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April 30, 2008

Time for a sharp exit

"So, how are the landmines around your village affecting the local economy," I asked the elder from Doleib, an hour and a half's boat ride up the River Nile from Malakal in Upper Nile State, South Sudan.

"Well, take this field we're standing in right now," he replied. "We haven't been able to cultivate it for years. There are landmines everywhere."

Posted by aheavens at 12:45 PM

April 29, 2008

Ethiopian bloggers defend charged pop star

(Originally published on GlobalVoices)

By Andrew Heavens

Ethiopian bloggers rushed to the defence of their country's top pop singer Teddy Afro, after he appeared in court charged with the hit-and-run killing of a youth in capital Addis Ababa.

Many writers were convinced Afro was being framed by Ethiopian authorities who, they said, resented the singer's huge popularity and veiled anti-government lyrics.

Afro was first questioned by police in November 2006 after a homeless 18-year-old was killed by a car in the centre of Addis Ababa. Officers reportedly claimed Afro's BMW had been spotted at the scene by a taxi driver.

His fans were taken by surprise when Afro was arrested, charged and remanded in custody last week, two years after the original incident. The mainstream media described how fans staged protests outside the court room where a judge decided to postpone a bail hearing.

Teddy Afro - real name Tewodros Kassahun - is hugely popular among Ethiopians in and outside the country. His hit song Yasteseryal (hear a clip on his official site teddyafro.com) - which many say criticises a line of Ethiopian leaders including current prime minister Meles Zenawi - was reportedly banned on state controlled radio.

Merkato published an entry by Golto Aila titled Ethiopia - “My Solidarity Forum” for Teddy Afro - An Ethiopian Hero & a Prisoner of Conscience which stated:

This advocate of justice for our people; this voice for the voiceless; this champion of the oppressed; this ultimate entertainer could have lived in luxury abroad and enjoyed life as most of us do, but knowing the risk to his own life, he returned home to continue the mission he has set for himself! Today he sits in the notorious Kaliti Prison, precisely because of what he does for his down-trodden compatriots! The humiliation he has suffered so far and will continue to suffer hence will be the most poignant symbol of our peoples' suffering for the last two decades!

Debteraw Blog mentioned Afro in a list of “political prisoners” in the entry Tensae Le-Ethiopia.

Addis Tibeb wrote in Teddy Afro arrested:

Many fans believe that Teddy is set up for the charge by the government that is supposed to resent Teddy's public acceptance in his political reprimands by some of his songs

Arefe of Addis Journal stopped short of describing his own opinion of the case, but described the scenes outside the court in Court adjourns Teddy's hearing:

hundreds of cheering and chanting fans had greeted Teddy's arrival. Wearing a T-shirt and sunglasses, Teddy waved as he slowly made his way into the courthouse. As he left the court, the ‘free him' shout became more intense and police surrounded and arrested some of them. A journalist for Hamrawai magazine and another newspaper reporter were among the arrested. It's unclear why police arrested them. It was said they are all detained in the police station in front of the court…
Teddy's arrest weeks ago has generated much interest and anxiety in the city and his songs have enjoyed sudden popularity in the bars, taxis and public places.

freeteddyafro left a message on esai the forum run by The Ethiopian Students Association International:

It is hard to know if Teddy's (imprisonment) is motivated by politics or it is a following judicial process. Teddy is the symbol of Ethiopian new and future generation. He is a bridge for the past, present and future. He is an idol for young generation. Let us bring Teddy to daylight before he disappears forever.

esai commenter Ethiopia said he was convinced Afro was innocent and feared for his chances of a fair trial:

I DONT believe Teddy IS BOTH INHUMAN to leave a dead street kid laying on the ground AND DUMB enough to stay in the country for two years.

