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Egyptian TV-host bespoke country’s bad habit

An Egyptian TV host talked down Ethiopia’s Ambassador to Egypt, Mahmoud Dirir, during a phone conversation televised on Wednesday, June 18, 2014.

Earlier that day, the Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom phoned his counterpart Sameh Shoukry to congratulate him on his new appointment; and shortly, it was heard Ambassador Dirir to have welcomed Egypt in its return to the African Union from suspension, actually making Ethiopia and its Ambassador the first to do so.

But what had awaited the Ethiopian Ambassador later that evening is much to everyone’s surprise.

The Egyptian television channel, Al Tahrir, invited Ambassador Dirir on its program Fil Midan (In The Square) to discuss the latest on the two countries relation over the Nile dam row. The TV-host, Rania Badawy, seems to have already been fired up with the interview she had with Egypt’s new Irrigation Minister on the same subject right before she welcomed Ambassador Dirir.

Following is the entire unedited interview translated to English from Arabic:

TV-host: Your excellency, Mr. Ambassador, good evening.

Amb. Dirir: Good evening. First, I’d like to salute the minister and congratulate him on his new position. And there will be the usual cooperation between the ministry and us. By now, I’ve worked with many ministers in Egypt and we’re optimist with his appointment.

TV-host: Cool. Does that mean there will be cooperation for viewpoints to meet halfway?

Amb. Dirir: First, it appears to me that you were speaking in a clichéd political tone while you were talking with the minister. We are now … [Interrupted]

TV-host: Which is what exactly? Explain it to me.

Amb. Dirir: We are now talking about reviewing the entire Ethiopian-Egyptian relation and we do not limit our relations to the Renaissance Dam. The Ethiopian-Egyptian interests are much bigger than that. Promoting that this dam will endanger the lives of Egyptians and that it’s going to threaten the Egyptian water interests, do not have a place in our ongoing negotiations. We’ve reached … [Interrupted]

TV-host: So, if it’s not threatening the lives of Egyptians, why is Egypt bothered to send you delegates for negotiations?

Amb. Dirir: Excuse me … Allow me. Allow me … Allow me my lady.

TV-host: Go ahead.

Amb. Dirir: We are going to build this dam, and we’ll continue to build it. It’ll not negatively affect Egypt or Sudan.

TV-host: Hmmm [Smirked]. All right, your Excellency Mr. Ambassador, again my question is, if you (Ethiopians) think this dam will not burden the Egyptian people, then how do you see the formation of committees every now and then [stuttering] to go to Ethiopia and negotiate with the officials? Do you think the Egyptian government doesn’t understand the subject and is wasting its time or what’s it exactly?

Amb. Dirir: No, no. On the contrary, you’re looking at the issue in a very pessimistic way. What we’ve reached at this level is a positive achievement.  First, with Ethiopia’s initiative, a tripartite committee of experts was formed from Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia together with international experts. And a comprehensive report was released from this initiative, which has concluded two main points: one is that this dam does not harm Egypt and the other is, the construction of the dam complies with international standards. Secondly, when we talk about the Renaissance Dam, we’re talking about combating poverty in Africa especially in Ethiopia. Moreover, we are talking about the electricity shortage this region suffers in relation to the industrialization boom. Because the Ethiopian economy depends on agriculture, it is impossible to achieve industrialization without electric power especially one that is environmentally friendly like hydropower.

TV-host: Ok, ok, your Excellency, Egypt has announced repeatedly she’s not against development or if the level [standard of living] of Ethiopians improve or [against] your policies in combating poverty … Egypt is for development and I think you’ve just heard the Irrigation Minister saying we’re willing to operate the dam and participate in the technical administration and cooperation. Egypt is offering everything only on the condition that the construction of the dam is reversed to its initial specification & capacity without the new alternations. Not the 47 billion per hour as it is now … [Interrupted]

Amb. Dirir: Excuse me … Excuse me, we’ve gone past this dictation and description you’re talking about, and it doesn’t concern us in anyway. What concerns us [Interrupted]

TV-host: When you say you’re past it, do you mean you refused it or what?

Amb. Dirir: What concerns us is that there are recommendations presented by the tripartite committee, which we have to work together to realize. And excuse me, with regards to Egypt’s desire to operate the dam and etcetera, that’s Ethiopia’s affair not Egypt’s.

TV-host: Aha… So, you don’t want us to jointly operate the dam with you?

Amb. Dirir: I told you, this decision is Ethiopia’s to make.

