Why Ethiopian Domestic Workers Insecure in Gulf

Ethiopian women face jail sexual abuse, rape in Ogaden prisons.

By Abebe Aynete
The recent unsuccessful story in Ethiopia has related with the highest influx of economic migrants to the Gulf Cooperation Council countries (GCC). The Gulf Cooperation Council countries comprise Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain.

Female economic migrants in these countries are highly exposed for insecure conditions due to various reasons. However, the female domestic workers trafficking or modern slavery is currently at increasing rate and in relative speaking their insecurity at their destination has also highly increasing and beyond one can imagine.

Managing this highest domestic workers trafficking has become a challenge to the government. The question is why migrant female domestic workers in the GCC countries have highly exposed for insecure conditions?. This article tries to address the major social and political causes for vulnerability and insecurity of the female domestic workers in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries (GCC).

Often the highest female domestic workers trafficking to the GCC countries have considered as a manifestation of the source courtiers economic conditions. However, basically the numbers of increasing unemployment at the source countries and the economic status at the destination countries have greater contribution in pushing and pulling the economic migrants.

Increased oil income as a major source of government revenue and the small population size made the GCC country’s resource distribution fair. The result of good household income stats encouraged demand for female domestic workers in the GCC countries. This is because the oil income transformed the destination Gulf Cooperation Council countries (GCC) within a short period of time into richest countries.

The GCC countries governments have obligated themselves with distributing the oil revenue for their citizens. A major tool for distributing the oil income to the indigenous populations is through public sector employment with high salaries and luxury working conditions. The good income status at household level made the demand for cheap domestic lebour very high in the GCC countries.

The other pulling factor is tax free system in all GCC countries. The citizens have no obligation of paying any tax under the sun of GCC states. In these countries the major task of the government is the creation of a dual labor market for nationals exclusively in the public sector than taxing citizens. Taxing citizens is not acceptable in GCC courtiers due to Islamic law.

As the result in the GCC countries employment opportunities categorized into two. The first one is public sector and the other is private sector. The public sector is solely left for indigenous citizens. People working in the public sector are free from any kind of taxations. The private sector including domestic work has left for the vast majority of the migrant workers.

Like the employment categories for indigenous and migrants the public and private sectors governed by two different polices. The private sector is governed by Kalafa “sponsorship” system. This law governs all migrant labour. The migrant labour policy in GCC countries guarantees the Kalafa “sponsorship” system much freedom.

According to the GCC country law the Kafala is a person who would sponsor migrant worker and has right to allow an economic migrant to enter into the country. The Kalafa system provides absolute right to the sponsor and employer in determining salaries, living conditions, nutrition, to work elsewhere and even the ability of migrant workers to return to their home country. Whereas the indigenous people are governed by labour polices. The Kalafa system and labour policy are two diverging labour polices in the GCC countries.

The paradox is that the vast majority of migrant workers particularly the domestic workers from Ethiopia and Asian countries entered in to the GCC countries through Kalafa system earn extremely low salaries. This is due to the Kalafa system gives a private employer an absolute right to determine the fate of domestic workers. On the other hand due to their low skill status and lack of the right to negotiate on the amount of salary they would earn.

If one look into the history of domestic workers wage in the GCC countries. Prior to the entry of migrant domestic workers in the GCC countries, domestic work is performed by poorer men or women (girl) within the same country. Unlike the current misery of domestic workers in this country they are less venerable and this is because of their family member or father will have chance to visit them once a year.

This would be regarded as an act of safeguard and gives an opportunity to collect here or his wages. Furthermore, they have had a shared culture with an understanding between the employer and the employee. This honorary enforced a certain sense of responsibility on the part of the employ family. However, after 1973 the influx of migrant domestic worker from Africa and Asia to the GCC countries has been accompanied by different challenges.

This is due to migrant domestic workers having come to a country from remote areas and none of the migrant family has access to visit them. Furthermore, most of migrant domestic workers have different cultures, languages and religious backgrounds. For instance most Ethiopians are Christian by religion and Asians are Buddhist but as economic migrant obey Muslim culture in their destination countries.

Some argue that domestic workers in the GCC courtiers have no rights and are virtual prisoner or earn money at the expense of their humanity. The paradox is that still there is higher trafficking of domestic workers to these countries.

Misinformation Vs Unemployment
To look into the causes for human insecurity in the GCC countries it is important to begin by addressing factors contributing for human trafficking in the source countries. In the case of Ethiopia, victims of trafficking have considered it as a strategy to alleviate unemployment and partially to generate foreign income so as to balance income inequality.

The second reason goes with misunderstanding of the scenario and dreaming better income in the GCC and considering the challenges in the GCC countries as a sign “Hero girls” pay for the better future. In this regard a parent has greater role in directing, encouraging or facilitating their family member to do so.

A parent’s disinformation and misinformation is the other major causes for female domestic workers insecurity at the destination countries. This is the result of inaccurate portrays of the destination country by labour recruiters or human traffickers. These misinformation and disinformation have been widely distributed throughout the migration system.

Women domestic worker recruiters or traffickers in Ethiopia often have poor information about the positions they purvey and the conditions unskilled domestic workers face in the destination. Even when some brokers or recruiters have good information about the reality in the destination they direct attention away from the common challenges and difficulties low skilled domestic workers face on their arrival.

This is because the traffickers earn large amounts of money by trafficking domestic workers to the GCC countries. According to the information from the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs of Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia domestic worker recruiter or trafficker earns on average 3,000 to 5,000 birr per person.

On the other hand, at the destination the Kafala “sponsors” or manpower recruiting agencies in conjunction with the local sponsors of migrant labour often conspire in the systemic deception. The migrant domestic workers themselves play significant role in maintaining the image of the GCC countries as a place of extraordinary possibilities and mask their situation by steady flow of remittances often some by borrowing substantial sum from their migrant’s fellows to cover the fee already they paid for the traffickers before they live their village.

Furthermore, increasing demand for cheap and unskilled workers in the destination country is the other pulling factor. However, the suffering of domestic workers in the GCC countries is beyond what we can imagine. The following testimony gives an idea of the hardship relatively faced by the domestic workers.

“If I tell my whole story it will not be finished even in a day and a night. When I return home, I will maybe bring nothing…. From 12 midnight to 2:30 a.m. My employer beat me with an electric cable. In the end, she said, “Other madams [employers] would send you home but I won’t. You have only two choices: either you work without a salary, or you will die here. If you die, I will tell the police that you committed suicide.”

Even if I worked without a salary, it did not guarantee that I would not be beaten. That is why I escaped. All the doors were locked so there was no way out, the windows had iron bars, but there was a hole for ventilation in the bathroom from which I escaped. Before I escaped, I prayed and asked Allah for help although my body was very dirty since she did not allow me to take a bath for a month. I prayed,” Mina S., Indonesian domestic worker, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia – Human Rights Watch report, 2008.

The Kafala (Sponsorship) System
To enter into GCC countries as a migrant domestic worker is often allowed, managed and controlled by the Kafala (Sponsors). The Kafala system also provides the right to regulate labor flows in and out of the country and the sponsors provide the two years of work permit for the domestic workers.

With the will of the sponsors once the domestic workers land at the destination country soon after where freedom of movement will be strictly controlled and limited by the physical surroundings and by Arab/Islamic behavior codes.

Furthermore, she will be locked in the apartments till she finds an employer and will be denied access to key and are usually forbidden to leave without expressed permission. The Kafala system warrants the employers or sponsors generally keep the worker’s passport and identification papers, rendering them immobile and vulnerable to arrest by authorities.

After she finds the work as a domestic worker she will face the unique problem. As being a domestic worker she would unable to access support, networks, receive or send letters, or even the Muslims to worship accordingly. It is a rare case that the workers may be allowed to go outside, visit friends, or just go for a walk.

In the GCC countries the Kafala system has created a unique situation in which nationals could earn money strictly by virtue of their nationality. This grants permission right to the Kafala on the foreigners entrance into the country, monitor their stay and approving their exit. Since the Kafala is responsible for all aspects of foreigners issue say if Kafala withdraws sponsorship the foreigner has no legal right to stay in the country.

There are different factors contributes for withdrawal of sponsorship. Among others the dispute are over wages, accommodations, working conditions or other work related issues. These all cases are related with human rights but do not concern the sponsors. Migrant domestic worker who’s sponsor has withdrawn will considered as illegal and will be imprisoned and face ill treatment. In this case there will be no room for negotiation with sponsors or employer and a domestic worker will find herself in custody.

The system by itself is open for corruption and the victim will have no chance to defend herself due to different reasons. Among others many kafalas are only nominally involved in the employment of the domestic workers in their sponsorship. They allow their names to be used to sponsor foreigners in exchange for payments from employers, recruiters or others.

