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African Holocaust





Until lions tell their tale, the story of the hunt will always glorify the hunter

African Proverb

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will

– Frederick Douglass

The most pathetic thing is for a slave who doesn't know that he is a slave

– Malcolm X

Every man is rich in excuses to safeguard his prejudices, his instincts, and his opinions.

– Ancient Egypt

Cowardice asks the question: is it safe? Expediency asks the question: is it political? Vanity asks the question: is it popular? But conscience asks the question: is it right.

– Dr. Martin L. King, Jr

What kind of world do we live in when the views of the oppressed are expressed at the convenience of their oppressors?

– Owen 'Alik Shahadah

We are not Africans because we are born in Africa, we are Africans because Africa is born in us.

– Chester Higgins Jr.

Leave no brother or sister behind the enemy line of poverty.

– Harriet Tubman


Ethiopia – 2000 Years of History

Ethiopian History
Download Geez Font if you cannot see special script
Ethiopian History Series
In the cool African morning, the Adhan spills out from hundreds of mosques piercing the morning silence. From every corner of the land,

the sound summons the new day. And high on the heels of this Islamic declaration is the clanging of church bells; a reminder that this land belongs to two ancient religions.

In the rising hours the religious chants of the Orthodox Church fill the rising din, until one gives way to the other and a new Ethiopian day begins.

Jewel of Africa

The smell of burnt wood fills the air as people busy themselves for another day. Of all Africa’s treasures Ethiopia (ኢትዮጵያ) is one of the brightest. From its rich history to its rich culture, Ethiopia is truly beyond argument one of Africa’s most precious gems. The only words that describe Ethiopia accurately is to say Ethiopia is very “Ethiopian” because comparisons fall away—as there are none. We can approach this land from culture, language, script, oral history, sociology and come up with a gem. Every part of Africa offers something but all thing precious seem wrapped in this land.

You can see it in the sky, in the trees, in the soil and in the faces of the people. This place has fought invasion, colonization, poverty, to stand from antiquity to modernity. Enat Hagar take a new breath and faces new challenges.

Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted, the indifference of those who should have known better, the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most, that has made it possible for evil to triumph
Haile Selassie


African Kingdoms Portal

The first unique aspect of Ethiopia is from antiquity to now Ethiopia has belonged to Ethiopians, this has never been broken, though often challenged, by all the major powers of the time; from the Turks to the Egyptians, from the British to the Italians, all have cast their covetous eye on this jewel. The businesses from small to large are Ethiopian; the banks the hotels are Ethiopian owned. The pain and the glory is Ethiopian; for better or for worst.

Ethiopia is the symbol of African interdependence and self-determination, no other country in this magnificent continent can boast the boast that Ethiopia can:

  • The only indigenous script in Africa in use
  • 90% of the Nile comes from Ethiopia
  • Home one of the oldest mosque in the world
  • Home to one of the first Christian nations in the world
  • Unique type of Christianity found no where else
  • Unique Bible, with more chapters than anywhere else
  • Ethiopian Airline is the  only African owned  major carrier
  • Home to Ancient forms of man
  • Highest density of African owned business in Africa
  • Source of Blue Nile which allowed Egypt to flourish
  • The only sovereign nation in Africa to defeat colonialist designs
  • Source of the Semitic languages : Arabic, Hebrew, Amharic, Gurage, etc
  • Home to one of Africa's greatest kingdoms : Aksum
  • 700 Year of genealogy contained in the Kebra Negast
  • Home to the most diverse African ethnic groups; Mursi, Hamer, Surman, etc.

Ethiopia has retained a rich cultural heritage. And despite the notion of being a Christian Kingdom, Ethiopia has more Muslim citizens than all of Somalia. 40-45% of Ethiopia is Islamic. And the deep relationship between Christianity and Islam makes this land unique.

