737 MAX: After 10 Months Of Crisis For Boeing, Questions Remain

 

 

Boeing is still far from seeing an end to its continuing crisis over the 737 MAX airplane. Ten months after two fatal crashes led to the grounding of the aerospace giant’s star passenger jet, many serious questions remain, including the date of its return to service.

David Calhoun, 62, a former top executive at General Electric, is to take charge of the aircraft manufacturer on Monday, after CEO Dennis Muilenburg was ousted in late December over what critics said was his catastrophic handling of the crisis.

– What exactly happened? –
On March 10, 2019, an Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX crashed southeast of Addis Ababa just minutes after takeoff, killing all 157 on board.

It was the second accident in five months for the model, which Boeing launched in May 2017 as a competitor for Airbus’s A320neo in the lucrative narrow-body aircraft segment.

The October 2018 crash in Indonesia of a Lion Air 737 MAX had claimed 189 lives.

On March 13 of last year, the United States and Canada became the last two countries to ground MAX planes. Thus began Boeing’s crisis.

When will the MAX fly again?

It’s hard to say. The most optimistic prediction is late February or early March, but some experts, including the respected Richard Aboulafia of the Virginia-based Teal group, speak of late April or early May.

United Airlines has ruled out flying the MAX before June.

Investigations by Indonesian and Ethiopian authorities raised questions about the plane’s automated flight control system known as MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System).

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has ordered Boeing to provide a fix, which the company is working on.

But as a result of the crisis FAA has subjected the MAX, which was only partially inspected during its original flight certification, to microscopic scrutiny.

The agency at first detected a problem with the microprocessor that manages flight systems and then, more recently, a flaw in the electrical wiring.

Once Boeing has resolved all problems, the FAA should set a date for a test flight — the last major hurdle before the MAX is green-lighted to return to service.

Boeing has taken one major step in that direction: after long resisting having MAX pilots train on flight simulators rather than on computers — a longer and more costly option, but one demanded by European and Canadian regulators — Boeing has finally backed that course.

– Is Boeing still building and delivering the MAX? –
Boeing suspended MAX deliveries a few days after the planes were grounded. It had continued to produce the aircraft, but has built none since January 1.

From mid-March to the end of December, Boeing produced 400 MAX planes, bringing the total number built to 787. Of those, 387 were in service when orders to ground them went out.

The planes are parked at different Boeing sites in the US.

Is Boeing in financial trouble?

No. As of the end of September, the company had $10 billion in hand and about $20 billion in available funds, according to financial documents.

Besides passenger planes, Boeing builds military aircraft and equipment. It also has a space division.

Nevertheless, the costs linked to the MAX crisis have continued to mount. They had already reached $9.2 billion by the end of September and should soar as Boeing deals with demands for damages and compensation from airline companies, aircraft-leasing firms, parts suppliers and victims’ families.

To cover future expenses, the company expects to turn to the financial markets to borrow up to $5 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal.

– What about Boeing employees?? –
The company so far has ruled out any firings or layoffs, which could provoke a political outcry in this US election year.

Boeing has already shifted thousands of workers to other programs — building its 767, 787 and 777/777X models — and has promised to find jobs for others.

– How are suppliers affected? –
The consequences vary. Engine builders like General Electric and Safran Aircraft Engines, through their CFM joint venture, are partially spared since they also build engines for Airbus.

Along with other smaller American suppliers, they will profit from Airbus’s surprise decision to ramp up production of the A320 in the southern US city of Mobile, Alabama.

But the Spirit AeroSystems group, which provides fuselages and other parts for the MAX, has been hard hit; the 737 program represents more than half its turnover. The company plans to cut 16 percent of its workforce — around 2,800 employees — and has not ruled out further cuts.

– Is Airbus profiting as Boeing struggles? –
Airbus received orders for 768 planes in 2019 and delivered 863. Boeing, which has yet to publish its full-year figures, had delivered 345 as of the end of November, while 84 orders were lost.

Airbus also gained ground in the important middle of the market sector with its launch of the A321XLR, which will give air carriers the ability to open new long-haul routes between secondary cities using a narrow-body craft that is less expensive, easier to fill and thus more profitable.

