post Ethiopia’s Japanizers

April 28th, 2008

Filed under: History Corner — Lissan Magazine @ 22:16

Lij Araya Abeba & Co. in Japan circa 1934

Front row, right to left: Lij Araya Abeba, His Excellency Heruy, Lij Tafari, and the interpreter, Daba Birru. On the back row are Mr. and Mrs. Sumioka. Picture taken from Heruy’s Dai Nihon.

In the Selected Annual Proceedings of the Florida Conference of Historians for 2004, a fascinating paper was presented by Professor J. Calvitt Clarke III. Titled “Seeking A Model For Modernization: Ethiopia’s Japanizer’s” it is a window into an almost forgotten Ethiopia.

The story begins after the 1896 victory over Italy at Adwa in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia. If you don’t know much about this battle Professor Donald Levine outlines its historical significance in his article “The Battle of Adwa as a “Historic” Event”. Ethiopian Filmmaker Haile Gerima made an exceptional documentary about the battle; “Adwa: An African Victory” in 2000.

Some excerpts from Professor Clarke on the Japanizers

In the early twentieth century, these foreign-educated Ethiopians (the Japanizers) generally sought positions at court, and many of them refused to share the complacency of their countrymen after Ethiopia’s military victory over Italy at Adwa in 1896.

The term (Japanizers) highlighted the impact of Japan’s Meiji transformation on Ethiopia’s intellectuals. Japan’s dramatic metamorphosis by the end of the nineteenth century from a feudal society—like Ethiopia’s—into an industrial power attracted them. For these young, educated Ethiopians, Japanization was a means to an end—to solve the problem of underdevelopment. Japan’s rapid modernization, after all, had guaranteed its peace, prosperity, and independence, while Ethiopia’s continued backwardness threatened its very survival.

Blattengeta Heruy Welde Sellase (1878-1939)
Perhaps the most influential of the Japanizers in Ethiopia was Heruy Welde Sellassie.

In 1932 after an official visit to Japan, he published Mahidere Birhan: Hagre Japan [The Document of Japan]…Of the Japanizers, he most elaborately compared Ethiopia and Japan. Both had been ruled by long and uninterrupted founding dynasties: Hirohito was the 124th monarch of the Jimu dynasty while Hayle Sellase was the 126th ruler of the Solomonic dynasty. He compared Emperor Menilek to the Meiji. In the entire world, only Ethiopia and Japan had preserved that long the title of “emperor” to designate the chief of state.

Both countries had experienced roving capitals in their histories. He compared the Tokugawa Shogunate to the Zamana Masafent: the only difference was that while the overlordship of the Yajju lords had been confined to Bagemder, while the Tokugawa exercised authority over all of Japan. The manners of the two peoples were similar. Heruy went on to conclude that, despite these similarities, the two countries had long lived in mutual ignorance of one another—much as do the two eyes of one person. Just as a mirror helps one eye to see the other, so too his visit to Japan had brought mutual awareness between the two countries.

Bajerond Takle-Hawaryat Takla-Maryam
and the Constitution of 1931
Ethiopia’s Constitution of 1931, modeled on Japan’s Meiji Constitution of 1889, best illustrates Ethiopia’s desire to follow in Japan’s progressive footsteps.

With only a couple of exceptions, when comparing the 1889 Japanese constitution and the 1931 Ethiopian constitution, even the chapter divisions were identical, and in both cases, the guarantees of civil liberties were constrained by nullifiers such as, “within the limits provided for by the law” or “except in cases provided for in the law.”

Araya Abeba
A figure of underestimated importance in the Japanizer movement was Araya Abeba, a member of Hayle Sellase’s family. If he is remembered at all today, it is for his proposed marriage with a Japanese, Kuroda Masako, a subject of great mirth and greater fear among many European observers. A handsome young man in the 1930s, in truth he played an important part in Ethiopia’s relations with Japan, and he gives every appearance of being groomed for greater things until the Italo-Ethiopian War intervened.

By the first half of the 1930s, Japan and Ethiopia were drawing closer together to the acute concern of all of Africa’s colonial powers, most especially Italy.

Teferi Makonnen (Haile Sellassie) (1892-1975))
The crucial force behind Ethiopia’s desire to use Japan as a model was the emperor himself. His father, Ras Makonnen, had studied foreign military literature, and Russia’s defeat by the Japanese Navy at Tsushima in 1905—following as it did in Ethiopia’s footsteps by defeating a European power—surely electrified him. By 1906 when Ras Makonnen died, the thirteen year-old Teferi apparently had already developed a mental blueprint for his goal. An essential part of it was to draw upon the Japanese model, that other empire, which had proved that a non-European nation could embrace modern civilization and stand culturally and technically on par with European countries.

Professor Clarke goes into great detail about Ethiopian history and her relations with the United States and the European imperialist powers of the time. The many historical convergences and divergences with Japan are also detailed. It all makes for fascinating reading but we are delighted that this alliance did not pan out. Contemplating an Ethiopia morally bankrupted by such an alliance in the Second World War is simply too bloody awful to imagine. We have to make moral judgements about alternative history as much as we have to do about history.

The time for close relations with Japan and for learning lessons is right now.



post False Prejudices

April 28th, 2008

Filed under: The Unspoken — Admassu @ 00:09

I was fighting with my conscience to avoid my stereotype conclusions and degrading judgments whenever I saw him lying beside the road exhausted and exposing his alcohol tormented poor body to the midday sun. Wondering how he had succeeded to get drunk so early, I used to walk by without paying attention to the very fact of his being a human being.


That first time I saw him half sober and in a vertical position was the day he came looking for me. Actually he was not looking for me, I was just the last chance to borrow some coins for his daily ration of alcohol. Seeing him coming towards us, I have told my brother that it was my first time seeing this guy walking.

My brother told me that Demisse was once a decorated soldier as Mengistu Hailemariam was ruling our country, and that he was kind of a hero in his regiment. Hearing his name being mentioned for the first time put me in a certain eagerness to know more and I asked my brother…

“What happened that he ended up like this?”

“You better ask himself…. I think he is looking for you.”

“Why me?”

“Well, you are new and he knows I wouldn’t give him a cent.”

Demisse was near us by then. He didn’t greet us because he was too busy positioning himself in a suitable position to face and confront us. It must have taken him all his strength and self-persuasion to come here. He was just looking at both of us smiling, lost and defenseless. Looking at him that way I couldn’t imagine that he was once a soldier, a hero in his regiment.


“What is it Demisse? Why are you here? Didn’t I tell you that I won’t give you any money again?” My brother said.

Demisse smiled shyly, almost like a small kid. His way of responding to my brother’s unfriendly question was so disarming that we couldn’t help laughing. Demisse, accompanying us in our laughter, has some difficulties to keep his balance and he staggered a bit till he found his previous standing position. We saw that he has his first portion of alcohol already.

After standing there smiling and staring at each other for a while, I couldn’t help asking him if he was once a soldier.

He didn’t answer me for about 30 seconds. Instead he looked at my brother in a funny way as if he was blaming him for telling me about his background. Then he said…


“Yes, but no more questions about that please.”

“Why?!” I said. Now I am really eager to know more.

“Why, why, why… why should I tell you why?” He was smiling while he was saying that but his words sounded quite serious.

I was a bit off balance and visibly irritated by his answer. “So why are you here?”

“It is a free country.”

“Don’t be silly Demisse, just tell him why you are here. You need money for your drink and he is not going to give it to you unless you tell him your story.” my brother said.


Demisse looked at both of us for a while evaluating my brother’s offer. He was in a kind of agony. Seeing him suffering to make a decision, I told him not to bother about it. I took out my wallet and gave him 10 Birr excusing my self for pushing him that far. He didn’t believe his eyes and was reluctant to take the money. My brother was also a bit surprised but didn’t say anything. 10 Birr is less than the amount of an Euro and it wasn’t a big deal. But it must have been a big deal in those locals where Demisse usually went to drink. That must be the reason that made him come back after we have thought that he was already gone.

He was still holding the 10 Birr in his hand as he came back as if he didn’t trust his pockets.

Looking directly in to my brother’s eyes he said….

“You have a good brother….” then he turned his face in my direction but still addressing his words to my brother “….I saw your brother few times passing me by while I was lying there drunk. You know, I thought he was just like you and the others here…. you think you are better because you see me this way….” he opened his closed palm to reveal the money I gave him and, still looking at me, he continued talking addressing his words to my brother “….but your brother is different, he gave me so much money because he understands me.”

I was now a bit self conscious and wished he wouldn’t look at me that way and say those untrue words about my being a good and understanding person. I am the one who didn’t recognize him as a human being till I saw him walking towards us on that day. I was the one who passed a degrading judgment on him till I heard that he was a soldier. The only reason why I wanted to hear his story wasn’t because I was interested in his personality, I just wanted to satisfy my own selfish eagerness.

Demisse looked at me and said…

“Do you really want to know why I am drinking?”

“Yes.” I said.


“If you tell me, I would like to hear.”

After a brief silence, he continued…


“She wasn’t older than 21. A beautiful girl with a Kalashnikov… a gorilla fighter of the enemy. My bullet hit her through her chest and I saw her sliding down to a sitting position. Her fighter friends left her there and retreated because we had more soldiers from behind. I think she was already dead, but she was sitting against a tree with her weapon still in her hand, we fired some more shots at her. Then I went to where she was while the others were waiting in their ambush. While checking for her ids I saw that she was a young girl. Her big eyes were still open and they were directly looking at me….”

Demisse walked away silently without saying goodbye. I wished I hadn’t said “yes” as he asked me if I really want to know why he was drinking.

post A Walk to Beautiful

April 24th, 2008

Filed under: Events — Lissan Magazine @ 10:36

A Walk to Beautiful - a film about Ethiopian women suffering from childbirth injuries

The award winning feature-length documentary “A Walk to Beautiful” tells the stories of five Ethiopian women who suffer from devastating childbirth injuries and embark on a journey to reclaim their lost dignity. Rejected by their husbands and ostracized by their communities, these women are left to spend the rest of their lives in loneliness and shame. They make the choice to take the long and arduous journey to the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in search of a cure and a new life. The film has a New Zealand connection in that it features an interview with Dr Catherine Hamlin who along with her New Zealand born husband helped set up and worked in the hospitals. Most recently Dr Hamlin has been in New Zealand raising funds for their Hamlin Charitable Fistula Hospitals Trust.

Bellow is a short trailer of the film.


Boston Walks to Beautiful in A Walk to Beautiful


Boston, Massachusetts, USA – The Boston Branch of the Ethiopian American Youth Initiative proudly held a screening of the award-winning documentary A Walk to Beautiful on Saturday, April 5, 2008 at Boston University. The event was filled with enthusiasm and motivation, especially after the screening of the documentary.

The event began with welcoming remarks by Professor James Pritchett of the Boston University African Studies Center (BU ASC), the event’s sponsor. In his remarks, Professor Pritchett underscored the value and importance of EAYI as a youth organization of Ethiopians and Americans helping Ethiopia. “Usually, it is us that reach to community organizations, but this time they sought after us,” Dr. Pritchett stated, in expressing that BU ASC is looking forward to more partnerships with EAYI.

Following Professor Pritchett’s remarks, the documentary, A Walk to Beautiful was screened. At times the audience laughed, at other times the audience cried; however, the message of “Tesfa” (“hope” in Amharic) was still there for the victims of fistula and the audience. Sister Manna Heshe, a Registered Nurse as Children’s Hospital Boston and former nurse at the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital took the stage and eloquently portrayed her first experience at Fistula Hospital as a student, “I asked why a specific girl was not sociable and I frowned upon it, but Dr. Reginald Hamlin [the late co-founder] told me simply that she had fistula, explained that to me, and once she was repaired this girl was an amazing, beautiful young lady.” She passionately ended by saying “I am still a student of fistula today.”

EAYI Chairman and Founder Samuel Gebru welcomed the audience and shared his experience visiting the hospital as well as he talked about EAYI and our project, The Fistula Project, designed to help the women of Ethiopia with fistula by covering their medical expenses. Samuel stressed that it is the obligation of Ethiopians to help their own country before seeking others to help. “We are committed to helping women with fistula not because we want to but because we have a promise to our mothers, sisters, daughters, aunts and grandmothers.”

The event’s Keynote Speaker, Mrs. Abaynesh Asrat, Board Director of The Fistula Foundation and Founder of Nation to Nation Networking, who came from New York City, poignantly spoke about the efforts of the American and Ethiopian communities in the US that helped build a hospital in Harrar, Ethiopia. “It is important that we rise up to the challenge because building the Harrar Fistula Hospital gave us a sense of ownership in Ethiopia’s development. It is our duty to help Ethiopia progress.” Mrs. Abaynesh Asrat’s speech focused on three specific topics which helped portray how effective the film is.

First, Abaynesh pointed out how genuine the documentary is in portraying the energy and power of the women to change their lives after fistula repair surgery. The “Tesfa Ineste” (“lets give them hope” in Amharic) Campaign of the Fistula Foundation is a program which Abaynesh Asrat heads. Tesfa Ineste was created by Abaynesh to build the Harrar Fistula Hospital as a response to the other regional fistula hospitals being built by Australians, Germans, etc. Abaynesh stressed the importance of volunteerism to give Ethiopians a sense of ownership in helping women restore their dignity. She explained the advantages to volunteering and how the United States is built on volunteers.

The speakers engaged the audience in a discussion session where many questions were posed to the panel. The energy in the room reflected a common consensus amongst the audience that “awareness and enforcement of laws promoting women’s rights should be implemented,” as a guest said. The main question of the discussion was “Is Ethiopia’s Government doing anything currently to promote women’s rights in the fight to end fistula? If so, what can Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia do to complement the efforts?” The issues of globalization and the “brain-drain” of Ethiopian medical professionals were discussed as well as civic advocacy in Ethiopia to promote the issues of women’s rights.

A major comment by a high school student was what put the room in thinking: “What are you [adults] doing to help include us youth in the volunteerism and leadership process? One day you all will pass away and I fear that we won’t be able to rise to the occasion,” said young Seble. She also asked Chairman Samuel to have youth networking events where youth would be able to develop leadership. Following that, the audience literally demanded that EAYI conduct another screening of A Walk to Beautiful.

A lively reception was followed in which the audience was able to discuss in depth with the speakers. Abaynesh Asrat and Samuel Gebru conducted the auction where an Ethiopian traditional dress, two Ethiopian Airlines Ethiopian Millennium Calendars and “Himbasha” (Ethiopian traditional bread) were sold by an excited crowd. The audience was inspired by the youth initiative’s determination to promote youth initiation and leadership and developing Ethiopia.