Ethiopian History Series


90% of the Nile, which allowed the mighty Egyptian Nation comes from the Blue Nile in Ethiopia. Lake Tana is its source. But due to the British colonial policy Egypt takes a lion share of the development potential of this resources. As a result Modern Egypt and its expanding population utilizes the Nile but threaten war if Ethiopia tries to use its own water to enhance Ethiopia. If Ethiopia utilizes the Nile it would end the horrors of poverty and transform Ethiopia economically into a fertile land. Unfortunately this would decrease Egypt flow by 50% with serious consequences for its population. Only compromises can solve this crisis. But no more can Ethiopians suffer with this rich resources unopened.GRAND MILLENNIUM DAM

Ethiopian History Series

MOTHERLAND | እናት ሀገር

እናት ሀገር አፍሪካን በጠቅላላ የሚያካልልና ቀልብ የሚስብ ሽግግር ነው፡፡ ሁሉም የሚተውኑበት ሲኒማዊ በሆነ መንገድ የአፍሪካን ህብር የሚያሳይና ሁሉንም ያማከለ ይዘት ያለው ነው፡፡ የአፍሪካን ያለፈ፣ ያለ እና ወደፊት የሚከሰት፤ ክብርን ያጎናፀፈ፤ ብሎም የአፍሪካን ውስብስብ ታሪክ ቁልጭ አድርጎ የሚያሳይ ነው፡፡ እናት ሀገር ቅድመ ዝግጅት ያልተደረገበት በአፍሪካዊ ባለቤትነት ባለ ሲኒማ የአፍሪካን ክቡርነት እና ዝና ቁንፅል ወለል የሚያደርግ መድረክ ነው፡፡

እናት ሀገር ይቅርታ በሌለበት አነጋገር የአፍሪካንና የአፍሪካውያንን ህብረት፤ ራስ ወሳኝነትና የአፍሪካን ዳግም ውልደት ጥሪ የሚያቀርብ ነው፡፡Motherland film - Alik Shahadah

Ethiopian History Series


See Kebra Nagast

Jewel of Africa

The Kebra Nagast (The Glory of Kings), is an account written in Ge'ez of the origins of the Solomonic line of the Emperors of Ethiopia. The Kebra Negast is one of the oldest text of linage in Africa and is at least seven hundred years old, and is revered by many Ethiopian Christians and Rastafarians. Just as the Tarikh Ul Sudan is for Islamic history. Not only does it contain an account of how the Queen of Sheba met Solomon, and about how the Ark of the Covenant came to Ethiopia with Menelik I, but contains an account of the conversion of the Ethiopians from the worship of the sun, moon, and stars to the current Tewahedo Church (Ethiopian Orthodox Church) Kebra Nagast

Ethiopian History Series

The Unbroken Legacy

We remember the Egyptians as one of the most significant African civilization (and world). We remember Timbuktu;

we remember Ancient Ghana and Sokoto. Egypt or Kemet left a legacy which forged the modern world, its advances where the birth of all that we marvel in when we walk the streets of New York or Rome.

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The legacy to humanity is inarguable, but Ethiopia too left a legacy with the rise of the mighty Aksum ite empires which cast their reign as far as Arabia. But all that remains of Ancient Egypt, stone tombs which sleep out the centuries, lips sealed of those who forged their mighty walls. But for Ethiopia those Aksum ite people who cast the stones and carved Lalibela are still in control of their land, the language and the culture is not confined to the history books but is lived everyday on the streets of Addis Ababa and Asmara (Eritrea). The script of the Ancient Egyptians has lost its use in the world of today but Ge’ez (ግዕዝ)is a living script which is used across modern Ethiopia. This is the legacy which makes this land unique in the world, especially for Africa which has been the victim of the largest carving up in the history of humanity.

Ethiopian History Series


EthiopiayemenThe records on Ethiopian history begin with the pre-Aksum ite (አክሱም) empire, which started around 1500 B.C. This civilization shows signs of a marriage between Southern Arabia and Eastern Africa. And it is at the beginning of Ethiopian history that the most fundamental mistake is made by European scholars. European academia has become so locked in a boundary driven mentality that they view these ancient times in the context of an “Africa” and a “Arabia.” However, there was no Africa and Arabia 3500 years ago. And to see these two nations as racially separate is baseless and a projection of a modern world view of race and geography.

