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December 30, 2005

Where's the politics?

Lots of you have been posting comments and sending emails over the past week or so, wondering why I haven't been writing about the political situation in Ethiopia recently. Rather than responding to each one, I thought it would be easier to write one of those self-referential, 'blogging about blogging' posts to explain everything.

The main reason why I am not writing much about the political situation in Ethiopia right now is that I am not in Ethiopia right now. I am currently in the UK, doing a few family-related things. As I can't see the situation in Addis first hand, I can't really write about it.

Secondly, this isn't really a political blog. I have yet to publish a single political opinion on Meskel Square - beyond the contentious claim that child malnutrition is a bad thing. If you want pro-EPRDF rants, go to the Hmbasha Commentary Page. If you want pro-CUD rants, go just about anywhere else online. If you want badly-spelled entries from an occasionally-employed freelance journalist, stay here.

Finally, if you really think that I am trying to "divert the main critical issue in Ethiopia" by writing about malaria rather than other people's reports of student uprisings, then there is one simple thing you can do. Stop posting comments here and start you own, better blog. You can set up a blog for free - and anonymously - here and here.

Posted by aheavens at 7:55 AM

So you think you know about Africa?

Then try the end-of-year quiz just posted by Ethan Zuckerman of BlogAfrica, GlobalVoices and My Heart's in Accra.

I thought I knew all about Africa until I scored well below the required 60% on my first go. (It was particularly embarrassing as I contributed one of the questions - try and guess which one.)

Posted by aheavens at 7:31 AM

December 29, 2005

Malaria undercover

Malaria.jpgMalaria infects up to 5 million Ethiopians every year, most of them children under five, according to UNICEF [PDF]. Here is how it is getting away with it.

Scientists lift malaria's cloak of invisibility - Howard Hughes Medical Institute Dec 28

The world's deadliest malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, sneaks past the human immune system with the help of a wardrobe of invisibility cloaks. If a person's immune cells learn to recognize one of the parasite's many camouflage proteins, the surviving invaders can swap disguises and slip away again to cause more damage.

It is currently boom time for malaria researchers like the Howard Hughes Medical Institute - thanks to the billions of dollars flowing into the field from Bill Gates, the Global Fund and co.

At the moment, the scientists seem to be spending a lot of that money on calling malaria names - finding news ways to describe just how sneaky it is. Above, we have malaria as the master of disguise. A few days ago, boffins from India and France were calling it a blood cell-busting sneak thief. This time last year, malaria was the interior designer from hell. More recently, we have discovered its ability to beat the strongest anti-malaria drug on the market, its undermining of Africans' natural defences against infection and its new alliance with HIV/Aids.

A quick scan through the invaluable EurekaAlert shows that there is also lots of positive research going on. Apparently, we could have something like an effective vaccine as early as 2015.

Posted by aheavens at 7:33 AM

December 25, 2005

If you can, have a merry ferengi Christmas

And a happy ferengi New Year

Posted by aheavens at 7:34 AM

December 24, 2005

Thanksgiving for African blogs

Jewels in the Jungle welcomes my article on the Ethiopian blogosphere, then improves on it.

Posted by aheavens at 5:22 AM

December 23, 2005

VOA - from devil worship to treason

Those Voice of America (VOA) journalists get worse and worse. Apparently they have moved on from devil worship to treason.

Meanwhile, the lead story on the government-controlled Ethiopian Herald keeps us up to date with news that really matters.

Premier says Ethiopia Keen to strengthen cooperation with Slovakia

Addis Ababa - Prime Minister Meles Zenawi indicated that Ethiopia is desirous to enhancing its cooperation with Slovakia in the economic and other fields.

During talks with Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan in his office yesterday, Prime Minister Meles expressed Ethiopia's readiness to further enhance its bilateral cooperation with Slovakia in the economic, political, education, culture and other spheres.

The piece doesn't say it, but I assume they also discussed matters of mutual interest.

Posted by aheavens at 11:18 AM

Ethiopia in the Mirror

Yesterday's Daily Mirror had a good illustration of how Ethiopia is still seen in the UK.

Newspapers here have been covering a horrific case of child abuse in Sheffield, a city in what used to be England's industrial heartland. A couple were jailed for neglecting their five young children, leaving them in squalid conditions and almost starving them to death. Here's the Mirror piece:

Ignored to death

...One of the children - a 13-month-old twin boy - had just hours to live when an ambulance was finally called. He was even passing live fly maggots into his nappy.