The Ethiopian American Youth Initiative wishes to thank the Boston University African Studies Center for sponsoring the event, Engel Entertainment for giving us the rights to screen the documentary before its world premiere, the Fistula Foundation and the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association for providing us with knowledge and experience about obstetric fistula and Ethiopian women. We also wish to recognize Professor James Pritchett, Sister Manna Heshe, Mr. Samuel Gebru and Mrs. Abaynesh Asrat for their enthusiasm and dedication to our efforts.

post Ethiopian Refugees in the UK

April 22nd, 2008

Filed under: Immigration Stories — Lissan Magazine @ 23:51

Ethiopian refugees in the UK: migration, adaptation and settlement experiences and their relevance to health

by: Papadopolous, I; Lees, S; Lay, M; Gebrehiwot, A


This study explores the migration histories of Ethiopian refugees and asylum seekers, their experiences of settling and adapting to UK society, and looks in particular at their health beliefs and practices and their experiences of the UK health and social care system.

Semi-structured interviews were held with 106 Ethiopian informants. Interviewees were also asked to complete a semi-structured questionnaire in order to collect quantifiable and supplementary data. The majority of respondents lived in Greater London, particularly in the boroughs of Haringey, Islington and Westminster. Members of the Ethiopian community were recruited to work with the researchers at Middlesex University and were involved in all parts of the research process, including conducting interviews [mainly in Amharic], identifying respondents and transcribing interviews. Interviewees were recruited through a combination of quota and snowballing sampling techniques, ensuring representation of all age groups over 12 years and gender. Data were analysed thematically and validated through researcher triangulation and comparisons with published literature. Quantitative data were analysed using SPSS software.

Key findings
Key findings include:
• respondents noted that adapting to British culture was a cause of stress, depression and poor health. Some said that women adapted better to life in the UK than men because they may have been liberated from a position of subjugation and men may have experienced the loss of social status. Young people were felt to adapt more quickly to the UK culture and picked up the language and accent with greater ease than the older generations;

• immigration status amongst the respondents was closely associated with employment: those with refugee status were the most likely to be employed, followed by those with indefinite leave to remain and those with exceptional leave to remain;

• forty-eight percent of the respondents were not satisfied with their current accommodation arrangements, especially those who were homeless, living with friends, in private rented accommodation or in bed-and-breakfast hostels. Complaints centred mainly around lack of privacy, poor housing condition and insecurity;

• low use of formal support agencies in the UK was attributed to their reluctance to receive help from strangers and because they were not seen to always be sensitive to their plight.

• respondents noted that Ethiopian community organisations played a crucial role in enabling them to access statutory services;

• health was conceptualised by the respondents as happiness, the ability to fulfil material needs and ambitions, harmonious relationships, physical, mental and spiritual well-being, a healthy environment and positive personal qualities. Happiness is seen to be a cause of health; causes for sickness reported by the respondents included: eating the wrong foods, disease, climate, accidents and poor socio-economic conditions;

• 61% of the respondents noted that stress or worry made them feel ill. This was also the case for socio-economic factors such as lack of money, family problems and housing problems. Coping with mental health problems did not usually involve using mental health services due to the stigma attached to these within the Ethiopian community; some of the respondents noted that political and social solutions were the answer to these problems;

• most of the respondents were registered with a GP and their knowledge of the primary and secondary healthcare system was good. The main problems with services arose from lack of interpreters;

• over half of the informants had used traditional medicine in Ethiopia and less than half had used a hospital or medical doctor in Ethiopia. Self-care was reported to be used equally in the UK and in Ethiopia, although family and friends were more likely to be used as a source of informal care in Ethiopia; lack of contact with family and friends for informal support in the UK was seen as a negative aspect of living there.

Conclusions and recommendations
Removing the barriers to settlement and adaptation, such as poverty, poor accommodation and isolation, is crucial for the health and well-being of refugees living in the UK. Culturally competent care should be provided based on a knowledge of refugees’ traditional health beliefs.


post Ethiopian Refugee Helps Others

April 22nd, 2008

Filed under: Immigration Stories — Lissan Magazine @ 23:19

In Israel, Ethiopian refugee helps others.

Yohannes Lemma Bayu provides practical aid for what the government recently called a ‘tsunami’ of African asylum seekers.

Tel Aviv - Yohannes Lemma Bayu arrived here on a tourist visa in 1997, fleeing his government in Ethiopia. It took him five years, a three-week hunger strike, and an order from Israel’s Supreme Court to win political asylum.

“When I came here I considered Israel a developed democratic country that respected international law. It wasn’t what I expected. There’s no system for dealing with refugees,” says Mr. Bayu, who responded by helping to found the nonprofit African Refugees Development Center (ARDC) in Tel Aviv. “After my experience, I realized there needs to be an organization to help others. We’re focused on empowering refugees to take control [of their lives].”


As director of the center today, Bayu offers asylum seekers practical help as Israel struggles to cope with what Prime Minister Ehud Olmert recently called a “tsunami” of African migrants. What began two years ago as a slow trickle of refugees sneaking over the border from Darfur and southern Sudan has become a steady stream of illegal migrants – some 5,000 to 6,000 have overwhelmed Israel’s prisons.

About half have been released, but save for several hundred Darfurian refugees to whom the government has granted residency, the Africans get no assistance or work permits from the government because they are considered illegal migrant workers.

ARDC is one of the humanitarian and human rights NGOs that have stepped into the vacuum, but they criticize the government for ignoring the migrants’ living conditions and human rights.

“The government hasn’t found a proper solution neither for the state nor for the refugees. As a result people are suffering a lot,” says Bayu. “There is a lack of policy, a lack of programs, and a lack of good decisions.”

A government official who requested anonymity says Israel has declined requests by the Eritrean government to repatriate its nationals, fearing they could be punished back home. The solution, the official says, would be to find a third country to accept them.

Indeed, the presence of thousands of Africans who say their lives are at risk back home raises moral and emotional dilemmas in a country built up by Jewish refugees from the Holocaust and Arab countries.

Darfurians, facing what the US has labeled as genocide, enjoy special treatment, as do tens of thousands of Ethiopian Jews airlifted into Israel and welcomed as new citizens. But other migrants face Israeli fears that they will find low-paying jobs that lower Israelis’ pay or opportunities for employment. There’s also a concern that, along with hundreds of thousands of foreign workers already living in the country, the migrants will change Israel’s Jewish character.

Mark Regev, a spokesman for prime minister’s office, says Israel’s proximity to Africa and its prosperity is making it an increasingly popular destination for people looking for economic stability.

“This is a relatively new problem for Israel to deal with,” he says. “It’s very difficult for an untrained Israeli to make the distinction between a bona fide refugee and an economic migrant. We’ve got to work to make that distinction. People from Darfur have a special status, deservedly so, but not every illegal economic immigrant from Africa can hitch a ride on that status.”

Meanwhile, the migrants already in Israel struggle to negotiate daily life. In ARDC’s cramped Tel Aviv shelters, they pepper Bayu, known here as Johnny, with questions on getting kids into schools, recovering salaries from rogue employers, and avoiding another round of police raids.

Bayu opened up the first shelter about nine months ago to avert homelessness. Within a week the number of residents tripled from 30 to 100. With some help from the Tel Aviv municipality and human rights groups, Bayu rented out more spaces, with as many as 1,000 tenants.

The main shelter is located in a former prostitute den next to Tel Aviv’s dilapidated central bus station. The living conditions are cramped, dark, and grimy, with some 300 people spread over three floors (not including mattresses on stairway landings). Some sleep in the hallways, while small rooms house six bunk beds. Cardboard boxes with donated clothes lie strewn about.

ARDC’s project coordinator, Alice Nägele, is helping Bayu scout out a better place. She says Israel lacks laws governing the status of asylum seekers and a procedure for absorbing them while their requests are handled.

After the Israel branch of Physicians for Human Rights closed down a migrant workers clinic saying it couldn’t handle the demand last week, a parliamentary committee on migrants called on the government to allocate $12 million for healthcare for the asylum seekers.

Giving the migrants working permits, Bayu says, would allow them to take care of themselves rather than rely on public assistance. In addition to helping refugees navigate Israeli society, he also wants them to become an active part of it. The shelter bulletin boards contain information about medical care, current-events discussions, and Hebrew classes, and Bayu wants the refugees to volunteer with the elderly during the upcoming Jewish holidays.

“We can contribute to the country,” he says. “If the government does its part, we’ll do ours.”


post The Pleasures of the Flesh

April 22nd, 2008

Filed under: Environment — Lissan Magazine @ 22:42

If you care about hunger, eat less meat.

By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 15th April 2008

Never mind the economic crisis. Focus for a moment on a more urgent threat: the great food recession which is sweeping the world faster than the credit crunch.


You have probably seen the figures by now: the price of rice has risen by three-quarters in the past year, that of wheat by 130%. There are food crises in 37 countries. One hundred million people, according to the World Bank, could be pushed into deeper poverty by the high prices. But I bet you have missed the most telling statistic. At 2.1bn tonnes, last year’s global grain harvest broke all records. It beat the previous year’s by almost 5%. The crisis, in other words, has begun before world food supplies are hit by climate change. If hunger can strike now, what will happen if harvests decline?

There is plenty of food. It is just not reaching human stomachs. Of the 2.13bn tonnes likely to be consumed this year, only 1.01bn, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), will feed people.

I am sorely tempted to write another column about biofuels. From this morning all sellers of transport fuel in the United Kingdom will be obliged to mix it with ethanol or biodiesel made from crops. The World Bank points out that “the grain required to fill the tank of a sports utility vehicle with ethanol … could feed one person for a year”. Last year global stockpiles of cereals declined by around 53m tonnes; this gives you a rough idea of the size of the hunger gap. The production of biofuels this year will consume almost 100m tonnes, which suggests that they are directly responsible for the current crisis. In the Guardian yesterday the transport secretary Ruth Kelly promised that “if we need to adjust policy in the light of new evidence, we will.” What new evidence does she require? In the midst of a global humanitarian crisis, we have just become legally obliged to use food as fuel. It is a crime against humanity in which every driver in this country has been forced to participate.

But I have been saying this for four years and I am boring myself. Of course we must demand that our governments scrap the rules which turn grain into the fastest food of all. But there is a bigger reason for global hunger, which is attracting less attention only because it has been there for longer. While 100m tonnes of food will be diverted this year to feed cars, 760m tonnes will be snatched from the mouths of humans to feed animals. This could cover the global food deficit 14 times. If you care about hunger, eat less meat.

While meat consumption is booming in Asia and Latin America, in the United Kingdom it has scarcely changed since the government started gathering data in 1974. At just over 1kg per person per week, it’s still about 40% above the global average, though less than half the amount consumed in the United States. We eat less beef and more chicken than we did 30 years ago, which means a smaller total impact. Beef cattle eat about 8kg of grain or meal for every kilogramme of flesh they produce; a kilogramme of chicken needs just 2kg of feed. Even so, our consumption rate is plainly unsustainable.

In his magazine The Land, Simon Fairlie has updated the figures produced 30 years ago in Kenneth Mellanby’s book Can Britain Feed Itself? Fairlie found that a vegan diet grown by means of conventional agriculture would require only 3m hectares of arable land (around half the current total). Even if we reduced our consumption of meat by half, a mixed farming system would need 4.4m hectares of arable fields and 6.4 million hectares of pasture. A vegan Britain could make a massive contribution to global food stocks.

But I cannot advocate a diet I am incapable of following. I tried it for about 18 months, lost two stone, went as white as bone and felt that I was losing my mind. I know a few healthy-looking vegans and I admire them immensely. But after almost every talk I give, I am pestered by swarms of vegans demanding that I adopt their lifestyle. I cannot help noticing that in most cases their skin has turned a fascinating pearl grey.

What level of meat-eating would be sustainable? One approach is to work out how great a cut would be needed to accommodate the growth in human numbers. The UN expects the population to rise to 9bn by 2050. These extra people will require another 325m tonnes of grain. Let us assume, perhaps generously, that politicians like Ms Kelly are able to “adjust policy in the light of new evidence” and stop turning food into fuel. Let us pretend that improvements in plant breeding can keep pace with the deficits caused by climate change. We would need to find an extra 225m tonnes of grain. This leaves 531m tonnes for livestock production, which suggests a sustainable consumption level for meat and milk some 30% below the current world rate. This means 420g of meat per person per week, or about 40% of the UK’s average consumption.

This estimate is complicated by several factors. If we eat less meat we must eat more plant protein, which means taking more land away from animals. On the other hand, some livestock is raised on pasture, so it doesn’t contribute to the grain deficit. Simon Fairlie estimates that if animals were kept only on land that’s unsuitable for arable farming, and given scraps and waste from food processing, the world could produce between a third and two thirds of its current milk and meat supply. But this system then runs into a different problem. The FAO calculates that animal keeping is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions. The environmental impacts are especially grave in places where livestock graze freely. The only reasonable answer to the question of how much meat we should eat is as little as possible. Let’s reserve it - as most societies have done until recently - for special occasions.

For both environmental and humanitarian reasons, beef is out. Pigs and chickens feed more efficiently, but unless they are free range you encounter another ethical issue: the monstrous conditions in which they are kept. I would like to encourage people to start eating tilapia instead of meat. It’s a freshwater fish which can be raised entirely on vegetable matter and has the best conversion efficiency - about 1.6kg of feed for 1kg of meat - of any farmed animal. Until meat can be grown in flasks, this is about as close as we are likely to come to sustainable flesh-eating.

Re-reading this article, I see that there is something surreal about it. While half the world wonders whether it will eat at all, I am pondering which of our endless choices we should take. Here the price of food barely registers. Our shops are better stocked than ever before. We perceive the global food crisis dimly, if at all. It is hard to understand how two such different food economies could occupy the same planet, until you realise that they feed off each other.


post Globalisation & Africa

April 13th, 2008

Filed under: General Issue — Lissan Magazine @ 22:37

Globalisation, Its Implications and Consequences for Africa

Given the historical relationship between Africa and the West it is ironic that the latter is today preaching the virtues of freedom to Africans. Former colonisers and ex-slave-owners have made a virtue of championing political and economic liberalisation. Yesterday’s oppressors appear to be today’s liberators, fighting for democracy, human rights and free market economies throughout the world.

The concept of globalisation is global and dominant in the world today. But, it was not handed down from heaven, it was not decreed by the Pope, it did not emerge spontaneously. It was created by the dominant social forces in the world today to serve their specific interests. Simultaneously these social forces gave themselves a new ideological name the - “international community” - to go with the idea of globalisation.

