Is it my sin that I am young?

by KE correspondent, Kinijit Ethiopia
It's 9:00 pm on a breathy night. I am in a tapered, reeking and grubby video house watching an English Premier League game. The room is crammed with young football lovers. The rickety benches which accommodated us have nails pop up everywhere, threatening to pierce into our pants and skins. To call the facilities of what is supposed to be a place of entertainment basic is quite laughable. Welcome to Kela in Ferensay Legacion; one of the run down districts in Addis Ababa.
Like most youngster in Addis Ababa, the football watchers are learning to deal with life where being young is almost certainly a crime. When the game is over in 30 minutes, the main road will be swarmed by policemen who round up people flocking out of video houses. The locals call it "Affesa". The football watchers, nevertheless, seem unconcerned. They squabble, scream and shout their heads off like normal football spectators. Tsegaye, 22, was rounded up twice in three days. On both occasions he was taken to a Police station and his older brother had to save him by greasing the palms of his captors. When I heard his story with eerie silence, he thought I didn't believe him and offered to take me to Kela on a Sunday to show me the difficulties of being him. "You don't live my life. You can't even envision it, "he repeatedly said angrily in the middle of our conversation.
At the dying minutes of the game, the video house attendant loudly announces to the youngsters that they should use the back door to get out. The backdoor is very short and narrow and one has to almost skulk through it to get out. It leads to a slight stony way which is covered by an openly running waste. Yet it saves from being round up. The police, I am told, are scared of going to the area before mid-night. I chose to go through the main door despite the confrontational objection of the attendant. There were a couple of police men sitting on stones at the corner, watching the video house assiduously. I walked down the road slowly, checking my surrounding like a creepy cat. A police patrol car went past me. I let out a sigh of relief. Twenty meters away, a mini-bus was loading up passengers and I felt safe. The Kera story has a resonance in reality in many places. At Aroghew Kera the massive round-up is a daily event. On December 20, a cheery 11th grader named Abebe Hailemariam was killed while he was running away from one such round up. At the burial ceremony, the government was so scared of violent protest that snipers who watched the gates of the national palace were sent. In the Medhanialem School area, Tasu Atnafu, was severely beaten when he tried to confront the policeman who told him to jump onto the truck which belonged to the federal police. Reports of such vicious attacks abound.
An EPRDF insider told me that since the election turmoil, the party had targeted the youth with scare tactic. "It is a confused policy. We know the youth is unemployed alienated and frustrated. It can be partly explained by our years of neglect. What we are doing now is, however, far worse."The election revealed what the youth thought of EPRDF. According to Election Board statistics, a massive 61% of students of higher institutions voted the opposition. Among the other youth groups, political analysts predict that the number could even be higher. So are the round-ups revenges for the election voting patterns and the post-election protests?
One of EPRDF's top cadres in the police force, Tesfaye meresa, was adamant that the round ups were preventive measures. "We are at war. There are elements in the Ethiopian society who want to use this opportunity to destabilize the country. The youth could be instruments for them. So the "Affesa" is just a preventive measure," he argued. Lawyers say that the country's laws don't allow preventive detentions of such scale. On December 27, I was informed that another young man was killed by the police at Africa Andinet School in Piazza. When I arrived there, twenty minutes after the incident, all the students had gone. I asked the guard, who had a heartrending look, about the incident. "Our student was killed," he replied matter-of-factly. The killing of a young man by the police is merely a footnote in today's Ethiopia.

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