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NEWS ANALYSIS: TOURISM IN PROTEST-RIDDEN ETHIOPIA IS HURTING; REVIVING IT WILL TAKE MORE THAN UNVEILING A LOGO March 28, 2017

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NEWS ANALYSIS: TOURISM IN PROTEST-RIDDEN ETHIOPIA IS HURTING; REVIVING IT WILL TAKE MORE THAN UNVEILING A LOGO

Fitsum Abera, Addis Standard, 27 March 2017


Last week on March 22, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, who also chairs the Ethiopian Tourism Transformation Council, officially introduced the Amharic version of Ethiopia’s new tourism logo ‘Ethiopia, Land of Origins’. It is now called Midre Kedemt in Amharic.

The Prime Minister unveiled the Amharic version of the new logo while attending the fourth regular meeting of the Council, which was established three years ago in March 2014 along with the Ethiopian Tourism Organization. Reason? To transform the country’s ailing tourism industry.

A sign of urgency to reboot the country’s tourism industry plagued by, among others, poor tourism infrastructure and absence of meaningful coordination, both the Council and the Organization were established following a regulation issued by the Council of Ministers (CoM) in August 2013.

The ups and downs

Tourism in Ethiopia has been witnessing an increasing- if modest- growth since the country officially opened its doors to foreign tourists in 1963.  According to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism (MOCT), the most significant dip in the number of foreigners visiting Ethiopia happened during the 17 years in power of the military Derg regime from 1974 to 1991.  Since then, following the coming into power of the incumbent in 1991, the numbers have shown a steady growth from 64,000 to 750,000 during the 2014/15 fiscal year.

That was until November 2015, when anti-government protests that would grip the country throughout 2016 first started, an unexpected turn of an event both the Council and the Organization seemed not prepared to handle.

“That [the time the protests began] was when we started to notice the difference,” says a tour operator who requested anonymity.  “More and more clients began asking questions about security as the [protests] got international press coverage. Pretty soon the low season was upon us and the number of tourists plummeted as we [feared]. But we didn’t expect that more than 95% of our bookings for the high season would end up being canceled.”

The high season in Ethiopia typically starts in September, when the main rainy season is over; and it ends around February when it becomes too hot to take tourists to famous destinations such as the Danakil depression.

Encouraged by the steady inflow of tourists before the start of the protests, our source invested in two 4WD cars. “We bought two cars towards the end of the last fiscal year,” he explained. “We borrowed money from a bank and invested some from our own accounts. But there are no tourists now and we can’t even rent the cars to business tourists coming to Addis Abeba. We don’t know what to do. We are just paying rent, maintaining a small staff and hoping for the best at the moment.”

Although order seemed to have returned following the declaration of the current state of emergency in October last year, and “we are getting more requests now than before, it is not enough to maintain our business,” our source worries. “If things continue at this rate, we will be forced to close down. We picked a bad time to expand our business.” He also said most of their clients come from abroad after communicating with them via the internet, which suffered its own share misfortune as the country shut down internet following protests. Walk in and domestic clients account only for less than 2% of their total bookings, he said.

His frustrations are shared by many tour and travel companies that joined the market recently. Not only tour operators but those working in the transport sector were affected as well, according to Getnet Asefa, a freelance driver/guide. Getnet, who used to make an average 500birr (around $21) per day as a freelance guide, says he is now considering a change in career. “Last year at this time, I worked at least 4 days a week,” he says, “Now getting tourism work has become very difficult. Some of my friends have started working as taxi drivers. At this point, we don’t know what is going to happen next and that is scary.”

Embassy travel warnings aren’t helping the matter, either. The United States traveling warning, issued in Dec. 2016, and the United Kingdom foreign travel advice, updated most recently in Jan. 2017, are still in effect. In fact, the only country that has lifted its travel ban is Germany. But even that excludes traveling to North Gondar, an area located in a region where most tourist detestations are found.