And police officers were almost sick when they entered the house in Sheffield, such was the horror of the sight that greeted them. One said: "It was more Ethiopia than Sheffield."

The next time I write about Ethiopia's ongoing child malnutrition crisis (which is still ongoing) maybe I should use the phrase "in conditions reminiscent of a Sheffield council house..."

Posted by aheavens at 10:37 AM

December 20, 2005

Su Doku sidetrack

250px-Sudoku-by-L2G-20050714.gifSorry, this is going to be horribly off-topic. (What do you expect? It's a blog.)

But, like the rest of the world, I have been caught up in the Su Doku craze. (If you are the last person who hasn't, here is the Wikipedia entry.)

The thing I enjoy most about them is their clarity and simplicity. There are about three Su Doku-solving techniques that you need to learn or pick up for yourself. After that, as long as you apply them systematically, even the 'fiendish' ones they publish in the Times unravel eventually. (The 'killer' ones without any numbers at all in the grid are a different matter all together.)

You are not proving anything by solving a Su Doku (as opposed to crosswords where you prove your powers of lateral thinking, general knowledge and vocabulary by finishing a puzzle). You are simply enjoying the slow and inevitable countdown to a solution.

Su Doku publishers have done their best to highlight this selling point. Many puzzles in the US are apparently published next to the slogan "No math required".

That is not the same thing as "no math involved". The American Scientist has just published a fascinating article by Brian Hayes titled Unwed Numbers: The mathematics of Sudoku. It describes how mathematicians around the world are finding extra levels of interest in the humble Su Doku. I am no mathematician so you will have to read it for yourself to find out exactly what they are doing.

What they are not doing is creating a different level of Su Doku puzzle for clever people. The mathematicians seem to be enjoying the simplicity of them like anyone else. They are working out exactly what sort of puzzles they are, how to classify them, what happens if you add more squares, what happens if you take some away. The essential clarity of the puzzles is left untouched.

One downside to that clarity is that you know that a computer will always be able to beat you hands down. As Brian Hayes says:

...competing against a computer in Sudoku is never going to be much fun. Does that ruin the puzzle for the rest of us? In moments of frustration, when I'm struggling with a recalcitrant diabolical, the thought that the machine across the room could instantly sweep away all my cobwebs of logic is indeed dispiriting. I begin to wonder whether this cross-correlation of columns, rows and blocks is a fit task for the human mind. But when I do make a breakthrough, I take more pleasure in my success than the computer would.

His article also clears up the misconception that Su Doku puzzles are Japanese. Publishers like The Times have made a lot of the puzzles' alleged Far Eastern origin, giving them a kind of Zen aura. But it turns out the first one was designed by Howard Garns, an architect from Indianapolis who died in 1989.

Posted by aheavens at 8:09 AM

December 16, 2005

Please, someone, make it stop

Paul Henze response to Prof. Clapham - Dec 13

Comment On Professor Clapham's Response To Dr. Tekeda - Dec 12

Prof. Clapham's response to Dr. Tekeda Alemu - Dec 5

Open Letter to Professor Clapham - Nov 19

Comments on Comments - Nov 18

Comments on the Ethiopian crisis - Nov 18
(The article that started it all)

Weichegud! ET Politics blogs on the exchange, then adds her own response to Paul Henze's comments on the diaspora during his 'Response to Prof. Clapham'.

So back to the question: What is the role of Diasporan Ethiopians? To me it is to tell the story. Period. It is not to legislate Ethiopia from thousands of miles away. It is not to dictate the manifestos of the opposition. And it is certainly not to be kingmakers. Those of us who have shamefully skirted our responsibility so far can't think we can make up for that transgression by swinging to the other side of the pendulum and be shrill adversaries. And... lest we forget, we owe a hell of a lot to those who paved the way for us, and were doing Ethiopian politics when Ethiopian politics was not cool.

Will it ever end.

Posted by aheavens at 6:35 AM

Remembering the red terror

Carpe Diem Ethiopia, the newest of the new arrivals on the Ethiopian blogging scene, remembers the red terror.

