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October 29, 2006

Asni Gallery: My favouite place in Ethiopia #5

DSC0065Head north out of Addis Ababa city centre towards Siddist Kilo and turn right along the back of Jan Meda race ground.

Drive down the steep, curving road that loops down into a valley and climbs up again to a beautiful bank of green trees and the wooded compound of the French Embassy. Pass the Embassy gates then take the first turning right after the Total petrol station.

About 100 yards down the cobbled lane, a drive branches off to your right, leading up to a big metal gate marked with four letters - A-S-N-I.

This is the Asni Gallery which, according to our indispensable Lonely Planet guide to Ethiopia & Eritrea, is "housed in the 1912 villa of Lej Iyassu's minister of justice Afe Negus Tilahun".

Afe Negus Tilahun had good taste. It's all carved wooden balustrades and cool, dark rooms and a wide balcony around the whole building where you can sit enjoy the Saturday afternoon vegetarian spread. Everything is raised up so you get views over the villas and valleys and green trees all around.

Inside there are two floors of gallery space, with hold an ever-changing display of modern Ethiopian paintings and sculptures. At the moment, the basement is given over to 'Nuru's Nastro Art' which does amazing things with multi-coloured electrical tape. I thought it was great (that is about as sophisticated as my art criticism gets).

But one of the best things I saw was one of the bare gallery walls which someone had managed to mark with a big bare circle made out of slightly lighter, cracked clay.

The picture above was taken just after most of the Saturday afternoon visitors had left. It looks a little murky because we are going through a very strange mini-rainy season at the moment.

See more Favourite Places in Ethiopia.

Posted by aheavens at 6:17 AM

October 28, 2006

Sorry ETgirl

Just got a kick in the pants from ETgirl who commented:

Comeon Andrew, please kick this thing up with some spicy, lively news! Goodness gracious, it is not like you owe any of us anything (atleast not anything I can think of right now..lol), but I come here everyday expecting something.

And she's absolutely right. All I can say is that it's been an exhausting couple of weeks and there has been little time to blog. Lots of other people have been filling the vacuum though.

To prove that, here are my last two round-ups of the Ethiopian blogosphere on GlobalVoicesOnline. Normal service will be resumed as soon as I can find the energy:

Ethiopian blogger scoops mainstream media - Oct 27

The story broke at 12.42 pm. An Ethiopian human rights activist, another unnamed Ethiopian and two senior officials from the European Commission had been arrested that morning close to Ethiopia's border with Kenya.

The report from Ethiopian blogger Ethio-Zagol named the activist as Yalemzewd Bekele and the two European officials as:

Bjorn Jonsson, Head of Finance and Contract department of the delegation in Ethiopia, and Enrico Sborgi, who works at the good governance department.

The post titled A prominent human rights campaigner arrested, on Ethio-Zagol's blog Seminawork said that police had been trying to arrest Yalemzewd Bekele for a week, in connection with anti-government activities. The two EC officials, it added, were arrested: “for trying to help Yalemzewd escape”.

It was a whole day before the mainstream media woke up to the story at the end of last week. (Here's the BBC version from Friday October 20.) It was another six hours after that journalists managed to confirm the names of the people involved. When the names and other details of the case finally did come out through official channels over the next couple of days, it emerged that almost everything in the original blog post had been accurate.

Ethio-Zagol, one of the most mysterious and well-connected writers in the Ethiopian blogosphere, had scored an old-fashioned scoop over the rest of the mainstream press.


Ethiopia's bloggers emerge refreshed after rainy season - Oct 11

Ethiopia's bloggers emerged refreshed from their long rainy season with a series of dazzling posts on everything from Somalia to stolen secondhand books.

For once there was no unifying theme – because there was just so much to catch up on as the sun came up after four months of torrential rain and dark grey skies.

Coffeechillisun got in early with a description of the new season's new police recruits, parading up and down the streets of Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa in their new uniforms. In From zero to hero she wrote:

The fresh batch of graduates of the new Federal Police officers are out and about in dapper fresh khaki; the joke being that they are so young and skinny they have to sling their belts twice around their waists and get a muscle strain from having to lift their boots.

Seattle teen's opinion on Ethiopia, a welcome newcomer to the scene, gave us a rundown on the history of the sacred Ethiopian festival of Meskel, a celebration of the discovery of the true cross involving lots of daisies and bonfires which roughly coincides with the end of the rainy season.


Posted by aheavens at 9:17 AM

October 21, 2006

Addis Ababa's new Roto roundabout

DSC0040In any other city it would be a statue of a guy on a horse. Or at least a nice little fountain.

But what does Addis choose to decorate one of its most prominent roundabouts at the head of a dual carriageway to the airport? It is an artful display of Roto tanks, providing a beautiful primary-coloured counterpoint to the curves of the domes of Medhanialem Church in the background.

Posted by aheavens at 9:53 AM

Blog name scoop

You've got to hand it to him. Ethio-Zagol has very good contacts. He had the names hours before anyone else.

