Happy new year: Ethiopia celebrates the Millennium, seven years late

By Steve Bloomfield in Addis Ababa

Published: 11 September 2007

In the Millennium Bazaar, a series of market stalls just behind Meskel Square in the centre of Addis Ababa, everything is stamped "2000". From plastic bowls and key rings to packets of crisps and vases of plastic flowers, all are marketed as millennium specials.
Elsewhere in the world today it is 11 September 2007. But in Ethiopia, which runs on a unique Coptic calendar more than seven years behind the Gregorian calendar, it is a far more auspicious day: New Year's Eve, 1999.
Government officials hoped the opportunity to celebrate the dawn of a new millennium for a second time would persuade hundreds of thousands of tourists to descend. Tourism chiefs planned for up to 300,000 visitors, and encouraged those returning from Ethiopia's vast diaspora to stay with family so that the hotels could fit in all the visitors.
A massive concert in a brand new venue in Addis Ababa was planned for Millennium Eve with Beyoncé, Janet Jackson and even Michael Jackson all rumoured at one stage to be playing. A 10-day fair showcasing Ethiopian food was set to be held in Meskel Square, while Ethiopia's greatest long distance runner, Haile Gabriselasie, would lead off the runners at a special Great Ethiopian Run through the capital.
The government hoped that the celebrations would help throw off the image of a country with a poor human rights record and increasingly authoritarian rule.
But as the big day approached, things have not gone to plan. Just 25,000 tourists, less than a tenth of those expected, are now thought