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  • At last, federal high court begins hearing of defense witness testimonials on Yonatan Tesfaye’s terrorism charges - Addis Standard

    “If speaking for those killed on the streets constitutes a crime, I will take it as my badge of honor” Yonatan Tesfaye

    “If Yonatan was my student I would have, at best, given some of his writings Fs and Cs; I wouldn’t call him a terrorist”, Dr. Dagnachew Assefa  

    Mahlet Fasil

    Addis Abeba, Jan. 05/2017 – The Federal high court 4th Criminal Bench has today begun hearing testimonials from defense witnesses subpoenaed by lawyers representing Yonatan Tesfaye, former spokesman of the opposition Semayawi (Blue) party and rights activists.  

    Yonatan was first arrested in December 2015, barely a month after the first wave of a year-long #Oromoprotests erupted.  He was held incommunicado during the pre-trial weeks and was subsequently charged with terrorism.

    Lawyers representing Yontan have subpoenaed several defense witnesses, including Yonatan’s close friend Ephrem Tayachew, his father Tesfaye Regassa, and his sister Gedamnesh Tesfaye and prominent opposition party members who are also in detention, as well as academicians from the Addis Abeba University.

    However, the Federal high court 4th criminal bench has failed to hear witness testimonials during the last hearing on Dec. 28th 2016 because four of the five defense witnesses: Dr. Merera Gudina, blogger Befeqadu Hailu, opposition leader Bekele Gerba,  and Dr. Dagnachew Assefa, were not able to attend the court.

    Dr. Merera was touring Europe, the fateful trip that landed him in jail upon his return to Addis Abeba; Befeqadu Hailu was in Awash 7 military training center after being detained under Ethiopia’s current State of Emergency; Bekele Gerba was missing his own appearance in court after the controversial fire that gutted Qilinto prison, where he and other high profile opposition party members are currently detained at; and Dr. Dagnachew Assefa, an outspoken prominent academician, was simply not subpoenaed. Only the fifth witness, journalist Eskindir Nega, currently serving 18 years of prison sentence after being convicted of terrorism, has appeared in the court along with the rest of the witnesses; but Eskindir too told the court that he didn’t know what he was subpoenaed for.

    The court then adjourned the case until yesterday Jan. 04, but once again the judges failed to preside over defense testimonials mentioning “lack of time” in the midst of crowded hearings of several other terrorism charges.

    Speaking against the charges, Yonatan told the judges that he had done nothing to foment terrorism or overthrow the government violently. But he spoke and wrote in defense of those who were being killed by government security forces on the streets during the protests, he said. “If speaking for those killed on the streets constitutes a crime, I will take it as my badge of honor. I will get my judgment form history and God.” He also said that the government should have taken the cries of activists such as himself who have been trying to highlight the problems from early on to avoid the subsequent bloodshed during the year-long protests.

    Hundreds of protesters were killed by security forces during the protests which continued raging long after Yonatan was locked.

    However, during subsequent hearings, prosecutors have presented as evidence the defendant’s Facebook status updates during the initial months of the #OromoProtests, which eventually rocked the country leading up to the declaration of the current state of emergency. The court found Yonatan guilty and had asked him to defend himself against the charges.

    The terrorism charges against Yonatan also allege that he was posting inciting messages on his Facebook, encouraging protesters to loot and destruct properties and calling for a regime change through violence. Prosecutor’s also accuse Yonatan that his Facebook posts about the controversial Addis Abeba Master Plan were in  line with the objectives of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), a party banned as a terrorist organization by the ruling EPRDF’s controlled parliament.

    bekele-g

    Speaking to the judges this morning, defense witness Dr. Dagnachew Assefa said that he regularly read all Yonatan’s posts on Facebook but doesn’t believe the posts warranty terrorism charges. “If Yonatan was my student I would have, at best, given some of his writings Fs and Cs; I wouldn’t call him a terrorist”, Dr. Dagnachew told the court, adding,  he has written for eight years articles that were far more critical of the government than Yonatan’s Facebook posts.

    Bekele Gerba, first secretary general of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) and the other defense witness (who is fighting terrorism charges of his own), told the judges that millions of protesters were on the streets demanding justice from the government “not because of Yonatan’s writing, but because of government’s oppression.”

    The other defense witness, Dr. Yaqob Hailemariam of the AAU, also told the judges that terrorism charges were “too serious” to have been evoked for Facebook posts, where people turn into as a mere space for freedom of expression.

    The court did not hear testimonials from the rest of defense witnesses, including Dr. Merera Gudina, who is also in jail and may potentially face terrorism charges. Dr. Merera was not brought to the court and the judges have ordered prison police to bring him during the next hearing.

     

     

    Journalist Eskindir Nega and the rest of the defense witnesses, including family members of Yonatan, are expected to give their testimonials during the next hearing, adjourned until January 26. AS

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  • Federal High Court Begins Hearing Of Defense Witness Testimonials On Yonatan Tesfaye’s Terrorism Charges

    The Federal high court 4th Criminal Bench has today begun hearing testimonials from defense witnesses subpoenaed by lawyers representing Yonatan Tesfaye, former spokesman of the opposition Semayawi (Blue) party and rights activists.

    Yonatan was first arrested in December 2015, barely a month after the first wave of a year-long #Oromoprotests erupted. He was held incommunicado during the pre-trial weeks and was subsequently charged with terrorism.

    Lawyers representing Yontan have subpoenaed several defense witnesses, including Yonatan’s close friend Ephrem Tayachew, his father Tesfaye Regassa, and his sister Gedamnesh Tesfaye and prominent opposition party members who are also in detention, as well as academicians from the Addis Abeba University.

