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May 29, 2005

The results are in

So it all seems to be over - as far as the official provisional results are concerned. At the time of writing the EPRDF has 271 seats - just three short of claiming an overall majority by itself. But four smaller parties allied to the EPRDF have also won 14 seats which pushes the EPRDF into power.

So what's next? There are still the claims of foul play at the polling stations to investigate. The opposition has raised questions about 139 constituencies, the EPRDF about 50. According to AP, the parties have to provide proof by June 3 or have their complaints dismissed by the National Election Board.

The opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) called for mass prayer protests today. I've just been up to my nearest Orthodox church - Medhanealem on the road to the airport - and bumped into Engineer Gezachew Shiferaw, the CUD candidate who won Addis Ababa's Woreda 17 (which makes him my MP).

He said that the people gathered round the church were responding to the CUD's call. There was no easy way to check his claim - I didn't want to interrupt people mid-prayer to ask what they were praying about. But, after two visits to the church this morning, I must say that I haven't see a single political banner or CUD T-shirt. To me it looked like the normal Sunday morning turn-out.

Posted by aheavens at 6:56 AM

May 28, 2005

Any minute now

As I am sure you have all noticed, the EPRDF appears to be edging closer to victory in the official count. At the time of writing it is just 49 seats away from the 274 it needs to claim a majority.

Posted by aheavens at 6:47 AM

Flickr for free

flickr_logo_beta.gifMost of the photos on this site are hosted by an online company, recently bought by Yahoo, called Flickr. It lets you upload your pictures and then distribute them in lots of ways - by emailing them to friends, posting them on blogs and so on. Best of all, you can also have a look at everybody else's photos online. Anyway, enough of the advertorial. Flickr have given me a free "pro" account to pass on to one of you. If anyone is interested, please leave a comment or send an email (the address is at the top of the right hand column.) The only condition is that you have to use the account to post lots of pictures - ideally of Ethiopia.

I also have lots of Google Gmail accounts to distribute if anyone still wants one.

Posted by aheavens at 6:30 AM

May 27, 2005

Some scoopettes

There are three particularly good stories in this week's Sub Saharan Informer that we put to bed last night. I would call the first two scoopettes rather than scoops - mainly because I can't check the Amharic press to see if they are exclusives. (I'm on my third Amharic lesson and still can't remember all the greetings - it's a tough language.) The third is still very interesting.

The first is that the CUD is calling on its supporters to hold mass prayer protest sessions in mosques today and churches on Sunday. I know they have said they would call for peaceful protests in the past. But as far as I know, this is the first attempt to name a date for a protest. It could, in theory, spark clashes. Public protests are currently banned in Addis Ababa.

The second is an interview with Information Minister Bereket Simon over his fight for his seat in Lalibela. Apparently, the figures show he has lost. But the local party is appealing against the result. That is why the seat has still not appeared in the official results. He also defended state media for its patchy reporting of opposition claims - saying that many of them in effect incited violence.

And third is the fact that Ethiopian ministers are on a mission to Somaliland to look into using its Red Sea port Berbera for commerce.

[As the Sub Saharan still does not have a website, you can read the Reuters version via Han-Geeska Afrika Online.]

Posted by aheavens at 4:57 AM

May 26, 2005

The EU speaks, again

ethiopia ana gomes 2 of 3As some of you have already pointed out, the EU's public statement on Ethiopia's elections yesterday was upstaged by the EU's private report, leaked to Associated Press.

Here is the full story: EU observers say Ethiopia's electoral board has lost control of vote counting

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) - Ethiopia's electoral board appears to have lost control of the vote counting for the May 15 legislative polls, European Union election observers said in a report obtained by the Associated Press Wednesday.

The confidential report said the EU might have to make a public denunciation of developments to distance itself from "the lack of transparency, and assumed rigging" of the vote.

All the criticisms of the election board were pretty damning. But the most interesting bit for me was the criticism of former US president Jimmy Carter. Apparently, he undermined the electoral process and EU criticism with "his premature blessing of the elections and early positive assessment of the results."

People were puzzled at the time when he came out and praised the election process just hours after arriving in the country with his relatively tiny (50-strong) team of observers. The EU's comments are a highly public kick in the teeth for a man who is normally seen as beyond criticism.

It would be easy to get carried away with both EU reports, through. As far as I can see, they both stop short of alleging any irregularities at polling stations. The public one is about the handling of the media and delays in counting after the election - saying it might raise the risk of fraud. The second is directed at the NEB and talks about "assumed" not "actual" vote rigging.

Both Carter and the EU said they were broadly happy with what happened on and around election day itself.

Posted by aheavens at 4:23 AM

May 25, 2005

The EU speaks

This might go some way to explaining the funny figures set out below.

The European Union has just put out a statement basically slamming the National Election Board, the state press and the EPRDF. For me, the killer paragraph was:

Since election day, the state-owned media have been releasing on a daily basis provisional, unofficial results mainly showing the partial victories of the EPRDF in a number of constituencies and regions across the country. However, the same media outlets have ignored press conferences or any other statement about results made by opposition parties. For example, on May 18, while international media (e.g. CNN and BBC) covered the press conference by CUD, Ethiopian TV and Radio Ethiopia as well as the next day editions of the state-owned newspapers Addis Zemen and The Ethiopia Herald completely ignored it.
You can pick your own favourite quotes from the full statement, included below the fold.

