Zenawi Protest Just Got Real
Written by Bwog Staff
Update, 6 PM: It’s over! Anti-Zenawi protestors are getting back on the buses. At around 5:30, the pro-Zenawi group was almost entirely gone, but the anti-Zenawi protestors filled all of 115th, blocking foot traffic, chanting, and singing. A few students, just inside the 115th gates, are holding anti-Zenawi signs. A full report from the shockingly calm lecture to follow, plus more news and analysis.
Update, 4:30 PM: Here are the handouts [PDF] being distributed by each side. More major news outlets have showed up and shouts of “Shame on Columbia” and “Shame on Zenawi” are loud and strong.
Update, 4:05 PM: Anti-Zenawi protestors chanting “Killer! Killer!” at pro-Zenawi group, who are shouting back, giving thumbs-down signals, and generally ignoring them. Din can be heard from top of low steps. More photos added below. We’ll have a full report from Zenawi’s lecture itself shortly.
Update, 3:15 PM: Undergrads, unaffiliated with any group, are handing out signs on east side of 115th and Broadway, across the street from the protests. One has a picture of Zenawi at the World Economic Forum that reads “World Leaders Forum OR War Criminals Forum?” Also handing out flyers on Zenawi’s alleged suppression of freedom in rural areas in Ethiopia, and his alleged election crimes, with quotes from Peter Takirambudde, the Africa director of Human Rights Watch.
The cashier at Pinnacle told Bwog that the protest was exciting, since she could actually see it. “It’s nice,” she said.
A few Ethiopians in suits (a few from Zenawi’s government) are in Pinnacle and M2M, taking a break from the protest. One is buying udon in M2M. The guys at Hooda were confused by the protest– “I don’t know what’s going on.”
The manager at Morton Williams was indifferent. “There have been protests before,” he said.
Anti-Zenawi protestors are holding up signs that read “Shame on you, Bollinger, Sachs and Stiglitz.” Free transportation to Morningside was provided for the anti-Zenawi protestors.
At around 1:30, crowds started gathering on 115th and Broadway: the anti-Zenawi group, who arrived on a charter bus and are sporting Ethiopian-flag scarves, is protesting behind police barricades outside of Morton Williams. The pro-Zenawi group, a slightly larger contingent, is outside of M2M, chanting “we want Meles!” and holding signs, pictures of Zenawi, and waving flags.
Update, 2:30: More from 115th and Holy Shit There’s An Actual Protest: Both groups are chanting, with the pro-Zenawi group singing the national anthem.
Anti-Zenawi protestors are handing out signs saying “Release All Political Prisoners now!” The signs include a picture of Birtukan Midiksa, an Ethiopian politician and former judge who is serving a life sentence in Ethiopia. Zenawi has refused to discuss her release. “In Ethiopia,” the leaflet reads, “under iron fisted rule of Meles Zenawi, there are estimated 35,000 political prisoners and very many political dissidents have disappeared from the face of the earth!”
Mamuye, an anti-Zenawi protestor, called Zenawi a “pure dictator,” and told Bwog that they are unable to protest at home because of lack of freedom of speech in Ethiopia. Mamuye said that Zenawi “mustn’t speak,” since he has “misled the world.” Mamuye also claimed that there is no free press in Ethiopia, nor are there any fair elections.
Over on the pro-Zenawi side, Gabriel, an Ethiopian ex-pat from Columbus, Ohio, told Bwog that pro-Zenawi protestors came from all over the country. He called Zenawi a “very brilliant man,” who does not believe in fighting. Gabriel told Bwog that Zenawi “wants to get Africa out of this mess,” since, “Africa is backwards because of some bad leaders.” Bwog learned that both the pro-Zenawi and anti-Zenawi factions were bussed in from across the country. We met protestors from New York, D.C, Virginia, Massachusetts, and Ohio.
Many of the pro-Zenawi supporters are wearing white baseball hats that read “NILE, Our Future.” Soloman, another pro-Zenawi Ethiopian ex-pat, explained that Ethiopians are trying to regain control of the Nile River’s resources. Soloman also told Bwog that he supports Zenawi since the Prime Minister has built and supported hospitals and schools in Ethiopia, and has supported use of the Nile’s resources.
Several people on the pro-Zenawi side told Bwog that the anti-Zenawi protestors were supporters of Ethiopia’s “old regime.” Bwog was told that this old regime was responsible for thousands of ethnically-motivated murders.
A protestor on the anti-Zenawi side told Bwog that the pro-Zenawi supporters had been “paid” to rally for Zenawi.
Lots of security outside Roone already, some WLF employees are standing outside the bookstore, watching the scene.
Look out for Mark Hay’s report from the Zenawi speech itself, and we’ll post more as we find out more. As always, if see you something, say something: [email protected].
There are about a dozen cops on the scene now, clearing the traffic island on Broadway and 115th.
1:30 PM: More pictures and video to follow shortly. Send all tips to [email protected]! Video sent by the lovely and talented Maddy Cohen, reporting by Conor Skelding.