January 28, 2007
The presidential parade
At the height of it they were coming in every 15 minutes. Gaddafi, Kibaki, al-Bashir, Festus Mogae, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, all piling into Addis Ababa for the 8th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union.
There was a basic procedure, endlessly repeated. Everyone waited in a corridor in the VIP section of Bole airport (the old terminal now shared with the domestic flights). All the protocol officers and bulky security men bustled around until they formed a critical mass around the door and headed for the red carpet. The executive jet trundled up. The VIP poked his head out of the door, walked awkwardly down the stairs, shook hands with Teshome Toga (Speaker for the Ethiopian House of Peoples' Representatives), took a bunch of flowers from a pretty Ethiopian girl, handed the flowers to an official and headed for the first group of grinning officials.
Then it was a quick right-hand turn to a shaded stand in front of the brass band which gave a one-minute burst of a national anthem. Then a quick about turn back to the second group of dignitaries, another right hand turn along the red carpet, a pause to admire a group of traditional Ethiopian dancers and a final sprint towards another door in the airport terminal.
And that happened at fast-forward speed again and again and again all yesterday afternoon. Presumably it will again today as well.
Each time I was in a little pack of hacks trying to keep up with it all while focusing a camera. The basic motion was a quick sprint to get 50 yards ahead of the VIP and his officials then about 10 seconds of walking backwards or crouching with your finger on the shutter button.
Your ten seconds were up when the VIP's security men told you they were up. I have now been manhandled by mirror-shaded security men from across the continent - the Algerians were the roughest and the Botswanans were the nicest.
There were inevitable moments of confusion. Everyone was waiting with cameras, microphones and notebooks poised for the President of Zambia. Then a plane with 'Botswana' printed down the side rolled in.
Gaddafi won the prize for the biggest entourage - three jets and a smaller cargo - and the best outfit - blue/purple/orange wraparound shares. white and yellow robes, green Africa badge and every military medal you can think of.
Posted by aheavens at January 28, 2007 4:32 AM