The first orders are already pouring in, notably from United Airlines, which ordered 50 of the new aircraft in December.

Boeing is banking on its own NMA (New Midsize Airplane), built to carry from 220 to 270 passengers on routes up to 5,400 miles (8,700 kilometers). But progress has been slow, and it is unclear, given the severe challenges over the MAX program, whether the NMA will be rolled out this year as planned. (Boeing has not decided to launch the NMA yet. It promised to make a decision this year.)

Ethiopia PM Hails Role Of Ex-Foe Eritrea In Nobel Peace Prize

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Abiy Ahmed Ali speaks after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize during a ceremony at the city hall in Oslo on December 10, 2019. Fredrik VARFJELL / AFP

 

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed hailed the role played by ex-foe Eritrea in the Nobel Peace Prize he collected on Tuesday for his efforts to resolve the long-running conflict between the two neighbours.

“I accept this award on behalf of Ethiopians and Eritreans, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the cause of peace,” Abiy said after he received the prestigious award in a formal ceremony at Oslo’s City Hall.

“Likewise, I accept this award on behalf of my partner, and comrade-in-peace, President Isaias Afwerki, whose goodwill, trust and commitment were vital in ending the two-decade deadlock between our countries,” he added.

AFP

10 Things You Should Know About Nobel Laureate, Abiy Ahmed

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister and this year’s Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Abiy Ahmed Ali (C) signs the Nobel Protocol at his arrival in Oslo, Norway, on December 9, 2019; behind (From L) members of the Norwegian Nobel Peace Prize comitee Asle Toje, chairwoman Berit Reiss-Andersen, Henrik Syse and Anne Enger. Tore Meek / NTB Scanpix / AFP

 

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is set to receive the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize on Tuesday. Here are ten things you should know about him:

August 15, 1976: He was born into a poor mixed Christian-Muslim family in the rural town of Beshasha.

Early 1990s: He started a nearly 20-year career in the military as a radio operator, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel.

2008: He established the government’s cyber-spying Information Network Security Agency (INSA).

2010: He was elected to parliament with the Oromo People’s Democratic Organisation, which is part of the ruling coalition.

– 2016: After a brief stint as federal minister of science and technology, he was appointed the vice president of the Oromia regional government.

– March 2018: He was elected to lead the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front coalition.

– April 2018: He became prime minister, being the first ethnic Oromo in the post, after his predecessor resigned.

June 2018: He announced Ethiopia would abide by a 2002 ruling by a UN-backed commission requiring it to cede territory to Eritrea. This launched a peace process that ended a 20-year-old stalemate.

– October 11, 2019: He was announced winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for ending the conflict.

– October 23, 2019: Protests broke out denouncing Abiy after an activist claimed to be the target of a security force attack plot. They turned into ethnic and religious clashes in which more than 80 people were killed

400 Arrested As Ethiopia Defends Response To Deadly Violence

(FILES) In this file photo taken on August 01, 2019 Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed gives a press conference at the Prime Minister’s office in the capital, Addis Ababa. MICHAEL TEWELDE / AFP

 

 

More than 400 people have been arrested in Ethiopia during investigations into ethnic and religious violence that left 78 people dead last week, a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said Thursday.

Protests against Abiy erupted in Addis Ababa and in Ethiopia’s Oromia region on October 23 after a high-profile activist accused security forces of trying to orchestrate an attack against him – claim police denied.

The unrest quickly devolved into ethnic and religious clashes that killed dozens of people over three days.

“The latest information that I have in terms of perpetrators that have been apprehended is 409 individuals,” spokeswoman Billene Seyoum told a press conference.

She said investigations were ongoing and that more suspects could be taken into custody.

Billene said Thursday that the death toll had climbed to 78 — up from the figure of 67 provided by a police official in Oromia last week.

Abiy, who came to power last year and was named this year’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has been criticised for his government’s response to the violence and specifically for waiting until the weekend to issue a statement.

Billene defended the response Thursday and dismissed descriptions of Abiy as “weak”.

Ethnic violence has been a recurring problem under Abiy, causing Ethiopia to record more displaced people than any other country last year.

