OLF and Ethiopian sovereignty

Zerihun

JANUARY 13, 2012 BY ZERYEHUN

By Zerihun Abebe Woldeselassie, University of Bergen, Department of Social Anthropology

Recently there is a growing debate within OLF regarding its stand on the question of a a common Ethiopian state and there seem to be a revitalization of the question of ethno-nationalism and Ethiopian sovereignty, particularly among the Diaspora. There are now a group or individuals who previously identified themselves and recognized by others as member or supporter of OLF but their struggle, membership and claim of representation have become contested by some other group of individuals who consider themselves as more authentic ane legitimate than the other. I argue that the recent development within the OLF demonstrates yet again the very nature of the post-socialist Ethiopian politics which is characterized by contestation and fragmentation. And this pattern is a result of the historical and unsuccessful Ethiopian nation-state formation and inter-group (ethnic and religious)…

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OLF and Ethiopian sovereignty

JANUARY 13, 2012 BY ZERYEHUN

By Zerihun Abebe Woldeselassie, University of Bergen, Department of Social Anthropology

Recently there is a growing debate within OLF regarding its stand on the question of a a common Ethiopian state and there seem to be a revitalization of the question of ethno-nationalism and Ethiopian sovereignty, particularly among the Diaspora. There are now a group or individuals who previously identified themselves and recognized by others as member or supporter of OLF but their struggle, membership and claim of representation have become contested by some other group of individuals who consider themselves as more authentic ane legitimate than the other. I argue that the recent development within the OLF demonstrates yet again the very nature of the post-socialist Ethiopian politics which is characterized by contestation and fragmentation. And this pattern is a result of the historical and unsuccessful Ethiopian nation-state formation and inter-group (ethnic and religious) relationship in what is now called the Ethiopian region and is directly related to the question of reforming empire-state, diversity, integration, political stability and peace in the region.

The post-1991 Ethiopian ethno-political context is characterized by two main features; on the one hand there have increasingly emerged various groups (local and trans-local) with voices articulated in terms of ethnic ideology. These voices though are not always internally homogeneous, use ethnicity (or questions of cultural identity particularly based on language and religion) and oppression ideology as their primary mobilizing force. Ethnic based political mobilization (or ethno-nationalism) did in fact begin as early as the 1960s. Yet the post-1991 situation displayed an increasing number of ethnic-based political groups some of which had no earlier history at all. What is more specific about the recent revivalism of ethnonationalism is that some groups want to use the post-1991 Ethiopian constitution as an instrument in their ‘struggle’ to only undermine a common Ethiopian state sovereignty. There are on the other hand those (not also homogeneous and expressed in various forms) who deny or (if at all they do) give secondary or marginal importance to issue of ethnicity or identity along cultural lines. This group undermines ethnic sovereignties while emphasizing Ethiopian sovereignty and unity across linguistic or religious boundaries.

These two elements though are influenced by the social and political change in the post-socialist world in which both globalization and revivalism/assertion of local, national and regional identities are central, they should also be seen as being interlinked with the very historical and unfinished modern Ethiopian nation-state building project commonly associated with Menelik and Hailselassie. As such they largely define the contemporary Ethiopian political impasse and the way out is striking the delicate balance between Ethiopian cultural identities and Ethiopian sovereignty. In another language what I am suggesting is that rather than promoting a pro-unity OLF group of individuals vis-à-vis anti-unity OLF ones, the best solution is to work more to create a rational and national consensus among all forces that challenge the viability of a reformed federal democratic, peaceful and all-inclusive sovereign Ethiopian state.

What should be done? A) Replacing politics of loyalty with politics based on citizenship. If there is a genuine desire and commitment for peace what is needed is not trying to maintain Ethiopian sovereignty through the few, politically loyal or co-opted groups or individuals while excluding all anti-government political movements by undermining dissent voices. B) Condemning violence by all sides. Violent struggle to remove the government cannot be a solution either. The TPLF-EPRF has proven that a political change that comes through violence and a victor’s peace hasn’t brought sustainable and inclusive political stability and peace.  It is only keeping the cycle of violence. C) Political reform, not radical change.  The world has witnessed that dismantling existing (or undemocratic/empire) states to create new ones rarely led to the establishment of a peaceful and stable (let alone a democratic) political order. D) Civil-right protection. Often times the state as well as its critics often seek mobilization and legitimacy in the name of groups i.e. ethnic or religious rights. While this should be recognised, it is also significant to mobilise the various populations within and outside groups across boundaries toward achieving equal right for all citizens. F) Balancing rights with duty. Often time the Ethiopian government as well as ethno-nationalists emphasize the right of nations and nationalities without exerting equal effort on their duty, responsibility and commitment to enhancinig the shared and cross-cutting Ethiopian political, social and cultural values. There must be a balance between ethnic/religious identity and civil citizenship.

I argue that the only viable solution is pushing and working for a further reform of the Ethiopian state and national and rational consensus. This solution demands neither the few loyal and supporting political subjects nor co-opted individuals and organizations, but all subjects within the empire-state with their right and duties without suppressing cultural diversity and political difference. It demands building independent institutions and civil societies and legal institutions that should not sympathize with the incumbent government. It demands promoting political and economic integration across linguistic boundary against assimilation and secession/segregation.

