11 May 2013

Nigeria: A Letter From Addis Ababa


This week, your correspondent is in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for the African Public Relations Association (APRA) Annual Summit. Themed "Rising Africa: The Imperative of Communication," the Conference has attracted delegates from about 20 African countries. The African Public Relations Association was founded in 1975 to promote the practice of public relations across Africa and to sell a positive image of Africa to the world through the profession.

APRA was originally an association of national public relations associations, but at the 2005 Conference in Johannesburg it was agreed that expanding the scope of the association to include individual members would greatly enhance the practice of public relations on the continent. Nigeria became APRA's permanent headquarters, while the Association's flagship event remains its Annual Conference which has been held in different parts of Africa to date (Abuja hosted in 2010, Mombasa, Kenya in 2011, and Mauritius is to host in 2014).

The APRA Conference, organised to coincide with activities kick-starting the celebration of African Union's 50th anniversary, is being held at the gleaming new African Union Office Complex, generously 'donated' by China to Africa. The year 2013 marks 50 years since the formation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU, AU's precursor) in May 1963. It will also be a little more than a decade since the formation of the African Union. For the AU, the year 2013 is the "Year of Pan-Africanism and the African Renaissance."

Ethiopia and its capital Addis Ababa (Addis for short) are immensely qualified to host the OAU, the AU, and our 2013 APRA Summit. A country that has never been colonised in the technical sense (although occupied during the 2nd World War), coupled with its impressive imperial history, Ethiopia deserves to be headquarters of Africa. Today, this Horn of Africa country that has over 90 million inhabitants (today's estimate=93.8) is the second-most populated nation on the African continent (after Nigeria, and having surpassed Egypt in population since).

Ethiopia is also the most populous landlocked nation in the world, having lost its Red Sea coast two decades ago when Eritrea declared independence and 'took' away all the shoreline. Because of the existing bad blood between the two former sisters, Ethiopia now uses the ports of Djibouti and Berbera in Somalia for its exports and imports.

Chief among Ethiopia's foreign exchange earners are Ethiopian Airlines, coffee, tourism and the spending power of the resident foreign diplomats of the AU and United Nations' agencies here. The Ethiopian economy is miniscule compared to Nigeria's (for example as at December 2012 Ethiopia had $3b foreign reserves while Nigeria had more than $40b; but there is no evidence of 'chop-chop' of Ethiopia's reserves compared to the wanton abandon in her senior sister's). Meanwhile, the Ethiopian Birr exchanges for 18 to the US Dollar; the Nigerian Naira goes for 160.

And so, as usual with my Letters From... , I will give us here a few live titbits observed about Ethiopia while I am here. Enjoy.


Here, there are no pretensions and brazen exhibition of surplus typical of Nigeria. Here, most people are proud to own and brandish TECNO phones as the most ubiquitous handset. There are TECNO shops at every corner of Addis, and I am yet to see any Nokia or Galaxy shops. Chinese-made TECNO, with perhaps the loudest ringtone volume of any phone, is adequate for the people here. And now that TECNO has announced they are opening a plant in Nigeria, when will Nokia come? Up TECNO!


Like any major developing city, the minibus (danfo in Lagos, matatu in Nairobi, mekrobass in Cairo) or its driver appear jinxed or possessed. They indiscriminately swerve with a swagger, stop and drop at will anywhere anytime, overtake on the right, and generally make your BP H. One such minibus did just that on an Addis street this Friday morning, and about twenty other vehicles, including our bus, had to wait 'patiently' for it to drop and pick. Did manage to keep my BP L.


Addis Ababa's Bole Airport has been named seventh best airport in Africa, the first being Cape Town's in South Africa (second, third and sixth also South African). On your behalf, I hereby register our 'protest' that none of Lagos, Abuja or Kano airports made the best ten. (For full list and to complain, see www.worldairportawards.com/Awards_2012/list_bestairport_africa.htm.) We no go gree! Sam!


Ethiopian Airlines provides this massive modern equipment as its carrier on its almost-daily flight from Abuja to Addis. Now compare Ethiopian's 777 to the miserable 737 Egypt Air deploys on its Kano-Cairo and Abuja-Cairo routes. As I do not have a national airline, or caring authority that can call Egypt Air to order, I have been proselytised to Ethiopian Airlines. Bye bye Egypt Air.

NO A/C: Addis, high up in the plateaux, is quite cool. Therefore, there is no air-conditioning in most of the hotels; the air naturally conditioned. But trust some Nigerians - they whined and complained and belly-ached about the a/c. But this is a country of extremes - some of the hottest places on earth are in Ethiopia, sometimes reaching 60 degrees centigrade. The highest Nigerian temperature rarely exceeds 50, even in Maiduguri, Sokoto or Katsina in April and May. (Yes, and Kano. I hear you.)


Thursday night, the Ethiopian Government hosted APRA delegates to dinner at this exquisite African restaurant. There was a variety of traditional Ethiopian cuisine, including a dish of raw meat, which even carnivorous Nigerians had to leave alone. But the music, the dances! Kai! What spectacle! What beauty! Now there was one particular dance I couldn't watch. Mrs. would not have approved. Kai! (Again).


You are not alone - that feeling you wished the earth swallowed you than face the embarrassment of loud-mouthed Nigerians. Apart from complaining about a/c in hotels, they were complaining about the food, the shuttle bus, the roads, everything. But they didn't complain about Totot, though. Kai!


A newspaper report stated "Ethiopia sacked their coach Iffy Onuora after they were thrashed 4-0 by Nigeria in an African Nations Cup qualifier, an official said. 'Mr Onuora was relieved from his position on disciplinary grounds [because] he was telling newspapers that he had to clear a herd of cows off a pitch in order for the team to train. I'm not aware of a single pitch that the team trains in where you can find cows.'"


The oldest human skeleton has returned home. Lucy (known in Ethiopia as "Dinknesh," meaning the 'wondrous one') is the name of the skeleton of a female estimated to have lived 3.2 million years ago. Discovered in 1974 in Ethiopia, Lucy provided overwhelming scientific evidence of Africa as cradle of civilisation. Since 2007, Lucy and other Ethiopian artifacts toured the United States for six years, and returned to Ethiopia on 7th May 2013, the day we arrived Addis.


Ethiopia has been used (and will definitely be dumped) by Western nations in their war with Islamist Al Shabab in Somalia. Time will tell them.

The Ethiopian National Anthem begins: March Forward, Dear Mother Ethiopia! Ours begins: Arise O Compatriots! Now, it seems Ethiopia is marching forward while Nigerian compatriots have refused to Arise! Perhaps it is because all other citizens call their nations 'Mother', while we don't even call ours 'Aunty'.

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