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November 30, 2005

Spring cleaning

deli[log]ueI have been tidying up the links in the right hand column of MeskelSquare, deleting blogs that haven't been updated in a month and adding a few others.

The two new Ethioblogs are both by ferengis - one, I think, from China the other from the US.

The first blog deli[log]ue has some great pictures (see right) and a description of what it is like to have "ferengi" shouted at you wherever you go.

The homeless, orphans, rash teenagers mostly do so, but even the elders who do look gentle as well. I am very well aware that most of them are not intended to insult at foreigners like me, and that they are just curious or inquisitive because they have not seen many Asian here in Ethiopia. To be honest, it is pretty unpleasant. However, I see people, especially very young kids who are just out of their cradle, not saying anything but staring at me with curiosity. When I see them, I cannot resist smiling and saying hello to them.

The second Things I Should Have Written Down includes a first hand account of running the Great Ethiopian Run:

Not long into the race, the surging mass starting chanting anti-government, pro-opposition slogans. With no fear and no apparent memory of the recent spate of arrests, beatings and killings, the young people pointed directly at soldiers standing along the course and shouted, "Thieves!" and "Release Them!" Some of the soldiers smiled, showing restraint and allowing them their moment. Others were not so amused. One plain-clothed officer mimed the cutting of his throat and had a look of hatred on his face I hope to not see again soon.

and an entry that should be read in full on the dangers of taking photos of federal police - particularly if you are an Ethiopian accompanying a ferengi - The White Man Deserves To Be Punished.

Posted by aheavens at 7:37 AM

November 29, 2005

The timely Times

Just caught up with Sunday's strongly-worded editorial on Ethiopia in the New York Times which includes the following call for action from the UK:

Mr. Good Governance Goes Bad - NYT Nov 27

Mr. Blair should publicly evict Mr. Meles from his Commission for Africa. The rest of the international development crowd should exile him.

There's just one small problem. The Commission for Africa ceased to exist way back in July. It published its one and only report in March, went through a few months of conferences and press conferences, then shut up shop. A quick check of the Commission's home page reveals the message: "The Commission timeline offers an overview of the Commission's activities from May 2004 to July 2005. This website was updated for the last time on 29 July 2005."

The NYT can shout all it wants but there is is nothing left for Mr Meles to be evicted from.

Posted by aheavens at 5:43 PM

Voice of America worships Satan - ENA

Forget Ethiopia vs. Eritrea. The only war worth watching at the moment is the one building up between Ethiopia and Voice of America.

It has everything you would expect in a conflict - growing tension, escalating rhetoric, the real risk of casualties. And unlike other conflicts, anyone who wants to can get right up to the front line. All you have to do is to keep reading the latest reports and comment pieces from the Ethiopian government's own Ethiopian News Agency (ENA), The Ethiopian Herald and Walta Information Centre.

Some of you may be thinking that the headline to this entry is a little over the top. Well, here is one of the latest think pieces from ENA.

VOA and DW Amharic service: Satanic instigations ENA November 19.

The [anti-people and anti-Ethiopia] elements at VOA and DW, instead of standing for journalistic professional competence and professional ethics have chosen the road to disseminating untruth and sowing hatred and mistrust among the people.

In their phone-in programs they have deliberately selected and organized individuals who have rehearsed what bad things to say about the situation in Ethiopia . The overwhelming majority of people arranged to ‘participate' in the programs are carefully selected.

They have succeeded in poisoning the minds of some naïve sections of the population, notably school children in Addis Ababa, former officials, military officers and cadres of the former Workers Party of Ethiopia.

But the overwhelming majority of Ethiopians have demonstrated in deeds that they have nothing to do with such satanic messengers of criminal instigations.

The article as a whole amounts to a 1000-word assault on the Amharic-language radio services broadcast across Ethiopia by Voice of America (VOA) and Germany's Deutsche Welle (DW).

VOA and DW run the only Amharic radio programmes in Ethiopia that are not put out by government-controlled agencies. If you have a short-wave or satellite radio, you can also get, among others, the BBC World Service and Radio France International. But they are, of course, in English and French.

