Addis Ketema

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Confabulation and Journalism

One of the most risky and dangerous jobs is journalism. Ethiopian journalists have had it rough with the Federal Police and Prison guards on numerous occasions. Most, if not all, had some hard brutal blows on their heads with some brain injury and a good chunk of them escaped and live in Europe and America. EMF ( is a run by exiled Ethiopian journalists.

Confabulation is a memory disorder that may occur in patients who have sustained damage to both the basal forebrain and the frontal lobes, as after an aneurysm of the anterior communicating artery.

Confabulation is defined as the spontaneous production of false memories: either memories for events which never occurred, or memories of actual events which are displaced in space or time. These memories may be elaborate and detailed. Some may be obviously bizarre, as a memory of a ride in an alien spaceship; others are quite mundane, as a memory of having eggs for breakfast, so that only a close family member can confirm that the memory is in fact false.

It is important to stress that confabulators are not lying: they are not deliberately trying to mislead. In fact, the patients are generally quite unaware that their memories are inaccurate, and they may argue strenuously that they have been telling the truth.

Confabulation sometimes resolves spontaneously with the passage of time; in other cases, therapy can help the patient become more aware of his tendency to confabulate and reduce the instances of confabulation.

Without pretending to be a neurologist let us examine some of the ‘headlines’ (no pun intended) of EMF journalism.

1. EMF headline reads
“The Ethiopian troops are killing their people inside Addis Ababa and there is no way they will bring peace to Somalia”

But the headline of the linked article is
“Ethiopian troops advance into Somalia”

2. EMF headline reads
“Meles troops entered into the Somali town of Baidoa”

But the headline of the linked article is
“Ethiopia Rushes to Aid of Somali Gov't”

One could go on documenting such manifestation of confabulation with EMF editors. But the irony here is that confabulation seems to be contagious to many other website admins who always lived abroad and who never had any head injury.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

HR 4423 vs HR 5680

Hold on your horses folks!!

This bill has less than three days to make it to the full House, let alone to the Senate and become a bill. If it does not make it by Friday June 30, it will go to the dust bins as the Congressional year comes to an end.

Nonetheless, it is quite a run for the money and it is a big deal to get a House Resolution to pass a committee that has the name Ethiopia attached with.

If the bill expires on Friday before getting to the full House, It is back to the drawing board to start from scratch and try again next year.

Just for the heck of it, what really is the difference between HR4423 and the new HR5680?

Here is a note from Rep. Chris Smith's staffer Mr. Greg Simpkins.
Differences between H.R. 4423 and the New Ethiopia Bill (H.R. 5680)

• We added “Advancement” to the title of the bill.

• The Statement of Policy in Section 2 has been bolstered.

• Sections 3 and 4 have been revised to consolidate proposed programs.

• A number of technical corrections and policy changes were made to each section of the bill, including elements on “the handling of defendants through pre-trial and trial process”.

• We added a Judicial Monitoring provision and a Torture Victim Relief provision (tied to an existing program for such purposes) and the provision of legal assistance to political prisoners and prisoners of conscience “as well as those whose rights have otherwise been violated outside of prison.”

• The language on Limitations on Security Assistance, Travel Restrictions and the Presidential Waiver has been strengthened.

• The Certification section has been enhanced with more specific benchmarks on what is expected of the Government of Ethiopia to avoid sanctions.

Here is the new bill in its new form
- A bit cryptic and hard to read the cut and paste from the PDF file. But for anyone with a will to get to the bottom of it, here it is.

(Original Signature of Member)
To encourage and facilitate the consolidation of security, human rights,
democracy, and economic freedom in Ethiopia.
Mr. SMITH of New Jersey (for himself and Mr. PAYNE) introduced the following
bill; which was referred to the Committee on

To encourage and facilitate the consolidation of security,
human rights, democracy, and economic freedom in Ethiopia.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representa- 1
tives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, 2
This Act may be cited as the ‘‘Ethiopia Freedom, De- 4
mocracy, and Human Rights Advancement Act of 2006’’. 5
It is the policy of the United States to— 7
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June 26, 2006 (10:48 AM)

(1) support the advancement of human rights, 1
democracy, independence of the judiciary, freedom of 2
the press, peacekeeping capacity building, and eco- 3
nomic development in the Federal Democratic Re- 4
public of Ethiopia; 5
(2) collaborate with Ethiopia in the Global War 6
on Terror; 7
(3) seek the unconditional release of all political 8
prisoners and prisoners of conscience in Ethiopia; 9
(4) foster stability, democracy, and economic 10
development in the region; and 11
(5) strengthen United States-Ethiopian rela- 12
tions based on the policy objectives specified in para- 13
graphs (1) through (4). 14
Congress finds the following: 16
(1) The people of Ethiopia have suffered for 17
decades due to military conflicts, natural disasters, 18
poverty and diseases, regional instability, and the 19
brutal dictatorship of the military junta under 20
Mengistu Haile Mariam. Hundreds of thousands of 21
civilians were brutally murdered by the Mengistu re- 22
gime, including women and children. Many more 23
sacrificed their lives fighting for freedom, respect for 24
human rights, and to bring an end to the brutal dic- 25
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June 26, 2006 (10:48 AM)

