Estonian Public Broadcasting is doing a documentary about markets and its people in Ethiopia, one of the poorest countries in the world.
Author Kristo Elias, director Mihkel Ulk and cameraman Madis Reimund went to Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa and its surrounding areas to find out more about it. The film crew got a lot of help from local tourism company Abeba Tours, mainly from director Tania O’Connor and guide Mulugeta Sisay and also from some local Estonians.
As statistics say Ethiopia is indeed a really poor country. 31%, which is approximately 30 million people from the countries total 96 million people live in poverty (less than $1.25 per day). Today, Ethiopia is the target of number of largest financial donors, aiming to assist the development of the country. Ethiopia has reached the stage of development, where breakthrough is soon expected, with society trying to drift from agricultural society to industrial society. The aim of the government is to become an average development level country (according to UN classification).
The economy of Ethiopia is based on agriculture, which accounts for 46.3% of gross domestic product (GDP), 60% of exports, and 80% of total employment. Ethiopia's agriculture is plagued by periodic drought, soil degradation caused by overgrazing, deforestation, high population density, high levels of taxation and poor infrastructure (making it difficult and expensive to get goods to market). Yet agriculture is the country's most promising resource. A potential exists for self-sufficiency in grains and for export development in livestock, grains, vegetables, and fruits. As many as 4.6 million people need food assistance annually.
The centerpoint of the movie is Africa's largest outdoor market Mercato in Addis Ababa. We are showing this as a microsociety and as a model of the larger economy. This place is like a living organism with lots of interesting people and their colorful stories. From the outside, Mercato may look chaotic but it functions in it's own rhythm. You can find absolutely anything from there. In Mercato, nothing is thrown away or wasted. The goods will gain a new life there and are sold again and again. Every coin matters and money is always in circulation.
In our shootings, we focused on different characters, who are living in this situation and trying to get by with their lives. It is a very intimate view into the lives of 5 unique persons. They all earn money in their own way, offering their goods and services. Many of the activities are unheard of to a 21st century European, and it may seem unimaginable that people need to do this kind of work at all nowadays. Many of our chosen persons have no education, nor prospect on life other than what they are currently doing.
The biggest emotions were sparked by 12 year-old boys who worked in the market and surrounding areas as “shoe shine kids”. Instead of attending school they were sent from South-Ethiopia to work in the metropolitan by their parents. They work every day on the streets to earn a living and to help their parents. You could see that they are among the lowest members of society and they do not have a chance to break out of it.
There were very many children like these in the streets and it was a tremendously sad sight. However, these kids themselves were very nice and hard working. They had a job, with which they could earn at least a little money and it seemed that there were enough clients- people who are not rich themselves, but do not find it hard to give these children a little money for their services.
Another very interesting group of people were wood carrying ladies, who gather eucalyptus branches in the mountains surrounding the city and from state forest and carry their heavy loads to Addis Ababa wood market. It is physically very hard work, which would be challenging even to men. Besides carrying wood they raise their children and in the meantime breastfeed their infants. The sights we saw were very sad and unjust as many life situations in Ethiopia are today.
There are many other interesting persons in the film. Conflicts in the film arise from differences between the personalities, as well as from the differences in interaction with the rest of the world around them. How to provide development aid so that it reaches even these people, who had never heard of it or experienced the benefits of the support? It is a big problem in this overly corrupt country that the aid does not reach the people and, hopefully, will cause people to think and look for solutions to amend this problem.
Although the filmed material is extremely interesting, the filming itself was not very easy. It was constantly necessary to apply for various permits and explain why we were here and why we were filming the very people we chose to film. There was a lot of defamation, jealousy, working against agreements and breaking them, which, as we understood was due to peculiar mentality of the people and the history of Ethiopia.
In addition, we also had a complex relationship with the authorities. On one hand we had armed policeman defending us from potential threats and on the other hand we were questioned by a federal security agent, who wanted information concerning our filming as a result of somebody gossiping. As the most important thing there is a written proof on paper, then he wanted to know the details of it. Since we were about a kilometer outside of the area permitted on the license, filming sheep on another market, then we were taken to the police station and after authorities had reviewed the material they demanded us simply to delete this material. This is just one example of the many problems that we had in regards to the paranoid video recording system in this country.
But as I said, in spite of the corrupt state power, the people are extremely friendly and brave. Due to this the material, which was filmed intimately, is full of injustice and subtext. How can we help them in the future, when most of the current aid does not reach the people, is another matter.