« June 2006 | Main | August 2006 »

July 13, 2006

Running away

DSC0022That's it. We've had enough of the rainy season. We're off for a few weeks to catch up with folks back home and see some unseasonal sun.

It will be great to get some unfettered access to Ethiopia's Blogspot blogs once again. What they can't tell me, I'll learn online from my daily doses of ENA and Walta.

While I'm away I thought you would like to see the new-look Meskel Square with its brand new video screen near the junction with Debre Zeit road. There seems to be a new ad banner going up every day somewhere on the square. By the time we get back, the whole thing will probably be covered.

The 18-lane junction seems a bit smaller now that it is plastered with ads for Ethiopian Airlines and Sony flat-screen TVs. But at least it means business is booming for someone somewhere. Go to Flickr to see snatch shots of our last drive through Addis.

Posted by aheavens at 6:52 PM

Sudoku comes to Ethiopia

ethiopian_sudukoNow this is really important news. Ethiopia has its first Sudoku book.

The puzzles are based on numbers so they are pretty much international. But this booklet, published by Ethiopia's own www.suzilla.com, has an introduction in Amharic, complete with instructions, tips and tricks and a history of the phenomenon.

The grids themselves are also Ethiopian as they were generated by a program developed by Suzilla.

Get your copy, for the slightly steep price of 20 birr, at any good bookshop. The grubby Ethiopian tablecloth is not included.

Posted by aheavens at 6:17 PM

July 10, 2006

Ubuntu in Ethiopia: Is free such a good deal?

DSC_0002My ongoing struggles with Ubuntu have got me thinking about the free, open source software movement in general.

And the main thing I have been thinking about is - is paying nothing for your software really such a good deal in Africa?

Opensource champions often say African computer users should use their software because it means they can avoid the exorbitant fees charged by Microsoft, Adobe and friends.

But this assumes that the choice for African computer users is between expensive proprietary software and free opensource software. The reality is that they have a third choice - cracked, pirated proprietary software.

Here are some price comparisons, based on a visit to Amazon.com and the software shop about 15 minutes walk away from where I am sitting.

Quark Xpress 6.1
Amazon $699 (ETB 6,091) - Addis software shop $4.60 (ETB 40)

Photoshop CS2
Amazon $609 (ETB 5,307) - Addis software shop $3.44 (ETB 30)

Adobe Creative Suite CS2
Amazon $1,119 (ETB 10,448) - Addis software shop $9.18 (ETB 80)

The Movies, a PC game
Amazon $39.99 (ETB 348.50) - Addis software shop $5.74 (ETB 50)

So the Ethiopian computer user can choose between paying nothing for an open source graphics package like The Gimp, or saving up 80 Birr to buy Photoshop CS2.

For 80 birr s/he gets to learn how to use the most popular graphics package on earth - a skill that could land him/her a job with one of the high-paying NGOs or UN organisations scattered across Addis. (Most of these international organisations have IT departments that limit their branch offices to a list of authorised software, almost all of it from Microsoft). Or for nothing, s/he gets to use a package that is very cool and opensource, but totally obscure.

I know which way I would go.

(And, no, I am not accepting orders for cracked Ethiopian software from anyone back home. Although, if you want the Creative Suite, you could pay for a flight, come over to buy it yourself, stay in the Hilton for a night or two, and still come out with a profit.)

Posted by aheavens at 9:07 AM

A stranger in a strange land

Ethiopians are famously friendly people. It is easy to spend months at a time thinking that you have been accepted - that there is nothing more natural than being an Englishman in Addis Ababa. Then a chance remark or encounter jolts you back into reality and reminds you that you are very much a foreigner.

There was the time a non-Ethiopian friend was driving down Bole Road when an Ethiopian shot out of a side junction and smashed into him. There was no doubt about who was to blame. My friend got out of his car and went up to a traffic policeman to make his case. The policeman just shrugged and turned his head. "Come back to me when you can speak Amharic," he said.

Then there was the time I was sitting in a café with a group of African colleagues. One of them called the waiter over in the classic Ethiopian way - with two short sharp claps. "I just can't do that," I said, meaning that I still felt awkward making such an imperialist gesture. "What!" said the woman sitting next to me. "You mean you can't get the rhythm!"

Posted by aheavens at 7:41 AM

July 8, 2006

Where have all the (new) bloggers gone?

Is it me? Or has it got a little quieter in the Ethiopian blogosphere since all those Blogspot blogs mysteriously disappeared from Ethiopian computer screens.

I haven't noticed any new blogs for the past couple of weeks - apart from Bilal ul-Habesha who hasn't moved on from his/her first post. There seemed to me a new site every week or so in the first part of 2006.

I just wrote about it on GlobalVoices:

Five of the 32 Ethiopian blogs tracked by GlobalVoices have stopped blogging altogether since their websites were first obstructed in mid-May. Blogging on other sites has slowed (with the notable exception of Ethiopia's diaspora writers in the USA). Worst of all, the regular flow of new blogs that was seen through the early months of 2006 has stalled.

So am I right? Has the apparent blockage freaked people out or left bloggers too depressed to write? Are they struggling to find a free blogging platform that still works in Ethiopia? (Wordpress and Blogsome are getting through fine at the moment.)

