Wednesday 31 August 2011


An open letter to:
Mrs. Sandy Rowoldt Shell
African Studies Library
UCT Libraries
University of Cape Town
Rondebosch 7701
Western Cape, South>>>

Dear Mrs. Shell,

I read part of the story in which you tried to defame Emperor Menelik II as a “greatest slave entrepreneur.” Though it might have escaped you, by defeating an invading European power Emperor Menelik II has saved millions of people from being enslaved by Europeans. Moreover, within his country historians know that he wrote letters opposing slave trade to his subordinate chieftains.A famous letter which he wrote, but is perhaps unknown to you, is the one when he admonished an Oromo chief from being a “fengay,” a person disuniting family members for the purpose of selling some as slaves. The letter he wrote was to the Oromo chieftain, Aba Jiffar of Jima, in which Emperor Menelik asked him to stop selling his brethren. These are facts. Yet, a variety of indentured services within Ethiopia lasted for years.A group raiding another might have involved wholesale dislocations of one form or another. We also know that as I write European, Asian and other women are sold as sex slaves and for other services within their countries and to foreign lands. Indeed to the extent that there are buyers there will be sellers. It is a sad, sad, and dangerous world out there.

Mrs. Shell, according to your report, 204 young and old Oromo Ethiopians were sold for a few bushels of maize to Yemen on September 16 ,1888, but were freed and transported to South Africa. Indeed, the plight of the Ethiopians as apparently described by missionaries is sad and ugly, and we are all ashamed by it. Yet, you tell your reader that Emperor Menelik ruled from 1889-1913. Mrs. Shell, what happened before Menelik became Emperor?Why are you fixated on Emperor Menelik?

Mrs. Shell you reported that seventeen of the freed children returned to Ethiopia, bless their souls, while others stayed. For example, Mrs. Bisho Jarsa was married and stayed in South Africa as a teacher.We are all proud of Bisho Jarsa’s service to humanity. Mrs. Shell you wrote “She had been orphaned with her two brothers, as a result of the drought and disease that swept through Ethiopia in 1887, and left in the care of one of her father's slaves.” For reference, see URL:
Mrs. Shell, do you suppose that Emperor Menelik sold a slave to Bisho’s father who cared for her after she was orphaned? Because the slavery to Yemen occurred in 1888, you apparently assumed that Menelik was the slave trader. Where is the evidence for your defamatory assumptions?Where did you reconcile the labor relations, political history and governance of the late 19th century before showering us with your bombastic accusations?Indeed, central governance in Ethiopia is said to have started by Emperor Menelik II; but how successful was that effort prior to the 1896?

About a decade after the 1888 alleged slave trading to Yemen, a European army tried to penetrate deeper into Ethiopia.Menelik galvanized all Ethiopians irrespective of religion, region or origin to march in defense of the motherland, and the invading European army was decimated in a day’s battle at Adwa. The relatives of Mrs. Bisho Jarsa in Ethiopia and all others likely participated in the route of the invading European Army.All, including the families of people who might have been sold as slaves shared in that struggle and owned the sweet victory against a European army. As is often said some white persons live to refight the 1896 war of Adwa. Mrs. Shell, your unsubstantiated story of Emperor Menelik as the "greatest slave entrepreneur” cannot defame Emperor Menelik II, the pride of black people the world over. Your unsubstantiated allegation is a mark of poor scholarship on your part, on the part of your advisors and your department for allowing such shoddy work in a futile attempt to soil the name and fame of a giant. The BBC ought to be ashamed for broadcasting such shameful and unsubstantiated claim of yours.

Habte Giorgis Churnet


Friday 26 August 2011


It was 2007. Woyyane imported two "Qutch Belus" from London to organise a millennium celebration in Addis Ababa and invited the Diaspora to return home to celebrate the big day with them while the entire Kinijit leadership was in jail accused of treason by the treasonous regime itself. Ethiopians abroad Woyyane/EPRDF's plan to passify us counter campaigned against that plot. Those of us in London decided to hold our own Millennium for those who decided not to join the criminal Woyyanes and their hod-adders.

