April 29, 2014

Wheat farmers on high alert as deadly disease hits Ethiopia

Filed under: Uncategorized — ethiopiantimes @ 8:40 pm
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By NICHOLAS WAITATHU NAIROBI, KENYA: Hundreds of thousands of farmers in Kenya have been put on alert following reports of an outbreak of a deadly fungal wheat disease in Ethiopia.  Wheat farmers in the country are worried because wheat stem rust is easily spread by wind and has already destroyed more than 10,000 hectares of farmland under wheat in Ethiopia. Wind models indicate the disease could spread southwards toward Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda, and, though less likely, to countries in the Middle East.  “We are worried because the fungal disease is very destructive and attacks varieties developed some years back to tame another fungal disease dubbed Ug99 that was identified in Uganda in 1999,” said Mr Anthony Kioko, the CEO of Cereals Growers Association (CGA). After the emergence of Ug99, researchers developed resistant varieties, such as Digalu, but it has now emerged that these varieties are more vulnerable to the destructive stem rust. The disease was identified in southern Ethiopia late last year, and by the end of March this year, it had destroyed an area of land that would have produced more than 500,000 bags of wheat. Ethiopia is the largest wheat producer in sub-Saharan Africa. The fear is that many farmers from various parts of the East African region, who have already started planting wheat in readiness for the rainy season that stretches up to June/July, are using the Digalu variety and would be hard hit by the deadly disease. Though in Kenya the wheat planting season starts in May, there are fears that farmers who plant a variety called Robin would suffer major losses if the disease strikes. In Ethiopia, farmers are counting losses of an average 50 per cent of their wheat crop, with the worst hit losing up to 70 per cent. Ms Ruth Wanyera, a plant pathologist at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (Kari) Njoro Centre, which is mandated to carry out wheat research in the country, says reports of the disease have been received, though it has not been identified in Kenya.
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January 8, 2014

Telecom Deal by China’s ZTE, Huawei in Ethiopia Faces Criticism


Matthew Dalton


Updated Jan. 6, 2014 11:01 p.m. ET

Towers like the one pictured have spread cellphone use across Ethiopia. Matthew Dalton/The Wall Street Journal

LAKE WENCHI, Ethiopia—In the green highlands here southwest of Addis Ababa, farmers like Darara Baysa are proud owners of cellphones that run on a network built by China’s ZTE Corp. 000063.SZ +0.30%

The trouble is, they have to walk several miles to get a good signal. “The network doesn’t work well,” says Mr. Baysa, a former army sergeant, stopping on the unpaved road near his home to show his hot-pink smartphone.

Chinese telecom giant ZTE is expanding cell phone service in Ethiopia, changing how farmers do business. WSJ’s Matthew Dalton reports.

Among other troubles: Ethiopian government officials have in recent years complained to ZTE that the company’s contract for building the network requires Ethiopia to pay too much, say people familiar with the discussions.

The Ethiopian network’s glitches underline the broader troubles that sometimes face poorer nations as they borrow heavily to invest in telecommunications, roads, utilities and other infrastructure to help lift them out of poverty.

China’s financial firepower helps its firms win many of these contracts. But in agreeing to such deals, some governments appear to have flouted rules meant to foster sound public investment. When countries sidestep such rules, say experts at institutions such as the World Bank, big projects often cost more and are more likely to be poorly executed.


China’s impact has been particularly visible in telecom projects. In Ethiopia, ZTE beat out Western competitors in 2006 for a major telecom project by offering $1.5 billion in low-interest financing, funded by Chinese state-run banks.

A World Bank investigation found that the Ethiopian government appeared to ignore its own procurement rules requiring competitive bidding when it awarded the contract, which gave ZTE a monopoly on supplying telecom equipment for several years. The 2013 report also criticized Ethiopia for giving such a big project to one company and called for the country to audit the contract. It didn’t find that ZTE acted improperly.

