Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Copyright in Ethiopia…the pauper or the king?

(Please note that the author does not condone or support copyright infringement in any form.)
One of the hottest issues around Addis Ababa is the problem of solving the rampant copyright infringements that can be seen all over the city. Hawkers walk around the city in broad daylight selling CD, VCD and DVD copies of music and movies (both local and foreign.)
Prices range from 5 ETB for a VCD, 4 or less ETB if buying more, to 25 ETB for the latest movie that was released a week ago on DVD. Meanwhile, the same in original would cost around 25 ETB for the former and 50 ETB for the latter. The mean difference here is 22 ETB. It is this mean difference that is being fought for.
The four main actors in this drama are: the artist(s), the authorized dealers, the illegal distributors, the illegal retailers and finally the purchaser/consumer. Of these the one that makes the most profit in these dealings is the illegal distributor. While the artist loses 25 ETB on every illegal CD sold, the illegal distributor can buy one original work and duplicate it on hundreds, if not thousands, of CDs. He just can’t lose.
Now when it comes to the consumer, there are two options that are available: go legal or otherwise. And from what can be seen in actuality most go for the illegal works. Let’s look at some mistakes that are being done by all sides:
·         PRICE: this is the most obvious one. The consumer saves 22 ETB. And that is one reason too many for most consumers, for the simple fact that they cannot afford otherwise. Whereas the artists do not want to budge on the price saying they too can not afford it. The Ethiopian mentality on doing business is ‘going for the highest price possible.’ Every merchant, including the Ethiopian Telecommunication Corporation (ETC) have forgotten that or lazily ignore that in the long run and with customer retention and satisfaction:

is less profitable than

They do not want to put any effort into sales, advertising and marketing. They just do not want to put an effort into covering a higher consumer base and providing their services at an optimal price. The same applies to the artists, they do not want to hear of a price knock off, but expect the consumer to bear the brunt. When asked why not, an answer was given that maybe if the consumer stopped buying the illegal works, they would then consider reducing their prices. Yeah, right!

·         AVAILABILTY: walking in any major city in the world you will find salesmen and women trying to sell you products and services ranging from cosmetics, to edibles, to mobile phone services. In Addis Ababa,   while there are some products and services being touted, there are no sales persons selling the legal works of the artists. Au contraire, the illegal ones are everywhere! Why would a consumer even bother going all the way to a legal distributor when he can get it right where he is? If they don’t bother, why should the consumer?

·         Quality: the main argument that the artists and publishers have, when defending their high prices, is that they provide quality products.  There is no question that one must pay a higher price for a superior product. But let’s stop for a minute and ask how many times a consumer is going to watch a movie or drama. And then again let’s ask how badly the quality of a movie or drama would deteriorate when it has been being copied from an original medium. Unless the artist is of a high caliber or a popular veteran in his field, most people will stop listening to a CD in a matter of days, or at the most a couple of weeks. A movie or drama will be seen no more than a handful of times. The quality would not even be taken into factor when the price is considered.

The only option that can solve this issue is to think of the consumer first and then the artist. Not the other way round. The principle of making the customer happy has taken a back seat in Ethiopia. The norm is wresting the money out of the helpless customer by making sure there is no other option available to them.
Maybe it’s time that service providers, of which artists are a part of, understood that the customer really is king and that an unsatisfied king will never be generous.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Driving in Ethiopia…What, a surprise?

Although Ethiopia has a high mortality rate due to car accidents, there seem to be no documents that actually say ‘Ethiopia has the highest mortality rate in the world.’ Even the United Nations World Health Organization that is said to be the author of the document doesn’t have a report with specific country details. Another site just states it with no proof.

But that doesn’t change the fact that there is a big problem on Ethiopian roads. Every morning there is a report on traffic accidents, by Sgt. Assefa Mezgebu, on FM 97.1. And it is very rarely that the Public Relations officer of the Addis Ababa Police reports there were no accidents during the previous 24 hours.
So what is wrong with Ethiopian drivers? One only has to look around at the traffic that is flowing to see the odd ones out:

  •           Mobile Phones: there seems to be an obsession with being seen driving and talking on a mobile phone among Ethiopians. The amazing thing is, the traffic police do not even bat an eye when a driver crawls at 10 km/hr in an 80 km/hr freeway, yapping on his mobile phone. It might not be illegal but neither would it hurt to ask him to move along and put the phone away for his and other drivers’ safety.

  •          Drunk driving: in Ethiopia it is not illegal to drink and drive. In fact a true story is that a guy so drunk that he cannot stand straight pulls up at a gas station.  Behind him comes a police officer on a motorbike. The officer just sits and watches as the driver staggers to the side of the car, fumbles with the gas cap and finally has to be assisted by an attendant. He just lets him drive away without even a warning. After filling his tank, the officer also pulls out of the gas station and spots a driver who has made a turn without turning his car indicator lights on. He stops him and gives him a ticket. While both drivers were at fault, it really needs no imagination to know which of the two drivers the most serious offender was.

  •          Seat belts: it is taboo to wear seatbelts in Ethiopia, although the custom is slowly picking up. Drivers actually used to be ashamed of wearing seatbelts. They used to be so self conscious thinking that they would be seen as less of a driver by others; And so a minor accident would turn fatal because of one simple nylon belt, or rather the lack of it.

  •          Lane straddling/switching: Ethiopians tend to swerve and curve all over the road. There is no such thing as sticking to one lane, or signaling before switching lanes, especially if it’s a city mini-bus taxi. Whoever is in front has the right of all the road ahead and he can keep zigzagging all he wants. He can cover two lanes and not budge if he feels like it. It’s the problem of the driver behind to find a way to  go around him.

  •         Not wearing the correct protective gear: The funniest, yet most dangerous sight one can see on Addis roads is motorcyclists zipping around the city wearing helmets. Not so funny, right? But the thing is, the helmets are construction helmets, with no straps whatsoever to keep them on. The questions to ask are: Who do they think they’re kidding? And why do the traffic police look the other way?

  •         Road Rage/Impatience (either with other traffic or pedestrians): this needs no comment. Every Ethiopian thinks he is the best driver. And whoever doesn’t watch out, well, needs to!

Now on the opposite side of the spectrum let’s look at how correcting these minor infractions could actually solve the whole road chaos; let’s have a look at one of the safest countries to drive in: the Netherlands. It is illegal to talk on the phone while driving, unless the phone has hands-off techno. Drinking and driving is not tolerated, and therefore the amount of legal alcohol that can be found during a breath-analyzer test is minimal. Seat belts are required not only for the driver and front-passenger for those in the back too. These are just the things that are needed to make our roads safe and mostly common sense all that’s needed to make these correction, after all lives are priceless.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Ethiopia…colonized or occupied?

