In Memory of Mohammed Bedru, a serial and a tireless entrepreneur.

Posted by | | Categories: Events | No Comments

Death is shocking, but the untimely death of a friend is more shocking. I had the opportunity to meet Mohammed Bedru, when he opened his cafe at the Chase Tower, where I was located for the previous ten years as an investment analyst for JPMorgan Chase. In the early 1990′s it was rare to see any black person, especially an Ethiopian to get a lease, let alone open business in Downtown, at that in the most expensive and prime real estate in Downtown, the Chase Tower. The Chase tower, in the center of Downtown was one of the most expensive and tallest buildings in the Southwest with its 75 stories.

My most excitement was seeing an Ethiopian own a business. In my Office, the buzz was that an Ethiopian, who is a  friend of Dula owns the cafe and everybody wanted to fraternize Mohammed’s business. Instead of associating Ethiopians with famine and hunger, now Mohammed, the quintessential entrepreneur, was the face  of Ethiopia. You cannot imagine, how proud I was. My excitement also emanates from my belief that all Ethiopians, if possible all black people focus owning their own business instead of looking for a J.O.B.  So when I was confronted with early retirement from Chase about 12 years ago, I said I want to be an entrepreneur  like Mohammed instead of looking for a job.

I used to deploy any chance or excuse to stop at his cafe. His place became home away from home. Mohammed really became like a brother and friend, despite badgering him with politics more often than he cared to. Whenever I uttered a political statement, he used to advise me with  the following ( Amharic) “Politicawon titeh lidichohen Asadig.” His advise still resonates. In hindsight, I wish I listened to his wise advise, it could have saved  some headaches and some grey hair. This advise was repeated whether I visited him in Downtown or other stores.

Some people described Mohammed as towering figure physically, he was a towering figure intellectually too. His thought process and advise to those who paid attention was profound. In hindsight I regret for not paying attention to what he was saying, as it resonated now, even after many years.

When I started working in Downtown in 80′s there were hardly any black owned businesses and blacks were not employed  in any important positions as far as the financial industry was concerned. I used to get in trouble with management when I asked how come there were not black employees. One of my bosses flatly told me that he hired me thinking I was an Indian, because Indians were not supposed to be concerned about racial inequity.

Freedom Fighter: Some of his friends described him also as fearless during his formative years as a freedom fighter against Woyanes and the Derg. He saw danger when others cannot, and in one of these occasions, he was able to save many of his colleagues lives, by taking the necessary and bold action and getting wounded in the process.

So when Mohammed opened his shop in the mid 1990s, I was elated and super impressed. I just did not think they would lease such a prime real estate to a Blackman. Some of my colleagues used to come and tell me in a very surprised manner if I knew the Ethiopian who owned the shop in the Tunnel.  Of course, I used to give an affirmative. I encouraged everyone in my department to use his service for their birthdays and other occasions.

What was great was his entrepreneurial spirit which I admired the most. As a former teacher, I emphasized this important concept to my students. When Mohammed closed his shops and moved to Ethiopia, he carried the same spirit and to make a difference and to be a pioneer.

Untimely death:  Mohammed and I were the same age. My kids just gave me  surprise party a day before his memorial. The big question is why Mohammed passed away and I am still alive. My contention is if Mohammed was still living in the U. S., he may had better chance to live longer and survived whatever the situation. The untimely death is hard to fathom.

It is clear that it is very difficult to do business in developing countries, especially in Ethiopia where corruption is meshed with tribalism and ethnic hegemony.  Mohammed was working on his second business trying to  employ close to 30 Ethiopians, but government and local cadres were pestering him constantly for bribe and how much he should charge for coffee and other products despite the fact that the other coffee shops were exempted from  VAT tax (a rate of 15% for every taxable transaction)  , because they were friends of the tax assessor or were giving bribes.  As Mohammed did not want to join the corruption racket and did not want to give bribes, he was constantly harassed and put under tremendous pressure. The Woyanes did not succeed to kill him in the battle field in the 70′s, but did their corrupt and difficult business environment has anything do with his untimely death. We will never find out.

The pressure of working in Ethiopia is huge. The corruption and the threat of government cadres to deny your liberty and property is massive or always in the back of your mind, unless you are a Woyane or a top cadre in the system.  The threat for bribery or denial to operate are huge factors in causing one to be under a tremendous pressure.

After investing a huge amount of capital and time, Mohammed was about to give up. At 64, it would have looked a huge burden to start all over again in the U.S. or become part of the corrupt system in Ethiopia. Mohammed escaped imminent threat or war with Woyanes in the 70′s and saved many lives while wounded in the process, but the current pressure may have been too hard to bear.