tatorship of the Mengistu regime. Members of that 1
murderous regime are currently living in Europe, the 2
United States, and Africa. 3
(2) In May 1991, the brutal dictatorship of the 4
Mengistu regime came to an abrupt end when the 5
Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front 6
(EPRDF) defeated the Mengistu army. In July 7
1991, the EPRDF and a coalition of other political 8
groups established a transitional government in 9
Ethiopia. A number of liberation movements joined 10
the transitional government in a spirit of a new start 11
and the building of a democratic Ethiopia. These 12
groups included the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), 13
the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), and 14
many others. 15
(3) Since the ouster of the Mengistu regime in 16
1991, the EPRDF-led government instituted a 17
multiparty system and organized three regional and 18
national elections and a number of local elections. 19
The 1995 and 2000 elections were largely boycotted 20
and judged to be neither free nor fair. Some opposi- 21
tion groups participated in the 2000 elections, giving 22
such groups 12 seats in the 546-seat parliament. 23
(4) The May 2005 pre-election period and the 24
conduct of the elections in Ethiopia were seen by ob- 25
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June 26, 2006 (10:48 AM)

servers to be transparent, competitive, and relatively 1
free and fair, although there were a number of prob- 2
lems reported. More than 90 percent of registered 3
voters participated and dozens of political parties 4
took part in the elections. Moreover, some inter- 5
national groups observed the elections, unprece- 6
dented access to the mass media was given to the 7
opposition, and there were televised debates between 8
the government and the opposition. Some political 9
parties and armed political groups boycotted the 10
2005 elections. However, trained local groups were 11
barred from observing the elections. 12
(5) Despite apparent improvement in the elec- 13
toral process, preliminary election results announced 14
by the Government of Ethiopia shortly after the May 15
15, 2005, elections were seen by observers as ques- 16
tionable. The opposition accused the Government of 17
Ethiopia of stealing the elections and called for civil 18
disobedience, which resulted in the killing of dem- 19
onstrators and detention of opposition leaders and 20
thousands of their followers, including 11 elected 21
members of parliament and the elected mayor of 22
Addis Ababa. 23
(6) The Coalition for Unity and Democracy 24
(CUD), the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces 25
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June 26, 2006 (10:48 AM)

(UEDF), and the ruling EPRDF reached an agree- 1
ment to resolve disputed election results peacefully 2
with the help of the National Electoral Board 3
(NEB). The NEB investigated more than 299 com- 4
plaints and later agreed to hold reruns in 31 con- 5
stituencies. In late August 2005, the NEB held re- 6
runs in the 31 constituencies as well as in all 23 7
constituencies in the Somali region, where elections 8
had been postponed due to insecurity. 9
(7) Election results show that opposition parties 10
won 170 seats in the national parliament, a signifi- 11
cant increase from the 12 seats they won in the last 12
elections. Opposition parties also won the city coun- 13
cil in Addis Ababa, giving them control over the cap- 14
ital. An estimated 150 of the 170 opposition mem- 15
bers of parliament have taken their seats. In early 16
May 2006, the Government of Ethiopia appointed a 17
caretaker government in the capital. Members of 18
parliament from the CUD walked out of parliament 19
in protest. The CUD won the city, but the des- 20
ignated mayor has been in detention since November 21
2005. 22
(8) Human rights conditions deteriorated sig- 23
nificantly after the May 15, 2005, elections in Ethi- 24
opia and overall human rights conditions in the 25
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June 26, 2006 (10:48 AM)

country remain poor. The Department of State, in 1
its 2005 Country Reports on Human Rights Prac- 2
tices, noted a myriad of human rights abuses by the 3
Government of Ethiopia. Moreover, journalists and 4
editors of the independent press have been and con- 5
tinue to face harassment and prosecution for alleged 6
violations of press laws in Ethiopia. Dozens of jour- 7
nalists have fled the country, and some are currently 8
in exile fearing prosecution or harassment. 9
(9) In June 2005, more than 35 demonstrators 10
were killed by Ethiopian Government security per- 11
sonnel and in November 2005 an estimated 53 peo- 12
ple were killed, including seven policemen, according 13
to Human Rights Watch and several other reports. 14
The violence against these victims occurred after 15
pro-opposition groups went to the streets of the cap- 16
ital to protest government actions in handling the 17
elections results of May 2005. Tens of thousands of 18
people suspected of being opposition supporters were 19
detained over the past months, although many of 20
these detainees were released. Nonetheless, govern- 21
ment security forces continue to abuse opposition 22
leaders, supporters, and family members. 23
(10) An estimated 112 political leaders, human 24
rights activists, community leaders, and journalists, 25
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June 26, 2006 (10:48 AM)

including the chairman of the CUD (Hailu Shawel), 1
the newly elected Mayor of Addis Ababa (Berhanu 2
Nega), and the founder of the Ethiopian Human 3
Rights Council (Professor Mesfin Wolde Mariam), 4
were imprisoned and charged with treason and geno- 5
cide. These measures were deliberately taken to sti- 6
fle and criminalize opposition party activity in the 7
country. The measures also were intended to intimi- 8
date and silence independent press and civil society, 9
raising serious question about the Ethiopian Govern- 10
ment’s commitment to democracy and good govern- 11
ance. 12
The Secretary of State shall— 14
(1) establish a mechanism to provide financial 15
support to local and national human rights groups 16
and other relevant civil society organizations to help 17
strengthen human rights monitoring and regular re- 18
porting on human rights conditions in Ethiopia; 19
(2) establish a program to provide legal support 20
for political prisoners and prisoners of conscience 21
and to assist local groups or groups from outside 22
Ethiopia that are active in monitoring the status of 23
political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in 24
Ethiopia; 25
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June 26, 2006 (10:48 AM)

