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Ethiopia

‘We Are Everywhere’: How Ethiopia Became a Land of Prying Eyes

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FENDIKA, Ethiopia — When he is away from his fields, Takele Alene, a farmer in northern Ethiopia, spends a lot of his time prying into the personal and political affairs of his neighbors.

He knows who pays taxes on time, who has debts and who is embroiled in a land dispute. He also keeps a sharp lookout for thieves, delinquents and indolent workers.

But he isn’t the village busybody, snooping of his own accord. Mr. Alene is a government official, whose job includes elements of both informant and enforcer. He is responsible for keeping the authorities briefed on potential rabble-rousers and cracking down on rule breakers.

Even in a far-flung hamlet like Fendika, few of whose 400 or so residents venture to the nearest city, let alone ever travel hundreds of miles away to the capital, Addis Ababa, the government is omnipresent.

In this case, its presence is felt in the form of Mr. Alene, a short, wiry man wearing a turquoise turban and plastic sandals. As a village leader, he said, his duties include serving as judge, tax collector, legal scribe for the illiterate and general keeper of the peace.

But one of his most important roles is to watch who among the villagers opposes the government and its policies, including a top-priority program encouraging farmers to use fertilizer. When a neighbor refused to buy some, Mr. Alene pointed a gun at him until he gave in. He has had others jailed for a similar offense.

In a country whose rugged landscape is larger in area than France and Germany combined, Ethiopia’s ruling party — which, with its allies, controls every seat in Parliament — relies on a vast network of millions of party members like Mr. Alene as useful agents and sources of information, according to current and former government officials and academics who study the country.

This army of on-the-ground operatives, who push the government’s policies, help purvey its propaganda and act as lookouts, is especially valuable at a time when the country is being rocked by protests over access to jobs and land, and a failure to advance democracy.

Security forces in Ethiopia cracked down on protesters last year, some of whom had attacked domestic and foreign businesses, which had resulted in hundreds of deaths. The authorities recently lifted a state of emergency after almost a year, but tensions continue to simmer, particularly in Oromia, a region traditionally neglected by the central government.

Mr. Alene’s loyalty to the governing party has earned him handsome rewards. He was given the title of “model farmer” and has been granted plots of land and other benefits like farm animals, a cellphone, the gun he turned on his neighbor and a radio, which he keeps under lock and key.

“I am No. 1,” he exclaimed recently in the village pub, sitting against a wall stacked with sacks of fertilizer and drinking home-brewed beer poured into what used to be a can of chickpeas. “I feel great happiness,” he added.

Ethiopia is unlike many countries in Africa, where the power of the state often reaches beyond the capital in name only. More organized, more ambitious and more centrally controlled than a lot of governments on the continent, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (a coalition of four regional parties), which controls this mountainous, semiarid but spectacularly beautiful land of just over 100 million people, intends to transform it into a middle-income country by 2025.

Achieving that goal, in a country that 30 years ago was a byword for famine, means realizing a plan of rapid industrial and agricultural growth modeled on the success stories of Asia. Ethiopia is relying on state-driven development rather than the Western-style liberalization that in the 1980s and 1990s hurt many economies across Africa, like Ghana and the Ivory Coast.

It also means, in the government’s view, exercising control down to the level of neighborhoods in cities and villages in the countryside.

Many Western donors have praised Ethiopia for its advances in health, education and development, all made in a single generation. The government recently opened Africa’s largest industrial park, with plans for more, and is building what is expected to be the continent’s biggest hydroelectric dam.

But the government’s economic agenda often goes hand in hand with control over people through party membership and surveillance, a strategy modeled on China, somewhere officials have gone regularly for how-to training, according to former government members.

“Everyone is suspicious of each other,” said Ermias Legesse, an ex-government minister who left the country in 2011. He spent three weeks in the Chinese countryside in 2009, he said, learning about party indoctrination.

“You can’t trust your mother, brother, sister,” he said about his homeland. “You can imagine what kind of social fabric is formed out of such a system.”

Party members across the country are assigned five people to monitor, whether in households, schools, universities, businesses or prisons. Called “one-to-five,” it is a system so pervasive, Mr. Legesse said, that it even existed in the Ministry of Communications, which he headed.

“The one-to-five’s major objective is to spy on people,” Mr. Legesse said.

Being a party member and a participant in those networks gives you jobs, promotions and even access to microfinance, some of which is funded by international institutions, Mr. Legesse said. “But if you’re against the system, you’ll likely be miserable.”

