August 23, 2014

Inside Addis Ababa’s Koshe rubbish tip: where hundreds literally scratch a living

Filed under: Ethiopia — ethiopiantimes @ 10:41 pm
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Caroline Knowles in Addis Ababa
the, Friday 22 August 2014 

At the end of her journey to trace the life of a typical flip-flop – from oilfield to factory to street to trash – Caroline Knowles was confronted with the Ethiopian capital’s largest landfill site …

dfc8af85-5370-4410-8184-ee7d28d15924-460x276My first sight of Koshe, Addis Ababa’s giant 50-year-old landfill site, is from the highway. It runs alongside it, and away from the road as far as the eye can see: a giant, murky, grey-brown raised area of partially decomposed rubbish, with occasional bright specks of colour. As my hopes rise from having found it, my heart sinks as I try to take it in.

The interpreter I have engaged for this mission through my contacts, a junior academic at Addis Ababa University, is not keen on going ahead. Leaving the taxi and crossing the highway by the bridge, I try to absorb the panoramic view afforded by this elevated viewpoint over the highway.

This 36-hectare site – shrinking as the city attempts to regulate it – is patrolled from the air by large vultures, diving into the rubbish. Motley crews of wild dogs gambolling and snatching at the soft ground patrol it at ground level. Smoke rises in several places, adding a layer of haze to the murky colour scheme. Yellow bulldozers nose the heap and shift and level it; municipal rubbish trucks and flatbed trucks with skips arrive from all over the city and discharge their contents.

Between the dogs, the birds and the machines there was something else, something I could only slowly take in: 200 to 300 people, dressed in the same murky hues as the rubbish dump, backs bent, hooks in hand, were working on its surface.

Korah-girl1Feeling queasy I walk towards the end of the bridge. In order to reach the steps and the rubbish, I must walk past three young men who are using the vantage point of the bridge for surveillance and information gathering. In an unspoken negotiation I don’t understand, they take in my camera, and my shoulder bag containing digital recorders and money, and let me pass. This silent confrontation, between the comforts of my world and the difficulties of theirs, only further develops my anxieties.

Descending the steps, I walk to the edge of the dump where I am met by the site supervisor and his aides. They want a stamped authorisation of my visit from the relevant municipal department. What looks like a vast area, open to the surrounding countryside, is as closed to me as a Korean petrochemical plant. I turn back and head into the city to secure the relevant authorisation.

Caroline Knowles’s book Flip-Flop traces the journey of the world’s cheapest and best-selling style of shoe: from Middle East oil fields, through Chinese refineries and factories, to the streets of Ethiopia … and finally the Addis tip

Trash talks

Flip-FlopThe city dump is an inventory, of a kind, of its material life. Addis in rubbish is not London or Moscow in rubbish. Rubbish provides a crude and deeply flawed account of cities and their social, political and economic contexts. Rubbish displays social, material and income differences.

Indeed, some people’s rubbish provides others with the fabric of their everyday life. Maybe this is the best way to think about Koshe – as a redistribution centre which indexes the differences between people’s life-journeys, refracted through material cultures at their point of disposal.

Not just the content, the handling of rubbish displays cities too. How cities deal with their rubbish reveals them. It is a major challenge for municipal authorities in Addis, who are only able to deal with two-thirds of the rubbish, distributed in collection points all over a city that is fast expanding – leaving the rest to private contractors and the age-old informal dumping practices on streets and in rivers. Thus rubbish provides a visual commentary on urban citizens’ behaviour as well as the efficacy of municipal governance.

Scratching a living

Getting myself into the rubbish is a story of municipal offices cluttered with old computers, fans, desks, officials and permissions. It is about writing a letter in Amharic explaining what I want to do and why. It is about waiting until the electricity comes back on and we can photocopy my university ID. There are phone calls to the landfill site and arrangements are made. Everybody is charming. I’ve come from London to take a look at the rubbish. Why? I am following a piece of plastic around the world. Really! First world problems!

I go back to Koshe – which means ‘dirty’ in Amharic – and hand over the necessary papers to the site supervisor, in his makeshift office at the roadside of the dump. Minutes later, I am scrambling after him, out on to the rubbish heap, navigating around the dogs which I fear, and the areas where it is soft underfoot and I sink up to my knees. My stomach is churning with fear. My interpreter and I are using Olbas oil to mask the smell.

We stop north of the main road, where it is firmer underfoot, in the area where the activity is concentrated. This is the place to which the municipal authorities and the site supervisor direct the trucks to dump their loads. A single white towelling slipper, with the Hilton Hotel logo on it, stands out in the grey-brown mush.

A group of 'scratchers' from the Koshe dump.
A group of ‘scratchers’ from the Koshe dump. Photograph: Caroline Knowles

This area is a hive of activity that peaks to a frenetic pace with the arrival of new loads, and then falls away, leaving a more continuous stream of slower activity, and a legacy of dust and smoke that gets in everyone’s eyes.

