« February 2007 | Main | April 2007 »

March 30, 2007

Free the Ethiopian Captives

DSC0025A pressure group to campaign for the freedom of the eight Ethiopian hostages was formed yesterday. It is called the 'Free The Ethiopian Captives Committee'.

The idea is to collect lots of signatures and members, then approach international organisations and ask them to do all they can to bring about the release. At the very least, it will aim to keep the eight in the headlines.

It will also steer clear of politics. The committee is not blaming anyone for the kidnapping.

If anyone wants to join, they can send an email to freetheethiopiancaptives@gmail.com.

Here is part of a story I wrote about the launch yesterday:

The eight Ethiopians were seized alongside five European travelers in the country's remote Afar region in the early hours of March 1.

The three Britons, one Italian and one French woman were released two weeks later after their governments led a diplomatic campaign to free them. But the Ethiopians – including two orphans from Ethiopia's 1984 'Live Aid' famine – remain in captivity.

Supporters on Thursday said they were forming a pressure group in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa to push for the release of the eight and to keep their case in the headlines.

"There was something unjust. There was a discrimination in who was released and who wasn't released," said Tony Hickey, a friend of two of the kidnapped Ethiopians at a press conference called to launch the pressure group. "That is what we have to address."

Founder members of the new 'Free the Ethiopian Captives Committee' also attacked the international media which, they said, had lost interest in the story after the release of the Europeans.

"Let's be honest. The reason interest has dropped off is because five European captives is sexy news. Eight kidnapped Ethiopians isn't,"said Mr Hickey, who is also the owner of the travel company that organised the Afar trip and employed two of the missing Ethiopians – tour guide Ashenafe Mekonen and cook Debash Baye. "It's just another African disaster story and people stop paying attention...It is a sort of racist issue."

Supporters said the committee would petition international bodies, from the UN to foreign governments, to keep up the public profile of the missing Ethiopians.

"We are not pointing the finger of blame," said Samson Teshome, another tour operator and committee member at the committee launch. "But before the release of the Europeans, all the media was shouting 24 hours a day. After the release of the Europeans we haven't heard very much.

"We want to tell the captives that we are still trying to get them back, that we are not going to sleep until we get them back. We want to call on the people who have them to release them."

Mystery still surrounds the kidnapping which took place in the Afar village of Hamed-Ila. Villagers said up to 50 men in military uniform took the Europeans from their beds along with their cook, guide and driver and a group of locals, and marched them towards the Eritrean border.

Ethiopia has repeatedly blamed its old enemy and neighbour Eritrea for orchestrating the kidnapping – a claim which Eritrea denies.

Before the Europeans were released, diplomatic sources said that a more likely explanation was that the group had been taken by a splinter group of Afar separatists.

The five Europeans are still recovering with their families and have not commented on their ordeal. The British Embassy in Addis Ababa today said it would not comment on who took the group or where they were kept "because of the ongoing sensitivities around the kidnapping".

Posted by aheavens at 5:58 AM

March 29, 2007


EthiopiaNizm is a movement for a 21st Century Ethiopian cultural and socio-economic Renaissance. EthiopiaNizm.com is a multimedia blog about the finer things about us for us as seen by us.

It is also, probably, Ethiopia's first video blog. And, for now at least, you don't need to know anything about proxy servers to see it in Ethiopia.

Posted by aheavens at 3:53 AM

March 28, 2007

Article: Ethiopia acid victim shows many women are at risk

By Andrew Heavens

DSC0239ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Kamilat Mehdi was walking home after dark with her two sisters when a man stepped out of the shadows and threw sulphuric acid in her face.

The acid hit the 21-year-old's eyes, nose, mouth, forehead and chest, splashing onto the faces and backs of her sisters beside her, burning flesh wherever it touched.

Though an isolated case, the attack has horrified Ethiopia's reserved and conservative society and cast a searing light on a hidden culture of violence against women.

