Thursday, 9 May 2019

Press Freedom in Ethiopia – hopes and fears

A year from today, there were still journalists in prisons in Ethiopia. A year after there is none. The changes in Ethiopia are unprecedented. To the surprise of the world, Ethiopia brought together people from around the globe for the 2019 World Press Freedom Day that took place from 1-3 May 2019, in Addis Ababa. It was good to be part of the celebrations in Addis.

I grew up in Ethiopia listening mostly to government owned media outlets and reading the likes of Addis Zemen and the Ethiopian Herald. During my days as a student at the Addis Ababa University in late 80s and early 90s, I started to develop interest to write about human rights and the need for freedom of speech and expression. That wasn’t easy then as the country was under the tight leadership of Mengistu Hailemariam, who had no place and patience for dissenting voices. Hence whenever we had the courage to express ourselves freely, we knew what the consequence could be.   I still remember the days we spent in prison in Sendafa for demanding changes and protesting. Yet despite the challenges, we had to keep going; remain focused and positive.

TPLF led EPRDF and press

Tweet by Bekele Woyecha
With the change of regime in 1991, a few free press outlets started to come out. For some time, they had the courage to be robust and critical. They also paved ways for airing differing views and opinions.  It didn’t, however, last long. Once again there was no place for critical journalism and dissenting voices. Hence most of the free press suffered from brutal crackdown. After some challenges, free press started to flourish in 2004 in the run up to the General Election that was meant to be a game changer for Ethiopia for a better. Yet the press once again suffered massive crackdown and journalists, blogger, activists and political thinkers were thrown into jails with bogus charges. The kangaroo courts set up by the then regime sentenced many innocent journalists and bloggers to prisons. Still others were in prisons without charges. That was the darkest part of Ethiopia’s press history. The outcry from Ethiopians never stopped. Those in the diaspora kept pressing, writing and informing the world. Those inside the country kept the fight although they knew what the cost of their actions would be. Blogger Befekadu Hailu for instance had been thrown to jail 4 times, but he was never afraid to voice his concerns whenever he was free. We never stopped demanding for their release as well. So good to have met this great son of ours when I was in Addis recently and learn from him. He keeps in inspiring me and many others.

Woubshet Taye meets PM Abiy Ahmed

It was also great to have met another wonderful son of Ethiopia, Woubshet Taye, who spent years in prisons in Ethiopia for doing what is honourabe things to do - stick to ethical journalism despite the challenges. Pround of you, Woubshet. 
Dr. Abiy Ahmed and press

With the coming to power of Dr. Abiy Ahmed as Prime Minister, Ethiopia opened its doors. Once again there is space for dissenting voices and critical journalism. Political prisoners, journalists, bloggers, activists and all political thinkers who were detained were finally released.  As the Diaspora was encouraged to return home by the PM, there was massive influx. Websites and blogs previously blocked were reopened. Media outlets like ESAT and OMN were allowed to operate in Ethiopia. That was a game changer. But how long will that continue? How much prepared are we to be critical of ourselves in a very responsible way?  As much as we want to see critical, robust and ethical journalism, how much ready are we to take responsibilities for our actions/inactions? There is a lot to ponder on to address the above and many more questions.  Our country and indeed our world need action more today than ever. Action to make the press freer and responsible.

The era of social media, fake news, disinformation, misinformation, defamations, etc

Following the changes in Ethiopia, we have seen growth in the use of social media outlets, especially Facebook. This media outlet has been widely used in Ethiopia and around the world. Unfortunately, the social media is also used to share Fake News, Misinformation, Disinformation and Defamations. This makes many of us concerned as many people could be misled and become targets of these unwanted news and opinions. Hence there is a need for action. A need for education, a need for fact checking practices; a need for responsible journalism and social media usage; a need for ethics; collective need and plans for a better Ethiopia. We should remember that there is no one who is more Ethiopian than others. We all have stake in Ethiopia irrespective of time and place of birth. We all have some contributions to make. We all have duties and responsibilities to assume and discharge.