The ethno-nationalists should stop mimicking their political enemies or acting out of grievances and biased sentiments. They should realize that it is not to the interest of regional and national peace and political stability if they are calculating how they can use the Ethiopian constitution instrumentally, with the hidden or open motive of aspiring for a referendum and then a separate state. They should execute their responsibility as integral elements of the Ethiopian empire-state and come up with a responsible perspective on how to resolve their legitimate question of equality, liberty, social justice and representation within a reformed and an all-inclusive Ethiopian state.

The fallacious and dishonest argument of leaders and ardent followers of groups like OLF and ONLF is the notion that freedom from the so-called ‘national oppression’ and self-determination will necessarily lead to human right, freedom and equality. However, oppression by its nature is a multi-faceted phenomenon and demand more than ethnic mobilization. If the Oromo-speaking people establish a separate state and will be led by their own ethnic elites (local or Diaspora) this doesn’t necessarily guarantee progress, equality, peace, freedom and human right for every Oromo individuals as many ethno-revolutionaries flaunt. Not only because of the obvious logical argument that collective right doesn’t immediately translate into individual right but also because there is no empirical and historical evidence to support the claim that self-determination necessarily leads to peace and freedom, particularly in the multi-ethnic and inter-connected Eastern African region.

This argument is broadly related to the issue of how we explain the logic or necessity of state formation and nationalism. Notwithstanding the relevance of ecological, political, cultural and economic factors, the primary and political necessity of a sovereign state power, especially in the modern context, doesn’t emanate at least according to a Hobbesian perspective, from the fact that human beings share similar culture or language but rather because human individuals and groups by their very nature may come in conflict with other individuals and groups that a sovereign state is the only viable legal and moral authority to guarantee freedom, security, protection and prosperity to individuals through legal rights and duties in the form of citizenship.

Whatever perspective one takes, the fact of the matter is that contrary to the claim of ethno-nationalists, there is no natural (causal) relationship between sharing a language or other cultural attributes and forming a state or any political system. Many ethnonationalists wrongly but strategically speak of how their ethnic identity travels down the road of history.  For example, Oromo-nationalism, like many other ethnic-nationalisms in Ethiopia isn’t prior to but a result of the modern Ethiopian empire-state formation. For this reason what matters most is how to reform any state to become a secular and democratic state-system that guarantees human diversity, rule of law, human right, equality and minority rights and all these cannot be achieved though parochial political movement that undermines shared past and future at national, regional and global levels.

On the other hand, those who promote a Pan-Ethiopian nationalism or unity should also consider the way to accommodate diversity particularly, ethnic and cultural identities through devolution of power at different levels. It is worrying that many proponents of Ethiopian unity do not seem to properly understand that ethnicity is a modern phenomenon not a result of residual and primitive form of social and political organization or mentality as they often wrongly claim.

But this doesn’t mean that Ethiopia is a mere collection of unrelated populations. This rather entails that in as much as Ethiopian shared religious (Islam/Christianity) cross-cutting ties, cultural ideas, practices, identities and subjectivities are historically established social and cultural forces, specific ethno-nationalist identities are not figments of individuals’ imagination and therefore need to be treated as modern political realities and be reconciled and recognized as an aspect of, if not central to the Ethiopian social and political configuration. This facilitates re-imagining Ethiopia by both sides in a new form.

What about the existing Ethiopian government? Rather than the solution, the current TPLF-dominated EPRDF is part of the problem. This is because though declared a victor’s peace (following winning a war and dismantling the formal dominance of the historically Amhara-Tigre-Orthodox-Christian culture dominated Ethiopian nationalism) EPRDF didn’t institutionalize an alternative, all-inclusive and democratic form of state  based on patriotism. By patriotism, I am not implying a need for that assimilationist political project of nationalism, which is the first step toward totalitarianism particularly in the context of a multi-ethnic empire-state. What I am rather saying is that EPRDF has not been committed to building a shared civic citizenship, where every (ethnic) political group or person in Ethiopia, across ethnic, linguistic and religious boundaries, identify and commit himself or herself to Ethiopian sovereignty as a member of one polity based on equal citizenship rights. In fact, EPRDF gives trifling importance to what unites persons and collectives in Ethiopia as citizens of the Ethiopian state, beyond and in addition to their being possible member of an ethnic or religious communities and this, I think, make Ethiopia fragile and more vulnerable to internal conflict.

Some argue that the EPRDF is the solution and its introduction of federalism is a real alternative. While federalism in general is indeed an appropriate system for Ethiopia there are a number of problems as it’s practiced under the current Ethiopian government. First, it is essentially based on group-centered ideology at the expense of individual freedom. Despite the fact that individual right is recognized in the Ethiopian constitution, the real politics gives precedence to collective, cultural or linguistic “rights” at the expense of individual rights.

That means EPRDF prioritize cultural identity claim over and above citizenship and this has negative consequences in the protection of civil rights in the country. Second, even though it promotes cultural or ethnic identity, it does not recognize internal difference and dissent voices among citizens within an ethnic/nationality/identity/cultural group. For EPRDF there must only be one and authentic political representation for an ethnic or nationality group for instance. Third, what EPRDF did is largely de-concentration and power sharing among political elites. Though this has undoubtedly further created new opportunities to historically marginalized local populations and communities in the form of loyal, supporters and beneficiaries of the regime, it has not brought a real decentralization and devolution process in the sense of empowering local persons as citizens.

