Who is cardiologist, Dr Fikru Maru, jailed in one of Ethiopia appalling prisons?

[The photo above is associated with the link below, in the body of this article, and comes from a Radio Sweden article written about Dr Fikru Maru.]

This is a plea for signatures for a petition to support Swedish cardiologist, Dr Fikru Maru, who has spent over four years in Ethiopia’s dreadful prison system, and – despite being cleared of all charges recently- remains in prison, now charged with a new crime.

http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/673/281/424/

So who is Dr Fikru Maru and how did he end up in one of Ethiopia’s ungodly prisons?

He is a 66-year-old Ethiopian-born Swedish cardiologist. In his twenties, he trained as a fighter pilot and was a member of the elite Ethiopian air force’s 5th Squadron, serving his country in the Ethiopian-Somalia war of 1977/78, when Somalia invaded Ethiopia.

You can find a group photograph of the young pilot, Fikru Maru, with his fellow squadron pilots, in the following article:

http://warisboring.com/which-is-better-the-f-5e-tiger-ii-or-the-mig-21/

Despite serving his country in the air force, the communist regime turned against many Ethiopians and massacred hundreds of thousands in the so-called “Red Terror.” His two brothers were murdered, and Fikru Maru was also on the genocidal regime’s hit-list, so fled the country in fear of his life, moving to Sweden, where he became a citizen.

In Sweden, he went to medical school and eventually became a cardiologist. For over 35 years he practiced as one of Sweden’s top cardiologists.

In 2006, Dr Fikru helped establish, and was CEO of, a heart hospital in Ethiopia, his country of birth. It was the first specialized heart hospital ever in Ethiopia. He wanted to bring high quality medical care for patients with heart problems to Ethiopia, where it was sorely lacking.

You can go to the following web site for Addis Cardiac Hospital, and click on the “Board of Directors” page, and there you will see a photo of Dr Firku Maru, CEO, happily smiling. But for over four years, he has not been able to smile a true smile, and has had no access to the hospital he helped establish, because he has been suffering under terrible conditions in an Ethiopian prison.

http://www.addiscardiac.com/bod.php

In 2010, his nightmare with Ethiopia’s appalling and flawed legal system began, when he was arrested while trying to bring essential medical supplies, needed for the new heart hospital, through Addis Ababa’s airport. A year later, the charges were dropped, but in 2013 he was re-arrested on a politically motivated charge relating to the previous one.

With delay after delay after delay of his court hearings, and after three years in prison without a conviction, he was convicted and given a 4 year 8 month jail sentence in one of Ethiopia’s crowded, disease-infested prisons.

Then, after four years of suffering in prison, his health deteriorating, in May, 2017 he was cleared of all prior charges!

That means he spent four years in prison for committing no crime!

But, instead of releasing him from prison, the Ethiopian government has now brought new charges against Dr Fikru, accusing him, along with 37 other prisoners, of being involved in a prison fire and revolt, even though he was in hospital with a serious illness, and not even in the prison, on the day of the prison revolt and fire.

Please watch the following video to see how Dr Fikru, whose health is failing, barely gets the chance to hug his daughter. But be prepared to weep!

In the Ethiopian legal system, due to repeated and long delays in court hearings, people can spend years in prison without being convicted of a charge, even cleared after years in jail; and it’s not unusual to see people being cleared of one charge then being charged with a new crime.

There is no due legal process in Ethiopia, because the judiciary is controlled by the ruling political party and its allies, which won every parliamentary seat (547/547) in the last (2015) election, so there is no independent judiciary to defend the constitution fairly.

Swedish doctors and politicians have failed, despite efforts, to convince the Ethiopian government to change its unjust treatment of Dr Fikru. The link below shows the Swedish Prime Minister, Stefan Löfven, with the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn and Ethiopia’s previous Foreign Minister, Dr Tedros Adhanom (now Director General of the WHO).

Yet, the unfortunate cardiologist, Dr Fikru Maru, has been given no mercy, as he suffers  in one of Ethiopia’s squalid and crowded prisons, where he often has to live in a small room with around 100 other prisoners, often without a mattress to sleep on, and at risk for infectious diseases.

Tuberculosis, for example, is a huge problem in Ethiopian prisons, where the disease occurs with up to an nine-fold higher incidence than in the general population.

http://sverigesradio.se/sida/artikel.aspx?programid=2054&artikel=6088289

Tedros with Swedish FM

Sweden’s prime minister (left), in 2015, speaks with Dr Tedros Adhanom (right, middle; then Ethiopia’s foreign minister, now recently elected as WHO Director General) and Ethiopia’s prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn (right, sitting opposite Sweden’s PM).