Keep going, remain focused and positive

Sometimes our actions may not satisfy everybody. Be it. Sometimes we may be angry about an issue.  Good to have that cold anger, but it is not enough to be angry about an issue. What matters most is what we are doing to address the anger in a constructive way. The actions/inactions matter most.

One might think one is an optimist, but still others will tell one that one is not optimistic enough because they want one to see the world only from their angles. For them it is all about getting what they want now and only now. Whatever the consequences, get it now. This has dangers. It brings polarisation and consequently unhealthy competition. This unhealthy competition could go into attacking freedom of speech and expression, which we cherish now. The competition could go into unwanted arguments, hate and finally the narrowing of the space for decent debates. This worries me a lot. I’m keen to see Press Freedom flourish; Freedom of Speech unrestricted as long as it is in the boundary of legal frameworks, social norms and ethnics. I may not enjoy every speech and expression, but I can’t prohibit every speech for reasons that I don’t like it. Sometimes, some of the writings may offend me, but I also remember that I have the right to be offended. It is all about striking the balance and living well together. Yes, it is vital to keep going; remain focused and with positive attitudes. After all we are in this world only once and only for a very short time. We can only have time for LOVE. Because love matters most and it is natural

I for once am for a decent, fact based and logical debates. A debate of the 21st century!

Monday, 25 March 2019

Tyneside Welcomes excels - Community Sponsorship at its best

Richard Young sharing updates
I had the privilege of travelling to Tyneside on Saturday 23rd March to join the launch of Tyneside Welcomes. I thought it was a long journey on a weekend. Oh my God, it was worth it. It felt like I was among my extended family - Tyneside Welcomes. Amazing people gathered for a great cause. Folks doing something practical and worthwhile whilst enjoying themselves through the process. People of different generations gathered creating a real buzz and adding to the razzmatazz.  What else can we ask from Community Sponsorship?

Bekele Woyecha sharing stories
I at times travel both around the UK and abroad; and there is a topic I raise when I meet friends and colleagues. It is nothing but about Community Sponsorship of refugees and what it means for me. What my role is in this and my passion for this great scheme and what I would have loved to achieve years and decades from now. For me, it is all about leaving a long-lasting legacy.

Travelling to Tyneside was part of my Community Sponsorship journey and learning. As someone who has been to many Community Sponsorship and Refugees Welcome events in the past few years, I always find it fascinating to see community leaders taking charge and trying their best to deliver the best event ever. One thing for sure, Tyneside Welcomes launch event excels and has set the bar high. The event was not only about, turning up, awareness creation or raising money. It was also about having fun, togetherness and addressing the issue in a community spirit. So good was the event many people didn’t want it to end. Music by a phenomenal local band called The Crossing Band made the event even more spectacular.

Mary Glindon MP extending support
It wasn’t by sheer luck the organisers were able to bring more than 120 people. They organised themselves and reached out to friends and allies. They thought about it and took time to strategize. That was why they were able to bring folks from Tyneside and Wearside. The organisers were able to organise a spectacular event with stories, food, drinks and great music. Having the support of the local MP Mary Glindon, Member of Parliament for North Tyneside was an added bonus. The MP who joined the Tyneside Welcomes launch said, "It is really good we all got together to welcome a family to North Tyneside. We need to be kind to one another.” Richard Young, who was at the heart of organising the event said, "We want to do something together, something hopeful." 

The Tyneside Welcomes launch event was a great show of solidarity and one that exceeded expectations. Given this great community spirit, it won’t be long until a family is resettled and supported by a community that can deliver; and of course we will have another phenomenal gig in the not too distant future. Go Tyneside Welcomes!