Fourth, EPRDF is not open and transparent towards the Ethiopian public. It still is a communist-style secretive, unknowable and vague political group. Whose ever fault it is there are for example, no free civil societies or critical media or public institutions (in the sense that they are not EPRDF controlled, affiliated or sympathizers) that could make the EPRDF and its officials knowable and accountable for what they did and what they are doing now. EPRDF doesn’t trust other than itself. Its officials and supporters wrongly claim that their party is a self-correcting machine and doesn’t need non-EPRDF elements (opponents) for its functioning as a guarantor of Ethiopian sovereignty. Fifth, EPRDF though seemed to embrace federalism, in actual fact its essential feature is largely similar to the century old type of Abyssinian state-system where the center co-opted local or ethnic elites from the margin. Still today state agents are those loyal and trusted individuals fitting the patron-client relationship. There is in fact a difference (greater penetration of the state to the local level than even before) but it is mainly a difference in the form, scale and size rather than in the very hierarchical relationship and core system.

What about Economic changes under EPRDF? EPRDF supporters further argue that EPRDF is in the right truck because it is in the business of eradicating poverty. They argue that after 1991 the challenges against Ethiopian peace and stability is not a structural political problem it is rather directly related to economic underdevelopment and would be removed if poverty is removed. Nevertheless, this argument has both a philosophical as well as political flaw. First, just like promoting federalism, eradicating poverty is indeed another appropriate approach to Ethiopian development. Yet, I argue that “shared political consciousness’ is as equally important as ‘shared economic growth’ that emphasizing the one at the expense of the other doesn’t lead to sustainable development. This argument is based on the general philosophical notion that neither matter nor consciousness determines social being that both are equally important for human development. Second, while they did in fact acknowledge that  they are increasingly facing political problems in the form of what they call, chauvinistic and “rent-seeking’ behavior, the EPRDF officials do not seem to see the fact that the improvement and change in economic situation has also contributed in creating and facilitating conflict through competing ethnic elites (local/diaspora) militating against the endeavor of creating a common economic and political community as per the Ethiopian constitution.

What should the EPRDF government do? EPRDF should acknowledge that building a state through politically loyal subjects is not only a precarious endeavour but also is one major factor for conflict and instability. In this regard shared political identity or commitment to a state (not to an incumbent  government) which monopolizes violence as a formal and legal institution in the international community of states is an essential element in achieving sustainable development not only because it kindles individuals’ loyalty to the state in the form of patriotism but also because of its ability to encompass the full dimensions of human spiritual possibilities and make them conscious of their social and political existence in the country without denying their specific cultural identity and positioning. EPRDF authorities should know that they are not building that Ethiopia in which each and every Ethiopian (possible) passport holder is fully committed and therefore is loyal, as citizens of the state, to Ethiopian sovereignty. They should know that there is no sufficient effort made in policy and political measures to build a new political symbol, sense of citizenship, constitutional rights and duties equally applied to and respected by each Ethiopian citizen. Much  of the effort and focus has been eradicating poverty, and promoting the rights  of nationals and nationalities with less or no focus on their contributions and responsibilities (both at individual and group level) in building a common political community as per the constitution. Many regional elites act as if they have no commitment to building a common political and economic community.

This process has facilitated the contemporary competing elitism, contestation and greater fragmentation we witness along different social and political boundaries such as religious, ethnic and regional. The fact that EPRDF divided Ethiopians as friends and foes while focusing on mobilizing supporters and fighting against enemies and opponents means it has not legitimized its control of federal state power on an alternative and shared national political consensus largely respected by all Ethiopian citizens. EPRDF’s control of federal and regional state power or the existence of a FDRE is not legitimized by national consensus about (good or bad) common history, common peace, common interest and common destiny. It is also not supported by shared democratic and secular values. This is not simply because EPRDF itself is a non-democratic force but also because the Ethiopian elites as well as the mass with a hierarchical social and cultural traditions have to go a great length to develop and materialize democratic ideas and practices.

Meanwhile different political, ethnic and religious groups, networks of individuals emerge and assert their extreme position (both pro and anti unity) only to undermine Ethiopian sovereignty. In fact if one looks the pattern one can notice an increase in contestation and fragmentation within all political, religious and ethnic groups in Ethiopia. In addition to OLF, a number of major examples could be mentioned in this regard. For instance, TPLF itself once seemed a historically solid group but now we have noticed its fragmentation following an internal splinter group which charged TPLF of devaluing Ethiopian sovereignty particularly vis-a-vis Eritrea. ONLF is also a part of this pattern. Some group of the ONLF have already joined EPRDF by accepting the latter’s claims of running a unified Ethiopia even though in actual fact what we have now under EPRDF is a conglomeration of ethnic or nationality groups led by ethnic-elites who are co-opted and tightly controlled from the center. The same holds to the various Ethiopian religious groups where we see one religion is divided into different competing and sometimes conflicting groups in which the question Ethiopian sovereignty vis-à-vis the question of identity and modernity is part of the problem.

While globalization through greater contact, migration, flow of capital and people have in fact facilitated this process, fragmentation and contestation, I argue ultimately are a function both of ethnic relations and incomplete nation-state project in what is now called Ethiopia. The main question now is how to come up with a new Ethiopia which combines these historical realities rather than dichotomizing them as irreconcilable entities. This is not a zero-sum game and there are generally two factors that must be acknowledged in looking for a possible solution.