Samuel Gebru sounded a lone voice of caution, calling on people not to politicise Afro's case in Ethiopia: Teddy Afro's imprisonment:

Some Ethiopians abroad have tried to capitalize his imprisonment, pending a bail hearing, as the Government's bid to silence the iconic singer…there's a long way ahead before the verdict, so whatever is said abroad is mere speculation. Nevertheless, the politicization of his arrest is not only false but unhealthy in our developing political climate in Ethiopia.

Posted by aheavens at 3:51 PM

Coffee in Al Meganis

day2 (21)

Coffee maker and crowd in the frontier market town of Al Meganis, on the border of White Nile State, South Kordofan and Upper Nile State, that last one in South Sudan.

It is almost as complicated as an Ethiopian coffee ceremony - look at all those pots, including the glue tin containing the final brew. But the end result is harsher and sweeter. Not that that is necessarily a bad thing on some mornings.

Posted by aheavens at 4:44 AM

April 15, 2008

Twittering space stations over Sudan

It is not every day you get twittered by a passing space station.

twitter: (Space_Station): L:14.413,25.4277 I am currently orbiting over Mellit, Sudan. Can you see me? www.agi.com

I got it through tracking the word 'sudan'.

(Here's Wikipedia's entry on Twitter if you don't know what it is.)

Posted by aheavens at 9:28 AM

Darfur's athletes

DSC0033"In a few years, Sudan is going to be on a par with Kenya and Ethiopia as a running nation."

You read it here first.

Darfur athletes train on as Olympic row rages

By Andrew Heavens

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - A world away from the political rows over China and the Olympic Games, a young Darfuri man crouches down at the start of a cracked and pitted running track in the capital of Sudan.

He is Nagmeldin Ali Abubakr, a 21-year-old from Nyala in southern Darfur, and one of Sudan's main medal hopes for the Beijing Games.

Western celebrities and activists have been pushing for Olympic boycotts and protests against China for its alleged failure to press Sudan to end more than five years of killing in Darfur, as well as over its human rights record in Tibet.

But Ali and a small group of other Darfuri athletes are focusing on their training and hoping the run-up to the Games will go as smoothly as possible.

"I have heard some stories. But they don't really concern me," said Ali, taking a break from training in his country's half-built athletics stadium, made of crumbling concrete blocks still spiked with metal construction rods. "We are all Sudanese and I am running for Sudan."

The only thing on Ali's mind right now, he says, is the 16 weeks of training ahead of him before he gets to meet the world's best 400 meter runners in Beijing's gleaming new 'bird's nest' National Stadium in August.

Actually, you read it here second. Here's Rob Crilly's post on the same story.

Posted by aheavens at 7:03 AM

Online Obama campaign splits Ethiopian bloggers

Obama.jpg(First published on GlobalVoices)

Diaspora Ethiopians have been flexing their political muscles in the U.S., organising websites, rallies and email campaigns to persuade their compatriots to support Barack Obama's presidential run.

Many Ethiopians bloggers rallied to the cause, pledging cash and votes for the Democratic candidate whose father came from Kenya, a country that neighbours Ethiopia.

But others raised questions about the campaign, asking whether it was right to expect Ethiopian-Americans to vote en masse for any candidate.

At the head of the Obama pack was the new blog Ethiopians for Obama which, in Ethiopians Journey for Hope, said:

Most Ethiopians immigrated to America searching for the American dream-a dream for a better life and a new opportunity. Most arrived in America with the determination to fulfil the promise that America embodies; destined to realize this dream armed with little more than hope on their side. Ethiopians-like all Americans-embrace the message of Barack Obama, a message that our lives are intertwined with our infinite commonalities.

Ethiounited pointed to a YouTube video of Ethio-Americans speaking at an Obama campaign launch.

I have given a lot of money to the [Obama] campaign since I was not able to take time of from work and go volunteer at the campaign headquarters in Chicago, although I have made phone calls on behalf of the campaign for every primary.

wrote Bernos in An Obama Minute. Bernos has also been busy translating the Obama 'Yes we can' slogan into Amharic, one of Ethiopia's main languages, for a range of targeted campaign posters.

