Monday, November 28, 2005

The Simple Life

After four years of college, two years of grad school, and a year plus extra of miscellaneous activities, I decided I’m going to live in America like I am a visitor. That’s right. I have to do something to make myself believe that every time I tell people, ‘yes, I plan to go back’, that I mean it. So, although I am nowhere near planning my trip back home, I am very much in the position to live up my tourist expectations. America, here I come.

My first trip was supposed to be to a Native American community (I figured I’d start with the real America), but I found out most Native Americans in this area have moved to Arizona. So, when my friend in Philly suggested that we visit Pennsylvania Dutch Country one Saturday, I was more than ready to take up the idea – only to find that my very dear friend, in her Africannnes, changed plans on me last minute. To make up for the disappointment, American style, I took off for my 3-day vacation to Amish land by myself. Well, I think I’m going to be here for 2 days, and a little bit of reflection and introverted moments never hurt anybody.

So what has come from my past day of contemplation – how can the Amish be satisfied with stagnation of human growth (Intellectual growth, that is)? On my drive down here I was wondering how we can justify the need for change and ‘modernization’ for the third world. Why is education necessarily ‘better’? If alternative means of farming other than dependency on seasonal rainfall can be developed, why is the are the worries of an Ethiopian farmer worse than the frustration I get from my cell phone breaking down? Why is does better have to be complicated?

Well, what I have found out so far is that their life has not really stagnated as writings about the Amsih would have one believe. The architecture of their buildings is no different than middle class America. Their furniture is definitely of much better quality than the furniture store near my apartment (at least what they have for sale for ‘outsiders’). They won’t own cars, but they’ll take rides. They cannot buy electricity, but they can generate it (oh, and they seems quite comfortable making use of hydropower and wind energy – its not rampant, but it’s there). At worst the Amish are taking a free ride on efforts by the rest of humanity, accepting what they need and rejecting the evils that facilitated the invention of their necessities. At best, the Amish are a living example of the excess humanity can shed ( I drove up here with my digital camera, iPod and accessories, and laptop which I powered up on my drive down so I could recharge my iPod, my cell phone, and of course, my car – surely I don’t need all this)

To be continued ....

Monday, June 13, 2005

Plain Idiocy

Ok. Two things are driving me nuts.

Is there a field in US politicians passport, or driver's licence, birth certificate that says:
Intellectual Level: Idiot.
One of the recent headlines reads, "US urges Ethiopian opposition parties to stop violence". Huh? Opossition parties have been denied access to mass media, their members have been harassed and put under house arrest, and so many days after the violence, finally what the US has to say is this? Ok. Maybe it's too much to ask for them to be honest. Why can't they at least know when to shut up?

The second thing is a statement by Hailu Shawl, after signing a 'peace' agreement with EPRDF. He proceeded to state the agreement was "not worth the paper it is written on". These people need a ton of political maturity. Mr. Hailu, if you don't think it's not worth it, then don't sign it. If you sign it, stick by it. Becase the more you hold out on things you've done, or things you say, the less the people will trust you (the less the people know what to trust) ...and guess what? That's exactly the same problem the people have with EPRDF. So what makes you better?

Finally, It seems two 'hibret'/UEDF members, including one who's a parliament-elect was ... killed? Ayeeee ....

News Blues

Is there a blues song for nothing happening? The wind has stopped, the sun's stuck in a lukewarm state and shedding leaves suspended mid air, no one is laughing, no one is crying. I'm sure there are others who feel otherwise, but me and my 17" monitor are feeling the nothing-happening news blues. (Maybe i should clarify, it's the I-can-t-believe-all-that-transpired and so-nothing-happens-now-? after shock).

So let me see if i have this straight. University students started a demonstration in a land where there's 'democracy', but not the right to assembly, and were consequently chased, harassed, shot down ...and those were still found to be standing were imprisoned. The poorer residents of Addis, who really can't afford to strike, (like the day laborers and merkato-ites) stood by the University students, feeling the wrath of the Agaazi (where does this word come from?), while Boleans (oh, Boleans!) took just about enough time to weather the worst of days in silence and rushed to their favorite cafe's at the earliest possible opportunity. (You may ask, quite appropriately, ’who are you to criticize, with your caramel frapuccino at hand?’ Point taken.)

