Ambassador Mark Green travels to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for a conference with the Aspen Institute: “Africa’s Emergence: Challenges and Opportunities for the United States. Along the way, he shares his thoughts with the IGD community.
As I sat in the Frankfurt Airport, I was struck by how the waiting area in front of our gate for the flight to Addis Ababa (with a stop in Khartoum) brought back so many memories of my earliest travels in Africa. In those days, the waiting areas were in old markets waiting for a matatu (a covered pickup truck converted into public transport) or country bus, or in broken down train stations waiting for the overnight train into the interior. As my wife, Sue, and I waited patiently for our bus or train (what else is there to do?), we watched in wonder as people from all walks of life joined us — large families, husbands and their very pregnant wives, small farmers with chickens or goats in tow, men of the cloth wearing long white clothes or black shirts with collar. Somehow no matter how large the crowd, no matter how much they carried, we all fit in the the truck or train or bus.
Flights into Africa have become much the same, I thought, as we gathered for the flight into North Africa. Okay, nobody is carrying livestock, but there are boxes and bags of every shape and size, and a wide, wide array of clothing styles. There are the young with their iPods, in designer jeans; there are the old in long robes and shawls; there are the middle-aged wearing heavy coats betraying the climates they’re most accustomed to; and of course there are the Westerners who reveal whether they’re tourists, businessmen or academics by the clothes they’ve chosen.
Much of the travel inside East Africa that Sue and I did twenty-five years ago as volunteer teachers was overnight, just as the flights between Africa and the West are today. They’re just as bumpy, just as crowded, then and now. But they also have the same sense of character, the sense that you’re doing something memorable. In those bygone days of shoestring traveling in Africa, whenever we pulled into a station or a stop, we’d be accosted by Africans selling ground nuts or fruit or eggs or, wait for it….Coca-Cola. It kept us going and cost us next to nothing. Oh that modern travel were as convenient, tasty and cheap!
Every time I visit Africa, I’m struck by the changes and developments that spring up so quickly! Proof of the continent’s evolving economic status, and the result of investments from businesses and individuals seizing opportunities. But through it all, Africa manages to maintain something unique about it, so you know you’re not in just any continent, you’re in Africa.