EUROPEAN UNION ELECTION OBSERVATION MISSION ETHIOPIA 2005

Mission Statement
24 May, 2005

ASSESMENT OF VOTE COUNTING AND RELEASE OF ELECTORAL RESULTS

The European Union Election Observation Mission regrets the way in which the counting of the votes at the constituency level is being conducted as well as the way in which the release of results is being handled by the electoral authorities, the government and the political parties, especially the EPRDF. Contrary to voting day when the people of Ethiopia demonstrated a high sense of citizen responsibility and patience, and contrary to vote counting at the polling stations, where order and transparency prevailed, the following irregular practices are of concern:
  1. In a press appearance on Monday 16, EPRDF claimed victory in the absence of any results having been made public by the National Electoral Board. A similar statement was released on May 23.
  2. Ten days after the election, although electoral results had been posted outside the polling stations in most of the country, the National Electoral Board has only released results from 121 out of 547 constituencies.
  3. Since election day, the state-owned media have been releasing on a daily basis provisional, unofficial results mainly showing the partial victories of the EPRDF in a number of constituencies and regions across the country. However, the same media outlets have ignored press conferences or any other statement about results made by opposition parties. For example, on May 18, while international media (e.g. CNN and BBC) covered the press conference by CUD, Ethiopian TV and Radio Ethiopia as well as the next day editions of the state-owned newspapers Addis Zemen and The Ethiopia Herald completely ignored it.
  4. Regarding the European Union Election Observation Mission Preliminary Statement of May 17, the state-owned media reported the positive side of the statement while disregarding any critical comments.

These practices, taken as a whole, are seriously undermining the transparency and fairness of the elections. They also risk increasing the scope for manipulation and consequently putting in doubt public confidence in the process. The European Union Election Observation Mission would like to recall that the state media has a duty to report on post election events in an even-handed manner. This duty includes allowing all parties access to the media, albeit while respecting the public interest.

Posted by aheavens at 3:55 PM

Funny figures

It is difficult to make much sense of the election figures flying around at the moment.

On one hand, the results trickling in from the National Election Board paint a very consistent picture. After an initial surge for the opposition when the results for Addis Ababa were recorded, they have settled into a steady two-for-one lead of the ruling EPRDF over the opposition CUD. It has been the same pattern for the past two or three days.

On the other hand, CUD officials yesterday said that they had already won more than 50 per cent of the seats in the House of People's Representatives, according to their own count of woredas. They also claimed they already had official receipts from the National Election Board proving they had won 155 seats. Basically they are saying that they have won the election through the official count, irrespective of any claims or counter-claims of irregularities at the polling stations.

So will there be a sudden rush of results from opposition constituencies - completely against the pattern of the 157 seats that have already been announced through the NEB's website (see right hand column)? Or has the opposition over-estimated the number of its official victories? I am sure a lot of you out there will have much darker conspiracy theories to suggest.

Claim and counter-claim update #4

Opposition party threatens to boycott parliament

ADDIS ABABA, 24 May (IRIN) - Ethiopia's main opposition party on Monday threatened to boycott the next parliament unless its complaints of alleged vote rigging in last week's general elections were resolved. Hailu Shawel, leader of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD), said his party would not join any government if it believed that the elections were unfair. "The probability is high that we will not be part of this government - any government," he told reporters at the CUD headquarters in the capital, Addis Ababa.

Posted by aheavens at 6:14 AM

May 23, 2005

Keeping count

Ethiopian Review has been having fun with the official figures coming out of the National Election Board. It points out the huge difference between the CUD and EPRDF numbers in Addis - the CUD got around 80 per cent of the vote in most seats while only one EPRDF candidate got above 20 per cent. The website also did some interesting arithmetic outside the capital:

In some woredas the opposition defeated itself by running against each other. For example, in Shoa Robit, the EPRDF was able to win, according to NEB's official numbers, by receiving 14,988 votes, while CUD received 12,254 votes, and UEDF received 11,011. The combined CUD/ UEDF votes is 23,265.
For those who don't know, the CUD and the UEDF agreed to work together and form a coalition government if elected. But the agreement came too late for them to shuffle their candidates to avoid clashes like the one in Shoa Robit. Ethiopian Review has another example in Woliso 2.

UPDATE: Tobian ThinkTank is keeping count of these clashes. The last time I checked it had found six.

Posted by aheavens at 6:17 AM

Once upon a time ...

These elections are such a big event here in Ethiopia that you get the feeling they are already becoming part of the folk lore. Some of the stories you hear are slowly taking on aspects of myth and legend.

First of all there was the huge opposition rally the Sunday before the national poll. The size of the crowd keeps growing in peoples' imaginations. First there were one million people there, then two, then four. The latest thing I have heard is that it was probably the biggest crowd ever to have gathered in Africa. (Never mind that the capacity of Meskel Square - according to the organisers of the Bob Marley concert earlier this year - is 300,000.)

Another great folk-tale-in-the-making appeared in yesterday's Capital paper:

Unconfirmed report reached us that in an anonymous rural area a group of youngsters in their late twenties spent the night in a tree on Election Day, to make sure that the actual ballot papers were counted appropriately the next day. Early next morning they noticed some people going into the room and coming out with the ballot boxes. The kids created havoc screaming and shouting and the culprits were stopped.

