The Concoction

An Ethiopian woman's musings on Africa, the world and everything in between

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        Friday, July 20, 2007
        Ethiopian Millennium
        Ethiopian Millennium successfully lobbied the Mayer's Office of African Affairs in DC to commemorate September 12, 2007 as Ethiopian Millennium Day. I wonder what Little Ethiopia in LA is thinking of doing?

        The Ethiopian Millennium has been recognized by the African Union and United Nations as an African and worldwide celebration.

        Celebrities such as Beyonce Knowles and Michael Jackson (not confirmed) are scheduled to perform in the capital, Addis Ababa. The Sheraton Hotel in Addis is paying Beyonce one million dollars and is covering the cost of her and her band's transportation. It's too bad it didn't occur to Ms. Knowles to say "Nah, don't worry about it. One million dollars is change for me. So how about I cover my own expenses and you send 16 thousand kids, especially those from the neighbouring slum-dwellers to school until they complete high school?" That would have been a nice Millennium present to the city.

        Beyonce's official site doesn't have this piece of news. However, just in case the news is correct, it won't hurt to let Ms. Knowles know what one million dollars can do in Addis Ababa.

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        posted by Fikirte @ 7:29 PM   2 comments Digg!
        Trade against poverty
        Finally, "U.S. Trade Representative says trade is an effective anti-poverty weapon". Is it possible that China's huge involvement in Africa "inspired" this passion?

        "We will not stop until every sub-Saharan African country and the continent's 700 million citizens are part of and benefiting" from expanded international trade, U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Susan Schwab told the Sixth Annual African Growth and Opportunity (AGOA) Forum in Accra July 18.
        As we say in Ethiopia, "Yetim fichiw, bicha duketun amchiw" (grind the grain wherever, just bring back the flour". I don't care if the US is moving in the right direction because indirectly its competing with China, indirectly still fighting a sort of Cold War, indirectly.... Hopefully, the result is positive for Africa. Just interested in the flour to make cake and eat it too.

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        posted by Fikirte @ 12:20 PM   0 comments Digg!
        Sunday, July 15, 2007
        "The poorer, the more generous"
        posted by Fikirte @ 8:19 PM   0 comments Digg!
        Saturday, July 14, 2007
        Diaspora bickering at its best
        Don't you have somethings in your culture which are supposed to be the norm and you ask yourself is this really normal? Ethiopian style of "discussion" is like that for me. I am noticing more and more that it's not only politics that makes us want to pull each other's hair out. It can be music (who sounds as if somebody is squeezing his balls and who has a good message in the lyrics), comedy (who's funny and who makes you want to weep), why popcorn replaced kolo during coffee ceremony. Everything is a bloody battle field. Besides, is it my imagination or is it worse between a woman and a man doing the "discussion"?

        I personally can't stand the "Tsk, anchi atawkim" (you don't know anything - although 'anything' is not uttered, you know it's there. Oh it's so there.) And the dismissive way in which it is said is blood-boiling (that may be directly translated from Amharic, but you get my drift). My husband just asked me to add the "uh, uh, uh, uh?" which according to him means "normally I ignore you, but now you may have said something interesting so start all over again." Thank God I don't go through this on regular basis, but the rare occasions I get involved in these nerve-wrecking Ethiopian verbal-showdowns, I am left wondering why can't we beg to differ without tempers flaring and instant animosity brewing?

        Ethiopian farmers using mobile phones was the topic that caused this rant. I was trying to conduct a general conversation about ager bet, homeland, with an Ethiopian man I just met. I kept on telling myself "keep the topics general" because, as I said, I just met this guy. It's too bad, for a nation severely affected by climate, that we don't normally talk about the weather like the Brits do.

        It shouldn't be this nerve-wrecking to meet your fellow country people while you live outside your country. It should be a time to enjoy speaking in your own language, reminisce about the good-old days when we afforded house-maids back at home, (oh, I can "discuss" for three hours on this topic) share funny stories about the first experience on escalators, with automatic glass doors, in those electric trains at airports without conductors suspended above the street, the variety of pet food in grocery stores - my favourite being salmon-flavoured wet cat food....

