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Pole to Pole

Day 77: Shedi to Gondar

Michael Palin - Pole to PoleColonel Mengistu had ruled the country for sixteen years after deposing Emperor Haile Selassie, who had ruled for fifty-seven years. Under Mengistu, poverty and corruption went hand in hand with totalitarianism and an irrelevant pro-Soviet policy. The Eritreans opposed him because they wanted independence for themselves and the Tigrayans opposed him because they wanted political change in Ethiopia. In the end it was a people's army from Tigray in the north-east that formed the driving force behind the EPRDF (the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front) that swept through the country and forced Mengistu to flee to Zimbabwe just over four months ago. Meles Zenawi became head of the new government at the age of thirty-five. It is, as Graham says, a young revolution. 'People between sixteen and thirty have completely changed the face of this country in the last six months.'

The soldiers who are travelling with us as protection are part of this volunteer EPRDF army - paid only in cigarettes, food and accommodation. The emblems on their tunics are inked in by hand, they wear cut-off jeans and carry Kalashnikov AK-47 rifles. They are probably fifteen or sixteen years old.

The scenery outside is now almost alpine. Green meadows are filled with the short-lived but intense yellow flower called maskal, which is the national emblem. There are butterflies and gold and green weaver birds and brilliant red bishops. A Soviet-built tank stands abandoned in the long grass. It looks idyllic out there, but there have been frequent attacks on the road since the end of the war and our escort slips a bullet into the breech and pokes his rifle out, looking watchfully around at the mountains.
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  • Series: Pole to Pole
  • Day: 77
  • Country/sea: Ethiopia
  • Place: Shedi
  • Book page no: 166

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