The government network is so entrenched that many in the country, which suffered years of repression under the previous, Marxist government led by Mengistu Haile Mariam, which fell in 1991, are deeply suspicious of talking to strangers and avoid discussing politics for fear of who might be listening.

“They are the person you least expect,” a shopkeeper in Addis Ababa said in a low voice, his eyes darting around the store. Like many Ethiopians, he asked not to be identified because he was afraid of the consequences of talking openly to a foreign journalist. “It could be the shoeshine boy or the waiter serving you coffee.”

Because most Ethiopians are struggling financially, they are easily brought into the network, said Tsedale Lemma, an Ethiopian journalist currently living in Germany, adding that teachers who joined got salary raises, businesspeople got easier access to loans and high-school students got pocket money. “Ethiopians think this is shameful,” Ms. Lemma said, even though they found it difficult to resist. “It’s a moral rock bottom.”

Habtamu Ayalew Teshome, a prominent opposition leader who was tortured for months and jailed for two years, discovered that even in prison, he was assigned to a group with a leader who watched his activities.

Twice a day, this monitor would organize meetings, and Mr. Teshome said that when he refused to participate, he was denied communication with his lawyers and family. He was repeatedly beaten, mentally tortured and taken to solitary confinement for months, he said. “We are the police, we are the prosecutor, we are the judge,” a prison commander told him. “We are everywhere.”

Spying is not the only purpose of the one-to-five system. It is also a way to recruit new members and push policy objectives.

The ruling party has “a great will and vision to transform the country and realizes that it needs to mobilize the grass roots in order to succeed,” said Lovise Aalen, a political scientist and longtime observer of Ethiopia at Chr. Michelsen Institute, an independent research organization in Norway. “It’s impressive, but it also exhibits a very authoritarian state present on the ground to an extent unseen in Ethiopian history.”

In rural areas, “one-to-fives” allow a designated model farmer, like Mr. Alene, to teach best practices, including the merits of using fertilizer, and be rewarded when output increases.

Village women also organize themselves into groups to prevent other women from falling into prostitution or to teach each other about health issues.

Some of this has yielded positive results, government officials say. Ethiopia’s economy has been growing at 10 percent for more than a decade, according to official figures. Agricultural output has risen dramatically, they say, although critics say that has not been enough to offset the food aid that Ethiopia continues to receive.

Khalid Bomba, a former investment banker who leads the government’s Agricultural Transformation Agency, said “one-to-fives” were all about empowerment. “It’s participatory deep democracy,” he said.

The networks have played a significant role in expanding membership to about seven million, mostly in the countryside, in the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, the ruling party that critics say is controlled by Tigrayans, an ethnic group that makes up just 6 percent of the population.

Fendika, where Mr. Alene keeps watch, was largely insulated from riots last year, partly thanks to his diligent work of converting half the village, made up of ethnic Amharas, to the ruling party.

“Even in these violent times, this kebele has been peaceful,” Mr. Alene said recently, referring to his village. When a person makes trouble, “we know who he is,” he added. “We send the elders, the priest, to try to sort it out with him or the group and persuade them not to do anymore wrongdoing. If that doesn’t work out, we report to the police.”

Mr. Alene, who has been a member of the ruling party since it swept to power in 1991, recruits villagers to join. He even recruited the local priest, who in turn, has preached to his congregation about the party’s virtues.

“When I’m recruiting, I tell them, ‘If you’re a member, you can have different rights,’” Mr. Alene said. “The right to ask questions, the right to have whatever they want.”

For his efforts, he owns three hectares of land (most farmers have less than one) and livestock.

He has enough savings, unlike many other farmers, to send all nine of his children to university. Being a party member is “very good,” he said, though he added with candor: “You have to stand with the government. There’s no choice.”

Mr. Alene had made amends with the neighbor he forced to buy fertilizer at gunpoint, and the two men recently sat next to each other at the village pub. The neighbor, who is missing a leg, clucked disapprovingly as Mr. Alene talked about serving the community.

“The kebele is not good! It doesn’t support the poor people. He’s lying!” the neighbor finally shouted, hobbling furiously out the door.

Also in the pub was the village priest, Adugna Asema, draped in a traditional white cloak and wearing a white turban, who said he encouraged congregants to join the party.

“I preach peace,” he said, as he periodically stood up to bless villagers wandering into the pub with a large wooden cross.

“You’ll benefit in heaven and on earth,” he tells them, “if you join the party.”

