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  • New drought risks in Ethiopia may jeopardize recovery efforts -FAO

    The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has warned that new drought across parts of southern Ethiopia may put recovery efforts at risk, unless urgent efforts are made to shore up vulnerable households in rural areas.

    In a statement released on Tuesday, pastoral communities in these regions could suffer consequences of last year’s El Niño climate phenomenon, already witnessing forage shortfalls and water scarcity.

    Safeguarding recent gains requires responding to the livelihood-sustaining needs of fragile households that lost or sold livestock and other assets, to cope with the worst El Niño in modern history.

    The organization is now calling for an immediate response to support the food security and nutrition of households relying on animals, along with the provision of supplementary animal feed, especially along migratory routes.

    Targeted de-stocking interventions will be implemented to make protein-rich meat available for vulnerable pastoral communities.

    80 percent of the Ethiopian population depend on agriculture and livestock for their livelihoods and an even higher share of the country’s arable land relies on seasonal rainfall.

     

     

     

    Source : africanews

     

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  • As political repression intensifies, peace and stability become more elusive in Ethiopia -

    The year 2016 was one of the most climactic in recent history of Ethiopia. After two decades of political repression and economic exclusion, millions of citizens across the four corners of the country decided to engage in a peaceful rebellion demanding fundamental change in the country. Tragically, but not unexpectedly, the TPLF/EPRDF-led regime decided to use brute force against peaceful demonstrators, killing hundreds and throwing into jail tens of thousands who still languish in identified and unidentified prisons scattered across the country.

    The suffocating political environment, exacerbated by economic marginalization and exclusion, has created a social atmosphere of hopelessness and desperation for the majority of citizens.
    The recent grenade attack and explosions in the northern cities of Bahr Dar and Gonder demonstrate that the people of Ethiopia are being pushed to the limit by the regime supposed to serve and protect them. The relentless brutally deadly measures being taken by forces loyal to the regime has created a situation where people are resorting to self-defense and resistance, at times taking desperate measures as seen recently in the two northern cities.

    In the context of the brutal political, economic and social atmosphere, it is understandable that some groups might resort to such acts out of desperation. Ultimately, however, the people of Ethiopia and all concerned parties must hold the regime responsible for its institutional violence that continues to brutalize and alienate citizens, driving them to engage in desperate acts.
    Conflicts, as the world has been witnessing in various countries, have their own dynamics, at times going in unfathomable and tragically abysmal directions. They start small, sporadic and scattered, subsequently they grow and intensify, costing lives and enormous destruction. The main catalyst for an unfortunate yet avoidable catastrophe is repression, oppression, and exclusion which leaves citizens with no choice but defend themselves and their families from neo-totalitarian minority regime brutality. This is what we are seeing in Syria and what we have observed across the Middle East and North Africa in recent years.

    The reality is that durable peace cannot be maintained through a state of emergency and other forms of repressive measures. The only way towards sustainable and just peace is democracy, the supremacy of the rule of law and freedom for all citizens. Anything short of these fundamental changes and democratic dispensations could only be described as “pressure cooker” stability that is secured using brute force. History tells that the peace and stability that result from authoritarian rule are not only short lived but also dangerous.

    The regime has a well-established record, not only violating citizen’s fundamental rights, but disregarding the sanctity of human life. As such, it is plausible that these kinds of irresponsible attacks on civilian targets could be the works of the regime itself to sow suspicion and mistrust among and between various communities.

    All concerned parties, especially the international community, must take note of the progression of conflict and the deteriorating peace and security situation in Ethiopia under the veneer of a false sense of stability the leaders of the TPLF regime proclaim. In the absence of free and independent media, both national and international information on what is happening around the country and beneath the surface is hard to come by. However, citizen reporting and alternative media outlets are describing the deteriorating security situation in various parts of the country.

    The people of Ethiopia are at the edges. Ethiopia as a multi-ethnic, multi–religious nation is at crossroads. The Ethiopian people can no longer endure the institutional repression they have tolerated for the past 25 years. The time has come to usher in a peaceful transition. And the time is now. The alternative which the international community should be cognizant about is we will only see more violence and destruction born out of desperation and hopelessness under the current under the current brutal minority regime. The international community must learn lessons from ongoing conflicts elsewhere, witnessing the broad repercussions for the security, and stability of the Horn of Africa region.

    The Patriotic Ginbot 7 Movement for Unity and Democracy unambiguously opposes any attack on civilian targets. Our movement, while committed to transitioning Ethiopia to an inclusive democratic system of governance, takes all the necessary steps and precautions to protect the safety of the civilian population. Furthermore, we condemn in the strongest terms the government’s irresponsible action targeting civilians and demand it to immediately stop this heinous practice. We also demand all other concerned parties to take all precautionary measures that protects the safety of the civilian population

    It is imperative that the Western countries re-evaluate their relationship with the regime, and begin to build relationships with pro-democracy organizations and support their endeavors to move the country toward democracy, stability and just peace.

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  • A Muffled Insurrection in Ethiopia - STRATFOR

    Summary

    Ethiopia's government, led by Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, has contended with protests for nearly a year. The government's efforts to quell the unrest have made headlines and drawn international criticism of late, but its problems go well beyond humanitarian concerns. Since the mid-1970s, Ethiopia underwent several periods of upheaval that changed not just the leaders of the country but also the political system and institutions that govern it. Now, with ethnic discontent reaching a new high and the tendrils of insurgency starting to re-emerge, Desalegn's administration faces the greatest challenge to its rule yet. 

