An Ethiopian Journal

"Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunters"

Out of Africa: The stolen prince

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By Cahal Milmo and Emily Duggan
18 June 2007

Amid the gothic splendour of St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle there is a little-noticed brass plaque. Erected in memory of Prince Alemayehu Tewodros, it reads: “I was a stranger and ye took me in.”

The memorial plate and the skeletal remains that lie behind it are the only concrete traces of the tragic and extraordinary tale of a seven-year-old boy who became embroiled in what many believe was the greatest orgy of looting conducted in the name of the British Empire.

The child prince, the son of the Ethiopian emperor Tewodros II, who has a claimed bloodline stretching back to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, was captured in April 1868 by the British Army, which conquered the ancient citadel of Magdala.

Alemayehu, a royal orphan, was transported to England to be educated as a gentleman. Along with him came so many looted treasures, including religious artefacts and 350 manuscripts, that it reportedly took 15 elephants and 200 mules to carry them from Magdala to the nearest sea port. The prince died barely a decade later of pleurisy and a broken heart, some 4,000 miles from his homeland, in Leeds. Among his mourners was Queen Victoria herself.

While the life of Alemayehu ranks as little more than a colonial-era curiosity in Britain, the events of 139 years ago are still keenly felt as an injustice in Ethiopia. The country, where European visitors are proudly reminded that it was never occupied for more than two years by a colonial power, has conducted a decades-long campaign for the return of the treasures. It recently celebrated the return of a 70ft obelisk from Italy.

These sentiments were resurrected two weeks ago when the country’s President, Wolde-Giorgis Girma, formally wrote to the Queen asking for the remains of Prince Alemayehu to be exhumed and returned to Ethiopia for burial in time for the country celebrating its millennium in September. Ethiopia operates according to the Ethiopic calendar, which runs seven years behind the Western Julian calendar and marks the new year in September. The year 2000 will therefore arrive on 12 September 2007.

The campaign was further underlined yesterday when a nine-year-old schoolboy of Ethiopian origin delivered a petition to Downing Street calling for the restitution of the Magdala artefacts, which are spread throughout institutions such as the British Library and British Museum and include six illuminated manuscripts held in the royal library at Windsor.

Gabriel Kassayie, who collected more than 100 signatures among his classmates at a primary school in Hampstead, north London, said: “I wanted to do something. I learned how the artefacts were stolen from my country and how attempts to get them back were prevented. I wanted to do this for my ancestors.”

Campaigners in Ethiopia argue that the epitaph to the prince in St George’s Chapel is laden with irony: Alemayehu was not so much taken in as spirited away. Although Queen Victoria took a personal interest in Alemayehu’s upbringing (reputedly paying his fees for Rugby School), they argue he was just as much of a “war trophy” as the gold crowns and altar pieces seized by the army of Sir Robert Napier, sent by the monarch to crush Emperor Tewodros in 1868.

Mulugeta Aserate, a second cousin of Ethiopia’s last emperor, Haile Selassie, and a senior figure on the organising committee of the millennium celebrations, said the return of the remains for burial in a monastery in the northern city of Gondar would remove a blight on relations with Britain. He told The Independent: “The prince was a prisoner of war. Our relations with Britain are good and warm but the episode of Prince Alemayehu represents a dark side of that relationship.

“His return would be a cause for celebration here and what better time for it than this very African millennium of ours? He died in a foreign land but Alemayehu’s name has not been forgotten in Ethiopia.” It is a further irony that the capture of the prince has its roots in an ill-fated attempt by his father to foster strong relations with Britain. In the late 1860s, the Christian emperor had sought the help of Britain in trying to protect Ethiopia from the Ottoman Empire and Egypt.

When his entreaties went ignored and he imprisoned the British diplomatic mission, Napier inflicted a crushing defeat against his army on 10 April 1868 at Magdala, a fortified mountaintop in central Ethiopia.

Tewodros freed the prisoners and sent the British general a gift of cattle to be slaughtered for Easter Sunday two days’ later. When Napier replied with thanks, offering a safe conduct for Tewodros and his family, the emperor angrily rejected the overture and vowed never to be taken alive. After heavy bombardment, Tewodros committed suicide on Easter Monday, leaving the British to loot the palaces and churches and capture his young heir.