Ethiopia

Ethiopia scores Qatari praise for security in Horn of Africa region

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Qatar has lauded efforts of Ethiopia in maintaining peace in the Horn of Africa region. The applause from Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani was during a meeting with Ethiopian premier Hailemarian Desalegn.

The state-affiliated FBC reports that the two leaders spoke on areas of strengthening security, investments and diplomatic ties. The Emir is said to have lauded Ethiopia as a strategic partner and one key to peace in the Horn of Africa region.

Desalegn is in Doha on an official visit reciprocating a similar one earlier this year by the Emir to Addis Ababa.

Another Ethiopian state outlet, ENA, reported about diplomatic agreements signed by both countries in the area of visa waivers.

“Foreign Minister Dr. Workneh Gebeyehu and his Qatari counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman signed the agreement providing for waiver of visa requirements for holders of diplomatic and official passports.

“Finance and Economic Cooperation Minister Dr. Abraham Tekeste and Qatari Economy and Trade Minister Ahmed Bin Jassim signed the protection of investment agreement,” ENA reported.

On the issue of the Gulf crisis, Ethiopia reiterated its stance with the Kuwaiti move to resolve the dispute through dialogue. Unlike Djibouti and Eritrea who took sides in the crisis, Ethiopia and Somalia maintained a neutral stance and backed calls for dialogue.

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Ethiopia

Ethnic violence displaces hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians

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Lifting her robe the young woman revealed undulating scar tissue blanketing her breasts, stomach, and extending up her neck and along her arms.

“They poured petrol over me then lit it,” said 28-year-old Husaida Mohammed. “They were Somali boys.”
When IRIN met Mohammed she was in a camp of about 3,500 displaced Oromo people on the outskirts of Harar, the ancient walled city in Ethiopia’s Harari Region.

It had taken her over a month to make the 100-kilometre journey to safety from Jijiga, the capital of Ethiopia’s far eastern Somali Region. For weeks she lay hidden in an empty Oromo-owned house tended to by friends as she recovered from her injuries.

Next to her in the large warehouse being used to shelter the displaced was a woman in a striking pink robe. She had no visible injuries but didn’t utter a word.

“She was throttled so badly they damaged her vocal chords,” a doctor explained. “She can’t eat anything, only drink fluids.”

Tit-for-tat ethnic violence in Ethiopia’s two largest regions of Oromia and Somali began in September and has forced hundreds of thousands from their homes. Local media have reported upwards of 200,000 displaced, humanitarian workers at the camps talk of 400,000.

Chronology

The unrest began when two Oromo officials were reportedly killed on the border between the two territories, allegedly by Somali Region police.

On 12 September, protests by Oromo in the town of Aweday, between Harar and the city of Dire Dawa, led to rioting that left 18 dead. The majority were Somali khat traders, a mildly narcotic leaf widely chewed. Somalis who fled Aweday said the number of dead was closer to 40.

In response to Aweday, the Somali Regional government began evicting Oromo from Jigjiga and the region. Officials say this was for the Oromo’s own safety, and that no Oromo died as a result of ethnic violence in the region – a claim disputed by those displaced.

In addition to the camps around Harar and Dire Dawa – cities viewed as neutral safe havens – they have popped up elsewhere along the contentious regional border.

In these camps Oromo and Somali tell equally convincing stories of ethnic violence. They accuse the regional special police – in the Somali Region known as the Liyu, and in Oromia as the Liyu Hail – of being behind many of the attacks.

Both regional governments deny their police forces were involved.

The federal government faces fierce accusations ranging from not doing enough, to deliberately turning a blind eye to the violence.

The Oromo see this as punishment after their year of protests against the ruling party that led to a state of emergency.

There has also been a legacy of distrust of the Somali Region in Addis Ababa. The perception is that among the population there is revanchist sympathy for the idea of a Greater Somalia.

Another possibility is that the government simply has not had the capacity to effectively respond, so widespread has been the violence.

Oromia and Somali share a 1,400-kilometre long border. The Oromo are Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, numbering about 35 million, a factor Ethiopia’s other ethnic groups remain deeply conscious of – especially its 6.5 million Somalis.

History of hate

Ethnic conflict along the common border and in the rural hinterland has long existed – with Oromo migration a particular source of friction.

The ongoing drought, which has put pressure on pasture and resources, could be another.

“As you move west of the regional border the land becomes higher with more water and pasture,” said the head of a humanitarian organisation who spoke on condition of anonymity over the sensitivity of the issues.

“Where the regional border runs is very contentious – you’ll find different maps giving a different border,” he added.