TV-host: Let me ask you again. You’ve passed the discussion on the capacity of the dam. As I understand, you’re still insisting on the present specification and capacity of the dam.

Amb. Dirir: You don’t understand about dams and you’re speaking in a bumptious tone. And this doesn’t add one iota to the talks between the two nations, and these superfluous questions doesn’t benefit anyone. [Interrupted]

TV-host: Mr. Ambassador, you trespassed your limits with me and it is not your right to characterize my words. I do not characterize your words, and you shouldn’t be talking about bumptiousness. I have the right to ask the question that the Egyptian people are asking and are concerned about. These questions are not superfluous. It’s my right to ask Mr. Ambassador and it’s only diplomatic and a protocol of engagement that you do not attack anyone or characterize a question. And when you’re being asked a question, either you answer that question or say no comment. I ask and you have to answer or refuse to comment, that’s your right. Otherwise, it’s none of you’re right. Your Excellency, you’ve trespassed the limits and I thank you… Thank you very much.

With that the TV-host Rania Badawy hanged up and discontinued the televised phone conversation. But right before he was cut off, the Ambassador was heard in the background saying, “No, you’ve trespassed you’re limits as a journalist.”

Apparently, the television station has supported Badawy, seeing that it has let her keep ranting on the Ambassador even after she discourteously ended the phone conversation.

Amb. Mahmoud Dirir

Ambassador Mahmoud Dirir

“It’s known that Mr. Mahmoud Dirir, Ethiopia’s Ambassador to Egypt, is one of the adamant people towards Egypt in general and regarding the dam,” she exclaimed.

“And I think we had a show with him before and I wish my colleagues [search for the clip] so that I can show you, it was clear from the beginning that there is insistence, adamancy and aggression when dealing with this topic.”

At this point, Ms. Badawy got to sound even more furious. “When I talk about the dam, it’s improper to characterize my questions & say it’s bumptious. When I probe if they’re insisting on the present specification and capacity of the dam, it’s improper of him to question my knowledge about dams.”

She continued: “Whether an Ambassador or non-ambassador, it is out of protocol to characterize a question. He has to answer the question or decline to comment and that’s his right. But characterizing a question is not his right at all. I’m asking the questions that are in every Egyptian’s mind, and I think its your (TV-viewers) right to know if Ethiopia will agree this time, if the negotiations are going to be fruitful, if they are still clinging to their opinions, if they are still adamant. This is not my talk; all the ministers that went, all the committees that were sent, released reports that indicate the adamancy of the Ethiopian administration. And I think the position of Mohammed Dirir, the Ambassador of Ethiopia, is no different.

Ms. Badawy even went further as to advise how Egypt should conduct its negotiation with Ethiopia. “The Egyptian side has to be decisive on the negotiations this time and find a means to put real pressure because it’s clear that the Ethiopian negotiator is still maintaining his position and keeping his extreme adamancy which is neither in the interest of Ethiopia nor Egypt or for the relations [of the two nations].

Says Badawy, “When the Irrigation Minister tells me that it’s not in our favor in its present form, when he tells me that we will assist in the operation of the dam and offer technical assistance on the conditions that they revert to the original design, it’s improper for the Ambassador to come and say it’s Ethiopia’s matter not Egypt’s.”

“If he’s talking about arrogance,” she concluded, “then they [the Ethiopians] are the arrogant ones, not the Egyptians. They are the ones talking bumptiously!”

tahrir YouTube titleThe TV station quite proudly titled the YouTube clip as shown above, and it reads: “Rania Badawy’s fury after finishing a call with the Ethiopian Ambassador in which she thought him a harsh lesson about Egyptian’s glory.” And the Station is not alone. 

A man who goes by the username ‘Strong Man’ praised the TV host on the channel’s YouTube page as follows: “…Much respect to our authentic Egyptian sister, you spoke our heart and kept your dignity and the dignity of all sincere Egyptian journalists in your response to this ignorant, who lacks diplomacy and common courtesy…”.

But as there are people who have positively taken her brazen act as patriotic, there are as much who have denounced her manners, and who have actually began to question the professionalism of the country’s media.

Another social media user, Mahmoud Haiba, had to comment this on one of the local news outlets’ website: “The truth is, the Ambassador spoke with courtesy and respect. It’s the TV-host that delegated herself as a spokesperson for the Egyptian people… and she spoke disrespectfully. A TV-host can’t talk for the Egyptian people… It’s the duty of the ministers of the government and the foreign affairs… The solution comes through diplomatic channels, not through satellite channels.”