Ethiopia ended ZTE’s monopoly in July 2013, bringing in its main Chinese rival, Huawei Technologies Co. The two companies split another big contract, for the next phase of the network’s expansion. Again, financing won the day, with the two pledging a total of $1.6 billion, people close to the negotiations say. Western equipment suppliers, such as Ericsson and Alcatel Lucent SA, ALU.FR +1.28% couldn’t match the Chinese offer, these people say.

A ZTE spokesman says it has complied with Ethiopia’s regulations. Ethiopia’s telecommunications minister and a spokesman for the state-owned telecom monopoly, Ethio Telecom, didn’t respond to queries. The World Bank report notes that Ethiopian authorities told its investigators that they invited eight companies to bid for the project.

Tony Duan, chief executive of Huawei’s Ethiopian division, says the company is “fully aware of the issues linked to poor quality telecom services and frequent interruptions of mobile networks in the country.”

Jia Chen, chief executive of ZTE’s Ethiopian business, acknowledges that the network’s service has been uneven. He blames delays in awarding the next phase of expansion, construction projects that cut telecom lines and slack maintenance by Ethio Telecom. “Maintaining the network is not our job,” he says. “We guarantee the quality of the network, but you have to guarantee our base stations get electricity.” He says ZTE must charge more in Ethiopia than elsewhere partly to offset the project loans’ large size and long repayment period of 13 years.

Ericsson and Alcatel decline to comment.

Complaints have surfaced in other developing countries about alleged overbilling, mismanagement and flouted contracting rules in telecom deals financed by Chinese state-run banks.

Kenya’s government late last year canceled a contract for a national police-communication system that was tentatively awarded to ZTE last year, with funding to come from loans pledged by China, according to Kenyan government documents. Anticorruption activists say Kenya violated its constitution by letting only Chinese firms bid on the deal, while a government review of ZTE’s bid claimed the company offered its equipment at double normal market prices.

ZTE appealed the decision to a review board, which sided with the Kenyan government: “It does not require rocket science in view of the evidence before the Board to establish that (ZTE’s) financial proposal was highly exaggerated,” according to the board’s decision, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

ZTE declines to comment. The Kenyan government didn’t respond to queries.

Uganda in 2011 canceled a $74 million contract that the Uganda Broadcasting Corporation signed with Huawei—with Export-Import Bank of China funding—saying procurement rules were flouted. Ugandan government officials didn’t respond to queries. Huawei declines to comment on the Uganda matter. The Export-Import Bank of China declines to comment for this article.

A $330 million Philippines contract with ZTE in 2007 to build a broadband network—using money from the Export-Import Bank of China—negotiated without competitive bidding, rocked the government after lawmakers alleged that ZTE inflated the project’s price to pay kickbacks to government officials.

Anticorruption prosecutors charged then-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo with accepting bribes to approve the deal; the trial is continuing. Ms. Arroyo canceled the contract when she was president, and her lawyer says she maintains her innocence. ZTE declines to comment, citing the ongoing legal process. In a statement to the Chinese press in 2007, ZTE said it had done nothing wrong.

Governments need competitive bidding and other controls to get the best prices and ensure projects are well-planned, says Neill Stansbury, director of London-based Global Infrastructure Anti-Corruption Centre, who contributed to the World Bank report on Ethiopia’s project.

Large loans can obscure project costs, he says: “You may end up overall, over 20 years, with a much more expensive package than you would have done buying another manufacturer’s equipment at a more expensive financing cost.”

ZTE and Huawei have grown to be two of the world’s largest telecom-equipment makers, aided by access to hefty financing that helps them outbid Western rivals.

Western companies can get loans supported by government export-finance banks. But almost all these banks, unlike China’s, have signed an agreement backed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development limiting such lending, especially to countries with debt-problem histories.

The state-owned Export-Import Bank of China and the China Development Bank finance exports and overseas projects. They provided nearly $50 billion in financing for Africa from 1995 through 2012, mostly export credits, according to estimates by Deborah Brautigam, director of the International Development Program at Johns Hopkins University. Chinese companies also get financing from state-run China Export and Credit Insurance Corp.

