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January 28, 2007

The presidential parade

DSC0012At the height of it they were coming in every 15 minutes. Gaddafi, Kibaki, al-Bashir, Festus Mogae, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, all piling into Addis Ababa for the 8th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union.

There was a basic procedure, endlessly repeated. Everyone waited in a corridor in the VIP section of Bole airport (the old terminal now shared with the domestic flights). All the protocol officers and bulky security men bustled around until they formed a critical mass around the door and headed for the red carpet. The executive jet trundled up. The VIP poked his head out of the door, walked awkwardly down the stairs, shook hands with Teshome Toga (Speaker for the Ethiopian House of Peoples' Representatives), took a bunch of flowers from a pretty Ethiopian girl, handed the flowers to an official and headed for the first group of grinning officials.

DSC0130Then it was a quick right-hand turn to a shaded stand in front of the brass band which gave a one-minute burst of a national anthem. Then a quick about turn back to the second group of dignitaries, another right hand turn along the red carpet, a pause to admire a group of traditional Ethiopian dancers and a final sprint towards another door in the airport terminal.

And that happened at fast-forward speed again and again and again all yesterday afternoon. Presumably it will again today as well.

Each time I was in a little pack of hacks trying to keep up with it all while focusing a camera. The basic motion was a quick sprint to get 50 yards ahead of the VIP and his officials then about 10 seconds of walking backwards or crouching with your finger on the shutter button.

DSC0113Your ten seconds were up when the VIP's security men told you they were up. I have now been manhandled by mirror-shaded security men from across the continent - the Algerians were the roughest and the Botswanans were the nicest.

There were inevitable moments of confusion. Everyone was waiting with cameras, microphones and notebooks poised for the President of Zambia. Then a plane with 'Botswana' printed down the side rolled in.

Gaddafi won the prize for the biggest entourage - three jets and a smaller cargo - and the best outfit - blue/purple/orange wraparound shares. white and yellow robes, green Africa badge and every military medal you can think of.

Posted by aheavens at 4:32 AM

January 26, 2007

"Well that was a dynamic question"

There is something special about press conferences hosted by Americans in Addis. The journalists here tend to abandon their usual cool impartiality and got a little - how shall I say this - 'pointed' in their interrogation.

Yesterday, Ethiopia's press corps got its first chance to meet Dr Cindy L. Courville, the USA's Ambassador to the African Union. Every aspect of US involvement in Africa and beyond was raised. 'Wasn't the US support of Ethiopian troops in Somalia really nothing about supporting a government but all about the US taking over the region?'; 'Wasn't the war on terror rotten to the core?' (or something like that). I even heard one question starting "Madam ambassador, every day more widows are crying, more children are dying..."

At the getting-to-know-you tea and biscuits session after the conference, she was surrounded by a semi-circle of veteran hacks. Voices were raised. At least one finger was pointed.

The ambassador coped with it very well - "Well that was a dynamic question" was her response to one quite mild query early on. In case you were wondering, her answers were calm, diplomatic and straight down the party line.

After the journalists had got everything they wanted to off their chests, the calmed down too and realised they didn't have much to write about from the meeting. You will search in vain for a mention of it on Yahoo! news - just one photo.

Posted by aheavens at 12:38 PM

Getting ready for Gaddafi

Everyone is coming to Addis over this weekend - Colonel Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi, Romano Prodi, Javier Solana, you name it - for the 8th African Union Summit.

You can tell important people are coming to town because the internet connection keeps crashing, the main streets from the airport are fluttering with obscure flags and the Federal Police's boys in blue are out in force.

They are carrying all the usual batons and guns. But this time, each of them is also equipped with a coil of fluorescent orange or blue nylon rope. I'm still building up the courage to ask one of them what it's for.

Now, all I need is for the Ministry of Info gets me a security pass for the airport, so I can start taking pictures of all these people getting off their shiny jets. I also need to find out how Reuters spells Gaddafi. According to Wikipedia as many as 37 different versions have been listed.

Posted by aheavens at 11:53 AM

January 24, 2007

links for 2007-01-24

Posted by aheavens at 6:26 AM

January 19, 2007

Happy Timkat

Or should that be Timket? This year was definitely better than last year. See more pictures from this morning's celebrations on Jan Meda on Flickr.