What’s rather surprising is to see words of support coming from Mr. Hani Raslan (PhD), the head of the Nile Basin Studies Unit at the country’s think tank, Al Ahram for Political & Strategic Studies.

Hani Raslan (Phd)

Hani Raslan (PhD)

“It is the Ambassador’s mistake not the host’s,” Mr. Raslan was quoted as saying on one of the news websites, “and he was the one who talked with a rough accent and a condescending tone as if he was the high commissioner, not as an Ambassador in Egypt. This is not the first incident for the Ethiopian Ambassador. It has happened repeatedly dozens of times.”

The gaffe made by the TV host can be ignored especially, in light of the fact that just two days ago Ms. Badawy also had a similar incident with Iraqi ambassador to Egypt; perhaps it could be her tactic to bring attention to her show. Yet, it will be difficult to ignore the way of thinking displayed by people like Mr. Raslan along the topic.

And although Ambassador Dirir has already submitted a letter of complaint about the incident, so far no Egyptian official have come out and gave response on the matter.

In the past, Ethiopian and other African delegates have long criticized Egyptian officials’ condescending approach. Last year, a delegation of prominent Egyptian figures advised that Egypt’s arrogance when dealing with Africans is harming the country.

The softened tone of the new administration appears to be in line with this recommendation, and seems it has resonated well with the Ethiopian side, with Ambassador Dirir expressing optimism just last week that talks would resume soon.

As for Rania Badawy’s conduct, well it may just be a media blunder, or as the Ambassador stated, she was speaking in a “clichéd political tone”.  As the saying goes, old habits die hard.

Connected but stripped

Connected But Stripped

Everything is so connected these days the things you browse on the Internet will turn into an ad in a matter of seconds.

I noticed this a while back when I had a problem with my kitchen faucet, and I had to browse the Internet to check current prices and trends. Next thing I know, all the ads on my smartphone’s music-streaming app were about faucets & kitchen accessories.

Or here’s another one: I got my knee injured while jogging one morning, to which I quickly started looking up on the Internet for ways I can be able to home-treat it. For the next couple of days, my TV was bombarded with ads of painkillers–not just any type of painkillers–but those specifically made for knee & other leg injuries.

Yes, my apps know what I browse; cable providers track my taste; the big stores know what & on which brands I spend on. And it feels like in few years time, my service providers will know more about me than I do about myself (well, that’s if they already don’t!).

I understand that this internet-connectedness came out of the desire to improve our lives.

You know today-with simple, free of charge apps-I’m able to know the arrival time of the next buses/trains around my whereabouts, and this gives me the power to plan my itinerary ahead of time and to the minute detail. And it’s reported that very soon, oral-care product manufacturers will be connecting toothbrushes to the Internet and to our other devices, so we’ll be kept reminded to floss after we brush our teeth.

Certainly, these and similar services add up to the quality of life.

But there’s a catch to it – the connectedness doesn’t stop there. Data are being collected & stored; computers are being given access to analyze those data, and marketers are being allowed to act according to the findings.

Yes, these life-improving services we are getting accustomed to out of our connectedness do come with a price – a compromise on our security and privacy.

Health insurance companies would love access to our fitness data to set premiums; hackers are ever determined to embezzle our properties; and dictatorial governments are using the data to oppress us.

As the Associated Press reported few months back, (Promise and peril in an ultra-connected world) – quoting a law professor at Harvard University – “it’s difficult for people to say no when presented with immediate benefits because any potential problems are vague and years away”.

Indeed, people are – out of their own freewill – giving out their most private information on social media. Facebook reads your mind; Twitter checks what you’re doing; and Linked-In keeps track of your business. Imagine the kind of pattern a computer can make out of all your statuses and tweets just from these social platforms alone!

Yet another interesting article appeared on March about internet privacy: Julian Angwin, the author of Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance, opined in The New York Times about internet privacy under the title, Has Privacy Become a Luxury Good?

“In our data-saturated economy, privacy is becoming a luxury good,” wrote Julian Angwin, “After all, as the saying goes, if you aren’t paying for the product, you are the product. And currently, we aren’t paying for very much of our technology.”

This award-winning investigative journalist/author wasn’t just concerned about the compromise in privacy of an ever-linked up world, but also how difficult and costly it has become to protect it.