Many others, including university professors, who have peacefully opposed the government’s political ideology, are suffering a fate similar to that of Dr Fikru. For example, numerous professors at Addis Ababa University were recently dismissed by the University, and have been arrested and jailed, including Dr Merera Gudina, professor and leader of a main opposition party:

Ethiopia: Arrest of opposition leader an outrageous assault on freedom of expression

In the 26 years since the current government took power, little has changed. You can read a terribly sad article about Ethiopia’s distinguished and most famous surgeon, Professor Asrat Woldeyes, so beloved of today’s medical students and doctors:

http://www.ethiopianreview.com/index/390

Educated at Edinburgh University Medical School, he became personal physician of Haile Selassie I, and the first Ethiopian Dean of Medicine at Addis Ababa University. His medical ethics was second-to-none, and he is considered by many to be the finest surgeon in Ethiopia’s history. Yet he was dismissed from Addis Ababa University in 1993 and jailed in 1994 for 5 years because he disagreed politically with the ruling party, the same party that rules today, and formed a more unifying, peaceful opposition party. Professor Asrat became ill after years in a crowded prison, where he was not allowed communication with other prisoners, and was released for medical care only after aggressive international pressure, but he died in 1999 in the USA soon after he was released.

The international community and all good people- medical and otherwise- must speak out for Dr Fikru, therefore, and be his voice. We must speak loudly to get him released from prison after so long, all because he wanted wanted to bring advanced medical heart procedures to his country of birth.

By speaking out for Dr Fikru Maru, you are also speaking out for others who are going through similar adversity.

Please sign the petition, express your horror at the plight of Dr Fikru Maru, and demand that the Ethiopian government release, without delay, this humanitarian cardiologist, and allow him to return to his family in Sweden.

There is no place in prison for a father whose family wants him home, or for a cardiologist who can do so much good to help people suffering from heart disease.

There is no place in a crowded, insanitary prison for a man who simply wanted to help people in the country where he was born.

There is no place in prison for a man who served his country of birth, Ethiopia, in so many ways and, despite fleeing potential assassination, never forgot his fellow Ethiopians and returned to establish a heart hospital and ended up in the nightmare he is living right now. Is this how a country should treat a hero?

Here again is the link to the petition, and thank you for signing and being a voice for the voiceless and oppressed.

http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/673/281/424/

And please, if you can, share this post and the petition far and wide across the internet so that we can get as many signatures as possible.

Please also visit the official #FreeFikru web site:

http://www.freefikru.com/

Addis Ababa’s homeless of the night

img_20170114_051122
Wrapped in plastic covering, a homeless person spends the night sleeping on the street of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

In Ethiopia’s capital (and elsewhere in Ethiopia), homeless people are plentiful. Nobody really knows just how many Ethiopians spend most of their time on the streets, though the number of street children alone is well over 100,000. Wherever you go in Addis Ababa or in other towns in Ethiopia, you will never have any trouble at all finding an abundance of beggars, street children, even whole families, many spending their days and nights trying survive on the streets, and some begging or selling pitiful amounts of items by day and sleeping in what you can barely called homes at night.

I lived in Ethiopia for four years, from 2012 to 2017. The brutal and oppressive regime shot thousands of peaceful protesters, and escalated control of it citizens by killing more protesters, torturing, jailing them, creating a state-of-emergency designed to stifle human rights more strictly, and sending tens of thousands of them to “education camps.”

I left Ethiopia, reluctantly because I loved my job as a professor there, after I saw federal soldiers brutally beating unarmed peaceful students, and was almost shot myself by an out-of-control soldier who screamed at me as he was shaking and pointing his kalashnikov at me. When I criticized the brutality of the regime to my colleagues at Addis Ababa University, I was harassed and forced to resign. But that’s another story.

Prior to that, every Sunday for many months in 2015 and 2016, I would get up early morning and deliver bread and candy to street-bound people in various areas of Addis Ababa. I got to know some of these homeless people almost as friends. Each one has a terribly tragic story to tell, often of neglect of their human rights. I will share some of these stories in future posts.

night-homeless-2      Night homeless 5.jpg

Left, a homeless lady rummages through trash bins at about 4 am. Right, outside a closed-up shop, a homeless person lies beneath a blanket.

Several people told me that many people seen on the streets during the daytime actually had homes to go to at night. So, to see for myself, on several occasions I decided to get up during the night and walk to various areas of Addis to see just how many people there are sleeping on the streets during the night.

I was neither surprised nor shocked to see homeless people in abundance- it was to be expected in a country with a government won all 547/547 parliamentary seats in the most recent (2015) election, by harassing, banning, torturing and murdering opposition members. A ruthless government that silences civil rights and kills, tortures and jails thousands upon thousands of its civilians, with no consideration for human dignity, and no compassion.

The streets were eerie. With little traffic and none of the hustle and bustle of the daytime, silence was the rule. I passed bundle after bundle, each one hiding a well wrapped individual, hopefully kept warm by their plastic wrapping. There were people huddled together and others lying isolated. These were Addis Ababa’s homeless of the night.

I was reluctant to take photos. I felt as if I were an intruder. Normally when I took photos of the poor and homeless, I asked for their permission. But in this case their anonymity was assured by the complete wrapping in which they were enclosed.