The domestic workers who enter the country through sponsors never meet their sponsors directly and do not know who their sponsor is. Rather everything handled only through intermediaries who may be nationals of their country of citizenship.

The other problem the female domestic workers face at their destination is sexual violence. This is because at their arrival they would keep in confined apartments till they find employer. Even after they find an employer their victim by male employers, as well as by other male members of the household or staff will be very high and this is because the sponsorship system in the GCC countries does not allowed female domestic workers to have communication with others or blaming whatever problem she may face.

With no telephone access, control over correspondence and social isolation from other domestic workers or friends, female domestic workers are rarely able to escape or seek help when needed. Because of these all serious sufferings if one female domestic worker may run away it will consider as one of big illegal act and result in punishment.

Labour Laws
Labour laws in the GCC countries have major limitations in addressing migrant female domestic workers. In most GCC countries the labour laws generally do not cover female domestic workers and according to the law they are not considered as employees.

The relationship between the domestic worker and employer is not addressed in GCC countries national legislation and the law totally denying them the status of “real workers” entitled by ILO convention. According to GCC country labour law households in which domestic workers are involved not considered as a workplace and they work for private persons who are not considered as employer.

Due to the gap in the labour law migrant female domestic workers in the GCC countries are vulnerable for exploitation of their rights and labour. Among others the majority of domestic workers endures a range of abuses including non-payment of salaries, forced confinement, food deprivation, excessive workload, and instances of severe psychological, physical, and sexual abuse.

For instance the Saudi Labor Law, amended through Royal Decree No. M/51 on September 27, 2005, excludes all domestic workers, denying them protections guaranteed to other workers, such as a day off once a week, limits on working hours. The new Saudi Arabia’s restrictive Kafala (sponsorship) system also fuels exploitation and abuse.

Under this system, an employer assumes the responsibility for a hired migrant worker and must grant explicit permission before the worker can enter Saudi Arabia or leave the country. The Kafala system gives the employer immense control over the worker and it is not allowed for a domestic worker even to run away from abusive conditions or to return home upon completion of their contracts. This means the employers have the right to permit a domestic worker to leave the country.

Abebe Aynete is a researcher on Peace and Conflict. Can be reached @ aaynete@gmail.com

Ethiopia’s Opposition at the Dawn of Democracy?

alemayehu-g-mariam

Respeaking Truth to the Powerless

For several years now, I have been “speaking truth to power”. In fact, the tag line for my blog page is “Defend Human Rights. Speak Truth to Power.” It is a special phrase which asserts a defiant moral and ethical position against those who abuse, misuse and overuse their powers. By speaking truth to power, the speaker bears witness against those whose power lies in lies. But speaking truth to the powerless is sometimes also necessary. The powerless have no power to abuse, but their fault lies in not knowing their true power. While the abusers of power have might, the powerless who are abused have the power of right. It is the power of right that the powerless must use in their struggle against the abusers of power in achieving their ultimate victory because, as Dr. Martin Luther King said, “Right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”

In June 2010, I wrote a weekly commentary entitled “Speaking Truth to the Powerless”.  I expressed deep concern over what I perceived to be manifest political paralysis and inaction in the Ethiopian opposition following the daylight theft of the May 2010 election in which the ruling party claimed to have won 99.6 percent of the seats in parliament. I urged the Ethiopian “opposition” to take a hard look at itself and take corrective action. I explained that  “my aim is not to lecture or to bash” but   merely to help “clean out the closet  so that we could begin afresh on the long walk to democracy. It is said that the ‘truth hurts’, but I disagree. I believe the truth heals, empowers and liberates its defenders.”

Ethiopia’s Opposition Through the Eyes of the Ruling Party

As opposition parties, journalists and dissidents faced unrelenting persecution by the ruling party and underwent apparent disarray following the 2010 election, I wondered what the party bosses of the ruling party really thought of the opposition (and the people) in making their outrageously absurd and audacious claim of total electoral victory. I thought then, as I do now, that looking at the “opposition” through the eyes of the ruling party bosses might give the opposition, particularly opposition parties, some insights into what courses of action they ought to take as the political situation evolves given recent changes:

… Zenawi knows the opposition like the opposition does not know itself. He has studied them and understands how they (do not) work. Careful analysis of his public statements on the opposition over the years suggests a rather unflattering view. He considers opposition leaders to be his intellectual inferiors; he can outwit, outthink, outsmart, outplay, outfox and outmaneuver them any day of the week. He believes they are dysfunctional, shiftless and inconsequential, and will never be able to pose a real challenge to his power. In his speeches and public comments, he shows nothing but contempt and hatred for them. At best, he sees them as wayward children who need constant supervision, discipline and punishment to keep them in line. Like children, he will offer some of them candy — jobs, cars, houses and whatever else it takes to buy their silence. Those he cannot buy, he will intimidate, place under continuous surveillance and persecute. Mostly, he tries to fool and trick the opposition. He will send “elders” to talk to them and lullaby them to sleep while he drags out “negotiations” to buy just enough time to pull the rug from underneath them. He casts a magical spell on them so that they forget he is the master of the zero-sum game (which means he always wins and his opposition always loses)…

Who is the “Opposition”?

Who is the Ethiopian “opposition”? That is an intriguing question for which there is probably not a definitive answer. There is certainly not a monolithic opposition in the form of a well-organized party. There is no strong and functional coalition of political parties that could effectively challenge both the power and ideology of the ruling party. There is not an opposition in the form of an organized vanguard of intellectuals.  There is not an opposition composed of an aggregation of civil society institutions including unions and religious institutions, rights advocates and dissident groups. There is not an opposition in the form of popular mass based political or social movements. The problems of “opposition politics” in Ethiopia is the age old  problem that has plagued African opposition politics following the “invention” of the one-man, one-party state in Africa by Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana in the early 1960s. Nkrumah crushed, suppressed and persecuted his opposition, including political parties, judges, union leaders, dissidents. Over the past one-half century, those who opposed the incumbent regimes in Ethiopia have been victims of not only legal and political restrictions but also all forms of persecution including imprisonments and extrajudicial killings.  I find it difficult to fully characterize or quantify the Ethiopian opposition. As I asked in my commentary after the May 2010 election: “Is the opposition that amorphous aggregation of weak, divided, squabbling, factionalized and fragmented parties and groups that are constantly at each other’s throats? Or is it the grumbling aggregation of human rights advocates, civic society organizers, journalists and other media professionals and academics? Or are the groups committed to armed struggle and toppling the dictatorship by force the opposition?

Or is it all or none of the above?

What is the Proper Role for the “Opposition” in the Ethiopia?

Playing the role of opposition in a police state is not only difficult but also extremely risky. Following the May 2005 election, nearly all of the opposition party leaders, numerous civic society leaders, human rights advocates and journalists were rounded up and jailed for nearly two years. Over the past six years, opposition parties have been denied any meaningful political space and their leaders, along with an ever growing number of journalists and dissidents have been harassed, intimidated, imprisoned, exiled or worse. But the opposition, particularly the opposition parties, have also been severely weakened and suffered erosion of public credibility by failing to develop a coherent set of policies, programs and ideology that are different from the ruling party’s. Some parties and party leaders have lacked accountability and transparency in their actions and omissions. Others have resisted internal democracy within their organizations. Still others have promoted a cult of leadership around a single individual or small group of individuals who themselves have manifested dictatorial tendencies and engaged in factional struggles within their organizations to consolidate their power.

Regardless of how one might define the “opposition” in Ethiopia, there is no question that the ruling party’s  claim of electoral victory of 99.6 percent stands in stark contrast to the fact that in 2005 opposition parties routed the ruling party’s candidates in landslide victories throughout the country. The principal lesson the Ethiopian “opposition” needs to learn from the experiences of the past six years is that the opposition’s role is not simply to “oppose, oppose and oppose” for the sake of opposing. The opposition’s role and duty goes well beyond simply opposing the ruling party and its policies. Their role goes to the heart of democratic governance of the country. Their principal role is to relentlessly demand accountability and transparency in governance. They should always question the actions and omissions of the ruling party in a principled and honest manner, challenge, analyze, criticize, dice and slice the ruling party’s policies, ideas and programs and offer better, different and stronger alternatives. It is not sufficient for the opposition to champion the failures of the ruling party and make broad claims that they can do better.