The people who originally populated Southern Arabia arrived there from East Africa. East Africa is a mere 22 km from Arabia, and traveling by a sea vessel would have made this trip a regular breeze. Today the “out of Africa” theory proves that “modern” humans migrated via the Southern Arabian route, up into Central Asia. Since this migration was, a continuous human undertaking highlights the facts that native African people were freely traveling, at least, back and forth between modern-day Arabia and perhaps the rest of the world. The Sabian culture is thus an African civilization, and historical artifacts located in Southern Arabia do not implicate a non-African origin in anyway shape or form. Later migrating Arabs moved southward into Southern Arabia and changed the racial profile of this area. The argument here is that the forebears of the Afro-Asiatic Ethiopian culture is uniquely African and not; influenced, a child of Arabia, or a “half Arab” society. Clearly, the legacy of Europeans downsizing and obscuring African history is not lost here. And just as the Ancient Egyptians have been labeled as a Mediterranean people who came out-of-the-blue and settled in Africa. There is a similar attempt here to diminish Ethiopian African history.

Ethiopian History Series


War for Yemen| Ethiopia v. Sassanian Empire

In 522, before Khosrau's reign, a group of monophysite Ethiopians led an attack on the dominant Himyarites of southern Arabia. The local Arab leader was able to resist the attack, and appealed to the Sassanians for aid, while the Ethiopians subsequently turned towards the Byzantines for help. The Ethiopians sent another force across the Red Sea and this time successfully killed the Arab leader and replaced him with an Ethiopian man to be king of the region.[Frye Ancient Iran] In 531, Justinian suggested that the Ethiopians of Yemen should cut out the Persians from Indian trade by maritime trade with the Indians.

The Ethiopians never met this request because an Ethiopian general named Abraha took control of the Yemenite throne and created an independent nation. After Abraha's death one of his sons, Ma'd-Karib, went into exile while his half-brother took the throne. After being denied by Justinian, Ma'd-Karib sought help from Khosrau, who sent a small fleet and army under commander Vahriz to depose the current king of Yemen. After capturing the capital city San'a'l, Ma'd-Karib's son, Saif, was put on the throne. Justinian was ultimately responsible for Sassanian maritime presence in Yemen. By not providing the Yemenite Arabs support, Khosrau was able to help Ma'd-Karib and subsequently established Yemen as a principality of the Sassanian Empire.

Ethiopian History Series


Halaqah Photobase: Three ethnic catagories as depicted by Ethiopian. Asiatic, Abasha and Nilotic people. The textbooks claim that the origins of Ge’ez (ግዕዝ) script are the product of some mysterious Arabs who visited East Africa: Disconnecting the forging of an indigenous script and civilization from African hands, and once again removing all forms of agency from Africa.

The genetic trail shows that Arabs are descendants of Africans who left Africa some 45,000 years ago. Only Arab and African people share the M89 and M172 genetic markers. It is clear that populations would have existed and re-entered Africa up until and including the modern era. To believe that these people immediately after entering a place now know, as the Middle East became Arabs is absolutely un-academic. From the perspective of the people living in this land they wouldn't have viewed themselves in these rigid terms. And to articulate history on a limited racial premises is political and distorted.

Until the 1970s, Afaan Oromo was written with either the Ge'ez script or the Latin alphabet Then during the early 1970s, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) chose the Latin alphabet as the official alphabet to write Afaan Oromo. Between 1974 and 1991 under the Mengistu regime the writing of Afaan Oromo in any script was forbidden, though limited usage of the Ge'ez script was allowed. On 3rd November 1991 the OLF convened a meeting of over 1,000 Oromo intellectuals to decide which alphabet to use to write Afaan Ormo. After a many hours of debate, they decided unanimously to adopt the Latin alphabet. Unfortunately many Ormo have stopped using the indigenous African Ge'ez script after 1991 and began formally writing Oromoia in a latin format called called Qubee. Words are subsequently excessively long to accommodate for the inadequacies of latin. It is speculated that the motivation for the change was to create a distinctive cultural identify from the "semitic" groups who have historically suppressed their culture. How a European script could be used over a related African script speaks to the dangers of so-called liberation when those liberating forces are ignorant of the broader issues.


