Friday, December 5, 2008

Ethiopia's biggest pop star jailed for hit-and-run

Fri 5 Dec 2008, 14:43 GMT
[-] Text [+]

By Barry Malone

ADDIS ABABA, Dec 5 (Reuters Life!) - Ethiopia's best-known pop star, Teddy Afro, was sentenced to six years in jail on Friday for killing a homeless man when driving his BMW in the capital Addis Ababa.

The 31-year-old singer, whose real name is Tewodros Kassahun, was found guilty of manslaughter earlier this week for the death of 18-year-old Degu Yibelte in a hit-and-run incident late last year.

Afro denied the charge and said he was out with friends on the night the man died.

Many Ethiopians believe the charges were politically motivated. Last month's Great Ethiopian Run -- a road race for more than 30,000 people through the capital -- was marked by constant shouts from the crowd of "Free Teddy".

The singer is hugely popular among young Ethiopians and sings mainly in the local Amharic language. Hundreds protested outside the court when Afro's trial began in April -- an unusual event in a country where dissent is extremely rare.

Afro's last album, Yasteseryal (Redemption), coincided with Ethiopia's 2005 election that led to violent protests and the jailing of opposition leaders.

Some of his lyrics were construed as critical of the government and his songs were used as protest anthems by opposition supporters who took to the streets.

"This court will not hand out a sentence based on a vendetta but based on fairness and justice," Judge Leul Gebremariam said before sending Afro to jail and fining him $1,800.

On streets nearby young Ethiopians gathered in small groups to discuss the sentencing.

"All Ethiopians will be sad today," said Mikias Sisay, a 23-year-old student. "Many people have accidents but are not sent to prison like this. It is because of politics."

A defiant Afro -- wearing his trademark black sunglasses -- raised one finger in the air to a smattering of applause from friends and family when he walked from the courtroom.

"I feel free," he said to reporters as he was led away by police.

(Editing by David Clarke and Michael Roddy)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Ethiopia: A feast for the eyes

By Nik Quaife
Saturday November 22 2008

Announcing a holiday to Ethiopia is likely to be met with the following response: "But will you be able to eat?" Everyone, it seems, thinks that they know Ethiopia. The famine of 1984 and planet-wide publicity of Live Aid portrayed this troubled African state as an immense, muck-brown desert filled with flies and starving children. The bleak pictures broadcast on TV effectively destroyed it as a tourist destination.

Yes, Ethiopia is a poor country -- one of the world's poorest -- and food distribution problems persist, but there is, nonetheless, much to enjoy there. The country's ancient monuments, burial chambers and religious history rival Egypt's, and the surprisingly green and fertile landscapes feed a plethora of wildlife, from baboons to zebra.

Ethiopia will surprise even the most jaded traveller. As the only African country never colonised (the Italians only 'occupied' what was then Abyssinia during the Second World War), Ethiopians proudly call themselves 'pure' Africans. With its own calendar (seven years and eight months behind our own), year length (13 months), clock (12-hour cycles starting at 6am), and an ancient language -- Amarhic -- not spoken anywhere else, Ethiopia and its people are strikingly idiosyncratic.

Bigger than France and Germany combined, it is Africa's second-largest country after Nigeria. Its high mountain ranges and altitude have earned it the nickname 'Switzerland of Africa'; a fitting description given that the capital, Addis Ababa, has the highest concentration of embassies after Geneva and New York, and is headquarters to the 53-member African Union. The high dose of diplomacy might explain Ethiopians' openness, tolerance of hardship and eagerness to help.

With none of the chaos of Cairo or nuisances of Nairobi, Addis is, by African standards, a safe and cordial city. You can put in hours people-watching: young girls wearing the modest national garb of white cotton shawls, stooped in day-long prayer outside the city's numerous Orthodox Christian churches; rows of barefooted shoe-shiners perched underneath newly-constructed cement buildings, which are held up by fragile scaffolding made from eucalyptus trees; traditional dancers in white robes hissing through clenched teeth and rhythmically jerking their shoulders to the asymmetrical beats of the national folk dance in tourist bars with corrugated roofs.

Other sights in the capital include the National Museum of Ethiopia, home to the world's oldest hominid skeleton -- the fascinating 3.3 million-year-old 'Lucy' -- and hiking the eucalyptus-clad slopes of nearby Mount Entoto to visit the former palace of Emperor Menelik and Empress Taitu.

However, you're unlikely to fly seven hours to Ethiopia and only stay in Addis. After a few days in the capital acclimatising both to Africa and the lack of oxygen (the 2,000m-plus altitude that awards Ethiopia more than its fair share of Olympic medal-winning marathon runners can seriously challenge the used-to-sea-level Irish), you'll want to head north on the historical route -- a 600km must-see circuit which many consider to be the real highlight of Ethiopia.

The route starts a little under an hour's flight north from Addis at the jacaranda-lined, Mediterranean-like town of Bahir Dar. The lakeside vistas and colourful palm-lined avenues of this tourist-friendly town are a good base from which to explore the nearby Blue Nile Falls. Often compared to the better-known Victoria Falls, these gushing waters, more than 45m high, are as far from the images of drought-and-desert, Live Aid Ethiopia as you can get. The falls are the source of the great river Nile, which flows east from here, nourishing Ethiopia's green and plant-rich Rift Valley before crossing into Sudan, where it joins the White Nile and heads north to Cairo. The Falls are fed from the nearby circular-shaped Lake Tana, Ethiopia's largest lake and home to dozens of islands, peppered with centuries-old monasteries where monks study and pray.

There is an incredible serenity here, watching the tankwas (papyrus boats) ferry firewood across the sticky water to churches; an ideal location for an afternoon's contemplation beneath the flotillas of white flamingos and pelicans.

Leaving Bahir Dar, heading north to the impressive former capital city of Gonder, you'll pass small market towns with grass-roof huts, where barefoot goat farmers wearing the sh'ma -- a white shawl -- sell mangoes, papaya and coke (a fig-like fruit) to villagers, who shelter from the equatorial sun under handmade parasols. The city's piazza, Royal Enclosure and stone palaces are solid and impressive and would not look out of place in post-Renaissance Italy.

Gonder is the gateway to the dramatic Simien Mountains, where the landscape starts to resemble a giant chess game with bishops' mitres, queens' crowns and rooks' turrets carving their way up more than 4,000m towards the Arizona-blue skies. This checkerboard landscape is an animal lover's and birdwatcher's paradise, but most come to these craggy and remote mountains for the the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela.

More than 15 interconnecting churches, some towering 10m high, were carved more than 800 years ago directly into the red tuva rock of this mountain village, creating what many say should be the eighth man-made Wonder of the World.

How these churches were built is as puzzling as the construction of Egypt's pyramids. Some estimates say that more than 40,000 people would have been required to carve the supernatural churches, and the resulting giant shrine is as close as anyone can get to praying inside a mountain. The resident Orthodox monks, priests and shamma-wearing hermits spend their lives here, praying and studying scripture. Their home, only recently discovered by outsiders, is by far the major highlight of Ethiopia.

The final stop on this historical route, and a short distance from Ethiopia's disputed northern border with Somalia, is the holy city of Axum (Aksum). A must for Da Vinci Code addicts, it was once the centre of the Axumite Empire (in existence at least 300 years before Christ's birth) and it's here that the famous Lost Ark of the Covenant is said to reside.

