Ethiopia: it is time to stop the reign of terror of the Liyu Police
June 29, 2016 | 0 Comments
By Ali Mohamed*
WHAT’S BEHIND ETHIOPIA AND ERITREA’S BORDER CLASH?
June 28, 2016 | 0 Comments
International attention is focused on Brexit, the resulting turmoil in the international financial markets, and the resignation of U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron. There is the risk of overlooking a dangerous confrontation between Ethiopia and Eritrea that could lead to war and further destabilize the Horn of Africa.
The border war Eritrea and Ethiopia fought against each other from 1998-2000 left approximately 80,000 dead. The war over claims to border towns was largely due to cultural and historical differences between the two states in the aftermath of Eritrea’s independence from Ethiopia. The disputed border towns had no significant economic value, with the fight once described as “two bald men fighting over a comb.” After a final attack by Ethiopia, the war came to a halt, and the two countries signed the Algiers Agreement to implement a ceasefire.
The Algiers Agreement was the vehicle for establishing an independent adjudicator titled the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC). Both countries agreed to accept the decision of the EEBC. The EEBC ruled in favor of Eritrea’s claim over the main border town; Ethiopia was unsatisfied with the decision and requested a political dialogue before withdrawing from the disputed territory. The disputed territory thereupon became in effect a buffer zone between Ethiopia and Eritrea with sporadic skirmishes over the past sixteen years, until Sunday’s significantly larger clash.
What could have caused the recent clash to occur, as either country has little to benefit from a renewed conflict?
Ethiopia’s Information Minister, Getachew Reda, has speculated that the attack came from Eritrea to divert attention away from a new U.N. report that claims Eritrea is guilty of crimes against humanity, including indefinite forced conscription. Reda’s comments also insinuate Eritrea initiated the border incident to legitimize its need for mass conscripts and to win enhanced domestic support. In a similar vein, Eritrea’s Ambassador to Kenya, Beyene Russom, alleged the attack came from Ethiopia in hopes of taking advantage of the negative spotlight focused on Eritrea from the U.N. report. Ambassador Russom has denounced the U.N. report as false. In addition, Eritrean Presidential Advisor Yemane Ghebreab told the U.N. Human Rights Council that Ethiopia is preparing to start a full scale war. In fact, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn has recently stated publicly several times that he was prepared to use military force against Eritrea in response to its “provocations.”
Investigation of the clash is still underway. Ambassador Russom has acknowledged that satellite imaging could help identify the initiator of the clash, as any large-scale motion of military equipment would be observed. Eritrea has requested the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to intervene to prevent escalation of the border conflict and to initiate dialogue.
What is clear is that little, if any, would be gained by either country from continued escalation of conflict. Ethiopia’s current administration is proud of the growth of Ethiopia’s economy over the past fifteen years. Part of Ethiopia’s growth strategy is attracting additional international investors, which renewed conflict would undermine. On the other hand, many in the Ethiopian political class have never really accepted Eritrea’s independence from Ethiopia. As for Eritrea, it currently faces a loss of youth fleeing the country: Eritreans account for a sizable percentage of refugees arriving in Europe. The hemorrhaging of the youth would likely escalate if a border war were to restart. The Eritrean government appears to wish to avoid a renewed border war.
Eritrea’s approach to the UNSC indicates Asmara’s willingness to work for a diplomatic resolution. The sooner communication and dialogue is started, the better. Even in the aftermath of Brexit, Washington needs to keep this potentially nasty conflict on its radar screen.
*Newsweek.This piece has been co-authored by John Campbell and Nathan Birhanu. Campbell is the Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in New York. Birhanu is an intern for the CFR Africa Studies program and a graduate of Fordham University’s Graduate Program in International Political Economy & Development.
Who should pay for African peacekeeping?
June 26, 2016 | 0 Comments
The problem for African peacekeeping is not so much where to find the boots to put on the ground, but how to pay for them – not to mention the helicopters, intelligence-gathering and technology crucial to conducting modern military operations and dealing with the new security threats on the horizon.
Since 2002, none of the five African Union peace operations have been financed through the AU’s Peace Fund, except for an allocation of $50 million for the African-led International Support Mission to Mali in 2013. The slogan of ‘African solutions for African problems’ falls a little flat when financing mainly comes from the European Union, individual European donors, and the United States.
But an AU summit at the end of July in the Rwandan capital Kigali hopes to change all that. African leaders are going to try to agree on a roadmap of alternative financing for AU-led peace support operations.
The meeting will explore innovative approaches – taxes on hotels, flights, text messaging, even a percentage of import duties – to self-generate 25 percent of peacekeeping costs by 2020: a significant step forward. The AU hopes that level of commitment would persuade the UN to cover the remaining 75 percent.
What happens now?
The AU wants to make funding sustainable and predictable. At the moment it’s neither. More than 90 percent of the AU’s peace and security budget is financed through the EU’s African Peace Facility. Since the APF was established in 2004, the EU has committed more than €1.1 billion.
But what is given can also be withheld. At the beginning of the year, the EU cut its allocation to the allowances of the 22,000-strong African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) by 20 percent. The reasoning: there were other “competing priorities in Africa and the world in general”, including the need to shift resources into training the Somali National Army.
AMISOM, which has battled the al-Shabab insurgency for nine years, currently absorbs more than 85 percent of APF spending. The UN also provides a non-lethal logistics “life support” package that includes fuel, food, and health services. Nevertheless, AMISOM remains an under-manned, under-equipped and bare-bones operation.
Troop-contributing countries reacted with anger to the EU’s suggestion that they should make up the shortfall on allowances. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta argued that African troops were paying in blood for what is an international peace and security remit. Both Kenya and Uganda have threatened to withdraw their soldiers.
Who pays the piper
The EU’s policy shift exemplifies the problem of the ad hoc nature of the funding. “The challenge is that the financing for these types of missions is not fit for purpose,” said a senior AU official who asked not to be named. “It’s a hodge-podge. We can’t go on like this, passing around the hat.”
The AU has on paper a comprehensive security architecture, but little of its own money to pay for it. The organisation lost its main benefactor with the fall of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, and its other major contributors – Nigeria, South Africa, Algeria, and Egypt – are all going through tough times. Dependency on external financing not only determines which conflicts the AU can intervene in, but also dictates when the missions must end.
At the beginning of the year, the AU appointed Donald Kabureka, former president of the African Development Bank, as its high representative for the Peace Fund. His role is to find the resources that will enable African contributions to hit 25 percent of the fund’s budget, and to lobby international partners towards securing UN assessed contributions for the remainder.