The American journalist Henry Morton Stanley who witnessed the aftermath of the battle, describe how the plunder covered “the whole surface of the rocky citadel, the slopes of the hill and the entire road to the [British] camp two miles off”.

The British insisted it had been the dying wish of Emperor Tewodros that his son and his mother, Queen Terunesh, be looked after by the victorious power.

Whatever the truth of this, the leaders of the expedition recognised the usefulness of the prince as a potential pawn in its efforts to expand British dominion in east Africa to Abyssinia, as Ethiopia was then known.

When Queen Terunesh died a month later on the journey from Magdala to the Red Sea, a British officer, Captain Tristram Speedy, was appointed as the guardian of the young boy.

Speedy, who was 6ft 6in and sported a bushy red beard, was a veteran of British campaigns from India to New Zealand. Speedy, a speaker of Amharic, the Ethiopian language, dismissed the prince’s tutor, Alaqa Zenneb, before beginning the sea voyage to Britain and it seems he rapidly formed a close bond with his new charge. In his journal, he described how a terrified Alemayehu refused to leave his side, day or night.

Speedy wrote: “The distressing alarm that then seized him rendered him so timid that for the following three months no persuasion could induce him to sleep out of my arms, so great was his terror that if he happened to wake and find me asleep, he would wake me and earnestly beg me to remain awake until he should fall asleep, and it was only by continued care and tenderness that he is gradually losing his timidity.”

There is no evidence that such comforting by the “gentle giant” officer was anything other than paternal. But it is fitting proof of how the Victorian empire builders saw their obligations towards a young boy considered a near divinity in Ethiopia.

Once in England, the heir of the King Solomon, shown in early photographs with the braided hair and elaborate costume of Abyssinian royalty, began his conversion into an English gentleman. He left the care of Speedy and his wife in 1871 and was sent to live with Dr Thomas Jex-Blake, the headmaster of Cheltenham College, who later was appointed to the same post at Rugby School.

Later pictures of the teenage prince, who was patronisingly recorded on his voyage to Britain as not having “the faintest notion” what to do with a knife and fork and had to be shown how to put marmalade on his toast, show him dressed in a tweed suit reading a heavy tome. Evidence suggests the photos were showing Alemayehu as something which he was not. Speedy recorded “he had no interest in his books and had an utter dislike for anything in that line” while his tutors at Rugby stated baldly: “Progress in study he will never make.” Instead, the prince was dispatched to Sandhurst Military Academy. He was no happier there. Despite frequently expressing a desire to return to Ethiopia, the government refused all his requests.

Dr Mandefro Belayneh, an Ethiopian academic researching the life of Alemayehu, said: “He didn’t have any friends or family to call on. There were letters coming from Abyssinia from his grandmother … and all the letters said, ‘When are you coming back? Your people are expecting you’. But I suspect these letters were never shown to him.”

The prince died in October 1879. His funeral was held in St George’s Chapel.

Buckingham Palace yesterday declined to comment on the request from President Girma. Ethiopian sources suggested that although the request was being considered favourably, there were potential problems with identifying the remains.

But arguably, the official verdict on Britain’s role in the life of Prince Alemayehu was delivered long ago. After his death, Queen Victoria wrote in her diary: “It is too sad. All alone in a strange country, without a single person or relative belonging to him. His was no happy life.”

Written by Tseday

October 11, 2008 at 4:55 am

Ethiopia signs deal for largest wind farm in Africa

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AFP – October 10, 2008

Ethiopia expects its new wind farm to produce 120 megawatts within the next 30 months

Ethiopia expects its new wind farm to produce 120 megawatts within the next 30 months


ADDIS ABABA (AFP) — Ethiopia on Thursday signed a 220-million-euro (300 million dollar) deal with a French company for the construction of Africa’s largest wind farm.

The contract was inked by representatives of the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPC) and French wind turbine manufacturer Vergnet.

The wind farm is expected to produce 120 megawatts within two and half years, making it the largest such project on the continent.

“This is a very strategic project for us. The first (largest) in Africa for wind energy production with 120 megawatts, that is to say 15 percent of our present capacity,” EEPC chairman Meheret Debebe said.

“This project will help us to fill the gap of hydrological risks we are facing in Ethiopia with the droughts,” he explained.