These two stone tablets, on which God is believed to have engraved the Ten Commandments, are in the town's Cathedral of St Mary of Zion. Guarded by a single priest who can never leave, only two Westerners have ever claimed to have seen the Lost Ark, but the pageantry and secrecy surrounding it make for an interesting afternoon tour -- as well as fodder for a range of books and a lucrative Indiana Jones franchise.

Other highlights of antiquity in this otherwise inconspicuous town are the ancient Stellae fields with their obelisks, burial chambers, mummies and hidden treasures, and the baths of the Old Testament's Queen of Sheba.

As an introduction to sub-Saharan Africa, Addis Ababa and this northern circuit are unequalled. The country is safe (muggings are rare compared with neighbouring countries), easy on the pocket (the local St George beer is 25c, SIM cards are less than €1), and not as hot as other equatorial countries, thanks to the high altitude.

Some things will remind you that you're not in Europe -- the afternoon power cuts, sporadic hot water, and hole-in-the-ground toilets -- but, for the most part, Ethiopia presents nothing more challenging than backpacking around South-East Asia.

The one drawback is the roads. They are notoriously bad, with giant pot-holes, no tarmac and frequent dead-ends, so it's wise to think about flying to most of the destinations on the historical route (Ethiopian Airlines has regular daily flights to all the cities mentioned here).

It's also difficult to find luxury accommodation. There is one five-star hotel in Addis, but Western-style lavishness has yet to come to the rest of the country. Staying at the government-owned Ghion chain hotels is a perfectly comfortable option, if you don't mind intermittent cold showers and jumble-sale furniture.

And besides, do you really need luxury? Only the most selfish of travellers would demand a high cotton count in one of the poorest countries in the world. You don't go to Ethiopia to be pampered but to be among the first to see it, with the added satisfaction of knowing that your money benefits the locals. Seeing the smiles of two young boys in Lalibela who converted a disused lorry container into a profitable internet café, thanks to the patronage of two Dutch tourists, illustrates how foreign currency can help improve the lot of a country and perhaps develop it into one of the great tourist destinations.

Putting up with minor inconveniences is a small price to pay for Ethiopia's history, people and landscape. And, yes, you can eat -- the food's quite good, actually.

Go there soon; it's time to turn Ethiopia's image from one of famine to feast.

- Nik Quaife

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Egyptians decry doctor's sentence of 1,500 lashes

By SALAH NASRAWI Associated Press Writer | AP
Nov 11, 2008
(CAIRO, Egypt) Demonstrators in Cairo demanded Tuesday that Saudi Arabia release an Egyptian doctor sentenced to 15 years in prison and 1,500 lashes after he was convicted of malpractice — reportedly after treating a Saudi princess.

His wife said she feared the punishment would kill him.

Raouf Amin el-Arabi, a doctor who has been serving the Saudi royal family for about 20 years, was convicted last year of giving a patient the wrong medication. Egyptian newspapers reported that he was accused of driving a Saudi princess "to addiction."

He initially was sentenced to seven years in prison and 700 lashes, but when he appealed two months ago, the judge not only upheld the conviction, but more than doubled the penalty to 15 years in prison and 1,500 lashes.

Family members, friends and colleagues gathered at the headquarters of Egypt's doctors' union in downtown Cairo and urged Saudi King Abdullah to pardon el-Arabi.

"My children want their father to return swiftly and safely," the doctor's wife Fathiya el-Hindawi told the Associated Press. "I hope the king will give them back their smiles."
She maintained her 53-year-old husband was innocent and feared he would die if given the full penalty.

"1,500 lashes is unprecedented in the history of Islam," read one banners carried by protesters. "Who is responsible for the humiliation of our doctors abroad?" read another.

The case has drawn nationwide criticism in Egypt and local human rights groups have demanded that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who maintains close ties with the Saudi royal family, intervene to free el-Arabi.

The Saudi government has refrained from comment but Egyptian newspapers report that el-Arabi was treating a female member of the royal family when he was accused of "driving a patient to addiction." The newspapers identified the princess as one of the wives of Abdullah's nephews.

Saudi Justice Ministry officials did not answer the phone on Tuesday to comment on the case.

Egypt's Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that diplomatic and political efforts are under way to resolve the problem, but warned that relations between the two countries should not be affected.
"The ministry is very much concerned with this case," said Ahmed Rizq, a ministry official, in a statement. "However, the Saudi judicial and political system should be respected."

Egypt's state-owned Middle East News Agency later reported that Cairo's ambassador to Riyadh, Mahmoud Auf, met with the powerful mayor of Riyadh, Prince Salman, to discuss "the status of Egyptian expatriates in the kingdom."

El-Arabi is in a jail in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah and is believed to have received at least one of his weekly installments of 70 lashes so far.

Broken bones and body bags: horrors facing Ethiopian domestic workers

By Tania Tabar
The Daily Star
November 11, 2008

BEIRUT - At the Ethiopian Consulate in Beirut, Lebanon, a poster declares "Ethiopia: 13 weeks of sunshine" as two officials sit at their desks. The three chairs in the waiting room are usually occupied these days: In just one recent week, the mission heard of one Ethiopian domestic worker who died a suspicious death and another who is in hospital with both legs broken, possibly paralyzed, and can only communicate by blinking her eyes.

The previous week, a woman walked in shaking. When the social officer asked her what was wrong, she replied that her "Madame" - her employer - threatened her with a knife.

It has long been the case that women from impoverished countries like Ethiopia come to Lebanon to work, that many encounter abuse and even violence, and that most find they have nowhere to turn.

Elinore Molla and Victoria Andarge, two Ethiopian women who are involved with the Full Gospel Church in Beirut, have turned an apartment they are renting into a makeshift sanctuary for women who flee their employers after facing some sort of abuse.

"The consulate doesn't have a resting room. Women sleep under the cars [outside the consulate], so many guys come and harass them. They are only 20 years old with a future and destiny. I take the decision in my life to suffer for them," said Molla, 27, who is originally from Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa.

Molla first found out about the women sleeping underneath the cars about a year ago.

"When I was walking I saw the girls," she recalls. "I found four girls … I was shocked. They said, 'help us.'"

She took them into her home, which today houses about two dozen women at any given time. "I'm Christian, I'm a believer," she told The Daily Star. "Everyday I see my people and my nation, with no one to take responsibility. The idea comes from God - helping protect someone who was abused. I ask the girl when I take her to my home: 'What's the problem with your sponsor?' And she says, 'so many things.'"

The head of the social affairs office at the Ethiopian Consulate, who preferred not to be identified by name, confirmed that women continue to sleep under cars near the mission until this day.

There are several problems with the situation of domestic migrant workers in Lebanon, she explained: "It is not only Ethiopian workers facing problems, but because women from other countries stopped signing contracts, the number of Ethiopians increased."

There is currently no reliable data, but the consulate estimates the number of Ethiopian workers in Lebanon to be between 40,000 and 50,000, a substantial increase since the number of women coming from Sri Lanka and the Philippines dropped off following the 2006 war with Israel - and attendant stories of abuse and neglect. The Ethiopian government officially barred its own women from coming to Lebanon earlier this year, but many are now traveling here through third countries.

The head of the consular section, who also did not want to be named, said that problems frequently begin from the day of arrival. Many sponsors do not adhere to the terms of the contracts, he explained, such as duration, remuneration, and hours of work expected.

What is even more problematic, he added, is when agencies do not take responsibility when a woman files a complaint, paving the way for a volatile relationship between the workers and their employers.

