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Ato Tadele Bitul turns 90

The well-known biographer, author, poet and ardent defenders of Ethiopian cultural heritage, Tadele Bitul celebrates his 90th birthday today. Tadele Bitul wrote two important Amharic books about the literary giant and intellectual Kebbede Michael and another book about the statesman, diplomat and Ethiopia’s first western trained physician, Hakim Workneh Eshete.
Ato Tadele has published several books on the history and social aspects of Ethiopia but most notably known for his books which pay tribute to Ato Kebbede Michael whom he befriended when the latter was in his twilight years and made several tape interviews with him, eliciting random casual reminiscences of what he could remember from his life and experiences, which were later transformed into two books.
Ato Tadele, a private-sector structural engineer, has been a member of the Aksum Obelisk Return Committee a private initiative that made a successful bid for the return an obelisk which was taken by the Italian army during the second war.
Serving his country in a number of important entrepreneurial posts for several decades, even when he was forced to lead exile years in Sweden after he sympathised with a group of officers who revolted against Emperor Haile Selassie in 1960, Tadele has proved a faithful public servant and patriot.
In celebration of the birthday, family members and friends are organizing a party at Global Hotel in Addis Ababa tomorrow starting from 11 Am. A photo exhibition about his life will be displayed.

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Eyob Mekonnen’s posthumous album to be released

The Ethiopian singer and songwriter, Eyob Mekonnen, who died from stoke three years ago, was planning to release a new studio disc. Fans can look forward to the music to be released posthumously since the reggae singer’s death three years ago.
Eyob Alemayehu of Yisakal Entertainment said at the press conference in Addis Ababa that the album called Erotalehu will be out next Tuesday. The album comprises materials that the late reggae singer had been working on in the weeks leading up to his death, on August 2013 at the age of 37.
Eyeob’s debut album Kal came out in 2007, containing alternately soulful, reggae and traditional Ethiopian folk that scored several hits.Heavily influenced by Oromo singer Ali Birra and the Jamaican reggae legend Bob Marley, his songs dealt with issues of morality, love, peace and social consciousness. In 2012 he released two singles; “Beyemehalu” and “Negen Layew”.

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Posted in Ethiopian News, News

Egypt’s government approves deal to hand islands to Saudi Arabia

Egypt’s government has approved a deal to hand over two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia and sent it to parliament for ratification, despite a legal dispute over the plan, according to state television.
The deal, announced in April, caused public uproar and protests by Egyptians who said the uninhabited islands of Tiran and Sanafir belonged to their country.
The controversy has become a source of tension with Saudi Arabia, which has provided Egypt with billions of dollars of aid but recently halted fuel shipments amid deteriorating relations.
In June, Egypt’s higher administrative court annulled the agreement, saying Egyptian sovereignty over the islands could not be given up. The Egyptian government lodged an appeal.
Earlier this month, an Egyptian state advisory body recommended the court uphold its original decision, in a report seen by Reuters. The court is scheduled to issue its final verdict on 16 January and is not obliged to follow the advisory body’s report.Read the whole story at the Guardian.

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Posted in Ethiopian News, News, Politics

Djiboutian President Ismail Omar Guelleh in Egypt

Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi and his Djiboutian counterpart Ismail Omar Guelleh stressed the importance of enhancing economic and trade cooperation at a Monday press conference in Cairo that preceded the signing of memorandums of understanding between the two countries
El-Sisi said that his meeting with Guelleh saw fruitful talks on ways of boosting the special ties between the two countries.
El-Sisi also said that the two leaders agreed on increasing Egyptian companies’ activities in different fields in Djibouti, including energy, construction and medicine, as well as boosting cooperation and an exchange of experience between Egypt’s Suez Canal Authority and the Port of Djibouti.
Egypt and Djibouti have signed seven memorandums of understanding in the fields of exports and imports, agriculture, technical education, trade cooperation, international cooperation, health and maritime ports.
The Egyptian president also said they have both agreed on continued Egyptian support in Djibouti in the fields of education, health, and capacity building.
El-Sisi said that the meeting witnessed talks about several regional issues, including the situations in the Horn of Africa and Yemen, as well as preparations for the African Union Summit set to take place in Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa in January.
Read the full story at Ahram Online.