Ethiopians are proud of the fact that they have never been conquered throughout their history. Africans adopted the Ethiopian tri-colours, green, gold and red, as theirs. It eventually became the colours of pan-Africanism.

Yet as can be found on the internet, there are some who find that fact a bitter pill to swallow. They just can not accept the fact that Ethiopia was never colonized. They always refer to the five years from 1936 to 1941 that the Italians were in Ethiopia and say that Ethiopia was colonized for those five years and not occupied.

So let’s start with the definitions. What is colonization? And what is occupation? The Webster-Merriam dictionary tells us:

Colonization: an act or instance of ‘colonizing.’ Colonizing being the ‘establishment of a colony’; and colony in turn meaning ‘a body of people living in a new territory but retaining ties with the parent state.’ Also a ‘territory inhabited by such a body.’

Occupation: the act or process of ‘taking possession of a place or area: seizure’. Also: ‘the holding and control of an area by foreign military force.’ And ‘the military force occupying a country or the policies carried our by it.’

The obvious differences that can be seen are the fact that

1. In a colonization resistance has been eliminated, the colonized have been subdued and the major activity that is going around is done by the civilians. The country must have surrendered.

2. In occupation there are almost no civilians involved because the occupation is being enforced by the invading army. And the need for this invading army is due to the fact that there is still a resistance going on in one way or the other, which in term implies that the army still doesn’t have a 100% control over the territories.

Now let’s have a look at Ethiopian history, specifically the years 1936 to 1941. The second Ethio-Italian war started a long time before 1935. The first Ethio-Italian war, which ended with Italy’s defeat and humiliation at Adowa in 1896, could be seen as the starting point. Italy wanted revenge and started the second war on October 3rd, 1935. It ended on May 7th, 1936 with the collapse of the Ethiopian Army, which had fought bravely but could not stand up to the poison gas and bombs raining from the Fascists’ airplanes. They marched into Addis Ababa on May 5th, 1936. It must be noted that Ethiopia never surrendered.

The first of the Ethiopian patriots to start the guerilla warfare that would continue till victory day was Lij Hailemaria Mamo of Debre Damo. He attacked a convoy of Italians that were heading to Addis Ababa on May 4th, 1936 thus gaining him the name first of the Ethiopian Patriots or “Arbegna.” After him came resistance in each and every part of Ethiopia. The more the patriots fought the harsher the fascists became, and the harsher they became the more people joined the patriots. By the end of 1936, almost all of Ethiopia was up in rebellion and fighting a guerilla war.

To name a very few of the patriots’ leaders:

• Lij Hailemariam Mamo in and around Debre Damo
• Abebe Aregay in and around Showa
• Dejazmach Menegesha and Belay Zelleke in the the Gojjam are and around the Nile Gorge
• Dejazmach Balcha “Aba Nefso” Safo in the Gurage lands
• Dejazmach Hailu Kebede in the Lasta lands
• There were Eritrean deserters who fought on the Ethiopian side, even when the patriots were losing.
• This war was supported by civilians living in the occupied cities, they were called ‘Ye Wist Arbegnoch’ or the “inside warriors.”

At no given time during those fives years were Italians not fighting for their lives. Apart from the cities where they had their garrisons the land a few kilometers away was controlled by the patriots and the vast countryside remained free.

The Allies had only postponed what was inevitable by letting the fascists get away with murder and pillage hoping that the leniencies of France and Britain would not push Mussolini into the arms of Hitler. They, especially the British finally realized the error of their ways when they found out that should the fascists win they could be a threat to their own territories of Kenya, British Somaliland and Sudan and could completely cut them off from the Suez Canal and the Red Sea if they were to create and empire that stretched form Somaliland to Libya!

The war ended after only three months of fighting between Ethio-British forces and the fascists. Addis Ababa was liberated on May 5th, 1941 exactly five years after it was occupied by the Italians.

So, how was this any different than the ‘occupation’ and not ‘colonization’ of Europe? Almost all of mainland Europe except for Portugal, Spain and Sweden were in one way or another under Germany’s rule; Some for more than five years. Some had even completely surrendered and even collaborated and switched sides over to the Nazis. And yet not one of them is mentioned as being colonized.

Well, it is hoped that this article will show that Ethiopia is a nation that has never been colonized… and never will be!

• Michael B. Lentakis: Ethiopia: a view from within

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Ethiopian Television…Just Ethiopian

For the past couple of months the Ethiopian Television (ETV), the state television, has been asking the population to pay the annual tax of around 50 Ethiopian Birr (approx. 5 USD). ETV has had the tax for years and mostly people ignored it. This year was different; ETV pulled up its socks stepped up the ‘pay up’ campaign, so much so that one could almost hear the ‘or else!’ at the end. It must have paid off because there were crowds almost all the time up to the deadline date, which incidentally had been pushed back a few times and now stands at ‘extended till further notice.’
So what are the people paying for? ETV just recently went to 24 hours broadcasting after years of broadcasting from late afternoon to around midnight. And how did they come up with the new programmes to run after hours? They didn’t they just put the studio on ‘repeat’ for the daytime programmes. In between they stuck news in a number of languages that didn’t change for the whole 24 hours, even if there was a major disaster.
Sometime last year, ETV decided that it wanted to go international. So it started broadcasting to countries in and around North Africa, the Middle East and parts of Europe. There were no changes made to the programmes, what Ethiopians saw the international viewers saw too. It didn’t matter that almost eighty percent of the transmission was in languages spoken only Ethiopia. That severely narrowed down the international audience.
The other twenty percent of the time the broadcasting was done in languages like English, French and Arabic. There are around 375 million English speakers in the world. And if even a slim percentage of that number could watch the programmes, ETV would have had a very good coverage record.
So what’s the problem? The problem is ENGLISH. Apart from reporters like Shimeles Lemma and ‘Meet ETV’ host Tefera Gedamu, who seems to like to ask questions and not hear the answers, there just aren’t any competent reporters. For example, a reporter reporting about a local inventor of machines who built his business from the ground up was reported as having ‘beginned his business from the scratch.’ A couple of years back, a newscaster while reading the news couldn’t decide on whether the news was from New Zealand or the Netherlands so she read it as ‘New-Zerland.’ It makes one wonder whether there even is an English editor when a story is read with such English that knows no punctuation. Full stops are ignored, and the reader pauses in mid-sentences making one wonder if one has to guess the end of the news. A good example would be the programme covers different tourist attractions in Ethiopia. While one wants to really follow the programme, the reporter just goes on and on with this dreary, bored voice that just makes one jump up and switch the TV off.
No one at ETV seems to care that the English spoken there is very drab. In fact, nobody seems to even want to hear about it. On a web site launched by ETV, references were made to the poor language and how it was turning people off. What happened? Nothing! ; The posts got deleted. No wonder people would rather pay 2000 ETB and get satellite TV coverage than pay the measly 50 ETB. It’s considered throwing good money away. Unless something is done ETV will remain just that…Ethiopian.

