Friday, December 29

"And now they are taking our children..."

On the weekend I ran into a friend whom I haven’t seen in a couple of months. After chatting for a few moments I asked about her family. Her face immediately clouded over and her voice was barely audible: “The boys…are gone.”

“Gone?” I repeated in amazement. “What do you mean gone?”

She explained that they had recently left the family home and gone into hiding, fearing that they would also be rounded up and sent to war. “Sometimes, you know, they still come around during the days…but never for the nights. Most of the boys in the neighborhood have fled now. There is no one left.”

“Before this thing used to be only in the rural areas, but now they have come to Addis,” she continued angrily. “And for what? Tell me! Haven’t they already done enough to us here? Nobody wants this war! Nobody!”

Her voice trembled, as she looked at the ground.

“And now they are taking our children…”

(For more of what they are doing to Ethiopia's children, check out the latest post from Ethio-Zagol if you haven't already done so...)

Tuesday, December 26

Mass Arrests on Christmas Day

Last night police swarmed the streets of Addis in attempt to broaden the mass arrest efforts already underway.

In addition to the thousands of youths reportedly detained over the weekend, those even remotely connected to the opposition CUD are being systematically rounded up and detained for 'questioning'--thanks to a circulating 'official list' of names and license plate numbers of alleged party supporters.

It is assumed that this action is intended as a preventative measure in light of growing internal opposition to the war following the recent air strikes in Somalia.

People are advised to remain in their homes after dark.

Monday, December 25

Hurray for Stephanie McCrummen!

Hurray! It’s time to celebrate, for it seems that a member of the international press has finally got it right!
I must admit, after last week’s interview with the Prime Minister, I had all but lost faith in the Washing ton Post (who once classified Meles among the world’s worst dictators). Kudos to Stephanie for taking the time to truly understand and represent the political situation here and hats off to the bravery of Mulunesh and Nemera for sharing their stories and giving voice to so many!

“The times, they are a ‘changin’….”

Wednesday, December 20

In response to the Interview With Meles Zenawi

For almost a week now I have been trying to make peace with the interview given by Meles Zenawi to a reporter from the Washington Post. I have re-read it several times, alternately cursed and laughed, yet each time I pass the pages lying on my coffee table it makes my blood boil.

I just can’t seem to digest the dispicable irony of this man publicly claiming support for the transitional government of Somalia (TGS) solely on the grounds that “it represents all the clans in Somalia” (as reported in the Ethiopian Herald, July 2006)—a bold claim from a dictator whose entire leadership has been fashioned from the divide-and-rule tactics of a minotrity clique!

There has not, as of yet, been significant evidence to suggest that the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) intends to establish Taliban-style rule and the threats of “jihadist attack’ on Ethiopian soil remain greatly exaggerated--despite his cunning attempts to ridicule the “intelligent people in the 21st century” who correctly assume that unprovoked invasion could eventually push the Courts (10 out of 15 of which are currently considered moderate) to retreat into extremism, resorting to terrorist methods in response to the unprovoked attacks.

You want to discuss a truly “interesting and very suprising” argument? How about the illogical claim that “the group has clearly demonstrated ….that it is prepared to use dialogue to facilitate military takeover” ! What does that even mean? …If they use violence, they are terrorists; if they opt for peaceful dialogue, they somehow become even more dangerous terrorists? Come on, man—you can do better than that!

I’ll tell you what’s worse than “fecklessness in the face of a challenge”…How about a militant leader interefering in the internal affairs of a neighboring country (that has finally, according to international reports, ‘admittedly’ experienced a level of stability and security under the UIC unprecedented for over a decade) to appease Western powers that seem “less than pleased’ over recent reports of internal human rights abuses? What about a cruel tyrant, systematically oppressing his own people and driving the country towards irrepairable economic ruin? Or how about a dictator recently implicated in the murder of hundreds of innocent civilians, calmly discussing the ‘elements of a terroist regime’?

I can just imagine the expression on his face as he dodged the questions of democracy—most likely a carefully concocted mixture of humility and definance , head bowed “just enough” in shame to underline the fact that he too has, indeed, made some mistakes in the “process of democratization”. Perhaps he even chuckled amicably when he uneccessarily reminded (threatened?) us that he is “not certifed dead yet”, and therefore “still learning”…?