Heaping insults, gnashing teeth and denigrating the ruling party and its leaders not only erodes the superior  moral position of the opposition, it is also counterproductive  and distractive to the opposition in its role of promoting accountability and transparency in governance. Many in the opposition speak out against those in power in the language of anger, frustration, fear and loathing. Few seem to be prepared to challenge the rulers on the basis of cold hard facts and logic. It is rare to see the opposition undertake a thorough analysis and critique of the ruling party’s policies, programs and projects. That task if often done by foreigners who undertake specialized studies and investigations. For instance, the regime’s policy which allows predatory land grabs by international agro-businesses was exposed not by Ethiopia’s opposition but foreign NGOs and researchers. The disastrous environmental impact of the various hydroelectric dam projects in the country were revealed by foreign researchers, not the opposition. The bulk of the work documenting human rights violations in Ethiopia is done by the various international human rights organizations, not the opposition. Much of the economic analysis on Ethiopia is done either by the various international lending institutions whose review is highly questionable on conflict of interest grounds or economic commentators in the popular media. By failing to challenge the ruling party on substantive policy and programmatic grounds, the effectiveness and credibility of the opposition has been significantly diminished. What is needed is not verbal condemnation, demonization and teeth gnashing against those in power, but critical and systematic analysis of the failures of the regime, its programs, policies and laws followed by well-thought out proposals that offer real alternatives and hope of a better future to the people if the opposition were to hold the reins of power.

The opposition, particularly opposition political parties, can play many vital roles beyond simply preparing to run for elections. They can help build consensus and aggregate the interests of their members and the broader society. They can articulate their policy preferences and choices and educate the wider community. They can promote debate, dialogue and national conversations on issues, problems and the direction of the country. They are best positioned to build and institutionalize  a democratic culture. If opposition parties are to succeed, they must take action to provide leadership training opportunities to the youth and women. Many opposition party leaders are way past the age of fifty and few women are seen at top leadership levels. While “age is nothing but a number”, there is a distinct difference between youth and geriatric politics. The younger generation has greater enthusiasm, dynamism and commitment to carry on with the cause. Opposition parties also need to work closely with media and civil society institutions to reach out to the people.

Sometimes the opposition can also agree with those in power to do the right thing and serve the greater public interest. In 2007, the late Meles Zenawi expressed his “hope that [his] legacy” would be not only “sustained and accelerated development that would pull Ethiopia out of the massive deep poverty” but also “radical improvements in terms of good governance and democracy.” Prime Minster Hailemariam has vowed and pledged publicly numerous times to carry out Meles’ legacy. There is no harm in joining Hailemariam implement Meles’ legacy of “improving good governance and democracy.” The opposition should hold Hailemariam accountable for improving good governance by insisting on the release of political prisoners, repeal of repressive laws, opening up of political space and broader democratization.

What Kind of Opposition is Needed Today?

I believe the ruling party’s dominance and persistence is made possible in significant part by the shambolic (chaotic) state of Ethiopian opposition politics. In other words, if the opposition were not so divided and uncentered, the ruling party would have been far less successful in imposing its arbitrary rule. So, what kind of opposition is needed today?

Loyal Opposition? In some parliamentary systems of government, the term “loyal opposition” is used to describe opposition non-governing parties in the legislature. In a functioning democratic parliamentary system, it is the duty of the loyal opposition to challenge the policies and programs of the governing party without fear of harassment, intimidation or persecution. Obviously, there can be no “loyal opposition” in Ethiopia when the ruling party controls 99.6 percent of the seats in parliament. It is not possible to have a one-person loyal opposition.

Silent or Silenced Opposition? There is much silent and silenced opposition to the ruling class. The majority of the people are afraid to show their opposition to the regime because they are afraid of retaliation or retribution. If they criticize the ruling party or its leaders, they could lose their jobs, be dismissed from school, suffer economic harm or even serious persecution. People are jailed for simply saying they oppose the regime. In an incredible development recently, four individuals were criminally charged for stating in public, “Meles is dead. Good riddance. We are not sorry he is dead. The government is dead. There is no government.” (To see the official charging document, press here.)  There are many who privately express opposition but would not dare to make their views known because of fears of prosecution and persecution.

Disorganized Opposition? An opposition that is floundering, angry and disorganized is unlikely to pose a challenge to the ruling party. A disorganized opposition is unable to formulate viable and appealing policies or convert popular discontent into decisive political action. Neither is it able to convince and mobilize its base or expand its reach and influence.

Divided Opposition? A divided opposition is best guarantee for the dominance of the ruling party. The myth of the supremacy and invincibility of the ruling party and its leaders is built on the foundation of a divided opposition. The ruling regime survives and thrives using a strategy of divide and rule; and when the opposition itself is divided, it is easy for those in power to abuse, mock and denigrate them.

A United Principled Democratic Opposition? That is what Ethiopia needs today. Such an opposition is built on a foundation of the values of tolerance, cooperation and compromise.  A united opposition is consensus based and results in a coalition of divergent interests and groups. The coalition provides a  forum  to work together not only to compete in elections but also in formulating broad based policies, providing broader representation of the electorate and broader representation of the views and demands of the majority. Since a  wide consensus of opinion is necessary in coalitions, policies and actions will be debated and examined thoroughly before being presented to the public. Coalitions provide a basis for good governance because their decisions are made in the interests of a majority of the people. Coalitions may sometimes be fractious but the tendency to  build consensus often overcomes that impulse.  The Ethiopian opposition ought to organize around coalition politics to effectively challenge the ruling party and its policies.

What Is to Be Done by the Ethiopian Opposition?

Following the 2010 election, I offered unsolicited advice to Ethiopia’s opposition. It does not seem there were any takers at the time. But I am a tenacious and steadfast advocate who is not easily deterred. So, I offer the same advice again now that the political game has changed and despite the repetitious litany among the leaders of the regime that nothing has changed and things will continue as before. Things have changed fundamentally and will continue to change even more dramatically in the near future. That irreversible change is from dictatorship to democracy. There is no force on earth that can stop that change. No amount of bluster, swagger, bombast, hubris or imperiousness by those clinging to power can stop the change from dictatorship to democracy. There is only one question left to be answered: What is to be done by opposition parties and the aggregation of civic society and media institutions, human rights advocates, dissidents and others in Ethiopia’s transition from dictatorship to democracy?

Atonement and Reconciliation With the People:  All of the opposition political party leaders who participated in the 2005 election need to go back to the people and ask forgiveness for squandering their hopes, dreams and aspirations. They need to tell the people straight up, “We did let you down. We are deeply sorry. We promise to do our very best to earn back your trust and confidence.” The people deserve an unqualified public apology from opposition leaders. They will be forgiven because the Ethiopian people are decent, understanding and compassionate.

Learn From Past Mistakes: It is said that those who do not learn from past mistakes are doomed to repeat it. Many mistakes and blunders have been committed by opposition leaders in the past. These mistakes need to be  identified, studied and lessons drawn from them so that they will not be repeated again.

Understand the Opposition’s Opposition: The opposition’s opposition should not be underestimated. Their strength is in dividing and ruling and in playing the ethnic card. If the opposition unites and acts around a common agenda, they are powerless.

Stop Playing Victim: Some in the opposition manifest “victim mentality”. When one feels like a victim, one tends not to take action or responsibility. There is some recent criticism of Hailemariam over his public statements concerning the jailed journalists, political prisoners and other issues. Last week, he told the Voice of America that the political prisoners in the country are actually “terrorists” who “work with a violent organization” while “wearing two hats”, one “legal” and the other “illegal”. He gave no indication if he intends to open up the political space. The fact of the matter is that regardless of what Hailemariam and the ruling party say or do not say, the opposition must be relentless in demanding the release of all political prisoners and repeal of oppressive laws. That is what accountability is all about.  The opposition must always stand up for what is right. Releasing political prisoners is right; keeping them imprisoned is wrong.

Develop a Common Agenda in Support of Issues and Causes: The core issues democracy, freedom, human rights, the rule of law and the unity of the people and the physical integrity of the Ethiopian nation are shared by all opposition elements. Why not build collective agenda to advance and support these issues?

Agree to Disagree Without Being Disagreeable: Opposition leaders and supporters must abandon the destructive principle, “If you do not agree with me 100 percent, you are my enemy.” There is nothing wrong with reasonable minds disagreeing. Dissent and disagreement are essential conditions of democracy. If the opposition cannot tolerate dissent within itself, could it justifiably condemn those in power for intolerance?

Guard Against the Cult of Personality: One of the greatest weaknesses in the Ethiopian opposition has been the cult of personality. Time and again, the opposition has created idealized and heroic images of individuals as leaders, showered them with unquestioning flattery and praise and almost worshipped them. Let us remember that every time we do that we are grooming future dictators.

Always Act in Good Faith: Opposition leaders and others in the opposition must always strive to act in good faith and be forthright and direct in their personal and organizational relationships. We must mean what we say and say what we mean. Games of one-upmanship will keep us all stranded on an island of irrelevance.

