Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Oromo in Egypt: Why Have 11,000 Ethiopians Fled Their Homeland? | Egyptian Streets

Students watch a movie being projected in the playground
Students watch a movie being projected in the playground of the African Hope Learning Center. Photo: Marwa Abdallah
A couple of weeks ago, a video that made the rounds on social media showed an Egyptian man chanting during an Oromo conference in Egypt that the Oromo will get their rights and come to power in Ethiopia.The video resulted in minor disturbances in the otherwise stable Egyptian-Ethiopian relations for a few days, with a spokesman from the Ethiopian government accusing “elements” in Egypt of financing, arming and training armed groups in Ethiopia to undermine the government.
Egyptian authorities swiftly denied all such accusations, reiterating its full support and respect of Ethiopia’s sovereignty.
Although the rift was short-lived and has since been forgotten, it is a fact that the presence of the Oromo people in Egypt has been increasing as of late.The Oromo are the single largest ethno-national group in northeast Africa. In Ethiopia, they are estimated to comprise 50 million out of the country’s total population of 100 million.
Although the Oromo group is the largest among the country’s 80 ethno-national groups, it is the most oppressed group in Ethiopia and is subjected to torture and arrests from the government for demanding their rights.
Among the Oromo community, the majority is Christian, while Muslims represent an almost equal percentage of the community. Muslims, Christians and individuals of other religions living together in harmony without any discrimination within Oromia territory.
Since the Ethiopian government decided to implement the so-called “Integrated Addis Ababa Master Plan” to expand the Ethiopian capital, which is classified as one of the capital cities witnessing the greatest growth, it started dislocating the Oromo people from their farms without giving proper compensations.
Oromo demonstrations surfaced in Ginchi – about 80 kilometers southwest of the capital – in November 2015, with the Oromo protesting against the selling of the nearby Chilimongo forest, land seizures and the ongoing evictions of Oromo farmers.
Human Rights Watch accused Ethiopian security forces of killing 400 people during the protests. The chaos from the protests resulted in the imposition of martial law in the country, which remains under effect until this moment.
Last August, the Oromo and Amhara groups – which, together, form 80% of Ethiopia’s population – protested against the government for marginalizing the two groups, depriving them of their rights and barring them from holding top positions in the country.
Clashes during the protest resulted in the death of seven protestors who were calling for the release of political prisoners, freedom of expression and an end to human rights violations.
The Ethiopian authorities’ violations against the Oromo people have pushed many of the latter to flee the country, with some of them seeking refuge in Egypt.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Egypt, there were 11,192 Ethiopian asylum seekers in Egypt as of September. The number increased noticeably after the clashes between the Oromo and the Ethiopian authorities.
“Of course there’s a significant increase in numbers of Ethiopian refugees,” Tarek Argaz, a media official at UNHCR, told Egyptian Streets. “Since a year and a half, the number of asylum seekers was around 5,000.”
“The reason behind the increased flow of Ethiopian refugees to Egypt is that the Ethiopian authorities can’t arrest us here,” said 25-year-old Abdi Boushra, Director of the Oromo Volunteering Association School in the upscale Cairo neighborhood of Maadi.
Boushra says he fled Ethiopia after being detained for a year after being accused of being a member of the Oromo Liberation Front, an armed group that is outlawed by the Ethiopian government.
“You’ll be oppressed just for being an Oromo; I was a teacher and I was telling students how to protest peacefully against what our territory is facing and the violations the government made,” Boushra told Egyptian Streets.
“I got arrested for a year. Then I fled from Ethiopia to Sudan. I’m like many people who fled from Sudan to Egypt by smugglers through the desert. We paid around USD 300 to reach Egypt.”
Boushra says he spent three months in Sudan but described his time there as a “nightmare,” saying that Sudanese authorities extradite asylum seekers back to Ethiopia.
“If we went there, we will be killed,” Boushra says. “We never imagined to live in Egypt before because of the different culture and language but we come here to feel safe.”
Ashraf Melad, a lawyer and researcher on refugee affairs, described the legal situation of Ethiopian refugees in Egypt.
“The 2014 Egyptian constitution insisted to protect any asylum seeker but there’s no refugee law in Egypt. Egypt is only permitting asylum seekers to live on its land,” Melad told Egyptian Streets. “In case of committing crimes, the Minister of Foreign Affairs alerts the country of the asylum seeker who committed the crime.
“In [Sudan’s case], there’s an implicit convention between the Sudanese and Ethiopian governments of extraditing Ethiopian opposition and asylum seekers. It’s a deal which had no place in Egyptian-Ethiopian relations,” Melad added.
“The UNHCR is keen on giving each refugee his right and make sure that he deserves our help. We decreased the period for discussing the papers of people who seek asylum after they got the yellow card to live legally in Egypt from 28 months to 16 months to accept him as a refugee or not,” UNHCR’s Argaz said. “I consider this as an achievement because we have an increasing flow and a limited budget.”
Noura Mohamed, a house maid who fled from the conflict in Oromia with her 14-year-old son, resorted to smugglers to help her make her way to Egypt through Sudan, like many other Ethiopians fleeing their country.
“The [situation] in Oromia was unbearable. The security comes to arrest you in your home just for being Oromo,” Mohamed told Egyptian Streets. “The government killed my father during clashes.”
Mohamed says that, after working as a maid in Kuwait, she returned to Ethiopia, where she and her husband were detained for demonstrating “and for being an Oromo citizen in the first place.”
Mohamed was released after three months, while her husband is currently still in prison in Ethiopia.
“I wanted to bring up my only son, so I decided to flee no matter what will happen; there’s nothing worse than what we experienced,” Mohamed says.
However, she says that she is struggling in Egypt, where her monthly salary is EGP 1,500 but her rent is EGP 1,000 per month.
“The UNHCR gives me EGP 1,050 in annual expenses for my son but of course this isn’t enough,” she says.
To add to Mohamed’s woes, schools are not accessible to many asylum seekers in Egypt, making it difficult for her to secure an education for her son.
“Asylum seekers have no right to [enroll] their children in Egyptian schools; there are schools for refugees but we noticed that many Oromo children evade these schools because they’re irrelevant to their identity and language,” Boushra says.
In an attempt to address this issue, Boushra says that the community decided to establish a school to teach Oromo children the Oromo language, as well as English, Arabic and other subjects such as math and science.
“We are working in the school as volunteers and there are no fees for children,” Boushra says, adding that the school currently has 150 students but remains free of the supervision of any educational authority.
The school was established in hopes of helping the Oromo people in Egypt maintain their identity as they work to integrate themselves into the society as a whole.
While a number of Ethiopian refugees say they don’t face racism or ethnic discrimination in Egypt, seeking refuge in Egypt is not without its challenges.