Ethiopian History Series


Biblical canon

The Tewahedo Church Canon contains 81 books. This canon contains the books accepted by other Orthodox Christians.

The Narrower Canon also contains Enoch, Jubilees, and I II III Meqabyan. These last differ substantially from the Greek I, II, III Maccabees, and the canonical Enoch differs from the editions of the Ge'ez manuscripts in the British Museum.

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The current 81 book version was published in 1986, containing the same text as previously published in the Haile Selassie Version of the Bible, only with some minor modifications to the New Testament translation. The Broader Canon has never been fully published or scrutinized, but is said include all of the Narrower Canon, as well as two Books of the Covenant, four Books of Sinodos, an Epistle to Clement, and the Didascalia. These may not all bear close resemblance to works of these titles known in the west.

Ethiopian History Series


Negash is a village in the Tigray Region (or kilil) of Ethiopia, which straddles the Adigrat-Mekele road 10 kilometers north of Wukro.

Negash is known as the earliest Muslim settlement in Africa; a seventh century cemetery has been excavated inside the village boundaries.

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The Futuh al-Habasha records Ahmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazi visited the tomb of Ashama ibn Abjar in Negash during his invasion of the province of Tigray (around 1537). Negash is also known for the Negash Amedin Mesgid mosque.

Harar and Dire Dawa. Are two other important places for Islamic Ethiopian heritage. Harar is famed for their stone walls which protected the Muslim inhabitants. For centuries the city was closed to non-Muslims.

LANGUAGE ( ግዕዝ )

The divine services of the Ethiopian Church are celebrated in the Ge'ez language, which has been the language of the Church at least since the arrival of the Nine Saints (Abba Pantelewon, Abba Gerima (Isaac, or Yeshaq), Abba Aftse, Abba Guba, Abba Alef, Abba Yem'ata, Abba Liqanos, and Abba Sehma), who fled persecution by the Byzantine Emperor after the Council of Chalcedon. The Septuagint Greek version was originally translated into Ge'ez, but later revisions show clear evidence of the use of Hebrew, Syriac, and Arabic sources. The first translation into a modern vernacular was done in the 19th century by a man who is usually known as Abu Rumi. Later, Haile Selassie sponsored Amharic translations of the Ge'ez Scriptures during his reign, one before World War II and one afterwards. Sermons today are usually delivered in the local language.

Ethiopian History Series


A study of the globe will bring one strange question, who was cutting Africa. Its like a bad dress stitched inside-out. We have Gambia which is nothing more than a British river bank inside of French speaking Senegal. We have countries with strange shapes hugging resources neglecting people. All kinds of forced amalgamations and experiments in social chaos. And We have Ethiopia completely and deliberately cut of from that precious of resources—The sea. How did this happen? What African mind could fashion this nonsensical map. Eritrea’s shape seems only to deny Ethiopia access to any sea port, then next is Djibouti and then Somalia all designed for one purpose—denial of port access. Now it wouldn’t have taken much to allow a 1km strip to grant Ethiopia a port of her own. But this would then destabilize the carvers plans. And their primary plan is control through dependence and chaos. The chaos comes from the warring African nations over the very land that was once shared. The Rwanda crisis, the Darfur crisis. It is all the same. And at the heart of it the European. By controlling port access the foreign powers by controlling Ethiopia’s neighbours have permanently created a situation which favours their economic and political control. Transport costs in Africa are among the highest in the world so imagine the adverse effect of any form of heavy mobility In many countries, political instability also acts as a significant non-tariff trade barrier (re Eritrea and Ethiopia) or Somalia and Ethiopia.