I can barely even address his final comments—I am already spitting mad!!(…again) If there is “no such fear’”here, why are students being shot in the streets and
increasingly rounded up and forced into military service or imprisoned ‘just in case’? Why do national bloggers receive death threats on a daily basis for merely reporting events that would otherwise be covered by a free and independent media body? Why were thousands of soldiers brought in to surround Meskel square during the celebrations, if it was not exactly to inspire such fear and trembling? Why does everyone now fall unnaturally silent when the opposition song is played in bars and street cafes? Why have the fingers and arms of children been broken in punishment for a simple hand gesture that has now become illegal? Tell me why, in this country, are the prisons overflowing and the cupboards bare?

Perhaps you, Mr. Prime Minister, are not afraid (though your frequent fainting bouts seem to suggest that oppressing millions of people on a daily basis is more stressful than it appears!) but I know I have already taken to lowering my voice in public, limiting my phone calls, and quickly moving on when someone seems just a little ‘too interested’ in the contents of my computer screen…

Tuesday, December 19

In the Name of...Justice?

Amidst reports of war and attempted negotiation with the political prisoners, life in Ethiopia is becoming far more confusing for this ferenj!

It seems that everyone has a different opinion regarding the outcome of the political trial these days, as the next court session (February 19, 2007) draws closer by the day. Some say that Meles must be under pressure from the international community to release the prisoners immediately, while others argue that the Americans need them to remain behind bars in order to successfully wage this proxy “War on Terror”. There are also those who suggest that, due to mounting civil dissent, the Prime Minister is left with no choice but to release the leaders (in hopes of rallying support for the war and preventing armed struggle); still others insist it cannot be that simple—and fear this dictator has something far more sinister up his sleeve.

Regardless, should the trial actually reach February’s scheduled hearing, a handful of men will be of particular interest; as much has already been disclosed about head Prosecutor Shemiels Kemal by far more competant bloggers here, I will stick with the three High Court Judges--Mohammad Abdulsani, Leul Gebremariam and Adil Ahmed.

Judge Mohammad seems to have the least suspicious CV of the three and is generally considered apolitical. Currently in is his late-30s, he graduated in law from the Civil Service College in Addis Ababa and practiced as a prosecutor in the SNNPR region for years before being appointed as a federal high court judge.

Judge Leul, the eldest of the three, is a law graduate from he night school program at Addis Ababa Univeristy (which, by the way, awards diplomas, not degrees) and began working immediately as a prosecutor for the Ministry of Justice. Within this instiution he quickly developed a reputation as the ‘right-hand-man’ of the EPRDF, and though he remained “officially” outside the heirarchy of civil service, he was able to control and direct operations (even ‘influencing’ the Minister himself!) due to his known government affiliation. During the 2000 election, he publicly campaigned for the EPRDF and was later controversially appointed as a judge on the Second Criminal Division of the Federal High Court (the bench where political hearings are usually conducted. Strangely, this judge is also known for carrying his personal gun with him to every court sesssion!)

The young Judge Adil, originally from the Harari region, also attended The Civil Service College. (It is important to note that during his time of study, the national education system was such that upon failure of the high-school national exam, entrance to public universities or colleges was denied--leaving the option of attending either a private college or The Civil Service College (widely-considered a pro-EPRDF, ‘cadre-development’ centre). Here he studied law and was appointed as a judge at the Harari Region High Court immediately upon graduation. Then (somewhat ‘miraculously’, considering his academic record!) he received a scholarship from the British Council to study at the esteemed Essex University, where he received his Masters degree in Human Rights Law (*%#&!!!!). After returning from study, he was named President of the Harari Region Supreme Court, and was later appointed President of the Federal High Court (after the former president left for study abroad).

Such dubious credentials clearly speak for themselves and so, it seems, no further comment is needed today. Ciao!

Monday, December 18

The Process

If there is one thing I have learned living in Ethiopia, it is that everything, apparently, is a “process”!

From trying to obtain a driving permit, to Vickie Huddleston’s patronizing assessment of democracy, it seems there are as many “Ministries” and “appropriate channels” in Addis as there are taxis!

Last week I went to inquire on behalf of some generous private donors interested in starting up a small, non-profit school in an undeveloped kebele. (Who knew it is also an entirely separate “process”, just to begin the “process” itself! The civil service sector really has outdone themselves on this one, in my opinion…)

My first mistake, in retrospect, must have been to start out at the most logical place of all --the Ministry of Education. After waiting about 20 minutes in 3 separate lines, I was finally directed “around the back and up maybe 3 or 4 floors” to an office, where I was informed that they had absolutely no idea where I should direct my inquiries. I was then sent to 2 more offices, where I again repeated my questions to no avail, and was eventually directed to an entirely different regional bureau in another part of town.

