Somali wedding planners rejoice in new freedom
Sat Jul 28, 2007 9:52AM EDT
By Guled Mohamed
MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Women decked out in brightly colored gowns, gold jewelry and elaborate dance with men to the slow tunes of Somali love songs.
A pianist, guitarist and female singer entertain the crowd packed into a small, stuffy hall for a wedding reception.
Such a scene would have been unthinkable in Mogadishu just months ago when a hardline Muslim movement ruled the seaside capital and much of southern Somalia, imposing sharia law and shutting down many forms of entertainment seen as un-Islamic.
"People [Somalis] can now party freely. It is good for business."
But business is back after the interim government, with Ethiopian military help, in January ejected the Islamists and their strict form of Islam.
Reveling in their new freedom, excited guests cheer and shower the singer with scarves and a confetti of Somali money.
"I'm very happy," wedding planner Muna Omar said as the reception at a former military compound starts to wind down.
"During the Islamic reign we would never dare organize such a party," she said. "They considered it unlawful."
When the Somali Islamic Courts Council was in charge last year, they banned wedding parties, shut video halls screening foreign films and World Cup football matches, outlawed a hugely popular narcotic, khat, and harassed men's barbers.
They also ordered women to wear the hijab, an outfit covering the body and head.
At first, many residents praised them for bringing relative stability to much of a country that had become a byword for anarchy since dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991.
But they were abhorred by others for imposing restrictions on a Muslim society that is traditionally moderate and they drew unfavorable comparisons to the Taliban movement in Afghanistan.
GOWNS AND MAKE-UP
One guest taking a break from dancing recalls how he was at a secret party in Mogadishu last year that the Islamists heard of and decided to break up.
"We invited a few guests and the music was on low volume. I don't know who tipped off Islamist troops, but they stormed in and disrupted the party," he said. "They flogged and chased away guests. I was so shocked."
Then he returns to the heaving dance floor, a group of young men looking on with grins, clapping his every twist and turn.
Mogadishu remains one of the world's most dangerous cities, and remnants of the Islamist movement are blamed for almost daily insurgent strikes targeting interim government troops, Ethiopian patrols and African Union peacekeepers from Uganda.
A major peace conference under way in the north of the city has been attacked with volleys of mortar shells -- which missed and crashed down onto residential streets nearby.
But many were relieved to see the back of the Islamists, especially the Somalis whose livelihoods they choked off.
Deqo Afrah, another Mogadishu-based party planner, says business is booming again. She charges about $200 for most weddings, which includes applying the henna, the red dye used to decorate the bride's skin.
"I organize at least two or three weddings per week," she said. "I am very busy, unlike during the Islamic Courts' rule. People can now party freely. It is good for business."
Standing nearby wearing heavy make-up and a flowing semi-transparent gown, her fellow planner Omar heartily agrees.
"Nobody had the guts to dress like this," she said with a laugh. "We were unhappy and bored. I hope the Islamic Courts do not hear me and come for my head!"
Ethiopia - Addis Dimts Radio Interview with Prof Ephrem Issac and Prof. Al Mariam
Host Abebe Belew of Addis Dimts Radio interviewed Professor Ephrem Issac and Professor Al Mariam on Saturday July 28, 2007 about H.R. 2003.
Plight of ethnic groups in Ethiopia discussed at U conference
By Abdi Aynte
15,000 Oromo in Minnesota include many victims of torture, persecution.
Seldom does a former head of state express remorse about crimes committed under his watch, but that's exactly what Dr. Negasso Gidada, the former president of Ethiopia, told more than 100 people Thursday evening at the University of Minnesota.
Speaking at the Oromo second annual international human rights conference, Gidada said he's "ready to be accountable for crimes I committed … and those committed by the Ethiopian government" during his tenure.
Most of the people in attendance were Oromo, the largest of Ethiopia's 86 ethnic groups. Gidada also is an Oromo, but the current regime is dominated by a minority ethnic group called the Tigre. He held the largely ceremonial post of president between 1995 and 2001.
Now an opposition member in the Ethiopian parliament, Gidada admitted that the "rule of law was enforced brutally" while he was president. But he reiterated that he couldn't stop most of those crimes, because the power lied with the Tigre prime minister.
More than 15,000 Oromo refugees, the largest anywhere in the country, live in Minnesota, according to the Oromo-American Citizenship Council, which helped organize the event.
The State Department's human rights index ranks Ethiopia, a close U.S. ally in the war on terror, as one of the worst human rights violators in the world. Oromo-Americans said they are particularly disappointed with how the United States turned its back on the protection of human rights in their country.
Ethiopia is already fighting a proxy war for the U.S. in Somalia, said Professor Abdi Samatar, a panelist who teaches geography and global studies at the University of Minnesota.
"With blessings from Washington, the Ethiopian military killed thousands in Somalia since January, displaced 450,000 and destroyed one-third of Mogadishu's infrastructure," said Samatar, who studied Ethiopia closely as a Fulbright scholar seven years ago.
