Monday, January 23, 2006

Returnees Vs. The Diaspora

Does Yahoo have an emoticon for “Oh my God! Is there anyone advising Prime Minister Meles about public relations?”

In what must be the most hypnotically dumb move ever committed by a bunch of bungling warlords in cufflinks, the Ethiopian government kicked out an AP reporter for “tarnishing the image” of Ethiopia. In case you were wondering, federal police who kill unarmed citizens don’t tarnish images. Foreign reporters who write about it do.

Seriously. I know as an Imperial-Derg revanchist/chauvinist/cyber warrior in the Diaspora I am in no position to be giving advice to the EPRDF’s unlettered apprentices, but… what the fuck! Which EPRDF apparatchik thought it was a stroke of brilliance to kick out Anthony? Now whenever the over-fraught, half-wit EPRDF schlemiels are paraded out to defend the government (or beg for food), they will be confronted by indignant ferenjie reporters who are outraged, I tell you, outraged.


Okay, pay attention EPRDF-ffers: the next journalist you decide to kick out shouldn’t be a member of an internationally revered media organization. See if there is someone from… Field and Stream, or… Dictator’s Monthly. Also, come up with something more substantial to justify the kicking out. “Mr. So-and-So was found to be trying to incite genocide and treason.” Hm. No. You tried that already.

Now journalists are going to think that there is a real story in Ethiopia. And does anything add to a journalist’s cache than being expelled by a government? Especially a government loved and adored by the west? Remember the NYT reporter whose stock rose when then Governor Bush called him a “major league asshole” on a live microphone? (Mitchell has apparently lived in Ethiopia for three years and has family there. I can’t imagine his personal pain.)

But I have another unstructured rant.

We were at a little party this weekend and perhaps it was the lateness of the hour, perhaps it was one too many glass of wine, but an elderly man with unsteady hands pointed at me and barked, “You! Weichegud! I don’t like you.”


I did what every self-respecting blogger would do in a similar situation: I pretended there was hair in my lasagna and proceeded to have an ardent conversation with my plate. I couldn’t get myself to confront a man my father’s age, and believe me I am no wallflower Ethiopian who shies from confrontation.

Later at home my husband noticed I was perplexed. Well, more confused than perplexed. Why hadn’t I at least asked the gentleman his beef? I’ve defended myself against more worthy opponents. “You know why?” my husband asked with that infuriating tone I have not yet convinced him is condescending. “You know why? Because however much assimilated you think you are, you are still restrained by that singularly thorny trait all us Ethiopians have trouble shaking off: yiluNta. It’s not in our DNA to cross certain lines because we are encumbered by yiluNta.”

I guess the best way to explain yiluNta to non-Amharic speakers is … that certain “what will people think” voice that ought to not be so loud in those of us who think we are more American than apple pie. For the life of me, I could not have an argument with a kindly, older gentleman because of a grossly inadequate reason: he was older, and I didn’t want him to think I was insolent. Yeah.

So all of this reminded me of an article I read in Addis Fortune a while ago, Ethiopian Returnees in Defense of Foreign Aid to Ethiopia. When the Brits recently decided to ‘withhold’ direct aid to the Ethiopian government, I figured the most unhappy people in Ethiopia would be that same group of Ethiopian returnees (can we find a better word for them?).

I have been fascinated by the article ever since I read it.

While a huge part of the Ethiopian Diaspora is known to have an uncompromising animosity towards the EPRDF-led government, their friends at home say they would rather take an objective view of the current political situation and agree on what is fundamental to Ethiopia.

Woo hoo! a) We have friends b) we have friends who want to take an objective view, and c) we have “uncompromising animosity towards the EPRDF.” I hope you are taking notes.

Close to 35 returnees from the Diaspora gathered at the Sheraton Addis' Semien Hall, on Thursday, December 1, 2005, to make their voice heard against what they called a campaign waged by Ethiopians in the Diaspora who have appealed to the European Union, the U.S. and other donor countries to stop aid, loans, debt relief and lobby to stop people from traveling to Ethiopia.

I personally want to appeal to our friends to find a new venue for their meetings. Seriously, it makes us all look bad when we can’t seem to extricate ourselves from our “let’s meet at Sheraton” trademark.

They have created a committee of eight to advance their cause, comprising Mulugeta Tesfakiros, Mimi Sebehatu, Genenew Assefa, Biruk Buzuayehu, Biruk Fekade, Solomon Tadesse, Anteneh Tirusew and Daniel Tedesse; the last three will function as a caucus in North America.

Hello. There is such a caucus in North America? How come our friends don’t tell us these things?

“This has negatively contributed to other Ethiopians who wish to come to and invest in their home country," said Solomon Tadesse, a resident of Seattle for 35 years and honorary consulate general of Ethiopia in the United States.

Seattle? Oh, well. (Just what does it take to be an “honorary consulate general of Ethiopia” because I have a feeling it comes with fabulous perks, and I want to be one. A consulate, that is. Not a perk.)

Solomon is one of the two organizers and co-chair of the meeting, together with Mulugeta Tesfakiros. They say they were compelled to organize such a meeting at the Sheraton to hammer out issues that despite differences along political lines, Ethiopians should not fight over what is best for the country.

