Africa News blog

African business, politics and lifestyle

Do Ethiopia’s politicians mean it on democracy?

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On the evening of the 20th of March 1878, Ethiopia’s two great rivals, Emperors Yohannes IV and Menelik II, came face-to-face to thrash out their differences.

As the two men met for the first time, traditional Ethiopian singers are said to have sang “A road that is perilous is far / you have to climb and then descend.”

Ethiopia’s journey since then has certainly been perilous.

It has been marked by great heights like the defeat of Italy’s colonialist army at the battle of Adwa in 1895. And devastating lows such as the 1984 famine that killed more than 1 million people and brought the country long-lasting notoriety.

The huge nation is again heading into interesting times.

This week the government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi agreed a code of conduct for next May’s national elections with three opposition parties — two of which are dismissed by opponents as ruling party satellites.

The African brain drain

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          Africans living in the United States are twice as likely to graduate from college as the average American.These African students often come from families who value education as a way to get on in life and place a high value on working and studying hard.Sara Tsegaye, a straight-A student at UCLA, is one example of that success. Her parents fled Ethiopia in the late 1980s, first to Sudan and then, when Sara was one year old, they moved to San Jose, California.Sara’s father works on a mobile ice cream truck in San Jose and her mother used to be a factory worker before she got laid off.”We manage to pay for school because I’ve been working since I was 11,” Sara told Reuters Africa Journal. “I’ve been working with my dad on his ice cream truck, he’s been paying me and I’ve been saving the money. Also I had two jobs in high school and I saved up a lot of money. I understand the value of money.”Sara wants to work with an NGO or a non-profit organisation after she graduates. She wants to travel and she wants to make a difference in the world. Other African students say they want to go home once they get a bit of experience in their careers.But Africa is suffering from a massive brain drain just now and it’s questionable whether enough of those highly motivated students from America will return home in large enough numbers to really make a difference.

Why is the West still feeding Ethiopia?

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It has now been 25 years since more than 1 million Ethiopians died as those of us lucky enough to live in the rich world sat transfixed in front of our television screens. The horrible suffering brought with it the biggest outpouring of charity ever seen as governments and ordinary people dug deep to stop it.

But a quarter of a century on foreigners are still feeding a huge number of Ethiopians. The Ethiopian government says poor rains mean 6.2 million of its people need food aid this year and has asked the international community to provide it.

Aid – a new model?

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A project in Ethiopia that helps destitute women become self-reliant by providing them with paid employment has attracted a lot of attention from politicians visiting Addis Ababa for an international get-together.

Alem Abebe is a 14-year-old girl who left home three years ago and made her way to the capital. She now earns 50 US cents a day working at the Abebech Gobena project in one of the city’s slums. It’s not enough to send money home, but enough to survive — and to pay for night school.

Will Ethiopia’s PM step down?

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They say that the foundation of a good retirement is planning. By that measure, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi should have his rest period well laid out. The rebel-turned-leader has been saying he wants to step aside for almost two years now.

But after 18 years at the helm of one of the world’s poorest countries the 54-year-old is still in power and says he is trapped by the wishes of his ruling party. They will discuss his desire to retire at an executive committee meeting next month and a September congress would give him the opportunity to ask the party for his twilight years.

Eritrea and Somalia: did they or didn’t they?

 As Somalia goes up in flames again , fingers are being pointed at Eritrea for its alleged role in fuelling the conflict.  East African regional body IGAD and the continent-wide African Union have both called for sanctions on Eritrea – including a no-fly zone and blockade of its ports – for allegedly supplying arms and equipment to Al Shabaab and other militant Islamist insurgents fighting Somalia’s interim government.The accusations have been around for years, and have surfaced in U.N. reports on breaches of a weapons embargo for Somalia. Asmara says its arch-enemy Ethiopia is driving the accusations, helped by CIA agents in the region, and denies it has given any material aid despite its antipathy towards President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed’s government.Asmara says the government, formed in January during a U.N.-brokered process in Djibouti, is an illegitimate administration imposed by foreign powers. It challenges its critics to produce hard evidence, and says the accusations are particularly hypocritical given Ethiopia’s recent armed intervention in Somalia.Analysts say the spat plays into the wider, unfinished conflict in the region between Ethiopia and Eritrea. They fought a border war between 1998-2000 – just a few years after Eritrea won its independence from Ethiopia – and their armies still face each other, while the governments spit enmity between them. So who is right? How can the rest of the world know the truth? What should Eritrea and Ethiopia both do to further peace in Somalia?

“So, how’s that ear coming along?”

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Journalists covering African countries rarely get involved in the sort of celebrity circus so common for those working elsewhere. But the Ethiopian presspack got a window into a different world when boxing legend Evander Holyfield rolled into Addis Ababa.

Decked out in a green safari suit and propping up the bar in one of the city’s plusher hotels the four-time heavyweight world champion happily posed for photos with locals and was the focus of attention for a gaggle of Ethiopia’s famously beautiful women.

Does Africa need Bono and Geldof?

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“Ireland,” I answered the taxi-driver’s question when I first went to Ethiopia in 2006.

“You know … Bob Geldof, Bono?”, I continued, confident he would recognise me as a countryman of the two rockers who many Westerners think fed the world during the 1980s.

What is the truth behind Ethiopia’s “coup” plot?

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A plot is defined as “a plan made in secret”, but even by the usual shadowy nature of such matters around Africa, the recent conspiracy to overthrow the Ethiopian government has been hard to see clearly.

The story broke two weeks ago when the government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said 40 men had been arrested for planning a coup after police found guns, bombs and “written strategies” at their homes. But a few days later the government communication office was asking journalists not to use the word coup anymore. The “desperados”, they said, had planned to “overthrow” the government by using assassinations and bombings to create enough chaos to get supporters on the streets to topple the government.

Is African film industry losing its light?

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Something isn’t sitting quite right at this year’s fantastic, dust-filled pan-African FESPACO film festival.

For a start, it’s less “pan-African” than it might be: of 19 feature films competing for the shiny statue of Princess Yennenga riding her golden stallion — Africa’s very own Oscar — only one is from east Africa and none from Nigeria, whose video industry is third only to Hollywood and India’s Bollywood. By far the majority are from French-speaking countries.

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