Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Zone9 Bloggers Are Not Alone: More Ethiopian Netizens Face Terrorism Charges

Zelalem, Yonatan, Bahiru and Abraham. Photo used with permission from
Alongside the now-famous case of the Zone9 bloggers, there are so many detained Ethiopian bloggers, online activists and politicians, whose names are not yet on the map.

Last year on July 8, 2014, Ethiopia detained a number of local opposition leaders, bloggers, online activists and concerned citizens. Some were released after four months of interrogation. However, ten were charged on October 31, 2014 under Ethiopia's Anti-Terrorism Proclamation with having links to diaspora-based Ethiopian opposition groups such as Ginbot 7, applying to attend an online security training, and engaging in online activism. Three of the 10 defendants are not members of any political party but ordinary citizens who were arrested for applying to attend a course. These are Zelalem Workagenegu, Yonatan Wolde and  Bahiru Degu.

The controversial Anti-Terrorism Proclamation was adopted in July 2009. Ethiopian officials tend to defend the law by arguing that its controversial provisions were copied from the existing laws of countries such as the United Kingdom. Article 6 of the Proclamation, which has been used to curtail freedom of expression, provides that:

[w]hosoever publishes or causes the publication of a statement that is likely to be understood by some or all of the members of the public to whom it is published as a direct or indirect encouragement or other inducement to them to the commission or preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism [is subject to between 10 and 20 years in prison].
Zelalem, the first defendant, is a human rights activist who blogs at DeBirhan. Yonatan and Bahiru, who are best described as concerned citizens, had applied along with Zelalem for a social media and Internet security training that was brought to their knowledge by a US-based Ethiopian journalist. After an email from the Ethiopian journalist in the US was found in their possession, these young men were also arrested and later charged with applying for “a terror training” when in fact the training was about Internet safety and security.

Ethiopian court last month acquitted Abraham Solomon, detained for having connections with the first defendant Zelalem, along with four other opposition politicians namely Abraha Desta, an official of the opposition Arena Tigray Party and social media activist, Yeshiwas Assefa, council member of the Blue (Semayawi) Party, Daniel Shibeshi, official of the now defunct Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) party and Habtamu Ayalew, former Public Relations Head of the defunct UDJ. However, until today they have not been released because the Prosecutor has reportedly appealed the decision.

An article by the Electronic Frontier Foundation shows the increasing attempts of silencing online activists and netizens in Ethiopia. The organisation called Ethiopia to:

Immediately free all journalists in prison, including the remaining Zone 9 bloggers, and relieve them of all charges for the “crime” of reporting the news.
End the prosecution of individuals for pursuing security training and using encryption technologies, and free Zelalem Workagegnehu, Yonatan Wolde, Abraham Solomon, and Bahiru Degu.

Cease and desist from using invasive surveillance technologies like FinFisher and Hacking Team’s Remote Control System to spy” on Ethiopian journalists, Diaspora, and opposition groups.
While Zone9 remains among Ethiopia's best-known case of its kind, stories like that of Zelalem demonstrate that the issues these bloggers face extend far beyond a few individuals. The next court appearance of Zelalem, Yonatan and Bahiru is between November 7-9, 2015.


Friday, February 19, 2016

*GRAPHIC*: #OromoProtests Agazi shot this 7 years old girl in Asasa ( west Arsi) yesterday Feb 18, 2016.

#OromoProtests Agazi shot this 7 years old girl in Asasa ( west Arsi) yesterday Feb 18, 2016. She was among the...
Posted by Jawar Mohammed on Thursday, February 18, 2016

Thursday, February 18, 2016

#OromoProtests this is Elias Ararsa, 9 years old and 3rd grade student at Awaro primary school in Ambo.

#OromoProtests this is Elias Ararsa, 9 years old and 3rd grade student at Awaro primary school in Ambo. He was shot by...
Posted by Jawar Mohammed on Thursday, February 18, 2016

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Here is Real account of what happened in west arsi regarding the alleged church attack.

As a civil servant in West Arsi zone, it was so easy for me to collect information on the burning of churches;--- Did...
Posted by Lallaba Shanan on Wednesday, February 17, 2016

#OromoProtests the road leading to Dodola has been blocked on Maribo river bridge. Residents of Heraro town took the

#OromoProtests the road leading to Dodola has been blocked on Maribo river bridge. Residents of Heraro town took the...
Posted by Jawar Mohammed on Wednesday, February 17, 2016

#OromoProtests over 15,000 people of Abaro village marched on Shashemene in this fashion. The Agazi soldiers are firing

#OromoProtests over 15,000 people of Abaro village marched on Shashemene in this fashion. The Agazi soldiers are firing...
Posted by Jawar Mohammed on Wednesday, February 17, 2016

#OromoProtests these are some of Al Amudin owned NOC oil tankers destroyed by protesters in Bulbula town last night

#OromoProtests these are some of Al Amudin owned NOC oil tankers destroyed by protesters in Bulbula town last night....
Posted by Jawar Mohammed on Wednesday, February 17, 2016

#OromoProtests these are bodies of Mahadi Sani ( age 35) and Safi Abro who were killed in Oromitu village in Gurawa

#OromoProtests these are bodies of Mahadi Sani ( age 35) and Safi Abro who were killed in Oromitu village in Gurawa...
Posted by Jawar Mohammed on Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Occupational induced health problems in floriculture workers in Sebeta..

Occupational induced health problems in floriculture workers in Sebeta and surrounding areas, West Shewa, Oromia, Ethiopia

A Defar, A Ali


Background: Floriculture is a booming sector in Ethiopia; nevertheless, there are certain concerns regarding the health status of the workers. To address this issue, an effort has been made to outline the outstanding health problems that have manifested in some of the floriculture farms in the designated area of the study.
Objectives: To assess health problems encountered in the farms, and their determinants among floriculture workers in Sebeta and surroundings.
Methods: A Cross-sectional study design, using qualitative and quantitative methods, was conducted among floriculture workers in Sebeta Town and surrounding areas from December 01, 2010 to February 30, 2011. A sample of 612 workers was selected using systematic random sampling techniques. Data were collected through pre-tested structured questionnaire, in-depth interviews and working environmental observation. Then, data were entered using EPI Info. Analysis was done using SPSS version 16 statistical program.
Results: The majority, 433 (74.9%) of the workers were females, with 539 (93%) of study subjects showing at least one health symptom in the last 12 months prior to the study period, 392 (67.8%) had at least one skin problem and 81.1% had at least one respiratory health symptom in the last 12 months. The highly prevalent disease symptoms were fatigue 422 (76.5%), followed by head ache 424 (73.4%) and sleepiness 367 (63.5%). A 3.16 (95%: CI 1.28-7.80) odds of having symptoms of disease was observed after adjusting for confounders among those who did not have full personal protective equipment. There was also 4.93 (95% CI 1.44-16.91) times odds of symptoms of disease amongst workers who did not use personal protective equipment properly, and odds of reported symptoms of disease were 2.75 (95% CI 1.15- 6.61)higher for those who did not take pre-employment safety training.
Conclusion: Prevention interventions were generally neglected, with only 345 (59.3%) employees reporting having and 214 (62.39%) properly using personal protective devices. In view of that, adequate supply of personal protective equipment, pre-employment safety training and use of good management of chemicals applied in the farm are highly recommended.

