Thursday, December 13

Bereket Simon on Somalia: "Our mission so far has been successful."

In a BBC interview aired today, Bereket Simon assured the world that the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia "so far has been successful".

When presented with shocking statistics (60% of residents of Mogadishu have fled the city, 80% of the country is now considered outside of government control) and official admissions to the contrary, the chief advisor to the Prime Minister remained adamant, insisting,
"The overall situation in Somalia is improving by the day".

Monday, December 10

Internet Censorship Increases

Over the past month, more than 50 Internet proxy servers have reportedly been blocked within the country. Several opposition websites, including Ethiomedia, are completely inaccessible.

Thursday, September 13

Addis Foreign Press Corps: My Observations

(Naturally, under this government, the good ones are expelled, leaving us with those who wouldn’t dare risk their lifestyle for something as petty as the truth. Still, I can’t help but expect something more…)

Strangely, we continue to witness the deterioration of the free press at the hands of the few correspondents in this country who remain truly free.

The official restrictions on national press have been well-documented by human rights watchdog organizations, but little has been written on the shameful contributions made by Ethiopia's foreign correspondents. I am continually amazed by what I have observed here among this small circle of journalists—at the perpetual politicization of the news, and appalling distortions of the truth so easily excused by self-interested editors and comfortable journalists.

To shed some light on the workings of the Addis foreign press corps:

To secure accreditation, certain leading wire correspondents are encouraged by their editors to assure the appropriate Ministers of their intentions to write exclusively “happy” stories, which portray the country in a “favourable light”. Despite the blatantly inappropriate nature of such negotiations, these correspondents have, nevertheless, proven willing to go to great lengths to uphold this ludicrous promise to the Ethiopian government (the current social and political climate notwithstanding)—scrambling to uncover the happy stories in a place where, for so many, true happiness is found only in precious fleeting moments, development in a land where economic growth is virtually stagnant, and isolated incidents of political leniency in one of the world’s most repressive regimes.

Consequently, in Ethiopia, stories are routinely ignored or intentionally killed by the international wire services, whose journalists are even, on occasion, encouraged by bureau chiefs to re-interpret, or “contextualize” the more inflammatory responses of government spokesman (with a suggestive, “surely that is not what he actually meant!”)!

Even more worrying, is that Ambassadors and State Department officials also influence which events ultimately make it to print, ordering correspondents into silence or spinning stories for diplomatic advantage (recent examples being the arrest of NY Times reporter Jeffrey Gettleman in the Ogeden region, which was deliberately suppressed by Ambassador Yamamoto for nearly a week, before finally being reported by blogger Ethio-Zagol, and the premature leaking of the ongoing political negotiations between the government and political prisoners).

Perhaps I am merely naïve, but something seems intrinsically wrong when major news outlets are encouraging their journalists to perpetually wine and dine government officials on the company expense account, while strictly advising them to avoid socializing with known opposition members and supporters, whose activities are to be regarded as automatically subversive.

It is simply unfathomable to me that the few foreign correspondents granted permission to work at length within the country (all citizens of free and democratic societies, lest they forget) could somehow begin with a "necessary, temporary effort to placate a hostile government", and in only a few months time end up functioning as government stooges—consciously neglecting subjects certain to upset the ruling party, and reluctantly investigating instances of widespread government brutality only upon official approval, with state-sponsored escorts.

The most popular justification amongst African press circles is clearly the claim that their organization would otherwise be expelled from the country. But, it seems to me, that if their primary agenda is actually to deliver unbiased regional news to their readers, the expulsion of their organization for merely documenting events as they unfold, is also, in itself, a strikingly accurate indication of national conditions. Regardless--since when did tailoring the news to suit the temperament of a brutal dictator become an acceptable compromise?

Yet, this has become more than acceptable practice here in Addis; in fact, it has become routine. And, naturally, when other publications (such as the Economist, New York Times or the Washington Post) break a controversial story first, the local correspondents can usually be found grumbling over drinks at the Sheraton Office Bar, berating said papers’ “unethical” means of gathering information and the “dangerous” community of in-country fixers, stringers, freelancers and bloggers on which they rely.

Tuesday, September 11

Melkam Millenium

A friend pointed out this morning that this actually doesn't make much sense, as it literally means I am wishing someone 1 000 happy years... So, rather, that is what I wish for the country today.

Today I am celebrating all that I have found unexpectedly here--the warmth, the courage, the peace, the potential, the sacrifice...

Melkam Millenium.

Friday, August 17

Blood for Oil?

I wonder if the Government’s field trip to the Ogeden has anything to do with the sudden increased interest in the region by multi-national oil companies?

It seems the recent ONLF attack on the Chinese petroleum company and widespread reports of human rights abuses and war crimes committed by government forces in the region have served to pique foreign interest in regional oil exploration, with more than one large international company quietly negotiating the preliminary stages of such a project at present.

It is clear that the government is doing everything in their power to suppress and deny the truth, at great cost to the civilians there, but I wonder--do such multinationals stand to benefit more from reports by the likes of NY Times’ Jeffrey Gettlemen , or the carefully supervised output of BBC’s Elizabeth Blunt?

If a ‘stable local environment in which to conduct exploration operations’ is what they are seeking, does that mean they stand in silent (or even direct financial) support of the severe regional government brutality?

Friday, August 10

Media Field Trip to the Ogeden

Just heard that the government is organizing a trip for foreign correspondents to the Ogeden region. And thus begins their latest disinformation campaign...

I wonder who will have the courage to ask what happened to the men (since tortured and murdered by government forces) interviewed for the Times article?

(I also wonder if they will invite NY Times stringer Will Connors along? Oh wait! He was essentially EXPELLED last month for helping to expose the atrocities occuring there.
Only beneign journalists allowed, I suppose.

Thursday, August 9

Oppression: Here, There and Everywhere

I am extremely concerned about what is happening in the Ogeden region. Even from within the country, it is difficult to obtain concrete information, which generally means things are far worse than we know. However, it is clear the Ethiopian government is once again demonstrating their appalling preference for violence, destruction of property and aid restriction as a means of applying political pressure.

The truly terrifying thing is, while today the focus may be on the Ogeden, such reports could just as easily apply to most other regions in the country.

When I was last in Awasa, for example, I shown file after file of those in the SNNP region who had suffered similar human rights abuses over the past two years: murders (mostly students, shot in the head or from behind), horrific pictures of torture victims, houses and property ransacked, destroyed and burned, and a list of NGOs that had been shut down and their aid channels blocked, effectively causing a concentrated, federally-inflicted (and therefore unreported) famine.

Most of these victims brave enough to come forward and report these crimes to human rights organizations were unable to read or write, and confirmed their statements only with a thumbprint. Yet they are speaking out (at great personal risk) nonetheless. They are among millions of nameless victims who continue to suffer at the hands of the EPRDF regime, and are the ones to whom we must listen.

There are hundreds of thousands of us—both here and abroad—who are aware and claim to care about this all-encompassing oppression; and so, only a simple question remains:
What are we going to do about it?

(In my opinion, now is hardly the time for bitter party politics, and internal corruption and division; far too much is at stake. Instead, now is the time to focus on what unites us all—the desire to see a free and prosperous Ethiopia—and act immediately and accordingly.)

And so I ask again—What are we going to do about it?

Monday, August 6

Coming Soon

Hello. I am still around and will be back blogging again next week.

I agree with Ethio-Zagol--now is the time for genuine dialogue, for solutions and unity. I hope that this site can also be a forum for such discussion.

Friday, July 20


I never thought I'd say this, but what a wonderful time to be in Ethiopia!

The transformation in the spirit of the people over the past few days is incredible. Everyone is talking about their coming release and newpapers are printing their photos again (I wish I could scan and attach Tuesday's copy of "Abbi Weekly", featuring Dr. Berhanu flashing the double V sign and the faces of the other leaders on a background of the national colors but, of course, these sold out by noon in the city).

What a joy to overhear political discussions in the streets of Addis!

Wednesday, July 18

The Things They Can't Suppress...

Everyone in Addis is talking about yesterday's article in the Ethiopian Herald, in which a letter, admitting guilt for the post-election violence and supposedly signed by the prisoners, was printed. I was initially worried that people would believe these lies, but was instead pleasantly suprised. On the streets, and in taxis and cafes, people are emphatically denying that the leaders would ever admit to crimes not committed. It seems these latest attempts to defame the characters of those in prison has only served to boost public support and admiration. (opps!)

(Also: They may be able to silence us over here, but the international bloggers are busy. The Huffington Post, MyDD and Daily Kos have all posted a story by blogger Robert Naiman, encouraging people to take action here

Tuesday, July 17


Wow. It is not often that I am shocked by the workings of this government anymore, but today they have managed to do it again.

Today they have launched a massive disinformation campaign, with the intent of discrediting the prisoners before they are released. Bereket, ENA and the Ethiopian Herald have been suprisingly busy since yesterday's sentences were handed down; unfortunately for them, there are too many of us who know the truth and are determined to make it known...

Monday, July 16

Life In Prison

The courtroom was packed once again, and there seemed to be even more ferenji observers than usual. It seemed especially cruel to keep everyone in suspense for hours, considering the nature of the session, but wait we did--though the delay was not without its comic moments (when, for example, the phones of the plainclothes spies rang repeatedly, exposing them at once since the rest of us had to leave our phones, keys etc with the guards at the door!)

The prisoners were finally brought in after a 2.5 hour delay and the judges arrived a few minutes before noon; all defendants (and judges) were present. The judges concluded that ‘because most of the defendants are well educated and therefore able to identify the legal consequences of their actions, their sentence must reflect the severity of their decisions and actions’; however, as the defendants are charged with attempt to overthrow the Constitution (rather than completion of the act, which would permit the sentence of capital punishment) the 38 defendants (including those tried in absentia) were sentenced to life in prison.

