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February 19, 2005

Drivers with a death wish

Al Qaeda Isuzu lorry on the road into Bahar DarEthiopia's drivers call them the 'Al-Qaedas'. "They will kill you and kill themselves and not even care - they are suicide bombers on the road," one UN driver told me recently. He was talking about the hundreds of new Isuzu trucks that have taken over the country's highways.

Their driving really is alarming. It is not unusual to see two Al-Qaedas side by side coming straight at you, blocking both lanes of the road ahead. You either have to swerve off the tarmac or play chicken and wait for them to nip back on to their side of the line. Most of the time they are also hugely overloaded with piles of Coke crates, eucalyptus trunks or chat bundles stacked up twice as high as the vehicle itself.

No one is certain why one brand of vehicle breeds such erratic behaviour. One theory is that the drivers buy the lorries through crippling credit agreements. Apparently they have to pay it all back within one year. So they spend that year speeding around the country, trying to cram in as many high-paying trips as possible.

Road traffic accidents currently kill 1,800 Ethiopians a year and injure another 7,000. As far as I know, no one has broken down the figures to work out the number of crashes involving Al-Qaedas.

Ethiopia's road conditions have come in for a lot of criticism in the local press recently.

According to Fortune, oil giant Shell has become so worried about the number of accidents, it has taken matters into its own hands.

Alarmed by the increasing carnage, Shell Ethiopia, the largest fuel distributor in Ethiopia with a 60pc share, last week launched an awareness campaign: “Drive to Live”. Shell officials say the campaign is intended to promote the value of safety rules and the benefit of implementing “defensive driving” for drivers employed by the transport companies.

Tony Hickey, owner of the Village Ethiopia travel company, had a great rant in last week's Reporter newspaper, headlined 'Slaughter on the roads - what can we do to stop it?'.

There are a number of reasons behind the high accident rate - poor driving skills, ignorance of traffic regulations, speed, drunken driving, poorly maintained vehicles, and from pedestrians, carelessness and ignorance of the highway code. Since the state is not addressing these problems, is it unreasonable to look to the private sector?...Why could we not look at outsourcing other services, from accident reporting, driver testing, speed traps to traffic signs?"

But there is hope. Last Sunday's Capital paper reported that the Road Transport Authority of Ethiopia had imported four patrol cars to police traffic in the capital.

Posted by aheavens at 5:15 AM

February 13, 2005

Away for a week

I'm away up north for a week, our of internet reach, trekking around Lalibela. So Meskel Square will be a little quiet until next Sunday.

Posted by aheavens at 7:04 AM

February 12, 2005

Ethiopia erupts

Erta AleHere is a side to Ethiopia you don't often see. George Kourounis, a Canadian explorer, has just been climbing Erta Ale which, apparently, is Ethiopia's most active volcano. The volcano is in the north eastern state of Afar, in the Danakil Depression, known as the hottest place on earth. According to Kourounis' website, "daytime temperatures are usually above 40 degrees Celcius ... the base of the volcano actually lies below sea level and it's summit rises up to 613 Meters." Thanks to Friends of Ethiopia for finding the story.

Posted by aheavens at 4:31 AM

February 11, 2005

A miraculous return

First returned page from Book of MiraclesWhile Ethiopia is waiting for Italy to return its obelisk, here is something to keep the country's culture vultures happy.

A leading British lawyer has decided to return two pages from an 18th Century Book of Miracles that his great uncle took from Ethiopia after the Battle of Maqdala in 1868. You can find out more about the battle and all the plunder stolen by British soldiers from AFROMET, an organisation that campaigns for the return of the Maqdala loot.

I have uploaded scans of both pages - the other is below the fold, along with a story I wrote for AP on the event.

These two pages are the latest in a string of items that have been returned to Ethiopia over the past five years. The bulk of them came in after 2001, when the Rev John McLuckie, an Episcopal priest from Edinburgh, Scotland, sent a Maqdala Tabot (a sacred altar slab) back to Ethiopia. I was in Edinburgh at the time to watch the handover ceremony. It was a very dramatic and emotional event - John's McLuckie's church was crammed with Ethiopian priests, Rastafarians and members of its regular congregation. (The Scotsman did a great story on it here.)

It was my first direct contact with Ethiopian culture and had a large part to play in our decision to move out here three years later. Since John returned the Tabot, there has been a steady trickle of returns - a royal amulet in 2002, another Tabot in 2003, a Book of Psalms later that year and a shield in 2004.