Realising what we were doing, Woyyane poured millions of pounds to upstage us by organising another Millennium Celebration in London with its bunch of hod-aders.(Interestingly, they did dare to send me an invitation e-mail, by the way). That was a challenge!

It was 09 September 2007. We started with a dinner party inviting 21 Mayors of London Boroughs to bring them on our side. We succeeded. By the words of Bob Maddams, a travel journalist of The Guardian newspaper:

“I have never seen so many London mayors get down and boogie and rattle their chains - but that's an Ethiopian party for you. It was a great success, all the organisers should be very happy that they did Ethiopia proud.”

This week, just before another Ethiopian New Year in exile, we got a treasure from Alebachew Dessalegn's historical vault. Enjoy our beautiful heritage. Day by day, more and more I am proud to be an Ethiopian. Enjoy.

Two days later, when Meles celebrated the so called Ethiopian Millenium organised by imported London “Qutch Belus” by dancing to the Sudanese song with his wife, Ethiopians celebrated Ethiopian Millennium in exile with a boom on Trafalgar Square! The trouble with us is lack of continuity to all the achievements we make.

We cannot thank enough Abonesh Adinew who made all the difference in London. Abonesh did that for free of charge. All we paid was her transportation ticket. Let Abonesh know that Londoners owe her so much and remember her contribution to make that challenge a reality.

Happy upcoming Ethiopian New Year, to all fellow compatriots and this blog readers.
Wondimu Mekonnen

Sunday 7 August 2011


By Geletaw Bekele

                                                                         Part I
In my last article The Shocking Truth of ‘Double Digit Growth’ ” I spoke of the worsening economic conditions of Ethiopian civil servants over the last 20 years.  This decline has resulted in the weakening of Ethiopian civil servants’ economic empowerment (ትዳር የማሸነፍ ጉልበት) by seven times in the face of government claims of “rapid growth”.

 In this article I will discuss the deteriorating quality of life of Ethiopian farmers during the same twenty years. In order to understanding the predicament of Ethiopian farmers of today two significant misconceptions need to be addressed first.  The first problem is that some people seem to think that Ethiopian farmers are benefiting from the recent, high rise in food prices.  The truth is however that the majority of Ethiopian farmers, or more than 80% of farmers who plough farms of less than one hectare of land, do not benefit from increased food prices.  The second problem is that the Ethiopian government who proclaims a progressive development policy through its Agriculture Development Lead Industry (ADLI) is not giving adequate support to rural development. In order to elaborate these points let’s take a look at the actual economic life of typical farmers first.

 1)  Farmers’ economic status 
In the sea of Ethiopia’s economic decline the condition of Ethiopian farmers might be examined by observing their relative income.  However, since farmers do not have fixed incomes as their civil servant counters parts do, the harshness of their severe economic conditions cannot easily be measured.  In fact the severity of the Ethiopian farmers’ economic alienation is best observed by following the hand to mouth existence of farmers struggling to meet their barest expense while their normal sources of income are quickly disappearing.
Since 80% of Ethiopian farmers live in highland areas let’s focus on the average expenses and sources of income of these farmers in particular.   For example, a representative farmer living in a given area of the Ethiopian highland, having the average household size of six family members normally needs the following items to subsist. One liter of kerosene currently costing 18 birr as well as one single portion of soap costing 12 birr is sufficient for one month’s use for six family members.  As is an estimated 1 kilogram of coffee at 120 birr, 1kg of sugar at 15 birr, 1kg of pepper at 80 birr and 1kg of salt at 4 birr.  When we add these average monthly expenses the total expense is 249 birr per month.  When farmers cannot grow onions, bean and other necessary food stuffs the expense climbs up to between 350 and 500 birr per month.  This minimum expense is merely for bare survival and does not include other basic necessities such as clothing, incidental medicine or the cost of grinding cereals for food preparation.

