Monday, August 30

Revolutionary Spirit Hangover

Rogue's Gallery

"Guilt And Atonement: the Genesis of Revolutionary Spirit in Ethiopia" by Messay Kebede is an interesting opinion piece originally from the Addis Tribune. Here is a passage
A country that has gone through a traumatic and adverse experience cannot move forward without dealing with the causes of its hardship. Not only are concealed mistakes likely to be repeated, but also a fresh start cannot happen unless acute awareness exorcises the demons of the past. That is why Ethiopians must repeatedly go back to and reflect on the circumstances that led to the revolution of 1974 ...

In what sense was Marxism-Leninism a substitute for the loss of religious feeling? First of all, as the theory denounces all the religions of the world as the opium of the people, it prohibits the switch to Western religious views. In thus throwing all religions, including Western ones, in the garbage of history, the theory greatly reduced the sense of betrayal by allowing Ethiopians to turn their back on their legacy without becoming proselytes. Again, what the radical generation liked most in Marxism was its defiance of the West: the defiance flattered its nationalism even as it was debunking Ethiopian values.

But there is more to the matter than this. So distressing is the loss of religious feeling that nothing less than the eruption of revolutionary spirit is liable to assuage it. Who can deny that the best substitute for that loss is a theory that claims to be scientific and modern while preserving the promises of Christian religions? Such is precisely the case of Marxism with its theory of class struggle and the advent of the just and equal society after the overthrow of exploiting classes. What else was this happy end of history reproducing but the eschatological promises of religion?
ethiopundit touched on this issue of 'belief substitution' in a post about Haile Selassie and his legacy. We suspect that some part of our idea had roots in an essay by Ato Messay from the past.

Lost in a veritable supermarket of Traditional, Western and other ideas (some of which actually worked) much of a generation of educated Ethiopians never found their way past the ideological crap aisle.

It is tragic and terrifying that a glib catechism, itself the detritus of the West, could make so many otherwise bright people become utterly delusional. Ultimately, even opposition to the post-1974 Marxist-Leninist military dictatorship was largely an argument over who the 'true communists' were.

Some folks are "Still Waiting for those Marxist Insights" as Foreign Dispatches points out. "What Is Left of Socialism" by Leszek Kolakowski is summarized
none of the predictions specific to Marx have come true, among them the disappearance of the middle class, the absolute impoverishment of the working class, the inevitability of the proletarian revolution, and that capitalism would stall technological progress (now where did this computer come from?).

As for the so-called economic or materialist interpretation of history, Marx himself acknowledges that he wasn't the first to advance this, other than give it an upside-down Hegelian spin. From his letter to Joseph Weydmeyer, March 5, 1852:

"And now as to myself, no credit is due to me for discovering the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them. Long before me bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this class struggle and bourgeois economists, the economic anatomy of classes. What I did that was new was to prove:

(1) that the existence of classes is only bound up with the particular, historical phases in the development of production
(2) that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat.
(3) that this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society."
Some of the methods used to prove Marx have themselves been quite objectionable.
So Marx is that rare combination of a Johnny-come-lately and a false prophet. As Kolakowski puts it: "It seems that contemporary economics —- as distinct from economical ideologies —- would not differ much from what it is today if Marx had never been born."

Also, IMHO, Marx's vision of the classless society, as laid out in The German Ideology, is nauseating. It is a world devoid of inspiration, of passion, of all the things that make human existence, for all its iniquities, worth living. Equality is a fine thing, but ... (a)ny just society must figure out a way to balance the desire for equality and the desire for excellence (i.e. inequality); at such a project as this, Marxism fails.
Foreign Dispatches concludes with this
I really do think that about sums it up. Anyone who thinks Marxism has much to offer at this point is indulging a religious fetish, rather than engaging in rational thought.
What cure does the current government advise for Ethiopia's Revolutionary Spirit Hangover? Some hair of the dog that bit you, of course.

Thursday, August 26

Information De-Evolution IV - internet

Internet Unwelcome?

Internet 'Cafe' and Information Business Center in Addis Ababa. Source.

Internet service was first introduced in 1997. By 2002 the "Internet's Presence Felt" according to this article.

Rates for Internet usage, among the half-dozen Internet Cafes that have sprung in the city over the past few months, vary from 75 cents to 4 Ethiopian Birr per minute. This translates to as high as 120 Birr/hour ($15/hour).

But still, this was a site to behold as the promise of the Net was finally available for the tens of thousands of Addis residents who are still in the long waiting-list for a personal account.

In a matter of few days, though, all this was to change, as the Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation (ETC), the government body which has monopoly over the telecom industry in the country, started clamping on these entrepreneurs by closing the facilities citing obscure and archaic regulations. It seemed ETC felt it was the sole legitimate body in the country to be an ISP (Internet Service Provider) and also Internet Café operator.

Meanwhile in the same week, two public seminars on IT and the Internet were being conducted in the city; one organized by Unity College, the city's newest private college and the other on E-commerce organized by the Addis Ababa Chamber of Commerce at the Sheraton Hotel.

It was in the E-commerce seminar that Dr. Dawit Bekele, one of Addis Ababa's most visible and outspoken IT and Internet evangelist reminded the attendants that Ethiopia is already losing a market-share in hides and skin, for long its second largest foreign-exchange earner, because competing countries are enabling their sellers do a real-time e-commerce trading through the web with current and new buyers.

Ethiopian farmers, businessmen and industrialists face a further isolation from the new digital global economy as access to the Internet remains almost negligible, attendants were told. The case of how Ugandan coffee growers and traders use the Internet to follow the world coffee market minute-by-minute on a daily basis hence gaining a competitive advantage over our farmers and traders was also mentioned here in informal side talks.

Way back in 1996 in this prescient paper "Unleashing Ethiopia's Potential: The Technological Reasons for Open and Competitive Cybercommunications" the author provides other basic rationale for a changed role byt the ETC
in the information age, monopolies are not only no longer necessary, but also would be harmful to the development of cybercommunications in Ethiopia. The main reason for this, we claim, are not economic (though there may be strong arguments on those grounds), but technological. The very nature of the information technologies virtually requires an environment of free enterprise and dynamic innovation.

The appropriate role for the state is to continue investing at ever higher rates in the physical national infrastructure, but allow a wide range of bearers and access providers to operate, whether leasing resources from the state built physical network or building their own alternative physical means of transport. State owned entities could also enter the bearer market as competitors, but these entities would best be clearly separated from those building and owning the physical layers.

Another crucial government role is as a regulator, ensuring the fair and efficient functioning of the market. At the same time, protectionist approaches like blocking foreign ownership altogether are not constructive since that would only distort the market, and encourage corrupt hidden dealings.

Regrettably, even though privatizations are in progress in many areas, recent policy statements by the Ethiopian government have indicated neither a move toward deregulation in the telecommunications sector, nor one toward separation of the operator and regulator functions of the government in Telecommunications.

To the contrary, recent actions have been in the opposite direction, with the only existing e-mail access provider in the country on the verge of having its service taken over by the Telecommunications Authority, and a rumored exclusive deal with a foreign company to provide Internet connectivity of some kind.
The reports above may indicate that development of the internet is actually being discouraged in Ethiopia ... Hold the Presses! ... In this article from August 2004 "Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation signs $6.7m deal with Dimension Data" we see the story continue ...
The Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation (ETC) has signed a US $6.7 million deal with Dimension Data to facilitate the implementation of a nationwide broadband Internet project.

The network will have a carrying capacity for approximately 100 000 Internet customers. It will also make provision for 2 000 dedicated Internet customers via either asymmetrical digital subscriber line (ADSL), fixed wireless access (FWA) and fibre and metro-Ethernet connections. Dimension Data will provide value-added services including a complete managed security offering, IP telephony, virtual fax, unified messaging on mail servers and dynamic Web hosting services.

"This project fully supports the Ethiopian government's ICT development agenda and will make access to the Internet a reality for many Ethiopian people and institutions," says Jeff Jack, technology marketing manager, Dimension Data Network Solutions.
Sounds good right? Dimension Data is helping the ETC to increase (by an order of magnitude) the number of internet lines available!

Well ... internet service will still be under government monopoly control which implies ... other forms of control. Since 1996 the private sector, or indeed ETC itself, could have done far more to increase the number of internet connections that have only been promised just this month - if that had been desired.

Perhaps the questions to ask are why the delay lasted most of a decade and why the government is now comfortable with expanding services? ethiopundit has some ideas (suspicions?). More on this soon in the last Information De-Evolution post.

