Sunday, 28 June 2015

Abel Wabela: To fight bystanders apathy... This is my mission as a human.

In April 2014, nine bloggers and journalists were arrested in Ethiopia. Several of these men and women had worked with Zone9, a collective blog that covered social and political issues in Ethiopia and promoted human rights and government accountability. Four of them were Global Voices authors. In July, they were chargedunder the country’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. They have been behind bars ever since and their trial has only recently begun.

This marks the sixth post in our series – “They Have Names” – that seeks to highlight the individual bloggers who are currently in jail. We wish to humanize them, to tell their particular and peculiar stories. This week, Swedish blogger and artist Melody Sundberg writes about Abel Wabela, a member of Zone9 and the manager of Global Voices’ Amharic site.

I have never been to Ethiopia, but I have followed the never-ending trials of the bloggers closely through social media and conversations. A name often mentioned is that of Abel Wabela, a 28-year-old blogger, author and translator for Global Voices. During the first three months of the bloggers’ detention in Maekelawi*, Abel refused to sign a prepared confession paper in which he, together with the other bloggers, were incriminated. For this, Abel underwent extreme torture. According to the Ethiopian Human Rights Project (EHRP), he was beaten by a person using a stick, and his feet were whipped by someone using a computer plug cable. He was forced to lay on the floor while interrogators stomped on his back, neck and face. Since then, he has had to use a hearing aid as a result of worsened hearing impairment.

According to Endalk Chala, co-founder of the blogging group, Abel had suffered poor treatment even before his arrest. One day, three weeks before the arrest, Abel was beaten as he was walking home from work. Several people appeared and beat him so severely that he lost his consciousness, and they took his cell phone and laptop. He feared beating was a threat, intended to make him stop blogging. But Abel continued his work.

I wanted to know more about Abel, so I asked some of those close to him to describe their friend. Endalk Chala describes Abel as the most kindhearted and wonderful soul. Abel is a man of knowledge and a great conversationalist, and he believes in open and honest discussions.Jomanex Kasaye describes Abel as being straight forward and knowing what he stands for. At the same time, he is very humble. Abel is always hungry for more knowledge. He likes to spend his time in discussions with historians, university lecturers and authors. His faith is important to him. He loves attending in church. He often visited prisoners, having the country and its people in his heart. He always thinks of others rather than himself.

The heartless treatment of Abel continued after his detention in Maekelawi. Following one of the trials in February, prison officials had forgotten to handcuff him on the bus heading back to the prison. For this, Abel was punished. They tied him up with dog chains for the whole day, and took away his hearing aid. During a trial in May, Abel was once again punished for using his right to expression. Abel questioned the judges for not letting the detainees speak. For this, he was sentenced to four months for contempt of court.

The kind of treatment Abel has been put through could break anyone. Still, Abel has kept showing resistance. I ask myself: What is it that makes someone risk being jailed, beaten and tortured? Reading Abel's latest letter, I find the answer:

My purpose is to communicate. My aim is to learn. My reason is to engage in a deep insightful intuitive understanding of life and fight bystander apathy. This is my mission as a human. It is not a task I was given from a stranger. I will not allow anyone to trample on this basic right. I will not bargain with anyone whether they are people of political power, individuals, institutions or even a society to give away my basic speech right. I practice my free speech rights in a public sphere, in my own private space, on social media, in prison, in a court room, in a police interrogation rooms. I use my free speech rights responsibly without hindering other peoples’ rights and I want to practice it everywhere. In hindsight warnings, intimidations, arrest and torture have not stopped me from exercising my free speech rights neither they do in the future.

“To fight bystander apathy… This is my mission as a human.” The sentences form a simple answer to a difficult question. The reason Abel keeps using his freedom of expression is because it is a basic right that can be exercised everywhere in every situation. He has made the choice to use this right, because speaking out against injustice is to fight bystander apathy. I am more than certain that he will continue defending this right for the rest of his life.

