Khat chewing: Is it just a harmless routine or dangerous addiction?

Before you suspect me of being a hypocrite or something else, let me hasten to say that I am from Harar where khat chewing has been used for centuries as a harmless habit. I’m a lightweight. I didn’t have even friends who chew until I was 18.I have to divulge this great secret of mine-  up on finishing my high school I had tried it once on a visit of my friend’s house in Harar which culminated in a spectacular loquaciousness and hyper-activeness. Ever wondered what was the subject of our hot discussion of that day, what did I say to my friends, what did they replied to me? Don’t ask me. I can’t remember. I was too demanding of my friends’ attention to explain what remained in my mind.

I should admit that I attempted other things, only to realize they weren’t for me. A porn movie, for instance, definitely does not entertain me. Call me a traditional boy –‘gegema’– as we say it in Amharic, honestly speaking I do not enjoy these kinds of entertainments. But for sure I will be delighted if I still sit on my couch playing videogames with friends. I don’t smoke; I drink only sporadically with friends to have some fun together. I wouldn’t dare to have a drink alone. It does not give the impression of euphoria and I believe it is the worst thing that a person can do to himself.

In summary: One thing I have learnt is that I don’t much care for mood-altering substances. But I’m not afraid of them either. With the exception of Khat.

Let me be bold by labeling khat as the biggest threat to the nation’s mental wellbeing, yet it’s growingly freely available on every street – for 10 to 15 Ethiopian Birr. Khat consumers claim it expands the mind and bolsters the intellect because they believe they read books and discuss what they read while they chew: But chewers experience an initial flash of emotion, followed by what they believe is a state of enhanced wakefulness-they call it –merkana- Tragically this “wakefulness “is a delusion. As they grow increasingly detached from reality, heavy users often exhibit impaired decision-making abilities and becoming paranoid. In extreme cases chewers even have been known not to go out for work and doing nothing but chewing. These kinds of chewers are often described as “jezebas’’

Khat was traditionally chewed by men – it was until recently taboo for women to chew in Ethiopia. However these days it is not uncommon to see female students using it in the name of studying harder.  But these kind hapless users have little or no character of studying hard: they digest the leaf in faith of becoming successful on exams, only to pay the price later when they find themselves performing incoherently on their exam papers and in class rooms. One student of mine, who belongs to the ‘jezbas’ is taking his 8th year to finish a three year bachelor degree program. I have no actual data at hand how dangerous it is amongst our high school kids, but there seems to be a glaring lack of correlation between the threat it reportedly poses and the huge number of high school children reportedly using it.

Anyway had I been a chewer, I wouldn’t be typing this right now. I’d be in a hot discussion about last night English Premier League fixture of Wigan and Arsenal.

As a conclusion if I am given a chance once more time to describe khat I would say it is the worst substances I’ve ever encountered and senselessly addictive poison which spins the inner wheel of judgment into an unreadable shadow. What do you think?

English Premier League: Is it just a football league match in Ethiopia ?

On December 27, 2010, the matter that many people were pondering in the campus of Arba Minch University, including myself, was where to watch the most mouth watering clash of the two London titans Arsenal & Chelsea as there was no service of Ds TV was intermittent this days. Honestly speaking we feel the cold weather of England in tropics when we could not manage to watch a kind of big game.

It has been a little while since the DSTV which brings all the staff to my home had become just a dust bin. After all who cares about watching ETV? So I was faced with a dilemma – do I travel 5km to Sikela town and watch it at one of the DSTV houses, which would be risky for many safety measures as I have been hearing stories of stabbing of late night or I should stay in the campus in the hope that the Ds TV   would be fixed suddenly so that I could watch it in one of my friends house? Do not forget that my second option is more risky in terms of missing the match as Ds TV might not be fixed in the campus.

In the end I did neither. Lately on Monday night, I am told about new DSTV halls 1km away from the university campus, Limat. I arrive five minutes after kick-off. A young man, who works in campus of the university, who seems to recognize me, offers a wide, genuine smile and gave me a homemade chair before leading me behind a shabby dark house that seems to serve to chew Khat for university students.

As I start to walk, I see Abayaheneh a famous character in our campus, which has courageously survived a heavy damage of his brain from a bike crash. He has come to watch the match by splashing the money that he has been collecting all the day by shoe shining from the university teachers. ‘’The university DSTV is not working, so I had to come here, after who would permit me to watch my beloved league in the campus “he says.

The owner, Mohammed Shade, a stocky, busy-looking man, passes us halfway. “Give me 5 Birr 0[$0.30],” he says intolerantly, leaving his right hand drawn out behind him.