    Analysis

    The protests erupted over a land reform measure, but the roots of discontent go much deeper. Ethiopia's Tigray ethnic population makes up just 6 percent of the country's population, yet it enjoys disproportionate influence and representation in government institutions. When the Tigray-dominated government proposed to develop farmland predominantly used by the Oromo people, who make up 34 percent of the population, protests broke out across Oromo regions from November 2015 onward. 

    Eventually, the government decided against the planned reform, hoping that the protests would dissipate. Instead, protesters continued to turn out, driven by the imprisonment of demonstrators. Then, in recent weeks, the Amhara people — another large ethnic group, accounting for 29 percent of the population — joined in, and the focus of the protests shifted to demands for political equality and an end to the Tigray-dominated ruling coalition's reign. The protests have now surpassed any grievances about specific legislation, or any specific law enforcement action. Instead, there is a rising resistance to the Tigray's outsize power and enough pent-up discontent to challenge Ethiopia's current government.

    Together, the Oromo and Amhara are a more serious threat to Ethiopia's leadership than the Oromo on their own. Furthermore, the Amhara people are more concentrated in urban areas than the Oromo, which has led to protests in population centers. Facing mounting dissent from two of the country's largest ethnic groups, the government has attempted to suppress the unrest through force. During the weekend of Aug. 7, reports emerged that over 100 civilians had been killed in protests, which led to outcry over the Ethiopian security services' brutal methods to control the demonstrations. Because the Ethiopian government exercises strict control over media activity in the country and restricts internet access, reports of what exactly happened are slow to emerge. But information from local hospitals suggests that another 100 civilians have been killed since that weekend; at least 55 of these deaths have been confirmed. The rise of urban protests has also led to greater media coverage of the turmoil, despite the government's attempts to control information.

    A History of Upheaval

    Ethiopia is no stranger to political unrest. For many centuries the country was run by a monarchy, the Solomonic dynasty, whose rule ended with emperor Haile Selassie. In 1974, a military council brought the first regime change, installing a communist-inspired military council, the Dergue, to lead the country. Eventually, popular support for the new administration began to erode, leading to civil war. The Dergue's most prominent officer, Mengistu Haile Mariam, tried to reform the Dergue into the People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia in 1987, but just four years later, several ethnic rebel groups overthrew the government. The Tigrayan People's Liberation Front, led by Meles Zenawi, eventually gained control of Ethiopia and installed the element that rules to this day.

    The government in Addis Ababa has been challenged before. Unlike the ongoing protests, however, previous uprisings such as the Ogaden rebellion were isolated to smaller ethnic groups acting alone, and the government dealt with them decisively and successfully. By joining forces across ethnic lines to oppose the ruling powers, the Oromo and Amhara present a more formidable problem for Ethiopia's leadership. Additionally, under Desalegn's rule, the government has faced internal unrest and may not be as strong as it was during Zenawi's rule, which lasted until 2012. As the chairman of the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front — the dominant party in the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front coalition — Zenawi led the fight against the communist government that preceded it and installed the Tigray-dominated government in Addis Ababa. His parliament consisted of fellow rebel veterans who had all fought and won together in the war against the Dergue, while Desalegn's administration lacks the same unity and solidarity. The Oromo and Amhara protests will test whether the Tigrayan administration can endure without Zenawi.

    A Budding Insurrection

    At this point, the protests and limited rebel activity do not even approach the situation Ethiopia faced in the 1970s and 1980s, when the Dergue countered multiple severe rebellions. Nonetheless, given the size of the Amhara and Oromo populations in Ethiopia, the threat they present should not be taken lightly. As strong as they appear, the Tigray-dominated institutions in Ethiopia are not monolithic. And, because of their small number, the Tigray have had to co-opt members of smaller ethnicities (such as the Wolayta, from which Desalegn hails), and even the Amhara and Oromo, to serve in government and man the security forces. If opposition to the government increases along ethnic lines, the ruling elite or even Ethiopia's security forces could fracture.

    Since the bloody Aug. 7 weekend, protesters in some areas have turned to less violent forms of civil disobedience. For instance, in the Amhara city of Gondar — once the capital of an ancient Ethiopian empire — civilians have gone on a general strike, turning the city into a ghost town despite calls from the government to resume business as usual. Some reports even claim that local militia or rebel groups near Gondar have attacked convoys and bases belonging to the security forces. Though these incidents seem to be few and far between at this point, several latent insurgencies linger in Ethiopia, and growing ethnic dissent could rejuvenate and galvanize support for these simmering rebellions. In the past week, two rebel groups announced their alliance. If these groups increase their attacks, or if other groups join the movement opposing the government, the current administration could face a similar fate to the one it brought upon its predecessors.

    The Oromo and Amhara protest movements could change the course of Ethiopia's future, but it is not yet clear what the result of their uprising will be. A change of leadership could bring greater political freedoms, such as allowing outlawed opposition groups to take part in free and fair elections. On the other hand, it could also lead to prolonged conflict and instability. If the resistance against the government reaches critical levels, Desalegn could decide against an armed struggle and instead take political measures to liberalize or transfer power. Regardless of how this situation develops, Ethiopia's Tigray-dominated government may not be able to sustain its hold on power for much longer. And though the current protests may be Desalegn's first major challenge, they will likely not be his last. 