When Mohammed decided to go to Ethiopia, he told me briefly about it and he asked me to put his house on the market. Of course, I told him my own story of going to Africa to start a business and how I found it too complicated and corrupt.  After closing his business in Houston, he saw an opportunity to make a difference in Ethiopia. He carried with his own entrepreneurial spirit that made him successful in Houston. He thought he can duplicate it in Ethiopia without too much hassle.

However, I shared with him my own experience.  After the fall of the Apartheid regime, I went to Kenya and S. Africa to open an investment or a brokerage firm. My experience was negative. I found it  too bureaucratic and I came to the conclusion that there was no place like the USA to run a business because of its transparency, legal and banking system and a huge middle class which is an economic powerhouse on its own.

Mohammed was very independent minded. When I sent him some email that were critical of the regime, he used to correct me, of course, he was not afraid to read my critical email about the regime. Some people in Ethiopia don’t.

Mohammed knew things will be difficult, but not that difficult or that fatal. In one of his email, he said, “As the investment talk no country is better than US. It is always sweet home US. Try to compare apple to apple. Yes, if you can invest and has the capacity do it there no doubt about it. But, here too if you have the knowledge and the money place the tolerance, you can do it too. But it is from different prospective. It matters why you come here. If it is for money you are going to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. ” He added,  “I am going to open cafe’ and bakery. It will be in Welayta Sodo. I might finish the remodeling in the next one or two months. I will have close to 30 employee’s hopefully. I will post it when it is completed.” That was in December, 2011.

Mohammed went to Ethiopia to make a difference and to pursue his entrepreneurial spirit. His dreams may have been cut short, but Mohammed will be remembered as a serial entrepreneur, a straight shooter, and a very Wiseman to those who dared to know him. He used to look out for others, as he did for me by telling me “”Politicawon titeh lidichohen Asadig”. I will forever cherish his friendship, entrepreneurial spirit, great advise and love of country.

Bridging the Economic Divide in America

Posted by | | Categories: Events | No Comments

 

In order to bridge the economic divide that has been going on for a long time and that is getting worse requires innovative solutions. Some of the countries that are succeeding in bridging  the economic divide are  those leveraging technology.

Such a strategy requires reaching out to the most economically disadvantaged communities. The simplest and the most cost effective strategy will be  to create a mini Silicon Valley / technology corridors close to disadvantaged areas by bringing government and private partnership to transform  these communities.

Those countries that realized that importance of  technological skills  include countries like Israel, Ireland, S. Korea and many more. Those that have employed technology effectively have improved their productivity and their standard of living for good. For the economically disadvantaged, leveraging technology is imperative. This will enable them to bridge the economic gap with minimum expenditure of capital and in a shorter time.

How to go about it? Simple, imitate other successful models used in the creation of the Silicon Valley in San Francisco , the Research Triangle in the North Carolina, and the Silicon Wadi (Valley) in Israel and many others places that systematically improved the living standards of their citizens and brighten their futures. The fact that there are many Indian doctors and engineers around the world is no accident, it was the work of visionary leaders in the 60s who planted the seed by establishing many IT centers.

To serve historically disadvantaged  communities  would require  attracting minority students to science and technology and providing vocational and advanced technological education to those suffering from unemployment and underemployment“African-Americans make up roughly 11% of the U.S. population,  but represent only 1-2% of the workforce at most Silicon Valley and tech companies. In addition, the race gap in wealth between the median black family and the median white family is  20 fold according to Pew research. Also the U.S. has the highest per capita incarnation of Black people in the world.  This is related to f lack of education that leads to gainful employment.

Why technology education?  International Labor Organization (ILO) in the past projected that there will  be 1.2 billion young people around the world looking for work and only 300 million jobs to go around.  According to Forbes Magazine over 90% of the 300 million jobs will be in science, technology and mathematics.

Thus  the most efficient way to address these gaps and the faster way to transform these communities once and for all is to leverage technology and provide  skill-based training. The alternative is to keep the status quo and see the racial polarization and eventually racial violence to continue. The most dynamic economies or communities are those who leverage technology. For example, Austin as a city, Silicon Valley in San Francisco, Research Triangle in North Carolina,  countries like Singapore, Israel, China, Taiwan,  S. Korea or most of the other  Asian Tigers did not happen by accident. Leaders with a vision made it possible.

To lift the people out of poverty once and for all and  make them a beacon of hope for others would require;  training people in the community in vocational and technology related fields and simultaneously inviting tech companies to relocate. The technology courses will be demand driven serving the Energy and the high tech industry especially in cities like Houston, and will be short and cost effective.

With proper foundation it will be possible to create/mint the necessary workforce to meet the needs of industry and to transform communities. Such an investment has rendered the highest return for real estate owners, industry and the community, as demonstrated in Silicon Valley and other similar settings.

