Sunday, July 30, 2006

Capitalizing on misery of others

Yet again, a regular contributor to this blog, the Customs and Tax Authority of Ethiopia rears its ugly head. This time, its victims are poor Ethiopians fleeing the war in Lebanon after already enduring years of physical and mental hardship as domestic workers. Evacuees can expect whatever valuables or personal belonging they may have packed will be subject to the usual and diabolical 100%-200% import tax.

“We would like to advise those returning from Lebanon and applying for their duty free right that we have suspended receiving such applications beginning July 19, for an unlimited period,” says the notice issued by the Customs and Tax Desk of the Ministry.

Lebanon Evacuees Denied Duty Free Status (Addis Fortune) July 23, 2006

Saturday, July 29, 2006

ION update: 07/29/06

Firing on the EPRP
Indian Ocean Newsletter N° 1191 29/07/2006

The partisans of the Ethiopian government in the United States are making endless propaganda on the radio against the hard wing of the opposition.

For several months now, Selam Radio and Hager Fikr Radio have been making an endless number of programmes denouncing “the hardest line anti EPRDF elements”. Selam Radio broadcasts in Washington and is owned by the Ethiopian government coalition, the EPRDF. Hager Fikr Radio is subsidised by the Saudi-Ethiopian magnate Mohamed Hussein Al Amoudi. This campaign frequently takes the form of attacks against the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP, opposition), a formation which refused to join the Ethiopian opposition front recently formed entitled Alliance for Freedom and Democracy (AFD).

The Hager Fikr radio station has been at the head of this media campaign for some time and has devoted half of its six hours of airtime on Sundays. The guests invited on the show to criticise certain radical opposition leaders by name are dignitaries of the Ethiopian regime, like the Consul in Los Angeles Taye Atskesellasie, but there are also some former Tigrayan dissidents who have rallied behind the present government in Addis Ababa. One such is Bisrat Amare and more surprising still, Abraham Yayeh, who spoke on the last two shows broadcast by this radio station.

This former dissident of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF, governing) has long been a scathing critic of the present regime in Addis Ababa and its Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. Yayeh lives in exile in Copenhagen but would nevertheless appear to have become a partisan of Zenawi. He now reserves his most virulent attacks for the opposition, which he considers dominated by the Amhara ethnic group and motivated by anti-Tigrayan feelings. What is most surprising is that Yayeh has been to Eritrea several times and recently was still collaborating with the government of Asmara, which supports certain Ethiopian opponents.

Members of Parliament invited to the USA
Indian Ocean Newsletter N° 1191 29/07/2006

According to a source in the Ethiopian opposition, protests are expected in front of the hotel where a delegation of Ethiopian MPs is to stay in Washington. They have been invited to the USA on a visit starting on 31 July as part of an American State Department programme. What angers certain Ethiopian opponents in exile is that these six MPs are members of the opposition who have accepted to take up their seats in the Ethiopian Parliament, an attitude widely contested in the opposition in exile. According to our sources, the Ethiopian delegation should consist of Olbamo Ayele Chamiso, Deputy Chairman of the Coalition for Unity and Democraty (CUD); Anore Ayele Seyoum an executive of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Member of the Chamber of Representatives; Woldemichael Temesgen Zewoude MP; Ledetu Ayalew Mehretu, MP and chairman of the EDP-Medhin; Mesfin Namarra Dressa MP and Ms Yetbarek Mesrk Mekonen, chair of the Amhara National Regional Council.

Winds of War?

...The arrival of a second flight at Mogadishu airport amid strict security has fuelled speculation that the Islamists are receiving weapons in violation of a UN arms embargo.

...The plane is the same one that touched down in Mogadishu on Wednesday and credible sources said that flight originated in Eritrea carrying anti-aircraft guns, uniforms, AK47s and several senior Eritrean officers.

Riots as Somali minister killed (BBC) 28 July, 2006

Saturday, July 22, 2006

ION update: 07/22/06

Somalia divides the EPRDF
Indian Ocean Newsletter N° 1190 22/07/2006

The possibility of a military intervention to support its allies in Somalia is dividing the EPRDF.