Of the 9 who had chosen to defend, it was announced that their defense attorney 'had not proven relevant extenuating circumstances’: Berhanu Alemayou,Wedneh Jedi, Melaku Oncha and Mesfin Jabesa received 18 years imprisonment; Abiyot Wekjira ad Daniel Berihun received 15 years; Wenaksegad Zeleke was handed a 3 year sentence, and Dawit Fasil was sentenced to 1 year and six months. All defendants who received a lesser sentence were also denied the right to participate in politics for 5 years.

Both of the agencies charged were order to cease all operations—Serkalim Publishing Agency was ordered to pay a fine of ETB 120 000 and Sisaye Publishing, ETB 100 000.

Dr. Berhanu appeared particularly disgusted with the sentences and got up to leave the courtroom but, for the most part, the prisoners and family members seemed to be expecting nothing less and took the news accordingly. The prisoners left with their usual courage and deliberate cheer, exchanging grins and the “V” sign with friends and family members as they passed.

The road back from Kaliti to the city center was lined with more police than usual, and some were in full riot gear (masks and shields).

(Today’s session was nothing less than infuriating: To hear each Article of the Penal Code invoked as if it actually had meaning in this country, and to have to listen to the descriptions of post election violence as if the Independent Commission itself hadn’t ruled that government forces were responsible for the excessive force that lead to the deaths of 193 innocent civilians was too much… It makes one ill to witness such blatant manipulation of the truth and mockery of justice in a federal institution!

How long can this go on?!)

Saturday, July 14

Antethesis of Justice

Diplomatic Etiquette:

More than two weeks ago, human rights bill HR2003 was postponed for mark-up—--the result of dubious American attempts at negotiation with one of the world’s most brutal dictators. The US State Department has since further neutralized their language, and the press is treating the negotiations as nothing more than the claims of those in captivity (despite the fact that the initial leak to the Washington Post was reported to have come from US state officials). The momentum that was building over the past month seems to have come to a complete standstill; yet today, the prisoners remain in Kaliti, while the prosecution demands their execution.

Of course, there are rumors swirling—Meles is trying to preserve the ‘independence of the Court’ and the US is giving him the space to do so, provided the prisoners are released immediately following the sentencing. Fine; however, it is my opinion that, even if this is true, it does not excuse their shamefully submissive conduct in the meantime. Why the tiptoeing around? Since when has it become the responsibility of a free and democratic nation to cater to the sensibilities of such a wanton violator of human rights?

Regardless of what is being negotiated in private bewteen these two countries, I am appalled by the continued public observance of the diplomatic etiquette that enables oppressors to escape the consequences of their actions.

On Monday, we will enter the courtroom, clinging to the hope that the sentencing is all part of the larger geopolitical game. But Meles has proven on countless occasions that he can not be trusted, and any concessions made by him must be regarded accordingly. He has already failed to deliver on his promise of releasing the prisoners with the postponment of the bill—why then, will he not balk at these obligations once more after the sentence is handed down? It is obvious that he does not possess the integrity required to keep his word, and therefore should not be regarded by diplomats as a man of such principle.

Monday, July 9

“Good luck!” called my driver as I got out in front of the Federal High Court. We had never discussed politics previously, but today he asked who I support. When I replied, he broke into a grin. “Today is a big day,” he said. “Tell them, good luck. We are with them. ”

I got out into the pouring rain and made my way through the mud to where family members and journalists were already gathered. The entrance process took far longer than usual today, and the guards were deliberately more rough in their searches.

It was difficult to find a place to sit and by the time the session began there was not a single seat remaining.

The prisoners entered soon after, looking well, and assumed their usual poise of courage, strength and defiance. The prosecutors followed, and then the judges. (Mohammed was absent and it appeared, for a moment, like the usual delay tactics). It was annouced that the prosecutor would give his closing statement and that the nine who had chosen to defend would have the opportunity to present their defense in three days time (as they requested a copy of the closing prosecuting statement in order to respond).

The prosecutor began—citing the charges that remained and the penalties assigned to them according to the Criminal Code: the 2nd and 3rd charges, we were told, carry 15 years imprisonment and 10-15 years, respectively. The 5th charge carries between 5-25 years imprisonment or, depending on the severity of the crime, life imprisonment or capital punishment; the 1st charge is also punishable by the latter.

He demanded that because none of the defendants had shown any remorse for the ‘crimes’ committed in 2005 , all must receive the maximum sentence—death.

For some reason, just hearing those expected words spoken out loud came as a shock. There was complete silence in the courtroom, except for the wife of one of the prisoners, who let out a strained laugh (and was immediately thrown out of the courtroom). The prosecution concluded that the agencies charged should also receive the maximum penalty of a Birr 500 000 fine and full closure.

Then we all filed out back into the rain.

Monday, July 2


Meles is mobilizing the army "in case of an Eritrean invasion"--I hate to say it, but the propaganda around here sounds similar to the stuff that ushered us into the Somalian invasion. Yikes.

The next court session is still scheduled for a week from today.

There is also supposed to be another session three days later, in which the prosecuter will appeal the charges that were dropped.

Friday, June 29

Of Lies and Other Things...

Yesterday in Parliament the PM gave a pretty dry speech (apparently the objectives of this government are "peace, development, and good governance"--who knew!), addressing the 'very real threat' of an Eritrean invasion. Right.

Everyone expected him to discuss the negotiations (which explains why so many people were actually watching ETV at city cafes), which was finally kindly raised by an EPRDF official (nothing like damage control!) . Check the EZ post here.

It seems that Meles is now trying to pretend that the negotiations were the sole initiative of the Shemagles--a tradition that he tried to go along with, as any 'proper Ethiopian'would--but of course, he reminded us yesterday, no actual binding negotiations can take place (political or traditional) which would interfere with the Almighty Independence Of The Court. (Am I allowed to say bullshit on this thing?) Anyway, that's all it is, and I suppose we should have expected nothing more from him.

And there was more, as reported by AP: seems Meles is getting a little hostile with the international community, and now weilds the moral authority to condemn their appeals as both "shameful and wrong". According to the dillusional dictator,
"In Ethiopia there is nothing that can be resolved as a result of external pressure,"
. Hmmmm. HR2003 is set for mark-up a couple of days after the next scheduled court session. What a perfect time to demonstrate the magnanimity of the EPRDF, by sentencing them and then pardoning them "just in time". But no pressure, of course.

(Forgive the sarcastic tone of this post, I have long lost patience with the transparent antics of the government.)

Thursday, June 28


I still haven't been able to confirm whether Meles was in DC yesterday or not, though I have heard from numerous sources that Professor Ephrim is there.

Either way, the PM is still scheduled to appear here in Parliament later this morning. No one seems to know what the session will be about exactly--some here are speculating that it would be the perfect time to release the prisoners 'quietly' (as all the foreign correspondents will be inside without their mible phones), but this seems just another rumor.

(More later)

Wednesday, June 27

No Court Session

It is two hours before the court session was to begin. I just found out that the prisoners will not be appearing before the judges; instead, those who wished to defend are required to submit documents to the court's record office.
This is just my opinion, but things seem to be unravelling pretty fast for the EPRDF. First the finnd the prisoners guilty of charges so severe they carry a penalty of death, all the while continuing 'secret'political negotaitions. Despite the fact that the final agreement has already been reported by the international press, a court session was announced nonetheless to maintain semblance of an independent court. Suddenly, the night before they are to appear, the govnment decides to try their luck and blackmail the US State Department!! Fascinating!

Seems our dictator has become a bit dillusional and is losing sight of his rank in the global political heirarchy. Hopefully he is in for a rude awakening (I still have some faith in the United States--though they have agreed to postpone the bill for two weeks, Donald Payne has not taken kindly to these blatant bullying tactics.)
At least all of this chaos is finally revealing to the world what we knew all along: he is deceitful tyrant, willing to continually sacrifice his own people for personal gain.

Meles In DC ?

I just received word that Meles flew to DC yesterday to meet with State officials. This is definitely news to us here, as the prisoners were (unofficially) scheduled to appear in court today.

(I will do my best to confirm this and post more later)

Tuesday, June 26

HR2003 Postponed

I can't believe that they have decided to postpone bill HR 2003!

According to sources, as soon as the remaining prisoners signed the negotiation statement, mediator Professor Ephrimim immediately went to the US (I am told he will return next weekend), insisting that the bill be postponed in order to ensure the release of the prisoners.

This is truly amazing--Meles is holding his own people hostage while negotiating with the world's superpower. Even more remarkable--the US seems to be
actually negotiating with these tyrants (as if the prisoners themselves were American citizens)!

It makes no sense, and makes me wonder if the govn't had no intention of releasing the prisoners at all, intending to use the agreement as insurance in the face of future condemnation.

**I just received word that tommorrow's court session will be closed to the public and they will be meeting in chambers instead. Something very unsettling is going on here.
(I will post again when I get more information.)

Final Day in Court?

Everybody is confused over here as to whether the prisoners are, in fact, scheduled to appear in court on Wednesday, and even more so in regards to what will be accomplished in this session.

By law, after handing down a verdict, the options of the court are limited:

1. Sentence: Due to the severity of the crimes with which they have been charged, the court must sentence them to death or life in prison.

2.Pardon : This seems highly unlikely, as a pardon is primarily reserved for individuals (in this case, there are 38 defendants, and the outcome of this trial may also serve as a precedent for other journalists, civil servants and human rights activists imprisoned throughout the country). A pardon would also negate the agreement reached through the recent negotiations, as a pardon does not erase charges from one’s record, thus restricting future civil, family and professional right.

3.Amnesty: According to the penal code, Amnesty “cancels both the indictment and the sentence and bars or discontinues any prosecution from the moment of its proglamation”. Further, “the conviction shall be presumed to be non-existent and the entry deleted from the police record of the offender”

There is speculation that the court will choose the latter, in an attempt to maintain appearances of an independent judicial system and, of course, to demonstrate the magnimity of government…which seems a little ridiculous considering the behind-the-scenes negotiations have already been internationally reported.

I guess we can only wait and see what unfolds. I will do my best to keep you updated.