As rubbish trucks turn off the main road on to the edge of the site, a group of five or six young men jump on the back and ride to the dumping area with it. This puts them at an advantage for grabbing the best items as the truck discharges its load onto the tip, but not without risk. The mechanism that crushes the rubbish occasionally catches a young man in its deadly and disfiguring grasp.

As the young men jump off with the rubbish and begin picking items that catch the eye, the line of men and women, that has formed along both sides of the truck, spring into action, grabbing items and stashing them in woven plastic sacks. These are held tightly in one hand; in the other a homemade metal hook with a white handle, used to grab and dig into the grey-brown surface of the heap, is held. This hooked instrument earns the pickers – sometimes referred to as scavengers – the name ‘scratchers’.

The moment of discharge unleashes a tense scramble for the most valuable items; a competition in which masculine physical strength prevails, and young, agile, women put up a good fight. Scratchers then go on searching, or rest until the next truck arrives, or regroup around the bulldozers unearthing new bounty. The social and material relationships of the dump demand skilled navigation.

From the vantage point of the dump, the scratchers rework the geographies and hierarchies of the city. The tensest flurries of competitive scratching accompany the arrival of trucks from the most affluent areas, with the best rubbish. The Bole area, with its upscale detached housing, mall, hotels and the international airport, sends the most prized items, the cast-offs of affluence, including waste airline food in large green plastic bags, to the dump. Scratchers collect the food discarded by airline passengers for themselves, leaving a large pool of bright green plastic bags, which attracts a herd of goats.

Rubbish from the central part of the city, from international hotels, the African Union HQ buildings and the embassies, is similarly sought after, and monopolised by the fittest young men. Scratchers recognise the sources of rubbish from the colours and types of trucks used by the different sub-cities and private contractors. And they recognise the drivers and their helpers, who regularly work the same areas. The discarded traces of the city’s more affluent lives, especially foreign residents and visitors, most animate the dump. Rubbish logs social inequalities in cities and provides a minimal redress.

The dump has temporal rhythms. Scratchers know what time the trucks arrive from different parts of the city. From 8am through the morning is the busiest time. The dump is geared to municipal collection and transportation. By 5pm things are dying down as the trucks stop for the night, and the scratching continues with fewer scratchers at a slower pace. Bulldozers moving stuff around and digging into the surface of the dump also provide new scratching opportunities, and a lively crowd gathers around them. Scratching is a 24-hour activity, with people arriving after their working day is over. Some scratchers work throughout the night wearing torches attached to headbands. Scratching it seems is a (stigmatised) way of life as much as a way of getting by.

Within the urban geographies of affluence, materials establish another set of hierarchies. Scratchers search for anything they can use for themselves, or resell. Materials have a value in recycling, providing an afterlife for discarded objects. Metals, including nails, are the most valuable booty, and men dominate this, although a few women have ventured into metals too. Wood has value as firewood. Tourist clothes and shoes can be cashed in at the Mercato salvage section. Some scratchers just come to eat.

But plastics are the most ubiquitous material on the dump, and among plastics, water bottles the scratchers refer to as ‘highland’, after a popular brand of bottled water, dominate, and in this niche women prevail.

Scratchers on the Koshe rubbish dump tend to specialise in different materials: some searching for metal, while others target paper or plastic bottles.
Scratchers specialise in different materials: some searching for metal, while others target paper or plastic bottles. Photograph: Caroline Knowles

Scratchers specialise in particular materials. Specialisms result from advice from experienced scratchers, from serendipity, or from knowledge of shifting recycling prices, gathered at the edge of the dump. Here materials are counted or weighed, and turned into cash, with the agents from factories using recycled materials.

A pile of white dusty material arrives from the leather factory. The dogs take up residence. They are ejected by a group of men, who have decided that this is a good place to sit, while waiting for the next truck.

In their working clothes – they scrub up outside of work and look completely different – scratchers are dressed similarly and grimily, making them the same colour as the rubbish heap. Men wear trousers, shirts and tee shirts, baseball caps and sometimes hoodies to protect their heads from the sun. Women wear scarves and baseball caps, skirts, trousers, t-shirts and blouses. Some carry infants on their backs. All wear sturdy shoes, often trainers.

The scratching population numbers 200–300, but expands after holidays with casual pickers. More women than men do it by a ratio of about three to one, and, while people in their 20s and 30s predominate, ages range from teens to seniors. Most live in the villages around the dump in simple, rusted, corrugated iron dwellings, sometimes with satellite dishes. Rubbish has provided a source of local employment and subsistence for generations over its 50-year history, and is firmly embedded in local calculations of subsistence and accumulation.

About 50 scratchers live in cardboard and plastic makeshift shelters off the edge of the dump, safely away from passing vehicles and next to a pen full of pigs. The rubbish sustains rural arrivals, for whom it works as a gateway to the city, as well as long-term residents, whose rural routes have settled into the past, making them locals.