Monday, August 24, 2009

How uncivilized is Ethiopia?

Ethiopia has been in existence for more than 3 millennium. The country is rich with history and culture. It’s had its glory days; but the 1970 to mid 80’s have been the lowest the country has ever gone. Up until that time the terms Aid Organization and NGO were rarely heard of. Some worked on food aid, some on health and welfare and others on ‘civilizing Ethiopia’: bringing it out of the dark-age. 

So how ‘uncivilized’ is Ethiopia? And how effective was the ‘civilization’ work done by the various organizations? What type of education worked? And what type was absurd? And in some cases, who was the ‘civilized’ and whom the ‘civilizer’? Let’s have a look:

Most of the agencies that worked on training and education worked out of the capital, Addis Ababa. The most they had heard or seen of the indigenous people they are supposed to help is on poster or brochures in travel agency offices. All the fieldwork is monitored and ordered from the cozy office in the capital. The agents in the field are like puppets whose strings are pulled according to the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) that had been written in the head office, in Europe or America, and hasn’t changed since 1980.

One thing some westerners always state as a symbol of backwardness is nakedness: The amount of skin that is bared is proportional with the backwardness of the people. They seem to forget that the whole concept of clothing came not from modesty, but from the need of defense from the elements especially cold, when started to migrate from Africa. Modesty didn’t come until very, very recently.

A typical example would be of the aid worker that goes to the southwest of Ethiopia. When leaving from Addis Ababa, he’s starting from 2,355 meters above sea level. He’s dressed for the cold at that altitude. When he ends his trip he’s somewhere around a couple of hundred meters. Now, the main reason he was sent there was to teach the natives about wearing clothes; after all its taboo in the ‘civilized’ world to bare one’s body. As he’s being led into the village he asks the local why they do not dress or cover up. The local turns around, laughs at him and says “You’re the one that looks the fool. You are so uncomfortable in your clothes that you’re dying to take it all off.” The aid worker got rid of his clothes.

Another thing is thinking that the locals are just uneducated and hence stupid. If a person hasn’t completed the mandatory 12 years of schooling and or some college courses doesn’t mean he’s not life-savvy. Au contraire, he’s living in conditions that would actually kill most people. He’s adapted to whatever lifestyle and is actually happy with it. His senses of contentment and tranquility have been fulfilled 100%. So what gives an outsider, let alone a foreigner, the right to think he’s miserable and hence needs saving. It’s so fascinating to look at tourists arriving at the remotest part of Ethiopia and seeing the villagers for the first time. A local tour guide says it all;”They are so shocked by what they see. Their expressions are first of amazement, amazement at how little these people have. Then it slowly changes to shock as they realize that all their problems, all their headaches at home, REALLY don’t matter. That all the stress they go through daily is REALLY not necessary. In this material world they realize that it’s actually the one with least who is happiest.”

Take the aid agency that wanted to bring modern day education into a village. They chose children from the village and took them to be ‘educated.’ That being formal education. They spent their childhood and youth in schools. After completing high school they found that there were no options of employment open for them. When they tried to go back to their villages they found that they had lost precious time where they should have been learning skills like hunting, cattle rearing, martial arts and getting married to start a family. These children were lost to two worlds, for the sake of ‘civilization.’

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Ethiopian Customer Service is LOUSY…Why?

Ethiopians are known for their hospitality. Ethiopians are a kind, giving and sharing people. No matter how destitute an Ethiopian may be, no one turns away from a person that is worse off. That helping hand is given with great joy and a sense of obligation to God and man. That’s one reason. The other is that since nothing is guaranteed in a third world country, one does it to cover the base in case fortune looks away and the one on top suddenly finds the base very close.

Now what is really amazing is, when Ethiopians are asked to give that same helping hand behind a desk or wearing a uniform and getting paid for it, it just all becomes a different story. Once the novelty of a new job wears off the service goes downhill. It is a well known fact that to get the best food and service in Addis Ababa, the best bet would be to go to a restaurant or café that has just recently opened its doors. They will be good for at least a couple of months. The service is quick, the quality is at its best and all amenities are at tip-top levels. If there are any deficiencies in customer care and handling they are honest errors or things that were never intended to be there in the first place.

But then again, there are some customers that just ruin it for us. These people are the ones that the service-providers most often see and are hard to forget. They come out of nowhere, turn everything upside down, inside out and topsy-turvy and like a hurricane leave the mess and debris for the rest of us regulars to deal with.

These service-nightmares dampen the atmosphere for the rest of us. You might be one of them if you can identify with any of the following people or their thinking:

-The flashier you are, the better service you get: mesmerize them with car keys, jewelry, perfume and a top of the line cell phone. Doors will open where you never expected them. If you are better dressed than the person next to you, you’ll get preferential treatments.

-The louder you are, the better: speak loudly, whether to the person sitting next to you or an imaginary person on your flashy phone. It helps to mention a business deal that involves at least a million birr’s worth. Make sure the waiter is around. He’ll spread the news. Be as obnoxious as possible, you’ll get served quicker either because they are impressed or because they want to get rid of you.

-If there’s a queue, try to jump to the head of it: if you’re brazen enough to jump ahead of a few people, then it means you are an important person and your business is more important than the others’ waiting patiently.

-Treat them like they are little people: if you can look down at them, boss them around like they are not important. After all you are. Belittle them in small ways; take shots at them with petty jokes. Keep grinding away at their security and dignity, and when they are in their place, ask exactly what you want.

-Leave more than 60% as tip: this is a two bladed dagger. First you make sure that the waiter never forgets you, and like Pavlov with his dog he’ll be waiting with a watering mouth for the next visit. Second you ruin it for the rest of us, since we know that we would never give that much when he certainly didn’t deserve it.