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The curious case of Tiliksew’s fortunes

In less than a decade, she’s zipped from nobody to one of the richest persons in the country. She owns at least four expensive hotels, the famous one being an 18-storey Grand Resort located on the shores of Lake Tana, dubbed the tallest hotel in Ethiopia. She also owns other large hotels in Debre Markos, Awasa, and Gambela towns. She has gained a notoriety for her lavish and luxurious life, frequent travel to Dubai and Shanghai. She says she is a self-made billionaire, hailing from simple peasant family and was making her livelihoods as school teacher only twenty years ago. So how did she come to amass such a huge amount of money in a short time and manage to construct a hotel that costs 300 million birr on the shores of Lake Tana?
The source of Tiliksew Gedamu’s income has been something of a mystery. But for many, it might not be attributed to business acumen, financial probity or hard work. Many say Tiliksew’s wealth owes to her ties to some officials of the power. For others, the hotel in Bahir Dar, is not really owned by her but by other powerful politicians. Many of the hotel personnel talk about seeing Kassa Tekleberhan, minister of federal affairs, frequenting the hotel and discussing the hotel administration work with the management. Another official Addisu Legesse, former deputy prime minister often come to address the hotel staff on ways of improving the service. If true, so why would the two bigwigs of the government be concerned about the performance of a private hotel?
One former staff of the hotel, who currently resides in Addis Ababa, claims the hotel was built through a web of transactions with its ownership being held in anonymous bearer shares. Asking for anonymity, the former staff says Tiliksew was not known as a businesswoman but the officials are using her because she was a childless woman and she would not pose any danger for the business. He said the hotel was once investigated by the region for money laundering, but the charge was suddenly dropped for reasons not well explained. Another source in the tax bureau of Bahir Dar says it is an open secret that the hotel paid little or no taxes on its purchases.
Whatever her role in the hotels, Tiliksew is a person of ill-repute and few in the business community of the country provoke such loathing. Many talk about her a notoriety to outmaneuver or intimidate rival businesses. One frequently mentioned case was her unlawful effort to take over the land which was on the premise of a nearby restaurant called Deset and integrate it to her hotel. Though her effort failed, after the owner brought the case to the media and administration, many other business have been easy targets. Tiliksew was sued for stiffing one of her personnel out of promised payments. A certain Tesfaye Bekele who helped her organize the hotel management of Grand Resorts hotel in Bahir Dar brought a suite at Bahir Dar Instant Court for 200,000 birr unpaid fees last year. Tesfaye who had wide experiences in hotel management, including working in Sheraton Addis for more ten years, won the case and he says he is still waiting for the money.
Not so much to indicate that Tiliksew is really an example of self-made woman but rather manifestation of a corrupt system that is enriching itself through so much of the wealth that had belonged to the state and to the people at large.

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Posted in Business, Ethiopian News, News

Why was Miruts Yifter arrested after victory?

