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January 31, 2006

Funky headlines

Say what you like about Ethiopia's state journalists - but they sure know how to write a funky headline.

Earlier this month they gave us Gondar ain't your mama's fool no more. Today we have Idiot Savant, and it ain't no Rain Man.

Things get even wilder when you read the words underneath them. I particularly enjoyed today's call on CUD supporters to:

Please stop denigrating; be it with Mandela or Hitler, it is extremely troubling when people draw comparisons with history's majestic and humiliated individuals, respectively.

Posted by aheavens at 8:38 AM

Three headlines

Here are three headlines that stopped me in my tracks this morning.

Ethiopia indefinitely bans exports of four kinds of food crops - Ethiopian News Agency (ENA)

Ethiopia bans indefinitely any exports of Teff, an indigenous staple grain, maize, sorghum and wheat, the Ministry of Trade and Industry said.

The ban came after the recent rise in the prices of the grains due to various reasons, the Ministry told ENA on Monday.

Inflated prices on these grains will put pressures on the consumer public, while the Ministry is duty bound to stabilize the market, the Ministrys statement said.

It said in spite of increase over the past year in the amount of harvest involving the listed grains, exports of the food crops and smuggling them out of the country in some cases were among the causes for the price hike.

Hence the need to ban exports of the crops indefinitely, it said, and called on banks and customs to take the necessary measures to implement the ban.

I'm no economist, but I thought exports were generally a good thing - or at least a neutral thing. Will banning exports of native grains really bring local prices down? Or will it damage local grain producers by cutting off their small amount of foreign income, thereby piling extra pressure on to the domestic market? You tell me. I only got a 'C' in my economics O' Level.

[Students of state journalism, by the way, should note a textbook use of the phrase "due to various reasons" when explaining complex market movements and government decisions. We are building up quite a lexicon here. Leaders meet to "discuss matters of mutual interest" and key things happen "due to various reasons".]

In totally unrelated news, the very next item on the ENA's agenda this morning reports that "The Kombolcha Textile Factory Share Company established in Southern Wollo Zone of the Amhara State said it has been striving to improve the quality of its products in a bid to secure 39 million Birr foreign currency during the current fiscal year." Let's hope, for Kombolcha's sake, that there is no corresponding hike in domestic textile prices.

Internet reporter held without charge in Ethiopia - CPJ Press Freedom Online

Ethiopian security forces have detained a correspondent for the U.S.-based Web site Ethiopian Review , its publisher Elias Kifle said today. Journalist Frezer Negash has been held without charge in Addis Ababa since Friday, Kifle told the Committee to Protect Journalists.

So they do keep track of what is being said online.

Court orders death sentence for police officer in killing of students - Sub-Saharan Informer

An Ethiopian court on Tuesday ordered the death sentence for a police officer who shot and killed two students in Ambo town, 130 kilometers west of Addis Ababa, a high-ranking court official told SSI.

Deputy Sergeant Girma Gezahagn, police officer in the Regional Police, shot Gagema Bedane and Kebede Bedane dead at 22:30 when a school shift was taking place on November 9, 2005, just one week after a second episode of street violence in Addis Ababa resulted in the deaths of at least 36 demonstrators.

Later on in the story we hear "the court decision also decreed that the media, both private and state-owned, should disseminate the judgment among the people of Ethiopia for their information". So that is what I am doing.

Posted by aheavens at 7:02 AM

January 28, 2006

Parris back in Addis

Apparently Mathew Parris of the (London) Times is paying us a visit - again.

[From Government by doodle: are our elected leaders out of their tiny minds? - The Times 28/01/06]

I'VE GONE TO Ethiopia. As you read this I am following camels on their annual journey down from the Highlands of Abyssinia into the Danakil Depression where the animals are led in trains to be loaded with slabs of rock-salt chiselled from the edge of the lake in the desert. Temperatures exceed 110F. Flies will torment me. Sulphur dioxide from acid-yellow vents beside the lake will irritate lungs and throat. I shall have no more than a jug of water to wash in every day. And I shall be among the ferocious Afar, the native tribe who were described by the explorer Nesbitt as wearing necklaces of the desiccated scrotums of all the men they had killed.