Night homeless 6.jpg     night-homeless-3

Eerie bundles of homeless people are to be seen on the streets of Addis.

 

Global Peace Index 2017: Ethiopia suffered the biggest decline of all countries on Earth. Government oppression and peace are incompatible!

The Institute for Economics and Peace has just released its Global Peace Index 2017, a scholarly analysis of the state of world peace, including country by country assessments.

The Global Peace Index is based on three areas associated with peace (or lack of it): Levels of Societal Safety and Security, extent of Ongoing Domestic and International Conflict, and degree of Militarization. It is considered by many scholars to be the best measure of just how peaceful our world and its nations are.

Of 163 countries (and territories) studied, 93 countries had an increase in their Global Peace Index this year, whereas 68 countries had a fall in their Global Peace Index.

You can access and download the Global Peace Index 2017 here:

http://visionofhumanity.org/app/uploads/2017/06/GPI-2017-Report-1.pdf

Sadly, the country with the biggest decline in Global Peace Index worldwide was Ethiopia.

Global peace index 2017 risers and fallers

To quote the report:

“Ethiopia suffered the biggest decline, both in [sub-Saharan Africa] and globally…”

In ranking, Ethiopia fell 16 positions to 134th place out of 163 countries/territories.

According to the report, “Ethiopia’s score has suffered as a result of violent protests that led to a state of emergency giving the government significant powers to crack down on dissidents.”

It goes on to say that “in order to address the turbulent domestic environment,” the Ethiopian government has increased military expenditure.

 

soldier-mexico    IMG_20160907_172734_903

(Dr Frank Ashall, the author of this post, took these two photos in Addis Ababa in 2016.)

The Ethiopian regime practices state terrorism. It has beaten, jailed, tortured, killed thousands upon thousands of civilians during its 26 years of rule. It has denied freedom of speech, freedom of press, stifled human rights, intimidated its citizens, scaring them into silence.

During my four years in Ethiopia, I was shocked by how people fear to talk about politics or to criticize their government.

Even when my friends were in my apartment, most refused to say anything negative about the government, fearing that “there might be spies next door,” listening in on our conversations.

In August 2016, I was walking calmly close to my workplace in Addis Ababa, minding my own business, when suddenly I found myself among a group of peaceful protesters who had been arrested by government forces. I watched- shocked- as two federal soldiers were beating two young, unarmed men (students?) with long leather batons. One young man fell to the ground as the soldier continued to beat him. Two soldiers lifted him off the ground and threw him onto the back of a military truck. One of the soldiers continued to beat him aggressively. The doctor in me wanted to stop what was going on and help the poor victim, but what could I do?- I too was helpless.

Within seconds, an angry soldier came within a few metres of me, screaming at me, pointing and shaking his Kalashnikov automatic rifle at me. For a moment I thought it was going to be the last moment of my life. Fortunately, I held my hands up and retreated.

I was lucky. Tens of thousands of peaceful civilians have been shot dead by the Ethiopian military over the years, yet the ruling party continues to be in power, winning all 547 seats in the last (2015) election by banning, harassing, beating, jailing and killing opposition party members, and putting fear into civilians, silencing their voices.

State oppression and peace in Ethiopia are incompatible. The Ethiopian government tends to blame its civilians or diaspora on the unrest there, calling many of them “terrorists,” but the entire blame is upon the government, which seems to think it can silence and kill its citizens and maintain stability.

The decline in Ethiopia’s Global Peace Index has been precipitated by years of government oppression and intimidation of its people.

 

 

Double-digit growth? Quadruple-digit propaganda! Ethiopia’s top 10 wealthiest people, and Ethiopia’s 87 million poor

 

IMG_20161216_102233     IMG_20170113_164502    IMG_20170118_104412.jpgPhotographs on this page were taken by the author in 2016 and 2017.

As I write this post, eight million and more Ethiopians are experiencing a drought and famine requiring emergency food aid, and it’s getting worse. Last year, at the height of the problems, over 15 million unfortunate Ethiopians were at risk for famine.

Watch this BBC video:

 

This post is about poverty and government oppression in Ethiopia and is from the perspective of my experience as a professor for four years in Ethiopia.

Don’t get me wrong, though. Ethiopia is a beautiful country, with amazing natural beauty and historical and archeological sites, astonishingly beautiful and rich cultural diversity, and so many wonderful people.

And there’s a handful of very nice areas in some of the big cities. I will share my photos of some of these on a happier post.

But wherever people live, extensive areas of poverty are evident, especially in rural areas, where over 80% of Ethiopians live. Even in its capital city, Addis Ababa, poverty abounds, but much of it is hidden from sight by tall trees, and fancy hotels and malls, close to where the poor and homeless beg on the streets, hoping for donations from the few who can afford to frequent those hotels and malls.

