Musings on life in Ethiopia for a middle aged IT professional...or "Dilbert goes to Africa"

I will be working on a major upgrade to the Budget and Expenditures application for the Ethiopian Ministry of Finance during most of 2009 (I have been in Ethiopia since October, 2008). What follows are some somewhat random thoughts about life on a new continent.

Send me comments or feedback at JohnJeunnette (at)


It is a beautiful Saturday morning in Addis Ababa. The weather here is really spectacular. Most days year round are sunny and dry with high temperatures in the 70's (Fahrenheit) and lows in the 50's. We had a spell of rain a week ago but now it is sunny again. ("Normally" there is a short rainy season in February and a longer one in July and August. It gets a bit cool when it is raining consistently but it is still not much to complain about.)

(I wrote the last paragraph several weeks ago but did not send the email so it is out of date now. It is the middle of July and the rainy season has started. Lots of rain. Lots of water everywhere, lots of mud, and it is cold. Contrary to the last sentence of the last paragraph, I guess the rainy seasons make us appreciate the rest of the year.)

Anyway, enough weather reports. My time in Ethiopia is drawing to a close and there are a couple subjects I would like to expound on before I end this phase of my journal. The first one is "traffic". My context is the urban developing world. (At least the urban developing world I have some direct experience with.) The key word is "chaos".

In the United States we sort of expect that traveling by car or bus across town will follow a predictable pattern. Everybody sort of follows the rules of the road, the cars stay more or less in the road, the pedestrians, if there are any, stay on the sidewalk, and everything is controlled by traffic control devices and signs. The key concept is "right of way". In fact, one of the worst things you can do to someone in the US is take away or infringe on their "right of way". People get shot for cutting off a driver or getting in their way.

Things are not quite as well ordered in the rest of the world...

I think the concept here is rather than "right of way" it is more like "we are all trying to get somewhere and, somehow, we will share the space available to get there". For one thing, the types of "vehicles" in the road includes not just cars, trucks, and buses, but people, animals of various shapes and sizes, farm equipment, and motorcycles (lots of motorcycles in places like Nepal, not so many in Ethiopia).

I am amazed at the number of pedestrians in the street. I has gotten better in the last few weeks because several of the large road construction projects that have been under way since I got here were more or less completed and there are now sidewalks where for months there were just piles of rubble. But even with sidewalks, it has been suggested that school children are "taught" "Cross before looking both ways" rather than "Look both ways before crossing". Folks just wander in to the street seemingly without a care in the world, This is the first place I have been where I have actually seen pedestrians hit by vehicles. It is kind of scary.

New road construction seems to be aimed at eliminating actual intersections. There are maybe a dozen or so traffic signals in Addis and they only work sometimes, like when the electricity is on. The newer roads have overpasses or traffic circles to ease the flow of intersecting traffic. One of those new intersections has replaced "confusion corners" and is really quite nice in a roadway sort of way. I have heard that it could take twenty minutes to get through the original confusion corners because several major roads came together at one place with no defined traffic control and it was basically constant grid lock. But even an intersection where one road crosses another can be what I would consider gridlock during high traffic periods. The idea that you wait for crossing traffic to actually cross the intersection before entering it seems to be something the drivers here have never thought of. Instead, everybody dives into any open space and slowly worms through the mess. Somehow it works (at least most of the time) but it can be nerve racking.

Well, I think you get the idea. One final illustration. Confusion corner has been replaced with a very complicated collection of ramps and bridges to connect all the various pieces. What was a major construction mess when I arrived last year is now easy to navigate in a car, at least. Lovely sidewalks were put in for the pedestrians but not exactly where most of the folks want to walk I guess, so now pedestrians walk in the roadways over the bridges in the two foot space between the edge of the lane and the side of the bridge. The traffic moves along nicely but must dodge people in the road. To add insult to injury, actual road signs where installed but (isn't there always a but?) they are too high, the font is too small to read at the speeds cars travel, and they are only in misspelled English (in a country where the local literacy rate is something like 37% and the number of people who read English is much lower). Go figure.

Watch for a "final" posting from Ethiopia in the next few weeks. I may expand and continue my essays, or may not. This step into writing has been fun.


Other Entries:
December 2009
   12/27/2009:   Snowboarding in Breckenridge
November 2009
   11/22/2009:   The Great Ethiopian Run, Take Two
   11/14/2009:   Mule
   11/01/2009:   DV2011
September 2009
   9/27/2009:   Meskel
July 2009
   7/31/2009:   People
May 2009
   5/03/2009:   Bubble wrap quest
April 2009
   4/18/2009:   Options: Electricity
March 2009
   3/22/2009:   Italian Connection
   3/01/2009:   Blue Donkeys
February 2009
   2/14/2009:   Eucalyptus Trees
January 2009
   1/31/2009:   Story
   1/25/2009:   Security
   1/21/2009:   Obama and Lions
   1/13/2009:   Orienteering in Addis Ababa
   1/07/2009:   Merry Christmas and Goats
November 2008
   11/30/2008:   Ethiopian Road Construction
October 2008
   10/05/2008:   Ethiopia Introduction

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