Sunday, May 18, 2014

Mark Haddon's Ethiopian adventure | World news | The Observer

The curious incident of the novelist who conquered his fear of flying with the help of Valium, Mogwai and Ethiopian Airlines flight 707 to Addis Ababa
Mark Haddon in Africa

Experts in their field: Mark at the Halaku irrigation Scheme in Awassa. He is talking with farmer Alamu Kufa, who is 35 and has seven children. Photograph: Petterik Wiggers/Panos Pictures
I have been terrified of flying for at least 20 years. I try very hard not to fly, but when I'm forced to I feel sick and frightened and angry for several weeks beforehand. I spend my time abroad thinking constantly about the inevitably fatal return journey and when I get home I suffer a mild form of PTSD in which I find even the sight of an aircraft upsetting. In the past few years my wife and our two boys have started to go on holiday without me. I console myself that I have a very modest carbon footprint, but I dream of visiting Iceland or the Canadian Rockies and increasingly I'm haunted by the idea that I'm going to find myself lying on my deathbed knowing that I've spent one life on one planet and that my cowardice has made it so much smaller.
Some years ago Oxfam asked me if I wanted to visit one of the projects they helped fund then write about it, so I travelled by bus to the Migrants Resource Centre in Victoria, London SW1 and despite meeting some extraordinary people there has always been a small part of me which believes I never quite stepped up to the plate. So I went back to Oxfam last year and asked if I could do it again, but this time visit one of the projects they helped fund overseas. It would be like sealing myself into a barrel several miles upstream of Niagara Falls. Once I'd agreed to go there would be no escape. I would fly further than I'd ever flown before, I could go on holiday with my family again and, hopefully, at some future date, die a happier death.
I would pay for my own ticket. It seemed wrong for Oxfam to foot the bill for what was, basically, psychiatric treatment. I chose Ethiopia because it was on another continent and because it was the focus of so many aid myths after the terrible famine of 1983-85 ("Do they know it's Christmas?") I felt sick and frightened and angry for several weeks before the flight.
I started taking Valium with my porridge so I don't recall much about travelling to Heathrow and meeting up with Lys, Oxfam's press officer, who was coming with me to hold my hand. I do remember walking to the gate and seeing, through the window, the Ethiopian Airlines 707 and thinking, as I always do: "It is not physically possible for 70 tonnes of metal to stay in the air" and "I am going to burn to death in there." Also it was painted green and yellow which are just not proper scientific colours. But the cabin crew were reassuring and soothing music was played during take-off and landing, a practice which should, I think, be adopted industry-wide. I gripped the armrests during the climb, counted hard, sweated heavily, put my headphones on, turned Mogwai up to 11, took some more Valium and stayed awake the entire night to make sure the pilot didn't do something stupid while everyone else was asleep.
Mark haddon takes offMark Haddon prepares for take-off. Photograph: Katherine Rose for the Observer

It was grey and drizzling when we landed in Addis Ababa, in the way that Slough can be grey and drizzling. I'd assumed that, being Africa, it would be hot and sunny or, possibly, hot and rainy, partly because I'm an idiot and partly because I hadn't read the Bradt guide in my rucksack as I was going to die before I got there. I'm fairly sure I saw two soldiers walking through the airport hand-in-hand wearing turquoise camouflage gear, but I can't be absolutely certain. I was really very tired by this point.
Lys and I were picked up in a yellow taxi driven by a cheery young man whose name I have completely forgotten along with many other useful journalistic facts about the morning on account of the drugs and the giddy thrill of being unexpectedly alive. We drove into the great, grubby sprawl of Addis via the bus station, which wasn't much more than several hundred damp people standing on a small muddy hill. There was miles of indecipherable Amharic script. There were shoals of elderly blue and white minibuses vacuum-packed with human beings, there were clouds of exhaust fumes and black kites circling overhead, there were damp concrete skeletons of half-completed buildings waiting for construction to restart at the end of the rainy season, some covered in wooden scaffolding like giant games of pick-up sticks, others covered in yellow plastic sheeting blown ragged by the wind. The entire population seemed to be on the street in spite of the drizzle.
At the Amania Guesthouse I passed into a brief, deep coma, woke just before lunch, and belatedly skimmed a few useful facts from the Bradt guide. 1) Addis Ababa is the third highest capital in the world, hence the grey and the drizzle; 2) You may get mugged in the wrong part of town, but they'll do it nicely and you won't get hurt and 3) they did in fact know it was Christmas, but they had to wait another fortnight because Ethiopiaruns on a modified version of the Coptic calendar and their Christmas falls on our 7 January .
Driving long distances in Ethiopia seems to be a specialised skill. Children play on the tarmac. People inexplicably use the concrete barrier in the middle of dual carriageways for conversations and dates and catnaps. There are donkey carts held together with string and monster trucks en route to Djibouti and every conceivable vehicle in between. Horses stand in the traffic because the gusts of wind from swerving trucks keep the flies away. Sometimes the trucks fail to swerve. Over three days I saw five dead dogs, one of which had burst as it was run over.
Farmers in Hulbera, Kofele.Farmers in Hulbera, Kofele. Photograph: Petterik Wiggers/Panos Pictures