It hasn’t been plain sailing. Some members, including Kenya and Egypt, have frettedover the impact a proposed $2 hotel tax or $10 levy on air tickets would have on their tourism industries. Zambia argued that the surrendering of national taxes was a violation of citizens’ rights.
“There are also concerns over the accountability of the Peace Fund, which will be the repository of the funding,” said the senior AU official. “Little has been done on transparency and fiduciary rules.”
According to Paul Williams of the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University, Kabureka is embarking on a tricky two-step process.
First he needs buy-in from the member states at the Kigali summit. “Once the AU settles on what its Peace Fund will do and how it can be filled with appropriate funds, then the UN and AU must agree on how the UN should help support African peace operations,” Williams told IRIN.
The UN recognises that AMISOM represents something of a model for future peace operations. The UN envisages more regional interventions authorised by the Security Council, and regards the AU in particular as a key partner. The AU has shown itself willing to deploy in situations where there is “no peace to keep”, and which in the case of Somalia involved the bloody slog of house-to-house combat in Mogadishu. Hardly the traditional role for UN blue helmets.
Apart from the AU’s willingness to take on enforcement operations, it also has the advantage of speed. In response to the violence in Central African Republic and Mali, the UN authorised the rapid deployment of AU peace support missions, interventions that were later re-hatted as UN operations. Ten of the UN’s 17 current peace missions are in Africa.
The AU sees the way forward as a formalised partnership with the UN under the mandate of Chapter VIII of the UN charter, which authorises collaboration with regional organisations.
“Such a partnership should be based on the principles of burden-sharing, comparative advantage and division of labour, to better address the complexities of today’s conflicts,” an AU discussion note said.
Last year, a High-Level Independent Panel on United Nations Peace Operations, established by the UN secretary-general to review peace operations, recommended that the UN should support AU-led missions on a case-by-case basis. That qualification falls short of “African expectations of more open-ended commitments in terms of institutional cooperation and financing”, noted a report by the European Centre for Development Policy management.
In the past year, there has been a series of reviews, framework documents, and common position papers exploring the steps to greater convergence. But there are still institutional and political challenges that could make working together difficult for both organisations – the ECDP paper noted financial and budgetary control mechanisms and compliance with UN peacekeeping principles.
The AU has repeatedly reaffirmed its commitment to combatting sexual violence and protecting human rights in its deployments – key concerns of some UN member states. The (underfunded) pillars of its security architecture also uphold the importance of pursuing conflict prevention and early warning – the mediation and political avenues – before getting to boots on the ground.
It’s not clear where the Western, permanent UN Security Council members – the US, France, and the UK – sit in terms of using UN-assessed contributions to finance AU peace operations. “I would say it’s too soon to attribute definitive positions to any of the key players at this moment in time,” said Williams.
But in a presentation earlier this year on regional approaches to security, he argued: “If Africa cannot find sustainable, predictable, flexible funding, then it raises questions of credibility, local ownership and sustainability.”
Without it, he added: “African states and organisations will never fully be in control; never own the agenda”.
A Trip to Nairobi Inspired This One-of-a-Kind Company
June 24, 2016 | 0 Comments
I majored in biology in college and thought I’d become a doctor. But I also wanted to travel. So as a way to do both, I spent years with international humanitarian organizations. The work was satisfying, but the social life was challenging: My colleagues would go back to their hotel at night — in part because they were almost all older than me, but also because they were fearful of the potentially unsafe, unfamiliar cities we were in. I didn’t want to be this far from home and not experience a place fully, so I often went out. And I discovered amazing things.
From a rooftop party at an advertising agency to road-tripping across the country for a DJ set, I was exposed to a side of Africa I’d never seen before. These were cosmopolitan movers and shakers, but distinctly African. In 2011, I met up with a photographer in Johannesburg; through her lens, I met entertainers, artists and other influencers. A year later, I connected with a sorority sister in Nairobi, Kenya, who was working on MTV’s African youth culture series Shuga. The show’s producer, fashion designer and filmmaker took me out to restaurants and nightclubs, and I had the time of my life.
That’s when the lightbulb went off. People weren’t exposed to this Africa, and I wanted to connect visitors to it — not just by talking about these amazing things, but by directing people to them.
I spent the next year or so developing Tastemakers Africa, a company to book epic experiences, with epic people, in every African city. In February 2014, I went to Lagos for Social Media Week to show off my early-stage mockup. My session was packed, which confirmed that I was really onto something. I was working for another NGO at the time but quit and joined MediKidz, a VC-backed healthcare startup, to learn more about building a company. The cofounder, Dr. Kim Chilman-Blair, was a sales genius. She was super-transparent with me about her funding process, and I saw a lot of her documents and pitch decks, and heard about the screwups. But the biggest thing I learned from Kim was to work harder than hard. Things need to get done in the NGO world, but there isn’t a sense of urgency; Kim always had a sense of urgency.
By that summer, I had fleshed out a prototype. As a proof of concept, we promoted a “Tastemakers Tour of Ghana” on my Facebook page, and it sold out in weeks. I still wasn’t ready to make it my full-time job, but then MediKidz was bought and I was laid off — so I slammed the gas on the startup. My boyfriend and I closed out our 401(k)s, and I entered an accelerator that gave us $20,000 and then raised another $100,000 from angel investors. I also won first place in a Lagos competition called She Leads Africa, which got me $10,000 and a mentoring network.
We launched our website in December 2014 and ended 2015 with more than $200,000 in experience and concierge bookings. Our app, Tstmkrs, launched in beta in December of last year, and we did $100,000 in Q1 bookings for 2016. We’re still figuring out who and where our audience is and what they’re willing to pay, but we’re learning and growing fast. In five years, we expect to be in at least 40 countries on the continent. We will be the brand, and our connections, support and infrastructure will make us important to many others who come here as well. We’ve already built partnerships with Uber, South African Airways and Radisson Blu (that one’s for a pan-African travel contest in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa), and have gotten interest in an acquisition from a large hospitality company. But no matter what happens, I know we’ll have played a huge role in not just how people think about traveling in Africa, but what people think of Africa itself.
Communism and Africa: A long flirtation
June 24, 2016 | 0 Comments
By Thomas Page*
A mural of an African proletariat breaking the chains of capitalism in Angola; an imposing, North Korean-built monument in Addis Ababa. Cold War relics dot the African continent from Ethiopia to Burkina Faso. One organization has now decided to take a closer look at the decades-old relationship between Africa and communism.