Timket, by the way, is the biggest Ethiopian Orthodox christian Festival and marks the Epiphany - with a special focus today on Christ's baptism by John the Baptist. There are lots of Tabots - sacred representations of the Ark of the Covenant - and bottles of holy water.

Posted by aheavens at 5:29 PM

January 17, 2007

links for 2007-01-17

Posted by aheavens at 6:26 AM

January 16, 2007

Two pictures of little Mogadishu

My two Reuters photos of Addis Ababa's 'Little Mogadishu' district have sparked quite a discussion over at Nazret.com.

Here's the direct link - and here's another one for anyone experiencing the strange "technical problems" that still seem to be preventing all access to Nazret and Blogspot blogs.

In answer to one of the Nazret commenters, 'Little Mogadishu' is basically Bole Mikael - and its a lot safer and friendlier than big Mogadishu.

Posted by aheavens at 4:26 AM

January 12, 2007

"Events, dear boy, events"

Making predictions is a dangerous business.

Here are The Economist's predictions for the Horn of Africa, just published in its book/magazine 'The World in 2007':

Many of the headlines will come from Somalia, where Islamists will continue to hold the balance of power...

Ethiopia will try to use the African Union to send a force of pecekeepers into Somalia, including Ugandan and Sudanese troops. This will provoke the Islamists, who strongly oppose any foreign presence in Somalia....

The result will be a war that will threaten the stability of Ethiopia. It will not resemble the 1977 Ogaden war, when Somalia came in with conventional forces. The Islamists have no tanks or air power. Instead they will rely on guerrilla tactics and terrorist operations.

That predicted chain of events may have already been history by the end of 2006. It remains to be seen whether the Economist is right about the eventual outcome.

The headline, by the way, is a quote from UK Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, warning how easily plans and predictions can be disrupted by things that happen. The Economist, to its credit, quotes it in an article in the same publication, explaining how "not everything you read in The World in 2007 will turn out precisely as predicted".

Posted by aheavens at 6:04 AM

BBC catches up

No joke. As I type, the BBC World Service is running a feature on how a new generation of gadgets called "USB drives" is replacing "floppy discs". "How much information can on of these devices hold?" asks the presenter breathlessly.

Next week, watch out for the reports on "Goodbye 'Snail Mail', hello 'E Mail'" and, "Logging on to the Information Superhighway".

Posted by aheavens at 5:57 AM

January 8, 2007

Merry Ethiopian Christmas

DSC0077Our fereng Christmas on December 25 was pretty much wiped out by the Somali conflict. Lots of chasing around press conferences, little festive cheer.

So it was great to have a second chance yesterday on Ethiopian Christmas Day. As everyone who reads this must know by now, Ethiopia has its own calendar and time system - 7am is 1am, 2007 is currently 1999, there are 13 months in the year and Christ was born on January 7.

In our neighbourhood, the thing to do on Christmas Day is to walk over to Jan Meda - a huge public park - and watch the programme of ancient, traditional sports. There was traditional wrestling (see pic), traditional throwing-a-spear-through-a-rolling-hoop, traditional wild wild horse riding and traditional Gena, a team game with curved sticks, a small hard ball and goals that looks uncannily like hockey.

DSC0057Capital tells us:

The game has a long but unrecorded history. Oral tradition tells that at the time of the birth of Christ, the shepherds nearby played 'Gena' out of joy...

'Ye Gena Chewata' is usually played by youngsters. In former years, the game neither had specific player numbers or a set duration. The game which started at dawn might continue with the help of moonlight.

I saw the game played the traditional way on top of Magdala - Emperor Tewodros II's old mountain fortress in Amhara - on Christmas morning four years ago. Yesterday, it has set teams, timed play, even referees with whistles.

It was all great, but a little low key. The crowds were relatively small. And everywhere else on Jan Meda, hundreds of young men in Manchester United shirts were ignoring the festivities and getting on with Ethiopia's real national sport - not so traditional football.

See more pics of the sports on Flickr.