Reports of his death came some months ago, including the Ethiopian Television that pronounced him dead but proven false.But this time the distance running legend, Miruts Yifter, had finally succumbed. The athlete mostly known for the 10,000 and 5,000 metres Olympic gold medals win with his amazing finishing sprint at Moscow Games in 1980, was marked by pitfalls, and some well-kept secrets. In 1972, at the Olympic Games in Munich, Miruts won the bronze medal in the 10,000 metres. But, upon returning to his country, instead of receiving plaudits for his bronze, he was accused by the government, of failing at the Games and betraying his homeland. He was put in prison. What exactly happened?
In his book, Dreams Fulfilled, the incredible inspirational comeback stories of six determined athletes, American author Tom Kloske recounted this hidden history.
While representing the Ethiopian Air Force, Miruts ran so well that he eventually made the Ethiopian Olympic team in 1972. He would make his Olympic debut in Munich, Germany. In his first Olympic games he received a 3rd place bronze medal in the 10,000 metre race. However, his best was the 5,000 metre race. He was confident and determined to win the gold medal in the race, but something terrible had happened. Due to circumstances not completely understood, he arrived too late, and he was disqualified. David Miller wrote, “His failure to appear for the 5,000m, following his following his 10,000m bronze in Munich still remained clouded in contradictory explanations.”
The late Jim McKay, host of ABC’s Wide World of Sports and thirteen time Emmy Award winner reported: Miruts Yifter of Ethiopia, one of the favorites in the in the 5,000 (Steve Prefontaine told me the other night that he feared Yifter the most of all), reported to the wrong gate of the stadium. The guard steadfastly refused to let him in, and eventually the race went off without him. When he realized what happened, that he was out of the Olympics, Yifter collapsed, crying, in his coach’s arms.
Sports writer Jeff Hollobaugh echoes, “He went to the wrong stadium gate and was not allowed in. As the race started, he cried alone in the tunnel.” Can you see him in the shadows weeping as the gun sounds? No one in the stadium saw his tears or heard his cries. One can only imagine how frustrating this was for Yifter. This was actually a qualifying 5,000meter race, but it may as well have been the final because obviously if one does not qualify, one is not allowed to run in the final race. To train, literally for years, to be a contender to win the gold medal, and then because of a mishap, not being allowed to run must have been unbearable.
To make matters worse, when Yifter returned to Ethiopia after the Games he was dubbed a traitor and was thrown straight to prison. “They said that I had deliberately failed to compete and threw me in jail,” a tearful Yifter recalls. “They thought that they had taken my love for running, but they were wrong.

Miruts’ determination knew no bounds. He continued his training in prison with the prison guards’ help. He would win gold in the 10,000 metres and silver in the 5,000 metres a year later at the All-Africa Games in Lagos, Nigeria.

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Posted in Ethiopian News, News

Ethiopian journalist among thousands released

Ethiopian journalist jailed for a month in connection with an interview he gave to Voice of America’s Amharic-language service on 31 October has been released.
Befekadu Hailu was among thousands of people who were arrested by security agents during the ongoing state of emergency. Colleagues confirmed that he was released yesterday, along with thousands protesters. The government said the protesters were freed after receiving “training.”
Befekadu was previously arrested in April 2014, together with nine other bloggers and journalists, accused of “working with foreign organizations claiming to defend human rights” and “receiving funding in order to incite the public to violence via social media.” They were subsequently charged with violating the terrorism law. Though they were freed in October 2015 after 18 months behind bars, Befekadu was rearrested last month.

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Al-Sisi in Uganda to strike deal on River Nile

(The Monitor)– President Museveni and his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi yesterday agreed on the plan to make River Nile a transportation highway to the Mediterranean Sea to reduce import-export costs.
President Museveni said at the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the two countries that the alternative route on River Nile, which has its source in Uganda, would go up to Egypt’s northern Alexandria seaport city.The port handles about 80 per cent of Egypt’s imports and exports.
“We are, however, looking at the security problems in South Sudan and Sudan and see how they can be solved,” Mr Museveni said, referring to a meltdown in Uganda’s northern neighbour triggered by political stalemate between President Salva Kiir and his former Vice-turned-rebel leader Riek Machar.
Find the whole story here.