If you are an Amharic speaker who can't afford internet access or satellite TV, you only real alternative to the government channels are VOA and DW. (VOA also runs services in Tigrigna and Afaan Oromoo.) It is not surprising that the Ethiopian Government pays particularly close attention to what they broadcast. At the moment, the government is not very happy with what it is hearing.

In a very quick, unscientific survey of Ethiopian Government news sources, I counted 16 stories and lengthy features from just the past three weeks that contained attacks on VOA and, occasionally, DW.

Here are some more from ENA.

Ethiopian students in Riyadh lash out at CUD leadership Nov 25

Ethiopians in the US criticize Amharic service of VOA of stirring conflict Nov 16

Protesters rally against VOA Amharic broadcasts Nov 15

Federal Police says November 1 riot well-organized, desire of CUD leaders thwarted Nov 14

Ethiopians In US To Demonstrate Against VOA's Amharic Staff Nov 9

US Broadcasting Board of Governors asked to take measures against VOA Amharic staff Nov 9

Civic organization expresses disappointment over VOA Amharic Service Nov 4

CUD Declares VOA and Deutche Welle Radio As Its Main Propaganda Outlet Oct 30

Then there is this feature from Tsahma on Walta Information Center.

And on the payroll of the US government? Nov 10

There is a clear escalation in the war of words going on in these pieces. On November 14, the Federal Police Commissioner accuses the CUD opposition Coalition of using VOA to spread violence. On November 15, unnamed protesters accuse VOA itself of being biased in its reporting. On November 16, some more anonymous protesters accuse VOA of actually being "bent on inciting conflicts among people". By November 19, VOA is communing with the devil. Where will it end?

In the aftermath of the last outbreak of violence in June, it ended with the Ethiopian Ministry of Information confiscating the press accreditation of all three VOA correspondents. It remains to be seen what will happen to their three replacements.

If this was a piece of real journalism, I would now go on to give you some idea of the actual content of VOA Amharic service. Unfortunately, as I still can't speak Amharic, or Tigrigna, or Afaan Oromoo, I can't. The station's main response so far has been a quote from the chief of the Voice of America's Horn of Africa Service, Timothy Spence who said that VOA was:

...committed to reporting the news and information people need to make decisions in a democratic society. He said VOA's employees adhere to strict standards of neutrality, objectivity and ethics. Mr. Spence said the Horn of Africa Service seeks information from all voices in the Horn of Africa, whether the news is good or bad, and will continue to do so. Mr. Spence also said the service welcomes feedback from its listeners, and respects the right of people to express their views.

If this was a real piece of journalism I would also try to stand up a reminiscence from an Ethiopian friend with a very long memory. He is certain he can remember a TPLF official, way back in 1991 when they were busy winning hearts and minds overthrowing the Dergue, describing the VOA as the only foreign news service worth listening to because of its generally supportive reports. The TPLF, just in case you don't know, went on to form the core of the present government.

Posted by aheavens at 9:11 AM

Hacking baby cheetahs and hunger strikes

Here are some interesting stats for all you media hackers1 out there to mull over. They help answer the ever-pressing question for jornalists - what do readers actually want to read.

ETHIOPIA: Jailed opposition leaders to go on hunger strike
20 related stories on Google news

ETHIOPIA: Troops rescue cheetah cubs
141 related stories on Google news

1 Phrase coined, I think, by Ethan Zuckerman, of My Heart's in Accra and the now award-winning Global Voices. Media hacking means something like using blogging and internet statistics to get the inside story on where stories are being read and how they are being used. There are some good examples of the practice here and here.

Posted by aheavens at 6:48 AM

November 25, 2005

I'm off

I'm heading to the UK for a month so posting may be even lighter than normal. I thought I would mention it this time in case anyone thinks I have fallen under a bus or anything like that (see posts below).

Just a quick update on the Addis tension meter which will be moving into the blue band over the weekend as the federal police take over the patrolling of the Great Ethiopian Run.

