Category Archives: News of Ethiopia

News of Ethiopia

An Abrupt End of an Era

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi dies. The struggle for stability and power begins.

by Barry Hillenbrand (Debre Marcos 1963–1965)

Meles Zenawi

Nothing so perfectly characterizes the life of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi as the emotions, ambiguity, confusion and mystery that surrounded his death on August 19th. Meles was a complex man. The reaction to the news of his death in a Brussels hospital was just as complex.

Mourners in Mekelle

He was openly mourned by wailing crowds in Addis and many other cities and towns across Ethiopia, especially in the north of the country and in the Tigray community. He was the man who brought down the hated regime of the brutal Derg in 1991 and ushered in a period of relative — if uneven and imperfect — prosperity, political stability, and economic growth. He did good for Ethiopia, especially for those within his party and his ethnic group.

But elsewhere in these same towns and villages, in a far less public manner, the death of the man many called the dictator was welcomed. Fewer people in the Amhara and Oromo community shed tears. In many parts of the large expatriate community of Ethiopians in Europe and North America, Meles’ death was greeted with relief and occasionally with joy. He was the man, they said, who clamped down on political freedom, suppressed free speech, muzzled the press and sent many Ethiopians into a forced exile. He ruined the country.

And, of course, there was the mystery surrounding the circumstances of his death. For several months, it was widely reported — but never confirmed — that Meles, 57, had been ailing. He completely disappeared from view about two months ago, but the government, in the way of autocratic regimes, blithely assured all questioners that the Prime Minister was well and just resting. His death, when announced by the government with a kind of North Korean transparency, took place “abroad” and from a “sudden infection.” His body was flown back from Belgium.

Abruptly changing leaders is always a risky, and for Ethiopia, an unfamiliar business. Since Haile Selassie was crowned emperor in 1930, Ethiopia has had only three rulers: the Emperor who was deposed in 1974, the hated Minguistu Haile Mariam (1974–1991) who headed the Communist junta of the Derg, and Meles (1991–2012). Yet despite considerable nervousness, the period immediately after Meles’ death has been quiet and peaceful. The announcement of Meles’ death also declared that

Hailemariam Dessalegn

Hailemariam Dessalegn, 47, the relatively obscure deputy prime minister and foreign minister, was next in line and would immediately become acting Prime Minister. He would be confirmed as Prime Minister by Parliament in a day or two, the statement said. No problem. Yet the vote was soon postponed to allow, it was said, those deputies attending the funeral of Abuna Paulos, the Patriarch of the Ethiopian Church who died a few days before Meles, to return to their duties. Or perhaps the delay was designed to get the political élite of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, Meles’ party, time to decide whether Hailemariam, a non-Tigrayen from the South who trained as an engineer in Finland and did not fight with the guerrilla movement, was really the man to lead the nation until the next promised election in 2015. But it is hard to believe that a party as disciplined did, as the TPLF (think the Stalinist/Albanian model) did not prepare for this transition once Meles took ill. But then again it is difficult to believe that there is not intense internal struggle within the party now that its dominant figure is gone. And for those opposed to Meles and his TPLF, this may be the time to move.
Meles will leave a big hole both in Ethiopia’s political life and in international affairs.

Meles, born in Adwa, dropped out of medical school to join the rebellion against the Derg. In 1991 when rebel forces entered Addis, Meles at the age of 36, found himself leading the new government. Meles was smart and well read. He earned a correspondence degree in economics from the UK’s prestigious Open University after becoming Prime Minister. Despite all those years in the mountains, he was an intellectual. But as the world learned from the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, intellectual revolutionaries can be dangerous.

Minister Meles had definite ideas about governance and development. To deal with Ethiopia’s many ethnic groups he rearranged the country into ethic regions giving them extensive self-governing powers, even the right to secede, although none has dared take that drastic step. Some critics believe this multi-ethnic policy — a kind of ethnic federalism — has been a disaster emphasizing the ethic differences, rather than smoothing them over in an attempt to build a single nation. By playing the various groups against each other, Meles was able to leverage political power to his minority Tigray people to control the nation. Amharas and Oromos were frozen out.

He also had firm ideas about economic development. He encouraged foreign investment, built export industries like cut flowers, expanded infrastructure including an ambitious road network, increased the number of schools (although not the quality of teachers), and encouraged private business which had, of course, been forbidden under the previous communist regime. From 2000 to 2010, GDP grew on an average of 8.5 per cent a year. Food supplies increased to nearly self sufficiency. The British Department for International Development reported that since 1991 the Meles party has “consolidated a capable government that is demonstrably committed to addressing poverty with an impressive record of pro-poor spending, sound financial management and a strong commitment to fighting corruption.” That cannot be said of many African governments.

Meles himself was an unsmiling, wonky bureaucrat, not a kleptomaniac, not a self-indulgent megalomaniac. He lived a modest life style with no villas in France, no flashy collection of cars in Britain. For this, and his keen mind and considerable personal charm, he became the darling of Western leaders desperate for good news from Africa. Bill Clinton praised Meles as the leader of a new generation of African leaders. Meles was a regular invitee to represent Africa at G8 meetings, most recently at Camp David. As a development guru, Meles talked the talk and even did some of the walk right.

Overlooked by Western leaders was Meles’ appalling human rights record. He was a charmer in Geneva and London. He was a stern, even brutal, autocrat at home. In 2005, Meles decided to fight an open election. The campaign and balloting were largely free and honestly conducted. A coalition of Opposition parties scored impressive results. They swept all 22 seats in the city council in Addis, including the mayor’s office, and won nearly 45% of the seats in Parliament. Meles was shocked and the Opposition giddy. Both sides overplayed their hands. The Opposition claimed the election had been rigged and refused to take their seats in Parliament. They claimed they had won a majority. Instead, they took to the street with protest marches. Meles cracked down hard. More than 200 people were killed in the riots that followed. He arrested opposition leaders and put them on trial for treason. They were, naturally, convicted and tossed in prison — later to be released after signing documents repenting. Many went into exile. Some still languish in prison.

When elections came around again in 2010 Meles was not about to be surprised and defeated at the polls again. Using strong-arm tactics of patronage and brutal coercion, he won a stunning victory at the polls securing an astonishing 99% of the seats in Parliament. He silenced the press, arresting journalists and trying them for terrorism. Recently the journalist Eskinder Nega and 23 others were convicted of terrorism. His crime: suggesting that someday an Arab Spring might come to Ethiopia. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison. Opposition leaders were again arrested. Speaking out against the government was a risky business, which could land people in jail or starve a region of government development funds. Some critics say food aid was withheld from regions hostile to Meles’ policies. Don’t expect a new road or a new college in your district if someone — including the voters — has been opposing the government. Many in Ethiopia resented Meles, but were silenced when they spoke out. The government literally owns all the print presses capable of printing newspapers. Meles’ strong-armed tactics were loudly criticized by human rights groups abroad. But they worked for him. “Authoritarian developmentalism,” his supporters called it.

Meles was respected by his peers in Africa. The African Union, which is based in Addis Ababa and just moved into a new $200 million headquarters building that Meles convinced the Chinese to pay for, issued a statement saying that “the death of Prime Minister Meles has robbed Africa of one of its greatest sons.” Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said, “Meles Zenawi was an economic transformer; he was a strong intellectual leader for the continent.”

The Somalis and Eritreans were not as gracious, of course. Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a bloody and costly war in 1999, a craven misjudgment by Meles. Eritrea remains a fierce opponent even though renewed fighting seems unlikely. Ethiopia has sent troops into Somalia several times in vain attempts to end the anarchy that has ruled for decades. Meles’ willingness to join with Washington in its fight against the Islamists of al-Shabab has won him friends in America. The U.S. uses bases in Ethiopia to launch attacks, including drone strikes, in the Horn of Africa. And Meles had been rewarded with aid and support for his steadfastness to the anti-terrorism cause. Less than a week after Meles’ death, President Obama was on the phone with Hailemariam.

For all of Meles’ accomplishments, Ethiopia remains a desperately poor country, less poor than when he came to power, but still desperately poor. Whoever attempts to take Meles’ place — whether it is Hailemariam or some other party operative from the shadows the TLP — he or she (yes, Meles did much for women’s rights during his time) will have a big task awaiting. Meles made a beginning. Lots more remain to be done beginning with, for example, respecting human and political rights.

News of Ethiopia

Written and complied by Barry Hillenbrand (Debre Marcos 63–65)

Oromo Ceasefire?

Oromo troops

As any foreign correspondent who has covered Ethiopia and its long war with the Oromo Liberation Front knows, getting to talk with leaders of the OLF is a difficult and dangerous business. Journalists traveling in search of interviews in the south of Ethiopia have been detained and roughed up. So when Emily Wax, a former foreign correspondent for the Washington Post now working in Washington after a tour in Africa, wanted to get an update on the OLF, she drove up to the Petworth section of Washington, D.C., and sat down at a café on Georgia Avenue NW. It turns out that while U Street in Washington is little Addis, upper Georgia Ave is Oromo-land.

