Lekatit 11 Celebration in San Jose

G. E. Gorfu

March 07 2009

UTNA and TDVA celebrated 34th Lekatit 11 day in San Jose last month and the special Event Theme, appropriately enough, was the returned Axum Obelisk. Many came to the celebration and especially the young people were very excited. In fact, Alula G. Bishue and Melley Menelik, two young adults spoke on the Event Theme giving many facts and figures of the statue and expressing what the obelisk personally meant to them.

The Obelisk indeed, is a historic landmark and has a special significance being returned from some 70 years captivity after it was stolen by Mussolini’s Fascist rule. It is still a mystery how such a huge stone structure was carved and erected over two thousand years ago, when even our modern technology would be hard pressed to accomplish such a feat.

All Ethiopians should be proud that our ancient ancestors left us such wonderful obelisks that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. But we need to go beyond empty pride into something worthwhile that we can get from these slabs of rocks. We should not forget that Ethiopia still is a very poor country with millions of people living in grinding poverty, hunger, and some on the verge of starvation. And people do not live on pride.

One obelisk being returned from Rome and being added to the existing obelisk is totally meaningless unless we can turn these historical rocks somehow, into becoming the means by which we can feed our people and lift them out of poverty. How can we do that?

If we Google Tourism and Ethiopia, all we find is some pages on the history of Ethiopia, interesting landmarks like Axum, Gondar, and Lalibella, some flora and fauna of the country and nothing more. There is nothing about organized tours to Ethiopia. But if we Google for Egypt, Kenya, and South Africa, we find organized tours. They have three day tours, five day tours, seven day, fourteen day… etc. What does that mean?

What it means is: travelers from Europe or the US can give their credit card on like and purchase a packaged tour according to their wish. Once they land in Egypt, Kenya, or South Africa, Tour Operators will pick them up at the airport and conduct them to their hotel, take them around the country for the assigned number of days and return them back to the airport, all like clock work, and they do not have to think where to go next.

A tourist that visits Ethiopia however, will have to book his own flight, fly to Addis Ababa and call for a taxi to go to some hotel which the taxi driver would recommend, ask from the taxi driver or the hotel people on what sites there are to see, then buy tickets for Axum, Gondar, or Lalibella, and grope and search blindly, and find his/her way around the country. That does not bode well for tourism in Ethiopia, and needs to change.

Currently, there are thousand of tourists every year that visit Egypt and the Pyramids and then avoid Ethiopia and fly over to Kenya and South Africa to see wild animals, spending hundreds of millions of dollars. The reason they never tour Ethiopia is because of our poor marketing and the poorly developed tourist industry. How can we change this?

Ethiopia’s tourism industry which is still in its infancy has no organized packaged tour. Young people going to college need to focus on this shortage. In order for tourism to grow and develop in Ethiopia there clearly is a great need for all kinds of trained and skilled people in Food Preparation, Hotel Management, Marketing, Tour Operators, Tour Schedulers, Tour Guides, not to mention historians and archeologists… etc.

Tourism, besides being a great source of foreign currency, has many good things that come with it and create employment to millions of people, so much so, that countries like Egypt and Kenya get well over half of their national budget from that source. Once we do manage to pull tourists to our country we may not need to export our Coffee, but have the tourists come to our country to taste and drink our coffee.

Ethiopia’s major export, coffee beans fetches around $2.00 for a kilogram these days. Are we really ignorant on how to roast, grind, and boil coffee that we still have to sell it raw and in bean form? Once the tourists come to our country, we can sell them coffee in cups and charge them a dollar or two a cup. And from one kilogram of coffee, one can easily make five hundred or more cups, fetching a $1,000.00 or more. Now one can see why Starbucks has become so successful selling coffee as beverage while Ethiopia, selling coffee beans and remains in poverty. How can we change this?

The way to change it is to grow our tourist industry and simultaneously get more of our young people to study the techniques of large scale coffee roasting, coffee grinding, and coffee packaging. That will then create jobs for our people and improve their lives. Ethiopia can then make exporting coffee beans illegal, and force thousands of people to make a pilgrimage to come to our country not only to see our obelisks, but also to drink our coffee. That may be far off in the future, but we need to start on that journey today.

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