IMG_20170107_095826.jpg      IMG_20170113_143932

You will see in the news, and officials of the oppressive Ethiopian government will  smile persuasively, but deceptively, when they tell you that Ethiopia is thriving with a “double-digit” economic growth.

Yet many experts and scholars- and indeed most poor and oppressed citizens there- will explain to you why this claim to double-digit growth is really triple-digit nonsense and quadruple-digit propaganda.

Below are some articles worth reading. The first is written by Professor Alemayehu Mariam, a human rights lawyer and professor at the University of California at San Bernadino, whose knowledge, scholarly and to-the-point opinions and analyses can be relied upon.

http://almariam.com/2017/01/08/the-world-bankliars-in-ethiopia/

http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/africaatlse/2015/12/24/ethiopias-fake-economic-growth-borrows-from-enrons-accounting/

http://www.madote.com/2016/03/ethiopia-double-digit-economic.html

https://stesfamariam.com/2016/03/19/ethiopia-double-digit-economic-growthreality-check/

https://asokoinsight.com/news/is-ethiopia-moving-from-double-digit-growth-narrative-to-collapsing-economy

   Alemi home 16        IMG_20170116_145652

                             IMG_20170113_112350

 

Truth is the best friend of Freedom

“The poorest regions are in Chad, Burkino Faso, Niger, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Nigeria, Uganda and Afghanistan.”

The above quote is taken from Global Multidimensional Poverty Index 2017, a report of the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI). You can download a summary of this report here:

http://www.ophi.org.uk/wp-c…/uploads/B47_Global_MPI_2017.pdf

In fact, of 103 developing countries studied, Ethiopia ranks 101 out of 103 countries. It is the third poorest nation on Earth. Only two countries are poorer, by MPI score, than Ethiopia.

The global MPI is an index based on three “dimensions” of poverty: health, education and living standards, and on ten indications within these, including child mortality, access to nutrition, sanitation, quality drinking water, electricity, and more.

You see, poverty isn’t simply about money. Some governments- including the Ethiopian government- will use indicators such as GDP per capita, but poverty is much more complex than that.

Poverty is about the quality of people’s lives, and how they struggle to survive on a daily basis.

The Global MPI score is a scholarly index that takes these factors into account.

And Ethiopia is doing very poorly. The MPI data for Ethiopia (http://www.dataforall.org/dashboard/ophi/index.php) indicate that:

  • 87 % of Ethiopians are MPI-poor
  • 71 % of Ethiopians live in severe poverty
  • 58 % of Ethiopians are destitute

Even if you look at other methods of assessment of poverty, Ethiopia ranks as one of the poorest countries on the planet, despite what the regime wants you to think. The 2016 Human Development Report of the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), for example, ranks Ethiopia 174 out of 188 countries, using Human Development Index scores:

http://www.hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/2016_human_development_report.pdf

After 26 years of appallingly oppressive rule by the current regime, Ethiopia remains one of the poorest nations on the face of the Earth. The government of Ethiopia, by the way, is dominated by members the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a group that was once classified as a terrorist organization and can be found in the Global Terrorism Database:

https://www.start.umd.edu/gtd/search/Results.aspx?perpetrator=2127

Having lived in Ethiopia for four years, I can, as an eye witness, vouch for the control, fear and intimidation that the regime brings to its citizens, and for the atrocities it continues to inflict upon its own people.

Poor lady   Streetboy          food-run-2016-fasika-4    food-run-old-ladys-home-for-blog

I lived and worked as a professor for four years in Ethiopia and the poverty made me weep with sadness on almost a daily basis. The government presents a rosy image of an “Ethiopian Renaissance,” supporting it with its falsified “double-digit growth,” but it is largely propaganda, and few people can speak out there because they are silenced by fear, oppression and proclamations that stifle free speech and human rights.

In Addis Ababa alone, estimates are that as many as 100,000 children, possibly even more, live on the streets. Add to that the homeless adults and families in Addis and elsewhere, and the number is not known, but it is staggering!

And we haven’t added yet the huge number of people who live on the edge, at risk of losing their basic security at a moment’s notice. When I lived in Ethiopia, I met many people who earned barely enough money to pay their rent and buy basic food, and I saw how precarious their lives were. Loss of a job, a serious illness or accident, loss of a working spouse, for example, can put someone onto the streets at a moment’s notice.

In the countryside, as we speak, severe drought has put millions of poor Ethiopians at risk for famine. As of May, 2017, eight million Ethiopians (and rising) are in need of emergency food aid.