Billene said the violence is the work of unnamed “elements” that oppose Abiy’s reform agenda, which has included freeing political prisoners and creating a more open political environment.

She also said the latest surge was partly a “backlash” against plans to transform Ethiopia’s ruling coalition — which has been in power for nearly three decades — into a single political party.

The activist at the centre of last week’s protests, Jawar Mohammed, is credited with helping to sweep Abiy to power last year but he has recently become critical of some of the premier’s policies.

Both men are from the Oromo ethnic group, the country’s largest, and their feud highlights divisions within Abiy’s Oromo support base that could complicate his bid for a five-year term when Ethiopia votes in elections planned for May 2020.

Jawar, a media mogul, is highly divisive and accused by critics of fomenting ethnic divisions.

Abiy has faced pressure in recent days to take measures against Jawar, but Billene on Thursday declined to address whether the government held him responsible for the latest deaths.

“It’s not about naming or not naming, but it’s important for the due process of investigations to go through,” she said.

AFP

Ethiopia PM Abiy Warns Ethnic Violence Could Worsen

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed gives a press conference at the Prime Minister’s office in the capital, Addis Ababa. MICHAEL TEWELDE / AFP

 

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed warned Saturday of further instability and vowed to bring to justice those responsible for violence that left at least 67 people dead this week. 

“The crisis we have faced will become even more fearsome and difficult if Ethiopians don’t unite and stand as one,” Abiy said in a statement issued by his office, his first remarks since the violence broke out.

“We will unswervingly work to ensure the prevalence of the rule of law and to bring perpetrators to justice.”

This year’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate also noted that what began as protests against his government had quickly morphed into clashes that took on an ethnic and religious dimension.

“There has been an attempt to turn the crisis into a religious and ethnic one. In the process our comrades have become victims in terrible circumstances,” he said.

He added that homes, businesses and places of worship had been destroyed, and that an untold number of Ethiopians had been displaced.

Violence erupted in Addis Ababa, the capital, and in much of Ethiopia’s Oromia region on Wednesday after a high-profile activist accused security forces of trying to orchestrate an attack against him — a claim police officials denied.

The activist, Jawar Mohammed, is credited with promoting the protests that swept Abiy to power last year but he has recently become critical of some of the premier’s policies.

Both men are from the Oromo ethnic group, Ethiopia’s largest, and their feud highlights divisions within Abiy’s Oromo support base that could complicate his bid for a five-year term when Ethiopia votes in elections currently planned for May 2020.

On Friday, Oromia police chief Kefyalew Tefera said 67 people had been killed there, including five police officers.

He said most of the dead had lost their lives in “clashes between civilians” rather than at the hands of security forces.

He also claimed that calm had been restored but the defence ministry announced Friday that it was deploying forces to seven hotspots to restore order, and reports of violence persisted through Friday night and into Saturday.

Abiy was in Sochi, Russia, for the Russia-Africa summit when Jawar’s supporters first started mobilising in Addis Ababa.

Prior to Saturday’s statement, he was facing criticism for saying nothing about the unrest.

In an interview with AFP Friday, Jawar accused Abiy of acting like a dictator and said he could challenge his former ally in next year’s elections.

But Jawar said he could also end up backing Abiy if he changes course.

AFP

67 Killed In Anti-Abiy Protests, Ethnic Violence In Ethiopia

 

 

Violence in Ethiopia that began with protests against Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and quickly morphed into ethnic clashes has left 67 people dead in Oromia state, a police official said Friday.

The spike in the death toll came as the high-profile activist at the centre of the violence accused Abiy, this year’s Nobel Peace Prize laureate, of acting like a dictator and suggesting he might challenge him in elections planned for next year.

“The total number dead in Oromia is 67,” said Kefyalew Tefera, the regional police chief, adding that five of the dead were police officers.

Violence erupted in Addis Ababa, the capital, and in much of Ethiopia’s Oromia region on Wednesday after the activist, Jawar Mohammed, accused security forces of trying to orchestrate an attack against him — a claim police officials denied.

