Today on 2oth August 2021, I stepped for the first time on the Ethiopian soil, the ancient land where human beings walked on two legs 3 and a half million years ago.
It is in Ethiopia where several hundred pieces of fossilized bone representing 40 percent of the skeleton of a female of the hominin species Australopithecus afarensis were found. In Ethiopia, the assembly is also known as Dinkinesh, which means “you are marvelous” in the Amharic language. Lucy was discovered in 1974 in Africa, at Hadar, a site in the Awash Valley of the Afar Triangle in Ethiopia, by paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
“Lucy” acquired her name from the 1967 song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” by the Beatles, which was played loudly and repeatedly in the expedition camp all evening after the excavation team’s first day of work on the recovery site. After public announcement of the discovery, Lucy captured much public interest, becoming a household name at the time.
“Ethiopia always has a special place in my imagination and the prospect of visiting Ethiopia attracted me more strongly than a trip to France, England, and America combined. I felt I would be visiting my own genesis, unearthing the roots of what made me an African.”
My journey to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, took over 40 hours from Adelaide, South Australia via Perth (Western Australia) and Dubai (UAE), with delays and many hours at transit at the airports during the global COVID-19 pandemic. It was a surreal experience, for someone who was used to passing trough many crowded international airports in the past, to see the deserted corridors, waiting areas abandoned, corporate lounges depleted, duty free shops closed, restaurants deserted.
The Emirates flight from Perth to Dubai was unlike my other airplane experiences – and I have flown more than 50 times out of Australia on business or on holidays! The plane was 3/4 empty and the Polish attendant I struck a conversation with, told me of many recent long haul flights having only 5-8 passengers on board!
On the other hand, the flight from Dubai to Addis was packed. Passengers dressed in colourful clothes were noisy and pushy trying to find space in the luggage compartment for their many bags, including Duty Free bags full of designer clothes and single malt whisky. (Trade at the Dubai Airport unlike Australia was buzzing). I personally saw the content of these bags and it reminded me of the early 90s when similar kind of merchandise was in demand in Poland, Russia or Ukraine after the fall of socialism. Boxes of Blue label Johnny Walker was the item I often carried as gifts in those early market economy days in Eastern Europe, for my Polish entrepreneur friends who enjoyed to flaunt and celebrate their new found wealth and status. I am yet to find more examples here in Ethiopia, to substantiate my comparisons, but I expect to find a good few, as Ethiopia has been on the developmental path since 2010.
Ethiopia’s location gives it strategic dominance as a jumping off point in the Horn of Africa, close to the Middle East and its markets. Ethiopia is landlocked, bordering Eritrea, Somalia, Kenya, South Sudan, and Sudan, and has been using neighboring Djibouti’s main port for the last two decades. However, with the recent peace agreement with Eritrea, Ethiopia is set to resume accessing the Eritrean ports of Assab and Massawa for its international trade.
With more than 112 million people (2019), Ethiopia is the second most populous nation in Africa after Nigeria, and the fastest growing economy in the region. However, it is also one of the poorest, with a per capita income of $850. Ethiopia aims to reach lower-middle-income status by 2025.
Ethiopia’s economy experienced strong, broad-based growth averaging 9.4% a year from 2010/11 to 2019/20, Ethiopia’s real gross domestic product (GDP) growth slowed down to 6.1% in 2019/20 due to COVID-19 (cornaviruspandemic. Industry, mainly construction, and services accounted for most of the growth. Agriculture was not affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and its contribution to growth slightly improved in 2019/20 compared to the previous year. Private consumption and public investment explain demand-side growth, the latter assuming an increasingly important role.
The consistent higher economic growth brought with it positive trends in poverty reduction in both urban and rural areas. The share of the population living below the national poverty line decreased from 30% in 2011 to 24% in 2016. The government has launched a new 10-year perspective plan which will run from 2020/21 to 2029/30. The plan aims to sustain the remarkable economic growth achieved under the Growth and Transformation Plans, while putting more emphasis on the private sector. (The World Bank: “Ethiopia Development Overview”).
The Radisson Blu hotel where I am staying for my quarantine is very comfortable and the bright African decor delightful. Although the view from my hotel window less so.