26 December 2020

You are the product of those seconds


They keep coming

And going

Minutes after seconds

Hours after minutes

Days after hours

Months after days

And years after months

They keep coming

And going

Notice them or otherwise

They do their routines

As you do yours

Those seconds or minutes
Or the big ones
Make you who you are

As you become who you are
The person you are
And the person others know
To be whom you are

You are the product of

those seconds
the minutes, days and weeks
The months and years


24 November 2020

The Maikadra massacre - One of the darkest days in Ethiopia

9th November 2020 was one of the darkest days in the history of Ethiopia. A day when TPLF forces killed hundreds of Ethiopians, who are mostly of Amhara and Wolkait origin, according to eyewitness that gave testimony to Amnesty International and now to the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission.

November 9 brought to light how cruel and merciless TPLF forces are. The cruelty of TPLF is not new for Ethiopians as it has been inflicting atrocities on Ethiopians across the country for over 40 years.  But to go that low even at its eleventh hour shows TPLF is never ready to repent and that it will do everything possible to keep creating havoc in the country. Even though TPLF is at its demise and almost ready for burial, it may continue inflicting pain.

According to the preliminary findings of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, ‘On November 9, 2020, the day of the attack, from around 11:00 AM onwards, the town police started checking identity cards to differentiate people of non-Tigray origin from the rest and raided all the houses/huts, stretching from the neighbourhood known as “Genb Sefer” up to the area called Wolkait Bole (Kebele 1 Ketena 1) which is largely resided by ethnic Amharas. They detained up to 60 people they profiled as Amhara and Wolkait and who were said to use Sudanese SIM cards on their mobile phones and destroyed said SIM cards. Ethiopian SIM cards had already stopped working by then and the motive for confiscating and destroying the Sudanese SIM cards was to prevent any communications or call for help during the attack, according to testimony of the people in the area. Women and children of Tigrayan ethnic origin were made to leave the town a few hours ahead of the attack. On the same day (November 9th , 2020), around 3:00 P.M., the local police, militia and the informal Tigray youth group called “Samri” returned to “Genb Sefer” where the majority of people of Amhara ethnic origin live and began the attack against civilians. According to eyewitnesses and families of victims who spoke with EHRC, the first act committed by the perpetrators was to execute an ethnic Amhara former soldier called Abiy Tsegaye in front of his family and outside his house and set the house on fire. Afterwards, they threw his body into the fire. Residents said Abiy Tsegaye was a former soldier and militia member who had declined a request to re-join the militia as tensions began to rise. They surmise that this might be why he was targeted. The victim’s wife and eyewitnesses have given a detailed account of how the group of perpetrators forced Abiy Tsegaye out of his house and had him shot in front of his family by a local militia and former colleague called Shambel Kahsay, before throwing his body into the raging fire that engulfed their house. The EHRC team also visited said house, still smouldering, and the area around it, still heavy with burned body smoke.’

Full report of The Human Right Commission below 

9 November 2020

Yohannes Abraham – Ethiopian American leading the day-to-day operations of Joe Biden’s transition team


As Joe Biden is on course to take oath of the US presidency, his transition team has been preparing so as to ensure continuity of government as soon as the president takes power in January 2021. The team will have a series of preparations to have as Joe Biden will take over amid the coronavirus pandemic, the economic challenges and other extremely important stuff that need attention.

One of Joe Biden’s transition team members is Yohannes Abraham, who is leading the day-to-day operation of the transition team and who also served in Barack Obama’s White House for 8 years.

Abraham is one of the Obama lifers who were totally committed to getting things done during the tenure of the former president. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times Valerie Jarrett, one of the most senior advisors of president Obama said, “Abraham was illustrative of many of the early staff, passionate, hard-working, without ego or agenda, determined to help recapture the true honour of public service.”

Abraham’s bond with Obama continued when the president left White House as Abraham served as Senior Advisor at the Obama Foundation, helping to set up the foundation and subsequently as the interim Chief Operating Officer of the foundation. The Ethiopian American who spent 8 years in White House West Wing has a very important role to play as he leads the daily operation of Biden’s transition team.

Abraham a son of Ethiopian immigrants, who was born and raised in Springfield, Virginia is a graduate of Yale College and has been the Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.

As Joe Biden said in his victory speech, “America is a country of possibilities”. All that matters is the strive for success and the readiness to go extra miles. Abraham has all it takes.

Ethiopia will be proud of Abraham’s success. It’s more than important to have such an influential White House staffer linked to Ethiopia, the cradle of mankind which is on course to finalising its most important project – The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, the building of which was threatened by the outgoing president. The future is promising.

24 October 2020

GERD is Ethiopia’s and Africa’s - NOT Trump’s - stay away Mr. President

The Trump administration has been meddling in the internal affairs of many countries for a while, but it has now gone beyond the red line by inciting violence on a sovereign country - Ethiopia.