Taha Tuko

Wax scored not only an interview with Taha Tuko, a leader of the OFM, but came across a bit of news. Tuko told her that “the violence is over, and this is good news.” The OLF has been retooled, Tuko told Wax, “Our mission is no longer independence.” Rather, he said, they would like to work with other opposition parties to bring down — via elections — the present government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. “You’ve heard of the Arab Spring,” said another Omomo, Abebe Belew, a radio host with the cynical, comical air of Jon Stewart, “Well, this is our Ethiopian Winter because of the dropping of secession. But soon it’s going to be much bigger than the Arab Spring, because our biggest breakaway group wants unity and they will join forces against the current government.”

While the Oromo community in Washington, which may number as many as 10,000, has an extensive network of church and mosques, social clubs and newspapers, even a Miss Oroma contest and an on-line dating service, bringing unity to all the political factions will be difficult. Splintering political groups have long beset the community, both in Washington and back in Ethiopia.  And to get the Oromos to work with other opposition parties, including those dominated by Amharas, will be doubly hard. Still the declaration of a ceasefire in the long secessionist war is a major step forward to bring peace to Ethiopia. To read Wax’s long and informative piece on the Oromo in the Washington Post, click HERE.

Free Eskinder Nega

Eskinder Nega

In recent months, pressure has been building in support of Eskinder Nega, an Ethiopian journalist and blogger who has been on trial in Addis on charges of terrorism and incitement to violent revolt. Eskinder was arrested after he published articles linking the Arab Spring to Ethiopia. In his stories he also disputed the number of journalists claimed being held by the government as suspected terrorists. He also was critical of the arrest of popular actor Debebe Eshetu. After Eskinder’s arrest in September 2011, he was charged with plotting to bring arms into Ethiopia from Eritrea.  On national TV, the government claimed that Eskinder was “a spy for foreign forces.”

Serkalem Fasil

Eskinder has been arrested more than a half dozen times by the present government. In 2005 he and his wife, Serkalem Fasil, were arrested and charged with treason for writing about the arrests of opposition party members following the election of 2005. Eskinder and Serkalem were held for 17 months. Their child was born in prison. He and his family were released in 2007 with warnings to behave themselves, but he bravely and obstinately continued to write and publish.

Eskinder Nega gives the government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi severe headaches. Meles relishes his role as one of the reasonable and enlightened leaders of Africa. He is always jetting off to this conference or that to talk about African development. He’s been invited to the next G8 meeting. And he points to two elections to confirm his legitimacy as a democratic leader. But Ethiopian democracy has a thin, even imaginary, veneer. As a result, Meles and his people do suffer critics lightly. Those who speak out against the government are arrested and locked away to be forgotten. So while Meles is busy delivering often commendable programs to the country — which has made progress in recent years — he also has constructed a quasi-Stalinist state that people like Eskinder are busy exposing for what it is.

In May Eskinder was awarded the prestigious Freedom to Write award by PEN America. Hours before the ceremony, Serkalem arrived from Addis to accept the award. In a touching speech, she said that “prison has been Eskinder’s home away from home for the past two decades.” She continued: “If Eskinder were standing here, he would accept this award not just as a personal honor, but on behalf of all Ethiopian journalists who toil under withering repression in Ethiopia today, those forced into exile over the years, those in prison with him now, and even those who serve in state media for no other reason than making a living.”

Beer Wars

Jumbos at the Beemnet Bar

Okay, tela and tej are great, and they sustained a great many PCVs during their years in Ethiopia. But western, lager-style beer, like St George and Harar, was a pleasant — albeit more expensive — alternative widely consumed. As Ethiopia’s middle class expands and its urban population explodes, beer is fast becoming a much more popular drink.  It is consumed, for example, in over-sized mugs called “jumbos” in sports bars like Addis’ Beemnet Bar while fans watch English Premier League football matches on flat screen TVs.

Ethiopia’s beer market is projected to increase by 15 per cent a year, and the prospect of ever more consumption of jumbos has brought the big foreign beer companies into the market.  In the 1990s BGI Ethiopia, a French run brewery consortium (yes, the French know how to make great beer too!), acquired the iconic St George brewery from the government as part of the post-Deng privatization. But BGI, Ethiopia’s largest brewing concern, is in for competition. Last year Heineken, the Dutch brewery, paid $163 million for  two breweries in Ethiopia: the Harar Brewery, which produces Harar Beer and Hakim Stout, two very popular beers, and the Bedele brewery in the west of Ethiopia.

In May, Heineken announced that it will invest more money in additional brewing facilities to be built near Addis. It will also build a water treatment plant and plant hops to help produce top quality beers. In addition to the present brands, Heineken may brew its own green label beer and Amstel in the new brewery near Addis.

In addition to the French consortium and Heineken, Diago, a British based liquor giant that owns part of Guinness and Johnnie Walker, recently bought Meta Abo Beer Factory for $14.5 million.  There’s lots of room for expansion.  Ethiopian beer consumption is a mere four liters per capita, compared with 11 liters for Nigeria and 12 for Kenya — and a whopping 60 liters for South Africa. Order another round of jumbos, goshi.

Lucy’s cousins

Lucy, the famed Ethiopian fossil of an upright humanoid dating back 3.5 million years, was not without the company of other pre-human species. In a March issue of Nature a team of scholars reported on the finding of bones from a foot in the Afar region of Ethiopia, near a location called Burtele. “The Burtele partial foot clearly shows that at 3.4 million years ago, Lucy’s species, which walked upright on two legs, was not the only hominine species living in this region of Ethiopia,” said lead author and project leader Dr. Yohannes Haile-Selassie, curator of physical anthropology at The Cleveland Museum of Natural History. “Her species co-existed with close relatives who were more adept at climbing trees, like ‘Ardi’s’ species, Ardipithecus ramidus, which lived 4.4 million years ago.”

This new species, which does not have a name yet because skull and dental elements have not been discovered, had a big toe which was probably adept at holding on branches, but lacked “an expansion joint that would allow for an expanded range of movement required for pushing off the ground for upright walking,” said co-author and project co-leader Dr. Bruce Latimer of Case Western Reserve University. “This individual would have likely had something of an awkward gait when on the ground.”  The findings indicate that one sort of hominine was adapted to living in the trees while Lucy was living on the land.

News of Ethiopia

Written and complied by Barry Hillenbrand (Debre Marcos 63-65)

How to raise some cash

Ethiopia is in need of cash for development projects. Sure, the World Bank and other donors give Ethiopia a lot of help, especially in food aid, but the country’s five year growth plan unveiled in 2010 calls for more than $35 billion to be invested in infrastructure projects including roads, dams and railroads. How to get the cash? Ethiopia has already sold off some farm land to foreign investors causing considerable controversy, but now an Addis research company suggests that the government sell five of the crown jewels of state-owned companies, including Ethiopian Airways, Ethio Telecom and the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia. That could raise nearly $7.8 billion, which would build a lot of bridges.

Difficult trials

Several important trials are taking place in Addis, with the government dragging various opposition leaders and journalists in front of courts charged with terrorism. Right after the Genna Christmas celebration, Bekele Gerba and Olbana Lelisa appeared in federal court to hear charges accusing them of conspiring to overthrow Ethiopia’s government by force. They were also accused of being recruiters for the Oromo Liberation Front, an outlawed separatist group.

According to a Voice of America report, Bekele and Olbana had been considered among the brightest of the young generation of politicians being groomed to take over following the 2010 electoral disaster, when the opposition was virtually shut out of Parliament. Bekele had been named deputy chairman and external relations chief for the Oromo Federal Democratic Movement (OFDM), and Olbana held a similar post in the Oromo People’s Congress.

The men were arrested last August after meeting with a visiting delegation from the Amnesty International rights group, which was later expelled from the country. Along with seven co-defendants, Bekele and Olbana had also assisted a BBC news crew that been investigating allegations that Ethiopia used billions of dollars in development aid as a tool for political repression. The government strongly denied the report, calling it irresponsible.

In court, Bekele tried to argue that he had been working for peaceful change on behalf of what he called “downtrodden Oromos.” Chief Judge Endeshaw Adane cut him short, saying the hearing was only for entering a plea.

The trial of Bekele and Olbana is being heard in the same high-court complex where a verdict is due soon in the case of two journalists also charged with terrorism. Reeyot Alemu, a columnist with the weekly paper Fitih [Justice], and Woubshet Taye, deputy editor of the now defunct Awramba Times, are charged with plotting to sabotage telephone and electricity lines.

In a third terrorism trial, opposition politician Andualem Aragie and internet blogger and political analyst Eskinder Nega are among 30 defendants charged with conspiring to overthrow Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s government by violent means. While Eskider and Andualem will be in the courtroom, most of the defendants are in exile and being tried in absentia.

And in a related ruling, Ethiopia sentenced two Swedish journalists to 11 years in jail in December on charges of supporting terrorism after the pair illegally entered the country with a Somali rebel group. Photojournalist Johan Persson and reporter Martin Schibbye were arrested by Ethiopian security forces in July during a gunfight between Ethiopian soldiers and rebels in the no-go region of Ogaden, and were put on trial in October.

