Ethiopian ‘aid for arms’ story sparks storm

The BBC sparked a storm this week with a story claiming millions of dollars sent to help starving people in Ethiopia’s 1980s famine were used to buy arms by rebels.

The rebels, who now dominate Ethiopia’s government, and some aid groups dismissed the story. Bob Geldof, the Irish rock star who helped raise a lot of the money in the 80s with his Live Aid campaign, said it was “simply not the case”. Britain’s Independent newspaper published a blog saying the claim was a slur, cooked up by enemies of Ethiopia’s government ahead of looming elections.

Ethiopian blog Ethiopian Recycler, clearly not fan of the country’s current regime, begged to differ and defended the BBC story in two posts Aid money, arms, and Sir Bob Geldof and Live Aid money did pay for weapons:

Millions of aid money raised in the 1980s was indeed diverted to buy arms and had provided rebel leaders with a lifestyle that was inhuman and extravagant even by today’s standards. That is no news. Thousands of the hungry from Tigray were forced to trek to the Sudan in the course of which many perished. And hundreds that were resettled in southwestern Ethiopia were returned to Tigray through the Sudan [hundreds of which perished en route]. That is no news either. The fact that yesterday’s BBC report is followed by the question whether this scam ever took place is simply absurd.

Read the rest on GlobalVoices.

Since the article was published, Bob Geldof has stepped up his rhetoric in The Guardian and Rob Crilly has joined the debate:

I don’t know why Bob Geldof got his knickers in a twist over the BBC’s report on aid to Ethiopia. Surely anyone who knows anything about Africa knows that in dealing with emergencies, aid agencies will have to deal with unsavoury characters.

Cultures collide in the Ethiopian blogosphere

What happens when cultures collide? One of the best places to find out is the Ethiopian blogosphere, with its writers spread across the Ethiopian Diaspora, from China, through Europe to the United States of America.

Bloggers spent the past few weeks writing posts inspired by the differences between Ethiopia and the far-flung nations which many Ethiopians now call home.

Zewge A. Assefa, the writer behind Negere Ethiopia, was unnerved when he first moved to Norway as a student. At first, he wrote in First impression is not always the lasting one, everyone seemed so quiet and reserved. When he got up the nerve to talk to his fellow students, he had to overcome other cultural barriers:

I do not … mean to underestimate the difficulty for me as an African and in particular as an Ethiopian to give a proper picture of the place I call home. Many people seem to have a thick background reinforced with terrible images of war, famine and overall poverty…

Personally, I do not feel rejected. Neither do I feel fully embraced. I still live with the situation where more often than not, people prefer to sit by people of their color type even when I am sitting alone.

Read the rest on GlobalVoices.

Day three

There is very little time to post right now but I am sure you have all seen the stories on the news. If not, here is a good summary by Associated Press. The best I can do at the moment is point you to my pictures on Flickr.

Just to say that they fall short in showing the full tension here on the streets and the terrible grief and injuries in the hospitals.

It is a very strange position to be in as a journalist. Everyone is desperate for you to record what is going on. I was practically grabbed by doctors and protesters at the Black Lion hospital and dragged from ward to ward. Before I could focus my camera on one patient I was being ushered out to the next ward and the next morgue.

People walk past you and shout “look at this” and “can you see what is happening”.

At one point a young man burst out of the morgue roaring with grief. He kept charging on the surrounding doctors, clenching his fists, desperate to find someone to take his grief out on. Seconds later he ran out of the room in tears.

Just for the record, I saw 11 bodies at the Black Lion and Zawditu hospitals, all with gun shot wounds, some to the head. As you know the official count at the moment is 22.

ethio hospital 6They all seemed to me to be in their twenties or at most their early thirties. Most of the protesters I saw earlier yesterday were much younger – see this picture of stone-throwing youths. The real worry is that this unrest will spread from the students to “street people” across the city, turning the protests into widespread unrest.

If you want to say anything about this post, could you consider keeping your comments moderate.