Everyday, many refugees who enter Egypt illegally gather in front of the UNHCR headquarters in the 6th of October satellite city, waiting for their turn to be accepted as asylum seekers and begin integrating themselves in Egyptian society.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Ethiopia lacks a model of leadership - Opinion - Jerusalem Post

In January, 2016, Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom was nominated as Africa’s candidate for director general of the UN World Health Organization.

Just this past week, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg was named global ambassador for noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) by the WHO, a position in which he will serve under whoever is ultimately appointed as the WHO’s director general. While Bloomberg, with his impeccable record of public health advocacy and international philanthropy, is clearly over-qualified for this role, what frightens me is the potential appointment of Adhanom as his superior. A rudimentary comparison of these two men’s records highlights the latter’s extreme unfitness for the office he seeks to assume and the absurdity of his even being considered.
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During his unprecedented three-term tenure, mayor Bloomberg took direct control of the troubled New York City school system and oversaw a marked increase in children’s test scores; he banned smoking in restaurants, bars, parks and other indoor and outdoor public arenas; he partnered with and empowered citizens of the city by calling upon them to notify authorities of suspicious happenings they observed; he established a comprehensive information hotline that provides vital factual data to city dwellers and visitors in more than 170 languages; he banned trans-fats and mandated the posting of calorie counts in New York restaurants, measures that have since been adopted in major cities throughout the nation toward combating rising obesity rates in both adults and children; he used his own private funds to pay for a Super Bowl ad promoting stricter gun control.

And this is a mere sampling of his contributions to the quality of life of the people he governed. Now that his terms as mayor have ended, he has expanded his health, well-being and justice initiatives to the broader global community and continues to work tirelessly, and to donate generously, to promote causes at the core of human flourishing.

No model of leadership could be more divergent from Bloomberg’s than the one Ethiopian Foreign Minister Adhanom, along with his political associates, represents. The current Ethiopian government is widely recognized as a criminally organized group with high rates of human rights abuses. According to The New York Times and Human Rights Watch, tens of thousands of peaceful protesters against the government have been incarcerated, and over 700 have been killed, in recent months. The Ethiopian athlete Feyisa Lilesa made a powerful public gesture in solidarity with his oppressed countrymen at the Summer Olympics in Rio last month and was warned not to return home afterward.