I stood under the old pine trees and stared at the kill-zone through the green bars of the school's fence. It was lunchtime and the high green-coated fence provided an artificial enclosure from the killing fields Addis Ababa had become. To those looking into the school, they saw a nappy dark-skinned kid with a thousand-mile stare. I was just a keremt away from turning ten, lived for football, kung-fu flicks, marbles, and dreaming about Tigist, the thumb-sucking little teacher's pet that sat in the front of the class and who occasionally stole glances at me through her long, curly-eyelashes. But on that day, I needed to ponder my father's comments from the night before.

And here's our new motto - 'Every morning, another new blog'.

Posted by aheavens at 5:38 AM

Taking action

Good to see that Aqumada didn't sit still after being stopped by British police who had spotted him being black in Waterloo station. (See earlier entries on Aqumada and Meskel Square).

I have written the British Home Office a complaint letter and they have responded saying that an investigation into the incident is being conducted. Those of us who have run into such unfortunate situations should not sit quietly. Voice your complaint. It is the only way to stop such unfair treatments.

The blog also links to another questionable stop and search in France.

Posted by aheavens at 5:13 AM

Working 9 to 12 - with a tea break in the middle

Want to find out how an average government worker spends their day? Read deli[log]ue.

Posted by aheavens at 5:02 AM

December 15, 2005

The best banners in the business

banner 70.jpg

I have just found ethiopundit's not-so-secret stash of banners. Insert your favourite Ali G-style expression of admiration here.

My favourites are the Coke bottle and the coffee cup. See what you are missing, you RSS-only readers.

Posted by aheavens at 7:43 AM

December 14, 2005

Global Voices Part 2

72076061_48add05859_m.jpgHere is a list of random highlights of the Global Voices London Summit that I will add to from time to time:

  1. Sitting in a room all day with Oscar-winning actor Richard Dreyfuss and not recognising him. This really draws a line under the debate over whether bloggers are journalists. The answer is clearly - they are not. Journalists are supposed to notice this kind of thing. The Guardian's Jane Perrone certainly did.

  2. Meeting bloggers face to face, particularly Ory Okolloh of Kenya Pundit (see picture taken by Beth Kanter) who I have read for ages. We were both recorded having a conversation about the times when you just don't want to blog by Ben Walker of the Theory of Everything which should be published as a podcast soon.

  3. Finding out about the new centres of world blogging - Cambodia, Jordan, China and India.

  4. No PowerPoint presentations. A conference first.

Posted by aheavens at 6:36 AM

The khat ban cometh

It looks like there is a growing movement to ban khat in the UK. I always thought it was odd that something that was outlawed as a Class 1 narcotic in the US was on sale in supermarkets in Great Britain.

Whatever the rights and wrongs, a ban could rob Ethiopian khat farmers of a highly profitable export route. According to an article in today's East African:

There is a good profit in selling khat in the UK with leaves being sold at around $6.8 for a 250 gramme bunch in supermarkets in London, Birmingham, Bristol and Sheffield, where most of the East African and Middle Eastern communities that use the drug live.

And here's another article in South London's Streatham Guardian - Community leaders call for Khat to be made illegal.

There are supposed to be all sorts of health risks attached to khat from heart complaints to psychological problems. But I can't believe it does any more damage than alcohol. Does anyone know why the US has got so excited about it? Is it anything to do with their traumatic time in Somalia when the popular press characterised the warlords they were fighting as "khat-chewing freaks"?

And, more importantly, how do you spell it? Khat, chat or qat?

Posted by aheavens at 5:43 AM

December 13, 2005

Ethiopia and the Global Corruption Barometer

Image9.gifFor the first time, Ethiopia has been included in Transparency International's annual Global Corruption Barometer – the organisation's attempt at keeping track of corruption levels across the world. (Here are some links to the full 29-page PDF report.)

I was surprised at the relatively high figures that came up in some of the corruption categories for the country. Perhaps I am naïve, but I have never thought of Ethiopia as a corrupt place.

A couple of years ago, we were on a two-part African holiday with one week in Cameroon sandwiched between stopover stays in Addis Ababa (we were tourists back then).

The contrast could not have been more extreme. Twenty minutes out of Cameroon's Douala airport, we were stopped by highway police who practically demanded a bribe at gunpoint. They dreamt up some traffic misdemeanour (apparently our friends' dog didn't have the right travel papers) and suggested we sort it all out by giving them a "present". Over the next few days this happened again and again. The expats out there treated it as a kind of joke, an occupational hazard of life as a Cameroonian ferengi. Business deals, government paperwork, airport customs could all be helped along with a little present.