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  • An Olympic protest is the least of Ethiopia's worries - ChicagoTribune

    ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia - When Ethiopian marathoner Feyisa Lilesa neared the finish line in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday and crossed his hands above his head, it wasn't to celebrate the Olympic medal he was about to win. It was to protest his government's violent crackdown on ethnic Oromos, who have died by the hundreds at the hands of Ethiopian security forces in recent months.

    "The Ethiopian government is killing my people, so I stand with all protests anywhere, as Oromo is my tribe," Lilesa said later at a news conference. "My relatives are in prison, and if they talk about democratic rights they are killed."

    Lilesa's statement, which was applauded widely in activist circles online, was true: Ethiopian security services have, for months, been running roughshod over protesters. But the analysis was also incomplete. The Ethiopian government, an important U.S. ally, is far more fragile than the ongoing crackdowns suggest. Indeed, the crackdowns themselves are exposing ethnic fault lines in the ruling coalition that could ultimately bring it down.

    Since November 2015, Africa's second-most populous nation has been buffeted by an unprecedented wave of protests. They began as a rebuke of the government's plan to integrate the development of the capital, Addis Ababa, with parts of the surrounding Oromia region. But they have since spread to the neighboring Amhara region, highlighting a range of grievances, including ethnic marginalization and dictatorial rule.

    The government has responded with deadly force, killing as many as 500 demonstrators in the past 10 months, according to rights groups. But even before Lilesa's brave show of solidarity at the finish line the demonstrations appeared to be gathering steam. They also seem to be taking on a worrying ethnic tinge.

    Both trends were on display on Aug. 7, when the normally placid, palm-lined city of Bahir Dar in northern Ethiopia became the scene of unspeakable horror. A peaceful anti-government demonstration there turned violent after a security guard at a government building opened fire on the crowds, provoking an angry backlash from protesters, according to witnesses. Security forces then gunned down dozens of demonstrators, killing at least 30.

    "I'm just speechless to express it. It's horrible. The Agazi soldiers, they are just wild beasts. They killed our brothers, our sisters, without any mercy," said Tsedale Akale, a 28-year-old demonstrator, referring to members of an elite military commando unit that the government has regularly deployed to quash protests and restore order in recent months.

    A spokesman for the regional government in Bahir Dar, Nigusu Tilahun, said the response was justified. "When there is looting, when things go out of order, when people throw stones and try to take over the gun from the military and the police, then the police has to protect," he said.

    The Agazi unit, which activists hold responsible for the killings in Bahir Dar, is seen by many Ethiopians as a tool of the Tigrayan ethnic group (though it is in fact multiethnic). Tigrayans make up about 6 percent of the population, but they have played a prominent role in government, and especially the security services, since the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) led a rebel alliance that overthrew the communist-backed military regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991. (Oromos account for 34 percent of the population and Amharas account for 27 percent, but neither ethnic group is seen to rival the Tigrayans' influence in government.)

    For decades, members of the opposition and international donors have been urging the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a coalition of four regional parties founded by the TPLF, to make the system more democratic and ethnically inclusive. Instead, it has politicized state institutions, jailed opponents, shot protesters, forced critical journalists into exile, and passed repressive legislation that has muted civil society.

    The result has been overwhelming electoral dominance for the EPRDF - in last year's parliamentary elections, the coalition and its allies won every single seat - enabling it to use the state's muscle to strong-arm a traditionally agrarian society into becoming an industrialized nation. Its record has been impressive from a purely development perspective: It has built much-needed infrastructure and dramatically improved public services.

    Presiding over the coalition and government is Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, who assumed power when Meles Zenawi, the influential Tigrayan rebel-leader-turned-strongman, passed away in 2012. Hailemariam, who hails from a southern ethnic group, is seen as an able technocrat and a neutral political figure capable of balancing the nation's fragile ethnic politics.

    Yet the EPRDF has also sowed the seeds of the current unrest by suffocating the opposition and doing little to address perceived ethnic marginalization. In Oromia and Amhara, the two regions at the heart of current protests, anti-Tigrayan sentiment has festered for decades among those who believe the group controls the repressive government. Now it has burst into the open amid growing ethnic nationalism.

    One of the chief demands of the protesters in Bahir Dar, the capital of the Amhara region, is the return of an area of Amhara that was incorporated into Tigray in the 1995 constitution that divided the country into ethnically defined administrative units. The TPLF claims that residents of the Wolkait district, as the area is known, are almost all Tigrayan; some ethnic Amhara protesters say the ruling coalition manipulated the census that preceded the 1995 constitution. (Amhara groups dominated Ethiopia for centuries before 1991.)

    Before the Aug. 7 violence, the Amhara region saw a large peaceful demonstration in Gondar city on July 31 - a contrast with the increasingly violent unrest in Oromia. But earlier this month, angry crowds of demonstrators attacked Tigrayan-owned businesses and, in some cases, told ethnic Tigrayans to leave the region after checking their identity cards, according to two witnesses. There were also unconfirmed reports of targeted killings of Tigrayans and a mass evacuation of Tigrayans from the city.

    TPLF supporters have accused Amhara officials who are EPRDF members of supporting the protests, raising the prospect of a major schism within the ruling coalition. (The Amhara are currently represented within the EPRDF by the Amhara National Democratic Movement, but an escalation of violence could cause the coalition to come unglued.) The dispute over the Wolkait district is especially dangerous for the government, according Harry Verhoeven, who teaches African politics at the Qatar branch of Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, because it reinforces the view that Tigrayans have rigged the federal system. "When you have perception that northern part of Amhara is essentially annexed by Tigray it is quite explosive," he said.