We live in a world where some label the use of freedom of expression as an act of terrorism. We also live in a world where others are sacrificing their freedom while defending our right to speak our minds. The Zone9 Bloggersdefended human rights. They chose to stand up against injustice. They chose to speak the truth. For this, they were robbed of their freedom.

I do not know Abel today, but I look forward to the day I will.

Following their arrest, the bloggers and journalists were jailed in Maekelawi. Maekelawi is the Federal Police Crime Investigation Sector in Addis Ababa. Political prisoners, journalists, bloggers, protest organizers among others are held there before proceeding to prison. Human Rights Watch has reported about torture, coercive interrogation methods and poor detention conditions taking place there.

Monday, 8 June 2015

2015 GMF: Media and diplomacy facing huge challenges 

Foreign policy in the digital age is the focus of the Global Media Forum from June 22-24, 2015, in Bonn. DW will launch its new English TV channel at the conference featuring high-profile guests from around the world. 

Advances in digital information and communication technologies are transforming foreign policy and international diplomacy. Universal interconnectedness requires new ways of thinking. The reframing of foreign policy affects diplomacy and many key segments related to it, from human rights, security and governance through to commerce and various facets of development cooperation. 

More than 2,000 international guests from the fields of politics, diplomacy, media and social activism are expected to attend this year's Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum, which takes place from June 22-24 at the World Conference Center in Bonn, Germany. This 8th edition of the annual conference series will examine the opportunities and risks posed by "Media and Foreign Policy in the Digital Age." 

Official launch of DW's new English TV channel 

The media conference is an ideal stage to launch DW's new 24-hour TV channel in English. Germany's Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media, Monika Grütters, will join DW Director General Peter Limbourg for the ceremonial launch on Monday, June 22. The news and information channel featuring hourly updates, magazine programs and documentaries will be broadcast around the world. Germany's international broadcaster will also extend its other TV programming in German, Spanish and Arabic. 

Many guests and high-profile speakers will be on hand to witness the official launch at the World Conference Center in Bonn. Among those taking part in the Global Media Forum's three days of workshops and panel discussions are Vitali Klitschko, Mayor of Kyiv; Richard Porter, Editorial and Digital Director of BBC Global News; Prof. Artur Nowak-Far, Under Secretary of State in Poland's Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Günter Oettinger, the EU Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society; and Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media. Also attending in Bonn will be Egyptian journalist Reem Maged, whose socially critical weekly TV program "Women at a Turning Point", a coproduction by DW and its partner broadcaster ONTV in Cairo, was recently taken off the air by Egyptian security officials. Antonia Rados, the Chief Correspondent for Foreign Affairs at Germany's RTL Television, also brings years of experience and expertise to the talks lined up in the conference program. 

Rethinking coverage of crises and conflicts 

On the first day, the "Media Summit" will examine the changes taking place in international media coverage of crises and conflicts. Among other aspects, the panelists will discuss whether journalists working in an ever faster media world run the risk of neglecting in-depth analysis of current events and favoring a friend-versus-foe mindset. EU Commissioner Günter Oettinger will give a keynote speech. 

The digital revolution has had massive impact on modern diplomacy. "Foreign policy in 140 characters: How technology is redefining diplomacy" will be the focus of debate between prominent experts in the panel discussion on Tuesday. Where foreign policy decisions were once the result of secret negotiations, new players have now entered the diplomatic stage. An increasingly uncontrollable flow of information and a directional shift in communications have changed social structures. 

Another central debate will take place on Wednesday, spotlighting the dangers surrounding conflicts over natural resources, one of today's greatest risks to security. Such clashes often arise in places where abundant resources promise to generate income – paradoxically, in countries that have huge deposits of oil, gas and precious metals. Repeatedly they lead to population displacement and migration caused by hunger, ethnic or religious strife, human rights violations and environmental destruction. 

