Ethiopians Hate to Lose!

Posted in Uncategorized on January 17, 2015 by Otto von Münchow


We are slightly star struck when entering the office of the world famous runner Haile Gebresalassie. We’re not here to talk about his amazing achievements as an athlete, but to talk business – his business that is. The prize-money Haile won as a runner has been invested wisely in Africa’s fastest growing economy.

−The economic growth is good news for me and my businesses, Haile Gebresalassie says and smiles. −More money and less manual work in the general population mean more fat people, and fat people come to my gyms to sweat off the extra kilos.

What the 42-year old celebrity is saying is true, even if it is just a tiny bit of the truth. The money Haile makes in his three gyms are quite insignificant compared to what he makes from real estate, car-import, agriculture, gold mining and running of two private schools.

To be in Ethiopia is to witness an economic miracle. The country has enjoyed close to double-digit growth for a decade. Right now it is creating millionaires faster than anywhere else on the continent. Eight floors below Hailes office the streets of Addis Ababa reverberate with hammering from construction workers as the concrete skeletons of new towers and a light rail project rise into the crane-dotted sky. Ethiopia’s government says it is on course to meet most of the millennium development goals, and by 2025, to be a middle-income country.

In the days of Live Aid the GNP of Ethiopia was $ 7.9 billion, last year in was $ 46.9.

−I see signs of economic growth everywhere I go, Haile says.

−But we have to play our cards right to make the most of the optimism many Ethiopians share right now. A lot of rich people are involved in some sort of trading. Importing things cheap and selling it with a profit is not strengthening our economy, it only makes the traders richer. We need things to export. That’s my reason for investing in gold mining, agriculture and schools. Of these three, the education sector has the best potential. I think human resources will be our biggest asset in the future, the marathon man says.

−Ethiopians hate to lose, you see, he adds rising his arms in the air like he used to do as an athlete, when he crossed the finishing line first.


Time to Move On

Posted in Uncategorized on January 16, 2015 by Otto von Münchow




Our job is done in the camps for South Sudanese refugees. It’s for us to move on – first to the Ethiopian capital Addis Abeba and then back to Norway.

A week is enough. Enough sad stories, enough hardship, enough heat and dust. We are happy we can leave. But at the same time it feels unfair in a way. We have the money and the documents needed to get on the next plane and fly out of this depressing place. All the refugees we are leaving behind are stuck. For how long no one knows.

The only thing we can do is to report what is happening; even if we know it will take a lot more to change these people’s lives to the better.

Enough said, Ethiopian flight ET 138 is ready for boarding. We’ll take you to quite another setting when we arrive Addis Ababa to report on Africa’s fastest growing economy. In the meantime, you can enjoy the pictures from the camps we have visited. Enjoy, and remember that we’re always happy to get feedback on our work.




A Day in the Life

Posted in Uncategorized on January 15, 2015 by Otto von Münchow




It’s seven o’clock and Tierkidi refugee-camp is buzzling of early morning activity. It’s food distribution day, and Nyaboth (16) is patiently waiting for the queue in front of her to get smaller.

No one knows the exact number of refugees in the Gambell-region. But we are at least looking at 250.000. More than a quarter of a million people who are dependent on the food that World Food Program is distributing.

The line is moving slow, but Nyaboth isn’t in a hurry as long as she gets what she came for. Four hours later, she has collected all the items her family is entitled to this month. The previous four hours were more boring than exhausting. Now the tough part comes. The 16-year old has to get 150 kilos of flour, maize, oil, lentils and soap back to her tent a couple of kilometres away.

−I have to sell some of the flour to pay for a wheelbarrow to get everything safely back to my tent, she explains and wanders off to a local retailer. Two kilos for 20 birr ($1), the price will be almost double when the flour is sold again, but the guy who buys rations from the refugees knows he can squeeze them hard as he is their only source of cash.