Judge Shemsu Sirgaga ruled on 27 December that Persson and Schibbye should suffer “rigorous imprisonment” following their convictions. The verdict, he said, “should satisfy the goal of peace and security.” Prosecutors had asked for 18 years in prison for the pair. Speaking from Stockholm, Karin Schibbye, Martin’s mother, told The Guardian, “It’s absurd. You can’t really take in that they are sentenced to 11 years. It’s obviously so wrong. They are innocent. They entered the country illegally and should be punished for that and nothing else.”

In and out of Somalia

In 2006 Ethiopia sent troops into Somalia to support a fragile and largely ineffective Africa Union backed government against Islamists, including al-Shabab. While the Ethiopians managed to secure parts of Mogadishu and some outlaying towns, they were not really comfortable nor successful. The Somalis were always resentful and suspicious of the Ethiopians, who had fought a war with them in the 1970s. In 2009 Ethiopian troops withdrew.

Since then, conditions in Somalia have not improved greatly, but a growing African Union force, called Amisom has gained strength as countries like Uganda, Djibouti and recently Kenya have contributed troops. But still the Islamists have power and in last August Ethiopian troops once again entered Somalia. In December Ethiopian forces ousted Al-Shabab from a border town called Bulo Hawo. They helped secure Beledweyne, long a strong hold for the government. But Ethiopia is once again pulling back. They will give their positions to the African Union forces — and wait for the next call for assistance from the AU.

Stick to marijuana

The Netherlands, long famous among young travelers in Europe for its lenient soft drug policies and pot cafes, is banning khat. Four times a week fresh shipments of khat came through Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. Khat leaves, as some RPCVs may, err, ahh, recall hearing tell, need to be fresh, otherwise they lose their potency. The trade is worth some $18 million per year (bless those EU statistics), but the Dutch are eager to limit the trade because it is causing problems in the Somali/Ethiopian/Eritrean communities in Holland. Khat is banned in the U.S., Canada and several other EU countries.

Commitments not forgotten

BEST BUDS: President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in Addis

Since leaving office three years ago, President George W. Bush has kept a relatively low profile, but in December Bush traveled to Ethiopia to support a project which may be one of the proudest accomplishments of his administration. Bush delivered the keynote address to an international conference on AIDS in Africa. He spoke to an audience of mostly African scientists, health professionals and AIDS activists. But he addressed his most pointed remarks to U.S. lawmakers and taxpayers. According to a VOA report, he drew enthusiastic applause when he said this is not the time to cut back funding for the battle against sexually-transmitted diseases. “During lean budget times, the United States and the developing world must set priorities, and there is no greater priority than saving human life,” he said.

Mr. Bush was showered with gifts and honors during his one-day visit to Ethiopia for his leadership in creating PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief. The 10-year, $39 billion program is considered the largest ever initiative dedicated to fighting a disease.

Bush said that he understood that in the U.S. there is pressure to balance budgets and cut spending, but he said that reducing successful humanitarian programs would diminish America’s standing in the world. “I know that during moments of economic hardship, there can be a temptation for Americans to disengage from the world. But we cannot retreat. We cannot afford to falter when we’re needed most. Isolationism is always short sighted. It’s always a mistake. It can always lead to greater hardship and despair,” he said. Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi presented Mr. Bush with his government’s Outstanding Leadership award for PEPFAR’s contribution to improving health.

News of Ethiopia

News of Ethiopia
complied by Barry Hillenbrand

Ethiopia’s famine and refugee problem

Along with the rest of the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia is suffering from the effects of the worst famine to strike the region in 60 years. The famine is most severe in Somalia, but it has reached into the southern areas of Ethiopia. While the famine in southern Somalia has grabbed headlines, experts and aid workers say that southern Ethiopia is teetering on the brink of a food crisis. The Ethiopian government agrees that 250,000 people need food aid in the southern part of the country. But aid organization and agricultural officials say the number of people who need emergency food aid in southern Ethiopia is bigger, around 700,000. Maps, including the one below, released by the Famine Early Warning Network, a joint venture of  USAID, the UN, and other agencies,  show critical famine (the dark red areas on the map below) in several areas of southern Somalia, but less serious drought in the southern regions of Ethiopia. In early September, Ethiopia imported 300,00 tons of wheat to build up grain reserves, and is seeking more aid from the international community.

However Ethiopia suffers from another problem caused by the famine: a vast influx of refugees from Somalia who walk across the dessert in search of food. They are arriving in large numbers in camps in southern Ethiopia where international relief agencies are scrambling to house and feed them. Ethiopia is host to over 260,000 refugees out of which some 180,000 are Somalis. This figure includes over 41,600 Somali refugees in the three Jijiga area camps as well as an estimated 18,500 others who have recently crossed into Ethiopia through the Gode area. The other refugee groups flowing into the country include over 50,000 Eritreans and some 26,000 Sudanese, who include recent arrivals of about 500 from Abiye and South Kordofan in Sudan.

WATER AT LAST Somali refugees in Hiloweyn camp near Dolo Ado, southern Ethiopia

According to the United Nations, the number of refugees in four camps in the Dollo Ado area of Ethiopia has now crossed the 120,000 mark. Almost 80,000 Somalis have arrived this year alone — the majority crossing the border in June and July. The large influx prompted UNHCR and the Government to open two new camps in June and August while land for the fifth camp has been identified. It could be used to house some 18,000 Somali refugees who have crossed into Ethiopia further north along the border in the Gode region. Lately, there has been a significant drop in the number of new arrivals: from a peak of over 2,000 refugees a day in June/July to 300 a day in August.

The state of health of those arriving in Dollo Ado continues to be extremely poor. An assessment of mortality in one of four refugee camps at the Dollo Ado complex has found that death rates have reached alarming levels among new arrivals. Since the Kobe refugee camp opened in June, an average of 10 children under the age of five have died every day. While malnutrition is the leading cause of the high mortality, suspected measles is compounding the problem. Across all Dollo Ado sites the UNHCR have seen 150 cases of suspected measles and 11 related deaths. The combination of disease and malnutrition is what has caused similar death rates in previous famine crises in the region. The UNHCR is working to control the measles outbreak. A mass vaccination campaign against measles was completed in Kobe camp in the first week of September, targeting all children between the ages of six months and 15 years.

But there is little hope that the emergency will end any time soon. The rains in August were not up to par and drought conditions continue.

New Ethiopian diaspora: household help for Saudi Arabia

According to an article in the Arab News, a respected English language paper in Saudi Arabia, the chairman of the recruitment committee at Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry,  Yahya Hassan Al-Maqbool, has urged the Ethiopian authorities to expedite visas and facilitate recruitment procedures for Ethiopian housemaids to work in Saudi Arabia. He wanted more Saudi recruitment offices to be set up to deal with a larger number of recruits and cut down processing time for maids which can take up to three months. At present each of the two  Saudi recruitment offices was processing 60 visas from Ethiopia every month. “We are requesting to increase the number of visas given to each Saudi office to 500 monthly,” he said. He also called for increasing the number of weekly flights between the two countries. “These procedures will expedite the recruitment of housemaids from Ethiopia,” he added.

Al-Maqbool claims that  the “manpower”— err, the woman power — recruited from Ethiopia has worked out well, but only time will tell whether Ethiopian household staff will be comfortable in Saudi Arabia. Al-Maqbool believed that the recruitment of 25,000 housemaids from Ethiopia during the coming few months would not be difficult if there was cooperation from the Ethiopian side.  “The Ethiopian manpower has proved that they are a successful substitute for manpower from Southeast Asia, who were causing a lot of problems.”

There are 170 licensed offices in Ethiopia and 150 offices in Kenya to export manpower to Saudi Arabia. According to press reports, the Kingdom will open training institutes in the two African countries to qualify manpower before they are sent to the Kingdom. The demand for housemaids in the Kingdom has gone up because some South East Asian countries like the Philippines and Indonesia have put limits on household workers going to the Kingdom.

A new long-distance star emerges as Bekele fades again

Ibrahim Jeilan of Ethiopia sprinted past Briton Mo Farah to win the men’s 10,000 meters world title on August 26 after four-times defending champion Kenenisa Bekele had limped off the track. Once again Bekele tried for a comeback, but failed. Jeilan’s  time was  27 minutes 13.81, just  seconds ahead of Farah who took the silver. Another Ethiopian, Imane Merga, was third.

WHERE'S BEKELE? Ibrahim Jeilan wins the World Championship in the 10,000 meters

Bekele, who had never been beaten on the track over 10,000 meters, had not raced in almost two years because of a calf injury.  Bekele is the double Olympic champion and world record holder in the 5,000 meters. After the race he said that he did not regret coming to the South Korean city of Daegu for the important World Championships. He did not rule out racing again this season. Running in next year’s Olympics in London still remains a possibility. “I didn’t want to miss this race because I thought I had a chance,” he added. “I’m glad I came, I wanted to try,” he said, confirming that it was his right leg that was again causing problems.

Farah, who was trying to become the first British world champion over 10,000 meters, looked like he had the race sewn up when he began his kick for home at the bell announcing the last lap. “It means a lot winning a major medal, it would have been nice with a gold but the better man won on the day,” he said.  That better man, the joyous Jeilan, said: “I don’t have the words to explain how I feel.”