"We are facing a lot of problems," he said. "One problem is by the housemaids, second by the sponsors. Since we are foreigners to this country we have a different culture, so from the beginning it is difficult for her to get accustomed.

"But I want to turn to the sponsors' problem," he added. "There are a lot of problems from sponsors, they don't pay salaries on time, they treat them aggressively, they don't get enough food, and they don't provide shelter."

According to the consulate, some 70 percent of employers who employ Ethiopians don't pay their employees on a monthly basis.

"Sometimes they close the balcony and make them sleep on the floor," added the head of the social affairs office, "and they beat her to make her understand. That's why she becomes aggressive toward agencies, the consulate and herself."

Most troubling of all, the mission says it has been sending a record number of corpses back to Ethiopia.

The consulate estimates that 150 women have died in a little more than a year, and there is no accountability.

In one recent case, Mekdes Tesfaye Tefera's corpse was found with a noose around her neck. But the consulate has doubts that this was a self-inflicted death and has filed a police report.

"They always say, 'she killed herself,'" the social affairs officer said.

In the case of Zebiba Kedr, who is currently hospitalized, the consulate is working on having charges laid against the woman for whom she was working. The employers have stated that Kedr fell from the 12th floor of their building, but the head of the consular section said that when he went to see her in the hospital and asked her "Madame" had pushed her, she indicated 'yes' by blinking her eyes.

Stories like these make the unofficial shelter run by Molla and Andarge even more essential. Andarge said the agencies were the main problem, accusing them of "playing a game" with people's lives. The government needs to get involved, she added, and make sure the agencies take responsibility for the women and how they are treated.

The consulate representatives said they had an agreement with all the agencies that said the latter were to be responsible for the women they bring to Lebanon, and that this is why mission does not have a shelter.

The nongovernmental organization Caritas offers a safehouse for workers who are flee their employers' homes, but Molla said that these spaces are usually reserved for those who are very sick or have psychological problems.

Molla is one of the lucky ones. She came to Lebanon when she was 17 years old and says she has always been well treated by her employer.

"She is like my mom, she is Lebanese, and she supports me. I love her," Molla told The Daily Star.

But since she regards her own experience as the exception rather than the rule, she discourages other Ethiopian women from traveling to Lebanon for work - a process which she described as getting easier by the day.

"The Lebanese name is collapsing everywhere," she said, explaining that in Addis Ababa, Lebanon's reputation is causing fewer and fewer would-be migrant workers to sign up.

To compensate, she added, the recruiters have started concentrating on women from remote villages.

Molla said she tells women in Ethiopia "what is going on" in Lebanon, "and that it's better to stay in your country, because you still have hopes there. Here there are no hopes."

Nonetheless, a young woman now staying at the makeshift safehouse said she would like to stay here and support her family back home - if her employers here were to treat her well.

Andarge believes there is hope to change the situation and has already noticed changes in public opinion and awareness. New York-based Human Rights Watch recently conducted a hard-hitting campaign on the plight of migrant domestic workers in Lebanon, and last month the American University of Beirut hosted a conference and roundtable discussion on the issue. Some of the students were appalled at what they heard, she said, and their reaction was a pleasant "surprise."

"It will be changed," Andarge said with tears in her eyes. "We just need strong people."

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Living History in Ethiopia

Ties to ancient Israel run deep in the home of the Queen of Sheba, where Christianity came early and the churches are ancient and unique

Melissa Burdick Harmon , Special to the Sun

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia - The Queen of Sheba's palace isn't what it used to be. Its roof is long gone. Its grand entrance is but a memory. Yet the 3,000-year-old ruins remain, sprawling over thin-grassed farm fields in Axum -- once the capital of a great world power and today a dusty Ethiopian town where cows and children, goats and donkeys roam free.

The Queen lived well. It is still possible to stride across her vast flagstone-floored throne room, just one of 50 excavated chambers. The sophisticated drainage system features fish-shaped granite gargoyles. Several brick ovens line the large kitchen, and multiple stairwells indicate that there were many more rooms above.

Here, according to Ethiopians, a great dynasty was born. And, as all great dynasties should, this one begins with a love story. As they tell it, the Queen of Sheba left Ethiopia only once, to visit King Solomon in Jerusalem. Solomon, despite being married, became smitten with the beautiful Queen. She reciprocated his desire and upon her return to Axum she gave birth to his son, Menelik.

Menelik I took the throne when his mother died, roughly a thousand years before the birth of Christ, and began a line of Solomonic rulers that endured with only a brief interruption until Emperor Haile Selassie, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, was deposed 31 years ago.

Menelik I is also, according to the Ethiopian Orthodox church, responsible for that country's possessing the greatest relic of the Judeo-Christian tradition. It seems that the king went to visit his father, and somehow brought back the original Ark of the Covenant, previously kept in the great temple in Jerusalem.

The Ark is believed to hold the original tablets containing the Ten Commandments that God handed to Moses on Mount Sinai, and it is now said to be kept in Axum's Church of St. Mary of Zion. Only one elderly monk guards this treasure, which no one else may see.

St. Mary of Zion is one of thousands of Christian churches that dot the Ethiopian landscape. Christianity came early to Axum, and soon after A.D. 300 this new faith became the country's official religion. It has evolved little over the years, and its vivid churches are unlike any found elsewhere in the world.

This town's greatest attractions, however, are not its churches, but its stelae -- towering obelisks piercing the bright blue sky, the largest nine stories tall and cut from a single piece of granite. An even taller one, the height of a 13-storey building and weighing some 500 tonnes, lies on its side, broken. It fell, according to a written account, in about 850 AD.

Each stele has an altar for sacrificial offerings and a false door. No one knows exactly when or why they were built. Some say they were meant to house spirits.

Axum today shows much and hides much. Only about three per cent of this once vast city has been excavated. Kids routinely pull ancient coins from farm fields. It is a place rich with the feeling of unsolved mysteries.

In fact, mysteries and miracles abound all along Ethiopia's Historic Route, with each of the three remaining stops reflecting a different era in the county's rich life.

The 11 rock-hewn churches in the town of Lalibela have often been called the "Eighth Wonder of the World." Like the monoliths at Axum, they are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And, according to legend, they were each carved out of a single piece of rock at record speed, "as angels worked on them during the night."

The churches, many carved in deep trenches with only their roofs exposed, others cut directly into the rocks of caves, are all connected by a labyrinthine series of tunnels, paths and steep steps. Each has been used continuously since the beginning of the 13th century. Most are decorated with a Star of David, underscoring the church's close kinship with King Solomon. One displays a very old painting of a black Jesus.

It is a remarkable place, as priests and monks in brilliant brocade vestments carry on a religious life that has gone on here, hidden among the hills and caves, for nearly a thousand years.

If the rock churches of Lalibela impress with their stark simplicity, the 29 churches and monasteries scattered over the islands of Lake Tana, headwaters of the Blue Nile River, delight with their vivid paintings in primary colours.

Abba Hailemariam Genetu, Head Priest at Azwah Maryam -- a circular church with a grass roof, located on an isolated peninsula -- greets visitors.

"This church," he says, "dates back to the 14th century. It is younger than most."

The handsome Abba, or Father, Genetu, speaks a Semitic language related to Hebrew, doesn't eat pork and performs ritual circumcision. He, like all Ethiopian Orthodox, practices a Christianity that is older, closer to Judaism, and far more exotic -- complete with ritual dancing and drumming -- than you'll find anywhere in North America.

