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How Do You Solve a Problem Like Ethiopia?

Why the arrest of one of Addis Ababa's most vocal critics is a huge embarrassment for the West.

Tall metal gates guard a courtyard just off a busy street north of London's financial district. The area, once down and out, is today much sought after, but scattered between the newly refurbished warehouses and loft apartments are some blocks of municipal housing populated largely by the city's African immigrant communities. Inside their yard, small boys are kicking a soccer ball. "Yemi's my mum," one of the boys says, leading the way up the building's aging concrete stairwell to the fourth-floor flat.

A small, slim woman, Yemi smiles easily. On her shelves are portraits of her parents, who left Ethiopia for the United States in 1982 to make a new life for their family. A black-and-white photograph shows her father as a young man in Ethiopian uniform. "He was in the army," Yemi explains. "But he left for civilian life in 1972 before the Derg took power."

The Derg, or "Coordinating Committee of the Armed Forces, Police, and Territorial Army," comprised a group of low-ranking officers who deposed Emperor Haile Selassie. The emperor had ruled Ethiopia for four decades until his failure to respond to a devastating famine in 1974 led to his overthrow and subsequent murder. Mengistu Haile Mariam, an obscure army major, led the coup and went on to rule Ethiopia with an iron fist, engaging in a ruthless campaign of repression that became known as the Red Terror. Executions were rife and tens of thousands of people were imprisoned until the Derg was ousted by the country's current rulers in 1991.

Yemi was lucky that her father left the military when he did. "Yes," she agrees, "they killed so many of their own."

The violent revolutions that have marked Ethiopia's recent history still reverberate today. The country has enjoyed substantial donor support ever since the devastating 1984-1985 famine and has been an important ally in the fight against Islamic extremism in the Horn of Africa. But the government, while nominally democratic, still tolerates little opposition -- a reality Yemi knows all too well.

Yemi, whose full name is Yemsrach Hailemariam, is today caring for her two small boys and their sister on her own. On July 9, her partner, Andargachew Tsige, a leader of Ethiopia's largest exiled opposition movement, was arrested in an airport transit lounge in Yemen. He had been on his way from the United Arab Emirates to Eritrea when he was picked up by Yemeni security, who then bundled him onto a plane bound for Ethiopia. 

Andargachew is the secretary-general of Ginbot 7, an opposition movement outlawed by the Ethiopian authorities. The party was founded after the government refused to accept the 2005 election results. Ginbot 7 has been declared a terrorist organization, and Andargachew was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death in absentia in June 2012. Since then, he has toured the world, working with the Ethiopian diaspora in defiance of the government.

Now, he is in its hands. 

***

Andargachew's entrance into politics came when he was a college student in Addis Ababa in the early 1970s. He joined one of the left-wing parties that fell out with the regime. But soon, life became untenable: The Derg sent its security services door to door to crush its opponents. Bodies were left in the streets of the capital. Andargachew's younger brother, Amha Tsige, was murdered for his involvement in left-wing politics.

Like many of his generation, Andargachew slipped out of the country and sought sanctuary in Britain in 1979. After being granted refugee status, he returned to his studies in London. "He studied philosophy. Kant and Sartre were his favorites," says Yemi, with a smile.

When the current government came to power in 1991, Andargachew decided to return home and took up work with the Addis Ababa city council. Yet hopes that Ethiopia's new government, led by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, would put the country's violent past behind them soon faded. A coalition government with the opposition fell apart, and renewed repression followed. Andargachew fell out with the authorities and left for Britain once more.

In 1998, during a trip to the United States, Andargachew and Yemi met through a friend. They started a relationship and a new life in Britain. But in 2005, with fresh elections and a renewed hope for democracy back home, Andargachew went back to Ethiopia to work with the charismatic opposition leader, Berhanu Nega, in the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD).

