My Time in Ethiopia
by Sam Baraso -- July 20th, 2011
Been finished with my time in Ethiopia for a bit now and am now in Tanzania, but here’s a bit of my thoughts on my time prior.
I ended up spending some 6 days in the capital, Addis Ababa, and 4 days around Dinsho, a town 8/9 hours southwest (by car) at the headquarters of Bale Mountains National Park. I spent my days in Addis catching up with family whom most I had not seen for over 8 years. Despite this, I received the warmest of welcomes, barely skipping a beat between the years. Addis was an interesting site. As the government had been on a construction hiatus for over 17 years, ending in the early 2000s, the past several years have seen a remarkable amount of capital development. Government condos are being built daily with occupancy based on a lottery system. While there are many factors at play, I believe this has contributed to a noticeable decline in shanty towns and homeless on the streets.
When I had come last, a large new road called Addis Ababa Ring road was also being developed to improve access into Addis and neighborhoods on the periphery. In addition to this, roads throughout the city have undergone major improvements. However, despite the completion of these major projects, it was surprising to see the large amount of halting traffic throughout the city daily. It makes me wonder what will come next. There are already high import taxes on vehicles (most new vehicles cost double what they do in the US) making them cost prohibitive on top of the $5/gallon price of fuel. For this reason, many of the cars around over 20 years old. For example, in Addis we had been driving around in a 1984 Toyota Corolla, rented at $12/day. Needless to say, I stalled several times.
Here in Tanzania, they have a policy whereby they impose a dumping fee (on top of the import tax) for vehicles older than 10 years, thus preventing the country from becoming a junk wasteland of old cars. I hope that Ethiopia may put a similar policy in place someday. While I understand the need to use goods to full utility, these countries cannot become landfills for unwanted goods elsewhere. As the country continues with its growth, there will inevitably be some sort of emissions control to manage the associated air pollution. While it will be costly, it seems to be the only viable next step as the number of cars on the roads increase daily. Public transportation much beyond the current network of buses is not really feasible given the financial constraints. After a few days in Addis, I met up with Dr. Anouska Kinahan and her husband who took me to their home at the headquarters of Bale Mountains National Park. The connection was made through Dr. Stuart Pimm, who had collaborated with Anouska several years past. She now works alongside her husband at Frankfurt Zoological Society managing the Bale Mountains Conservation Project.
The park is beautiful and contains the largest afro-montane habitat in the world. It is also one of the remaining strongholds of the ~550 Ethiopian wolves remaining worldwide, with ~300 in the park. I went on a two-day trek through the park with my guide, Idris, and horse porter, Kadir.
While the landscape is relatively barren, cattle scat was seen throughout the areas I visited. Speaking with park authorities, I came to learn that over 750,000 cattle are grazed in the park. This poses the largest threat to the park’s viability. In addition, there is a 3000+ community that lives within the Harenna forest ecosystem of the park. In the past they have sustained themselves via forest products and cattle, however, they are now clearing large portions of the forest for agriculture.
Despite the park’s designation, official boundaries have never been established. This has partially handicapped park managements’ abilities to enforce boundaries. As the Ethiopian Wildlife Authority Commission is moving to gazette the official boundaries, the future of peoples relying on the lands remains unclear. After a few days in the Bale Mountain region, I hop on an early morning bus back to Addis. One flat tire, 4 government inspection stations, some interesting conversation attempts, offers for kat, and ten hours later I make it back to Addis.
I wrap up my final days in the city catching up with long lost relatives, visiting cafés, and eating injera. I was finally ready for Tanzania.