Friday, October 28, 2011

Quantum levitation

Superconductivity. Quantum physics. Fascinating stuff, eh. Here is the physics behind this phenomenon.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

My new Ethiopian flag

The Ethiopian flag is boring and badly needs a remake. Not only the flag is boring, the color combination is hideous. That is why I do not adorn this blog with the green, yellow and red tricolors. I have a feeling there will be a new Ethiopian flag in the not too distant future. So, let me get a head start with my suggestion for a new Ethiopian flag. There is no concept behind the design. The color choices are simply based on the colors for the banner of this blog. The bull's eye in the middle (with the dreaded tricolor) is meant to signify a connection to the past. There you have it. Did I mention that the Ethiopian flag is boring?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Why is the US sending its troops to Uganda now?

President Obama announced last week that he is sending "a small number of combat-equipped US forces to deploy to central Africa to provide assistance to regional forces that are working toward the removal of Joseph Kony from the battlefield." His statement said the decision to send troops will further US national security interests and has the blessing of Congress.

Well, fine. But why send the troops now? The law the President sited was passed by Congress on May 24, 2010, and it required that the President submit a strategy to deal with the so-called Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) to Congress "not later that 180 days after the enactment" of the law. The President took 508 days to inform Congress of his strategy. It is understood that the Executive branch of the US government usually wants to keep the Legislative branch at bay when it comes to foreign policy matters. But this dynamics doesn't seems to explain why it took so long, since this particular law was not controversial and had strong bipartisan support.

The LRA has been terrorizing villagers in northern Uganda and neighboring countries for more than two decades. Sure, LRA is a menace that must be confronted. But the current dictator of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, is just as much to blame for the rise and continued existence of the LRA as the LRA itself. Museveni, who came to power using the barrel of the gun, has been in power since 1986. He has used his guns liberally to stay in power and to also project his power in the central African region.

So, why did this conflict, ugly as it is, suddenly rise to to the level of affecting US national security interests after all these years of killings? Could it be because of Uganda's newly found oil wealth? That is my strong suspicion. If that is the case, then the Obama Administration should stop the pretense and clearly state the connection. Yes, indeed, securing oil fields is in the interest of US national security and that is not something the US should be shy about.

The humanitarian side of this conflict is a genuine one, and the US government and many NGOs have already been making an effort to solve the conflict. However, I don't think the humanitarian side of the conflict by itself warrants the involvement of US troops. A much better approach to protect US national security in the region would have been for the US to pressure the long standing dictator of Uganda to step down.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Ethiopia: The 4th Largest Slave Exporting Country

Yes, you read it correctly. Ethiopia was the 4th largest exporter of slaves from Africa in the 500 years between 1400 and 1900, and that's considered a conservative estimate. According to a research paper titled "The Long-Term Effects of Africa's Slave Trades" written in 2008 by Nathan Nunn, a Harvard University professor, nearly one and a half million Ethiopians, 1,447,455 to be exact, were sold into slavery and exported. Only Angola, Nigeria and Ghana in Africa had exported more. Just about all Ethiopian slaves were taken to Egypt and areas under the control of the Ottoman Empire.

Nunn's paper explores whether or not there is a causal relationship between the level of economic performance by contemporary African countries and the level of slavery that took place in those countries. His study shows that there is, indeed, an adverse correlation (see the graph below). His data for the paper comes mainly from Ralph Austen's work which you can find here. I think Nunn is on to something important and his observations should be given due attention.

I ran into Nunn's paper while searching the internet for slavery in Ethiopia after reading the story of Bisho Jarsa (picture below) a few weeks ago on BBC online. In that story the BBC relates Bisho's journey which began in 1887 when she was sold into slavery for a pittance of grain. Lucky for her, she was rescued by the British navy on the waters of the Red Sea where she was being taken by Arab slave traders to Jeddah in the Arabian peninsula. The British took her to Aden in Yemen where they handed her over to be taken care of by missionaries of the Scottish Free Church. She eventually ended up and made a life for herself in South Africa.

Bisho could have been my great-grandmother. Maybe yours, too. Bisho was lucky. Millions of others weren't. The story of the one and a half million Ethiopians who were sold into slavery between the years 1400 and 1900 is just a small portion of that sad and ugly legacy of our ancestors. Some of our ancestors, mine for sure, owned slaves while others, like the Jabartis, specialized in the slave trade. They were not, however, alone in this ugly legacy. Slavery is hardly a unique phenomenon to Ethiopia or Africa. It is a curse on the whole of humanity.

My online search for slavery in Ethiopia suggests that it has not gotten the kind of attention that it deserves from scholars. For example, I can't find a single book which is dedicated to the topic of slavery in Ethiopia. It may be out there but I have not yet found it. There are plenty of references available though, Richard Pankhurst's works being a good example. Another scholar that I found who had attempted to give an in-depth look to the issue of slavery in Ethiopia is Teshale Tibebu, a professor at Temple University. In his book, "The Making of Modern Ethiopia: 1896-1974," Tibebu devotes a whole chapter to the topic which is worthwhile your reading time.