In the elections, the CUD managed to take almost every seat in the capital and may have even won a majority in the rest of the country. But the authorities were not prepared to accept the outcome. Amid allegations of vote rigging and widespread protests, Andargachew was arrested. "For 18 days, there was a blackout," says Yemi. "They told us nothing." Traveling from Britain, she finally managed to see him. He had been beaten in detention, his face badly bruised and his eye injured. "It still gives him problems," Yemi explains.

After a month, Andargachew was released on bail and slipped out of the country. With the election effectively annulled, some 60,000 people detained, and around 200 dead, the opposition decided there was little room left for democratic opposition. Meeting in Washington in 2008, Ginbot 7 was formed; the name, "May 15" in Amharic, commemorates the day of the 2005 election. Andargachew became secretary-general.

Since the 2005 election, Ethiopia has proved to be a remarkable economic success story. The World Bank recorded growth of 10.3 percent in 2013. Analysts suggest this is skewed in favor of the ruling party and its associates, but there is no doubt that the economy has flourished.

The political picture, by contrast, is bleak. The U.S. State Department 2013 report on human rights in Ethiopia documents "restrictions on freedom of expression and association, including through arrests; detention; politically motivated trials; harassment; and intimidation of opposition members and journalists, as well as continued restrictions on print media." Opposition members have been arrested and had their phones are tapped, and exiled movements such as Ginbot 7 have had their websites blocked.

The government alleges that Ginbot 7 engaged in active rebellion and that Andargachew has participated in terrorist activities, a claim that Yemi adamantly denies and that many analysts find dubious. (Groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch condemned Andargachew's arrest.)

Andargachew, Yemi says, has simply been working to keep the opposition alive among Ethiopia's widely dispersed diaspora. He has traveled regularly across Europe and the United States and also visited Ethiopian communities in Australia. "He is the backbone of the organization," she says. "He travels a great deal, and our family life has suffered a lot. But he's clear: His family must come second." 

*** 

Andargachew's arrest is an embarrassment for London and Washington, because Ethiopia is their most important ally in the Horn of Africa. Despite its rights record, Ethiopia is seen by the United States as an important supporter in the fight against radical Islamist movements. During a visit to Addis Ababa in July 2013, Ash Carter, then the U.S. deputy secretary of defense, characterized the U.S.-Ethiopia partnership as an important bilateral relationship and expressed gratitude to Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn for the critical role Ethiopia has played in addressing regional challenges in Somalia, Sudan, and South Sudan.

"Ethiopia and the United States have shared interests in these countries," Carter said during his visit, "and we continue to explore additional ways that we can work together to tackle East Africa's security challenges."

Washington backs Ethiopian efforts to fight al Qaeda-aligned groups through Camp Lemonnier, the U.S. base in neighboring Djibouti. It also maintains a base inside Ethiopia from which drone attacks have been made against the Somali Islamist movement al-Shabab. Citing unnamed U.S. officials, a 2007 New York Times article described a "close and largely clandestine relationship with Ethiopia [that] also included significant sharing of intelligence on the Islamic militants' positions and information from American spy satellites with the Ethiopian military." The article also outlined operations by a secret U.S. special operations unit, Task Force 88. The task force was described in a separate article by Time as a secretive "hunter-killer team" used in targeted killings.

The British relationship with Ethiopia -- though concentrating on aid rather than military assistance -- is just as close. The bond goes back many years: Emperor Haile Selassie spent World War II in Britain, which then went on to help restore him to his throne. More recently, the 1984-1985 famine in Ethiopia became a cause célèbre in Britain, which raised 5 million pounds ($8.56 million) in just three days. Today, Britain gives Ethiopia 374 million pounds ($640 million) a year and has ignored past calls for aid to be curtailed due to authorities' numerous human rights violations.

A case currently making its way through British courts alleges that aid money has paid for developments that have resulted in Ethiopians being driven from their lands. The case, on behalf of an anonymous farmer, "Mr. O," is being brought by Leigh Day, a British legal firm with a long record of winning compensation for clients abroad. It arises from a 2012 report by Human Rights Watch that alleged that some 45,000 families have been removed from their lands in the western Ethiopian region of Gambella.