Ethiopian History Series


But at the end of the long blame stick it is the Africans who end up buying and pointing the guns at each other. If people can think for themselves and see through the grander plan then the endeavours of Europe are useless. The designs of Europe work and have work, and will continue to work as long as Africans and others believe Europe first before their own African brothers and sisters. Europe is a global power because they have united, despite their many wars they have never as a collective done any action which resulted in their collective political or economic regression. The so-called “World Wars” only meant it shake-up and a shift in internal power: A family quarrel. The World Wars didn’t see India become the new world power—no. The power remained European and the “white World” as a whole went forward into more technological advancement. Even the destroyed Germany was able to start again and become an industrial giant. So when the final card was played, amidst the pointless destruction European World aka the West didn’t regress. However the war with Somalia in the 60’s the war with Eritrea has brought to absolutely nothing to these nations. Fighting over a dry desert—for what purpose? If Africans refuse to see the pointless absolutely wasteful fruits of “internal” war then they deserve to be at the bottom of the food chain because you have to pull the trigger on the gun (even if the European put it in your hand) when you kill your neighbour and blame can only go so far.


In the dawn of the 16th century Ethiopia was plagued by some of the most bloody religious fighting in the width and breathe of its history. Rarely in Ethiopia's history has religion factored in such violence. Today Ethiopia is the boast of the world for a shinning example of Islam-Christian coexistence.

The fruit of this were the almost erasure of culture on both sides. From as early on as the 13th century the Muslim-Christian relationship was showing signs of strain, not for religious reasons but due to the competition for Muslim controlled trade routes.  However, in the 1490’s the emergence of a new charismatic Islamic leader by the name of Mahfuz established himself in Zeila (modern day Somalia). He declared a Jihad against Christian Ethiopia and made numerous raids into the highlands of Shoa until he was halted by Emperor Lebna Dengel.  However more hostile Islamic leaders were on their way in the form of Ahmed Gragn the Left Handed, or Ahmed Ibn Ibrahim Al Ghazi. He deposed the sultan of Harar and pledged to carry on the Jihadist campaign of Mahfuz.  Well supplied by Ottoman allies he was able to conquer most of Eastern and Southern Ethiopia by 1532. Lebna Dengel responded by calling on the Portuguese stationed in Massawa. The forces meet near Lake Tana and the Portuguese general, who was son of Vasco da Gama, left the battle without his head. The Muslim army was victorious. It was not until a new Ethiopian emperor, Galawdewos, took the thrown in 1543 that the Muslim army was dispatched. In the glory of victory Galawdewos decided to capture the Muslim strong-hold of Harar but his plan failed and he lost his life in the process.

The war were costly thousands of people lost their lives Christian monarchy was nearly extinguished and the once might Islamic state of Adal was in ruin. Manuscripts, art, religious buildings on both sides lay in ruin.

Ethiopian History Series


It is mid August and the rains have come again and the land seems to rejoice with joy. To a country that has come to be the “poster” of famine, Ethiopia knows the true meaning of rain. Discrete offerings are made to Gihon (ጊሆን), the river goddess, in years of hardship this river spirit is begged by worshipers pouring offerings of libation into the thirsty river. The Gihon (ጊሆን) is another name for the Blue Nile River of Ethiopia.  One of these is the River Gihon, which is the river that encircles Cush (sometimes in the bible Cush and Ethiopia are used interchangeably).

According to UNCTAD (2003), 17 of the 20 most important export products are commodities or semi-finished goods. As there are no processing industries, Africa also lacks diversified products,