The U.S. Export-Import Bank has provided about $12 billion in financing for African buyers during the same period. The U.S., the European Union, China and other nations have been negotiating international guidelines on export financing that Western governments hope will restrain Chinese state-run banks.

China has had a sizable presence in Ethiopia for more than a decade, and ties between the two grew closer after Ethiopia’s disputed elections in 2005. Then-Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who led Ethiopia for more than 20 years until his death in 2012, began to view the West as less friendly.

He aligned Ethiopia with China, awarding ZTE the 2006 telecom deal, which was funded with loans from the Export-Import Bank and China Development Bank. China Development Bank didn’t respond to a request for comment.

A ZTE spokesman says it has built more than 2,000 cellphone transmission sites in Ethiopia and laid about 5,000 miles of fiber-optic cable in forbidding terrain. ZTE says paying cellphone users in Ethiopia have soared from around one million in 2005 to over 12 million in 2013, a seventh of the population.

The network has vastly improved quality of life for many. Cellphone service now extends across much of Ethiopia, an impoverished country whose 90 million people form one of Africa’s largest, fastest-growing markets.

In rural areas, where most live, the network has ushered in new ways of doing business.

Afework Wondimu uses his cellphone to check the price of teff, a millet-like grain used to make injera, the Ethiopian cuisine’s ubiquitous flat bread. If the price is good, he loads big bundles of teff onto donkeys and heads into town.

“Otherwise we keep it and find another way to sell it another time,” he says, as a team of oxen threshed golden piles of teff on his farm west of the capital.

Two years ago, before he got a cellphone, Mr. Baysa, the farmer with the pink phone, says he sometimes had to travel three days from his home by foot, horse and bus simply to check on friends and family.

Still, he wouldn’t mind a luxury he has heard others enjoy: phoning from bed.

Ethiopians elsewhere also complain about the network’s spottiness. In the capital of Addis Ababa, the phone network appears overburdened and is sometimes inaccessible during the day.

If the network and other infrastructure projects don’t work well, Ethiopia could see economic growth suffer and its foreign-exchange reserves depleted to repay debts, says Benedicte Vibe Christensen, an economist who was an Africa expert at the International Monetary Fund until 2009.

“If the quality of investment projects is not good, at the end of the day the risk is that foreign exchange reserves would be insufficient to repay all loans,” she says.

The Chinese loans for the 2006 project account for about 12% of Ethiopia’s nondomestic public-sector debt, according to government data. Ethio Telecom doesn’t publish financial statements. It started repaying the loan in 2010, and it has repaid around $300 million in principal, according to a person familiar with the repayment.

Financing has a cost: ZTE’s Mr. Jia says ZTE must charge Ethiopia more for its network partly because the loans are large, the repayment period is long—13 years—and ZTE is liable if Ethio Telecom doesn’t repay.

“If you just think about the price compared with the others, you think, ‘Oh, your prices are very high, then you make a lot of money,’ ” Mr. Jia says. “But you have to think: This money, I’m going to get it back in 13 years!”

The network’s uneven performance echoes worries that former Ethiopian telecom managers say they had about ZTE’s gear before it won the 2006 contract. Calls to and from ZTE-covered areas were frequently dropped, and the mobile-phone signal in those areas was so weak that people living in brick or stone houses often had to go outside to use their phones, the former managers say.

A ZTE spokesman says interconnection problems such as those the network experienced in that era are a common result of different suppliers’ equipment using the same frequency.

Some of those managers say they raised concerns about giving contracts to ZTE—and were punished for it.

The former managers say they argued that Ethiopia’s telecom operator hadn’t run a proper competitive bidding process for the 2006 ZTE contract. They say they worried the deal would make Ethiopia completely dependent on ZTE.

“We complained: It will damage the future of the Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation,” says a former manager at the ETC, a predecessor to Ethio Telecom. “If we select only one company, we are going to depend on one company.”

