Addis Ababa: Budding flower of Africa
Despite many years of civil war following the army coup and a harsh Marxist regime, Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia, is one of the most pleasant cities in Africa.
Given its altitude, 2,350 meters, its bracing climate all year round, its population, about three and a half million which is just about right, Addis Ababa is certainly worth a visit being close to the Arabian peninsula and is fairly cheap to spend a holiday in. I know people who go there more than once every two or three years. I liked it since my first visit to interview the old emperor Haile Sellassie who was later arrested and left to die in prison although he was a fairly moderate ruler, helped found the Union of Africa and was instrumental in building its headquarters in Addis Ababa.
Only the coup and the brutality of the regime that followed it under the extreme communist label prevented its tourism from flowering and turning it into a full-fledged year round resort. Its long civil war with its erstwhile occupied territory of Eritrea cost it dearly in men and resources as it dragged on for decades following the Italian withdrawal from its colony by the Red Sea. Ethiopia adhered to it and refused to decolonize it as it needed the Red Sea ports of Assab and Mussawa.
Eventually Eritrea which had been an Italian colony since before the World War II was liberated by the emperor with massive British military aid which invaded it and handed it over to the emperor. But the Eritreans did not reconcile to that and continued to fight for independence until the eighties.
Addis had to accept the harsh realities on the ground and turned to nearby Djibouti, a French colony now independent, whose port was nearby and based on the Red Sea which is crucial for the Ethiopian economy.
Addis Ababa is an Amharic name which is linguistically akin to Arabic. Ababa is Amharic meaning flower. It was invaded by the Italians in 1936 from their bases in Eritrea which they had seized during the European scramble for Africa whose history is still being unraveled, uncovering horrendous brutalities and exploitation specially in the Belgian colonies of Congo as Belgian books are gradually revealing. One of the most suitable hotels for families was Ganet, not far from the city center as it consisted of rooms and flats plus its own restaurant, children’s games, swimming pools and an easy access to some of the main roads and taxis. At that time the city was peaceful and safe to visit and stay in, that is before the ouster of the emperor. So we could travel by taxi far into the countryside, like Sogaree, a beautiful resort popular with families as it offered everything they wanted. At night, there were plenty of options for entertainment and the five star hotels like the Sheraton and Radisson lead the pack of several first class accommodations.
Of course these qualities could not hide the many slums that stood behind the main roads because the city had hundreds of thousands of woefully poor people.
The Italians spent only five years in Addis but were quite determined to build it and succeeded in developing much of it, specially the roads in the city and the highways as if to make them ready for any invasion or native uprising under the Haile Sellassi, who was gathering foreign support to regain his land and he did eventually defeat them with British aid.
I often wondered how the Italians were able to develop so much of Addis and other cities within five years but they did apparently because they had not expected to leave so soon or to fight the British for the country shortly after capturing it.
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