Finding the place (no small feat in itself!) gave me a renewed sense of purpose, and I marched into the first office, confident they would provide the information requested by my Western friends.

The secretary looked me up and down and immediately went back to her typing—treatment admittedly unusual for a ferenji in Addis--“especially one who is acting as an ambassador of goodwill,” or so I impatiently told myself. Finally, after 15 minutes or so, she directed me across the courtyard—to the first of the 4 offices that would consume the rest of my day.

I literally went back and forth between these offices for hours, unable to obtain even the official protocol required for starting up such a project. One suggested, I “might, maybe want to go to the Ministry of Justice?….(Which is somewhere by the Cathedral…?”). Another suggested I “could possibly try the Director of Curriculum…?”. The third determined I should probably visit the “head educational statician” or “perhaps try the social and NGO Affairs Bureau?” (does such a place even exist in Addis?!).

Before I knew it, I found myself right back where I started, as the fourth person insisted I must “most certainly start with the Ministry of Education”!

I could go on about how I spent an additional 3 hours in that building in vain, or gripe about the futility of trying to construct a detailed budget from the vague and inconsistent data I received…Or, for that matter, the lamentable inadequacy of the civil service sector in the hands of the EPRDF and the not-so-subtle suggestion that I “hire” someone (for a generous bribe--excuse me, fee--of $450 USD!) to help “expedite the process”…

But, today I am at home, happy instead to grab a beer, put on some music and laugh about it.
…After all, the “process” will surely begin again in the morning

Thursday, December 14

Like a Lion Caged...

I am confused…
Can someone please explain to me why the most recent stories picked up by the Associated Press (though admittedly occasionally including stories of dictators past)have been mainly about football scandals, athletic achievements and endangered species? Granted, Ethiopia may not rank among the most influential or closely- observed nations in the West, but between the new developments surrounding the ongoing political trial and…umm…THE WAR, one would assume that now (if ever) a foreign correspondent stationed in this country could manage to pitch a story or two!

Don’t get me wrong, I am most certainly an animal lover (and proud PETA contributor) myself but I must admit that I have a far more difficult time sympathizing with lions in a place where people are being murdered and oppressed on a daily basis…I simply fail to recognize how this story could take priority over the other—the ever-growing volume of crimes against humanity—being written simultaneously in this country…?!

Nonetheless (fearing that this place has already made me more callous than I care to admit) I decided to go down to the “Ambasa Gibee” and assess the plight of the rare Abyssinian lions (and, if I am to be completely honest, the competence of the AP reporter!) for myself.

Upon arrival, the smell alone suggested that the conditions of captivity were far worse than those I have encountered in any other zoo throughout my world travels. In concrete enclosures hardly larger than my living room, I found these magnificent creatures lying listlessly next to trails of urine on bare concrete floors. Though Abyssian lions are a naturally small species, it remained blatantly obvious that these pairs were slowly starving to death--coats that had lost all sheen, stretched tightly over jutting rib bones could hardly disguise their measured journey towards death.

Originally established by Emperor Haile Sellassie in 1940 as a personal collection,impressive entourage and source of pride, this compound under EPRDF ownership has fallen into unacceptable disarray (little wonder from a government who makes it a habit to publicly discard life and liberty). The grounds, though lovingly tended year-round by a handful of employees, are pitiful--offering only a few wilted flower beds and apologetic shrubs. By way of concession, a small stand offers donuts and beverages which can be consumed at leisure (under the hot sun), while next door is a privately-owned children’s playground, whose admissions reportedly partially subsidizes zoo maintenance/animal care (which the government is “unable to solely assume”, thus the starving lions).

What this care consists of, exactly, is hard to determine and I arrived intentionally at noon to witness the daily feeding of the lions. Curious as to the nature of their meals, I watched as the lions sprang to life nearly half an hour before the designated feeding time, with terrible, awe-inspiring purpose—pacing frantically back and forth in frenzied anticipation, saliva dripping from their powerful jaws. When it seemed they would finally tear through the bars of the cage and devour us all, a worker tossed them a meager chunk of meat and bone (no larger than my head), amidst the applause of the crowd who had gathered to watch the daily spectacle. (One lion actually significantly bent the bars of cage to bring the meal inside the cage—testament to the sheer power of starvation, I suppose.)

