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March 31, 2006

The white economist's burden

white_mans_burdon.jpgToday's Economist has a fairly positive review of William Easterly's book 'The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good', which I'm still keen to get my hands on. It's hidden behind a subscription barrier, so here's the punch line:

Mr Easterly admits to feeling some compunctions about rubbishing a world in which he himself has spent much of his career, but it doesn't show. He is merciless and witty, damning the aid industry with its own words by quoting its past, broken promises back to it. His book is written more in wry bemusement than in anger, but perhaps anger is the more appropriate response. Certainly this reviewer felt a rising sense of frustration at the aid institutions, encamped on the high moral ground, with their eyes fixed on a distant horizon, all as an escape from taking a long hard look at themselves.

Posted by aheavens at 4:53 PM

March 30, 2006

Ethan on why TED said no to Bono

A very belated thanks to Ethan Zuckerman of ...My heart's In Accra for answering my question of a few weeks ago about why the TED conference of top technologists failed to grant Bono's wish to connect every hospital in Ethiopia to the internet.

He came up with some very detailed reasons, ranging from the challenges of connecting rural communities:

...less than 20% of Ethiopia's population lives in major cities, and population density is remarkably uniform throughout the country. in other words, wiring Ethiopia involves bringing power and bandwidth to tens of thousands of communities around the nation. This either involves buying thousands of VSAT (very small aperature) satellite dishes, which cost a few thousands dollars apiece in addition to the costs associated with providing power and housing for these installations, or laying thousands of kilometers of fiberoptic cable to connect Ethiopia's schools and hospitals together.

to the current political situation:

I think many of the people working on the wish - myself included - felt increasingly uncomfortable working on an initiative sure to be a feather in the cap of the Zenawi government as the nation's political freedoms were taken away.

The comments under Ethan's post are also well worth reading, Particularly this one from TED Conference organiser Chris Anderson:

One key point to note. The wish, as originally specified, may not have been granted, but it triggered a chain of events that will (we believe) have an even bigger impact. Watch this space.

And where will this impact be felt? Given the on-and-off state of my pitiful ETC dial-up connection recently (which goes some way to explaining the lateness of this response to Ethan's post) I bet it won't be anywhere near here.

Posted by aheavens at 4:22 AM

March 27, 2006

Two Three Four blasts - one death

ethio blast 1At least one person was killed in Addis this morning after another two explosions in the capital.

A passenger in a 'blue donkey' minibus died after a blast tore apart the back seat of the vehicle at about 9.30am. It happened on the inbound carriageway of busy Debre Zeit Road, around the Kirkos district. Reuters reported that "a second blast occurred outside the gate of an abattoir in the city but no one was hurt, police said".

Again people seem to be taking things in their stride - although this is the first fatality caused by these blasts. Two hours after the explosion, all that was left at the scene was a pool of petrol. Traffic flows and roadside business was back to normal.

No one so far has managed to come up with a clear explanation of who is behind all this. Journalists are starting to talk of "mysterious explosions"; the government blamed the last blasts on Eritrean-backed "terrorists" with smuggled plastic explosives.

It is worrying that public transport is now being targeted. For me it is also puzzling that they don't seem interested in high-profile targets. Their main aim seems to be intimidating "ordinary" Ethiopians on their way to work.

UPDATE: Another explosion boomed out around 3pm, this time from a café near the Mexico area of Addis (see pic), making it at least three explosions today.

On the scene, you didn't have to be an expert to see the seat of the blast - someone had wedged the explosive between the thin trunk of a tree and the metal cafe wall, just a foot away from one of the tables inside. There is no doubt that whoever placed it there meant to injure people.

No one was sure how many were hurt. Someone on the scene told me 40. An hour earlier, somone had told other reporters it was 10. A car outside had its roof smashed in by the tree. There were two pools of blood next to the nearest table. Everywhere else there was broken glass, twisted metal walls and people's half-eaten snacks sitting on smashed plates.

UPDATE 2: A fourth blast left no injuries according to AFP

Police said a fourth explosion had occurred in the capital's northeastern Teklehaimanot district but had not caused any injuries.

"I think the explosions are due to criminal acts but the cases are under investigation. They are not accidents, I think," [police spokesman Demsach Hailu] told AFP.

There goes my "it was all an accident" theory.

UPDATE 3: Sorry to everyone whose comments have not been published below. Call me a coward, but I 'm not going to let through any direct accusations of blame - so far none of the posts have come with any forensic evidence attached.

Posted by aheavens at 11:11 AM

March 22, 2006

Sedist Kilo

You can get things so out of perspective.

This morning, there only seemed to be one important thing going on in Addis Ababa. The imprisoned opposition leaders, journalists and alleged rioters were up for their latest court appearance.

Red-beret special forces were back on the streets, speeding around town in open-top camouflaged pick-ups. They passed every ten minutes or so, two soldiers standing up at the front with assault rifles balanced on the roof of the cab, their fingers about two centimetres away from the trigger.

I was walking up towards Sedist Kilo, hoping to get a photo of the armed prisoner-escort vehicles as they left the court. Beige-uniformed police stood 50 paces apart either side of the road up to the university, swinging truncheons in their hands.