Posted by aheavens at 3:34 AM

November 16, 2005

A day in the park

DSC0167The gloom that has settled over most people I know in Addis lifted for exactly one hour and 35 minutes over the weekend. The event was an official training morning for the upcoming Great Ethiopian Run, due to take place on Sunday, November 27.

More than 200 people – a mixture of keen ferengis, wannabe Kenenisas, middle aged office workers and street children – took part in mass aerobic sessions and short runs on Janmeda ( a huge piece of open land usually packed with people playing football). There were slow jogs, longer circuits for the faster runners and short dash races for boys and girls under 12. When you added the constant PA announcements and amplified music the whole thing began to feel a bit like an English summer fete.

Everyone was out enjoying yet another gloriously sunny morning with all the worries and tensions of the past few days temporarily left behind them. For me it was a reminder of what life used to be like in Addis Ababa before the election.

All the signs are that the 10k road race is going ahead, despite the general nervousness over large gatherings of people in the capital. A total of 25,000 people have signed up to take part – 5,000 more than last year. It is a great run because it is a genuine mass participation event. A couple of thousand of people normally join in off the street just for the sake of it. It is also organised by Haile Gebrselassie, an inspiring, unifying figure.

If the organisers can pull it off without any incidents, it should be a huge lift for the whole city.

Posted by aheavens at 3:29 PM

November 10, 2005

UK on Addis

Here is some UK coverage of what has been happening over here. I have included some of it in full to get round those pesky subscription barriers.

Violence in Ethiopia leaves Britain facing aid dilemma - The Times Nov 9

TONY BLAIR'S campaign to foster democracy and development in Africa, his great theme of the summer, is threatened by violence in Ethiopia, one of the biggest recipients of British aid.
Michela Wrong - The New Statesman Nov 10 [PDF]

Treason charges against Ethiopian opposition leaders - Financial Times Nov 10 (full text in extended entry)

Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi yesterday said that leaders of the main opposition party would be charged with treason, accusing them of seeking to overthrow his government.

The leadership of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) was detained last week during clashes bet-ween security forces and protesters that killed more than 40.

But in an interview with the Financial Times and the BBC, Mr Meles arguedthat the CUD leaders were not political prisoners.

"What we have detained is people who have tried to overthrow the duly constituted government and that in my view is treason under the laws of the country," he said.

"The agenda of the [CUD] leadership was not kept a secret from anyone; they have made many public statements saying they were going to have what they called a rose revolution here in Ethiopia. In other words, what they said is street action to change government."

Probably "thousands" of people were rounded up by the government, he said, adding that many had already been released.

The CUD, which claims the opposition was cheated of victory in May elections, has insisted it has only advocated peaceful protests, such as a boycott of government products called this week.

Mr Meles did acknowledge the protests were also fuelled by "anger" among the hundreds of thousands of unemployed youths in the capital. He also admitted the election results, which saw opposition groups increase their seats in parliament from about a dozen to more than 170, were a "huge" protest vote against his administration.

However, he defended the use of force by soldiers and police, saying some rioters were armed with machetes and grenades.

"I deeply regret loss of life on both sides," he said. "But given the circumstances where we have violent mobs, organised mobs of unemployed youths, destroying over 100 city buses, burning offices and so on perhaps one can understand inevitably there might have been some losses of life."

Dozens of people were also killed during similar protests in June.

"Parties have to be willing to compromise, but on the basis of the rule of law," Mr Meles said. "These people will have to learn that there is a limit beyond which expression of dissent bec-omes crime."

The violence erupted at a time of growing concern about the stalled peace process that ended Ethiopia's border war with Eritrea, and fears the conflict could be reignited.

Mr Meles said Eritrea might seek to take advantage of Ethiopia's domestic turmoil, but said his government would "not respond to any provocations from Eritrea short of total invasion of our country".

Posted by aheavens at 2:33 PM

The news is ... there is still no news

Anyone arriving in the centre of Addis Ababa today might assume that everything had returned to normal. The traffic is a little quieter than usual. But the taxis are back. The blue "line-cab" minibuses are back. Most of the shops are open. The tension levels have also decreased from red (armed special forces) at the height of the troubles to blue (armed federal police) earlier this week to mostly khaki (regular police) with shades of blue today.