Sunday, June 24

With No Room Left to Wiggle

It seems to me that Meles is in a bit of a bind. News of the negotiation agreement has already been widely publicized around the world (albeit with a sympathetic slant from the US State Department) and all eyes are on Ethiopia.

He managed to cancel a meeting with the Western ambassadors late last week after receiving word that they were planning to issue a strong collective statement condemning the verdict, but beyond that, I am not sure how much room he has left to wiggle…

This country is making the news.

Supporters around the world are staging demonstrations and lobbying their heads of state and members of Parliament incessantly. The frequently divided members of Kinijit International seem to be finally co-operating. Here, the ambassadors are ready, and even the foreign correspondents seem interested.
The rest of us are eagerly anticipating the day and hour of their release.

Should the Prime Minister decide to change his mind, the public backlash would be immense.

(And so we wait…)

Saturday, June 23


What a cause for celebration!

I am once again humbled by the incredible sacrifices these people have made for this country. We are all eagerly awaiting their release.

Thursday, June 14

In the Wake of the Verdict

I was wondering why there hasn’t yet been any visible reaction to the verdict here in Addis. Some say that the post-election momentum is gone and most have forgotten, but I know otherwise. I know that people still care, and will say so as often as they think it safe.

So why didn’t spontaneous protest erupt on Monday afternoon?

Well, the current crackdown is the 6th that has occurred over the past two years. Thousands have been imprisoned and countless tortured. Far more have died than have been reported, and in Ethiopia today, we are forced to learn from this. (I am ferenj, and I too stay inside more and talk less. ) I was reminded today that, including those taken during the initial crackdown, this means 1/10th of the city’s population has been imprisoned at some point during this period.

Immediately following the elections, there were dozens of papers to report the fraud, the injustice, the truth. Now such outlets are distant memories, and news obviously travels slower.

Before, one could feel an electric undercurrent of awareness here—even as recently as September, when the words of Dr. Berhanu gave the most faint-hearted among us courage—and it didn’t matter if there were no demonstrations; we knew who our real leaders were. There was still hope. We wanted peace.

Now, it seems people have reverted to a state of learned hopelessness, underscored by the increasing American support for this nation’s tyrannical ruler. What chance do we have as mere pawns in a far greater geopolitical scheme? How can we help ourselves if we cannot even gather for public discussion or peaceful demonstration?

I honestly don’t know. I do know that violence is NOT the answer (once embraced, it cannot be controlled, and we will all be at greater risk) but beyond that—I can’t see the way out from here.

(Not today, anyway…)

Tuesday, June 12

Crackdown Continues

The crackdown continues today in Addis with more arrests.

It seems a little early for the 'preemptive crackdown tactics'
used during the Christmas holidays--sentencing is almost a month
away, and (to my dismay) it seems there were no signs of protest
in the city today.

Monday, June 11

Guilty Verdict

Following a 2.5 hour delay and courtroom chaos, all defendants were found guilty as charged.Those who wished to defend were denied opportunity and charged along with the others.

Sentencing is to take place on July 2.

Tuesday, May 22

Viewing of Evidence Begins

On Saturday afternoon the political prisoners were not in good spirits. They still had not been given access to the transcripts and documents necessary for defense, or provided the opportunity to review the videotaped evidence as ordered by the court.

They have since been shown 2 of the videotapes, although there doesn't seem time enough to prepare for the upcoming court date.

Why the delay?

Monday, May 14

"Because I said so”: Ethiopia demands UN action against Eritrea

Hostages, terrorists, student protests…and then?
A resounding silence.

After last month’s dramatic exit, things seem eerily calm now. I had expected a flurry of press releases, public statements--even a possible escalation in protest action--but so far there has been only silence (the latter, I suspect, due largely to the armed federal forces now stationed indefinitely on campus).

The kidnappers were neatly proclaimed to be agents of the Eritrean government by the appropriate ministers, and the ONLF terrorists, we were told, were similarly aligned. The end. (This apparently should suffice, no further information or evidence required…..And certainly no mention made of the 100 Ethiopian soldiers that died unreported along with the 74 civilians that day, or the numerous ONLF members that have since been hunted down and killed by Ethiopian forces).

Though the lack of public accountability honestly comes as no surprise, I find it darkly amusing that the EPRDF also tried this same approach with the UN Security Council during Thursday’s Parliament session, demanding immediate action against the Eritrean government for these “recent terrorist acts in Ethiopia”.

Now, I understand all too well that Meles runs the show in this country and withholds, regulates and fabricates public information at will, but it is astounding to me that the EPRDF seems to actually expect actors on the world stage to play by their rules as well—and meekly accept the exaggerated charges intended to justify Meles’ latest craving for war. Amazing!

Tuesday, May 8

Saying Goodbye to Anthony Mitchell

The world has lost a talented and courageous journalist. Ethiopia has lost a friend.

My deepest condolences to his family. His personal integrity and dedication to
this region will not be forgotten.

Saturday, May 5

Plane Crash in Cameroon

AP correspondent and local hero Anthony Mitchell was believed to be on board the Kenya Airways jet that crashed in southern Cameroon early this morning. So far there is no word on survivors.

Our thoughts are with him and his family at this time. We are hoping for good news.

Wednesday, May 2

Trial Update: May 2, 2007

After a two hour delay in the sweltering courtroom (during which the defendants were thankfully allowed to mingle and converse), the judge announced the somewhat unexpectedly lenient rulings.

1. The defendants’ requests to obtain personal property seized by police was rejected.

2. The request for copies of the verdict (currently being transcribed), testimonies of all witnesses for the prosecution, and relevant audio/video evidence was granted. (The prosecution was ordered to prepare and provide the above within 5 days.)

The prison administration was ordered to set up the requisite facilities and show two cassettes per day to the defendants (which would be divided into groups for the viewing).

3. The defendants would be granted half a day to meet and discuss their defense, following the review of all cassettes/videos.

4. Daniel and Netsanet were given permission to access their personal computers and print the required documents under supervision.

It was then ordered that all other requests must be submitted through the office of the judge.

Court was adjourned until June 1, 2007

Ethiopia Tops CPJ’s Dishonor Roll

CPJ has issued a special report just in time for tomorrow’s celebrations. It comes as no surprise that Ethiopia tops the list of countries in which press freedom has most greatly deteriorated over the past year.

What does continue to surprise, however, is the government’s opinion that the credibility of such reports can be tarnished by a simple ‘official’ denial of evidence. I mean, certainly they must know that international press organizations are not subject to the same censorship pressures as our persecuted national reporters...

So, I wonder what brilliant rebuttal they will come up with in their press statement today? Will it be the same boring old report condemnation, or perhaps they will even find a way to hold Eritrea accountable for this one too…? Come on, boys—I think it’s time for a little more creativity, don’t you think? After all, they must be paying you for something…

(Oh, and for the record—I don’t take kindly to being silenced. My days of sporadic blogging have come to an end and I will be back in full force. Bring it on!)
Unless it is just a temporary glitch, it seems that the EPRDF has gone one step further in their attempts to silence all of us here. In response to the OpenNet report detailing their regular practice of blocking websites in this country, Zemedkun immediately denied the allegations in an official statement to the press.

If this isn’t unfathomable enough, it seems that the blogger homepage has now been blocked! This is a new low, in my experience here, and a major inconvenience.

I am generally under the impression that nothing can shock me here anymore, but Meles and co have managed to do it again. Their complete lack of accountability and transparency is nothing less than appalling!


Tomorrow is "World Press Freedom Day." How ironic.

Monday, April 30

Trial Update (April 30, 2007)

This morning MP defendant Bedru Adem presented 2 witnesses in his defense.

The defendants have not yet been permitteded to meet and discuss the possibility of presenting a collective defense, and so numerous independent requests were made regarding access to legal counsel, confiscated personal possessions and various documents presented by the prosecution.

Court is scheduled to resume on May 2 in the afternoon session.

Tuesday, April 24

Africa’s New Chain of Command

The purpose of the new US military Africa command is to:
secure access to the continent’s precious natural resources.
b) enhance strategic global counter-terrorism initiatives (and better orchestrate their furthest-flung proxy wars).
c) counter the uncomfortably significant presence of the Chinese.
d) to exploit the lax human rights conditions of African countries in order to achieve all of said goals.

Apparently none of the above, according to US Defense Department deputy undersecretary for policy Ryan Henry.

Following the completion of the recent week-long US delegation to Africa (which included visits by representatives of the Defense and State departments to South Africa, Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and Ethiopia), the Americans have officially announced their plans to establish a new continental military command. In addition to both the Pacific and Central Command (which currently directs involvement in the Horn of Africa), AFRICOM will officially focus on ‘coordinating the continent’s activities’, and in particular the ‘investment efforts’of the Pentagon, from an undiclosed location.

According to officials, “(AFRICOM) operations are aimed at building partnerships and stengthening the ability of African governments and militaries to do their jobs”.

Um…“their” jobs being their own? Or the bidding of the American Secretary of Defense/State? Pardon the confusion, but the regional geopolitical significance of late lends even a simple statement such as this an unfortunately ironic tone.

Wednesday, April 18

Against Arms

I have been closely following the forums and comments on other sites in addition to those received in my inbox. I hesitate to write this, as I wield no moral authority on the subject whatsoever (and will, no doubt, be criticized because I am ferenj). But I will write anyway, as it is a cause of great concern.

The renewed calls for armed struggle and violent liberation are increasingly alarming. I understand, at least to a small degree, the frustration and helplessness felt in the wake of last week’s ruling but nonetheless I simply cannot embrace violence as an acceptable response.

Not yet. And certainly not now.

It seems to me, that violence in the name of ‘liberating our leaders’ in fact dishonors the immense sacrifices they are making at this very moment. Had they found such means acceptable, they would not be in prison today. Simple. They have left nothing unclear in that respect and have insistesd time and time again on the process of peaceful reconciliation and political transition. How then can we ignore this request and demand or commit ourselves to acts of violence in their names?

(Fight if you must, but call it what it is. Say that you are angry and out of patience, but don’t pretend to do it for their sake. And don’t pretend that it is the only option that remains.)