Wednesday, August 25

21st Century Slavery

Akuac Malong (left), age 13, walks home to her village, Madhol, in southern Sudan. She says she was kidnapped and held for seven years as a domestic slave in northern Sudan. Source.

21st Century Slaves at National Geographic makes this extraordinary statement
There are more slaves today than were seized from Africa in four centuries of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The modern commerce in humans rivals illegal drug trafficking in its global reach—and in the destruction of lives.
infoplease has an article about modern slaves
Sometimes referred to as bonded laborers (because of the debts owed their masters), public perception of modern slavery is often confused with reports of workers in low-wage jobs or inhumane working conditions. However, modern-day slaves differ from these workers because they are actually held in physical bondage (they are shackled, held at gunpoint, etc.).

According to Anti-Slavery International (ASI), the world's oldest human rights organization, there are currently over 200 million people in bondage.
Today there is Slave Trading on Africa's West Coast with up to 200,000 children a year sold off. Chattel slavery (slaves owned as personal property) thrives in Sudan where in 1993 the U.S. State Department estimated that
up to 90,000 blacks are owned by North African Arabs, and often sold as property in a thriving slave trade for as little as $15 per human being ... Physical mutilation is practiced upon these slaves not only to prevent escape, but to enforce the owners' ideologies.

According to an ASI report: "Kon, a thirteen-year-old Dinka boy, was abducted by Arab nomads and taken to a merchant's house. There he found several Dinka men hobbling, their Achilles tendons cut because they refused to become Muslims. Threatened with the same treatment the boy converted."
Child "carpet slaves" in India are
kidnapped from their villages when they are as young as five years old, between 200,000 and 300,000 children are held captive in locked rooms and forced to weave on looms for food. In India—as well in other countries—the issue of slavery is exacerbated by a rigid caste system.
There are shackled laborers in Pakistan
there are still roughly 50,000 bonded laborers in southern Singh. Many of those freed now reside in the city of Hyderabad in makeshift camps. Most are afraid to return to their homeland, however, for fear they will be recaptured and enslaved again.
In the Dominican Republic
the collection of slaves for the busy harvest season is more random. The Dominican army, with the support of the State Sugar Council (known as the CEA), "hauls Haitians off public buses, arrests them in their homes or at their jobs, and delivers them to the cane fields".
At (Anti-Slavery International) we see that
Slavery exists today despite the fact that it is banned in most of the countries where it is practised. It is also prohibited by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1956 UN Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery. Women from eastern Europe are bonded into prostitution, children are trafficked between West African countries and men are forced to work as slaves on Brazilian agricultural estates. Contemporary slavery takes various forms and affects people of all ages, sex and race.
Free the Slaves numbers the victims at 27 million and notes that
Although slavery has existed for thousands of years, changes in the world's economy and societies over the past 50 years have enabled a resurgence of slavery. Three trends have had the most impact:

The population explosion has tripled the amount of people in the world, with most growth taking place in the developing world.

Rapid social and economic changes have displaced many to urban centers and their outskirts, where people are powerless and without job security. Millions have become vulnerable to exploitation and slavery.

Government corruption around the world allows slavery to go unpunished, even though it is illegal everywhere.

Slavery exists in many different forms around the world. Two characteristics make most slavery today different from slavery in the past: slaves today are cheap and they are disposable.

Millions of economically and socially vulnerable people around the world are potential slaves. This "supply" makes slaves today cheaper than they have ever been. An average slave in the American South in 1850 cost the equivalent of $40,000 in today's money; today a slave costs an average of $90.

Since they are so cheap, slaves are no longer a major investment worth maintaining. If slaves get ill, are injured, outlive their usefulness, or become troublesome to the slaveholder, they are dumped or killed.
The BBC reports that the UN's cultural organisation, Unesco, has set 23 August as International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition. 2004 is already Slavery Abolition Year.
Events are being held worldwide to mark the abolition of the slave trade and to highlight the fact that millions still live as slaves in all but name.
Let us hope that more will be done than remembering. Well ... it looks like the U.S. is doing more than anyone else in recent memory. According to the VOA
Around the world, between six-hundred thousand and eight-hundred-thousand people are estimated to be trafficked across international borders each year. Experts say eighty percent of victims are women and girls. More than half are forced into sexual servitude, others into forced labor. The United Nations says that the trafficking of human beings is now the third largest source of money for organized crime, after weapons and drugs.

President George W. Bush says that countries that fail to act against human trafficking face possible sanctions from the U.S., the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund
American threats seemed to have worked to some extent
“Last year, after the Department of State released its 2003 Trafficking in Persons Report, (2004 is here) ten nations avoided sanctions by moving quickly to pass new anti-trafficking legislation, to train police officers. They launched domestic information campaigns, and established victim protection programs.”

“Last year at the United Nations, I called on other governments to pass laws making such abuse a crime -- and many have risen to the challenge. In the past year, twenty-four nations have enacted new laws to combat trade in human lives. Thirty-two are now in the process of drafting or passing such laws. As a result of these efforts, this year nearly eight-thousand traffickers were prosecuted worldwide. Two-thousand-eight-hundred have been convicted.”

The message is getting out about human trafficking. “We’re serious,” says President Bush.
There are millions of slaves out there who need an international effort. American financial clout is potent, but not enough. Tragically, no one should hold their breath waiting for the rest of the world to do more than have events at the U.N.

Tuesday, August 24

Information De-Evolution III - computers

Computers Intro

An IBM Model 1440 computer was installed at the Ethiopian Electric Light and Power Authority in the early 1960s. Purchase price was about $90,000 ($523235 in 2003) while the rental rate was about $1,500 ($8720 in 2003). Source.

This 2002 article from The Independent Magazine on Information and Communications Technology (ICT) provides an interesting look at the history of telecommunications in Ethiopia.

The "Influencing factors of ICT Development in Ethiopia", particularly computer development are discussed in the following interview with Ato Solomon Berhanu, a veteran ICT professional.
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has made an impressive progress in Ethiopia since its introduction in the early 1960's with unit-record equipment. Mainframe computers came into the picture in the mid 60's when the then Imperial Ethiopian Highway Authority, the Ethiopian Airlines, the Telecommunications Authority and the Ethiopian Electric Light and Power Authority bought and/or rented the IBM mainframe computers.

These mainframe computers did little beyond computing a couple of vital information like payroll, billing and accounting, because, in all the user organizations no one was aware of their vast computing potentials. A case in mind was the procurement of a cash register in one government organization to process accounting work, that I witnessed, despite the limited workload the mainframe had computing just a payroll application. No one was sure about the capability of the big computer to compute accounting.

In most organizations, procuring expensive ICT equipment was more of prestige rather than appreciation of its use. Thus, it was no wonder to acquire a Birr 500,000.00 to Birr One million worth of mainframe for inadequate usage.

When it comes to utilization, the Ethiopian figure was not averaging beyond 20%.

The mid 70s showed us the mini-computers that were significantly smaller than the mainframes, yet more flexible, powerful and cheaper in price. The monopoly of the Ethiopian market by IBM Corporation dwindled; and competing companies like Burroughs Machines (Unisys), NCR Corporation, Hewlett Packard (HP) started to penetrate into the Ethiopian Market.

NCR had an excellent strategy in the mid 70s to penetrate the little tapped computer market of Ethiopia. They believed that the decision makers, who are in the top and middle management, were the stumbling block in almost all the organizations because of their illiteracy in computers. Thus, free orientation courses were offered to these groups. Not only did they then advocated the procurement of mini computers for their respective organizations, but they were pro-NCR in their selection of equipment and training in programming languages was a reason for the success of NCR.

Personal Computers (PC) came into the market starting from the mid 80s. It was difficult to convince managers of different organizations to replace their typewriters with PCs. Electric typewriters cost about Birr 15,000.00 while the multi-function PCs with long-carriage dot-matrix printers were costing about the same price. A series of training and programmes continued for the next ten years until the new market economic policy made its impact on ICT products.

Now, PCs are everywhere, thanks to the training centers and sales outlets that mushroomed in town. Over one hundred training centers are registered so far. The ICT sales outlets are also within reach for every interested body. Internet cafes were springing up before the government started its discouraging action.

Other African countries, who were way behind us a couple of decades ago, have now plenty of Internet Service Providers (ISP) while our Telecommunications Agency, with its monopolistic attitude, is tightening its control instead of expressing leniency.