Think Generationally, Act Presently: The struggle for genuine democracy is not merely about winning  elections or getting into public office. The struggle is for great causes — establishing a durable democracy, protecting human rights and institutionalizing accountability and the rule of law in Ethiopia. If we believe this to be true, then the struggle is not about us, it is about the generations to come. What we do should always be guided by our desire to make Ethiopia better for our children and grandchildren.

Give Young People a Chance to Lead: There is a hard reality that most of us in the older generation in the opposition have been unable to face. That reality is that we need to learn to get out of the way. Let’s give the younger generation a chance to lead. After all, it is their future. We can be most useful if we help them learn from our mistakes and guide them to greater heights. If there is one thing universally true about young people, it is that they love freedom more than anything else. Let the older generation be water carriers for the young people who will be building the “future country of Ethiopia,” as Birtukan Midekssa, the first female political party leader in Ethiopia, used to say.

Think Like Winners, Not Victims: Victory is not what it seems for the victors, and defeat is not what it feels for the vanquished. There is defeat in victory and victory in defeat. Both victory and defeat are first and foremost states of mind. Those who won the election by a margin of 99.6 percent project an image of being victorious. But we know they have an empty victory secured by force and fraud. The real question is whether the opposition sees itself as a bunch of winners or losers. Winners think and act like winners, likewise for losers.

The Opposition Needs to Reinvent Itself: The ruling party, though its public statements, is trying to  reinvent itself as the same old repressive police state. They say “nothing will change” from the time of their former leader. The opposition also needs to reinvent itself by rededicating itself to democratic principles, articulating the peoples’ aspirations with greater clarity and cogency, creating democratic alliances, strengthening its position as voices of the people and by always standing up for right and against might.

The Opposition Must Never Give Up: Sir  Winston Churchill was right when he said: “Never give in–never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” This is a winning strategy the Ethiopian opposition should adopt and practice passionately!

Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at:

Previous commentaries by the author are available at: http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/  and www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/

Nigeria at 52: Celebrating 13 years of return of democracy

Nigeria at 52

By Moses Alao,Nigeria Tribune
Apart from attaining 52 years of nationhood this year, Nigeria should also be celebrating 13 years of return of democracy after military interregnum. But it appears that the nation is battling many challenges. Indeed, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), it appears, signifies the chaotic situation in the polity. It is no longer news that the fortune of PDP, the self-acclaimed largest political party in Africa, has been dwindling for some time now as the party is riddled with controversies occasioned by power play and political intrigues among its members across the country. What could be news is the attempt to bring back the lost disciples of the party, a voyage embarked upon by its national chairman, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur.

No sooner had Tukur been elected as chairman in March 2012 than it became clear what his mandate for the party would be—he had to restore the dwindling of the party which was fast losing its grip on power due to internal wrangling as well as work on the battered image which the party already cut before many Nigerians. Not a few people, as evident in the opinions of opposition politicians and activists, believe that Nigeria had been the worst for the party’s 12-year rule at the federal level.

In his acceptance speech as the chairman of the party, he promised to reform, reconcile and reposition the party.

However, his first 100 days in office were not enough to mend the broken fences in the party as the outcomes of the congresses across the state became the bedrocks for fresh wrangling. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) even ordered a repeat of the congresses in Lagos, Nasarawa, Plateau, Anambra, Jigawa, Katsina, Taraba, Sokoto, Anambra and Adamawa states, while a state like Oyo ended up with two executive councils from the two congresses held in the state.

But in a recent move to restore the dwindling fortune of the party and probably solidify the party’s electoral strength in preparation for the future, the chairman, during his 77th birthday, made an appeal to aggrieved members of the party who had to other parties.

“For us to be one, indivisible and indissoluble political party ruling Nigeria since 1999, it may be necessary for me to beg our members who are aggrieved and hence left the party into different strange camps to come back home. It is time to re-build Nigeria and all hands are needed to do so.

“The umbrella is big enough to accommodate all of us. So our members who left us should please come back into the party so we can resolve our differences and begin to move on as one people for one Nation Nigeria”

In another twist, the National Working Committee of the party issued a directive that members who had left the party and wish to return should do so in 30 days, saying they could only return to the PDP fold by returning to their wards to register.

Though the party directed the ward executives to ensure that the returnees are registered without inhibitions, saying that “this exercise (should) be carried out within 30 days from now and that ward chairmen and secretaries should register such returning members without inhibitions.”

The chairman advised any returnee not allowed register to report to the national secretariat, calling on the six zonal national vice-chairmen to ensure compliance with the directive.

Hinged on the principles of 3-Rs of reconciliation, reformation and rebuilding, Alhaji Tukur and his NWC has left no stone unturned in the attempt to make past members of the party return to the fold, and in the process, have begged and ordered at the same time all in a bid to restore the PDP’s glory.

The PDP, which was formed in 1998 and in 1999 went on to win several major positions including the majority seats of both arms of the National Assembly, 23 state governors and the presidency, began to have problems among its members as entrenched interests sought to outdo one another with the attendant results being the frustration, expulsion or exit of some of the members.

Though the party appeared to have a better showing in the 2003 election, winning the presidential position for a second term while also adding seven additional states to those in its control, it took no time for things to begin to fall apart in the party as bigwigs in the party lost out in the power play while others were subjects of disciplinary actions. In the end, many of them left the party, thereby weakening the ranks of the PDP.

Former chairman of the party, Audu Ogbeh, former governor of Benue State now a Minority Ledare of the Senate, elected on the platform of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), George Akume; former Bauchi State governor, Adamu Muazu; former Anambra State governor and now a Senator on the platform of the ACN, Chris Ngige; former Ekiti State governor, Ayo Fayose; former Oyo State governor, Rashidi Ladoja; former Abia State governor, Orji Uzor Kalu; former Enugu State governor, Chimaroke Nnamani; former Senate President, Ken Nnamani; former Ogun State governor, Gbenga Daniel; former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ghali Na’aba; former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Bello Masari; former Nasarawa deputy governor and now a Senator on the platform of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Solomon Ewuga; Ondo State governor, Olusegun Mimiko and countless others were at the receiving end of the blows which the PDP dealt its own, as some of them were either frustrated out of the party or set aside in the scheme of things.

With some of these erstwhile party stalwarts reportedly lost for good, the PDP could be said to have been left with no choice than to reconsider its stance and make peace, leading to the present efforts. Interestingly, a look at all the past members of the PDP who have left for other parties revealed that not all of them would like to return as many of them have landed juicy positions in their new parties. Senators Akume, Ngige and Ewuga, as well as Governors Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State and Dr Mimiko were mentioned as likely examples of politicians who would not return to the ruling party. However, those who have been fingered to be interested in a return to the PDP umbrella, such as Kalu and Ladoja, have been said to be capable of wielding great influence if they return to the party.

Chief Kalu was reported to be interested in returning to the PDP fold, with the party executive in his local government, Bende Local Government said to have opposed the idea.

He had formed the Progressive Peoples Alliance in 2007, winning the Abia State governorship election and some other positions before the governor, Theodore Orji abandoned the PPA for the PDP, thereby whittling down Kalu’s influence.

A lot of opinions have been expressed about the immense political clout of Senator Ladoja who floated the Accord Party few months to the April 2011 general elections and ended up winning eight seats in the Oyo State House of Assembly and four seats in the House of Representatives, with many members of the PDP at the national and state level working to see to his return to the party. Sunday Tribune gathered from an impeccable source close to the former governor that he was favourably disposed to returning to the party but could not do so because some top PDP members in the state, who were afraid of Ladoja’s influence, threatened to institute legal actions against him.

However, the Oyo State PDP chairman, Alhaji Yinka Taiwo said there was no truth to the claim that some people do not want Ladoja back in the PDP, saying: “He is our leader. We are expecting him in the party, he is welcome any time.”

It is not clear how many people would choose to return to the party following the new waves of reconciliation and attempts to rebuild the party, what is clear is the palpable fear that has gripped the state chapters of the party as a result of the likely returnees’ influence and political strengths.

The Oyo PDP chairman also confirmed that people were already returning to the party at the ward levels in the state, adding that he would be able to say who and who has returned after the end of the exercise.

The ongoing reconciliation efforts have also been supported by the National Vice Chairman (Southwest) of the party, Engineer Segun Oni, who said in a recent interview that: “We have to bring all members together in the Southwest especially as we are not in the government, we must ensure that no group pockets the party. That is why we keep telling them, if there is need to harmonise the warring factions by looking at the executive of any state again, we would not shy away from doing that. But if anybody is under the illusion that the party will be in the pocket of one person or group of people in any part of the Southwest, that person should have a rethink, because we are not in PDP because we want to run a political party but because we know that the people of the Southwest are yearning for change.”

