A few weeks ago a guide friend of mine told me about an American tourist who brought with him his food, enough for a couple of weeks. The guide had been busy showing him restaurants, besides the tourism attractions.

Ethiopia, unlike other African countries, for centuries isolated itself from the rest of the world. It had also kept itself against colonial powers through her long history of war. This has of course helped the country to retain its original culture and history.

However, following the 1975 famine, it is normal to hear the word Ethiopia synonymous with the word famine. One can even read this in the Oxford dictionary.

Famine has become Ethiopia’s dark image before her great history and positive realities.

Though 30 years have passed and many changes have taken place, even in the middle of development and economic growth, the media tends to associate the country with hunger and famine.

As a tour operator I see the expectations and impressions of visitors before and after their visit. Many minds have been shaped by the media’s presentation of Ethiopia.

This exposure and publicity makes it difficult to present the country as a holiday destination. But unlike such exaggerated exposures, the reality is we are experiencing positive change.

Though things aren’t happening at the pace of some emerging economies, the country is making good progress, which should soon make famine a thing of the past.

Greenhouses in Ethiopia

There are great investment and development projects that are underway in many parts of the country.

The country is tapping into its potential, with initiatives and entrepreneurial activities being turned into successes.

For example, Ethiopia has become the major exporter of flowers in Africa next only to Kenya.

One can see many huge greenhouses while traveling in different parts of the country.

Abay Car

Though it may seem unbelievable, there are manufacturing plants that have begun assembling beautiful cars.

One of these cars is named after our river ‘Abay’ (Nile).

There are also various improvements in the roads and infrastructure.

One can see numerous buildings and construction projects underway in almost all parts of the country.

Bridge over River Abay

Just recently, a bridge on the Abay (Blue Nile), the first of its kind in East Africa, was inaugurated.

It is said to be the first cable – stayed bridge in East Africa.

Ethiopian too, is our pride in the airline industry. It has been awarded “Best Airline of the Year” in different times by different organizations.

Ethiopian AirlinesIt is well up to 21st Century standards with terminal facilities and runways.

Yes there are still challenges, problems, and poverty issues.

There are development problems in education, health care, infrastructures, etc, but in most parts of Ethiopia, food is not a big issue now.

Recently among one of my groups of travelers was a volunteer, in Ethiopia for three months. She was working on a water drilling project at a remote rural area. I can say that she was not pleased by what she experienced on her holiday.

She had in her mind that Ethiopia was ‘a country only good enough for aid’ while my cause is that it is a country good enough for tourism not just for an aid.

I had another client who had enjoyed his trip to Ethiopia. It was the first time for him and his wife to come to Africa. He told me that his friends urged him not to go, concerned over what he might eat, or where he would sleep etc. And when they could no longer stop him, they offered him their best wishes for him to come back home safely.

On our first night I invited my client and his family to a traditional restaurant where some of the best cultural dances were being performed. There was a turn for the performers to show a very beautiful dance that belongs to northern part of Ethiopia.

My clients were curious and wanted to know to which part of the country that particular dance belongs to.

I told them it is called Wollo and to my surprise they immediately replied “the famine!”. Despite never having been to Africa, let alone Ethiopia, they knew of the place where the famine took place.

Yet Wollo is endowed with the magnificent historical treasures of Lalibela.

Ethiopia has many great things to offer the rest of the world. It has centuries and millennia old heritage, spectacular scenery, culture, landscapes, paintings, monuments, beautiful weather, cuisines, wildlife etc.

But unfortunately all these have been veiled by a famine that happened over thirty years ago.

A more recent story to hit the media was about the tourists who were kidnapped two years ago by some bandits near the Ethio – Eritrean border. The news was an unusual experience in Ethiopia and shocking for someone like me who works in tourism.

Thank God they were freed without any harm. Then a few weeks later I found someone who lives in England came to visit her family. As we were talking, I asked her what the response was of people in her country to that situation.

I was surprised when she told me that some people even wondered if tourists go to  Ethiopia at all.

I am not saying that famine should never be mentioned nor referred to, but it should be known that Famine is not Ethiopian or Ethiopia is not Famine.

I am not trying to say that image issue should be of more concern than other problems we face, but it would be unfair to ignore the brighter sides of the country.

If you have a different view point, please post a comment, I would like love to read it.

Eskinder Hailu - Manager, Highway Tours

Eskinder Hailu
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