Ethiopian Business Review

Trading Comfort for Development: A City-Dweller’s Rationale for Patience on the Road

one of the road expansion project around Asco area one of the road expansion project around Asco area

Anyone who has been in and out of Addis Ababa in the past four years would find it hard to ignore the changes that have swept the burgeoning city. When I left the capital in 2008, there was no denying that the city was at the edge of a boom; and for a young student who has to leave her country in search of opportunity, there is nothing more exciting than the prospect of development. The most apparent evidence of this boom came in the form of road construction. Twice a year, I would return to the city, only to be shocked and awed at the sprawling new overpasses, neatly-tiled sidewalks and widened avenues. Only this year, upon my permanent move to the city, did I begin to understand the downsides of such sweeping undertakings.

 

As only a periodic observer of these vast projects, I had never fully experienced the changes to my city and this time around, to my horror, I was faced with the full experience. Like every other city-dweller, I became plagued by the traffic, the desperation for clever shortcuts, the road rage, and in some places, the awful, throat-clogging dust. However, emotional frustrations gave way to rational thoughts, soon. Yes, it is discouraging when a half-hour errand takes three times as long, or when we have to roll up our windows to brave through thick clouds of dust but what is it all for?

It is easy to forget how far this city has come over the years. The condominium housing projects we see throughout Addis Ababa are a far cry from the tin houses that were the only option for many of Addis’ inhabitants. We all know that this is hardly a perfect solution to the housing problems of any rapidly-urbanizing city. Yes, there should be a concern that these public housing projects may turn into problem-areas in the future and it shouldn’t be an excuse that this is the best we can do at the moment, but realistically, Ethiopia is relatively new to this type of subsidized program and development can sometimes be a trial-and-error process. On the other hand, we can look at an initiative like the Cobblestone Project and see a brilliant move towards sustainable development through the use of low-cost, local resources and the provision of employment for both skilled and unskilled workers in cities and towns across the country; but every step towards progress cannot be this ideal.

I remember landing at Bole International Airport during my college breaks, excited to see how my city had changed in the months I had been away. Now, my new life in Addis Ababa has opened my eyes to some of the downsides of this rapid, ever-growing process, particularly when it comes to the various road projects going on across the city. Nevertheless, we all know there are downsides to everything, and there are certainly sacrifies to be made for development and in order to prosper, we have to face them and remind ourselves of the future we want for ourselves, our country and our future generations. If putting up with some minor or even a few major discomforts is one of the things we have to do before we can reap the benefits of a project, then we should all welcome the challenges and take them in our stride.

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