In The Field

AU Summit: Addis for Beginners

AU Summit: Addis for beginners

Ethiopia is a young democracy, and it occasionally shows. Take my ride to the summit venue. We are twice interrupted by groups of armed soldiers crossing the road: without necessarily looking to see if the road is clear. They don’t need to: the cabbie says he is programmed to stop for soldiers. This habit will take a while to break.

Incomes are low here even by developing-country standards. Shops are small, housed mostly in tin shacks, and there are few signs of the multinationals that are now a normal sight in the capital-cities of higher-income countries in the continent, such as international banks, fast-food chains, and the like.

What you do see are multinationals from the 1970s: oil companies such as Total and Shell run the pumps; Western Union is here (it is a big player in Africa, where remittances from Africans abroad are a major slice of overseas earnings). I also spot the ubiquitous YMCA. Its global network of libraries and hostels remain one of the best-known exports to developing countries. Soviet-built Ladas and 1970s Peugeots cram the roads. A billboard advertises something called the Macmillan Academy. NPG need not worry: it appears to be a primary school, or kindergarten.

My cab eventually joins a queue of limos, and white 4-x-4s with the UN logo in black. Minutes later we are at the summit venue and a world of blackberrys, coffee bars and wifi hotspots awaits. Inside, this could be London or Paris. Outside it most certainly isnt. This is the problem that AU leaders must fix.

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