On the last day of the conference, Scilla Elworthy will address her main issues of study – the equal importance of politics, military interests and civil society for sustainable global security strategy. As founder of the renowned Oxford Research Group, Elworthy has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times. 

The 2015 Bobs Awards ceremony 

The main winners of this year's annual DW international competition, The BOBs – Best of Online Activism, will be honored on Tuesday, June 23. In addition to the three jury-selected prizes, the Deutsche Welle Freedom of Speech Award will be conferred for the first time. DW Director General Peter Limbourg will present the award for imprisoned Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi to his wife, Ensaf Haidar. Deutsche Welle will broadcast the ceremony to its global audience. 

International partners and co-hosts 
DW's partners for the approximately 40 workshops and events being held at the 2015 Global Media Forum include, among others, Amnesty International, Grimme-Institut, the United Nations, the OSCE, Reporters Without Borders Germany and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The conference is co-hosted by the Foundation for International Dialogue of the Savings Bank in Bonn. Support is also kindly provided by Germany's Federal Foreign Office, the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, the City of Bonn and the Robert Bosch Stiftung. 

How to reply a rejection letter for visa application

The Deputy Head of Mission

Embassy of Spain

Accra, Ghana

26th April 2015

Dear Sir:

I applied for a short-term visa to attend a medical conference in Barcelona from 26th April to 29th April 2015 and by your response dated 22nd April 2015 I had been denied an entry visa to your country. As was written in your rejection letter, I have an option of lodging a contentious-administrative appeal at the High Court of Justice of Madrid (Spain) within a two-month deadline counting from the date of serving. Since it is nigh impossible for me to get myself to Madrid and lodge my appeal I have decided to personally write to you for some clarification.

The reasons for denying me an entry visa were that the information regarding the justification for the purpose and conditions of the intended stay was not reliable and also that my intention to leave your country before the expiry of the visa could not be ascertained.

I know it is your prerogative to decide whom to grant a visa to but I feel personally insulted for the reasons you have given for the denial.

I am a highly trained orthopedic surgeon with specialty interest in orthopedic sports medicine and complex joint reconstruction. I have been a doctor for the past 20yrs. My current positions are:

1. Consultant Orthopedic Surgeon at the KorleBu Teaching Hospital.

2. Lecturer at the University of Ghana Medical School

3. Fellow of the West African College of Surgeons

4. Consultant for West Africa Rescue Association WARA. (I treat patients from the expatriate and diplomatic community including quite a number from Spain) I am sure if you were to injure yourself, am the most likely surgeon that you will be referred to.

I have attended medical conferences in Germany, Switzerland, South Africa, Japan, Canada, USA and Norway. Incidentally all these countries found my purpose for travelling justifiable except you. The letter of invitation I presented to you was written by a renowned surgeon in Madrid who trained in the same institution as I did in the United States. But I guess you did not find a letter written by such a person credible enough.

I find it laughable that you think I will not return to Ghana and end up as an illegal immigrant in Spain where people of my skin tone are treated as second-class citizens. I have a wife and children whom I do not intend to abandon. Although I do not consider myself wealthy, I am very comfortable economically and have investments in property and other assets in Ghana. How did you ever come to the conclusion that I was a flight risk?

May I kindly remind you of some basic facts about your country?

1. The unemployment rate in Spain presently is 25% and youth unemployment tops 50%. Why will I leave a stable job and to go and join the unemployment ranks in your country.

2. From January 2009 to end of 2013, 400,000 Spaniards emigrated to look for work outside of your country. And this is expected to rise in the coming years.

3. Doctors in Spain are the least/worst paid in the whole Euro zone. Why will I want to go work in a country where my counterparts are leaving in droves for economic reasons?

4. In the year 2012, it is on record that 2405 medical doctors applied for certification to work abroad, according to The Medical Spanish Association – a 75% increase compared with 2011. 83% of doctors seek jobs in Europe (mainly the UK and France) and 7% America.