Ethiopia has been chronically hit by droughts, affecting the humanitarian plight of millions as well as crippling its electricity production, which is heavily reliant on hydroelectric dams.

The landlocked Horn of Africa country — Africa’s second most populous — is currently experiencing a severe drought and has been plagued by incessant power cuts in recent months.

“This contract is a very important one cause with a budget in excess of 200 million euros it will be the largest wind farm in Africa,” French Minister of State for Foreign Trade Anne-Marie Idrac said at the signing ceremony.

“It is also very symbolic of France’s commitment to developing renewable energies,” she added.

Written by Tseday

October 10, 2008 at 2:13 pm

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Nature loss ‘dwarfs bank crisis’

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Nature loss ‘dwarfs bank crisis’
By Richard Black – 2008/10/10
Environment correspondent, BBC News website, Barcelona

The global economy is losing more money from the disappearance of forests than through the current banking crisis, according to an EU-commissioned study.

It puts the annual cost of forest loss at between $2 trillion and $5 trillion.

The figure comes from adding the value of the various services that forests perform, such as providing clean water and absorbing carbon dioxide.

The study, headed by a Deutsche Bank economist, parallels the Stern Review into the economics of climate change.

It has been discussed during many sessions here at the World Conservation Congress.

Some conservationists see it as a new way of persuading policymakers to fund nature protection rather than allowing the decline in ecosystems and species, highlighted in the release on Monday of the Red List of Threatened Species, to continue.

Capital losses

Speaking to BBC News on the fringes of the congress, study leader Pavan Sukhdev emphasised that the cost of natural decline dwarfs losses on the financial markets.

“It’s not only greater but it’s also continuous, it’s been happening every year, year after year,” he told BBC News.

“So whereas Wall Street by various calculations has to date lost, within the financial sector, $1-$1.5 trillion, the reality is that at today’s rate we are losing natural capital at least between $2-$5 trillion every year.”

The review that Mr Sukhdev leads, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (Teeb), was initiated by Germany under its recent EU presidency, with the European Commission providing funding.

The first phase concluded in May when the team released its finding that forest decline could be costing about 7% of global GDP. The second phase will expand the scope to other natural systems.

Stern message

Key to understanding his conclusions is that as forests decline, nature stops providing services which it used to provide essentially for free.

So the human economy either has to provide them instead, perhaps through building reservoirs, building facilities to sequester carbon dioxide, or farming foods that were once naturally available.

Or we have to do without them; either way, there is a financial cost.

The Teeb calculations show that the cost falls disproportionately on the poor, because a greater part of their livelihood depends directly on the forest, especially in tropical regions.

The greatest cost to western nations would initially come through losing a natural absorber of the most important greenhouse gas.

Just as the Stern Review brought the economics of climate change into the political arena and helped politicians see the consequences of their policy choices, many in the conservation community believe the Teeb review will lay open the economic consequences of halting or not halting the slide in biodiversity.

“The numbers in the Stern Review enabled politicians to wake up to reality,” said Andrew Mitchell, director of the Global Canopy Programme, an organisation concerned with directing financial resources into forest preservation.

“Teeb will do the same for the value of nature, and show the risks we run by not valuing it adequately.”

A number of nations, businesses and global organisations are beginning to direct funds into forest conservation, and there are signs of a trade in natural ecosystems developing, analogous to the carbon trade, although it is clearly very early days.

Some have ethical concerns over the valuing of nature purely in terms of the services it provides humanity; but the counter-argument is that decades of trying to halt biodiversity decline by arguing for the intrinsic worth of nature have not worked, so something different must be tried.

Whether Mr Sukhdev’s arguments will find political traction in an era of financial constraint is an open question, even though many of the governments that would presumably be called on to fund forest protection are the ones directly or indirectly paying for the review.

But, he said, governments and businesses are getting the point.

“Times have changed. Almost three years ago, even two years ago, their eyes would glaze over.

“Today, when I say this, they listen. In fact I get questions asked – so how do you calculate this, how can we monetize it, what can we do about it, why don’t you speak with so and so politician or such and such business.”

The aim is to complete the Teeb review by the middle of 2010, the date by which governments are committed under the Convention of Biological Diversity to have begun slowing the rate of biodiversity loss.