It created an overall feeling of menacing tension which completely evaporated the moment we landed at Addis' Bole airport. In the year and a bit that I have lived in Addis, I have never been asked for a bribe. Also, no one I know would ever dream of offering one. You get the feeling the official in question would report you in a second.

The Transparency International report actually does have some good things to say about Ethiopia and corruption:

Of the eight African countries covered in the Barometer, five take an optimistic view, especially Nigeria and Ethiopia, where about half the respondents feel that corruption will decrease in the next three years.

That, of course, begs the question of Ethiopia's corruption levels right now. Here are the findings of the report relating to Ethiopia extracted by me after extensive analysis. (I used the technique of typing 'Ethiopia' into the Acrobat search box and pressing 'Go'.)

Regarding the more traditional government institutions, respondents listed the taxation authorities as constituting the gravest cause for concern. While only Ethiopia and Turkey rate their taxation agencies as the most corrupt, the public in a range of Asian and Latin American countries indicated significant levels of concern regarding this institution…

However, corruption also extends into the business world, as seen by the comparatively poor overall ranking of the private sector. Indeed, the private sector is seen as one of the three most corrupt institutions in Western Europe. Citizens from Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway, as well as those from Hong Kong, Singapore, and Ethiopia signalled business groups and the private sector as institutions that are most affected by corruption…

While the military was not ranked as the most corrupt institution in any country, the ratings of a cross-section of countries, notably in Africa and Latin America, indicate that the integrity of this body is not above reproach. The public in Bolivia, Cameroon, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Nigeria, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Russia, Taiwan, and Togo indicated concerns about the public integrity of their armed forces…

The business environment, while not thought to be as corrupt as political life at a global level, scores very poorly in many countries. This is particularly true in Africa, where at least 50% of respondents in Cameroon, Kenya and Togo believe that corruption affects the business environment to a large extent, and respondents in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya and Togo believed that corruption affects this sphere of life as much or more than either political life or their personal and family life…

corruption_table.GIFA majority of citizens in Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, India, Mexico, Nigeria, Peru and Paraguay stated that a bribe had been directly asked of them. Approximately half of respondents from Moldova, Pakistan, Cameroon, Kenya, Ghana and Ethiopia said the same.

Thanks to a bit of alphabetical luck, figures showing perceived corruption levels in Ethiopia are actually listed next to the findings about Cameroon in one of the tables at the back. You should see a screen grab of that table above. Click on it to make it larger.

To be honest, despite all the figures, it still doesn't ring true. Perhaps I ought to intensify my research even further, print off the whole report and actually read it cover to cover.

Posted by aheavens at 11:46 AM

Email change

The Financial Times is shutting down its ftnetwork email service - someting that I am sure it once promised never to do. Anyone who wants to email me can use the new address in the top right corner.

Posted by aheavens at 10:57 AM

The sound of young Ethiopia

Just been playing with the new and rather shaky blog search engine Opinmind - and it has opened up a an un-tapped corner of the Ethiopian blogosphere - un-tapped by me that is.

It has done this by searching blogs hosted by LiveJournal and Xanga, services predominantly used by younger bloggers. It makes a nice change from the vitriolic politics of the country's grown-up online dialogue.

Here is Ethiopian girl

oh anywayz ethiopian day was sooooo soooo cool omg i <3 ed it . the performance turned out great. 1,250 pple showed up on da first day& idk bout tha second day. but im deff. doin' tha next yr. i wish i took pics but their are videoz. i saw alot of fine abeshazz. & of course i saw him.

And here is Catty Cabbages

In other news, Ethiopian food is very very good. Also, Ethiopia is supposed to have the highest concentration of beautiful people on earth. And they defeated the Italian army when armed with bows and arrows as opposed to guns. Obviously, this is the place to be.

I won't be checking up on them very often - there is something a little creepy about a 35-year-old guy listening in on the conversations of teenagers. But it was refreshing to find them nonetheless.

Posted by aheavens at 10:23 AM

Global Voices Part 1

DSC0005More than 90 bloggers and mainstream hacks are sitting in one of Reuters' streamlined conference rooms in Canary Wharf, London.

At the front someone is standing with a microphone, having their say about the state of the global blogosphere, making points, taking questions, asking some questions of their own. That is conversation number one at the Global Voices London Summit '05 - organised by Global Voices - "the leading online portal and guide to international blogs beyond North America and Western Europe".

