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Coffee promotion sparks controversy, protest

Following Facebook and website posts by Ethiopian Airlines and the Ethiopian Coffee and Tea Development Authority, Kaffa Zone of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR) has staged a consecutive three-day long demonstration protesting the alleged denial of Kaffa’s historic right as the origin of coffee by two institutions. The message by these institutions was directed towards participants of the “International Coffee Event in Ethiopia–Land of Origins.”

In its post on its website for the participants, before editing it, Ethiopian Airlines stated, “Join us on December 4-5, 2018 as coffee lovers from all over the world come to the beginning of it all- where humankind has been enjoying a great cup of coffee for centuries! Coffee producers, roasters, exporters, researchers, writers will gather at the UN Conference Center followed by a coffee safari to Kaffa-the region that brought this magical bean to YOU!”

Same as this one, Ethiopian posted on its Facebook page saying, “Attending the International Coffee Event in Ethiopia-Land of Origins? Once the conference wraps up, do not miss a trip to the Kaffa region, the original birthplace of coffee! Don’t miss the once in a lifetime experience ….”

In a message intended to address the same participants, the Ethiopian Coffee and Tea Development Authority stated before editing its post saying, “Attending the International Coffee Event in Ethiopia -Land of Origins? Once the conference wraps up, don’t miss a trip to Jimma zone, the original birthplace of coffee! Don’t miss the once in a lifetime experience ….”

After editing their posts, both institutions invited the participants to not miss a visit to Ethiopia.

Following these contradicting messages from the two government institutions organizing the same event, residents of Kaffa Zone staged a demonstration in the zonal capital Bonga and in all of the woredas in the zone, one of the organizers of the demonstration told The Reporter. The zonal administration head, Masresha Belachew, also reinforced this statement.

“First the posts stated that Kaffa is the origin of Coffee only to be changed into to Jimma later on. As this was an issue unresolved over the years, the people marched to the streets to denounce it,” said Minwuyelet Melaku, one of the Organizers of the demonstration. During the days of the demonstrations, all government and private institutions remained closed and many have joined the demonstrators in Bonga. Others who could not come staged their own protests in their localities.

“This is a history the people won’t negotiate on,” he added.

Although the edited posts by the Coffee and Tea Development Authority stated that the visit will be conducted in coffee growing areas in Oromia and Southern regions, the demonstrators said that they wanted the recognition as the origin of coffee. One of the placard at the demonstration read, “Kaffa is not only a coffee grower but also the origin of coffee itself.”

Concerning this public outrage, the zonal head of Tourism and Government Communications Department wrote a letter to the Prime Minister stating that “the intention of Coffee and Tea Development Authority is to create clashes among societies and called for the issue to be resolved soon.”

“There is no harm both on property and people apart from closure of roads in all directions,” Masresha said. “It is not right to close federal roads and the questions should be presented and get replies in a peaceful manner.”

Another pushing factor for the demonstration is the delay in operating the National Coffee Museum in Kaffa Zone, Bonga town which was built as one of the projects during the Ethiopian Millennium celebration, according to Masresha. No government organ has been vocal towards the idleness of the Museum.

“One of the factors delaying the operation of the Museum is the issue with the origin of coffee. No governmental body has said anything regarding this. Hence, we will work towards getting an answer to this question,” he added.

The museum was built in Bonga for 27 million birr after getting an approval of construction by the Millennium Celebration National Committee. “The decision to build the museum was scientific,” says Hassan Said (PhD), member of the Committee and a scholar teaching Philology (the study of language in oral and written historical sources) at Addis Ababa University. He is also preparing a book on Ethiopian Coffee History. Hassan argues that, while we are back at square one, others who have no relation with coffee are benefiting from coffee.

He raises the example of Turkey which registered its coffee ceremony as an intangible heritage with the UNESCO. The United Arab Emirates has done the same.

Apart from his reproach regarding the arguments which made us lose the benefits, Hassan is firm on Kaffa being the origin of coffee as there are archaeological, sociological and anthropological evidences proving the claim.