-Ask for service that is not available or prohibited: ask to smoke in a non-smoking café. Send the waiter out to get the cigarettes, the other customers can wait. In a no-dance night spot, dance any ways. Park right in front of the entrance, when there is no parking space; People can squeeze by, and the probability of an emergency requiring a fast exit is very low. After all you’re the most important person in there. Go to remote villages and ask the whole village to perform rituals that are respected and are done on sacred occasions so you can get a YouTube video with snide remarks about ‘these savages.’ In fact throw the little money that you have knowing that it’s more than they will see in a long while. Corrupt the people into your ways, after all money is your god; preach it.

Globalization has their benefit, which is undeniable. But when it is misused it can be an uncontrollable monster than can never be stopped. Already old traditions and values are being lost. Ethiopians who have left and returned cannot believe how much we have changed. I pray that we learn to hold on despite everything.
And to my people:

“…don’t gain the world and lose your soul,
Wisdom is better than silver and gold…”

Bob Marley, “Zion Train

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Bruce Parry…an Ethiopian son

Sadly, the image that comes to the mind of many people when they hear of the word ‘Ethiopia’ is a very dark one. And even if they have been to Ethiopia, some people go back with images in their heads from what they’ve seen but not understood.

Enter Bruce Parry – ‘explorer and expedition leader.’ Bruce is an ex-Royal Marine, among many other things. But the documentary series ‘Tribe’ that he produced is, by far, the work he’ll always be remembered for. The documentary is about how Bruce travels to the remotest parts of the world, including the eastern and south eastern part of Ethiopia, seeks the most isolated people living there and how he becomes ‘one of the Tribe.’ He stays for one month amongst them eating, drinking, dressing, hunting (sometimes being hunted) with the people. For once, here’s an honest outlook from an honest and humble man.

In the series Bruce visits four tribes in Ethiopia: the Mursi, the Dasenech, the Hamer and the Nyangatom. The videos show the way Bruce won the hearts of the young, the old and all in between. From chiefs to toddlers they all fall in love with him and he is very touched and at times surprised by the amount of love and respect that comes from the humblest abode. Some issues that really need kudos:

- Although Bruce is a physical education man from one of the best trained and toughest armies in the world, he bows down and is thrown around by the warriors. The respect and honour he shows the young warriors is commendable.

- Again, coming from a military background it’s very funny to see him fidgeting with an AK-47 and the locals commenting “he doesn’t know much about guns.”

- It really takes a great deal of courage to run around naked with body parts swinging left, right and all over, especially when there’s a camera that’s going to show it to the whole world.

- Especially endearing is the way he eats what the locals eat, with gusto, and gives an honest opinion. From the pancakes finger –fed to him, which was delicious, to the local beer that tasted like ‘paint-stripper.’

- While the whole world thinks of Ethiopia as a war-torn, famine-ravaged cess-pit, Bruce could see that these people were forced to fight to protect their livelihood, he brings all the ‘chaos’ that any other tourist would see into a pin-pointed perspective: at the risk of being painted as savages, these people have to fight to live. He saw deep inside them and found the beautiful part of them. Another example would be the whipping of female relatives of a person who is having his initiation ceremony. Again to the average outsider what would appear as pure abuse or cruelty, he got to the core of how that simple show of faith and love would be translated later and would be paid back with love and care.

Drinking blood, hunting crocs, eating the ickiest part of an animal and enduring some of the most embarrassing situations like a true Ethiopian in the end open the door to Bruce being adopted by many people as their son over and over again.

This is a DVD collection worth keeping and watching over and over again. On behalf of Ethiopia and Ethiopians this author bows low and says ‘Bravo! And thank you!’

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Michael Jackson, Ethiopia and Ethiopians...

Michael Jackson has passed away. If there is any person that isn't feeling pain, then they must have not heard about it.
This generation of Ethiopians will feel the loss of what was the image of grandness. Ethiopians will never forget "We are the world." No Ethiopian grew without trying to moonwalk. The zippered jacket were once a fad that wny child would kill to get. His music was on every teenager's lips.
We will miss you. May you rest in peace, Michael. Deepest and heartfelt condolences to your family.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

You MUST be an Ethiopian if…

1. You drive straddling two lanes. To most Ethiopians, the lines that are drawn on roads are either for decoration or just by employees of the Ministry of Transport having fun.

2. You think you’re worth more if you buy an expensive cell phone. This is even amazing since the most you can do with your cell phone is talk and send text messages. Only a few months back was 3G even started. The cell phone costing 350 ETB sometimes out-performs one that costs 3000 ETB.

3. You live in a hovel that charges 100 birr rent and park this year’s BMW outside. Many Ethiopians seem to have their priority wires in a tangle.

4. You are embarrassed to put on your seat belt while driving, but flaunt your thing as you pee in the streets. Many drivers in Ethiopia prefer not to wear seatbelts stating that people would call them show offs. But those same people would forget about people’s opinions when they had to go number one in public.

5. Pronounce ‘the’ as ‘ZE’, spell ‘welcome’ as ‘WELL COME’, forget how to spell words with the ‘e’ at the end and add it when not required. Examples would be “Well Come to Peac Hotele.”

6. You can spell your name, and have documents to prove it, in at least 5 different ways. Example: Biruk, Bruck, Birook, Brook, Beruk, Berook …

7. You open a new business and name it after the city you used to live in while you were in the United States. Addis Ababa is full of cafes, hair salons, hotels and other businesses with names of US states or cities. It wouldn’t be safe to mention them here.

8. You, while in Ethiopia will spend tens, sometimes hundreds, of thousands of birr to get out and once out whine about how you’d rather be back home…

9. …and when you DO eventually come back home you brag about how good you had it in the west.

10. You kiss up to anyone that is better dressed than you, drives this year’s BMW and owns the cell phone in number two. It’s a sad fact that customer service givers, from guard to the highest manager will judge you by what you’re wearing. I’d really recommend that if you were having a bad hair day, were tinkering with your car’s oily and greasy parts and were wearing cutoffs, scraped boots and a filthy cap… you’d better change all of it before you answered that door bell. Whomever you might meet my ask you to go get the master of the house.

11. You can’t tell the difference between New Zealand and Netherlands. It was really embarrassing when a newscaster reading the news couldn’t make out which country was being mentioned, she decided to play it safe…so she said that the news was from, this is not a joke, “Newzerland.” EDIT: On the news on 19/06/2009 the commentator read news from "Swizland." It's not clear if Switzerland or Swaziland was the intended country.