Glimpse of Real Israel: Is this Mitzvah? I think not. SHAME

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Israeli police attacking an Ethiopian-Israeli protestor in central Jerusalem, Israel Monday Nov. 6, 2006. The group was protesting because they said that they had donated blood but it was allegedly discarded because they were from Africa. (AP/Emilio Morenatti)
Protesting against racism in Beersheba 05/04/2010 (Photo: Herzl Yosef) The demonstrators claim the kindergarten has two separate classrooms – one for children of Ethiopian descent, and another for the others.

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October 9, 2008 at 9:38 pm

Humanity’s DNA home base

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DNA studies expand on human migration
LA Times – February 22, 2008

Scrutinizing the DNA of 938 people from 51 distinct populations around the world, geneticists have created a detailed map of how humans spread from their home base in sub-Saharan Africa to populate the farthest reaches of the globe over the last 100,000 years.

The pattern of genetic mutations, to be published Friday in the journal Science, offers striking evidence that an ancient band of explorers left what is now Ethiopia and – along with their descendants – went on to colonize North Africa, the Middle East, Europe, southern and central Asia, Australia and its surrounding islands, the Americas and East Asia. A second analysis based on some of the same DNA samples corroborated the results. Those findings, published today in the journal Nature, demonstrated that the greater the geographic distance between a population and its African ancestors, the more changes had accumulated in its genes.

The story of human migration revealed by DNA “compliments what’s known through history, linguistics or anthropology,” said Jun Li, the University of Michigan human geneticist who led the Science study.

Both research groups relied on DNA from blood samples collected by anthropologists around the world as part of the Human Genome Diversity Project, a controversial effort from the mid-1990s to gather genetic specimens from thousands of populations, including many indigenous tribes.

Previous studies have relied on data from the International HapMap Consortium, which cataloged DNA from 269 people of Nigerian, Japanese, Chinese and European descent.

Instead of saying a particular person’s genome is from Africa, this kind of data allows us to say which part of Africa they were from,” said Andrew Singleton, chief of the molecular genetics section at the National Institute on Aging in Bethesda, Md., and senior author of the Nature report.

In both studies, the researchers analyzed more than half a million single-letter changes among the approximately 3 billion As, Cs, Ts and Gs that make up the human genome. Those changes – called single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs – begin as random mutations and accumulate over time as they are passed from one generation to the next.

Each time a small group left its home territory to found a new population, the migration ultimately led to a unique pattern of SNPs. Comparing those patterns, the researchers were able to show that humans spread around the globe through a series of migrations that originated from a single location near Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

With the expanded DNA data set, Li’s group was able to make finer distinctions among groups that were previously treated as homogeneous populations. In Europe, for example, the researchers were able to distinguish between Orcadians from present-day Scotland, the French, Tuscans, and Northern Italians from what is now Bergamo.

In the Far East, population geneticists had previously surmised that northern and southern Han Chinese were distinct populations, and that the Japanese islands were populated by northern Han. “Now we have direct evidence that that’s true,” Li said.

Singleton’s group also studied collections of SNPs called haplotypes that tend to be inherited en masse, as well as DNA segments, known as copy number variants, that appear with different frequencies in different individuals.

By creating a catalog of normal genetic variability among different groups of people, the studies will help medical researchers pinpoint the role of genes in specific diseases, said Singleton, whose lab is part of the National Institutes of Health.

A third study, also published in Nature, compared SNPs in 20 European Americans to those in 15 African Americans and found that, on average, a higher proportion of the European American SNPs were likely to be harmful.

Overall, the African American genomes had more SNPs, reflecting the fact that they are descended from an older population, said senior author Carlos Bustamante, an assistant professor of biological statistics and computational biology at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. But using a computer algorithm, they determined that 12% of the SNPs unique to African Americans were “probably damaging,” compared with 16% of the SNPs found only in the European Americans.

He and his colleagues surmised that the discrepancy could be traced to the relatively small and homogenous group that first inhabited Europe. Any harmful mutations they brought with them would have spread more quickly through the isolated group.

Such effects have been observed in European subgroups, such as Ashkenazi Jews and Icelanders, Bustamante said. The results suggest that larger populations could also be vulnerable to “founder effects” as well, he said.

The studies were funded by the NIH, the National Science Foundation and private foundations.

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October 9, 2008 at 12:49 am