Saturday, April 29, 2006

'Poison,' Politics, and the Press

...“We’re not against this government,” Fassil Yenealem, the jailed publisher of Addis Zena, told CPJ. “It is through this government that we began to write. But when the government sees people starting to demand more democracy, freedom of expression, and development, they think it’s the fault of the press.”

'Poison,' Politics, and the Press (Committee to Protect Journalists) April 28, 2006

Friday, April 28, 2006

ION update: 04/28/06

The threat of the armed groups
Indian Ocean Newsletter N° 1179 29/04/2006

Although the armed actions by groups opposing the regime in Ethiopia are still very limited in number and in impact, the Addis Ababa Administration is taking them very seriously. Thus it was that about two weeks ago, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi met officers from the air force at the Debre Zeit base to explain to them that they should be ready to intervene against rebel groups. Several of these officers were unconvinced and told him that while they were prepared to bomb an enemy invading force, they felt it would be completely counterproductive to contemplate air strikes against small groups of anti-government rebels. These officers are also believed to have used the occasion to suggest to their Prime Minister that he release certain of their fighter pilot colleagues who have been imprisoned over the last two years. The Prime Minister was furious when he left them, promising that a new meeting would be held soon. This led the officers present to fear that reprisals, or even a purge, would be made against an army corps which has frequently been quite cautious in its relations with certain executives of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF, ruling coalition).

ONLF pulls out all the stops
Indian Ocean Newsletter N° 1179 29/04/2006

The ONLF has revived its military activity and its diplomatic contacts.

Following the failure of several of its attempts to bring commandos into Ethiopia from Somaliland, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) is trying to come back into the limelight. This group fighting for the independence of the Ogaden (in the west of Ethiopia) has claimed responsibility for several skirmishes with the Ethiopian armed forces these last few weeks. However, the extent of these confrontations has not been confirmed by independent sources. Even if its war communiqués are probably exaggerations, they do enable the ONLF to sustain its recent warnings to companies, particularly Indian companies, interested in exploring for oil and gas in the Ogaden.

In addition to this sabotage activity, the ONLF has revived its diplomatic contacts. Its leaders went on a European tour from the end of February to mid March, during which they met the Africa official of the Danish ministry for foreign affairs, Birger Fredriksson, officials from Norway and Finland and also visited several other countries. Then, the Vice President of the ONLF, Mohamed Ismaïl Omar, went to Washington at the beginning of April where he had meetings notably with the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Donald Yamamoto and Congressman Mark Kennedy.

The chairman of the ONLF, “Admiral” Mohamed Omar Osman is a former head of the Somalian navy. Considered highly chauvinistic, he has lived in London before settling in Eritrea where over a thousand members of this movement undergo military training in camps in Kalena and Addis Meskal, near Tesseney.

Lobbying catches up with a US Republican
Indian Ocean Newsletter N° 1179 29/04/2006

An old skeleton has caught up with the former US Congress Member for Ohio, the Republican Bob McEwen (pictured right). McEwen, 56, had been hoping to make a political come-back in the primary on 2 May, when he is running against the outgoing Member of the House of Representatives, the Republican Jean Schmidt. To be sure, he had been a lobbyist for Eritrea in 2004 when he was working for Advantages Associates, a group of former Congressmen turned lobbyists. At the time he received $15,000 a month from Eritrea, totalling $120,000. Clearly, Schmidt’s team was more than happy to publicise this information. It pointed out the contradiction between McEwen claiming an alliance with certain leaders of the American Christian right while on the other hand lobbying for Eritrea, a country considered by the United States as persecuting Christians.

Dina Mufti, the former Ethiopian ambassador...
Indian Ocean Newsletter N° 1179 29/04/2006

Dina Mufti, the former Ethiopian ambassador to Zimbabwe has just presented his credentials as his country’s ambassador to Sweden, also in charge of other countries in Northern Europe. Mufti, 43, graduated in political science and international relations at Addis Ababa University (AAU) and then made further studies at Carleton University in Ottawa (Canada). He joined the Ethiopian ministry for foreign affairs in 1983. He has been on post in Washington as press counsellor at the Ethiopian embassy and later as director of press, information and general documentation in the ministry for foreign affairs in Addis Ababa.