5. In 2009, the Health Ministry warned that there was a shortage and that the country needed around 3,200 more doctors. By 2025, at the present rate the shortfall will be around 25,000. The Spanish government has talked of increasing the number of university and medical school places, as well as making it easier for overseas personnel to work here.

Sir, as a representative of the country of Spain you have failed woefully in your responsibility to promote the interest of your country by denying me a visa. My skill, knowledge and experience will be invaluable to the Spanish people even if I decided not to come back to Ghana. Furthermore my budget for this conference topped € 5000. This is the amount of money that would have been injected into the Spanish economy in a week. Can you imagine the economic loss if all the doctors from all over the world attending this conference were denied entry into Spain? I was due to present two papers and since I was not able to go I have informed the conveners of the conference of my inability to attend. This is an international conference and can you imagine the embarrassment your compatriot doctors will feel when it is announced that I could not present my scientific papers because you denied me a visa? Never mind that I cannot get a full refund for my ticket and my total booking for the hotel is not refundable.

Given the reason for visa rejection, a detailed explanation on which aspects of my application did not provide sufficient evidence that I will return to Ghana is most welcome. I am particularly curious to know of the lofty economic standards set for Ghanaians to visit to Spain when Spaniards themselves barely meet these standards.

Yours truly,

Dr. Agbeko Ocloo MB.ChB FWACS

Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon


The Ambassador

Embassy of Spain

Accra, Ghana 

Stomach Infrastructure: Fayose Plans To Send Jobless Ekiti Youths to Aba, Onitsha

The Ekiti State Government is set to commence an initiative that shall see jobless youth of the state being trained to be self-reliant, look beyond government patronage, and to also prove that, aside education, developing unskilled Ekiti youths does not warrant only sending them overseas for training.

The idea was unveiled by Hon. (Dr.) STB Omotoso, a member of the Ekiti State House of Assembly Member (Oye 1 Constituency, PDP) during a courtesy visit to the corporate head office of Vanguard Media Ltd, Kirikiri, Apapa, Lagos.

Hon. Omotosho said “Stomach infrastructure is narrowly defined by critics of Governor Fayose. It is not all about just feeding people or giving gifts to people. If one should expatiate on the concept, it entails providing the people not only with the basic necessities of life after election, but also empowering them by making them self-reliant, with the best education and training and then giving them employment, which the Fayose government is presently engaged in.”

“Instead, they could be sent to Aba to learn how to make shoes and bags, and to Onitsha to master trade; while those who are qualified and competent will be given local contracts. This is the concept behind the so-called ‘stomach infrastructure’ and not just distributing gift items. Stomach infrastructure goes on after election. It is about helping the poor. It is about engaging them in what can feed them earn a living. That’s what Fayose wants to continue doing. He needs stability to achieve for no progress can be made during crisis. We have had enough crisis and we want peace in our state.”

Aba, well known for its handicrafts, is reputed for its handmade shoes and handbags. It is also a major manufacturing and trading centre in South-Eastern Nigeria, with its Ariaria International Market as the largest market in West Africa, seconded by the Onitsha Main Market. Similarly, Onitsha is known for its trading, where the average traders are known to bring in at least six consignments of 40 tonnes (40-feet containers) of goods annually. Some of the major importers do more than 20 consignments of 40 tonnes of goods per year.

Interestingly, the multi-billion dollar economies of both commercial towns are dominated by craftsmen and merchants many of whom do not have university education, but rely on apprenticeship to cut their teeth in the trades before going on their own.

Fayose sending Ekiti youths to Aba and Onitsha in furtherance of his stomach infrastructure will be a move which is believed will enjoy the backing of the incoming Ekiti State House of Assembly, as all 26 members-elect were elected on PDP ticket, like the governor.

The youths, according to the said plan, are expected to return to Ekiti State after completing their apprenticeship, to re-enact the Aba and Onitsha phenomenon in their home state.

Culled from Ifeadinmesi blog