He mentioned an archaeological dig conducted in 2010 by Elisabeth Hildebrand, Joséphine Lesur and Steven Brandt. They found five coffee beans that date back to 1750 years before present which is unmatched on the globe. One bean in Dubai and another in Chile were found dated to the 16th century.

The research that Hassan mentions is titled, “The Holocene Archaeology of Southwest Ethiopia: New Insights from the Kaffa Archaeological Project” which points out the claims he raised.

The plan at the beginning was not only to build a coffee museum in Bonga, but also in all places growing coffee. Because of the disagreement on the origins of coffee, this has not yet been successful.

On the other side, people from Jimma Zone, Choche claim to be the origins of coffee which is narrated through the story of Khaldis–the goat herder who learnt about the special beans after observing his herd which got stimulated by eating the coffee leaves. Howevere, the same narration goes for the finding of coffee in Kaffa Zone: Mankira locality. But Hassan prefers to focus on the scientific findings.

Yet again, there are other commentators who argue Jimma’s claim might have originated from the previous organization of the country during which Jimma was the seat of the Kaffa Administrative Region.



One comment on “Coffee promotion sparks controversy, protest

  1. Dear Brook Abdu

    Thank you for your unbiased and independent article about the ongoing demonstration protesting the denial of Kaffa as the origin of Coffee.

    I also appreciate your reference to Dr Hassan Said on the subject matter. If I am not mistaken he was among the committee members who were in the Ethiopian Millennium Celeberation Committees. My appreciations to professionalism in both of you.

    May be he will tell us more on the process. A lot is already in the media, some of which may need clarifications.

    I have been following the development for some time; because it concerns me as a Kafecho, Ethiopian; and also I have been documenting the chronology of the issue since Oxfam started a global campaign to benefit the poor coffee growing farmers and countries out of the income generated from the chain.

    The Coffee Museum and the Millennium event is a natural coincidence. The fight to claim Jimma started since Oxfam started the campaign, escalated during the Millennium celebration and has continued ever since.

    I would like to point some facts on this.

    1. Defending the Kaffa-Coffee and denying Jimma-Coffee relationships .
    It has been documented mainly by European scholars who wrote on Kaffa; that Coffee was discovered from Kaffa, that the bean had been taken first to Arabia (Hence Coffee Arabica), and spread from there to the east and further to South America by the Europeans (1st the Dutch and then Portuguese); an explanation for Brazil and all other Portuguese colonies producing coffee abundantly.

    I don’t want to waste energy on the Kaffa-coffee link. I am interested to debate on the time, Jimma-coffee.

    It is obvious that this interesting bean was discovered at least a century ago. Kaffa was an independent kingdom until 1897 when the last King was defeated by Menelik just a year after the battle of Adwa. The kingdom expanded its territory sometimes; but remained mainly in the Kaffa proper; which is more or less the current Kaffa Zone and some more nearby districts. It usually remained south of Gojeb river. However Kaffa was one of the three southern Gonga Kingdoms (Werener Lange). The two others occupied the current Jimma Zone; the Enariya state occupied the northern and Bosha used to occupied the Southern part of Jimma Zone. They are both conquered and assimilated into the Jimma-Gibe Oromo state after the 19th Century.

    After the two states lost their statehood some flood to Kaffa and the rest remained in the current Jimma; partly because there was no reason for common people to run away; as old Oromo system kept their victims peacefully. Although Oromo expansionists tried to do the same on Kaffa repeatedly; the later defended it and retained its independence until 1897. In fact both shifted to peaceful diplomatic and trade linkage since early 20th Century. This diplomacy included Royal marriages between Kaffa kings, and Jimma as well as Guma.

    As to me the point that refutes Jimma as origin of Coffee is as follows.