Posted by aheavens at 9:45 AM

October 19, 2006

Reporting from Nairobi

You can throw a reporter out of your country. But you can't stop him getting a serious scoop about your country.

Posted by aheavens at 5:16 AM

The ferenji debate continues

Vandia takes up the debate on where ferengis come from - not France apparently.

NO- Ferenj is essentially an old word. It predates the French. The French are not the first Europeans for that matter. But Ferenj etymologically is an old Arabic word meaning European. It somehow survived the ages and now has been immortalized in the streets of Addis. So please don't say it is from French.

The above is a comment under the February post Up from the comments section.

Posted by aheavens at 5:07 AM

The sub-Saharan African roundtable

ssroundtable.jpgA great new, and unafraid, Afroblog.

The sub-Saharan African roundtable offers news, views and analysis of issues on the continent. We are a collective of journalists and thinkers, and we are unafraid to offend governments, opposition parties, donors and non-governmental organizations.

We are:

In Kampala, Angelo Izama is special projects reporter at the Ugandan Daily Monitor. He's also heard regularly on the Monitor-owned KFM.

Based in Accra, Blake Lambert is a freelance journalist who prefers paying customers, including CBC Radio, World Politics Watch and others.

Dennis Matanda lives and works in Kampala and is a regular panelist on KFM.

Based in Yaounde, Evan Weinberger is a freelance journalist. He blogs here.

Posted by aheavens at 4:38 AM

Great excuses of our time #1

1,500 heavly armed Eritrean troops march into the UN Temporary Security Zone on the Ethio-Eritrean border, ringing alarm bells around the world and violating a six-year truce.

"This time is harvest time after the summer and the army is there to engage in the harvest," said Eritrean information minister Ali Abdu by phone from Asmara, saying that crops grown in the arid region included wheat, buckwheat, and vegetables.

Posted by aheavens at 3:54 AM

October 18, 2006

Alasdair Gray: As Things Happen

Way back at the turn of the 21st century, when I thought I knew a few things about <font> tags and so on, I tried to chase up some business by writing to my favourite living author to ask whether he wanted a website.

Hardly surprisingly, Alasdair Gray didn't reply.

Now, I've just discovered, he has launched a blog, a website, an online print store and book shop.

Here's his reply to a magazine researcher who asked him to describe his favourite view:

From the twelfth floor of Glasgow University Library, or better still from the roof above it, good views may be had of all Glasgow and what lies beyond...

I have known these places from boyhood, have climbed these Fells, Braes and mountains with my father and friends.

     Please do not phone me.

          Yours truly, Alasdair Gray

Posted by aheavens at 5:28 PM

October 13, 2006

Nothing happened again

The trial was adjourned again. Here is the last time it was adjourned again.

Posted by aheavens at 12:19 PM

October 9, 2006

Djibouti vs Berbera

DSC0001Once upon a time Ethiopia only had access to one port. If you wanted to get your goods delivered in bulk, you had to pack them in containers and send them through Djibouti.

Then Ethiopia did a deal with Somaliland and its port at Berbera. And suddenly there was competition.

In a matter of months that competition has now turned into a full scale publicity war on the back pages of Addis' English-speaking newspapers.

Buy Fortune or Capital and you can read their regular full-page ads for the Port of Djibouti - 'Djibouti port By Choice' 'At the Crossroads of Three Continents'.

On my map, Berbera is only about an inch further down the Red Sea coast. But it is an important inch. For, according to the ad in the Sub-Saharan Informer, Berbera ("An ancient, modern as well as contemporary port") is "at the junction of [not three but] five continents and the four civilisations of Africa, Arabia, India and Europe".

No mention of the name of the fifth continent. Presumably they mean Antarctica.

Posted by aheavens at 7:13 PM

Alert: British pets under threat

UK diplomats fear Addis leopard - BBC/AFP

A leopard has been terrifying residents in the British embassy compound in Ethiopia's capital. A conservationist has been called in to capture the wild cat, after it ate several domestic cats and rabbits. A resident in the 70-acre wooded compound in Addis Ababa saw the leopard outside her house at 1030 one morning just 10 feet from her door. "It was quite terrifying - especially as I've got young children," she told the BBC.

Of course, it is obvious how this is going to go.

First there will be the catch-the-leopard campaign to save the pets (and small children).

Then there will be the save-the-leopard campaign when they get it in a cage and wonder what to do with it.

No farmer is going to want it released close to their livestock. The last time I checked there weren't many Kenya-style game reserves out there wanting more attractions. And the export of wild animals is prohibited.

Posted by aheavens at 5:09 PM

October 6, 2006

Blog not gone

Well that was a nasty shock.

My Bloglines feed reader showed a new post from Carpe Diem Ethiopia headlined Blog Away that seemed to end with a valedictory list of thank-yous to peole who had linked to him in the past. At first sight it looked like Ersasu was signing off for good.