The effect is also felt among tour and travel agencies that on the surface seemed to be doing well. “We are concerned that the company won’t survive this year,” says Yenealem Getachew, managing director of Horizon Ethiopia Tour and Travel plc. “We don’t expect to be reimbursed for our losses. But we do have many commitments. For example, we have to pay profit tax at the end of the year. Some of us have bank loans. When you have a debt to service, that is the first thing you want to take care of. If you can’t do that, you start to lay off employees.”

Yenealem said his company has asked the government for help but they “still haven’t got a response. I think they are more concerned about companies with physical damage. They don’t seem to grasp that without clients we tour operators get nothing.”

In late Oct. 2016, Ethiopia Ministry of Culture and Tourism, MOCT, has established a command post to assess the damage the industry sustained as well as to ensure the “safety of tourists”. “We went to see the damage caused by the protesters,” Tewedros Derbew, Tourist Services Competence and grading directorate director at the ministry and head of the committee, told Addis Standard. “We called the owners for a meeting to discuss how to help them as well as to offer moral support. We have now sent a report to the investment commission detailing their losses. We have also distributed questionnaires to tour operators but we haven’t received their responses yet.”

Tewedros admits “the industry has been severely affected. There is no question about that.” But contrary to the actors in the industry say, he insists “no tour and travel company was forced or threatened to close down or let go of its employees because of it.”

The opposite of…

In late 2015, around the same time the protests began, MOCT announced that it wanted to “triple the number of foreign visitors, to more than 2.5 million, by 2020”, and make Ethiopia become one of Africa’s top five tourist destinations.

In a stark difference to what the actors in the industry and several reports say in post-protest Ethiopia, in a January 2017 report to the house of people’s representatives, Hirut Woldemariam, the new minister at the ministry of culture and tourism, reported that despite the current state of emergency 300,000 tourists have visited the country during the first quarter of the current fiscal year, generating $872 revenue to the country.

But as in every sector, data for this sector is prepared by the government itself. If one goes by Hirut’s numbers above for example, more tourists have visited Ethiopia during its turbulent year than in its years of peace. In Oct. 2015, one month before the start of the protests, the same ministry said that during the 2014/15 fiscal year, 750,000 tourists have visited Ethiopia, fetching in $2.9 billion income to the county. That figure is close to the $3b the government expected to earn from the industry by the end of its first Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) in 2015.

Other hurdles

In Oct. 2016, Lonely Planet has rated Ethiopia 10th out of the “Top Ten Countries to visit in 2017.” But, that announcement seemed to contribute little when it comes to shaking off Ethiopia’s image in the aftermath of the widely reported yearlong protests.

“Image is everything for a country’s tourism sector,” one expert says. “We had just managed to overcome decades of bad publicity caused by famines and violent regime changes. [As of late] Ethiopia had been named one of the emerging tourist destinations. The country’s overall infrastructure was getting better. Then this [the protest] happens. It will take a long time to recover from the effects of the unrest. It is difficult to predict just how long.”

Other issues many tour operators cite in relation to the decline in tourism are the substandard services and accommodations, inadequate maintenance given to tourism infrastructure and destinations, and the lack of communication between tour operators and government agencies.

“Take Lalibela for example. It looks exactly the way it did 10 years ago but the entrance fee has increased,” says Yenealem. “Our hotel bookings are dropped with little to no notice when there are big events like Epiphany in Gondar. The local guides monopolize any work to be done on the sites [including] increasing entrance and guide fees at will and they chase away anyone who refuses to have a guide.”

Lots of plans

In addition to the five-year plan by the MOCT, in September 2016, The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) has handed over Ethiopia’s Sustainable Tourism Master Plan (STMP) 2015-2025 to the then minister of tourism and culture, Ayisha Mohammed Mussa. It targets to lift the number of international visitors to five million in the year 2025. The projected income from the industry to increase from ETB14.197 billion in 2012 to ETB180 billion in 2015. The corresponding number of jobs in the tourism sector will increase from 985, 500 to 4.8 million, according to the document.

