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.

Melkam Genna

Melkam Genna.

To the current political prisoners--our thoughts are with you today. We will not let you spend another Christmas behind bars!

Thursday, January 4

The Forbidden Park

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Sheik Al-Moudi for his generous gift to Addis of one city park.

Yesterday while driving through Casanges area, I was suddenly compelled to go and take a look. Aside from the pathetic suggestion of a playground next to the Ambassa Gibee (see previous lion entry) it seems that this park is the only other designated, safe play-area for children in the entire city!

What I don’t understand, is why this park--painted in inviting primary colors and complete with a ‘super-cool’ blue slide—remains locked (gated and enclosed by cement) day after day, week after week…?
Perhaps I am asking the obvious here, but why build a park that no one can use?

So yesterday, feeling particularly curious, I decided to try and enter the compound. I was, of course, prevented from entering the gate by no less than 3 workers (playground guards?) who informed me that the park was closed.

“Under construction?” I asked.
“For repairs?” I wondered.
“Indefinitely?” I pressed.
“It’s for…the Millenium,” one worker proudly explained. “It is, by the way, a government park,” another quietly hinted. (Pictures therefore forbidden.)

I then learned that the park was constructed by the Sheik, to be unveiled in all of it’s plastic splendor during next-year’s Millenium celebrations.
But of course! Who else would ‘donate’ a much-needed service for children, only to keep it under lock and key until he can bask in the applause of the ‘300 0000 visitors’ that will supposedly flock to the capital next September?

Hmm…perhaps he plans to present the park along with a backlog of companies-- “one for every month”--that he has so far failed to deliver, as promised? (Ahem…Excuse me, I cannot even type that with a straight face.)

I can’t help but wonder if by then the beautiful colors will have faded and the site will have lost any attraction it once could have held. Maybe then his EPRDF buddies can lend a helping hand by forcing some of the street children (that will be inevitably be rounded up and detained to create a more “tourist-friendly” atmosphere for celebration) to play in his park while the foreign diplomats and international visitors drive by?

Let’s make one thing clear--should I still have the inclination to visit a park when the Millenium finally rolls around, I would rather build my own!

(By the way, for those of you who wish to do so, I can be contacted at : Ciao!)

Tuesday, January 2

Conversations with Jeffrey Sachs

(Sit back and relax, this one's gonna be long!)

Ahh…Jeffrey Sachs—the American economist-turned-humanitarian we just “love to hate” in these parts.

As the UN Special Advisor on the Millenium Development Goals, he has actively lobbied in favor of increased aid funds for Africa—and Ethiopia, in particular. He has continually applauded the ‘development efforts’ of Meles Zenawi in addition to repeatedly expressing respect for his intellect, personal charisma and “vision”. Sachs was on hand to personally award him the “first ever African Green Revolution Award” (only a couple of months after the June 2005 civilian massacre)—and since by now we are all more than aware of the ‘dubious conditions’ under which that prize was awarded, we can only assume that rumors of a personal friendship between the two must at least be somewhat founded.

The much celebrated UN-supported Millenium Village Project (a continent-wide 'sustainable development project, endvoring to eradicate extreme poverty at the village level within a 5 year timeframe' ) is also the brainchild of this man, and Ethiopia was selected by him as the second “host country” to participate—thus blessing us with the village of Koraro and promised future “subsequent national scale-up’.

Under normal circumstances, the political assessment of a foreign economist is generally (arguably) irrelevant. However, our man Jeffrey Sachs is of a different, and dangerous breed. His public humanitarian pledge to “end extreme poverty by 2015” (proclaimed in his bestseller, The End of Poverty) has won him the favor (and ears…and pocketbooks) of charitable Western citizens who wouldn’t otherwise give a rat’s tail about African economic policy. He is already highly-esteemed in his field due to his shining credentials and international experience, and now thanks to the global race for ‘MDG alignment’, he also holds incredible sway in the international donor community as a powerful lobbyist for increased “official development funds”.

This leaves a pretty diverse and powerful arena now uniquely occupied by this single man and, in my opinion, it naturally follows that with such influence comes a certain amount of responsibility. For that reason, his continued endorsement of the Ethiopian government is becoming particularly detrimental in light of the recent escalation of political oppression and wide-scale government abuses here. It seems that no matter what Meles does, the aid continues to flow—and unfortunately most often straight into the pockets of EPRDF cadres. I truly believe that Jeffrey Sachs has personally done lasting damage to this country through his undue public affection for Meles Zenawi and continues to play a very large role in fostering exactly the kind of dangerously inaccurate perception of this dictator within the international community that allows him to continue his ‘reign of terror’ unopposed!

