By Yohannes Gebresellasie (Ph.D)
After celebrating the 7th Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Day in Baher Dar I, for the first time headed to Lalibela to visit the town and the renowned church.. More often than not, when I was asked if I have visited Lalibela, I was so ashamed to say, not yet. Now that I have been there, I can confidently and proudly say ‘’yes’ I did to all I know or do not know and, am I happy! Delighted will be an understatement. Having said that however, I also have few and brief observations about the town and its overall conditions in light of its tourist attraction, its historical significance, the role it plays within the Local, Regional and the National image building, the activities or lack of undertaken within the town and the role of the Church Administration etc.
To begin with, The Lalilbela town was established three thousand for hundred years ago during the period of Atse kaleb. Now Lalibela has only twenty five thousand residents. It took twenty three years to build the renowned church of Lalibela. All eleven churches were built from eleven fifty to end of eleven seventy.
The Lalibela Rock Hewn church is registered by UNESCO and is one of our national treasures. The church is built to archeological and architectural perfection. Designed and built from top bottom, it is one of its kinds in the planet; therefore, it is unique and hard to imagine how it was built. It is therefore a symbol of our civilization and one of our nation’s gifts to the world. Its importance to the Region and to the Nation goes without saying. Its attraction to tourism is so big that it has become one of the major tourist attraction sites of our nation. Further, it is so important that it is one of the main attractive symbols that put our nation in the world map. As a result, many visitors flow to this site, spend their money, stay few days there and tell the story to their country fellows so that they too can come to visit this unique historical place.
Lalibela’s contribution in that regard to Ethiopia is simply remarkable and has to be well acknowledged. Generally speaking, Lalibela is one and only and none of that is found anywhere else; therefore, it is worth protecting and safeguarding this national treasure. Having said that however, there are few issues that must be raised. They deal with conditions revolving around the town, the church and the local administration. First, the lalibela Air Port although small nonetheless, it is functional and few vehicles line up at the gate to take tourists and other visitors to the town which is rough twenty –five kilometers The road is old (around twelve years old ) very dusty , dry and simply uncomfortable to drive . The road therefore needs major adjustment and major improvement because as is, it gives wrong first hand impression to visitors and new comers alike. On the side of the road, there is no plantation or trees or green so, it looks like desert and not the green developmental plan that the Regional and the National government has been undertaking. Thus, it has a negative impact as it implies desertification and deforestation as opposed to aforestation and development. The side road and the road itself depict lack of progress where in fact our national economy has been progressing and increasing from year to year for the last ten to twelve years.
The town of Lalibela is small not only in size but also in population. It has only twenty five thousand residents. The internal streets of the town are dusty and mostly dry, therefore they need major improvement and the best way to do it is putting cobblestone on the streets throughout the town and that can be done through voluntarism i.e. by mobilizing the local population for a good Cause. That can reduce the dust and similar work can be done by planting trees throughout the town. The Sekota road that takes to Geshene all the way to Tigray also needs both Regional and National governments’ focus as it is way under reasonable standard.
The other important issue that needs more focus is the relationship between and among the town administration and the public at large. There seems to be a big gap between and amount the people in question. One blames the other and there is no collaborative work amongst them. There seems to be lack of good and effective leadership both from the town and the church administration. At times, it looks as if the church is administrating the town and it also seems that there is a huge grievance from the public at large towards the church and the town administration on a variety of issues and that need to be resolved sooner than later. The church administration seems to be most involved in hotel building rather than building day cares, clinics, orphanage centers and other church related centers rather than competing with local investors who are in the hotel business.
Generally, there is a lack of cooperation, coordination and collaboration coupled with lack of effective leadership and that is causing discomfort and dissatisfaction amongst the local population. To add to this, the church asks fifty dollars per person to enter the church plus from two hundred to three hundred birr to those who wanted to observe a church ceremony outside the church. Such a payment can discourage tourists and there has to be some improvement there as well. It is therefore important for the Ethiopian orthodox synods to see what is going on within the Lalibela church administration in order to make a total change on the way the Lalibela church administration has been operating. Same may be true within the town administration as well in order to create a healthy tourist and income generating Lalibela.
Here are some thoughts
- The road that takes from the Air Port to the town is badly damaged and is in need of major repair and needs Local Regional and National attention. , Further, there should be a cooperated and collaborated effort to make the road suitable, agreeably and conducive to drive and appealing to tourist.
- There should be an organized and voluntary effort from the local administration and the church administration to mobilize the local population to plant trees and make the side road green, attractive and healthy. This is also in line with Local Regional and National governments’ policy framework. Seedlings could be freely distributed to the local population and plantation can take place voluntarily. This can work through out the town as well.
- The road around the town of Lalibela can be beautified by putting cobble stones. A good example of this phenomenon is the town of Dire Dawa and the town of Mekelle. There should be an experience sharing mechanism from those cities that could be replicated to the town of Lalibela. Students and the public at large can be mobilized for this important work that would prevent the spread of dust that is affecting residents’ health and that is making tourists uncomfortable and that is affecting the good image of the town. Green plantation around the town can also help reduce the dust and help beautify the town. A coordinated work must be done is that regard.
- Both the Federal and Regional governments must look at the road that take from Geshene to Sokota all the way to Tigray via Tembian because the road is not up to the standard and needs major improvement because it is dusty and uncomfortable for tourists and visitor to drive. To bring hard currency and to build good image, effective and transparent administration and healthy environment is not only important but indeed indispensable; therefore, governments should make that a priority.
- There is a lack of cooperation, coordination and collaboration between the local leadership and the church administration within the town to Lalibela and the gap is widening from time to time. Every one is going its own way. There is a great need of a cooperative and collaborative work between the two and they must start working together for the benefit of residents and they must do it now. For that, strong leadership in need from both sides to implement durable and workable work plan. They must agree for good purpose or agree to disagree for a good cause. They are not doing either and that is hearting the local population, the church and the town itself. They must start to work together or they must be guided by higher leadership from the Regional or the federal governments and the Ethiopian Orthodox church Sinodose.
- The Lalibela church administration should focus on very important religious and spiritual and social norms such as building day-cares, clinics, orphanage centers and other religious driven issues rather than competing with local residents in hotel and restaurant businesses. That should be left to local investors to do it in a professional manner Few hotels such as the Lalibela lodge, The Mountain View, Hotel Cliff Lodge, Hotel Top Twelve, Panoramic View Hotel, Ben Abeba Restaurant etc. are doing just that. These Hotels are built to international standard and the owners are young local investors. Some have left European cities to live and invest in small town to help their town, to create employment to local residents and to contribute to the local economy. Therefore, they should be appreciated and encouraged to do what they do best. They are also helping flow of tourism to increase to the town with the hospitality they show within their Hotel services.
Finally, I hope that the above thoughts will help encourage other tourists to come and see this renowned treasure of our nation and it is also hoped that the little gap between and among the town administration, the church administration and the public at large will be illuminated or at least minimized for the benefit of residents of Lalibela . I also hope that the Local, regional and federal leadership will give attention to this unique treasure and make necessary adjustment to correct the problems that exist within the town, the church and the public at large.
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