As part of its several initiatives to revive the industry, as of last week, the Ethiopian Tourism Organization is organizing a series of workshops in several cities in North America including New York, Los Angeles, and Toronto.

ETO has also recently signed, for an undisclosed amount of money, an agreement with New York-based CornerSun, a tourism marketing and public relations firm to “represent and promote Ethiopia” to travel trade and media throughout the United States and Canada. Since it was formed in 2014, the organization, led by an industry veteran Solomon Tadesse, has spent more time and resource to promote Ethiopia by participating in various fairs and exhibitions outside the country.

With all that said and all the inconsistencies considered, however, tour operators worry that the number of tourists visiting Ethiopia will continue falling short than both the five year plan by the ministry and ECA’s STMP have anticipated.

Last week and this week, while Solomon Tadesse, along with a group of hotels as well as tour and travel company owners, is doing a three-city roadshow in the Americas, some tourists who want to take chances to visit Ethiopia signed onto Lonely Planet’s online forums to complain about complicated visa requirements at Ethiopian embassies abroad and a steep rise in domestic flight fare by the state monopoly, Ethiopian Airlines, an indication that beyond the protest-tainted image the industry is facing as of late tourists are also dealing with other problems that are equally urgent; but problems that are less the focus of the endless plans to revive the sector, including a new logo. AS 

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Ethiopia: Human Rights Watch World Report 2015 January 29, 2015

Posted by OromianEconomist in Africa, Amnesty International's Report: Because I Am Oromo, Groups at risk of arbitrary arrest in Oromia: Amnesty International Report, Human Rights Watch on Human Rights Violations Against Oromo People by TPLF Ethiopia.
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Ohrwlogo

 

‘Many governments have responded to the turmoil by downplaying or abandoning human rights. Governments directly affected by the ferment are often eager for an excuse to suppress popular pressure for democratic change. Other influential governments are frequently more comfortable falling back on familiar relationships with autocrats than contending with the uncertainty of popular rule. Some of these governments continue to raise human rights concerns, but many appear to have concluded that today’s serious security threats must take precedence over human rights. In this difficult moment, they seem to argue, human rights must be put on the back burner, a luxury for less trying times. That subordination of human rights is not only wrong, but also shortsighted and counterproductive. Human rights violations played a major role in spawning or aggravating most of today’s crises. Protecting human rights and enabling people to have a say in how their governments address the crises will be key to their resolution. Particularly in periods of challenges and difficult choices, human rights are an essential compass for political action. ‘ in Tyranny’s False Comfort, http://www.hrw.org/world-report/2015/essays/tyranny-false-comfort?page=1 

 

‘Ethiopia Hopes that Ethiopia’s government would ease its crackdown on dissent ahead of the May 2015 elections were dashed in 2014.’

 

‘In April and May, protests erupted in towns throughout the region of Oromia against the planned expansion of Addis Ababa’s municipal boundary into Oromia. Security personnel used excessive force, including live ammunition, against protesters in several cities. At least several dozen people were confirmed dead and hundreds were arrested. Many of them remain in custody without charge. Restrictions on human rights monitoring and on independent media make it difficult to ascertain the precise extent of casualties and arrests. Foreign journalists who attempted to reach the demonstrations were turned away or detained by security personnel. Ethnic Oromos make up approximately 45 percent of Ethiopia’s population and are often arbitrarily arrested and accused of belonging to the banned Oromo Liberation Front (OLF).’

