Ethiopians Gripe About Millennium Party – By ANITA POWELL, AP
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — As Ethiopia prepares to celebrate the third millennium, the most popular joke in the capital goes like this: How do you say “millennium” in Amharic? (more…)
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — As Ethiopia prepares to celebrate the third millennium, the most popular joke in the capital goes like this: How do you say “millennium” in Amharic?
The pun of an answer — “menem yellum,” which means “there is nothing” — sums up how many people here feel about the festivities to mark the third millennium, which begins after midnight Tuesday according to Ethiopia’s Coptic calendar.
With the schedule of events changing and security concerns in the capital, many Ethiopians say the celebrations — which include a concert with tickets that cost what an average Ethiopian earns in two months at nearly $170 — are beyond their reach.
The Black Eyed Peas, an American hip-hop act, will perform Tuesday night at a new, $20 million temporary exhibition hall built by Ethiopia’s richest man, and the Hilton hotel will host a $100-and-up gala.
“The millennium, it’s nothing for me,” said Mulugeta Demssie, 23, a taxi driver, who said he thought the concert should be free, or at least cheaper.
“Because I don’t have money, I can’t enjoy it.”
Ethiopia follows a calendar set up by Roman emperor Julius Caesar in 46 B.C. that is about seven years behind the more common Gregorian calendar. About half Ethiopia’s population is Orthodox Christian.
Organizers at the Millennium Secretariat point out that some celebrations will be free, notably several cultural events at a stadium in Addis Ababa and at a field just northeast of the city center. The concert will be broadcast live on television and on a big screen at the stadium, which holds more than 15,000 people, secretariat spokesman Mulugeta Aserate said,
As late as July, millennium organizers were touting a 10-hour, $1.2 million concert that would be free to the public in Meskel Square, the city’s central landmark. That has instead been shifted to the exhibition hall, where Ethiopian acts will join the Black Eyed Peas.
“This has been the talk of the town for the last 10 days, that everything has been canceled. Everyone is saying ‘menem yellum,’” said spokesman Mulugeta.
“If you start listening to speculators and gossipmongers, you’ll go out of your mind,” he said. “No event of the millennium council has been canceled.”
The concert in Meskel Square was not canceled, but ruled out while still just a suggestion, he claimed. Another event scheduled for Meskel Square, a four-week culinary exposition, also never got off the ground.
“Meskel Square is an open space,” Mulugeta said. “To stage a 10-hour musical extravaganza in Meskel Square will cause nightmares for the security men.”
Security concerns have also been cited for a plan to kill tens of thousands of stray dogs in the Ethiopian capital. Authorities said it was aimed at eradicating rabies before the millennium festivities.
That followed an announcement by a government-backed private organization that it would move thousands of homeless people from the capital to the countryside ahead of the celebration, promising to help them with food, shelter and medicine.
The Great Ethiopia Run, a 6.2-mile race organized by distance legend Haile Gebrselassie that has drawn 30,000 runners, has been postponed because of unspecified security concerns. The race, originally scheduled for Sunday, was moved to November.
As to the high-priced tickets for the main millennium event?
“We have costs to cover. Those who are not able to pay … will be able to watch it from the comfort of their home or in a festive environment,” Mulugeta said.
Many Ethiopians say they are planning to celebrate at home with their families.
Tigist Assefa, 29, a saleswoman, said she would don traditional dress and prepare a traditional meal for her affordable fete at home.
“The cost of living is very annoying these days,” she said.