Each of these returns has been made by an individual rather than a big institution like the British Museum (which has a hoard of Maqdala loot including 350 illuminated manuscripts and 10 other tabots). "These individuals come to us, not us to them," Richard Pankhurst of AFROMET told me yesterday. (He is also the son of suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst). "For them it is a matter of conscience."

I find it interesting that human beings as individuals find it easy to see the justice of restitution claims. But when you collect those individuals together in an institution like a museum, that clear vision gets cloudy.

AFROMET is hoping that the actions of these individuals will one day shame the big institutions into action. Perhaps this grassroots-up approach could work in other African restitution campaigns. There is the appeal for the return of Nigeria's Benin Bronzes and of Ghana's Ashanti gold. Any others?

Second returned page from Book of Miracles

British Plunder Returned to Ethiopia

AP

By Andrew Heavens

Two sacred paintings have been returned to Ethiopia 137 years after they were ripped out of a holy book by invading British troops.

The paintings were among Ethiopian treasures looted by British troops and later locked up in British museums, royal palaces and private collections.

The paintings were handed to the Ethiopian embassy in London this week by a British lawyer who inherited them from his great uncle, an embassy official said

The lawyer's great uncle was an officer in the British force that captured Maqdala, the mountain capital of Emperor Tewodros.

The monarch committed suicide to avoid falling into the hands of British troops in 1868.

British troops and others in their company plundered illuminated religious manuscripts, gold crosses, precious crowns and royal cloth.

Experts said the two full-page works that were handed back to Ethiopia were torn out of a book of the Miracles of Jesus or Mary – both venerated volumes in the literature of the ancient Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

The lawyer, who has asked to remain anonymous, told officials that he decided to hand them over because his conscience and children pressed him to do so.

“We believe that this is an example that should be followed by all institutions that hold Ethiopian loot, among them the British Museum and the Queen's library in Windsor Castle,” said Richard Pankhurst of the Association for the Return of the Maqdala Ethiopian Treasures.

The royal family holds six religious manuscripts, which are said to be the finest examples of Ethiopian manuscripts anywhere in the world.

By far the most valuable item is one of two copies of the Kebra Negast – or Glory of Kings – Ethiopia's holy book which is held in the British Library.

The Ethiopian Church and government has also been exerting diplomatic pressure on Britain to return the stolen items, which are cumulatively valued by Ethiopian campaigners at £1.6 billion.

Posted by aheavens at 4:38 AM

February 7, 2005

Africa Unite

Flag carrier during the performance by the Marley sons at 'Africa Unite', a concert in Addis Ababa marking Bob Marley's birthday.It has been a busy, chaotic week. Bob Marley's 60th birthday celebrations have largely moved on from Addis Ababa now, down the road to Shashemene, the Rasta community about 150 miles south of here. Unless something dramatic happens down there, the world's media is likely to move on as well.

Most of the coverage of the 'Africa Unite' Marley events tended to focus on Ethiopia's small community of Rastafarians and the heritage of Bob Marley. There has been less interest in the reaction of the Ethiopian population.

While I was talking to UK rastas and Reggae managers in the press area at the concert in Meskel Square, AFP was out getting these great quotes from the crowd.

“I am really surprised to see this celebration in a place where I was condemning Haile Selassie on the orders of (the communist government),” said pensioner Abebe Gutama, who turned out to watch the concert.

A septuagenarian former employee in the emperor's palace, Assefa Tessema, said he was stunned by Haile Selassie's new-found prominence.

“I was afraid his deeds and activities would remain buried like his body,” he said. “I never expected to hear his name again as glorified as today in dignity and honor. It's really a miracle.”

A bit of background - With the coronation of Ras (Prince) Tafari as the Emperor Haile Selassie in 1930, Marcus Garvey's Christian black nationalist movement adopted Ethiopia as its spiritual home and Haile Selassie, the Lion of Judah, as its messiah. To some Rastafarians, Haile Selassie is more than a messiah - more a God. To Ethiopians as a whole, however, he is simply their last Christian emperor.