Imports from Pyongyang
Has Eritrea’s migration problem been exaggerated?
June 20, 2016 | 0 Comments
The migration crisis in Europe has thrust Eritrea under the spotlight. Last year, more people fled to Europe from this small, secretive nation than from any other African country. The BBC’s Mary Harper has gained rare access.
One of the first people I meet in Eritrea is a young woman who tells me she has never visited her country before.
Her family fled during the 30-year war for independence from Ethiopia.
She was born in a refugee camp in Sudan and her family was later granted asylum in the US.
“I decided to come here to stay.
“I work in a hospital. The Eritrea I am living in is not the one I hear about in the news.”
Over cappuccinos and delicately iced cakes in the pavement cafes of the capital, Asmara, I meet a few others like her – highly educated Eritreans who have chosen to return from abroad to live and work, both in government institutions and private businesses.
I am free to speak to whoever I want and there are no government minders with me.
Some older people have come to retire.
I visit one old man in an elegant villa, splashed with the pinks and purples of bougainvillea flowers, in what was the “European quarter” of Asmara during Italian colonial days.
An elderly woman, who used to live in Germany, lives in a far simpler home.
Like many Eritreans, she enjoys evening strolls along the city’s wide avenues, lined with date palms.
Thousands of others come to Eritrea for their holidays. They are known as “summer butterflies”.
This is not what I was expecting.
Human rights groups, the Eritrean opposition and media reports often portray Eritrea as a terrifying place that everybody wants to run away from, that is fast becoming empty of its youth.
Not everything is straightforward for those who come and go. Rights groups say a 2% “diaspora tax” is a way of controlling Eritreans who live abroad. They say only those who pay are given visas and access to other consular services.
Members of the diaspora have foreign passports so they can leave when they want.
People with Eritrean passports cannot leave legally without an exit visa, which is difficult to obtain. Plenty are going illegally, crossing the border and risking their lives in the Sahara Desert and Mediterranean Sea before they reach Europe.
Human rights groups say they are fleeing because of forced indefinite conscription, enslavement, torture, and mass imprisonment, sometimes in underground shipping containers.
Such reports have helped Eritreans obtain almost automatic asylum in many European countries, although there are moves to make this more difficult.
- In 2015, more Eritreans crossed illegally via the Central Mediterranean than any other nationality.
- They made up 25% of this route’s total migrants in 2015.
- In 2011, 659 Eritreans were recorded on this route. By 2015, it had leapt to 38,791.
Source: Frontex: (European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union)
A United Nations-appointed Commission of Inquiry says “crimes against humanity have been committed in a widespread and systematic manner” for the past 25 years.
The allegations are denied by the Eritrean government, and described as “laughable” by its Head of Political Affairs, Yemane Gebreab.
“There is no basis to the claims. Everyone who knows anything about Eritrea, including European governments, will tell you this is rubbish.”
Western and other diplomats based in Asmara tell me the Commission of Inquiry’s report is “unhelpful” and does not reflect accurately the current situation in Eritrea.
They say the country is authoritarian, but describe as “absurd” descriptions in the media and elsewhere of Eritrea as “Africa’s North Korea”.
An international human rights worker I meet outside the country says an estimated 30% of people who claim to be Eritrean for asylum purposes actually come from Ethiopia.
I’m told others are Sudanese.
Some Ethiopians and Sudanese share languages, physical characteristics and cultures with Eritreans, and it is significantly easier to obtain asylum as an Eritrean.
‘No war, no peace’
In spice markets, on rugged, terraced hillsides and in orderly queues for red buses, I meet Eritreans who do want to leave.
Many say they feel trapped in national service, which they have to enter once they have completed their education.
The majority are given civilian duties, such as teaching or working in a ministry.
They say they have little or no choice as to what role they are assigned or to which part of the country they are sent.
The worst part, they say, is that they have no idea for how long they will be in national service.
I meet men who have served for nine, 10, 12 years.
Officials tell me national service is essential because Eritrea is in a state of “no war, no peace” with its giant neighbour, Ethiopia, against whom it fought an as yet unresolved border war from 1998-2000.
Others have different reasons for wanting to leave.
Many complain about the economy.
Some want to join family members or dream of furthering their education.
“I want to study engineering in the US,” says one woman.
Some seem attracted by the glossy images of the West they see on the dozens of TV channels available.
Satellite dishes are like a disease in Eritrea; they are dotted on the roofs of houses in poor urban areas, on huts in villages.
I meet a group of young people who are determined to stay and push for reform from within.
“We need change and we will try to fight from the inside,” one tells me. “I want to be free”.
Another says: “We are afraid of our government. There are spies everywhere and we do not know who are they are.”
Losing its youth
Others tell me they love Eritrea and want to help develop their 25-year-old country.
“Eritrea is criticised for having no democracy, no parliament, no constitution, no independent media,” says one young man in a late-night bar, as he sips local Asmara beer straight from the brown, thick-glassed bottle.
“But what is the point of elections in Africa? They lead to ethnic divisions and violence.”
Many supplement the low pay of national service by doing other jobs.
Some only have to do their national service jobs in the afternoons, or for two days a week.
They spend the rest of time working in shops, as taxi drivers, for foreign embassies and privately-run factories.
The government is in the process of increasing the amount of money people receive when they are in service.
“We want young people to stay,” says Mr Yemane, “Eritrea does everything it can to create opportunities for them, such as free education.”
In a recent speech, President Isaias Afwerki said the West was deliberately trying to weaken Eritrea by encouraging the population to leave with its generous asylum policies.
Dressed in khaki, this tall, tough-looking man, with a big black bushy moustache, said the West was sabotaging the economy, “with the aim of creating poverty and starvation to instigate crisis”.
But now, after years of international isolation, Eritrea and the outside world are slowly opening up to each other.
Eritrea is making more friends in the Arab world.
This is partly because of the war in nearby Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is fighting Houthi rebels.
Eritrea’s Foreign Minister, Osman Saleh Mohammed, told me one member of the coalition, the United Arab Emirates, was using ‘”logistical facilities at the port and airport” in the southern city of Assab.
The migration crisis has also acted as a catalyst for closer engagement, this time with Europe. Eritrea does not want to lose its youth, and Europe would prefer them not to come knocking at its doors.