First, a first step to the solution for contemporary political conflict in Ethiopia is to accept or understand that (while there are a number of crosscutting ties, shared values and history) Ethiopia has always been an empire-state and promote and consolidate a secular federal state in which its citizens share a civic identity based on citizenship (legal right and duty), while at the same time enjoying their respective distinct cultural identities that may manifest itself in terms of diversified religion, languages, local narratives and cultures. Many pro-Ethiopian activists do not seem to understand that Ethiopia has always been an empire-state not a nation-state. In fact, for some Ethiopia is imagined as a nation-state. However, that is an illusion, and the post-1991 political development in Ethiopia has unequivocally shown that an attempt to impose a European like nation-state project has reached its dead-end.

Second, every side should accept that the historical state formation in Ethiopia, though was not fully successful, had resulted in the creation of shared history (negative and positive), shared religions (Islam and Christianity) and shared socio-economic realities (plough agriculture, market relations) across ethnic and linguistic boundaries that could serve as the basis for cultivating positive relations. For example, there is more an Oromo-speaking peasant share with his Amhara or Tigre peasants especially in respect to everyday life rituals, way of life in a way different from other African countries etc…True, Ethiopian history is contested. But the notion that all our past is not shared or is inherently negative, lacks candour and is in fact irresponsible. We have both good and bad history, heroes as well as antagonists that if we select what is common to us we can still re-define the Ethiopian population as a distinct polity vis-à-vis polities in other neighbouring African countries. If there is awareness and political will from the respective elites, we are in a far better position to build a stable and peaceful state in the region.

Third, there should also be a recognition that the fact that historical Ethiopian state formation was not fully successful means that there are always ethnic consciousness and identities (this includes distinct languages, religions, notions of origins, cosmologies, descent systems, and other cultural aspects) that go against any homogenizing political project. Fragmentation and contestation among contemporary Ethiopian political elites (internal and diaspora) ultimately boils down to these two contradictory but interrelated structural forces.

Fourth, the way out from this predicament is developing a synthesis that transform not simply resolve the conflict in an original way. But this is not an easy task. It needs a new notion or imagining of Ethiopia. While the incumbent has legal and political responsibility to facilitate or at least not to hinder this process, no single group should claim or expect the new Ethiopia from another group. The fact that the mainstream oromo ethnic-nationalists do not take (or seemed to be not willing) such initiative while exerting much effort against the notion of a shared Ethiopian state often from non-oromo-speaking groups is not constructive at all. Both the ethno nationalists and the unitarists must take the initiative and be able to participate in constructing and proposing a new inclusive notion of Ethiopia, a notion that can only be built based on selective, pragmatic, rational and consensual approach.

This in its turn needs what I call rational innocence, positive political and moral will, critical but open-mindedness and open heart that recognizes the fact that our peace, security, development and destiny are interconnected beyond our choice and will. It demands a centrist view with civility and a post-modern thinking, which treats any extremist ideology, that undermine this interconnectedness, as a nihilistic project, while embracing rule of law, human right and diversity as the basis for democratic citizenship building.

If we see the recent development within the OLF from this perspective, there is more to be done in the Ethiopian political milieu than achieved so far. Diaspora Oromo elites emphasized their separate identity at the expense of Ethiopian sovereignty even if the initial political objective of the OLF didn’t totally reject the possibility of achieving equality and representation for the Oromo within a reformed Ethiopian empire-state. With this historical precedence, the fact that there are now some more Oromo elites, who openly accept Ethiopian sovereignty is not a total surprise. There is also nothing inherently negative in such a move regardless of the long-term or short-term personal or collective motives of the individuals, who promote this position. Nevertheless, if we see the bigger picture, still Ethiopian politics, at large, remains in elites’ (local and diasporic) quagmire where activists from all sides lack pragmatic approach and therefore fail to develop a rational and national consensus towards a viable alternative from the past and the present towards a promising peaceful future.

Stanford study finds walking improves creativity

Stanford researchers found that walking boosts creative inspiration. They examined creativity levels of people while they walked versus while they sat. A person’s creative output increased by an average of 60 percent when walking.

L.A. Ciceroman walking on pathMany people claim they do their best thinking while walking. A new study finds that walking indeed boosts creative inspiration.

Steve Jobs, the late co-founder of Apple, was known for his walking meetings. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has also been seen holding meetings on foot. And perhaps you’ve paced back and forth on occasion to drum up ideas.

A new study by Stanford researchers provides an explanation for this.

Creative thinking improves while a person is walking and shortly thereafter, according to a study co-authored by Marily Oppezzo, a Stanford doctoral graduate in educational psychology, and Daniel Schwartz, a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education.

The study found that walking indoors or outdoors similarly boosted creative inspiration. The act of walking itself, and not the environment, was the main factor. Across the board, creativity levels were consistently and significantly higher for those walking compared to those sitting.

“Many people anecdotally claim they do their best thinking when walking. We finally may be taking a step, or two, toward discovering why,” Oppezzo and Schwartz wrote in the study published this week in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition.

