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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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  • Rail or Road, Commuters Are Still Waiting

    Lili Fekadu, a private employee waiting for the LRT for over 30 minutes. Picture: AddisFortune

    Among the people sitting at the Anbessa Bus Station seats at Legahar, waiting for the number 67 bus to Kaliti was Bekele Ejeta, 38, a public servant. He had been waiting for 15 minutes, when Fortune met him. He had been at the stadium with friends, and he chose the bus over the train to return home to Saris.

    After the light rail transit service was launched on Sunday September 20, 2015, he had used it once, and that was enough for him.

    “I used it one morning when I left home, but the service that I found was not what I had expected,” he complained. “When I heard that the light rail transit service would be launched last week, I was very excited, expecting that the transportation hassles I face every day would no longer continue. But that was only a dream,” Bekele said.

    Even though the transportation challenges in terms of the availability of balanced transportation services in line with the growing population of the city are not a new scenario, it was in August 2011 that the first initiative to reduce the problem of transportation was made by framing transport policy. The policy was drafted with a general objective of providing reasonably priced, safe, efficient, accessible and comfortable transport services to the city’s residents.

    Two issues the policy emphasised were expansion of transport infrastructure and integration of the city’s transportation institutions, which also have capacity limitations.

    In June, 2014, the Addis Abeba City Administration Transport Bureau (AACATB) put a restriction on the transfer of taxis registered in Addis Abeba, to locations outside the city through any kind of sale, to resolve the gap in transportation supply. Another decision which preceded that one by a year, banned taxis from changing their codes, forcing them to continue as taxis.

    The fragmented efforts of balancing the supply of transportation were not limited to the above bans. Anbessa City Transport Service Enterprise, which was under Privatization & Public Enterprises Supervisory Agency and is now under the city’s administration, has added more buses, to bolster a system that already has other buses, including Higer buses, as well as blue and white and other minibuses. Despite its limitations, the light rail transit that began giving service one week ago is the latest addition.

    Binyam Assefa has been a mini bus taxi driver for over 10 years. For him the railway transportation services may have a contribution in meeting the demand, although he doubts the transportation problem will be eliminated.

    “The same hopes and the same expectations were there when the Higer buses were introduced,” he remembered. “There was even a saying that ‘taxis would no more appear in the sector’. But that did not happen, because the demand for quality transportation services was not yet realised.”

    The ultimate policy drive is to remove the minibus taxis from the sector and replace them by mass transportation systems mainly by buses, because they have higher emissions and are crowding the city, according to an official closed to the case. To implement its ultimate goal and resolve the shortage of the transportation facilities, the Federal Transportation Authority had told taxi owners to organise themselves into share companies, after which the government would extend to them as much as 70pc loan financing in a bid to introduce 500 buses into the transport service; the vehicles would also be imported duty free.

    Demand still outstrips supply in a city where transport coverage is 60pc, according to an official at the Authority.

    Birhanu Degefa a Lada taxi driver welcomes the mass transportation efforts the government is steering, which he says is an indication of the government’s attention to the private transport sector. But he has doubts about the efforts, stressing that the initiatives need to be supported by clear directives and frameworks.

    “Even though the previous and current efforts are good in resolving the transportation problem of the city, the trend is that there is no clearly defined body that takes responsibility for their implementation. After some time they cease,” Birhanu said.

    A driver at Anbessa, Kedanemaryam Weldegiorgis, notes that the challenge to quality and efficient services was not only the shortage of transportation facilities, but also, and more importantly, the lack of well skilled management expertise and systems.

    Beside the Lada taxis which are being organised through the Authority, minibus taxi associations are also organising themselves under companies.

    The government had been thinking about forcing the minibus taxis out of the market by introducing mass transport buses into the market as early as when the LRT project was initiated. Now with commencement of the LRT service, the Addis Abeba Transport Authority is considering making adjustments to the other transport services in the city, although officials are not saying much about it.

    “It is early to make adjustments. The light rail way transportation system has not fully started operation. It is just one line so far and we are planning on the adjustment,” replied Communications Officer at the Addis Abeba Transport Authority, Genet Dibaba, when asked if there would be any adjustments of the service by the sector following the LRT launch.

    Now in its first week, the service was far from satisfactory for Bekele, who had expected a lower fare, less waiting time, less crowding and more speed.

    “I was forced to wait for more than 45 minutes until the train arrived at the Kaliti terminal.” he said.

    Once in he was disappointed that he had to stand all the way, pushing with the big crowd inside. It was the same in the Anbessa buses, he said, but at least he paid less there.

    “The service charge for the railway services is four Birr with all the discomfort and waiting. But I could get the same service on the same line by Anbessa bus for only two Birr,” he complained.

    Another commuter, Defaru Awese, a cook, used the LRT two times before deciding to stick to the Higer buses and taxis. His reason was that the waiting was still the same and the price almost the same as taxis.

    “But still my expectations are not met in terms of speed and waiting hours,” said Defaru.

    Source: AddiFortune

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  • Muslim Ethiopians Celebrate Eid-al-Fatir

    Ethiopian Muslims celebrated Eid-al-Fatir today, which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. The Day is celebrated colorfully, especially in Addis Ababa.

    Sheikh Muhammed Amin Jemal from Islamic Affairs Supreme Council said on the Addis Ababa celebration said, the Muslim community should exert utmost efforts to the development of the country.

    President of Islamic Affairs Supreme Council Dr. Ahmed Abdurahman on his part said, we should enhance tolerance, and we should fight against extremism.

    The Muslim community, Diplomats and invited guests attended the event.

    Source: EBC

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