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Senamirmir Projects: Interview with Ato Amha Asfaw


Senamirmir:   When did you start using Internet?

Ato Amha Asfaw:   I am not sure of the exact date but I think I am one of the early users.

Senamirmir:   Is there an Ethiopian cyber culture that is unique from others? Do you read Seleda ( If yes, what do you think of it?

Ato Amha Asfaw:   I don’t think so. About Seleda: I have very little interest in works by Ethiopians, who use non Ethiopian languages. Since I understand only Amharic that is the language I prefer to see my people use. I do read Seleda; I actually published one of my poems (Fatuma) on Seleda. I only wish they write more articles in Amharic.

I understand that we sometimes have to use the English language, but to make it the main language of our communication is inferiority complex of the first order. Our language can not develop if we do not use it. And it will be extinct if it can not keep up with our need of modern communication. When that happens it is not really Amharic that suffers but our existence as a people.

Senamirmir:   It can be said that most web pages related to Ethiopia are far from literature, science, and technology; and it seems that their life span are short. What seems to be the reason for this shortcomings?

Ato Amha Asfaw:   There are three problems:

  1. We do not have a culture of reading.
  2. We do not have a culture of paying for what we read. It is very hard for people who maintain web pages or publish books and other works of art to make a living doing what they love to do.
  3. One can not blame an Ethiopian for not reading something that is written in English.

Senamirmir:   What do you think the state of Internet is in Ethiopia?

Ato Amha Asfaw:   Ethiopia has a larger problem of feeding itself. Other countries have achieved a much higher level of security without internet. We do not make computers; we do not even make the cables that connect them. If we become dependant on modern technology we will only be a damping ground for industrialized nations. In other words I do not care about the state of Internet in Ethiopia; we can live without it; and we should live without it until we learn how to build the hardware.

            Is just frosting
            On somebody else’s
            Cake –
            And so must be
            Till we
            Learn how to

         Frosting, Langston Hughes

Our motto should be "We won’t consume what we can not produce." I know it is impossible to obey the above fully. However, if we do not follow it at least 70% of the time we will not see the next century as a nation.

Senamirmir:   How can we benefit from Internet not only here, but also at home front? What should be the contributions of people from diasporas to any effort back home?

Ato Amha Asfaw:   As I said above(4) Ethiopia does not need Internet at this point in time.

Senamirmir:   This question and what follows are focused on cleo/EEDN. When did you join cleo/EEDN mailing list? Can you briefly tell us about cleo/EEDN?

Ato Amha Asfaw:   I am not sure when I joined cleo but it must have been within a few months of its creation. A friend of mine sent me an e-mail about cleo and I joined. It must have taken dedicated people to maintain cleo in those days.

Senamirmir:   On EEDN, there were two/three on-line conferences in which papers were presented. Your were partly responsible for this initiative. How useful were those online conferences? Why there have been only a few?

Ato Amha Asfaw:   I did participate on the first conference on computing and was one of the organizers of the conference on Ethiopian Economy. I have not seen any body citing articles submitted to those conferences. I guess they were not that useful. By comparison, the conference organized by Dr. Mesfin Genanaw was more successful and of a higher quality.

In general it is very hard to get Ethiopian scholars to submit their best work to an EEDN type conference. They prefer to publish it on reputable magazines. I do not blame them. Grants and other financial rewards are available only for those who publish on reputable magazines.

Senamirmir:   At one point, you served as a board member to EEDN. What is it like working as a board member?

Ato Amha Asfaw:   The hardest work was done by the post masters. I think Tsehay & Haile were the post masters at the time. Our main duty was to vote on new membership applications. I gained new friends and most of them are still my friends.

Senamirmir:   At the earliest stage, cleo/EEDN was somehow all purpose kind of list, where there was a relative tolerance, but gradually it was pushed into monotonous line, where diverse idea was not well received or discouraged. What is your view on this?

Ato Amha Asfaw:   I don’t think that was true. If it were we did not need a board whose main duty was to vote on new membership applications. From the start, anti Ethiopian elements were not allowed to join EEDN.

The words "Tolerance" and "Diverse" are words that can be used to mean any thing. For example, a person may not respond while being beaten by others. Some people may think such a person is tolerant; I call him a coward. When a weyane supporter is allowed to insult Ethiopians on EEDN that is not tolerating him but sucking up to weyane.

There were people on EEDN who financially benefited from the present state of affairs in Ethiopia or who were hoping for such benefit in the future. These were the so called "Tolerant" people. What was they tolerating? The fragmentation of their country? The death of their national language? The desecration of their religion? The falsification of their history? What was they tolerating?

Senamirmir:   In the above question "diverse" is used to mean any topic: politics, science, technology, sociology, and very much anything a member wishes to discuss. "Relative tolerance" not only between dramatically opposite sides, but also with in the same aisle. If you have more to say to this?

Ato Amha Asfaw:   If that is what “diverse” means, EEDN has always been diverse. It still is. Actually it is more diverse now than it has ever been. Granted that politics is the dominant topic as it always has been, a variety of topics are discussed.

Senamirmir:   Generally, what is the contribution of EEDN to the Ethiopian community?

Ato Amha Asfaw:   Many friendships have been started on EEDN. And off these friendships many useful body of works have came out.

Organizations like EHRCO, Lucy Mother and Child, and others have benefited from EEDN fund raising.

Senamirmir:   Should there be an online reunion of the earliest members of cleo/EEDN?

Ato Amha Asfaw:   I am very bad in spelling English words. I therefore do not like any thing done online (assuming it will be English-text based and in real time).

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