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April 27, 2007

Really free at last

DSC0113

Freed Ethiopian captives, Yonas Mesfin (L), Debash Baye (2nd L), Hussain Mohammed (2nd R) and Ashenafe Mekonnen (R), celebrate with their friend Samson Teshome (C) at Bole international airport in Addis Ababa April 26, 2007. Eight Ethiopians made a tearful return to Addis Ababa on Thursday, two months after being kidnapped at gunpoint with five Europeans in the country's remote northeastern Afar region.

Here's the story:

Freed Ethiopian hostages return to Addis Ababa

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Eight Ethiopians made a tearful return to Addis Ababa on Thursday, two months after being kidnapped at gunpoint with five Europeans in the country's remote northeastern Afar region.

"I am good. I am too happy. The first thing I want to do is have a beer," one former hostage, Ashenafe Mekonnen, told Reuters before being ushered away by government officials who said the eight would make full statements on Friday.

Crowds of cheering friends and family thronged the capital's Bole International Airport long before the eight arrived.

"This is a time to praise God," said Samson Teshome, a close friend of Ashenafe -- who worked as a guide for the Europeans...more

Posted by aheavens at 4:05 AM

Interesting times

Yesterday was quite a day in Ethiopia. There were the continuing repercussions of the ONLF attack in Somali region in the morning. Around lunch, students started throwing stones at each other - and worse - at Addis Ababa University, both its Sedist and Arat Kilo campuses (see below). Around five in the afternoon, the freed Ethiopian captives flew into town (see above). The poor old ILO conference at the Economic Commission for Africa got a bit overshadowed in all the running around.

Here are some headlines from the ongoing ONLF story.

Ethiopia attack demonstrates dangers of China's Africa push - Apr 26

A deadly guerrilla attack on an oil installation in Ethiopia's remote east has highlighted the growing penetration and perils of Chinese interests in the vast Horn of Africa nation and the continent as a whole.

Ethiopia rebels want to hand over Chinese hostages - Apr 26

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopian rebels who killed 74 people and seized seven Chinese workers in a raid on an oilfield said on Thursday they had no plans to hold the hostages or attack other foreign companies.

Ethiopia hunts for kidnapped Chinese oil workers Apr 25

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopian troops searched on Wednesday for seven Chinese and Ethiopian workers kidnapped in a rebel attack on an oilfield that killed 74 people in a remote and barren southeastern region.

FACTBOX - Facts about Ethiopia's ONLF rebels - Apr 25

Reuters - A guerrilla attack on a Chinese-run oilfield in southeast Ethiopia killing 65 locals and nine Chinese is one of the highest-profile operations to date of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF).

Here are key facts about ONLF:

Rebels kill 74 in Ethiopia oil field raid April 24

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Gunmen killed 65 Ethiopians and nine Chinese in their sleep on Tuesday in a pre-dawn raid on an oil field that Ethiopia blamed on rebels backed by regional foe Eritrea. A separatist guerrilla group, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), said it carried out the attack on the field which is run by a Chinese firm.

Posted by aheavens at 3:10 AM

April 26, 2007

Stone throwing at Sedist Kilo

DSC0038Students flee from stone-throwing classmates at Addis Ababa university's main Sedist Kilo campus in the Ethiopian capital on Thursday afternoon after two days of unrest.

Armed federal police arrived minutes later to try and quell the violence. Two days of unrest were sparked by rumours of the mistreatment of a dead student's body - and of claims that scores of students had suffered food poisoning at the canteen.

The unrest stepped up tension in the capital and sparked memories of political unrest following Ethiopia's 2005 national elections that started in the same campus.

A student at the university's journalism school Yikunnoamlak Mezgebu did a good report on the violence. You can read the report Death of a student sparks mass protest on the department's website.

More photos on Flickr. Here's Seminawork on the protests and here's a brand new university-focused blogger Roha.

Posted by aheavens at 7:58 PM

April 23, 2007

Back again again again

My brief period as an outlaw blogger appears to be over. MeskelSquare can be seen on Ethiopian computer screens again without a proxy server. It came back some time over the weekend. Everyone else - Seminawork and all the Blogspot people and so on - is still missing in action though.