And for some, what’s far more worrying is the possible development of an all-seeing, overbearing state. From the recent controversial cases of Edward Snowden, to the not forgotten WikiLeaks, people around the world are being constantly alarmed of a latent Big Brother in the making, regardless of where they are.

Even then, it seems most of us are neither prepared nor ready to ward off such eventualities. We still overlook the fact that our apps aren’t just providing us free information/services but, they’re also obtaining our information at no cost to sell it for other interested parties.

Yes, apparently, we’re glad for being able to know at what time the bus arrives at our neighborhood stop using our phone’s GPS, than worrying about the possibility that the same phone could be constantly giving out signals of our whereabouts to an unknown entity.

We sill believe in the benefits of having a free email account or using an Internet search engine, more than its possible downside of our personal information being scanned by the service providers so it can be offered to third parties, who could possibly use it to our disadvantage and even against our interests.

Perhaps some of us have already given in, thinking it is a battle long lost with the advent of the Internet itself, and as a result, we may have chosen to stay connected in exchange of being naked. Or some of us may have not yet recognized what lies at stake – we may be still questioning if there will ever be a risk of this scale simply for getting connected.

Whichever side of the fence you fall on, one thing is to remain true: The security and privacy issues of the Internet will grow to be one of the most vexing part of our lives for years to come.

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A Revealing Easter It Had Been

Being raised in a family with liberal Christian traditions, I can say that I am not a religious person at all – to an extent, the days that I had gone to churches are numbered.

But this Good Friday, I made it a point to visit an Ethiopian Orthodox church in this fair city I have moved to quite recently. I had to Google the address for one of the Orthodox churches in the vicinity.

On my way I found out that, to my utter surprise, I had the wrong address belonging to a restaurant/bar that goes by the name “Church”.

Yes, even Google thought I was bluffing when I searched for a church; and apparently, by its own discretion it decided to take me to a place where a good food and beer is served. Can you imagine?!(Sigh)

“Wait!” I said to myself there and then, and began to wonder what if this could be a test – a sneaky temptation laid in front of me in that day of penance? Anyway, it made me more determined than ever😀

I made a phone call to friends & asked them to help me out, which they did. Yet, they too were awestruck by my interest to visit a church.

Well, could it be because I had found the church more welcoming, seeing its latest decision to cancel the anti-gay rally? Perhaps.

We were all taken-aback with what has transpired to the planned anti-gay rally last week, aren’t we? But what piqued my interest most of all is to learn that the cancellation came from none other than the grand old, Orthodox Church. The political blogger at HornAffairs.com, Daniel Berhane, was right in stating that “this is probably a story thread to follow.”

Now, some of you would say that I’m extrapolating things from an obscure incident, as it’s reported that the church indeed cancelled the rally due to internal fallout with the rally organizers, and not because it has turned gay-friendly.

Not only that, it didn’t take long before the Patriarch came out condemning homosexuals on the speech His Holiness gave for Easter, just days later the news of the cancelled rally took the media by storm.

Still, we must take note that the church not only opts out of the anti-gay rally but also asked the government to cancel it altogether. Clearly, the church found it sensible – for whatever reason – not to hold such a rally more so than carrying on with it. This simply shows the church’s flexible and receptive sides – not just specifically to the homosexual issue but in general. Yes, when it sees fit, the church is open enough to go against even on issues it would normally be fanatic about.

Actually, this action whispers one fact and that is, fanatics do not always drive the church. After all, like any other conventional bodies, the Ethiopian Orthodox church must have its very own moderates.

I’m not saying we’re witnessing an emerging pro-LGBT faction within the church – come on, I’m not that delusional! I’m just saying that whether by design or not, we are seeing the presence of moderates in a seemingly very conservative establishment. And that’s very promising.

Oh and why is this important? I sensed that if a minor turn of events makes a not-so religious guy like me to feel welcomed to a church, imagine how meaningful and relieving it would be to religious gay people who constantly find themselves insecure about their sexuality because of the teachings of these churches? I’m sure this would mean a lot.

And who knows, some years from now, we might see gay-friendly Ethiopian Orthodox churches in much the same way like the Evangelical and Anglican churches in the West.

Ethiopia’s Worthy Trademarks

Big, modern, indigenous trademarks are scarce in Ethiopia.

This may not come as a surprise knowing that a free-market should first be in place for those kinds of trademarks to flourish – a challenge Ethiopia is still grappling with.