Follow the Links to see victims  1.

#OromoProtests this Adam Mohammed Abdalla ( name corrected) who was killed in Chaffe Jannata village in Gurawa district ( East Hararge) today.

#OromoProtests this Adam Mohammed Abdalla ( name corrected) who was killed in Chaffe Jannata village in Gurawa district ( East Hararge) today. The crowd was receiving his body when it arrived in Gurawa town.
Posted by Jawar Mohammed on Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Seven Ethiopian security forces killed, state buildings damaged, in restive Oromia region – minister

The attack happened Monday in West Arsi district with government buildings also damaged, Getachew said by phone from the capital, Addis Ababa. Authorities don’t know the motive for the attack nor the total number of dead and injured, he said. “The information we have is they were ambushed by people carrying guns, apparently on a rampage,” he said.
Protests by ethnic Oromo occurred in the area after soldiers shot at a bus carrying wedding guests on Feb. 12, U.S.-based activist Jawar Mohammed said Monday on his Facebook page.
Demonstrations since November were mainly against government plans to integrate the development of Addis Ababa with surrounding areas of Oromia, which participants said would involve the unfair eviction of farmers.
Security forces killed as many as 140 people at the “generally peaceful” protests, New York-based Human Rights Watch said Jan. 7. The government, which hasn’t provided a death toll, said last month it was abandoning the integration plan

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

#OromoProtests continues Saransari town, Goro Dola, Guji Province Feb 10

#OromoProtests continues Saransari town, Goro Dola, Guji Province Feb 10, 2016=========Mormii ummata Godina Guji Aanaa Gooroo Doolaa magaalaa Saransaritti har'a godhame
Posted by Jawar Mohammed on Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Saturday, February 6, 2016

#OromoProtest This is the list of people arrested in Sululta and their whereabout is not known..

This is the list of people arrested in Sululta and their whereabout is not known. There is rumor that they have been...
Posted by Birhanu M Lenjiso on Saturday, February 6, 2016

#OromoProtests these two elderly men are in jail in Dambi Dollo ( Qellam Wallaga). The photographer doesn't know their

#OromoProtests these two elderly men are in jail in Dambi Dollo ( Qellam Wallaga). The photographer doesn't know their...
Posted by Jawar Mohammed on Saturday, February 6, 2016

#OromoProtests this Kadir Qasho, who was kidnapped from Hirna ( West Hararge) on December 12, 2015 and has not been seen

#OromoProtests this Kadir Qasho, who was kidnapped from Hirna ( West Hararge) on December 12, 2015 and has not been seen...
Posted by Jawar Mohammed on Saturday, February 6, 2016

#OromoProtests this was Chala Mohammed Ahmed who was killed on December 12, 2015 in Tuji Gabisa village near Haromaya

#OromoProtests this was Chala Mohammed Ahmed who was killed on December 12, 2015 in Tuji Gabisa village near Haromaya...
Posted by Jawar Mohammed on Saturday, February 6, 2016

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Unrest in Ethiopia: the ultimate warning shot?


The culture of power is one of centralisation. But real federalism couldn’t be beyond reach. Oromya shows that it is becoming an absolute requirement.

The Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF), the strongest component of the ruling coalition, from the middle of 2014 has faced the highest level of Tigrean popular discontent since its inception 40 years ago. That came first. Now the unrest in the most populated region of Ethiopia has sent to the regime as a whole the most shattering warning shot since its arrival in power in 1991.

Despite Tigray’s marginality in terms of geography, population – 6% of Ethiopians – and its economy, the TPLF had the strength to impose its hegemony after its victory over the Derg military-socialist junta in 1991. This dominance has recently declined, but it remains the driving force of the coalition between the four ethnic forces constituting the near-single party – the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) – with the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), the Oromo People’s Democratic Organisation (OPDO) and the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement (SEPDM).

It is also the only party that the population sees as its authentic and legitimate representative. However, since the spring of 2014, it has been shaken by a rising tide of popular discontent. “Give us back our TPLF!” cry the Tigrayans, a Front that is righteous, disinterested, devoted as it was during the armed struggle, ready to listen and to serve, but now accused of having succumbed to an unholy trinity: corruption, bad governance, unaccountability.

“We have acted as if it was pointless to listen to people because we are building roads and opening schools”, admits one former TPLF leader off the record. It is the “old guard”, sidelined during the second half of the reign of the omnipotent Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who died in 2012, which sounded the alarm and then led the charge. Meles had promoted a new generation of leaders – the “Melesites”. Some young party members, mostly ambitious intellectuals, enraged by the degeneration of the Front, rushed into the breach opened up by the old timers. If it doesn’t regain its old strength, they are convinced, it will not be able to maintain its influence, and the Tigrayans would be exposed to a quasi existential risk of ceasing even to be masters in their own house, thereby losing the main asset of a 40 year struggle. Their goal: to revitalise the Front through “democratisation” and thereby regain popular support. Their target: the existing leadership, which they see as populated with incompetent “yes-men”.

However, the most disturbing warning signal came from Oromya, the region that accounts for 37% of the total population and is the economic heart of the country. Since mid-November, its northern half at least has been in a ferment of dissent. Demonstrations were followed by riots so intense and extensive as to be described as a “slide into a security crisis”: the authorities lost control of entire areas abandoned or deserted by the security forces.[1] Half the high schools and universities had to close their doors.[2] In their wake, as always happens in a power vacuum, came looters and vandals. While official government figures continue to strain credulity, other sources report more than a hundred dead.[3] Two months on, things have only partially returned to normal.

The trigger was an ordinary land expropriation in favour of private investors in a small town a hundred or so kilometres west of Addis Ababa. However, the focal point of the grievances was the so-called Master Plan for the expansion of Addis Ababa. The city has its own administrative government, but is located far inside Oromya. This territory was conquered by the Northeners at the end of the nineteenth century, and has grown by eating into the surrounding areas, still a trauma for many Oromo. The Plan covered an area 20 times larger than the existing capital, and would impact millions of Oromo. It possessed all the deficiencies of large development operations in Ethiopia: opacity and confusion, with documents of uncertain status released in dribs and drabs, thus a lack of clarity even about the respective roles of Addis Ababa municipality and the Oromya authorities in the area concerned; a centralising, top-down approach, with no consultation of the people. Oromo opinion once again rose up against what it perceives as a further drive to truncate its territory, exacerbated by a swathe of ruthless land grabbing, like that already experienced by tens of thousands of Oromo farmers around the capital or elsewhere, to the benefit of investors, whether foreign or Ethiopian, Oromo or otherwise.