New Press law cuts fast and deep

Ethiopia’s tightly-controlled media has not been known for sticking its neck out on controversial issues, but a new law recently passed by an overwhelmingly government-controlled parliament will make the already gun-shy press even more cautious. And understandably so. The law expressly bans any form of communication with groups designated as terrorist organizations. This includes reporting from a press release of a possible terrorist group or interviewing their members. According to the law, any such act will be considered disseminating terror-related information and the publisher could  be jailed. In August Reporters Without Borders wrote to Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi calling for the release of Reyot Alemu and Wubeshet Taye, two journalists who were arrested in June. RWB asked for an investigation into the conditions in which they are being held. Reyot, a young woman columnist, is in very poor health, while Wubeshet, the deputy editor of a weekly, says he has been mistreated.

“The situation of both of these journalists is alarming,” the letter to the prime minister says. “We were very disturbed to learn that their pre-trial detention was extended yet again and we call for their immediate release.”  When they were brought before a judge on 17 August, their pre-trial detention was extended for another 28 days. Accused of complicity with a political group that has been classified as a “terrorist” organization, they are due to appear in court again in September.

UNDER THREAT Sign marks the offices of Addis Neger, a popular newspaper which closed down. Its editors fled into exile fearing that anti-terrorism laws would be used against the them

The deputy editor of the Awramba Times weekly, Wubeshet was arrested on 19 June. When he appeared before a federal court two months later, he said he was beaten during interrogation and was manhandled by prison officials. He was also forbidden to receive visits from his family and to organize his defense with his lawyer.

Reyot, a columnist for the Amharic-language weekly Fitih, was arrested on 21 June. The equipment and material that was seized at the time of her arrest was finally returned to her family a few days ago. The few visitors that have been allowed to see her are worried by the rapid deterioration in her health. After two months in detention, this young woman is showing signs of physical and psychological trauma. Although her family has been able to send her medicine, she is in urgent need of proper medical attention.

News of Ethiopia

Ethiopian News Notes

compliled by Barry Hillenbrand 

Meles Jamming with the Chinese
In search of new markets and sources of natural resources China has been making lots of friends in Africa with its foreign aid and trade. But it has also been helping some of the more repressive regimes in Africa with a Chinese specialty: controlling the press. The Ethiopian Free Press Journalists’ Association (EFJA) has demanded that China put an end to its complicity in jamming Ethiopian Satellite Television and other reputable broadcasters such as the Voice of America and Deutsche Welle Amharic Services.

Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT), which recently resumed transmissions to Ethiopia after nearly two months of interruption, claims that the China has been providing technology, training and technical assistance to Ethiopia to enable it to jam ESAT’s transmissions to Ethiopia. After investigating the matter, EFJA has confirmed the allegations with sources inside and outside of Ethiopia.

Kifle Mulat, President of EFJA, noted that stifling freedom of expression and undermining efforts to spread democratic values in Ethiopia sets a bad precedent in the whole of Africa. “Ethiopia is not only the seat of the African Union but also a historic symbol of freedom in Africa as the only African nation that has never been colonized. Aiding tyrants to stifle their people and block the free flow of information is tantamount to committing unwarranted crimes against the freedom-loving people of Africa that are making sacrifices to exercise their inalienable rights and free themselves from corrupt tyrants who are hampering progress in the continent,” Ato Kifle said.

Print journalists detained
Ethiopian authorities have been holding a newspaper columnist according to local journalists. Reeyot Alemu, a regular contributor to the independent weekly Feteh, was expected to spend the next four weeks in preventive detention under what appears to be Ethiopia’s sweeping anti-terrorism law. Alemu is the second journalist picked up and held without charge in less than a week and taken into custody at the federal investigation center at Maekelawi Prison in Addis. Deputy Editor Woubshet Taye of the weekly Awramba Times is the other journalist arrested. 

IN JAIL: Journalist Reeyot Alemu

Local journalists said they believe Alemu’s arrest could be related to her columns critical of the ruling party. Alemu’s June 17 column in Feteh criticized the public fundraising methods for the Abay Dam project, and made parallels between Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.  

Ethiopian authorities said that the two journalists it detained planned to sabotage the country’s power and phone lines and recruit others to work with arch-foe Eritrea to destabilize it. “The group was caught while plotting to sabotage electricity and telephone lines in an attempt to wreak havoc in the country,” according to Demelash Woldemikael, assistant commissioner of the country’s federal police. Ethiopia’s sweeping anti-terrorism law criminalizes any reporting authorities deem to “encourage” or “provide moral support” to groups and causes the government labels as “terrorists.”

Alemu was picked up at a high school in Addis Ababa where she teaches English, according to the  journalists. Police then searched her house. Ethiopia has six journalists currently behind bars, behind only Eritrea as the nation detaining the largest number of journalists in Africa. Eritrea holds at least 17 members of the press in its secret prisons.

No days of rage
A group calling itself the Ethiopian Youth Movement set May 28 as the “day of rage” against what it said was Meles Zenawi’s authoritarian regime. The day was chosen to coincide with the 20th anniversary celebrations of  victory of Ethiopia’s ruling party. Online networks and the blogosphere claimed that thousands of Ethiopians had subscribed to the cause, giving rise to feeble hopes of a rare challenge to Meles’s hold on the Horn of Africa country.

But on the appointed day,  tens of thousands of people turned out in Addis to fervently celebrate the ruling party, the  Ethiopian People’s Democratic Front, in a  brief — but colorful — party. At Meskel Square throngs chanted praises of Meles in a solid show of support. The Opposition, which may be brave on line, was nowhere to be seen.  No Arab Spring in Ethiopia.

THREE CHEERS FOR MELES: Pro-government demonstration on 20th Anniversary of Meles' victory

Writes former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia David Shinn, “Since the beginning of the Arab Spring, protest in Ethiopia has been muted.  The government-controlled radio and television have given limited coverage to the protests in North Africa and the Middle East, but persons with access to satellite TV are well aware of the issues. There have been reliable reports of increased arrests of persons who support the political opposition to the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front. Ethiopia keeps a tight rein on any group that threatens EPRDF control in the country.”

Commuted Sentence for Mengistu’s men
Ethiopia  has commuted the death sentences of 23 of former dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam’s top officials convicted of genocide in 2008. Their sentences were reduced to life imprisonment. Mengistu and dozens of others were sentenced to death for the murder of thousands during a 17-year rule that included famine, war and the “Red Terror” purges of suspected opponents. The ex-president and his senior officers were convicted after a 12-year trial that ruled that Mengistu’s government was directly responsible for the deaths of 2,000 people and the torture of at least 2,400 others.

Ethiopian President Girma Woldegiorgis announced the act of clemency following an appeal for leniency by a panel of heads of religious institutions, as well as an expression of remorse by those convicted. The group does not include Mengistu, but comprises several high-profile figures from the Mengistu-era such as Legesse Asfaw, known as “the butcher of Tigre,” former vice-president Fisseha Desta, and former prime minister, Fikresellassie Wogderes. They have been behind bars since 1991 and have publicly apologized for their crimes.  Mengistu, who has lived a life of comfortable exile in Zimbabwe since he was driven from power in 1991, is unlikely to face any punishment as President Robert Mugabe has refused to allow his extradition.

Egyptian-Ethiopian Détente?
For over a decade during the regime of Egyptian President Mubarak, no Egyptian Prime Minister had visited Ethiopia. But on May 12 Egyptian PM Essam Sharaff arrived in Addis Ababa to join Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi for discussions that took place on May 13 at the National Palace.

At the end of the discussions an Egyptian journalist raised a question — is there a problem between Egypt and Ethiopia? The Ethiopian Prime Minister responded unequivocally, “There is no problem between Egypt and Ethiopia that cannot be resolved by Egypt and Ethiopia.” The Prime Minister further assured him that the state of relations between the two countries is good. “Our position is clear. We want to work in cooperation with Egypt for mutual benefit. We have no intention or policy that is designed to hurt others. We told this to the Prime Minister in our discussion,” the Meles  added.

BROTHERLY EMBRACE: Meles welcomes Egyptian PM Essan Sharaff

The Ethiopian government has achieved what was previously thought impossible: to convince Egypt to rethink its long held position over the Nile River issue. Egypt reiterated that it positively accepts the construction of the dam on the Nile River. Several months ago this stance from Egypt would have been untenable. “We told him in our discussion that Egypt played an obstructive role to our plans to use the rivers. But now we have observed a positive change of attitude,” Meles noted.

Ethiopia has expressed willingness for the “international experts” panel to assess the impact of the dam upon Egypt. “On the part of Ethiopia there is a 100 percent belief that the dam will never have a negative impact on Egypt. The international experts can thoroughly evaluate it. We are willing to form an independent technical group composed of our experts, Egyptians and other international experts. The delegation was happy when we forwarded this idea,” said Ambassador Dina Mufti, spokesperson of the Ethiopian Foreign Minister.

Ethiopian TV puppets
In April CNN’s African Voices service ran a story on Bruktawit Tigabu, co-creator of Ethiopian children’s TV show “Tsehai Loves Learning.” For millions of Ethiopian children, it’s the most cherished moment of their day: a wide-eyed, smiling giraffe hops in front of them, crooning funny songs in a language they can understand. The beloved sock puppet, known as Tsehai, is the star of a ground-breaking TV show that’s been revolutionizing childhood education in the east African country. Think Ethiopian “Sesame Street.” 