This has it all: the vague, distant rural setting; the boys up a tree - a mixture of Robin Hood and Zacheus in the New Testament; the local heroes; the moral ending. You can imagine this story being told and being elaborated upon for years to come.

That is not to say that any of these tales are lies or propaganda or anything like that. It is just that the facts behind them are already being amplified and tweaked for inclusion in Ethiopia's mass popular memory.

Meanwhile - Meles Zenawi was voted in in Adwa - here's the official result (click on the 'Adiwa Ketema' constituency). No surprise there as he was the only candidate standing. And diplomats have appealed for calm as the official results start coming in via the National Election Board. (You can keep up with them through the new panel in the right hand column.)

Posted by aheavens at 5:24 AM

May 20, 2005

Claim and counter-claim # 3

Now the real finger-pointing begins.

Ethiopia orders re-election at 6 polling stations

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopia will hold re-elections on Sunday at six polling stations where ballot boxes were stuffed or votes were otherwise held improperly, the state-run Ethiopian News Agency (ENA) said on Friday.

The Ethiopian Election Board also said it was investigating charges of major voting fraud levelled by both the ruling party and the opposition parties.

Here are other versions of the from the BBC and the state Ethiopian News Agency.

Posted by aheavens at 1:56 PM

Electric trains and expat Ethiopians

berhanu_and_hailuI had an "exclusive" interview with Hailu Shawel, chairman of the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) yesterday. The CUD has claimed total victory in Addis Ababa - both in the city administration and its 23 seats in the House of People's Representatives. It also says that it is heading for overall victory in the national elections - with a little help from its coalition partners like the EUDF.

Engineer Hailu talked about his master plan for Addis and the country as a whole. You can see the full interview below the fold.

But, in a nutshell, his top priorities for Addis are:

His top priorities for Ethiopia are:

And where will he get all the talented, motivated people to lead all these new initiatives? Largely from diaspora Ethiopians who, Engineer Hailu says, are now keen to come home.

"We will get really competent people in. They don't have to be here. There are many Ethiopians who are in the World Bank, the UN system, in other African countries – I've worked abroad, I know them. Whatever you pay them they will come. And I think these people need to be put to work. They are all lining up, literally, to come. Those with money and even those without money but with brains and capabilities."

ethiopian_opposition_4Interview with Hailu Shawel, chairman of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD)

Q: Your one definite claim to date is that you have won Addis Ababa. What is your take on the city and its main problems?

The first problem of Addis is unemployment – serious unemployment, especially of young school leavers, because of very, very retarded development...Number two, the same people are not allowed to use their initiative. There are some very intelligent young people but there is no support system to get them to work. There a serious misuse of the micro finance system which is externally assisted. But inside the administration there is serious partiality, so that independent young people can not access that network. It has been a ruling party fund to get the youth to them. Those who become party members get these special privileges. But the large majority who want to do some work are never given this facility. We believe a change in this system could start the young people on the right road.

Number two even if they want to do something themselves, exercise their initiative, there is no guidance given. Even the NGOs are not allowed to help these people. What we believe is NGOs can contribute very significantly to starting these people on the right road until we can get private investment to move again. So this is a gap which can be easily filled by NGOs. Eventually though we have to have a very efficient administrative system to encourage the investors to move into the city. So far they have been moving out of the city because of soaring land value which is tantamount to purposeful discouragement. Also, the banks are very conservative. They are not developing country banks. In a depression like this they make it look as if there is a problem of inflation so they completely suppress the financial investment in this town and in the country as a whole. We believe we have to free up the system. We have to come up with taxation systems that will allow investors to be more aggressively participating in the development of the country. And the banks should be a part of this – a very important part. And the financial system should enable the banks to be more flexible. The private banks are so highly controlled that there is so much money sitting around. And the government bank, which is the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia, doesn't give loans because of administrative problems...So we need to free that system immediately. How we can do it is only if we win the federal seats. Otherwise we will be constrained in our efforts to move forward. But Addis by itself, if there is control by the Federal government as there is now. I don't think there is freedom to move. The only thing we can do is to encourage the private sector and the NGOs to help out. Otherwise we can not free up the economic system at the moment.

So I see this, immediately, we will continue for short term employment – we will expand the construction sector. But that is a short term respite as you know. For the longer term investors should be attracted into the city by a good administration, good support, good accessibility to land and NGO help.

Q: How would you describe the city administration at the moment. How could you make it better?

The Addis Ababa administration does not deal in essence with the economy. It just deals with building roads and infrastructure and so on. But what do you build roads for? And moreover there is partiality for giving permits for anything in this country. We want clear, transparent systems...If you are a foreign investor, for the first few days you get everything quickly. But when it comes to the crunch, when you are really serious to do something, the whole thing stops. You get papers but never results.

Q: I was interested in your comment about NGOs. Do you think you will have a different approach to NGOs than the current administration?

