#29 2019

There is Hope Now

“When my sister and I visit him in Ethiopia at the beginning of the 2000s, he looks around and lowers his voice before continuing to tell the story he’s been writing about in his letters to us. There was no hope then.”

Lena Bezawork Grönlund was born in 1975 in Addis Abeba and was raised in Northernmost Sweden. She is a librarian, and her first novel, Slag, was published in 2017. This issue contains a text in which she portrays newly-rekindled hope that has been latent for decades—hope ignited by students in Ethiopia in the 1970s with their dreams of a just society. Now, more than 40 years later, these dreams are slowly but surely coming back to life.

The Booksellers on the Street

Mohammed Selman is a journalist and freelance writer, presently working for BBC Amharic. He was previously an editor at Littmann Books, one of the leading publishing houses in Ethiopia. In “The Booksellers on the Street,”

Salt and Metal

The metallic taste of clotted blood, like the salt from a cold sweat, seems ubiquitous. Ineradicable. Liyou Libsekal was born in 1990 in Ethiopia and currently lives in Addis Ababa. She is an award-winning author and poet

Poems from Exile

Sosina Ashenafi, author and journalist, was born and raised in Ethiopia, and is known for her sarcastic essay style, short story writing and her poetry. She now works and lives in Canada, where she has published a number of

Let Me Hear Your Truth

Chaala Hailu Abata, an Ethiopian poet who was imprisoned and tortured in his country of origin for writing poetry critical of the regime, lives in safety in Sweden today. But his thoughts remain back in Ethiopia with the

The Unsung Heroes

It is now more than six years since Swedish journalist Martin Schibbye and photographer Johan Persson returned home after 438 days in Ethiopian prison, accused of terrorism. Today, Martin Schibbye serves, among other

Open letter to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia

Solomon Hailemariam, author and founder of PEN Ethiopia, had to leave his homeland Ethiopia in 2015, after repeated attacks on himself and the organization. He now lives in exile in Canada, and serves as chairman of PEN

The Dawn is Not Here

In 2011, award-winning Ethiopian journalist Reeyot Alemu was sentenced to fourteen years in prison for her writing, on an accusation of “terrorism”. Her crime was having written critical texts on political and social issues

The Emperor’s New Clothes

Gezahegn Mekonnen is an Ethiopian journalist and filmmaker, and one of the founding members of PEN Ethiopia. He currently lives in exile in Toronto, Canada, where he edits the journal New Perspectives, among other projects. In this issue of the

Journalism in Ethiopia: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Woubshet Taye Abebe is an Ethiopian journalist and writer. Prior to being convicted, along with three other journalists, under the Ethiopian terror act in 2011, he served as editor-in-chief of the Awramba Times, among other posts.

Texts about Hope

In April 2015 The Dissident Blog had texts about Eritrea and Ethiopia, and among the contributors was Reeyot Alemu, the much-appraised Ethiopian journalist, sentenced to fourteen years of imprisonment for “terrorism” due to texts that she had written. Her sentence was later shortened to five years. In an open letter she then described her days in the notorious Kality prison. She finished the letter with the words: “Dear readers, lastly, I wish to see a democratic Ethiopia where justice is served. I promise to do everything I can to achieve this.” 

Four years later she is participating in this issue, and, although highly critical of the developments in the country she writes that: “Our struggle has been a fruitful one.”

The events in Ethiopia this past year are such that many people living in totalitarian states would find them hard to even imagine. In less than a year Ethiopia has gone from being one of the world’s most repressive countries to being an open and more democratic one. Since April 2018 when Abiy Ahmed became the new prime minister the country has rapidly moved in a democratic direction. Massive reforms have been implemented, political prisoners have been freed, organisations previously defined as “terrorist” are now seen as legitimate opposition movements, a peace treaty with Eritrea has been signed, blocked home pages and blogs have been unblocked, and hundreds of previously forbidden media are now permitted. In 2018 the Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index ranked Ethiopia as low as 150 among the 180 countries; in 2019 the country has climbed to position 110. 

The notorious Kality prison, with a name that locally has been synonymous with “being imprisoned for political reasons,” is nowadays emptied of political prisoners. 

It is no exaggeration to say that the changes within the country during this past year constitute a historical leap in favour of democracy and the freedom of expression in Ethiopia.

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