Secondly, despite all the turmoil and devastating loss of life over the past two years in this county, the truth is that all other means have not yet been exhausted. Leadership, commitment, manpower and funds to the degree necessary have been lacking, and thus on-the-ground organization and results. Too few funds have come in to support too few people here and diaspora bickering has served to cripple even the best intentions of those abroad; as a result, more lives have been lost than necessary and little accomplished.

It is unacceptable to resort to violence simply because we have failed (especially in the name of a party whose core principles deplore such course—if so, how can we condemn the EPRDF for the very same violence so many within our ranks are now actively seeking?

Monday, April 9

Update: Courtroom Chaos Brings Both Triumph and Despair.

(sorry for the delay.)

Following the ruling to release the 25, chaos broke out in the courtroom. As the judges were preparing to leave, Bertukan asked Judge Adil if the remaining defendants would be permitted to meet in order to discuss their defense. At first he said that it was a matter for the Addis Ababa Prison Commission to decide, but then concluded that he couldn’t allow them to gather, as they were facing conspiracy charges. Dr.Berhanu stood up and angrily demanded that if they were to be denied opportunity to discuss their collective defence, sentences should be delivered immediately. The judge shouted back, and others lept to their feet with similar requests. Bertukan repeatedly tried to make herself heard to no avail, and finally got up and walked out of the courtroom, to the stupified confusion of the guards. After failing to restore order, Adil was livid and attempted to walk out, but was prevented by the other two judges

The trial is scheduled to resume on April 30th.

Wednesday, April 4

The Ruling

(And this is only the beginning. These defendants have so far been ordered to defend themselves against the first charge only. There are six remaining. There are also dozens of other defendants who await ruling.)

The defendants were brought in this morning at 10:20am. Considering the delay tactics of the past week, none of us were expecting the judges to get through the witness summary, let alone make a ruling. We were very wrong.

After the summary was read, there was a 10 minute break. Then the ruling was given: 23 defendants were ordered to defend themselves against the charge of treason. With his last word—before it was even clear that he had finished his sentence--Judge Adil turned abruptly and rushed out the back exit, with the other two following closely.

It was obvious that no one, least of all the defendants, expected such an outcome. The family members received the news with a mixture of anger, fatigue and sadness. “Ayzuachehu! Ayzuachehu!” rang out from both sides of the room as the prisoners, with their unwavering courage, tried to reassure their loved ones and encourage them to be strong. Court resumes tommorrow.

What was particularly striking about today’s session was the change in tone. Judge Adil far exceeded expectations with his particularlyly eloquent summary and prosecutor’s demeanor (reminding us all, that the defendants could, in fact, also be charged for conspiracy under Article 257 of the penal code, but would not be). This drastic change in vernacular (that began and ended with the reading of the ruling) seems more than a little odd; and the phrases and wording seemed a little too familiar…Call me crazy, but it actually sounded strikingly similar to Meles himself!

Perhaps it was.

Monday, April 2

Postponed for Another Day

The trial is now postponed until tommorrow, April 3.

I wonder what exactly has got our poor judge feeling so under the weather?
Perhaps an attack of conscience late in the game?
(If only....)

Friday, March 30

Trial Update: More of the same

The same white walls and peeling blue chairs. The same speculations and prayers. The same crowd shifting nrevously in their seats. The same delays. The same excuses.

Well, pretty much. Today, after over an hour delay, a summary of half the evidence presented by the prosecution was read. All 3 judges were there this time; one was apparently ill (though I couldn't tell which one--maybe the one that sniffled a couple of times?) and so, of course, the trial was postponed until Monday.

This time, it was clear that everyone had had enough, and the frustrations of both family members and the defendents was more than evident.

My predictions for Monday's session? If we are lucky, they might get through the rest of the evidence. But then it will probably be adjourned again before any ruling is given.

Thursday, March 29

Sachs is Back in Town

It seems that economist-turned-celebrity Jeffrey Sachs will be in town on Monday for the upcoming ECA conference. The topic is “Investment in Africa”, and all of the continent’s Ministers of Finance are invited. Sounds like quite the party.

I wonder if we can look forward to surrendering the city to blue-camoflauged federal security forces once again?

Tuesday, March 27

Blocked Again

I am unable to access blogspot once again.
Maybe it is just a glitch? Otherwise, back to the same old...

(It was nice while it lasted!)

Monday, March 26


After the disappointment of Friday’s session, I chastised myself for getting my hopes up. But today I have decided otherwise.

Instead, I choose to hope even more ferverently that they will be released at the end of this week. In the days to come., I will envision the happy reunions and city-wide celebrations, and will dwell on the thought that the agony of our friends and heros will soon be over.

I will choose to hope, simply because I can.
Even the EPRDF cannot take that away.

Sunday, March 25

Blogging on ethio-zagol post

I will now be contributing from time to time on seminawork blog and am happy to be invited to participate in his/her newly established community forum. See my first post here.

The new format of this site is really exciting--breaking news, blogs, diaries--the perfect arena for thoughtful public debate and productive dialogue. Exactly the kind of thing we need around here these days. EZ has done it again!

(I will still continue blogging regularly on this blog.)

Friday, March 23

Trial Update

It was a beautiful morning and we all arrived early in order to get a seat, as it was rumored that they would only be allowing a limited number of people inside the courtroom today.

There was an unusual feeling of excitement in the air, and even the most skeptical among us dared hope that today was THE day. All the regulars were there—the ferenj (journalists , observers, and diplomats) crowding the front rows, the immediate family members behind to the left, and additional relatives, friends and supporters left to fill in the gaps.

As usual, we had time to kill. After the greetings, speculations and words of encouragement were exchanged, casual conversation began to wane and the defendants had still not appeared.
Finally, shortly after 10 o’clock, they were brought in and everyone sprang to their feet, waving and smiling (now skilled in the art of communicating without words.) The prisoners looked well and flashed us triumphant thumbs-up as they filed in. They appeared overjoyed to see one another again, and we silently interpreted this scene as the appropriate prelude to their immediate release.

After about 15 minutes everyone was settled in their seats and the judges filed in.
Leul. Momhammed…When it was clear that Judge Adil would not be present (a fact that was neither acknowledged nor recorded), all hope instantly evaporated.

The session was over less than 5 minutes later.

The trial would once again be adjourned, due to the “complexity of the case”, we were told. At first, the date of May 9th was given, which was almost immediately corrected to April 9th. By way of excuse, the judge assured us that they had first intended to resume proceedings on March 30th, but couldn’t because it was a holiday. Then he hesitated again, and consulted the other, amidst disproving murmers from the crowd. After a few moments of confusion, he again corrected himself and announced that the trial would definitely resume the following Friday (the 30th). He announced that on this date the court would make their final ruling and then repeated that this would be the “last one”.
(It is amazing, really. He must have spoken less than 5 sentences--which he had over two weeks to prepare--and he still managed to get it wrong not once, but twice!)

There were sighs and tears from family members, and frustration was evident on the faces of all in attendance.

And then it was over.

Monday, March 19

The IMF: Friend or Foe?


On March 17th, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) released the 2007 Country Report for Ethiopia. The findings of this report include a national economic “growth rate of almost 11 percent” (from 2003/3004-2005/2006), which has resulted in a “real per capita income increasing at the fastest rate in Ethiopia’s recent history” at 7 percent per annum over the same 3-year period (translating to $121 annual per capita income, according to ATLAS calculations).

Frankly, this comes as quite a surprise to me. While I do not have enough information to confidently assess their methods of data collection, I can assure you that such growth has yet to trickle down into the pockets of the poor (or even the middle class, for that matter), though the current rate of inflation is noticeably felt by all.

For those not living in this country (or, rather, any of us who have more than $121/year on which to survive!) this new GDP figure, while perhaps a statistical improvement from a decade ago, is nearly impossible to grasp in actual terms. Let’s forget the math for a moment--a stroll through Shola market on a Saturday afternoon unfortunately proves a far more accurate indicator of current economic conditions than any official document. Considering a friend struggling to feed her family on a monthly income of 400 birr (approximately $50/month) puts things sharply into perspective for me: one litre of oil now sells for 16 birr. A kilo of tomatos 4 birr, onions 3.5; oranges, sugar and coffee (unroasted) have become rare luxuries, at 6, 8 and 24-26/kilo, respectively. A large loaf of bread sells for 2 birr and a month’s supply of teff flour (50 kilos for a small family of 5) has become unafforable at 250- 270 birr. 1.5 litres of bottled water sells for 4 birr and omo (washing powder) for around 24/kilo.

And it gets worse. The eucalyptus debate can be put on hold in Ethiopia it seems, as the price of charcoal has actually doubled (a month’s supply is now 80 birr); at 1 birr each, cow dung patties have become the biomass fuel of choice for the majority of poor households (and for the bargain of a single birr, the health hazards of methane gas must be necessarily forgotten).

Yet, in spite of these drastic increases, none can compete with the leap petrol has taken in recent months. From around 5 birr/litre in August, it has since been driven up to 8.25, and rising still. Cars have become weekend luxuries for former 7-day motorists, and taxi drivers are forced to continually count their losses (as people are increasingly unable to pay the higher fares). A mini-bus ride costs between 65 cents-$1.60 birr, while 50 cents now barely guarantees you standing room on the perilously crowded yellow city buses. In this light, feeding even a small family on $50/month becomes a super-human feat, yet this is nearly 5 times the average per capita income in Ethiopia today, according to the findings of the annual IMF country report.

Which brings us back to the role of this instituion in developing economies such as this one:

The IMF can certainly be recognized as more-highly functioning than the plethora of international aid agencies that currently saturate this region of the world, however, their credibility in the arena of the world’s poorest populations (and not Western or emerging markets, where they have achieved some success) must come from actual measured achievements and not merely relative success in comparison to the abysmal failures of the aid industry as a whole. After all, millions of lives are at stake.