But the following trademarks are way-out, they’re worthy of note. They are the smartest, well-reasoned, and versatile trademarks representing the nation’s biggest and critical sectors. And owing to the country’s recent history of state-monopoly, all of these brands are state-owned.

Let’s start with the recently rebranded EthioTelecom, the sole telecommunication service provider in the country. The brand had undergone major makeover when the management of the company was given to the French company, France Telecom back in 2010.

ethiotelecomThe new logotype (the ‘e’) and its color scheme are elegant and fresh with comprehensive & coherent branding strategy. The rebranding was outsourced to another French company called 8 Bis Agency.

Unfortunately, the services of EthioTelecom are not on a par with its superb visual makeovers, and the company is currently overwhelmed with complaints of epic proportions.

To make matters worse, even the one thing that the corporation got right – this very visual makeover – was suddenly called off a year ago. According to the country’s Information and Communication Minister, the logotype neither fully expresses the company nor the country’s situation and what’s more, a similar logotype is found outside of Ethiopia.

Perhaps the Minister is right in that it is undeserved for his shabby telecom to have such a world-class logotype. What’s lame though is a year has passed since that announcement and a new trademark is nowhere in sight. (SMIRK)

etNext comes the largest state-owned enterprise, Ethiopian Airlines (EAL). Ethiopian Airlines is by far the most worldwide-recognized brand Ethiopia has ever had, and Ethiopians never get tired to be proud of it.

The EAL trademark had its decent makeovers a couple of times, the last one being some 10 years ago. The flag-carrier’s current look is inline with contemporary “voluptuous designs”, with the logo-icon stylishly made to resemble a feather.

Even though it has proved difficult to know who first designed the EAL brand, there is a good reason to believe it could be the work of Young and Rubicam, a renowned advertising agency in the United States, who had the account of Trans World Airlines (TWA) – the airline that was commissioned by the US government to setup Ethiopian Airlines.

etvA similar information dearth limits us from fully appreciating the next big Ethiopian brand – the identity of the sole national television station, ETV. Not only of this non-transparency, the logo of ETV have been modified so many times over the years, it is even difficult to get hold of its original look.

However, we have all grounds to suppose that this well-presented logo-icon — an abstract rendition of an antenna on top of a hut — could be the work of Thomson, the British firm that helped establish the TV station back in 1964.

The quality of that station is, however, disgraceful to say the least. Really, much of the nonsense that goes on in that nation can be attributed to the retarding programs of that TV channel. If change doesn’t come ETV’s way soon, its death would.

Finally, to the rare branding success-story of the recent past, the trademark of Ethiopian Fine Coffee. This trade is designed by a UK brand agency called Brandhouse. The agency stated on their case study that they needed “to reflect Ethiopia’s new-found optimism and hope”.

etcoffeeThe result was the re-evaluation of Ethiopian coffee that saw exports increase by $200 million since June 2007.

According to an old post by the Poor Farmer Coffee Politics blog, Ethiopia had in fact decided few years ago to create a modern corporation to manage the Ethiopian Fine Coffee brands, promotions, and the network of distributors for the long-term benefit of farmers, exporter and distributors. The blog detailed that this corporation will be built on the lines of the famous and highly successful Ethiopian Airlines, starting in 2011 with top Ethiopian business people on the formation board.

And do you know any other big, Ethiopian brands that are worthy of note?  Please, share us your thoughts.

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The Shame of Ethiopia

One of the topics that the Ethiopian government has long been obscure about is the gay rights issue.

The regime adopted the existing anti-gay laws from the Penal Codes of its predecessors when it assumed power back in 1991.  Later on, it absorbed these laws into the existing Criminal Code that was revised and enacted in 2005.

The Articles 629 and 630 of this Criminal Code under the section “Crimes Against Moral and the Family” (subsection “Sexual Deviations”) stipulate that, anyone caught with same-sex acts will be punished “with simple imprisonment of not less than a year”, or “in grave cases, rigorous imprisonment of up to 15 years”.

Here, it’s worthy to note that by “grave cases” it is actually meant sexual harassments and outrages, not necessarily a same-sex relationship between two consenting adults. The subsequent Article 631 is also largely about pedophilia although it is referred as “Homosexual and other Indecent Acts Performed on Minors” – again an obvious mistaken association.

In spite of such defective and open-ended codes, none of the executives that came under this administration were seen to have strictly pursued the gay community by the law, at least officially.

The contradictory stands of the regime, however, did not go unnoticed. Both pro-LGBT and antigay activists are following these discrete developments very closely.

