Ethiopia, different faces

There have been many different perceptions of what Ethiopia is…..

In 1984-5 there was the war and the famine.  BBC documentaries and LiveAid made us sadly familiar with images of suffering and starvation.  This aroused the sorrow and compassion of a generation.

Since 2003 we have become used to another Ethiopia, the economic miracles.  There has been dramatic growth, most years around or over 10%.  There are new roads, hydroelectric dams, industrial estates.  Addis Ababa is changing with huge skyscrapers, many built with Chinese investment.

But behind the growth are startling statistics.

Ethiopia has a population of 112m (in 2019) and is growing at 2.6% a year.  28% of these are under 10 years old.

GDP per capita has grown to $1800.  Its good to know this is growing but compare this with Nigeria at $5570, India at $6890, China at $16000.  Ethiopians remain desperately poor.  42m or 39% of the population earn less than $1 a day – usually recognised at the level of absolute poverty.

HIV/AIDS has been getting worse since 2008.  Between 570,000 and 880,000 were living with the virus in 2016, including around 50,000 children.

Ethnic tensions have led to the displacement of 2.6m people, in addition to 900,000 refugees – an increase of 79% since 2017.

There is an ancient church with a unique tradition dating back to before 350 CE.  In addition there are large numbers of Muslims and Evangelical – and a tradition of tolerance and co-existence.


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Back in the UK

Thanks for following this blog over recent months.

I’m now back at church in cloudy and wet Cambridge with the sights and sounds and people of Ethiopia a long way off.

However I’m still in touch and there is plenty of follow up.

I’m working on a report of the visit, and there are possibilities of articles, seminars and further writing of articles or something longer to come.

The building project at the poetry school of Abun Bet Gabriel is under way (see post from September), and we hope to set up another project in support of the traditional schools after that.

A group from Somaliland is soon to visit the Partners for Change project area of Dire Dawa, as the first step to building collaboration and support for development work in Hargeisa.

We’re looking at ways we can support ENTERELA in bringing together religious leaders living with HIV/AIDS.

On a personal note – congratulations to my colleague Ralph Lee on the award of an MBE in the New Years honours list.

So there are lots of outcomes.  If you are interested either in supporting Partners for Change in their distinctive style of development, or in further research on the situation of the faith communities – then do get in touch by leaving a comment on this blog.  Partners for Change website with more detail is



I hope to be in touch again before too long.




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The seeds of the Evangelical revival came – paradoxically – when the military government of the Derg closed churches and imprisoned believers after 1974.  As the principal of the Evangelical Theological College told me ‘then every house became a church’ and people shared their faith.  After religious freedom was proclaimed in 1991 there was a massive growth.  Now there are over 80 evangelical churches with around 20m members.  But church leaders are concerned to deepen peoples’ faith and train church leaders.  The challenge is to maintain the growth and make sure its not a short-lived bubble.  With the vitality of their church life there’s every sign they are doing this.

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Reflecting – Orthodox

I’ve just finished writing a report on the visit.  It’s been great to look back over the people I have met and the things I have done.

Religion is definitely alive and well – everywhere.  But each of the churches and religious groups faces challenges.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Tawehedo church was where I started.  For centuries they have been the established church of Ethiopia, and other faiths and churches have operated under strictly regulated and restricted conditions.  So its not surprising that with the new freedom of religion, these are making up for lost time and growing at a fast pace.

The Orthodox recognise that many have absorbed by the culture of the nation – which happens to be Christian – rather than the faith of the church.

The response has been to uphold traditional Orthodox faith  especially as lived in the monasteries; and to focus on teaching and education to ensure a well-informed and confident  membership.

The results are impressive with large numbers attending schools and teaching of various kinds.  The test will be whether this faith – traditional in content but presented with effective modern methods –  captures the allegiance of Ethiopians in their changing society.

But maybe popularity is not the point.  If it’s true, it’s true.  Whether believers are many or whether they are few.

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A bit more on Somaliland

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Somaliland declared itself independent in 1991 – and its still unrecognised by any country except Ethiopia.  Here’s the Anglican church – sadly ruined and unused.  There are a few Anglicans, mostly students, but no minister.  Its part of the area looked after by the Bishop of Ethiopia – he’d like to re-open the church – we’ll see.  An attractive part of life is the colouful lively shops.

We hope this new and determined nation will soon become properly recognised.




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Its the last weekend of the visit.

I’m reflecting on all the things I’ve seen.  Its clear that this a religious society.  All the churches are well attended, with enthusiasm and commitment which I can only admire – and hope to follow.  There’s also tension as new churches arrive and grow – and this brings them up against more traditional churches.  And this is just as true of Islam as Christianity.

There are some good outcomes.  New opportunities for Partners for Change.  New networks of colleagues who share concerns for faith – and for the future of this beautiful country.

Although I will soon return to UK – this blog will continue.  I have a lot of pictures to add, which I can’t access here; and I’ll add news about the outcomes and new projects which follow.  So I hope you will keep reading and keep in touch.   I’ll always be glad to hear from you through the comment space.

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The project has gone well and its thank to some great colleagues and friends.

Kumelachew is a church scholar and ecumenist, who set up the church leaders AIDS agency mentioned below.  He’s accompanied around many churches and helped me understand the mysteries of he Orthodox church.  He is pictured here with his wife Kassanesh and their daughters Lidia and Selamawit, and myself as we share a beer and pizza on our last day together.

Mulugeta Gebru is director of Partners for Change/JeCCDO.  He has been a constant support and valued colleague over many years.  He arranged for me to visit some of the project areas and to meet a wide variety of people.

Ralph Lee directs research at the Trinity Theological College.  He’s English by nationality and a member of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church with a vast knowledge of the historical tradition.  As i took this picture his computer, ordered for him by the college, had just arrived.

Then there’s Ayele, who is completing a fascinating project collecting DNA samples from all 80 ethnic groups in Ethiopia in order to trace populaion movement and relationships.  He has introduced me to people around the university.  He’s with his fiancée Selam and nieces Blen and Halina.

Infinite thanks to these colleagues and friends.

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BVO and us


We meet the BVO team.  Mulugeta Gebru (PfC – director of JeCCDO, Ethiopia), Peter Jones (director of PfC UK), Adam (diredotr BVO), Khedra Omer (board director BVO), two of their staff members). We hope the first of many meetings.

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The week with Partners for Change continues in style.  We’ve been invited to meet up from groups doing work with women in Somsliland.

Our hosts were the Barwaqo Voluntary Association who gave us a thorough tour of their work.  Literacy groups for women, training in dress making (see above), work with special needs children, agricultural training.  They are also stating a ew project in a displaced persons community, a village of refugees living in corrugated iron huts constructed in the desert outside the town

Somaliland, with its capital Hargeisa, is not to be confused with Somalia, capital Mogadishu.  Somaliland became independent twenty years ago but is not a recognised nation and so receives no government aid.  We were in the capital Hargeisa.

A few NGOs are beginning to work there, but the need is huge.  We are very enthusiastic about working with BVO and have agreed on a start-up project for early next year.  We also made first contacts with two other groups.

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With thanks to blog readers

Thanks for reading this.

I realise that the posts have been erratic.  It’s often hard to get internet access.  So I’ve added several posts whenever I have the opportunity.

I’m coming to the end of the visit. I’ve had some wonderful experiences although it’s often been challenging and draining.

I was asked yesterday what was the high point so far.  Difficult to pick out one, as it’s the people, warmhearted, generous, hospitable, charming.  There have been so many unforgettable meetings.

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