Posted by aheavens at 5:19 AM

April 22, 2007

Free at last

All remaining Ethiopian captives are free and back on Ethiopian soil. Hopefully more details tomorrow.

Posted by aheavens at 8:11 PM

April 21, 2007

Great racial insults of our time #1

As shouted at me in the livestock market in Jijiga in Ethiopia's Somali region a couple of days back:

"Medabkiisu waa sambab."

Which, in Somali, means something like:

"You look like a lung."

As in pink and spongy I presume.

Posted by aheavens at 7:31 PM

April 12, 2007

Service with a smile

If the Sheraton and the Hilton are ever fully booked, why not try prison?

“I do appreciate everything. The treatment here is very good. Ethiopians are very sociable," wrote one satisfied customer.

Live music every night from the new in-house boyband the S-I-Ts (follow link).

Posted by aheavens at 6:00 AM

April 10, 2007

"I feel delighted - I feel happy"

Yesterday I had a very short but cheery interview with Kasahun Kebede, just after he was released after a year and a half in Kaliti prison. A few lines were used in Reuters' main story on the latest developments on the court proceedings against opposition figures. Here is all of it:

The first prisoner to walk free through the gates of Addis Ababa's Kaliti Prison today was Kasahun Kebede, head of the Addis Ababa Teacher's Association.

"I feel delighted. I feel happy. I have been in prison for a year and a half," he said as he sat in his car with his wife and lawyer.

"That's all I want to say at the moment. Tonight we are going to have a big celebration - it's our culture."

Mr Kasahun was acquitted on Thursday last week, but has to stay a few days extra in prison as his paperwork was processed over the Easter holiday. He said the 25 people acquitted on Monday were due to be released later in the evening or early on Tuesday.

Mr Kasahun's lawyer Wondawuk Ayele said he was originally charged with conspiracy against the constitution and could have faced life imprisonment or the death penalty if found guilty.

"There were three reasons why he was released. First, no witnesses appeared against him. Second the documents that the prosecutor produced were irrelevant. And third, the charge was made out against the Executive Head of the Ethiopian Teacher's Association. But my client is the head of the Addis Ababa Teacher's Association - a different body."

Posted by aheavens at 7:34 AM

Shaft in Ethiopia

shaft_in_africa.jpgJust yesterday a friend was saying that I had to see Shaft in Africa, the 1973 blaxploitation film starring Richard Roundtree as "the black private dick that's a sex machine to all the chicks".

There were two reasons why it was a must-see. First the setting - groovy Haile Selassie-era Addis Ababa. Second the actors. Many of the bright young things strutting around on screen in various states of undress back then have grown up to be some of the city's most respectable and well-known citizens today.

Most prominent among the Ethiopian actors was none other than Debebe Eshetu. Back then he was playing the part of the Emir's right hand man Wassa - sample dialogue:

Wassa: Where did you study stick fighting, Mr. Shaft?
Shaft: Conducting the New York Philharmonica.
Wassa: The Emir will be pleased. Also by the fact that you're already circumcised.

These days Debebe Eshetu is in Addis Ababa's Kaliti Prison alongside around 50 leading opposition politicians facing life imprisonment - or even the death penalty - for a range of charges including "outrages against the constitution".

So that was yesterday. This morning Afrigator pointed me to a new blog by an Ethiopian journalist called Menyelenal. "I was researching movies about Ethiopia," he wrote.

I ran across this Blacula movie, a name of a fictional character that appeared in two blaxploitation horror films produced for American International Pictures in 1972 and 1973, respectively...Both films deal with the character of Mamuwalde [does this sound familiar?], an African prince vampirized and imprisoned in a sealed coffin by Count Dracula, who finds himself released in the 1970s.

There is also another character that makes you go hm??? Rasulala strange character names?

Could this be a new field of study? Ethiopia and the blaxploitation genre.

Posted by aheavens at 5:18 AM

April 9, 2007

Article: Ethiopian bloggers turn undercover court reporters

Here's the latest roundup of the Ethiopian blogosphere on GlobalVoices:

Ethiopian bloggers turn undercover court reporters

Ethiopia's bloggers turned undercover court reporters over the past weeks, giving daily commentary on a controversial trial of more than 100 opposition politicians, campaigners and journalists.