Accordingly, when considering the recommendations of country reports such as this one, we would be well-served to begin with a single, basic question: Has the IMF actually proven its ability to achieve macroeconomic stability in the poorest regions of the world? (Unfortunately, I think we all know the answer to that one…)

Absolutely, these countries are plagued by severe obstacles to economic prosperity (the “root causes of extreme poverty”, --political, historical, geographical, social) for which the IMF cannot be blamed, but it is worth noting that (as pointed out by NYU professor of economics and former senior World Bank economist, William Easterly, in his fascinating book “White Man’s Burden”) “of all 8 cases worldwide of state-failure or collapse”--Afghanistan, Angola, Burundi, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Zaire—“seven of them had a high share of time under IMF programs in the 10 years preceeding their collapse”; therefore, “statistically speaking, spending a lot of time under an IMF program is associated with a higher risk of state collapse”. This seems as good a starting point as any and, at the very least, should raise some serious red flags regarding the credibility of such intervention methods within the Ethiopian context.

Though officially “the financial assistance provided by the IMF enables countries to rebuild their international reserves, stabilize their currencies and continue paying for imports” (, recent history sadly demonstrates that quite the opposite has been achieved. A great part of the problem lies in the fact that statistics available in the poorest countries of the world--the very same statistics used to determine the current GDP and thus predict future economic performance--are often unreliable or downright inaccurate (due to the challenges of gathering information from highly inaccessible rural regions combined with widespread political corruption and intentional data manipulation). Also, how do the “human complexities” that cannot be represented by a financial programming model accurately factor into such country projections and interventions? The problem is they cannot, and do not.

Further, the nasty habit of refusing to seriously penalize the fiscal corruption of borrowing governments has thus ensured that money continues to flow, regardless of actual economic performance and repeated failure to translate progam agendas into real on-the-ground benfits for the desperately poor. This suggests little incentive for developing countries to comply with all conditions outlined by the IMF, and reccommendations are thus accordingly often only partially implemented, increasing the risk of further economic chaos.

(Enter: the art of diplomatic language.) Fortunately, there are plenty of euphemisms to choose from which conveniently afford the IMF justification to continue to lend to irresponsible and corrupt governments (extending new loans to help pay for the old ones, and round-and-round we go!)—hence, reliably overly-optimistic country projections and annual progress reports abound, alongside the ever-lengthening list of countries wallowing in economic turmoil.

Finally, despite the fact that international funds are essentially guaranteed--even in the wake of gross human rights violations and ongoing political oppression--this government will nonetheless be expected to miraculously attempt to bring federal spending within the the limits outlined by the IMF policies (an interesting suggestion when partnered with the observation that “further efforts are needed to strengthen public financial management and financial sector reform”). Grudgingly, Meles may be an extraordinarily intelligent man, but a magician he is not and a reduction in public expenditure--however justified--poses a serious national dilemna. With the social sectors already trapped in a perilous state of disrepair, any additional budget cuts (by a government comfortable devoting a mere 4.9% of the annual federal budget to public health services!) will forseeably serve to further deny the most vulnerable people of society access to these vital services. Even if the rate of inflation can be successfully halted and eventually reversed through such demand-dampening measures, there is no guarantee that the social sectors will receive the radical transformation they desperately require in the future. (Equitable distribution of funds and proper sector allocation under the EPRDF at this point seems an almost laughable suggestion.)

Fortunately, the IMF is not an ‘official aid agency’ and therefore conveniently lacks accountability to the very citizens their economic advice is designed to most greatly assist.

Wednesday, March 14

Swallowed Whole

Ethio-China road (towards Gotera) has been under construction for months, and for some reason a massive pit has been dug in the middle of the road…or, should I say, where the road used to be.

Somehow project completion and site maintenance must have slipped the minds of those in charge, and marking this extreme hazard with even a single sign is apparently not considered important.

This morning there was an entire car sitting in the bottom of the hole, which had obviously plunged in head-first unaware.
Go figure.

(I swear, you can’t make this stuff up.)

Monday, March 12

“Low-cost” generic drugs

It is common in this country for physicians to form alliances of sorts with local pharmacies in order to supplement their meagre government salary of 1200-1400/month (approximately $175 USD); many pharmacies carry only specific brand-name drugs and the physicians, in turn, prescribe those medications exclusively--the profits of which are then shared between the two parties.

In late November 2006, the Ethiopian Drug Administration and Control Authority (DACA) closed down over 60 local pharmeceutical agents for “failure to comply with national quality control standards” after recent visits to manufacturing headquarters in India apparently revealed shockingly inadequate production conditions.

It was further discovered that several of these Indian drug companies initially submitted an entirely different drug for testing (capable of passing quality control inspection procedures) at the national Louis Pasteur Laboratory in Addis. Then, upon being awarded the contract, quality of the drug promptly declined—resulting in an entirely different, sub-standard product to be exported and distributed within Ethiopia.

Sources suggest that the majority of the Ethiopian agents recently put out of business following this investigation were well aware of this dangerous practice and “accordingly compensated”.

Though quality national pharmeceutical manufacturing companies do exist in Ethiopia, they are repeatedly forced out of the market, unable to compete with the “low-cost” generic drugs generously supplied by the Indian market.

And so it goes.


Tuesday, March 6

A Balancing Act

Someone recently suggested that I may be damaging the credibility of my reports by “coming across as too one-sided”, and that perhaps if I “attempted to better balance my views in the future” I might be able to interest (or even engage in on-site dialogue) some of the potentially sympathetic and influential diplomats in this country.

Well, how about that!

My only reason for writing is to provide a glimpse into life at present in Ethiopia—which means disclosing things as they really are; the very name of the blog is meant to suggest the extreme polarity we have been thrust into post-election. The EPRDF has made it unmistakeably clear over the past year that ‘all who are not with them are against them’, and their brute force alone has made it easy enough for me to choose the latter.

Also, freedom of speech does not exist here. Aside from the blogs and news portals, no truly independent media sources exist to report what is actually occuring, leaving only the state-controlled media in full operation (and it is certainly no secret that presenting “fair and balanced reports” to the international community is not high on their agenda as of late). Considering this information monopoly, it naturally follows that anything to the contrary appears biased. Even the truth.

But for those of you who nonetheless question my integrity, rest assured. There is no need for me to bother omiting details or spinning any stories; the most basic facts of life in this country provide more food for dissent than anything I could hope to create.

Currently in Ethiopia, people are being imprisoned, tortured and killed on a regular basis for merely expressing their opinions.

Sorry. I cannot find the means nor motivation to frame such horrors so that they appear “balanced” (…understandable. Excusable. Forgiven.) Enough disappointing news articles and watered-down country-assessment reports abound. Enough people already turn and look the other way.

I do not intend to join them.

Monday, March 5


The trial has been adjourned yet again until March 23, 2007.

Today’s session was incredibly brief. All requested documents have been compiled and translated; the judges apparently now require another 10 days to decide whether to allow the defendants a chance to present a defense or release them.

And so the countdown begins…

Tuesday, February 27

AP Reporter sacked by VOA

According to sources, Ethiopia’s AP reporter Les Nehaus has been sacked by Voice of America, following inflammatory comments recently made public on Ethiopian Review.

As one of two foreign correspondents permanently stationed in Ethiopa (following the expulsion of his predecessor Anthony Mitchell) he has been often criticized here for evading such great responsibility by failing to accurately report the current political landscape and escalating EPRDF brutality.

However, thanks to his charming opinions on the Somalian invasion and factions of the diaspora (as “the sons and daughters of the Derg officials who now live comfortably in Georgetown”) his critics now include his former employer and many abroad. Though the provocative statements were admittedly taken somewhat out of context, they were nonetheless entirely unacceptable for a profesisonal journalist—both suprisingly inaccurate and offensive—and I am glad to see that he is being held accountable, thanks to those (and I quote)“hell-bent and crazed Ethiopian Diaspora in Washington D.C.” who raised a fuss.

While I am not ready to roll out the welcome wagon for this guy anytime soon, I must admit that I have been slightly encouraged by his latest articles (regarding the recent Amnesty appeals and the current cholera epidemic). Perhaps he only needed a little reminder that, despite being stationd in the ‘forgotten’ Horn of Africa, as a journalist he remains accountable not to the national government but (*gasp!) THE PEOPLE first and foremost, both here and abroad…?

I suppose only time will tell. Here’s hoping, Les!

Sunday, February 25

Write a Letter, Support HR5680

The re-introduction of bill HR 5680 (“The Ethiopia Freedom, Democracy and Human Rights Act”) under the Democrats seems like a precious second chance to me, which absolutely cannot be squandered.

The letter writing campaign—“100 000 letters in 10 days” can prove a vital and remarkably effective strategy provided we all get on board, and soon. We already know that American pressure for the release of the political prisoners is real and mounting here in Addis (as evidenced by the ongoing negotiation attempts with the prisoners), and therefore we MUST capitalize on this opportunity to ensure that it remains a priority.

Despite alliances formed during the Somlian invasion, even the President of the United States will be forced to listen if enough people speak out. This is a fact.



Sample letters, information about the bill and contact addresses are available on:


Coalition for HR 5680
Phone: 323-988-5688
Fax: 323-924-5563

Monday, February 19


This morning, stern-looking policemen in tan uniforms lined the road all the way from the federal prison to the High Court in Kaliti, where two local wagons, a white police SUV and a blue-camoflauged federal wagon filled with armed soldiers sat outside the gates, clearly marking the resumption of the trial. The entrance line was unusually long today, and included approximately 20 foreign observers waiting under the grey sky twith the rest o register and submit their IDs.

Once all were admitted, not an empty seat remained in the court room. The defendants looked well and were obviously overjoyed to see one another after the long recess-- Bertukan especially seemed to enjoy greeting every individual with a kiss before returning to her seat..