The unfinished shabby house shelter is about 7m by 8m small, built with bricks, with grass thatches supported by sticks. It is already packed. My home made chair – others are seated on flat timbers – is placed just in front of the table from which the 27 inch TV set is broadcasting the game of two sides of a British metropolitan Capital, London. The house was packed and it is hot like hell. As soon as I sit to enjoy the game I started to fear what would happen when I go home after the much. There are a lot of football gangs who are ready to stab you any time but I risk being stabbed and as the game progressed I totally stop thinking about my post match menaces from football gangs.

And the impression is much more exciting than appears in some sections of the Emirate stadium crowd. Every pass by Arsenal is met with applauds from Arsenal fans. And whenever Drogba gets on the ball another section of Chelsea fans cheers. Very small children as old as eight seated on the bare earth at the front. I bet these children say the name of every player on pitch better than an average British football fan in England.

When Alex Song, who is dearly loved by Arsenal fans in Arba Minch, fired an excellent left-foot shot into the back of the net, the euphoria is deafening. “Weyalaw Zem, Weyalaw Zem Weyalaw Zem,”  – keep silent you lowly- they laugh and clap, believing Chelsea were on their way home. Then it was half time some fans started to walk out for a break the remaining remained seated with hot discussion about the goal. Some were reciting what Arsene Wenger had said on press conference by reading from an Amharic newspaper called “The Gunners”  I have seen how fans of one team loathe their rivals with a passion So, Manchester United fans had joined Arsenal’s to celebrate two second half goals believing Arsenal is not good enough to challenge Manchester United compared to Chelsea.

The next morning on our breakfast almost every Arba Minch University were talking about the game some Manchester United were equally happy with Arsenal fans. Chelsea was a common enemy for the night. The Manchester United fans celebrated the fall of a common enemy, Chelsea.

But  English Premier League is expensive. For some it is cultural imperialism as its Hollywood counter parts for others it is just one form of entertainment. What do you think? Please your opinions!


“Wey Fereka”

Last week I saw a hilarious but touching video titled “Wey Fereka’’ on facebook as a favorite link from Dire Tube for most Ethiopians. For those who haven’t seen the the video It is awesomely hilarious. I hope it will be a final heart-to-heart discussion to Ethiopian Electrical Power Corporation. Sadly, EEPCO let most Ethiopians down again and again.

I must appreciate all the comedians that team up to show how power cut outrageously frequent in Ethiopia. EEPCO has outdone itself this time than previous years. EEPCO’S service could get no worse. It has become shockingly so frequent that it has been ruining my week days and weekends, but this time a very important weekend was ruined, one I can’t really reclaim. I should have completed my PhD applications thoroughly as January is fast approaching. You know January 1st is a dead line for PhD applications for most US universities. Besides I am starting classes and I should have duplicated course outlines and handouts for my new students. Anyway it is over, thanks EEPCO you have messed up my week!

I heard very pleasant news from a friend of mine that Gilgel Gibe II is set to begin operation in a matter of days. I felt a bit better.

I will be thrilled if I am going to receive some service from Gilgel Gibe II but I did feel sorry for the millions of Ethiopians who don’t get EEPCO’s attention for the last couple of years. I am sure there are thousand horror stories regarding power cut. And it appears there are many more than “Wey Fereka” kind of horror stories in every towns in the country.

Undeniably last year around this time things got better for us. For the first time in several months we had no power cut  for more than four days, and then for more than one week, and then for more than two weeks — and miracle of miracles, it lasted almost more than two months.

Fast forward to this week we are hearing same news that we get used to it that Gilgel Gibe II is set to begin operation in a matter of days. I hope this time things will get better. Please EEPCO do not ever lie to us make felt we are neglected.


Which one weighs: A Taxi Driver in Washington DC or a PhD holder from AAU as a response for your comments

Now it is my turn to reflect my view on your comments.

I partially agree with those of you who said PhD will accomplish you intellectually, but there is one staggering fact that you have to swallow intellectual accomplishment is not highly valued in the newly emerging Ethiopian society. It could be offending to put it like this but I have no better option I have to say it a taxi driver in Washington has much better respect than a PhD holder especially if the PhD is from home. I do not have a PhD but planning to have one but I know it will not make a fraction of what many folks in business make. But I know what I am doing when I decided to follow my passion rather than pursue monetary success and I am bold to say that I contribute more toward the betterment of society in one year than most businesspeople do in their lifetimes.