(3) seek to increase the independence of the 1
Ethiopian judiciary through facilitation of joint dis- 2
cussions for court personnel, officials from the Ethi- 3
opian Ministry of Justice, relevant members of the 4
legislature, and civil society representatives on inter- 5
national human rights standards; 6
(4) create and support a judicial monitoring 7
process, consisting of local and international groups, 8
to monitor judicial proceedings throughout Ethiopia, 9
with special focus on unwarranted government inter- 10
vention on strictly judicial matters, and to inves- 11
tigate and report on actions to strengthen an inde- 12
pendent judiciary; 13
(5) establish a program to strengthen private 14
media in Ethiopia, provide support for training pur- 15
poses, offer technical and other types of support as 16
necessary, and expand programming by the Voice of 17
America to Ethiopia; and 18
(6) establish a mechanism to identify and extra- 19
dite members of the Mengistu Haile Mariam regime 20
and the current government residing in the United 21
States who were engaged in gross human rights vio- 22
lations and work with other governments to identify 23
and extradite such persons, including Mengistu 24
Haile Mariam. 25
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State shall— 4
(1) provide assistance to strengthen local, re- 5
gional, and national parliaments and governments in 6
Ethiopia through training in consultation with gov- 7
ernment authorities, political parties, and civil soci- 8
ety groups; 9
(2) establish a program focused on reconcili- 10
ation efforts between the Government of Ethiopia 11
and peaceful political and civil society groups, in- 12
cluding in minority communities, in preparation for 13
negotiation and for participation in the political 14
process; 15
(3) strengthen training for political parties in 16
Ethiopia in areas such as organization building and 17
campaign management; 18
(4) provide training for civil society groups in 19
election monitoring in Ethiopia; and 20
(5) facilitate ongoing communications between 21
the Government of Ethiopia through the National 22
Election Board (NEB) in order to address issues 23
such as delimitation of constituencies, voter registra- 24
tion, political party registration, candidate registra- 25
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June 26, 2006 (10:48 AM)

tion, and related matters to enhance the credibility 1
of the next elections in Ethiopia. 2
(1) ASSISTANCE.—United States technical as- 4
sistance for democracy promotion in Ethiopia should 5
be made available to the ruling party as well as op- 6
position parties in Ethiopia. 7
(A) IN GENERAL.—Nonessential United 9
States assistance shall not be made available to 10
the Government of Ethiopia if the Government 11
of Ethiopia acts to obstruct United States tech- 12
nical assistance to advance human rights, de- 13
mocracy, independence of the judiciary, freedom 14
of the press, economic development and eco- 15
nomic freedom in Ethiopia. 16
(B) DEFINITION.—In this paragraph, the 17
term ‘‘nonessential United States assistance’’ 18
means assistance under any provision of law, 19
other than humanitarian assistance, assistance 20
under emergency food programs, assistance to 21
combat HIV/AIDS, and other health care as- 22
sistance. 23
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(A) IN GENERAL.—Except as provided in 7
subparagraph (B), security assistance shall not 8
be provided to Ethiopia until such time as the 9
certification described in paragraph (3) is made 10
in accordance with such paragraph. 11
(B) EXCEPTION.—Subparagraph (A) shall 12
not apply with respect to peacekeeping or 13
counter-terrorism assistance. Peacekeeping or 14
counter-terrorism assistance provided to Ethi- 15
opia shall not be used for any other security-re- 16
lated purpose or to provide training to security 17
personnel or units accused of human rights vio- 18
lations against civilians. 19
(2) TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS.—Beginning on the 20
date that is 60 days after the date of the enactment 21
of this Act and until such time as the certification 22
described in paragraph (3) is made in accordance 23
with such paragraph, the President shall deny a visa 24
and entry into the United States to— 25
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June 26, 2006 (10:48 AM)

(A) any official of the Government of Ethi- 1
opia who— 2
(i) has been involved in giving orders 3
to use lethal force against peaceful dem- 4
onstrators in Ethiopia; or 5
(ii) has been accused of gross human 6
rights violations; 7
(B) security personnel of the Government 8
of Ethiopia who were involved in the June or 9
November 2005 shootings of demonstrators; 10
and 11
(C) Ethiopian civilians who were involved 12
in the November 2005 killings of seven police- 13
men in Ethiopia. 14
(3) CERTIFICATION.—The certification de- 15
scribed in this paragraph is a certification by the 16
President to Congress that the Government of Ethi- 17
opia is making credible, quantifiable efforts to en- 18
sure that— 19
(A) all political prisoners and prisoners of 20
conscience in Ethiopia have been released, their 21
civil and political rights restored, and their 22
property returned; 23
(B) prisoners held without charge or kept 24
in detention without fair trial in violation of the 25
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June 26, 2006 (10:48 AM)

