The view of Ethiopia through the lens of Rosa

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Rosa kept on avoiding the camera but Mitch had a way of capturing her. This was at Istanbul waiting for the connecting flight to Ethiopia

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.

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Just finished balancing accounts. I guess i deserved a bite of Oreoes

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.

Beautiful sunset on the way to Hawassa
Beautiful sunset on the way to Hawassa

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.

This is our fickle attempt at trying the neck dance we watched at the cultural centre
This is our fickle attempt at trying the neck dance we watched at the cultural centre

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.

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Nwanne di na mba

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!

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This was our not so good return experience. She ended up pushing me on the trolly. This is what happens when you have to spend close to 4 hours of delay at the airport

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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.

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Her new love – Ethiopian coffee with Sayaka

Loads of Love

JMAD

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The view of Ethiopia through the lens of Natsu

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From L – R Me, Natsu, Carina. This was at Istanbul airport where we were waiting for the connecting flight to Ethiopia.

I had the opportunity to go on the African Study Visit 2015 to Ethiopia in February. The programme of the study visit was an intriguing experience, meeting people with various view points, each of them emphasising different aspects of Ethiopia’s political and social system (and making me much more confused on what to think than ever before) Incidentally all the information that I gained and the many questions that arose, I needed to verbalize, summarize and analyse in my essay anyways, so taking this opportunity Chijioke has given me, I just want to reflect what I felt being present in an African country, given it was my first ever visit to the continent itself.

Going to “Africa” was on my bucket list ever since I was told that both of my parents had lived and worked there. It has always been a vague curiosity of what kind of place Africa was. Living in Japan, where I come from, the continent ‘Africa’ seems so far away. Not only in geographic terms, but just far, simply far away, a place with such a exotic note.

My (and many of my friends) image use to be, thanks to TV news, cartoons and UN adds, mostly a mixture of “Lion King”, brightly coloured bead necklaces, poverty, exotic culture, bloody conflicts, great athletes, dangerous diseases etc. On top of that, I think many have generalized the whole African continent with a single image. Indeed when I told my friends that I was going to Ethiopia, most of their comments were, “Why go there when there is Ebola?” while others requested “I want a picture of a stray lion walking down the street”. I too, though we had been studying on Ethiopia beforehand, somehow still had that metal image of “rural-ness” all over the country, which I was so familiar with in the TV screens.

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She didn’t see a stray lion but she saw an Ostrich. Fair enough……..

That was why it did take me by surprise when we arrived in Addis Ababa for the first time and found large and smooth, perfect roads, and many high and western-looking buildings. There were a lot of other shocks, toilets without paper, being trapped inside an elevator, children asking for money, occasional brownish water from the taps, the load of “Ni-hao”s we received (there was a lot of Chinese people in the city) and food I wasn’t used to etc, but to find the city of Addis as a whole with its infrastructure, many nice buildings, the busy traffic and being different from the “Africa” that I had always seen on TV, was fascinating to me. Also, the dramatically changing landscapes we saw as we travelled outside Addis, from the city view to vast grasslands made me realize how unimaginably diverse the whole of the continent must be, let alone Ethiopia.

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She tried out some of the local dishes. That’s the famous Injera……. I’m not sure what her response to the taste is saying from the picture
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This was a risky one she tried, i tried it too…. The red thing in the white plate is actually raw meat… Ermm let me reserve my comments.

With the limited time we had, I know I can’t say I now know what Addis Ababa looks like, not to mention what Ethiopia or “Africa” looks like. But I think I have seen enough to tell my friends in Japan that there is much much more to the African continent than what is often portrayed in screens and photos.

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She’s keen on gathering so much information. That was our farewell dinner.

Now I have realized how very limited my image of the vast continent has been and how very little I was able to see and learn in the visit, my bucket list will probably grow significantly, making more specific details of which countries and regions in the continent to go to. It seems I really need to stop smoking to live long and healthy.

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I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as i did. It’s amazing to see the effect of just knowing a single side of the story and not just that but seeing it through a flawed perspective. There’s a lot of information in the media but we need to be analytical before drawing our conclusions. This goes beyond this post. Hopefully two more posts will be coming up on the Ethiopian trip.

Loads of Love

JMAD.

#Imagine Zimbabwe, through the lens of Andrea

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Her days at Mt. Pleasant Nursery school in a newly independent and de-segregated Zimbabwe – don’t we all look happy for the promise of this new country? I am in the back row on the right.

My name is Andrea and I am a graduate student at the University of Bradford pursuing a Master’s degree in African Peace and Conflict Studies.