"This isn't just a crime against Kamilat," said Assefa Kesito, Ethiopia's minister of justice, who visited her bedside.

"This is a crime committed against the state of Ethiopia. A crime committed against my daughter, my sister, my mother."

The attack -- allegedly by a man who had been stalking Kamilat -- came amid recent advances for women's rights in Ethiopia. But official improvements are just part of the story.

A 2005 report by the World Health Organisation found just over 70 per cent of Ethiopian women surveyed who had ever been in a relationship had suffered some sort of physical or sexual violence. Sixty-five per cent said it was acceptable to beat a wife for not finishing her housework.

AcidattackgirlDr Elaine Rocha, a professor at Addis Ababa University's Institute of Gender Studies, said this was the first acid attack she had come across in Ethiopia, but added it fits a pattern of violence against women in the country.

"It is only the most extreme cases like this that ever come out into the open," she added. "A woman is taught to tolerate abuse from a very, very early age. We could be talking about beating, abduction, harmful traditional practices like genital mutilation. The only time she might talk about it is when her life is at risk."

Kamilat is now being treated in a specialist hospital in Paris, France -- sent there by the country's richest man, entrepreneur Sheikh Mohammed Al-Amoudi, who stepped in to pay for her treatment amid reports her life may be in danger.

"It's hard because every day they do something, and there's no anaesthetic," she told Reuters at the Addis Ababa hospital where she was treated before being moved to France.


Acid attacks against women have been recorded in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, India, three cities in Britain and Uganda, according to the British charity Women at Risk. Some people fear they may be on the rise.

Ethiopia has made significant advances to protect women's rights in recent years: it has its first Minister of Women's Affairs and overhauled legislation on rape, female genital mutilation and other offences.

"There have been big advances. But there is still a problem with enforcing these new laws," said Mahdere Paulos, executive head of the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association.

Mahdere said improvements depend on training police officers and changing female self-perceptions: "They would always see the man or the husband as a father who has a right to discipline his wife like he would discipline a child. It is the culture."

Research suggests acid attacks can happen when a woman either ends a relationship or rejects a suitor, said Marren Akatsa-Bukachi, executive director of the Kampala-based East African Sub-regional Support Initiative for the Advancement of Women, adding that such attacks are quite common in Uganda.

"I've been there two and a half years and I have come across more than 10 cases," she said at a conference on domestic violence in Addis Ababa.

"It seems to be a growing trend. They come and knock on your door, or say 'Let's meet to talk this over'. Then they put acid on your face. They are so bitter. They are thinking 'If I can't have you then no one can.'

"In East Africa we are patriarchal and that means that women are more or less invisible. In many traditions a sign of love was an occasional slap to your wife. And the wives who were not slapped used to complain to their friends," she said.


Kamilat and her sisters were attacked on January 6: her story only hit headlines after her family decided to go public about it to raise funds for her treatment.

The acid burnt almost all the skin from Kamilat's face, scorched off an inch of her hairline and destroyed most of her eyelids. She has to wear a bandage to go to sleep.

National television appealed for donations and gave regular updates on her condition. Star athlete Haile Gebreselassie queued with government ministers to visit her bedside.

"It has taken her this long to gather up the courage to tell everyone about it," family friend Yemenesh Negash said.

"She is very strong. She has big dreams - she's a visionary. She wants everyone to know what happened."

Yemenesh said Kamilat had recognised her attacker as a man who had obsessively stalked her for the past four years.

"He used to follow her around, then phone her and say 'I can see you drinking coffee,'

Posted by aheavens at 5:12 AM

At last

It looks like MeskelSquare has at last joined the list of blogs to have been wiped off Ethiopian computer screens. I say 'at last' because it was getting a bit embarrassing being the only one left behind.

Here are the Seminawork and Urael reports to back it up. (Of course, you won't be able to use those links if you are in Ethiopia. Then again, you won't be here in the first place if you are in Ethiopia.)

