The story broke at 12.42 pm. An Ethiopian human rights activist, another unnamed Ethiopian and two senior officials from the European Commission had been arrested that morning close to Ethiopia's border with Kenya.
The report from Ethiopian blogger Ethio-Zagol named the activist as Yalemzewd Bekele and the two European officials as:
Bjorn Jonsson, Head of Finance and Contract department of the delegation in Ethiopia, and Enrico Sborgi, who works at the good governance department.
The post, A prominent human rights campaigner arrested, on Ethio-Zagol's blog Seminawork said that police had been trying to arrest Yalemzewd Bekele for a week, in connection with anti-government activities. The two EC officials, it added, were arrested: “for trying to help Yalemzewd escape”.
It was a whole day before the mainstream media woke up to the story at the end of last week. (Here's the BBC version from Friday October 20.) It was another six hours after that journalists managed to confirm the names of the people involved. When the names and other details of the case finally did come out through official channels over the next couple of days, it emerged that almost everything in the original blog post had been accurate.
Ethio-Zagol, one of the most mysterious and well-connected writers in the Ethiopian blogosphere, had scored an old-fashioned scoop over the rest of the mainstream press.
Over the past few days, Seminawork has kept up a steady stream of updates on the story, with the regularity of a well-oiled news wire. There was Alert and Breaking News: Ethiopian Government's biggest conspiracy and espionage exposed with more alleged details on the locations of the arrests and how the police tracked every one down.
After that there was More on EC espionage, Latest on Yalemzewd Bekele and, most recently, Family denied access to jailed Ethiopian human rights lawyer.
Ethiopia's other bloggers were quick to recognize the achievement. You've got to hand it to him,” wrote Meskel Square in Blog name scoop. “Ethio-Zagol has very good contacts. He had the names hours before anyone else.”
Weichegud! ET politics traced the story back to Seminawork before commenting on the case in When the fleas start biting:
The Ethiopian government is claiming the two Ethiopians had warrants for their arrest for… well, “serious crimes.” If you are new to the Ethiopian government’s sense of judiciary, “serious crimes” could mean anything from “you breathed with the wrong nostril” to “you exercised your constitutionally guaranteed right to speak freely.” Pick anything in between.
The mysterious European arrests were only one of a string of sensational political stories in Ethiopia over the past fortnight.
The country's bloggers also chewed over the leak and then the official release of a report that confirmed that 199 people were killed in post-election clashes last year (four times the size of the official death estimates released immediately after the violence).
On top of that came the statement from Prime Minister Meles Zenawi that Ethiopia was now “technically at war” with Islamic fundamentalists in Somalia. And then there were the thousands of Eritrean troops massing on the country's northern border.
The turbulent times prompted a number of long and reflective posts from some of the country's stalwart bloggers.
Enset came up with a thesis on the country's current political situation, focused on the health of its once-burgeoning opposition parties in Skepticism and delusion, shunning from reality:
The pre-election political process, the post-election political turbulence, and in general, the May 2005 election has radically revolutionized the concept of democracy in Ethiopia. For many generations, Ethiopians thought that political power is a gift from above; today, most Ethiopians believe that this gift [political power] is intended for them.
Today, the opposition camp is plagued by self made problems, lacks visionary leaders, and moves haphazardly with no clear line of attack. Every party, or political organization is entangled with contradictory personal agendas.
Weichegud! ET Politics poured out her anger in How ugly is politics? and How do you ask another generation to heal?
But her post of the fortnight was a warmer reflection on politics told through the tale of how her grandmother-in-law first discovered the concept of democracy. She wrote in AmlakE… feTariyE:
The grandmother-in-law just became a registered voter, goaded, by the way, by one of the great-grand children who came home from first grade after participating in mock mid-term elections.
Grandmother-in-law asked the grown-ups why they never told her about this thing– this voting thing. Grown-ups slinked away murmuring something about cleaning the gutters. Grandmother-in-law now thinks the fruits of her loins are rotten.
Grandmother-in-law now adds this line to her morning prayers: “AmlakE, feTariyE… dehnawun sew asmeriTeN…” Her nimble fingers speed through her rosary beads with assembly line efficiency. Rat-tat-ta-ta-ta…. “AmlakE feTariyE, ke erkuss sew sewireN. Antew ijEn yizeh asmeriTeN… Mela’ktoch, Emiye Mariyam.. ke innE gar teselefu.” (“My Lord, my Creator… save me from electing a heretic. Angels, Our Mother, line up with me as I vote.”)
Perfect roundup post, Andrew. It is important to see that Africa’s best bloggers are beginning to break and report the news along with adding their informed commentary to MSM news stories.
I was particularly moved by Weichegud! ET Politic’s story about her grandmother-in-law learning about voting from her grandchild and the prayer she recites in the mornings… “My Lord, my Creator… save me from electing a heretic. Angels, our Mother, line up with me as I vote.” With Grandma’s like her, dictators in Ethiopia don’t have a chance, let alone a future.
On today’s BBC World “The World Debate” braodcast from the World Congress on Coummincations in Developing Countries they were covering the future of media and a free press. The panel of experts and the BBC News commentator (what’s-his-name from BBC’s Hard Talk) barely covered the subject of user-generated news and bloggers… until one bright panelists pointed out at the end that to ignore the impact of [citizen journalists] on developing and developed societies would be a big mistake. Ethio Zagol’s scoop of the MSM on this important news story is a perfect example of how valuable citizen journalists can be.