Salambo in Addis

Salambo discovering Ethiopia

The contrasting land of consumerism

When people in Addis, expats and Ethiopians alike, need to seriously shop, they go to Dubai. It is the nearest Westernised city, which serves as a shopping hub for Africa and to some extend Asia. So I too went on that trip. Dubai has made its reputation as a temple of consumerism (and lives up to it), concentrating in one single place all the big shops and department stores of the major international cities. No need to go to Paris, London or New York, everything can be found in Dubai from Bloomingdales to Galerie Lafayette, not to mention all the luxury brands. Everything is there for visitors to spend their money, and visitors with cash feel very welcome!

People living in Africa, in Ethiopia in particular, go there to buy anything from clothes to electronics to house decoration items. Ethiopians with money go there to shop, Ethiopians without money go there to find work. According to recent figures published in the Ethiopian newspaper, Capital, in 2011 alone, a total of 67,000 Ethiopians, of which more than 90 percent were women,  emigrated to Saudi, Kuwait and Dubai to find work as domestic helpers. The figure was up from 25,000 nationals in 2010. It is not surprising that every day in Addis, hundreds of women are queuing outside the Ministry of Emigration waiting to get their passport to emigrate.

Dubai is a strange place, a mix between a modern city in the making and a huge theme park. I couldn’t help but feel I was in Disneyland on my first evening there, having dinner in one of the newest outdoor shopping malls, near the famous Burj al Arab hotel (also known as the Sail for its unusual shape). Everything in Dubai is about money, and what money can buy. A ski slope: money can buy an artificial one, same with an olympic ice rink. Forgotten historical buildings, they can be rebuilt. The whole world can be artificially rebuilt, and Dubai is there to prove it.  Not my kind of place.

In some ways, Ethiopia is the antithesis of Dubai. It may be considered as an economically poor country, but it is rich in so many other ways, and its wealth is far from being artificial. Its diverse culture, one of the oldest in the world, has been preserved. Its monuments and historic cities are like no other. Its food is unique in Africa and the world. Its landscape is spectacular. Its nature is practically untouched, and still the home of a great diversity of species, birds in particular. People in Ethiopia are strongly aware of their amazing cultural heritage and proudly identify with it. Ethiopia has been there since the beginning of times, this kind of immense wealth cannot be quantified by the number of shopping malls or record-breaking skyscrapers.

One comment on “The contrasting land of consumerism

  1. Ariane
    March 7, 2012

    I agree 100%

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