Recent newsbreak about China closing 17,000 of the Internet cafes came as a real surprise to me. 17,000? Out of how many? Does the number of Internet cafes reach 17 in Ethiopia? I just wonder.
There is more on the history of Ethio-computing and IT development in this detailed 1994 work Information technology in selected countries which has a detailed historical section titled Information technology in Ethiopia.

The most striking aspect of the IT history the total domination by government of all aspects of computer use. For example, the Ethiopian Science and Technology Commission (ESTC) was established by a 1975 proclamation
to provide the requisite political will and authority for the coordination and promotion of science and technology, its application to development, and overall evaluation of results achieved in the field ...

The commission is the apex decision-making and coordinating body for science and technology (S&T) in the nation. Its aim is to create conditions conducive to the development of the organic growth of a viable scientific and technological system.

One of the policy statements relevant to the theme of this report is the following: "Establishment of a system for the evaluation and monitoring of imported technologies and identification of areas where indigenous technologies can be developed." Among the actions taken by the commission to make such systems viable is the creation of institutions for S&T services to support the development of key sectors in the economy.
Hearing this example of the native language of burdensome bureacrats everywhere it is not difficult to note that 1975 was year one for the establishment of the Soviet style Ethiopian state. In that spirit of control the proclamation hindered the development of IT for decades to come compared to what an open system could have achieved.

Remember that by the time their Empire fell in 1991 the heirs of Lenin could barely produce a PC worthy of the name even with complete sets of plans stolen from the West. Imported PCs and decent mainframes that the military did not grab up were under the strict control of the security services and were largely misused so that they did little to help the collapsing Soviet economy.

Of course, such a flawed system nearly crippled Ethiopian IT development at birth even though IT business relations were with the West. The early pioneers such as Ato Solomon Berhanu (interviewed above) deserve much credit as do the dedicated professionals at the Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation who made the best of a bad system that rejected private initiative.

More on the internet in Information De-Evolution IV.

Monday, August 23

Kenenisa Bekele and more

Kenenisa Bekele center, Haile Gebrselassie right. Image from EthioIndex.

Meanwhile at the Olympics "Bekele leads first day of athletics"
Ethiopia's Kenenisa Bekele completed his coronation as distance running king by dethroning compatriot Haile Gebrselassie on Friday and taking the Olympic 10 000 metres title from the two-time winner.

The 22-year-old phenomenon also broke Gebrselassie's Olympic record to round off a year in which he also seized his compatriot's 5 000 metre and 10 000 metre world records to follow his snatching of the world 10 000 metre title from his countryman last year.

He now stands on the threshold of becoming the first athlete to do the 5 000 metre-10 000 metre double since compatriot Miruts Yifter achieved the feat at the age of 40 in 1980.
"Welcome Back, Europe" by Victor David Hanson on the overdue American troop withdrawals from Europe.

Deki-Alula is a good Ethiopian news and opinion source.

Booker Rising is one of our favorite blogs. It is named for Booker T. Washington (1856-1915)
who was one of the most influential (and controversial) African Americans in history. Raised the son of a slave mother, Washington was self-motivated and committed to his own education from a young age. The tumultuous time in America's history during which he lived afforded him new freedoms that came from Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 and the eventual success of the North in the Civil War. He took the first opportunity to attend a formal school, Hampton Institute, which led to professorship and the founding of one of the most prestigious African American educational institutions of the nineteenth century, Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.
There are too many good posts to link to any one so see the whole thing

"Explosion in Ethiopian ministry"
Ethiopian police are investigating an explosion at the ministry of education in the capital, Addis Ababa.
No-one was in the government building when the blast occurred late on Wednesday night.

There were no injuries and no group has admitted responsibility for carrying out the apparent bombing.

There have been a number of bomb attacks in recent months, blamed on the separatist Oromo Liberation Front (OLF).

The OLF has been fighting for the independence of the southern Oromia region for more than a decade.

The Oromos are the largest ethnic group in the country and make up almost 40% of the population.
"Good news from Iraq, Part 8" from Chrenkoff's blog.

EAL manages a reverse brain drain - "Ten pilots leave fortune behind in U.S. to join EAL"
One of the pilots, Meseret Ephrem said she preferred working in Ethiopia, although she had at times been tempted to take employment in the U.S. to repay the 120,000 Dollars her parents had expended on her piloting courses.

Public relations head with EAL Getachew Tesfa said training pilots locally is indeed costly, and described the act of the pilots from the U.S. who joined the airlines as magnificent.
"Ethiopian fossil coming to Houston"
The first-ever public display of Lucy, a 3.2 million-year-old fossil discovered in Ethiopia, is scheduled for Houston in 2006

The fossil makes up about 40 percent of a skeleton of a woman who died sometime between her 25th and 30th birthdays. She is the "most complete, best-preserved skeleton of any erect-walking human ancestor that has ever been found," according to "Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind," a book co-written by Donald Johanson, one of her discoverers.

Johanson and other anthropologists who unearthed the fossil at Hadar in 1974 named her after the famous Beatles song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" during a celebration over the find with music and beer. The skeleton, according to anthropologists, indicated that our ancestors were upright before the earliest stone tools -- and before the brains of such hominids got bigger.
"Rainfall, timely food aid deliveries improve humanitarian situation"
Recent rainfall and increased distribution of aid have improved the immediate humanitarian situation in the country, but additional pledges are still required to cover an 11 percent food shortfall in the June-December period, a famine alert network has reported.
However, "More than 7.6 million in need of food aid - gov't"
The number of Ethiopians in need of food aid has risen to more than 7.6 million as a result of crop failure and lack of pasture following poor or erratic long rains earlier this year, the country's disaster prevention commission said.
"51,000 people still displaced in Gambela after ethnic clashes - NGO"
The commission stated that 65 people, almost all of them ethnic Anyuaks, were killed in fighting over a weekend in Gambela town. It had been sparked, the report said, by an attack by Anyuak gunmen on government refugee workers in which eight people were killed. The bodies of the men – who were non-indigenous highlanders – had been mutilated in the attack, which took place a few kilometres outside town on a road leading to a planned new refugee site.

Their bodies were taken to the town, where brutal reprisal attacks on Anyuaks then took place. The commission said highlanders – immigrants from others parts of Ethiopia – attacked Anyuaks with axes and iron bars. The local police was completely overwhelmed by the violence, and several hours elapsed before the army stepped in. But fighting also spread through the region, with attacks claiming the lives of several hundred people, the government said at the time.
"Djibouti worries over AIDS from Ethiopia"
We cannot control HIV in Djibouti unless we control it in Ethiopia," said Dr Mohamed Ali Kamil, director of the Health Ministry's Prevention Department.

When prevalence is higher than one percent, we call it a generalised epidemic, and to see a young man dying of AIDS is very disturbing.

In September 2003, Djibouti expelled 100,000 immigrants, most of them from Ethiopia working as labourers and sex workers. Officials say some of those have returned to work at night clubs and other place of entertainment.
"Child Prostitution `Rising Problem With No Due Attention"
Ethiopian law regarding child prostitution is clear and on the whole ahead of its time. But, with the law not being enforced, child prostitution has been an open secret shunned by the law, culture and religion but not exposed and stopped when it counts

The emergence of AIDS has not impeded the traffic largely due to lack of awareness about it among the children being recruited
"Young Immigrants From Ethiopia Celebrate Mass Bar/Bat Mitzvah"
A special Bar and Bat Mitzvah group celebration took place in the northern Galilee community of Safsufa earlier this month, for the third year in a row. The Bar Mitzvah boys and Bat Mitzvah girls were young immigrants from Ethiopia living at the Jewish Agency's Ayelet HaShachar Absorption Center.
The Original Illustrated Catalog Of ACME Products

Weird Foods from Around the World

The Science of Cooking

Race the Power of Illusion

"French Photojournalism Festival to Display the Most Important Photos of the Year". The No Pasaran blog's images of the pictures that the festival will ignore are illuminating.

Wednesday, August 18

Why Ethiopian Airlines Works

E.A.L. 767
image from

In the post Ethiopian Airlines Works we describe the history and success of the company and ask the question - Why is Ethiopian Airlines such a notable bright spot on the Ethiopian scene?

The answer remains that unlike too many aspects of economic policy and social policy and national life the airline was basically ... left alone.

The Economist answered the question fully in this article about business in the developing world printed way back on December 26, 1987 (no link available). Most of the article and its accompanying commentary is below.

The author begins with a look at the business acumen of restauranteurs and mechanics who form part of the large Ethiopian community in Wahington D.C.
But Washington's (new) entrepreneurs can still shock the unwary. Who would have thought that the city's well-heeled middle classes would flock to upmarket restaurants serving food from a country whose principal recent claim to fame was famine? Or that the names of car mechanics from this blighted country would be passed around the cocktail circuit like cherished recipes?