It behooves one to make a note of the fact that  Silicon Valley, the Research Triangle, Silicon Wadi, and other successful institutions did not happen by accident. Visionary leaders created them and  transformed those communities.  The U.S. has the opportunity  to change the course of history. The question is does it have the gusto to dare such a drastic transformation or not.

 

Body cameras alone will not solve police brutality against Blacks

Posted by | | Categories: Events | No Comments

Body cameras alone will not solve the problem with police brutality against Blacks. Eric Garner’s episode was videotaped. Bill Clinton successfully unseated George H. W. Bush by saying “ It’s the economy, stupid”. It is not only Police Brutality that President Obama has to worry about. It is economics. Most of the blacks killed by police are usually poor, unemployed or underemployed.

President Obama said the Eric Garner case “speaks” to the larger issues that we’ve been talking about now for the last week, the last month, the last year — and sadly, for decades. And that is, the concern on the part of too many minority communities that law enforcement is not working with them and dealing with them in a fair way.  He is right that there is mistrust, but  he is wrong about the primary cause of the conflict between Blacks and cops around the country. It is pure economics that he has failed so far to address.

The primary issue is minority unemployment and underemployment. I see many young African-Americans hanging out near car washes, near convenient stores and on corner streets seeking a means to make a living, while exposing themselves to the dangers of police suspicion.

The president’s recent immigration bill is also a cause for concern for Blacks struggling to make a living and competing for low skilled jobs. Many of the immigrants are low wage workers who will directly compete with low wage African-Americans. Most employers prefer Hispanicand others ethnic groups over Blacks primarily because immigrants demand less wages and are willing to perform tasks without question or demands.

According to the New York Times (5/12/2013), interest groups are shaping the immigration bill, but there is no plan to upgrade or train especially Blacks that will be displaced by waves of new immigrants for low skilled jobs. This undoubtedly impacts negatively  some poor and unskilled blacks that will be displaced.

The focus is not  to blame the Police or the new immigrants for the predicament of Blacks in America. African-Americans make up roughly 11% of the U.S. population,  but represent only 1% of the workforce employed by Silicon Valley and other high tech companies. In addition, the race gap in wealth between the median black family and the median white family is 20 fold according Pewresearch. Furthermore, the U.S. incarcerates more African-Americans than any country in the world on a per capita basis.

For unskilled or less educated blacks there is no route to escape lifelong poverty unless Congress and President Obama step up to create job training or education for this largely disaffected and vulnerable group.

Eric Ganter and Michael Brown are victims of economics, not just police brutality. Eric Garner was trying to make a living by selling loose cigarettes to support his six children and a wife. If he was trained as a welder, pipefitter, air conditioning technician, plumber or in some other trade craft, he would not have become a victim of police brutality.

The conflict between Blacks and police and Blacks and the rest of society is directly related to the lack of  gainful employment that forces some to gravitate to the wrong crowd and to other dangerous jobs such as selling drugs, hanging out in car washes, in the corner store, shop lifting cigarettes or other un-salutary behaviors

In  year 2000 under President Clinton, we proposed putting technology training centers in the Ghettos and Barrios to train minorities and other economically disadvantaged groups when another Immigration Bill was introduced to bring over one million tech workers from India and Taiwan to support the tech industries. The powerful technology lobby derailed the amendment and another opportunity to transform America and the minority community was lost.

Dula Abdu is a strong advocate for leveraging technology to bridge the economic divide. He is a former banker and economist. Currently runs a small technology center in Houston. He can be reached at dula06@gmail.com

Houstonians Show Genorisity and Solidarity

Posted by | | Categories: Events | No Comments

 

Houstonians show generosity and solidarity to Ethiopians in Gambela. As you know, the Anuaks were a target of genocide in the past and recently land grab again instigated by the current Woyane regime. This solidarity and generosity by Houstonians demonstrates the importance of breaking ethnic barriers built by Woyanes to divide Ethiopians.

Unless we overcome these divide and conquer scheme, Ethiopia will never be free of its current and future quagmire. Many Houstonians including myself insisted that any fund raising to assist the victim of Woyane machination or eviction  in Gambela should be inclusive of all Ethiopians.

Please read the press release  below from the Anuak Justice Council expressing appreciation to all Houstonians for showing such solidarity to the victims of Woyanes.

December 13, 2014
PRESS RELEASE. FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

(Vancouver, BC, Canada) December 13, 2014 will mark the 11-year anniversary of the horrific massacre of 424 Ethiopians of Anuak ethnicity in Gambella, Ethiopia. Even though it has been over a decade, it still seems like yesterday to the Anuak, especially to those who lost members of their families. Some of the victims remain in unmarked mass graves. The Anuak as well as the other people in the region have never really recovered from this traumatic tragedy, let alone the fact that no justice has been done.

