It is a three-hour flight to Addis Ababa from Dar es Salaam and we touched down at Bole International Airport around 4:00pm in the afternoon.
I was the lone invite from Tanzania by Bioscience for Farming in Africa (B4FA), a UK-based journalism fellowship programme that takes place in the four African countries of Tanzania, Uganda, Nigeria and Ghana.
We had been invited to attend the 9th Annual Meeting of the African Science Academies (AMASA-9) with the theme ‘The role of biotechnology for Africa’s development’.
Seated beside me in the plane, was Nsubisi Kalunga a district official from Ruvuma Region. He was also heading to Ethiopia for a seperate workshop on entrepreneurship.
On the ground at Bole, I kept wondering why many African countries fail to learn from Ethiopia in terms of how to invest in the airline business, like has been done by South Africa and Kenya.
For those who do not know, Ethiopian Airlines has been flying for nearly 70 years while many African airlines did not even stay in the air for a quarter of that period!
There was the hotel kiosk at the airport for ‘Dreamliner Hotel’ where I and my colleagues from Uganda, Nigeria and Ghana had been booked.
My two colleagues from Uganda had arrived much earlier and were already waiting in the lounge as we drove to the hotel located around Meskel Flower Street in Addis Ababa. It is a place very much up to standard with very good services.
While in Addis Ababa, (new flower in Amharic) , I was eager to trace the roots to Ethiopia’s great pride as a nation and people.
Many of the leaders trace their origins to Jewish ancestry. King Emperor Haile Selassie, a former hereditary leader, who was known as the ‘Lion of Judah’ was said to be a descendent of King Solomon.
Our tour guide through the city, John Endegena first took us to the ‘Red Terror museum.’ This is a monument to the many victims who perished while fighting for revolution against the ‘DERG,’ a dark period in Ethiopian history, in the early 1970s, in which Mengistu Haile Mariam was dictator.
Inside the museum there were thousands of human skulls and bones apparently awaiting recognition from relatives upon DNA testing. According to a museum guide, Menberu Bekele, most of these people were hanged.
It is a very sad story and remains fresh 40 years on. Indeed Ethiopians do not want to forget. Hence the words, ‘never ever again’ .
It was also a surprise to learn that most of the workers taking care of the museum were also the survivors of that dreaded time. We moved towards an open space called ‘Meskel Square,’ where trainings, sports activity, worships as well as public meetings have been conducted since time immemorial.
On our way to Addis Ababa University and the Holy Trinity Cathedral, our tour guide, John, told us that despite their country having a population of 85 million people with around 85 different ethnic tribal groups, (some are light skinned while others are dark skinned), they all live peacefully without segregation amongst themselves.
The tour guide at the Cathedral showed much admiration for the late Imperial Majesty Haile Sellassie.
He said it was the former Emperor who influenced the construction of the Cathedral from 1931 to 1944 and even after his death in 1974 he was buried inside it.
Inside are three flags representing the navy, ground and air forces with paintings depicting scenes from the Old Testament, through to the birth of Jesus and his disciples in the New Testament. There are also ten pillars to symbolize the Ten Commandments but written in the Aramaic language with the Emperors’ and the Queen tombs lying besides the altar.
Sahile Dereji, the tour guide at the Cathedral said, the place is also a burial place for famous scholars, dignitaries and high profile personalties in the country. This is also where the former Ethiopian premier Meles Zenawi is laid to rest.
We then paid our respects at the premier’s tomb where two armed soldiers were on guard around the clock.
Later we had a chance to experience what Addis nightlife was like. Most of us missed the warning notice at the hotel to be careful of ‘Addis city boys’ calling themselves tour guides. Possibly it was the excitement of going out.
Not long afterwards, we run into a guy who introduced himself to us as ‘Mr. Solomon’ and was willing to show us around the exotic Meskel Flower street.
I and my fellow participant from Nigeria, Kenneth Azahan, became more interested when ‘Mr. Solomon’ suggested that we visit the university girls hostel where he said was a nice place we could exchange ideas with students.
As we walked with ‘Mr. Solomon’ and asked him about the city’s security and safety at night, he assured us that Addis was as safe at night as daytime.
We eagerly followed him to the location south of Meskel Flower Street where we later discovered that the university girls’ hostel, ‘Mr. Solomon’ was referring to was actually a brothel he partly owned or was employed to bringing in foreign customers.
After this discovery ‘Mr. Solomon’ was far less trusworthy to us. His frantic attempts in persuading us to buy drinks for the ‘students’ fell on deaf ears.
We were very much afraid after seeing that he had lied to us. However, we did assure him that we were coming back the following day. Obviously we never did.
However this experience was very much made up for by the traditional Ethiopian band that entertained us at the Hilton Hotel a day before our departure. The music sent many dignitaries and academicians to the floor dancing to the tunes of Ethiopia.
As I woke up the next morning heading back home, I saw the many city towers under construction.
This gave me an impression that Addis was in high gear for development and it was just a matter of time before it turned into another ‘paradise’ city.