All around me, delegates are typing into their laptops while the speaker speaks, blogging on the conference as it happens, commenting on the speaker and keeping their readers up to date around the world. That is conversation number two.

One woman to my left is speed-typing every word that comes out of the speaker's mouth, providing a live blog transcription for anyone tuned in. The session chairman is writing a list of bullet points on to a screen projected at the front of the room, summing up the main points of the speaker's speech as she makes them. The bottom of the screen is also displaying a live IRC chat about the state of the conference's sound system – "It's distorting", "How's that, any better?", "It's still too loud".

Behind me another woman is keeping track of messages and questions coming in from bloggers listening in around the world. She occasionally breaks into the session, putting the questions to the speaker and typing back the replies. When you go out of the room for a 'comfort break', there are at least three guys with microphones waiting to interview you for their online radio shows about what you think about what you just heard.

Those are conversations number three, four, five, six and seven. And I haven't even mentioned the email list serv, the planned release of the entire conference as a collection of MP3 files or the post conference brainstorm wiki.

This is all probably old hat to those of you who spend your lives trekking from blogging conference to blogging conference. But this was my first one and it was all a little dazzling.

It would have been easy for all that technology to have over-powered the point of the conference - to get bloggers from different corners of the world together in one room. There is always that risk in getting carried away with IT. You can get so obsessed with the gear that you end up being that uncle at a family wedding who spends his whole time behind his video camera, missing the actual celebration.

But the impressive thing about all the communications technologies at Global Voices was that they all added something to the event. The main conference was a success; it was useful to watch a live bullet point list building up; the radio shows were fun; the live transcript is proving to be an invaluable resource now that memories are starting to get a little hazy and it was nice to know that someone was taking care of the microphone distortion.

Posted by aheavens at 8:21 AM

December 12, 2005

ARTICLE: Beating the Beeb

Here's an article I did on Ehiopian blogging for the latest edition of the BBC Focus on Africa Magazine.

It is already horribly out of date. No mention of aqumada, deli[log]ue, ET Blogs & Diaries or Things I Should Have Written Down.


Beating the Beeb

By Andrew Heavens in Addis Ababa

The first news update appeared at 10.30am, just over an hour after shots started ringing out in Addis Ababa's crowded open air market the Merkato.

"I was in a taxi on the way to Central Bus station," wrote one unnamed correspondent. "The driver got stopped, and then the soldiers arrived immediately. They took him out of the cabin. I do not know what he did wrong. They beat him hard and threw him over the police truck."

Later that afternoon, a woman called Mimi posted her story: "I was shopping in Merkato with my friend. All of a sudden I heard people screaming and running around me.

"I was in a state of panic for a while and my friend started to pull me towards her. Then we started running as fast as we could with live bullets flying past us. With the confusion I lost my friend. Now I don't know where she is."

These eye-witness accounts of Ethiopia's November unrest did not come from Reuters, Associated Press or even the BBC World Service. They came from a small but growing set of citizen journalists - Ethiopia's emerging band of bloggers.

Blogging - the practice of keeping a journal-style website with dated entries - has been all the rage across Europe and the United States since the turn of the millennium.

Up until recently, Sub-Saharan Africa has been little more than a blip on the world's blogging map (with switched-on South Africa as the obvious exception). The relative scarcity of affordable internet access and the physical distance from the Western epicenre of the online world made blogging an elite pastime for expatriates inside the continent and diaspora students outside it.

But the situation is starting to change. Ethiopia is a case in point. At the end of last year you could count the number of blogs coming out of Addis Ababa on one hand. If you were looking for blogs written by native Ethiopians, a couple of fingers would have done.

In the past few months, however, the Ethiopian blogging scene has started to blossom, slowly but surely. Part of the reason is the slow but sure spread of internet infrastructure across the country. Another part of the reason is the number of seismic events that have taken place since its May elections - events that have given people a lot to talk about.

The elections themselves have acted as a powerful recruiting sergeant for the blogging community.

"We are looking for Bloggers especially from Addis to blog on events in Ethiopia. Please contact us for details," wrote the editor of Nazret.com, whose 'Live From Addis Ababa' blog collected the eyewitness accounts quoted above.

In recent months, the stalwarts of the Ethiopian blogging world - chief among them ethiopundit - have been joined by a whole range of online upstarts among them Weichegud! ET Politics, Satisfy My Soul (Ego) and Friends of Ethiopia - all of whom use the conveniently free and anonymous Blogger platform for their online musings.