At the same time, many of the displaced spoke of their shock at how the violence broke out in formerly close-knit communities that had integrated peacefully, often for centuries, and in which intermarriage between Oromo and Somali was the norm.

Some of the history and scale of this violence can be found 80 kilometres east of Dire Dawa, just over the regional border in the Somali Region, where two giant camps for displaced Somalis are co-located in the lee of the Kolechi Mountains.

In the older camp are 5,300 Somali households displaced by a mixture of drought and ethnic violence since 2015. In the newer camp are 3,850 households – roughly six to 10 people each – all made homeless by the recent trouble.

One Somali man who arrived nine months ago, before the current surge of unrest, recounted his experience at the hands of Oromia’s Liyu Hail in Oromo’s Bale zone, hundreds of kilometres to the southwest.

He said a violent mob of Oromo militia had come to his village so he and a group of about 40 men went to the regional police to request protection.

“But the man in charge ordered his men to fire at us,” the Somali man said. “Everyone fell – I wasn’t hit but I was covered in so much blood from the others the police thought I was dead, and I escaped.”
He claims 200 people in total were killed and 893 houses were burned: “Everything was looted, all livestock taken – it was unimaginable.”

The people in both camps pull back clothing to reveal old bullet wounds, scars, and lesions from burns, and broken bones that never healed.

A number of displaced Somalis say they survived thanks to the intervention of soldiers from the Ethiopian Defence Force during the recent violence. But it wasn’t enough to persuade them to remain, or to return.
“If the federal government sends forces to keep the peace, they stay for a week or a month, and then after they leave it happens again,” said one Somali man. “We can’t risk staying.”

What next?

The violence has also crossed borders with reports of Oromo leaving ethnically Somali Djibouti and Somaliland, where two Ethiopians were reportedly killed in the capital, Hargeisa. It’s believed this could have been the revenge of relatives of some of the traders that died in Aweday.

For the Oromo and Somali displaced from their homes, the next step is to find a long-term solution.
But Ethiopia’s federal system devolves quite a bit of power to ethnic regional states. With sectarian anger still running high, this leaves the government in a quandary over how to respond to the crisis, some commentators have pointed out.

“[Those displaced] could be integrated in the communities where they are now, resettled elsewhere, or returned to their original communities,” said one official in an international organisation who asked for anonymity.

“The government [is] committed to everyone being able to return home, as is their constitutional right to live where they want, but for most [of them] we are not sure whether this is possible.”

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Business

Ethiopia devalues currency by 15 percent to boost exports

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ADDIS ABABA, Oct 10 (Reuters) – Ethiopia’s central bank devalued the Ethiopian birr by 15 percent on Tuesday, its first such move in seven years to boost lagging exports.

The birr was quoted by the National Bank of Ethiopia at a weighted average of 23.4177 against the dollar on Monday, compared to what will be 26.9215.

“The devaluation was made to prop up exports, which have stagnated the last five years owing to the birr’s strong value against major currencies,” Yohannes Ayalew, the bank’s vice governor, told a news conference in the capital Addis Ababa.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, have both repeatedly urged Ethiopia to consider devaluing its currency to boost exports as they are mostly unprocessed products and need to stay competitive on price.

Ethiopia has operated a managed floating exchange rate regime since 1992.

The Horn of Africa country is the continent’s biggest coffee exporter but its total export revenue has been falling short of targets for the last few years owing to weaker commodity prices.

Addis Ababa earned $2.9 billion in the 2017-2018 fiscal year, versus a target of $4 billion.

On Tuesday, the central bank also announced that it has raised the main interest rate to 7 percent from 5 percent to stimulate savings as well as to counter inflation.

“The rate was pushed to mitigate the inflationary pressure that could arise from the devaluation,” Yohannes said.

Ethiopia’s inflation rose slightly to 10.8 percent year-on-year in September from 10.4 percent a month earlier, according to figures released by the statistics office on Friday.

Ethiopia’s economy is one of the fastest growing in Africa, with the IMF expecting a growth rate of 9 percent for the 2016/17 fiscal year.

The expansion, however, has mainly been fuelled by huge public expenditure. The government has invested heavily in dams for hydroelectric power, new highways and an electrified railway linking the landlocked nation to a port in neighbouring Djibouti.

The IMF has said Ethiopia needs to attract more private sector investment to maintain growth. But Addis Ababa has in the past tended to brush off such advice and said it would keep charge of key sectors. (Reporting by Aaron Maasho; Editing by John Stonestreet and Andrew Heavens)

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