Sunday, April 5, 2015

New Ethiopian Knesset member prioritizes immigrant community - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East

On March 31, at the age of 57, 30 years after he left the town of Gondar in Ethiopia, Avraham Negusie was sworn in to the Israeli Knesset. He was elated the entire day.
Summary⎙ Print Likud's Avraham Negusie, newly sworn in to the Knesset, promises in an interview with Al-Monitor to fight for Jews from Ethiopia, saying, “There shouldn’t be economic considerations of who is more expensive than the other. That’s not the Zionist ideal.”
Author Mazal MualemPosted April 3, 2015

TranslatorAviva Arad
Until election night, Negusie, 27th on the Likud list, watched the polls, which predicted barely 22 seats for the party and thought he was a long way from his dream of becoming a Knesset member. He was therefore surprised when, a half hour before television stations called the elections, he got an urgent call from Likud headquarters with the announcement, “Come to the exhibition gardens. There’s drama. It looks like you’re in.”
On his way from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, Negusie took dozens of phone calls from well-wishers, and since then, he has been busy planning his first term as one of Israel's 120 elected representatives. It is clear to him that he’ll work on social issues and that he’ll be the advocate and voice for immigrants from Ethiopia on Knesset committees.
Negusie will be the only Knesset member with an Ethiopian background in the twentieth Knesset. Six members of the Ethiopian community have preceded him, among them the first woman Knesset member of Ethiopian descent, Penina Tamanu-Shata of Yesh Atid. Like his predecessors, Negusie seems to be an atypical, unrepresentative symbol for the integration of his ethnic group, most of which lives at the bottom of the socioeconomic scale in Israel, trapped in impoverished neighborhoods.
Negusie, who holds a doctorate in education, built his civic life mostly through political activism, including successful battles he led in the past two decades to bring Falash Mura to Israel. Today, according to Negusie, there are about 5,000 of them in Ethiopia who have families in Israel, and they will celebrate the traditional Seder dinner for Passover far from them in camps in Addis Ababa and Gondar.
“I hope that as a member of the Knesset I can influence the decision to bring them to Israel as soon as possible,” said Negusie in an interview with Al-Monitor. He also explained why the left hasn’t succeeded in becoming the political home of the Ethiopians in the full interview below:
Al-Monitor:  You’ve succeeded in fulfilling a dream, but you are obviously aware that most immigrants from Ethiopia have not succeeded in integrating, that young Ethiopians experience discrimination and difficulty in integrating in the educational system, not to speak of racism.
Negusie:  My accomplishment is not only personal, but belongs to the entire Ethiopian community, to the Likud Party, the country and Israeli society. In Israel, through the political system, I integrated and made achievements. I serve as the chairman of the Likud’s Jerusalem branch, and I’m sure that I serve as a model for young Ethiopians to enter politics and make an impact. Today, I feel that all the responsibility is on my shoulders, and it’s a lot of responsibility. On the other hand, I know exactly what the situation of Ethiopian immigrants in Israel is, since I’m around in the field.
Yesterday, for instance, I heard that because of a budget problem, they won’t hold community Seders in absorption centers. Five thousand Ethiopians live at 17 centers and won’t have a place to celebrate the holiday. I tried to intervene and found a budget, but it’s too late to organize the Seder, and it hurts.
The people who live there haven’t succeeded in integrating into society. Because of the high price of housing, they haven’t succeeded in buying a home, as most of them don’t have a regular job or an income. But I believe that in the coming years, we can improve the situation and give them tools, especially to the young people. I feel that I’m their emissary.
Al-Monitor:  What do you think about the claim that was heard after the election that voters from lower economic levels — including immigrants from Ethiopia — vote for the Likud and the right-wing parties even though their economic situation is bad, instead of the social-leaning parties on the left that promise to improve their situation?
Negusie:  I’m familiar with this argument, and I can tell you that it’s false. To anyone who says that to me, I say, the Likud government decided on free preschool education from age 3; the Likud government gives dental care to children until age 12; and the Likud government lowered the cost of cell phones, built roads and connected the periphery to the center of the country.
So when it comes to results, those same people from the poorer populations who have three or more kids feel that they have to pay less for preschool and phones. What exactly did the left-wing parties do?
I feel that it’s condescending toward the weak. I had a lot of arguments with people outside the Likud, and they don’t have anything to say when I argue these points. What exactly did the Labor Party do for immigrants from Ethiopia? I haven’t found even one thing. In the Likud, I feel at home.
Al-Monitor:  Are we a racist society?
Negusie:  I don’t think that as a society we’re racist, but that there are racist people among us, like in every society. It comes from ignorance and evil. In my years of fighting to bring Ethiopians here, I experienced racism. People said all sorts of things in order to scare me and to create the impression that all the Ethiopians want to come to Israel in order to take advantage of the country. All the time I heard, “So what, all of Ethiopia will come here?” It hurt me, because they didn’t talk like this about bringing Jews from France and Russia.
After that they said it costs more to absorb Ethiopians than Russians because of the difficulties integrating them. So when you hear this on the one hand, and on the other they roll out a red carpet for immigrants from Europe, you feel that there’s discrimination and racism also on the part of state officials. I was educated to believe that the State of Israel is the home of any Jew, no matter who he is, and that’s how it should be. There shouldn’t be economic considerations of who is more expensive than the other. That’s not the Zionist ideal. These people have been Jews for many generations. Their families are in Israel, and their place is here. This is our strength.
As a society, we have to help the weak, and the Ethiopians who came from a traditional society need help. This is the community that most needs attention.
Al-Monitor:  What issues do you want to advance in the Knesset?
Negusie:  I’ll focus on social issues, naturally. I’m coming in as a representative of the immigrants in the Likud, and I’ll work mostly in the area of integration in Israeli society.
I walk around the neighborhoods and see that there is distress in our community. The biggest problem is that the Ethiopians are concentrated in impoverished neighborhoods, and they don’t have money to buy homes in other places. It’s destructive. There are schools where 80% of students are Ethiopians, and there are preschools where 100% of the kids are Ethiopians, and so it’s difficult to impossible to integrate. I don’t say that we should give out apartments for free, but you have to help young people get out of there, and the state can help.
In the realm of education, I want to advance the issue of integration. If there’s integration starting in preschool, many problems will be solved.
Al-Monitor:  For a large part of the past 20 years, the Likud has been in power and not much was done to advance integration.
Negusie:  ​First of all, to be exact, Ethiopians were brought to Israel only under Likud governments. [Prime Minister Yitzhak] Shamir, in the 1980s and 1990s in the big Aliyah operations and after that [Prime Ministers Ariel] Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu. It’s a fact. I say that there are problems, but to say that there’s a total failure in dealing with absorption is not true. You have to keep things in perspective. Closing gaps is a process, and I feel that I’m part of the change and the improvement. Most of us are proud citizens of the State of Israel.