The reconciliation efforts, if successful, have been said to be capable of bringing a lot of gains to the party, with the reclamation of lost states in the Southwest being said to be top on the list of gains for the party.

“There is strength in the movement of a majority. The PDP has people and the return of those who have left and the reconciliation of the aggrieved would bring immense benefit to the party. We are in support of efforts to bring back the lost sheep of the party so that we can be further strengthened, that much I can tell you,” Alhaji Taiwo said.

However, the ongoing efforts to reconcile warring members of the PDP have not all been a smooth ride. From the seemingly contrasting positions of the party on the former members of the party willing to return to the fold, with the earlier position of the chairman appearing as a plea and the latter which appeared as an order with ultimatum, developments in the polity show that Tukur’s reconciliation efforts though thought capable of bolstering the party’s strength, have put him in the bad books of some PDP governors.

The governors were said to have boycotted the chairman’s birthday celebration because they were irked by his reconciliatory moves which Sunday Tribune learnt have not been favourable to the governors.

With the governor’s dispositions, it has become doubtable whether the present efforts of the party to reconcile and rebuild would come to fruition, as some of the governors have been known to have the party machinery in their pockets.

In fact, analysts have expressed fear at the feasibility of Tukur’s repositioning efforts on the grounds that past PDP chairmen who entered the governor’s bad books ended up failing in their tasks. Dr Okwesilieze Nwodo was mentioned as an example in this regard, having been accused of stirring the hornets’ nest of the PDP governors at the time.

If the governors’ alleged opposition to Tukur’s perspective and approach to the reconciliation and rebuilding of the PDP was thought to be a problem for the party, the likely outcomes of the reconciliation moves and eventual return of some former party members have been a source of worry for the party leadership, Sunday Tribune learnt, with the case of Ekiti State where the former governor of the state, Ayo Fayose, was recently re-admitted into the PDP fold, a development which has been having varying effects both negatively and positively on the party in the state.

The fear of the return of these politicians seem to have become the beginning of wisdom for some state chapters of the PDP, as the people presently in control of party machineries mostly serving governors, have been reportedly hell-bent of frustrating the return of people who they perceive would be obstacles to their ‘smooth operations.’

Benue, Kano, Bauchi, Enugu, Ogun and Oyo states have remained hot spots where the ongoing reconciliation efforts could suffer huge setbacks, with Ogun State chapter’s peculiar mess of a litany of court cases which have threatened the soul of the party.

According to observers, the return of former members may lead to implosion in the party, as those who presently control party machineries would not let go easily, a situation which they said could make the PDP ‘win some and lose more.’

Ethiopia: Who can handle the truth?

Zelalem Eshete, Ph.D
This is an independent voice of what I think are the silent Ethiopians. It is a voice lost in the wilderness of the political commotion. Granted, the voice is well known by all and yet seldom listened to at the same time. The question is directed primarily to the players in our political system – our leaders in both camps. What is the truth and who can handle the truth? I attempt to write the truth with love in my heart. It’s the love that makes the truth work. If you think my writing is not articulating a fact, I am here to learn. If you confirm it is the truth, why not handle the truth sooner than later? The tragedy is to keep being oblivious to the conspicuous and inconvenient truth.

The One Thing for the opposition leaders …

The one thing we aspire to see you do is for you to stand united. It is perplexing to notice TPLF birthing a united EPRDF, transferring power peacefully to the new generation, and finding it possible to stand behind a single leader not once but twice; whereas, you cannot even maintain a semblance of unity – even in a vacuum. Every time you are criticizing the governing party’s failure to honor the will of the people, please remember that you are not doing a better job yourself either, since you too are giving a deaf ear to the will of the people on your end. The beauty in your struggle doesn’t lie in your capacity to assume power, but in your ability to listen to the will of the people and stand united. Please don’t tell us it is impossible to form a single united major opposition front with a unified platform, and a clear leader. The real power to change Ethiopia is not found in lobbying the West or giving out orders to the governing party, but in your ability to secure private victory first and foremost.

You can change that. Imagine you stop calling the people to meetings here and there and for once call yourselves to a meeting of your own with a mandate to birth a united front. You have the intelligence and character to produce such a dream act if you accept the reality that the status quo is just a waste of Ethiopia’s precious time. It is absurd how you put your lives on the line time and time again, but do not opt for the road less travelled that makes your sacrifice purposeful.

The One Thing for the governing party leaders …

The one thing we dream to see you do is make it real when it comes to fostering democracy in our land. We see the governing party has 99.6% of the seats presently. We cannot grasp why you consider this result a victory when there is no fair and free playing field on the ground for all. You dispute human rights violations, the case of prisoners of conscious, and the rigging of votes. However, you don’t dispute that you want to build democracy when the only voice broadcasted in the Ethiopian media (TV, Radio) is yours alone. Where is the progress when the Ethiopian media is 100% under your control up to this date with no intention to share it with the opposition? How could we discuss the realism of democracy in Ethiopia when even such uncontested question is unanswered?

You can change that too. You already made history now and it is only fitting for you to take the initiative to usher in real democracy in Ethiopia. You do that, not in response to the pressure from the opposition or the West, but because you find it unbecoming of a history maker to do anything less. We admire your vision to transform Ethiopia’s economy in a time frame of a decade. It is time that you also commit even more to transforming Ethiopia’s democracy in a time frame of 3 years to make the next election a real one.

Ethiopia: Opposition propaganda dominates social media

Video chat on facbook

By Zeke Endris, tigraionline

The uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia gave a sudden hope to the self-appointed western Human Rights entrepreneurs and their local benefactors who have long been calling for a regime-change in Ethiopia. These elements had become desperate, especially after the peaceful election 2010, to the extent that they started openly lobbying Ethiopia’s development partners to stop supporting basic social services.

However, the events in North Africa at the beginning of last year revived their hopes. As usual, they did some flawed, hasty analyses and concluded that activities on social networking media – like, Facebook, twitter, etc, were the primary factors of those uprisings, therefore those media are the magic bullet for creating mayhem and regime-change in Ethiopia.

Consequently, these elements, who have always wanted the privatization of telecom services – without regard to its negative impact on prospective users in rural areas, suddenly started preaching us about citizens’ right for telecom services.

As usual, there were few and measured replies from the government. And, justifiably so. Its actions were speaking loud enough for anybody who bothered to listen. Indeed, for an objective observer, the self-righteous sermon of these self-anointed priests of telecom was misplaced and unnecessary, as the Ethiopian government had long started expanding communication infrastructure at a break-neck speed.

According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), internet subscription grew by thousands percents each year from year 2000 to 2009. As far back as 2005, when the role of mobile telephone for rural development was less obvious, the government had set ambitious targets; like, enabling every Ethiopian access telecommunication services within 5 km of her residence, increasing Tele-density for fixed line by fivefold and Tele-density for mobile by fifteen-fold, expanding the number of Internet users by more than eleven fold as well as providing 15,000 (almost all then existing) Kebeles with at least five telephones lines.

It should not be overlooked that, unlike the so-called rights groups, the Ethiopian ruling party, EPRDF, had long known and promoted the dynamic role of telecommunication technologies. The expansion of telephone services in the rural areas were hoped to deliver much more than faster exchange of market information for farmers. Indeed, it was with the explicit objective of expediting public mobilization for development and entrenching participatory democracy that the government launched major ICT projects in 2005; such as, among many, the School Net (to connect 600+ high schools); the Woreda-Net (to connect 600 Woredas) and and the HER Net (for higher education institutions). The fact that a Ministerial level steering committee was set to oversee these projects speaks volumes.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to anticipate that these telecom facilities will empower the mass, thereby enhancing its ability to assert its rights and make demands. In fact, the EPRDF not only anticipated that prospect but also wished to make it a reality. Empowering the mass is the underpinning of Revolutionary Democracy, unlike the elitist form of democracy promoted by the detractors of EPRDF.

That was why, the government, unsatisfied with its impressive achievements, set yet another breath-taking telecom service expansion targets in its current 5-year plan in 2010.

EVEN AFTER THE UPRISINGS in North Africa last year, when the self-appointed human rights advocates, suddenly fell in love with the idea of making telecom accessible to the mass (rather than just for business men and the middle class), the Ethiopian government didn’t blink on telecom expansion projects.