The brainchild of Ethiopian educator Bruktawit Tigabu and her husband Shane Etzenhouser, “Tsehai Loves Learning” is the only children’s TV show in Ethiopia in Amharic, the nation’s official and most widely spoken language. The show uses puppets and animation to teach young Ethiopians about sanitation and hygiene as well as the importance of culture and honesty. “They don’t realize that they’ve been taught on TV,” says Tigabu from her cramped studio in suburban Addis Ababa where awards share space with the paraphernalia of puppetry. For more on the show and several long  and informative video clips from CNN’s interview with Bruktawit, see

Adoption Freeze
Voice of America reported in March that Ethiopia is cutting back by as much as 90 percent the number of inter-country adoptions it will allow, as part of an effort to clean up a system rife with fraud and corruption. Adoption agencies and children’s advocates are concerned the cutbacks will leave many Ethiopian orphans without the last-resort option of an adoptive home abroad.

Ethiopia’s Ministry of Women’s, Children’s and Youth Affairs has issued a directive saying it will process a maximum of five inter-country adoptions a day, effective March 10. Currently, the ministry is processing up to 50 cases a day, about half of them to the United States. A copy of the directive provided to VOA says the reduction of up to 90 percent in cases will allow closer scrutiny of documents used to verify a child’s orphan status.

NO LONGER SO FAST: Ethiopian adoptee and proud father with U.S. citizen papers

Ministry spokesman Abiy Ephrem says the action was taken in response to indications of widespread fraud in the adoption process. “What we have seen so far has been some illegal practices. There is an abuse. There are some cases that are illegal. So these directives will pave the way to come up with [safeguards],” said Abiy Ephrem.

American couples often pay more than $20,000 to adopt an Ethiopian child. Such amounts are an enormous temptation in a country where the average family earns a few hundred dollars a month. U.S. State Department statistics show more than 2,500 Ethiopian orphans went to the United States last year. That is more than a ten fold increase over the past few years, making Ethiopia the second most popular destination for Americans seeking to adopt overseas, after China.

More land deals
Saudi Star Agricultural Development Plc, a food company owned by billionaire Sheikh Mohammed al-Amoudi, said it plans to invest $2.5 billion by 2020 developing a rice-farming project in Ethiopia. The company, based in Addis Ababa, leased 24,711 acres in Ethiopia’s western Gambella region for 60 years at a cost of $9.42 per hectare annually. The company plans to rent an additional 290,000 hectares from the government.

INDIA'S NEW RICE BOWL: Indian worker transplants rice on a new foreign-leased farm in Gambella

The project forms part of Ethiopia’s plan to lease 3 million hectares, an area about the size of Belgium, to private investors over the next 2 ½ years. Critics have argued that domestic farmers are being dispossessed and the country shouldn’t rent land cheaply to foreign investors to grow cash crops when about 13 percent of its approximately 80 million people still rely on food aid. “There is lots of land in Ethiopia, especially in the lowland areas,” said Chief Executive Officer Haile Assegide. “So, if you develop this lowland area and make Ethiopia self-sufficient in food, I see no problem.” Karuturi Global Ltd., an Indian food processor, plans to produce commodities including palm oil, sugar and rice on 312,000 hectares of rented land in Ethiopia.

News of Ethiopia

Ethiopian News Summary

compiled by Barry Hillenbrand (Debre Marcos 63–65)

The Great Ethiopian Land Grab (Continued)

For more than a year Ethiopia has been selling its farm land to the highest bidders, primarily large foreign argo-businesses eager to get their hands on Ethiopia’s fertile soil, large labor force and attractive export possibilities. The biggest players seem to be Indian companies, with the Chinese and Pakistanis not too far behind.

Land sale: farmland being examined

This month, Ethiopian Agriculture Minister Tefera Derbew visited India on an official visit and put more land on the block. Said Tefera, according to a report in a UK on-line site: “So far, we have transferred 307,000 hectares of land to foreign and domestic investors. Some 79 percent of this land has been transferred to Indian companies. This land is on 70-year lease. We are now proposing to transfer another 3.6 million hectares of land to investors from overseas. And I am confident that more than half of this 3.6 million hectares will go to Indians.”  That land equals about half the size of Punjab state, India’s main grain-growing region. “How much land will actually go to Indian investors depends entirely on the interest of investors. If they come and take all the land, then also we will be very happy. Indian investors are very welcome in Ethiopia,” said Tefera, who must be a very happy man indeed. According to Ethiopian numbers, Indian firms have invested $4.7 billion in Ethiopia’s farm sector. A good hunk of that cash has gone into land for sugar cane production, including crushing facilities. The Ethiopian government is quick to point out that all this agro-investment is producing jobs. Chadha Agro, PLC, one India’s largest agro-business corporations, was granted 22,000 hectares in Oromia State and will get an additional 78,000 hectares after its performance on the first land grant is assessed.  The company claims that it will employ 35,000 full and part-time workers.  For stories about the land grab in the Indian Press see: and

But all the land is not going to large agricultural companies. A story in AFROL News which quotes an U.S. Embassy cable released on Wikileaks, African leaders, like former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasansjo and Djiboutian President Ismael Omar Guelleh and the former Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, have received land grants.  For all the complicated details and some pointed comments by the U.S. ambassador about these deals see :

Birtukan Mideksa steps down

Opting out of politics: Birtukan Mideksa

In a blow to opposition politics, Birtukan Mideksa, leader of Ethiopia’s opposition party, Unity for Democracy, and the country’s most charismatic political leader (sorry, Prime Minister Meles), has decided to step down as party president a mere four months after she was released from prison where she had been serving a life term.  Her decision was announced in the press.  The wide understanding was that the terms of her release and pardon included a provision that she would refrain from political activity. The seeming withdrawal of  Birtukan from the political arena will only strengthen the iron grip Meles’ ruling party has on politics.  See for more details.

Price Control Mess

In an effort increasing food price inflation, the Meles government surprised the nation on Ethiopian Christmas eve, January 6, by imposing price controls on many basic items like meat, bread, rice, sugar, powdered milk and cooking oil. The government said that the controls were in response to price gouging by shop keepers. World food price have increased in recent months and the government claimed that merchants were taking advantage of “the market disorder.”

Well, what the new controls seemed to have brought about is more disorder. While it is true that buyers, especially low-income people, may have benefited from the freeze, the price controls also caused conflict in the markets thought-out the country.  Market women claimed that they could not make a profit selling at the capped levels. Fist-fights broke out in some markets over the interpretation of the controls.  Economists said that fixing prices is not the way to lower food prices or curb inflation. In November inflation was 10.2 per cent and 14.5 per cent in December.  For more, see a good Voice of America report: as well as a report from Bloomberg at Also see on the effect of the freezes on suppliers from Kenya:

Corruption on the line

Everyone knows Ethiopia has problems with corruption. Ethiopia also has problems with its tele-communications system. Last month the two problems were linked when Tesfaye Birru, the  former CEO of the former Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation and 16 employees of the corporation were found guilty of corruption by the Federal High Court. They were involved in a bid rigging operation involving Eriksson Electric which won a $47.4 million contract for a turn-key project to supply and install  mobile phones networks. Tesfaye was arrested in 2008 and has been in jail ever since — but hardly idle. He completed his Ph.D. by defending his dissertation via teleconference with professors in Germany. It’s unclear whether the equipment was supplied by Eriksson. See for more details.

Over the road HIV/AIDS work

Fighting HIV/AIDS: long distance truck drivers

The Federal Transport Authority is setting aside special funds, up to 2 per cent of its budget, to fighting HIV/AIDS among truck drivers and their assistants. According to the latest UN report on HIV/AIDS, truckers and intercity bus drivers formed 22 percent of the client base of sex workers. And a 2009 government survey from mobile counseling and testing clinics in 40 towns located on the major transportation corridors that link Addis Ababa to Ethiopia’s borders found that 25.3 percent of the sex workers who received the clinics’ services were HIV-positive. The new funds will provide for condom distribution and also for care for drivers and their families who are suffering from the virus. See

Haile Gabrselassie is back. Really. For sure.

Back in the running: Haile Gabrselassie

After the confusing events in New York this fall when Haile Gabrselassie dropped out of the race midway and declared that he was giving up competitive running, the news about the runner has been confusing at best. But recently Haile has been direct and pretty clear about his future. He told Reuters recently that he is back to his daily routine of running, in two sessions, 35 km/day. “One of the things I want to tell people is that I am not making plans to retire,” Haile told Reuters. “Now I am preparing for London 2012.” He will be running in the Tokyo marathon on Feb. 27.

But does Haile, 37, have any plans when he does finally retire? Of course, he said, “”I want to do something for Ethiopia, for Africa, for myself, my family and my people. You know, what is the best to do to pay back those people who were supporting me all these years. To be involved in politics as prime minister, as president, minister if this gives something back, then why not?”

News of Ethiopia

Ethiopian News Summary

complied by Barry Hillenbrand

War over the waters of the Nile?

