Moyale, Arba Minch, Awassa, Addis Ababa, Bale Mountains National Park, Addis Ababa, Bahir Dar/Lake Tana, Gondar, Sankober (Simien Mountains), Axum, Tigray (or near), Mekele, Danakil Depression, Mekele, Lalibella, Gondar/Gorgora, Metema (border crossing).
Ethiopia is the only country of our trip in Africa that has not been colonized by a European country. Since the Middle Ages it was ruled by an emperor until in 1974 ‘the Derg’, supported by the Soviet Union came to power. After years of growing discontent and increasing street protests, the last emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, is unceremoniously deposed as emperor on 12 September. The Derg declare a socialist state on 20 December. Early in 1975 Haile Selassie dies while in custody and the cause of death is unknown, but many believe he was smothered with a pillow by Mengistu (leader of the Derg). During Mengistu’s rule up to 500,000 people were killed as a result of the Red Terror, from forced deportations, or from the use of hunger as a weapon. The Red Terror was carried out in response to what the government termed the "White Terror", a supposed chain of violent events, assassinations, and killings attributed to the opposition.
The 1983–85 famine in Ethiopia affected around eight million people, resulting in one million dead. Insurrections against Communist rule sprang up, particularly in the northern regions of Tigray and Eritrea. In 1989, the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) merged with other ethnically based opposition movements to form the coalition known as the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). Concurrently, the Soviet Union began to retreat from building world communism under Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika policies, marking a dramatic reduction in aid to Ethiopia from Socialist Bloc countries. This resulted in more economic hardship and the collapse of the military in the face of determined onslaughts by guerrilla forces in the north. The collapse of socialism in general, and in Eastern Europe during the revolutions of 1989, coincided with the Soviet Union stopping aid to Ethiopia altogether in 1990. The strategic outlook for Mengistu quickly deteriorated. In May 1991, EPRDF forces advanced on Addis Ababa and the Soviet Union did not intervene to save the government side. Mengistu fled the country to asylum in Zimbabwe, where he still resides. In 2006 he was finally convicted by the `Ethiopian court for genocide’.
In July 1991 a transitional charter was endorsed, which gave the EPRDF-dominated legislature a four-year, interim rule under the executive of the TPLF leader, Meles Zenawi. First and foremost, Mengistu’s failed socialist policies were abandoned, and de facto independence was granted to Eritrea. In August 1995 the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia was proclaimed, a series of elections followed, and the constitution of the second republic was inaugurated. Meles Zenawi formed a new government. He became prime minister of Ethiopia. In comparison to other African countries the position of President of Ethiopia, is the head of state of Ethiopia and is mostly a ceremonial one, with executive power effectively being exercised by the Prime Minister of Ethiopia. The current president is Mulatu Teshome, who took office on 7 October 2013. Presidents are not chosen by the people but elected by the House of Peoples' Representatives for six years, with a two-term limit.
Despite being friends and having fought against the Derg side by side for more than a decade, Meles Zenawi and Eritrea’s president, Isaias Afewerki, soon clashed. The cause? Eritrea’s introduction of the nakfa currency to replace the Ethiopian birr in November 1997. In February 1999 a full-scale military conflict broke out that left tens of thousands dead on both sides before it finally ceased for good in mid- 2000. During this time there were mass exportations of Eritreans from Ethiopia and Ethiopians from Eritrea. Although Ethiopia had agreed to peace earlier, it wasn’t until Ethiopia recaptured all territory and went on to occupy parts of central and western Eritrea that Eritrea finally agreed to a ceasefire. In December 2000 a formal peace settlement was signed in Algiers.
The elections of 2010 saw Zenawi and the EPRDF returned to power. This time there was none of the violence that marked the 2005 election but international observers criticised the elections saying they fell short of international standards. Human Rights Watch claimed the government had a strategy of systematically closing down space for political dissent and independent criticism. In July 2012 rumours began to circulate that Zenawi, who hadn’t been seen in public for some weeks, had died. The government denied these rumours but admitted that Zenawi had been hospitalised, but that his condition was not serious. On 20 August 2012 it was announced that after 21 years of leading Ethiopia, Zenawi had died of an infection contracted after an operation to remove a brain tumour.
His political party the EPRDF have won all elections held since Ethiopia became a republic. But since august of this year protest against the government have become more vocal and violent. On 5 August 2016 protests broke out across the country and dozens of protesters were subsequently shot and killed by police. The protesters demanded an end to human rights abuses, the release of political prisoners, a fairer redistribution of the wealth generated by over a decade of economic growth, and a return of Wolqayt District to the Amhara Region. The events were the most violent crackdown against protesters in Sub-Saharan Africa since the Ethiopian regime killed at least 75 people during protests in the Oromia Region in November and December 2015. Following the protests, Ethiopia declared a state of emergency in October 2016.
