Features

Meet in Addis Ababa

31 Oct 2013 by BusinessTraveller
Addis-Ababa Ethiopia
Few people are aware that just by setting foot in Addis Ababa you will immediately shave seven years from your life. Nobody has discovered the fountain of youth, but Ethiopia operates on the thirteen month Julian calendar, so it’s only 2006 there. This is just another fascinating nuance which sets the country apart from its African neighbors. Addis, or “new flower” as it is known in the Amharic language, celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2012. It sits beneath beautiful Mount Entoto, 3,200 metres above sea level. The high altitude takes some adjustment but on the positive side malaria is not a problem up there. The headquarters of the African Union, the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the African regional office of the United Nations Environment Programme are all located in Addis. And the city of 3.8 million is also home to the third largest concentration of embassies and international organisations after New York and Geneva. It’s not surprising then that Addis has been dubbed the capital of the African continent. Ethiopians are especially proud of their place in African geopolitics. They are also quick to boast their’s is the only African country to never have been colonised. Italian troops did occupy the country from 1935 to 1941 but British forces helped restore the legendary Emperor Haile Selassie, the ‘Lion of Judah’ to power. Nevertheless, Italian influences are evident in some of the local architecture and in the popularity of that nation’s cuisine. Italian food is easily found alongside the national dishes of injera, a flatbread served with spicy meat and vegetables. Western visitors may consequently find the cuisine more appealing – or at least more familiar – than in neighboring countries. “The African Union was founded by Emperor Haile Selassie and we are celebrating the 50th anniversary in May 2013,” says Kebede Belamo of the Ethiopian National Tourist and Travel Organisation. “We have hosted many large conventions and conferences, the largest being the 2011 HIV/STD convention which attracted 10,000 people." The event is held in a different country every year and 2011 was the first time it was in Ethiopia. Ethiopia is made up of more than 80 different ethnic groups the largest of which are the Oromo and Amhara tribes. The latter dominate the political scene. Amharic is also the prevalent language although English is widely spoken in Addis. Orthodox Christians account for 43 per cent of the population while 33 per cent are Muslim and 18 per cent Protestants. Still, it is common to see Muslims and Christians worshipping at the same churches such as St George’s Cathedral, for example. For a large city Addis Ababa is relatively safe, although petty crime is a concern. Pickpockets are not uncommon especially in the merkato (market) area. Beggars are numerous along the main roads especially near the downtown hotels and, while they may be harmless, they certainly know how to pull one’s heartstrings. Acquiring Ethiopian currency in advance is next to impossible. US cash is the preferred currency and can be exchanged at the bank at Bole International Airport upon arrival. While the major hotels have ATM’s which service Cirrus/Maestro-based debit cards and dispense local currency, the fees are quite steep. At the time of writing, US$ is worth 19 Birr. A bottle of St George lager beer sells for 20 birr ($1.05) in most hotel bars, a pasta dinner 120 birr ($6.50), while a litre of petrol costs 16.9 birr ($0.89 – that works out to about $3.47 a gallon). Not that foreign visitors will necessarily have a need to ‘fill her up.’ Renting a car is out of the question without a driver and for good reason. Making sense of driving etiquette, or lack thereof, is near impossible. Many roads are also in disrepair. Construction is underway in virtually every direction as the economic growth that was started under the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi continues. In 2011 alone, the GDP grew at 7.5 per cent although the unemployment rate is hovering near 25 per cent. After Zenawi’s death in September 2012, Hailemariam Desalegn took office and has vowed to continue his predecessor’s economic policies. Entrepreneurs, especially the country’s millionaire distance runners, have invested in building hotels, office buildings, schools and cinemas. There is one catch however: the land is government owned and merely leased for 50 years. Agriculture drives the Ethiopian economy with coffee as the leading export. Foreign consultants are common, especially in water and environmental conservation. Still, a Chinese cement factory, Zhongshun Cement Manufacturing Plant, is located just south of Addis. But as one prominent Ethiopian architect noted, the country is open to foreign cooperation, but the people won’t be taken advantage of. Much business is done over coffee either in offices or at one of the hundreds of cafes which can be discovered throughout the city. A 30-day business visa is necessary, though, before setting foot in the city, which will cost US$29. Getting your meeting schedule right can be a challenging experience depending upon the time of day, which raises another important point. The Ethiopian day begins at 6am, so a "three o'clock" meeting may actually take place at 9am Western time. It is important to clarify which time – Ethiopian or traditional – is intended. United Nations Conference Centre The UNCC is located inside the UN compound on Menelik Avenue just opposite the National Palace. It is extremely close to some of the continent’s best luxury hotels making it an ideal location for major conferences and conventions. Like many venues it is just ten minutes from Bole International Airport by car which is a convenient bonus for those flying into the city. This spectacular building has 14 meeting rooms, the two largest of them more than 1,200 sqm, which can comfortably seat between 600 and 800 attendees. It can therefore accommodate everything from small workshops and conferences to major assemblies which attract heads of state. Technologically, the centre is equipped with the latest gadgetry including a six-language simultaneous translation, electronic voting, and visual equipment. It also has direct satellite telecommunications. The business centre has complimentary wifi, while restaurants and coffee bars are available for those attending conferences here, and there's a variety of menu