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harvesting equipment in the form of tractors and combine harvesters. Elsewhere, large fields of teff were harvested by hand, and threshed on the ground by cattle or horses.

There were few signs of any transport system for goods, and the only products I was aware of that were traded internationally were the coffee exports and fuel imports.  All other vehicles on the roads were busses.  Private cars hardly exist outside Addis Ababa, and there were some 4x4 vehicles seen in rural areas, generally the local taxis.

Throughout the rural areas, the majority of men carry rifles.  However, throughout my whole trip, no-one ever pointed one at me, nor was I threatened by anyone.  Theft was not an issue that ever concerned me, even when I had to leave my Landrover with two side windows missing.  The general attitude of the population, if one was walking in the bush - or in any environment outside tourist areas or a vehicle - was of assistance.  Even in towns, if children or beggars started to surround one asking for money, etc, invariably people would try and push them away.  However, when driving through towns, in the northern parts, large numbers of people would often shout "You".  Curiously this was a crowd reaction - individuals rarely did this, nor was it common south of Addis Ababa (and never in Addis itself).

There was little sign of the Italian colonial period other than the fact that western food offered in hotels was usually based on pasta.  In Addis Ababa there were a number of Italian and Greek expatriates, but they didn’t seem to dominate any field other than restaurants.

Overall, I felt that Ethiopia was a country that was truly at ease with itself - it worked at its own pace, was proud of its achievements, and was trying to overcome its problems.  Aid agencies weren't in evidence, yet a whole varieties of projects were underway, usually involving large number so the local population.  Sometimes they are overconfident, and always know the answer - rarely listening to advice or suggestions.  However, the religious side of the country is very strong - and the number of pilgrims to be found around Lalibela was quite remarkable.

Overall, Ethiopia is a country that needs to be explored, and the longer one can dedicate to the process the better.  It is so different from Kenya and the other countries to the south that it takes time to begin to understand the differences.


Djibouti was totally different from Ethiopia in virtually every respect.  The country remains a French colony, even if they pretend otherwise.  The differences between the expatriates and the locals couldn’t have been more odious.  The locals live in very basic huts, while the French live in huge mansions - especially along the east coast.  There are hundreds of taxis looking for hire, while there seemed to be very few mini-buses able to carry the locals.  I didn’t see any local driving a vehicle (other than a taxi), yet there were hundreds of new 4x4 vehicles.  Shops in the centre of Djibouti didn’t stock local goods, only French haut couture and other imported goods.  In the local hotels and restaurants, even the butter is imported from France.

It appeared there were two Djibouti's. The local one living in abject poverty, with no agriculture, no industry and no hope.  The other one is dominated by French Foreign Legion camps (I passed 5 in half an hour driving round Djibouti city) and commerce orientated entirely towards the expatriate community.  It was also noticeable that the road to the local beeches was tarred and in excellent condition, yet they were now resurfacing sections of the road - while the major trading route to Ethiopia was in serious disrepair, with no effort to repair it.

Prices for even the basics were at least 3 times higher than in Ethiopia.  Beggars in the city centre weren't selling food or cigarettes as is the norm in the rest of southern and eastern Africa, they were selling postcards!  On arriving in at the Menelik Hotel, over 10 different people tried to sell me postcards.  Why was nothing else being offered?  I just got the feeling that the African Renaissance was passing by Djibouti, and that the French were happy to have locked the country into a '60s culture.

This is not a country I felt happy in, and have no intention of returning to - unless the country achieves its independence in the near future.

An Ethiopian trip: 27/11/1999 to 17/01/2000Giles Mulholland 31 January 2000

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