Salambo in Addis

Salambo discovering Ethiopia

Under construction

A number of my readers commented on the fact that my recent posts  about life in Addis were not so positive and portrayed sentiments of frustration and tiredness on my behalf. It made me realise that complaints do not translate well in writing as they lack the necessary distance to analyse a situation. So I thought I would write more about the current situation in Addis.


We live in the middle of a construction site. Most of the main roads are being dug up to be widen or make way for the new tramline being built. As a result, where previously we could use five different ways to go from A to B, only one is currently open which means that it gets extremely congested. This situation is affecting all residents of Addis whether they go by public transport or use their own car. The level of traffic as well as pollution due to the increased dust and noise has become almost unbearable. People do not want to go out anymore because of the time they waste in transport, and after a while, they get depressed from being too isolated from the rest of the city. This morning, I sat in the car for more than two hours for a meeting that barely lasted half an hour. I tried to be strategic choosing the way to cross the city, but half way through the journey, one of the roads I was planning to take had unexpectedly closed so I had to make a big detour. This is a normal occurrence which happens every day to anybody. We never know which road will be closed and which one will be open, so we take the chance and grumble in the process. Some of the secondary residential roads can take up to a year or more to be finished because of erratic work plan and maybe lack of available machinery? I don’t know the answer. I can only report what I observe (after writing this, I talked to someone who told me that in Dhaka, Bangladesh, the situation is far worse; people can get stuck in traffic for up to six hours a day, so everything is relative really).

A 1930s house in the Kasanchis neighbourhood, some of these houses are under threat

A 1930s house in the Kasanchis neighbourhood, some of these houses are under threat

If the road situation was not enough, we also have the buildings. We are surrounded by half finished ghost-like concrete towers that do not help raise the spirits. They are grey, souless and bring a strange atmosphere to the city. From what I was told, the master plan is to build business towers in the centre of town and groups of condominiums on the outskirt which will be connected to the centre via the new tramline, creating in the process a new generation of commuters. Until now, most residents were living in individual houses. As run down and rudimentary as those houses were, they still give them their own space. People will have to learn to live in modern but restricted apartment blocks, which may bring a new set of social issues, so the transformation taking place goes beyond the urban sphere to touch on the social fabric of the city.

Personally, I am not sure it is good for the moral to live in a city that looks half built or half demolished as for each new tower, a few houses are being destroyed leaving behind rubble that takes ages to be cleared away. In many cases, owners of old houses in the new “business district” are given notice to build a 20-storey tower or if they can’t, leave their premises to another property developer. Currently in Addis, there are many talks and conferences organised on the subject of construction and architecture as it affects everybody in the city. The subject most commonly discussed is the fact that a great number of old houses are being ruthlessly erased, as if the city wanted to quickly get rid of its past to embrace modernity (if modernity is synonymous with high-rise towers). Beautiful houses built with style and care are fast disappearing. Furthermore, I don’t always see a sense of aesthetics or architectural research in the current urban transformation. Towers are popping up, some are interesting, some are non-descript, some are even ugly, but what is the overriding factor is the lack of harmony in the current construction wave. In architecture, there is a term known as Brusselization (named after the Belgian capital) which describes the process of frantically building high-rise tower blocks without any search for residential quality of life or aesthetic harmony (it happened in Brussels in the 1960s and 1970s). This is what seems to happen in Addis, maybe it will become the Brussels of Africa: a large international and diplomatic city, which may loose part of its soul in the process of transformation, or maybe it will become the great new capital of Africa and the African Union?

5 comments on “Under construction

  1. oeildecat
    December 13, 2013

    Ce n’est pas parce que vous échappez à la morosité européenne que vous êtes forcée d’aimer votre actuel lieu de résidence. De toutes les villes où j’ai vécu, il y en a une que j’ai détestée, dans laquelle j’ai été misérable du premier au dernier jour. C’était Hanoi, en 1995, et vos descriptions d’Addis ressemblent étrangement à ce que j’aurais pu écrire à l’époque, en particulier sur les chantiers de construction. Autour de la maison dans laquelle nous vivions, j’ai pu en compter jusqu’à 13. La ville entière était un immense chantier. Alors, on a beau se dire qu’il ne faut pas se plaindre, que c’est normal pour eux, que l’on doit s’adapter, etc., des conditions de vie misérables restent des conditions de vie misérables.
    Ce qui m’a énormément aidée à l’époque, ce sont les amitiés que j’y ai crées, car nous étions tous dans la même galère et nous nous sommes serrés les coudes.

    • Salambo
      December 14, 2013

      Hi Bitania…i hope you can come back and visit soon, it will be a changed city…my ethiopian friends who left for a long time say they don’t recognise the city 🙂

    • Salambo
      December 14, 2013

      C’est vraiment penible ces chantiers!…mais vous avez complètement raison Oeil de cat, ce sont les amitiés qui nous sauvent!

  2. Bitania
    December 13, 2013

    Thank you for keeping me connected with Addis Ababa and Africa. I left in 1986 and have not been back. I live in Texas with my family. I long to come back for a visit with my family. I hope the congested traffic and construction problems will be resolved soon.

  3. Demera Mekbib
    December 25, 2013

    I just moved to Addis, and its incredible to be part of this overall sweeping transformation. Its not just a transformation roads, and buildings, but also of global hegemonic influence. Where there once were Italian, Greek and Armenian stores, shops, and groceries, there are now Chinese restaurants, hotels, construction sites, and even small vegetable stalls sprawled with Chinese characters. We are witnessing a transformation–and regardless of the daily inconveniences that come along with such an intensive sweep of urban development, I find it exciting, inspiring, and eye opening to see things change, develop, and disappear from a day to day. We are a witness to markable period in Ethiopian history, and I for one get a rush of optimism witnessing the visible change that is sweeping the capital.

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