Lynne Featherstone, a British aid minister, happened to be in Addis Ababa at the time of Andargachew's extradition and raised his case with Prime Minister Hailemariam. Yet diplomatic engagement seems to be the only means of protest that is of any interest. There is no suggestion that British aid to Ethiopia will be halted or curtailed. There have been no statements from the U.S. government.

***

At around 9 p.m., Yemi puts her 7-year-old son, Yilak, to bed. He's happily oblivious of his father's situation. "I don't know how to tell the children," Yemi says quietly. "They are used to him being away, but Yilak wants to talk to his father on the phone. I just change the subject."

How long does Yemi think it will be before the family sees their father again? "It depends on how hard people can push," Yemi replies. "If we can get Cameron" -- the British prime minister -- "then maybe things will move." 

She has some reason to be hopeful: Andargachew's detention has drawn public protests in Britain and the United States. His member of Parliament has raised the case with the British government, as has an influential member of the European Parliament.

But more pressure will be required if the Ethiopian authorities are to drop the charges against Andargachew. Threats to the multimillion-dollar aid budget might just do the trick. Otherwise, the Ethiopian government might silence one of its most prominent critics for good -- through jail or worse. 

"They told [Featherstone] they would not carry out the death sentence," Yemi says quietly. "But I have no confidence in what they say."

Photo courtesy of Wondimu Mekonnen, member of Ginbot 7

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Boko Haram: Terror's Insidious New Face, Alex Perry, Newsweek.

It's several weeks since the Islamist militants of Boko Haram kidnapped more than 260 girls from a school in northeastern Nigeria and the general wants me to see what he's up against. He invites me to his office in the capital, Abuja, and opens his laptop.  

The general clicks on one folder titled Abubakar Shekau. A first clip shows the future leader of Boko Haram in his years as a preacher, in a white cap and white babban riga, the traditional Nigerian pajama, tunic and cape. A second clip is more recent, from 2013, and shows Shekau in a clearing, looking far bulkier, in full combat camouflage.

The next clip shows Shekau's former No. 2, Abu Sa'ad, a few months before his death in August 2013. He is giving a speech to his men on the eve of an attack last year on an army barracks in Bama, Nigeria, a town on the Cameroon border. The fighters, who appear to be mostly teenagers, grin shyly at the camera. Abu Sa'ad says that the attack has been long planned and that most of its architects are dead.

 

The Organ Detective: A Career Spent Uncovering a Hidden Global Market in Human Flesh, Ethan Watters, Pacific Standard.

Tracking the organ trade, anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes visited African and South American dialysis units, organ banks, police morgues, and hospitals. She interviewed surgeons, patient's rights activists, pathologists, nephrologists, and nurses. So why aren't more people listening to her?

When she first heard about the organ thieves, the anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes was doing fieldwork in northeastern Brazil. It was 1987, and a rumor circulating around the shantytown of Alto do Cruzeiro, overlooking the town of Timbau?ba, in a sugarcane farming region of Pernambuco, told of foreigners who traveled the dirt roads in yellow vans, looking for unattended children to snatch up and kill for their transplantable organs. Later, it was said, the children's bodies would turn up in roadside ditches or in hospital dumpsters.

Scheper-Hughes, then an up-and-coming professor at the University of California-Berkeley, had good reason to be skeptical. As part of her study of poverty and motherhood in the shantytown, she had interviewed the area's coffin makers and the government clerks who kept the death records. The rate of child mortality there was appalling, but surgically eviscerated bodies were nowhere to be found. "Bah, these are stories invented by the poor and illiterate," the manager of the municipal cemetery told her. 

 

Nature's Most Perfect Killing Machine, Leigh Cowart, Hazlitt.

Ebola is nightmare fuel: a biological doomsday device conspiring with our bodies to murder us in uniquely gruesome fashion. It's also killed fewer than 2,000 people. How has a virus with such a modest body count so fiercely captured the darkest corners of our imagination?