12. You would rather dehydrate, sweat and stink up a storm, on a hot day, in a crowded car or bus, than to open a window, because you think the draft would kill you…

13. …and if at home, you still believe the old wives’ tale that the draft from two opened doors will make you sick. From the way some Ethiopians react when a window whether at home or in a car is cracked, you’d think it were bullets coming in rather than plain air. It would have been tolerable if the person asking that the offending window be shut were reasonably clean and had remembered to wash his feet this month or change socks since last week.

14. You cannot see the irony in drinking, eating and fornicating sinfully for the few days before Lent and thinking that you will make up for it all during the following 40 days. Two or three days before the fasting begins people go crazy bar-hopping till all crazy hours. They stuff themselves with all the food they can get their hands on.’ Sex and the City’ is really on! When asked, Ethiopians tend to say that it is to keep them stronger during the fasting, to help them make it through and to lessen the temptation. Isn’t this all against the Passion of Christ? Isn’t the whole idea of fasting to weaken one’s self and to fight the temptation…? Why bother if one is packing and storing for the ‘long haul’?

15. You think some job is below you while in Ethiopia, but would beg and grovel to do it in the US or Europe, but still not tell your family or anyone who knows you back home what it is exactly you do. You create fancy job titles like ‘Sanitation Engineer’ when you’re a plain old janitor. You say you work for ‘a large American company that has over 31,000 branches.’ You don’t exactly hint it but encourage people to think that you’re a shareholder in that company. It is a sad day when people find out you only work at McDonalds and the only share you hold is your share of the scoop… the fries scoop that is.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Damn… These Ethiopians fly high!

Famous Ethiopians , to a non-Ethiopian, would highly be personalities like H.I.M. Hailesellasie I, Abebe Bikila, Emperors Tewodros and Menilik II, Haile Gebresellasie, Kenenisa Bekele, the Dibaba sisters and Meseret Defar. There are thousands and thousands more Ethiopians worth mentioning but below are the ones that held, to me, the torch a little higher but aren't as famous because they didn't get the right media coverage. Links are provided at the end for further reference.

1. Selam – Ethiopia’s earliest citizen. While many people may have heard of her famous distant cousin Lucy a.k.a Dinkinesh, Selam (Australopithecus afarensis) was discovered in Ethiopia in 2006 (which incidentally was Ethiopia’s New Millenium) by DR. Zeresenay Alemseged.

2. Kaldi – Ethiopia is the home of coffee. And a young goat herder called Kaldi is credited with the discovery, after he saw his goats dancing. He deduced that it must have had something to do with their eating from the coffee tree.

3. Etegue (Empress) Taytu Bitul – was the wife of Emperor Menilik II. While she was a strict ruler in her own sense, and had a big say in the day-to-day running of the Empire, she was also known for her love of nature. She discovered the site for the foundation of the capital city and named it "Addis Ababa" (New Flower). She was also the one that identified the mistranslation done on purpose by the Italians which would have made Ethiopia a colony of Italy. The most amazing fact is, she led an army and fought the Italians alongside her husband. That makes her the only black Empress to have defeated a modern army – at the battle of Adowa.

4. Wro. Asegedech Asefa - Is the first African woman to pilot an Airplane in or around 1962. When most of Africa was still getting used to the buzz of aircraft Wro. (Amharic for Mrs.) Asegedech had learnt to fly, and gotten her license after joining a civilians club that was run by Ethiopian Airlines.

5. Captain Alemayehu Abebe - the first African commercial jet pilot and the first African to command a commercial jetliner across the Atlantic. He was Ethiopian Airlines’ first Ehiopian pilot after getting his command in 1957.

6. Dr. Aklilu Lemma – winner of The Right Livelihood Award (1989) with Dr. Legesse W/Yohannes for the discovery of the preventive for schistosomiasis (bilharzia). Bilharzia is a disease that is uses the snail as a vector before passing on to human beings. It was Dr. Aklilu’s research that found a way to break the cycle, he used a plant that grew near the rivers – the Sarcoca plant (‘Endod’ in Amharic).

7. Engineer Kitaw Ejigu – was a prominent engineer and scientist that worked for NASA, Rockwell International and Boeing. He was Africa’s only and one of the world’s most renowned aerospace scientists.

8. Captain Aster Tolossa – Is an Ethiopian Air Force pilot. She is the only female pilot to have shot down an enemy aircraft in air to air combat in the jet age. She shot down a MIG-29 from her SU-27 during the Ethio-Eritrean war. The irony is that the pilot flying the Eritrean MIG was her former flight-school instructor, a Russian, flying for the Eritreans.

9. Dr. Belay Abegaz – a Pediatric Cardiologist, is the founder and current Board Chairman of the Children’s Heart Fund which opened a Cardiac Center in Ethiopia for treatment of children with heart diseases. He has made it possible for Ethiopians and the rest of Africa to be treated without having to travel half across the world at exorbitant prices.

10. Dr. Zeresenay Alemseged – discoverer of Selam (Australopithecus - look at number 1) he is the curator and chair of Anthropology at the California Academy of Sciences.

Many more unsung heroes will be added in later blogs. Comments and corrections are highly appreciated.


Monday, June 1, 2009

Ethiopia … you can’t love it not.

Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world. This makes most people think that it is the worst place one could choose to live in. The images that come to many people are not really of people in frivolous joy and jamboree. Au contraire, it wouldn’t be too bold a statement if one said that most people would think that all Ethiopians want to be anywhere but in Ethiopia.

Most Ethiopians in other countries are amazed when they are in conversations about their homelands. They are even expected to denounce the life and people they left behind. If there is one thing that all Ethiopians agree on it is that Ethiopia is a land to be cherished and loved. Even in its darkest hours Ethiopians have kept hope burning next to the longing and desire to be back. In every country that an Ethiopian has gone, there’s always an exclusive society where he or she meets to just listen to the language spoken. They somehow manage to find the one place in hundreds of kilometers where ‘injera’ (traditional Ethiopian bread) is sold. With the choice of hundreds of beers they still prefer a cold St. George.

Why do we love our country so? No matter how long a paper is, or how long it might take to complete, it cannot even start to say what an Ethiopian feels when he or she thinks of his motherland. It’s the fierce pride one sees on the face of an Ethiopian. It’s the automatic skip of the heartbeat all Ethiopians experience whenever there’s a Green-Gold-Red banner flying. It’s that instinctive looking and knowing an Ethiopian from a distance of 50 meters in a crowded park. It’s those and a million other things that add up to define Ethiopians. Here’s a list of some of the tip of the tip of the iceberg:

- Women: beautiful. All that needs to be said. They are head turners from the jungles in the west to the boardwalks of the fashion centers in the world.