One worker explained that though she has been employed by the zoo for many years, she wished the government would close down operations—even if it meant she losing her only job—simply to “end the suffering of the animals”. She confided with a motherly concern that the lions were not able to run because of the narrow confines of their enclosures and how their paws were often and easily torn, made soft from pacing the unnaturally smooth concrete floor). She told of how the legs of the cubs (removed from their mothers far too early) often become temporarily paralyzed because the concrete floor in their tiny enclosure is too cold at night; together we sadly shook our heads as we observed them lying amidst their own feces--destined for decades in miserable captivity or the dubious ‘mercy’ of the taxidermists (as reported by AP correspondent Les Nehaus. When questioned, zoo officials of course had “never heard of such allegations”, though I find myself more inclined to side with this report and my new found employee-friend...)

So, despite my somewhat ignoble intentions, I guess I discovered something important in visiting the lions that day: Life is life and suffering is suffering. Even though this country has opened my eyes to so much, I still cannot bear to witness even a lion in such shameful conditions.

I suppose, if this is the way this government chooses to honor the ‘King of the Jungle’ it should come as no surprise that they would seek to also imprison the true political leaders and national heroes of this country in similar fashion. Though such comparison is unfortunately far closer to reality than poetic indulgence, it seems that the international community can more easily respond to ‘animal cruelty’ than the gross, ongoing human rights violations occurring here.

(So, don’t worry about it, Les—we understand, and we’ll take it from here!)

Monday, December 11

Kaliti On a Sunday Afternoon

Today is Monday, which means that yesterday Kaliti’s political prisoners were permitted the fleeting opportunity to visit with family members and friends.

Early on Sunday afternoon the visitors gathered beneath the sniper towers and formidable prison archway, waiting to glimpse their loved ones and relay cryptic messages of hope, news and inspiration. Beginning at 3pm, the guards inspected the visitor ID cards, while those inside the compound meticulously recorded the name and residence of the visitor next to the name of the prisoner they wished to visit; “CUD-supporters” were additionally registered on a separate list (to “harass at a future date”, one assumes, should civilian targets ever become in short supply.) Ferenji visitors have now been completely prohibited from visiting Kaliti, as I discovered yesterday—information the guards conveniently neglect to share until after the registration process is completed and we have been duly noted as “persons in support of the opposition”.

Those still allowed beyond this point then removed their shoes and subjected themselves to an invasive physical inspection intended to prevent the entrance of “anything and everything”—gifts, food, electronics, paper. For the immediate family members granted special permission to deliver food and personal items, the procedure was even more grueling: the list of prohibitions is extensive—subject to the whims and temperament of the guard on that particular day—and most often quite ridiculous, with the most recent additions being black clothing (representative of a state of mourning and therefore favored by prisoners during court appearances) berberi and tea bags; food is also subsequently searched (using the same dirty fork for each person and dish!) and family members made to eat a portion of the food themselves in front of the guards.

Finally—nearly half an hour into the allotted period—yesterday’s visitors were able to proceed to the designated visiting area—a hot, muddy room of corrugated iron and concrete apparently frequented by as many wild mice as people. Here, the prisoners were already divided into 3 zones of 30-35 people each, and detained behind the waist-high wooden railing, restricted to the physical contact of a simple handshake. As usual, approximately two guards were assigned per prisoner to “monitor conversation” (though Dr. Berhanu is usually awarded no less than 6 personal guards!) –and the “impossible subjects” remained as obvious as they are numerous. (All conversations must be conducted exclusively in Amharic, Oromenia, Tigrinya or English; I have heard that they once even detained an American visitor for hours because he “insisted on speaking a local language”!) Despite the best efforts of the EPRDF, Kinijit spirit was in abundance here as usual—evidenced through the whispered encouragement of an otherwise stern-looking guard, or the ‘unspoken permission granted to certain topics of discussion.

Then at 3:50 pm sharp (after a mere 20-30 minutes of visitation) the head guard gave the ’10-minute warning’ and all were required to hastily say their goodbyes and exit the compound.

Though the thousands of convicted felons housed in Kaliti receive visitors for 5 hours each day on weekends (from 9-12 and 1-3), these political hostages—imprisoned solely for their unwavering commitment to human rights and democratic practice—are granted only this strictly-regulated visitation “hour” once each day on the weekends.

As today is Monday, they have since long been returned to the inhumane conditions of their captivity, forced to suffer in seclusion for yet another week.