    However, the Federal high court 4th criminal bench has failed to hear witness testimonials during the last hearing on Dec. 28th 2016 because four of the five defense witnesses: Dr. Merera Gudina, blogger Befeqadu Hailu, opposition leader Bekele Gerba, and Dr. Dagnachew Assefa, were not able to attend the court.

    Dr. Merera was touring Europe, the fateful trip that landed him in jail upon his return to Addis Abeba; Befeqadu Hailu was in Awash 7 military training center after being detained under Ethiopia’s current State of Emergency; Bekele Gerba was missing his own appearance in court after the controversial fire that gutted Qilinto prison, where he and other high profile opposition party members are currently detained at; and Dr. Dagnachew Assefa, an outspoken prominent academician, was simply not subpoenaed. Only the fifth witness, journalist Eskindir Nega, currently serving 18 years of prison sentence after being convicted of terrorism, has appeared in the court along with the rest of the witnesses; but Eskindir too told the court that he didn’t know what he was subpoenaed for.

    The court then adjourned the case until yesterday Jan. 04, but once again the judges failed to preside over defense testimonials mentioning “lack of time” in the midst of crowded hearings of several other terrorism charges.

    Speaking against the charges, Yonatan told the judges that he had done nothing to foment terrorism or overthrow the government violently. But he spoke and wrote in defense of those who were being killed by government security forces on the streets during the protests, he said. “If speaking for those killed on the streets constitutes a crime, I will take it as my badge of honor. I will get my judgment form history and God.” He also said that the government should have taken the cries of activists such as himself who have been trying to highlight the problems from early on to avoid the subsequent bloodshed during the year-long protests.

    Hundreds of protesters were killed by security forces during the protests which continued raging long after Yonatan was locked.

    However, during subsequent hearings, prosecutors have presented as evidence the defendant’s Facebook status updates during the initial months of the #OromoProtests, which eventually rocked the country leading up to the declaration of the current state of emergency. The court found Yonatan guilty and had asked him to defend himself against the charges.

    The terrorism charges against Yonatan also allege that he was posting inciting messages on his Facebook, encouraging protesters to loot and destruct properties and calling for a regime change through violence. Prosecutor’s also accuse Yonatan that his Facebook posts about the controversial Addis Abeba Master Plan were in line with the objectives of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), a party banned as a terrorist organization by the ruling EPRDF’s controlled parliament.
    Journalist Eskindir Nega and the rest of the defense witnesses, including family members of Yonatan, are expected to give their testimonials during the next hearing, adjourned until January 26.

    Source : kalitipress

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  • Ethioዜና | High Court sentences 20 people in prison for trying to establish Islamic state - FBC

    Addis Ababa, January 3, 2017 (FBC) – The Federal High Court 19th Criminal Bench has sentenced 20 people for up to five years and six months in prison for trying to establish Islamic state.

    The Bench passed guilty verdicts on December 26, 2016 on the 20 people, including first, second and third defendants, Kedir Mohammed, Nezif Temam and Fuad Abdilkadir, respectively.

    According to the charge sheets, the accused participated in criminal activities, agreed to conduct criminal strike as well as tried to establish Islamic state.

    They also attempted to free jailed members of the 'Dimtsachin Yisema' (let our voices be heard) movement by creating pressure on the government.

    Moreover, the defendants tried to incite violence by circulating leaflets inside mosques in Addis Ababa and various parts of the country, including in Jima and Wolkite towns.

    Accordingly, all the defendants were sentenced to five years and six months in prison, except the 13th defendants.

    The 13th defendant was sentenced to 4 years and five months in prison due to health related problem.

     

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  • Ethioዜና | Ethiopian runners sweep top three at Xiamen International Marathon

    Ethiopian runners swept top three in both men's and women's competition at the 2017 Xiamen International Marathon on Monday.

    Lemi Berhanu claimed the men's title in 2 hours 8 minutes and 27 seconds, and his compatriot Meseret Mengistu became the women's champion in 2:25:58.

    About 30,000 runners from 31 countries and regions took part in the first IAAF Gold Label Road Race of the New Year, including some 24,885 men and 5,115 women.

    The organizing committee invited 27 high level athletes from Kenya, Ethiopia, Ukraine, Belarus, Eritrea and Algeria to compete in the 15th anniversary of the event.

    Lemi Berhanu, the winner of the 2016 Boston Marathon with 2:12:45, took the lead from the start with his countrymen and beat all the other runners to take the gold, but he didn't break the course record and the Chinese all-comers' record of 2:06:19 set by Kenya's Moses Mosop in 2015.

    Lemi got prize money of 40,000 US dollars.

    Mosinet Geremew crossed the line in 2:10:20 to be the runner-up, while Shura Kitata took the third place in 2:10:36.

    In the women's race, the Ethiopians also proved to be the dominant force with a comfortable top three finish.

    2015 Paris Marathon winner Meseret Mengistu completed in 2:25:58 to dent Worknesh Edesa's hope of retaining the title of the race.

     

    Worknesh set her PB of 2:24:04 in last year's edition but clocked 2:26:27 to be the runner-up this time, while Tola Melkam took the third in 2:26:47.

    Source: Xinhua

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  • Ethiopia: Ruling party holds emergency meeting as officials, businessmen arrested for alleged corruption - ESAT

    The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) called an emergency meeting on Friday as over one hundred government officials and businessmen have reportedly been arrested for an alleged corruption.

    Information reaching ESAT indicate the government had also freeze the assets of the alleged corrupt officials and businessmen. The report by media affiliated with the ruling party did not provide names of the officials and businessmen arrested on Friday.

    Members of the executive committee of the EPRDF have reportedly converged in Addis Ababa for the extraordinary meeting that came amid  infighting by the members as to the future of the party that is awashed with favoritism and corruption at the highest level.

