In June 2017, I visited, for the first time, Addis Ababa, the famous capital city of Ethiopia and ‘Africa’, and the home of ‘Ras Tafari’. On the side-lines of my 12-day visit, I took time to note some interesting sights and sounds of my stay in Addis Ababa and to share some of my own personal reflections on them for the benefit of my audience. The issues discussed have been thematically arranged to make for easy comprehension. As my blog aims to do, I hope that sharing these reflections would help provide leisure, insight and lessons to readers.
Real Madrid Spoils the Night
My flight arrives late in the evening and I go through a smooth immigration process. Prior to my trip to Addis Ababa, my friend had informed me to expect some tight immigration process at the airport due to the state of emergency (SoE) invoked in Ethiopia by the government. So I did not expect the smooth immigration process I encountered, neither did I expect the politeness and patience accorded me by the immigration officials. My trip was already promising to be good, and I was prepared to enjoy myself. Out of the airport, I cruised straight to the guest house after I struggled for minutes to locate my taxi pick up. In the guest house, my hosts are welcoming, offer me free food as a first time client and even offer me the opportunity to watch the Champions League final match (between Real Madrid and Juventus) from a comfortable location. Well, in turned out not to be that comfortable at all, as I agonizingly watch Real Madrid demolish ‘my team’ Juventus FC. Tired from the journey, I retired to bed to nurse my wounded Barcelona pride. Such paradox; first a pleasant welcome, and now a heart-breaking score. I was beginning to forecast my time in Addis with mixed feelings.
Africa is One
Taking a stroll along the Bole streets of Addis Ababa, I was alarmed at the level of ‘weaponry’ on the streets. Most of the middle-grade installations had armed security men at post and I could not help but feel that Addis Ababa was indeed under a SoE. The worst part of this SoE was my inability to use the internet facilities available at the guesthouse because the government had blocked some key internet functions. I was surprised at the level of cleanliness. I nurtured the impression that this must be a very clean country; but this thought was soon to be corrected by someone who knew this country well. Along the streets, shoe-shiners ‘brightened’ every corner, with their accoutrements and zest to give your shoe a facelift. I decided to engage one of the friendly-looking ones and started a conversation with him about the clean streets. He asked: “how do you like Addis”? My response: “Addis is Nice, especially your streets are clean”…barely did I finish that sentence than he interjected,… “that is only because this street is for ‘big people’, it is an executive street. But go to the other places and they are not clean at all”…“Well” I said, minded to remember my own situation back home, “it’s the same for Accra our capital city, but the other streets in other places are not clean”… “Aaah, Africa is one” my guest suggested, “Yes” I agreed.
That is the sad reality. The ‘cohort effect’ is keeping many African countries falling short of some of the best practices in local governance. In too many countries in Africa, the best institutions and governance is reserved for the core of the capital city and the peripheries are left underserved and abandoned. We have institutionalized decentralization and capillary governance but have not operationalized them (pardon my overly academic jargons). Agents of state reserve the best for the eyes of guests and leave our own people outside the core of the capital city destitute. Despite this sharp criticism of my hasty conclusion about cleanliness in Addis, I was comforted by the level of hospitality and warm reception given me by ‘Addis Ababans’ who had known me for just minutes. They were willing to offer me the best of what they had in an effort to make me feel comfortable. Indeed such remarkable hospitality towards foreigners and strangers is a common trait in most citizens in African countries; the same traits that sadly made us vulnerable to the vicious and violent penetration of slave trade and colonialism in Africa.
Let’s speak Amharic
“Selami newi!” (Hello! in Amharic). It is noticeable that Ethiopians have strong attachments to their cultural heritage (as displayed in the lobby of my guest house) and it is easy for you to hear people link Ethiopia with coffee and tourist sites. But, hey, the language! On a fine Sunday dusk, I pass by my shoe-shinning friend to learn some Amharic. If there is anything the Ethiopians do that I envy, it’s their almost strict adherence to the use of Amharic in daily communication. The ubiquitous use of Amharic in everyday language strikes that sense of jealousy in me, especially considering that Ghana has struggled and continues to do so, with identifying a common indigenous language that can be used as a lingua franca. I am told that English is the main language of instruction within Ethiopian tertiary institutions, but it doesn’t seem that this does very much to douse the pride in the use of Amharic. Many of those I met on my daily strolls around the streets would quickly signal to me they are not fluent in the English language. So it was a real privilege getting to encounter the few, like my shoe-shinning fiend, to converse in English, no matter how ‘broken’ it was. If you decide to travel to Ethiopia and intend to interact freely, I suggest you don’t count on the English language.
Look forward to Part 2, when I take you through Transportation on the streets of Addis Ababa, The state of Emergency, and my time at the University of Addis Ababa
Your comments are welcome. I hope you enjoyed reading!