Similar stories are unfolding across Africa. One website doing its best to keep track of the new explosion is BlogAfrica.com, which lists the entries of around 100 of the best read African blogs from Cairo to Cape Town.

That is a fraction of the estimated global 'blogosphere' (blog tracking company Technorati earlier this year estimated there were currently 14 million blogs online across the world). But it can still produce a sizable flood of copy for anyone trying to read everything coming out of the continent.

"It can be a bit overwhelming," said Ethan Zuckerman, one of the people behind BlogAfrica on his own weblog ..."My Heart's in Accra".

"But it's a great overview of the conversations taking place in and around Africa."

Zuckerman, a Resident Fellow specializing in impact of technology on the developing world at Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School in the US, is also one of the main drivers behind Global Voices
- an even more ambitious project to follow interesting blogs from the whole world, with a focus on countries often overlooked by the mainstream media

In recent months it has covered everything from the Egyptian elections via the blog Big Pharaoh to the opportunities of getting rich on the Nairobi Stock Exchange via the blog African Bullets and Honey.

Zimbabwean Pundit took on planned protests by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) while, on a more personal note, the Nigeria-based, Kid's Doc in Jos blog celebrated the arrival of much needed children's medicine - "A celebration ... the children's medicines we had been awaiting for months had finally arrived. For the past six weeks we've been putting off starting new HIV patients on antiretroviral drugs, because we didn't have a good supply or, in the end, any supply at all."

Beyond that, there have been posts from as far afield as Algeria, Rwanda and Namibia.

Back in Ethiopia, the blog entries keep coming in.

Even before Nazret.com put out its appeal for new bloggers, it had already added AddisFerengi and LondonBlog to its stable of Ethiopian-centred websites. Even newer blogs that sprung to people's attention reporting on the November violence included Un ferengi a Addis and Ethiopian Paradox.

Hardly a revolution just yet. But the Ethiopian blog count has already started moving beyond fingers and thumbs.

Posted by aheavens at 10:24 PM

December 9, 2005

Afar to secede - in 5046

Geologists witness 'ocean birth' - BBC science unit, San Francisco

Scientists say they have witnessed the possible birth of a future ocean basin growing in north-eastern Ethiopia.

The team watched an 8m rift develop in the ground in just three weeks in the Afar desert region last September.

It is one small step in a long-term split that is tearing the east of the country from the rest of Africa and should eventually create a huge sea.

Well, at least Ethiopia will get its coastline.

Posted by aheavens at 6:15 AM

December 8, 2005

Everything to lose

Today's (London) Times has a strongly worded editorial (op-ed) on the growing tension on the Ethiopian/Eritrean border.

Everything to lose

...A return to war would be disastrous. The Horn of Africa is one of the poorest parts of the world. Drought and natural disasters have aggravated the mismanagement and tyranny of past dictatorship. The two-year indiscriminate slaughter across the barren frontier, an African version of 1914 trench warfare, cost an estimated $1 million a day, and set back hopes for a generation. This must not happen again.

In totally unrelated news, the jourmalists arrested after the violence are starting to receive their sentences.

Posted by aheavens at 5:40 AM

December 7, 2005

An Ethiopian at Waterloo

Another day, another great Ethiopian blog. Aqumada includes an account from an Ethiopian travelling on a US passport through Waterloo, one of the main train stations in my country's capital city London.

I and another black African man were the only ones that I noticed were stopped at this checkpoint. Other nationals were neither stopped nor asked many questions while going through the checkpoint. A lone black traveller, however, does not have the same rights as other white travellers. The questions in the interrogation room mainly focused on my cultural and racial identity. Many ridiculous questions such as what my religion was and whether I go to the mosque were posed. Although irritating and embarrassing, I had to answer the questions in a way that would distance me from the stereotypical image of a terrorist (Arab and Muslim). At one point, one of the cops suggested that he remembered arresting me the previous week (a week I was not even in Britain). Not being able to control my anger, I lashed out at the police officers. Although he retreated from this question, I was probed via intentionally constructed misleading questions intended to find out whether I was an Eritrean/Muslim/Somali etc. I believe the fact that two Somali men (still at large) killed a British Police Officer during the previous week and the recent bombing incident that an Ethiopian man was involved in did not help.

