The swimmer says he found the comments difficult to deal with
An Ethiopian Olympic swimmer has won a legion of fans on the internet after being branded a "whale" following his performance at the Rio games.
Nobel Kiros Habte finished last in his 100-metre freestyle heat half a lap behind the athletes ahead of him. The crowd cheered nonetheless and he soon became an internet hero.
However, others instead decided to scrutinise the Ethiopian athlete’s body shape and compare it to his competitors.
Some were particularly harsh in their commentary by dubbing him a “whale” and “fat”. Similarly, media reports referred to him as “tubby”, “chubby” and “overweight”, while the Daily Mail invited readers to “meet Robel the whale”. Others, slightly more affectionally, pondered over what they described as his “dad bod”.
This is the second example of body shaming of an Olympic athlete in a matter of days. Mexican gymnast Alexa Moreno was subject to scrutiny over her appearance after she represented her country at gymnastics on Sunday.
However, as in Moreno's case, the majority of people instead chose to rally around Habte and questioned how trolls can criticise an Olympic athlete from behind a computer screen.
Habte, a university student, spoke about how the criticism had affected him on Wednesday.
“It has been difficult,” he told the Daily Mail. “Too difficult, I don’t know how I feel, but many things. Some of the things people have said or written are not nice.
“I am a nice person, I would not say these things about others. They have used dirty language against me and called me fat and a big man and a whale,” he said.
Habte, who says he is now retiring from Olympic swimming, told the paper he had put on weight after a car accident forced him to break from his training schedule. The swimmer, who now weighs 179lb, also said he had expected to finish in last place having never trained in an Olympic-sized pool.
Ethiopia's crackdown on protests
What does the deadly response to the Oromo and Amhara demonstrations mean for the country’s future?
Dozens are dead and many more injured in Ethiopia after security forces opened fire on anti-government protesters last weekend. In the latest round of protests, thousands took to the streets across Ethiopia’s Oromia and Amhara regions to fight against what they say is the marginalisation of the two largest ethnic groups in the country, the Oromo and Amhara.
The Oromo protests first began in November 2015 after the Ethiopian government introduced the “Addis Ababa Integrated Development Master Plan.” Officials say it was an economic and infrastructure initiative, but activists argue it would have displaced many Oromos living in towns and villages close to the capital city. Over the course of the next several months at least 400 people were killed and thousands arrested for their involvement in anti-government demonstrations, according to Human Rights Watch. The government eventually cancelled the Master Plan, but the movement continues. And last month, the country’s second largest ethnic group, the Amhara, joined the protests in solidarity with the Oromos. They are calling on the government to address similar political and economic grievances that they have.
Tension between the Ethiopian government and the Oromos and the Amhara has been growing. In the run up to this weekend’s demonstrations Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn announced a ban on the protests saying they “threaten national unity”. But critics say the government’s moves are intended to control dissent. Desalegn says his government will continue to make efforts to address the concerns of the protesters.
We’ll discuss the latest developments at 19:30 GMT.
On this episode of The Stream, we speak with:
Getachew Reda @getachewkreda
Communications Affairs Minister
Chairman, Oromo Federalist Congress
Fetsum Berhane @fetsum1
Najat Hamza @najathamza6
Activist, Oromo Community of Minnesota
What Is Fueling Ethiopia's Protests?
By Salem Solomon
The deadly protests that rocked Ethiopia in the past week stem from a diverse host of regional grievances but they reflect a shared sense of marginalization that may be bringing two of the country's largest ethnic groups together, analysts say, warning that there could be more unrest on the horizon.
Nearly 100 people were killed as security forces crushed the demonstrations over the weekend, according to opposition political parties and Amnesty International. Security forces opened fire on protesters, activists say.
The Ethiopian government blames the opposition in and outside the country for organizing what it calls "unauthorized protests by anti-peace forces." According to a statement by the government communications office, some protesters were carrying lethal weapons, including explosives. Opposition leaders deny the allegations, stating that the protesters were peaceful and unarmed.
The dispute in central Ethiopia dates back to November 2015. Demonstrators opposed a government plan to expand the municipal boundaries of the capital, Addis Ababa, into the Oromia Region. Farmers in the region were particularly upset, worrying that it could mean an end to their livelihood. The protests claimed the lives of more than 400 people, according to Human Rights Watch. Video showed security forces beating unarmed protesters and using live ammunition.
The government put the capital expansion on hold, and protests quieted down — but the grievance did not go away
In early July, another wave of protests began, this time farther north in the city of Gonder, in the Amhara region.