Posted by aheavens at 6:35 AM

ARTICLE: British Rastas flock to land of messiah

Here's an article I wrote in today's Guardian about UK visitors to the Bobfest. I had to dip out of the concert to write it, missing most of the late afternoon acts. But I got back in time to see the Marley sons go through their father's classics, including 'War', 'Get Up, Stand Up', an amazing 'I Shot The Sheriff', 'Jamming' and 'Roots, Rock, Reggae'. So all is forgiven.

Exodus: British Rastas flock to land of messiah

Ethiopia, whose Emperor Haile Selassie gave new focus to a black Christian movement, plays host to the annual Bob Marley anniversary

Andrew Heavens in Addis Ababa and Sandra Laville

Guardian - Monday February 7, 2005

Jules Benji, a massed choir singing No Woman No Cry over his shoulder from a huge stage in Meskel Square, Addis Ababa, declared: "We're doing His Majesty's work here. This is a historic day for Ethiopia."

His clothes were traditional Ethiopian, shining white, with a ceremonial dagger at his side. But his accent was pure Moss Side, Manchester.

The 29-year-old was one of hundreds of British Rastafarians and reggae lovers who had made a pilgrimage to the Ethiopian capital yesterday to celebrate what would have been the 60th birthday of their hero and prophet, Bob Marley.

Up to 100,000 fans were jamming through the evening at the nine-hour free concert called Africa Unite - after one of Marley's best known songs - as Ethiopia, the symbolic homeland of Rastafarianism, hosted his birthday tribute for the first time.

Most of the British pilgrims had taken a week or a fortnight's holiday from jobs in Birmingham, London or Manchester to travel to Addis Ababa. Others, like Mr Benji, had taken one look at the bustling city, thrumming under a heat haze to the music of the reggae legend who died of cancer aged 36 in 1981, and decided that they were here to stay.

"There's lots of people coming and going between England and Ethiopia, Rastafarians and other people. I came out here three weeks ago and I'm here to live," he said.

A Rastafarian record producer and saxophonist, he is hoping to continue his musical career in Ethiopia, eventually moving from Addis Ababa to the Rasta community of Shashemene, 150 miles south of the capital.

As the tens of thousands poured into Addis Ababa yesterday morning to watch performances by Marley's widow Rita, Angelique Kidjo from Benin and the Ethiopian born Teddy Afro, the country revelled in its popularity. Cafes, bars and hotels were full, and the flow of money provided a welcomed boost to the economy and a chance to shed the negative stereotypes of war and famine.

"There's a real sense of freedom here," Mr Benji said. "All the west has got going for it is development. But Africa will have that soon, the roads, the schools.

"I am here to carry on Bob Marley's work putting the words of His Majesty [the late Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie] to music."

A few metres in front of him in the packed audience was another white-robed figure, parading up and down in front of the stage waving a huge red, gold and green flag with a snarling lion at its centre. Nine months ago Yohannes Ishijah was a familiar sight to commuters rushing through Leicester Square underground station in London.

"I was a busker. I used to play Bob Marley songs in the underground. I got arrested all the time," he said. Last year Mr Ishijah inherited some money from his father and left his home in Crystal Palace, south London, to emigrate to Ethiopia at the age of 41.

"This is great. I think it's incredible that so many years after Bob Marley's death he can still inspire such amazing shows in the name of the Most High. Bob Marley has penetrated through time. We are with the King of Kings."

Like Mr Benji, Mr Ishijah's move was motivated by a mixture of devotion to the Rastafarian faith and idealism about what he could achieve in Ethiopia. "I want to be the breast for those who need milk. If Jah [God] puts me in the right position, I would like to open schools here. I would like to open a park."

With the coronation of Ras (Prince) Tafari as the Emperor Haile Selassie in 1930, Marcus Garvey's Christian black nationalist movement adopted Ethiopia as its spiritual home and Haile Selassie, the Lion of Judah, as its messiah. For the first time yesterday Marley fans could combine a celebration of his birth with a visit to their promised land after Marley's widow Rita pressed for the birthday tribute concert to be held in Addis Ababa this year rather than in Jamaica, the country of his birth.

In the past week alone more than 3,000 reggae fans and rastafarians have flown in, at times shocking the predominantly Orthodox Christian population with their belief that smoking marijuana is a sacrament. Around the main square yesterday bars, hotels and nightclubs were awash with red, gold and green, the colours of Ethiopia and Rastafarianism. Portraits of Marley adorned taxi windows, and lyrics from his songs were printed on advertising hoardings around the city.