When the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam negotiation was about to take place in the US, there was hope that Trump’s administration would remain neutral and help only as a convenor of the meetings. That didn’t last long as the administration went from being a convenor to negotiator, deal broker and finally decision maker. All the Trump administration cared was about its own interests and the dignity of the president. For Trump and his administration nobody else matters. For the president, it is all about him. 

The futile attempt by the Trump administration to subdue Ethiopia so that it signed a deal that only favoured Egypt was not successful thanks to the many wise Ethiopians who have been working on the issue for years. Great that Ethiopia rejected a deal that was never a fair deal. Of course, that would have irritated the president and his administration and hence we saw a number of statements by the Trump administration in the run up to the scheduled July dam filling. Whether the Trump administration liked it or not, the job had been done and continues to be done.

On the day Trump was boasting about being a peace maker and deal broker, following the Sudan- Israel normalisation process, he made a gross mistake and made utterly disgraceful comment suggesting that ‘Egypt could blow Ethiopia’s dam’. The president is egocentric and desperate for attention. In so doing, he doesn’t care what his actions and rhetoric could bring on others.

His reckless and totally irresponsible comment about Ethiopia and its flagship project, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, is unacceptable and extremely dangerous.  In his infamous comment whilst speaking to the leaders of Sudan and Israel, the president brought unrelated item for conversation. He said, “Ethiopia broke the deal which they should not have done. That was a big mistake and we've stopped payment to them.  … They will never see that money unless they adhere to the agreement. They built the dam which stops water from flowing into the Nile and you can't blame Egypt for being a little bit upset. Right? … I had a deal done and then they broke the deal, and they can't do that. They can't do that. So the deal was done and it's a very dangerous situation because Egypt is not going to be able to live that way and they'll end up blowing up the dam and I said it, they say it loud and clear, they blow up that dam.” and he then asked the Prime Minister of Sudan to talk to Ethiopia and said the following about Egypt, “I'm telling Egypt the same thing. By the way they could have stopped it. They should have stopped it long before it was started. I said how do you let it get built and then you say they have a dam?”


The president might bow down to pressure from the historical enemies of Ethiopia, but should not expect Ethiopia to bow down. The president may not know that Ethiopia is a sovereign country with proud history. Someone tell this president that Ethiopia was never colonised and that it defeated all the aggressors that tried their chances. Someone give lecture to this president about the Adwa victory and all the previous and subsequent victories over aggressors. Yes, someone advise this president to study history and mind his own business. Ethiopia is not and will not be a remotely controlled country. Ethiopia has a right for a fair use of its waters. The Nile is more than enough for all the countries that contribute to it, not only Egypt. It is more than time for equitable share of the Nile and that is what Ethiopia has been asking and working on.  The American president should stop interfering in a matter where he is not invited. Leave the issue to the African Union and the African leaders. No ifs, not buts.  Stay away from our dam. 

Whatever the Trump administration does to distract the work of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, it will not be successful. Ethiopians will deliver GERD and come out victorious. Trump should know that GERD is a unifier, and any threat or financial sanctions will not deter Ethiopians from their determination to see GERD finalised.


31 August 2020

Churchill Fellowship – an investment of a lifetime – glad I did it

About 6 years ago, I was keen to have a purposeful travel, study, have some good time, come back, reflect, and use my learning to better myself and my contribution to society. Although I was keen to do all these, I didn’t know how.  I also didn’t have enough resources. As I did some research online, I came across the Churchill Fellowship, the criteria of which I fully met. Hence, I decided to try it. I thought it was better to try and fail than to regret of not having done it. I hence put in my first application in 2014 which was not successful. Although I didn’t make it the first time around, I didn’t lose hope. I used it as an opportunity to learn. I thus decided to wait for some time and try again after organising myself and my application better than the first time around.

In May 2017, I was in the USA doing a short course on leadership in a program entitled the ‘Global Change Agents’ at Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University when I received an email from Neil Jameson CBE, the then Executive Director of Citizens UK, encouraging staff members to apply for the fellowship. Neil knows better than most of us about the fellowship as he himself was a fellow in 1977 which helped him to travel to the USA, meet veteran Community Organisers, reflect on Community Organising in the USA and consequently sow the seeds for Community Organising in the UK where he established Citizens UK in 1989. That email from Neil ignited fire in my belly. It encouraged me to rethink and try Churchill Fellowship again. I flagged the email and waited for some time. This time around, I was more purposeful, focused and knew where to concentrate on and why. Luckily, I even know good colleagues who had succeeded with their fellowship, who all advised me to give it a try. I knew what I was going to do if I succeeded. By the time I was about to put in my application,  I was highly involved in Refugees Welcome movement in the United Kingdom and my fellowship was how I could strengthen my understanding of the sector. I organised my application better than the first time around and submitted it in good time