When in 2011 the country was chosen to host the high-profile forum, the International Conference on HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa (ICASA), members of LGBT groups were also allowed to hold their own pre-conference meeting to the dismay of religious leaders & anti-gay activists.

In fact, it’s to be recalled that officials from the Ministry of Health–at the time headed by Tedros Adhanom (Phd), current Minister of Foreign Affairs–met with the religious leaders in a closed meeting, moments before they were due to hold a press conference, in which the clerics were ultimately convinced to postpone their dissent.

Such developments were certainly welcomed by gay Ethiopians, not to mention the credit it would fetch the regime from the international community.

And for those observing these turn of events, it usually comes easy to conclude that in a nation where nearly everybody is antigay, the lack of gay rights isn’t because of the administration’s shortcomings but due to the strong followings of the ultra-conservatives.

Actually, the regime implicitly conveys such vindication whenever it’s confronted with this issue on international reviews.

On the same year before the ICASA conference, the United Nation’s Human Rights Committee probed the Ethiopian government about the protection of homosexuals, when it considered the country’s performance report on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

“Concerning homosexuality, the fact that homosexuals were not pursued by the law did not mean they were not discriminated against,” probed an expert from the Committee, ”There was a feeling that homosexuals preferred to hide. Could Ethiopia do something to protect these individuals?”

Fisseha Yimer

Fisseha Yimer

The Ethiopian delegation, led by Ambassador Fisseha Yimer, Special Advisor to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia replied that concerning sexual orientation, it was not in a position to respond further to the questions raised by the Committee. There was no possibility of changing the law on this subject at present. However, Ethiopia did not question in any way that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights protected all persons.

By way of such equivocal stands, the government has managed to tiptoe around the gay rights issue for far too long now – and thus far, both the local and international pro-LGBT community had been sympathetic to the difficult situation the regime operates in.

Well that’s about to change now.

As the rest of the world progresses toward protecting gay rights and marriage equality, what has been happening in Ethiopia over the last few years is quite to the contrary.

There hasn’t been any positive change on the social attitude toward homosexuality.  If anything, what has become more visible is the misinformation of homophobic activists circulating on the local media, which has intensified the gay bashing in a scale never seen before.

Moreover, human rights issues aside, gay Ethiopians are still not recognized in the national health programs and remain vulnerable to HIV/AIDS and other STDs.

These realities made one thing clear – the government needs to be hard-pressed before it starts working on programs that better serve the LGBT community.

Patricia Haslach

Patricia Haslach

Perhaps, this might very well be the reason why the current United States Ambassador to Ethiopia, Patricia Haslach vowed to make gay rights one of her priorities during her tenure. “I will be committed to promoting our efforts and policy approach on gender-based violence and discrimination against the LGBT community”, said the Ambassador on a speech she gave before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations back on July of last year.

And the current year couldn’t have started any wackier, from the fiasco of Minister Zenebu Tadesse’s tweets and a regime-affiliated bodies calling for antigay protest, to the rather upsetting news of the late about lawmakers trying to make same-sex acts a non-pardonable offence.

It’s becoming apparent that when push comes to shove, the government is capable to sacrifice the gay community in favor of soothing the mainstream. But such moves will certainly go down as one of the greatest shames of Ethiopia!

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Shall we march with the Youth Forum?

Just a few days ago, the Addis Ababa Administration Youth Forum declared its plan to hold a two hundred thousand-strong anti-Sodomite demonstration in the capital Addis Ababa.

Wait, an anti-Sodomite demonstration?

The Youth Forum considers “gebresedomawinet” (an Amharic for “Sodomy”) to have reached an alarming stage in the country, and that the situation calls for a demonstration to alert the society, as well as the government.

“Oh, finally!,” you would say, seeing that a responsible body is going to speak up about those Sodomites, and their rampant homosexual rapes and pedophilia crimes in the country.

Well not quite, especially if you’re gay and from Ethiopia.

The word sodomy, in homophobic Ethiopia, is also misinterpreted for homosexuality.  The homosexual rapes, pedophiliac offenses, and all other sins of the Sodomites are tightly associated with same-sex relationships.

Actually, this wrong association of homosexuality with the Sodomites is what’s keeping alive society’s aversion and existing penal codes against same-sex relationships.

And neither is the upcoming anti-Sodomite demonstration free from this fallacy – it is anti-gay as it can get.