To the contrary, just weeks after the ouster of the Egyptian President Hosini Mubarak, Ethio-Telecom announced tariff changes that evidently enhanced the mobile section of the population as well as cross -regional communications. One of the changes was the elimination of the special tariff that was applied to calls between different ‘service zones’ and from mobile to fixed phone calls. The previous zonal tariff barrier was problematic among university students, where mobiles phones of different zones would be found in a single room or dormitory. It was also prohibitive to fresh-employed youth, who moved to a different city. Similar notable changes were also introduced with regard to the tariff for the subscription and use of internet services.

In fact, since 2011, Ethio-Telecom, with a strong backing from the Ministry of Information and Technology, was engaged in an aggressive and innovative marketing strategy to increase the number of mobile subscribers, in addition to expanding the infrastructure. Not to forget, the improvement in the procedure for connecting one’s mobile phone to the internet this now takes a single free phone call to the Ethio Telecom.

As a result, as of last June, the number of mobile phone subscribers stood at 17 million (from about 5 mil. in 2011) and the number of internet service users reached 2.5 million (from 100,000 in 2011), according to the data from the relevant Ministry.

Despite all these self-evident progresses, the detractors continued with their mantra that Ethiopia is opposed to telecom connectivity. In fact, they went as far as making up stories, like, Ethiopia criminalized Skype, plans to ban Facebook, etc. Indeed, they had to. As false alarms of a ban on social media and the unrealistic belief that a regime-change can be brought through mere Facebook propaganda helps them appear relevant and also galvanize their political and financial backers. But that was not all. Despite their detachment from reality, the detractors had a few things they could cite to have pretence of rationality.

Ethiopian politics in the Social Media

THE SOCIAL MEDIA WERE DOMINATED by opposition propaganda. The opposition, especially those in the Diaspora, opened several real and fake personal accounts, groups, pages on Facebook, to promote their organizations – which have a few members in the real word – and to disseminate unfounded, inflammatory messages. They tried to organize a revolution through Facebook, at least four times since 2011, though nobody turned up on the date they set for street violence. Of course, these Facebook activities did never manage to attract no more than 3 percent of the 600,000 plus estimated Ethiopian Facebook users. And, it was obvious that the numbers showed the size of curious spectators rather than real supporters. Just like a crowd gathered on the street to see a traffic accident. Yet, due to superficiality as well as ideological reasons, such Facebook activities were given several mentions by journalists and pundits in the West – as if a real revolution was in the making.

On the other hand, the Ethiopian government almost ignored the political battle on the social media. While many countries, rich and poor alike, including some of our neighbors, tried to influence Facebook and Twitter, even using paid ads, few Ethiopian government agencies bothered to open a Facebook and Twitter account and almost none use it effectively. It seems the government believes the social media should be left for socializing rather than political mobilization. Well, that may be a debatable but an understandable attitude from a government focused on mobilizing people towards infrastructural projects on the ground rather than a political beauty contest in the virtual world. Nonetheless, the self-appointed human rights promoters interpreted the situation in a manner they found it convenient: Ethiopian Facebookers are hostile to the government. Thus, they prophesized, the government will ban this and similar social media before a revolution realizes.

WHAT SKEWED THEIR REASONING was not only their morbid excitement and eagerness to defame the Ethiopian government, but also their poor grasp of the variables that influenced the nature of the Ethiopian political discourse on Facebook. Indeed it is often the case on Facebook that while thousands vilify Ethiopian political and economic endeavors, as hundred of thousands watch them silently or with little reaction. But this is hardly a measure of the government’s popularity rather a function of several historic and cultural factors that shaped political activism in this country. Saving an extensive discussion another day, let’s see a few those peculiar or highly relevant to the social media discourse.

The primary factor is the prevailing attitude that one should not spend much time and energy defending the government, unless a personal benefit is involved. This erroneous idea robs Ethiopian Facebookers their motivation to undertake their civic duty by defending development initiatives as well as by exposing misinformation and defamations against their beloved country.

But de-motivation is just one aspect of the matter. Speaking in favor of any governmental initiatives or against erroneous media reports about Ethiopia is the surest way to be labeled a ‘paid-supporter’ or ‘government-affiliate’ by the opposition as well as their western patrons. That is, unless that Facebooker has somehow somewhere previously built a strong credential as an extremist, or a sympathizer.

On the other hand, those who speak-ill of the Ethiopian state are motivated not only by their hatred but also by the flawed perception of such activities as an intellectualism, independence and bravery. Needless to say, the Western media and organizations are consciously trying to feed this misperception.

A somehow related factor is that while the anti-regime activists enjoy the license to vilify those labeled ‘pro-government’, any strong word by the latter is considered as a real threat, even as an official one. This double-standard is not only a prevalent one, but also adhered to even by those otherwise reasonable participants. This, coupled with the prevalent lack of Ethiopian civility, especially among the Diaspora who dominate Facebook, turns off most women and many other people, except those who consciously refused to be intimidated and stay the course.

There are also, no less important factors, such as, a culture discouraging self-expression; the fear that even a balanced remark may be misperceived by officials, employers and concerned persons; lack of technological acquaintance; and lack of relevant readily-available info/data.

Of course, these factors also affect the haters. However, as explained above, they have internal and external motivations and ample supply of quotable statements from overrated Ethiopian and foreign activists, in addition to the absence of pressure to back-up their claims with evidences. Quite to the contrary, positive messages about Ethiopia, in the worldwide web, are often than not found in bulky documents and lengthy audio/video materials, which are not only difficult to download but also unfit to the short-attention span of most Facebook users and their succinct discussions.

The August surprise

THE REAL NATURE OF THE ETHIOPIAN social media landscape would have been an abstract and hypothetical debate, had it were not for what unfolded last month. You might expect that the chief promoters of regime-change and the defamation campaign would know the reality is different from what they say publicly. Apparently, what we observed in the past few months indicates they were also deceiving themselves.

Following the disclosure of that the late PM Meles Zenawi was on medical treatment, the extremist, who misunderstood the usual silence of the majority Ethiopian Facebookers on political issues, took the liberty to openly wish a misfortune for the Great Leader and a major chaos in the country. The reaction was not as warm as it used to be.

Many reminded them, not only that a morbid excitement is contrary to Ethiopian civility, but also casts doubt on the author’s thoughtfulness for the fate millions and the continuity of various landmark projects. An even a larger crowd was started to re-think its previous perception of the extremists. It has become obvious for many that what drives the extremists is not independence of thought rather selfish motives, not intellectualism rather vengeance, and not bravery rather un-patriotic cowardice. The extremists failed to notice this change of attitude, thus continued to make grisly public remarks.

But August 16 was a watershed. That was the day when the late Patriarch Abune Paulos passed away. The usual offenders made repugnant statements as usual. To their surprise, in fact to the surprise of us all, they were not received by a cheering crowd, nor by a silent one. Indeed, the silent majority had already said enough is enough. And, it took matters to its hands.

With no exaggeration, as anyone can check this right now, more than 90% of the responses were stern rebukes. It was clearly the voice of the majority; even the extremists grudgingly admitted it. However, many of them chose to deceive themselves by considering the reaction a result of religious norm and concerns rather than a denunciation of extremism and hate-politics.

THE USUALLY SILENT MAJORITY, However, spoke even more clearly and decisively the next week, when its Great Leader passed away. Ethiopian Facebookers from diverse background took the initiative to denounce repugnant statements, expose unfounded claims and re-assert their support for various projects launched by the later leader. The scale, intensity and consistency of this reaction was indisputably a result of a change bigger and profound than a mere sympathy and admiration for Meles Zenawi.

I am talking about a change impacting the various variables that previously made possible a Facebook where thousands vilify Ethiopian political and economic endeavors, while hundreds of thousands watch with little reaction.

Unlike the past, this time the vast majority had little excuse for those who continued to vilify their Great Leader. For one, it was a time of final good-bye, thus there was no point in holding back their gratitude to the selfless leader. The usual excuse that only short-comings should be talked about could not work anymore. In fact, acknowledging Meles’s works was taken as a sign of integrity.

The majority was no more deceived by the usual camouflage of the haters. It was clearly understood that the intellectual and brave thing to do was to make a balanced remark. Anything short of that was understood as an evidence of being driven by hate, hidden personal agenda and extremism. Some of the haters tried to improvise their approach by toning-down and obfuscating their messages. Others chose to lay low for a few days, until the ‘moment passes’ neither succeeded to deceive the masses, however.

The majority was able to observe even more clearly the true colors of the haters just a week after the passing of Premier Meles Zenawi. The haters showed their disdain for the mass by openly insulting it for grieving the loss of its leader and for reaffirming its resolve to see through ongoing projects. They didn’t spare repugnant adjectives and labels.