I guess this is an admirable gesture of “let’s find common ground other than politics”, and normally I would be all for it except I can hardly think of one good reason why the EU or the US should directly fund a government that has a juvenile disposition about roaming cities in Humvees and sharp shooting human targets. I’m picky like that. So, does that make me ineligible to be part of a group who is searching for “what is best for Ethiopia”? I don’t know.

Those campaigning in the Diaspora against the current government allege that the U.S. and other European governments should not give aid, loans and debt relief to Ethiopia on the grounds that it does not represent the majority of the Ethiopian people and has committed "a series of human rights violations of its citizens".

Quotation marks around “a series of human rights violations” duly noted. I guess it’s different from plain old violating human rights of citizens.

The unfortunate situation Ethiopia is in, or better yet Ethiopia was put in by the EPRDF’s magnificent incompetence is that the country cannot survive without foreign aid. No one I know wants aid cut indiscriminately, but… shouldn’t we be cautious about directly funding a government that can use the money to pay its trigger happy army? Is this a government that can be trusted not to siphon off aid money for its many pet projects? Does the EPRDF inspire trust and good governance? In other words, are our friends telling us that we should we attach NO conditions to aid? I’m thinking not.

"Urging donors to cut aid to Ethiopia can only hurt the average Ethiopian," said one of the returnee participants, who lived in the United States for over 10 years. "And we want to show the world that there is peace in this country where people can come and invest."

Note that this was in December. In June and November the government went a little Gin-and-Juice and shot and killed unarmed people. That don’t inspire a sense of peace in me, but then again I am known to be very picky about not investing my money where armed goons roam about willy nilly.

In fact, what our friends don’t understand is that we have been investing in Ethiopia thinking that better days will come. Some of us bought houses there. A lot of us have business partnerships there. And countless of us send money back home to sustain our relatives. But at a certain point we have asked ourselves if our business interests always come first. How long are we supposed to not rock the boat? As people who have lived in a free market world, do our friends forget that capitalism needs security and stability? But I am sure since our friends have had the wherewithal to pick up and move to Ethiopia they will find a way to tell a wary world that there is “peace in the country where people can come and invest” even as regularly scheduled government malfeasance storms the headlines. Me? I’m kinda not thinking that it’s peaceful. Let me ask Anthony Mitchell and get back to you.

Most of the participants in the returnees' meeting were businesspeople who run their own companies in Addis, although a few of them are due to return. They returned to invest in the country and claim that the campaign to stop aid and loans to Ethiopia could affect their businesses in general and the majority of poor Ethiopians in particular. Many of the returnees deal with companies abroad, and fear that crises fuelled by sanctions could affect the way they do business.

Hm. Now I know the cynic among us are going to be disorderly and scream “You see? They only care about their own business”, but let’s all back off and breathe. In… out…in… out. It is inherently human to want to protect what you’ve worked for. In pre-election times we ignored the EPRDF and forged on ahead with business ventures in Ethiopia. But it has becoame hard for some of us to keep ignoring the EPRDF post-election. All the compromising we did didn’t change the entrenched brutality of the EPRDF. So yes, we don’t want our tax money to go to the government. We hope our friends understand that.

The meeting has unanimously passed a resolution that states that the campaign against aid to Ethiopia is harmful to the country, the people and to the returnees themselves. They also opposed and expressed their concern against the effort to discourage travel to Ethiopia and called upon Ethiopians in the Diaspora to refrain from disseminating a distorted picture of peace and stability of the country.

Now I would think that our friends back in Ethiopia would sympathize with the reticence we feel and come up with a way to guide us on where to channel our money. I was in DC a few weeks back and I fell in love with a sign outside an Ethiopian store. It politely informs its customers that it understands if people do not want to send remittances through Wegagen Bank, one of the countless EPRDF-owned/affiliated businesses. The store, the sign said, can accommodate customers who want to use other banks, and it lists the banks. It ends by thanking patrons for continuing to send money back home. Now that is capitalism. And that’s the kind of guidance we need from home. Telling us there is peace in Ethiopia… not so much. (A group of my mother’s friends printed out a list of EPRDF-owned businesses and distributed them to their children who went home for Christmas vacation. The list comes with a stern warning to boycott the companies. Hmm. Ladies who lunch as political activists… is there a more wondrous sight?)

But the last two paragraphs of the Fortune article are what I found most fascinating.

Not every one of them was on the same wavelength in spite of the unanimous decision in passing the resolution. It differed from those who challenged, in the meeting, the administration they said violates the constitution while breaching it itself, to those who told Fortune that they were not fully aware of the nature of the meeting when invited.

A-ha. So there were dissenters. Well, I guess there were dissenters even though the resolution passed, um, unanimously. Here’s the money quote:

"We were literally coaxed into agreeing on the resolution," said a participant who said he had thought the meeting was called to discuss the problems the returnee community is facing during this time of crises. "If this is what they wanted, we were not in a position to go against it."

Whaaaa? People who have lived in the United States for 30 plus years can be coaxed into voting for a resolution they don’t believe in? What happened to staunch individualism? Open discussion? Honest disagreement? What happened to standing your ground? I am less intrigued by people who want to coax people into voting for a bullshit resolution as am I with people who are willing to be coaxed into voting for a bullshit resolution. What the hell was that all about?

Was that a mutated form of yiluNta? Did the dissenters think it would be insolent to go against the grain? "If this is what they wanted, we were not in a position to go against it." I am dying to know why.