Thursday, November 30

Trial Update--Judge Calls for Additional Recess After Final Witnesses Presented

Yesterday, the final witnesses for the prosecution were presented to the Federal High Court in Addis Ababa, where it was announced that the trial would take a 2.5 month recess to determine 'whether to allow a closing statement from the prosecution and grant permission for further defense of the accused'.

The 13 remaining witnesses (2 of the scheduled 15 were deemed 'redundant') produced by prosecutor Shiemels Kemal, were divided into groups and presented as such

The first was an elderly Tigrayan man (originaly from Shire) who claimed he was severly beaten and left for dead by a group of Kinijit members during the Nov. 2005 riots. As a resut, he alegedly spent 4 months in Black Lion Hospital and remains unabe to walk properly, in addition to suffering brain damage which has rendered him unemployable. Through tears, the man explained that he was beaten "for speaking Tigrinian", and confidently accused several defendants of this merciless crime. However, when asked to further identify the defendants present (both by name and sight), the formerly coherent witness suddenly became 'confused'. He repeatedy misidentified 2 of the prisoners, and then upon cross-examination, instead denied that any of the defendants had ever harmed him!

Presiding Judge Adil (in what seemed a late dispay of moral outrage) pressed the witness further--chastising him for accusing the prisoners, only to later confirm that they were not invoved in the violent crime after all. The witness repsonded that he was 'unable to identify his perpetrators because of the severe injuries he had suffered at that time', but then admitted to the court that the prosecutor had actually given him the names of the defendants! Despite protests that such 'discrepencies were the result of brain damage', the judge impatiently silenced the prosecution and demanded that the next group of witnesses be immediately presented.

The three guards from Torhailoch hospita who were next introduced testified that they were guarding the army hospital (on the Muslim hoiday following the November arrests) when they were swarmed by thousands of young rioters coming from Stadium (reportedly shouting, "Thief! Thief!", showing the 'victory sign', throwing stones and attempting to jump over the hospita gates and destroy the facilities). Apparenty not to be outdone by the other 'humorous' testimonies that have so far colored this ongoing trial, the witnesses claimed that the dozens of violent protesters they detained were certainly all Christians, easily verified by their ID cards upon arrest. When it was pointed out by the defence that ID cards do not, in fact, display religion, the witnesses quicky explained that they 'could just tell' by their dress!

The third group of witnesses presented consisted of several former EPPF fighters, who were rumored to have been brought directly from prison to testify. They claimed that they were told by leaders of this Eritrean-trained (and funded) guerilla group that "Kinijit is one with them" because they "share the same purpose, the same enemy" and further claimed that Kinijit leaders Andargachew and Berhane met with EPPF leaders (twice--in Germany and Eritrea) to announce that "Kinijit will join their armed struggle" because 'peaceful means were futile'. (In light of this particularly ridiculous allegation--which could quite easily be defeated by examining the passports of these men, one assumes--the character of the witness begs to be examined. It seems worth noting that the witness who supplied this tale is part of Kinet (a popular national theatre program) and his testimony, interestingly enough, much resembled that of a poorly-rehearsed actor--Though he began his soliloquy with great conviction, upon interruption he faltered... hesitated for a few moments...and then began again at the beginning of his testimony--repeating the entire story again, word for word!)

The court then called a break for lunch, after which the fourth group of witnesses were presented. This group consisted of 2 men and 1 woman (employees of the Bole kebele office) who were 'picked up off the street by police officers to witness the searching of the prisoners' homes', although no search warrants were ever produced. The judge then asked the witnesses to identify their signatures on the pages of a document provided by the prosecution (confirming the search procedures). The witnesses were incredulous, swearing that they signed only the first page of the document and insisting that they had never seen the additional pages in their entire lives! Though Prosecuter Shiemels heatedly argued that the witnesses had, in fact, approved the entire document, Judge Adil finally appeared to lose patience with his endless theatrics, and angrily silenced him, siding with the witnesses.

A local police commander (who identified on a map the areas where disturbances allegedly occured during the November 2005 protests) was the final witness to testify.

Tuesday, November 28

Breaking Trial News: Prosecuter Announces Remaining Witnesses Are No Longer Required

Yesterday,Prosecuter Shiemels Kemal made the suprising announcement that he will no longer require the remaining 289 witnesses to appear in court. He has informed the judges that he will instead be calling upon 15 new witnesses to testify against the defendants.

If court proceedings continue in similar fashion, the trial is expected to come to an end very soon.