Escaping the heat into the fire: Migration of Ethiopian women domestic workers to the Gulf countries
June 17, 2016 | 0 Comments
Migrant domestic workers in the Middle East and Gulf countries are ranked, with Filipinos at the top commanding the highest salaries, followed by Indonesian and Sri Lankan women, and African women at the bottom. The region has a deeply rooted culture of discrimination against people of African descent.
By Hala Alkarib*
Ethiopia is one of the most populous countries in Africa, with recent estimation of the country’s population placing it at over 100 million people. Ethiopia has a long history of migration to different parts of the world. During the 1970s and 1980s, due to war and political repression at the time, the largest flow of refugees and migrants in the world emerged from Ethiopia. As with other parts of the Horn of Africa region, Ethiopia has experienced various types of migration waves over the past 40 years or more. Apart from war and political issues, in recent years economic factors are seen among the strong drivers of migration of Ethiopian men and women to different parts of the world.
Remittances to Ethiopia from migrant communities provide an integral source of income for families to sustain themselves through external shocks and to meet their basic needs. In the majority of cases, women domestic workers send almost all of their monthly income as remittances to their families, which depend on this kind of money to meet living costs. Since the 1990s increased numbers of young rural Ethiopian women have been migrating from their country to work in the Middle East and Arab Gulf countries, through either legitimate or hidden means. The oil boom transformed the Arab Gulf into some of the wealthiest nations in the world, bringing about higher standards of living and improved infrastructure for education and health services. Subsequently money and an easy lifestyle have changed the cultural interactions of these communities. Domestic workers have always been a symbol of status, prestige, and wealth in the community of the Gulf countries and beyond. Now being the main exporters of oil, almost all households in these countries are able to hire one or more domestic workers. Such new potentials have paved the way to redefine class in relation to having domestic workers.
It is important to observe here that domestic workers in the Middle East and Gulf countries are ordered in a radicalized hierarchy, with Filipino women at the top signaling the highest status and commanding the highest salaries, followed by Indonesian and Sri Lankan women, and African women at the bottom. Other Middle Eastern countries apart from the oil rich nations, such as Lebanon, Jordan, and Yemen and eventually also countries like Sudan are becoming a major destination for Ethiopian women domestic workers.
In recent years trends have emerged within several countries, including poor countries like Sudan, that place household work within a so-called “culture of shame”. This is due to the socially and culturally polarized realities of communities, where even the extremely poor would rather be homeless or go to the streets begging, than carrying out domestic work (ILO report, 2004). Such attitudes have increased the demand for foreign domestic workers and accelerated the level of migration.
The discrepancies between expectations of women from rural Ethiopia and the harsh reality for women migrant workers in the Middle East and Arab Gulf countries could, however, not be further apart. While those women who were trafficked, smuggled or migrated consciously are focusing on the end result of their migration and the possible economic elevation, they lack substantial information on the realities abroad, the nature and type of labour awaiting them, and/or cultural rules and traditions that will govern their day-to-day experiences. Lack of language skills, and being without a familiar support network, exacerbates their isolation and vulnerability.
Culturally and socially the Arab and Middle Eastern countries are inherently divided societies along tribal and sectarian lines, with a deeply rooted culture of discrimination against people of African descent. This issue is quite entrenched without being addressed despite the geographical and cultural proximities.
Many of the host countries that the women find themselves in have largely restrictive regulations for migrant workers and often no protection or judicial systems to address abuses or traffickers. Employers in the destination countries justify the retention of passports and confinement in the home on the basis of the Kafala system, which gives them legal responsibility for the residency and employment of their domestic workers. Their sense of entitlement over the worker is heightened by the significant cash outlay they have made to recruit him or her. Traditionally women in the Gulf countries have been subjected to severe restrictions and regulations, such as customs and laws, that encourage women’s subordination – through, for example, regulations concerning their dress code and their presence in public. These factors combine to render migrant women vulnerable and to make them even more susceptible to violence.
Many young rural migrant women are confronted with the need to change their religious identities, and even their names. One woman, who shared her story, said:
“When I arrived at the airport, the agent told me that I am a Muslim. I didn’t know. I didn’t dress like a Muslim. I didn’t have a picture with a headscarf in my passport, and I even wore a cross on my neck. I was told to remove the cross. How can I be a Muslim while knowing nothing about the religion? The agent told me I would survive. But I didn’t. My employers threw me away when they found out I am not [a Muslim].”
Further severe challenges are encountered by women during the month of Ramadan, imposing fasting on women who have to work day and night: “Imagine fasting coupled with the workload. During Ramadan, I had to work day and night, and I can’t sit and eat for hours like them. I thought I was going to die of starvation.”
Another young woman spoke about her increased anxiety and the cruelty she encountered in one of the Gulf countries: “Since I was not able to understand Arabic, when they ordered me to do one thing I might do another. Their response was beating me.”
Sexual violence and resulting pregnancies from rape, sexually transmitted diseases, torture resulting in broken limbs or burning of hands or other body parts, emotional abuse, coupled with unpaid or underpaid salaries for years typically result in cycles of trauma and mental illness among large numbers of migrant domestic workers.
The hazards around the domestic work are largely due to the fact that the work occurs within private and isolated spheres. The households in the Gulf countries are highly isolated territories; therefore it leaves the workers extremely vulnerable to all forms of abuse. The other challenge is that migrant domestic workers are not only victimized by their employers and the repressive conditions in the Gulf but their repression starts at home through the traffickers who mislead them and harvest their money.
The challenges in and around the human rights violations and abuses perpetrated against migrant women domestic workers from Africa have several layers including their race, gender and area of work. The cycles of abuse begin within their home countries, where they often lack access to education and awareness, which makes them vulnerable to deception. All these factors combined place them among the most volatile group of workers, not knowing that while escaping the heat of poverty and deprivation in their homelands, they are throwing themselves into the fire of abuse, racism and torture.
* Source Pamabazuka.Hala Alkarib is Regional Director, SIHA Network. This article is based on a research paper by SIHA Network
Pan Africanism is the road to Africa’s security
June 17, 2016 | 0 Comments
Pan Africanism is anti-nobody. It is pro-Africa. The mammoth task of liberating Africa from the ongoing imperialist exploitation and marginalisation can be achieved only through Pan-African unity. African people must understand that they have a common destiny.
By Motsoko Pheko*
Programme Director, Distinguished Delegates, Brothers and Sisters at this historic Convention, I SALUTE YOU ALL for your persistence on the Pan African path.