Nyaboth gets a hand from her sister in law to carry the food over to the boys with the wheelbarrow. It is noon when she finally can unload outside tent #B-B6-H19, where she lives with her mother, an elder brother and a younger sister. Her brother, Nhial (18) asks her what took her so long. He is starving. Nyaboth smiles patiently and lights the fire to start cooking porridge. When everyone has eaten, she cleans the pan, the spoons and the plates before she gets up again. It’s time to fetch some more firewood. We follow her to the bush and watch her as she collects enough twigs and branches to cook her family dinner this evening.

We expect her to sit down for a second when she drops the firewood in front of the tent, but instead she picks up the yellow jerry can and wanders of. An hour later, she returns with the jerry can full of water. Happy that there are no duties before she has to start cooking dinner, in half an hour or so.

−How come you do all the hard work with no help from your brother?

−Everything I have done today has been women’s work.

−So what is men’s work?

Nyaboth smiles before she answers.

−Sitting. Back home they looked after the cattle, but here there are no animals, leaving the men with no other duties than sitting and talking.

Text: Øystein Mikalsen
Photo: Otto von Münchow




The Thief

Posted in Uncategorized on January 14, 2015 by Otto von Münchow


The young man is struggling to get up on his elbow. His legs are tied and he is so badly beaten that every move he makes is painful. The crowd around him shows no empathy.

– He stole two bed sheets and a bag of clothes, and now he gets what he deserves, a man tells us, spitting in the dust a few inches from the accused. We beat him until he told us where the bed sheets were hidden and we’ll keep on beating him until he tells us where the bag is. The crowd chants to show how much they agree, and how much they despise the young man lying in the dirt. The spokesman of the angry crowd is Peter Doc Wech, appointed by his fellow refugees to be the judge in matters like this. Ethiopian police won’t take action in cases of petty crime among the refugees, and therefore people in Kule camp have made their own tribunals where the question of guilt is discussed and where criminals are given what the jury considers a fair punishment.

A story normally has two or more sides, and this one is no exception. Here are the two versions we were presented, one by the accuser, and one by the accused.

Khan Niual Malual (20)
– I stole the stuff to be able to get enough money to travel back home. I fled my country when the fighting started, but now I want to return to Jonglei State. I came alone, and I feel bad here all the time. The situation in Jonglei is very unstable and the fighting can start again any day, but I am willing to take my chances. Anything is better than this. It will cost me 1000 Ethiopian Birr ($40) to pay for the transport, but I have no money at all, and no one to borrow such an amount from. So I stole some stuff I was planning to sell. They caught me, and beat me up, and now I’m here.

Even if Khan admitted to the crime he refused to say where the bag of clothes were, being fully aware that would mean more beating.

Peter Doc Wech (32)
– The guy there in the dirt is a thief. The only thing that matters now is to get the stolen goods back. He knows the consequences if he refuses to talk. To you two bed sheets and some worn out clothes might seem as a crime to small to worry about, but you must take the whole situation here into account. The thief was living in the same tent as the guys he stole from. The rightful owners have next to nothing themselves. Loosing all their clothes is very dramatic for them. We punish the criminal to get the stuff back, we punish him to teach him a lesson and we punish him to scare others from doing the same thing.

As journalists, we are supposed to report what’s happening and not attempt to influence the events. But still it is hard to se an angry crowd beating the shit out of a young man without doing anything. Before we left, we asked the mob to think twice before beating the accused more. Maybe there were smarter ways to set things straight? Some of the men nodded, while others were angry that we intervened. Peter Doc Wech promised to treat him fair, and even untied his legs before we left. Whether it was to please us or a result of his conscience we will never know, but we hope the crowd didn’t do things they will regret.

We don’t know if we reacted correctly. What would you have done? Bear in mind that there were no other authorities around that could be called to mediate.


Girls Just Cannot Have Fun!

Posted in Uncategorized on January 13, 2015 by Otto von Münchow




As many of you already have guessed the girls in the Fugnido refugee camps do like their mothers, they work. Hard. After a whole days search we finally came across a girl doing gymnastics in a tree with a bunch of boys. Her name was Nyacat Dey (7). She was supposed to look after her baby brother, but he was sleeping so she had a few minutes to enjoy herself.

