Shallow Ethiopian Hospitality

I am no exception to the fact that those who spend a great deal of time with non-nationals in Addis Abeba are likely to be harassed by complete strangers. Some tend to have unflattering interpretations of the relationships between nationals and non-nationals. This mindset strongly manifests itself when one is seen with a person deemed to be “a foreigner.” Race, that complex social construct, often leads many to make bizarre assumptions.

In my travels, I have met many non-nationals who have remained my close friends. Despite the widespread belief that racism is growing, for instance, in Europe, I was never subjected to racial prejudice there. The Europeans do not seem to care about such things until, perhaps, one decides to stay indefinitely in their countries.

Ethiopians often tend to have a different attitude, especially in the urban parts of the country. Most assume that the reason a local would ever get together with a non-national is in pursuit of financial wealth. To both parties involved, this assumption is personally hurtful.

Interracial relationships, whether platonic or not, are rare in Ethiopia and are thus seen with reservation. It is not uncommon to be labelled with inappropriate names. I never respond to such nonsense, mostly because my non-national friends and colleagues never understand what is being said about them or me. The negative impressions many seem to attach to a local who has a close relationship with a non-national are overwhelming. They present us with the untold story of the shallow hospitality of Ethiopians.

Indeed, racial constructs differ from one culture to another. Some Europeans, in my experience, find it strange to meet an African with long natural hair. Such categorisations are a function of the lack of knowledge of racial diversity.

In Ethiopia, the stereotypes of “black” and “white” come from people’s personal and socio-historical presumptions, where the latter is usually seen as superior to the former. This forms the prejudice that many have, the bias of Ethiopians against other Ethiopians.

It is strange that globalisation has not done much to rid Ethiopians of the assumption that their fellow citizens can have non-national friends or spouses without financial motives. Many of my foreign friends who are married to Ethiopians have to defend their relationships continuously.

There is also the matter of our inferiority complex. Dining at a local restaurant with one of my non-national colleagues, the owner once approached me and asked why I do not make my acquaintance pay for the meals. I translated this to my colleague, and he explained that I earn more than he does. Thus, I should be the one that pays.

We may have laughed at the time, but such a categorisation is no laughing matter. The lack of knowledge may rationalise such stereotyping, but the damage it creates affects society. The way we perceive race as an inherent trait on which achievement is predicated shapes how we see ourselves on the international stage.

Humanity has evolved enough to realise that stereotyping people based on race, gender, religion or ideological inclinations disregards the essence of individual differences. What remains is the practice of noticing such wrongs. Society often discards information that is inconsistent with the level of knowledge it has attained. The same may apply to the distorted perceptions of different races, which are restrictive and hurtful to others.

They foster feelings of hate and aggression, leading to a false sense of entitlement and superiority. Attitudes such as these fail to recognise the humanity and uniqueness of all people despite their racial background.

It is admirable that people respect and are proud of the places they come from. Nevertheless, this should not happen with feelings of superiority or inferiority. We will be regarded as hospitable if we appreciate differences but do not allow them to dictate our belief systems.

An excellent example of this, I have found, are farmers in some parts of the country who are respectful of all those that come their way. They do not see a person’s background or physical appearance. They exude the best form of that “human equality” that we urbanites seem to be so concerned about but rarely practice.

Sometimes we are too consumed by our own egos to admit to being proven wrong by people we look down upon. The best thing would be to detox ourselves from this Dark Age mentality and learn that Ethiopians, similar to the non-nationals they may hang out with, deserve the benefit of the doubt.

By Eden Sahle
Eden Sahle is founder and CEO of Yada Technology Plc. She has studied Law and International Economic Law. She can be reached at

Published on Mar 17,2018 [ Vol 18 ,No 933]



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