The Ethiopian government, over the past year, has begged for, and received, foreign aid to help its millions at risk for famine. Meanwhile, during last year’s drought, when over 15 million Ethiopians were at risk for famine, the Ethiopian government made a $510 million dollar deal with Japan Tobacco International that will expand tobacco farms, increase cigarette production, and increase smoking rates among its citizens:

https://drfrankashall.wordpress.com/2017/01/31/your-signature-is-a-voice-for-the-oppressed-and-poor-petition-to-stop-expansion-of-tobacco-farms-and-increase-cigarette-consumption-and-smoking-rates-in-ethiopia/

And what is happening to the other billions of dollars that the government should have available to help its poor and hungry? As a professor in a university in Ethiopia for four years, I was shocked at the degree of control of the university by government party-loyalists and the mismanagement, incompetence and corruption that I witnessed. I will write more about this experience on another post, but a recent report by the Ethiopian government itself, states that in federal institutions during the past year, “illegitimate transactions” worth 20 billion birr (US$ 1,000,000,000) were made:

http://allafrica.com/stories/201706061041.html

To quote the above report:

The Auditor General, in its latest report, revealed illegitimate transactions close to 20 billion Br in 158 federal institutions during the past fiscal year – over twice that of the gap seen in 2014/15. This was announced when the Auditor General presented its report of government institutions to the Parliament on May 30, 2017.”

That “stolen” $1,000,000,000 could do so many, many wonderful things for the poor Ethiopians who really need and deserve it!

The madness should make you cry. It is nothing short of evil!

 

$R07THDT    IMG_20161216_102246

 

I would even argue that we should add indices of freedom to the definition of poverty. After all, deprivation of a person’s rights to freedom of speech and expression is surely a type of psychosocial poverty? If that were the case, Ethiopia might well fall to the very bottom of the list.

Freedom House lists Ethiopia as “NOT FREE,” and even trending down in 2017:

https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2017/ethiopia

https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/freedom-world-2017

If people have no freedom to speak out against poverty and its causes, to campaign for a better deal for the poor- if they have no voice because their mouths are glued shut by state oppression- then they will be confined helplessly and hopelessly by the chains and shackles of poverty.

But we’re not finished yet with statistics that forewarn us of impending calamity for the oppressed people of Ethiopia. The Global Peace Index 2017 listed Ethiopia as the country with the greatest decline in peace worldwide, out of 163 countries studied.

https://drfrankashall.wordpress.com/2017/06/05/global-peace-index-2017-ethiopia-suffered-the-biggest-decline-of-all-countries-on-earth-government-oppression-and-peace-are-incompatible/

After 26 years of misrule by their government, largely ignored by the outside world, too many Ethiopians are sick and tired of a deceitful regime that utterly controls them and keeps them gagged, poor and helpless. In the past year, things have come to a head. In October, 2016, the government declared a state-of-emergency, extended the state-of-emergency in March 2017, and uses that state-of emergency to control and silence its people even more.

The wealthiest people in Ethiopia

There are wealthy people in Ethiopia, but there are many, many, many, many more poor people there.

A search of the internet will reveal various sites that name the richest Ethiopians. There are some minor differences, but here is one of them:

http://www.zeethiop.com/the-top-…

The richest person there is said to be businessman, Sheikh Mohammed Al Amoudi; he is worth about $11 billion. Of the others in the top ten wealthiest, according to the above and other sources, at least four are, or were, politicians, including the former First Lady, Azeb Mesfin (worth about $3 billion).

The government receives billions of dollars in foreign aid, and some of that helps corrupt politicians and government officials amass their wealth, while millions of precious citizens live in poverty or on the fence between poverty and very minimal security.

IMG_20170111_095924_2    IMG_20170103_145448

If you ask me, though, who are really the wealthiest people in Ethiopia, I will tell you beyond doubt who they are, because when I lived there I made a point of getting to know some of them and listened to their tragic stories. They are the homeless, and the poor who live on the borderline, many of them rich in humility, spirit and gentleness, who somehow manage to produce the best smiles you ever saw in your life.

And the poorest? The oppressive leaders, shamefully poor in humanity, who silence those who want to speak out for the rights of people, through intimidation and unethical proclamations that make a mockery of the Ethiopian Constitution and stifle human rights.

A New York Times article that speaks volumes about Ethiopia’s regime

I read this New York Times (NYT) article about the tragic and preventable landslide at Addis Ababa’s major trash dump in March, 2017, which killed well over a hundred people, many of them children, and buried many poor homes. I will write a separate post about this disaster later.

The NYT article can be read here:

Reading “between the lines,” of the NYT article, I noticed some very telling passages that speak volumes about what is really going on in Ethiopia.

(1) NYT: “’The government must take responsibility for what happened and come up with a better plan for a sustainable solution for these people,” said Girma Seifu, who was the only opposition member in Parliament until a 2015 election gave the governing coalition every seat.'”

ME: Girma Seifu was the only opposition member (out of 547 parliamentary members) until 2015, when the government did even better and won 547/547 parliamentary seats compared with the 546/547 seats it won in 2010. What does that tell you about the Ethiopian election process?

(2) NYT: “The disaster is at odds with the image Ethiopia wants to project as a rapidly developing country. Addis Ababa, home to the African Union, is a bustling city where new malls, hotels and apartment buildings are constantly being built.”