Friday, 1 March 2019

ሀገርን የምናድነው ጫፍና ጫፍ ሆነን እይደለም

በሀገራችን የተከሰተውን ለውጥ ተከትሎ የፖለቲካ ምህዳሩ እየሰፋ የመጣ ቢሆንም በተጓዳኝም ዘረኝነትና ፅንፈኝነት መስፋፋቱ የአደባባይ ሚስጥር ነው። የመናገርና የመፃፍ መብት ለእሱ/ለእሷ ብቻ የተፈቀደ የሚመስላቸው ቡድኖችን እያስተዋልን ነው። የእኔ ሃሳብ ብቻ ነው ትክክለኛ ሃሳብ የሚሉ ግለሰቦችና ቡድኖች በብዛት እያየን ነው። የዲሞክራሲ ባህል ባልዳበረበት ሀገር እያንዳንዱ እንቅስቃሴያችን ጥንቃቄ ያስፈልገዋል። የፖለቲካ ልሂቅ (Political elite)ነኝ የሚሉ ሰዎች በየአጋጣሚው የሚሰጧቸው መግለጫዎችና አስተያየቶች አርቆ አስተዋይነትን ማዕክል ያደረገ መሆን አለበት። ከብሽሽቅ ፖለቲካና ከፀብ አጫሪነት መጠንቀቅ ይገባል። ጊዜው የዲሞክራሲያዊ ባህል ግንባታ እንጂ የነጥብ ማስቆጠሪያ አይደለም

ለውጡን ተከትሎ ትናንት በአንድ ጎራ የነበሩት ዛሬ ሊለያዩ፤ በሌላ በኩል ደግሞ ትናንት ለየብቻ የነበሩ ዛሬ በጋራ ሲሰሩ ልናይ እንችላለን። በእርግጥ በፖለቲካው ዓለም ዘላለማዊ ወዳጅ ወይም ዘላለማዊ ጠላት የለም። የፖለቲካ ድርጅቶችም ሆኑ የተለየያ የፖለቲካ አመለካከት ያላቸው ግለሰቦች የጋራ አጀንዳቸውንና ፍላጎታቸውን ለማሳካት አመቺ ነው የሚሉትን አቅጣጫ ሊጠቀሙ ይችላሉ። ይህ አካሄድ ሊያስደነግጠን አይገባም።

ትልቁና አሳሳቢው ጉዳይ ፅንፈኝነት ነው። ጫፍና ጫፍ ሆኖ ማሸነፍ አይቻልም። መዘንጋት የሌለበት ጉዳይ አብዛኞው ህዝብ መሃል ላይ ያለ፤ ይበጀኛል የሚለውን ጠንቅቆ የሚያውቅና በጥሞና እየገመገመ ያለ መሆኑን ነው።  ህዝብ የማያውቅ ከመሰለን ትልቅ ስህተት ውስጥ ነው ያለነው። ህዝብ በጣም ያውቃል።

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

My hopes for Ethiopia give me courage

The past 10 months have been extraordinary for Ethiopia and Ethiopians around the world. The changes in Ethiopia have exceeded expectations. Groups and individuals labelled as terrorists by the TPLF led clique are now functioning freely in Ethiopia.  Journalists, bloggers, political activists and human rights campaigners are free. Thousands of political prisoners have been released. Thousands of Ethiopians diaspora members have returned home and reunited with their loved ones. Lots of encouraging stuff have happened. These give me hope and I remain hopeful.

We cannot, however, deny the challenges the new administration has been faced with. But I also know, and many others as well know, that Rome was not built in a day. Democratic culture cannot be built over night. It takes time and needs our patience and perseverance. This culture cannot also be built by a few political elites. It needs the active participation of the majority. We cannot win by being onlookers. We cannot win by being blockers. We cannot win by only having a good will. We can only win when we roll our sleeves and do the right thing practically. We need to act. Action will bring a reaction.

In the meantime, I remain hopeful that the changes in Ethiopia will last long and meet the expectations of the majority. I also remain hopeful many engage practically and help Ethiopia succeed. After all, life is too short, and we cannot afford to lose the once in a life time opportunity we have at hand. Hence, I remain hopeful that Dr. Abiy and his team deliver on their promise. I also remain hopeful that the main opposition parties deliver what is expected of them and help Ethiopia go into a new era.