Globalisation…has largely been driven by the interests and needs of the developed world (Grieco and Holmes, 1999)

Globalisation has turned the world into the big village… This in turn has led to intense electronic corporate commercial war to get the attention and nod of the customer globally…This war for survival can only get more intense in the new millenium. Are we prepare(d) to face the realities of this global phenomenon, which has the potential of wiping out industrial enterprise in Nigeria (and Africa)? What can we (or do we) do?

It is needless to distractedly search for any premise other than the foregoing to commence the analytical examination of the holocaust effects of globalisation particularly as it concerns the African continent. It should be stated, however, that the extent of these effects as well as the coping ability/capacity of its victims are explainable within the context of human history, which, on its own has not been static, and which had continuously evolved with the society itself over the years. In the course of this evolution, various developments and changes had taken place. These changes or developments had, in most cases, affected the systemic existence of humankind per se regardless of the geo-political location within the universe.

One of such changes or developments that is currently affecting the physiology of human society today through its imposition of constraints on the policy-making autonomy or independence of member states vis-à-vis their capacities for the authoritative allocation of scarce and critical societal values or resources among other functions, is globalisation. As a result of its combination of “destructive leviathan” and improved material well-being of humankind, globalisation has continued to attract increased scholarly and analytical attention across the globe. It is, thus, not fortuitous that globalisation has been at the epicentre of most developmental and intellectual discourses.

This is not unconnected with the fact that world developments have been increasingly characterised not by their growth dynamics but by their links to the process of globalisation. Hence, the overwhelming character of globalisation has made it compelling for some scholars to use various aspects of the global economy as units of analysis.

The Concept OF Globalisation
Globalisation refers to the process of the intensification of economic, political, social and cultural relations across international boundaries. It is principally aimed at the transcendental homogenization of political and socio-economic theory across the globe. It is equally aimed at “making global being present worldwide at the world stage or global arena”. It deals with the “increasing breakdown of trade barriers and the increasing integration of World market once opined: Globalisation can be seen as an evolution which is systematically restructuring interactive phases among nations by breaking down barriers in the areas of culture, commerce, communication and several other fields of endeavour.

This is evident from its push of free-market economics, liberal democracy, good governance, gender equality and environmental sustainability among other holistic values for the people of the member states.

The process of globalisation is impelled by the series of cumulative and conjunctural crises in the international division of labour and the global distribution of economic and political power; in global finance, in the functioning of national states and in the decline of the Keynesian welfare state and the established social contact between labour and government. In fact, its hallmark of free-market capitalism has been aided among other factors by the sudden though expected changes within the physiology of global political community in recent times.

Within the parameters of the foregoing, globalisation could be correctly defined from the institutional perspective as the spread of capitalism. However, it is germane to adumbrate that the collapse of the Eastern block in the late 80s and early 90s led to the emergence and ascendancy of a global economy that is primarily structured and governed by the interests of Western behemoth countries, thus, facilitating the integration of most economies into the global capitalist economy. With the demise of the Eastern Europe in the early 90s, capitalism as an economic system now dominates the globe more than it had been at any time in its history. Even, China, by far the largest non-capitalist economy, has undergone dramatic changes in its international economic policy orientation, and, is today the recipient of almost one-half of all foreign direct investments that go into developing nations - this is a country that essentially blocked all foreign investments until the 1980s. Beyond this simplistic analysis of globalisation in terms of capital inflows and trade investment, it is important to state that it has been of disastrous consequences to the governments and people of the African continent.

Globalisation, according to Ohiorhenuan, is the broadening and deepening linkages of national economies into a worldwide market for goods and services, especially capital. As Tandon once opined, globalisation seeks to remove all national barriers to the free movement of international capital and this process is accelerated and facilitated by the supersonic transformation in information technology. It is principally aimed at the universal homogenisation of ideas, cultures, values and even life styles as well as, at the deterritorialisation and villagization of the world. Expanding this argument, argued, that it is principally concerned with the expansion of trade over the oceans and airspace, beyond traditional alliances which were restricted by old political spheres of influence. Thus, it presupposes the “making or remaking” of the world by creating “a basic change in the way in which major actors think and operate across the globe”. In other words, it connotes “the rapid expansion through giant multinational companies of capitalism and their “blood sapping principles” of “liberalisation”, “commercialisation”, privatisation” and “undemocratic and property-based democratisation” to several areas of the world including where it had hitherto been resisted or put in check”.

Very critical to our understanding of globalisation is the dire need to use it as a synonym for liberalisation and greater openness. The implication of this is that both domestic and foreign liberalization are said to imply globalisation, since the former brings domestic markets more in conformity with forces operating in markets abroad, and, the removal of administrative barriers to international movement of goods, services, labour and capital increases economic interaction among nations. It is within this purview that we can argue that globalisation is mainly a phenomenon of capital mobility. Its two prongs are: (i) Foreign direct investment and (ii) international portfolio flows. Thus, a global economy is one which is dominated by transnational firms and financial institutions, operating independently of national boundaries and domestic economic considerations. The implication of deterritorialisation for African countries is that world goods, factors of production and financial assets would be almost perfect substitutes everywhere in the world. Hence, it could be difficult to identify a national economy and consider nation states as distinct economic identities with autonomous decision making power in the pursuit of national objectives. This, indeed, explains why the IMF issued a query to Nigeria in respect of over 400 billion naira meant for capital expenditure in the 2001 budget, and, why the IMF and World Bank (two bodies that are driving forces of globalisation) contributed enourmously in the drafting of the Nigeria’s 2001 budget.

Another important feature of globalisation is that, it enhances the volume of international trade and investment, which is a reflection of the global patten of specialisation in production (i.e. the international division of labour). Though, there is an increase in the volume of goods among nations, international trade continues to be largely concentrated in developed countries (i.e. Trade continues to exist between economies at the same level of economic development). For example, in 1992, 56% of world trade was among developed countries, virtually unchanged from its 1970 level. In the same year, 77% of developed countries imports originated from other developed countries, compared to 78% in 1970. Thus, trade between the developed and developing world as measured by the share of developing countries exports in total developed countries imports has been stable, varying around 30% since 1970, although the rise in oil prices in the 1970s brought a temporary increase. However, trade among developing countries has been a relatively constant share of total trade, although, there has been a rise in intra-Latin American trade. Central to our discourse is that, globalisation is also about international division of labour which might be broadly characterised by the skill intensity of production, with developed countries increasingly specialising in high - skill intensive manufacturing and services and, developing countries in low - skill intensive manufacturing. This asymmetry has severe and devastating impacts on African economies since they are primarily to produce raw materials for industries in the developed countries who, eventually, produce goods and dump them in developing countries as a result of liberalisation - a critical component of globalisation.

There is no doubt whatsoever that globalisation is one of the most challenging developments in the world history. As Tandon once opined, “globalisation in its most generic and broad sense is part of the movement of history”. In other words, globalisation which is an “imperial policy” and the “final conquest of capital over the rest of the World”, is deeply rooted in history and quite explainable within the context of the one -arm banditry and exploitative antecedents of capitalism which, by its nature cannot exist without parasitic expansion.

Given the changing faces and phases of globalisation and its immutable central and primary focus to exploit African resources, disintegrate its economies and incorporate it into the international capitalist economy, it is imperative to emphasise that, the different conceptions, notions and treatment of globalisation by scholars are not incompatible with one another. The limitation of these conceptions, notions and treatments, however, is that, it does not describe the sudden yet significant shifts in the world economy, but, rather, simply the continuation of longer term trends. Rather, the new development which seems to connect these different strands is that an increased pace of capital mobility has begun to shift the prospects for economic development and growth to the global level - an indication of the expropriation of surplus and capital flight from the African economies.

Its History And Instruments
Globalisation is not a new feature of the world economy. The era before the First World War was one in which strong globalisation tendencies produced a very uneven pattern of global economic development, exposing the limits of global economic integration. For example, the integration of the African economy into the capitalist economy is part of the globalising tendencies of capitalism. Thus, colonialism provided a legal framework for the dependence of the African economy on the economy of western countries. Thus, the African economy became producers of raw materials for industries in advanced capitalist societies.

Historically, the process of globalisation had started in a small way in the nineteenth century. This was when capital moved from Europe to open up new areas in America and Australia, mostly in the building of rail road systems and agriculture that would be central to the expansion of capitalism.

The subsequent maturation of joint-stock companies and developments in the areas of banking, industrial capital and technology, aided among other things, the scramble for and partitioning of Africa and, its then attendant rapacious exploitation of these parts of the World. Even though, the pre-eminence of globalisation as championed by America was interrupted by the cold war era, with the effective end of the latter in 1990, the West no longer need to compromise as before, its ideology of globalized culture on the account of communism.

Consequent on this, the global economy continued to experience some fundamental changes in nearly all ramifications including “even the language of global discourse”. This trend is currently being pursued with vigour by the now acclaimed instruments, of globalisation. These instruments - ((a) the reformed old Bretton Woods institutions (IMF and World Bank), (b) World Trade organisation and (c) the G8) - according to Banjo are the “Wicked Machines of the Imperialists”, which completely have their pedigrees in the ideological frameworks of the West and its monopolistic view of what the World should look like. This is particularly so because:

The rules and regulations of these three agencies of imperialism are fundamentally unfair to working and poor people around the world. The private corporation and other financial interest whose interests are devilish are able to dominate the “rules of the game” in the international economy with adverse results on the health and welfare of hundreds of millions of people.

Any characterisation of globalisation that excludes the roles of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank will be too reductionist since the primary goal of globalisation is the issue of global capital. In this direction, the IMF and the World Bank have played crucial roles in the enthronement of global capital. This has been done through policies such as liberalisation, privatisation and deregulation. In respect of liberalisation which is a process of removing artificial restrictions on production, exchange or use of goods, services and factors of production, there has been a liberalisation of international trade and factor movements which are necessary conditions for firms to globalise. Indeed, firms, National Companies play crucial roles since the logic of private enterprise is the drive for profits, the movement of firms and capital across borders in pursuit of profits is inherent in the expansion of firms. Thus, economic activity could not be global without the capacity of business to operate simultaneously in more than one country, but the unique capacity for organisational flexibility and integration that characterises many transnational corporations today, serves as a driving force for globalisation.

As for privatisation, it has deepened the integration of African countries into the global systems of production and finance by encouraging capital inflows and bringing foreign ownership of formerly public - owned enterprises. It is imperative to observe that, this international dispersion of ownership has been asymmetric: the privatisation policy in the African countries has attracted capital from the developed countries, but it has disbursed ownership mainly to domestic residents in the developed countries.

The protagonists of globalisation with the collaboration of their “puppets’ cat’s paws” and “butt lickers” in various developing countries, have, through these instruments, continued to consistently, through cosmetic and mouth -watering entreaties, lure developing countries (particularly in African continent) into the “Villagized World” without much guarantee of equality and fairness in the asymmetrical game-play involved. They have been doing this by laying irresistible emphases on the advantages of science and technology particularly in the areas of “internet-connectivity”, “new information communication technologies” “customization” “internet-based cybermall”, and, “modernised agriculture” and, its propensity for “transparency” and reduction of the problems of hunger and possible stoppage of Africa’s food crisis.

The wholesale acceptance of globalisation as a saviour of the developing countries particularly those in Africa, has been likened to that of a moving train which Africa and Africans must keep pace with, regardless of whether the latter has similar destination in mind, because, Africa no choice. This analogy is especially pernicious when one takes a close look at the debilitating effects of globalisation itself. The analogy asserts that the developing countries have no choice but to keep in step. But, this is not true. Rather than looking at globalisation in a humanistic manner, this line of thinking is a mere plastering of wounds, and, a product of Eurocentric teleology: and equation of a twisted ideal with an unhealthy reality, an equation of westernization with civilisation and the pinnacle of development. To the contrary, Africa and Africans have a choice. One of the choices is the creation of a blockade on the “path of the train”. In other words, the African continent and, indeed, other developing countries could conceivably create Regional Economic and Political blocks equal in magnitude and potency with that of the European Union (EU), to effectively challenge, and influence the trajectory of the globalisation train. To argue otherwise is to lead Africa and Africans along the path of extinction. Nevermore can there be a Berlin Conference of 1884 to 1885 and its subsequent genocidal partitioning of Africa and Africans by the colonialists.

Indeed, the globalisation of technology promotes the globalisation of production and finance, by spurring the dissemination of information and lowering the cost of linking markets internationally. The globalisation of technology has created rapidly rising numbers of global consumers. In fact, Africa has been turned into a dumping ground where people increasingly consume an abundance of products that have little connection to their struggle for existence (for example, Literature, Movies, Music). This, indeed, has led to the obliteration of African culture leading to a Eurocentric view of the realities Africans perceive. Further, this helps explain why some Africans don’t understand their own history, but they can write history in favour of Europe.

It must be clear at this point, that the current villagization of the world, as globalisation, has greatly (negatively) affected the developing countries (particularly those in Africa) in nearly all facets of life. The examination of the nature and scope of these effects, their implications and consequences for Africa, forms the core of the discussion below.

Globalisation’s Problems and
Consequences for the States in Africa

To begin with, even though, globalisation as Ohiorhenuan (1998 op cit.), Mowlana (1998), and Oyejide (1998) Grieco and Holmes (1999) respectively opined, is a positive or powerful force for the improved material well-being of humankind, that would aid developing countries to “create better economic environments”, to “leapfrog” into the information age; improve their access to technology; speed development and enhance global harmony”, its effects on the political, economic, social and cultural nerves of the weaker member states cannot be ignored without severe consequences. In other words, the seeming near-consensus on the agenda of globalisation notwithstanding, the unrelenting encouragement of its “uneven thesis” does not give room for comfort as, it is exorbitantly costly to the developing nations. This is particularly so in that, globalisation affects developmental thinking and actions of the developing polities; relegates ethical equity and social concerns behind market consideration and reduces the autonomy of the independence states. According to Ohiorhenuan (op. cit), it challenges the mediative role of the state vis-à-vis external pressures. It threatens the discretion of the state everywhere. Not only this, according to Tandon, globalisation encourages “decreasing National control and increasing control over the (Internal) economy (of the state) by outside players. In fact, the gospel of globalisation through its economic liberalism “has been elevated to the position of absolute truth, a sort of pensee unique (or single theory) against which there is no credible alternative”. Indeed, globalisation is an awesome and terrifying phenomenon for African countries.

Concretely put, the planetary phenomenon of globalisation is nothing but a new order of marginalisation of the African continent. Its universalization of communication, mass production, market exchanges and redistribution, rather than engendering new ideas and developmental orientation in Africa, subverts its autonomy and powers of self-determination. It is rather by design than by accident that poverty has become a major institution in Africa despite this continent’s stupendous resources. Indeed, the developing countries/world burden of external debt has reached two trillion dollars (World Bank, 1994). In the process, it has enlivened the venomous potency of mass poverty and, its accompanying multidimensional depravity of the citizenry of all the requisite essence of meaningful living. It has disintegrated or disarticulated the industrial sector of most, if not all polities in Africa. This has been particularly evident in the areas of cost of production which has become uncomfortably high in most of the developing countries (e.g. Nigeria); also in the lack of government’s incentives to encourage local production; subversion of local products through high importation, currency devaluation; and depletion of foreign reserves. This clearly raises the problems of marginalization which, according to Ake, is, in reality, the dynamics of under development - the development of under development by the agents of development.