His remote church was constructed to protect the faith, but also to reserve Ethiopia's ancient religious treasures -- ornate silver and bronze crosses, prayer sticks that recall Moses' staff and centuries-old illuminated manuscripts.

The church walls are covered with paintings which, over time, have also become treasures. One shows the child Jesus zooming down a board from a second story window, while less sacred children, who have tried and failed, lie scattered around the ground. Others illustrate the Holy Trinity: three identical dark-skinned, white-haired, white-bearded men.

If the rock churches are marvels of construction, and the churches of Lake Tana delight with their vivid paintings, the castles of Gondar simply astonish. Getchu Eshetu, my guide throughout Ethiopia, calls this site "Africa's Camelot," and he does not overstate the case. This palace complex looks as though it has been airlifted from medieval Europe.

In fact, the castle construction was begun by Emperor Fasiladas in 1632, when he declared the town of Gondar to be Ethiopia's first official capital.

His brown basalt palace was assembled using mortar and boasts four domed towers and battlements.

A Yemeni merchant who visited in 1648 wrote that it was "one of the most marvelous of buildings" he had ever seen, mentioning rooms trimmed in ivory and jewels, courtiers in fine brocade and thrones embroidered in gold.

Succeeding rulers constructed their own palaces. The 18th-century Empress Mentewab built a lovely one, where it is said she hosted Scotsman James Bruce (for five years!) when he came through searching for the headwaters of the Nile.

Other Europeans were less kind to the castles. Mussolini's Italians, who occupied Ethiopia from 1935 to 1941, used them as barracks. The British found out and bombed the buildings. Restoration is a slow process in a poor country, yet much of the complex remains, a reminder of the days when Gondar ruled a great empire.

As travellers complete the historic circle, it becomes abundantly clear that this mountainous country in the Horn of Africa contains treasures that should be on every history buff's wish list. Someday they will be, but for now it's still possible -- and lovely -- to experience Ethiopia's great sites without being jostled by hoards of tourists.

- - -


Addis Ababa, the capital city and jumpin off point for tours, offers several luxury hotels:

Sheraton Addis, a member of the chain's luxury collection, is one of the finest hotels in Africa. Its vast pool and gardens, excellent shops and Italian, Indian and fine dining restaurants make it a lovely oasis in a sometimes chaotic city. Doubles from $181 US a night. 888-625-4988 or 011-251-1-171717;; Taitu Street, Box 6002, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The Hilton Addis Ababa, on six hectares in the heart of the city, features a heated pool, four tennis courts and a spa (where a one-hour massage costs roughly $8.50). The hotel has a vast array of shops and restaurants, and rooms complete with balconies. Doubles from $151 a night. 800-HILTONS or 011-251-1-518400;; corner of Menelik II Avenue, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Ghion Hotels, a chain run by the Ethiopian government, are the best available on the Historic Route. They are well located (on the shore of Lake Tana, on a hill overlooking Axum, for example), but the accommodations tend to be rather simple. Prices vary, and will be included in tour packages. Phone: 011-251-1-1513-222; Ghion Hotels Enterprise, Res Desta Damteu Ave., Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Be sure to sample Ethiopian cuisine, typically a fermented, sponge-like pancake called injera, topped by a spicy stew called wat. The hotels on the Historic Route, however, are accustomed to catering to western tastes, serving up fresh fish, chicken and spaghetti. Save your fine-dining appetite for meals at the Hilton or the Sheraton, at journey's end.

Melissa Burdick Harmon served as travel editor of Biography Magazine and its predecessor, A&E Monthly, for 12 years.

© The Vancouver Sun 2005

Friday, November 7, 2008

A conference on security policy in the Greater Horn of Africa held in Cairo

A Week in the Horn
07 November 2008
Addis Ababa

A conference on regional security policy in the Greater Horn of Africa was held in Cairo last week. It was the fourth such conference organized by a German NGO, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung foundation. Participants included representatives from the African Union, the League of Arab States, the German, Ethiopian and Somali Foreign Ministries, Southern Sudan's Ministry of Irrigation, and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development in Bonn, Friedrich Ebert-Stiftung offices in Germany, Egypt, Ethiopia, and the Sudan, UNECA, the European Union, Transparency International, the International Crisis Group, the Nile Basin Initiative Secretariat, and various think tanks and institutes including the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, the Center for Policy Research and Dialogue in Addis Ababa and Kenya's National Commission on Human Rights. Six panels dealt with Western Sudan, the Horn of Africa, State building and social inclusion, the Nile water and resource management, South Sudan and Northern Uganda; Secession and trans-border issues.

The root problem in Western Sudan, as in the conflicts in Chad and the Central African Republic, was identified as the way the political culture of these countries focus only on development for the benefit of the group in power. The solution suggested was a need to find an institutional political system to allow an effective sharing of resources. In Darfur, participants felt the need for coherence and coordination between all international actors who should get beyond their own organizational interests and create a space for the Sudanese to find their own solutions. The ICC issue should be separated from the issue of peace in the Sudan. State-building and social inclusion, and Secession and trans-border issues were discussed in detail. Ethiopia's ethnic federal structure was identified as ‘the best conflict management device with its promise of shared power and space for multiple identities/loyalties’. The representative of the ICG did not agree, characterizing it as a continuation of narrow ethnic group domination, and calling Ethiopia “the most unstable country in Africa”. No one else agreed and other participants cited evidence of stability and development in all the regional components of Ethiopia's federal structure. Indeed, Somalia and Kenya, and even other countries in the region and beyond, were recommended to follow such a federal structure as the recipe for successful state building and resource sharing as a way out of current predicaments. The Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) attracted considerable discussion. There was agreement on the need to build confidence among riparian states, particularly between Ethiopia and Egypt, to make the NBI an effective organization, to discontinue unilateral development, and on the necessity to deal with the unmet development programs of NBI member states. In conclusion a number of actions were recommended as ways forward to help achieve regional security. These included the need to practice good governance characterized by a responsible and participatory approach; for governments to engage their populations in a dialogue; increase the role of civil society; establish a system of conflict management; create cross-border cooperation; and expand regional trade.

The most hotly discussed issues were the conflicts in the Horn, the Ethio-Eritrean border, the Eritrean invasion of Djibouti, and conflicts in Somalia. Dr. Annette Weber, from the Institute for International and Security Affairs, Berlin, presented a provocative paper which minimized the threat of terrorism in the Horn of Africa and anticipated much of what the ICG representative was to say. In the extensive discussion it generated the most outspoken comments came from the representative of the Brussels based International Crisis Group. He surprised other participants by taking an identical line to that of the Eritrean Government, arguing the need for Ethiopia to withdraw from “occupied Eritrean territories”, and claiming the 'virtual' demarcation decision of the Boundary Commission was final and legal and, ignoring the numerous anomalies acknowledged by the Boundary Commission, claimed it should be endorsed by the UN Security Council. He also claimed Ethiopia’s ‘invasion’ of Somalia was intended to balkanize Somalia, that any claim of a terrorist threat to Ethiopia’s security was a fabrication in collaboration with the US, and that there was no border conflict between Eritrea and Djibouti and claims of this were no more than a US invention. Participants and organizers were surprised by the complete association of the International Crisis Group with the position of the Eritrean government and the ICG representative's comments were strongly challenged, indeed refuted, by participants from Ethiopia and by other discussants. Surprisingly, the ICG continues to be unconcerned by its credibility in the region.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Barack Obama wins presidency, making history

The Democrat breaks the ultimate U.S. racial barrier with his defeat of Republican John McCain.

