Addis Ababa: A Gradual Change Taking Roots

Addis Ababa concluded celebrating its 125th founding anniversary recently. Though the city managed to become the permanent diplomatic hub of Africa in the second half of the 20th century, it is far from becoming the economic and cultural center of the continent. It seems that the city has missed the essential ingredient its name carries which literally translates to being a fresh flower. Such a connotation alludes to neatness, being livable in terms of social and economic infrastructure like schooling, health, water and sanitation, electricity, housing, and transport facilities. The development of the city is not up to its history writes Mango B., Ethiopian Business Review Special Contributor, though it is on fast track to catch up with its peers in the developed world.

Yoseph Yigezu, 28, is an aspiring professional who had his Master’s of Business Administration in Telecom Management. In his career, he has travelled to different countries. “Cairo is a big city, yet a safe place for foreigners. In my first visit, I have walked from the airport to the hotel that I had booked a room. Cairo has a very nice airport terminal which has a number of tourist class duty free shops.” he said. Their services are better than Addis Ababa.

“I paid a visit to a museum in the City, Giza Pyramid and had been on a cruise on the Nile. The sheer number of tourists roaming in several tourist destinations of the city caught me by a great deal of surprise. I think excellent service provision, well developed infrastructure and duty free scheme the Egyptians have developed over the years has contributed to the exceptional tourist flow. And Cairo is definitely tidier than Addis Ababa,” he concluded his experience in the city.

Addis Ababa is facing serious sanitation problems. It was named one of the dirtiest cities on earth by Forbes Magazine in 2008 ranking 6th out of 25 cities surveyed. Forbes report indicates that, Addis Ababa faces one of the worst sanitation problems on both the continent of Africa as well as in the world. The lack of adequate sanitation system results in water-born diseases, infant mortality, and low life expectancy, the report says. The negligence of its dwellers as well as the mere inefficiency of the city’s administration contributes to the situation.

Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, is a new city, while Lagos is an old one serving as the economic hub of the nation. Lagos, the old capital, is an overpopulated city with slums like Addis. In Abuja, everything is relatively new and well planned. One cannot find offices, residential and entertainment units mixed together as it is common in Addis Ababa. “The city is very neat and has a number of parks”. Yoseph, shares his experience.

Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, has well developed parks, hotels, loges and better organized duty free shops. I think such facilities have reasonably increased the number of tourists in the city” he concludes his experience in some of Addis Ababa’s peer cities in Africa.

the tallest building in the world, and the magnificent centerpiece of Downtown Dubai. Its well developed infrastructure coupled with zero tax rate and manmade attractions like palm island are part of the magnets of international tourists.

Dubai, acclaimed to be an exceptionally neat city, has a number of shopping malls which are manifestations of a consumer economy. This melting pot of the human race is home to a large number of foreigners who outnumbers the natives; Emiratis. The City’s air terminal is unequivocally one of the best in the world.

Addis Ababa, commonly referred as the diplomatic capital of Africa, has a long way to go to raise itself to the status of the above mentioned cities. Founded in February 1887 during the reign of Emperor Menelik II, the location was chosen for its strategic importance and abundant water resources by the resourceful Empress, Itege Taitu.

The population of Addis Ababa which stood at 1.8 million by 1991 has grown dramatically over the last two decades to over three million. According to the 2012 Demographic Health Survey, the city has more than 250 thousand residential units. However, the overwhelming majority of the population still lives in an old, decaying and unplanned structure most of which lack basic housing facilities such as toilet and bathroom.

Official reports from the City Administration indicate that about 35 pct of the houses in Addis Ababa are built on illegal settlements. Currently, the city’s housing need stands over 350,000 houses.

Under the reign of the Emperor Haileselassie I, 85 pct of the land in the city was owned by the nobility. Yet, it has introduced housing and land ownership, with the 1960 civil code, declaring a property registration and protection regime.

Illegal settlements were very small for about a decade after Haileselassie’s downfall resulting from the military’s harsh responses towards squatters. The mid 1980s saw legislation of a proclamation on housing ownership certificate, with an accompanying construction on a small amount of kebele houses. The government has earlier confiscated urban land and extra houses throughout the country as per Proclamation No. 47/1975. Housing associations constructed 12,239 houses with the help of the government and the World Bank. Such a scheme was in place until late 1990s according to officials of the city.

In the early 1990s, at the dusk of the military rule, there was a rise in illegal construction throughout the city. More than 60,000 squatters mushroomed in that very few years.

The post 1991 period witnessed a better provision of housing units with strong growth shown in the late 1990s and post 2004. This was more observed when the city introduced condominium houses with the help of the then GTZ (Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit) in 2004 to alleviate the acute shortage of decent housing in the city. According to Housing Development Project Office of the City, more than 87,000 condominium housing units have been transferred to its residents. More than 97,000 units are also under construction at the moment.

“Addis Ababa has not yet developed as per international standards in a manner that fits its 125 years of age. It faces a number of social, economic and political hurdles accumulated for long. Significant efforts have been made to solve these problems.” Kuma Demksa, Mayor of Addis Ababa said in a magazine message prepared as part of the 125th city anniversary. Multifaceted changes have been made as a result of these efforts.

And yet, the process of transformation has been far from smooth. With a large part of the city’s road system and slums bulldozed for expansion and redevelopment, Addis Ababa looks a city in the making. This has added to the already worsening transportation problem. The situation has wreaked havoc on dwellers and visitors of the city. It has also increased cost of transport, thereby cost of living to a large part of the city’s low income families. As a result of this perennial transport problem in the city, nine pct of a family’s average income goes for transport, as indicated in a recent survey conducted by the city administration.