Nation-states in Africa today, rarely define the rules and regulations of their economy, production, credits and exchanges of goods and services due to the rampaging menace of globalisation. They are hardly now capable of volitionally managing their political, economic and socio-cultural development. Globalisation It has imposed heavy constraints on the internal management dynamics of most if not all the polities in Africa (e.g., Nigeria) where the government now finds it difficulty in most cases to meet the genuine demands of the governed on many issues of national urgency (e.g., the June 1st, 2000, 50% hike in the prices of petroleum and related products and its attendant crippling national strike by the Nigerian workers). The reality in Nigeria today, as it is for most African nations, is that globalisation has made it immensely difficult for governments to provide social insurance - one of their central functions and one that has helped many developed nations to maintain social cohesion and domestic political support. Trends like this have been largely dictated by the asymmetry of powers that accompany globalisation (i.e., inequality in the status of the members of the “villagized world” and, their inability to resist imposed policy options). In fact, this asymmetry which is undergirded by a system of production where capital rules has been clearly amplified by Madunagu when he claimed that: the result of globalisation in Africa, is basically a competition between the palatial centres (Developed World) and the slums (Africa) of the village where a preponderant majority of the people daily sink deeper into poverty and misery.

Consequently, its (globalisation) ideology of “free-market liberalism and property-based democracy remains a continuous licence for cultural imperialism and, the institutionalisation of both political and economic domination and exploitation of the weaker partners (i.e. the developing economies) through their internal agents.

This imperialistic cultural dimension of globalisation, particularly in the area of “internet connectivity” which has often been used as a bait for luring Africa and other developing polities into the villagized world, has recently been put into perspective thus: The world is gradually moving in a unidirectional manner and, the tendency towards uniformity has never been so appealing as it is now…. Consequently, there is a serious concern that nations like Nigeria whose contributions to the internet pool is low may lose their identity.

According to this perspective, if this trend continues: A sort of cultural imperialism which will seek to enslave the African mind, leaving in its wake a cultureless or culturally disoriented people (may become a permanent feature of Africa and or people (Emphasis mine).

This fear has been greatly highlighted by the effects which Internet use already has on the language of most polities of the world according to the survey of the global reach diagrammatically shown below:

Looking at the foregoing, it is apparent that, the globalisation process is more symmetrical to the “origin and development of the neo-colonial states (in Africa)” which were “determined by the nature and structures of the colonising countries” rather than according to a concretely established philosophy or determination to get Africa out of lingering crises. Thus, globalisation is a form of entrapment for Africa. Apart from its evocation of powerlessness already analysed, it creates a process through which the “poor countries (in Africa) are dominated and exploited by the rich countries and, a vicious circle of vulnerability of African governments” to outside parasitic economic manoeuvring as does the lack of capacity for independence of socio-political, cultural and psychological thinking relative to concrete actions. Unless, as earlier stated, its one-arm banditry is understood, concretely discerned and checkmated, globalisation will lead Africa to “increased penury”. This can be better understood in the context of the fact that, the “heavy burden of foreign debt has greatly eroded their capacity to run their own affairs and respond to the demands of the people”. This unwholesome development has created a legitimacy crisis for most African governments and turned the African continent into an Empire of Chaos.

Generally, globalisation has become a “threat to the poor rather than an opportunity for global action to eradicate poverty”. Arguing further, Obadina contends that the “concept of absolute freedom that underlies the rationale for globalisation is the same notion” used to justify slavery and colonisation. It is equally anchored on the “belief that the strong, however defined, should be free to exercise their strength without moral or legal limitations that protect the weak”. Thus, it is distinct from positive freedom which states that: People should be free as long as they do not deny the rights and freedom of others. People should not be at liberty to deny others freedom and basic rights. There must be limits on freedom otherwise the liberty of the powerful becomes the oppression of the weak.

Given the foregoing, Obadina, argued that the free-market undertone of globalisation is anchored in “greed and ethos of winner takes all” and a “beggar their neighbour” philosophy irrespective of its seeming moral terms of freedom and, this, in itself, has increased the debt burden of most countries in Africa. He summed his position thus: Western relations with (the) undeveloped countries are not predicated on a desire to eradicate mass poverty but on the penchant to impose the free-market system founded on the notion of absolute freedom.

The foregoing is even more absurd given the fact that, these same western nations that are clamouring for respect for human rights and fundamental freedom are at the same time pushing for globalisation and economic policies that encourage the abuse of these rights including the denial of the right to economic equality. The predicaments of the people of the Niger Delta (particularly Ogoni people) in Nigeria offer a case in point.

These predicaments are explicable within the context of the (deliberate) inability of the Nigerian government to equitably protect the interests and environment of the people of the Niger Delta particularly the oppressed Ogoni people from the rapaciousness of the forces of globalisation (ably represented by the multinational oil companies).

This is evident from the fact that oil exploration has negatively affected the environment of the Niger Delta and, the Ogoni people in particular, leading to a worsening socio-economic situation for the people. In fact, more than 2 million barrels of oil are explored from the Niger Delta daily.

Concretely put, despite the immense contributions of the Niger Delta (particularly the Ogoni people) to the fiscal basis of the Nigerian State as well as to global capital, the area remains basically underdeveloped due to deliberate neglect and eclipsing from the rational policy agenda of the Nigerian State. The area continuously lacks basic infrastructural facilities such as good roads, schools, electricity, communications, hospitals and so on. In addition, oil spills have drastically affected the supply of potable water, leading to the high prevalence of water-borne diseases. Also, the impact of the exploratory and extractive activities of these global forces – Shell whose operation in Nigeria alone accounts for 14% of its total global operations, Mobil Agrip, Cheveron, Texaco, Total, etc. – have basically affected the social organization of the Ogoni people and the Niger Delta in general.

A manifestation of these negative impacts is the replacement of the traditional economy that was founded on fishing, farming and hunting for economic sustenance with a petrol-dollar economy. Thus, as the World Bank (1995) noted, the impact of oil exploration in the Niger Delta Area (particularly in the Ogoni Communities) by the forces of globalisation has decreased agricultural productivity and fishing in the areas, leading to the prevalence of poverty which was put above the national average.

The attempts by the people of the Niger Delta and, the Ogoni people to challenge the inhuman and mindless capitalistic wastage of their marine life and environment through series of mass protests and attacks on the forces of globalisation have been smothered by the Nigerian State using the instruments of coercion, repression, intimidation and unjustifiable killing of the leaders of the oppressed. The unnecessary and avoidable supreme price through hanging which Kenule saro-wiwa and eight other Ogoni Environmentalists were made to pay in 1995 offers a useful explanation of the predicaments under reference here. These inhuman measures were embarked upon ostensibly to continuously generate capital for developing needs, debts (re)negotiation and, to ensure that the process of capital accumulation is not altered against neo-colonial compradors. These developments have created renewed determination by the people to prevent further degradation of their eco-system hence, the constant conflicts between them and the Nigerian State on the one hand and, the multinational oil companies on the other hand. These conflicts and the predicaments of the Ogoni people continue to persist because the Niger Delta and its resources (oil) are significant to the existence of the Nigerian Nation and its economy. Oil has become and, largely remains the mainstay of the Nigerian economy, accounting for 25% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), 90% of foreign exchange earnings and more than 70% of budgetary expenditure. It (oil) is the most strategic commodity on which Nigeria’s attempts at industrial capitalist development is dependent hence, the Nigerian State found it difficult to lose the resources to such agitations regardless of their rationality.

The determination of the Nigerian State to maintain the status quo in this regard, despite its accompanying problems of legitimation occasioned by domestic crises, depicts its renter status and, relegation to the sphere of dependence on collection of - (externally realized) – oil rents for reproduction rather engaging in productive service(s). It equally depicts the continuous rapaciousness of the forces of globalisation in their quest for the critical needs - (e.g. oil) - of the G8 Countries in the Ogoni area of the Nigerian polity. Indeed, the dominance of the forces of globalisation in the Niger Delta areas of Nigeria accounts for the incidence of mass pauperisation in the midst of affluence.

There is no doubt that globalisation has “created a vast chasm between the North and the South” (Tandon 1998 op cit. 3). This is particularly identifiable from the UNDP’s Human Development Report of 1996 contains the fact that: The gap in per capital income between the industrial and developing worlds tripled from $5,700 in 1960 to $15,400 in 1993.

This shows that Africa has a plethora of problems particularly in the areas of industrial and economic growth which her continuous “unequal-partnership status” in a villagized world would further worsen. As Mule once stated: The most obvious (of these problems) are the low incomes on the continent with the GDP per capital of only US315 and with declining service sector contribution rates from around 20% GDP to 15% of GDP. These are accompanied by declining government revenues. The low average per capital income levels are further exacerbated by very high income inequalities comparable to, or even worse than those of Latin America. There are high incidence of social exclusion…. Africa is also marginalized globally, with it contribution to world trade amounting to less than two percent … Africa is also highly aid - dependent with aid accounting for nine percent of GNP on average for all countries…. These are also problems of governance … on the political and Economic management fronts.

Without any gainsaying, Africa is the hardest hit continent by the rapaciousness of globalisation. Ironically, the African Growth and Opportunity Act put before the American Senate by President Bill Clinton in 1998 which was passed into law in May, 2000, and, the Multilateral Agreement on Investment of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Developments are part of the instruments put in place by the West to further deplete whatever is left of Africa’s resources. These are devices to “roll-back whatever gains the third world counties were able to make at the economic level during the cold war years”. In fact, both the AGOA and MAI are traps aimed at foisting-without much conscious resistance by the victims of the so-called “global constitution” - a “global economy” on Africa and other developing economies. This constitution, argued Obadina, allows the powerful international corporations unfettered freedom to operate anywhere around the globe without any limitation by the policies of host nations irrespective of the consequences of their operation to the interests of the host nations.

It should be particularly noted however, that, the advocates (western nations) of globalisation are hypocritical in their approach giving the fact that: The Western Nations pressing the poor nations to open their doors to the free-market are advocating policies they did not follow). (The) governments of virtually all developed nations gave their agricultural and industrial producers some level of protection at crucial stages of their economic development. But today’s Western leaders conveniently forget economic history.

The foregoing is further corroborated by the fact that: The same globalisation process that champions the eradication of the great divide between the East and West is negating the dissolution of the North-South divide.

It could be reasonably argued that, this explains why the officials of the instruments - (the World Bank and IMF; and also the WTO and the G8) - of globalisation cannot see or have chosen not to see any “connection between globalisation and Africa’s poverty”. This ideological blind spot aided by the “uneven thesis of globalisation” is very consequential to Africans and Africa’s development because: The consequence of the ideological blindspot and the refusal (by the instruments of globalisation) to accept the evidence of history is that whilst capital-led globalisation is at the root of Africa’s crisis, it is also miraculously suggested as its solution.

This has promoted the argument that, globalisation has damaged Africa’s natural environment and, on balance of costs and benefits, it has been a disaster for Africa both in human and material resources The reasons for this are not far-fetched looking at the UNDP’s Human Development Report of 1996, which contains among other revelations the fact that: Twenty countries in Africa (today) have per capital income lower than 20 years ago. Two-thirds of the least Developed Countries (LDCs) are in Africa. A food -surplus continent twenty years ago, Africa is now food-deficit.

The striking points that emerge from the foregoing are that globalisation through its “heavy constraints” is changing the way in which major institutional actors think and operate across nations and within nations. Globalisation is changing the determinism of the state: its actions and inactions; what firms and people do; where they do it, how they see themselves (their identity) and what they want (their preferences). Moreover, its accompanying financial transactions’ increasing volume and their decreasing costs as well as reduction in public sector expenditure have put strong competitive pressures on the governments worldwide to reduce their role in the determination of who gets what, when, where, how, and why - particularly as it affects the delivery of public goods within the political system. This is especially disturbing in Africa which, according to Thorbecke “is the only developing region where poverty is increasing”, considering the fact that: Africa governments (now) seem to have lost control of the policy making process, and are under pressure to accept dictation from creditor nations and financial institutions. (African) governments now tend to discuss development issues less with their own nationals, and more with donors and creditors, about debt repayment, debt relief and rescheduling, and paradoxically about more development assistance (which rather than develop them further their underdevelopment and dependent (emphasis mine).

What IS TO BE Done?
Considering the advantages and disadvantages of globalisation for Africa and, in the light of the analysis that has been done in the context of this paper, our argument is that much as globalisation may be inevitable, its consequences for Africa are devastating. It is therefore, our contention that, there is the need for an appropriate response to emerge from Africa with a view to understanding the dynamics that will hopefully help to evolve measures that will reduce the devastating effects of globalisation. Thus, we pose the question: what is to be done? Do, Africans require a response informed by their own historical development? Our belief is that, for Africa to get out of this entrapment, it needs to delink its dependency on the western powers and that its system of independent states needs to be recomposed.

Given the foregoing, what are the alternatives left for the states in Africa in view of the rampaging menace of globalisation and the seeming helplessness (due to debt burden) of the states and the citizenry? In other words, what are the ways out?

Even though, these questions on the surface appear unanswerable, it is essential for Africa’s very survival to be emancipated from the current state of helplessness. This is particularly necessary because, as Charlick opined: …the position of the world bank in the late 1980s, that development could be improved through the betterment of “governance” regardless of the type of macro- political system operating in Africa, has been substantially discredited.

Clues have been given as to what Africa and her people must do to “counter the centrifugal forces of globalisation” and emancipate themselves from its manacling claws and anteceding institutional rationalization.

One possible way out according to Tandon, who draws upon Amin’s earlier works, is the subordination of external relations to the logic of internal development. Through this, African revolutionary and activist classes (could be) actively engaged in building alternative (new) structures of power for organising production based on new values of humanity and care for the environment. The need for this, among other factors, could probably be identified as one of the catalysts for the theme, “Globalisation, Democracy and Development in Africa” – developed by the African Association of Political Science, Twelfth Biennial Congress, which took place in Darkar, Senegal, in 1999.