Sunday, November 26

Great Ethiopian Run Provides Avenue for Peaceful Protest

Today at 8:30am, an estimated 25 000 people gathered in Meskel Square to participate in the annual Great Ethiopian Run. However, almost immediately after the race began, the crowd seized the long-awaited opportunity to peacefully protest the escalating brutality of the EPRDF regime--demanding the immediate release of all political prisoners and an end to the dictatorial rule of Meles Zenawi.

Shouts of “Kinijit is back!” and “Give power to the educated!” mingled with slogans denouncing the Somalian invasion, and strains of peaceful hymns filled the air. Local police officers looked on in amazement as crowds swarmed the front of the ETV building, peacefully expressing their dissatisfaction and thanking Haile Gebre-Selassie for providing the opportunity to speak out against the mounting political oppression.

It is a wonderful day in Addis!

Trial Update: November 20 2006

On Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2006 , Prosecutor Shiemels Kemal called upon 10 witnesses to testify against the defendants on several charges, including 'attempted genocide'. With judges Adil Ahmed, Luel Gebremariam, and Mohammad Abdulsani presiding, the court listened as the witnesses—all local and federal police officers-- described the ‘physical and psychological’ harm they endured while attempting to disperseoters during the demonstrations in both June and November 2005.

Witness Inspector Welatew Demissie, 40 (local police), allegedly received hospital treatment following a head injury resulting from a stone thrown by protestors, and five other officers were reportedly wounded; however, evidence of genocide or even life-threatening injury remained conspicuously absent from all accounts.

Though the prosecution again failed to make any connection between rioters and the defendants(other than reports of youngsters who were "making the victory sign” ), the officers nonetheless told woeful tales of violence so extreme that backup forces were required on every occasion. (For instance, in addition to such hostile hand gestures, the students also allegedly called the policemen names.)

Lasting trauma understandably further resulted from encountering roadblocks constructed by students from “dirt and stones”, in addition to the excruciating pain caused by berberi-filled mattresses set ablaze “to burn our eyes and throats” .

Excessive police force was quite obviously required.

Friday, November 17

Weekly Trial Update: Part 1

Tuesday, November 14, 2006:

Early this week, prosecutors Shiemels Kemal, Michael Teklu, and Abreha Tetemke again failed to prove that widespread violence was instigated by the defendants on November 1st, 2005. Seven witnesses were presented as victims of said riots, apparently in relation to the charge of “attempting to incite genocide”.

The majority of the witnesses claimed lasting psychological damage--lamenting the alleged destruction of property and ongoing subjugation to “local stigma”; however, the connection between the complaints and this serious charge remains yet to be seen. (...Understandably, however, the psyche of witness Mebrat Tesfaye, 39 MUST be irrevocably damaged if, in fact, the stones reportedly thrown at his house by “unknown individuals” truly were intended "to disturb me to do not sleep peacefully”! )

Though witness Sergeant Getu Redaye, 34, repeatedly insisted that he observed Professor Mesfin leading the riots on November 2, 2005, by “sending messages on his mobile”, when cross-examined he was unable to even vaguely recall the clothes worn by the professor at the time or identify the type of mobile phone used for such ‘criminal activities’.

In a similar vein, two other witnesses offered their own creative medical diagnosis as further “evidence”; witness Getachew Berahne, 57, determined the “exposure” to high blood pressure and hand paralysis of his father-in-law to be the result of “psychological trauma” suffered on the evening of Nov. 1, 2005, while witness Edelu Mohammed Ade, 36, seemed to suggest that he contracted tuberculosis because his shop was allegedly burnt down by unidentified CUD supporters.

Tuesday, November 14

One Year Has Passed...

One year has passed since the mass arrests that announced the boundless vengence of a declining regime:

Ethnic and religious conflicts are on the rise, and both here and abroad the mounting calls for civil violence grow louder still. Free press in this country has been all but slain and official intimidation and harassment have reached unprecedented levels. Though one year has passed, the economy remains lethargic and the social sectors are in lamentable disarray. Preventable humanitarian crises continue to wreak havoc throughout the land, and the international community appears to have abdicated their most worthy responsibilities--successfully duped, distracted and dazzled by the charisma of one of history’s most brutal dictators.

One year has passed, and I awake to find myself living in a society where the words “mass imprisonment”, “torture” and “murder” sprinkle casual conversation, and the sight of camoflauged soldiers--armed with AK-47s and walking four and five abreast--no longer chills the blood.

