Monthly Archives: July 2017

CO-DEFENDANTS SAY AYELE BEYENE DIED OF ‘TORTURE AND NEGLECT’ IN PRISON, EXPRESS FEAR OF SIMILAR FATE

By Mahlet Fasil

 (Finfinne, July 26/2017)– The body of Ayele Beyene, who died while in police custody at Qilinto prison, a maximum prison facility on the southern outskirt of Addis Abeba, was buried yesterday in his home town in Gidami, east Wallaga zone of western Ethiopia.

Before he was detained in September 2016, Ayele, 29, was the head of the management department at Nifas Silk Lafto Kifle Ketema Woreda 10 bureau here in the capital Addis Abeba. He was detained along with seven others but was only brought to court in May 2017 after spending nine months in Ma’ekelawi.

Their arrest is part of a widespread government crackdown in the wake of (and post) the yearlong anti-government protests in Oromia and Amhara regional states that saw thousands rounded up and sent to prison.

On May 10 the eight men were formally charged (charge sheet in pdf) with terror related and criminal offenses. Ayele Beyene was listed as the second defendant in the file name under the first defendant Melkamu Kinfu.  Ayele was facing similar charges of terrorism and criminal offenses along with six of the eight men: Bonsa Beyene (his bother), Yimam Mohammed, Lemesa Gizachew, Kumera Tilahun, Meyad Ayana, and Muluna Darge. All the seven were charged under Art. 7/1 of Ethiopia’s infamous Anti-Terrorism Proclamation (ATP 652/2009) as well as Art. 32/1 A and B and Art. 38 of the 2004 Criminal code, while the first defendant Malkamu Kinfu was charged under Art. 4 of the ATP and Art. 32/1 A and B and Art. 38 of the 2004 Criminal code.

All the eight defendants have told the federal court 4th  criminal bench during their first appearance in May that they have been subjected to severe torture that included beatings and solitary confinement in dark rooms during their nine months of detention in Ethiopia’s notorious prison Ma’ekelawi.

After charges were filed, they were transferred to the Qilinto prison, from where the body of Ayele was taken to St. Paul Hospital before he died.

During their court hearing yesterday, the fourth defendant Yimam Mohammed told the judges that Ayele hadn’t had food for ten days prior to his death during which the rest of his co-defendants have reported his situation to the prison authorities at least “three times a day” but they were “neglected”. “I find it hard to say that our friend [Ayele] has died; his life was cut short. Who is responsible for that? If it is the government let us know it before we too die,” said Yimam to a court full of weep.

The first defendant Melkamu on his part told the judges that all defendants were suffering from illnesses related to the abuses they were subjected to in prison. He also said that despite his repeated plea with the prison authorities he was denied access to his medications.  “Ayele was killed and we fear we too will meet his fate.”

The eight defendants were largely accused of having links with Dawud Ibssa, the leader of the outlawed Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), and receiving money from and orchestrating a local cell to assist OLF’s attempts to violently overthrow the constitutional order. The particular accusations against Ayele said that he had become a member of a terror cell organized by the first defendant Melkamu in an “unidentified” date and month. He was also accused of passing on government information.

Ayele’s  body was sent to his family and was buried yesterday

Prosecutors have attached six pages of written material obtained from Ayele during interrogations when he was in Ma’ekelawi as well as what they said were e-mail communications from an e-mail address opened for this purpose as evidence against him.

The prison police have not presented information on the cause of death during yesterday’s hearing, but they have notified the court on July 24 of Ayele’s death. The judges have told prison officials to present Ayele’s cause of death and the autopsy result during the next hearing for the remaining seven defendants on August 02. AS

Source: Addis Standard 

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Oromo Musicians Charged With Terrorism for Resistance Song Lyrics

Screenshot from one of Seena’s viral Afan Oromo ‘resistance songs’ from the group’s YouTube channel.

Seven producers and performers of a popular YouTube music video were charged in Ethiopia in late June with terrorism for producing ‘inciting’ audio-visual materials and ‘uploading them on YouTube’.

The group members were arrested in December 2016 and were held in detention without charges until last month.

Among those facing charges is Seenaa Solomon, a young female singer who critics say is a rising music talent to watch. The other detainees include the well-known songwriter, singer and music entrepreneur Elias Kiflu, two vocalists Gemechis Abera and Oliyad Bekele, and three dancers, Ifa Gemechu, Tamiru Keneni and Moebol Misganu.

This marked the second arrest for dancer Moebol Misganu, who in 2014 was arrested in connection with the students protest in Ethiopia’s largest region, Oromia. He was released in 2016.

Since December 2016, Seenaa and her colleagues have been held in Maekelawi— a prison notorious for its torture practices, recounted by past prisoners. Shortly after their arrest, online activist and diaspora satellite television director Jawar Mohamed wrote:

The regime has intensified its war on Oromo artists. Almost all singers are either in jail, forced to flee or had gone underground. Studios have been closed and their properties confiscated. Seena Solomon and Elias Kiflu, the duo known for their powerfully dramatized resistance songs are the latest victims.