The International Committee to Protect Journalists reports that Ethiopia is among Africa’s leading jailers of journalists and has destroyed its own independent civil society. The UN Commissioner for Human Rights has requested an independent evaluation of the deaths of hundreds of peaceful civilian protesters in recent months at the hands of the Ethiopian army. However, Foreign Minister Adhanom and his government have refused external evaluation of human rights abuses complained of by large numbers of citizens.

THE LOCAL independent Ethiopian citizens’ news agencies are reporting outside the country that there is a huge popular mobilization against the government.

The local citizens are demonstrating peacefully, with the following complaints: that the government is killing them indiscriminately and robbing the country of power and economic resources, which are being funneled to one small, elite tribal group (known as the Tgria Peoples Liberation Front), and that their land is being sold to the Tgrian tribe, or that this tribe is selling their land to foreign investors.

On the day that the athlete Lilesa showed his support at the Olympics in Rio, there was a demonstration planned in the capital city of Addis Ababa, but the government deployed military force to put down the peaceful citizens who organized it. Only Lilesa could make his statement, safely insulated, for the moment, from the army’s threatened violence, by a couple thousand miles.

His fellow citizens at home were not so fortunate. Just this past week, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn announced on national television that all military personnel would be ordered to open fire on peaceful demonstrators, which, on the first day following, resulted in dozens of civilian deaths.

Britain Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond recently warned, in a meeting with Adhanom, that Ethiopia’s “repeated failure to deliver on our basic requests” regarding an Ethiopian-born English citizen being held on death row simply because he is the opposition party leader had led him be begin “looking carefully at the bilateral relationship” between the two nations. This is yet another example of the current Ethiopian government’s pervasive corruption and lawlessness.

As a chief agent of this depraved, bloody government body, how can Adhanom be considered as a prospective director general of the WHO? How does his candidacy reflect on the WHO itself, or, more broadly, the UN’s role as the world’s moral anchor and arbiter? Clearly, there is no just way forward but for the UN to investigate the current Ethiopian government’s reported abuses and to renounce the candidacy of its foreign minister for the position he seeks at the WHO.

It is perhaps in the values that underlie the actions of Bloomberg and Adhanom, respectively, that the starkest contrast between these two men might be drawn. Bloomberg has often been quoted as saying, “The thing about great wealth is that you can’t take it with you,” by way of explaining why he is choosing to give so much of his private fortune away – a total of $4.3 billion thus far, including $510 million distributed by his philanthropies in 2015 alone. Adhanom, on the other hand, is a prominent member of the Ethiopian government whose former leader, Meles Zenawi (the man who appointed Adhanom to his position), had a reported net worth of over $3b., having amassed this amount entirely during his years in office.

He took power in 1991 with an officially listed salary of $220 per month, and had no private financial resources to his name at that point. Today, all the top leaders of the TPLF are billionaires, though their nation remains an impoverished member of the Third World. Sadly, the source of these leaders’ newfound wealth is not too hard to surmise.

I have lived, for years, under the governance of both mayor Bloomberg and Finance Minister Adhanom and can thus attest, on a personal level, to the disparate impact of their leadership on the people they’ve ruled. I know, first hand, what it has been like to live under the policies of Bloomberg’s and Adhanom’s administrations, and how each has affected the daily life of his constituency.

More than all the facts and figures I have cited above, these real-life, on-the-ground experiences have shaped my conviction that Adhanom and his cronies must go if my native land is ever to prosper as my adopted city has in the past few decades. The WHO’s recent appointments, within the broader context of rising unrest in Ethiopia, where my family resides, and my own relatively secure life in New York, have brought this realization home to me as never before. I can only hope that the world will begin to see things in kind.

The author, a social activist on behalf of the Ethiopian Jewish community, served in the Israel Police. He holds a master’s degree in community leadership and philanthropy from Hebrew University and is currently pursuing a doctorate in educational leadership and administration, while studying for rabbinic ordination.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

'Foreign firms attacked' as Ethiopia protests continue - News from Al Jazeera

Horn of Africa nation has seen months of protests during which rights groups say security forces have killed hundreds.