The authorities began by reacting reflexively in their usual way: if it moves, hit it. To show their peaceful intentions, the demonstrators raised crossed arms or sat with bowed heads. The security forces’ disproportionate violence fuelled the protests. “Killing is not an answer to our grievances”, was the cry. For the first time on this scale, protest extended outside the “intellectual” milieu – students and teachers – to encompass not just high school and even primary school pupils, but even the lower classes, including simple farmers, who constitute three quarters of the population.

The straw that broke the camel’s back

"Only part of the press dared to go further. For example, the Addis Standard." Front page. All rights reserved.
The Master Plan was simply the straw that broke the camel’s back, the culmination of a much wider and more long-standing conflict. This is evidenced by the protesters’ targets: people and property with links - however tenuous - to the authorities, regional and federal.  The officials, despite their being almost all Oromo; their symbols, their facilities (offices, cars, prisons, even medical centres and unemployment support agencies); companies owned by foreigners, non Oromo, and even by Oromo, if they have been imposed despite the peoples wishes.

Even local “model farmers” were targeted, a group who receive special government support to “modernise” their farms, on condition that they then show their fellow peasants the path to follow. Too often, they are selected by nepotism, with the result that an informal alliance has formed between local government and a new class of “kulaks”, accused of exploiting this patronage for underhand purposes, via renting or share cropping on land held by poorer farmers who have fallen into a spiral of debt. Worse still: in some places neighbours were killed, their houses burned, simply for being non Oromo.[4]

The target of unrest in Oromya was not just the unholy trinity, as in Tigray, though it is even more devastating there, but also harassment by the security apparatus, with its thousands of political prisoners, often held for years without trial. “There is no democracy, there is no justice”, complained some demonstrators. The centralisation of power, in contradiction with authentic federalism, is exacerbated by the general perception of Tigrean hegemony and the marginalisation and dispossession of Oromya.

“We want genuine self-rule”, ran one of the slogans. The attendant centralisation of development, and its relative liberalisation, initiated at the start of the 2000s, favours an “entrepreneurial” economic elite, covering a range of beneficiaries stretching from the big foreign investor to the rich peasant or Ethiopian businessman, whether Oromo or not. The ascendancy of this elite is consubstantial with the high positions it almost automatically occupies in the ruling party. Its behaviour is seen as predatory, primarily in respect of land.

“Oromya is not for sale”, demonstrators chanted. Their political opposition thus coincides with, and is reinforced by, an economic and cultural conflict around the resource that is the most precious, and quasi sacred, to the vast majority, land — which still acts as the cement of the social contract. Between this majority and this heterogeneous elite, but also within a peasantry that had previously remained largely homogeneous since the agrarian reform of 1975, class antagonisms have deepened. Moreover, plans in an increasingly sensitive sphere — the economy — could harden them.

First, there is the hidden aspect of the economy. Mystery surrounds the real situation of whole sectors controlled, directly or indirectly, by the state, i.e. two thirds of the economy outside traditional agriculture, their profitability, and above all their indebtedness, the key to their recent growth. One suspects that the alarmist rhetoric around the urgent need for a change of direction owes much to this black hole.

Moreover, the current version of the leading public impulse for economic growth — the “developmental state” — is coming to the end of the line. Its objective was to accomplish a shift from agriculture to industry. However, shares of the economy held by the industrial and manufacturing sectors remain at a similar level as at the end of Haile Selassie’s reign: respectively 11% and 5% of GDP then, 13% and 5% today.[5]

Growth on a downward path
“The 10-years perspective is a transition where manufacturing will lead the economy”, asserts Arkebe Oqubay, mastermind of this transformation.[6] Without it, there is no chance of absorbing the 2 to 2.5 million young people arriving on the labour market every year, of becoming competitive by increasing productivity, thereby reducing a growing trade deficit and turning round an increasingly negative balance of payments — the possibility of a foreign exchange crunch is increasingly raised [7] — and ultimately no chance of maintaining a high growth rate, the core of the regime’s legitimacy.  For him, the worst scenario would be the combination of an economic slowdown with bad governance and assertions of nationalist feeling.

This growth rate is on a downward path, officially declining from 12% per annum in 2005 to 8% today.[8] The World Bank suggests that this fall is likely to continue.[9] Public investment, the driver of growth, has reached its ceiling at a third of GDP. Further growth therefore demands a massive inflow of private capital, mainly from abroad, bringing jobs and higher productivity, and carrying local capital in its wake, initially in subcontracting activities. However, “many of the foreign investors in Ethiopia fail because the environment is difficult”, Arkebe judges[10]. “Ethiopia lags behind Sub-Saharan African peers in most reform dimensions”.[11] Hence the intention to introduce greater ‘liberalisation’ in order to give business an attractive, stable and predictable framework, and even to open up new sectors such as banking to foreigners.

These reforms will also need to tackle another blind spot. Moving from archaic agriculture to a competitive manufacturing sector requires an army of skilled professionals with free rein to apply their knowledge. Ethiopia’s 34 universities hold almost 700,000 students and have issued more than 500,000 degrees in the last five years alone.[12] However, this increase in quantity has been accomplished to the detriment of quality. Above all, the centuries-old codes of power, whatever the domain, remain largely in place: implacable hierarchy, top-down administration, blind obedience. They are even reinforced by the near obligation of party membership in the public sector: party loyalty takes precedence over public service. The professional capacities of this new class of “intellectuals” are therefore held in check.

This lost potential hinders economic growth. Moreover, the gap between this “Internet generation” and the excessively authoritarian, fossilised and infantilising practice of power, at every level, is generating growing frustration. The gap between this “Internet generation” and the excessively authoritarian, fossilised and infantilising practice of power, at every level, is generating growing frustration. While some of the new generation are satisfied with the advantages – legal and illegal – associated with their positions, others want to make their voices heard.

Haile Selassie created an intellectual elite to run a state machinery subordinate to his rule alone. Held in subjection, it rebelled, especially when — as today — graduate unemployment exploded. By contrast with the past, however, even the most anti-establishment of the present generation are not looking for a change of regime, but primarily for a role commensurate with their qualifications, and then, for some, a genuine application of the constitution, primarily with regard to federalism, particularly in Oromya.