The ministry and its field agents say that the rubbish dump is a source of dangerous working practices by people who, like the rubbish they sort, are consigned to live beyond the limits of civic life. A litany of accidents, deaths and disfigurements as scratchers take risks to recover value, are recited by the site supervisor:

Food comes from some place and a guy is going into the truck and he is injured and they take him to hospital but he died. Also someone else lost their legs in an encounter with a bulldozer. Two months ago a man who jumped in the truck dropped off when it broke. In recent accidents, two were women. The bulldozer operator has a lot to do to push the garbage. If they see something they want when the bulldozer moves the garbage, they don’t think about their life.

In living beyond formal systems of governance, this city suburb of rubbish is more like the Somali borderlands, patrolled by contrabandists and gunrunners, than a part of the city. There is a police station nearby, and policing and the justice system are slowly taking back the dump from a parallel system of authority, a mafia of five ‘big men’. The big men control access by scratchers in exchange for fees, making themselves wealthy in the process. But recently, some of them have been imprisoned, shifting the balance of power towards the authorities.

Once far away, a place outside of the city, outside systems of formal employment, taxation, law and municipal governance, Koshe is now on the edge of a city that has grown to meet it in what are fast becoming its upscale southern suburbs. A new development of large detached houses nearby anticipates this future – new housing for those in a position to benefit from rising prosperity, and a consequent shrinkage and rehabilitation of the landfill site. These changes have far-reaching consequences for the scratchers of Koshe.

This is an extract from the new book Flip-Flop: A Journey Through Globalisation’s Backroads by Caroline Knowles (Pluto Press, £18.99). It can be purchased here


August 13, 2014

Premier’s Office Reversed MIDROC’s Land Ownership Cancellation

Filed under: Midroc — ethiopiantimes @ 6:45 pm
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Experts from Addis Ababa City Administration have been investigating the status of lands issued for MIDROC years ago for investment purpose. Plots of land besides Wabi Shebele Hotel in the Ledeta Sub City and the one around Beshale Hotel in the Yeka Sub City are those that are given to MIDROC and have been left without any construction for years.

Based on these, the experts had recommended for the land ownership licenses issued for MIDROC in these two locations to be cancelled. And hence, the licenses for both these locations are cancelled at the respective sub cities. Objecting the decision, MIDROC had filed its complaints on the case to the Prime Minister’s office and the Premier’s office has ordered the Addis Ababa City’s administration office to reverse the decision. 


The team of experts has also investigated the cases of 109 plots issued to investors that are left without any construction for years; among which it recommended license cancellation to 59 of them.
According to the Reporter, finally, after much delay, the city administration’s cabinet is preparing to decide on the land ownership cancellation recommendations this week.

August 5, 2014

Ethiopia charges five more magazines and 1 newspaper

Filed under: Uncategorized — ethiopiantimes @ 11:51 pm
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Ethiopia charges five more magazines and 1 newspaper

The Ethiopian government has today charged the publishers and media outlets of five magazines (Ethiopia charges five more magazines and 1 newspaper
Lomi, Fact, Addis Gudaye, Jano, Enku) and one newspaper (Afro Times), local state media reported citing the Ministry of Justice. All the print outlets were published in Amharic language.

According to local state media outlets, the prosecutor charged the publishers on suspicion of “calling for violence, disseminating false information,  calling for the violent removal of the constitutional system and making people not to trust the government”.

The Ministry also warned that it will continue to charge publishers and media outlets that “trespassed and continue to trespass the law”.

The Ethiopian government had detained dozens of bloggers and journalists in the past three months alone for having a role in “terrorism”.

Ethiopians protest at the US Africa Summit in Washington DC – August 04, 2014

July 30, 2014

EU statement on the situation in Ethiopia

Filed under: EU — ethiopiantimes @ 8:46 pm
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The European Union Delegation issues the following statement in agreement with the EU Heads of Mission in Ethiopia: “The EU Delegation is deeply concerned about developments in the case of the ten bloggers and journalists charged under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation on 18 July, as well as recent arrests of opposition members. It calls on the Ethiopian authorities to ensure that proceedings are carried out according to the Ethiopian Constitution and respecting international and regional human rights standards, in particular granting access to legal counsel and family, as well as the right to apply for bail when applicable, and that the trial is transparent and free from political interference. The EU Delegation recalls the European External Action Service statement of 6 May 2014 which underlined the importance of enhancing the political space, particularly in view of the elections next year. It calls on the Ethiopian Government to ensure that the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation is not used to curb freedom of expression or association. The EU Delegation welcomed the additional commitments made by the government of Ethiopia to address areas of human rights concern in the recent Universal Periodic Review process in Geneva and called for early and continuing action to ensure implementation of all of the government’s human rights commitments.”

