REPORT ON GREAT LONDON MARCH
By Wondimu Mekonnen
Ethiopians started arriving at Heathrow, Gatwick, Stanstead and Luton Airports as well as various metropolitan train stations throughout London on Saturday 8th December 2005. The majority booked their accommodations online and managed their way without interventions of Londoners. Ethiopians pulling luggage were spotted everywhere throughout the city. London resident Ethiopians hosted the few who could not manage to accommodate themselves. The Saturday atmosphere of the city of London felt like Addis on the eve of big festival. Ethiopians flocked to London from Sweden, Denmark, Norway, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, France, Belgium and even as far as from Australia to participate on the Great London March.
On Sunday, 09 December 2005, the organisers started moving the logistics on time. By 2:00 pm, the build up for the demonstration at the Marble Arch was beginning to build. People were busy greeting eachother, meeting for the first time in many years. The try colour Ethiopian flags, flags of various countries of Europe and slogans, adored the Square. After the stewards were briefed how to manage the march, the crowed was invited to attend speech made by Cmdr Assefa Seifu, one of the centrals organisers of the rally. Cmdr Assefa thanked the guests for coming from various cities of Europe and welcomed the rally goers and drew the gruesome pictures of the current affairs of the country and worrying health condition of the detained leaders on a hunger strike. Ato Getachew Wanna, a CUD delegate from Sweden made a moving speech representing Ethiopian delegates from the other cities of Europe. Ato Andargachew Tsigie of CUD made another interesting speech with reference to gross violation of human rights by the dictatorial regime of Ethiopia. He explained how the EPRDF regime of ethnocrats turned the country into a big prison camp, stripping every citizen of their basic rights. One can draw a conclusion from of those speeches that the murder, the arrest and the deliberate shaving of heads of the detainees by shared blades to infect hundreds of thousands of prisoners by HIV/AIDS virus can only be measured to the Nazi holocaust of the Jewish community in Germany in the 1940s. 43,000 detainees are accounted to be held at Dedessa, 30,000 at Bir Sheleqo, unknown number are held at secret underground prisons around the country. Deliberate spread of AIDS virus tantamount genocide.
A brother from Sweden, Daniel Abebe, read a moving Amaric poem called “Tsehay Tiwettalech” – The Sun Will Rise – kicked the emotions of the demonstrators into motion. Another brother from Sweden, well-known music intellectual and poet in his own right, Zenebe Bekele, rehearsed with the crowed the famous “Ethiopia Hagere” song. With this, the stewards were asked to line up the marchers into 4 columns. It was almost impossible to do that at first simply due to the large crowed. From experience the only way the four columns to work out was believed to be achieved when the marchers started moving from the open space to the main road along the Park Lane. The Police agreed with the stewards and their leaders leaving the organisation to them. The road was fully blocked until the marchers left the Marble Arch, from both directions. After 20 minutes of commotions, the crowed fully left the Marble Arch and stream lined along the road by the Length of the Hyde Park down towards the Green Park.
Inat hager Yemeitishu
- was the new song imported from Sweden for the day. Closely translated it meant:
Those who openly declare and say
You love Ethiopia, the motherland
Fight for her survival, don’t run away
Struggle for that nation, don’t run away.
Don’t run away!
Don’t run away!
Many joined the Swedish Ethiopians in the song and at one point the stwards nearly forgot their duty and were pulled towards this group. Then moving forward to another group of Ethiopians from London, it was magnetic to break free from them as they were shacking the earth under their feet with a patriotic song they prepared without the knowledge of the organisers. One elderly man said: “This group looked like ‘sergegna’” – the traditional youth wedding singers. Indeed, the movements, the energy, the lyrics were out of this world. One would love to join them. The demonstrators took their own initiatives and prepared themselves for it. The hundreds of thousands of onlookers by the sides of Piccadilly Road pored out of the Hardrock Café, all shops and bars to witness the shouting; singing and earth tapping Ethiopians with the thousands of deafening whistle blowing chants.
The demonstrators were signing the new version of:
Tekebresh yenorshiw – babatochachin dem
Inat Ethiopia – yedeferesh yiwdem
You survived intact with your honour
Through the sacrifices of our ancestors blood
Mother Ethiopia dear
Let them go to hell, your tormentors!
With totally new poetic lyrics and vibrant approach, the youth in London totally rocked the place with such patriotic songs and others.
At one point a crowed poured out of the biggest bar along the road and unconsciously tried to copy the moves, probably thinking that was a carnival. Although they were looking at the slogans and trying to make out what was happening in Ethiopia, still the group of Ethiopians saying – yileyal yileyal zendiro – yewoyyane nuro (translated as ‘the Woyyane’s criminal life will soon be sorted out), made the onlookers move their bodies to align with the demonstrators. Somehow, the head of the crowed finally reached Piccadilly Circus after about 45 minutes of walk from the Marble Arch. The crowed of onlookers at the Piccadilly Circus was hard to describe. It looked like Londoners poured out on the street to watch a big national event like the Nothing Hill carnival. At this junction the road was completely closed and the traffic froze until the thousands of slogan changing, singing and whistle blowing Ethiopians left the Circus.