Drought and war
Finally, there are two other challenges. After an exceptional drought, almost 20 million Ethiopians are in need of emergency or long-term food aid.[13] The authorities have responded vigorously, especially as they are haunted by the correlation between the overthrow of Haile Selassie and then the Derg and the famines that preceded them. But they themselves acknowledge failures in the distribution of aid and that the worst is yet to come.

An end to the state of phony peace with Eritrea is a growing demand in Tigray. Previously, they wanted it so that investors would finally come and rescue the region from its economic stagnation. Now it is demanded on the grounds that the military facilities that Asmara is providing to the Saudi-led coalition show that Eritrea is a bridgehead for an “Arab-Muslim encirclement”. For example, one pro-TPLF website writes: “Ethiopia is surrounded by (Arab) strategic enemies… working to disintegrate and dismantle Ethiopia… Most of the Arab countries think Ethiopia is the gate of Africa, if they can convert the Ethiopian Christians to the Muslim faith, they can control Africa and its resources.”[14] “As the end justifies the means, Ethiopia has to use everything at its disposal to take a swift military action against Eritrea; get rid of its hostile government; annex Assab”. What is not known is how far the leadership of the Front is listening to this demand.

Faced with these challenges, sticking to the “Meles line”, as the ruling power has up to now, i.e. maintaining the status quo, has become untenable. However, the structure of power that he left behind is vacillating in its readiness to tackle this. Two power systems are in conflict with each other, though both managed by almost the same people.

Two institutions have never played their statutory role: the legal system and the legislative assemblies. With the rise of Meles Zenawi in the early 2000s, the others became empty shells: the TPLF itself, the three other components of the EPRDF, the cabinet, the regional governments. They were reduced to mere communication channels for orders delivered from the top. Pyramidal and interpersonal, this structure of authority had little regard for institutions. Simultaneously, a constellation of mini-fiefs formed, each at the node of a network built on relationships of different kinds — family, friendship, and fundamentally regional and/or sub-regional, as well as business — all beneficiaries of the “developmental state”. After victory over the Derg, the revolutionary elite used its positions in the party-state to monopolise the management of public and para-public companies, and then to launch itself into the private sector on the back of public contracts. Thus was born an oligarchical constellation formed inside the highest party-state circles, with one foot in these circles, the other in business. These practices spread like lightning down to the lowest levels, hence the sharpness of the tensions generated by corruption, bad governance and unaccountability. But with one fundamental difference compared to essentially predatory regimes: it continued to deliver. Even though the official growth rate is undoubtedly overstated, and its social distribution problematic, progress is unquestionable. With peace and security – until recently – it has been the basis of the regime’s legitimacy.

A crumbling pyramid
When Meles Zenawi died suddenly in August 2012, this pyramid crumbled. It left a system of power that was diffuse — disseminated between multiple centres, whether individual or institutional, and riven with ferocious personal rivalries — and lacking direction. A common front was maintained to settle the succession in terms of individuals, notably with the appointment of Haile Mariam Dessalegn as Prime Minister.

Nevertheless, although their workings remain riddled by these personal networks,  “now, institutions start to matter”, stresses one well-informed observer: thus, the Executive Committee of the EPRDF, cabinet, starting with the Prime Minister is increasingly assertive, and regional governments follow on through a centrifugal effect. The security forces and army, however, remain a bastion apart, and interrelations between all these power centres are still vague and unstable. The reconstruction of a solid and consensual system is still on the agenda. At the same time, the situation it faces on all fronts is becoming increasingly problematic. Too many officials remain too rigid, arrogant and disconnected to see the urgency of the situation; too unstable and fragmented. The leadership can hardly agree on the changes needed, let alone implement them. Establishing the rule of law is above all about confronting oligarchical power.

Questioned about the existence of a “wider consensus within the ruling party” on greater economic openness, Arkebe Oqubay replied evasively: “I cannot say 100%.”[15] The opposition is of three kinds: the Ethiopian economic elite is highly disparate, divided between the most powerful groups who hope to be able to piggyback on the influx of foreign investors, and small businesses which consider themselves too weak to withstand international competition. An old “socialistic” ideological current persists. And finally, the nationalistic strain remains strong: no Ethiopian leadership has ever allowed a foreign presence, of whatever kind, to acquire sufficient influence as to potentially escape its control. Yet a massive influx of foreign investors inevitably requires compromises that will one way or another dent that sovereignty.

Moreover, this greater economic openness is likely to exacerbate the antagonisms described above, by fuelling bad governance and corruption, which exploded with the ‘liberal’ turn of the early 2000s. And the reforms currently under way or on the drawing board are purely technical. Indispensable as it is, an alteration in the ‘culture of power’ is not a priority in the economy.

According to the official media, the combat against the unholy trinity is in full sway. The last TPLF Congress and its Central Committee saw a swathe of criticism and self-criticism, reviving one of the Font’s strongest traditions – the “gimgema” – which had become stripped of its original function in recent years. However, this merely resulted in a compromise between ‘reformists’ and ‘conservatives’, between ‘urgentists’ and ‘wait and seers’. In accordance with the traditional practice of ‘democratic centralism’, the Central Committee overruled the Congress. Two “reformers” joined the Executive Committee, the remaining “Melesites” stayed, including the chairman, Abay Woldu, who was the focus of the critiques. They will be closely monitored by newcomers to the Central Committee. The reforms were approved, but they had already been formulated in virtually the same terms at the previous congress.

Nonetheless, gimgema spread throughout Tigray. The leaders are touring the state, holding public meetings. Local officials are required to account for their behaviour to the inhabitants. In these people’s courts, judgement is rapid, the defence insignificant. Hundreds of low and medium ranking officials have been sacked, thousands warned. But we have no way of knowing whether the authorities took into account the voices of the participants before immediately appointing their replacements, or whether — as usual — they simply named them and left it to the people to formally endorse them.

In contrast, it doesn’t appear that the same purge is taking place elsewhere, or at least not with the same intensity, except in Addis Ababa.[16] Not that the unholy trinity is any less rampant, quite the contrary. But the reformist drive emanating from part of the TPLF and a few influential individual allies in the other parties, is having little impact outside, when it is not met with concealed opposition. ANDM and particularly OPDO, already so fragile when the TPLF launched its reforms and its purges, do not seem capable of handling the shock of such a challenge. The ANDM Congress was a quiet affair, OPDO’s was virtually a non-event. The same leadership teams were reappointed with no significant changes.

Above all, the exercise is limited in its very conception. The idea is that the party-state should correct itself, without any intervention by an external and independent body. The only involvement eagerly sought is that of the “public”, a fetish word, meaning de facto a fluctuating collection of individuals, by definition unorganised and unstructured. Nothing can or should undermine the monolithism of the ruling power.