We drove through scruffy Wild West towns; there were breezeblock houses and rows of tiny shop-shacks selling oranges and cheap Chinese mobiles and plastic sandals. Between the towns there were gated Chinese industrial compounds and giant plastic greenhouses where roses are grown for export. But mostly there were sweeping grasslands punctuated by termite mounds and spreading acacia trees and smoke rising through the grass-roofs of conical houses, the highlands blue in the distance. It looks like National Geographic Africa, but it's a new landscape. There's no useful stone here so wood is used for building and for fuel. As the population has risen the forests have shrunk. Between 1972 and 2000 the Great Rift Valley lost 80% of its forest cover and there's no reason to believe the rate has slowed.
As the population has risen, resources have been stretched progressively thinner. Cattle and goats are now too expensive for many people to buy so communities have turned to agriculture to feed themselves, but with no real knowledge of how to run farms, no source of decent seeds and no equipment. Imagine a group of stockbrokers being dumped on a remote Scottish Island and told to feed themselves. Add malaria and regular droughts and you start to get a sense of why so many people here are so desperately poor.
After four hours of driving we pulled up at the dusty, dog-eared office of the Rift Valley Children and Women Development Organisation (RCWDO), a local group which Oxfam funds to do the hands-on running of development projects. An embarrassing confession: despite the fact that we have been giving money to them for many years I know very little about Oxfam's development work. They send supporters regular updates and the pamphlets look lovely, but they do tend to stack up unread on the radiator in the downstairs loo. Disaster relief I understand – clean water, sanitation, shelter, food, medical supplies. Campaigning I understand – access to health and education, fair trade, women's rights. But I've always been hazy about development – because it's not sexy. It doesn't get on to the TV news. It doesn't get on to the front page of the paper. It rarely gets into the back of the paper.
We were driven out to a nearby irrigation scheme, and at the end of a muddy road we walked into a clearing to be welcomed by 20 men and woman sitting in dappled sunlight on the kind of tiny benches I remember from PE at school. The women were dressed in headscarves and bright shawls. The men seemed to have walked into a second-hand shop and grabbed clothes at random – sandals, brogues, wellingtons, shorts, tracksuit bottoms, dapper jackets, T-shirts… It turns out that this is precisely what they'd done; everyone wears a single set of cheap Chinese secondhand clothes until it falls apart, then they buy another. The women are just a bit more discerning.
A co-operative of maize growers in Arsi Negelle. A co-operative of maize growers in Arsi Negelle. Photograph: Petterik Wiggers/Panos Pictures