The managers who say they raised the concerns were among two dozen employees that the Federal Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission of Ethiopia prosecuted in 2008 for violating government contracting rules, mainly for a previous contract that they awarded to Ericsson in 2005.

A court sentenced some to jail, including the former chief executive, Tesfaye Birru, who has denied the charges and remains in jail.

Senior government officials “tried to intimidate others not to speak against the Chinese company,” says the former ETC manager.

Officials at the anticorruption commission deny the prosecutions were an attempt to silence ZTE’s critics. The commission didn’t accuse the managers of personally profiting from the Ericsson deal.

The anticorruption commission says: “What is confirmed is that the defendants abused their power, violated existing rules and regulations, conspired to benefit others and caused the government to incur unnecessary costs.”

A former Ericsson manager in Ethiopia who is no longer in the country, Moncef Mettiji, says there were no improprieties involved in the 2005 contract.

—Olivia Geng contributed to this article.

Write to Matthew Dalton at

December 15, 2013

Moyale Residents Flee to Neighbouring Ethiopia

Filed under: Ethiopia,Kenya — ethiopiantimes @ 7:41 pm
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November 16, 2013

East African nations sliding back to dictatorships, lawyers warn

By David Ochami

Lawyer organisations in East Africa have warned that East African countries and Ethiopia are descending into dictatorships that seek to curtail basic constitutional freedoms including the right of the media and civil society to operate unhindered.

They cited the recent passing of oppressive laws against the media and attempts to legislate against civil society in Kenya, raids on media in Uganda and shutdown of newspapers in Tanzania to illustrate alleged evidence of receding freedoms.

“We seem to be depleting the democratic gains we have been making,” said Law Society of Kenya chairman Eric Mutua in a key note speech where he also accused East African regimes of targeting the media and embarking on a “conspiracy not to democratise these countries.”

President Uhuru Kenyatta skipped the opening of the 18th annual conference of the East Africa Law Society (EALS) in Mombasa yesterday where he was to be the main speaker.

Investment opportunities

Delegates from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and Ethiopia are attending the conference which among other issues will discuss constitutionalism and democracy in East Africa, lawyers’ ethics, relations among the bar, bar and executive, transparency in business.

The lawyers also intend to discuss investment opportunities in the oil and gas sectors in the region and plot how to benefit from this. The president sent his advisor on constitutional and legal affairs Mohamed Abdikadir to defend his record and tried to portray him as “a foremost believer in the rule of law” and the integration of the East African.

But the Law Society of Kenya and EALS was unrelenting in spite of Uhuru’s absence and insisted that the president and the Kenyan state have joined a trend of dictatorship they alleged has been gathering storm in the region.

New restrictions

The LSK chairman and EALS President James Mwamu said there seems to be a conspiracy by the governments in the region to impose new restrictions using similar repressive laws imposed or passed simultaneously or separately.

Mwamu warned that the regime of laws adopted by Kenya’s Parliament, the Kenyan state and its neighbours imply a reversal of freedoms and constitution that will transform the region into a rogue state like Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.

November 12, 2013

Karuturi accused of Land grab in Ethiopia has not paid salary to 4000 Kenyan workers

Filed under: karaturi — ethiopiantimes @ 10:29 pm
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Karuturi Global, the Bangalore-based publicly-held rose exporter, has recently seen the troubles with its employees in Kenya escalating over a wage settlement. This has snowballed into a winding-up petition filed by a packaging company which is part of the Aga Khan Development Network. Karuturi Global, which rose dramatically onto the global stage as among the leading rose exporters to Europe from Africa, is already in various stages of untangling issues over its ambitious agriculture foray in Ethiopia, which is facing backlash and is midst of various problems.

According to Karuturi Global, it is facing a winding-up petition from Allpack Industries and discussions are in the preliminary stages. According to recent reports, as a result of the financial troubles which Karuturi Global is under, it has not been able to pay salaries to employees at its expansive rose farms.