After I had submitted my application, I kept doing some research on what to do, who to meet and when to travel hoping that I would succeed this time around. It was a good dream to dream; hope to hope and aspirations to aspire. Asking myself what if I was awarded? What could I do? Yes, it all paid off. When I got that email from Winston Churchill Memorial Trust notifying me that I was successful, I had the most emotional moment. Cries with emotions. Smiles in the streets. Yes I did it. Although I was preparing myself for the good news, it was still unbelievable. I had in the past been awarded fellowships, but the emotional feeling this time was different. I had, however, to wait for some time to make the news public as per the conditions attached. As a social media enthusiast and keen to share these sort of news to friends and allies, the wait until the embargo was lifted was challenging, but something all fellows had to deal with.

My Churchill Fellowship took me to Canada to study about its decades long Refugee Sponsorship program.  As my fellowship was more focused and around my job responsibilities and interests, the contribution of the fellowship was enormous. The fellowship equipped me with what I needed to know about the Refugee Sponsorship scheme. To see why Canada’s refugee sponsorship program is successful and what we could bring over to the UK and see how we could use the learning to better our Community Sponsorship program. I am now at stage where I can use my Churchill Fellowship learning and my lived experiences to contribute in the Refugee Welcome movement. I was once an asylum seeker, a detainee and had gone through many challenges in my journeys to sanctuary, but the learning in these journeys were instrumental. Hope and perseverance have taken me so far.  I am now director of UK Welcomes Refugees, which is all about Building Community Sponsorship of Refugees Together with others. Lots of credit to my Churchill Fellowship. Glad I did it. It was indeed a blessing.

Please find my Churchill Fellowship report, HERE

11 August 2020

It is compassion and safe routes that is needed more

As our TV screens, newspapers and social media outlets bring more and more atrocious news about the worsening refugee crisis, there is a natural call for us to do the decent thing whilst we are still able to do so. All we need is compassion and safe routes, not dehumanising of fellow humans. After all these people are the most vulnerable in our collective human family and deserve our love, empathy, and care as they have already been through lots of hardships.

The desperation of people on the move and their travels through extremely risky situations is a stark reminder that people will take any risk to go out of the situation they are in unless we have safe and legal routes to help them. One of my Syrian friends often says, “You won’t leave home unless home has the mouth of a shark.” If anybody thinks all those taking risks to cross the English channel in dinghies and other smaller boats should have a second thought, what should that be? Die falling into the mouths of sharks or run away to go into the unknown over the known danger? It is very natural to run for safety. Because hope is what almost everybody has. Hoping for better days and life despite all the challenges and sufferings of the day.

I have read and heard many good initiatives and ideas on what could and should be done to address the crisis. The need for being proactive and collaborative. The need for addressing our collective human responsibilities and moral obligations in the sense of urgency and with more plans in the long run.  I have also read and heard many disheartening stuffs in the past few days. As disheartening as the words are, I am not going to repeat them because I don’t believe they represent the country I know is the United Kingdom. Let us not forget that there are many great people in this country who are doing everything possible to support fellow asylum seekers and migrants. People always on the right side of history. I am a living testament and I wholeheartedly believe the good outweighs. I feel blessed to have had the support of many wonderful people in my life.

I grew up listening to the BBC; watching premier league; supporting England in world cup competitions because of the influence of the premier league on me; reading the best of Shakespeare; learning about one of the most civilised democracies and human rights records. Hence coming and seeking asylum in this country was natural for me when I needed protection and had to flee. People have reasons why they take all those perilous journeys. Let us listen to them as well. Let us give chance to fellow humans to rebuild their lives and unpack their potentials. It may take time, but we will be rewarded with all our good investment.

There is also some fact to know about our immigration system because some people think the immigration system to be the softest ever, which is not my experience as many fellow asylum seekers and refugees will testify similarly. There are lots of ups and downs going through the immigration system. It is not all a 4*/5* hotel life as mentioned by some. I have seen the good and the bad of our immigration system.

It is time to rethink. To revisit our system. To check as to when all the safe and legal routes would be open. How we can widen the welcome and meet the expectation and respect Britain has globally. To also make sure people seeking protection are given the protection they deserve. To make sure those stuck in the system are properly dealt with. Yes, calling for more compassion and positive actions. Finding ways to bring wider civil society, businesses, and others on board so that we all contribute to the Refugees Welcome work through schemes like Community Sponsorship of Refugees. It takes us all to change the course. And the time is now.

31 July 2020

Rush and Run - Beautiful London

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

Missing the rush hours in the beautiful London.

18 July 2020

It is indeed our dam – GERD the pacifier and pride of Ethiopians

Ethiopia, the land of origins, as Ethiopians often call it, is a landlocked country with lots of untouched and unused natural resources. It has got lots of rivers and water resources, but it is yet to use one of its biggest, the Blue Nile – Abay River as Ethiopia has just finalised building the largest hydroelectric plant in Africa called the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam - GERD.

