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NPR: Kojo Nnamni Show: Olympic Marathon medalist faces persecution in Ethiopia- And he is not one August 28, 2016

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Olympic Marathon Medalist Faces Persecution In Ethiopia –And He’s Not The Only One


Oromo Olympic marathon athlete Fayyisaa Lalisaa in the social and international media. #OrompProtests global icon. p7


In recent years, Ethiopia has seen nationwide protests sparked by land rights issues and tension between the Oromos, its largest ethnic group, and the country’s government and ruling classes. While many in D.C.’s local Ethiopian diaspora have been following the unrest, a recent act of protest at the 2016 Rio Olympic marathon finish line brought the issue to an international stage. We talk with an Ethiopian blogger living in exile in the D.C. region and a U.S. journalist who faced challenges reporting from Ethiopia about the media landscape in the country and how censorship there affects perspectives in communities around the world, including those in Washington.


  • Soliyana Shimeles founding member, Zone9 bloggers; human rights expert, Ethiopia Human Rights Project
  • Fred de Sam Lazaro Correspondent, PBS NewsHour; Executive Director, Undertold Stories Project



NPR: Ethiopia Grapples With The Aftermath Of A Deadly Weekend. #OromoProtests August 10, 2016

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#OromoProtests, #GrandOromiaProtests, 6 August 2016, all over Oromia. Dhaadannoo. p124

(NPR) — The videos trickled out slowly on social media — slowly, because those posting them had to use special software to get around what seemed to be a government-imposed internet block.

This video showed thousands of people in the streets of the northern Ethiopian town of Gondar. The size of the crowd was significant in a country where civil protests are usually banned.

Even more significant? The location o f this anti-government protest.

For the last nine months, protests have erupted further south, in Oromiya, home to Ethiopia’s largest but historically marginalized ethnic group, the Oromo. But now the protests have spread north to a second region, the Amhara.

The different protesters have different grievances, but they share a growing frustration with the rule of a third, minority ethnic group — the Tigrayans. They say the Tigrayan elite has a cartel-like grip on the government, military and the fast-growing economy.

The response by the Ethiopian military to the protesters was swift and brutal. Amnesty International says that nearly 100 people were killed over the weekend when soldiers fired directly on demonstrators.

The U.N. human rights chief has “urge[d] the government to allow access for international observers” to investigate what happened.

Even after those weekend confrontations, witness reports were still filtering back to Addis Ababa, the capital. “We’re hearing who’s been wounded, who’s in hospital, who’s been killed, not to mention those who’ve disappeared without a trace,” said Tsedale Lemma, editor in chief of Addis Standard, one of the few Ethiopian magazines that risks open critiques of the government.

She described an Orwellian spectacle on state-run television, with “ferocious PR work” to discredit the protests. “People are being paraded in the TV, being made to denounce the protests. People denouncing even the use of Facebook.”

For years, Ethiopia’s government has warned against a social media-fueled uprising like the one that happened just north, in Egypt, in 2011.

If you watch Ethiopia’s state TV broadcasts, what you’ll be told is that the country’s protests are fueled by ethnic separatists — or even ethnic terrorists.

Tsedale disputes this explanation, saying the protesters’ beef is with the government, not with any particular ethnic group. “I don’t see that people are deliberately orchestrating ethnic violence in the country,” she says. “Of course, the government is eager to identify it as such.”

In Ethiopia, politics is ethnicity, and ethnicity is geography. The country is formally divided into autonomous ethnic states, each with its own ethnic government. It’s a controversial system called “ethnic federalism” that was instituted by the current regime. Political parties are organized along ethnic lines. Thus any critique of the central government will automatically take on ethnic dimensions.

The protesters impugn the Tigrayan elite — the government officials and army generals — who, they say, have a choke-hold on the country. The government accuses the protesters of fomenting ethnic war on all Tigrayans, rich and poor. And in the fragile ethnic balance that is Ethiopia, the battle to claim the narrative is just as important as the battle in the streets.

AFRICA: Oromia: Athletic Nation Report: Oromo Runners in Ethiopia Say They Face Discrimination June 6, 2016

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Odaa OromooOromo legends Tirunesh Dibaba and Kenenisa Bekele win the Great Manchster race

Ethiopian Runners Say They Face Discrimination

NPR,  5 June 2016

When Ethiopia barred its best distance runner from competing in the 2016 Olympics, many saw it as an act of ethnic discrimination. Another runner from the same ethnic group says he was exiled.


If you are a betting person – and we’re not endorsing this – but if you are, it’s a safe bet that the gold in middle-distance running in this summer’s Olympics will go to Ethiopia or Kenya. That’s because those two countries dominate the 5K and the 10K. So it was a shock to the running world when Ethiopia announced its main national team will not include the world record holder in both those races. That’s three-time Olympic champion Kenenisa Bekele. Bekele says he is being discriminated against because of his ethnicity. Bekele is Oromo. NPR’s Gregory Warner tells us more about why other runners say ethnic discrimination casts a shadow over Ethiopian track.

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: The 23-year-old refugee I meet in Nairobi talks quietly as if to conserve energy. He’s thin and nervous. But there’s one name that can put a burst of joy on his face. That name – Kenenisa Bekele.

MOHAMED KEMAL: (Speaking Oromo).

WARNER: In fact, you smile when I even say his name.

KEMAL: (Speaking Oromo).

