Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Tilahun Gessesse, RIP

Sad to hear the passing of Tilahun Gessesse, the one and only, the legendary, the irreplaceable Ethiopian singer of the last half century. I have to admit, he was not my favorite singer, but he was probably the greatest Ethiopian vocalist, ever! And, what can you say about this emotional and masterful performance? The fact that he has total control of his vocals while he is in tears is beyond me. Wow!

I had one brief encounter with him in 1984 (September, I believe). I was visiting a relative of mine at Amanuel Hospital in Addis and, lo and behold, Tilahun was being treated in the same ward of the hospital, accross the room from my relative, for a condition that was rumored (since I have no way to confirm it) to be inflicted on him by the Derg regime. His wife, Roman, was sitting right beside him on the bed and my relative, a soldier who had suffered emotional trauma after serving his country in the Red Star campaign of the Eritrean war, was joking with Tilahun. I also saw another great Ethiopian singer in the flesh that day, Alemayehu Eshete, as he was leaving the hospital after visiting Tilahun. Can you imagine what a thrill it was to see two musical legends in just an hour for this seventeen years old lad?

You can find an alternative biography of the late Tilahun Gessesse (PKA Daandanaa Ayyaano Guddata) from Ayyaantuu Oromiyya Portal.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Photos from Africa by James Baigrie

Please take a look at these absolutely breathtaking pictures from Africa by James Baigrie, a native of South Africa. The one you see above is from somewhere in Shoa, Ethiopia. If you can read Amharic, there is one from Gojam which will cause you to laugh uncontrollaby! There are 47 pictures in all, 21 from Ethiopia and 10 from Eritrea. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

War on Dysfunctional Behaviors

Comments on the article "Time to Declare War on Dysfunctional Behaviors"

By Mesfin Felleke

Even though this article by Ato Dessalegn Asfaw appeared more than two years ago, about every few months I look for it and read it to gain some new understanding of why we are who we are today as Ethiopians. I even pass it to friends and relatives to help them they ask themselves few questions so that they get into understanding their own dysfunctional behaviors.

The author of this article, I surmise, must be an expert in these areas of the human character as I probably would never have put it as succinctly and clearly as he did. However for long I have strongly felt the many character flaws in us Ethiopians is the basis for our continued inability to transform our struggle for democracy into an enduring force . I am not sure where and how we got all those flaws as described in Dessalegn’s article, but I suspect it is embedded in us as a result of our hundreds years of proud history as a geographically land locked people, fiercely guarding our own form of Christianity, our ancestors fighting many wars to guard off any outside influence of any form while living side by side with Muslims and other religious persuasions. As a result, for hundreds of years we forgot the world as the world also forgot us (from Edward Gibbons). This protectionism went on all the way to the start of the last century when Western influence poured in unmitigated in its various forms. Since then it has been nothing but outside influence mixed in its bad as well as good attributes. I think there is a great opportunity here for some learned Ethiopian to work on and find out how our historical background, mixed with Western influence shaped our current behavior.

The main reasons why I am commenting on this two years old article is:
  1. In spite of so many appalling endings, the movement to free our country from dictatorial leaders never stops from re-emerging in some form, somewhere by some group of people. One always hopes there is a learning from past failures.
  2. From what I have seen and heard these learning includes some amount of realization of the dysfunctional behaviors listed in this article. However I am not sure the desired remediation is formulated well enough by these emerging groups to underscore the changes needed to curtail another series of organizational failures.
  3. This is where I believe Dessalegn’s perfect analysis and presentation of our many dysfunctional behaviors come to fill a hitherto forgotten gap. A gap that has so far managed to render our countless political and supportive organizations as ineffective and eventually disbanded.
  4. To that end I will urge Ato Dessalegn to publish his article frequently. Maybe by reducing its lengthiness and changing its format here and there using short and bulleted points so that it creates curiosity, stays in our memory and turns to usability. In our fast paced life we have come to be time-sensitive towards long articles even though subject matters like his really need to be long to be effectively explained.
"Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time" (Mark Twain). And as such if we are repeatedly but systematically informed that our dysfunctional behaviors are formed habits and that habits can be reformed for the better, I know we will come to realize our short comings and listen to others who will provide us with well researched and practical solutions. Seldom did I see such a well done cause and effect analysis of "us". We could be lacking on those behavioral aspects, but I also know we are good people who, as a first generation newcomers to all the lands we spread into, we have managed to keep up with our educations, businesses, families and done well just like the locals. We will listen to a perfectly laid out analysis like Dessalegn’s if told repeatedly and intelligently enough.