Walking vs. sitting

Other research has focused on how aerobic exercise generally protects long-term cognitive function, but until now, there did not appear to be a study that specifically examined the effect of non-aerobic walking on the simultaneous creative generation of new ideas and then compared it against sitting, Oppezzo said.

A person walking indoors – on a treadmill in a room facing a blank wall – or walking outdoors in the fresh air produced twice as many creative responses compared to a person sitting down, one of the experiments found.

“I thought walking outside would blow everything out of the water, but walking on a treadmill in a small, boring room still had strong results, which surprised me,” Oppezzo said.

The study also found that creative juices continued to flow even when a person sat back down shortly after a walk.

Gauging creative thinking

The research comprised four experiments involving 176 college students and other adults who completed tasks commonly used by researchers to gauge creative thinking. Participants were placed in different conditions: walking indoors on a treadmill or sitting indoors – both facing a blank wall – and walking outdoors or sitting outdoors while being pushed in wheelchair – both along a pre-determined path on the Stanford campus. Researchers put seated participants in a wheelchair outside to present the same kind of visual movement as walking.

Different combinations, such as two consecutive seated sessions, or a walking session followed by a seated one, were also compared. The walking or sitting sessions used to measure creativity lasted anywhere from 5 to 16 minutes, depending on the tasks being tested.

Three of the experiments relied on a “divergent thinking” creativity test. Divergent thinking is a thought process or method used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions. In these experiments, participants had to think of alternate uses for a given object. They were given several sets of three objects and had four minutes to come up with as many responses as possible for each set. A response was considered novel if no other participant in the group used it. Researchers also gauged whether a response was appropriate. For example, a “tire” could not be used as a pinkie ring.

The overwhelming majority of the participants in these three experiments were more creative while walking than sitting, the study found. In one of those experiments, participants were tested indoors – first while sitting, then while walking on a treadmill. The creative output increased by an average of 60 percent when the person was walking, according to the study.

A fourth experiment evaluated creative output by measuring people’s abilities to generate complex analogies to prompt phrases. The most creative responses were those that captured the deep structure of the prompt. For example, for the prompt “a robbed safe,” a response of “a soldier suffering from PTSD” captures the sense of loss, violation and dysfunction. “An empty wallet” does not.

The result: 100 percent of those who walked outside were able to generate at least one high-quality, novel analogy compared to 50 percent of those seated inside.

No link to focused thinking

But not all thought processes are equal. While the study showed that walking benefited creative brainstorming, it did not have a positive effect on the kind of focused thinking required for single, correct answers.

“This isn’t to say that every task at work should be done while simultaneously walking, but those that require a fresh perspective or new ideas would benefit from it,” said Oppezzo, now an adjunct faculty member at Santa Clara University.

Researchers gave participants a word-association task, commonly used to measure insight and focused thinking. Given three words, participants had to generate the one word that could be used with all three to form compound words. For instance, given the words “cottage, Swiss and cake,” the correct answer is “cheese.”

In this test, those who responded while walking performed mildly worse than those who responded while sitting, according to the study.

Productive creativity involves a series of steps – from idea generation to execution – and the research, Oppezzo said, demonstrated that the benefits of walking applied to the “divergent” element of creative thinking, but not to the more “convergent” or focused thinking characteristic of insight.

“We’re not saying walking can turn you into Michelangelo,” Oppezzo said. “But it could help you at the beginning stages of creativity.”

The study’s strong findings will have legs, leading to further research on the neurological and physiological pathways, Schwartz predicts.

“There’s work to be done to find out the causal mechanisms,” Schwartz said. “And this is a very robust paradigm that will allow people to begin manipulations, so they can track down how the body is influencing the mind.”

One possible future research issue: Is it walking per se or do other forms of mild physical activity have similar elevating effects?

In the meantime, “we already know that physical activity is important and sitting too often is unhealthy. This study is another justification for integrating bouts of physical activity into the day, whether it’s recess at school or turning a meeting at work into a walking one,” Oppezzo said. “We’d be healthier, and maybe more innovative for it.”

May Wong is a freelance writer.

Daniel Schwartz, Graduate School of Education: danls@stanford.edu

Marily Oppezzo, PhD ’13: moppezzo@stanford.edu

Brooke Donald, Graduate School of Education: (650) 721-1402, brooke.donald@stanford.edu

Charlie Hebdo: Norway didn’t give in to Islamophobia, nor should France

The Charlie Hebdo killers want to provoke anti-Islam sentiment among the public, just as Anders Breivik did. But France must resist
By: Owen Jones
theguardian.com, Thursday 8 January 2015 12.40 GMT

Three and half years ago, the far-right Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik bombed Oslo, and then gunned down dozens of young people on the island of Utøya. His rationalisation for the atrocity was to stop the “Islamisation” of Norway: that the Norwegian left had opened the country’s doors to Muslims and diluted its Christian heritage. But Norway’s response was not retribution, revenge, clampdowns. “Our response is more democracy, more openness, and more humanity,” declared the prime minister Jens Stoltenberg. When Breivik was put on trial, Norway played it by the book. The backlash he surely craved never came.

Here’s how the murderers who despicably gunned down the journalists and cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo do not want us to respond. Vengeance and hatred directed at Muslims as a whole serves Islamic fundamentalists well. They want Muslims to feel hated, targeted and discriminated against, because it increases the potential well of support for their cause. Already, there are multiple reports of attacks in France against mosques, and even a “criminal explosion” in a kebab shop. These are not just disgraceful, hateful acts. Those responsible are sticking to the script of the perpetrators. They are themselves de facto recruiting sergeants for terrorists.

