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February 28, 2007

A rudimentary state of construction

Just been re-reading Evelyn Waugh's account of his visit to Addis Ababa in 1931 to attend Haile Selassie's coronation (published in his book When The Going Was Good).

Here's his first impression of the city:

Addis Ababa is a new town; so new, indeed, that not a single piece of it appears to be really finished.

The first, obvious, inescapable impression was that nothing was ready or could possibly be made ready in time for the official opening of the celebrations six days hence. It was not that one here or there observed traces of imperfect completion, occasional scaffolding or patches of unset concrete; the whole town seemed still in a rudimentary state of construction. At every corner were half-finished buildings; some had been already abandoned...

Today, 76 years on, can anyone think of a single block in the city that you could point to and say 'Yes, that's done'?

Posted by aheavens at 6:29 PM

February 26, 2007

Imperial chic

DSC0249Today was the Fifth Summit of the Sana'a Cooperation Forum - a body that includes Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia and Yemen - held in the President's Palace in the middle of Addis Ababa.

There was an opening ceremony and a press briefing by Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, President of Somalia; Ali Abdullah Saleh, President of Yemen; Meles Zenawi, Prime Minister of Ethiopia and Umar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, President of Sudan.

Nothing very newsy came out of it - mutual cooperation etc etc. At the end of the day, one of the most interesting things about it all was the decor.

There was this stuffed lion mounted on a piano in the throne room. Next door in the reception hall there was another stuffed lioness, two elephant's feet doubling up as whisky decanter holders, lots of gilt, lots of carved ivory and, in the next room after that, a tiger skin, complete with roaring head. Presumably they were all from the collection of the last Emperor - or do visiting heads of state still hand out this kind of stuff? See Flickr for more shots.

And here's a quick quiz. Below are the first two questions asked at today's press conference. A huge prize to the first person who can say which one was asked by a state-controlled journalist from a state-controlled news organisation (from Sudan) and which one wasn't.

Q1: This Sanaa Forum, this Cooperation Forum, if we give it a geographical look, or geopolitical look, to what extent do you expect it to give a model to our sub-region of Afro-Arab cooperation?

Q2: To the President of Sudan, what is halting the deployment of a UN peace force in Darfur?

Posted by aheavens at 2:05 PM

February 24, 2007

Saturday press review: Balanced reporting in The Reporter

DSC0140How about this for balanced reporting.

In the left hand column, we hear about the New York Times' scoop about secret US military operations in Ethiopia.

According to the New York Times Ethiopia had been a staging point for a US covert operation in Somalia and its airstrip was used for the air raids conducted by American warplanes.
And in the right hand column, there is a story saying - 'Everything you have read in the left hand column is nonsense'.
"This is simply a total fabrication," Bereket Simon, special adviser to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, told the Associated Press.
And what exactly does the headline mean? Is it that it is now official that the NYT story was a fabrication? Or is it that an official said the NYT story was a fabrication?

The gruesome graphic at the top right, by the way, is the logo of The Reporter's continuing campaign against the country's new press law. The woman with her neck in the noose represents press freedom.

Posted by aheavens at 12:32 PM

Half a house

DSC0138
The price of progress...
DSC0131
...in Aware.

If a house gets in the way of your road - even a rare, nice old house - no problem. Just trim it back a bit.

Posted by aheavens at 12:20 PM

Blistering broadband

DSC0054
Sometimes the sheer pace of progress here can get quite overwhelming. Here's some background.

Posted by aheavens at 12:08 PM

Babyssinia

adopt_blog.jpgAs one part of the Ethiopian blogosphere shrinks, another springs up to take its place. Check out the right hand column of this page to see the beginnings of a new list of weblogs focused on adopting Ethiopian babies.

There are loads of them. In fact, if you go to the blog tracking website Technorati, the most popular and "authoritative" blog of any kind about Ethiopia in its directory is Owlhaven, by a mother of adopted Ethiopian babies. Then there is Babyssinia, worth mentioning for the name alone.

Ethiopia has around six million orphans, according to UNICEF. And these children are fast becoming one of the country's biggest exports. Go down to the Hilton or Ghion hotels any day of the week and you are bound to see a handful of slightly befuddled white couples awkwardly clutching on to their new Ethiopian infants. If you can't make it to Addis, go to this Family Photo Album to get an even stronger visual impression of the number of young Ethiopians leaving the country at the moment.