The contentious political environment in which these arrests have occurred has grown out of the Ethiopian government’s plan to expand Addis Ababa, the country’s capital. In 2014, the ruling EPRDF party announced plans to expand the capital into adjacent farm lands of Oromia, Ethiopia’s largest region that is primarily home to the country’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo.

When the plan led to wide-scale protests and a violent government crackdown, Afan Oromo (the region’s language) musicians began to rise as a visible — and audible — source of inspiration for the opposition movement. Seenaa Solomon’s group produced music videos in Afan Oromo during student protests that rocked the country from 2014-2016, creating something akin to a soundtrack for the movement.

In their coverage of the group members’ arrests, state-run Fana Broadcasting Corporation reported that Seenaa and her colleagues were producing music videos, poems and interviews with government critics in collaboration with a diaspora political organization based in Australia.

According to their charge sheet, their audiovisual materials were “inciting” and “complimentary” of the student protesters and others who demonstrated between 2014 and 2016.

They are not the first musicians to face such repression. In January 2016, Hawi Tezera, another Oromo singer who comforted and inspired protesters through her songs, was imprisoned. In February 2017, Teferi Mekonen, an Oromo singer who asserted Oromo cultural identity and challenge the legitimacy of Ethiopia’s ruling party in his songs, was arrested. Hawi was later released, but Teferi’s fate remains unknown.

As the visibility of political singers has risen, Ethiopian authorities have intensified their crack down on musicians whom they perceive sympathize with opposition. But this has not necessarily made the musicians less visible or less popular. Resistance music continues to flourish on YouTube. Despite the fact that its performers are in jail, the YouTube channel for Seenaa Solomon’s group maintains an impressive tally of more than 3,525,996 views.

Source: https://globalvoices.org/2017/07/14/ethiopian-musicians-charged-with-terrorism-for-inciting-song-lyrics/

From Cab Driver to CEO: An Ethiopian Immigrant’s Drive for School Bus Success

The transition from Ethiopian culture to that of the U.S. may have been drastic, but for Metropolitan Transportation Network (MTN) Inc. President and CEO Tashitaa Tufaa, an Ethiopian of the Oromo ethnic group who immigrated here in 1992, adjusting to baseball-consumed television and the occasional unrelenting Minnesota snowstorm was a small price to pay for a life of security.

“Let me put it this way: Whatever I did not have back in Ethiopia, I have it now through my freedom,” Tufaa says. “If you are free, then your mind is free, and you can use your talent wherever you want to go.”

While Tufaa’s talent eventually brought him to own and operate MTN —  a school bus company based in Fridley, Minnesota, that provides student transportation for dozens of local public, private, and charter schools and owns more than 300 vehicles — the road to success was windy and unpaved. Although he majored in political science and diplomacy, he couldn’t legally work for the U.S. State Department because he wasn’t yet a U.S. citizen, so he started working a civil service job with the Minnesota government.

Tufaa’s drive to drive
Tufaa wasn’t earning enough to pay his mortgage, so he started working nights and weekends as a driver for Metro Mobility, a Minneapolis-area transportation provider for people with physical and mental disabilities. There, he discovered an unexpected passion.

“I fell in love with driving, really,” he says. “It’s very flexible and there’s fresh air, and instead of being in the office, you go to the parks and drive around with open windows. There are so many different things to love about it.”

Desiring more flexibility and hoping for higher pay, Tufaa left Metro Mobility and started driving a cab, where, he says, “I would drive drunk people from the bar, people coming from work, and everyone else.”

Despite his formal education and his urge to succeed, Tufaa struggled to hold these jobs. Unsatisfied with unsteady employment and energized with his newfound craving to get behind the wheel, Tufaa was determined to dive into the city of Osseo’s school transportation scene.

“In the summer of 2003, I started actually writing letters and delivering them to the school districts, offering them services that weren’t around,” Tufaa says. “Many of them made fun of me, but there was one transportation director who was willing to give me a chance because I had been bothering him so much.”

“We put ourselves in our customers’ shoes, and we listen to the feedback we receive. As a result, people want to do business with us, and we don’t turn our backs.”
Tashitaa Tufaa, president and CEO, Metropolitan Transportation Network

Expanding the business
Because of his persistent effort, Tufaa was awarded a single opportunity to transport three homeless children to school with the van he owned, a task that he says he succeeded at, receiving no complaints. From there, the director started offering him more consistent work, and this one-time errand steadily matured into a full-blown company that he now conservatively estimates to be worth $35 million. Today, Tufaa employs over 400 people who transport more than 15,000 K-12 students to school every day across the Twin Cities metropolitan area.

Fleet Facts
Headquarters: Fridley, Minnesota
Vehicles in fleet: Over 300
Fleet mix: IC Bus, Thomas Built Buses
Fueling mix: Diesel, CNG
Service area:Metropolitan Twin Cities area
Routes serviced daily:Over 400
Drivers: 275 and 125 contracted
Staff members: 30
Students transported daily: Over 15,000

“I did see a need here in the school bus industry for a contractor that was dedicated, that was doing business wholeheartedly,” he says.