Posted by aheavens at 8:18 AM

Ashenafe Mekonen

AshenafiThis is the first photo that I have come across of Ashenafe Mekonen, the tour guide kidnapped alongside five European travellers in Ethiopia's remote Afar region in early March.

The five Europeans - three Brits, one Italian and one French woman - were released two weeks later after diplomatic pressure from their governments.

But nothing has been heard of Ashenafe and eight other Ethiopians taken with him.

Ashenafe is in his early 20s and was orphaned by the 1984 'Live Aid' famine in Ethiopia. He was brought up in an orphanage in central Ethiopia before moving to Addis to start working as a freelance guide/cook in the travel industry. His many friends in the capital are clubbing together to pay his rent until he returns.

The other captives include Ashenafe's friend Debash Baye, another Addis man who was working as a mechanic, and seven Afar men. One of those Afar men in believed to have volunteered to go with the captives to show solidarity with them.

Anyone wanting to join a non-political campaign to press for Ashenafe's release can send an email to the 'Free the Ethiopian Captives Committee' at freetheethiopiancaptives@gmail.com.

Posted by aheavens at 8:04 AM

Afrigator

Afrigator.jpgThought some of you Ethiopian - and other Africa-focused - bloggers might be interested in signing up to this.

Afrigator is a new site that sets out to keep track of Africa's ever-growing blogosphere. You enter details of your site and copy a small piece of HTML on to your home page. Afrigator then lists your site under a country heading, links through to every post you write and tracks your traffic.

At the moment, there are only four blogs in the Ethiopian section - obviously a huge under-representation.

Here's how one of the founders Mike Stopforth describes the new site:

1. An attempt to gather together a fair representation or index of the majority of Africa's digital citizen's publications. Blogs, podcasts, videocasts and news sites - it's not just about blogs and it's not just about South Africa.

2. The best way we could think of to gather together accurate-ish data samples from which to report on the state of the ‘Afrosphere'. This is interesting to all of us and we can't find it anywhere else.

3. A means to penetrate and interrogate the vast amounts of high-quality content being produced by Africans every second.

It is also a prettier and more sophisticated version of the old but still wonderful warhorse BlogAfrica. And a continent-wide version of South Africa's Amatomu.

Posted by aheavens at 5:19 AM

April 5, 2007

Ethiopia united

It is good to see Ethiopians united and speaking with one voice at last.

Everyone from the 'Oromo students of the Addis Ababa University' to 'A Youths Association in Dire Dawa city' has been queuing up to give statements to the Ethiopian News Agency about the eight kidnapped Ethiopians.

And everyone has been so united that they have decided to go beyond speaking with one voice. They have been trying out variations of one sentence - and occasionally one headline.

AAU students call for safe, unconditional release of Ethiopians

Addis Ababa, April 3, 2007 (Addis Ababa) - Oromo students of the Addis Ababa University (AAU) call for immediate and unconditional release of the eight Ethiopians who were kidnapped in the Afar state at a place very near the Eritrean border and being held in Eritrean soil.

The Oromo nationals also urged the international community to attach due attention to the wellbeing of the kidnapped and to put pressure on the dictatorial government of Eritrea for the release of the compatriots...

The international community should exert utmost efforts toward resolving the kidnapping drama through peaceful means and condemn the activities of the belligerent and terrorist regime in Asmara.

Youth Ass'n urges int'l community to demonstrate concern for kidnapped Ethiopians

DireDawa, April 1, 2007 (DireDawa) - A Youths Association in Dire Dawa city urged the international community to put pressure on the Eritrean government to release the Ethiopians who still remain hostages after having been kidnapped at a place very near the Eritrean border along with five Europeans, who were released after being held for 12 days.

Briefing journalists on Sunday, association president, Kedir Juhar said the international community should denounce the kidnapping, as it is a terrorist act and a crime against a sovereign country.

Hence, the international community should put diplomatic pressure on the Eritrean government for the safe release of the hostages, he said.

Ethiopian Hostages Still In Eritrea: Ethiopian Security Forces

Addis Ababa, March 31, 2007 (Addis Ababa) - Ethiopian Security Forces said eight Ethiopians who were taken hostages along with five Europeans on March 1,2007 while site seeing in Afar State are found in Eritrea until now...

The Ethiopian government and people are concerned over the negligence of the international community and media to pressure Eritrea to get the hostages released.