July 26, 2014

Freedom of the press’ in Ethiopia

Nine Ethiopian journalists and bloggers, who had been arrested in April, have been charged with terrorism for having links with the US-based Ginbot 7 opposition movement, and for planning attacks. Ginbot 7 is considered a terrorist organisation in Ethiopia.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn denies he is undermining the freedom of the press. “Anyone who is seen and acting within this terrorist network will be eligible for the course of law,” he told reporters. “When you put yourself into this network and you try to become a blogger, don’t think that you are going to escape from the Ethiopian government.”

Gado by Gado

Gado by Gado

Who is Gado?

Gado, full name Godfrey Mwampembwa, is one of Africa’s most influential cartoonists. He draws a daily cartoon for Kenyan newspaper The Nation, and his work has appeared in various other publications, such as Le Monde, the Washington Times and the Japan Times.

Gado is also the man behind XYZ, a Kenyan satirical TV show commenting on current affairs and politics in the form of puppets. He was named Kenyan cartoonist of the year in 1999, and received the Dutch Prins Claus Award in 2007.

“I draw because I want to say something. My drawings are my tools,” says the Tanzanian-born cartoonist.

You can check out our whole Cartoon of the week series here.

July 9, 2014

Ethiopia arrests four young, prominent opposition figures

Habtamu Ayalew

WASHINGTON, DC – Police on Tuesday arrested four young and prominent political leaders: Habtamu Ayalew, Daniel Shibeshi (both Andinet Party leaders), Yeshiwas Assefa (Semayawi Party) and Mekelle University instructor Abraha Desta, also a leader of Arena Opposition Party in Mekelle, Tigrai region.

Habtamu Ayalew, public relations head of the opposition Andinet Party, widely known as a great protest rally organizer and inspirational speaker, is jailed at the notorious Makelawi Prison.

Habtamu was preparing to travel to the United States where substantial supporters of Andinet Party live. In the meantime, police have also arrested Daniel Shibeshi and Yeshiwas Assefa. The house of Daniel Shibeshi was being searched in his own presence, Andinet Party chairman Gizachew Shiferaw told the Voice of America (VOA) on Teusday.

Away from the Ethiopian capital to Mekelle, the regional capital of Tigrai, Abraha Desta, a Mekelle University political science instructor widely known among Ethiopians for his opposition notes on his FaceBook page, was being beaten brutally when scurity men took him to an unidenitifed prison, eyewitnesses told Asgede Gebreselassie, a veteran opposition activist who informed Ethiomedia by phone from the city of Mekelle on Tuesday.


Abraha Desta
Abraha Desta

“We have asked seven police stations in the city; we couldn’t find him there. We don’t know if he is jailed at ’06’,” Asgede said, the inference of “06” meaning an absolutely secret underground prison where hundreds or even thousands of opposition supporters have disappeared.

Believed to be on the outskirts of Mekelle, the hellish “06” Prison is unknown to the “legal system”, and no inmate from “06” has ever appeared in any court of law, even if the courts are under the control of the regime.

Abraha Desta, 31, shot to prominence a few years ago via his FaceBook page, for his sharp and witty notes critical of the ruling TPLF/EPRDF regime. As executive committee member of the opposition Arena Party, Abraha has been a lone, fearless voice in a society that has been tormented by the TPLF regime.

Seen by the West as a partner in the war on terror, Ethiopia has used the leverage to weaken and eventually decimate dissenting voices since TPLF came to power in 1991.

Nationwide crackdown in Oromia, Amhara, Ogaden and other regions of the country go unnoticed by the rest of the world. Peaceful and law-abiding Muslims are targets of the government for asking the respect of religious freedom, an activist from Addis Ababa who sought anonymity emailed Ethiomedia following the arrest of the activists.

“Clearly, the political climate is ripe for change,” said Asgede, “what’s left is for the opposition to unite and act.”


July 7, 2014

Britain is supporting a dictatorship in Ethiopia

Filed under: UK — ethiopiantimes @ 3:38 pm
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It’s 30 years since Ethiopia’s famine came to attention in the UK. Now, a farmer plans to sue Britain for human rights abuses, claiming its aid has funded a government programme of torture and beatings as villagers have been removed from their homes

Family in Gambella

One of hundreds of families in the Gambella region who have been forcibly removed from their homes. Photograph: Jenny Vaughan/AFP/Getty Images

“Life was good because the land was the land of our ancestors. The village was along the riverside, where you could get drinking water, go fishing and plant mango, banana and papaya. The temperature there was good and we could feed ourselves.”

This is how Mr O – his name is protected for his safety – remembers the home he shared with his family in the Gambella region of Ethiopia. The fertile land had been farmed for generations, relatively safe from wars, revolutions and famines. Then, one day, near the end of 2011, everything changed. Ethiopian troops arrived at the village and ordered everyone to leave. The harvest was ripe, but there was no time to gather it. When Mr O showed defiance, he says, he was jailed, beaten and tortured. Women were raped and some of his neighbours murdered during the forced relocation.