This I have freely chosen. It will all - the flies, the heat, the dust and even the necklaces - be paradise when compared with the alternative: to stay beneath the grim skies of Britain awaiting the next fatuous initiative from Downing Street. No sulphurous vent in the Abyssinian desert ever spouted worse.

I guess you could just about call that an endorsement of Ethiopia as a tourist destination. But I can't see them putting it on a poster any time soon.

Posted by aheavens at 7:34 AM

Undercover ferengis

You've got to find your humour where you can in Addis these days. That's probably why this ENA report claiming ferengi journalists were sneaking into city hositals "in disguise" really cheered me up this morning. Try and picture it.

Posted by aheavens at 7:09 AM

January 25, 2006

RWB on Anthony

Reporters Without Borders has issued a statement on Anthony:

Reporters Without Borders today condemned the expulsion of British journalist Anthony Mitchell, a correspondent for the Associated Press news agency, who was forced to leave Addis Ababa on 22 January after being accused of “tarnishing the image of the nation.”

Mitchell provided useful, high-quality coverage in a country where reporting is often partisan, the organisation said, urging the Ethiopian government to reverse its decision and let him return and resume working in Addis Ababa.

“Already mired in political crisis, Ethiopia should not now shut itself off from the eyes of the world,” Reporters Without Borders said. “If this were to happen, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's government could no longer be able to claim that it is trying to ensure the country's stability.”

...My heart's in Accra and Weichegud! ET Politics have also taken up the story.

Posted by aheavens at 8:06 AM

January 23, 2006

Ethiopia kicks out AP correspondent

One day we were all on a press trip to Ethiopia's Somali region, helping to publicise the plight of 1.75 million drought-stricken Ethiopians. Just a few days later, Anthony Mitchell, the Associated Press correspondent here, was kicked out of the country, for writing stories that were "hostile" to Ethiopia.

It wasn't the Somali story that sealed his fate (although it is a telling juxtaposition of events). According to the Ethiopian News Agency, he was guilty of "tarnishing the image of the nation", "repeatedly contravening journalism ethics", "disseminating information far from the truth about Ethiopia" and, once again for luck, "[disseminating] information bent on tarnishing the image of the country".

Now Anthony doesn't need me to defend him. His hundreds of stories and features are all you need to read – just check Google. AP is also standing by its man – calling him "an aggressive and fair journalist". That is aggressive in search of the facts by the way, not aggressive in tarnishing them.

The suddenness of the order was one of the most unsettling things about it all. Imagine being called into a government office at 6.30 one evening and being given 24 hours to sleep, pack and say goodbye both to your young family and to more than three years of your life.

Another disturbing thing will be the long term implications of this decision. When a country kicks out a good journalist, the only real loser – in terms of reputation and coverage – is the country that did the kicking.

If you want an illustration of that, just look at today's Google News search for Ethiopia.

This morning, the government launched an urgent appeal to the international community for just under US$166 million to keep an estimated 2.6 million of its people alive until the end of the year. The last time I looked, ten publications had picked up on the press conference. Meanwhile, the government's decision to get rid of Anthony, made two whole days ago, was still right at the top of the news agenda, after being picked up by at least 127 publications worldwide.

Here are some of them. The only missing news outlet is BBC Online which has clearly decided that the expulsion of a British journalist by one of Britain's main aid beneficiaries is not news.

The BBC has now published a story:

Ethiopia expels foreign reporter
BBC Online
A British journalist working for the Associated Press news agency has arrived in Kenya after his expulsion from Ethiopia. The Ethiopian government has accused Anthony Mitchell of being hostile. ...

AP Correspondent Leaves Ethiopia Under Expulsion Order
Voice of America
By VOA News. An Associated Press correspondent left Ethiopia Sunday after getting an expulsion order from the government. Anthony ...

Expelled British reporter leaves Ethiopia
Reuters.uk, UK
ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - A British journalist ordered to leave Ethiopia within 24 hours after the government accused him of portraying the Horn of Africa ...