The battle over the waters of the Nile continues. In an interview with Reuters, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said that he does not fear the Egyptians who have taken exception to a pact by five African nations — Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya — to work out a new formula for sharing the water from the Nile. “I am not worried that the Egyptians will suddenly invade Ethiopia,” Meles told Reuters in an interview. “Nobody who has tried that has lived to tell the story. I don’t think the Egyptians will be any different and I think they know that.” For more details of the interview and some very good background on the squabble over the waters of the Nile see:

Religion in Ethiopia

Each year the U.S. Congress requires the State Department to issue a report on religious freedom in countries around the globe. In the case of some countries–China  and Eritrea come to mind–the reports generate friction between the U.S.  and the country with a poor record on religious freedom.  (See the News of Eritrea section of the HERALD for the a summary and links to State’s report on the sorry state of religious freedom in Eritrea.) Ethiopia, on the other hand, does pretty well on religious freedom issues. But still the report makes good reading for its extensive information about the various religions of Ethiopia. Using government census numbers, which have been critized for their slant, the report says that 44% of the population follow the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Thirty-four percent of the population is Sunni Muslim, mostly Sufis. For more see:

Good Harvest, Fewer in need of aid

Good news does not big headlines make. So you may have missed the report by the United Nations that Ethiopia has experienced good rains this year and thus a bumper harvest. As a result, says the UN, the number of people needing emergency food aid will drop by nearly 3 million to 2.3 million.  Another 7.4 million people get some sort of assistance under a Safety Net program. Still this year, at least, Ethiopia has been spared a famine, but this will be little noted, we are sure.

New Ethiopian ambassador to the U.S.

Ambassador Girma Birru (photo:

The post of Ethiopia’s ambassador to Washington has been vacant for several months, but now that the elections are over, Prime Minister Meles has filled this job – as well as a host of other diplomatic positions around the world.  Picked for Washington is former Trade and Industry Minister Girma Birru. Girma won a seat to Parliament in the recent election which gives him a certain political credibility. He is also experienced in international dealings — and surely that will come in handy. Of course, one of the items on his agenda when he arrives in the U.S. is approving the use of the Ethiopian Embassy for E&ERPCVs’ dinner in September 2011.

Ethiopia’s Export Boom

Tending the growth in flower exports

One of the points Prime Minister Meles constantly makes as he jets around to international conferences (G20, World Economic Forum, climate change confabs, etc.) as the West’s designated hitter for Africa is that Ethiopia has done pretty well in the last decade. Sure, Ethiopia still languishes among the poorest countries on earth, but, says Meles, his country’s growth in G.D.P. and in exports has been impressive. Meles has a point. In 2009 Ethiopia had a GDP growth of 9.9%, the highest in Africa. It is likely to grow more than 10% in 2010 and 2011. The growth in exports has been equally impressive, up 38% from last year and now totaling a new high of $2 billion. Adding to the luster is a new range of export items. While coffee remains the country’s largest export, Ethiopia has developed export earners like gold, oilseed, cut flowers and khat.  For example, cut flowers exports, which did not exist 10 years ago, now earn $17o million a year. Each week Ethiopia exports an equivalent of 37 fully loaded cargo planes of flowers.

Okay, now the less than bright news: while the growth in exports has been encouraging, Ethiopia still lags behind countries like Uganda which with much a smaller population and exports of more than $3 billion. The strides Ethiopia has made in recent decades have been modest compared to those of other developing nations. In the 1980s Ethiopia exported more than Vietnam, a country with a similar sized population. Now Vietnam exports $65 billion compared to Ethiopia’s mere $2 billion. For really good analysis of Ethiopia’s export performance see the Ethiopia Reporter at

Aid debate continues

The controversy over how aid money and supplies are used in Ethiopia continues to simmer. In March of this year the BBC ran a report implying that some of the money raised by Bob Geldof through the Band Aid and Live Aid music benefits was funneled to rebels to buy arms. Geldof protested the reports bitterly and in November the BBC backed off slightly from the story saying that the reporting did not make the allegation that funds were diverted, but that the BBC acknowledges that “this impression could have been taken from the programme. We also acknowledge that some of our related reporting of the story reinforced this perception.” See for details.

And the October 2010 Human Rights Watch issued a blistering reporting claiming that the Ethiopia government uses donor aid to promote its repressive political agenda and to support Prime Minister Meles’ political party. HRW said that donors turn a blind eye to this misuse of food and aid. The government, of course, bitterly dismissed the report out of hand accusing Human Rights Watch of “unbridled arrogance” and “warped neo-colonialism.” See a Voice of America report on this at

Even aid organizations have criticized the Human Rights Watch report. The Development Assistance Group, which comprises 26 bilateral and multilateral development agencies providing assistance to Ethiopia, issued a statement saying that “we do not concur with the conclusion of the recent [HRW] report regarding the widespread systematic abuse of development in Ethiopia.” DAR conducted its own investigation into abuse charges and made the following statement: “Nonetheless, we recognize that the programmes we support are not immune to the potential for aid misuse and have included safeguard measures to address these risks.” See:

News of Ethiopia

Ethiopian News Summary

complied by Barry Hillenbrand

The Ethiopian Election — and its aftermath

In May, Ethiopia held its long anticipated elections. The results were a great disappointment for everyone except for Prime Minister Meles and his ruling party. Ethiopia’s 2005 elections were a significant victory for democracy and the opposition politicians who won major victories in the National Assembly and even swept local elections in places like Addis. The result in 2005 were a great shock to Meles and his party members who replied with a crackdown on the opposition and a rebuilding of their own political base into an awesome machine.

The result of all this was that there was no hope of an opposition victory in the 2010 elections. Election observers from the European Union and elsewhere did not report massive ballot box stuffing. Meles’ party did not need to do that. Thijs Berman, the EU’s chief observer, said election observers had received numerous complaints of violence and harassment. “The sheer volume and consistency of these complaints is a matter of concern,” Berman said. He noted that Ethiopia lacked a national voter list. “These shortcomings lead us to the conclusion that this electoral process falls short of certain international commitments,” he said. U.S.-based Human Rights Watch also criticized the vote, saying voters were told they could lose food assistance, public-sector jobs, loans and educational opportunities if they voted against the ruling party. [For more details from the BBC and Reuter see: and]

When the results were published, Meles won a victory worthy of North Korea or Cuba. Meles’ Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front — and its allied parties — won 545 out of the 547 seats in Parliment.  Many observers fear that the country is heading back to a single party era for the next five years. Only one seat went to the major opposition grouping, the Ethiopia Federal Democratic Unity Forum, a loss of more than 100 seats from what the opposition held after the 2005 election. And one seat went to an independent candidate, Dr. Ashebir Woldegiorgis, the erstwhile president of the Ethiopian Football Federation. The rest of the seats were taken the government party or their allies.

The United States expressed disappointment — but not condemnation — with pro-incumbent trends leading up to the elections that favored Meles’s party. “A number of laws, regulations and procedures implemented since the previous parliamentary elections in 2005 created a clear and decisive advantage for the ruling party throughout the electoral process,” said State Department spokesman Philip Crowley. But the U.S. did not condemn the results. Meles rejected criticism of his ruling party’s sweep of 99 percent of  the announced parliamentary seats and compared the country’s political system to that of Sweden and Japan. Right after the election, he noted that in Sweden the socialists ruled for 40 years.

Meles at the G8

In a speech in Ontario to the G8 Summit in August, Meles said, “Ethiopia is not moving towards a single-party system. It can, with some credence, be said that it is a dominant party system, but there is a fundamental distinction between a dominant party system and a single-party system.  The democratic system in Japan has been a dominant party system for half a century, but it has not been a single-party system.”

As opposed to 2005 when street demonstrations erupted after the elections, the post election period has been calm. Opposition Party objections to the elections went nowhere. The country’s biggest opposition coalition demanded a rerun of the election, alleging pre-poll intimidation and some vote rigging. But the National Electoral Board however, rejected the call, saying the party had  no evidence. The Supreme Court backed the Election Board and threw out a case the opposition had mounted asking that the NEB ruling be overturned. End of protest.

Having gained complete political control of the country Meles and his allies moved to improve his image internationally and to ease up on political control. In a major move just days after Meles was sworn in for his fourth five-year term,


Birtukan Mideksa, a charismatic former judge who was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of provoking demonstrations protesting the government’s victory in the last national elections in 2005, was released from prison. Meles could afford to be magnanimous. Birtukan returned to her family’s home in Addis Ababa after her release, where residents welcomed her with flowers and jubilant singing. She told journalists she had sought a pardon, but she did not say whether she would resume her political career or challenge the ruling party. “Those issues are for another time and place,” she said.

In another important move the government signed a peace agreement with leaders of the Ogaden National Liberation Front which has fought for the eastern region’s right to self-determination. This ends the Ogaden Front’s 25 year-long insurgency. The agreement includes an amnesty for jailed leaders and members of the group. The group will also turn itself into a legal political group and continue a peaceful struggle.  “Our group has come to understand the destructive nature of war and believed war is not the only option to the problem” said Saladin Abdurrahman, a Front official. “The peace agreement is crucial for lasting peace and to bring sustainable development to the Ogaden region.”