- Men: proud, down to earth and humble. But not when they go to war.

- Weather: Ethiopia is blessed with a year round weather that can meet anyone’s wish. From the cold in Addis Ababa to the dry heat of Afar to the sweltering humidity of Gambella.

- History: Three thousand years of documented history. Ethiopia has existed since 980 BC. And this blog can never even start to tell the glories of the country.

- Tolerance: There are more than 80 nations and nationalities living within the border. Compared to what has happened in some countries there hasn’t been any major problem. Minor skirmishes are fueled and aired as big wars by people trying to take advantage of it. Ethiopians might joke about one’s creed, (the Gurage being money minded, the Oromo a pastoralist in love with his stock, the Amhara too proud even when his luck has turned for the worse, the Tigrayan technical minded person obsessed with trucks and garages etc.) but bottom line is all laugh and move on.

- Culture and Heritage: the culture is as diverse as each nationality within the borders. Ethiopia holds the record for having the most UNESCO World Heritage sites. Not many people know or want to believe that.

- Religion: same applies to religion. Ethiopia is a country where Christians and Muslims live together peacefully. It’s no big deal if there is intermarriage. In fact it’s very common in some parts of the north. Another thing is that Ethiopians are a God-fearing people. Common greetings go like “Endmin aderachi’hu?” (Good morning [pl.]) the answer: “Egziabher yimesgen!” (Thanks to the God.)

- Hope: this can be mentioned with the point above; Ethiopians tend to think that whatever happens does so for a reason. Even a beggar lying in the street will answer “Egziabher yimesgen!” to morning salutations. If patience is a virtue – Ethiopians are saints with no wings.

- Compassion: Although this is slowly being eroded as modernization takes over, it’s still very much alive. People involve each other in their daily lives. The sick are taken care of communally when there is no hospital in the whole region, no man is turned away if he comes knocking at the door asking for help. A real life story is when this author’s neighbor’s house caught fire. It took the fire brigade twenty minutes to reach the place, but the whole neighborhood had put the fire out in under 20 minutes. The firemen just checked that there weren’t any forgotten spots.

- Family and community: The one thing and Ethiopian parents are guaranteed is respect from their offsprings. That is all changed when the families have to migrate. In countries where children’s right borders on spoiling them rotten Ethiopian parents nearly have nervous breakdowns. A mere spanking could result in a showdown with the law, especially if the four year old is 911-savvy. This leads to mistrust, confusion and a breakdown of the traditional Ethiopian family. A rift is created between the traditional elders and the modern youngsters. And that is sad especially when the people come from a country where a mother is almost revered. If an Ethiopian swears ‘Enate timut!’ (May my mother die!), then there is a 98% chance that he or she is telling the truth, the 2% are more likely to be orphans.

- Coffee: Ethiopians love coffee. It’s the ceremony, the women preparing it, the way they do it that adds to the aromatic organic flavor. And coffee came from Ethiopia.

- Food: Q - “Have you ever tasted Ethiopian food?” A – “Neither have they!” goes a joke which just shows how uninformed the world is about traditional Ethiopian food. The best dish is the ‘Doro Wot’ (Chicken Stew). It takes hours to prepare once done, it’s just plain heavenly. And anyone who makes fun of Ethiopian food truly ignorant. Whether kitfo, ye beg wot, tibs, zilzil tibs, shiro, kocho and ayb or any of the hundreds of dishes available from all parts of the country they just leave the taste buds tingling.

We may appear as a miserable, mangy and dusty lot. But it’s these and more that have made the world cast an evil eye towards Ethiopia for centuries. And it’s these and more secrets that Ethiopians have died for not to give up.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Ethiopia’s inflation falls to 23.7%. So what?

Many people would think that Ethiopia and economy are not exactly two words that complement each other. There are many people who still think that we are a nation of beggars with dusty bowls. What was started by Jonathan Dimbleby in 1973, and sealed with ‘We are the world’ concert in the 80’s, forever burnt the images of the poor drought-hit people as the description of Ethiopia and Ethiopians. While it is undeniable millions of lives were saved, and that Ethiopia and Ethiopians will always be thankful, these images made Ethiopia the definition of drought, hunger and famine. More than two decades later people still think that we are dying of hunger.

As of 2009 the Ethiopian economy has been growing at a rate that would make any nation proud. For the past five years the economy has grown by an amazing 10+%. Although the world economic crisis has hit the world, it will continue to grow better than most of many of the world’s countries. This doesn’t mean there weren’t and still aren’t any problems along the way. The inflation rate alone was a staggering 64% in mid-2008 and is reported to have fallen to 23.7% in April of 2009.

So what exactly does it mean to us Ethiopians? Let’s start by defining inflation itself. Inflation is “the rise of price of goods and services in an economy measured over a period of time (usually annually).” In Ethiopia it would mean it was, mainly, the measurement of the amount we pay to buy a quintal of teff today, compared to the amount on the same day last year. While economists cannot agree on what exactly causes inflation, the two main types of inflations by cause are:

· Demand-Pull Inflation: this is caused when the supply can meet the demand. It can be put as “too much money chasing too few goods.”

· Cost-Push Inflation: this is caused when the manufacturer has to increase the price of the goods or services produced because the costs have gone up.

It can be safely assumed that the first one was the type of inflation that hit Ethiopia. The increase of the price of petroleum, the economic crisis that followed - which weakened Ethiopia’s export business, and in turn starving the government of badly needed foreign currencies added up to create a shortage in goods and services. This happened because the Ethiopian economy is mainly agrarian and the majority of goods are imported.

Although inflation is not always a bad thing, since a little inflation is expected when an economy grows, it needs to be reined in before going out of control. This can be done by either limiting the amount of money circulating in the country or giving breaks (e.g. reduced tax) to the producers to reduce their costs.

Now that we have cleared all that up, let’s go to the 23.7% that is being talked about here in Ethiopia. What does it really mean to us? People are asking where the inflation has been curbed, let alone beaten back, since the prices of common commodities like teff are still at the highest they were last year. (In the case of teff – 1,000 birr/quintal.)

Let us consider the following facts:

· First off Ethiopians are forgetting that their some of their compatriots, especially the ones in the trading business, are notorious for hiking prices … and staying there no matter how low their cost goes. In a word they are greedy! A few months ago rumours that there was a shortage in salt launched the prices to around 300% in one day! It was said at the time that the rumours were spread by traders who dealt in salt. Now, these same traders will have to be assuaged, either willingly or by force, to reasonably reduce their prices. People can help out by refusing to buy stuff at the inflated prices.