U.S. diplomacy in Africa: Who's who

As Washington sees it, Africa will be crisscrossed by oil pipelines and bulging with strategic reserves. But the continent will also harbor dangers that can range from terrorism to epidemics. To gain sway in a competitive, high-risk environment the Bush administration has called upon people to deal with Africa: hardened diplomats, experts in security and energy. In this special issue (free until 31 May, 2006), "The Indian Ocean Newsletter"'s editorial team has examined the credentials of officials with real clout on African issues. A unique Who's Who.

United States/Africa: People in Power (Indian Ocean Newsletter)

Thursday, April 27, 2006

UN condemns Ethiopia over rights

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour has strongly criticised Ethiopia's human rights situation, calling it "worrying".

Mrs Arbour, who is in Ethiopia visiting prisons, said conditions she had seen were "rudimentary" and "harsh".

She said it was not right that detainees had been held in custody for a year without bail.

Opposition leaders and journalists are among 129 people who have been denied bail after being accused of genocide...

UN condemns Ethiopia over rights (BBC) 27 April 2006

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Commission to probe post-election violence

Ethiopia has appointed an 11-member independent commission to decide whether security forces used excessive force to quell post-election violence in June and November 2005...

...The commission comprises academicians from universities, religious leaders and lawyers.

Ethiopia commission to probe post-election violence (Reuters) 25 April, 2006

Friday, April 21, 2006

ION update: 04/21/06

New round of negotiations to break the deadlock
Indian Ocean Newsletter N° 1178 22/04/2006

Whereas the American Administration is doing its best to negotiate the freeing of the imprisoned Ethiopian opposition leaders, the Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is digging in his heels. He runs the risk that a growing number of opponents accept the idea of armed struggle against his regime as inevitable. In an attempt to limit this slide, already underway among the Diaspora, Ethiopian diplomacy is to wage an aggressive propaganda campaign to sideline the opponents in exile who support the most radical positions.

Aggressive diplomacy. A memorandum dated February 2006 from the ministry for foreign affairs in Addis Ababa sent to its embassies abroad illustrates this strategy. This fifty page document includes a series of instructions for the implementation of what it calls “an aggressive multi-faceted campaign” of public relations abroad, using various means (such as public meetings, forums, seminars and the use of sympathetic radio stations). It also called for the identification of the most hard-line opponents so that powerful targeted propaganda campaigns can be initiated against them in order to discredit them by all possible methods. The infiltration of “anti-peace” forces was also recommended. The minority ethnic groups should be approached by someone from the same ethnic group so they can be kept distinct and separated from “chauvinists”, a term generally attributed to Amhara nationalists. According to the same document, the Hodams (greedy) should be attracted by the government promises for trading licences, houses and opportunities to invest in Ethiopia.

Negotiations. Meanwhile, back in Addis Ababa, American diplomats are continuing their efforts to obtain the freeing of the leaders of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy Party (CUDP), under certain conditions. Vicki Huddleston, the American chargée d’affaire, made an urgent call this week to Professor Donald Levine (pictured left), the previous negotiator who had been used at the beginning of the year, to meet Meles Zenawi. But Levine had other “important engagements” and could not make the journey to Addis Ababa. Nonetheless, he wrote a letter to Meles Zenawi which he sent to Addis Ababa through an Ethiopian colleague, also sending a copy to Huddleston. Meles Zenawi was indeed handed this letter but he did not accept to meet the messenger who had brought it. After his previous visit to Ethiopia when he had met the Prime Minister and the imprisoned CUDP leaders, Levine had put a damper on criticisms of Meles Zenawi, whom he now considered to be a “sincere” leader, like the CUDP leaders. Levine and Huddleston have tried, so far in vain, to convince the imprisoned CUDP leaders to take up their seats in the Addis Ababa Parliament as a condition for their being freed from prison, hence enabling Meles Zenawi to save face.

Deadlock in Addis. Alongside these negotiations, at the end of March the Prime Minister had given the CUDP leaders, then still at large, three weeks to accept to take up their seats in the local council in Addis Ababa, to which they had been elected in May 2005. Ayele Chamiso and the EDP-Medhin led by Lidetu Ayalew agreed to this strategy and undertook to try to convince a majority of the opposition elected local councillors to make amends. But by 18 April they had not managed to gather the 70 signatures of local elected councillors they needed. Meles Zenawi gave them another ten days, after which the current Addis Ababa Administration would be renewed for one year. One final attempt to reconcile the parties: Huddleston and the French Ambassador Stéphane Gompertz, went to Kalilit prison on 18 April to discuss all this with the imprisoned CUDP leaders, hoping that they would at last accept the conditions set by Meles Zenawi for their liberation. According to some sources, Huddleston took advantage of the visit to warn the CUDP leaders against the temptation of certain of their representatives in exile of accepting Eritrea’s proposal to arm and train opposition groups. Even if the proclamations of military victory by certain Ethiopian opposition groups, relayed by Eritrea, are an exaggeration, a majority of opposition groups in the Ethiopian Diaspora are now coming to agree on the need to wage coordinated armed actions against the EPRDF , both in towns and in rural zones.