    Earlier in the week, chairman and founder of TPLF, Sebehat Nega, who holds no official position at the moment, warned that the country will fall apart if EPRDF fails to bring corrupt officials to justice. In an exclusive interview with the state run Addis Zemen newspaper, Sebehat Nega admitted that the EPRDF has never faced a crisis of this magnitude.

    The organ of TPLF, Radio Fana, quoting police said 130 of the 260 suspects have been arrested and the assets of 13 suspects have been frozen.

    The emergency meeting by the ruling coalition is expected to divulge the identities of the arrested individuals.

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  • Why Deny Ethiopian National Identity? ~ Dr. Tedla Woldeyohannes,

    The question whether there is a shared Ethiopian national identity or Ethiopiawinnet has recently become a hot issue. The main purpose of this article is to examine some of the reasons that appear to lead to a denial of a shared Ethiopian national identity or something close to a denial but not quite a categorical denial of a shared Ethiopian national identity.  From the very outset, it is important to understand this: A careful understanding of the reasons that lead to denial of Ethiopian national identity or closely related views will pave a way for a clear understanding of Ethiopian national identity, what it consists in or how it is manifested.

    A caveat: Achieving the goal of this article need not be predicated on the fact that there is a settled view or that there is a consensus on what we mean by a shared Ethiopian national identity. One key reason why the success of my discussion need not depend on the fact that there is a settled view or a consensus regarding what Ethiopian national identity is because the very fact that some deny it presupposes that there is a view, whatever it is, that is being denied. What is being denied must be referred to one way or another for the denial to make sense. Since it is plausible to assume that those who deny Ethiopiawinet, in whatever way they deny it, must deny what they take to be Ethiopiawinet, at least there is a notion of Ethiopiawinet that is being denied or disputed. It is incumbent upon the deniers of a shared Ethiopian national identity to say exactly what they are denying. Likewise, it is incumbent upon the proponents of a shared Ethiopian national identity to say what it consists in or how it is manifested. Note that I am not proposing a positive project in this article. I am only evaluating the reasoning that leads to a denial of Ethiopiawinet.

    The reasons for the denial

    Let us consider some of the reasons that appear to have led to a view that there is no shared Ethiopian national identity. Another caveat: In much of this piece, I will focus on   categorical denial of shared Ethiopian national identity rather than a qualified denial that goes as follows: Ethiopian national identity as an all-inclusive identity for all Ethiopians does not exist or has never existed. I will later show that a qualified denial collapses to a categorical denial. If that is the case, I will focus on denial of Ethiopian national identity; hence, the title of this piece.

    An argument from marginalization. I take this to be the major argument. This argument focuses on the marginalization of an ethnic group or groups in the following areas, among others:  languages, cultures, political power, and access to economic resources in the formation of modern Ethiopia, and in one form or another at the present day Ethiopia. Among prominent deniers of Ethiopian national identity a case in point is some Oromo elites.  It is uncontroversial to claim that in the formation of the modern Ethiopian state many ethnic groups were treated in manners that are unjust in various ways. Among other things, languages and cultures of most ethnic groups, especially the Oromos and people in the Southern part of Ethiopia did not have advantages comparable to that of the dominant Amhara-Tigrayan ruling class. The result of which is that a large part of the cultures and languages in Ethiopia have been Amharicized at the expense of developing other languages, mainly Afan Oromo which is spoken by the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia.  Granted.  [There are nuances that need not concern us for now]. Now what follows from this fact?  Obviously, denial of a shared Ethiopian national identity does not follow. Here are a few reasons why denial of Ethiopian national identity is not the most plausible conclusion from a premise that focuses on marginalization. Note that to say that denial of Ethiopian national identity does not follow or is not the most plausible response to the issue under consideration does not mean that what had happened in the formation of modern Ethiopia was right and without flaws. Not at all!

    First, adequately understanding and addressing the root causes for marginalization of cultures and languages, lack of access to political power and economic resources for various ethnic groups need not require rejection of a shared Ethiopian national identity. Formation of cultures and identities is a complex process that does not admit only a seamless, linear direction. The marginalized people in question did actually contribute to the overall cultural fabrics in Ethiopia though the extent of the contribution falls short of dominance. For example, the Oromo culture in its various manifestations has contributed to the overall Ethiopian culture. To think of “Ethiopian” or “Oromo” culture without one affecting the other is to think only in abstraction and unrealistic.  The fact that the contribution of the Oromo culture or language is not dominant like the Amhara-Tigrayan dominant cultures does not mean the Oromo and the people from the South never contributed anything culturally speaking to the overall cultures in Ethiopia. The shared Ethiopian identity can hardly be theorized in abstraction without the concrete interactions in cultures and languages in Ethiopia.

    Second, it is crucial to distinguish the role of a state and the role of fellow citizens when it comes to the issue of marginalization of various ethnic groups, their culture and identity. It is a matter of fact that the head of state of a country like ours can only come from one ethnic group or another or in the case of a person from a mixed ethnic heritage we can have such a head of state, too. It is also a matter of fact and human nature to tend to treat people from one’s ethnic group in preferential terms. It is not unexpected or surprising to see that when the head of state is from one ethnic group that there is a tendency for that head of state to treat people from his/her ethnic group in a favorable way. But this need not be taken to suggest that the majority of people who belong to the ethnic group of the head of state are beneficiaries of various things in various ways just because the government is mostly composed of people from their ethnic group. Now, in this connection, there is an important point that must be noted: Even if the majority of people who belong to the ethnic group of the head of state are not beneficiaries economically and politically there is another way in which they can experience a benefit, which is an experience of a sense of superiority—typically psychological, which can be manifested in social interactions.

