Just outside my window a bonfire rages, and prancing children cheer
with unrestrained excitement as the older ones launch rockets
streaming green and red and orange trails into the sky. It is 12
o'clock, the sun is setting, the thirteenth month has ended, and it
is a new year in Ethiopia.
This morning at Holetta Research Centre about a one-hour drive from
Addis Ababa, research scientist Sendros Demeke told me of his recent
experiment on cattle breeding. The design for the experiment was
rather complicated. To assure soundness, he sent emails asking for
comments and suggestions to colleagues in the Netherlands and
Australia using a system paid by USAID under AfricaLink. "It saves
time and money," he told me. "Just a year ago I would have used the
ordinary post, and it would have been at least a month before I
received a reply. We cannot use fax because it is too expensive."
I reminded Mr. Demeke that under the terms of the grant administered
by ICRAF in Nairobi, the USAID support for their email would soon
expire. Was the Centre prepared to assume the running costs, or
would the system simply be disconnected? "Oh yes of course we must
pay. We cannot be without the system now."
Ethiopian Telecoms charges $50 per month for up to 30 hours of
usage. (Prices are denominated in US dollars, not birr.) Calls from
Holetta to Addis incur no time charges. A lower-cost alternative is
available in Ethiopia through PADIS at the UN's Economic Commission
for Africa, though Ethiopian Telecoms has asked that the PADIS
service be discontinued. PADIS uses a Fidonet-technology system and
charges $20 for unlimited email, or a lesser amount for lower-volume
users, ideal for smaller, cash-strapped local NGOs and small
During the interview with Mr. Demeke, my colleague Adebabay Birru
worked in the next office to diagnose a problem with the email
system. Mr. Birru is a local consultant on retainer to
ICRAF/Nairobi, funded by AfricaLink, to provide technical followup
support and training for AfricaLink grantees. He discovered the com
port was fried, and it had taken the US Robotics modem up in smoke
with it. He promised another would be brought from stock on his next
Just as a test, we attempted a connection from Holetta with my
laptop. It seems that at Holetta's exchange the pulse delay on
dialing is non-standard and requires a modem adjustment (ok I admit I
did not have my manual with me to look up the appropriate AT
code...), but we were able to negotiate a successful modem link using
Windows 95's operator-assisted dialing option and an extension phone.
Curiously, login repeatedly failed. Out of time, Mr. Birru promised
to experiment further on his next visit.
We then returned to the city for a delightful al fresco lunch of
assorted chicken, cured beef, and lamb sauces on njera, preceded and
followed by tej served in traditional glass flasks, round at the
bottom and tubular at the top, some marked with a traditional lion,
all served on the recommendation of Lishan Adam who was our host for
the afternoon. At an altitude of about two kilometers, the
temperature was pleasantly cool even in the bright sunshine. We
talked of the astounding changes in telecommunications in Africa in
the past two years, and of the latest developments in East Africa in
particular. All the while, a troupe of elderly men danced for us
just outside the restaurant gate, finally coaxing a birr even from
We concluded our day with a visit to the marketing manager of
Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation, Mr. Fanta Adane, who
informed us that web sites for their customers may soon be
available. Under consideration is a plan whereby subscribers may be
granted several megabytes of web space as part of their existing
subscriptions, with no increase in price. Local businesses will be
encouraged to assist with web page design services, though for now
there will be no reselling of web space.
We talked briefly with Mr. Adane about the telecommunications
situation at Holetta Research Centre. Presently Holetta has three
direct lines serving some 50 researchers who must be summoned to
reception to answer calls. One of the lines serves the stand-alone
email computer. Messages sent to the single Holetta email address
are printed and distributed to the intended recipients, identified by
the secretary who reads each message. Researchers, nearly all of
whom have access to fairly late model desktop computers purchased
either by the government or by projects, compose responses on disk
and deliver them by hand to the secretary.
The Ethiopian Government is now installing lines and a switchboard
to link all offices at Holetta for voice service. If a local
area network were to be installed in the main building, the more
remote buildings up to a kilometer away on their campus would be able
to log in via telephone to collect mail.
I explained to Mr. Adane that in my view the ideal technical
solution for places like Holetta is an enterprise or subdomain-level
email account with individual email addresses distributed over a
local area network. Mr. Adane responded that enterprise email
services are indeed being considered for leased-line customers
paying at least $1500 a month. He promised he would raise with staff
the possibility of a lower tariff for this service for dialup
customers like Holetta.
And then the evening at the Ibex. We had no reservations but the
manager was able to squeeze our party of six around a small table in
the corner. For the next four hours we enjoyed traditional dances
from Sudan, Eritrea, and the many different regions of Ethiopia.
There was Kirar, Kebero, Washint, Mesinko and several Azmari (my
host's fiance wrote it all down for me). For Eskista Werage there
were three, two women and a man, whose dances carried them around the
room, at times stopping at our table to gyrate and shake seemingly
uncontrollably until money was inserted into their headbands.
Bowing to Western culture, we celebrated the new year at midnight,
though my hosts told me it technically would not start until sunrise.
Happy New Year! May your 1990 be prosperous and peaceful.
Jeff @ Addis Ababa
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1111 North 19th Street Suite 210
Arlington, VA 22209 USA
Tel 1-703-235-5415 Fax 1-703-235-3805