Social media abounds with Islamophobes seizing this atrocity to advance their hatred. Islam as an entire religion is responsible, they cry: it is incompatible with “western values”. They wish to homogenise Muslims, as though Malala and Mo Farah have anything in common with the sectarian murderers of Isis. Most victims of Islamic extremists are of course themselves Muslims: including Ahmed Merabet, the French police officer killed at close range by the terrorists in Paris yesterday.

This is a dangerous moment. Anti-Muslim prejudice is rampant in Europe. The favoured target of Europe’s far-right – like France’s Front National, which currently leads in the opinion polls – is Muslims. France is home to around 5 million Muslims, who disproportionately live in poverty and unemployment, often in ghettoised banlieues. This incident should rightfully horrify, but it will now undoubtedly fuel an already ascendant far-right.

The consequences? More anti-Muslim hatred, more disillusionment among already marginalised young Muslims, more potential recruits for extremist groups.

There is a choice, of course. Norway’s enlightened response could be a model elsewhere in Europe too. It would be the last thing the attackers would want us to do. That, in itself, should give us all pause to think.

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Hidden Oppression in Eritrea

By VITTORIO LONGHI October 3, 2014 In Europe’s debate about how to deal with the flow of desperate migrants from Africa, there is an important element missing: the crisis in Eritrea. Every month almost 4,000 Eritreans flee to escape oppression, according to a United Nations special rapporteur. A visit to Asmara, the Eritrean capital, is revealing. In the cafes you won’t hear people talking about the government of President Isaias Afewerki, and in the streets you will never see a march or a demonstration. Any sign of protest is quickly crushed, and opponents of the government face immediate imprisonment and torture, often in underground jails in remote areas. There they are stuffed into metal containers where the heat is unbearable, and given little food or water. The right to trial does not exist, and those convicted have no recourse to appeal. This oppression is eerily invisible. You won’t see police officers along the sunny avenues of Asmara, nor are there soldiers around. But if you have a camera and start taking pictures, people stare and point at you. In this silent, secret system of terror, reminiscent of Soviet communism, every citizen is a potential spy. The government in Eritrea exercises control also through the “national service,” which is compulsory and open-ended for both men and women from the age of 17. It is easy to see why Eritreans will risk dangerous journeys to escape. On Oct. 3, 2013, 366 young Eritreans drowned off the tiny island of Lampedusa. The night after the shipwreck, I watched the survivors mourn the dead. They were taken to an airport hangar to wander among long rows of dark wooden coffins, and a line of five little white coffins for the children. The weeping sounded like a howl of despair for a generation fated to live in a country where hope for a better future had been banished. It was a cry for help. As people gathered in the main streets of Asmara after the shipwreck to view photos of the dead, the police arrived to disperse the crowd, but not before making a list of those who attended. “Nobody will come to save us,” said a 30-year-old teacher I met on my way to Asmara in May, who asked not to be identified. At one time, she said, she worked for European NGOs, but these organizations were expelled by the government in 2006. President Afewerki denies that the country needs any aid or assistance from foreigners. “Isaias keeps isolating our country so that nobody can see what happens here,” the teacher told me. State workers earn an average monthly salary of 500 nakfa (about $15 at the black market rate) and represent cheap labor for both the public and private sectors, especially in mining and construction, where Chinese investments are growing. Many Eritreans rely on informal work to feed their families. In Massawa, once a major port on the Red Sea, Awate Tsegay rents his car to foreigners and hopes to earn enough money to cross the border and join his brothers in Sudan. “Military officers ask up to $1,000 per person to hide you in a car so that you can get through safely,” he said. The government tacitly encourages illegal migration, recently introducing a 2 percent tax on remittances from abroad. Once in Sudan, Eritreans avoid the police and take any job available, until they can hire a trafficker to take them to Libya or Egypt, where they can attempt the sea crossing to Europe. The desert crossing is perilous, and many refugees fall victim to torture and organ harvesting. Meanwhile, President Afewerki, who has ruled for 20 years, still plays the role of the victim. He uses the pretext of the border conflict with Ethiopia to justify tight control over his people. European Union diplomats have expressed concern about the systematic violation of human rights. But if Europe were serious about addressing the causes of the exodus from Eritrea, it would put more pressure on Mr. Afewerki to loosen his grip. Likewise, the international community has done little to resolve the border conflict. Even less has been done to support Eritrean opposition forces, which could challenge the generals and set the country on the path to democratic elections. But the Eritrean opposition is fractured and presents little threat to the Afewerki government. “The most active democratic groups are based elsewhere, in Sudan or Europe,” says Valentina Fusari, a researcher in Asmara. Smaller ethnic groups of dissidents are in exile and too disorganized to be an option. At this stage, without a coordinated effort by the opposition, the dictatorship will keep perpetuating terror and forcing its people to choose between the loss of their freedom if they stay, or a potentially deadly journey if they leave. Vittorio Longhi is an Italian journalist. His latest book is “The Immigrant War: A Global Movement Against Discrimination and Exploitation.” Source: New York Times 03.10.14

Why saying ‘seven out of ten fastest growing economies are in Africa’ carries no real meaning – By Morten Jerven

Posted on August 26, 2014 by AfricanArgumentsEditor

MortenJervenBefore, during and after the US Africa summit one of the most frequently repeated factoids supporting the Africa Rising meme was that ‘seven out of ten fastest growing economies are in Africa.’ In reality this is both a far less accurate and much less impressive statistic than it sounds. More generally, narratives on African economic development tend to be loosely connected to facts, and instead are driven more by hype.