Using strongarm tactics reminiscent of apartheid South Africa, tens of thousands of people in Ethiopia have been moved against their will to purpose-built communes that have inadequate food and lack health and education facilities, according to human rights watchdogs, to make way for commercial agriculture. With Orwellian clinicalness, the Ethiopian government calls this programme “villagisation”. The citizens describe it as victimisation.

And this mass purge was part bankrolled, it is claimed, by the UK. Ethiopia is one of the biggest recipients of UK development aid, receiving around £300m a year. Some of the money, Mr O argues, was used to systematically destroy his community and its way of life. Now this lone subsistence farmer is taking on the might of Whitehall in a legal action; a hearing took place in the high court in London last Thursday, but judgment on whether the case can go ahead has been reserved. Mr O and his legal team now await a decision on permission from the judge, who will declare whether there is an arguable case that can go forward to a full hearing.

“The British government is supporting a dictatorship in Ethiopia,” says Mr O, speaking through an interpreter from a safe location that cannot be disclosed for legal reasons. “It should stop funding Ethiopia because people in the remote areas are suffering. I’m ready to fight a case against the British government.” The dispute comes ahead of the 30th anniversary of famine in Ethiopia capturing the world’s gaze, most famously in Michael Buerk’s reports for the BBC that sparked the phenomena of Band Aid and Live Aid. Now, in an era when difficult questions are being asked about the principle and practice of western aid, it is again Ethiopia – widely criticised as authoritarian and repressive – that highlights the law of unintended consequences.

Mr O is now 34. He completed a secondary-school education, cultivated a modest patch of land and studied part-time at agricultural college. He married and had six children. That old life in the Gambella region now seems like a distant mirage. “I was very happy and successful in my farming,” he recalls. “I enjoyed being able to take the surplus crops to market and buy other commodities. Life was good in the village. It was a very green and fertile land, a beautiful place.” So it had always been as the seasons rolled by. But in November 2011 came a man-made Pompeii, not with molten lava but soldiers with guns. A meeting was called by local officials and the people were told that they had been selected for villagisation, a development programme the government claims is designed to bring “socioeconomic and cultural transformation of the people”.

Mr O says: “In the meeting the government informed the community, ‘You will go to a new village.’ The community reacted and said, ‘How can you take us from our ancestral land? This is the land we are meant for. When a father or grandfather dies, this is where we bury them.'”

The community also objected to the move because they feared ethnic persecution in their proposed home and because the land would not be fertile enough to farm. “Villagisation is bad because people were taken to an area which will not help them. It’s a well-designed plan by the government to weaken indigenous people.”

Land grab in GambellaLand grab in the Gambella region in March 2011. Photograph: John Vidal for the GuardianThe army used brutal means to force the villagers to resettle. Mr O says he witnessed several beatings and one rape, and he knows of several women who contracted HIV as a result. Some people simply disappeared. He claims to have witnessed soldiers, police and local officials perpetrating the abuses. The  villagers, including Mr O and his family, found themselves in a new location in Gambella. He says there was no food and water, no farmland, no schools and no healthcare facility. Jobs, and hope, were scarce.

So in 2012 he dared to return to his old village and tried to farm his land. It was a doomed enterprise. In around April, he claims, he was caught and punished for encouraging disobedience among the villagers. Soldiers dragged him to military barracks where he was gagged, kicked and beaten with rifle-butts, causing serious injuries. He was repeatedly interrogated as to why he had come back. “I went to the farm and was taken by soldiers to military barracks and locked in a room,” Mr O recalls. “I was alone and beaten and tortured using a gun. They put a rolled sock in my mouth. The soldiers were saying: ‘You are the one who mobilised the families not to go to the new village. You are also inciting the people to revolution.’ Other people were in different rooms being tortured, some even killed. Some women were raped. By now they have delivered children: even now if you go to Gambella, you will meet them.” He reflects: “I felt very sad. I had become like a refugee in my homeland. They did not consider us like a citizen of the country. They were beating us, torturing us, doing whatever they want.”

In fear for his life, Mr O fled the country. The separation from his wife and children is painful. He communicated indirectly with them last year through a messenger. “I am sad. The family has no one supporting them. I am also sad because I don’t have my family.”

But such is the terror that awaits that, asked if if he wants to return home, he replies bluntly: “There’s nothing good in the country so there is nothing that will take me back.”

Modern Ethiopia is a paradox. A generation after the famine, it is hailed by pundits as an “African lion” because of stellar economic growth and a burgeoning middle class. One study found it is creating millionaires at a faster rate than any other country on the continent. Construction is booming in the capital, Addis Ababa, home of the Chinese-built African Union headquarters. Yet the national parliament has only one opposition MP. Last month the government was criticised for violently crushing student demonstrations. Ethiopia is also regarded as one of the most repressive media environments in the world. Numerous journalists are in prison or have gone into exile, while independent media outlets are regularly closed down.

