“Ethiopia is ancient, but it has quite a bit to teach the rest of Africa about fostering and refining the best in one’s own culture. For food, for architecture, and for a deep, rich and accessible history, touch down in Addis Abeba when next you fly South.
Ethiopia – the proud, deeply religious, fast-changing former realm of Haile Selassie is something like the Tibet of Africa (if Tibet had managed to oust China by now, instead of, as Addis Abeba does, whole-heartedly welcoming the Middle Kingdom’s investors and merchants). Ethiopia is also, like Tibet, a place that many Western tourists are disappointed to see in the flesh, because it’s a thriving and full-bloodedly commercial country, rather than a poor, austere charity appeal film where proud but famished people scratch at subsistence crops in the shadow of rock-hewn churches. The point is that Ethiopia is still poor, but that that poverty is being fought back with all the deliberation that saw the Emperor’s cavalry and musketssee off the Italians at Adwa in 1896, very unexpectedly drawing a stripe under the total colonisation of Africa by Europe.
I was a Capetonian in Addis Abeba and Asmara for research on the two countries’ totally unique architecture – both ancient and modern (yes, Eritrea, of which Asmara is the capital, has one of the richest concentrations of Modernist architecture outside Tel Aviv). What I knew of Ethiopia was that the food is one of Africa’s great cuisines – rich, layered, and accompanied by a coffee ceremony of quite effortless grace. I also knew, due to using the distinction against people whose deadlines I had missed, that their calendar is the Julian, which England cast off (in favour of the Papist Gregorian calendar) only in 1752, by declaring that the day after Wednesday 2 September would be Thursday 14 September. I also knew a something about Ras Tafari, acquired in equal parts through a misspent youth and an early-2000s government-school matric syllabus.”