The main complaint by people in Amhara is that they want three districts — Welkait, Telemt and Tsegede — to be reintegrated into the Amhara Regional State, said Alemante Gebreselassie, professor of law emeritus at the College of William & Mary in the eastern U.S. state of Virginia.
Currently, the three districts are under the Tigray Regional State. Members of a group known as the Welkait committee also identify as ethnic Amhara and want to be part of the Amhara Region administration.
Negussu Tilahun, spokesperson of the Amhara Region, said these administration issues are cross-regional and the Amhara Region alone can't find answers.
"The Amhara Region cannot take ownership in trying to answer these questions because it will not find answers and it is not constitutional," he said in an interview with VOA Amharic Service.
If questions raised go beyond regional administration, he added, people should try to find answers through the federal court system.
Decades-old dispute in Gonder
Last month in Gonder, members of the Welkait committee were arrested. Residents took to the streets demanding their release, resulting in clashes with police and destruction of property.
The Welkait committee is demanding the reversal of the 1991 decision to place Welkait in the Tigray Region, said committee leader Colonel Demeke Zewdu, in an interview with VOA Tigrigna Service prior to his arrest.
"The people have been opposing this in different forms until now,” he said. “Under the Tigray Region administration, the people didn't gain any benefits. Land has been taken away from them and they don't have socio-economic advantages. The society feels like it is regarded as second-class citizens."
Since the 15th century, the region known as Begemeder, which includes modern-day Gonder, had been autonomous and separate from the Tigray Region, said Gebreselassie.
Gebreselassie believes the move was an effort by Ethiopia's post-1991 leaders, who were from the minority Tigrayan ethnic group, to expand their homeland, an accusation echoed by protesters.
Oromia, Amhara solidarity
Decades of rivalry between the Oromo and Amhara may be giving way to solidarity, said Awol Allo, a fellow in human rights at the London School of Economics.
At rallies in the city of Bahir Dar, protesters were seen carrying signs that read "Stop Killing Oromo People" and "Free Bekele Gerba." Gerba is the deputy chairman of the Oromo Federalist Congress, an opposition party whose leaders are currently in prison.
Youth are key to this movement, Allo said. "[This is] a generation that would say it doesn't matter what force is used, I am determined to make my demands and to make my voice heard."
Ethiopia's Constitution states that regional borders can be redrawn.
“The constitution gives the basic rights of people for self-administration and where they can identify themselves as a home,” said Soleyana S. Gebremichael, an Ethiopian lawyer and human rights advocate. “So the question of Welkait is directly related with that. People identify themselves as Amharas and they consider themselves as Amharas. They wanted to be administered by the region with their own language and promote their culture accordingly.”
Government response could identify tension
The government has defended its use of the military and police force and restricted access to the internet, in particular social media.
“People have already learned how to go around that using proxies, using VPN. So the initial batch of videos came in using proxies and VPN. It seems to me that when authorities noticed that the information is still getting out that’s when they moved to shut down the entire internet,” said Mohammed Ademo, a journalist with Al Jazeera and the editor of Opride.com, a news website that focuses on Oromo issues.
Organizers continue to work the old-fashioned way, by word of mouth, said Gebremichael.
"The organizing had been done at the grass-roots level, so with or without the internet,” she said. “People already had the urgency of going out to protest and then presenting their question and petitioning the government. That's what we saw in the past weekend because the internet was down for 48 hours and the protests happened anyway."
Analysis: The Ethiopian model is breaking, but it’s not too late to fix it
Dark clouds have long loomed over Ethiopia’s stunning development story. Now, in the face of unprecedented protests, and the government’s typically brutal response, those clouds threaten to turn into a perfect storm – with chilling consequences.
By SIMON ALLISON.
As much as Ethiopia deserves praise for its stunning economic growth, which has lifted millions out of poverty, its record on civil and political rights has always been poor. Dissent is simply not an option, and countless journalists, activists and community organisers have found themselves on the wrong side of the state – with brutal, sometimes fatal consequences.
In public, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn says that building a democratic culture takes time, but that Ethiopia is working on it. In private, Ethiopian officials admit to the abuses, but they say that unrestricted political rights would derail the state-building project. They insist that unfettered freedoms are a western luxury; a luxury that a country as large, diverse and historically divided as Ethiopia simply cannot afford.
There is some merit to this argument. It is no coincidence that Africa’s two most successful developmental states, Ethiopia and Rwanda, are both tightly-controlled one party states. Perhaps a firm hand and a coherent long term vision make it easier to implement policy, distribute aid and maintain political stability (although this is not always the answer, as the continent’s many failed dictatorships illustrate).