I thought that, perhaps, Jeffrey Sachs had been understandly duped by the eloquent false ernest of Meles, or possibly didn’t fully realize the far-reaching and devastating effects of his perceived partnership with the Ethiopian federal government. Call me na├»ve, but I thought I would give it a shot:

I have consequently been having an ongoing discussion (via email)with him for a couple of weeks now and thought it might be worth sharing. I apologize for the length of this post, but hope it proves interesting for some: (*my name and identifying details have obviously been omitted. Enjoy!)

Sent: Tuesday, December 19, 2006 7:30 AM
To: Jeffrey Sachs
Subject: from a concerned ____________ working in Ethiopia

Dear Professor Sachs:
I am a _______________*, currently working in Addis Ababa . Prior to my arrival, I read as much of your published work as I could get my hands on, truly inspired by your most recent humanitarian interests and model for village-level sustainable development. Now that I have been in Ethiopia for some time, however, I find myself confused and utterly disillusioned by many of your claims; to be frank, it has become unmistakeably clear that even to reach the cherished ‘bottom rung of the development ladder’ in this country, true democracy must first come to Ethiopia.

In your book you clearly state that a pre-requisite for participation in the Millenium Village Project is “good governance”—I must admit, I cannot fathom the criteria used when selecting Ethiopia as a host country! The governance profile report issued by the Economic Commission for Africa at that time (2004) expressed serious concerns regarding levels of political opression and wide-spread human rights violations, and according to more recent global governance indicators, the EPRDF ranks in the bottom 10th percentile--among the most corrupt in the world. Despite repeated condemnation from international human rights watchdog organizations, hundreds of political prisoners currently languish in prison without trial, and life in Addis, (due to escalating police brutality and mounting civil unrest) is becoming increasingly unbearable, even for a foreigner.

I have heard you repeatedly and publicly praise Prime Minister Meles on several occasions and have watched you lobby tirelessly for increased health funding for this country; however, I have been unable to find even so much as a single critical public statement issued in regards to the most recent findings of the independent commission assigned to investigate the mass civilian murders in June and November 2005. I find it impossible to believe that someone of your stature, experience and humanitarian concern could possibly support such violent government action, regardless of any personal affinity or relationship you may have with this national leader. Therefore, I wish to ask you now: Do you still support this man who has been found guilty (by a self-appointed panel, no less!) of the murders of over 193 peaceful civilians—men, women and children?

If this is not the case (as I suspect) I would like to ask why your condemmnation of such extreme brutality and the escalating political oppression in this country has not been forthcoming?

Many economists today may enjoy the luxury of walking away from a failed model, simply citing ‘human error’ and calling it a day. But you, sir, have achieved a kind of celebrity status that has made you a household name (both here in Ethiopia and in the West)—due primarily, I believe, to your public commitment to alleviating the sufferings of others as outlined in your book. Because you now occupy a unique forum which includes the United Nations, international donor community, politicans and citizens alike—it is absolutely vital that you also publicly identify and denounce this negative government practice, since millions of lives continue to be severely affecetd by the ongoing abuses inflicted by this current dictatorship (which has been significantly strengthened by ‘aid dollars’ embezzled to line the pockets of EPRDF members).

In your book, you refer to the Ethiopian political climate as “better governance than might have been expected” (presumably in the face of extreme poverty and economic decline) and even go so far as to qualify it as a “good government…struggling mightily against the odds”. I cannot conceive why your expectations for the leader of this continent’s third most populous nation were ever so inexplicably low to begin with--low enough that even the massacre of hundreds of innocent civilians can apparently be easily overlooked ‘between friends’?

You also stated clearly that “to understand and overcome such crises, it would be necessary to unravel the interconnections”; I challenge you to begin to do so in this country, sir, beyond the carefully conrolled environment of your ‘clinical economic’ experiment in the region of Tigray—I am confident that you will find unacceptable levels of government corruption beneath every stone and the shocking violation of human life and liberty around every corner.