 

Ethiopia Hopes that Ethiopia’s government would ease its crackdown on dissent ahead of the May 2015 elections were dashed in 2014. Instead the government continued to use arbitrary arrests and prosecutions to silence journalists, bloggers, protesters, and supporters of opposition political parties; police responded to peaceful protests with excessive force; and there was no indication of any government willingness to amend repressive legislation that was increasingly condemned for violating international standards, including at Ethiopia’s Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Security forces have harassed and detained leaders and supporters of Ethiopian opposition parties. In July, leaders of the Semawayi (“Blue”) Party, the Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ), and the Arena Tigray Party were arrested. At time of writing, they had not been charged but remained in detention. The Semawayi Party’s attempts to hold protests were regularly blocked in 2014. Its applications to hold demonstrations were denied at least three times and organizers were arrested. Over the course of the year, authorities repeatedly harassed, threatened, and detained party leaders. In June, Andargachew Tsige, a British citizen and secretary general of the Ginbot 7 organization, a group banned for advocating armed overthrow of the government, was deported to Ethiopia from Yemen while in transit. The transfer violated international law prohibitions against sending someone to a country where they are likely to face torture or other mistreatment. Tsige had twice been sentenced to death in absentia for his involvement with Ginbot 7. He was detained incommunicado in Ethiopia without access to family members, legal counsel, or United Kingdom consular officials for more than six weeks. He remains in detention in an unknown location. Protests by members of some Muslim communities against perceived government interference in their religious affairs continued in 2014, albeit with less frequency. As in 2013, these protests were met by excessive force and arbitrary arrests from security forces. The trials continue of the 29 protest leaders who were arrested and charged under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation in July 2012.

In April and May, protests erupted in towns throughout the region of Oromia against the planned expansion of Addis Ababa’s municipal boundary into Oromia. Security personnel used excessive force, including live ammunition, against protesters in several cities. At least several dozen people were confirmed dead and hundreds were arrested. Many of them remain in custody without charge. Restrictions on human rights monitoring and on independent media make it difficult to ascertain the precise extent of casualties and arrests. Foreign journalists who attempted to reach the demonstrations were turned away or detained by security personnel. Ethnic Oromos make up approximately 45 percent of Ethiopia’s population and are often arbitrarily arrested and accused of belonging to the banned Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). Freedom of Association The Charities and Societies Proclamation (CSO law), enacted in 2009, has severely curtailed the ability of independent nongovernmental organizations to work on human rights. The law bars work on human rights, good governance, conflict resolution, and advocacy on the rights of women, children and people with disabilities if organizations receive more than 10 percent of their funds from foreign sources. The law was more rigorously enforced in 2014. In March, Ethiopia was approved for membership in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), which promotes transparency on oil, gas, and mining revenues, despite the requirement for candidate countries to make a commitment to meaningful participation of independent groups in public debate on natural resource management. Ethiopia’s previous application was denied in 2010 based on concerns over the CSO law. Freedom of Expression Media remain under a government stranglehold, with many journalists having to choose between self-censorship, harassment and arrest, or exile. In 2014, dozens of journalists and bloggers fled the country following threats. In August 2014, the owners of six private newspapers were charged following a lengthy campaign of threats and harassment against their publications. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Ethiopia is one of three countries in the world with the highest number of journalists in exile. Since 2009, the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation has been used to target political opponents, stifle dissent, and silence journalists. In July, Ethiopia charged 10 bloggers and journalists known as the Zone 9 Collective under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation after they spent over 80 days in pre-charge detention. The charges included having links to banned opposition groups and trying to violently overthrow the government. The bloggers regularly wrote about current events in Ethiopia. Among the evidence cited was attending a digital security training course in Kenya and the use of “security in-a-box”-a publicly available training tool used by advocates and human rights defenders. Due process concerns have marred the court proceedings. Other journalists convicted under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation-including Eskinder Nega, Reeyot Alemu, and Woubshet Taye-remain in prison. The government continues to block even mildly critical web pages and blogs. The majority of opposition media websites are blocked and media outlets regularly limit their criticism of government in order to be able to work in the country. The government regularly monitors and records telephone calls, particularly international calls, among family members and friends. Such recordings are often played during interrogations in which detainees are accused of belonging to banned organizations. Mobile networks have been shut down during peaceful protests and protesters’ locations identified using information from their mobile phones. The government has monitored digital communications using highly intrusive spyware that monitors all activity on an individual’s computer, including logging of keystrokes and recording of skype calls. The government’s monopoly over all mobile and Internet services through its sole, state-owned telecom operator, Ethio Telecom, facilitates abuse of surveillance powers. Abuses of Migrant Workers Hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians continue to pursue economic opportunities in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Bahrain, and other Gulf countries, risking mistreatment from human traffickers along the migration routes. In Yemen, migrants have been taken captive by traffickers in order to extort large sums of money from their family members. In late 2013 and early 2014, hundreds of thousands of migrant workers, mainly Ethiopians, were detained and deported from Saudi Arabia to Ethiopia. Saudi security forces and civilians attacked Ethiopians, prompting restrictions on migration to certain countries.