Proponents of liberal democracy must also acknowledge that the western model offers few examples, in Africa at least, where socio-economic rights have been successfully delivered alongside basic freedoms. “What good is freedom of speech to the hungry man?” the Indian politician Piloo Mody once asked. Western democracies themselves were almost all founded on what would be considered now to be gross human rights abuses, such as the disenfranchisement of women, or the enslavement of different race groups – abuses that dwarf the sins of modern-day Ethiopia.
But here’s the catch: as Ethiopia’s economy slows, and the glaring inequalities of its growth become more apparent, it’s becoming harder and harder to keep a lid on that dissent. While it might have been effective, Ethiopia’s authoritarian model of development is inherently fragile – and those fragilities are being exposed by the recent spate of anti-government protests. The unprecedented scale of these protests means that, for once, the government can’t make the problem disappear, no matter how ruthless its response.
The troubles began in November 2015, when affected communities began to demonstrate against the government’s plan to expand Addis Ababa, the capital, into surrounding farmlands. This tapped into wider discontent among the Oromo, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group but also its most marginalised, and solidarity marches broke out across the region.
The protestors won, eventually – the expansion plans were cancelled – but at an enormous cost. An estimated 400 people were killed, and hundreds more imprisoned. This in turn fuelled more protests, and this year tensions have remained high across Oromia.
More mass demonstrations broke out in early July, but this time from a completely different source. A long-standing regional boundaries dispute in Amhara catalysed local resentment against the government, and huge rallies erupted in the region’s main cities, Gondar and Bahir Dar. Anger was directed at the government but also at the political dominance of another ethnic group, the Tigray, who occupy most senior government positions. Solidarity rallies were held across Amhara, Oromia and even in Addis Ababa.
The government responded the only way that it knows how: with lethal force. Amnesty International estimates that nearly 100 people were killed this weekend as security forces tried to disperse countrywide protests. In Bahir Dar alone, the police shot live rounds into the crowd, claiming 30 lives.
If the last nine months are anything to go by, the deaths will not stem the dissent. If anything, the more people the government kills, the louder and more widespread the protests seem to get.
For Ethiopia, the implications of this are deeply unsettling: the state can no longer stifle opposition by force. The authoritarianism which has underpinned the country’s development isn’t working any more.
Ethiopia’s rulers are now faced with a stark choice. Double down on the despotism, and risk a revolution – thereby undoing much of the country’s economic growth (donors are already under intense pressure to pull out). Or acknowledge that civil and political rights are not just a luxury, but a necessary condition for sustainable, long-term development – and reform the state accordingly.
The Ethiopian model of development may be buckling under the strain of the recent protests, and the government’s brutal response. But the model can, and must, be fixed. Before it’s too late. DM
Photo: The Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopa, Hailemariam Desalegn arrives at the fourth EU-Africa Summit of Heads of States at the European council headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, 02 April 2014. EPA/JULIEN WARNAND.
Ethiopia must allow in observers after killings - UN rights boss
by stephanie nebehay
GENEVA (Reuters) - The U.N. human rights chief urged Ethiopia on Wednesday to allow international observers into restive regions where residents and opposition officials say 90 protesters were shot dead by security forces at the weekend.
In his first comments on the incident, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that allegations of excessive use of force across the Oromiya and Amhara regions must be investigated and that his office was in discussions with Ethiopian authorities.
Since January, when he said the killings of protesters first began, his office had "not seen seen any genuine attempt at investigation and accountability".
"The use of live ammunition against protesters in Oromiya and Amhara, the towns there of course would be a very serious concern for us," Zeid told Reuters in an interview in Geneva.
Unrest flared in Oromiya for several months until early this year over plans to allocate farmland surrounding the regional capital for development. Authorities in the Horn of Africa state scrapped the scheme in January, but protests flared again over the continued detention of opposition demonstrators.
At the weekend, protesters chanted anti-government slogans and waved dissident flags. Some demanded the release of jailed opposition politicians. Information on the reported killings has been difficult to obtain, Zeid said.
"So I do urge the government to allow access for international observers into the Amhara and Oromiya regions so that we can establish what has happened and that the security forces, if it is the case that they have been using excessive force, that they do not do so and promptly investigate of course these allegations."
Zeid said that any detainee who had been peacefully protesting should be released promptly.
The state-run Ethiopian News Agency said on Monday that "illegal protests" by "anti-peace forces" had been brought under control. It did not mention casualties.
As in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which Zeid visited last month, it is vital that security forces employ non-lethal means during peaceful protests, he said.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Mark Heinrich)