Islamic State’s latest victims: poor defenceless Christian Ethiopians

by Samson A. Bezabeh, Open Democracy, April, 21, 2015

After all, what IS wants is to create a polarized world of Muslim vs Christians by tapping into local discontent of various sorts.

The killing was horrific for anyone with enough resolve to see the video footage. Killing a defenceless human being with no military training, with no gun or weapon in his hand, for the colour of his skin, his country of origin and/or religious faith has been the hallmark of the Islamic State (IS).

In places such as Libya and Iraq being white has become a license for being kidnapped, then tortured. The colour bar, however, has not prevented IS from further killing. The latest victims are black Ethiopians who are adherents to Christianity. The 29-minute videos which IS released show a barbaric scene where poor migrants, as defenceless as their white counterparts, are shot and beheaded while a caption reads, “ followers of the cross from the enemy of the Ethiopian church”.

Their crime is nothing other than being Christian and belonging to the Ethiopian church which has hardly gone out of its way to attack IS in any manner. Killing members of a poor minority for the faith that they are practicing does not have any honour. The many sympathisers of IS found in Africa, Europe or elsewhere in the globe should once again closely question the values that they are upholding. Every single gesture of admiration that is given IS either implicitly or explicitly, every “ like” clicked on Facebook pages, pulls the trigger on innocent Christian Ethiopians who have been butchered. (more…)

2012 Rift Valley Institute Field courses: applications open

The Institute’s annual field courses offer an intensive, graduate-level approach to the history, culture and political economy of three subregions: Sudan and South Sudan; the Horn of Africa; and the Great Lakes. The courses consist of a six-day dawn-to-dusk programme of lectures, seminars and panel discussions, led by international specialists and scholars and activists from the region. Dates and locations are as follows:

– Sudan and South Sudan Course, Rumbek, S. Sudan, 26 May-1 June

– Horn of Africa Course, near Mombasa, Kenya, 16-22 June

– Great Lakes Course, Bujumbura, Burundi, 7-13 July

Download the prospectus at the site and/or apply online here. For further information (or to request the application form as a Microsoft Word document), email Applications will be considered in order of receipt.

Muslim Hadramis in “Christian Ethiopia”: Reflections on Boundary Making Processes

by Samson A. Bezabeh, Bergen University

[Note: This is the Introduction to a recent article on the Hadrami experience in Ethiopia. The full article can be downloaded from the Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs.]


Throughout recorded history sporadic population migration from Arabia to East Africa and Ethiopia has been a noted phenomenon. In the modern era Hadramis started to migrate and settle in Ethiopia at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century. Thus, by the beginning of the twentieth century, Ethiopia hosted a number of Arab families who were mainly Yemeni or Hadrami by origin. Although the exact population of the Hadramis at that time is not known, various statistical estimates and narrations, including narration of present day Hadrami families indicate that their number was substantial. This is particularly true in the case of major Ethiopian towns and trading centres such as Harar, Jimma and Asmara.

Despite their pronounced presence, however, their numbers, declined during the second half of the twentieth century as a result of negative factors that have forced them to leave the country. One such factor was the movement of pan-Arab nationalism which gained momentum in the 1960s. To be more specific, in 1969 Hadramis were expelled from Ethiopia for “supporting” the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF), whom Arab nations, particularly Syrians and Egyptians, were supporting for fulfilling their goal of creating a united Arab land which in their vision also included the highlands of northern Ethiopia. In this scenario, Hadramis along with other Arabs were accused by the Haile Selassie regime4 in Ethiopia of sympathizing with the Arab backers of the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF), and hence undermining Ethiopian unity. This has led many Hadrami families to voluntarily and involuntarily relocate themselves to Yemen and to oil reach countries in the Gulf such as Saudi Arabia. (more…)

Journalist who took the human smuggling voyage from Djibouti to Yemen gives a first-hand account of migrant beatings.

by Glen Johnson, Al Jazeera, July 18, 2011

There were more than 30 people crammed on the back of the truck as the vehicle bumped through the desert in eastern Djibouti.

