Life in Ethiopia: Getting there

In the first of a series of blog posts from Ethiopia, TRT World reporter Anelise Borges writes about the difficulties she faced in getting into the country, and what brought her there.

Photo by: TRT World
Photo by: TRT World

Updated Jul 13, 2016

Ethiopia is a difficult place to get to. Not because of its geographic location or the availability of direct flights, but thanks to the country's bureaucracy and its government’s emphasis on choosing what the world gets to see.

It took TRT World two and a half months and approximately 100 emails, phone calls, and unanswered text messages to officials at the Embassy in Ankara, the Government’s Communication Affairs Office and Ethiopia’s Communication Ministry to obtain a hand-filled A4 sheet authorising us to travel.

After two and a half moths, TRT World’s team received this document with the following message: “this is good news." (TRT World)

Armed with our "journalist visas" we boarded the flight in Istanbul, not knowing that the 6-hour-plane ride was going to be the easiest part of this trip.

Upon arrival

At customs at Addis Ababa International Airport, Ethiopian authorities retained our equipment – telling us we didn’t have the right documents to enter the country.

It turns out it was our fault: we waited such a long time for our visas that we didn’t amend the so called "equipment list," so our first stop in Addis Ababa was the GCAO.

The Ethiopian Government’s Communication Affairs Office has a "foreign media accreditation department" which is in charge of filtering all press requests coming from international outlets. All of them.

The team of three government press advisers are friendly and efficient, but the volume of applications is clearly too large: stacks of papers pile up on their desks, practically hiding their minute figures.

These officers process applications, direct interview requests and even determine where we can and can’t travel in the country.

We got their clearance to film in Addis Ababa, in Bekoji, near the border with Sudan, and in Siti Province. It’s our lucky day!

Ambitious Ethiopia

Within our first hours in Ethiopia, we got to witness how strict the rules are for media and how serious authorities are about following those rules.

But more importantly, we also got to see how well informed and educated these people are – including when it comes to international news.

Our producer, a British national, had to answer a fair share of questions about the UK’s decision to leave the EU, while we were told about  the African Union's plans to adopt a common currency and even a "unique" passport.

So far, everyone we met had been much more interested in the fallout from "Brexit" than in what brought us to Ethiopia. But what brought us there is equally interesting… 

Addis Ababa International Airport. (TRT World)

That's the country's unparalleled rate of growth - roughly 8 percent per capita for the past 10 years, and the desire to understand Ethiopia's inspirational ambition to continue developing.

Although it's estimated that nearly 30 percent of people in Ethiopia live on less than two dollars a day, the country has seen a 33 percent reduction in the share of its population living in poverty since 2000, according to the World Bank. The government  has invested heavily in education and in diversifying the economy. 

Ethiopia is a so called "developmental state" – meaning the government has control over everything, including the economy, and is leading the industrialisation drive.

The aim is to be a middle-income country – as well as carbon neutral – by 2025!

Impressive goals for a country still associated with a famine of biblical proportions that devastated hundreds of thousands of lives only 30 years ago. 

Keep it up, Ethiopia!

Author: Anelise Borges