Al Amoudi’s plans for Oromia
Indian Ocean Newsletter N° 1178 22/04/2006

The leading investor in the country, Mohamed Hussein Al Amoudi, has plans for projects worth almost 100 million euros in Oromia Regional State.

The Saudi-Ethiopian magnate Mohamed Hussein Al Amoudi is planning new investments in Oromia Regional State worth almost 100 million euros. To begin with, the construction of a five star hotel in the tourist region of Boku, near Debre Zeit, which has already been the subject of a feasibility study. Al Amoudi is also planning to install, also in the Oromia Regional State, a food processing factory and a unit for working semi-precious stones.

In addition to these projects, he has just signed a memorandum of understanding with the President of Oromia Regional State, Abadula Gemeda, for the construction of a cement works in North Shoa. Al Amoudi has hired the Deputy Minister of Infrastructure, Haile Assegidie, to run this new factory, which is expected to be operational within two years. Up to now, Assegidie had been a consultant for the firm Midroc Ethiopia which is owned by Al Amoudi. Furthermore, Al Amoudi has put one of his Ethiopian assistants, Nebyou Samuel, in charge of supervising all of these new investment projects in the Oromia Regional State.

Nebyou Samuel has lived in Los Angeles (USA), where he was a partner with Meshesha Biru in an automobile insurance company. He was then married to Akuye Tesfa with whom he has had one child, before divorcing and remarrying a friend of Al Amoudi’s. Nebyou and Meshesha between them created the Ethiopian Democratic League (known by its acronym in the Amharic language of Idiq) and returned to Ethiopia to support the governing coalition EPRDF at the beginning of the 1990s. At the time, Nebyou was seen poorly by the Ethiopian nationalists because he went to Asmara to apologise for the crimes Ethiopia had committed against Eritrea. The Idiq group subsequently disappeared and Meshesha returned to Los Angeles to resume his insurance business while nevertheless continuing to work with the Ethiopian Consul there. Nebyou, for his part, stayed in Ethiopia where he worked briefly for the Inter Africa Group owned by Abdul Mohamed Ababora, before being taken on by Al Amoudi.

Former Minister of Revenu now Director General of the Endowment Fund For the Rehabilitation of Tigray (Effort)
Indian Ocean Newsletter N° 1178 22/04/2006

The former Minister of Revenu has been made Director General of the Endowment Fund For the Rehabilitation of Tigray (Effort), a consortium of companies created by the parties in the Ethiopian governing coalition. Getachew Belay Wendimu replaces Abadi Zemu in this post. Zemu is currently the Vice President of the Tigray Regional State. Getachew Belay was a minister for five years until he was resoundingly defeated by the opposition member Hailu Shawel in the May 2005 parliamentary elections. He was subsequently dropped from the government formed at the end of 2005 by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. Getachew Belay is an Amhara, a graduate in economics and has been chairman of the board of the Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation (ETC).

Gumruk frees Belgian aid, or not

And in an update to an earlier post, almost three months after its arrival at Bole airport, the Belgian cargo donation of almost a tonne of clothes, toys and school equipment collected in five Belgian cities and destined to orphanages in Ethiopia has been released. Applause, whistles, cheers...No, not quite, after all this is an Ethiopian story. Customs Authority (Gumruk) has released the cargo only to be shipped out of Ethiopia, instead of its destined distribution to orphanages in the country. Some public official apparently feels it's better to let the kids shiver in the cold this rainy season, rather than let them wear imported second hand clothes. Such government policies really need to be revised to allow exceptions for specific not-for-profit charitable donations, which really have negligible impact on domestic garment industry, compared to second hand clothes sold for profit. The only solace here is that Gumruk has not destroyed the cargo (the standard norm), which is now destined for Burundi. The aid organization, Actie Ethiopië (site in Dutch, check photos), is still looking for funds to pay for transport, and let us hope they find it before the authorities finish what they started.