Posted by aheavens at 4:30 AM

January 5, 2007

links for 2007-01-05

Posted by aheavens at 6:27 AM

January 4, 2007

Waiting for Museveni

DSC0017What do you do when your VIP is running late?

At Bole airport today, we lay back on the red carpet and watched members of the Ras Theatre group get down to the sounds of the martial brass band practising in the background.

Then the plane swooped down and we were back to work, dodging between the bodyguards, trying to get Meles and Museveni in the same shot, with their eyes open and their shoes included in the frame.

Here's what happened in news land where Meles and Museveni got together to talk about the Somali crisis.

In the end the press photos came out fine. But I prefered the ones I took on the runway before it all kicked off. See more on Flickr.

Posted by aheavens at 5:28 PM

A Somali press conference

DSC0041Below the fold you'll find a transcript of a press conference given by Somalia's ambassador to Ethiopia, Abdikarin Farah, in his embassy in Addis Ababa way back on Monday, January 1, 2007.

It's all a bit old now, given the diplomatic talks that have been going on in Addis Ababa today about sending African peacekeeping troops in to keep the peace, with at least the financial backing of the US and other powers.

But there were three of his quotes I found particularly interesting.

"Other things they agreed yesterday was to reintegrate those security forces ex-military, ex-police and ex-security forces to register so that they can participate in the ongoing operation. Probably they will eventually be the security forces of the government. These people are the people that the Islamic Courts neglected."

Are these ex-police and so on really the best people to put back in charge of Mogadishu? If they were the ones who were in charge of the city before the Islamic Courts took over, they haven't got a very good track record.

"Somalia is one country. It has been recognised by the UN as one country. It has been recognised by the AU as one country. It is recognised by the Arab League as one country. So there is no two Somalias, there is one Somalia...Now, when it comes to Somaliland, we must respect Somaliland, what they have achieved for the last 16 years...And we don't want to endanger it at all. Now, once we solve the problem of the South and we pacify and we make sure that everything is OK, then we will sit with the Somalilanders. We are preparing to talk with them."

Is this good news or bad news for Somaliland, the northern bit of what the UN calls Somalia which wants to be independent? So far, it is doing pretty well on its own.

Q: How much longer will you need Ethiopian forces to be inside Somalia?

"As long as the situation of the country - as you asked me earlier - we don't want a vacuum at all. So, if they come out today - and you know a lot of international organisations, a lot of international terrorists, even other countries are involved now in Somalia. If the Ethiopian forces came out now it would be unjustified, really, unwise, now."

This is the bit that everyone jumped on at the press conference. Ethiopia says it wants to get back out of Somalia in weeks, if not days. Somalia's Transitional Federal Government wants them to stay for a lot longer, if not indefinitely. Someone is going to be very disappointed.

A quick technical note about the rest of the post. It was a very quick transcription, so the spelling – especially the place names – is all over the place. And the questions were asked by lots of different journalists, not just one.


We are coming to the final phase of the operation of Somalia in which both the Transitional Federal Government forces and also the Ethiopian forces are engaging...

The situation of Mogadishu - it is over for about the last 24 hours. We stopped it for Eid when there was no operation at all. Probably, during that day some people started looting or maybe some children and woman they started firing some tyres and showing some kind of opposition. But there was no opposition to Ethiopian forces or the Somali security. But some media they actually reported that. The reason was that they said there is some insecurity now and we need the forces to come immediately to our side. And they were showing some sign of urgency to call those people to Mogadishu

Now, as I speak to you now, and since early morning yesterday, Mogadishu is totally under control. Today there is no problem whatsoever in Mogadishu and the reason Mogadishu is fallen into the government hands is very simple. The President and the Prime Minister, they called a meeting with the women groups, business communities, elders, religious communities, tribal leaders and other intellectuals outside Mogadishu. And then the government said "We are here. Tell us what to do from now. And we would like as a government to listen to you as you are the people of Mogadishu." And that is why they have agreed the timetable. For example, they said the security forces should go into Mogadishu in designated areas - for example the airport, the sea port, the military bases in Mogadishu, all the police headquarters in Mogadishu and also where the market is in order to protect the people's business. And exactly as they have instructed, the security forces moved in.