 In addition to this minimum expense now imagine this farmer has to pay 1,200 birr for Urea fertilizer and more than 1,000 birr for DAP.  For improved seed function he will have to spend 2,500 birr per quintal.  As well he would expect to pay a land tax of up to 200 birr.  This means that the typical farmer needs around 10,900 birr ready cash for expenses apart from producible food stuffs.  Now, the question is, Is this sum affordable for this farmer?
To tackle this question we must next survey the scant to diminishing sources of income for today’s highland farmers.  Ethiopian farmers commonly share the following resources for income generation: selling accumulated wood or charcoal, raising livestock for foods production and growing grains for cereal production.

When we take a close look at the reasons for the disappearance of these income sources we understand just how deeply Ethiopia’s farmers have sunk into economic ruin.  Wood from the now wiped out Ethiopian forest of long ago used to cover more than 35% of Ethiopia, but today has becoming harder and harder to find.   This problem shows that it is not now easy for highland farmers dependent on wood as fuel and sources of income to gather this valuable resource.  A closer look at this deforestation reveals a peripheral and dramatic problem that of unbalanced rainfall patterns. 

During the regular rainy season there are shortages of rain offset by unusually heavy rains.   Shortages of rain expose rain dependent farmers to the loss of livestock and the under production of food goods.  Heavy rains expose sloping highland farms to erosion which results in soil continuously losing fertility.  These alarming conditions combined with disregard and inaction by the Ethiopian government signal a persistent worsening of life experience for Ethiopian farmers. 

Another problem is population growth has increased alarmingly compared to that of 20 years ago.  This reality has created a land shortage in highland area farm distribution.  As a result farmers are not able to produce sufficient yields to cover their monthly expenses.  Likewise the strain on livestock is not sustainable and because of this livestock is not a viable source of income for farmers either.  The reality for farmers is that all of their sources of income generation are collapsing.  Due to this the economic situation of Ethiopian farmers will continue to decline.

In the highlands of Ethiopia a farmer with an average family size of 6 ploughs an average of around 0.9 to one hectare of land.  Suppose this farmer produces 800kg of wheat per year per hectare while using fertilizers.  How can this farmer feed his family throughout the year? 

According to relief organization estimates one person needs at least 15kg of wheat per month to survive.  This means that this farmer needs 1,080kg of wheat per year just to feed his family and himself.  This farmer would have to buy or beg another 280kg of wheat per year in addition to what he produces on his own to insure that his family members could enjoy 1/2kg of wheat per day per person throughout the year.  Unfortunately, the biggest problem facing today’s farmers is not only this one.  But instead, the fact that as soon as this farmer harvests his insufficient product the government insists that he sell his crops in order to repay his 4,700 birr of fertilizer and seed cost. 

This farmer would have to sell around 600kg of wheat out of his 800kg produced to repay his debt, having only 200kg of wheat left for personal use.  These circumstances prohibit farmers from using agricultural inputs like fertilizers or improved seed products and as a result their yield is even less than the meager 800kg.

The government, instead of subsidizing agricultural inputs, is encouraging farmers to buy these high priced fertilizers and improved seed products whereby this stimulus forces farmers to sell their knowingly non-surplus product to repay the cost of these inputs.  The government is systematically manipulating poor farmers to compensate for the market being otherwise empty. If the market were to be empty the government knows that city dwellers would revolt against the government and its poor policies. 

As we have seen the life of Ethiopian farmers today is completely different to that of 20 years ago. Not comparing Ethiopian farmers with developed nation farmers or even other African farmers but only comparing them to their own life of 20 years ago, the quality of life is lost.  This is the saddening story for all Ethiopians.

 Ethiopian farmers who customarily enjoy coffee two or three times a day may now only enjoy one cup on occasion or stop drinking coffee at all. Farmers who were using kerosene to light their homes in the evening may stop using it and return to using chopped wood as they did in the 1800s. Highland farmers who use pepper and sugar to flavor their meals will stop enjoying it. Those who cannot now afford soap may stop using it to wash their clothes. In the case of an emergency they will no longer be able to afford to get medical treatment.


A discussion of social justice, education and human rights will continue in part two of this article Stand up for Ethiopian Farmers.
                                                                Geletaw Zeleke