Monthly Archives: July 2015

Why is the one of the world’s leading foreign aid recipients spending millions on internet hacking?

Last week, a large trove of emails was released showing how the Italian surveillance firm Hacking Team sold surveillance technology to governments around the world. The technology allows governments to infect smartphones and computers with malware to covertly record conversations and steal data. Amongst the numerous governments implicated was Ethiopia, with the leaked information showing that the government targeted Ethiopian journalists based in the United States. The Ethiopian regime possesses a deplorable record on freedom of the press, and the Ethiopian diaspora is vital in presenting coverage of the country’s domestic situation.


Notably, the leaked documents reveal how Hacking Team charged the Ethiopian regime $1 million in 2012 for services, while in recent years the regime has been one of the firm’s top clients (by total sales revenue). Somewhat amusingly, the emails also reveal that Hacking Team considered the Ethiopian government too “reckless and clumsy” in its use of the surveillance tools and thus representing a threat to expose the firm and its activities.


With little question, the leaked documents underscore the Ethiopian government’s status as a repressive regime with amongst the world’s worst records on human rights and free speech. However, serious questions arise when the leaked documents are considered alongside the fact that Ethiopia is one of the world’s largest recipients of foreign economic assistance. For decades, various despotic Ethiopian regimes have been highly dependent on foreign aid. In 2012, it was the world’s seventh largest recipient of official humanitarian aid and received $3.2 billion in total assistance, the latter figure representing between 50-60 percent of its total budget. Moreover, Ethiopia’s 2011 share of total official development assistance – approximately 4 percent – placed it behind only Afghanistan, while over the years, the country has received tens of millions of dollars in western (especially US) military assistance. Ironically, just last week, the annual Global Humanitarian Assistance Report was published, revealing that across 2004-2013, Ethiopia was the world’s fourth largest recipient of foreign assistance, collecting US$5.9 billion.


Last week’s revelations mean that donors must ask why exactly is one of the world’s poorest countries, with a host of socio-economic and development challenges, spending large sums of money to illegally monitor journalists, rather than feed or clothe its people? While the international community has a moral imperative to assist governments and people around the world who are in need of help, it must also commit to ensuring that assistance is utilized appropriately. Otherwise, the international community becomes complicit in the oppression of the people it allegedly claims to want to help.




Ethiopia’s $1 million bill from Hacking Team.




A leaked email reveals that Hacking Team considers the Ethiopian government “reckless and clumsy” and thus a threat to expose the firm and its activities.




Hacking Team’s Total Revenues per Country; Ethiopia is one of the firm’s top clients.

Pedaling History: Eritrea’s Teklehaimanot and Kudus in France

Without question, the Tour de France is one of sport’s toughest ordeals and the ultimate test for professional cyclists. It was created in 1903, as French cyclists, the national sporting press, and the cycling industry organized modern cycle road racing as a sport and spectacle. By 1919, approximately one-third of the country’s population would watch at least some part of the Tour (Goldblatt 2006). Cycling quickly became amongst the most popular sports in France, and the Tour soon developed to gain popularity and preeminence across the world. This year’s edition of the Tour adds another special chapter to the race’s long, storied history as it involves the participation, for the first time, of Eritreans. Yet, Eritrea’s Daniel Teklehaimanot and Merhawi Kudus not only carry the flag of their nation but, as the first black African athletes in the Tour’s history, the hopes of a continent.

Cycling in Eritrea, like in France, originated on a foundation of exclusion. In the late 1800s, France was experiencing rapid social, political, and economic changes, and during this period, sport represented “a marker and indicator of the transformations occurring in society, culture and the economy, as well as in politics” (Holt 1981). Cycling was restricted to the bourgeois and aristocracy; however, as bicycles became more affordable, cycling spread to the working and lower classes.

In Eritrea, the first sighting of a bicycle was in 1898 in Massawa, having been introduced by the Italians. By the 1930s, clubs were being organized, and on April 21st 1937, the first race took place in Asmara. However, during this period, Eritreans were barred from races and clubs due to the segregationist policies of fascism. Not to be denied, Eritreans soon created their own competitions and formed their own clubs. Then, in 1939, a special “trial of strength” was organized by the Italian colonial administrators; Eritreans and Italians would compete together in the same race. In Mussolini’s Italy, sporting success was to embody the greater glory of the fascist nation-state, and the joint Eritrean-Italian race was expected to display the superiority of the colonial master. Instead, like Jesse Owens’ destruction of Hitler’s Nazi propaganda about Aryan supremacy in the 1936 Munich Olympics, Eritrea’s Ghebremariam Ghebru won the race and shattered colonial myths about Eritrean inferiority.

Even as Eritrea began to undergo large-scale socio-political developments and decades of war (1961-1991), the country’s love of cycling and passion for racing failed to diminish. During the 1970s, notable Eritrean cyclists included Abraham Teklehaimanot, Zeregaber Gebrehiwet, and Yemane Negasi (Tesfagiorgis 2011). After independence, cycling in Eritrea grew even further. Dozens of new teams, with boisterous fan clubs were formed, and hundreds of cyclists began to compete in challenging, technical races. In 2001, the Zur Eritrea (Giro d’Eritrea or Tour of Eritrea), a 700-mile race competed across ten stages, was re-launched (the inaugural edition was run in 1946, with five stages and thirty-four riders). The Zur Eritrea and other local races, involving a high calibre of competition and numerous challenges, have been vital stepping stones for Eritrean cyclists who have gone on to conquer and dominate African cycling. Evoking memories of some of the greatest dynasties within world sports, Eritrea has won the last five African Continental Cycling Championships (an unprecedented feat in the competition’s history).

Eritrea is a country of nine ethnicities, three working languages, several main religions, but one true sporting passion – cycling. With cycling growing across Africa, the question of a first black African Tour champion is shifting to “when” and not “if”. As Teklehaimanot and Kudus compete alongside the world’s best in France, they carry the dreams of a nation and the hopes of a continent.


Credit: Chris Keulen. Giro d’Eritrea. Cyclists pass a Bedouin camel caravan, on the road between Barentu and Keren in central Eritrea, 26 November 2009.

Useful Links

Tribute Song to Eritrean National Cyclist Team:

Red Bull’s Patrick Seabase – Visit to Eritrea: Asmawa –

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