International adoptions have had a bit of a bad press recently through stories about the latest celebrity craze for African babies, led by Angelina Jolie and Madonna.

Personally, my experience of cross-cultural adoptions – through my own family and friends - has been 100% positive. So if you are going to leave any comments on these blogs, please be nice (see below).

Whatever your take on this growing phenomenon, it is going to be fascinating to see what happened in about 20 years time when these crowds of young Ethiopians come back again to have a look at their home country.

Posted by aheavens at 6:54 AM

February 23, 2007

Where have all the bloggers gone?

Just finished spring cleaning MeskelSquare's lists of links to Ethiopian blogs in the right hand column. And it was quite a depressing task. The country's once exploding blogging scene seems to be shrinking.

Gone but not forgotten (nothing for ages)

On the critical list (nothing for a while)

Thank goodness for the few new faces, including Bernos and Don't Eat My Buchela!

But what has been happening to the rest of them? A few ferengi bloggers have left Ethiopia. Others have just run out of steam. One of my favourite bloggers told me he decided to stop after getting spooked by the first Great Ethiopian blog blockage (proxies like Anonymouse.org have also started to disappear by the way).

As for everyone else - no idea. If it helps, I know why I stopped writing for a couple of months. It may sound pathetic, but somewhere around early January blogging stopped being an enjoyable thing to do. The main reason was simply the growing nastiness of the comments section.

People at home always say that they are amazed at the bile that often pours out in the comments under these posts. (You should see the comments that don't get through.) There were two occasions when I linked to posts by two quite well known bloggers, one in the UK, one in the US. Both times, the bloggers emailed me to say they had been inundated with aggressive, often vicious messages, from readers of MeskelSquare.

So why is the Ethiopian blogosphere often such a nasty place to be? You tell me in the comments section below. Don't hold back now.

Posted by aheavens at 1:47 PM

Road building

DSC0126You've got to admire Addis Ababa's city planners. When they want to widen a road, they widen a road. Nothing gets in their way, whether its a wall, a garden, or the entire front section of a house.

The main road system past the British Embassy, cutting through Aware and past the Ras Amaba hotel, is going through a major face-lift. And in the space of a fortnight, almost everything about 50 yards either side of the new routes has disappeared in a cloud of dust and rubble.

Shacks and roadside businesses have disappeared. Water pipes have been cut without warning. Entire houses have been sliced in two. I walked past one scene (see pic) where a woman in her dressing gown was looking out of her brand new front door as the diggers moved in.

Apparently, people with some kind of title to their properties get some kind of compensation. (The only people who actually own land in Ethiopia are the state and the church.) But there are lots of buildings in Addis that don't appear on any planner's map.

When something similar happened outside our old house in Bole Medhanialem, some of our neighbours woke up one morning with a huge trench outside their front gates, their cars stranded on their drives. That scheme was to widen the road from Bole airport to the junction at Urael. As far as I can tell, that scheme has had quite an impact on the city. The traffic jams opposite Urael are now only twice as bad as they were before the road was improved.

Posted by aheavens at 1:11 PM

Like it's 1999

Another hard-hitting feature.

Posted by aheavens at 1:05 PM

In blood stepp'd in so far

macbethDoes this story ring a bell? An aged king is murdered and replaced by a bloodthirsty and paranoid dictator who slaughters everyone who gets in his way. Rebels mass on the border, storm in and topple the tyrant.

Yes - it is the Tragedy of Mengistu Macbeth.

Last week, a newish drama group called Addis Stage got a chance to perform the tragedy in Menelik's Palace, high up on Entoto, overlooking Addis Ababa. I had the small - but key - role of Lennox/Sergeant (you'll remember his three, pivotal speeches).

It was an amazing setting. How often to you get to strut around a historic monument, covered in stage blood and waving a sword?

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church agreed to let Addis Stage stage the play on its property on the understanding that there was nothing anti-Christian in the script. Apparently the thing that they were most worried about was any kissing. The weird sisters, the curses, the blood-letting and the shrieks of tortured souls were clearly less of a problem. After all, the good guys won in the end.

Best Macbeth line by far:

Light thickens, and the crow
Makes wing to the rooky wood.
Good things of day begin to droop and drowse,
While night's black agents to their preys do rouse.

Macbeth Act 3 Scene 2

Posted by aheavens at 12:09 PM