The reactions to the events in Oromya reveal shock and confusion. First, in the intensity of the repression, with thousands of arrests, including senior cadres from the Oromo legal opposition parties, journalists, intellectuals. Then in its desire to silence discordant media voices, including the two TV networks run by opponents in the diaspora, to the point that the security forces even wrecked satellite dishes.

And in the cacophony emanating from the leadership. At one extreme, denial of the obvious. “There is a fair power sharing system between the federal government and the regional states which has enabled the regions to decide by themselves on issues that are specific to them”, the government spokesman maintained. “We know the protests are based on false claims.” The protesters are demonised, driven by “the conspiracies of destructive forces… of evil forces”, of “anti-peace elements”, including opposition parties which are, for good measure, “the proxies of the Eritrean regime”, and “are now organizing armed gangs”.[17]

At the other extreme, Abadulla Gemada, speaker of the House, a long-standing leader of OPDO but a man with the Prime Minister’s ear and one of the few leaders whose position in the traditional Oromo hierarchy attracts a certain popularity, declared in essence that the Oromos were smart enough not to let themselves be manipulated and to demonstrate for good reasons.[18] Between the two extremes, a convoluted acknowledgement, even from the Prime Minister, that “the recent question raised by the people of Oromia is a legitimate one”, that the Master Plan should have been drawn up in consultation “with the people of Oromia”, but also that “merciless legitimate action against any force bent on destabilising the area” is required.[19]

Finally, The Plan has been abandoned”.[20] For Abay Tsehaye, one of top ideas men and a political adviser to the Prime Minister, the sole culprits are corrupt OPDO officials and shady businessmen who “created all the mess… to capitalize on chaos” so as “to preempt the good governance drive… using the Master Plan as a smokescreen”[21]. So the whole problem comes down to black sheep who are manipulating Oromo to escape the punishment they deserve. Only part of the press dared to go further. For example, the Addis Standard, with a front page showing two raised crossed arms in red on a black background, carried the headline “Why is Ethiopia killing its people again?” subtitled “Oromo protests; not just about the ‘Master Plan’… Marking the next Ethiopian Political Chapter”.[22]

Federalism and hyper-centralised reality
The regime is now paying the price for the accumulated mistakes of its ethnic policy. Both ANDM and OPDO were created by the TPLF. They have never broken free of its oversight, at least to the extent of being considered legitimate representatives by the Amhara and the Oromo, with the capacity to voice their aspirations and grievances at federal level. This original fault line undermines the whole federal construct. Federalism is at the heart of the constitution and institutions, but the reality is hyper-centralised, the primacy of the Tigryan elite, even if increasingly under stress, undeniable in the political, economic and even more so the military and security spheres.

The “national question” boomerangs back on those who claim to have settled it once and for all: constantly emphasising national identities and proclaiming that they now all have the right to assert themselves, equally and entirely; in reality, keeping them ranked and constrained. Meles Zenawi’s iron fist had contained this contradiction. It could not but break loose after his death. In the absence of strong and inclusive political structures to handle it, it inevitably overflowed into the street.

One of the most illuminating evidences of these accumulated mistakes is the vacuity of the OPDO. It won 100% on the seats during the May elections, but it proved incapable of maintaining law and order, incapable of channelling discontent: it disintegrated. Most of its top leadership further discredited themselves by adopting the government line. As for the rest of its officials, very many joined the protests, others quite simply faded away. Oromya lives under a de facto state of security/military siege directed from Addis Ababa.

A Copernican revolution?
Would simple reforms resolve all these profoundly interdependent pitfalls, or do they demand a complete overhaul of the regime? Surprisingly as it may seem, part of the TPLF and some high level officials beyond believe this is the case. They have in recent months undergone a Copernican revolution, breaking with everything they have thought and done since their beginnings, 40 years ago now, as with all Ethiopian leaders since the dawn of time: ruling by force.

They underline that throughout the country’s history, all regime changes have come through armed conflict. “We want to leave future generations an Ethiopia that is not only prosperous, but also sustainably stable and peaceful”, they say. The only solution would be to let the institutions work as the constitution stipulates. In other words, deliberative assemblies that actually control the executive, from federal level down through the 17,000 municipalities; an independent legal system; a recognition of the positive role that the opposition parties and media could play. Sincere conversion or a pragmatic acceptance of reality? For their Tigrayan proponents, given the arch-minority status of the Tigreans, the clinching argument is that only genuine federalism could give them the vital long-term guarantee of remaining at least masters in their own homeland.

In the immediate, the management of the unrest in Oromya contradicts these intentions. However, the shock has been too sudden and too violent for the regime not to be out of its depth and to revert to its traditional repressive habits. But its history also shows that it only changes after a very long period of internal maturation. There is nothing to say that a period of deep reflection has not begun, albeit as ever behind double locked doors. There is nothing to say that a period of deep reflection has not begun, albeit as ever behind double locked doors.

The obstacles are huge: the whole culture of power would be turned upside down, along two axes.

This culture is one of centralisation. But real federalism couldn’t be beyond reach. Oromya shows that it is becoming an absolute requirement. The foreign investment influx requires long term stability. Decentralisation is not conditional on the establishment of the ‘rule of law’ in every other sphere. In particular, oligarchical power could adapt to, and even prosper alongside genuine decentralisation. However, it would entail at least a full reconstruction of OPDO, and probably ANDM as well. Otherwise, it is to be feared that the inter-nation relationship would become even more critical, with young Oromo activists in particular deciding that the only choice is armed struggle because nothing could be achieved by political means.

It is also an authoritarian culture. Since the student movement of the 1970s, this authority has been vested in a small self-proclaimed vanguard elite, whose legitimacy is founded on the claim to supreme knowledge. It might adopt the argument of the early Soviet leadership: “We alone know what should be done to make you prosperous and happy, and so we have the right and the duty to do it if necessary by force and against your will.” In essence, therefore, this power is vertical and monolithic: any dissent could only come from misguided individuals or from ‘anti-peace’ and ‘anti-development’ elements. Criticism can be accepted only if levelled at failures in the execution of a policy, but not at the policy itself. That is precisely the limitation of the current campaign against the unholy trinity.

Rule of law?
This raises the question of what meaning these ‘reformers’ give to the ‘rule of law’: does it include the possibility that the country’s vital forces, whether driven by political, economic or social motives, including these new ‘intellectuals’, could organise themselves and make dissenting voices heard, not only about the form, but also about the substance of policy? This would require the end of monolithism, the acceptance of counter-forces, and therefore an end to the obsession with maintaining control over all organisations, whatever their nature. Criticism can be accepted only if levelled at failures in the execution of a policy, but not at the policy itself.

It would also require an end to the wait for the supreme saviour, the ‘strong man’. Even within the TPLF, and even more so in the population of former Abyssinia, many are convinced that only such a figure could stabilise and preserve the structure of power, thus bring a lasting stability, as supposedly demonstrated throughout Ethiopian history.