ME: The malls, hotels and other high rise buildings, along with plentiful trees, hide the multiple extensive areas of Addis where poor people live in mud-based homes. You can go into any one of these high rise buildings and if you can get to the fifth floor or higher and look at the view of Addis, then you will see for yourself the huge extent of the poor districts of Addis. On your way there, take note of the many homeless adults, families and children beneath many of these fancy buildings.

(3) NYT: “The government has been constructing high-rise apartment blocks on the edges of the city to house people at subsidized rates, but critics say those efforts have been plagued by corruption.”

ME: Combine the word “Government” and “Corruption,” and you’ll be close to answering some important questions to some important problems in Ethiopia.

(4) NYT: “A security worker at the site, who did not want to give his name for fear of retribution, said that he thought the death toll could exceed the government’s estimate by hundreds of victims.”

ME: The security worker feared retribution if he criticized the government? His fear, and that of most Ethiopians, says a lot about oppression and abuse of the constitutional right to free speech. It’s in the Ethiopian Constitution, but the government itself doesn’t abide by its own constitution on almost every Article.

Dirty deals between government and big tobacco companies in Ethiopia: Stop expansion of tobacco farms and increased cigarette production and smoking rates in Ethiopia

 

img_20170116_113649
A young impoverished street boy sells various items, including cigarettes, Addis Ababa, January 2017

After reading this article, please consider clicking on the link below, sign the following petition, and share it as widely across the internet as you can to give a voice to Ethiopians whose government-owned tobacco company recently made a $510 million deal with Japan Tobacco International, with the aim of expanding tobacco farms and increasing cigarette production in Ethiopia:

Stop expansion of tobacco farms and increased cigarette production and smokers in Ethiopia!

The planned increase in cigarette production will increase smoking rates in Ethiopia, not the least because Ethiopia’s most commonly smoked brand of cigarette (Nyala) is marketed only to the domestic market, that is to Ethiopians.

Ethiopia’s tobacco company, Ethiopia’s government and Japan Tobacco International are thrilled with the deal; Ethiopians are the victims.

In mid-2016, the Ethiopian government broke WHO FCTC tobacco treaty laws (Article 5.3) by selling 40% of shares of the Ethiopian government-owned tobacco company, National Tobacco Enterprise (NTE), to Japan Tobacco International (JTI), an international tobacco company that prides itself in its investment in “emerging markets,” a euphemism the company uses to include “developing countries.”

You can read on the web sites below (bottom of page) about this unethical and unhealthy deal, and see how officials from Japan Tobacco International, National Tobacco Enterprise and even Ethiopian government ministers attended and were excited and thrilled by this $510 million deal. Here are a few quotes:

Ethiopia will be an important expansion of our geographic footprint in emerging markets.” (Mutsuo Iwai, Executive Vice President of Japan Tobacco International).

We will work with all shareholders to see how we can continue to grow the NTE business and explore opportunities to further strengthen NTE’s brands such as Nyala, as well as the overall distribution and manufacturing capabilities.” (Jorge da Motta, JTI’s Regional President for the Middle East, Near East and Africa region.) Note that Nyala cigarettes are sold exclusively to the domestic market, namely Ethiopians, and are by far the most smoked brand in Ethiopia.

We very much look forward to working with JTI and offer our full support in making this a success for all stakeholders.” (Demitu Hambisa, Ethiopia’s Minister of Public Enterprises.) The missing and neglected “stakeholders” were, of course, Ethiopia’s smokers and the youth who will become smokers. By the way, Demitu Hambisa subsequently became, ironically, Minister for Women and Children!

Incidentally, this was the biggest deal in Ethiopia’s history between a foreign company and an Ethiopian government industry. What a pity it wasn’t a deal with a more healthy and useful industry for one of the poorest countries on Earth!

As a professor, I taught medical students at Addis Ababa University for four years and gave a 10-hour course I created on tobacco issues. Some of these wonderful students were highly inspired and got together to make their campus “smoke-free” by holding a “No Tobacco Day.” When they found out about the JTI-NTE $510 million deal, many of them were disappointed and puzzled with their government’s actions but were afraid to speak out.

National Tobacco Enterprise (NTE), Ethiopia’s government-owned monopoly, states on its website that its “Vision” is: “To be a cigarettes exporter subsequent to the full satisfaction of the national demand.”  Generally speaking, the only people who “demand” cigarettes are those who are addicted to them!

Here’s some information I took from the Ethiopian government’s tobacco (NTE) company’s web site:

https://ethiotobacco.com/en/about-us/company-profile [accessed May 2017]:

NTE for posting

NTE states proudly that it is “diligently working towards a greater market expansion with a vision of exporting cigarettes subsequent to the full satisfaction of domestic demand.” It surely means that, after it has addicted as many Ethiopians as possible, it will then export its cigarettes abroad!

The NTE web site goes on: “Accordingly, due attention is given to the expansion of new tobacco development farms besides upgrading the existing farms with the objective of domestically covering the factory’s tobacco leaf demand.”

