Archive for the ‘Ethiopia’ tag
New York- While it’s memorial day here in the United States, this past Saturday it was the 50th anniversary of the African Union [formerly the Organization of African Unity until 2001]. I visited the AU/OAU’s original headquarters in 2011in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia after the hectic melée’s of Egypt, Libya and Bahrain when I needed a bit of a break.Upon reading of the AU’s 50th anniversary festivities, I thought a short photo essay was in order.
I initially ventured to the AU’s grounds from my hotel on Churchill Road to try and gather information on the possible creation of Jubaland astatelet in southwestern Somalia as well as the doings of African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and the Dolo Odo refugee camp on the Somali border. But I quickly discovered that a Chinese government construction outfit was building a gleeming new AU conference hall and tower on the adjoining lot which captured my attention.
Antakya- I have a new article out in today’s edition of Asia Times Online on my journey into rebel-held northern Syria. In over a decade of jihads, war zones and civil unrest, I think this was the most difficult thing I have ever accomplished in terms of logistics. My entire body is shot and at one point repelling down a muddy mountainside I slipped into a coil of concertina wire that my amazing fixer and smuggler had to rescue me from. Then while attempting to sprint through an Assadist free fire zone, I got trapped in mud so thick it might as well have been quicksand. On the way back I had to trek through pitch black forest that we lit with cell phones to try and find our way. For some reason we hiked back to Turkey a different way than we came in which was totally disorienting. We linked arms and forded a very fast moving icy river that was nearly waist deep lit by the moon while screaming “takbir” and the corresponding “allahu akbar” to steel our resolve.
At that point my mind went into a trance-like state bent on pure survival. Then when I got back to the comfort of my hotel room in Antakya and collapsed on my bed, I stared at the ceiling and thought that I did this for one day and the rebels of Free Syrian Army live this way everyday. Hard to contemplate. I’ll be going back to the West in a couple of days (where I will be speaking at the Interallied Confederation of Reserve Officers Winter Seminar outside Köln) and there is no way anyone can relate to what I’ve just experienced.
In other news, TWD was quoted in a Global Post article titled “African Union Looks East” about the inauguration of China’s gaudy new African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia which I reported on last year. Even that relatively innocent story ended up in a violent encounter when a paranoid Chinese government foreman ordered a hulking Ethiopian security guard to grab my camera and delete the contents of my flash card. They were unsuccessful due to my cunning.
New York-Last night some bar fly friends and I were screaming this tune on a freezing Brooklyn sidewalk at some ungodly hour. None of us could come close to remembering the full lyrics. “Snow in Africa….do they know it’s Christmas time at all…the other ones…” Earlier this year, taking a bit of a break from the revolutionary Arab world, I spent some time in Ethiopia, a place that had occupied my imagination…well…since this Band Aid video. Twenty-seven years after Bob Geldof and co tried to save rural Ethiopians from Mengistu Haile Mariam’s vile Marxist Derg junta, plenty of people in the Ethiopian highlands still depend on food aid from the developed world.
I visited the lauded rock hewn churches of Lalibela and was almost more taken aback by the sprawling feeding center just outside of the little town that I wandered into. Ethiopia has obviously come a long way since the Derg’s civil war era but Meles Zenawi is certainly no saint and Isaias Afewerki is just plain crazy it seems (Note: the two big men are cousins). Ethiopia’s stalemated conflict with Eritrea, its lack of any port, military adventures in Somalia, and being located in an all around unstable neighborhood has kept most kinds of development at bay (save for communist China as of late). Come on Meles and Isaias, don’t you guys know it’s Christmas time at all??
New York- The fruits of my intellectual East African labors came to bear and my Jubaland article is out in this week’s edition of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor. Though it may appear to be a concise, quiet analysis, a lot of shoe leather went into the production of this piece, not to mention a decent sunburn or two in the thin air of the Ethiopian capital. I must say, after having returned stateside two weeks ago now, I desperately miss my daily helpings of injera, the oddly (at first anyway) delectable Ethiopian national dish. A young Ethiopian-American kid I met in Lalibela told me how I would be in great shape after the combination of high altitude walking and zero fat, zero preservative food. Unfortunately, I am sure I am back to me old habits after multiple trips to some of my favorite DC and NYC eateries and drinkeries since I’ve been back.