Gambella, which is the size of Belgium, has a population of more than 300,000, mainly indigenous Anuak and Nuer. Its fertile soil has attracted foreign and domestic investors who have leased large tracts of land at favourable prices. The three-year villagisation programme in Gambella is now complete. A 2012 investigation by Human Rights Watch, entitledWaiting Here for Death, highlighted the plight of thousands like Mr O robbed of their ancestral lands, wiping out their livelihoods. London law firm Leigh Day took up the case and secured legal aid to represent Mr O in litigation against Britain’s international development secretary, whom it accuses of part-funding the human rights abuses.

Mr O explains: “The Ethiopian government is immoral: it is collecting money on behalf of poor people from foreign donors, but then directing it to programmes that kill people. At the meeting, the officials said: ‘The British government is helping us.’ Of all the donors to Ethiopia, the British government has been sending the most funds to the villagisation programme. “I’m not happy with that because we are expecting them to give donations to support indigenous people and poor people in their lands, not to create difficult conditions for them. They should stop funding Ethiopia because most of the remote areas are suffering. The funds given to villagisation should be stopped.” Mr O did not attend last week’s court hearing at which Leigh Day argued that British aid is provided on condition that the recipient government is not “in significant violation of human rights”. It asserted that the UK has failed to put in place any sufficient process to assess Ethiopia’s compliance with the conditions and has refused to make its assessment public, in breach of its stated policy.

Red Cross feeding centreStarving families lift sacks of food at a Red Cross feeding centre in Ethiopia. Photograph: Steven L Raymer/National Geographic/Getty Images“There are credible allegations of UK aid money contributing to serious human rights violations,” states Leigh Day’s summary argument. “In particular, there is evidence that the ‘villagisation’ programme is partly funded by the defendant’s payments into the promotion of basic services programme.” The concerns have led to a full investigation by the World Bank, it adds.

Rosa Curling, a solicitor in the human rights department at Leigh Day, says: “It’s about making sure the money is traced. When you’re handing over millions of pounds you have a legal responsibility to make sure the money is being used appropriately. The experience of the village is absolutely appalling. We’re saying to the Department for International Development (DfID), please look at this issue properly, please follow the procedure you said you would follow, please talk to the people who’ve been affected. Look at what happened to Mr O and his village. They haven’t done that.”

Mr O offered to meet British officials, she adds, but they decided his refugee camp was too dangerous. He offered to meet them in a major city, but still they refused. “They haven’t met anybody directly affected by villagisation.” Curling urges: “If you’ve got money, trace it and put conditions on it so it’s not being used like this. It completely defeats the point of aid if it’s being used in this way. We’re talking about millions of British pounds.”

The view is echoed by Human Rights Watch. Felix Horne, its Ethiopia and Eritrea researcher, says: “Given that aid is fungible, DfID does not have any mechanism to determine how their well-meaning support to local government officials is being used in Ethiopia. They have no idea how their money is being spent. And when they are provided [with] evidence of how that money is in fact being used, they conduct seriously flawed assessments to dismiss the allegations, and it’s business as usual.

“While they have conducted several ‘on the ground’ assessments in Gambella to ascertain the extent of the abuses, they have refused to visit the refugee camps where many of the victims are housed. The camps are safe, easy to access, and the victims of this abusive programme are eager to speak with DfID, and yet DfID and other donors have refused to speak with them, raising the suspicion that they aren’t interested in hearing about abuses that have been facilitated with their funding.”

DfID is set to contest the court action, denying that any of its aid was directly used to uproot Mr O or others affected by villagisation. A spokesman says: “We will not comment on ongoing legal action. The UK has never funded Ethiopia’s resettlement programmes. Our support to the Protection of Basic Services Programme is only used to provide essential services like healthcare, schooling and clean water.” Shimeles Kemal, the Ethiopian government’s state minister of communications, was unavailable for comment.

June 17, 2014

Tewodros Beharu: Ethiopia’s prosecutor from hell in America (By Abebe Gellaw)

Under the brutal rule of the TPLF, courts are key instruments of repression. This is not an allegation. It is rather a well-documented and substantiated fact widely known across the world. One of the worst crimes the TPLF has committed in the last two decades is using fake laws, Kangaroo courts, unjustly ruthless “prosecutors” and “judges” to silence and torment anyone opposed to its criminal tyranny.
New Picture (7)
“Prosecutors” and “lawyers” in the league of Shimelis Kemal have committed heinous crimes under the guise of nonexistent due process. Among other things, Shimelis is the author of the so-called anti-terrorism proclamation and the charities and societies law. Tewodros Beharu, who was recruited as a student OPDO operative at college, is one of those who were willingly followed the bloody footsteps of TPLF’s hacks like Shimelis.