Ethiopian Facebookers were flabbergasted one more time. But that was not all. At the time when the nation was concerned about a smooth transition of power, the extremists couldn’t help making their morbid excitements known. Worse, their doomsday predictions were proven detached from reality again and again. The cumulative effect was that it has become evident that the haters are anything but not informed critics or concerned citizens. In fact, their irresponsibility, detachment from reality and vengeance could not go unnoticed. Thus, the silent majority was forced to draw the lines on the sand.

IS THIS A LASTING CHANGE? That is a million dollar question. The extremists will surely improvise their approaches – in fact, they are already doing so – and renovate themselves to keep on spreading hate, misinformation and promote instability. Their masks are torn but not beyond full repair. And, there is a determined group of Ethiopian and foreign actors who will continue to provide sound bites and deceptive statements to feed the hate campaign.

On the other hand, it is not clear whether the government will take the tasks it can no longer postpone. That is by making all its Ministries, regional organs and information outlets seriously engage in the social media and tailor their messages with that that in mind. In short, include the social media in its E-Gov plans. Otherwise, it would not be surprising if the silent majority resume its passivity as the extremists reclaim lost territories. Source: tigraionline.

Why Nigerian Farouk Abdulmutallab underwear bomb failed to detonate

The notorious underwear bomber who tried to bring down a jumbo jet on Christmas Day had a dirty little secret – he’d been wearing the explosive skivvies for weeks.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab wore them for three weeks to be exact, and it may have been the reason why he was unsuccessful in his 2009 terrorist plans aboard a Detroit-bound airliner.

The new details were revealed by two FBI agents who played a role in securing a confession from Abdulmutallab, shortly after the bungled plot.

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Bomber shorts: Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab wore this underwear outfitted with explosives for three weeks before the failed bomb attempt on Christmas Day 2009Bomber shorts: Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab wore this underwear outfitted with explosives for three weeks before the failed bomb attempt on Christmas Day 2009

Notorious: Abdulmutallab was focused on his mission to crash the plane over Detroit, because it was 'God's call'Notorious: Abdulmutallab was focused on his mission to crash the plane over Detroit, because it was ‘God’s call’

Agent Ted Peissig told WXYZ-TV: ‘So basically for three weeks he wore this garment, these underwear with this device in it.

‘We think ultimately that is probably what caused the disruption in the sequence of events in the explosion.’

Terror strike: Abdulmutallab, pictured in his 2009 mugshot, was sentenced to three life terms after pleading guiltyTerror strike: Abdulmutallab, pictured in his 2009 mugshot, was sentenced to three life terms after pleading guilty

Peissig, along with fellow agent Mike Connelly, told the network that Abdulmutallab wore the explosives-rigged underwear for three weeks in an effort to get accustomed to it, only taking it off when he showered.

Connelly added that Abdulmutallab was focused on his mission to crash the plane, because it was ‘God’s call.’

The agents admitted that Abdulmutallab did not look like a terrorist, but he spoke freely about how he was working for al-Qaeda and that had acted alone.

The explosives failed to fully detonate aboard the flight, which was carrying nearly 300 people, but caused a brief fire that badly burned his groin.

Passengers pounced on Abdulmutallab and forced him to the front of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 where he was held until the plane landed minutes later.

Abdulmutallab talked freely to the FBI about his desire to commit martyrdom for his Islamic faith.

In 2009, months before the attack, he said he travelled to Yemen to see Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric and one of the best-known al-Qaeda figures.

He told investigators that his mission was approved after a three-day visit with his mentor. Daily Mail

Mali emerges as the latest al-Qaida hub

By Jonathan Manthorpe, Vancouver Sun

Northern Mali, captured by Muslim fundamentalists earlier this year, is rapidly becoming a new haven and headquarters for the al-Qaida terrorist network.

Al-Qaida’s growing presence in the Sahel region stretching across West Africa from the Atlantic to the Red Sea comes as it is under increasing pressure in its other base areas.

In Pakistan its hideouts near the Afghanistan border are under constant attack from missiles fired by United States drone aircraft. The same is true in Yemen, the homeland of assassinated al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

In Somalia the territory controlled by al-Qaida allies al-Shabab is shrinking rapidly as regional forces recapture the country on behalf of a transitional government.

But as Central Intelligence Agency director and former U.S. military commander in Afghanistan David Petraeus told a British journalist, al-Qaida is adept at shifting its bases and focus of operations when it comes under sustained attack. The problem for the U.S. and its allies, said Petraeus, is mounting a sustained and co-ordinated campaign to hit al-Qaida simultaneously in all its hideouts.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pointed on Thursday to the emergence of Mali as a centre for al-Qaida operations.

Speaking at a meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York she suggested the Sept. 11 attack on the American consulate in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi was the work of groups associated with al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which controls northern Mali.

Four Americans including Ambassador Christopher Stevens were killed in the attack, which American officials now believe was intended to mark the anniversary of the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.

But elsewhere at the UN meeting there is as yet no agreement about what to do about the increasingly firm grip AQIM is exerting over the northern two-thirds of Mali.

After rejecting the idea of an intervention by foreign troops, Mali’s interim President Dioncounda Traore finally agreed earlier this month to the deployment of a 3,000-strong force under the banner of the Economic Community of West African States.

Mali’s neighbours, all of whom are seeing evidence of the spreading presence of AQIM in their countries, are in favour of removing the poison from northern Mali as soon as possible.

But there is as yet no similar determination at the UN Security Council, whose approval is needed for a legal military intervention.

The U.S. thinks approval should be deferred until a request is received from a legitimately elected government in Mali. Other Security Council members are unhappy at the lack of detail in the request.

Saharan semi-nomadic Tuareg rebels seized northern Mali in March after a military coup in the capital, Bamako, left a power vacuum.

At first a secular group aiming to create an independent Tuareg homeland appeared to be in control. But it was quickly supplanted by a militant Islamist Tuareg faction, Ansar al-Din, which was itself overrun by al-Qaidalinked groups in April.

There is already the application of strict Shariah law in the region controlled by the militants. There have been public whippings of alleged adulterers and some reports say that shrines of local saints in Timbuktu, designated a world heritage site by the UN cultural organization UNESCO, have been judged un-Islamic and destroyed.

The main local thrust for the growth of militant Islamic groups linked to al-Qaida in Mali and surrounding Saharan countries comes from the bitter civil war in Algeria in the 1990s.

Fundamentalists rejected the 1999 amnesty that ended the civil war and launched a terrorist campaign not only in Algeria but across North Africa.

In 2007 the main militant group, Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat – salafist is an Arabic word meaning fundamentalist – announced it had joined forces with al-Qaida.

The link to bin-Laden’s operation brought with it a wider regional and global perspective. In December 2008 al-Qaida militants abducted UN special envoy and former Canadian diplomat Robert Fowler and his associate, also a Canadian official, Louis Guay, in Niger. The pair was released in April 2009, but Fowler makes it clear in his book A Season in Hell, that their abduction was a purposeful attack on the UN and all that it stands for.

As is already evident the AQIM state in northern Mali is a base for operations elsewhere, and also a hub for expansion into neighbouring states.

Niger, which has a large Tuareg population, is vulnerable to having AQIM establish an enclave in its territory, according to the U.K.-based global analysis and advisory company Oxford Analytica. AQIM has also launched several attacks into Mali’s western neighbour Mauritania and the Nigerian government believes its homegrown Islamic militants, Boko Haram, is forging links with AQIM and al-Qaida.

Bin Laden declared war on the U.S. and its allies in 1996. There is no end in sight.

Jmanthorpe@vancouversun.com

The Plight of Street Children in Ethiopia

 

Street Children

Seble Teweldebirhan, (Ezega.com)

She is probably four or five years old. She is small and adorably cute regardless of her dirty clothes and unwashed, messed up hair. She wanders on the street around Bole Medhanialm area waiting for pedestrians or cars that park nearby and she seems to have the skill to choose those who might show pity for her. When she finds someone she follows him/her and say ‘I love you, you are so beautiful, please give me one birr or cents. Buy me bread, I am hungry’. She does not care if the people are in conversation or on phone and she grabs their close if they do not give her attention. She would not stop until they give her the money or yell at her to go away.

 

In both cases, she does not get disappointed or excited. If they give her the money, she will put it in her little pocket and start wandering again to find her next target. If they yell at her badly, she probably changes a location, walking a few miles on the street. If they ignore her plea, she will follow them and keep begging until she gets that they will not show her any kindness.

 

Usually couples and older people are her targets. Especially couples may be to impress each other or show how human they are, will generously give her money. Older people also find it hard to ignore her appeal. She also focuses on foreigners who might be kind enough to give her some change and some foreign currency in rare cases. She actually thinks foreigners are more kind than Ethiopians. She knows the difference between dollar and Ethiopian birr, and the value of each currency.