I can vouch for Urael's description of internet traffic over the past week by the way.

The weeks that the blogspot sites were not blocked, the internet in Ethiopia was considerable slower than the usual also not fantastic speed. This changed this week, normal instead of extreme turtle speed again, and the blogspot sites are blocked again.

So goodbye Ethiopian blog readers - unless you are versed in certain dark proxy arts. From now on in it will just be me and you wonderful guys from Washington DC.

Posted by aheavens at 4:33 AM

March 27, 2007

I miscall, you miscall...

Here is a new term for the telecoms lexicon ... to miscall. As in "I just gave him a miscall" or "I just got miscalled".

This is something you do when you don't have much cash left on your mobile phone pre-paid card - especially when you are calling someone richer than you.

You dial the number, allow half a ring, then end the call. If all goes to plan, the person you were calling will see your number in his list of missed calls and call you back, taking on the cost of the conversation.

You can either admit it up front, appealing to you richer friend's sense of charity, or you can blame it on yet another glitch in the Ethiopian Telecoms system.

Posted by aheavens at 6:41 AM

Humility is ...

going for a run round Jan Meda and feeling the rush of air as an endless line of Ethiopians - aged anything from 10 to 30 - pass you at speed.

Posted by aheavens at 6:35 AM

March 16, 2007

Kenya's web watchdog

Focus on Africa spreadBelow is a link to the first of four articles I wrote for the latest BBC Focus on Africa Magazine. The photo shows the layout of another.

Kenya: Web Watchdog

It all got too much for Ory Okolloh when Kenya's members of parliament voted to give themselves a sizable pay rise in 2003, soon after the last national elections.
"They were getting all this money - but we had no idea what they were doing to earn that money," said the 30-year-old lawyer and member of Kenya's burgeoning blogging scene.

As you will see, none of the pieces are about Ethiopia.

The reason is that The Ministry of Information here only lets foreign journalists work for one news organisation at a time. As you can see below, I am signed up with Reuters in Addis. If I want to do anything for anyone else, like the BBC, I have to make sure there isn't a hint of a mention of Ethiopia. Correspondingly, because Reuters places so much importance on the dateline (the bit at the beginning of the story that mentions the place where the story was written in brackets) the stuff I do for Reuters can only be about Ethiopia. It all fits. But sometimes life here can be very complicated.

Posted by aheavens at 9:01 AM

March 15, 2007

New, from the creator of Don't Eat My Buchela!

It is a new Ethio-Chinese blog called For Bike's Sake.

Here is how she describes it.

I now live in China. I don't ride a bike here yet because I am afraid one of the crazy Chinese cab drivers would run me over. So, I walk.

I started this website because I am struck by how much, and in how many ways, bikes are used in this country. And because I want to pay homage to one of the most perfect human inventions.

So, in this age of global warming, here is to bicycles!

I now live in Ethiopia. I don't ride a bike here yet because I am afraid one of the crazy Ethiopian cab drivers would run me over. So, I take rides inside those crazy Ethiopian cabs. Much safer.

Posted by aheavens at 4:17 AM

March 14, 2007

"Victims of terrorism"

As soon as the freed Europeans were safely out of Eritrea, Ethiopia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs put out a statement headlined Kidnapped Ethiopians and Europeans, Victims of Terrorism. [The link will take you to the full Word document. I added the bold below.]

Here are a few extracts:

No doubt the crime of abduction was masterminded and executed by the Eritrean Government...Undoubtedly, this criminal act is part and parcel of the terrorist activities the Eritrean Government has been undertaking...

The anti-peace activities conducted in Somalia by the Eritrean regime in collaboration with Afghan trained al-Qaeda extremists, the like of Colonel Hassan Dahir Aweys, Abdellah Al-Sudani, Adan Hashi Ayro, Muktar Robo and other extremists was thwarted by the Ethiopian Defense Forces. It is clear that the Eritrean regime is bent on reorganizing the remnants of the Islamic Courts in order to send them in yet other terrorist missions. Thus, it has become manifestly evident that the Eritrean regime not only supports and propounds terrorism but is also directly involved in active terrorism.