As an academic and world-renowned economist, it is your responsibility to defend the systems which you devise—which, in this case, involves identifying and addressing the wide-spread political corruption that will eventually arrest plans for the project scale-up so enthusiastically envisioned. And as one who has pledged publicly to support those condemned by extreme poverty, it has become your self-appointed duty to serve as their voice—and denounce the widespread government abuses that foster such unbearable conditions wherever you encounter them, (even when they are committed by your ‘partners in African development’!)
I in no way intend to suggest that you are somehow responsible for the current national crisis or for the horrific crimes committed by the Ethiopian government; however, it remains a fact that your endorsement has done much to generate international support for the government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, and the donor funds that have flooded across the borders as a result in recent
years have most certainly served to empower an otherwise waning regime.

There is certainly no shame in realizing that you have been deceived by a cunning, eloquent and systematic dictator who claimed to share your passion for sustainable development and economic reform (perhaps he too even legitimately shared this enthusiasm for a time?). The shame lies rather in remaining silent once this deception has been revealed and such violations clearly exposed. With all due respect, because you are now in a position to greatly influence the world-opinion of this tyrant, you have long ago forfeited the luxury of silently observing this country disintegrate into ruin; should you choose to say nothing, your name will be forever associated with the atrocities committed under the rule of Meles Zenawi and the blood of thousands of Ethiopian people will forever stain your conscience.


Jeffrey Sachs wrote:


I strongly support more development aid for Ethiopia and am equally strongly against sanctions.

I do not believe that well-directed aid supports any political outcome other than improved economic conditions for the poorest, which in turn promotes long-term democratization as well. I do not believe that sanctions improve the situation of Ethiopia or hasten political change in a reliable manner, and can foment destabilization of economies and destitution of the poorest. I’ve seen that on many occasions.

I have spoken strongly and clearly against the violence, and in favor of democracy and reconciliation. You are just wrong to claim otherwise.

The progress in the Millennium Villages is remarkable. The poorest of the poor are staying alive, improving their livelihoods, and seeing their children survive. There were no deaths from malaria this year in the Ethiopian Millennium Villages, a truly remarkable outcome, and thanks to these interventions. Childbirth is no longer the killer that it was. Hunger is diminishing dramatically.

Thank you for your message, your concern for development, and your concern for Ethiopia . I share these concerns, and do the best that I can. I hope that you do the same.

Best wishes,
Jeffrey D. Sachs—

Jeffrey D. Sachs
Director, The Earth Institute at Columbia University

Sent: Wednesday, December 20, 2006 3:47 AM
To: Jeffrey Sachs
Subject: RE: from a concerned ______________ working in Ethiopia

Dear Sir,

Thank you for your response. I am very interested in reading your comments publicly denouncing the violence of the EPRDF government--could you please point me to where I might find these?

You say that you do not believe that "well-directed aid supports any political outcome other than improved economic conditions for the poorest" however I have seen evidence time and time in this country that the aid, in fact, is not well-directed but embezzled and abused for political purposes.

I am impressed by the progress of the Millenium Village but suggest that this is so because operations, local leadership and distribution of funds remain so closely monitored (and are centered within the region of Tigray--the region of origin of most EPRDF members)--once the project is significantly scaled-up nation wide (and repsonsibilities eventually delegated), I believe that you will certainlyencounter the wide-spread govn't corruption I speak of.

Have you undertaken any studies to significantly investigate national government transparency? It is amazing what I have discovered here without even looking for it--even through 'careless', off-the-record revelations of many prominant aid workers here, including the WFP.



Any aid program should monitor what it does. Aid works best when it is directed at specific needs, with specific technologies, and with measurable, monitored outcomes. The problem comes when aid is cash transfers for vague purposes. I am not in favor of such vague support. Ethiopia needs medicines, bed nets, fertilizer, improved seed varieties, village health workers, etc., the kinds of things that can indeed be monitored, audited, etc. When the Millennium Villages project started, we said that all aid would go direct to the grass roots level, in kind, and not through cash transfers. The federal government entirely agreed.

I can’t direct you to published remarks on Ethiopia since these have come in speeches, presentations at the UN, and elsewhere, on several occasions. I denounced the violence last year on several occasions, recommended more power sharing, especially across ethnic divides, and yes, called for more aid, not less. I was also against sanctioning Ethiopia . I believe that the current aid programs are too small and too incoherent, and are not properly targeted.

Impoverishment is one of the key causes of bad government and risk of destabilization. The poor often can do little or nothing to defend themselves from official abuse. Targeted aid which succeeds in raising living standards can be an instrument thereby for improved governance.