Establishing the rule of law is above all about confronting oligarchical power. During a famous televised discussion about tackling the unholy trinity, attended by a gathering of the leadership and opened by a devastating report into the spread of its depredations right to the top of the party-state, Haile Mariam Dessalegn exclaimed: “Here, we talk, but once outside, we defend our different networks to ensure that they are not affected. That is the primary sickness!”[23] A confession of the limitations of self-correction.

The abandonment of the Master Plan is an unprecedented decision, but one that even the legal opposition considers a first step on a very long journey. It is calling for a significant gesture of appeasement, such as the freeing of the recent detainees, as proof that the government is sincerely ready to enter into dialogue with all the stakeholders concerned who possess recognised status, and with respected figures, for a complete rethink.[24] If it accepts, the opposition would have to concede that the process could only be gradual, extremely lengthy, that if the EPRDF agrees not to dictate its outcome, it will nevertheless insist on retaining control throughout the whole process, and that one line in the sand cannot for the moment be crossed: challenging federalism and the upper hand Tigreans hold over the security services and the army, which it sees for the time being as its ultimate shield.

“Where does all this lead us? To the beginning of the end? Let us hope not”, concludes a recent editorial in Addis Fortune.[25] In the absence of a credible alternative authority, only the existing regime can decide whether it ultimately wishes to change, or is prepared to risk the worst.

[1] Horn Affairs, Ethiopia: Weeks-long Protests slid into a Security Crisis, December 16, 2015.

[2] Walta, Oromiya stabilizes from recent violence , December 21, 2015.

[3] AFP, Ethiopian forces 'kill 140' in land row over Addis Ababa expansion, January 8, 2016.

[4] Bloomberg, Ethiopia Sees Fatal Ethnic Clash in Oromia, Group Says, December 14, 2015.

[5] World Bank, Ethiopia
Recent Economic Development and Current Prospects, Vol. 2, December 1, 1975, and National Planning Commission, The Second Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP II) (2015/16-2019/20) (Draft), September 2015, Addis Ababa.

[6] Addis Fortune, Interview: the singularly focused man, October 29, 2015.

[7] Addis Fortune, Ethiopia: These Are Indeed Trying Days for Any Business Involved in Manufacturing, January 4, 2016.

[8] The Economist, What if they were really set free?, January 2, 2016.

[9] World Bank, Ethiopia’s great run. The growth acceleration and how to pace it, November 24, 2015.

[10] Addis Fortune, idem.

[11] Idem.

[12] Ministry of Education, Education National Abstract 2013-14, June 2015.

[13] Open Democracy, “Famine” in Ethiopia: key facts,

[14] Tigray Online, Ethiopian extremists using Oromo school children to grab power, December 9, 2015, and Lessons for Ethiopia from Russia–Ukraine relations to deter the looming threat from Eritrea, December 29, 2015.

[15] Addis Fortune, The singulary focused man, October 26, 2015.

[16] “260 heads and 1,600 workers have been sacked from their post” in the administration of the capital (Walta, City Government takes concrete steps to abate administrative bottlenecks, December 22, 2015.

[17] Walta, The Constitutional system has stood on a firm foundation to uphold the will of the people- GCAO, January 17, 2016; Bloomberg, Ethiopian Opposition Say 10 Oromo Students Killed at Protests, December 10, 2015; Walta, Recent Disturbances Works of Destructive Forces: Chief Muktar Kedir, December 11, 2015; Walta, Government has never imposed a single plan without public will- Premier, December 25, 2015; New York Times, Ethiopians on Edge as Infrastructure Plan Stirs Protests, December 16, 2015; International Business Time, Addis Ababa ‘Master Plan’ protests: Hailemariam Dessalegn warns ‘merciless action’ will be used, December 17, 2015.

[18] December 20, 2015,

[19]  Walta, Government has never imposed a single plan without public will- Premier, December 25, 2015.

[20] Government of Ethiopia, Ethiopia: OPDO Passes a Resolution to Abandon Master Plan, January 13, 2016.

[21] Horn Affairs, Exclusive| Abay Tsehaye: Oromos know who robbed, maltreated them, January 23, 2016.

[22] Addis Standard, N° 57, January 2016.

[23] Unofficial translation,

[24] See, for example, the press release by MEDREK, to which the main Oromo opposition party belongs, on January 11, 2016.

[25] Ethiopia: Unavoidable truth, December 28, 2015.


Monday, February 1, 2016

The Tragedy of Ethiopia's Internet

The Tragedy of Ethiopia's 


Perhaps some of those criminals were journalists like his father, Eskinder Nega, who was convicted of violating Ethiopia’s anti-terror law in July 2012. Eskinder is currentlyserving an 18-year prison sentence.
“Journalism is a crime or a terrorist act in his mind because what has been portrayed about [his dad],” Serkalem explained to me through a translator. “Not only his dad, but if you mention any journalist he will scream and say ‘I don't like journalists!’”
Their story is a weaving tale that mirrors how Ethiopia, home to over 90 million people, became a digital hermit nation. How Nafkot come to believe journalism is a crime equivalent to terrorism is a case study of how governments have used the internet as a tool for repression.
The only way to access the internet in Ethiopia is through the government-owned provider, Ethio Telecom, which has unilateral control over the telecom industry. A burgeoning tech scene in neighboring Kenya, which has an internet penetration rateof 69.6 percent, has garnered the name “Silicon Savannah.” But in Ethiopia, themonopoly on internet access has created one of the most disconnected countries in the world.
Only 3.7 percent of Ethiopians have access to the internet, according to the latest data, one of the lowest penetration rates in the world. By comparison, South Sudan, which lacks most basic government services, has an internet penetration rate of 15.9 percent. There are only ten countries with lower internet penetration than Ethiopia. Most of them, such as Somalia and North Korea, are hampered by decades-long civil wars or largely sealed off from outside world.
As one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, with one of the most storied cultures in the world, Ethiopia’s lack of internet access is astounding. It’s also troubling.
It’s unclear exactly how many Ethiopians can access the internet. Those who can, however, must contend with the specter of state surveillance. The Ethiopian government is suspected of deploying spyware and other hacking and surveillance tools to surveil individuals, including at least one American citizen, hooked to the web. Because of these alleged cybersleuthing efforts, the Ethiopian government has turned an engine of commerce and information into an afterthought and an instrument of surveillance.
Nafkot. Illustration: Shaye Anderson
Former American diplomats, current members of Ethiopia’s intelligence agency, and foreign policy experts all told me that the Ethiopian government is afraid of dissident views spreading online, and has crafted its intelligence service, telecom sector, and legal codes to stamp out digital dissent.
Perhaps the foremost victim of the country’s internet crusade is young Nafkot, who believes his father is a terrorist because he’s a journalist. Nafkot’s parents were two of the most well-known journalists in Ethiopia; Eskinder and Serkalem were internationally award winning media moguls, who began their respective careers after the communist Derg regime fell in 1987, and a new government formed in 1991. After a disputed parliamentary election where ensuing protests turned violent in 2005, both Eskindir and Serkalem were arrested.
Unbeknownst to either of them, Serkalem was pregnant.
The prohibitive factors that cause Ethiopia’s digital divide are straightforward. The monopoly on internet access has made it prohibitively expensive for many citizens to get online. Routine service outages make connections unreliable. And for those Ethiopians who do manage to access the internet, there is little content available in the local language of Amharic.
Whether these barriers to internet access are the intended result of a system designed to limit the spread of information, or the unintentional byproduct of a monopolistic cash cow is about as murky as the country’s dealings in cyber-espionage.
“Ethiopia wants to maintain as much control as possible over the internet so that it can prevent internal comments that are critical of government policies and minimize access to critical comments originating outside Ethiopia,” David Shinn, the former American ambassador to Ethiopia, told me.
A member of the Information Network Security Agency, one of Ethiopia’s intelligence agencies, also told me the monopoly purposefully limited internet access to preserve security in the country.