...The clothes had been collected in the Flemish provinces of Antwerp and Limburg as part of four projects to help underprivileged youngsters.

Flemish aid freed ( 10 April, 2006

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Explosions kill in Jijiga, Gedo

Well, it's one thing to point the finger at the government for explosions in Addis, bastion of support for CUD, but then one has to also explain what the government gains out of explosions in border regions such as Jijiga. Nobody wins from instability in Ethiopia, not even some in the opposition who are calling for a new round of civil unrest (from the safety of Washington, D.C.) knowing full well what will happen. I'll believe a true opposition movement has arrived in Ethiopia once I see opposition leaders walking in the front row of a protest march, much like Latin America, Eastern Europe, or even next door Kenya with their brutal police force. Throwing instructions from ivory towers and waiting for a body count is not leadership. The opposition in Kenya finally won an election when they united under one banner. Meanwhile, Ethiopian opposition groups can't even agree to meet.

That said, I'll be in Jijiga next month...So maybe the pessimism is just nerves talking.

...The explosions in Jijiga, about 700km east of the capital, Addis Ababa, appeared to be coordinated attacks and were set off at the same time, about 7.30pm local time on Saturday, police in the capital said...

Mystery blasts kill six in Ethiopia (Mail & Guardian Online) 20 April, 2006

Friday, April 14, 2006

ION update: 04/14/06

Opponents are angry with the American Democrats
Indian Ocean Newsletter N° 1177 15/04/2006

The way in which the Ethiopian Freedom, Human Rights and Democracy Act (HR 4423) was passed on 6 April by the US House of Representatives Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations has sparked off a debate within the Ethiopian community in the United States. This bill was proposed by the chairman of this subcommittee, the Republican Christopher H. Smith (pictured right). It was adopted by the six Republican members of the subcommittee but rejected by the four members of the Democratic Party (DP) although it is in fact supported by certain Democrat representatives. One of the Democrats rejecting it was Donald M. Payne (pictured below), who had put forward an alternative proposal. The Ethiopian embassy in the United States was offended by Smith’s words and welcomed Payne’s criticism of certain Ethiopian opponents. Meanwhile, the opponents were critical of the Democrats Representatives. To be sure, the HR 4423 intends to apply pressure on the Ethiopian government for it to respect human rights and the State of Law. Now certain Ethiopian Americans want the DP to pay for this vote and see an occasion to do so in supporting black Republican candidates in the November 2006 elections, such as Michael Steele (Maryland) and Keith Butler (Michigan) for the Senate and Lynn Swann and Ken Blackwell respectively for the posts of governor of Pennsylvania and Ohio.

The opposition is rudderless
Indian Ocean Newsletter N° 1177 15/04/2006

Some opposition groups are trying to organise actions of civil disobedience, while others have their eye on Addis Ababa city hall.

Some opposition groups, such as the Tegbar League, has called their sympathisers in Ethiopia to organise actions of peaceful civil disobedience at the beginning of May, on the anniversary of the 2005 general election. Meanwhile, other opponents are in favour of participating in the institutions. More than 80 elected MPs members of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy Party (CUDP) have already accepted to take up their seat in the Federal Parliament, while the principal leaders of their party are still in prison without trial.

For their part, the members of the EDUP Medhin (opposition) led by Lidetu Ayalew (pictured left), have submitted a request to the National Electoral Board (NEB) to be allowed to take charge of the administration of Addis Ababa. Indeed, the opposition had won all of the seats in the capital, but the government has not let them take charge of the administration of the city. Today, several of these elected municipal councillors are in prison and certain opponents are afraid that the Prime Minister Meles Zenawi might take advantage of this fact and organise new local elections and so put a pro-government administration in charge of the capital.

But for Lidetu Ayalew, such elections should only concern the replacement of posts of elected councillors who argue for a boycott and refuse to take up their seats and not those who, like Berhanu Nega and other leaders of the CUPD, cannot take up their seats because they are in prison.

