By Nathalie Amiot / Addis Ferenji
Do I have something relevant to say? Should I write? Is it presumptuous? I am not even Ethiopian. I am afraid I cannot help it. I have been stuck on social media for the last weeks when I was not googling Ethiopian news.
This is going to be a long letter but I feel the urge to write this down.
My name is Nathalie Amiot. I am French and now 50 years old. I used to be a blogger under the pseudo of Addis Ferenji. I was forced to leave the country in 2006. My blog and my political opinions had upset the government. My ex-husband was told, through his embassy that I would soon end up in jail for possession of drugs. I do not do drugs. Stress, pressure, and fear were unbearable, my 8 year-old son was showing signs of deep anxiety himself; I fled.
I moved to Ethiopia in 2001, following my husband who was an Italian “coopérant”.
Until the rigged elections of 2005, my stay had been a wonderful holiday. Our lifestyle was extremely privileged and the salary huge. I was spending my time between Arsi, where a rural development program was underway, and Addis where Lorenzo was going to school.
In Assela, we inherited a stable of six horses, soon sixteen, by our predecessor, a polo player, two good dogs (Lalou and Gondi), and a hell of a staff too, at least six people, soon eleven and more, including my own Addis employees.
I remember each of them and miss them dearly. Somewhere in the eye of the storm, they became my family.
The old Nagash, the night guard who had a predisposition to Tej abuse during the long cold nights which made him pretty unreliable with the Kalashnikov he insisted on bringing. Yeshi was our cook and a good one, her pasta was legendary. The guys in the stable, Muluneh, Taffa, Taddele, Tesfalem, taught me how to ride and had merit because I am not the bungee jumping type at all. In Addis, Elsabeth was cooking while Twebitsh was acquiescing to any of Lorenzo’s whims. I hired my taxi driver Mulugeta once I got my own car. I was extremely busy tanning at the Sheraton.
Do not misunderstand me; this is not about my desperate housewife’s life in Oromia; I just painted the scene. I know how it sounds. This is about politics because, when riding through Arsi’s amazing landscapes and exchanging views with people I began to care for, I fell in love with this country.
Our staff was both Oromo and Amhara, sometimes mixed and I never felt this ethnic hatred foreign media and regurgitating EPRDF propaganda are filled with. I know enough of Oromo’s story to understand the grievances and frustration of course but this is not my concern or my fight. Ethiopia is one hell of a beautiful country.
Woyane began to get on my nerves the morning following the elections. I had a strong feeling the opposition would win; everybody was adamant about free and fair elections and the presence of European observers. Ethiopians voted and they voted massively.
The landslide victory in Addis was not contested yet Berhanu Naga (elected mayor) ended up in Kaliti.
Outside Addis and major towns though, results suddenly began to change. People who had assisted and participated in ballot counting were officially given a seriously different account. I would say the figures were completely inversed.
When I heard Migs (!) flying above a nearby village that had challenged, through peaceful elections, the local TPLF’s Ras, I got upset and repression got worse.
Reactions from my fellow “Ferenji” were appalling: even heard another French citizen “Mais, c’est normal, c’est l’Afrique!” Shame on those half-brained spoiled embassy ladies! Knew a guy in the Israeli embassy too, actually liked him but he was so arrogant when asserting: “Meles will stay in power” and he was so right. I hated him for that.
I went on writing, more for myself at first, in my mother tongue, then in English, then… The rest does not matter.
You might know I became involved with the opposition, interviewing political figures, taking shots and videos of military presence with what was not called a Smartphone yet. Soon enough, they would imprison Ayele Angelo (elected MP of Shaka region, Gambella) and Berhanu Haile, my friends and informants, who went on hunger strike. The success of my blog when every dissident voice had been silenced in the country amazed me, and comments encouraged me to go on and on, until I couldn’t anymore.
Others helped of course, whose identities I cannot disclose because they would be persecuted, even today, by the Ethiopian regime. I was not that brave. I heard gunshots, never faced them.
Only facts matter, facts I witnessed:
- 2005’s elections and the following ones were rigged in Ethiopia as all elections will be as long as EPRDF remain in power. Everybody knows that or should.
- Dissidents are silenced by intimidation and threats, imprisonment, heavy beatings, torture, and shootings meant to kill when they take to the streets. Other means (like tear gas) of quelling protests are only used when international observers are or could be present. Protesters are charged at with trucks like cattle and directed to the nearest detention centre.
- Journalists (including foreigners) are intimidated and impeached when doing their job, by any means necessary. Most Ethiopian journalists are in exile, as are opposition members.
- Peaceful protests and acts of civil disobedience such as strikes are banned; civil servants and other employees are fired when participating.
Those points are obvious and all over the internet. It has been going on for 25 years.
This is when I come to the last point of my letter hoping I have not bored you to death yet by stating the obvious.
It is called “war against terror”, it was “war against terror” under Bush and it is “war against terror” under Obama (Is that guy really half-African?).
I mentioned I was French and trust me, the more I live abroad, the more French I feel, I am very but very extremely French. I bleed when they kill Charlie Hebdo’s most talented cartoonists (yes they made me laugh and shocked me often, it is called Free Speech) or when they massacre people on Bastille’s terraces or at the Bataclan. And I become enraged when they drive on people celebrating our revolution’s day.
The only thing I have to tell you now is that, no threats, no amount of terror and killings justify the support our western governments give to those you rightfully call “bandas” and thugs. They prosper on international aid when oppressing their people.
To whoever (white or black) is in Ethiopia right now with a Smartphone and an internet connection (when it works), go out, take pictures, videos, witness the exactions and forward.
You shall prevail.
Next year in Addis!
With love and kind regards