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The ‘seven out of ten’ meme derives from a data exercise done in 2011 by The Economist. The exercise excluded countries with a population of less than 10 million and also the post-conflict booming Iraq and Afghanistan. This left 81 countries, 28 of them in Africa (more than 3 out of 10) and, if you take out the OECD countries from the sample, (which are unlikely to grow at more than 7 percent per annum), you find that every second economy in the sample is in Africa. It might not give the same rhetorical effect to say: ‘on average some African economies are expected to grow slightly faster than other non-OECD countries,’ but that would be more accurate.

And before we literally get ahead of ourselves (The Economist was reporting forecasts made for 2011 to 2015) there is a difference between forecasted and actually measured growth. According to John Kenneth Galbraith, the only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable. So how good is the IMF at forecasting growth in Low Income Countries?

According to their own evaluation, IMF forecasts “over-predicted GDP growth and under-predicted inflation.” Another study looked at the difference between the forecasts and the subsequent growth revisions in low income countries, and found that “output data revisions in low-income countries are, on average, larger than in other countries, and that they are much more optimistic.” Forecasts are systematically optimistic all over the world, but in Low Income Countries even more so.

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Among those on the list of the fastest growers were countries like Nigeria, Ghana and Ethiopia. The news that both Nigerian and Ghanaian GDP doubled following the introduction of new benchmark years for estimating GDP in 2010 and 2014 should remind us that the pinpoint accuracy of these growth estimates is lacking. How confident should you be about a 7 percent growth rate when 50 percent of the economy is missing in the official baseline? Recent growth in countries with outdated base years is also overstated.

While Ghana has reportedly had the highest growth rates in the world over the past years, a peer review of the Ghana national accounts noted that “neither a national census of agriculture nor other surveys, such as a crop and live-stock survey, have been conducted…there is no survey to provide benchmark data for construction, domestic trade and services.” It was recently reported that an economic census is being planned for next year. What we do know is that Ghana (together with Zambia, another of the projected ‘top ten growers’) has returned to the IMF to seek assistance following their entry into international lending markets.

Most of the time we simply do not know enough to assert accurate growth rates. There are also known biases and manipulations. Ethiopia, for example, is notable for having long-standing disagreements with the IMF regarding their growth rates. Whereas the official numbers have been quoted in double digits for the past decade, a thorough analysis suggested the actual growth rates were around 5 to 6 percent per annum. More generally, one study used satellite imaging of nighttime lights to calculate alternative growth rates, and found that authoritarian regimes overstate reported rates of growth by about 0.5 to 1.5 percentage points. Another recent study argues that inflation is systematically understated in African countries – which in turn means that growth and poverty reduction is overstated.

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Data bias is carried across from economic growth to other metrics. The pressure on scholars, journalists and other commentators to say something general about ‘Africa’ is relentless, and so the general rule is to oblige willingly. When talking about average trends in African politics and opinion, analysis is influence by the availability of survey data, such as Afrobarometer, and the data availability is biased. According to Kim Yi Donne, on The Washington Post’s ‘Monkey Cage’ blog, of the 15 African countries with the lowest Polity IV rankings, only seven have ever been included in the Afrobarometer, whereas all but one African country rated as a democracy by the same index is included.

Any quantitative study which says something about the relationship between growth and trends in inequality and poverty, relies on the availability of household survey data. One paper boldly stated that African Poverty is Falling…Much Faster than You Think! The data basis was very sparse and unevenly distributed. There were no data points for Angola, Congo, Comoros, Cape Verde, D.R. Congo, Eritrea, Equatorial Guinea, Seychelles, Togo, Sao Tome and Principe, Chad, Liberia, and Sudan. In addition, six countries only have one survey. The database included no observations since 2004 – so the trend in poverty was based entirely on conjecture. Famously you need at least two data points to draw a line. Yet the study included a graph of poverty lines in the Democratic Republic of Congo from 1970 to 2006 – based on zero data points.

A result of doubts about the accuracy of the official evidence, and a dearth of evidence on income distributions, scholars have turned to other measurements. Data on access to education and ownership of goods such as television sets from Demographic and Health Surveys were used to compile new asset indices. In turn, these data were used to proxy economic growth and in place of having a measure of the middle class. In both cases the data may paint a misleadingly positive picture. While claiming to describe all of Africa over the past two decades, these surveys are only available for some countries sometimes.

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The statement ‘seven out of ten fastest growing economies are in Africa’ carries no real meaning. To utter it is merely stating that you subscribe to the hype. It is particularly frustrating, and it surely stands in way of objective evaluation, that the narratives in African Economic Development switches from one extreme to the other so swiftly. The truth lies somewhere between the ‘miracles’ and ‘tragedies’. It is nothing short of stunning that in a matter of 3-4 years the most famous phrase relating to African economies has turned from ‘Bottom Billion’ to ‘Africa Rising’.