It might be that I have stayed in the good old USA too long, but I get personally offended and appalled by an Ethiopian government that shoots mothers and children. Maybe I am not enlightened enough or maybe I am naïve, but there is something about the sanctity of human life that humbles me. I am not sure what it is about going back to live in Ethiopia that makes it okay to not be immune to “human right violations” in quotation marks. And I certainly do not understand people who can’t find the moral standing to vote against a lousy resolution they disagree with.

Over Christmas holidays some friends of ours were hosting a returnee. Once a successful corporate cog, the returnee went back to Ethiopia to be an even greater cog. It’s only been a few years since he went back. We asked him if he voted in the elections. He hadn’t. He’d look at us with pity and superciliousness when we talked about politics. When we knew him, he was one of those enlightened men- progressive and open-minded almost to a fault. Now he borders on being an apathetic misogynist. He annoyed the shit out of our friends’ housekeeper by ordering her to do his laundry and wait on him hand and foot. Exsqueeze me very much?? Finally bitter, we asked what the hell was wrong with him. (I did get permission to write about this from him, by the way.) “You people,” he said. “You have no idea what it takes to survive in Ethiopia.”

It’s true. Most of us don’t, but a surprising number of us do. And I can understand if an unemployed youth with no prospect said that. But for one of “us” to say it? What makes a virtual millionaire returnee so blasé? From where we see it, returnees have every advantage in the society. So what went so wrong? I guess that’s why I am grateful to people like Berhanu Nega. He represents the best of former Diasporans.

Since I am axe grinding I have been simmering about something: I’ve asked several people who are returnees who write passionate emails to me from Ethiopia to start blogging. They obviously have the time, computer access and grasp of the English language. Yet none of them has taken on the challenge. What does it say about us that there is just one Ethiopian blogger who writes from Ethiopia? As always we leave the work to ferenjies, and then we beat up on them when we think they are not on our side. It is abominable. What’s the use of going back to Ethiopia if all we are doing is acclimating to the status quo? How much of ourselves do we have to give back in order to go back?

Prime Minister Meles’s lumbering government is bewilderingly incompetent. 14 years after it took power, we are still begging the world to feed our brothers and sisters. The EPRDF is morally bankrupt and marginalized beyond repair. It survives on fustian charades and seismic brutality. Telling us to keep investing in Ethiopia and instructing us to quit urging our respective governments to stop funding Ato Meles is a no-starter. It is up to the EPRDF to compromise just a wee bit, but it is unable to do so because it is led my myopia and unquenchable powerlust.

That said, I still think we need to dialogue with some of our returnee friends on what is truly best for “the average Ethiopian.” Maybe one of them can start , I dunno, a blog.

It is perhaps some kind of cosmic joke that returnees lose their voices just as those in the Diaspora finds their's.


I found out why the elderly gentleman was unimpressed by me (as if he needs an excuse). He told someone that I use too many curse words. Oh shit.)

p.s. I will be on winter vacation from February 12-22. Guest bloggers can send me articles/vents . I'll be happy to put up.


Anonymous Gooch said...

Ah, this was a great entry for me! So many things to comment on!

First, I told you about about them cuss words, didn't I? Poor fellow probably told one of his contemporaries to read one of your entries and ...

I think you've done well in pointing out the yelugnta thing; it can certainly be a problem. I'd just like to say that in the specific circumstances you were in, you know, wine, age, unsteady hands and all, most people, non-Ethiopians included, would probably have done the same.

About the returnee investors... I think you touched on it: Ignoring civic duty, it is in their best business interests to promote democracy in Ethiopia.

Sure you've got the rich supporting dictatorships all over the world, but those are cases of a solid, entrenched business oligarchy maintaining its (short-term) interests.

In Ethiopia, (1) there is no entrenched business oligarchy thanks to the two revolutions and red mindset of both regimes. That's why strongly imperialist and strongly Dergue interests were business hammered, while those who steered clear of supporting the ruling regimes survived the change. (2) Like elsewhere in primal Africa, kin, power, etc. outweights economic class. When push comes to shove, people will congregate in their ethnic groups or power affiliations rather than something like economic class, which is a bit more abstract and involved. Therefore, it is in the investors' best interests to either consider their long term interests and promote democracy, or just stay out of it.

On the issue of aid, let me state right off the bat that wanting to cancel all aid, even humanitarian aid, is, from a purely ethical point of view, a perfectly reasonable position. (Put away your emotions for a moment!) If we truly believe in freedom and in the rights of people to determine their own destiny, then we ought to let them. Giving aid to a government reduces the level of democracy in that country. In essense, the donors become citizens of the aid recipient country, diluting the citizenship rights of the recipient's citizens. The government becomes less accountable to its own citizens and more accountable to the donors.

This is part of the reason behind the current trends in aid towards good governance, blah, blah, ...

But if you think about it, using aid to promote good governance is clearly, no bones about it, neo-colonialism. Rather than let y'all sort out how you'd like to live, we'll give you money and make you live the way we tell you to. The donor community is coming full circle, having realized that Africans don't know what's good for themselves (not my words!).

But, there's no other way to go. If you're going to give money and mess up a country's power balances, then you'd better make sure things don't get messy.

This is why we insist that the donors, if they are going to give money to the Ethiopian government at all, should then force it to do what's right. Yes, be a viceroy. Otherwise, just get out!