There will be a very serious difference. We will give them problem areas to focus on. But they can take a choice over what they consider they can do within their capacity. And we will allow them to work freely – we won't say ‘Don't do this', ‘Don't do that.' – that stops immediately, immediately. If they want to involve themselves in helping the elderly – that is their choice. If they want to help the youth, we will accommodate it – whatever they want. Now at the moment it is all ‘You're not supposed to do this', ‘You're supposed to do that', ‘Go to the rural areas', ‘Don't come to the city'. But the city is becoming such a problem...They don't seem to see the totality of the problem. We see there are many NGOs who can help out in a serious way. We will even allow them to go into the micro-finance system, which the government refuses to do at the moment. Because it wants to control everything. We believe they should do it, not a government institution.

Q: If you win Addis Ababa without winning the Federal Government, what will be your top three priorities?

We believe that an economic situation is brought about by the private sector not by the government. What we will do is enable these private sector people to come in and start their job. The only thing a city government can do is to try to participate in short-term training of the youth – in technical issues. For example, if an investor wants a repairman or an electrician, there will be a specific training centre for this on a short term basis for a fast return to work. NGOs can help to establish these training centres and bring experts to train them. Because we do not have experts at the moment. The capability has gone down. I remember when I was a young engineer even the builders were so expert and the lines were just right. Now you get one line going that way, another the other way. Because the quality has gone down so dramatically. So that sort of thing needs re-training, complete re-training. So this is an area where we will try to ask everyone to participate in training the youth. And I think that is number one. Because problem number one is the young people who have no work.

Problem number two is the poor people who have no place to go. They are all in the same batch. Elderly people sleeping on the street. Poor people with nothing to eat. Instead of taking them away we provide them with decent accommodation where we can have handiwork and so on introduced on a large scale. Not these show pieces that we spread around in the country. Real, serious productivity – these are items for tourism, Ethiopian artefacts. A lot can be done by women in this area.

So Addis by itself: administrative system improvement; water supply - immediate enhancement of the capacity; the infrastructure which takes a long time to put in. We have to review all the plans. We believe, as I said, if you start getting the people to work, then foreign investors can come in because they see a healthy environment. They see that the rowdy youth are not there. And so on.

Q: Jut to look at you Addis Ababa plans in detail. You intend to set up a series of training programs for young people, started by the city administration and involving NGOs. Is that right?

The plan will be by the City administration. But the doing – we believe the NGOs and the private sector are best placed to contribute to this.

Q: How will it all be funded?

There will be some borrowing and institutions like the World Bank will like these kinds of projects. They will be involved. But most of it, I am sure, can be funded through small NGO grants. Because these are small capacity building establishments which are not profit making. It is just getting people out of the doldrums to start having a trust in themselves. So they can do something.

Q: How about your plans for destitute people? How will that be funded? And the accommodation – will there be new blocks of flats in the city or …

I think the city government has to do that. I think this should be a place where they can work, in the suburbs where you can set up in open areas. There are already some like that but there are too few. Some NGOs have institutions making carpets, making Ethiopian shamas, handicraft, carving. But there is a quality problem. So we have to bring in experts to really improve the quality so that tourists can buy them – or you can even export them.

Q: And the improved administration?

The administration will be down to ourselves. We really have to streamline that. That's our first job. Otherwise everything will just be talk. It is not only that it is overstaffed, there is a quality problem. A very serious quality shortage. We have to put key people in these leadership positions so that the response could be much quicker.

Q: How about the water supply and the infrastructure? How would that be funded?

We can't do it by ourselves, with our own funds. There are existing plans. I know about them. I participated in some of these water supply plans. It is already ready. It has been ready for quite some time. And number two, a transport infrastructure plan has also been ready a long time ago. Like electric trains and so on in this city. These plans have already been drawn out. I am sure the World Bank was interested at one time in funding these major rail links within the city. So that it reduces taxi fumes and standing and waiting in line. You can't serve all these people with buses. I think this could start immediately. The design is there.

Q: Why has it not happened up to now?

It was done about 18 years ago. At that time the Derg was in power and nobody would give a loan to the Derg obviously. So it stopped. When this government came – if it had really cared about this city it would have done it and the World Bank would have jumped at the chance of financing this infrastructure.

Q: So, if you win the country as well as Addis, what will you top three priorities be then? You mentioned reforming the banking system earlier. Is that a key priority?

Banking is a system which moves an investment or a retrenchment. The banking has to be freed up, first of all. Second, we also have to allow foreign banks to come here. And then, I am sure, on the back of these banks will come investors. Because they will trust. They will work with their own bank and things will be easier. If you do that, you also make the local banks more competitive and more cohesive. Most probably the local private banks, which are mini-banks in a way, they will come together and form bigger banks. Which means there will also be competition for the foreign banks and the commercial banks. It will all become more active. So that is number one, I believe. Without that, you can talk about development, you can talk about anything, but you won't go anywhere.

Number two, I do believe there needs to be a special office for investors who come here, supporting them from the beginning so they can function here. We need a special office – not what they have at the moment. There is an investment office but when you go there it is “Oh, where is the boss”. I would even arrange to collect people at the airport – it would not be highly costly. Then we could talk to these investors, let them talk freely to the local investors. They don't want to talk to government. They want to talk to their own kind – the investors here. So, if we free up the local investors, the foreign investors will come. It will be a cohesive action which will move things forward.