    A similar dynamic is in play in the central Oromia region, which surrounds Addis Ababa, where as many as 86 demonstrators were killed by security forces the day before the Bahir Dar protests. At the root of the Oromos' grievances is the desire for greater autonomy after centuries of exploitation by northern rulers and feudal landowners. The region is represented within the ruling EPRDF by the Oromo People's Democratic Organization, a party that activists accuse of being little more than a corrupt clique of Oromo politicians who are subservient to the TPLF. They point to the thousands of Oromo farmers who have been evicted from their land in recent years to make room for developers with links to ruling elites.

    The stability of the EPRDF - and of the nation - will turn on the coalition's response to a protest movement that shows little sign of abating. Of increasing concern for the EPRDF is the fact that protesters in Amhara have displayed newfound solidarity with their Oromo compatriots, while the two major exiled political parties drawn from those communities have formed an alliance.

    The EPRDF has spent decades amassing the unrestrained power to implement its statist development strategy. Even if they are of a mind to compromise, Hailemariam and other EPRDF leaders may find it difficult to pacify the demonstrators while opening up political space for the opposition. The surging anti-Tigrayan sentiment among protesters, coupled with the fact that many seek regime change, suggests that EPRDF leaders fearing for their survival will double down on their heavy-handed approach rather than risk opening the floodgates. To the extent that they attempt to defuse the situation, they are likely to focus on job creation, improving public services, and rooting out corruption.

    "Political liberalization comes with some risk for those that benefit from the current political monopoly, but it is necessary for Ethiopia's stability going forward," said Michael Woldemariam, an assistant professor at the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University. "But I can't say that I am seeing compelling evidence of the government moving in that direction."

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  • Ethiopian state TV censors marathon runner’s finishing line protest - INDEPENDENT

    Ethiopia’s state-owned TV network has refused to broadcast footage of one of its most successful Olympic athletes crossing the finishing line or receiving his medal after he staged a political protest against oppression back home.

    Feyisa Lilesa won silver in the men’s marathon on the last day of events in Rio, making him Ethiopia’s joint second most successful performer after the country won just one gold in a disappointing campaign.

    As he crossed the line on Sunday he raised his arms to form an “X”, a symbol of defiance that has been used by the Oromo people in Ethiopia as part of political protests against the government.

    Lilesa repeated the act in a press conference after the race, and said he would repeat it at the medal ceremony later. He told reporters he faced being killed for doing so if he returns home after the Games.

    EBC, the Ethiopian state broadcaster, was showing Lila’s race live on TV on Sunday afternoon. As such, it was unable to avoid airing his protest as it happened the first time.

    But the moment he crossed the line was cut from subsequent bulletins and, unlike with its other champions, EBC refused entirely to show footage of Lilesa being given his silver medal. 

    Shown Live on  TV "-n marathoner Fayisa shows protest gesture after winning Silver at " http://debirhan.com/?p=10275 

    Photo published for Ethiopian marathoner Fayisa shows gesture after winning Silver at #Rio2016

    Ethiopian marathoner Fayisa shows gesture after winning Silver at #Rio2016

     

    debirhan.com
       

    On its website, EBC carried a report on the result entitled “Ethiopia wins Silver medal in men’s marathon”.

    While its online reports from other Rio events tended to show pictures of victorious athletes after they had finished competing, the Lilesa article was accompanied by an image of a group of the marathon runners halfway through the race.

    Neither online nor on TV did the state-run broadcaster make direct reference to Lilesa’s protest.

    The athlete is from Oromia, home to many of the 35 million Oroma people, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group. At the press conference, he said: "The Ethiopian government is killing my people, so I stand with all protests anywhere, as Oromo is my tribe. My relatives are in prison and if they talk about democratic rights they are killed.”

    Lilesa told reporters he would be killed or put in prison if he returned home, and said he feared for his wife and two children who are still in Ethiopia. He said he plans to try and stay in Brazil or make his way to the US.
    The Ethiopian government has since said it respects Lilesa’s political views and has no reason to prosecute him if he returns to the country.

    A government spokesman, Getachew Reda, told the state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate that Lilesa "will be conferred a heroic welcome along with his team members." 

    oromo-people2.jpg
    People protesting against the treatment of the Oromo at a demonstration in Johannesburg, South Africa last week (AFP/Getty Images)

    Human Rights Watch estimates 400 people have been killed in a brutal regime response to the Oromo protests, which began late last year.

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  • Analysis: Inside the controversial EFFORT - Addis Standard

    By Oman Uliah, Special to Addis Standard  

    Every authoritarian regime has its own symbol of economic exploitations and monopoly either in an individual face or in an organizational mask.

    Ethiopia, despite its success in persuading its western allies that it is combating poverty using its fast economic growth and democratization, remained to be one of the poorest and most closed countries where a group of few individuals control vast economic shares and absolute political power. Unlike many other authoritarian regimes, the most dominant ruling elite group in Ethiopia has a complex behavior in that it claims to represent a minority ethnic group from the northern part of the country, Tigray. In response it has gotten a relatively overwhelming legitimacy among the people of Tigray as compared to other regions; or at least many people, including myself, believe it receives better legitimacy only in that specific region.