Just on the university junction of the Sedist Kilo roundabout, two feet from the policemen, a beggar was stretched out on his back, mouthing a few words and holding his hand out for small change. He looked unusually emaciated. A traffic warden had stopped to spoon-feed some milk into his mouth. I pushed a small amount of money under his blanket and walked on trying to find a good place for a shot.

No more than five minutes later I passed the spot again. A blanket had been placed over the man's face. The traffic warden said something in Amharic. “He's dead“, translated a couple of passing university students. “HIV”.

Twenty minutes later a grey van arrived to take the body away. Apparently, people who die on the streets of Addis Ababa without anyone to claim them first get taken to Menelik Hospital, then buried at one of a number of specially set-aside plots.

Just before lunch at the court at Sedist Kilo, the proceedings came to a conclusion - charges dropped against some of the lesser-known defendants and yet another adjournment. I missed the mass exit and left without a picture.

UPDATE: This is what was happening inside the court.

Ethiopia court drops charges against 18 suspects - Reuters

An Ethiopian court dropped charges against 18 opposition members facing treason and genocide charges on Wednesday after the prosecution said it would not proceed with the case against them for now...

The trial was adjourned until May 2. Lead Prosecutor Shimele Kemal said the prosecution would maintain its right to re-institute charges against the 18.

Posted by aheavens at 10:50 AM

March 16, 2006

Phew no flu! - time to make a killing

Dead birdHere's a sure-fire investment tip. Come to Addis and buy every chicken you can get your hands on.

Prices have dropped as low as 8 birr a bird over the past weeks, amid all the worries over avian flu. Today, however, government scientists announced that initial tests on dead birds from a farm in southern Ethiopia had not detected the dreaded H5N1 virus.

The news is sure to filter out on to the street soon and prices are sure to rise. Chickens cost as much as 35 birr before the scare. Anyone who buys low and sells high could be talking about a 438% 338% return on their initial investment. It's a better bet than Google.

UPDATE: News of the negative test clearly hadn't got through to the UN's security people who were still on high alert yesterday afternoon (see pic).

Posted by aheavens at 4:45 PM

March 13, 2006

When it rains

Ethiopia's drought-stricken Oromia and Somali regions got a few days of rain recently. A reason to celebrate? You would have thought so. But, according to OCHA's latest Humanitarian Bulletin, the short unseasonal shower is actually being seen as a sign of more dry months to come and a failed April rainy season.

In another field report I read, the rain showers, and the corresponding fall in temperatures, actually led to the death of more livestock. And the pools of water left by the roadside and near villages have raised the prospect of a surge in malaria cases.

Sometimes you struggle to understand why Africa remains one of the most optimistic places on earth.

Posted by aheavens at 4:32 PM

March 8, 2006

Addis unshaken by bomb blasts

addis blast 1 of 4There was a time when a bomb blast in a public place in Addis Ababa was something to talk about. Yesterday there were three blasts in three public places. And the only reaction they provoked among the people of the capital (except for the four unlucky souls who were injured) was an extended shrug.

Around lunch time, there was a dull bang and the window in front of me shook. People looked up, looked at each other, stared out the window. There was a short exchange - 'Was that a bomb?' - 'Well, what else do you think it was?' - 'Yes, that was a bomb.' And then it was back to typing.

Down at the scene, the injured had been taken away and the traffic was back polluting the atmosphere around Addis Ababa Stadium. Staff swept away the broken glass and the police made a few half-hearted attempts to stop filming and photographs.

An hour or so later, there was another bang from a bit further away. This time, the reaction was pared down to a few raised eyebrows and one "Oh dear!" from a passing Englishman.

The Ethiopian News Agency quoted police blaming "anti-peace elements" for the explosions. The ever-inventive Addis rumour mill has, needless to say, been busy coming up with its own slightly more specific list of culprits.

Posted by aheavens at 9:48 AM

March 1, 2006

Yikes!

Ministry Discloses Detection of Signs of Avian Flu in Ethiopia - ERTA February 28

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development disclosed signs of avian flu have been observed in Endibir woreda of the South State.

Information and Public Relations Bureau Head with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development Mulugeta Debalkew said Monday that the bird-flu-like disease has been observed in Gubere Poultry Center in the stated woreda and the laboratory test carried out locally has indicated the existence of a bird-flue-like disease.

Time for some quick background reading on H5N1. Does anyone know a good place to start?

UPDATE: Thanks Segolene - anyone interested in finding out more about the flu shold go to the World Health Organization.

Posted by aheavens at 8:08 AM

It's back

Fortune, one of Addis's best papers, has at last re-launched its website. It looks like all the contents are up there from View From Arada to its cutting Commentary.

And, of course, an old favourite, the restaurant reviews. If you go to The Barn, watch where you are stepping:

Barn of Addis (The Barn) **½

Location: Ethio-Chinese Avenue, in front of Mesfin Industrial

SANITATION *

The toilets are very neglected and dirty. The walls are made of concrete and have grime as a surface finish. Only one of the taps works on each of the two hand washbasins in the ladies' room and the seats in both toilets of the ladies' do not invite use at all. The men's toilets have even worse seats.

It would be wise to fix the lights in the ladies' toilet so that customers do not step on something they may regret. Providing basic facilities such as towels or, preferably, hand driers, and tissue paper would not hurt either.

Posted by aheavens at 7:52 AM