It became extremely difficult to meet up and exchange ideas of crowed management for the organisers. Thanks to the modern technology, however, the only valuable means of communication was the mobile phones. While the marchers were leaving the Piccadilly Circus towards the Trafalgar Square, the mobile of this reporter vibrated – as it was impossible to hear the ringing. One of the organisers informed that Mr Steve Sinnot, the General Secretary of NUT was at the head of the march. There were English colleagues, among the crowed but the knowledge of the presence of Steve among the crowed was an uplifting event. Once they knew our friend was with us, every photographer and video recorder ran to pictures of the hero of Ethiopians.
Coming to the Trafalgar Square, still the road completely blocked, the Police briefly halted the rally. Many thought, the Police might not allow such a huge reach its final destination, the most sensitive area, the White Hall. A Police Officer kindly explained that the stoppage was for safety purpose, a barrier was being placed ahead.
There was one thing that the organisers withheld from the crowed until the last minutes of starting the march. Due to terrorist threat, the Police did not allow any rally end at the Downing Street. As a result, Cmdr Assefa Seifu negotiated for another vigil to be held on the same day at the Downing Street, to hand over the petition letter. Therefore, the plan was for the march to end at the White Hall and then the crowed would disperse in all directions and everyone would make his/her way back to the Downing Street and stage a big vigil in front of the residence of Prime Minster Tony Blair. The Police must have co-ordinated their crowed management techniques and realised that when the head would reach the White Hall the tail could still be at the Trafalar Square leaving a huge chunk at the Downing street which could easily move to the vigil spot without going into the small space at the White Hall. Therefore, the Police quickly realised and abandoned the original plan. Rather than leading the crowed straight to the White Hall, they surprised the organisers by leading them straight to the Downing Street vigil spot. What a relief! It would have been so difficult to lead the guests from Europe to find their way back to the Downing Street. The halt of the marchers between the Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus was to buy time to put the barriers for the vigil in place.
Once the crowed started moving another huge crowed of onlookers gathered at the Trafalgar Square and watched the rallying of colourful Ethiopians with amusement. Photographers and video tapers were everywhere.
Once the whole crowed reached the Downing Street, it was already getting late and therefore, the Police asked the organisers to file their petition letter at the Downing Street. Ato Sileshi Tilahun of CUD, Ato Taye Bogale of UEDF, Weizero Gebyanesh Abera and this reporter representing civic movements were given the privilege of going into the inner side of the Downing Street lead by a very caring and sympathetic pleasant lady Police Officer, flanked from both sides by eight scary well armed group of commando soldiers dressed in dark battle fatigue.
The delegates were stopped at the gate until the inner security force gave the go ahead signal. At this spot a very well dressed couple politely approached a Police Officer and asked what the hell was going on. The explanation of the Police officer was stunning. Even a concerned and well-prepared Ethiopian could not have put situation in Ethiopia in such beautiful words. He took his time and closely said to the lady and gentleman:
“An awful event has been taking place in Ethiopia, since June, Madam. The Ethiopian Government has been killing, children, women and innocent citizens at will. Bloodbath is tainting the streets of their towns and villages. And the most appalling thing is, our government is doing nothing about this gross violation of human rights. Actually, the regime of that country happened to be an ally of our government. This huge crowed is here from all over the cities of Europe to file their petition of disappointment with our government and appealing to stop the murder, mass arrest of the citizens and illegal detention of the opposition leaders, Ma Lady”
The lady and gentleman thanked the officer and made their way nearer to the crowed to read the slogans. Just before being lead in, the reporter took a chance to thank the officer and asked where he got all his knowledge about the atrocities in Ethiopia. His answer was on the target with a military precision.
“You have been here weeks in and weeks out, Sir! You are one of the most peaceful demonstrators I have ever come across regardless of what is being done to your people back at your homeland. I am not stupid. If there wasn’t an awful event taking place there, you wouldn’t be here, would you?”
Once we were inside the Downing Street, we found the atmosphere completely different from the other days. It looks like Ethiopians have been calling the Downing Street from all over the world and jammed their telephone lines, web sites and e-mails. As a result, rather than rushing through, the delegates were politely lead through the security checks to No. 10 Downing Street, the residence of the Prime Minister. They were allowed to take pictures before knocking at the door. Once the officer knocked at the door the Personal Assistant of the Prime Minister opened the door, came out, shook hands with the delegates, received the letter and promised to pass it to the Prime Minster himself and posed with the delegates for a photo opportunity.
Upon return, Ethiopians continued their demand that Tony Blair disassociated himself from Prime Murderer Meles Zenawi. The slogans included:
Stop the barbaric killings now
Justice for the murdered!
Meles has to go now!
Stop the crime against humanity!
UK, do not support the tyrant!
Release all political prisoners!
Democracy! Yes-yes-yes! Dictatorship! No-no-no!
What do we want? Justice! Democracy! Peace! Unity!
When do want it? Now!!!
No democracy, no economic aid
Borrowing journalist Abebe Gelaw’s words, the Great London March was completed with the demand to “Mr. Blair to press for the unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience including opposition leaders, journalists, human rights campaigners and over 50,000 fellow citizens who have been illegally detained in harsh concentration camps across Ethiopia.”
The struggle for freedom and democracy of Ethiopians shall triumph!