Ethiopia: Part 2
Hi or tadiyass (hello in Ethiopia’s national language of Amharic) from here in Addis Ababa.
Today is the first day of the Climate Change and Development in Africa Conference, held at the headquarters of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. The UNECA headquarters is an imposing grey building with the flags of all 53 member states flying on the front lawn. There is a stark contrast between this compound and the world outside the guarded gates. In fact, the road to the entrance of the building seems to be made up more of potholes than actual road. The building also lies adjacent to the construction site of a planned expansion to the UNECA headquarters, and a small shantytown of construction workers has sprung up around the site. The air is hazy and stings the eyes as workers burn debris from the construction. Once inside, the air is crisply air-conditioned and the walls and stairs are all made of a smooth white marble in an Italian style. Once again, the juxtaposition of poverty and luxury strikes me as one of the central characteristics of the city.
Dr. Pachauri, Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, opens the conference with an address to all the participants. He highlights the lack of scientific research looking into how climate change will affect Africa. This research is necessary in order to develop effective policies and institutions to address the challenges of climate change in Africa. As Africa will face some of the worst impacts of climate change, one of the goals of the conference, Dr. Pachauri argues, must be to fill this gap in Africa-centric climate research. The fact that Africa is the most vulnerable continent to the effects of climate change is one of major themes of the conference. Many policy-makers from African governments and environmental organizations highlight this fact as well as the responsibility of developed countries to provide funding and technology to help Africa adapt to the impacts of climate change. Another major theme of the conference is the importance of putting development first when addressing climate change in Africa. Climate change and development are inextricably linked, particularly in Africa. Any attempts to develop sustainably in Africa must consider the effects that climate change will have in the future; however, mitigation attempts must also consider the needs of Africa to increase their levels of development. Keeping this point in mind, the conference also considered the need for ‘green’ development, or low carbon development. In this way, Africa can improve standards of living without continuing along unsustainable development pathways. There is a lot of talk of ‘leapfrogging’ over dirtier technologies, giving Africa a leg up on the rest of the industrialized world who have the more difficult task of transitioning away from an oil-dependent economy.
The CCDA Conference highlights the need for Africa to focus on low carbon development; however, without support from industrialized countries, this will be a difficult task. While developed countries have pledged billions to support climate change adaptation and mitigation in low-income countries, very little of this money has actually materialized. Africa does not have time to wait for the industrialized countries to get their acts together and take responsibility for a problem they are primarily responsible for. Many at the conference expressed frustration at this gap between pledged funds and actual action on the ground. Numerous speakers at the conference made the point that it is time for Africa to stop waiting for aid from developed countries and, instead, harness their own resources and ingenuity and direct it towards creating climate solutions that work for Africa. It seems to me that both must occur for Africa to successfully address the threat that climate change poses for the continent.
Following the end of the three-day conference, I am able to spend some time exploring the city of Addis Ababa. A friend of my colleague who works as a driver in the city offers to take us around for the day. As we drive through the bustling streets on a bright sunny day I take in the sights, sounds and smells of the city. There is the smell of smoke is the air from the burning of garbage and also from the nearby charcoal factory where residents buy bundles of charcoal to use as their main source of fuel. We pass a group of young men playing soccer next to the river where birds and dogs scavenge. Further up the road we drive past the presidential palace surrounded by high walls and armed guards. Our driver warns me to lower my camera, taking photos of the compound is forbidden, and even lingering near the gates is viewed as suspicious.
Our first stop of the day is the National Museum of Ethiopia, located across the street from Addis Ababa University where student stroll through the campus, looking like any other typical university campus. In front of the Museum, school children in their blue and white uniforms wait to enter. The National Museum houses numerous artifacts from Ethiopia’s near and far distant future. It’s star attraction is the famous ‘Lucy’, the partial skeleton of an individual Australopithecus estimated to have lived approximately 3.2 million years ago and discovered in 1974 in the Awash Valley of Ethiopia’s Afar Depression. Lucy received her name, it is told, because she was discovered while the Beatles’ song ‘Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds’ was playing at the site. Other than the famous Lucy, the museum features artifacts ranging from early farming tools, remnants from the Italian occupation, and Marxist-themed art. The diversity of the museum is a true representation of Ethiopia’s incredible history. After the museum we hit up Addis’ main shopping street, otherwise know as the Piazza district, another remnant of its brief Italian occupation. The street is dominated by jewelry shops, as well as stores selling various leather goods. It also is the location of many of the best restaurants in Addis. Other than the traditional Ethiopian fare, Addis is also known for having excellent Italian food for when you feel you cannot eat another roll of injera.
The next morning, another perfect 30°C and sunny day, I decide to head to the famous Merkato market, the largest outdoor market in the world. Luckily, I am again accompanied by our driver to act as my guide/interpreter/negotiating assistant. Negotiation is the name of the game, so to speak, at Merkato, and merchants will expect you to negotiate aggressively, usually charging any foreigner significantly more for their wares. At Merkato you buy everything from exotic spices to a camel. There are also hand-made leather donkey saddles, actual donkeys, scrap metal, Tupperware, scarves, luggage, pots and pans, carvings, jewelry, bedding, shoes, butchers, bakers, and, I think, a partridge in a pear tree. The market is literally a maze, with narrow lanes stacked ten feet high with goods and lined with various stalls. The merchants introduce themselves and ask me where I’m from, and, more than once I have to politely explain that I cannot bring a leather saddle or ornately carved wooden stool back with me in my suitcase.
Thus ends my amazing adventure in Addis Ababa. From attending the CCDA conference to exploring the city of Addis, it has been an eye-opening, exciting, educational and sometimes nerve-racking experience. As I take-off back to Stockholm, I take with me not only the wickedest sunburn I’ve ever experienced, but also memories that will last a lifetime. To check out some photos from my trip click here.