April 28, 2006
A rainbow over Gode
The first ever rainbow marked the end of a flood. This latest one might, just might, mark the beginning of the end of a drought.
I've spent most of this week in Ethiopia's stunning Somali region. We were staying in Gode, a divided wild-west-style town with half the signs in Amharic, the others in Somali, about 150 kilometers away from the border with Somalia.
Most of the people in the surrounding countryside are pastoralists who have been struggling along for more than a year without any significant rainfall.
That was until Tuesday afternoon when a huge double rainbow formed north of the town. The sky had been full of dark clouds for days. But they had always passed over Gode to dump their water in other luckier parts of the region. Before Tuesday you could actually see the rain falling down far, far away on the horizon. Every morning, a new line of sheep, goats and camels left town following rumours of green pastures beyond Denan, an even smaller settlement 80 km to the north.
Then at around 5.30pm a dust storm exploded over Gode. Just after dusk there was a huge crack of thunder and lightening and the rain came pelting down. It kept falling all through the night, right up to 7am on Wednesday.
When the sun rose, it was clear that most of the water had been sucked up by the dry earth. There were lots of puddles but nothing like the muddy devastation you would expect after such a downpour.
If the rain keeps going for a couple of days, someone told me, then the first green shoots of pasture should start appearing on the outskirts of town by the beginning of next week. If the rain keeps going for a few weeks, he added, then the government, the development agencies and the pastoralists themselves might begin talking about the end of the drought.
Not that anyone was dancing in the streets on Wednesday. There were still lots of malnourished children in the hospital (with around two new cases coming in a day according to the administrators). About half the schools were still closed (after children were taken out of classes to work to supplement the family income). And the fields were still littered with the bones of sheep and goats (collectively known as shoats) that had starved to death over the last three months.
There was also the possibility that the rain might stop again and the drought might continue. And there is always next year. And the year after that. Having said all that, the water that fell through the night from Tuesday to Wednesday morning still felt like a blessed relief.
April 21, 2006
Angelina to buy Ethiopia
There is nothing I can write to add to this story. All that is left to do is to copy, paste, sit back and wonder.
Angelina Jolie buying own country - BANG Showbiz 21 Apr 06
Angelina Jolie is buying her own country to help impoverished Africans.
The 'Tomb Raider' star, who is currently pregnant with boyfriend Brad Pitt's child, is buying Richard Branson's man-made version of Ethiopia, located in Dubai.
The British business tycoon is having 300 country-shaped luxury island developments built, to form a map of the world.
Thanks to EthioBlog for finding it first.
April 19, 2006
Women at work
The photo is take looking down on to Haile Gebreselassie Road which leads into Meskel Square to the right. Note the new blue and yellow NOC petrol station in the background, one of scores springing up around Ethiopia.
It is part of a newish chain owned by Sheik Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi , the richest man in Ethiopia and, apparently, Africa, who was recently named the 77th richest man in the world by Forbes.
April 15, 2006
Fortune printed a strange story last week. Under the headline The Diplomatic Landlord, it reported on how the caretaker of the Bulgarian Embassy in Addis Ababa was renting out parts of the building to businesses and private tenants. The story's opening paragraphs read:
Out of the norms of diplomatic engagement, and violating the country's commercial laws, one of the European embassies in Addis Abeba has involved in indiscreet businesses ranging from nightclub to renting its premises for businesses and residences. Nobody seems to care to stop it, learnt Tagu Zergaw, Fortune Staff Writer.
The Embassy of Bulgaria, with both its chancery and residence located on Haile Gebreselassie Road, opposite Haile Building, has been renting apartments and office spaces to companies and individuals.
This is against the regulations of the country, which state that a diplomatic mission or its stuff with diplomatic status, are by no means to be involved in commercial endeavors without prior consent and knowledge of the Ministry, according to officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
It was a strange story for two reasons.
The first was that it wasn't really a story - there was nothing new about it. Everybody already knows about the Bulgarian Embassy. The big complex on Haile Gebreselassie Road is a relic of the Mengistu era when Ethiopia had strong relationships with the Eastern Bloc. These days there is next to nothing for a Bulgarian ambassador to do in Ethiopia. So the diplomats left and, over time, the private tenants moved in. The situation was so accepted that, as the article says, even the United Nations' Childrens Agency UNICEF was about to move some of its departments in. "Nobody [seemed] to care to stop it" because no one was that bothered. No one was losing. It was hard to get that excited about a technical breach in the "norms of diplomatic engagement" with all the other things that were going on in Ethiopia.