Tufaa capitalized on this recognized need and founded MTN in 2004. More recently, MTN’s expanding customer base inevitably resulted in the need for a space about 30% larger than the existing one. The new facility is expected to be ready in July. The redevelopment will cost about $2.7 million and is being handled by Thor Companies, a real estate development and construction company that is also based in Fridley.

“It will have corporate offices, a break room where drivers can enjoy themselves, a fleet maintenance shop, and parking storage inside for the buses,” Tufaa says. “It’s a much better and newer space — a good image for both our customers and those who work here.”

The majority of updates will focus on the exterior site improvements, such as landscaping, a complete resurfacing of the asphalt parking lot, and enhancements to the security systems.

Top-notch equipment
Because the agency is responsible for the well-being of thousands of students, Tufaa says he ensures that each bus is equipped with top-notch technology, from two-way radios to GPS to surveillance camera systems.

“We want the maximum safety possible in all of our buses in order to protect the families and children that we service,” he says. “Safety is number one.”

He recounts an instance where a driver’s bus had broken down and hisradio had stopped working. Fortunately, the team realized it had broken down because of its lack of movement on the GPS system. Sure enough, upon physically locating the bus through the ground tracking system, Tufaa and his team found it immobile and were able to service it.

Because Metropolitan Transportation Network transports more than 15,000 students daily, Tufaa says he ensures each bus has quality safety equipment, such as two-way radios, GPS, and surveillance cameras.
Because Metropolitan Transportation Network transports more than 15,000 students daily, Tufaa says he ensures each bus has quality safety equipment, such as two-way radios, GPS, and surveillance cameras.

Leadership style
Tufaa calls himself a “field guy,” meaning he does not like to remain in the office. In fact, despite MTN’s recent expansion, Tufaa decided not to build himself a personal office. Instead, he works in available desk spaces when necessary and still drives buses every day.

“I don’t want to be a guy who just stays inside. I want to be out there in the field,” he says. “I sit with the drivers and I listen to them. I listen to their stories in the morning and the afternoon, and then I drive the bus to see what the issue is. This way, instead of someone reporting to me, I see it firsthand.”

Tufaa attributes his leadership style to his perilous upbringing in Ethiopia. Because he spent many years of his life in danger, he’s able to more easily adapt to everyday business challenges.

“We put ourselves in our customers’ shoes, and we listen to the feedback we receive. As a result, people want to do business with us, and we don’t turn our backs,” he says. “In Ethiopia, I was raised in harm, and so it’s easier for me to understand where people come from, whether it’s with our customers or our employees.”

MTN is undergoing a $2.7 million expansion, which includes renovated corporate offices, a fleet maintenance shop, a break room, and parking inside for the buses.
MTN is undergoing a $2.7 million expansion, which includes renovated corporate offices, a fleet maintenance shop, a break room, and parking inside for the buses.

Employee appreciation
Appreciation for MTN employees stands tall on Tufaa’s priorities as a business owner. Every year, the company holds an employee appreciation banquet where everyone, from the human resources team to the workshop mechanics, is invited to mingle with their peers, along with their plus-one.

“We want to show our employees that we value them,” Tufaa says. “We are a family, and the MTN family gets together once a year, every year, to enjoy this classy corporate-style dinner.”

Other MTN-planned gatherings that aim to boost company morale include a monthly bulletin that informs the team about company happenings and employee birthdays, as well as weekly prepared breakfast for drivers, blood drives, summer barbecues, and day trips to support the local pro baseball team at the Minnesota Twins stadium.

Sometimes the recognition goes beyond simple social events, like when Tufaa expressed his gratitude by naming a newly built site the Iverson Terminal, after the last name of a driver who had suddenly passed away.

“We named it after her because our drivers have an ownership in our company,” he says. “We don’t want to be just another corporation.”

Challenges, rewards
Tufaa’s triumph does not come without its challenges. As with school bus contractors and districts across the U.S., he has been affected by the widespread driver shortage, and he worries about Minnesota’s slippery roads in the winter. He’s also had to forgo significant family events in order to keep his business afloat, especially while it was just getting started.

“There are some things I’ve had to compromise to get where we are as a business, but as long as my wife and family understood me, that was all that mattered,” Tufaa recalls. “I had to work extremely long hours in the beginning, and sometimes it came down to paying the people who were working for me before being able to pay myself.”

Eventually, the achievements overcame the hardships, and now Tufaa and the whole MTN team work fervently to transport the community’s youth to their daily education.

“As a contractor, it’s important to love what you do,” he says. “I still drive, and I love taking those children to school.”

Source: http://www.schoolbusfleet.com/article/724061/from-cab-driver-to-ceo-an-ethiopian-immigrant-s-drive-for-school-bus-success