· Next we should remember that the price standing still is another indicator of a controlled inflation. If the price is neither rising nor falling it implies that inflation is in control. While this may be good for a relatively brief moment of time, it is a dangerous indicator of the stagnation of the economy which will obviously lead to an economic collapse. (Think of the economy during the Dergue era.)

· Next (although had no hand in this, and was rather lucky) the fact that the price of petroleum has hit rock-bottom has impacted the prices of other imported goods, despite the fact that the government has a shortage of foreign currency and has suspended the issuing of Letters of Credit (LC) for almost all importers. What gets through is at a lower price than should be had the petroleum prices remained at those dizzying heights.

· Finally we should remember that the results cannot be seen immediately; at least not within one month – the news was told in April. We will need a minimum of two months for the difference to be felt and the impact to spread. This it because the confidence in the money one is holding actually raises its value. For example, if Mr. “A” were told that the commodity “B”, having a current price of 10 birr, would be sold for 20 birr in two days time he would feel that the 10 birr he has in his pocket were devalued by half. The opposite holds true too. Confidence will grow once it is known that it is no longer necessary to buy the commodities at the inflated prices.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

So what does it feel like being an Ethiopian?

Ask any non-Ethiopian what they think about Ethiopia and the answer will be a really grim one. The images of the 80’s are still burnt into many people’s minds. Images of war, famine and drought are really very hard to forget. You can add a guilt trip to it if you are the sensitive sort. These images are in fact so deeply ingrained that even the current generation thinks of Ethiopia as a desert land where nothing grows. The media doesn’t exactly help either.

So what’s the truth? What does it feel like being a national of a country that is so misrepresented globally? Yes, we are misrepresented, bear with me:

Let us have a look at the economy. While it is true that Ethiopia is still a developing nation, it has been registering an average of 10% growth rate for the past six years. With the current economic crisis rocking the globe, Ethiopia is still expected to grow with a two-digit figure. This has created a people in Ethiopia, for the first time in at least two generations that have faith in the economy in Ethiopia. (Emperor Hailesellasie’s rule was mostly centered on feudalism and couldn’t bring a large impact on the overall growth of the people as land was owned by the very few elite. Mengistu Hailemariam’s Dergue reign was one of constant war, and this drained the economy more than ever. ) And this renewed faith in turn is fueling the economy as the young realize that they can get whatever they want by simply going out and working.

Entrepreneurship has taken over the minds of the young like new fad, and the streets of Addis are filled with those just setting out in their first ventures while the radio and TV programmes tell of those who own hundreds of thousands yet started out with a capital of a few borrowed hundred birrs.

Ethiopians are known for their fierce patriotism. But the need for better economic security has been taking away the crème de la crème of the badly needed intelligentsia. It was a very unnerving trivia to know that there are “more Ethiopian doctors in Chicago than there are in Ethiopia”. Many Ethiopians have had to swallow their pride and give their passports up for the sake of the same security. Some have even not been able to be buried in their own soil. Until now, that is.

It might be the economic hardships that have hit the whole world, it might be mystic attraction that Ethiopia holds over all Ethiopians or it might be a chance vacation that showed the stark reality that shocked the minds that were brainwashed into horrible images of dark despair or it might all and more, but one fact remains true: Ethiopians are returning home. And they are reaping the rewards of their choices. One can actually see day by day changes in the way a returnee carries his body. Slowly as the laid back life takes over the harum-scarum of the west, as they relax among familiar surroundings, as the security of being a citizen in one’s own country starts to seep through his body stand more and more erect each day.

An amazing fact is that Ethiopians will sell all they own to get a visa to the developed world … only to become a best customers at an Ethiopian restaurant. If they could they would only drink St. George beer and have at least two meals with injera in it per day. They try to fill the emptiness that Ethiopia becomes to them with Ethiopian beer and food.

The world sees Ethiopia as hell on earth. The world also thinks that their country is the best in the whole world. Well, so do Ethiopians. The worst thing that can happen, and does, to an Ethiopian is to be alone for any amount of time. In Ethiopia the social structure stands as a safety net to catch and bounce back any member that has fallen on bad times. The main cause of Ethiopian suicides is not being able to get used to the unattached, sterile and uncaring lives that most Europeans and Americans live in. Although better off than other immigrants, since every family has at least one relative abroad, the few exceptions, that are out there alone, have a higher chance of becoming depressed and committing suicide. Beggars in Ethiopia are sometimes richer than the person offering the alms because it is an ingrained Ethiopian custom to help any one less fortunate than oneself. On holidays and feasts, the beggars make a killing by just sitting outside a church and laying out a handkerchief on the ground. They don’t even have to ask for it! People are actually happier in when they are in this poor country than when they are in the richest nations, a concept people in the developed world find hard to believe.

The beauty of the people especially the petite women needs a whole new blog to itself. But it is enough to mention that this beauty itself creates an immense pride in Ethiopians. A pride so immense, in fact, that it appears as contempt and racism to non-Ethiopians. It is a kind of beauty that people of all races seem to agree on. Although there are more than 80 nation and nationalities within the border, all appear to have formed into this beauty that comes from within. The women in the South West although darker have the most beautiful women one will ever see; nothing need be said about the Oromo women because they have been known to win most beauty pageants. The women in the east have this Arabic/Asiatic look that steals the soul. The women in the north, both east and west are gracefully carved. And the most beautiful thing is no matter where these women come from anyone, including foreigners, can tell they are Ethiopians. And we get to be called racists?

Any running event is watched with 70+ million breaths held and hearts beating fast. When a singing icon died recently, the whole nation grieved. Much more can be said about the warmth that exists between Ethiopians. They may scream, fight and snap at each other on the most trivial thing, but when it comes to ‘Ethiopianness’ or Ethiopia any outsider faces one united front with a heavy fist, as history has shown again and again.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Are Ethiopians really racists?

Type in ‘Ethiopia’ and ‘racism’ in your favourite search engine and the results will show Ethiopians as perpetrators rather than victims of the crime. This accusation is very popular around the world and especially amongst our fellow Africans.

The remark most often heard is that we deny we are ‘blacks’ or hate being called ‘Africans’. Then there is the one that goes about how we ‘look down’ at other Africans and African-Americans. Also some mention how Ethiopian girls or women refuse to date non-Ethiopian men.