Thus a certain amount of political peace seems to have descended over Ethiopia. The price for this tranquility, many believe, is extremely high. Human Rights Watch issued a report  claiming that the Ethiopian government is using development aid to suppress political dissent by conditioning access to essential government programs on support for the ruling party. Human Rights Watch urged foreign donors to ensure that their aid is used in an accountable and transparent manner and does not support political repression. [To view the full report see:]

Great progress — and problems — in education

As Peace Crops plans to once again send teachers to Ethiopia, the United Nations and U.S. Agency for International Development has praised Ethiopia for its progress in education. In the last 15 years, according to a Voice of America report, enrollment in Ethiopia’s has exploded. Only 20 to 25 percent of school aged children attended school 15 years ago. Nowdays nearly 90 percent of youngsters go to school. Of course, dropout rates are unacceptably high and the quality of instruction is very uneven. The full story from VOA is at

Ethiopian runners in the old style

Jeré Longman of the New York Times has spent a lifetime covering the Olympics and those sports, like track and field, that are ignored on most sports pages.  Recently Longman went back to writing about Ethiopian running. He did a lovely feature on Haile Gebrselassie who will be running in the New York Marathon on November 7. Jeré not only looks at Gebreselassie, but the running system Ethioia has created. [See the full and excellent NYTimes story at]

Dam Problem

We all remember from the few hours of generator  electricity we had every night back when we were PCVs that power is a development problem. In Ethiopia where only 2% of the rural population has regular electric power, the government is working to solve this by building dams. But the dams cause environmental problems. One of Ethiopia’s — and Africa’s — biggest dam projects is the Gibe 3 dam on the Omo river, south of Addis, currently being built and financed by the Chinese. Because of the dislocation of people in valleys, international opposition to the dam is mounting. [For more details see: and for a different view and set of facts, see:]

Adoptions of Ethiopian children increase dramatically

While Americans are adopting fewer children from overseas, adoptions of Ethiopian children have nonetheless steadily increased in recent years. Soon Ethiopia may surpass China as the top sources of adopted babies for Americans.  In 2004, the peak year of American foreign adoptions, 284 Ethiopians were among the 22,990 children adopted from overseas. In fiscal 2010, the total number of foreign adoptions dropped to 11,000, but Ethiopia’s share was around 2,500.  [For more details]

Free speaking PM

Once the election was over, Prime Minister Meles resumed his world travels where he worked the crowds as a representative of not only Ethiopia but of all of Africa as well.  He was at the G8 in Canada speaking for Africa.  Some think he is not the proper person to represent the continent, [For an interesting analysis of that view from Britain see:]  He came to New York for the UN opening and then took on an audience of students at Columbia University for a very lively give and take. [for details see the Columbia Spectator report on the meeting at:]  And he also ruffled some establishment feathers at the Seventh African Development Forum where Meles said that November’s climate conference in Cacun, Mexico, “will be a total fraud.” Jens Stoltenberg, Prime Minister of Norway; Jean Ping, chairperson of the African Union Commission; Festus Mogae, former president of Botswana and Donald Kaberuka, President of the African Development Bank, appeared stunned by Mr Zenawi’s words. The thousand strong audience however clapped in support of the frank assessment.  [For more on Meles clear speaking see:]

Land Rush

One of the most remarkable developments in Ethiopia land development in the last year has been the sale of large parcels of farm land to foreign companies. The government’s plan is for these foreign companies to import equipment and capital to develop the land and get it to produce crops for export. Indian companies seem especially eager to buy Ethiopian land. For details on a recent purchase of 10,000 hectares in Gambella see: or check out what Punjabi potato farmers think of Ethiopian farm land at

News of Ethiopia

As elections approach, violence and money games

Just a few more weeks until Ethiopia’s May 23 elections and already the charges and counter-charges are flying. In an interview by phone with Bloomberg news agency, opposition coalition leader Merara Gudina said that the election so far “looks like sort of a war, not an election,” Merara accused loyalists that the government party have thrown stones at his car, breaking its windows and puncturing its tires over various occasions while campaigning in the Oromiya region in April. Ethiopian government spokesman Shimeles Kemal said one of the ruling party’s candidates had been stabbed to death, in a first murder accusation against Medrek, the country’s main opposition coalition.

A NOSE FOR TROUBLE: Prime Minister Meles

No one is sure who is really ahead in the election, of course, but following the money is one way of getting a sense of the flow of the campaign.  One report in has it that big money is flowing from the business community to Meles’ ruling party. More than 22 million birr, about $1.6 million, has been raised by the business community. As the ruling party tells it, the business people approached the party with offers to help in the election and, according to Hailemariam Desalegn, EPRDF election coordinating committee member and government whip at parliament, “We told them to mobilize all the business people and raise a target of 20 million birr; however, they raised 22 million birr in cash.” Another 10 million birr,  Hailemariam said,  had been targeted for buying t-shirts.  But companies volunteered to make the t-shirts for free, so in effect that’s more money given to the ruling party.

ABSENT HERO: D.C. fundraisers and picture of Birtukan Mideksa

Meanwhile, the opposition parties are raising money in the United States. Hundreds of Ethiopians in the Washington, D.C. metro area paid $30 on a Sunday in April  to hear from major contenders for the 23 May parliamentary election back home.  Bertukan Mideksa, the  charismatic chairperson of the Unity for Democracy and Justice party, was noticeably absent. She is, of course, in jail in Addis.  Though her photo captioned “Free Birtukan Mideksa from Kaliti Prison” was placed on the table. Gizachew Shiferaw, her deputy, waived to supporters as he entered the room and took to the stage. “I greet you in the spirit of peace,” Gizechew said, raising his right hand aloft. That gesture has become an opposition symbol in the election.  “Our leader, Bertukan Mideksa, languishes in prison, but we will not stop our struggle,” he said to loud applause and cheering. Medrek brought former foes under the same political platform. The National Election Board of Ethiopia does not permit Ethiopian citizens living outside the country to vote absentee ballots,  so these meetings focus on getting financial support — not votes — from the diaspora.

The health of children and their moms

Every year 381,000 children in Ethiopia die before their 5th birthday. This includes 120,000 newborn babies. Twenty-six thousand women also die annually from complications in pregnancy. Save the Children’s State of the World’s Mothers 2010 highlights the annual mothers’ index, which ranks the best and worst places to be a mother. Ethiopia is ranked 20th among the least-developed 40 countries for women’s health and well-being and 32nd out of 42 least-developed countries in children’s health and well-being. The index is based on an analysis of indicators of women’s and children’s health and well-being.

Water problems, to the north and south

Ethiopia has lots of water problems, big and small. Getting water in villages is a constant problem. But sometimes the water problem goes beyond the village and is entangled with other issues, like electric power or international affairs. Ethiopia wants to build a dam on the Omo River which flows from southern Ethiopia into Lake Turkana in northern Kenya. The Ethiopian government awarded a $2.1bn contract to Italy’s Salini for the construction of the dam, the country’s biggest infrastructure project ever. But environmentalists are appalled at what they consider the damage the project will cause. A report by International Rivers says that the project, called the Gibe III Dam , “will devastate the fragile ecosystems of the Lower Omo Valley and Kenya’s Lake Turkana, on which 500,000 poor farmers, herders and fisherfolk rely for their livelihoods.” Campaigners also fear that the dam would reduce the flow of water into Lake Turkana and would flood a huge area, creating a 150km-long lake.

But Ethiopia’s government disagrees, saying that the dam is needed to generate enough electricity for its population and to sell abroad. Tewolde Gebre Egziabher, head of Ethiopia’s Environmental Protection Authority, says that the project was “very sensible.” He told the BBC that “the advantages for the whole country, the local communities, and even for our neighboring countries, including Kenya, far outweigh the small problems that will be caused at the short term.” Construction work is underway on the dam, which would be Africa’s second largest hydro-electric dam. But International Rivers says the government still needs about $1.4bn to complete it. Are you listening World Bank?

WHO OWNS THE WATER: fetching water from Kenya's Lake Turkana threatened by Ethiopia's Gibe III Dam

Ethiopia also has a water problem to the North.  For generations, Ethiopia and its sub-Saharan neighbors have been battling Egypt over the water which originates in the south, including Lake Tana, and flows north to water the Nile Delta.  Last month the squabble came to a head when upstream countries declared after a water meeting in Sharm El-Sheikh that they would launch separate talks on control of the water since Egypt and Sudan refused to revise water pacts dating to 1929. “Egypt’s historic rights to Nile waters are a matter of life and death. We will not compromise them,” said Moufid Shehab, Egypt’s minister of legal and assembly affairs. The 1929 deal, brokered on one side by British colonial powers in Africa, gives Egypt 55.5 billion cubic metres a year, the biggest share of a flow of some 84 billion cubic meters. It also gives Cairo the power to veto dams and other water projects in upstream countries that include six of the world’s poorest nations. “We will not sign on to any agreement that does not clearly state and acknowledge our historical rights,” Egyptian Water Minister Mohamed Nasreddin Allam said.