“Trouble kicked off today”

I friend of mine out here just emailed me this account of yesterday’s events in Addis Ababa:

Trouble kicked off today – first there was the arrest of AAU students in the early hours of the morning then the university was surrounded by the police. I went off home and noticed loads of people on the streets and all the kids from private schools being whisked off home. An hour later I went back and saw the truck loads of male students being transported away in military vehicles under heavy armed escort. The girls followed, many crying, in buses. People lined the streets with tears in their eyes, braver souls shouted their support or raised their clenched fists in anger. The tension was palpable and the scene continued throughout the afternoon. Another hour later we received a phone call. Shooting had been heard in the vicinity of the British embassy and it was best to avoid the embassy road. We took a detour home but from the other side of the embassy we could see the build up of special forces and riot police.

We heard later that children from Kokebe Tsiba Secondary School had blocked the road trying to stop the passage of the military vehicles taking their older counterparts out of Addis to an unknown destination. Some people suggested Shoa Robit. In the past students have been transported to boot camp for correctional training for a few weeks while the situation calms down. A friend also saw pick-ups ferrying casualties, young students from the school to hospital.

The first protests

Scores of Ethiopian students were arrested this morning after mounting the first public protests over Ethiopia’s national elections. Police charged into Addis Ababa University campuses at arat and sedist kilo to subdue the demonstrations.

According to AP:

Army’s special forces troops stood by, armed with assault rifles and rocket propelled grenades. Riot police with tear gas and a water cannon also stood by as regular police quelled the demonstration.

Troops were photographed using batons and the butts of their rifles to beat students in the streets and inside the campuses. Armed soldiers sealed off the whole area around the main university buildings up to near the turning to the Sheraton Hotel this morning.

A local journalist on the scene told me that a paper arranging the protest had been circulated among students last night. Somehow the police also got a copy and moved in early to prevent the demonstration spreading.

I arrived too late to see the actual protest. By the time I got there students were still being held back in the university premises and passers-by, including journalists, were barred from walking up the main streets. This photo is as close as I could get (click on it to make it bigger).

There are some much better pics here and here.

And here are some stories:

Arrests for Ethiopia poll protest (BBC)

Hundreds of Ethiopian students have been arrested in the capital, Addis Ababa, after staging protests over last month’s elections. Baton-wielding police stormed the two university campuses which the students had occupied. They had accused the ruling EPRDF party of fraud.

Ethiopian police arrest election protesters (Reuters)

Ethiopian police locked down a university in the capital on Monday and arrested scores of students protesting against election results they said were manipulated by the ruling party. Police officers rounded up chanting protesters at Addis Ababa University, the scene of deadly riots in 2001, and took them away in four trucks.

Police surround Ethiopian campuses as students defy post-election demo ban (AFP)

Ethiopian security forces surrounded two university campuses in Addis Ababa on Monday as hundreds of students defied a government ban on demonstrations to protest last month’s disputed elections, witnesses said. Ethiopian troops blocked the road to Addis Ababa University as federal police officers surrounded the Faculty of Social Sciences and the nearby Faculty of Science and Medicine where up to 900 students were protesting, alleged ruling party fraud in the May 15 polls, they said.

Ethiopia arrests election protesters (AP)

Police arrested hundreds of students who defied a government ban to protest the results of Ethiopia’s disputed legislative elections, hours after surrounding and locking down the country’s largest university on Monday…Minister of Information Bereket Simon … said not a single police officer or student had been injured, but pictures taken by an Associated Press photographer and others showed officers hitting students with the butts of assault rifles and bloodstains on the ground.

Tangled up in stats

Another milestone is approaching with the official “provisional” figures. The combined opposition forces of the CUD and the UEDF are now just six seats away from claiming a third of the House of People’s Representatives. (They need more than 182 seats for this).

With a third of the seats, they would for the first time be able to table their own bills and initiate their own debates. They could also block major moves like changes to the constitution (which needs a two-thirds majority according to that same constitution).

Of course everything is still up in the air at the moment. The CUD and the UEDF still claim that they have won the full election. The National Election Board is currently looking into allegations of voting irregularities in more than 200 constituencies, based on complaints made by all sides. The elections in the Somali region (with their 23 seats) won’t start until August. And there are still 14 official results to come in from the May 15 count.

But it is still a milestone worth marking.

I had an interesting interview with Beyene Petros of the UEDF about this, as part of an article for IPS. I will post his quotes as soon as it is published.