An Eritrean in Ethiopia: Teddy Love’s story

Singer “Teddy Love” is one of tens of thousands of Eritrean refugees living in Ethiopia. In this short film, photojournalist Gabriel Pecot captures the story of this enigmatic father-of-two who is using music to transcend borders and unite people.

My first meeting with Teddy Love took place at a glitzy hotel in Addis Ababa.

I was tired, just back from the north of Ethiopia, where I had been reporting on Eritreans living in a refugee camp close to the border. I wanted to tell the story of Eritrean refugees in the city too, and Teddy was an interesting case: a refugee trying to make a living through his music.

In 2016 Ethiopia welcomed nearly 800,000 refugees, with Eritreans forming the third largest group. Most Eritrean refugees live in camps along the country’s border, but last year around 20,000, like Teddy, were granted special permission to live in urban areas.

There is more freedom for refugees outside the camps, but there are still restrictions on work and limited ways to earn a living. For some, their only hope is to apply for resettlement in the US or Canada, where there are more opportunities for work and education.

I had been in communication with Teddy by phone, but I wasn’t sure what to expect or if he would even turn up.

Teddy waltzed into the lobby like a rock star, with a huge smile and masses of self-confidence. He launched into the conversation, ruminating at great length on love, understanding, bridges, suffering, freedom, passion, family and a better world.

Maybe this is what it would have been like to interview Lionel Richie in 1985 after the release of ‘We are the World’?  But I’m a sceptical journalist, and after two hours I thought: ‘Who is this guy? He can’t be real.’

But after some digging, I discovered that he is real.

Tedros Atakliti AKA Teddy Love is an artist and a refugee. He faces a daily struggle to feed his small children, but that hasn’t weakened his passion for music as a vehicle for change.

In Teddy’s world view music can transcend borders and unite people. And it seems to me that in these times of increased hate and hostility, it is worth listening to those who are fighting alone, those like Teddy who see, against the odds, a better future for us all.

First published and commissioned by the Overseas Development Institute

Banner photo by Gabriel Pecot ©