The question is: shall we still march with the Youth Forum since, in essence, we’re also against Sodomy – people who rape, are pedophiliac, and do other harmful things to others?

Yes, we shall but only with one condition; we’ll have to march with two slogans: one denouncing the Sodomites, the other urging that gays are not Sodomites.

At least that way, not only would we speak up against the sexual offenders but also the human-rights offenders, who are also inflicting as much harm on innocent people.

Then again, if only the government and the protesters would allow us to march freely amongst them .

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The Minister In The Closet

Further evidences reinforce that Mrs. Zenebu may have indeed been silenced 

bk

Following the controversial tweets of Mrs. Zenebu Tadesse, the Minister of Women, Youth & Children Affairs, which saw the termination of her Twitter account altogether, both the Minister herself and a government’s spokesperson alleged that it had all been the work of unidentified hackers.

In a radio interview Mrs. Zenebu gave to Fana FM over the phone three days ago, she claimed that she personally does not have such a stand on LGBT rights since her culture and ethics won’t allow that.

“I want to clarify that I am not the one who posted those tweets,” Mrs. Zenebu said somberly, “and it’s not the stand of the government, neither mine. My personality, culture and everything else don’t support this and I’m really disappointed.”

Mrs. Zenebu was also heard to have said that she in fact learnt about the tweet from others as she had been out on a fieldwork where she did not have access to her Twitter account.

Nevertheless, ever since the news about “the hackers” broke out, many are finding it difficult to swallow the claim, as that wasn’t the only pro-equality tweet to have appeared on that Twitter account. As shown in the previous post here in ADDCAFÉ, those pro-equality tweets were traced back as far as January.

On the same radio interview, the host asked Mrs. Zenebu when she last tweeted, to which Zenebu vaguely replied, “Oh, it has been a long time.” She didn’t say how long and neither the radio-host inquired.

UN

If we give the Minister the benefit of the doubt then, that means she has not been tweeting since early January.

As the Amharic weekly, The Reporter newspaper was the first to point out, the Minister’s early pro-equality stand came to light after re-tweeting (not exactly Ban Ki-moon’s tweet as reported on the paper) but, Charles Radcliffe’s January 8th tweet that mentioned Ban Ki-moon’s pro-equality message.

Charles Radcliffe, for your information, is the head of the global issues section at the UN human rights office in New York, and also serves as human rights adviser on sexual orientation and gender identity, supporting UN efforts to raise awareness of and address violence and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people around the world.

Ten days later, on January 18th, Mrs. Zenebu once more re-tweeted the following United Nations tweet: “No nation discriminating based on sexual orientation, gender identity gets a pass from the UN.”

OFFICE

Then, a couple of other pro-equality-and-LGBT tweets/re-tweets followed in the days leading up to February 24th – the day she began to face a grilling over her tweet that explicitly condemns the anti-gay laws in Uganda.

Now, even if we are to believe the Minister may have been inactive for almost two months, the situation still begs the question: how come nobody noticed those tweets at least from her own Ministry, not to mention other government bodies?

Because when asked on that radio interview if she’s the only one who had been using her account, Mrs. Zenebu confirmed she’s the one who had been tweeting on most cases but, there were also others (from the Ministry) who were assisting her.

If that’s the case, then how come her assistants haven’t noticed those fraudulent tweets immediately? Why did it take them two months to notice the account is hacked?

But that’s not all. Further investigation indicates either Mrs. Zenebu or her assistants used the Twitter account during those two months, having seen the contents of two particular tweets, which could not have come from anywhere else except the Ministry.

2014-02-26_21-27-34The first tweet, posted on January 23rd, is an image of Mrs. Zenebu working in her office, described with the following text: “Here is me in my office, Tweeps. Working hard 4 my Ministry’s six months evaluation report. Lots of good results.”

The other tweet of February 11th also has an image of Mrs. Zenebu, together with the Dire Dawa Women Bureau Head, Ms. Aziza Abdi, at the graduation ceremony of 600 women trained in construction skills.

Such evidences are hard to ignore, and they – beyond doubt – ascertain the claim that the Honorable Minister’s account is truly “hacked”. Yes, it was hacked but only with one twist: the hacker is none other than the government.

And as far as Mrs. Zenebu is concerned, it is too early to say what will become of her, and if she ever comes back to the social media anytime soon. For now though, we can say this much: Madam Minister wasn’t only brave enough to support gay people, but her daring act has now put her in the same closet where the people she spoke up for can be found.

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Stepped out of line?