By Mark Z. Barabak
November 5, 2008

Barack Obama, the son of a father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas, was elected the nation's 44th president Tuesday, breaking the ultimate racial barrier to become the first African American to claim the country's highest office.

A nation founded by slave owners and seared by civil war and generations of racial strife delivered a smashing electoral college victory to the 47-year-old first-term senator from Illinois, who forged a broad, multiracial, multiethnic coalition. His victory was a leap in the march toward equality: When Obama was born, people with his skin color could not even vote in parts of America, and many were killed for trying.
"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer," Obama told more than 240,000 celebrants gathered along Chicago's waterfront. Many had tears streaking their faces.

"It's been a long time coming," said Obama, who strode on stage with his wife, Michelle, and their two daughters, Sasha and Malia. "But tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America."

Obama was beating Republican John McCain in every state Democrats carried four years ago, including Pennsylvania, which McCain had worked vigorously to pry away. Obama also made significant inroads into Republican turf, carrying Ohio, Colorado, Indiana and Virginia; the latter two voted Democratic for the first time in more than 40 years. He won the swing states of Florida, Iowa and New Mexico, which backed President Bush in 2004.

In winning the White House, Obama modified the electorate:About 1 in 10 of those casting ballots Tuesday were doing so for the first time. Though that number was about the same as four years ago, most of the newcomers were younger than 30, about a fifth were black, and a fifth were Latino. That was greater than their share of the overall population, and those groups voted overwhelmingly for Obama.

He also won large majorities of female, black and Latino voters. Although he lost among white voters, Obama did better than Democratic nominee John F. Kerry in 2004.

Voters also handed Obama a fortified congressional majority, as Democrats picked up at least five seats in the Senate and more than a dozen in the House. The party knocked off at least two GOP incumbents, including North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole.

With Obama leading every preelection poll, his hometown of Chicago was primed for a celebration. Downtown skyscrapers stayed lighted for the occasion on an improbably warm November night. At Grant Park, giant video screens were tuned to CNN, and raucous cheers erupted each time a state fell Obama's way, until finally victory came just a few moments after polls closed on the West Coast.

Shortly after, Arizona Sen. McCain called the president-elect to concede. President Bush then telephoned with his congratulations.

In Phoenix, McCain, 72, delivered a gracious concession speech that nodded to history and his erstwhile foe.

"We have come to the end of a long journey," a somber McCain said. "The American people have spoken, and they have spoken clearly. This is an historic election, and I recognize the special significance it has for African Americans and the special pride that must be theirs tonight."

He shushed the crowd when they booed Obama -- "Please," McCain said, motioning for silence -- and urged them to join him in working with the incoming president for the greater good of the country. "Whatever our differences," McCain said, "we are fellow Americans."

McCain, burdened by his party's frayed image, prevailed in a band of states that make up a shrinking Republican base, mainly in the South, the Plains and parts of the interior West.

Two of the hardest-fought states -- North Carolina and Missouri -- were too close to call.

For most voters, the sagging economy was the topmost concern -- a dynamic that played strongly to the Democrat's favor. Six in 10 voters said the economy was the most important issue facing the nation, according to exit polls -- far more than cited energy, Iraq, terrorism or healthcare.

Obama alluded to those worries and others in his victory speech, offering a note of sobriety amid the celebration.

"The road ahead will be long," he said. "Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year, or even one term. But America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you, we as a people will get there."

Voters flocked to the polls in record numbers Tuesday, continuing a pattern of electoral exuberance that started in the primary season.

There were scattered voting problems reported throughout the day, including long lines, malfunctioning voting machines and mislaid ballots. But there was nothing like Florida's infamous "butterfly ballot" fiasco, which sent the 2000 presidential contest into several weeks of overtime before the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in to settle the race.

Mostly, there was patience, good cheer, and for many, pride in taking part in a slice of history, whatever the result; had McCain won, his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, would have been the first woman to serve as vice president.

Lines began forming across the country before the sun had risen, with queues starting at 4 a.m. in New York City. The outcome across most of the Democratic-leaning Northeast was never in doubt, but many felt it was their responsibility -- and privilege -- to vote.

"I needed to cast my own ballot today, not just because it's my duty as a citizen but because for once it feels like it counts," said Eric Schwartz, 36, a computer specialist on New York's Upper West Side. "It's a more global feeling. Like I needed to make a mark on a day when things matter. Today, everyone matters."

Obama will be one of the youngest presidents in American history, the first born outside the continental United States (in Hawaii) and only the third to move directly from the Senate to the White House.

He burst on the national political scene just over four years ago, with an electrifying keynote address to the Democratic National Convention in Boston. His soaring speech previewed themes he would reprise in his presidential bid, including a call to end the partisanship symbolized by a country divided into Republican red and Democratic blue.

Months after that address, Obama won his Senate seat, and there was immediate talk of a run for president. The speculation, however, vastly understated the challenge facing Obama, who by his own admission entered the crowded Democratic field as an underdog. His victory over New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton after a long, contentious primary season was in itself a major political upset.

Contrary to the wisdom at the time, the battle did not sap but rather strengthened Obama. He built campaign organizations in traditionally Republican states, such as Nevada, North Carolina, Colorado and Indiana, that came into play in the fall thanks to the groundwork laid in the spring.

Obama also became a better, more substantive candidate and a much stronger debater, which served him well in his three matchups with McCain. Obama's unflappable performance on stage and steady response to the Wall Street meltdown helped allay voter concerns about his judgment, maturity and readiness to assume office, undercutting what was perhaps McCain's strongest argument against the freshman lawmaker.

For all the wild celebration -- in Los Angeles, New York, Kenya and outside the gates of the White House -- there were quieter moments Tuesday that captured the weight of history.

Former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, a veteran of civil rights protests in Selma and Birmingham, Ala., and other racial flash points, was among hundreds of black Atlantans who crowded the pews for an election-watch party at the Rev. Martin Luther King's Ebenezer Baptist Church. When CNN called Pennsylvania, an early harbinger, Young pulled out a handkerchief and dabbed away tears.

Later, in Chicago, Obama recalled images of that turbulent time: "the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people, 'We shall overcome.' "

He spoke of other triumphal moments: landing a man on the moon and winning the Cold War. "America, we have come so far. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do," Obama said. "This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment. This is our time."

Barabak is a Times staff writer.

Times staff writers Richard Fausset in Atlanta, Michael Finnegan in Chicago, Johanna Neuman in Washington and Maeve Reston in Phoenix contributed to this report.

Monday, November 3, 2008

IPI Condemns Brutal Assault on Editor-in-Chief of Ethiopian Newspaper


Vienna, 3 November 2008

The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists in over 120 countries, strongly condemns the 31 October 2008 attack on Amare Aregawi, editor-in-chief of the Ethiopian bi-weekly newspaper The Reporter.

"IPI denounces this assault on Amare Aregawi in the strongest possible terms," said IPI Director David Dadge. "Given that Aregawi has been targeted for his work in the past, IPI is concerned that this attack was linked to his journalism. IPI calls on the authorities to not only bring those behind this brutal act to justice, but to also do everything in their power to ensure that Ethiopian journalists are free to carry out their profession without fear of attack."

