Secretary general of the outlawed Ethiopian opposition group Ginbot 7, Andargachew Tsige, was detained in the Yemeni capital Sana’a on June 24; and if we have to believe the official version, he was extradited to the security officials in Addis the same day.
Yemen, which never misses the top ten spot on the annual failed states index, seemed unable to contain the pressure of holding an opposition leader of a foreign country. They quickly dumped him over to his nemesis who already handed him a couple of death sentences. Worrying about international conventions and treaties is a luxury the Arabian Peninsula nation can hardly afford.
Two weeks after the arrest, Ethiopian officials were confident enough to put Andargachew on national television to prove they got their sworn enemy. One that triggered the government’s disclosure is probably to preempt whatever may come from London, a day earlier British official met the Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. While the topic of the discussion was not mentioned, it is clear that Ms Lynne Featherstone didn’t travel 5,000 km to tell Hailemariam “the support of her government would further be consolidated in the future.” Andargachew, who is a naturalized British citizen, might as well be high on the agenda.
ETV showed some images of Andargachew in military fatigue and in villages, the location of which is yet to be disclosed. But a carefully edited grainy video which is more likely taped by the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) shows him saying:
“I am at ease with myself. For me It is a blessing in disguise. I am in no rush. I just want to rest.I am really exhausted. I have no resentment, no anger and no despair.I am totally in control and stable.”
Those words barely convey any messages. We don’t know if they are given under duress. Or if the investigators want to cajole the opposition figure into getting him to give more information, if there is anything left by now. We see him shaking hands with his interviewer whose face is unseen, may be an attempt to show he is in good hands.
That puts to rest the weeklong speculation of the media and in some cases top ranking government officials. “I have no idea,” Ethiopian foreign ministry spokesperson Dina Mufti was quoted as saying by Agence France Presse. The government spokesperson Getachew Reda, who is closer to the inner circle of the leadership, was generally dodging the question by retorting to rhetorics.
So last night’s statement sets the government information officials free, at least not to deny what is the obvious.
The term boat people came into the political lexicon in the 1970s with the Vietnamese escaping communism to settle in other countries. Then the term started to be used in other spots of the world, including the Caribbean in the 1980s when Cubans and Haitians flocked to the United States fleeing political and economic downturns.
In the past couple of years Ethiopians and Somalis are joining this group in leaps and bounds; Somalis fleeing chaos, and Ethiopians leaving their homeland for a myriad of reasons. The latter are an odd addition to the club in that they are boat people of a landlocked country.
The boat people of the Horn of Africa begun grabbing world attention with reports of hundreds of people drowning in the high seas. While there have been some attempts to document these treacherous sea journeys, its full story is far from being told.
Among such attempts is Daniel Gezahegn’s work entitled Siwan, the word-we are told-means May in Hebrew. The 279 page story written in Amharic is a first hand account of a refugee heading to Yemen by all means available. There lies the main advantage of the work as opposed to reports of the media that happen to write the news from exhausted survivors of the arduous sea journey. Daniel says he was fleeing persecution for stories he published while working in the private weeklies of Moged and Gemena which he edited at different times.
The book explains in detail the routes the writer took to get to the waters of Yemen, starting from the good old long distance bus terminal locally known as Atobis Tera at the heart of Addis in December 2005 following the chaos of the general elections earlier in May. He talks of his childhood villages on the way to Jijiga and then to the port city of Bosaso in the self-declared state of Puntland. The situation where gangs and warlords control large swath of territory and even levying tax begins in the peripheries of Ethiopia.Then that pattern follows the immigrants all the way to the shores of Yemen.
It is difficult to track how many days and nights the writer spent before crossing the Gulf of Aden. In those circumstances days and nights lack meanings. One hardly tells what day of the week is any given day. All that matters is getting there at all cost. However, the most dangerous trip was the over forty hours journey on the water where about 150 people are crammed into a rickety boat made for a dozen people. Some of the stories told in this fateful journey are too gruesome to mention. Suffice to say it is a life and death situation. The harsh circumstances, however, hardly deter refugees from getting to the Middle East. According to the UN Refugee Agency,UNHCR, only last year 84,000 Ethiopians crossed the Gulf of Aden in similar manner.
The writer is lucky in that he lived to tell the tale. Somehow the risks paid. His four years sojourn in Yemen was concluded with a resettlement to the US. Many have not been as lucky.
The book is informative and gives a good picture of life of refugees in that part of the world. One cannot help but pointing that readers could have benefitted from some images of daily life in Bosaso, Aden or Sana’a.
Among the challenges of writing such stories is authors’ exclusive reliance on personal memories. The problem arises when conversations begin. One can hardly remember each and every sentence as spoken. Years back when veteran journalist and a one time minister Ahadou Saboure wrote his memoir, some of the criticisms revolved around the conversations aboard a vessel in the port of Djibouti, most of which were held in French.
While these exchanges are important to stories, there must be other ways of presenting them; at least not in direct quotes.
That in general becomes a challenge to all those who embark on such endeavor.
This article is hardly a review, rather an appreciation to a writer who brought the story against all odds.Thank you!