What I Admired About Ethiopians

February 15th, 2011 | by addis portal |

Philip N. Wesseh (PNW

Recently I was part of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s delegation to the 16th Summit of Heads of State of Africa of the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The well organized Summit was held under the theme: “Towards Greater Unity And Integration Through Shared Values.”  First, let me say that this piece is not about the happenings at the Summit as the major issues have already been reported in the media. This is a piece as the headline unambiguously suggests to say what I admired by the people of that country during the four day’s stay in that historic country. I decided to take on this piece because of the long standing relationship between that country and Liberia, a situation that led to its former Emperor Haile Selassie, donating a land, on which the Liberian Embassy was built. This took place during the regime of the nation’s longest serving leader thus far, the late William V.S. Tubman. Both countries enjoyed two things those days. The first was that they were never colonized and the second was that both leaders and countries played a great role in the formation of the former Organization of African Unity (OAU), which initial meeting was held in Sanniquellie, Nimba County in the 1960’s. 

Ethiopia is the oldest independent country in Sub Saharan Africa. The earliest evidence of Ethiopian history was in around 1000BC when the Queen of Sheba visited King Solomon. The first recorded kingdom in Ethiopia grew around Axum during the 3rd century BC. Axum was an offshoot of the Semitic Sabeam kingdoms of southern Arabia and it became the greatest ivory market in the north east. Ethiopia, now with a population of more than 80 million, is considered as a place where human existence began and the seat of ancient kings. Ethiopian tradition says that Ethiopia’s first Emperor, Menelik I was the son of the Biblical Queen of Sheba and Isreal’s King Solomon.               

Even though the headline speaks of the country, actually this article mainly focuses on experience in its capital city, Addis Ababa, usually referred to for short as “Addis.” Upon arriving in the capital city which is three hours ahead of Liberian time, we were welcomed by the windy weather. This was followed by the unusual red carpet welcome of a Head of State visit. Thereafter, we accompanied President Sirleaf to the Sheraton Hotel, where the President was lodged, while some of us, members of her delegation were taken to our arranged places to lodge. The next morning while I was waiting to be picked up for the prelude to the Summit, I decided to  perambulate in parts of the city to observe things for myself.

                      My Admiration

My first admiration about the people of that country was the quietude of the city and the respect for traffic rules. I noticed in the city how the drivers adhere to traffic regulations. This impression was seen when our chauffeur, while leaving from the meeting, attempted to by-pass the traffic. He was immediately stopped. But we got through because of the AU Summit pass. Thereafter, the chauffeur said, “It is because of this pass, I am free; or else, I could have been sent to jail.”All of us laughed and advised him to be careful as we were not in a hurry because we were returning to our lodging place. The few days I spent in Addis, I did not see a police officer and driver fussing or arguing as is commonplace in Liberia. There is high respect for police officers, especially the ones I saw in the traffic. Perhaps, we need to find out why it is like that in that country and not here. Whether this is owing to the professional attitude of the police and strict enforcement of traffic regulations in that country, is something we need to find out. Don’t ask me which one.

The next was the level of honesty on the part of a marketer I transacted with. As usual in a foreign country, one has to interact on the local market by suing local currency. And so when we arrived, I exchanged some US Dollars to the current of that country, known as Birr. After that, I decided to purchase some goods at a nearby shop and I spotted a young man behind the counter. I asked for some goods and later he gave me my final bill. Because I had not done enough study of the different denominations, I gave him some local money in different denominations, from which he took the amount, which I took note of immediately.

Still not convinced that I was fairly treated, I decided to check, at which time, I found out that he did not cheat me. When I approached an official at the old-fashioned Liberian Embassy, which condition, President Sirleaf described as “terrible,” the person told me that these people are honest. He gave his experience of how he purchased some goods at a place. But mistakenly the dealer did not give him the correct change. “I did not take note of that, but when I went there to buy after few days, the dealer told me that the change I received was not correct; as a result he gave the remaining change to my amazement,” the embassy official said.   

My next admiration is that unlike Liberia, the Ethiopians, mostly fair in complexion have a national dress code with national dishes. What impressed me most about their national dishes is that they do so proudly with their hands, mostly in groups.  This was commonly seen when we arrived at the airport to take off for Ghana, en route to Liberia on Monday, January 31.

Another admiration I left Addis with was the level of construction taking place in that city. Unlike in Liberia, where bulk of the land belongs to private individuals, to an extent that government must use from Eminent Domain to buy land for public use, the land belongs to the state. Besides, there seems to be restrictions or something referred to here as “zoning laws” for construction. Even though such regulations exist in Liberia, it is just “on the book” as government has not been able to enforce it, resulting to land owners or purchasers constructing all kinds of makeshift structures in the city. New structures are being constructed. The most visible one is the new AU headquarters being built by the Chinese.

The future AU Conference Centre includes a 23-storey building that can accommodate more than 500 offices, a 2,000-seat auditorium, a 500-seat conference room and offices for the AU Commission staff. A five star hotel will also be built nearby the conference centre to accommodate the Heads of state and government and other guests for the yearly meetings. The building has been described as “China’s gifts to modern-day Africa… and a symbol of Beijing’s commitment to African development.”

Fortunately for Liberia, China intends to do similar project in Liberia by building an administrative structure to house many government ministries and agencies. But the issue of land has been a problem as the area spotted is being heavily resisted by the land owners. But President Sirleaf who was asked on the matter promised to negotiate to make the project a reality as it will be in the interest of all. She said although the government could use eminent domain, it prefers negotiation and consultation with the land owners.   

While in the city, one of the things I wished to see was how the students dress while going to school. Because we arrived over the weekend, I was about to see this on Monday, hours before our departure. Those who I saw that morning dressed really as students. This is not here where some of our students do “sacking,” meaning their trousers and skirts hang on their buttocks.  

As I conclude, let me say that Ethiopia is not endowed with enormous resources like Liberia, but it has coffee and a strong tourism program as I gathered. Besides, it has a rich culture and 280 species of wildlife. Liberia has similar species of wildlife, but the lack of a proper tourism Liberia has not been able to realize its tourism potential which is income generating. Even though there is an agency for this, it is only a living-dead agency. Today the Providence Island (where the freed slaves settled in the 1800’s) a good tourism site, remains abandoned. 

Indeed, even though this country is the oldest independent state and that it and Ethiopia were never colonized, we need to learn a lot from the Ethiopians. This has nothing to do with the age of Methuselah, but the Wisdom of Solomon. Simply, this means that it is not how old you are, but what you have been able to achieve with the time of existence.

Today, this country cannot boast of a national dress, national dish, just to name a few. Even though such issues have been raised at many conferences and public speeches, nothing has been achieved in this direction. The Ethiopians may have made these strives because of what is referred to as “The Vision of Ethiopia.” which reads:” “To see Ethiopia become a nation where through popular participation and consent of its people, democracy and good governance reign, social justice prevails, and where being emancipated from poverty, the country enjoys a middle income status.”

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