We also have, at the moment, a real momentum from the people. When there is a change people are really raring to go. And people will work much harder if they have their own elected government. We believe we have to use that momentum to really get things going. And we can do it. We will get really competent people in. They don't have to be here. There are many Ethiopians who are in the World Bank, the UN system, in other African countries – I've worked abroad, I know them. Whatever you pay them they will come. And I think these people need to be put to work. They are all lining up, literally, to come. Those with money and even those without money but with brains and capabilities.

Q: We have looked at banking and attracting investors. What else would be at the top of your list of priorities?

I believe this taxation system needs to be streamlined really. The system at the moment is scaring every local investor into the ground. People have to pay taxes, obviously, there is no problem about that. But, what is the basis of your taxation? There has to be a serious basis. You go into a little shop and they say ‘You pay this, unless you pay a little baksheeh and then you pay only this'. That has to stop. Immediately, it has to stop. There will be no group here who are favoured. At the moment, people are going up to investors and saying – ‘If you work with me you will get that and if you don't you will get this.' There are these things that are not at all tangible…but they are very serious. When an investor comes these days, everyone tries to grab something. And what happens then is that he moves out – he doesn't come back because the future doesn't look right. But here, if you have a clean government – and we can have a clean government with a policy of ‘first mistake and you are out'. If you are willing to be tough, I think you can have a clean government.

Q: From the perspective of Western Europe and America, this year is the 20th anniversary of Live Aid and the 1984/5 famine. What would you do about the whole development and land rights issue?

It depends on how much our majority will be. If we get two thirds, together with our coalition partners, the first issue to tackle is the land issue. The government should take its hands off land – except reforestation and rehabilitation areas. We support either communal ownership or individual ownership. And we consider land as capital. It is completely not in line with the socialist approach of the present government. The farmers will jump at the chance. And the investors can come in like everybody else and say this is my land. So land is a very serious matter. A very, very serious matter. And the people want it. That is why, when the EPRDF claims the rural areas, it is lying, it is cheating. Because our first discussions with people were in the rural areas. And what we told them was – land to the tiller. That's yours. You can sell it. You can keep it. You can transfer it. You can do anything with it. And that is the way we want it to be. Feeing up the economy starts with that.

Posted by aheavens at 7:32 AM

May 18, 2005

Filling the news vacuum

This long wait for an official election result has created a real news vacuum in Addis Ababa. At the moment, that vacuum is being filled by the local newspapers which are selling thousands upon thousands of copies every day.

The Amharic paper Aqual apparently printed 80,000 copies today - I heard its regular print run is around 15,000. And the street newspaper vendors are also taking advantage. A copy of Aqual would have cost you 4 birr today, compared with its regular cover price of 1.50 birr. The Reporter, which normally sells for 2 birr, cost 5 birr on the streets this afternoon.

Best of all, people have started taking down the election results posters from the doors of polling stations, photocopying them and selling them off for 50 cents a copy. Now that is real grassroots journalism.

The market economy is alive and well - in Addis Ababa at least.

[Claim and counter-claim update - Ethiopia's two main opposition groups say they are heading for victory in Sunday's poll, contradicting claims of victory from the ruling party. The opposition CUD and UEDF groupings claim to have already won more than 200 seats in the 547-member parliament...Here's the full story.]

Posted by aheavens at 7:22 PM

From cradle to grave

Ethiopia's state News Agency came up with two great local angles on the election story this week. I'm not sure why, but I love the sentence "the woman did not cast her vote because of her labor".

Woman Voter Delivers Baby Boy While Awaiting Turn To Vote

Mettu, 5/16/2005

A woman who was awaiting her turn to cast vote in a remote locality of Illubabor Zone, Oromia State delivered a baby boy here on Sunday.

Public Relations Head with the Zonal Police told ENA on Monday that the woman delivered the boy at 2:00 PM yesterday.

Although it was tried to rush her to the nearby clinic after she was in an expected labor, she delivered the boy at her poling station.

However, he said, the woman did not cast her vote because of her labor.

Mourner cast vote

Addis Ababa, 5/15/2005

One of the unique features of the voting process in Ethiopia (May 15) has turned out to be the hitherto unseen great enthusiasm displayed by Ethiopians to cast votes.

Zewde Abegaz came to the polls in rags all black, on the third day after she burried her nephew. She was immediately given pass and cast her ballot without having had to wait her turn in the long queue. She represent one of the traditions in Ethiopia, whose followers mourn the death of the loved ones for seven days on end.

But, Zewde compromises her state and tradition for voting, which she simply said, "was too precious to forego".

Sunday is a day on which couples tie the knots in this part of the world. Here in Addis Ababa, wedding is a daylong merriment in which part of the celebration is spent outside. Many couples, amidst the traditionally colourful wedding ceremonies, were seen dropping at polling stations and cast their votes.

"Funeral and wedding are alike," is a popular wedding song in Ethiopia.

Posted by aheavens at 7:31 AM

May 17, 2005

Counter-claims and conspiracy theories

A quick update on all the toing and froing and claims and counter-claims.

The EU's chief observer Ana Gomes scolded both the ruling EPRDF and the main opposition coalitions for making claims about the results before the official figures are in. "The EU election observation mission thinks that these announcements are not proper and will continue to follow the counting and tabulation closely," she said. Here is the full story.