Our first reaction was that this will make our plans so much more difficult and we might need to ship the truck from Mombasa to Rotterdam. However, all reports from fellow overlanders were that they had not been impacted negatively by the state of emergency. So with our visa for Ethiopia in hand we continued our initial route via Ethiopia to Sudan, leaving Africa by car ferry to Saudi Arabia and continue through the Middle East via Turkey to Europe.
It is, however, the country that we looked the least forward to of all because of the attitude of the people (from hear say). On the other hand we were really looking forward to our visit to the Danakil Depression; the hottest place on earth.
Border crossing and driving towards Addis Ababa
Moyale Border crossing
Early morning we left Henry’s camp in Marsabit and headed for Moyale. The road from Nairobi to Moyale was notoriously bad until a year ago. It used to be a dirt road and would take at least 12-15 hours to drive. Fortunately for us it was completely tarred till the border. Maybe less adventurous, but it saved us a lot of time. After 3 hours we arrived at the Kenyan border, where formalities were swift. We drove to the Ethiopian side of Moyale (the town is divided in the middle by the border of the two countries). Chaos on the other side…road and construction work…no sign posts…and officials without a proper attire or visible ID…but we found the immigration office quickly and 15 minutes later we were legally in Ethiopia...the next mission was to get the carnet stamped for the car. Luckily we found the coordinates for the customs building in the iOverlander app (otherwise not so easy to find…) and Wilfred went in to get the paperwork done. After two minutes he was back at the truck, complaining that the office was closed for lunch an would not open again till 20.00 (and it was now noon)!? Judith started laughing as Wilfred was unaware of the different time schedule in Ethiopia. Their day starts at 06.00 instead of 00.00, meaning that they would open again at 14.00. A little bit annoyed with this two hours delay, we went to a small hotel for some refreshments and waited until the customs officers were back from their lunch break. Wilfred went back inside and 30 minutes later the carnet was stamped and we got our temporary import permit for our electronic equipment.
Driving through the Rift valley and its crater lakes
Our first focus in Ethiopia was to get our visa for (Egypt and) Sudan. Indeed, we don’t want to travel to Egypt, but need this visa to get our 15-day transit visa for Sudan (as a regular tourist visa is extremely difficult to get and takes about three weeks).
After clearing the truck at customs it was 14.30 and we decided to drive another 200km north on the Nairobi-Addis Ababa highway following a very smooth tarmac road trough the hillside. Having read about the draught in Ethiopia, we were really surprised that after only 10 kilometres, the car got a proper shower and we found several water pools along the roadside had the rain arrived with us?
We arrived late afternoon and found a room for use of shower and toilet at a small guesthouse and slept in the truck at the parking (mainly cause our own bed is sooo much better than in any guesthouse or hotel).
The next morning we got up at 6.30 and were back on the road towards Addis at 7.00 with the expectation to reach the capital (550km away) late afternoon/early evening…oh boy, were we wrong!!! The highway turned into the most atrocious road we had ever driven with people walking on the road, deep potholes, dirt tracks for 180km and so much livestock (donkeys, camels, goat, ect.) on the road. Okay you right, to be totally honest the 60km from Moremi to Savuti in Botswana were worse! It took us 8,5 hours to drive 350km and decided to stay at Lake Langana, one of the crater lakes in the most Northern part of the Rift Valley. Our campsite had a lovely view over the lake, which we enjoyed whilst drinking a local beer.
Back on the road again at 7.00 we arrived in Addis at 11.00. So even with the last 90km on a perfect expressway that reminded us of the Route du Soleil in France it still took us 4 hours to drive the last 250km.
As March 2nd was a public holiday in Ethiopia (and all Embassies are closed) we went to the National Museum that has a nice palaeontology exhibit containing fossilised evidence of some amazing extinct creatures, like the massive sabre-toothed feline Homotherium and the gargantuan savannah pig Notochoerus. However, for us the stars of the exhibit are two remarkable casts of ‘Lucy’, a fossilised hominid (dated to about 3.2 million years ago) discovered in 1974. One lays prone with 40% of the bones recovered, while the other stands much like she did some 3.2 million years ago, truly hitting home how small our ancient ancestors were, as Lucy is only 1.10metre tall. ‘Lucy’ acquired her name from the song ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ by the Beatles, which was played loudly and repeatedly in the expedition camp all evening after the excavation team's first day of work on the recovery site.
After the museum, we went to Wim’s Holland House, a Dutch owned restaurant and small campsite for overlanders, close to the centre of town. We enjoyed a healthy lunch existing ‘patat met mayo’ with ‘bitterballen’ on the side.
Tomorrow we will go the Embassy of Egypt and make our way to Bale Mountains, where we hope to see an Ethiopian Wolf. We will be back in Addis next week to collect our visa's and pick up a friend from the airport, who will travel with us for two weeks in Ethiopia.