Ethiopia expels AP correspondent
Seattle Post Intelligencer
NAIROBI, Kenya -- An Associated Press correspondent left Ethiopia Sunday under an expulsion order after attempts to appeal the decision went unanswered. ...

AP correspondent asked to leave Ethiopia in 24 hours
People's Daily Online, China - 19 hours ago
Ethiopia's Ministry of Information announced Saturday it was decided that the Associated Press correspondent in Ethiopia leave the country in 24 hours for ....

British AP correspondent left Ethiopia under expulsion order
EiTB, Spain
Mitchell's expulsion was widely reported by Ethiopian state radio and television and was a front-page story in the government-run newspaper. ...

Ethiopia Expels AP Correspondent
An Associated Press correspondent left Ethiopia Sunday under an expulsion order after attempts to appeal the decision went unanswered. ...

Posted by aheavens at 1:01 PM

January 21, 2006

Comment No. 1,002

An historic day - the Meskel Square comment count has passed the 1,000 mark. To be exact, the site now boasts 1,002 comments, provoked by 219 entries.

As for the content of those comments - there have been times since the election when it has all got pretty vicious and vitriolic. But there has been lots of great stuff mixed in there as well.

Two of my personal highlights are Gooch and Tazabi's passionate but polite face-off about ethnic politics underneath Red beret bust up at Kaldis, and the conversation that is continuing to run, 10 months after the posting of Holding hands.

Posted by aheavens at 11:46 AM

January 20, 2006

When is an aid cut not an aid cut?

When it is made by the UK.

Earlier this week, the UK announced that it was cutting direct budget support to the Ethiopian government as a reaction to the handling of the post-election unrest. News agencies, newspapers and this site reported that the UK Government would instead re-channel its financial support through leading aid agencies.

Apparently, that is not quite what the UK government meant.

Hilary Benn sent a letter to The Times on Thursday (Jan 19) to clarify his position. As The Times apparently hasn't published that letter, here it is in full, taken off the website for the UK's Department for International Development (DFID).

Letter to the editor of The Times from Hilary Benn

Dear Sir

In response to Richard Beeston's report on my visit to Ethiopia this week (Britain abandons aid deal over human rights abuses, 19 January), I have not decided to reduce the aid budget to Ethiopia, nor have I made a decision to reallocate funds to non-government aid agencies or the UN. I have made a decision not to give budget support which the Ethiopian Government can use for any purpose. This is because the provision of budget support is based upon shared commitments between partners, one of which is upholding human rights. Recent political events have led to a breach of trust on this. That's why all the donors who have been giving budget support have made the same decision.

I do, of course, remain committed to supporting the poor people in Ethiopia. The population of Ethiopia is one of the poorest in Africa, and it would be wrong to expect them to suffer as a result of recent political events. I therefore hope that we will be able to continue to support basic services for poor people such as education and health and water through a new mechanism. Our future assistance will, however, be designed with increased monitoring and accountability so that we can be sure that the aid is reaching the poor people who need it.

Yours sincerely

Hilary Benn

So, the UK has dropped direct budget support in favour of directly supporting the government's budgets for health, education and water - with added accountability attached. I hope everything is clear now.

Posted by aheavens at 11:00 AM

January 19, 2006

He's back

Addis Ababa Rocking Fun Zone is back in business. And this time he's not going to touch Ethiopian politics with a ten-foot pole. Wise man.

Posted by aheavens at 1:51 PM

Calm down, it's Timket

DSC0110Sorry - I had to remove the 50 or so comments that were building up under the last post. Things were getting a little too bloodthirsty for my taste.

In the hope of bring back a bit of 'love, peace and understanding' to the site, I have posted some photos of this morning's Timket celebrations on Flickr. Thousands of people walked to Jan Meda, a large piece of open ground in Addis Ababa, to celebrate the Ethiopian Orthodox Church's Festival of the Epiphany.

There the crowds looked on, chanting and dancing, as brightly-robed bishops and priests paraded with their Tabots – symbolic representations of the Ark of the Covenant that lie at the heart of every Ethiopian Orthodox church. Similar celebrations took place across the country.

