Salambo in Addis

Salambo discovering Ethiopia

Addis Transformation: a city in the making

As part of the local artistic scene, creative photography has its own space with a number of young aspiring as well as more established Ethiopian photographers expressing themselves through a lense. This week, they are all on show during the Addis Foto Fest, a group exhibition featuring the main contemporary names in photography and to some extent video installations. The show started yesterday at the Taytu hotel with Addis Transformation, a photo exhibition on urbanisation, society and the environment in Addis Ababa, which was the result of a six-month project on the impact of urbanisation.

Addis in 1970 by Belete Tekele, the same with far less cars

Addis in 1970 by Belete Tekele, the same with far less cars

The Ethiopian capital is undergoing a massive urbanisation programme which is fast changing the face of the city. Historic old houses in the centre are being demolished to make space for concrete high rise buildings; whole neighourhoods are being erased to erect numerous blocks of social housing. Not only is it changing the esthetic aspect of the city, but it will transform its social structure in depth. Until now, people were used to living in individual houses, even small, with a little yard around it where they could rear chicken and grow vegetables. They will have to get accustomed to restrictive appartments in collective blocks, which could potentially lead to new social tensions. The traffic is becoming unbearable at rush hour because half of the roads are closed to build a new tram line. The introduction of public transport in itself is a positive move, as it is currently limited to buses and VW minivans, nicknamed blue donkeys because of their distinctive blue colour, however, it reflects the city’s expansion to new boundaries. The brand new villages and estates created on the outskirt of the old city are so far away that fast connections will be needed to link them to the centre.

Addis today by Mulugeta Ayene

Addis today by Mulugeta Ayene


The Addis transformation photography project is documenting all the changes as they happen. Someone recently asked me what I thought of the new Addis, I could only answer that as I never knew the old Addis, it was difficult for me to express an opinion. What I can see though is the fact that we are currently living in a huge open building site with wooden scaffoldings everywhere, half-finished concrete structures of a ghostly appearance next to practically demolished houses and walls.  In that context, the photography project will create a lasting record of a particular time in the history of the city and the country, a time of growth and expansion to coincide with the new century. So to have this week a photo festival which raises the issue is a welcome thought-provoking event. It brings a bit of cultural spice in a month otherwise full of expat events and gatherings. After the diplomatic bazaar last week, we had the Tropical Gardens artisans bazaar (which I already covered in a post in May), and the German school bazaar over the weekend, so I really appreciate delving into the arts again.

The Addis Foto Fest is on all week at the usual venues such as the Alliance Ethio-française, the Goethe Institute and the Italian Cultural Institute among others. All these exhibitions have the added advantage of providing the opportunity for a relaxed social moment, and a drink or chat with the artists and viewers. Addis can be quite limited in terms of entertainment so any event out of the ordinary becomes exciting 🙂


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