    This experience of feeling superior to other ethnic groups can and does manifest itself in the use of derogatory terms to refer to people who do not belong to the ethnic group of the regime in power. No need to mention the derogatory terms with which various ethnic groups were called during the period of the Amhara-Tigrayan dominance in the Ethiopian state formation. As a matter of fact, using derogatory terms to belittle and degrade people from other ethnic groups is not limited to those who belong to the regime in power due to their association with the regime in power in virtue of their ethnic identity. Using derogatory terms for people from other groups, ethnic or religion, or other categories people use to distinguish themselves from others, is a universal human phenomenon. I call this innocent but unfortunate human experience. It is “innocent” because it is often a result of ignorance of the fact that there are no superior or inferior people, but people do hold a false belief about others. It is “unfortunate” because it is always with us and will always be with us, to one degree or another.

     Recognizing Derogatory Terms

    Now, let us further develop the role of derogatory terms in the debate regarding Ethiopian national identity. What is the role of the derogatory terms used by people from the dominant culture? It is hard to establish how many people had engaged in using derogatory terms in reference to ethnic groups such as the Oromos by the Amharas, etc. Should all Amharas ever existed be held accountable for the use of derogatory terms, say, in reference to the Oromos?  How do we go about determining an answer to this question? Similarly, what should people from the South, say, from Wolaytta, do about the fact that they were also called in derogatory terms during the time of the Amhara-Tigrayan dominance in Ethiopian history? I know the experience firsthand. What should someone like me do to this experience? I see no reason that leads to the denial of Ethiopian national identity as a reasonable response to such experiences. There is no reason to believe that the state had forced, by law, individual citizens to refer to people from other ethnic groups in degrading ways. After all, we all know that referring to people from other groups in derogatory terms is not limited to those who belong to an ethnic group of a dominant culture or the ruling class at one point or another. Having said this, I am not, by any means, condoning any use of degrading and belittling   terms by any group whatsoever. How we handle such human experiences makes a huge difference going forward.

    Properly Handling Derogatory Terms

    Those of us who have had opportunities to study and reflect on the human nature and the human condition find no basis in reality that justifies referring to fellow human beings in derogatory terms. We all know that we are all humans and all human beings deserve to be treated with dignity, period. Furthermore, we all know that identity formation allows mixing myths with truth in such a way that encourages a tendency for people to falsely believe their ethnic group or any group they belong to is better than others. Since we  know this and we know that this is wrong, the right response to the use of derogatory terms is to educate  people that we are after all humans and there is no better human or superior human since we all belong to the same family—the human family. I think the right response to those who called us names is not to respond in kind. Remember that no ethnic group is blameless when it comes to referring to others in derogatory terms. Hence, there is no moral ground that justifies responding in derogatory terms to those who call us in derogatory terms. There is no moral progress in doing so. It is rather a regress. Repeating the past mistakes and expecting a better future is paradoxical and futile.

    Those victims of derogatory terms who understand and know why people engage in such degrading human actions can rightly have a pity on those who called them names and can forgive them because those who truly believe that we all deserve to be treated with dignity would not engage in such belittling actions. It is better to forgive them than to respond in kind since to respond in kind is to repeat the same mistake. However, this does not mean that those who belittled their fellow human beings would have nothing to do about their actions. The right thing for them to do is to apologize to the victims of their dehumanizing actions when that is feasible and possible. Now the real question is how we, as a society, can engage in apologizing to our actions and forgiving those who wronged us. It is easier suggesting the above as a general solution to our societal ills in the midst of examining the question why one would deny Ethiopian national identity, but the practical way to handle the suggestion is complicated. From what I argued above, one thing seems to be clear: Denial of Ethiopiawinet is not the most reasonable response to such experiences from our shared yet flawed history.

    Furthermore, consider this scenario: Take the Oromo people and the Amhara people. Now to the questions: Are the whole living Amhara and Tigrayan people expected to apologize to the Oromos and other ethnic groups for the practice of using derogatory terms for generations? Is it the case that we have evidence that all Amhara and Tigrayan people have engaged in such degrading actions against all other ethnic groups because the Amhara and Tigrayans belonged to the dominant culture? Or, is it the case that the Amharas and Tigarayans in power have made it an official policy of the state to degrade people who are not members of the dominant culture? Do we have in our history something like the experiences of African-Americans who were denied, for example, to vote, to intermarry with the whites, to live in the same neighborhoods with the whites or to go to the same school with the whites? Also, as I suggested above, no ethnic group is completely free from using terms to belittle others even when the others belittled are not part of the dominant culture or they are not part of the ruling class. What should we do about all these? Did the Oromos actually never commit anything that violated the rights and dignity of members of any other ethnic groups or even fellow Oromos in the long history of state formation or scrambling over scarce economic resources? Are all Oromos innocent of any wrongdoing? All of us know that typical state formations and scrambling over scarce economic resources lead to conflicts and animosity among any people groups.  When we talk about state formation, we are not talking about a “democratic Ethiopia” a hundred years ago while we’re acutely aware of the fact that there is no democratic Ethiopia even at this very moment in our history. The examples about the Amharas and Tigrayans and the Oromos are only meant to illustrate the issues under discussion. I am not suggesting that these are the only ethnic groups who carry scars from the time of state formation over the centuries. The moral of the preceding questions is this: Our view about our past must be realistic and it must be based on an adequate understanding of state formation that had very little or no room to discourage human rights violations.  One thing is clear: The way we understand our past and how we handle it makes a significant difference to the future we want to have and shape. Furthermore, to understand our past does not imply that we should accept everything from our past uncritically or we should believe that our past is without flaws. Neither view is correct.