The Ethiopians are not amused. “Egypt has tried in the past to complicate the issue.  They are dragging their heels,” says Shimeles Kemal, spokesman for the government of Ethiopia, which, we all know, is the source of the Blue Nile. Egypt and Sudan “are pushing for a position that would negate everything we’ve achieved in years of talks and negotiations,” said Isaac Musumba, Uganda’s state minister for regional cooperation. They control the White Nile. Upstream states have invited Egypt and Sudan to take part in the new deal — whose legal standing would be uncertain — but on their terms. “We hope to convince them,” said Christopher Chiza, Tanzania’s deputy minister of water and irrigation. Talk of such a deal triggers alarm in Egypt, where Nile waters feed a farm sector accounting for a third of all jobs. Egypt, unlike upstream nations, cannot rely on rain and gets 87 percent of its water needs from the Nile. Climate change and rising sea levels could also swallow much of the slim, fertile Nile Delta in Egypt, already the world’s largest wheat importer.

Coffee and climate change

And speaking of climate change, Ethiopia seems to be having problems of its own with global warming. According to a study conducted in the Ethiopian state awkwardly named Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Regional State, coffee is under threat from climate-change induced diseases. Farmers in the study area reported that yields of coffee and other crops had fallen in the last four years. The study  attributed this to a loss of soil fertility, drought and unusually high rainfall at the wrong time. Also, a slight increase in annual maximum and minimum temperatures was recorded in recent years at Yergalem. “High temperatures aggravate the problem of coffee berry disease during a long dry season,” the study noted.

The study added the threat is not isolated to The Southern Nations.  An analysis of 32 years of climate data from Jimma, a city in Oromia Regional State and an important coffee area, found that before 1984 temperatures were too low for beetles to regenerate more than once a year. But after the temperature began to rise, the insect began to regenerate twice per year causing increased damage to crops including coffee.

News of Ethiopia

The Coming Elections

Five years ago elections left Ethiopia in turmoil. Voters are now heading for the polls once again. What are the prospects?

by Barry Hillenbrand (Debre Markos 63–65)

The parliamentary elections in Ethiopia are less than two months away, and already they are besieged by controversy. Lots of controversies. Perhaps the only thing that is not shrouded in controversy is the date of the election: May 23. The entire National Parliament will be elected and a new Prime Minister will be chosen on the basis of the results. Or, of course, the present Prime Minister,

ON THE PARTY LINE: Prime Minister Meles

Meles Zenawi, may be chosen for his third term. The smart money is betting on Meles.

Indeed Meles himself generated the first election controversy by claiming in a speech filled with humility that he would retire and not run for a third term. But his government party set up howls insisting that the nation could not continue without him. He relented. He will be a candidate.

Next came the controversy over the rules of the election. Negotiations for a new election code were long and complicated. The opposition is made up of more than 60 parties. While alliances and coalitions are being formed – the Medrek (the Forum), a grouping of eight important parties, being one of the major ones – the opposition remains fractured. In January after a three day negotiating session, an election code was finally formulated to give opposition access to radio and television time. Rules were made for voter registration and balloting. Still many people are skeptical that the election will be conducted fairly.

Already violence has erupted. An opposition candidate was stabbed to death in March in what opposition leaders said was part of a widening campaign of repression ahead of the elections. The candidate, Aregawi Gebre-Yohannes, was killed at a restaurant he owned near the town of Shire in the Tigray region by a group of six men who had shadowed his movements for the previous two days, said Gebru Asrat, a leader of the Arena party, a member of the Medrek opposition alliance. “They cut him, they stabbed him in the stomach, and he died,” Aregawi said. “It’s becoming very difficult to run” a political campaign, he added. A suspect confessed to the crime and was sentence to 15 years in prison, but the killing was seen as a warning to the opposition.

Another opposition candidate was beaten in Tigray by members of the Ethiopian Army, claims Negasso Gidada, a former president of Ethiopia who has now joined the opposition. Like the candidate who was killed, the beating victim had previously been arrested for attending opposition meetings. “It is very bad news,” Negasso said. “My fear is such incidents may be intensifying.”

But perhaps the most controversial form of intimation is the continuing imprisonment on a life sentence of Birtukan Mideksa, one of the country’s main opposition leaders. After Prime Minister Meles himself, Birtukan is arguably the most famous and popular politician in Ethiopia. She along with many other leaders of the opposition alliance in the 2005 election was arrested and convicted of treason. The opposition group was pardoned and released, but Birtukan unlike many of the election leaders did not go into exile abroad. In a speech she repudiated her admission of guilt to the treason charge and was re-arrested and sentence to life in prison for treason. She has been held in solitary confinement for much of her time in prison. The U.S. State Department’s human rights report for 2009 said in March that “there were credible reports that Birtukan’s mental health deteriorated significantly during the year.” The report, later criticized by the Meles government, called her a political prisoner, echoing what many rights groups have claimed. Meles has said Birtukan was in “perfect” health, but that diplomats and journalists would not be allowed to visit her.

Another controversy revolves around foreign observers for the election. The Carter Center in Atlanta said that it would not send a team to monitor the election as they had for past Ethiopian elections. The Carter Center said that it had not been allowed to inspect the voter and candidate registration process and thus could not make an informed judgment on the entire election.

The European Union, after some wavering, announced that it would once again send a team of European and African parliamentarians to watch the elections. But the EU is worried about the terms of the election. Ana Maria Gomes, a Portuguese member of the European Parliament who led the EU’s monitoring mission to Ethiopia during elections in 2005, said that there was risk involved with the mission because at the moment “there are no conditions for genuine democratic elections.”

Still the election, genuine or not, will take place as scheduled on May 23. The results will take nearly month to tally. The winners will be announced on June 21, a date, opposition forces note, set so that global attention is focused on the World Cup Football competition in South Africa rather than any election controversy in Ethiopia. —BH

Static on VOA

Unhappy with election coverage and a U.S. Human Rights Report, Ethiopia jams Voice of America broadcasts

Reflecting the tensions over the election, the United States and Ethiopia are caught in a row over Amharic language short wave broadcasts of the Voice of America. In March the regular VOA broadcasts were suddenly jammed, making them unintelligible in Ethiopia. At first Ethiopia denied anything to do with the jamming, but later, in an interview, Prime Minister Meles said, rather vaguely, that yes, Ethiopia had tested some jamming methods and that may have been the cause. Meles added that VOA was guilty of broadcasting “destabilizing propaganda.” Meles compared VOA to Radio Mille Collines, whose broadcasts are blamed by many for sparking the 1994 Rwanda genocide. In a later interview with Reuters, Meles said “We have given up on the objectivity of the VOA service and we have been trying to beef up our capacity to deal with it, including through jamming,” In early April the jamming activities intensified, in part as a reaction to the U.S. State Department report on human rights abuses in Ethiopia and in part because of VOA coverage of the upcoming election.

The U.S. human rights report “is a smear campaign intended to portray the forthcoming elections as unfair and the conditions surrounding the election as undemocratic,” said Government spokesman Shimelis Kemal. “One can discern that the prime focus of this reporting is to create a kind of weak government in Ethiopia that would easily bend to pressures from foreign elements, foreign forces.” He continued: “VOA in the past has repeatedly broadcast programs and statements that tend to incite, foment hatred between different ethnic groups. Recently, it has transmitted a program alleging the government of Ethiopia had staged state sponsored genocide in Gambela.”

VOA broadcasts to Ethiopia were blocked around the 2005 election, and again before the 2008 local elections. Jamming of Amharic Service programs began again February 22 and in April was extended to other Ethiopian language broadcasts, in Tigrinya and Afan Oromo. In response, VOA set up satellite radio broadcasts in hopes of bypassing the jamming. The State Department in Washington condemned the attempts at jamming VOA. Gordon Duguid, a spokesperson for the State Department said that “a decision to jam VOA broadcasts contradicts the Government of Ethiopia’s frequent public commitments to freedom of the press.” —BH

Turbulence for Ethiopian Airlines

A tragic crash causes unaccustomed trouble for EAL and a heated dispute between Ethiopia and Lebanon


Usually stories in the HERALD about Ethiopian Airlines mark the continuing progress of what is Africa’s largest and most reliable airline. For example, there was news of Ethiopian increasing the number of flights from Washington to Addis from four a week to daily beginning in June. And Ethiopian Airlines is constantly buying new planes from Boeing and turning a profit.

But in January, the airline suffered a disastrous crash when a Boeing 737-800 crashed minutes after taking off from Beirut International Airport in stormy weather. All 90 people aboard were killed. Ultimately the aircraft’s voice and data recorders were recovered and sent to France for analysis, but the cause of the crash has yet to be officially determined. In a number of statements to the press, Lebanese officials implied that pilot error may have brought the plane down. They also ruled out terrorism.

Annoyed at what they consider premature judgments, Ethiopian Airline officials called media reports of pilot error “speculative.” In a statement Ethiopian Airlines said that it does “not rule out all possible causes including the possibility of sabotage until the final outcome of the investigation is known.” The investigation of the accident is being conducted by an international team including representatives from Boeing, the American NTSA, and Ethiopian Airlines staff , but led by the Lebanese. Still the Ethiopians remain deeply unhappy. The airline is now doing its own leaking to the Ethiopian press. Stories have appeared claiming that evidence from the flight recorders has been tampered with and voices of the pilots erased. Relations between Ethiopia and Lebanon have soured. —BH