Addis Ababa, which lies on more than 540 square kilometers of land, is building a 37.7 km long light railway system to solve the ever increasing transport demand of the city dwellers at a cost of 460 million dollar. The railway stretches mainly from Defence Forces Hospital to Ayat Village, which is 17.26Km, with other tracks that will lead from Meskel Square to Kality (16.25Km) and the 3.88Km rail line from Lideta to Menilik Square. The project, which is being undertaken by the Chinese Eryuan Engineering Group Co. Ltd, will be finalized by 2015.

The Addis Ababa City Roads Authority (AACRA) revealed that it has spent over 9.67 billion birr over the last 21 years to construct and maintain roads in the city. By the sum stated, the authority constructed 442Km asphalt roads, 828Km of gravel roads and 698 Km of pedestrian roads. It also designed 462Km long roads while constructing 103 bridges. Even though paving streets with cobblestones is new to the city, an impressive 227Km has been constructed over the past four years as well. As a result the city’s road coverage has increased to 13.7 pct from 5.52 pct in 1991. It is working to expand the coverage to 20 pct.

Although a number of roads have been constructed with wide lanes, several of them demonstrate quality problems. Very few of them were also completed within their planed project periods. Fekade Haile (Eng.), General Manager of AACRA, acknowledges the existence of setbacks with the road construction. “We still want to improve the quality and follow up mechanism of the city roads projects” he said, while narrating the city’s road development success to a team of journalists months back.

“One of the problems we have been facing is the limited capacity of local contractors. This has forced us not to award them projects with a length of more than two Km” he said.

Although Addis Ababa has made significant expansion in the sector, the then village had its first road construction project in the early 1900s when the construction of the Addis Ababa-Addis Alem road project was launched. However, vehicles were not in use until the start of the 1920s in the city’s transportation scene.

While there has been a continuous effort to improve the sanitation of the city since Arkebe Equbay, the popular Mayor, took the leadership of the city in 2002, the city is still shabby. The caretaker administration of Berhane Deressa, which was established to fill the vacuum of power after the 2005 election debacle, was unable to keep the positive momentum created during Arkebe’s administration as it lacked the necessary element, political authority.

Kuma Demeksa, underwhose leadership, Addis Ababa was raked as the sixth dirtiest city in the world, has substantially increased the budget for waste disposal management. As a result, a new dump site is under preparation. The City has signed a new project which intends to introduce latest technology of waste disposal in collaboration with Cambridge Industries in the UK at a cost of 120 million dollars. When the project is finalized, the city will produce 50 mega watts from its waste.

Currently, dry waste of the city is dumped in the western outskirt of the city in the area commonly known as Koshe. The city administration has obtained 137 hectares of land in Sendafa Town, 37Km east of Addis Ababa, to construct a new dump site. The new dump site will have a modern landfill sanitary system with four trans-filtration sites in four corners of the city: Bole, Akaki, Kolfe and Koshe. These four sites will separate recyclable and non recyclable waste.

Parallel to these, the city has been investing billions to improve other social and economic infrastructures. However Addis Ababans suffer from shortage of water, erratic power interruption, poor telecom services and underdeveloped health facilities.

Kuruvilla Mathews (PhD), Professor of Political Science and International Relation at Addis Ababa University, is a veteran academician from India, who has travelled to 46 countries. He says that Addis has made a tremendous progress in the last decade.

“It is becoming one of the modern metropolises in Africa. The development and modernization of Addis is very fast. It is a city in the making with great promises in the future. It is uniquely an African city. It is also uniquely an Ethiopian city. I think it has kept its uniqueness due to the fact that the county has kept its freedom from the yolk of colonial rule. Coupled with the current development momentum, the city will continue to effectively discharge its role as a political capital of Africa” says the professor.

The professor associates Lonely Planet’s selection of Addis Ababa, as one of the top ten sites to be visited globaly, to its geographical location, political importance, and suitable weather.

Every one seems to agree on one point; Addis Ababa is on a fast track of change. This change needs to be augmented through proper planning which seems lacking at present. All underscore the need to create public parks that can maintain the healthy interaction of the resident with their surroundings and develop a functioning waste management system.

As it stands, Addis Ababa needs visionary planners who can ensure effective use of the city’s resources; the land and design of the urban environment, including improvement in the transportation networks. There is a serious need of managing the orderly development of settlements and communities. This calls for planners who can engage in serious research and analysis, strategic thinking and public consultation before embarking upon any project. At the moment, the city seems to miss such planners.

It is high time that Addis Ababa emphasizes on development that improves the long-term social and ecological harmony of the city. Otherwise, the current development momentum will create nothing more than a jungle of concrete blocks.

With proper planning and management Addis Ababa can effectively utilize its potential to become the tourism and business hub of the continent, as it has managed to become its diplomatic capital, hosting the African Union. The city also hosts the Economic Commission for Africa and more than 100 embassies and international organizations.

Would Addis Ababa realize this potential anytime soon? It is a question that keeps running in the minds of many residents of the city including Yoseph.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Ethiopian Business Review | EBR is a first-class and high-quality monthly business magazine offering enlightenment to readers and a platform for partners.

2Q69+2MM, Jomo Kenyatta St, Addis Ababa

Tsehay Messay Building

Contact Us

+251 961 41 41 41