On October 13, 1976, Frederick A. Murphy, DVM, Ph.D., saw something that would terrify the masses for decades to come. A few days prior, a box containing a specimen from a patient in Zaire had arrived at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta in poor condition, the glass tubes broken in transit. Rather than send it straight to the autoclave for sterilization, his colleague Dr. Patricia Webb scavenged some fluid-soaked cotton from the damaged delivery. After the virus spent a few days in tissue culture-monkey kidney cells, to be specific-Murphy prepared a sample for examination with an electron microscope. When he saw it, the filamentous hook-and-loop formation now so recognizable, he immediately shut down the device. He had to return to where he prepared the sample. He had to bleach the area, to autoclave his equipment and his protective coverings. It was urgent.

He returned his attention to the sample, though. He thought he'd seen Marburg, a lethal filovirus capable of causing a viral hemorrhagic fever, and shot a cassette's worth of pictures-not realizing he had, in fact, just become the first human to ever photograph the slender, looping tell of the Ebola virus.

Ebola. The name itself has become a synonym for horror. That a strand of 280 or so amino acids carrying little more than simple instructions and lucky keys for vertebrate locks can kill in such a fantastically gruesome manner is a testament to the ferocity of nature at the molecular core. It's one thing to fear life forms at the macro level-to dread the shark in the water, to gawk at lacerations rimmed by skin flapping around like party streamers, to see the stump and hear the story and be filled with awe at the efficiency of an ancient apex predator. It's quite another to contemplate your own body liquefying inside you, spilling through all of your available holes as you cling to life-to consider that something so deadly could have such stealth, present only in the bodily destruction it leaves in its wake.

 

A ‘Band-Aid' for 800 Children, Eli Saslow, Washington Post.

Nora Sandigo is guardian to hundreds of U.S. citizens born to illegal immigrants who are subject to deportation.

Sandigo is Miami's most popular solution to a growing problem in immigration enforcement affecting what the government refers to as "mixed-status families." A quarter of people deported from the United States now say they are parents of U.S.-citizen minors, which means more than 100,000 American children lose a parent to deportation each year. A few thousand of those children lose both parents. "Immigration orphans," is how the government refers to this group.

Many of them leave the country with their parents. Seventeen each day are referred to the U.S. foster-care system. Others seek out new guardians, American citizens such as Sandigo, to protect their legal interests in the United States. For these children, the arrangement means they can stay in the country where they were born and continue to live with relatives or friends who are in the country illegally, without fear of being taken into state custody.

 

When Wall Street Went to Africa, Christiane Badgley, Foreign Policy.

A New York tycoon won a sweetheart deal to build a massive "sustainable" palm oil plantation in Cameroon. What followed were accusations of intimidation, corruption, bribery, and deceit. 

At the main gate of the Herakles Farms plantation, a large billboard reads, "Contributing to a sustainable future for Cameroon." The gate is little more than a bamboo pole hung across a dirt road, but security guards won't let just anyone in. "No visitors," one said when I asked permission to enter. "You need a pass from management."

This is no ordinary farm. Several years ago, Herakles Farms -- then an affiliate of Herakles Capital, a New York private investment firm -- negotiated a deal with the Cameroonian government to develop a palm oil plantation in the country's Southwest Region, a province known for its lush rain forests and volcano, Mount Cameroon. The plantation would be massive: some 280 square miles, more than 12 times the size of Manhattan. Upon full implementation, Herakles Farms claimed, the plantation would be one of the biggest commercial palm oil operations in Africa.

But the project, now in its fifth year, is highly controversial; it faces strong opposition both at home and abroad. Local opponents have accused the company of using donations of goods and services to garner support. Scientists have challenged Herakles's claims of environmental sustainability. And numerous observers question the economic benefits promised for the surrounding region, fearing the project is much more likely to strip communities of land and livelihoods than it is to lift them out of poverty.

STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images; STR/AFP/Getty Images; CELLOU BINANI/AFP/Getty Images; David McNew/Getty Images; SUTANTA ADITYA/AFP/Getty Images