Or is it the rainy season? The dampness has certainly got Coffeechillisun down in the dumps in her post Long time no blog:

It's to do with the gloom of the rainy season highlighting the crappy situation in Ethiopia, the fact that daily life and work is becomming ensnared in the undercurrents of mucky politics that pervades almost every aspect of work life.

Another reason not to be cheerful is that most Ethiopian internet users can't even read about CoffeeChilliSun not wanting to write at the moment. It is a Blogspot blog. How did I manage to check in? As I have said before, every cloud has a silvery RSS-powered lining.

Posted by aheavens at 3:43 AM

July 7, 2006

The new Old Milk House

DSC0017The Old Milk House is reborn ... again. This time it is 10 floors up at the top of the Kokeb building - one of those mouldering tower blocks that overlook the UN compound and Meskel Square.

Wim, its owner, has been amazingly resilient over the years. He recently placed newspaper adverts listing all the Milk Houses from the past - most of them victims of Addis Ababa's relentless construction boom. Each of them has had to shut down to make way for a new building, only to reappear somewhere else. The advert had the word 'bacca' (enough) printed in large letters at the bottom - suggesting that he might have given up.

But now it is back - and they are going to have a tough job knocking down this venue.

It is inconvenient, having to walk to the Kokeb building in the first place, then wait for the small lifts. It has now lost all resemblance to the back-yard bar that it was two incarnations ago. It is now somewhere that James Bond might have hung out in back in the 1970s mixed in with a bit of brutalist-concrete-chique.

But the food and service are the same - I celebrated the rebirth yesterday with Chicken Haka Noodle. And the new views (see pic with Meskel Square in the background) make the climb worthwhile.

Posted by aheavens at 4:07 AM

July 5, 2006

Various issues discussed with various leaders

Good to see the international school for the training of journalists employed by state-controlled newspapers is still going strong.

Meles holds talks with leaders of countries, international organizations - Ethiopian News Agency (ENA) July 3

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi who attended the 7th Summit of the African Union held in Banjul, Gambia, held discussions with leaders of various countries and international organizations.

The Ethiopian Television reported that Prime Minister Meles held discussions with Sudanese President, Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Britain's Minister of International Economic Cooperation, United Nations Secretary General and Director of World Food Program.

Moreover, Meles also held talks with Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad on various issues.

President Ahmadinejad on the occasion said his country would step up its bilateral ties with Ethiopia.

Iran would further enhance its cooperation with Ethiopia particularly in the fields of trade and investment, the President said.

What were those "various issues" that were discussed with those "leaders of various countries and international organizations"? None of your damn business.

Also, I didn't see it at the time. But, how about this for a professional milestone? I have at least made my debut as an ENA reporter.

UPDATE: Can I just make it clear to geja and a handful of others who wrote in that I have not actually become an ENA correspondent. They just re-printed an article I wrote for someone else.

Posted by aheavens at 8:41 AM

No more spam, just ham

My comment spam problem is solved. Thank you Akismet whoever you are.

Posted by aheavens at 8:19 AM

Behind the mask

DSC0013Who would have thought it? Ethiopia's most radical new publication is a fashion magazine.

Myfashion is, as far as I know, the country's only home-grown glossy. Issue 2 has everything you would expect - a photo spread on Osman Mohamed Osman's new 'Ras Africa' leather line, an introduction to interior decoration for the Addis elite and an interview with the country's latest supermodel.

And then from pages 38-40 there is a society feature on 'Gay Ethiopians behind the mask'.

You have to live here to know what an unusual article this is. Homosexuality remains illegal and totally taboo. Any discussions about it are generally hushed and polarised. For a taste of those discussions, have a quick read through the conversations still going on under my year-old post Holding hands.

The Myfashion article reflects some of the prevailing views in Ethiopia, particularly in its side Vox Pop. Here is Habtamu Tena, a 32-year-old security guard:

These people are sick. I suggest they receive medical attention to relieve themselves from their illness. If modern medical attention does not help, then I recommend shenkora tsebel (holy water).

And here is Alemu Tegauze, a 65-year-old radio technician:

This is a pure abomination to Ethiopian society. It has no moral, cultural or religious justification. I do not understand the significance of deviating from nature. I do not see the justification of this sinful act. I think they are probably on drugs or something.

The Myfashion article itself breaks new ground by writing about homosexuality in Ethiopia sympathetically. It is a solid piece of journalism with interviews with gay Ethiopians, frank discussions about the challenges they face and statistics from online dating services. Here is how it starts:

After reading this headline, many people will probably say "Gay Ethiopians? That is a bit far-fetched." Yes, gay Ethiopians, living in Ethiopia and elsewhere. There has been significant recent growth in the Ethiopian gay population for many reasons. However, since their sexual orientation does not conform to a conservative society like Ethiopia, gays and lesbians prefer to live hidden behind curtains.

"It is always difficult to escape society's watchful eyes," says and Ethiopian gay man living in the diaspora whilst reflecting on his gay life in Ethiopia.

For the heterosexuals in the audience, there is also a great article about the travails of a poor white guy on the Addis dating scene, written by one of the writers behind Things We Should Have Written Down.

Posted by aheavens at 4:34 AM