Ethiopia – A Journey to the Lost Kingdom
10th November, 7pm
The Ethiopian Embassy, London and the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), jointly organised an event where presentations were given by veteran broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby and cultural historian Gus Casely-Hayford on the documentaries on Ethiopia that they produced this year. An exhibition and an illustrated talk were also held on the RGS premises in the afternoon, promoting the natural resources and wildlife in the Gambella state.
At the evening event, in his welcoming statement to an audience of around 650, Ambassador Berhanu Kebede praised Jonathan Dimbleby, veteran broadcaster and journalist “whose name has been associated with Ethiopia for more than a generation” and cultural historian Gus Casely-Hayford, whose recent BBC programme, played an important role in informing the British public of Ethiopia’s rich history and culture.
Ethiopia has a very unique culture and heritage with a history going back thousands of years, he said, and different religions and cultures have coexisted in harmony there for centuries. “It is blessed with an abundance of natural beauty, offering an astonishing variety of landscapes, moors and mountains, deep gorges, the largest cave in Africa (Sof Omar), the Great Rift Valley, tropical forests, savannah land, giant waterfalls and volcanic hot springs.
Ethiopia has achieved four of the Millennium Development Goals and it is on the right track to achieve the remaining ones. More roads, clinics and schools have been built in Ethiopia in the past 20 years than in its entire history. And tourism plays an increasing role in the economy - the number of tourists has grown from 200,000 visitors in 2005 to half a million in 2010. The tourism sector strategy, famously known as Vision 20, aims to make Ethiopia one of the top ten major tourist destinations in Africa by the year 2020.
The Ambassador encouraged guests to visit Ethiopia and also to invest in its colossal tourism resources. He concluded by thanking the event sponsors - the Christensen Fund, Ethiopian Airlines, Pittards Leather, South West Energy, Altau Gold, Journeys by Design and Flowerworld, “who supplied the wonderful flowers”. (The full text of the Ambassador’s speech is available from the press office).
The Ambassador handed over to the chair for the evening, renowned travel writer Frances Linzee Gordon, who wrote the first two editions of Lonely Planet's travel guide to Ethiopia, as well as numerous articles and features, has given many talks on the country including at the RGS, and has presented and consulted for the BBC in Ethiopia. Frances introduced the speakers.
Gus kicked off the evening off with an illustrated talk based on his hugely acclaimed Lost Kingdoms of Africa BBC TV series (BBC 4, repeated on BBC2) saying “If you are in any way interested in culture, history or living archaeology, you will find Ethiopia enormously satisfying.” He said that for many of his grandfather’s generation the very word Ethiopia was synonymous with a continental African history, a “symbol of African pride and independence, a political philosophy in a culture, in a way of thinking, in a people.”
He was enthralled by “the repeated incense suffused rhythms of sleepy Sufi songs” in the ancient Muslim city of Harar with its crenelated walls, which for centuries was “the trading gateway between Ethiopia, the Horn of Africa, and the Arabian Peninsula”. He covered Christian sites such as King Fasilides’ Gondar with its 17th century castles, Lalibella and Axum, the table-mountain-top monastery of Debre Damo, Ethiopia’s Queen of Sheba dynasty, Ethiopia’s first Christian king Ezana and pre-Christian sites. Ethiopia’s most ancient sites including the pre-Christian Yeha in the north, which at 2,500 years old is more ancient than the Parthenon and Colosseum, and yet is little known as yet. Gus concluded that “Ethiopia’s Emperors may have died out, but its kingdom survives in the buildings, the language, and the traditions of the people. It’s an extraordinary history, one that deserves to be better known.”
Jonathan said Ethiopia is changing and that it has a positive future. He appreciated the resilience, the “grit” of Ethiopians and showed footage from his highly successful BBC TV series Jonathan Dimbleby: an African Journey depicting thriving markets and the construction boom in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. Though Ethiopia faces challenges that all African countries face, he recognised that Ethiopia had made huge progress especially in attaining “eight, nine even ten per cent growth rate”. Ethiopia was linked to the modern world through its brand new Commodity Exchange which ensures farmers receive a fair price for their produce, that buyers acquire good quality commodities and that each transaction is enacted one day and paid for by the next. Jonathan praised the good humour, tolerance and warmth of the Ethiopian people, and urged travellers to visit.
Guests had access to the RGS collection of historical maps, books and other items from their Ethiopia Collections and there were Ethiopian dancers and a photo exhibition with Ethiopian beers and a coffee ceremony. The debate was followed by a reception at the nearby Ethiopian Embassy.