There are 60 households or thereabouts in the Haleku co-operative. A couple of years ago these people needed government food aid to stop them starving. But since then the RCWDO has taught them how to row-plant crops and irrigate fields and build concrete water channels. They've loaned them two water pumps and arranged access to microfinance. The villagers have been given nothing. They've borrowed small amounts of money at interest and paid it back. But all the adults now have a bank account, every household has two oxen and every house now has a corrugated iron roof. Dame Gamedo is growing onions and mangoes. She can't read or write but her eight children have all been to school.
At another co-operative in Golba Village, 48 women are using microfinance loans to buy goats and grow haricot beans. The Ethiopian government doesn't allow Oxfam to do any advocacy work in the country; it can't promote women's rights, for example, or campaign against female genital mutilation. But these 48 women hadn't known one another before joining the co-operative. Now they met regularly to talk without men around. Thanks to the goats and the haricot beans they all had bank accounts. If the co-operative is as successful as the others we visited, then their sons and daughters would go to school. Sometimes women get rights without the phrase "women's rights" ever being spoken.
Back home a few days later I Googled the World Bank's latest available measures for wealth inequality. This is the Gini coefficient, a standard measure of the gap between the rich and the poor in any given country. Denmark, Sweden and Norway are at the top of the list with the most equitable distribution of wealth. Ethiopia comes in at number 15, the best result in Africa. The UK makes number 44 and the US trails behind us at a woeful number 119. We have to look at ourselves very carefully before occupying any moral high ground.
There's a memory from my childhood. Just a snapshot, really. My father is giving money to a woman and her two children sitting by a hedge. I remember them as gypsies though maybe I've given the image a storybook gloss and they were just homeless. I remember feeling embarrassed and uncomfortable. A shadow of that same feeling returns whenever I see someone begging in the street, and one of the reasons I hand over money is to ease that discomfort.
It's a difficult transaction, the giving and receiving of money. It makes people feel vulnerable. There is always the suspicion that you're being cheated or taken for granted, perhaps even laughed at. People who are wary of giving to charity say that staff salaries are too high, or that not enough money goes to the recipients, or that too much money ends up in the pockets of corrupt governments… But those same people rarely ask the same questions in Sainsbury's. How much does the managing director of Birds Eye earn? How much do farmers get paid for growing these cauliflowers? How much of the money I'm spending on this tank of petrol will end up in the pockets of a government that tortures its citizens?
It's the giving that makes people uneasy, not where the money goes. Spending is easy. But what if the people at the other end weren't taking your money? What if it wasn't called "charity"? What if you were paying a local organisation, like the RCWDO, to set up a string of small businesses? What if you weren't giving aid but funding a scheme to stop people needing it ever again?
Next morning we visited a maize-growing co-op in Keraru village where a new concrete-floored grain store meant they could now club together to store their crop and transport it to market when the price was high. There were 103 households in the co-operative. That's about 800 people. Most members now earned £300 a year. Like the farmers at Haleku, a couple of years ago they were dependent on government food aid just to survive. Barite Hayato was growing tomatoes. She had a son at university, three married daughters and three grandchildren living with her. Four years ago she was living in a shelter made of plastic sheeting and sticks. Two years ago she was able to build a little concrete house. In the next few years she wanted to turn the front room into a café.
By this point I was starting to think that our vocabulary is out of date. Aid, charity, donation… these weren't the right words for what was happening here. None of the people we met had been given money. Even the seeds they had been given had to be paid back in kind the following season. This was about self-reliance and support for small business. I think that in their own ways, both Karl Marx and Norman Tebbitt would be equally impressed.
After lunch we drove for several hours to Gambelto village in Arsi Negele district. They were growing potatoes here. I've always assumed that most people in industrialised nations (eg me) have lost touch with nature and that people who live in rural areas in the developing world (eg the villagers of Keraru) have an intimate connection with their surroundings. But deforestation and population growth have forced these people into a completely different way of life and robbed them of much of the knowledge their parents and grandparents had. In Kofele, talking to a villager called Gazali, Lys and I realised that we knew more about potatoes than he did, precisely because we'd grown up around them. Lys was trying to persuade Gazali that you could eat the skins but he was having none of it.
As we flew home, I gripped the armrests hard during take-off, and discovered that red wine and diazepam go exceedingly well together. Out of the window I could see the actual curve of the planet.
It was the flying which changed my life. You don't realise how heavy that kind of fear is until you stop carrying it around. And I'll see the Canadian Rockies before I die. The time in Ethiopia? In truth it had all been rather humdrum. No starvation, no epidemics, no drama. Which is good news, of course. Just ordinary people finally able to lead ordinary lives, growing tomatoes, sending the kids to school and having a decent bed to sleep in. The kind of things every person on the planet should be able to do.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Ethiopia cracks down on political expression-Netizen Report:

Ethiopian opposition activists demonstrate . 
Photo by STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images
The Netizen Report originally appears each week on Global Voices AdvocacyEllery BiddleLisa Ferguson, Alex Laverty, Hae-in Lim, and Sarah Myers contributed to this report.

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Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in digital rights around the world. This week's report begins in Ethiopia, where, on April 25, six members of the Zone Nine blogging collective, known for their critiques of government policy and political repression, were arrested in Addis Ababa. One journalist suspected of association with the group was also taken into custody. The next day, two more journalists were arrested on similar grounds. According to local sources, the bloggers have since been issued charges of  “working with foreign organizations that claim to be human rights activists and ... receiving finance to incite public violence through social media." Various members of the group have worked with Global Voices as authors and translators. In 2012, Zone Nine worked in partnership with Global Voices to create Global Voices in Amharic. In a post about the arrests, Zone Nine member Endalk explained the origin of the group’s name:
“In the suburbs of Addis Ababa, there is a large prison called Kality where many political prisoners are currently being held, among them journalists Eskinder Negaand Reeyot Alemu. The journalists have told us a lot about the prison and its appalling conditions. Kality is divided into eight different zones, the last of which—Zone Eight—is dedicated to journalists, human right activists and dissidents.
When we came together, we decided to create a blog for the proverbial prison in which all Ethiopians live: this is Zone Nine.”
Free Expression: Saudi to ensure “quality content” on YouTube