“Everything connected to the internet is slowing down”

“It’s because of security reasons, and I don’t think there is anything related to that other than this,” said the official, who works on technical capabilities and spoke on the condition on anonymity because he did not want to talk about his employer. “Everything connected to the internet is slowing down. Entrepreneurs can’t create their companies.”
Ethiopia is among a constellation of African nations made of patchworks of ethnic identity, and Bronwyn Bruton, the Deputy Director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council, told me that the government has led the fractured country by limiting freedom of expression.
“The Ethiopian state is very fragile,” Bruton said. “It’s built on a premise of segregation that is in theory separate but equal, however in practice dominated by one ethnic group, the Tigray. The Tigreans are only about six percent of the population but they absolutely dominate political and economic power.”
When I asked Teressa Belete, the Chief Enterprise Officer at Ethio Telecom, if the lack of internet access was a deliberate result of the government to limit free speech and dissent, he seemed genuinely confused and dismissed the idea. The advantage of a government monopoly, Belete said, is that rural Ethiopians, who make up a majority of the country’s population, wouldn't be serviced by private companies with profit motives.
Yet Ethio Telecom, which was founded in 1952, made an estimated $300 million profit per year, as The Economist reported in 2012. And Ethio Telecom used the excess funds to bankroll railway development in the country.
“The country lags far behind in terms of liberalization of the [telecommunications] sector,” said Lishan Adam, a consultant who has worked with the World Bank on information and communications tech policy. “They missed most of the liberalization era in the 1990s, and there was a delay in terms of getting internet.”
Adam told me Ethiopia only became connected to the internet in 1997, and said that while the desire to limit free speech might be a factor in the lack of internet access, it wasn’t the main reason why most Ethiopians aren’t online.
Ethiopia’s internet penetration rate is reported to be 3.7 percent as of November 2015. Ethiopian officials take issue with that figure, reported by the World Bank. They argue it’s inaccurate because it doesn’t fully account for mobile subscribers. The World Bank’s numbers do include mobile subscribers, but it’s likely the reported number is still too low, and Adam estimated that the true internet penetration rate is between five and 15 percent of the population.
Nafkot was born in prison in 2006. He was premature and couldn’t breathe at room temperature. Doctors wanted to move him immediately to a hospital with incubators, but the only hospital that could admit him required a signed form one of his parents. Serkalem was still under anesthesia, and the police wouldn’t bring the form to Eskindir. Nafkot could not get the treatment he needed.
“They didn’t really care about his life, but for the grace of God survived,” Serkalem said, her voice rising with anger.
Nafkot stayed at his grandparent’s home until Serkalem and Eskinder were released from prison. At which point, Serkalem and Eskinder could not continue working as print journalists; along with most of the independent newspapers in the country, theirs were shut down. Serkalem stopped writing altogether. Eskinder began blogging online, one of the first in the country to do so.
“He turned to blogging because all of the other avenues were closed,” Serkalem said. “Although he knew that not many had internet access in Ethiopia, it was better than being silent. He knew it wasn't going to do much, but he needed to write.”
Serkalem. Illustration: Shaye Anderson
The internet penetration rate in Ethiopia was 0.2 percent in 2005, and it is believed by internet security experts that the government’s online censorship began in 2006, the year Eskinder started blogging. Opposition websites inside Ethiopia became inaccessible that year, and the government was assumed to be behind the censorship.
Before parliamentary elections in 2010, the Ethiopian government introduced a vague anti-terrorism law in an effort to avoid another contested election, Jeffrey Smith, an international human rights expert based in Washington, DC, told me. The law has become a cornerstone of the government's censorship, labeling anyone who “influences government” a “terrorist.”
“Ethiopia is an example of a ruling regime that uses the term ‘terrorism’ as a politically expedient term,” Smith said. “The terrorism concerns inside the country are real but they have gone way beyond that, and have systematically abused human rights.”
With the Arab Spring protests in late 2010, there was hope the anti-government rallies that began in Tunisia would spread to Ethiopia. Eskinder’s blogging was provocative and confrontational during this time. In one 2011 article he prodded the Ethiopian military to choose the side of the people like the Egyptian military did at the time.
“Ordinary citizens took the initiative all over North Africa and the Middle East,” Eskinder wrote in another post, published September 2, 2011. “The results made history. They are powerful precedents for the rest of humanity. While inspiring words, sober analyses and robust debates are indispensable as ever, they will remain exactly no more than mere words unless translated into actions. To Ethiopia this means risking the core of a much cherished collective vision—peaceful transition to democracy.”