        The gentleman with whom I am having an issue here was sitting opposite me on one of those huge American leather sofas, where you literally sink in instead of sit on. To avoid sinking, he was sitting on the edge of the sofa leaning against the arm rest for support. He's wearing a black shirt which is tight around the belly. The reshuffling on the sofa to avoid sinking together with the big belly pushing had unbuttoned two of the middle buttons on his shirt. While he's arguing his point how mobile phones are destroying the economy in Ethiopia, I couldn't help wondering at what point he would realize that his buttons were undone and he would be preoccupied with embarrassment and stop whining about farmers "making life hell for city people". No chance in you know where! I gave up wondering when he first scratched and then rubbed his belly (this was right after a huge Ethiopian meal) and continued to suggest that "the government should ration mobile phones so that farmers don't use them to mess with the price of grain".

        I found the whole picture comical - a short stout guy slowly sinking in his gigantic American leather sofa with belly protruding out of his shirt deciding the fate of Ethiopian farmers - from America. That was until he threw the "Tsk, anchi atawkim" at me. Oh no he didn't! I spent three months in remote part of western Ethiopia conducting a research on how farmers view development. I sat in 250 mud huts talking to these farmers and learnt of their concerns about the challenges with agricultural policies, land ownership, access to market, infrastructure (the lack of it) while I was wired up from all the coffee I had to politely drink in each hut. I still have the interview cassettes and my notes if he wants proof. That should count for something. What does he mean I don't know anything?

        Regime after regime, drought after drought and Starbucks after Starbucks, Ethiopian farmers always get the shortest end of the stick. Now they are using mobile phones to check prices in towns and are controlling distribution of their own products. Boo hoo for city people and welcome to capitalism (sorry Mom, I have to draw the line somewhere.)

        I didn't hear my "learned" fellow Ethiopian complaining about the crop bandits, who obviously jack up grain prices by forcibly claiming their share of tax on the grains.

        Lorries arrive from Ethiopia's south and west, which have food surpluses, and leave for the north and east of the country, which is often famished. Illegal traders run a lucrative extortion racket, their bully boys jumping on the lorries as they arrive, threatening the driver and earning themselves $1.50 on every $20 sack of grain. That margin and other market failings add up to 20% to the cost of every sack.

        Even in countries where gangsters and extortion are less common, crop markets rarely work well. Information, crucial to efficient trading, is scanty. But, thanks in part to technology, things are improving. Mobile phones help farmers find out about price discrepancies from which they might benefit. In some cases better market information has encouraged farmers to diversify their crops

        I had to subtly ask the man what type of work he does. Trust me, he's far from joining the World Trade Organization and thank God for that. Imagine him as an advisor on trade in Africa.

        Fortunately, there are people in Ethiopia who get the job done unlike my "learned" acquaintance and I, who are just engaged in diaspora bickering and feeling important about... wind, really.

        Text messaging has already proved a huge hit in established mobile markets like Europe, where teenagers have used the technology to flood the airwaves with abbreviated gossip and chat. But Ethiopia's academics have already set out a much more substantial use for the standard: market and weather reports for the country's often drought-stricken farmers. "Mobile phones are very much cheaper than PCs," said Solomon. "We could get them out to every corner of the country, even to the farmers.
        There you have it, my "learned" acquaintance. "Tsk, rasih atawkim" (you don't know yourself) right back at you.

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        posted by Fikirte @ 3:54 AM   0 comments Digg!
        Essay contest

        African Loft is organizing an essay contest on

        * My Greatest Life Challenge
        - An essay on your greatest life challenge or challenges

        * My Best Adventure Story
        - Present your best adventure story ever

        * I’m Going to Rant!
        - Just rant about an issue that bugs the living daylights out of you.

        For details and prize info, go to their website. Have fun & good luck!

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        posted by Fikirte @ 3:33 AM   0 comments Digg!
        Sunday, July 08, 2007
        Unintentionally funny
        This Christian Science Monitor article about the US army and President Bush studying the Battle of Algiers to find answers for Iraq is really full of things that make you shake your head and laugh with disbelief.