GERD is expected to change the lives of millions in Ethiopia and countries in East and horn of Africa once fully functional. It will indeed be a game changer and bring Ethiopia out of poverty. It is going to be crucial for Ethiopia’s economic growth and its path towards prosperity. More than 60 million Ethiopians will have access to basic electricity. It will also bring investments in different sectors including tourism, fisheries, and water transport. It is expected to reduce risk of flood in the Sudan. Despite all the promising benefits of the GERD, there is still a lot to do to see all these into practice.

Agreement with upstream countries, Sudan, and Egypt on a fair and equitable share of the Nile River should be reached at in the not too-distant-future. Ethiopia has always been ready for that, but the much sought and expected agreement could not be reached at straightforwardly as the upstream countries seem to be stuck in their colonial era agreements of 1929 and 1959 and the benefits the old and outdated agreement grants them, especially to Egypt.  In this day and age, it is unreasonable and injudicious of the upstream countries to expect Ethiopia to agree to a monopoly over the Nile waters based on the colonial era agreements signed among Egypt, Sudan and Britain, to which Ethiopia is not a signatory. Ethiopia has no intention of hurting any country but has clear, legitimate and moral demands here. Honourable use of its water resources. Equitable share of Nile waters. Respecting Ethiopia’s sovereign rights. Meeting its developmental needs and thriving together with others including upstream countries. In general terms, it is all about Mutual Benefits, Reciprocity, and Sovereign Equality. This is 21st century, where we are interdependent on one-another and should cooperate; but that cooperation should be mutually sought based on mutual interests. It is not time for one side wins all and others remain bystanders.

For Ethiopians GERD is a pacifier. It is a sign of national pride that brings Ethiopians together. In fact, their pride has many reasons. More than anything else, Ethiopians have made financial sacrifices. The  cost of the dam, which is estimated to be more than $5billion has been largely covered by Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia.  Hence there is a sense of ownership of the biggest developmental work Ethiopia has undertaken. GERD is a unifier and has almost no political boundaries amongst Ethiopians. For Ethiopians both in Ethiopia and the diaspora, GERD is more than a project. It is more than a political interest. It is about belongingness. It is about the Ethiopian identity.

The social media campaign by Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia under the hashtag #ItsMyDam brought together activists, experts, politicians, commentators and those in love with the land of origins. Here are a few posts on twitter globally including one from the wonderful and creative Anna Chojnicka
The Campaign also brought the attention of international media, here is one from Turkish TV
The time is now for an agreement and equitable share of the Nile waters. It is all about good will, which Ethiopia has in abundance. Time for compromise and agreement as we have past the one party wins all era. The GERD - the unifier is at its important milestone. Ethiopia is determined, ready and willing. Better days ahead for all of us.

25 May 2020

Plucky and benevolent woman behind the success stories of Community Organising dies from Covid19

Former colleagues and friends of Josephine Mukanjira, who died from Covid19 complications in Mid-April, pay tributes to a stupendous woman who was behind the many success stories of Community Organising in the UK. “Jo was simply the pillar of community organising and the backbone of our work” said one former colleague from Citizens UK, a charity that organises communities to act together for power, social justice and the common good.

Josephine Mukanjira descended from East Africa and had connections both to Uganda and Rwanda. Jo was very close to her mum and her extended family who live in Uganda and are devastated by the untimely tragic death of a woman who was the beacon of hope for the family. Jo, who had been in the UK for a long time, worked for Citizens UK for over 12 years in different capacities until September 2019 when she left the organisation. In the past few months, Jo worked for an organisation as an accountant. Just a few days before her untimely departure, Jo joined a prominent Chartered Governance organisation in the City of London, but Covid19 stole this woman of courage and her dreams were cut short. Neil Jameson, founder and former Executive Director of Citizens UK, who has been the backbone of the farewell organising for Josephine said,Jo will be remembered as one of the kindest, most wiling and most loyal colleagues we had through those tough years of growth and challenge. She looked out for colleagues and rarely said ‘NO’. The very best of humanity and quiet, inspirational leader. So much missed. RIP Josephine

Stephanie Leonard, tweeted, “Josie ensured my first month’s salary was paid up front so I could pay my rent when I started my job at CUK. She knew I needed help and went out of her way to support me. She always checked in on me when I would come to the office. She was such a gorgeous person. Such awful news.” Whereas another former colleague, Lydia Rye said in a tweet, “Jo was warm and terrifying (read my expenses were always late) in equal measure and my favourite person to gossip outside assemblies with. I cannot imagine being at CUK without her. Such desperately sad news.” Many other colleagues and community leaders used the social media platforms to pay their tributes among which are the following, Ana Franca-Ferreira, tweeted “Met Jo at 17 as a young intern. Saw her again at 24 at my first professional job, she made me feel at home. Every time I was in the office and Jo was there, I was at home. Heartbroken that she has gone but have the certainty that she rests with God. Thanks for your life Jo!” Another former colleague, Dermot Bryers tweeted, “So, so sad. I always loved seeing Jo when I came to Cavell Street. Love and condolences to her family, friends and colleagues.