The one glaring difference on the streets is the continued lack of newspapers. Fortune managed a good but thin edition on Sunday. The Reporter has come out at least twice (although when I passed a news stand, the seller only had one copy which he was lending out to passing customers for a few minutes at a time.)

But none of the usual Amharic tabloids. Could this announcement have anything to do with it? The state-owned Ethiopian Herald has been publishing mug-shots of people wanted by the authorities, including the following:

Fasil Yenealem (publisher/editor of Addis Zena)
Sisay Agena (publisher of Ethiop)
Eskinder Nega (owner of Menelik) and Zerkalem Fasil (publisher of Menelik)
Dereje Habtewold (editor of Netsannet) and Zakarias Tesfaye (publisher of Netsannet)

News, as I have said, is a little thin on the ground. So I will just have to pass on the uncorroborated rumour that all of the above voluntarily turned themselves in yesterday.

UPDATE: Voice of America's Amharic service here must also be getting a little nervous. The state-controlled Walta Information Centre has just reported that unnamed "Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia" have accused VOA of "inciting violence, encouraging civil strife, hatred and anarchy in Ethiopia".

Apparently these unnamed "Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia" will be holding a protest outside VOA's offices in Washington DC on November 14. it will be interesting to see who turns up. (VOA's last lot of Amharic correspondents had their press accreditation seized after reporting on the June unrest.)

Posted by aheavens at 10:02 AM

November 8, 2005

The latest news is ... there is no news

One body of journalists is managing to get some of the news out - the students at Addis Ababa University's School of Journalism and Communication. Here's their latest feature.

Posted by aheavens at 12:30 PM

The state-owned intro

Somewhere in some far-flung corner of the developing world there must be an international school for the training of journalists employed by state-controlled newspapers. And every morning of every day must begin with the mass recitation of: "Government leader A met government leader B to discuss matters of mutual interest. Government leader B reaffirmed his commitment to provide support for the realisation of ideas forwarded by Government leader A."

It is the archetypal state-owned intro, drummed into the head of every government hack. (An intro is the all-important first paragraph of an article which, unless you write for The Guardian, is supposed to sum up the main points of a story in no more than 25 words.)

In a state-owned intro you get just enough information to remind you that your leader is holding lots of meetings with lots of important people, but not enough information to find out what they actually discussed.

I have seen it word-for-word in state papers across Africa and the Middle East. Today it was good to see it alive and well in Addis Ababa.

After a week of killings, street protests and mass arrests across the country, this was today's lead story in The Ethiopian Herald:

Meles back home after attending Germany-Africa Partnership Forum

Addis Ababa - The Germany-Africa Partnership Forum meeting, initiated by President Horst Koehler, has concluded reaching common understanding on various issues. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi who attended the Forum returned home early yesterday...

In a press conference they gave at the conclusion of the Forum, the leaders expressed their conviction that the Forums to be organized in the future would help forge real and tangible partnership between African and European countries as well as Africa and the developed countries.

The real stories - with slightly sharper intros - cropped up "below the fold" at the bottom of the front page. Here is a random selection to give you an idea of the messages coming out of official sources.

Changing gov't by street violence is treason, says Premier Addis Ababa - Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said changing government by street action is treason under the Ethiopian law.

Federal Police say begin begin bringing suspects of street violence to justice: Issue list of names, photographs of “wanted” individuals
The Federal Police disclosed that suspects of the street violence including CUD leader Hailu Shawl who have been put under custody for investigation last Monday received trial at the First Criminal Bench of the Federal High Court, during which a request for additional time for investigation was made.

Amhara people should stand against chauvinist propaganda: Chief
The Amhara people should remain active participants in development activities disregarding the propaganda of chauvinists who are striving to re-establish the former dictatorial regime, the Chief of the Amhara State government said.

City gov't warns taxi owners to resume service or face legal measures
The Addis Ababa Provisional Government has warned that it would take measures against taxi owners who continue boycotting to render service.