After an hour and a half delay, the session began and lasted less than an hour—Judge Adil quickly announced that the court would be adjourned until March 5th, apparently to allow for 3 things
1. The translation into Amharic of the press conference given by Hailu Shawel shortly after the elections to the American Press Club
2. The translation of all written documents into Amharic, apparently to be provided to all defendants at the next hearing
3. To allow for the compilation of all election results and reports from the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE)

A low, collective moan was heard from the bench of the defendants at this announcement, before they were ushered out of the court room and driven away in two separate buses before the smiling, waving crowd of spectators that had gathered outside to show their support.

(I tried to discreetly take a picture, and though I waited for an opportunity when no policeman was looking, a man in plain clothes rushed over to a nearby policeman. I am not sure what was said but both men gestured to me and then the policeman went over to speak with two other armed men...plain-clothes security??? I didn’t stick around to find out the consequences of my actions.)

Sunday, February 18


This afternoon Kaliti was overflowing with exhuberant visitors eager to offer final words of encouragement to the imprisoned leaders and prematurely celebrate what they hoped would be their final visit to the federal prison. Family members, for the most part, appeared far more reserved, and the prisoners somewhere in between.

Though tommorrow is certainly a big day, it is highly possible that the speculations abounding both here and abroad may be simply that, and subsequent actions (and reactions) should therefore be very carefully considered.

I hate to be the pessimistic voice of the bunch, but let’s face it--the EPRDF is famous for creating anti-climaxes and brutally diffusing public momentum, so it seems highly possible that tommorrow’s session will be adjourned without incident.

Also (although there is remote possibility of acquittal) the principles of criminal law suggest that sentencing cannot actually occur on this date: in accordance with the presumption of innocence principle (“innocent until proven guilty”), it is the duty of the chief prosecutor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the alleged crimes have been committed—presenting both documentary evidence--audio, video, written documents etc--and witnesses pursuant to the criminal procedure. After all evidence has been presented, the judge must then make a decision as to whether the defendants have, in fact, committed the acts beyond reasonable doubt, and three possibilities remain (bringing us to date in the trial):

1. If the judge decides the prosecution has NOT proven that the crimes have been committed beyond reasonable doubt then the defendants will be immediately acquitted.

2. If the judge thinks that the prosecution has proven that a certain criminal act has been committed beyond reasonable doubt, but that act does not conform to the charges laid, he will change the charge and order the defendant to defend himself based upon the second charge.

3. If the judge decides the prosecution HAS proven that the acts have been committed beyond reasonable doubt then the defendants will be given the chance to defend themselcves (by trying to pole holes in the evidence presented by the prosecution and demonstrate that there is, in fact, reasonable doubt in the case that has been made)

If either of the latter should occur tommorrow, the defendants will be asked to present their evidence in rebuttal of the prosecution.

While the majority ot the defendants have refused to defend themselves due to the political nature of the trial, civil society activists Daniel Bekele and Netsanet Demissie will be providing a defense and, as all 131 defendants were originally charged by the prosecutor on a single charge sheet, all defendants must accordingly wait for the court to rule on any objections that one or more of the defendants make before the final verdict is given. It is therefore highly possible that the trial will resume only to be once again postponed though, as always, I hope for the IMMEDIATE AND UNCONDITIONAL RELEASE OF ALL CURRENT POLITICAL PRISONERS.

Who knows what tommorrow will bring--the past year has taught us to be prepared for anything and everything. (I will do my best to provide the complete breaking trial report here tommorrow.)

Wednesday, February 7

Black Lion Hospital

“There are things which much cause you to lose your reason, or you have none to lose”

I recently visited the pediatric casualty ward of Black Lion Hospital. The images I encountered there will remain with me forever.

Despite being one of the largest hospitals in the country, conditions are absolutely horrifying; the peeling white and yellow paint provides little contrast from the grey and dirty concrete floors and corridors marked by puddles of urine, vomit and other unidentifiable fluids. There are no fans in sight, and the foul stench of body odor, urine and disease is staggering. Though there seemed a minimum of 14 to a room, I saw no curtains or masks to divide those with malaria, HIV or dysentry from those with acute respiratory infections or other contagious diseases.

Where there are cribs they are, for the most part, in varying stages of unacceptable disrepair—the matresses are stained and torn and the rusted rails most often no longer close. The rest of the infants and young children are forced to lie wherever there is room (most without blankets) on dirty wooden benches or on the floor on makeshift cardboard mats. I saw three infants lying perilously on a surface resembling the stainless steel trays used in the West for holding the sterile equipment of surgeons. Family members who are unable to afford accomadation within the city have no choice but to sleep on the floor beneath or beside their dying young. The presence of doctors, nurses and interns are scarce—one anxious father reported that he had not seen his child’s doctor in over seven days. A mother begged me for water to give to her dying child, as another struggled desperately to give her newborn child medicine from a glass, due to the apparent absence of baby bottles or eye droppers in the ward. I saw a ‘cast’ made of duct tape, cardboard and a plastic bag worn by a tiny patient who lay wimpering on the floor with an IV attached to his head. I was told that in this hospital, infants suffering from a specific liver condition are placed directly underneath 100-watt bulbs, apparently for some kind of improvised treatment—an incredibly painful and dangerous procedure which on its own can cause blindness and severe burns.

Before leaving, I spoke briefly with a foreign intern who explained with a defeated sigh that every day they were forced to carry out medical procedures for which they were unqualified, because "there is simply nowhere to turn for help”.

Hope seemed, for the most part, absent from this ward; I was told most children would not live to see e following week.

(Annual Federal Health Expenditure: 4.9%)

Wednesday, January 31

Military Rule?

Today Addis truly reflects the virtual police state in which we live. Over the past week thousands of federal policemen have descended upon the city for the AU summit and, while this may help to ease the fears of the most corrupt African leaders visiting from abroad, residents here feel anything but safe. I have never seen the city like this—a comparable number of forces were deployed during Meskel (but concentrated entirely around the Square), but the atmosphere now feels even more oppressive due to their overwhelming omnipresence.

Under the watch of conspicuous rooftop snipers, federal and military wagons currently rule the roads, spilling out dozens upon dozens of blue-clad, heavily armed soldiers at a moment’s notice. These policemen are literally EVERYWHERE, waiting with guns cocked outside retaurants and cafes, schools and churches, in abandoned lots and on crowded corners, both on the main streets and side roads.

The rules of the city have also changed. At any given time, the roads suddenly close to allow for the procession of passing dignitaries—-walking on certain sides of the road becomes instantly prohibited and it is also forbidden to cross except at designated crosswalks. Now, anyone who has ever visited this city knows that traffic here is chaotic at best and, though there are no signs or roped off areas to signal any of this, residents here are somehow expected to anticipate these new rules—evidenced by soldiers who angrily shout incoherent demands, gesture threateningly with their machine guns or the backs of their hands, and chase down those who forgot to comply. The line between security and military rule appears increasingly blurred as the week progresses; though I am not aware that a city-wide curfew has been imposed, a friend and I were followed almost to our doorsteps the other night by a federal vehicle…apparently walking a couple of blocks after midnight is now considered a ‘suspicious activity’.

A couple of days ago one policeman boasted of the ‘excellent’ training that he had received from the Americans in “fighting the terrorists”. Figures. (Considering the quiet, local terror instilled by the blank, dehumanizing stares and gleaming AK-47s of these federal troops, I suppose the irony of this statement is almost humorous…) I guess it really shouldn’t matter much that the oppression here has now become equally visibly represented, but somehow it does...

Wednesday, January 17

Police Violence in the Streets

Yesterday while coming home from work I passed a group of policemen standing in a semi-circle. Though they were dressed in the tan uniforms of the local police, it was obvious by their guns and boots that they were actually federal security forces.

In the middle was a man who looked to be in his late-twenties, on his knees with his arms tied behind his back. His nose was bleeding and it was obvious that he had been beaten.

There must have been at least 6 or 7 of them. Before the traffic started up again, I saw the man look around in confusion and then flop over in the dirt on his side while the policeman moved closer--to close the cirlce, and, I assume, to block such crimes from the view of passing cars. Then they started kicking him.

This is Addis now.

Monday, January 15

This Grand Potemkin Village

“Once upon a time, there was a man called Potemkin who was minister to the empress of the land. Hoping to earn her favor, he launched a military campaign and conquered new lands to add to her vast kingdom. Though the land itself was of little economic value, he told her of its greatness and was, in turn, rewarded.

One day the queen decided that, like any good monarch, it was her duty to visit her newly acquired territories and discover their potential. This posed a serious problem for Potemkin who had greatly exaggerated their worth. So he thought and he thought. “It is not possible to tell the queen that I have deceived her, “ he mused, “she will certainly be most angry with me.” So he thought and he thought some more. “Aha!” he exclaimed after some time. “I will disguise the poverty of the land and make it appear as if there is some development here!”

But the task of concealing the desolation of the vast and rural countryside was not a simple one, and her aides worked tirelessly day and night to ensure that all was hidden from view of the passing royal procession. Since they did not have enough time to satisfactorily increase the quality of life for the oppressed subjects of the kingdom, elaborate ‘false fronts’ were instead constructed to conceal the utter lack of regional development. Villagers from across the land were conscripted to help conceal the lack of infrastructure and ramshackle-poverty that would most certainly offend the queen, and no expense was spared--beautiful one-dimensional representations of the towns-that-should-have-been soon stretched for miles.

By the time the queen set off on her journey, the nation had been transformed, or at least it appeared so to the passing royal carriage. Though her aides were terrified that the villagers might forget to smile and wave at the temperamental monarch or, worse, that a mighty wind would come and knock over their massive wooden facade, everything went according to plan. The queen returned back to her palace under the assumption that all was fair throughout the land, and the aides lived happily ever after, (or at least they were allowed to live!), all thanks to the clever plan of a man called Potemkin. The end.”

Okay,…so maybe that wasn’t quite how it went down in 18th-century Russia. (he was, interestingly, her former lover and historians today more or less agree that the claims of ‘sham villages’ were probably greatly exaggerated), but whether fact or fiction, the legend has nonetheless since been internationally circulated and the practice of development for the sole purpose of deception has been adopted and implemented in all corners of the Earth.