Kefyalew told AFP that the violence had ended in Oromia but Amnesty International researcher Fisseha Tekle said late Friday that he was still receiving reports of attacks.

The defence ministry said Friday that it was deploying forces to seven hotspots to restore order, according to the state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate.

Jawar is credited with promoting protests that swept Abiy to power last year but he has recently become critical of some of the premier’s policies.

In an interview at his residence in Addis Ababa, Jawar told AFP that Abiy — named Nobel Peace laureate two weeks ago — seemed to be taking Ethiopia back to “the old ways” of authoritarian rule.

“He has resorted to the early signs of dictatorship, of trying to intimidate people, even his very close allies who helped him come to power who happen to disagree with some of the policies and positions and ideologies he’s advocating,” Jawar said.

“Intimidation is the start of authoritarian rule.”

Both men are members of the Oromo ethnic group, Ethiopia’s largest.

Their feud highlights divisions within Abiy’s Oromo support base that could complicate his bid for a five-year term when Ethiopia votes in elections currently planned for May 2020.

Jawar said that running against Abiy was “one possibility,” though he also said he could be convinced to back Abiy if he changes course.

“I want to have an active role in the coming election. In what capacity I’m not sure but I want to make sure that the influence I have in the country has a positive contribution,” he said.

Religious, ethnic conflict

After two days of violent protests, tensions had cooled Friday in Addis Ababa, although the total damage inflicted by the unrest was still being tallied.

Fisseha of AI said the violence had included instances of security forces opening fire on protesters but was increasingly taking the form of ethnic and religious clashes.

“Some people have lost their lives with sticks, with machetes, some houses have been burned. People have been using even bullets and light arms to kill each other, to fight each other,” he said.

At least six people were killed in the town of Ambo, west of Addis, after security forces opened fire on protesters, Fisseha said.

Ethnic and religious violence has been reported in the towns and cities of Dodola, Harar, Balerobe and Adama.

Property belonging to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, which some associate with the Amhara ethnic group, has been targeted in several locations, Fisseha said.

Daniel Bekele, head of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, urged public figures to tamp down virulent rhetoric that could contribute to additional unrest.

“It is extremely depressing that public officials and community leaders don’t appreciate the consequences of their actions and words leading to this senseless loss of lives, destruction of property and disruption of ordinary life,” he said.

“As security forces are struggling to calm the crisis, everyone has a responsibility to do their share and cooperate.”

16 Dead As Ethiopian Protesters March Against PM

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed gives a press conference at the Prime Minister’s office in the capital, Addis Ababa. MICHAEL TEWELDE / AFP

 

At least 16 people have been killed in violence in Ethiopia this week that began with protests against Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Abiy Ahmed, an Amnesty International researcher said Friday.

“Up to now we have confirmed 16 people dead, but the number must be more than that because new reports are emerging which we have not confirmed,” Fisseha Tekle told AFP.

He said the violence had included instances of security forces opening fire on protesters but was increasingly taking the form of ethnic and religious clashes.

“Some people have lost their lives with sticks, with machetes, some houses have been burned. People have been using even bullets and light arms to kill each other, to fight each other,” he said.

“I don’t have the latest on what happened during the night but there was no sign of decrease.”

The violence erupted in Addis Ababa, the capital, and in much of Ethiopia’s Oromia region after a high-profile activist accused security forces of trying to orchestrate an attack against him.

The activist, Jawar Mohammed, is a former Abiy ally and member of the prime minister’s Oromo ethnic group — the country’s largest — who has recently become critical of some of Abiy’s policies.

The unrest highlights divisions within the ethnic Oromo support base that swept Abiy to power last year — divisions that could undermine his position ahead of elections planned for May 2020.

At a press conference Thursday, Jawar called for calm while accusing the authorities of stoking instability.

Religious, ethnic violence

At least six people were killed in the town of Ambo, west of Addis, after security forces opened fire on protesters, Fisseha said.

Ethnic and religious violence has been reported in the towns and cities of Dodola, Harar, Balerobe and Adama.

Ethiopian officials have provided scant information on casualties but did confirm two deaths in Adama earlier this week.

Property belonging to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, which some associate with the Amhara ethnic group, has been targeted in multiple locations, Fisseha said.