We saw plenty of girls of course, but all of them, except Nyacat, were doing some kind of domestic work. They were cooking, sweeping, fetching firewood, carrying water and looking after their siblings; women’s duties in the Nuer culture. Traditionally the Nnuer boys were brought up to be herdsmen, looking after the livestock. The problem in camps like Fugnido is that there are no animals to herd. Therefore the boys have plenty of time to play and the men have plenty of time to waste. Unlike the mothers and daughters who have more or less the same duties as they did back home.

Cindy Lauper might be right when she sings that Girls just want to have fun. But one thing is what you want, another thing is what can and cannot do.

The questions for you, dear reader are these: How can boys and girls be given equal opportunities in camps like this? Should the boys be playing less, or should the girls be playing more? Or is it simply an illusion to think that some sort of gender equality is possible here at all?




A Toy Story

Posted in Uncategorized on January 12, 2015 by Otto von Münchow


Let’s do an experiment. Take a quick look at these pictures and write down the first three things that springs to your mind. Don’t continue reading before you’re done.


We are in south western Ethiopia in a refugee camp called Funido. This is the home of fourty thousand South Sudanese refugees who have fled from the ongoing civil war across the border. It is just another day in the camp. Water is collected, firewood is being chopped, food is being cooked and plenty of time is spent waiting. Fortunately, the kids are able to enjoy themselves more than the adults. This might come as a shock to youngsters in the west; neither Playstation nor Snapchat is needed to have fun! All it takes is a bit of creativity, and creativity definitely is fueled by the lack of toys and other amusements.

We didn’t notice all the home made toys at first, but when they caught our eye we could see them everywhere.


Mariel (8) loves playing with this old bicycle wheel.


Cinuarben (8) has made his own sledge.


Ruachkourh (14) has made his own car. When he grows up he wants a Land Cruicer.


Karon (8) also built his own car


Our interpreter was gone for a minute when we came across this chap, so we don’t really know what he is holding in his hands. We assume it is some kind of a toy. The boy’s name is Nhial.

And now for the experiment: Did the total absence of girls strike you as strange? We were looking the whole day, trying to find girls who were carrying homemade toys, but we simply couldn’t find any. If you read our next post, you’ll find out why. In the meantime, you are free to guess. There is plenty of space for comments. And if you are willing to share, it would be nice to read what caught your immediate attention when you first looked at he pictures.

A Nice Cup of Coffee

Posted in Uncategorized on January 11, 2015 by Otto von Münchow


We are in Ethiopia to report on the situation of the South Sudanese refugees who have fled their country to escape the civil war and all its grim consequences. However the terror in Paris has brought us enough grim stories. Therefor we thought it would be good to present something as nice and uncontroversial as a coffee ceremony. We haven’t forgotten our original agenda, and we will take you to the refugee camps for sure, but first let’s enjoy a nice cup of black, Ethiopian coffee together. Cheers!

Back in Black

Posted in Uncategorized on January 8, 2015 by Otto von Münchow

Back in Black

We are not Charlie, and to be perfectly honest we didn’t even know Charlie existed until we managed to get online and read the internet papers this morning. The attack in Paris is not only an attack on a French paper; it is an attack on democracy. And as journalists we feel the terrorism in France also is aimed at us. What is journalism without the freedom of expression? And what is democracy without journalism?

It’s a black day for all of us. Therefor we choose to post nothing but a black square today. It very much reflects our feelings, but no one should mistake it for a sign of surrender. We will never give up the fight for, and our obligation to do our job!

Yes They Know it’s Christmas Time, for Sure!

Posted in Uncategorized on January 7, 2015 by Otto von Münchow



Bole Madhani Alem turns pink when the first beams of morning sun hits the mighty Orthodox cathedral. We are in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa and the date is 29/4 2007 – according to the Ethiopian calendar. According to most other calendars it’s January 7th, 2015, and all over Ethiopia Christmas is celebrated.