According to information before IPI, Aregawi was assaulted at approximately 16.30 on 31 October by two assailants, while leaving his son's school following a parent-teacher meeting. Aregawi was struck on the back of the head, and left bleeding and unconscious on the ground. His assailants were apprehended shortly afterwards and Aregawi himself was brought to a local hospital by school employees, where he is currently being treated for head injuries.

Aregawi has previously been singled out for his writing. In August of this year, he was detained by authorities for a period of five days following the publication of articles addressing criticism of a local brewery and a government office. This most recent incident follows a series of editorials in The Reporter criticising members of the local business community, leading local sources to believe that the attack was also linked to his work as a journalist.


International Press Institute (IPI)
Spiegelgasse 2/29
A-1010 Vienna
Tel: + 431-512 90 11
Fax: + 431-512 90 14

IPI, the global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists, is dedicated to the furtherance and safeguarding of press freedom, the protection of freedom of opinion and expression, the promotion of the free flow of news and information, and the improvement of the practices of journalism.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Attempt to Assassinate Amare Aregawe, Editor-in-Chief of the Reporter, Committed

Saturday, 01 November 2008
የሪፖርተር ዋና አዘጋጅ የግድያ ሙከራ ተደረገበት

ህክምና እየተከታተለ ነው

(በጋዜጣው ሪፖርተር)

የሪፖርተር የአማርኛና የእንግሊዝኛ ጋዜጦች ባለቤትና ዋና አዘጋጅ የሆነው ጋዜጠኛ አማረ አረጋዊ ዓርብ ዕለት ከሰዓት በኋላ በድንገት ባልታወቁ አጥቂዎች በደረሰበት የግድያ ሙከራ ለጉዳት ተዳርጎ በሕክምና ላይ ይገኛል፡፡ ጤንነቱ እየተሻሻለ መሄዱን ተገል..ል፡፡

ዓርብ ጥቅምት 21/2001 ዓ.ም አማረ አረጋዊ እንደሌሎቹ የሪፖርተር ጋዜጣ ባልደረቦች ሁሉ ለዛሬ እሁድ በሚወጣው ጋዜጣ ሥራ ተጠምደዋል፡፡ የዕለት ሥራውን አጠናቅቆ የአባትነት ኃላፊነቱን ለመወጣት ወደ ልጁ ትምህርት ቤት (አንድነት ኢንተርናሽናል ት/ቤት) ያመራል፡፡ ልጁን እቤት አድርሶ የወላጅ መምህራን ስብሰባ ስለነበረበት በትምህርት ቤቱ ቅጥር ግቢ ተገኝቶ ስብሰባውን ካጠናቀቀ በኋላ አገር ሰላም ብሎ ወደ መኪናው ሲያመራ አሸምቀው ሲጠብቁት በነበሩ ግለሰቦች ከኋላው ጭንቅላቱን ሲመታ ራሱን ስቶ መውደቁን በወቅቱ በሥፍራው የነበሩ የዓይን እማኞች ተናግረዋል፡፡

አማረ ላይ ጥቃቱን የሰነዘረው ግለሰብ ግዳጁን ፈፅሞ እንዲያመልጥ የላዳ ታክሲ ቢዘጋጅለትም በታክሲው እንቅስቃሴ መታገድ ምክንያት በእግር ሮጦ ቢያመልጥም ግብረ አበሩ እንደሆነ የተገመተ አንድ ግለሰብና ባለታክሲው በፖሊስ ቁጥጥር ስር መዋላቸውን የፖሊስ ምንጮች አረጋግጠዋል፡፡

በዕለቱ ጥቃቱ የተፈፀመበት ቦታ ከፍተኛ እንቅስቃሴ ያለበት መሃል ቦሌ ከዲ.ኤች.ገዳ ሕንፃ ገባ ብሎ ካለው አንድነት ኢንተርናሽናል ትምህርት ቤት 50 ሜትር ያህል አለፍ ብሎ የሚገኘው ማስክ ባር አካባቢ ነው፡፡

ጋዜጠኛ አማረ በግምት ከቀኑ 10፡30 ሰዓት ገደማ በጠራራ ፀሐይ ለመግደል በተመደቡ ሕገወጦች በቅርብ ርቀት ሆነው ባደረሱበት ድንገተኛ የድንጋይ ናዳ ራሱን ስቶ በወደቀበት በዚያች ደቂቃ በአንድነት ት/ቤት መምህርና ተረኛ የጥበቃ አባል ትብብር ለመጀመሪያ ዕርዳታ ወደ ሐያት ሆስፒታል ተወስዷል፡፡

በዕለቱ የሐያት ሆስፒታል የሕክምና ባለሙያዎች የደረሰበትን የጉዳት መጠን ለማወቅ የተሟላ ምርመራ ካደረጉ በኋላ በጋዜጠኛ አማረ ላይ የደረሰው ጉዳት ለክፉ የሚሰጥ አለመሆኑን ተናግረዋል፡፡

“ከዚህ ጥቃት ጀርባ እነማን አሉ?” የሚለውን ፖሊስ ጥቃቱ በአቶ አማረ ላይ ከተፈፀመበት ጊዜ ጀምሮ በክትትል ላይ መሆኑንና በተያዙት ግለሰቦች መነሻነት ምርመራ እያካሄደ መሆኑን የፖሊስ ምንጮች ለሪፖርተር ጋዜጣ ጠቁመዋል፡፡

ጥቅምት 16/2001 በወጣው ሪፖርተር ጋዜጣ ርዕሰ አንቀጽ በአገር ደረጃ ስውር መንግሥታት አቋቁመው የፈለጉትን ለማድረግና ለማግኘት የሚንቀሳቀሱ አካላት መኖራቸውንና መንግሥት በጥሞና ሊያየውና ርምጃ ሊወሰድበት እንደሚገባ ተፅፎ ነበር፡፡

በሌላ በኩል በኢትዮ ቻናል ሳምንታዊ ጋዜጣ ለተከታታይ ሶስት ሳምንታት በአቶ አማረ ላይ ያነጣጠሩ ስም ማጥፋትና ማስጠንቀቂያ መሰል ፅሁፎች ሲወጡ መቆየታቸው ይታወሳል፡፡ “የሪፖርተር ጋዜጣ የዛሬው ሁኔታ በእሳተ ጎመራ ላይ ከመደነስ የተለየ አይደለም፣ የሪፖርተር አባ አስገብር ጦር በአምስት ብርጌዶች የተደራጀ ነው እና ነብር ሆይ ጉድጓድ አትቆፍር..” በሚሉ ርዕሶች ዘለፋ ሲያወጣ ቆይቷል፡፡

ባለፈው አርብ በአቶ አማረ ላይ ጥቃቱ ከተፈፀመ በኋላ ኢትዮ ቻናል በሪፖርተር ጋዜጣ ዋና አዘጋጅ ላይ የፃፈውን ቀጣይ ፅሑፍ ወደማተሚያ ቤት ለሕትመት ካስገባ በኋላ ፅሑፉን መለወጡን ከሕትመት ክትትል ባለሙያዎች ለመረዳት ተችሏል፡፡

Editor in hospital after brutal assault

Editor-in-chief of the Reporter newspapers’ Amare Aregawi was brutally assaulted late Friday by individuals whose identity was not determined until the time this paper went to press.

Amare was taken to hospital and is being treated for head injuries.