The umbrellas were bright, the crowds were joyful and I won a religious magazine in a tombola-style raffle. What more could you ask for?

(The headline, by the way, is borrowed from a series of very bad adverts that ran - or may still be running - on UK TV. 'Calm down, it's a commercial,' was the catchphrase. I am sure you all picked up the reference.)

ethiopia timket 4 of 4UPDATE JAN 20: It looks as though things weren't quite so joyful and peaceful outside the epicentre of the Timket ceebrations in Jan Meda where I was happily taking photos. Today's Sub-Saharan Informer has the full report:

Ethiopian religious day marred by violence

Over a dozen people were wounded and an unknown number arrested yesterday as clashes between rioters and federal police interrupted celebrations for the Christian holiday, Timket (Epiphany) in Ethiopia's story.

Doctors at Menelik and Yekatit hospitals confirmed that three and ten people, respectively, had been admitted to their emergency rooms, including two from gunshot wounds...

Protesters appeared to initiate the throwing of stones, but as the unrest spread and the situation became more chaotic, soldiers from the federal police were also seen throwing rocks.

At approximately 11:30 am, two people were shot and wounded amidst a large crowd near Addis Ababa University at Sidist Kilo. Reporters for SSI were no more than five meters away from a man shot in the leg.

Now that is about as close to the frontline as you can get.

Posted by aheavens at 12:19 PM

January 18, 2006

Mr Benn goes to Addis again

hilary benn 1Just about half an hour ago, Hilary Benn, the UK's development minister, sat down in the British Embassy in Addis Ababa in front of a group of journalists and described the post election violence and arrests as a "breach of trust".

The direct budget support that the UK used to give to Ethiopia had been a sign of trust in the country, he said. That trust had been breached so, he went on to confirm, the UK was withdrawing direct budget support and re-directing its aid through leading NGOs instead.

He said he had met with Meles Zenawi and brought up, among other things, the recent student protests, the arrest of an ActionAid worker, the arrests of opposition leaders and his worries about the judiciary.

I will try and get a transcript of the press conference. But in the meantime, here is how AP reported on a statement that Mr Benn put out before the press conference:

Britain cuts off aid to Ethiopian government

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) -- Britain cut all of its aid to Ethiopia's government on Wednesday and plans to redirect the 73 million euro ($88 million U.S.) to humanitarian agencies working in the Horn of Africa nation.

Hillary Benn, Britain's international development secretary, said his government was "seriously concerned" by the unrest sparked by disputed elections last year that returned the ruling party to power and led to 88 protesters being killed by security forces. Benn met with Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi before the announcement.

The press release from the UK's Department For International Development should be up here any minute.

Posted by aheavens at 8:00 PM

An ostrich ate my lunch

DSC0041Q: What do you do if a mad ostrich dashes up while you are having lunch, stabs its huge beak at a bread roll on your plate, then swallows it whole in one big gulp?

A: You accept defeat fairly graciously, retreat to a safe distance, and watch as the bread roll slowly moves down the ostrich's throat (see pic).

The ostrich in question had apparently been brought up from a chick in the compound run by the UN's World Food Programme in Gode in Ethiopia's Somali region. If you are ever passing through, it is definitely the best place to stay in town - unless your contacts are strong enough to get you into the US military compound next door.

Posted by aheavens at 10:46 AM

The Gunners in Gode

somali2It is a truth universally acknowledged that wherever you go in Ethiopia - even if it's a remote town in the country's remote and slightly hairy Somali region - you will always find a group of boys obsessed with English Premiership football.

"Manchester United," I shouted instead of "Cheese". "No," they shouted back, "Arsenal!" (For anyone puzzled by the soccer-speak in the headline, Arsenal = The Gunners.)

Posted by aheavens at 10:36 AM

January 13, 2006

Ethiopian habits

Habits I have picked up from Ethiopia:

  1. A sharp in-take of breath while listening to someone talking to show that I'm agreeing with what they're saying – or at least concentrating hard

  2. Spelling out numbers – "That's 15, 1-5 birr, not 50, 5-0 birr." Although, that is more the habit of a non-Amharic-speaking ferengi than a native Ethiopian

  3. Three kisses when meeting someone of the opposite sex, with a small rhythmic pause before the third (or am I imagining that last bit?)