In the second phase they said, "What we are going to do is now - the people of Mogadishu will hand over the weapons." And the government designated two areas - one called Hilwene which is the north side of Mogadishu and the other camp where people should deposit their ammunition and weapons is Lantapuro which is the south side of Mogadishu. Both of them are about 30km south and north of Mogadishu. And the people, as we speak to you this morning, are starting to deposit their weapons there. Other things they agreed yesterday was to reintegrate those security forces ex-military, ex-police and ex-security forces to register so that they can participate in the ongoing operation. Probably they will eventually be the security forces of the government.

These people are the people that the Islamic Courts neglected. Bearing in mind that the Islamic Courts refused to allow those people to be part of the process. Now the elderly, the business community, the intellectuals, the farmers - they advise the government to reintegrate these people into the government. Because this is the right time for these people to secure the country, since they are the ex-military and ex-police. So that is what happened yesterday.

The other thing was the government announced again, the President announced forgiveness. He said we completely forgive even the Islamic Union Courts or any other people if they are willing to lay down their arms and forces and stop the hostilities. And then if they have any disagreement, they come to sit with us and talk. Now that is exactly what is happening.

Now the security forces immediately left Mogadishu. They went to Marka, they went to Coriole, they went to Barave and then they went Jilip where they at last met some of the defense of the remaining Islamic Union Courts. As you know, Mogadishu up to Jilip is about 380km. So obviously there is no resistance, there is no Islamic Union Courts between Mogadishu up to Jilip.

Now, last night, the pro-government people in Jilip started organising themselves and then they started attacking behind from the Islamic Union Courts. And they could not now resist in Jilip and they fled from Jilip and Kismayo and they went to Afmedu, very very near to the border with Kenya. And that is as far as we know. They disappeared into the bush. Afmedu is a very small village and still the forces are pursuing.

So, obviously there are no casualties so far among civilians or our security forces. There is no infrastructure damage at all. We have never seen this kind of war. And obviously you have been reporting wars for many years and you have witnessed wars. But this one, it is carefully coordinated and we know our people on the ground. Wherever we go, we go on the advice and willingness of that particular people and that particular region. We will never engage in a war where we know there is a resistance of the people and that is the reason behind the success you can see. And obviously, from Puntland all the way to Kismayo as we speak now is controlled and secured. Within the next few days we will root out from our borders, or capture.

The only problem we are facing - we don't know what is happening yet on the coast side. You are well aware we have the longest coast in Africa. There was news of Eritreans running away in boats - although I don't have confirmation of that yet. The coast is still open and we do not yet have sufficient forces to guard the Indian Ocean. So we have made a request to other international countries and organisations who are capable of doing that.

What I can say is that up to Kismayo, it is in the hands of the government with the help of the people and from now on, within the next couple of days, the operation of the military will be over. After the forces have pacified this area, the next stage will be political and all reconciliation and talking will start inside Somalia.

I can confirm to you that there is no Khartoum talks any more. Any talking will take place inside Somalia. The reconciliation process will go on but it will be within Somalia. No reconciliation or dialogue will take place outside the country.

I am now willing to take your questions.

Q: What is the Transitional Government going to do now to ensure that a power vacuum doesn't open up again? People are talking about insurgents coming back. How can you ensure that that won't happen?

Number 1 - there are security forces in every city , in every village and every town. I have just come back from Somalia. I have witnessed this. I have been to places where I have never been before. That shows that security now permits us to move around. It is the security forces' responsibility. There is no vacuum. And obviously that is a priority and we are not going to compromise. No vacuum again. And obviously that is something we have planned.

Q: Can you confirm that the Americans are helping you to control the sea shores?

We can not confirm that to you. But the Americans are obviously helping us in terms of political will, making sure that the dialogue has to be open. Also, you've heard the security council - what has happened. They recognise that this is a Transitional Federal Government. But they are not helping us militarily or by any other means. But we have requested - not just the Americans - we have requested the French, we requested all other countries to help us to control the sea shores.

Q: What about the Puntland and the Somaliland issue?