Finally, as history will bear witness, we love our country and our people. We have shown that untold number of times, occasionally by willingly but foolishly paying the ultimate (Key Shibir) and often times by unselfishly contributing our money and time (Kinijit and its many supportive groups). I know this love and dedication may go up and down on the scale but will never fade away as long as there is an ounce of Ethiopian blood left in us and even in our children born and raised outside our country. So here today I urge Ato Dessalegn to expand on his study of analyzing "our dysfunctional behavior", finding the appropriate remediation and talk to us by publishing his works as often as possible till we get it right and take the necessary steps to fix it.

To those of you who agree with Dessalegn’s work, are endowed with public speech, and are actively involved in the Ethiopian Democratic movement, I beseech you to make it an active part of your organization building and group strengthening routine so that the rest of us take these character flaws seriously and actively work for remediation. Such recognition activities by our leaders, the remediation efforts duly practiced by them for good measure also goes a long way in forming strong followers and unrelenting loyalty to the cause of freedom.

Long live Ethiopia and the enduring fight by its children to create a better country where justice, equality, pursuit of happiness and the rule of just law will one day soon be practiced all across our land.

Readers who wish to contact the author can reach him at

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The People Who Lost Their Way

Looking at the Consequences of "Going it Alone"

By Maru Gubena

The problems facing Ethiopia and its people are too many and too complex to count or describe, but they all have been created and cultivated by the people themselves, as it is the group, the community and the society which are responsible for moulding and shaping our lives, cultures and habits -- bringing up and socializing its children. Even those who show cruel, inhuman and destructive behaviours, such the former dictator, Mengistu Hailemariam, or the current leader of the TPLF, Meles Zenawi, belong to and are an inseparable part and product of Ethiopian society.

It would not be wrong to state that that since most of us have not been tested, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to vigorously argue that we, the Ethiopians at home and abroad who are restlessly, relentlessly and sleeplessly demanding basic rights and freedoms for individual members of Ethiopian society, including a dramatic improvement in living conditions, could not behave in similar ways, just as inhuman and destructive as those two individuals, had we been given the opportunity to rule. Our own destructive actions and behaviours throughout the fall of 2005 and to the present day clearly suggest that we might not be so very different from those who have inhumanely committed the most horrifying, atrocious crimes against our families, friends, classmates, colleagues, neighbours and our most talented Ethiopian compatriots, whom most Ethiopians had seen as the future assets of the country and its people. Yes, I actually continue to wonder, often anxiously, whether we ourselves, who appear to have lost our way yet try to appear to be the guardians and defenders of human rights, are well equipped for these roles, and whether we would prove to be better, more responsible thinkers and relatively honest policy makers, policy executors and educators.

Imagine now just for a while, just for a moment, that we, the entire community of the Ethiopian Diaspora, had lived through the remarkable and testing four-year period, from winter 2005 to early 2009, a period marked by an irremovable black stain on the minds of the Ethiopian Diaspora community, on our own island. I will call it Zaldonia. We are there with no rules and laws of our own, just as we are living now. It should not be at all difficult for any member of our community with a healthy common sense who walked the rough paths of those high, treacherous mountains with us throughout those four remarkably tragic years to predict or guess what would have happened to some, or even most of us. Yes, the past few years have put the long-held grudges and deep-seated resentments many of us hold against each and every one of our own compatriots in a bright light. In fact, the past three and half decades, but especially this brief four-year period, have shown us unmistakably that we have completely lost our direction with respect to finding a path to togetherness and unity.

Yes, it is certainly true that each of us is talking through our own personal websites, newspapers, radios, paltalk rooms and other means of communication about Ethiopia and the unity of its people, including discussions of our country’s territorial integrity, but in actual terms those talks are just a means to an end, a ladder that can be used to climb to desired socio-political and economic positions or to help those related to us to achieve a degree of political power over others. Yes, it is true that all of us are talking and writing - but we are not changing ourselves, our behaviours and mindsets; we are just trying to influence and change others, so that we can share (or if possible remove) their political power and the economic positions at their disposal.

Yes, all of us are also writing, talking and complaining about opposition groups and those who love to "go it alone," and we want them to establish a united force and work together, but we ourselves, as website and radio owners and paltalk talkers don’t like and don’t want to hear about working jointly with other radios, websites or owners of other communications media. We, all of us who have been molded by exactly the same culture, love to go it alone so that we can continue to enjoy doing what pleases us to without being bothered by others, without the slightest feelings of shared responsibility or accountability, within our own lonely and fruitless circles of freedom -- going our own way on our own timetable.

Let me just share something with you, something which sometimes even scares me. But I hope I am terribly wrong. Yes, I sometimes think, imagine and get even so scared to death that if, just if, Ethiopia, our country, one day becomes very lucky and finds herself to be young and beautiful, exactly in the same way as some of our exceptionally elegant, beautiful Ethiopian girls, and much to her disbelief and shock, she meets someone, a kind prince. They fall in love and marry. She, our country, looks set to live happily ever after, becoming not just prosperous, a disease and prison-free land, but also kicking out all of those who have been and still are oppressing and repressing her children, taking their positions as President, PM and Information/Disinformation or whatever ministerial positions they may have held, becoming very democratic and commencing a joyful life with all of her eighty million children.