Part of the reason for this is that the lives and livelihoods of the people surviving the tragedy have been in turmoil ever since. Seventy-eight thousand Anuak and others in Gambella have been forcibly evicted from their ancestral land in order to lease the land to foreign investors and TPLF/EPRDF regime cronies. The Anuak have never been consulted or compensated as would be done in a country where there was a rule of law.

Those who survived the 2003 massacre and the following three years of destruction, harassment, and human rights abuses, only had temporary relief before the TPLF/EPRDF began a master plan to remove them from their homes and land. Those that resisted quickly discovered that their lives were in danger. Those that complied, found it nearly impossible to survive in the resettlement sites designated to them by the regime due to inferior land, difficult access to water and absent services. Many were forced to leave Ethiopia in order to save their lives. They are now living in refugee camps in South Sudan and Kenya. Yet the ethnic apartheid regime of the TPLF/EPRDF continues to round up Anuak men in Gambella who are now in prison in Addis Ababa. With all of these actions, these past eleven years have been some of the most painful for the Anuak.

Today, December 13, 2014 these Anuak refugees and other Anuaks throughout the world, namely in Europe, United States of America, Canada and Australia will be holding a memorial service to commemorate this tragedy. As they remember what took place at mid-day eleven years ago and as they reflect on the needless loss of the lives of their loved ones, it will rekindle much emotion.

Widows will try to describe what fathers, brothers, sisters, or other relatives were like to their now grown children and try to explain how a regime that is supposed to protect its citizens could do such a horrible thing to their own people. It is difficult enough when you are in a stable environment, but it is all the more difficult being in a refugee camp, trying to find ways to move on with such few resources.

In the midst of this darkness, out of the hearts of the Ethiopian community in the greater Houston Area, has come an unexpected source of hope and encouragement—a large monetary gift to help the Anuak who have been displaced. In their letter of explanation they say: “We would like to kindly request that this small token be allocated to our fellow Ethiopians that have been uprooted from their land and homes by some greedy land grabbers who have little to no regard to their fellow mankind.”

The funds will be divided between Anuak in refugee camps in South Sudan and Kenya and Anuak in Gambella. The Anuak Justice Council (AJC) has chosen to distribute the funds to both refugee camps in conjunction with the December 13th memorial gatherings in both camps; but in Gambella, no commemoration is allowed, other than privately, so we are still working out the best way to distribute the funds.

Mr. Ochalla  Abulla, Chairman of the Anuak Justice Council (AJC) was very moved by this generosity, “This gift has been a tremendous encouragement to the people in the camps, but what these Ethiopians did when they reached out to the Anuak should now be an example to all of us, including the Anuak, to reach out to others beyond their ethnic groups. The impact of this could be huge and could inspire us as a nation to help our people—not only those from our own groups. There are some other examples of Ethiopians who are already doing this. Some Ethiopians have formed small groups of five members who all contribute $20 a month to support the family of some of our Ethiopian political prisoners who used to be the breadwinners of their families.”

AJC Vice Chairman, Mr. Ojulu Lero, added his thoughts, “This gesture is reconciliation in itself! These people have reached out to the Anuak and now the Anuak can reach out to other people like the Majangir or the Oromo who can reach out to the Amhara or Tigray who can reach out to the Southerners or the Afar and so forth. It reminds me of the recent SMNE forum in Washington D.C. that encourages us to talk to each other rather than about each other. In this case, these Ethiopians from Houston helped others rather than only helping themselves. If we all follow this model of action, it will be another way to unify the Ethiopian people.  Once the people are unified, the leaders will be more unified.”

As the Anuak in South Sudan and Kenya come together on December 13, 2014, they will know they are not alone. They will be thinking of those fellow Ethiopians far away who have torn down a wall of isolation through their gift of love. These funds will be put to good use, but the impact of it will live on as building blocks to a New Ethiopia. The power of love can break the walls of hostility and division like nothing else.

May the actions of these and other Ethiopians like them, inspire our people to reach out to others with love, humility, and generosity. May God deeply comfort the Anuak during this time of remembrance of the massacre of December 13-15, 2003 as well as all Ethiopians who have lost loved ones over these past years at the hands of the TPLF/EPRDF. May He also bring freedom to all political prisoners from every region throughout the country who are locked up simply for trying to bring justice and freedom to Ethiopia.

______________________________________________________________

If you have any questions or require further information, please contact Mr. Ochala Abulla, Chairman of the Anuak Justice Council (AJC): Phone: +1 (604) 520-6848 E-mail:Ochala@anuakjustice.org

http://www.anuakjustice.org/141213-Anuak-Remembrance.htm

Dula