I was reminded of this tale while recently touring the city with an aid worker new to the city. “My, my,” she exclaimed, “there certainly seems to be a lot of development going on in this city. At least this government is doing something right!”

Though we all know better, it is actually entirely understandable that she would arrive at this conclusion after spending only a few days in Addis:
The main road from the airport, for example, is littered with half-constructed buildings of all shapes and sizes which suggest ‘urban transformation and development’ in no uncertain terms to the weary traveller. Upon immediately entering the city (provided you stick to the main road, of course) such development even borders on indecent, as precarious wooden scaffolding rising in deliberate distraction from all directions; should you decide to visit “Old Airport” (home of the international embassies) , “Piasa” (city center) or “Bole” (especially near the shiny new World Bank building), you may even feel downright intimidated in the shadows of the towering business complexes and “nearly-completed” high rise (low-cost!) apartment buildings built obscenely close to the road, shamelessly flaunting their concrete wares for all to see. The fact that so many buildings are being so hurriedly erected literally on the side of of the road (without even room for a sidewalk in some places) seems more than a little suspicious (and easily suggests that, perhaps, there is much to hide) but given the dismal state of the national economy and blatantly declining of social conditions, such in-your-face development thankfully provides a much needed ‘escape clause’ for overwhelmed tourists, comfortable aid workers and placated politicians.

So, who is responsible for this wonderfully reasuring proliferation of concrete?

Well, they can definitely be attributed to foreign “assistance”, though not necessarily in the charitable fashion we prefer to assume. Some buildings are undoubtedly the labors of determined NGOs that have untangled themselves from the red-tape of the national civil service long enough to partially construct some buildings, and a precious few actually do belong to non-partisan private investors, I am told. However, a far greater number of the sites can be credited to the (apparently internationally intriguing) government contracts freely awarded to the low-bidding Chinese, and the obvious efforts of the Sheik to leave his scent all over the city.…which leaves the remainder of the contracts to be greedily divied up between the gaggle of homegrown nouveau-riche, EPRDF-supporting “businessmen”.

For all intensive political purposes, it seems the “act” of construction has now become favored over any potential end result within this city. And no wonder, considering the amount of aid dollars that continue to miraculously disappear within these borders every year! Fortunately, most diplomats, international donor assessment teams and self-assured foreign economists don’t actually spend enough time in the city to notice the chronic stagnance of the majority of the sites (though, admittedly, in some areas of the city buildings seem to pop up faster than you can say “vote harvesting”!) While it cannot be denied that most governments of the world have been found guilty of awarding contracts or lucrative ‘business opportunities’ to family, friends, and/or political supporters at some time or another, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi seems once again determined to lead the perverted pack of power-hungry politicians (say that 10 times fast! …Sorry, late-night buna kicking in) in the quest for bonded political validation.

At this time, such action serves two very important functions in this country:
1. To supply a shameless masquerade of “well-managed donor funds” (that can be referenced in a pinch to satisfy the international community) and
2. To ensure political loyalty amidst an increasingly vocal national majority opposition (umm…I hear they call it blackmail in the free world?)

It is common knowledge here in Addis that local construction contracts are almost exclusively distributed amongst party members and EPRDF “supporters” with breath-taking generosity and alarmingly low criteria, but just like everything else in this country, the evidence of such favoritism is obviously “everywhere and nowhere” and therefore easily ignored by the outside world.

This would, perhaps, be easier to understand if this new wave of development served to improve the lives of those living here, but so far the economy has failed to noticeably repsond. Though the investments of Al-Amoudi have naturally proven profitable for himself and the party members involved, they do not, for the most part, serve to significantly benefit the local community. He has obviously set his sights on visitors from abroad, and many of his ‘attractions’ (such as the Sheraton and the park) remain almost entirely inaccessible to Ethiopians for various reasons (cost and his ego, respectively). Those that remain affordable are intentionally boycotted by most citizens and therefore can no longer be considered a valuable economic contribution—Pepsi sales, for example are at an all time low. The system of consistently awarding major development contracts to the lowest bidder also raises some obvious questions: though I far prefer the self-interested development of the Chinese to the diastrous, multi-faceted consequences of guilt-driven Western charity, let’s face it--their roads are crap!

More importantly, the shameful state of the national economy, despite drastic increase in urban business ventures, can inarguably be attributed to the lack of capacity and requisite expertise and experience harnessed by the ruling minority party (which I plan to write much, much more about this at a later date). You see, apparently after being given a business liscence and development contract, you are actually supposed to have a viable business plan and even (*gasp!) efficiently operate for profit…which evidently poses quite a problem for many of the EPRDF’s business elite. A friend of mine in the construction business recently shared some hilarious stories of party members trying to get started (like the man who walked smugly into the office of an established civil engineer and told him that he needed a building designed immediately. Despite the fact that the confused cadre obviously required the services of an architect not an engineer, the man nonetheless played along. “Ok. What kind of building did you have in mind, sir” he asked, most likely stifling a laugh. “Uhh…you know,” the EPRDF stooge replied, “just a building. For rent.” “Just a building?” pressed the engineer. “I think you need to have something a little more…specific…in mind. Let’s try it this way—how large of a structure are you thinking?” “Big,” replied the cadre confidently. “I need one big building.” )

Though I am obviously paraphrasing, this pathetic exchange and countless others like it take place in this city on a regular basis, and the long-term consequences of such unskilled and corrupt transactions unfortunately extend far beyond the temporary appeasement of the international donor community. These unsuccessful businesses, in addition to failing to stimulate the economy, serve to absorb the finite land available for actual future city development and sap the nation’s resources with little or no return. Furthermore, shoddy, hastily-constructed buildings which fail to comply with minimal safety regulations are consistently approved for operations, creating hazardous environments for both construction workers and future employees, tennants and clients.

The essential government monopoly on urban development has also resulted in a notable absence of city planning. Though it seems a bit superfluous to mention, in Piasa (possibly the city’s only district which hints at architectural cohesion) the ghastly new high-rise buildings currently being constructed directly in the middle of the city square, couldn’t possibly appear more incongruent. On a more practical note, however, such a lack of central planning and long-term vision is beginning to create serious problems for a city already unable to cope with the ever-increasing number of rural-urban migrants. Instead of confronting this obviously critical issue, the city’s poor now find themselves even more tightly packed between the ‘false fronts’ of the main roads, forced further back into dangerously overcrowded slums by the large new buildings. In this way, it has become possible to hide most of the shocking urban poverty here, while at the same time giving the appearance of development—I am ashamed to admit that I stayed here for some time before discovering that over 90% of the houses in Addis are, in fact, constructed from corrugated tin and mud. The conditions of these proliferating slums are terrible and further deteriorating—there are few chimneys to relase the dangerous fumes from indoor cooking (most commonly fueled by cow dung, despite availability of alternate energy sources, due to the now impossibly inflated cost of charcoal), roofs leak, rats reign and disease runs rampant. Clean water is often not an option and sanitary conditions are unacceptable; hyenas scavenge the waste left out in the city by night, and during the day raw sewage flows through the gutters where children play.

I cannot figure out why no one cares or even appears to notice this, but I suppose we can again assume that Meles has once again fooled those who ‘matter’. Such conditions “are to be expected within the least-developed nations of the world”, I am repeatedly assured, and conversations always seem instead to focus on the city’s “positive new developments” (which ‘thankfully’ conceal such filth and poverty). It is truly unbelievable what the “razzle-dazzle” of some charasmatic double-speak, an array of deliberately obtrusive buildings and a whole lot of scaffolding can obscure.

Sunday, January 7

Fanning the Flames of Religious Conflict

Well, well,…It seems that Prime Minister Meles will once again ‘allow’ Orthodox Christians to call out to God for help!

Following the protests and mass arrests of November 2005--the recitation of Mehila (a collective prayer which resembles the pessmistic lyrics of Gregorian chant) was outlawed at several parishes throughout the city. (This ancient call-and-response prayer--translated in part as “Save us, Christ! In the name of the Virgin Mary, save us!”--is recognized as a desperate plea for the mercy of God, and has been practiced within the church for centuries.) After being outlawed for months without explanation, it was recently announced that local Christians are now permitted to resume practice of this prayer--a declaration that nicely coincided with the Prime Minister’s increasingly public intentions to drag this nation into war some weeks ago.

Though, in my opinion, few refrains could be considered more appropriate during this time, the phrase “too little, too late” also seems unfortunately well-suited, and this concession is duly recognized as yet another government attempt to ignite the passions of religious fundamentalists and further fragment this already divided society.

Some here and abroad seem comfortable defining the Somalian invasion as a primarily religious struggle (an admittedly romantic notion in an age where ethics and ancient doctrines are increasingly at odds with popular culture); however now, more than ever, it is important to accurately examine the history of this country before giving in to such seductions.

As one of the oldest Christian nations in the world, the traditions, practices and ideology of Orthodox Christianity have permeated every level of Ethiopian society, and continue to fashion much of the intellectual patterns and cultural values of this country today. Introduced in the 4th century A.D.(by Syrian monks who washed upon the shores of the Red Sea Coast following a shipwreck en route to India), Orthodox Christianity quickly expanded into all regions of the country, where it remains strictly practiced by tens of millions of Ethiopians today.

Though despite this rich Christian heritage, it is inaccurate to continully refer to modern Ethiopia as a Christian nation (granted it may be quite helpful in coaxing the support of zealous Western allies!). According to widely available national statistics, Ethiopian religious allegience is, in fact, divided roughly in half between Christianity and Islam (many sources even cite the population as primarily Muslim), which leaves approximately 35-40+ million followers of Islam peacefully residing within this “Christian nation”.