Among those who used twitter to pay tributes was, Bethan Angharad Lant, “I adored Josephine. She had such natural warmth. I looked forward to seeing her. May she rest in peace and rise in glory.” Others went onto Facebook to pay their respects. Paul Regan, one of the pioneers of Community Organising in the UK said, “This is a complete shock. Such kind and positive person. I find it difficult to believe. RIP Jo”. Whereas Rabbi Janet Darley, who also shared prayer and religious reflection at the zoom memorial, wrote on Facebook, “Such sad news. Such a lovely person. May her soul be bound up in the gathering of life. Her memory will surely be a blessing to all who knew and loved her”. Another former colleague and close friend, Emmanuel Gotora wrote on Facebook, “We’ve lost a true gem. Josie was a caring and kind-hearted colleague and much loved by all at Citizens UK. She had a wicked sense of humour and always had time to talk no matter how busy things were. Her calm presence greeted many of us at the office. She always had a smile and a never-ending secret stash of chocolate which she was always happy to share. Josephine was more than a work colleague - she was a friend - a rare combination. She loved being with people and always went above and beyond to lend a hand when needed. She loved a game of football too! I’ll always remember the football games in Weavers’ Field. I will miss you my dear friend Josie - rest in peace.”

Many people around the country meet their local community organisers, but there was one person behind these organisers, Jo. Some of her former colleagues used to even call her as, ‘organiser of organisers’. More tributes and reactions from colleagues and friends on twitter HERE and on Facebook HERE

Devastated and shocked by the sudden death of Jo, old and new colleagues, and friends joined the memorial zoom organised to commemorate her life on Tuesday 28th April. Fitting tributes and stories of a remarkable woman were shared by those who joined the memorial where we also had heart touching hymn and song, ‘Great is they faithfulness’ and ‘Who will speak if we don’t?’ led by Bernadette Farrell, hymnographer, composer of Catholic liturgical music and veteran Community Organiser. We were also joined by Jo’s mum and extended family from Uganda, who were indeed very grateful for the memorial service held in honour of their loved one. The memorial was also a reminder that much should be done to support Jo’s family as they mainly relied on her financial support following the death of her 2 brothers in the past few years. We have, therefore, launched a fundraiser to give Jo the best send-off she very much deserves. We are also keen to help her mum and the kids Jo was sponsoring in schools in Uganda. Here is the GoFundMe page, Paying Respect to Jo. Please donate and share. It is all paying back to a woman that helped many in the fight for social justice.  

21 May 2020

Together against an invisible enemy – why I joined the NHS volunteer responders program

Bekele as an NHS volunteer responder
I believe in one collective human family that can help one another and thrive together. When there is a challenge, we have to step in to help one-another. When there is happiness, good to cherish that together, if at all possible. For me, this is a world of interdependence where what affects one, affects the other. When we do something for others, it does not only benefit others, but we greatly benefit from what we are doing as well. The benefit is mutual. Hence it is more than vital for me to take up on voluntary works as much as possible and contribute my bits. Hence whenever possible, I try my best to contribute my share on a voluntary capacity. 
Bekele as London 2012 Olympics Games Maker

I was one of the Games Makers of London 2012 Olympics, which was one of my proudest moments in my life.  I am now up as an NHS Volunteer Responder, which makes me very proud.

When there was a call for NHS volunteers, I did not hesitate. I just asked myself ‘how I could be of help?’ What could I do? What could I contribute to the fight against this monster virus whilst supporting fellow citizens? I hence made my application and was approved in days’ time, which was excellent. Yet I was aware that more than 750000 people had applied to volunteer, which by itself was amazing and extraordinary. For me joining these people from around the country was a big deal on its own. People willing to step in and make a difference.

Coronavirus is an invisible enemy affecting many people. The impact of this monstrous virus is massive on the wider collective human family. I have lost 2 of my close ex-colleagues and friends to Covid19, whcih is very painful. Anybody could be infected by this ruthless virus. Hence vital for me to do whatever I could in the fight against this virus. Whilst doing this voluntary work, I get to know many wonderful people doing the right thing at the right time. We can only stamp out Covid19 collectively. For me, there is no small contribution. Hence when I decided to apply for this voluntary position, I was determined to do whatever I could in my capacity to be part of the wider fighters.

As a former refugee who made Britain his home, this gives me another opportunity to pay back. Hence doing this voluntary work means a lot for me.