Africa is a beautiful house that has been burning for some time with its children, women and men trapped inside. They are desperately trying to come out. As that Pan Africanist Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe correctly put it, “This Continent [Africa], has had the bad luck to be over-run by [European] soldiers of fortune that had neither [moral] fibre nor humanity. Slavery played its shameful role in depopulating Africa. Capitalism denuded [Africa] of its wealth. Colonialism deprived Africa of its birthright, and imperialism emasculated its will to live as human being and enjoy its share of bounties of the earth.”
Africans must control their riches for their people
Africa has immense wealth and resources. There is hardly an agricultural crop that cannot be produced on this great continent. And almost every kind of mineral is found in Africa – vanadium, chrome, uranium, cobalt, tantalum, platinum, gold, diamonds, iron, coal, oil, etc. Africa is blessed with three types of climate: temperate, tropical and Mediterranean.
The paradox is that its African owners are among the poorest people in the world. Africa is actually the size of Europe, America, China and India combined. The Democratic Republic of Congo alone is the size of the following twelve European countries combined: Britain, Ireland, France, Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, Armenia, Albania and Belgium. Congo is 905,355 square miles. Its untapped potential wealth is estimated at twenty four trillion American dollars. This is equivalent to the Gross Domestic Product of Europe and America put together.
Imperialist countries have made Africa their hunting and looting ground for many years through various forms such as slavery, colonialism and neo-colonialism. Congo became a Belgian colony as a result of the imperialist Berlin General Act of 26 February 1885 through which seven Western European countries stole the whole of Africa, except for Ethiopia.
Boasting about how Belgium stole the riches of the Congo, the Belgian Secretary of Colonies Godding said, “During the War [European World War against Adolf Hitler], the Congo was able to finance all the expenditure of the Belgian government in exile in London, including the diplomatic service as well as the cost of armed forces in Europe and America…the Belgian gold reserve could be left intact.”
To get all these riches from the Congo, how did the Belgian colonialists treat Africans in their own country? The British philosopher Betrand Russell reported about the European colonial treatment of the Congolese Africans under their Belgian colonial rulers. He has written:
“Each village was ordered by [the colonial] authorities to collect and bring a certain amount of rubber as much as the men could bring by neglecting all work for their maintenance. If they failed to bring the required amount, their women were taken away and kept as hostages in the harems of government employees. If this method failed, troops were sent to the village to spread terror, if necessary by killing some of the men. They were ordered to bring one right hand amputated from an African victim for every cartridge used.” (Freedom And Organisation, 1814-1914)
The result of these atrocities, according to Sir Harris H.H. Johnston, was reduction of the African population in the Congo from 20 million to 9 million in fifteen years.
Africans have given more than they have received
Imperialist countries have psychologically conditioned Africans to think that they cannot live without the crumbs from Europe or America or from any other imperialist country in this world. But the American Senator Jesse Helms during Ronald Reagan’s presidency let the cat out of the bag when he warned the Americans about the loss of wealth in South Africa if a Pan-Africanist government came to power.
“South Africa is the source of over 80% American mineral supply and 86% of platinum resources,” he said. “I will not go into details of each vital mineral. It was former Secretary of State Alexander Haig who said the loss of mineral output of South Africa could bring severest consequences to the existing economic and security framework of the free world. South Africa has 90% of the world’s chrome reserve. As you know there is no substitute for chrome in our military and industrial manufacturing.
“Without South Africa’s chrome, no engines for modern jet aircraft, cruise missiles or armaments could be built. The U.S. air force could be grounded. Our military would be unarmed. Without South Africa’s chrome surgical equipment and utensils could not be produced. Our hospitals and doctors would be helpless.”
Imperialist countries have not only behaved as if Africa’s riches belong to them; they further have made Africans believe that they cannot do anything for themselves unless they totally depend on Western countries – in particular their former enslavers and colonisers. African leaders must exorcise this demon of helplessness and inferiority complex. This borders on idolatry where Africans worship the false gods of “superiority and invincibility.”
The Pan-African path leads to life but is no dinner party
The mammoth task of liberating Africa economically and technologically can be brought about only through Pan-African unity in a united Africa. Africans are the only people in the world who fight their common liberation struggles as individuals. Those who enslaved Africa and colonised Africa, however, have always united to achieve their imperialist goals. During the Berlin Conference when they stole the whole of Africa except Ethiopia, they sat at this Conference from 15 November 1884 to 26 February 1885.
They were serious. They were united. They were determined. They wanted to steal all of Africa at gunpoint. Ethiopia was saved only by its glorious Victory of the Battle of Adwa against the Italian colonial invaders of Africa. This was on 1st of March 1886.
Pan Africanism is anti-nobody. It is pro-Africa. It is anti-injustice and continued stealing of Africa’s resources by some foreigners while the children of Africa wallow in the quagmire of poverty, ignorance, short life expectancy and high child mortality.
This creates a situation where Africans are incapable of educating their children for various technical skills and professions so that they can manage their national affairs competently. In a situation like this, Africans become victims of some foreign countries that see ignorant and poor Africans as their ready carcass to devour.
Africa needs the world and the world needs Africa
The world needs Africa and Africa needs the world. Pan-Africanists demand that there must be a new way of interacting with Africa economically and technologically. Africa needs a new breed of foreign investors who see Africa not just as a place to make quick riches, but as an important partner for the continent’s economic development and true liberation of the African people. Investors must get their fair share of profits. But the exploitative relation between investors and Africa must go. It must be buried deep in the colonial grave.
Over 50 years ago the late Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana hit the nail on the head when for his country, he declared: “We welcome foreign investors in a spirit of partnership. They can earn their profits here provided they leave us an agreed portion, promoting the welfare and happiness of our people as a whole, as against greedy ambitions of the few. From what we get out of this partnership we hope to expand the health services of our people, to feed and house all, to give them more and better educational institutions and see to it that they have a rising standard of living.”
Billions of dollars stolen from Africa
Global Financial Integrity has researched and revealed that a cumulative sum of $814.9 billion was swindled from Africa between 2004 and 2013. All African countries have lost large sums of money generated through corruption such as invasion of tax, bribes and cross-border smuggling.
A few examples are: South Africa $209 billion, Nigeria $178 billion, Tanzania $191.77 billion, Senegal $8.03 billion, Uganda $116.76 billion, Tunisia $154.5 billion, Egypt $39.83 billion, Ethiopia $25.83, billion, Lesotho $3.41 billion, Swaziland $5.82 billion, Botswana $13.68 billion, Mauritius $6.09 billion. African countries such as Guinea, Liberia and Mali which not long ago experienced thousands of deaths of their citizens due to the decimating Ebola disease, were also robbed of billions of dollars.