Now, if one were to put these accusations to any Ethiopian, the answer would be a big denial or that they didn’t know what one was talking about. Because that’s just it, it’s not true. Let’s see why

It all starts at home, from birth. Ethiopians are a very traditional people. Children are still smacked if they make mistakes, parents are respected; and in some parts they are worshipped. It is unthinkable to go against the wish of a parent, especially the father. This tight family structure shapes individuals who draw a line between family and the rest of society. It holds us back at times because we grow up with the thought that our wants or needs come secondary to those of our parents. When this life structure is taken out of the home, the parents are replaced by other parents or the elders of the society around or far from us. It is called ‘yilugnta,’ Amharic for self-consciousness. It can be said that an Ethiopian would rather die than be caught doing something that the society frowns on. This creates an introvert and when the time comes to fly the nest that person has a rather cool, reserved, sometimes shy outlook towards other people and life in general.

This makes Ethiopians are a very gentle, reserved and polite people. Most of the things that appear to be normal in other cultures are ‘n’ewr’ or shameful to us. Talking loudly, starting conversations with strangers (unless it’s the opposite sex which of course is a totally different matter – [and even then a woman would never take the first step]); simple things like eating or spitting in public are considered vulgar and rude.

Anyone can imagine the culture shock an Ethiopian must face when thrown right in the middle of one of these cultures. This shock in turn makes an Ethiopian want to seek and find the norms he or she was used to. That is why many major cities, especially in the United States, have large communities of Ethiopians. They are mostly for support and the members of the communities draw strength, courage and to some extent find an anchor where they feel like home. This image, just the thought of it, could make an outsider think that it’s an exclusive, or in other words “racist”, when the outsiders feel the invisible yet impassable barrier.

The images of African Americans that most Ethiopians have are those of gangstas and/or rappers from video clips and movies. While the youth here copy the low-slung jeans, straight brimmed caps and cool dance steps in the clubs around Addis, they feel uncomfortable with actually being in a gang and identifying with African Americans and their ideologies of sex and violence when they actually come to America. This is the opposite of what was mentioned above. An Ethiopian would feel ill at ease in the African American community because of the images he or she has of them as gangstas.

Finally, African Americans, for the most part, do not know which part of Africa, let alone the exact country they came from. While it can be safely assumed that their ancestors came from the West, Central and South Western parts of Africa, no exact country can be named or known. When asked their roots their answer would be that they are “African”. But any recent migrant from Africa would say he is from Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Africa or Morocco first and then if needed add that he was from Africa second. But since Ethiopians have this intense passionate love for our country, 100% of the time they will say they are from “Ethiopia.” Only an Ethiopian knows the love he or she has for Ethiopia. Our not saying “Africa” unless asked where Ethiopia is, since we assume that everyone knows Ethiopia is in Africa, can sometimes be taken as denial by omission. This is compounds the problem, but if any Ethiopian is asked he or she could not deny the fact that we are Africans. After all, Pan-Africanism came to life in Ethiopia.

One point that can be added is the ‘reverse-racism’ that whites experience when they come to Ethiopia. Ethiopia has the proud history of not being colonized. Before that Ethiopia existed for thousands of years with barely any contact with the outside world. These two, among many other reasons, added together have made Ethiopians indifferent to foreigners of any colour. There is no white-reverence in Ethiopia, and when foreigners especially whites come here, it shocks them that they are treated almost like any other Ethiopian. The shock is double if they have been to other African countries.

So, are Ethiopians really racist? … No! We are just a misunderstood, cultural and traditional people.


Monday, April 13, 2009

Do we really need the U.N.?

The first thought that comes to my mind whenever the genocide in Rwanda is mentioned is that of the UN doing nothing. A peacekeeping force not keeping the peace is something I can understand, but not accept, in these times of bureaucracy and corruption, but to think of a human being looking the other way when his brothers and sisters are hacked with machetes is beyond words. Soldiers with their hearts and souls so corrupted and serving in a mediation role are just not something I can swallow.

That wasn’t the only time the U.N. did nothing when it was needed. There are conflicts that could have been avoided, but weren’t because the UN Security Council’s mandate didn’t allow a specific task to be done, although any man in the field could see and decide what needed to be done. But then again, one has to be there to do that; the U.N. had withdrawn after 10 peacekeepers were killed in the case of Rwanda. Hightailing it out at the first signs of casualty is not a very good policy, especially when soldiers, though they may be peacekeepers, in war-zones are involved. There’s something wrong with the picture of a soldiers stopping work because of casualty.

Failures in peacekeeping also happened in Bosnia and Somalia. In Bosnia, while the Serbs killed and raped Muslims and Croats the U.N. was assigned to report on ‘artillery fired’ and counting the dead. Some of the troops even hung out in sex establishments where the women were captured Muslims or Croats. As if that was not enough there were cases where the UN troops actually helped the Serbs.
Almost all missions have been rife with scandals. The most heard about are the sex scandals. Cases were where the troops were accused of raping minors, asking for sexual favors in return for food and other basic necessities to direct raping of women. Cases were from Haiti, to Cote D’Ivoire and Liberia to name just a few.

The other scandal is the rampant corruption that goes on in every corner of the U.N. The staffs are paid six figure salaries while the people they are hired to help are left out cold and heat of some desolate refugee camp. The U.N. personnel zip around in the latest model four-wheel drive only to end up chasing women in the nightclubs that are very much in the center of the capital while a mother holds a dying child in camp so remote if can’t be accessed for lack of transportation. As if that were not enough the personnel traded openly in arms and ammunition, gold and ivory while serving in D.R. Congo.

The U.N. defines peacekeeping as” a way to help countries torn by conflict create conditions for sustainable peace.” As opposed to Peace building:” a term used with the international development community to describe the processes and activities involved in resolving violent conflict and establishing a sustainable peace.” and Peacemaking: “a form of conflict resolution which focuses on establishing equal power relationships that will be robust enough to forestall future conflict, and establishing some means of agreeing on ethical decisions within a community that has previously had conflict.”

When the Ethiopian Government asked for troops to help stabilize Somalia, the UN answered with a “no” stating that there was no “peace to keep” in Somalia. Maybe so, but what are the other phrases “Peace Building” and “Peace Making” used for? Should the question have been rephrased? Does it mean that in the future too there will be no help from the U.N. if the troops can’t party all night long? Will the Orwellian rules not be changed with the changing times and type of conflict? Or does one have to be well versed in the U.N. wordplay?

Do we really need the U.N.?