Journalists, activists and political dissidents that have survived torture chambers, killing sprees and all sorts of inhumane treatment are mostly forced to go through the Kangaroo court system even if the whole process is a sham designed to give repression a semblance of justice. The system deliberately dispenses injustice by imposing the will of the TPLF under the guise of justice.

The fake and unjust “lawyers” like Tewodros Beharu, Berhanu Wondimagegn, Zeresenay Misganaw and Berihun Teklebirhan were given tasks to persecute journalists and activists using the anti-terrorism law. In the service of their TPLF paymasters, the hack lawyers have fabricated countless treason and terrorism charges against innocent people whose only crime was exposing and challenging the corruption and tyranny of the TPLF.

Fake prosecutor Tewodros Beharu is no exception. He willingly and passionately played a key role in sending Eskinder Nega, Andualem Aragie, Reeyot Alemu, Nathnael Mekonnen, Bekele Gerba, Olbana Lelisa, the Muslim leaders and so many political prisoners to the hellish TPLF jails. This unjust man is now living in Silver Spring, Maryland. While his victims are suffering in harsh jails, he appears to go to bed without any remorse and regrets.
After shattering the dreams of so many patriots condemned to suffer nightmares just for the love of their people and country, he is pursuing “happiness” and the American dream. It appears that the former TPLF tormentor and persecutor has sought asylum under false pretence that he was persecuted and tortured. To make matters worse, he rejected numerous requests to explain about the way he and his partners in crime were able to convict innocent people with serious terrorism offences and crimes they have never committed. He even tried to blame it all on Shimelis Kemal despite the key roles he played in the whole drama.

Whatever the justification, Tewdoros knows the fact that political prisoners deemed to be threats to the TPLF are always guilty, even before they are pronounced guilty as charged by opportunistic Kangaroo court judges and prosecutors like himself hired to do the dirty job. He is also aware of the fact that the “terrorists” he convicted faced concocted and fictitious charges without the need to present any shred of evidence. They have been denied a fair trial and the basic right to challenge false accusations to prove their innocence.

The worst and most outrageous legal drama unfolded in the aftermath of the 2005 elections. The landslide election victory the opposition had pulled off triggered Meles Zenawi’s panic attacks. Over 193 civilians including minors were mowed down by the brutal Agazi brigade and the federal police. Then opposition party leaders, journalists and civil society leaders were detained and charged with genocide, outrage against the constitution and treason, charges authored by Shimelis Kemal and his handlers.

Former publisher and journalist Serkalem Fasil and her son Nafkot Eskinder, who was born in jail in the wake of the 2005 election turmoils, were forced to flee Ethiopia almost a year ago. Her husband , the fiery award-winning journalist Eskinder Nega, was convicted of trumped-up “terrorism” offenses. He was condemned to 18 years in jail. The chief prosecutor in this and other high profile anti-terrorism charges to inflict maximum harm and pain was none other than Tewodros Beharu.

Following Eskinder’s terrorism conviction, their two houses and a car were confiscated. Adding insult to injury, TPLF was very eager to make sure that not only Eskinder but his family suffer the injustice. After losing everything they have, it was a hard and heartbreaking decision for Serkalem to leave her husband behind. But upon his insistence, she had no choice but to go into exile, at least to protect their child from the unjustly tormenting and painful experience.

A couple of weeks later, Tewodros Beharu, along with his wife Meron Girma, left Ethiopia dreaming a better life in the United States. Unlike the majority of Ethiopian exiles that flee persecution, torture, killings and discrimination, the former public prosecutor left behind the shattered dreams of so many political prisoners and their families.

Tewodros was one of TPLF’s prosecutors, or rather persecutors, trained and employed to fabricate terrorism charges against political prisoners like Eskinder Nega, Andualem Aragie, Nathaniel Mekonnen, Reeyot Alemu, Wubishet Taye, Bekeke Gerba, Olbana Lelisa, the Muslim community leaders and the two Swedish journalists Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye. Tewdos also convicted exiled “terrorists” such as Obang Metho, Neamin Zeleke, Dr. Berhanu Nega, Ephrem Madebo, Fasil Yenealem, Mesfin Negash, Abiy Teklemariam and myself.

In a reversal of fortune, Tewodros Beharu has ended up among the terrorists he falsely accused and convicted. This beggars the question how the persecuted and the persecutors can coexisted in the land of freedom where the rule of law is supreme. When victims and tormentors face off, the “dreamer “in the pursuit of happiness may be too sad to face truth, justice and reality….

As Malcolm X once said, “I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it’s for or against.” Not only Tewodros but all the false accusers and judges in Ethiopia should realize the fact that those of us they convicted with all sorts of crimes and terrorism are not criminals and terrorists but law-abiding citizens that dare to speak truth to power.

