Finfinne or Addis Ababa – What is in the Name?  

In a recent interview published in this website, Professor Muhammad S. Megalommatis explained that mostly Cushitic African people and other group of Semitic people with their roots in Yemen live in the present day Ethiopia. In a list of evidences that shows that some Yemenite people immigrated to East Africa, we find the near extinct Gueze language, which is considered the ancestor to the two main Semitic languages spoken in Ethiopia: Amarigna and Tigrigna. In fact, all the three languages use the same Sabean alphabet. Addis Ababa is a combination of two Amharic words, which mean new and flower, respectively.  

The name was coined about a century ago after Oromo land was conquered by King Menelik II of Abyssinia. The area where the city was founded is known as Finfinne, an Oromo word that signifies a spring and specifically refers to the area around the spring near Zeuditu Hospital in the center of the city. Inhabitants of this continuously outstretching city, which is surrounded by the Cushitic Oromo people, generally speak Amarigna. Consequently, it has been slowly dominating Afaan Oromo (Oromo language). These are clear evidences indicating the recent conquer still fresh in the Oromo people’s minds.   

The direct implication of this is that the names of Finfinne and Addis Ababa have African and Yemeni roots, respectively. Incidentally, this city is the seat of the African Union (AU), European Commission for Africa (ECA) and other international organizations. A credit Meles Zenawi deserves is his debate a few years ago with African leaders for the seat of the AU to remain in Ethiopia.  

However, shouldn’t the city’s name reflect its true African identity in its name? It should! Otherwise, it would give a mixed feeling of whether one is in Africa or across the Red Sea from Africa when one is visiting the seat of the AU and the ECA. Of course, the Oromo people have called it and continue to call it Finfinne. Unless this city truly reflects its African root, the continent’s diplomats may have to wonder whether they are going to the African side or the Asian side of the Red Sea whenever they board their planes to one of the business visits to the city of the seat of the AU. What is more, the diplomats in the city might wonder on which side of the Red Sea they are as they do their businesses there. Even more so, all the countries that have their diplomatic missions in Ethiopia may have to wonder to which side of the Red Sea they may have sent their diplomats.

As for Meles Zenawi, this is an opportunity to use his power and officially render truly African identity to the city that he told African leaders bears a symbol of African independence. Failing to do so would mean he has yet to learn from the Oromo people what the resilience of African independence means.