Dig deeper, and the paradoxes start to sort themselves out. Some of those mechanics were initially instructed by a profitable, growing company renowned for its training programmes, and which services expensive capital equipment for firms from more than 20 countries. An American multinational? No. The firm that trained them is a government-owned outfit in a Marxist-mismanaged country with (according to the World Bank) the lowest GDP per head in the world.
There has been some change in this regard, the new government combines Marxism with crony-capitalism but has left the more than able staff of Ethiopian Airlines to their own devices as much as possible.
First, the airline has good relations with its government. Though its board is spotted with Comrade This and Comrade That, gossip has it that Captain Mohammed accepted the position of general manager only after being assured that he could run the airline as a commercial operation. Second, it has kept up foreign contacts, and has used them wisely as a method of expanding. Third, it has taken a realistic view of its market -- and has appreciated that regional markets in the developing world are a better proposition than either a small and poor domestic market, or an attempt to make it in the developed world, where it can be beaten-up by big, rich carriers.

Ethiopian Airlines -- the company in question -- is an unqualified success. Whatever shape the Ethiopian economy as a whole may be in, the American government's Ex-Im Bank has happily guaranteed loans to the flag-carrier. In October 1987 the airline took delivery of its third Boeing 767 wide-bodied airliner, part of an upgrade of its entire fleet costing more than $ 140m. That fleet carried 555,000 passengers in 1986-87, up from 510,000 the previous year. In the past five years, the number of passengers carried on Ethiopian Airlines has grown by an average of almost 11% a year. The airline has made a net profit -- after interest charges -- in all but one of the past ten years, earning $ 8.5m in 1986 (from an operating profit of $ 22m) on revenues of $ 185m.
Net profit in 2003 was 276,655,098 Birr (exchange rate to dollar about 8.64) and operating revenue was 2,832,713,227 Birr under the management of Ato Girma Wake, the Chief Executive Officer. 1,122,018 passengers were carried.
Set up in 1946 for Emperor Haile Selassie by America's TWA, the company had American general managers until 1971. The American connection was one of the reasons that the airline's engineering facility at Addis Ababa gained such a reputation. It services aeroplanes for many carriers in Africa and the Middle East, while training both pilots and airline managers. But is would be patronising and wrong to assume that the success of the company is due only to its roots in the developed world. It has been successful, above all, because it sells a product unique in its market.

Most African airlines try to make sure that their aircraft land regularly in European capitals, so their route maps consist of a series of lines running north-south. And, because they cannot compete on cost, service on reliability with European carriers, they lose money.

Ethiopian Airlines is quite different. Its route map is modelled consciously on the hub-and-spoke system that now dominates American flying; it is the only airline with a daily flight east-west across Africa (it serves three routes across the continent). Without these routes, businessmen travelling from Dakar to Nairobi, say, would be tempted to fly via Paris. Instead, the airline's general manager, Captain Mohammed Ahmed, offers them a chance (with both first and business classes) to connect through Addis Ababa into a proper regional network. He says he is not interested in the seemingly prestigious, but low-yield business of carrying tourists from Europe to Africa's game parks and beaches. Because his airline earns valuable foreign currency for his country, he seems to have a guarantee from Ethiopia's Marxist regime to leave well alone. His annual report highlights productivity.

The success of Ethiopian Airlines in a disastrous economy is one example of an encouraging truth. In places which the casual pundit in New York, London or Tokyo might assume to be economically hopeless, there are companies as excellent as any celebrated in the case-studies of the rich world's business schools. These companies make money the hard way. Until recently, firms in much of the developed world (and American firms particularly) could make a nice living without ever worrying about foreign exchange, and without their executives knowing anything other than their native language. And their success or failure, as a general rule, would be scarcely influenced by politics.

Businessmen in the developing world have had none of these advantages. They have had to wrestle with shortages of hard currency, learn to speak in global languages, and been forced to be politically adroit. Those that have succeeded deserve to be better known -- and not simply because excellence deserves praise.

From the 1950s to the 1970s, admiration of the economic growth experienced by Russia from 1920 suggested to the governments of many developing countries that central economic planning and a large public sector were indispensable to brisk development. That view now sounds extraordinarily dated.
Except in ruling circles that govern the rest of the Ethiopian economy ...
As Mr Babacar N'Diaye, the president of the African Development Bank, said in 1986, "It is now generally accepted that over time most public-sector enterprises have not performed efficiently. From this reappraisal has emerged the need for enhancement of the role of the private sector". He might have added -- as Ethiopian Airlines convincingly shows -- that there has been no less a reappraisal of public enterprise itself. Increasingly, what matters for those firms remaining in the public sector is that they deliver value for money.
Imagine what transformations could be wrought in Ethiopia as a whole if the same rules under which the airline operates were allowed to be applied in a dozen, a hundred even thousands of PRIVATE enterprises fueled with the legality of basic property rights.

It is not rocket science to realize what works and what doesn't in commercial enterprises and national economies - some make money and grow rich while others are bankrupted and remain poor.

The staff of the airlines is not composed of mutants or of magicians. They are just folks who have been given a shot at basic market capitalism that their fellows have been denied. All Ethiopians could do far better if the government just got out of everyone's way.

Unfortunately the rulers see the issue as one of national sacrifice in the service of their own security at the top.

Tuesday, August 17

Information De-Evolution II

What is happening now

Phone shop. Source.

The Ethiopian Privitization Authority (EPA) seems to have the ETC (Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation) up for at least a partial sale
Government of Ethiopia wishes to engage a strategic partner to support ETC’s development of the fixed and mobile telephony market ... (it is) offering a 30% stake together with management control to a potential strategic investor.

(There were) approx 351,600 customer connections as at June 2002. In addition to public fixed telephony, ETC offers other telecommunications services including mobile, internet, public data service, analogue and digital leased lines and telex services.

Ethiopia has a teledensity of 0.36 lines per 100 population, which is one of the lowest in Africa. The need and unmet demand for telephony services is substantial. To meet this demand, Government intends that ETC will continue to remain the sole provider of major telecommunications services for the foreseeable future.
The data, mobile and internet services are described as 'nascent' in the report.

This informative site about the status of IT in Africa says of Ethiopia that by July 2002 there had been strong growth in the mobile sector under a contract with Ericsson resulting in 45,000 subscribers and coverage of several towns in the vicinity of the capital city. Waiting time for a phone line was 7.8 years in 2000. The site also has other facts and links on the subject.

The February 2002 article from The Independent Magazine on Information and Communications Technology (ICT) "The Evolutionary Development of ICT in Ethiopia" elaborates
The level of growth of the Internet is not also heartening. One can discern from various reports that the number of subscribers does not presently exceed 4,073. If we assign five individuals per Internet account the number of users could not surpass 20,365 persons.

It could be argued as to whether telecommunication promote economic development or vice versa, but the link between the two is becoming stronger.
The strategic partner sought by the ETC may be a source of capital and technical expertise but no genuine opening for business and competition is in the offing. Foreign investment is tightly controlled indeed according to the U.S. Country Commercial Guide (CCG) for Ethiopia
Foreign investors find Ethiopia a difficult environment in which to operate. Many sectors, particularly in services and trade, are off-limits to foreigners. The government retains rigid control over the utilities sector and prohibits foreign participation in banking and insurance. Land cannot be purchased or sold, but can be leased. Government procedures and paperwork are usually complicated and time-consuming. The commercial code is antiquated and the under-staffed judicial system is inadequate. The transportation and telecommunications systems, especially internet service, are fair to poor.

The ETC's monopoly of these services has resulted in new customers waiting years for access to the services as well as long delays and slow service for those who have obtained an account.
The government will retain total control of this vital national sector whose underperformance has its roots in government inertia to begin with.

Sadly, privitization when it has occured has seen elements of a state dominated economy sold cheaply to companies often owned by the ruling party. The U.S. Embassy report of 2002 'Creating Pitfalls to Privitization' states that
The EPA (Ethiopian Privitization Authority) Board of Directors is made up of government officials and cannot be considered neutral. The decision of what enterprises to schedule for privatization, or whether to remove an enterprise from the schedule, rests with people who have vested interests and manipulate the system to benefit themselves, friends and/or family.

Observers speculate that people with connections benefit from re-tenders as they are able to buy viable enterprises at rock-bottom prices. Meanwhile, the government appoints managers to run state-owned enterprises until privatization, creating the opportunity to skim profits, overstate expenses, etc.