    Moreover, this elite group has established a chain of several multi-billion dollar worth business firms under a home-grown umbrella called EFFORT, ‘Endowment Fund for the Rehabilitation of Tigray’, which was originally established to serve a harmless looking purpose of  ‘rehabilitating’ Tigray, a war-torn region deprived of a fair chance to prosper during decades of successive regimes. In the past 25 years of TPLF’s dominated political rule in Ethiopia, therefore, EFFORT has emerged as one of the leading economic powerhouses in the name of ‘rehabilitating’ the region.

     What is in the name?

    On the surface, EFFORT is an umbrella company for a group of businesses which are involved in major industrial activities in Ethiopia, such as banking and insurance, import and export, media and communication, construction, agribusiness, and mining, among others.

    Having started with an initial capital of around US$100 million, EFFORT’s worth has now reached more than a staggering US$3 billion in paid capital, creating more than 47,000 employment opportunities.

    EFFORT companies were first registered as private share companies owned by some of the top leaders of TPLF. Later on, however, the companies were re-registered as “endowment” companies whose profits will not be divided to individuals, according to the 1960 Ethiopian civil code. However, top officials of the TPLF, the most powerful member of Ethiopia’s ruling party EPRDF, remained as the CEOs and GMs of these companies; and some of whom reportedly own small shares designed to motivate them in helping EFFORT stay competitive.

    ‘The original sin’: How did TPLF accumulate its wealth?

     EFFORT’s official profile claims it was established by using seed money from the liquidated amount of capital of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), accumulated during Ethiopia’s 17 years civil war of the militarist Derg regime to establish these companies.

    In 2008, Aregawi Berhe, a former veteran of TPLF who later on left the party, did his Ph.D. dissertation on The Political History of TPLF’ for Vrije Universteit in Amsterdam, somehow corroborates the story. In his account of the party’s earliest times, Aregawi wrote about one of the first successful operations that the then guerilla fighters ever had: ‘Axum Operation’. It is a military operation that succeeded in raiding a police garrison and a bank in the historic city of Axum in the north during which the TPLF fighters made away with “substantial amounts of arms and ammunition and 175,000 birr (US$ 84,000)”, according to Aregawi.

    Having started by raiding public banks, members of the TPLF continued to accumulate wealth and went on to dominate the contested use of ‘aid money’ for political purposes before the party came to control power in 1991. TPLF had also founded the Relief Society of Tigray (REST), a humanitarian wing, during the civil war. “By June 1985,” wrote Aregawi Berhe, “REST had received more than US$100 million from donors in the name of saving famine victims. [… however] the late Meles [Zenawi’s] proposal for the allocation of the relief aid money was as follows: 50% for MLLT [Marxist-Leninist League of Tigray] consolidation, 45% for TPLF activities and 5% for the famine victims.” Predictably, Aregawi’s claim, especially that of aid money allocations, has been vehemently denied by the current TPLF leaders.

    Gebru Asrat, another former TPLF veteran who later on established an opposition political party Arena Tigray, has briefly raised this issue in his book, ‘Lualawinet Ena Democracy beEthiopia’, (Sovereignty and Democracy in Ethiopia), and said that the guerilla fighters used to get a lot of money in foreign aid and; ‘it was up to the TPLF [leadership] to allocate which money goes where.” Gebru neither confirmed nor denied Aregawi’s claim that aid money was used for political purposes. If anything, he is of the view that it is impossible to make such allegations.

    However, legally questionable ways of accumulating wealth seemed to have continued within the party even after it took control of state power. Ermias Legesse, a former Communication State Minister, who is now in exile, has recently published his second book, ‘Yemeles Leqaqit’, in which he raised multiple controversial points against the establishment and functions of EFFORT.

    In Chapter six of this 565 pages book, Ermias tells several stories on how EFFORT used to get its finances unfairly from the Ethiopian state and how it transferred it to its own account. Ermias went an extra mile to display a letter written in 1994 and was signed by the then Prime Minister, Tamrat Layne, demanding the Addis Abeba Health bureau to refund TPLF’s medical expenses of the civil war time. The money requested amounted to more than four million birr (almost 67% of the city’s annual budget at that time), but the total amount paid by the Ministry of Health was actually 17 million birr. Ermias also wrote that the medicines that TPLF had distributed to  the locals during the civil war, for which it had requested a refund, was actually robbed by the guerilla fighters from public pharmacies. The money that was paid back in such a bizarre demand by the then Prime Minister was put in TPLF’s accounts.

    Of continued sins & controversies

    Companies that are currently under the umbrella of EFFORT were originally established as PLCs having a few members of TPLF leaders as shareholders. Later on, in August 1995, they were re-registered as ‘endowment’ companies and still remained under the umbrella of EFFORT.

    The re-registration of these PLCs as ‘endowment’ companies was done to justify that these companies were established using the money donated by the shareholders of the preceding PLCs, which in itself portrays a picture that EFFORT, as a conglomerate of these companies, did not use public money to be established. According to the Ethiopian civil code, endowment companies are legally prohibited from distributing their profits to individuals. This fact effectively obscures the few individuals controlling these companies behind a party cover.

    In 2004, the Amharic version of the ‘Ethiopian Reporter’, a bi-weekly newspaper owned by a former member of the TPLF rebel group, published series of stories concerning EFFORT and its debt in public banks, including the controversial cancellation of the debt. (The copies of these publications are annexed in the latest book of Ermias Legesse, referred above.)