Why don’t you figure out how to do this in Ethiopia in specific sectors, or regions? That would be a highly valuable contribution. Which NGOs are successful, and why? I know that many are successes, and determining the causes of their success would be very important, and you would make a fine contribution.

Best regards,
Jeffrey D. Sachs

-----Original Message-----
To: Jeffrey Sachs
Sent: Mon Dec 25 05:10:05 2006
Subject: more on Ethiopia

Dear Sir:

I have found that you have previously mentioned the "attacks on the current govnment"-is this what you meant when you said that you have denounced the violence here? If you are somehow under the impression that the current state of civil unrest has been created by the imprisoned members of the opposition party, you have been gravely misinformed: The citizens that stand trial now have been considered "prisoners of conscience" from the very beginning by Amnesty International and other international human-rights organtizations, "imprisoned solely for on account of their non-violent opinions and activties". If you have been following the trial, you know that insufficient evidence has been submitted by the prosecution (despite evident perjury of the witnesses) to convict any of the prisoners of even a single crime with which they have been charged (yet they languish in prison as we speak). The recent findings of the independent commission appointed to investigate the disturbances in both June and November 2005 (hand-picked by Meles himself!)
have, in no uncertain terms, found the government guilty of the murder of nearly 200 peaceful civilian protestors-men, women and children. Such violence (considered the most extreme and tragic manifestation of 'bad governance') simply cannot be attributed to impoverishment, no matter how you choose to look at it, and the responsibility weighs entirely on the shoulders of this country's ruling party. The fact of the matter is, whether these victims were poor or wealthy, public channels for 'defence against official abuse' simply do not exist under the EPRDF regime, period.

I understand that you are choosing to remain diplomatic throughout our exchange but, I admit, I still fail to understand how the atrocities committed (specifically) by Meles Zenawi in this country can possibly be ignored. I again ask you why the standards of governance for Sub-Saharn Africa differ so greatly from those of Western nations? Granted, poverty fosters prime conditions for political corruption and manipulation, but that is simply no longer a viable excuse for the dangerous climate created under the current dictatorship. The leaders repsonsible for such failures must be held accountable, regardless of economic conditions or favorable international regard, don't you agree? Continually excusing them (due to impoverishment or any other national plague, for that matter) at some point becomes the equivalent of direct endorsement of such oppression.

Secondly, in reality, 'targeted aid' in this country is not as streamlined as it may appear. For example, as far as the health sector is concerned--I am curious to know whether you were ever taken to visit any of the hundreds of newly contsructed health posts that remain completely without medical supplies? Or, by chance, have you ever walked through the pediatric casulty ward of Black Lion Hospital? As a central health unit, conditions are horrifying (despite the encouraging statistics of the most recently issued Ministry of Health report)-children lie on the floor with IV tubes sticking out of their head and infants are perilously crowded together on a steel tray (used in the West for holding sugical equipment!). Yet the donor funds are pouring in!

I agree with you, that "in theory", aid is obviously preferable to sanctions; however, in a country with such entrenched political corruption, the constant flow of international aid dollars serves primarily to advance personal and party interest, not to develop infrastructure, social sectors or programs (as proclaimed by countless 'donor assessment reports'). Further, the idea of decentralized government in Ethiopia remains just that -an idea, and nothing more, and if you have spent significant time in this country, you know that aid is unequitably distributed (regionally channeled according to political affiliation). So, even when some funds do manage to "trickle down" to the desparately poor, the current regime is being simultaneously strengthened -able to redouble their violent abuses in the meantime. A system that works only "in theory" (within the Ethiopian context, anyway) then simply cannot be continually applied while the devastating consequences are repeatedly ignored-these are human beings we are talking about! Lives are literally at stake! How can one choose which life is worth more-the one depressed by extreme poverty or the other crushed by escalating federal abuse? It is, no doubt, a vicious cycle in this country but, at the end of the day, the factors that will ensure eventual ascendance out of the mires of extreme poverty (economic prosperity, national policy reform, improved education, equitable technology distribution etc.) can never effectively come into existance independent of good governance. In Ethiopia, it remains that simple.

