Kaffa, Ethiopia: the people here carry their identity close to the bone, the pride vibrates with their blood, and it was never as clear as in the days of November 7 to 11, 2018, when they organized peaceful protests in Bonga, the administrative center. from the kaffa area.
The people of Keffa, who had never protested before, had blocked the roads for 50 kilometers that surrounded Bonga, and had absolutely no intention of resigning until their demands were met or federal soldiers were brought, whichever came first. Some travelers, both foreigners and Ethiopians, were trapped in local boarding houses and hotels, while others stayed in the vicinity of Wush Wush and in the coffee-washing stations, without food.
All roads were blocked: blocked with scattered stone lines as red as the road; Blocked with branches of pale trees; But above all, blocked with people – thousands of them. They walked slowly. Land Rovers, Toyotas and Nissans moved among them, and the drivers finally stopped to allow the crowds to become denser, aligning not only the streets but also the nearby buildings, the piles of garbage and road material, and the tops of Doors and walls. In almost all hands there was a branch of coffee. Gleaming green leaves shaded the beans that were airbrushed, from green to red, from red to pink.
"Coffee is from Kaffa!" They shouted again and again, waving their coffee branches. The fresh-faced teenagers moved slowly through the crowds on trucks with loudspeakers, while the organizers and the crowds echoed the call and the response. "The coffee is from Bonga! They must answer us! We demand answers! "The women greeted each other smiling and hitting the shoulders. Children ran under their feet in brightly colored shirts and muddy feet. It was a block party across the district, a rally and a stubborn demand for answers, all at the same time.
Why did the people of Keffa plan demonstrations that attracted dozens and possibly hundreds of thousands of people from nearby fools to scream at the top of their lungs: "Coffee is from Kaffa!"?
In a historical context, Kaffa and Jimma (sometimes spelled Djimma) have had a long push over what region, precisely, is the origin of coffee. For outsiders, it seems a moot point (Kaldi and his goats are apocryphal, lost in the mists of the impressive multi-layered mountains of western Ethiopia), but for people whose tribal and village loyalty is a central identity issue , the distinction matters. .
The Jimma regional airport has huge banners that say: "Welcome to Djimma, the homeland of Coffee Arabica!", A claim based on the fact that Jimma was the capital of the province of Kaffa before it was disbanded. The National Coffee Museum, financed by the government, in Bonga, is also an inactive institution. It can not be opened until someone official says exactly where the origin of the coffee is. Meanwhile, coffee is the vital element of the local population and an important source of income for everyone in the area.
According to an article by Reporter Ethiopia written by Brook Abu and published on November 10, an original Ethiopian Airlines publication was as follows:
"Join us on December 4 and 5, 2018 for coffee lovers from all over the world to get to the beginning of everything, where humanity has been enjoying a great cup of coffee for centuries! Coffee growers, roasters, exporters, researchers, writers will gather at the United Nations Conference Center followed by a coffee safari to Kaffa, the region that brought this magical bean to YOU! "
Shortly after, "Kaffa" was edited to "Jimma". This was exactly what people feared. With social media accelerating the transmission of news, 200 local organizers gathered a huge number of people for a peaceful protest in Kaffa.
An organizer of the protest (known here as E for anonymity), father of two children who was about 30 years old, said he and his team had worked very hard to keep people in peace. "We are trying to protect everyone," E said, adding with silent conviction that "coffee is for Kaffa, this is beyond an economic issue."
The implication was not mentioned that if the protest turned violent, if any of the youths lost self-control and threw a rock at someone, or took a stick and hit a vehicle, the federal soldiers waiting at Wush Wush would descend.
Beyond what may be the purest intentions of the young protesters, here are some clandestine elements at stake. The new Ethiopian Prime Minister, Dr. Abiy Ahmed, has cost many corrupt men a lot of money. If you are not adjusting the restrictions to which coffee exporters can use their financing, it is a very common practice for exporters to sell infinite boxes of coffee with losses to have currency and to be able to finance them with banks. is importing more profitable items, like trucks; then he is recovering the government housing of the men he occupied illegally and then rented it, and he is handing over the keys to the extremely poor and disabled people for whom they were built.
He is making it more difficult to do business without paying the appropriate taxes. In other words, it makes things more difficult for many men who have made a fortune with the misfortunes of other people, and those men refuse to fall without fighting.
The rest of the world has heard news about the increase in violence in Ethiopia since the election of Dr. Abiy. What you may not realize is that many of these conflicts have been caused by the old guard that exerts its influence to destabilize the country, spreading rumors to convince the local population that, for example, because Dr. Abiy is from Jimma, these recent publications on social networks are proof that Oromia is favored by the new government. If they can cause enough problems, enough deaths and destruction, the government of Dr. Abiy could fail. They can regain their power. It is the young people and the local people who are about to lose.
Beginning peacefully, the protests slowly became more intense when the government did not respond and there were rumors that the soldiers arrived. On the third day, the Coffee and Tea Authority apologized for any misunderstanding, but did not ratify Kaffa as the coffee's birthplace. The organizers of the protest began to remove the clubs from the hands of the teenagers and shouted pleas for peace through the loudspeakers. The stores had been closed for days. The hotels were running out of food. Protesting was one thing, but blocking the roads was a different and bigger infraction.
Finally, on the morning of Sunday, November 11, the local police, who until then had been with smiles on their faces supporting the protests, began to clear the roads, manually changing the stones and branches of the red earth under the sweeps . from the green-blue hills of Kaffa. The mood turned ugly. Young people through stones and screaming threats. The police called the federal soldiers, who entered Bonga around 6 p.m. The crowd vanished without firing a shot. Kaffa's first protest had no casualties.
Some arrests were made to the officials of the area, who should not have authorized the blocking of roads. Five days after its start, the protest ended, but its implications are broad and immediate. A few days later, Kaffa's leadership council voted to request the creation of a separate state, after the recent recognition of Sidama as a separate state.
Since the Coffee and Tea Authority apologized for the misunderstanding but did not announce Kaffa as the cradle of coffee, the controversy continues. Even so, whether the exact place is Kaffa or Jimma, Ethiopia will remain the mystical homeland of coffee, wrapped in incense mists and rich as a cup of sini full of traditional buna.
Emily McIntyre is a coffee journalist and businesswoman. Founder of Catalyst Coffee Consulting, Crema.co, and the new Catalyst Trade, McIntyre focuses on the intersection of coffee and humanity around the world. She has lived in Ethiopia and is very involved in sustainability and traceability efforts in the specialty coffee sector worldwide. Get more information at www.emilymcintyre.com