        Funny #1. Before you even start reading the article, the advertisement on the right jumps at you. It is an ad for grad studies in diplomacy. I know online ads are smartly designed to reflect the subject at hand and all that. But, this one is ironically funny. Think about it. The movie The Battle of Algiers is all about Algiers independence fight with the French from November 1954 - December 1962. The CSmonitor article is about the US army today studying this fifty some year old movie to learn a trick or two from the French on how to control insurgents in Iraq. Then the ad. The ad is about mastering the arts of diplomacy. It's big and bold, and it seems to scream out "Forget that ancient crap. Learn modern day diplomacy, stupid!!!" Brilliantly hilarious.

        Funny #2. The headline reads "The US military – and President Bush – is studying the Algerian war for independence." The emphasis is mine, but that bit is funny. Imagine the raised intonation if this were spoken. It seems to say "Whaaat, the President is studying?"

        Funny #3. The caption under the picture in the first page reads "1958: Though French troops ultimately withdrew from Algeria, many of their tactics were successful." The contradiction between "ultimately" and "successful" is funny. The French left because they were defeated.

        Funny #4. Oh this one is good. "Here in Algeria, some of those who participated in that war find little use in the comparison. But the US military – and the American public – continues to study the 1954-62 Algerian war of independence for lessons on how to fight the insurgency in Iraq." All of it my own emphasis to show the funny-ness of the contradictions. Americans study Algerian's war of independence to be independent of Iraq? Because remember, the French "ultimately withdrew". So, what's the point of studying the old movie?

        What is not funny is, apparently, what the film depicts.
        The film opens with a scene in which "Paras" (French paratroopers) brutally torture an old Arab man. The information they get from him will lead them to the hide-out of Ali la Pointe, the last remaining leader (so they hope) of the FLN, the movement they are determined to crush. As they close in on the hide-out, the film retraces how the Algerian revolutionary movement began, showing us some of the routine indignities visited on Arabs by French colonials: a bunch of young French punks trip Ali just for the fun of seeing him take a fall. . . . As the Arabs begin to demand an independent Algerian state and terrorist cells begin to leave bombs in places frequented by the French (the race-track, bars, the Air France office) the colonists (many of them called pieds-noirs because they were born in Algeria) become more and more enraged, attacking even small Arab children trying to sell candy on the street.

        All of this Pontecorvo's film portrays in unsparing detail. The head '"Para," called Philippe Mathieu but intended to be the actual General Jacques Massu, who commanded the elite 10th Para Division, offers a strong defense of his tactics, including torture: "The FLN wants to throw us out of Algeria. We want to stay. . . . We are soldiers. Our duty is to win." And, finally, "If your answer is 'yes' [that France should remain in Algeria], you must accept the consequences." The viewer is then treated to a montage of the consequences: ordinary people tortured with electric shock, nearly drowned, hung upside-down -- acts so crude and brutal that in the end they undermined the morale of the French military itself. Is this what the Pentagon wants to convey to its men and women in Iraq or to those who will lead them? That the end justifies the means? If so, they should recall that the use of torture in Algeria became one of the things that destroyed the French case for remaining there and it so disgusted the French public they ultimately acquiesced in giving up their colony.

        Pontecorvo ends his film with the renewal of the FLN uprising in 1960, after two years of relative calm. "Go home," the French cops yell at crowds of Moslems thronging the streets. "What is it that you want?" And the voices shout back as one: "We want our freedom.

        Oh, just take the hint from the Christian Science Monitor's ad section. Take that course in diplomacy and hope for the best.

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        posted by Fikirte @ 4:38 AM   0 comments Digg!
        Saturday, July 07, 2007
        My new baby

        Check out my new baby. Feedback on what a beauty she is [or not :(] is greatly appreciated.
        posted by Fikirte @ 11:44 AM   0 comments Digg!
        Friday, July 06, 2007
        Portugese-West African music

        Sara Tavares is single handedly changing the scope of this blog. Only once, when I was a baby-blogger, I talked about music. Now I'll start posting on music I like. I'm getting tired of my own whining about how corrupt, arrogant and stupid everybody is anyway.

        NPR covered her story in this morning's Morning Edition. Sara Tavares is the 2007 winner of the World Music Awards.
        Sara was born in Lisbon, although sadly her parents abandoned her there to pursue their dreams elsewhere, leaving her in the care of a Portuguese woman. Maybe that's why one of the strongest messages in her work is the importance of self esteem, both personally and on behalf of her own community of Africans born outside 'the Motherland'. Whatever it is, her sweet and swinging music radiates a positivity that effortlessly jumps the language barrier.