However, Karuturi has refuted the charges stating that Kenya Planters and Agricultural Workers Union officials have advised their members to reject the salaries for August and September 2013, and instead engage in various violent demonstrations pending the hearing and determination of various suits filed in the industrial court in Nakuru.

“The matter between Karuturi Limited and Allpack is only its preliminary stage and we are unable to comment on the full implication, except to say that the claim in no way represents an ability to close down operations of the company which at present is valued at $93 million. We intend to defend against the petition in a court of law,” Karuturi Global said in a statement. The company’s management further noted that they are working with relevant employee unions to ensure that all employment issues are managed and employees have a good working environment, and receive a fair renumeration and most of the salaries have been paid. There have been reports that as many as 4,000 employees have not received their salaries.

Karuturi Global expanded its base in Africa by acquiring Kenya-based Sher Agencies (now Sher Karuturi) in September 2007 from Dutch horticulturists Gerrit & Peter Barnhoorn. The acquisition brought into Karuturi’s fold a 188-hectare farmland in the rich Naivasha region of Kenya. Of this, about 135 hectares are under greenhouse cultivation and 42 hectares in open cultivation and has an average daily output of about 1.5 million stems that are exported from Kenya to Europe.

This latest setback for Karuturi is compounding the problems for the company, which over the past four years, has been trying to establish an expansive agriculture exports business in Ethiopia. It has embarked on an ambitious $300 million agriculture foray in Ethiopia by growing a range of cereals and plantation crops in which it suffered a severe setback in late 2011 due to heavy floods in the region and had to take a hit of $15 million as its first maize crop was hit severely.

The company has acquired 311,000 hectares on a lease-hold basis from the Ethiopian government in the Baka and the Gambela region to cultivate short, medium and long-gestation crops. In the first phase, the company intends to cultivate cereal crops (rice and maize) on 70,000 hectares and oil palm on 20,000 hectares. Even as the company is going through the painful recovery from the devastating floods, it has been facing allegations of land grab. Human Rights Watch (HRW), a global independent organisation dedicated to defending and protecting human rights, had earlier raised a red flag on corporates from India expanding in Ethiopia. According to the HRW, the Ethiopian government under its “villagisation” programme is forcibly relocating approximately 70,000 indigenous people from the western Gambella region to new villages that lack adequate food, farmland, healthcare and educational facilities.

State security forces have repeatedly threatened, assaulted and arbitrarily arrested villagers who resisted the transfers, the report added. Karuturi, on its part said that the report is biased and does not reflect the truth on the ground. “We are empowering the locals with jobs and we are not into grabbing land. The report is totally baseless,” the company has maintained

Recently, globally-reputed Oakland Institute also came down heavily on Karuturi on various issues and also noted that the Kenyan government found Karuturi Global guilty of tax evasion to the tune of nearly $11 million, the first time an African government has taken a large global company to court for transfer mispricing through a fully public process.

Back home, on Tuesday Karuturi reported a 25 per cent drop in net profit to Rs 12 crore for the second quarter of FY14 compared to the corresponding previous year as its net sales dropped close to Rs 95 crore. As part of its financial restructuring, the company in September restructured FCCBs worth $55 million. The promoters hold a little over 8 per cent, and the stock is trading at a miniscule Rs 1.5 a share on NSE.

April 15, 2013

Half a million Kenyans and Ethiopians face conflict, hunger due to dam – report

The Gibe III dam will stop the Omo River’s natural flood, on which the tribes depend. Photo by Survival.

(Corrects story to clarify the British government through DFID funds Ethiopia’s PBS programme but it does not fund the Gibe III dam itself)

NAIROBI (AlertNet) – Half a million Kenyans and Ethiopians are likely to be displaced, go hungry and face conflict due to a controversial dam linked to a forcible resettlment programme ‘bankrolled’ by British taxpayers, the lobby group Survival International said on Monday.Gibe III

The Gibe III hydropower dam, due for completion in 2014, is being built on the Omo River in southern Ethiopia. It will reduce the flow of water to farmers and pastoralists living downstream, including those 600 kilometres to the south in Kenya, where the river flows into Lake Turkana, the world’s largest desert lake.