For a long time Lidetu Ayalew has developed a radical position of boycotting Parliament in order to protest against the outcome of the elections last year. At the time, the other leaders of the CUDP were more moderate on this point. Lidetu was also opposed to the CUDP’s choice of Berhanu Nega as mayor of Addis Ababa. Now that the leaders of the CUDP are behind bars, Lidetu and his group have made a U-turn and in January decided to take up their seats in the Federal Parliament. This group has now just positioned itself as a candidate to run the Town Hall of Addis Ababa. This could give the government coalition a way out of the crisis. But it is by no means certain that it will use this opportunity.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

ION update: 04/08/06

EPPF recruits via the Internet
Indian Ocean Newsletter N° 1176 08/04/2006

A group of Ethiopian opponents supported by Eritrea and in favour of armed struggle has embarked on an advertising campaign using the Internet.

A group of Ethiopian opponents, supported by Eritrea and arguing for armed struggle against the government of Addis Ababa, has embarked on a vast campaign to recruit new members and collect donations through meetings in the USA and an Internet web site. The Ethiopia People’s Patriotic Front (EPPF) set up its own web site in February, ( which sells a DVD explaining the front’s political position and showing its combatants undergoing training. The pictures on this site show some twenty armed young men on parade in uniforms and training for armed struggle. It states that coordinated attacks were made on 2 April against military camps of the Ethiopian government forces at Qwarma and Metlekel in the Gojjam region, resulting in 30 killed, some tens of wounded and 6 prisoners among the government forces. No independent source has confirmed this attack.

The EPPF is supported by Eritrea and has had several internal conflicts during the last two or three years (ION 1041). A certain Mussie Tegene has grown in importance in the movement and he is the person who registered the EPPF web site, giving an address in Asmara and an e-mail in Switzerland ( Mussie Tegene has lived in Israel and for a long time in Geneva, before going to Addis Ababa to try to forge an alliance with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF, hard core of the Ethiopian government), stating that his ethnic group, the Agew from the north of Ethiopia, were Jewish like the Falasha and victims of Amhara colonialism. This attempt was a failure and he returned to Geneva where he traded with Eritrea before settling in Asmara. He tried to take control of the EPPF with support from the Eritrean authorities, following the purge of Tadesse Mululeh and the liquidation of the student Tesfaye Getachew, at the time a leader of this group. The EPPF is now led by a farmer from the Welkait region, a certain Meskerem who has been in Germany for the last few months to undergo “medical treatment”, leaving the path open for Mussie Tegene.

The ANDM crisis continues
Indian Ocean Newsletter N° 1176 08/04/2006

The Amhara National Democratic Movement is still subject to internal division, as became apparent during a recent meeting of its officials.

A recent meeting of officials of the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM) has once more (ION 1148) illustrated the malaise going through this political group, member of the Ethiopian governing coalition. This meeting was chaired by several ANDM leaders, including Tefera Walwa (who is also minister of capacity building), Bereket Simeon (public relations advisor to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi) and Hilawe Yosef. These leaders called for a purge of ANDM officials qualified as “chauvinistic” or “unreliable”. But this idea was strongly opposed by a substantial proportion of those present at this assembly. Some of them even expressed their disgust at the behaviour of their leaders and threatened to resign, stating that the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Oromo People’s Democratic Organisation (OPDO), two other factions in the government coalition, are active against the Amhara and yet the ANDM does nothing to defend them.

From the standpoint of the ANDM leaders, such a purge would put an end to the divisions that are undermining their movement. It would oust the elements they consider sympathetic to the opposition forces Coalition for Unity and Democracy Party (CUDP) and Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP) that have infiltrated their ranks. But the malaise in the ANDM runs deeper than that. It comes from the widespread feeling that the ANDM has gained no advantage from the fact that it supported Meles Zenawi a few years ago to oust the TPLF dissidents who had gathered around Seye Abraha. Better still, according to them the Amhara Regional State is still a neglected region, unlike the Tigray Regional State. The same protestors complain that the highest posts in the army and the advantages attached to them are frequently handed to TPLF loyalists.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Neglected disease of neglected people

...The scratching, for Mrs. Alehegn, 42, and millions worldwide, gradually clouds the eyeball, dimming vision and, if left untreated, eventually leads to a life shrouded in darkness. This is late-stage trachoma, a neglected disease of neglected people, and a preventable one, but for a lack of the modest resources that could defeat it.

This operation, which promised to lift the lashes off Mrs. Alehegn's lacerated eyes, is a 15-minute procedure so simple that a health worker with a few weeks of training can do it. The materials cost about $10...

Preventable Disease Blinds Poor in Third World (NY Times) March 31, 2006

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