    • Kaffa was there; strong and well organized Kingdom at the time coffee was discovered. Kaffa remained as Kaffa in different forms since it is known.
    • It is only after late 19th century that Jimma area has been occupied and ruled by Oromos. The area was ruled by Enariya and Bosha (both Gonga) until then.
    • After both were incorporated into Ethiopia; the Ethiopian rule kept Kaffa and Jimma as separate provinces up to 1938/39. Then they merged Kaffa Jimma and organized four other Awrajas under the name of Kaffa province. Jimma town became the new capital of Kaffa province and also the centre of Jimma Awraja. The very reason of the name of the province was however maintained; whereby Kaffa Awraja remained as one of the six Awrajas; and with its centre being Bonga town; the centre of Kaffa kingdom since 16th century.
    • Thus the name of Kaffa and Jimma linkage started only after 1938 and ended in 1989 when Jimma became Illubabore while a new Kaffa administrative region was organized with Mizan teferi as it provincial centre.
    • Conclusion; the name Kaffa- coffee relationship remained for several decades; while Kaffa-Jimma and hence Jimma-coffee relationship ends here.

    2. The deliberate attempt to distort history.

    This unnecessary; futile and foolish attempt of naming Jimma as the origin of Coffee started by some individuals supported by some misguided politicians.This is the story I know and recall.

    It is to be recalled that Oxfam started a global campaign to bring benefits to the poor coffee growing farmers and countries out of the income generated from the production market chain around 2000. Kaffa and Ethiopia were in the process and considered to flagship the campaign. The late PM Melese Zenawi opened the launch of the event. In fact Ethiopia waged some attempts to benefit out of this and had to diplomatically negotiate and fight for its benefit out of the global big markets.

    During this time someone from Jimma area who used to work in Oxfam tried to use the opportunity. He wrote a story and mobilized the Oromo politicians to the cause of naming Jimma as origin of Coffee. Of course the politicians complied and led the campaign. They travelled to a place called Choche in Jimma; marked a coffee tree as the mother coffee tree and waved media campaign. I have to sympathize and understand this poor brother; maybe he was thinking of the potential benefits that would come as a result of the global campaign and he wanted to favour his village. It is a pity that it can’t be done that way.

    It was an interesting coincidence that I happened to be working in Oxfam during the time. I asked for the justification used in this story and accessed the writing. It was written by a Doctor and he called it a research report. I review it and unfortunately I found out that it was a fable for kids than a research report that one could expect from a third degree holder; who has passed the research training and process.

    The guy and his compatriots continued the campaign during the Millennium celebration by investing a large sum of Oromia money. This necessitated an official protest by Kaffa and it is confirmed that the PM had to refine and refer to history before making a decision that led to building the Coffee Museum in Kaffa and yet consider it a National Ethiopian Coffee Museum.

    President Girma W/Giorgis laid the cornerstone up on the initiation. Yet the construction was halted as the Millennium affairs office ended; before the work and the remaining money could be made available. The project was not handed over properly and yet Kaffa Zone had to shoulder the burden of completion with anticipation that the management will be taken over by national authorities. After a long delay it was completed and PM Haile Mariam Deslagen inaugurated it.

    Yet the blockage not to take over the management continued against everybody’s expectation. Kaffa Zone tried to solve this through the Southern Regional State but the region turned deaf ear. In May 2018 a journalist from EBC reported on the issue. The head of legal directorate of Ministry of Culture and Tourism explained this with another lie and fake story. He said ‘’the Museum was built by the initiative of Kaffa Zone’’.
    Now; who else among the National authorities and agencies is supposed to keep the records of the work of the Ethiopia Millennium celebration office; once it phased out? How long will this fake story continue.

    The recent move to organize an event in Jimma ‘‘Attending international coffee event in Ethiopia- Land of Origins’’ is another continuation in the chronology. It is obvious that some group of people were misguided for the wrong cause. I believe that information or misinformation can move people towards the right or wrong direction.
    I used to hear that some groups from coffee producing countries like Brazil consider themselves as origins. It didn’t bother me because; Ethiopia has more than enough facts. But with I wonder if Ethiopians would stand together to defend Ethiopia as the origin.

    I believe that Ethiopians shall better adhere to truth and fight together to benefit together, like Syria and Turkey as the professional advised us above; while giving the historic rights to the right people.

    Otherwise considering Jimma as origin of Coffee could be equated to stating that ‘’ Khartoum or Cairo is the Source of Blue Nile’’

    Dr. Habtamu


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