The British government’s Department for International Development (DFID) is one of many international donors funding Ethiopia’s Protection of Basic Services (PBS) programme, which subsidises basic services and local government salaries. This includes areas where people are being relocated to make way for the dam, part of a wider programme to resettle people into designated villages – known as villagisation – begun in 2010.

Survival argues that the forced resettlment of thousands of tribal people could not be carried out without the DFID-funded PBS programme.

“UK money is bankrolling the destruction of some of the best-known pastoralist peoples in Africa,” Stephen Corry, director of Survival said in a statement. “The UK government is renowned for only paying lip service to human rights obligations where tribal peoples are concerned. When it comes to human rights in Ethiopia, DFID’s many commitments are worthless.”

It is not the first time that the PBS programme has come under fire.

Last year, the London-based law firm Leigh Day began legal action against DfID on behalf of an Ethiopian man, known as Mr O, who claims he suffered severe abuse under the villagisation programme.

DFID visited the Lower Omo, where it heard reports of rape and intimidation, but it has not been able to substantiate the claims.

Survival International cites three recent reports by Oxford University, International Rivers and the Africa Resources Working Group to support its case.

The Africa Resources Working Group report warns of “an impending human rights and ecological catastrophe” and a “very real threat of mass starvation and armed conflict in the border region.”

The International Rivers report says that those who lose their homes and livelihoods are “likely to seek out resources on their neighbours’ lands in the Kenya-Ethiopia-Sudan borderlands.”

“Well armed, primed by past grudges and often divided by support from different state and local governments, these conflicts can be expected to be bloody and persistent,” it said.

The Ethiopian government is planning to use the water to develop large-scale irrigation schemes, create jobs and generate huge amounts of electricity to power the region.

March 6, 2013

Kenya:Is external software at play here to rig the election

Filed under: Kenya — ethiopiantimes @ 6:29 pm
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April 17, 2012

More than 300 heavily armed Ethiopian militia have killed two Kenyan security officers

Filed under: Kenya — ethiopiantimes @ 12:46 pm
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More than 300 heavily armed Ethiopian militia have killed two Kenyan security officers and wounded five others in an ambush at a remote police camp near the border with Kenya, authorities confirmed on Tuesday.

Kenya’s District Commissioner Albert Mwilitsa said the suspected militia from Merille tribe in Ethiopia stormed an Administration Police(AP)’s Rapid Police Unit camp late on Monday in Turkana’s Todonyang area where they shot dead the officers.

“The over 300 heavily armed Merille militia from Ethiopian raided the Administration Police camp in Todonyang area of Turkana County and engaged the officers in fire fight. Two APs were killed, one officer is still missing and five were wounded in the fight,” Mwilitsa told Xinhua at the scene.

“We have launched investigations to establish the motive behind the raid and also to find the missing Administration Police officer. The five injured will also be airlifted to Nairobi for specialized treatment,” the administrator said.

Reports of the ambush has sparked tension in the area with some residents said to be planning a revenge attack. The police helicopter is currently combing the area to arrest the militia.

The raid is the latest in attacks that have pitted communities in the area which falls within the Elemi Triable �C the once disputed triangular border area between Kenya, South Sudan and Ethiopia �C and residents said the area has known no peace.

The region has been home to protracted and intermitted cattle rustling with many people killed, maimed and much property lost in the recent past.

Apart from being the gateway to an area of South Sudan rich in unexpected oil reserves, Elemi is only significant for its dry season pastures that support the Turkana, Didinga, Toposa, Inyangatom and Dassanech (Mericlle) communities, largely known as the Karamoja cluster groups of Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia.

Deadly clashes between the Turkana and the Merille communities in the past were mainly related to cross border cattle raids.