Saudi officials recently announced plans to take on the burden of ensuring “quality content” for its citizens on video platforms such as YouTube. Under the proposed plan, the General Commission for Audiovisual Media will soon tasked with issuing licenses to YouTube channels that pass the “quality” check. Saudi officials have been taken aback by the dozen or so Saudis who in recent weeks have uploaded YouTube videos criticizing the royal family and/or bemoaning their low salaries or unemployment.
new law passed by Russia’s Duma requires bloggers with more than 3,000 daily visitors to register with state media regulator Roskomnadzor. All registered bloggers then will face the same legal responsibilities as media outlets—including required blackout dates approaching elections—but with none of the same protections.
In a shrewd response to the policy shift, LiveJournal Russia rewired public-facing subscriber widgets so that any blog with more than 2,500 subscribers will simply show a “2500+” symbol, rather than its true subscriber total. Leading search engine Yandex elected to discontinue its blog ranking service, once a popular feature.
Thuggery: U.S. police raid home of Twitter user over parody account.

Parody accounts are officially sanctioned by Twitter, but government officials don’t always get the joke. Mayor Jim Ardis of Peoria, a small city in Illinois, recently made an official police complaint against parody account @peoriamayor, in spite of First Amendment protections for parody. Police obtained search warrantsraided the account holder’s home, and arrested the account holder’s roommate for unrelated marijuana possession. Ultimately, the state prosecutor declined to press charges on the grounds that state laws criminalizing impersonation of a public official do not cover electronic media. In previous cases, the defense has argued that parody accounts should be exempt from defamation charges if their false nature is plainly obvious. In the case of an account like @peoriamayor, which routinely tweeted messages referencing drug use and prostitution—such as “who stole my crackpipe?"—it seems likely that this standard would apply. Twitter has suspended @peoriamayor.
Chinese blogger Qin Zhihui received a three-year prison sentence by a Chinese court for “slander” and “picking quarrels and provoking troubles,” according to CCTV. Qin is the first person among hundreds arrested in the government’s “anti-rumor” campaign to be sentenced.
Privacy: Experts say Canada’s new “privacy” law is bad for privacy.

A Canadian law called the Digital Privacy Act (Bill S-4) intends to implement long-overdue data breach disclosure requirements in order to protect Canadians from identity theft. S-4 opponents like University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geistsay that it would lead to a host of privacy-reducing outcomes, including full legal immunity for any organization disclosing private user information to law enforcement—or any other organization claiming to investigate “an actual or potential [privacy] breach”—all without having to go to court.
Internet Governance: Kiwis to embrace Internet freedom?

New Zealand MP Garth Hughes introduced an Internet Rights and Freedoms Billinto Parliament to protect the right to Internet access, free expression and association, net neutrality, protection of anonymity, right to privacy, and freedom from surveillance. The proposal includes a crowd-sourced consultation process that would enable New Zealanders to discuss the formulation of the bill.
Governments, civil society, companies, and academic and technical communities gathered in Sao Paulo last week to debate the future of Internet governance at NETmundial. Participants hotly debated net neutrality, mass surveillance, and “permissionless” innovation, culminating in the Multistakeholder Statement of Sao Paulo, a nonbinding document that did not pack the punch on surveillance issues that many civil society groups had hoped for. In a remote appearance at the Arena NETmundial, the official side venue for the event, Julian Assange spoke on digital sovereignty, calling on civil society to “produce a different system” with “new networks of association, new defined principles and values.” Watch Global Voices Advocacy members Ellery Biddle, Marianne Diaz, and Ben Wagner discuss NETmundial on last week’s GV Face here.
Netizen Activism: Mexico City residents protest telecom law with human chain.

Thousands of protesters linked arms last Saturday to form a human chain, beginning at the headquarters of broadcasting giant Televisa and stretching across the city, in protest of amendments to the nation’s telecom law that could endanger online speech. Organizers intended for the chain to reach the home of President Enrique Pena Nieto, the bill’s chief proponent, but police forced protesters to alter its trajectory. Voting on the bill has been postponed until June.
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Prof. Muse Tegegne has lectured sociology Change &  Liberation  in Europe, Africa and Americas. He has obtained  Doctorat es Science from the University of Geneva.   A PhD in Developmental Studies & ND in Natural Therapies.  He wrote on the  problematic of  the Horn of  Africa extensively. He Speaks Amharic, Tigergna, Hebrew, English, French. He has a good comprehension of Arabic, Spanish and Italian.