Constitution of Ethiopia are released or receive 1
a fair and speedy trial, and prisoners whose 2
charges have been dismissed or acquitted and 3
are still being held are released without delay; 4
(C) the Ethiopian judiciary is able to func- 5
tion independently and allowed to uphold the 6
Ethiopian Constitution and international 7
human rights standards; 8
(D) the investigation of the killing of civil- 9
ian protesters by Ethiopian security forces is 10
credible, transparent, and those involved in the 11
unlawful killing are punished; 12
(E) family members, legal counsel, and 13
others have unfettered access to visit detainees 14
in Ethiopian prisons; 15
(F) print and broadcast media in Ethiopia 16
are able to operate free from undue interference 17
and laws restricting media freedom, including 18
sections of the Ethiopian Federal Criminal 19
Code, are revised; 20
(G) licensing of independent radio and tel- 21
evision in Ethiopia is open and transparent; 22
(H) access in Ethiopia is provided to the 23
Internet and the ability of citizens to freely 24
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June 26, 2006 (10:48 AM)

send and receive electronic mail and otherwise 1
obtain information is guaranteed; 2
(I) the National Election Board (NEB) in- 3
cludes representatives of political parties with 4
seats in the Ethiopian Parliament and guaran- 5
tees independence for the NEB in its decision- 6
making; 7
(J) representatives of international human 8
rights organizations engaged in human rights 9
monitoring work in Ethiopia are admitted to 10
Ethiopia without undue restriction; and 11
(K) Ethiopian human rights organizations 12
are able to operate in an environment free of 13
harassment, intimidation, and persecution. 14
(4) WAIVER.— 15
(A) IN GENERAL.—The President may 16
waive the application of paragraph (1) or (2) on 17
a case-by-case basis if the President determines 18
that— 19
(i) to the maximum extent practicable, 20
the Government of Ethiopia has met the 21
requirement of paragraph (3)(A); and 22
(ii) such a waiver is in the national in- 23
terests of the United States. 24
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June 26, 2006 (10:48 AM)

(B) NOTIFICATION.—Prior to granting a 1
waiver under the authority of subparagraph 2
(A), the President shall transmit to Congress a 3
notification that includes the reasons for the 4
waiver. 5
(1) IN GENERAL.—The President, the Secretary 8
of State, and other relevant officials of the Govern- 9
ment of the United States shall call upon the Gov- 10
ernment of Ethiopia to immediately release all polit- 11
ical prisoners and prisoners of conscience, especially 12
prisoners held without charge. 13
(2) TORTURE VICTIM RELIEF.—While it is the 14
responsibility of the Government of Ethiopia to com- 15
pensate the victims of unlawful imprisonment and 16
torture and their families for their suffering and 17
losses, the President shall provide assistance for the 18
rehabilitation of victims of torture in Ethiopia at 19
centers established for such purposes pursuant to 20
section 130 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 21
(22 U.S.C. 2152). 22
(c) SENSE OF CONGRESS.—It is the sense of Con- 23
gress that the Government of the United States should— 24
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June 26, 2006 (10:48 AM)

(1) encourage the Government of Ethiopia to 1
enter into discussions with the Oromo Liberation 2
Front to bring them into full participation in the po- 3
litical and economic affairs of Ethiopia, including 4
their legalization as a political party; and 5
(2) provide such assistance as is warranted and 6
necessary to help achieve the goal described in para- 7
graph (1). 8
OPIA. 10
(a) ECONOMIC POLICY ASSISTANCE.—Utilizing train- 11
ing and other technical assistance programs offered by the 12
Department of the Treasury, the Office of the United 13
States Trade Representative, and the Department of Jus- 14
tice, the President shall assist the Government of Ethiopia 15
in developing policies that will address key economic obsta- 16
cles, including in such areas as budgeting, taxation, debt 17
management, bank supervision, anti-money laundering, 18
and land title security that inhibit private sector develop- 19
ment and limit participation in donor programs such as 20
the United States Millennium Challenge Account. 21
COMMERCIAL VENTURES.—Pursuant to the Government 23
of Ethiopia’s acceptance of the reforms in subsection (a), 24
the President shall make available adequate financing for 25
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June 26, 2006 (10:48 AM)

United States and Ethiopian private commercial ventures, 1
including programs of the United States Agency for Inter- 2
national Development, the Small Business Administration 3
(including, but not limited to, the Export Express and Ex- 4
port Working Capital programs), the Overseas Private In- 5
vestment Corporation (including, but not limited to, the 6
Small Business Center and the Small and Medium Enter- 7
prise and Structural Finance programs), and the Export- 8
Import Bank of the United States (including, but not lim- 9
ited to, the Short-Term Africa Pilot Program). 10
acting through the Administrator of the United States 12
Agency for International Development, shall provide as- 13
sistance for sustainable development of Ethiopia’s Nile 14
and Awash River resources, including assistance to help 15
Ethiopia with the technology necessary for the construc- 16
tion of irrigation systems and hydroelectric power that 17
might prevent future famine. 18
SEC. 8. REPORT. 19
Not later than 180 days after the date of the enact- 20
ment of this Act, the President shall transmit to Congress 21
a report on the implementation of this Act, including a 22
description of a comprehensive plan to address the secu- 23
rity, human rights, democratization, and economic free- 24
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June 26, 2006 (10:48 AM)

dom concerns that potentially threaten the stability of the 1
Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. 2
(a) IN GENERAL.—There are authorized to be appro- 4
priated to carry out this Act $10,000,000 for each of the 5
fiscal years 2007 and 2008. 6
(b) AVAILABILITY.—Amounts appropriated pursuant 7
to the authorization of appropriations under subsection (a) 8
are authorized to remain available until expended. 9
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June 26, 2006 (10:48 AM)

Friday, June 16, 2006


About three decades ago, either Addis Zemen or Yezareyitu Ethiopia had an article entitled ‘simesh Scotland – sinega Lamberet’. I do not recollect the author of the article but I would not bet if it was not the gifted Paulos Gnogno. Many of us first thought it was some science fiction story and read the treatise with keen interest. It was about members of the affluent middle class who indulged themselves with too much Scotch whisky during the night at trendy night clubs in Addis Ababa. It was also about their despondent morning-after hangovers and their attempts to heal with milk and yogurt from Shola Lamberet.

