Located in the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia is a place that boasts a unique history and a talent to adapt and reinvent itself, which is otherwise a rare sight. It is believed to be the birthplace of humankind; a theory that has been proven once more with the discovery of two fossils, which are an estimated 195,000 years old and are therefore crowned as the oldest known members of our species.
Throughout the colonial period, Ethiopia served as a symbol for African independence, as it was the only country, alongside Liberia, that remained independent. Due to this fact, it also maintained its unique cultural heritage such as; the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, one of the oldest Christian churches. Ethiopia’s long tradition with Christianity, which dates back to the 1st century AD, adds to the list of facts that make the country stand out; especially among sub-Saharan African countries.
In 1945 Ethiopia became a founding member of the United Nations and the African base for many international organisations. Since then it keeps surprising the world with its many success stories. It is among the fastest growing non-oil producing economies in Africa, having sustained a high annual growth since 2004. Consequently Ethiopia is on its way to achieving the eight Millennium Development Goals by 2015, as set out and committed to in 2000 in cooperation with the UN. Ethiopia’s success is partly based on the government’s resettlement programme, which helps farmers to increase their yields and provides them with social services; it also brought schools, healthcare, clean water and roads to thousands of Ethiopians.
Alongside this economic success, Ethiopia is also leading the African continent in the drive to harness green energy. In 2011 parliament endorsed the Climate Resilient Green Economy Vision document, which outlines Ethiopia’s vision and strategy for a greener economy. Two years later in 2013, Africa’s largest wind farm began production outside Mekelle in Tigray state. By investing heavily in wind, hydro-power, solar and geothermal energy, Ethiopia ensures the energy supply on a national level; as well as boosting its economy by exporting power to neighbouring countries.
In order to strengthen social cohesion on a national scale, a group of Ethiopians founded the circus Debere Berhan in 1998. The troupe took its name from the town in which it was founded and it became Ethiopia’s first professional circus. By fully integrating disabled artists, one of the troupe’s main objectives is to communicate important social messages through the medium of acrobatic entertainment.
Debere Berhan fulfils this objective to an astonishing level. All performers, child and adult acts alike, are extremely talented and entertain large crowds with their beautiful and often very challenging acrobatics. Many of the professional artists joined the circus at an early age, which is thanks to Debere Berhan’s efforts to offer circus classes to children, in order to improve their conditions. Most impressive is the performers’ commitment to solely rely on each other and thus ensuring their protection during every act; requiring a high level of cooperation and persistence. This immense trust has grown between performers from long and numerous practice sessions and their shared vision.
By making performances easily accessible for everyone and holding them in public spaces, such as markets and main squares, Debere Berhan has reached and attracted large crowds of spectators. Consequently the circus has played and continues to play an important role in promoting social awareness on various issues concerning health and stigma; as well as spreading the message of equality. Debere Berhan is also part of a growing tradition of Ethiopian circuses, which have been increasing in popularity over the past three decades. Thanks to their work and enthusiasm, the implementation of a ‘social circus’ will help to change perceptions of disability and stigma in the region.
How can Ethiopia’s development benefit its African neighbours?