The Ethiopian people and government have been calling the international community to make pressure on Eritrea to get the abductees released.

International community urged to exert pressure for release of Ethiopian hostages

Addis Ababa, March 28, 2007 (Addis Ababa) - The Addis Ababa Teachers' Association called up on the international community to stand on the side of the Ethiopian government and put pressure in the efforts being made to get Ethiopians hostages released...

In a statement they here on Wednesday to the Ethiopian News Agency, Association President Yigzaw Bizuayehu and its Secretary General Shimelis Getachew said the issue of the Ethiopian hostages should be seen as the issue of the international community...

They also expressed sadness over the negligence the International community particularly the western media, which ignored totally the Ethiopian hostage crisis after the release of the European hostages.

International Community Urged Not To Ignore Ethiopian Hostage Crisis

Jijiga, March 26, 2007 (jijiga) - Somali State Administration Chief Abdulahi Hassen called up on the international community not to ignore Ethiopians, who were taken hostages under the coordination of the Eritrean government.

The chief administrator told Ethiopian News Agency on Sunday members of UN Security Council and the international community should denounce the practice and make diplomatic pressure on the Eritrean government to get the hostages released.

Deputy Speaker of the Regional State Council, Sultan Abdurrahman on his part said it is saddening that the international community has totally ignored about the problem following the release of the five European hostages.

Scholars calls on int'l community to put pressure on Eritrean gov't for safe release of kidnapped Ethiopians

Mekele, March 24, 2007 (Mekele) - The international community should not be reluctant on the case of the Ethiopians kidnapped along with the now released five Europeans very near the Eritrean boarder as it is an act of terrorism, scholars at Mekelle University said.

In a statement they gave to Ethiopian News Agency on Friday, the scholars said the Eritrean government is responsible for abduction of the Ethiopians who still are being held hostage.

Law faculty dean with Mekelle University, Adane kebede said the kidnapping of the Ethiopians is an act of terrorism as it targeted on tourists, civilians and civil societies.

He said the Eritrean Government-sponsored kidnapping is a violation of international human right laws.

He said thus the international community should enhance pressure on the Eritrean government...

The international community should enhance pressure on the Eritrean government to stop its acts of terror.

Int'l human right activists, agencies, superpowers urged to press ahead for safe release of Ethiopian hostages

Addis Ababa, March 23, 2007 (Addis Ababa) - The Addis Ababa Youth Association urged international human right activists, agencies, and superpowers to exert utmost efforts toward the safe and immidiate release of Ethiopian hostages.

Association Chairman, Tatek Kassa told Ethiopian News Agency on Friday that lack of concern and commitment on the part of international community and media created an impression that the hostage-taking drama has come to an end.

International Community Urged To Make Pressure on Eritrea

Semera , March 22, 2007 (Semera) - Afar State Administration Chief called up on the international community to give due attention to the release of eight Ethiopians, who were taken hostages through coordination of the Eritrean government.

The Chief, Ismael Alisero told Ethiopian News Agency on Thursday that the international community should make pressure on the Eritrean government, which he said, is responsible for the abduction of the hostages...

Ismael said he was surprised that the international media have not given due attention to the hostage crisis after the release of the European hostages and added that they (the media) have the moral obligation to strive for the release of the hostages.

Ethiopia urges international community, media to put pressure on Eritrea to release hostages

Addis Ababa, March 19, 2007 (Addis Ababa) - The Ministry of Foreign Affairs urged the international community to put pressure on Eritrean government to release the eight Ethiopian hostages.

The ministry also called on the international media to put pressure on the hostage takers and to keep on informing the world about the situation.

"...Allowing the impression that the hostage-taking theatrics has come to an end ... would endanger and compromise the safety and well-being of the abducted Ethiopians," says the State Minister.

Religious leaders appeal to kidnappers to free eight Ethiopians

Addis Ababa, March 18, 2007 (Addis Ababa) - Leaders of four religions in Ethiopia have expressed grave concern that the eight Ethiopians have remained hostage while the foreigners have been released after they were kidnapped very near the Eritrean border on the 1st of March, and urged kidnappers to release them immediately as the act, inasmuch as being inhumane will not be of any gain to anybody.