“No school for me”

On September 14, 2011, while Eskinder was picking up Nafkot from school, the Ethiopian intelligence service surrounded Eskinder’s car and arrested him. Serkalem raced to the scene. She found Nafkot crying, but no Eskinder. Serkalem took Nafkot to his grandmother’s house, then went straight to the Maekelawi prison, notorious for practices of torture. She waited for three hours for Eskinder to show up. But he never did.
That’s because Eskinder was actually at their house, watching the intelligence service rifle through the family’s belonging. Serkalem recalled that when she returned home the intelligence officers tried to stop her from entering, but she forced herself through to reach Eskinder. Panicked, she yelled out to him.
“Calm down, and be courageous!” Eskinder shouted back. Then he was taken away.
Afterward, Serkalem went to pick up 5-year-old Nafkot. The boy was clearly traumatized from witnessing his father arrested at school. The next day, Nafkot didn’t want to go back.
“No school for me,” he said.
The Ethiopian intelligence apparatus is one of the most invasive in the world. Exiled Ethiopian journalists in Nairobi, Kenya, told me of being followed or snooped on by government agents who had no interest in hiding their identity. One Ethiopian businessman joked to me about how he wouldn’t be surprised if he heard a third-party cough while talking with someone over the phone.
Felix Horne, the Ethiopia researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of acomprehensive report on the Ethiopian surveillance agency, told me that the government has a nationwide program called “five to one.” It’s an all-seeing system in which five citizens are monitored by one individual. It is like a listening node in a system that spans the entire country with the goal to preserve command over its many ethnic groups.
“The Ethiopian government, like many other governments, appears to be using hacking tools to supplement their regular surveillance regime” said Bill Marczak, a research fellow at Citizen Lab. The Ethiopian government's traditional surveillance methods are “effective for someone who is looking inside Ethiopia, but one of the features of Ethiopia is it has a very large diaspora community spread out over many different countries in the world.”
Washington, DC, has around a quarter million Ethiopian expatriates, and there is a large presence in Europe, Marczak added. And there is “no way other than hacking, phishing, and targeted attacks to monitor these people.”
Eskinder. Illustration: Shaye Anderson
When Neamin Zeleke received an email in December 2014 claiming to have inside information about a sensitive subject in Ethiopia, his home country, he recognized it as a likely hack. Zeleke was managing director of Ethiopian Satellite Television and Radio (ESAT), one of the largest Ethiopian news outlets, and run by members of the country’s diaspora. Its website and TV service are banned in the country. But Ethiopians can still access the channel and website through satellites and proxy servers.
Zeleke told me that ESAT satellite service has been jammed 20 times by the government. The latest jam, he said, happened just a few minutes before he and I met in early January. He forwarded the suspicious email to Marczak of Citizen Lab, who recognized that it carried a low-level bug likely from Hacking Team, a provider of surveillance software to governments across the world.
Using software from Hacking Team, an Italian company, and likely the Gamma Group, a European company, the Ethiopian intelligence service has targeted journalists and political opponents with invasive systems that allow the government to remotely activate a computer camera and microphone, record keystrokes, and monitor online activity. The frequency of these attacks and other surveillance capability is obscured by the inherent secrecy of spycraft, and that the targets of these hacks either don’t know, or don’t want to share that they’ve been infiltrated makes it difficult to assess the tools and motivations of their hacking, Marczak told me.
Zeleke is both a journalist and a political opponent. He is a member of Ginbot 7, an armed opposition group in Ethiopia that is labeled a terrorist organization by the government. Security experts told me that there is no evidence Ginbot 7 has ever undertaken terrorist activity, and the organization is not on the US State Department’s list of terror organizations.
Ginbot 7 is largely a collection of exiled Ethiopians who operate outside the borders of the country they wish to change. According to an ESAT report, Ginbot 7 has attacked government soldiers, which Zeleke confirmed to me.
Zeleke stepped down as managing director of ESAT in early 2016. He didn’t have the time for it anymore, and told me he was worried he could no longer be objective. He is now a consultant for the organization, though he still holds a corner office in the station’s tiny studio, which is lined with awards from prestigious human rights organizations.
One of the awards was for Eskinder Nega.
Zeleke told me ESAT took the award on behalf of Eskinder, who “was considered one of the pioneers of independent media in Ethiopia.”
In the ESAT news bullpen, and also next to Eskinder’s award in Zekele’s office, was a large portrait of Andargachew Tsige, the founder of Ginbot 7, in military fatigues. Tsige is believed to be under arrest in Ethiopia. Zeleke lept toward me when I tried to take a photo of the portrait next to Eskinder’s award.
“I don’t think that’s appropriate for this story,” Naimin said, moving Tsige’s photo out of the shot.
Later, I asked Zeleke if he thought the Ethiopian government was targeting him and other ESAT journalists because of their dissident views, or because the government perceives the organization as affiliated with Ginbot 7. What if authorities didn’t know where Zeleke’s political activity ends, and his journalism begins? It wouldn’t justify the surveillance. But because there have been so few public cases of the Ethiopian government’s targets, the distinction could illuminate the motivations of the intelligence service’s hacking—primarily to stop the flow of information, or targeting perceived political threats.
The head of the government agency that runs Ethiopia’s hacking, the INSA, declined to comment for this story.

The real punishment wasn’t his time wasted behind bars. It was seeing Nafkot suffer without a father

Zeleke told me that the Ethiopian government is monitoring ESAT because it is a political organization affiliated with Ginbot 7, but it is a fully independent organization and the journalists are from across the political spectrum.
“The fact that I am affiliated with Ginbot 7 may be a factor, but without me being here, whoever is the head of ESAT, these journalists [would be attacked],” he told me. “Others, many others who are not Ginbot 7, thousands of others, are subject to cyberattacks and surveillance. So, I mean, logically you have to see the context. This is a routine practice by the police, an authoritarian state to control the populous, to control the flow of information, and to intimidate alternative media and political dissenters.”
Serkalem and Nafkot would visit Eskinder in prison every Saturday and Sunday after he was sentenced. Eskinder tried to convince Nafkot that he was just in school, not at prison, to make the burden of an absent father easier on his young son. Born in a prison, Nafkot recognized that his father wasn’t in school.
“No, you’re in jail,” he would say to his dad.
Nafkot Nega has believes that the profession of his parents is a crime equivalent to terrorism. Innovative industries in Ethiopia have been hamstrung to preserve this philosophy, and those who do access the internet are targets of relentless hacking.
When they visited, Serkalem told me the jail staff would humiliate inmates in front of their families. Eskinder grew concerned that Nafkot would become desensitized to the brutality and grow resentful of the world.
“It’s OK to be jailed for what you believe in, but to see the impact on your family and your son, he couldn't bear, and asked me to take him away,” Serkalem told me. The real punishment wasn’t his time wasted behind bars. It was seeing Nafkot suffer without a father.
Eskinder started to ask his wife and son the same question each time they visited: “Have you bought your ticket?” He also pressed other family members and friends who visited to convince Serkalem and Nafkot to leave Ethiopia, so he could finish his time with the peace of mind that his family would be safe.
The last time Nafkot saw his father was July 23, 2014. Serkalem had purchased two tickets for the United States the next day, and Eskinder tried to cheer up his son during their last visit.
“America is right nearby!” he exclaimed.
Serkalem told me she wants to create a positive memory for Nafkot of his father. She wants to convince her son that his father’s sacrifice as not in vain. Eskinder is scheduled to be released from prison in 2030, when Nafkot will be 23 years old—the same age Eskinder opened his first newspaper in Ethiopia.