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  • BBC Trending: The polygamy hoax that spread from Iraq to Eritrea


    A false rumour that men in Eritrea would be legally obliged to marry at least two women went viral this week. But it's a hoax that has hit at least four countries to date, and actually began in Iraq, where it wasn't as implausible as it seems.

    When a far fetched story about enforced polygamy in Eritrea began circulating, it captured attention across the continent. But in fact similar stories - all of them false - have cropped up in a number of countries since the beginning of the year.

    And in each case, the way hoaxers spread the rumour on social media pretty much identical. Here's how it plays out.

    An "official" government document is leaked on social media, bearing a letterhead, or the signature of a supposed dignitary.

    It reads - and we're paraphrasing here - "Due to the recent troubles in our country, we are experiencing a serious shortage of men, and an abundance of woman. Men are now legally required to take at least two wives, and any that fail to do so will face strict punishment." The punishments range from life imprisonment to the death penalty.

    When a version of the falsified document appeared in Eritrea this week - as the BBC has already reported - it went viral, and was picked up by a number of news organisations as fact.

    The rumour about Eritrea actually began in Kenya and Nigeria. It was first reported by Kenyan news site Crazy Monday, well known for its focus on gossip stories according to Mathias Muindi from the BBC's media monitoring service. The story was picked up and reported as fact in Nigeria and later South Africa as well.

    It spread quickly, and it wasn't long before jokes stared spreading on social networks like WhatsApp and Twitter, mostly involving men from outside the country flocking to Eritrea in the hope of finding multiple wives.



    The Eritrean government has since been battling to set the story straight, dismissing the document as a fraud, and explaining that polygamy is illegal in the East African nation. It hasn't been able to stop chatter spreading on social media, and a raft of jokes at the countries expense.

    Read more at the BBC

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  • Ethiopia's Rastafarian community living in limbo


    Rastafarians around the world see Ethiopia as their spiritual home. Many of them believe the country's last king, Haile Selassie, was a descendent of King Solomon and the messiah.

    Many of the men travelled thousands of kilometres to live in what they say is their promised land. The town of Shashamane in southern Ethiopia is a place of pilgrimage for Rastafarians around the world.

    The Rastafarians say they smoke marijuana because it is their sacrament - the equivalent of bread and wine given during Christian communions.

    The nearly 800 Rastafarians who live in the area say they are fulfilling a prophecy that descendants of slaves will return to Africa.

    However, they also face considerable challenges, having left their lives in countries including the UK, the US and Jamaica. They have few legal rights, their passports having expired a long time ago.

    They have no Ethiopian IDs, which means they cannot work legally. Local development has shrunk the land they currently live on to an area of around 5sq hectares.

    Al Jazeera's Charles Stratford reports from Shashamane.

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  • Promised land no more? Rastafaris struggle in Ethiopia


    THEY came from across the world to Ethiopia in search of their “promised land”, but for many Rastafarians, struggling to win even basic rights, the dream never materialised.

    “How did we survive so far? I wonder,” said Reuben Kush, the grey-bearded president of the Ethiopian World Federation, a branch of Rastafarianism.

    Kush left his home in Birmingham in Britain a decade ago to join a Rastafarian community based in the southern Ethiopian town of Shashamane, 250 kilometres (155 miles) south of Addis Ababa.

    But in decades of existence, the settlement’s around 500 members have failed to win legal rights to property, education or work.

    Celebrating the 85th anniversary this month of the 1930 crowning of their messiah, Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie, the dreadlocked group sway in a circle chanting to a drum beat “Emperor Selassie I, Jah Rastafari”.

    Rastafarianism— which jettisoned to worldwide notice in the 1960s and 70s with the music of reggae stars and committed Rastafaris Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff—first emerged as a spiritual movement in the 1930s among descendants of African slaves in Jamaica, who adopted Haile Selassie as their leader at a time when he stood out as the only independent black monarch in Africa.

    They even took their name from his pre-coronation title, “Ras” for “head” and his birth name “Tafari Makonnen”. The “King of Kings” was deposed then killed by a military junta in 1974.

    A supporter of decolonisation and cooperation among African states then largely under European control, Haile Selassie in the 1950s set aside 500 hectares (1,200 acres) in Shashamane to welcome back descendants of slaves seeking to return “home”.


    The movement is this month celebrating the 85th anniversary of the 1930 crowning of their messiah, Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie. (Photos/Justine Boulo/AFP)

    “Ethiopia is our land, for we blacks in the West,” said Kush.