It is because one year has passed, that I fear the exemplary resilience so often required of people here will slowly allow adaptation, even to such horrors. Are we not all , to varying degress, already learning to gather and refashion our lives from the remmnants of former freedoms—continually surrendering to the endless concessions of our most basic human rights? Are we not all already speaking less…trusting less…hoping less?

I fear, if we have become resigned and disillusioned after only one year, what then should it matter if another passes? And another…?

It is for this reason that now, more than ever, we must each find ways to keep the names and stories of those who have sacrificed so much for Ethiopian life and liberty, alive—on the lips of politicians and members of the international press, in the minds of those in academic circles and lobbyist groups, and in the hearts of concerned citizens all over the globe.

The time for the release of all political prisoners is NOW! View the opposition party as you must, but a single fact remains: This country, in the hands of the EPRDF, is racing towards destruction with a suicidal frenzy. The responsibility, therefore, can no longer be passed back and forth--discussed and debated abroad only to be subsequently returned. Democratic dialogue and leadership must be immediately resumed within this society, if there is to be any hope of survival, development and growth!


Sunday, November 12

The Artful Dodgers: Vickie Huddleston and the International Donor Community

It seems that Ethiopia is again the lucky recipient of American aid--this time to the tune of $37 million USD (or 321,900,000 million birr). This donation, coupled with the recent announcement of an additional US donation of $250 million (to fight HIV/AIDS) however, also unfortunately amounts to increased endorsement of one of the world’s most brutal dictatorships.

True to form, US Ambassador Vickie Huddleston was on the scene to represent the generosity of USAID, proudly proclaiming that “the United States Government remains committed to working in collaboration with other donors and the Government of Ethiopia to support programs that address the needs of the Ethiopian people”… Needs, that apparently (despite USAID reports “that improved governance…is essential to enable economic growth and address the challenge of famine vulnerability, hunger, and poverty in Ethiopia”) overlook the most vital neccessity of democratic rule --through free and fair elections and the release of all political prisoners, government transparency, and national policy reform.

Unfortunately the task of addressing the negative government policies and practices largely responsible for this perpetual state of humanitarian crisis, has also proven too much for even the partnering UN World Food Program to attempt. Though the WFP in Ethiopia continues to appeal for increased assistance, the driving forces behind the overwhelming national need remain skillfully and publicly avoided.

Private conversation with an in-country WFP official some months ago, however, has proven far more insightful:

“Off the record”, this worker spoke at great length about the severely detrimental effects of the current land tenure system, and about the incomprehensible absence of the basic agricultural technologies required to achieve both domestic food security and increased export potential (given the international applause received by both the ADLI and SDPRP policies of Meles Zenawi). This person expressed absolute disgust at the widespread federal corruption regularly witnessed within the aid community here--in the form of official embezzlement, deliberately incorrect damage assessment/regional reports (either exaggerated to attract surplus aid or under-reported to feign government competency), inadequate leadership capacity, regional channeling of “aid dollars”, and the abuse of vital argricultural supplies as a means of “vote harvesting” and political manipulation. Then…sadly, this generally-likeable official hesitated, swallowed hard, and apologetically described the ‘delicacies’ faced by such a large, essential humanitarian agency--the pre-requisite of “government cooperation in order to gain permission to provide emergency aid”, and thus the regrettable “impossibility” of denouncing such deeds to the international donor community.

I recently overheard another WFP field worker adamantly ‘officially’ reject the suggestion of economic sanctions in reponse to the mounting political oppression, only later to insist over dinner with friends that economic sanctions would, in fact, be the best way to necessarily oust the repressive EPRDF regime! I additionally witnessed this same person--whom I know to be personally “horrified by the current oppressive political climate and severe escalation of national human rights violations”--professionally offer only a feeble, “No comment” on the subject when approached by a member of the international press.

Of course, we know all too well that a government as deeply entrenched as the EPRDF cannot be overthrown in a day and that the humanitarian concerns in the interim must be addressed, but that does NOT, in my mind, excuse the resounding silence of the international donor community in recent years.

1.If it is common knowledge that the current Ethiopian government consistently ranks among the world’s worst in terms of corruption (placing in the bottom 10th percentile, according to World Bank governance indicators)


2.If the majority of foreign aid dollars do (as generally accepted within the national aid community), amount to little more than direct financial support for a brutal dictator and his henchmen—essentially facilitating the continued harassment, torture, imprisonment and murder of innocent civilians throughout this country

How can such a gap possibly remain between “personal” and “professional”

It remains to be seen how members of the international community can continue to justify the ‘luxury’ of simultaneous opposing stances when millions of lives are literally at stake! For who, if not they, are in the position to accurately relay the information to the donor community that will in turn effect serious intervention, government accountability and reform?