So, now the opposition is signing an agreement to resolve the contested results at some 300 constituencies 'peacefully' (EPRDF is the one with guns ... is the opposition saying that they'll do their best not to get shot? Hard life it is to be the opposition). At some point there was news on preconditions set by the opposition, which demanded that the detained students also be released. And the EU (god damn the EU!) was trying to convince the opposition not to set any preconditions.

In conclusion: with the exception of the death of 20 something youths, who soon cease to mere statistics in Ethiopian history, nothing happened.

Correct me if I missed details.

Well, there are a lot of lessons to be learnt here and I don't think they were worth the death of all those people. One important lesson is: EPRDF is here to stay. NPR interviewed Donald Levine, a University of Chicago sociology Professor who has written books on Ethiopia (and ethnic federalism at that! Well, not EPRDF's version ... ) . He made a good point that the survival and success of the opposition will depend on its ability to beat EPRDF at its own game.

This view, by the way, is not new. When so much handwaving was being done by EPRDF and the opposition alike, supporters of the opposition were divided into two camps. Those who felt the opposition should lick its wounds, take what it has won so far (which, as EPRDF had not suspected it, is really quite a lot) and prepare for 2010 elections. Others felt it should fight it out ... to the end, where ever that 'end' was. I don't think i like this 'end' much.

The high and mighty road can only expose and hurt the opposition. Somebody should translate Long Walk to Freedom in Amharic.

There's one other interesting news that has been somewhat shadowed by EPRDF's killing spree. Addis Ababa has become Oromia's new capital city. I'm not quite sure what that means for CUD/UEDF, which have won all 23 seats in Addis Ababa, but I'm sure a lot of disagreements will ensue. EPRDF never ceases to amaze!

Friday, June 10, 2005

If only ...

I can't say much about the violence in Ethiopia. I'm .... speechless. A lot has been said by Ethiopians in Ethiopia, in the Diaspora and some goodwilling western journalists.

But did you see all those news articles pop up in BBC, Reuters, FT, CNN, AbcNews about the 20 dead in 'riots'? If only we knew all that it takes western media to pay attention was to kill 20 people, during the election it could have been arranged. But no! One of the worlds most troubled countries registering an 90% voter turnout was not entertaining enough.

Two questions come to my mind. One has been asked a lot, and I don't care to even attempt to answer it - why does the west enjoy news of misery and misery only so much? I truly believe this is a strictly western phenomenon. News in Ethiopia will happily cover great achievements in the west, even if the story is of some writer winning the Pulitzer Price for a novel on a gay couple (eh ... but just try to keep the 'gay' part of the story away from Ethiopians).

The second is a question that is asked less, but rests heavily on (or rather, is against) the first question - why do 'third world-ers' care whether the west is watching or reporting fairly? Time and again, during colonialism mwazema, colonialism mebacha and colonialism magist westerners have demonstrated that their only interest in Africa and elsewhere lies in the benefits they can get out of these locations. If the process of getting these benefits results in crushing and abusing the populations in these locations, then so be it. To justify their lack of respect for human life, they 'chronicled' the lives of these unfortunate beings as 'barbaric' and 'uncivilized'. (Maybe this is the answer to the first questions: the west is incapable of covering good news in Africa because it has never been in its culture. It may not PC to say it anymore, but the feeling of 'justifying' superiority is not banned, as evidenced in western media ... and so western media drums on with stories of war and massacre ... )

Why do we hang on to the hope that west will ever like to hear anything better than us killing each other? I'm confused. The majority of us, especially those with regular access to western media and living in the west, and still interested in our places of origin, seem to be dissatisfied with the leadership back home (why else would we be here?) So technically, the unbalanced bad news coverage should be a good thing (especially if these ludicrous institutions like the UN and World Bank, whose blessings our leaders so heavily rely on, would take action based on these reports. )

I am left to think that the biased news coverage makes us feel like a teenager, sent naked to high school by his destitute parents who can't afford to buy him clothes, but they cant afford to have him not educated either. The news reports are as if every morning we start our days in the west with stories that make us cringe while western onlookers, if they have bothered to read the news at all, give us glances as if to say, 'poor thing, I'm glad we're civilized enough to give you shelter. What a wretched people and such a wretched place you come from'. And at that moment even we are made to forget all the good things we cherish about ourselves. The trials and tribulations of our predecessors to get us to where we are now is forgotten. Who is Menilik, what kingdom of Harar, what King of Wolaytta and which Zere Yaqob?