Having called on the international community and governments to press for the immediate and unconditional release of the Ethiopians, they have also entreated with counterparts in Eritrea to take in the seriousness of the matter and play their share for the peaceful settlement of the issue.

Posted by aheavens at 7:27 AM

Innocuous, moderate and sweet

"Even inoccuous blogs like Meskelsquare.com have been blocked," writes Ferenge Addis Blog. "[They're] even blocking meskelsquare from the always moderate Andrew Heavens," writes Urael who goes on to talk about "the sweetest among the bloggers meskelsquare". "Surprise, surprise...meskelsquare.com is now out of sight here. Why would they block a blog which publishes stories about Miscalls and Kenyan web watchdogs?" asks Seminawork. "Andrew has been very careful to be fair and neutral on his blog," says Ethan Zuckerman.

How did I get to be so dull? (Come on caustic commenters, this is a gift.)

Posted by aheavens at 5:44 AM

April 2, 2007

Article: Africa needs to spend more to meet goals

DSC0194I know it is hard to believe. But sometimes, even my perfectly-crafted articles don't end up getting used. Here is some cast-off copy exclusively published for you dear remaining blog readers.

By Andrew Heavens

African countries will have to make huge increases in public spending to have a chance of meeting international targets to halve poverty by the year 2015, influential economist Jeffrey Sachs told a meeting of the continent's finance ministers on Monday.

Professor Sachs said African states had to step up "targeted investments" in health, education, agriculture and infrastructure like roads and telecoms if they wanted to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – a series of global targets on reducing everything from hunger to HIV/Aids infections.

He spoke in a recorded video message to a meeting of ministers of finance, planning and economic development from across the continent, organised by the UN's Addis Ababa-based Economic Commission for Africa.

"The key, in my view...is a mass of scaling up of targeted investments in key sectors of each of your economies," he said.

"We have been held back by such different international processes, so much talk, so many missions, so many commitments that as yet have not been fulfilled that this has to be a time for decisive action. No more talk, no more studies, we need to act right now."

It is widely feared that many poverty-stricken African nations are lagging way behind the rest of the world in reaching the goals which were drawn up at the UN Millennium Summit in September 2000. Countries agreed to halve global poverty by reaching the targets by the year 2015. The process reaches the half way mark in September this year.

Professor Sachs said his research suggested African countries needed to spend US$110 per person per year between 2007 and 2015 to reach the goals in time – more than double the US$50 per person that he estimated many African governments actually had to spend in their coffers.

He told ministers: "The gap is where the international community has promised to provide development assistance to enable you to carry out the public sector commitments to achieve the Millennium Development Goals."

Much of that extra funding had already been promised by bodies like the European Union and the G8 nations, he added. "The International Monetary Fund is going to work with donors to mobilize the commitments they made to turn them into actual cash flows."

Other speakers at the Addis Ababa conference admitted that the continent still had a long way to go towards reaching the goals.

"Available empirical evidence suggests that, with the exception of North African countries, several African countries are unlikely to meet the MDGs by 2015," said The African Union's Commissioner for Economic Affairs Dr Maxwell Mkwezalamba said:

"Almost half the population continues to live in extreme poverty and hunger, Africa is at the bottom of the health related human development indicators, and the continent continues to be ravaged by HIV and Aids," he added.

"We will soon run out of time to make the critical investments that we need to make," said Abdoulie Janneh, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa. He added that African countries needed to find ways to tap the potential of the private sector, increase investment in agriculture and fight to reform the international trading system.

Briefing papers for the conference stated that African countries had to raise their annual growth rates to an average of seven per cent, from the current average of five, to meet the Millennium Goals in time.

Meles Zenawi, prime minister of Ethiopia, urged them to go higher still. "This assessment was done some years back, which means that there is bound to be some backlog that has to be addressed through future growth.

"We may therefore need to grow at significantly higher rates than 7 per cent per annum to achieve our goals. We have a long way to go before we can confidently declare that we are going to make it."

The misisters' meeting is due to release a report on Africa's progress towards the goals late on Tuesday. The report is expected to suggest ways of overcoming obstacles to reaching the Millennium Goals, ranging from climate change to unemployment.

Professor Sachs is director of Columbia University's Earth Institute and Special Advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

Posted by aheavens at 4:56 PM