A study by the Minneapolis-based Center for Victims of Torture found in 2004 that 69 percent of all Oromo men and 37 percent of women in Minnesota were victims of torture -- one of the highest percentages among refugees in the state.
`Color of your passport matters'
Minnesota is also home to the largest Anuak ethnic population in the United States. When Ethiopian soldiers were in the middle of killing more than 400 Anuak people in three days in 2003, Obang Metho, executive director of the Anuak Justice Council, called the U.S. State Department.
According to Metho, who also spoke at the event, the woman who answered his 1 a.m. call told him: "'People are killed over there all the time,'" and the phone went dead. Metho, who now lives in Canada, called back five minutes later. The woman chided him but before she could take her next breath, he interjected that U.S. citizens could be among the dead. Then he hung up on her.
The woman called back with a frantic question: "'Do you know where they live? Their Social Security numbers?'" Metho supplied whatever information he had.
Less than two hours later, he received a call from the U.S. embassy in Addis Ababa, informing him that staff members were on the way to Gambella, where the massacre was under way. But they needed his help.
"At that time, I learned that the color of your passport matters," he said.
Hope in legislation
Members of the Ethiopian community in Minnesota and across the nation, who organized a massive rally Thursday morning at the state Capitol, are hoping for eventual passage of a bill that cleared a subcommittee in the U.S. House of Representatives last week.
The bill, authored by Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J., connects U.S. financial and military assistance to Ethiopia to improved human rights, freedom of the press and democracy.
U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., who spoke at the Oromo human rights conference through video uplink, told the audience that he supports the bill.
"Those who committed human rights violations ought to be brought to justice," he said.
Davenport, Ia. — The smile on Wude Ayalew’s face conveyed her joy after winning the women’s portion of Saturday’s Bix 7 road race.
With the help of two translators, the 20-year-old Ethiopian was able to describe the stress-filled 24 hours that preceded her triumph.
It started with Ayalew missing a connecting flight in Washington, D.C., and ended with her arriving in the Quad Cities late at night, not too many hours before the 8 a.m. start.
“She was worried about missing it,” Ayalew said through an interpreter. “But there was no doubt about winning.”
Ayalew led an elite field of women’s runners, finishing the 7-mile course in 36:57. Duncan Kibet of Kenya set the men’s pace in 32:15.
Both winners were given a choice of $10,000 or a new car.
Ayalew, meanwhile, was coming off a win at the Peachtree road race in Atlanta this month.
On Saturday, she was greeted by television cameras shortly after crossing the finish line.
She communicated with the help of two other runners, who helped translate her Ethiopian language of Amharic into English.
Meb Keflezighi, a former men’s champion of the Bix 7, served as Ayalew’s spokesperson.
“The competition was really tough at the Peachtree,” Ayalew explained, “But the course (in Atlanta) is a lot easier.”
Ayalew went ahead in Saturday’s race with 2 miles remaining.
“When (Ayalew) got to the fifth mile, up the hill, she knew she had it,” Keflezighi said. “On the sixth mile, she was able to relax.”
Is Somalia a Proxy War Between Ethiopia and Eritrea?
By Joe De Capua
27 July 2007
Listen to De Capua interview with Timothy Othieno
The tensions between Eritrea and Ethiopia may be playing themselves out in part in Somalia. Some observers say the violence in Somalia may be a proxy war between Eritrea and Ethiopia.
Timothy Othieno is a senior researcher at the Institute for Global Dialogue in Midrand, South Africa. He spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about whether he thinks Somalia is a proxy war. “Yes, it can be construed as that based on the fact that if one goes with the allegations that Union of Islamic Courts in Somalia were being funded, armed and also had the political support of the Eritrean government in its fight against the Ethiopian-backed TFG (Transitional Federal Government) government. So in that case, yes, I could argue it is an extended confrontation Ethiopia and Eritrea…but to go into more detail…the unresolved border dispute between Eritrea and Ethiopia actually can be explained and one can argue that what we’re seeing today in Somalia is actually an extension of that. Because a UN boundary commission ruling in favor of Eritrea has not been implemented to date in favor of Eritrea. Ethiopia has refused to give back the (border town) of Badme to Eritrea as the boundary commission had decided…and that is actually an extension of the current problem that we’re seeing today,” he says.
Special Section: Ethiopia - Somalia Conflict
More than 250 articles on Ethiopia - Somalia conflict from nazret.com archives
Eritrea’s information minister, Ali Abdu, is quoted as saying the allegations are a “smear campaign.” He describes them as a “fabricated pretext for an Ethiopian invasion and to cover up the failures made by the United States and the United Nations.”
Othieno says, “To a certain extent I would agree with the Eritrean minister in the sense
that the onus was on the United Nations to enforce, to implement its own ruling. I mean you cannot have a UN ruling being ignored, if I may use that word, by a government such as Ethiopia.” He says that the United States and other nations “should have impressed upon Ethiopia to abide by that ruling.”
He says Eritrea and the Union of Islamic Courts in Somalia currently have a common enemy in Ethiopia. He says that he doubts there will be peace in Somalia until tensions between Eritrea and Ethiopia are resolved and that includes the border dispute.
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