Habits I still have to pick up from Ethiopia:

  1. Offering someone my wrist to shake instead of my hand when my hand is wet or dirty.

  2. The shoulder-to-opposite-shoulder greeting hug. This has been done to me several times and it's always nice when it happens. But initiating the whole thing still doesn't feel natural.

  3. Speaking Amharic, Tigrinya, Oromigna, Guaragigna or Somali – I've tried the first, but it's hard.

Posted by aheavens at 1:24 PM

January 11, 2006

Red beret bust up at Kaldis

So I only had to wait 56 hours for my first bit of red-beret action in Addis Ababa. I was sitting outside the glorious Starbucks rip-off Kaldis yesterday afternoon, looking across the new roundabout at the new Medhanialem church.

There was some sort of argument going on between a small group of men outside the main gate. A few minutes later an open-backed truck filled with about eight beige policemen turned up to try and sort it out. Five minutes later, another truck filled with armed Red-Beret-wearing special forces sped up the road from the airport and joined in. They drove away soon after with three guys wearing casual clothes in the back. And that was that.

From where we were sitting, about 150 metres away, there was no way of telling exactly what was going on or who was involved. But, soon after the Red Berets drove off, passersby near me started murmuring. They had already decided that the original argument was between two men, one a Tigrinian, one not. The soldiers, the onlookers said with certainty in their voices, had rushed to the scene to protect their fellow Tigrinian. "These Tigrinians," said one man, " they …[insert your own piece of ethnic angst here]."

So that was Addis yesterday. It took about ten minutes for a small altercation outside a church to turn into a Federal incident – a bit like sending the SAS in to deal with a bar brawl. And it took about the same amount of time for onlookers to turn it into a Racial incident in their heads.

Posted by aheavens at 3:30 PM

Addis Ababa – the new Beirut

Ethiopia's tourism troubles are over. Apparently Addis Ababa has started to attract a whole new breed of holiday-makers.

Ethiopia's capital has just appeared in a double page spread by The (London) Times of places "Where The In-Crowd Go". Here's the full entry from the Saturday magazine.

ETHIOPIA: Notting Hillbillies, always in search of fresh horizons in Africa, are heading to the continent's unsung gem, says Tim Best Travel. There are extraordinary Gondar castles and underground churches, as well as ramshackle modern architecture, magnificent scenery (waterfalls and desert) and exotic nightlife in Addis Ababa (set to take over from Beirut as an unexpected party town.)

You've got to admire the ingenuity – particularly in selling Addis's "ramshackle modern architecture" as an attraction. And Ethiopia really is a great place to visit. But, if I had the intelligence and time, I would now be making some snide joke about Addis being a bit more like the old Beirut at the moment rather than the new.

Posted by aheavens at 3:06 PM

January 10, 2006

The Emperor's cigarette case

HAILE SELLASSIE'S BELGIAN CIGARETTE CASEYou know what it's like. You open the wrapping paper and there inside is the present-from-hell - covered in gilt and terrifically tacky – the last thing you want on your mantelpiece. The only thing to do is to say 'thank you, very much', wrap it up again, and give it away to someone else the next time a major event comes around.

That's what must have happened when Ethiopia's Emperor Haile Selassie received this glitzy cigarette case from a party of passing Belgians. He wrapped it up again and handed it over to the next dignitary to cross his path – H.R.H. The Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, KG.,KT.,KP, the UK representative at the Ethiopian Emperor's coronation in 1930.

Seventy-six years later, Prince Henry's relatives found it at the bottom of a drawer and decided there was only one thing to do – to pass it on again.

And so here it - in Christies' latest auction catalogue – yours for as little as £2,000. Click on the link for more on the sale and the case.


Sale Title: Property from the Estate of H.R.H. The Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, KG.,KT.,KP.