The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF, governing coalition) is split over the idea of a military intervention in Somalia to support its allies of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG). The militia of the Islamist Courts Union (ICU) are preparing for military actions in the direction of Baidoa, the stronghold of the Somalian TFG and warlords who oppose the Islamists. The question of Ethiopian aid for the TFG forces is on the cards, but is dividing the Ethiopian authorities. According to information obtained by The Indian Ocean Newletter, the Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, supported by Bereket Simeon, is considering a direct and decisive intervention against the Islamists. But the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Seyoum Mesfin, as well as Sebhat Nega and Abay Tsegaye advise him to take a more cautious approach.

There are similar divergences within the army, with the Army Chief of Staff Samora Yunis along with some Tigrayan generals in favour of a strong intervention in Somalia. On the other hand, other generals, whether Tigrayan, Oromo or Amhara, are opposed to such intervention. They are wary that it may be exploited by Eritrea as in this case the EPRDF forces would be divided on two fronts a long way from each other. According to sources in the Ethiopian opposition, several hundreds of combatants of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF, opposition), armed and supported by Eritrea, have already infiltrated these last few weeks via Djibouti into the Ethiopian region of Ogaden, in the hope that an Islamist victory in Mogadishu would favour the development of their own breakaway struggle in Ethiopia.

Another topic of discussion in the EPRDF leadership concerns the idea of changing the name and the manifesto of this coalition. Certain nostalgic people, such as Adissu Legesse, are strongly opposed to such a change. Meanwhile, the EPRDF is setting up a committee to celebrate the millennium (according to the Ethiopian calendar, the first day of the New Year 1999 will be on 11 September). Mulugeta Asrat Kassa, son of the late Asrat Kassa, was called to Addis Ababa from his home in London to be one of the executives of this committee. The EPRDF wants to still be in power when it celebrates the first day of the year 2000 (according to the Ethiopian calendar) and hopes that by that time the unrest in the opposition will have dissipated. Particularly as the big shots have not entirely cut off links with the radical opponents. Hence, the Norwegian authorities have passed a message to open negotiations on to the government in Addis Ababa, from the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and the Alliance for Freedom and Democracy (AFD).

Meanwhile, the Ethiopian President Girma Wolde-Girogis, currently undergoing medical treatment in Saudi Arabia and whose mandate ends in October, could be replaced by the present Minister for Water Shifferaw Jarso.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

LA Stars shine

Congratulations LA Stars - ESFNA 2006 Champions! You've done us all proud by winning the trophy on home ground.

Friday, July 07, 2006

ION update: 07/07/06

The Tigrayans still sew up the key posts
Indian Ocean Newsletter N° 1188 08/07/2006

Fifteen years after they came to power following a long guerrilla struggle, the leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) still make up the hard core of the Ethiopian regime. In spite of cautious openings to their allies from other ethnic groups, they have the lion’s share of the key posts in the government, the army and the security organs. Meanwhile, cameo role Tigrayans (from the north of the country) act as political commissioners to non Tigrayan ambassadors on post abroad and whose allegiance to Addis Ababa is considered inadequate. Tigrayan nationalism is so strong that a fear of the opposition (including a number of Amhara leaders) wining in the Parliamentary elections has pushed many Tigrayan members of the Diaspora, including opponents, to move closer to the TPLF.

Key posts. The Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is surrounded by several advisors with the rank of minister, who are Tigrayans like he and members of the TPLF executive: Abay Tsehaye is in charge of federal affairs; Mulugeta Alemseged heads the police and the security machinery in his capacity of National Security Advisor; Newaye-Kristos Gebreab, from Adwa village like Meles Zenawi, is his economic advisor. General Birhane Negas, head of security of the Prime Ministerial Palace, is Meles Zenawi’s daughter’s godfather. The Minister of Foreign Affairs Seyoum Mesfin, who has held this key post for 15 years, is another of these influential Tigrayans. The Ethiopian army chief of staff, Samora Yunis, is also from Tigray, as are a dozen superior officers promoted general last year, compared to only two Amharas and one Oromo. The chiefs of police and of security, Getachew Assefa and Esayas Weldegiorgis, are Tigrayans, as are many of the officials in these administrations.