And one last thing on aid. The fact is, and the donor community, in their theoretical moments, acknowledge, that we don't know if it works at all! Countries all around the world, and Ethiopia specifically, have been receiving aid for decades and are worse off than they were or only marginally better off. No one can categorically say that cutting aid will 'hurt the poor' or some other condescending remark.

Anyway, hows that for keyboard diar... Oops, that would be a cuss-word for me!

10:58 PM, January 23, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, I love this gooch guy (or girl) . . . goochiye, you MUST start your own blog (I'm assuming you're the same gooch that was receiving props from Andrew Heavens this week)

I just have one comment in defense of my beloved ET Wonqette. Your "virtual millionare" (is there any other type in Addis?) returnee friend is foolish. I've seen so many of them before, they try to apply the things that make them successful in the American marketplace in Ethiopia, then get disillusioned when they realize they are living in the new global hotbed of crony capitalism.

So, what's a newly minted returnee-entrepreneur to do? Rather than return to the D.C. suburbs and admit failure, they hustle and flow - giving bribes, abusing workers, lying and generally becoming a part of the morally corrupt, non-productive, culturally insulated business culture that exists in Ethiopia. So when he talks about "surviving" he's likely talking about "compromising" (if he's been successful) or suffering silently (if he's held on to his integrity and suffered at the hands of the TPLF-oligarchy).

I'm not mad at him, though, because he's right. We (in the Diaspora) DON'T know how to survive in Ethiopia. And that's the reason why no right-thinking investor (who's not a half-Arab playboy frontman for a spoiled Saudi prince) wants to invest in Ethiopia: because the government has no intention of wanting any private Ethiopian returnee investor to survive.

They like the fact that lack of transparency, inefficency, etc. means that there is low competition for their state-controlled firms. Finally this political crisis has caused many rosy-eyed ET's in the diaspora to wake up. But just in case you didn't get the memo: there is only one former communist country you can get to via Ethiopian Airlines where you can earn a decent return on your investments: it's called CHINA.

1:09 AM, January 24, 2006  
Anonymous Yohannes said...

It's a hornet's nest, Wonq. A hornet's nest. Trying to convince our friends that democracy is a better investment in the long run is as futile an excercise as any. But Gashe Gooch said it all so superbly.

You know I had not realized that Egoportal was the only Ethiopian blogger in Ethiopia! That's just wrong.

11:50 AM, January 24, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your view on what is happening here and my take on it are very similar. Who can support a dictator? Who can be for civilians being gunned down in broad day light?

Where do we differ?

Review your life in the last 5-6 years. Maybe you were studying or climbing up the career ladder. Now imagine, if you may, that you found out your school or company's administration, which you knew were dodgy anyway (you needed a degree/paycheck) are big time thugs. What do you do? Of course you want them out of there! It affects you more than anyone; as your very life and livelihood are directly under their control. Would you choose a systematic fixing of the system or would you want to tear the whole place down and then we can build from the ashes?

You, being far away, you want to get this government on its knees at any cost. If it means temporarily creating a failed state like our northern neighbor, so be it. For me, it is a little bit more complicated. The collateral damage is personal. I want them gone, but not through a scorched earth policy. And having dealt with them for a while here, they are a spiteful lot who will run it to the ground more than they already have. And no doubt this private sector that has miraculously survived their policy of incredibly hostile business environment will surely perish. Maybe this makes me selfish. Just see it from my end.

Before you ask me to elaborate about solutions, I have none. I just wanted you to see what your friends, and yes we are your friends, here thought.

But I would advise not dividing us right now. We all want them out, let us build on that one common point. And if you still want to eliminate the inflow of funds and make us feel the pain, I disagree with you but defend your right to say so. I will not mock or belittle you. We should allow for diversity of thought in our unity.

12:36 PM, January 24, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One Ethiopia had an interesting take on this story some time back.

Yes, these quite interesting that they try to make news other than the news they mae.

4:27 PM, January 24, 2006  
Anonymous etw said...

Anonymous (from Ethiopia),

First of all, thank you so much for writing. We need to be hearing from you guys. Scorched earth policy? I am sorry you got the impression we want a failed state in Ethiopia. The only one bringing the EPRDF to its knees is, guess who, the EPRDF itself. It is making it so that the only option it has is to leave Ethiopia in disgrace. Were there any lucidity in the EPRDF’s thinking, it would have thought what it means to want to rule people who don’t want to be ruled by it. And once you spill blood and make dissent illegal it becomes hard to compromise.

What is your role as a returnee in addressing this, is my question. Maybe you can tell us how you are trying to change the system from within and suggest how we can do the same. I have to tell you though, I am still not clear on why we shouldn’t petition our government to not support the EPRDF. (See Gooch’s comments.) Why aren’t the moderates in the EPRDF and people like you talking?

Divide us? I don’t believe in ephemeral alliances. Before we Diasporans and our returnee friends (yes we are friends) forge an alliance, we have to be honest on where we stand. I don’t believe in signing a resolution I don’t believe in. That I will state upfront. Yu said you have no solutions. fair enough. Can you blog your thoughts though? Let us know what's happening.

Hope to hear from you soon. again, thanks.

4:43 PM, January 24, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amen ET..