Thursday, November 9

Student Shot Dead By Federal Police Officer (Addis Ababa):

On Sunday, Nov. 5, at 10:30 pm, a sophomore student from Admas College was killed by a federal police officer on (main) Bole Road.

According to sources, Bereket Hadgu,24, was shot through the back while walking with friends, who were talking and laughing loudly. No words were ever exchanged between the policeman and his victim.

The officer, who has reportedly been taken into custody, has claimed that the gun “misfired” while he was hitting another student with the butt of the weapon; however, witnesses confirm that the shot was fired intentionally and without provocation.

The body of the student was returned Monday to his parents in Mekele.

Monday, November 6

English Translation of Non-Violent Civil Disobedience Calendar:

I have long found it possible to continue my daily business without engaging in the realm of Ethiopian politics. However, things witnessed here in recent months have left me no option but to add my voice in public condemnation of the brutalities of the EPRDF regime.

Ethiopia, the internationally celebrated “Cradle of Humanity”, has of late become a country more synonymous with death than life— a place where peaceful demonstration results in the murder of hundreds of innocent civilians; a place where old men languish in prison for crimes not committed and the most educated, talented and productive members of society are forced to choose between self-censorship and self-sacrifice.

There simply comes a time when enough is ENOUGH.

There has been much attention given lately to the circulation of a non-violent civil-disobedience calendar, for which many have already been arrested, tortured and even killed. Such severe government retaliation is an unfathomable response to a publication peacefully advocating for the release of political prisoners, and must be exposed as such.

I have not yet come across an English translation of this calendar and would like to provide an unofficial version now:


1. Gradually, withdraw your funds from Ethiopian government and EPRDF private banks and deposit in private banks that are not associated with government agencies or agents

2. Break your existing relationship with EPRDF government or EPRDF party insurance agencies and deal with private, not government, agent insurance institutions

3. Use fliers and posters and graffiti to communicate slogans and messages in various parts of Ethiopia without risking your well being

4. Write letters and emails and make phone calls to EPRDF government officials to inform them of the agony they are creating and to plead with them to stop. Share contact information to government officials.

5. Use whatever safe means you find to expose and report government’s abuse of its power and its cruelty to the Ethiopian people including: human rights violation, extortion of country’s resources for personal use, embezzlement, unfair and heavy taxation on private industries, unfair competition with private industries, unfair practices in trade and legal system, heavy intimidation, etc. Please report your findings and facts to

6. Refrain from attending EPRDF government meetings. If you are forced to do so, do not participate or speak to demonstrate your opposition

7. Refrain from working for the illegal EPRDF government

8. Do not associate socially or professionally with federal or local government agents who are agonizing the Ethiopian people; plead with them to abstain from their cruel and abusive actions. The exclusion shouldn't be based on ethnic, religious and/or gender lines.

9. Do not use products and services made by EPRDF government and its agencies such as: Dashen Beer, Pepsi products, Addis Tea, NOC gas station, Mega book store, etc

10. Do not buy or use print and television media produced by EPRDF government and government related agencies such as: Reporter, Eftein, Fekat, The Reporter, Ethiopian Television and Radio News, various programs by Zemi connection (Mimi Sebhatu), EPRDF government officials question and answer sessions

11. Those who work for EPRDF government factories and industries, cooperate with our peaceful struggle by participating in industrial actions

12. Report on individuals and organizations that are doing business with TPLF trading agencies

13. Report individuals that are making their living through extortion of Ethiopia’s resources and abuse of the Ethiopian people. You can email your findings to

14. Plead with foreign embassies, diplomats and governments for the release of political prisoners through letter writing campaigns

PS: The pictures on the Calendar are that of:
a. Engineer Hailu Shaul, Chairman, Kinijit
b. Ato Muluneh Eyauel, Secretary, Kinigit
c. Prof. Mesfin Weldemariam, Kinigit founder and human rights advocate
d. Ms. Birtukan Mideksa, Vice Chairman, Kinigit
e. Dr. Berhanu Nega, Mayor, Addis Ababa
f. Engineer Gizachew Sheferaw, Kinigit high commissioner