What do you think what would happen next? I really don’t know, but I am sometimes so scared that some, if not most, Ethiopian Diaspora talk shows and political groupings might possibly not give up their talking, unless their demands or the demands of those they support and with which they have been engaged and busy for so long are incorporated into the lifestyle of the newly born Ethiopia and its newly crafted socio-political and economic policies. They might not even want to attend her wedding. This is not just based on my wildest dreams or fantasies; it comes from my observations, for example when I have witnessed that many helpful ideas and visions presented to us by some open-minded thinkers who are free from family and group orientations, which have not been allowed to grow in our minds and hearts, or in our home country. Instead they were simply buried deep in the ground and forgotten, simply because such ideas and visions did not make a place for the political programmes of our current, ineffective political organizations and the plans and desires of privately owned business and media outlets.

In conclusion, I would dare to say that, although "going it alone" -- ignoring the direction that most social animals of the world community follow, living in respect and love with each other -- may have benefited a limited number of our compatriots, perhaps in economic terms or/and self-satisfaction, for the majority of us the direct and indirect consequences of losing our way and going it alone have been and are huge and may be difficult, if not impossible, to repair. The limited social and cultural fabric of the Ethiopian Diaspora community that existed previously has been shattered by those who are incurably addicted to going it alone and by those whose mindsets are firmly glued to a family and group orientation.

Why are we then talking and shouting, sometimes very emotionally and sometimes in an exceptionally concerned manner, saying that we are talking about the current problems and future direction of our country and its people, instead of simply admitting that what we are saying is on behalf of ourselves?

Readers who wish to contact the author can reach him at

Monday, April 06, 2009

Observations from the DC Candlelight Vigil

Photo by Matt Andrea
By Fikru Helebo

I went to the candlelight vigil in
Washington, DC which was held yesterday to remember Birtukan Mideksa and all the rest of the political prisoners in Ethiopia. The weather in the DC area was absolutely gorgeous and I decided to make the vigil a family affair. We got to the White House an hour ahead of the candlelight and took leisurely walk around the White House.

We arrived at the candlelight location at 6:05 PM and saw only about 30 Ethiopians, which got me concerned.
I expected Ethiopians to be tardy for such gatherings but I thought more would show up as the minutes went by. When the time said 6:30, I thought I should ask one of the organizers about their schedule. So, I approached one of the guys who seemed to be one of the organizers and I introduced myself. When I informed the well dressed gentleman that I blog on Enset, he decided to introduce me to a person
by the name of Alex who was in charge of organizing the event.

I related to Alex the concern I had about the low attendance. But he did not seem as concerned as I was. He gave me five plausible reasons why there were not as many people as I had expected there should have been at around 6:30:
  1. Ethiopians' habitual disregard for punctuality.
  2. Calendar change of the event.
  3. President Obama's absence from DC.
  4. Difficulty finding automobile parking spots close to the event's location.
  5. Division within the ranks of the opposition.
Sure enough, while I was still talking with Alex, more and more people arrived. By the time the event got started around 7 PM, there were at least 200 participants by my estimation. The event lasted for about an hour and I returned home satisfied that there are a sufficient number of concerned Ethiopians who appreciate the sacrifices that Birtukan and the other political prisoners are making on behalf of their country men and women.

One thing that struck me about the event was the absence of many of the political activists that I knew from the time I was active in DC area opposition politics from 1994 to 2001. I very seldom go to political events nowadays mainly because of the toxic atmosphere that pervades Ethiopian politics. I saw only two people that were familiar faces to me from those days. This suggests to me that the last point that Alex pointed out for the low turn out was a factor. Sad to see that the more things change in Ethiopian politics the more they stay the same. When will Ethiopian opposition politicians ever grow up and learn to compromise and see the benefits of cooperation?

Another thing which pleasantly surprised me was the presence of younger people in proportions that is much larger than the political meetings and events that I used to go to in the 90s. I estimated that about half of the participants were under 40 years of age. This is an encouraging development. This suggest to me that the younger generation folks are engaged in the affairs of their homeland more than I thought they were. I think progressive opposition groups like Andenet should give serious consideration to tapping the energy and fresh perspective that younger folks bring to the table.

I estimated that less than one in five of the participants at the vigil were women. For me, this is a very low representation considering the fact that Birtukan is now the main symbol of the struggle to bring about change to Ethiopia. Overall, I thought the vigil was a moderately successful event, but I thought it should have been attended by at least twice the size of the participants in a city that has the largest number of the Ethiopian Diaspora. Kudos to the organizers for their hard work and determination to carry on the torch of freedom in spite of the adverse conditions.