Ethiopia does not need expansion of tobacco farms: it needs farms with healthy agriculture to feed its people, many of whom are undernourished or facing famine!

img_20170103_141524

Photo: I took this photo (January, 2017) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, of a child selling cigarettes and chewing gum for her mother. The child told me she was just six years old.

On the one hand, some of tobacco control laws detailed in the WHO FCTC tobacco treaty, which Ethiopia ratified in 2014, have been implemented. For example, smoking in public buildings has been banned and implemented in some big cities. Health warning signs have appeared on the front of the cigarette packs of the major brands of cigarette there, though these meet the bare minimum of covering 30% of the area of the pack.

Other laws in the WHO FCTC treaty are just not being enforced. These include banning the sale of single cigarettes, and sales of cigarettes to, and by, children under 18. You see children selling cigarettes on the streets all over Addis Ababa, for example, and you see children under 18 buying cigarettes. And most street vendors and stores that sell cigarettes sell them as single cigarettes. Taxation on Ethiopian cigarettes is also low- among the lowest globally- and does not meet WHO recommendations that would allow significantly reduced smoking rates.

It seems that the “left hand” of the government does not know what the “right hand” is doing. While WHO FCTC laws were made official, and a handful enforced, the government was, at the same time, negotiating the $510 million deal with Japan Tobacco International, aomed at increasing smoking rates and expanding tobacco farms!

Child labour, cancers, lung disease, heart disease, tuberculosis, HIV, childhood asthma and pneumonia- these are just a handful of the many harms that this deal will cause

Ethiopians need anything but an increase in cigarette production, an increase in smoking prevalence, and expansion of Ethiopia’s tobacco farms, but that is what this $510 million deal will do. Ethiopia already has a poor record when it comes to child labour and there is a real risk that children will be employed on tobacco farms as these farms expand there.

In effect, the deal promises to cause addiction, disease and death to millions of Ethiopians, who already have enough diseases to contend with, including malnutrition, HIV, tuberculosis, childhood diarrhea, pneumonia, malaria and much more on their plate.

The tobacco deal will not only cause suffering of many Ethiopians through tobacco-related diseases (heart attacks, strokes, cancers, asthma and emphysema), but also may well hinder programmes aimed at tackling tuberculosis and other infectious diseases. It is well known that smoking increases the risk of a person becoming infected with, and dying from, tuberculosis. The same is true for HIV and pneumonias, which are also common in Ethiopia.

What is quite sickening is that this lucrative tobacco deal was made while up to 20 million poor Ethiopians were under the threat of malnutrition, resulting from Ethiopia’s recent devastating drought.

Tobacco-growing land should be used instead for healthy agriculture!

child-cigarette-vendor-outside-tikur-anbessa

The above image shows an impoverished 12-year old girl selling a single cigarette to a customer. I took the photo outside a government hospital in Addis Ababa in 2016. The sale of cigarettes by minors under 18 years old, as well as the sale of single cigarettes, are both against the law in Ethiopia, but these laws are essentially ignored by the authorities. Indeed, the Ethiopian government recently made a $510 million deal with Japan Tobacco International that will expand tobacco farms and increase cigarette production and smoking rates in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is in a state-of-emergency, as of October 2016, due to widespread unrest, and poor Ethiopians even at the best of times do not have a voice, but now they need a voice more than ever. They need YOU and ME to give them a voice, to defend them from deals such as the ill-considered tobacco transaction between JTI and the Ethiopian government.

It is also well known that citizens of developing countries that invest in tobacco and smoking do not benefit overall. The costs of healthcare involved in taking care of people with tobacco-related diseases, the costs in loss of labour from chronic tobacco-related diseases and death, and the costs to children who lose a parent to smoking-related disease are high. Malawi and Zimbabwe are good examples: they are two of the poorest countries on Earth and they are in the top ten tobacco growing countries. The people who benefit from tobacco are tobacco company executives and tobacco company shareholders. The big losers are precious children, adults who suffer and die from tobacco-related diseases, many farmers, and child labourers.

So please, sign the petition. Here it is again:

https://www.change.org/p/gizachew-hagos-stop-expansion-of-tobacco-farms-and-cigarette-production-in-ethiopia

Speak out for the health of Ethiopians who have no voice because of their lack of access to the internet, their oppression, and their lack of access to knowledge about the ills of tobacco use. Thank you.

http://www.thereporterethiopia.com/content/japan-tobacco-pays-usd-510-mln-acquire-stake-national-tobacco

http://www.jti.com/media/news-releases/jt-acquires-40-ethiopias-nte/

http://afkinsider.com/129796/129796/#sthash.Smq0Gnc4.dpuf

 

 

How can it be? (A poem about oppression)

soldier-mexicoThis poem was inspired by my experience as a professor in Ethiopia between 2012 and 2017. During this time I taught medical and graduate students in Addis Ababa University Medical School. I travelled to various places, spoke to many people about their lives, feelings and opinions. It was an amazing experience, but the hardships, poverty and political oppression there had a lasting impact on me.