        As my husband put it, "she is a female version of Ismael Lo", who is the "Bob Dylan of Africa". Personally, there is no comparison between the two because Mr. Dylan doesn't just cut it for me - vocally. She's more like a more convincing and authentic version of Sade.

        NPR always has good recommendation of songs. Through them, I came to know Ray Lamontagne, Marc Broussard, Ben Harper, The Blind Boys of Alabama and others.

        In the NPR interview, Sara talks about some fascinating issues like dealing with her personal issues via her songs, her journey in search of her roots, how she mixes the two cultures (Portugese and W. African) and other deeply philosophical stuff. One thing that made me think is her story about the resilience of oppressed cultures. She was talking about slaves not being allowed to drum, so they kept their tradition alive by keeping rhythm to their music by slapping their laps.

        This really made me think about dictatorship. However brutal certain regimes get, there are certain things that they just can't get rid of. They can kill people for speaking up, but they can't kill opinions. They can kill women for loving the "wrong" person, but they can't kill love. They can ban people from travelling, but they will go even if it kills them. They can ban whatever, but people will find a way to get those things. I wonder what the world would be if enlightened artists are rulers??? Sorry, getting carried away with being philosophical.

        Sara incorporates all that in her music (not the artists becoming rulers bit - that's just my fantacy). And, you should hear her beat-boxing, African style.

        p.s. Please check the Groove section on the left. How cool is that? Now, as my punishment of child neglect, I have to watch Herbie (a talking VW - great!)

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        posted by Fikirte @ 10:53 AM   0 comments Digg!
        African Loft

        Just when I think that I'm getting good at the geeky aspect blogging, I discover a site that makes me go "Wow, how come I didn't know that?". African Loft is one of those sites. The "Care Taker" told me yesterday that "it's only 4 weeks old". It has everything that an exciting site has - serious stuff, round ups, discussion forum, music, videos, no annoying blinking stuff, neat layout. You name it, it's got it. Go check it out and see for yourself.

        Well done African Loft crew. You make me proud. Mover over Blog Africa...
        posted by Fikirte @ 10:15 AM   1 comments Digg!
        Thursday, July 05, 2007
        Replacing the old "North-South" lens
        The sad thing about development discourse is that it can be boring because hardly any new brain-shattering idea. Here is an idea that I think is excitingly fresh.

        The idea is Jon Tinker's, he founder of EarthScan which later became Panos. He argues for replacing the old lens through which western countries see development.
        The rich-country development lobby still wears 50-year-old eyeglasses. We still talk about 'the North' and 'the South', concepts rooted in the Third World and non-aligned analyses of the 1950s.

        This 'Us-Them' lens promotes alienation. It reinforces the stereotype that 'the South' is a different planet, where people are accustomed to poverty and disease, and incapable of organising themselves. It implies lower standards for misery and human rights in 'the South'.

        And this archaic mindset also encourages lazy, self-serving thinking among rich-world NGOs. We preach partnership, but use our 'partners' mainly to raise our own credibility and funding. We still parachute our 'experts' into 'the South', although many, perhaps most, 'Southern' NGOs are now more professional than ourselves.

        Can Canadian NGOs honestly do 'capacity-building' in India, or 'training' in Senegal?

        Maybe development education needs to focus on commonalities instead of differences - including seeing the marginalised and deprived in all our societies. (my own emphasis)
        Panos Canada is experimenting with a program called AIDS in Two Cities
        in Vancouver, Canada and Port au Prince, Haiti. What they are finding is how similar the issues around aids are in these two cities.

        Perhaps, if new lenses were available, the level of poverty that Hurricane Katrina exposed in the southern states of the US wouldn't have been so shocking after all. Since coming to America, the biggest shocker to me is the level of poverty which is allowed and ignored in this country. I must have been disillusioned about western countries by The Netherlands, where the government (hugely supported by the people) bends backwards, almost breaking the system, to eliminate ghettos and segregation.

        I did my share of musings, rantings and ravings and sheer disbelief about similarities between poverty in the US and African countries. But, I'm happy that somebody else has put it eloquently and is actually doing something about it. Therefore, my knew song is going to be "Gone be the old lens". I'm, by the way, nominating Jon Tinker to be the next UN Chief until the position of Global President opens up.