Number 1 - we have to be very careful what we are saying here. Somalia is one country. It has been recognised by the UN as one country. It has been recognised by the AU as one country. It is recognised by the Arab League as one country. So there is no two Somalias, there is one Somalia.

Number 2 - Because of Somalia's history, some administrations have been built up to form their own administrations. Now, when it comes to Puntland, they never declared they are independent from Somalia. They said they are part of the Transitional Federal Government and their security forces are now part of the TFG and they helped us make a counter attack all the way from Puntland all the way to Hiransa. SO obviously we are one. And out President Abdullah Yusuf, he came from Puntland, so there is no misunderstanding at all.

Now, when it comes to Somaliland, we must respect Somaliland, what they have achieved for the last 16 years. Now, we need to make sure that stability and development, they carry on in Somaliland in Hargeisa. We need to respect that. And we don't want to endanger it at all. Now, once we solve the problem of the South and we pacify and we make sure that everything is OK, then we will sit with the Somalilanders. We are preparing to talk with them.

So, I am not telling you how those talks will be or how they will end. But we will engage with the Somalilanders to sit with them and start talking. The circumstances have never allowed this before. And even as we are sitting here, we are not ready yet. But let's sort it out - the South first and then we will sit with them. I will answer your question about Somaliland at that time.

Q: How much longer will you need Ethiopian forces to be inside Somalia?

As long as the situation of the country - as you asked me earlier - we don't want a vacuum at all. So, if they come out today - and you know a lot of international organisations, a lot of international terrorists, even other countries involved now in Somalia. If the Ethiopian forces came out now it would be unjustified, really, unwise, now. So, for the Ethiopians to come out, there are two options. There must be IGASOM to deploy immediately so there is no vacuum there, or the Ethiopians will remain with us. Keep in mind - Ethiopia came motivated by their own self--defense, but we also requested them to come. So now, our two governments, they have very close contacts with these issues. It is up to both the Ethiopian ans Somali government to make a decision when the Ethiopians come out. But, as far as the international community is concerned, they must also make it, either IGA-SOM or IGA-African Union forces to movbe into Somalia. Then there will not be a vacuum. Because we can not make all these efforts that we have made for the Ethiopians to come out tomorrow, then the Somalis can start all again. That is unwise.

Ethiopia will stay there as long as they are finalising. But still they are pursuing terrorists. There are still some jobs to do. SO, let's wait until that's finished And then, obviously we will see what happens after that.

Q: Now that the military action is effectively over, when are you going to set up a permanent institution in Mogadishu?

The institutional set-up is there. It's just the implementation. now we are in Mogadishu - not politically but militarily. But we are waiting until the security forces say that it is pacified. They can not pacify without talking and engaging with the local community. So that is the stage we are in now.

Q: There are allegations that the Islamic Courts have distributed weapons to the youth and things could become unsettled. When are you going to start disarmament?

We re not going to disarm anyone by force. Those youths who got some ammunition and armament from the Islamic Union Courts, they are turning those arms into the government, voluntarily, through their parents, through their community leaders, through intellectuals. So there is no disarmament by force. As we speak to you now, we have already started receiving some weapons from the youth.

Q: I have been to Somalia myself. I was traveling with the Ethiopian and TFG soldiers. But I didn't see big resistance after Baidoa. And the people were very enthusiastic. How are you going to harmonise the remaining sympathisers of UIC?

Thanks you very much for your question and I am very glad that you are here now since you come from Baidoa. Have you been to Borahakabar? [Yes] Have you seen how many dead bodies are there? [I have seen.] It's well over 3,000. [Even more] Even more, thank you. Those dead bodies are the people either forced, brain-washed or are foreigners. So, each and every family in Mogadishu are victims of the Islamic Courts and they are sympathising with the TFG. Now, what we are going to do is that we are going to talk to the people themselves and we will ask what kind of administration they want. How they want it. We are taking their advice. They are intellectuals. They are elders. We need to have their acceptance. And that is how we are taking the peace process forward, and that is hoe we are going to take the government inside Mogadishu and any other region of Somalia. It is for the people now to chose who is going to lead at the local level, because this is federal government. People must choose their own leaders. From now until 2009, we have got a massive job to do. Even those people who are elected now are only temporary. So we, are going to have another election in 2009 in which we will allow some parties to register.