Ethiopian History Series

A rainbow of people

All over the world  Ethiopia is known for having some of the most strikingly  handsome people . And among these beautiful people lies a rainbow of features, shades, and textures.
Most numerous of Ethiopia’s ethnic groups are the Oromo, but it would be more accurate in realistic terms to say that the Amhara number almost the same as the Oromo. To Say the Oromo are the largest ethnic group conjures up images of a 70:30 relationship, when the difference is only 2%. The Oromo originally migrated to Ethiopia from modern-day Kenya. They are religiously split between Islam and Christian; a small minority cling to indigenous religious beliefs and have a scared tree called Oda and who resides on Lake Hora, Debre Zewit. Eraicha Festival on October 1stworship the “One God” Waaqa. The Amhara dominant cultural ethnic group and historical the Governors and leaders of this 'land. They like the Gurage and Tigrinya people belong to the "Semitic" group of people (Abasha) because linguistically they speak Amharinya which is part of the Semitic tree of the Afro-Asiatic linguistic family (Hausa, Hebrew, Arabic). Their land is north of Addis Ababa and the men characteristically wear short pants a long shawl and the distinctive dula(stick) wedged between their shoulders and arms. In the East are the notorious Afar who gained  a deadly reputation for killing foreigners on sight to collect the much prized male genitallia. European fear brought them much attention just like the Zulus of South Africa, the Tureg of the Sahara belt, and the Masai of Kenya-Tanzania.

Also in the East are the Muslim Harar people whoes women  are known in Ethiopia for their beauty. They like the Afar probably make up the oldest Islamic ethnic groups in Africa (speculation based on the dispersal of the Islamic faith) Historical the greatest conflict has been between the Oromo people and the native Ethiopians, although the Ormo were conquered and "Abasafied" their remains an air of resentment towards the Amhara ruling class. And act of this slight distan can been seen by the Oromo's abandonment of Ge'ez as a script and the ridiculous adoption of Latin. (more later).

Ethiopian History Series

Starbucks and Ethiopian Coffee Farmers

Selome Araya 

Every day in the early hours of the morning, the farmers of the Oromia region head out to the coffee plantations in the Ethiopian highlands for a day’s work. Often walking barefoot for miles to arrive, the farmers use their bare hands to pick the coffee beans off of steep mountains in high altitudes and the blazing sun. For these farmers and their families, coffee farming is the only means to earn a living in one of the poorest countries in the world. They earn less than a dollar a day.
Halfway across the world, sleepy office workers line up at the Starbucks on 14th St. in  New York City, ready to pay three dollars for their first jolt of caffeine.  Starbucks, with over 11,000 stores worldwide and annual earnings of over $7 billion, receives much of its coffees from countries like Ethiopia. Since its founding in 1985, the company has promoted fair trade as part of its corporate image.  Starbucks has courted its politically correct customers with “Fair Trade” Ethiopian coffee in lovely cut out packaging. But the relationship between the corporation and the farmers is more complicated than it appears.  

Recently, there has been a growing controversy over whether or not Ethiopian farmers and the Ethiopian economy are receiving fair treatment from the multinational corporation.  This debate has sparked a fervent campaign by fair trade organizations, workers’ unions, and the Ethiopian government, who are publicly challenging the ethics of the company.

Conducting Business Responsibly

Starbucks maintains that it enjoys a positive relationship with coffee farmers. With their “commitment to social responsibility”, Starbucks developed an integrated approach to coffee sourcing with C.A.F.E. (Coffee and Farmer Equity Practices), a set of socially responsible coffee-buying guidelines.  This sustainable strategy is said to improve working conditions for farmers, helping them earn more while protecting the environment.

Starbuck commits itself to paying premium prices for all of its coffee and attempts to purchase coffee that is certified as Fair Trade Coffee. “Starbucks global purchases of Fair Trade Certified coffee totaled 11.5 million pounds in fiscal 2005, making it the largest purchaser of Fair Trade Certified coffee in North America” the company stated in a brochure. “In addition to paying premium prices for all of our coffees, our investment in social development projects and providing access to affordable loans in coffee growing regions has been recognized for its leadership within the industry,” Starbucks said in a press release statement in October 2006. 

Trademark Blocking
However, Ethiopian farmers believe they are receiving the short end of the stick in this relationship. While Starbucks continues to generate billions of dollars each year, Ethiopian farmers and their supporters believe that Starbucks does not wish to see them or their country, reap comparable profits.

