Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Genographic Project

"We all have one common place of origin: East Africa."

This video will give you a much better description of what the Genographic Project is about than anything I can tell you. But, in case you are hesitant to click on the video or the link and find out for yourself what the project is about, here is a brief summary of it from their web site:

Genographic Project is a five-year (2005-2010) research partnership led by National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Dr. Spencer Wells. Dr. Wells and a team of renowned international scientists and IBM researchers, are using cutting-edge genetic and computational technologies to analyze historical patterns in DNA from participants around the world to better understand our human genetic roots. The three components of the project are: to gather field research data in collaboration with indigenous and traditional peoples around the world; to invite the general public to join the project by purchasing a Genographic Project Public Participation Kit; and to use proceeds from Genographic Public Participation Kit sales to further field research and the Genographic Legacy Fund which in turn supports indigenous conservation and revitalization projects. The Project is anonymous, non-medical, non-profit and all results will be placed in the public domain following scientific peer publication.
150 years after Charles Darwin published his seminal work on the theory of evolution and 55 years after the discovery of the structure of the DNA, there is now a near consensus in the scientific community about Africa being the single origin of modern human beings. The co-discover of Australopithecus afarensis ("Lucy"), the 3.2 million years old hominid skeleton found in the Afar region of Ethiopia, says the following in his article "Origins of Modern Humans: Multiregional or Out of Africa?":
There are two theories about the origin of modern humans: 1) they arose in one place -- Africa and 2) pre-modern humans migrated from Africa to become modern humans in other parts of the world. Most evidence points to the first theory because:
  • fossils of modern-like humans are found in Africa
  • stone tools and other artifacts support African origin
  • DNA studies suggest a founding population in Africa
Research on Y and X chromosomes in the past 20 years, including early result from the Genographic Project, so far also support the first theory. I came across this project by chance back in December while browsing the internet. Ethiopia, being at the center of the Eastern Africa region where all human beings alive today are thought to have directly originated from, naturally I got interested in the subject and I started reading about it. Since the project is open to the general public, I thought it would be interesting to participate in it myself and contribute to the scientific understanding of where human beings originated from and how they were able to colonize the Earth in about 60,000 years from a single point of origin. I also thought that such an understanding of our common origins, regardless of the journey our ancestors may have taken to get to their current abode, may help to mitigate our modern infatuation with our ethnic differences. So, I have decided to participate in this project and I will post a summary of my deep ancestry, which is what you get with the Genographic DNA test, when I get my results.

I am not aware whether the Genographic Project folks have gotten DNA samples from population groups in Ethiopia for this study. I would be surprised if they have not. Regardless, it is my hope that my participation in this project will encourage Ethiopians and other East Africans from all ethnic backgrounds to participate in this project.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Lucky Woyane!

By Fikru Helebo

I had a conversation recently with a friend which made me say: "oh my goodness, how much more lucky can Woyane get!" Here is how my conversation with the friend went:

Me: It looks like Beyene is trying hard to rehabilitate his political fortune through his involvement in the newly founded group, Medrek.

My Friend: Yeah, he is trying, but the Ethiopian people will never forget what he did in 2005 and will not be fooled.

Me: Yes, I agree. But, it is good that he is trying.

My Friend: Most of them in that Medrek group are enemies of Ethiopia. They should not be allowed to fool Ethiopians again.

Me: Well, I think that some of the folks in Medrek have some accounting to do with the Ethiopian people, but I do not think this is the time for it.

My Friend: I think the time for accounting is now. If they don't confess the crimes they committed against the Ethiopian people now, they can't be trusted with leadership positions. And Medrek is infested with Woyane agents.

Me: You have a point to some degree, but I do not agree with labeling them as Woyane agents and as enemies of Ethiopia. Doing so won't accomplish anything. If anything, this kind of politics will only help the Woyane. I do not have high expectation for the Medrek grouping, but I am all for anyone trying do what they can to challenge the Woyane and, in particular, I find challenging the Woyane in its own home turf as Medrek seems to be doing to be a positive development.

My Friend: I totally disagree with you. Medrek is a collection of Woyane agents and they must be exposed.

Me: Do you think the UDJ (Andenet) would join Medrek if they think Medrek is a tool of Woyane?

My Friend: Andenet itself is also infested with Woyane agents. Birtukan herself is a Woyane agent.

Me: Hold on a minute. Are you telling me that Birtukan is going through the hell she is going through to help the Woyane?

My Friend: Yes, I think so. Here are the reasons why I thnk she is a Woyane agent:

  1. She deliberately said that there are only 100 political prisoners in Ethiopia in her testimony before the US Congress in 2007.
  2. She apologized to the Tigrean people on behalf of Kinijit on her visit to Minnesota in 2007 without being authorized to do so by her party.
  3. Her statement in Sweden that led to her re-imprisonment was timed to help Woyane.
Me: You have got to be kidding me! It is fair to criticize Birtukan, but to quote her out of context and malign her character is not fair, and I find the suggestion that she is, somehow, a Woyane agent to be a ridiculous suggestion. This is the epitome of cynicism and a very good indicator of the futility of our culture that does not tolerate differences of opinion.

Our conversation got a bit heated at this point, but I am happy to say that we ended it in an amicable way.

My point of relating to you this story is to show how self-destructive the Ethiopian political culture has become. The story above is a conversation that took place between two individuals. Multiply that thousands of times and that is how we end up with this self-destructive political culture that does not tolerate criticism and where moderation is an undesired political currency. This, my friends, is one of the main reasons why Woyane has survived for this long and has a good chance to continue on ruling with iron fist for the foreseeable future.