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Oromos have long complained of marginalisation by the government [Tiksa Negeri/Reuters]

Protesters in Ethiopia have attacked foreign businesses, according to the owners of a flower firm, as demonstrations in which rights groups say hundreds of people have been killed continued.
The Dutch company said crowds of people in the Oromia and Amhara regions torched flower farms as they targeted businesses with perceived links to the government. Flowers are one of the country's top exports.
The Esmeralda Farms statement came after weeks of escalating protests that started among the Oromo, Ethiopia's biggest ethnic group, and later spread to the Amhara, the second most populous group. 
Both groups of protesters are demanding more political and economic rights, and say that a ruling coalition is dominated by the Tigrayan ethnic group, which makes up about 6 percent of the population.
According to the New York-based Human Rights Watch group, security forces have killed at least 500 people since the unrest began in November and thousands of people have been arrested.
The government has denied that violence from the security forces is "systemic" and pledged to launch an independent investigation, blaming opposition groups inside and outside of the country and what it called "anti-peace" elements for the chaos.  
Esmeralda Farms said its 10 million euro ($11.1m) investment went up in smoke this week in Bahir Dar city and that several other horticulture companies were also affected.

Remco Bergkamp, assistant manager at Esmeralda Farms in the Netherlands, told Al Jazeera that the company would probably leave Ethiopia, rather than rebuild the farm.
"The situation is not stable enough to run a business. You just don’t know where the country is headed," Bergkamp told Al Jazeera.
Ethiopia has seen sustained economic growth in recent years and the government has been keen to attract foreign investors, often offering attractive incentives to firms who want to do business there. 
Government opponents, though, say the country's poorest have seen little benefit from the investment.
"The government sent security forces to protect the farm. Eventually the group of protesters grew so large that the soldiers were forced to flee and the property was torched," Bergkamp said. 
"One of our Ethiopian staff members was wounded in the attack."
Protests in Oromia started in November last year when the government announced a plan to expand the capital - a city state - into the surrounding Oromia region.

Many Oromos saw that as a plan to remove them from fertile land. The scheme has since been dropped but the unrest spread as demonstrators called for the release of prisoners and for wider freedoms. 
In the Amhara region, demonstrations began over the status of a district - Wolkait - that was once part of Amhara but was incorporated into the neighbouring Tigrayan region more than 20 years ago. Those demonstrations have also since widened.
The governing Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front last month rejected a United Nations request that it send in observers, saying it alone was responsible for the security of its citizens.
The government, a close security ally of the West, is often accused of silencing dissent, even blocking internet access at times. At elections last year, it won every seat in the 547-seat parliament.
Source: Al Jazeera News and agencies

Saturday, August 13, 2016

America’s complicity in Ethiopia’s horrors - The Washington Post

Regarding the Aug. 10 editorial “Ethiopia’s violent silencing”:
It is true that, as the editorial board put it, “the United States has long relied on Ethiopia as a partner in the fight against al-Shabab’s terrorism in Somalia and sends the country tens of millions of dollars in development assistance.” But this characterization, which substantially underestimates the amount of aid we devote to propping up this tyranny, implies that we’re at least getting something in return for turning a blind eye to its crimes against humanity.
In fact, when one considers that the regime’s leaders are faking their claims of economic success, covering upthe extent of the biggest famine in the country’s history, secretly trading with al-Shabab, embezzling $2 billion every year, enforcing policies that have killed millions of their citizens through neglect and malfeasance, and have perpetrated outright genocide, it becomes clear that we’ve gained nothing that could justify our shameful complicity in this holocaust. Our policy is a strategic failure and a moral stain that history will judge harshly.
David Steinman, New York
The writer is an adviser to

Ethiopia’s democracy movement

Friday, August 12, 2016

‘A Generation Is Protesting’ in Ethiopia, Long a U.S. Ally - The New York Times


Violent Protests in Ethiopia

Demonstrators demanding political change in Ethiopia have been met with violent resistance by the government. Witnesses say that scores of protesters have been fatally shot during clashes with police.
 By Neeti Upadhye on Publish DateAugust 12, 2016. Photo by Tiksa Negeri/Reuters. Watch in Times Video »

