As one of the members of the ‘Africa Study Trip’ group heading to Ethiopia in February 2015 I, like many others, was unsure of what to expect once we arrived in Addis Ababa. Whilst the trip passed relatively smoothly (excluding our interesting return journey), our first bit of drama occurred before we’d even left the confines of Addis Ababa airport with one of the group (I will mention no names…) being given an Ebola warning card. Once we’d navigated our way to the guesthouse and spent a day exploring Addis Ababa we went straight into our first meetings.
One thing I observed was the lack of obvious corruption and bribery occurring at the street level. Of course this is not to say that Ethiopia is corruption free, but I personally saw no evidence of overt bribery or petty corruption with state officials as I personally saw whilst living in Cameroon and have heard is endemic of many African states. However, we were made aware of the fact that the state have their arms deep within Ethiopian society, controlling many areas that would be considered private in the Western world. The first few days in Addis were spent deliberating whether our communication to friends and family back home was being monitored. After several days of paranoia and the sending of carefully worded emails (not to give away too much detail about who we were visiting and when), we concluded that the Ethiopian Government probably had bigger things to worry about than a dozen University students asking some awkward questions. Despite several days when it went down, I was very impressed with the wifi in the hotel which directly contrasted with other experiences I have had with internet connections in Africa. However, the same cannot be said of the mobile network which was very patchy. We learned that this was due to the government stranglehold on telecommunications, preventing competition and maintaining control over their people.
After a busy first week of meetings I think we were all really pleased when we got the opportunity to travel outside of Addis to Hawassa in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region (SNNPR). Had we not had the chance to escape the hustle and bustle of the capital we would have failed to see any other versions of Ethiopia. Ethiopia, like most African countries, is extremely diverse and I’m pleased that we were able to experience another side to the country. One of the most obvious differences was the temperature in Hawassa- much hotter than in Addis. It was also nice to witness some of the scenery on the long bus drive down, we even managed to catch an amazing sunset. Other than taking some relaxation time out of our busy schedule, we had a meeting with The Regional Council of Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s. We had a lot of time there to talk through a variety of issues but expectedly ethnic federalism was discussed in the most detail. The Regional Council painted a very positive picture of the ethnic federal structure, explaining how it maintains stability in the country as local grievances can be dealt with at a local level. However, some of the students we met from Addis Ababa University explained how difficult it is to identify yourself as of one ‘nationality’ when your parents are from different regions and you may have grown up in a different region entirely. Although I could see some flaws in ethnic federalism, I did appreciate the importance of each region promoting and practicing its own language, culture and customs. We were fortunate enough to visit a museum at the SNNPR Regional Council, learning about their culture. We also visited an amazing restaurant in Addis which showcased song and dance from across Ethiopia whilst eating some tasty Ethiopian food for the last time. Some members of the group also enjoyed trying Tej, an Ethiopian honey wine. Some in the group witnessed a ‘Tej-effect’ yet everyone was pleased to notice the absence of a ‘tej-over’ the following morning.
The experience was really eye-opening and I feel I learned so much more from being in Ethiopia than I could have if I’d spent the two weeks in Bradford non-stop reading about Ethiopia. We were incredibly lucky to have two students from the Institute of Peace and Security Studies at Addis Ababa University who were on hand to answer our many questions about Ethiopian politics and beyond.
The study group are now all busy doing further research for the essays which we are all writing for the study trip module, so are engrossed in their specific aspects of Ethiopia. I would encourage anyone reading to speak to anyone who came on the trip about their area of research as by the end of the process, we should be much more informed. There have also been discussions about putting our various findings together in a presentation or document once finished, so look out for that!
I gave Rosa the name Nwanne di na mba. It’s an Igbo word that means my brother/sister in the diaspora. I wish I got a video of her speaking Pidgin and I mean Cameroonian pidgin or when she was dancing to the entire songs on the P Square Invasion Album. She even updated me on the names of some Nigerian artiste that I danced to without knowing their names. Rosa made the trip fun for me and I kept on teasing her that she’ll marry an African preferably a Nigerian. She forgot to mention her new found love in Ethiopian coffee. I hope you enjoyed reading the post like I did.
Loads of Love