Thank you for bringing up an issue that has been in my mind for a while. Returnees or X-diasporas have always amazed me in a bad way. Let me tell you my personal experience, I have some family members and some friends who have returned after staying in the free world for more than ten years. Although we didn't completely agree on the situation in Ethiopia while they were here we all believed the current government was suspicious at best (this was before any election talk). Now when I talk to them it is like talking to another EPDRF cadre. They do condemn the killing of innocent people but they try to find excuse for it or try to justify it somehow.
I know this people never had any political inclination and they still don't but I am sure they knew a thing or two about" human rights", so my question is this. Is there some kind of a vaccine that the government gives them up on arrival that makes them unable to tell what is right and what is wrong?
And about starting a blog from Ethiopia, they can't even send me a detailed email for a specific question that I ask about the current situation.

Ps... If you decided to run for president you can count on my vote...keep up the good work!

8:23 PM, January 24, 2006  
Anonymous Gooch said...

anonymous 2, very nicely put. I think you have succintly described the thoughts and concerns of many in the business class.

I agree completely that we should work hard to avoid alienating any segment of Ethiopian society, including you. Everyone has their genuinely held opinions, fears, and limitations, and we should give people the benefit of the doubt. For example, I think we should be quite understanding of Merera and Beyene's decision to join parliament. I believe this accommodation of others is how we can build a stronger collective consciousness.

Next, I'd like to point out that, as Wonqette said, we're not trying 'to tear the whole thing down'. (Well, undoubtedly there are some who wouldn't mind, but given the diversity and immaturity of Ethiopian political thought, I think it's more helpful to look at the mainstream than the extremes.) What we wanted is what CUD has proposed, which is that the EPRDF rule but more strides are made towards democracy.

This comes from a sober analysis of Ethiopian society. One that recognizes that EPRDF rule is dragging Ethiopia into the abyss.

You see, we didn't only just recently notice the thuggery, as if we could have just gotten along fine if we hadn't been burdened with this information. What CUD, Berhanu Nega et al saw was that the EPRDF's policies over the last fourteen years have been driving the economy and politics into the ground. Poverty, hunger, ..., is not improving, while the population's still ballooning. The brick-and-mortar, the ring roads and dams, that you see have not borne fruit - this is what the stats tell us, and this is what we see on the ground. This is why it's estimated that Ethiopia needs a doubling of aid just to have a prayer of reaching its modest Millenium Development Goals.

Under the EPRDF, Ethiopia was/is heading towards becoming a failed state!!

The reason behind the EPRDF's failure is the low degree of democracy or disconnect with the grassroots. This burdens the EPRDF with spending resources (not money, but social and political capital, thought, effort) on maintaining a tight grip on power. And at the same time, it results in policy inefficiencies resulting from a lack of accountability, kind of like a command economy. You know, the democracy and freedom, Amartya Sen, ... bit.

And this is why we can't just sit and let the EPRDF have its way, because that status quo will result in a disaster bigger than any of us can imagine. If the last fourteen years of trend continues, in ten years, we'll be at 100 million with 15-25 million on permanent food aid, GDP per capita unchanged, and a hopeless environmental situation. Imagine what the society will be like.

So anonymous 2, what's the solution? Well, here's a simple thing you can do. Help spread democratic principles in your own sphere of influence. Pass on values of accommodation, giving others the benefit of the doubt, empathy, tolerance... through your interaction with people. Get involved and support the opposition in whatever clandestine or safe ways you can. Be part of the process, or risk having no influence in it. Simple, isn't it?!!

P.S. I'm sure you've heard the Ethiopian government's call yesterday for $166 million in emergency assistance. La luta continua.

9:08 PM, January 24, 2006  
Anonymous Phiqr said...

more to Anonymous (from Ethiopia)...

Let me be clear up front I also don't want a failed state. But what is a "failed state"? failed to who? Do you think the mother whose teenage child killed on broad day light would agree with you that her country has not failed. I can point you to a lot of our old-brothers from the northern that would argue their state is not failed but a lot more of them would agree with you. So, for you, todays Ethiopia may not have been failed yet but for me and for a lot of my co-patriots from back home and here in Diaspora our country has been a "failed state" for very long. Our country is failed when we feel safer out than in our own country, when it beg year after year to feed its people and worse steal from hungry mouth, when it shoot its children on the street, when it imprisons and kills its own best (remember Asrat) for daring to think a better ways and so and so on...

I would not question your morality bc I think morality is always relative. As you have suggested lets just see it from your point. So, what would it take for you to think your country failed you. Does your son/doughter/sister or someone close you has to be killed? or your "collateral" whatever it is, you are so protective of, has to be "damaged". Or you don't think it will happen to you. I can guarantee you it will one way or other, sooner or later, if you know what I mean. But how many times should we go through the circle.

If you think what is going on is just the Diaspora from far way wanting this government on its knees at any cost, then you got very little to worry about to protect your "collateral". I think you have give or take 70 million to worry about. This whole Returnees meeting is just a fasada to make the people inside feel less powerful. Look out side for solution while we all know they are the victims and the one who will get ride of this tyrant.

One more thing, if you are "credible" and genuinely looking for solution, the first thing to do is not to be used as their propaganda machine. Till the November massacre, I genuinely thought there this a chance for slow transformation and reconciliation in-spite of pass misdeeds. But now they went to far... therefore, I categorical reject any suggestion from you or anybody else that we who oppose this government are radicals in anyway. By the way which one of the 8 points the opposition put out that you think would be un-negotiable or take this government to its knees? who would you think is failed to negotiate and pushed the country to edge of destruction... answering these question we help you direct your accusation to the right party. Even thought I don't think you missed all this.

