The sixth biggest producer of chickpeas is Ethiopia. Now Ethiopia is one of the few countries with the dubious distinction of once being occupied by Italy, a country whose military prowess is forever tainted by their high profile World War II about-turn that left Hitler’s Nazi Germany wide-eyed in disbelief over their former ally’s slippery betrayal. Ethiopia was eventually liberated from a future of sub-par workplace productivity and sex-crazed politicians by the British, who else, who restored good order and set them on their way to a self-governing sovereign country with the signing of the Anglo-Ethiopian Agreement in December 1944. Haile Selassie, once Time magazine’s Man of the Year, took the tiller until an oil crisis in 1973 sparked widespread disillusionment with the government which promptly met the traditional sticky end of many a fragile regime by being pipe-bombed by a Soviet-backed military junta.
As with many countries in Africa Ethiopia is big, with a diverse geography ranging from dusty deserts to tropical forests. It is also one of the poorest countries in the world, forever etched in Western minds by the savage drought that got Bob Geldof out of bed after the shocking footage made it onto the BBC news. With drought and famine you can throw in widespread deforestation which has caused massive soil erosion and a sad reduction of biodiversity. The country has also had to deal with a bloody dispute over borders with its wet-lipped neighbour Eritrea – itself not without a few domestic issues – political fraud, more drought and an itchy stance on human rights were the vast majority of marriages involve actual, physical abduction. Not nice. Disabled children are also believed by some tribes in the South to exert an evil influence on others and so don’t get a fair go at life – also not nice – although progress of sorts has latterly been made and attitudes, according to some humanitarian reports have recently softened.
Yet whilst poor, the economy is actually growing at a decent clip and the clever people at the IMF reckon it’s one of the fastest growing non-oil dependent African economies. However as Nigeria has discovered, having oil in Africa is not necessarily a good thing. The proceeds frequently end up funding ski chalets in Swiss cantons that don’t ask too many questions, and the pipelines that ship the oil out to fill up America’s pick-up trucks are regularly bombed by militants who don’t ski and perhaps, rightly, feel as though their nation’s wealth is being silently spirited away down the pipes. Hence all the googling of where to buy cheap semtex. Whilst Ethiopia doesn’t have much oil, what it does have – sadly not without a trace irony given all the drought – is water.
Ethiopia is known, in certain circles, as the ‘Water Tower of Africa’. There are no less than fourteen major rivers that start out in Ethiopia’s vast complex of mountains and plateaus. The Nile, widely regarded as the world’s longest river, begins in Lake Tana in the north-western highlands. Well the Blue Nile does. As any primary school child will tell you the Nile is made up of two main tributaries: the White Nile, which a German explorer by the name of Waldecker diligently traced to a small stream at the base of Mount Kikizi in Burundi, and the Blue Nile. Some Ethiopians reckon the Blue Nile is the actually the River Gihon that was mentioned as flowing out of the garden of Eden in Genesis (chapter two), but that may just be a matter of opinion. Lake Tana is also home to lots and lots of birds, from the Great White Pelican to the African Darter. It is also a popular resting and feeding ground for many migrant water-birds who are probably inclined to stop off as they know that Lake Tana has no crocodiles. None whatsoever.
As well as water, Ethiopia has other stuff going on. It is was the origin of the first coffee bean and now, perhaps unsurprisingly, produces more coffee than any other African country. It is also, after recent investment, set to become one of the world’s biggest exporters of flowers; which is good news for local employment, and very good news for Elton John. There is also a healthy black market, especially in livestock which are silently ferried into Somalia and Kenya and which is thought to generate about $300m every year which must equate to a lot of mangy goats. What with lots of water and lots of coffee beans then Ethiopia despite a history of drought and civil war is arguably a corrupt-free government away from being a decent African success story. Of course there is also lots more stuff going on in a country as cultural rich and ethnically diverse as Ethiopia but if you want to find out more, you probably ought to run out and buy a book; or have a look on Rightmove. Addis Ababa. Two Ds in Addis.