I read Aleksandra’s essay on imagining peace in Poland and I wish that I, too, had a glass of wine while writing this one! Instead, I have a hot cup of English Breakfast tea. Generations of my family were born and raised in southern Africa where daily life was imbued with many lingering English colonial traditions – drinking extravagant amounts of tea being one of them. Being a Zimbabwean with naturalized US citizenship, I sometimes jokingly tell people that I am African American. As I bear an obviously white complexion, black Americans especially seem to enjoy this joke, at least they let me believe that they do. Once, a fellow caucasian pondered a reply that would convey a touch of confusion but be delicate enough not to offend: “oh, I thought you looked more Italian,” he said. Occasionally, this conversation serves as a revelation that white people live in Africa. Perhaps the thought is that they all just packed up and left as the dominoes of independence tumbled over the continent, or that they had never been there at all. In fact, of the 275,000 or so white Rhodesians living in the country just before Zimbabwean independence in 1980, about half decided to try life elsewhere rather than take their chances in the new majority-ruled nation. This “Rhodie” exodus gave rise to many bumper stickers bearing the phrase “Rhodesians never die, they just inhabit the world.” My parents and all of my relatives stayed, at least for a short time, trading the moniker “Rhodie” for “Zimbo.”

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I was born just after Zimbabwean independence in a capital city that still bore the name Salisbury and grew up believing that Rhodesia had been a paradise, as that is the literal refrain I heard from my parents over subsequent years. This understanding was reinforced through the “when we” tales at the annual Rhodesians World Wide reunions we attended after immigrating to the United States (see the demographically specific “White People in Zimbabwe” Wikipedia page for elaboration on the “whenwes”). It was only during a summer break in university while reading Nelson Mandela’s book “A Long Walk To Freedom” that I had the revelation that Rhodesia was a paradise for the white people. Zimbabwe, though thirty four years independent, is still one of the youngest countries on the continent and is working through some growing pains. Unfortunately, in fits and spurts these adolescent tantrums have manifested themselves in violence, land seizures, displaced people, economic implosion, and a general uncertainty for the future.

I think that anyone who has visited or lived in Zimbabwe would agree that it has all the makings of a paradise. The land is stunning and compelling, stirring even the most non-sentimental heart. I think of Victoria Falls (its local name, Mosi oa Tunya, is much more evocative, meaning “the smoke that thunders”), the mist over the mountains of Nyanga, the massive ancient stone towers of Great Zimbabwe, the petrified trees rising from Lake Kariba, and the people who inhabit this incredible land. My hope for Zimbabwe is that it is realized as a paradise for all who live there, including the animals, which have also suffered the consequences of political and economic turmoil. My hope is that the past is not forgotten but that people focus more on the possibilities of the future, as they did at independence. An article written in 1975 in National Geographic magazine closes with the sentence, “may black hand clasp white in friendship and give Rhodesia peace to match the beauty of the land.” Substitute Zimbabwe for Rhodesia, and the sentiment still carries today.

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Andrea and I are course mates in African Politics. I had wanted her to write about the US but she chose Zimbabwe, the country of her birth. Her decision definitely spoke a lot to me. In recent times Africa as a continent has been labelled so many names like the dark continent and all. Many Africans are not so proud to be associated with her; I wrote a post on The Americanah but Andrea went against the crowd and popular opinion.

N/B I’m sorry for the delays in the post. This series may just be coming to an end soon. I’m still expecting a few more entries. But i’m sure you’ve been enjoying each post.

#Imagine Japan, through the lens of Natsu

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My name is Natsu. I was raised in Japan, but born in Australia. I left Australia at the age of 7, and lived in Japan ever since, so probably I have lost most of my Aussi­ness (except love for vegimite A MUST for breakfast). In my short time in Australia, I did not face many occasions that made me think about the relation of my two home countries, but there was one when I was 5 years old, which has been a kind of a trigger in making me take the path on studying Peace Studies now.

The 25th of April is the ANZAC day in Australia, and at school, we have events in the memory of the fallen at war. Old soldiers would come to talk of their war experiences. I remember sitting in the assembly hall with all my other kindy mates, listening, intrigued by the horrific events that the old man talked about, and whispering excitedly about how evil this enemy was. It was almost like sitting watching a movie, until I heard him name the terrible, evil enemy, the Japanese. I remember looking up from my whispered conversation, and looking at the man. I was shocked, never knowing that there was a war between my two beloved countries, and more so with the hate pulsing out of the man as he spoke about the Japanese, Us. I realized, ignorant as I was, that the memories, suffering and the hurt of war will never fade from this man nor from others, and in that sense, war has never ended.

Living in Japan, I feel that the war is increasingly becoming mere dates and names on history Textbooks, something that is disconnected, something that has ended in 1945. That war, which the Japanese had started and lost, is not something we are proud of, a topic that raises tension between our neighboring countries and even within, a memory we do not know how to face. It is so much easier to look away, wishing for the memories to just disappear. But, that hate and hurt in the voice of that old soldier reminds me that the memories will never disappear.

I don’t believe that the Japanese must bow down forever. During these almost 70 years, Japan has apologized, and is seeking reconciliation (whether that has been enough or not is another problem).  But, I believe that the attempts to face and embrace the memories of that war of within and that of the outside has not being enough. How? I still have no answer. I cannot even imagine what ‘facing’ or ‘embracing’ really means. I just feel this strong need for change.

I love Japan, it is my home. It is one of the safest countries. There would be bending machines with beer on the corner of a quiet street, and as far as the ones I know, they have always being standing there peacefully without being harmed.  The people I know are loving and polite, hardworking and caring (sometimes too much perhaps). And because I love Japan, I imagine a country ‘facing’ and ‘embracing’ the memories of that war, not only for what had happened, but for the future too.