Many of us haven’t heard much about Ms. Zenebu Tadesse, the Minister of Women, Children and Youth Affairs until her controversial tweets regarding anti-gay laws in Africa.

Well, according to one account, “The Minister has, in her career, significantly contributed to the development of labor and social policies in the country aimed at improving social welfare and the protection of women and children’s rights.”

“A devoted advocate for the betterment of the life of disadvantaged people in Ethiopia, she has been actively engaged in high-level policy making for over 15 years”, the account reads.

Ms. Zenebu got into the limelight when she started tweeting pro-LGBT texts beginning by the end of the last month.

And guess what — those folks, who still think gay people do not exist in Ethiopia, are also present on Twitter with their outmoded mindsets, and Ms. Zenebu wasn’t spared from their ignorant remarks.  This was what she had to tweet back at one of them: “of course we have gays in our country, we are as normal as many other places in the world.”  

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It didn’t take long before tweeps began to ask her whether she’s now officially supporting gay rights.

“I wish to promote love and respect to one another, stop wasting energy with negative thoughts please,” tweeted Zenebu, obviously trying to   keep things calm.

The ever-participating Minister soon found herself immersed in giving explanation to her critics about her stance on the whole matter.  One Twitter user asked Zenebu what her opinion is about homosexuality to which she riposted, “I believe ‘respect’ in this matter should be a guiding principle.”

And then came the infamous tweet this last Monday, perhaps this time it came out as an out of line remark that had upset so many Ethiopians, yet rejoiced gay Ethiopians, who had been following the debate on social media.

1924573_1397282537202040_1284874720_n“There’s no place for hate, discrimination in my beloved Africa. It’s not the governments’ business to make dress codes or anti-gay laws…”, tweeted Zenebu, condemning the ongoing anti-gay movement in Uganda.

Now, no matter how virtuous and a courageous remark that has sounded, it does not replace the fact that the Minister is in no position to argue the way she did when the administration she works for is not free from the very charges she’s pressing against on others. If anything, the chances of such actions being misinterpreted for a hypocrite is very likely than say, for a courageous or good-hearted activist. This is expected to severely tarnish her reputation and of the government, she represents.

988401_1397510310512596_779139846_n (1)Interestingly, the tweet on the following day seem to indicate that the Minister might have at last been mindful of this blunder, as she attempted to dampen the “gay rights” issue, at least for now. “Yesterday’s tweet,” she wrote, “is not about gay rights, it is against hate and discrimination. We must care for one another. This is our first priority.”

Even though this sounds more agreeable and convincing, it is very clear that the Minister would still have to confront the anti-gay laws in her own country too, if she wants to be taken at her word.  Otherwise, her tweets will not be more than a lip service or worse, it will just be taken as a reckless move for a cheap political score.

1496730_1397646727165621_546282466_n (1)Then it all got even more unsettling with the news of the Twitter account being hacked.  We can never be sure if this is true or not, but if it’s a make-up story then what we can tell is this:  the consequence of the slip-up in that single, seemingly insignificant tweet could cost (or is already costing) the government big time.

It’d not only be an issue of having an official who’s daredevil about a sensitive issue, but it’d equally be about an official whose act was a bit careless and could prove to be a liability to the government, sooner or later.

That’s why how things are unfolding mustn’t surprise us at all.   But one thing is for sure and that is, gay Ethiopians have found their first ever gay-friendly official.. Hooray!

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On Our Mettle

They say life’s hard for the marginalized.  That the ordeals of being an outcast can get so unbearable it could make one’s life a misery.  Well, they’re right.

As gay guys from a hostile environment, we do know a thing or two about social exclusion – and it sucks.  But does this mean we have to constantly wallow in self-pity?  Is that all there’s to being marginalized?

When you know a lot of people are taking you as abnormal or sick, you’ve no choice but to prove to yourself – and to the people disrespecting you – that you’re healthy and no less than anybody else.

When your friends question your capability on whether or not you can function as other people in the society, you try hard to prove them otherwise.

Strangely enough, our cause of despair might very well end up being our source of determination. If we really think about it, this rejection is also challenging us to be on our mettle.

Don’t get it wrong, marginalization is not something to be welcomed or tolerated.  But when life presents it nonetheless, we shouldn’t just self-pity or seek the sympathy of others – that’s what losers do.

However, if we accept it as a challenge and reorient our mindset likewise, we will be better positioned to deal with the situation – that’s what would-be winners do.

#OnOurMettle