8 May 2020

Dearest Jo, you never said goodbye

Life has not been fair recently. I have had some heartbreaks. The challenges of Covid19, the lockdown and its impact on life, the tragic death of a very good friend and former colleague called Mona Mahmoud and uncertainty about projects and future. To make it even worse I lost Josephine Mukanjira, one of my best friends and colleagues. Jo was someone who was there before I joined Citizens UK, where I have worked for over 9 years. She was someone who was always willing to help me. Someone extra generous to step in when there were challenges. Someone who would do everything on earth to make others happy.

Jo at Greater London Authority – 20th February 2020
When I last spoke to Jo on Wednesday 15th April to tell her about our colleague Mona’s death, she said she had already heard about it and that she was so sad. As we discussed about life, she sounded full of life and lots to live for. She told me that she was happy with her new job. That she was ready for the challenge the new opportunity would bring. I believed all what Jo said. As I had also met with her in person on February 20th when she attended a Community Sponsorship event I organised at the office of the Mayor of London, it all sounded good for me and that I was happy for her. But life was not fair for Jo. Despite the hopes and aspirations she exhibited in the conversation I had with her, she was taken away by the monster virus called Covid19. When I heard Jo’s departure within days of talking to her, I could not believe it.  I was in denial for some time. How could that happen? Somebody who sounded so healthy and fit going untimely is heart-breaking. But life is unpredictable. We only have today for granted.

I have lots of memories with Jo. I and Jo often had our lunches together. Lunch breaks were opportunities to catch up. But when we finished our lunches, Jo would say “I am sure you would at least wash your food container before taking it back home as I know you never cook.” Jo knew I do not cook often and that in fact I hated cooking and get nervous whenever I cook. Whenever I left the office at the end of the working day, I would say goodbye to Jo and colleagues and say look after the money. Jo would say, “Keep bringing the money and we would look after it”. We both laugh and hope to meet again. 

Jo was not only a colleague, but also family friend. She had been to my house on a couple of occasions. My family knew her very well. She was a delight to have around. Her life is now in the hands of Almighty God, whom she served wholeheartedly. She should be at peace in the company of angels. I pray that she is at peace.

Thank you, Jo, for everything you did for me. Thank you for your friendship, colleagueship and leadership.

Goodbye to you, Jo. Sleep tight my good old friend. Your memories will live with us as long as we are in this world. Rest in peace Jo.

28 March 2020

The monster virus has changed our lives – hoping to be back to normalcy soon

I have been living in London for many years. Commute to work daily and travel around London often using public transport, which is among the best in the world. 

One of the beauties of London is its busyness, its vibrancy and its cosmopolitan nature. The past few days have been very different. More spaces and visible social distancing in our public transports. Coffee shops, eateries, etc with lots of empty chairs. Shelves in most of supermarkets empty. Unusually different experience. Undoubtedly our lives have changed.

I understand there are more challenging days ahead as we fight the spread of Coronavirus, but we will rise up to the challenges and come out victorious. After all, the collective human family has been imaginative and creative and hence will come up with solutions soon. This is a reminder that we are interdependent. We are all in this together. What affects one, affects the other. Yes, we are in this as one human family, wherever we may be.

In the meantime, it is vital that we 

📣 Remember the most vulnerable people in our collective human family. 
📣 Remember the elderly, the homeless, refugees and all those with existing health issues. 
📣 Remember to keep doing the Right Thing.

Hope is what I have. Hopeful that we defeat this monster Coronavirus and come back to normalcy soon.

Till then keen doing the right thing, remain positive, safe, upbeat and kind. One world, one human family!

Written on 17th March 2020 before the UK Lockdown.

25 February 2020

Ethiopia goes to polls in August – hoping it gets it right

As I was in Ethiopia during the May 2005 election, I was one of the many hopefuls that thought democracy; tolerance and the rule of law were about to prevail in my home country. I was one of those very hopeful folks, who thought change was coming and Ethiopia was changing for the better.  My experience and learning in different parts of the country during the pre-election era in 2005 gave me hopes. The pre-election era was interesting, reasonably democratic, of course with some tolerable exceptions. As I had the opportunity to travel around the country in those days, I was able to talk to many people about the changes, hopes and the long road to democracy. That period was one of the most interesting in Ethiopia’s General Election history.

Post-Election Ethiopia was totally different. Killings, beatings, arbitrary detentions, all sort of miseries. The determination of the tyrannical regime to cling to power at any cost diverted the road to democracy and triggered the June 2005 protests that cost the lives of many innocent Ethiopians. The same stubbornness by the then regime resulted in the October/November 2005 massacre. In addition to the massacres, thousands were jailed, many people were forced to leave their homes and many others went on exile.

Ever since, all the elections were fake, undemocratic and questionable. It was all about how many percent of the vote the ruling party (EPRDF) would get, 98%, 99% or 100%. Totally shambolic.

