

  1. We suffered past grievances from others and now it is “our ‘ethnic’ turn to eat.” Those who oppressed us deserve to “finally get what they deserve.”
  2. Other Ethiopians are: a) “less golden than are we,” b) “they are not ‘true’ Ethiopians” and; therefore, c) they are not “as worthy” as are we.
  3. Other Ethiopians would have done the same to us if they “had won” over the Derg; therefore, we deserve what we have gotten since we are “more clever,” “better fighters” and have worked harder for it.
  4. If we do not hold on tightly to our control, someone else will simply come in and do the same, punishing us as an ethnic group; therefore, it is disloyal and damaging to our shared ethnic future to speak out against what some of us are doing—no matter what! If you do not agree, maintain your silence or you will be punished.
  5. As long as we stay in control, you need not fear accountability for what we or what you have done. If you have not done anything, you still will be punished by others for your ethnicity so remain silent.
  6. Do not worry about accountability before God because we are in control of the religious leaders who will not confront your conscience with the truth. You can still “practice your religion” anyway, as long as you stay away from acting on moral convictions.
  7. If you do not support the TPLF, you will be a victim of genocide—there is no other outcome for us all if we lose our hold on this country. Hold on to us for your survival.

I want to tell you, particularly addressing the last point, that violence is a real possibility, but that possibility is greater reduced if we join together and if you do your part (Dersha) in bringing about a more just, reconciled and harmonious society. I am very worried about violence, chaos and killing and am trying to find a way to avoid such a disaster in Ethiopia that would bring shame and sustained injury to all of us. This does not mean that some perpetrators will not face justice, but the truth is, we Ethiopians must find ways to restore a sense of humanity to this country if we are to have any future for ourselves and for our children.

Facing the Truth: TPLF Domination Exists All Over Ethiopia

As you may already know, some research done by Ginbot 7 uncovered the fact that most every key position in the military is held by a person of Tigrayan ethnicity. As you can imagine, the extent of this cronyism has incensed many Ethiopians; something that other justice-loving people will also disdain. Can you imagine if Obama, after being inaugurated, would have removed all non-black people from key government positions and replaced them with only African Americans? What would American citizens, those who elected him and others in the world think of this?

This topic can no longer be avoided and must be confronted because if it is not, it might reach a boiling point and the consequences will be unbearable. Preventing such a catastrophe from happening is something that I and others in the Solidarity Movement are strongly pursuing because we are so fearful that if we do not deal with this now, it may be too late. However, those in the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia, cannot do it alone. We must work together to change this now, especially re-emphasizing that when we talk about Tigrayans, we must be reminded that it is not all Tigrayans who are benefiting from this Tigrayan-controlled government.

We also know there are countless numbers of Tigrayans who are extremely opposed to this regime and that they have suffered greatly for being lumped together with Meles; however, I strongly encourage those Tigrayans who have been silent on this issue, to come forward in large numbers and speak out about this wrong. We recognize that there is fear and risk in doing so, but if Tigrayans do not speak out, people will assume that things must be good for them and that they want Meles to stay in power. I know some Tigrayan brothers and sisters who are anti-Meles, but are not “anti” the TPLF system or “one-tribe domination.” Do not fool yourselves, for this entire system in Ethiopia is built on a model of exploiting others. This is why it is so important for our Tigrayan brothers and sisters to speak out.

For example, last week when I was speaking in Dallas at a meeting at a hotel in that city, another meeting was being held in the room next to us by the Tigrayan Development Association in celebration of the May 20, 1991 overthrow of the Derg. They showed a video of that victory and of the development that has been achieved since they came into power. In the next room where I was meeting with other Ethiopians, I was showing the video of the genocide of the Anuak and of the destruction of the infrastructure in Gambella by the same Meles regime that had conversely, brought development to Mekelle and destruction to Gambella.

As those in the Tigrayan Development Association were celebrating their “freedom” from the Derg, we were talking about the incarceration of Birtukan, Teddy Afro, Bashir Makhtal and thousands of other political prisoners, about the suppression of every basic right and about the massive human rights violations being committed by this regime against other Ethiopians. These are two totally different realities occurring in the same country, both true.

This is only one example. A few days prior to this meeting, I was in Ottawa and the same thing was happening.  The TPLF group in Ottawa and other TPLF throughout the world were also celebrating their liberation from the brutal government of Mengistu while at the present time, other Ethiopians were protesting and grieving for the millions of their fellow Ethiopians who were suffering and dying at the hands of the brutal TPLF. What are they celebrating? How can they celebrate under these conditions?

Let me make it very clear. I am not suggesting that Tigrayans should be pushed aside, discriminated against or marginalized because that would be a violation of everything I believe in. Instead, I am calling on Tigrayans themselves to wake up and regain their sense of their own shared humanity with other Ethiopians. They can do this by helping to bring genuine justice to all of Ethiopia instead of selfishly celebrating when others are crying.
Together we must stop this cycle of oppression that constantly reshuffles victims into perpetrators and perpetrators into victims. The last thing I want is for someone else to experience a December 13, 2003. I am saying this out of truth and love for it cannot be ignored. Right now, Tigrayans are in a position to help remedy the mistakes made over the last 18 years, but if they fail to help, they could become the next victims.

If you are someone blindfolded by ego, power, money or pressure, open your eyes to the truth. Put yourselves in the shoes of your suffering fellow Ethiopians and take the initiative to stop this holocaust of the people by standing up for justice, freedom and moral right. Speak out against the “village thinking” that has incensed and alienated the public from you. Stop supporting a government system that can only survive off the pain, oppression and suppression of the majority of its people.

If you are only maintaining your silence for fear of what might happen to you should this regime fall, you need to be reminded that a partnership with a criminal regime that commits genocide and robs the majority of people from life, property and liberty, is one that is morally wrong and you should come out and separate yourselves from it. The evil they are perpetrating every minute of the day, all over Ethiopia, to millions of people, will continue unless good people stand up against it. Resentment is only building as Meles cracks down on anyone outside of his own “village,” “tribe,” or “region.”

A Call to Action: Stopping the Cycle of Destruction and Deception

You should no longer be part of this dying regime, which is in its final days. You can see the evidence that Meles and his clique feel vulnerable and weakened as they strike out in every direction in an increasingly frequent display of paranoia and desperation. I say this, hoping to protect our Tigrayan brothers and sisters from some of the worst consequences following years of oppressive “village rule,” once “Meles’ village” loses power. Remember how you felt after the oppression you experienced at the hands of Mengistu and his clique?

If we are not going to fall into mass vengeance, stemming from the anger and bitterness built up over the years, Tigrayans must initiate strong action to prevent it by becoming part of the solution. Please consider this! It will take facing the truth, facing one’s conscience and the finding the moral courage to clearly stop any suggestion of complicity, including support of this brutally exploitive system given through your silence. I am asking you to start challenging this system that was put into place in your ethnic name, but is devastating your fellow Ethiopian brothers and sisters. You will not escape easily unless we all work together for what is right and good.

Right now most of the Tigrayans are grabbing the tail of the tiger, not wanting to let go; fearing that the tiger will bite you; but the hand of most Tigrayans who are supporting the TPLF must be getting tired. There will be a day when you will become so exhausted, that you will lose your grip. Then what? You need a new strategy and to come back to your family. I know there are many Tigrayans who value the principles of the Solidarity Movement. Many of you have told me this yourselves.

I want these Tigrayans to know my hand, the hand of those in the Solidarity Movement and the hands of countless other Ethiopians are reaching out to you. Please start reaching back because the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia was created for all Ethiopians, including you. There will be a day when the TPLF will finally collapse. Before that happens, we want you to become free of the threat of this wild tiger’s anger by reconciling with your brothers and sisters in your family of Ethiopia.

Stop your secret meetings, sponsored by the TPLF, that have been taking place throughout the world. Instead, start private discussions among other Tigrayans and non-Tigrayans about how to help cage the tiger by working together with others. This is the way to start—from behind the scenes, eventually joining us in the open places throughout the world, including Meskel Square in Addis Ababa! What a day of genuine celebration that will be!

I also call on other Ethiopians to reach out to embrace your fellow Ethiopians of Tigrayan ethnicity, so they might be further encouraged by your acceptance and partnership. Taking such a stand for them is not easy and each of us should help them feel safe enough to make such a break. Ethiopians of other backgrounds have been guilty of pushing them away.

I have spoken with many Tigrayans who have told sad accounts of trying to join with other Ethiopians in opposition to Meles, but have been given the cold shoulder, finally returning to their own ethnic groups as a result. Reaching back to those who are reaching out will make the table of tyranny on which Meles and the TPLF are standing, collapse. This will prepare the way for a peaceful transition to a New Ethiopia where no one is fearful of others.

In summary, why should a 3000-year old country of 80 million people, who stood up against colonialism, now disintegrate? It is not too late to fix this broken society and broken country so that it can re-emerge stronger.

Society is supposed to be like a human body, where the body functions well when all the parts are working. We need every part, for without each part, how do we come back to health? God will help us if we trust in Him fully. Come back to God’s principles—fearing Him and loving one another. Let us put our humanity before our ethnicity and we may find a real homeland where all are free.

I hope the following verses from II Corinthians 7: 8-11 written by the Apostle Paul will be true of your response to my letter:

“Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while—yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.”

May it be the same for each of you!

Your brother,
Obang Metho,
Executive Director
Of the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia

The imperative for Ethiopians dealing with Eritrea

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

By Neamin Zeleke

There is a fundamental change in our thinking process. There is a shift of attitude among Ethiopians. A positive and essential change. Fuzziness of thought is giving way to clear thinking. A state of being in a limbo and inaction are succumbing to decision and a resolve for action. Vacillation and lack of confidence are clearing way to faith in oneself and confidence in the ability to change an utterly unacceptable life under an ethnocentric and brutal dictatorship. Confidence and faith that no one else but only Ethiopians can liberate our country from the fascistic and ethnocentric dictatorship of the minority Tigrean elite. Confidence that we are able and willing to do it by forging alliances with who ever accepts our need and willing to work with us towards our national salvation. Ethiopia’s national salvation could only be a reality if Ethiopian patriotic and democratic forces have a base, and outside support to wage their multi-pronged struggle. The requisite is for a sovereign country to become a trusted ally of Ethiopian opposition forces and provide them all around support.

Such is the defining moment in the making indeed. A surge of a critical mass of Ethiopians who are yearning for freedom and wiling to do whatever it takes. Ethiopians are saying “give me death or give me liberty.” No more tribal dictatorship! The people of Ethiopia are coming to the final and unequivocal resolve. Our people are saying we must, once and for all, take the destiny of this generation and that of Ethiopia’s posterity into our hands. A paradigm shift is taking place, a shift towards the view that in order to liberate Ethiopia from the anti-Ethiopia ruling Tigrayan mafia, Ethiopians need to make a strategic alliance with the State of Eritrea. The Rubicon has been crossed.

Ethiopians abroad and at home recognize that the quest for peaceful struggle is hopelessly dwindling. Whatever little political space there was for peaceful forms of struggle in the country have been blocked by the TPLF regime to essentially cripple Ethiopian opposition groups from gaining any meaningful support from the Ethiopian people. The regime has devised numerous machinations to prevent a repeat of the 2005 phenomena from unfolding again.

Serfdom or Liberty

Tigrayan minority dictatorship has made it clear time and again that it will never heed the call and the demand for our freedom, the quest for real and genuine multi-party democracy, and the thirst for justice and yearning for the rule of law by the people of Ethiopia. It would not listen to our demand for equality and doing away with the domination of a single and minority ethnic elite in all spheres and aspects of the Ethiopian state, economy, military, etc. Meles Zenawi’s Gestapo known as Agazi, Federal Police and the other death squads of the ruling Tigrean mafia committed all that carnage against our people during the 2005 election. Millions endured humiliation and tens of thousands were crushed by the brutality unleashed against them. The old and young, women and children alike were rounded up by the tens of thousands to be taken to the concentration camps in Dedesa, Birr Shelko, and Ziway. Savage and sub-human treatment were meted out against unarmed, peaceful protesters and those who watched on the sidelines. The entire massacre in the hundreds, the inhuman torture and imprisonment of tens of thousands of Ethiopians by the TPLF regime was with one and sole objective of ensuring the continuation of its illegitimate rule.

As well known at various times during its tenure, the TPLF has unleashed its atrocities against the Amhara; it has committed atrocities against the Oromo people. It has committed genocide against our people in the Ogden region, and crimes against humanity against our people in Gamebela. Thousands of people from southern parts of Ethiopia were killed at various times due to the TPLF’s deliberate fanning of ethnic differences to divide and rule. In the name of constitution and “constitutional order” it has instituted a political system where there is a rule of the “jungle”, as Prof. Mesfin Woldemariam once dubbed the reality in Ethiopia, in contradistinction to the rule of law. Each and every article of the so-called constitution has been violated by the regime itself. Essentially a constitution is a social contact between the governed and the governors. And that social contract has been breached time and again none other than by its own author, the TPLF. To begin with, the so-called constitution was designed in such a way that a single and minority ethnic elite under the leadership of the TPLF and a group of satellite organizations and feeble individuals from other ethnic groups would be able to control every aspect of life. Much that has been made public in words and writings vividly and in no uncertain terms prove the unprecedented and hitherto unseen drive of minority Tigrean elite for domination of Ethiopia and the concomitant relegation of all other ethnic groups to a second class citizen status. Any threat to such domination by minority ethnic elite under the TPLF leadership is labeled a crime against the “constitutional order” and the “constitution”.

In a nut shell, this brutal dictatorship has strangled the Ethiopian people for the past eighteen years and bleeding us dry. It is this reality which proves time and again that such an evil force will not relinquish power unless forced to do so by a force through a determined, steadfast, and bitter struggle waged on all fronts by our people using all the available and necessary means.

The people of Ethiopia from all ethnic groups have crossed the threshold where any human being can carry abuse, total humiliation, deprivation, and being reduced to sub-human beings, second class citizens a la apartheid South Africa. There is now fundamental recognition that is permeating across a broad spectrum of Ethiopians that the source of all ills, all malaise, and our national agony is none other than the TPLF mafia holding the levers of state power. And that dictators rarely give up state power unless forced through a bitter struggle.

Freedom can not be realized without a sacrifice that is needed from each every one of us. Liberty can never materialize without fighting for it. And dictators will not give up unless we fight for our rights. And as Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers of the United States, aptly observed two centuries ago, the tree of liberty has to be watered with the blood of tyrants in order for it to blossom. Today, the Ethiopian people are not only demanding for their liberty but willing to fight and make all kinds of sacrifice for it. We are at cross roads; we either choose freedom or accept and leave in serfdom.

No Permanent Enemy

If Ethiopians are serious about our freedom, rule of law, genuine democracy; if we care for our liberty from tyranny, we must think of outside “the box”. We must think on our own terms and stand on our grounds regardless of what our arch enemies define as to who Ethiopia’s enemies are and who is not. The TPLF regime, Ethiopia’s arch nemesis and internal cancer that is eating away our national fabric, must not be allowed to dictate and set the agenda as regard to who is for Ethiopia and who is against Ethiopia, as it has no moral grounds whatsoever, nor historical track record to tell us so. If allying with Eritrea is found useful, rational, necessary and sustainable — after examining all the hard facts and looking at all the strategic advantages and disadvantages of doing so — then it should be done on these criteria alone. Least of all, not because the Tigrayan dictatorship and its mouthpieces abroad dictate to us and attempt to bombard us shamelessly as to who should be our allay and who should not. There is no doubt in the mind of any sane Ethiopian that Ethiopia’s national interest has never been one and the same with that of the TPLF’s interest and agenda. It never was and nor will it ever be.

It is then imperative for Ethiopians to deal with Eritrea towards strategic steps, in the long term interest of the two peoples. Understandably, for many of our fellow Ethiopians this may leave a bitter taste. But we can not continue to leave and relive in the past. We have to move forward and look towards the future, although no single soul would dare question the fact that Ethiopia and the people of Ethiopia lost much when Eritrea became an independent state. So did the people of Eritrea. They too lost. That is then, but we are here now. For the sake of both Ethiopians and Eritreans, we should be able to put all agendas on the table. The loses, in all their manifestations that attended the separation of the two countries, could be worked out for a mutually advantageous gain for the two countries and their peoples’ future peace and development, be it economic, security, and maritime matters central to both countries — an issue extensively addressed by the President of Eritrea during his recent interview. We Ethiopians should be bold enough to start honest dialogue along this line.

Lord Palmerson, the often quoted British statesman, aptly said that nations do not have permanent friends or enemies, but permanent interests. The central question then becomes, if Woyane allied itself with EPLF to promote its strategic interest, why can’t the current Ethiopian opposition do the same? The President of Eritrea asked the same question in his recent interview with Elias Kifle and Sileshi Tilahun. But the differences between what the TPLF stood for then and what the Ethiopain patriotic and democratic forces stand for now is like that of light and darkness. Moreover, the President of Eritrea has made it public that his country has no intention of working against Ethiopia’s unity. What we expect is for him to live up to his public pronouncements.

Hence, the people of Ethiopia have to see the incontrovertible reality eye to eye. We have to come to terms with the unfolding reality. The cruel reality, the undeniable fact, the incontestable truth that has come out loud and clear. Ethiopia’s current agony and the excruciating pain our people have been forced to endure each and every day have their immediate, clear and present causes not with Eritrea, but the TPLF-led minority regime that claims to represent less the 6% of the population strangulating and suffocating a nation and 80 million Ethiopians.

(The author can be reached at

Ethiopian Scientist to Receive 2009 World Food Prize

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

By David Gollust |VOA

Ethiopian scientist Gebisa Ejeta was named on Thursday as the winner of the 2009 World Food Prize in an event at the U.S. State Department. Ejeta, a faculty member at Purdue University in the Midwestern U.S. state of Indiana, was honored for his work on drought and weed-resistant varieties of sorghum.

Ejeta is only the second African to win the Food Prize since its creation in 1986 by Nobel Peace Laureate Norman Borlaug, the American agronomist credited with starting a so-called “Green Revolution” with high-yield wheat varieties.

The Ethiopian geneticist and seed-breeder, who joined the Purdue University faculty in 1984, is being honored for his work in developing strains of sorghum that are resistant to drought and the parasitic weed Striga, which has been a plague to farmers throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

Ejeta, who was not present at the State Department event, will receive the award on October 15 in a ceremony by the World Food Prize Foundation in Des Moines, Iowa.

The president of the foundation, former U.S. ambassador to Cambodia Kenneth Quinn, said Ejeta’s work with sorghum has benefited millions of people in Africa and beyond.

“He developed and introduced the first sorghum hybrid in Africa in the early 1980s, which was drought tolerant and produced significantly higher yields,” said Quinn. “In the 1990s, he conquered the greatest biological constraint to cereal production in Africa – the deadly weed Striga. Having discovered the bio-chemical basis of Striga’s parasitic relationship with sorghum, our laureate’s breeding program at Purdue produced many sorghum varieties resistant to drought and to Striga with yields 10 times greater than local varieties.”

The World Food Prize chief was joined on the podium by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who stressed the Obama administration’s commitment to attack world hunger, which affects an estimated one billion people.

She noted that in addition to developing new sorghum strains, Ejeta worked in India and Sudan on ways to get his improved seeds into the hands of farmers, underscoring the need for a comprehensive approach to repairing what Clinton called a broken global supply chain for food.

“The Obama administration is committed to providing leadership in developing a new global approach to hunger,” she said. “For too long, our primary response has been to send emergency aid when the crisis is at its worst. This saves lives, but doesn’t address hunger’s root causes. It is at best a short-term fix. So we will support the creation of effective, sustainable farming systems in regions around the world where current methods are not working.”

The World Food Prize, judged by a council of advisers that includes former U.S. Presidents Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, carries a $250,000 award. The previous African winner was plant breeder Monty Jones of Sierra Leone who, with Chinese colleague Yuan Longping, was honored in 2004 for work on high-yielding rice varieties.

My brave sister Serkalem Fasil

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

By Yilma Bekele

So the saying used to go ‘the sun never sets on the British empire’ that was yesterday. It should be replaced by ‘the sun always shines on Serkalem.’ The Global Forum of Freedom of Expression has honored Serkalem again. (see the video below)

What a deserving recognition of a brave lady in the relentless service of her people for freedom and democracy. We thank the Forum for directing the beam of light on Serkalem to expose the nature of the ethnic junta in power. Serkalem is the symbol of eighty million Ethiopians languishing under the apartheid rule of the minority ethnic based mafia.

Serkalem was jailed because the opposition won the 2005 election. Serkalem and her husband Eskinder used to publish two independent newspapers, Menelik and Satenaw before the general election. Their crime is doing their job ethically and professionally. They wronged the mafia clique because they told the truth. So Meles and our Tigrean cosa nostra group thought they can silence the press by jailing the publishers. Old and tired solution debunked a long time ago. But our peasant warriors are stuck on chapter one. They can not differenciate between their illegal deeds and the story being told. The rational action will be to refrain from illegal act. Unfortunately they would rather punish the messanger hoping the message will not see the light of day.

When will they learn? Unfortunately they are perfectly aware of their actions. They kill, torture, exile and insult because that is what they know best. They are not capable of change. They figure why change something that has worked for forty years. Ato Meles has been practicing his craft since the early 70’s. In his book ‘Democratization and Unity’ one of the founders of TPLF Kahsey Berhe, tells of an incident perfectly revealing the mind-set of Ato Meles and his group. The group suspected one of their friend to be an agent of the Derge whereby without an iota of evidence they went ahead to ‘beat him up and burn him with hot sickles’ till he was dead. The rank and file did not view this act favorably. The new leadership composed of Sebhat Nega, Meles Zenawi, and Abbay Tesehaye solved this dilemma by forming their own secretive security team within the organization. This arrangement of creation of a militia personally responsible to a few in the leadership has become the trademark of Ato Meles and company.

In today’s Ethiopia there is a government within a government. The TPLF clique has its own security force, its own private jail, its own private army and its own private law. Ato Meles is the ‘capo di tutti’ (boss of bosses) of this infamous criminal enterprise masquerading as a party. Why some think that they can reform the mafia is very bewildering. The fact that a few think a bully will relent due to some moral constraint is a wishful thinking that has become very costly to individuals and our country.

The narrow ethnic group in power is relentless in its pursuit of its perceived enemies. It is compounding the problem hourly and daily. It knows no shame. It thinks it is reinventing itself by doing the same thing again and again. So now they drafted a new so called ‘terrorist law’ by the Council of Ministers and submitted it to the ‘House of Representatives’. I know both are oxymoron. One-man rule and a fake council or parliament and unelected representative are contradiction at its best. The word terrorism is so passé no one bothered to inform the cadres. My dear Meles you have traded that currency, it is over. The new key word today is ‘Democracy and transparency’ please make a note.

The new law being drafted is an attempt to codify what the regime has been doing for the last eighteen years. Why they bother to even draft such a law is very strange? They have been killing with impunity, jailing without due process torturing at will so what is the idea of such a law in present day Ethiopia? Guess who is brought out to discuss and explain the nature of the new law. It is no other than our good old friend Shimelis kemal, the mentally challenged and borderline schizophrenic prosecutor of Kinijit.

As a reward for being humiliated in the eyes of the Ethiopian people the junior cadre has been promoted to the mis-communication outfit run by the mentally unstable Berket Semeone. Ato Shimelis and a brand new sidekick named Ermias Legesse are being mentored by Ato Bereket. Lord have mercy! According to duo as reported by the Daily nation ‘most of the core provisions of the draft anti-terrorism law have been drawn from the anti-terror laws of the UK, Canada, Australia, the US, Uganda and South Africa.’ There you have it. They dig deep into the Constitution of these developed countries and all they could come up with is a lesson to fight ‘terrorism’. My dear Shimelis and Ermias next time could you please pay special attention to the Magna Carta and Bill of Rights in those important documents.

There is more. I told you our mafia have no shame. They have a bill pending in their Parliament regarding retirement benefits for the ruling class. Yes retirement benefit, that is what I said. So they own all land, own all property, own all industry and the national bank and they still want lifetime pay from poor Ethiopia. To sweeten the deal they also included the so-called parliament members and ministers too. See what I mean, they are relentless. The word enough is not in TPLF’s vocabulary. The word shame is alien to them. By the way this retirement document is also based on US laws for former head of state. No need to comment on this farce.

So what is with the table through out this article? These are the names of a few of our fellow Ethiopians massacred by Ato Meles’s army on June 8, 2005 in Addis Abeba. Our dear friend Serkalem Facil and opposition leaders, fellow journalists, civic organization leaders and ordinary Ethiopians were jailed by the regime in the aftermath of this government sanctioned killing of its own citizens. Thanks to Judge Wolde Michael Meshesha we have the report of the inquiry commission intact to remind us of the ultimate sacrifice paid by some so the rest of us can continue the struggle for freedom. Ato Meles has been vainly trying to shift responsibility for the massacre on to others. Our leader Judge Bertukan Mideksa is in jail (one hundred sixty two days, nineteen hours, fifty two minutes, as of this writing) because Ato Meles still thinks he can find a scapegoat for his crimes. Ato Meles declared ‘state of emergency’, Ato Meles took control of the military, and Ato Meles gave the order to use bullets on fellow citizens so he can stay in power illegally. No amount of backtracking will change that.

The only thing that can change this state of affairs is the resolve of all Ethiopians to honor the sacrifice paid by our fellow citizens. They have done what they have to do. It is now our turn to do what is right and honorable. It is the responsibility of each one of us to do what is within our power to oppose tyranny, ethnic politics and to say no to TPLF bullies. Freedom is earned. Freedom cannot be outsourced. The U.S, President Obama, the European Union or any other party is not going to bring freedom and democracy to our land. Foreigners can only complement our struggle. It is up to us to show the world that a few cannot defeat the many. It is up to us to stop this dysfunctional behavior of tearing each other down and build on the positive aspect of our glorious history. It is up to us to support those who are working hard to stand up to the ethnic mafias so we can all live free in our own homeland. There are a lot of Ethiopians doing just that. The question is what have you done to contribute positively to enhance the struggle and bring those that killed our people to face up for their crimes?