Going into the Era of Hope together.

Monday, 25 February 2019

The talk is change

Obama talks change,
So does McCain,
Brown and Cameron.
Politicians talk,
So do students,
So too teachers,
So do others.
So what is wrong,
If those who seek sanctuary.
Talk change,
And voice their concerns,
On the change they all dream.
That allows work
And safeguards education,
That uses experience
and knowledge
And restores confidence
That goes for family union
And avoids family breakdowns
That encourages full participation
And helps to come out of misery
Many hoped for
Spoke about for years
This should come at last
For justice to prevail
For life to be normal
For that sends message for hard work
So as to pay back to the host
And discharge self responsibly
And get recognition and dignity,
That is the change we all dream.

Written in October 2008.

Going for the unknown

I still remember
That very moment in my life
When I decided the unknown
Over the little known
Booking a place in a plane
Leaving behind the family
And close ones at home; and
Deciding to be part of the unknown
With optimistic view of the day
Having some hope
Which are yet to be dashed.
Leaving the home airport was frustrating
As it involved a lot of risk
I remember those prayers
Which I had done time and again
A prayer to escape home
A payer to keep the hungry lions silent
The journey was full of thoughts
Thoughts from childhood to present age
Thoughts that took me back and forth in time
Thought where hope and despair
Had to face one-another.
The arrival wasn’t bad
Though I didn’t know
Where I would finally end up
As destination was unknown
Life has now changed forever
For worse or better.
The airport was as huge as usual
Embracing people of all colour
Some looked familiar
While others confused
The way to the city wasn't easy
Using the underground trains
To a place not booked before
It is all keeping going
Going, going, going. going.
Following instincts and thoughts
How tough is it to prefer the unknown
Over the little known
To keep life on hold
On hold for unknown time and future
On hold for reasons little known.

Written in May 2009.

What do they mean?

The stranger is to travel,
To move around in big city.
With no experience how to make it,
Taken by his deep thoughts.
How do I go to this place,
Train or bus should I use,
What do they mean when they say zones,
Are there cities within city,
Locating places and zones,
Knowing the price,
Buying the card
The Oyster,
From the machine or the office.
Checking the line,
The platform,
Boarding the tube,
Getting off the tube or changing,
Listening to the announcements
And reading same,
This is station X,
Change for line A,
The announcements come once again,
Attention please, attention please,
This is a security announcement.
The stranger is awakened,
His ears stand like nothing
As he gets more vigilant and worried.
There goes the announcement again,
Please keep you luggage with you,
And report unattended items,
And suspicious behaviour,
He recalls the announcements.
What do they mean when they say that,
Poses the question to himself.
As he gets more confused,
And contemplates to get off,
Yet he recalls the announcement,
Suspicious behaviour, as he recalls,
What do they mean when they say that,
The stranger looks around,
As he is more confused,
But no body looks that scared,
Different or Worried,
Is it only him who is scared,
Most are busy, busy reading,
Newspaper, book, magazine.
There come announcements once again,
This is station Y,
What a relief to reach at Y
He finally gets relived,
And awakened from his thoughts,
Before he even went to ask,
As to whether he should get off,
Or what do they mean when they say that,
Not knowing that the man next
Is a stranger Like himself.

Written in May 2009.

Rush and run

Everybody runs,
Run, run, run.
Nobody says hi,
Or expects same.
They still run,
Rush and run,
Push and pass,
Run on stairs,
On escalators,
In the streets.
Some run down,
Others run up.
Some run in,
Others run out,
Some run east,
While others west.
Still others run
South or north
They all run,
Rush and run
The beauty of rush hours,
The beauty of busyness.
Run, run, run
Always run

Commuters at a London train station

Written in April 2007

My pillow, my bank

What did I hear the other day
Banks run short of money
Financial institutions go burst
The same is true for insurance
Do I worry about it
Or should I worry for my pillow
Which is my bank for what I have!
My pillow my bank
My bank is my pillow.