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Getachew Kassa and his Tezetas

I finally caught Getachew Kassa for an interview. Other than listening to his greatest hits on radio and watching him on television, I was able to see him once or twice in person playing at the Jazzamba Lounge in Piazza few years ago, yet when I tried to contact him for an interview, I found out it was not an easy to thing to do. He was elusive. First he wanted to know which media I worked for; radio, or TV. I explained it was a website. He then asked me to call him after two or three weeks. When I did, he would find an excuse to say No this time around. He would say ‘he has a cold, you know the pollution in Addis?’ Finally, with the help of music producer Amaha Eshete, I was able to interview Getachew.
Despite a wall of formality he builds around himself, there’s a warmth and playfulness that seeps out of him. He recounted his recollections and stories, with deep, low-pitched voice, and punctuated with infectious laugh.
Getachew, 67, occupies a unique space in the Ethiopian music sphere, his singular voice and stage act straddling generations. Since he started playing one of his hits “Emegnalehu” with a band called Fetan Band – or Speed Band – at the Patrice Lumumba Bar in Wube Berha in the 70’s, Getachew established himself as one of the most accomplished Ethiopian musicians of the period. His career as recording artist includes tunes such as “Addis Ababa”, “Tiz Balegn Gize”, “Yekereme Fikir”, “Bertucan nesh lomi” “Bichayan Tekze” “Agere Tizitash”. The “Tezeta slow & fast” that he created and popularized when he was playing for various groups, the Sehebelles band, the Venus band, and later with the Walias band, was subsequently recorded by Amha Records. Those records were reissued by the French producer Francis Falceto in the Éthiopiques 1 (Golden Years of Modern Music), collections that he put together to recapture the lost music of pre-Revolutionary Ethiopia. “This Tezeta remains one of the best-selling records ever in Ethiopia, totalling around 5,000 copies, while most hits level-off at 2-3,000 and a few hundred is considered a moderate success. Very people owned record players, but the entire country heard that Tezeta, the first, jangling by an Ethiopia set in motion,” Falceto wrote in the cover. The CD reissue brought wider recognition at home and abroad, generating attention and praise even from Bob Dylan who included it in his anthology CD of favorites for Starbucks coffee chain in 2008, in a series called Artist’s Choice. In the selections of “music that matters to him” Dylan talked about the song “Tezeta” from the compilation album in the Ethiopiques series. Dylan writes, “When I first heard this record I knew nothing about it. There’s this guy named Harold who usually shows up when I play Forth Worth, and he always gives me a bag of CDs. He never writes down what’s on them. I had to wait till the next time I was in Fort Worth to ask him what this track was. I found out it’s an Ethiopian record from this series of records made during that short window of time when popular music was allowed in Ethiopia. But when I heard it I didn’t know any of that. I thought it was some kind of Cajun record played backwards. There’s something great about hearing music that’s so obviously passionate and so obviously good, and not being able to understand the words. I like to imagine this is what my records might sound like to someone in a country that doesn’t speak English.”
Getachew says it was a great honour to receive an admiration from this word-class musician. He was not even aware of his inclusion in the CD until a friend told him about it and gave him as present. “This friend of mine Mike Alazar, who used to sing in English at Wabi Shebele hotel one day happened to hear my music while he was at Starbucks. He asked the personnel at the chain and came to know that it was compiled with other English songs. He hurriedly bought it and brought it to me. I treasure it a lot” Getachew says.
Born and raised in Addis Ababa’s Mercato area from a relatively well-off family, Getachew found his love and dedication for music in his early years. “As early as eight, music was something that just grabbed me. I sang an Italian song called asmarina, asmarina, which was popular then. My parents were separated and I lived with my father. I used to frequent this café in my neighbourhood called California where I used to listen to records of Little Richards, Elvis Presley, Harry Belafonte, among others. I started imitating those singers,” he says.
He also started to play drums with a certain Yemen national, Mockbile, who bought a drum and asked him to try it. He played it good. But those years were difficult for him because he never received a blessing on his passion from his father. There were fights at home every single day because of it. “My father even hid the record player that was in our house,” he recalls.
The precariousness of Getachew’s life made it difficult for him to concentrate in school.”I messed up all the time,” he said.Eventually, in his teenage years, he run away to Dire Dawa, hoping to get a job doing music. One night he happened to pass by a bar where there was this person playing accordion solo. “There was drum machine on the corner and no one was playing it. I went to him and I proposed playing the drum and he was okay. I became a good drummer there,” Getachew says. “I met this guy, Solomon, who was in the police army, who was playing saxophone. We went to Harar and I joined Segon Orchestra. With the permission of army officials, he bought equipment and we started playing for different occasions. After a year, I came back to Addis because they wanted to put me in the army,”
While in Harar, he took Kassa as his father’s name than the real one Tsegaye, because his father said he did not want him to carry on his name. “At the time I was in love with this girl Assgedetch Kassa, who was a singer herself. I told her about it and she said why I don’t take her father’s name. I became Getachew Kassa to this day,” he laughs.