The above story relates to our radical Diaspora that seems to have had too much of zealot political indulgence for a while. And now the morning-after or rather the after-thought comes for the Diaspora avant-gardes with a lot of misgiving and regrets of the strategies and tactics of an imbecile opposition.

The subsiding political strain in Ethiopia has created some schizophrenic behavior, in some quarters of the Diaspora, such that some keep the sharpened rhetoric with their fellow ‘patriots’ during the day time, where as during the night they call home to ask about business prospects, their housing and building projects. During the day, they attend fundraising events for all sorts of opposition parties and during the night they call home if their wire transfer of funds for their projects arrived. This sounds like ‘simesh Scotland – sinega Lamberet’, but it would sound much better if we call it ‘beKen TEKAWAMI – bemata EHADEG’.

It seems that EHADEG is also smarting with these split personalities of the Diaspora with a policy of ‘Do not ask and do not tell’; hoping the scale of entrepreneurial and personal interests will tip them over to its side.

On the other hand, the heat is on the various oppositions to show some political progress with in the peaceful path or else to show some pints of spilled blood on the violent (armed struggle) path.

In both cases the few and the elite Diaspora always demand on sitting in the director’s chair of leadership from far-off. Where as the common radical Diaspora customer is having more head ache and bewilderment, as there seems nothing in store to quickly cure its nagging hangover.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

African narratives

Speaking of Africa
Dec 19th 2002 From The Economist print edition

Africa is a continent made for—and of—storytellers

DEBORAH SCROGGINS begins "Emma's War", a memoir of her years spent studying famine relief and radical Islam in Sudan, by recounting an ancient African myth about Man and his greedy enemy, Stomach. Once upon a time, Stomach lived by itself in the bush, eating small insects roasted in brush fire, for Man was created apart from Stomach. Then one day Man was walking in the bush and came across Stomach. Man put Stomach in its present place that it might feed there. When it lived by itself, Stomach was satisfied with small morsels of food, but now that Stomach is part of Man, it craves more no matter how much it eats. "That is why", Ms Scroggins tells us, "Stomach is the enemy of man."

That Ms Scroggins used a tale like this to illustrate a point is nothing unusual. Africa, with its oral tradition, is full of stories, and this one said a great deal about the politics of food, which plays such a large part in Sudan's dark and unruly tale. What was surprising was that Pantheon, the publisher of "Emma's War", succeeded in October 2002 in selling a four-page serialisation of the book to American Vogue—of all magazines.

Now, New York fashionistas do not normally take any great interest in the curmudgeonly civil war that has plagued southern Sudan for the past 19 years. If they have heard at all of the biggest country in Africa, it is more likely because they saw the beautiful moon-faced Alek Wek, MTV's model of the year, in the 2000 Pirelli calendar: Ms Wek is a Dinka and was born in southern Sudan. Or it might be because President Bill Clinton once ordered his air force to fire upon a pharmaceutical plant outside Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, in the belief that it was a factory making chemical weapons. Or because the conflict in the south has on occasion spilled over into Somalia, the scene of Ridley Scott's gladiatorial epic, "Black Hawk Down". Of anything else regarding Sudan, like of so much else in Africa, most Americans remain blithely ignorant. How then did Ms Scroggins get American Vogue hooked on Sudan?

The answer lies not in what she wrote about, but how she wrote it. "Emma's War" is one of three remarkable works of narrative non-fiction about Africa which have come out this year. The second is about the white farmers who still call their country Rhodesia until they remember that its name has been changed to Zimbabwe. The third is set amid a sprawling African family divided between high government in Sierra Leone and exile in Britain.

Africa has provided the setting for a host of narratives, ever since Isak Dinesen published "Out of Africa" in 1937. These new books are among the best of Dinesen's children. Each one is a feat of story-telling, with its own inimitable voice. Each of the three authors writes about place by putting her characters at the front of the dramatic narrative, rather than heading straight for a dry political analysis of the countries in which they live.

Similarly, the authors have cherry-picked techniques more common to fiction writing. Pacing and narrative and, in particular, the development of character, are all vital to drawing the reader into a story he or she might never have thought to visit. All three are also first books, which says something about the passion that authors feel for their earliest subject; first books, like first love, live long in the heart. And all three are by women.

Of murder and mini-skirts

Deborah Scroggins was 26 when she first went to Sudan in 1988. As a reporter for a crusading southern American newspaper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, her job was to write about a growing food crisis in southern Sudan and what the West was doing about it. "Aid makes itself out to be a practical enterprise," she writes at the start of her book, "but in Africa at least it's romantics who do most of the work."

One of the most romantic figures she came across during an early visit was Emma McCune, a tall young Englishwoman with the legs of a colt and a dazzling smile. Where other aid workers wore sexless, shapeless khaki, Emma wore a red mini-skirt. She drove around southern Sudan distributing pencils and blackboards to local primary schools on behalf of an idealistic Canadian charity.

Mrs Fuller has a nervous breakdown. It is not Africa that drives her mad, but her dead children, one stillborn, one killed by meningitis, one drowned

McCune might have remained a footnote, another addition to the long list of humanitarians who, for at least a century, have become involved in Sudan for reasons often half-hidden from themselves, had it not been for her sudden marriage to an African warlord named Riek Machar, or Dr Riek as he was known to his followers.

