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October 26, 2005

Haile and the big foreign nanny

DSC_0041I was at a big UNICEF event yesterday, launching a national campaign [PDF] for the country's orphans and vulnerable children. The guest of honour was Olympic champion Haile Gebrselassie. He spoke to the crowd for about 15 minutes in Amharic.

As it is not every day that you get to hear what Haile has to say, I thought I would post a copy of the English translation. I particularly liked the bit about UNICEF and other aid organisations being like foreign nannys.

Today – I am going to speak to my own people in Amharic – because this is important. As you know UNICEF and other NGOs – they did a lot of things here in Ethiopia. I would like to say thank you. Specially for UNICEF – for what they have done, what they are doing and for what they will do for Ethiopian children.

What is important now is – our own people – what we are doing. What we have done and what we need to do. That is very important.

(The following is translated from Amharic)
We are sitting here today to talk about the situation of children, and we can say many things. What he (Bjorn Ljungqvist, UNICEF Representative in Ethiopia) said earlier was to ask what my dream was. My dream was to be like Abebe Bikila and Miruts Yifter. That dream has become [reality]. But that doesn't mean that my dream is finished and has achieved its ultimate success.

Now in order to make the dreams of other children come true, as Ethiopians, what is it that we have to do? Or do we want them to grow up under the care of nannies who have come from other countries? Sometimes when we think about it, UNICEF is becoming like a nanny from abroad for our children. It is when we start to forget this that we started forgetting our own children.

What is expected of us as Ethiopians?

It is not that we each have to feed or clothe every single child. There are many things that we can do for our children that don't go so far. And when I say ‘for our children' I don't just mean those that we have given birth to. All of them – including the children living on the street – are our children. We do not know who they will become tomorrow. Leaders, doctors, pilots could emerge from among them. If they become doctors they can heal and operate and do many things for us. If they become pilots they will be responsible for carrying our lives into the air with them. So what do we have to do for these children?

There is a saying. A king and his son were traveling on the road. I will never forget that fable. It reflects my thinking on children. A man came across [the king and son] and greeted the son exceedingly well – but didn't pay much attention to the king. Then the king was upset and asked, ‘How come you have honored my first born son, who may or not be king, with such a lavish greeting and not me?' And you know how the man responded? He said, ‘Your Majesty, you have already become king and we have gotten to know you and the way that you administer the land. We don't doubt that you will do anything different. However, we do not know what this child will do when he grows up.'

Therefore, because they are the future, what must we do for children? – because we do not know what these children will become. From now onwards, for all the children that we meet, we must not just give them money and change. We need to advise them when they do wrong. We need to support them when they fall on bad times – just as if they were our own children. We love our own children – each one of us when we return to our homes – we show our children love. We need to learn how to treat these other children as if they were our own. We need to support them to achieve their dreams.

As you may know, a child who loses his mother or his father in the countryside – they will be able to live a good life, embraced by their community in the rural areas. I believe that this type of thing is disappearing in urban areas. All of you, especially those of you who have come from the rural areas know it. If a child loses his mother or father, members of the community will get the child to help on their farm – in fact they are treated with special care because they are orphans – their parents have died. But now we we see their numbers growing on the streets and it is reaching frightening levels. The way that we are going to reduce this problem is not by ignoring it. As much as possible we need to help these children achieve their dream.

In Ethiopia today more than half the population is made up of children. The other day we were out at a march and I heard people saying, ‘what kind of march is this – full of children?' We realized that we had forgotten something - that the largest segment of the population in Ethiopia are children – whether we like it or not it is children. There is something that has been forgotten by us, by the society and the government. There is a Ministry of Youth in Ethiopia but is there a Ministry of Children? We have not even realized that we need to establish a Ministry exclusively for children. We have a long way to go. That is something that we have to realize.

As Ethiopians, what I would like to say is that our children should not have to be raised by nannies from abroad. If we raise them ourselves then we will be able to guide them – they will retain our traditions and culture, they can grow up in a good way.

One of the reasons that I am here today is to support the dream teams as part of the Great Ethiopia Run. UNICEF is doing a great job with the run every single year. I have not come here today to say that UNICEF has done this or said this or created this. I have come just to say what I must say and move on. And for the future – the population – as we are Ethiopians, please, all of us, those of us who are here and at home, if there are ten people here – next month they could have reached and influenced 100 people. This is what I have to say. Thank you very much.

Posted by aheavens at 10:37 AM

October 10, 2005

Back in session

So parliament is back in session with Teshome Toga, the former Minister for Youth, Sports and Culture sitting in the speaker's chair. As most people had predicted, the CUD did not show up. Instead they issued an eight-strong list of pre-conditions which you can see here.

Meles is due to name his cabinet tomorrow. But nobody seems to know what happens after that. The streets are as quiet as ever - probably due to the presence of large numbers of federal police and a huge thunder storm which is rattling the windows as I write.