What can you do? A lot my friend. You have the choice to contribute labor and money to the organization that best fit your philosophy. You can publicize the plight of your people in the many different forums, peaceful marches, candle light vigils held all over the world. You can get involved in letter writing campaigns to your representatives and international organization working on Human Right issues. You can starve the ethnic based regime of foreign currency by boycotting a trip back home. You can refuse to invest in Ethiopia until the mafia clique is removed from power and authority. You can urge the IMF and World Bank not to grant loan to the illegal regime. There are ways.

We congratulate our dear sister Serkalem for a well-deserved recognition by her peers. She makes all of us proud to be an Ethiopian. We remember the victims of June 8, 2005. We will continue the struggle they gave their lives for. Quitting is never an option.

(The writer can be reached at

Sebhat Nega blabbers – Interview with VOA

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

The founding member of the ruling Tigrean People Liberation Front (Woyanne), Ato Sebhat Nega (also known as Sibela Nega), is interviewed by VOA’s Amharic Program on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. Sebhat is no longer a member of the TPLF politburo, and he has recently been removed from his chairmanship of the Endowment Fund for the Relief of Tigray (EFFORT), a multi-billion-dollar criminal organization. Some informed sources say he was pushed out by Meles Zenawi’s ambitious wife Azeb Mesfin, who is now a ranking member of the EFFORT board. But Sebhat is still a member of the TPLF central committee and remains one of its most influential and richest members. His personal wealth is estimated to be over $100 million. Click below to listen to his embarrassing interview with VOA’s Addisu Abebe.


Three generations of prisoners in Ethiopia today

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

By Prof. Negussay Ayele |

Contextual Profile On Re-imprisoned Mrs. Birtukan Mideksa of Ethiopia

Ethiopians who are in their 70’s plus today have survived through four political tsunamis the country has undergone in the last six decades. These include the bestial but short-lived Mussolini/Fascist invasion of the country (1936-41); the resumption of semi-feudal imperial rule by Emperor Haile Sellassie (1941-1974); the popular mass revolution subsequently taken over by the military (Derg) (1974-1991). The fourth regime is the current tandem occupation of the country and the severing of Eritrea from Ethiopia by Isayass/ EPLF and the crony, the Tigrayan TPLF under Meles (1991- present). Among other things, the most tragic and defining characteristic in the transitions and tenures of the regimes–with the qualified exception of periods of the HaileSelassie era — is the cyclical rampancy of violence, oppression, death and destruction visited upon the ever enduring Ethiopian people. There were also famines, environmental degradation as well as internal and interstate conflicts that further exacerbated the suffering of the people.

What emerges as an explanatory paradigm for analysis of political phenomena in Ethiopia in general revolves around what I call “the culture of violence and the violence of culture” that has permeated and defined Ethiopia’s political history, not just for the past seven decades but for centuries? The current tribalist regime has already used its monopoly of deadly force and absolute political hegemony to sever Eritrea and wantonly land lock Ethiopia. It continues to use brute force to massacre Ethiopians and obliterate Ethiopia per se. It is in the context of its words and, more importantly, its deeds that one can at least attempt to reckon with current events such as the regime’s capricious incarceration (again) of Mrs. Birtukan Mideksa, Chairperson of the Unity for Democracy and Justice Party of Ethiopia.

For virtually all of its history, political leadership or right to rule in Ethiopia has not been a matter of peoples choice or but of divine ordination. Hence, one of the several titles of Emperor Haile Sellassie was “Elect of God.” Such a political culture does not engender or encourage political participation by citizens be they males or even less so females—unless elected by God or by the Gun. Indeed some emperors reached the pinnacle of power by the gun and then coerced the clergy to confirm them as “elect” of God. Still, there were some female empresses as well by virtue of being a king’s daughter. Empress Zewditu Menelik at the turn of the twentieth Century was one such example.

The Modest Beginnings of Mrs. Birtukan Mideksa

Having come of age in a stifling political culture, the young, dynamic and charismatic Mrs. Birtukan Mideksa emerged into the political spotlight in the early period of the 21st Century. She was born in 1974 in Addis Ababa. On the material side of life, hers were low income parents but she said she was raised with so much rich love and care. She had a positive and friendly disposition towards all she encountered. She was superior at school and eventually joined Addis Ababa University. She recalls that she wanted to do public service and her shortlist was law or medicine. She then heard about a lady judge who had reached the level of Justice of the High Court of Ethiopia. That inspired young Birtukan to aspire to serve her people in the realm of law and justice. In 1989, shortly after her graduation, she was appointed judge and served with competence and equanimity—insofar as the system would allow–for the next six years, followed by law practice.

The Janus-faced devious regime of autocrat Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia operates with absolute armed power at home and duplicitous propaganda abroad. It denies what it really is and does in the country while it projects what it is not to the rest of the world. Under such circumstances a general “election” was slated for 2005 and a number of patriotic, democratic and dedicated Ethiopians formed parties and coalitions to peacefully contest in the “election”—even though they had serious doubts about the regime’s trustworthiness. They were, however, encouraged in this endeavor by European and American groups and election observers who promised to be rigorous in monitoring the voting and counting processes and holding the ruling regime and all concerned accountable. It was at this momentous occasion that Birtukan joined the democratic movement and she was selected to be Deputy Chair of the Kinijit (Coalition) Democratic Party of Ethiopia.

The Historic 2005 Elections

Next to the 1994 election in South Africa that transferred formal political power from the tribalist Apartheid regime to Nelson Mandela and his ANC, the May 2005 elections in Ethiopia was also historic on the African continent. Millions of Ethiopians converged in the streets and squares of Addis Ababa as they never had before in support of Kinijit’s bid to win the elections. The ruling TPLF tribal front also called “party” was drowned by millions of people supporting alternative democratic parties (often referred to as the “Opposition”). On election day hundreds of thousands thronged to voting stations throughout the country as never before. The regime could see that the democratic will of the people—when given a chance were not with the regime but with Kinijit and a few other alternative parties. So, immediately the ruthless regime set in motion its “security” thugs to rampage, kill, maim and otherwise disrupt the democratic process to nullify the results. But, at that moment, it could do very little to change the results in Addis Ababa, partly because there was a heavy concentration of international observers and monitors in the city and partly because ballot counting was done and results announced quickly before the regime could mess with it. As a result Kinijit won more than 80% of the seats to “parliament” and earned the leadership of the capital city. In fact, Kinijit had also elected Dr. Berhanu Nega, one of the rising stars of Kinijit to be Mayor of Addis Ababa.

In most of the country, the TPLF proxies were also trounced before all the hackneyed vote tampering actions were set in motion buttressed by the liberal use of the gun. In a BBC interview later the TPLF dictator, Meles Zenawi, had a slip of the tongue when he said “we miscalculated…” He was trying to rationalize the rash of killings and stealing or nullifying the phenomenal election victory by the peaceful and democratic challengers to perpetuate his despotic rule. In point of fact the “miscalculation” on the part of autocrat Prime Minister (pm) Meles and his TPLF cronies was its gamble of thinking it could control the outcome of the election just as they had done before without having their feet set to the fire by so much international exposure. In the event, European and American observers made from strong to mild criticisms of the election process, but did not do anything consequential to restrain the regime from its binge of killing and incarcerating of hundreds of innocent Ethiopians and stealing the election. For what it is worth, Ms. Anna Gomez of the European Union stands out as practically the sole consistent and enduring voice of morality, integrity and courage on the matter–to this day.

From Winners to Prisoners

As if all that was not enough shame for the sinister Meles/TPLF occupation regime [for more on this, see my Occupation of Ethiopia/Eritrea by Meles/Isayass on], it arrested 131 top Ethiopian elected democratic party leaders, elder statesmen, activists, journalists, human rights advocates and academics and dumped them in Kaliti jail like common criminals on 7 November 2005. Predictably, among the jailed leaders was, of course, Judge Mrs. Birtukan Mideksa. The repressive Meles regime was impervious to incessant peaceful protests at home or mild expressions of concern abroad by human rights organizations, individual politicians and the press. These prisoners of conscience languished in prison for over a year before some serious action commenced for their release. A small group of elderly Ethiopians from various backgrounds and calling themselves a coalition of ‘elders’ ( shemagelay) emerged on the scene to mediate between despot Meles and the trapped mass political prisoners. For the most part pm Meles dealt personally with the coordinator of the elders. The prisoners were paraded from time to time to hear bogus charges in the TPLF kangaroo court for publicity purposes. They pleaded not guilty whenever the “court” made perfunctory gestures to let them speak. There is an Ethiopian saying (
   ) “the son is the thief, his father is the judge, and one might add, his mother is the witness.” In this case, pm Meles is the kleptomaniac who stole the election, thereby spawning intensive but peaceful protests resulting in the murder and the maiming of hundreds of Ethiopian citizens and the incarceration of the 131 prisoners of conscience. Meles is also the jailer who personally and absolutely controls his kangaroo courts. Likewise, his own gun crafted “constitution” is his witness. That is the brazen definition of “justice” and “rule of law” of autocrat Meles/TPLF. Thus, he is thief/jailer, prosecutor/judge and the witness all rolled into one.

The leaders and followers of the Ethiopian democratic alternative parties knew all along that their only “crime” was their astounding and embarrassing peaceful victory over the pompous guntotting regime at the ballot box. Finally, after enduring for so long the physical and psychological harm and injustice visited upon them as well as their families, colleagues, and colleagues, the end of the ordeal was nigh. The elders announced a deal between pm Meles and his innocent victims, in the context of a maze of contradictory series of actions by the regime and they left the prison on 21 July 2007. While most of the leaders of the democratic alternative parties were in jail, the capricious regime was busy dismantling their organizations, changing the rules of the game, withdrawing “legal” status, evicting the political parties from their headquarters and using divide et impera tactics to sow the seeds of discord among the leaders and alienate members from the leaderships as well.

Shemaglays, ‘Legal’ Manipulation, and Release of Prisoners

The elders were communicating and liaising for about a year and a half between the prisoners and potentate Meles to attain the political prisoners’ release. The elders—more specifically the coordinator–dealt exclusively with pm Meles. Technically, according to the Meles/TPLF ‘constitution’ matters, commuting or sustaining of sentences lies in the realm of the President or head of state and not with the prime minister. Neither the “courts” nor any other persons or institutions were involved with the elders from beginning to end. It has been pointed out recently (AwdeEthiopia blog # 28) that Meles, whose manipulative skill for evil is legendary, is said to have his “court” issue a retroactive life sentence on the prisoners of conscience after (emphasis added) he pocketed their obligatory signatures acknowledging his “clemency.” The semantics of this tortured process was to come in handy for him to send judge Birtukan to solitary confinement back in Kaliti “for life” on 29 December 2008.

After their release the Ethiopian citizens tried to attain a semblance of normalcy and pick up the pieces of their personal, social and political lives. It was not easy. All kinds of kangaroo court/parliament/bureaucracy “laws” and trip wires were set to frustrate, entrap and impede their paths to resuming their obligations to the Ethiopian people effectively. Parties like Kinijit were proscribed outright. Some followers had defected or abandoned the parties by force of circumstances spawned by the regime’s intimidations. The leaderships soon fractured and internecine political struggles ensued. In time, the decent, charming, serious Mrs. Birtukan Mideksa emerged as the overwhelming favorite to head a new democratic alternative party named Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ). The new parties were making the rounds in the country under difficult and terrorizing circumstances, and they also visited Europe and North America to touch base with Diaspora Ethiopian communities. In the course of one such visit to Sweden, UDJ chairperson Mrs. Birtukan Mideksa, was asked about the condition/s of the prisoners’ release. Sound bites quickly spread in earthly and cyber space pertaining to Mrs. Birtukan’s rendition of the circumstances of her release. The capricious pm Meles charged that she had been released by his “pardon” and if she questions or denies that, she would be arrested and jailed in solitary confinement “for life” unless she recants. There was no provision, written or implied, about breach of what was signed and consequences thereof. [For more on this, see Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam, “If you can’t beat up the big boys in Mogadishu, beat on the woman and the old man in Addis Ababa” in].

The upshot is that the release was not a simple matter of asking forgiveness for alleged crimes or breach of “law.” Except for the bogus charges of the regime, the prisoners were completely innocent in the first place. It was more a case of complying with age old Ethiopian cultural values– especially at the behest of Shemaglays–of letting go of mutual recriminations between the powers that be and the prisoners of conscience without compromising the rights and fundamental interests of the people. The draconian Meles regime dubbed its version of what Mrs. Birtukan said or meant to say as tantamount to breaching the terms of her release. In short order Meles sends his “security” goons to the home of one of the Shemagelays where she and Professor Mesfin Woldemariam, the veteran teacher, human rights advocate and fellow prisoner in Kaliti were at the time. The “police” could have given her a simple summons to appear in “court”. After all, by the regime’s own “standards”, Mrs. Birtukan is an attorney at law in good standing and a former judge. Instead they subjected her to a rough “illegal” arrest as if she had just committed or was about to commit a heinous crime. When the senior citizen and venerable Professor Mesfin tried to gently say that all the roughshod treatment was unnecessary, he was physically assaulted and tongue lashed. Mrs. Birtukan was hauled to prison on 29 December 2008 where she remains in solitary confinement—“for life.”

Mrs. Birtukan later issued what she called “my testimony” [The quotes from her in this section are from the English version that is posted in] in which she made a competent crisp legal analysis of the “clemency” fracas. She began by saying “Although there is nothing that I will say different from what I know and believe in, I have decided to write this to clarify the issue since what happened has raised questions among the public. And, she added somewhat ominously: “Perhaps this can be my last word.” She then goes on to elaborate on the fact that the elders explained that “if we sign the document, which was crafted on the basis of our country’s tradition of forgiveness, the case would be stopped and the court file would be closed. She notes that the elders cited pm Meles’s exact words: “If this document is signed, using my executive power I will make sure that the charges be dropped.” The Meles-manipulated “mediation” process that produced the “document” the prisoners signed on 18 June 2006, was a complicated Byzantine political, legal and personal (Meles) maze. Those Kaliti fellow prison graduates who came out and spoke on the subject have corroborated the veracity of what she said. Mrs Birtukan concludes her brief with the following on the arbitrary and boorish manner of her arrest by the police and the real motive, for her reimprisonment:

“The only person that can remove the pardon is the President, and not the Executive (i.e. Meles) that you consider the government. Twenty days after the request for removal of pardon has been received by the person, if the pardon board agrees with the decision, the request will be presented to the President, and it is only after that the President might revoke the pardon. I wanted to explain to the Commissioner (of Police) these proper procedures that are necessary to remove a pardon. But I did not (get to) do that. After confirming that he has finished his speech, I left the room without saying a word. In my opinion, the reason why all these illegal intimidations and warnings have been aimed at me, have nothing to do with playing with words or inaccurate statements or rules broken. The message is clear and this message is not only for me but also for all who are active in the peaceful struggle. A peaceful and law-abiding political struggle can be conducted only within the limits the ruling party and individuals set and not according to what the constitution allows. And for me it is extremely difficult to accept this.”

What Mrs. Birtukan points to at the end of her statement is the open secret that the Meles regime has another general “election” coming up in 2010. The popular, competent and charismatic Mrs Birtukan and her UDJ party constitute once again a palpable threat to oust pm Meles in a free and fair election. Therefore, it is deemed necessary to remove her from the political scene to insure the perpetuation of Meles/TPLF repressive rule in Ethiopia. AwdeEthiopia summarizes what Mrs. Birtukan’s incarceration means in the wider scheme of things.

Imprisoning Birtukan is not just a matter of taking one individual or one party out of circulation. Holding Birtukan captive is snuffing out the dreams and hopes of our sisters and daughters. Jailing Birtukan is arresting the patriotism and aspirations for leadership of young Ethiopians. Incarcerating Birtukan is derailing the path to civil and peaceful political succession in place of the hackneyed cyclical violence and rule by the gun. Caging Birtukan is dousing our chance of leadership by a capable young lady.

Part II A poignant interview with Birtukan’s mother and her 4-year old daughter follows

An interview with Mrs. Birtukan’s mother and daughter
(translated from the Ethiopic)*

Political Prisoner Mrs. Birtukan Mideksa of Ethiopia
Chairperson of Unity for Democracy & Justice Party

Interview by Addis Admas Ethiopic newspaper with Mrs. Almaz Gebre Egziabher, the mother of Mrs. Birtukan Mideqsa, Ethiopian Democratic Party leader, whose current address is (again) Kaliti prison near Addis Ababa, and her daughter Haale (alpha) Mideksa. The interview was subsequently posted on

Question (Q) Is Mrs. Birtukan Mideksa your only child?

Answer (A) I have a son from my first husband. After settling in Addis Ababa later on, I was married to Ethiopian Imperial Bodyguard veteran, Corporal Mideksa Demie, and gave birth to my only daughter Mimi—Birtukan’s [affectionate name] in 1974.

Even though our family’s standard of living was low, we raised her with special care and doting as our only daughter. Upon reaching school age, she attended Miazia 23 School in Addis Ababa.

What amazed us about Birtukan was that she would come home from school and just drop her books and notes and not even spend time studying. And we also learned that she had the habit of always raising her hand in class a drilling her teachers with questions. Still, she earned very good grades at every level and completed her eighth grade with a perfect 100 point scholastic score. I was, of course, elated at her brilliant achievement. She entered the well known Empress Menen high school and finished with very good grades. She was admitted at Addis Ababa University where she majored in law. Her streak of academic excellence continued unabated, and we proudly celebrated her University graduation by hosting a big open door public reception.

Q. How did she get along in the neighborhood as a child?

A. What I say about Mimi (affectionate name for Birtukan) is not just because she is my daughter. Everyone in our neighborhood can readily attest to her impeccable personality as a young person. She never had any fights or altercations with anyone. She was always respectful to everyone. She was blameless then and she is blameless now.

Q. How was your mother-daughter relationship during her student days in College?

A. She attended Addis Ababa University not very far from where we live, and she used to come to see us every week. Sadly, two years later her father passed away. I can say to you that he has been spared not to witness the torment that she has been undergoing at this moment in her life. Upon her graduation she came home and lived with me. She then began practicing law and became a judge in 1989. Shortly thereafter, she gave birth to a beautiful daughter, Haale. As we say in Ethiopia, my daughter Birtukan availed for me—the opportunity “to see my own eyes through my eye.” Our house was too old and collapsing and Birtukan had it rebuilt. She then became the center and sole provider of our three generations of life. Before she had a chance to relax and savor her family, however, she got involved in peoples’ causes for which she has been incarcerated.

Q. How young was Haale when Mrs. Birtukan was jailed?

A. When Birtukan was imprisoned three years ago my granddaughter Haale was only six months young. Even though I am advanced in age, I have been taking care of my grandchild most of the time. I used to take infant Haale also to see her jailed mother.

Q. How did you manage to carry provisions and travel to Kaliti jail [a distance of about 25 kilometers from Addis Ababa] to see Mrs. Birtukan during her incarceration in 2005-2007?

A. I was relatively stronger physically at that time. Sometimes I got a lift by some family and friends. Otherwise, I would take public transportation. However, I have gotten older and physically weaker this time around. Besides, I am burning inside with so much rage every day at her brutal treatment.

Q. In what condition do you find her now?

A. Despite her solitary confinement her health seems to be holding up. I must gratefully say that God is with her. Still, the fact remains that no one, even at a young age, can be comfortable in jail. Because of her steely spirit, however, she smiles and chats to relax us. Nevertheless, as a mother, I know she is hurting inside. I can visualize how, after we leave her, she goes to the solitary jail cell and begin fretting about her vulnerable, helpless, horrible condition. Her young adult life is being wrenched from her and her future rendered bleak. When I wake up from my nightmares about her I go through my own pangs of angst and pain. As for me, the inevitable death is near at hand. But, I thought that “government”–which is run by people who have families also—is supposed to be capable of mercy. I am at a loss as to what I could do or where I could go to save her. Rulers forgive countless criminals all the time–let alone Birtukan who is completely innocent. I appeal to her jailers to release my Birtukan and I give my word to restrain her from getting into trouble.

Q. You can communicate your message through this medium.

A. At first, I did not understand how it was that the jailers would relegate her to solitary confinement and then say that she could not see anyone else except her mother and daughter. Then we were told that the ruling was modified to allow other family members to visit her, but when we tried to do that the prison guards at Kaliti prison confounded us by saying that the order had not reached them. Under such frustrating circumstances, all I can say is that I will go on suffering because I am predestined to suffer.

Q. Did the court of the jailers not allow two people to help you carry provisions for Mrs. Birtukan?

A. What actually happened was as follows: As you can observe, I am a frail old lady. For some time now since my daughter has been jailed, I have had to carry provisions and on occasions my granddaughter Haale by myself. But thanks be to God there were people who helped me some times. I had to carry everything not only to the Kaliti prison but to the place of her solitary confinement which is much farther from the gate. At first, the word was that nobody else was allowed to visit her until a “court” order could allow it. Some of the jail guards sometimes helped me with the load inside the prison grounds. And I was getting very exhausted and frustrated. So, I implored the jail guards to give me some slack and allow a couple of people to help me in accord to my appeal to the jailers court. They said that the order had not yet arrived but asked me to give them two names and temporarily they will try to let such people to help—provided they are cleared through background checks. I had also requested that since the same two people may not always be able to help to get two passes for other volunteers. But, the request was denied. Why should I be in such a quandary as if I am not a social being. After all, other prisoners are visited by their family and friends without restrictions. I thought that “courts” have higher authority. If that is so, why isn’t their ruling not honored in our case? Everyone is thoroughly searched before entering the jail anyway and no one can take anything out of
the jail. So, I do not understand why everything is in a knot for us.

Q. Is your granddaughter Haale difficult to handle when you take her to see her jailed mother?

A. Perhaps God has graciously limited my woes on some fronts; my granddaughter Haale does not bother me at all. She has been used to being with me and in an uncanny way, her demeanor and precocious behavior reminds me so much of Birtukan at her age. We get reports from her preschool that Haale is extremely bright—and I say to myself, ‘like mother like daughter’. Frequently, the school paints star images on Haale’s hand saying that she has been chosen the star of the month. And when she sees her mother in jail they hug, chat and kiss and enjoy each other as long as allowed and, as Haale leaves she says to her mother, ”You are coming home at night, right?” Nowadays, whenever something is being prepared at home, young Haale says “This is for Burte, (my Birtukan) yes?”

Q. What are your expectations from here on?

A. There is not much I know about the situation and nothing positive I can see on the horizon. But there is something I believe in strongly. Human beings are flawed and everyone makes mistakes in life. Even if Birtukan was in error, why can she not be forgiven for God’s sake and for the sake of humanity and of their own children? I am sure those who have children understand what being a mother is. Birtukan is an educated, capable and innocent young citizen. Why is it that this young lady who could make much contribution to her fellow Ethiopians, is thrown into jail and placed in solitary confinement “for life” like a murderer or other high profile criminal? And, lest I forget, she is also my only solace and pension at this point in my dwindling life. Even God would approve their act if jailers deem that she has had enough punishment and let go of her. I pray that God softens their hearts.


[Interviewer comment]
Birtukan’s daughter, Haale is an adorable, precocious girl. Having watched the recording with her
grandmother, the young Haale asked us to record her also. So, we happily obliged and conducted the
palaver with her.

Q. What is your name, your age and where do you go to school?

A. My name is Haale Mideqsa; I am four years young; I go to One Planet School.

Q. Who is Birtukan Mideqsa to you?

A. She is my mother and I love her. When I go to see her I hug her and kiss her. She loves me too. I ask her if she is alright. She quickly prepares to nourish me.

Q. Who do you go with to visit your mother?

A. I go with Emama (referring to her grandmother) as well as my mother’s cousin Emusha and Gashe Dereje who drives us to Kaliti.

Q. So, you went inside where she is imprisoned to see her?

A. Yes, I had to see her by any means. Here her grandmother intervenes to say that a couple of times Haale went back to her mother’s room because she had to relieve herself, and at another time she had cried because she had not said goodbye to her mother, and the guards smiled and let her in again briefly.

Q. What sort of conversation do you have with your mother?

A. One day I said to my mother “Happy Birthday” [DOB: 27 April 1974]. But when I ask her how many days are left before she is released, she does not give me an answer. She does not say she will be released or not released. I long for her so much!

*Unsolicited, unofficial, personal translation from the Ethiopic original, NA.

Part III Concluding Remarks

Referring to the 2005-2007 incarceration of the 131 Ethiopian political leaders and activists, himself included, Dr. Berhanu Nega made an astute remark when he said that in Ethiopia “all of us are prisoners, be it within narrower (local) or wider (national) prison walls of the country.” Mrs. Birtukan Mideksa is the only woman in Ethiopian history to have been victimized and imprisoned in solitary confinement “for life.” In point of fact, she may be the only woman anywhere in recent memory to be victimized in this fiendish and unscrupulous manner based on spurious, self-serving, illicit charges by a tyrant. It is not only Birtukan who is imprisoned but also her daughter Haale and her mother, Weizero (Mrs) Almaz–all three generations. Birtukan is a single mother who is the only breadwinner in her family. What crime did she commit to be thrown into solitary confinement to vegetate “for life” at the prime age of 35? How does the punishment fit the “crime?” Even for Ethiopia–a country that is hoary with age, this is not the 7th or the 12th Century; it is the 21st Century. How is it possible that Mrs Birtukan’s human and civil rights can be so grossly abused without incessant and effective indignation and outrage being brought to bear on the sadists in Addis Ababa who get away with such brutality in this day and age? This is cruel and unusual punishment. It is a clear violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

By dint of historical coincidence news about two other female figures on the international political scene has commanded much attention recently. One is the case of the indefatigable Nobel Peace Prize winner and veteran pro-democracy leading lady, Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar (Burma). She had won the 1990 election but was forbidden to assume power and jailed instead since then, including house arrest for the past three years. The military junta under General Than Shwe has now charged her with breach of her house arrest conditions and is awaiting “court” proceedings. As in the case of Birtukan Mideksa of Ethiopia, an election is scheduled hence in Myanmar also and the regime wants her out of any political action. The other recent news is about an Iranian/Japanese American lady, Roxana Saberi, who was thrown in jail in Iran charged with spying. After 100 days of non-stop media coverage of her case and international pressure, she has just been released and is back home in the United States safe and sound. In both of these cases, the White House and the State Department have made timely, explicit and, one must say an effective benign intervention on behalf of the causes of both detained ladies.