Sure, life is tough for PhD holders even tougher than anyone else because society expect much (money and materials) from them. But it is an irony sometimes a PhD holder can’t even pay all of his/her monthly bills. There’s no way they’ll be able to buy a house. I remember when I was in Addis for my MA studies some students drive nicer cars than PhD holders in the campus. Leave the cars some of the PhD holders do not manage to update their wardrobe in four years. Recently, I saw one of Addis Ababa university teacher who has a PhD with the same shirt that he used to wear when I was an MA student before three years.

I know not everyone is motivated by the need to earn huge amounts of money- there are other factors like knowledge; learning and quality of life and it is a fact that money doesn’t necessarily breed happiness. Some people want more from life than money. Like satisfaction in knowing they’re helping to research a disease.


But in our context I think PhD gives more chance of getting a high salary although it does not guarantee it. As Yirgalem put it in Ethiopia many people want to do a PhD just to feel like they’ve accomplished something or to impress others so they can be addressed as DR. or may be for respect. If it in Addis it is may be just for something to pass the time away.


Hopefully, as Fiseha described it high salary is not the only reason people work. Some I know are quite content with a quite low salary in a position that they love. A PhD demonstrates several things, specialized knowledge, ability to persevere, facility with the language, etc. All of you are correct, a PhD does not guarantee a high salary but that may not be the prime motivator. But one thing is for sure- a Taxi Driver in Washington DC weighs much better than a PhD holder from AAU in our growingly materialist society.


Why PhD?

I know some of you might laugh at me upon finishing reading this piece. But I will not stop writing it and it is a fact faces it!  Bachelor degree is not is a way to get some money. Now days not even a master’s degree will get you money that will help you to survive for whole month unless you are a lucky dog to get hired in one of foreign NGOs. It has been a little while since people have started to consider bachelor and masters degrees as a route to eternal poverty.

The idea that a master’s degree sometimes even a PhD is a barrier to rewarding employment is a popular joke in our society. There are so many stories of people with PhDs owning not more than a laptop, using taxi sometimes even a city bus for a transport or fighting for extension program courses with their colleagues in academics. Being an academician myself I can say the possible way out at least for Ethiopian academicians is to get some lucrative PhD programs abroad not home — but even abroad PhD is not strictly cool. Certainly not cool enough to hang with models as Serawit or Seifu does!   .

So why PhD? Is it for the title or for money? Is it for real pursuit of knowledge or as means to get of Ethiopia for a change? I want your responses please!


Mobile Phone text messages to rescue entertainment, advocacy or democracy?

A few days ago, in my blog, I wrote an article titled “Mobile Phones connecting or disrupting ?I got  a chunk of responses from readers and that kept me motivated to put how mobile phones are being used in Ethiopia

Last Sunday 93275 text messages were received by Ethiopian television to select ‘Gemena drama winners Meseret Mebrate and others. On every holyday almost all mobile owners get a text message from different governmental organization. Various business organization text about their products almost to all mobile owners in the country.  Does this mean mobile phones text messages have grown in to a central place in the Ethiopian urban society? Some might say yes but I say….

There was a time when text messages were nothing more than a minor inconvenience but these days they are not any more. Mobile text messages are being turned into marketing and advocacy texts. They are becoming annoying. I can say text messages are becoming commercials that we wish not to see. The fact that they are cheapest and most popular mode of mobile phone communication making it much difficult for us to avoid the advertisements we wish not to see.

Alemahyehu tells his frustration about unwanted messages on his phone “I’m really, really, really annoyed. Everybody, governmental or business organizations send me a message of their wish.  I know that this might not be new, but it’s new for me, why would I get a message which I do not like to have on my phone. As you might witness it’s apparently getting worse. I get a message on every occasion of governmental holydays. “It’s actually far worse than people thought for two reasons. First, you generally can’t delete it without opening it first “Second, there’s no way to stop it. You can’t install a kind of anti-SMS spam program on your mobile phone’’. Besides this unlike governmental organizations or some business firms I do not believe other human right activist groups and political parties have similar opportunities to send such bulk messages.’’

Three years after the ban on mobile texting is lifted mobile text messages created a renewed interest in the role of new communication technologies in the form of mobile advocacy and marketing activities. It is a new example in a growing list of events in the country.

Mobile phones are becoming the most important advocacy technology for the last couple of years. The reason for this is quite simple – though the quality of the service of Ethiopian Telecom Corporation is annoyingly bad mobile phone penetration vastly exceeds any other means of communication in the country. Mobile phone texting is the cheapest and most popular mode of mobile advocacy but I do not remember when text messages were used for political campaign during last election. Mobiles are powerful because they’re pervasive, personal and capable of authoring content. I would love to see texting being used for freedom of opinion! What do you think?



Haile’s Johnny Walker commercial will bring nothing but money!