At about 4:30, he was leaving from his son’s school after attending a parent-teacher meeting, when he was attacked on the back of the head and left lying unconscious and severely bleeding on the ground.

A teacher at the school and the guard, who saw people gathered around Amare, immediately recognized him and took him to a nearby hospital.

The physician on duty at the hospital provided first aid, and had him take CT-Scan to check for signs of internal bleeding.

Doctors were monitoring his condition closely for any signs of “acute or sub-acute hematoma.”

The details as to what actually happened are still sketchy.

But according to individuals who were at the scene when the assault was carried out and spoke with The Reporter, one of the assailants was apprehended along with a taxi driver whose vehicle was intended to be used as a get-away car.

By a Staff Reporter,
The Reporter

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Authoritarian Executive, the Rubber-Stamp Parliament, and Delegations of Powers in Ethiopia

Alemayehu Fentaw

The Nondelegation Principle

The doctrine of nondelegation is explicit or implicit in all written constitutions that impose a structural separation of powers. It is usually applied in questions of constitutionally improper delegations of legislative powers to the executive. In 1690, John Locke (1632-1704), one of the most influential political philosophers of the modern period, wrote that legislators “can have no power to transfer their authority of making laws and place it in other hands.” According to John Locke, “The legislative is … sacred and unalterable in the hands where the community have once placed it; nor can any edict of anybody else, in what form soever conceived, or by that power soever backed, have the force and obligation of a law…” Furthermore, “[t]he legislative power cannot transfer the power of making laws to any other hands; for it being but a delegated power from the people, they who have it cannot pass it over to others…nor can the people be bound by any laws but such as are enacted by those whom they have chosen and authorized to make laws for them…the legislative neither must nor can transfer the power of making laws to anybody else, or place it anywhere but where the people have.”A century later, in 1789, the US federal Constitution provided that “all legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States.” A little more than a hundred years later, in 1892, the Supreme Court declared in Field v. Clark: “That Congress cannot delegate legislative power to the President is a principle universally recognized as vital to the integrity and maintenance of the system of government ordained by the Constitution.”

James Madison compared the delegation problem to the power of creating executive offices. Madison argued that the Constitution “has not only given the Legislature the power of creating offices, but it expressly restrains the Executive from appointing officers, except such as are provided by law….the President is invested with the power of filling those offices; does it follow that we are to delegate to him the power to create them?

Madison’s comparison suggests that another factor in weighing delegation problems may be the number of new offices or positions that the statute gives the executive power to create.

Nevertheless, in 1989, nearly a century after Field v. Clark, the Supreme Court in Mistretta v. United States upheld an essentially unconstrained grant of power enabling an administrative agency to set guidelines for federal criminal sentences, offering the stark observation that “our jurisprudence has been driven by a practical understanding that in our increasingly complex society, replete with ever changing and more technical problems, Congress simply cannot do its job absent an ability to delegate power under broad general directives.”

Many an architect of the modern administrative state was full well aware of the constitutional implications of their handiwork. A case in point is James Landis, who contended in 1938 that the administrative state “springs from the inadequacy of a simple tripartite form of government to deal with modern problems.” For Landis, modern government “vests the necessary powers with the administrative authority it creates, not too greatly concerned with the extent to which such action does violence to the traditional tripartite theory of governmental organization.” Put differently, if the needs of a modern bureaucracy come into conflict with the Constitution, too bad for the Constitution.

My aim in this paper is two-fold. First, I aim to establish that the Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, like its counterpart in the United States, prohibits the kind of delegation of legislative authority that took place in Ethiopia a few days ago. Second, I aim to establish that the House of Federation, which is vested with the final say on the issue of un/constitutionality of legislations in Ethiopia, is capable of identifying unconstitutional delegations if it puts its mind to the task.

The Nondelegation Principle under the FDRE Constitution

The constitutional principle of separation of powers underlies the current Ethiopian federal system of government. The FDRE Constitution contains many provisions that deal with the separation of powers. The Constitution vests legislative, executive, and judicial powers in three distinct institutions. To keep parliament’s legislative power separate from the executive and judicial branches of government, the Constitution limits parliamentary delegation of legislative power to the other branches of government. It contains provisions about such matters as the formalities of legislation, the making of treaties, the appointment of unelected government officials, and the accountability of the executive. But there is no provision that expressly forbids the delegation of legislative power like the US Constitution. The U.S. Constitution does not address the issue directly. The main constitutional provision cited in

support of the nondelegation doctrine reads simply, “All legislative Powers granted herein shall be vested in a Congress.” Commenting on the US Constitution, Gary Lawson wrote “The absence of such a provision is often taken as an argument against a strong nondelegation principle; even some of the nondelegation doctrine’s most articulate champions seem bothered by the absence of a nondelegation provision. But the search for a nondelegation clause is fundamentally misguided because the federal government is a government of limited and enumerated powers. Therefore, the proper question to pose is whether the Constitution affirmatively grants power to a particular institution of the federal government to perform the act under consideration.” In the same manner as the US Constitution, Art.55(1) of the FDRE Constitution provides that “The House of Peoples' Representatives shall have the power of legislation in all matters assigned by this Constitution to Federal jurisdiction.” Besides, Art. 50(3) stipulates that “The House of Peoples' Representatives is the highest authority of the Federal Government. The House is responsible to the People.”

Furthermore, Art.76(3) provides that “In all its decisions, the Council of Ministers is responsible to the House of Peoples' Representatives.” The only Constitutional provision that may arguably interpreted as granting to the Executive the power to legislate on the organization of the Executive is Art. 77(2). It reads: “It shall decide on the organizational structure of ministries and other organs of government responsible to it; it shall coordinate their activities and provide leadership.” Even this Article does not say that the Executive has the power to enact a law on the matter. It only states that the Executive has the power to “decide” on the issue under consideration. This does only mean that it has to submit its decision for reorganization or whatever of the structure of the ministries and other organs of government to the House for approval.

By virtue of the principle of enumerated powers, any action by the Executive (the Council of Ministers headed by the Prime Minister) must fall within a grant of power to the Executive in the Constitution. The Constitution grants to the Executive a number of specific powers. The opening provision of Art.72 provides: “The highest executive powers of the Federal Government are vested in the Prime Minister and in the Council of Ministers.” One problem that figures in prominently in connection with this provision has to do with the definition of the term “executive power.” What exactly does it mean to have executive power? The Constitution identifies three distinct governmental powers- legislative, executive, and judicial-but never defines them or their respective boundaries. The absence of a precise definition does not mean that there are no boundaries between the three governmental powers. The Constitution clearly assumes the existence of such boundaries by vesting different powers in the different institutions. And as was pointed out by Madison in The Federalist, he did not consider the problem of drawing boundaries as a reason to avoid the task altogether.

Although the precise frontiers of the executive still remain blurred, we can say with some confidence that the essence of the executive power is carrying into effect – executing, if you will – the laws of the nation. The Constitution grants the Council of Ministers the power to execute the laws but not to enact a law. So, the problem is defining where execution ends and enactment begins. Execution is not a mechanical task. The meaning of “executive power” is broad enough to include some measure of rulemaking discretion, even some measure of interpretative discretion.

The next problem is to consider the issue of whether there are limits on what parliament may delegate. The principle of enumerated powers serves as a blanket ban on unilateral acts by the Executive without parliamentary authorization. What if parliament grants such authorization? Is there a limit to the authority that parliament can properly vest in the Executive by legislation? This constitutes the heart of the matter, i.e. the nondelegation problem.

