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  • This Ethiopian prince was kidnapped by Britain – now it must release him

    Seven-year-old Prince Alemayehu was captured – along with many national treasures – in 1868. His remains are held in Windsor Castle but pleas for their return have been rebuffed

    (The Guardian) — You see him first as he was soon after his father’s death: a seven-year-old boy staring, stunned, into the camera. He sits on a cloth-covered bench, next to a shield and a strip of animal hide. Around his shoulders, a long shamma drapes and gathers at his folded ankles. You note his bare feet, the way one toe, curled upward and tense, hints at the emotions he is keeping guarded. He wears the silver-baubled necklace that will travel with him from Ethiopia to England, the one also seen in pictures where he is made to sit for Julia Margaret Cameron and other photographers. His mother, if still alive, will soon die unexpectedly, leaving him in the hands of the same British men who came to confront his father. But for now, he has not lost everything.

    This photograph of Prince Alemayehu was taken during the 1868 Napier expedition, a British military incursion into Maqdala, Ethiopia, to rescue three dozen European prisoners. His father, Emperor Tewodros, took captives when his letters to Queen Victoria were ignored. Led by Sir Robert Napier, the punitive mission was extravagant: 13,000 soldiers, 8,000 auxiliary workers, and thousands of followers in search of adventure or a story. Several, like Richard Holmes of the British Museum, also came in search of loot.

    In the end, Emperor Tewodros released the prisoners unharmed, then committed suicide rather than surrender. What happened next would be described as a “deluge of fire” and one of the greatest looting orgies ever undertaken in the name of the British empire. Alemayehu, by now an orphan, was put on board the Feroze, the same ship as Holmes, who was taking back to Britain the largest haul of stolen artefacts in Ethiopia’s history. The objects went into British museums and libraries. Alemayehu became a ward of Queen Victoria and, despite his continual pleas to be returned to his homeland, he died aged 18 in England. He was buried at Windsor Castle, where he remains. A plaque, “When I was a stranger, ye took me in,” marks his vault.

    Today, we can recognise Napier and his forces for the marauders that they were. We can acknowledge the imperialist arrogance that would kidnap a young boy and trumpet the achievement through newspapers and photographs. The generosity of hindsight might even explain why Alemayehu’s pleas to return home were refused. But there is no longer any excuse for that same refusal and arrogance. There is no viable reason to continue to hold his remains hostage. He has become, like the sacred and valuable objects still in British museums and libraries, a possession.

    Alemayehu is still trapped, a plaque forcing on to the narrative of his life a sentiment that he would not have chosen

    In 2007, the then Ethiopian president Girma Wolde-Giorgis sent Queen Elizabeth a formal request for the return of the prince’s remains. Alemayehu’s plight has been the subject of radio plays, poems, and books. Scholars and concerned citizens have started campaigns; a young boy wrote a widely publicised letter to Tony Blair. Yet every request to the Queen or Buckingham Palace has been met with silence or refusal. Alemayehu is still trapped in the land of his kidnappers, a plaque forcing on to the narrative of his life a sentiment that he would not have chosen as his own.

    In her diary, Queen Victoria describes Prince Alemayehu as “a pretty, polite, graceful boy … There is nothing whatever of the Negro about him.”

    In photographs, Alemayehu is rendered fragile and exotic. Though she acknowledges that “his was no happy life, full of difficulties of every kind”, the queen does not seem to consider that this unhappiness might have broken this young boy, might have sent him spiralling into ugly, impolite anger. What the queen wanted to imagine in Alemayehu, what England still wants to possess, is a foreigner who earns refuge through politeness, quietness and grace.

    Alemayehu, like those who are today crossing borders to flee violence and oppression, endured a forced migration. Yet there is nothing graceful about the overloaded boats heading towards Europe. There is nothing polite about those who have rushed fences and tunnels to escape devastation. If there is beauty to be seen, it is in what they refuse to give up: aspirations and dreams, a love willing to risk all for family, the photographs and letters they clutch even when it requires superhuman strength. These people too are portrayed as strangers. But they, lacking in the refinements that Victoria praised in Alemayehu, are not the kinds of foreigners acceptable to a Europe still looking for comfortable narratives that can be condensed on to plaques and fit into museum displays.

    You think of him in what is now the Victoria and Albert Museum, wandering a room where the loot from the expedition is displayed. He pauses at the familiar gold crown. He stares at the necklaces and anklets worn by the women in his household. Over there, the torn fragments of an illuminated Bible.

    You see him look longingly at these mementos from home, now imprisoned behind glass. You see him, stoic, as he is guided from one vitrine to the other. You see his steps slow and falter as he approaches a beautiful long dress. You imagine that in that instant he wants to smash his fist through the glass and take back his mother’s dress, bury himself in her familiar scent. Instead, he turns to the queen and demands again to be sent home.