Leah Middleton, 65, a red-haired Rastafarian from Moss Side, who runs a guesthouse in Addis Ababa, was one of many to benefit from the influx of reggae fans. She first heard about Rastafarianism from a neighbour in Manchester, and went on to join the Twelve Tribes of Israel, one of the main groups of Rastafarians. The rooms were full of Rastas from London and Manchester yesterday, some staying, some passing through.

Until recently it was feared that Ethiopia's small population of Rastafarians was dwindling. Followers of the movement arrived in the 1950s after Haile Selassie offered black settlers 500 acres (202 hectares) of land around Shashemene. Most of it was confiscated by the military regime which took over after the emperor's death in 1975 and until this week Rastafarians remained a tiny and largely ignored minority in the country.

If this week's influx is anything to go by, that could change. "I am a Rastafarian at heart. This is the place we all aspire to be," said Don Ricardo, a musician from north-west London. "This is my first visit to Ethiopia. But it won't be my last."

Posted by aheavens at 2:59 AM

February 6, 2005

ARTICLE: Rastafarians celebrate Marley's birthday in Ethiopia

And this one was a joint effort with Associated Press writer Dagnachew Teklu.

Rastafarians celebrate Marley's birthday in Ethiopia

By DAGNACHEW TEKLU
Associated Press

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia -- Thousands of Ethiopians and Rastafarians were jamming on a hot Sunday in the capital's main square as Ethiopia threw a birthday bash for the late reggae star Bob Marley, in what is billed as the country's largest concert.

The bash, part of monthlong celebrations of the 60th anniversary of Marley's birth, marks the first time the event is being held outside the singer's native Jamaica and is organized by the Bob Marley Foundation, the U.N. children's agency, the African Union and others. Marley, who died in 1981, looked to Ethiopia throughout his life as the spiritual home of his Rastafarian faith.

A priest from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church blessed the event and then first on stage was Burundi's Royal Drummers.

Many of those in Meskel Square for today's concert wore T-shirts emblazoned with portraits of Bob Marley, including Minister of State for Information Netsanet Asfaw. Others wore jewelry and T-shirts decorated with the Ethiopian flag and Rastafarian colors of green, yellow and red.

Organizers said they expected as many as 300,000 people to attend the free event, which was dubbed "Africa Unite" after one of Marley's many famous songs. There are only 2,000 seats for guests who will be paying $100 each.

"I think it is incredible that so many years after brother Bob's death, he still inspires such an amazing show," said Yohannes, a Rastafarian, who only goes by a single name. Originally from Crystal Palace, London, he now lives in Addis Ababa and is married to an Ethiopian.

The audience had swelled to about 20,000 people early today when the first set was played. About 2,000 policemen patrolled the venue, a policeman said.

Benin music star Angelique Kidjo sang later today as did well-known Ethiopian artists. Marley's five sons, his widow and former backup singers were expected to perform, along with Senegal's Youssou N'dour and Baaba Maal.

Ethiopia's evangelical churches on Saturday objected to the celebrations, saying that Rastafarians are wrong to consider Ethiopia's last emperor as a living god and that Ethiopian young people would be explosed to marijuana.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the country's main church, has supported the celebrations.

Some Rastafarians smoke marijuana as a sacrament, but others object to its use. Most Rastafarians preach a oneness with nature and grow their hair into long matted strands called dreadlocks.

Meskel Square, which has been undergoing a facelift over the past month with new paving and streetlights, was fluttering with Ethiopian, Jamaican and other flags. Around the main square, bars, hotels and nightclubs were decorated with the red, gold and green colors of Ethiopia and Rastafarianism.

"This is a big day for Bob," said Bisrat Teddesse, an Ethiopian businessman out for a morning walk with his wife. "I like the Jamaicans," he said, using a common Ethiopian term for the country's small Rastafarian community. "And I love Bob. He is Ethiopia's elder son."

The concert was broadcast live on Ethiopian television.

Organizers say that the celebrations have cost about $1 million and would raise money to help poor families in Ethiopia as well as tsunami victims in neighboring Somalia.

Associated Press Writer Andrew Heavens also contributed to this report from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Posted by aheavens at 3:48 AM

ARTICLE: Protests cloud Marley celebration

Here's an article from Scotland on Sunday on some of the underlying grievances in the Rasta community here in Ethiopia.