Is Ethiopia about to crack?
For the last decade, it has been one of Africa’s most stable nations, a solidWestern ally with a fast-growing economy. But in recent months, antigovernment protests have convulsed the country, spreading into more and more areas. In the last week alone, thousands of people stormed into the streets, demanding fundamental political change.
The government’s response, according to human rights groups, was ruthless. Witnesses said that police officers shot and killed scores of unarmed demonstrators. Videos circulating from protests thought to be from late last year or earlier this year show security officers whipping young people with sticks as they are forced to perform handstands against a wall. The top United Nations human rights official is now calling for a thorough investigation.
“It was always difficult holding this country together, and moving forward, it will be even harder,” said Rashid Abdi, the Horn of Africa project director for the International Crisis Group, a research organization.
Ethiopia is the second most populous nation in Africa, after Nigeria, and its stability is cherished by the West. American military and intelligence services work closely with the Ethiopians to combat terrorist threats across the region, especially in Somalia, and few if any countries in Africa receive as much Western aid.
Ethiopia’s economy has been expanding at an impressive clip. Its infrastructure has improved drastically — there is even a new commuter train in the capital, Addis Ababa. And its streets are typically quiet, safe and clean. Though Ethiopia has hardly been a paragon of democracy — human rights groups have constantly cited the government’s repressiveness — opposition within the country had been limited, with dissidents effectively silenced. Many have been exiled, jailed, killed or driven to the far reaches of the desert.
But that may be changing.
“If you suffocate people and they don’t have any other options but to protest, it breaks out,” said Seyoum Teshome, a university lecturer in central Ethiopia. “The whole youth is protesting. A generation is protesting.”
The complaints are many, covering everything from land use to the governing coalition’s stranglehold on power. After a widely criticized election last year, the governing party and its allies got the last seat the opposition had held and now control 100 percent of Parliament. At the same time, tensions are rising along the border with Eritrea; a battle along that jagged, disputed line claimed hundreds of lives in June.
Analysts fear that separatist groups that had been more or less vanquished in recent years, like the Oromo Liberation Front or the Ogaden National Liberation Front, may try to exploit the turbulence and rearm.
Several factors explain why bitter feelings, after years of simmering beneath the surface, are exploding now.
The first is seemingly innocuous: smartphones.
Only in the last couple of years have large numbers of Ethiopians been able to communicate using social media as cheaper smartphones became common and internet service improves. Even when the government shuts down access to Facebook and Twitter, as it frequently does, especially during protests, many people are still able to communicate via internet proxies that mask where they are. Several young Ethiopians said this was how they gathered for protests.
Second, there is more solidarity between Oromos and Amharas, Ethiopia’s two largest ethnic groups. Oromos and Amharas are not natural allies. For eons, Amharas from Ethiopia’s predominantly Christian highlands flourished in politics and business, exploiting the Oromos, many of whom are Muslim and live in lowland areas.
But that is changing as well.
“We are on the way to coordinate under one umbrella,” said Mulatu Gemechu, an Oromo leader.
The biggest protests have been in Amhara and Oromo areas. Many Amharas and Oromos feel Ethiopia is unfairly dominated by members of the Tigrayan ethnic group, which makes up about 6 percent of the population and dominates the military, the intelligence services, commerce and politics.
The third reason behind the unrest is the loss of Meles Zenawi.
Mr. Meles, a former rebel leader, was Ethiopia’s prime minister for 17 years, until his death from an undisclosed illness in 2012. He was considered a tactical genius, a man who could see around corners. Analysts say he was especially adept at detecting early signals of discontent and using emissaries to massage and defang opponents.
“The current regime lacks that ground savvy,” Mr. Abdi, the conflict analyst, said.
Ethiopia’s new prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, was plucked from relative obscurity to fill Mr. Meles’s shoes. Unlike Mr. Meles, who came from the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, Mr. Hailemariam is a southerner. Analysts say he does not have the trust of the Tigrayan-controlled security services.
The result, many fear, is more bloodshed. The last time Ethiopia experienced such turmoil was in 2005, after thousands protested over what analysts have said appeared to be an election the government bungled and then stole. In the ensuing crackdown, many protesters were killed, though fewer than in recent months, and that period of unrest passed relatively quickly.
Development experts have praised Ethiopia’s leaders for visionary infrastructure planning, such as the new commuter train, and measurable strides in fighting poverty. But clearly that has not stopped the internal resentment of Ethiopia’s government from intensifying. And it is taking a dangerous ethnic shape.
Last month, protesters in Gondar, an Amhara town, attacked businesses owned by Tigrayans, and anti-Tigrayan hatred is becoming more common in social media.
Analysts say the protests are putting the United States and other Western allies in an awkward position. The American government has used Ethiopia as a base for drone flights over neighboring Somalia, though it recently said it had closed that base.
While the West clearly wants to support democracy, it also does not want its ally in an already volatile region to crumble.
“That,” Mr. Abdi said, “is a very tight rope to walk.”