According to this logic, “developing countries should retain the idea of an activist state in reacting to the effects of globalisation. That is, African citizens must not resign themselves to Fate vis-à-vis the manacling claws of globalisation and, they must realise that it is always better to be a king in a “jungle” than a deprived and malnourished messenger in a “city”. They must cease to be mere “on-lookers” - who, according to Frantz Fanon, are either cowards or traitors-on issues affecting their economic, political and socio-cultural well being. Instead, they must sever the apron-springs of domination by the developed world by categorically and practically resisting the inequality inherent in a villagized world. Thus, according to Ake “the people of Africa will have to empower themselves to repossess their own development”. This, could, in addition to other mechanisms, be done by rebuilding their national images, by fighting corruption and, by insisting on their own cultural preferences, and terms of membership in the village. This will only be possible through a sincere, committed sociological, cultural, economic and political realignment that is truly African in nature, and intent. Without these conditions, it will be difficult, if not totally impossible, for Africa and Africans to talk about political and economic integration, improvement and, above all, emancipative development in the twenty-first century.

S.T. Akindele, Ph.D
Department of Political Science
Faculty of Social Sciences
Obafemi Awolowo University

T.O. Gidado, M.Sc
Department of Political Science
Faculty of Social Sciences
Obafemi Awolowo University

O.R. Olaopo
Department of Political Science
Faculty of Social Sciences
Obafemi Awolowo University

post Tourists on Ethiopia II

April 12th, 2008

Filed under: Tourists on Ethiopia — Lissan Magazine @ 14:03

Pelican Central
by Jon Clark

After about 24 hours and plenty of complementary London Pride on the BA flight I finally made it to Bahir Dar on the edge of Lake Tana. I tried to ignore the burned out plane just off the runway at Addis Ababa. The scenery was fantastic from Addis, a sort of green and brown patchwork with trees every now and again where the villages were.


The guy in the hotel mentioned my room would be 2 minutes, it ended up being 4 hours - A sign of things to come I think! While waiting in the hotel grounds I managed to spot pelicans, lovebirds kingfishers, hawks, hornbills, monkeys and more all within 10 minutes - I think I’m going to like this place!

Did an afternoon trip to the Blue Nile Falls, a bit of a disappointment - only 10 percent of the water actually goes over the falls now, the rest is sucked up by a hydro electric plant. The landscape and villages were fantastic though so that made up for a lot.

Met a nice family called the Tetts who I spent the next couple of days with, had dinner with them that evening and sampled my first Ethiopian beer, called St. George! An excellent day.

Next day Elliot got a good deal on a trip to the monastry’s on Lake Tana, we visited 3 monasteries where we saw some fantastic colourful vibrant paintings, crowns, manuscripts and carved crosses. On the second island we met a nice monk who gave us some of the local beer, Tella, looked a bit like muddy water, but tasted pretty refreshing. We also visited the opening to the Blue Nile, very scenic and managed to spot my first hippo, if only for a few seconds. We also spotted plenty of the local tankwa boats that the locals made out of papyrus.

Spent the afternoon in a terraced cafe called Mangos on the edge of the lake, the pelicans came within feet of the shore - very cool. Went posh that night for my last dinner with the Tetts where we paid less than $10 for an all you can eat buffet!

Day 3 and I decided on a trip to the local market, one guy followed me the whole way and pissed me off so much I went home! Tried again 20 minutes later, got followed by another ‘guide’, but decided it would be best to have him tag along he could potentially scare off any other unwanted ‘guides’! Turned out to be a knowledgeable guy and some of the more interesting things he showed me were the place they stored the honey to make a local mead called Tej, also the milling room where they produced the grains for the local Injera bread.

Feeling confident I headed out that afternoon on bike to Weyto, a village where they made the tankwa boats, an absolute tourist trap, I was swarmed with people asking for money in seconds, needless to say I didn’t hang around too long! Next was the palace of Haile Sellassie, which was closed but was meant to be on a hill with great views, to be honest it was a bit crap. Spent the rest of the afternoon sitting on the dock trying to get pictures of the pelicans and some fish eagles, some guy tried to extract 50c from me for the privilege, I was quick to tell him where to go!

Gonder and the Simien Mountain next!


Unforgetable Sights of Lalibela and NO LUGGAGE!
by Heatheravan

The propellers whirred into action in the old creaky Ethiopian Air Fokker on flight ET126 Addis Ababa to Lalibela and after months of planning and preparation it finally feels like our 2007 adventure has begun.


We had experienced a grueling day before, leaving Perth at 3.55am and not reaching our final destination for the day of Addis Ababa until 24 hours later - sans luggage! To date we still do not have our luggage but thats a whole story in itself.

Our Sunday flight is taking us to Lalibela in Northern Ethiopia and we have been through massive security checks for an internal flight. Trouble is brewing with Ethiopia’s near neighbour Eritrea and our destination is in this general direction.

Why Ethiopia? Why Lalibela?
Lalibela is the home to some amazing historic Christian churches dating from the 10th century. Ethiopia’s King Lalibela wanted to create a new Jerusalem as Jerusalem had been taken by the Muslims and so he set out to create his new Jerusalem in a clever guise. He started with a solid rock and had a deep square moat carved out. This left a large central rock which was then carved by primitive hand chisels into a church complete with ornate decorative windows and doors. He didn’t just build one but eleven! Legend says that angels came down and helped. The roof remains level with the ground making the churches hidden from invading forces.

But the truly amazing thing is these churches are still in use and have been continually since being built. We met Christian Orthodox priests and saw hand written books and precious crosses still in use that are over 800 years old. Because it is little known as a tourist destination, none of these items are in museums but able to be seen and photographed.

Ethiopia was full of surprises. It is a very picturesque country with cultivated terraces into impossible slopes and wonderful warm smiling people. They don’t have much but they are a happy people and work very hard in the fields from dawn to dusk. Due to our lack of luggage we went as upmarket as you could go in Lalibela (Ghion Hotel) but this didn’t guarantee even water (totally off between 12 noon and 6.00 pm use of a bucket supplied) or power (also off between 12 & 6). Decent food was also practically non existent.

As well as showing us the 11 churches in Lalibela our guide Moges took us on a 4 wheel drive trip into the country to see an amazing cave church which is still in use also. This church comes complete with about 5,000 corpses to which no one knows the origin or history, it is a total mystery.

Lalibela has quite a lot of shoe shine boys and all of them wanted to clean Avan’s shoe’s, only problem was that Avan had only purchased his shoes the day prior to leaving Perth so were brand new thus did not need cleaning. In the interests of supporting a local kid he decided to get them cleaned on the last day, however when we returned from our 4WD trip there was not a shoeshine boy in sight, so didn’t happen. Would you believe we did not see another shoeshine boy (a girl actually) until Windhoek in Namibia, by which time Avan’s shoes’ were in dire need.

Back to the story of our luggage and our 24 hours en route to Ethiopia.

When we checked our luggage in at Perth airport it was tagged all the way through to Addis Ababa the capital of Ethiopia. Somewhere on the 3 flights (Perth to Mauritius - Mauritius to Nairobi - Nairobi to Addis Ababa) it went missing. On our first leg Perth to Mauritius there was an urgent call for a Doctor and it brought back memories of a flight 12 years ago when we had to detour via Auckland because someone died en route! Nothing seemed to eventuate this time however as no more calls were made. We had a very quick transit in Mauritius then on to Nairobi where we had to transit for 5 hours in a rather dirty run down airport. When it was time to board our Ethiopian Airways flight to Addis Ababa all the luggage for the flight was dumped on the tarmac and customers had to identify their luggage before it was loaded. Guess what? Ours wasn’t there! So we knew from this time and a luggage handler said we would need to report it missing on arrival at Addis Ababa.

Our biggest issue with not having our luggage was our anti malaria drugs/ repellent and our Lonely Planet Africa. These were not replaceable in Ethiopia. Clothes can be washed every night and toiletries replaced but the above 2 items should always be in hand luggage!


Jahful Greetings from Aethiopia
by Cpricci

Ethiopian Airlines is a smooth carrier. I crossed the equator. The vegetarian meal was decent. Bole International Airport was a pleasant contrast to Kenyatta International in Nairobi. It was big and open and almost empty. The women who gave me my visa were having fun. My visa was $20, unlike the $50 Tanzania and Kenya wanted. Apparently Kenya will ask me for a new visa even though it says three months. They don’t consider Ethiopia part of “East Afrika.” I’ll have just enough USD to make it through.

I changed some travelers checks into Birr. They charged only 12 Birr ($1.50) for $100 worth of checks, the lowest commission yet. I had some trouble dialing with the payphone, but one of the Ethiopian Airline people was happy to help. She let me use her cellphone for nothing.

I got in touch with Mulugeta Biru, a contact I made through Annie and Christopher in North Carolina, who runs a small guesthouse. He helped organize Bob’s 60th birthday celebration here in Addis Ababa last year. He came to pick me up.

Driving through Addis was a little different than other Afrikan cities. It seems a bit cleaner and not so crowded. People drive on the right side of the road.

Back at the house I enjoyed some home-brewed barly beer (It was really good!) and found out that I’m just in time for Ehiopian Easter. I live with a brother and sister, Maurice and Nigist (Bumzy), both born in Shashamane of Afrikan-Jamaican parents. Pictures of Ras Tafari and figures of lions adorn the guest house. I finally got to taste some sinsemilla, the first since South Afrika.

I was tired and still a little ill, so I went to lie down. I slept from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m. I woke feeling fine after dreams of familiar lakes.

My first day in Addis Ababa I just kicked it at home and around the corner. I live with the children of actual repatriated Rastafarians. There’s not that many out there. I’m having fun deciphering what parts of their culture are European, Arikan, Ethiopian and Jamaican. They can speak Patwa, English and Amahric. Bumzy’s in town to go to university. She skips class enough to stay mentally sharp.

They try to tell me how it is in Shashamane (or Shash). I’ll be there next week. The sensi is $12 (100 birr) per ounce.

Zion City
Addis Ababa is the third highest capital in the world at around 7700 ft. It is in the center of the giant plateau on the northern end of the Rift Valley. It is surrounded by mountains, and fingers of mountains stretch in all directions within and from the edge of the plateau. It’s been called the roof of the continent. It contains 20 mountains over 13,000 feet. Ras Dashen is Afrika’s fourth highest at 14,900 ft.

Ethiopians speak Amharic, generally (In all of Afrika there are hundreds of local languages). It is difficult to learn, unlike Swahili, because it has Hebrew and Arabic sounds in it. Amharic has its own alphabet; everyone has their own spelling of Amharic words with Roman letters. Very few Ethiopians speak English. Amharic is part of Ethiopian identity. The language barrier is somewhat alienating. I can’t help but feel like an outsider. I felt the same way when I visited Italy. The Italians don’t care much for other languages. Isn’t it ironic that I would feel like an outsider in the land of my fathers and in the land of all our fathers. Visiting Ethiopia is tough as an Italian-American foreigner, when Italy has always been the only one bold enough to try to conquer Ethiopia. You really have to be cocky to lie about and pick fights with the last divinely ordained, empirical, theocratic throne left on Earth, which holds and guards the original Ark of the Covenant. The Italians only got as far as Eritrea (and the Battle of Adwa), stealing one stelae with many lives and treasures.

I was told once that Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings about Ethiopia (”the last free nation of men”) and that his daughter wore an Ethiopian cross around her neck. It makes sense looking at the names of the great cities in the novel and in Ethiopia - Gondar/Gonder/Gondor, Roha(Lalibela)/Rohan, there’s even a town called Shire…. Middle Earth might as well refer to this equatorial, mountainous land that resisted all of its invaders. Tolkien died two years before the throne was lost to “socialists.”

One thing that makes Ethiopia stand out is the spirituality of the people. They know they live in the place known as both Eden and Zion. This (besides divine intervention) is no doubt why the Italians were defeated - the Ethiopians know themselves and would rather die than become somebody else. Even Mohammed told his followers to “leave Abyssinia in peace.”

Things are more natural in general in Ethiopia. The women are the most beautiful in Afrika, and they have real long hair, not extensions. Most things are homemade, like the barley beer and injera. Injera is a flat sourdough bread that everyone eats as the staple here. It’s stored at room temperature in a basket to keep the yeast culture going. Its made of tef, a tiny grain endemic to Ethiopia. Also endemic (found nowhere else but) in this incredible country are 31 mammals ([do a google image search] gelada baboon, mountain nyala, walia ibex, Ethiopian wolf,…), 24 amphibians, 16 birds, 9 reptiles and 4 fish. Between 600 and 1400 plants are thought to be endemic to Ethiopia.

Ethiopians love meat with their injera. The big delicacy is kitfo, minced raw meat in warm spiced butter. There are goat and sheep pieces littering the ground in the yard and street. Two days per week no one eats meat. I’m pretty much sticking to shiro, a puree of lentils, peas, onion, garlic, peppers,…. Berbere is the common, orange, homemade spice blend made up of 6 to 16 different ingredients.

Thursday I went to visit His Majesty I’s last palace (now a ethnological museum and library for the Institute for Ethiopian Studies at Addis Ababa University). I studied some history in the library and entered the museum. They don’t allow cameras. I had to tell the curator that some of the medicinal plant labels were wrong. His Majesty’s bedroom was simple. There was still a bullet hole in his mirror from the failed coup in 1960. Empress Mene’s bedroom had no bed. They were using her dressing room as an office and her bathroom was also well-used. His Majesty’s office, where he was taken from by ignorant gunmen in 1975, was not open to the public.


All of Bumzy’s sisters and aunts and uncles came into Addis from Shashamane for a JRDC (Jamaican Rastafarian Developement Community) promotion at the Imperial Hotel to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Selassie’s visit to Jamaica in April, 1966 (1958 Ethiopian time. Ethiopia had a different calendar and clock than the rest of the world. Sunrise is at 1 o’clock, sunset at 12. The have 12 months of 30 days each and a short, 5-day, thirteenth month. The year is 7 years and 9 months behind the western calendar. The new Ethiopian millenium will begin September, 2007).

The party was graced by the presence of His Imperial Highness Crown Prince Zere Yakob, grandson of His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I, and heir to the imperial throne of Ethiopia. He humbly accepted greetings all night from the many brothers and sisters in attendance.

The music was nice. Bumsy’s sisters did a dance performance, and their little brother, Isaac (or Saki, a.k.a. True Warrior) toasted nicely over some riddims (see clips). A singer who was popular during the days of His Majesty’s reign did a short performance (see clip), and a Nyabingi elder recounted (for almost an hour) the story of His Majesty’s visit to Jamaica.