Just cranked out yet another issue of Militant Leadership Monitor, should be another great issue. I will post a plug for that when we go live with it. I’ve also added two Wikileaks links along the right side of this page-that connecting to the Guantánamo files and that connecting to the Cablegate Cable Viewer. Take a look.
In other, more dire news, Syria still seems to be burning in it’s own self imposed Hades. Aside from sanctions and further isolation, the internationals are powerless to stop al-Assad from smashing the Syrian people as protests are now reported in all corners of the country-including Qamishle in the very vulnerable northeastern pocket of Syrian Kurdistan.
Addis Ababa- Crashed the African Union HQ here in Addis yesterday to do research on my next Jamestown article. Absolutely fascinating, rather quiet place. I just showed up at the front gate, which took me a bit to locate, handed them my California driver’s license which got me a visitor badge, and walked in and wandered around. I was looking for information on a certain volatile political situation in the region and stumbled into the AU’s Situation Room, a fascinating office with a large flatscreen monitor with live news feeds from all over the continent (and these days that’s a lot of information). But what was most notable was the glittering, massive new AU complex being constructed by the Chinese government in the neighboring lot. It was as if the Jamestown Foundation’s China in Africa conference had suddenly sprung to life.
After working on my story at the AU-and an AU representative telling me the Chinese were unrelenting in their pursuit of primacy in not only Ethiopia but in all of Africa-it became blatantly obvious that anywhere where the political space allowed them, the Chinese were ready to move in overnight. I snooped around a sprawling construction site that cast wide shadows over corrugated aluminum shanties. It felt like I was breathing in some globalization cliché but it was all too visceral. It looked to be a hideously cheap structure that was being built at a breakneck pace. Progress at any cost looks to be the Chinese model here in the Horn of Africa. Click here for a bit of Chinese propaganda on the whole operation.
In other TWD news, my last three destinations have not cooled off in the slightest. The Bahraini government grabbed another human rights activist in a night raid. Back in Cairo, the Egyptian army showed it is not as benevolent as many had thought as they raged during renewed protests calling for Mubarak and family to be tried. And in Libya, a group of journos, including a gal from Harvard I had socialized with on a few occasions, were captured by Qaddafist forces outside of Brega. Hope to god they are ok. Damn dangerous there. The fuse continues to burn. I’m off to Lalibela to explore the 12th century rock churches and expect to hassled by an army of touts. Should be fun. Been wanting to go there for about a decade.
Addis Ababa- I’ve got a new article out on ATol today about political and sectarian repression in little Bahrain. Going to try and do a major road trip here to look into a Horn of Africa trans-border story and I have no clue whether it’ll even work but going to go for it anyway. According to the wikitravel entry for Addis, Ethiopia supposedly has the 4th worst internet connectivity in the world. Glad I read that AFTER arriving here! Loving this city though. Vive Jeune Afrique! Oh, and the coin that my editor Tony used in the graphic to the left, I am bidding on on Ebay! Funny…
Addis Ababa- Finally made it down to sub-Saharan Africa after a completely sketchy 24 hour excursion to Bahrain to get a first-hand glimpse into the repression there-story forthcoming. The internet connectivity situation here in Addis does not seem so great and I came to the Sheraton just to use the wifi. I spent the first night in the Taitu Hotel, a classic old clap trap in a bit of a dodgy area and quickly switched to the Ras whose claim to fame is that Nelson Mandela once stayed there while on the run from South African authorities way back when. My first impression of Ethiopia is a place with a magnificent history and immense poverty in the present, though it has obviously come a long way since the dreadful images of the Derg era from my childhood. I suppose Ethiopia is sort of sub-Saharan Africa for beginners the way Cairo is a soft introduction to the Arab world for the uninitiated (in terms of safety, accessibility, tourism etc).