Election 2020

As Ethiopia goes to polls in August 2020, there is a lot to expect. One thing for sure there will be winners and losers and it all depends on how we react to the wins and losses. If we ever think, it is now or never, then we have already lost the argument before even going to the polls. There could be disappointments when we are not able to mange our expectations. If the election is free and fair, that is a big deal on its own. That matters equally as the results. But if we are determined to see only the results that we want to see and anything else is unacceptable, then we have a problem. We have to remember election is not an end by itself and our wins or losses at an election wouldn’t mean the triumph or shortcoming of democracy. We need to hang on and work to change the course towards a stronger and more informed participation and strengthen the democratic process so that democratic elections become habits and that the next generation takes those democratic elections and principles for granted.

Hopes and fears

Managing expectation – it is more than important to manage expectations. Both prospective candidates, their parties, supporters and the wider electorates need to manage their expectations. They should at times be ready for disappointments, but ready to deal with it with grace, accept the results, move on and come back in the future, if they wish so. Hence vital to be ready for everything and avoid unwanted and unintended consequences. 

have hopes that all parties and candidates will be able to manage their expectations and act responsibly. I also have fears that some may not be able to contain their angers because of the challenges of managing their egos. Hence vital to know that going into election is part of a democratic journey, not an end by itself.

The role of Media - The media, be it video, voice, print, online or offline, they all have roles to play. Social media like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have big impact and significant roles to play. Hence vital to work on media accountability and professionalism in the run up to the general election and beyond. There should be credible sources of information that can avail timely information to avoid misinformation, disinformation and fake news. Facts and reliable data need to be available on time. Credible fact checkers need to be supported. People have to ask for the sources of information and check their credibility. There will be lots of opinion pieces and analyses based on individual perceptions and views. Hence, we need to cultivate the habit of asking for the sources of information every now and then and differentiate between news and opinions.

It takes us all to see the 2020 Ethiopian General Election succeed and exceed expectations of the usual and unusual suspects. Remember we all have stakes and cannot be silent on this important and momentous moment. Let us build democratic culture together and be voices of reasons.

9 January 2020

EILCO at World Press Freedom Day 2019

In January 2019, Co-Founder of the Ethiopian Institute for Leadership, Communication and Organisation (EILCO), Bekele Woyecha, and the Director of International Observatory for Human Rights (IOHR), Valerie Peay, met for lunch to discuss how they can work together. It was to their good fortune and the amazing transformation happening in Ethiopia, under the new administration of Dr. Abiy Ahmed, which led to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) announcing that the annual World Press Freedom Day 2019 (WPFD 2019) will be held in Addis Ababa on May 1 – 3. The main event of World Press Freedom Day was co-hosted by UNESCO, African Union (AU) and the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia with close to a thousand journalists world-wide descending on the capital of Ethiopia for a three day conference held at the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and AU buildings. As Valerie Peay commented at the reception for the launch of the EILCO-IOHR joint initiative for WPFD 2019, at the Ethiopian Embassy in London, “the Worlds eyes are on Ethiopia” and Bekele Woyecha stated “Ethiopia is open for business” .

Co-Founder of EILCO, Bekele Woyecha, tells the audience the positive changes happening in Ethiopia that allowed for World Press Freedom Day 2019 to be hosted in Addis Ababa.

EILCO was founded by four Britons of Ethiopian Origin, Bekele Woyecha, Zelalem Getahun, Ermias Kebede and Sirgut Yadeta. Their main aim is to transfer their combined experience of working in Civil Society, Civil Service and Private Sector to their country of birth, Ethiopia. IOHR is a human rights advocacy and action organisation based in the UK with a global reach. IOHR has worked closely with supporting, defending and facilitating journalists. With the experience and contacts of EILCO with journalists in Ethiopia and more generally East Africa, a partnership seemed the natural course of action. Before travelling to Ethiopia EILCO and IOHR organised a cocktail, which was attended by members of press in the UK, officials from the Foreign Office and the ambassador of Ethiopia to the UK. Here is a prelude written by IOHR. EILCO and IOHR travelled to Addis Ababa to deliver a seminar at Addis Ababa University School of Journalism and a panel discussion at the World Press Freedom Day. As well as holding discussions with the British Embassy in Ethiopia, exploring areas of mutual interest with the Ambassador, Alistair McPhail.

Addis Ababa University students from the School of Journalism listen to experienced journalists Woubshet Taye, Befekadu Hailu and others about responsible journalism, misinformation and freedom of expression.