Other research institutions on this illicit flow of money out of Africa such as Christian Aid and Tax Justice Network have quantified the illicit flow of money out of Africa as between $1.2 trillion and $1.4 trillion. This is said to be four times the size of “Africa’s foreign debt.”
The only African country from which there has been no money to steal is Somalia. This is a country that was long destabilised by America until October 1993. The American government withdrew from Somalia only after the Battle of Mogadishu in which 18 American soldiers were killed, 84 wounded, two Hawk helicopters downed by Somali army, three pilots killed and one pilot missing.
The then American President Bill Clinton called this, the “Battle of Rangers” or the “Black Hawk Down.” When withdrawing the America troops from Somalia, he said, “We had gotten to a point where we kind of thought that we could intervene without getting hurt, without our soldiers getting killed. The incident I call ‘Black Hawk Down’ certainly disabused us of that.” Unfortunately this American mess has badly destroyed Somalia and distabilised East Africa to this day.
Western economic exploitation of Africa goes on unabated. In July 2008 Pope Benedict XVI could not contain himself about this any longer. His Holiness said, “Our Western way of life has stripped Africa’s people of their riches and continues to strip them.”
Corroborating this fact, a Member of the Scottish Parliament Mark Ballad affirmed, “Our [Western European] relationship to Africa is an exploitative one. The West no longer needs standing armies in Africa to strip its resources because it can do so more effectively with multi-national companies.”
Afrophobia undermines Pan-African unity
Let me move to another point that urgently needs the attention of all Pan-Africanists and leaders of the African Union. In some African countries there have been instances of Afrophobia. This is mistakenly called Xenophobia. The English borrowed this word from Greek. It means “fearing or hating a foreigner.”
But in reality this is Afrophobia. It means African brother hating African brother and sister and African sister hating African sister and brother. In the espoused spirit of Botho/UBuntu and Pan-Africanism, there is no African who can be a foreigner in Africa, while non-Africans who live in Africa are not regarded as foreigners. It is a contradiction in terms, to be an African and a “foreigner” at the same time.
On 22 May 2008, I spoke about Afrophobia as a Member in the South African Parliament. I pointed out that “African people have a common destiny. We are in the same ship. If it sails safely across the stormy seas we shall all be safe. If it sinks, we shall all perish. Europe enslaved or colonised us to accumulate their stolen riches from Africa. They did not care whether you were a Nigerian, a Zimbabwean, Azanian, South African or Mozambican. They inflicted their atrocities and genocide on every African whether in Jamaica or America.”
African Union desk at points of entry
One of the beginning steps member states of the African Union must take is to erect sign boards at all ports of entry in Africa for citizens of African states reading, “ CITIZENS OF AFRICAN UNION.” These citizens must not be checked at the desk marked “FOREIGN PASSPORTS HERE.” This undermines the Pan-African agenda. Africans travelling within Africa must feel welcome in every African country.
Africa Liberation Day so declared in Addis Ababa by African heads of state on 25 May 1963 did not come cheap. Much African blood and tears were shed. It is a shame that many African countries that claim to work for African unity have still not declared May 25 a statutory holiday. It must be a special day on which all Africans reflect about where post-colonial Africa has come from, where Africa is presently and where Africa must be tomorrow; in terms of economic prosperity, progress, security of life and high living standard of Africa’s people; especially with regard to economic control of resources for African people and technological advancement in every sphere of life.
Africa is the epicentre of this planet. She has impeccable credentials to occupy a prominent place in the world as she did before she became the victim of the European Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and colonialism. The 54 member states of the African Union are like rooms in one house. When one catches fire, the fire is likely to spread threatening the safety and security of the whole house. Pan-Africanism is not wishful thinking. It is Africa’s weapon to survive the onslaughts of imperialism. Not a single African country can stand on its own without perishing. Pan-African unity is not a choice. It is an imperative.
There is a subtle imperialist assault on Africa. In June 2016 three American credit rating agencies threatened to give South Africa a “junk status.” Their names are Standard & Poor, Fitch and Moody. They threatened to do the same to Nigeria in 2015. If Africans do not wake up they will find their sovereign power that was paid with blood and tears lost to the greedy forces of this world. These greedy forces that have no moral fibre, humanity or a sense of justice have a clear a political agenda to recolonise African people and continue to under-develop Africa. That is why they have a new programme for Africa – “junk status.”
Pan Africanists must look seriously at the Western conspiracy of reducing African States to what they call “junk status.” These agencies are very powerful in the world of finance. They have the support of the American government. To prevent new companies that are not approved by the America government from offering similar credit rating services, new terms were put in place called “recognised rating manuals.” They protect and assist only the “Big Three” rating agencies against non-approved companies.
This June 2016, the move by the three American credit rating agencies has been followed by the arrogance of the American ambassador in Pretoria. He has warned of pending “terrorist attack in South Africa” in the media without first bringing this to the attention of the South African government. He ignored prescribed diplomatic channels. He behaved as if Azania (South Africa) is a colony of America.
The South African government has refuted these claims as unfounded. Will some desperate forces anxious to prove their falsehood true, now “manufacture these terrorists” to “prove” that they were right? Whatever the case may finally be, this is a wakeup call to Africans to grow to manhood and womanhood and look after their own interests. This can be done successfully and effectively through Pan-African unity only.
Unity will lead to victory for Africa
The struggle to return Africa to her power politically, economically and technologically is of course not a dinner party or a bed of roses. The enemies of Africa are determined to keep Africa and Africans weak, especially economically, technologically and militarily. Africa, however, has already overcome worse tragedies in her history: the slave trade, colonialism, racism, genocide and the longest holocaust in this world.
The colonial history of Africa demonstrates that when Africa is united on her objectives, goals and aims there has always been resounding achievement and victory for the African people. Where would Africa be today, if there had never been the 5th Pan African Congress in 1945, to plan the destruction of European colonial rule over Africans?
What would be the situation in Africa today, especially with regard to Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe and apartheid colonial South Africa if there was never the Organisation of African Unity Liberation Committee to assist liberation movements such as the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania, the African National Congress, MPLA, FRELIMO,SWAPO, ZANU, ZAPU and PAIGC? The latter was led in Guinea Bisau and Cape Verde by that brilliant Pan-Africanist Amilcar Cabral.