The way he was treated is enough to make any self-respecting Briton ashamed. It is also deeply embarrassing. It doesn't say much about the intelligence of Britain's intelligence services that they think that randomly stopping black people at train stations actually makes us any safer. Is the next Osama really going to crumble after a couple of hours of good-cop-bad-cop routines and some random questions about mosque attendance?

Posted by aheavens at 6:40 AM

December 6, 2005

And now for some really bad news

You have to admire its resilience. The ever-resourceful malaria parasite is already finding a way round Artemisinin, widely thought to be the strongest existing anti-malaria treatment, according to this report in Scidev.net.

There is no cause for immediate panic in Ethiopia. The Artemisinin that is currently being imported into the country is being used in combination with other treatments as an "artemisinin-based combination therapy" (ACT - commercial brand name 'Coartem') which has so far not given in to the parasite.

But, according to Ronan Jambou, who led the team which discovered the vulnerability at the Pasteur Institute in Dakar, Senegal, the news suggests Coartem's shelf life is limited. According to the SciDev report:

He [added] that the parasite's resistance to artemisinin should be carefully monitored to avoid a repetition of what happened with chloroquine.

"Forty years separated the first description of chloroquine resistance from its withdrawal. We think that we have time [to avoid widespread resistance] if we use these compounds carefully."

The malaria arms race continues.

Posted by aheavens at 8:15 AM

US tourists speak out

State-run news organisations are often criticised for spending too much of their time reporting the views of prime ministers and other senior politicians. With that in mind, it is good to see the Ethiopian News Agency (ENA) extending its range with another group of interview subjects - anonymous American tourists.

This story appeared on most of Ethiopia's state-controlled websites last week before being re-printed word-for-word by China's ever-friendly news service Xinhua yesterday.

US tourists willing to promote Ethiopian tourism - Xinhua Dec 5

Several US tourists, who recently visited sites in northern Ethiopia, on Saturday pledged to promote the attractions in Ethiopia among the people in their country.

Expressing readiness to attract more tourists to Ethiopia, the US tourists also indicated the need for Ethiopia to add on the tourism infrastructure and improve tourist facilities in order to draw increased benefits from its remarkable attractions.

The US tourists said they would lure fellow citizens to come to Ethiopia, which they said have a lot to offer for international tourists.

They said they wanted to come again to Ethiopia by organizing tourists' groups to explore the country's numerous attractions.

There is something almost poignant about the headline and intro which basically say – look, this is news, several American tourists are prepared to say something nice about Ethiopia's tourist attractions. (It reminds me of a front page story printed in the now defunct Addis Tribune earlier this year - Ethiopian Cardiac Specialist Performs Successful Operation - look, this is news, he performed a successful operation.)

Back on November 20, ENA found another anonymous group of US tourists willing to say something positive to its reporters. Remarkably, they had very similar views to the December 5 lot.

Tourists Speak of Prevailing Peace in Ethiopia to Visit Historical Sites - The Ethiopian Herald Nov 20

US tourists who travelled recently to the various historical and scenic spots in Ethiopia said there is a reliable peace and stability to visit tourist attractions in Ethiopia...

The tourists said when they return home, they would publicize Ethiopia as a hub of ancient Christianity and encourage various people to visit and explore the various age-old assets the country is endowed with.

The tourist, nonetheless, complained about poor infrastructure facilities, like roads in some areas as well as receptions at some hotels.

wojela_meket_12You can be as cynical as you like about the ENA's transparent attempt to plant some upbeat stories about Ethiopian tourism with the above articles. But these pieces underline a real and growing anxiety about a severe drop-off in Ethiopia's tourism revenues following the outbreaks of violence in June and November.

Tourism operators lost tens of thousands of dollars worth of business just from the trips that were cancelled in early November. In the days after the violence, flights were coming into Addis Ababa airport with just a handful of passengers. The report of a tourist bus being stoned in Bahir Dar (a report which was later denied) was particularly damaging. The decision by the UK government to change its travel advice on Ethiopia to essential trips only can't have made things easier. (That advice has now been 'relaxed' to extreme vigilance.)

The tragic thing is that the ENA government hack was spot on when he wrote:

The total number of international tourist arrivals in Ethiopia, although growing, is by no means commensurate with the potentials of the country's attractions. The present constraints to growth are identified largely as shortage of tourist facilities and limited promotion.