Written in October 2008 following the financial crisis

My shyness

Let me question
Why I am shy
Is it nature
Religion or culture
Background or gender
Are there reasons
Why I am shy
Or is it man made
Or confidence,
Experience, exposure
Education or what is it
The reason for my being shy
I want to know
Why I am shy
As I feel shy
To remember that I am shy
And promise not to be shy
Yet it remains only promise
As I start to feel shy
As soon as I go into life
And have something in common
So what is it that makes me shy
Can I ask it again
As I am afraid of my shyness
As someone born to feel shy.

Written in September 2008


On a bright afternoon in North London, I was in a tube to the centre.
Hurried to reach Victoria so as not to miss the coach; for the trip to Cardiff.
The guy next had an issue; an issue with which he was obsessed.
He then asked a question; mate what time is the match
Mate, it is the match of the day, he continued; as I looked a bit confused,
It is Arsenal versus Tottenham; The North London derby.
I think you are an Arsenal fun, he continued.
Of course I am an arsenal fun; though I didn't tell him that.
I don’t know why I kept so quite.
I was just listening; listening to what the gentleman had to say
I am for the Gunners, he added; as he prepared to get off; by the Finsbury park station.
He said to me see you later.
Showing me with his hand; that he was going to inject.
Some heat into the blood; in terms of a pint.
I gave him a warm good bye; for his being friendly.
Yet had to think about him; his dedication and freedom
Of thought and expression.
The Cardiff coach was ready; to take its passengers on board.
It was unusually full.
Do you mind my sitting next to you
I politely said to a guy who I think is a Welsh.
He gave me way to the seat by the window.
As I sat next to him and started reading a book
Which was written in Amharic; which is my tongue language,
Where are you from mate if you don’t mind, said the gentleman next.
I am originally from Ethiopia, I replied;
Oh gosh! Have you got rugby in Ethiopia, he asked.
I have no idea was my answer; as I had no clue whatsoever.
What Rugby is after all; it is running that we love.
There was a very good match last week, he continued.
The blues with Gloucester; which was the best match of the year.
In the millennium stadium; especially the try from John
That helped the blues have the dominance in the game.
Did you know that the match; was also international, he continued
I have never watched Rugby mate, I replied.
While at the same time showing interest; to know a little bit about it.
I asked some naive questions; as I didn't know what Rugby meant.
And the guy replied and made sure that I understood what he said.
I appreciated his effort to help me understand.
But at the same time I learnt that he was also in love
In love with Rugby to the bit
That gentleman must be around; around in the city.
As it is time for six nations; six nations in rugby.
The gentleman is in love; in love with rugby.

written in October 2008

Hole in the wall

Mama had a problem

Which is of financial
Took up the phone to make the call
London or New York should I call
Isn’t London cheaper to call?
Asked the old woman herself
As she believes to know western life
And remembers how money is pulled from the hole
The hole deep in the wall
She still recalls
Putting the cards
Hiding fingers
Typing numbers
How could they put money in the wall

For every passing individual
Mom is thinking about the hole
And is now making the London call
Hello my son
How is your life?
How are the people around
The buses, the trains
And the one that goes underground
Is that supernatural or man made
Mom continued asking questions
When did they build those places
Where were we then in those times
She had questions with no answers
The young man who was worried
Asked his mom why she had called
Mom was so quick to remember
To ask her son what to send her
I need only some money son
Which I should get very soon
The son answered politely
Telling mama there was no money
Explaining the slow down in economy
That made mama so furious
As she knows there is a hole so generous.
Hole in the wall so generous.
So generous for bye passers.

Written in 2008

Press Freedom in Ethiopia – hopes and fears

A year from today, there were still journalists in prisons in Ethiopia. A year after there is none. The changes in Ethiopia are unprece...