Family networks. As well as their ethnic and political affinities, several TPLF leaders have close family ties to each other. Sebhat Nega and his familly are very typical of this concentration of power: he is a member of the political bureau of the TPLF, an advisor to the Prime Minister and a big wheel in the Endowment Fund For Rehabilitation of Tigray (EFFORT), a consortium of companies which over time have taken on a nation-wide dimension, through the favours of the regime. His sister, Kidusan Nega, is a member of the central committee of the TPLF, mayor of Mekelle and wife of Tsegaye Berhe, who is one of the nine members of the TPLF political bureau and President of Tigray Regional State. Another of his sisters, Aberash Nega, stood as a candidate in the municipal elections in Addis Ababa in May 2005, together with two cousins, but was not elected. According to the Ethiopian opposition, Sebhat Nega even has a half sister who is the wife of the Eritrean Minister of Defence Sebhat Ephrem. For her part, Nigist Gebre Kristos, the wife of another member of the TPLF political bureau Arkebe Oqubay Mitiku, is none other than the sister of Berhane Gebre Kristos the Ethiopian Ambassador to Belgium, whereas Oqubay’s sister is the wife of Adis Alem Balema, a member of the TPLF central committee. Another member of the TPLF political bureau, Abay Woldu, is married to Turufat Kidane Mariam, who is in charge of justice and security for Meles Zenawi.

Economic hold. In addition to the Tigrayan ministers who chair the boards of State companies, like Seyoum Mesfin who has been at the head of Ethiopian Airlines (EAL) for many years, several TPLF leaders have gone to executive positions in the EFFORT consortium. This is so for Sebhat Nega, Tewodros Hagos (in charge of mining activity), Arkebe Oqubay and Abadi Zemu (who was the head of the Relief Society of Tigray from 1978 to 1991). Zemu, currently the Vice President of Tigray Regional State, was recently replaced as director general of EFFORT by the former Minister of Revenue, Getachew Belay Wendimu, who is also a member of the TPLF central committee. The wife of Prime Minister Azeb Mesfin has for a long time held a responsible post at the head of a company close to the regime, Mega Corporation, which earned her the nickname “Queen Mega”. This company has now been liquidated and Azeb Mesfin got herself elected to Parliament last year in the constituency of Humera. Since then she has been the Chair of the Social Affairs Standing Committee of the Ethiopian Federal Assembly.

Monday, July 03, 2006

U.S. Bill to finance human rights in Ethiopia

While EPRDF in Washington D.C. is busy lobbying hard to kill (no pun intended) H.R. 4423: Ethiopia Consolidation Act of 2005, the sponsor of the Bill, Republican Representative for New Jersey, Chris Smith, has further added to EPRDF's headache with the passing of a new Bill, H.R. 5680: Ethiopia Freedom, Democracy and Human Rights Advancement Act of 2006, which passed unanimously by the House of Representatives International Relations committee (unlike split vote for previous H.R. 4423 which angered the Ethiopian Opposition). H.R. 5680 carries more weight, for it includes an authorization of $20 million over two years to assist political prisoners, indigenous Ethiopian human rights organizations, independent media, civil society and to promote legal training. H.R. 5680 also denies visas to anyone who was involved in the June and November 2005 killings of demonstrators.

The House of Representatives International Relations committee approved a bill this week that addresses various Human Rights concerns in Ethiopia. This is a huge step as Ethiopia is considered to be an ally of the United States in the War on Terror. Full Text

Ethiopia Human Rights Bill advances through the House (Los Angeles Chronicle) July 4, 2006.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Lt. Andualem Ayalew

Since news reports suggest Ethiopian army chief of staff General Samora Yunis is in the US seeking treatment for AIDS, should we assume he too will be dismissed from the military without even a pension, same as Lt. Andualem Ayalew and other heroes, jegnoch, like him? Dare I ask, is ethnicity an issue? What kind of policy robs soldiers of their pensions in their time of need?

Andualem Ayalew, a former lieutenant in the Ethiopian army who was kicked out without a pension after contracting HIV from a prostitute at the Eritrean front, now educates fellow soldiers in Addis Ababa on the dangers of the virus.

"...Very many of my friends and comrades were killed and I was also injured so many times [he shows gunshot wounds all down his legs and on his shoulder]."

"...It pains me to think that if these soldiers who died of Aids had lost their lives at the front, they would be heroes now." Full Text

'I fought at the Eritrean front' (BBC) 27 June, 2006

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Clan killings continue

As sporadic clan killings continue in southern Ethiopia, where 90,000 people have fled their homes, local elders fear a flare-up of violence. Full Text

Ethiopian fears after land battle (BBC) 30 June, 2006