The second reason was that the story didn't mention that one of the main tenants in the Bulgarian Embassy, up until earlier this week, was one of Fortune's competitors in the English-language newspaper market - The Sub-Saharan Informer. Days after the Fortune article appeared, The Sub-Saharan Informer was called into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and ordered to leave its offices just after its regular Thursday print run. As I write this the staff are out on the streets with their computers loaded into the back of a couple of cars looking for somewhere else to work.
Maybe Fortune could offer them a couple of rooms until they find a new home.
April 6, 2006
At least two more suspicious incidents today in Addis Ababa.
At around 9.30am, police closed off Nazret bus station, near the capital's train station, after finding some sort of suspicious device. No explosion, no injuries.
Then, about an hour ago, there were reports fo a small blast outside a coffee processing plant, close to the National Electoral Commission office, on Debre Zeit Road. Broken windows but, again, no injuries.
There have been a few more dull thumps and booms. But you can persuade yourself that anything sounds like a bomb these days.
April 5, 2006
Here is a picture of today's Times, seconds after I finished flicking through it during a coffee break in the UN compound in Addis Ababa this morning.
I didn't get it off a friend just flown in from the UK. I didn't pay DHL to speed it to my doorstep. I bought it in a bookshop ... in Addis.
If you don't live here you won't realise just what an exciting statement that is. Up until yesterday, the most up-to-date British newspapers in town were the week-old copies of the Independent stacked up in the British Council café. People with very good contacts in the British Embassy or DFID could occasionally get their hands on a copy of the Guardian that was just three days out of date. But the best that the rest of us could do was to call early on someone who had just flown in to Bole airport and rifle through their hand luggage.
Yesterday, however, everything changed. BookWorld - the best, really the only book chain in the capital - started selling same-day print-outs of most of the main European and US titles. In many ways they're better then the originals. Whiter, cleaner paper. Slightly bigger print. On the downside, the supplements, including The Times' Section 2, are missing - no daily Sudoku or UK TV listings (it's always good to know what you are missing). And at just under 40 birr a copy (£2.64 as opposed to the current UK cover price of 60p), it's only ever going to be a weekly treat at best.
Only 86% to go
And I thought I had travelled. 33 countries = 14% of the world.
April 2, 2006
Tourists give all clear
Those opinionated US tourists are back again. This time they want us to know that everything is OK. There is a "reliable peace" in Ethiopia, they told the state-owned ETV and ENA, not made any less reliable by the occasional random bomb blast.
US tourists speak of reliable peace in Ethiopia - Ethiopian News Agency 31 Mar
Tourists from US said there was a total discrepancy between what they had heard about Ethiopia in US and the reliable peace they actually observed.
A group comprising eight American tourists visited Ethiopia's amazing wildlife and historical sites for nine days.
The tourists pledged to publicize the serene and peaceful environment they witnessed during their stay in Ethiopia.
They told the Ethiopian Television on Thursday that media outlets in the US do not broadcast the alluring tourist sites in Ethiopia except reports about drought and the assistance needed...
Members of the group said they have taken pictures to prepare documentary that would help them publicize the country's tourist sites.
A group of tourists who have visited Ethiopia recently said the country needs to work remarkably to change its distorted image in the Western World and properly utilize and benefit from its natural and wildlife resources...
The tourists, who are mainly wildlife experts and bird watchers in profession made a pledge that they would work towards promoting what they have seen here back in their country.
Hoteliers of Ethiopia, brace yourselves for a bookings frenzy.
"An incredibly strong urge to post"
Going off topic for just a second.
I can't read the newspaper anymore without getting an incredibly strong urge to post. I need a two way medium and the newspaper (online and offline) is still a one way medium.
I just had a similar experience with another one way medium - a book. My first instinct after finishing Bad Thoughts by Jamie Whyte was to crank up the ETC dial-up and try and find his blog so I could use it to share some of my own bad thoughts. So far, no joy. I may even have to ... gasp ... send him a letter.
April 1, 2006
“I thought I was going to live in jail forever”
Yesterday's Sub-Saharan Informer had an exclusive interview with Biniam Taddese, the 14-16-18-year old who was arrested and put on trial with the opposition politicians, journalists and alleged rioters - then released last week.
SSI: Let's first talk of your arrest. How did police take you into custody?
Biniam: It was November 22nd, 2005 that police took me. I was at school the whole morning and when I got back home no one was there, so I went out to play football with my friends. But on my way police stopped me and took me to the Woreda 21, Kirkos sub-city police station. I didn't know at first why they were taking me, and I was sure they would release me when they found out they were mistaken. After I reached to the station, they told me that I have taken part in the violence that took place in Addis Ababa in October, burning the house of a lady living nearby. I was totally confused and told them I would never do that and I am only 14 years old. But no one was listening to what I had to say. Even the police registered my age as 16. I even tried to show them the exam result paper I received that day from school, but the police torn it up.