Unless timely action is taken, the destructive activities of the Eritrean regime would further undermine regional and international peace and security.

It should be underlined here that the Ethiopian Government has the legal basis, relying upon all the human and material evidence at its disposal, to make the Eritrean regime account for its deeds in the appropriate fora. As the terrorist acts of the Eritrean Government claiming lives and causing damage to property were committed in broad day-light, they will be corroborated beyond any doubt.

You don't have to be much of an expert on the Horn of Africa to feel that something is building up.

Posted by aheavens at 4:33 PM

Five out of thirteen freed

It was wonderful to have some good news to report last night. But there is still no concrete information about where, why, how or by whom the five kidnapped Europeans were freed. And no news of the eight Ethiopians who were with them.

Here is how Addis-based British businessman Gary Campbell described the five freed Europeans when I interviewed him last night:

The five who've been found have lots of Ethiopian friends. They live in Ethiopia. They are all members of the community. I am sure that they are all going to be thinking of the Ethiopians that were with them in captivity.

Every member of the expat community I spoke to last night said they weren't going to forget the eight Ethiopians now the Europeans were back. St Matthew's Anglican Church (near the Ras Amba Hotel) will be hosting a vigil for them later this week.

Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia's Prime Minister, two days ago said there were reports that at least one of the missing Ehiopians had voluntarily gone with the kidnapped Europeans out of some sense of solidarity.

Tony Hickey, the owner of Ethiopian Quadrants, the travel company that organised the tour, said two of the missing Ethiopians were his employees. They were in their early 20s, he said, and both orphans of the 1984 'Live Aid' famine.

Here is some more reaction:

Expats in Ethiopia worried about fate of locals

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopia's close-knit expatriate community was jubilant on Tuesday at news of the release of five kidnapped Europeans but worried for the fate of eight Ethiopians still being held by armed captors.

"It is absolutely wonderful. I am thrilled. We all felt very moved and close to tears when we heard the news," said the Rev Canon Andrew Proud the chaplain of the Ethiopian capital's only Anglican Church, which held daily prayers for the hostages.

"We will all rejoice about the release of the five Europeans. But at the same time we are not going to forget the others," he added.

Interesting to see The Times quoting "Andrew Heavens, a freelance journalist" about the production of Macbeth directed by Rosanna Moore, one of the freed captives. "“It was an amazing setting. How often do you get to strut around a historic monument, covered in stage blood and waving a sword?” Andrew Heavens said.

Just so you know, that wasn't my heartfelt quote on hearing of the release of the captives. It was a line lifted from this very blog, from the description of the play I wrote three weeks ago, six days before the kidnapping.

Posted by aheavens at 4:02 AM

March 11, 2007

Herald hacked

Clipboard01.jpgThe homepage of the state-controlled Ethiopian Herald has been hacked for days.

And no one seems to have noticed - or done anything about it back at base at the Ministry of Information.

Am I the only one who reads this thing online?

And who are XTech Inc, Pablin77 and the BiyoSecurityTeam?

Posted by aheavens at 5:27 PM

Blogs back again again

As far as I can tell, internet users in Ethiopia can visit Blogspot blogs again.

They disappeared. Then they came back. Then they disappeared again. Then they came back again. All very strange.

Nazret.com still does not work, nor do the usual suspects like Ethiomedia. Proxy servers like Anonymouse are also having problems.

Posted by aheavens at 5:09 PM

March 9, 2007

Kidnapping in Afar

Very busy. So I'm just going to post links to my latest Reuters stories.

Seminawork is also keeping up wih developments, with updates from his/her own sources in Afar. (If that link to the site doesn't work, try this one.)