Oxfam International, a British human rights organization, claims that Starbucks tried to block the Ethiopian governments’ attempt to trademark the names of coffees grown in its Harar, Yirgacheffe, and Sidamo regions, denying the impoverished country possible revenues of up to $80 million.  The U.S. National Coffee Association (NCA) attempted to block trademark efforts, and Oxfam accused Starbucks of being behind these efforts.  Although Starbucks denies this claim, Oxfam spokeswoman Jo Leadbetter says there is validity in their claim. “We have heard from a number of sources that actually Starbucks was involved in alerting the U.S. coffee association to block these applications and that it ‘stinks of corporate bullying,’” Leadbetter said.
According to Oxfam, for every cup of coffee sold at Starbucks, farmers in Ethiopia only early about $.03, receiving a very small portion of the profits that their coffee generates from consumers. “Ethiopian coffee farmers often collect about 10 percent of the profits from these coffees. The rest goes to the coffee industry players that can control the retail price, the international importers, distributors— and roasters like Starbucks,” Oxfam stated on its Make Trade Fair website. In response, OXFAM has launched a fair trade campaign to support farmers like the ones in the Ethiopian highlands.  “Starbucks has engaged in some positive initial steps in helping coffee farmers living in poverty. I don’t understand why they won’t take the next step and come to the table to discuss Ethiopia’s proposal in good faith,” stated Seth Petchers, Oxfam America’s coffee program manager.

Ethiopia coffee industry
Ethiopia, known as the birthplace of Arabica coffee from its Kaffe region, depends on the production of coffee for its economy. Coffee production is so important to the agriculture-based Ethiopian economy that 50-60% of its export trade comes from coffee income. The industry employs one out of every four people. An estimated 15 million coffee farmers and their families depend on coffee for their survival.  

Coffee is also a central element of Ethiopian culture, with traditions that date back to the 10th century, when the first tree was domesticated in the south-western highlands of the country. Coffee is so important to the daily routine of life in Ethiopia that “coffee ceremonies” happen daily throughout the country. A  third of the national production is consumed domestically.


Starbucks’ potential impact on the Ethiopian market

Should Ethiopia be successful in trade marking its beans, it will enable the country to control the use of its beans in the market, giving its farmers a larger portion of the retail price. "Securing the trademark for its Sidamo, Harar and Yirgacheffe coffee beans could have allowed the country to increase its negotiation leverage through control of the names and ultimately (derive) a greater share of the retail price in the global market," Ethiopia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The potential benefits for the Ethiopian market are enormous, according to Hailu Fitsum, the Second Secretary of Trade Investment at the Ethiopian Embassy. “When producers can grow and prosper by not only improving production and quality but also by building up the value of their intellectual property portfolios, then everybody in the coffee industry – including partners in retail and distribution as well as consumers – reap benefits.” Fitsum adds that in a case like Ethiopia’s, “Stronger negotiating power would enable millions of coffee farmers and traders to prosper and invest in the future of these fine coffees.”

Ethiopia’s Position

Tadesse Meskela, the representative for the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union in Ethiopia, agrees with Fitsum. According to Meskela, Starbucks sells the coffee for $14.00 per pound, but only pays $1.20 per pound, which does not even cover the cost of production.   

However, Mr. Meskela explained that the coffee farmers’ issue is also with the World Trade Organization, not only with Starbucks. In a telephone interview, he said, “The WTO controls a huge amount of the profit trade and a change needs to be made in international trade laws. The price we [farmers] receive is very low and it’s lower because of unfair trade laws.”Meskela is working hard to save his 74,000 impoverished coffee farmers, and he is on a mission to find buyers who are willing to pay a fair price for their coffee. Meskela is also the main character in Black Gold, a documentary that juxtaposes the experiences of the coffee farmers with that of the consumers who purchase the product on the other side of the world.

“This film highlights the vulnerability of coffee farmers and the disconnect that exists between poor farmers and huge profits. Oxfam seeks to correct the imbalances of power at the root of unfair trade,” stated Petchers.