Good luck.

9:34 PM, January 24, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

are we not screaming into the abyss? who's backing the opposition apart from street kids throwing rocks?

Clearly we can't expect Meles & al. to give in, they've gone to far in their actions... to even consider compromise.

It would be too naive for us to beleive the US or the EU will "force" the eprdf to give up power simply because people (here and there) are "demanding" it. Meles is too much of a trusted ally for the west to turn back on him now, and worse even if this was an opportunity for change, who that they know and trust, could step up and assume leadership of a nation on the brink of humanitarian disaster. Not the CUD. Please. Maybe Birtukan (ps. I love what she wrote today, they should let them blog!! what u think Wonq?)

Meles accepts all conditions put forth by the west for aid and support (military and otherwise), a former cabinet member even said 'the us-ethiopia relation has never been better' and this includes the early 60s where Eisenhower went as far as giving the emperor a full blown parade in October of 1963 in New York city.

Meles today is just bad PR for the west, nothing more. He kills a 100 people on the streets, but there's 1000 more that die of hunger and disease and if he wasn't on the same page as the west, that would increase by an order of magnitude... Which is obviously more than just bad PR... it'll show in the polls, the media will be all over it, Oprah will charter a plane... the west and its leaders have an image to maintain... the "good benefactor" image, the compassionate, the generous. Why would they turn against an ally? CNN's not showing the killings, AP just got booted out.

So I ask are we not screaming into the abyss?

2:41 AM, January 25, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mussolini and Melse Zenawi

Italy Welds A Unit of Africa Colonies Five Regional Governments Set Up Under Central Regime in Addis Ababa.
Natives To Advise Viceroy
Six Chiefs to Serve on Board of Consulters-Religious and Ethical Lines Preserved.
By Arnaldo Cortesi - Written to The New York Times, June 2, 1936.
Rome, June 1- The Cabinet meeting this morning under Premier Benito Mussolini's Chairmanship, approved a law, effective immediately
without waiting for parliamentary sanction, laying down the main lines of organization of Italy's East Africa empire.
The empire is to be administered, at least for the present, as a colony. …
Africa, Colonies Combined
All Italian possessions in East Africa are to be organized into a single unit, to be known as Italian East Africa. The capital will be Addis
Ababa…. Addis Ababa and the territory immediately surrounding it will not be a part of any of the five Governments but will have a status
somewhat similar to that of the District of Columbia in the United States with a special administration of its own with a Governor at its
Regional Governments.
The five regional Governments will be:
The Government of Eritrea, with its capital at Asmara,
The Government of Amara, with it scapital at Gondar,
The Government of Galla and Sidamo, with its capital at Jimma,
The Government of Harar, with its capital at Harar, and
The Government of Somaliland, with its capital at Mogadiscio,

Who implemented it? WOYANE, the new breed of FASCISTS

9:49 AM, January 25, 2006  
Anonymous tewbel said...

As always it is most enjoyable to read your blog, which I do regularly.
As to "yilugnita", although it might be construed as weakness or shyness, on the whole I think that it is a very civilized behavior that is unique to our culture. While we try to avoid embarassing situations which altercation don't solve anyway, others might think that we are meek, more than often to their disadvantage and loss. Because we are not stupid or weak.
Best regards.

10:44 AM, January 25, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought long and hard before I responded. My initial reaction was not a constructive one. Everyone has an opinion about what someone in my position should do. One of the pacts that my husband and I made when we moved here, and this is the case with the majority of those who returned this last decade, was that we were to steer clear of any politics. We came here to live our normal lives and raise our children in the country of their forefathers. We didn’t have any grand ambitions of giving back because, truthfully, this country gives more than anyone has ever offered. We were honest about our needs; we were here for that selfish reason of being able to live in our own country. Our second wish, which eludes most of the population, was that we wanted to be able to have a decent livelihood. Whilst in pursuit of that goal, we have helped those in ‘our sphere of influence’ make a living wage too. But I can’t lie to you and say that it wasn’t the bottom line that inspired us to do business. The one thing I can say is that we tried to run our business affairs in a way that we could always have a clear conscience. That we would be able to tell our children not to cheat, lie or steal and mean it and live it. It has not been easy going but it can be done. I must tell you that at times I do resent that I have to explain all this to everyone who looks at me and says how can you live here and not do anything. What am I to do? I struggle; we all struggle to have a normal and productive life every single day. Most things are harder than they should be already and why should I have any higher calling than all of you there? Don’t you work hard to support your family? We also work to support our family and the few dozen who depend on having a job with us. The very fact that we can have our modest successes is a miracle considering that we compete with party bankrolled entities that don’t pay taxes and have a lockdown on any state contracts. We fight for business anyway. Politics, unless it barges in with red berets and shuts down the city, is a tiny portion of our reality. The biggest worries I have is keeping the family and employees safe, keeping the business afloat, making payroll, servicing debt and hoping that the country will be open for business come next morning. Then you have a family life. I don’t know about my compatriots who meet at the Sheraton to pass resolutions but the only thing on my mind at the end of a packed days is reading a few bedtime stories, watching the news and getting enough rest to face another day. Before you tell me, I know the majority has it much worse. I am just trying to convey that we all have normal lives like you do out there. With the only exception being that when you dissent, you may fight with your friends or get some nasty emails. Even if we were inspired and have the courage to dissent, we may very well lose everything. It may be cowardly, and that is why we appreciate those who are selfless enough to suffer for the good of the majority. But again, we are just like you, living day to day, in the rat race and hoping to finish up and come home to our families. Personally, I try not to feel special because I left the west and came here and you guys didn’t. I did it for my own reasons so I don’t take credit for it and I don’t judge your reasons. I know others do.
I re-read my post and it sounds very defensive. Maybe that says something in itself. We can’t get past defending our inaction to figure out what we can do. For now all I am willing to do is making sure I keep on keeping on. I will think about your blog idea. But even if I start it will be mostly life in Addis and less politics, and who wants to read about the humdrum life of a young mother in Addis. Thank you for all your responses.