Ewenet Means Truth in Ethiopia takes issue with a feature I helped write titled Kidnap throws spotlight on barren corner of Ethiopia. I know what she means about traditional depictions of the Afar people. But there is one passage from the Reuters feature Ewenet does not quote:

Experts say the Afar people's reputation for toughness has been exaggerated because they have been so geographically and culturally cut off from the rest of Ethiopia. They are hospitable to outsiders despite massive needs, they add.

At the moment, it seems that 13 people are missing - the five Europeans linked to the British diplomatic community here in Addis and eight Ethiopians - possibly from Afar - reportedly taken with them.

Seven French tourists earlier reported as missing have apparently got in touch with their travel company Origins Ethiopia and are heading back to Mekele, then Addis Ababa. Five Ethiopians who were also taken with the party have turned up at the Eritrean border, according to the Ethiopian News Agency late on Saturday.

Thursday Mar 8

UK deeply concerned over abduction

Mekele, Ethiopia - Britain on Thursday expressed "deep concern" over the fate of five people linked to its embassy in Ethiopia who were abducted a week ago.

There has been no sign of the five Europeans and eight Ethiopians accompanying them since they were snatched at gunpoint from a village in one of the world's hottest and most inhospitable corners, Ethiopia's northeastern Afar region.

Wednesday Mar 7

Kidnap throws spotlight on barren corner of Ethiopia

BERAHILE, Ethiopia (Reuters) - The mysterious kidnapping of five Europeans and eight locals has put the international spotlight on a remote, barren and searingly hot corner of Ethiopia left behind by the modern world.

The Afar region's 1.4 million inhabitants -- mainly nomads -- occupy one of the earth's harshest terrains. Here, rock-strewn hills give way to vast deserts below sea level, and dry river-beds and acacia thorn-trees dot the landscape.

Tuesday Mar 6

No sign of European hostages in Ethiopia kidnap

BERAHILE, Ethiopia, March 6 (Reuters) - A British government team searching for five embassy-linked people kidnapped in Ethiopia's remote Afar region left on Tuesday with no sign that the missing had been found.

The three-person investigating team gave no comment as it left Berahile, a town of sandy streets that Ethiopian police are using as a staging area for the hunt for the Europeans abducted last week in the northeastern region.

Sunday Mar 4 - am

Five kidnapped Ethiopians found near Eritrea border

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Five Ethiopians out of 13 believed kidnapped alongside a party of five Britons in one of Ethiopia's most hostile regions have been found, while a manhunt for the rest of the team has been intensified.

The state-run Ethiopian News Agency said Ethiopian security officials reported the five men had been picked up by security forces patrolling the Eritrean border.

Saturday Mar 3 - pm

Kidnap tourists spotted in army camp

ERITREAN forces were yesterday accused of kidnapping a group of tourists, including five Britons, in a remote part of Ethiopia, and taking them to a military camp.

The Britons went missing on Thursday.

"They were taken to Wema district of Asab Province in Eritrea. This has been confirmed by two Ethiopians of Afar origin who were left behind," said Ismael Ali Sero, head of Afar administrative region.

Saturday Mar 3 - am

Britain sends team to Ethiopia

Britain sent a six-strong team of senior Foreign Office officials to Ethiopia on Saturday to step up diplomatic efforts to free foreigners feared kidnapped in a remote area of the Horn of Africa country.

Friday Mar 2 - am

Fifteen foreigners feared kidnapped in Ethiopia

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Fifteen foreigners, including 11 French nationals, two Britons and an Italian, are believed to have been kidnapped in a remote and inhospitable area of Ethiopia where separatist rebels operate.

Posted by aheavens at 5:23 PM

March 8, 2007

Parris on Afar

I was wondering when Matthew Parris of The Times was going to get round to reflecting on his own Afar travels.

Here is his article Kidnapped and parched – another day in the salt desert. It is not a comforting read.