Despite the evident sexual attraction between them, Emma regarded the match in more idealistic terms, seeing it as a way of bridging the gap between black and white. Without telling her, though, Mr Machar was soon to launch a violent quest to take over the Sudan People's Liberation Army ( SPLA), the southern Sudanese rebel movement. Murder and kidnapping became part of his quest for power, and, like so many Africans, he sought money for his cause from a debonair businessman with a growl of a voice, Tiny Rowland.

What had raised the stakes for Mr Rowland, his new best friend the warlord, and the warlord's fellow rebels was the discovery of oil in the south of the country. Western oil companies were paying the northern Islamic government to gain access to the oilfields, while Christian groups in America were pouring money into the south in the belief that by propping up the rebels they were establishing a vanguard against Islam. What the outsiders were really doing, Ms Scroggins demonstrates, was fuelling the civil war.

Emma's aid-worker friends, who smiled away her defiance and flamboyant clothes in the name of English eccentricity, were becoming increasingly concerned that she had crossed the line between idealism and partisanship. Meanwhile, Mr Machar paid a visit to his first wife, a fellow Sudanese whom he had married very young and then abandoned, and they conceived their third child. Despite his many betrayals, Emma stood by her man. Two years later, at the age of 29, she was killed by a speeding bush taxi.

For a short time, the SPLA was suspected of complicity in her death, but it was more likely to have been just one of those wasteful road accidents that happen with such dismaying frequency in Africa. Emma was five months' pregnant, and her last words were for her unborn child. American Vogue headlined its excerpt of the book, "The Warlord's Wife". It was, as one magazine editor said, "irresistible". No wonder Ridley Scott is trying to buy the film rights.

In the company of Emma McCune, misguided though she might have seemed to some, Ms Scroggins takes the reader by the hand into the hot dust of southern Sudan and the politics of the belly, where black meets white, rich meets poor and the fat white paunch of the West gets to look upon starving Africa's distended stomach. It is an encounter that reeks of brutal inconsistency; dry political analysis could never achieve the same dramatic effect, nor could news journalism.

If you think of the main recent television reports from Africa—the genocide in Rwanda, the limb-hacking in Sierra Leone, the deadly effects of AIDS in Botswana or lava snaking through the centre of Goma town in Congo—you remember just how much television's appetite is for the grotesque. In television, there is no room for little people in Africa unless they are dead or, at the very least, dying helpfully in large numbers. Reporting from the top down of this kind can be impressive, but it offers little flavour of life on the ground. More important, it sheds no light on how Africa survives, or thrives even, among all the flood, blood and famine that is its reality television. And yet thrive it does.

To explain how takes another kind of storytelling, and a different storyteller.

Alexandra Fuller is one of the many women writing narrative non-fiction about Africa today, perhaps because women—who occupy fewer positions of power, particularly in Africa—are good at telling a story from the bottom up. Ms Fuller's cast is made up of her father, a gruff but gentle tobacco farmer with cigarette ever in hand, her mother, blonde and brittle as an eggshell, and her sister. Featured too are the family's three other children, who are all dead. The setting is Rhodesia as it turns with hope into Zimbabwe, and then through fear and harassment into something darker.

Quietly, Ms Fuller evokes the smells and sounds of southern Africa, the lemony light of early morning and the song of the Cape turtle-dove, "Work-hard-er, work-hard-er". But it is her ear for the rhythms of speech—a Rhodesian policeman in tight-squeaky shoes explaining that the way to avoid landmines is to avoid opening tins of buttery shortcake, or two sisters in an outside lavatory bickering in the dead of night over who gets to pee first and who has to hold up the torch against scorpions and snakes—these are the voices that make this book so rough, so sad and so absurdly funny.

It is not easy, or has not been until recently, to create sympathetic figures out of white Rhodesian farmers. Ms Fuller's parents are in turn drunk, loud, bigoted and visibly exasperated with their workers. Her mother, she reports, calls Kelvin, the cook, "bloody idiot" to his face when he tries to get rid of the flies in the Fullers' kitchen by spraying it and himself with an entire tin of an insecticide named Doom. "Idiot!" she shrieks over Kelvin's near-comatose body as she realises he first took care to close the windows. "You could have killed yourself."

In time, Mrs Fuller has a nervous breakdown. It is not Africa that drives her mad, but her dead children, one stillborn, one killed by meningitis, one drowned. "It is almost lunch before anyone notices Olivia is missing. She is floating face down in the pond. The ducks are used to her body now, paddling and waddling around it, throwing back their heads and drinking the water that is full of her last breaths." Ms Fuller's talent as a writer is there on every page, and it is sentences like these that elevate her book into a timeless portrait of human folly, and a love letter to two people whose devotion to the land they till is equalled only by their bewilderment at those who have come to rule over it.

The dark underbelly

Of course, it is not only white people who are bewildered by their leaders. African writers, such as Chinua Achebe, Bessie Head and Helon Habila, have, for the most part, turned to fiction or to the theatre to try to make sense of their continent. Traditionally, it has been white writers, ironically those you would think were most insulated from Africa's hardships, who have been the first to translate its rawness into narrative non-fiction.

After Dinesen came Rian Malan, writing about interior exile in South Africa ("My Traitor's Heart"), Peter Godwin on Zimbabwe ("Mukiwa") and Kuki Gallmann on Kenya ("I Dreamed of Africa"). Ms Fuller is the latest, and one of the best, of a series of writers whose engagement with the cruelties of the continent is as sensitive as it is eloquent. But still, to a man (or woman), they remain stubbornly unAfrican. The black Africans who appear in many of these books are ciphers, soundless props that fill the picture, like furniture or trees. Which is what makes Aminatta Forna's memoir, the third of the three books, so unusual.

