Well, it’s our fourth night in Ethiopia and George, Benoit, Yuri, Stefan, and I are slowly learning the ropes here in Addis Ababa.  After having a Sunday to adjust to jet lag and plan our initial approach, we meet with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) on Monday morning, where Legesse and Gure, two of CRS’s agricultural economists, gave us a rundown of all of the agricultural, health, natural resource, and food programs that they facilitate.  CRS is connected to dozens (at least) of projects throughout Ethiopia, and have given us lots of connections.  CRS also invited us to the Rift Valley, a drought-prone area south of Addis, where one of their ground projects is underway (producing white beans for export to the EU).  Gure will accompany us there on Monday (we’re driving to Nazret), where we hope to talk to farmers, farmer cooperatives, cooperative unions, traders, extension agents, shopkeepers, exporters, and whoever else we might discover as a participant in this rather complex supply chain.

In the meantime, we’re trying to meet with as many of the NGOs, government institutions, and export companies as possible while we’re in the capital (which is the operational center for the country).  We’ve already met with some other NGOs (USAID and Oxfam), a marketing agency (Fintrac), an export company (ACOS), and have meetings later in the week with CARE (who has done a ICT market information project), the Rainforest Alliance, and an agricultural research institute.  We’ve also met up with a young Ethiopian instructor at a university in E. Ethiopia, Ameha, who has degrees both in agriculture and in information management systems (and is interested in applying to the iSchool!).  He said that he’d be able to take us to visit the local school of information in Addis Ababa to learn about their perspective regarding the state of ICT in Ethiopia (and anything else).  He will also accompany us to our meetings this week.  We feel fortunate to have the benefit of this local, student viewpoint!

Regarding the state of ICT in Ethiopia, we’re learning, first-hand, about the many challenges of a government-controlled telecommunications and network system.  Since the government is the only wireless provider, making  mobile phone calls is really expensive, service is sketchy (even in the capital city), and mobile phone ownership is not as ubiquitous as we had hoped.  This has already been cited as a universal challenge by all the entities with whom we’ve spoken.  The network is also unreliable, and there have been rolling blackouts daily.  Looks like we’re going to have to get creative! 

OK.  Now fun stuff!  The food here is incredible (injera is very tasty), and as the rookie international traveller, every sight has completely blown my mind — herds of goats amidst roaring traffic, often no functioning traffic lights in a city of several million.  The cab drivers are like road acrobats.  And everything, everything is negotiated — from cab fare to sim cards.   We already had a few minor adventures finding local restaurants and walking around the market.  What an experience!  We’re thinking about you all in Uganda, Rwanda, and elsewhere, and it’s so nice to hear about your thoughts and travels through this blog.  Keep us posted!