Q: I have also seen so many foreigners who have been killed there - mostly Arabs from Yemen and Sudan especially. And there were some others also. How are you doing to deal with these people?

We have very difficult legal issues because, as you are well aware, the TFG was in Baidoa and we didn't have all our legal institutions. But we have got, as Somalia, extradition agreements with many countries before. And we need to make sure that those countries, with whom we have extradition agreements, when we capture their forces, we need to make sure how we are going to agree with these countries. The other thing is that, all those foreigners that we have captured, we are not saying that they are representing their countries. They are international jihadists. They are working through their own free will. But we still have a duty to talk to their own countries. In the meantime we have obligations to hold them in Somali prisons and then we will see what the law says from there. But there are so many people who have been captures and so many people who have been killed.

Q: How many people have been captured?

A lot and it still continues, [Can you give us a figure?] I can not give you any figure because I do not have one myself. But it is a lot. Some people have run away and got lost. Then they are turning themselves into the security forces. So many are dead and so many are on the run. We don't want to use a figure now.

Q: What about the numbers of casualties and dead?

Over 5,000 have been killed. But I don't have figures for wounded. This is the only war that I have seen where the casualties and dead have only been suffered by one side - the UIC.

Posted by aheavens at 5:07 PM

Somali links

I've been doing some digging around the Somali blogosphere recently, for obvious reasons.

Like the Ethiopian blogosphere, it is predominantly written by people in the diaspora. Unlike the Ethiopian blogosphere it is not all that engaged with things going on back home - even when there's a war on. Maybe it is just too depressing to think and write about.

Here is how Memoirs of Aya put it in her post An order of self-flagellation, please!:

I feel guilty about not caring about politics anymore. I did once. Organized demos, made flyers, sent angry letters, formed youth groups, yada yada yada blah blah blah. Now I barely understand who's who in Somali politics. It is all German to me.

Here are some of the links I liked.

Posted by aheavens at 6:37 AM

A night on a river bank

DSC0107We knew something was wrong as soon as we saw the line of trucks parked up on the road ahead. As we turned off our engines we could hear the dull roar of a river in full flood, just out of sight over a rocky outcrop. The truck drivers and their passengers were out stretching their legs. Past the outcrop, the river was a brown, swirling mass of water that smashed against boulders and carried whole tree trunks along with its force

We had driven across this river just four hours earlier when it had been a gentle, sandy stream. Four hours later, heavy rain falling somewhere else over the horizon had sent a wall of water down to block the main road into Turmi, a remote town close to the Kenyan border in Ethiopia's tribal Southern Nations, Nationalities and People's Region (aka SNNPR).

It was about 5.30pm, which meant that there was less than an hour of daylight left. There were no villages, no shelters, just a rocky river bank, a load of stranded lorry drivers – and three lean old men squatting down behind a Toyota LandCruiser.

The men were naked apart from thin cotton sheets wrapped loosely around their shoulders. Two carried sticks. One had something like a crown fixed to his forehead, shaped like the front piece of a tiara but made out of mud. They were elders from the Hamer people – one of about 45 "indigenous ethnic groups" that make up the region. They had also been cut off from Turmi by the flash flood.

They looked at us. We looked at them. We wandered around for a bit, trying to do sensible Boy Scout things like collecting boulders and branches for a fire. Someone drove back down the road in search of a distant village and something to eat. And then it got dark.

Sometimes it's good just to throw your guidebooks to one side and revel in the strangeness of it all. About an hour later, the truck came back with a huge goat in the back. The animal gave a single bleat as three of the truck drivers bent over it to cut its throat. The headlights of our 4x4 made the sudden gush of blood look jet black.

The three Hamer elders turned out to be expert butchers. In a matter of minutes, they had strung up the carcass, skinned it, chopped it into the right sections and skewered them on stakes over the fire. About half an hour later we were all gnawing on fresh, fresh charcoaled, barbecued goat meat, wrapped up in old wrappings and copies of the Ethiopian Herald.