Protests cloud Marley celebration

Scotland on Sunday

ANDREW HEAVENS
IN ADDIS ABABA

ETHIOPIA'S tiny Rastafarian community launched a string of bitter protests against the country's government yesterday, casting a shadow over huge celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the birth of their Reggae icon Bob Marley.

A list of long-standing grievances, calling for full Ethiopian citizenship and the return of acres of land they claim were given to them by Haile Selassie, their spiritual leader and Ethiopia's last emperor, was aired by Rastafarian leaders.

The calls struck a jarring note ahead of a huge Bob Marley concert due to take place in the capital Addis Ababa today, part of a month's worth of "Africa Unite" exhibitions, performances and conferences organised in the Rasta legend's memory.

Ambrose King, deputy resident country representative of the Ethiopian World Federation, an Addis-based Rastafarian group, said: "With the backdrop of the ongoing ‘Africa Unite' Bob Marley Foundation Musical Extravaganza in Ethiopia, one would have thought that every thing is OK with the RasTafarI Community. Nothing could be further from the truth."

Thousands of Reggae fans are expected to cram into Addis Ababa's central Meskel Square today to watch a free nine-hour concert featuring five of Bob Marley's sons, his widow Rita Marley and a host of World music stars. Federation members are hoping to take advantage of the world's attention to raise their grievances.

The Ethiopian World Federation, which claims to speak for a range of Rastafarian organisations and splinter groups, said it had sent letters to Ethiopia's prime minister, Meles Zenawi, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other government departments, asking for face to face meetings.

BJ Moody, the federation's chief resident, said: "As the words of Bob Marley's music ring out over Ethiopia to ‘Get Up, Stand Up, and don't give up the fight' the federation is determined to halt this encroachment upon its heritage and is prepared to do whatever is necessary for its protection."

The main controversy is focused on three hectares of land in the dusty town of Shashemene, around 150 miles south of Addis Ababa, where most of Ethiopia's Rastafarians live today. The three hectares were part of a 200-hectare parcel of land set aside by Haile Selassie for black settlers from the West in the 1950s.

The land was quickly taken up by Rastafarians and other people from the West Indies, North America and Europe caught up in the "Back to Africa" movement of the 1950s and 1960s. But large parts of the fertile acreage were taken back again during the repressive Marxist regime which ruled over Ethiopia over the next two decades.

The World Federation claimed the region's local Oromia authority had allowed outside developers to move on to its last few plots.

King said: "We have three main issues. First we want the right to commercially develop front pieces of our land on the main road through Sashamene. Secondly we want the return of the full 200 hectares of land that was given to us. And thirdly there is the issue of citizenship. It is a scandal that we have second or third generation children here in their twenties who are still seen as foreigners."

A spokesman from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the issue of the nationality of Ethiopia's resident Rastafarians would be raised in parliament in the next two months. "This has not been debated before because no one has brought this up before," he added. "It is complicated because there are so many groups of Rastafarians - there are the Twelve Tribes, the Nyahbinghi, the Bobo Ashanti."

He said the disagreement over the land was a matter for the local Oromia planning authority. No one from the authority was available for comment.

While the controversy bubbles under the surface, excitement over the concert and its surrounding celebrations has continued to build in Addis Ababa.

Over the past week, flights into the city's gleaming new airport have been packed with Rastafarians from as far afield as New York, London and Japan.

Ranking Miss P, the British radio DJ and Rita Marley's sister arrived earlier last week. She said: "I'm here because it is a historical occasion. It is my first time in Ethiopia - I'm grinning and brimming with excitement. You hear so many Rastafarians talk about Ethiopia. But not many make it out here. It's a spiritual place. It's the place where we aspire to be. It's a place that we consider to be the centre of the earth."

Addis Ababa's small businesses have also been doing their best to make the new arrivals feel at home.

Rasta-friendly hotels are already packed. Leah's Guesthouse is a two-storey villa, with its red, yellow and green walls covered in portraits of Marley and his beloved Emperor. "We've got eight bedrooms and they are full," said Leah Issachar, a red-haired, 65-year-old Rastafarian woman originally from Mosside, Manchester, who re-settled in Ethiopia a year ago.

The city's host of CD stalls which normally blare Ethiopian pop music have changed their tunes to ‘Get Up, Stand Up' and ‘I Shot The Sheriff'. Taxis and nightclubs are plastered with Bob Marley posters.