Ethioblog talked about its growing disillusion with the Clinton camp in Falling for Clinton and Clinton's Doubletalk. Ethiopian Politics Blog pointed to another YouTube video describing Obama as the 'embodiment of the American dream'.

But Abesha Bunna Bet sounded a strong note of caution in Even Ethiopians Are Crazy About Obama:

Ethiopians. We are not a bunch of herds that needs direction. We can not be told by any group (Ethiopians or not) who to vote for with out being told why. And the 'why' should be answered by our individual research, and not by folks who wish to take advantage of us based on heritage.

Tobian ThinkTank's email inbox was flooded with 'Obamaganda' by friends and relatives. When the blogger replied to them, saying he was backing Hilary Clinton, he got some hostile emails in response. In Surely, it must be that lesbian school he wrote:

One curious thing to note about who's been sending me these emails has been that it has all come from black men. My friends who are female and black are still rooting all for Clinton...

I think Hilary & Obama should eventually run a joint ticket. They've divided the Democratic party straight down the middle line, and it is in their hands to bring the party, the country back together. As this country stands at the edge of a recession, one of my officemates pointed out, imagine Hilary as the president, Obama as vice president and Bill Clinton as a 'first man'(?). Is that a power house, or is that a power house?

The Mongrel described how he remained suspicious of Obama, despite the current level of 'mass-hysteria' in support of the African-American candidate.

In Conspiracy Brother he wrote:

Seriously though someone please put your hands on me and tell me it's OK to be black and not vote for Obama…I think that's what I'm fighting with deep inside. Either that or it's a case of OCD :-0

Posted by aheavens at 6:48 AM

April 13, 2008

Things that make you go huh?

damon.jpgSo have I got this right?

Pictures of Mat Damon destroying a dollshouse with a baseball bat will help the children of Darfur because ... dollshouses are used by children, and children have been harmed in Darfur, so destroying a dolls house kind of represents destroying a childhood, so ...

And pictures of a pregnant Laura Bailey (sorry, been in Sudan for too long, who is Laura Bailey?) wearing a designer dress as she saws a plastic tricycle in half will help the children of Darfur because ...

What we have here is a clear case of cultural disconnect.

It reminds me of the time a London-based news organisation asked a reporter to fly out to a refugee camp in Darfur to ask the residents for their reaction to Steven Spielberg's decision to pull out of the Olympics in protest at China's alleged failure to push Sudan into ending the conflict in Darfur.

Their reaction was basically - huh?

Posted by aheavens at 5:37 PM

Hunting for muskets and broadswords

Every once in a while Reuters lets you do a Witness article. This is when you get to use the first person singular and describe something you've seen from your point of view.

My bureau chief Opheera McDoom recently wrote one about the nightmares she still has after almost five years of reporting on the Darfur crisis.

I did a shopping feature.

Posted by aheavens at 5:55 AM

April 12, 2008

Census no census

Sudan's ability to surprise never ceases to surprise.

In three days time, Sudan was supposed to be holding a nationwide census. It was going to be a very important census, paving the way for national elections next year, deciding how power and wealth should be shared between the north and the south and so on.

Just yesterday, the leader of South Sudan Salva Kiir put out a statement encouraging all Sudanese people to take part in the count.

Here it is:

-An honour to be counted; Salva Kiir on census

-I urge every citizen, not only to be counted, but also to give correct information. It is a national honour to be counted. That is the message from the president of Southern Sudan HE Salva Kiir to his people, days before the population census starts. The message will be read in all churches in Southern Sudan.. The President assures the Sudanese that the collected data only will be used for the benefit of the population.

-This is a very important national event, especially for us here in Southern Sudan as it is the first comprehensive and all inclusive population census to be held in Southern Sudan. It is therefore critical that we do it right and in a transparent manner, the President says.

-If it is conducted well, the population census will provide us the data we urgently need, not only to plan for our socio-economic development, but also to ensure equitable allocation of resources, political representation and participation of our communities.