Location: London, King Street Sale Date Jan 26, 2006 - Jan 27, 2006

Lot Number: 183 Sale Number: 7300



Estimate: 1,500 - 2,000 British pounds

Description: Curved rectangular and with horizontal reeded bands, the cover applied with a diamond set monogram 'HS' below a crown above, further applied with a lion crest, marked on rim. 5 in. (13 cm.) wide. The monogram is that of Emperor Haile Sellassie of Ethiopia (1892-1975)

Provenance: Presented to Prince Henry by Emperor Haile Sellassie of Ethiopia (1892-1975) on the occasion of the later's coronation, 2 November 1930.

Lot Notes: In October 1930 Prince Henry attended the coronation of Emperor Haile Sellassie in Abyssinia, now Ethiopia. The crowning of Ras Tafari as 'King of Kings, Elect of God, Conquering Lion of Judah, Emperor of Ethiopia' was was an occasion without Royal precedent. Never had a Royal mission visited such an extraordinary and quixotic place; during his slow train journey to Addis Ababa, Prince Henry is described as eating meals 'always about fourteen courses with local chiefs along the way.' and in a letter to his brother, George VI, the Prince wrote that 'one has to keep very wide awake at every function as they have a peculiar way of altering things as they go along.'

Posted by aheavens at 11:46 AM

January 9, 2006

Back in Addis

Day two in Addis Ababa and everything seems peaceful. The combination of Christmas and Id Al-Adaha (Arafa) has kept traffic to a minimum and large chunks of the population at home with their loved ones.

One of the first things I did was buy all the English-language papers and settle back with a succession of macchiatos for an update.

Fortune came up with the best report on last week's court appearance of the arrested CUD leaders, alleged rioters and journalists. It was a true blow-by-blow account of the proceedings complete with reactions from the packed courtroom. Fortune hasn't published the article online yet, so it will have to put up with my plagiarism.

Applause and tears in court - Fortune 8 Jan 06

...The main agenda at the Wednesday January 4, 2006 Court session was to rule on the defendants' request for bail at the last appearance, but it also considered the case of Binyam Tadesse, who claimed to be 14 but had been charged by the prosecution as a 16-year-old.

The Court ordered in the last session that police should handle Binyam with special care and have a medical examination done to determine whether he was underage or not. The 2004 Criminal Code states that people between the ages of nine and 15 shall not be subject to ordinary penalties applicable to adults, nor shall they be kept in custody with adults.

Binyam was charged with the alleged crimes of outrage against the constitutional order, criminal conspiracy, and obstruction of constitutional power. During his first court appearance he wore his school uniform, this time he was dressed in a white T-shirt and trousers. The one thing that remained the same though was the look of fear on his face.

After checking the presence of the defendants, the Court looked at Binyam's case first. The Presiding Judge Adil Ahmed read a medical examination from Black Lion Hospital which confirmed the age of Binyam was between 16 to 18. Murmuring could be heard from people in the Court and there were many loud sucking noises from around the courtroom.

When Judge Adil began to read the charges to Binyam the lad spoke faintly: "I have a birth certificate" he said as he scratched his head. The Presiding Judge asked him where it came from; he responded that it was from the church. The murmuring and sucking of lips continued through the exchange. The Presiding Judge held off on giving a decision about Binyam until after ruling on the bail request of the defendants.

...After the recess, Judge Adil ... took into evidence Binyam's birth certificate and adjourned his situation until the next session to verify the contradictory results of the medical examination and the certificate. The prosecutor Shimeles Kemal objected that scientific results are conclusive for such cases and that the birth certificate should not be taken as evidence. Shimeles' argument raised guffaws among people present in Court.

The Sub-Saharan Informer had an interesting interview with the State Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr. Tekeda Alemu, you can see the article on the journalist's blog Things We Should Have Written Down. He says there is a full transcript of the interview on the paper's website. But I couldn't find it.

And, to leave politics to one side for a minute. It looks as though my post about Su Dokus last month wasn't so off-subject after all. If the puzzle pages of Ethiopia's English-language press are anything to go by, the craze has apread to Addis Ababa.