One wonders why such principled benign intervention has not been forthcoming with regard to Mrs. Birtukan Mideksa of Ethiopia, Africa. Ethiopians/Africans/Ethiopian Americans and all peoples of goodwill everywhere who value justice, democracy and human rights have yet to hear from not only the White House and the State Department but many others as well on behalf of Mrs. Birtukan Mideksa of Ethiopia. She has already been vegetating in solitary confinement for over five months or 150 days and 150 nights over semantics. She ought not be in jail for a day, an hour or even a minute.

Mrs Birtukan did not kill or hurt anyone
She did not conspire to overthrow the regime
She did not steal or engage in corruption
She did not betray her country or her people
She did not desecrate the Ethiopian flag
She did not commit crimes against humanity
She did not sever or land lock the country
She did not serve or spy for un-Ethiopian interests
She did not insult or defame anyone
She did not use or sell drugs

A horrific crime is being committed in Ethiopia today. In this day and age, how can innocent Mrs. Birtukan Mideksa of Ethiopia be sent to (a) solitary confinement (b) in prison (c) for life because of some semantics in interpretation of a flawed document signed under duress? How long must Birtukan, her daughter and her mother continue suffering before appropriate and effective benign intervention happens? Mrs. Birtukan’s, young, promising, and productive public service life is halted. Her ability to nurture her daughter and care for her aged mother has been interrupted. Her daughter Haale has been deprived of her mother’s love and parenting. At her advanced age, her mother, W/o Almaz has been left to fend for herself and her granddaughter in the horrible circumstances prevailing in Addis Ababa and in Ethiopia at large today. Also, the country is deprived of a rare inspiring and empowering young female leader. Thus, it is not only the three generations of the Birtukan family that are imprisoned; but Ethiopia as a whole is also held as a hostage by the fiendish Meles/TPLF regime. By any measure, this is a crime against humanity. And, where is the outrage by humanity?

Reaction to President Isaias Afwerki's interview

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

By Amanuel Biedemariam

In the past I have expressed my view about the process Ethiopians will go through to accept Eritrea’s independence and called it “Stages of Grief”. I opined Ethiopians will go through the stages of grief as explained by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her book, Death and Dying: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. After the events of the last 18 years, it is easy to see the process may have played-out and culminated. Initially, Ethiopians rejected and denied Eritrean independence saying; they will be back to rejoin their “mother-land” Ethiopia when they come to their senses. During the wars in 1998-2000, the repressed anger exposed itself in the streets of Addis, in the media and particularly on the Internet. That was followed by consistent call to bargain for Eritrea, and if not, to fulfill the dream of acquiring the port of Assab. However, the process was expedited post 2005 elections because Ethiopians uncovered the true nature of Weyane thugs for the killers, criminals and liars that they are. That created a sense of helplessness and depression amongst Ethiopians. Consequently, Ethiopians begun to reexamine their position and views on Eritrea and many visited Eritrea as a result. The interview Ethiopian Review conducted with President Isaias Afewerki affirms a new stage of relations between the good people of Eritrea and Ethiopia has been reached; a stage of acceptance and a willingness to learn from the past and move on.

The fact that Ethiopian Review went to Eritrea and interviewed President Isaias is a major step and an example of willingness to engage. Moreover, the overwhelming positive reaction the interview received signals the beginning of a new era; direction and a new way of looking at that relationship.

For years and particularly over the last decade, suspicions and rift between Eritreans and Ethiopians widened in large part as a result of deliberate instigations by Weyane and the wars that took thousands of lives in both sides. Weyane used fear and wedge issues to divide because that is the only environment it can thrive in. The threat Weyane poses is real and deliberate. It is an imposed threat that created tremendous loss of life, wealth, displacement, fear and instability. However, as time went on the tactics revealed them-selves and exposed the real nature of the Weyane thugs. As a result, Ethiopians begun to open up to Eritrea realizing Weyane is the true cancer, and its removal will be a major step towards creating a peaceful and stable neighborhood based on mutual understanding and respect.

However, years of mistrust have given-way to misconceptions and misguided feelings in both countries. Ethiopians believed Eritreans want a frail and fragmented Ethiopia that is less of a threat. And based on that assumption, many Ethiopians concluded that Eritrea’s cooperation and support of Ethiopian groups fighting Weyane is to use them as tools to that end. Conversely, the Assab obsession and insistence by some Ethiopians that Eritrea belongs to Ethiopia served as a reminder to the existential threat Eritrea faced constantly. To sum it, the threat is real, existential and created a cycle of intractable division based on suspicion and history.

President Isaias busted myth after myth by exposing the wrong understanding people in both sides have regarding Eritrean views in relation to Ethiopia. The interview provided a vivid insight into the thinking process of the Eritrean government, a point of view, a foundation for a constructive dialogue and opened doors for a genuine trust amongst the people of both countries. The interviewers asked questions from a list of two hundred questions compiled over three months from Ethiopians every where. It was the most frank exchange between a leader and journalists I personally have ever witnessed.

The interview covered the gamut. It touched on all the sensitive issue including some that have nothing to do with the Eritrean Ethiopian issues like election and democracy in Eritrea. It addressed Assab, border demarcation, dialogue, Somalia, Djibouti and other related issues. It is hard to think of a subject matter that was not covered. He was even asked about future federation possibilities for Eritrea and Ethiopia. However, President Isaias candidly, honestly and meticulous addressed the issues to educate and inform Ethiopians and Eritreans by giving detailed analysis and the genesis of the issues. He did it in a way that made sense, by allaying concerns logically, by providing historic evidence and facts. One can argue about the merits and even disagree with the President on issues, but no one can deny the genuine exchange and its impact!

The point of this paper is not to restate the four hour interview. It is an attempt to look on what it achieved and opportunity to asses what was stated, and use it to further the cause for PEACE in the region. In addition, it is an attempt to build-on the fast paced momentum that is building-up engulfing the Ethiopian political seen in particular and its implication to Eritrea as well as the region. What did it achieve?

Established credibility

For the past 18 years, President Isaias was probably one of the most hated figures around Ethiopian circles. He was not trusted, his motives were always questioned and he was blamed for many problems in Ethiopia. In fact, Elias Kifle asked the president if he holds secret consultations with Meles Zenawi.

That changed overnight! Because for the first time, President Isaias was able to speak to Ethiopians unfiltered, directly and genuinely. He addressed their concerns, questions, fears, suspicions and wishes in the most respectful way he can frankly, clearly, and to their satisfaction.

Clarified Eritrean positions

For 18 years, Eritreans and Ethiopians were unable to communicate openly and effectively because they lacked a foundation and mutual understanding. That in large part is due to the fact there was juxtaposition. Ethiopians believed Eritrea is in a much weaker position and to keep the conflict going will better their chances of acquiring Assab. However, in the backdrop, the political seen in Ethiopia deteriorated from bad to worse leading to giving up on Weyane altogether. That forced Ethiopians to look at every avenue to fight Weyane. Eritrea is a viable option and opportunity. However, for a long time Eritrea was perceived to be enemy number one and to go to Eritrea was considered unpatriotic and those who went were chastised as traitors and the Weyane clique sold it very well to their advantage.

The president clarified that the Weyane clique is in Menelik Palace because of Eritrea. However, ones in power, instead of working for greater good, they interrupted the dream of a peaceful, powerful and stable region for their own gains, and at the expense of the people in the region. The Somalis, Eritreans and Ethiopians were directly impacted. “The last 18 years have been a dream interrupted”. The president assured Ethiopians, if Eritrea wanted to divide Ethiopia all Eritrea needed to do was support article-39 which gives every ethnic region in Ethiopia the right to secede, thus fulfilling Weyane’s agenda!

President Isaias stated Eritrea’s principled stand guided Eritrea to fight for the long term interest of all, avoiding any temptations to betray Ethiopians for a short term gain even at the risk of potentially hurting Eritrea! In reverse, Weyane placed Eritreans, the people of Tigray, Somalis, Somaliland, Puntland, Oromo, Ogaden, and all Ethnic groups in the region for sale and in serious jeopardy. The President noted, Weyane put the people of Tigray, in particular, at a greater risk of isolation and harm because Weyane committed hateful crimes claiming to represent the people of Tigray.

The President elaborated Eritrea is not threatened by a strong and united Ethiopia because instability in the region will impact Eritrea negatively. Therefore, Eritrea will give Ethiopians all the means at her disposal to strengthen the position of Ethiopians. The President assured Ethiopians, this is not a stand taken for political expediency, rather it is a principled long standing policy because Eritrea can not live in a vacuum.

Empowered Ethiopians

For the last 18 years, and particularly over the last eight, Ethiopian mainstream agenda was dictated by Weyane. They controlled and manipulated the issues to suit their needs and U.S. interests with the help of some staunch supporters like Dr. Jandayi Frazer. They essentially controlled Washington with a strong PR and lobbying force led by former Congressman Dick Army and the War-of-Terror as a cover. All Diaspora Ethiopians could do was react to Weyane’s actions. The duplicitous Weyane clique paraded Democracy, DIALOGUE, War-of Terror and peace-keeping in an effort to gain a political upper-hand.

The interview Ethiopian Review conducted changed all that. For the first time, Ethiopians are dictating their own agenda bypassing the clique and addressing each other directly. That means Ethiopians are in charge of their own destiny for the first time. President Isaias accommodated and spoke directly to Ethiopians every where. When asked about Diaspora Ethiopians talking to Eritreans; it was a resounding yes. He stated, even if you don’t agree you have to sit down and hash it out. Ethiopians have an open arm and mind to talk amongst themselves openly and honestly in Eritrea as well as with Eritreans everywhere. The President expressed Eritrea’s desire and readiness to work with Ethiopians regarding security, economy, ports and all matters of bilateral concerns after he dismissed Weyane by telling Ethiopians, there will be no dialogue with Weyane.

Obviously it worked because the clique is out saying anything in an effort to change the subject and retake the agenda. Seyoum Mesfun is mumbling about returning Eritrean properties he stole from Eritreans to change the subject. However, while Seyoum tries to appease Eritreans, in contradiction and in what is probably the most vivid example of desperation, the morally bankrupt Aboy Sebhat Nega said, “It is not Isayas Afeworki that is “sick” but the Eritrean people who have been hypnotized to believe whatever Isayas told them who they were and are!”

This is a THUG they call Aboy (father) spewing venom. He is one amongst the many thugs in charge with absolutely nothing good to do but sell hate. The people of Tigray deserve better. They don’t need to call Aboy (father) to a morally bankrupt criminal who is using their name to stay in power at any cost. This is a good example why Ethiopians and Eritreans are ready to start fresh with the spirit to cooperate and good will for the sake of peace and prosperity while making a clean break from these thugs!

Freed Ethiopians

In May of 2000, the devious Weyane found opportune time to hold elections while the world focused on the war, and sailed through it. Emboldened, they continued the trend to the 2005 elections. However, they were rejected by all Ethiopians! And surprised, the clique became belligerent and put all opposing leaders in jail exposing their criminal nature. Ethiopians were at a loss because the world and particularly the Bush administration made a mockery of justice and Ethiopian politics. Ethiopians were let down by the West and particularly the US. Ethiopians didn’t have any where or any one to turn to but to their brothers in Eritrea. However, misconceptions and misinformation held them back.

The interview gave all involved a relief by clearing the misconceptions and misinformation. President Isaias explained the best interest of the people in the region is served by peace and unity, while conflict and division served the interest of Weyane. This is what should give all interested parties the freedom to partner with Eritrea in order to achieve bigger and better things for the suffering people in the region. Most importantly, by opening a dialogue at the highest level, President Isaias gave a viable opportunity for the people of Eritrea and Ethiopia to begin the healing process by urging all not to be held hostage to history.

And combing through the reactions in the comments section of the interview in, I stumbled over a commentary that can serve as example to that effect:

I am an Amhara. I lost my beloved brother in Dekemehari, Eritrea, during the Derg regime. I used to picture Isayas Afeworki as a cruel man and an inventor of Woyane and always behind Woyane to destroy Ethiopia. But this interview washed away everything. I am sorry about the innocent Ethiopians who are kept hostage by the woyanes. Who doesn’t want to learn from this genius person? He is the living witness for all the past and present mess of the Ethiopian/Eritrean politics. He knows Ethiopia better than the narrow-minded woyanes. After I listened to the interview, I have found another point to hate Derg. They should have created peace agreement with Isayas/Eritrea and this parasite Woyanes should have been left out. Today, we would have enjoyed United Democratic Ethiopia, which would be a proud home of Tigres, Amharas, Oromos, Gurages, Benshanguls, Somalis…

The Core

The question one must ask is why did President Isaias reach out? The President did that to present Ethiopians with accurate and genuine picture, to open a dialogue in order to help put the past in the right perspective, and to help establish a foundation for future relations that are based on respect, trust, mutual interests and to expedite the ouster of the Weyane thugs from Menelik Palace!

Why now? Eritreans have gone through many thorny hurdles placed in front of them and sailed through them united. It was difficult to reach out to Ethiopians for a while because there was a filter, history, wounds and unmet expectations. That was a major obstacle. In addition, there is urgent need for Ethiopians to come together quickly in order to plan their future.


“There is no army without a doctrine!” That statement says it all. There have been many credible reports in some Ethiopian websites on how the minority ethnic group is dominating and mishandling the Ethiopian army. Ethiopia has been and remains at crossroads. This is by far the most crucial moment in the history of Ethiopia because it will certainly determine the future of the country. What President Isaias did is underscore the urgency. He told Ethiopians in many ways, and openly, the fall of the Weyane clique is inevitable and approaching fast. He told them there is no army but a security apparatus that protects the clique. It has become impossible for the clique to promote leaders from other Ethnic groups because that poses a major threat to their survival.

Ethiopians have an opportunity to come together to address their issues in order to chart their future freely without interference from Weyane and Western meddlers. They have the welcoming hands of the people in Eritrea! And there is one inescapable fact that Ethiopians and Eritreans must come to terms with sooner or later; in order to live peaceful and successful coexistence as neighbors, they must find the middle ground based on mutual understanding, respect and the rule of law! What President Isaias did is exercise his leadership and jump-started the process in order to plant a seed for future generations.

In addition, I would like to extend my praise to Elias Kifle and Sileshi Tilahun for initiating the process and following through professionally. Kudos for a great job! They have played a great role by adding on to the momentum to put the Weyane thugs where they belong, in jail and dirt-bin of history!

(The writer can be reached at

Interview with President Isaias Afwerki (Part 1 – 6)

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

The following are Part 1 to 6 of the Ethiopian Review and interview with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki. The translation of the interview to Amharic will be posted as soon as it is ready.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

In Search of Peace: Ethiopia's Ethnic Conflicts and Resolution

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

By Messay Kebede

Whether opposition parties opt for armed struggle or peaceful methods in their attempt to overthrow the existing regime in Ethiopia, they must all come up with a vision and a political solution that can heal decades of ingrained conflicts and reconstitute national unity. Since the ethnic conflict is by far the most divisive and pernicious issue of present day Ethiopia, the endeavor both to defeat the regime and establish a post-TPLF political system presupposes an approach dealing with ethnicity. It is illusory to assume that ethnicity will simply go away if the TPLF is defeated. What follows is an attempt to show how a correct theory of ethnicity and lessons from the past history of Ethiopia can help us frame a political arrangement that favors the establishment of peace and democratic governance in our country.

Theory of Ethnicity

For one school of thought called primordialism, ethnicity is about self-determination; it is a primordial and emotional attachment to fixed social characteristics, such as blood ties, race, language, region, and custom. Such an attachment naturally longs for political sovereignty as a necessary means to protect and develop the treasured characteristics. The best way to resolve ethnic conflicts, so primordialists conclude, is to allow peoples the right to live in the state of their choice, even by seceding from existing states.

Opposed to this line of thinking is the school of instrumentalism, which argues that the solution of redrawing political borders on the basis of self-determination often advances neither democracy nor achieves the peaceful resolution of ethnic conflicts (India-Pakistan, Ethiopia-Eritrea, the former Yugoslavia, etc). It maintains that ethnic conflict is less about attachment to primary identity and more about competition for the control of state power. Ethnicity is how elites vying for state power mobilize people in the name of ethnic identity. Since ethnic conflict is primarily about politics rather than about culture, a political arrangement allowing decentralization and power-sharing can promote a peaceful resolution of conflicts.

Instrumentalism comes up against a major objection, which is that it views ethnicity as a product of elite manipulation. Such an understanding is unable to account for the emotional mood and violent methods that are often characteristic of ethnic conflicts. It is difficult to see why the masses follow with great fervor the discourse of elites unless it awakens their own deep affective longings.

In an attempt to correct instrumentalism, the school known as constructivism underlines that, rather than reviving already existing primary attachments, the ethnic discourse invents new identities. It argues that mistreatments and the need of liberation drive marginalized elites to imagine communities embellished with thrilling characteristics, thereby successfully mobilizing the people with whom they identify. The promise of deliverance activates affective components that impart an emotional dimension to what is but an invented identity.

Sustained reflections on Ethiopia’s ethnic conflicts lead me to believe that the constructivist correction of instrumentalism does not fully answer the question of knowing why the invented discourse of elites moves the masses to the point of violent confrontations. True, the element of imagination is liable to arouse emotional forces, but there is also no denying that the ethnic discourse works with past materials associated with common descent and cultural legacy to which people are naturally attached. What is achieved is thus the creation of ascriptive rights with exclusionary intent, which largely involve sentiments derived from nature rather than merely from human imaginative capacity. I also question the idea that constructivism constitutes a distinct school, all the more so as it loses much of its explanatory force if a great dose of instrumentalism does not support it.

Instead of setting apart, I propose to fuse instrumentalism with constructivism if only because such an attempt seems to recover whatever is valid in primordialism. Indeed, what is the most effective way of promoting interests if not through the mobilization of affective and cultural forces, especially when said interests are challenged or denied? Accordingly, ethnic mobilizations are better understood if cultural construction is itself an instrument whose purpose is to optimize a political claim. Such an approach retains the powerful role of culture without, however, losing sight of the material component of ethnicity. While I admit that the emotional force of ethnicity cannot be explained without appealing to primordial impulses, I argue that the impulses do not provide the inspiration; rather, they are used to maximize definite interests.

This approach insists that ethnicization is more than a mere protest against mistreatment. Indeed, had ethnicity been about the equal recognition of rights, mobilization around individual rights, as prescribed by liberal democracy, would have been the appropriate response. On the other hand, if the fight is over the control of the state, then the strategy is to mobilize group rights so as to use ascriptive characteristics (common descent, language, culture, etc.) to exclude political rivals as aliens. The use of ethnic criteria thus maps out constituencies that function as a reserved power base for vying elites.

Identity politics is all the more mobilizing when ruling elites are made responsible for economic plights of ordinary people. What is common in ethnic discourses is the framing of culprits with the consequence that it unleashes anger. The revival of traditional identities, in addition to portraying elites as saviors of their community, thereby upgrading their authority, frames social relations in terms of culprits and victims. Just as the Marxist concept of class exploitation politicized poverty, so too the ethnic discourse politicizes identities by portraying the possession of some characteristics (language, descent, religious beliefs) as reasons for mistreatment. In so doing, it stirs up anger that it directs against those who hold power.

On top of deriving the emotional component from the construction of imagined communities, my approach thus adds the important factor of the vilification of ruling elites, which often results in the them/us dichotomy with high normative overtones. The use of moral qualifications turns the confrontation between ethnic groups into a struggle between the good and the bad, the virtuous and the vicious. This moral classification is then used to justify the resort to violent means.

To understand the wide impact of ethnic discourse, one must go beyond the negative role of inciting anger by adding its restorative function. Discriminatory treatment as a result of the hegemony of one ethnic group has a deep impact on the self-representation of dominated or marginalized groups, since it activates feelings associated with humiliation. This explains why ethnicity is so violent when compared to class conflict, which is mostly about justice and fair distribution, and not about human pride. Not only does the ethnic construction highlight humiliation, but it also proposes a curative solution in the form of self-determination or self-rule. While the solution supports the political ambition of elite groups, it is also largely accepted as a necessary step toward the removal of humiliation. According to the logic of ethnicization, pride is restored only when governments by non-kindred people, however democratic they may claim to be, are replaced by governments of kindred-people.

The significance of my hypothesis transpires as soon as one asks what specific ideas it contributes to the paramount issue of the peaceful resolution of conflicts. The importance of having the correct approach is that it enables us to find relevant solutions: if we know what causes ethnic conflicts, then we can devise institutional mechanisms that remove the causes and, therefore, ease ethnic tensions.

The primordialist approach has no other option than the secessionist solution, since it reduces ethnic conflicts to cultural incompatibilities. The instrumentalist approach has the merit of deriving ethnic conflicts from elite rivalries for the ownership of the state. In agreement with instrumentalism, my approach suggests that the main solution to ethnic conflicts is to open up the power game by devising institutions that decentralize power, as in the case of federal arrangement with large autonomy. Nevertheless, my analysis of the cultural dimension as a maximizing factor argues that autonomy should go to the extent of allowing the implementation of group rights and self-rule. I thus take into consideration the powerful emotional forces unleashed by the ethnic discourse. Unless these forces are appeased, a mere decentralization will not be enough.

In addition, my view, which can be termed “maximism,” suggests the possibility of displacement (in the Freudian sense of the word). One way of reducing tensions would thus be to shift the emotional forces to trans-ethnic or multiethnic institutions and symbols. My assumption is that multiethnic institutions can supersede ethnic exclusiveness if access to higher levels of national government represents, not the surrender of ethnic identity, but its graduation from local to national statures. Such institutions together with the celebration of diversity will help cultural conversion to multiethnicism as an imagined community.

Ethnicization of Ethiopia

My thesis, namely, ethnicity as a maximizing factor in elites’ struggle for the control of power, finds a perfect confirmation in both the origin of ethnic conflicts in Ethiopia and Ethiopia’s experiment with ethnic federalism. A strong argument for this would be the fact that the Ethiopian system, besides being imposed, is deliberately established to encourage ethnicization. Whereas other countries, such as Nigeria, India, etc., used federalism as a devise to dilute ethnicity so as to safeguard national unity, all the practices and constitutional provisions in Ethiopia tend to strengthen ethnic identity to the detriment of national integration.

The explanation springs to mind: both to mobilize the Tigrean people so as to overthrow the dominance of the Amhara elite and to establish a federal system that favors it, the TPLF had to fracture Ethiopia along ethnic lines, thereby speaking of the country as an ensemble of nations and nationalities. So fractured, the political struggle becomes focused on self-rule and the control of regional states, leaving the federal government to the TPLF. Such a system develops local elite groups that have common interests with the ruling power without, however, making them competitors.

Scholars who study the Ethiopian case marvel about the radical nature of ethnic federalism, but they also observe shortcomings. They thus underline a disparity between theory and practice, especially when it comes to the autonomy of ethnic regions. This disparity proves that the wrong understanding of ethnicity actually inspires those who speak of shortcomings. A consistent and comprehensive view of the discrepancy is achieved only when it is admitted that ethnicity is less about democracy than it is about the control of state by elite groups.

The primordialist position is completely unable to explain the disparity between practice and theory. If primordial sentiments exclusively motivate ethnicity, then the victory of the TPLF should have led to the secession of Tigray or the implementation of a real system of decentralization and self-rule. What is more, the TPLF wholeheartedly supported the Eritrean independence on the basis of primordialist criteria, but refuses to recognize the claim of secessionist movements in the regions of Oromia and Somalia. These apparent contradictions vanish if it is shown that calculations of interests condition the TPLF’s decisions.

The involvement of interests becomes manifest when we remark that, though the Ethiopian system encourages ethnicization, it remains very centralized. The centralization is realized through a party system, the EPRDF (Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front), which is a coalition of ethnic parties in which the TPLF is the dominant partner. Thanks to the democratic centralism governing the coalition, the TPLF thus controls the whole federal system and intervenes extensively in the administration of regional and sub-regional governments. What comes to mind is the Soviet model of federalism based on the tight control of the communist party.

What this means is that regional autonomy is not how a region is allowed to decide and control its affairs; rather, the system creates client parties that allow the center to maintain its controls through dependent local elites. That is why, as I wrote in a previously published article titled “The Underside of the Eritrean Issue,” it is perfectly sound to state that the TPLF politely but firmly expelled Eritrea from Ethiopia because it understood that the EPLF will never agree to become a dependent partner. The system and the way it works make sense only if we assume that it is purposely designed to maintain the hegemony of an elite group claiming to defend the interests of a minority ethnic group.

The presence of interests in ethnic claims is also attested by the fact that there is no shortage of elite-groups seeking to become clients. To the imposition of ethnicity as a primary criterion of federal arrangement, local elites responded by creating political movements that endorsed the criterion. So that, ethnic identities that used to be weak are restructured as primary for the simple reason that the TPLF-dominated federal government rewards ethnicization.

Be it noted that instrumentalism cannot explain the ethnicization of Tigray without interpreting ethnicity as an imaginative reinvention of identity. Though Tigray has been part of Ethiopia (Abyssinia) for at least 3000 years and Tigreans and Amhara–– the dominant ethnic group during Haile Selassie’s long reign–– share the same culture and political system, the TPLF constructed Tigray as a nation by emphasizing language difference. While this reinvention supports constructivism, a complete view is achieved only if it is inserted into my interpretation of identity politics as a maximizing factor.