On our way to work, we make a quick stop to huddle with the crowd in Starbucks and pick up another cup of the over-roasted, badly brewed coffee (bought at a price that might as well be considered stealing from Ethiopian and other poor farmers around the world) whose bad taste is covered up by excessive whipped cream and caramel. And through lapping our grande Caramel Frapuccino , we achieve a sense of belonging and equality . Another day in the west has started for an African. Wey abol! wey tona! wey bereka! ...

sew be'Ageru, sew beWenzu
bibela sar, bibela meqmeqo
yikeber yelem woy sewinetu tawqo?
Why are we so obsessed with the west seeing the other side? Live and let leave.

Thursday, May 19, 2005


"The secret is in yourself
The secret is in your pain "

That's the answer, to THE QUESTION in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. They invented Earth to find the answer from ... drum roll .... U2!

I went to their concert in E Rutherford today. Wow! My favorite part was, of course, when the background was lighted with green drapes, with red maps of Africa in the middle, foreground drapes with flashing flags of mostly countries in Africa, and some in Asia and others. Bono said a few words about Africa. There must have been exactly 4 black people in the entire place :) But ah, it was some good music, and some good inspiring words. What can I say - One!

The elections! Things have gotten more confusing with the opposition also claiming to have won. Or at least predicting that they will win. Initially we thought EPRDF was claiming a landslide win because the news was flooded by the oppositions victory in the urban areas. The opposition gets the cities, EPRDF gets rural areas. It sounded like a believable deal, a balancing act. The EU slammed EPRDF for announcing unconfirmed wins too early. The opposition whined. But we actually believed that EPRDF was winning. That was Tuesday.

Come Wednesday morning, EST, the opposition claims victory. Ok. Be careful what you wish, for it may come true. I can easily applaud damaging EPRDF's control of the parliament. I cannot, however, wish for a sweeping win by the opposition. It's a bit too early. Meles and company fought a bit too hard, too long to give it up so quickly. The opposition winning in the polls is almost asking for some sort of violence. I'd like to think that Meles would probably go for it and hand over the government. He has a reputation to upkeep. Plus he does have traits of a decent guy ... sometimes. But he's surrounded by trigger happy, short sighted, power loving ... idiots, for most part. Who's to say they'll consider life after a loss.

It's getting frustrating to read Ethiopian news. Lots of conspiracy theories flying around. Some are so outrageous, it's amazing to see adults considering them news worthy. I guess nothing official has come out yet, so some people will hang on to whatever is available.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Western Media

Western media is hungry for misery in Africa. I've been watching the progression of news development in Africa and their lack of interest in Ethiopia is disturbing. New York Times is yet to acknowledge that any elections are happening in Ethiopia at all. BBC finally put the statement from the ruling party claiming that they've a landslide victory on the front of their Africa news page. The whole of yesterday they had some horrid news about some gunmen and government officials being taken to court. On CNN you have to dig in some 10 pages before you find anything on Ethiopia.

Look, I understand. It could be that Ethiopia is a useless country, as far as the needs of the West are concerned. But again, considering it has the 3rd highest population in Africa, and is the core of stability in Eastern Africa, one would think that these so called journalists would show face to throw in a few miserly comments.

Perhaps I'm complaining in vain. It's so hard to troubleshoot the perspective of the west anyway. They've been hanging on to every word of the observers, telling us that the elections have been fair. I just read unconfirmed reports from Ethiopia saying that the observers are being fickle. One man mentioned that Jimmy Carter showed up at his station for 5 minutes. The Ethiopians' reaction to them was, "iyetazebachihun new? iNam iyetazebnachu new." Playing ...sem'na worq on election day, I guess :)

Monday, May 16, 2005

I guess this will be a blog for random things Ethiopian, African, and American. In that order.