The Land of a Thousand Smiles has a long and chequered history but has undertaken a complete make-over, with a rapidly changing Addis skyline, thanks to heavy investment in real estate, reports WANJOHI KABUKURU
Addis Ababa is Africa’s diplomatic capital. Being home to the African Union (AU), where all of the continent’s major unified political, social and economic decisions are made, no country in the continent wants to be left out of the Addis scene.It is significant to note that AU is the single largest voting bloc within the United Nations, and this is among the items that make Addis Ababa a strategic city and a diplomat’s round-table. But Ethiopia is much more.
It is a well-known federal state and plays a crucial role in the global Forum of Federations which brings together federal governments across the world. Ethiopia boasts nine federal regions and provides history buffs with a wealth of study material from its ancient and chequered history — it features in the Old Testament and earlier writings — to its modern political evolution and transformation.
Though they don’t say it in so many words, there is something about Ethiopians that is distinctly Ethiopian. Each and every time I disembark at the Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa that feeling always gets to me. Not because, as a Kenyan, the Ethiopians treat me as one of their own, thanks to age-old pacts and cosy diplomatic relations between Nairobi and Addis, it is their resolute devotion to their country.
One only needs to see Ethiopians from all walks of life converge in their ancient Eastern Rite churches to see how devoted they are. And it is not matters religious that define Ethiopians’ dedication. It is a concatenation of their fashion sense, nationalistic fervour, culinary enchantment, zeal for life, artistic expression, cultural sensitivities and approach to service. A remarkable aspect of an ancient culture at ease with itself is how the most notable aspects of the Ethiopian scene have retained its heritage and yet managed to jell with modernity without losing its cultural ethos in the very modern early 21st Century.
Ethiopians are also known for many things. In some quarters, Ethiopia is defined as The Land of a Thousand Smiles, thanks to its friendly people and extremely photogenic people. Nothing beats the legend of the Queen of Sheba, a tale of fame, riches and glory that you’ll pick up from any of the myriad exotic kiosks vending Abyssinian coffee.
One other thing you’ll come to learn is that some of the world’s oldest civilizations are to be found here in Ethiopia. These include the monastery of Debre Damo, the castles of Gondar, the Lalibela Church, wholly hewn out of rock, the mysterious gigantic totem stelae at Axum and the 19th Century Church of Markos (Saint Mark).
Ethiopian legend has it that the Queen of Sheba’s son, Emperor Menelik I, and King Solomon brought the Ark of the Covenant from Jerusalem to Axum in northern Ethiopia. Though to some the Queen of Sheba story may sound like a myth, the reality is that archaeological evidence exists and this has attracted many wannabe Indiana Joneses to search for the Holy Grail and even the very Ark of the Covenant in Ethiopia — with little success.
The capital Addis Ababa (which is Amhara for ‘wild flower’) is a city under intensive re-construction. On each and every street there is a new multi-storey building coming up. At the African Union headquarters a new complex constructed by the Chinese is underway. The same is happening at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) compound. I ask my cabbie why this is the case and he chips in that there is a new law in town whose enforcement is also strict on building standards. He further shows me the seven-floor hospitality building aptly named Hotel Kenenisa Bekele, coming up soon. Ethiopia’s world-beating middle and distance runners, the just retired Haile Gebreselassie and Kenenisa Bekele among others, are some of the country’s world-renowned sports icons and investors who have channelled their hard currency foreign earnings into Ethiopian commerce.
The heavy construction is not just confined to the private sector buildings. Road works are also under reconstruction. In the next five years Addis Ababa’s skyline will be totally different, thanks to the heavy infrastructural edifices currently taking shape. In other words, Addis is undergoing a complete make-over that would see it taking a plum position in the settings of the world’s capitals.
Addis has some fine restaurants, mostly celebrated for their coffee, as well as diverse dishes that delightedly cater for all gastronomic wants.Seeking a national dress — the authentic Ethiopian wear — is not such a difficult assignment as it is in the case of neighbouring Kenya. Other than the tautologically echoing Mercato Market, there are numerous other shops to get hand-woven unique Ethiopian drapery and they don’t disappoint. The costs too are affordable and enticing.
The refrains ‘Malaysia Truly Asia’, ‘Proudly South African’ and ‘I Love NY’ celebrate globally well-known nation and one city brands. For ancient Abyssinia in its deliciously diverting modern form, I go with ‘Devoutly, Devotedly, Delightfully Ethiopian’
|< Prev||Next >|