I witnessed the laughable 2015 election, in which the incumbent oppressive ruling party (EPRDF/TPLF) and it allies won 100% (547/547) of parliamentary seats through intimidation, jailing, oppression, even murder, of opposing politicians.

I encountered firsthand federal soldiers beating peaceful citizens brutally. Most Ethiopians I met were fearful of speaking out against the government, and party-loyal “informants” infiltrate society, including universities.

I saw how the government has strict control of universities, where political loyalty to the ruling party destroys academic freedom and excellence; where poor quality professors and under-qualified individuals are given better positions if they are party-loyal. Even among students, there are paid party-loyal ones who get a better chance of passing their exams and a better chance of getting a decent position or job than those who refuse to support the ruling party.

Peoples’ land is “stolen” from them by the government and leased to foreign and Ethiopian businessmen, while they work on the land that was once theirs for ridiculously low wages. I saw this firsthand too.

Proclamations and laws, such as the Civil Society Proclamation, 2009 and the Anti-terrorism Proclamation, 2009, restrict freedom and human rights, and have led to journalists and government opponents being jailed, and limitation of the rights of the disabled, children and women.

Ethiopia’s Ma’ekelawi prison is just one of many where torture occurs and inhuman conditions exist. I met many people who had been jailed or tortured, and others whose friends and family members were missing, or were jailed, tortured or killed by the current ruling regime, which has oppressed its citizens for 26 years and gained a stronger grip on society through unethical laws when a state-of-emergency was declared in October, 2016.

 

How Can It Be?

The elections were fair and square, they said,

But how can it be,

When they beat and jailed

And harassed

And tormented

And eliminated

Those who opposed their policies?

They won one hundred percent of parliamentary seats, they said,

But how can it be,

When eighteen out of twenty people I asked

Despised them

And preferred the opposition?

We are here for the people, they say,

But how can it be,

When the streets are filled

With the downtrod and homeless

And mothers and children

With no hope;

With the blind and the lame

And the sick

And the aged;

And the hungry are eating less

And the poor are getting poorer

And the rich are getting richer,

And the wages are staying down,

While people’s rents

And Party membership

And the price of bribes

Are going up and up

And up;

And the bloated

And ungodly

Egos of tyrants

And ignoramuses,

And the rift between

The haves

And have-nots,

And the lies of politicians and those in high positions

Are getting bigger and bigger

And bigger;

And Heaven’s angels are weeping

More than

They ever did;

And Hell’s fires

Are getting hotter

And hotter

And hotter

And hotter

In anticipation?

We support human rights, they say,

But how can it be

When they silence and slaughter the groups who fight

For civil rights;

When they proclaim Proclamations

That throttle the necks,

And pierce the hearts,

Invade the minds

And break the spirits

Of poor Ethiopians?

We are proud of our Constitution, they say,

But I cannot stop laughing-

Or if I did, I would weep-

For how can it be,

When they arrest journalists and put them on trial,

But not a fair trial,

Then put them in jail

For speaking the Truth,

And stifle protests with real bullets

From real Kalashnikovs?

We are tackling diseases, they say,

But how can it be

When they made a ten billion birr cigarette deal

That will fill their pockets

With filthy cash,

While addicting their youth

To nicotine

And bring the plague of tobacco

Upon the Ethiopian people?

As if the plague of khat addiction is not enough.

We advance knowledge and scholarship, they say,

But how can it be,

When their universities

Are controlled

By party-loyalists

Who – shame on them- fail to see

That universities are not universities

Without academic freedom,

And never excel when political ideology

Overrides scholarly merit

And intellectual excellence.

We love Ethiopia! So they claim,

But how can it be

When they do all this,

When they spit in the face

Of Christ and Allah

And Waqqa

And all of the Gods of all Ethiopians,

And they kill

And confine

And torture

And terrorize

Their people,

And glue their mouths shut with intimidation

And threats and fear

And rob them

Of their land

And steal cash that was meant for the poor,

And tear their country

And their impoverished

Apart?

Democratization is our way, they said,

But how can it be

When they hold on to power

And strengthen their grip

Whatever the cost,

And never call a free and fair election?

If they did, they would lose.

Tell me: How can it be?

 

About this site

timkat-2017-24b
Timket celebrations 2017, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

I worked in Ethiopia for four years, from 2012 to 2017, first as a volunteer professor of biochemistry, then as an expatriate Associate Professor of Medical Biochemistry in Addis Ababa University Medical School. I travelled to many areas of Ethiopia and even lived for several weeks in the homes of Ethiopians in the countryside. Ethiopia’s beauty, traditions and cultures, as well as the good character of its people, interact in a complex way with the poverty, hardships and political oppression that many Ethiopians suffer. This site explores my experiences, thoughts and opinions of Ethiopia and Ethiopians based on those four amazing years there.

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