    Maaza Mengiste will be speaking on a panel about migration at the Africa Utopia festival at London’s Southbank Centre this Sunday 13 September

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  • 53 Ethiopians charged in connection with deadly riots that left 16 people dead

    ADDIS ABABA (Xinhua) — The Ethiopia Federal Attorney General Office on Thursday charged 53 people in connection with deadly riots in June 2018 that left 16 people dead.

    The 53 suspects are accused of engaging in riots in the Benishangul Gumuz regional state, located in the western part of the country, in June that left 16 people dead, reported state media outlet Ethiopia News Agency.

    The suspects include the former mayor of Assosa, capital of Benishangul Gumuz regional state, as well as head of the region’s special police office.

    Over the past year, Benishangul Gumuz regional state has been experiencing intermittent violence, including deadly disputes among locals and other ethnic groups residing in the region.

    Benishangul Gumuz, located along the Ethiopia-Sudan border, hosts Ethiopia’s largest development project, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. The dam is being built on the Blue Nile River.

    Ethiopia follows an ethnic federalism model, which has been credited with giving self-governance rights to more than 80 ethnic groups that make up the country’s estimated 105 million people.

    However, critics say the ethnic federalism model magnifies ethnic diversity at the expense of national unity, leading to occasional ethnic tension and clashes.

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  • Ethiopian PM attends iftar with Muslim community

    (Anadolu Agency) — Thousands of Ethiopian Muslims gathered in capital Addis Ababa for an Iftar (fast-breaking) dinner with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

    Speaking at the occasion, Abiy said: “The unity of Muslims is tantamount to the unity of the whole country.”

    Muslims account for more than 34% of Ethiopia’s more than 100 million population. Since coming to power in 2018, Abiy has allowed them to move ahead with a plan to institute an elected Majlis (Supreme Council).

    The iftar was organized at Millennium Hall by the Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Council to thank the prime minister for winning hearts of his Muslim country people.

    Abiy also pledged that his government would support the construction in Addis Ababa of a grand mosque for Muslims to come together on events such as Eid al Adha and Eid al Fitr.

    He said the mosque will symbolize the iconic Abyssinian Emperor Negashi who treated companions of Prophet Muhammad well when they fled persecution in Mecca.

    He also vowed to give all-out support for the establishment of an Islamic bank in Ethiopia.

    “I promise that we will work together to establish an Islamic Bank which was long awaited by Muslims,” he said.

    Many Ethiopian Muslim wish to have an interest-free banking system viewing conventional banking as sinful.

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  • Ethiopia: Demonstration rocks Wolayita

    (The Reporter) — Residents of Wolayita Sodo town and its surroundings staged a demonstration on Friday May 17, 2019 demanding regional statehood of the zonal administration, economic benefits as well as respect for rights of Wolayitas all over the country.

    The demonstration was said to have been organized by Wolayita Scholars Association, the Elderly Association as well as the Veterans  Association covering a distance of one and half kilometers, ending in Wolayita Sodo Stadium.

    Slogans of the demonstration called for a quickened implementation of regional statehood for Wolayita, which the zonal council approved unanimously and requested the regional administration for its implementation. Wolayita is one of the half a dozen zonal administrations that requested regional statehood from within the Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples Regional State.

    The demonstration also propagated messages calling for the language of Wolayita to be used at the federal level, for the construction of airports and industrial parks in the to be Wolayita region, justice for Wolayitas who faced displacement and killings in different parts of the country and equal opportunity within the ongoing reform in the country.

    Unlike the last demonstration in Wolayita Sodo town which turned bloody and destructive; this one was peaceful and public institutions and businesses returned to their normal operations in the afternoon.

    “As a party standing for the demands of the people of Wolayita, we took part in the demonstration and helped in its peaceful conclusion. We also formulated questions and helped the public propagate it,” said Abebayehu Tora (PhD), the president of the newly formed Wolayita National Movement.

    Abebayehu also added that Wolayita is the owner of the change process, not only part of it; and claims that the ongoing reform in the country is excluding the Wolayitas intentionally. He also recognized the question of regional statehood and indicated that it is something they stand for.

    At this stage, more than six zonal administrations in the Southern region have requested for independent regional statehood, but it is only the Sidama’s request that has reached the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) accepted by the regional council.

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  • Abiy hosts ‘the most expensive dinner’ in Ethiopia

    (BBC) — Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed hosted 200 business people and representatives from several organisations for a Sunday dinner dubbed “the most expensive in the country”.

    Guests had to pay $173,000 (£136,000) to dine at the palace of a former emperor of the country, Menelik.

    The event was held to help reach a $1.1bn fundraising target to pay for the regeneration of an area in the capital, Addis Ababa.

    Beautifying Sheger Project, as it is called, involves cleaning the rivers and building recreational parks in the capital.

    State linked-Fana news site, tweeted pictures of the table setup , alongside models showing what the project would look like when complete.

    Since coming to office Mr Abiy has been praised for his reformist agenda, which included normalising ties with bitter foe, Eritrea.

    His critics, however, say that he has failed to deal with ethnic conflicts within the country which have displaced more than 2 million people.

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