In Addis Ababa, Getachew started playing with a band called Fetan Band, at the Patrice Lumumba Bar, which was owned by Woizero Asegedech Alamrew. That was the most important regular gig for him, playing along with Teshome Mitiku, Mekonen Mersha. “Emegnalehu” became very popular and brought him to prominence. “It put me in a whole different place. It was the start of me making a living as a singer.” Tilahun Gessesse used to show up often and do the twist for the music, he says. Getachew was then paid five birr per day. For the following year, he played at Sombrero in Senga Tera, a club where Alemayehu Eshete used to play. He was offered 15 birr by the patron the Seyoum and another of his hits, Sayish Esasalehu was born there. Upon his discharge from the club, he briefly joined Axum Adarash in Gulele as vocalist where he joined Tekle “Huket” Adhnaom, a guitarist from Asmara, Hailu Zihon, who played base, former member of the Police Force. Then Abubakar Ashakih, a composer and former singer for the Imperial Music Department, and owner of Venus nightclub beckoned them to play at his club which was first located in Piazza, and later in Ambassador Cinema. The band’s reputation spread rapidly, also getting regular invitation to perform at high school graduation parties. Getachew’s slow and fast Tezeta became more popular here. After six months again another offer from Wabishebele Hotel, they became the Wabishebele Band in 1969. It was then that Getachew met Amaha Eshete and the two tunes were recorded in in LP.
As Francis Falceto describes it, ”the double version of Tezeta, thanks to its success and the polemic it fuelled incensed conservatives and pop’s young guard, stand as symbol of pre-revolutionary Ethiopia- in the light music vein. Getachew Kassa delivers a version totally contrary to tradition, but so well adapted by non-conformist Ethiopian youth in 1972.”
(Getachew Kassa, Girma Beyene with Manu Dibango, Hailu Meregia behind at the Hilton Hotel. photo courtesy of Getachew)
Around that time, Getachew joined the famed Walias ensemble, that eventually landed a residency at the Hilton hotel, performing for tourists, diplomats and middle class locals. After soundtracking Addis Ababa’s night life for more than a decade, in 1981 Getachew Kassa and the Walais band went to the US, in their first American exposure at a time Ethiopian’s military regime was strongly condemning American imperialism. The group’s first performance was at Washington DC’s famous Warner Theatre.
Getachew decided to stay in Washington DC, where the band had originally landed upon their arrival–and there he remained. His stay in the United States, he admits, wasn’t a fertile working environment. He said he was “well received at the start by the Ethiopian community there and quickly making fans across US cities who showered me with gifts”. However, as years went by, he found it difficult to work with the band there, “The trouble with most musicians there is that they don’t rehearse enough. Since they are busy with other things, making money, they want to show up and join me to perform. I myself don’t come to the stage without practising my own materials. I make it a point to pay attention to the smallest details. I don’t find that with many of them. I couldn’t even find anybody to play with,” he says. All the same, he worked in the Ethiopian restaurants found in different states, including Blue Nile, Addis Ababa restaurant, Dukem, Etete, Queen Sheba. “I used to perform three times per week. I liked being on stage. When I put on my hands on the piano, I forgot all other things.”
Getachew, who lived in the United States for twenty seven years, is now back in Ethiopia, trying to rekindle his music career. “I felt a pool from home. Ethiopia is a deep part of my life. The time came that I had to come back,” he says. His songs are often about loss, solitude, and for a lot of his life he has been a loner. “I got married once and my marriage did not work out,” he says. He has a daughter from this marriage, who is currently living in Saudi Arabia that he has not seen or spoken for many years. In many ways he has been consumed by his songs, by touring. Probably, this drive has been the reason for the break-up of his marriage.
After his return to Ethiopia four years ago, he started performing at Jazzamba with a band comprising young musicians, Vibes Band. However, his old demons have not been entirely exorcized. One member of the band then described the frustrations of dealing with the singer’s mood swings, though he respected his singing so much.
After fire destroyed the Jazzamba club, Getachew shifted playing to Mama’s Kitchen, a bar on the shopping mall near Bole airport with Express band. It worked for a while but these days he is not playing there anymore.
On April 3, 2016 Getachew went to Berlin to perform at concert (his first in Germany), as part of the “Stay Strong” project, a music project dedicated to the renowned Ethiopian singer and songwriter Alemayehu Eshete & to musicians of his generation.
In a two-week workshop, Getachew’s big hits were re-interpreted, arranged in a contemporary manner and recorded in studio quality. Band Manager and Booking Agent at The Stay Strong Orchestra, Clemens Grün told Ethiopia Observer that they did one recording workshop with Alemyahu Eshete and another with Getachew Kassa and Selam Seyoum Woldemariam. “The recordings, we did, especially with Getachew, are not comparable with anything he or anybody else ever did with his songs,” he says. They did eight songs with Getachew, one is linked here.
The project’s trailer, which was described as “a kind of Ethiopian Buena Vista Social Club” could be seen on You Tube. Getachew presented his first performance UFA-Fabrik, factory to wide acclaim.
(Getachew Kassa and Selam Seyoum Woldemariam in Berlin, photo courtesy of the Strong Project)
It was a proof that that his music and energy is as alive as ever and he is a determined as he was in his youthful prime. Getachew is planning to celebrate a 50 year career in music next year. However, he said no plans to retire in the near future, adding instead that he planned to downsize his career, cancelling all club engagements.
(Special thanks to John Wilson for sending me Bob Dylan’s notes on Getachew, which i quoted in its entirety in the article.)

