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London had a shocking summer like no other a year ago, but it’s having a festive summer like no other now

 

On July 27th, an estimated 4 billion people from all over the world have set their eyes on London, truly, and deservedly the “City of 2012.” Close to 105 head of states and governments descended upon the city for the opening ceremony of the Olympics as were tens of thousands of international sports fans and thousands more athletes from 200 countries around the world.    

This year’s Olympic may be the hurt of all events but London has been partying for the last six months. “The world will only pay attention to the opening day ceremony and the sports, but there have been lots of fantastic international art and cultural festivals taking place in the last six months,” said Abiye Teklemariam, an Ethiopian academic and prominent journalist living in Oxfordshire, some 80 Km north-west of London. True to his word, from the most glamorous celebrations during Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee in June to the World Poetry Summit, London was the venue.

Ambasador Dorey

Such was the level of festivity that an event far from London also took place here in Addis Ababa when the British embassy held a screening ceremony in June of a documentary it commissioned featuring three Ethiopian athletes including the first Ethiopian female swimmer Yanet Seyoum, “who could bring home gold.,” according to Greg Dorey, the British Ambassador and permanent representative to the AU; and a big banner wishing good luck for the Ethiopian team hangs outside the embassy gate and with it the spirit of the festivities.

 A summer like no other 

Nearly a year ago, in August 2011, London woke up to a “shocking and appalling morning,” as Met Deputy Assistant Commissioner Steven Kavanagh said it then, and “it was clearly shocking,” as Ambassador Dorey confirmed it now during an interview with this magazine.

Television windows were hectic screening hooded young boys and girls setting the city of London on fire, which Ambassador Dorey said was “to a degree exaggerated… and made it look like the entire city was up in flames.”  With only a year into the Olympics, many have seen the chaos potentially disrupting what London was waiting for eagerly. While some others have made a mockery of the incident: a caricature depicting a hooded young boy relaying the Olympic Torch became a social media hit for the following few weeks.

For London it was a horrifying summer like no other.

But 365 days of countdown, “memories will be made, records will be broken and, most of all, London will party like never before … it’s going to be a summer like no other,” declared  its Mayor Boris Johnson. Mr. Johnson launched a “series of once-in-a-lifetime events” including a festival of free outdoor arts events in every London borough, “from human gladiators who wrestle 4 million volts of electricity to 99 Tiny Games” that has started on 29th February and is scheduled end on 9th September 2012.

Ambassador Dorey credits the way in which British authorities dealt with the situation a year ago that made London all set and ready to host the Olympics today. “As far as we can tell we are ready as we can be,” he said. After all, “the number of people who were involved in the riot was far, far less than the number of volunteers who came out to clear up.”

Unparalleled

“London is globally unparalleled in terms of its ethnic mix” according to Ambassador Dorey, and this is “a huge selling point on the commercial side.”   “They have made it [the Olympics] a giant international culture, arts and sports festival,” said Abiye.

Apart from the Olympic, countless events including those that celebrate Africa will be the spotlight during this summer. The Royal Opera House of London will host African contemporary arts festival for the first time (see story on p. 32-33) and Kensington Gardens will host the first ever ‘Africa Village’ during the Olympic Games, whereby the 54 African National Olympic Committees are expected to come together to host one, special, dedicated National Olympics Committees house. “It’s not just about sports”, said Ambassador Dorey.

Post Olympic London  

This year’s Olympic Games, which will be followed by yet another sport event, the Paralympics from the 30th August – 9th September, will feature 303 different sports disciplines ranging from Ethiopia’s favorite athletics to the sexier rhythmic and artistic gymnastic to the elegant equestrian jumping and dressage, where “man and horse” display their stunning and affectionate teamwork.

Ambassador Dorey believes there are definitely “positive economic spin offs,” in post Olympic London. The Olympic village, built in the east of London, in previously “brown field [and] broken down condition” will be used for social housing. “It’s been built with the future and the legacy in mind,” said the Ambassador.

But Abiye says the “debates about the economic value of the Olympics is to be decided by empirical studies in the future.” However he believes the Olympics “has so far been a lot about social capital; not just capital, capital.”  Either way, London is spending a summer of festivities like no other.

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