Though much of the Western world would have us believe otherwise, this fact alone is certainly no cause for alarm. Ethiopia has long-occupied the historical stance of religious tolerance, evidenced by the very manner in which Islam was first introduced into this country: In approximately 615 A.D., a group of Muslims were advised by the Prophet Muhammad to escape persecution in Mecca and seek refuge in Ethiopia (also the birthplace of Bilal, one of the Prophet’s closest companions). Upon arrival, they were warmly received by the Axumite king who provided asylum, and the teachings of the Prophet were subsequently spread throughout the land. This country has since held a position of honor among the Muslim world, internationally revered as the “Haven of the First Migration”(or Hijra) and eternal gratitude is expressed in the hadith—“Utruk Al-Habesha ma tarkukum” (“Leave the Abyssinians alone, so long as they do not take the offensive”). Tradionally, Muslim priests teach holding a sword, representative of the bloody, religious battles fought in the Arab world; in Ethiopia, however, a staff is instead carried as reminder of the peaceful circumstances in which the religion first reached Ethiopian soil.

Clashes between the followers of these two religions have since occurred intermittantly, without doubt (namely the violent uprisings of the 16th century), but Ethiopia has so far managed to avoid the brutal religious warfare that has marred the pasts of so many other nations, and continues to stand as a rare global testament to religious tolerance and cooperation.

While there are those who wish to involve Ethiopian Islam in the current global trend of ‘Islamic villification’, it seems quite ridiculous to assume that Ethiopian Muslims who have peacefully co-existed in this country for thousands of years will be suddenly inspired by foreign jihadists to take up arms against their brothers and sisters. That being said, it remains a fact that Ethiopia has witnessed an alarming increase in violent religious clashes over the past year, and current tensions between the two groups have reached unprecedented levels. But if it is not the ‘poisonous doctrines of neighboring extremists’ seeping across the borders, who then is responsible for this escalating internal conflict?

For those familiar with Ethiopian politics, such a question is, no doubt, rhetorical; once again, in-country evidence clearly fingers none other than the usual suspects—Meles Zenawi and his powerful entourage of international allies. Judging by the current social climate here, it appears the most serious threat to the precious remaining shreds of religious equilibrium can be found entirely within Ethiopia’s own borders, expertly moulded to assume a lethally complex 3-pronged front--stemming from religious, ethnic and political divide.

It is clear that religious conflict in this country has only recently adopted strong ethnic and political lines (which must be thoroughly examined in far greater detail than I can hope to provide). These factors were first conspicuously introduced into the religious debate during the 2005 election campaign, throughout which the EPRDF employed political discourse to paint the opposition CUD as a primarily anti-Muslim group (a subtle, but crucial distinction from portrayal as a primarily Christian party) attempting to usurp power in order to advance the interests of the Christian Amharas and restore Ethiopia to its original position as a predominantly Orthodox nation. In some regions this was intentionally very seriously propagated by the government, and this image has tragically served to bring about uneccessary lasting religious and ethnic disharmony (In Jimma, for example, the clashes occurred primarily between Muslim Oromos and Christian Amharas, designating the few Christian Oromos involved the “shameful stooges” of the Christian Amharas).

Though the EPRDF certainly had no intentions of establishing themselves as a ‘Muslim party’, they shamefully used the election opportunity to gain Muslim political support (particularly at the local level) by pitting them in this fashion against the official opposition, and thus, more dangerously, against specific ethnic groups as well as the nation’s vast Christian population.

In a climate where mistrust is actively encouraged by the government, conditions for violent conflict are naturally ripe—communities are divided, suspicions nursed, old grievances resurrected, and retaliation invited. It is, however, the lack of official action in response to these (arguably) inevitable religious clashes that has now become an increasingly serious cause for concern; according to sources, evidence surrounding some of the most recent and bloody religious conflicts, in fact, seems alarmingly suggestive of deliberate government instigation!

Again, in the instance of Jimma, during the clashes a few months ago in which at least 18 people were murdered (according to official reports, though eye-witnesses insist the toll is far higher), it has been revealed that the local administration repeatedly and deliberately ignored reports of imminent clash between the two religious groups. Such glaring ommission is nothing less than criminal, as it is the appointed responsibility of the government to swiftly act on such information and prevent certain bloodshed. (It is important to note that the people who finally intervened in this case--stopping the clashes and exposing the criminals—were, in fact, Muslims, not Christians. It was later also concluded that the the crimes were committed by a small, radical band of men, though the overwhelming majority of the Mulsim population condemned the attacks.) In similar outbreaks that have occurred in Gondor, Dilla and Jijigga over the past year, it has also been discovered that the violence was actually initially perpetrated by those who were leaders in their communities (of varying degree). It then stands to reason that without EPRDF consent these dangerous criminals would never have been appointed to community leadership positions (which naturally require close cooperation with the central government) and these clashes can then, in such light, be considered to have been instigated (both directly and indirecttly) by government action; or, at the very least, such evidence makes the party guilty by association.

The growing religious divide in this country is unfortunately even more complex. The tragic circumstances mentioned above can similarly be traced to an increasing lack of social cohesion due to the absence of national moral authority. The head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Abuna Paulos, has been considered to lack legitimacy from the very outset--after his election to the church’s highest and most sacred position through a process which was dubious at best. (Church law states that that a patriarch can only be replaced if found to be in violation of the basic doctrines of the church or if proven incapable of executing his repsonsibilities--in which case he traditionally almost always remains in power, relying more heavily on the assistance of aides). Though ‘health failure’ was publicly announced by the former patriarch Abuna Merkoriyos, upon relocation to the US, he revealed that he had actually been forced to resign by former Prime Minister Tamrat Layne, or face death. Many prominent scholars left the church immediately following this controversial election and the leadership of the church has since been viewed as largely corrupt and shamefully politically aligned. The head of the national Islamic Court was also appointed around the same time through a similarly questionable procedure, which has likewise served to strip him of true religious legitimacy. (It is worth recalling that during last year’s election campaign, religious leaders from both factions frequently appeared in the media in support of EPRDF platforms and policies, and both leaders publicly (albeit indirectly) denounced the official opposition on several occasions. Interestingly enough, just before the May 2005 elections, a meeting was held by the Prime Minister in his office, which required the attendance of all national religious leaders. During this session, both political and religious absurdities of all sorts abounded: one prominent Orthodox leader reportedly spoke at length on the “appropriateness of the national land policy”, while another announced that it was revealed to him through a vision that Meles was, in fact, the savior long prophesied (by Ethiopian legend, which suggests that a man called Tewodros will arise and come to save the nation from disaster). With similar flair, a high-ranking Muslim leader stood up and heatedly announced that they were ready to die to defend their rights from the “growing anti-Muslim population”…What a show it must have been!)

Such lack of moral authority evidently seems to have resulted in the further disintegration of social fabric, as communities now find themselves increasingly fragmented by the void of credible religious leadership exposed by last year’s election procedures. With such a largely dissatisfied population now unable to rely on either political or religious leaders to guide community decisions or dissolve regional tensions, the explosion of wide-scale domestic conflict now seems, sadly, only a matter of time.

Additionally, we can now thank Prime Minister Meles for further fueling this already precarious trend of religious unrest, by publicly polarizing the Ethiopian Muslim-Christian divide through his recent invasion of Somalia. Many Muslims feel betrayed by a government eager to label followers of Islam “radical, Taliban-loving extremists” (in a thinly-veiled effort to rejuvenate waning Western favor), and insulted by the insinuation that they could be so easily coerced into acts of terrorism by infiltrating Somali jihadists. The Christians, for their part, have also become increasingly unsettled—while most seem to recognize Meles’ exaggerated warnings of imminent attack for exactly what they are, furious few nonetheless now stand ready to defend their country from Muslim takeover “by any means necessary”. Add to that the mounting anger of both groups over the extreme ‘preventative’ measures recently taken by the federal government (last week’s wave of mass arrests)—and it seems that Meles just might have found the final ingredient in his recipe for disaster.

Or, perhaps the war was merely the final attempt by a government ‘in the hot seat’ to externalize the obvious national problems and divert attention and resources (both national and international)—hoping in vain to unite ‘all concerned’ against a common enemy?

Either way, the recent invasion has only served to aggravate an already dangerously explosive situation—both abroad and at home. It seems that now, as a direct result of the war, (not to be confused with the prior unfounded claims used to justify the invasion) there is suddenly a very real danger that this brewing dissent could be effectively cultivated and exploited by foreign fighters eager to wage holy war in this new sub-Saharan front. Now, the possibility that outside terrorist forces will seek to fund, arm, unite and provoke the small scattered bands of radical Islamists that do (without doubt) already exist in this country, must be seriously considered. With Somalia struggling to close its borders to the recent influx of thousands of foreign fighters and constant reports of ‘terrorists on the run’, it seems highly possible that determined jihadists could instead be re-routed to Ethiopia to carry out attacks on the capital from within. Such acts of terrorism would undoubtedly serve to convict the entire Ethiopian Muslim population (in the eyes of many here and within the international community) and could forseeably provoke immediate violent retaliation and eventual full-scale religious warfare.

Given the current lack of legitimate moral and political authority, combined with the simmering anger of the oppressed millions, the escalating tension in this country simply cannot be dismissed along with yesterday’s headlines. Whether the war has officially ended or not is longer the issue; rather, it appears we must immediately concern ourselves with how to avert the eruption of wide-scale religious conflict here. Such a volatile climate will certainly result in catastrophe if this growing social divide is not soon be mended, which naturally raises a most important question: Who here is suited for such a task?

Certainly not the current national leaders of either the Orthodox Church or the Islamic Court, who long ago publicly swapped allegiance from the moral to the political.

Certainly not the international community, who has eagerly embraced Ethiopia as the newest gladiator in the global anti-terrorist arena and ignorantly applauded her latest efforts at “regional stabilization”.

Most certainly NOT the dictatorial federal government, as has been repeatedly evidenced by their disgusting political corruption and horrific internal abuses.

So where then does that leave us?

Ethiopian salvation can clearly only be sought within the democratic process itself (which demands the release of all current political prisoners)– in a society where people are free to share their views and express dissent, and have confidence in the decisions and interventions of their elected leaders. Only then, through the functions of a healthy democracy (based on the fair representation of citizens and their concerns and equitable distribution of resources) will there be any hope of bridging this widening divide and restoring this fragmented nation.