10:50 AM, January 25, 2006  
Blogger Geja said...

To the last anonymous in Addis:
Humdrum life? I know humdrum, I have befriended humdrum, and let me tell you, what you wrote here ain’t humdrum.
Please go on writing your own blogg or at least comment on ours on a regular basis. How else could we know what is in the hearts and minds of courageous people like you who gave it all and went back? I for one wish I have the guts to do the same you did. So, do not undercut yourself, the fact that you are there and creating jobs by itself makes you a better Et than I could ever be. On top of that you are letting us know you better, you are creating the link that could probably take us to the next phase. I know this because in between the lines I can read your pain. Not every body has to be a fighter, but in your own way you are doing more than most of us who are here in the West and do not even care to pay any attention to what is happening down there. So please blogg on and comment on. We would like to hear from you, it might, just might help us bridge the gap as we have enough divisiveness as it is, the last thing we need is one more thing to separate us by those who return verses those who did not.

6:31 PM, January 25, 2006  
Blogger enaseb said...

there's this calcifying presupposition i'm sensing here that the personal is not the political. does anyone else see this?

young mother in addis,

your everyday life is just what i want to hear about. the bit about being defensive?........let the ones who have not felt "defensive" when thinking about whether they have done "enough" (in the many decades of emeye ethiopia's crisis) cast the first stone. however, your decision (which i envy) puts you in the position of being to voice your realities from directly within the belly of the beast. perhaps we can weave our "ethiopia" net (pun intended) a bit closer and stronger. wouldya? couldya?

wonquitu...bravo again.

4:21 AM, January 26, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i thought i would drop my two cents as a recent visitor of Ethiopia, about what i noticed generally about economic conditions of the country and my own conclusions.

I take exception to Gooch's view here that economically the country is worse off than it was 15 years ago. i have visited in 3 trips over the past 4 years places such as Addis Ababa, Debre Zeit, Nazreth, Harer, Bahir Dar, Lalibela, Axum, Adwa, Dire Dawa, Awassa, Arba Minch and several places in between these places.

i remember back then people getting up every morning "dngay lemaselef", in addis or elsewhere in other towns, for bread. same stuff for duqet, food oil, sugar, salt, toilet paper, books, pen and pencil, rationed petrol coupons...

now i don't see yedabo self in every corner of town. i don't see empty shops in every damn place. while saying this i am not implying Ethiopia is anywhere near the prosperity, wealth and welfare it can have. add peace to that.

my point is there was no bread back then. not even to stock it in any shop.

This doesn't imply at all no body goes hungry or no one needs bread anymore. but my observation is that even beggars that i used to see in addis on traffic lights and on streets back then looked in much worse shape.

here is world bank information about food production and poverty levels in Ethiopia. in the years 1992- 2004 it says

states Ethiopia is showing declining poverty although modest
states improvements in human capital
states stunting prevalnce dropped from about 65 percent to 55 percent until 2000. doesn't show from 2000-2005 on this.

Overall GDP per capita growth (annual %) 1.73
real annual agricultural growth (%) 2.2
real annual industrial growth (%) 5.4
real annual services growth (%) 7

here is the document if you want to look through it :


here is current info about people facing starvation.
so my assessment is economically the country is not in a worse position now than it was 15 years ago.

So may be we should all get closer to the data and all the places in Ethiopia outside our neighbourhoods.

1:35 PM, January 26, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the hyperlinks don't seem to post well. another attempt. they extend over two or three lines and may need copy pasting to put in one line.

1:44 PM, January 26, 2006  
Anonymous Gooch said...

Just quickly, I got my data from the following excellent paper:

which states that income per capita grew only 1.1% and crop yields only 0.4% per year from 1991/92 to 2003/04, and which discusses the double-aid scenario.

1.73% vs 1.1% gdp per cap growth - the years are different (I think it's 1990-2000 or something like that for the 1.73) - see the original paper below.

What's important is the trend. Consider the graph in the middle of the paper, which shows trend growth declining over the fourteen years. That's the important number, and that's what's got everyone concerned.

And let's not forget the growth dividend from jumping from a command economy to a free (or semi-free) market economy. That's why there are no more bread lines.

Also, Ethiopia has enjoyed quite a bit more aid, especially if you consider debt relief and grant/loan ratio, than it did before. Of course, by our low standards, we can credit the EPRDF for this!

By the way, the original paper on which one of your links is based is at:

It's a huge paper, but you will find states that rural poverty decreased marginally and urban poverty increased marginally.

By the way, to get the links, you just have to hold the mouse and drag rightwards, outside the margin.