The use of ethnic criteria to reinforce a political goal is what explains the deep contradiction of ethnic movements in Ethiopia. Whether we take the Eritrean, Oromo, Tigrean, or other ethnic movements, all trace their emergence back to the imperial regime, which they defined as the imposition of Amhara culture and interests in a tightly centralized political system. The democratic solution would have been decentralization together with the recognition of Ethiopia as a multiethnic country. Ethnic movements did not opt for such a solution; instead, they brandished self-rule and group rights. The definition of ethnic groups as nations and nationalities means that they revert back to the nation-state model that they had previously rejected in the name of multiethnicism. Only the goal of capturing state power by amplifying cultural incompatibilities can explain the reversal.
The factor of maximization becomes fully manifest when we notice the rise of dissident ethnic parties accusing the TPLF of not being consistent. Such movements are often secessionist and they become so by stretching cultural disparity, that is, by adopting an even more primordialist language. Dissident ethnic parties cannot hope to compete successfully against client elites working with the TPLF unless they change identity into a primordial commitment overriding everything. In particular, the works of intellectuals of Oromo origin clearly show how they combine vilification and utopia to create the “Oromo” nation. The vilification inherent in the thesis of Abyssinia’s colonization of Oromia and the myth of democratic Oromia before the colonization both testify to the invention of Oromia as an imagined community.

From Theory to Practice

Since democratic rules guaranteeing the proper application of federalism are not followed in Ethiopia, ethnic federalism, as it is now implemented, only succeeds in radicalizing and multiplying dissident ethnic groups. As a result, there is a growing danger of disintegration that will lead to violent confrontations, not only inside Ethiopia, but also in the entire Horn of Africa, unless a reverse process toward reintegration is put in place. In other words, what puts the country in danger is less ethnicity than the lack of democratic governance, itself originating from an eccentric group’s shortsighted and vain goal of preserving indefinitely the control of power.

The theory of maximization and its attendant, namely, the possibility of displacement, suggest a way out through the creation of national symbols and institutions encouraging ethnic cooperation. In other words, the crystallization of ethnic identity could be diluted if national offices are made dependent on moderation. The lure of higher political rewards through moderation could thus produce a displacement mitigating the exclusionary practice of identity politics.

This means, of course, that the main solution to ethnic conflicts is the democratization of the state through decentralization and large local autonomy. However, I emphasize that the autonomy must go to the extent of allowing the implementation of group rights and self-rule, the only way by which the affective element can be dealt with. Since in denouncing alien rule, the ethnic discourse has awakened the feeling of humiliation, only the provision of a local or regional administration controlled by culturally kindred elites can satisfy both the masses and the competing elites.

My thesis also predicts that, as soon as grudge is removed through the granting of self-rule, ethnic groups will lose their original compactness and give way to diversity and the appearance of sub-group elites vying for the control of local power. In due course, this will reintroduce issues of individual rights that will be useful both to democratize the local community and to rebuild the national unity.

My solution is then to open up the power game in conjunction with the creation of institutional mechanisms that work toward unity. The tendency to unity should grow from the political dispersion, that is, from the implementation of group rights, itself leading to intra-ethnic rivalries. From this diffused power game must rise national ambition forcing elite groups to moderate their views if they want to extend their power and influence beyond their ethnic groups. Moderation as a prerequisite to national leadership can also be used to prevail over local rivals.

Appropriate institutional mechanisms can further fortify the appeal of moderation. So that, the peaceful and lasting solution to ethnic conflicts seems to be the device of a political system in which centripetal forces (national institutions and symbols) counter centrifugal forces (ethnicity). While federalism with large autonomy and self-rule should satisfy ethnicity, political institutions making national positions dependent on moderation should encourage unity. As much as I support the political recognition of ethnicity, unlike primordialism, I think that the reconstruction of unity is also necessary for a lasting peace.

One way of balancing centripetal and centrifugal forces is the creation of a presidential figure with large political and symbolic meanings. If the election of the president depends on majority vote of the people, in addition to encouraging the expression of individual rights in conjunction with group rights, candidates for the presidential office will have to become attractive to voters outside their ethnic groups. This arrangement encourages moderation, but also creates national figures.

History Lessons

My theory of ethnic management finds a validating argument in the proposal that it is but a modernized version of the political system of traditional Ethiopia. Seeing the long duration of the political system, which even resisted repeated colonial assaults, it is sound to contend that the provision of an open power game based on the interplay of centrifugal and centripetal forces was the secret of the long survival of Ethiopia (for detailed explanation of the traditional system, see my book, Survival and Modernization).

Indeed, while the nobility with often ethnic definitions controlled regional power, the imperial throne and the Orthodox Church represented centripetal forces. Another crucial centripetal force was the active role of the national intelligentsia (debtera), which was the product of a common system of education whose pillars were use of the Geez language, the centering of Ethiopia, and the propagation of its divine mission (the Kibre Negast).The system defined the emperor as king of kings: the recognition of regional leaders as kings meant nothing less than the acceptance of large autonomy and self-rule. That Tigray preserved its language and ruling elites for centuries even though the Amhara were numerically superior and often in control of the imperial throne proves how extensive was the autonomy that regions enjoyed.

What is more, regional lords could freely compete for the imperial throne, since the system did not institute any exclusive definition of the heir to the throne, except for the vague and inclusive concept of Solomonic descent. Decentralization and competition for the imperial throne encouraged intra-ethnic competitions resulting in the emergence of rival sub-regions in Amhara and Tigray. These conditions never allowed the crystallization of ethnic identity; instead, they enabled the emperor to emerge as a divine-elected protector of Orthodox Christianity and unifier of a multiethnic community. In other words, political dispersion or regional autonomy was coined as a source of rivalry setting the stage for the intervention of God’s express choice of the emperor. Often based on military prowess, God’s choice became formal the moment the Church anointed the elect.

The working principle required not only the respect of large local autonomy with self-rule, but also that the various regions of Gondar, Gojjam, Wollo, Shoa, and Tigray had comparable powers. Witness: when the central system collapsed during the Era of the Princes, no one was really able to prevail until the rise of Tewodros, who also failed partially. Menelik was able to triumph because the southern expansion of Showa created an imbalance that favored the Shown nobility. The loss of balance changed the political game: the political dispersion necessary to set God’s choice in motion was replaced by entitlement derived from the Shoan hegemony.

The unrivalled power of Show cleared the way for the establishment of Haile Selassie’s autocratic rule and his hereditary monarchy. In the name of modern nation-building, Haile Selassie put an end to the decentered power game through a tight political centralization and Amharization that naturally favored the Amhara nobility. Its outcome was the slow but steady exasperation of ethnic conflicts through the instigation of elites from marginalized ethnic groups.

The traditional system teaches us that wisdom lies in creating regional units that are balanced, but also open to intra-group competitions. The latter together with centripetal institutions and symbols prevent the crystallization of ethnic identity to the benefit of multiethnicism. The shift results from the open power game that defines national positions as graduations of ethnic identities to trans-ethnic representations.

The present policy of the TPLF prevents the emergence of national ambitions and intra-ethnic group competitions by the method of democratic centralism, which protects client parties from competition. Moreover, the principle of balanced power does not command the establishment of federal units. In particular, the two big regions of Amhara and Oromia create a serious imbalance endangering national unity. Wisdom advises the fracturing of these two regions into smaller units as a necessary condition of promoting ethnic cooperation.

What we learn from the traditional system is thus the recapture of the culture tolerating diversity, which culture was sidelined by the uprooting imitation of Europe’s model of the nation-state. The expression “Amhara or Tigrean hegemony” would be incomprehensible to the people of traditional Ethiopia who understood ethnicity in terms of rivalry, and not as a system of hegemonic government. The other important lesson is the need to couple ethnicity with centripetal institutions and visions, whose outcome is the promotion of multiethnicism. A strong presidential figure who would be elected on the basis of majority vote among all ethnic groups would be to the modern system what the emperor was to the traditional polity.

(Dr Messay Kebede can be reached at

Inside the Barley Republic: Ethiopia's land on fire sale

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

By Alemayehu G. Mariam

Our (Home) land on Fire sale

A while back, the capo di tutti capi (the “boss of bosses”) of the dictatorship in Ethiopia rebuked Congressman Donald Payne for pushing H.R. 2003 (“Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act”). He quipped with his signature sarcasm, “Ethiopia, this government and this country, are incapable, unwilling and unable to be run like some kind of banana republic from Capitol Hill or anywhere else.” That is not exactly true today. The evidence shows that “Ethiopia and this government” are “capable, willing and able to be run like some barley republic from Jeddah or any of the other Gulf states.” It has been widely reported that Saudi and other Gulf “investors” have spent over two hundred million U.S. dollars to buy (“lease”) fertile Ethiopian farmland free of local taxes and other requirements to supply themselves with a cornucopia of agricultural commodities which, oddly enough, they could purchase on the world market at competitive prices. It seems the desert sand has trumped the fertile land in the barley republic.

There are many bewildering things about this sordid multimillion dollar land deal. First, as the dictators are orchestrating a fire sale of chunks of the country to foreign governments fronting as “investors” and lining their pockets, nearly a quarter of the Ethiopian population is teetering on the brink of famine. The rest of the population is menaced daily by malnutrition and hunger. Second, the dictators are bending over backwards to insure food security in the “investor” countries while Ethiopia’s food insecurity is causing frantic alarm in the rest of the world. For the past year, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization has been calling for immediate steps to be taken to protect the poor in Ethiopia from skyrocketing food prices. Just last week the U.N World Food Program issued an advisory estimating that the national relief program for Ethiopia will fall nearly 178,000 metric tons short of assessed needs for the second quarter of the year. Third, to add insult to injury, the same dictatorship, after engorging itself with the proceeds of the ill-gotten loot from the so-called “investors”, will shamelessly stand at the gates of the World Food Programme, the U.S. Government, the European Union and other donor countries panhandling for food aid. Such is the brazen audacity of dictatorship!

Everyone in the world is perplexed by this new mercenary land hustle taking place in Ethiopia. The Economist magazine, that unwavering bastion of conservatism and defender of free trade and globalization, wondered in total bafflement: “… Are these ‘land grabs’, ‘neocolonialist’ rip-offs, different from 19th-century colonialism only because they involve different land-grabbers and enrich different local elites?” Even the left-leaning Independent newspaper expressed righteous indignation: “Over the past few months, Saudi Arabian investors have paid $100m for an Ethiopian farm where they hope to grow wheat and barley, adding to the millions of acres they already own in the war-ravaged country… Neo-colonialists are buying up agricultural land in Africa and local farmers could be crushed unless there are international rules to protect them…” Agricultural experts worldwide have also chimed in to condemn such one-sided secret deals arguing that the deals ultimately serve to water the deep roots of the culture of corruption among Africa’s kleptocratic dictatorships than materially contributing to its development.

Anatomy of the Sale of Ethiopia

Time was when foreign private companies bought land from private owners in the developing countries and created large scale plantations. In the “banana republics” of Central America, multinational corporations exploited a large, impoverished peasant class by creating a dependent and subservient local oligarchy. American fruit companies eventually became powerful enough to dominate the entire export sector of these countries and own and operate key infrastructures such as railways, mining and ports.

What we are witnessing in countries like Ethiopia today is an extreme form of the banana republic syndrome. In the barley republic, the aim is to create a foreign enclave economy (completely and totally isolated and insulated from the local economy) in the host country with the singular purpose of extracting agricultural commodities for export back to the “investor” countries. The farms to be established on the acquired lands are expected to be high technology driven using high yield seeds, modern pesticides and other production systems. The “agricultural clusters” that are expected to be developed will have little connection to the host country’s broader economy. They will contribute very little to the development of a skilled work force at the local level, and local workers will be relegated to menial jobs that require minimal training. There will be few environmental standards for these “investors” to uphold, and there is no way to monitor the damage they are likely to cause to the local ecosystem. In short, in the enclave economy of the barley republic, there will be little “spillover” or “ripple” effect on the local or national economy; and there will be miniscule net gains to the host countries from the “investments” (except the millions of dollars that will line the pockets of the corrupt dictators). For Ethiopia’s wretched poor and hungry, it will all be a surreal experience: They will be standing by the dusty roadsides watching helplessly as the endless caravan of diesel trucks shuttle back and forth delivering the harvest of barley, wheat and rice to port for shipment.

The dictators in Ethiopia naturally want to conceal the corrupt and mercenary nature of the land deals. They say they are just attracting foreign direct investment which will result in a stable source of capital, boost national income and local employment while reducing the country’s debt load. Is that even theoretically possible in an enclave economy?

According to a study prepared by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), it is obvious that the whole land deal is an elaborate swindle, a scam, a shell game [1]:

In Ethiopia, for example, enquiries at the state-level Oromia investment promotion agency found evidence of some 22 proposed or actual land deals, of which 9 were over 1,000 ha, in addition to the 148 recorded at the national investment promotion agency. It is possible to speculate that state-level agencies in other Ethiopian states may also have records of additional projects, and that some land acquisitions may not have been recorded at all….For example, in Ethiopia information about the land size of many deals proposed or concluded in 2008 was missing….

In another instance, “an investment by German company Flora EcoPower in Ethiopia was reported to involve 13,000 ha (hectare), while it is recorded at the Ethiopian investment promotion agency for 3,800 ha only.”
To avoid public scrutiny and ward off local opposition, the dictatorship intentionally and fraudulently misclassifies all land sold to foreign governments as vacant “wastelands” implying that the land is unused, unoccupied by anyone or just wilderness. In fact, the so-called “wasteland” often supports herders who graze animals on it and people who have farmed it for generations. The dictators ignore the customary rights of the local people to satisfy their voracious appetite for foreign-investment deals to line their pockets. There is also evidence to suggest that smallholders have had their arms twisted to sign away their rights for insignificant compensation. According to the above-referenced study:

In Ethiopia, for example, all land allocations recorded at the national investment promotion agency are classified as involving “wastelands” with no pre-existing users. But this formal classification is open to question, in a country with a population of about 75 million, the vast majority of whom live in rural areas. Evidence collected by in-country research suggests that at least some of the lands allocated to investors in the Benishangul Gumuz and Afar regions were previously being used for shifting cultivation and dry-season grazing, respectively.

Although the dictatorship claims that the so-called land leases are determined by the regional governments, the evidence proves conclusively otherwise:

Most documented land leases are granted by the government. This includes 100% of documented
cases in Ethiopia.

The dictatorship’s claim that the land deals bring prosperity and jobs to the local economy is simply false. The evidence actually shows that the “investors” are ripping off the country blind in broad daylight:

In-country research confirms the general impression that land fees are low in monetary terms and an unimportant component of negotiations. In Ethiopia,rent was required in four deals out of the six projects examined in greater detail, with prices ranging from US$ 3 to 10 per hectare per year. These fees are low in the international context, though land rentals are going up (in the Ethiopian state of Oromia, for instance). Several deals – including the contract from the Benishangul Gumuz Regional State, examined by this study – involve five-year exemptions from land fees (article 4(a) of the Benishangul Gumuz contract)…. In Ethiopia, for example, profit tax (estimated at US$ 20 per hectare per year) is usually exempted for a period of 5 years; for a total of 602,760 ha allocated to documented projects, it is estimated that the exemption of this tax for each project over 5 years amounts to US$ 60,276,000.42.

This is the deal that made it possible for the king of Saudi Arabia a few months ago to celebrate the delivery of the first fresh harvest from his lush farms in Ethiopia.

The Scramble for Africa Redux?

It is a historical irony that Ethiopia should escape and successfully defend its sovereignty and independence during the European scramble for Africa in the late 19th Century and again in the last century against Italian colonial aggression only to become the first casualty of a newfangled neocolonial agricultural scramble. The historical parallels are obvious: In its early stages, European imperialism planted its economic tentacles in Africa by sending out its explorers, adventurers and merchantmen. The gunboats and armies showed up later. In the kinder and gentler world of petrodollar neocolonialism, there is no need for gunboats. The weapon of choice is a slush fund of petrodollars and so-called sovereign-wealth funds directed at corrupt and thieving African dictators and politicians who are able, willing and ready to sell out chunks of their countries for pennies. In this brave new world of petrodollar neocolonialism, neither the corrupt dictators nor their bankrollers care about the consequences of their deals on the local population, the displacement of local farmers and herders or adverse environmental impacts.

Last May, Tekleab Kebede, “Ethiopian Consul General” in Saudi Arabia, sought to bless the Saudi land deal by saying: “After all, the relations between Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia are longstanding. There is geographical proximity and the religious values and linguistic affinities that we share have brought the two countries close and strengthened the bonds. So, Saudis should have no hesitation in turning toward Ethiopia for investment.” That may be polite diplomatic palaver, but historically it is untrue. It is a fact that Saudi Arabia provided substantial material and moral support to secessionist elements in Ethiopia in the not too distant past. It also supported Somalia diplomatically and materially in its invasion of Ethiopian territory in 1977. Ethiopia’s supposed “special relationship” with Israel and other matters of religion have been a cause of ongoing irritation for the Saudis in their relations with Ethiopia.

The simple point is that this runaway land deal with the Saudis and the Gulf states needs to be scrutinized carefully for its broader implications. Is this ever expanding land deal a Trojan Horse used by the Saudis and the Gulf Shiekdoms for a broader thrust into Ethiopia? Are these “investments” the first elements of a grand strategic calculus to penetrate and dominate the Ethiopian economy and society? Or is it merely a benign search for land to raise crops, which by all accounts can be purchased on the world market at very competitive prices? Here the experience of the banana republics is instructive. The multilateral companies that invested in Central America, the Caribbean, Colombia, Ecuador and other places initially produced and exported bananas, pine apples, coffee and other commodities. Over a period of time, through their control of the large plantations, they managed to place a chokehold on the local oligarchies who depended almost entirely on the cash flow provided by the multinational agri-businesses. As history shows, it did not take long for the foreign “investors” to own and operate the rail, trucking, ports and banking systems in those countries. History also shows that the social upheavals in the banana republics which occurred in reaction to the oppressive alliance of the oligarchies and multinationals resulted in atrocities that lasted for decades in those countries.

Is this the bright future that awaits the brave Barley Republic of Ethiopia?

Resistance to Land Swindles

Not everyone is taking it lying down. Recently, the government in Madagascar was overthrown in large part because of public anger over a secret deal by the deposed ruler to hand over to a South Korean company one million hectares of Madagascar to grow maize. Marc Ravalomanana, the deposed president, initially denied the existence of a secret land deal. He and his cronies were expecting to pocket millions of dollars from the deal until the coup disrupted their plans. The interim president Andry Rajoelina rejected the deal declaring that, “In the Constitution, it is stipulated that Madagascar’s land is neither for sale nor for rent, so the agreement with Daewoo is cancelled.” Interestingly, the South Korean company had “promised to spend $6-billion in the next 20 to 25 years to help build infrastructure such as roads, railways, a port and schools in exchange for developing huge swathes of arable land in Madagascar.” The Maize Republic of Madagascar was not to be! (It is worth noting that Madagascar is ranked 143/176 on the U.N. Development Program Human Development Index (which measures life expectancy, literacy, education, GDP per capita in 176 countries in the world). Ethiopia ranks 169/176. Local opposition is brewing in Zambia against a proposed Chinese plan to acquire 2million hectares for a biofuels project. Kenyan farmers are demanding to produce the commodities themselves and export it to Quatar instead of working as menial farmhands.

The Real Questions

There are many basic questions that need to be answered: Should a country teetering on the verge of famine and starvation engage in large-scale shady land leads in secrecy and without public discussion? Has Ethiopia become a Crookdom where a small oligarchy of crooks is free to do whatever it wants? Do these land agreements have any validity under international law? What safeguards are in place for the environment and the rights of the indigenous people?

There are some economists who suggest that a country like Ethiopia that is perpetually afflicted by food shortages will eventually explode as in the case of Madagascar. Others plead for implementation of interim measures to protect the local people and ecosystem by some international standards or code of conduct. Still others argue that technologically sophisticated large farms could never work in Africa. They say history shows that such efforts “have often ended with abandoned machinery rusting in the returning bush.” In the long run, it is said, peasant farming will trump advanced commercial farming. What is clear in Ethiopia’s case is that none of these land deals will bring about development of infrastructure or have any significant “spillover effect.” There will be few, if any, schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, rail lines or other lasting structures built as a result of these deals. The only legacy will be more misery and exploitation for the local people and environmental damage. As Ruth Meinzen-Dick, a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute warned: “The majority of agricultural land in Africa is not titled. If these rights are not respected in these transactions, the livelihoods of millions of people will be put at risk.” In the end, in the petrodollar land swindle, Ethiopians will be stuck holding the bag. An empty bag!

[1]$File/full_report.pdf Read See pp. 40, 41, 62, 78, 79, 80

The writer, Alemayehu G. Mariam, is a professor of political science at California State University, San Bernardino, and an attorney based in Los Angeles. For comments, he can be reached at

Meles says I am fine

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

After disappearing for over a week, which led to talks about his illness, Ethiopia’s dictator Meles Zenawi says I am fine by traveling to Equatorial Guinea, a tiny country in West Africa. The Woyanne-controlled Ethiopian Radio and Television Agency (ERTA) released this obscured photo of Meles at Bole Airport, which doesn’t show his face. There wasn’t the usual fanfare and media hype that accompanies his travel abroad. ENA reported the following:

Addis Ababa,  (ENA) – Prime Minister Meles Zenawi left for Equatorial Guinea earlier on Wednesday for an official visit.

During his stay in Equatorial Guinea Meles will hold discussions with senior government officials of the country on bilateral and international issues.

Upon departure at the Addis Ababa Bole International Airport, Prime Minister Meles was seen off by senior government officials, according to the Ethiopian Radio and Television Agency (ERTA).

Equatorial Guinea, located in West Africa, is the 3rd biggest oil producer in Sub Saharan Africa. Its economy is booming rapidly.

Meles’ trip seems suspicious since none of the media in Equatorial Guinea is reporting about it and the Woyanne regime has released only one small, obscured photo. The trip might have been arranged in a hurry at the last minute to stop the reports that are surfacing about his illness.

EFF warns football clubs on weak performance

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

(The Reporter) — The Ethiopian Football Federation (EFF) disclosed that is probing some Premier League clubs that staged below-par performance during the matches that took place last weekend.

EFF said that it is now investigating the games between Adama City and Trans-Ethiopia, St. George and Sebeta City as well as Insurance and Electric Power, to allow it to take the necessary measures against those that had violated the rules of the sport.

The match between St. George and Sebeta City was considered to be outrageous by many sport fans and some clubs. St. George which had already won the season’s title, was blamed for its defeat by Sebeta 1-0, and also accused of playing below strength.

Sebeta, Metehar and Trans-Ethiopia are in the relegation zone ahead of the end of the season’s tournament this weekend. If the federation fails to take action against below strength performance from the clubs that are already far from the relegation zone, some clubs would be punished.

In a bid to avoid problems related to below-par performances, the federation said it had established a body to oversee any under performance during this week’s matches between Metehara Sugar and Mugher Cement, Ethiopia Coffee and Sebeta City, and Defense and Trans-Ethiopia.

The federation warned that all clubs should conduct their competitions seriously. It added if that any of the clubs under-perform it will take severe measures against them.

EFF also called upon competition discipline and arbiter committees to give due attentions to the competitions to be held this weekend.

Ethiopian Airlines makes profit despite global turbulence

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

ADDIS ABABA — Ethiopian Airlines has collected 45pc more revenue in the first eight months of the 2008-09 budget year than it has planned according to its officials.

The phenomenal performance has come during the global economic crisis that has put contributed to a loss of 8.5 billion dollars for the aviation industry in 2008 and an anticipated 4.7 billion dollars loss this year. The airline has registered 8.37 billion Br in revenue over eight months, three per cent higher than the 8.15 billion Br plan for the entire year.

Of the gross revenue, 6.12 billion Br was collected from ticket sales for about 1.95 million passengers. This represents 99pc of the planned passengers for the eight months.

Boosting operations with three additional aircraft to its fleet size in the current fiscal year, the flag carrier’s performance in the cargo service has also, equally, gone beyond the plan its executives authored for their operations through the year.

“To facilitate the country’s export sector, the airline has bought a cargo plane for $60 million and rented two passenger airplanes, a Boeing 757 and a Boeing 737-800.” Girma Wake, chief executive officer of the national carrier, said. He was reporting the performance of the Airline to the Infrastructure Affairs Standing Committee of the House of People’s Representative last Wednesday June 3, 2009.

Ethiopian has collected 1.33 billion Br in revenue from transporting 354 million tons of freight overseas. The revenue from the cargo is five per cent higher than the actual plan for the eight months.

It has also collected 850 million Br from payments for extra luggage, training and postage services. Previously, its plan was to collect 570 million Br from these sources.

Its expenditures over the same period were 7.64 billion; representing 96pc of expected expenses. This is a 45pc increase compared with the same period last year.

The increasing oil consumption due to increased operations accounts for 3.39 billion Br of the total expenditure. This represents 44.3pc of its total expense.

“We are astonished by the performance of the airline,” said a member of the Standing Committee as he asked the CEO of Ethiopian Airlines how they managed to achieve such a performance at a time many other airlines are closing or loosing money due to the global financial crisis.

“33 of the 53 flight destinations of the airline are in Africa which has not been hit hard by the financial crisis,” said the CEO.

Conference travellers have also contributed to the performance of the airlines, according to Girma.

“Unlike Ethiopian, many airlines have more leisure travellers who are tourists. Thus, when a crisis like the one besieging the world happens, travelling for leisure is likely to decline. Business travellers, however, have to travel,” the CEO said while explaining the questions raised by the MPs.

“The airline has increased flight frequencies to many of its destinations and a modern airport facility built by the Airports Enterprise increases travellers’ comfort,” Girma said.