As of today, the Woyane have ruled Ethiopia for 6501 days, and this is 1 year and 1 month longer than the time the Derg ruled Ethiopia. Lucky Woyane!

Woyane has, indeed, been one lucky political machine. The main reason for the longevity of its rule has, of course, been its implementation of the strategy of divide-and-rule along ethnic lines, which has worked to almost perfection, up until now at least. The self-destructive nature of the opposition, however, is without question another big reason for why Woyane's rule has lasted this long. Here are a few of the main episodes from the self-destruction of the opposition:

The COEDF Debacle

The COEDF was the first Ethiopian real coalition of Ethiopian political parties. It brought together most of the major political forces that were excluded from the London talks of May 1991 that was brokered by the Americans and the subsequent conference in Addis Ababa. Although COEDF set a useful precedent for coalition building in Ethiopian politics, unfortunately it was riddled with factionalism based on party affiliation and personalities and could not achieve cohesiveness as an organization.

The Alternative Forces Fiasco

The Alternative Forces was born out of the Paris Conference of 1993 that attempted to bring all the political actors together in the spirit of reconciliation. It had good will but no clear strategy on how to mobilize and lead the people. As a result, it died a long and miserable death orphaned by its own creators.

The UEDF Debacle

The UEDF was a valiant effort made by Ethiopians for Ethiopians to bring most of the opposition around a minimum political program in the hope of challenging the Woyane peacefully and constitutionally. It had laudable goals, but it was also dicapitated as soon as it was created because it was unable to bridge the trust gap among the different factions and its organizational structure had no binding effect on its members as were the structures of the coalitions before it. Some of the dissatisfied groups left UEDF within a short time and formed their own coalition (Kinijit), but only to devour each other a few years later.

The Kinijit Fiasco

The seeds for the demise of Kinijit were sown during the process when some of its member organizations left the UEDF. Kinijit's downfall was a classic case of self-destruction. Some of its leaders saw one another with more suspicion than they did vis-a-vis Woyane. They preached tolerance, transparency and reconciliation just like all the other opposition groups do, but they failed terribly when it came to practicing these tenets of democracy amongst themselves. As a result, they have made it more difficult than it was before for the public to have trust in their political leaders.

And so it goes.

What could be the opposition's next gift to Woyane? Cannibalism within UDJ (Andenet)? Character assassinations on folks like Yacob Hailemariam, folks who are doing their level best under very difficult circumstances and whose motive in getting involved in politics in their golden years is to give back to the country that has given them so much? We shall find out in the not too distant future. But I hope the opposition will learn from its mistakes and avoid giving Woyane more life lines. And, I hope I don't ever have to say "Lucky Woyane!" again.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

A Moderate Perspective on Ethiopian Current Affairs

By Fikru Helebo

If there is one word that best characterizes a great majority of the views expressed on this blog, I think it is "moderate" as opposed to "extreme". This is not to suggest that extreme views on either flank of the political spectrum won't be entertained here -- as there are times taking what may be considered an extreme position is the most reasonable thing to do -- but, rather, it is to say that most of the views that you will encounter here advocate seeking the middle ground in Ethiopian politics, the realistic middle that is.

In post-1991 Ethiopia, where the Ethiopian state has been constitutionally subordinated to its constituent ethnic parts (please see Maimire Mennasemay recent superb article), the defining feature of Ethiopian politics has been politics based on ethnic identity. In this environment where ethnic politics reigns supreme, the alignment of the political forces in the country has been predominantly determined by their view on the role ethnic identity should play in the political life of the nation. On the one end of the political spectrum, there are those who advocate the disintegration of Ethiopia along ethnic lines, and on the other end are those who want ethnic identity to play no part in politics.

The Woyane, the incumbent ruling clique of Ethiopia, has politicized ethnicity for their own nefarious reasons. The trick is how to reconcile these two extreme positions by creating a political environment where those who have been marginalized because of their ethnicity can feel confident that their concerns can be satisfactorily addressed in a united Ethiopia. This is why I think a "moderate" point of view on the ethnic issue is the only realistic point of view that will thwart the Woyane hegemony and enable their opponents to replace the Woyane with a democratically elected government.

When I started blogging in October of 2005, I didn't expect I would be going at it for this long. I felt that I had some ideas that were worth sharing in those tense times and I thought views from the region of Ethiopia that I come from needed to be accentuated. That was the reason why I put the caption "A Southern Perspective on Ethiopian Current Affairs". But now I feel that the Ethiopian ideas market place has matured sufficiently enough for Enset blog to forgo advertising itself as merely "southern" and, so, I have changed the caption to "A Moderate Perspective on Ethiopian Current Affairs" to reflect this evolution. Mind you, this is not to say that the views expressed by me or others who happen to come from the Ethiopian south cease to be "southern" as I had attempted to explain here. It is just that the view I dubbed "southern" has been subsumed in the broader category of a "moderate" view.

As you can imagine blogging is a time consuming undertaking and I do not think I would still be doing this if it was not for the contribution by others, especially Ephrem. Now that the blog's identity is broadened, I would like to invite contributors who hail from all corners of Ethiopia to share their perspectives on this blog. But there is a catch, any one who wants to contribute must use his/her real name. The only exception to this rule is if you currently reside in Ethiopia. If you are interested in being a regular contributor, that is even better, and I will add you to Blogger as a team member. Please remember that I do not have the time to edit your contribution. At the risk of sounding redundant, I would like to reiterate that political moderation is the best antidote for Ethiopia's ills. If your views fall into this category (you know who you are), you are invited to contribute and make a difference.