    According to this series of publication, EFFORT had borrowed 1.7 billion birr from the state-owned Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE) which later on has risen to 1.8 billion birr debt including the interests. First, CBE officials have denied and said that ‘they did not loan money to EFFORT’. But later on CBE had transferred the debts to yet another state-owned bank, Development Bank of Ethiopia (DBE), for ‘better management’. Finally, DBE reported that the amount of money loaned to EFFORT was ‘none performing’ loan. Ermias claims that the CBE had loaned EFFORT the money with no collateral in the first place. The following year it was reported that DBE, the bank that took over the loan for “better management” was facing a bankruptcy of some 3.5 billion birr; certainly not exclusively attributable to the loan provided to EFFORT, but due in a significant part to it.

    The other controversy surrounding EFFORT lies in the manner in which its businesses affiliates operate. Its leaders claim that their extreme obedience to the rule of law and their refusal to bribe local officials often poses a great challenge to their operations, disadvantaging their businesses. However, EFFORT companies are generally known to enjoy a great deal of support from officials. A good example to prove this is a rare ruling by a federal court on the 19th December 2012. The federal First instance court at Lideta ruled that one of EFFORT’s companies, Mega Entertainment Center, which was led by the widow of the late PM Meles Zenawi, Azeb Mesfin, has been running its business in a fraudulent manner by reporting more expenses than the actual and without paying value-added taxes collected from its customers during the preceding eight years.

    But the secrecy of most of these companies is such that details like this come to the public’s knowledge only when there is disagreement between stakeholders; this time, it was between Azeb and another management member of Mega, Eqoubay Berhe.

    Still, just what is EFFORT?

    According to a letter by former US ambassador to Ethiopia, Donald Yamamoto, which was one of the Wikileaks documents, Ex-TPLF veteran Seyee Abraha (who later on fell from favor and was subsequently jailed for corruption) was quoted as saying the objectives of EFFORT during its foundation were “to study, and then establish profitable companies that use locally-available resources and provide employment [opportunities] for Tigray.” In this sense, EFFORT, even though it also gets raw materials from and markets its end products to other regions in Ethiopia, mostly (though not exclusively) hires Tigrians.

    In principle, its profit should be used to rehabilitate the region. However, many Tigrians despair the fact that the “Endowment” is merely used by a few corrupt TPLF elites to enrich themselves. Former veteran and ex-president of the Tigray region for a decade, Gebru Asrat, in his book mentioned above admitted that the “endowment” was being exploited by a few TPLF top leaders; he suggested that there must be ways of diverting EFFORT’s profits/wealth to the people of Tigray as the endowment belongs to the Tigrians. His suggestion indicates a return, once again, of the endowment to a share company in which as many individuals could become shareholders. Many Tigrian pro-democracy activists agree with Gebru Asrat’s suggestions.

    What do ‘others’ own?

    Without a doubt, other regions of Ethiopia have also suffered significant social and economic devastations during the 17 years civil war before it ended in 1991. Military expenditure was Ethiopia’s biggest expense during the entire rule of the militarist Derg regime. Suffice to say, therefore, other regions also needed ‘endowments’ of their own.

    It seemed it was in response to this concern that TPLF ‘provided’ seed money for other rehabilitation funds.  In Oromia regional state is Dinsho endowment, which was established in 1992 and was renamed Tumsa Endowment for Development of Oromia in 2001. It is led by top officials of the OPDO, the party representing the region within the EPRDF coalition. In Amhara regional state is ‘TIRET’, first established in 1995 and went on to incorporate several pre-existing companies. TIRET is led by senior officials of ANDM, the party representing the region within the ruling EPRDF. And in Southern Nations Nationalities and People’s Region (SNNPR) is WENDO trading, which was established in 1994 and is led by senior officials of SEPDM, the party representing the region within the ruling EPRDF.

    Seyee Abraha has admitted: “TPLF gave a portion of its capital to each of the three parties within the EPRDF to establish their own endowment funds”. However, the combined numbers of companies run by these three ‘endowments’ are less than twenty; whereas at least 24 companies are listed under EFFORT; (some put these numbers as high as 380). The nature of secrecy surrounding this delicate matter means one may never find out the real figures.

    Nonetheless, the three “endowments” run by OPDO, ANDM and SEPDM were supposed to create employment opportunities for more than 80% of Ethiopia’s population as compared to EFFORT’s targeting of 6% of Ethiopians in Tigray regional state.

    According to a research titled ‘Rethinking Business and Politics in Ethiopia’, published in 2011 by Sarah Vaughan and Mesfin Gebremichael, “[TIRET] companies employ only 2,800 staff, as compared with the more 14,000 permanent employees or 34,000 contract staff of EFFORT and its companies.” And the poorest regional states of Ethiopia, namely, the Somali, Afar, Benishangul-Gumuz and Gambella regions do not have ‘endowment companies’ of their own to help them rehabilitate their respective regions, although they are politically administered by EPRDF’s sister parties.

    What’s not and what’s owned by EFFORT?

    There is a big deal of confusion in identifying EFFORT’s business complexities. Selam Bus Share Company is a good example. Established in 1996, 99.6% of this interregional transport service providing company share is held by Tigray Development Association (TDA); the rest is held by individuals. Although Selam Bus board members, as are EFFORT companies’ board members, are members of the TPLF, EFFORT has no registered share in Selam Bus. However, Selam Bus is a company many people name first when asked to list EFFORT’s businesses. This blurry ownership status is perhaps one of the reasons why Selam Buses were targeted by the last year’s widespread public protesters in Oromia and Amhara regions.