Read more:

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A Ray of Light for Africa’s Dam of Discord | Foreign Policy

Egypt and Ethiopia make peace over a hugely controversial Nile dam. And Cairo’s about-face has everything to do with security.

A Ray of Light for Africa’s Dam of Discord
The mounting security concerns that have Egypt poised to send ground troops into Yemen also seem to have pushed Cairo into making nice with Ethiopia after years of tensions over the construction of a massive dam on the Nile River.
Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan reached a preliminary deal this week that could help whisk away the bad blood over Ethiopia’s plans to build the $5 billion Grand Renaissance Dam project. On Wednesday, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi — who as defense chief in 2013 appeared to threaten to use Egyptian troops to stop the dam’s construction — had a kumbaya moment in his address to the Ethiopian parliament, promising a new era of trust and friendship between the two nations.
Egypt and Ethiopia have been at loggerheads for years over the project. Cairo worries that an upstream dam will choke the Nile River water flows that are literally the country’s lifeblood. Power-starved Ethiopia counters that the 6,000-megawatt hydroelectric facility is needed to bring more power generation to the region, and will also help to better manage water use along the river. Ethiopia ignored repeated Egyptian entreaties to halt construction of the dam, which is now almost half-complete.
This week, though, much of that bickering appeared to evaporate with the signing of a 10-point “Declaration of Principles” that accept the dam’s inevitability and seek to manage its impact on neighboring countries. The three-way accord between Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan will hardly end contentious fights over regional water management; there are decades-olddisputes over which countries have the right to Nile River waters, and this week’s deal doesn’t address the trickiest outstanding issues regarding the dam’s operations. That includes determining exactly when and how fast Ethiopia will fill the reservoir behind the dam. Since the reservoir can hold about one year’s worth of Nile river flow downstream, figuring out just how and how fast to ease the dam into operation is an existential concern for Cairo.
But the accord does pluck one painful thorn out of Egypt-Ethiopian relations at a particularly unsettled time in the region.
But the accord does pluck one painful thorn out of Egypt-Ethiopian relations at a particularly unsettled time in the region. On Thursday, Saudi Arabia and other Arab states launched military strikes against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen who have upended the regime of current President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

Indeed, that instability may have been one of the reasons that Sisi has sought to defuse tensions with Addis Ababa. Ethiopia is helping fight al-Shabab in Somalia, and Sisi cited mutual counterterrorism goals in his address to Parliament. At the same time, the Houthi offensive in Yemen has sparked concerns about security off the coast of Yemen, including the key chokepoint at Bab el-Mandeb. That is particularly worrying for Cairo, which has ambitious and costly plans to expand the Suez Canal and turn it into the linchpin of future economic development. On Thursday, Sisi said in a statement that his air force and navy had already joined the fighting, and that he was ready to deploy ground troops “if necessary.”
Analysts at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, or SWP,  suggested that the diplomatic breakthrough over the dam could be due in large part to Egypt’s growing security headaches, especially around the future safety of the Suez Canal and its seaborne approaches.
“[A]bove all Egypt possesses a strong strategic interest in the security situation in the southern Red Sea,” wrote SWP analysts Tobias von Lossow and Stephan Roll in February. “Especially in light of the latest developments in Yemen, Egypt appears to possess almost no alternative to closing ranks with Ethiopia, as the only regional power in East Africa with an effective army,” they wrote, concluding that security played a “decisive role” in Sisi’s change of tack on the dam negotiations.
Granted, there is still plenty of scope for future problems. The accord only addresses the Grand Renaissance Dam, not water-sharing along the Nile basin. And even the declaration of principles has been met with skepticism in Cairo; a former water minister railed against what he saw as a sellout of Egypt’s historic water rights. At the same time, there is still a surfeit of angst over the dam’s construction and safety, as well as its ecological impact, such as on the Sudd marshlands in South Sudan.
But after years of poisoning the atmosphere between Cairo and Addis Ababa, the controversial dam might yet be able to channel the two countries into a closer and more productive relationship, at least as far as security is concerned.

Muhammadu Buhari wins the 2015 Nigerian election