DSC0117The river roared on. The men kept feeding the fire. And conversations trundled along in English, Amharic and Hamer. After that, it was an incredibly uncomfortable night crammed into the back seat of a LandCruiser, ending in one of the most beautiful dawns I have ever seen.

The river had shrunk back down over night. The river bed was still too soft for the vehicles. So we joined the stream of villagers wading across, carrying cameras and equipment over our heads.

I would have named Turmi as one of my 'favourite places in Ethiopia'. The only thing that stopped me is that it is an incredibly uncomfortable place to visit. I don't mean the remoteness or the living conditions. I mean the relationship with the people who live there.

We were in SNNPR's South Omo zone filming the roll out of a region-wide tetanus vaccination campaign. If you're a foreigner, the only other game in town apart from development-related work is tourism. And by tourism I mean people-watching. (I don't want to sound snooty here. This was my second visit to Turmi. The first time a couple of years ago I was out there people-watching with the rest of them.)

The Hamer people, and the SNNPR's other 'Nations, Nationalities and Peoples' are famous for their beautiful, colourful traditions and dress. Just point a camera at one of them, get it vaguely in focus, and you can walk away feeling like a National Geographic staffer. You also walk away leaving a bit of yourself in the bad old days of the 19th century when organised groups of foreign "explorers" toured the continent to gawp at the bare-breasted natives. (Not that it's only the Westerners. Addis Ababans and visitors from other African countries are just as out of place.)

DSC0185If they want it, the Hamer people and their neighbours are sitting on top of a tourist-powered goldmine. With a bit more infrastructure, and better hotels, they could easily become the Maasai of Ethiopia, pulling in visitors in their thousands for authentic tribal experiences.

But, from what I saw during my short visit, they don't want it. Point your camera at a Hamer woman and she will stare you down with God-given attitude, count every time your finger hits the shutter and charge you a Birr a shot.

Every tribal-tourist encounter is troubled. As we drove out a few days alter we passed a group of young men twisting and waving their machetes at us with ritualised menace. A couple of hours down the road to Jinka there was another gang of small boys in full regal tribal face paint and regalia, chasing after the car with their hands out, begging like the street children at Urael.

Posted by aheavens at 6:30 AM

January 3, 2007

African Path launched

banner01.jpgLooks good.

The African Path web site has launched. African Path is created to fill a void in the marketplace for a strong Pan-African web site where news content and blogging can be merged into a unified voice. A lot of African bloggers are discussing issues relevant to the continent but online exposure to these blogs is limited. African Path aims to provide this much needed exposure. We aim to fill the void left by big media in covering information on Africa and providing a forum in which Africans can discuss issues concerning themselves both within and outside the continent.

Posted by aheavens at 2:45 AM

January 2, 2007

Cuddly Kinijit

97699452v3_240x240_Front.jpgEthiopian government forces be warned. Your days are numbered.

The opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy and its worldwide army of supporters today unveiled the KINIJIT LE ETHIOPIA Teddy Bear.

Product Information

Our plush bear is a cutie in his own message-bearing t-shirt and festive red ribbon. He's a great gift for Valentine's Day, baby showers, birthdays, get well-wishes, a pair of wedding bears, or any reason you dream up. Put a smile on someone's face. Just grin and bear it!

  • Soft plush fur
  • 11 inches tall
  • Red bow and t-shirt included

Posted by aheavens at 5:36 AM

Ten sexual deviants sitting on a wall

Well it was a nice change from all the political abuse this site normally attracts. A guy called 'Blank' has just accused me of the terrible crime of being a "gay activist" (see comments below the post below).

He wrote:

I am saying this because I saw a link on your blog (meskelsquare) a link to a gay website. I know not how you choose whether to create a link to another site or not, but I am pretty sure this will be viewed by many as gay activism. And gay rights activism is not what you may want to be credited for. After all there are probably less than ten sexually deviant people in Ethiopian. Are you willing to campaign for these people and insult the rest of us (an the nation)?

Fewer that ten sexual deviants in Ethiopia? What a dull, dull country.

Posted by aheavens at 5:24 AM