I further agree that 'vague support' is detrimental, but it seems that the international supply of goods and technologies is unfortunately similarly marred by corruption--the current fertilizer agreement, for example, positively reeks of it! First of all, it seems the "first-ever African Green Revolution Award" was internationally announced as it was awarded by Yara ( I am curious, were other countries even considered? What on earth was the selection criteria?), coincidentally only a couple of months before Ethiopia signed an exclusive fertilizer contract with the same Norwegian company. The logic surrounding such a deal is impressive! Importing fertilizer to a primarily agrarian society (in desparate need of this vital technology) from an entirely different continent seems more than uneccessary (resulting in frequent procurance delays--and thus increased costs to rural farmers-and ensuring a government distribution monopoly). It is even more interesting to note that Sheik Al-moudi (as Ethiopia's biggest private investor and staunch EPRDF supporter) happens to be one of the largest shareholders in one of Yara's holding companies (Norsk Hydro). Seems more than a little suspicious to me... You were on hand at the presentation ceremony, if I am not mistaken-perhaps you could explain the dubious circumstances surrounding this environmentally-friendly award?



What you observe in the health sector (the miserable state of clinics and hospitals, the lack of medicines, etc.) is what you would observe in any impoverished country in sub-Saharan Africa. I have visited hundreds of such places, in Ethiopia and many other countries, and devoted my efforts to doing something about it. Your claim that this is the result of Ethiopia's corruption or authoritarianism is an incorrect inference. Please visit Mali, or rural Tanzania, or rural Senegal or Malawi, and you will witness the same: the massive and disastrous effects of extreme poverty on human health. Please check (not guess) whether Ethiopia's health centers stand empty because health aid has been stolen, or because the level of public spending on health (aid included) is so tragically constrained. Have you checked the level of international aid directed at Ethiopia's health sector? It is pitifully small, and until the very recent past was basically insignificant or zero. Please have a look and let me know what you find.
I hope that your work will take you to at least one other impoverished country in the region, so that you can make comparisons.

How do you suggest that Ethiopia make it's own fertilizer? That requires an enormous amount of primary energy, which Ethiopia lacks, and which if it had would be much better used for providing basic electricity services to the population, which utterly lacks it.

MENGEDENGA, the entire Horn of Africa could soon be embroiled in war which will claim vast numbers of lives. My belief remains that with all of the highly dubious, disastrous, and regrettable politics of the region, the rich world should still be working even more actively on economic development with perhaps the poorest place on the planet, the Horn of Africa, to find real solutions to extraordinary poverty, disastrous farm yields, lack of water, lack of family planning, excessive population growth, and extreme environmental degradation. I believe the route to peace and human rights will best be found by a major effort to address the unconscionable conditions of human deprivation. Your hypothesis that the extreme poverty is the result (and not the cause) of bad politcs is not correct in my view. I would encourage you to look more deeply at the root causes of extreme poverty, which have roots in ecology, disease burden, agronomy, demography, climate, transport costs, and history, which far predate the current regime, and which share conditions with other parts of tropical Africa with vastly different political conditions.

As I've said before, I believe that more aid not sanctions, and more practically targeted help is vital. I doubt at the moment that this will come. An approach that you seem to favor, of denunciation and disengagement, is much more likely to prevail. More suffering, and more disengagement by rich countries seems contribute to a growing disaster.

I respect your fervor and your commitment to political and human rights. I would urge you to combine it with a deepening understanding of the complex causes of extreme poverty, rather than translating your understandable political indignation into a narrow and unproductive understanding of development and poverty.

Prof. Jeffrey D. Sachs

Dear Professor:

Your response still does not seem to address most of what I’ve mentioned—namely political corruption (specifically within the aid sector), the absence of decentralized government, and the increasing violent human rights abuses committed by Meles Zenawi. You seem to prefer to continually discuss broad aid idealology instead of the very specific in-county issues I am raising.

I am still confused. You have repeatedly gone one step further than the traditional role of economist, and publicly claimed to be a champion for this world’s most poverty-stricken peoples; in your last email you lament the lives that will be lost in the impending regional war. Yet you refuse to acknowledge or denounce the thousands of lives that have been lost as a direct result of EPRDF opression. I simply do not understand how regard for human life can, for you, exist on a sliding scale? Is it possible that you don’t fully realize your influence on international opinion of Ethiopia’s government? In relevant discussion, you are cited without fail as one of the Prime Minister’s biggest fans (within the international community) –therefore, the need to directly and publicly condemn his recent actions seems quite obvious--unless, of course, these are deeds you support.