Posted by aheavens at 7:50 AM

March 1, 2007

The late, late Sunday press review

Here are some stories that stuck out of this week's Fortune newspaper. No sanitation stars to share with you this time as the paper's restaurant reviews have disappeared.

More detail on all the houses that have been left sliced in two to make way for the road widening in Addis's Aware area. (See past entries here and here.)

Residential destruction for road construction

Massive construction is underway to expand the narrow road once trekked by Emperor Menelik and his army on their way to the famous Adwa...In Kebele 09/10 of the Yeka District alone, 70 houses, 12 of them owned privately, have been completely demolished; there are many more sliced in different degrees, some of them exposing their various parts to the open.

[Osman Redwan's] kiosk, part of a two-room house along the main road, was gone two months back, leaving only the bedroom for temporary shelter, until he could find another Kebele house...As was the case with many of the shanty houses in the area, the relic of Osman's house has little to reveal on the question of whether it was used as a living room, bedroom or kitchen; perhaps it was used as a bit of everything. The wreckages left untouched, however, expose the life residents have so far concealed behind their walls and roofs.

"No one is against development," said Osman, pleased to know that his kebele rented house has given way to the public good. "But you get horrified when you realise that you end up losing your business and ruining your life. This is not war; development should not be at the sacrifice of individuals."

The most interesting thing about this story isn't the price cuts. It's the Ethiopian Telecoms' customer figures. Both ETC mobile and internet services are pretty ropey at the moment (even though, according to the story, there is lots of capacity going begging). What are they going to be like if they get all these extra customers they are trying to attract? ETC is a state monopoly by the way. So that means 30,000 internet connections in total in a country of 78 million people and growing.

ETC contemplates decreasing mobile and internet tariffs

The Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation (ETC) is planning to lower its service tariffs for its mobile and internet customers...

ETC has about one million mobile customers and 30,000 internet subscribers. Although the Corporation has the capacity to cater to 100,000 internet users and 1.5 million mobile customers, the number of customers has not reached the targeted number. ETC has plans to expand its mobile network capacity to 2.5 million...

"Though it is a fact that the number of customers would increase with the tariff reductions, the Corporation is still bound to face another round of customer dissatisfaction if it can not provide quality services," commented a telecoms expert.

And finally, more on the everyone-hates-everyone theme (read the post Where have all the bloggers gone? and its comments section for background). Bloggers hate bloggers. NGOs hate NGOs. Editors hate editors. And, apparently, professional associations hate professional associations.

Dysfunctional Associations miss their calls

The fierce battles waged within and among associations in Ethiopia are not hidden from the public. They are embarrassingly exploding almost every week, to say the least. As it has often been reported by this newspaper, the battleground for power and control within associations tends to steal the spotlight from what they are meant to be when they were first created. Eventually, experience of many of them show that they become hostages to their leaders, before conflict of interest within them leads to open warfare...

A closer look given to these associations reveals that there are two teachers' associations, and five journalists associations. But, the problem is not so much in the number of similar associations, but in their collective ineffectiveness, and bickering among them.

Five journalists associations? A few months back, that was one for every paper.

Posted by aheavens at 3:59 PM

And Ethiopia's first Jobsworth Award goes to ...

... the Bank of Abyssinia.

They have returned two of my cheques over the past few weeks.

The first time was because the recipient signed his name twice on the back before trying to get hold of the cash. The message came back from the bank that 'Regulations say that the cheque only needs to be signed once. Two signatures was ambiguous'. The recipient had to make an appointment at the bank to cross out one of his signatures before the money went through.

The second time was because I wrote out the amount as "Four hundred birr and 34 cents". The message came back that I should have written "Four hundred birr 34 cents". The word 'and' was not mentioned in the regulations, so the cheque was invalid.

I know, life is tough for a fereng with a chequebook in Addis Abeba.

Here is everything you need to know about being a jobsworth by the way.

Posted by aheavens at 2:35 PM