“Up to now it is people going after the Orthodox Church and that creates a standoff and violence because the followers of the Orthodox defend themselves,” Fisseha said.

On Thursday, the Orthodox Church issued a call for calm while saying the violence has “resulted in loss of lives as well as caused damages to properties and mass displacements,” according to the state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate.

Amnesty called on security forces to use restraint as they work to get the situation under control.

“The fact that protests are not commonly peaceful does not mean they have to use lethal force,” Fisseha said.

“It’s only as a last resort that lethal force can be used and only to protect the lives of security forces and protect the lives of other people.”

Landslide Kills 22 In Southern Ethiopia

Ethiopia’s Flag

 

Rescue workers on Tuesday used excavators to dig out bodies after a landslide in southern Ethiopia washed away homes and killed more than 20 people, a local official said. 

The landslide in the remote district of Konta occurred Sunday following 10 hours of heavy rains, said the official, Takele Tesfu.

“There are 22 people dead and we have only been able to dig up 17 using manpower and machine power,” Takele told AFP.

“So far, we cannot get the others, so tomorrow we will continue to dig.”

He said the victims included nine women and six children.

While the district — located in Ethiopia’s Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region — sees landslides with some regularity, Takele said this was the deadliest he could remember.

“The area where this occurred is very mountainous, and this means the landslide was very dangerous,” he said.

Ethiopia is nearing the end of its rainy season, but security forces are nonetheless relocating some families for fear that more rain in the coming days could lead to similar disasters, Takele said.

AFP

Nobel Peace Prize: Buhari Congratulates Ethiopian Prime Minister

 

 

President Muhammadu Buhari has congratulated Ethiopian Prime, Abiy Ahmed, who was declared the winner of 2019 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday in Oslo, Norway.

In a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina, President Buhari said the feat portends a good sign for the peace processes within countries and across borders on the African continent.

He also felicitated with the Prime Minister, his cabinet, and all Ethiopians on the remarkable global recognition of winning the 100th peace prize.

READ ALSO: Ethiopian PM Abiy Wins Nobel Peace Prize

The President noted that the prize was attributed to a decision to end the 20-year conflict between two African countries, Ethiopia and Eritrea.

He reiterated his belief that African development was strongly tied to peaceful co-existence and deliberate efforts by governments and people to sustain harmony within and between countries.

President Buhari called for more concerted and collective partnership on peace in the continent and prayed that the global recognition would spur more interest on issues of peace in Africa, as well as drive home the immeasurable benefits.

Ethiopian PM Abiy Wins Nobel Peace Prize

(FILES) In this file photo taken on August 01, 2019 Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed gives a press conference at the Prime Minister’s office in the capital, Addis Ababa. MICHAEL TEWELDE / AFP

 

 

Hailed as a visionary and reformer, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for his efforts to resolve the long-running conflict with neighbouring foe Eritrea.

Abiy was honoured “for his efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation, and in particular for his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighbouring Eritrea,” the Nobel Committee said.

The award is seen as a welcome boost for Africa’s youngest leader as he faces worrying inter-community violence ahead of a parliamentary election in May 2020.

“I was so humbled and thrilled when I just heard the news,” Abiy told the Nobel Committee in a phone call posted online on the Nobel Prize website.

In a later interview on the same website, Abiy said he thought the prize would invigorate regional peace efforts.

“This is great news for Africa, great news for East Africa. A place where peace is a very expensive commodity, and I am sure it will give us the energy to work towards peace and to realise peace within our region,” Abiy said.

This is the second year in a row that an African has received the award after Congolese gynaecologist Denis Mukwege shared the prize with Yazidi activist Nadia Murad in 2018 for their work combatting sexual violence.

Since taking office in April 2018, the 43-year-old Abiy has aggressively pursued policies that have the potential to upend society in the Horn of Africa nation and reshape dynamics beyond its borders, after years of civil unrest.

On July 9, 2018, following a historic meeting in Eritrea’s capital Asmara, Abiy and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki formally ended a 20-year-old stalemate between the countries in the wake of the 1998-2000 border conflict.