The passengers were men, women and children from Ethiopia and Somalia and myself. And all would be smuggled in boats from Djibouti to Yemen, as part of wider trafficking operations involving six countries – Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Djibouti, Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea – that apparently trafficks tens of thousands of people from the Horn of Africa to Arabian nations each year.

I had arrived in Djibouti on June 7 to research human trafficking. Having lived in Yemen for part of 2010, I was aware that the Africa-Arabia smuggling trade was one of the myriad challenges facing Yemen, yet one of the troubled nation’s least discussed. In Djibouti, I quickly established links with smugglers, some of whom agreed to let me accompany migrants from Ethiopia and refugees from Somalia by boat to Yemen.

The truck drove slowly through the desert. No one talked. A distant beam from a lighthouse swept across the night sky. The silhouettes of coarse thorn scrubs, bent back from the wind, stood under a yellow moon that was ill-defined from the dust and sand that swept up into the night.

Occasionally the truck would grind to a halt and men would get out swinging sticks wildly, telling the passengers to keep still. A woman spoke to a child – his hair a mass of coarse, black curls; his spindly legs sticking out the bottom of his trousers. (more…)

Dhow near Lamu at sunset



This year’s Rift Valley Institute field courses stress the historical background to political developments in the region: the two-state future in Sudan, the effect of recent and upcoming elections in the Great Lakes, and the continuing challenges to political evolution in the countries of the Horn of Africa. The courses are seminar-based, one-week, high-intensity events to be held between May and July. Faculty includes internationally-known regional specialists, researchers and civil society activists from Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Rwanda, Burundi, and the DRC.

The application deadline for all courses is Monday 28 February. You can apply online here.

Summaries of each course are included below. Prospectuses containing further details are attached to this message and can be downloaded from (Or write to


Dates for this year’s courses are as follows:

The Sudan Course, Wednesday 25 May to Tuesday 31 May, in Rumbek, Southern Sudan.

The Horn of Africa Course, Saturday 4 to Friday 10 June in Lamu, Kenya.

The Great Lakes Course, Saturday 9 July to Friday 15 July in Bujumbura, Burundi.

The courses are intensive, graduate-level, residential programmes. They are designed for local and expatriate peacekeepers, aid workers, diplomats, researchers, campaigners, business people and journalists.Taught by leading regional and international specialists, the courses provide a fast-track introduction to the history, political economy and culture of a country or region, challenging assumptions and offering new perspectives on politics, development and other current issues. (more…)

Dhow near Lamu at sunset

I am writing this from the exquisite Island of Lamu in Kenya. As someone who has spent over thirty years rambling around Yemen, across the Gulf of Aden, it is quite eye-opening to take a look up at the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula from an African perspective, especially a view that has been influenced in many ways by earlier generations of migrants from Yemen. It would be nice if I was here only because it is such a beautiful tourist spot with a rich cultural heritage, and indeed all this is nice, but I am actually attending an annual seminar on the Horn of Africa hosted by the Rift Valley Institute. The organizers recognized that cultural history and contemporary politics in the Horn can hardly be separated from Yemen, which lies so close across the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. Hence I was invited to contribute on the links between Yemen and the Horn and also to discuss the relevance of Islam and the contentious issue of “Islamism.” (more…)

A year ago from August 8-13 an international conference on “Music in the World of Islam” was held in Assilah, Morocco, jointly sponsored by The Assilah Forum Foundation (Assilah, Morocco) and the Maison des Cultures du Monde (Paris, France). The papers from this conference are now available in pdf format online. Music and dance are described for Afghanistan, Algeria, Andalusia, Azerbeijan, Bangladesh, Bosnia, Central Asia, East Africa, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kurdistan, Kuwait, Liberia, Malaysia, Morocco, Russia, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkey and Yemen.

A description of the conference is described by its main organizer, Pierre Bois: (more…)

The news this morning after Christmas is more bad news, especially for the Horn of Africa. As if the Darfur debacle in Sudan is not bad enough, the civil war in Somalia has escalated beyond the borders. Yesterday Ethiopia dispatched a fighter plane to briefly strafe the international airport in Mogadishu. This was not exactly shock-and-awe, but then Mogadishu is not Baghdad and the self-styled “Islamists” in more-or-less control of the capital are not a trained and disciplined army.