 

That is an every day life of a little girl named Metu. She does not really like to be asked questions about herself. The only thing she wants from people is their change and then she wants to be left alone. Her words are also repetitive. She knows how to admire people with words of love and beauty. However, when someone insists to know more about her, she tells different stories. The first day I talked to her, I asked if she has a family and she told me they are both dead leaving her older sister and her behind. The next day, I asked her the same question. She did not remember me, so she told me that her mother is deadly sick and hungry so that is why she is begging.

 

It is not that hard to figure who is feeding her lies. She and an estimated of around 60,000 children are on the streets of Addis, and not only are they experts at begging but also at lying. Some argue that the number is triple of the estimate.

 

They might seem all alone on the streets for others but that is never the case. There is always someone watching them near by and if you keep talking, asking questions, their watchers get suspicious, and come to take them away.

 

It appears that, parents and ‘guardians’ use these small children directly. Mothers on the street have no luxury of contraceptives, mostly lack awareness and incidents of rape or unprotected sex are prevalent due to the situations they live in and the drugs and alcohol. Therefore, getting pregnant is a common story. Once the child is born, it is also destined to take care of his/her need in a couple of years after birth.

 

Saba guesses her age around 26. She came from Tegulet area from Amhara region to pursue a better life. However, that better life she came for was in fact begging. “I heard that people in Addis are rich and generous so I came here to beg,’’ She said completely confident that there is nothing wrong with her statement.

 

She lived on the street for the last eight years and she already gave birth to five children. She gave two of them to an older friend who lives on the street just like her. “I have a friend who is blind and wants someone to take her around. When I get pregnant for the second time, she asked me to give the baby to her. She is nice to me so I did give her. Now the child is old enough to take her around while she does the begging. I asked her also to take my last baby because I already have three and that was enough for me. She agreed so she took my last baby girl,” she said.

 

To anyine who may think of having a child as one of the biggest joys and responsibilities in life, her tale might appear simply shocking. However, Saba does not see a big deal in this case. “They have to help once they start walking,’’ she said. ‘’I cannot feed all of them by my self. I do that when they are a baby and when they can’t walk or talk.” However, even when they cannot talk or walk, these babies are at work. She takes them around the city showing them and begging people some food and money for her hungry babies.

 

Saba heard about contraceptives. However, she thinks that is for rich people who have the luxury to buy and understand how to use them. She never went to school and does not read or write. Therefore, she is convinced that there is no way she can manage using contraceptives. She also has some information about condoms, which she says most men on the streets do not like to use them.

 

Girls like Saba are also accused of getting pregnant intentionally. That is because people feel sorry for a pregnant women, which will increase the income they will be getting from begging. Once the baby is born, it is also additional means of income.

 

I asked her if she knew anything about baby rent. I have heard prior that on the streets, beggars who do not have children rent babies from those who have them. Since most people cannot resist beggars with small children, they are a perfect means of pleading. Saba did not deny that. “Yes, some friends sometimes ask me to give them my children. I give them for a day or two and they will give me some money as a result. I do not think that is a rent. Life is tough for us and we have to help each other to survive. That is how I see it,”’ she said.

 

On the rainy day in Addis, around Arat Kilo, Kana, a six years old beggar sings a song about the challenges of life on the streets. The song blames the rain, the sun and the wind, and their role in making life unbearable for him and his friends. He does his singing mostly on cabs waiting for passengers. The passengers who are already in may be because they feel sorry for the little boy, or they just want him to go away, give him some changes. He takes the money and changes venue again.

 

Kana, when asked about his life tells different stories. Just like Metu, the little girl from Bole Medhanialm, I asked him at least three times to tell me about his life. Both times, he told completely different stories. The first time, it was the common tale that his mother died and he does not know his father. The second story was he lives with his stepmother who forces him to beg and bring money home. The last was he has three little sisters and he is responsible to take care of them. Unfortunately, street children do not like to be challenged about their story, and if you insist asking more details, they will run. One of the days though, I Saw Kana talking to an older man.

 

I went to the man and asked about his relationship with Kana. ‘’I am his father’’ he said. “I am sick and I cannot work so he has to help me,’’ he said, although he looked completely healthy to me. I asked if he sends Kana to school. “Not yet, he is only six years old so he will join school next year’’. He was not willing to discuss further.

 

On the streets there are common stories of child abduction and trafficking for begging purpose. Alemayehu Kiflu, who has done a research on street children, says small children are abducted mostly from rural areas. Some of them are also trafficked by manipulating their parents with a promise of school and a better life. He also encountered cases where parents have given up their small children for money to brokers who promise there will be more once the child gets to towns and start working.

 

It is deeply disturbing to observe now and then that Ethiopians show less value for their children. If one thinks poverty is the ultimate reason for people to make this kind of decisions, it might not be necessarily correct. Alemayehu says even families who can take care of their children opt to give them up, or use them to the worst forms of life. “It is natural for a parent, no matter what happens to them to struggle to keep their children safe all the time. That is not only human but also natural of all beings, even animals.

 

However, I have seen young and healthy parents sit on the corner of the street and watch their small children beg, be mistreated, and cry for a few cents. I met mothers who gave up their babies for inconsiderable amount of money just to be pregnant again. It makes me wonder if we actually have that kind of coldness in our attitude for our children,” he said.

“In the rural communities, children are valued by the benefit they bring to their families,” said Tigist,Ayalew a social worker. “If it is a boy, he will look after the cattles, may be help on the farm, and contribute to the family. If it is a girl obviously she will handle the household, may be when she gets married families will receive some kind of reward from her husband and so on. It is never about what the child will become and what families can do to help them to be a productive citizen. This is a deep-rooted culture and still lives even in urban communities. Many times, it is ok to use children for income generation. May be, using them for begging is perceived the same way,”

 

“Parents resist sending their children to school, do not provide them nutritional foods, and even abuse them both physically and emotionally. That is not all about poverty but rather about culture. They do not seem to love their children when you compare it to the modern society,” Tigist said.

 

Notwithstanding the extreme poverty, not sending children to school, selling and renting them, subjecting them to humiliation and degradation is hardly a sign of love for a child.

 

As a nation, Ethiopia has several laws protecting children from any abuse. The constitution as it stands obliges the state to accord special protection to children and ensure, promote, and advance their welfare and education. The country is also a member of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which guarantees protection of fundamental rights of all children around the world. Though this has a better chance of staying theoretical, especially in countries like Ethiopia, at least it is proper to wonder if there is somebody out there trying to protect children in these situations. 

 

If parents and the community fail the children, should that be the end of the story?

 

To be continued…

Seble Teweldebirhan is Addis Ababa based Reporter for Ezega.com.

65-year-old Nigerian woman atttempts to smuggle 1.740kg of cocaine into London

Luck betrayed a 65-year-old grandmother, Hassan Fatimat Abike also known as Chika Okoye, who attempted to smuggle 1.740kg of cocaine into London concealed in herbal syrup.

It was not her fist time of going to London as the drug was packed in balloons and inserted in 10 plastic containers of herbal syrup to avoid detection.

The suspect was to board a British Airways flight when officers of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) arrested her at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos on Wednesday.

According to the Airport Commander, Mr. Hamza Umar, the suspect has two international passports that bear Hassan Fatimat Abike.

Her passport numbers are A03348648 and A3771781A. “She was caught during the screening of British Airways passengers to London,” Hamza explained.

Preliminary investigation revealed that she is also known as Chika Okoye. She speaks Ibo and Yoruba fluently. Her father is a native of Abeokuta while her mother hails from Owerri, Imo State. Abike has six children and many grandchildren. She currently lives alone in Owerri and sells clothes to earn a living. The drug found in her bag tested positive for cocaine.

Source: Osun Defender

Bomb explodes near Islamic school in Zaria, Nigeria

Nigerian security officers stand near burning motorcycles at the demolished house of the Islamic militant leader Mohammed Yusuf in the northern Nigerian city of Maiduguri August 3, 2009. (Akintunde Akinleye/Courtesy Reuters)

(AP) — Officials say a bomb detonated in northern Nigeria near an Islamic boarding school, causing unknown casualties.

Yushau Shuaib, a spokesman for Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency, said the bomb blew up Sunday morning in Zaria, a city in the far north of Kaduna state. Shuaib said there was gunfire afterward as soldiers and police arrived. Police officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. A radical Islamist sect known as Boko Haram has carried out bombings and shootings throughout northern Nigeria.

Kaduna state is on the ethnic and religious fault line that runs between Nigeria’s predominantly Christian south and Muslim north. Ethnic and religious violence there following Nigeria’s 2011 presidential election saw hundreds killed.