    Dejennna Endowment is another example. Established to ‘help promote development in Tigray,’ on the surface Dejenna Endowment is a part of the Relief Society of Tigray (REST). There are 11 companies listed under Dejenna Endowment in its website. In 2009, Dejenna has merged with EFFORT following the appointment of Azeb Mesfin, widow of the late Meles Zenawi, as head of the later. Companies under EFFORT usually hold shares in one another’s companies so that one pulls up when another fails. However, until today little is known about the merger of EFFORT and Dejenna. Besides, the information on the official websites of the two endowments mis-inform readers as if the two are independent of one another. But, some of the companies that are known to be under EFFORT are actually listed as the properties of Dejenna endowment.

    The Sheger vs Mekelle narrative

    By now, keen observers of the relationship between politics and business in Ethiopia can safely assume that business and politics in Ethiopia are radically divided into two major narratives in defining and perceiving the current TPLF dominated regime. I call these narratives ‘the Sheger narrative’ – a political narrative that is mostly advocated from here in the capital Addis Abeba, and ‘the Mekelle narrative’ – usually advocated by the people in Mekelle, the capital of the Tigray regional state, home to the all too powerful members of TPLF.

    However, both narratives go beyond these respective centers depending on whose political view is solicited. The two narratives are only thoughts that do have majority acceptance in their respective centers. ‘The Sheger narrative’ (the most popular one) considers the TPLF dominated administration as a total failure that holds power by force; whereas ‘the Mekelle narrative’ generally sympathizes with the regime and considers it as a legitimate administration, albeit admitting some of its fault lines mostly due to the corrupt practices of some of its leaders.

    This definition makes it clear how and why Tigrians (in most cases driven by ‘the Mekelle narrative’) and non-Tigrians (driven by ‘the Sheger narrative’) view the relationship between TPLF and EFFORT differently.

    Tigrian pro-democracy activists’ criticism of EFFORT can be clearly seen by how they react to the manner in which former leaders of TPLF, who were expelled during the party’s infamous split in 2001, view EFFORT. Former top leaders of TPLF, Seyee Abraha, as we read him on wikileaks documents, and Gebru Asrat, from his book, both criticize EFFORT’s management. Both regret EFFORT’s failure to rehabilitate Tigray as was stipulated in its foundational principles. However, both believe the people of Tigray are the rightful owners of these ‘endowment’ companies under EFFORT.

    On the contrary, most non-Tigrian activists and politicians disown EFFORT and also the rest of ‘endowments’ that are being manipulated by EPRDF leaders. Lidetu Ayalew, former leader of the opposition Ethiopian Democratic Party, and Dr. Berhanu Nega, current leader of the outlawed Ginbot 7, both condemned EFFORT as a party business that monopolized the economy, and both concluded the “endowments” should be dissolved or privatized. Similarly, many other activists want to (and sometimes advocate) boycotting EFFORT services and products to stop TPLF’s hegemonic march.

    In the same manner, Tigrian activists claim other home grown charity organizations operating in Tigray, namely REST and TDA, are used to create grassroots networks to dictate the people of Tigray become loyalists of the TPLF, whereas non-Tigrian activists, such as Ermias Legesse, disagree and say these organizations are replicas of EFFORT to simply promote disproportionate social development of Tigrians at the cost of others.

    This leads us to conclude that ‘the Mekelle narrative’ generally portrays EFFORT as an organization that rightfully belongs to the ‘Tigrian people’ which is unfortunately being exploited by few members of the top management for personal gains. ‘The Sheger narrative’, on the other hand, defines EFFORT as ‘a tool to exploit the wealth of Ethiopian people and create economic monopoly for the benefit of a [small] group’.

     The red line

    What is indisputable is speaking truth in a country governed by the TPLF dominated EPRDF is always a dangerous exercise; speaking the truth about EFFORT is even more dangerous. A tax controller from Adama, 100kms south east of Addis Abeba, who is now in Qilinto prison on the southern outskirt of Addis Abeba suspected of ‘corruption’ has recently told me that ‘EFFORT trucks were known to be untouchables on their way to and from Djibouti port’. Similarly, investigating companies under EFFORT is normally a red line no journalist in Ethiopia would like to cross, contributing to the secrecy of the ins and outs of the giant umbrella.

    Concealed in this intimidating rubble are crucial facts about EFFORT such as details on tax returns. That is why this article cannot be taken as an exhaustive look into the functions of EFFORT and its affiliates, but just the tip of the iceberg to demonstrate in part some facts about the economic exploitations of the authoritarian regime currently governing Ethiopia.

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  • The Weeknd Says Amharic “Will Definitely Be Key” On His New Album

    Speaking with VMAN in a new cover story, The Weeknd aka Abel Tesfaye opened up about the big influence his Ethiopian heritage will have on his upcoming record, the follow-up to last year’s chart-toppingBeauty Behind the Madness.

    After talking about the Amharic lines he sings at the end of “The Hills,” Tesfaye mentioned:

    “You hear it mostly in my voice, I’ve been told my singing isn’t conventional. Ethiopian music was the music I grew up on, artists like Tilahun Gessesse,Aster Aweke, and Mahmoud Ahmed. These are my subconscious inspirations. ‘The Hills’ was the first time you actually heard the Ethiopian language in my music. It will definitely be key on this next record.”

