I went to Ethiopia for my vacation in November, a dream place for any archeology buff, but also a great eye opener for someone who contends to run Africa for a technology company.
Yes, I have seen Lucy, a hundred twenty centimer tall lady in the museum. I went to see Lake Tana, the beginning of the amazing Blue Nile which
gives life to east Africa. And I did see Gonder, its palaces from which Ethiopian empire was run, so sophisticated and ahead of its time when they were built.I went up to Simian Mountains national park, stayed at the highest lodge in Africa at 3650 meters and dined together with the baboons. I shopped in the art galleries of Adis Ababa and got myself two contemporary Ethiopian paintings.
I attended a celebration in the city of Axum right in front of the staelas and took pictures of most beautiful people I have seen in my life. Yes, the trip was a tough one compared… Windy unpaved roads that go up and down two thousand meters every two hours; road hold ups; bugs of all sorts; the immense distances and logistics made it straining on me but when I look back; this was one of the most amazing trips with the most pleasant, helpful, kindest people I have met in years.
I also wanted to share some observations on opportunities in Ethiopia and also technological transformation. First is Ethiopians are really sophisticated in technology use when they have access. Broadband infrastructure is a big problem in the country; well, as well as other infrastructural issues on paved roads, electricity and power supply in general and schooling. But everywhere I went, I bumped into people knowing and using internet either through their cellphones or through internet cafes. It also is a country which is rural and services and industries are yet to be developed. I spotted several opportunities and needs in terms of goods and services Ethiopians demanded but yet again I haven’t seen many international companies looking into these opportunities.
And an Ethiopian festival for the Chinese..
Axum had all sorts of beautiful surprises for me—the historical tombs; the amazing platoes right near the Eritrean border; and of course the most significant of all, the staelas of Axum. One morning I put together my camera equipment to take early morning shots of the staelas which my hotel was overlooking. And I saw hundreds of people gathered and music playing at the center right in front of the staelas. Next two hours was a feast; an ultimate dream for any adventure traveler like me who loves to take people photos in their most joyful colorful moments. There was a procession to celebrate the visit of Chinese Communist Party’s second man; the town was trying to show outmost respect and host him the best way possible. There were hundreds of school children; representatives of every religious and political group in Axum dressed in their traditional colorful attire; as well as various music bands performing. Axum used to be capital of the long forgotten Axumite kingdom which occupied northern part of Ethiopia centuries ago; and its heritage still lives on very strongly. There I met the kindest ladies who took great lengths to explain me their heritage and why they dressed the way they did; and thoroughly investigated what I thought about their celebrations.
And the Chinese. To have such a high level officer from China in probably fourth of fifth biggest city of Ethiopia was real surprising; but when you dig deeper, not really. Chinese companies are the ones making the various road constructions in this real testing terrain. They are also building a couple of power plants in a country where electricity is one of the biggest needs/opportunities for development. And of course the badly needed telecom infrastructure. You really need to go to Adis to start seeing some western companies operating/branding in Ethiopia. There are real big opportunities in Ethiopia for business and I felt other nations still need to discover it.
Joe and his facebook page..
I had several long and very interesting conversations with young people. The head of company who took care of my logistics in Axum was an eighteen year old boy. Joe simply was working for his father but had very innovative ideas how to expand the business to reach more tourists; expand the car fleet; and reach out to his customers and suppliers via the Internet. He had a very simple entry level smart phone, which he said he purchased for eighty dollars, it was operating on 2G network; and he proudly showed me that his facebook account had 260 friend from all over Ethiopia as well as international folks he meets like me.
Joe’s interaction with technology was mind blowing. He has a cell phone for his instant day-long communication needs and also for social computing. He has a laptop at home for at the end of the day computing, used as a storage device for his music, pictures, videos and gaming. He purchased his laptop from Adis Ababa two years ago for seven hundred dollars, a used one which is the norm in Ethiopia. Adis Ababa is actually around 9 hours away from Axum and is not readily accessible after all. He also said there is a desktop computer at the premises of his family owned business, he prefers it that way so that all employees in the company can use this one computer and that it is stationary and hard to be stolen or broken. He said he likes his mobile phone because it is so small and easy but would love to get a much smarter device with bigger screen size so he could download videos he likes and watch them instantaneously; but he insisted it had to fit his pocket hence it can’t be too big.
Whether we become a part of it, whether we can speed things up or not—Africa is changing by the day. Having met Joe with his aspirations and how excited he is to use technology was such an eye opener. Africa is where our civilization came from; yet remains a very sophisticated place to be discovered. Dichotomy is something we humans are used toJ