Tormenting and attacking innocent people with false accusations and fake laws is nothing but terrorism. Those who falsely accuse and prosecute others are conscious criminals. They cannot invoke ignorance or arrogance as a defense.

Let the truth speak for itself. The truth never lies. It is always powerful and irrefutable.

June 11, 2014

Ethiopia’s Police State: The Silencing of Opponents, Journalists and Students Detained

Filed under: Uncategorized — ethiopiantimes @ 7:42 pm
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Coat_of_arms_of_Ethiopia.svgDetention under spurious charges in Ethiopia is nothing new. With the second highest rate of imprisoned journalists in Africa[1] and arbitrary detention for anyone who openly objects to the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) regime’s despotic iron fist, the Western backed government in Addis Ababa is a dab hand at silencing its critics.

Eskinder Nega and Reeyot Alemu are just two of the country’s more famous examples of journalists thrown in prison for daring to call the EPRFD out on their reckless disregard for human rights. This April the regime made headlines again for jailing six[2] bloggers and three more journalists on trumped up charges of inciting violence through their journalistic work. Repeated calls for due legal process for the detainees from human rights organisations and politicians, such as John Kerry, have fallen on deaf ears as they languish in uncertainty awaiting trial. This zero-tolerance approach to questioning of government repression is central to the EPRDF’s attempts to control its national and international image and doesn’t show much signs of letting up.

Stepping up their counter-dissent efforts the regime just this week detained another journalist Elias Gebru – the editor-in-chief of the independent news magazine Enku. Gebru’s magazine is accused of inciting student protests[3] which rocked Oromia state at the end of April. The magazine published a column which discussed the building of a monument[4] outside Addis Ababa honouring the massacre of Oromos by Emperor Melinik in the 19th century. The regime has tried to tie the column with protests against its plans to bring parts of Oromia state under Addis Ababa’s jurisdiction. The protests, which kicked off at Ambo University and spread to other parts of the state, resulted in estimates[5] of up to 47 people being shot dead by security forces.

Ethiopia has a history of student protest movements setting the wheels of change in motion. From student opposition to imperialism in the 1960s and 1970s to the early politicisation of Meles Zenawi at the University Students’ Union of Addis Ababa.  The world over things begin to change when people stand up, say enough and mobilise. Ethiopia is no different. Similar to its treatment of journalists Ethiopia also has a history of jailing students and attempting to eradicate their voices. In light of such heavy handed approaches to dissent the recent protests which started at Ambo University are a telling sign of the level discontent felt by the Oromo – the country’s largest Ethnic group. Long oppressed by the Tigrayan dominated EPRDF, the Oromo people may have just started a movement which has potential ramifications for a government bent on maintaining its grip over the ethnically diverse country of 90 million plus people.

Students and universities are agents of change and the EPRDF regime knows this very well. The deadly backlash from government forces against the student protesters in Oromia in April resulted in dozens[6] of protesters reportedly being shot dead in the streets of Ambo and other towns in Oromia state. Since the protests began scores more have been arbitrarily detained or vanished without a trace from campuses and towns around the state. One student leader, Deratu Abdeta  (a student at Dire Dawa University) is currently unlawfully detained in the notorious Maekelawi prison for fear she may encourage other students to protest. She is a considered at high risk of being tortured.

In addition to Ms. Abdeta many other students are suspected of being unlawfully detained around the country. On May 27th 13 students were abducted from Haramaya University by the security forces. The fate of 12 of the students is unknown but one student, Alsan Hassan, has reportedly committed suicide by cutting his own throat all the way to the bones at the back of his neck after somehow managing to inflict bruises all over his body and gouging out his own eye. His tragic death became known when a local police officer called his family to identify the body and told them to pay 10,000 Birr ($500) to transport his body from Menelik hospital in Addis Ababa to Dire Dawa town in Oromo state.  Four of the other students have been named as Lencho Fita Hordofa, Ararsaa Lagasaa, Jaaraa Margaa, and Walabummaa Goshee.

Detaining journalists and students without fair judicial recourse may serve the EPRDF regime’s short term goal of eradicating its critics. However, the reprehensible silencing of opponents is one sure sign of a regime fearful of losing its vice-like grip. Ironically the government itself has its own roots in student led protests in the 1970s. No doubt it is well aware that universities pose one of the greatest threats to its determination to maintain power at all costs. Countless reports of spies monitoring student and teacher activities on campus, rigid curriculum control and micro-managing just who gets to study what are symptoms of this. The vociferous clamp-down on student protesters is another symptom and just the regime’s latest attempt to keep Ethiopia in a violent headlock. The regime would do well to remember that stress positions cause cramps and headlocks can be broken. It can try to suppress the truth but it can’t try forever.

Paul O’Keeffe is a Doctoral Fellow at Sapienza University of Rome. His research focuses on Ethiopia’s developing higher education system.


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