The privatization process functions, but could garner more revenues for the government if it were more efficiently, and more importantly, independently managed. A proper system of sealed-bid auctions, for example, might eliminate some of the opportunities for collusion, and would speed up the process.
Over the past century the Ethiopian church has adapted to the modern world in many ways as the telephone blessing priest did in Menelik's palace in 1894. The economic and social potential of telecommunications has, of course, exploded.

However, the fear of the new and of the consequences of uncontrolled information has found a very secure home in the Ethiopian government - at great cost to the national interest.

The Country Commercial Guide describes the political structure
The EPRDF (the ruling party) officially favors democracy and private enterprise, but has yet to rid itself of residual control-oriented tendencies rooted in its past as a Marxist organization.
Thus Ethiopia has a curious mix of statist Communism and crony capitalism managing the economy of a society desperate for economic growth.

Monday, August 16

License Plate History

Left and center are pre World War II examples from Gondar and Mekele. On the right one from Addis Ababa during the Italian occupation.

Amazingly, there is a World License Plate site with a rather complete collection of images from Ethiopia and Eritrea.
... The population of Ethiopia is currently around 59,000,000 with about 60,000 vehicles. The population of Eritrea is around 3,600,000. There are about 5000 vehicles in Eritrea.

The history of license plates in Ethiopia and Eritrea can be divided into five periods ...
The pictorial history continues here.

Information De-Evolution I - back in the day

In the Beginning

In Oct 1901 Emperor Menelik II appointed Kanyazmatch Beyene Yimer as Director of Post and Telegraph. He was from the staff of Empress Taitu's household. On 17 June 1907 he was appointed Superintendent of Post and Telegraph. Source.

There is an old story about the first telephone line used in Ethiopia - but first some background on its introduction ...
Railway construction was accompanied by the installation of the country's first telephone and telegraph line, which followed the railway track from the capital to the coast. This line, which was erected by the technicians working on the railway, and led from Addis Ababa to Jibuti.

The line was supplemented, after the battle of Adwa, by a second one, installed by Italian electricians. It ran from the Ethiopian capital to the frontier of Eritrea, as well as to a number of provincial capitals to the south and west of the country.
Begun in the 1890s the railway was not completed until 1915 because of contract difficulties and the engineering challenges of the country's terrain.

However, the phone lines to Addis were completed by 1897. At a palace ceremony to innagurate the telephone system the invited Orthodox priest was not pleased - the new technology was allegedly 'the work of the devil'.

A compromise was reached by the Emperor Menelik. The first words spoken were ordered to be from a Bible passage in Ge'ez (the ancient liturgical language of Ethiopia akin to Latin in its use in the Church and its relationship with modern languages).

Satisfied, the priest proceeded to bless the use of phones in Ethiopia.

The Telecoms history is also discussed in this February 2002 article from The Independent Magazine on Information and Communications Technology (ICT)"The Evolutionary Development of ICT in Ethiopia".
The Imperial Board of Telecommunications of Ethiopia was established after the victory over Italian invaders as the sole telecom operator to develop and manage this sector ... It (is now renamed) the Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation (ETC).
At the ETC website there is a good historical summary. More on the history of the telecommunications sector and of government policies in the next posts on Information De-Evolution.

Thursday, August 12

Bridges to Prosperity

The First Portuguese Bridge, built in 1620, en route to the (Blue Nile) falls.

A December 2000 National Geographic article about the struggles of Ethiopian villagers to cross the Nile river moved Ken Frantz to found Bridges to Prosperity. The article described how a
single rope is the only link between the east and west banks of the Abay (Nile) at the Second Portuguese Bridge, whose central arch collapsed when Ethiopian patriots undermined its footings during the Italian occupation of 1935-1941. Just four other bridges span the river, which for centuries served as a defense for Gojjam, the region it encircles.
Rotary International further describes the project
... Frantz, the owner of a construction company, knew he could use his expertise to help the 375,000 villagers who live on either side of the Portuguese Bridge.

The bridge spans a 4,000-foot gorge, 26 miles from the nearest road or town. Some 25,000 pounds of steel, cement, and equipment necessary for the repair work had to be transported to the site on the backs of 350 donkeys.

Over two weeks in February 2002, the volunteers, assisted by more than 250 local residents, repaired the Portuguese Bridge. All of the work was done by hand, and a rock hammer was the largest tool used. When the bridge was completed, more than 1,000 residents and government officials attended a reopening celebration.

(t)he program aims to construct 50 pedestrian/donkey bridges across the Blue Nile per year.
In an article in the Addis Tribune some of the benefits are outlined
Long before (Frantz) set his foot at the locality of the Broken Bridge, what (he) thought about was the economic part of the whole exercise which would eventually benefit the people in the area. With the bridge now fixed, people from Gojam and Gonder could trade goods and services like never before. “We estimate that this bridge would increase trade between the two provinces by 20-25 million Birr per year,” Ken says with some air of self-assurance.

With the outcome yet to be seen, Ken looks forward to another project along the Abay river. This time, it is the “Costanios Bridge, (named after the architect who began working on it nearly a hundred years ago) assumed to be the first automobile bridge that Emperor Menelik ordered to be built but was left unfinished. “That bridge would be connecting several provinces,”
'Castiano's Folly' is described in detail here.

The Second Portuguese Bridge Project cost $108,000, all in donations.

Current Ethiopian budget priorities include items such as a squadron of ten advanced Su-27 fighter aircraft obtained from Russia at a cost of about "$35 million per aircraft, or $70 million on a ten-year supported lease".

Tuesday, August 10

New Jack Country

Map of Ethiopia showing the country´s administrative regions which are based on and named for their predominant ethnic / tribal group ... the only nationwide political party controls the government.

Ethiopia´s federalism is described by Radio Netherlands in this recent article that includes the map above.

Ethiopia has undergone a remarkable transformation since the country adopted a unique form of federalism based on tribal identity in 1991. Anyone who wants to see the remarkable progress made since then should visit the Tigray region in the north of the county. Those who want to see how the federalist system has produced a remarkable level of violence should visit Gambela in the southwest.

The rebels who overthrew the cruel military Marxist regime (the Dergue) of Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991 came from the north's mountainous Tigray region. At the last moment, the Tigrayans – led by Ethiopia's current Prime Minister Meles Zenawi – formed a united front with other tribe-based resistance movements.
Until victory and the necessity of accomodating a Western world victorious in the Cold War, the avowed aim of the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) had been an independent Tigray based on the ultra-orthodox Marxist-Leninist model of Stalinist Albania
Once the Mengistu regime had been toppled, some 69 tribal and regional resistance groups came together in the capital, Addis Ababa, in 1991 to establish a new political system: tribal federalism. Unlike the rest of Africa, where nationalism has been preached in the period since the nations there gained independence, Ethiopia chose an entirely new path by emphasising the tribal identities of its people. The country was divided into semi-autonomous regions on the basis of the country's tribes or groups of tribes. These regions each have their own government, president and parliament.

View from the capital
The better-educated inhabitants of Addis Ababa, now the country's federal capital, have often left their tribal origins behind and regard the current political structure of the country as primitive and unworkable. They value the democratic freedoms which, while limited, are without precedent in Ethiopia's long history, but are critical of the dominant position of the Tigrayans in the federal government. Many of them believe the Tigrayans and their home region are getting a better deal.

In Tigray itself, there is solid unity...
There are two important points to make here.

the article points out that there is a degree of resentment among other groups that "the Tigrayans and their home region are getting a better deal". It is likely that Tigray is a destination for many development funds.

However, we believe that any implication that Tigrayans in general are somehow 'guilty' is an egregious error. One of the crucial aspects of the tribal system in place is the desire to divide and rule and to sow the seeds of suspicion.

Creating a climate of mutual hostility between groups serves the purposes of a narrow base of power. When others see Tigrayans as a group necessarily aligned with the government an involuntary enmity is created despite any interests Tigrayans may have in common with other Ethiopians.

Second, the article states that "(i)n Tigray itself, there is solid unity". Such a degree of 'solid unity' among any grouping of humans is suspect as is evidenced by the fact that all
(t)he area's one-time liberation movement, the TPLF, holds all the seats in the regional government and parliament.
The ruling party dominance of the Federal Parliament is almost as strong numerically and totally in practice. The EPRDF controls (Click on 'Ethiopia at a glance') 481 of the 547 seats directly while regional parties associated with the ruling party control another 37 seats.