    The State vs the Citizens

    Going forward, in my view, an open and honest national conversation on this topic is absolutely important. A government can facilitate such a national conversation. [Note: I did not say “the government”—the regime in power.] However, to be realistic, a government can hardly control what people believe about others in such a way that ethnic stereotypes and false beliefs about others will somehow go away. That is an impossible task for any government. The role of the state or a government and citizens must be clear and distinguished. The government in the case of Ethiopia can and does impose some policies and institutions with an intention to benefit some people who belong to the ethnic group of the regime in power as it is the case for the current regime in power. In my view, the present Ethiopian government is the WORST example of the past governments in our history. Consequently, the regime in power itself and its predecessors are part of the inherited problems we, as a society, need to deal with. In this connection, to fight the regime in power for its unjust policies and institutions must be distinguished from addressing issues of grievances with fellow citizens. There is no readily available formal platform for citizens to address historical grievances which I am aware of. To facilitate inter-ethnic reconciliations we need to create platforms where citizens can address social ills they caused to one another in a realistic manner, when that is possible.  I am just making a suggestion in general terms. It is for all of us concerned citizens to work out on a sketch and details of how we can go about seeking and achieving reconciliation and peace among fellow citizens.

    Finally, in my view, the Ethiopian government is the greatest obstacle for any progress we want to make as a people. If we have a government that listens to the grievances of its citizens and responds to the cries of its citizens, Ethiopia as a country can be a place where the citizens from any ethnic group can live together in peace and with dignity. A response to all the injustices and crimes committed against the Oromos, the Amharas, and other ethnic groups in Ethiopia, in my view, need not lead to denial of Ethiopian national identity. What must be denied is the legitimacy of the brutal regime in power which never had legitimacy to govern Ethiopia in the first place. There is no compelling reason why a democratically elected government in Ethiopia cannot meet the just demands of the Oromo people, or the Amharas, and other oppressed people in Ethiopia.  The fight, going forward, should be against the regime that brutalizes citizens from any ethnic group whom the government believes are threats to its grip to power.

    To make a case for an all-inclusive Ethiopian national identity on the premise that Ethiopian national identity has never been all-inclusive for citizens from all ethnic groups comes down to this:  The reason that some ethnic groups, more than others, have been subjected to unjust treatments, that they have been deprived of their rights politically and economically including the marginalization of their languages and cultures is due to the governments that have ruled Ethiopia over generations. Hence, a realistic response to such injustices and oppression is fighting the regime in power to bring about a much needed change for all the oppressed people in Ethiopia. Rejecting Ethiopiawinet as oppressive or exclusive and unjust to some ethnic groups need not be the name of the struggle since there is no Ethiopiawinet, or institutionalized Ethiopian national identity that commits acts of injustice and oppression against some ethnic groups or others. The real oppressor, which is the enemy of all oppressed Ethiopians, is the Ethiopian government, which is not synonymous with Ethiopiawinet or Ethiopian national identity. Ethiopiawinet need not be identified with the Ethiopian government because the two are not identical. For example, Ethiopiawinet will not go away when the regime in power goes away.  Denying legitimacy to the brutal regime in power, which is what the people of Ethiopia need, must be distinguished from denying Ethiopian national identity [categorical or qualified] since there is no compelling reason to deny the latter when there are compelling reasons to deny the legitimacy of the former. It is very important to have a clear understanding of what Ethiopian national identity is, but we do not need to settle this debate in order to fight the number one enemy of the Ethiopian people about which we do have a clear understanding. Seeking an answer to the question regarding what Ethiopiawinet consists in need not distract us from fighting the enemy of the people of Ethiopia with urgency and resolve as one people.

    Tedla Woldeyohannes teaches philosophy at Southwestern Illinois College and can be reached at twoldeyo@slu.edu

     

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  • Memoirs of my detention at Awash 7: tales of indoctrination, of laughter and the unknown - Addis Standard

    BefeQadu Z. Hailu for Addis Standard

    Wakoma Tafa was planning to get married on Sunday, Oct.10, 2016. But just three days before his wedding he was arbitrarily detained around Alem Gena, 25k west of Addis Abeba, a city within the special zone of the Oromia Regional State.  On the day set for his wedding, Wakoma was taken to Awash 7 Federal Police Training Center, which is now serving as a temporarily ‘rehab center’ (Tehadiso Maekel) to discipline ‘suspected’ political protesters detained under Ethiopia’s sweeping State of Emergency.

    I met Wakoma when, after being detained in Addis Abeba, I was transferred to Awash 7 along with 242 other ‘suspects’ from Addis Abeba. Together, we were a total of 1180 people.

    From day one to the last of 33 days of stay I had in Awash 7, Wakoma was suffering nosebleeds on a daily basis. I asked him what happened to him and he told me he was beaten by an officer in Awash 7 during an interrogation. Nurses of the Center’s clinic visited him every day but couldn’t stop his nosebleeds.

    Tragically, Wakoma was not the only one beaten. Most of the 933 ‘suspects’ who were kept in Awash 7 for 40 days before our arrival have sustained varying degrees of rights violations.  The day we arrived at the Center we saw many youngsters wearing worn-out, dirty shirts, walking barefoot in a row of two. A fellow detainee likened the image “like we are watching the movie series ‘Roots’“.

    Then, our turn came to be paraded to the toilets dug in the backyard of the Center’s compound. We had already removed our sandals, as instructed. The rocky gravel path was hard to walk on barefoot but the yelling of the officers who dangle their sticks to beat us from behind was enough to endure running on it. We were told to hold hand in hand and walk in a row of two. When we reached the toilet pits, we were told to sit side by side and do our business. None of us were willing to do it the first day. (Later on, we have accepted that it was the new normal we had to get used to.)