It is without a doubt that Ethiopia will one day have a tourism industry to rival anything in Egypt or Kenya. Just look at the above photo of the view at Mequat Mariam Community Tourism Camp run by TESFA (Tourism in Ethiopia for Sustainable Future Alternatives). That is just a day's walk from Lalibela, the eighth wonder of the world, and a day's drive from Bahir Dar - the pace that all those bearded Victorian explorers spent their lives trying to find - the source of the Blue Nile.

In the meantime, these few friendly US tourists are going to have to do an awful lot of luring and promoting over the next few months to attract anywhere near enough visitors to be "commensurate with the potentials of the country's attractions".

Posted by aheavens at 7:42 AM

Photo of the year

70578983_acd2b1f013_m.jpgThanks again to Nazret.com for the link to this incredible story from The Capital Times, Madison, Wisconsin, USA. If they haven't already got one, the Ethiopian National Ski Federation needs to form a fan club or a supporters' association. I would join. They could make milllions on the merchandising alone.

For Ethiopian, the ski's the limit

As a boy growing up in Ethiopia, Robel Teklemariam was always drawn to the mountains. So it was only natural that when he moved to Lake Placid, N.Y., at age 12 he fell in love with skiing.

Now, Teklemariam is poised to become the first Ethiopian ski racer to ever compete in the Olympics.

"I have a shot. The people I know say that I have a shot," Teklemariam, 31, said by phone Sunday after a race in Colorado that put him slightly closer to qualifying for the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy, beginning Feb. 10.

Teklemariam, who has family in Madison and spent last summer working at Fontana Sports Specialties, started planing his Olympic bid three years ago.

It was a complicated effort that included his founding of the Ethiopian National Ski Federation as well as the Ethiopian Ski Team, which so far is an exclusive club of one.

Posted by aheavens at 6:26 AM

December 5, 2005

Ethiopia's agony on Channel 4

04_ethopia_l.jpgThe UK television station Channel 4 has put its special report on 'Ethiopia's Agony' online.

EPRDF supporters will not like its angle, summed up by a report by the same reporter Inigo Gilmore in The Observer - Democratic dawn fades in Ethiopia as abuses come to light. But everyone should watch it for the rare footage of the beginning of the June violence at Addis Ababa University, its interviews with Meles, Hailu and Tim Clarke of the European Commission and some great shots of the Great Ethiopian Run.

If you have a broadband connection, you may be able to watch the report Ethiopia's agony.

Posted by aheavens at 7:58 AM

December 3, 2005

Polio hero

450robert01_teshome.jpgNice profile in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer of Ezra Teshome, an insurance broker who is leading the fight against a new outbreak of polio in Ethiopia and neighbouring countries (thanks to Nazret.com for the link).

Ethiopia was going to be declared a polio-free country last year after logging four years without a case of the disease. Then the first new infection was recorded in Tigray in December 2004. Analysis showed that it had spread all the way from northern Nigeria where polio cases had shot up after local religious leaders ordered people not to take the vaccine in August 2003. (One false rumour spread about the treatment was that it would sterilise them.) Following on from that one misguided order, polio has exploded in Nigeria, re-established a strong hold in Sudan, infected at least 18 children in Ethiopia and started spreading again in Eritrea and Somalia.

Huge progress has been made since the 1980s when entire continents had endemic polio. According to the successful Global Polio Eradication Initiative the number of polio cases worldwide has decreased from 350,000 in 1988, to 1,255 cases in 2004. But the Nigerian failure still amounts to a huge, frustrating set back.

One of the striking things about the current anti-polio campaign is that everyone is being so polite about that setback. No one, as far as I can tell, has officially blamed Nigeria for it. No leaders have shouted at leaders at international conferences. More surprising still, there are no international law suits flaying backwards and forwards between capitals. (Imagine what would have happened if the misguided campaign against the combined Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccine in the UK had resulted in a flare-up of any of those diseases among young children in France or the USA.)

One aid worker I spoke to about it last month came up with a classic liberal mea culpa when he said it wasn't the Nigerian religious leaders who were to blame. It was the aid workers who hadn't done a good enough job educating those leaders about the vaccine who were really at fault. That was all very nice and liberal. But I am sure a good international lawyer could still ask why those religious leaders did not stop to check the facts for themselves before ordering mothers not to protect their babies against a crippling disease.

In the meantime it is good to know that people like Ezra Teshome are out there helping to repair the damage. According to the SPi article, he does most of his anti-polio work through Rotary International which is asking for support for its PolioPlus campaign here.

Posted by aheavens at 4:41 AM