3:40 PM, January 26, 2006  
Anonymous Gooch said...

Okay, now I have a little more time.

Just to make things clear, this is not about different interpretations of numbers. I advise everyone to read the first paper I mentioned, and the executive summary of the second paper. They're easy reading and quite informative. You'll see that the economy has made little progress over the last fourteen years.

This is not to say that Ethiopia is worse off than it was fourteen years ago. That's obviously false. Even crop yields increasing 0.4% and gdp per capita 1.1% per year are positive numbers, not negative!

There are other positive development (non-economic) indicators, primary school attendance being a major one.

However, the improvement has been so minimal and marginal that it has not translated into any change in poverty levels! I quote from Well-Being and Poverty in Ethiopia:

"There is a growing consensus
that poverty incidence in urban areas is increasing, while rural poverty incidence may have
decreased slightly, by one or two percentage points."

Folks, this is what the EPRDF has managed after fourteen years in power, not a single five year term.

During the last famine in 2003, 13 million people needed foreign food aid. This year, $166 million in emergency assistance (NOT development aid) is required for the drought in the far south-east despite a bumper crop elsewhere.

It's crystal clear, there has been little progress made.

The acknowledgement by donors that aid to Ethiopia must be doubled for any hope of decent progress to occur is enough proof.

anonymous 8, speaking of anecdotal evidence, I go to Ethiopia almost every year (not 2005), but I have been to only half the places you have been to.

For me, the disaster is much more evident in the rural areas than the urban areas. Knowing only 15% or so of the population live in urban areas, I suppose I can mentally block out the urban poverty that I see.

In the rural areas, after seeing mile after mile of postage-stamp sized farming plots, half of which are on the sides of hills and mountains that have no business being farmed, the picture becomes dire. And seeing families of eight on these tiny plots, I wonder what the kids will end up farming.

If took the road to Harar, then you'd have travelled through Chercher and seen the sad sight of nearly every inch of land even up and down the sides of mountains being farmed. And vast gulleys and troughs of erosion.

If you'd have stopped and asked, you would know that vast sections of the population in East Hararge are on permanent food aid for the months around keremt.

Admittedly, the area has been hit hard by the changes in the climate, but nevertheless, where's the hope?

Now, why has the EPRDF been so unsuccessful, you ask? Well, I don't think it's because they are not trying or they hate Ethiopia or some such silly explanation.

No doubt they may be trying their best. However, as I said before, their politics forces them to use up a lot of political and social capital to maintain power, at the expense of development. They remain tied to ancient ideologies with characeristic Ethiopian stubborness, the same stubborness that prevents them from allowing democracy.

9:19 PM, January 26, 2006  
Anonymous another anonymous said...

One Anonymous (above) said that the absence of lines at shops (such as the bread lines) is a sign of progress...

Here is the thing, if you lower prices well enough and you constrain production, the lines will come back. If you raise prices enough, the lines will disappear. The appearance/ disappearance can not be taken as a sign of progress without considering the internal mechanics of what is causing the lines to appear or disappear...

11:27 AM, January 27, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

aother anonymous,

the price of bread is practically the same Bakih.


yes i did see the sides of hills being farmed in many places in Ethiopia. There is nothing intrinsically wrong about farming on the side of hills. you just gotta do it right. On the way to Harer though i saw numerous terraces (i don't know if they are new or old) and the farmers/villagers in Harer seemed pretty well fed by standards of what i have seen in other areas like outside Bahirdar.

here are some photos i took by the way this time around:

thanks for the link to the large worldbank document. i will look through it.

one other comment i have is i think it is no longer true that only 15 percent of the population lives in urban areas. i think there is fast urbanization taking place in Ethiopia. 7 or so years ago the population of Debre Zeit for instance was only 60,000. It is now well over 110,000. that is almost double in less than 10 years. i think it is pretty similar in many other urban/semi urban areas.

there is some truth to what you said here:

"No doubt they may be trying their best. However, as I said before, their politics forces them to use up a lot of political and social capital to maintain power, at the expense of development."

but that problem pervades the Ethiopian psyche including You and me. we get stuck on old reasoning, old data, failed or impractical concepts, me-got-monopoly-on-truth and all-maters-Ethiopian kind of thinking all of the time.

have a nice weekend.

1:57 PM, January 27, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was getting irritated by your long comments. But they all make sense. you da man.

2:31 PM, January 27, 2006  
Blogger Honest too said...


I beg to differ with the price of bread being the same. Anybody who was or is not a cake eater would know that the price of bread is different.

Price of bread during the lines= 10 cents

Weight of bread during the bread lines= about 250 grams

Price of bread about 5 years ago= 30 cents

Weight of bread about 5 years ago= about 100-150 grams

Well you do the math since you are a numbers person.

2:35 PM, January 27, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


i did ask for the price of bread and was told it was 15 cents. i can remember buying it as much 25 cents back then. i hope we are not just engagin in semantics.

entitled to our views i guess.

3:33 PM, January 27, 2006  
Blogger Honest too said...

No semantics on my part realy,..

But the bread that you probably bought for 25 cents was from a neighborhood "souk" or kiosk, which they usually bought from people who buy the bread from the lines for 15-20 cents, and they inturn make a profit of 5-10 cents. And the bread that you buy now is significantly smaller than those 10 cent breads as there is no control of the size.

4:50 PM, January 27, 2006  

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