The President also send a message to the census officials: -I ask you to go about your duties with diligence and respect of our communities while collecting data. Let us make this census a success, so that it can produce quality and acceptable data, President Salva Kiir Mayardit says.

Pretty unequivocal wouldn't you say?

But a few hours after Kiir's statement was put out, and a day before it was supposed to be read out in churches, Kiir's own party the SPLM said it wanted to postpone the whole thing for a whole range of last minute issues - none of them new.

So what is going to happen next? How will the north react? Will the census really take place later this year? Will this delay the elections and the secession referendum? Will it threaten the fragile north-south peace deal?

Absolutely no idea.

There is only one reliable rule in covering Sudan. Anyone who claims to know what is going to happen next in Sudan clearly knows nothing about Sudan.

Posted by aheavens at 6:50 PM

April 9, 2008

Writing on the wall

Al Qaeda graffiti

Not the sort of graffiti you want to see appearing in your neighbourhood.

Arabic-reading friends say it spells out 'Al-Qaeda'.

"It is not a joke," said one. "But no one knows who is doing it."

This one appeared on a roundabout in Khartoum 2 about two weeks ago. Others have been seen in different parts of the city.

Posted by aheavens at 11:56 AM

April 8, 2008

Stand up and be ...

Have a close look at Sudan's snappy new slogan for its upcoming population and housing census.

Census Photo_April 2008

So it's a verb as well. Who knew?

(Photo taken from the video display screen as you turn off Africa Road towards Khartoum's Riyadh district.)

Posted by aheavens at 8:36 AM

April 7, 2008

Ethiopian blogosphere doesn't explode

There was a time when over-excited journalists wrote over-excited articles about Ethiopia's exploding blogging scene.

That time seems to have passed.

I just did a spring clean of MeskelSquare's Ethiopian blogrolls (in the right-hand column), and spent most of my time pruning away dead websites. From the ones that are left inside Ethiopia, only a handful have been updated in the last month. Even Ethio-Zagol has gone quiet.

Here is the ever-growing list of Ethiopian websites that seem to be dead or dying, all of them sorely missed:

4kilo, Addis Gay's Cafe, ADDIS TIBEB, The Ameche Rant, Carpe Diem Ethiopia, CoffeeChilliSun, deli[log]ue, Elicit Beauty, ET Blogs & Diaries, Ethio-Zagol Post Diaries, Ethiopia Adoption Blog, Ethiopia Encyclopedia, Ethiopiques Blog, Everyday life in Addis – as seen by a keen observer, Filweha Pundit, For Bikes Sake, Journaling Ethiopia, Kirkos, Liben's Events List, Lost In Ethiopia, Nani Inc, One Ethiopia, Photoblog Ethiopia: According To Alemayehu, Redeem Ethiopia, Satisfy my soul [ego], Save Addis Ababa University, Seattle teens opinion on Ethiopia, Shadows of My Smiles Echoes of My Laughs And Skeletons of My Tears, Weblog Ethiopia, Weichegud! ET Politics, Zegabi

So what is going on? Has the great Ethiopian blog blockage worked? Is there just less to write about these days? Is there a whole world of websites out there that I just haven't seen?

Posted by aheavens at 2:39 PM

April 1, 2008

Arming nomads

A few pages into Michael Asher's book Khartoum: The Ultimate Imperial Adventure and I found this about the British Empire hero Charles George Gordon:

As governor-general [of Sudan], he declared war on the slave trade. He closed slave markets, halted caravans and had slave-merchants publicly hanged. When the slave-traders in the Bahr-al-Ghazal region revolted, he unleashed the cattle-nomads of the steppes against them.

Sound familiar? A central power in Khartoum arms nomad militias to fight a proxy war in a remote region of Sudan.

Just remember the Brits did it first. (We also invented the concentration camp during the Boer War in South Africa. Makes you proud.)

Posted by aheavens at 11:02 AM