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Last Updated: Monday, 10 September 2007, 12:52 GMT 13:52 UK
Ethiopia gets set for new Millennium
Doves in Meskal Square

By Elizabeth Blunt
BBC News, Addis Ababa

Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa is ready for the new Millennium. Coloured lights are strung from the lamp posts - red, yellow and green like the national flag.

A flock of massive white fibreglass birds has appeared in Meskal Square.

Presumably doves of peace, they have big sharp beaks and a disconcertingly beady gleam in their eyes.

Here in the highlands the rains are almost over and the flowers are starting to bloom.

And there is something special about a starting a new Millennium, especially when your country has this new Millennium all to itself.

But Ethiopians - at least here in Addis Ababa - have mixed feelings about these celebrations.

On the one hand they love Enkutatash, the New Year holiday. It is a time for family reunions, and visiting friends.

I don't see the point of celebrating while millions of folks are struggling to escape from the horns of poverty
Abeje, Silver Spring, US

A time for girls singing from door-to-door, home-brewed beer and honey wine, and big bowls of spicy chicken stew.

The price of hot pepper - indispensable for a good chicken stew - has rocketed from 20 ($2) to 80 birr, and fallen back again to 40 birr a kilo.

Herds of sheep and goats have converged on the city; some with pink ribbons tied to their horns, the sign, I was told, that they have already been earmarked for someone's New Year's dinner.

Millennium fatigue

The problem is that the government, alive to the public relations value of this unique event, has embraced the Millennium so enthusiastically that it has effectively taken it over.

For months they have been putting out a barrage of publicity urging tourists and overseas Ethiopians to come in their thousands to celebrate.

Every night after the main television news bulletin, viewers have been subjected to a dose of Millennium news and relentless exhortations to plant trees, clean their environment and colourfully celebrate the new Millennium.

It has begun to feel as if celebrating is not a pleasure but an obligation.

The official feel to the Millennium has been reinforced by the fact that none of the independent events originally planned for the New Year period will actually be taking place.

An offer by the Rastafarian community to bring over reggae stars from the Caribbean was not encouraged.

A project by a restaurateur to feed 2,000 hungry children did not get permission to go ahead.

The Taste of Ethiopia exhibition is not happening either; the tourism and culture minister said darkly that it had failed because the organisers did not work with the concerned body and took a course of their own.

And the organisers of the Great Ethiopian Run, an annual event which had been timed this year to coincide with the Millennium and which was expecting more than 30,000 participants, were told less than two weeks before the race that they had to postpone it until after the New Year celebrations.

'Heart of Enkutatash'

One reason may have been security concerns.

The remaining events - all government organised - will take place in gated venues where everyone can be checked as they go in.

There will be what is being termed a musical extravaganza at the Millennium Hall on New Year's Eve, featuring Ethiopian cultural troupes and popular singers, and culminating in a performance by the American hip-hop group, the Black Eyed Peas.

Workmen are struggling to tame the swamp around the brand new Millennium Concert Hall so the distinguished visitors do not get covered in mud.

Poor street scene in Addis
The other side of Addis Ababa - poverty remains rife

For those who cannot afford to pay some $150 for a ticket, there will be two free outdoor events in the football stadium and a big suburban park. The main event will be broadcast on Ethiopian television and on big screens around the country.

But for most Ethiopians these concerts are not the heart of Enkutatash.

However the public events turn out, the family celebrations will go ahead.

And with many overseas Ethiopians coming home this year, the family celebrations alone will certainly make the Millennium a New Year to remember.

Tune into Africa Have Your Say to discuss Ethiopia's future on Tuesday 11 September at 1600 GMT.

Country profile: Ethiopia
21 Jun 07 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Eritrea
16 Jun 07 |  Country profiles

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