Abiy swiftly released dissidents from jail, apologised for state brutality, and welcomed home exiled armed groups.

– ‘Winds of hope’ –

His actions have sparked optimism in a region of Africa marred by violence.

“I have said often that winds of hope are blowing ever stronger across Africa. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is one of the main reasons why,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said.

The peace agreement with Eritrea has “opened up new opportunities for the region to enjoy security and stability,” and Abiy’s “leadership has set a wonderful example for others in and beyond Africa looking to overcome resistance from the past and put people first.”

The Nobel jury stressed the Peace Prize was “also meant to recognise all the stakeholders working for peace and reconciliation in Ethiopia and in the East and Northeast African regions”.

It singled out the Eritrean leader for praise, noting that “peace does not arise from the actions of one party alone”.

“When Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed reached out his hand, President Afwerki grabbed it, and helped to formalise the peace process between the two countries.”

However analysts believe there is still some way to go before a lasting peace, and the enthusiasm has been mixed with frustration.

The border between the two countries has once again been closed, the countries still lack trade agreements and Ethiopia — a land-locked country — still has no access to Eritrean ports.

And last June, Abiy faced the greatest threat yet to his hold on power when gunmen assassinated high-ranking officials including a prominent regional president and the army chief.

Amnesty International said the prize should spur Abiy to enhance reforms on human rights.

“This award should push and motivate him to tackle the outstanding human rights challenges that threaten to reverse the gains made so far,” the group said, pointing to “ongoing ethnic tensions that threaten instability and further human rights abuses”.

Ethnic violence has been on the rise in recent years, causing Ethiopia to record more internally displaced people last year than any other country.

– Push in the right direction –

Recognising that some would consider the prize premature, the Nobel Committee said that while much remained to be done, the award should serve as encouragement, and pointed to the criteria set by prize creator Alfred Nobel — namely that the award should go to one “who has made the most significant contribution to peace within the past year”.

“We are confident that by far this is Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, and we are also hopeful that the peace prize could perhaps be a push on the peace initiatives in the right direction,” Berit Reiss-Andersen, chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, told AFP.

The committee had to choose from more than 300 nominations this year.

Online betting sites had put Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg — who has already received Amnesty’s top honour and the Right Livelihood Award, sometimes dubbed the “alternative Nobel” — as the one to beat.

This year’s prize will be presented at a ceremony in Oslo on December 10, the anniversary of the 1896 death of Alfred Nobel, who was a Swedish philanthropist and scientist.

The award consists of a gold medal, a diploma, and nine million Swedish kronor (around $912,000 or 828,000 euros).

AFP

Ethiopian Crown Set To Return Home After 21 Years

Dutch-Ethiopian Sirak Asfaw (L) and Dutch art detective Arthur Brand pose with an 18th-century Ethiopian crown at an undisclosed high-security storage facility in the Netherlands. Jan HENNOP / AFP

 

A priceless 18th-century Ethiopian crown is set to be returned from the Netherlands to Addis Ababa after a one-time refugee found it in a suitcase and hid it in his apartment for two decades.

The ornate gilded copper headgear,  featuring images of Christ and the Twelve Apostles, was unearthed after refugee-turned-Dutch-citizen Sirak Asfaw contacted Dutch ‘art detective’ Arthur Brand.

Brand, dubbed the “Indiana Jones of the art world” for his discoveries of missing works, said the crown, which is currently being held in a secure location, would soon be handed to the Ethiopian authorities.

Speaking at his apartment in the Dutch port city of Rotterdam, Sirak told AFP the remarkable story of how he came into possession of the crown — which experts say belongs to a series of some of Ethiopia’s most important cultural artefacts.

Sirak, a former Ethiopian refugee who today works as a management consultant for the Dutch government, fled the country during the late 1970s during the so-called “Red Terror” purges.

Once settled in the Netherlands, Sirak used to receive a stream of Ethiopians including pilots and diplomats, along with people who had fled a continuous cycle of hardship in Africa’s most ancient country.

Then, in April 1998, while looking for a document, Sirak stumbled upon the crown in a suitcase left behind by one of his visitors.

