Monthly Archive for December, 2008

Grania: Inevitable Comparisons

Our time in Ethiopia has now come to an end. It’s been a really interesting trip and even though Ethiopia is relatively close to Uganda there are many differences between the two countries. In this post, I’ll try to explain some of the differences we’ve noticed (but be aware of my bias towards Uganda!)


Ethiopia is one of the very few African countries without a significant colonial past – only a few years under Italian occupation. However, compared to Uganda’s experience as a British “Protectorate” it was not a happy time. I am not sure if this fiercely independent streak is what makes Ethiopians initially less friendly and welcoming than Ugandans. We have found that simple interactions with people can be fraught, for example bartering. It is well recognised that prices in both Uganda and Ethiopia are inflated if you happen to have white skin: if you are unaware of this and agree to the first price quoted then the locals will make a killing! However, if you are even a little aware you are expected to barter the price down, to a probably still elevated price but at least closer to the normal one. In Uganda this is usually a cheery affair, whereas here in Ethiopia, even when we have been told by locals the proper price, when we attempt to get a more realistic price it can often quickly become aggressive and unpleasant. We did notice however that the more off the beaten track we got the less this was a problem, but in general we missed the friendliness of Uganda.


There are a lot less of them here! While we were here some population figures were released – Ethiopia’s population growth is slowing and in parts of the country it is under two children per woman (compare to Uganda’s seven per woman!) This has meant that we have noticed fewer children and less pregnant mothers. The children here also look healthier with less obvious signs of malnutrition. This is only in the areas we have been – we are aware of the feared potential famine in the south of the country where this is definitely not the case.

The children and adults are both prone to begging on a scale that we haven’t experienced in Uganda. There are disabled and homeless people on every street and they approach you continually for money. Children here instead of being taught “Mzungu, how are you?” seem to be taught “Farangi, give me money/dollars/pen/book!” It will be interesting to see if our opinion of this changes after India where the level of begging is meant to be truly horrendous.


Wow, the roads here are AMAZING! I think I can count on one hand the number of potholes that we have seen in the last month. Ethiopian roads are things that Uganda can only dream about. Randomly though, the cars are older and less in number than Uganda –far fewer NGO 4x4s around! The public transport infrastructure seems well developed, and there’s even a city bus service within Addis. BUT with other forms of infrastructure such as communication, Ethiopia is miles behind Uganda. There is little or no mobile phone network here and there are queues outside each town’s phone box centre – makes a change from everyone having a mobile in Uganda (in fact usually having two or more!) The same goes for internet coverage, which has been appalling in Ethiopia, practically unworkable, I take back what I have said about Ugandan’s awful internet connection, at least it has one.


Both countries are blessed with extremely interesting and varying landscapes. Ethiopia’s just seems to be on a grander scale. However Uganda is green and Ethiopia is straw coloured. It is REALLY dry here; the landscapes all look dry and dusty – complete with camels.

We have often been asked by Ethiopians (when they find out about us living in Uganda), “Which country is the more developed?” This is a question we have been asking as well, and on reflection it is difficult to answer – just what is development?