The past generations of Africa suffered and survived the most barbaric forms of Western slavery and colonialism. Through their matchless resilience driven by sacrifice, selflessness and dedicated service, these older generations paved the way for Africa’s ultimate victory for the total and authentic emancipation of this continent. There are signs that victory is coming to Africa despite the current dark clouds. But this is only if Africa persists on the Pan-African path and chooses her friends carefully. There are wars no nuclear weapons can win.
How would the African liberation struggle against colonialism have progressed if on 6th March 1957, Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah established diplomatic relations with South Africa, instead of declaring as he did, that “Ghana’s independence is meaningless unless it is linked to the total liberation of Africa?”
PAC got South Africa expelled UN
The Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC) got South Africa expelled from the United Nations General Assembly. This was made possible because of the Pan African unity of the Organisation of Africa Unity – the predecessor of the African Union.
Commenting on this important victory for PAC and Africa, Prof. Tom Lodge has written, “In November 1974 the Pan Africanist Congress succeeded in obtaining the expulsion of South Africa from the United General Assembly and in July 1975 the Organisation of African Unity adopted as official policy a long document prepared by the PAC arguing for the illegality of South Africa’s status.”
That is how the PAC got the observer status at the United Nations. The ANC also benefited from this victory of the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania and the Organisation of African Unity.
Indeed, the political situation in Africa today is such that even those among some African leaders who once opposed Pan Africanism and denigrated Pan Africanists as “racists” and “anti-white” are today forced by present circumstances to act Pan Africanly or pretend to do so.
Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, the first President of Tanzania, was right when he said, “There is no time to waste. We must unite or perish. Political independence is only a prelude to a new and more involved struggle….” Nyerere warned that “African nationalism is meaningless, dangerous and anachronistic, if it is not at the same time Pan Africanism.”
To advance victoriously to rebuilding the broken walls of Africa, Pan Africanism is the key and the most powerful weapon. Carefully planned action and vigilance are urgent in this age. Imperialism is overthrowing many governments it does not like. This has caused unprecedented terrorism in the world. It is now threatening even governments in Africa.
That Pan Africanist visionary Kwame Nkrumah was right when he warned: “If we [African people] are to remain free, if we are to enjoy the full benefits of Africa’s resources we must be united to plan our total defence and full exploitation of our material and human means in the full interest of all our people. To go it alone will limit our expectations and threaten our liberty.”
FORWARD EVER! BACKWARD NEVER! Thank you
* Pambazuka. Dr Motsoko Pheko deliverd this message of solidarity to the world-wide Pan African Convention held at Orlando, SOWETO, Azania 13 -15 June 2016.Dr. Motsoko Pheko is author of several books such as AFRICA IN THE NEXT 50 YEARS and HOW AFRICA CAN REGAIN HER LOST POWER AND GLORY. He is a former Member of the South African Parliament. During the liberation struggle he represented the victims of apartheid and colonialism at the United Nations in New York and at the UN Commission on Human Rights.
Chancè Gatoro from D.R.Congo is Miss Culture USA 2016
June 13, 2016 | 0 Comments
Congolese born refugee from Goma, the 21 year-old Chancè Gatoro was crowned Saturday night Miss Culture USA pageant produced by Therapeutic Interventions Inc., with Fatmata Koroma.
Describing all the contestants as winners, Fatmata Koroma, CEO of Therapeutic Interventions Inc., challenged the girls to live up to all the lofty projects presented and expressed the hope that they will all remain role models to society.
INTERVIEW-Green shoe brand helps Ethiopia walk tall on global stage
June 10, 2016 | 0 Comments
Founder of soleRebels aims to show how Ethiopia can develop while protecting its environment and culture
by Megan Rowling*
BARCELONA, June 9 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Brightly coloured shoes, boots and sandals, handmade in Ethiopia, nestle in tyres and wooden pallets hung with ropes on the white walls of this former butcher’s shop in Gràcia, a fashionably bohemian district of Barcelona.
On a warm weekday afternoon, trade is quiet – but soleRebels footwear is gaining in popularity, staff say. Fans include locals in their 30s, elderly people who find the shoes comfortable yet attractive, parents with adopted Ethiopian children and Germans living in the city.
The shop opened three years ago, and is one of 20 stores worldwide selling distinctive shoes made from recycled tyres, leather from free-range animals and cloth hand-woven by Ethiopian artisans in the poor community of Zenabwork/Total, a suburb of the capital Addis Ababa.
“It is not footwear we are producing – it’s a kind of art,” explained Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, who founded soleRebels in 2005 in the neighbourhood where she grew up, after realising skilled residents lacked job opportunities.
“For people to be innovative… they don’t have to really travel a long way or copy somebody’s business idea. It’s right there,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The entrepreneur in her mid-30s is no fan of foreign aid, which she says has not helped her community. She prefers to see people improve their own situation through dignified work with decent pay.
At soleRebels, which employs around 420 people, workers on average earn four to five times the Ethiopian minimum wage, according to the brand’s website. It is the only footwear company to be certified by the World Fair Trade Organization, the site notes.
“What I want to see happen is that, in my company, people who are coming to work are able to go to school, are able to support their family, are able to live the life they wanted,” Bethlehem said in a phone interview from Copenhagen, where she was speaking at the Global Green Growth Forum this week.
Her aim has been to turn Ethiopian tradition into an international green brand – a challenge she has risen to with energy and enthusiasm, setting up an online shop and soleRebels stores from Taiwan to Silicon Valley and Greece.
This fiscal year, the company expects revenue of $10 million to $12 million. It says it is on track to become the first global retail chain from a developing nation to open 100 stores, and achieve over $200 million in revenues by 2019.
Yet despite her ambition, Bethlehem – who has won several international business awards and is a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader – isn’t focused primarily on profits.
In her eyes, the value of her business lies in bringing Ethiopian craftsmanship to the international market in a way that preserves culture, benefits local people and protects the environment.
“There is no carbon footprint in our product,” said Bethlehem, noting that the shoes are crafted entirely by hand, with each pair touched by some 30 workers.
Shipping overseas produces some climate-changing emissions, but packaging is made from recycled cartons and the shoes are sold in hand-loomed cotton bags.
The company says it also comes close to its goal of zero waste, using as many recycled materials as it can. That begins with the old tyres cut up to make shoe soles, a technique used for decades in Ethiopia’s “selate” and “barabasso” shoes, said to have been worn by rebels fighting for independence.
SETTING A SUSTAINABLE EXAMPLE
The Ethiopian government has put in place policies and regulations to meet its goal of becoming a middle-income, carbon-neutral country by 2025, Bethlehem said.