I can’t wait to travel back to Shashamane with these folks. There’s a picture in a program for Bob’s birthday party last year in Addis. The picture shows Bob Marley with six or seven of the early Jamaican pioneers of Shashamane entering the hot springs at Wondo Genet, just south of Shashamane. The girls in my pictures are the daughters of these men. One of them, brother Flippin, wrote many songs for Bob including “Zimbabwe.” He has been blessed with children. His first three were boys, then he had boy/girl twins, twin girls, and boy/girl twins again! Believe it or not, that’s boy, boy, boy, twins, twins, twins. I’ve met them all but for one brother and their mother live in the U.K.


post Photo Story IV, Acoustic

April 12th, 2008

Filed under: Photo Stories — Admassu @ 12:46

When was that last time you heard your footsteps loud and crispy clear while taking a walk in the mid of a day? On uneven korokonch road, eventually stepping on loose stones and hearing the cracking sound your shoes send in to the surrounding acoustic air….


…. where you are far from technology orchestrated fuss of our modern era, where cars rarely pass-by and their usual dominating and constant motor noise seldom reaches your ears….


… where the smallest living creature occupies the whole area with it’s shrill tone accompanying you on your way and constantly warning that you are not the only essential living being on the world…


…where various forms of nature come together to build a phenomenal beauty of appearance…


… where animals you usually know as food in a frozen form or on a grill machine show you how smart they actually are if you let them manage their life…


… where some scenes make you forget about great painting masterpieces just by displaying amazing artistic sets of happenings in front of your very eyes…


… where you see fruits in their natural form in stead of on sterile supermarket shelves…


….where kids laughter fill the air and let you forget your stereotype conclusions about poor and rich…


….where under the nature spectacle from above, the vast landscape and cityscape reminds you how small and tiny you actually are….


…. where one-horse-power vehicles with their colorful constructions and air-conditioned interiors take you to your appointments and where you almost tempted to sing a groovy song to the rhythm that the Gari makes on the way…


…. where the sound of a heavy rain fills the air and you see how the scene around you starts to behave accordingly adapting it self to this happening ….


…. and where you at last be one of the whole, where you stop feeling alien and be accepted as a member?

You don’t remember going through this experience? If your answer is “yes”, then it is about time you visit Imama Ethiopia and spend your vacation away from Addis and away from technology orchestrated acoustic.

post Ethiopian Identity in Germany

April 9th, 2008

Filed under: Behind Adoption — Binyam @ 19:54

My personal Ethiopian identity in Germany!

This article is meant for all Ethiopian children and students who are adopted by a German family and all other people who are interested in getting to know the point of view of one Ethiopian-born in Germany. More than that it should be focused on the general question whether and how an adopted child from Ethiopia should be confronted with his or her historical background. It will not concentrate on blaming parents that appear to be having difficulties in educating a child from Ethiopia neither should it evoke a feeling of pity in every person that reads that article as an objector. It is just made up to inform you how one could see the main issues of an adoption in general and also in some ways specified.

In this respect the opinion of most of the Ethiopian Germans that live in Germany should not be taken too much in account because as there are many problems in the Ethiopian community most of them would rather recommend the children just to avoid getting into to much contact with the so called “Habeshas”. But my personal question is if these considerations are as relevant to a German Ethiopian who could not be as easily involved in the inner conflicts. Let us compare the main issues of an Ethiopian child and then return to this point.

At first glance it seems as if there is no difference between adopted children who grow up in this country and German ones except for their outer appearance. In addition, many adopted youth deny taking any considerations in matters of their origin. However, I take the guess that there has to be an inner conflict in every child that experienced the destiny of losing its parents and being educated in a new and different world. At the beginning of the German education it is no secret that adopteds especially that ones that grow up in rural areas, may be faced with the same kinds of racial discrimination like all immigrants. Of course, this problem cannot be contested in general but must be specified in special regions and areas (e.g. some parts of the Eastern Germany). But what is special about this discrimination is that an African who has their family with them can always be consoled by his or her comrades that experienced this racism in the same way. In the contrary for an adopted child that feels and thinks like a German it is at this point really difficult to defend itself because it considers itself simply to be German. If it was the fact that the adopted was an immigrant it would have possibly distanced from the Germans as being an immigrant, but how is it with the ones that have no other cultural background?

The identity of a human being in a society plays a very important role but my question to these children is if they really have an identity that is comparable to the Germans or to Ethiopian-born immigrants? Most of them speak German fluently and no Amharic; they act, talk and think German but, however, their outer appearance is different. Although most of the people in their surroundings don’t mind this difference it still exists and somehow disturbs the development. The great conflict is e.g. that in the surrounding of family and friends and relatives the child is a German and outside this circle it is an immigrant that is faced with all the same features and problems like the other immigrants. So is there is a mixed-identity? And do the children that got used to being just German really want that? Especially the pressure from outside may be very irritating for someone who tries to be German but just manages to be it in 80 %. On the other hand what is about the country one derives from? In the Western countries the majority considers Ethiopia to be solely one of the poorest countries of the world that suffers from Aids, diseases, sicknesses, war with the neighbours and so on.

The first step after deciding to follow the tracks of your roots is the question what is supposed to be the best way to get along with the Ethiopian people in Germany? I would recommend to the Ethiopian adopted that are interested in getting to know Ethiopian people not to let themselves be confused in matters of religious and political issues because we as German raised will probably never really understand the actual problems. In addition many Ethiopian Germans people tend to mistrust each other because they fear from enviousness and rumors that are afloat concerning their behaviour and way of life. That’s usually nothing interesting for adopted children because there is no inner family structure that is comparable to the Ethiopian one and enviousness is less important for them. So the adopted do not have to be afraid of negative influence if they are friendly and outgoing and constantly pay not too much attention to problematic issues. Me, personally have never experienced that often portrayed bad behaviour of Ethiopian Germans against myself because I just enjoyed my time with them, put up many questions about culture and honestly asked them for help in matters of my language skills. Although I still do not understand every cultural aspect in some ways I know that politeness and respect just as religion and cultural aspects is very important for the people in contrast to the German mentality that is sometimes set up upon a critical honesty (whether it is sometimes inappropriate or not). Furthermore, I would claim that a freshman does not have to try to understand and discuss every issue and controversial matter but sometimes just has to accept that things are like that although he may think that this is weird at first glance. Moreover, it will always be helpful if he concentrates on cultural questions like the coffee ceremony, the eating habits, literature, art and music that are very variable fields.

The first impression of me when I met Ethiopian people in restaurants and on the street was completely different from the facts I got from the media. Despite the illustration of some media which still uses to present a folk that is supposed to experience nothing but despair and problems these examples seemed so friendly and outgoing. This aspect may not be interesting for those Ethiopian adopted that had much contact to their comrades during their upbringing. But for someone like me who first came in touch with these people after the age of 20 years it is and was important. The Ethiopian mentality and behaviour like the history of the country cannot and must never be compared to other Africans and is in this respect very special. However, this must not lead an inexperienced adopted to participate to some extreme views of Ethiopians that feel superior to other African nations or even to other inner tribes. Never forget that we adopted were raised in a sheltered German home and never participated in the war and the sufferings of many Ethiopians. If you stick to that rule you may get to know many cheerful people that will help you to find out about the Ethiopian “bahel” and way of life. Nevertheless, I strongly recommend to everyone to visit Ethiopia as soon as possible in order to really understand what the Ethiopians here are talking about. There are so many things one cannot imagine without experiencing them and feeling them by oneself. It is therefore important to carefully organize a travel to Ethiopia in advance in order to see also the countryside out of Addis Ababa, the rural areas and different cultural places. If the German parents are not willing to join the travel you will have to convince them kindly that it is important for every human being to get to know about his or her origin although there is always a risk of confusion. Being in that wonderful country the ones adopted that may have always lived in doubts about the fact whether there is no progress and happiness in Ethiopia will discover hoe he had been taken in. Of course there is much poverty visible and there are these problems that the media portrays but the way you are treated over there, the hospitality, the warmth, the taste of food and the happiness will show you another Ethiopia that is not mentioned in the German every day life, at all. And you should never forget that Ethiopia is three times bigger than Germany, which means that you probably will not experience any border conflicts with the neighbouring countries and political issues.

In addition, it is important to explain that adopted children do never have to worry of being rejected by the Ethiopians because of the fact that they grew up by German families. In fact the people are curious about their destiny and they are always ready to help them and sympathize with your difficulties and plans.

The last question I want to deal with is the task of the German parents. As most of the people either react with pity or with words like “you must be very thankful about what your parents did for you” you should just ignore these comments to avoid getting confused or angry at them. Of course an adopted child is always thankful and this must not be pointed out by other people neither the parents because it may impose a feeling of guilty to the adopted child. Secondly parents must never forget that the outer appearance (in the respect the dark skin) always plays an important role in a society apart from language skills and the slowly abolishment of racial problems in Germany. Therefore an adopted child must always have the opportunity to stick to his or her culture and it is in the responsibility of the parents to provide an atmosphere out of prejudices and fear from other cultures. That does not mean that families have to travel to Ethiopia and confront them with that country at every time, which probably leads to an engorgement and the negative effect of disinterest. There are always some children who simply see no importance in getting to know their origin but the door to that decision has to be open the whole time of their life. Parents must never worry that closer contact to the origin people means a loss of feelings towards the German family. How can they ever forget what they did for them and how they cared for them but, however, to complete their search for our identity they require the contact and experience about our origin in order to gain and keep a special self-esteem. Being faced with the fact that one will maybe never know their parents is hard but on the other hand the new life in Germany offers many chances and opportunities that are not available in our country. However, we adopted should never forget where we come from; never forget that many children unfortunately will never have any chance or parents to console them. Don’t you think that it is somehow in our responsibility to share our luck with them?

Anyway, if you had contact to mixed Ethiopians who often suffer from the same inner conflict, you would see how nice and also difficult it can be experiencing two cultures at the same time and feeling at ease at many places at the same time. For me it was and is nothing but an enrichment to my personality and this article should egg on every adopted who feels like me. So all in all, I recommend to those children who have no contact to Ethiopian people to enlarge their mind in favor of this country. Our ideas and different point of views may be useful to improve the situation in and out of Ethiopia. We must not be afraid of anything since our trust in God led us safely to a new life here and since we have not been better or worse than other Ethiopians and Germans. But according to our different skills we may construct a new bridge between two completely different cultures. Let us in the name of God try our best to be an ideal to both peoples.

Binyam-Tedla Hecke

post Cheetahs vs. Hippos

April 4th, 2008

Filed under: Video Forums — Lissan Magazine @ 00:43

George Ayittey:
Cheetahs vs. Hippos for Africa’s future

About this Talk

This grab-you-by-the-throat speech by Ghanaian economist George Ayittey unleashes an almost breathtaking torrent of controlled anger toward corrupt leaders and the complacency that allows them to thrive. These “Hippos” (lazy, slow, ornery) have ruined postcolonial Africa, he says. Why, then, does he remain optimistic? Because of the young, agile “Cheetah Generation,” a “new breed of Africans” taking their futures into their own hands.

About George Ayittey
Economist George Ayittey sees Africa’s future as a fight between Hippos — complacent, greedy bureaucrats wallowing in the muck — and Cheetahs, the fast-moving, entrepreneurial leaders and citizens who will rebuild Africa.

Why you should listen to him:

Ghanaian economist George Ayittey was a voice in the wilderness for many years, crying out against the corruption and complacency that — more than any other factor, he believes — are the bedrock problems of many troubled Africa states. “We call our governments vampire states, which suck the economic vitality out of the people,” he says.

His influential book Africa Unchained has helped unleash a new wave of activism and optimism — especially in the African blogosphere, where his notion of cheetahs-versus-hippos has become a standard shorthand. The “Cheetah Generation,” he says, is a “new breed of Africans,” taking their futures into their own hands, instead of waiting for politicians to empower them. (He compares them to the previous “Hippo Generation,” who are lazily stuck complaining about colonialism, yet doing nothing to change the status quo.)

Ayittey is a Distinguished Economist in Residence at American University in Washington, DC.

source: TedTalk

post Tourists on Ethiopia I

April 3rd, 2008

Filed under: Tourists on Ethiopia — Admassu @ 01:08

The best way to know about ourselves and about our country is to listen to what foreigners say after they visit us. We might be emotionally offended upon some remarks. But objectively seen, we also have different opinions about other countries. Opinions are the result of various circumstances. Depending on one’s state of mind, maturity and daily experience, opinions can be full of contradictory views and interesting assertions. We learn a lot if we perceive them objectively. Opinions usually doesn’t reflect the whole truth about the reality. But opinions can reflect a fragment of the whole truth.

Hereby we present five travel journals by tourists with completely different views on Ethiopia.


Journal I



To start with have to say there is a stark difference between the Ethiopians and the Sudanese, the Ethiopians are cheating, stealing (I will come to that later), rude people. The country however is fantastic stunning lush mountains, and great lakes. There is a lot that we got to see in Ethiopia, so I will be brief.

Didn’t have a vast amount of time here as we spent much f our only day there trying to organise a flight to Axum, I won’t bore anyone with the details, lets just say it was time consuming for a number of reasons. We finally managed to spend a couple of hours looking around the castle which is apparently the Camelot of Ethiopia, it was Ok but I don’t imagine that Arthur would have been all that impressed by it. Or by the irritating shadow people who hang around outside.

We departed Gonder early and were in Axum by mid morning. Now what we hadn’t realized was that there was a huge religious pilgrimage hitting town at the same time as us, which meant that flights out and hotel rooms were at a serious premium. We eventually managed to secure both a hotel room and a flight out. However the hotel room was to turn into a bit of a nightmare, the second night were there the hotel told us that they had double booked and that we had to move somewhere else, initially we were happy to help them out, however when they took us to see the alternative hotel we found building site with no windows, or running water, so a rather long and nasty argument broke out, and it ended up in us staying in a Voluntary counseling and treatment centre for AIDs (actually very nice), spent that night getting drunk and trying to see the funny side of what had happened. Early in the night a group of flute (word used loosely) players came in the bar and started to drape grass all over us, very surreal and just the laugh we needed after the days ordeal, even if the music was awful.

As for the sights in Axum, we got to see the stele fields and the church of Mary of Zion which allegedly houses the arc of the covenant, which they wouldn’t let us see though we did get to see the doors to the room and the only man who is allowed in the room with it (apparently a rare treat)

After the hotel debacle in Axum it was a relief to check into a classy place and treat ourselves to some much earned R&R. We spent fair amount of time going on little hikes in the surrounding mountains which are beautiful. Also we visited the rock hewn churches, Ethiopia’s answer to Petra. They were stunning and quite the architectural feet, they were built by king Lalabella so that people wouldn’t have to go on such long pilgrimages they even have a river Jordan.

Had some great food and some not so great drink. The local home brew is called Tej, it is a maize beer, and it is rank. It was served to us from a kettle and we drank it from scientific beakers, it looked like of orange juice and had the same consistency. Heather soldiered on with her portion and managed half a beaker, I managed a couple of sips, and you will never guess which one of us had gut rot the next day!