Posted by aheavens at 1:46 PM

January 7, 2006

Merry Ethiopian Christmas

I will be getting into the Genna spirit midair on the way back to Addis. If anyone is still shopping around for the perfect gift, why not try the Holiday Special III.

UPDATE: Here's my interesting Ethiopian Christmas fact for 1998. In the UK, children leave mince pies and carrots out for Father Christmas and his reindeer on Christmas Eve. In Ethiopia they brew him up a pot of black coffee - a much more appropriate gift if you consider Santa's schedule. That is according to Yonas Kabede's column 'Santa Claus and Christmas Trees' in yesterday's issue of Fortune.

Posted by aheavens at 3:38 AM

January 5, 2006

Knocking on Ethiopia's door

It's the way an embassy turns down your visa request that tells you everything you need to know about the country in question, writes Michela Wrong as she struggles to get into the DRC, Ethiopia and Eritrea.

UPDATE: Kenya Pundit is not very impressed by Ms Wrong's visa vexations.

Posted by aheavens at 11:57 AM


At last, Addis has got itself a decent events listings website. ThisIsAddis.com promises to "promote entertainment in Addis Abeba, capital city of the cultural heartbeat that is Ethiopia."

I particularly enjoyed its description of the notorious nightclub Memos.

Memo: (Off Bole Road, near Meskel Square). Its still got good sounds and attracts a mixed crowd including couples, and beautiful women who mix business with pleasure. DJs Teddy and Michael are on 7 days a week and it's a mix of oldies (think Imagination, Jackson 5, we're still waiting for “kung fu dancing”..), habesha, arab, reggae, you name it, it goes down well as you watch girls in tiny tops trying to hook up with their elders and palers and compare dance styles as many nations strut it on the disco floor.

I wonder if they could be persuaded to put on a Madchester night.

Posted by aheavens at 7:54 AM

Reflecting views

It has almost become a cliché. You read a comment piece in a newspaper and at the bottom, in italics, is a disclaimer that goes something like: "The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the proprietors of this newspaper" etc, etc. It's another publisher trying to cover its ass - although just how much legal protection that sentence actually provides is another matter.

Having said that, it was good to see VOA being confident enough to start their editorials page with the line "Reflecting the Views of the United States Government".

The United States government clearly has clear views about the detention of journalists in Ethiopia.

Posted by aheavens at 7:20 AM

January 4, 2006

I spoke too soon

The ENA did write about the cut in aid support in a commentary piece published online yesterday. (See previous post Where's the news?)

A writer called Haile accused the major donors of interfering with Ethiopian politics and of "[imposing] their national interests, ideologies, and political views on other nations through their pockets". The UK, Europe and other donors, he added, should do more to understand the "effort" it takes to govern Ethiopia.

Ethiopia consists of more than 70 different languages and ethnics; try to imagine the effort that one needs to peacefully govern this nation

If you truly want to find a solution for Ethiopia, think like Ethiopians not like Ana Gomez who places the Ethiopian democracy at the same level as the Europeans. This is my opinion as she is entitled to hers.

And so, the journalistic equilibrium is restored.

If I was being cynical, I wold say the piece reads as though it was rather hastily put together. Can anyone in Addis confirm whether it actually appeared in the print Herald on the 2nd?

Posted by aheavens at 10:13 AM

New Year's Resolution No. 3

Get someone to take me to an Amharic film.

Local films become favourites of movie goers - Daily Monitor Jan 3

There has been a marked rise in the number of people going to view local films in Addis Ababa to the point where they have affected the number of foreign movie viewers.

My companion will have to be prepared to provide a running translation - until Resolution No 2 is fulfilled that is. Or are they ever sub-titled?

Posted by aheavens at 10:04 AM

Meanwhile, in the Ethiopian blogosphere...

Carpe Diem Ethiopia was back in Addis for a short trip and summed up the atmosphere on the streets.

A sense of doom pervades in the city-smiles are rare and even the goofy guards at the Hilton have lost their arm-trembling salutes...