The EPRDF and the opposition coalitions kept making their claims anyway. The EPRDF claimed to have won just over half the seats in parliamentary elections, but opposition leaders said it was still too early to tell who would form the next government. Here is the full story.

Meanwhile, the conspiracy theories continue to multiply. My favourite came from a journalist at yesterday's opposition press conference. He told me the government was monitoring journalists' mobile phones, cutting them off whenever they spoke to the opposition or anyone critical of the EPRDF. His proof? The fact that everyone's phones keep getting cut off.

Unfortunately this ignores one simple fact - Ethiopia's mobile phones are always getting cut off. They were getting cut off long before the election and, no doubt, they will continue to be cut off half way through conversations long after. it is all part of the fun of living with a state telecoms monopoly.

Posted by aheavens at 5:52 PM

A tale of two victories

ethiopian_opposition_4Both sides were claiming significant victories in Ethiopia's national elections late yesterday.

"The EPRDF has won seats for the federal parliament in the southern region, Oromia, Amhara, and Tigray, that would enable it to form the next federal government," said a statement read out live on state television by an EPRDF official.

"But in Addis Ababa, EPRDF has lost the election for the federal parliament and regional council," he added. [Here is the full story.]

Meanwhile the opposition held a press conference (pictured), underlining their wins in Addis Ababa - including a clean sweep of the city council. (What happens next for Addis Ababa's high profile and generally popular mayor Arkebe?) There were rumours that the combined Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) and the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF) also made significant gains in other towns and cities including Nazareth and Dessie.

Hailu Shawel, head of the CUD, said: "As a whole the fight has been carried by the Ethiopian people themselves. It is against big odds that whatever we achieve has been achieved. We have heard news of our success in the urban areas ... sent to us by our candidates and their supporters."

The opposition parties continued to make claims of intimidation and election fraud. And international observers continued to insist that they had found no evidence of any widespread irregularities.

Yesterday, election observer and former US president Jimmy Carter said: "We believe that Ethiopia has made tremendous strides towards democracy in the last several months, including more open debate, greater political participation, large rallies, and enormously high voter turnout on election day."

There were some criticisms:

And that was it according to the Carter Center. The EU, which had a much bigger team of observers, will hold its press conference today.

Behind it all is unease about Meles Zenawi's decision to ban public demonstrations for a month and take control of the police under his direct control. It was an odd note to strike a day after a peaceful election. "We are concerned about a decision by the government of Ethiopia to ban post election demonstrations, and our embassy is monitoring that situation closely," said US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.

Posted by aheavens at 4:43 AM

May 16, 2005

The great Ethiopian marked ballot paper scandal

DSC_0009_1One of the most serious allegations made against yesterday's Ethiopian election was that voters were given pre-marked voting papers at a couple of voting stations in Addis Ababa. The papers, allegedly, had already been marked for the ruling EPRDF.

Well, we had a chance to have a look at one of the controversial voting forms this afternoon – and it seems that some election scandals are bigger than others. The marking turned out to be a tiny scratch left by the printer of the papers in the margin between the boxes for the EPRDF and one of the other opposition groups. “Please take out your magnifying glasses,” said Kemal Bedri, chairman of Ethiopia's National Election Board at a press conference. “You can see that there is nothing to it.” Here are some pictures of the mark. You can judge for yourselves.

The overall message of the press conference was that the elections were free and fair with a huge turn out of more than 90 per cent. One of the main problems was the slowness of the whole process. At one Addis polling station people who queued up through the day were still voting at 5 this morning – a full 11 hours after the polls were supposed to close.

dsc_0008Kemal said there had been a few technical problems. Two polling stations in Gamo Gofa zone in the south received the wrong voting papers. Some ballot papers simply did not arrive at stations in Jimma and Alemaya universities, due to problems of registering some students, according to Tesfaye Mengesha, deputy head of the secretariat of the election board. In both cases, he added, people would be able to vote again in the next few days.

The opposition parties are, apparently, still considering their position about whether to refuse to accept the election result. After the press conference, Kemal Bedri seemed to suggest that their worries had no grounds. “I still stand by what the board is saying. I think they [the opposition] are really not doing justice to their supporters who were lined up for 16 to 20 hours to support them. My feeling is that once they know the results, maybe they will not repeat this allegation.”

Is that last sentence a hint that the opposition actually did rather well? We will have to wait until the end of the week, when the results should be clearer, to find out.

Posted by aheavens at 11:27 AM

Meles goes to Adwa

DSC_0035Ethiopia held its elections - and from where I saw them in Addis Ababa and Adwa they went peacefully and relatively efficiently. I was part of a group of journalists who accompanied the prime minister Meles Zenawi on a morning flight to Adwa to watch him vote. (Adwa, as well as being the site of Ethiopia's famous defeat of Italy, is the prime minister's constituency and birthplace).

It was a very quick there-and-back trip courtesy of Ethiopian Airlines. Other Ethiopian websites will probably give you lots of political analysis and debate. I can exclusively reveal to you that the prime minister gets to sit in a tiny first class section all to himself when he travels - made up of one large seat in the place of two rows of normal "cattle class" seating. His morning reading includes The Financial Times, the Economist and, I think, Newsweek. He gets a large vase of roses on his in-flight table, removed just before the bumpy take-off. There were lots of refreshments - shared by everyone - including the offer of free packs of cigarettes brought round by one of the flight attendants on a tray. (I shall have to read up on the prime minister's health policy.) He, his two children and a relatively small but armed entourage sat at the front. The hacks sat at the back.