    Rastafarians say it was the “divinity” of the land that drew them to Ethiopia, mentioned in the Bible more than 30 times and believed to be the birthplace of the Queen of Sheba, who visited the wise King Solomon.

    Junta confiscated plot

    In the late 1970s, Mengistu Haile Mariam’s Marxist-Leninist regime confiscated the Shashamane plot, prompting most Rastas to flee its authoritarian rule.

    When Mengistu’s rule was toppled in 1991, some returned. But life in the promised land remains a struggle, with exile followed by exclusion.

    “The Emperor had given us 500 hectares - today we live on six or seven hectares,” said Kush. “Today, we have no control over our property.”

    Though many turned their backs on their country of origin by not renewing their passports, they have not been granted Ethiopian nationality, leaving them effectively stateless.

    In tightly controlled Ethiopia,still run by Communist-inspired ex-rebels, land is a sensitive issue with Rastas neither allowed to file building permits or own property.

    Nor can they work, pay taxes or send their children to university.

    “What’s disappointing is that I have to confess to my relatives back home that we aren’t integrated here either,” Kush said.

    On the recent anniversary of the emperor’s coronation, Rastafarians gathered as reggae music played and psalms were sung in a church painted red, yellow and green—the colours of both the Ethiopian and Rastafarian flags.

    “We want to be identified as natural Ethiopians now - not as Jamaican, nor American!” said Paul Phang, a Rastafari leader, without fully clarifying what he meant.

    In legal limbo

    The Rastas’ political wing, the Ethiopian World Federation, started in the 1930s but is still lobbying for their basic rights.

    “We’re here to stay. We haven’t been kicked out of Ethiopia after all these years, that means we are accepted,” Kush said.

    But they remain in legal limbo.

    “Our needs are basic human rights needs,” Kush added. “We need to be able to tell our children that they have a state. Children are being born here and being classed as stateless—not able to get identification here and not able to get IDs from the countries where their parents come from. So we’re in a limbo.”

    But with each Rastafarian church celebrating its own way, there are political divisions within the movement too.

    “If every one of us was in accord, then these natural rights would have been granted to us already,” said Phang, a priest from the Bobo Ashanti Rastafari group.

    “So because of this different ideology, different thinking, it’s like we cannot approach the government in our oneness.” (AFP)

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  • 2nd Annual Bikila Award Honors Best of Ethiopian Diaspora in Toronto, Canada


    The 2nd annual Bikila Award Ceremony and Gala Dinner was held in Toronto, Canada on Saturday, September 26, 2015. (Courtesy photo)

    Toronto, Canada (TADIAS) — The Bikila Award honored the best of the Ethiopian Diaspora in Canada at a sold-out event at the prestigious Daniel Spectrum Center in downtown Toronto this past weekend.

    Among the honorees were 91-years-old Habteselassie Tafesse, known as the ‘father of Ethiopian tourism’; Duke University student, Pencil Mountain and UNICEF honorary ambassador to Ethiopia, Hannah Godefa; and Weyni Mengesha, an Ethiopian-Canadian, California-based acclaimed director of theatre arts.

    In accepting the honor, Godefa, the celebrated humanitarian activist who became the youngest recipient of the Bikila Award at 17, reflected on her fourth grade experience when she discovered Abebe Bikila on a school assignment in black history. “As students focused on the heroes of the civil rights movement my father encouraged me to focus on the great Olympian,” she reflected.

    “Since then, I have used his exemplary actions to help me achieve my own goals,” she added. Honored guest Dr. Senait Fisseha, an Ethiopian-American humanitarian, medical doctor and lawyer encouraged the audience to reflect on the importance of helping the less fortunate in Ethiopia. The University of Michigan professor recently moved to Ethiopia, with an anonymous donation of $25 million to help train Ethiopian doctors.

    Another speaker, Michael Grevers, Professor of History & Fine Arts, challenged Ethiopian-Canadians to help him raise $50,000 in order to help create a chairmanship in Ethiopian studies at the University of Toronto. He promised to donate $50,000 of his own funds if the community can help him achieve his goal. Professor Grevers is currently working on the “entire manuscript collection of the 15th-century Ethiopian monastery at Gunda Gunde” to make it available online.

    The keynote speaker was the noted Ethiopian-American filmmaker Haile Gerima.

    Last year’s honorees included Professor Kibret Mequanint; music artist The Weeknd (Abel Tesfaye); Oxford University PHD student, Alpha Abebe; and former Canadian Cabinet Minister and Ambassador to Ethiopia, Honourable David MacDonald. This is the second year that the Bikila Awards were presented.

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