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Posted in Ethiopian News

Five Ethiopian photographers exhibit in Venice

Five Ethiopian female photographers are displaying their work reflecting on distance at an exhibit in Venice, Italy.
The show, “Tales-on Ethiopia,” runs through 15th 2016 to January 8th 2017, in the Scoletta Battioro, in the busy campo Santo exhibition.
The exhibition is the result of a project, launched with the aim of supporting and promoting the intellectual resources of coffee-producing areas. It was organized in partnership with award-winning photographer Aida Muluneh, founder and director of the Addis Foto Fest, the first international photography festival in Ethiopia, whose fourth edition being held in Addis Ababa from 15 to 20 December 2016.
The young photographers, Luna Solomon (23), Haymanot Honelgn (23), Hilina Mekonen (28), Netsanet Fekadu (28) and Maheder Haile Selassie (26) have been asked to contemplate the topic of “Distance” and “then each produce a structured project with 30 pictures that have been specifically selected to be shown in order in a video presentation,” according to organizers.
(photo from Haymanot Honelgne’s Facebook page)
“There were both intimate and public depictions in the variety of outlooks put forth by the young talents. While they have strong local cultural roots, the projects also reveal that the idea that our ways of life differ enormously is largely built on insubstantial, preconceived foundations,” the curators wrote. “There were both intimate and public depictions in the variety of outlooks put forth by the young talents. While they have strong local cultural roots, the projects also reveal that the idea that our ways of life differ enormously is largely built on insubstantial, preconceived foundations,” according to the curators.
For more information about the exhibit, visit Tales-On Ethiopia.

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