Ms Forna is the daughter of a British mother and Sierra Leonean father who attended medical school in Scotland dressed in well-cut suits, "his dark skin glowing against the starched white cuffs and collar." Crossing the room to greet a young woman with a French plait rising out of her long neck like a coiled tulip, he held out his hand: "I'm Mohamed. And you are?" This was 1959 and her father was not impressed. "There are black women for black men, Chinese women for Chinamen and, for all I care, green women for green men." The two married anyway, and, after a party to celebrate his nation's independence in 1961, Forna puffed away at six cigarettes in one go: "I'm smoking for freedom, man."

The Fornas returned to Sierra Leone. By day, Mohamed ran a medical clinic for patients who could not afford the doctors who charged for their services. Growing up, Aminatta longed to help him, and spent her pocket money on gauze, splints and Dettol to fill her very own medical bag. The five-year-old rolled bandages, and at night slept the sleep of the satisfied as well as the innocent. Her father, meanwhile, was being sucked into politics.

Forna was named minister of finance by the country's moody and unpredictable leader, Siaka Stevens. Seven years later, he confronted Stevens over the president's involvement in illegal diamond-dealing. Stevens retaliated by having him tried with a number of colleagues on trumped-up charges and hanged for treason in the dead of night. Hardly anyone protested. But Sierra Leoneans began wearing their hair in a new style: seven braids descending on either side of the crown and a single braid in the centre, running from the forehead to nape. Mohamed Forna and the 14 others.

Three times, Ms Forna, her brother and sister were sent into exile for their safety. First, with their mother they lived in Scotland, squeezing themselves into a caravan in a field because British landladies would not rent to "foreigners". Later, after their parents divorced and remarried, it was the young Fornas' heroic new African stepmother who watched over them, raising money (from Rowland again) and making sure they did their homework.

In 2000, Ms Forna, by then a documentary film maker with the BBC, returned to Sierra Leone to try to find the truth behind her father's execution and the men who ordered it. Stevens was dead, and much of the country was being ruled by Foday Sankoh's bestial rebels. Many of those who voted in the 2002 presidential election had to do so with their big toe: both hands had been amputated. Through one of the trial lawyers, Ms Forna miraculously found the transcript of her father's trial. She also read for the first time the letter that her father had written to his children the night before he died.

Gently, taking her time, she also explores the symbolism of her journey, and how the loss of her father and the years in exile echo an Africa that survives in spite of having lost so many of its hopes and dreams. The passages about life in Britain are easy to colour in; the dark, the cold, the friendlessness. But it is when she moves her canvas to Sierra Leone that Ms Forna's memoir really explodes into life.

Not for her the romantic Africa of empty landscape and nostalgia for the wild. Hers is a great west African bus of a book, full to bursting with her extended family, her "aunties", as she calls them, swaying with voices, music and warmth.

Just as fervent as the search for the father she lost is the search for the little Aminatta as she was before Africa, with all its giving and taking away, began to shape her into the person she eventually became. In the midst of her quest, Ms Forna goes to Rokupa, the Freetown suburb where her father's bones were buried after his body had been soaked in acid. A little girl in a cotton dress that has slipped off one shoulder watches her. "I remember her now, as I write, the little girl who once was me. If I concentrate my will I can still summon her, sometimes. She is there, the girl who believed there was a place somewhere on this earth, a place where a devil came down at dusk to dance alone on the water."

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Letters, Letters and Letters

There have been almost a dozen (open) letters written to US officials this past week. The bulk of these letters are addressed to Ambassador Vicky Huddleston, the Charge d’Affaire at the US Embassy in Ethiopia.

“Ambassador Vicki Huddleston working with forgerers”
“Vicki: Ethiopia's Kingmaker? “
”Vicky and her clone”
“Vicky & TPLF assault on democracy “
“From Kinijit to Ambassador Vicky Huddleston”
“From Bertukan Mideksa to Ambassador Vicky Huddleston”
“Open Letter to the Carter Center “

The US State Department officials, specially the ones close to the ground, do not advance a personal agenda or foreign policy of their own, for there is no apparent personal benefit to any of them. Be it Ambassadors Huddleston, Yamamoto or Fraser, they all follow a US policy as scripted by the top level cabinet members of the Bush Administration.

Whether the acts of US officials deserve the crudity thrown at them, whether the angers and frustrations of the letter writers are valid or not, the question to ponder upon is what good does it do?

There are some things that do not compute quite well. On one hand some advocacy and support groups are spending over $700,000.00 for a Republican lobbyist. On another hand, they send slews of letters attacking State Department officials of a Republican administration. At the same time Republican congressman Chris Smith is considered a true friend of the opposition.

It does not take a rocket scientist to guess that the Republican congressman Chris Smith or the Republican lobbyists are not going to be amused by the barrage of verbal (written) abuse directed at fellow Republicans at the Executive Branch, whether they deserve it or not.

It may not be surprising if there is a change of heart on the part of Chris Smith with regard to HR4423. It won’t be surprising that the upcoming markup language of the bill to the full International committee, may be so watered down, that the proponents of the bill may end up drowning under it while the ruling party floats on all sorts of funding under the pretext of ‘building democratic institutions.’