options to choose from. PO Box 3001, Menelik II Avenue, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; tel +251 11 5514 945 www.uneca.org/uncc African Union Conference Centre Constructed by the Chinese government at a cost of $200 million, this beautiful landmark was a gift to Africa in recognition of the growing influence African politics has in the world. It opened with much fanfare on January 2012. The building has a 2,500 seat auditorium and twice a year this is where the Assembly of the African Union makes its most important decisions. There are also 32 smaller conference and meeting rooms inside the building. The complex is easy to spot – the adjoining 20-story office tower is, at 99 metres, the tallest building in Addis Ababa. PO Box 3243, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; tel +251 11 5517 700 Sheraton Hotel There are a number of well-appointed hotels in the city that are the equal of many Western luxury properties. The palatial Sheraton Hotel with its marble floors and chandeliers must be counted among them. The largest of its nine meeting rooms is the Lalibela Grand Ballroom which has a maximum capacity of 1,400. It can be partitioned off for smaller gatherings. Built by Ethiopian-born Saudi billionaire Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi, the hotel has 293 guestrooms and suites ranging from US$275 up to US$7,000 for a private villa. The hotel is located almost directly across the street from the UN Conference Centre. Some 5,000 people attended a concert by American pop superstar Beyonce in the courtyard, testament to the size of the grounds, which include a large swimming pool, restaurants and bars. In addition to the spacious grounds with its fountains and bridges, the hotel boasts eleven restaurants including Italian and Indian cuisine. PO Box 6002, Taitu Street, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; tel +251 11 5171 717 Addis Hilton Hotel The four-star Addis Hilton has a 700 person capacity ballroom and four meeting rooms which can be used for meetings or for press conferences. The annual Great Ethiopian Run, Africa’s largest mass participation running event, uses the Hilton for all its formal events including an international press conference and pre-event pasta dinner and gala. The 372-room Hilton is in close proximity to the ECA and other downtown locations and the staff are well versed in Western service right down to using the latest audiovisual technology. Taxis are normally lined up outside and will wait as much as two or three hours at no extra cost. A cost of 100 to 200 birr (about $5 to $10) is sufficient to get from anywhere across Addis to the Hilton. Menelik II Avenue, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; tel +251 11 517 0000 www.places.hilton.com/addis-ababa Makush Art Gallery & Italian Restaurant Surrounded by artwork hanging from the walls and laid out in a lobby gallery, this Italian restaurant serves up some amazing cheese tortellini and pizza to your specific taste by friendly and courteous staff. Allow some time to linger over the artwork before leaving the premises. Seating for dinner parties can be easily arranged. 2/F Mega Building, Bole Road, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; tel +251 11 5526 848 Places of interest in addis ababa MERKATO
Africa’s largest outdoor market is a must-see experience. Everything from spices and ironwork to live chickens and the pots to cook them in can be found along the network of narrow passageways which compose the merkato (Italian for market). Just watch out for the donkeys that meander along the road with no fear of crowds. And, beware the pickpockets who prey on unsuspecting tourists. At the main parking lot, guides will offer to escort you through the market for a small fee. They can be very useful as they know the area well. They can also claim to be able to spot the pickpockets who, apparently, steer clear of them and their clients. MESKEL SQUARE Gabon Street For 1,600 years, Meskel Square in central Addis has been the gathering place for festivals and demonstrations. It is also the start area of Africa’s largest mass participation running event, the Great Ethiopian Run, every November. Giant portraits of the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi adorn the sides of office towers surrounding the square. From sunrise to sunset the square is bustling with people running in street clothes or trainers along the dusty steps. ST. GEORGE’S CATHEDRAL Piazza Built in 1896, St George’s Cathedral pays homage to St George the patron saint of Ethiopia. Here you’ll see the religious tolerance observed by most Ethiopians put into action. Both Christians and Muslims worship here. Indeed a wander around the picturesque grounds reveals numerous people of all faiths seeking quiet worship. Emperor Haile Selassie’s coronation took place here in 1930 and his coronation gown hangs in the museum on the grounds. Worship services are open to visitors and the Archdeacon gives personal tours of both the museum and the cathedral itself. NATIONAL MUSEUM OF ETHIOPIA King George VI St Piazza The national museum contains an important collection of paleontological discoveries mostly discovered in Ethiopia’s Afar region. These include the bones of man’s predecessors, Australopithecus afarensis and Ardipithecus kadabba. The most popular exhibit is the cast of the 3.2 million year old “Lucy,” an upright humanoid excavated in 1974. She was named Lucy because the archaeological team repeatedly played the Beatles’ Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds in celebration of their discovery. Lucy’s original bones are in a Cleveland museum. Another highlight is a throne of Emperor Haile Selassie which was presented to him by the Indian community of Harar and subsequently looted by the Italian troops during World War II. It was returned to Ethiopia in 1972. HOLY TRINITY CATHEDRAL Arat Kilo This cathedral, known as Kidist Selassie in Amharic, was originally built by the Emperor Melenik II in the latter part of the 19th century and was expanded in 1942 to commemorate Ethiopia’s liberation from Italian occupation. Ethiopians view it the second most important place of worship in the country, only surpassed by St Mary’s Church in the city of Aksum. The Emperor Haile Selassie, the Lion of Judah, is entombed here alongside his wife the Empress Menen. Five of his children are buried in a crypt beneath the floor near the altar.
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