    We were then taken to a hall and given a half cup of tea and two loaves of bread. I saw the youngsters who were there before us enjoying the additional loaf of bread they got –before our arrival they used to have only one during breakfasts.  We sat on the floor and ate. We were then taken to a field; the temperature was too hot to be without a roof or a tree shadow, but it didn’t mean anything to the officers who gave us our first day orientations. We were placed in rows as they repeatedly make records of our profiles and mixed us with the previous detainees. Here we were given different group names such as Hiddase Hayil, Selam Hayil, and Ghibe Hayil, among others.

    When we came back to the compound we were distributed into 10 different rooms each containing more than 100 detainees. Each room has 16 double-deck beds enough only for 32 people; the rest of us have to share the mattresses on the floor. The rooms have ventilators but not enough to cool the temperature. And despite the soaring heat, we were told that we cannot sit on the verandas. On top, there was not enough water even to drink. I asked a guy next to me if we have a chance to wash our feet. He told me we will not, and said in more than 40 days, he only had two chances to wash his feet. (Later on, after we have complained too much, we were allowed to take shower on Sundays. But by the time I left after 33 long days, I too had only two chances to wash.)

    Later on we went for lunch and were given two loaves of bread with shiro wot, (the traditional chickpea powder stew), and went back to our rooms. We were then paraded again to the same toilet pits (being taken twice was a change; for 40 days the previous arrivals were only allowed to do that once in the morning.) In the evening, we were given two loaves of bread with kik wot (ground chickpea stew). This remained our daily routine throughout our stay at the Center, except for when we would sit for training in between meals on weekdays and on Saturdays.

    The next day, a team sent by the Command Post, a special unit formed to implement the State of Emergency and is led by Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, arrived from Addis Abeba to begin our training.  They gathered us and informed us that we were going to start the training immediately. They also promised us we would be allowed to wear our shoes. But unfortunately, nearly half of the 933 detainees who were there before us had no shoes when they were brought to the Center 40 days before our arrival.

    Nevertheless, we began the training late that day and a few days later, the Center distributed sandals, T-shirts and shorts that were confiscated by Customs officials from contrabandists at several checkpoints. We heard that there might be a TV crew from the national TV.

    A team to monitor reports of human rights violations came the next week and spoke with a few selected individuals. Notable opposition party members such as Abebe Akalu, Eyasped Tesfaye, and Blen Mesfin were among the selected individuals. They reported in detail the rights violations we were subjected to and the team promised to further investigate; but later on we learned that the EBC, the state-broadcaster, reported about the human right monitors’ visits but only about claims of logistic problems, leaving entirely our complaints of rights violation.

    befeqadu-certificate

    Befeqadu’s certificate of graduation

    In came the training

    The training has contained six different modules. Each page of the module is water marked with the phrase ‘Don’t Copy’. They were neither emailed nor faxed but physically brought by the different trainers on the same day when the training was scheduled to take place.  We had, for example, lost a day of training in between because the teams delivering the third module were delayed.

    The modules were prepared in Afaan Oromo and in Amharic. But nearly 900 of us took the Afaan Oromo classes while the rest of us attended the Amharic classes. The training took 28 days including 6 days of evaluation at the end of each course.

    ‘Never Again (‘ayidegemim)’ 

    This was the title of the first module. Its content has details about Ethiopia’s double digit economic growth over the last 13 consecutive years and says it is an economic progress that doesn’t deserve to be challenged with a violent protest. Although it also talks about the government’s failure to deliver good governance, it goes on to sat that there were constitutional ways of demanding the government to correct its problems than taking to the streets.

    ‘Color Revolution (yeqelem abiyot)’ –

    The second module blames Ethiopia’s external enemies, the neo-liberal countries and countries such as Egypt and Eritrea that are using domestic weaknesses to disintegrate Ethiopia and benefit from it. It looks back at the incidents when it claims the concept of conducting ‘color revolutions’ were attempted in Ethiopia and mentions as an example the student protests of the Addis Abeba University (AAU) in 2000, the post-election 2005 protests, pre-election 2010, the time the followed the death of the late Meles Zenawi in 2012, pre-election 2014, and also during the recent protests in Oromia and Amhara. It also talks about the failed attempts of western forces’ alleged use of local agents, such as the Zone9 Bloggers Collective, to which I am a member, to ignite a ‘color revolution’ in Ethiopia. ’

    ‘Some points on Ethiopian History (yeItiyopia tarik andand gudayoch)’ –

    This one goes to narrate the political history of Ethiopia starting from ancient times, (it escaped what happened during the medieval times and resumes from Emperor Hailesilase’s era through the present). It depicts the failure of previous regimes to respect the nation’s ethnic, religious and cultural diversity and claims the incumbent has answered all by way of the current constitution. ‘

    ‘Constitutional Democracy (higemengistawi democracy)’ –

    This module tells the story of constitutionalism including that of the Magna Carta and goes on to discuss how Ethiopia’s constitutions had evolved through time. It criticizes the non-participating nature of the previous constitutions during Emperor Hailesilase I and the Derg times. It praises, in comparison, the great participation by the public and the democratic relevance it had during the adoption of the current constitution.

    ‘The future is for Ethiopian Renaissance (mechiw gize ye’itiyopia tinsae naw)’

    Ethiopia’s enemy number one is poverty, this module says, and goes on to discuss that the domestic discontent created by poverty is exploited by foreign elements to weaken Ethiopia as a proud state. Accordingly, it emphasizes the importance of focusing on economic development, such as building grand infrastructures and attracting foreign investments, to avoid dependency on aid providers of the neoliberal world.

    ‘The Role of the Youth on Nation Building (ye wetatu mina be ager ginbata lay)’

    The youth is a force that can easily be emotionally driven by misinformation, substance addiction and so on, says this module. It is an advise designed to highlight the importance of proving any information before reacting to it; it also notes that the youth should use its potential to create jobs to change the fate of her/his country than seeking employment or taking a short cut, such as by migrating to other countries.