There are two editorials: "It's like asking the US to get cozy with the TALIBAN" and "What should be done to save our fledgling democracy from hardliners and extremists: Few points for discussion" (surely they mean 'A few points for discussion).

On a more positive note, the Ethiopian News Agency office in Bahir Dar reports on page 2 that 671 of the local, exotic tree seedlings that were transplanted during the "Kiremt" rainy season have now sprouted.

Posted by aheavens at 9:02 AM

November 4, 2005

Eid ul-Fitr in Addis Ababa

daythree2It started at 6.00 or 12.00 Ethiopian time yesterday morning. At least twelve huge explosions from somewhere near our compound rattled the windows and shook books and bric-a-brac on the shelves. Every three or four blasts there was a pause - just long enough for you to think it was all over – then they started again, apparently getting closer.

The phones started ringing as people tried to work out what was going on. The first thought was an artillery bombardment – but there were just the bangs, no whistling shells. Others thought the army was just trying to scare people by firing off huge blanks from their bases around Janmeda. If that was their intention, they were doing a good job.

Out on the streets, a passing worker just shrugged and came up with the real explanation. "It is the Muslims," he said. "They have a big celebration."

Yesterday was the day that Ethiopian Muslims marked the end of their long Ramadan fast with the festival of Eid ul-Fitr. Someone in the Islamic hierarchy had decided that the 12 mortar-style blasts was the best way to kick of a day of joyful celebrations – an interesting choice given the events of the past 48 hours.

The early morning explosions were the first of a series of mixed signals and false alarms that kept stepping up the tension throughout the day. The sound of distant machine gun fire turned out to be a man hammering on a piece of wood. Another mortar blast turned out to be a crash between two metal rubbish carts. Walking down Churchill Road later in the morning, I saw a packed crowd on tens of thousands of young men running up towards the Piazza. At first sight it looked like a re-run of June 8 but on a much larger scale.

A few minutes later I was in the middle of the Eid ul-Fitr celebrations again – vast crowds of young people singing religious songs, dancing and shouting out 'I Love You' to passing ferengis. Three trucks filled with heavily armed red-beret wearing Special Forces came round the corner. The crowd just parted and let them through.

Lots of other people have written about the violence – the killings on the streets, the horrible injuries in the hospitals - over Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Blogs and other online news sources have done a particularly good job – look at Global Voices, Satisfy My Soul (Ego) and Nazret.com. Some of the most shocking stories were about the young people caught up in the violence. Wednesday was without doubt the worst day of all with the sound of real heavy machine gun fire and ambulance sirens coming from all sides.

The part that is most difficult to put into words is the ongoing oppressive feeling of worry and tension that remains even when the soldiers and protesting crowds have gone. It is a tension which has paralysed the whole city and emptied whole districts, shops closed and taxis nowhere to be seen. It is caused by rumours of outrages as much as by the events themselves.

Most of the people I know are staying at home, locked up in their houses and compounds. A few have ventured out to stock up on food, emptying the shelves in Bambis supermarket.

One thing that is not helping is the total absence of news on the streets – except for the official state-owned papers and radio stations. There is not a single private paper on sale today. Arat Kilo, which is normally packed with newspaper hawkers and readers taking turns with each paper, is totally deserted. I have heard plenty of explanations for this strange absence. One local editor told me they had decided not to print this week's edition after hearing bundles of newspapers were being seized at the printing presses.

All we are left with are vague reports of violence on the outskirts of the city or in other towns - everywhere from Arba Minch to Bahir Dar according to the rumours. When you get there, the road is either blocked with soldiers or the storm has passed over leaving only a burned out truck or piles of stones behind it.

The other main presence is the steady stream of Special Forces and federal police, packed into a variety of Armoured Personnel Carriers, gleaming new Humvees and open "technical"-style trucks. Back in June, they just sat in the back of their vehicles, holding their assault rifles upright between their legs. Yesterday you could see them hunched ready in a firing position with their rifle butts steady against their shoulders and their eyes staring down the barrels.

Posted by aheavens at 12:10 PM