Because of a lack of awareness on historical data on economic growth it was long claimed that Africa was suffering “a chronic failure of growth”, but growth is not new to the African economies, growth has been recurring. There is no doubt that there are more goods leaving and entering the African continent today than fifteen years ago. More roads and hotels are being built and more capital is flowing in and out of the African continent than before. But what is the real pace of economic growth? Does the increase in the volume of transaction result in a sustained increase in living standards? The evidence does not yet readily provide us with an answer. It is the job of scholars to give tempered assessments that navigate between what is make-believe and what passes as plausible evidence.

Morten Jerven is Associate Professor at the Simon Fraser University, School for International Studies. His book Poor Numbers: how we are misled by African development statistics and what to do about it is published by Cornell University Press. @MJerven

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Ethiopia: Embracing Development and Security Means Embracing Free Expression

By: Birtukan Mideksa

Last week, Washington D.C. hosted the US-Africa Leaders Summit, where over 50 African heads of state discussed important issues ranging from public health to trade and development. I was honored to participate in a parallel civil society conference that highlighted the challenges faced by civic leaders on the continent, including the all too prevalent crack-down on free expression.

During the summit, participants repeatedly noted that respect for fundamental human rights, including freedom of expression, is critical for sustainable economic growth. The press is a vital component of society, allowing diverse voices to be heard and balancing the power between the government and the people. The independent media also plays a particularly important role in combating corruption as it oversees how governments spend development and aid money.

In his post-summit address, President Barack Obama echoed these sentiments, noting that “even though leaders don’t always like it, the media plays a crucial role in assuring people that they have the proper information to evaluate the policies that their leaders are pursuing” and that “nations that uphold these rights and principles will ultimately be more prosperous and more economically successful.” Secretary of State John Kerry—who spoke at the civil society forum—reiterated the belief that “when people can trust their government and rely on its accountability and transparency on justice, that society flourishes and is more prosperous and more stable than others.”

According to Secretary Kerry, the U.S. “will continue to support press freedom, including for journalists charged with terrorism or imprisoned on arbitrary grounds.” However, one of the United States’ most important security and development allies in Africa, my home country of Ethiopia, is also one of the continent’s worst jailers of the press.

On April 25 and 26, less than three months before President Obama highlighted the importance of a free press, three independent journalists and six bloggers were arrested and eventually charged under Ethiopia’s widely-criticized 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. The journalists were known to write on a wide range of topics, including corruption. The bloggers, for their part, were part of group called “Zone 9,” which had a large following on social media and were known for their campaign to promote the rights provided under Ethiopia’s constitution. They were all arrested shortly after Zone 9 posted an announcement on Facebook indicating that the group would begin blogging again after a seven month hiatus.

The six bloggers and three journalists were held without any formal charges against them for over two and a half months and were finally charged on July 18. In response, 41 NGOs sent a letter to Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn calling on his government to immediately release the detainees and revise the law. The U.S. government has also condemned such an abuse of anti-terror legislation. Secretary Kerry publicly expressed his concern about the arrests during a visit to Addis Ababa just days after the they were detained. He specifically mentioned blogger Natnail Feleke, with whom he had met on a previous visit, and adamantly insisted that the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation should not be used as a mechanism to curb the free exchange of ideas.

Unfortunately, what happened to these independent journalists and bloggers is neither new nor surprising.

On September 14, 2011, Eskinder Nega, a prominent journalist and human rights defender, was arrested and charged under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. Ten months later, he was sentenced to 18 years in prison. While the Ethiopian government asserts that Mr. Nega’s prosecution is unrelated to his work as a journalist, an independent inquiry found otherwise. In Opinion No. 62/2012, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention held that Mr. Nega’s imprisonment violated Ethiopia’s obligations under international law. In addition to procedural violations, the Working Group found Mr. Nega’s detention resulted directly from his exercise of free expression. They concluded that the overly broad offenses established by the 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation constituted “an unjustified restriction on expression rights and on fair trial rights.” Thus far, however, the government has ignored the Working Group’s call to release and compensate Mr. Nega. It also continues to imprison journalists Reeyot Alemu and Woubshet Taye on similar grounds.

Other international bodies have also criticized the use of anti-terror laws against journalist, including the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and five United Nations special procedure mandate holders.  During Ethiopia’s Universal Periodic Review earlier this year, a number of countries, including the United States, raised similar concerns. Most recently, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, denounced the arrests of journalists and bloggers declaring that “the fight against terrorism cannot serve as an excuse to intimidate and silence journalists, bloggers, human rights activists and members of civil society organizations. And working with foreign human rights organisations cannot be considered a crime.”

The Ethiopian government has long relied on the same arguments to defend its actions—falsely claiming that the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation copies equivalent European standards. The international community can no longer tolerate these kinds of wholly inadequate explanations, especially when respect for human rights impacts the prospects for growth and security on the continent so greatly. If we are serious about development and peace in Africa, we need to hold the Ethiopian government accountable and reinforce the proposition that there can be no robust, sustainable growth without respect for the fundamental rights for all Africans.

Birtukan Mideksa is former federal judge, political leader, and prisoner of conscience in Ethiopia. She has held fellowships with the National Endowment for Democracy and Harvard University and is a member of Freedom Now’s Board of Advisors.

Source: Freedom Now