Starbucks’ Position

In response to Oxfam’s campaign, Starbucks has launched a counter-attack.  “We have never filed an opposition to the Ethiopian government’s trademark application, nor claimed ownership to any regional names used to describe the origin of our coffees,” the company said. Dub Hay, Starbucks Senior Vice President of Coffee and Global Procurement told BBC radio, "We have not been involved in trying to block Ethiopia's attempts. We did not get the NCA involved; in fact it was the other way around. They were the ones who contacted us on this.”

While Starbucks denies being behind the trademark-blocking process, the company doesn’t think that trade marking is in the best interest of the farmers and the Ethiopian economy.  “Were trademarks to be implemented -- roasters might shy away from buying the coffees for fear of becoming embroiled in complicated legal disputes. Or worse, they may buy the coffees and just market them without the trademarked names. Letting the high quality beans go to market without a geographic identification would completely undermine the value of the brand,” Starbucks said in a statement.

The Ethiopian government also asked Starbucks to sign an agreement that would enable Ethiopia to have ownership of its coffees. However, Starbucks refused to sign such an agreement, as the company believes that if Ethiopia were to trademark its products it would be excluding itself from the market. According to Hailu, this is grossly offensive. “The only way this statement could be accurate is if Ethiopia completely mismanages the trademarks once they have been acquired, and I would hope that Starbucks is not assuming that Ethiopia is not capable of managing the Intellectual Property assets related to one of its most important exports,” Hailu says. 

As an alternative to trademarking products, Starbucks suggests the development of geographic certification programs.  Through the certification programs, a country can be identified as the origin of a product. Starbucks says these systems are more effective than registering trademarks for geographically specific names, such as the regional names the Ethiopian government is trying to trademark. The trademark signifies the manufacturer of a good or product while certification identifies that the product meets quality product standards. Alain Poncelet, Starbucks’ head of Green Coffee Purchasing told Spiegel Online, the German online newspaper, that his company “is all for Ethiopia ‘protecting its regional names,’ just not through trademark.”

This position is not receiving much press, however. The company received over 70,000 phone calls and faxes from concerned consumers showing support for the farmers. But does such negative publicity have any affect on the house-hold name and billion dollar company? “Probably not,” says a Starbucks employee in New York City who spoke on condition of anonymity. “People are so hooked on coffee that they are not going to be affected by something that is happening so far away. The only people protesting Starbucks are a minority of activists. Everyone else just thinks about their own problems.”  The employee also spoke highly of Starbucks treatment of its employees. “They treat their employees better than most corporate companies and they give a lot back to the community,” he said.

Power positioning

As Meskela pointed out, the struggle between the coffee farmers and Starbucks doesn’t just address the issue of trademark rights. It also highlights the way coffee farmers are almost entirely left out of the trading industry between governments and corporations. The issue addresses the reality that farmers in “developing” countries don’t have much bargaining power in the international trade sector.  

Senait Assefa, a resident of New York from Ethiopia, believes that strengthening the position of coffee farmers in the international market should be the focus of the efforts, not Starbucks. “The coffee producers should band together to control the supply of coffee in the international market, thereby enabling themselves to dictate their own terms (similar to how oil producing countries manipulate the price of oil by reducing or increasing production & supply)”, said Assefa.However, Assefa admits that this might not work.“While oil is a resource only few countries are endowed with, almost anybody can grow coffee,” she added.

Although coffee is a crop that can grow in different regions, the high quality of Ethiopian coffee is what makes it so unique. As Ethiopian farmers continue to work hard to produce such fine quality coffee, their position in the international trade market is just beginning to receive worldwide attention, thanks to the tireless work of Meskela and others.  While the battle to trademark their coffees continues, the coffee farmers are also left to struggle with trade laws that make them invisible in the chain of international players.   


Selome Araya is a graduate student obtaining a Master of Public Health in Forced Migration and Health at Columbia University. See more articles by Selome Araya EYES ON AFRICA

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