Many airlines have faced challenges in continuing their services during the global economic downturn which has decreased business and leisure travel worldwide. Some governments such as the republic of South Africa and China have been forced to inject hundreds of millions of dollars to ensure their airlines are able to continue providing service.

South African Airways, one of the biggest airlines in Africa and one of only two Star Alliance members in Africa, received a 2.8 billion Rand (a little over 348 million dollars) injection from their government while China Southern is set to be the first mainland carrier in China to fly out of the financial turbulence after getting a capital injection of three billion Yuan (approximately 440 million dollars) from their government.

Hit by declining passenger traffic, China Southern lost over 4.8 billion Yuan (a little over 700 million dollars) in 2008.

Similarly British Airways reported 850 million dollars in losses over the same year.

The aviation industry experienced losses in 2008 due to the increasing price of oil. In July 2008, oil reached 147 dollars per barrel. The aviation industry lost 8.7 billion dollars. Now, with oil prices decreasing to their current price of approximately 66 dollars, the aviation industry still continues to suffer from losses. The CEO’s report also included speculation of industry experts that this year, the aggregate loss is will reach 4.7 billion dollars.

Despite a daunting global context where profitability has become rare, Ethiopian Airlines has managed to surpass its plans.

“We found the performance of Ethiopian Airlines impressive,” Wubneh Emiru, chairperson of the Infrastructure Affairs Standing Committee, told Fortune. “We cherish the achievements of the airline.”

But not surprising is the performance for experts in the industry.

“The achievements of Ethiopian are expected,” Zemedenen Negatu, managing partner of Ernst & Young, who has been consulting the airline since 2004, told Fortune.

He attributes the success of the airline to an efficient management system and the visionary leadership pursued by its management and board.

Nevertheless, its domestic operations seem to have enjoyed less attention. The CEO was asked to explain the contrast.

“It is a fair criticism,” Girma said.

But there are plans in the making to improve the domestic services.

“We have bought eight Bombardier Airplanes from Canada,” he said. “We will buy four or more planes from the same company next year.”

Ethiopian is also working to upgrade its pilot training institution at a cost of 30 million euro (45 million dollars) with financing through a loan from French Bank. With the finalization of the expansion, the training institution would be upgraded to an Aviation Academy, according to the CEO.

As part of its preparation for membership in the Star Alliance, it has also signed a code share agreement with Singapore, Thai and United airlines of Singapore, Thailand and United States, respectively.

It has also bought 25pc equity share in the establishment of ASKY airline in Togo in collaboration with the government of Togo and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a regional block of 16 countries founded in 1975.

Ethiopian will be responsible for maintaining the air crafts and management of airline operations.

Togo will serve as the airline’s West African hub, according to the CEO, though Nigeria offers the largest number of passengers for Ethiopian in the continent.

Addis Fortune

Ethiopia's dictator charges 32 with plot to topple government

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

By Barry Malone

ADDIS ABABA, (Reuters) – Ethiopia’s tribal junta on Monday charged 32 people with planning to kill government officials and blow up public utilities to provoke street protests and bring down the government, relatives of the accused said.

“They appeared in court today and were officially charged,” a relative, who did not want to be identified, told Reuters. “Next Monday they will appear again to discuss bail.”

The regime says the accused, arrested more a month ago, are mostly former and serving military officers from a “terror network” formed by Berhanu Nega, an opposition leader who teaches economics at a university in the United States.

Berhanu has called the accusations “baseless”.

“The charges can be summed up as conspiring to kill government officials and demolish public utilities,” the Ethiopian government’s head of information Bereket Simon told reporters last week.

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi had been hailed as part of a new generation of democratic African leaders after coming to power in 1991, but rights groups say the former rebel is increasingly cracking down on opposition.

Opposition parties routinely accuse the government of harassment and say their candidates were intimidated during local elections in April last year, which the government denies. Ethiopia will hold national elections in June 2010.

The regime has identified only two of the prisoners despite calls by international rights groups that it give the names of all 32. Another 14 people, some resident in the United States and Britain, have been charged in absentia.

The assassinations and bombings were supposed to provoke street protesters to march on state buildings and try to overthrow the government, Bereket said.

Security forces killed about 200 protesters after elections in 2005 when the opposition disputed the government’s victory.

Berhanu was elected mayor of the capital Addis Ababa in that ballot, but was arrested and accused of orchestrating the street protests. He was pardoned and released in 2007.

Berhanu’s May 15th organisation is named after the date of the 2005 poll. He has made statements in the United States saying it wants to overthrow the government.

The Woanne regime says the plotters received money to buy weapons from Berhanu and other diaspora opposition members.

(Editing by David Clarke and Andrew Dobbie)

Sebhat Nega said Ethiopia needs Assab

Monday, June 8th, 2009

The founding member of the Woyanne tribal junta in Ethiopia, Ato Sebhat Nega, told a meeting in Washington DC over the weekend that his party made a mistake in giving away the Port of Assab.

Ato Sebhat Nega, the most senior member of the Tigrean People Liberation Front (Woyanne) and its politburo, explained further that his regime will soon reach a decision on Assab.

Ato Sebhat said that in an answer to a woman who asked him what his position was regarding Assab, according to a member of the Ethiopian Review Intelligence Unit who attended the meeting.

The predominantly Tigrean audience at the Woyanne-occupied Ethiopian embassy’s meeting hall was shocked by Sebhat Nega’s answer. It is a 180-degree-turn from the long-held position of the Woyanne regime.

The decision by most of the Ethiopian opposition parties to cooperate with the government of Eritrea is sending a chill through the spines of Woyanne leaders. It is a time of desperation for Sebhat Nega and his Woyanne clique. So it should not be a surprise for their leaders to talk about Ethiopia’s need for sea port now, after dismissing such a question for the past 18th years.

But the question by Ethiopians regarding “sea port” has recently been answered to their satisfaction by President Isayas Afwerki of Eritrea.

President Isaias’ clear and straight forward answer regarding this issue in a recent interview with Ethiopian Review and EPPF has no doubt left the Woyanne regime naked and further exposed its anti-Ethiopia stand. In the interview, President Isaias said regarding cooperation on sea port, “the sky is the limit.” This answer is a bombshell inside the Woyanne camp.

Meanwhile, a film about “Sea Port” that was produced with the approval of the Woyanne junta, is currently being promoted in the Diaspora with the help of

Ethiopia's dictator Meles Zenawi is ill

Monday, June 8th, 2009

Ethiopian Review has learned from reliable sources that the leader of Ethiopia’s ruling tribal junta, Meles Zenawi, is ill and has not been appearing in any official activity for over a week.

According to the sources, Meles was recently in Dubai for medical treatment, but his current whereabouts are not known.

Meanwhile, members of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (Woyanne) are at each others throat over the decision to return the properties of tens of thousands of Eritreans who were illegally deported about 10 years ago. All of the confiscated properties, including houses, businesses, and cars, were distributed among Woyannes after they hunted down Eritreans from every city of Ethiopia, loaded them on trucks and buses, and expelled them.

Last month, the Meles regime, that had ordered the ethnic cleansing of Eritreans, decided to return their properties, causing anger among officials and rank-and-file members of Woyanne who took over most of the houses and businesses belonging to the victims.

Another issue that is currently causing friction inside the Woyanne camp is the question of who will replace Meles Zenawi after June 2010. No one has emerged as a most likely candidate yet, but names that are frequently mentioned include Arkebe Okubai, Tedros Adhanom, and Tsegay Berhe.

Meles is conspicuously silence on this matter, and is not backing any one, according to Ethiopian Review sources. If a consensus candidate doesn’t emerge, it will pave the way for him to be in charge for five more years. The justification will be to keep the party united.

Ethiopian man found in a flight cargo hold at Dulles Airport

Monday, June 8th, 2009

CHANTILLY, VIRGINIA (Fox News) — Federal authorities say they’ve discovered a stowaway who arrived at a Washington-area airport in the cargo hold of a flight from Ethiopia.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Steve Sapp says ground personnel at Dulles International Airport were pulling baggage from Ethiopian Airlines Flight 500 when they noticed an arm sticking out.

Sapp says the stowaway was an Ethiopian man who was exhausted and dehydrated. He was taken to Reston Hospital Center and is now being held at a federal detention center.

Sapp says the man has been charged with being a stowaway and will be deported, but is not a security threat.

He says the flight departed from Addis Ababa and stopped in Rome before landing at Dulles shortly after 9 a.m. Saturday.

U.S. to send back stowaway on plane from Ethiopia

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A stowaway on a flight from Ethiopia was being detained in Washington and will be sent back, The Washington Post reported on Sunday.

Baggage handlers discovered the man, described as in his late 30s, in the luggage compartment of an Ethiopian Airways Boeing 767 that landed at Dulles International Airport on Saturday, the newspaper said.

The stowaway was dehydrated and exhausted but a Customs and Border Protection spokesman said he did not appear to present a threat, the Post reported.

Customs spokesman Steve Sapp told the newspaper the man, who was not identified, would face an administrative charge and would be sent back on an Ethiopian Airways plane.

A U.S. Customs official did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Ethiopian Human Rights Council chairman arrested

Monday, June 8th, 2009

Chairman of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO), Ato Abebe Workie, has been arrested, according to Ethiopian Review sources in Addis Ababa.

Ato Abebe is a renowned Ethiopian attorney and one of the founding members of EHRCO, along with Prof. Mesfin Woldemariam.

The reason for Ato Abebe’s arrest has not been made public yet.

Meanwhile, the Woyanne regime propaganda chief Bereket Simon and his assistant, Ermias Legesse, are on their way to Washington DC to meet with the Voice of America officials and lodge a complaint about VOA’s Amharic program, which they deem is too critical of the tribal junta in Ethiopia.

Despite horrific tales, CU student from Ethiopia finds hope

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

Esubalew Ethan Johnston was born in Ethiopia and intentionally blinded as a child by men bent on using him as a beggar. He was ultimately adopted and now attends CU. (Hyoung Chang/ The Denver Post)

By Kevin Simpson | The Denver Post

On a playground court, Esubalew “Ethan” Johnston cradles the basketball and begins a rhythmic, right-hand dribble.

He weaves the ball through his legs, darts forward, spins, drives left and pulls up to shoot — at a basket he cannot see.

In what passes for his field of vision, the white backboard casts a dull silhouette on a chalky sky. It is enough. With a flick of his wrists, the ball caroms off the board and through the net.

He wasn’t born blind. Esubalew (is-soo-BAH-low), now perhaps 22 by his own reckoning, navigates the few blocks from his Englewood home to the outdoor court with a white cane he leaves in the grass at one corner of the asphalt.

“My jump shot’s terrible,” he says. “But my inside game is good. If I could make a jump shot, I’d be the blind Kobe Bryant.”

He’s got the jersey — No. 24 in Los Angeles Lakers gold. And he shares one other trait with the NBA star.

“I feel like I’m living a millionaire’s life,” says Esubalew, who just finished his sophomore year at the University of Colorado. “I never thought I’d be here talking smack about the Lakers and playing basketball.

“I guess it worked out.”

Leaving home for a promised life

Esubalew was 5, maybe 6, when the men came. Age is an imprecise matter where he lived in Ethiopia.

He remembers certain things. The trees around his mother’s grass hut in the village of Inesa, the rainy season that sometimes made the hut collapse, the dry summers that scorched and cracked the earth so badly you could turn an ankle in the fissures.

He remembers tending a neighbor’s cattle in return for a large jug of milk. It was his way of contributing to the small household headed by his mother, Yitashu. He rarely saw his father.

And he remembers playing with his younger half sister, Etagegnehu, outside their hut one day, when two strangers asked his mother if she’d like her son to attend school in the capital city of Addis Ababa.

Wanting him to become something more than a poor farmer in the isolated village, she sent her son away with the men. They put him on a donkey, and that was the last she saw of Esubalew.

A few days later, they blinded him.

They told him to get ready for bed. Then three men held him down while another employed sticks and a caustic white extract from a tree. Blind children made the best beggars.

He was instructed to cling to a rail attached to local taxis and refuse to let go until passengers took pity and dug into their pockets. Sometimes the taxis simply took off, dragging him until he lost his grip.

On these days, his teenage overseers would tell the men that Esubalew hadn’t tried hard enough, and they whipped him with a switch.

“I thought it was my job for the rest of my life,” he says. “From daylight until dark, that was it — nothing else. It seemed like forever. But it was probably more like a year.”

Strangers come to the rescue

Then, while begging in a cafe, he met a couple who worked at a school for the blind. They inquired about his situation and eventually wrested him from his captors.

Fortune took odd forms. Esubalew contracted tuberculosis and had to be hospitalized. There, a doctor showed him to Cheryl Carter-Shotts, director of Indianapolis-based Americans for African Adoptions Inc. Her decades-long concern for children suffering on the continent has withstood controversy over international — and interracial — adoptions.

“Esubalew climbed into my heart a long time ago,” Carter-Shotts recalls, “and never left.”

In a country ravaged by civil war, she saw a blind child wearing nothing but a torn T-shirt and underpants. Esubalew had told his caregivers the name of his village, but no one had heard of it. Authorities never seriously pursued his case.

“It was wartime,” says Carter-Shotts, “and they were not going to focus on one lost child.”

She gave him a Matchbox car and promised to return for him. Months later, she did — and found him a foster home in Ethiopia until she placed him with a Missouri family who’d taken in special-needs children from all over the world.

“We thought a lot about adopting him,” recalls Kris Johnston, 56, from her house south of Columbia. “But I was scared to death. With a blind child, what would our life be like? We were going off a story and a gut feeling that we should do this.”

In October 1997, Esubalew — then approximately 10 — flew with other Ethiopian adoptees to Indianapolis. He stepped off the plane wearing an ivory tunic with embroidered trim.

“I was shaking, I was so afraid,” recalls Johnston, who met his plane. “But as soon as I saw his smile, I knew it would be OK.”

She nicknamed him Ethan, after the part Tom Cruise played in the movie “Mission Impossible.” Johnston thought the name exuded strength and character — and that it would help Esubalew’s transition to go by something easier to pronounce.

A view of contrasts in new home

His physical issues were obvious. One eye, Johnston recalls, was “horrifying to look at.” A specialist confirmed the extent of the damage and recommended a cornea transplant on his “good” eye to salvage even some semblance of sight.

When Johnston removed his bandages and asked if he could see anything, Esubalew replied: “Yes. You’re white.”

He describes it not so much as a shock as a revelation about the wider world, and the starting point for his understanding of race in America.

“It was just part of my education,” he recalls. “She said people will have issues because you’re black, or because you have white parents. I said, ‘Are you kidding?’ But she was right. There were some situations like that, and if I hadn’t been warned, I would’ve reacted instead of just letting it go.”

There would be several more cornea transplants as his body rejected the new tissue. Eventually, an artificial cornea produced the best results in his left eye. Months after his arrival, Esubalew’s right eye became so infected it had to be replaced with a prosthetic.

His vision yields little more than lights and darks and shades of color.

In his new home, he initially grew frustrated at his inability to express himself. English came slowly but ultimately supplanted his native language, Amharic.

He made friends easily, struggled academically through middle school but graduated high school with a B-plus average. Along the way, basketball caught his interest, starting with an NBA broadcast in which announcers hammered a new word into his developing vocabulary: “Shaq.”

Shaquille O’Neal’s Los Angeles Lakers became his team as they marched to league championships — though Kobe Bryant has replaced O’Neal as his personal favorite.

In sixth grade, a friend taught him to play, igniting a passion that he carries into adulthood. With practice, Esubalew learned to recognize the white lines on the court, use sound to judge the arrival of a bounce pass and shoot a passable percentage in loose pickup games.

Flourishing amid learning

Johnston, with architect husband Chuck, has reared 25 adopted children from all over the world — about one-third with some kind of physical disability — in the 4,000-square-foot home they built on 10 acres.

Esubalew stands out primarily for his perseverance.

“He’s not bitter,” Johnston says. “He has such a zest for life — just a real excitement for what’s coming around the corner, what next year will bring.”

When he turned 16, a high school counselor recommended he enroll in a summer program at the Colorado Center for the Blind, a Littleton-based school that teaches life skills.

Excited by his growing independence, he returned for a second summer, and then for a full-time program. Already in love with Colorado, he enrolled at CU-Boulder, with the help and encouragement of Eric Woods, an instructor at the center.

At first, he found himself falling behind in college classes — until he got his materials translated into Braille.

Although he has shifted his major from journalism to sociology, he remains fascinated by the possibility of becoming a sports-talk radio personality. But he realizes he must work harder.

“I’m way too laid back — like the Lakers with a big lead,” he laughs. “School’s tough. I need more discipline.”

Pickup basketball continues to be a big part of his life at CU. Also, he immerses himself in music. A few years ago, it was rap and hip-hop, which was an outlet for adolescent angst. More recently, he has embraced Ethiopian music.

“As I grew up, I saw life getting better and better,” he says. “I had to go back to my culture. Ethiopian music has a hip-hop beat, but the lyrics are kind of country — about family, how life is over there. It’s about appreciating life.”

Esubalew lives with Woods and his wife, Lori, while on breaks from CU. They speak of him proudly, like a son.

“He understands that something good has come of all this,” Eric Woods says. “Everybody’s got a tale to tell, and his is horrific. But he’s focused on the positive.”

Esubalew helps at the Center for the Blind when he can. He has taken a particular interest in another Ethiopian, a young man about his age, who also was blinded under circumstances similar to his own.

“I don’t think he knows how lucky he is, but as he learns English and the culture, he’ll understand,” Esubalew says. “We’re both lucky to be here in America with the opportunity to become somebody.”

Nervous about upcoming return

In about two weeks, Esubalew will walk into his native village for the first time in nearly 15 years. Karla Reerslev, an Oregon woman with two Ethiopian adoptees who lived in foster care with Esubalew, also runs a nonprofit that connects children there with American sponsors.

She used her connections overseas to track down his mother and arrange a reunion.

Esubalew’s initial excitement has become nervousness as he wonders how his mother will react. Does she feel guilt at letting the men take him away all those years ago? Will his return be cause for celebration?

He no longer speaks more than a few words of Amharic. But he hopes to convey that he understands her decision and that his life has turned out well — far better than he could imagine his lot in the village of Inesa.

“In a way, my mom’s dream came true,” Esubalew says. “So I think I won in the end.”

(Kevin Simpson: 303-954-1739 or

Outsourcing agriculture

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

It’s estimated that China will send 1 million farm workers to Ethiopia and other countries in Africa this year. It’s part of a growing trend of countries outsourcing their food production. On this week’s Underreported, John Parker, Globalization Correspondent for the Economist and Dr. Joachim von Braun, Director General of the International Food Policy Research Institute, look at the impact on the countries where the food is grown, and on the countries where that food is eaten. John Parker’s article Outsourcing’s Third Wave appeared in the May 21 issue of the Economist. Click here to listen.

Hailu Shawel's AEUP to merge with UDJ?

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

(Addis Journal) — The All Ethiopian Unity Party(AEUP) might forge an alliance with the Unity for Democracy and Justice Party (UDJP), well-placed sources disclosed.

If the alliance takes place, the current AEUP chair Engineer Hailu Shawel is likely to be the coalition party’s chair.

Professor Mesfin Woldemaryam, UDJP’s ideologue, has been working hard for such an agreement, according to sources. Engineer Hailu has given Prof. Mesfin a green light to the possible merge, it was said.

The recent attendance of Hailu Sawel in UDJP’s headquarter to mark the day of Bertukan Mideks’a arrest was considered as positive sign towards this end.

Engineer Hailu in the past has been saying forming coalition with UDJP was out of question as their policies are different from his.

The now imprisoned UDJP chair, Bertukan also repeatedly said she was very pessimistic on any future with Engineer Hailu Shawl and the people he is working with.

If true, the move would be a radical departure from the long-held postion.

Both parties were in the former the colitation for Unity and Democracy Party(CUD) which also included Ethiopian Democratic League (EDL), EUDP -Medhin.

Ethiopian plans to establish new airline

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

By Kaleyesus Bekele | Reporter

The Ethiopian Airlines is planning to establish a regional hub in Southern Africa by establishing another airline.

Recently Ethiopian bought a 25 percent stake on ASKY, a newly-established private airline in Togo. Ethiopian is now establishing a regional hub in West Africa, Lome. Girma Wake, CEO, told Airline Business that Ethiopian may ultimately duplicate the model by forming a southern Africa hub. “South is probably the next place we will look to. We are looking from Zambia to Mozambique, Botswana and Malawi,” Girma said.

However, he said his airline does not want to do many things at a time. “We do not want to do many things at once. We want to make sure ASKY is operating profitably first. Starting two carriers at once could cause problems. So we will do it gradually,” he said.

Ethiopian has a strong network in Africa. Today Ethiopian serves 33 destinations and hopes to reach at least 45 by 2015, starting with three additions this year.

In a bid to strengthen its regional partnerships in Africa, Ethiopian recently signed a five-year management contract with west and central African regional start-up, ASKY, which was promoted by Eco Bank, a Togolese bank. ASKY, which will launch its operations shortly, will operate Boeing 737 aircraft.

Under the plan, ASKY and Ethiopian will feed one another’s networks, with Lome forming a hub for flights in West Africa and beyond. Within five years ASKY is planning to form other West African hubs and branch out into international flights, using Boeing Being 767 to serve long-haul destinations.

Ethiopian is one the few airlines which is making a profit during the current economic downturn. Last year Ethiopian handled 2.5 million passengers and delivered 970 million dollars in revenue, only 30 million dollars shy of its 2010 target. Its jet fleet rose to 26 and its net profit reached a record high of 53.7 million dollars.

Ethiopia's dictator Meles Zenawi's daughter gets wild

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

The following is a set of photos showing the life style of Woyanne kids in Ethiopia. It includes Meles Zenawi’s 23-year-old daughter Semehal getting wild, biting some one’s tongue, and shooting a machine gun, among other things. Photo is compiled by Ethiopian Review’s Intelligence Unit. Click here for more photos.

Ethiopia’s dictator Meles Zenawi’s daughter Semehal Meles shooting automatic rifle in Debre Zeit

EPPF official gives interview

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

The organizational affairs head of EPPF’s International Committee, Ato Sileshi Tilahun, was a guest at the Ethiopian Current Affairs Discussion Forum’s paltalk room this afternoon.

Ato Sileshi answered several questions that were posed to him from the host and the audience.

The interview had focused on Ato Sileshi’s recent trip to Eritrea, interview with President Isaias Afwerki, and meetings with EPPF leaders.

Ato Sileshi said the interview with President Isaias has helped change the attitude of many Ethiopians toward the Government of Eritrea, and expressed his hope that other Ethiopians will travel to Eritrea and see things for themselves.

Regarding EPPF, Ato Sileshi said that it was his 5th trip to Eritrea in the past 4 years and at this particular trip he has observed significant improvements, including the opening of the organization’s headquarters in Asmara, the opening of a press office, and the launching of a radio program that is heard through out Ethiopia and eastern Africa.

In the military sphere, several hundred new recruits are currently completing their training, and the EPPF continues to engage Woyanne in the battlefield, Ato Sileshi said.

EPPF representatives arrive in Asmara for consultation

Representatives of the Ethiopian People’s Patriotic Front (EPPF), Ato Leul Keskis and Ato Assefa Hailu, have arrived in Asmara yesterday from Europe.

The representatives traveled to Asmara for consultation with the EPPF top leadership and to present report about their mission abroad.

Hardship for women and children in Ethiopia

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

Thousands of Ethiopian women have turned to begging with their children in order to survive, advocacy group Ethiopian Women for Peace and Development has said. The group claims that thousands of Ethiopian children are dying of malnutrition every day, as a result of a famine affecting close to six million people – but which remains hidden from the public and from the international community. The group has called for donor agencies to reassess their development efforts in Ethiopia, saying that the government’s policies on land, agriculture, and trade and bilateral agreements it has signed have had ‘serious impacts on food production and consumption’.

We want to bring the plight of women in Ethiopia, due to the current economic hardship, to the attention of human rights, humanitarian and peace organisations worldwide.

Ethiopia, a country of 80 million people, is one of the poorest countries in the world. The current economic conditions in the country are alarming. We understand that countries, small and big, throughout the world are affected by the current global economic crises. The current economic conditions in Ethiopia are not created by the global market situation only. It is mostly a result of the lack of good governance, corruption and poor economic and social policies. In the recent years, the gap between the haves and the have-nots has widened extremely. The government tries to convince the public that the economy is growing and gives examples of the construction of high-rise buildings and roads, especially in the capital city, Addis Ababa. These buildings, some of them condominiums, are not affordable for the average citizen. The majority of the people is living in abject poverty and is struggling for mere survival.

Recently, two members of our organisation took personal trips to Ethiopia and witnessed some of the conditions under which women and children live and the hardship they experience in their daily lives. The famine that is affecting close to six million people is hidden from the international community and the public in Ethiopia. It is not discussed widely in the government media. However, thousands of children are dying of famine and malnutrition every day. Even in the capital city, Addis Ababa, the economic situation is unbearable for most people. You hear anecdotes that siblings eat meals in turn – those who ate breakfast are not allowed to eat lunch because parents cannot afford to provide three meals to feed all their children. Thousands of women beg with their children in the streets of Addis Ababa. Young girls are engaged in prostitution, to earn money to feed themselves and their families, which leads to an increase in the spread of HIV virus and other diseases. And yet, one observes the booming of constructions and roads in the capital.

Some women are employed in the construction projects as day labourers. They mix sand and gravel and carry heavy stones and sacks of cement three to four floors up. We are not belittling or condemning their work and we also recognise that the construction industry has given employment opportunity to many women. However, the conditions under which they work are most abusive. What they carry is not only heavy and damaging to their body, but also they work in unhealthy environment and are exposed to hazardous toxic materials.