I heard the government's charges against the detained CUDites and others at a café not too far from the Posta Bet area where I had ventured to buy a couple of last minute gifts. The ETV report caught me offguard but it suddenly made sense why all the chairs faced the television set. The hush that settled in the smoky joint after the charges were read spoke volumes of the stress Addis Ababans are under.

That is the Addis I left in December - a city of gloom-ridden tension. I was looking over some of my photos from 2004 and early 2005 - the Bob Marley concert, the peaceful, joyful pre-election rallies, general mucking around in Meskel Square - and it was like they were taken in a different era.

New Year's Resolution No 1: Follow Carpe Diem's recommendation and get a copy of Fasil Yitbarek's Texture of Dreams. It is not out in the UK. So I will have to put my faith in BookWorld on my return.

Weichegud ET Politics kicked off 2006 by giving a hapless EPRDF academic a good kicking. The man in question was Dr. Yohannes Gebre Selassie who was interviewed with Dr. Getachew Metaferia, a political science professor at Morgan State University, on VOA's Amharic service.

Dr. Y kept asking the Professor from Morgan State why his paper was “focusing on the negative.” Damn straight. With all the good news streaming from Ethiopia, why is Dr. Getachew acting like a buzz kill? I ask you.

New Year's Resolution No 2: Have another go at learning Amharic. Writing snide commentaries on the ENA's English service is all well and good. But add VOA, Deutsche Welle and ETV to the mix and a whole new universe opens up. (It is now getting a little late in the day to mention my favourite piece of Weichegud from 2005, the personal-is-political post "What have I done for Ethiopia?".

Other reasons to be cheerful in the Ethiopian blogosphere:

Posted by aheavens at 8:15 AM

January 3, 2006

Where's the news?

Q: What do you do if you are a government-controlled news organisation and an embarrassing story starts spreading across the international media?

A: If you are in Ethiopia, you ignore it and wait for it to go away.

The story first appeared in the Financial Times on December 29:

Donors plan to withhold $375m from Ethiopia (Subscription barrier)

Donors are to withhold direct budgetary support worth about $375m (€317m £218m) from Ethiopia following the government's brutal crackdown on opposition supporters last month, western development officials said yesterday.

Until the situation improves, the donors - which include the World Bank, the European Union and the UK - will look to disburse the funds in other ways to continue tackling the country's massive poverty challenges, Ishac Diwan, the World Bank's country director, said.

The move is a further blow to the credibility of Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia's prime minister, who was once regarded as a visionary African leader and was appointed to the UK's Commission for Africa.

"Because of the situation, trust has broken down so we are trying to find other ways of doing it (funding)," another western development official said.

This was the first detailed confirmation of a general feeling that has been building up among donors since the November violence. In the weeks that followed the killings, lots of international organisations started looking at ways to re-direct their donations away from direct government budget support. Meetings with government bodies were cancelled. Phone calls went unanswered. Projects were quietly put on hold.

Then Ishac Diwan backed up all the background rumbling with some concrete figures. And the story started to spread - outside Ethiopia that is. Here is the story on Reuters, The Observer, the BBC, Voice of America and two from IRIN (here and here). The (London) Times waited a couple of days, then jumped into the fray yesterday with a full-page diatribe against the current regime - Blair's heroes of democracy who embraced oppression.

But what about if your only source of news are the official outlets inside Ethiopia?

Here are the headlines from the Ethiopian News Agency for December 29: ALFOZ to construct abattoir with over 50 million Birr; WFP calls 2005; Bishoftu town administration gives 17,300 square meters land to investors; UNICEF, three bureaus sign agreement providing to implement water supply; Prosecutor Files Charges Against 129 Defendants; Foreign Exchange Trade; Road fund earmarks over 480 million Birr to finance maintenance of roads; Participation of stake holders said crucial in inhancing economic importance of tourism; Minister calls for redoubled effort to tap power from coal, geothermal reserve.

It has been pretty much the same mix ever since - here is the ENA's news archive if you want to check for yourself. Other empty spaces to watch are Walta, the Ethiopian Herald and ETV.

Posted by aheavens at 8:26 AM