“In order to solve urban problems, we should build towns in the countryside.”
When I first went to Sirti just a few years ago, there were a few mud houses, and no electricity. Today, Ethiopian pop blasts out of three or four coffee houses – and they even have espresso machines. A hotel of sorts has beds for 25 birr a night.
Sirti has one foot in today’s Ethiopia, and one foot in yesterday’s Abyssinia. It is a quintessential highland town in Jidda woreda, and like all highland towns, is growing from being a convenient crossroads for local farmers to sell their livestock and merchants to purchase them. It is growing into something else, but what? It is still at a crossroads, but it is now a crossroads of yesterday’s Abyssinia and today’s Ethiopia.
Yesterday’s Abyssinia: jodhpur clad farmers come to town. They ride skinny mares to market which are suited with young mules. They wear gabis and felt hats.
Today’s Ethiopia: the farmers check the price of the five month old mules on their mobile phones. Merchants come to market in shinny new Isuzu trucks. They wear baseball hats and T-shirts that say ‘Obama.’
But for all the electricity lines, the new roads and the Isuzus, when one walks through the stalls of the market (plastic shoes, soap, incense, horse saddles, tape recorders, sweets and batteries, glass cups and leather straps) one feels that this is very much what Arada, the old market place in Addis Ababa, must have felt when the city was founded in the 1880s – even in Ethiopia at its most modern, Good Auld Abyssinia always lingers.
Tomorrow’s Ethiopia: urbanization, condominiums, dams and electricity lines. It rests to be seen if Mr. Allais’ tongue in cheek idea will prove to be the solution in Ethiopia.
Mr. Allais, the deadpan French humorist, hit it right on the nail when he said that to solve urban problems, we should build in the countryside. It is advice that Ethiopia is taking to the letter. All over the land, small settlements are bulging and thriving. In today’s Ethiopia, the countryside is fast filling up with towns and cities. Urbanization is the thing of the day, and will be the major phenomenon of the next few decades. It rests to be seen if Mr. Allais’ tongue in cheek idea will prove to be the solution in Ethiopia.