We flew to Axum and then sped along the 20km or so of roads to Adwa where the townspeople gradually realised who was visiting them. The crowd, which quickly gathered, was enthusiastic and the polling station was efficient and given the thumbs up by the three EU observers there. The only PR hitch was that it soon emerged that there was no one standing against the prime minister. He voted for himself, as did everyone else who didn't spoil a ballot paper, and drove off again about five minutes later leaving me and five other journalists stranded without a lift.

Back it Addis it was straight to a press conference organised by Ana Gomes, the top EU observer, who criticised an opposition call to reject results, which came before polls closed. "It is a bit difficult to understand why those who are also responsible for the success want to discredit it so early," she said.

Then the rest of the day is was a question of trawling around a series of very quiet and well-organised polling stations in the capital. There were queues outside some of them as late as 6pm (voting started at 6am). As you read this, the opposition parties are gearing up to disown the election which, everyone seems to agree, will go to the ruling EPRDF - at least outside Addis. It will be interesting to see what happens if all the opposition parties reject the result, while all the international observers welcome it. The results should filter through over the next couple of days.

You can see some pics of the Adwa trip on Flickr.

Posted by aheavens at 4:48 AM

May 11, 2005

Texting for votes

Ethiopia's election has entered the mobile age. For the first time supporters of the various parties and coalitions have started pestering people with SMS campaign messages. Here are of the messages that are doing the rounds. From this informal poll it looks like the opposition CUD has the technological edge over the ruling EPRDF.

"Vote bee. If you vote bee / You will eat honey / If you vote for the two fingers / You will loose the three others."

"If you love your country, for so many reasons you already know, vote for KINIGIT! Please send this for 5 others."

"Kinigitin alememret mebt new, negr gin yemekeran gize marazem new" (Not to vote CUD is a right, bit it is a right that would prolong misery.)

"Ehadegin miretu, ehagegin bitimertu, hiwotachihu kalefew 14 amet yebelete be hiv, besira atiet ina, bechigir yetemola endihone enadergalen." (Vote EPRDF, if you vote for EPRDF, we will fill your life with more HIV and poverty than you have seen in the past 14 years.)

"Show your response towards Alamoudi's support to Woyane by not drinking any of the Pepsi products. Pass this message to five country-loving Ethiopians."

I suppose it is an advance of sorts. But it won't be long now until companies start joining in and Ethiopia will be buried in mobile spam.

Posted by aheavens at 7:17 PM

May 9, 2005

Ethiopia faces 300,000 malnutrition deaths

dsc_0035The first thing you notice is the smell - a mixture of hospital disinfectant and the sickness of diarrhoea. The second thing is the silence. A room full of young children would normally be alive with the sounds of crying, happy chatter and baby talk. But this was a room filled with severely malnourished babies with barely enough energy to lift their heads, never mind make any noise.

We were on a three-day trip to Harar and Ethiopia's Somali region organised by The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). Our group of journalists and UNICEF officials visited the Dodota supplementary feeding centre on the outskirts of Harar; two camps for internally displaced people (IDPs - basically refugees in their own country) at Hartesheik in Ethiopia's remote Somali region and, finally, the therapeutic feeding centre for severely malnourished children at Hiwot Fana hospital in Harar pictured here.

I was there taking pictures for Reuters. The images I came away with weren't as distressing as the photos many Westerners associate with Ethiopia - the skeletal babies of the Live Aid famine. (Those babies are still out there in Ethiopia - I just didn't see them on this visit.) But it was upsetting nonetheless.

dsc_0065UNICEF says as many as 300,000 Ethiopian children will die from malnutrition this year if donors do not come forward with food aid and money. It needs $13 million (€10 million) in the next 60 days to feed about 170,000 children close to starving to death. These numbers dwarf the death toll from the tsunami but, for some reason, they do not provoke the same levels of outrage. We have simply become used to babies dying in Ethiopia.

The regions we visited had just been hit by the double whammy of drought followed by torrential rain and floods. Compounding that were the combined effects of red tape (officials were arguing over how many helicopters to send while we were there); poor access (the huge Somali region only has about 30km of tarmac road) and the fact that the region has already been weakened by years of successive droughts.

I found it shocking that this sort of thing is still happening in 2005. Anyone interested in supporting UNICEF can visit this page.

Posted by aheavens at 6:42 AM

Competing crowds

ethio_election5This was Meskel Square yesterday, packed with more than 250,000 supporters of Ethiopia's main opposition coalitions. The country's ruling EPRDF coalition had a similar meeting the day before.

I missed the EPRDF rally so am unable to compare the two. But the opposition turn out was certainly impressive. The whole city seemed to be filled with opposition supporters honking horns and waving the two-finger V-for-victory symbol used by the CUD - the Coalition for Unity and Democracy.

Just in case you don't know, Ethiopia is holding its third ever national elections on Sunday, May 15.

Hailu Shawel, head of the CUD, told the crowd "We want change and we want a new government... We need job creation to bring about poverty alleviation, not dependency on foreign aid -- which is what we have now."