WARNER: This is Mohamed Kemal (ph). He’s also a runner. And he was 16 years old in 2008 when Bekele won gold medals in the 5K and the 10K races in Beijing.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: And the awesome strength – the awesome, awesome speed. He’s untouchable once again. It’s a new Olympic record.


KEMAL: (Through interpreter) (unintelligible) Kenenisa is my role model. So always I’m thinking to be wise like Kenenisa.


WARNER: Kemal pulls out papers. They’re the finishing times for an Ethiopian half marathon in 2014.

So 1 hour 6 minutes 8 seconds – 86th.

Kemal’s time put him in the country’s top 100 that year. But before the race, he says, the coach of his running club had pulled him aside and told him to throw the race for another runner.

KEMAL: (Through interpreter) We have been told to make others too tired, but, at the finishing, to give the chance for the Tigrinya.

WARNER: Give the chance to the Tigrean, he says. Kemal is not of the Tigrean ethnicity. He’s Oromo.

KEMAL: (Through interpreter) I was discriminated because of I’m Oromo.

WARNER: Kemal refused to throw the race. He was tired, he says, of being passed over for international sponsors or forced to pay bribes for the chance to run just because of his ethnic background. But after he finished so well in the race, the furious coach told him he’d be barred from future competitions.

KEMAL: (Through interpreter) After this, things become serious.

WARNER: In November of last year, Ethiopia erupted in massive civil protest by Oromo, the country’s largest ethnic group. And their complaints were various – that their ancestral land was being taken, that their children were discriminated against in education and employment. They said that Oromo who didn’t adhere to the ruling party ideology were targeted. Thousands of Oromo were arrested, including Kemal. And when he was released, he snuck over the border to Kenya. At 23 he had chosen impoverished freedom over a running career.

So let me ask you – with everything that’s happened to you, will you watch the Olympics? And if you watch it, will you be rooting for Ethiopia?

KEMAL: (Speaking Oromo).

WARNER: Kemal’s answer is complicated. A win for Ethiopia in Rio would reflect positively on a national athletics program that Kemal feels is rotten. And his role model, Kenenisa Bekele, won’t be running. But the other Ethiopian runners are men and women that he knows and admires. How can he not cheer if they win?

KEMAL: (Through interpreter) When my colleagues won that’s – that race, I become excited.

WARNER: So you focus on the face and not on the flag?

KEMAL: (Through interpreter) Yes.

WARNER: But of course the headline, if that happens, will be Ethiopia clinches another gold. Gregory Warner, NPR News, Nairobi.






Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele says his exclusion from marathon team for Olympics is “unjust”https://t.co/IGolZrPeIe


NPR: Ethiopian Prisoner, Bekele Gerba, Urges U.S. To Put Pressure On His Country Over Human Rights. #Oromia #Africa August 27, 2015

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(NPR) – Just a few months ago, Bekele Gerba was languishing in a high security Ethiopian jail, hearing the cries of fellow prisoners being beaten and tortured. Now, the 54-year-old foreign language professor is in Washington, D.C., for meetings at the State Department. His message: The Obama administration should pay more attention to the heavy-handed way its ally, Ethiopia, treats political opponents — and should help Ethiopians who are losing their ability to earn a living.

Gerba is a leader of the Oromo Federalist Congress, a political party that represents one of the country’s largest ethnic groups. With estimated numbers of about 30 million, the Oromo make up about a third of Ethiopia’s population.


In 2011, Gerba was arrested after meeting with Amnesty International researchers and sent to prison on what he calls trumped up terrorism charges, often used in Ethiopia against political dissidents. In court he made remarks that have been widely circulated in Ethiopia and beyond: “I am honored to learn that my non-violent struggles and humble sacrifices for the democratic and human rights of the Oromo people, to whom I was born without a wish on my part but due to the will of the Almighty, have been considered a crime and to be unjustly convicted.”

Gerba was released from jail this spring in advance of President Obama’s July visit to Ethiopia. A soft spoken man, who seemed exhausted by his prison ordeal and his numerous appearances at U.S. universities and think tanks, Gerba tells NPR that Obama’s trip sent all the wrong messages.

“He [Obama] shouldn’t have shown any solidarity with that kind of government, which is repressive, very much authoritarian and very much disliked by its own people,” Gerba says.

Since Ethiopia’s ruling party and its allies control all of parliament, his party doesn’t have a voice, he says. What’s more, he says, his people are being pushed off their land by international investors.

“The greatest land grabbers are now the Indians and Chinese …. there are Saudi Arabians as well,” he says, adding that many families are being evicted and losing their livelihoods.

Gerba says those who do get jobs are paid a dollar a day, which he describes as a form of slavery. He is urging the U.S. to use its aid to Ethiopia as leverage to push the government to give workers more rights and allow people to form labor unions.

Gerba’s case has been featured in the State Department’s annual human rights reports. He describes himself as a Christian who believes in non-violence and says he spent his four years in prison pouring over the sermons and speeches of Martin Luther King and translating them into the Oromo language for a book that he hopes to see published. The title: “I Had A Dream.”

Bekele Gerba is not sure what he will face when he returns home from the U.S. When he was jailed, his wife, a high school teacher, lost her job. His family has struggled financially and psychologically.

“Nobody is actually sure in Ethiopia what will happen to him anytime,” he says. “Anytime, people can be arrested, harassed or killed or disappeared.”

Still, he plans to return home next week. He’s expected to return to his job at the Foreign Languages Department at Addis Ababa University.