Sean Jacobs
Earlier this week the Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi addressed a public lecture on “leadership” at Columbia. Meles is in town for the UN’s talk fest slash summit on the Millennium Development Goals this week.

Meles has been in power since 1991, wins elections with 99% of the vote, fills his jails with opposition activists, his police harass the country’s media, and the army oppress Ethiopia’s ethnic minorities. Zenawi is, of course, also a key ally of the United States in its war on terror.

Some friends joked Meles would give a lecture on how to be a dictator.

As opposition to the visit grew, the title of the speech was later conveniently changed to “The Current Global Environment and its Impact in Africa.”

Except for a few blogs–here and here for example and the campus newspaper–as well as aggregator sites, Zenawi and his hosts (Columbia President Lee Bollinger and professors, Jeffrey Sachs and Joseph Stiglitz) may have hoped no one would notice.  Not many people know who Meles is or where Ethiopia is or can tell you what is going on there. The local news does not help. They’re doing stories on weight loss products. The national news is obsessed with Christine O’Donnell.

Except of course the large Ethiopian diaspora along the east coast as well as it energetic blogosphere, especially the news and opinion site, Ethiopian Review.

So as part of a assignment for a class I teach at the New School, I ask my students to head up to the Upper West Side Wednesday afternoon, see what happens, film proceedings, interview protesters (turns out there were also a pro-Meles protesters)  and blog about it. What did they find?  You can watch their efforts here and here (by this morning the latter video already had +4,500 views on Youtube).

Further Reading

A power crisis

Andre De Ruyter, the former CEO of Eskom, has presented himself as a simple hero trying to save South Africa’s struggling power utility against corrupt forces. But this racially charged narrative is ultimately self-serving.

Cinematic universality

Fatou Cissé’s directorial debut meditates on the uncertain fate and importance of Malian cinema amidst the growing dismissiveness towards the humanities across the world.

The meanings of Heath Streak

Zimbabwean cricketing legend Heath Streak’s career mirrors many of the unresolved tensions of race and class in Zimbabwe. Yet few white Zimbabwean sporting figures are able to stir interest and conversation across the nation’s many divides.


After winning Italy’s Serie A with Napoli, Victor Osimhen has cemented his claim to being Africa’s biggest footballing icon. But is the trend of individual stardom good for sports and politics?

Breaking the chains of indifference

The significance of ending the ongoing war in Sudan cannot be overstated, and represents more than just an end to violence. It provides a critical moment for the international community to follow the lead of the Sudanese people.

The magic man

Chris Blackwell’s long-awaited autobiography shows him as a romantic rogue; a risk taker whose life compass has been an open mind and gift to hear and see slightly into the future.

How to think about colonialism

Contemporary approaches to the legacy of colonialism tend to narrowly emphasize political agency as the solution to Africa’s problems. But agency is configured through historically particular relations of which we are not sole authors.

More than just a flag

South Africa’s apartheid flag has been declared hate speech by a top court. But while courts are important and their judgments matter, racism is a long and internationally entrenched social phenomenon that cannot be undone via judicial processes.

Resistance is a continuous endeavor

For more than 75 years, Palestinians have organized for a liberated future. Today, as resistance against Israeli apartheid intensifies, unity and revolutionary optimism has become the main infrastructure of struggle.

Paradise forgotten

While there is much to mourn about the passing of legendary American singer and actor Harry Belafonte, we should hold a place for his bold statement-album against apartheid South Africa.

The two Africas

In the latest controversies about race and ancient Egypt, both the warring ‘North Africans as white’ and ‘black Africans as Afrocentrists’ camps find refuge in the empty-yet-powerful discourse of precolonial excellence.