The opposition is represented in parliament with 12 members from 3 ethnically-focused regional parties, the largest (9 seats) from the south. There are also 9 independent members. The U.S. State Department Country Report on Human Rights Practices had this to say about the status of the opposition
The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly; however, on several occasions the Government restricted this right in practice. Organizers of large public meetings or demonstrations must notify the Government in advance and obtain a permit. There were several reports during the year that permits were denied to opposition parties. Opposition parties also reported long, unexplained delays by the Government in issuing permits and last minute revocations of permits, which hindered the ability of groups to organize events.

Opposition political parties reported that their supporters were the targets of frequent and systematic violence by ruling party supporters during the year, often after leaving meetings
In addition freedom of the press is limited in Ethiopia and likely to worsen.

The strong hand of the ruling party is felt most strongly among the hapless Tigrayan people. In the rest of the country dissent is only tolerated as far as foreign donor's eyes can see or care to see. In 'united' Tigray the engines of control are far stronger than in other regions.

Indeed, that strong government hand extends even to the Western world where harrassment and intimidation are becoming alarmingly routine among the Ethiopian communities of the diaspora.

Remember the government imposed isolation of the Tigrayan people as these issues are discussed.
Mekelle, the region's capital, has undergone something of a metamorphosis, and has trebled in size. A rough landing strip has made way for an international airport, with a new highway connecting it to the city centre. And public transport is no longer the preserve of horse-drawn wagons as taxis drive down streets now lined with new office buildings. Outside the centre, brand new industries have put down roots, with an environmentally-friendly cement factory taking pride of place amongst them.

No more tribal dominance
The ancient Ethiopian nation – known for centuries as Abyssinia – was always ruled by emperors who came from one or other section of the population. They were usually Tigrayans or Amharians. The Amharians were the ones who profited most under the country's last emperor, Haile Selassie, and the Mengistu government. Together with the Tigrayans, the country's largest ethnic group, the Oromos, felt they were the losers. The new federal system was meant to end forever the situation where one ethnic group could dominate all the others.
However, one political group has come to dominate all the others in the NAME of one ethnic group but with its OWN interests as an elite. The German Foreign Ministry (Click on 'Ethiopia at a glance')describes not the Tigrayan people's dominance but that of ruling
coalition of the Ethiopian People's Democratic and Revolutionary Front (EPDRF) and its regional partners. The leading voice within the EPDRF is the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), which led the war of liberation against the Derg.
The Radio Netherlands article continues
That aim has been achieved in Tigray because of the level of unity, the enthusiasm of the people and those who govern them, and perhaps also because the area gets preferential treatment. However, the federal structure has had a completely different impact in Gambela, which lies in the lowlands in the southwest of the country, along the border with southern Sudan. Here, the system has made traditional relations – and tensions – between the local tribes more entrenched. In December 2003 mass killings took place in Gambela and elsewhere in the area, in which hundreds – some say thousands – of people lost their lives. It appears that federal government army forces were to a large extent responsible for the violence.

The downside
The regions two main ethnic groups, the Anuak and the Nuer, are fighting to gain influence in the regional government, and the influx of tens of thousands of settlers from the highlands is only serving to make relations between the tribes even more explosive. Gambela itself still looks as neglected and underdeveloped as it did 13 years ago, only now it's also extremely unsafe. The local inhabitants accuse the government of operating a divide-and-rule policy in Gambela. The dangerous level of xenophobia in Gambela provides evidence for those that oppose the federal system that democracy based on a tribal system simply doesn't work.
More on the Anuak issue in the future but for now take a look at Anuak Genocide Watch.

Monday, August 9

Unganisha and more

Unganisha is a blog and hidden in its archives is an insightful and well written travelogue about a series of trips to Ethiopia for business.

UN Aid Team Goes to Southern Ethiopia Where Humanitarian Emergencies Loom
Aiming to avert a potential humanitarian catastrophe, United Nations aid coordinators have opened an office in the Somali Region of Ethiopia to provide assistance in the areas devastated by drought.
Anyone who lives where rainfall is highly variable can experience drought. Famine, however, happens only to the poor and powerless.

Human rights activist alleges Ethiopian government plan to cede land to Sudan
Prof Mesfin Woldemariam [renowned human rights activist] has issued a statement on the government's decision and preparations to give some part of Himora [northwestern Ethiopia] and its environs to Sudan. Prof Mesfin said there is substantial evidence that shows the land belongs to Ethiopia.

However, he said it is very hard to understand now why the Ethiopian government is ceding such a vast and fertile land to Sudan when thousands of youths perished and billions of birr worth of resources destroyed for a small village, Badme [the bone of contention in the border row with Eritrea].
WHO to roll out Aids drugs in Ethiopia.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) plans to provide anti-retroviral drugs to 150 000 Aids patients in Ethiopia by 2005, a WHO official said on Thursday.
The U.S. Agency for International Development has an HIV / AIDS Country Profile for Ethiopia here.
The current HIV prevalence estimate is 6.6% ; thus 3 million people are currently living with HIV.
Two blasts rock Ethiopian capital, no casualties

Hotel in Addis receives terror threat
An unknown group claiming to have links with al Qaeda threatened on Tuesday to blow up the Ethiopian Airport Motel, the Amharic weekly Tobia reported.
Belfast Telegraph
The 'Irish Rovers' are a group of junior football coaches, most of whom have links to the Greenisland Boys Club, who came out here to breathe fresh life into the troubled Ethiopian Football Federation, a one-time powerhouse in the sport ...
Long-Running Rivalry - The traditional clash between Ethiopia and Kenya in distance running is also a contest between competing visions of sport
The two countries share many of the same raw materials: light, thin runners born and trained at high altitudes (where higher red-blood-cell concentrations in athletes improve strength); a fierce desire to overcome poverty; and incredible reserves of mental and physical stamina. At the same time they offer a fascinating study in contrasting coaching and management styles: Kenya's free-market approach, in which each runner competes primarily for himself, versus Ethiopia's system of central control, in which the country's athletics federation decides where and when the athletes should run. "In Kenya, everybody competes and then the best will be selected," says Kipchoge. "It's not the government that is looking for athletes."
The Sheba Film Festival will celebrate the culture and history of the Ethiopian Jews by displaying arts, paintings and feature 5 films about Ethiopian Jewry.
The Festival primarily focuses on the culture and heritage of the Jews of Ethiopia, featuring 5 films demonstrating life primarily in Israel and Ethiopia, and showing the long history that Judaism has had in Ethiopia. Supplementing the films will be an artistic display from Beta Israel artists and cultural handiworks indigenous to Ethiopia. The Festival also serves as an opportunity for the Ethiopian Jewish community to expound on many issues that are affecting them today.
The Living Room Presidential Candidate from the American Museum of the Moving Image. It has a collection of Presidential Campaign Commercials from 1952 through today.

Have you ever imagined a sitcom based on the idea that one Astronaut was left on the moon when NASA lost its budget after America lost interest? Well someone thought of it.

From AfricaBlog a vivid image of America's designated world role and the U.N.'s abdication of responsiblity
The tough part, being an American, and being pro-intervention is that as powerful as the US is, both militarily and politically, even we don't have the power to right all of the world's wrongs.

My favorite book of all time is Catcher in the Rye. One of the things that I liked about it was the idea of the catcher--that is, the person running through the rye, at the edge of the cliff, doing his damnedest to keep children from falling over the edge. As you grow up, you realize that there is only so much you can do to help keep the world safe from danger--and that "so much" is really "so little." Like Holden, we all realize that we have to grow out of our Superman fantasies.

The UN is different. As a theoretical league of nations, it does have the power to make a great difference in the world. If the UN were an organization dedicated to its charter--the prevention of genocide, for instance--it would be an organization dedicated to actually acting in the interest of the Sudanese people, and the millions that live in places like Zimbabwe.
Confessions of a Bleeding Heart Warmonger from the same blogger is interesting as well.

Mostly Africa should be visited if you are interested in Africa. We were going to link to individual posts but there are so many of them ... just visit the whole site.

Belle de Jour is the blog diary of a London call girl.

Welcome to EUROBAD '74, an exhibition of Europe's worst interiors of 1974.

Ethioindex is a good source for newslinks.

Chrenkoff on the Secret diplomacy of John F Kerry

Friday, August 6

The Ethiopic Calendar

An article by Dr. Aberra Molla about the Ethiopic Calendar (written in 1994)
According to the beliefs of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, God created the world 5500 years before the birth of Christ. (And) it is 1994 years since Jesus was born. Based on this timeline, we are in the year 7494 of the eighth millennium. These are referred to (Amete Alem in Amharic) or "the years of the world".