In an informal discussion with the labourers, one of our members asked few of them why they were engaged in this line of work. They said that it is better to work as a day labourer than working as domestic workers where they were physically and sexually abused. In general, in the cities, women who work outside of their homes are employed as construction workers, day labourers, petty traders, and factory workers. In the countryside, women are still engaged in backbreaking work as they have been doing for generations. They carry loads for long distances, grind grain, till the land, and sustain the household.

The government’s policies on land, agriculture, and trade and the various bilateral agreements it signed have serious impacts on food production and consumption. Ethiopia now produces flowers to earn hard currency. Though export commodities are important, priorities must be given to producing staple crops to alleviate the dire situation of food shortages in the country.

In addition, many question the appropriateness of some of the different bilateral agreements that the government signed under the current economic conditions in the country. It is reported in the Financial Times (Javier Blas, 4 March 2009) that rich business people from Saudi Arabia have leased very large tract of land for rice farming to be exported to Saudi Arabia even in light of food shortage in Ethiopia. Such policy of exporting food to Saudi Arabia while Ethiopians starve indicates the erroneous economic policies that the government pursues.

As a women’s peace and development organisation, we are concerned by the situation of women and children in Ethiopia under the current economic conditions. Due to the government’s strict control of the media, information about the dire conditions of the people is not available. One cannot separate the economic situation from the political situation. The basic tenets of democracy, such as freedom of the press and association, are suppressed after the 2005 national elections. Civic organisation that could have educated the citizenry about their rights and responsibilities are curtailed. Dissent is not tolerated. In plain language, people are scared to criticise the government and question its negative policies. Even the simple complaint about food shortage and the escalating food price is taken as opposing the government.

As stated above, the purpose of this article is to bring the plight of Ethiopian women and children, under the current economic crises in the country, to the attention of the international community. One wonders what the international community would do to alleviate the dire situations of Ethiopian women and Ethiopians in general. Ethiopia is one of the countries in Africa that receive massive foreign aids, estimated to be over two billion dollars every year. For the most part, donor countries have ignored human rights violations by the current regime (despite extensive reports by human rights organisations and civic groups) and pour their money in the country without strict conditions to influence government policies and procedures. The recent anti-NGO law, Charities and Societies Proclamation (CSO law), that the government passed in January 2009, is a good example of suppression of civic societies. However, donor agencies and Western governments did not challenge the government’s actions.

We appeal to human rights, humanitarian and peace organisations to pressure donor countries to reassess their development efforts in Ethiopia. They do not have to do extensive research to know if their development aid has benefited the poor or not. They only have to objectively observe how the poor live in Ethiopia and under what kind of political, social and economic conditions they dwell. A minority of the affluent live extravagantly while the majority flounder in abject poverty. The ‘development aid’ the West pours in the country, without any condition for accountability, transparency, and good governance has failed to fight poverty in Ethiopia.

(Ethiopian Women for Peace and Development is a women’s organisation created by concerned Ethiopian and Ethiopian-American women in 1991.)

Ethiopia coffee dealers confront Meles Zenawi

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

By Desalegn Sisay |

Foreign buyers of Ethiopian special coffee beans have expressed their concern over the introduction of a new auctioning system related to the trading of coffee beans at the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX). The system was introduced in December 2008.

Prior to the introduction of the new trading system by the Ethiopian regime, exporters had the right to buy their preferred beans from any supplier of their choice. However, they now have to compete with other exporters to get their beans. A recent delinkage of exporters with their buyers in Europe and United States has been blamed on this factor.

Exporters are now expressing their discontentment over the new trading system.

In the month of may this year the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) in a letter to Ethiopia’s dictator Meles Zenawi, expressed the difficulty in obtaining its usual special brands of coffee due to the new trading system. It stated that it had a strong interest in preserving the value and brand equity already established for Ethiopian coffees in the higher value specialty sector.

SCAA believes that there is market demand for some 7,200tn with a total value in excess of 30 million dollars for specialty coffee qualities.

To keep the mutual interests of both the Ethiopian coffee sector and specialty coffee buyers, SCAA has proposed a working group that will strive towards developing a specialty coffee trading strategy, sources at ECX have revealed.

Reacting to the buyers’ concern, which is communicated through the Prime Minster’s Office, ECX has scheduled a discussion with SCAA and other Specialty Coffee Associations including local exporters. The discussion, they claim, will focus on how specialty coffee needs to be traded in the ECX and other related issues.

Official figures estimate that specialty coffee, which is high-end coffee and sells at a premium, represents about 3.7 per cent of the country’s coffee exports.

The potential of coffee production in Ethiopia is very high as a result of suitable altitude, ample rainfall, favourable temperature, suitable planting materials and a fertile soil. A genetic pool of the country’s coffee contains more than 6000 varieties, giving Ethiopia a huge specialty coffee capacity.

In Ethiopia, the total area covered by coffee is 700,000 hectares, with a total production of roughly 250,000 tons per annum. Around 20 million people make a living out of the commodity. Forest coffee accounts for about 10 per cent of the total.

Madagascan political parties meet in Addis Ababa

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA (Xinhua) — Madagascar’s major political parties would continue their negotiations in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia at the weekend in an effort to get the country out of the current political crisis.

Media reports said here on Friday that more than 50 representatives from all political camps of the island country would go to Addis Ababa to discussed and, if agreed, to sign the transitional charter prepared by international mediators last month.

The mediators, including special envoys from the United Nations, the African Union (AU), the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the International Organization of French- Speaking Countries have met separately since Tuesday representatives of four Madagascan presidents, namely the current president Andry Rajoelina, who is the president of the High Transitional Authority, and his predecessors Marc Ravalomanana, Didier Ratsiraka and Zafy Albert.

However, they have not reached any agreement during the talks due to insistence of each president on his own conditions.

While Ravalomanana’s representatives insisted on the return of their leader, Ratsiraka asked amnesty for all political prisoners, who have been living in exile, and Rajoelina totally rejected the return of Ravalomanana.

This is the third round of political talks between the big four and the international mediators following Rajoelina’s take- over as president of the Indian Ocean island country on March 21 this year.

Vowing to “wipe out all traces of Marc Ravalomanana in the country,” Rajoelina described his predecessor as a corrupt president and a dictator.

A sentence for Ravalomanana is scheduled on Friday by a Madagascan court allegedly for Ravalomanaana’s killing of dozens of Rajoelina’s supporter in clashes between anti-Ravalomanana demonstrators and the armed troops guarding at the downtown presidential palace on February 7, when Rajoelina led his followers to try to enter into the palace to take over the presidency.

On Wednesday, the first instance court sentenced Ravalomanana to four year in jail and a fine of 70 million U.S. dollars for his misuse of public money to buy a Boeing 737-300 jet as his special presidential aircraft.

Ravalomanana, who has insisted that he is still president of Madagascar, rejected the verdict, saying that the court has no power to sentence a president still in power.

Observers here said that the verdict is likely a plot by the transitional government to ban Ravalomanana’s return to his country.

One day after the sentence, Ravalomanana told his supporters through telephone from South Africa that he would be back with foreign peacekeepers to celebrate Madagascar’s national day on June 26.

Asking Madagascan armed forces to lay down their arms, he claimed that he has the support from South African president Jacob Zuma, who has promised to send armed peacekeepers for his return, reports here said.

Europe withdraws funding for Gibe 3 Dam in Ethiopia

Friday, June 5th, 2009

(GBN ) — The European International Bank (EIB) has announced it will not fund the construction of the Gibe 3 Dam in Ethiopia, a press release from International Rivers, an NGO has said.

International Rivers, which is leading a coalition of environmental NGOs who are opposed to the construction of the dam in Ethiopia considers the EIB’s withdrawal of funding for the project as a breakthrough in their campaign to stop the construction of the dam.

In the release which was copied to International Rivers said “the 1.55 billion Euro hydropower dam would devastate the ecosystems of Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley and Kenya’s Lake Turkana, and affect up to 500,000 people.”

International Rivers which said the announcement has been hailed by Friends of Lake Turkana, and Italy’s Reform the World Bank Campaign called on the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the Italian government to refrain from funding the dam. The AfDB is the major funding agency of the dam.

The release indicated that the Gibe 3 Dam is being built by Italian construction company Salini, which received the huge contract without competitive bidding.

It added that the EIB financed the Gibe and Gibe 2 dams, conducted a pre-assessment of the Gibe 3 Dam, and funds the project’s Economic, Financial and Technical Assessment. The no-bidding contract, International Rivers say, violates EIB’s procurement policy.

In March 2009, Friends of Lake Turkana, a group of affected people in Kenya, urged the EIB not to fund Gibe 3 because the affected communities “could not withstand any more pressure on the little resources that we have”.

A meeting between the EIB and Friends of Lake Turkana was scheduled in Nairobi for next week, but on Wednesday June 3, 2009, the head of the EIB complaints office cancelled the meeting and informed the group that the Bank’s President had decided not to fund the project.

During the AfDB’s annual meeting in Senegal, Dakar May 13 to 14, 2009, the coalition of NGOs mounted their campaign against the construction of the dam calling instead on the AfDB to “in the meantime, help Ethiopia drought-proof its energy sector, diversify its energy mix, and tap its abundant renewable energy resources.”

Italian soprano in Addis Ababa

Friday, June 5th, 2009

(Addis Journal) — There was an important musical happening in Addis this past week- an operatic soprano performance by musicians from Italy.

A soprano soloist Enrica Mari made her Addis debut at the National Theatre on Wednesday evening, June 3, in an event organized to mark the Italian National Day.

A chance to hear musical interpretations of Europeans opera masters such as Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti don’t happen often yet the evening was one of those grand exceptions.

With the meteoric appearance of Encrica Mari, Ethiopian audiences were able to hear what these extraordinary sopranos had sounded like.

Mari’s performance combined recitals in number of languages-Italian, English and French and music by diverse musicians such as the arias of Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi and jazz-derived melodic of the American George Gershwin.

Mari was able to impress a large number of expatriate and local audiences with her stage presence, warmth of her voice and her skill in a wide range of vocal effects.

She was accompanied by Chiara Migliari’s piano which expressed a depth of feeling and a skill with a capacity to touch the listener profoundly.

In a two-hour performance with brief pause, she also did interpretations of Tosti, Kosma, Gastaldon, Porter, Tagliaferri, Cardillo.

When singing in English, audiences might have smiled at her accent, but they were quick to realize the amazing singing actress was a unique and impressive impressionist.

She has made it possible for Ethiopian audiences to investigate and succumb to the glorious beauties of romantic Italian and European opera.

The works were well received and the musicians called to the stage for several bows.

Hurrah to the Italian Cultural Institute for organizing such wonderful event and bringing operatic music to an increasingly appreciative Ethiopian audiences.

French Ambassador returns stolen cross to Ethiopian church

Friday, June 5th, 2009

( — Ambassador of France to Ethiopia Jean Christophe Bellard on Wednesday handed back the sacred St. Yared’s Cross to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

The cross, which was stolen at gun point in the early 90s, was returned by a French citizen who had kept for 18 years in Paris.

The cross belongs to the centuries-old treasury of the Tana Tcherqos church.

The patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Abune Paulos said several artifacts of Ethiopia are still being held in various European countries.

“All Ethiopians should strive to return the heritages to their country,” he said.

Ethiopian Airlines records profits, orders more planes

Friday, June 5th, 2009

By Desalegn Sisay |

Speaking at the Ethiopian parliament on Wednesday, as he presented the airlines’ eight-month performance report, Girma Wake, CEO of Ethiopian Airlines, said that after an agreement signed between the Ethiopian flag carrier and Bombardier Aerospace to purchase eight Q400 NextGen turboprop airliners in November 2008, four additional aircrafts, Bombardier Q400 NextGen turboprop, have been ordered to strengthen its local fleet.

According to Girma the recent decision to add four extra Q400 aircrafts is to enable the Ethiopian flag carrier meet its set local flight target. Bombardier Aerospace’s excellent range, payload capability as well as their low operating costs contributed to their being selected by the airline.

The first order would cost the Ethiopian Airlines a total sum of $ 242 million and an extra $124 million for the four aircrafts. The agreement signed for the additional aircrafts is conditional, Girma told MPs, “It is an agreement made as an option, we could go on with the agreement or we could terminate it”.

Last year, Grima Wake told journalists “the planes we are buying now are for 2010, we have no more problem of financing at the moment, we know the financial banks will be strict but the interest from buyers would be limited, so we can negotiate.”

Last year’s projected passenger traffic within the Ethiopian Airlines network was expected to increase significantly to three million, up from the 2.5 million the airline posted that same year.

Revealing his company’s astonishing performance despite the industry’s market slow down, Wednesday, Girma Wake indicated that within the last eight months the airlines made $78 million in profits, a 53 percent growth against the last Ethiopian fiscal year.

Using graphs to illustrate his administration’s struggle with the current global situation, Girma said the airline industry lost some $ 8.5 billion in 2008 due to the financial and economic crisis. He also indicated that some $ 4.7 billion is expected at the end of 2009.

In November last year, Ethiopian Airlines projected its earnings to soar to US$ 1.2 billion with a profit margin of more than US$ 50 million anticipated for the full fiscal year as the airline maintained a stable outlook despite the financial turmoil in Europe and the United States, which also badly hit the African aviation industry.

In a report late last year, the International Air Transport Association (AITA) warned that Africa would not be spared by the effects of the global financial downturn. Africa, which was emerging as a major power of aviation growth saw an 8.9 per cent traffic slow down, as African flights to Europe recorded a 7-10 per cent decline as a result of the global financial crisis.

Ethiopia's dictator charges 46 with 'assassination plot'

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

Gen. Asaminew Tsige is one of the 46 suspects charged by Ethiopia’s tribal junta

ADDIS ABABA (AFP) — Ethiopia’s tribal junta on Thursday charged 46 people, most of them ex-military, of plotting to assassinate government officials, a government spokesman said.

“The charges can be summed up as conspiring to kill different government officials and conspiring to demolish public utilities,” Communications Minister Bereket Simon told reporters.

“The prosecution presented the charges to the court today,” he said, more than a month after their arrest.

Authorities are holding 32 out of the 46 suspects with the rest believed to have fled to the United States, Europe, Eritrea and Sudan.

Ethiopian authorities in April said they had unearthed a plot by senior serving and former military officers aligned with the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) to kill top government officials and attack key infrastructure.

The group has been detained and held in communicado for more than a month.

Bereket denied accusations that detaining the men for over a month without charge violated regulations, saying national anti-terrorism laws allowed police to hold suspects without charge for as long as in necessary.

“No constitutional right was abrogated,” he said.

Building up funds for Ethiopia's future homes

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

By William Mace | Manukau Courier

Auckland, New Zealand — Nigel Lowe makes his living out of making things but this September he’s simply hoping to make things better for Ethiopia’s homeless.

The Manukau Institute of Technology lecturer from Papakura will spend four weeks labouring under the African sun building homes under Habitat For Humanity’s Global Village project.

All he needs is $7500 to get him to Ethiopia and back and the rest he’ll do with his hands, a hammer and a handful of mud.

“I could do with a mud house myself. It’s a resource that they’ve learnt to use throughout Africa.

“Concrete is the best insulator you can get – it keeps your home cool in the heat, and warm in the cold – and mud is pretty much the same.”

The homes combine a timber structure with a mud-covered outer shell and Mr Lowe says he’s prepared to learn and work.

The desert-like conditions will be far removed from Papakura’s green fields and the workshops of MIT’s engineering and trades faculty where he has taught for three years.

The qualified builder was drafted into the project by an old friend who thought his can-do spirit would suit the harsh African environment – and his friendly nature would win him lots of friends on the job site.

“I know it’s going to be pretty physical work – the heat is the major killer and you’ve got to drink lots of fluids,” he says.

“I reckon it’ll be great and I might even lose some kilos.

“Apparently the local people come and help and you can make some good friends with the people there.”

Another purpose of the trip is to help with maintenance on orphanages and a hospital built by Kiwis in the past.

“I did a big OE for six years and went through to Africa and had a look around but nothing like this, this is a challenge,” Mr Lowe says.

“We’re over there for four weeks building houses and visiting orphanages and the rest is a mystery and that’s what I like about it.

“I love adventure and a challenge – no matter what it is I’ll give it a good go.”

But Mr Lowe knows how tight the economy is at the moment and is working hard to gather some fundraising ideas before September.

He’s been challenged to roller-skate around the MIT campus in a pink bikini but he’s afraid that might cause too much public disturbance.

But he is keen to give presentations on his return to interested businesses or sponsors.

“I will get there, I’m determined to but I might have to rob a bank,” he says.

World Bank approves $245 million credit for Ethiopia

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (Sudan Tribune) — The World bank On Tuesday approved a new credit of $245 million for Ethiopia to support Addis Ababa effort to restore and expand the country’s road network.

The credit is the fourth phase of a program, implemented by the Ethiopian Roads Authority (ERA), designed to build, maintain, and improve national roads in the Ethiopia.

The US$ 245 million credit will finance the construction of three roads and to strengthen and build the ERA institutional capacity as well as to identify maintenance needs and required funding arrangement for the coming 5 to 10 years.

Three federal roads “Mekenajo-Dembi Dolo Link Road (181 km), Welkite-Hosaina Link Road (121 km), and Ankober-AwashArba Link Road (89 km) will be upgraded from earth/gravel to asphalt,” said the World Bank.

The Program was launched with donor support to create adequate capacity in the road sector, and to facilitate the economic recovery process by restoring the condition and expanding the essential road network.

Twelve years since the launch of road development program, Ethiopia has made remarkable achievements in physical, organizational, social, and financial terms, said the World Bank.

Ethiopia in 1997, launched a 10-year Road Sector Development Program in 2 phases — Phase I and II: 1997-2007, now extended to 2010 as Phase III — to address the limited coverage and poor state of the road network, as well as, the growing transport needs of the country.

Stricter identification requirements in effect at U.S. borders

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

BLAINE, Washington (AP) – Fears of stalled commerce and travel didn’t materialize at U.S. border crossings Monday as people stayed home or were gently warned on the first day of stricter identification requirements for Americans returning from Mexico and Canada.

Traffic generally moved smoothly as those without proper identification stayed home or immigration officials let them pass through with a reminder to get a passport or other accepted ID.

Those crossing the Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge in South Texas described the light traffic Monday morning as normal, with cars and pedestrians facing short lines.

“There was nothing. Everything is all right,” said Yvonne Rivera, a U.S. citizen who lives in Reynosa, Mexico, and commutes to work in Texas. The 22-year-old said she got her passport in anticipation of the rule change.

There were some hiccups.

Rosario Aragon said she got into a heated, 30-minute discussion with a border agent demanding a passport for her 9-year-old girl, even though U.S. and Canadian children under the age of 16 only have to present a birth certificate.

The agent at an El Paso crossing let her through after taking her daughter’s name and warning her to get an official ID from local police.

“I’m angry because he held us up for 30 minutes,” the U.S. citizen said after she crossed into Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

The new security rules for land and sea border crossings require U.S. citizens to show a passport, passport card or enhanced driver’s license, which use a microchip to store a person’s information. Some citizens may also use a trusted traveler document, which require background checks and are generally used by people crossing the border regularly for business.

At the busiest passenger crossing along the northern border, the Peace Bridge between Buffalo, N.Y., and Fort Erie, Ontario, traffic flowed smoothly with Customs and Border Protection officers reporting a 95 percent compliance rate with the new ID requirement. The Peace Bridge handled 8.9 million autos and 47,100 commercial buses in 2008.

Jessica Whitaker of London, Ontario, didn’t have a passport but was allowed in to the U.S. after showing her birth certificate and driver’s license. “They were very nice, very polite,” she said.

Kevin Corsaro, U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman in Buffalo, N.Y., said it’s been a “routine Monday” with officers seeing a compliance rate as high as 95 percent throughout the Buffalo field office.

“We want to see 100 percent but we know that will take some time,” he said. “We won’t refuse entry to a Canadian if their only violation is they are noncompliant today, as long as we can verify their citizenship.”

The new rules for land and sea ports under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative were supposed to have gone into effect in 2008 but were delayed a year over concerns about the impact on commerce. The requirement for re-entering the country by air went into effect in 2007.

Traffic at San Diego’s busy San Ysidro border crossing is down about 12 percent from last year, partly due to the weak economy and fears of swine flu, said Oscar Preciado, the port director for the CBP.

About 85 percent of the U.S. citizens filing through the crossing Monday carried a passport or other acceptable travel document, he said. Others were waved through after being handed a sheet of paper that said they were not complying with the new rules.

“It’s a nonevent,” Preciado said.

The new requirement also did not cause any delays at Highgate Springs, Vermont’s largest entry point from Canada. Two lanes were open and there was hardly any wait.

Daphnee Roy, 23, of Montreal, who was driving to Boston with a friend, said after passing through that the crossing was the same as always. “It’s no big deal.”

Customs and Border Protection area port director John Makolin said 99 percent of the people crossing into the U.S. at Highgate Springs after midnight had the required identification documents.

At the Peace Arch crossing in Blaine, Wash., the third busiest port of entry on the northern border, compliance was reported at about 90 percent.

Some travelers were sanguine about the new requirement; others said it was unnecessary.

“It’s overkill,” said James French of Lewiston, Idaho, after returning from vacation in British Columbia. “I understand the needs of security because of terrorism. But I think (the border) is safe.”

Film exposes risk of Ethiopian descent into tyranny

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

By David Calleja | Foreign Policy Journal

A victim of the Ethiopian government's repression during the 2005 elections

A victim of the Ethiopian government’srepression during the 2005 elections (AP)

In May 2005, the ruling Ethiopian Revolutionary Patriot’s Democratic Front won elections amid allegations of electoral fraud and a campaign of intimidation against opposition groups. Six months and two protests later, nearly 200 civilians were killed and tens of thousands arrested, including high profile opposition leader Birtukan Mideksa. The former judge and popular politician was initially jailed for life, then pardoned, and then commanded to serve out the rest of her sentence.

Next year, Ethiopians will go to the polls again, and the political maneuvering is already underway. Last week, the Sudan Tribune reported on the Meles Zenawi government claims of an alleged coup plot masterminded by former opposition leader Behanu Nega, now an academic in the United States of America. And on May 27, the opposition Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) had their permit application for a protest against the Zenawi government in Addis Ababa’s Meksel Square rejected by the city’s administration. A spokesman for the UDJ, Hailu Araya, was quoted as saying the government continued to play political games, thus weakening the UDJ’s effectiveness in the country.

Ethiopia is an important ally for the United States. Its strategic location near the Horn of Africa makes the country key to Barack Obama’s attempts to win the War On Terror.

Director of 'Migration of Beauty' Chris Flaherty (Photo courtesy of Chris Flaherty)

Director of ‘Migration of Beauty’ Chris Flaherty (Photo courtesy of Chris Flaherty)

Against the backdrop of the 2010 election, the documentary Migration of Beauty is due for release on the international film festival circuit. Directed by Chris Flaherty, the film recalls the experiences of Ethiopian genocide survivors of the 1970s and the community activism led by the Ethiopian diaspora in Washington D.C. in the run-up to the 2005 election. Flaherty spent two years researching and befriending the witnesses involved in the historic event covered in the film. Migration of Beauty has screened at the AFI Institute in Maryland and Goeth-Institute in Washington D.C.

The Ethiopian government has sent a chilling message to all opposition groups by declaring that it will achieve peace at all costs, a clear reference to the crackdown on protests that tainted the election four years ago that also revives haunting memories of the Dergue’s massacre of students and other civilians in the 1970s. Although the country is not officially a one-party state, the signs of political intimidation risk leading the nation along the path of Burma and Zimbabwe into tyranny.

Chris Flaherty spoke with David Calleja in an interview for Foreign Policy Journal about what could be in store for sub-Saharan Africa’s second most populous country.

Four years after the violence that occurred in the aftermath of Ethiopia’s general elections, what news do you have of the mood in the country, and how do you think this will affect the lead-up to the 2010 poll?

Obviously I have been keeping track of recent events as they relate to the upcoming Parliamentary election in Ethiopia. I would have to say that at this point it looks pretty grim. I think the party in power has been doing a good job at intimidating any possibility of viable opposition against themselves in 2010. With the re-arrest of one of Ethiopia’s strongest opposition leaders, Birtukan Mideksa and the recent announcement by the Ethiopian government that they have launched an investigation against people suspected of overthrowing the government, the prospects look grimmer by the day. From what I have observed many Ethiopians appear to be slipping into a feeling of helplessness. Many are saying, “Here we go again, this government will stop at nothing to retain power.” The biggest fear for me is that Ethiopians will simply give up and accept what happens no matter how illegitimate the outcome.

What factors compelled you to make your documentary Migration of Beauty? Why did you feel that it was necessary to tell people what happened in the 1970s under The Dergue as a prelude to the 2005 elections?

Perhaps the biggest factor that helped me mold the idea for Migration of Beauty was the inspiration I experienced from documenting seemingly powerless immigrants from a third world country engaging the U.S. political process. During the filming I was able to better understand the conditions that drove many of them to zealously fight for ideas that most ordinary Americans take for granted. My approach was to tell their deeply personal human stories about struggling for freedom and dying for it. Some of the people in the film lived through one of the most horrific chapters of Ethiopian history, the “Dergue” period or the “Red Terror”.

By bringing their stories to light I was trying to make clear that it doesn’t matter who takes away your freedom as much as it is criminal for anyone to do such a thing. If your freedom has been taken away the end result is always the same no matter who takes it away, whether it’s Adolf Hitler, Mao Tse-Tung, Mengistu Haile Mariam or Meles Zenawi. And while the current Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi, has not committed acts as open and obvious as his predecessor Mengistu Haile Mariam, he is still repressing democratic ideas and has committed numerous human rights abuses. It was important for the Ethiopian Americans in Migration of Beauty to connect both stories. They have seen it all before.

There were some moments in the documentary in which you were prevented from filming. Who was behind the threats and what level of intimidation did they offer to the crew or yourself?