    My trained-self‘s take

    The modules are biased; they are prepared to present the political narrative of the ruling coalition, EPRDF, as the best alternative we could ever get. On the third module, for instance, it compares liberal democracy with revolutionary democracy, the age-old vague ideology of the ruling party, and concludes that revolutionary democracy is the best Ethiopia can get; it mixes the party’s ideology with the constitution, too.  Funnily, it also misses a lot of simple facts such as the exact age of the late PM Meles Zenawi, (in an attempt to place him in a similar age range of 15 -35, the working average of Ethiopia’s youth, it claims the late PM was 31 when he came to power in 1991.) Other public records say he was actually 36.

    Sadly, to many of the trainees tortured in the Center itself, the last module praises the regime for creating a better generation, but blames the same generation for failing to understand the differences in human rights violations between previous regimes and the current one.

    The discussions

    The trainers (they are Federal Police officers) were the ones who read and explained to us the first two modules. They told us every question and comment we had will be faxed to the Command Post every day. They also wrote our names with our comments. These restricted the active participation of ‘trainees’ due to fear of persecution. I believe it is why, later on, they let us read the modules by ourselves and discuss about the contents while writing our questions and comments. They also stopped writing the names of ‘trainees’ who give comments. Subsequently, for the last four modules we were simply given questions about the next module’s content, we then write our answers in groups containing 20 to 30 people, and read our answers to the general gathering. We will then continue reading and discussing the module in our respective groups before men from the Command Post came to answer our questions and comments for the general gathering.

    We had had three general gathering groups: one Amharic group and two Afaan Oromo groups. As there were many individuals who have different and rich experiences, this way of discussion helped many trainees to exchange constructive ideas and understand the complex political situation of the country from one another.

    The trainers and representatives from the Command Post made the closing speeches at the end of the reading and discussion of each module. They gave us their version of answers to the non-stop questions by many of us on why we were there in the first place. Their answers can be generalized in to two: one group says we were there because officials have information that we have taken part in protests but didn’t have the evidence to take us to court; and the other group says officials were certain that we have taken part in the protests but did so due to misinformation. The latter explains why representatives of the Command Post (Hayil Medrek Merrys) have repeatedly condemned foreign-based Ethiopian media, such as ESAT and OMN, as well as social media sites such as Facebook. When we challenge, ask questions or give comments to their assertions, the representatives quickly blame these media for having misinformed us instead of giving us proper answers.

    But these representatives from the Command Post were contradictory to one another. One of them whom we know by his first name, Addisu, for example, was very articulate. He was the one who gave the final remarks at the end of the first two modules. He carefully avoided responding to controversial questions and even apologized for the wrongful mention of the Zone9 Blogging Collective as a ‘western agent’ after the group was acquitted by a court of law.

    But on the other hand was another member of the command post named Colonel Mulugeta. He was too foul-mouthed while trying to answer to our concerns that two trainees have tried to commit suicide.  The next day other members had to apologize for his rude remarks. He even said court acquittals can be reversed by executives and gave us as an example the court case for former defense minister, Siye Abraha. Unsurprisingly, at the end of the training, he was the most disliked member of the command post.

    The third and the last member of the command post, Commander Abebe, gave closing remarks to each of the last three modules. He is a very polite person but unflinchingly loyal to the ruling EPRDF than the loyalty he was supposed to display to – the constitution. He took questions, listened to comments and gave answers similar to what senior cadres of the ruling EPRDF give all the time, but politely. He flatly denies the presence of human rights violation in Ethiopia, even though most trainees spoke of their experience of rights violations there at the center.

    Things that kept us going

    Jokes made by some fellow detainees made all of us laugh and forget our conditions. Political humors told by men like Habtamu Gebre and Zerihun were unforgettable. One ordinary day Habtamu told us a joke in front of Commander Abebe: “A man on a street shouts out saying ‘let EPRDF reign for a thousand years, let it reign for a thousand years’” Habtamu said, “Then a federal police officer stopped him and beat him hard. The man, as scared as he was, asked what his fault was and the policeman replied ‘who will replace EPRDF after a thousand years?’” ”

    Zerihun even came up with fresh jokes animating the way our trainers behaved and the way we were treated. At first we were served with ‘kik wot‘ for dinner and when they later on stopped serving us with it, Zerihun joked “kik wot is released from the center.”

    A sour reminder about most detainees who came from Addis Abeba, however, is the fact that a considerable number of them have complained to the officials saying they were there as victims of personal revenge. Some have said their names were tipped to arresting officers by someone with whom they have had previous disagreements. Similarly, most detainees from the Oromia regional state maintained they have fallen victims for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    But all of us were there and had no option but to take the Tehadiso (rehabilitation) course to see the day that we were promised to be released. So we resorted to spending those trying times comforting each other, exchanging tips on how to survive the water scarcity, the horrible taste of the food served, the propaganda indoctrination and the daunting insecurity ahead of us.

    And we were happy for the smallest gesture done to improve our situation. One of the members of the command post, Commander Abebe, for example, has done some improvements in the way we were treated (we began getting a full cup of tea during breakfast after his visit) and we showed him our relative respect. He also arranged for us to sit on benches during meal times and watch night shows on a screen.

    We were made to watch four documentaries: two about the recent destruction by protesters of foreign owned investments in Ethiopia and two about the ruthless crimes of the previous regime, the Derg. For reasons many of us didn’t understand, one of the documentaries was about the infamous market day bombing by the Derg’s military of the city of Hawzen in Tigray. The last one was about the bravery of members of the TPLF army in either destroying the Derg or recovering Hawzen from its past wounds. The rest of the days, we would just be taken out during the evenings and be showed songs up until 8:00 PM and the nighttime news bulletin from the national broadcaster, EBC.