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        posted by Fikirte @ 5:41 AM   0 comments Digg!
        Tuesday, July 03, 2007
        Vanity Fair on Africa
        I hate approaching cash registers at grocery stores for two main reasons: they display everything that my kids are not supposed to have – candies, mini chocolate bars, bubble gums and some red/purple/florescent green drink – at their eye level. They also display tabloid junk at my eye level. I often have a pretty hard time trying to convince an imaginary observer that I am above tabloid (I am and I live by a self-imposed no-crappy magazines ban) although at times I get caught trying to read at least the title from the corner of my eyes and don't even hear the cashier mumbling "Plastic or paper?"

        When I saw Vanity Fair's cover with Bono and Queen Rania with a big "Africa" on it, I bought the magazine without feeling guilty. The cover of the magazine is "one of 20 historic covers…" Bono is the "special issue guest-editor" on the part that talks about Africa. Apparently, there are only three African faces on the 20 covers. I think that was clever because how many Vanity Fair loyalist would recognize African activists? It's a celebrity-crazed world, so use celebrities liberally. That's what I would say.

        My issue is with the inability to listen by the likes of Bono. I'm pretty sure that inability stems from some sort of arrogance. I admire what Bono does for Africa, don't get me wrong. He didn't have to do it (although the publicity that comes with love for Africa is not hurting either.) But his recent pissy comments are alarming to me. "Try telling Chancellor Merkel that the Marshal plan was a load of crap." The Marshal Plan was great for Germany, it pulled the country out of the pits and rebuilding was a piece of cake for Germany because it was already a developed country. Rebuilding is surely much easier than building from scratch (in this case.) Need I say more?

        For decades now, a Marshal-Plan-look-alike called development aid has been fiddled with in Africa and there is very little to show for it. The few victories cannot be ignored, but while we're bracing ourselves for the next big development-bang, there are several opportunities that pass Africa by. Like participating in the global economy through open and fair trade. Thus, my argument is, the Marshal Plan is more than crap in the African contest.

        Back to arrogance and not listening. Coming from humble starts (a concert for Africa), Bono is now Z authority on African development and getting-a-shut-up-and just-listen-to-me attitude about it. He's beginning to sound like a dictator now. I hope he's not going to start fabricating evidence like Bush to win his argument - by whatever means necessary.

        I have a suggestion. Bono should do an honorary degree in development studies. I'll personally lobby the schools to sponsor his studies and arrange long-distance lessons. Trust me, his development-empire will come tumbling down, and he will learn to listen. I'll even start him off with the process of looking for a school. Here goes.

        This has shuttered my development-world (even after working in development in Ethiopia for 7 years and I thought I knew everything there was to know). Cool interior which goes well with Bono's cool shades. Highly recommend it!!!!

        Harvard Center for Population & Development Studies

        Institute of Development Studies

        UCLA International Development Studies

        Watson's Development Studies

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        posted by Fikirte @ 8:18 AM   4 comments Digg!
        Sunday, July 01, 2007
        Irony of the 21 century?
        There was an e-mail that was circulating about "You know you're living in the 21st century when..." Where are those annoying forwarded to death which you promptly delete when you need them? It would have been a nice opening for this post because it was talking about things like calling your home from your cell for somebody to open the garage door for you....

        I had a similar experience last Sunday. Drove for an hour and a half to have lunch in a town in west coast of America, watched live Ethiopian television about Ory's presentation on the recent TED Conference. The story was more about Ory's Msalendo: Eye on Kenyan Parlament project. ETV reporting on a Kenyan blogger who's critical of her government while Ethiopian bloggers are blocked in Ethiopia? I don't get it!
        posted by Fikirte @ 1:21 AM   0 comments Digg!
        Mind your language
        This is a real sign, posted in a real hotel, in a real town called Assosa, Ethiopia.

        The Amharic version
        posted by Fikirte @ 1:10 AM   1 comments Digg!
        posted by Fikirte @ 1:08 AM   0 comments Digg!
        The face of VAW

        Kamilat - victim of acid burning The face of VAW - violence against women. It should and can be stopped with enough commitment. Helping one woman at a time is a start.
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