Despite the animosity generated by cattle rustling, the two communities had until the latest attack engaged in barter trade and purchasing of food from markets on both sides of the border.

Livestock herding is the main livelihood and source of income in northern and some parts of eastern Kenya, and the hike in cattle thefts threatens to ignite cross-community reprisals and raids that could set the stage for a surge in ethnic fighting in the region.

Armed cattle rustling conflicts between the Turkana of Kenya and Ethiopia’s Merille have dominated headlines of the Elmi Triangle.

February 7, 2012

20000 Kenyans flee conflict into Ethiopia-UN

Filed under: Ethiopia,Kenya — ethiopiantimes @ 5:39 pm
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A boy stands next to a tree in Barmil in this recently taken handout photo released on July 21, 2011. REUTERS/Jakob Dall/Danish Red Cross/Handout

NAIROBI (AlertNet) – Some 20,000 Kenyans have been displaced into Ethiopia following inter-ethnic fighting, the United Nations (U.N.) reported on Tuesday.

Dozens have died in recent months in clashes between the Gabra and Borana communities in Moyale, in northern Kenya, over political positions and new administrative boundaries.

“Humanitarian organizations are using a working figure of 20,000 people who may have been displaced into Ethiopia from Kenya,” the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Ethiopia office said in a February 7 bulletin, following an assessment mission to the area.

“Food for up to 15,000 people (rice and dates for 15 days) and non-food items (plastic sheets and household goods for 3,000 people) have been dispatched.”

It said most people were staying with the host community or in schools.

Pastoralist communities have a history of fighting over such resources as cattle and pasture. But the current violence is driven by the desire for political power.

On the Kenyan side of the border, the Kenya Red Cross is trucking water to the displaced and providing medical care.

“Health facilities were burnt down as a result of the conflict and medicine looted,” it said in a statement.

A former MP was arrested for inciting the violence last month.

January 26, 2012

Ethiopia: Death penalty for Elias Kifle, prison for journalists

From left: Woubshet, Reeyot, Kifle.

From left: Woubshet, Reeyot, Kifle.

New York, January 26, 2012–A U.S.-based journalist convicted on politicized terrorism charges in Ethiopia was sentenced to death in absentia today, while two other Ethiopian journalists received heavy prison sentences in connection with their coverage of banned opposition groups, according to news reports.

Elias Kifle, exiled Ethiopian editor of the Washington-based opposition website Ethiopian Review, was handed a death sentence in absentia today, which followed a 2007 life sentence given to him also in absentia on charges of treason for his coverage of the government’s brutal repression of 2005 post-election protests, CPJ research shows. A court in the capital, Addis Ababa, sentenced Reeyot Alemu, a columnist with the independent weekly Feteh, and Woubshet Taye, deputy editor of the now-defunct weekly Awramba Times, to 14 years in prison and 33,000 birrs (US$1,500), news reports said.

“The death penalty for Elias Kifle and the prison sentences for Reeyot Alemu and Woubshet Taye are based on their writings about political dissent. This verdict has little to do with justice,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “We condemn this politicized prosecution designed to cow critical voices into silence and call on the Supreme Court to reverse all the convictions.”

The three journalists were charged in September with lending support to an underground network of banned opposition groups, which has been criminalized under the country’s 2009 antiterrorism law. Alemu and Taye were arrested in June and held for weeks on government accusations of plotting to sabotage telephone and electricity lines before they were charged. In the trial, government prosecutors presented as evidence intercepted emails and phone calls between the journalists, as well as more than 25 Ethiopian Review articles on the activities of opposition groups, CPJ research shows.

Eskinder Nega, another Ethiopian blogger, has been imprisoned since September and could be sentenced to death if convicted of similar politicized terrorism charges in connection with his coverage of banned opposition groups.

Kifle is the first journalist to be handed a death sentence in Ethiopia, according to CPJ research. Since 1992, only two people have been executed after being given the death penalty, while other death sentences have been commuted to life in prison, according to an Ethiopian legal expert.

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