    One of the musics they have regularly sowed us on the screen was the Afaan Oromo song, ‘Madda Seenaa’ by artist Teferi Mekonen. Ironically, Teferi Mekonen was detained there with us. On our “graduation” day, he was invited to sing on the stage. He pleased us all by singing the politically charged song, ‘Maalan Jira’, by the prominent Oromo artist Haacaaluu Hundeessaa.

    Sadly, though, Teferi Mekonen is re-arrested. I was shocked to see him in a prison here in Addis Abeba when I went to visit my friends, journalists Annania Sori and Elias Gebru, whom I only came to know about their arrest the day I was released. What a vicious cycle!

    Of the ‘trainees, 17 were women and one of them is pregnant. There were also about 15 underage boys. Old or young, women or men, minor or adult, we were all in it together and we all survived.

    The very last days

    After it was known that we were on the last module, everybody was excited and began to relax. Even the usually shrewd guards of the Center left us relatively free to move around the compound. Smiles were flickering on previously gloomy faces; hairs were growing on shaved heads. Beautiful we became. A day before we left the center, we were told that we will be wearing a white T-shirt on which the words ‘ayidegemim/Irra hin deebi’amu’ (never again) were printed in both Amharic and Afaan Oromo. None of us hesitated to wear it; it is fresh and clean and our souls were desperately looking beyond the center and into getting back to our homes; we were exhausted and we were looking forward to resume our lives that we have left behind.

     

    The next morning was December 22, our so-called graduation day and the day we left Awash 7 behind. But I only believed it when I arrived in Piassa and re-joined my family and my friends. In the back of my head, I was also hoping the 28 years old Wakoma would be enjoying the company of his love. May be re-organize his wedding party again?

    Read more »
  • Business: Internet shutdowns take their toll on economy - African Business

    Since the government declared a six-month state of emergency at the beginning of October in response to escalating violence from protests seething since November 2015, internet restrictions and blocking of applications have increased in frequency. Beyond simple inconvenience, there is a mounting financial cost.

    Internet shutdowns in Ethiopia between mid-2015 and mid-2016 lost its economy about $9m, according to a recent study by the US-based Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution, part of a total cost for 19 countries (including seven African countries) of $2.4bn.

    “Internet disruption slows growth, costs governments tax revenue, weakens innovation, and undermines consumer and business confidence in a country’s economy,” says Darrell West, vice president and director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution. “As internet-powered businesses and transactions grow to represent an increasingly significant portion of global economic activity, the damage from connectivity disruptions will become more severe.”

    Modern economies undoubtedly rely on the internet – a dependency that is only increasing. A 2015 Internet Association report found that the web generates around $966bn in the US (6% of the entire economy). Meanwhile, the app economy is estimated to be responsible for hundreds of thousands of US jobs. At the same time, digital technology is a vital part of economic development. A 2012 World Bank analysis found a 10% increase in fixed broadband generated a 1.35% increase in per capital GDP for developing countries.

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  • Department of State Actions in Response to Russian Harassment

    Press Statement

    Mark C. Toner
    Deputy Department Spokesperson
    Washington, DC
    December 29, 2016

     


    The State Department today declared persona non grata 35 Russian officials operating in the United States who were acting in a manner inconsistent with their diplomatic or consular status. The Department also informed the Russian Government that it would deny Russian personnel access to two recreational compounds in the United States owned by the Russian Government.

    The Department took these actions as part of a comprehensive response to Russia’s interference in the U.S. election and to a pattern of harassment of our diplomats overseas that has increased over the last four years, including a significant increase in the last 12 months. This harassment has involved arbitrary police stops, physical assault, and the broadcast on State TV of personal details about our personnel that put them at risk. In addition, the Russian Government has impeded our diplomatic operations by, among other actions: forcing the closure of 28 American corners which hosted cultural programs and English-language teaching; blocking our efforts to begin the construction of a new, safer facility for our Consulate General in St. Petersburg; and rejecting requests to improve perimeter security at the current, outdated facility in St. Petersburg.

    Today’s actions send a clear message that such behavior is unacceptable and will have consequences.

     

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  • Thirty five Russian Diplomats expelled from United States

    As president Barack Obama is wrapping up his term in office, United States is expelling thirty five Russian Diplomats from the country.

    The Diplomats will have seventy two hours before they leave the United States.

    President Obama is said to have described expelled Russian diplomats as “intelligence operatives.” His administration implicated them in involvement during US election by way of cyber operation. The action is “in response to the Russian government’s aggressive harassment of US officials and cyber operations aimed at the US election,” RTquoted Obama.

    A report by CNN seem to suggest that Obama’s action is a retaliation against Russia for “significant Malicious Cyber-Enabled Activities.”

    Apparently, Obama’s action is informed by intelligence consensus regarding alleged Russian involvement in US election. The White House condemned what it calls Russian involvement as “unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”

    To say that Russian cyber activities influenced US election, including the outcome, certainly implies that there is a conviction that the election was somewhat defective,at least, which in turn amounts to saying that Donald Trump didn’t win though legitimate means.

    A section of statement from The White House cited by CNN reads “Russia’s cyberactivities were intended to influence the election, erode faith in US democratic institutions, sow doubt about the integrity of our electoral process, and undermine confidence in the institutions of the US government…”

    Russian Staff will no longer have access to Russian Federation premises in New York and Maryland, indicated reports from CNN and RT.

    So far no official response from the Kremlin regarding the expulsion of Russian Diplomats. When the US imposed economic sanctions against Russia, Russia reciprocated United States’ action by imposing economic sanction on the United States.

    Without disclosing details, Russian president stated that Russia will respond adequately for what the US called “sanctions” ; the expulsion of Russian diplomats.

    Read more »
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