I did B-roll filming in Ethiopia directly after the 2005 election massacres. There was a certain tension in the streets. Foreign journalist and filmmakers are highly suspect in the eyes of the Ethiopian government. The Ethiopian government has a long history of repressing the media so I expected I might run into problems. There were two instances where I and my Director of Photography were stopped by the police. The first time I managed to talk my way out of potential arrest by speaking in Amharic and smoothing my way out of the situation. The second time it was the Ethiopian Army that tried to stop us. I quickly discovered that they did not speak Amharic, therefore my language skills yielded no results. I could not understand what they were saying but it was obvious they wanted the video camera. My DP and I simply took off running. For whatever reason they stopped following us and we lost them. We quickly realized that we had to keep our equipment “under the radar” and out of sight. I have heard of worse stories involving intense harassment and arrest of video camera operators. There is one such instance documented in my film.

Birtukan Mideksa

Birtukan Mideksa (AP)

Last year, the opposition leader Birtukan Mideksa was jailed for life. According to a Voice of America report, Prime Minster Meles Zenawi government’s official line was that “she had not asked for the pardon” handed to her. What do you think is the real reason for the order to serve out her life sentence? What does Meles Zenawi have to fear from her?

The situation of jailed dissident Birtukan Mideksa is a very interesting one. The former District Judge represented the biggest threat to the party currently in power, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). And while she was jailed for what would appear to be rather “convenient” technical reasons it’s obvious to me that she was put away because there was a good possibility she would beat the EPRDF in a fair election. Considering what happened in 2005 the ruling party appears not to be taking any chance of losing a national election. This is an old story and a proven formula: intimidate, jail and kill all of your viable opponents in order to keep power. No matter how proper and clean everything appears on the surface it’s all the same.

The same report from Voice Of America indicated a tough stance from the government, vowing that they will not allow the protests of 2005 to occur again in 2010. Zenawi reportedly said that, “We will do everything in our power to have peace.” He has also vowed to not only stop any anti-government protests in the wake of the results, but also prevent any possible build-up of opposition support. What tactics do you think he intends to deploy?

We can only speculate what the Zenawi led government has planned for the next election. I will acknowledge that the Prime Minister is extremely crafty with words and has leveraged this skill to benefit his position in the world view. However, to say, “We will do everything in our power to have peace” is an extremely ominous indication considering his well documented past endeavours to keep the peace. Besides possible use of military force, it’s a safe bet to expect him to shut down the press completely and quell all avenues of dissent. My fear is that it could be much worse than it was in 2005. I’m not sold on the idea that everyone will go back into their houses if the government murders a bunch of unarmed civilians. It appears that the populace is deeply frustrated and they might go much further with the civil disobedience than they did in 2005. Either way, I sincerely hope no one gets hurt.

You have quoted Dr. Jedyani Frazer as to making remarks about the dangers of a free press at the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy at the University of Virginia, and that in African countries, could lead to “ethnic cleansing”, such as what happened in Rwanda in 1994. What message do you think Dr. Frazer’s remarks send, and what justification did he use?

I was taken aback with Dr. Frazer’s comment. To specifically call out the so called “irresponsible press” without mentioning the dangers of media repression is a horrible proposition. Considering Dr. Frazer’s past influence on foreign policy in Africa it was a chilling comment. If the government in hand deems their press to be irresponsible, are we to base our foreign policy on their beliefs? Exactly who gets to decide the parameters of irresponsibility? And while Dr. Frazer did not specifically mention the role of the press in the Rwandan Genocide, most people know it is the 5000 pound elephant in the room. And therein lies the question- how do we balance the two?

My belief is that it is the right of the press to be free… We must base our foreign policy on the ideas we believe in ourselves, regardless of how uncomfortable it makes us feel. And when a particular government is proven to repress their media we should call them out and do nothing to lend them credence. It was the Ethiopian Ambassador to the U.S. himself, Samuel Assefa, who told me that the Ethiopian government must control the press, otherwise Ethiopians might commit ethnic genocide on themselves. All this is coming from a government that has instituted a policy of “Ethnic Federalism” which intentionally creates a divide between the many ethnic tribes within the country. This government has done little or nothing to foster a sense of national identity. It’s an old formula, control the press and divide everyone to decrease the threat of losing power. Comments like the one Dr. Frazer made simply send the wrong signal to the world.

What has U.S. President Barack Obama said regarding the Ethiopian leadership and what foreign policy initiative has he proposed? How can he be more effective in dealing with Meles Zenawi than his predecessor, George W. Bush?

To date, I haven’t heard much from the Obama Administration in regards to issues of democratic process in Africa. It’s obvious they are being very careful. In this respect I believe they are doing the right thing. However, many Africans as well as those in the diaspora appear to be holding their breath to see exactly where he will stand. I can safely say that many have high hopes. It’s a very difficult line for Obama to walk. News coming out of Somalia gets grimmer by the day and the Zenawi led government is the only one that appears to support our interests in the region.

In fact, the Ethiopian government makes this very clear to our elected officials. In my view, it is perhaps the biggest bargaining chip Zenawi can leverage. He knows that many U.S. Congressmen and Senators deplore his style of government but they are willing to deal as long as he represents our so called interests. He’s proven himself to be very skillful in keeping just within the parameters of acceptability in the U.S. As far as Obama is concerned he must make clear where his priorities lie. It was the Bush Administration that justified dealing with any despotic regime in the name of fighting the war on terror.

This policy has proven to be disastrous for the U.S. It makes no sense to support governments that use military force to control their people in the name of fighting terrorism. In fact, the whole idea is absolute insanity to me. This is a special time in U.S. history. We stand at a precipice. We are forced to decide who we are as a nation in the eyes of the world. So often we have preached the virtues of democracy and freedom to virtually everyone. And now more than ever we are understandably challenged on those core beliefs. It is my hope that the Obama Administration will understand and adapt our foreign policy with this in mind.

Do you believe that Birtukan Mideksa is Africa’s answer to the jailed leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) in Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi? Are there any similarities between the Burmese military regime and the Ethiopian leadership?

No doubt, jailed dissident leader Birtukan Mideksa is an aspiring figure. I notice many similarities between her and Aung San Suu Kyi. Besides both of them being women they possess the types of charismatic characteristics that would help them go far in national appeal. Both are smart and unwavering in their ambitions to see true democracy and freedom in their countries. In the case of Ethiopia, I think many Ethiopians have become disillusioned with the opposition in the past. From what I have been able to access there appears to be tremendous anger with the Coalition for Unity and Democracy Party (CUDP) opposition, the party Birtukan used to lead with Hailu Shawel.

Like anyone anywhere, Ethiopians need to believe in the strength of their leadership. Many felt let down and betrayed when the CUDP failed to stand their ground after their arrest in 2005. Many felt that they made deals selling out the cause of democracy and freedom simply to get out of jail. However, Birtukan was able to help form her own party, the Unity for Democracy and Justice Party and appeared to have a change of heart concerning the conditions of her release from prison. At this point she appears willing to stand her ground against Meles Zenawi and her popularity has dramatically risen as a result. Like Aung San Suu Kyi, her status could become legendary as long as she remains unwavering in her peaceful struggle for true democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Ethiopia. It will obviously be a long hard struggle but if she has the stomach for it she could be instrumental in leading her country to a better future.

While there are many similarities between the regimes in Ethiopia there are also many differences. The regime in Burma appears to be “straight out” dictatorial rule. They make no secret of their endeavours to ruthlessly quash dissent. They have shown time and again that they will send out their military to shoot unarmed civilians in the streets and make no apologies for doing it. However, it’s a bit more complicated in Ethiopia, as the government claims to have something called an “emerging” democracy and says it’s not perfect as it is evolving. In the mean time the end results are always the same.

When push comes to shove, the Zenawi-led government has shown to the world they will commit the same exact human rights crimes the regime in Burma has done. And while Ethiopia has labored very hard to create the perception of legitimacy they will use their military on their own people if they feel threatened to be removed by democratic process. In my opinion the only measure of democracy is whether you have it or whether you don’t. If you have no ability to change the government by virtue of free and fair elections then it doesn’t exist. This is the case in Ethiopia.

How organized and active is Washington DC’s Ethiopian community? What messages have they delivered and who has been at the forefront of such efforts?

From what I see, organization within the Ethiopian diaspora over opposition and election issues is sporadic at best. Certainly I have seen nothing on the level I witnessed a couple years ago in the fight for the Human Rights and Accountability Bill, HR 2003. True, the Ethiopian government has spent millions to stall the bill in the Senate but zealous petitioning from the Ethiopian diaspora has gone flat. I get the sense that many are just frustrated and tired of the fight.

I believe one of the biggest problems is their inability to nationalize the cause. They have a tendency to internalize the issues and keep it to themselves. It’s sad because their causes are ones most Americans can identify with. In my opinion it might work best for them if they phrase their cause as a universal human rights struggle rather than as an internal one. I think it would be most effective if they appealed directly to the American voters themselves the way the Cuban Americans have done.

In the past, the diaspora worked so hard to gain the assistance of people like Congressmen Chris Smith and Donald Payne and now the diaspora is almost never heard from. Nonetheless, I still have high hopes that they will eventually use their rights as U.S. citizens to bring deafening light to their cause, especially as the next Ethiopian election approaches in 2010.

What role has Ethiopia’s past played in shaping a future catastrophe? Do you believe that the persona of former dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam is still prominent in shaping the fear instilled by the Ethiopian leadership today?

This is a very good question. No doubt, many Ethiopians possess what I call “generational fear” which is the type of fear passed down and learned from family and others. For the latest generation of Ethiopians this is not a fear based on personal experience. During the period of the Red Terror thousands were brutally murdered in the streets and as a result an overpowering sense of fear has virtually become part of the culture. Who could blame them? If you knew how young men and women were systematically murdered, their bodies pinned with notes warning everyone to heed the Red Terror, you might better understand. It’s no wonder that the older generation warns their children to, “stay away from politics, it will get you killed”. The damage of cultural fear has stifled healthy interest in governmental participation.

Without a doubt, the Zenawi government has effectively capitalized on the culture of fear instilled by Mengistu Haile Mariam. I am aware that some Ethiopians might be offended by what I am saying but I am speaking from my heart. Recently I read that an opposition party was desperately struggling to get a permit to hold a peaceful rally in a public area known as Meskel Square. Of course the government denied the permit. I was dismayed because no one had the courage to stage the rally without the permit. The rally was planned to be peaceful with no malice intended against the government. While I absolutely do not condone violence, I do believe in peaceful protest. Martin Luther King routinely staged public demonstrations without permits. He knew people would get hurt but he also knew they would never be able to advance their movement if everyone stayed home because there was no permit.

In 1999, the BBC reported that the US Embassy in Harare admitted to assisting Mengistu in finding a safehaven where he was eventually offered sanctuary by Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. Should Obama publicly acknowledge that this tactic was a mistake and has this contributed to the political unrest experienced by Ethiopia since?

While it might not bring total closure for Ethiopians the gesture would certainly go miles to break down the years of mistrust they have been feeling as a result of our misguided foreign policy. Besides the issue of the U.S’s involvement in Mengistu’s escape to Zimbabwe they should also be more transparent about their motives with the current regime. From my point of view, the U.S. has very little to lose by appealing to the Ethiopian people apart from the government.

As I said, many politicians in the U.S. are very uncomfortable with the Ethiopian government. Since the 2005 election massacres their credibility has never been the same. The U.S. absolutely needs to acknowledge the bravery of the thousands who struggle for true democracy and freedom in Ethiopia.

Following a trial that lasted 12 years, an Ethiopian court sentenced Mengistu to life imprisonment in absentia in March 2007 for his role in the genocide that took place during the 1970s. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch estimate that between half a million and 1.5 million people were killed during Mengistu’s reign, beginning in 1974 and ending in 1991.

Before receiving asylum in Zimbabwe, Mengistu is said to have pocketed an undisclosed figure following Israel’s purchase to evacuate 5,000 Falasha Jews at a cost of $300 million. In addition, he pocketed all proceeds following the sale of the Livestock Development Company for $10 million shortly before fleeing Ethiopia for Zimbabwe, where he is now a permanent resident. The Ethiopian people received no compensation.

The Zimbabwean Government has said that it would not force Mengistu to return to Ethiopia. A spokesman for Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe said that the role Mengistu played in supplying arms and pilot training to the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) in its war against white minority rule in the country formerly known as Rhodesia, helped resistance fighters achieve independence. The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) accuse him of masterminding President Mugabe’s Operation Murambastvina (Clean Out The Trash), whereby government militiamen allegedly bulldozed the houses of between 700,000 to 1 million civilians in Harare, mainly MDC supporters. He is reportedly offered personal protection by Mugabe’s Presidential Guard battalion and owns multiple properties.

(Email Chris Flaherty with your questions and comments about his documentary or this interview at: Calleja graduated with a Bachelor of Social Science and Master of Social Science from RMIT University in his home city of Melbourne, Australia. He has taught English in China, Thailand, South Korea and Cambodia, where he worked for a local NGO, Sorya, based in Tropang Sdok village. In addition he has also volunteered as a kindergarten English teacher, tutor and a football coach to male orphan students in Loi Tailang, Shan State. He has narrated and produced a video biography of Cambodian students learning English entitled I Like My English Grilled. His video documenting life at Stung Meanchey, Cambodia, A Garbage Life, can be viewed online. Contact him at

Ethiopian rebel group threatens foreign oil companies

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

By Barry Malone

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – An Ethiopian rebel group on Wednesday warned international oil companies against exploring in a region of the Horn of Africa nation where the rebels attacked a Chinese-run field in 2007 killing 74 people.

The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) — whose hundreds of fighters seek autonomy for the ethnically Somali Ogaden region — said oil firms had cleared some 1,600 square kilometers, displacing locals and destroying vegetation.

“Certain multinational oil corporations are intent on exploiting Ogaden fossil fuel resources in alliance with the current Ethiopian regime that is committing genocide and war crimes in Ogaden,” it said in an emailed statement.

“Besides destroying the livelihood of the rural population in the affected areas, these companies are filling the coffers of this regime and financing its criminal activities in occupied Ogaden.”

The group has in the past directly threatened Petronas, the Malaysian state-owned company, which is one of more than a dozen international explorers hunting for oil and gas in Ethiopia.

Cash-strapped Ethiopia is keen to attract foreign investors and denies the rebels are still a threat.

Ethiopian forces launched an assault against the rebels — who have been fighting for more than twenty years — after the 2007 attack on an exploration field owned by a subsidiary of Sinopec, China’s biggest refiner and petrochemicals producer.

Addis Ababa now says the ONLF has been defeated.

The rebel statement said any firm working in the region would be considered complicit in crimes by Ethiopia’s military.

“In order to accommodate these immoral and gluttonous rushes for oil in Ogaden, Ethiopia killed, raped and illegally detained thousands of Ogaden civilian and imposed economic and aid blockade at a time of when there was a full-blown drought in the Ogaden,” it said.

“ONLF has persistently warned these unscrupulous multinational companies and their governments … the ONLF has been left no alternative but to take all measures necessary to protect the inalienable rights of the Ogaden people.”

Ethiopian officials deny rights abuses in the Ogaden region, saying the rebels are the ones perpetrating crimes there on locals.

(Editing by Matthew Jones)

Saving Begena, one of Ethiopia's sacred musical instruments

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

(Addis Journal) — It is often said that one of Ethiopia’s sacred musical instruments, Begena is on the verge of disappearing. But the recent interest and enthusiasm for the instrument is proving it untrue.

Around 53 people recently graduated from the Abune Gorgorioys School, a school under Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church’s Sunday School, Mahbere Kidusan.The graduation ceremony drew friends, family and church officials who were able to see the musical progress of students with the pieces they performed. It is doubtable that the singers could dupicate the style of the established players like Alemu Aga, but they were impressing the audiences at the ceremony.

On the occasion, it was announced that the EOC has just developed a music education curriculum in accordance within the musical canons of the church.The curriculum set by Mahbere Kidusan is being tested at some schools and would be fully operational next year.

Deacon Wasyhun said that the well-rounded curriculum is a useful educational repertoire that would be used in the church and schools affiliated to it.Others courses of study included, stringed instruments, Masinqo, voice and Geez language. Some of the students were trained for three-months and other for six.
The Deacon told the graduates that it is reward for them to serve the Holy Church after getting good teaching and liturgical direction from qualified and dedicated teachers. “All Orthodox followers should be brought to understand and to appreciate the treasury of church music, both by performing it and by listening to its performance,” he said.

Alemu Aga, who attended the graduation ceremony, said that the instrument is mainly used to praise God. He said that playing the lyre was one of the gifts God gave to David. Thus, the Ethiopian Begena replicate David’s legendary harp and it has 12 strings that are plucked with fingers, according to Alemu.

Stating the significance of this God-given, holy instruments, Alemu recalled how begena lesson came to be given at Entoto Amha Desta School by person called Aleqa Tesema Wolde Amanuel but discontinued by the Derg.

Alemu said seeing more and more young people taking the up the instrument is giving comfort.

Shedding Light on Power Crisis in Ethiopia

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

By Omer Redi | Addis Fortune

The crisis in the power supply has reached such a critical point that blackouts now occur every other day. With the water level in the currently operating hydropower generation dams going down by an average of one to two centimetres everyday, the expected rains in the coming few months will determine whether the power utility can continue supplying energy given the current state of affairs. Nevertheless, Miheret Debebe, chief executive officer of the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCo), says – in an exclusive interview with OMER REDI, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER – that it is not all doom and gloom as there are upcoming power generation stations to be commissioned in a matter of months.

Fortune: It is obvious that Ethiopia is now in such a serious power crisis that you have been forced to introduce load shedding with a frequency that now has reached every other day. What exactly has happened to the power generation sector to make you introduce this schedule?

Miheret: The current situation of power shedding is because of the imbalance in supply and demand. We have short, mid and long term planning. This is the supply-demand forecast and the planning that follows this forecast. From the demand side, this year we anticipated between 17pc to 20pc growth in actual demand, despite the surface demand growth being 24pc.

There is a gap between the demand and supply side growth because forecast depends on different methodologies, knowledge base and experience of the sector. Other major factors, such as economic growth, social development, environmental situations, industrial, commercial and domestic GDP growth, have their own impact on the growth of energy demand. Population growth is a very important factor for the increase in energy demand. To mitigate this demand, definitely there should be supply side planning and this supply side planning starts based on the master plan, which includes all the factors I have mentioned.

Q: Let us discuss the work on the supply side because obviously, the supply has not grown as much as, or at least close to the demand, has it?

The supply side planning follows ways to mitigate this demand growth in the coming five, ten or twenty-five years, focusing on what should be the generation, transmission, distribution and the universal electricity access planning aspects. The generation planning is very critical factor in this regard. But the generation has its own limiting factors to meet its own schedule.

Around the world, generation projects are not completed on time or ahead of schedule; they are delayed significantly due to forced or voluntary situations. For both reasons, our projects are delayed and that is one factor causing the deficit.

The second factor is the hydrology; especially considering that Ethiopia depends on hydrological resources for 95pc of its power generation. This factor was not in our favour; the situation in the existing dams is not in line with the metrological or hydrological forecast anticipated for this year. There is quite a big gap between the water volume we had anticipated and what we actually got from the Belg season. In addition to the low level of water we got in the dry season, the dry season has also aggravated the evaporation at the dams.

The other factor is that though we have had an emergency plan of a capacity the country could afford, the plan was to supply power to meet half of the 24pc demand growth. That means the emergency plan was meant to increase the supply by 12pc. If we had planned to mitigate the entire (24pc) demand growth, that means the country should deploy four times what we have invested today to rent generators. And this is beyond the country’s foreign currency capability.

Q: How did you get the funding for the emergency plan?

It is a complex subsidy element. We initially planned to get financing from the World Bank and the Ethiopian government. Though we started work on the same day with the same objective, financing from the Ethiopian side went efficiently and the emergency generation started in December 2008.

The World Bank financing has been delayed; even the bureaucratic decision making process has not been finalized up to today. Hence, yet again, we now have the capacity to generate only half the emergency plan we had prepared for. The lengthy bureaucratic decision making process at World Bank has delayed half the financing for the emergency plan and thus we rented half the generators we initially wanted to.

The minimum duration of generators rental agreement we can enter to is about six months. So if [the World Bank is going to release the fund afterwards] we enter another agreement for the remaining generators, we will put the country into a serious loan burden for a facility that we can use for weeks or one month [because the rainy season is already closer].

So we have to drop this option and it creates a big gap. All these factors contributed to the big deficit. In any country’s practice, this is [load shedding] how you mitigate the deficit in such situations.

Q: So can we say it is not feasible to rent those diesel generators for six months because it puts a lot of loan burden on the country?

It is not about feasibility. We started the same scheme for six months with Ethiopian and foreign financing. With the Ethiopian financing, the same was completed in a few months and started operations in December last year. With the foreign financing, because of the financiers own conditions and decision making processes, the scheme has been delayed even without approving the tender up to today.

So, even if it is approved today, negotiating, signing a contract agreement and placing orders to rent the generators will take until July and they can be used only after July. By then, the scheme will have lost its service purpose; we have already lost the time we want to fill the gap.

Q: Your plan was for more diesel generators to be rented for the short term and now you are actually using half of your actual plan. Even so, I expect it is a lot of financial burden on the government. Let us talk about this burden. How much do you pay in terms of kilowatt hours for the rent and how much do you charge your customers in the same measurement?

Though the plan was to generate 120Mw from the emergency scheme, we are now getting 60Mw for 20 hours a day continuously.

Of course it creates a lot of financial burden. Yet, for the short term, it is a big scale and feasible practice in any global experience, as in the case of Afghanistan, Iraq and some African countries like Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana and almost everywhere because the continent is suffering a huge energy crisis now. This is the best short term solution as the containerized generators are mobilized, installed and synchronized fast.

Their impact – we pay more than 0.20 dollars for a kilowatt hour and collect less than 0.5 dollars from the consumer. This is a huge subsidy from the government and the corporation. We are doing this only to mitigate the negative socio-economic effect, not as a business objective.

So roughly, we are now spending about 100 million Br to 120 million Br per month for fuel, in addition to the capacity costs we have to pay to the owners of the two generators, which is 10 million dollars for each for the six months rental period. The 20 million dollars for the 60Mw is the least cost available. In addition, we have to pay for fuel and other costs. The monthly breakdown of the six months’ rental cost is about three million dollars.

Q: Do you anticipate any possibility of the rental of these generators being extended for a longer period than the six months?

Well, hopefully, since the problem depends on the start of the rainy season, whether it would start in early or late July, the deficit could last a bit longer. In that case, it could extend for couple of weeks or for a month.

Q: You are now almost close to the end of agreement period, which began in December. Do expect any power supply from the almost finalized hydroelectric power generation stations, such as Gilgel Gibe II and Tekeze to replace these generators?

The agreement period ends around June. Already in Gibe II, only about 200m of the 25.85Km tunnel remains to be completed. So you can imagine what huge progress it is. But still, the last one metre is a challenge for us. Once we complete the breakthrough on the tunnel, hopefully in early June, the two tunnels to the powerhouse [penstocks] will join the 25.85Km tunnel.

This is one of the biggest tunnel projects. Cleaning the tunnel; removing the railing and ventilation system, along with qualitative consolidating of electromechanical system and civil works are expected to be completed at the end of July. Immediately after that, we will start filling the tunnel and generate power according to the schedule.

Q: Still on Gilgel Gibe II, which you expect to be the solution to the current situation, now the remaining part of the actual physical works are the about 200m of construction of the tunnel and other tunnel related works. When these are finalized, there is cleaning. Then, there are three stages of testing: dry test, wet test and commercial test, how long will all this take in total?

I think first of all, there is something we should not forget; the highest voltage (400Kv) and the longest transmission line (230Km) is also going to be commissioned. This is the first of its type in Ethiopia. The transmission is completed. It also includes opticfiber communication wire for telecom purposes and two of the biggest substations in the country – Sebeta II and Gibe End – are completed.

Now dry test is going on simultaneously at the power plant and the substation along with the remaining works because we want to save time. The wet test starts when the water is full in the tunnel and the good thing about it is even if it is somehow disrupted, we test it by loading [power] and supplying to the system; that is the advantage. The wet test and the commissioning test, even if in terms of time we stop and start, we can do that by synchronizing to the system. That means by supplying power to the system.

Q: So you are planning to undertake wet test and commercial test at the same time?

We do it simultaneously. We test it by actually feeding the power to the system and that is also what we mean by loading. Even we want the big industries to be on because we have to test it with the highest load in the system.

Q: How long does the cleaning take?

We are trying to make it shorter and expect this to be finalized in about two months. Let us not forget it is a more than 25Km long tunnel which is so unpleasant for human beings. You can’t survive 200m in the tunnel without air and people, in fact, have died because of humidity and high temperature. For that reason, we have been using ventilation with safety standards and very standard technological facilities that we have to take out now.

Q: What elements does cleaning include?

Cleaning the more than 25Km long tunnel includes removing the railing, a very complicated ventilation system, and equipment that helps the Tunnel Bowering Machine for lighting the tunnel. It is after the tunnel that we see consolidated grouting and the tunnel should be solidified by the civil work. This is also called curing time, once you do the concrete wall, you need civil work of cement and concrete, so it is a drying and curing standard engineering time. And there are some works at the intake part before opening the tunnel.

Q: The dry test does not need water because you simply load power (voltage) to the generators from another sources to check its capacity, proper operation and sustainability. So I expect you have started this test alongside other works long before. How long have you been doing that test and what elements do the dry system include?

It is an every day job. In the past months, we were doing it on the turbines system, the control system, the protection system and the SCADA system. It includes the turbine (turbo machine) system and its functionality, generator, other hydraulic and electromechanical systems which have measurement, control, protection and safety systems. And the SCADA system, where you can control the whole plant using a computer, and where you can see the plant synchronized with the national grid, is also part of this test. This is a high-tech system that we stimulate by installing and feeding some false data to test the whole system. It is a matter of high evaluation on how stable the plant is with a very high standard quality that requires professional work.