Ethiopic is not the only calendar in Ethiopia either. Ethiopians followed the Old Testament before the introduction of Christianity. The Oromo people have their own calendar. Bete Israel (the Falasha) believe in the Jewish faith (and follow its calendar).

The Ethiopian Calendar has more in common with the Coptic Egyptian Calendar. The Ethiopic and Coptic calendars have 13 months, 12 of 30 days each and an intercalary month at the end of the year of 5 or 6 days depending whether the year is a leap year or not...
Here is the rest of this article about the The Ethiopic Calendar.

Wikepedia has articles about the Julian and Gregorian calendars.

Thursday, August 5

On the Pitfalls of Ethnic Politics

Ethiopia is a nation of myriad ethnic groups and diverse regions. Today, participation in political (and increasingly social and economic) life is defined by the government, and indeed by the national constitution, in ethnic or regional terms. This has predictably negative consequences for national stability and development.

The preamble to the Ethiopian Constitution begins with
"We, the Nations, Nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia"

In comparison here are the first words of the preambles to several other diverse world constitutions
We, the people of South Africa
We, the representatives of the Brazilian People
We, the People of the United States
We, the multinational people of the Russian Federation
It is odd that at the very start of such a defining document the existence of a singularly Ethiopian national identity is denied and there is no evidence of a desire that one eventually be forged. The Ethiopian Constitution sees Ethiopia only in terms of geography. We can name no other country in the world that so devalues its own identity and legitimacy.

Constitutions speak to the questions of national existence. They are important because they define a country's legitimacy in terms of the will of its people and the ideal they aspire too. In addition they set out the base of the rule of law to achieve those aims.

Sub-Article 5 of Article 39 says that
A "Nation, Nationality or People" for the purpose of this Constitution, is a group of people who have or share large measure of a common culture or similar customs, mutual intelligibility of language, belief in a common or related identities, a common psychological make-up, and who inhabit an identifiable, predominantly contiguous territory.
That definition could be defined so narrowly or widely that it is meaningless.

Sub-Article 4 goes on to say that
The right to self-determination, including secession, of every Nation, Nationality and People shall come into effect:
(a) When a demand for secession has been approved by a two-thirds majority of the members of the Legislative Council of the Nation, Nationality or People concerned;
(b) When the Federal Government has organized a referendum which must take place within three years from the time it received the concerned council's decision for secession;
(c) When the demand for secession is supported by majority vote in the referendum;
(d) When the Federal Government will have transferred its powers to the council of the Nation, Nationality or People who has voted to secede; and
(e) When the division of assets is effected in a manner prescribed by law.
If other nations labored under such constitutional mandates then every possible human grouping would have the right to secede at will. This would include many absurd and tragic consequences. While satisfying the logic of Article 39 that clique of nerdy kids who always sit at the same table in their school cafeteria could have a seat at the U.N. The entire existence of the U.S. would not be legitimate because the Confederacy would have slipped out of the Union, preserving the evil of slavery, with just a few neat legal maneuvers.

Article 47 names the constituent states of Ethiopia - all are defined by and named for their numerically dominant resident ethnic group. Sub-Article 1 lists them
(1)Member States of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia are the Following:
1) The State of Tigray
2) The State of Afar
3) The State of Amhara
4) The State of Oromia
5) The State of Somalia
6) The State of Benshangul/Gumuz
7) The State of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples
8) The State of the Gambela Peoples
9) The State of the Harari People
(2) Nations, Nationalities and Peoples within the States enumerated in sub-article 1 of this article have the right to establish, at any time, their own States.
This article also reveals in sub-Article 2 how infinitely smaller divisions can be created at the will of any progressively smaller 'Nation, Nationality and People'.

Can every possible 'Nation, Nationality and People' really become independent at will?

Of course not - practical realities would intrude.

The destructive power of thousands of men with guns and tanks are included among those practical realities. In addition all local offices for each actual and potential 'Nation, Nationality and People' are appointed by the ruling party or elected from a very short list of ruling party approved candidates.

Every country on earth would have no dream of prospering or even of existing with such a founding document ... that is if they took the whole business of constitutions and the rule of law at all seriously. The Ethiopian constitution is not meant to matter in terms of law or spirit beyond its appearance to foreigners who will not look at it too closely.

The consequences for the Ethiopians in terms of social, economic and political development are tragic.

The rulers of Ethiopia are popularly imagined to have their roots in an ethnic liberation front and in Marxist-Leninism. This is only half true. The former is only an excuse for a small like minded group to draw others to their own cause by trick or by force. The latter is proven means of focusing their own will to power

Such atavistic ties to ethnicity and ideology serve only the cause of power. The Ethiopian Constitution reflects that atavism.

ethiopundit is not denying the importance of ethnicity. It is a profound and necessarily respected aspect of every person. However, that aspect of identity is often manipulated for selfish ends with the classic aim of divide and rule. By falsely wrapping themselves in a tribal mantle ethnic politicians seek to protect themselves from legitimate opposition.

Thus involuntary enmities and artificial loyalties against self interest are manufactured. Ethnic politics does serve the interests of a very few whose security in power trumps all other considerations.

To paraphrase Samuel Johnson - for the political classes 'ethnicity is the last refuge of a scoundrel'.

ethiopundit will not fall for the baited trap of assigning millions characteristics that are shared only within a ruling class that misfortune has placed in everyone's way.

Wednesday, August 4

Salt to Thalers to Birr

The basic unit of Ethiopian currency is called the Birr. Today a dollar is worth about 8.64 Birr. Numerous forms of tender legal and otherwise have been used over time including
The silver Talari was introduced in 1893 as a substitute for the Maria Theresa Thaler, which was the main medium of exchange in Ethiopia in the 1800s and 1900s. Ethiopia issued banknotes in Thalers from the Bank of Abyssinia from 1915 until 1932, and from the Bank of Ethiopia from 1932 until 1936 when Italian authorities recalled all the banknotes. Transactions were also carried out in French Francs.

When Ethiopia was incorporated into Italian East Africa, the Italian East Africa Lira was introduced at par with the Italian Lira. After Ethiopia was liberated from the Italians in April 1941, the British administered the monetary affairs of Ethiopia during the war and introduced the East Africa Shilling into the country. Egyptian Pounds were also in use, though they were phased out in the 1940s. Maria Theresa Thalers, Indian Rupees and the British Pound Sterling were also legal tender under British administration.

On July 23, 1945, the Ethiopian Dollar was introduced. The Ethiopian Dollar became the sole legal tender on October 1, 1952 when Eritrea was incorporated into Ethiopia. On September 21, 1976, Ethiopia replaced the Ethiopia Dollar with the Ethiopia Birr at par.
The transition from dollar to birr in 1976 was motivated in part by the 'revolutionary' spirit of the Marxist military dicatatorship. The dollar was so named in an effort to declare economic and fiscal independence from the U.K. during and after the Second World War.

The costly war between Eritrea and Ethiopia that began in 1998 was given impetus by tensions over currency issues and trade. In a nutshell, the government (of the former Ethiopian province) of Eritrea felt entitled to an indefinite portion of Ethiopian economic activity because of its role in the overthrow of the former Marxist military dictatorship.

The new Ethiopian government, controlled by the erstwhile partners of the Eritrean government, came to see its own interests in total self rule and economic independence. Therefore, they went to the mattresses over their respective cuts of the action - tragically there were millions of innocents caught in the crossfire.

From Africa Watch on the economic aspects of the war
In 1997, Eritrea introduced its own currency, the nakfa, which it wanted to trade at parity with the Ethiopian birr. Eritrea also insisted that, internationally, the nakfa would be allowed to float. After long deliberation, the Ethiopian government rejected the proposed linkage of the two units and, from October 1997, required that all trade transactions in excess of US $250 between the two countries are to be conducted in hard currency.

The nakfa consistently trades at lower rates than the birr, which implies falling wage rates for migrants from Tigre. All of this erodes household incomes, causing considerable stress. On both sides, the animosity generated by the hardships caused by this series of policy changes was considerable and created a reservoir of public anger to be directed at whichever of the two governments was identified as the responsible party.
Still in limited use in rural Ethiopia is the Maria Theresa Thaler
(It) (dollar) has served as a trade dollar world wide for 226 years. Initially minted in 1782 this dollar-sized coin has served as the only coin in many near countries and even still used today in some places. It was one of the silver coins used in the early United States along with the Spanish dollar and other European dollar sized coins.