And worries over the land has not stopped bus loads of Rastafarians heading north to Addis Ababa from their rural retreat of Shashemene.

Desmond Martin, known as Dessie and chairman of the Jamaican Rastafarian Development Committee, said he was also concerned about the land issue. "I support them in this fight." But he said the concert gave grounds for hope.

"You have to be optimistic. Bob Marley was a person who brought everyone together, white and black, rich and poor. I have been here for 29 years now and our relations with people living here are getting better. They will get better."

Posted by aheavens at 3:35 AM

February 4, 2005

The apartment-turned-office

Totally off topic for a moment, but I've just found a great post from my old Financial Times friend and colleague Tom Foremski, describing an average day in the FT office in San Francisco. It is from his newish blog SiliconValleyWatcher. I didn't think it was possible to feel so nostalgic about events that happened only five years ago.

SiliconValleyWatcher: Introducing the first guest blog from Louise Kehoe--a true Silicon Valley Watcher

Louise recruited me to the Financial Times in 1999 and we worked together in an apartment-turned-office just off highway 101 and Hillsdale. A large highway exit sign close to the office said "Kehoe Way." I would often joke that Louise has been in the valley so long, they built it around her.

We were in the midst of the heady dotcom days and we were pumping out enormous amounts of news copy. We were draining cups of tea and creating huge clouds of nicotine laden smoke.

And when a really big story would break, maybe ten minutes before our very latest afternoon deadline, that's when the adrenaline kicked up a notch or three and we'd work together, (Andrew Heavens was working with us too) and we'd get a stock price, get a quote from a contact, check the whisper numbers, get whatever was needed to write that news story. Louise would usually take the lead and pound out the story, just seconds to go. And then London calls and wants another 60 words! And copy editors are calling and saying it has to be sent now, now! and Louise gets it done and squared away. No problem, we go and have a cup of tea.

Posted by aheavens at 4:32 AM

February 3, 2005

ARTICLE: Ethiopians scammed by World Cup job promises

Taking a break from Bob, here is article I wrote about a new scam to trick Ethiopians into risking their lives and life savings in exchange for non-existent jobs connected to South Africa's 2010 World Cup.

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) -- Abraham Taddesse quit his mechanic job and sold everything he had for a trip to South Africa, where he was told a lucrative job was waiting for him in the build-up to the 2010 World Cup soccer tournament.

Instead, over the next five months, conmen stripped him of life savings before abandoning him far short of South Africa -- starving and penniless in a roofless shack in Mozambique.

Officials believe Abraham was among hundreds of young men duped by criminals who prey on those desperate to escape Ethiopia's poverty. The bait is the promise of high-paying jobs helping prepare for the World Cup tournament that will be held in South Africa in 2010.

"There is poverty here so people are keen to leave and find work," said Yitna Getachew of the International Organization for Migration, an intergovernmental group which often works closely with the U.N. on immigration and refugee issues. "In this case these traffickers are offering work in the construction and engineering industry linked to this major sporting event."

The group has evidence of Ethiopians being caught up in the scam. It is contacting its other offices, suspicious that people from other African nations could be affected, Yitna said.

A spokesman from Ethiopia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that a joint committee had been set up with the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Immigration to look into the problem. The committee was to consider what legal action could be taken and what could be done to warn the public, the official said.

More than 80 percent Ethiopia's estimated 70 million people live on less than a dollar a day -- with per capita income among the lowest in the world at about US $95(euro73) a year.

On the sidewalks of Ethiopia's bustling towns and cities beggars and shoeshine boys compete for the attention of passers-by. Many have come from the countryside, where some 2.2 million people will need food aid this year.

Abraham was in a barber shop in the capital, Addis Ababa, when he overheard a man talking about hundreds of high-paying jobs in South Africa ahead of the World Cup, the world's premier soccer tournament.

Desperate to shed the uncertainties of poverty, he sold everything he had a week later and made his first payment of 6,000 birr (US$697, euro535) to a man who promised to take him by road through Ethiopia, across neighboring Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and into South Africa.

"The offer of earning US$2,000 (euro1,535) a month was just too tempting," Abraham, 24, said. "I was a young man with a big dream."

The overheard conversation, however, had been staged, officials believe.

"He was very professionally recruited," said Asefach Haile Selassie, a counselor for the International Organization for Migration.