It’s Christmas day, and no service today, but the square in front of the cathedral is full of people in traditional white scarves and dresses who have come to worship. For some reason my mind wanders 30 years back, to the time when Band Aid was singing “Do they know it’s Christmas time at all”. Judging from the religious activity in front of the closed church this early morning, I think “Yes They Know it’s Christmas Time, for Sure” would be more accurate. Ethiopia was christened in 300 AD, decades before Europe, which means Christmas has been celebrated here for more than 1700 years.

Sisay (24) pulls the white scarf closer around him to keep warm. The young man is on his way home after paying his respect to the Lord.

−This is a big day for all Orthodox Christian Ethiopians he explains. Normally we party on Christmas eve. Christmas day we are spending with our loved ones. My family will gather and then we’ll slaughter a goat or a sheep and prepare a fantastic meal for everyone. According to Orthodox tradition we must fast for 25 days before Christmas and eat only vegetables. So you can imagine how well the meat will taste now that the day finally has come. Sisay hurries on home and leaves us in the middle of the square.

It’s striking how silent and calm everything is. The busy everyday life in Addis seems to be miles away. A priest is sitting in the shade reading his bible. But he puts the holy book down every time someone comes to kiss the wooden cross he is holding. A beggar comes towards us on a pair of worn out crutches. To our surprise he asks us for money – in English.

−After all it’s Jesus’ birthday today, and Jesus always stood up for the poor, he reminds us. The man gets every coin we can find in our pockets. Normally a handful of change is quite sufficient to get peoples consent to have their picture taken. But the man with the crutches is not like other beggars.

−It will take more money if you want to snap me, he says with a smile. We show him our empty pockets, and asks again, but the answer is still no.

−You have to look for other victims, he says as he picks up his crutches.

−And as you are broke you might want to look for beggars who accepts major credit cards.
We will never know who the beggar was, where he learned his English or how he ended up in the street. But still he taught us an important lesson. A lesson we, Bob Geldof and all other people engaged in Africa should bear in mind: Never ever underestimate people!




Pride and Position

Posted in Uncategorized on May 1, 2014 by Otto von Münchow

Old man

−I want the world to know what is happening in South Sudan right now, the old man says. The kids from the huts nearby are gathering around the old man hoping to end up in one of my photos. A young refugee woman is picking up a stick to chase them away, but the old man asks her to calm down.

− Leave them, and let them listen. What I have to say is important! I want everyone, including our own children, to understand that the brutality we’ve had the last few months exceeds anything I have seen in my lifetime.

Kuir Biar Yaak has only been in Kenya for a month. He was 12 when Sudan got its independence from Anglo-Egyptian co rule in 1956. After that Sudan was embroiled in two prolonged civil wars during the second half of the 20th century. The non-Muslim, non-Arab southern Sudanese fought the Islamic north. The first civil war ended in 1972 but another broke out in 1983. Peace talks finally led to the North/South Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), signed in January 2005. The south was granted autonomy for six years followed by a referendum on independence for Southern Sudan. When the votes were counted in January 2011 98.83% of the population voted for independence. A new country was born and civilians like Kuir thought the days of war were over. They were wrong.

−I never considered leaving the country during the civil wars. The soldiers fought one another and left people like me alone. This time it was so bad I had to leave. They kill anyone that’s not on their side. Kuir fears the nuer-rebels, as he is dinka himself. However the old man is wise enough to realize that the brutality is just as bad when dinkas are attacking nuers.

−So what do you miss the most from your homeland?

−My pride and my position.

−Look at me, he says. I was an important man back home. I had more than 20 cows. Now I only have the clothes I’m wearing. Here in Kakuma I am just a lousy old man, a burden to my son, who brought me here.

−Will you ever return to see South Sudan again?

−No. The wounds this conflict has given my country won’t heal in my lifetime, the old man says.