Maria Theresa Thaler

Maria Theresa, the daughter of Charles VI, the last Hapsburg ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, was born in 1718. When she was 19, Maria Theresa married Francis Steven, Duke of Lorraine. Crowned Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary and Bohemia in 1745 when her husband was crowned Holy Roman Emperor, Maria Theresa had 16 children, 11 daughters. She died in 1780.
The National Bank of Ethiopia has a fine page on the history of money and banking in Ethiopia.
salt served as a principal item of exchange in Ethiopia for over one thousand years. Salt was not merely a kitchen commodity but also a medium of exchange in larger scale transactions. The salt bar used as a medium of exchange in Ethiopia was called "guela" in Tigrigna, amole in Amaharic and its common name was "(c)hew" which means salt both in Aamharic and Tigrigna.
The ancient Kings of Axum also minted coins
No one knows the exact time when minting of coins started in Axum. Some Archeologists endorse the view that Endybis was the first king to introduce gold coins in his name around the third century (.227-235 A.D.). The second king to strike similar coins also in his name was Aphilas. The coins bearing the image of kings Endybis and Aplilas are among the evidence that pre Christian Ethiopia had her own currency. After Endybis and Applials each succeeding Axumite sovereign introduced his own coins with his image and insignia.

Tuesday, August 3

Ethiopian Airlines Works

expansion, boeing vs airbus, the fleet, history, etc.

E.A.L. DC-3
image from

Ethiopian Airlines, now approaching its 60th year of operations, has been a glaring constant of success despite government ownership and a succession of Imperial, Marxist, and quasi-Marxist governments. This story about its expansion caught our attention.

Boeing courts Ethiopian Airlines for 7E7 orders
The Boeing Company has only revealed the identities of four of the 24 airlines it said last month have placed either firm or tentative orders for its new 7E7 Dreamliner.

While company officials won't say whether Ethiopian Airlines is one of the 20 mystery customers, it's clear that Boeing would sure like to add the carrier to its list of 7E7 buyers.

Ethiopian Airlines has been an exclusive Boeing customer since 1962, and before that had been an exclusive customer of McDonnell Douglas (which merged with Boeing in 1997) since the airline's inception in 1946.

But despite the longstanding relationship between the two companies, it's not a given that Ethiopian Airlines will always operate an all-Boeing fleet.
Airbus and Boeing have fought hard over similiar deals, with Airbus proposing its A319-100 and A330-200 airplanes. Airbus has recently overtaken Boeing in market share and orders as The Economist reports in this piece from the Farnborough airshow.
A decade ago, Airbus supplied just a fifth of the civil-aviation market. But since then, a raft of new, subsidised aircraft has greatly boosted its share of the market: last year, for the first time, it delivered more planes than Boeing. And, judging by the news coming out of Farnborough this week, the gap is likely to widen. Helping to power Airbus’s growth is its A380, a double-decker “super jumbo” which can carry 555 passengers halfway round the world and which will be delivered from 2006. Airbus has bet—probably correctly—that this will become the aircraft of choice when airlines come to replace their ageing Boeing 747s.

Boeing’s own attempt at a replacement for its jumbo—the smaller, speedier Sonic Cruiser—had to be abandoned after the company failed to secure enough orders. Boeing is now betting that the airline industry will develop in a different way. Its main new offering is the 7E7—the E is for “efficiency”—which holds around 250 passengers and is set to replace the 757 and 767. The new aircraft can cover more than 9,000 miles but its smaller size also makes it ideal for shorter hops. It has a list price of $120m, roughly the same as the models it is replacing, but Boeing claims it is worth 20% more thanks to its operating efficiencies, as it is made from lighter carbon-fibre materials. For passengers, Boeing promises bigger windows, wider seats and higher humidity to make for a more comfortable flight.
These are the only two major sources for world class airliners. Battles for market share can often be bitter and involve the use of European Union and American foreign policy influence and aid programs. The EU often expects (strongarms?) aid recipients into doing business with European companies. Ethiopia is a major recipient of EU aid and Europe is the most valuable market for Ethiopia's few cash exports. The other major source of budget support, aid for development programs and emergency food aid is the American aid programs.

Tupolev of Russia also manufactures airliners. Technical standards, particularly with respect to safety, are approaching Western norms but the baggage of the Soviet past restricts competitiveness on the international scene. Embraer of Brazil makes smaller, but worldclass, airliners often for the commuter market. Bombardier of Canada, which also owns Learjet, also commands a healthy portion of the world market for regional jets.

Boeing likely won the Ethiopian contract because its size limited the amount of pressure that the EU was willing to exert on one of the world's poorest nations. In the context of the post 9/11 world and given the 'difficult neighborhood' Ethiopia is located in, high value must also be placed on the current security relationship with the US. Furthermore, familiarity with Boeing made planes makes for technological comfort and a reduction of operating costs from the customer's point of view. Overall, it seems like a good business decision.

Thus, the Boeing-Ethiopian relationship seems quite solid. In 2002 a deal was signed for the lease of twelve aircraft over four years - six Next Generation Boeing 737-700s and six 767-300ERs (Extended Range). There are also options for delivery of five 737-700s and three widebody 777s.

Current Ethiopian airline holdings include these aircraft
headed by five Boeing 767-300s, which are used for long haul passenger services. Medium-range flights are covered by four Boeing 757s, three Boeing 737-700s (Winglets) and a Boeing 737-260. Five Fokker 50s, and three DHC Twin Otters fly the domestic routes. (In addition there is) a Boeing 757 freighter, to a cargo fleet that also includes two Lockheed L-100s.
In 2002, the airline carried 1,054,687 passengers to destinations from Asia to North America with extensive service to internal and African locations. Ethiopian describes its own strategy...
Sustained growth has fueled the development of the most comprehensive pan-African route network of any airline. We know Africa by heart, and as a means of introducing visitors to the wonders of Africa, Ethiopian Airlines is unrivalled. Our increasing number of international destinations also provides a smart way for Africa to reach the world.
Long standing relationships appear to be highly valued at Ethiopian Airlines. In 2003 Pratt & Whitney received engine orders for new aircraft to be flown by Ethiopian
(P&W) has been supplying engines to Ethiopian since the airline began international service in April 1946 with DC-3s flying between Addis Ababa and Cairo.
"We are delighted to expand our 57-year relationship with Ethiopian Airlines," said Robert F. Leduc, president of Pratt & Whitney's Commercial Engine business. "We're grateful for the opportunity to continue supporting the growth of one of Africa's largest and most highly respected airlines.
"The outstanding capabilities and reliability of these engines will support Ethiopian Airlines' strategic plan by further strengthening the airline's competitiveness."
Plans were also confirmed at the time of the Boeing order for the construction of a major air cargo terminal at Addis Ababa airport. A new $130 million and airport improvement program financed in part by OPEC , the Kuwaiti government and the African Development Bank has recently been completed. The new passenger terminal is a welcome change from the neglected and decaying original built in the early 1960s - its contractors included companies from the UK, Lebanon, South Korea, Japan, Germany and Kuwait.

Ethiopian Airlines is also a beacon of native technical and administrative competence for third world airlines. It is operated at every level by Ethiopians - training was also provided from the outset to students from other African and at times Asian countries. It
plays a key role in the sub-Saharan African region, where it has established a maintenance center capable of performing all heavy checks. The center has been certified by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.
Development of aviation resources was begun by necessity early in the 20th century. The country is mountainous, now landlocked and with an inadequate road or rail network. In the distant past passenger compartments were often shared with trussed up sheep, bundles of skins or coffee for export. Standards of comfort are, of course, quite high now and the airline remains a vital part of the national economy.

The origins of the airline date back to the end of the Second World War and reflect the geopolitics of that era. From the Reporter
The Americans left their stamp on the Air Force as well as on civil aviation. In 1945, the Ethiopian delegation attending the founding conference of the United Nations approached the Americans for assistance in setting up a civilian airline.

During the same year, the Ethiopian Airlines was established with a capital of 2.5 million birr and five DC-3 aircraft taken from the United States World War II surplus pool under a management contract with Trans World Airlines (TWA).

The agreement lasted three decades, with TWA providing the managerial and supervisory personnel for most of that period. The Ethiopian Airlines first establishment was marked by flying six DC-3 aircraft to three neighboring countries’ capital cities (Aden, Cairo, and Djibouti) and our domestic towns (Addis Ababa, Asmara, Gondar and Dire Dawa).
Why is Ethiopian airlines such a notable bright spot on the Ethiopian scene? Unlike too many aspects of economic and social policy and life the airline was basically ... left alone.

More on this in a post later this week.