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Boyd & Brown Lobbying for imprisoned leaders of CUDP

When posted the Indian Ocean Newsletter story on this subject on 03/03/06, like all ION news one would imagine there may be a bit of a stretch.

ION update: 03/03/06
Lobbying for the families of Ethiopian political prisoners
Indian Ocean Newsletter N° 1171 04/03/2006

A group formed by the relatives and friends of the imprisoned leaders of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy Party (CUDP, Ethiopian opposition) have called on the services of an American lobbying company. This group is called Advocacy Ethiopia and is based in Silver Springs, Maryland. It has just hired the lawyer Harold Boyd from the Boyd & Brown practice to help them get their voice heard by the American administration. This law practice is based in Maryland and also has a branch in Washington.

Hats off to ION and a timely post on the part of Weblogethiopia. ION had its story right just three weeks after the papers were filed in Congress. It is indeed true. One can find the filed US Senate document here:|2

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Candidate's past job as Eritrean lobbyist causes controversy

Candidate's past job as Eritrean lobbyist causes controversy

Nation accused of persecuting Christians
Sunday, April 23, 2006

Bill Sloat
Plain Dealer Reporter

Cincinnati - A former Ohio congressman attempting a comeback in a high-profile race against Republican U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt said he received up to $120,000 from an African government with a record of Christian persecution.

Bob McEwen, 56, worked as a lobbyist for Eritrea, which President Bush's administration lists as a "Country of Particular Concern" for severe violations of religious freedom.

McEwen, whose U.S. political allies include nationally prominent leaders on the Christian right, said Friday he no longer has any links to Eritrea.

His campaign Web site lists endorsements from the Rev. Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association; Dr. James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family; and Phil Burress, who heads Citizens for Community Values in Ohio.

The State Department's International Religious Freedom reports contend Eritrean authorities have closed down some Protestant evangelical denominations, brutalized adherents and spy on nearly every worship service held in the nation.

The annual reports are required under federal law.

Eritrea paid McEwen $15,000 monthly for representation in Washington as a public affairs counsel. At the time in 2004, McEwen was affiliated with Advantage Associates, a lobbying firm comprised of former members of Congress.

Its motto: "Nobody understands the inner workings of Congress better than leaders who served in Congress."

Eritrea has about 4 million residents on the Red Sea between Sudan and Ethiopia. It won its independence from Ethiopia after a war that ended in 1993.

McEwen said he worked for the nation only to stabilize its border with Ethiopia, which has been the scene of armed clashes over recent years. He said he was paid between $90,000 and $120,000. In an interview Friday he said that he worked for Eritrea for six to eight months.

McEwen, seeking to unseat Schmidt in the May 2 Republican primary, is one of three former Ohio congressmen trying to get back into office this year. The others are Akron Democrat Tom Sawy and Columbus Democrat Bob Shamansky.

McEwen served six terms in Congress from a southern Ohio district, but was defeated by Democrat Ted Strickland in 1992. Now he's trying to revive his political career in Ohio's 2nd District, where he purchased a condo last year in suburban Cincinnati.

The congressional district covers a massive chunk of southern Ohio, stretching from Cincinnati's eastern suburbs nearly 100 miles up the Ohio River to Portsmouth. It touches seven counties, takes in a big portion of the state's Appalachian region, and is staunchly Republican.

Schmidt, 54, won the 2nd District seat nine months ago in a special election after Rob Portman resigned from the office to become Bush's trade czar.

Schmidt's campaign released Justice Department documents last week that show McEwen registered as a foreign agent for Eritrea's government in July 2004. The documents show he was paid $15,000 a month by the nation's Washington embassy. McEwen wrote on the form that he was to be the embassy's "public-relations counsel."

Campaign spokesman Allen Freeman said when he released the material that it shows McEwen was a lobbyist whose residence is not in Ohio's 2nd District, but in Fairfax Station, Va., a Washington suburb.

Since then, college students aligned with the Schmidt camp have picketed McEwen, and at least one of the signs noted the tie to Eritrea. And Tom Blumer, who operates the right-leaning Bizzyblog that has been supporting Schmidt, also has begun raising questions about the African nation's human rights record.

So far, it is unclear how much traction the issue may generate before the primary.
The State Department issued its latest report about international religious freedom last month and said Eritrea's "already poor record on freedom for minority religious groups continued to worsen."

It said Pentecostals, independent evangelical groups, reform movements within the Eritrean Orthodox Church, and Jehovah's Witnesses received the worst treatment.

Meanwhile, the agency's annual human rights review issued in February had this to say: "During the year, there were reports that several dozen followers of various non-sanctioned churches (mostly Protestant) were detained, harassed and abused."

For example, in February, authorities reportedly beat and arrested 12 members of the Full Gospel Church while they were praying in a private home.

A spokesman for the Eritrean Embassy in Washington did not return a call seeking comment.

McEwen said he was not aware of any religious persecution in Eritrea. He said he thought "they are primarily a Christian nation." He also accused Schmidt of dirty pool for releasing the records about his work for Eritrea.

"She will do or say anything she can to avoid discussing the issues," McEwen said.
Schmidt was booed off the House floor last November after a speech about the Iraq war that brought her national notoriety and earned her the nickname "Mean Jean." She ripped Rep. John Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat, with a comment that "cowards cut and run, Marines never do," then was forced to apologize.

This year, Schmidt also is contending with two complaints pending before the Ohio Elections Commission. One says she falsely claimed a college degree from the University of Cincinnati; the other says she posted bogus endorsements on her campaign Web site.