Addis Fortune (Addis Ababa)

2 December 2012

Ethiopia: Great Run, Great Fun

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The very mention of the month of November could herald the magnificent weather in Addis Abeba. Itege Taitu, the wife of Emperor Menelik, is known to have coined the name 'Addis Abeba' or 'the New Flower' exactly 125 years ago.

She is said to have been carried away by the breathtakingly unique, beautiful flower that had bloomed in full colors in the midst of the thick den around the hot springs also known as Filowha, in the vicinity where the Grand Palace now stands. Over the years, the natural vegetation of the Capital has withered away, making way for tukuls, skyscrapers and streets filled with colorful fleet.

Looking down from the terrace of one of the tallest buildings in town, the last Sunday morning had turned the streets of the Capital into green streams flowing to converge atMeskel Squarewhere the 12th annual event of the Great Run was held in its full colours and vicinity.

Men, women, young and elderly participants from here and abroad flocked wearing green jerseys and shorts of varying colors. Some had put on funny looking shapes and prodigal costumes with colorful hanging drapes.

Many had dyed their faces and hairs reminiscent of clowns in carnival shows and processions. Some were even wearing clothes tailored to fit certain animals and jogged slowly while blowing their horns.

The elite runners numbering over 520 and composed of members from different clubs began their race ahead of the 36,000 participants of the Great Run to avoid undesired obstruction. Aberu Kebede won the race in the women's group, while Hagos G. Hiwot took the title in the men's group of the elite runners.

The great fun embedding over 36,000 participants was ceremoniously kiked off at 9:00 am local time by the Mayor of Addis Abeba Kuma Demeksa. The occasion also marked the closing of the year-long anniversary celebrations of the founding of the capital.

But it was the key note starting address made by the veteran founder, the enterprising Haile G. Selassie that vividly stole the lime light when he said, "We were only 10,000 in number when we launched the Great Run rendezvous in 2001. This morning 36,000 people from here and abroad have come here to run. But 80 million people all over the country are running on the track of growth and development."

Haile, the ever smiling athlete, who is believed to have expressed his good intentioned sentiments by his popular slogan 'Everything is possible!' meaning 'Yichalal' is not only an accomplished athlete but also a man with unpreserved ability to communicate with the world to promote the national tourist industry. Who knows the ingenious athlete, in the not too distant future, could forge a strong partnership with the relevant bodies and turn the Great Run perennial gathering into a massive carnival that combines running, open air musical show from all over the country, fashion shows and street dances not to mention, wining and dining.

This type of grand assembly could not only enhance in festering the historic and cultural assets and images of the country but could also create a golden opportunity of money making business, including small scale businesses.

Talking of business, the series of the last 12 Great Runs have so far contributed a lot towards image building ofEthiopia. The 500 plus participants have come from many parts of the world. Some of these runners have come from neighboring East African countries, while several others have come from as far as theUnited StatesandAustralia.

The occasion has meant many things to many people. A former salesman of private company, for example, has been running with members of his family since the beginning of the event, back in 2001.

This year, he had come wearing a dark sunglass and a wide-rimmed Mexican Sombrero hat. His belly has bulged out a bit forward, discouraging him from teasing and making fun of his partner who happens to enjoy the slander he utters watching her rolling bottom from behind.

Elite runners cover the distance which is roughly estimated to be 10,000 meters in about half an hour or thereabout. Those people running for fun or jogging for fantasy, I should say, could take about two hours to cover the distance and never mind at all. They run not to win the race but to harvest fun.

Some of these people simply walk the roads munching snacks of all make. They down the food with bottled fizzy drinks or even take a breath at a cafe on the sidewalks to sip coffee or tea pr even drink ice cold bottled bear of whatever brand they can put their hands on.

The Great Run has also brought business windfalls for some members of the informal businesses engaged in mobile coffee making or homemade cookie sales, like pastry and Samossa. Some sugarcane or fruit vendors pushing wheel barrows on the sidewalks may generously be categorized as "fast food" providers working very hard to get their share of the business cake or the trickling down market.

We can blow the incidental business high up to the sky and see if the Ethiopian Air Lines could make something out of this perennial windfall carrying passengers who happen to come and partake in this event which is growing fast to make a tourist destination in its own right.

Some folks had used the Great Run as a forum to voice their political protests in slogans of decry when they passed by the residential quarters of the powers that be. But this was not to continue for long.

The route had to be changed to distance the voices from the palace. That is as it should be. It is hoped that the Great Run would grow into a massive meeting pot where cultural events, not political slogans, would be had and heard in due course of time.

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