Impressions of Ethiopia – women, economy & climate change
I am on a month long work-exchange in Ethiopia, working with the Food Security team here at the Dutch Embassy in Addis Ababa.
I don’t know what I expected to be very honest but if I had any expectation, Ethiopia has certainly exceeded all of them. My first impression of Addis Ababa was that it’s huge!!! It’s a big city, spread out in what appears to be a valley or several valleys connected together. But with a population of 4 to 5 million, for a Bangladeshi like me, it’s very sparsely populated🙂
The roads are busy but there’s none of the incessant honking that drives people crazy in Dhaka traffic. And I find that it’s pretty representative of the people here ….. Ethiopian’s are quiet, reserved people, very dignified & proud in their heritage (and absolutely rightly so). Unfailingly cordial and extremely polite, unlike the Bangalis they keep their nose out of other people’s business. One foot in the past – a long glorious heritage, yet one planted firmly towards the future – in progress for everyone. Though deeply religious, women here do enjoy a different kind of freedom.
What that freedom means on a day to day basis is that it’s absolutely possible to have peace & quiet in the middle of a crowd. You can sit quietly in a cafe and enjoy the view without being gawked at, commented at or imposed on in any manner. You can walk down the busy roads without people bumping into you every few feet. And as a woman I feel more comfortable & safer here then in my own country. Ethiopians also have more women parliamentarians then Bangladesh & the labour force participation is significantly higher.
Before I came, I read up on Ethiopia and was impressed by the fact that this country has never been colonised. I expected this to mean something, but exactly what, I couldn’t have said. Now that I am here, I do see the difference between a population colonised vs. a population who were always the master of their own destiny. Even though Ethiopians are very polite, you can tell that the color of one’s skin doesn’t impress here. In former colonies there’s a tendency to idolise white skin people, to give more attention, to try to impress, to cater to, we have not gotten over the ‘white master’ syndrome. If a native person makes a suggestion or give advice, we might shake it off BUT if a white person makes the same, people trip over each other trying to be the first ones to take it. It’s frustrating because it sidelines the suggestion & advice of people who know their country best AND has its best interest at heart. Here, the Ethiopians are very nationalistic & while they are open to advice, they also make it a point to accept suggestions on their own terms, in their own time. Sure it slows things down but it also means that local ownership is high. Which after all is more important in order for development activities to be sustainable.
The previous Prime Minister made a very public declaration that Ethiopia will pursue a climate resilient green economy. A tall order but a very commendable one. While the understanding of climate change, its negative impact on environment & stress on the livelihood of the population varies among various professional, the attention though continues to impress me. As the Native Americans say “we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children”. In our pursuit for economic growth we tend to compromise on that, and perhaps some compromise is inevitable, a trade-off if you will, at least here the choices are being looked at & deliberated on more vigorously.
IMF ranks Ethiopia among the five fastest growing economies in the world and in 2013/2014 the economy grew for its 11th consecutive year posting 10.3% growth. Quite impressive for a non-oil producing economy. However it is still far from its ambition to become a middle income country by 2025. With around 29% of its population living below the poverty line there is much work that still needs to be done. And the government seems to be on the right track with a stable political environment, progressive economic liberalisation and high focus on green & equitable growth.
Quite an impression for the very first week in a new country🙂 I can hardly wait to see how much more there will be learn over the upcoming days.