    Tesfaye also spoke about the new musical influences on the forthcoming album, which include greats from the 1970s and 80s.

    “There are new inspirations on this album. The production feels aggressive but still sexy. The Smiths, Bad Brains, Talking Heads, Prince, and DeBarge play roles. We wrote it all in Los Angeles. I think it’ll be the best-sounding album I’ve ever done. It’s hard to label the sound because, when I first came out, nobody would label it R&B. I just want to keep pushing the envelope without it feeling forced.”

    enough is enough. it's time to stand up for this. we can either sit and watch, or do something about it. the time is now.

       

    Lastly, the singer also talked about his recent support for Black Lives Matter and how he wishes he could make music about politics. Tesfate reportedly donated $250,000 to the movement last month.

    “I promised myself that I would never tweet or talk about politics and focus on the music, but I was just so bewildered that we lost more of our people to these senseless police shootings. It’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that there are people who can’t or won’t see what Black Lives Matter is trying to accomplish. I wish I could make music about politics. I feel like it’s such an art and a talent that I admire tremendously, but when I step into the studio I step out of the real world, and it’s therapeutic. It’s an escape, but recently it’s been very hard to ignore, and it’s also been very distracting. Maybe you’ll hear it in my voice, but it is not my forté.”

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  • HONOUR: Ethiopian rejects hoisting of flag in South Korea despite winning gold - StandardMedia

    Just like Feyisa Lelisa crossed his hands at the finish line of the Rio Olympics, Ethiopian martial artist Kassa Tegegn Yimer declined to have his country's flag hoisted here in Cheongju despite his winning gold.

    Ethiopian athletes have taken to protesting their government's crackdown in the Oromia region that has left more than 400 people dead. When it came to the medal ceremony in Cheongju, South Korea, Yimer requested that his country's anthem be sang but without the flag.

    CCTV: Police track down taxi to recover equipment

    A Team Kenya official forgot his camera tripod stands in a taxi, but it took less than an hour for the South Korea Police to recover the equipment.

     The official had lost hope of ever getting back the equipment, but reluctantly reported to the Police. “No problem, we shall track down the taxi by checking the CCTV fitted all over,” the police assured. And true, in less than an hour, the taxi details were pulled out from the CCTV whereupon he was ordered to take back the equipment. The official offered ‘chai’ to the taxi driver for his effort but he declined saying it was his duty to return it.

    DIPLOMACY: Kenya's Counsellor visits team in time for gold

    Gaudencia Ayisi, Counsellor II at the Kenyan High Commission paid Team Kenya a visit at the Cheongju Indoor Arena in time for the country’s first gold. “I am so glad to see the team here. Please feel free always to contact the Embassy, not only when you have a problem, but also to find out how we are doing,” Ayisi told the Martial Arts team. She added: “We always encourage Kenyans to the notify us whenever they come to South Korea. We wish Team Kenya all the best,” she said.

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  • Press Statement of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Human Rights Situation in the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia

    Press Statement of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Human Rights Situation in the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia

    The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Commission) is deeply concerned by the events unfolding in the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.

    Protests reportedly began in the Oromia region in November 2015, opposing the Federal Government’s plan to expand the boundaries of Addis Ababa. Reports indicate that despite the termination of the expansion plan, the protests continued due to the detention of activists, the use of excessive force, and killing of protestors by law enforcement officers.

    More recently, protests reportedly erupted in the Amhara region of Gondar in July 2016 when armed police arrested members of the Welkait Committee who called for the recognition of the Welkait community, currently within the Tigray region, as part of the neighbouring Amhara region.

    Reports further indicate that from 6 – 7 August 2016, thousands of people around the country took to the streets calling for political reform, equality, justice and the rule of law. The Commission is seriously disturbed by reports which aver that law enforcement agents responded with excessive force, including firing live bullets at protestors in Bahir Dar killing at least 30 people, and beating protestors with batons in Addis Ababa. Reports indicate that nearly 100 protestors were killed from 6 – 7 August 2016.

    The Commission has also received information that the Government completely blocked internet throughout the country for 48 hours in an attempt to stop the use of social media to organise further protests. It is alleged that most social media applications are still blocked, hampering communication.

    Reports allege that following the first protests in November 2015, hundreds of protestors have been killed, and many more have been beaten, arbitrarily arrested and detained.

    The Commission is equally concerned about reports that members and human rights monitors of the Human Rights Council of Ethiopia (HRCO) have been arrested and detained in the Amhara and Oromo regions, while allegedly monitoring and documenting the crack-down on protestors in these regions.

    Without reaching conclusions on the above allegations, the Commission is concerned that if these allegations are correct they would amount to violations of Articles 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 11, 13 and 19 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Charter), as well as other regional and international human rights instruments to which the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia is a party.

    In view of the above, the Commission calls on the Government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia to:

    • Fully investigate or allow the African Commission and other international/regional human rights mechanisms unimpeded access to the concerned areas in order to carry out prompt and impartial investigations into the allegations, so that these reports can be verified;
    • Ensure due process of law for those arrested and detained;
    • Respect peoples’ right to freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and access to information;
    • Ensure that perpetrators of the alleged violations are held accountable;
    • Ensure that the victims and their families obtain full redress, including restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition; and
    • Uphold its obligations under the regional and international human rights instruments to which it is a party, in particular the African Charter.

    The Commission will remain actively seized of this matter.

    Read more »
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