For example, it is setting up green industrial parks powered by renewable energy, while factories are treating water and waste, she added.
But ethical companies like hers remain a niche business, she admitted, and the task now is to influence young Ethiopian entrepreneurs to adopt a similar model.
“If I put up a sustainable way of working, a sustainable lifestyle brand, then people will aspire to follow that lead,” she said, noting the need to create jobs in a populous country with many young people.
The majority of Ethiopians still have a lot to learn about the impacts of climate change and how to fight it, but awareness is building among the expanding middle class in cities like Addis Ababa, Bethlehem said. It’s something she has witnessed in the rising number of local people visiting her stores there.
The Horn of Africa country is at a “very exciting time” in its development, she said. But it is also a “scary time” as the country determines whether it can achieve a more sustainable model of development than rich industrialised nations whose past pollution is largely responsible for heating up the planet.
One barrier may be finding investors prepared to put money into ethical African companies on a scale large enough to make a fundamental economic difference.
“When it comes to… investments in Ethiopia, they don’t choose my way of working because it’s not fast, the profit margin is small, and the way it grows – with awareness – takes time,” Bethlehem said.
But the businesswoman, who is also expanding into luxury leather wear, coffee and consulting services, remains optimistic that the soleRebels ethos of training workers and paying them well can help beat poverty in a country where more than 10 million need food aid amid a severe drought.
“If we duplicate this way of working… I think there will be the possibility to support a lot of people,” she said. “We are just starting.”
Africa Roundup: UPS Enters Drone Space, Uber Tests Cash, Facebook Offers Free Internet in Nigeria
June 10, 2016 | 0 Comments
by Jake Bright*
UPS took its first steps in the African drone delivery space teaming up with San Francisco startup Zipline, and Gates Foundation backed Gavi, to begin unmanned aerial transport of healthcare supplies in Rwanda.
“When we launch it will be the world’s first drone delivery operating at a national scale in the world,” Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo told TechCrunch in this story.
Increasingly, Africa is becoming a testbed for commercial drone activity, with some of the boldest initiatives shaping up in Rwanda, which were highlighted at the recent World Economic Forum Africa meeting in Kigali.
Another UAV initiative, Afrotech’s Red Line project, plans to launch open source cargo drones and drone routes across Africa, starting in Rwanda. “What we can expect by 2025…is every secondary town in Africa that wants one will have a droneport,” predicted Afrotech Director Jonathan Ledgard at the WEF.
Uber is also expanding in Africa. The mobile transit venture operates in 13 cities across South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Morocco and Egypt and will launch in Ghana and Tanzania in 2016. Uber is experimenting with things in Africa—such as cash payments and image based directions apps—it doesn’t really do anywhere else.
The company is also likely to start moving more than just people around the continent.Uber Africa is exploring e-commerce based delivery options, explained its GM for Sub-Saharan Africa Alon Lits, in this TechCrunch piece. This could plug into Africa’s online shopping startups, which have been a magnet for VC this year and even produced anoutside acquisition.
African tech also got some Silicon Valley attention from Mark Zuckerberg. He announcedFacebook’s partnership with Airtel, called Internet.org Free Basics, which allows Nigerians to access certain internet services free on mobile. Zuckerberg also gave Nigerian employment site Jobberman.com some golden PR by naming the company and its founders as an example of African innovation.
Ghana’s MEST incubator had a management change. Silicon Valley veteran Neal Hansch stepped down as Managing Director to become CEO of San Francisco based VC firm Sherpa Foundry.
Katie Sarro, former MEST Director of Business Development, has taken over as MD. Neal will remain on MEST’s Board of Directors, and intends to stay active in the African tech space, he told me on a recent call. MEST added a VC fund to its foundation backed incubator last year, as reported here at TechCrunch.
How Do You Say ‘Gnarly’ In Amharic? Ethiopia Gets Its First Skate Park
June 10, 2016 | 0 Comments
By GREGORY WARNER*
In 2010, 12-year-old Nathan Eyuso became one of the first skateboarders in Ethiopia.
He bought an old board off a guy on the street for a dollar, learned some tricks off YouTube, and proceeded to shock his neighbors like Marty McFly in Back to The Future.
“They’d be like, ‘Is there a magnet in there?’ ” Eyuso laughs. “Nobody knew what skateboarding is.”
Today, he has plenty of company. In April, Ethiopia opened its first skateboard park, on the grounds of a government youth center in Addis Ababa, where Eyuso lives. The country is hoping to one day take its share of the $5 billion skateboard industry.
But for Sean Stromsoe, a 22-year-old photographer from California, the park is also a return to skateboarding’s roots.
In 2013, Stromsoe came to Ethiopia on assignment and ran into Eyuso and his friends.
“It was just 20 kids that were sharing, I think five boards?” Stromsoe recalls. He felt as if he was looking back in time — to an era when skateboarding wasn’t as commercialized and competitive as it is today.
Watching these Ethiopian skaters, he says, “the thing I noticed was there wasn’t so much judgment. Like some kid will be doing a handstand on the skateboard and everyone will be cheering and the next kid is going to do a tre-flip.”
For non-skaters, a tre-flip looks like this, and it’s a core move in street skating.
A handstand is one of a different category of tricks called freestyle.
In America each style and sub-style has its own devotees and defenders. Whereas in Ethiopia, Stromsoe says, skateboarding felt more communal and fun, “like maybe 40 years ago [in the U.S.]. You don’t see that so much back home. Because skateboarding has become pretty serious.”
Sean is still based in California but visits Ethiopia regularly. He co-founded a nonprofit — Ethiopia Skate — that raised money for new boards. With the help ofMake Life Skate Life, another NGO that helps build concrete skateparks around the world, they built the first one in Addis Ababa.
The skatepark will protect young skaters from collisions with cars (Ethiopia has one of the highest road fatality rates in the world). But there’s more to it than that. Nathan Eyuso says that it allows young Ethiopians to experience a “clean mentality” and aspire to potential future income. “We’re trying to keep them spending their time on skateboarding rather than doing other things,” he says. Among the skaters are former thieves and street boys.
I also meet Feven Birhana standing next to her SUV, a mom watching her 8-year-old, Abel.
He’s easy to spot — the only kid in the park wearing a helmet and knee pads. “It’s only his third day doing skating!” she says.
In a country poised for skateboarding firsts, she’s part of the mix: Ethiopia’s first skate mom.