I have not seen anyone else mention this, but the rain has played a crucial role in this year's election and its aftermath. The June 8 killings, for example, would have been much worse if the rain had not flooded down to clear the streets at the climax of the unrest.

Posted by aheavens at 11:54 AM

Looted prop sword is returned

ethio sword pics 1 of 2Here is a photo I took for a story about a looted Ethiopian sword that appeared in today's [London] Times. I'm not sure if they used it as the website doesn't include pictures.

It shows Professor Richard Pankhurst (L), vice chair of AFROMET, and Hasen Said (R), curator of the Museum of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies in Addis Ababa University, admiring the traditional curved nobleman's blade that has been returned to Ethiopia after being stolen by British troops during the Battle of Magdala in 1868.

Slowly, slowly the Magdala loot is coming back. So far, individuals have been the main returners. Things will really speed up when an institution like the British Museum joins in. There is more information on the whole Magdala campaign at www.afromet.org.

Here's the story:

Looted prop sword is returned - The Times Oct 10

A theatrical props company in London which has supplied items for all the James Bond films has returned a sword to Ethiopia after discovering it was looted by British troops in the 19th century.

It was part of the Magdala Ethiopian hoard, carvings, manuscripts and jewels taken during the British invasion of Ethiopia in 1868 to free missionaries held by Emperor Tewodros II.

The sword, valued at £5,000, was discovered in the collection of the Trading Post, which has supplied props for the Bond films since Dr. No in 1962.

Posted by aheavens at 8:49 AM

October 9, 2005

Fat in Addis

The day after I got back I bumped into an Ethiopian friend in the UN compound in the centre of the city. She greeted me with three kisses and the words "Why Andrew, you have put on so much weight".

She was quite right of course. Three weeks of Caledonian 80 Shilling and the best fish and chips in Edinburgh will do that to you. But it still took me aback.

It took me a few seconds to realise that she was actually paying me a compliment. In the UK, it is the last thing you would say to someone returning from their holidays. Over there, people congratulate each other on how much weight they've lost. Here, apparently, it is the other way around. (Another friend here told me she was once hugged by a Bangladeshi friend and told she looked as fat as a pig).

Posted by aheavens at 4:36 PM

Back in Addis

So, as I said below, I'm back in Addis after a three week break in Edinburgh, Scotland. As part of it, I took an almost total break from the internet - something that I would recommend to everyone who spends too much of their life staring at a glowing screen. As a result, I have got nothing intelligent to say about anything that has gone on recently.

I missed the Meskel celebrations where, I heard, members of the crowd expressed their frustration by throwing stones. I missed the tension building up to the mass protests that never happened, the allegations of mass arrests and aborted armed uprisings. I arrived back just in time to hear of the break down in talks between the EPRDF and the main opposition coalitions.

Apparently the UK and US delegations here are now trying to do their bit as peace-brokers, giving the people at the battle-scarred European Commission a bit of a rest.

What I can say is that tomorrow is supposed to be the first day of the new parliament - whether the opposition decides to turn up or not. In the build up to the big day, the streets are once again filled with the guns and blue and black camouflaged uniforms of the federal police. You see them everywhere walking along Bole Avenue, up around the Sanford School end of town, from the Piazza to the Merkato. Add to that the (no doubt false) rumours of another city-wide strike early next week and some unpleasant memories are starting to stir.

Posted by aheavens at 4:00 PM

October 8, 2005

"The report of my death has been grossly exaggerated”

Sorry about the hoary old cliché from Mark Twain but I will probably never get another chance to use it.

So I go on an unannounced internet holiday and come back to find I've been killed off in a car crash (see the comments at the bottom of the last post). Nice work Alexander. Just the right mixture of nastiness and school-yard sniggering. I name you troll of the year (and, yes, I am aware of the fact that the Ethiopian new year has only just begun).

"Alexander" is actually an interesting case study for anyone interested in the whole trolling phenomenon. He posts under a string of pseudonyms, unaware of the fact that he can be easily identified through his IP address.

So far he has appeared on Meskel Square as 'salam'. 'zeimpex', 'peace', 'manyiferalmot', 'red currant', 'hi', Gud Fella', 'Funny' and 'Teddy who?'. Here is one of his comments that I thought you would particularly enjoy. At the time, he was very upset about a series of "insulting, offensive posts" that had appeared on Meskel Square.

Andrew, you [should be] adopting a zero tolerance approach to insulting, offensive posts, like that of xxxx's juvenile trash above. The least you can do is remove it.

We come to your blog to discuss Ethiopia and related topical issues and have a laugh too, we do have a great sense of humour but we also have a passion for our country. So please...

UPDATE: After reading the comments, I've decided to remove the IP address. It did amount to an invitation to hack. Thanks for the lesson in netiquette.

Posted by aheavens at 2:34 PM