Baha Dahr
Errrrm nice fruit juice, piss poor water fall!

Addis Ababa
The girls decided that they were going to have a girly day and treat themselves to a spa and cocktails so I went to the Merkato with some of the boys. The Merkato is a vast market area where you can find pretty much anything, it dos however have a very bad reputation for thieves and pickpockets. We had managed about 20 mins in the market before Pete took off after a guy shouting thief, so we all set off in pursuit, I managed to catch the guy and pin him against the bus, and much to the delight of the locals who all clapped and cheered (they apparently don’t like thieves either). With in seconds there was a policeman on the scene who started proceedings by giving the guy a clip around the ear. The policeman led us and the bad guy to the police station occasionally stopping to explain to people what had happened and giving the little shit a few more clips. In the police station we gave our statements while the Ali Baba was sat on the floor next to us, several different policemen came in and asked where we were from and what had happened, after they asked this they would shake their head at the criminal and give him a good kicking. Have to say it was quite the experience, especially as the guy hadn’t actually managed to take anything out of Pete’s pocket; Pete was just incensed that the guy tried. Also should mention that we are gluttons for punishment so went back to the Merkato we stayed long enough to have two more attempted robberies, and then decided to leave before anything else could happen.

For my girly day we tried to go to a spa for a massage, unfortunately they were fully booked and we realized we had forgotten our guide book, so now we had no plan or map!! We also ended up at the Merkato but our experience was far less exciting, we just shopped and had a nice lunch. One of the girls needed to use an ATM and after lots of inquiring we discovered that the only ATM is at the Sheraton. So poor us, we had to go to the Sheraton, it was heaven on earth. It was decorated beautifully for Christmas and we totally splurged and had cocktails, and we all used the bathroom twice. It was a great day in the end.

And we all knew it had to happen sooner or later, I had an accident… Our last night in Addis I was cleaning out the truck and I had my hands full and ended up missing the top step of the ladder coming out of the truck and fell. Don’t worry I did manage to hit every rung of the ladder (hard) on the way down. One of the guys had quite a fright when he found me in a heap at the bottom of the ladder surrounded by garbage, but I was lucky and only ended up with severe bruising, mainly on my arm and the biggest bruise of my life on my bum. That made riding in a bouncing truck a little painful. And everyone has agreed on the truck that I’m no longer allowed down the ladder with anything in my hands so I can use the railing.

We went to visit the king, but after smashing one of the truck windows on the drive through the thick forest we found out that the king wasn’t in. Not to worry had a very pleasant evening playing Frisbee and football with the princess and princess of Konso.

All in all Ethiopia was a lot of fun and very interesting, but it is not an easy place to travel and it can get very trying.


Journal II

Ethiopia the Truth


Having only seen the stereotypical images of famine and drought on the media, we didn’t know what to expect when our plane landed at midnight in Addis Ababa. Leaving the airport we were surrounded by hoards of dodgy looking hooded men. We felt relieved to be dropped of to our hotel in one piece. Addis Ababa has got more flash cars and bangers than any other 3rd world Capital. The people wear stylish and clean attire and are mostly very friendly. Food is available in abundance. Not the Ethiopia portrayed abroad, but a pleasant surprise. The people were easy to deal with compared to India and most people can speak English.

Ethiopia is a very ancient country, devoutly Christian. Men and women whether walking or in thier cars bow going past the churches. Virtually everyone fasts wednesdays and fridays eating vegetarian food once a day and this worked out to be a great advantage to us as we could easily order “fasting food”.

Having heard about the ancient Christian monuments in the north we had a choice of using local buses or flying to get to them. Flying being out of our budget and local transport being a way of experiencing local life we got onto a bus at 5am. Before half way through our 12 hour journey we had decided to get on the next plane to South Africa! Dodgy smells, puking women, extremly bad roads and stops for hours for no apparent reason made up our minds.

However, we still had to wait for a few days before our flight left for Johannesburg. So we decided to head to the Southern lakes this time. We decided to hire a car with a driver; a decision we were later to regret. The people in the south were friendlier than the northern folk and we had a really good time exploring the region.

As we spent more time in the south and thereafter in Addis Ababa we realised that the strange country that we had entered with great caution was relatively safe and the people seemed to have the fear of God. Sipping gourmet coffees for less than 10p, melt in the mouth pastries and the best spring rolls we had ever tasted was cool. We really enjoyed our stay and look back on Addis as a friend. These people really won our hearts and if we ever gt a chance to go back again, even for a few days, we wouldn`t think twice about it.


Journal III

Harar! We’ve Been To Harar


In order to keep us sweet and stop us carrying on the trip without a truck, it was suggested we spend a day in Harar, a walled city in the east of Ethiopia. It was agreed that as long as we are going places and seeing new stuff we didnt mind. So we set of Monday morning at 9am. Another 9 hour drive ahead of us seemed like a nightmare but it was actually really good. The scenery was really nice with mountains bushland and wetlands all along the way. We were driving in the mountains for a long time and it was rainy and we were driving on windy roads through the clouds which was a bit hairy. The animals have started to appear as well which is what we came to see, and most of them want to cross the road and get in the way so I’m starting a list of animals that block our path.

Got to Harar too late to do anything. It was a really dingy hotel and only our room and Brendan & Marie’s room (who have hooked up on the trip by the way) had decnet toilets and showers so everyone piled in ours.

The next morning we hired a guide to take us around the walled part of the city, which is 1 square kilometre and in it it has 362 alleyways and over 80 mosques. It also is weird because Christians and Muslims all live within the walls without fighting. It’s still really poor here and loads of kids follow us and find us “Farenjis” (foreigners) really odd.

In the evening we had the highlight of the trip so far and saw the Hyena men feeding the hyenas at the gates of the city. We had a go too! fed them meat with sticks on our mouth! Never realised how big hyenas are and how big their teeth are unless there bearing down on your face!! Paid 40 Birr (about 2.50 in english money) Got an encore in the hotel at night as well with hyena giggles out the back all night!! Had several close ups with vultures outside the window in the mornings.

On the way back to Addis saw some wild boar having a mud bath and a herd of about 50 camels drinking at the lake. Saw lots of trucks overturned as well one was still smoking from where it had crashed and caught fire while we were in Harar. Got back to Addis about 7.



Journal IV
By Alex Stonehill

A Night on the Road


We stood in the pre-dawn glow of the streetlamps, greeted by intoxicated heckles from the previous night’s most diligent drinkers. A battered, extended cab Toyota Hilux pickup pulled up, carrying a mound of mysterious goods under a green tarp and bearing faded Ethiopian Red Cross decals on its doors. Seeing that there were already three passengers inside, I almost threw in the towel right there and sent my colleagues Ernest and Julia on without me, motivated as much by the practicalities of fitting so many people into such a tiny space as I was by the thought of my still warm bed waiting for me just down the block.

I’m still not sure I made the right decision in allowing my backpack to be haphazardly strapped to the top of the green mountain, and folding my legs practically against my chest so as to wedge myself into the cab.

Though I’d never met any of them before, I knew the man seated directly in front of me — who’s heavy briefcase was now wedged under my arm — to be Salihu Sultan, a regional director for the Red Cross, who’d offered to take us on a quick tour of the water issues in the South on his way to distribute medical supplies in a remote region called Arero. The driver and middle passenger hadn’t been introduced, adding to the enigmatic feel of our 3am departure, though they were later revealed to be Salihu’s two brothers.

At first my sleepiness got the better of me and I settled in almost comfortably, but even before the asphalt road disintegrated just past Awasa, the pressure of six bodies, five bags and an inexplicable electronic keyboard inside the Hilux began to take its toll on me.

Luckily, I soon had plenty of time to stretch my legs as we changed two punctured tires in rapid succession, the second requiring Salihu and his younger brother to venture ahead on the bus to the next town to get the tubes repaired, while we waited, sharing awkward smiles with the locals who lived there along the road.

We ate “lunch” in Hagere Selam, though it was already close to sunset, and as we drove on up the winding, verdant road, it started to sink in just how far away from anything recognizable, and how powerless over my own situation I was. I felt a gnawing panic. When, and where would we finally arrive, and how would we eventually retrace the mounting kilometers of jagged roadway leading back to Addis?

Salihu had informed us that it was at least another 200km to Negele, which was the nearest place we could spend the night if he was to make it on to Arero in time to start his screenings and distribution of supplies the next day. My faith in the Hilux and its four worn tires had been deteriorating in step with the road conditions, especially after watching a teenage mechanic back in Hagere Selam stuff three or four scraps of old rubber tubing inside one of them as padding.

The fear slowly eased out of me as the sun set, blazing an orange trail of clouds across the horizon, past the expansive lowlands spread out below us.

I woke up to a frantic moaning from the front seat. We’d stopped, and Salihu’s brother was beating his own forehead with a closed fist, as a group of wailing, shrouded figures pulled him from the car.

We were parked in the moonlight facing a large dimly lit tent between two rows of mud buildings. As the silhouettes outside the cab embraced, I recalled Salihu mentioning earlier that his grandfather, who lived in Adolla, was very ill. He must have died just before we arrived; all of the hurrying, the driving through the night hours and the rushed meals along the way that had seemed so uncharacteristic of Ethiopian culture as I knew it started to make sense.

Ernest, Julia and I just sat frozen in the back seat of the truck in the darkness, not wanting to make a burden of ourselves as guests in the middle of the crisis. We began contemplating how Salihu and his brothers has put on such a show of hospitality and friendliness for us over the last 18 hours, even with the imminent death looming over them.

In our culture, a family emergency is the ultimate excuse to disengage from obligations. But here Salihu had insisted on honoring his commitment to bring us with him even though he had no responsibility to help us in the first place, other than a cultural sense of hospitality that seems to overcome the good sense of most Ethiopians.

After a time, he emerged again and hurried us inside the tent. A dozen men in keffiyehs and robes were reclining on mats at the far side of a tent, surrounded by scattered, leafy branches.

Even through my exhaustion, it didn’t take long to realize that I was finally laying eyes on the plant that I’d heard so many rumors about as we’d researched the East Africa project back in the States. In recent years, the DEA has declared khat illegal in the US and they’ve deported several of Somalis from the Seattle area for importing it from East Africa. I’d also heard many Somali’s bemoan the financial drain that the drug is on their country, as it is hugely popular there, but only grown in neighboring countries like Ethiopia.

We were invited to sit with the men, and before long I was chewing away at my first mouthful of the fresh shoots from the top of the branch I’d been handed. The taste was bitter and tannic enough that a swallow of water washing it down tasted as sweet as Coke by contrast. It seems to me that that psychotropic effects of khat have been overstated, although the mere fact that I was able to remain conscious at that point may be a testament to its potency as a stimulant.

Despite everything, Salihu remained anxious to cover the final 100km in order to reach Negele that night, so I filled my pockets with some of the remaining leaves, and we piled back into the cab.

Somehow the mood in the Hilux lightened once we left, as if the hour of intense public mourning between Salihu’s family had been enough to acknowledge the death of the patriarch, who at about 65 years had lived a long life by Ethiopian standards.

It was 3am again before we finally reached Negele. Contemplation of the cultural differences in mourning practices quickly gave way to weary frustration at the growing welt on my shoulder as it was methodically beaten against the truck door, and fantasies of the warm bed and shower that might await our arrival.

We arrived to a town much smaller than I’d guessed from the glow of its lights on the horizon, and a hotel where the taps had all run dry. Still, a full 24 hours and 600km after we’d departed, it was hard to think about much more than sleep.


Journal V
By Ernest Waititu

A Night in the Bush


When our four-wheel-drive pickup truck vroomed off the town of Negele I knew I was in for a giant adventure. Well, I must quickly clarify that I was not here for adventure; Negele is of course not one of those places you go site-seeing. I was here to work, following stories on water scarcity and how it had impacted the people of Southern Ethiopia.

But work or no work, I had to steal some moments and have some fun. For how could I close my eyes, ears and soul to the beauty of Africa? How could I possibly not be moved by the expansive fields and the distant hills of Negele, which carried me back to my childhood as I took care of my family’s cattle in the plains of Kieni in Kenya? While drier, this part of Ethiopia had more similarities with Kieni – the place where I grew up — than any other place I had been.

I was compelled by this alikeness to take a psychological journey back to my boyhood. In the small, bare-footed, parched-faced boys who were following dozens of their cattle, I revisited my childhood. I saw myself in every one of these boys. My eyes opened up to the wild, to the large birds I had trapped for food, to the deer I had hunted with my dog Simba and to the joy of carrying loads of wild meat in the evening when I accompanied my family’s cattle home for milking.

These experiences had brought me to a dreamy sense of being and completely banished from me the troubles of the journey — the bumpy and rugged roads that had completely exhausted us on our first day of travel and made our 600 km journey from Addis Ababa to Negele a 24-hour nightmare.

I was jolted from my reverie by a round burst underneath the car. The devil himself had visited terror on us again. By this time, the fifth time we had heard this sound, it was unmistakable — we had another flat tire to fix. But the most depressing thing about this experience was not changing the tire but the fact that we had exhausted all the spare tires we had. When we had left Negele we had decided to take a risk, bringing one spare tire and hoping the road would be better. Until this time, 150 km into the trip, it had worked okay.

But now there was no chance of finding a tire. The Red Cross chief of the Borena zone who had hosted us for the tour, Salihu Sultan, observed that we were now deep into the lion country and that the tire-changing exercise had better be done fast.

Curdled Milk
We quickly and nervously changed the tire and hopped back into the car. A few miles down the road we came to a small town called Hudet — a village of mud-walled houses lined in each side of the street where our host unsuccessfully sought ways and means of getting a new spare tire. While we could not secure a tire from here, we were able to get some food: a piece of the delicious Ethiopia bread, a cup of tea and glass of curdled milk made the Borena way.

Having eaten, we were ready to get started again. Immediately after hitting the road, a lump tightened in my stomach perhaps as a result of the fear of losing another tire and spending the night in the bush. Judging from the past day, we needed nothing short of divine intervention to protect all the four tires from the jagged rocks that dotted the road.

And still, the lump in my stomach tightened. I am usually not given to premonitions but something deep down in my tummy felt terribly amiss. But still I hung on to hope, we had covered more than 200 kilometers. We had less than 40 to go. We could do it. We surely could.

When it came, the bursting of the tire sounded just like the previous five: a loud puff and then a stream of gushing air. In unison, as if premeditated, we all muttered a muffled gasp of despair and rolled out of the car.

Some silence followed, and then rather foolishly I decided to enquire about the status of the lions to a Borena man we had picked up and given a ride from Hudet – our last town. The man, having grown up in the area and being well versed with the terrain was the best person to consult on such matters. The lion was not exactly here, he said matter of factly, but it would be found a little further, perhaps a kilometer or so up the road. Good Heavens, I have never been more scared in my life!