A day earlier, Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia's prime minister, told EPRDF supporters: "The huge turnout is an indication that EPRDF and its policies are supported by the people. We seek your support for re-election on May 15. We urge you to vote in a peaceful manner."

There are more photos of the rally on Flickr.

Update: There has been some controversy over the exact number of people at the event. Most journalists settled on about 250,000. One man in the crowd ran up to me at the event and said "there are six million people here" - a little unlikely when you remember that that is about one and a half times the entire population of Eritrea.

Anyway, here is a little trade secret. No one ever knows how many people turn up to these huge events. At a typical protest or rally, organisers tend to overestimate the turnout and authorities like the police tend to underestimate it. Journalists tend to take all available estimates, compare them to their best judgement and then agree on a number together. That seems to be the best system to me - unless anyone wants to have a go counting the heads in the photo.

Posted by aheavens at 6:04 AM

May 2, 2005

Sanitation stars

One of the best newspapers in Addis at the moment is Fortune, a business weekly that come out every Sunday. And one of its best features is its highly-detailed restaurant review. There are extensive sections on food, environment, service, parking and, most usefully of all, the "sanitation".

Here are some recent pieces:

Olive's Garden Restaurant & Lounge
Location: off Namibia Street, behind Kaldis
Cuisine: Italian

Overall *** and a half Sanitation *** A common restroom is located in a separate building, which is impractical when it rains. The restroom consists of three stalls, the middle of which is permanently locked. While the toilets are clean, most women would turn their nose up at having to share public facilities with men.

The sink area is clean, but there is nothing with which to wash your hands. Also, the liquid soap is either of a poor quality or it has been diluted. If the latter is the case, the management should know that everyone notices, and most hate it.

Makush
Location: First floor of the Mega Building on Bole Road (Africa Avenue)
Serves: Western Meals

Overall: *** Sanitation: *** In general, the location of the restrooms was discrete. Common to both genders' restrooms was the cleanliness and the maroon walls. The men's restroom was dark and cramped, and the Jackson Pollock-like splashes on paint on the wall did nothing to add to the space. Also, depending on the time of day, you may find a most unpleasant and unappetising view of a bucket filled with used toilet paper.

Conversely, the women's restroom was quite spacious with a powder room three times the size of the "restroom proper". Additional rolls of toilet paper were available as was a surprisingly large can of air freshener. Single-use towels were rolled and placed in a basket, adding a touch of elegance. A red light - the kind that makes you look great, ladies! - hung over two large mirrors in the powder room - so you can look twice as good.

Blue Drops Restaurant
Location: Namibia Street, about 150m from Atlas Hotel going towards Bole Telecom
Serves: Western and Ethiopian meals

Overall: ** and a half Sanitation: ** The restaurant's only restroom is, by default, a men's restroom; the toilet seat is missing. One reviewer was overwhelmed by the pungent smell and found the wet floor with muddy footprints most revolting. A giant cottage-style medicine cabinet hovers ominously over the sink, which is missing a knob. Those curious enough to open the doors will be greatly disappointed to find not even a roll of toilet paper inside.

A white towel hanging near the sink is visibly dirty and most unhygienic. One reviewer found clear and indisputable evidence that someone had taken a shower.

Arcobaleno Bar & Restaurant
Location: On the road extending from Roosevelt St. toward Mekanissa, about 50m south of MIDROC Headquarters
Cuisine: Italian

Overall: *** Sanitation: ** The tiny cubicles are minimally equipped with the only roll of toilet paper sitting on the ledge behind the commode. The tap in the women's restroom needs to be replaced. You need two hands to operate it: one hand to turn the handle and the other to keep the spout from turning with the handle.

If you are lucky there is a bar of soap, but you have to shake your hands dry, which you can do by waving to the people in the couples' bar who have a perfect view of you through the opening in the top of the restroom door.

Anyone who hasn't visited Addis may be a bit surprised by the vagueness of the addresses. There are road signs and house numbers here. But they are rarely used. "Behind Kaldis" is a much more useful address than saying the restaurant is off Namibia Road. There is an urban myth here that Bono wrote the song "Where The Streets Have No Name" after a visit to the capital in the 1980s.

Posted by aheavens at 6:23 AM

May 1, 2005

Happy Easter

Happy Ethiopian Easter to anyone out there who celebrates it.

Posted by aheavens at 6:18 AM

Diamond time

DSC_0161.jpgQ: How does Ethiopia's richest man tell the time? A: He doesn't. He just looks at his wrist and counts his diamonds.

Here is a detail that I just spotted in a picture I took of Mohammed Al Amoudi at Axum airport after the arrival of the third and final piece of the obelisk. (Here is the full photo.) As I wrote below, the Saudi-Ethiopian billionaire flew in unannounced to the celebrations in his gleaming 737. Both the jet and the watch are perfectly in keeping with a man who owns the Addis Ababa Sheraton, a surrealy luxurious chunk of marble in the centre of the capital.

A lot of people I know here have a problem with the Sheraton. It takes a while to get used to the jolting contrast between the top-rank hotel and the shacks that run up alongside it. Personally, I think it is something that Addis needs. Just like the capital's newish airport, it raises the country's profile. And where else would Ethiopia's regular stream of concerned celebrity visitors like Brad Pitt stay?

Posted by aheavens at 5:36 AM