Then I actually read it. Instead it was a passionate explanation of why and how he writes online - and why and how he will continue to write online. It turns out that blogging is often a communal activity in the Carpe Diem camp.

...I have always believed opining about Ethiopian politics comes with tremendous responsibility. Concern about having to eat my words figures in every posting and I know several bloggers feel that way. To the extent possible, I make use of the bright talent Ethiopia has produced-close friends and family members who carefully vet every posting on Carpe Diem Ethiopia. Ergo the pronouns “we” and “us” in several of “our” postings.

Carpe Diem is not the only one to use this communal approach. I know of a handful of other Ethiopian blogs that, at first glance, look like they are written by an individual but actually turn out to be the work of many minds. I haven't seen it happen anywhere else. Maybe its a unique feature of the Ethiopian blogosphere.

If this communal approach really does stop you writing posts that you regret a few days down the line, then it is an approach that is worth copying.

Posted by aheavens at 5:38 AM

October 3, 2006

The princess of Africa

DSC0153It could only happen in Ethiopia.

Yvonne Chaka Chaka, the Princess of Africa, sings a song by Miriam Makeba, Mama Africa, under a fig tree in the village of Dukem Kotecha, an hour's drive along unmade roads outside Debre Zeit. South African music isn't huge in Ethiopia. But everyone seemed to know the words, or at least the tune.

It all happened last week during a huge government-run, UN/NGO-supported distribution of malaria nets in the region. (The blue thing that the man is holding in the background is an insecticide-treated net.) Malaria transmission season is coming on quickly - it normally peaks in October/November and can kill 100,000 in a matter of months during an epidemic.

In case you are wondering how this all fits together, Yvonne Chaka Chaka is UNICEF's regional spokesperson on malaria.

Posted by aheavens at 5:07 AM

October 2, 2006

Ethiopia's mean streets: A survival guide

Ethiopia is easily one of the safest countries in Africa (as long as you steer clear of random bomb blasts and anything that looks like a political rally).

People walk home after dark without incident – try doing that in Nairobbery or Johannesburg. Bigger houses do have guards – but only to have someone to open the gate for visitors. I once accidentally dropped 200 birr on the street in Kazanchis and had a middle-aged woman chase after me to give it back.

Having said all that, I have now notched up my third encounter with Ethiopia's not-so-hardened criminal classes, four years after first arriving in the country as a tourist.

Here is what happened, with some tips on what to do if anything similar happens to you.

Scenario 1

You are standing on a corner of Piazza, a couple of days off the plane with a lost look on your face, a half-open bag on your shoulder and a visible wallet in your pocket (a classic example of the asking-for-it posture). A man comes up and says the friends you are waiting for are with his friends round the corner. You follow blindly. Two other men suddenly crowd around you. One grabs you by the arm and tries to spin you in a clockwise direction to throw you off your balance. The other tries to grab your bag.

What to do

Turn your shoulders gently in a counter-clockwise direction while saying ‘No' in your sternest voice. Your attackers will fly off in all directions then run away looking vaguely embarrassed. Five minutes later, the armed guard outside the branch of the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia about ten yards away will walk up to you full of sympathy, shrug and tell you that this sort of thing never happens in Ethiopia.

Scenario 2

You are walking down Bole towards the junction with the Chinese friendship road, lost in thought. You have the same bag over your shoulder but this time you have learned and the wallet is zipped inside. A young man walks up behind you and shows you a sheet of Amharic newspaper. While you are distracted, another young man runs up to you from the front. He dives at your ankles with the aim of knocking you on to your back, leaving you defenseless while his partner grabs your bag.

What to do

Stand still. Look down at your assailant who is still sheepishly hugging your ankles. Give him a kick (as much as the hug will allow). Watch as the two men run off looking a little embarrassed. Shout the first vaguely appropriate Amharic phrase that comes into your mind – mine was ‘Shifta!' the equivalent of ‘Brigand, highwayman!' Appeal for help from the two armed federal policemen standing across the road. They will look at you oddly.

Scenario 3

You are standing in a crowd in Adwa, minutes after the Prime Minister has cast his vote in the general election. You feel a hand inside your trouser pocket, grabbing a 100 birr note. The crowd is so packed that you can't move or even turn round to take a look at the thief.

What to do

Nothing. If you are a journalist, try and fail to claim the money back on expenses a few days later. Do not even think of approaching the two Land Cruisers packed with prime-ministerial body guards armed to the teeth. They will have other things on their minds.

Posted by aheavens at 6:10 AM

Our first splog

splog.jpgThe Ethiopian blogosphere has come of age. It has its first Spam Blog (read Wikipedia definition) - in this specific case a blog that sucks in everyone else's posts, publishes them on its own site, sticks adverts next to them and reaps the rewards.

And it is not just advertising. At the bottom right there is a donations box - suggested minimum $5 - presumably so it can save up for something nice from Amazon for us in exchange for giving it all of its content.

Posted by aheavens at 4:42 AM