As far as the health centers go, the ones I am speaking about are newly constructed buildings—it makes very little sense that these would be constructed if funds were not also previously officially alotted to stock them with at least a bare minimum of basic supplies.(Fortunately for some in this country, it appears the MDG targets are concerned with facility numbers and not inventory!)

In regards to the fertilizer issue, I am not claiming that Ethiopia is capable of manufacturing enough fertilizer to satisfy its domestic needs at this time. I was merely pointing out the suspicious circumstances surrounding the current Yara contract, which you have also chosen not to address. (You might be interested to know that Dr Berhanu Nega (economist, 2006 New School Alumni of the Year , and current political prisoner) started up a wonderfully productive organice fertilizer manufacturing plant in Addis—the first in the country, it seems—which converted the hazardous city waste in the Kera district into a usable agricultural technology, (which was distributed to farmers and merchants at low cost). Around the time of the elections, the plant unsuprisingly came under severe government harassment--the facilities were closed for a time, supplies were confiscated from rural farmers and merchants who continued to sell the product were forced to shut down.)

You misquote me—I am not advocating complete ‘denouncement and disengagement’, I am merely suggetsing that you hold the governments accountable to the criteria which you yourself have outlined. A “vital pre-requisite” for participation in the Millenium Village Project is “good governance”, is it not? If this country was carefully selected according to such standards, shouldn’t there be subsequent scrutiny and evaluation if the internal climate changes as such to longer comply?

We could debate the root causes of extreme poverty forever it seems, but our differing ideologies aside, I fail to see how (or why) you continually overlook the role of governance. Whether you feel that bad policy results in extreme poverty or not, it cannot be denied that, at the very least, it most certainly greatly contributes to such a climate, and must therefore be directly addressed if eradicating extreme poverty truly is your aim. The conditions you describe (again, as the root causes of extreme poverty) do predate EPRDF rule, but this only means that the current government has done nothing but propagate much of the negative pratices of the former repressive regimes (take the current land tenure system, for example). In such light, Meles cannot not be continually heralded as an “African role model for development”—upon in-depth assessment of country circumstances and recent economic performance, this is simply not accurate.

I agree with you that the other least-developed nations in Africa experience similar conditions to that of Ethiopia. However, just because the ‘end result’ (of extreme poverty) is the same, does not mean that the ‘root causes’ are necessarily the same across the board. Some countries have been devastated by colonialism, or are left to pick up the pieces after long-lasting, brutal civil conlflict or genocide. Others are at a more serious demographical disadvantage or have been harder hit by AIDS in recent years. Ethiopia has evaded colonialist rule and for the most part, escaped the ravages of war common in other neighboring regions; vast amounts of resources exist here (like water and arable land) but these have never been effectively harnessed or exploited, due to failing government policy. Perhaps it can be considered equally narrowminded to lump all of the poorest African nations together and stubbornly insist that governance must not be even considered as a root cause of extreme poverty, despite overwhelming evidence (in this country) to the contrary.

To be honest, I had relatively little interest in African politics prior to moving to Addis, and my conclusions come from both work and life in this country, day in and day out. What I have found in Ethiopia, contrary to your suggestion, is that almost every one of the ‘complex causes’ of extreme poverty you cite are, in fact, deeply rooted in detrimental government policy and practice, whether initially introduced by the EPRDF or merely encouraged.




(Hmmm…No response on this one. Are we surprised?)

Monday, January 1

The Courage of A Child/ More Arrests Bring in the New Year

I have been unable to get over the fact that local police shot and killed a young boy in front of his classmates at his elementary school. I know it is not the first time such horrors have occurred here, and sadly will most likely not be the last…but I cannot get it out of my thoughts. I think my heart is broken.

There is more to the tragic story reported last week by Ethio-Zagol:

A Grade six class at Africa Andenet Elementary School decided to protest against their school director, insisting that his frequent and unjustified beatings made it impossible for them to learn. The admirably defiant kids refused to continue their lessons and moved to the school courtyard, at which time the local police were called.

Simply for daring to demand a safe learning environment, a young boy was shot and killed at close range within the confines of the school yard. He couldn’t even run away...

These are the lessons being learned by the children in this country. This is what happens to their dreams.

Though I was assured last week by an Amnesty International worker that “Meles likely wouldn’t dare try anything over the holidays”, (as “Ethiopia is a Christian country”), mass arrests continued throughout the weekend. Local police have now started arresting known opposition party members and supporters from their homes.