Ethiopia or Eritrea? Border community fears split

A statue of Bishop Jacob stands at the Lideta Mariam Catholic monastery church in Alitena, a town in Ethiopia on the border with Eritrea on July 12, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 20 July 2018

Ethiopia or Eritrea? Border community fears split

“This place is definitely Ethiopian,” said farmer Haise Woldu, 76, gesturing to a church with an ornate brick facade in Engal, set to a backdrop of a jagged mountain range.
His town Engal lies along the arid frontier between Ethiopia and Eritrea, whose exact border has been a subject of debate for over a century and the cause of a deadly war between the two nations which ended last week.
A breakneck peace process between the former foes over the past six weeks hinges on Ethiopia’s vow to finally abide by a 2002 United Nations ruling on the frontier, which states that Engal is in fact Eritrean.
This means Haisie’s minority ethnic Irob community, spread across the region, could be rent in two, with some ending up in Eritrea while others remain in Ethiopia.
“This decision will divide the population,” said Daniel Hagos, a Catholic priest in Alitena, an Irob town 10 kilometers northeast of Engal.
“If brothers are divided, that will be a problem. I don’t think peace will come.”
Other leaders of the Irob community, which speaks the Kushitic Saho language, want peace but warn that changing the status quo could wreak havoc with their way of life.
They have warned transferring land in the rugged Irob region to Eritrea would also force visitors to Ethiopia’s Irob areas to pass through Eritrea.
In the past 150 years, Eritrea has passed through the hands of the Ottomans, Egyptians, Italians, British and Ethiopians which annexed it in 1952 after a brief period of autonomy.
The tiny Red Sea nation — which comprised Ethiopia’s entire coastline — went on to fight a bloody independence war before successfully leaving after a 1993 referendum.
The resulting border was never properly defined leading to a dispute that sparked clashes and escalated into all-out war that claimed 80,000 lives between 1998 and the signature of a peace deal in 2000.


Eritrea captured the Irob areas early in the conflict and held the territory for almost the duration of hostilities.
The region is one of the few centers of Ethiopian Catholicism, introduced in the 19th century by Italian saint Justin de Jacobis.
It is dotted with Catholic and Orthodox churches perched on cliffs and hills.
Ethiopia’s rejection of a 2002 UN ruling on the demarcation of the border threw Addis Ababa’s relations with Asmara into deadlock, prompting Eritrea to seal its borders.
The stalemate appeared destined to continue indefinitely until Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office in April, announcing an aggressive reform agenda — and stunning observers by agreeing to respect the boundary ruling.
Huge crowds turned out in Asmara to welcome Abiy and in Addis Ababa to greet Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki.
But in the Irob district, accessed by a narrow dirt track dotted with military checkpoints, residents protested Abiy’s announcement.
Irob people guard their rights jealously and fear the return of the Eritreans who abused them during the occupation, according to district administrator Niguse Hagos.
“This decision will disintegrate the people of Irob,” he warned, adding that the land ruled Eritrean by the UN is home to one-third of the district’s 33,000 people.
No land appears to have changed hands yet and an AFP correspondent saw Ethiopian tanks deployed to the area with their barrels facing Eritrea.
Some Irob people hope that peace between the neighbors could improve their situation.
The nearby Eritrean market town of Senafe would become accessible, potentially stimulating trade in the impoverished region.

Eritrea’s occupation

Other locals hope warming relations will help them learn what happened to the 96 Irob people who disappeared during Eritrea’s occupation.
“Ever since the news, we’ve all been glued to the television,” said Abrahet Niguse, a trader whose husband was taken by Eritrean troops for allegedly giving food to Ethiopian soldiers.
“If the two countries make peace, maybe my husband will come back again.”
Eritrea, once vocal in demanding the land awarded to it by the UN, has toned down its appeals in recent weeks.
During his visit to Addis Ababa last week, Isaias hugged and joked with Abiy — but did not mention the issue.
The bond between the two men could make the exact demarcation of the new border irrelevant, according to Mammo Muchie, a professor at Tshwane University of Technology in South Africa.
“The border should be secondary now. The relationship is most important,” he said.
“(Borders) will always create problems.”
Many Irob people yearn for the era before the war when they could cross between their now artificially divided valleys.
“We want peace,” said Girmay Abraha, a driver born in the area. “But we believe it shouldn’t come by giving away land.”