The man in the barber shop put Abraham in touch with a purported broker and 16 other men eager to take the trip. They left Addis Ababa in a bus in July last year, reaching the Kenyan border two days later.

"The broker asked us to pay him another 6,000 birr (US$697, euro535). We were worried and were asking why he needed the money. But he just collected our passports," Abraham said.

After a four day wait they crossed the border and met another Ethiopian "broker" in Kenya.

Over the next two months they traveled across Kenya and sneaked across the border into Tanzania, traveling on foot and by truck -- escorted by Ethiopians and Somalis. They were stopped more than 10 times along the way by men claiming to be police. Each time they had to hand over money, Abraham said.

At one stage the group was divided into pairs to be led through the Tanzanian bush. By the end of the day, Abraham realized that one person was missing. Abraham said he was told the man "had collapsed and been killed by hyenas, and that if I didn't obey I could also have the same thing happen to me."

Three months after setting off, they were taken to a roofless house somewhere in Mozambique and abandoned, Abraham said, adding that all of his 13,000 birr (US$1,512, euro1,161) life savings was gone.

Abraham said that he eventually left the house and walked to a nearby village mosque where one of the worshippers paid for a bus ticket to Kenya. In Kenya, a church paid for his bus fare to Ethiopia.

"Since my return I have tried to save some people, to stop them giving their money to brokers," Abraham said, adding that as far as he knows, he was the only one in his group to return.

Posted by aheavens at 3:56 AM

February 2, 2005

ARTICLE: Bobfest launched

This is a story I filed for AP on last night's launch of Africa Unite, a festival to celebrate Bob Marley's 60th birthday. They only used a couple of pars "for colour". So I thought I'd put the rest of it up here.

Ambrose King from The Drums of Rastafari leads a mass singing of Get Up Stand Up at the launch of Africa Unite, a festival to celebrate Bob Marley's 60th birthday.Bob Marley's 60th birthday celebrations were launched in Ethiopia last night to the sound of massed African drums and an emotional song from the Reggae legend's own mother.

Mother Cedella Marley Booker, still frail after a recent illness, won a standing ovation from a crowd packed with celebrities, leading Rastafarians and the head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Abuna Paulos.

More than 300 people packed into Addis Ababa City Administration's hall to mark the start of a month's worth of concerts, discussions and exhibitions organised under the banner of 'Africa Unite'.

"Bob Marley was the voice of the voiceless. He represented those who were disenfranchised and gave them power," Dr Desta Meghoo-Peddie, managing director of the Bob Marley Foundation, told the audience.

"We are here tonight to commemorate his memory and also to realise that Brother Bob lives on. It is eternal life that we are dealing with as Rastafari."

During the concert Rita Marley sat in a row alongside to Abuna Paulos, six senior Orthodox bishops and Sheik EliasRedwan, vice chairman of the Ethiopian Muslim Affairs Council. "Bob said ‘Africa Unite' and that's what we are doing", said Dessi, a leading member of the Rastafarian community in Shashemene south of Addis Ababa. "In Ethiopia Christians live in harmony with Muslims."

The crowd at the launch of Africa Unite, a festival to celebrate Bob Marley's 60th birthday.At one point in the concert Mother Cedella Marley Booker was joined by US actor Danny Glover, in town to chair sessions in the ‘Africa Unite' symposium which will take place over the next three days [Wed-Fri].

Bob Marley's mother made her first public appearance since flying into Addis Ababa last week. She arrived in a wheelchair but managed to walk on stage towards the end of the proceedings to sing what she described as a “song for the children of Ethiopia” with the chorus “let the children play”.

The crowd chanted ‘Go Nana, Go Nana' as Rita Marley was made an honorary citizen of Addis Ababa by the town's mayor Akebe Oqubay.

They also heard from Prince Bede Mariam Mekonnen, grandson of Ethiopia's last Emperor Haile Selassie who is seen as a spiritual leader by Rastafarians. He paid tribute to Bob Marley and called on Ethiopia to set up a memorial and an annual reggae festival in the singer's memory.

Other entertainment came from the National Drummers of Burundi and the Drums of Rastafari - a band of Addis Ababa-based Rastafarians who led the crowd in a stirring rendition of the Marley classic ‘Get Up Stand Up'.

Posted by aheavens at 1:41 PM