Day 9: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Saturday, 21 April 2018 – Day 9: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (8.9806° N, 38.7578° E)

Good evening…hard to believe that a week ago we were in San Francisco. Seems so long ago…when you enter that zone, that being in-the-moment place, you lose track of time absorbed in the here and now. It is a good, satisfying and fulfilling place to be. And here we are…in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is in good hands.

Ethiopian (formerly known as Abyssinia) is relatively unknown to most Westerns. Maybe you’ve heard of the Queen of Sheba, Emperor Haile Selassie, coffee, or Rastafarianism? That is usually the extent of it. And Ethiopia is home to all the above. But most likely, you know of landlocked Ethiopia, the 2nd most populace nation in Africa with 105+ million citizens (63% of which are under 24!), from the 1985 MTV generation “Live Aid” broadcast and Bob Geldof’s “give us your fuckin’ money…please!” efforts to offer relief to the horrific mid-80’s Ethiopian famine…it changed a few consciousnesses. It was “a biblical famine in the 20th century” and “the closest thing to hell on Earth” at the time…not anymore. According to World Bank number crunchers, with an 8.5% GDP growth rate, Ethiopia is the world’s fastest growing economy now. Yet, it remains mostly an agricultural country with only 20% urbanization. So, lot’s of economic change is coming to their future as the cranes and new construction we have witnessed here attest. But despite the economic growth, know for certain that Ethiopia is poor…very poor, with an average per capita income of less than $2,100. That’s less than a Starbuck’s venti a day folks. (Remember what Gandhi said: “The earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.”) Is it all relative?

People also don’t know that Ethiopia is the world’s second-oldest Christian nation, after Armenia. And that aside from a brief military occupation by the Italians during World War II, Ethiopia is the sole African nation (out of 54) that has never been colonized. That speaks volumes to the independent spirit of the people here. Today, 43% of all its inhabitants are Ethiopian-Orthodox Christians, with a significant 34% being Sunni Muslims, along with a couple hundred thousand from the so-called lost tribe of Beta Israel. But it is the twin tribal groups, the Oromo and Amhara people, one residing in the north, and the other in the south, that make up about two-thirds of all Ethiopians today. (And yet the traditional warrior tribe of the Tigray dominate the country’s military and power structures.)

But we are in the capital city of Addis Ababa, known in Amharic as “the new flower”. There are over 5 million people (way over) that live here in the mountainous surrounded city at an altitude of, like I mentioned yesterday,  about 2,400 meters (8,000 feet). It is a growing, big, dusty and overcrowded busy city–Africa’s 4th largest by some counts. Sights and sounds include: the constant pounding of Chinese construction, car horns (although to be fair, much less then in India), the scream of ambulances, Mullahs call to prayer, barking dogs, random yelling in the street, and the occasional rooster. It is intriguing to be here. Addis is a Brave New World cosmopolitan mix of South and West (South as in emerging or developing world versus that old cliche of East as in Asia)…a mixing of churches, monuments and museums, and hectic crazy busy markets…all chaotically tucked alongside stylish new cafes, brand-selling boutiques, and international hotels and restaurants. There is a large diplomatic crowd stationed here as Addis, which also serves as hub for international aid and diplomatic concerns “helping” Africa. The Chinese are also here…noticeably so.

And during our day we ran into teams seemingly everywhere we went:

Buckeye Terriers & Sonoma County Strong at Mt. Entoto
Teams Leo & The Crab and Team Tuna checking out Lucy.

(Lucy is an early australopithecine specimen and is dated to about 3.2 million years ago…also of Lucy in the Sky’s fame.)

We sent those willing to help out to Hand in Hand Ethiopia‘s K-12 school here in Addis.
Where hopefully meals were shared and friendships were created:

Students here range in age from 4 to 20…

Sonoma County Strong getting & giving love

Aksum obelisks


African street scene…mangoes of course!

Observation: The Chinese aren’t coming…they are here! They built the Addis Ababa-Djibouti railroad, they built Addis Ababa’s light rail transit system, they built the new home of African Union, they built… Time to wake up America, the Chinese are doing things differently in the world—using our own Marshall Plan idea. For good or bad–only time will tell, but I have an opinion on the matter–the Chinese are moving in and taking over buying buildings, investing and extracting. Not just offering security and military aid ala USA. While we send Africa 6,000+ troops/advisors in 50 African countries, the Chinese are spending $60 bn of new investment in major capital projects in 54 African countries…on top of the $14 bn already spent. Why? Well, by 2050, 25% of the world’s nine billion population will be Africans and most of them will be under 30…huge market potential aside from the obvious extraction of vital resources and creating future diplomatic allies.  But…African countries should be careful not to forfeit their sovereignty when they accept loans from China, the continent’s biggest trading partner now….China’s approach to Africa resembles the American-business model  of predatory loan practices….and the Chinese footprint will only expand with over 1 million Chinese immigrant entrepreneurs relocating to Africa.

So…we leave Ethiopia tomorrow (Sunday) to someplace new, albeit too soon. But that is what this event is—global grazing. Opening a new surprise gift and enjoying a great appetizer round everyday for 23-days straight!

We also reluctantly say good bye to Team Sonoma County Strong (Pam + Denise)…they have to return to California and their familiar duties…and take a night flight tonight to Istanbul then back to San Francisco—and yes they have a series of Layover Scavenges in the great city of Istanbul to complete…they are leaving the hotel in about an hour.

Till tomorrow…