Johnny Walker, ‘Johannes Aramede’ as we call it in Amharic has long been famous for its advertisement, and the new Haile Gebreselassie Johnny Walker’s famous ad keep on walking commercial is no exception. Unlike almost every other commercial that has been done by Haile this new ‘Johannes Aramede’s’ keep walking commercial has generated a mixed bag of reactions. This has been reflected from facebook post to pub discussion. And ofcourse this article is inspired by one of my friend’s facebook post that clearly states his position against those who claimed Haile did something bad that could cost him his image of sportsmanship.   Some even say it goes beyond controversial because it was made for the wrong reasons, but I say …who is to know for sure?

For those who haven’t seen the commercial, it appears ordinary at first as it is common to put Haile in a frame who made his way out from hardship. And rightly so. The expression on his face is a determination and charms with a little of smile as always. Adding to that dark vibe is that the commercial was shot in black and white. There is a background of rural Ethiopia and roads of Addis Ababa in his red shirt running and then walking with Seep walking! Ad

A voice of Haile enters with the following

I grew up here. Every day was a struggle against hardship. As a boy I had to run   20 km to school and back and that where I learned to find that one big bush…deep inside .One bush is for my mother, my father and my family’s homes. One bush  made for the challenges and poverties of the past .One bush for those who said that  I could not do it. One bush the drink of Africa .There is one big bush waiting inside  you. Just keep going. Seep walking!

Some people see this as a way of conveying the habit of drinking alcohol in a very nice and igniting way for the young that could change the course of their life. They condemn Haile’s very act on this kind of commercials. One big fun of Haile said the greatest distance runner is ruining his name that took him two decades to build.Then there is of course another camp that believes that Haile is using the ad to buy sympathy for himself because recently Haile has been in some form of controversy with big international media like the New York Times up on his swift change of mind on his decision to retire. Some have even gone so far he is using the ad to capitalize on his political personality that Haile aspires to have in near future.

There is still another theory that a lot of people might agree Haile did this commercial as for its mammoth financial benefits. One friend of mine always says that the bottom line of Haile’s activities be it commercial or humanitarian is finance. It is no secret that Haile has made a lot of money from their business relationship with Johnny Walker. While the general public may never know if that is true or just rumor gone wild, it wouldn’t be the first time such a thing has happened, so it is a legitimate possibility.

Whatever the reasons for the ad are, or how people feel about the ad I say Haile started to ruin his sportsmanship a long way before this commercial. He damaged it when he presented his running singlet and himself on the meeting of the ruling party last September.

Personally. I’d like to believe this ad will not bring any bad effect on our younger generation. What do you think ?

Who are the most famous Ethiopians in the Western Literature from 1800 -2000?

The name “Emperor Haile Selassie” appeared in books in the late 1920s, long before the famed Battle of Adwa, an important event in Ethiopian history debuted in the early 1950s. And names like Abebe Bikila and Empress Menen were in Western books long way before the likes of Burkina Faso and Zambia were in Western literature.

Do you want to know more? Fairly easy by using a new online tool developed by Google called the Ngram Viewer. This tool lets you trace the usage of  any word or phrase during the past three centuries–three centuries!–by seeing how often it’s appeared in books written in English of three versions, Russian German, Spanish, French and Chinese over that time span. How many famous Ethiopian names never make it into Western books? Is our three thousand history discourse has a place in the Western literature? These were some of the questions that I have raised when I first heard the news that Google has launched this new online tool. I am sure this massive searchable database will be key to a new era of research in the humanities, linguistics and social sciences as a lot of academicians in universities always fall in arguments for the use of words out of context. Google has given us a solution.

In my experiments to test the database, I have found that the likes of Axum, Harar and Emperor Menelik enter in the English language literature relatively early, which makes me to believe Ethiopians are well documented in the Western Literature. But most of famous words which describe some historical places or people do not appear on Western books. The database comprises more than 5m books – both fiction and non-fiction – published between 1800 and 2000, representing around 4% of all the books ever printed.

The tool can tell you how frequently a certain word or phrase or a name of a certain figure has shown up in books, it can’t tell you why. Nor can it necessarily explain the meaning of that word or phrase at the time it was used. So discovering that some of the words that are used to denigrate people first appeared in books in the mid-18th century is interesting, but did it mean the same to an 18 century reader that it does to someone in this digital era?

You can, however, select a certain year or range of years to view a page that lists the books with your chosen word or phrase. By clicking on a specific book you can see the actually digitized pages, which in some cases can provide a bit of insight into how the word was used at the time.

Though Ngram Viewer sounds like a tool more for scholars and linguists, anyone who is interested for words and the history and evolution of language should try it.Here is the link


Facebook’s growth is on the way to match internet users in Ethiopia.