The EILCO-IOHR Panel Discussion took place on Day One of World Press Freedom Day 2019 at the ECA. The discussion was entitled ‘The Need for UN, International and Local protection mechanisms for journalists: First hand experiences of the consequences of lack of such mechanism’. Opening remarks were provided by Bekele Woyecha, co-founder of EILCO.  The panel discussion looked at three elements to the question of mechanisms to protect journalists: Local, Regional and International. On the Panel we had Befekadu Hailu, Writer, Blogger and Democracy activist; Woubshet Taye,  Editor-in-Chief of Gulale Post magazine; Ruth Nesoba, Deployments Editor at the BBC World Service; Sirgut Yadeta, Communications Expert with major UK companies and co-founder of EILCO, Valerie Peay, Director of IOHR; and Alastair King-Smith, Coordinator for Global Campaign on Media Freedom at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). The discussions were moderated by Trish Lynch, former CNN and Sky News reporter and anchor of IOHR TV.

The EILCO-IOHR panel discussion was summarised by co-founder of EILCO, Dr. Ermias Kebede (far right). The discussion centred on the need for protection of journalists at a local, regional and international level.

The discussion demonstrated the local need for protection for journalist through the first-hand experience of mistreatment, abuse and imprisonment of Woubshet Taye, served seven years of a fourteen year terrorism sentence, and Befekadu Hailu, imprisoned four times without charge. Both emphasised the positive trajectory of the current Ethiopian Government on respecting press freedom. Woubshet stated that the three arms of Government, Legislative, Judiciary and Executive should ensure that the law to protect journalism is strengthened whilst also ensuring a strong and independent institution to support journalists. Befekadu highlighted the need for unity amongst journalists, proper mechanism for financial aid to legal challenges and he stated that during his ordeal he promised himself that “at no point will I ever compromise my freedom of expression”.

Ruth Nesoba gave us the regional perspective and the context of the women journalist, she pointed out that Women face challenges in protection, perception and personal life in field reporting. Whilst recognising the advancements in freedom of press in Ethiopia, Ruth warned that support for journalists must not be reversed and that a critical view of new media legislation must continue.

Sirgut Yadeta, Alastair King-Smith and Valerie Peay provided the need for an international perspective to protecting journalists. Sirgut is an experienced communications expert in the UK and is of Ethiopian origin. She commented “there were no laws protecting journalists in Ethiopia and I was very nervous in working here”. However, she recognised that the change in atmosphere has encouraged her to move back and work in Ethiopia. Sirgut called for a Code of Conduct to govern the press in Ethiopia through a self-regulating mechanism. Alastair called for “Governments to listen more”, to identify what has been happening and to continue the positive changes in place. He told the conference that the UK will be hosting a global campaign for Free Media, an initiative being led by the UK Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, partnering with the Canadian Government. Valerie Peay presented the case for IOHR explaining they were an organisation based on advocacy and action. IOHR called for a UN special envoy for the protection of journalists and better local, regional and international protection. 

The EILCO-IOHR panel discussion took place at ECA, Addis Ababa on 1st May 2019 featuring Valerie Peay, Sirgut Yadeta, Befekadu Hailu, Ruth Nesoba, Trish Lynch (moderator), Woubshet Taye and Alastair King-Smith (L-R) 

Day 2 and 3 of the World Press Freedom Day were held at the AU buildings, with the capacity to hold more attendees. We were told that this event was a record breaker for UNESCO on attendance. Day 2 began with some lively Ethiopian traditional dancing from the Oromia region. We had a panel discussion, in which a minutes silence for the victims of the Yemeni civil war and for Eritrean-Swedish journalist Dawit Isaak was called for by Yemeni-Swedish journalist, Afrah Nasser. This was followed by speeches from Director-General of UNESO, H.E. Audrey Azoulay, President of Ethiopia, H.E. Sahle-Work Zewde and UK Foreign Secretary, H.E. Jeremy Hunt. A keynote speech was also delivered by the Editor-in-Chief, Tsedale Lemma. The evening of Day 2 turned out to be the highlight of the evening, EILCO and IOHR attended the invite-only gala dinner at Sheraton Addis Luxury Collections, where the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Dr. Abiy Ahmed, gave a speech on Press Freedom in Ethiopia and accepted his award for UNESCO Person of Peace. EILCO and IOHR were able to get a few words with the Prime Minister, as well as Foreign Minister, Gedu Andargachew and Chief Justice, Meaza Ashenafi

Day 3 had a series of panel discussions and one of the panels was moderated by Co-founder of EILCO, Bekele Woyecha, on the invitation of UNESCO. This panel discussion on ‘Press Freedom in Ethiopia – Before and After the Transition’ heard keynote speech by H.E. Nigussu Tilahun, Head of Press Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister. The day proved an interesting mix of networking and discussion. All in all, World Press Freedom Day 2019 was a successful event for UNESCO, African Union and the Government of Ethiopia. It was delivered by the great staff at Flawless Events led by their Managing Director, Yoadan Tilahun. The partnership between EILCO and IOHR proved to be a successful one and both organisations ended up achieving a lot at World Press Freedom Day 2019.

 PS: This news was originally posted on the EILCO webite in May 2019. 
       Hence it is only a repost.

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