“I looked into the suitcase and saw something really amazing and I thought ‘this is not right. This has been stolen. This should not be here. This belongs to Ethiopia’,” he said.

 ‘It would just disappear’ 

Sirak said he confronted the suitcase’s owner — whom he did not identify — and told him that the crown “will not leave my house unless it goes back to Ethiopia”.

Shortly afterwards Sirak posted a message on an Ethiopian chat group on the internet — still a new phenomena back in 1998 — asking what people thought he should do with “an Ethiopian artefact”.

But he did not get a satisfactory answer “and I did not want to return it to the same regime that had made it possible for the crown to get stolen,” he said.

The former refugee decided to become the crown’s de facto guardian “until such time it could go back”.

For 21 years the crown was hidden in his apartment as Ethiopia continued to be ruled by an iron-fisted one-party government.

During that time, Sirak was pressured by Ethiopians who knew he had the crown and wanted to force him to give it back.

“But I knew if I gave it back, it would just disappear again,” he said.

Sirak said however that when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office last year, he felt that things had changed sufficiently in Ethiopia to finally give the crown back.

Brand said Sirak had contacted him and “told me he was in possession of an Ethiopian artefact of great cultural importance.

“It turns out that Sirak Asfaw had been the custodian of a rare 18th-century Ethiopian crown for the past 21 years and wants to give it back,” said Brand.

“It was a story straight from a crime thriller,” said the art sleuth, who became world famous in 2015 after finding two bronze statues of horses made by Hitler’s favourite sculptor Joseph Thorak.

The Dutch government too confirmed to AFP that Brand had told them about the crown’s existence saying “its authenticity will now have to be established in close cooperation with Ethiopian authorities,” before the next steps will be taken.

 ‘This is Ethiopia’s identity’ 

The artefact is currently being stored at a high-security facility in the Netherlands, where it was seen by an AFP correspondent.

Jacopo Gnisci, a research associate at Oxford University who also examined the artefact and confirmed its authenticity, said there were less than two dozen of these crowns, called “zewd”, in existence.

“These crowns are of great cultural and symbolic significance in Ethiopia, as they are usually donated by high-ranking officials to churches in a practice that reaches as far back as the Late Antiquity,” he told AFP.

This crown has an inscription dating to 1633-34, but Gnisci said it was more likely to have been made a century later and was commissioned by one of Ethiopia’s most powerful warlords, “ras” Welde Sellase.

Gnisci, who is currently writing a book about medieval Ethiopian manuscripts, said Welde Sellase likely donated the crown to a church in a village called Cheleqot near the modern-day city of Mekelle in northern Ethiopia.

The last time the crown was seen in public, it was worn by a priest in a photograph taken in 1993 before it disappeared, said Gnisci. An investigation was launched at the time but the culprits were never found.

“These crowns are of priceless symbolic value and it is important that they be retuned to Ethiopia,” said Gnisci.

“This is Ethiopian cultural heritage, this is Ethiopia’s identity and finally it feels good to give it back,” said Sirak.

AFP

Two Aid Workers Killed In ‘Ambush’ In Western Ethiopia

 

 

Two staff members with Action Against Hunger have been shot dead by unidentified “armed individuals” in western Ethiopia, the aid group said.

Action Against Hunger said the aid workers were “ambushed” on Thursday while leaving Nguenyyiel Refugee Camp in the Gambella region.

The camp hosts tens of thousands of refugees from neighbouring South Sudan, which has been mired in civil war since 2013.

“Two employees were killed at the scene,” Action Against Hunger said late on Thursday.

“Action Against Hunger has suspended full operations in Gambella, but are maintaining the provision of life-saving assistance.”

READ ALSO: Zimbabwe Ex-President Robert Mugabe Dies Aged 95

The international humanitarian group also said it was “coordinating with the authorities who are investigating this attack.”

The office of the United Nations resident and humanitarian coordinator in Ethiopia condemned the attack.

“Attacks on aid workers in clearly marked humanitarian vehicles constitute a violation of international humanitarian law,” it said in a statement.

Neither Action Against Hunger nor the UN provided details in their statements on the nationalities of the dead or if there were any injured.