The Fire
Some more silence, and then a refreshing thought came to my mind. “How about making some fire?” I asked. The Borena man made a quick cracking fire from the dry woods that littered the bush nearby. While growing up, I had been taught that fire was a good way to scare away wild animals. I hoped to myself that the wisdom of my people would ring true even here in the bush of Ethiopia.

The fire was a good idea but in our tiredness we soon got fed up with it, and some of my colleagues retired to sleep in the car. We were right in the middle of the bush – more than 30 kilometers each side to the nearest town. There was no way anyone was going to walk to seek help. Our one hope, Salihu told us, was a vehicle coming from the direction we had come, which could help us ferry the tire to Arero for repair. In Arero, we could get a Red Cross ambulance to ferry the tire back to where we had been trapped. For a long time we kept looking up the bushes for signs of beams of light from an oncoming car.

Presently, our Borena friend being more in tune with the bush way of life started clearing up a spot on the ground and conveniently retired for the night. Unlike me, he was a seasoned bush traveler who had chosen to be more practical in the face of the current realities.

In the back of my mind the thought of the lion showing up when I slept would not leave. In a split of a second, I thought the whole attack through, even picturing what the headlines in the Kenyan newspapers would say: Kenyan Reporter Killed in Ethiopian Bush, or even better: Kenyan Journalist Mauled by Lion.

Close to three hours later, when all my hopes were drying up, some streaks of light shot though the trees — help was on the way. When the Isuzu truck arrived, it was full of people in the back, but the driver kindly gave our driver a ride. He took along the tire. His drive to get the tire repaired would be approximately 70 kilometers round trip on a bumpy road, which allowed you to drive at 25 kilometers per hour at best.

I knew it was going to be a long wait, and I was right. The night wore on, the car had not returned, and my fear for the lion swelled.

It was therefore tremendously relieving when Salihu suggested that we could all, the six of us, try to fit in the car for it would be risky for us to remain out the whole night. We quickly shoved ourselves in the front and back seats of the double-cabin Toyota Hilux and soon almost everyone went straight asleep. For some reason, I could not sleep a wink. I could not bear the temperatures and the stuffiness of the car in which six people were locked in their sleep, breathing and snoring. A few minutes into the experience, my allergies kicked in and I started sneezing. I walked out of the car for some fresh air. To my relief, my colleague Alex Stonehill came with me. We shared our nasty experiences inside the stuffy car and decided we would not get back in, wildlife notwithstanding.

Buffalion Dream
We looked for ways to get ourselves comfortable in the bed of the truck, foregoing the security of the enclosed cab, which came along with tremendous discomfort. At this time, after having slept a maximum of three hours the previous night and after being out in a turbulent car most of the day, not even the fear of the lion could stop me from falling asleep. I was tired. Soon after getting at the back of the open truck, I fell fast asleep.

And then, the buffalo came. It looked more like a lion than a buffalo: mid-sized, brownish and aggressive. Alex and I jumped of the back of the car and broke twigs from the dry branches as we desperately tried to repulse the buffalion. It was such a scary task, we had to do it to survive. Our desperate and frantic attacks from both ends seemed to bear fruit momentarily. With his long swinging hands, Alex was doing a better job of attacking the monster than I was. I had to try harder. The beast would retreat fleetingly before charging. And just in one of those moments when I was huffing and puffing from the charging beast, Alex shook me from my sleep. It was just one of those rare dreams that brings you as close to reality as you can ever get. It was 3:30 in the morning. We were still sprawled in the bed of the truck. But our driver had just returned with the mended tire.

Finally, we were set to begin the last leg of the journey to Arero.

Fifteen hours, 250 miles, and two flat tires after Negele, we arrived in Arero. Salihu booked us what was supposed to be the best hotel in town – a line of mud-walled rooms each with a bed at the edge. Its state not withstanding, my bed that morning was the one bed I had appreciated most in my life. It was and I had to make maximum use of the precious bed. In two-hours time, Salihu would be waking us up to start our next trip through the wilderness.


Journal VI
By Julia Marino

A Night at the Yabello Motel


The white Toyota Hilux glowed as it pulled up in the middle of the unrecognizable night to what was the small, destined village of Arero. In my comatose daze, I was astounded by the reality of our arrival, our minds and bodies unscathed, curious, and ready for a warm bed and an Aspirin. At that moment, I realized that part of me believed we would navigate the nebulous, jarring road forever, the truck jerking to and fro rapturously, repeatedly, sending our bags up in the air before stopping urgently to change another bald tire. Such an experience erases all consciousness of time, all understanding of place. Yet, once the moment sinks in, its unfamiliarity can create a sense of peace even amid chaos.

In the darkness, I was led to a place where I could sleep. The room was a shadow cast by a single candle that dripped wax onto a makeshift chair wobbling on the dirt. Dawn must have been approaching, for as I finally began to fall back into sleep, the first beams of sunrise streamed through the holes of the wooden door, casting fingers of thin light onto the walls. Outside, a rooster called steadily. Dogs howled and the hum of insects harmonized with the abrupt yelling of men in their native language of Oromifa.

I gave up on the prospect of sleep as the orchestra of sounds invaded my consciousness.

Unrefreshed, I found Ernest, Alex and Salihu in a similar room across the compound. We began an early breakfast of roasted goat tibs in a broth over a coal-fed fire. It was then time to talk about our goals, our ethics and our hopes as researchers, storytellers and journalists.

Salihu had been immensely helpful to us, and I respected his knowledge, compassion and eagerness to assist us in our work. Without his generosity, we all knew we wouldn’t be traversing the remote villages of Borena. He had led us to invaluable information and insight, helping us gain access to others who could inform us further. But after hundreds of kilometers from Addis, and many adventures lived already, we knew it was time to seek out the best location to do our reporting on our own. So, it was decided we would have to part ways so we could travel to Yabello, a central location for researching the lives of pastoralists and water-walkers

Traveling Through the Bush and the Brave Borena Woman
Before we left for Yabello, we set up a spot in the dirt pathway to interview Habiba Boru Gutu, an internally displaced Borena woman the Red Cross truck had picked up in Negele. While we roamed the rocky road to Arero the previous day, I decided that I would join her in the back of the truck. Salihu couldn’t understand why I would possibly want to sit in the pickup with the Borena woman.

“But it might be too cold! You’ll be more comfortable up front!”

I insisted that it would be fun, that I wanted to get to know the lone woman, and wanted to feel the cold wind on my face.

He eventually relented, and I found a spot on top of the dusty, green tarp covering our many bags next to Habiba, who like many Borena women, wore a brightly colored scarf around her hair that draped onto her shoulders. The truck took off on the road and jerked us toward the back of the cab as the sunset began to set behind us, the trail behind us narrowing until it disappeared into the horizon.

Despite a rather large language barrier, Habiba and I communicated with hand gestures and facial expressions, her unidentifiable locution lingering in the air. She spoke several dialects of Oromifa, as well as Kiswahili and Amharic. I, on the other hand, only knew maybe five words in Amharic.

I later discovered that she had lived in Nairobi for a few months, and so could distinguish a Kenyan any day. Upon learning that Habiba spoke Kiswahili, Ernest conversed with her greatly, learning details about her life I couldn’t grasp in the back of the truck.

Now in the dirt hallway of the humble inn, Alex and I set up and handled the video camera while Ernest interviewed her in his native tongue. Ernest explained how she had to flee her home once the Guji people massacred her village, mainly made up of Borena people, because of conflict over resource scarcity. I learned that she had once had a very productive business, and was able to afford to fly her children from Kenya to Ethiopia. After the massacre, she said that she lost everything - all her wealth, the basic necessities she needed to help support her family, and her home.

Despite being internally displaced and dealing with the harsh consequences of such conflict, Habiba spoke calmly, as if the experience had forced her to strengthen and placidly overcome the challenges around her. I knew at that moment, that I had a lot to learn from her bravery.

Mirages and the Governor’s Clothes
After we interviewed Habiba we said our goodbyes. We promised to see Salihu again in Addis, and he and Habiba gave us warm hugs. We hopped in the back of a Red Cross Ambulance, another Borena woman sat in the back next to us, offering us a sip of the cursed, curdled milk that we tried the other other night.

As we drove, we came across tiny villages with thatched huts. The women wore distinct, ebony braids and children carried large sticks, spears, sometimes even guns to help protect their cattle. Dust whirled into clouds as we passed the staring natives. The truck drove precariously in a gust, infinity ahead of us.

And just when we thought our flat-tire days were over, the truck came to a sudden stop again. Our sixth stop in the middle of the bush; this time felt more like a dream than reality. The scene appeared to us like a mirage. After all, the earth stretched as far as the eye could see on all sides, the sun coating our every breath. Only dust, a couple thorn bushes and two trees were within sight. All speculations aside though, we were all happy to know we had a functioning spare tire. We learned the hard way that you can never have enough spares in southern Ethiopia.

The changing of the tires was now clockwork, and before we knew it we were on the road again. Not too long afterward, what seemed to be another pseudo-mirage approached us. It was a paved road! The bumpy surface we were so used to bearing was now a calm, smooth pathway leading to Yabello But about six feet before the truck hit the pavement, the car thumped again, and we were almost sure we had lost another tire, stuck just feet away from safety. At that moment, we held our breath so tight that as soon as we made it across the paved road, we all let out a sigh so immense, the truck almost tipped over.

We drove to find the friend Salihu had set us up with - Abdulqadir Abdii.

Little did we know that Abduliqadir was the Provincial Commissioner, a similar role as governor. “PCs in Africa have so much power,” Ernest said, matter-of-factly. Our driver stepped out of the car asking random people if they knew where Abduliqadir was - that’s how small of a town Yabello was.

We finally found his home and sat down on small wooden stools near his front yard. We discussed our plans for the next day, where he agreed to help us find a driver and translator to take us to the town of Dubluck, a small pastoralist village famous for its singing wells about 70 km away. Another area we were planning on reporting in was an even smaller village around 200 km away named Dillo, an area with the most dire water scarcity in the entire region.

The Motel and The Buzzing Commissioner
After being stranded in the middle of the elusive bush, and experiencing the morning nap in the dusty room in Arero, we were all fantasizing about a clean bed, and more importantly — a shower. Hot, warm, frozen, it wouldn’t matter. At the advice of our handy Lonely Planet, we pulled into the Yabello Motel, a place the book described as “clean and comfortable.” Although the toilet and the shower were outside, it was nice to finally find a place to unpack and unwind.

The next day, we had a scheduled meeting with the Province Commissioner to discuss plans to visit pastoralists in Dubluck and women who carry water long distances around the area of Dillo. He picked us up at the motel, sunglasses glistening, shoes polished, his face with a serious look that meant business. As the PC approached our table, the waiters stared, the manager gawked, the birds chirped curiously from the tree branches, and the receptionist from that day forward became mysteriously more polite.

We entered Abduliqadir’s office to find it adorned in polished wood, shiny leather, and an assortment of documents stacked in his bookcase. The room smelled of cleaner and cologne. We sat in the conference area, his overstuffed, black leather chair asserting the head of the table. The ironical juxtaposition of his luxurious office to the thatched huts and outdoor toilets in the town made me a little dizzy. Although Abduliqadir was a generous man, this dichotomy showed the extreme gap between the wealthy and the poor, those with power and those without.

Between different phone calls, the PC would hang up his phone and then assertively press a giant button on his desk.

“buzz. buzz.”

The sound was piercing.

His secretary would then peak her head in the doorway, nod her head as he spoke and close the door again.

Two minutes passed. “Buzz, buzz.” The secretary peaked her head in again, nodded, closed the door. “Buzz, buzz.” The same would repeat.

He told us he would find us a driver and interpreter to help us in our reporting in the region. However, finding an interpreter might not be an easy task, he said.

“English is a problem in Ethiopia, not like in Kenya,” he said smiling at Ernest. Ernest let out a loud guffaw, the kind of laugh he makes when he’s both amused and speculative at the same time.

But at the last buzz, we were on our way out, accompanied by the PC’s personal assistant Atanach Tolcha, who would interpret for us in the pastoralist village of Dubluck.
Cattle, Camels and Pebbles In My Sandals

The drive to Dubluck was rather short in comparison to our other treks, the truck letting out a large puff of dust with every bump in the earth.

As we approached the village, we observed a wide dirt road lined with mud homes serving as the center. As we opened the doors to the truck, little kids with no pants and snotty noses approached us wildly, pointing their fingers at my face and exclaiming, “you, you, you, you, you, you!”

We found the deputy chief Galgalo Dida at this center, and he guided us to the desert-like pastures and singing wells.

The ground was as dry and expansive as a deserted planet, with layered sand stretching for miles on all sides. A thin layer of dust grazed the surface of the ground as hundreds of cattle, goats and camels dotted the landscape. Cattle were being herded toward us and behind us and by our side toward a trough for a drink of water, or toward the horizon to graze or to the town to make fresh milk.

After a short interview, the chief led us to one of the traditional wells — its deep walls resonating with the low chanting of men, their beaming baritone steadily bouncing off of the well walls and into ears with each approaching step. The men’s singing is a ritual dating back centuries that helps them endure hours of long, laborious work under the scorching sky. The singing men bent down and then reached forward with such ease and steady deliberation, never missing a beat or a refrain.

At the “hauuuyauuuh!” of a pastoralist, the cattle stampeded down toward the well to drink water, scattering the ground with dung and mud at every step of their hooves. Women and men rotated buckets back and forth as they poured fresh water from the earth into a canal of water.

As Alex and I handled the video cameras, taking turns experimenting with new shots and angles, Ernest worked his interviewer-magic. The chief and a dozen pastoralists surrounded us as he asked about the struggles of the community to maintain a healthy livestock and livelihood in such a resource-scarce region. They talked about the importance of the wells in order for the cattle and the people to survive, especially during the dry season when it would cease to rain.

I began to imagine harmonizing with them in a hand-dug well, strengthening every muscle as I scooped out more cold, refreshing water. I tried to picture myself exerting hours of labor each day just to receive enough water for my family to live on. Of course, it was somewhat a difficult task to fully realize a life lived in a village in Dubluck - a place so distant from my own sprinkler-running, Aquafina-drinking environment. But now that I have come to know the beauty and struggle of these pastoralists, I am certain that water will never again taste the same.

With the approaching sound of the next cattle stampede, I was snapped out of my thoughts and motioned back toward the truck. As I walked away from the well, I could hear the distant echo of the men singing, the water splashing, the pastoralist shouting, and the cattle mooing - its distinct rhythm and unfamiliar pattern, somehow, resembling peaceful chaos.



more journals to follow…

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