I arrived early Sunday morning into Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, after a long haul flight from home. My day began Saturday at 3 am and after two fights totaling 16 hours I found myself in Africa’s highest capital Addis Ababa which translates into “new flower”.
The earliest people living in the Shewa region surrounding Addis Ababa date back to the 9th century and are believed to be the Gurage people. Over the centuries the Somalis and Abyssinian kingdoms laid claim to the land, followed by the arrival of the Oromo in the 1500s. The actual city of Addis Ababa was not founded until 1886 when Emperor Menelik II decided to move his military base from Mount Entoto to the vast fertile plains below of Addis Ababa.
Today, Addis Ababa is Ethiopia’s largest city with an estimated population of over 3 million people and is a magical place where tradition and modernity are intertwined in unexpected ways. Walking down the busy streets of Addis Ababa you can see high rises and western hotels reaching towards the sky juxtaposed with dirt sidewalks, donkeys leaving the market and undeveloped slums. It is a place filled with contradiction. Looking outside the window of my newly built luxurious western hotel lies one of many slums slightly hidden behind corrugated tin fences and walls. Men in well-tailored suits sit outside in a chairs along dirt sidewalks getting a shoe shine. High rise buildings are going up alongside a pell-mell of depressing slums. Everywhere you look is something that makes you scratch your head and wonder.
Ethiopia is often referred to the cradle of mankind where the remains of the oldest and most complete hominid every found, named Lucy (dating back 3.2 million years) were found. Ethiopia was part of “Gondwanaland” which is known as the earth’s first continent six hundred million years ago. Today, Ethiopia has a population estimated at 90 million people and is one of the most diverse nations in the world with over 83 distinct languages and 200 dialects.
A little under half of the population are Orthodox Christians and the next largest religious group are Muslims making up around 34% of the population. Although there are so many different languages in Ethiopia, the population can be broken down into eight broad groups of ethnicities. The Oromo and the Amhara make up the largest percentage of the population with the Oromo being the largest ethnic group in the country making up around 34.5% and the Amhara making up around 26.9%. The other important groups include the Somali (6.2%), the Sidama (4%), the Gurage (2%), the Afar (1.7%), and the smaller groups of the Harari and the Falashas (Ethiopian Jews).
In Ethiopia over 90% of the population live outside cities in rural areas making a living off the land, mainly as subsistence farmers. Agriculture is the backbone of the Ethiopian economy with the main exports being coffee, oil seeds, flowers, vegetables and animal feed. Given the fact that only 10% of the land is truly arable and Ethiopia is prone to errant rainfall pattens, severe drought and famine have struck the nation especially in the Northern highlands. The 1984 famine gained worldwide attention as 1 million people died, and was one of the worst famines in history. Droughts continue to be a huge problem in Ethiopia and unfortunately the nation has very little food reserves meaning a severe drought can be a matter of life and death.
Per the World Bank,”as one of the world’s oldest civilizations, Ethiopia is also one of the world’s poorest countries. The country’s per capita income of $410 is substantially lower than the regional average.” Ethiopia has a struggling economy in transition desperately trying to modernize in order to lift its population out of poverty. Although the country has experienced strong growth over the past decade and the percentage of Ethiopians living in extreme poverty (less than $0.6 per day in Ethiopia) has reduced from 38.7% of Ethiopians (2005) to 29.6% (2010), there is still a long way to go. (Source: World Bank, 2013).
Over my next two weeks in Ethiopia I look forward to learning more about Ethiopia’s maternal, child and newborn health. We are meeting with a wide variety of NGOs, doctors, health extension workers and government officials in order to get a comprehensive understanding of Ethiopia’s strategy. It has already been a fascinating trip and I can’t wait to learn more. Stay tuned…
I am reporting from Ethiopia as a fellow with the International Reporting Project (IRP). My first post on #EthiopiaNewborns for the International Reporting Project is up on World Moms Blog: “Field Report #EthiopiaNewborns: An Overview of Maternal, Newborn and Child Health in Ethiopia“.