Police slam US actor, say he staged racist attack to boost career

Updated 22 February 2019

Police slam US actor, say he staged racist attack to boost career

  • Jussie Smollett, the African-American actor who stars on Fox music industry drama ‘Empire,’ went from victim to suspect after he reported an assault late last month
  • Smollett accused of first sending himself a fake threatening letter and then staging an attack to tap into Americans’ anxieties over political and racial divisions

CHICAGO: An American TV actor was criminally charged Thursday for allegedly masterminding an elaborate “publicity stunt” that sought to exploit the “pain and anger of racism” with a staged assault on the streets of Chicago.

It was the latest twist in a weeks-long saga that has seen 36-year-old Jussie Smollett, the African-American actor who stars on Fox music industry drama “Empire,” go from victim to suspect after he reported an assault late last month.

An incredulous Chicago police chief accused Smollett of first sending himself a fake threatening letter and then staging an attack to tap into Americans’ anxieties over political and racial divisions, because he was allegedly “dissatisfied with his salary.”

In a sign of the national attention the case has drawn, President Donald Trump weighed in Thursday, taking issue with the fact Smollett claimed his assailants invoked the president’s “Make America Great Again” slogan along with racist slurs during the purported attack.

“‘Empire’ actor Jussie Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career,” Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson told an emotionally-charged news conference — during which he lashed out angrily at the actor for sullying the city’s image.

“Smollett paid $3,500 to stage this attack and drag Chicago’s reputation through the mud in the process,” he said. “This publicity stunt was a scar that Chicago didn’t earn and certainly didn’t deserve.”

Smollett turned himself in early Thursday morning, was arrested and charged with a felony count of disorderly conduct for filing a false police report, and was granted $100,000 bond.

He was freed from jail late in the afternoon, and said nothing to the throng of media. If convicted, he faces up to three years in prison.

His legal team pushed back hard later Thursday, claiming the police press conference had been prejudicial and “the presumption of innocence, a bedrock in the search for justice, was trampled upon.”

“Today we witnessed an organized law enforcement spectacle that has no place in the American legal system,” attorney Jack Prior told AFP in a statement.

“Mr. Smollett is a young man of impeccable character and integrity who fiercely and solemnly maintains his innocence and feels betrayed by a system that apparently wants to skip due process and proceed directly to sentencing.”

Smollett had claimed that two masked men beat him late at night in downtown Chicago, poured bleach on him and tied a rope around his neck — but police grew suspicious of his account after they failed to corroborate it.

Trump took aim at the actor for having tarnished his supporters, tweeting: “what about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments!?“

Meanwhile, Fox Entertainment and 20th Century Fox Television, which produce “Empire” and had stood by the actor, said “we understand the seriousness of this matter” and “are considering our options.”

Authorities said the two men who staged the attack with Smollett were brothers Ola and Abel Osundairo, who have both previously worked on “Empire,” and were acquaintances of the actor — while one provided him with drugs.

The brothers have cooperated with police since their arrest late last week and have not been charged with a crime.

Smollett allegedly first concocted a false threatening letter he had sent to himself — which is under a separate FBI investigation — and when that did not get enough attention, paid the brothers to have the assault staged.

Prosecutor Risa Lanier detailed an elaborate plot that Smollett allegedly orchestrated with exacting detail — telling the brothers when and how to attack him, including pointing out a street camera he assumed would capture the event, but was in fact pointing in a different direction.

The allegations were backed by a mountain of evidence, including a cashed check that Smollett wrote to pay for the stunt, authorities said.

Initial news of Smollett’s claims led to widespread condemnation and shock, and an outpouring of support from celebrities and politicians alike, including Democratic 2020 presidential candidates Cory Booker and Kamala Harris who denounced “an attempted modern day lynching.”

Trump initially described the alleged attack as “horrible.”

Since then, Smollett’s story has become a cautionary tale in an era where incomplete information is quickly spread via social media.

Opinion writers have complained about a rush to judgment, and politicians, celebrities and nonprofit groups have felt pressure to explain their initial reactions.

The president of the LGBT advocacy group Human Rights Campaign said the Smollett news was “both devastating and frustrating.”

“I want to ask everyone feeling angry, hurt and disappointed to channel that into productive activism — because there are thousands targeted by hate violence each year who need our help,” Chad Griffin tweeted.