Forced Displacement

Both the government of Ethiopia and the donor community failed to adequately investigate allegations of abuses associated with Ethiopia’s “villagization program.” Under this program, 1.5 million rural people were planned to be relocated, ostensibly to improve their access to basic services. Some relocations during the program’s first year in Gambella region were accompanied by violence, including beatings, arbitrary arrests, and insufficient consultation and compensation. A 2013 complaint to the World Bank’s Inspection Panel from Ethiopian refugees, the institution’s independent accountability mechanism, continues to be investigated. Ethiopian refugees alleged that the bank violated its own policies on indigenous people and involuntary resettlement in the manner a national program was implemented in Gambella. In July, a UK court ruled that allegations that the UK Department for International Development (DFID) did not adequately assess evidence of human rights violations in the villagization program deserved a full judicial review. The judicial review had yet to be heard at time of writing. Ethiopia is continuing to develop sugar plantations in the Lower Omo Valley, clearing 245,000 hectares of land that is home to 200,000 indigenous people. Indigenous people continue to be displaced without appropriate consultation or compensation. Households have found their grazing land cleared to make way for state-run sugar plantations, and access to the Omo River, used for growing food, restricted. Individuals who have questioned the development plans face arrest and harassment. Local and foreign journalists have been restricted from accessing the Omo Valley to cover these issues.

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCHLGBT Rights

Ethiopia’s criminal code punishes consensual adult same-sex relations with up to 15 years in prison. In March, Ethiopia’s lawmakers proposed legislation that would make same-sex conduct a non-pardonable offense, thereby ensuring that LGBT people convicted under the law could not be granted early leave from prison. However, in April the government dropped the proposed legislation.

Ethiopia came for Universal Periodic Review in May 2014, and they rejected all recommendations to decriminalize same-sex conduct and to take measures to combat discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Key International Actors

Ethiopia continues to enjoy unquestioned support from foreign donors and most of its regional neighbors, based on its role as host of the African Union (AU); its contribution to UN peacekeeping, security and aid partnerships with Western countries; and its stated progress on development indicators. Its relations with Egypt are strained due to Ethiopia’s construction of the Grand Renaissance Dam, which will divert water from the Nile and is due to be completed in 2018. In 2014, Ethiopia negotiated between warring parties in South Sudan, and its troops maintained calm in the disputed Abyei Region. Ethiopia continues to deploy its troops inside Somalia; they were included in the AU mission as of January. Ethiopia is one of the largest recipients of donor aid in Africa, receiving almost US$4 billion in 2014, which amounted to approximately 45 percent of its budget. Donors remain muted in their criticism of Ethiopia’s human rights record and took little meaningful action to investigate allegations of abuses. Donors, including the World Bank, have yet to take the necessary measures to ensure that their development aid does not contribute to or exacerbate human rights problems in Ethiopia. Ethiopia rejected recommendations to amend the CSO law and the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation that several countries made during the examination of its rights record under the Universal Periodic Review in May.

Read full report at:

http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/wr2015_web.pdf