Yesterday I came to know some interesting statistics on the Facebakers web site for facebook usage in Ethiopia. I was inquisitive at how many people in Ethiopia are on facebook – they are many more than I initially thought since the number is now approaching 250,000. In fact, in a country where only 450,400 citizens are internet users, you could say that such a number would make facebook to match the whole internet users in a country! In Addis Ababa, facebook has gone undoubtedly mainstream. Below are some of the interesting statistics from Facebakers on facebook adoption in Ethiopia for December 2010:

  • Total Facebook Users: 210,000
  • Penetration of population:0.24 %
  • Position in the global country ranking: 105
  • Penetration of online population in Ethiopia:47.13%
  • Male facebook users : 69%
  • Female facebook users : 31%

Facebook Ethiopia Usage by Age Distribution.

  • 13-15: 3%
  • 16-17: 3%
  • 18-24: 41%
  • 25-34: 42%
  • 35-44: 8%
  • 45-54: 2%
  • 55-64: 1%
  • 65+: 1%

In all of the above, I found the following to be interesting trends:

  • Penetration of online population in Ethiopia is the fastest growing. A very telling trend that online life will shortly go mainstream.
  • The total number of users in Ethiopia also implies that if Ethiopia has around 450,500 internet users in total then the penetration is that almost more than half of all internet users in Ethiopia are on facebook.
  • Male users of facebook are almost double in number compared to female users. This is against the opinion that says facebook is for females in Ethiopia.
  • The 18-24 and 25-34 age brackets dominate facebook usage in Ethiopia currently with a combined percentage of 83%

For the full report on facebook in Ethiopia including graphs go to Socialbakers here>

Mobile Phones in the Campus: Connecting or Disrupting?

Forget khat or cigarette. The worst outbreak sweeping young university students these days is mobile phone addiction. If you take a trip to visit dormitories in the campus of Arba Minch University, or check out students around their classroom while they wait for their teachers in the campus this fact will become quite evident.

One of the teacher in the university relate the  issue of mobile phone addiction with  disruption to classroom learning that can occur due to the disruptive nature of mobile phone calls and texting. He said students will not ask permission to send and receive messages in the classroom. They do it unobtrusively. On top of that the ease of hiding the device due to its small size makes it very difficult for him to control. Another teacher tells on the problem that a mobile phone has posed to teaching learning process in the university. He said students are so fond of this loud and annoying ringtones and music on their mobile phone and they are not willing to listen music through their ear phones. It seems they are up there in and around classrooms to be as annoying as possible to their fellow students and teachers.

There is no doubt that students need mobile phones as they are very convenient and a common part of everyday life. However for many teachers one of the biggest concerns about mobile phones in that university is that they are being used improperly.  Some have even gone to the extent of arguing the necessity of banning the use of mobile phones in and around classrooms to make a healthy and suitable atmosphere.

Besides these irritating classroom disruptions, mobile phone addiction is causing a number of other problems in the campus. Here are some …

Pressure on non-mobile phone owners

In our university I have noticed that non-mobile phone owners are particularly vulnerable to social exclusion. Once I have interviewed students who did not own a mobile phone and they reported a feeling left out of social interactions, and felt pressured sometimes by their friends to get one .They are even mocked. One of them has even informed me that one of his priorities after his graduation would be to buy a mobile phone.

Phone Bullying

Phone bullying is a phenomenon which some students seem to be increasingly using to sexually provoke students. It might be difficult to describe it as bullying but teachers as well endured some sort of bullying from some of their students. Once a colleague of mine told me that he was bullied by texting from one of his ‘F’ students. He said once you pass your phone number to one of your students, you should expect to receive bullying by texting or even a call.

Exam Cheating

Students also use mobile, not only to bully others, but also to cheat in exams. Teachers always report that students will attempt to cheat via taking notes, which are called “Aterera”   into  exam rooms, or writing notes on their hands and even on their thighs sometimes  however, the use of the mobile phone to cheat is much more sophisticated and it is harder to detect.

Intruding People’s Privacy

With many mobile phones now incorporating a digital camera or video, there is a danger in the campus that inappropriate pictures will be taken because of the portability and discrete nature of the camera. Pictures can be taken quickly without the knowledge of the person being photographed. An instance such as the videoing by a mobile phone camera of a girl having sex with her boy friend is showing some of the negative uses of the mobile phone camera. You can read regarding this issue on my previous post.


Interestingly mobile phones can also be incorporated in a very positive way in teaching learning process but we are not yet there, mobile phones seem to causing disruption in schools.

What do you think?