The Rubber-Stamp Parliament and Delegation of Powers

In the first week of its fourth year, the House of Peoples’ Representatives has enacted a new legislation that authorizes the Council of Ministers to decide the fate of federal executive organs. The House voted the passage of the bill with 269 votes in favor, 68 against and one abstaining. As per the new law, the Council from now on, can establish, reorganize, merge, divide and even close down federal executive organs such as Ministries when it finds it necessary. The law also gives the Council power to change any executive organ’s accountability. By virtue of this proclamation, the Executive secured unlimited legislative powers to reorganize federal executive organs.

According to the new law amending the Definition of Powers and Duties of the Executive Organs of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia Proclamation No.471/2005, the Council of Ministers will now have the final say on matters regarding dissolution, establishment, or reorganization all federal executive organs in the country without parliament exerting any form of supervision or approval.

The EPRDF-dominated rubber-stamp parliament violated the Constitution by endorsing a prima facie unconstitutional bill that was initiated and masterfully drafted by the Executive on First Reading despite strong objections by parliamentarians from the so-called loyal Political Opposition. Of course, ironically enough, this newly enacted amendatory legislation could not have been passed without Constitutional amendment, even so at the risk of setting aside, ad infinitum, the Constitution and the democratic principles of separation of powers and non-delegation of powers enshrined therein. The ratio legis behind this piece of legislation is nothing but "entrench[ing] the dictatorial power of EPRDF,” as was rightly observed by Bulcha Demekssa.

In an all-too-embarrasing argument that backfires, albeit meant to defend the passage of the Bill, at himself, Berhanu Adole, Head of the Prime Minister’s Office, told the House “If it is not to exaggerate the essence of the article, it doesn’t introduce as a new procedure as it is already stipulated in the Constitution that the ruling party may restructure the executive organs.” He went on to say that “the practice isn’t a new one, it was the same during Emperor Haile Selassie period where the Emperor reorganizes the organs by issuing regulations. The Emperor did not take a historic blame and neither will we, nor do governments of many other nations.” If the self-same provision has already been in the Constitution, how does the introduction of this legal rule into the new proclamation improve its legal quality as the proclamation is only inferior to the Constitution? What Adelo failed to understand, and does not seem to get it in a million years, is that the House is different from the ruling party in principle, though it is undeniably dominated by EPRDF. The equation does not hold. The mere fact that EPRDF has the majority seats in the House does not entitle EPRDF-dominated House to give away legislative powers falling within its proper province to the Executive. The Constitutional provision he was alluding to is Art. 56 that stipulates “A political party or a coalition of political parties that has the greatest number of seats in the House of Peoples' Representatives shall form the Executive and lead it,” which is irrelevant to the issue at stake. Furthermore, what strikes me as odd is his comparison of the current practice with that of the Imperial regime of HIH Emperor Haile Selassie. This is so much revealing, as he interestingly and unawares divulgates the imperious project, common to the Emperor and EPRDF, of taking away and consolidating all governmental powers into their own hands.

To show that there has not been any doubt or ambiguity as the regards the issue of whose power it is to enact such legislation, it suffices to quote the closing clause from the Preamble of all of the four amendatory proclamations, which reads: “NOW, THEREFORE, in accordance with Article 55 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, it is hereby proclaimed as follows.” Therefore, the issue flies in the face of the above clause from the preamble. What remains now is to unmask the motives and this can be done more efficiently by raising the following questions than by answering. Why introduce a change now? If it properly belonged to the Executive, why did it fail to exercise it until this time around? Why not without enacting a law? Why not claim it back by submitting it before the House of Federation for Constitutional interpretation?

The passage of this bill is simply against the two well-established constitutional principles delegata potestas non potest delegari -a delegated authority cannot be again delegated, and delegatus non potest delegare - a delegate or deputy cannot appoint another, whatever the motives.

The writer, Alemayehu W. Fentaw, was teaching law at Jimma University Faculty of Law and, currently, is an Advanced MA Candidate in Peace and Conflict Resolution at the European University Center for Peace Studies, Stadtschlaining, Austria. For comments, he can be reached at

Monday, October 13, 2008

Ethiopia: Legislature cede power to the executive

On its first act of legislation during its current term, the House of Peoples’ Representatives on Thursday ceded a big chunk of power it used to exercise to the Council of Ministers. Parliament, which was opened after its summer recess on Monday afternoon with the president of the republic addressing the joint session of the House and the House of the Federation, convened on Tuesday morning to pass a Motion of Thanks on the president’s speech.

However, to the surprise of many opposition MPs, on Thursday morning, it debated on the legislation to grant the executive branch more powers at its own expense.

On Thursday morning, the executive branch of the federal government secured, in the opinion of some, “an unlimited legislative power” to reorganize federal executive organs.

According to the new law amending the Definition of Powers and Duties of the Executive Organs of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia Proclamation No.471/2005, the Council of Ministers will now have all the say when it comes to dissolving, establishing or reorganizing all federal executive organs in the country without parliament exerting any form of supervision or approval.

The amendment provides that the Council of Ministers is empowered, where it finds it necessary, to reorganize the federal executive organs by issuing regulations for the closure, merger or division of an existing executive organ or for change of its accountability or for the establishment of a new one.

Opposition MPs strongly opposed the move to cede over parliament’s power to the executive branch.

Some MPs said that the way the bill was introduced to parliament did not follow the correct procedure in the first place.

Most of the articles in the proclamation deal with the setting up of a new Science and Technology Ministry along with explanatory notes on the need to set up the new ministry.

It is in the last part of the proclamation that, the controversial article was inserted.

Ledetu Ayalew, Chairman of the Ethiopian Democratic Unity Party (EDUP-Medhin), said that the new legislation has a serious constitutional implication.

“The constitution provides for checks and balances between the three pillars of government. And without doubt, parliament is relieved of at least 50 percent of its powers. There should have been public debate before a decision was passed,” Lidetu said.

He said that surrendering parliament’s power was a mistake of historical proportion, adding it was sad and unprecedented that the legislature did that of its own free will.

Temesgen Zewdie, deputy chairperson of the Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ), said that the move showed the executive organ’s intention to control the country’s institutions although the constitution stipulates that there should be checks and balances in the government.

The same sentiment was echoed by Bulcha Demeksa, chairman of the Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM), and Gebru Gebremariam, parliamentary whip of the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF).

“The legislation we are discussing today is intended to entrench the dictatorial power of EPRDF (the ruling party),” Bulcha said.

Gebru entreated MPs not to pass the legislation. “The executive organ will have an unlimited power. Please don’t vote for it. We will be judged by history,” Gebru pleaded.

A legal expert said, on condition of anonymity, that the new legislation was intended to legitimize the government’s poor record in reorganizing institutions.

“The government says that it came up with this proposal in order to efficiently implement the Business Process Re-engineering (BPR) of state institutions under way without the cumbersome and time consuming process of going through parliament,” the expert says.

“But” he continued, “the many attempts by government at reorganizing institutions so far has failed to bring results. And this bill is no more than legitimizing its past inefficiencies on reorganizing the institutions and implementing the BPR.”

The expert said that the legislature also violated the constitution when it handed over its powers to other organs.

“Parliament can not surrender or cede its legislative powers to a third party as that power of delegation is given it to it by the people,” he argued.

“In effect, parliament violated the doctrine of non-delegation,” the expert added.

By Bruck Shewareged

The Reporter