Q: Once the dry test and cleaning are finalized, you go on to the wet test along with the commercial test, which is actually commissioning the power, is that right?

Yes, we clean and test the tunnel first. This includes testing the pressure, the water flow, the intake structure, the penstocks (the two 1.2Km each long steel pipes) and the turbo machine system with water. After these works are completed, we will make sure the whole system is ready, by feeding and supplying power from zero to the maximum capacity, then after that the commercial test goes on.

Q: I am aware that what you referred to as an internationally accepted standard and procedure of testing power generation plants demands the three levels of tests to be undertaken one after the other. It is only after these tests that the contractor will handover the project to you for actual commissioning. And of course, you test the plant for sometime before you release the performance guarantee bond. In total, it takes about six months. Now you are telling me that you are going to finalize the tests in about two months or so, while undergoing wet and commercial tests at the same time. I can understand the immense pressure you have been under due to the power crisis and how quick you want this project to be commissioned. But won’t that be risky? Will the project contractor be willing to hand you over the project without going through the normal practice?

No! Not that way! You do not have to isolate some part of the system. You can do some separate tests but you synchronize them to the system. I am sure EEPCo’s capacity and experience in the past 60 years in the power system is competitive and the contractor has to rely on our capacity on the particular matter. So I’m sure we know our business and we will do it to the best interest of the public. Since it is team work, we will achieve our timing and keep the one year warranty with the contractor. After that, we can stop the plant and check everything before taking out its liability. But we will not undermine the safety rules because of the pressure.

Q: Let me take you back to the blackout issue. There used to be a line dedicated for businesses engaged in export trades. There are reports that you have stopped that. Along with the current situation of the power shedding arrangement, which is at least every other day’, that indicates the shortage of power supply and the level of water at the dams has reached a critical level. Considering the worst case scenario, for example, if the expected rain turns out to be negative, how long will you be able to supply power with the current amount of water?

With regard to the consumer grouping, it is based on the economic and social impact of the power outage. We have classified consumer groups. In terms of the industrial aspect, we have heavy industry consumers who have a dedicated line or one mixed with the other domestic or commercial consumers. We have export industries which have a dedicated line or one mixed up with the other from domestic or commercial consumers. When it is the social aspect, we have very sensitive consumers, like hospitals, schools, clinics, as well as water supply and telecom facilities.

The significant power demand is from the industry with commercial and domestic sectors. Thus, the saving is also from these sectors. Those heavy industries are warned to plan their maintenance in this time of shortage to mitigate the impact with the possible demand side management.

Most of them are to be appreciated for obeying the notice, and they are doing major inspection and maintenance works. Some of them are preparing their emergency supply for this period. They will be able to survive by doing their critical activities. Export industries are classified under a clearly committed market. They have been given power, whether through a line dedicated to them or in between consumers; since they are the major aspects of the Ethiopian economy they are given priority.

But as citizens of this nation, sometimes they should share the burden by using their own internal capacity. Since they have the financial capacity, they have to be part of the solutions by using their resources.

About the water level, on our part, we are very vigilant not to let the volume go below the lowest acceptable level. Though we have been successful in maintaining that level of water, the peak hour is still challenging us. Nevertheless, our optimistic plan is to keep to the same situation up to July. It also depends on consumers’ behaviour, like in workshops, garages, and bakeries. They have to shift to stay with today’s consumption for tomorrow, and it also requires consumers’ behaviours to live with discipline for short periods and hope for a bright future. This is the fact of life in the whole continent, even in the world.

Q: From the report on your desk, I can see that the red line indicates the lowest acceptable level of water, while the black line indicates the actual water level in the dams. But I also see that for most of the dams, for the most part, these lines are overlapping. Has the current aggregate water level throughout the dams across the country reached the lowest level?

Now we want to keep the aggregate reduction per day to an acceptable centimetre. This [the report I have] is of hourly reductions for every 24 hours. But the net effect, we want to keep where it should be. [For example] if we want to maintain a one centimetre reduction a day in Melka Wakena Dam, we will avoid further reduction by cutting power because we cannot compromise any other way. We have been successful so far and we have to monitor levels 24 hours. Every one at the dams, the transmission lines, sub-stations, the distribution centres and the consumer must be vigilant.

Q: What is the daily acceptable level of reduction?

Well in Melka Wakena, say one centimetre, while in Gilgel Gibe II, it is about two centimetres.

Q: In normal times, how much is the daily average reduction?

It depends on the season, the time, the day, the volume of water in the dams; but it could be 10cm to 20cm.

Q: What about the water supply to Gigel Gibe (GG) II. Obviously there is a problem with the level of water in all the dams, including Gilgel Gibe I, which is the source of water for the former. So, if the volume of water in the source dam (GG I) is low, if it remains at that level in the coming months, how you will you be able to generate power from GG II even if it is commissioned?

In the first operation, hopefully by the end of July, which is also a good season, the dam would get sufficient water. But even with the minimum water level with which GG I can’t operate, there is a possibility of opening the bottom outlet gate and filling the tunnel and getting power from GG II. Its hydrological harmony is taken care of in earlier design steps. So we still have room to play in and July is a still a reasonable time when even in the worst case scenario, we can generate power from GG II.

Q: There are experts who argue that though the plans for the currently under construction hydroelectric power generation projects have long been on the shelves of EEPCo’s offices, they have not been implemented and initiated until recently when you started this aggressive and intensive works on about six hydroelectric power projects. Why have those plans waited for so long while the demand was obviously expected to increase when the country entered into a free market economy?

Unfortunately, it is not wise to blame the past. We have to learn from our mistakes and weaknesses in the past because it is the best way to benefit from the future. In this aspect, we can look at where we were in the early 90s. There were only 320Mw with only 3,000Km of high voltage and about 7,000Km of medium and low voltage networks and about 320 towns with access to electricity.

But now, including the emergency 270Mw, we have 9,000Km high voltage lines, 75,000Km medium and low voltage lines and 3,200 towns under service. The delay has internal and external factors. While following a very sluggish and conventional way of expansion in the planning, feasibility, designing, implementation and financing phases, what we had achieved in 50 years was about six, seven or a maximum of 10Mw per annum. Hydro plants came into operation at about 10 to 15-year intervals with hundreds of megawatts. But there were no complete and full-fledged feasibility study and bankable document.

Q: There are also arguments that before indications of the possible power crisis started to float – the time the current power generation projects were started – there was less commitment at the highest level of the government about power generation. That means the sector had not been given the emphasis it deserves at the beginning of the free market system. Do you share this view?

It is not always the same. There is no complete homogeneity in such thinking. But as far as I know, there is a far-sighted vision and commitment from top leaders. But there were also those in the top level of the government who thought otherwise. There were, thus, two conflicting ideas.

For example, though our financiers had said that Gibe I would be enough for 10 years, and thus, advised us to invest the money in other sectors, the government continued to work on the other projects. In fact, it was before we consumed Gibe I for only 10 months that the power problem started, let alone being enough for 10 years.

Q: For example, the infrastructure development area the government is known to be successful in is the road sector. This is due to the emphasis the sector has enjoyed from the government. Do you believe that your sector has been given equal attention?

Here there is a mixed approach. Like you said, the road sector gets a lot of attention and is attractive to financiers since it is a main development infrastructure. But in the case of power, the financiers want us to be stable financially and work as a business entity on one hand. On the other hand, they want us to be development-oriented businesses. So in this respect there is a dual approach and definitely this sector faces two challenges in bringing these to one.

Q: When do you expect to reach a level where EEPCo and you, as a senior official of the corporation, enjoy compliments following your successful achievements in developing the energy sector as the road sector doe now?

Handling the power sector is a very tough issue, which, sometimes, is higher than the socio-economic crisis. Unfortunately, power is a very determinant factor in every bit of life. Every single life in every second is dependent on energy. So has the fast development move. Our big challenge is the dependence on foreign resources. When we are out of this dependence, definitely this will mean we can achieve all our national objectives.

Q: When do you expect EEPCo to take Ethiopia out of the current situation?

To be frank, we have a very bright future. If we finish the three projects ahead of us – Beles, Tekeze and GG II – and when we come out of the daily challenges we have to face over GG III, then we are likely to be free from the current problems.

Beyond that, we have another cascade of projects in line; I am not going to mention the details because these will be announced by the government soon. And our strong foreign market will start in January 2010. Then our dependence on foreign financing will end.

Q: EEPCo has been under different structures under the current government. In the first ten years since EPRDF has come to power, it was under the former Ministry of Infrastructure, along with 12 other government agencies. Now it is under the Ministry of Mines and Energy. Do you feel that you should have been under a ministry which deals only with energy issues, as in the case of some other countries like Kenya? Do you believe that such structural issues and instability have hindered you from achieving what you could and should have achieved, perhaps, if you were under a ministry that is directly responsible only for energy or power generation?

As you know, there is a major national level restructuring process going on in the country right now. The national transformation covers all sectors; the energy or power sector is one of them.

If you see the development [over the years] the infrastructure ministry was multi-disciplinary, now it is reduced to a few focused sectors. The structural issue is a top government level, macro-level policy makers’ issue. If you see the natural progress more focused sectoral ministries have been making; after that, the national reform program has been launched.

As a result of the past and current development, as well as the dynamism of the power sector, now we are also entering a new restructuring phase. For my own sector, within my own mandate, I could say it very much demands very basic restructuring. We need a more focused, optimum, customer-oriented and sectoral structure based on the core process. The construction and the operation should be separate businesses; the generation, transmission and distribution should be organized into a bundle under public ownership.

Q: So have you suggested these changes? Does that mean it should have its own ministry?

The natural growth of the sector leads us to the restructuring, and I think the issue is being discussed by higher officials in the government.

Massive sale of Ethiopian farms lands to Chinese and Arabs

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

The Economist

The Chinese and Arabs are buying poor countries’ farms on a colossal scale. Be wary of the results.

OVER the past two years, as much as 20m hectares of farmland—an area as big as France’s sprawling farmland and worth $20 billion-30 billion—has been quietly handed over to capital-exporting countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and China. They buy or lease millions of acres, grow staple crops or biofuels on it, and ship them home. The countries doing the selling are some of the world’s poorest and least stable ones: Sudan, Ethiopia, Congo, Pakistan. Usually, when foreigners show up in these places, it is with aid, pity and lectures (or, in one instance, arrest warrants for war crimes). It must make a nice change to find their farms, so often sources of failure and famine, objects of commercial interest instead.

Yet while governments celebrate these investments, the rest of the world might reasonably ask why, if the deals are so good, one of the biggest of them helped cause the overthrow of the government that signed it—the one in Madagascar. Will this new scramble for Africa and Asia really reduce malnutrition, as its supporters say? Or are critics right that these are “land grabs”, “neocolonialist” rip-offs, different from 19th-century colonialism only because they involve different land-grabbers and enrich different local elites?

Protectionism or efficiency?

It would be graceless to write off in advance foreign investment in some of the most miserable places on earth. The potential benefits of new seeds, drip-feed irrigation and farm credit are vast. Most other things seem to have failed African agriculture—domestic investment, foreign aid, international loans—so it is worth trying something new. Bear in mind, too, that worldwide economic efficiency will rise if (as is happening) Saudi Arabia abandons mind-bogglingly expensive wheat farms in the desert and buys up land in east Africa.

Yet these advantages cannot quell a nagging unease. For a start, most deals are shrouded in mystery—rarely a good sign, especially in countries riddled with corruption. One politician in Cambodia complains that a contract to lease thousands of acres of rice contains fewer details than you would find in a house-rental agreement. Secrecy makes it impossible to know whether farms are really getting more efficient or whether the deals are done mainly to line politicians’ pockets.

Next, most of these deals are government-to-government. This raises awkward questions. Foreign investment helps countries not only by applying new technology but also by reorganising the way people work and by keeping an eye on costs. Few governments do this well, corrupt ones least of all. One of the biggest problems of large-scale commercial farming in poor countries is that well-connected farmers find it more profitable to seek special favours than to farm. These deals may exacerbate that problem. Worse, the impetus for many of them has not been profit-seeking by those who want to turn around failing farms. Rather, it has been alarm at rising food prices and export bans. Protectionism, not efficiency, has been the driving force. It would be better to liberalise food markets and boost trade than encourage further land grabs.

Third, there are serious doubts about whether countries acquiring land are paying the true cost of it. Host governments usually claim the farmland they offer is vacant, state-owned property. That is often untrue. It may well support smallholders who have farmed it for generations. They have no title, only customary rights. Deals that push them off their land or override customary rights cannot be justified. International bodies, such as the African Union, are drawing up codes of conduct to limit such abuses. They are sorely needed.

Even then, land deals will never help the poor as much as freer trade and stronger property rights. But if the deals eventually raised yields, spread technology and created jobs, that would at least be some cause for celebration. At the moment too many seem designed to benefit local elites more than local farmers; they use foreign labour and export most of their production, harming local food markets. Until they show otherwise, a dose of scepticism should be mixed with the premature hopes the land deals have engendered.

Buying farmland abroad

EARLY this year, the king of Saudi Arabia held a ceremony to receive a batch of rice, part of the first crop to be produced under something called the King Abdullah initiative for Saudi agricultural investment abroad. It had been grown in Ethiopia, where a group of Saudi investors is spending $100m to raise wheat, barley and rice on land leased to them by the government. The investors are exempt from tax in the first few years and may export the entire crop back home. Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) is spending almost the same amount as the investors ($116m) providing 230,000 tonnes of food aid between 2007 and 2011 to the 4.6m Ethiopians it thinks are threatened by hunger and malnutrition.

The Saudi programme is an example of a powerful but contentious trend sweeping the poor world: countries that export capital but import food are outsourcing farm production to countries that need capital but have land to spare. Instead of buying food on world markets, governments and politically influential companies buy or lease farmland abroad, grow the crops there and ship them back.

Supporters of such deals argue they provide new seeds, techniques and money for agriculture, the basis of poor countries’ economies, which has suffered from disastrous underinvestment for decades. Opponents call the projects “land grabs”, claim the farms will be insulated from host countries and argue that poor farmers will be pushed off land they have farmed for generations. What is unquestionable is that the projects are large, risky and controversial. In Madagascar they contributed to the overthrow of a government.

Investment in foreign farms is not new. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 foreign investors rushed to snap up former state-owned and collective farms. Before that there were famous—indeed notorious—examples of European attempts to set up flagship farms in ex-colonies, such as Britain’s ill-fated attempt in the 1940s to turn tracts of southern Tanzania into a limitless peanut prairie (the southern Tanganyika groundnut scheme). The phrase “banana republics” originally referred to servile dictatorships running countries whose economies were dominated by foreign-owned fruit plantations.

But several things about the current fashion are new. One is its scale. A big land deal used to be around 100,000 hectares (240,000 acres). Now the largest ones are many times that. In Sudan alone, South Korea has signed deals for 690,000 hectares, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for 400,000 hectares and Egypt has secured a similar deal to grow wheat. An official in Sudan says his country will set aside for Arab governments roughly a fifth of the cultivated land in Africa’s largest country (traditionally known as the breadbasket of the Arab world).

It is not just Gulf states that are buying up farms. China secured the right to grow palm oil for biofuel on 2.8m hectares of Congo, which would be the world’s largest palm-oil plantation. It is negotiating to grow biofuels on 2m hectares in Zambia, a country where Chinese farms are said to produce a quarter of the eggs sold in the capital, Lusaka. According to one estimate, 1m Chinese farm labourers will be working in Africa this year, a number one African leader called “catastrophic”.

In total, says the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), a think-tank in Washington, DC, between 15m and 20m hectares of farmland in poor countries have been subject to transactions or talks involving foreigners since 2006. That is the size of France’s agricultural land and a fifth of all the farmland of the European Union. Putting a conservative figure on the land’s value, IFPRI calculates that these deals are worth $20 billion-30 billion—at least ten times as much as an emergency package for agriculture recently announced by the World Bank and 15 times more than the American administration’s new fund for food security.

If you assume that the land, when developed, will yield roughly two tonnes of grain per hectare (which would be twice the African average but less than that of Europe, America and rich Asia), it would produce 30m-40m tonnes of cereals a year. That is a significant share of the world’s cereals trade of roughly 220m tonnes a year and would be more than enough to meet the appetite for grain imports in the Middle East. What is happening, argues Richard Ferguson, an analyst for Nomura Securities, is outsourcing’s third great wave, following that of manufacturing in the 1980s and information technology in the 1990s.

Several other features of the process are also new. Unlike older projects, the current ones mostly focus on staples or biofuels—wheat, maize, rice, jatropha. The Egyptian and South Korean projects in Sudan are both for wheat. Libya has leased 100,000 hectares of Mali for rice. By contrast, farming ventures used to be about cash crops (coffee, tea, sugar or bananas).

In the past, foreign farming investment was usually private: private investors bought land from private owners. That process has continued, particularly the snapping up of privatised land in the former Soviet Union. Last year a Swedish company called Alpcot Agro bought 128,000 hectares of Russia; South Korea’s Hyundai Heavy Industries paid $6.5m for a majority stake in Khorol Zerno, a company that owns 10,000 hectares of eastern Siberia; Morgan Stanley, an American bank, bought 40,000 hectares of Ukraine in March. And Pava, the first Russian grain processor to be floated, plans to sell 40% of its landowning division to investors in the Gulf, giving them access to 500,000 hectares. Thanks to rising land values and (until recently) rising commodity prices, farming has been one of the few sectors to remain attractive during the credit crunch.

The great government grab

But the majority of the new deals have been government-to-government. The acquirers are foreign regimes or companies closely tied to them, such as sovereign-wealth funds. The sellers are host governments dispensing land they nominally own. Cambodia leased land to Kuwaiti investors last August after mutual prime-ministerial visits. Last year the Sudanese and Qatari governments set up a joint venture to invest in Sudan; the Kuwaiti and Sudanese ministers of finance signed what they called a “giant” strategic partnership for the same purpose. Saudi officials have visited Australia, Brazil, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, the Philippines, South Africa, Sudan, Turkey, Ukraine and Vietnam to talk about land acquisitions. The balance between the state and private sectors is heavily skewed in favour of the state.

That makes the current round of land acquisitions different in kind, as well as scale. When private investors put money into cash crops, they tended to boost world trade and international economic activity. At least in theory, they encourage farmers to switch from growing subsistence rice to harvesting rubber for cash; from growing rubber to working in a tyre factory; and from making tyres to making cars. But now, governments are investing in staple crops in a protectionist impulse to circumvent world markets. Why are they doing this and what are the effects?

“Food security is not just an issue for Abu Dhabi or the United Arab Emirates,” says Eissa Mohamed Al Suwaidi of the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development. “Recently, it has become a hot issue everywhere.” He is confirming what everyone knows: the land deals are responses to food-market turmoil.

Between the start of 2007 and the middle of 2008, The Economist index of food prices rose 78%; soyabeans and rice both soared more than 130%. Meanwhile, food stocks slumped. In the five largest grain exporters, the ratio of stocks to consumption-plus-exports fell to 11% in 2009, below its ten-year average of over 15%.

It was not just the price rises that rattled food importers. Some of them, especially Arab ones, are oil exporters and their revenues were booming. They could afford higher prices. What they could not afford, though, was the spate of trade bans that grain exporters large and small imposed to keep food prices from rising at home. Ukraine and India banned wheat exports for a while; Argentina increased export taxes sharply. Actions like these raised fears in the Gulf that one day importers might not be able to secure enough supplies at any price. They persuaded many food-importing countries that they could no longer rely on world food markets for basic supplies.

Panic buying

What to do instead? The obvious answer was: invest in domestic farming and build up your own stocks. Countries that could, did so. Spending on rural infrastructure is the third largest item in China’s 4 trillion yuan ($585 billion) economic-stimulus plan. European leaders said high prices showed the protectionist common agricultural policy needed to be preserved.

But the richest oil exporters did not have that option. Saudi Arabia made itself self-sufficient in wheat by lavishing untold quantities of money to create grain fields in the desert. In 2008, however, it abandoned its self-sufficiency programme when it discovered that farmers were burning their way through water—which comes from a non-replenishable aquifer below the Arabian sands—at a catastrophic rate. But if Saudi Arabia was growing more food than it should, and if it did not trust world markets, the only solution was to find farmland abroad. Other Gulf states followed suit. So did China and South Korea, countries not usually associated with water shortages but where agricultural expansion has been draining dry breadbasket areas like the North China Plain.

Water shortages have provided the hidden impulse behind many land deals. Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, the chairman of Nestlé, claims: “The purchases weren’t about land, but water. For with the land comes the right to withdraw the water linked to it, in most countries essentially a freebie that increasingly could be the most valuable part of the deal.” He calls it “the great water grab”.

For the countries seeking land (or water), the attractions are clear. But what of those selling or leasing their resources? They are keen enough, even sending road shows to the Gulf. Sudan is letting investors export 70% of the crop, even though it is the recipient of the largest food-aid operation in the world. Pakistan is offering half a million hectares of land and promising Gulf investors that if they sign up, it will hire a security force of 100,000 to protect the assets. For poor countries land deals offer a chance to reverse decades of underinvestment in agriculture.

In developing countries as a whole, the average growth in cereal yields has fallen from 3-6% a year in the 1960s to 1-2% a year now, says the World Bank. This reflects, among other things, a decline in public investment. In the 14 countries that depend most on farming, public spending on agriculture almost halved as a share of total public spending between 1980 and 2004. Foreign aid to farming also halved in real terms over the same period. Farming has done worst of all in Africa, where most of the largest land deals are taking place. There, agricultural output per farmworker was the lowest in the world during 1980-2004, growing by less than 1% a year, compared with over 3% a year in East Asia and the Middle East.

The investors promise a lot: new seeds, new marketing, better jobs, schools, clinics and roads. An official at Sudan’s agriculture ministry said investment in farming in his country by Arab states would rise almost tenfold from $700m in 2007 to a forecast $7.5 billion in 2010. That would be half of all investment in the country, he said. In 2007, agricultural investment had been a mere 3% of the total.

China has set up 11 research stations in Africa to boost yields of staple crops. That is needed: sub-Saharan Africa spends much less than India on agricultural R&D. Even without new seed varieties or fancy drip-feed irrigation, investment should help farmers. One of the biggest constraints on African farming is the inability to borrow money for fertilisers. If new landlords just helped farmers get credit, it would make a big difference.

Yet a certain wariness ought to be maintained. Farming in Africa is hard. It breaks backs and the naive ambitions of outsiders. To judge by the scale of projects so far, the new investors seem to be pinning their hopes on creating technologically sophisticated large farms. These have worked well in Europe and the Americas. Paul Collier of Oxford University says Africa needs them too: “African peasant farming has fallen further and further behind the advancing commercial productivity frontier.”

But alas, the record of large farms in Africa has been poor. Those that have done best are now moving away from staple crops to higher-value things such as flowers and fruit. Mechanised farming schemes that grow staples have often ended with abandoned machinery rusting in the returning bush. Moreover, large farmers are often well-connected and spend more time lobbying for special favours than doing the hard work.

Politics of a different sort poses more immediate problems. In Madagascar this year popular hostility to a deal that would have leased 1.3m hectares—half the island’s arable land—to Daewoo Logistics, a South Korean company, fanned the flames of opposition and contributed to the president’s overthrow. In Zambia, the main opposition leader has come out against China’s proposed 2m-hectare biofuels project—and China has threatened to pull out of Zambia if he ever came to power. The chairman of Cambodia’s parliamentary foreign-affairs committee complains that no one has any idea what terms are being offered to Kuwait to lease rice paddies.

The head of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, Jacques Diouf, dubs some projects “neocolonialist”. Bowing before the wind, a Chinese agriculture-ministry official insists his country is not seeking to buy land abroad, though he adds that “if there are requests, we would like to assist.” (On one estimate, China has signed 30 agricultural co-operation deals covering over 2m hectares since 2007.)

Objections to the projects are not simply Luddite. The deals produce losers as well as winners. Host governments usually claim that the land they are offering for sale or lease is vacant or owned by the state. That is not always true. “Empty” land often supports herders who graze animals on it. Land may be formally owned by the state but contain people who have farmed it for generations. Their customary rights are recognised locally, but often not accepted in law, or in the terms of a foreign-investment deal.

So the deals frequently set one group against another in host countries and the question is how those conflicts get resolved. “If you want people to invest in your country, you have to make concessions,” says the spokesman for Kenya’s president. (He was referring to a deal in which Qatar offered to build a new port in exchange for growing crops in the Tana river delta, something opposed by local farmers and conservationists.) The trouble is that the concessions are frequently one-sided. Customary owners are thrown off land they think of as theirs. Smallholders have their arms twisted to sign away their rights for a pittance.

This is worrying in itself. And it leads to so much local opposition that some deals cannot be implemented. The Saudi Binladin Group put on hold a $4.3 billion project to grow rice on 500,000 hectares of Indonesia. China postponed a 1.2m hectare deal in the Philippines.

Farms control

Joachim von Braun, the head of IFPRI, argues that the best way to resolve the conflicts and create “a win-win” is for foreign investors to sign a code of conduct to improve the terms of the deals for locals. Various international bodies have been working on their versions of such a code, including the African Union, which is due to ratify one at a summit in July.

Good practice would mean respecting customary rights; sharing benefits among locals (ie, not just bringing in your own workers), increasing transparency (current deals are shrouded in secrecy) and abiding by national trade policies (which means not exporting if the host country is suffering a famine). These sound well and good. But Sudan and Ethiopia have famines now: should they be declining to sign land deals altogether? Many of the worst abuses are committed by the foreign investors’ local partners: will they be restrained by some international code?

There are plenty of reasons for scepticism about these deals. If they manage to reverse the long decline of farming in poor countries, they will have justified themselves. But like any big farming venture, they will take years to reveal their full impact. For the moment, the right response is to defer judgment and keep a watchful, hopeful but wary eye on their progress.